A plague on both your houses - Red and Black Notes

Internationalist article from Red and Black Notes on the then imminent 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Submitted by Fall Back on July 10, 2009

For many with an interest in the impending war in Iraq, the conflict is about choosing sides.

For Bush and Blair, 'you're either with us or you're against us.' As the days go by, the US has become more brazen in its rhetoric and more willing to go it alone. US Defense Secretary recently commented, the only way for war to be averted is for Saddam Hussein to flee Iraq or be overthrown. That this comment was repeated on page 1 of the Globe and Mail mere inches from a story about Stalin's murder by his henchmen means subtlety too has chosen a side.

While the US's erstwhile European allies are expressing reluctance, it is only because they see the US's actions as a way to strengthen its position relative to their own through the seizure of Iraqi oil and the establishment of a semi-permanent US base in Iraq. Nevertheless, the reluctant allies will likely get on board because they fear the US will go ahead and they will be left out in the cold.

In addition to their tactical concerns, the US's usual allies fear that choosing war at this time will have further consequences. A disruption of the oil supply from the Middle East, in addition to the disruption in Venezuela will create a catastrophic "oil shock." As the hardly radical Goldman-Sachs commented, the result of a war in Iraq may be less "Desert Storm," than "a Perfect Storm."

But for the US, the issue of war with Iraq has become increasingly urgent. While few within the Bush administration argue that the war will revitalize the sagging US economy, it is precisely that economy which is pushing the US toward war. Trillions of dollars of debt, a stock market bubble that is about to burst and a plunging US dollar, make a war to secure massive oil reserves, and a commodity which is paid for in dollars an irresistible prize. Never mind that the war will create untold devastation, what matters is the continuance of the capitalist economy.

For many who oppose, in some form or other, the US actions, it's also about choices, and choosing a more palatable option than war. For some this has meant calling on the UN to settle the crisis or the continuance of the sanctions which have already caused horrific suffering in Iraq.

Many people see the war as irrational, viewing the conflict as a clash of ego: If only the cowboy in the White House and the Butcher in Baghdad would listen to reason. Chanting 'No blood for oil,' and 'Give peace a chance,' the organizers of peace demonstrations call for ever great demonstrations that will send our rulers a message they cannot ignore.

For these activists, the solution is not war but peace: If saner heads can prevail, a military solution can be avoided. Unfortunately, the glaring error in their thinking is that war and peace are not counter-posed to each other; war and peace are merely different policies for capital to ensure its rule.

The second imperialist world war between 1939 and 1945 claimed tens of millions of lives. But the "peace" which followed it also claimed untold millions of lives across the globe, as capital has engaged in low level, and sometimes not so low level wars to preserve the imperialist "peace." It is the peace of the grave. The only way to stop war is to uproot the entire capitalist system.

For others on the left, it's about defeating imperialism. This has led some, most notable the Trotskyists, to claim opposition to imperialism in this conflict means support to Iraq in the hope of bloodying the nose of the "main" imperialist power - Saddam Hussein, the butcher of the Iraqi workers' movement; Saddam Hussein, the former errant boy of US imperialism after the fall of the Shah; Saddam Hussein, for whom Iraqi workers should shed blood?

While sounding radical, the position is essentially a lesser-evilism. The demand to defend Iraq, while attempting to distinguish between military and political support (in reality military support always entails political support), may draw some support, but few were willing to extend the logic of this position to last year's fighters against imperialism, the Taliban.

Capitalism is a world system, and the wars it generates are wars between the greater and lesser imperialist powers for the right to exploit and rule. Yesterday's national liberation movements fighting against imperialism are today's exploiters of labour and tomorrow's allies of larger imperialist powers. Saddam Hussein was once a trusted friend, Vietnam a deadly enemy. Swings and roundabouts.

We will not choose between the greater and lesser powers. "You've made worm's meat of me. A plague on both your houses." gasped Mercutio at his death at the hands of the Prince of Cats. We reject capitalist war and capitalist peace. We reject George Bush's US and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

For a world without bosses, without money, without war and without classes,

For communism.

First Published in Red and Black Notes #16/17, Spring 2003, this article has been archived on libcom.org from the Red and Black Notes website.