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The brutal system

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War is the military face of globalisation. Capitalism means hunger and a continual drive towards conflict, writes Charlie Kimber
Issue 1843a

GEORGE BUSH is spending at least $140 billion (£87.5 billion), according to his chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey, to unleash terror on the people of Iraq. At the same time 15 million people today face the threat of famine in the Horn of Africa.

More than 30,000 children die every day around the world from preventable diseases. More than 3 million people died last year from Aids, 40 million will die in the near future and hundreds of millions more are at risk. These are the two faces of imperialism – war and hunger. The governments of a handful of powerful countries, headed by the US, dominate the globe. These governments stand behind the 200 multinational corporations whose combined revenues are greater than those of 182 nation-states that contain four fifths of the world’s population.

The US and its allies decide what happens at the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organisation and other international bodies. Often the sheer economic strength of the US is enough to bend others to its will. If a Third World country wants money from the IMF then it must submit to ‘structural adjustment’.

That is the IMF code for introducing charges for health and education, slashing welfare spending, slashing subsidies on basic goods and opening markets to giant firms. Even when the effects of that are devastating, the IMF then demands yet more blood.

In Ethiopia, where millions face famine, the world’s bankers are demanding $50 million – a payment of $1 million a week. Last month Bush smashed up an agreement that could have made the drugs available to millions of people in poorer countries. Capitalist leaders are unmoved by the sight of starving children or those dying in agony from treatable diseases.

They are the collateral damage of the programme for business. There are times when economic pressure is not enough to enforce the demands of the dominant powers. Weaker states may not go along with what these powers want. They may be late with debts, or raise the prices of raw materials that the dominant world powers depend on.

Such ‘insolence’ is particularly important in a region like the Middle East, which is so crucial for the supply of oil. When weaker states rebel the US needs a combination of cop, bailiff and thug – the military. The Bush administration’s National Security Strategy published last year brings together the zeal for pushing pro-business policies across the globe and the readiness to use extreme violence.

It instructs governments across the world to pass laws which ensure ‘respect for private property’, ‘pro-growth legal and regulatory policies to encourage business investment, innovation, and entrepreneurial activity’ and ‘tax policies that improve incentives for investment’. It also calls for ‘strong financial systems that allow capital to be put to its most efficient use’ and ‘sound fiscal policies to support business activity’.

The document then declares, ‘The lessons of history are clear: market economies, not command-and-control economies with the heavy hand of government, are the best way to promote prosperity and reduce poverty. ‘Policies that further strengthen market incentives and market institutions are relevant for all economies.’

The fearsome power of the world’s greatest military machine will be employed to impose such policies. The document states that, ‘While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone. It is time to reaffirm the essential role of American military strength. We must build and maintain our defences beyond challenge.’ As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote in March 1999, ‘Without America on duty, there will be no America On Line.’

Francis Fukuyama, a member of the Project for the New American Century, admits, ‘Microsoft or Goldman Sachs will not send aircraft carriers to the Gulf to track down Osama Bin Laden – only the US military will.’ Weaker states will be given the choice of accepting the oppressive power of the most powerful countries or facing annihilation.

The ruling classes in these weaker countries will usually give in, collecting their own slice of the loot. They do not suffer like the majority of the population. In Mexico top executives earn 124 times more than ordinary workers. Imperialist power is not new. As soon as capitalism spread from a nationally-based system to a global one, the strong countries needed to have a way of ‘showing the natives’ who ruled.

British naval bombardment reduced the Egyptian city of Alexandria to rubble and ash in 1882. This atrocity cleared the way for colonial control of Egypt. Similar massacres took place across the world as the Great Powers extended their influence.

Imperialism is a particular phase in the development of capitalism. Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, called imperialism ‘the latest stage of capitalism’.

Competition among capitalist firms forces them to invest resources in expanding their operations in order to produce more cheaply. Some succeed, some go under. Surviving firms get bigger as they drive out rivals. Whole economies come to be dominated by a small number of huge firms. Capitalist cooperation grows between industrial firms and the major investment banks.

There is an increased tendency for business and the nation-state to merge too. The state-business partnership of one country clashes with the same set-up in other countries.

This sets the stage for the world to be plunged into slaughter again and again. That is why capitalism will always produce the horrors of war and hunger – until we end it by refashioning society so that need, not profit, is the driving force.

Hidden history

Who used gas first in Iraq?

BRITAIN WAS the first military force to use chemical weapons in Iraq. On 19 February 1920, Winston Churchill (then Secretary for War and Air) wrote to Sir Hugh Trenchard, the pioneer of air warfare. Churchill wanted ‘the provision of some kind of asphyxiating bombs for use in preliminary operations against turbulent tribes’.

He was in no doubt that gas could be used against the Kurds and Iraqis (as well as against other peoples in the Empire): ‘I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.’

He added that the use of gas, a ‘scientific expedient’, should not be prevented by ‘the prejudices of those who do not think clearly’. Wing Commander Lewis, then of 30 Squadron (RAF), Iraq, remembered how ‘one would get a signal that a certain Kurdish village would have to be bombed’.

Wing Commander Gale of 30 Squadron added, ‘If the Kurds hadn’t learned by our example to behave themselves in a civilised way then we had to spank their bottoms. This was done by bombs and guns.’ Wing-Commander Sir Arthur Harris (later Bomber Harris, head of wartime Bomber Command) enthusiastically noted that, ‘The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within 45 minutes a full size village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.’

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