Empire, Revolution and Counterrevolution
Reader Terry Coggan commenting on my reply on the European crisis wrote: “Thank you for your series of posts over the last several years—I have found them extremely useful. You wisely avoid overt political comment. Where you do depart from your own guideline, as in note 8 to this post where you label the rebellions in the Arab world as ‘counter-revolutionary’—an opinion that can at best be described as controversial—I feel you risk compromising the value of your blog.”
Politics and economics
I have and will continue to keep this blog focused on basic economic theory, especially crisis theory. But as Marxists, we cannot really separate economics from politics. It is a basic tenant of historical materialism that changes in the economic situation will lead sooner or later to important political developments, including both revolutions and counterrevolutions.
Over the last several years, we have seen increasingly radical shifts in the politics of many quite different countries. For example, we have seen waves of demonstrations and strikes in Greece, Spain, Ireland, France, Ireland and Britain. In the United States, we saw after decades of retreat by the trade unions the struggle of the Wisconsin public workers against the attempt to deny them the basic labor rights of collective bargaining and union representation. Just months later we saw the rise of the Occupy movement, beginning in the United States and then spreading around the world. The Occupy movement itself was inspired by the Egyptian revolution that overthrew the hated long-time Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak last February.
In analyzing the revolutions of 1848, Marx explained that the outbreak of the European revolutions of that year, which stretched from France in the west to Hungary in the east, was triggered by the worldwide crisis of overproduction that came to a head in London in October 1847.
The ebbing of that revolutionary wave, according to Marx, was largely determined by the onset of a historic wave of economic prosperity caused by the discovery of gold in far-off California in 1848 and Australia in 1851. He considered this development to have had even greater importance than the revolutions of 1848.
It is pretty clear that the current upheavals—of which the revolutions in the Arab world are the most important component, so far at least—are rooted in the worldwide crisis of overproduction that came to a head in New York in September 2008 with the collapse of the Lehman Brother’s bank. Although the future evolution of the economic situation is as always uncertain, it seems extremely unlikely that the world political situation will be stabilized by new gold discoveries comparable to the discoveries of 1848 and 1851. (1)
In my footnote to which Terry Coggan refers, I most certainly did not say that “the rebellions in the Arab world” were “counterrevolutionary.” We have seen “rebellions” in Morocco, Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain, and even demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, as well as the overthrow of the governments of Egypt and Tunisia. In addition, we saw a movement that succeeded in overthrowing the Muammar Qaddafi government in Libya but only with the help of direct U.S. and NATO military intervention.
There is also a movement in Syria trying to bring down the government of Bashar Assad. Unlike the movement in Yemen against the long-time dictatorial President Abdullah Saleh, or movements against the absolute monarchies in the Arab world, the movement against Assad and his Baath Party enjoys the support of the governments of the U.S., Britain and the European Union.
U.S. President Obama has demanded that President Assad leave office, just like he previously demanded that Qaddafi surrender power in Libya—though Qaddafi held no formal posts in Libya. Such a demand goes counter to the basic principle of bourgeois democracy that the question of who leads the government of a given country is the business of the people of the given country alone—especially if it is a historically oppressed country—and is none of the business of the leaders of a foreign government. (2)
All democrats, as well as socialists if they are to remain consistent with their principles, must demand that the Obama administration and other imperialist governments halt their interference in the internal affairs of Syria and resume normal relations with the Syrian government. This should be done independently of whether or not we like or approve of the Bashar Assad government.
I expressed an opinion in a footnote that the movements in Libya and Syria are out of step with the movements against the U.S.-supported monarchies and dictatorships in other Arab countries. This opinion, I admit, goes counter to the view propagated in the 1 percent-controlled media that there is a common “Arab Spring” that includes the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions but also the overthrow of the government of Libya with the help of NATO’s bombers. The same false amalgam includes the movement attempting to overthrow the Syrian government with the support of the U.S. and Europe as well as the Arab League, which is dominated by reactionary Arab governments, many of them monarchies. (3)
A new 1848?
The Arab revolutions have sometimes been compared to the European revolutions of 1848. Despite the differences in historical epochs, there are indeed striking similarities. First, we don’t have a revolution in a single country but a wave of revolutionary movements—and, in my opinion, a few counterrevolutionary movements—that are spreading from country to country.
In both cases, the immediate aim of the revolutionary movements was/is for what Marxists call bourgeois democracy, not at this stage socialism. Both the revolutions of 1848 and the revolutions of 2011 were preceded by a worldwide crisis of of overproduction.
Even the counterrevolutionary movements in Libya and Syria have 1848 parallels. In 1848, revolutionary movements in France, Germany and Hungary were accompanied by pan-Slavic counterrevolutionary movements in some of the Slavic lands of eastern Europe.
Pan-Slavism was a 19th-century movement that attempted to rally the Slavic nations around the Russian absolute monarchy and the Russian Orthodox Church, somewhat like the Saudi Arabian absolute monarchy is rallying so-called “Salafist” Muslims in Arab countries as part of its attempt to resist movements toward secular democratic republics in the Arab world. Perhaps we could call the supporters of 1848 pan-Slavism by way of historical analogy “Salafist Christians.”
Back in the 19th century, Russian support of the pan-Slavic movement was one the most reactionary influences around. It was not for nothing that Marx and Engels at the time demanded war against Russia.
In fact, all revolutions that have occurred in history have been accompanied by counterrevolutionary movements. For example, during the first Russian revolution—the (bourgeois) democratic revolution of 1905 in Russia—we saw anti-Semitic pogroms organized by the government-supported “Black Hundreds” gangs against the Russian Empire’s Jewish population.
The idea that democratic revolutions consist of the people rising up against a dictator who is personally the source of all the evil, writing a new democratic constitution, holding “free elections” and then sitting back and enjoying the fruits of democracy is a myth propagated by the 1 percent-controlled media. It has little to do with reality.
In the footnote referred to by reader Coggan, I expressed the opinion that we are not yet seeing a socialist revolution in the Arab world. What we are seeing is a movement for bourgeois democracy that is historically progressive and most certainly not reactionary. So far, no strong leadership of this new wave of
revolutions has emerged. The leadership, such as it is, has largely remained in the hands of liberal bourgeois democratic forces afraid of going “too far” owing to their deep-rooted fear of the Arab working class.
Here we see yet another parallel with the 1848 European revolutions, where the European bourgeois liberals preferred to form an alliance with the forces of feudalism and absolute monarchy rather than the working class. In the elections that have just been held in Egypt and Tunisia, the liberal democratic forces have fared poorly against candidates tied to the clerical-backed Islamic parties. This shows that the liberal democrats of Egypt and Tunisia lack deep roots among the working population.
The Arab liberals have been hoping that the U.S. world empire will agree to a more democratic order in the Middle East than has prevailed up to now. For its part, Washington—backed by its satellite imperialisms Britain and the crisis-ridden European Union—say that they are all in favor of “democracy” in the Middle East as long as that democracy is linked to free markets.
In other words, the U.S. empire’s ruling 1 percent are for “democracy” only as long as it means the continued and indeed increasing imperialist exploitation of the Arab peoples—both the labor power of their workers and their natural resources, above all oil.
The U.S. world empire also insists that the Arab world remain a dumping ground for its commodities. By linking their support for Arab “democracy” to “free markets,” the Empire’s ruling 1 percent are saying that the Arab world must continue to exchange its non-renewable oil and other natural resources for commodities either produced by the Empire’s industries or controlled by the Empire’s vast system of trade, trademarks, copyrights and patents. (4)
The “democracy” the Empire wants to see established in the Middle East also includes the safeguarding of its apartheid “white” Israeli colony and with it the continued dispersal of the Palestinian people.
U.S. empire on head-on collision course with the Arab revolution
None of these things is compatible with real bourgeois democracy—not to speak of workers’ democracy or socialism—in the Arab world. Therefore, the world imperialist empire headed by the U.S. is on a head-on collision course with the Arab revolution, even if the Arab revolution remains a “purely” bourgeois democratic revolution. This is an objective truth whether the current liberal leaders, such as they are, of the Arab bourgeois-democratic revolution realize it or not.
If in the further development of the Arab revolution, a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership emerges that can realize the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution—or at least the lion’s share of them—it will inevitably find itself involved in a life-and-death struggle against the U.S. world empire. It is quite likely—and in my opinion almost certain—that no such bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership will emerge. The contradictions between the Arab capitalist class on one side and the Arab working class on the other are probably too great.
If this indeed turns out to be the case, the tasks of the Arab bourgeois-democratic revolution will have to realized by the victorious Arab workers, who in that case will not limit themselves to the tasks of the bourgeois revolution but will begin the Arab socialist revolution. This is how the Russian revolution developed. It began as a bourgeois democratic revolution—not a socialist revolution—against the semi-feudal czarist absolute monarchy.
Since this blog has been and will remain focused primarily on economic questions, I want to explore the question of why the interests of the U.S. world empire are of necessity in complete contradiction with the Arab bourgeois-democratic revolution.
First, I have described the Arab revolution, at least in terms of its immediate aims, as a bourgeois-democratic revolution. What do Marxists mean by a bourgeois-democratic revolution? And why did Lenin in analyzing the then approaching revolution in Russia put so much emphasis on distinguishing between a bourgeois-democratic revolution and a socialist revolution?
While I personally believe that it is unlikely that the Arab bourgeois-democratic revolution will be achieved under bourgeois leadership, just suppose I am wrong—which is certainly possible—and a bourgeois revolutionary leadership does emerge and succeeds in realizing the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution. How would such a revolution differ from an Arab socialist revolution, led by the Arab working class?
In the event of a successful Arab bourgeois-democratic revolution, a central government would emerge that would govern all—or at least most—of the Arab lands that stretch from North Africa in the west to the Iranian border in the east. The Empire’s Israeli white colony would be abolished and the Palestinian people would regain their homeland and national rights as part of a vast united Arab republic. A common currency and common tariff policy would be established aimed at encouraging the fastest development of Arab capitalist production.
In addition, though the Arab working class would not come to power in this hypothetical bourgeois-led democratic revolution, it would win the democratic right to freely organize both trade unions and political parties. If all this came to pass, the most favorable conditions for the development of Arab capitalism—which would include all the contradictions and consequences of capitalism—would be created. (5)
On a global basis, a successful bourgeois-democratic Arab revolution would be a very pro-capitalist development. It is therefore a huge error to confuse or to blur the difference between a bourgeois revolution that establishes the best conditions for the most free development of capitalism with a socialist revolution that abolishes capitalism and creates the conditions for the construction of a planned mode of production of the associated producers, which we call socialism. These are most certainly not the same thing.
What would happen if the Arab bourgeois-democratic revolution is actually achieved?
The political leaders of the U.S. world empire, Democrats and Republicans alike, claim to be great champions of capitalism. A successful Arab revolution would greatly widen the basis for capitalist development. Why then don’t they embrace the Arab revolution? Indeed, this is exactly what the bourgeois liberal democrats in the Arab movement are hoping that they will do. But they aren’t doing this and they won’t.
The reason for this lies not in the stupidity or shortsightedness of the Democrats and Republicans or their British and European Union subordinates. Instead, it lies in the very contradictions of capitalism that I have been exploring in this blog over the last several years. Not the least of these contradictions is the ability of capitalist production to expand the production of commodities at a rate that is faster than its ability to expand markets for these commodities. This is the underlying cause of the crises of overproduction that periodically hit the capitalist world market.
Capitalism grows and lives on the basis of free competition, and indeed the complete disappearance of free competition would mean the end of capitalism. However, as crisis follows crisis, capital with some fluctuations grows more centralized. This leads to the growth of capitalist monopoly, which points towards the inevitable replacement of capitalist production sooner or later by the higher mode of production that we call socialism.
The tendency of the forces of production to develop more rapidly than the market impresses itself on individual industrial capitalists as the need to take as many markets away from fellow industrial capitalists as possible. Any lack of aggression on a capitalist’s part will have fatal consequences. This does not preclude temporary alliances with fellow industrial capitalists in order to curb competition and maintain monopoly prices and profits. But these temporary cartel agreements will sooner or later break down when production again expands beyond the limits of the available markets. (6)
Therefore, it is no accident that throughout the history of capitalism—even before the age of imperialism and even before crises of overproduction began to recur on a quasi-regular basis (7)—the more developed capitalist countries of a given epoch are forced by the laws of capitalism itself to do everything in their power to prevent the emergence of new industrialized capitalist nations. They may not be successful, but they have to make the attempt.
The last thing existing industrial capitalists desire is the emergence of new competitors. And the last thing the leaders of a given capitalist nation want—leaving aside their overthrow at the hands of their workers—is the rise of new competing capitalist nations.
Some concrete examples from history
Before the victorious U.S. War of Independence of 1775-1783, Britain attempted to ban its North American colonies from engaging in manufacturing lest they take away markets from the manufacturers operating in the “mother” country. This ban played a major role in the American War of Independence. The rising colonial merchant class did not want to confine itself to trade but wanted to try its luck at manufacturing as well. And once they overthrew British colonial rule over North America—except for Canada—they did quite well at it!
Later, Britain backed the rebellion of the slave-owning rebels of the southern U.S. Though the British were attempting to safeguard the supply of cotton to the British textile industry, they also hoped to use the slaveholders’ rebellion, as Karl Marx called it, to deliver a blow to their emerging U.S. competitors. In this way, they hoped to reverse their defeat in the war of American independence.
Suppose “the South” had won its “independence” from the U.S. The “independent” South would have continued to exchange cotton for cheap consumer goods produced by British industry. This was indeed the basis of the slave-based economy of the pre-Civil War South. British industry would have gained in two ways from this.
First, the supply of the main raw material for the British textile industry, the leading British industry of the time, would, have been safeguarded. Remember that cheap raw and auxiliary materials play an important role in determining the rate of profit—the holiest of holies—of capitalist production.
As I have explained many times in this blog, raw and auxiliary materials form a part of the constant capital. Therefore the cheaper the raw materials are, the lower (all else remaining equal) is the organic composition of capital. And the lower the organic composition of capital is (all else remaining equal), the higher will be the rate of profit.
Second, in competition the industrial capitalists who have access to the cheapest raw materials (all else remaining equal) will have a competitive advantage in the form of a lower individual cost price than the other industrial capitalists. They will therefore be able to undersell the competition and thus drive them out of business. This is not only true of individual industrial capitalists but remains just as true for those collective industrial capitalists we call “corporations.”
It is worth noting here that in the last year the leading export of the U.S. has become refined fuels. Oil is the chief raw material in the production of fuels, just as raw cotton was the chief raw material in the spinning of yarn for the British textile industry in the epoch of the U.S. Civil War. If the U.S. refining industry is to retain its dominance on the world market, it is of vital importance that it retain its access to the oil with the lowest individual value in the world. This is, of course, the oil that is produced in the Middle East.
To return to the U.S. Civil War, northern industry—the South itself had very little industry during the time of slavery—would have been squeezed by being more or less denied access to cheap southern cotton. In addition, Britain would have been in a position to use its influence over a triumphant “rebel” government to deny northern industry access to the southern markets—through tariff policy, for example. The consequent loss of sources of raw material—cheap raw cotton—and unrestricted access to the southern market would have been major blows to U.S. northern industry. This would have considerably retarded the industrialization of the U.S. North while an “independent” South would have remained a stagnant backwater for decades to come.
A victory by the the “rebels,” as they were called in the U.S. Civil War, would have been a huge blow to world capitalist development and human progress in general and therefore for the interests of the only consistently revolutionary class in capitalist society—in terms of its historical interests—the working class.
But a rebel victory is exactly what the British capitalists needed if they were to retain their dominance of the world market. If the rebel slaveowners had been victorious, the lifespan of legal African slavery would have been extended for decades. Then, even after slavery was formally abolished in the South—perhaps well after the turn of the 20th century—the existence of an international border between the North and the South would have retarded the transformation of the enslaved Africans into “free” wage laborers. The denial of cheap Black labor to the North would have been a further blow to U.S. northern industry.
It would also have been a blow to the development of the U.S. labor movement, because, as the experience of the Depression era and later showed, the African American working class has been consistently more trade union conscious and more open to socialist ideas than white workers have been.
Basing themselves on the needs of human progress, which are also the needs of the working class, Marx and Engels staunchly supported and helped organize “pro-American” meetings in opposition to the “pro-rebel” policies of the British government. Marx in his capacity as head of the International Workingmen’s Association—also known as the First International—even wrote letters to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln expressing his and the International’s solidarity, which were acknowledged by the U.S. leader.
U.S. victory in the Civil War—a victory for humankind but a disaster for British capitalism
While the victory of the rebels in the U.S. Civil War would have been a terrible blow to human progress and the development of the international working class, from the viewpoint of the interest of the British capitalist class the British leaders were proven correct. From their standpoint, the U.S. victory in the Civil War was a historical disaster.
Unfortunately, for British capitalism—but not worldwide capitalist development, human progress, and the working class—their attempts to prevent the industrialization of its one-time North American colonies failed twice. First, through the colonists’ victory against Britain in their war of independence and then in the defeat of the British-backed slave-owning rebels in the American Civil War of 1861-65. (8) By the late 19th century, U.S. capitalist industry was breaking Britain’s dominance of the world market. As American capitalist industry flourished, British capitalist industry began to sink into stagnation.
Another example can be found in the relationship between France and Germany. Until the middle of the 19th century, France was, after Britain, the leading capitalist country in the world. By comparison, Germany was a semi-feudal agrarian backwater. But after the gold discoveries of 1848-1851 in California and Australia, German capitalist industry began to develop at a breakneck pace, while French industry began to lag behind its German competitors.
When Bismarck moved to unify Germany, the French Emperor Napoleon III went to war in a desperate attempt to prevent German unification and safeguard the interests of French capitalism. France’s defeat in what is called the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 paved the way for Germany replacing France as the leading European capitalist nation, a position that Germany retains to this day.
Though Marx and Engels and their German supporters—the emerging Social Democratic Party of Germany—were strong opponents of Bismarck, they strongly supported Germany in its war of reunification against the French, just as they had supported the U.S. against the southern “rebels” and their British backers. They did, however, oppose Bismarck when he transformed the just war against the French attempt to prevent German unification into a reactionary war of conquest against France itself.
Again, just as in the case of the American Civil War a few years earlier, Marx and Engels were guided by the needs of human progress, or what comes to the same thing, the historical needs of the working class.
After France’s war to prevent German unification failed, France entered into a period of relative industrial stagnation. Germany’s more rapid industrial development led to German military superiority. As a result, France was invaded by the Germans in World War I. Indeed, most of the fighting in World War I was in France. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Germany in addition to fighting France had to fight the combined might of Britain, Russia and, decisively, the United States, Germany would have defeated the French.
In World War II, the Germans defeated the French within six weeks in 1940. If Germany had not been overwhelmed by the resistance of the Soviet Union and the power of the United States, French imperialism today would be a satellite of German imperialism rather than of the United States as it is now. Within Europe, French industry plays second fiddle to German industry. Unemployment is higher in France than east of the Rhine and class contradictions are sharper. Therefore, from the viewpoint of French capitalism, the defeat of France’s attempt to prevent the unification of Germany was a historic disaster.
We see the same pattern during the world wars of the first half the 20th century. Britain went to war against Germany in August 1914 not because of any treaties but because it found the prospect of a German-dominated Europe intolerable. More importantly, the U.S. found the prospect of a Europe dominated by industrially dynamic Germany unacceptable. Therefore, the U.S. sided with a stagnant Britain against its far more dangerous German competitors.
Indeed, so great was America’s fear of a German-dominated Europe, that the American capitalist rulers were willing to give aid to the Soviet Union in order to stave off the prospect of a German empire from the Atlantic to the Urals. If such a German empire had been consolidated, it would have made the current U.S. world empire impossible. (9)
Today, the same type of scenario is being played out between the U.S. and China. The U.S. bitterly opposed the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Later, when in 1978 Deng Xiaoping initiated his pro-capitalist reforms, the U.S. was overjoyed. There had been some fear in U.S. ruling circles—and hopes among socialists—that China might rejoin the Soviet bloc after the death of the strongly anti-Soviet Mao Zedong in 1976. Deng’s policy of instead deepening China’s virtual alliance with the United States against the Soviet Union was viewed as a major blow against socialism—which it of course was.
But the enthusiasm of the U.S. rulers began to fade when Chinese capitalism developed at such a breakneck speed that it began to emerge as a major threat to the U.S. and other “empire” industries. Though U.S. and other “Western”—including those honorary Westerners the Japanese—corporations have made billions off the surplus value produced by Chinese workers, the leaders of American imperialism are doing all they can to slow down Chinese economic growth. This includes demands that China revalue its currency and “increase domestic consumption”—that is, slow down investment.
Now, under the newly announced “Obama military doctrine,” Washington is indicating that it will be building up U.S. forces in the Pacific aimed at China. One of the aims, though not the only one, is to prevent Taiwan from reunifying with the rest of China. The more China is forced to spend on its military, the less will be left over for capitalist investment. In this way, a now stagnant America is attempting to slow down the further the development of capitalist industry in China.
The consequences of a victorious Arab bourgeois-democratic revolution
The Arabic-speaking peoples who live, or in the case of Palestinian refugees, lived, in the area stretching from North Africa through historic Palestine—all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank—together with Syria, Jordan and Iraq south through what is called today Saudi Arabia, plus the so-called United Arab Emirates constitute at least a potential nation.
First, these peoples have a common language in the sense that educated people at least can understand standard Arabic, though there are many dialects in the popular speech. In this sense, the Arab peoples already have a considerable advantage over the Europeans, who lack a common language. The Arabic-speaking peoples have common traditions going back to the rise of Islam in the seventh century, something that Europe lacks.
Second, the Arabic-speaking areas are geographically contiguous and therefore could potentially form a large national market. In addition, the Arab countries possess rich agricultural areas in the Nile valley and delta and the “fertile crescent” along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. And most importantly, parts of the Arab world are sitting on top of the richest oil deposits in the world.
If a government emerged that united all the Arab lands into a single country with a common currency and tariff policy, capitalist development that is at present stagnating would increase rapidly.
What would be the economic consequences worldwide of such a development?
First, a lot of the oil that is now being exported to the imperialist countries that is being refined into fuels by U.S. industry would be refined by Arab capitalist industry instead. We would expect that the such a united Arab republic would quickly replace the U.S. as the leading exporter of refined fuels.
The huge inflow of money from the oil that was not consumed within the domestic Arab market itself would form the basis of a rapidly expanding home market. The money capital that a true united Arab republic would accumulate selling refined oil products could then be used to finance the industrialization of the Arab world. The united Arab republic would emerge as a major competitor in many branches of industry, not just in energy-related products, just as China is doing today.
At first the Arab domestic market would be protected by high tariffs, which would mean that capitalist industry located outside the Arab world would find itself with only limited access to the rapidly growing Arab home market. Later on, Arab industry would be expected to emerge on the world market and penetrate the home markets of the U.S., Europe and Japan, as well as China, India and other Asian markets, Latin America and the African countries. A new capitalist engine of overproduction would be born.
The surge of overproduced commodities from the Arab world would intensify the periodic global crises of overproduction in the decades ahead. A section of the industry located in non-Arab countries engaged in capitalist production would then have to be liquidated or be replaced by socialist production. In either case, from the viewpoint of the non-Arab capitalists, colossal amounts of wealth in the form of capital in the non-Arab capitalist world would be destroyed.
Blocking Iran’s industrialization
For exactly the same reasons, Washington is determined to block the industrialization of Iran. This is behind Washington’s attempt to prevent Iran from developing its nuclear power industry. By increasing its sanctions, and threatening Iran with a massive military attack sooner or later—thereby forcing Iran to spend more on its military and thus slowing down its industrialization—Washington is hoping to cripple the Iranian capitalist economy before it, too, emerges as yet another serious competitor on the world market and engine of capitalist overproduction.
One of the most repulsive features of capitalism
One of the most repulsive features of the capitalist mode of production is that it forces the developed capitalist countries of a given epoch to oppose the rise of new industrialized capitalist nations. In this way, the leading capitalist powers of a given epoch are transformed into enemies of all progress. This inevitably leads to wars, both local wars and eventually world wars.
Today, we have reached the point in the development of the productive forces—and the forces of destruction—where these inter-capitalist wars threaten the very existence of civilization. All the civilization that the labor of generations of workers of all types have created over the centuries could be destroyed. This is one of the reasons why the achievement of the working-class socialist revolution is such an urgent task for the rising generation today.
The struggle so far to unify the Arab world
The more advanced sections of the Arab intelligentsia, including some Arab military officers, have long dreamed of a united Arab republic. It is no accident that the Nasser government renamed Egypt the United Arab Republic.
In some ways, the Egyptian leader was aiming to become an Arab version of Bismarck. He aimed to unite the Arab countries on the basis of capitalism—notwithstanding his socialist rhetoric. Though he maintained good relations with the Soviet Union and played the Soviet Union against the “the West”—also known as the U.S. world empire—he was and remained an anti-communist and did not allow communists to operate legally when he was in power. This was Nasser’s version of Bismarck’s “Anti-Socialist Laws.” Under Nasser, Egypt did briefly unite with Syria giving birth to the first United Arab Republic. However, this union did not last.
But even after the union with Syria was no more, as long as Nasser lived, Egypt was officially known as the United Arab Republic, even though the only member of the “united republic” was Egypt.
When the pro-U.S. Anwar Sadat took over after Nasser’s death, one of the things he did to reassure Washington was to change the name of his country back to Egypt. No more United Arab Republic!
During the pre-imperialist rising phase of world capitalism, Bismarck was still able to unite the German states without a deep-going social revolution at home—though the Bismarck government was the first government to introduce social insurance. So even Bismarck had a “socialist” side.
Nasser did carry out democratic land reform within Egypt—unlike Bismarck, who represented the landowning class. However, he was, unlike Bismarck, unable to unite the Arab countries. The U.S. world empire, including Britain and Israel, which especially after Suez in 1956 functioned largely as component parts of a single U.S.-led global imperialist empire, proved to be a far more formidable obstacle to Nasser than Napoleon III’s “Second Empire” was for Bismarck. (10)
Other attempts to unify the Arab world
The Baath Party—the name means Arab socialist renaissance party—was founded originally by secular Syrian intellectuals who, like Nasser, adopted the perspective of a united Arab nation. Many of its founders came from families that were members of religious minorities in Syria. So not surprisingly, the Baath Party sought to build up Arab nationalism along secular lines with as little clerical influence as possible. Like Nasser, the Baathists used socialist rhetoric and the state as a means to promote capitalist development. Though they ruled dictatorially, the Baathists did carry out significant democratic reforms such as expanding the rights of women. The Baathists, just like Nasser, generally suppressed communists, sometimes quite brutally.
The Baathists were able to win power in only two Arab countries—Syria and neighboring Iraq. In power, however, the Baathists failed to unite even Syria and Iraq. The ruling Syrian and Iraqi Baathists became bitter enemies.
Indeed, during the first Gulf war, going counter to the democratic pan-Arab nationalist principles of Baathism itself, the Syrian Baathist government actually supported the U.S. attack on Baathist Iraq!
Despite the severe limitations of Baathism, the United States so fears the possibility of a united Arab nation it is determined to destroy the Baathist parties of both Syria and Iraq and anywhere else in the Arab world Baathist parties might emerge. (11)
The U.S. first targeted Baath-ruled Iraq, which after Saudi Arabia is the Arab nation richest in oil—especially if, as we should, count Kuwait as part of Iraq. Under the first Bush, the U.S. intervened militarily to prevent Iraq from abolishing the British-created Kuwaiti monarchy and uniting Kuwait with Iraq. If this had actually been achieved, it would have been historically progressive and would have greatly improved the prospects for Iraq’s capitalist development.
During the 1980s, following the Iranian Revolution, the U.S. encouraged the prolonged war that occurred between Iraq and Iran. Donald Rumsfeld actually visited Iraq and was photographed shaking hands with President Saddam Hussein—a fact that many of the Democratic Party-oriented participants of the anti-war movement tried to use against the second Bush administration, as if having normal relations with the Iraqi government were itself some kind of a crime.
Upset by the end of the Iraq-Iran War and emboldened by the ongoing destruction of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, the U.S. moved to attack Iraq directly. Using Saddam Hussein’s move to abolish the Kuwaiti monarchy (12) and unite Kuwait with Iraq as a pretext, the U.S. went to war against Iraq and restored the Kuwaiti monarchy. In the wake of Iraq’s military defeat at the hands of the U.S. military—a hardly surprising development—severe sanctions were imposed on Iraq, and Iraq’s rather promising (capitalist) economic development came to a grinding halt.
The sanctions led to the deaths of perhaps a million or more Iraqis, especially children. In an an unguarded moment of candor, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a “60 Minutes” interview with Leslie Stahl was asked: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it? She answered, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” What Albright really meant was that in order to safeguard the value of the capital that is concentrated in the hands of the U.S. 1 percent any crime is worth it.
Washington assumed that because of the sanctions the Baathist government under Saddam Hussein would soon succumb to “pro-Western” opposition forces and then be reintegrated into the Empire’s economy as a supplier of oil with no prospect of independent economic development that would threaten the capital of the Empire’s 1 percent.
However, contrary to Washington’s expectations, when the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein showed no signs of falling, the second Bush administration ordered an all-out military invasion to overthrow the Iraqi government, banned the Baath Party, hunted down and arrested Saddam Hussein, and eventually handed him over to its Iraqi puppet hangmen.
As soon as U.S. troops arrived, the U.S. media claimed that Iraq was a “Shiite” country and the U.S. military occupation moved to divide Iraqi society along religious sectarian lines.
Imagine if a Muslim foreign invader occupied the United States and claimed that the U.S. was a Protestant country! Then forming an alliance with reactionary clergymen—they are mostly men—the Muslim occupiers divided the U.S. into Protestant and Catholic areas, literally walling off the Protestants and Catholics from each other. Then imagine Protestant clergymen like Pat Robertson and equally reactionary Catholic priests collaborating with the Muslim invaders and announcing that people must from now on identify themselves as Protestants and Catholics and not as Americans.
This is what the U.S. occupation has done in Iraq causing the occupation to be universally hated by the Iraqi people—except for collaborators—whether or not they had been supporters of the Baath Party or Saddam Hussein.
The new Arab revolution
In January 2011, after several decades of reaction following the destruction of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, a new era of revolutions dawned. It began with Tunisia and quickly spread to Egypt, where the long-time U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February 2011.
At first, the U.S. had hoped to salvage Mubarak. U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden explained that Mubarak was a great friend of America (that is, American imperialism) and therefore “not a dictator”—as defined by Washington. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen in his column of Feb. 1, 2011, in a rare moment of racist honesty explained that democracy for Arabs was a terrible idea. However, as the movement to overthrow Mubarak came to embrace almost the entire Egyptian population—except the dictator’s immediate circle—Cohen was obliged to shut up.
Washington quickly realized that only a full-scale military intervention could save Mubarak. Such an intervention would have led to outrage throughout the world starting with the Arab world. There would almost certainly have been a massive upsurge of the anti-war movement in Europe and the United States. And with the U.S. dollar very shaky in the wake of the economic crisis of 2007-09 and the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” (money printing) response to it—such an adventure was ruled out, at least for the time being.
The Libyan rebellion
The revolt in Libya that with the support of NATO bombers overthrew the regime of Qaddafi last year has led to deep-going differences within the left worldwide. While the anti-imperialist governments of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and the government of socialist Cuba strongly supported Qaddafi from the beginning—though former Cuban President Fidel Castro was not entirely uncritical of Qaddafi in his reflections that were published on the Internet—many, perhaps most, Western leftists supported the Libyan rebels with considerable initial enthusiasm.
Perhaps nothing has so split the left since Mikhail Gorbachev launched perestroika in the Soviet Union in the name of democratizing Soviet socialism and making its socialist economy more efficient a quarter of a century ago. (13)
I was and remain no expert on Libya, a small North African Arab country of only 6 million people. From a distance, it seemed at first logical to support the demonstrations against the government of Colonial Qaddafi. Wasn’t Qaddafi an old-line Arab dictator like Ben Ali—the ousted Tunisian dictator—and Mubarak?
Qaddafi, a Libyan military officer, had come to power in 1969. He was the leader of a Libyan “free officers” movement, modeled on Nasser’s Egyptian “free officers,” against the reactionary pro-imperialist monarchy of King Idris. Qaddafi broadly shared Nasser’s pan-Arab ideology and sometimes used socialist rhetoric, though Qaddafi made clear that he was no communist.
Instead, Qaddafi claimed to represent a third way between capitalism and communism. Long experience as well as the findings of Marxist economic science have shown that politicians who claim to represent a third way between capitalism and communism are in fact pro-capitalist.
While a very few on the left took Qaddafi’s socialism seriously, I believed and still believe that was a mistake. Still, over the years I couldn’t forget that Qaddafi made quite a nuisance of himself from the U.S. world empire’s point of view. The Libyan leader often denounced imperialism and often gave material support to anti-imperialist movements, including the Irish Republican Army. This did not exactly endear the former Libyan leader to Britain’s ruling circles!
In addition to supporting, in words at least, pan-Arabism, Qaddafi also supported pan-Africanism, a movement that Washington is also strongly opposed to for the reasons I examined above. I couldn’t forget that Ronald Reagan actually militarily attacked Libya in 1986 in an attempt to assassinate Qaddafi. Reagan did succeed in killing one of his daughters.
Over the last decade, Washington seemed to move to improve its relationship with Libya, while Qaddafi modified if he did not completely abandon his anti-imperialist rhetoric. Some leftists have argued that by the early 2000s, Qaddafi had become indistinguishable from Mubarak and Ben Ali, turning into a simple U.S. puppet, or the next thing to it.
I now believe what was actually happening is that with Qaddafi aging, the U.S. government as it did in the case of Egypt in Nasser’s last years was cultivating reactionary sections of the Libyan military and Libyan politicians with the idea of setting up a new neocolonial government after Qaddafi finally passed from the scene. But the revolutionary demise of first the Ben Ali and then the Mubarak dictatorships forced Washington to step up its timetable of undoing the Libyan revolution of 1969.
A new Libyan revolution?
Though in my opinion Qaddafi was not the pro-imperialist reactionary that Mubarak and Ben Ali were, history is full of figures who came to power in a revolution but who grew more and more conservative over the years, and then became targets of a new revolution that carried society to the next step. Ignorant as I was and mostly remain about Libyan society, I saw no reason in advance to rule out a new revolution in Libya that even if it had no immediate prospect of turning into a socialist revolution could advance Libya further along the path towards bourgeois democracy than Qaddafi was able or willing to do.
But almost from the beginning, there were disturbing signs. There were the reports that the rebels were using the same flag used by King Idris, which indeed turned out to be true. This seemed to indicate that the rebels and their leadership were looking backwards toward the monarchical neocolonial past and not a future of more (bourgeois) democracy—not to speak of socialism.
This was disturbing but not decisive as far as I was concerned. I really don’t know what this flag means to the Libyan people. Qaddafi had replaced the flag used by King Idris by a solid green flag representing Islam. From the viewpoint of the aims of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, which includes the separation of religion from the state, a flag representing a religion—even if the religion is the religion of the overwhelming majority of the people and is deeply rooted in their history—is objectionable. In any case, our flag is not the flag of any bourgeois nation but the red flag of the working class.
Racism is decisive
Far more disturbing were the claims that appeared in the U.S. media echoing rebel propaganda that Qaddafi was using “mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa” to repress the Libyan people. I thought, why this sounds like racist propaganda! I remembered learning that following the defeat of Germany in World War I, the young Nazi movement accused the French imperialists of bringing black soldiers from France’s colonies in Black Africa to oppress the white Aryan German people.
But I thought perhaps I was seeing things through the lens of U.S. and European history. We who live in the West have to be constantly on guard against this sort of thing. Perhaps, unlike the U.S. and Europe, Libya had no race problem and there was nothing racist about the rebel propaganda in a Libyan context.
It soon became apparent, however, that Libya indeed has a major race problem that I had not known had existed and presumably dates from the Italian colonial period, or perhaps has even deeper roots going back to the slave trade. But it is now clear and confirmed by many sources, including some of those who supported the Libyan rebellion, that the Libyan rebels have indeed unleashed a reign of racist terror against the Libyan black population.
Therefore, the reports of racist terror unleashed by the rebels against people with sub-Saharan skin tone and features cannot be dismissed as propaganda put out by the Qaddafi regime or its partisans to discredit its opponents. And much of Libya’s tiny working class happens to be black. On the other hand, virtually all reports about the social composition of the rebels, which mostly come from supporters of the rebellion, emphasized that they largely come from the merchant class or were high-ranking white-collar employees of the imperialist corporations.
It should be pointed out that most Libyans, including those who supported the rebels, are dark-skinned compared to Europeans—and Americans of European descent—and clearly show traces of recent sub-Saharan ancestry in their physical features and skin color. In the U.S., many, perhaps even most, Libyan rebel supporters would even be considered “black.”
However, we know racism is not really a matter of biology but ultimately reflects the course of both former and current class struggles. Any racist movement goes profoundly against the interest of human progress and the working class and, yes, against the struggle for bourgeois democracy.
There is no law that says you have to be light-skinned and blue-eyed to support racist movements. What is true is that racism in Libya is being encouraged and supported by the U.S. world empire in the interest of the 1 percent. It certainly does not come from the “racism” of the oppressed Arab people like a few on the Internet have claimed.
Libyan versus Egyptian developments
The Libyan developments were in sharp opposition to the trends during the uprising against Mubarak in neighboring Egypt. There was great solidarity between Egyptians of all skin colors—ranging from European-looking “whites” to African-looking “blacks” and everything in between. In Egypt, demonstrators strongly defended members of the Coptic Christian minority against attacks from forces trying to divide Egypt along lines of religious sectarianism. (14) This is the exact opposite of the pattern we have seen in Libya. In addition, there were credible reports of attacks by the Libyan rebels against foreign blue-collar workers in Libya, especially dark-skinned ones from the Indian sub-continent.
Many on the left were shocked when the rebels both at the leadership level and in the ranks supported the NATO bombing of their own country that began on March 19, 2011. Washington has most certainly not offered support—militarily or otherwise—to forces battling monarchies in the Arab world. Where were the NATO bombers when the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia invaded tiny Bahrain to crush pro-democracy demonstrators and save the local absolute monarchy? Nor has NATO lifted a single finger to stop the bloodshed in Yemen, where the “pro-Western” Saleh dictatorship attempts to to cling to power against the will of the overwhelming majority of the Yemeni people.
After the NATO bombing of Libya began, there was some reconsideration among those on the left who had strongly supported the Libyan rebellion up to that time, though sympathy for the Libyan rebels continued to run deep among both the U.S. and European left and many in the broader anti-war movement. As a result, there were only tiny symbolic demonstrations in both the U.S. and Europe against the NATO war against Libya. The usual “anti-war” crowd stayed home either out of support for the Libyan rebels or complete confusion as to what was really going on.
But I was neither shocked nor surprised by the rebels’ welcoming the NATO intervention. Perhaps the reason is my life-long interest in history, which pre-dates even my interest in economics—both the history of my own country, the United States, and the history of Europe. If the history of the 20th century shows anything, it is that racism in any form, whether directed against people of sub-Saharan descent, European Jews, Arabs, adherents of Islam or any other “racial group” or religious sectarian minority is profoundly incompatible not only with the struggle for socialism—that, I hope, goes without saying—but for any perspective of bourgeois democracy as well.
Southern Democrats and the racist Democratic Party machines in the North that sometimes claimed to be populist supporters of the white workingman and small farmers; the German National Socialist Movement (15)—better known by their nickname the Nazis; the Zionist movement, which claimed that it was waging a legitimate fight against European anti-Semitism while working for the interests of “Aryan Christian” Europeans and later the “Aryan Christian”-dominated U.S. against the “Semitic” peoples of Palestine and the Middle East; and finally the apartheid movement of the South African National Party, which claimed to represent the interest of the white workers of South Africa—these are all examples.
Interestingly, though not surprisingly, the only opposition to the U.S.-NATO war against Libya in 2011, aside from a few leftists, came from the African American community, including the former Georgia congresswomen Cynthia McKinney. Many U.S. black nationalists were shocked to see the first black president of the United States support a racist movement in an African country.
Ironically, Sarkozy of France and Cameron of Britain as well as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of “Defense” and former CIA chief Leon Panetta have all visited the new “democratic” but extremely racist Libya, while President Obama up to now has not done so. With armed racist gangs terrorizing the country—especially anybody considered sub-Saharan African by the racist bands—it would be incredibly irresponsible in my opinion for Obama’s Secret Service security team to authorize such a visit.
Revolution in Syria?
There is only one other “pro-democracy” movement that currently enjoys widespread support in the imperialist world, and that is the movement that is trying to overthrow the Baathist government of Syria. President Obama has demanded that President Assad of Syria leave office exactly like he previously demanded that Qaddafi “step down” and like President George Bush demanded of Saddam Hussein just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In the U.S. and Europe, most people on the left, especially at first, strongly supported the Syrian “pro-democracy” demonstrators. Again, the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba have taken the opposite position.
First, we have to ask: Is the opposition in Syria really democratic? Again, I am certainly not an expert on Syria, its history or politics. However, I do note that there are many reports that the leaders and ranks of the Syrian movement are demanding a “no-fly zone”—that is, a NATO bombing campaign to destroy the armed forces of Syria. The ruling monarch of Qatar has just suggested that Arab troops—presumably from other monarchies like his own—be sent to Syria to protect the demonstrators. Is the Qatar monarch simply expressing his own opinion, or is this a trial balloon inspired by Washington? If so, it is an alarming development.
The U.S. and French ambassadors, in complete violation of diplomatic protocol, were present at mass demonstrations against the Syrian government and were, if we are to believe the bourgeois media, widely cheered by the crowds. We should remember that France was the former colonizer of Syria. This, in my mind at least, raises doubts about the bourgeois democratic nature of this movement—nobody has claimed that the current Syrian movement to overthrow the government of Bashar Assad has a socialist character.
But concerns do not end there. Persistent reports indicate that the movement is largely based on religious sectarianism. The Syrian movement that enjoys the support of Washington and Paris has attacked members of the Alawaite religious minority as well as the Christian minority. It is true that the Assad family members were born into the Alawaite religious sectarian minority and this might be a cause of resentment among some Syrians. But not all Alawaites are members of the Assad grouping. The Alwaites represent some 10 percent of Syria’s population.
Members of the Syrian Christian minority have also been menaced by the sectarian crowds, though neither Assad or his family are members of this particular religious sectarian community. As a result, members of both the Alawaite and Christian minorities are, according to all reports, supporting the Baathists, at least as the lesser evil if not a positive good. This is the exact opposite of what we would expect to see if the movement in Syria is really democratic and is again the exact opposite of what we have seen in Egypt.
In addition, the large Palestine exile community seems to be supporting the Assad government against the imperialist-supported opposition. To their credit, whatever their other faults, the Baathist Assad government has given refuge to Palestinians in Syria regardless of their political or religious sectarian affiliations. If a “pro-Western”—which means a pro-Israeli—government were to take over in Damascus, the Palestinians would obviously be greatly endangered both politically and physically.
Movements based on religious sectarianism cannot be democratic any more than one aimed at black people. Indeed, such religious sectarianism has a strong tendency to develop into a form of racism. For centuries, the persecution of the European Jewish sectarian religious minority took the form of complaints that the Jewish religion refused to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But starting in the late 19th century, the anti-Jewish movement evolved into a “racial movement” that explained that Jews were evil not because—or not only because—they had rejected Jesus Christ but because they were biologically evil.
This led not only to the attempted physical extermination of the European Jews by the government of Adolf Hitler. It also contributed mightily to the destruction of the German workers’ movement. Nor did the consequences stop there. One of the historical “side effects” of the attacks against the European Jewish religious sectarian minority has been the dispossession of the Palestine people, allegedly to make up for the crimes committed by the racist “anti-Semitic” Europeans!
When we see a movement that targets religious minorities, whether in the Middle East, Europe or the United States, we must never forget these lessons from history—all the more so when such a movement enjoys the support of Western imperialism—the folks that among other things brought us the Third Reich!
Finally, isn’t it interesting that the only two movements in the current “Arab Spring” that enjoy the support of the U.S. imperialist world empire happen to be the only two movements marked by this kind of racism or religious prejudice? I don’t believe that is by chance.
It seems that the anti-Assad, anti-Baathist movement unfolding in Syria, insomuch as it has a mass base, draws its support from those sections of the population that identify not with Syria as a nation, let alone the broader Arab nation, but with their religious sect—in this case the Sunni sect of Islam. If this movement is victorious, everything indicates that it will tear Syria apart along sectarian lines just like has happened in Iraq following the U.S. invasion and occupation. This is exactly the kind of movement that imperialism can be expected to support since it goes directly counter to the movement to forge the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Middle East into a single Arab nation.
Can imperialist countries ever offer aid to democratic movements?
Before the rise of the U.S. world empire, imperialist countries on occasion did offer some aid to democratic movements that were in conflict with their imperialist rivals. For example, the U.S. denounced the Japanese attempt to conquer China and gave military aid to Chiang Kai-Shek’s government, which was resisting, however half-heartedly, the Japanese invasion.
Washington even offered a certain amount of aid to the resistance movement, headed by a certain Ho Chi-Minh, fighting the Japanese in Indochina. Indeed, during World War II the U.S. offered some support not only to the Communist-led partisan movement in Yugoslavia, it even gave material aid to the Soviet Union in its battle against Nazi Germany.
As late as the Suez crisis of 1956, the U.S. helped save the Nasser government and the nationalization of the Suez Canal from the British-French-Israeli invasion. Washington realized that the “free officers” were not only a nationalist but an anti-communist military group. Rather than support British-French-Israeli colonialism in this case—its usual course in those years—Washington under the conservative Republican Dwight Eisenhower took a more farsighted view.
By supporting the besieged Egyptians, Washington showed that it could push the British and French out of the Middle East. Today, British and French corporations are seizing Libyan oil resources and expanding their operations in the Middle East, but they can do so only with Washington’s permission. This policy has also succeeded in preventing Israel from playing Washington, London and Paris against each other like the Zionists had previously been able to do.
By following this policy, Washington could cultivate some members of the free officer movement—for example, a certain Anwar Sadat—who were understandably grateful for Washington’s support. If Washington had supported Paris and London like it did in Vietnam and Iran, it would likely have faced within a few years a movement far more radical than Nasser’s “free officers.”
And indeed, history will no more condemn Nasser for taking advantage of the conflict between Washington on one side and Britain, France and Israel on the other than it will condemn Ho Chi Minh for taking advantage of the war between the United States and Japan.
The farsighted policy of the Eisenhower administration paid big dividends for U.S. imperialism when Sadat came to power after Nasser’s death and allied himself with the U.S. and Israel. Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, continued his hated predecessor’s policy over the next 35 years. It was not for nothing that U.S. leaders like Vice President Joseph Biden were so reluctant to see Mubarak go.
Under the U.S. world empire—especially since Suez—the political sovereignty of the U.S. imperialist economic competitors Britain, France, Germany and Japan has been so reduced that world imperialism has, unlike before, been able to maintain a united front against all national liberation movements and anti-imperialist governments.
As long as the U.S. imperialist world empire continues to exist, it will not be in the interest of imperialism to support any remotely progressive or bourgeois democratic movements in any country. Maybe in the future when the U.S. empire breaks up, imperialist countries will once again offer a certain amount of material aid to anti-imperialist movements that are fighting their imperialist rivals. I see no evidence, however, that this played or is playing any role in Libya and Syria. All the imperialist countries under Washington’s command were united against Qaddafi yesterday and are united against Assad today.
Finally, despite all the political confusion, I am confident that nothing can stop the Arab revolution from being victorious in the long run, if not under the leadership of the bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie then under the leadership of the Arab working class.
Long live the victorious Arab Revolution!
1 The huge expansion of gold—money material—production that began with these discoveries led to a huge expansion of the world market. The expansion of the
market had the effect of easing not only the class tensions between the capitalist class and the working class but the intensity of competition among the capitalists—both individual capitalists and capitalist nations—as well as the conflicts between the landlords and capitalists. This encouraged in Europe an era of gradual reforms and compromises, both among the contending classes and the rival capitalists.
As a result of this change in the economic situation, the revolutionary atmosphere of 1848 rapidly petered out. While the future is never certain, a similar development today seems extremely unlikely. In absolute terms, much more gold would have to be discovered than was the case in 1848 to have a comparable economic and political effect, because it is not the absolute amount of gold that counts but the amount of gold relative to total potential commodity production. Total commodity production is vastly greater now than it was in 1848.
How likely are such future gold finds? The world has now been thoroughly explored both on the ground and by satellite by geologists employed by mining companies. This greatly reduces the chances that huge amounts of undiscovered gold exist in easily accessible places. Therefore, any large-scale increase in gold production in the coming years would require a major decline in the gold prices of commodities that raise both the relative and absolute rate of profit of gold mining and refining. Such commodity gold price declines, however, imply severe economic crises with all the political consequences. Therefore, a major easing of class and inter-capitalist tensions in the years ahead such as those that followed 1848 seems highly unlikely.
2 Qaddafi had held formal posts in the regime that was established by the military revolt that abolished the Libyan monarchy in 1969. But after the 1970s, he held no formal posts. In addition, Qaddafi had never established a political party, so he held no party posts. As a result, there were simply no posts for him to resign from during the 2011 crisis.
Bashar Assad, in contrast, is the president of Syria, a position he could actually resign from.
3 As I write this, representatives of the Arab League are touring around Syria demanding that the Syrian government respect the democratic rights of the rebels that are trying to overthrow it. The spectacle of an organization that includes absolute monarchies, which allow no legal opposition, demanding that a republic—even if a dictatorial republic—respect the legal rights of an opposition that is trying to overthrow it with the support of foreign imperialism is revolting to say the least.
I get the distinct impression that the considerable demonstrations in Syria that are occurring against these Arab League observers are rather put off by the Assad government’s agreement to allow them into the country—though the Assad government is under tremendous imperialist pressure to make concessions to the imperialist-backed opposition.
The fact that broad sections of the Western left and anti-war movements continue to support this imperialist-supported movement against the Syrian government does not help matters.
4 As I explained in the last post, the products of the U.S.-based Apple corporation, such as iPods, iPhones and iPads, are produced in China. But through trade, trade marks and patents, the lion’s share of the surplus value produced by the Chinese workers is appropriated by the shareholders and top corporate brass of the U.S-based company.
5 The growth of the productivity of labor under capitalism largely depends on the competition between the sellers and buyers of labor power. Therefore, the rapid development of labor productivity requires a strong union movement that is able to raise the price of the commodity labor power. This forces the industrial capitalists to replace living labor with machines. If wages do not rise, the industrial capitalists rely on “cheap labor” and the development of the productive forces is to that extent retarded.
6 Say’s Law, which is implicitly—and sometimes explicitly—supported by both “neo-classical” and “Austrian” economists, claims that the market grows as fast as the ability to produce commodities. The Keynesian school, in contrast, admits that it is “possible” for the production of commodities to grow faster than the market. Keynesians claim, however, that this tendency can be corrected by appropriate “demand management” through fiscal and monetary policies. I have shown in this blog—and more importantly experience has shown—that these hopes of the Keynesians are without foundation. We would be living in a very different world if Say’s Law were valid or if Keynesian “demand management” could really work.
7 During the era before capitalism had acquired the ability to rapidly increase production sufficiently to cause periodic crises of overproduction, capitalists still had to struggle against one another for markets. It was by no means true that markets were sufficient to absorb the commodities that the capitalists of that era were capable of producing. This was the basis for the mercantilist schools that dominated early bourgeois political economy.
Unlike their liberal successors, the mercantilist economists were well aware that under capitalism there was a problem of markets. The difference was that in those days economic crises were not triggered on a quasi-periodic basis by sudden expansions of commodity production.
8 One of the reasons why many leftists have been reluctant to oppose the movements in Libya and Syria is that these are “rebel” movements. We too are rebels, and our instinct is to support our fellow “rebels” in other countries. However, during the U.S. Civil War, the soldiers who were fighting for the Southern slaveholders were called “rebels.” Indeed, what is now called the Civil War was originally officially called by the U.S. government “the war of the rebellion.” Even today in the U.S., the so-called Confederate flag is popularly referred to as the “rebel flag.”
Our political ancestors who were alive in those days, starting with Marx and Engels, most certainly did not support these “rebels.” Indeed, some of them took up arms to fight in the Union Army against them.
9 To avoid any misunderstanding, this does not mean that the a Nazi victory over the Soviet Union would have been a good thing! It simply explains why the U.S. government was willing to form an alliance with a socialist state, the Soviet Union, against a capitalist state, Nazi Germany. Whatever you may think of Stalin, I don’t think history will condemn him for taking advantage of the war between the United States and Germany.
10 The first French “Empire” was the empire of Napoleon III’s uncle, the more famous Napoleon.
11 One possible reason for the U.S. drive to overthrow the government of Syria at this time is the fact that the U.S. has been forced to considerably reduce its armed forces in Iraq—even if the U.S. is still maintaining a considerable number of armed personal under various guises there. If any faction of the now-outlawed Baath Party were to succeed in overthrowing the U.S. puppet government, the U.S. war against Iraq would clearly be seen seen as having been defeated and the Arab revolution would receive a huge shot in the arm.
However, if Baathist rule collapses in Syria before an apparently “popular revolution”—even if a different faction of the Baath Party rules Syria than ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein—the chances of a resurgent Baath Party returning to power in Iraq will be greatly reduced.
At the very least, the Baathist-inspired part of the Iraqi resistance would be demoralized as a result of a Baathist defeat in Syria by an obviously pro-imperialist—and implicitly pro-Israeli—opposition. I think this forms at least part of the explanation as to why the U.S., French and British governments and imperialist media are going to such efforts to keep the current Syrian rebellion alive. In contrast, in the past, though they had no special liking for the Syrian Baathist government, they were willing to tolerate it.
12 Many years ago, long before the first Gulf war, I was shocked when I saw an article that claimed that Kuwait had a higher per-capita income than any other country in the world. I knew even then that Kuwait was an oil-rich country, but how I asked could a “third world” country possibly have a higher per-capita income than any imperialist country? Could Kuwait actually be a imperialist country in its own right?
Today I understand these statistics. In addition to having oil, the very small number of citizens of Kuwait are largely confined to the tribe of the royal family. Labor in Kuwait is not performed by a native Kuwaiti working class but rather by workers—generally Muslims—from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. These workers have no intention of living permanently in Kuwait but intend to return eventually to their own countries. They are often mistreated and especially women sexually abused by the Kuwaiti families they work for. This shows that Kuwait is not a nation or even a potential nation in any meaningful sense of the word.
Not only the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein but virtually all Iraqi politicians have over the years demanded that Kuwait be returned to Iraq. Kuwait is simply a British creation used first by the British and now the United States to deny Iraq the control of a considerable amount of its oil, and thus exists only for the purpose of hindering Iraq’s economic development.
13 Every true friend of the Soviet Union wanted to see it become more democratic and more economically efficient. If this had been the actual result of “perestroika,” Gorbachev would not only be beloved by the Soviet people—instead of being one of the most hated figures in Russian history as he is in his own country—he would be more admired throughout the world than any other leader in all Russian and Soviet history with the possible exception of Lenin.
However, when it became clear to a few of the more experienced and educated Marxists in the West that Gorbachev’s “perestroika” reforms were not compatible with either the basic political principles of the working-class movement or the economic principles of a socialist economy, they raised the alarm. They explained that Gorbachev’s policies were undermining the Soviet Union politically, not making it more democratic, as well as destroying the Soviet Union economically, and not making it more economically efficient.
Back in the late 1980s, this was not a popular position among socialists who had less understanding of Marxist politics and economics but who desperately wanted perestroika to achieve its announced goals. Unfortunately, those Marxists who opposed perestroika were proven correct, and we are still living with the consequences.
14 Egypt is one of the ancient seats of Christianity, and it is quite possible that a considerable portion of the New Testament was written by Egyptians. However, for about a thousand years Egypt has been a predominately Muslim country. There was once a large Jewish minority in Egypt, but since the creation of Zionist Israel the Egyptian Jews have unfortunately left Egypt and migrated either to Israel or the West. Historically, the Jews have served as scapegoats mostly in Christian countries. However, with the Jews gone, this leaves the Christian minority to play the role of scapegoats.
The attacks on the Christian Coptic minority by so-called Salafist Muslims are reminiscent of the attacks on Jews by “Black Hundred” Christian reactionaries during the final years of czarism in Russia. Notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. is a largely “Christian nation” itself, the U.S. rulers in their opposition to even bourgeois-democratic revolutions are forced to rely upon the most reactionary forces in every oppressed country.
If this means giving tactical support for anti-Christian pogroms, the “Christian” rulers of the U.S. will do it, just like the first African American president, Barack Obama, was obliged to support the racist movement in Libya. This as we have seen is built into the very nature of imperialism.
15 In its time, the official name of the Nazi Party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.