Imperialism, Sovereignty and “Just Wars”

Against the Current, No. 101, November/December 2002

Malik Miah

IN 1916, IN the middle of the first imperialist world war of the last century, the Russian revolutionary leader Lenin wrote an article while in exile about war and socialist policy. In his piece titled “The military program of the proletarian revolution,” Lenin explained, “Socialists cannot, without being socialists, be opposed to all war.”

Lenin specifically mentioned, as wars that socialists support, colonial uprisings for national liberation and revolutionary wars. He included civil wars as an extension of the class struggle.

Once again the issue of “just wars” is in the public debate. Bush and other warmongers use demagogy to justify plans of war against Third World countries. Yesterday it was Afghanistan. Today Iraq. Tomorrow, Indonesia or Cuba.

It is crucial that left opponents of war be clear that our opposition to the war against Iraq is not because we oppose all wars or defense of the country. The anti-colonial war against King George, and Lincoln’s defense of the Union against the Southern slaveowners’ secession were just wars.

The Spanish-American war was about gaining colonial possessions. World Wars I and II were imperialist wars.

The U.S. “war against terrorism” falls into the latter category. The so-called Bush Doctrine, including preemptive war, is an old policy of imperialist conquest in new clothing: It threatens humanity because it is a policy of permanent war. Working people for the interests of the wealthy will fight and die.

In the colonial era the rulers would declare their right to conquer new territories for economic reasons. Today they state that the U.S. government has the right to overthrow the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein because he poses a future threat to the United States.

The economic reasons, freely written about in the 19th century, such as control of the world’s oil reserves, are denied. Instead, the right to impose a puppet regime is based on the self-proclaimed theory of “just wars.”

Further, the promoters of the conquest strategy add that all those who reject the doctrine face being declared “illegal enemy combatants” (if they are U.S. citizens) and supporters of “terrorists.” The rightist ideologues even challenge the patriotism of liberal supporters of capitalist war.

Not surprisingly civil liberties are under broadside attack by the government as it carries out an adventurous foreign policy. The FBI is quietly applying a new “no-fly” policy domestically to peace and antiwar activists with barely a whimper from liberals.

“Preventive War” for Open Markets

Moreover, the “preventive war” and anti-terrorism doctrine is linked to supporting free market capitalism. Central to the National Security Strategy are governments agreeing to promote “pro-growth legal and regulatory policies to encourage business investment, innovation and entrepreneurial activity” and “tax policies — particularly lower marginal tax rates — that improve incentives for work and investment.”

Thus the new world strategy goes beyond fighting the Al Qaeda network, the “axis of evil” regimes, or rogue states. It includes pressuring Washington’s imperialist competitors to toe the line, or face possible political and economic repercussions. Bush’s angry reaction to Germany’s opposition to going to war against Iraq shows the world what it means to have one superpower.

In that context, the capitulation by liberals and some leftists to the false premise of “just (imperialist) wars” is not a surprise. Most liberals accept that if the UN inspectors don’t get unfettered access including Saddam’s homes to find “weapons of mass destruction,” then war is justified. The Iraqi people who will die by high tech bombs have no say.

Issuing the Orders

The liberals’ weak opposition and surrender to inevitable war explains the extreme confidence of the right. They know they have already won the political debate. They know the Bush policy is consistent.

The “just war” and “regime change” policy was first used in Afghanistan, where even the “evil” Taliban leader Sheik Omar could have survived if he had capitulated to Bush as the dictator General Musharraf did in Pakistan.

Bush was dead serious when he told the United Nations on September 12 that it will be irrelevant unless it does what the United States orders it to do. His reference to the League of Nations, which Washington opposed, was no accident.

The UN during the Cold War had a role in pressuring the Soviet Union and justifying certain aggressions. Today the United States as the sole super power creates its own international rules.

The Bush War Doctrine marks a return to naked neocolonial rule that can only be stopped by the actions of the oppressed in the former colonies, and working people in the imperialist heartlands.

The demand that Iraq give up its national sovereignty is pure neocolonialism. The war against Iraq, with or without UN inspections, must be opposed.

The Iraqi people must be allowed to live in peace. A second overwhelming, quick military victory in Iraq after Afghanistan would mark a major defeat for humanity.

ATC 101, November-December 2002