4th IMCWP, Contribution of Communist Party of Britain

6/21/02 11:41 AM
  • Britain, Communist Party of Britain 4th IMCWP En Europe Communist and workers' parties

CP of Britain, Contribution to the Athens Meeting 21J2002
From: Communist Party of Britain, Wed, 03 Jul 2002
http://www.communist-party.org.uk ,

Imperialism and War in the aftermath of September 11:
Views of the Communist Party of Britain
By Andrew Murray

The imperialist war launched in the aftermath of the
attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 is now
poised between phases. The military aggression against
Afghanistan is all but over, with thousands of lives lost
and the government of that impoverished country replaced.
The US government is making it clear that this is far from
the end of the matter and that further military action in
the "war on terrorism" is envisaged. What is clear is that
this is a war which will not and cannot come to an early
end. The assault on Afghanistan is simply an episode in
what has become an endless war fought by imperialism
against the peoples of the world. Since 1991, when the
collapse of the Soviet Union made imperialism�s victory in
the Cold War definitive, there has been one war after
another launched by the great powers � the Gulf War, the
Balkans War, the resumed bombardment of Iraq, Plan
Colombia, the occupation of Sierra Leone and so on. Now we
have the "war on terrorism", a war without inherent
boundaries or limitations. This situation presents new
challenges to the working class of the world and to peace
movements everywhere, particularly in Britain, a country in
the forefront of the violent imposition of this new order
upon the world.

Imperialist Strategy

The Communist Party of Britain has correctly characterised
the conflict as an "imperialist war", a position which sets
our analysis apart from much of the left and ultra-left,
including sections opposed to the war but who nevertheless
are reluctant to draw the conclusion that it is a war
inescapably rooted in the prevailing power relationships in
the contemporary world.

However, imperialist wars come in all shapes and sizes, as
any study of twentieth century history will establish. They
can range from global conflicts involving the slaughter of
millions, to colonial wars, to peripheral or proxy clashes
to, in the case of an attack on a socialist country,
counter-revolutionary wars. Sometimes they can mix all or
any of the above. Where does the present "endless war
(1991-?)" fit in?

The collapse of East European socialism in 1989-91, which
represented the retreat for an as yet indeterminate but
certainly temporary period of the working class from
positions of strategic state power, created important new
possibilities (and problems) for imperialism. Two
fundamental issues arose for settlement.

The first is the drive of imperialism as a whole to impose
undivided control over the entire world under circumstances
in which anti-imperialist, democratic and other progressive
forces have suffered an historic reverse. This is the
clearest common thread running through the last decade of

The second is establishing a new balance of power between
the imperialist powers themselves, in expressing and
containing their rivalries and competing desire for a share
of this lucrative world order. The first issue is, by
analogy, the attempt to make every mouth in the world drink
cola, the second to decide how much shall be Coke, how much
Pepsi, and how much other suppliers.

Both factors underlie almost every twist in the endless
war. The Pentagon understood this early on. Its first
strategic document produced after 1991 could hardly have
been clearer. This called for the world to be centred on
the "benevolent domination of one power" (no prizes for
guessing which), but one which must, in the course of
sustaining its hegemony, "account for the interests of
advanced industrial nations to discourage them from
challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the
established political and economic order." The
then-director of the CIA, William Webster, expressed the
same idea of unity-in-struggle for imperialism when he
observed that "our political and military allies are also
our economic competitors". This thinking has informed all
recent US administrations. Under Clinton, it found one
expression � the US seeking to place itself at the head of
a coalition of its allies in imposing their will on the
world, even if the particular issue at stake was of
marginal importance to the US ruling class itself. The
intervention in Somalia and the war against Yugoslavia in
1999 were examples of this. This was a relatively cheap way
of maintaining US hegemony over all the major capitalist
powers by appearing to put itself at the service of the
struggle for their collective interests.

George Bush�s administration has taken a different course �
not "isolationism", which is not remotely an option for any
government in Washington � but "unilateralism", an
assertion of the interests of US monopoly capitalism first
and foremost, with an indifference to the views of its
allies\competitors where they do not coincide with those
prevailing in the White House and Wall Street.

Before September 11, this unilateralism threatened the
unity of the G7 bloc of the big powers. On the one hand,
the Bush administration was gung ho for its "star wars"
programme, a major boost for US arms monopolies which
threatened to start a new arms race and was bitterly
opposed by most European powers. On the other, the European
Union was developing its plans for its own military arm
separate from NATO in the face of thinly-veiled hostility
from Washington. On both issues, it needs to be noted, the
Blair government was adopting a temporising position,
trying to reconcile its desire to be "at the heart" of big
business Europe while also maintaining its Robin posture to
George Bush�s Batman. There was little doubt, however, that
Blair would go with Washington if push really came to
shove, illustrating, if further proof were needed, where
the most potent threat to the British people�s sovereignty
comes from.

The destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York
rewrote the script. An ignorant and reactionary US
President appointed to his office by his daddy�s friends in
the Supreme Court was able to recast himself as a world
leader with a mandate for unlimited revenge. However, the
"unilateral" strategy has remained preponderant. The war
against Afghanistan has been conducted according to US
designs alone. Bush and his sidekicks Rumsfeld and Cheney
have not bothered to hide their contempt for any
"multilateral" notions of consensus-forming or pursuing a
UN-inspired agenda of "nation-building".

Early in the conflict the pro-Washington liberals and
social democrats were hailing the efforts to build a
coalition to attack Afghanistan as indication that Bush had
seen the light. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Every other country in the coalition was presented with a
stark "with us or against us" choice, with little doubt
being left that making the wrong decision would entail
consequences. British and other military involvement was
clearly of cosmetic, or at best diplomatic, value only. And
Washington has made it clear time and again that it will
decide for itself who will be attacked next and when.

With its allies/competitors flapping helplessly in its
wake, the US government has used the war crisis to
establish forward positions of its own. It has extended its
influence deep into former Soviet central Asia,
establishing military bases in a number of states at least
one of which, in Kyrgyzystan, looks like becoming
permanent. This will help US interests get a head start in
the struggle to access the considerable oil and gas
reserves in the region. As a writer in The Guardian
observed (January 16 2002): "The United States is engaged
in a strategic power grab in Central Asia of epic
proportions. In previous eras, this sort of expansionism
would have been called colonialism or imperialism".

This also opens up the prospect of both forming a
profitable alliance with the reborn Russian imperialism,
now also interested in seeing mineral and energy reserves
under its strategic control finding their way to the world
market, and of further encircling China, seen as a
long-term threat to US hegemony in east Asia.

On the same day as the article in The Guardian quoted above
appeared, a report in the Daily Telegraph noted that the US
was sending troops to the Philippines, purportedly to
assist the Manila government fight Muslim guerrillas. A
Washington-based diplomat was reported as saying that "the
Americans have been desperate to get back into the
Philippines since their armed forces were kicked out of the
Clark and Subic Bay bases in 1992." The first definitive
consequence of this latest phase of war is that it has been
used to reassert US power over its allies, strengthen the
US position in relation to real and potential rivals and
give a further display to all interested parties of the
overpowering might of the US military. It is fairly clear,
however, that this is simply accelerating the development
of a number of countervailing factors which will ultimately
do more than take the shine off the US victory over the
peasants of Afghanistan.

Russian opinion is divided over the new support for US
aggression. Certainly, a US move into Central Asia is
pregnant with possibilities of further conflict. And China
must be studying this new network of bases from the
Philippines to Kyrgyzystan with alarm. Nor is it likely
that the removal of the Taliban will bring stability to
Afghanistan. Resentments will accumulate afresh against the
US and Britain throughout the Middle East, the more so when
it becomes clear that the entirely cosmetic talk of doing
the right thing by the Palestinians was just so much humbug
used to win support for the war in its more difficult

As with every imperialist war, the ending of one is merely
the preparation for the next.

Military-Political Tactics

The war has displayed a further refinement of the military
and political tactics employed by the imperialists to
advance their interests. As in the Gulf and Balkans wars,
the decisive element has been the unrestrained use of air
power and missile bombardment. It is not too much to say
that the US Air Force has replaced the strategic nuclear
missile force as the main arm of the US military.

It is an area in which the US enjoys a decisive advantage,
not merely over the Taliban government of Afghanistan, but
everyone. Both the ability of the US military-industrial
complex to integrate technical advances rapidly into the
air force, and the fact that the US has the wherewithal to
maintain an extremely expensive bomber fleet have now
opened up such a gap that the capacity of other powers like
Britain and France to even co-operate effectively with the
US military has been called into question. There is no
question of the air defence systems of any recent US
targets being capable of even remotely troubling the
Pentagon�s pilots or curbing in any way a strategy of mass
high-altitude bombardment of devastating effect.

Clearly, the US air force has been able to spread
sufficient destruction and terror in Iraq, Yugoslavia and
now Afghanistan as to allow Washington to achieve its
immediate objectives without the commitment of large-scale
land forces, which is both still more expensive and much
more politically fraught, since it carries with it the
possibility of a deeply unpopular casualty count.

However, the air force has not achieved all this by itself.
Even the most terrible air bombardment is not likely to
effect a change of regime on its own. Local allies able to
carry forward the fight on the ground are another minimum
requirement. The Kosovan Liberation Army fulfilled this
function in Yugoslavia, and the Northern Alliance in
Afghanistan. In the case of Yugoslavia, it was actually a
combination of economic sanctions against a war-ravaged
country and blatant political pressure by the US, which
finally forced Milosevic from power via an election which
could scarcely be described as free or fair. In Iraq Saddam
Hussein remains, of course, in power to this day.

Both the KLA and the Northern Alliance are creations of
imperialism � in the case of the latter, originally forged
in the course of the anti-Soviet was launched by the US
with Pakistani help from 1978 onwards. However, they
undoubtedly drew strength from internal weaknesses in the
respective regimes they confronted. The obscurantist and
misogynist Taliban government proved particularly brittle
when placed under pressure.

The advantage of the existence of these groups for the US
and Britain is that they allow the dangerous fighting to be
undertaken by expendable locals. If successful, they allow
the change of regime to appear an internal matter and
imperialism can take charge through the cheap and
politically-presentable means of a puppet (or at least
pliable) indigenous government, rather than going to the
expense and political bother of a direct military

The obvious conclusion from this is that regimes which lack
internal unity and mass support are particularly vulnerable
to the new military-political tactics of imperialism. Their
efficacy against a genuinely popular government has yet to
be tested, so, while it would be foolish in the extreme to
underestimate imperialism�s over-weening military power, it
is not omnipotent or unchallengeable.

However, a new tactical question has been raised for the
peace and working-class movements in Britain and elsewhere
by this strategy. To what extent should support be given to
anti-popular regimes in the interests of anti-imperialism?
This issue seldom arose in sharp form in the 1960s, 1970s
or 1980s. National liberation movements and
anti-imperialist governments were either under Communist
leadership or that of the secular nationalistic left. Many
regimes were aligned with the working-class on a world
scale through close ties with the USSR. Sometimes such
regimes vacillated or switched sides, but there was never
any basic political difficulty in supporting all and any
anti-imperialist forces. The general national liberation
movement was seen as one of the three allied trends working
for social progress in the world, alongside the socialist
community and the working-class in the advanced capitalist

This problem arises today in part as a consequence of the
success of imperialism, in cooperation with its local
supporters, in crushing the secular and democratic left. It
also arises from the failure of bourgeois nationalism to
solve the urgent social and national problems faced by
their peoples, in the Middle East above all. These
circumstances have led many peoples to turn to other
forces, including some claiming religious (or even divine)
inspiration, to some degree or another.

Of course, the regimes targeted by the US and Britain in
the course of the endless war cannot all be casually lumped
in together. Saddam Hussein�s Iraq is a dictatorship of a
particularly brutal nature, which was once supported by
imperialism. The murder of democrats, Communists and all
opponents of Saddam�s clique is commonplace. Yet Saddam
stands, with whatever degree of sincerity, for resistance
to the attempt to impose a new imperialist settlement
throughout the Middle East, and he has become skilled at
articulating the demands of the Arab masses.

The Yugoslav regime cannot remotely be characterised in
such a harsh manner, although ironically it proved harder
to mobilise left and liberal opinion against the Balkans
War than against either the Gulf or Afghan wars. Certainly,
Milosevic had manipulated nationalism to some degree
throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, and this nationalism
was one of several internal factors which assisted German
imperialism to realise its plan to dismember Yugoslavia.
But the crimes imputed to him were vastly exaggerated and
in some cases were a response to the campaign of terror
launched by the German-financed KLA.

The Taliban, despite gaining some credit for imposing a
more stable and predictable government in Afghanistan in
place of the bandit warlordism of the factions now
describing themselves as the Northern Alliance, oppressed
the Afghan people (women above all) with a coercive mixture
of a primitive reading of Islam and Pashtun rural codes. It
showed little or no interest in economic development or
promoting social well-being.

So in all cases Communists and other progressives might
wish for different regimes to have existed in the "target"
countries to some extent or other. However, I would argue
that this is not the main issue to confront. We need to
start from a different point.

Our founding principle must be opposition to imperialism,
which is an expression of the class interests of the
bourgeoisie of the major powers, Britain included. Their
desire to control the whole world poses the gravest dangers
to humanity, and they are, of course, perfectly happy to
sustain still less desirable regimes if it suits the
interests of their controlling monopolies.

This could hardly have been made clearer than by Tony Blair
when Time magazine pressed him on why he was not more
forthright in condemning violations of the rights of women
and religious minorities in Saudi Arabia (December 10
2001): "I�m not going to get in the business of attacking
the Saudi system", he said. But you attack the Taliban, his
interviewers pointed out. "Yes, but we�re in conflict with
the Taliban regime," the Prime Minister replied, "I don�t
think it�s very helpful for us to tell the Saudis how they
should live." For imperialists, values are clearly
contingent on the co-operativeness of the regime in
question with global big business.

Secondly, we need to be clear on the continuing importance
of the right of peoples to govern their own affairs and,
unless they commit aggression or otherwise break
international law, to do so without external interference.
We should reject categorically the idea of Tony Blair or
anyone else setting themselves up as an international moral
arbiter, deciding which regimes are legitimate.

It is also the case that the only sure way towards social
progress and democracy is that which springs from within
the struggles of the peoples of the country concerned
themselves. Of course, the USA has devoted much time and
treasure to destroying just such forces in the past. But it
remains true that the only durable progressive regimes are
those which rest on the power of their own people and not
those which are externally imposed. Non-interference and
respect for sovereignty offers the best opportunity, in
general, for such progress to develop.

This does not remove the obligation on us to offer
solidarity to those struggling to replace repressive
regimes, even those regimes which are resisting imperialism
at one time or another. But the highest responsibility of
Communists must always be to oppose their own ruling class,
something which is trebly important when that class is as
much an international bandit as ours is. The key link today
is clearly opposition to the policies of Blair and Bush,
more than those of Saddam Hussein or Islamism.

Those who seek to justify these wars by reference to the
allegedly undesirable nature of the governments in place
are, moreover, promoting one or other of the fashionable
ideologies which have emerged in Western academia since the
end of the Cold War. One is Francis Fukuyama�s "end of
history" theory, which amounts to the assertion that all
countries must sooner or later end up as liberal capitalist
regimes, giving those states which are already embodying
this ideal the authority to impose it elsewhere, since they
are merely giving history a helpful shove.

The other, still more reactionary, is Samuel Huntingdon�s
"clash of civilisations" thesis, which holds that conflict
between different "civilisations" � mainly the western and
the Islamic � are the inevitable way of the future. Either
and both of these have been implicitly prayed in aid by
those seeking to justify the various episodes of the
endless war. Both, in their different ways, justify the
status quo in the new world order and support the drive by
the USA and its allies to bring those with different values
to heel and remake every country in their own image.

The left needs to respond by reasserting its own vision of
social development, leading with many twists and turns to a
common human civilisation within which both solidarity and
tolerance of difference will play a part, and the right of
all peoples to find their own way forward towards it.

Religious fundamentalism

It is argued, however, that religious � specifically
Islamic � fundamentalism is antithetical to this aim, and
that liberal capitalism would indeed be preferable to
theocracy. This confuses form and content. The question of
religious fundamentalism, or any politics expressed in
religious terms, is a contingent one, and this is pretty
clearly so in the world today. It is hundreds of years
since peoples anywhere fought over the merits of different
forms of god-worship, and even then class interests lurked
behind the slogans of the pious. Today, all forms of
religious politics articulate clear class positions. This
is not to deny the mobilising force of religious belief,
nor that there is such a thing as "fundamentalism" �
indeed, importing a fundamental reading of religious texts
into political practice serves several purposes common to
different movements.

For one thing, it sustains authoritarian solutions to
social problems, since there is, by definition, no arguing
with the word of God as written down and those who
interpret it on Earth. It also sustains the imposition of a
strong code of moral behaviour, since the regulation of
such has formed part of the stock-in-trade of most
organised religions. All fundamentalisms tend towards
misogyny as well, relegating women to the margins of social
life. In this respect, however, they merely articulate and
reinforce secular trends rooted in class society.

In so far as one can speak of religious fundamentalism in
general, therefore, it is a reactionary force in the world.
However, these common features leave most of the more
important questions about any particular religious-based
political movement unanswered. For that, one must study
each movement in concrete terms.

The most dangerous religious fundamentalists active as a
political force in the world today are surely the
conservative Christians in the USA. Hugely well-organised
and wealthy, they represent a constant reactionary pressure
in US politics, advocating repression of various kinds at
home and aggressive imperialism abroad. The religious
right�s main slogans, however, show the marginal role that
actual textual fundamentalism plays in their political
movement. The right to own guns or to pay no taxes has no
more to do with any reading of the Bible than forcing women
to wear burkas has to do with the Koran. Political
Christian fundamentalism in the USA is simply an expression
of reactionary bourgeois interests seeking a mass base
through a religious presentation of its programme.

Muslim fundamentalism is similarly contingent. For example,
in the late 1970s, Islamist leaders played a major part in
the overthrow of the pro-imperialist dictator the Shah of
Iran. At the very same time, Islamic forces little
different in theological terms were being organised by the
USA into a fighting force to overthrow the progressive
government in Afghanistan and obstruct any modernisation

In Iran, the Islamic Republic has evolved into a national
bourgeois regime, having repressed working-class forces
there. In Afghanistan, those forces claiming Islamic
inspiration have remained, without exception, puppets of
one foreign power or another. Throughout the Middle East
and the Islamic world one can see a similar diversity.
Islamic politics does not, of itself, necessarily lead in a
pro- or anti-imperialist direction.

As argued above, it has filled a vacuum created by the
repression and/or shortcomings of the secular, democratic
and nationalistic left. In the case of Communists, they key
word is repression. Following world war two the USA, often
with British involvement intervened in one place after
another (sometimes using Islamic forces as an agency) to
destroy the Communist movement, leaving religious
fundamentalism to pick up the thread of opposition to
imperialism, in its own language. What imperialism has not
been able to do is reconcile the peoples of the region to
external domination.

Al-Qaeda should be analysed in this light. It is a
political organisation using religious slogans, although
its stated programme, which our media is careful to ignore,
can be easily fulfilled in this world without reference to
the hereafter. It seeks, through its own statements, the
liberation of Palestine, a halt to the continuing
Anglo-American attack on Iraq and a general end to western
domination of the Arab and Muslim worlds, above all the
withdrawal of the US military presence from Saudi Arabia.
It condemns US and British support for the corrupt regimes
of the Gulf.

Its roots are in elements of the Saudi ruling class who
wish to be free of domination by imperialism, a message
that has found an echo in other countries of the region. In
politics, it represents a form of bourgeois
anti-imperialism which seeks the support of the masses
through the use of popular slogans and seeks to confront
the USA above all through unconventional military means,
broadly though not entirely terroristic. Its policies,
which are not of course original to Al-Qaeda, undoubtedly
command more support than its tactics, although the latter
do have a large number of enthusiasts.

This is in no sense to justify the attacks of September 11
which, in terms of civilian lives lost, were awful events.
But there is no point in treating bin Laden and his
followers simply as religious fanatics (even though that
may perhaps be the self-image of some al-Qaeda fighters).
They are a real, mass expression, of contradictions
existing in today�s world, of which the most potent is the
contradiction by imperialism and the oppressed peoples. For
the working-class to re-win the leadership of the struggle
for human liberation � which is the only ultimate guarantee
of that struggle�s success � careful note must be taken of
the reasons for the appeal of Islamist forces, while
rejecting both the religious form that appeal takes
(particularly its women-hating elements) and the terrorist
tactics sometimes followed, which relegate the masses to
the role of spectators admiring the deeds of a handful of

Lessons for British politics

The main concern of British Communists is, obviously, to do
all we can to ensure that the working-class movement in our
country plays a full part in that worldwide struggle for
emancipation. The war has exposed once more the profound
division within our movement between, on the one hand, an
increasingly blind and rabid pro-imperialism combined with
a reformism now all-but devoid of reforms and, on the
other, an emerging mass movement of opposition both to war
and New Labour.

The role of Blair and his clique needs no elaboration here.
Four wars in four years speaks for itself. But it behoves
us to remember that Blair is not merely British Prime
Minister, he is also the leader of the British labour
movement to all intents and purposes. In this war, as in
most of his other policies, he has also been able to count
on the support of the bulk of the leadership of the trade
union movement as well. In that sense, the labour movement
has lined up with the continuing aggression of the "war on
terrorism", reflecting the continuing death-grip of social
democratic thinking.

Yet at the same time, and despite the lack of support from
the main mass organisations of the working class, the trade
unions, the anti-war movement in Britain has been the
largest in any country in Europe, outside of Italy and

It has represented the largest anti-war movement since the
days of the Vietnam War, more than thirty years ago, a war
in which Britain was not a direct combatant. The main
pillars have been the political left (the SWP, the
Communist Party\Morning Star, elements of the Labour left),
CND and other traditional peace organisations and the
Muslim community. Liberals, Greens and Plaid Cymru have
also played an important part. It should also be noted that
some unions have opposed the war (ASLEF, NATFHE, RMT, TSSA,
CWU) and that tens of thousands of ordinary trade unionists
have taken part in demonstrations, albeit not mobilised by
their unions.

The movement has also had a depth of political
understanding regarding the world today which is new. The
great CND-led demonstrations of the 1980s against Cruise
and Trident were certainly larger. However, once one moved
beyond the immediate question of the use and deployment of
nuclear weapons, there was little agreement on the main
questions of world politics, above all the nature of the
USA and the role of the Soviet Union. Today, there is a
more profound understanding of imperialism and the new
world order, even if different terms are sometimes used.
Connections are made between the war, global capitalism,
the situation in Palestine, world debt, economic crisis and
so on.

This helps lay the foundation for a far more profound
challenge to new Labour politics than might have been
expected. The main weakness remains the trade unions.
Actually halting the war and British participation in it is
scarcely conceivable without mass action by the organised
working class (short of some unforeseeable military
disaster). The inability of anti-war forces to make a
breakthrough even in such traditionally left unions as the
T&G and Unison is sobering.

On the other hand, it would have been difficult to imagine
mobilising an anti-war demonstration of 100,000 people
twenty years ago without the trade unions playing a leading
role. People�s anger will find a way out, even if the
organisations which have long given expression to it no
longer do so. Here again we seem to be moving into new
territory. Certainly, the experience of the anti-war
movement reinforces the view that trade union politics is
at a crossroads. Continued acquiescence in new Labour rule
could, coming on top of the multiple defeats of the Tory
years, end in the marginalisation of trade unions as
politically mobilising forces, particularly among the
young. Yet without trade union involvement, it is very hard
to move beyond protest (however broad and dynamic) to
concrete victories which can rebuild working class
confidence. Here is an absolutely critical area for
Communist work.

Above all, the war has highlighted the urgency of removing
the Blair clique from the leadership of the labour
movement. His role as chief diplomat and
coalition-organiser of the war has brought shame on our
movement. New Labour is more clearly than ever the enemy of
the best aspirations of the working class and of world
peace. In the breadth and strength of the anti-war movement
we can see the first mustering of the forces which will
accomplish this task.

Andrew Murray is a member of the Political Committee of the