1990s >> 1997 >> no-1117-september-1997

Editorial: Capitalism Means Conflict

Despite the genuine euphoria over the peace processes in the Middle East and Northern Ireland in recent years the killing continues and the conflicts remain. Socialists have always maintained that the idea of a peaceful capitalism can never amount to much more than a hollow promise and little that has happened since the Downing Street Declaration or the Oslo Accords of 1993 has changed this fundamental truth.

Behind all their talk about peaceful negotiations and settlements nobody should be fooled about the real characteristics of organisations like the IRA or PLO. These terrorist groups who have waged merciless war on the working class will stop at little or nothing to achieve their aims—the creation of new nation-states with themselves at the helm.

In the Middle East, the PLO and other Arab nationalist groups have been severely weakened since the break-up of the Soviet Union (their major benefactor). With the parallel re-emergence of Israeli “hawks’’ in Tel Aviv this has contributed to the break-down of the Oslo settlement when Israel ceded some powers to Palestine in the occupied territories in the “land-for-peace” deal. In turn, this has fuelled the development of more militant Islamic groups like Hezbollah and Hamas whose predilection for using violence to achieve their ends—as in July’s brutal bombing in Jerusalem—has even eclipsed that of the PLO itself, now for the moment posing as a “respectable” organisation dedicated to peace and democracy.

The situation in Northern Ireland is not dissimilar. The ending of the IRA ceasefire in February 1996 occurred because the peace process was going nowhere. As in the Middle East, the antagonists have aims which are mutually exclusive and almost every pose they strike is a tactical (rather than principled) one. If this is doubted does anyone, for instance, really believe that the IRA bombers and Loyalist gunmen are going to throw in the political towel without any progress towards achieving their wholly divergent aims? And, for that matter, just as the PLO’s financial crisis focused its attempts to achieve some breathing space for itself, does anybody seriously think that the restoration of the IRA ceasefire and Clinton’s decision to allow open Sinn Fein fund-raising in the US are not linked?

“Fudge” or compromise deals in Northern Ireland, just like in the Israel/Palestine situation, are only able to provide such momentary breathing space for the antagonists or else possibly “buy off” one or both side’s leaders in an attempt to mobilise them behind constitutional politics and capitalist democracy. When this happens—again like in the Middle East—it only serves to increase the power and significance of those even more hard-line groups who openly deride constitutional politics.

It is for this reason among others that such “peace processes” usually emerge as the basis for future conflict (as peace settlements invariably have in capitalist history). Peace in Ireland and the Middle East is not impossible, but so long as capitalism remains, with its divisions, aggression and competition over artificially scarce resources, then nationalism and its bedfellow of international terrorism will not be far behind any peace deal. Socialists can therefore say without any hesitation that there can be only one way to achieve lasting peace across this planet and that means an organised retreat from nationalism in all its forms and an escalation of the struggle for global working class emancipation.

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