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.