Introduction - Our Violent Times

Although there are long-term processes in the evolution of inter-imperialist rivalries, there are also moments when their policies quite suddenly re-orientate and are re-shaped into new configurations. Thus were the acrobatics – some clumsy and some finessed – over the past few months in the Middle East, and specifically over Syria.

The recent sequence of events followed the publicity given to the chemical weapon attack in a Damascus suburb in late August. Two-and-a-half years of mayhem touched the imperialist conscience not a whit until some unfortunates were seen to be murdered in an unacceptable way: by gas. This, we are supposed to believe, is far worse than beheadings, torture, napalm and all the other – acceptable – ways of murdering populations.

Following their departure from Iraq and their ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US and the UK found their new WMD focus in Syria and prepared to launch air strikes against the Assad regime. Cameron, the UK premier, prepared himself for the role of the US military’s chief camp-follower (as had Blair and Brown before) and went to his Parliament to get a mandate; underestimating the Labour Party’s duplicity and the scale of his own party’s hatred of his European policies, he failed. Hollande did not make the same mistake; ignoring the Assemblée Nationale, he promised French support for the US strike, taking up the mantle of America’s new best friend. Obama also said he would get a mandate from Congress but it quickly became apparent that he was unlikely to get it. For the US and UK ruling class there was no unanimity about how to act without getting sucked into another ground war. Their political embarrassment was ameliorated in a most unlikely fashion – by Putin in his guise as Vlad the Peacemaker. His proposal – rejected by the US at the G20 summit in St Petersburg – to have Assad put his chemical weapons (which he denied having in the first place) under international control. At the time of writing it is claimed that this process is well on its way.

Where does this take us on the road to peace? Nowhere.

Offstage, there is plenty going on. The reorientations do not indicate attenuation of rivalries. A few examples must suffice.

Russia has supported the US fight against the Islamists in Afghanistan, as a contribution to quieting the Chechen and other threats. But Putin does want to rein in the US elsewhere insofar as he can, given Russia’s far weaker capabilities; in this he is making the running for both Russia and China. So, as the US reduces military support to Egypt in response for the ousting of the Morsi regime Russia offers the biggest military deal to Egypt in decades.

The US wants some kind of deal with Iran on their nuclear programme in the post-Ahmadinejad era. Though only a tentative telephone conversation took place with Obama, Rouhani has already had a rough reception from the hardliners in Tehran.

At the same time, any softening of the Iranian position threatens the Iranian relationship with the Assad regime and with Hezbollah. On the US side, any softening has repercussions with Israel and Saudi Arabia – between whom there is ongoing tension and who want to see the hardest line taken with Iran. Indeed, the Saudi ruling class has been exasperated by Obama’s reluctance to deal more firmly with Iran and there are signs of a widening rift with the US. Indeed Riyadh have recently commissioned new IRBM launch sites aimed at Israel and Iran; and it appears that they have bought a stockpile of nuclear warheads from Pakistan where they will be stored for delivery on request.

One could go on describing the weave of rivalries, alliances, tensions and contradictions that characterise the imperialist relationships today, although the situation is too complex to allow us to forecast how the situation will play out. This is an ongoing task and we will endeavour to follow the situation on our website.

In Syria itself we can be sure that the misery of millions is a price the imperialist and local forces are willing to pay to conduct their power games. As IP has often argued, the only force capable of stopping this carnage is the self-conscious action of the collective worker – and its prospects are an ongoing discussion. We want to open out this discussion by presenting the following two texts that deal with the interaction between the violence of capitalism and social eruptions such as the Arab Spring.

While both articles share IP’s framework, there are some differences; in the main these relate to the ability of such social movements to interrupt the logic of capitalism’s repressive drives. So, for Rose, it is their recuperation that furthers the perspective of the dominant class; for Sander, such movements in themselves cannot stop the violent dynamic of capitalism and even provides opportunities for it – as in Libya and Syria. And for Rose, the lack of proletarian autonomy in the Arab Spring comes from non-proletarians while Sander argues that the reforming demands also come from inside the proletariat too, not only from bourgeois propaganda by also from the praxis of life in capitalism.

We invite readers to participate in this discussion through our website.

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