Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Why this is a racist war

By Chris Latham

Recently at an anti-war rally in Perth, I was asked by another participant ``is it really a racist war?’‘ George Bush, Tony Blair and their bellicose supporters in Australia, John Howard and Kim Beazley, have argued that the bombing campaign on Afghanistan is not a war on the Afghan people and it is definitely not a racist war.

The central aim of these statements has been to attempt to block the ability of opponents of the war to mobilise public opinion against the war. This aim has been necessitated by the growth since the 1960s of a general sentiment against racism. This popular anti-racist sentiment means that racists do not always openly claim to be racist or speak in openly racist terms.

This raises the question ``what is racism?’‘ Racism is the view, expressed either overtly or covertly, which justifies social inequality between people based on fetishising superficial external physical features, most particularly skin colour.

Racism first emerged with the development of capitalism to justify the forcible transportation of millions of Africans to the Americas in order to provide a system of institutionalised forced labour on the plantations of the European settler colonies.

At the end of the 19th century, racism continued to provide justification by the capitalist rulers of imperialist countries, whose populations were predominantly white, for the economic and political subjugation of the non-white peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The current US bombing campaign against Afghanistan has been justified as necessary to ensure that terrorist attacks like that on September 11 in New York and Washington, in which more than 4000 people were killed, do not occur again. But the bombing has already been estimated to have killed 1000 Afghan civilians.

Moreover, aid agencies such as Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF, Doctors without Borders) estimate that at least two million Afghans (with upward estimates of seven million people), will die from starvation by the end of winter if the bombing does not stop and aid agencies are unable to deliver large-scale food aid. The widespread unchallenged implication is that the lives of at least two million people, 10% of the Afghan population, are of less value than those who died in the US on September 11.

Imperialism is a word that is often misused. Marxists use it to refer to a particular stage in development of capitalism that emerged in the industrially developed countries at the end of the 19th century. Nearly all branches of their economies came under the monopolist control of a few large corporations.

These large corporations were owned by super-rich capitalist families, like the Rockefeller and Morgan families in the United States, who also owned the big banks, insurance companies and stock exchange investment houses. These families were often financially and personally inter-related and formed a financial oligarchy that dominated not only the economy but the political life of the developed capitalist countries.

The corporations and banks in the developed countries took advantage of the uneven development of the world capitalist economy to preserve their monopoly of ownership of advanced technology and to use this monopoly to extract above-average profits from the underdeveloped capitalist countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As a result of the emergence of monopoly capitalism, the world was divided into a handful of predominantly white, rich nations dominating the economic and political life of the great majority of the world’s population.

The division of the world into rich and poor nations created a massive drive towards the militarisation of the imperialist nations. This was essential to ensure that they would be able to protect their investments and markets from challenges by their imperialist rivals. This was the central focus of both the first and second world wars.

Since the second world war, the imperialist powers have subordinated their rivalry to uniting behind the strongest imperialist power, the United States, to crush any challenges from the oppressed nations to throw off imperialist domination. This was the driving force behind the US-led military interventions into Korea in the 1950s and Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s.

During the US-led war against Vietnam, anti-war sentiment became widespread in the United States and other imperialist countries like Australia. So too did anti-racist sentiment.

Widespread acceptance of the idea that it was racist for the governments of rich, white nations to wage war to stop the non-white peoples of the poor, Third World countries from choosing governments that US and its allies were hostile to, helped to limit the ability of the US and its allies to utilise their own armies to wage such wars.

Instead, the imperialist powers were forced to rely on the creation and support of right-wing proxies to attempt to maintain their domination over Third World countries. This is what the US did in the 1980s in Nicaragua with the contras, and in Afghanistan with the mujaheddin and the Taliban.

Since the September 11 terror attacks, the rulers of the imperialist countries have sought to regain public acceptance for the large-scale use of their own ground troops to impose on Third World countries governments that are totally subservient to the imperialist interests.

This is the real goal of the current “war on terrorism”. But it is being masked by claims that it is aimed at defending “civilisation”. Blair has even attempted to present the US-led war as part of a drive for a better world for “the starving, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor”.

The US government has increasingly made it clear that the “war on terror” will have no end, and has already identified more than 60 countries that it will take action against for allegedly harbouring “terrorist organisations”.

The imperialists’ “war on terror” aims to crush all resistance to their ability to exploit the peoples of the Third World, and thus to maintain global inequality between the rich, predominantly white, nations of the First World and the poor, predominantly non-white, nations of the Third World. That is why this is a racist war.

From Green Left Weekly issue #472


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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