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A war to defeat, a world to win

by Dipankar Bhattacharya

Dipankar Bhattacharya is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). This is the text of the keynote address delivered at the inaugural session of the Second Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference held in Sydney from 29 March to 1 April, 2002.

United States political scientists who are fond of designing new theories of world order at the slightest possible provocation have understandably been quite busy over the last few years. The unfolding post-Cold War world, however, continues to surprise and refute them and defy even the best of bourgeois trajectories of analysis. Ironically, while bourgeois thinkers and propagandists prefer to dismiss Marxist analyses of the contemporary world as idle exercises in conspiracy theory, every Seattle and September 11 sends them back to the mother of all excuses: “intelligence failure”!

Seattle of course did not happen overnight. The signal from Chiapas came early in the 1990s. It was quite evident that the working people and revolutionary and progressive forces the world over had a more ambitious and active agenda than merely lamenting and analysing why the Soviet Union had finally collapsed. Even before the World Trade Organisation was formally launched, the Uruguay Round negotiations of the GATT had been greeted with bitter protests in large parts of the developing world. Powerful militant demonstrations of tens of thousands of people against the neo-liberal dictates of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and WTO were being routinely reported from almost all corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Seattle marked a new high. It also set a new trend. One could say it produced a huge demonstration effect.

For those of us who were understandably worried about the future of the Seattle spirit after the trauma of September 11 and more importantly in the wake of the war that followed, let me say at the outset that we have good reasons to believe that the Seattle spirit has not only survived, but it is also getting stronger. Only the other day we heard this roaring resolve at the second World Social Forum meeting in Porto Alegre: “WTO, IMF and World Bank will meet somewhere, sometime. And we will be there.” Now Barcelona has shown that it need not be only the WTO, IMF or World Bank.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc and the onset of pro-market reforms in China obviously marked a major opportunity for capitalist expansion, extensive as well as intensive. But this expansion could be achieved only by aggravating the internal contradictions of an increasingly globalised capitalism. Even as the contradiction between socialism and capitalism was relegated for the time being from the domain of practical politics to the realm of ideology, the heroic Cuban resistance notwithstanding, and inter-imperialist rivalry remained somewhat muted, the contradiction between imperialism and the Third World grew sharper and the rift between capital and labour in advanced capitalist countries wider. For the cronies of capitalism, Seattle was a rude reminder of the growing intensity and unmanageability of global capitalism‘s own internal contradictions. For the soldiers of socialism, it signified the beginning of an exciting and challenging new phase of pressing ahead.

One could not, however, miss a rather pronounced streak of US conservatism in the Seattle showdown. But as the theatre of action travelled from Seattle to Melbourne, Prague and Genoa, the tone became increasingly anti-imperialist, US imperialism was squarely named as the number one global enemy, and issues like Third World debt began to figure much more prominently alongside other issues of immediate concern for the youth and the working class. I am happy to tell you that Carlo Giuliani is popularly acknowledged among left circles in India, and I hope the same must be true of many other countries, as the first martyr of the anti-globalisation resistance. Rudy Giuliani may be the hero of New York after September 11, but Carlo Giuliani remains the hero of the worldwide campaign against globalisation.

From Seattle to Genoa, the context of anti-globalisation resistance, however, remained predominantly economic. In a way this was probably inescapable. For if we are thinking and talking in terms of mass resistance to globalisation, it cannot be based merely on the premise that globalisation is bad. The point is, globalisation is not just bad but it hurts, and it hurts many millions the world over and in a massive way. For the broadest majority of the people—cutting across communities and cultures, countries and continents—the hurt is probably felt most acutely in the realm of economy. It is quite understandable that the recent anti-globalisation protests have grown in a climate of global economic slowdown or recession that refreshed and refuelled memories of the Great Depression in all major capitalist centres.

But as Lenin showed so brilliantly and categorically a century ago in his classic What Is To Be Done?, transition from the economic to the political does not happen spontaneously. And this is precisely where he located the most crucial role of revolutionary ideology and vanguard organisation. One is inclined to remember this teaching of Lenin not just as a basic principle of class struggle and proletarian or communist politics. In the face of a revolutionary crisis, when the question of power cries to be clinched, it is politics which becomes decisive, which makes or mars a revolution. Look at what is happening in Argentina now. Blossoming in full glory right in the US “backyard” is a mighty movement of millions of Argentinians, a veritable festival of mass resistance against the neo-liberal offensive of globalisation. Understandably, parallels are being drawn in left circles to the great Paris Commune of 1871. After all, it‘s not every day that one gets to see a popular movement assume such gigantic proportions and come so close even to wresting power. Yet another teaching of Lenin, of the imperialist chain snapping at its weakest link, appears within striking distance of being vindicated once again. But the question remains to be answered: is the movement in Argentina politically and organisationally prepared for such a possibility?

To return to Seattle and September 11 and the world defined by these markers, one is tempted to see it in terms of an ongoing transition from the economic to the political. The surface reality of globalisation does not always reveal the underlying imperialist content and dynamics with the kind of clarity and precision that the aftermath of September 11 has provided. Even though many Marxists insist on using the term “imperialist globalisation” in place of the widely used “corporate globalisation”, and some would like to give up the word “globalisation” altogether and stick to “imperialism”, no amount of theoretical debate and discussion could possibly have brought imperialism back on the practical agenda in a way that September 11 and its aftermath have done.

Ironically, even as protesters fought pitched battles on the streets from Seattle to Genoa, a book that began making waves even in the anti-globalisation camp declared imperialism to be a thing of the past. And this book, Empire, has been compared to the Communist Manifesto and its authors have been described as Marx and Engels of the internet age! The book was of course written long before Seattle; it was possibly only marketed with an eye on the Seattle effect. The authors in fact tell us that it was written during the interregnum between the Gulf War and the war in Kosova, and that makes it look all the more strange and silly.

It is difficult and perhaps not necessary to try to explain September 11 directly in terms of the logic of globalisation. In fact, it is the proponents and apologists of globalisation who would like us to believe that September 11 marked a desperate revivalist backlash of the old and the outdated against the grand vision of a technology-driven future. They are, however, appalled that the perpetrators of September 11 had the audacity to use the same sophisticated technology to such brutal precision and lethal ends, a prerogative that Washington considers to be exclusively its own. Promotion and export of terror have always been a core element of the US drive for political hegemony, and this was probably the first major occasion when part of this terror took the reverse route.

Washington knew only one way to respond to the “opportunity” provided by September 11. A US author has rightly said, “For America, there are only two kinds of years, the war years and the interwar years”. When imperialism does not actually wage war, it prepares for one. War is where the economics and politics of imperialism attain the closest convergence, and what better and surer way could there be for the recession-hit United States to spend its way out of recession! We need not elaborate here the strategic objectives prompting the war in and against Afghanistan. The crucial geopolitical significance of Afghanistan from Washington‘s point of view is now common knowledge.

Along with war, we have also received a whole set of freebies, the usual war accessories and adjuncts: racist attacks, theorised as the clash of civilisations; massive lay-offs and redundancies; globalisation of repressive legislation, or should we say competitive and compulsive cloning of the USA PATRIOT Act; and media censorship or self-censorship. This catalogue is of course only indicative and not exhaustive. Meanwhile, the Afghan war itself is by no means over, as one overt operation merges into another, not to speak of the clandestine war that never stops. Operation Enduring Freedom gave way to Operation Anaconda and the praxis of devil has now once again invoked the axis of evil argument so that the war machine can roll on without gathering much moss.

As we have already noted, in the wake of September 11 there was widespread apprehension that the fledgling anti-globalisation campaign might be derailed. Colonialism and imperialist wars have indeed an alarming record of disrupting and distorting the international working-class movement, and there can be no underestimating the damage potential of September 11. But for once the apprehensions do not seem to be coming true; if anything, the war seems only to have helped further politicise and galvanise the anti-globalisation movement. It was heartening to note that the organisers of the September 29 New York demonstration against the IMF and World Bank did not give up their planned program, but instead went ahead with a bold call against Bush‘s war plans. In fact, for once the anti-war movement did not wait for the bombings to start, and large sections of the anti-globalisation camp had little difficulty in making opposition to the war and racism a key agenda of the anti-globalisation campaign.

US and other Western propaganda managers tried all possible tricks to sell the war. There were shrill cries of a crusade against Islam, thoroughly demonised and equated to fundamentalism and terrorism, and clever chants of freedom and democracy. There were images of humanitarian intervention and, most crucially, there was this thoroughly reprehensible attempt to project the war as liberation of Afghan women from the bondage of the Taliban. But nothing really worked. In fact, women‘s organisations in different parts of the world have been among the most active and vocal against the war. We must especially salute the courage and determination of the fighting women of Afghanistan who continued to call the US bluff and boldly demarcated their agenda from the US war campaign.

The anti-war movement continued with undiminished energy and resolve even after the calls of jihad died down following the fall of Kabul. In fact, one of the biggest demonstrations against the war was held in London on November 18, shortly after the Taliban fled Kabul. And from Barcelona to Rome, we continue to hear anti-war slogans echoed by millions of voices all over Europe. It is quite encouraging to note that representatives of social movements attending the second World Social Forum at Porto Alegre called for resistance not just to neo-liberalism, but to war and militarism as well, stating clearly that “opposition to the war is at the heart of our movement”. And while Bush goes on expanding his agenda, the anti-war movement has also begun to identify increasingly with the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people for their land and freedom, and for peace with dignity.

The wild hope of seeing Vietnam being repeated in Afghanistan has turned out to be wishful thinking. The retreat of the ragtag band of Taliban fighters virtually without a fight has once again established the fact that guerrilla warfare is not a question of mere terrain or technique; its success or failure depends primarily on the extent of popular support and mobilisation. Having said this, we must also recognise that with every passing day the balance in Afghanistan is bound to turn increasingly against the US troops. Reports of significant US casualties have begun to emerge from the inhospitable interior of Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai‘s imported regime remains as rootless and clueless as ever. He may be making waves in the world of fashion, but back home his government‘s writ does not run beyond Kabul. The shock of September 11, followed by the speedy overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the apparent retreat of Osama bin Laden has of course expanded the hitherto narrow domestic base of the Bush presidency. Bush‘s rating and diplomatic manoeuvrability have also gone up in the international arena. Washington made full use of this conjuncture to clinch the issue of opening a new trade round at the Doha summit of the WTO in November. And by all accounts, the US is now really desperate to do an Afghanistan in Iraq.

But it is equally certain that the US will not be able to muster the kind of global support it enjoyed at the time of the Gulf War or early in the war against Afghanistan. Most apologists for US foreign policy agree that the unipolar moment of the US is over, and Bush will have to shed his unilateral stance and rely more on multilateralism. In fact, Samuel Huntington describes the present world as a uni-multipolar one, a state of transition from a brief unipolar moment at the end of the Gulf War towards a really multipolar arrangement.

On the economic front, officially, the US economy is now out of recession even as the global economic outlook continues to be gloomy, especially with the recession in Japan showing no signs of abating. But following Enrongate, corporate confidence and credibility have hit rock bottom in the US. It has now been exposed quite conclusively that the fountainhead of crony capitalism is located not in east and south-east Asia, but in the US.

Politically, consensus around Bush‘s anti-terrorism campaign remains confined to the US; elsewhere it is being seen increasingly as the US‘s own agenda in spite of a visible worldwide consolidation of the right and the hard right at that. Even in countries like India and Pakistan, both of which are vying for closer strategic partnership with the US, the ruling classes are not completely united on going the whole hog with the US on the entire agenda. In India, the ruling party of the hard right, the BJP, suffered a humiliating defeat in recent elections held in four provinces, including Uttar Pradesh, the biggest and politically most crucial of Indian provinces. Terrorism, let me tell you, was the principal poll plank of the party. And now it has had to resort to an unconventional joint session of the two houses of parliament to get the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act passed.

Where do we go now from here? The anti-globalisation campaign has taken the first steps towards a sustained and powerful anti-imperialist movement with a clear opposition to the war and racism. We must step up international political cooperation and coordination among broad sections of anti-imperialist anti-globalisation forces to accelerate the tempo of resistance. While exploring and utilising every possible opportunity to broaden the frontiers of this movement and get more shades of people on board the growing coalition for peace, democracy and progress, I think the crying need of the hour is to deepen it in every available national and even local context. The deeper we go, the stronger we grow. And with strong roots among the masses, there can be no fixed limits for revolutionary imagination and initiative. Argentina shows the way.

Just as it is important to name and target the global enemy, it is no less important to identify and target the numerous local linkages of the global enemy. Let us remember that the imperialist war machine moves on several wheels, and every wheel has numerous cogs. It is therefore crucial to resist every local linkage and stop every real and potential and aspiring ally of the US from aiding the war campaign in particular and the neo-liberal economic offensive in general. The best way, for example, we in India can oppose imperialist globalisation and the war and racism is by defeating the Indian collaborators of US imperialism, who are unleashing a reign of what we call communal fascism in India. And even in this struggle, we derive our greatest strength from the anti-feudal struggles of the landless and poor peasants, from the growing awakening and assertion of the rural poor for basic freedom and human dignity. I say this not to belittle the unquestionable importance of more direct forms and avenues of anti-imperialist struggle, especially struggles of urban organised and unorganised workers, but only to highlight the great reserves of revolutionary strength and energy that are still waiting to be tapped in the Indian countryside, and I am sure the same must be true of many other Third World countries.

In this context, let me also add that to resist the neo-liberal offensive of imperialist globalisation, it is absolutely important to scotch the rumour of the so-called retreat of nation-states. This talk of nation-states beating a retreat may be music to our ears schooled in proletarian internationalism and eyes dedicated to the ultimate communist dream of a classless and hence stateless society, but the point is it is just a rumour and a dangerous rumour at that. Bourgeois nation-states are perhaps more active than ever before; they have only reshaped their policies and reordered their priorities. If the proletariat of each country, as called upon by the Communist Manifesto, must first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie; if, to quote the Manifesto again, the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, the practitioners of proletarian politics and proletarian internationalism cannot afford to suffer from any confusion on this score. The importance of nation-states as an arena of class struggle has only grown and not diminished in the present era of globalisation. And in Third World countries where the bourgeois rulers are fast capitulating to imperialist dictates and are busy selling off key and scarce national resources, the renewed relevance of economic nationalism can hardly be overemphasised. Just as parliamentary treachery and the historical obsolescence of parliament have not made parliament practically and politically irrelevant to communists and socialists the world over, the crimes committed in the name of bourgeois nationalism and the technological marvels that are purportedly shrinking the world into a village cannot render nation and nationalism superfluous in the international struggle against global capitalism. After all, internationalism, as opposed to globalism, can only become more meaningful when it strikes strong national roots.

To conclude, the world since Seattle and September 11 is an immensely exciting and challenging world. The times are testing but full of promise. With imperialism on the offensive and the war machine rolling on with all its force, many a former voice in the left and liberal camp has fallen silent. Worse still, many are singing different tunes. This is how bourgeois liberalism has always exposed its limits. And this is why it is called bourgeois liberalism. But for every voice that is falling silent, there are dozens more that are turning vocal. And there are millions more waiting to be heard. As Lenin said almost a century ago while surveying what he called “Inflammable Material in World Politics”, “Fewer illusions about the liberalism of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. More attention to the growth of the international revolutionary proletariat.” We have a war to defeat, and a world to win!

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