Here we look at the situation as it is developing in Iraq and the difficulties of US imperialism in holding the country, the Middle East and the conflicts between US imperialism and the European Union in this region, the impasse in Afghanistan, the revolutionary potential of the Indian proletariat and the devlopments in Pakistan where the Marxist tendency has started to develop in a serious manner.
Bush and the right wing Republican clique in the White House anticipated that the invasion of Iraq would be a “splendid little war”, to quote the celebrated phrase of Theodore Roosevelt – a war that could be won quickly and with few American casualties. But in fact things were not so simple. They are now trapped in a quagmire that can last for many years. Every day there are reports of new American dead and wounded. The Iraqi resistance is getting bolder and more confident to the degree that the foreign occupation forces are more hated by the population.
They have blundered into an area where their presence only serves to exacerbate the problems and create chaos. Even the prospect of looting Iraq’s rich oil reserves is in doubt as a result of the sabotage of oil pipelines and the general chaos. The morale of the US troops in Iraq is low and even bordering on the mutinous, as shown by the open attacks on Rumsfeld. Unfortunately, the US has no alternative but to stay in Iraq, because the consequence of pulling out when none of its objectives have been realised would be even more catastrophic.
Despite all the promises that the US occupation of Iraq will be “temporary” and that Washington has “handed over” power to the Iraqis, the fact is that the country is now a US protectorate or semi-colony. The so-called Iraqi government is really a puppet administration and a government of collaborators. Nobody doubts that the US army controls everything and decides everything. They have even installed themselves in Saddam Hussein’s palaces, which they are renovating to make themselves more comfortable as they plan the destiny of Iraq. These are not the actions of people who are planning to leave soon.
In part, this is a simple business calculation. The US spent a lot of money on this war, unlike the last Gulf War, which was paid for by Saudi Arabia and the other “allies”. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney are oil men and they want to make sure they and their friends in the big US oil companies and construction industry get a good slice of the profits from Iraqi reconstruction before they finally decide to leave. Anyway, the US must ensure its oil supplies in the Middle East, especially since Saudi Arabia is now looking decidedly shaky. On the other hand, possession of Iraq gives America a useful base for operations throughout the region. It therefore has both an economic and strategic importance that far outweighs the inconvenience of a few dead and wounded American soldiers. Moreover, it is necessary to keep the French, Germans and Russians out of Iraq, while simultaneously pressurising them to provide money to finance their occupation of Iraq. This is a very complicated task!
The amount of money needed to continue the occupation of Iraq is already huge and the future expenditure unknown. The IMF, the World Bank and the UN have estimated that Iraq will need US$36 billion for reconstruction within the next four years, in addition to $19 billion for other non-military needs calculated by the American occupation regime. Even an economic giant like the USA cannot afford such a colossal drain on its resources over a long period of time. $15 billion will be needed for the restoration of oil, water and electricity supplies alone. Iraqi oil production will not be enough to pay these bills in the near future. Current oil exports amount to a mere $500 million a month.
Bush’s tax cuts and the soaring war costs should be put in the context of the gaping and record-breaking budget and trade deficits currently facing the weak US economy. The US trade deficit has already gone over the perilous 5 percent mark and still rising; while the budget gap has been a rapid reversal from the uninterrupted surpluses, way into the future, promised in previous years. Add to this $5 billion a month, the cost of occupying Iraq, excluding reconstruction, and we have a figure that is already approaching that of Vietnam. This cannot continue. Therefore the Americans are looking around for others to pay the bills. That is why they went back to the despised UN to ask for help.
The hypocrisy of the American imperialists is really staggering. The draft UN resolution tabled by the US at the Security Council was denounced by the usually pliant Secretary General Kofi Annan. In it, the US “appeals to member states to strengthen their efforts to assist the people of Iraq in the reconstruction and development of their economy”. It also “calls upon member states and concerned organizations to help meet the needs of the Iraqi people by providing resources necessary for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq’s economic infrastructure”.
The resolution even asked the UN to finance Iraq’s electoral process. It “requests the secretary general to ensure that the resources of the United Nations and associated organizations are available, if requested by the Iraqi Governing Council, to help establish an electoral process in Iraq ...” Bush has stated that this war was waged in order to give the Iraqis “the gift of democracy”. In fact, they have given the Iraqi people the “gift” of unemployment, hunger, disease, chaos and devastation.
The bourgeois of Europe are obviously not willing to finance the US unilateral corporate invasion of Iraq. They have their own interests to think about. The USA possesses colossal resources, but nevertheless these resources are not unlimited. By launching the so-called global war on terror, the USA will over-reach itself. This is already proving a severe burden on the US economy. The problem is that America’s “allies” are not prepared to pay out huge sums of money to help Washington take control of Iraq and its vast oil reserves. At one point the European Union was reported to be thinking of giving only a miserable $250 million to Iraqi reconstruction. This is not even 1 percent of the required total, and US officials were reportedly “shocked” at the amount. Canada, for its part, is willing to share $200 million. Only Japan has been reported to be willing to give a relatively large sum of $5 billion because of its reliance on Middle East oil. Still, even when all these sums are added together, they amount to a trifling sum compared to the required $36 billion.
The only answer is to squeeze the money out of the Iraqis themselves. Senator Byron Dorgan insists that the US “should not shoulder the whole burden on its own. Iraq has enough oil to pay for part of the reconstruction effort”. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is more adamant. “I don’t believe it’s our job to reconstruct that country after 30 years of centralized Stalinist-like economic controls in that country,” he said, as though the damage had nothing to do with the cruise missiles and the decade-long embargo. “The infrastructure of that country was not terribly damaged by that war at all,” Rumsfeld maintains. But the plan of US imperialism is to make the Iraqi people pay for its war of aggression will cause all kinds of new contradictions.
The looting of Iraq is already underway. The US handpicked Iraq Governing Council’s (GC) Finance Minister, Kamel al-Kelani, announced some time ago that all of Iraq’s assets and state-owned corporations, except the oil industry, would be sold off. As sweeteners, the buyers would be entitled to 100 percent ownership of their purchase, full repatriation of profits, and minimal taxation. Given Iraq’s present condition, the items on the bidding block will come very cheap. But in a few more years, what was bought at dirt-cheap prices – using the Iraqis’ oil revenues – could then be sold for a nice profit. However, given the chaotic situation of the country, the constant uprisings and guerrilla attacks on oil installations, it is not clear that these plans will ever materialise.
Making use of the Iraqis’ assets for reconstruction means that the Iraqis themselves will be paying for rebuilding what the Americans destroyed. The use of the Iraqis’ money to finance the massive privatisation scheme of their economy means that the Iraqis themselves will be paying US corporations to buy their own assets from them. Incidentally, this is a violation of the Geneva Convention, which states that humanitarian assistance, aid, reconstruction and other development expenses are the legal and moral obligation of the occupying forces. This, of course, does not bother Washington very much. But the oil coming out of Iraq has only been able to fill around 1 million barrels a day (mbd) – far less than on what the US originally based their plans.
Analysts say it would take another 18 months more before the output could even begin to hit the pre-war production level of 3 mbd. And this does not take into consideration the sabotage of the pipelines. All this only adds fuel to the fire. The Iraqi people resent the occupation of their land by imperialist robbers. The anti-imperialist sentiment of the masses provides a firm base for the resistance fighters, who are sabotaging the pipelines and attacking oil installations. Given the parlous situation, the multinational oil giants are, understandably, keeping their distance. “There has to be a proper security, legitimate authority and a legitimate process ... by which we will be able to negotiate agreements that would be longstanding for decades,” Sir Philip Watts, chair of Royal Dutch/Shell, was quoted as saying. “When the legitimate authority is there on behalf of Iraq, we will know and recognize it.”
In an attempt to pay its Iraqi bills, the US is considering converting Iraq’s expected future oil revenues into marketable securities that could be sold at discounted rates in the present. This implies that the US – despite the so-called handover – will be in Iraq for a long time. It also raises the question of whether the US has the right to decide on matters which should normally be reserved for legitimate and sovereign governments. But such legal niceties do not worry George W Bush overmuch.
The Bush administration has given its richest taxpayers $1.8 trillion in tax cuts, but it cannot afford to spend $20 billion on the people it has just “liberated”. Republicans overturned Democrat efforts to fund the war by raising taxes from the wealthiest Americans. Indeed, a number of these will be profiting handsomely from the post-invasion boom in Iraq. The cynicism with which these gentlemen express themselves is really breathtaking: “You have to offer them a piece of the cake,” advised the French politician and former UN special representative to Kosovo Bernard Kouchner. With over $100 billion dollars or more at stake – said to be one of the most profitable building programmes in decades – there will be a big cake to pass around. But it is clear that the lion’s share of the loot has gone to big US companies, with only slim pickings for the Europeans, and not much more for the British. The Iraqis themselves get next to nothing.
Germany, France and other potential donors want assurances that their corporations will not be shut out of Iraq by US corporations. In other words, the European imperialists will give no serious money unless their corporations are assured of getting invitations during the slicing of the cake. So far, they've had to settle for crumbs. The slogan of the US imperialists is “the winner takes all.”
This resembles the struggle of wild beasts for possession of a corpse. The lions get most, and the hyenas, jackals and vultures must wait till they have sated their appetite and content themselves with the bones. US Federal Procurement laws decree that government contracts for Iraq can only go to US corporations which, in turn, are free to hire subcontractors as they deem fit. Big US companies like Halliburton and Bechtel not only grab the lion’s share of the work for themselves but also decide which foreign firms get whatever subcontracting work is available.
The big US corporations make no attempt to conceal their shameless activities in Iraq. The Iraqi people are being forced to pay the Americans for rebuilding the schools, hospitals, roads and bridges torn down by the US military. Using money borrowed from the US, Iraqis will need to pay the very same corporations that would have had no business in Iraq if there were no war. Vice President Dick Cheney, who allegedly pushed intelligence agencies to exaggerate their Iraq findings, still maintains financial interests in Halliburton, the Congressional Research Service officially declared recently. This is a regime of criminals and crooks who are willing to plunder the whole planet and do not even bother to conceal the fact that they are enriching themselves through looting.
This nauseating spectacle is unfolding before the eyes of the world. Many people are beginning to understand that this war was not fought for democracy or the cause of the Iraqi people, but solely for the profits of the big multinationals and the greed of US imperialism for Iraqi oil. This can also lead to a transformation of consciousness, especially in the USA. In the end, however, the Americans will find that the costs of holding down a hostile population in Iraq outweigh the potential economic benefits. This is what persuaded De Gaulle to pull the French army out of Algeria at the end of the 1950s. But if that happens, the results will be disastrous for US imperialism throughout the Middle East. Yale University economist William Nordhaus warned long before the war, “If American taxpayers decline to pay the bills for ensuring the long term health of Iraq, America may leave behind mountains of rubble and mobs of angry people.”
Dialectics explains how sooner or later things turn into their opposites. The Iraqi adventure will cost the USA dear. The constant financial drain and the loss of life with no end in sight will begin to have an effect inside the USA. Already Bush’s popularity is falling. Even within the Republican Party doubts are being expressed. However, the Democrat candidate Kerry has not put forward a fundamentally different position to that of Bush. In reality they have the same position in all essentials.
Whoever wins the Presidential election will be faced with a massive revolt at a certain stage. The murmurs of discontent will grow into a torrent of protest as time goes on and the reality of the situation dawns on people. It is yet another example of how American imperialism’s role of world policeman in a period of capitalist decline is undermining it at home, where it has dynamite built into its foundations.
The Middle East
The idea that the US invasion of Iraq would somehow bring about stability in the Middle East has been exposed as hollow. In reality there is not a single stable regime in the Arab world. Even the regime in Saudi Arabia is staring overthrow in the face, which is why it has been obliged to distance itself from the actions of US imperialism recently. That will not save it. Living standards in Saudi Arabia have fallen 80 percent in the past twenty years. There is a ferment of discontent. The aggressive actions of the USA have exacerbated this discontent to the extreme.
Immediately after the fall of Baghdad there was naturally a stunned reaction throughout the Arab world. The speed with which one of the most powerful armies in the Middle East was defeated shocked the Arab masses, who were led to expect something different. But the disappointment will soon give way to rage and indignation. This will be directed as much against the pro-US Arab ruling cliques as against George Bush. The universal ferment will give way to explosions and the toppling of one degenerate Arab ruler after another. Coups, rebellions, terrorist acts and assassinations are on the order of the day. This was shown by the bombings in Turkey.
The US invasion of Iraq has not strengthened its position in the Muslim countries but seriously weakened it. A recent global opinion shows that favourable attitudes to America have declined sharply everywhere, not just in the Middle East. In Indonesia the figure has fallen from 61 percent to 15 percent, in Turkey from 52 percent to 15 percent, in Jordan from 25 percent to 1 percent and so on. This means that those regimes that support the Americans are hanging by a thread. The thread can snap at any time.
Palestine remains a festering ulcer that permanently threatens to destabilise the Middle East. Washington had the delusion that it could use its military victory in Iraq to stabilise the region, which is vital for its strategic and economic interests. In fact it has achieved the precise opposite. The so-called Road Map collapsed almost immediately. The idea of an independent Palestinian state was a non-starter from the beginning. What the Israelis wanted was a puppet state that would police the Palestinians on their behalf, while accepting some of the outward trappings of “independence”. Such an arrangement would never be accepted by the Palestinian masses.
The plans of Tel Aviv are reminiscent of the Irish Free State in 1922, which was used by British imperialism to crush the Republican movement and foist a truncated “state” on the Irish people. The result was a bloody Civil War. Michael Collins, who signed the agreement, was assassinated. The same fate would await any Palestinian leader who signed a sell-out agreement with Israel.
The whole thing was unviable because Sharon does not want peace. His slogan is “what we have we hold.” The construction of a wall between Israel and the Palestinian areas is a clear admission of this fact. It is also a means of seizing even more Palestinian land – an open provocation. The result was a new spate of suicide bombings, to which the Israeli imperialists replied with their customary brutality. They believe in the motto “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, except that here for every Jewish life lost they kill and maim many more innocent Palestinians. The building of the so-called security wall will not prevent new terrorist attacks. They will always find a way around it.
The result is a further twist in the infernal cycle of violence and counter-violence, with no end in sight. The ceasefire lasted just seven weeks before being blasted apart by the suicide bombing in Jerusalem. In fact, the so-called truce was a farce from the beginning. The Israeli forces did not withdraw from the occupied territories but only pulled back a few dozen metres from Bethlehem and opened a few roads in Gaza. They removed only five roadblocks out of a total of 220 on the West Bank. The settlements were not frozen.
The recent events have ruthlessly exposed the impotence and bankruptcy of the PLO leadership. Arafat is clinging obstinately to power, but he is quite impotent to show a way out. He intrigued against the US stooge Mahmoud Abbas, but in reality his only difference with the latter is that he would like to become the US stooge himself. All his appeals have been directed to “the international community” – that is, to the US and European imperialists. He has no trust in the masses and would like to reach a deal with Tel Aviv and Washington. The trouble is that no real basis for such a deal exists.
Thus, all the manoeuvres and deals have come to nothing. Sharon had no intention of making any serious concessions and was merely waiting for an excuse to renew hostilities. Bush cannot put serious pressure on Tel Aviv (there are elections coming up, and one must think of the Jewish vote). Thus, Sharon can turn a deaf ear to the proposals from the outside world. He feels he can act with impunity because in the last analysis Washington needs a reliable ally in the Middle East. However, he also has nothing to offer.
The proposal to withdraw from Gaza was in fact a tactical manoeuvre to strengthen Israel’s hold on the all-important West Bank. The full-scale reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza would mean the imposition of martial law over 3.5 million Palestinians – a daunting task and a very costly one when Israel is in a deep economic crisis. It led to resistance in the past and would do so again. Moreover, this time the Palestinians have weapons and some 30,000 armed policemen. Therefore Sharon proposed a “compromise” which was no compromise at all. It was much too little for the Palestinians and much too much for the Jewish hard-liners. It provoked a new wave of clashes with the Palestinians and a government crisis in Israel. Thus we arrive at the point of a bloody stalemate, which can only be broken finally by revolutionary means.
Here too there are important tactical differences between Europe and America. The European imperialists, worried about the effects in the Middle East, would like to put more pressure on Tel Aviv to make concessions to the Palestinians. They are prepared to work with Arafat, whereas Sharon has made no secret of his desire to have him removed – preferably feet first, and Bush was evasive on the subject. However, since the killing of Arafat would undoubtedly be the signal for a general wave of violence and protests throughout the Arab world, and since this would be inconvenient for the imperialists and their Arab stooges, they put sufficient pressure on Tel Aviv to put a stop to these plans. However, this has not altered the stalemate in the slightest.
The point is that the differences remain insurmountable. This does not mean there cannot be a new deal. On the contrary, we can predict that some kind of new deal will inevitably be put together, probably after Sharon leaves the scene. In fact, there will be one deal after another. But each time they reach some kind of ramshackle compromise it will break down again in a welter of blood and mutual recriminations. On a capitalist basis no lasting solution is possible.
Europe and the Middle East
The rivalry between the European and American imperialists extends to the Middle East and Africa. Part of the calculations of Bush in pressing on with the invasion of Iraq in defiance of the Security Council was to exclude the French, Germans and Russians from the region. They thought that they could win an easy victory without the involvement of the Europeans, and then grab the oil wealth of Iraq and distribute the lucrative construction contracts to the big US companies that financed the Republican Party and are now looking for their reward. Even the British were to be frozen out – a suitable reward for their slavish “loyalty”.
But things did not work out as Bush and Rumsfeld expected. The Iraqi resistance is causing havoc with their plans, killing a large number of American soldiers, delaying reconstruction and causing a serious drain on American finances. Therefore Washington tried to make overtures to Europe to participate in the mess they have created in Iraq. But Europe is not anxious to take up this burden. The French are rubbing their hands with ill-concealed glee at the discomfiture of their transatlantic rivals. The British remain in an uneasy alliance, and are thrown a few small bones in the shape of construction contracts for their trouble. But the gap between Europe and America over Iraq remains as wide as ever.
Having been excluded from Iraq, the Europeans are now looking to Iran as an alternative base. The overtures of the EU to Teheran are no coincidence. While Washington blows hot and cold about the “Axis of Terror”, Paris and Berlin are striving for good relations with the mullahs. Teheran is using the issue of nuclear arms as a bargaining chip and as a means of deterring American aggression. After the invasion of Iraq, who can doubt that the possession of real weapons of mass destruction is a very good investment! That is the conclusion that has been drawn by both Iran and North Korea. Even on this level the conduct of the US has had the opposite result to what was intended. But the European bourgeois are not put off by the question of nuclear weapons. They are interested in getting their foot in the door and obtaining privileged access to Iranian oil.
There are also political motives for the friendly overtures of the EU to Teheran. Iran is a key country in the region, and it is poised on the brink of a revolution. After more than 20 years of rule by the mullahs the masses are becoming restive. The movement of the youth and the open splits in the ranks of the regime are clear warnings of the onset of a revolutionary crisis. A revolution in Iran would have a powerful effect throughout the whole region, not just in the Middle East – starting with Iraq – but in Turkey, Pakistan, Central Asia and Afghanistan. The European bourgeois are trying to shore up the regime against revolution, while encouraging the “reformers” in the hope of bringing about concessions in order to prevent an explosion.
But no amount of manoeuvring from Paris, Berlin, London or Washington can prevent upheavals that are rooted in the objective situation itself. Bush and co. calculate that in time the people of the Middle East will come to accept the American occupation of Iraq as a fait accompli. They will see that America’s crushing military superiority makes resistance futile, and that therefore it is better to come to terms with Washington and accept its dictates.
This is a complete misreading of the real state of affairs. The problems of the masses are getting worse every day. Unemployment, poverty and disease are the fate of millions who live in a region that possesses all the prerequisites for universal prosperity. This contradiction is known to the masses, who will not be held down forever by repressive and dictatorial regimes backed by US imperialism. The situation was unbearable before. Now, with the American army rampaging through the region, it is a thousand times worse.
To the degree that people conclude that it is impossible to defeat the Americans on the battlefield, their attention will turn to enemies who are nearer to home and easier to defeat. The combination of economic crisis, national humiliation and corrupt, pro-imperialist regimes, is an explosive mixture. The question is not whether the revolution will break out but only where and when it will begin.
The main problem facing the Arab revolution is the subjective factor. In the past the Communist Parties had a mass base in many countries in the Middle East. They could have carried out a proletarian revolution on many occasions in countries like Iraq and Sudan. But following the Moscow line of “two stages” they threw the opportunity away and subordinated the working class to the rotten Arab bourgeoisie. The workers and peasants paid a terrible price for this betrayal.
The collapse of Stalinism has left a vacuum that was temporarily filled by the Islamic fundamentalists. But they have no alternative to the capitalist system. Their tactics have been exposed as bankrupt. They cannot defeat US imperialism. That can only be achieved by the revolutionary movement of the proletariat and peasantry on a socialist programme. The bourgeoisie has had half a century to show what it can do, and it has failed miserably. The revolution must sweep aside the rotten and corrupt Arab bourgeois regimes and establish a regime based on the rule of the workers in alliance with the poor peasants, small shopkeepers and urban poor.
The prior condition for success is the building of strong proletarian revolutionary parties armed with the ideas of Marxism. Some people in the Middle East say: “We do not hear these ideas any more!” Yes! And precisely for that reason the movement has been shipwrecked. It must be rebuilt! The cadres of these parties will come from the young workers and students who long for freedom and justice, and also from the best of the older generation of Communists who have not abandoned the idea of the socialist revolution. The revolution is inevitable. Armed with the correct programme and policies it will be invincible. But it is necessary to break with bourgeois nationalism, fundamentalism and Stalinism and stand firmly for revolutionary socialism and Marxism!
For over a decade most of the European imperialist countries have enjoyed good relations with the mullahs. Over the past few years, particularly the last two to three years, under the guise of a “constructive dialogue” that is aimed at boosting the “reformers” and moderating the regime’s conduct, the EU countries have been improving their economic and political relations with the regime, as shown by the growing trade and investment. Now that the whole “reformist” wing stands exposed before the Iranian masses, and the “authoritarians” have adopted the main planks of foreign policy of the “reformers”, the Teheran regime is in favour of developing much closer ties with the imperialist countries.
There are occasional differences and temporary reverses, like nuclear weapons research, but the main thrust is to try to ‘normalise’ relations with the imperialist countries. The hypocrisy of the imperialists is shown here with great clarity. If the US requires further concessions before full relations are restored, it is not out of any concern for democracy. We must differentiate between the public rhetoric of the US and the negotiations that have taken place behind the scenes.
Although Iran has been placed within the “Axis of Evil” and the US regularly blocks its application for membership of the WTO, relations have improved following the 11 September attacks and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran has consistently helped rapacious US imperialism in occupying its neighbours. More recently it has mediated with the Iraqi Shias. This indicates important shifts. In May 2003 the Iranian regime even offered to hold talks with the United States on nuclear weapons and terrorism. But the hawks in the US government vetoed this.
While one section of the Bush government talks tough the other is improving relations where it counts: the US recently extended the easing of sanctions which followed the Bam earthquake. It will take a few years for US imperialism to resolve the many outstanding issues it has with the Iranian regime. In the meantime the capitalists of the EU, Japan and other countries are benefiting at the expense of the Americans.
The EU countries, and the UN, are also helping the regime in improving and modernising its economy and developing foreign trade and investment. World Bank lending to Iran resumed in 2000 after a hiatus of seven years and the current portfolio consists of a total commitment of $432 million. According to the World Bank these operations help “to support Iran’s reform efforts”. There are now a whole range of other UN agencies helping the regime “meet its international commitments”, including “fighting terrorism”, repatriating Afghan refugees and so on. The main aim, however, is to bolster the regime and pacify the mass movement.
The imperialists are terrified of revolution in Iran and this mutual fear is what ties them to the mullahs. In addition to the students’ protests, many other sections of society have been protesting, demonstrating, marching and even winning some small battles. The most important element in this equation is the working class. The struggles and strikes against unpaid wages, temporary contracts, factory closures, privatisation, massive unemployment, rampant inflation and so on are mostly met by the silence of the world’s media.
In Iran a simple protest can not only lead to bloodshed but also the refusal of the advocates of “constructive dialogue” to publicise it. The protest by laid off contract workers and their families at the Khatoonabad copper smelting plant in January 2004 led to four workers being shot dead by the riot police. The government’s use of riot police, special police units and helicopters to kill and maim workers and their families can break up individual protests. Death and serious injury, however, have become a part of daily life for working class families. That is why this atrocity did not result in a downturn in struggles but to a call for a five-minute general strike.
The recent May Day arrests, and the subsequent release of all workers and activists, show a clear shift in the balance of class forces in Iran. For the first time in its twenty-five-year history this regime has backed down under the pressure of workers struggles. (Although it has gone back onto the offensive on this question now). It is therefore no surprise that one of the most active UN agencies in Iran has been the International Labour Organisation. The ILO has been giving the Iranian capitalists and their regime the advice and training they need to create ‘trade unions’ which will suffocate all radical action by workers. This is a reactionary response to the steady rise in workers’ struggles in Iran during the last few years that has been disguised as ‘concern’ for trade union rights.
The revolution in Iran will develop over a period with ups and downs, but it is absolutely inevitable. When that happens, it will have a powerful effect throughout the whole region, not just in the Middle East – starting with Iraq – but in Turkey, Pakistan, Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Caucasus. It is a key element in the world revolution today.
Impasse in Afghanistan
The United States has been involved in the Afghan theatre of operations for since it succeeded in overthrowing the Taliban government in late 2001. Despite all its efforts, the U.S. has been unable to establish anything resembling stability. It has created the impression of some semblance of order in Kabul – where the “national” government is located – but outside Kabul, they have little or no control. The American forces do not even control the same territory that the Soviet army controlled in the years 1979-1989. In fact, the United States is not really attempting to control the entire territory of Afghanistan.
The U.S. is maintaining the fiction of a “united” Afghanistan, without providing any troops to enforce central rule. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrols only Kabul and the immediate surrounding area, while various regional warlords and their militias rule their respective territories. The attempt to deceive world public opinion by holding so-called elections in Afghanistan has been cruelly exposed by a new series of attacks by the Taliban and other anti-American elements.
Instead of defeating them, the Taliban and its sympathizers remain free to roam largely at will and conduct hit-and-run guerrilla attacks. Although al Qaeda can no longer use Afghanistan as a major training base, it is still active there and is using the country as a launching pad to send its fighters into Iraq. This is ironical, given the repeated assertions by Bush and Blair to the effect that the invasion of Iraq was justified by the presence of al Qaeda. In fact, they were not present before the invasion – but they certainly are now!
It is true that al Qaeda has been unable to mount a major strike on an U.S. target since Sept. 11, 2001. But it has attacked “soft” targets in places like Casablanca, Bali, An Najaf, Riyadh, etc. Above all, they have obviously been participating in the attacks on US forces inside Iraq. All that the American imperialists have managed to do is to spread instability to other parts of the region – especially Pakistan. The mountainous border region of the Afghan-Pakistani border region is porous, relatively unguarded and home to the Pashtoon ethnic group that lies across national boundaries. Al Qaeda has in all probability moved its main forces into this region, where it is difficult for U.S. forces to operate.
A blow against al Qaeda would be a good way of diverting American public opinion away from the bloody mess in Iraq. But there is a problem. Al Qaeda is based in Pakistan, which is a key ally of the USA, and also extremely unstable. Washington has been tightening the screws on Islamabad recently. With its usual bullying arrogance, US imperialism is mercilessly pressurising its “ally” Musharraf. In effect, they are telling him: either you sort out al Qaeda, or we do it for you! This is alarming the ruling circles in Islamabad.
The Americans want decisive action against the Taliban and al Qaeda and their supporters in Pakistan. It is only a matter of time before some dramatic events occur in the region. The Afghan-Pakistani border is rugged mountainous terrain, perfect for guerrilla operations. The frontier itself is porous, permitting constant guerrilla infiltration: The winter weather and the mountains do not permit the deployment of tanks and other equipment needed for conventional modern warfare. Thus, America’s technological advantage is severely reduced. Above all, their enemies can count on the support and sympathy of the local Pashtoon population.
This was shown by the spring offensive by the Pakistan army in Northern Pakistan, which ended in a farce. The Pashtoons bitterly resent the activities of US imperialism in their homeland. For a long time, the Northwest Frontier Territories has been a virtual no-go area for the Pakistan army. The attempt to launch a fully-fledged offensive there was bound to be a bloody business and fraught with dangers. It solved nothing but further undermined the already fragile regime of Musharraf. As we predicted, it further increased the fury of the fundamentalists, who have points of support in the tops of the army and that hotbed of reaction, the Pakistan Intelligence Services – the ISI.
Instability in Pakistan
The position of the Pakistani regime is very weak and unstable. Musharraf is trying to balance between U.S. imperialism and the militant Islamism that was built up over decades by the ISI and the Pakistan army with the active connivance of Washington. Now, because this no longer suits US imperialism, they demand Pakistan’s unconditional backing for the so-called war against terrorism. But by so doing they are aggravating all the explosive contradictions in Pakistan.
Musharraf has tried to put a safe distance between his government and the United States, but everyone knows that this is a lie. He is increasingly seen as a puppet of Washington. This is the kiss of death for his regime. The anti-Americanism of the mullahs has reactionary overtones, but the anti-Americanism of the Pakistani masses is an expression of a deeply felt anti-imperialism. The merciless U.S. pressure on their puppet Musharraf is undermining him completely in the eyes of the population. There will be mass demonstrations against imperialism that can quickly turn into mass protests against the dictatorship. There have already been three or four attempts against Musharraf’s life and new attempts will be inevitable under these circumstances. The regime is hanging by a thread. It can fall at any time.
The Bush administration is indifferent to the fate of their “ally” in Islamabad. They are hell-bent on the destruction of al Qaeda and the capture or killing of bin Laden, and if this means the fall of the Pakistani president, so be it. From the standpoint of Washington, such “allies” can be purchased at two to the dollar. In the grand order of things, what does it matter if there is a change of regime in Islamabad? There have been plenty of such changes in the past, and there will be plenty in the future!
Musharraf is under no illusions as to the value of American friendship. Therefore he is desperately trying to persuade his countrymen to take action against the “extremists” before it is too late. Under pressure from Washington he has made concessions to India over Kashmir and has even taken steps to close the bases of some of the jihadi groups. But whatever he does will be too little and too late. India and the USA will make new demands all the time. Eventually, he will not be able to comply.
Time is running out for Musharraf. How long he can cling to power it is not possible to predict with accuracy. But one thing is clear: the present regime is very unstable and cannot last. When its time has come, US imperialism will have to find a replacement – a “second eleven”, as they say in cricket. They have a replacement in the person of Benazir Bhutto. She has expressed her firm support for the USA, even though such support is the kiss of death for any government in Pakistan.
When Benazir returns, she will do so in a situation very different to when she left. The masses will be aroused. It is inevitable that the masses that have been recently reawakened to political life will look to the PPP. That is a law. The politically untutored masses will look to the well-known names, the big parties and the traditional banners. The memory of the masses is short, and they are very forgiving towards their leaders. That places a PPP government on the order of the day.
But the next PPP government will not be like the previous two. From the beginning it will be under the pressure of the masses, which will vote for the PPP because they want a change in the conditions of their lives. They will be prepared to wait a little, but not too long. They will demand results and will not be prepared to accept for long the usual excuses of the leaders. The government will be squeezed between the pressure of the masses and the merciless pressures of imperialism and the ruling class. It will be ground between two millstones.
This means that it will be a government of crisis from the beginning. There will be convulsions and splits in the party. At a certain stage a mass left wing will emerge, which under the extreme conditions existing in Pakistan can quickly take on a centrist character – that is, a position that vacillates between Marxism and left reformism. It is not likely that the party could hold together under such circumstances. There will be an open split between the bourgeois and feudal elements in the leadership and the worker and peasant base. This will open up very favourable circumstances for the growth of the Marxist tendency.
In the revolutionary period of 1968-9, the Pakistani workers and peasants could have taken power ten times, but they were paralysed by the leadership. But the revolutionary traditions of that period still live in the memory of the class. They are expressed in the original programme of the PPP, which contains the expropriation of the banks, land and industry under workers’ control and the replacement of the standing army by the armed people. When the workers and peasants of Pakistan once again enter the arena of struggle, they will demand a return to these ideas. The difference is that this time they will have a genuine Marxist tendency to lead them.
It is possible that the first breakthrough of the world revolution will come in Pakistan, where the conditions – both objective and subjective – are maturing rapidly. The ruling class is split and demoralised. The middle class is in a state of ferment. The working class has largely recovered from past defeats and preparing to enter the struggle. Last, but not least, the Pakistani Marxists have built a strong base in the mass organizations. They have adopted the correct tactics and methods of work and are well place to lead a mass movement that will shake the whole Subcontinent.
The Pakistan Marxists have shown tremendous energy and élan, combining all kinds of different work – trade union, youth, parliamentary, etc. – with great creativity. Their striking successes have opened up important possibilities in what is the key country in the Subcontinent – India.
A decisive element in the equation is an internationalist policy. If the Pakistani Marxists come to power, they will have to make an appeal to the workers and peasants of India to support them, or the reactionary Indian bourgeoisie will join hands with the Pakistani landlords and capitalists to crush the revolution, as they did in Bangladesh in the past.
The colossal potential of the Indian proletariat
The spectacular defeat of the reactionary BJP government was yet another example of the inevitability of sudden and sharp changes in the situation. None of the official media even considered such a possibility. The BJP itself was confident of success. Their election campaign was based on the slogan: “Shining India”. But the election result showed that for millions of people, India was far from shining, but rather a nightmare of poverty, hunger and despair. Power cuts, pot-holed roads, and polluted water, corrupt government, illiteracy, hunger and pogroms – these are the normal conditions for millions of Indian workers and peasants today. With 17 percent of the world’s population, India accounts for less than two percent of global GDP and one percent of world trade.
Superficially the Indian economy was developing rapidly, with an annual growth rate of eight percent. But such figures conceal as much as they reveal. In towns like Bangalore a minority of middle class people have good jobs and wages. In the villages there is extreme backwardness, with mud roads and no clean drinking water. India there cannot shine because there is no electricity. For the 70 percent of the people who live in the countryside, there was darkness not light. Three quarters of the cultivatable land is without irrigation. 300 million live on less than one dollar a day. 47 percent of children under five are underweight and life expectancy is 63. Only 58 percent of the population is literate, as opposed to 85 percent in China. Only two percent of GDP is spent on education.
This is the balance sheet of over half a century of independence on a capitalist basis. Since the criminal partition of 1947 the bourgeoisies of India and Pakistan have demonstrated their complete inability to carry society forward. The Indian bourgeoisie once claimed to be secular, democratic and even “socialist”. Then the ugly face of reaction was revealed in the shape of the BJP. But the rise of the BJP was the result of the bankruptcy of Congress, which, after decades in power, failed to solve any of the fundamental problems of Indian society.
Now Congress has returned to power. But Manmohan Singh has no answer to the pressing problems of the Indian masses. He is an enthusiastic advocate of “market economics”. Both the BJP and Congress are reactionary anti-working class parties. What is needed is an independent class alternative. The most important element in these elections was the huge vote for the Communist Parties. This shows that the masses desire a fundamental change.
The CPI and CPI (m) have a mass base among the workers and peasants of India. They must break with the bourgeoisie and Congress and prepare for power. The only way out is the formation of a workers’ and peasants’ government with a real socialist programme. Such a programme would receive the enthusiastic support of millions of workers, peasants, dalits and members of the oppressed nationalities. It would instantly cut the ground from beneath the feet of the communalists and reactionaries. If the working people of India were strong enough to defeat the British Raj, they are strong enough to defeat the Indian landlords and capitalists. What is required is strong and determined leadership!
If the Indian bourgeoisie has failed India, the even more reactionary and corrupt Pakistani bourgeoisie has ruined Pakistan and brought it to the very edge of barbarism. On a capitalist basis no way forward is possible for either India or Pakistan, or any of the other nations that make up the Subcontinent. Bangladesh is a picture of backwardness and terrible poverty. Sri Lanka has been wrecked by decades of bloody civil war and ethnic strife. Nepal too is plunged into an internecine civil war. Kashmir languishes in chains. Everywhere the masses are exploited, oppressed and humiliated.
The Indian working class is the most powerful in the region. It has very militant traditions, as shown by the 50-million strong all-India general strike against the BJP government’s privatisation plans in April 2003, and again in the magnificent general strike of February 24, 2004. An estimated 50 million people including Government employees, observed the nationwide February general strike, demanding a review of the Supreme Court judgment on the right to strike and reversal of the Government’s economic policies.
The strike was total in the Left-ruled States, and had an important effect throughout the country. The strike, called by the central trade unions and industrial federations, was total in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and resulted in a semi-insurrectionary (“bandh-like”) situation in Assam, Haryana, Orissa and Jharkhand. The full weight of the state was brought to bear on the strikers. The working class had asserted its right to strike in defiance of the prohibition by the Supreme Court. There were reports of police charges and large-scale arrests in Delhi, Haryana, Orissa and Pondicherry and other states.
The sweeping scope of the strike was impressive. Every section of the class was drawn into the struggle.. The employeess of banks and insurance companies joined the strike. Oil installations in Tripura, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar were affected. A large number of coal miners, employees of public sector undertakings in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, plantation workers, construction labourers and those employed in the steel plants in Salem, Durgapur and Burnpur also took part in the strike. The strike hit operations in the Kolkata, Haldia, Cochin, Gujarat, Paradip, Tuticorin and Mumbai ports. Air transpoert was also affected. No flights took off from Kolkata and rail traffic was disrupted in several places.
This magnificent strike shows the enormous revolutionary potential of the Indian working class, once it is mobilised for struggle. It was this movement of the masses that prepared the defeat of the BJP in the elections – not the leadership of Congress. They had no confidence in victory. By contrast, the massive response to the strike by the working class exposed the complete hollowness of the claims of the government that Indian capitalism has created prosperity for all. The pro-market economic policies of the BJP government have benefited a tiny minority of rich exploiters at the cost of deepening poverty, growing unemployment, privatisation and closures and the repeated attacks on the working class.
The Indian and Pakistani bourgeoisies are both terrified of the masses in their own country. Today they need an agreement to pacify the masses. Tomorrow they will create a mood of pro-war hysteria to distract the masses again. There will be no shortage of pretexts – terrorist actions, police atrocities, communal slaughter. All these are implicit in the situation. On a capitalist basis, no lasting agreement is possible. Only the proletariat can show a way out of this terrible impasse by revolutionary means. The working class cannot accept the existing frontiers that cut across all natural boundaries and divide people who speak the same languages and have shared a common history for thousands of years.
The Balkanisation of the Subcontinent is the main reason why it is weak and dominated by world imperialism decades after the achievement of formal “independence”. The proletarian revolution must therefore place at the top of the agenda the slogan of the Socialist Federation of the Subcontinent as the only way out for the peoples of the region. Only by uniting the tremendous productive potential of the whole Subcontinent will it be possible to raise the peoples of this vast and imposing region to their true stature.