World revolution and the tasks of the Marxists – Part Two

Here we look at the situation in Europe, where a revival of the class struggle is clearly taking place, the contradictory process in world relations, the impasse facing the underdeveloped countries, with a particular emphasis on the situation in occupied Iraq, in Iran and in Palestine and Israel.

[Editor's Note: This document was discussed, amended and voted in July by the 2006 World Congress of the International Marxist Tendency. Most of the text was originally written as a draft in October 2005 in preparation for the Congress. In the process of discussion it was redrafted in February and then amended at in July. This has to be taken into account when reading it. For example the section of the document on Mexico was written long before the great revolutionary events that have been unfolding over the past couple of months. The document actually predicted that such a movement would break out if the ruling class attempted electoral fraud. September 2006]

Europe 

The most important question on which we must focus our attention is the political and social effects of the crisis of capitalism - the way in which this is finding a psychological expression among the masses. The events of the last twelve months alone have furnished us with a wealth of information in this respect. A serious political crisis is developing in one country after another. Everywhere there is the beginning of a ferment among the masses. In addition to the explosions of the youth in France there have been important strikes in one country after another. There is an acceleration of the process of radicalisation. We are witnessing the reawakening of the working class on an international scale.

From the point of view of the class struggle a deep slump is not necessarily a good thing. Sudden mass unemployment can cause a temporary paralysis of the class struggle. The workers are traumatised for a time, although this can later lead to factory occupations and the masses will begin to draw far-reaching political conclusions. The present situation, on the other hand, can and does act as a stimulant to the class struggle. There is feeble growth, but accompanied by high, persistent, organic unemployment. This is a boom at the expense of the working class, based on merciless pressure, closures, sackings, unemployment, speed-ups, and attacks on pensions. Everywhere the message is the same: "work until you drop dead."

The revival of the class struggle is seen most clearly in Europe. European capitalism is in a state of long-term decline, reflected in a low rate of growth and high rates of unemployment. In place of growth there is economic stagnation. The whole European project is starting to become unstuck. The row between Britain and France over the EU budget, and the debacle of the European Constitution, are only two symptoms of this fact.

Europe The ambition of the EU to dominate all Europe up to the borders of the former Soviet Union has created new contradictions. Eastern Europe lags far behind the rest of the EU. Unemployment in Poland is officially 18 percent, and in reality far higher. Entry into the EU will solve nothing for these countries, but will place a severe strain on the EU itself. Countries like Poland and Hungary have a large and backward agricultural sector that cannot be easily integrated into the EU, where the Common Agricultural Policy is already absorbing huge amounts, imposing a severe strain on the budget and exacerbating the conflicts between France and her "partners".

The conflict between Britain and France over the budget centred on two questions: the British rebate and the CAP, which pays out a generous subsidy to France. The viciousness of the dispute exposed the underlying contradictions between the EU nations and exploded the myth of "European solidarity." Far from advancing to a European "super-state", the process towards European unity has been halted and is in the process of being reversed. Of course, the European bourgeois cannot accept the destruction of the EU, and the Euro may be maintained. But the original terms of the Maastricht Treaty are as dead as the dodo.

Britain, having lost her status as a world power, has been reduced to a second-rate country off the coast of Europe. Its decline is graphically illustrated by the so-called Special Relationship with the USA. The slavish subordination of Blair to Bush in all matters shows the complete impotence of Britain, which has lost most of its industrial base. Blair and Brown used to boast about Britain's economic success, based in market economics. But all that has evaporated. Its rate of growth is now no more than 1.5% - the lowest for 12 years. The clash with France ended badly. Blair was obliged to make a humiliating retreat over Britain's contribution to the EU budget, while Chirac conceded nothing at all. With the onset of recession and high rates of unemployment, there will be many more conflicts between the EU states.

The attempt to impose a common currency has, as we predicted in advance, caused an aggravation of the economic crisis. This is particularly clear in the case of Italy. Italy is now the sick man of Europe. The crisis in Italy is extremely serious. In the past, the Italian bourgeois got out of crises by resorting to the devaluation of the lira and increasing budget deficits. Now, with the Euro, neither of these options is possible. The Italian ruling class must place all the burden of the economic crisis on the shoulders of the working class. This has led to a whole series of general strikes that have completely undermined the Berlusconi government. The bourgeoisie has no alternative but to send the working class to the school of Prodi. It will be a very hard school.

A few months ago The Economist published an article saying that to solve the problem of the Italian economy they need to lay off 500,000 workers in the industrial sector, and cut wages by 30%. This shows the real plans of the bourgeoisie. It shows how much pressure will be on the Centre-Left government when it comes to power. It will be forced to carry out attacks on the workers. But it will also be under the pressure to carry out policies in the interest of the working class. This will open up a ferment of opposition in the ranks of both the RC and DS, with big possibilities for the Left Wing and the Marxist tendency, which has already made important gains.

Italy is now in the front line of the class struggle in Europe. But Germany and France - two key EU countries - are not far behind. In both countries there is a deep political crisis. The result of the EU constitution referendum in France was a bombshell. It was not just a vote on the EU constitution or even against Chirac. It was a protest against the whole situation, a vote against the whole political establishment.

The French banlieues riots reflected the accumulated contradictions in French society, which have been building up over a long period. It reflects the burning anger of the dispossessed youth, which sees no future for itself in the present system. This feeling of alienation has many causes: poverty, discrimination, racism, and police violence. But in the last analysis, it is a reflection of the fact that in the present period even in an economic boom, unemployment remains very high. In France, according to the official statistics (which always understate the real position) there is around ten percent unemployment. But for young people the figure is twenty percent, and for young North Africans forty percent.

The burning of cars was a blind protest against inhuman conditions, against unemployment, bad housing and social decay. The bourgeois throw up their hands in horror at the violent manifestations of discontent. But who are responsible for this? In the first place, the capitalists and their hired agents, the politicians and police who preside over appalling conditions of social deprivation, and in the second place the reformist leaders of the workers' parties and unions, who have been incapable of giving a political and organisational outlet to the discontent of the youth.

The representatives of the ruling class often come to the same conclusions as the Marxists. After the riots and the EU referendum, President Chirac is reported to have said: "There is a profound malaise in France." That is undoubtedly true, but not only in France. In Germany there are over four million unemployed and a budget deficit of 32 billion Euros. As a result Germany is now passing through its worst crisis since the end of World War II. It is ironic that the CDU has entered a coalition government with the Social Democracy just at this time. Angela Merkel was very pleased she was made Chancellor but will live to regret it.

Merkel likes to present herself as a "reformist", by which she means that she stands for a policy of vicious counter-reforms and cuts. The German capitalists are no longer capable of giving reforms and concessions as they did in the past. On the contrary, they cannot tolerate the reforms they have already conceded. But in the last elections the people were precisely voting against "reform". The stage is therefore set for an intensification of the class struggle in Germany and a growing polarisation to the left and right. An anticipation of this is the left split in the SPD even at this very early stage.

The situation in Germany today already bears certain similarities to the turbulent days of the Weimar Republic. Everywhere we look, we see the same process. In the recent period, there were two general strikes in Belgium. In Greece there were two important general strikes. In December 2005 there was a general strike in Greece against the right wing ND government. Almost at the same time in Ireland there was a mass demonstration of 100,000 people in Dublin in support of the ferry workers and against attacks on pensions and workers' conditions.

In Spain, the right-wing Aznar government suffered a humiliating defeat on March 14th, 2004. The seeds of this defeat were sown during the previous three years: an escalation of the class struggle which brought about movements of millions of youth and workers throughout the length and breadth of the country. The general strike in Galicia in 2001, mass mobilisations of student youth against the right-wing education counter-reforms, the great general strike of 20th June 2002, the movements of hundreds of thousands against the Prestige disaster, and the anti-war demonstrations, which brought millions of workers onto the streets, all produced a general convulsion in society, heightening the political polarisation to a degree which can only be compared to the situation in the 1970s. This political polarisation, which reflected a qualitative leap in the consciousness of millions of workers and youth, reached its peak in the days following the Islamic fundamentalist bomb attacks in Madrid on 11th March 2004, when a mass movement - which was of an almost insurrectionary character - challenged bourgeois legality on 13th March with demonstrations surrounding PP offices in several towns and cities. The movements of these days showed more clearly than previous movements the characteristics of the inevitable future revolutionary process in Spain. At that time, the right-wing government seriously discussed the possibility of postponing the elections, although this was finally rejected due to the fact it could have provoked a response from the population which, without doubt, would have gone beyond the limits set by the workers' leadership, creating an untenable situation. If a Marxist organisation with real influence among the masses had existed at the head of this movement, there is no doubt that a crisis with pre-revolutionary consequences would have opened up.

These events showed the revolutionary potential of the Spanish working class, which is deeply rooted in the its past traditions.

During these two years of the Zapatero government, the right wing has mobilised its social base time and again in an attempt to undermine the government. In doing so it has resorted to systematically unleashing the same ideas that the forces of reaction used in the 1930s, whipping up hysteria about separatism and the break-up of Spain, the defence of the privileges of the Church and an all-out opposition to any possibility of negotiations with ETA. Within this strategy, the right wing and an important section of the bourgeoisie that identifies with these positions have used all their points of support within the State, including the army, to virulently attack the PSOE government. Lamentably, the leadership of the PSOE and the trade unions have not responded by mobilising their social base in the streets against this furious attack from the Right. Their aim is to try to calm the situation while carrying out the economic policies of the bourgeoisie. Obviously, these attempts to throw cold water on the class struggle, while introducing a degree of confusion, are not preventing political polarisation from continuing to develop and express itself in all fields.

This situation, which contains a number of similarities with the events of the 1930s, is a foretaste of the processes that will take place in Spain in the coming period. The same symptoms, with differing tempos, are developing in other European countries.

The political crisis is not confined to Europe. We see it also in Israel, Canada, Pakistan, Nigeria, Thailand, the Philippines and many other countries, including the USA itself. The immediate cause of the crisis may vary significantly: it may be economic, but also military, a political scandal, a terrorist act, or any number of other causes, but ultimately the real cause is the same. Hegel pointed out that necessity expresses itself through accidents. The slow, almost imperceptible mood of discontent reaches a point where it must find an expression.

In Australia the right wing won a sweeping victory in the last election, which gave them a majority in both the senate and the lower house. This followed a period of economic boom when the Australian economy grew by five percent a year. Yet the Australian ruling class put heavy pressure on the Conservatives to launch an unprecedented brutal attack on living standards. As a result there have been mass demonstrations in all the main cities involving at least half a million people. This happened in a country where there had been no significant movement of the working class for a long time. Yet the workers reacted immediately to the attack on their living standards.

Thus, the crisis is manifesting itself everywhere. If it was a case of one country or another, one could conclude that these were merely accidental phenomena. But that is not the case. These are clearly indications of a general tendency. They indicate that we have entered into an entirely different historical period on a world scale. The period we are entering will not be like the 1960s or 1950s but will be far more similar to the turbulent 1930s: a period of wars, revolution and counter-revolution.

World relations

After the fall of the USSR, there is extreme military and diplomatic instability. In the past there were always two, three or more Great Powers, competing with each other for world domination. Now there is only one. The USA has emerged as the most powerful imperialist power in history, spending 500,000 million dollars each year on arms. This is more than the military budgets of Russia, China, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and India combined.

In the 19th century the young US bourgeoisie expressed its ambition in the Monroe Doctrine which staked the US's claim to exclusive domination of the Americas. Now they have a peculiar variation of this doctrine. Now the whole world is considered their domain. Instead of the old slogan: "America for the Americans" we have the new slogan "The whole world for the USA". This has led to consequences that were unforeseen or insufficiently appreciated by the strategists of US imperialism.

Bush, Blair, Aznar There is a serious and growing split between the USA and Europe. This is reflected partly in numerous and acrimonious trade disputes and partly in open clashes over diplomacy. The European bourgeoisie has its own interests in places like the Middle East, Iran, China, Africa and the Caribbean and cannot passively accept the domination of Washington in world affairs. As a result NATO is split down the middle, and there are growing divisions in Europe generally, reflected in the crisis over the European constitution. Blair is the faithful lackey of Bush, reflecting the collapse of British power and London's inability to play an independent role in world affairs. This led to a sharp clash between British and French imperialism that threatened to destabilise the EU.

In reality, however, Europe's role in world affairs is declining rapidly. The whole future of the world will be decided in Asia and the Pacific, with its teeming populations and energetic economies. The USA makes no secret of its desire to dominate Asia and the Indian sub-continent. Sooner or later the US will come to blows with China over the Pacific. China has already established itself as a leading world power. Its economic might is now universally recognised and it will not be long before China asserts this might in both military and political terms.

Washington seeks to dominate the Middle East - a key area for US imperialism for both economic and strategic reasons. In their delirium, the ruling clique in the USA imagined that the power of the USA was unlimited. But the real limits of US power have been cruelly exposed in Iraq. With 130,000 US troops on Iraqi soil, they have been unable to control the situation. The insurrection continues unabated. The most powerful nation on earth finds itself trapped in an unwinnable conflict that has already cost over 2,000 US dead (the figures of Iraqi deaths are not recorded but are enormous), and at least 16,000 wounded. The war is costing at least six billion dollars a month.

Not even the wealthiest nation on earth can sustain this haemorrhage of blood and gold indefinitely. It is not a question of whether the USA will be forced to leave Iraq, but how soon. And it is clear that whatever regime is left behind, it is unthinkable that it would be sympathetic to Washington. In retrospect, the whole Iraq affair will be seen as a fiasco and an adventure. The psychological consequences in the USA will be similar to that of Vietnam. It will open the door to a new period of radicalisation in the USA. This will be directly connected to events that are being prepared in Latin America, and will affect the attitude of Washington to the latter.

In its ambition to dominate the whole world, US imperialism attempted to surround Russia with a string of puppet states in Central Asia. Having got Poland and other former Soviet Bloc countries in Eastern Europe to join NATO, it then extended the scope of its intrigues to countries like the Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The collapse of the Soviet Union has brought no positive results for the peoples of Central Asia. The so-called independent republics are weak and vicious regimes that combine all the worst aspects of totalitarian Stalinism with capitalist gangsterism and a brutality worthy of Genghis Khan. Moscow and Washington compete with each other to get control of these states with their big reserves of oil and natural gas, alternately supporting or undermining the existing government according to their convenience.

The actions of US imperialism have thus caused the destabilisation of one country after another. They have unleashed insurrectionary movements of the masses, which, in the absence of a genuine revolutionary leadership, are manipulated by unscrupulous bourgeois elements. There has been one uprising after another. In the space of a few months in 2005, there were insurrections in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but the bourgeois opposition offers no way out for the masses. This means that the instability will continue for the foreseeable future.

US efforts to exert control over the Central Asian states and the Caucasus have infuriated the Russians and brought it into conflict with Moscow and Beijing. Russia and China are now attempting to counter the USA. Moscow is pressurising the Ukraine, using the powerful lever of oil and gas supplies to show the government in Kiev who is boss. It is also applying pressure on Georgia. It has succeeded in getting the Americans ejected from Uzbekistan. Having lost its base in Iraq, it is giving tacit support to both Iran and Syria against the bullying tactics of Washington.

The Americans have not pacified Afghanistan, as they claimed. The recently elected parliament (loya jirga) consists of a motley assembly of warlords, drug barons and Taliban. Out of 240 members of this parliament, 200 are said to have private armies. The central power has only the American army and its foreign allies to rest on. Karzai only maintains a shaky control over Kabul thanks to the US forces that are (so far) keeping him alive. Outside the capital he controls nothing. Meanwhile, Pakistan and the whole of Central Asia have been destabilised.

Bush's visit to India shows that US imperialism is trying to establish itself as the dominant power in Asia. It would like to establish closer ties with India as the biggest country in the region with the fastest expanding market. But it is forced to maintain a delicate balancing act in order not to alienate Pakistan, which is important as an ally in its war in Afghanistan. But both India and Pakistan are in crisis.

In Pakistan, the earthquake was an accident of nature. But it brought to the fore all the accumulated social and political tensions in Pakistan. The system is now so fragile, so inherently unstable, that any external shock can cause a deep crisis. The Pakistan ruling class is so desperate that they have decided to unleash the national question, stoking the fires of national conflicts in Baluchistan and elsewhere. This will have serious repercussions in the North West Frontier (already in a state of turmoil), Sindh and Kashmir itself.

US imperialism, having aggravated the situation by its interference in the region, has tried to prop up its puppet Musharaff, but it is leaning on a broken reed. Musharaff can be overthrown or assassinated at any time. This will open up the floodgates, preparing the way for revolutionary developments that will affect the whole Subcontinent. The tragedy in Kashmir caused a wave of spontaneous sympathy on the part of the masses in India. This does not suit either the reactionary Pakistan ruling class or the equally reactionary Indian bourgeoisie. Neither side is interested in solving the Kashmir question, which they have always used to stir up hatred between the peoples in order to divert attention away from the class struggle.

The crisis in India is also deepening. The defeat of the reactionary BJP at the last elections represented a political earthquake, but the bourgeois Congress has been rapidly discredited. Under the remorseless pressure of the IMF, it has carried out a policy of "reform" (that is, counter reforms). As a result it is in crisis and is stricken by scandals. In fact, both Congress and the BJP are in crisis and splitting. Meanwhile the powerful Indian working class, which prepared the electoral victory of Congress with a general strike, is once again flexing its muscles in a new strike wave. But both the CPI and CPI (m) are tacitly supporting the Congress government. This is causing growing discontent in the ranks. For the first time the unions have struck in Kerala where the CPI (m) is in power.

For its part, China is using its economic successes to increase its already considerable military power. It is re-equipping its army. Its space programme is dictated primarily by military considerations (as is that of the USA). It is flexing its muscles in Asia, where it has issued a stern warning that it will never tolerate a declaration of independence by Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province of China. This is not a bluff. The rulers of Beijing fear that such a move might encourage breakaway movements in other parts of China. And they have the necessary military means to impose their will. Sooner or later there will be a head-on collision between the USA and China over the Pacific - the most decisive area for the future history of the world.

The "Third World"

The impasse of capitalism is revealed in its crudest forms in the crisis of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Here the permanent instability and turbulence reflects the fact that there is no way out under capitalism. The situation in the so-called Third World countries is horror without end. Here the crisis of capitalism spells misery, disease, wars and death for millions. According to the World Bank, a total of 1.2 billion people are living on the brink of starvation, out of which eight million die each year because they do not possess sufficient money to keep them alive. The Human Development Index, a summary of health, longevity, education and living standards, fell last year in 21 countries. In 1980, it only fell in four. This is incontrovertible proof that in the present boom conditions for the masses have not improved but declined.

This is the case even in countries with high rates of growth. The figures of economic growth in no way reflect the real position of the masses. The GDP of Uganda grew six percent a year for the last decade. But income per capita remained at less than 250 dollars a year. The position of Africa is critical. In the civil war in the Congo at least 4.5 million people were killed. The whole of western Africa is in chaos. Half a million people have been killed in civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Elements of barbarism are appearing in one country after another.

Yet a series of general strikes in Nigeria shows the revolutionary potential of the working class. President Obasanjo is now in his second term in office. Initially the masses gave him some credit as they were expecting concrete material improvements in their living conditions from "democracy". Instead what they have had has been a constant barrage of attacks. The issue of the price of fuel has been a key one. Under pressure from imperialism the regime has massively increased the price of fuel, it has proceeded with its plans for privatisations, it has attacked pensioners, enormously increased school fees and so on.

Until recently the leadership of the trade unions was able to hold the situation for the ruling class. They have called a whole series of general strikes, only to compromise at the end. This is now provoking opposition within the ranks of the unions, as the workers begin to draw conclusions from their past experience. In the next period the struggle of the working class will move onto a higher plain. The Nigerian working class is destined to play a key role in the African revolution. Either it leads the masses to victory or the prospect of terrible ethnic conflict could become a real one. There are already signs of this. Here the words of Luxemburg are absolutely confirmed: the choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism.

Because of the absence of the subjective factor, the discontent of the masses, and in particular, sections of the dispossessed youth, manifests itself in distorted forms: fundamentalism, terrorism, suicide bombings, etc. Trotsky explained long ago that in any society where terrorism was endemic, this was a symptom of a fundamental impasse and a revolutionary ferment. The imperialists hypocritically denounce the desperate acts of oppressed people as terrorism, while they themselves conduct a policy of unbridled terrorism on a global scale.

Let us recall that the declared aim of Washington in attacking Iraq and Afghanistan was to defeat terrorism. What are the results? On all sides the risk of new terrorist attacks has increased, not diminished, with al Qaeda operating freely not only inside Iraq but in countries like Jordan, a key US ally which was relatively stable, but no more. Saudi Arabia looks increasingly unstable. The Lebanon is on the brink of civil war. In other words, they have succeeded in destabilising the entire Middle East. As for Bin Laden, he was supposed to have been killed several times but is still alive and active in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, together with his Taliban friends. This was hardly what Bush and Rumsfeld had in mind when they began their adventure.

In the citadel of world imperialism, the USA, there are also elements of a crisis that increasingly resembles a crisis of the regime itself, like the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon. When Bush won his second term we said that he would regret his victory, and that he would end up as the most unpopular President in US history. Both predictions are rapidly being confirmed by events. Bush already had the lowest approval ratings for a newly elected President in recent history, and his support has plummeted since. The big majority of US public opinion is now opposed to the occupation of Iraq.

Iraq and the ‘war on terror'

Imperialist arrogance, greed for plunder and rabid reaction on the part of Bush and his clique were the motives for the US military adventure in Iraq. Saddam Hussein represented no military threat to the USA. The CIA was well aware that he possessed no weapons of mass destruction. The decision to invade had nothing to do with 9/11. It was taken long before by the clique of right wing Republicans and fundamentalists that control policy in the Bush White House. They merely seized upon the destruction of the Twin Towers as a convenient pretext, as everyone now knows, to execute a plan they had drawn up within weeks of Bush taking office in 2001.

The war in Iraq This was quite unnecessary and has had the most serious consequences from the standpoint of US imperialism. With an occupying force of 130,000 troops equipped with the most sophisticated modern weapons, they have not succeeded in pacifying Iraq. The invasion of Iraq is having a profound effect in the USA itself. Recent polls show a sharp increase in opposition to the Iraq war, which 54 % now think was a mistake. Only 34% of Americans now think there will be a positive result. Apart from the large number of US soldiers killed and wounded, the economic costs are enormous. The occupation of Iraq is costing the US Treasury not less than six billion dollars each month. Not even the richest power on earth can stand such a drain of resources indefinitely.

The Bush administration has its head in the sand. Bush has publicly stated that he doesn't "buy the premise that there is going to be a civil war". A civil war in Iraq is of course not written in stone, but it is a distinct possibility. Bush was asked in an interview if US troops would play a larger role in stopping the spread of sectarian violence in Iraq. His answer was "no", adding that US soldiers would simply continue to train Iraqis to deal with the violence.

It seems impossible that if the violence continues to escalate, and that if a civil war does break out in Iraq, that US soldiers will not be dragged into the conflict. The current Iraqi regime relies solely on US military power for support. If the violence continues the US will be dragged into the conflict, even kicking and screaming if that has to be the case, and the body bags of US soldiers will continue to pile up.

However, Bush is in a precarious situation. He has to publicly state that the US will not get involved in a civil war. The morale in the army is low. A recent poll was conducted amongst US soldiers in Iraq, which revealed that 72 percent of US troops serving in Iraq believe the United States should exit within the next year. Nearly 25 percent said the troops should leave immediately. A poll done last March by The San Francisco Chronicle also revealed that 70 percent of troops in Iraq characterize their morale as low or very low. 75 percent of soldiers said that the leadership of their battalion was poor or showed a lack of concern for the well being of the soldiers. These figures are astounding. Given these figures, it is questionable whether the US army could even be used in the event of a civil war in Iraq.

Better than anyone, the soldiers know that they are not in Iraq for the reasons they were told. They see no reason to be there. They face attacks, the threat of death, and a hostile population daily. Many are reservists who just want to go home. Facing the prospect of a growing conflict in which many more US soldiers will die, it is entirely possible that the tensions in the army will break. The US military could collapse in Iraq. The US have forgotten the lessons of the past and walked right into a situation which is strikingly similar to what they faced 40 years ago in Vietnam - a demoralized army that simply wants to go home, fighting a war they cannot win, and facing a serious
defeat on the home front.

Sooner or later they will have to withdraw with their tails between their legs. When they go, they will leave behind a total mess. Despite all the bragging propaganda, the elections have solved nothing. A recent official Iraqi opinion poll says that more than 50% of Iraqis now consider they were better off under Saddam Hussein. 85% want the Americans to leave. The USA is desperately trying to create an Iraqi army in order to withdraw its troops before the military situation deteriorates any further. But how? In their efforts to get a base, they have split Iraqi society along national and religious lines.

Washington gave concessions to the Shiites, which alienated the Sunnis and also the Kurds. As a result they have allowed Iran to intervene. The tensions between Tehran and Washington have been heightened as a result. Now they are attempting to redress the balance, offering concessions to the Sunnis, including the offer to include former Baathists in the army and security forces that they previously dominated. This has infuriated the Shiites and increased the fatal tendency towards sectarian conflicts and violence. These can degenerate into a bloody civil war, with incalculable consequences. Thus, a military action that was allegedly aimed at establishing peace, stability and democracy is collapsing into a bloody mess. The conflict between Iran and the USA is thus already being played out inside Iraq though a low intensity "proxy war". Only the development of a unified national Iraqi resistance will be able to avoid the spectre of an all-out civil war.

Their adventure in Iraq has placed the US imperialists in a difficult position when dealing with other so-called "rogue" regimes. Next door to Iraq the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran finds itself in a contradictory position. Internally it is facing growing worker unrest. A series of key strikes has taken place, underlying the class contradictions in Iranian society. In recent years we have also seen magnificent movements of the youth.

In the early stages this was expressed in illusions in the so-called "reformist" wing of the Islamic regime, but having served in office these have been discredited. Now the new "hard-line" president has come to power and is trying to hold the situation together by turning the attention of the masses towards the "external enemy". Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is using populist, "anti-imperialist" rhetoric to appeal to the masses while at the same time making a whole series of deals, particularly with European capitalists, to get more investment into the country.

The regime is clearly in a dilemma. It desperately needs investment to develop its industrial base, to create jobs and give the masses some concrete material gains if it wishes to stabilise the situation. At the same time it is in conflict with imperialism, particularly US imperialism, over its development of nuclear capability. They claim it is only for "peaceful purposes", but this fools no one. The leaders of the regime have drawn one important conclusion from the US invasion of Iraq: if you don't have "weapons of mass destruction" you get invaded, if you do you don't!

US imperialism is terrified of the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power. So far they have used diplomatic pressure, UN resolutions and so on to try and curb Iran's nuclear aspirations. However, US strategists are divided over how to move further. Some are hoping the regime can be gradually weakened and eventually overthrown from within, and they are spending millions of dollars with this aim in mind. Others believe that some form of armed conflict is inevitable. This is the thinking of the Bush administration. The problem is they are presently bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire. This however, does not exclude a possible US missile strike on the nuclear research centres, or an Israeli strike backed tacitly by the US. Even such a limited conflict, however, would only serve to further enrage the masses in the Middle East and would solve nothing in the long run.

The greatest threat to the regime, however, does not come from US imperialism: it comes from the working class and other mass movements. The total collapse of support for the so-called "reformist" wing of the Islamic regime has resulted in a huge shift in consciousness and combativity of the working class, the youth, women, national minorities and other exploited and oppressed layers in society. Until a year ago the most alarming development for the regime had been the crumbling of its social base, and hence its ability to use that base in cracking down on labour strikes and other movements. That was the logic of installing Ahmadinejad as "president" and then doling out money to the Hezbollah, Basij and so on.

Since then two semi-state bodies that have been crucial in controlling the students' and workers' movements have undergone major developments. The Office for Consolidating Unity, the student organisation responsible for the seizure of the US embassy, now has elements in its leadership who openly call themselves socialists and are being prosecuted by regime for being "Marxists". The Labour House, which until little over a year ago was openly attacking genuine trade unionists like the Vahed bus drivers, has sacked the editor of its daily newspaper, Kar-o Kargar (Labour and the Labourer). Since then Kar-o Kargar, which has a circulation of around 200,000, has published Lenin's 1899 article "On strikes" and a photograph of him. The similar pressures and fissures in other semi-state organisations.

The growth of various social movements has been unprecedented. Two years ago, labour activists were arrested before they had even managed to take part in the May Day rally in Saghez. Last year, the Labour House's May Day celebrations, which were supposed to endorse Rafsanjani's presidential campaign, were wrecked by the workers. In this year's massive May Day rally the Labour House totally lost control and the workers put their own slogans forward: "Strike, strike", "Jailed workers must be freed", "Look at France, do something for us" and so on. As the recent events in Tabriz and various universities have shown the change in the national and youth movements has been almost as dramatic. This type of growth, even despite the shortcomings of its leadership, is beginning to have its effects on the stability and unity of the bourgeois state itself. The repressive apparatus has been witnessing divisions. The uniformed police and security forces have on a number of occasions sided with protesters against the plain-clothed officers. This was particularly noticed on May Day 2006 in Tehran.

One thing is certain; the opposition of the working class is growing. The workers are becoming bolder; their fear of the regime is not what it was. At a certain stage the Iranian workers will move in a decisive way. It was the movement of the working class, in particular the oil workers, that finally brought down the hated Shah. The same will happen with this regime. Our Iranian comrades are already in touch with the best workers and youth and on this basis over the coming period we can build a strong Marxist tendency.

Palestine and Israel

At the heart of Middle Eastern politics is the Palestinian problem, which has been a source of instability in the region for decades. Bush, and particularly Blair, would like to encourage the "moderate (i.e. bourgeois) wing" of the Palestinian Establishment. But all the promises of Bush and Blair to bring about the foundation of an independent Palestinian state stand exposed as hollow hypocrisy. With its calculations in Iraq reduced to rubble, and the situation in Saudi Arabia ever more uncertain, the USA is compelled to rely even more than previously on its only firm ally in the Middle East, Israel. Bush cannot afford to alienate Israel.

 More than ever the policies of US imperialism on this question are determined by the most reactionary circles in Tel Aviv, who moreover enjoy excellent relations with the hardliners of the religious right in the Republican Party. However, Israel itself is also passing through a political crisis that is without precedent since the state was established. The fact that Sharon was unexpectedly laid low by a stroke was an historical accident of the purest kind. But the question must be asked: how does it come about that the entire political life of Israel has been plunged into crisis on the basis of one old diseased man. This is a reflection of a complete impasse - the expression of an unstable system.

This turbulence is not directly caused by economic factors, but at bottom the crisis of Israeli capitalism affects the psychology of the masses in a decisive way. In the past, the Israeli population (like the Australians) enjoyed a privileged standard of living. In the early days, when the Zionist Labour Party was in power, it carried out reforms that benefited the masses and even paid lip service to "socialism". Now all that has been reversed. The economy is in crisis. There is ten percent unemployment and there are soup kitchens in Israel. Instead of reforms there are counter-reforms.

Under these circumstances, there has been a split in both the Labour Party and the Likud. This places on the agenda the beginnings of a polarisation to the right and left in Israel, which can have a profound effect on the whole situation over a period. The problem consists in the lack of leadership and the national question that constantly serves to distract the attention of the masses from the class questions.

In the Palestinian territories there is also a growing discontent with the corrupt bourgeois leaders of Fatah. Mahmoud Abbas aspires to be an American stooge. But he is not even very successful at this. He cannot control the masses, and Washington has no use for a stooge who cannot keep the masses under control. The handing over of Gaza was intended by Tel Aviv as a manoeuvre to justify holding onto Jerusalem and most of the West Bank. It has led to few benefits for the people of Gaza who live in the direst poverty with mass unemployment and the dream of a Palestinian state remains as illusive as a desert mirage. The recent elections led to a sweeping victory for Hamas, which reveals the depth of discontent with the corrupt and impotent Palestinian Establishment. But the masses are suffering from exhaustion after years of struggle and hardship. Even the decision of Hamas to participate in the elections was a tacit admission of this fact.

In reality there can be no way out for the Palestinian people other than the revolutionary road: the overthrow of both the corrupt and bankrupt leadership and the reactionary Zionist ruling class in Israel. This cannot be achieved without the support of at least the decisive section of the Israeli working class. The conditions are beginning to exist for forging a genuine unity in struggle of the Palestinian masses and the Israeli working people. But the prior condition is the abandonment of the counterproductive tactics of individual terrorism and the systematic building of contacts between the workers and youth of Palestine and Israel. For this a genuine revolutionary party and leadership are necessary.

The crisis in the Middle East is part of the general world turbulence that is spreading uncontrollably. The intervention of imperialism cannot stop it. On the contrary, it makes things worse, and sooner or later this has its effects in the metropolitan countries. The terrorist attacks in London showed that the chaos in the Middle East and the criminal occupation in Iraq are having repercussions in the political life of Europe. This was also the case with the overthrow of the Aznar government. This was the direct consequence of a terrorist atrocity linked to the war in Iraq. In the next period we can see similar developments in Italy, and even the United States itself.


See also Part One, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five