Editorial from the July 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
The collapse 25 years ago of US rivals for world domination, the Russian state-capitalist empire, was hailed as a step forward for humanity by the US and its bloc of Western capitalist states. Their ideologues proclaimed the end of history and the beginning of an era of peace and free trade in a world of democratic states.
It hasn’t turned out like that and was never going to. Capitalism is a system which has a built-in conflict between states, and the capitalist groups they represent, over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investment outlets and areas to secure or protect these. Usually this takes place economically and through diplomacy but, when a state feels that its vital economic interests in one of these fields is under real threat, they resort to war.
Their rivals defeated, the United States and some of the others in the Western capitalist bloc felt confident enough to intervene militarily to overthrow regimes that were hostile to it even though they didn’t really constitute a real immediate threat to their vital economic interests. Which is why some of the states in the bloc were opposed to this. But the attacks went ahead. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was overthrown. Then the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Then the Gaddafi regime in Libya. All were toppled, though after 14 years of war the Taliban have not been crushed and the Western powers are preparing to call it a day and withdraw their troops without victory. Next up for regime change was Syria. After that it was to be a much tougher nut, Iran.
The Western capitalist bloc stirred up a civil war in Syria and now they are reaping the whirlwind – a fanatical Islamist movement which has conquered parts of Syria and has now invaded Iraq and whose ultimate aim is to drive the West out of the Middle East. Panic stricken, the West has now appealed to Iran to help them out. No doubt Iran will seize the opportunity to steal a march on its main rival for regional hegemony, Saudi Arabia.
Tony Blair is claiming that this has nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 which he tricked his cabinet and parliament into backing. But nobody believes him. It is a continuation of the same battle for control of the Middle East and its oil resources that has gone on ever since the end of the Second World War, with crisis after crisis and war after war.
The West's rivals for the control of the Middle East oilfields and the trade routes needed to get the oil out – as well as of the strategic areas and points to protect these – have been sections of the local capitalist class in the region. The ideology they used, to begin with, to get a mass following was an anti-imperialist nationalism which had a left-wing tinge and even employed a ’socialist’ terminology. This was the ideology of Nasser in Egypt, the Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq, and the PLO in the 1970s. Since the collapse of the Russian state-capitalist bloc, Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as the dominant ideology of those who want local capitalist, rather than Western imperialist, control of the oil resources of the Middle East. Hardly a step forward for humanity. In many ways, rather the opposite.