The following article is based on a speech to a Workers World Party meeting on Iraq, Oct. 22, 1994
The crisis arising out of the struggle with Iraq is really one of many that have characterized the latter part of the 20th century.
Iraq in and of itself is a small country. Notwithstanding all the wealth it is reputed to have in the form of oil, it is a poor country, as are most of the Middle Eastern countries.
There are very few so-called rich countries. They're in the West, with the exception, of course, of Japan.
For us to understand the nature of the crisis, it's most important to go to its very roots. According to bourgeois historiography, which is so prevalent nowadays, it's a struggle between nations. Sometimes they characterize it as a struggle between the poor nations and the rich nations, or between the Third World nations and the Western nations. They rarely if ever admit that in reality it's a struggle between classes masked as one between nations.
What are its roots?
Socialist theory before Lenin
Beginning around the turn of the century, the socialist press devoted a great deal of discussion to the meaning of the latest phase of capitalism. What did it mean that recessions were getting less frequent while the periods of capitalist prosperity seemed to last longer? What did it mean that while there was a great threat of war, no big wars had broken out?
Didn't all this tend to mean that socialism was not really the answer, was not inevitable?
In the period beginning around 1900, the class struggle as such seemed to be waning in most of the European countries. There was also a decline in theoretical thinking and writing--with the exception of the Russians and, of course, the left wing of German Social Democracy.
What occupied the minds of the best and most educated theoreticians in the working-class movement of that time was how to get out of the period of passivity that was hindering the revolutionization of the working class. Why were things moving so slowly?
Of course, by our standards today it might have seemed like a period of glorious revolutionary struggles. But as to expecting socialist revolution and the overthrow of the capitalist system, that seemed to have waned.
Most of the socialist writers seemed to accommodate themselves to the perspective that there was going to be a period of evolutionary growth limited to electoral successes in the parliament or congress, in the trade unions and so on.
What wasn't really expected, even though it was talked about a great deal, was that the accumulation and containment of smaller capitalist economic crises would break out in a very big political crisis. But this is exactly what happened. It took the form of a world conflagration of immense and incalculable damage and destruction--World War I.
Impact of world war
So while socialists everywhere had expected the decline and fall of capitalism, it didn't take the form they had anticipated. It took the form of a violent struggle that wiped out millions of people.
Ultimately, after a lot of destruction and human sacrifice, it led to the workers establishing their own state in Russia and other parts of the world, opening up a new epoch of revolutionary struggle.
Why were the socialist leaders slow to grasp the essence of the historical process at the time?
It is partly because there was no comprehension of the meaning of modern imperialism. For the most part, imperialism was thought to mean aggression by big states against small ones, or against oppressed countries. Imperialism meant overreaching by one nation against another or the taking of privileges by rich and powerful nations against small ones.
But that was a very superficial understanding and analysis. The really important analysis of imperialism didn't come until 1916, with the publication of Lenin's pamphlet, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. I should add in defense of the Social Democrats, particularly the left wing in Germany, that they had a fairly broad and comprehensive understanding of imperialism, but did not link it to the class struggle in the way Lenin did.
Imperialism and monopoly
And imperialism is what we want to discuss in relation to Iraq. I think by this time we all understand who the aggressor is in Iraq and who we defend. For this audience, we should deal with the broader causes. We should understand the essence of imperialism, and that is monopoly. Monopoly is as important today as it was in 1916 when Lenin wrote.
We think of monopoly as control and domination by one or two corporations or one or two countries. But that is only one aspect of it, and not the most important.
The important thing to understand is the monopoly over the means of production by one class over another. This is not what bourgeois texts explain. Many books are written on monopoly, about how one corporation, like Exxon or IBM, outdistances another, how several groups unite against each other, how they dissolve and regroup again.
But this avoids the singularly significant and socially most important aspect of monopoly. It avoids dealing with the ownership of the means of production by one class as against another.
Iraq vs. imperialism
When we come to Iraq, we have to understand our fundamentals first. In approaching the phenomenon of this small country, the fundamental fact is that the means of production on a world scale are owned by the imperialist ruling class. That includes the military means and all the civil industries. It is control by the ruling class as against the working class and the oppressed masses.
The idea that a small country can stand up against a group of the large imperialists over a protracted period is just not correct from the point of view of history. From the point of view of revolutionary struggle, we hope it can amass large and significant allies in order to be able to throw over a ruling class.
So the crisis in Iraq is a small crisis generated by a larger one. The larger crisis flows from the antagonism between the ownership of private property by the capitalist ruling class and the fact that all the instruments of production are socially and collectively produced by another class, the working class.
Iraq is a small country. So is Iran. But Belgium is also a small country. Compared to China, India or Indonesia, France and Germany are small countries. But by virtue of the ownership of the means of production on a world scale, they are considered in some quarters as virtually omnipotent.
So to analyze the crisis in Iraq, to know where it comes from, we must see it as part of the world capitalist crisis and the possibility of capitalist stability existing for only a short time.
Rebellion of the productive forces
Our view of the class struggle negates any possibility of really prolonged and permanent stability of the capitalist system. Marxism breathes the fire of rebellion, not only of the masses but of the productive forces against the private ownership of the means of production.
This is what we have to consider in connection with the Middle East and the growth in militarism by the imperialist bourgeoisie.
We have to put the struggle in Iraq and the struggles by other oppressed countries in the context of the period through which we are passing. It is a period when the passivity of the working class is still a fundamental factor but when the growth of the productive forces is so immense that it is bound to destabilize every social and political organization, not only of the bourgeoisie but of the proletariat as well.
This is a period in which the working class has to arm itself politically. It's important that when we talk about imperialism or about the struggle of any oppressed country against imperialism, we take into account Lenin's analysis of it, written in 1916, just a year before the Russian Revolution broke out and two years after World War I had begun.
Unlike the others who analyzed monopoly, he linked it to the class struggle for the proletarian revolution. He saw monopoly as a factor that would lead to the proletarian revolution and not as something that would stifle the class struggle forever or keep the working class from breathing the free air--free in the sense of a class struggle where the workers can participate unhindered.
At the present time, we cannot understand Iraq as a phenomenon divorced from the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed people or from the latent class struggle of the workers in the imperialist countries.
It has been several years since the Western proletariat entered on the arena of struggle, but it is in preparation for doing so. If we view the struggle of the oppressed masses as in a way preparatory to the revolutionary struggle of the workers in the imperialist countries, we will get the gist of Lenin's position on imperialism.
When Lenin was writing "Imperialism," it was still a period of passivity in the metropolitan capitalist countries. The movement there had begun to view the class struggle in terms of electoral stages devoid of the great revolutionary upheavals of the 1848 type. It was believed that the working class was destined to go through a long period of parliamentary struggle without a revolutionary outbreak of the class struggle.
War and revolution
That did not take into account the effects of an imperialist war. Those who were counting on the passivity of the working class were in reality limiting Marxism to a classical type of struggle without taking into account its revolutionary potential.
Take the situation in the United States. To some extent, it was a period of progressive labor struggles led by eminent and really militant socialists like Eugene Debs. But they didn't have the vision that a revolutionary overturn might be imminent because of the imperialist war, nor was such expected. It was not expected in Europe either, except by the small group of revolutionaries led by Lenin, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
Our birthright rests upon understanding Marxist doctrine as facilitating the overturn of capitalism, not merely explaining its abstract laws.
Many socialists before Lenin, including quite a few in the United States, explained the abstract laws of Marxism very well. And those books are still valid today. But they neglected to show that the dynamics of capitalist recession, the constant development from one capitalist crisis to another, would lead to a revolutionary struggle.
Foreign and domestic policy
What this signifies for us in relation to Iraq is that the U.S. is not resigned to recognizing the validity of Iraqi self-determination. At the present moment the situation seems to be a stalemate, but it would be foolish to regard it as such because the organic tendency of monopoly capitalism is to grab whatever it can. It cannot be satisfied with a standstill agreement because the productive forces are growing constantly, changing the social relations. These circumstances lead either to a socialist revolutionary struggle or to monopoly capitalism in another stage of development.
Our hopes of a revival of the class struggle in the United States cannot of course rest solely on the international situation and the complications the Pentagon has in relation to it. Our analysis leads us to project that the class struggle in the United States will develop internally, regardless of the international complications, and will impart to them a richer, far more developed form of class struggle.
Our policy must be to constantly show the relationship between the domestic struggle and its international implications.
For a long time, even in the minds of the bourgeoisie, the domestic struggle seemed to be in one arena and foreign policy in another, completely divorced from it. But recent developments show that domestic and international affairs are part and parcel of the same class policy pursued by imperialism.
A socialist form of government would pursue a domestic and foreign policy based on quite the opposite--the interests of the workers' state.
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