The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was founded in April 1949 with the supposed aim of defending the “free world” from “godless communism”. Curiously, however, in over half a century of its existence it did not once invoke article 5 of the treaty, which calls on signatories to come to the military defence of any member state’s territory. It is only after the demise of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc countries has this article been invoked. Furthermore, the crisis it has been invoked to deal with has nothing to do with snow-covered boots trampling through Manhattan or Knightsbridge. It is not one of the Cold War flashpoints, like the Cuban missile crisis or the failed counter-revolutionary putsch in Hungary, which has led the USA to dust off this little-noted treaty obligation and sound the bugle of “collective defence”. The flashpoint is not the long-feared clash of nuclear-armed East and West, but a crisis erupting from within the rotten heart of imperialism itself.
The end of “bipolar” geopolitics can only be made sense of in the context of this shaping crisis of the world monopoly capitalist system of exploitation. What made possible the final collapse of Moscow revisionism? Washington’s growing reluctance to allow its stewardship of world counterrevolution to get in the way of its even more urgent struggle to hold its end up against upstart threats from its better-performing “free world” imperialist rivals. From one term to the next, Reagan went quiet on all the “evil empire” ranting, choosing instead to cultivate the imbecile delusions of Gorbachevite revisionism. The ensuing suicide of revisionism, effectively washing its hands of all the workers state leadership responsibilities (just as Khrushchevite revisionism had long ago washed its hands of Marxism-Leninism), was an “accident waiting to happen” for a very long time. The irony is that what gave rotten revisionist leadership the opportunity to throw in the towel was not a confident shove from imperialism, but rther the intensification of crisis within imperialism itself. It was Washington’s growing dithery preoccupation with the real threats to its world dominance (starting to become visible as the prolonged postwar capitalist boom stuttered to a conclusion) that created the conditions which favoured the tragic self-liquidation of the workers’ states.
Which is where NATO comes in. So long as the longterm boom of world capitalism persisted, with US imperialism’s pre-eminence within this triumphalist “free world” guaranteed, the “bipolar” approach posed no life-threatening problems for US imperialism. True, the survival of the Soviet Union and expansion of the socialist camp into Eastern Europe and China after WWII “robbed” world capitalism of enormous exploitation opportunities. But the vast purge of surplus capital executed by the war created the conditions within which capitalist expansion, bump-started by credit lines from New York, could re-establish itself across the ruins of the modern industrial world, with the exception of the COMECON economies. Again, whilst Soviet assistance to anti-colonial struggles and championing of the development interests of newly independent nations were resented by imperialism, sufficient leeway remained for neo-colonial super-exploitation to enrich the holders of monopoly capital at the expense of the world’s impoverishd masses.
J.V. Stalin suggested in Economic Problems of Socialism that the capitalism which emerged from the ashes of WWII would be increasingly hemmed in by socialism, starved more and more of its exploitation opportunities. Perhaps if the erosion of confident Marxist-Leninist leadership from the assumption of leadership of the CPSU by Khrushchevite revisionism had been less pronounced, perhaps if “peaceful coexistence” had not melted from a temporary tactic into a permanent fudge, then this prediction could have held water. As it was, the most sustained boom of capitalist history ensued, with at its heart the single most bloated and bullying imperialist power of all history.
Its dominance was never genuinely uncontested of course. Even at the height of US confidence, resentment at US tutelage was never absent from the political life of Japan, Germany or Italy. And though the boom may have lasted fifty years, the divisions and weaknesses within imperialism have been tested throughout by popular resistance from the world’s masses. The trouncing of the French colonizers by the heroic Vietnamese people at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 showed how the exploiters stood divided in the face of a united struggle for liberation; the subsequent defeat of US imperialism itself by Ho Chi Minhs’s barefoot army, an indelible inspiration to anti-imperialists everywhere for all time, put a crack in Washington’s prestige which already foreshadowed the end of America’s boom-triumphalism.
But sick as US imperialism looked when stood up to by the Koreans, the Cubans or the Vietnamese, and doubly sick whenever such stout resistance won support in Moscow or Beijing, none of these setbacks of the “bipolar” era look as imminently threatening to the continued imperialist dominance of the United States as do the conditions now shaping up in the crisis-stricken era of “unilateral” exercise of Anglo-American force.
And this is the moment in history that Washington feels obliged to seize hold of Article 5 of the Treaty, hoping to bully its “free world allies” into open-ended material political support for its so called “war against terrorism”, in reality a war against any form of resistance to US imperialist interests, violent or non-violent, by “friend” ( = actual or potential imperialist rival) or “foe” ( = the vast masses of the world’s exploited and oppressed). But the world is not the same as it was when the USA could rely on every major imperialist country to lend an endless flood of capital to subsidise its counterrevolutionary war against the Vietnamese people. The debts accumulated by the US in the course of losing that war continued to dog successive administrations in the years which followed, years marked by growing economic competition from those same creditor nations. Now that the crisis of overproduction has generalised itself through every major capitalist economy, it is not the best judged moment for the US to be demanding a renewed counterrevolutionary “crusade” under its own absolute authority.
German support for a dawning “American Century” cannot be taken for granted, for example. On the surface, Berlin may talk the same talk as Washington about enlarging NATO. Closer inspection shows up the cracks, however. Whilst never declaring itself openly against US plans, German imperialism routinely poses as an “advocate” of Eastern Europe, wishing to “moderate” the US-driven NATO push towards Russia’s borders, winning thereby a special relationship with the former workers states which might work to Germany’s advantage, and against America’s. And clearly, the expansion of the European Union, whilst diplomatically presented as complementary to the expansion of NATO, has a very different content in the perspective of German imperialist history.
Again, behind all the talk about complementing, not competing with NATO, it is clear that the Helsinki Headline Goals, which effectively aim to create a European army by 2003, are driven by the same impulse as are all the other moves towards integrating the currency, tax and political institutions of capitalist Europe. The drive is to get ready to fight to defend global market share under developing conditions of outright trade war. Here it is Britain which poses as a friend of European integration, the better to “moderate” it and so win favour from the USA.
Similar antagonisms lie behind the elaborate diplomatic charade currently being played out between France and Britain, with foreign secretary Jack Straw and his French opposite number Hubert Vedrine planning a joint visit to the Great Lakes region of Africa in January. Behind the diplomatic pleasantries, Paris is incandescent about US threats to its neo-colonial influence over francophone Africa, and suspicious of Britain’s intentions in the region. The collapse of the corrupt tyranny of the French stooge Mobutu, and the degeneration of Rwanda into murderous civil war, was seized on by the US as a great chance to steal a march on the French. The Americans backed the liberators of the Congo so long as it was French neo-colonialism getting a bloody nose, but then denounced the liberators as terrorists once it became clear that the Congo was not for sale to America either. Instead the US backed Rwanda and Uganda, encouraging them in their war against the Congolese people. Imperialist meddling from all sides has in the last three years squandered as many as two and a half million African lives. At stake is not only Congolese gold, diamonds, timber and coltan, but the rival strategic influence of the US and European powers over Africa. (Helping defend Congolese independence from all this meddling is Zimbabwe. This fact alone would account for the vile fascist propaganda lies being heaped on ZANU-PF’s head from every side, even before one considers reaction to Mugabe’s land reforms.) Like a pair of robbers who have yet to complete the division of the spoils, Vedrine and Straw will be watching each other like hawks all through this “joint European initiative”. Paris will be under no illusions where London’s loyalties really lie in this latter day scramble for Africa.
British “leadership” of the multinational force in Kabul is in a similar vein. If the Germans, French and others thought that they were helping create an embryonic European army free from NATO’s apron strings, they will have been rapidly disabused. To start with, the British Major General supposedly in charge of the force is its leader in name alone, since overall command remains in the hands of US General Tommy Franks. And it has been thunderingly obvious which imperialist gang is calling the shots. Hardly had the ink dried on the “agreement” with the puppet Afghan “government” to let the Europeans strut pointlessly around Kabul for a while, “observing”, than the American “victors” unleashed another bombing atrocity, reportedly slaying another hundred innocents in the east of the country. This adds to the reported 65 tribal elders slain on route to the loya jirga (itself stagemanaged in order to lend legitimacy to the quisling charade), which in turn adds to the 3,767 dead civilian victims of US bombs counted in “corroborated reports from aid agencies, the UN, eyewitnesses, TV stations, newspapers and news agencies around the world” [‘The Innocent Dead in a Coward’s War’, Seamus Milne, Guardian 20-12-01], and the countless others who have fallen victim to hunger, cold and family break-up since this fascist onslaught began. What kind of “government” collaborates with an occupying power which continues to massacre the population in whose interests the “government” supposedly rules? Even before this latest outrage, some of the quisling ministers had felt obliged to call for a bombing halt. What do these hirelings tell their own people now? And what kind of “peace” is the multinational force supposed to be keeping exactly? And how much longer will France and Germany allow Britain’s pretended “leadership” of Europe continue to put a spoke in their plans for a politically, economically and militarily integrated bloc of European capitalism capable of squaring up to the United States?
Meanwhile the knock-on effects of all the US-led warmongering continue to outpace the plans of all the military think tanks on both sides of the Atlantic and the Channel. In Somalia, the same war lords who so recently inflicted a humiliating reversal on US imperialist meddlers are themselves being courted for a possible role as proxies against the Mogadishu government; whilst in the Yemen, the government is “assisted” by US muscle in the task of clearing up “terrorists” who are getting in the way of imperialist exploitation of the country’s oil reserves, 40% of which are concentrated in the Marib war zone.
The case of Yemen is particularly instructive. It turns out that today’s “terrorists” were yesterday’s “freedom fighters”. “At the end of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union”, reports the Guardian (19-12-01), “thousands of unemployed mojahedin flocked to Yemen […] Training camps flourished in Yemen for much of the 1990s. One of these […] was the base for the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan which kidnapped a group of 16 mainly British adventure tourists three years ago this month. Four of the tourists died […] In the early 1990s, the government in San’a was not particularly tough on the Islamic militants. It needed their help in the 1994 civil war against southerners — mainly former Marxists — who were attempting to secede.”
Potentially most dangerous of all, the United States’ habitual support, via the Pakistani secret police, of forces whose activity tends to keep the region destabilized and open to imperialist manipulation, has under current conditions led to a stand-off on the Indo-Pak border which could yet go nuclear, with devastating consequences for the whole world. With the utmost cynical hypocrisy, Uncle Sam then turns around and demands that Islamabad “teaches these terrorists a lesson”! And so the warmongering spirals further out of control, driven on neither by this or that act of resistance against imperialist rule, nor even essentially by a war frenzy peculiar to Bush or the Republicans, but by the crisis of world imperialist society itself, hell bent on creating its own gravediggers.
The ideological leadership of anti-imperialist resistance around the world is often very weak. But the crisis of imperialism is very deep, and the resistance of the oppressed will continue to intensify and express itself in whatever way it can. And whilst the contrast of a Bin Laden and a Ho Chi Minh gives some measure of the ideological ground to be made up, we need to remember the dialectical nature of such developments. Communism has taken a giant step backwards, it cannot be denied. Revisionist treachery has opened the gates to capitalist restoration in the Land of the Soviets. Yet it is not proletarian dictatorship or communist science which has been shown to be bankrupt, but class collaboration and revisionism. It is the failure of revisionism, not the failure of Marxism-Leninism, which has inflicted such a poverty of philosophy upon the anti-imperialist movement. The way forward for the world communist movement is not to wring our hands over the inadequacy of Serb nationalism, Baathism, Islamic fundamntalism or “anti-capitalist” anarchism to lead the backlash against crisis-stricken imperialism, but rather to expose and overcome the revisionist abandonment of leadership which has made possible the temporary shallow ascendancy of such backward looking ideologies.
A good place to begin this re-education would be the wholehearted recognition of what enormous difficulties imperialism is now weathering by dint of its own crisis, and what huge cracks this crisis is already opening up within the international oppressor class, and what a positive development it is for the ultimate emancipation of the world’s peoples that resistance to imperialist rule should at this moment be increasing, not slackening, notwithstanding the primitive ideological conditions bequeathed by revisionist treachery. It is these material developments which make it realistic to predict that the step backwards for communism can be transformed into a great leap forward, provided only that the necessity of resuming the fight for Marxist-Leninism comes to be seriously appreciated in the workers’ movement.