Stop the Testing at Mururoa!

For French/Pacific Island Industrial Action against the Tests!
No to Anti-French Chauvinism!

published by the International Bolshevik Tendency, New Zealand Section in The Bolshevik No 6, August 1995

Half a century ago, on 6 August 1945, US imperialism unleashed the atomic bomb on the defenceless citizens of Hiroshima. Three days later it repeated this atrocity on Nagasaki. US President Truman’s motivation was not to bring the war against Japan to an end, as the western imperialist histories claim, but to heavy the Soviet degenerated workers’ state, getting in some operational experience with the new nuclear arsenal in the process. Why else wait only three days to unleash the second bomb, rather than give the Japanese military a chance to surrender?

The peace movement has generally interpreted the postwar nuclear madness ushered in by those grisly events of 1945 with vague and unscientific notions of a runaway technology which no human agency can now control, or of a supposedly innate male competitiveness, whereby middle-aged little boys in uniform still act out their confrontational games in a sandpit of the whole world. Marxists, by contrast, have always seen the nuclear arms race as having very specific social-political roots--namely, the international class war. Living in the shadow of the bomb always meant, in reality, living in the shadow of US imperialism’s desire to roll back the "spectre of communism", represented, principally, by the Soviet bloc.

The imperialists always blamed international tensions in the postwar world on "Soviet aggression". Little wonder then that many believed after the collapse of the August 1991 coup in the USSR that Boris Yeltsin’s counter-revolutionary triumph heralded the end of the nuclear threat. But things are far from tranquil in the New World Order begot by the close of the Reagan/Thatcher era, and stories of war and the threat of war continue to dominate the headlines. The central class-based conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union has been replaced by conflicts of the more traditional kind under the bourgeois system, that is, conflicts between different groups of national capitalists.

Revival of Imperialist Rivalry

Thus in the quagmire that is the Balkans, the collapse of the federalist Yugoslav deformed workers’ state led rapidly to bloody nationalist strife as the various embryonic capitalist states sought to maximise their own interests in the new private-enterprise era. Meanwhile, the major imperialist powerhouses in the US, Western Europe and Japan have been freed up from the need to subordinate their differences to their common hostility to the USSR--now, assisted by waves of mutual xenophobia, US/Japanese trade-wars threaten to erupt, and the NATO alliance is bitterly divided over intervention in the Bosnian conflict. The rivalry between the imperialists will inevitably propel hundreds of millions of human beings into a conflict fought with weapons far more destructive than mere tariffs.

As the rivalry between the different imperialist blocs continues to sharpen, the parallels with the inter-imperialist tensions that led to the slaughter of 1914-18 grow stronger. And eight decades after the 1914 conflagration was sparked in a Bosnian town named Sarajevo, the frequency with which that name recurs in the news reports today is a chilling reminder that, under capitalism, the cycle of war is just as relentless as the trade cycle.

The French Government’s decision to renew its nuclear testing programme at the Pacific atoll of Mururoa is symptomatic of the revival of inter-capitalist jostling in the post-Soviet world. We of the Permanent Revolution Group--NZ Section of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT)--oppose the testing as an act of imperialism. Right-wing Presidential victor Jacques Chirac is attempting to put his own stamp on French imperialistic ambition. His announcement that France would break the moratorium on nuclear testing demonstrates his commitment to beefing up France’s military prowess. With the capitalist reunification of Germany threatening to undermine the postwar balance of power in favour of France and Britain, no doubt Chirac believes it necessary to do a little sabre-rattling of his own.

For Chirac and Co, the strength of opposition felt around the world was probably unexpected, and certainly unwelcome. And with the storming of the Rainbow Warrior by French commandos as it entered French territorial waters on 10 July--10 years to the day since the original Greenpeace vessel was gutted in Auckland harbour—the worldwide coverage of this thuggery didn’t do French reputation much good.

A New Zealand Tradition

In New Zealand, opposition to the proposed resumption of testing has revitalised a tradition in this country. Over 20 years ago, against the then practice of atmospheric testing, the Kirk Labour Government took the French to the World Court. And in a symbolic gesture, designed to engender nationalistic feeling, Kirk ordered a frigate into the testing area. The overwhelming desire of those leading the latest opposition to the tests is to rekindle that kind of action at a governmental level.

From the outset, the Bolger government attempted to grab the reins on the anti-French bandwagon. Leading Government Ministers such as Graham and McKinnon slated the French decision as that of an arrogant colonial power. However, when it seemed as though Government action was going little further than some bold posturing, the pressure came on to raise the ante. Labour leader Helen Clark, together with the Alliance’s resurrected Jim Anderton, were quick to call for New Zealand to break off diplomatic relations and send in the Navy. Concerned not to be outdone, Bolger agreed that New Zealand would probably send some kind of naval vessel, to afford "protection" to any protest flotilla that headed off to Mururoa.

Unfortunately, the perspective of calling on the New Zealand Government to take stronger action dominates the current protest movement. Backing up these calls is an unsavoury generalised anti-French prejudice, coupled with a good dose of little-New Zealand chauvinism. But putting any faith in New Zealand’s capitalist rulers as some kind of "progressive" force is radically misplaced. The foreign policy of the New Zealand capitalist state is moulded, not by concern for ordinary human beings, but by the cynical pursuit of its own little-imperialist interests.

The Main Enemy Is at Home

This current Government has proved its reactionary credentials through intensifying the wave of attacks on New Zealand workers and beneficiaries begun by the Lange/Douglas Labour regime in its restructuring binge of the latter 1980s. And the National Government has consistently lent its support to the attacks of the major imperialists on the neo-colonial world—from the butchery against the workers and peasants of Iraq in 1990/91, to Clinton’s gunboat diplomacy against Haiti last year. To expect these architects of draconian benefit cuts and the union-busting Employment Contracts Act to defend the interests of ordinary working people in New Zealand, the Pacific or anywhere else is dangerously wrong. To encourage those expectations is to sow illusions in what remains, for New Zealand workers, the main enemy—that is, our "own" capitalist state.

The French imperialists must be stopped from perpetrating further outrages against the wishes of the workers and oppressed peoples of the region—for example, the Kanaks. We want the French Government out of the Pacific. But class-conscious workers must present the same intransigent opposition to the role of New Zealand (and Australian) junior imperialism in the Pacific as well.

No Illusions in NZ Junior Imperialism!

We remember the treatment meted out by New Zealand’s rulers against the independence struggle conducted by the Mau in western Samoa; we remember Samoa’s "Black Saturday", when, in December 1929, New Zealand cops opened fire on a peaceful demonstration. And we remember the sending of New Zealand troops to oppose liberation struggles in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam. Cheering on our own capitalist rulers to send in their gunboats against the French merely buys into the kind of jingoistic hysteria which has regularly seen workers butchering each other for the sake of the profits of small exploitative national elites.

Any strategy which aims to end French testing based on support for little-league New Zealand imperialists against French imperialism is doomed to failure. And it encourages New Zealand workers and French workers to see themselves as pitted against each other, rather than having a common strategic interest in a fight against the global capitalist system. Fighting for an international proletarian unity in action against the tests offers a genuine prospect of victory in this campaign. By contrast, the path that begins with calling on the New Zealand bourgeoisie to "get tough" with Chirac, along with the petty chauvinism evinced by refusals to eat "French" bread, is one that has often ended with workers dying on muddy battlefields for the sectional interests of their own capitalist bosses.

It is telling that New Zealand’s mainstream "working-class" party, the NZ Labour Party, has advanced no militant working-class perspective for stopping the tests, and instead embraces something a lot more "respectable". The response of Helen Clark (along with Anderton and the other NLP class-coalitionists in the Alliance) has been to call for the Bolger Government to take the issue to the World Court, the court of the international bourgeoisie. At the same time it has joined in with the dominant anti-French hysteria. The bottom line for the Labour Party is that working-class internationalism must always be subordinated to defending and promoting NZ national capitalism; and in the same way Labour has consistently subordinated working-class militancy to the polite legalism of the parliamentary road.

French Workers Can Stop Chirac

It’s unlikely that the World Court will change the Chirac Government’s plans. But a determined campaign of industrial action by the French working class could stop the testing at Mururoa in its tracks. If the French workers’ movement met the schemes of the militarists with a wave of strikes against all enterprises connected to the nuclear testing programme, Chirac and Co could find their whole project derailed. A recent poll showed that 60 percent of the French public is opposed to the resumption of testing (Dominion, 3 August); outbursts of blinkered anti-French chauvinism will only undermine this opposition, and serve the interests of those seeking to push the French workers into the camp of their "own" rulers.

The NZ trade-union bureaucracy has joined with the other components of the South Pacific Oceanic Council of Trade Unions (SPOCTU) in promoting a campaign of industrial action against the tests. We support those elements of SPOCTU’s campaign which call for strikes against test programme activities and action aimed at the French Government. But SPOCTU’s demands for widespread consumer boycotts of French goods and services only play into the hands of the Chirac administration and must be rejected.

The kind of New Zealand nationalism which dominates all mainstream political forces opposed to the tests has even infected elements of the ostensibly revolutionary left. The Socialist Workers Organisation (SWO) is an organisation formed from an unlikely merger of elements of the longtime anti-Soviets of the "International Socialist Organisation" (ISO) with sections of the old, fervently Stalinist, "Communist Party of New Zealand" (CPNZ). The reformists-in-deed of the SWO have correctly highlighted the "anti-French hysteria" prevalent in the anti-tests movement; but at the same time the SWO has also pandered to little-New Zealand chauvinism by calling on Bolger to send in a New Zealand navy frigate:

"We need to put pressure on the Nats to take some real action. ... We should demand that they [sic] government send frigates to support the Rainbow Warrior"
(Socialist Worker, 10 July).

Subsequently, in response to a critical letter, the SWO lamely defended their position, seeking refuge in non-existent distinctions: "The point made in the article was not about ‘NZ armed forces be sent to Mururoa’ but the government sending frigates to support the Rainbow Warrior" (Socialist Worker, 24 July). The SWO fretted that if they opposed the Government’s plans to send a vessel, "we would deservedly isolate ourselves from the broad protest movement ...." For the SWO, calling for what is popular is usually preferable to calling for what is necessary.

Inherent Drive to War

While the contemporary "peace" movement tends to focus on the nuclear issue, at bottom the question of how to eliminate the threat of nuclear destruction is not different from the question of how to end war in general. Only an imbecile would deny the fact that with the advent of nuclear weapons human beings achieved a new and grisly efficiency in the business of killing—nuclear weapons threaten human existence as no weapons have before. But fantasies about establishing a "nuclear-free" Pacific, or even less likely, a nuclear-free planet, cannot remove the shadow of annihilation which hangs over our species; for that will remain as long as this irrational and destructive capitalist order, with its inherent drive to war, survives.

Warfare under the bourgeois order is at bottom the product of economic struggle for markets and resources by different national bourgeoisies. The modern-day nuclear madness is only the end-game in a world torn by inter-imperialist rivalry and war. And even besides nuclear weapons, the imperialist arsenals of the world are capable of wreaking carnage on a stupendous scale. It is important to remember that 1945, the year of the A-bomb, was also the year of the horrendous firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo, where "conventional" incendiary bombs caused death tolls comparable to those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Who Will Disarm Whom?

Disarmament, including the disarming of any section of armaments owned by one imperialist power or another, is impossible without first removing the roots of imperialist rivalry--capitalism. As Leon Trotsky wrote in 1938, in response to the liberal-democratic "Disarmament" call:

"But the entire question revolves around who will disarm whom. The only disarmament which can avert or end war is the disarmament of the bourgeoisie by the workers. But to disarm the bourgeoisie the workers must arm themselves."
(The Transitional Programme)

Thus today it is necessary to fight, not for the abstraction of "ending war", but rather for a resolution of the class war in the favour of ordinary working people throughout the world. This necessarily means that where capitalism has already been removed-- as in China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea, and in the former Soviet Union until its counterrevolutionary demise in the 1991 August coup--we recognise the right of those deformed workers’ states to maintain and develop nuclear weaponry as an elemental precondition for their defence against capitalist restoration.

Soviet Deterrent

The idea of the nuclear deterrent has in fact always had a solid kernel of truth. If the Soviets had not developed nuclear arms in the late 1940s, there is every possibility that Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam would now be nothing more than nuclear wastelands, and perhaps the world with them.

A half decade after the criminal devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US state came close to a further nuclear strike against a second Asian country--North Korea. When China entered the Korean war in November 1950, US Imperialist-in-Chief Truman publicly stated that the use of the atomic bomb against China was "under consideration". In April 1951, Truman signed an order granting his military commander, the infamous Douglas MacArthur, control of 26 atomic bombs. But by this time the Soviet Union had developed its own nuclear capacity. At this stage the USSR still lacked the delivery systems necessary to strike at the North American continent; but the imperialist rulers in London and Paris felt considerably more vulnerable and pressured Truman to pledge that no nuclear weapons would be used. It was only the threat of a break with his European allies which caused Truman to withdraw his order and fire MacArthur. Without the deterrent of the nuclear arsenal controlled by Moscow, the US imperialists would have once again dropped nuclear bombs on Asian cities.

We have no illusions in the corrupt, bureaucratic Stalinist regimes which rule in the deformed workers’ states. Nuclear testing conducted by a Fidel Castro or a Deng Xiaoping is just as likely to disregard the needs of their own populations. We do not accept responsibility for any crimes committed by them on their own citizens. On the contrary, we want to see these repressive bureaucracies removed through workers’ political revolution and replaced by healthy, democratic working-class regimes. But to the extent that the Stalinists, in defending themselves, are also compelled to defend the collectivised economies they sit on top of, we call for their unconditional military defence.

And so we reject any calls on the Stalinists to disarm, in the face of the multi-trillion dollar arsenals of a hostile imperialist camp. And we condemn the brazen hypocrisy of the imperialists: compare the muted and barely critical response of the Clinton administration to renewed French testing with their hysterical determination to prevent North Korea having its own nuclear capacity. US Imperialism--Hands off North Korea!

Capitalist Swords into Socialist Ploughshares

The alternatives for humanity posed by Frederick Engels over 100 years ago--socialism or barbarism--are ever more true now. The only way to avoid barbarism, indeed even annihilation, is by the working class seizing power internationally. But that requires pursuing the class war with a renewed militancy and a new clarity of political vision.

Only a working-class movement armed with the programme of revolutionary Marxism can break humanity out of the capitalist circle of misery and death and establish a new order of genuine peace and international cooperation. In creating a socialist world the preconditions will be laid for the epoch-making transformation of swords into ploughshares.

For Industrial Action against the Testing at Mururoa—from France, to New Caledonia, to Tahiti, to New Zealand!

No Illusions in Our "Own" Capitalist Government—The Main Enemy is at Home!

French and NZ Imperialists: Get Your Hands Off the Pacific!

Posted: 06 May 2005