Behind the starvation in Afghanistan

Droughts are caused by nature. Modern-day starvation and hunger are not. They're caused by the capitalist system of production.Under it, if you don't have money you can't eat. If international donors are short of food, you die. If food can't get to your area because of war, you die. The major capitalist powers have tens of thousands of planes and trucks, tons of food, but they're not going to use them to help you: no money to be made that way. More, international finance capital is driven to invest where it can make the highest rate of profit. Therefore water exploration, the development of water-storage facilities and irrigation systems, etc., are not on its agenda in poor countries like Afghanistan. Who is going to pay back the loans plus interest? So your children die next time there's a major drought. Magnifying this underlying problem have been the wars which have wrecked the infrastructure if the country in the past two decades, wars which the former Soviet Union, the United States and other imperialist powers either caused or fueled.Now the U.S./British war is magnifying it still more.

On Aug. 28 the British Guardian reported that 4 million Afghans were at risk of starvation. On Sept. 24 a host of U.N. officials warned that it could be 5 million. Now, after two months of U.S./British bombing it's 7 1/2 million. Bush and the military planners knew this would happen, just as Daddy Bush and Clinton knew that sanctions against Iraq would cause untold human suffering (as many as 1 million Iraqis have died as a result). Human life is very cheap to the Washington political policy-makers and military planners. And their stingy relief efforts can never make up for the lives they've already destroyed, and will continue to destroy, in this holy "war against terrorism". No one knows how many people will ultimately die as a result of the U.S./British war, nor does anyone know how may Afghans have already died from the bombing alone. Scattered reports indicate many civilian deaths; and the bombing of villages, a hospital, the killing of 4 UN mine removal technicians while they slept in their building, the Oct. 16 bombing of two clearly marked Red Cross warehouses in broad daylight, etc., indicates how "targeted" the bombing was. More, we're not supposed to think about what happened to the thousands of ordinary Taliban soldiers, many of whom were forced into the army, who were mercilessly bombed with B-52s. Blowing them to pieces was allegedly "legitimate". What is behind this horror?

Imperialist interests

Imperialist interests means the interests of monopoly capitalism. Since Sept.11 we've seen how this translates at home: a bipartisan $15 billion handout to the airline industry while it threw 140,000 workers out of jobs, an "economic stimulus package" which gives the rich $115 billion more in handouts, but no moves to extend the unemployment laws to cover the majority of workers who aren't even protected, or to raise the miserable minimum wage, or to do anything about homelessness. This is because the politicians of both parties represent the interests of the bourgeoisie, the owners of the mega-corporations and banks. They're stepping up the fight to ensure its profits.

Abroad it translates into the rape of Afghanistan. The underlying motive for this is to ensure profits (particularly oil profits), and to further expand imperialist interests to ensure future profits. But to achieve these underlying goals U.S. imperialism must wage political struggles against rivals. And it used the Sept. 11 atrocity as the excuse for turning one of these political struggles into war. Beneath his religious cloak Osama bin Laden, whose family includes several Saudi big-capitalists, represents would-be bourgeois rivals of the big imperialist powers in several countries, just as the cleric Khomeini represented rising Iranian capital in the '70s.The main political motivation the war is to strike down these would-be bourgeois rivals. Further, although the Taliban was willing to deal with the Western oil monopolists, it also drove a hard bargain and was in the way. So it had to go. More, U.S. imperialism is using the war to gain a bigger military foothold in the region in preparation for dealing with rivals in power, if the need arises, or to attack revolutionary struggles of the oppressed people when they develop.

Turning to the underlying economics, oil production peaked in the countries outside OPEC years ago, and within OPEC the Gulf States still have the largest repository of recoverable oil, with Saudi Arabia remaining the prize. And with dwindling non-OPEC supplies the importance of the oil and natural gas in Central Asia has also risen. For its part, the Saudi royal family knows this, and an important section of it wants to cut a better deal for itself in its dealings with the imperialists. This section also wants to work more closely with Iran and Iraq. The King is dying, and this faction is working to succeed him. But the Monarchy itself is in trouble. While the corrupt princes have fattened themselves the conditions of the masses have deteriorated. This has increased popular unrest. Demands for democracy, jobs, that U.S. troops get out of the country, etc., are being put forward as never before. Alongside this the Wahhabi clergy, a great many of whom support bin Laden, attack corruption and the stationing of U.S. troops from a fundamentalist angle. They and bin Laden have such a large following that the Monarchy is forced to make concessions to them. So for these reasons bin Laden earned the hatred of Washington years ago. He represents class forces which want to grab a bigger portion of the oil revenues and adopt a more independent foreign policy.

Meanwhile, in the 1990s U.S. involvement in Afghanistan centered around construction of oil and gas pipelines to Central Asia. The collapse of the Soviet empire and formation of the Central Asian republics was a golden opportunity for the U.S. multinational corporations and financiers to move in. They made deals, conducted joint military operations with some of the governments, etc. But as in Afghanistan, they had to deal with international competitors, national capitalists who wanted their piece of the pie, etc. Moreover, all of the regimes they deal with are unpopular (or even unstable), and clerical reactionaries, some of whom are allied with bin Laden, have been using the popular discontent of the masses to promote agendas which are not so friendly to the West. Meanwhile, to the south of Afghanistan the Iranian capitalists have all the time been developing under the clerical cloak. They have their own plans regarding Afghanistan (and allies there), and are working to become a stronger regional power. The Pakistani ruling class has also complicated matters by exerting more independence.

To sum up: After the September 11 atrocity the U.S. government immediately opted for war against Afghanistan. This could be explained by the fanaticism of the would-be kings of the world in Washington (Revenge! To hell with the rule of law! We don't care how many bleeps get killed!) But that leaves out that the Bush administration is not only comprised of people whose business is to calculate the strategic interests of all the U.S. monopolists in general, but also that it's packed with oil men well-versed in coldly calculating how the future profits of their industry in particular can be assured. It also leaves out that the Senate and Congress are comprised of people who calculate and legislate in the same way. Take the liberal Jim McDermott, a most "even-handed" and "fair" man, one who can talk for hours on every side of a question. Why did he vote to give Bush and his right-wing fanatics a blank-check for war, war that he knows will kill thousands of innocents? The only answer is that he sees this as a way to achieve more fundamental capitalist interests, including the interests of the oil monopolists in the Middle East and Central Asia. And to achieve these interests rivals and potential rivals must be wiped out, and constraints broken.

The Administration talk that this is a "new kind of war" which will go on indefinitely makes no sense if it's really only a war to defend the U.S. from terrorist attacks. Bin Laden and the other al-Qaida leaders are on the run, and a beheaded organization might be able to carry out a few scattered terrorist attacks, but dealing with them would be a matter of police work, not war. "Unending war'' only makes sense if it means a series of wars to overcome constraints to U.S. imperialism's agenda for world empire. This requires suppressing domestic opposition.

Repressing dissent

On Oct. 26 the bi-partisan 150 page "Anti-Terrorism" Act was signed by Bush. Some of its features include search and seizure without warrants or warning, almost unlimited rights for the government to snoop anywhere and seize assets (the judicial "overview" is almost meaningless), the right to "disappear" someone it arrests for 7 days, etc. It also puts the CIA back in the business of domestic spying.

And if you're an immigrant, forget about any rights whatsoever. In the days after Sept. 11 the Feds grabbed more than 1100 people. Some they summarily deported with no right to defend themselves. Others were held in secret locations. The government wouldn't release the names of most, it interfered with the right to counsel, it didn't charge anyone with anything to do with Sept. 11, and for 6 weeks or more many family members couldn't find their relatives. Some of these detainees have been released but many hundreds still remain locked up. November some of these detainees had been released.Although it's possible a tiny handful of these people had some connection to Sept. 11, it's also possible that none of them did. If there are no charges then everyone should be released immediately. More, at minimum the government should financially compensate these individuals for loss of homes, apartments, income, jobs, schooling , etc., due to their imprisonment.

Along with the post-Sept. 11 legislation we're also confronted with numerous executive orders, Justice Department and CIA rule changes, etc. The looting of Somali-owned businesses in Seattle was carried out under executive order 13224 (of Sept. 23). On Nov. 1 Bush ordered that past or present presidents can block access to White House papers forever (a "hide the evidence" order). In mid-November Bush issued another order allowing military kangaroo courts to try, sentence or execute non-citizens the executive branch claims it has "reason to believe" are members of terrorist groups. If that's not enough, these military panels can sentence someone to death even if a third of the members think the person is innocent! Meanwhile the Attorney General has issued a rule that allows the government to listen in on conversations between prisoners and their lawyers, and to intercept mail between them.Thus from the bi-partisan legislation to Ashcroft's latest rules we're seeing the stepped-up building of an American police state. The pretext is Sept. 11, but since this is a class government the results will ultimately be used against the struggles of the working class, environmental activists, or anyone organizing to oppose imperialist war.

Ending Terrorism

The "war on terrorism" can't end terrorism. The ruling class knows this, and to quote a former British Intelligence officer speaking at an October anti-war rally in London: "I don't know of one officer who thinks it's possible to beat terrorism with terrorism". The Israeli state, for example, has been built on murdering, driving out and terrorizing the Palestinian Arabs since its inception---a more than 50-year long "war against terrorism" by what has become the most militarized state on Earth. But the ordinary Jewish people are not any more secure because of it. The terrorist policies of their state only give rise to resistance. And because of the desperate conditions the Palestinian Arab masses are forced to live under, some are attracted to clerical and bourgeois-nationalist trends (like Hamas) which include terrorist murders of Jewish civilians in their arsenals.

In Afghanistan the medieval Taliban (which the CIA once supported and the State Dept. initially welcomed to Kabul) has been fractured. Bin Laden, the former U.S.-supported "freedom fighter", is holed up awaiting martyrdom. And the masses have lost thousands of sons and daughters and face a brutal winter of hunger because of the U.S.-led war. Thus new seeds for further rounds of terrorism have been sown. Meanwhile, all the old ones continue growing: the decade-long starvation of Iraq, wheeling and dealing with the rich and corrupt monarchies and other repressive regimes in the Middle East while the living conditions of 100 million people deteriorate, support for the terrorist state of Israel, troops in Saudi Arabia, etc. And for years, in order to maintain its prerogatives in the region (and in South and Central Asia) the U.S. has concentrated on undermining and wiping out the secular-democratic movements of the masses against the reactionary regimes (its business partners) through supporting religious fundamentalists. It's helped create the fundamentalist monster which gives rise to most terrorist attacks.

Right now the big powers are trying to finesse into being a "broad-based" Afghan government; "broad" in the sense that it represents the various warlords, corrupt politicians, generals, and elements from the Taliban itself, etc., not in the sense that it represent the interests of the broad masses of people. This cabal includes former president Rabbani (whose forces murdered 50-60,000 people when forced out of Kabul in 1996), General Dostum (notorious for tying rebellious soldiers to tank tracks and shredding them to pieces), southern warlords ideologically close to Hekmatyar (the ultra-reactionary founder or the Wahhabi Islamic Party and main U.S. ally for years), and others. They're all murderers and terrorists in their own right, and all of them will be angling to grab the lion's share of food-aid for their militias. The reactionary King has been brought back to try to keep order in the conflicting ranks, all of which vie to exploit and oppress the masses of people. Some favor doing away with the burqa, others are as bad or worse than the Taliban. But none are going to wage a serious fight for equality of women or other democratic demands.

The imperialist "solution" to terrorism won't work. The only realistic solution is the development in these regions of democratic and revolutionary political trends fighting in the interests of the oppressed and exploited masses. This is the alternative to the reactionary fundamentalism of bin Laden and other would-be exploiters. And it ultimately involves uniting with the working people of all countries to not only resist, but to overthrow the biggest terrorists of all: the imperialists. In Afghanistan our allies in this world-historic struggle are represented by the leftists and revolutionary democrats who continue to struggle in underground conditions. Their ranks may be small and scattered, but they represent the future of the people.

This is a winter of mass hunger, starvation, and continued bloodletting in Afghanistan; a winter of new attacks on the living standards, democratic rights, and environment of the masses of American people; a winter of discontent. Let us stand up and denounce the imperialist overlords who have caused this. Let us unite to build the anti-war movement on a firmer foundation. Let us unite to build a social movement intent on doing away with the imperialist system itself.

Seattle Anti-Imperialist Alliance
December 6, 2001 --