Socialist Studies Socialist Studies


History repeats itself, more and more often these days. It is no longer a case of thinking that as one war ends another begins. That was in the distant past, when capitalism’s politicians would have us suppose that war was something utterly out of the ordinary, while ‘peace’ was the normal state of affairs. Now, however things have improved so much that hardly a week goes by without some new possibility of conflict cropping up.

It is clear as a proverbial pikestaff that insecurities and tensions in the Middle East have ratcheted up in recent years, especially after the controversial invasions, regime changes and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq by the US, UK, Australia and assorted allies.

Scare Tactics

Every age has its standard bogeymen used to scare workers into fearing the worst, so prepared to fight the wars decreed essential in the ‘national interest’ by their employers and their hired politicians. Through most of the 19th century, it was either the French Revolution and the Terror, or Napoleon and his ability to conquer most of Europe. In the 20th century, it was the Red Revolution, the ‘Russkeys’ and their plans for ‘world communism’, which all freedom-loving people were expected to oppose. But since the so-called ‘collapse of communism’, the USA and its satellites and client states like Britain, France and Israel have had to identify a new external enemy: easily done after the suicidal, terrorist attack of 9/11 by Islamic jihadists. Al Qaeda - as a secretive, global, terrorist conspiracy - made an ideal target. So was launched a never-ending ‘war on terror’.

In place of a worldwide conspiracy by Reds and the like, we now have a worldwide conspiracy by fanatical Islamists.

The Middle East has never been a region at ease with itself, at least since the establishment of the state of Israel, claiming the whole of Palestine as their god-given birthright. Their god appears to sanction the theft of Palestinian land and property. Odd as the famous Ten Commandments brought down from a mountain explicitly bans “coveting” a neighbour’s property – e.g. women, house, livestock and presumably land:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's [our emphasis].

The alliance between deity and property goes back a long way. So long as private property has been around, those who have property have found religions of every possible variety very useful in protecting their assets and justifying their seizing the assets of others.

Religion is two-faced and hypocritical. So too are modern politicians. Capitalism’s spokesmen are schooled and practiced in double standards, and Orwellian “double think” is for them second nature.

These snake-oil salesmen now address us via the mass media with the rhetoric of moral outrage. Senator John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, recalled - with calculated repressed emotion - the chemical gassing of men, women and children in the suburbs of Damascus.

The use of a chemical weapon was heinous, beyond the pale, a moral outrage. Action had to be taken.

Double Standards and Humanitarian Humbug

Yet the US and various other states also have stockpiles of such weapons. The US, Israel, Britain and France all have nuclear weaponry – as do Russia, China, Pakistan and India, and so on - at their disposal and have not got rid of them, in spite of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which only some of them signed up to, reluctantly.

The US is still the only state which has actually used atom bombs against cities. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the victims chosen: largely undocumented and unrecorded in the mass media until, some years later, John Hersey’s book, HIROSHIMA told of some of the survivors’ experiences. There were many men, women and children killed and horribly injured, with effects which may last into many future generations, as yet unborn. But the politicians who took that decision never faced a war crimes tribunal.

Again, the US sprayed vast quantities of dioxin (‘Agent Orange’) onto Vietnam. Dioxin is a very nasty sort of chemical with long-lasting effects, including damage to human DNA.

• The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that Agent Orange has affected 3 million people spanning three generations, including at least 150,000 children born with severe birth defects since the war ended in 1975. []

• The actual spraying of Agent Orange was indiscriminate in that there could be no control over where it specifically landed... the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs claim that about 5 million people became the victims of Agent Orange. High exposure to its dioxins caused cancer and a variety of genetic problems – many of which manifested themselves in children born to mothers who were affected by these dioxins. It is not known whether there has been any research in Vietnam into the long-term effects of low-level exposure to the dioxins of Agent Orange. In 1984, Vietnam veterans received a settlement of $180 million from the companies that manufactured Agent Orange. As US troops had gone into areas where Agent Orange had been dropped, they too were exposed to its dangers. Ex-troops from Australia, New Zealand and Canada also received compensation. [History Learning Site]

The US government was unwilling to make any sort of compensation to its victims on the ground, and if any US research was done into dioxin’s long-term effects is left unsaid. Note: the Vietnam War was started just as a simple low-key affair, when President John F Kennedy sent a few ‘military advisers’ to support the South Vietnam government.

In recent wars in the Middle East, it was noted that depleted uranium (DU) was widely used by the US forces, with the result that this became a widespread contaminant in the dry dusty conditions of Iraq. DU is also a chemical weapon.

• Depleted uranium does not pose any large scale radio-contamination hazard, because it consists almost entirely of the most abundant, least active, uranium isotope found in nature... So dispersal is quickly lost in the background levels. But on the small scale, high concentrations of DU are a large health hazard because U238 is chemically highly toxic, and is a chemical carcinogen. So even if it has low levels of radioactivity, it is still arguably chemical warfare to make bullets out of concentrated poison (August 2013).
Posting re nuclear power dangers, Common Dreams website

The Class War

Of course, capitalism has many other ways of killing people –not just in warfare, i.e. deliberately and at vast expense. Mostly such casual killing is reported, if at all, briefly in a matter of fact way - just business as usual. While the mass media devote huge headlines to politicians’ speechifying and gesturing, other killings get at most small notes on the inside pages of the press.

When THE INDEPENDENT’s front page and various other pages inside were given over to the exciting possibility of yet another Middle Eastern war, we found some other items of news tucked away inside the same papers (i, 30-31 August 2013). These we pick out simply as examples of the way the class struggle and the capitalist system of production for profit routinely has an impact on workers’ lives all the time. • In Gordon Brown’s own constituency, the bust part of capitalism’s usual boom to bust cycle, is still evident, with dire unemployment. When a supermarket advertised a new store was to open, they received 1,400 applications for just 250 jobs. In just 1 hour, over 10,000 calls were received, even with a charge for each time a frustrated caller left messages. So much for the former Chancellor and Prime Minister with his assertion that he had put an end to “boom and bust”!

• In the US, their low rate of pay, based on a measly low minimum wage set by the government, led to fast-food workers doing a mass walk-out, saying “they can’t live on what they’re paid”.

• In Britain, even with the ‘national minimum wage’ law in place, one of the Labour Party’s much vaunted so-called ‘achievements’, there are still sweatshop conditions and excessively long hours worked:

Working 100 hours a week is what happens when employment protections are insufficiently strong and employers excessively greedy.
Summary, i 31 August, from NEW STATESMAN

• Pay again is the key issue behind strikes in South Africa. There are “thousands of aviation, construction and car workers already striking over wages”. And even worse: Gold miners to strike over pay.

The paper did not report on how many deaths result from this dangerous work: the mere threat of a strike was ‘newsworthy’.

How ironic that those who risk life and limb to dig gold out of the ground should be so poorly paid by their profit-seeking capitalist employers. After workers and their profit-producing commodity, labour-power, gold is the commodity closest to the capitalist heart.

Gold, yellow, glittering, precious gold!
Thus much of this will make black white; foul fair;
Wrong right; base noble; old young; coward valiant...
This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions; ... place thieves,
And give them title, knee and approbation,
With senators on the bench...
Come damned earth,
Thou common whore of mankind.
Shakespeare, TIMON OF ATHENS

• As for deaths, when 4 more North Sea oil workers were killed recently when yet another Super Puma helicopter crashed off Aberdeen, it was only a matter of days before the companies succeeded in pressuring the Civil Aviation Authority to allow this risky type of helicopter to resume flying. Yet “The flight data recorder... is [still] being analysed by investigators” (i, 31 August).

But the CAA has given the OK to resume these flights, so the employers can relax their fears of lost output and profits. This too even before the workers’ funerals had been held – showing how little they care about workers and the risks these workers daily face, to enrich them.

• Another day, another short report, one from China.
Land-grab bulldozer kills girl
A four-year-old girl was killed by a bulldozer as her family resisted a land grab, a major cause of unrest in the country...
Authorities said her death was an accident and those responsible have been detained.
Seizures of land across China have been fuelled by soaring prices and the government’s urban expansion drive, resulting in often violent clashes between officials and villagers
(i, 30 August)

As in so many parts of the world, Chinese peasants are being evicted from their land which is then available for speculative development, and for capitalist ‘progress’. Marx coined a phrase to sum up this process: it was the initial, “primitive accumulation”, of capital. Wherever it happens, it is a bloody business: this little girl is only one of many, killed so that capitalism can thrive. Her family like others, once uprooted from the land, will have to scrape a living as migrant workers, wage-labourers, proletarians, in one of China’s vast new cities. What was their land is now valued as capital, so valuable that local Party apparatchiks and their hangers-on will stop at nothing to grab it. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law”. As for the landless peasants:
... you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live

Again a historical irony: the so-called ‘Communists’ in the Kremlin did much the same to the Russian peasantry. Expropriated from the land they were condemned to seek scarce housing in the cities and work as wage-workers in factories, mines, etc. Yet, while the US government detested any form of ‘communism’, it has no qualms about trading with China’s ‘Communist’ government.

Geopolitics or Human Rights?

Russia, China and the USA have global empires, latter-day colonies in all but name, so that their competing overseas interests and strategic concerns make wars ever more likely. They have widespread overseas bases, with ‘friendly’ ports where their navies can come and go as they please. In Turkey, close to Syria, the NATO intelligence gathering can warn of any move by Russia to put its naval ships or submarines in the Mediterranean. To counter this, the Russian government has established a cosy deal with Syria so that they too have a port on the Mediterranean. In return, the Syrian government buys about 10 per cent of Russia’s arms exports, possibly including chemicals used to make nerve gases.

Syria is strategically very important to the USA. This is a classic case of a war, if or when it happens, which is fought over strategic concerns, rather than obvious economic concerns such as oil.

It most certainly is not a war about “humanitarian intervention”, human rights, or opposition to a nasty dictator. If that were the case, why is there nothing done or said about the military coup in Egypt, the jailing and suppression of all opposition to the generals, the expulsion of any independent-minded media reporters, and the violent suppression of protest demonstrations?

Currently, over two million people have abandoned their homes and fled Syria’s civil war as refugees, to neighbouring states (e.g. Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan), with children traumatised, pregnant women giving birth, babies dying, etc. With autumn coming soon, the deserts will be cold and there are fears of disease.

Many more are regarded as “internally displaced” people, still within the borders of Syria, and also traumatised and in need of help.

There was a cynical saying in the Cold War to justify American support for some very nasty dictators. “He may be a son-of-a-bitch but he’s our son-of-a-bitch”. That could be the real reason the US government wants a war against Syria, Iran’s proxy. Both states pursue foreign policies which are not in Washington’s ‘sphere of influence’.

So forget all the political guff about humanitarian intervention, or the scary weapons that are at the disposal of the Syrian regime, and possibly also the opposition. As we wrote in our pamphlet, WAR AND CAPITALISM:

There is another point to make about this pretext that wars are about freedom or democracy. Remember that it is these freedom-loving governments and their friends in business which have sold arms, from guns to nerve gas, to these dreadful dictators...

In short, politicians who claim that a war is a just one because it is about freedom and democracy are simply not to be believed. Democracy is not something they would go to war about. If that were the case, how come there are so many dictatorships in the world? Instead of going to war against a dictatorship, capitalist governments are much more likely to sell them weapons...

Just as wars are not fought to defend democracy, it is the politics of the pulpit to pretend that missile and bomb attacks can be a ‘humanitarian’ form of war... Wars, by definition, are never humanitarian...

Whether such ‘humanitarian’ wars will be more than a passing fad remains to be seen. Clearly politicians - the spin-doctors of big business - are extremely ingenious in devising plausible and emotive rhetoric to win workers' support for wars fought over capitalist interests

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