Socialist Worker

Does opposing war mean backing dictators?

Issue No. 2289

Revolution is sweeping away dictators in the Middle East and North Africa. Now Western leaders are trying to use popular disgust with brutal regimes as an excuse to intervene.

The West, led by the US, is banging the drums for war in Iran and Syria. It says it wants to free ordinary people in those countries from oppressive regimes.

Some who oppose the regimes think Western intervention could help get rid of them. They argue that opposing it is tantamount to supporting dictatorships.

But the West wants to wage imperialist wars that would make it harder for people to win freedom—and that’s why socialists are against intervention.

Imperialism flows from capitalism. It is based on competition between big capitalist powers that plays out politically, militarily and economically.

Those powers also fight each other to control weaker countries—which is what has happened throughout the history of the Middle East.

Wars are fought for markets, resources and economic advantage.

Western leaders try to dress up these imperialist wars by saying they are “humanitarian”. Yet these leaders are more than happy to support dictators when it suits them.

The US backed Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia up to the moment they fell. In Egypt, the military is still putting down protests using tear gas marked “Made in the USA”.


And so-called “humanitarian” Western rulers have unleashed death and destruction on a much greater scale than the nastiest dictators.

The first and second world wars were imperialist battles launched by the strongest capitalist powers. They killed millions. The most recent US‑led war in Iraq killed around a million people.

For all the panic about Iran’s nuclear weapons, the US is the only country that has ever dropped a nuclear bomb. Israel has nuclear weapons, but the West never targets it.

Western imperialism and its allies and client states are the primary danger the world faces today. But as the Russian revolutionary Lenin argued, imperialism can also generate resistance and revolt. Such revolts can weaken imperialist powers and boost revolutionary movements.

That is why anti-imperialism is central to revolutionary politics.

Socialists oppose imperialist wars against dictatorships. But that doesn’t mean that we support the dictatorships. Rather, we have a different vision of how to smash them—and the system that breeds them.

Some argue that it is impossible for ordinary people to resist dictatorship. That’s why they look to outside “help” to get rid of hated regimes.

But the inspiring revolutions that have swept Tunisia and Egypt should demolish that belief once and for all. Mass opposition on the streets and strikes in the workplaces toppled dictators—and no amount of repression could stop them.


The revolutions weren’t just fought to remove certain dictators. The people who fought them are still fighting to fundamentally transform their societies and win real freedom.

Western leaders are trying to intervene because they are terrified of the Arab Spring. It opens up the possibility of ordinary people having real control over their lives and of organising society in a very different way.

We stand in solidarity with the Arab Spring—and that means opposing any force that will compromise it. That is what any imperialist “help” will do.

The actions of the West expose the real divide in society. It isn’t between civilised Western leaders and backward dictators. It is between ordinary people across the world and the ruling class.

The way to end this is not to line up with our rulers when they launch into bloody wars. It is to build movements against them and campaign against those wars—because if our rulers lose them, they will be weaker.

The revolutionary James Connolly saw this during the First World War. He launched an uprising in Ireland in 1916 against British rule—and hoped to spark resistance to the war across Europe.

As others on the left capitulated to nationalism and lined up behind “their” governments, Connolly remained an internationalist. He saw that workers had the same interests wherever they were—and that the main enemy of workers was at home.

Ultimately revolution in Russia and Germany ended the bloodshed of the First World War.

Ordinary people have the power to get rid of their rulers, whether they are in dictatorships or democracies. They also have the power to transform the world.

That’s why revolutionaries should always back anti-imperialist struggles—and never imperialist wars.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 7 Feb 2012, 18:06 GMT
Issue No. 2289
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.