As news reaches us of wars in various parts of the world it behoves us to try, not only to discern who did what when to whom but to see whether there is an overall pattern behind them. A religious explanation might be that there is much evil loose in the world but that analysis will advance us little.
The fact is that there are powerful imperialist powers ‘loose in the world’ and they are either directly causing these wars or exacerbating them, not because the men and women dominating these powers are evil as such but because they strive to control resources, markets and strategic areas. This striving brings these powers into conflict not only with the interests of millions of people in the respective areas but also into competition with other imperialist powers – and this competition has led to two World Wars and many smaller ones in the last century alone.
In the first of those on a World scale, 1914-1919, Britain (or the UK, if one prefers) went to war with Germany. The Austro-Hungarian Empire lined up with Germany as did the Ottoman Empire. Russia, France, the USA and other powers lined up with Britain. And many other states and colonies and territories got pulled into the conflict.
WHAT WAS THE WAR ABOUT?
It was about many things – and not exactly the same things for each participating state – but basically it was about who would have the lion’s share of the resources of the less-developed world, in particular Africa and who would control the markets for selling those resources and also the industrial goods produced in the “home countries”. And, in order to control those things, which power would control strategic areas in the world – which included ports for navies and forts along certain overland trade routes and coasts.
What brings other countries and territories in?
Smaller players join with great powers for a share of the spoils or have been bound to them by treaties – perhaps they were themselves brought to heel in earlier times by the power to which they are now joined. Colonies and “dependent” territories contributed huge numbers of people on both sides, either recruited in preference to poverty, by war-excitement or by misleading propaganda that their sacrifice would buy their freedom or greater autonomy after the war.
Germany was defeated eventually and the French and British imposed a punitive surrender condition on them, allowing them to plunder Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley. This injured national pride so much that Hitler was able to use it to whip up an aggressive German nationalism which facilitated another war, 1939-1945.
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
This war also pulled in allies, colonies and other territories. But what was the war actually about? Essentially the same things: which power would control the markets for selling those resources and also the industrial goods produced in the “home countries”. And, in order to control those things, which power would control strategic areas in the world.
The German industrial and financial ruling class, which supported Hitler, was not going for war out of injured pride – they wanted to control the oilfields and land to the east and Middle East and to knock out their main competitors in world domination – once again, the British and French but also now the USA, which had been a much smaller player in WWI. By now Holland and Belgium were mostly small fry and Imperial Russia had, along with a number of other countries, become the USSR. Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan were prominent players with their own objectives but joined with Nazi Germany.
WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST TODAY
Nowadays, the USA strides the world as almost unchallenged superpower, supported enthusiastically by a reduced UK and with varying degrees of enthusiasm by its other allies in the EU and elsewhere across the world. Only one challenger on the world power level exists, which is Russia, now a capitalist country, certainly with colonial and no doubt with imperialist ambitions.
The USA (with the assistance of its allies) seeks to surround Russia with regimes allied to itself. Not so long ago, this was impossible in the Middle East, where a number of strong regimes were opposed to US domination: Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran. The US and allies have succeeded in knocking out the first two of these and the third is fighting to defend itself from multi-pronged attacks. If Syria falls, Iran will be next and then, from the Middle East, Russia will be totally blocked. So of course, Russia decides not to wait for that to happen and gives military aid to the Syrian regime.
The struggle for world domination is being played out in other areas of the world too, of course but this is the most intense area at the moment and the Israeli Zionist v. Palestinian struggle also plays a part in it.
It is difficult to look too far ahead in order to predict the various local and overall world outcomes. However, from the history of empires in general it seems inevitable that at some point the power of the USA must wane.
There are a number of contradictions besetting the USA but one of its potentially most disastrous is its external debt. In the typical pattern of imperialist capitalism, the financial capital of the USA has merged inextricably with industrial and military capital, leading to the description of “the US military-financial-industrial complex”. That in itself does not perhaps make the USA too vulnerable but its borrowing abroad to sustain this complex does: according to a number of sources on the Internet the foreign debt of the USA is nearly 18 trillion dollars: $17,910,859,000,000.
Well, we may think, the USA is an enormous country with huge resources and controlling huge amounts of resources around the world. Yes, it is – but that debt keeps growing. And the interest payments on it are huge – so huge that each year they are not repaid in total and are added to the debt.
Of course, if creditors were to call in the debts and the US financial system collapsed, the creditors would end up with very little in terms of repayment. That leaves the USA safe for the moment but each year it becomes more vulnerable. 32.5% of the total foreign debt is held by China and that huge country may at some time in the future find it in its interest to bring the USA down or to use that finance to pressure greater penetration into US markets (above the current level which US manufacturers are already complaining about). At the moment, President Trump is talking about getting the USA’s foreign creditors to accept lower interest repayments. He may or may not get his way but for the US, it is a bad sign.
The domestic debt of the US is over $12 trillion and 47% of that is foreign-owned too.
The USA’s economy is in many ways a military one. It needs wars – not just to fight itself but by its proxies. Since WW2 alone, it has been involved in 24 offensive military conflicts, from Korea to Syria. Without wars, how can the USA justify its military expenditure? And without that expenditure, what happens to the military-financial-industrial complex?
For the continuing extraction of resources, the USA needs compliant regimes – compliant with US needs, that is. Inevitably this results in support for dictators or regimes who are massively corrupt and who get armed to the teeth by the USA and repress their own populations, resulting in poverty, torture and violation of human rights. It also results in resistance, in popular movements which at times turn to armed struggle. Overall, the US, which seeks stability for its extraction of natural resources, creates massive INstability in the world.
THE MEANING FOR US
So what does all this mean to us? Firstly, that we should oppose imperialism. The question of “how” is a different one but the objective is unavoidable. Secondly, that to talk of achieving “peace” without eliminating imperialism is at best an indulgence in wishful thinking, at worst a cruel duping of people. Any kind of “peace” deal without the removal of imperialism is at best a temporary one only.
As for “peace processes” in areas of strong popular resistance, where ironically we often see major representative of imperialism enthusiastically engaged, since they never remove the central reasons behind the conflict, those processes merely buy a short-term stability for imperialism and capitalism to continue, more or less as before. For that reason, “pacification” is a much more correct term than “peace process”. The effect of pacification processes on the imperialist, colonialist and capitalist systems is often undramatic, not so the scale of their detrimental effect on the movements of popular resistance – but that’s another topic.