Capitalism & war in the Caucasus


Some things in life are pretty obvious. One is that you don’t attack a heavily armed gang that outnumbers you 30 to 1. 

So what was Georgian leadership thinking when it ordered an attack on South Ossetia? There can be no question that they thought they would be able to defeat Russia. There are, after all, limits to human idiocy.

As usual, when a major conflict breaks out, the public is fed the standard diet of lies that invariably features the cartoon stories of underdog and oppressor, of good guys and nasty tyrants. That the ruling elites resort to large scale deception is most obvious in the case of Iraq. There they drummed up support for war on the basis of weapons of mass destruction. This was pretty stupid as it was an issue that was decidable on the evidence. And the evidence famously showed that the allies brazenly lied their way to murdering thousands of people. Naturally they didn’t start all that killing just for the fun of it. There’s plenty of oil to be had in the Middle East and it’s also a strategic location for permanent military bases.

Bases that could be used to attack Iran or, to bring us back to Georgia, ones that effectively encircle Russia. The conflict in the Caucasus was started by an American puppet. It’s vanishingly unlikely that Saakashvili, the Georgian President, didn’t get the nod of approval from Washington to blunder into the Russian military. It’s still rather hard to understand, however, what the Americans were thinking. They probably calculated that Russia wouldn’t respond and advised the Georgian leadership of this. This would make sense if you’re of the mind that the Kremlin could be pushed around at will. After all, NATO, has expanded from West Germany to Russia’s borders in the years since the disintegration of the Soviet Union as well as having established bases in Afghanistan. Quite a reversal of fortunes for Russia, compared to, say, 1970.

Russian Revivial
Clearly the Russian regime thought the time had come to stop their rot and, more importantly, Russia’s economy has recovered from its Stalinist paralysis and the subsequent neo-liberal chaos of the 1990s. It is also one of the world’s major producers of natural gas, which is an increasingly crucial commodity, and which significantly magnifies their international power. The recently constructed pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey lies outside their control. Not only is that a threat to Russia’s domination of the natural resources in the Caucasus region, it was also, for them, a dangerous precedent of the smaller Caucasian states gravitating toward an American orbit.

The Americans intended expanding their influence in the Caucasus by suitably demonstrating Russia’s relative weakness and diluting its monopoly on the region’s gas. Instead their man in Tbilisi got a bloody nose while they are stopped in their tracks and are looking more and more like an overstretched Empire. More importantly, thousands of ordinary people get caught up – that’s dead and injured – in a quarrel between elites.

In real terms, this means lives lost, infrastructure destroyed, and ethnic tensions kept nicely boiling over in case the major powers require pretexts for future conflicts. It’s worth remembering, as the media never seems to, that people are people and that ethnic differences are, at most, extremely minor and trivial. Conflict between nationalities is not inevitable and in fact, as the relationship between France and Germany illustrates, fairly easily solved once the respective ruling classes agree to end their power games.

War and capitalism
Both the recent conflict in the Caucasus and the mounting drumbeats for war against Iran highlight an unpleasant fact about the world: War is a permanent feature of capitalism. They are not going to stop. Ever. This is simply a consequence of the world being organised by capitalism because the fundamental logic of the economic and social system is competition.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has dominated the globe and used this period of hegemony to decisively advance the interests of its ruling class. Hence the crude drive to dominate the Middle East. They do it because they can. It’s not that American ruling class are intrinsically evil – to adopt their own cartoonish methods of describing the world – the logic of capitalism dictates that if they did not seize their current window of opportunity before China matures or Russia resurges or Europe unites, then one of the other slumbering giants would. That would inevitably consign the United States and its ruling elites to a secondary position from which it would be difficult to re-emerge.

This points to a problem with the system and not just with the individual players. It’s not as if the Netherlands or Germany or any of the other more moderate sounding powers were angels when they were making their bid for Empire. Capitalism is about survival – the struggle between states and their ruling classes doesn’t take the form of a sports match with no significant consequences for the participants. The insanely competitive nature of capitalism dictates that every power must develop any advantage it has or allow their competitors to use it against them.

If the problem stems from capitalist competition per se, then simply changing the competitors will not resolve the fundamental problem. War between Iran and the United States is no better or worse – and, ultimately, no different – than that between France and Germany. Thus, steps to restrict the arms trade, reduce the number of nuclear weapons, abolish aggressive military alliances such as NATO etc, while good things in themselves – and ones that merit support - are ultimately doomed to failure if the conditions that give rise to them remain. As such, they would inevitably resurface fairly quickly.

Putting an end to war on the planet requires that the causes of war be dealt with. This necessitates that capitalism is replaced with an economic system based on social solidarity. The ruling elites will never do this because it isn’t in their interests to; after all, a just and equitable society would be happily bereft of them. Such change can only emerge from ordinary people getting organised and consciously constructing a viable alternative.

First published on

Issue 105 of Workers Solidarity Sept/Oct 2008

[PDF of southern edition of WS 105] [PDF of northern edition of WS 105]