The American assassination of Soleimani, the top general of the feared Iranian Republican Guard, has brought the world closer to major wars. The riots and protests in Lebanon, Iraq and in the second half of November in Iran have been replaced by war campaigns. The earlier protest movement took place in the middle of the world’s energy center, amid increasing military tensions, hidden and open warfare in Syria, Yemen, the Persian Gulf, and a while further, the war for the domination of Libya’s oil wealth.
When the riots crossed borders from Iraq to Iran, the possibility arose that in Iran the struggle would once again pass from the streets to the factories. In this way, the working proletarians would take the lead, just as they did at the end of 2018. The workers can bring to the struggle what is currently lacking, an organization. An organization of struggle run by those fighting themselves, by deciding on their struggle in mass meetings in the factory, or on the streets, by electing delegates to committees and a workers’ council, like at the sugar cane factory Haft Tapeh.
As the protests reached Iran, growing tensions of the inter-imperialist war in the Middle East eased. After the invasion of Turkey in northern Syria, after the search for another boss by the mercenaries of the Kurdish YPG, after the regrouping of the USA in northern Syria to ‘defend’ the oil fields, there was a real threat of confrontations between Russian and Turkish troops. Turkey is still part of NATO, so that America can get involved in such a conflict. All these tensions between larger and smaller imperialist powers decreased during the riots in Iran. All imperialists, from the Axis China-Russia – that, after having incorporated Syria, now tends to incorporate Iran – to the opposing regional block, the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as Turkey and Europe, who have not yet decided which side to take, all held their breath for what could develop into a new February and October 1917 (Russian Revolution), a new November 1918 (German Revolution), which would put an end to the imperialist war. Once the danger of revolutionary upsurge against capital had passed, the resumption of the bombing of Idlib marked the beginning of a new phase in increasingly destructive imperialist confrontations.
Is an impending civil war transforming into an inter-imperialist war?
After Russia’s participation in bombing raids on the last stronghold of the ‘resistance’ against Assad of Syria, now totally framed and militarized by bourgeois forces, it’s Trump’s turn to flex his muscles. In the run-up to the presidential elections, Trump cannot afford to appear to his voters as ‘weak’ in the face of small scale attacks by Iran on the USA’s allies in the region: Saudi Arabian oil installations are being hit by drone attacks, actions against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, attacks on military bases in Iraq. After all, the Iranian-inspired storming of the American embassy in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve was the drop that made the bucket overflow. Trump was reminded of the humiliation the USA suffered during the occupation of its embassy in Tehran in 1979, which cost Carter his re-election as president of the USA. Unlike previous US actions against Iran, Trump decided – purely for domestic political reasons – to go big this time, eliminating a top general. Whereas everyone knows that the Ayatollah-regime in Iran can’t stand to lose its face in public and in its turn has to strike a heavy blow. The USA saw a reason to send more ground troops to Iraq, contrary to Trumps election promises. And not for the first time. When US troops withdrew from Kurdish territory in Syria to give way to the Turkish advance, they did not return home, but regrouped around the oil fields in northern Syria. Behind this erratic behavior of the president hides the growing influence of hawks and the military in his government, the harbinger of a new and bigger war.
But in this case it is not just a further step in imperialist war. The archenemy of imperialism, the international proletariat, at least the fear of it, also played a role. The moment of the attack on Soleimani is extremely instructive, namely at the dead end of the protest movements of the ‘population’ in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran because of their lack of perspective for a society without exploitation and oppression. As is the case with the protest movements in South America, the protests in the Middle East were in political terms limited to the demand of ‘other people in government’, of a different electoral system, of a change of government system, in Iran of a fall of the Ayatollah regime. Whether the demonstrators are aware of this or not, it means the preservation of the bourgeois state, and in particular of its repressive core, the army and the secret services. Thus a repetition of exactly what happened in 1978 when, with the consent of the army and secret services, the Shah regime was replaced by the Ayatollah regime and the mullahs disarmed the workers. However, a fall of the regime, in 1978 as well as now, is impossible without workers’ strikes paralyzing the oil industry from the inside, and not from the outside like the blockades in Iraq, which can be eliminated by military means without destroying the installations. This explains why left-bourgeois Iranian opposition groups in particular, which all seek only a change of regime, called for strikes to bring down the regime.
In vain, the workers in Iran did not move as they did in 2018, despite a rumor by one source (1), and certainly not on a much larger scale than in 2018. With this, the perspective that a movement of workers in the factories could have given to the street protests, that of a society without capital, without state, without war, also disappeared. The November riots in Iran were brutally crushed (1,500 dead are currently reported). With this, the power relations between the proletariat and capital were reversed and the bourgeoisie lost its fear. Both the USA and Russia understood that once the danger of massive workers’ struggles had passed, the imperialist wars could be resumed. The protest movements of ‘the people’ could now continue to be drowned in the false anti-imperialism of Iraqi nationalism on one side and Iranian nationalism on the other side of the border, both of which, with much acclaim, are mainly directed against American imperialism. Meanwhile, the imperialist block that is forming around Russia and China is increasingly succeeding in binding Iran to itself. What threatened to become a civil war between the working class in the Middle East on the one hand and all the states on the other, threatens to turn into yet another inter-imperialist war on the territory of weakened and unstable Iraq and over the occupation of its rich oil wells.
Two scenarios for imperialist war
At the time of writing, the widely announced escalation between Iran and the USA is not taking place. One of the reasons is that it is not yet certain how the young unemployed in Iraq and Iran will react to the changed situation. So far, nothing is known about this, other than that demonstrators in Iraq – just like the previously despised parliament – are demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops, a goal that can only be achieved by a workers’ revolution.
Meanwhile, Iran has demonstrated with a missile attack from its own territory, causing minimal and only material damage, that it has compensated its wing lame air force, consisting of old Soviet-Mig fighters, with precision missiles that it has developed with the help of North Korea and China.
Perhaps the conflict between the USA and Iran will proceed as usual in the short term. A spectacular air-strike by the USA [usually] serves to mask its loss of control on the ground in the region. Meanwhile, they are trying to maintain control by maintaining superiority in the air and playing off regional powers in the region against each other with varying alliances. In the long run, however, the decline of the USA as a world economic power compared to China, and the rise of a Sino-Russian imperialist block are unacceptable to the USA. For their part, Russia-China cannot accept economic and military decline either. Thus behind every local conflict, as long as emerging workers’ struggles do not stop the trend towards war, lurks the danger of a Third World War between what remains of an American block and a Sino-Russian block.
What is fighting for ‘peace’, against the ‘aggressor’?
As in the First and Second World Wars, each of the warring camps tries to present its struggle as a ‘peace mission’, directed against the ‘aggressor’, as ‘self-defense’. In the reality of the imperialist war, there is no distinction between ‘attack’ and ‘defense’ and the ‘peace’ prepares the next war and the war the next ‘peace’. Again, left-wing bourgeois groups and parties join what are, in fact, war campaigns. With demonstrations they try to put pressure on the government in their own country to pursue a different foreign policy, usually more anti-American, while keeping silent about the Sino-Russian Axis. As usual, the Trotskyists do this with more or less pseudo-radical slogans against the “authoritarian leaders” of Iran or the “Iranian regime”, thereby restricting the street protests to the purpose of a change of regime while preserving the state.
The departure of American ground troops from Iraq fits into a scenario that – as we have seen above – the Americans have previously applied because it does not affect their superiority in the air. Iran, however, will not easily withdraw its Shiite militias from Iraq because it would mean giving up its imperialist ambitions. The tendency towards a Third World War can only be stopped by consistently continuing the struggles of the working class in all countries to defend their lives against the consequences of imperialist war and economic crisis. In this struggle the working class can change the balance of power between labor and capital to its advantage, building its own struggle organization of industrial and street general assemblies, of elected and re-electable committees and councils to finally destroy the repressive organs of the state, as happened in October 1917 in Russia, the beginning of the end of the First World War.
The working class affected by the consequences of crisis and war
It is now clear that the capitalist economic crisis that caused a worldwide recession in 2008 is re-emerging. First of all, the national capitals that exist mainly as suppliers of raw materials have been affected: Russia, the oil and gas exporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Brazil, Chile, and the suppliers of cheap labor, China and India. Now it is also Europe’s and North America’s turn, with car factories and steel at the forefront. Since 2008, central banks have pumped more money into the stagnating global economy than ever before. This ‘medicine’ now appears to have made the suffering patient even sicker, banks and states are on the verge of collapse again.
Where can Capital still find a solution? In all countries it means more of the same: cutting back on health care, care for the elderly, youth care, education, reducing various benefits, especially for the elderly and pensions. For those in work (less and less, if you work more than 1 hour per week you no longer count in the unemployment statistics) more and more precarious contracts, lower wages (compared to prices) and more and more stress. The billions of Euro’s and Dollars saved by the state in this way are transferred to the corporations via the so-called stimulation of a “green economy” and increases of military spending.
Against the talk of ‘peace’ missions, the facts speak: the response of Capital to the crisis of its economy is intensification of exploitation and oppression, trade war and more and more imperialist wars to control energy resources, raw materials, markets. No country can do without these imperialist policies. In the current world situation, a crumbling and relatively regressing American imperialist block, and in contrast, a Russian-Chinese imperialist block is emerging.
The struggle of the working class of all countries against the consequences of crisis and wars can only be carried out in a consistent manner:
with the unification of the struggle to defend living conditions across the borders of employed and unemployed, of factories and industries, of different employment contracts, of language, beliefs, gender and nationality.
against any sabotage of class unity by bourgeois political parties and trade unions.
by its own independent organization of struggle: action committees, general meetings at the working place and on the street, elected and re-elected committees and workers’ councils.
against all states, against both the imperialism of the large states, on the one hand the USA, on the other hand China and Russia, against all regional imperialist powers such as Iran, Syria and Iraq on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the other hand, against the middle-sized imperialisms that doubt or switch alliances, such as Turkey, the EU as a whole, the smaller imperialisms such as Italy and France opposing each other in Libya, and finally also against [emerging states] such as Catalonia, ISIS/Daech and ‘’non-states’ such as the mercenary supplier ‘Rojava’ (a non-exhaustive list, the alliances may change).
to the proletarians in uniform: turn your weapons against our exploiters and oppressors, who chase the young generation into ever-changing imperialist conflicts.
No confidence that a rebellious army unit or any militia will protect the workers against repression; general arming of the workers.
Fredo Corvo, 10 January 2020.
Proofreading: H.C., 15 January 2020.
(Based on a longer article published on the dutch language blog Arbeidersstemmen.)