This week demonstrates that we cannot trust the ability of imperialisms to stand still on the edge of the abyss of open warfare. Before there can be a sigh of relief in Iraq, the next flashpoint threatening widespread war is already escalating in Libya. And meanwhile, in France, the trade unions are bringing all workers to the brink of dismantling the pension system.
On Tuesday and Wednesday night, Iranian missiles fell on two U.S. bases in Iraq. After a coverage typical of the outbreak of a war, we discovered that in reality, there were no casualties. The same Wednesday, the first news reports emerged stating that Iran had warned the Iraqi government about the attacks. Everything was starting to come together and become understandable, including Trump’s “all is well”. As the German press headlined, “the attack was a spectacle,” the soldiers protected themselves in bunkers knowing of the attack and let it happen. Everything pointed to what from Turkey was called “a strategy to save face:
The locations chosen for the reprisals, the fact that the information was shared with Iraqi Prime Minister Abdulmehdi beforehand, who told Iraqi and U.S. forces, who took steps to avoid casualties, show that an outcome that would push the U.S. to attack again was avoided. It is a kind of face-saving strategy.
And the reactions of both states soon confirmed it: Iran asked the militias it controls in Iraq not to attack U.S. targets. Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the powerful U.S.-allied Shiite militia that had begun the escalation of tension by raiding Iran’s consulate in Najaf, declared: “The crisis in Iraq is over“. At his first press conference the next morning, Trump assured that “Iran is retreating from yesterday’s attack,” that there were no casualties from the attacks, and that he would impose new sanctions. And surprisingly, he again spoke of the need for a new nuclear deal.
The strategy of “saving face” was already evident even to the Anglo-Saxon press bent on giving fuel to the Democrats and using the clash in their internal battle against Trump, if only, as effectively approved by the US parliament, to limit his war powers in relation to Iran.
But the “collaborative” nature of the strategy of both imperialist powers in this clash became even clearer with the downing, after take-off, of a Ukrainian passenger plane a few hours after the ballistic missile strike. Because the plane was carrying a large group of Canadian passengers, U.S. intelligence and Trudeau’s team worked together eventually to claim that the plane had been shot down by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile. Strikingly, both Trudeau and Trump insisted that the shoot-down was “accidental”. Anything before a new “casus belli”.
The end result of the escalation in Iraq followed the strategy of “controlled scalability” characteristic of the long imperialist conflict between Iran and the U.S:
A positional chess in which both parties try to exert enough force to close the gap on the opponent, but at the same time try to avoid leading it to escalate the conflict into open warfare.
“The long war between the US and Iran”, January 2019
But this time the margin had been tighter than ever, as the UN pointed out, “international fault lines have come close to snapping” and containments were on the verge of disappearing. The eagerness of an ally of either imperialism would have been enough to generalize the conflict. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was in fact already preparing attacks on Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Haifa (Israel) if there was any retaliation. No, today it was just “theatre” that happily ended “only” with the “accidental” death of a hundred and a half people onboard an ill-fated commercial airliner. It was a warning that imperialist tensions are now at a point where any unexpected element can translate into an immediate generalization of war.
- The long war between US and Iran (Spanish)
And while the US and Iran were busy juggling matches over a barrel of gasoline, a new front was gaining a dangerous extra of complexity and danger: Libya. After the Turkish parliament approved the sending of troops, Haftar’s forces immediately attacked Turkish ships and shipments to the Tripoli government. The EU, with France and Italy supporting opposing sides, called for “respect” for an embargo whose members systematically violate it. There were two clear lines of approach: UAE, Egypt, France and Russia vs. Turkey and Italy. Fearful of the complications that were coming and encouraged by the Emirates and Egypt, Haftar redoubled his offensive and announced that he had taken control of Sirte with the help of Russian mercenaries.
But Turkey had one dangerous ace up its sleeve: Algeria, which until now, embarrassed by the already long crisis in its political apparatus and the revolt of its petty bourgeoisie, had stood aside. The meeting between the Turkish and Algerian foreign ministers ended with an appeal to the international community to impose a ceasefire by stopping Haftar’s advance. Tripoli and its government were becoming an untouchable “red line”. Putin, who came to Turkey to inaugurate the TurkStream pipeline, did not miss the opportunity to take the lead in Haftar’s sponsorship and negotiate a ceasefire.
The reactions were interesting. Of course, the Tripoli government, literally under the gun, was pleased. But “pacifist” Europe was far from being so. The German press made no secret of its desire to see the agreement fail by insisting that the Putin-Erdogan alliance is “a risk for Europe”–understanding “Europe” as Franco-German imperialist interests, of course. Haftar, counting with the backing of Egypt and the Emirates, rejected any ceasefire, as was to be expected… as long as he can maintain his gains.
In Libya, we are faced with another situation in which the proliferation of conflicting imperialisms, precariously grouped in internally contradictory alliances, may lead not only to an escalation but also to an extension, even a generalisation, of the war. The entry of Turkey with arms and baggage raises the stakes because the sea border agreement between Tripoli and Ankara makes Libya the key to the fight for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean. In addition, the increasingly open tensions in the Sahel between France and Russia point to a new imperialist fault line in Africa from the Central African Republic to the Mediterranean. To the projection towards the West, towards the Maghreb, that can be opened with the “activation” of Algeria, we can add the military tension between Egypt/Emirates and Turkey in Sudan and the Horn of Africa… Summing up: Libya is not a “small” Syria. It is on the verge of becoming a new and dangerous whirlwind of imperialist conflict, even more dangerous and unstable than the Persian Gulf.
In France, the strike against the pension reform continues after more than a month of struggle. According to surveys, support for the strike is still in the majority among the French, but the strike is still under the control and shepherding of the unions. Daily union pickets continue in the transport companies and all refineries are stopped or blocked, from time to time media actions are organized such as the break-in at the Parisian headquarters of the financial company BlackRock, but there is no extension of the strike to the private sector.
The union leaderships were to negotiate with the government again on the terms of the reform from Tuesday, but have found since Monday that the government decided to raise the stakes and sent the pension reform bill to the council of state without any changes. The unions reacted angrily to the fact that the bill was sent without any negotiations and, after another meeting on Wednesday in which the French secretary of state unilaterally declared an end to early retirement for particularly hard jobs, three unions left the negotiating table.
The government has clearly moved into a phase of negotiation where it is tightening conditions on its own and threatening to use the repressive force of the state against picketers and demonstrators in union parades, but at the same time announces that “amendments can still be made” and that “the question of the pivot age is not yet closed“.
How have the unions responded? This is how the negotiations went on Tuesday: “The balance of the [pension] system must be guaranteed” and “I propose to guarantee it by instituting a pivot age”, the prime minister said once more. “But if the unions and employers’ organisations agree on a better system, I will accept it”. The Prime Minister described as “a good idea” the financing conference proposed for Friday by CFDT leader Laurent Berger, who hopes “to avoid the establishment of a pivotal age by guaranteeing the balance of the pension system”. For its part, the CGT, which had left the meetings on Wednesday, complained on Thursday that ” the government’s door is closed” and that they had no invitation to the financing conference on Friday. Contrary to what they say on the street and among their rank and file, it seems that the CGT, as its secretary general says, “is not against all the measures”.
To sum up: the game of the unions is clearly to drown class combativeness by encouraging the prolongation of the strikes of the most militant sectors, while they legitimize decoys like the “pivot age” and above all the idea of “financial sustainability”, applying to the pension system the same principle “benefits first, needs second”,
The exploitation of workers is not the sum of company to company “individual exploitations”. Capitalism is a system of exploitation of one social class by another. From the point of view of capital, the “business fabric” is a system of communicating vessels through which capital flows. A system that equalizes the results of each investment application according to its participation in the total national capital given an average productivity, rewarding the “improvements” in the exploitation as deviations over the average and punishing the deviations below.
Therefore, to say that without profits the workers’ demands cannot be satisfied amounts to saying that the company “cannot” lose positions in the relative arrangement of total capital. To say that the workers’ “inflexibility dooms companies into bankruptcy” is the same as saying that national capital is willing to cut off an individual tentacle rather than lose overall profitability.
“France: railway workers’ strike beats trade unions”, 5/11/2019
By now even the leftist press claims that Macron is seeking to impose a crushing defeat on the workers similar to the one Thatcher inflicted on the miners in 1984. That defeat, which they call the “founding myth of neoliberalism,” was in fact the product of a strategy similar to that of their French counterparts today: a stranglehold and isolation of the most combative workers coupled with union acceptance of the principle of “profitability” over the fulfillment of the working class’ needs. Its consequences can still be seen today in the vast and desolate deindustrialised regions of Britain.
Should all these mobilizations and strikes in France end in defeat, the result will be no less disastrous, nor will Macron owe less to the French unions than Thatcher owed to the British ones.
The two central messages that stand after this week are that neither can we expect the imperialist conflicts to stop at the edge of the abyss -anywhere in the world- nor can we expect any crisis to make the bourgeoisie, the state or its unions “open their eyes” to anything other than increasing exploitation and destroying the social fabric from the bottom up in order to maintain the profitability of capital.
The only sensible way out is to overcome at once the logic of subordinating the workers – and with them the whole of society – to profit, which is also the logic of war. Or what is the same, to overcome capitalism altogether. The material conditions that allow it to be overcome are long gone and no “improvement of conditions” will be the product of struggles as long as they are led by the unions. It is the “subjective factor”, the development of the working class struggle and its consciousness through it, that alone can put an end to the system. And that is not the product of any automatism either, but of the processes that the most conscious workers are capable of promoting in our class as a whole… and for that it is necessary to organise ourselves politically.