Whenever a war comes, take a good long keen look around at the various political forces and see what position they take. While it’s true that war is just the continuation of politics by other means, those means are the enforcement of death and terror on whole groups or populations. The bomb-blasts blow away all the cobwebs and bullshit and you see where people’s priorities really lie, which side they are really on.
Many on the left supported the overthrow of Gaddafi because the media presented this black-and-white situation: revolutionaries in Benghazi who were apparently about to be massacred by Gaddafi’s army in an orgy of slaughter. It seemed so clear-cut when you put it like that! Now Melenchon of the Left Front in France, a serious left contender who got a strong vote in the presidential elections last year, is supporting the French intervention in Mali.
It’s sad that even older lefts are falling for the oldest Imperialist trick in the book. Look back through all of human history and it puts the Malian “intervention” in perspective. Look particularly at Imperialism in the 19th century and in the early 21st. There’s always a pretext for a war of conquest. A country is presented like a carefully-positioned diorama with bad guys on the brink of doing terrible things and nobody to stop them except the wealthier, more powerful and more lethal nations of the advanced capitalist world.
The greatest empires in history were rarely built through naked, or even conscious, conquest. There was always an internal conflict to take sides in or a pressing “humanitarian” reason to intervene.
The poverty of Mali stems directly from its former subjection as a colony and, following on from “liberation”, its inability to develop a functioning economy and society. It was unable to develop these things because Capitalism crushes Capitalism. How the hell is Capitalism supposed to develop in a country in which most of the resources are owned by foreign companies or local corrupt despots, and any flowering of industry or agriculture must immediately compete with the 500 biggest companies who control 70% of world trade? How, except for falling into a debt trap, is it to finance public spending when the 50 biggest banks control 60% of global capital?
(These figures are for 2006 and the situation might well be worse by now. However the paragraph above takes a long historical perspective of several decades and we give the statistics just as an indication.)
The arrival of the French “saviours” will no doubt bring some benefits to the army officers who lead the present dictatorship in Mali, and secure French uranium and mineral extraction companies in their position. It will give the US and particularly Europe military bases from which to dominate the whole region. Coming on top of the Libyan oil bonanza this is a windfall for Imperialism.
For Malian people it means the return of direct foreign military domination. It means white guns and ammo to back up the brutal rule of some of the worst elements in their society. It means investment and development according to the demands of big business and the further crumbling of the economy from the point of view of everyone else.
It could very well mean a very long, very terrible war between guerillas and occupiers in which civilians will bear the brunt of the pain and any young person with any courage and sense will join the rebels, no matter how bad they are, as a way to fight the occupation. David Cameron has spoken of the prospect of a “generational war” in North Africa. Our latest crusade. If it turns out to be a long, painful war running alongside the continuing social and economic war on workers and youth within Europe, it could be a massive political issue in coming years.
What’s the way forward then if we reject Imperialism along with all that Islamist crap?
Algeria and Burkina Faso, neighbouring countries to Mali, showed the way forward in 2011 with their enormous but often neglected movements during the Arab Spring. So when I say that a mass movement of workers and the poor to seize the resources and means of production for democratic control and management by the people, I’m not talking in abstractions.
Mali is a predominantly agricultural country without a huge working class so like Afghanistan it can be a problem to call for a working-class revolution. But a movement of poor and middle farmers with the urban poor, in alliance with Tuaregs who fight for their own state, is a possibility. Moreover just as Pakistan with its enormously powerful working class represents a possible saviour for Afghanistan, so Mali’s more industrialized neighbours could forge a way forward in the future.
So it’s not the stupid question of are you with the Islamists or are you with the other crowd, no matter how bad they are. Don’t answer that ages-old question that’s been used to paralyze and tongue-tie opposition to the wars of vultures for millennia. It’s an academic question that’s not based on reality, that simplifies a whole society to the level of a Hollywood movie. The question is whether you’re with the Imperialist powers whose fingerprints are all over the disasters of Africa, or whether you’re for the democratic socialist alternative.
Imperialism is essential to Capitalism. In the first half and middle of this century a lot of former colonies won political independence. But what good did it do them in a world still economically dominated by vastly powerful corporations and governments? Now the inherent vulture-like qualities of Capitalism are asserting themselves again as the scramble for Africa is back with the same actors in new costumes. As long as
you’ve got powerful and rich countries that answer to the demands of corporations alongside puny and poor countries run by corrupt figureheads, you’re going to have imperialism.