The Halliburton Scandal: Business as Usual

In the latest in the long line of corporate scandals involving the Bush Administration, Halliburton, the energy giant formerly run and still largely influenced abd controlled by Vice-President Dick Cheney, has announced that it will repay the US government over $27.4 million after it was discovered that it had grossly overcharged for the meals it supplies to the US military in Iraq. This follows on the heels of the discovery of bribery on the part of Halliburton agents who overcharged the military $6.3 million for fuel delivered to bases in Iraq and Kuwait. These glaring cases of graft and bribery may seem outrageous, but they are only the tip of the capitalist iceberg – just business as usual for US imperialism. These kinds of practices are in no way unique to Halliburton, or even the Bush Administration. The interconnections between capital and the state run deep, not just in George W. Bush’s America but in all capitalist countries.       

The overcharging discovery involves Kellog, Brown & Root, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton. In a controversial “no-bid” contract, KBR was awarded a total of $8 billion to provide laundry, food supply, and build bases for the US military in Iraq. This also includes $1.2 billion to restore production in the southern Iraqi oil fields. It just so happens that Vice-President and major Halliburton stock-holder Cheney was directly involved in the awarding of rebuilding contracts in Iraq! That is not to say that only Halliburton got a share – so did major Bush-backer Bechtel, the construction firm, and of course a Texas-based company by the name of Exxon-Mobil.        

Of course, this is not the first time US companies, whether they contribute more to the Republican or the Democratic Parties, have cashed in on US foreign policy. In fact, the US government operates several banks and organizations, all tax-funded, to spur on and assist US foreign investment. The foremost of these organizations are the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Import-Export Bank of the United States, and last but not least the International Monetary Fund, based in New York City. The OPIC assisted the now defunct Enron Corporation by granting it $2.4 billion in its venture to open a massive natural gas power plant in Nagpal, India, between 1992 and 2000. Halliburton is currently under investigation by French courts over $180 million paid in bribes to Nigerian government officials in its bid to win a gas plant deal along with partners Technip (France,) ENI SpA (Italy,) and Japan Gasoline Corporation.         

Imperialist wars have always provided ample business “opportunities” – and the current war in Iraq is no exception. This is a defining feature of capitalism, specifically capitalism in its era of imperialism and decay. The following quote from a former US Marine general sums it all up: “I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Cuba and Haiti a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American Republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket.” (General Smedley Butler, from a speech in 1933.)       

Lenin, in his major work Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism explains that modern imperialism develops as a struggle between the most advanced capitalist countries over markets, resources and spheres of influence due to the constraints and narrow limitations of the nation-state. The capitalists of the largest imperialist countries compete with one another to gain access and control over any and all markets. For this they are reliant upon the state, which under capitalism is in reality nothing other than the executive committee of the ruling class – the bourgeoisie. In pursuing the interests of its own national bourgeoisie, the state necessarily comes into conflict not only with the colonial and “third world” countries it sets out to financially and politically dominate, but its imperialist rivals as well. As a result of this historical situation, the state and capital fuse together more and more. Due to its role in society the state appears to remain “above” society, yet it is by no means an impartial arbiter between the classes. The state’s role is to defend and pursue the interests of the dominant class in society. In the United States this congealing of the state and the business world is so developed that the small groups of individuals who control most of the nation’s wealth are also the same individuals who hold the most powerful offices within the state.         

George W. Bush provides a fine example. After graduating from college he was given an oil services company by his oil tycoon / Congressman father, George Bush senior. After running his first company into the ground, he was given a position in another of his father’s companies. After a less than stellar performance in the business world, George Junior entered politics. He was later elected Governor of Texas for two terms, in the process earning the state a record for its number of executions and the amount of industrial pollutants released into the air, water and the ground. In the meantime, when he wasn’t busy slashing Texas’ educational budget and making the state a capitalist wonderland of industrial deregulation, he managed to visit Argentina, where he threw around his family name on behalf of friend Ken Lay’s Enron Corporation, winning the company its first Argentine contract. As a result of Argentina’s own deregulation spree in the late 1990s, the country sank into an economic crisis it has yet to emerge from. Finally, George Junior was to follow his father’s footsteps into the White House in 2000, in large part due to the election ballot fiasco and voter registration sabotage in the state of Florida, governed by George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb. The interconnections between the bourgeoisie and the state run deep.        

The Bush family is just one of the more well-known political families. We should not forget the Democratic Kennedy family has been represented in Congress since the 1950s, and can lay claim to initiating broader US involvement in the Vietnam War and the attempted invasion of Cuba in 1962. John Kerry, one of the members of this extensive family, is putting himself forward as the Democratic candidate for the 2004 elections. However, some family traditions run deep, and Kerry’s campaign proposal to increase the number of US troops in Iraq is unsettlingly reminiscent of John F. Kennedy’s escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. Last but not least, Mr. Kerry’s campaign is being financed not by public campaign funds, but rather with his own personal fortune derived from his marriage to cketchup heiress, Theresa Heinz. The Bush and Kennedy families are but two of the 150 families that control the vast majority of the wealth in the United States.       

The state, far from being an impartial mediator between the classes, is the state of the capitalists. It defends their interests at home and abroad, domestically with laws, the courts, police, and prisons; abroad with trade pacts, embargoes, subsidies, tariffs, and imperialist wars. Not only that, but the captains of industry regularly pass over to leading positions in government and then back again. Halliburton’s outright scamming of othe military in Iraq should not surprise anyone – it is only a more glaring example of the capitalists’ plundering of the state and the workers’ taxes that fund it.         I

n the past decade and half, the Federal and State governments have continually slashed the budget on all programs and services needed by the working class, while cutting taxes for the rich. Transportation, education, health programs, public workers’ salaries, workplace safety inspection and a host of other services have been continually cut to the bone. The slashing of the education budget, and the introduction of religious creationism into the public schools has given American education a serious blow (what happened to the separation of church and state?). Many American students today cannot even find Canada on a map! The wages and salaries of public workers are at their lowest in a quarter century. Tens of thousands of workers are killed or maimed on the job each year. Worst of all, the gradual destruction of health services for the young, elderly, and the poorest US citizens has created a tremendous crisis in which millions are unable to get medical treatment or necessary medication. Last summer, the movie John Q., in which a working class father holds an entire hospital hostage in order that his dying son can receive a heart transplant, was a box office smash for obvious reasons. The looting of the public by companies like Halliburton is clear evidence that there is no longer anything historically progressive in capitalism, it is played out. Instead of developing and revolutionizing production as it did 200 years ago, it now is so feeble that it has to feed off of its own state. Capitalism cannot offer us anything more than worsening living conditions and wages, wars of imperialist plunder and crises. We are living through a spiral of capitalist crises, and we require a socialist solution!

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