Last weekend saw a huge wave of protests against US and British attacks on Afghanistan. A magnificent mass mobilization of anything up to 500,000 took place in Italy, which was dominated by Rifondazione Communista -PRC. London saw the biggest protest for years as 50,000 took to the streets against the ‘War’. Thousands also took to the streets in Berlin and other European cities. Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other countries in the neo-colonial world were rocked by major demonstrations. These and other protests, mainly comprising of young people, reflect the growing anger and opposition to US and British actions in response to the mass terror attacks in the US on September 11th.
War in Afghanistan
Complications for US imperialism grow.
The growing wave of international protest is taking place as USA imperialism is facing major problems and difficulties in prosecuting its ‘war against terrorism’. After more than a week of intensive bombings, the problems facing US imperialism are becoming more acute by the day. Despite, this it is clear that Bush and Blair are determined to push ahead with this campaign although apparently without a clear idea of what they should do next.
One of the most striking features of the situation in the last few days has been the fact that US imperialism has lost the ‘propaganda war’ particularly amongst the Arab masses. This is not a question of ‘spin’ and the failure of the US ruling class to use it effectively as is implied by some capitalist commentators.
Hatred of Imperialism
The reason why US imperialism has lost the propaganda war is for objective reasons. There is a burning hatred of western imperialism, in particular US imperialism, amongst the masses in the neo-colonial world. This is a consequence of the horrific social and economic conditions which exist in the neo-colonial world. It is a product of imperialist domination of the neo-colonial world and, which has been fostered by US foreign policy in particular. Repeated historical promises have been torn up by imperialism. As the commentator Robert Fisk pointed out when referring to Bin Laden’s speech, "He (Bin Laden) was referring specifically to the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, written by the victorious allied powers, which did away – after 600 years of sultanates and caliphates – with the last dream of Arab unity." (London Independent, 17 October)
Average annual income per head of population in the USA is US$34,260. In the ‘Islamic countries’ from Bangladesh to Morocco it is less than US$3,700. As the world entered the new millennium in the year 2000, one in four children in Afghanistan died before reaching their fifth birthday because of war and poverty!
The plight of the Palestinian people and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands and perhaps up to one million Iraqi children as a result of economic sanctions have become an open soar, which has enraged the Arab and Muslim world.
And yet US imperialism still laments the lack of ‘gratitude’ by the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Washington Post bemoaned that: "Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has spent a decade promoting democratization, human rights and economic development; if it is now thanked with blind hatred, it may doubt whether to go on. For all the complaints of American isolationism, it sometimes appears that engagement is what truly provokes hostility." (International Herald Tribune, 17 October)
More than a few Iraqi or Palestinian children may have missed the last decade of democracy, human rights and economic development promoted by the ruling class in the USA!
The CWI condemned the indefensible attack in the USA, which killed thousands of working people. Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa’ida organization defend reactionary policies and ideas as we have argued in other articles. However, the hatred of imperialism in the neo-colonial world has enabled him to link himself and his organization in the minds of many in the Arab and neo-colonial world to a fight against western imperialism and the compliant ruling elites which rule in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
In his forthcoming book, Holy War Inc, Peter Bergen quotes Bin Laden, " The collapse of the Soviet Union made the US more haughty, and it has started to regard itself as a master of this world and established what it calls the new world order. The US today has set a double standard, calling whoever goes against its injustice a terrorist. It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents to rule us…and wants us to agree to all these." Declarations such as these made by Bin Laden and the attacks of US imperialism have tapped into the resentment of the masses in the Arab and Muslim countries despite the reactionary ideas he and his organization defend.
Moreover, as the bombings continue the more the masses in the Arab and Muslim countries view the attacks as a ‘war’ against themselves. They reject the claim of US imperialism that they are directed against the ‘terrorist Bin Laden and his al-Qa’ida organisation.’ To the dismay of western imperialism this has left Bin Laden, in what capitalist commentators refer to as a "win –win" situation.
There is not a uniform reaction in all countries of the neo-colonial world. In some countries the US war against on Afghanistan has complicated the domestic situation by exacerbating religious divisions. For example, in Nigeria there were wide scale riots between Muslim and Christian gangs in at least three northern cities (where Christians form the minority) over the last week. These clashes left dozens killed and hundreds injured. The rioting followed anti-US demonstrations organised by Muslim groups following Friday prayers.
US imperialism has been taken aback by the hostility that exists towards it especially in the neo-colonial world. As Bush’s newly appointed undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Charlotte Beers, admitted, "I’ve been a bit shocked by how difficult it is to get a message across." Another analyst, the director of Middle East studies at St. Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies went even further: " It’s hopeless. We will not get a hearing. I think we are deeply alienated from these societies, in the extreme." (International Herald Tribune, 16 October).
There is extreme fluidity in the attitude of workers in the western imperialist countries towards the war. In most, but not all the European countries a majority of the population probably still supports the idea that ‘something must be done.’ However there is not a ‘gung- ho’ attitude towards fighting a war. Most workers believe that ‘something’ must be done against those who carried out the horrific attacks in the US but there are a lot of doubts about supporting the continuation of the bombings and developing the ‘war’
There are doubts and enormous mistrust in Bush, Blair and other capitalist leaders. This flows from a fear of events spiraling out of control. This was reflected even in Britain where a ‘government of National Unity’ in reality exists on the conflict. Six Labour M.P.’s tabled a motion calling for a trial of Bin Laden. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, denounced them as being "appeasers". However, they were even defended by the tabloid Daily Mirror reflecting the worries of big sections of the population. In Germany an open division has taken place in the government as leading members of the Greens have come out against the war.
Of course, further terrorist attacks in the US, Britain or other countries, would allow the ruling class in these countries to crank up support for further attacks and military intervention.
The failure of US imperialism to win the "propaganda war" has been further damaged by evidence of increasing numbers of civilian casualties – or to use the obscene term of imperialist generals – "collateral damage". This goes together with the human catastrophe of the plight of millions in the developing Afghan refugee crisis. This has driven even UN and other aid agencies to speak out and criticize the bombings.
A Short War?
There are other major obstacles now confronting US imperialism. Any hope of a short ‘war’ has dissipated. There is an expectation that it will now develop into a protracted conflict. This is not a ‘classical war’ even like the Gulf or Kosova wars. As the Financial Times pointed out: " …the current operation is a targeted offensive rather than all-out war." (13 October). The immediate target of imperialism is to remove the Taliban regime from power and destroy Bin Laden and al-Qua’da as the first objective in Bush’s ‘war against terrorism’.
The CWI and Marxists have always opposed the methods of terrorism by small conspiratorial groups that do not in any way serve the interests of working people and undermine mass mobilization and struggle by the working class and other exploited people’s. We also oppose the hypocrisy of imperialism, which is responsible for the slaughter of working people throughout the world either through its direct intervention or as a consequence of the poverty that exists under capitalism.
‘Terrorist’ groups are an expression of social and objective conditions. Without a mass workers movement which has embraced a socialist alternative to the profit system, ‘terrorist’ organizations can be born out of the social conditions created by capitalism and imperialism.
Even bourgeois commentators are now recognizing that Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’ will not be a short one. Steve Crawshaw writing in the British Independent compared the conflict in Afghanistan to the ‘thirty years’ of the troubles in Ireland! The British Observer quoted a US administration official as saying, "If you have bone marrow cancer, it’s not enough just to cut off the patients foot. You have to complete the course of chemotherapy. And if that means embarking on the next Hundred Years’ War, that’s what we’re doing."!! Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, the British security service, went further and argued that a war against ‘global terrorism’ will fail!! The reasons to draw such a conclusion are clear. To solve the problem of ‘terrorism’ necessitates dealing with the social conditions which give rise to it.
However, despite these warnings it is clear that there is an open division of opinion within the US administration about how the war should be conducted. The hawks, led by deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, are grouped together in what has become known as the ‘Wolfowitz cabal’. They are clearly laying the ground to take the struggle beyond Afghanistan. Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, another member of this ‘cabal’, regards the military commanders as too cautious and ‘conservative’.
The ‘Wolfowitz cabal’ has seized upon the recent outbreaks of anthrax and is preparing the ground to justify widening the war against Iraq. Secret meeting have been held to plan and discuss an occupation of the Basra oil fields as part of a plan to overthrow the Iraqi regime. Significantly, Powell, the ‘dove’ has been excluded from all such meetings.
This struggle, largely between the political ‘hawks’ and the ‘doves’ in Generals’ uniforms, reflects an open division within the US ruling class. Should the momentum of the conflict result in the ‘hawks’ taking the conflict beyond Afghanistan and into Iraq, the Middle East and the entire neo-colonial world will erupt in flames. At the moment the most hawkish plans are being checked by the more ‘pragmatic Generals’. However, it is not certain that the balance of forces will remain as such depending on the unfolding of the conflict in Afghanistan and surrounding countries. In the last few weeks the ‘Wolfowitz cabal’ has been more strident.
However, socialists and opponents of the war should not be fooled about Powell’s ‘democratic or progressive credentials’. He was involved in supplying the Contra’s in Nicaragua in the 1980’s, the US invasion of Grenada and an attempted cover up of the Mai Li massacre (where villagers were gunned down by US soldiers during the Vietnam war). He is simply a more farsighted general from the point of view of defending the interests of US imperialism.
After the first week of ‘the next Hundred Year’s War’, US imperialism is already facing major obstacles. The most immediate is what to do in Afghanistan itself. The ‘window of opportunity’ for further military action is rapidly closing with the onset of winter and the approach of Ramadan. The onset of winter will severely limit the possibility of escalating military action. These factors will take the immediate conflict into next year and in all likelihood a conflict lasting for at least another two years as the British Chief of Staff has pointed out. It could carry on longer ‘rumbling in the background’ of along with other world social and economic upheavals.
What Follows the Taliban?
Another major obstacle for imperialism is the lack of an immediate alternative regime to the Taliban. Although the US has now begun bombing the Taliban front line, the Northern Alliance has been held back from launching an offensive on Kabul. It has partly been held in check because of US fears of allowing them to take Kabul and establish a new regime on their own. One major contributing factor has been the pressure of the Musharraf regime in Pakistan which fears a government based on the Northern Alliance would threaten its interests in the region.
Musharraf, reflecting immediate domestic interests, reportedly threatened to close Pakistan airspace to the US if it reneged on the ‘tacit understanding’ not to help the Northern Alliance too much. Moreover, the Northern Alliance, based upon the Tajiks and Uzbeks has a narrow ethnic base, which does not include the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic grouping. A regime based on this grouping alone would rapidly descend into a renewed outbreak of civil war between the different ethnic groupings and warlords.
If the US fails to be seen to take into account the Pakistani ruling class’s attitude on this question, Musharraf’s position would be further undermined and the Islamic Fundamentalists’ support would be strengthened.
The problem for US imperialism is that without backing the Northern Alliance what force on the ground will actually overthrow the Taliban? The US is facing major difficulties in putting together a multi-ethnic post Taliban regime. It is evidently attempting to split the Taliban regime and aiming to include some ‘Taliban moderates’ in a future coalition but it is not certain they will be able to achieve this.
The political difficulty of an alternative to the Taliban is aggravated by tactical political/military complications. The approach of Ramadan and winter mean that the US is up against the pressure of time to act rapidly to take the next steps. This is likely to include the deployment of special forces – Delta Force from the USA and the SAS from Britain. However, the deployment of such forces to hunt down Bin Laden and key al-Qa’ida leaders is also being frustrated by apparently limited intelligence information. According to recent reports the Bush administration has been ‘disappointed’ by the lack of specific information supplied by the Pakistani ISI. This seems to have been withheld by some sections of the security forces in Pakistan. It was the ISI and other sections of the Pakistani state that helped establish the Taliban and who still support them.
Thus the International Herald Tribune quoted one senior Pakistani military source: "Basically, you are telling the ISI operatives to break their ideological and traditional bonds with their Afghan friends." Retired General Hamid Gul, who headed the ISI from 1987 to 1989 added: "It is becoming increasingly more difficult because of the mood of the nation in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. The situation is fundamentally different from the 1980’s because then the Afghan guerrilla groups and their foreign allies – including Mr. Bin Laden – were coming to the ISI for help, freely exchanging information for money, logistics and weapons. We did not have to work for information then" (International Herald Tribune, 17 October).
The major problems that US imperialism faces in establishing a workable alternative to the Taliban raises the prospect of imperialism being compelled to turn Afghanistan into a UN protectorate involving other ‘Muslim countries’. This would mean drawing imperialism into an even more complicated situation than that which confronts it in other protectorates such as Bosnia.
Musharraf’s attitude towards the Northern Alliance is in marked contrast to the Iranian Shia Muslim regime, which is supporting them. Although, Iran has also now been compelled to publicly oppose the bombings it is trying to use the crisis to open further relations with US and western imperialism and to bolster its position as a local power in the region.
Flash Points in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
There is growing opposition to the US led attacks throughout the Arab and Muslim world. This is especially reflected in two of the most sensitive flash points – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. However, it is not only limited to these two strategically important countries. The fact that Megawati, President of the largest Muslim country, Indonesia, has called for an end of the US bombing is a measure of the rising tide of anger that is poised to explode.
Capitalist commentators have tried to console themselves that Musharraf has so far been able to contain the threat of Islamic fundamentalists and that the recent protests have been relatively small.. However, it would be a massive miscalculation to underestimate the threat of Musharraf being overthrown. Even Musharraf greeted Powell with a warning that: "Certainly a majority of the people are against the operation in Afghanistan."
The prospect of the development of civil war leading to the fragmentation of Pakistan is one possibility in the crisis that is unfolding. The attempt by over 5,000 protesters to occupy the airbase used by US imperialism in the southern Sindi town of Jacobabad is a warning of what may confront the Musharraf regime. Musharraf is desperate to try and ensure that the attacks on Afghanistan are of short duration. A failure to achieve this will lead to a social explosion as opposition to the US and Musharraf takes to the streets. Passive opposition to the US attacks can easily turn into active opponents of Musharraf and his government.
Colin Powell was compelled to visit Pakistan and India in order to try and shore up Musharraf and also to try and calm the explosive conflict in the region between Indian and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir – a task dubbed by some in the Washington administration as ‘Mission Impossible’. Over 30,000 have died in the Kashmir conflict during the last decade. The current crisis makes it even more potentially dangerous.
Indo-Pakistan tensions have been further aggravated as a result of the crisis in Afghanistan. US imperialism’s cuddling up to Musharraf has created friction with India. Both India and Pakistan are attempting to use the current conflict as a means of strengthening their position in relation to Kashmir. India also fears that a collapse in the Taliban regime will result in thousands of displaced fighters arriving in Kashmir and bolstering Islamic fundamentalism.
India wants the ‘war on terrorism’ to include measures against the Pakistani-backed armed groups in Kashmir. Any step in this direction by the Pakistani regime would further undermine its position domestically.
The conflict in Kashmir could eventually lead to the outbreak of a third war between India and Pakistan especially should an Islamic fundamentalist regime eventually seize power in Pakistan or some of its regions that could result in it fragmenting along national lines.
The fear of US imperialism of any of these possibilities was partly why Powell’s visit to the region recently went ahead. The fact that two major tours by representatives of western imperialism Blair and Powell – have taken place within the first nine days of the current conflict is an indication of the fears of imperialism about developments in this region. The fact that both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons illustrates the possible threat that could arise if the situation spun out of control. These concerns were highlighted by the recent bombing in Srinagrar, capital of Indian occupied Kashmir held territory, carried out by Pakistani based Islamic fundamentalists. This was followed by artillery fire, which coincided with Powell’s visit, by the Indian army against Islamic forces over the Line of Control.
Added to these problems, US imperialism is also confronted with a deepening crisis in Saudi Arabia as opposition to the US bombing and the ruling elite develops. Reflecting the domestic pressure the ruling regime in Riyadh has now been compelled to criticize the bombing of Afghanistan. The open opposition to the regime in Saudi Arabia has reached unprecedented proportions.
The Saudi Regime, which is pro-western theocratic and reactionary, is being increasingly challenged by anti-western reactionary fundamentalist forces which are gaining support. Economic decline, massive unemployment which has reached 18%, and an extremely young population, where the median age is 19.7 years old, is giving rise to an explosive situation when combined with the deep resentment against US imperialism. The latter has been fueled by the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia since the war against Iraq in 1992.
The London Guardian quoted one source as saying: "It is incredible how the feeling here has changed from sympathy to anger in such a short time." Another western resident was reported as saying that the mood was comparable to "Iran in the late 1970’s, before the overthrow of the Shah." (15 October). For the first time a public ‘fatwa’has been threatened by a senior cleric against the Saudi royal family for collaborating with the ‘infidels’.
However, despite these obstacles US imperialism will be compelled to proceed with its ‘war’. The overwhelming mood amongst the masses in the US ‘to do something’ and the need for the major world power to react after the bruising its prestige suffered on September 11 th compel it act. It will mean a protracted period of turmoil and upheaval internationally.
New Peace Initiative in the Middle East?
Massive opposition is building up against US attacks and that threaten the ruling regimes throughout the Arab world. The US has applied a lot of pressure to try and restart the Middle East peace process in order to try and keep the ‘coalition’ together, placate the Arab regimes and attempt to be seen to making concessions to the Palestinian in the eyes of the Arab masses. The consequences of this policy have already begun to be seen in Israel.
It has already forced the resignation from the Sharon government of six extreme right-wingers who are opposed to the new initiative by Bush. While this does not signify the immediate collapse of Sharon’s National Unity government, it demonstrates the widening divisions that will develop within the government and Israeli society.
A clearer example of these divisions is shown in the open clash between the chief of army staff, Mofaz, and the defence minister, Ben Elizeer, after Sharon ordered the withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Force from Palestinian Authority areas in Hebron. Mofaz opposed this proposal and was subsequently forced to issue a public apology. This is the first time that the chief of staff has publicly opposed the government, according to Israeli commentators.
The attempts of US imperialism to re-start the ‘peace process’ do not represent concern for the Palestinian people but an attempt to keep the coalition together. The recent killings of Hamas leaders by the Israeli forces and the shooting of the Israeli Minister for Tourism illustrate how difficult it will be to even get the process started. The Sharon government is consciously trying to delay the start of the ‘peace process’ in order to try and maneuver the Israeli ruling class into a more favourable position. Any ‘peace process’ will take place against the background of more assassinations and killings as recent events have shown.
Despite any temporary lull in the conflict it will not be possible for US imperialism to solve the conflict. Whatever deal they eventually come up with will result in further conflict and upheaval. As events in the Balkans and Ireland have shown national oppression and conflict cannot be resolved under capitalism.
The entire conflict in the Middle East and Muslim countries requires the building of an independent movement of the working class and other exploited layers that will fight to overthrow capitalism and landlordism and begin the task of building socialism. Only the building of such a force will be able to unite all the national and ethnic minoroties and defend their democratic national rights. No other force will be able to defeat imperialism.
The turmoil that has unfolded internationally now requires the building of a mass socialist alternative of workers and young people to fight against imperialism and capitalism. The capitalist system and its leaders like Bush, Blair can offer nothing to the working class and exploited peoples of the world. A new socialist alternative must be built that can offer an alternative to the poverty misery and war that capitalism brings. This is needed in the imperialist countries and the neo-colonial world. It is the only way to unite the mass of working people in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the USA, Europe and Australasia – the international victims of imperialism and capitalist exploitation
Join the CWI in our fight for:
- An end to the war! Build a mass movement against the war! No Increase on Military spending and no tax increases to pay for the war!
- Stop the Bombing of innocent Afghan people!
- The Overthrow of the Taliban regime by the Afghan people and the establishment of Democratic Socialist Government of the Working People and poor peasants of Afghanistan.
- A Mass Struggle to Overthrow the Reactionary Regimes in the Middle East, Pakistan and Asia!
- A Socialist Palestine and Socialist Israel as part of a democratic voluntary Socialist Federation of the Middle East.
- Down with Bush and Blair and for a Socialist USA and Socialist Britain and a Democratic Socialist Federation of Europe!
- For A Socialist World – Without Terror or War.