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Archive of Communist Workers Group of Aoteaora/New Zealand up to 2006

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For a Workers’ Revolution in Venezuela

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In April 2002 the Venezuela workers won a victory which echoed around the world. Pouring in their hundreds of thousands into the streets of Caracas, they defeated a US-backed coup against the elected government of Hugo Chavez. Today Chavez survives only with the backing of armed workers. The time has come for to organise workers’ councils and militias’ to defeat imperialism and make a socialist revolution.

Before April 2002, no CIA-organised coup has ever been defeated, and the US has not given up on the task of ousting Chavez’s government. The CIA has continued to fund right-wing opposition to Chavez, including a national lockout which nearly paralysed the economy at the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003, and the Pentagon has used counter-insurgency operations in neighbouring Colombia as an excuse to cross Venezuela’s border and attack Venezuelan troops. Just last May, a plot of Colombian death squads to assassinate Chavez and send his head to Castro was discovered.

Today, soaring oil prices caused by the debacle in Iraq make Venezuela an even more tempting target for US ‘intervention’. It’s more important than ever that the victory of April 2002 be remembered and analysed, by Venezuelan workers and workers around the world.

A lot of leftists, in the West especially, believe that Chavez is a socialist committed to using his state power to overturn capitalism and establish a planned economy. For example, the film The Revolution will not be Televised which is making the rounds, like much of the left-wing media coverage of Venezuela takes a quite uncritical attitude towards the government of Chavez, treating him as the guiding light of a ‘Bolivarian revolution’ which is moving Venezuela away from servitude to US imperialism which has blighted so many countries in South America and around the world.

Chavez is a national capitalist

The reality is that Chavez is a national capitalist. Venezuela is a semi-colony of US imperialism. Chavez wants to reduce this dependence on imperialism by strengthening Venezuelan capitalism. Traditionally it has been dependent on the export of raw materials – agricultural products and oil – to the West. At the mercy of the ups and downs of world prices for these exports no real industrial base has been built. What industry does exist is in many cases owned by multinational companies, which are able to make big profits because they pay very low wages for labour and very low prices for raw materials and refuse to pay high taxes to enable the government to fund social services. Despite being one of the biggest exporters of oil in the world, Venezuela sees 80% of its population living below the poverty line.

Since coming to power in 1999, Chavez has tried to deal with Venezuela’s problems by encouraging the growth of a strong capitalist class. Chavez showed his capitalist credentials early on. In his first year in office he cut public spending by 20% to please the International Monetary Fund. Chavez actually kept on the Finance Minister of the previous right-wing Caldera government. Instead of nationalising assets or increasing funding for health and education, Chavez used a new Banco Popular to put money into credit schemes for small and medium-sized businesses. A ‘Buy Venezuela” policy was begun to boost the profits of local manufacturers.

Chavez’ policies were actually applauded by advocates of the ‘Third Way’ in the West. Blairite academic Julia Bruxton, for instance, wrote that: “In addressing his country’s development crisis and vulnerability in the globalised economy, Chavez took the middle road…a middle ground can be chartered between state-led development and [neo-liberal] orthodoxy”. The new constitution Chavez gave Venezuela is often praised by Western leftists but it only institutionalised the national capitalist politics the Chavez regime had been following since 1999.

Reforms not anti-capitalist

Most of the reforms Chavez has introduced can be understood not as attempts at socialist transformation, but as efforts to strengthen local capitalism, in opposition to US imperialism. Chavez’ land reform and reform of urban property ownership have created much interest in the West. Chavez has legislated to give urban slum dwellers title to their houses, and has provided for the distribution of rural blocks to farming families. But Chavez has shown little willingness to set up collectivised agriculture or to nationalise housing – rather he is distributing land and house titles to individual families. This is consistent with wanting to create a stonger national capitalist sector.

Chavez has introduced laws banning capital flight, and halted the privatisation of many industries, including the oil industry. But the ban on capital flight is designed to prevent ‘unpatriotic’ Venezuelan capitalists taking their money offshore, rather than investing in business inside the country. Likewise, the halt to privatisation is designed to stop the US buy-up of Venezuelan assets, and the consequent draining of the profits they make from the country. Chavez has no objections to Venezuelan capitalists taking over public assets.

Chavez’ vision of a strong national Venezuelan capitalism is matched by his vision of a South American bloc of capitalist economies challenging the power of US imperialism in the continent. Chavez is close to Presidents Lula of Brazil and Kirchner of Argentina, who share this vision. All three leaders are part of a new breed of social democratic leaders who are trying to ride a new wave of class struggle and anti-imperialism to power in South America and around the world. The World Social Forum founded by Lula’s Brazilian Workers’ Party is an organising tool for these ‘new’ social movements.

Chavez failed vision

Chavez and his friend have no chance of success. The history of social democracy shows that when a government comes into power and under pressure from workers tries to enact left-wing reforms, it quickly creates a crisis. If it wants to get enough money to pay for the reforms, it has to challenge the foreign companies that have a stranglehold over the economy. These companies don’t want to see their profits threatened, and they are backed by the governments of the imperialist countries in which they are based. They resist attempts to make them pay more taxes or to nationalise their assets by getting imperialist governments to destabilise and if necessary overthrow the regimes that threaten their profits and property.

The story is no different when left-wing governments like Chavez’ increase democratic rights by, for instance, making it easier for free trade unions to operate. Workers tend to use their new liberties to organise strike action to win higher wages and better conditions from their employers, who are usually directly or indirectly multinational companies. Since higher wages and better conditions cut into profits, the companies and their imperialist backers start to destablise the government which gave workers greater freedoms, in the hope that these freedoms can be rolled back.

Time and time again, left-wing reforming governments have run into the brick wall of the domination of poor semi-colonies by imperialist money. In Guatemala in 1954, in Chile in 1973, and in Fiji in 1987, reforming governments have been ousted when the companies they have alienated have turned to the imperialist powers for support. In Chile in 1973, the Allende government angered the US-based multinationals which its plans to nationalise key areas of the economy like the mining sector. Nationalisation meant the end to super-profits, so the multinationals conspired with the CIA and the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to organise the military coup that put General Pinochet in power, killed thousands of leftists and unionists, and made sure that the economy staying in US hands.

Role of the army

Chavez has struggled to convince the Venezuelan capitalists to buy into his project. This is because they are mainly comprador bourgeoisie, used to administering and living off US imperialism. They are alarmed by the decline in relations with the US that and Chavez’ policies have provoked, and they continue to conspire with the CIA to bring down the Chavez regime.

Because most Venezuelan capitalists have sold out to imperialism, and there is no existing class of ‘patriotic’ national capitalists to take control of the economy, Chavez has to rely upon the state to run the economy. He has turned to the army as a sort of substitute bourgeoisie. They army is used as a sort of stop-gap measure in a huge variety of contexts – it helps bring in harvests, repair infrastructure, and so on. The army has also been integrated into the grassroots working class organisations of Venezuela, the Bolivarian Committees. Chavez recently called for the arming of these Committees under the supervision of the army.

But for all its populist claims, Chavez’ army is still a bourgeois army. It exists to defend capitalist property and will always side with capitalism against working class revolution. April 2002 showed this fact clearly: while the coup leaders took control and Chavez was transported to an island prison, even the pro-Chavez sections of the army sat on their hands. Only the mass mobilisations on the streets and the spectre of civil war succeeded in splitting the army and defeating the coup. It was the independence of the Venezuelan working class from Chavez’ state, and in particular his army, that defeated the coup.

The victory of 2002 showed that there is no social base for the Bolivarian revolution other than the working masses, and that only they have the ability to break with imperialism and Venezuelan capitalism. When the workers set up grassroots ‘Bolivarian circles’ to defend Chavez against the coup, he responded by trying to close down these circles from challenging the power of ‘his’ army and police. When he called recently for the arming of the neighbourhoods this was under the control of the army.

Even worse, Chavez has used the ‘peoples’ army’ to crush the factory occupations which have broken out spontaneously in parts of Venezuela in opposition to the bosses’ complicity in the coup attempts. After the 2002, for instance, Chavez sent the army to break up a workers’ occupation of the Pepsi Cola factory in Caracas. In an action which perfectly symbolises his politics, Chavez ordered the army to ‘confiscate’ thousands of cans of Pepsi and distribute them to the poor of Caracas as spoils of his ‘anti-imperialist’ struggle. The next day Pepsi was back under the control of the imperialists.

Chavez should be defended from the CIA counter-revolution, but workers should organised themselves into militias independently of him. Rather than having illusions in him or his army, or being part of a political alliance with him, workers should make a ‘military bloc’ with him against imperialist coups and subversion only. For example, now that Chavez has agreed to the rigged recall referendum, workers should turn out to defeat the opposition vote, but be prepared to defend themselves arms in hand from the coup that will inevitably follow.

Workers need to be independent of Chavez so they can get rid of him when he becomes an obstacle to the socialist revolution, which alone can actually achieve the improved living standards and democratic rights Chavez promises. What is needed right now is a revolutionary Marxist party and program that can arm the workers ideologically and organisationally to break with the Bolivarian movement and create workers councils, or soviets, everywhere!

Defend Chavez from an imperialist coup!

For workers councils and militias!

Build a Revolutionary Marxist Workers Party!

For a Workers and Peasants government!

For a union of Socialist Republics of Latin America! 

From Class Struggle 56 June-July 2004

Written by raved

January 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Imperialism: policy option or death drive?

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When anti-war activists blame US imperialism or ‘globalisation’ as the cause of wars they usually mean the ‘power elite’ – the ‘neo-cons’ etc who are backed by the oil and arms industry. Imperialism and its wars are ‘bad’ policy options on the part of the US as a ‘world power’ which can be countered by world public opinion – the ‘second world power’’, or the ‘movement of movements’ as the World Social Forum has been called. For Marxists this conception of imperialism as ‘bad policy’ open to reform by an electoral alliance of workers, peasants and ‘good’ capitalists is a reactionary utopia. It is a utopia because imperialism needs wars to survive. It’s on a death drive and cannot be pacified. It is reactionary because it disarms the masses in the face of inevitable destruction and dooms the struggle for socialism. Real anti-imperialism for us does not mean making ‘good’ ‘bad policy’, but terminating the terminator.

There are a number of theories that have arisen in recent years claiming that the Marxist/Leninist concept of imperialism as the highest and final stage of capitalism is wrong.

They argue that the main forces that Lenin saw as driving imperialism to inevitable wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions, do not exist. The rise of finance capital, capital export, the growth of monopolies etc that doomed capitalism to destruction, have been surpassed by new developments such as the new economy that have rescued capitalism and made unlimited growth and the sharing of wealth possible. If this were true, then Marxism would cease to be relevant. Lenin’s theory that class politics is the extension of class economics would be empty phrases. Social classes would not longer exist and socialism as a post-capitalist dream would be made redundant by a just and benign capitalism.

These theorists say that globalisation has replaced imperialist contest between rival capitalist powers. Multilateral agreements between imperialist powers subordinate national interests to the global market and make national conflicts a thing of the past. It was easier to argue this during the 1980’s when the major powers were all allied to the US led ‘cold-war’, and the 1990’s when the UN and NATO officially fronted the wars against Iraq and Serbia. Whatever word is used to describe this ‘consensus’, national differences are now all accommodated under a US global hegemony where all states, including the US as the world’s biggest debtor, are dependent upon one another. Indeed some radicals, like Hardt and Negri in their book Empire published in 2000, say that the US is now so economically weak that it is no longer ‘hegemonic’.[1]

But what if the underlying strength of the US economy is in terminal decline?

What if to survive the US needs to turn its back on international agreements and attack its former allies? What if the US economy is in such a deep crisis that it is forced to revert to naked imperialist aggression on any state that threatens its ‘national interests’. A reversion to unilateral aggression is exactly what has happened since 9-11 under the Bush regime when the ‘world changed’. So the question must be asked: is this reversion an aberration? An aggressive militarist policy option driven by the narrow interests of one section of the US ruling class, the oil barons and arms industries? Or is this return to military occupations and recolonisations driven by a more deep-seated desperation on the part of US capital to survive at all costs? The answer to this question is critical because the solutions offered to this post 9-11 crisis depends on the perceived causes.

The globalisation theorists explain post-9-11 as an aberration. Already they say, the world has passed on. The new knowledge economy has created more wealth across national borders that can be redistributed in rising living standards in the developing world. The new capitalism in the US, Japan and EU does not need wars to make profits, but rather new technology and increasing labour productivity. The dynamic growth areas of the world economy are driven by multinational firms that invest, produce and sell in an integrated world market.

This ‘aberration’ must therefore be caused by a rogue element of the US ruling class that has taken power and used the military to grab scarce resources such as oil and natural gas to make big profits. For example, Chalmers Johnson’s recent book the Sorrows of Empire argues that the military have taken over the US state for this purpose. Chomsky’s analysis of US power is similar; the power elite uses its control of the media to manipulate public opinion to accept an aggressive foreign policy. If these arguments about the US as a ‘rogue state’ are correct, then mass mobilisations that reclaim control of the media and democratic institutions can theoretically regain control of the state for the people. But what if these arguments are not correct and imperialism is not a policy option but a death drive.

The reality is that imperialism is in a life or death crisis.

In the 1970s the world economy experienced a classic crisis of overproduction due to falling profits. Profits fell not because they were squeezed by rising wages but because the corporates could not increase the rate of exploitation fast enough to return a profit on the massive investments that went into plant, machinery and raw materials.[2] To restore profits it was necessary to drastically cut the price of wages (variable capital) and raw materials and machines (constant capital) by whatever means. In the 1890s and 1930s the world economy revived only because depressions and wars drastically cut the costs of plant and machinery and of labour.[3]

In the years since the 1970s ‘crash’, the US economy has failed to revive its economy to outcompete its rivals. The new economy has seen some increases in output and profits, but not sufficient to outperform Japan in cars and China in consumer goods. The recent ‘jobless’ upturn is less to do with new technology replacing jobs than with fewer workers working harder and longer (i.e. increased hours and intensity of work). There has been no massive reduction in the costs of wages or raw materials and the economy has been kept afloat by state borrowing and spending. The money borrowed from its rivals, particularly Japan, means that the US is now heavily in debt. Therefore the US economy is experiencing a deepening crisis of insufficient profits from which it can only survive by embarking on open imperialist wars to recolonise other nations, plundering their raw materials and attacking workers wages and rights at home and abroad to reduce labour costs. As Marxists say, the bosses’ crisis is being solved on the backs of the world’s workers.

It is not the policy of a militarist fraction of the US ruling class that causes war, but that of the whole US ruling class. Imperialism is not an aberration but a necessary result of capitalist crisis today.

So how does the whole ruling class benefit from war? Some corporates benefit directly, while others benefit from the flow-on effects. Of course the military and war industries do gain directly from imperialist wars, but production of arms and munitions is consumed unproductively (apart from R&D spin-offs in other sectors e.g. satellites, jeeps etc) and cannot revive the US economy as a whole. The Bush family and prominent members of the cabinet like Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice profit as shareholders of corporations that supply the military, and the workers in the arms industry earn wages that enter into the GDP – a sort of ‘military Keynesianism’.[4] But military expenditure does not otherwise add value to the economy. A good analogy would be to say that war benefits some bosses like the production of luxury items such as fast cars and jewelry. Theories such as the Permanent Arms Economy promoted by the Cliffites to account for the post-war long boom are fundamentally flawed in failing to recognise this fact.[5]

However unlike luxury cars, planes and tanks can be used to invade and occupy other countries and expropriate their resources and labour supply. The US has seized Iraq’s oil wealth and created hundreds of military bases in the Middle East and central Asia to oversee the plunder of natural resources. In its own poodle-like fashion, the UK has rechristened Gaddafi the former ‘terrorist fiend’ as the west’s ‘loyal friend’ in order to get access to Libya’s oil and gas fields.[6] While the military and oil magnates get the biggest share of this colonial bounty, the flow on effect of the war to the whole US and UK economies will be a vital supply of oil and gas at cheap prices that will lower the price of constant capital (fuel for industry) as well as variable capital (gas for workers cars) not available to their EU and Japanese rivals.[7] At the same time the US can create client states like Bolivia, or protectorates like Bosnia, Kosovo[8] and Iraq, impose the US dollar as the main currency, and threaten to bomb any state that wants to switch from the dollar to the Euro or yen as a rival to the ‘petrodollar’.[9]

We see that the imperialist states’ militarist policies are dictated by the interests of all capitalists.

The big banks and corporations all benefit from imperialist wars and plunder. What Lenin identified as finance capital was the big banks fusing their interests with the big corporations, and becoming monopolies, that is, combines or cartels that dominated whole industries. The monopolies were vertical (like Rockefellers Standard Oil or Carnegie’s Steel Corporation in the US) or horizontal (like the big German cartels) conglomerates that bought up their rivals and set the prices of production in that industry. Because they were national monopolies they had to compete with their rivals in other nations backed by their states. It was this rivalry that led to the export of capital to colonies to gain cheap raw materials and labour and the inevitable wars to divide and rule the whole world market. In what sense do today’s multinational corporations remain monopolies dominated by finance capital which look to their nation states to go to war in their interests as the ‘national interest’?

Monopoly finance capital is now centralised mainly in the hegemonic imperialist power, the USA.

First to the question of finance capital, then that of monopoly, then the question of national interest to show that state monopoly capitalism is alive, but not well.

At the heart of monopoly is finance capital. After Lenin’s death 20th imperialism created state capitalism to survive. Private banks became regulated by the central banks which took over the management of money capital to rescue the corporate sector. Without massive state intervention and ‘military Keynesianism’ after WW1, the big US corporations would have collapsed. The ‘new deal’ like the Keynesian welfare state’ was mainly about benefits to business.[10] Therefore we can say that far from being outdated, finance capital is even more concentrated and centralised today than it was in Lenin’s day.

Today the giant US Federal Bank along with World Bank and International Monetary Fund monopolises global finance capital through the bond market and international credit. The ‘Fed’ creates dollars which are pumped into US business which it then borrows from its rival EU and Japanese money markets in the form of US bonds. But the cost of its debt is offset by the advantages of the dollar as the main international currency. Private monopoly banks, such as Morgan/Chase, BOA and Citibank, are the biggest shareholders in the World Bank and IMF and dominate the loans made to the ‘‘third world’. But such is the crisis of overproduction, most ‘capital’ today is not invested in production but in speculation as ‘fictitious capital. Not only is finance capital concentrated into giant monopolies in the form of central banks and a few giant corporate banks they are all centralised in heart of the US imperialist state. Therefore what became known as ‘state monopoly capitalism’ in Lenin’s day is still the dominant reality in the global economy.

The crisis of overproduction manifests itself as the ‘risks’ associated with anarchic capitalism destroying the forces of production. Capitalism’s quest to plunder the third world is now in its final phase of world domination –exhausting the resources of the former soviet bloc. The end of the Soviet Union has opened up central Asia. There and elsewhere, the race for scarce resources is hotting up the competition between the imperialist powers.

Today capitalist production is highly dependent on non-renewable resources, notably oil, whose supply is rapidly running out. The big corporations are oil pushers, enforcers, or oil junkies.[11] Those who control these scarce resources benefit from ‘rent’ i.e. that is the premium that can be extracted from those who do not own this resource. Capitalism today is an asset-stripping death machine. The risks associated with this drive to survive explains the behavior of all the players.

The US finances its military machine and arms industry to win control in the rent-seeking war game. This is the case in Iraq, Central Asia and Latin America. These are all military fronts in the war for oil, gas or other vital resources. But even such looting of vital resources and the massive military subsidies of the imperialist states, does not make them cheap enough to restore rising rates of surplus value and return acceptable profits on the vast capital stockpile awaiting investment in production. As capitalism drives down its path of destruction it cannot save itself.

There are inherent limits to the gains from capitalist production which is simultaneously destroying the forces of production.

The recent controversy about the US ‘jobless recovery’ illustrates this point. While thousands of migrants flood into the US to fill menial service jobs, productive industry shifts over to ‘lean production’ by exporting jobs to cheap labour countries. In Mexico or China, wage goods (clothes, white goods, electronic goods, cars etc) are produced more cheaply because of low wage costs combined with global lean production methods (cast-off production lines e.g. Korean or Indian cars). This is the same export of capital recognised by Lenin. But now it is up against more fundamental limits set by rock bottom wages as well as productivity caps.

The crisis of the period from 1914 to 1945 was hugely destructive in terms of the devaluation of variable and constant capital. Only out of such a destructive firestorm could the post-war boom emerge. But that boom was limited to the imperialist world and did not extend to the third world and the gap between ‘north and south’ widened dramatically. The accumulation of capital at the centre is now so huge that only a massive destruction of capital on a world scale will restore a return to profitable production. Windfalls like the collapse of the Soviet world extended the capitalist market to its full global reach. But while it created huge chunks of ‘new capital’ to add the world supply, it did not create sufficient means of making sufficient profits on that capital.

Thus early 21st century imperialism is unable to generate enough super-profits to keep pace with its rising capital stock. All the ‘t-shirts in China’ cannot sustain sufficient profits in the US let alone rising living standards of labour in the US. With the decline in new surplus-value from production, potential money capital becomes merely footloose money that devalues unless new sources of ‘value’ can be found. Increasingly finance capital ceases to be the productive investment that drives the development of industry and instead becomes ‘fictitious’ capital which is valueless because it cannot exchanged for commodities and must be gambled away on the prices of commodities. Take the derivatives market of ‘casino capitalism’.
Morgan/Chase the biggest international bank now has 84 times its real capital assets (stockholders funds) gambled on ‘derivatives’.

‘Derivatives’ are bets on future prices. Derivatives are a form of insurance to cover risks of production in a high-risk, unstable, crisis-prone anarchic market. That’s why 80% of such bets are on future interest rates (the price of money). For example futures brokers ‘borrow’ company shares for a fee, sell them to create cash and agree to sell the shares back at a given price. They use the money to speculate on currencies etc, and hope that the shares will be worth less when they buy them back so they can make a profit. This creates huge amounts of debt with no share asset backing. The instability in the market is itself greatly increased by the billions of hot money gambled on future prices every day.

Moreover it is workers that stand to lose most in the casino economy. For every George Soros who may lose billions of fictitious capital there are millions who lose their life savings. The finance mafia bets the savings of the ‘new middle class’ held in pension funds and bank shares. Marx talked about joint stock companies borrowing from small savers as a form of ‘socialising the costs’ of capital. Small savers would always be wiped out in any credit crash. Soros lost millions in 1998 when Russia defaulted on its debt. Morgan/Chase was similarly exposed to the Argentina collapse in 2001 even though the government froze the accounts of small savers (ahoristas) while at the same time allowed the big banks to take their money out of the country.

Such financial crashes destroy the jobs and savings of those workers who have savings. 19th and 20th century imperialist powers justified their smash and grab expansionism by selling it to their working class as a defence of the national interest. Britain had its ‘civilising mission’ and the US had its defence of the ‘free world’. All used ‘international relations’ to pacify and buy off the rising working class challenge to the power of capital. Marx, Engels and Lenin recognised the importance of colonial super-profits, which when trickled down to the ‘new middle class’ bribed it to support imperialism and to turn organised labour into cheerleaders for imperialist wars. Now 21st century imperialism cannot afford to buy off its workers and runs the ultimate risk of eliminating its support base in the ‘labour aristocracy’.

21st century imperialism cannot afford political buyouts so funds patriotic panics.

While it can’t afford to buy patriotism anymore imperialist states appeal to ‘national values’. Foreigners are blamed for taking jobs and cutting wages so that the labour movement becomes geared up to support wars against enemy aliens at home and abroad. As imperialist rivalry hots up trade protection becomes national protectionism in which workers are enlisted to fight the ‘enemy’. But as the costs of imperialist crises and wars become thrust onto the backs of workers (workers welfare axed while corporate welfare – especially oil and war industries – climbs, jobs and wages lost, workers in uniform lose their lives in the war for oil etc) the political class consensus that drove the post-war boom and which has been kept intact from the victory of capitalism over ‘communism, now becomes fractured at home and abroad. Workers and peasants see themselves as pawns in a US corporate war game for world domination. The level of anti-US sentiment outside the US is rising to massive proportions. And the class conflicts in the outside world are now being reproduced inside the US and the other imperialist powers.

This means that resistance in many forms is beginning to emerge. The WSF is a sort of ‘good cop’ imperialism that promotes the illusion that imperialism as a bad policy option that can be globally challenged and reformed. Hardt and Negri’s concept of Empire provides a popular version of this ideological position. There is a reformist labour international around Castro, including Chavez and Lula that promotes social democratic regimes coming together as an international counter-weight to US rogue imperialism. But the severity of the crisis imposed on the masses is rapidly surpassing the capacity of the reformists and their leftwing cheerleaders in the WSF to strangle the exploding resistance movements. Castro, Lula and Chavez attempts to negotiate with imperialism can only be at the expense of their worker and peasant supporters. Once we can see that 21st century imperialism is on the road to destruction, then we understand that only a world working class mobilisation for a global socialist society can offer an alternative. The cost of anarchic date-expired capitalism in the 21st century will be more wars and destruction unless it is replaced by socialism! 

From Class Struggle 55 April-May 2004

Written by raved

January 6, 2010 at 8:06 pm


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Bush’s determination to go to war in Iraq is the next step in the US drive to dominate the world economy. It is a war for oil but much more than that. Saddam’s dictatorship, like al Quada’s terorism is the supposed target. But this war is really to assert US dominance over the Middle East and Central Asia over its rivals the EU and Japan, and potential rivals, China, Russia and India. While on the face of it, this is the US flexing its superpower muscles, underneath the surface US imperialism is experiencing a deep crisis at the heart of its capitalist system of production. Yet the failure to recognise the deep roots of the causes of war means that the ‘peace movement’ that is growing in the West can never succeed in bringing about peace. The anti-war movement needs to become anti-capitalist. To help this process along lets demand a Referendum on the War!

The Rogue State

It is the nature of capitalism and imperialist rivalry that makes war inevitable. It is this basic cause that makes all the superficial explanations for US warlike behaviour inadequate. The anti-war movement in the West has recently mobilised hundreds of thousands on the streets. But this opposition is to the US as a ‘rogue state’ breaking the same international legal and moral rules that it imposes unilaterally on others. It is the blatant hypocrisy of the only nation that has used nuclear weapons and which backs Israel’s nuclear arsenal, about to invade a country that even US experts say has no weapons of mass destruction, that has sparked such widespread opposition.

The question then becomes; why is it that the US considers itself above international law? Why is it prepared to risk condemnation acting as a rogue state? It is in breach of UN resolutions. It is even in breach of its own Constitution!

The most common explanations look for the most obvious causes like the greed and power mania of one section of the US ruling class – the oil barons and arms manufacturers. They have clear motives for going to war in the Middle East. At stake is 2/3rds of the world’s oil and a land bridge to Central Asia where there are further large reserves of oil.

But if it is just the greed and power of a bunch of rich oil magnates then surely the answer is to mobilise ordinary decent Americans and peaceloving citizens around the world to exercise their democratic right to enforce international law. This is the position of the famous ‘liberatarian socialist’ critic of US foreign policy, Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky and Pilger on the causes of war

Chomsky accuses the US corporate elite of hypocritically using its power to impose its own brutal interests around the world in the name of ‘democracy’. He accuses the US of being a terrorist state already indicted by the World Court for illegal actions in Nicaragua. Rogue power is the corporations that are a law unto themselves. Chomsky calls these corporations ‘totalitarian institutions” . But their rule can be challenged by a worldwide campaign for democratic change that opposses these their policies. He points to the Zapatista uprising and the anti-globalisation movement as steps towards such an international campaign (Latin America p.92)

Chomsky’s view is shared by prominent left liberals such as journalist John Pilger who defines ‘imperialism’as the rule of the rich and powerful over the poor and weak. Writing just before the massive 28 September demo in London, Pilger said: “A great many people believe that democracy has been lost in this country. Today, true democracy will demonstrate its resilience on the streets of London…The credibility of the British parliamentary system is at stake”.For Pilger, Blair is behaving like an absolute ruler or a Hitler. Riding roughshod over democracy and international law and sacrificing the lives of millions of Iraqis for the ‘price’ of oil. Why? Bush and his extreme right cabal are ‘criminals’ and ‘fanatics’. They have used nuclear weapons before and threaten to again. All to boost their wealth and power.

So what’s the answer. For Pilger it’s ‘street democracy’ and ‘the great tradition of dissent’ that must be reactivated. He looks back for inspiration to the civil rights movement and the anti-war campaigns of the 1960s which led to the end of the Vietnam war and nuclear treaties. “Today is another date in September to remember, and perhaps celebrate – as the beginning not of endless war, but of our resistance to it.”

This certainly helps, but was this the answer back in the ‘60’s? The Vietnam war was won by the Vietnamese. The nuclear arms race was stopped by the USSR’s inability to keep up. And if it was just a matter of the peaceloving majority asserting democratic control over a power mad rich elite, why hasn’t this happened yet?

Chomsky et al have their own answer to this. The rich and powerful dominate the media and use their power to indoctrinate, divide and rule the masses.

This is clearly correct as far as it goes. The post September 11 world is one in which the US ruling class and their allies everywhere have used the media and their governments to try to impose their pro-Western views and their warlike solutions. So US workers supported Bush going to war against terrorism rather than see the US as the biggest state terrorist in the world. Anyone who questioned this view was faced with a barrage of new ‘patriotic’ laws, police state surveillance, labelled the ‘enemy’, and in many cases slammed in jail. Now it’s enough to threaten strike action to be called a terrorist as the ILWU longshore workers found out.

So what future for ‘democracy’?

By now most people who are opposed to the war must realise that it is extremely difficult to use capitalist democracy to change the system when the system is taking away any real democratic space in which you can fight it. A truth begins to emerge. ‘Democracy’ in the West cannot be the model for the rest of the world to follow. Democracy is a façade for the rule of the rich and powerful.

For example, the US Constitution is far from an ideal model of democracy. The Constitution was designed to defend the rights of private property owners That’s why it is the radical right who arm themselves against a state as usurping their property rights with laws, taxes, etc. When the radical left like the Black Panthers arm themselves they are killed by the state. Even Chomsky himself is very clear on the original purpose of the US Constitution, to keep the masses out of politics (Profit over People p 47). For him real democracy would mean a new constitution.

But if bourgeois democracy is only for the rich, why is there so much faith in ‘democracy’? A second truth begins to emerge. The liberal left presents the problem of Bush’s war as the rogue-like deviant behaviour of a rich and powerful so they can point to the ideal of a normal, just, humane and peaceful capitalism. One that is democratic, allows dissent and defends human rights. One that allows them to claim that capitalism can be ‘pacified’. OK if this is the ideal capitalism lets put it to the test.

Demand a Referendum on war

Let’s demand that no war can start without first a national debate and referendum. That would be a true test of captalist democracy. We challenge the liberal left like the Greens to make this demand. We are pretty sure that a referendum on war would not be allowed by the ruling class. This would be a clear repudation of democracy. But if public pressure did force a referendum on the capitalists, the level of public debate that would follow would surely expose the real causes of war – that of capitalist exploitation itself.

We are also pretty sure that liberal intellectuals will not demand a referendum seriously because they fear the awakening of the masses. The left liberal peaceloving people defend bourgeois ‘democracy’ but they fear the power of the working class more. They are convinced that ‘socialism’ went bad in the USSR and many think socialism is worse than Bush and Co. Lurking beneath this fear is the conviction that socialism is the will to power of the masses and once it is unleashed then there is no future for liberal democracy. That’s why the peace movement against the war in Iraq is not interested in getting rid of the real causes of war. It does not want to get rid of itself and the ‘democratic’ capitalism that justifies its existence.

For us, the end of liberal democracy will be the birth of workers’ democracy.

Written by raved

June 29, 2008 at 1:40 pm