U.S. war against Iraq demonstrates the complete brutality and violence of
capitalism in its expansionist drive for profit.
Since 1991, the
United States and Britain have led a relentless assault on the people of
Iraq, using an economic blockade to deny food, medicine and other
resources to the Iraqi people that, along with an endless bombing campaign
over two-thirds of the country, has left 500,000 dead and millions of
others suffering from leukemia and other diseases resulting from the use
of depleted uranium bombs on water purification plants and agricultural
land. Because of the sustained attack on Iraq, a nation that once had the
highest standard of living in the Middle East before the first Gulf War,
and continued to provide its citizens with free education and free
healthcare up until the recent U.S. bombing, now is one of the poorest.
Almost half of the Iraqi population is under 16, and the UN reports that
because the majority of the population survives on food distributed by the
Iraqi government almost 80% of the population will be at immediate risk of
hunger, famine and malnutrition following the end of the war.
the utter barbarism of the imperialist cabal of Bush, Blair and their
corporate cronies, only after Iraq was disarmed and economically
devastated did the U.S. begin its "shock and awe" campaign of
sustained bombing of urban centers populated by millions of civilians.
Despite the pronouncements by the Bush administration, and the wonderment
of the television reporters who now operate as propaganda clerks of the
State Department (including Peter Arnett who before being fired by NBC for
"misjudging" the degree of media censorship in the U.S.
excitedly declared from Baghdad that the images of bombs falling were
"amazing" and "just like a movie") this is not a war
of "technological" wizardry and "precision" bombing.
It is an armed mugging by the forces of capital of a nation that for
twelve years has been systematically denied even the most basic defensive
weapons. As Air Force Brigadier General William Looney declared in a
swaggering 1996 interview in Defense
Weekly: "They know we own their country. We own their airspace.
We dictate the way they live and talk. And that's what's great about
America right now".
But the current
war against Iraq is not only a war on the people of Iraq but on the people
of the world. It is a war led by U.S. transnational capital to gain
control over the world economy and to ensure that the future of billions
of people is decided in the interests of the U.S. owners. It is this
understanding which is missing in the current debates over war in Iraq.
The majority of commentaries have focused solely on the question of oil.
While the control of oil as an important resource of production is a key
aspect to understanding the U.S. interests in the war, the dominant
arguments—on whether or not this is a war for oil—miss the central
point. What is at stake in the war is not oil as such but what oil
represents in the imperialist race for competitive profits: control over
the rate of exploitation of the world working class. The current war is a
class war being fought in the interests of U.S. imperialism in order to
extend its control over the rate of exploitation of the global labor force
by gaining control of the future rate of economic growth of the South, the
primary source of cheap labor for transnational capital.
activist understanding of the issues is summarized in the slogan of
"no blood for oil". It
centers on the idea that "Washington has [Saddam Hussein] in its
gunsights because he is the chief opponent to U.S. control over the vast
oil wealth of the Persian Gulf" (war-times.org). For the activist
left, the driving force of the war is the fact that Iraq has 112 billion
barrels of proven oil reserves, control over which would increase the
wealth of U.S. oil companies; a view seconded by such mouthpieces of
transnational capitalism as The
Economist which stated that in the event of war, "The big prize
is control of the country's oil reserves" ("Saddam's Charm
Offensive; Iraq's Oil", October 12, 2002).
official line, of course, has always been that this is not a war for oil.
In a series of talking points entitled "Myths to be Debunked"
distributed to the media at the beginning of March, the Bush
administration declared "if all America was looking for was cheap
oil, Washington could cut a deal with Iraq: that would be far easier than
going to war". And, as David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who has
taken credit for creating the phrase "Axis of Evil", argued in The
Daily Telegraph, "America can already freely purchase all the oil
it wants. There has not been a credible threat to access to oil supplies
since the Arab embargo of 1973-74 and there is no credible threat to
access today. Saddam wants to sell more oil, not less. And if conquest and
occupation were necessary to obtain oil, why wouldn't America attack an
easier target than Iraq—Angola, for example?" ("America in the
Dock", October 22, 2002).
What is common
to all sides in the debate is that control of oil is the main issue at
stake: a perspective which conceals the actual objectives of the war by
representing oil—an object—as the source of wealth.
objects—whether essential natural resources such as oil and water or
manufactured commodities—do not produce wealth (and yield political
power). Labor does. While nature provides a source of use-values, it is
labor-power which turns them into social wealth. Thus, in the first
instance, without the labor of thousands of workers to build the machines
that locate, drill, ship and process the oil, it would remain an
undiscovered and unused substance, sitting idle in the ground. It is human
labor-power that enables oil to become a resource of production and, under
capitalism, it is control over exploited labor-power that turns oil, like
all means of production, into a commodified source of private wealth.
is only through the agency of labor, in short, that capitalist
wealth—whether from oil or any other object—is produced. By equating
oil with wealth, the dominant commentaries on the war from both the right
and the left erase the issue of the exploitation of labor in the
production of wealth and thus obscure the fact that the fundamental issue
of war on Iraq is not simply about control over oil and oil profits: it is
about gaining control over the world supply of surplus labor. By
controlling the world's oil resources, the U.S. will be in a position to
control the rate of economic growth in such nations as China, India, and
Pakistan—nations heavily dependent on oil from the Middle East and the
major suppliers of cheap labor to transnational capital today—and thus
effectively gain control of the rate at which the workers of the South can
be exploited. It will gain control, in other words, over the relation
between that part of the working day in which workers produce value equal
to their wages and the part in which they are engaged in surplus labor:
the part in which the worker works for free, producing the surplus value
which is the source of profit and accumulation of capital.
is not a "thing"—"oil"—that determines the
economic hegemony of capital and thus its political power, as evidenced by
the fact that many of the nations in which the largest oil reserves sit
are among the poorest nations in the world and have historically been
subject to brutal colonial and neo-colonial occupation throughout their
modern existence. The economic dominance of the rich imperialist states
comes from their global command over the exploited labor-power—the
surplus labor—of workers in all sectors of production, and the struggle
for the Iraqi oil reserves is an attempt by the US to establish its
decisive hegemony within this global system of exploitation.
Oil, in short,
is a social relation. It represents the exploitative relation of private
ownership of the world's resources and productive forces in the hands of a
few while the majority of the world is left in a subjugated state of
dependence in which their ability to survive is determined by whether or
not they can earn enough in wages to purchase the commodities their labor
produces. The war on Iraq is about this relation. It is a war of the
owners against the workers.