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War, what is it good for?

Faline Bobier

December 26, 2015

For someone who was born at the beginning of the new millennium all they will ever have known is a backdrop of Islamophobia and war.

George W Bush proclaimed victory in the Iraq war on May 1, 2003, standing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Of course, as we know now, the war and the effects of that war went on long after Bush made his famous speech. The vast majority of casualties, both military and civilian, occurred after his speech.

The rhetoric of the so-called War on Terror, which the West has been waging now for well over a decade, targeted and continues to target Muslims, since this is the West’s justification for dropping bombs in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Securing oil resources and more importantly profits for Western-based oil companies, was certainly one of the considerations of the US and other western powers when wars were launched in Iraq and Afghanistan. But much more than this it was about the war of position and endless jockeying for control that has been a feature of imperialism since Lenin and other writers first described it at the beginning of the last century.


As Lenin wrote “the ‘booty’ is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers ... who are drawing the whole world into their war over the division of their booty.” Lenin argued that “capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries”.

To understand the dynamics of imperialism you need to understand the dynamics of capitalism. Marx described capitalists as a ‘band of warring brothers’. This is true both nationally and internationally. Inside each country capitals compete with each other for profits. On a global scale the capitalist classes are engaged in a scramble to control the resources and wealth of other countries. Their respective states defend the interests of the particular capitals and this competition on an international scale inevitably leads to armed conflict and war.

Sometimes it has been possible for the big imperialist powers to wage these wars as proxy wars, involving populations other than their own and thereby avoiding destruction on their home turf, such as the long period of the Cold War. But the imperialist powers cannot always control the forces they unleash and we are living through a period now of this kind of instability.

Russia’s intervention in Syria, just like that of the US and other western countries, has nothing to do with the best interests of the Syrian people. It is about a failing imperialist power (Russia) trying to assert its imperial interests in the region, as against the interests of the US, a fading imperialist power, but still king of the heap in terms of its military and arms buildup.

The slogan ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ is regaining all its old relevance in the current context. In a like manner we should resist the temptation to align ourselves with any of the other sub-imperialist powers intervening in Syria, such as Iran or Saudi Arabia. They are also interested in jockeying for position in the region and their machinations have nothing to do with defending the interests of ordinary Syrians.


The best hopes for a better life were represented by those revolutionaries and freedom fighters inside Syria who were opposed to Assad’s dictatorship, but also opposed to Western intervention. Unfortunately their heroic struggles have been squeezed between the overwhelming destruction caused by Western bombing, the attacks of Assad’s government, and sectarian violence from ISIS.

But the current and ongoing Western bombing in countries like Syria and Iraq has nothing to do with the supposed ‘barbaric’ nature of groups like ISIS. In the first place the bombs are killing countless innocent civilians who have nothing to do with ISIS and who are simply trying to survive in the rubble created by years of Western bombing.

And if Western countries were truly opposed to barbarism they would not support so wholeheartedly the reactionary regime of Saudi Arabia, which routinely sentences its citizens to beheadings and other draconian punishments. Nor would they continue the bombing of innocent people in Iraq and Syria, which will only drive desperate people to either risk their lives by leaving their war-torn countries, or to be drawn to groupings like ISIS and the politics of sectarianism and despair.

The whole history of the 20th and 21st centuries is a history of barbarism on a scale ISIS can only imagine. It is the history (and also the future) of imperialism, which can only be halted if, as Lenin argued, workers in the imperialist countries turn the guns on our own rulers.

Anti-war movement

What this means concretely is rebuilding the anti-war movement and stopping our governments’ participation in the ongoing bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria. It is good that our new Prime Minister has chosen to be photographed with Syrian refugees coming to Canada and that the Liberals have committed to accepting more refugees by the end of this year.

But we can’t just let this issue be a photo op for Justin Trudeau. Trudeau had also promised during the election that his government would no longer lend support to the bombing missions that are creating the refugee crisis in the first place. He has remained silent on this question and we need to force him to take the real stand for peace, which would be ending Western military intervention (including both troops and "advisors").

The British Stop the War Coalition has come under attack lately and it’s a testament to their effectiveness as an anti-war force in that country. The mainstream media have been attacking Stop the War as a way to attack new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, because he refuses, unlike his shameful predecessor Tony Blair, to condone British participation in the bombing of the Middle East.

Ultimately imperialist war can only be defeated for good by getting rid of the system of anarchic competition, capitalism, which underpins it and threatens the ability of all of us to live truly human lives. This was true when Lenin wrote about the outbreak of World War I in 1914 (ironically ‘the war to end all wars’) and it is true of the ongoing War on Terror which Western governments are waging for hegemony and which is causing death and destruction abroad and misery, austerity and racism at home:

“The war which the capitalist governments have started can only be ended by a workers’ revolution. Those interested in the socialist movement should read the Basle Manifesto of 1912 adopted unanimously by all the socialist parties of the world, a manifesto that was published in our newspaper Pravda, a manifesto that can be published now in none of the belligerent countries, neither in “free” Britain nor in republican France, because it said the truth about war before the war. It said that there would be war between Britain and Germany as a result of capitalist competition. It said that so much powder had accumulated that the guns would start shooting of their own accord. It told us what the war would be fought for, and said that the war would lead to a proletarian revolution. Therefore, we tell those socialists who signed this Manifesto and then went over to the side of their capitalist governments that they have betrayed socialism. There has been a split among the socialists all over the world. Some are in ministerial cabinets, others in prison. All over the world some socialists are preaching a war build-up, while others, like Eugene Debs, the American Bebel, who enjoys immense popularity among the American workers, say: ‘I’d rather be shot than give a cent towards the war. I’m willing to fight only the proletariat’s war against the capitalists all over the world.’ That is how the socialists have split throughout the world. The world’s social-patriots think they are defending their country. They are mistaken they are defending the interests of one band of capitalists against another. We preach proletarian revolution the only true cause, for which scores of people have gone to the scaffold, and hundreds and thousands have been thrown into prison. These imprisoned socialists are a minority, but the working class is for them, the whole course of economic development is for them. All this tells us that there is no other way out. The only way to end this war is by a workers’ revolution in several countries.”

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