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The alternative to war
"YOU'RE ANTI-war but what would you do about dictators like Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction?".
This is a comment that many protesters will have come across while campaigning against war with Iraq. Judy Beishon looks at some of the alternatives to war, including the socialist alternative.
The Guardian newspaper recently asked 30 well-known people who oppose war on Iraq what they would do to stop Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the future. Some answered by condemning the hypocrisy of the US regime and stating that war on Iraq will worsen the plight of the Iraqi people, creating new instability throughout the planet.
However, despite the truth of this answer, it will not assuage fear of future use of WMDs by Saddam, by another regime or by terrorist groups internationally.
Although good points were made by many of the people that the Guardian interviewed, all posed 'alternatives' within the context of capitalism. Most supported some form of interference or threat by the major capitalist powers in the world.
This, especially following the 15 February anti-war demonstrations by millions internationally, shows a lack of confidence in the ability of ordinary people to take action in their own interests. In Serbia, for example, it was a mass uprising of the Serbian people that ultimately overthrew the dictator Milosevic.
On one extreme, John Killick, former British ambassador to the USSR, argued for: "applying the sanctions forcefully", having ready "a small, strike-ready force .... to keep him in check" and telling Saddam that "if he were to use any of his nasty weapons he would be nuked". However, stricter sanctions and any kind of military intervention would worsen the plight of the Iraqi people. It would also increase the likelihood of WMDs being used elsewhere in the world (and possibly in Iraq) as anger would increase further against the US regime and its global supporters.
Composer Michael Berkeley advocated "covert operations" to topple Saddam. But what comes afterwards? Even if the imperialist powers could have removed Saddam by 'covert operations', they would only have done so to then try to install a new regime that would reflect their own interests.
While socialists share an abhorrence of the present Iraqi regime, we have no illusions that by intervening in Iraq, any of the capitalist powers can offer a decent alternative for the Iraqi people, or be certain to prevent present or future use of WMDs. Whether on their own or in cohorts with other powers through institutions like the UN, the capitalist ruling classes will act in their own interests - for prestige and oil in the case of Iraq - and not in the interests of their own populations or of the Iraqi masses.
It is the task of the Iraqi people and other peoples around the world to remove their own brutal dictators and any WMDs they might have, and to replace them with a government in their own interests.
AT THE other end of the spectrum, interviewees such as writer Margaret Drabble and journalist Robert Fisk were advocates of continued UN weapons inspections. Following recent manoeuvrings at the top of the UN, a growing number of people who had illusions in the UN's role are having them shattered. It is understandable that many people internationally feel that some kind of international body should exist to act in the interests of the world's people.
But the UN is not such an organisation, consisting as it does of representatives of the capitalist classes of the world, dominated by the major capitalist powers and US imperialism in particular. The real international community is represented by the millions around the world who demonstrated against war on 15 February.
However well-meaning UN weapons inspectors are as individuals, they will reflect to some degree the interests of their pay-masters and cannot guarantee at the end of the day that Saddam or anyone else has no WMDs or will not make them in the future. Nor can inspectors alleviate the suffering of the masses caused by poverty and oppressive regimes.
Another 'alternative' posed was for "modernisation of the area, giving people access to information and promoting the democratic process". One interviewee argued for debt relief and removing reparation "to enhance moves towards democracy", and another for the forming of "political friendship" to "bring Iraq back into the fold".
US professor Noam Chomsky, amongst others, argued that UN-backed sanctions have devastated the Iraqi population, reducing its energy to fight and strengthening Saddam by giving him a propaganda weapon, and forcing reliance by the Iraqi people on his handouts for their survival. He reasoned that if sanctions were ended, the Iraqi people would be able to rise up and get rid of Saddam.
It is true that sanctions on Iraq have led to incredible hardship and hundreds of thousands of deaths and must be condemned. Lifting them would aid Iraqi workers' ability to struggle, but it cannot be assumed that it would have led to the fast overthrow of Saddam. Many terrible regimes in the world have endured for long periods without the existence of sanctions. But Noam Chomsky is right in suggesting that mass action by Iraqi workers is necessary to remove Saddam.
OTHER 'ALTERNATIVES' mentioned above, such as debt relief and capitalist democracy that would improve the lives of the Iraqi people should be supported. But, by remaining within the confines of capitalism they cannot lead to decent living standards for ordinary people or stability in Iraq.
The capitalist system worldwide is in severe, prolonged crisis and is not in a position to consistently raise the living standards of workers and the poor in Iraq or anywhere else. Despite promises made to the people of Afghanistan, they are still suffering from repressive rule and poverty.
Several of the Guardian's interviewees saw part of the alternative to war on Iraq as being the solving of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which fuels Arab anti-imperialist sentiment, and bolsters the position of Saddam. However, this conflict is a prime example of the inability of the capitalist powers worldwide to provide resources for the raising of basic living standards and to provide solutions for the ending of national conflicts in the Middle East or anywhere.
The only alternative that will prevent future Saddams and guarantee a decent future for the Iraqi people and workers and poor internationally is to build the forces of socialism in Iraq, in the Middle East and globally. To this end, we must support the building of mass workers' parties and of links between them, so that workers internationally can aid Iraqi and other workers in their struggles for decent living standards, real democracy and a socialist future free from WMDs and war.
In The Socialist 21 March 2003: