The struggle against imperialism
Capitalism has revealed its reactionary nature on a world scale. This is most strikingly revealed in the so-called Third World. The last period has seen an unprecedented intensification of the world division of labour ("globalisation"). But the ex-colonial countries have not benefited from this. On the contrary, the exploitation of the so-called Third World by the advanced capitalist countries has increased enormously in the past period.
Despite having achieved formal independence, the ex-colonial countries find themselves even more dependent on imperialism than fifty years ago. For special reasons South East Asia succeeded in developing the means of production, but that has now collapsed. The crisis in the USA and their extreme dependence on exports has dragged them down.
The super-exploitation of the ex-colonial countries can be seen in the unfavourable terms of trade. The prices of raw materials (excepting oil) have fallen to record lows. The Economist Index of world commodity prices stands at its lowest level for 150 years. On a capitalist basis, no way out is possible. In most of these countries the standard of living of the masses has not gone up and is even declining. Half the population of the world now lives on two dollars a day or less.
Even sections of the imperialists are beginning to realise the dangerous consequences of this situation, and are calling for measures to cut the debts of the ex-colonial countries and increase aid. But these measures will be a drop in the ocean. The sentimental nonsense about the plight of the poor countries amounts to crocodile tears. The debts continue to mount up relentlessly. As the crisis unfolds the imperialist countries will lose their enthusiasm for trade liberalisation (which was always very relative, as far as the poor countries were concerned) and resort to protectionist measures against the exports from Africa, Asia and Latin America. This will have serious effects on these economies, which are already suffering disproportionately from the world recession.
The real programme of US imperialism is the further super-exploitation of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. The civilisation and "democracy" of America, Japan and Western Europe depends in no small degree upon this slavery, which condemns half the population of the world to live on less than two dollars a day. But this is a finished recipe for a new upsurge of the revolution in the former colonial countries. Explosions are being prepared everywhere. The potential for revolutionary developments is shown everywhere in the ex-colonial countries: in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, Iran, Indonesia, Palestine, South Korea, Zimbabwe, Algeria, even Saudi Arabia.
New upheavals are inevitable. After the collapse of the USSR, the whole of Central Asia is extremely unstable. American imperialism, by its clumsy intervention in Afghanistan, has further aggravated this instability. The Financial Times (30/10/01) described Central Asia as "a region plagued by poverty, deteriorating health care and social services, serious environmental degradation and authoritarian governments."
There are explosive contradictions everywhere which act as the seeds for future wars and conflicts. Islam Karimov, the dictator of Uzbekistan, is authoritarian and corrupt, and very unpopular. The opposition Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was linked to Afghanistan, where their guerrillas had bases. But by, in effect, supporting him, the Americans have added to the internal contradictions. Karimov has ambitions to dominate the whole region. There are 25 million Uzbeks out of the total population of 57 million in Central Asia.
In particular, there are tensions between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which are mirrored inside Afghanistan in the conflicts between Dostum and the Tajiks within the Northern Alliance that surfaced even during the recent fighting. Together with the greed of the imperialists to possess the oil and gas of Central Asia and the Caspian, this is an explosive mixture.
Everywhere one looks it is the same story. Africa is a mess from the Sahara to the Cape. The multinationals, through the different imperialist powers, are still fighting each other, using different stooges, for the control of the main agricultural and mineral recourses. In the last few years we have seen turbulent events: the massacres in Rwanda and Burundi; the Congo descending into chaos; and the triangle between Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea enmeshed in episodic wars for more than a decade. In Nigeria, there are continual outbreaks of inter-ethnic and religious conflict. Everywhere the elements of barbarism threaten to engulf the people.
Latin America is in the deepest economic crisis since the War. There is not a single stable bourgeois regime from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. The objective conditions for socialist revolution have been ripe in the ex-colonial countries for at least half a century. In fact, they are rotten ripe for revolution. Decaying capitalism threatens to plunge one country after another into barbarism. There is no way the imperialists can stop this, no matter how many bombs they drop. The reason why the revolution has not succeeded so far is not the strength of imperialism but the weakness of the subjective factor: the absence of a real revolutionary party and a leadership.
The case of Algeria is very significant, since the mass uprising took place in a country, which had been ravaged by ten years of the most vicious and bloody civil war between the fundamentalist guerrillas and the military regime which left thousands of victims. Out of a situation of apparently unrelieved black reaction a massive explosion of anger erupted. The situation in Algeria is very important, since many bourgeois thinkers presented the rise of the FIS, together with the regime in Iran, as a paradigm of the rise of fundamentalism, which was presented as something eternal and inherent to countries with a Muslim tradition. Now in both countries we see the workers, and particularly the youth, leading the revolts aimed in the last instance against the existing social order. The masses in these countries, in different ways, have reached the conclusion that these reactionary movements offered no alternative. In the past the Marxists analysed the victory of Khomeini in Iran and the election victory of the FIS in Algeria as a result of the lack of the alternatives on the part of the traditional left organisations and their mistaken political strategy. The madness of fundamentalism loses its power of attraction for the masses to the degree that they experience it in power, as in Iran. And in Algeria, the most revolutionary sections of the youth are not attracted by fundamentalism and are seeking another road in their struggle against the pro-capitalist generals. The revolt of the youth spread to the whole of the population, from the Amzight (Berber) areas to the rest of the country. Committees were set up which were co-ordinated nationally. These committees have assumed functions of the state (transport, media, law and order, etc.) and led the struggle. In other words, they were the embryos of soviets.
The formation of these popular committees reflect the very advanced character of these movements, but at the same time underline the crucial role of a revolutionary leadership. In Ecuador or Algeria, a Marxist tendency of just a few hundred cadres with roots amongst the workers, peasants and youth, could have changed the whole course of events and guaranteed a victorious outcome of the revolutionary process. The objective conditions which led to this mass explosion in Algeria are no different from the conditions in most Arab countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, etc.), where movements of a similar type are inevitable in the coming period. A victory of the workers and peasants in just one country would transform the whole of the situation.
The main reason why the imperialist powers are arming to the teeth is to prepare for a new phase in the revolt of the ex-colonial peoples. In the last period, US imperialism has waged more wars than anyone else - mainly against small weak countries that cannot fight back: Libya, Grenada, Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua. They waged a bloody and destructive war against Vietnam for 13 years, which they lost through the opposition of the masses in the USA and the collapse of the US army in Vietnam.
Ever since Vietnam, the Pentagon has been opposed to committing American troops to a ground war. But sooner or later this will be inevitable. Colin Powell, who is a former general and a bit more perceptive than George W. Bush, believes that America should only intervene when it has overwhelming force and an exit strategy. Given the colossal firepower of US imperialism, this is an extraordinarily timid position. That it should be put forward by a man like Powell - who is obviously grooming himself for the White House - reveals the deep fears of the strategists of US imperialism of the consequences of future American involvement in foreign adventures. It shows an awareness of the limits of the power of US imperialism.
Nevertheless, US imperialism is preparing to intervene everywhere. Having given the government of Colombia $1.3 billion to fight the guerrillas, it has now increased its military aid to the government of the Philippines from $2 million a year to over $100 million. President Bush represents that section of the US administration which thinks the Powell doctrine is too timid and that it is time that the US committed ground troops in foreign conflicts. They have been reinforced by what they see as "victories" in the Gulf War, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Bush, who ironically came to power on an isolationist programme, now talks about intervening against Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia. Although the Pentagon is still terrified of any US involvement in a ground war, the logic of events is pulling America irresistibly in that direction. New convulsions are being prepared, each one of which can cause massive destabilisation of the ex-colonial countries and enormous repercussions in America and the other advanced countries at a certain stage.
Marxism and war
We have lived through a prolonged period of boom and relative stability, which in some respects resembled the period before 1914. Now it is all breaking down. But whereas in 1914 the imperialists could easily dominate the world, this is no longer the case now. Everywhere the productive forces are in an impasse. Of course, this does not mean that there will be no further development of the productive forces (the productive forces even grew to a certain extent in the Great Depression of the 1930s). Nor does it preclude the possibility of temporary booms. But the kind of growth experienced by capitalism in the long upswing after 1945 is no longer on the agenda. The temporary boom of the second half of the 1990s has ended in a global crisis of capitalism, expressed by economic crisis, increasing contradictions, and constant wars. This means that we have entered a new period, a period of storm and stress on a world scale. The epoch of the world revolution. This is not a period of peace and stability but the opposite. Wars are inevitable in this period, and under certain circumstances revolutions can come from war. The old stability has been replaced with instability at all levels, which at a certain stage must find its expression in the consciousness of the working class.
All important issues are settled by war - whether the war between nations or the class war (revolution). In the present epoch, as in the period when Lenin wrote his book Imperialism, the purpose of war from a capitalist point of view is the conquest of markets, raw materials and spheres of influence. In the coming period there will be many wars - not a world war as in the past, but "small" wars like the Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan. Under conditions of economic crisis and global instability, the contradictions between the imperialist powers will increase enormously. There will be a ferocious struggle for even the smallest markets. The imperialists will not hesitate to launch vicious proxy wars, utilising their local agents to do the fighting for them. We see this, not only in Afghanistan, but in Africa (Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia) and Iraq. Such conflicts can extend over whole regions, creating a nightmare for millions of people. Our attitude towards war is not determined by the horrors of war, but by the horrors of capitalism. We take a class position, not a sentimental position like the pacifists and the "Lefts". Our main task is to patiently explain to the advanced workers and the youth the real meaning of the war, to unmask the hypocritical propaganda and to expose the class interests behind the war - "the continuation of politics by other means".
War puts every tendency to the test. The reformists always reveal their hopelessness in times of war. The right wing reformists openly support imperialism - especially the strongest imperialism (America). The Lefts adopt the standpoint of tearful pacifism and call on the United Nations to intervene. In the past, the UN was only a forum for settling secondary issues and allowing the ex-colonial nations to blow off steam. Now it is not even that. It is completely dominated by US imperialism. The demand always raised by the "Lefts" that the UN should intervene, is both utopian and reactionary. Both in the Gulf War and Afghanistan, the UN provided a fig-leaf of "legality" for the aggression of US imperialism, just as it did previously in Korea and the Belgian Congo.
The main thing is to maintain an implacable opposition to imperialist wars. On the other hand, we are fundamentally opposed to bourgeois pacifism. There is no question of our advocating either conscientious objection or desertion, as some ultra left groups do. Such positions have nothing in common with Leninist revolutionary defeatism. We do not have a moralistic position on war. Our policy is determined by the class interests involved. It is not determined by the crimes of the Taliban, any more than it was by the crimes of Saddam Hussein, or Vargas or Haili Selassie before the War.
Confusion of the sects
Before the Second World War, when the possibility arose of war between Brazil and Britain, Trotsky pointed out that in a war between a semi-colonial country and an imperialist state, the Marxists would be bound to support the former against the latter. The character of the government was not the decisive factor. Thus, even though the Vargas regime in Brazil was of an extremely reactionary - even semi-fascist - character, in the event of war with "democratic" Britain, one would have to support Brazil.
Though Trotsky did not develop this idea, the crux of the matter is very simple: that it is necessary to oppose all imperialist wars against colonial and semi-colonial nations, irrespective of which kind of government holds power in the latter. For a Marxist, this is an ABC proposition, which it is hardly necessary to insist upon. However, the sectarians, as usual, make a caricature out of Trotsky’s argument. It is always possible to turn a correct argument into an incorrect one simply by carrying it to an absurd extreme.
While defending a firm anti-imperialist line, at no time did Trotsky ever suggest that one had to defend Varga, or to drop our opposition to his regime. On the contrary. Both Lenin and Trotsky criticised the colonial bourgeoisie implacably for their inability to wage a successful struggle against imperialism. Our position on Afghanistan is based on the classical position of Lenin and Trotsky. We fight against the imperialist aggression against Afghanistan. The reactionary character of the Taliban regime does not affect this position in the slightest degree. But that does not at all signify that we side with the Taliban or bin Laden, or that we cease to condemn their reactionary policies.
The sectarians always make every imaginable mistake and some that are unimaginable. This is particularly true in time of war. People who have read a couple of lines of Lenin or Trotsky - without understanding or digesting them - imagine themselves to be great theoreticians. Thus, we had the spectacle in Yugoslavia of every imaginable permutation, from supporting the Croats (CWI), to supporting the Serbs, the Bosnians, the KLA etc. Not one of them maintained a class or internationalist position. Now we have the ultimate lunacy of so-called Trotskyists supporting - the Taliban and Islam. This is not just wrong, but monstrous from a Marxist point of view.
By their peculiar twists and contortions, the sects always land themselves in the most absurd positions, especially on the national question and the struggle against imperialism. They always end up capitulating to the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie and abandoning the class position. Defence of the right of self determination and the struggle against imperialism does not mean that we have to support every reactionary nationalist tendency that has accidentally entered into conflict with imperialism. Let us remember that both bin Laden and the Taliban were the creatures of imperialism not long ago, and worked together to destroy the pro-Moscow regime in Kabul. To overlook this fact would be light-minded in the extreme.
The Taliban (and their ally in crime, bin Laden) are the most monstrous counter-revolutionaries. And though this cannot determine our attitude to the war in Afghanistan (which is an imperialist war of aggression of the world’s strongest imperialist state against one of the world’s poorest countries), it must not be lost sight of. We fight against imperialism, and that is quite sufficient. We are under no obligation to identify ourselves with the Taliban who, by the way, have shown their total incapacity to wage a successful war against the imperialists. If - as is most likely - the war continues as a guerrilla struggle of the Afghan people against a foreign invader, that is no thanks to the Taliban, who have led the Afghan people from one calamity to another.
As usual, the logic of these people is "we must do something". But what is needed is to do something positive - like raising the level of political consciousness of the workers of the West. By their shrill and hysterical propaganda, they only help to lower the consciousness of the few people who bother to listen to them, while simultaneously discrediting the very name of Trotskyism. They argue that the Taliban (despite some minor faults in the past) are now "fighting imperialism", so it is now necessary to let bye-gones be bye-gones and form a united front of "struggle". In actual fact, the Taliban is no more able to struggle successfully against US imperialism than Noriega was in Panama. In order to inflict a serious defeat on imperialism other - revolutionary - policies are required. As for the "struggle" waged every day by the sectarians in the coffee bars of London, Paris and New York, the less said, the better.
Our tendency can be proud of its record of defending a class position on war. We must know how to build the revolutionary party in fact, not in the empty phrases of the sects. At he beginning of the war, it is normal that the mass of the working class should have a pro-war position, on the grounds that we must support "our boys", etc. We must have a patient attitude towards workers who back the war, not the shrill ultra-leftism of the sects. The attitude of the workers will change in the course of experience of the war itself. In the meantime we must not cut ourselves off by stupid ultra left slogans and gestures, but try to develop slogans that will get an echo in the class. We must develop appropriate transitional demands. For example, the confiscation of war profits of the big companies and the use of these funds for hospitals and schools, etc.
While opposing imperialist wars by all means at our disposal, we must at all times maintain a consistent class position. We will oppose the war, but under our own banners and with our own methods and slogans. By contrast, the petty bourgeois sectarians with their hysterical flag-waving, immediately capitulate to reactionary ideas, mixing up banners and substituting the red flag of proletarian revolution for the black flag of reaction and fundamentalism. This is the opposite of a revolutionary position. We have explained how the US imperialists built up bin Laden and the Taliban, just as they had built up Saddam Hussein. Our aim is to undermine the confidence of the working class in the bourgeoisie and their governments.
War is very often the prelude to revolution. In 1915, when the world was plunged in a bloody imperialist war, with workers killing workers, and Europe was in the grip of militarism and black reaction, Lenin was confidently predicting revolution. Events showed that he was correct. It is necessary to fight against the stream, and at a certain point, the tide will turn. The progress of the war will open up deep fault lines and exacerbate all the contradictions on a world scale. The events which impend will have an effect on the conscience of the world - including the USA. Questions will be asked. Minds, attitudes and opinions will begin to change. This will open up tremendous possibilities for a Marxist tendency which has maintained a firm and principled position.
Despite the overthrow of the Taliban regime, the Americans still face considerable difficulties both inside Afghanistan and on a world scale, especially the Middle East, which has been destabilised by their actions. They have solved nothing and only created new problems.
Thus far the Americans gave achieved the following:
- Overthrown the Taliban regime, without putting anything more stable in its place.
- Unsettled Pakistan and brought nearer the possibility of the Afghan conflict spilling over the frontier.
- Alienated India and aggravated the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which could lead to a new war.
- Created serious instability in Saudi Arabia, which puts in danger the future of the Saudi royal family.
- Undermined and weakened "moderate" Arab regimes everywhere.
- Alienated both the Israelis and Palestinians and increased the tensions between them.
- Threatened Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and even Iran, increasing instability on a world scale and especially in the Middle East.
- Provoked a wave of anti-American feeling throughout the Moslem world and thus strengthened Islamic fundamentalism.
- Increased the risk of new terrorist attacks on the USA and its citizens and property outside its borders.
- Allowed the Russians to get back into Kabul.
Inside Afghanistan there is no stability. The so-called broad based government cobbled together under American pressure will not last long. Already the Uzbek leader Dostum and other warlords are strengthening their own positions at the expense of the central government. There is no possibility of such a ramshackle coalition establishing its rule over all Afghanistan. It will have enough problems maintaining itself in power. That can only be done on the basis of outside military support. That means that the USA and its allies (mainly Britain and Turkey) will be left holding the baby.
So far the Americans have managed to avoid getting involved in a war on the ground - something they fear as much as the Devil fears holy water. They have let others do their fighting for them. But this strategy has its own problems. The Northern Alliance will take money from the Americans, but will not necessarily do what the Americans want. In addition, the Taliban, although wounded, has not been destroyed, and can make a comeback later on, as disillusionment with the new government in Kabul sets in - as it inevitably will.
No amount of American aid will serve to stabilise the situation. Afghanistan, in its ruined state, is a bottomless pit into which billions of dollars could be poured with little or no effect. Moreover, since the "broad-based" government contains many different groups and individuals, everyone will extend an open palm, expecting to see it full. Not very much will ever be seen by the poor people of Afghanistan, who will soon learn to hate the government and its foreign backers. And in Afghanistan, political opposition swiftly expresses itself in the language of Kalashnikovs.
The stage is thus set for a conflict that can drag on for years. This perspective will not be substantially changed even if bin Laden and mullah Omar are captured or killed.
It is inevitable that the ruling clique and the military elite of Pakistan will soon be manoeuvring to get back their lost positions in Afghanistan, posing as the champions of the Pashtuns. But by interfering in the affairs of their neighbour they will further destabilise the situation and create the conditions for the war to spread to Pakistan itself. Meanwhile, the events in Afghanistan are having an unsettling effect on the Middle East - a vital area for the interests of US imperialism.
The situation in Pakistan - already extremely fragile before the recent events - has been further undermined by the war in Afghanistan. The fall of the Taliban represented a humiliating defeat for Pakistan and its military clique. The regime in Pakistan is weak and rotten and might even be overthrown. It is only being propped up by US imperialism. The US is partially relieving the regime of its debt burden in order to pay it off for supporting their war. Washington has given Pakistan 600 million dollars in debt rescheduling, while lifting the sanctions imposed three years ago on India and Pakistan for their testing of nuclear weapons. But this is a trivial quantity compared with Pakistan's huge external debt.
Thirty four per cent of the population is officially described as living below the poverty line. 60 per cent of the budget is spent on the repayment of interest on the external debt, a further 40 per cent goes to the military. Only 2 per cent is spent on education. Health spending amounts to two US cents per person per day. And yet imperialism through the IMF and the World Bank are constantly pressurising Pakistan for budget cuts. Liberalisation has had a disastrous effect on Pakistan's economy. When tariffs were reduced to 64 per cent, 3,462 factories were closed. In addition, there is remorseless pressure to privatise, leading to closures and mass unemployment. The closure of schools and clinics affect the poor, because the rich have access to private health and education.
The war has further unsettled the masses and added to the already existing instability. Initially, the fundamentalists made a lot of noise, but in fact, they do not have deep roots in the masses. They can be swept to one side once the working class begins to move. What is required is an independent class programme. The Pakistan Marxists can play a decisive role in this.
For more than fifty years, Pakistan has alternated between unstable and corrupt "democracies" and even more unstable and corrupt military dictatorships. The present regime is very shaky. It is possible that the US imperialists will soon be thinking about recalling Benazir Bhutto from London and sending the masses back to the school of the PPP. Under conditions of deep social crisis, the ground will be prepared for a sharp polarisation to the right and left and a crisis in the PPP. This will open up big possibilities for the Pakistan Marxists. The perspectives for the Pakistan revolution must be placed on the agenda of Marxists throughout the world. We must pay careful attention to the tactics, slogans and programme of the Pakistani Marxists.
Situated in a key geographical area, straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey occupies a strategic position, not only for imperialism, but also for the world proletarian revolution. With its powerful and militant working class, Turkey has passed through periods of colossal class struggle that could have ended in the victory of the revolution. But the false policies of the Stalinists, following the line of the Moscow bureaucracy, led to the most bloody defeat for the working class in 1980.
Although the bloody military dictatorship of September 12 - which was portrayed as a mild military regime in the West - has begun to dissolve, its legacy continues to the present time. However, the rotten and corrupt Turkish bourgeoisie has not been able to solve any of the fundamental problems of society. Despite important economic and industrial development, which has enormously strengthened the proletariat, the basis of Turkish capitalism remains relatively weak and unstable. This is reflected on the one side in constant political instability, on the other hand by financial and economic crisis.
Turkey is now in an economic crisis never seen before. Unemployment is growing at an incredible rate, and because this crisis has broken out at a time when the capitalist world economy is in a recession, it is not easy for Turkish capitalism to overcome the crisis in the short term. The repercussions of the continuation of the crisis in the social and political spheres will be more political instability and bitter class struggles.
In many respects Turkey resembles tsarist Russia, except that the specific weight of the Turkish proletariat is a thousand times greater. The underlying weakness of Turkish capitalism is reflected in its foreign debt, which amount to US$150 billion, while its GDP in 2001only amounted to $145 billion. The Turkish lira is strongly dependent on the dollar and in a weak position against it. As with other similar countries, the convulsions in world markets affect Turkey in a catastrophic way, as shown by the collapse at the end of 2000.
Desperate to find a way out of the impasse, the pro-European section of the bourgeoisie sees joining the EU as the only solution. Although this approach is correct from the point of view of the bourgeois, it has proven to be extremely difficult to achieve. Moreover, the region in which Turkey is situated is pregnant with new and explosive developments.
The general world situation affects the fate of Turkey in a very direct way. Turkey is itself a weak imperialist power, but it is a super-power on a regional scale, where it acts as an agent of US imperialism, along with Israel. As part of its plans for the Middle East and Afghanistan, Washington is trying to use Turkey as a cat’s paw for its military adventures, especially in relation to Iraq. It is probable that the American imperialists have promised Turkey a slice of Iraq, for example the Mosul and Kirkuk oil fields in Northern Iraq, in exchange for supporting a military adventure.
There is no doubt that Turkey has strengthened its hand in the post-September 11 international conjuncture thanks to the US. As a powerful NATO member in this region, Turkey cannot be ignored by West European countries, a position which the US is trying to reinforce politically by means of the EU and economically by means of the IMF.
Whatever the designs and expectations of the big imperialist powers have about the region, events have their own logic. The strategists of imperialism, who are busy working out their plans concerning the Balkans, the Middle East and Eurasia, are unaware of the profound repercussions these developments abroad will have internally, and the effect they will have on the class struggle, especially in Turkey, where relations between the classes are extremely unstable. The working class has not moved in a decisive way since the terrible defeat of 1980. But this temporary inertia will not last. The crisis of the political regime is just an expression of the deep and insoluble crisis of Turkish capitalism, which sooner or later must be expressed in a movement of the masses.
The Turkish proletariat is very powerful and has revolutionary traditions. After years of vicious persecution and prohibitions, the working class is still disorganised even at the trade union level and also it has not overcome its fear of what is still essentially a military-police regime with a parliamentary fig-leaf. Due to the aggressive anti-trade-union policy of the bourgeoisie, the level of trade union membership has declined to around 7%. Nevertheless, the working class is slowly recovering from the past defeats, a new generation of class fighters is emerging. At a certain stage there will be a renewal of the class struggle, which can transform the entire situation, not only in Turkey, but throughout the region.
The shock waves of a revolution in Turkey would have an immediate effect in Iran, Iraq, Greece, Cyprus, Russia, the Middle East and the Balkans. Given the enormous power of the Turkish working class, the revolution could easily take the form of a classical proletarian revolution on the lines of Russia in 1917, but on a far higher level. This would be guaranteed if there existed a genuine Marxist-Leninist party, rooted in the proletariat, which would make an internationalist appeal to the workers and peasants of other countries to follow their example.
The USA is once again trying to put pressure on the EU to broker some kind of an agreement between Turkey and Greece on the question of Cyprus. However, this is easier said than done. It goes without saying that we stand for the reunification of Cyprus. But after over a quarter of a century of partition, the question remains unsolved. In Cyprus both the Greek and the Turkish speaking communities want to live in peace, without the interference and provocations of Turkey and Greece. The majority of people in Turkey also are tired of the Cyprus problem. The Turkish people are in favour of a peaceful solution and against the provocations of the government and the fascist parties like the MHP. The liberal bourgeoisie, which is anxious to get Turkey into the EU, stresses, the idea that joint entrance of the Northern and Southern parts of Cyprus will be beneficial for Turkey.
The workers in Northern Cyprus would undoubtedly prefer a united Cyprus, even on the basis of EU, rather than remain under the boot of Turkey. The Turkish occupation has brought nothing but oppression and poverty to them. The proclamation of "Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic" on November 15, 1983 has done nothing but place Northern Cyprus completely at the mercy of Turkey. This part of the island has been degraded to a level in which Mafia and black money hold sway and the means of subsistence of the people has dried up.
However, there are powerful interests opposed to reunification. The memories of past oppression of the Turkish Cypriots under Greek rule have not disappeared. Denktas, with the support of the most reactionary wing of the Turkish ruling class, is implacably opposed to unification. This man, who had formerly been the deputy prosecutor of the British colonial rule, has been playing the role of governor of a colony of Turkey on the island for some 27 years and resorting to intrigues to silence his opponents. Every time they move towards some kind of deal, it is eventually sabotaged and the hopes of the people dashed.
Because important interests are at stake, it is not theoretically excluded that they may arrive at some kind of shaky deal. But this is not at all certain. Denktas will only tolerate some kind of loose confederation, which will leave him in effective control. This is not what the Greek Cypriots want. On the other hand, there is the question of the right of return, property rights, the Turkish settlers and above all the question of the presence of the Turkish army. The question of Turkish membership of the EU is also far from being solved. And the Turkish reactionaries have accused those who are standing for a softening of Turkey's position of "selling out Cyprus" and have advocated the annexation of the Turkish part of Cyprus.
Ultimately, the fate of Cyprus will be determined by the fate of the revolution in Greece and Turkey. The only realistic solution for the working class is the establishment of a socialist federation embracing the whole of the island. But because the fate of the Cypriot revolution depends on the revolutions in Greece and Turkey, our aim should be that of building a wider socialist federation including Turkey and Greece.
The Middle East
The situation in the Middle East is extremely fragile, and likely to be further destabilised by US military actions. Not satisfied with attacking Afghanistan, US imperialism is already casting its eye around for another victim. A section of the ruling circle would like to attack Iraq. However, a new onslaught against Iraq would plunge the whole of the Middle East into turmoil. The price of oil would rise again, further exacerbating the world economic crisis. The enraged Arab masses would take to the streets, threatening to destabilise one Arab regime after another. American embassies and economic interests would be open to attack everywhere. It is not excluded that even the pro-American Saudi regime might be overthrown. The USA would be sucked inexorably into an even greater military involvement.
To the instability caused by the war in Afghanistan and the running sore of the Israeli-Palestine problem, is now added the falling price of oil. This is a vital question for Saudi Arabia, which has external debts of up to 300 billion dollars. The Saudis looked to Russia to support OPEC's policy of cutting oil production to bolster the price of oil. But Russia prefers to pursue its own interests and refuses to collaborate. The falling price of oil will affect all the oil producing countries, not just Saudi Arabia but Venezuela, Iran, Ecuador, Algeria, Mexico, Indonesia - all of which are faced with revolutionary developments.
Particularly alarming from the standpoint of US imperialism is the situation in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime, under heavy pressure from Washington, has broken off diplomatic relations with its Taliban friends, and generally done all the Americans have asked for. But there are limits even for Washington's Saudi stooges. The situation in Saudi Arabia is far from stable. Despite its big oil earnings, the regime is no longer in a position to grant the same lavish concessions to its citizens as in the past. There is growing unrest and criticism of the corrupt ruling clique. The splits and quarrels inside the royal family are a reflection of this ferment in society. For the regime to be seen as openly supporting US military action against a Moslem state might be the last straw. As usual, the American imperialists have acted with incredible clumsiness. The very fact of stationing US troops in Saudi Arabia (the land where Islam was born, and the site of its most holy places) was an act of sheer stupidity, and quite unnecessary. Now they are compounding the original error by putting pressure on the Saudis to let them use the country’s air bases to attack Iraq - which is very much like asking them to commit suicide. By their blundering, they may well succeed in pushing the Saudi regime over the precipice.
The Saudi royal family is a reactionary clique that combines a western lifestyle, complete with whisky, fast cars and expensive prostitutes with a public image of religious Puritanism, partly derived from its adherence to the strict Wahhabi sect. Whenever they felt threatened by popular unrest, they would either play the religious card, leaning on the most conservative sections of the clergy for support, or else they would start beating the drum on the Palestinian issue which they have shamelessly exploited for decades in their own selfish interests, while all the time supporting American imperialism. The immense power of the most reactionary wing of the clergy in Saudi Arabia is the direct result of these unscrupulous manoeuvres by the royal family. It played a most active role in "fighting Communism" in Afghanistan and the Gulf - in close alliance with the Americans - and until recently financed and backed the Taliban. Osama bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire who has family ties to the royal elite, is the product of this milieu. Now all this has come back to haunt them. Pressurised on the one hand by Washington and on the other by the Islamic reactionaries, the Saudi regime is caught between a rock and a very hard place. Its future is now in the balance as never before.
The Palestinian problem
The whole of the Middle East is thus in a state of ferment. The national oppression of the Palestinians by Israel has sown the winds and reaped a tempest that nobody can control. The ruling clique in Tel Aviv continues to pursue its vicious policy of repression, murder and destruction. The cruel fraud of the Oslo and Madrid Agreements has been exposed for what it is.
The interests of US imperialism in the Middle East are not confined to Israel. Far more important for its calculations is the oil that lies in Arab territories and is as vital for the US economy as life-blood for the human body. Therefore, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Washington began to apply pressure on Tel Aviv to make concessions to the Palestinians. However, in the last analysis, Israel is the USA’s only reliable ally in the Middle East, and when forced to choose, it has come down unambiguously on the side of Israel against the Palestinians.
In his haste to put together the celebrated "anti-terrorist coalition" President Bush seemed willing to twist arms in Tel Aviv. Certainly, the statement that Washington would be prepared to contemplate a Palestinian state must have infuriated Sharon. Of course, words are cheap, and no details of the hypothetical "Palestinian state" were ever provided. It therefore remains in the realm of propaganda, intended to calm the jangling nerves of government circles in Cairo, Riyadh and Amman.
The American imperialists have a cynical attitude to the Palestinian problem. They are not interested in the fate of either Israelis or Palestinians, but only their own interests. Because Washington needed to get the backing of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia for its "war on terrorism", it tried to put pressure on Sharon. The Americans cannot afford to allow the Israelis to carry on battering the Palestinians, for fear of the effects on the "moderate" Arab states they need to support their coalition. The Israelis reluctantly agreed, but immediately the "cease-fire" was disrupted by new killings, provocations and counter-provocations. Finally, the wave of suicide bombings launched by Hamas has given Sharon the excuse he needed to crack down hard. The Americans have remained silent.
Despite the terrible punishment meted out by Israel every day, the turbulence on the West Bank and Gaza shows no sign of dying down. But the present movement cannot last forever. If there was a genuinely Marxist leadership, the Intifada could have led to a revolution which would have linked the national liberation struggle to the idea of a socialist federation of Israel and Palestine. While using revolutionary and proletarian military methods to defend the Palestinian areas, they would have conducted propaganda directed at the ordinary Israeli soldiers and the workers and youth of Israel. Instead of this, the movement has been diverted along the lines of suicide bombings and senseless attacks against Israeli civilians.
The main responsibility for the outbreak of terrorist attacks lies with Israeli imperialism which has pursued a policy of expansionism, backed by the use of massive force, including indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians. The daily routine of repression in the occupied territories (and the West Bank and Gaza are now virtually occupied by Israel) has driven the Palestinian youth to the desperate recourse of individual terrorism. This is a catastrophe for the Palestinians. If it ends in a war of attrition, the Palestinians stand to lose far more than the Israelis. So far they have lost about 800 people, while Israeli losses have been far fewer. On this basis, the Intifada is doomed. The only hope would be to drive a wedge between the reactionary Zionists and the masses in Israel. By treating all Israelis as one reactionary mass, the defeat of the Intifada is guaranteed.
Instead of the counterproductive and futile methods of individual terrorism, the mass of the population should be armed - not only the militias from the different political groups and the police of the Palestinian Authority. We advocate the formation of armed self defence groups in schools, factories, neighbourhoods, villages etc. controlled democratically by elected committees based by workers, students, shopkeepers, poor peasants etc. with the aim to protect the Palestinians against armed aggression by the Tsahal and other Israeli state agencies but also to protect the demonstrations and other mass actions of the Palestinian resistance. But none of these measures can be successful unless the Palestinians manage to establish firm points of support inside Israel itself. An internationalist class policy is the only way forward for the Intifada.
On the present basis, no way out is possible. Every time the American imperialists think they have reached a deal, it blows up in their faces. The conflict will continue, with temporary agreements that will eventually break down into new and bloody upheavals that constantly threaten the stability of the Middle East and drag it into war. There is no solution to this problem on a capitalist basis. The stage is set for new upheavals, especially when America begins its military offensive against Iraq.
In an attempt to pacify the Palestinians, the Americans have hinted that they would be prepared to see the establishment of a Palestinian state. But this is a trap. If a Palestinian state were ever established on a capitalist basis, it could only be a puppet state of Israel. This would solve nothing, but would represent a continuation of the present vicious cycle of violence. No lasting solution is possible without a revolution throughout the Middle East, leading to the establishment of a socialist federation of the Middle East, with full autonomy for the Palestinians, Jews, Druzes, Copts, Kurds, Armenians, and other national groups.
One of the front lines of "the war on terror" is East Asia. Using the 11th September as a pretext, Bush wishes to expand America’s sphere of military activities in East Asia, not only in the Philippines but in Malaysia and Indonesia. Philippine President Macapagal-Arroyo offered the U.S. use of Philippine airspace and access to the former U.S. Subic and Clark air and naval bases. Washington announced an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops and military advisors assigned to train elite Philippine units for this "second front in the U.S.-led war on terrorism".
Washington has promised President Macapagal-Arroyo $100 million in assistance. In the same manner they promised Indonesian President Megawati a total of $ 657.4 million and restoration of military ties, which were severed following mayhem in East Timor in September 1999. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir too has discussed military collaboration during his U.S. visit May 13-16. In this way, the whole region is being sucked into the conflict. This will have a destabilising effect everywhere, preparing the way for new upheavals.
The activities of fundamentalist groups, often using terrorist tactics like Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and Laskar Jihad in Indonesia, provide the excuse for greater imperialist involvement. Singapore too has suffered terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists. Although there is no direct threat of the fundamentalists taking power in any of these countries, Washington is concerned that these groups will add to the instability in the region and threaten American businesses interests. Even more important are the countries’ location along the shipping lanes that link the Pacific with the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. If Indonesia and the Philippines further disintegrate this would pose a major threat to the ailing economies of Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, prime U.S. allies against China.
All American manoeuvring should be seen in the light of their attempt to contain China. The U.S. sees its hegemony in the Pacific challenged by China. As a consequence Bush relabelled China from a "strategic partner" to a "strategic competitor". Washington wants the ability to counter Beijing by tightening its hold over the region's major powers. U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell are trying to establish a multilateral security relationship between the United States and its three main Pacific allies: Australia, South Korea and Japan. The American initiatives towards the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia (all part of ASEAN) form part of the same plan.
In the last period, having burnt its fingers with unstable dictatorial regfimes, US imperialism shifted its support to "reform-minded democrats", that is, to weak democracies that could be pressurised by imperialism to carry out pro-imperialist reform of national industry (the conglomerates), privatisations, opening up of the economy, etc. Today we observe a gradual return to support for the military, using the "war on terror" as an alibi. This policy will inevitably result in a violent backlash against imperialism, which will open up new revolutionary possibilities in one country after another.
The general instability in the region is a reflection of the protracted crisis of "Asian capitalism". The former Tiger economies are still deeply mired in crisis. Their hopes of attaining the status of highly industrialised countries evaporated with the 1997-98 Asian crisis, in essence a crisis of overinvestment (overproduction) sponsored by Japanese surplus capital. Some economies like Taiwan and Singapore managed to recover briefly because of the boom in the IT sector at the end of the 1990s, but took a severe dip with the coming of the world recession in 2001. The discontent of the population is growing, at a time when the proletariat - as a result of the industrialisation of the past period - has never been stronger.
South Korea seemed to have recovered quickly from the 6.7 % fall of GDP in 1998. In 1999 it recorded a high growth rate of 10.7 percent, followed by 8.8 percent the next year. In 2000, however, this growth was reduced to a mere 3 percent. Despite the brief economic recovery, the average income of the poorest 20 percent dropped 5.3 percent from 1997 to 2000 while that of the richest 20 percent increased by 11 percent. In October 2000, the minimum wage covered only 53.1% of the "basic cost of living" of a household of a 29 year old single person. Industrial accidents and work-related illnesses climbed from 55,405 in 1999 to 68,976 in 2000, that is according to official figures by the Ministry of Labour (always an underestimation). The public sector was the direct target of the government’s policy of structural adjustment. From 1998 to 2000 a total of 131,000 workers (18.7 percent) in the public sector lost their jobs as a result. All this is part of the imperialist "structural adjustment program" dictated by the IMF.
These figures represent the situation at the height of the boom. With the advent of the new world recession, unemployment has already increased and the position of capital and the state has become more uncompromising. The regime of Kim Dae Jung has set out to destroy the militant unions. As a result of strikes and mass mobilisations of the KCTU, its leader, Dan Byung-ho, has been imprisoned.
The plans of big business have run up against the resistance of the masses. The most important element in the equation is the leading role of the proletariat. The Korean workers have waged a heroic struggle in the last few years, with strikes, general strikes and clashes with the police. The car workers, the electrical workers, the rail and gas workers, have all been involved in militant strike action. The mood of society is becoming increasingly radicalised. A survey showed 86 percent of Koreans are against privatisation. Many of these strikes were directed against the government’s privatisation plans.
The pressure from below forced the KCTU to call a general strike in solidarity with the electrical workers and against privatisation and repression by the state, which was frustrated by the leadership. However, there is a ferment inside the unions, with the more moderate leaders being pushed out, thus preparing the way for the transformation of the unions and a new upheaval of the class struggle.
The high level of consciousness and militancy of the Korean workers is reflected in the fact that the KCTU is raising political demands, such as opposition to the war against Afghanistan and the need for a workers’ party (the Democratic Labour Party). This has enabled it to become one of the strongest unions in the so-called Third World. The enormous fighting spirit and élan of the rank-and-file shows the colossal revolutionary potential that exists in the working class, not only in South Korea, but all over Asia, once it is organised in struggle. These workers are fresh and untainted with the opportunist habits and routinism of the Labour movement in Europe. They are open to revolutionary ideas. What is required is the formation of an organised Marxist current, rooted in the working class and the unions. Armed with the Marxist programme for the socialist transformation of society, no force on earth could halt the movement of the Korean proletariat.
Since the revolutionary overthrow of the military dictatorship of Chun Doo Hwan, the Korean workers and students have gone through a protracted period of revolution and counter-revolution. The revolutionary years of 1987-89 are comparable to the Russian Revolution of 1905. If the Korean workers and students carefully study the methods of Bolshevism and apply them to their situation, then the Korean working class can succeed in a classic workers revolution like the one of 1917, in a not so distant future. Such a genuine socialist revolution would have a profound impact on their comrades in the North and the resilient working class of China, Indonesia and the other Asian countries. South Korea is a key country in the region. Armed with a Bolshevik program, the Korean workers would lead the Asian working class to victory.
Three years after the overthrow of the brutal dictatorship of Suharto in May 1998 the revolutionary process seems to have lost its momentum. The new Megawati government, the third in three years, represents a shaky coalition between her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party, and old business cronies of the dying Suharto, bureaucrats of the old regime and the powerful military faction. Megawati's presidency is the direct consequence of a deep political crisis at the top of the state, which led to the ousting of Wahid; the so-called reform minded cleric.
The Megawati government represents a very temporary stabilisation and equilibrium at the top of society, with the help of the military who are trying to regain the position they lost with the fall of the New Order. It is a new attempt at finding a way for the bourgeois to rule the country, as it can no longer rule in the old way.
The façade of stability of the Megawati government will rapidly crumble as it is incapable of finding unity on any of the major problems posed by an economy in shambles, the burning national question and, most importantly, by a young and still untested working class.
The Megawati government, despite strong military backing, is not a remake of the Suharto dictatorship. In the present conditions it is not possible for the bourgeois to go back to an open military dictatorship. Any attempt to go along that road now would galvanise the disorientated masses and lead to a potential break up of the country. Such a scenario would whip up the revolutionary process.
The Wahid government was riddled with incessant reshuffling, divisions and different factions pushing in opposite directions. Wahid's erratic leadership at the top of the state was explained by his personal handicaps as a blind, physically weak man who had suffered several strokes. But his physical condition was a mirror image of the state of the bourgeois class in Indonesia. It reflected the general impasse of capitalism in Indonesia and its incapacity to carry society forward.
Within Southern Asia, Indonesia deserves the title of the weakest link of capitalism. The tug of war between different factions in the state apparatus provoked a dangerous deadlock at the head of the state leading to new levels of instability and, more dangerously for the bourgeois, the growing involvement of the masses in this conflict.
The majority of the left, the NGOs, and the PRD in particular, have given support to the Wahid faction, which they shamefully consider a reform- minded and "progressive" bourgeois element. This is the same old Menshevik-Stalinist position. In reality the PRD served as a left cover for a cynical and cunning bourgeois politician who was advancing the interests of his clan of cronies inside the state apparatus and in the business world. The criminal policy of the PRD leadership went so far as to support the declaration of the state of emergency (which gives the military and the police full powers to restore order) against the rebellious parliament which wanted to impeach him. This policy has led to the general disorientation and demoralisation of the left.
An important opportunity to build the PRD as a mass independent revolutionary socialist force amongst the student youth and the working class has been squandered in the last three years. Instead, the PRD leadership followed a fatal course of "clever tactics and coalition building" with all kinds of factions of the bourgeois class in a quest for the non-existing progressive capitalist, which would bring "real democracy". It has succeeded neither in building its own forces, nor in advancing the working class movement. From the tragic experience of the PRD policy the genuine revolutionary youth will have to learn and build the forces of genuine Marxism in Indonesia.
Despite the ongoing slump, which has not really stopped since 1997, the working class has started to assert itself. The June 2001 labour protest against an IMF austerity package is a good example of this process.
Nevertheless it is still in its early days, despite its convulsive character. In reality the whole process of the Indonesian revolution is still in its early stages. The revolutionary process will be protracted. This does not give the Marxists endless time to build their forces. The ugly face of barbarism and ethnic cleansing in East Timor, Maluku and other regions of the archipelago shows what will happen if revolutionary socialism does not succeed in becoming the dominant force in Indonesia.
The whole of Africa is in turmoil. Terrible social conditions exist throughout the continent. Just one example illustrates the situation. In sub-Saharan Africa only 2% of the population has access to a telephone, and half of this is in South Africa. The national question is erupting everywhere. The key to the situation is the working class, mainly concentrated in a few more industrialised countries. In Nigeria last year we saw the enormous strength of the working class during the 5-day general strike that forced the government to back down on fuel prices.
However, as a result of the extremely underdeveloped nature of most of the African economy, the real key to the whole continent is to be found in South Africa, where there is a strong working class.
The movement of the black proletariat of South Africa under the most difficult conditions was an inspiration to the workers of the whole world. This could have led to a socialist revolution in South Africa. But Mandela and the others reached a deal with the white ruling clique. In effect they capitulated. With the fall of the reactionary Apartheid regime, the masses voted massively for an ANC government. They were voting for a fundamental change. But their hopes for a change have been swiftly dashed.
In the past the ANC stood, at least in words, for a "socialist" policy. Now, like the "socialist" leaders everywhere, they have capitulated to capitalism and accepted market economics and privatisation. Discontent with the government is growing. The ANC did not even deliver on things like providing clean water to the townships. In many ways the conditions of the masses are even worse than before: the wave of privatisations, the introduction of individual metering for water supply (which means that poor families have their water cut off, and has already caused a colera epidemic in KwaZulu Natal), the growth of unemployment etc.
Some ANC councils are even trying to make people pay for electricity bills they owe from the time when non-payment of service charges was a common tactic of the anti-apartheid movement! As people in the townships are unable to pay these debts, they are disconnected from the electricity service. This has already led to clashes in townships up and down the country, including Soweto.
The capitulation by Mandela and the other leaders of the ANC was the logical product of their false theories of stages which they took over from the Stalinists. They are attempting to create a black bourgeoisie, although only a small number of blacks have actually joined the capitalist class. All the so-called Black Economic Empowerment programmes have achieved is the appointing of token blacks to the administration boards of some companies. The handful of monopolies which dominate the highly concentrated South African economy remain firmly in the hands of the same white capitalists which run the country during the apartheid years. Now the country is faced with the effects of world recession. The rand, the South African currency, has collapsed from R7.50/$ at the beginning of the year to over R12/$ now.
The leadership of the ANC represents a clique of black careerists which is determined to enrich itself at the expense of the masses. The ANC and COSATU leaders have been absorbed by the state. Cyril Ramaphosa, the former union leader, has become a millionaire. Despite all the rhetoric about democracy, the country is really ruled by an unelected clique around Thabo Mbeki, which follows loyally the policies pro-capitalist policies of the IMF and the World Bank. All decisions are taken by this clique and no questions are allowed.
But this situation has opened up rifts inside the ANC which in the future can lead to an open split along class lines. The rank and file are discontented and restless. The SACP is also in ferment, with a section demanding a break with the bourgeois leaders of the ANC. A growing number of workers and youths are shocked and disgusted by the corruption of the leadership and its open espousal of pro-bourgeois policies. Above all, a gulf will open up between the ANC leadership and COSATU. Union members are being hit by the privatisation of public and municipal services. Now the world economic crisis will mean more sackings and rising unemployment. The discontent of the workers with the government will grow and lead to an intensification of the class struggle.
There have already been a number of very radical strikes of the municipal workers and COSATU was forced to call a three-day general strike in August 2001. Big possibilities will present themselves for the formation of a genuine Marxist tendency in the ANC and especially in the SACP.
The ANC is largely empty except for civil servants and other functionaries. Its leaders are leaning on the SACP leadership as a left cover. The presence of SACP ministers in the government will inevitably lead to questioning and criticism. Already there have been demands in COSATU that the SACP break with the ANC government. But despite the policies of the ANC the masses still have no alternative. At a later stage splits will occur in the ANC and also the SACP.
The most immediate and urgent task is to establish the first group of Marxist cadres in South Africa, fighting for a genuine revolutionary policy inside the mass organisations - the ANC and SACP and, of course, COSATU. We must demand that the ANC break with capitalist policies and that the SACP must defend a genuine Communist programme. We must raise the question concretely of the need for the working class to take power, drawing behind it the unemployed and semi-proletarian layers. The black proletariat of South Africa is the biggest working class in Sub-Saharan Africa. COSATU is a formidable force with 1.8 million members. With the correct leadership, they could easily take power and begin the socialist transformation of society.
The permanent revolution is now the only way forward for South Africa, and for all Africa. If South Africa goes, all Africa will go. A socialist revolution in South Africa would immediately transform the whole situation. It would provoke a whole series of revolutions, starting with Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique, and spreading to Nigeria, Congo and the rest.