SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 88 - December-January 2004/05

More war years?

Will the next four years really be ‘more of the same’? PETER TAAFFE looks at the implications of Bush’s victory on world relations.

THE US ELECTIONS will have come as a big disappointment to all those worldwide hoping for a defeat for the hated Bush regime. With majorities in both houses of Congress, Bush has already indicated that he will fully exploit this situation to implement a programme of further concessions to the rich at home and a continuation of his plundering imperialist agenda abroad. "I have earned new political capital", he announced to his first post-election press conference, "and I intend to spend it on what I told the people I’d spend it on".

While in no way diminishing the complications of Bush’s victory, at the same time it is wrong to exaggerate what Bush is capable of doing internationally. Bush and the neo-conservatives are like the Bourbon kings of old; they forget nothing and learn nothing. No adventure or further military intervention, as Iraq demonstrates, is beyond this gang. But as Iraq also illustrates, they will conjure up colossal forces of opposition both at home and abroad.

The election has not decisively altered the balance of forces or the relationship of the US to the rest of the world. Kerry and the Democrats indicated in advance that their criticisms of Bush were largely of style rather than substance. This was not how the mass opposition to Bush viewed the matter. Bush’s defeat would have seen perceived as a repudiation of the neo-conservatives’ concerted military strategy – ‘pre-emptive strikes’, endless war and the semi-militarization of US society – by the American people. This would have been particularly the case for the million-fold and unprecedented anti-war movement, both in the US and worldwide, which developed in response to the war. It would have been seen as partial ‘compensation’ for the inability of the anti-war movement to stop the war in the first place.

But Bush’s victory will not give him a licence for ‘more of the same’ over the next four years. On the contrary, the failure of US imperialism in Iraq and the catastrophic consequences for its position that have flowed from this, are decisive in hemming in and restricting the Bush regime’s options. In place of military assertiveness and intervention, in effect Bush will be compelled to carry out fundamentally the very same policy promised by Kerry, of ‘containment’ of Syria, Iran and North Korea, rather than serious military efforts to overthrow them.

This does not preclude either military ‘surgical strikes’ by the US or action on its behalf by a proxy – for example, Israel – against ‘rogue states’. In 1981 Israel bombed the nuclear facilities of Iraq under Saddam, while Reagan launched missile strikes against Gadaffi’s Libya and invaded Grenada. The bombing of Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel could not be ruled out. Even that, however, depends upon the internal political situation within Israel itself, which is much more volatile than when it acted against Iraq, as well as in the US. But in the light of the failure in Iraq, war against Iran and occupation is not feasible. Iran’s population is nearly three times the size of Iraq’s and, despite the illusions in the attractiveness of US living standards, would arouse Iranian nationalism, reignited by the 1979 revolution, which is a vital ingredient in the make-up of the country. Despite the intense mass opposition to the Islamic ‘hardliners’, in the event of a US intervention the population would undoubtedly fight against this.

This does not mean that the US and the world will return to a more ‘tranquil’ era like that prior to Bush’s first term. The coming to power of Bush in 2000, surrounded by the neo-cons and ideologically buttressed by the Judeo-Christian fundamentalist right, ushered in a new era of unilateralism, of American nationalism and imperialism on a world scale. The stunning military power of the US was on display in the fireworks of ‘shock and awe’ in the first wave against Iraq. But in the ‘second war’ against the insurgency opposing the occupation, the limits of this military might have also been on display. Even according to Bush, the US has ‘more will than wallet’. In other words, its will to act as ‘world policeman’ in the ‘war on terror’ is undermined by a weakened economic situation. Yet the US’s ‘will’ will also be shown wanting in the quagmire which Iraq has now become.

Economic base undermined

THE ESCALATING MILITARY costs, together with the paucity of manpower, will test even the world’s only military superpower to breaking point. As one commentator, Peter J Petersen, writing in Foreign Affairs, pointed out: "For most of US history, going to war was like organising a large federal jobs program, with most of the work done by inexpensive, quickly trained recruits. Today, it is more like a NASA moon launch, entailing a massive logistical tail supporting a professionally managed and swiftly depreciating body of high-tech physical capital. Just keeping two divisions engaged in ‘stability operations’ in Iraq for one week costs $1bn; keeping them engaged for a full year would cost the entire GDP of New Zealand". Weapons procurement programmes, which fell in the immediate post-cold war period to about $50bn a year in the mid-1990s, are scheduled to rise to over $100bn a year by 2010 – more than the previous ‘real dollar’ peak in the mid-Reagan years.

At the same time, the US is facing severe imperialist overstretch. Even with ‘help’ from the worn-out military reserve and National Guard this cannot prevent the armed forces from being stretched. In December 2003, only two of the army’s ten divisions were both uncommitted and in a high state of readiness. Moreover, this bloated military expenditure is not underwritten, as it was in the past, by the overwhelming economic strength of US imperialism. The US is now borrowing over $600bn per year from the rest of the world to pay for the overall deficit funding of Americans’ consumption of goods and services, and for US foreign aid transfers, and this figure is projected to rise. This unprecedented current account deficit is paid for through direct lending and the sale of US assets to foreign businesses, from stocks and bonds to corporations and real estate. The US imports roughly $4bn of foreign capital each day, half of that to cover the current account deficit and the other half to finance investment abroad. This deficit is higher than under Reagan in 1987, when the dollar’s value fell by a third and the stock market suffered its ‘Black Monday’ plunge. This situation cannot be sustained indefinitely.

These economic trends portend a possible significant global power shift away from the US. Militarily it remains overwhelmingly the only superpower on the globe. But, given the growing underlying economic weaknesses of the US, to some extent this presupposes that the rest of the world will ‘share the burden’ for maintaining this military might. This was the case in the first Gulf War of 1990-91. European and, particularly, Japanese imperialism were willing to underwrite the cost of that war. This changed with the coming to power of George W Bush. The political and military doctrine which has underlined his regime is "military pre-emption, falsely called prevention". (Foreign Affairs) That policy has been dragged into the quagmire of Iraq and thereby discredited, not least amongst the bourgeois critics of Bush and the neo-cons.

As in Vietnam, only more so, there is no visible Iraq exit strategy for US imperialism at the present time. The bourgeoisie, neither imperialism nor the weak dependent Iraqi bourgeois, including the leaders of the different bourgeois parties, can not show a way out of the catastrophe. The January elections – if they go ahead – will solve nothing. If anything, they could enormously compound ethnic conflict, which is held in check, to some extent, by the common enemy of the US and its occupation forces. The horrific possibilities for massive sectarian conflict, however, were indicated by the recent slaughter of 40 Iraqi army conscripts by al-Zaqarwi’s forces. The latter are based upon Sunni and foreign Arab fighters. Their victims, on this occasion, were all Shia. On the other hand, it has now been announced by those around Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, who represents the majority of the Shias, that a common list of ‘Shia Islamist parties’ has reached ‘preliminary agreement’ to run a single list of candidates in the January elections. This could pave the way for a conservative religious, Shia-dominated ‘parliament’. This would be the first time since the creation of Iraq in 1920 that the Shia Arabs would be able to take ‘control’.

The Sunni population, particularly the privileged layers within these groups, would not sit back and accept this with equanimity. Nor would the Kurds. The break-up and subsequent Balkanisation of Iraq is posed in this situation. This, however, would not be contained within the borders of Iraq but could draw in, on the side of either the Sunnis or Shias, the neighbouring countries of Iran, Saudi Arabia (which could also face civil war and possible break-up), Turkey and Syria.

‘International law’

THE REPURCUSSIONS OF Iraq will endure for the next period. Even Kerry stated before the election that it would require another 40,000 US troops to defeat the ‘insurgency’, although this would not be enough even for a temporary stabilisation. The Bush regime tested out the possibility of other capitalist powers militarily ‘sharing the burden’, perhaps through participation in a ‘United Nations force’. However, the worldwide collapse in the ‘legitimacy’ of the US in the wake of the Iraq war is unprecedented and means that it has not received support up to now.

Invoking the US’s violation of so-called ‘international law’, the European bourgeoisie in particular, backed up by an avalanche of bourgeois professors, have sought to ‘prove’ the divergence of Bush and his gang from at least the formal approach of the governing group of US imperialism since 1945. The threat posed then by a different social system, Stalinist Russia, forced US imperialism, despite its preponderant military power, to take account of the vital interests of its allies. This was sanctified by the US-inspired United Nations Charter. In contradistinction to the crude postures of capitalist powers previously – Germany’s chancellor during the first world war declared that the treaty guaranteeing Belgium’s neutrality was merely ‘a scrap of paper’ – the UN’s charter obligated states to "refrain from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state". Exceptions were possible where force could be employed, either by individual states or by collective defence against armed attack.

This concept of ‘international law’ is, of course, shot through with hypocrisy and contradictions. For Marxists, law is always ultimately class based. However, the bourgeoisie, in seeking to capture the support of its own people and world ‘public opinion’, needs its armed actions to be sanctified by such ‘moral’ precepts. In reality, as the commentator Robert Kagan has pointed out: "It was not international law and institutions but the circumstances of the cold war, and Washington’s special role in it, that conferred legitimacy on the US, at least within the West. Contrary to much mythologising on both sides side of the Atlantic these days, the foundations of the US’s legitimacy during the cold war had little to do with the fact that the US helped to create the UN or faithfully abided by the precepts of international law laid out in the organisation’s charter. Washington reserved the right to intervene ‘anywhere and everywhere’ as was shown in the Vietnam war, not sanctified by the UN, or by the recent war in Iraq. In both cases however, the standing of the US plunged and its legitimacy was severely undermined as a result". The neo-cons agreed with Kagan, with John Bolton, Bush’s Under-Secretary of State for arms control, declaring before Bush came to power: "It’s a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interests to do so because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States". (Insight, June 1999)

His brutal assertion of US unilateralism has been put into practice by the Bush regime with massively damaging results. It is widely perceived now as the main ‘rogue state’ on the planet. Recent opinion polls have underlined the massive unpopularity of the US worldwide, with only a majority in Israel and Russia in favour of the US. This disapproval is at its highest in Europe with 76% opposed to US foreign policy, a 20% increase from two years before.

The hatred of the US, however, is probably deepest in the Arab world and amongst the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. In alarm, bourgeois commentators have pointed to the fact that hostility to the US goes beyond religious radicals who are ‘the left-wing fringe’ but has penetrated deeply into the popular culture. The attack on Afghanistan and the terrible suffering of the Palestinians and Iraqis have reinforced this mood. While Israel has occupied this position previously, the US did not in the past receive comparable hatred at all levels of Arab society. It is, of course, at its most intense amongst the working class and poor peasants, and often connected in the minds of the masses with the corrupt Arab regimes which have been compliant in the humiliation of the Arab peoples at the hands of the US. It has widespread ramifications for the region but, particularly, for the mood of the popular masses.

Syria and Iran

IN THE WIDER Middle East, the threat of Bush to repeat the military excursion into Iraq in an attack on Syria, for instance, subsided before the election. Even the US-backed Syrian exiles have, it seems, abandoned their dream of riding to power on top of American humvees. "Up to the summer of 2003", wrote Fared Gaghadry, founder of the US-based Reform Party of Syria (who seeks to play the same role as Ahmed Chalabi did in Iraq), "we still believed the military option was a good option and it could be used in Syria. Today I believe the military option is not an option. International opinion would oppose it. Syrians would oppose it. Americans would oppose it". In other words, the failure of the US in Iraq has compelled US imperialism and its acolytes to reassess their perspectives for Syria.

The establishment of a US military presence with permanent bases in Afghanistan, however, has undoubtedly alarmed the mullahs who control the Iranian regime. This is just part of what one commentator correctly pointed out is "the most extensive realignment of US power in half a century". Part of this realignment is the opening of a second front in Asia. No longer is the US confined to bases on the Pacific Rim of the Asian continent; today it has made significant moves into the heart of Asia itself, building a network of smaller, jumping-off bases in Central Asia. The ostensible rationale for these bases is the war on terrorism. In reality, this is an excuse to enhance the economic and strategic military power of US imperialism, with the US seeking decisive control and influence over the oil resources and pipelines in the region.

The Iranian regime also undoubtedly sees this as preparation for US-backed attempts to overthrow it. It is the real raison d’être behind the pressure exerted by both the US and Europe over Iran’s nuclear programme. The US, having unilaterally designated Iran as part of the ‘axis of evil’, has deemed that Iran’s nuclear programme, even if for professed peaceful energy reasons, cannot be allowed to continue. Yet, even according to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium for ‘peaceful purposes’. The problem is that the same process can be used to develop nuclear weapons. This shows that the nuclear option is inherently unstable and cannot prevent the development of weapons of mass destruction, even if a strict ‘inspection’ regime is undertaken.

The setbacks for the US in Iraq, together with the cowering and retreat of the ‘reformists’ around Iranian president Khatami, have strengthened the resolve of the dominant right-wing group of mullahs in Tehran to hold out against US pressure. The European capitalists are worried that Iran could opt out of the non-proliferation treaty. It could then go on to develop a bomb – probably a necessity in the view of Tehran, particularly against the background of the nuclear bombs possessed by Israel – thereby occupying a similar intransigent position as North Korea. After all, impoverished North Korea, on the brink of breakdown, has rattled its nuclear weapons with implied threats to use them against South Korea and Japan.

This highly unstable situation again underlines that the neo-con strategy of Bush, rather than defeat ‘evil’, has actually reinforced the possibility of nuclear Armageddon, at least in some regions of the world. Kerry indicated a more ‘pragmatic’ approach, signalling a preparedness to negotiate with Tehran, to ‘normalise relations’ with the Iranian regime. He even offered that if Iran closed down its nuclear facility the US would "supply nuclear power and contain the nuclear material that is created as a result". In seeking to mollify the Tehran regime he also indicated that the US under his control could arrive at a mutually agreed settlement to crack down on both al-Qa’ida and the Peoples’ Mujaheddin Organisation (MKO – the Iranian former guerrilla group allied with Saddam against the mullahs). Bush, on the other hand, while declaring this organisation to be a ‘terrorist’ group, gave it protection under the Geneva Convention as ‘non-combatants’. In other words, the Bush regime is prepared to use all opponents of the Iranian regime – no matter how ‘reprehensible’ previously – to weaken and ultimately bring it down. As stated earlier, any attempt to use armed intervention against Iran would meet not just with resistance from the ayatollahs but the mass of the Iranian people. At the same time, the Iranian working class, increasingly in opposition to the conservative regime, has yet to move decisively to overthrow it. Waiting in the wings in the event of a meltdown in Iran is the son of the former shah, who promises a new ‘secular’ regime.

North Korea

APART FROM IRAN there are a number of other flashpoints with the potential to flare up, resulting in dangerous conflicts. One ‘hot spot’ is, of course, North Korea, originally threatened by Bush with ‘preventative action’, which even he was forced to soften in the wake of the failure in Iraq, as well as the fact of the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea.

The intransigence of North Korea flows from the history of negotiations with the US over its nuclear potential. The framework agreement of 1994, in exchange for the freezing and dismantling of its Russian-designed reactors capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, granted the lifting of the 50-year economic embargo, as well as the normalisation of relations. North Korea also demanded that the US commit itself to a formal agreement not to use nuclear weapons against it, the supply by the US of proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors, as well as an interim supply of oil. The Bush regime broke this interim agreement and demanded that North Korea unilaterally disarm. The sheer hypocrisy of this has been underlined recently by the revelation that South Korea, under the aegis of the US, has had a secret nuclear programme greater than that of North Korea’s!

The collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe, together with the move towards capitalism in China, has resulted in a meltdown in North Korea, with some reports putting the number of people dying of starvation in the 1990s as three million, one in eight of the population. This catastrophic situation compelled North Korea to move towards the introduction of a market and a curtailment of central planning. Many measures seen in the last stages of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe have been introduced, with the self-financing of factories, control in the hands of local managers to hire and fire at will, and their right to choose what they produce. Despite this up to five million people no longer earn enough to feed themselves.

This makes for a very unstable cocktail in the Korean peninsula, which the measures of the Bush neo-con regime have enormously aggravated. Even the Chinese, who have the greatest influence over North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, have so far failed to persuade him to scrap the nuclear weapons programme in exchange for security guarantees and aid to the collapsing economy. Incredibly, US vice-president, Dick Cheney, said on his visit to the region in April 2004, "time is running out for a negotiated resolution to the crisis". Force is completely ruled out in an attempt to overthrow the North Korean regime, for the reasons explained above, so presumably this implies that the US – under Bush – would resort to economic sanctions. However, even this is dangerous given the economic situation facing the North. A collapse of the regime there would see a mass influx of starving North Koreans into the south, which would in turn be plunged into the economic abyss. The irresponsible gang – from the point of view of imperialism – which rules the White House, risks such a situation through its policies. The ex-Stalinist clique controlling the North is capable of the most uncontrolled, adventurous actions. They threatened Japan by firing a missile over its main island, Honshu, and into the Pacific Ocean beyond.

China: ‘strategic competitor’ or ‘partner’?

NORTH KOREA IS just one particularly explosive ingredient in the Asian ‘theatre’, in which the US rubs up and clashes with the interests of emerging giants such as China, India and Japan. China is obviously on the rise, but so are India and other Asian states which are boasting growth rates which outstrip Europe and the US in particular. China’s economy could be double the size of Germany’s by 2010, with some estimates predicting it could overtake Japan, currently the world’s second largest economy, by 2020. A certain amount of caution is required however. Japan was also spoken of in a similar way to China today in its ‘potential’ to overtake the US on the basis of its growth rates of the 1970s. Like Japan at the end of the 1980s, China shows all the symptoms of ‘overheating’, with colossal overcapacity, bad loans, etc, which could result in a crisis on the scale of the South East Asian crisis of 1997-98. These economic considerations apart, China plays and will continue to play an important role in world relations, particularly in regard to relations between the competing powers in Asia.

The emergence of China and, to a lesser extent, India, has had serious repercussions in the region. Historically, China and Japan are rivals and have never been powerful at the same time. In the past, China was strong while Japan languished in poverty, but for the last 200 years Japan has been more powerful than a weak and, under imperialism, dismembered China. At the same time, India and China have, in the recent past, been at loggerheads and still have a 42-year-old border dispute. Each distrusts the other and competes economically and in terms of influence for control of the region, access to energy resources, security of sea lanes and over the islands in the South China Sea.

There are many potentially explosive territorial conflicts throughout the region. Taiwan, of course, is the most dangerous example. A ‘destabilising’ missile race between China and Taiwan looms. The Taiwanese government has stoked the fires of conflict with China by trying to push through an $18bn programme to buy arms from the US. The Taiwanese prime minister has called for the development of an offensive missile system, warning China: ‘You fire 100 missiles at me, I fire 50 at you. You hit Taipei and Kao-hsiung, I at least hit Shanghai’. This caused outrage among the Chinese elite, with the People’s Liberation Army urged by the Chinese president, Hu Jin Tao, to ‘seize the moment and do a good job in preparing for a military struggle’. China has an estimated 610 missiles pointed at Taiwan, an increase of over 100 in a year. This would be sufficient in a ten-hour barrage to wipe out most of Taiwan’s defences before Taiwan’s US ‘ally’ could respond. Taiwan has upped the ante with president, Chen Shui-bian, implying that it could hold a referendum on Taiwanese independence.

The position of the US on this issue and in relation to China is contradictory. For 30 years, it has been the policy of US governments to couple the recognition of one China with a sanctimonious call for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question. But, with the issue not resolved, the US under Bush has provided the island with even more sophisticated military equipment. The fear is that if Taiwan steps over the line of ‘provisional autonomy’ and opts for independence, or if China loses patience, the region could explode into war. Involved here is the attitude of the US towards the emergence of China. A discussion has taken place in the ranks of the ruling class whether to treat this giant as a ‘strategic competitor’ or a ‘prospective partner’. For 50 years after 1945, the US was the major stabilising force in the Pacific, enforced largely through its military presence and alliances with Japan and South Korea. The US ruling class is haunted by the prospect of this domination being supplanted, for instance, by a new strategic alliance between China and Japan, rather than the ‘parallel relations’ with the US.

Japan, on the other hand, immediately faced by a rising China, and with North Korea armed with nuclear weapons which are rattled occasionally in its direction, is more insecure than previously. It has therefore looked towards the development of a new missile system with US aid, coupled by an attempt by the Japanese bourgeoisie to lift the constitutional limits on the development and deployment of its military forces. At present, US policy appears to be one of ‘soft containment’ of China, while seeking intensified co-operation, including military co-operation with India as a counterweight to China. Beijing is also seeking to modernise its military forces with a new military doctrine focussing on countering the US, particularly in high-tech, stealth aircraft, cruise missiles and precision guided bombs. The US is suspicious of China’s decision to expand its military budgets, which it perceives as an attempt to roll back the influence of the US in East Asia. While the economy continues to develop – mutually benefiting China, the US and India – these powers can rub along. But the possibility of military clashes, some of them serious, is rooted in the situation developing in Asia.

A new world situation

RUSSIA UNDER PUTIN, still retaining its nuclear capacity, has also begun to play a more assertive role in defending its interests, especially in its ‘near abroad’, its satellites in the old soviet ‘empire’. Its main economic advantage is, of course, in oil, which has almost trebled in price in the last five years. This has allowed the Putin regime to bask in the illusion of ‘prosperity’ but in reality the cream of the oil boom has been siphoned off by a handful of gangster capitalists to the advantage of a few urban areas such as Moscow, which has now more billionaires than New York. While certain privileged layers have been allowed to share some of these spoils, the great mass of the Russian population are still mired in indescribable poverty.

The Putin regime, more clearly than Yeltsin’s, expresses the imperialist appetites of the new Russian bourgeoisie. A new ‘cold war’ is in the making with, for instance, a doubling of the number of spies of the FSB (formerly the KGB) in some countries, to a figure equal to the numbers employed under Stalinism. Putin has also reasserted Russia’s right to a presence in its ‘near abroad’, re-establishing bases in Central Asia and the Caucasus as a counterweight to those established by US imperialism. Putin’s policy remains a mixture of seeking accommodation with the US – he praised Bush and hoped for his victory in the 2004 elections – while at the same time opposing attempts at US penetration into areas such as Georgia and elsewhere. It is possible that the Chechen conflict, in the cocktail of national disputes in the Caucasus, could itself trigger a war, for instance between Georgia and Ossetia, that could set off a wider conflagration.

We have now entered an entirely new world situation, with growing opposition to capitalism and imperialism, first in the anti-globalisation movement and then in the powerful anti-war opposition. Although there have been important industrial movements of the proletariat, particularly in Europe but not exclusively, nevertheless it has not yet come forward clearly and openly under its own banner. Moreover, the situation is complicated in some areas of the world now by the existence of right-wing political Islam, often accompanied by terrorism. In the aftermath of 9/11, this has assumed the role of bogeyman that Stalinism played in the past for capitalism and imperialism. The danger posed from terrorist attacks or incidents is grossly exaggerated by imperialism for its own ends. It needs the ‘imminent threat’ of attack from a foreign ‘devil’ in order to justify bloated military expenditure, and the introduction of anti-democratic, repressive measures, to hold the working class in check.

Al-Qa’ida is not an equivalent of Stalinism, nor does it possess an all-powerful international network of ‘terrorists’. It is more of a ‘holding company’ that franchises out its authority to small groups like that of al-Saqqwat in Iraq. In some respects, in its methods if not in its origins – bin Laden and his group hail from the privileged layers of Arab society – they are amazingly similar to the anarcho-terrorists of the past. The latter believed that by spectacular actions this would ‘electrify’ the masses, leading to the overthrow of dictatorial regimes. The Egyptian ideologue of bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahari, who envisages al-Qa’ida and its co-thinkers as a ‘jihadist vanguard’, seeks to mobilise the Arab masses for the establishment of an Islamic state worldwide.

This attempt to establish a new worldwide ‘caliphate’ is completely utopian in the modern era. These methods were employed unsuccessfully in Egypt, and spectacularly so in Algeria and elsewhere in the Muslim world. The pro-jihadist methods often alienated those it was meant to attract, as in Egypt. The massacre of foreign tourists at Luxor by the Islamists led to a collapse in the local economy and their complete discrediting. The same, only on a much more bloody and widespread scale, is the case in Algeria, where the ‘Muslim masses’ have been caught in a vicious crossfire between the military and the increasingly isolated terrorist groups, which have turned on each other. This does not mean to say that right-wing political Islam is, as yet, completely discredited. The worsening of social conditions, as well as the national humiliation of the Arabs at the hands of imperialism and its stooges in the Middle East, still provides fertile soil, for instance in Saudi Arabia, which could result in the overthrow of the House of Saud and a new ‘Islamic state’ established, echoing some of the ideas of al-Qa’ida. As yet, in the eastern branch of Islam, in Asia as a whole, terrorist ideas and methods have not yet established a firm foothold. But a continued worsening of the conditions of the masses could lead to a new front for Islamic terrorism opening up in the region.

A Kerry presidency would have probably attempted to undermine the social base of the terrorists and right-wing political Islam by courting the more ‘moderate’ wing. Bush may try to restore US prestige by similar methods while still pursuing the ‘war on terror’. He will probably also attempt to set different brands of Islam – the Shias, the Sunni and the Sufi – against one another in a repetition of the age-old methods of divide and rule by imperialism. Not least of the factors that will determine the success or weakening of Islamist ideas will be the re-emergence of the labour movement and socialist and Marxist ideas. At the same time, there can be a class differentiation within Islamic parties and formations as we witnessed during the Iranian revolution.

September 11 was an important turning point, as are the US elections. But it is the underlying objective situation which will be decisive in shaping the consciousness of the broad mass of the population and particularly the working class. Big events, in the economic sphere, socially and politically, will develop in the next period. Already, out of the anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation and anti-war movements a new consciousness has developed. This is not yet of a broad socialist character. But an important layer of workers and youth have begun to draw socialist and revolutionary conclusions. Even in the US elections, the underlying situation reflected a big polarisation which can take a more conscious form in the next period. Socialism and Marxism are now going with the grain of history after the difficult struggles of the 1990s to maintain a revolutionary pole of attraction. The election of Bush will not stop this. On the contrary, he will act as an unconscious ‘recruiting sergeant’ for socialism. His actions, both at home and abroad, will further radicalise the new generation, prepare a huge revolt of the workers and poor peasants in the neo-colonial world, and provoke a mighty resurgence of the working class, not least in the US itself.


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