Introduction to The War in Yugoslavia and In the US, Dreaming of Iraq

Introduction to
The War in Yugoslavia: On Whom the Bombs Fall
and In the US, Dreaming of Iraq

The two pieces in this pamphlet were written in the middle of two different wars: the continuation of the Gulf War in 1998 and the NATO-Yugoslavia War of 1999. Although their immediate purpose was to give the anti-war movement some intellectual weapons for its campaign to stop the US bombing of Iraqis, Yugoslavs and their electricity plants, water treatment facilities and industrial capacity, together they show the form of war in this period. For when the recent Iraq and Yugoslavia wars are brought together, their commonalities become apparent. Let me list three.

The first commonality is the tremendous asymmetry between the weapons of the protagonists which has created wars where one side can carry on hostilities for months or even years, killing thousands of the other side's civilians and soldiers without suffering any immediate casualties at all.

The second commonality is ideological. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a whole Manichean world collapsed in the minds of US ideologists. "Communism versus Freedom" could no longer be used to justify the many interventions the US government has launched (and will launch) from its bases in 72 countries. A new ideological justification was required and slowly terms like "defense of human rights," "the prevention of genocide," and "humanitarian intervention" began to be used in US military policy documents by the early 1990s creating a stealth imperialism. In both Iraq (under the rubric of eliminating "weapons of mass destruction") and Yugoslavia (under the rubric of defending Kosovar Albanian "human rights"), the US is destroying whole countries and the lives of millions of people under the flag of upholding human rights.

The third commonality is conjunctural. These are wars of a major capitalist crisis which began with the Asian Financial Collapse of 1997. The crisis is putting the whole system of accumulation variously called "neoliberalism," "globalization," and "the New Enclosures" into question. War and colonization is an inevitable result of capitalist crisis and the crisis of 1997 and beyond is no exception.

These wars are similar to the ones the European powers brought to Africa after they agreed on carving up the continent in the Berlin Conference of 1884/85. For the European armies were equipped with gun boats, repeater rifles, Maxim machine guns that made them almost invincible and invisible (like the B-2 stealth bomber of today). For example, British soldiers could kill thousands of Dervishes in the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 with negligible losses and never got closer than three hundred yards to the enemy [Sven Lindqvist, Exterminate All the Brutes, (New York: The New Press, 1996)].

The ideology the European imperialists used to conquer Africa was the 19th century's version of today's human rights doctrine, anti-slavery. Four years after the Berlin Conference, King Leopold of Belgium--who commanded the most notorious regime of slavery and genocide known in African history--presided over an International Anti-Slavery Conference in Brussels. The "humanitarian" king proposed to the delegates from all the major powers plans to hunt down the slave traders "that, it happened, bore a striking resemblance to those for the expensive transportation infrastructure he was hoping to build in the Congo. The king described the need for fortified posts, roads, railways, and steamboats, all of which would support columns of troops pursuing the slavers" [Adam Hochshild, King Leopold's Ghost (Boston: Houghton Miflin Co., 1998), p. 93]. It turned out, of course, that the "Arab slave traders" were suppressed so that the European imperialists could be the sole, and much crueler masters of Africa.

The late 19th century "Scramble for Africa" took place in a period of long-term capitalist crisis where the need for cheaper inputs (and therefore even cheaper labor) for the depressed industrial system was taken as capitalist necessity, just as today the main path to the recovery of European capital requires a new influx of cheaper labor and a profitable venue for capital fleeing the demands of West European workers.

It took years for investigators like the African American George Washington Williams, the Irishman Roger Casement, and the Englishman E.D. Morel to discover the horrific slavery in Africa imposed by anti-slavery's heroes like King Leopold. It took even longer for Hobson, Luxemburg and Lenin to create a language and a theory that would reveal the imperialists' anti-slavery ideology to be beneath derision. Unfortunately, we have not come to the same situation either practically or theoretically with respect to contemporary imperialist ideology. Many even in the anti-capitalist movement have been convinced by the humanitarian ideology of Clinton and the social democratic leaders of the day and have approved of the destruction of the Iraqi and Yugoslav people as a great humanitarian gesture.

These essays are presented as a preliminary step in the discovering a new anti-imperialist movement. For imperialism now is like H.G. Well's Invisible Man, killing and stealing unseen, maddened with its technological and ideological impunity. We must find it before we seize and stop it.

-- George Caffentzis

The War in Yugoslavia: On Whom the Bombs are Falling?
by Massimo De Angelis and Sylvia Federici

In the US, Dreaming of Iraq by George Caffentzis

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