Confusion on the Left

“Iran, Hezbollah and Russia are fighting in solidarity with Syria in defending Syria’s soverienty and this is a great act of international solidarity.  The liberation of Aleppo was a victory for the people against imperialism.  The US role has been to support and enable ISIS with tremendous military aid from the US along  with  Turkey.  They support ISIS, Nusra, El Quaeda and the so-called democratic opposition forces  in Syria, which are just as terroristic and violent as ISIS.  They all attack and commit genocide against the people of Syria.  It is foremost a war against the people and the entire infrastructure of the country.  ISIS is a neo-colonialist force for the imperialists.”

So wrote somebody on a left e mail list, expressing a view that is all too common on the left. Let’s dissect this statement:

“Iran, Hezbollah and Russia are… defending Syria’s sovereignty and this is a great act of international solidarity.” 

Really? Here we have the right wing, chauvinist Putin regime, the regime which bases itself on chauvinism at home and allies itself with far right bigots and racists and neofascists throughout Europe such as Jobbik in Hungary and the National Front in France, the regime that bombed Grozny (in Chechnya) to smithereens, and the right wing, religious fundamentalist Iranian regime, and Hezbollah – the representative of Shia capitalists. If anybody thinks they are sending troops into Syria, or bombing Syria (in the case of Putin’s forces) as an act of solidarity or to help the Syrian masses, or not acting in the interests of their own respective capitalists, they are living in an alternate universe. (For more information on these forces, see this article.)

The liberation of Aleppo…”

Here are the results of the bombing by the air forces of Putin and Assad. This is liberation?

See photo. This is what “liberation” means?

The US role has been to support and enable ISIS…”
This is the myth that so many on the left spread. It shows a complete ignorance of history. Where is the evidence? Some claim that US support for al Qaeda when it was fighting the Soviet troops in Afghanistan is proof. Can’t these people think straight? Don’t they realize that that was a completely different period and a completely different war? One left I talked with claimed that the fact that the (US backed) Iraqi troops cut and ran, leaving their weapons for the IS when the IS was approaching them in Mosul is proof. According to him, this was part of a US-inspired conspiracy to arm the Islamic State. According to this line of thinking, the Viet Cong were also supported by the US government, since the South Vietnamese army (backed by the US) was notorious for refusing to fight. Has this person never heard of troop morale?

In fact, if anybody has encouraged the growth of the Islamic State (or “Daesh”), it is Assad. As documented here among a host of other sources, Assad released some 1500 violent Salafists from prison shortly after the 2011 uprising. His purpose was to disrupt the forces against him as well as to win international backing. He succeeded.

A child victim of Assad. This was in 2011. It’s gotten worse since then. See: http://palestinianpundit.blogspot.com/2011/12/syrias-torture-machine.html

They (Nusra, islamic State, and other anti-Assad forces) all attack and commit genocide against the people of Syria.”
Who is committing what approaches genocide? All independent observers (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, etc.) estimate that something like 80% of the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Syrian war are due to the Russian and Assad forces. Of course that would be true; the number one cause of death in any war is from aerial bombardment, and it’s only the Putin and Assad regimes who have an air force.

“It is foremost a war against the people and the entire infrastructure of the country.”
Again, look at the pictures, the photos of the results of the bombings. Read the accounts of the groups cited above as well as of Doctors Without Borders. Who is bombing the schools and hospitals? Who? As Mego Terzian, the president of Doctors Without Borders commented: “Since the beginning of the war in Syria, the regime has adopted the policy of terror against the population. There has been indiscriminate bombing of civilians, including the hospitals. The hospitals are part of the general plan of terror adopted by the regime since the beginning of the conflict.”

ISIS is a neo-colonialist force for the imperialists.”
Again, the myth about the origins of ISIS. The least cursory review of their history shows that they originated from prisoners in Camp Bucca in Iraq, and that part of their origin was reaction against the US government’s invasion of Iraq as well as the brutal conditions at Camp Bucca. Then there is their call to end the Sykes-Picot national borders that have been the basis for capitalism throughout the entire region. Even the reactionary Saudi regime does not support that.

Allying with Fascists
The view that everything is a result of a conspiracy by US imperialism leads to some very strange bedfellows indeed. Take the Workers World Party and their wholly owned subsidiaries: the International Action Center (IAC) and United National Anti-war Coalition (UNAC). In 2014 they participated in a conference in Moscow organized by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR). This is a group that has links with fascist groups, if it is not fascist itself. According to this report (well worth reading on its own), along with these two US groups there were in attendance “Russian and Italian fascists and U.S. white nationalists from the neo-Confederate group League of the South.” None of this was mentioned by the IAC and UNAC, who seem to have no problem working with these fascists and racists.

This is what happens when the left sees only the hand of US imperialism in everything, when it fails to see the laws of motion of history, when it fails to see the working class as having its own interests, distinct from and opposed to every capitalist force in the world.

Jill Stein of Green Party happily seated with two utter reactionaries – Putin and Michael Flynn.
Stein has added to the confusion with her courting these reactionaries and her calls for “the US” and “Russia” to get along, meaning they should peacefully divide up the rest of the world to loot, plunder and destroy.

Opposition to US Imperialist Intervention
None of this is an argument for the intervention of the US government into Syria. As this article explains, no capitalist power, including the US regime, is capable of intervening in Syria (or anywhere else in the world) to the benefit of the working class majority. But there’s a simple matter of logic: If US capitalism is incapable of such intervention, what makes anybody think that Russian or Iranian capitalism is capable of it? On the other hand, if the reactionary Putin regime can be defended for intervening in Syria to fight the Islamic State, then how can these lefts oppose US intervention to also fight the Islamic State?

Historic Role of Working Class
What lies behind this sort of “thinking” is not only a refusal to take a serious look at history; it’s also a failure to consider the working class as a potential subject of history; it sees the most powerful capitalist country in the world – US capitalism – as having unlimited power to manipulate and control everything. It refuses to see that there are not only laws of motion of the capitalist economy; there are also laws of motion of political development.

If foreign policy is just an extension of domestic policy, then the reverse is true also, and this is the problem. Much of the same left that doesn’t see international struggles in clear class terms also doesn’t see the struggle here like that. The same light-minded, ahistorical approach, the same refusal to look beneath the surface, the same failure to see the class forces at work apply at home too.

Hopefully, this will change as a more open class struggle opens up in the US. How that develops and what relation it will possibly have with the class struggle around the world is another question.

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13 replies »

  1. U.S. imperialism is the greatest criminal entity on the planet, and the greatest danger to the human species – period. No confusion is possible on this. Just a fact.

    The point the white-helmet ‘left’ scrupulously avoids is that the key duty of socialists in imperialist countries (see Lenin’s definition, not CNN’s) is to combat and expose the crimes of their OWN imperialist bourgeoisie. Evading this task – or as in your case, offering back-door support to U.S. foreign policy in Syria – is the definition of what Marxists refer to as ‘social-imperialism’, aka ‘State-Department socialism.’

    • The claim that this article offers “back door support” for US imperialism is simply false.

      If we were to follow “Lumpy Lang’s” point of view, we would have supported Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s and ’40s. But, anyway, “Lumpy” is apparently ignorant of the situation in Syria, since the US government is openly intervening on the side of Assad, Putin & Co. And even if they weren’t, “Lumpy” simply ignores the most basic issue: what is in the interests of the Syrian working class? Or does she or he advocate that they must be sacrificed to some supposed greater good?

      Where “Lumpy” makes her/his mistake is assuming that the interests of the working class of Syria – or anywhere else – are aligned with the interests of the Russian, Iranian and Syrian capitalists. The true socialist position is that they aren’t aligned with any of these, nor are they aligned with the interests of US capitalism. She/he should read this article: https://oaklandsocialist.com/2016/12/26/cananycapitalistforceprovideasolution/

  2. “…the most basic issue: what is in the interests of the Syrian working class?”
    Bullshit. The most basic issue for the left in the U.S. is U.S. imperialism (compared to which the role of Iran and Russia are insignificant). There is no international ‘solidarity’ from workers in imperialist centers that is not based intransigent opposition to your own bourgeoisie and their international ‘assets’. All the ‘confusion’ here of your making.

    • @Lumpy The effect of your position is that you allow imperialism to define your politics: you define yourself in opposition to imperialism, rather than on the basis of an independent class analysis and the interests of the oppressed. That’s a formula for spiining around like a top and going nowhere.

      • This is true to an extent, but it’s even worse: Lumpy only sees one imperialist power: US imperialism. In effect, she/he supports Russian and Iranian imperialism. She/he claims that the role of those imperialist forces is “insignificant” in Syria. Lumpy should ask the families of the hundreds of thousands killed by Russian bombs how insignificant those forces are.

    • Thank you, Lumpy, for making your position clear. The idea that we should consider class struggle and the interests of the working class in the country at question – Syria – is “bullshit”. It would be interesting to know what role Lumpy plays in the class struggle at home. Probably something similar.

  3. We have received another comment from “Lumpy Lang”. She/he doubles down on her/his past comments – no attempt to refute either the facts or the arguments of the article. No reply to the query as to what her/his role is in the class struggle here at home. Until we get some serious reply to these, “Lumpy’s” comments will not be allowed to post here. We do, after all, try to have a certain level of serious political debate, rather than just abstract rantings.

  4. On what basis can Iran and Russia be considered imperialist in general, or pursuing imperialist interests in Syria specifically? I’d be curious to know, since it doesn’t seem to align at all with how Lenin defined imperialism.

    • In the first place, as Lenin defines imperialism it’s an economic drive that springs from the very laws of motion of capitalism itself. If that’s so, then every single capitalist state is – or would like to be – imperialist. And why would Russia and Iran be the exceptions? Why would the US be the only imperialist state in the world? Wasn’t the Ottoman Empire an imperialist empire? Or take Afghanistan: I just got done chatting with an Afghani refugee I know who’s living in Germany. He was describing to me how all these different Iranian businessmen are setting up shop in Afghanistan, enriching themselves at the expense of the Afghanis. What is that?

      But there’s another issue here: You can call it what you like, but how can anybody defend the capitalist regime of one country sending its troops into another to bomb the hell out of the people of that country and to help maintain in power a ruthless, neoliberal dictator who’s remained in power by the use of mass torture, among other things? Especially keeping in mind that this regime is a right-wing, neoliberal regime which stays in power also through repression and chauvinist appeals (yes, I’m referring to Putin). Or another regime – equally right wing if not worse – which stays in power through religious bigotry and sends its troops into another country to enforce ethnic cleansing, among other things. Yes, I’m referring to the Rouhani regime.

      Oaklandsocialist has made clear time and again its opposition to the US capitalist regime. We’ve made clear that it cannot play any sort of role either at home or abroad that serves the interests of any working class. But we also are not so blinded by that fact that we support the regimes of its rivals.

      • OS, I never said that the US is the only imperialist state in the world. France and the UK, to name just a couple of examples, are also imperialist. I asked how Russia and Iran fit the definition Lenin provided. Your response was that Lenin defines imperialism as “an economic drive that springs from the very laws of motion of capitalism itself.” Well, that is certainly true, but Lenin’s understanding of imperialism is much more specific than that. According to Lenin, imperialism is militaristic expansion of finance capital in a fierce competitive struggle for markets, raw material sources and cheap labour, and most importantly, spheres of superprofitable investment. Finance capital is a very specific term used by Lenin to refer to monopoly industrial capital merged with monopoly banking capital. In what sense is Iran’s or Russia’s involvement being undertaken for the benefit of a finance capital in their societies seeking pockets of super-profitable investment (through the export of capital–one of the five markers Lenin gives of imperialism in his pamphlet)? The short answer is, their involvement in Syria has nothing whatsoever to do with this. Their presence their is not imperialist in nature, not in the way that Lenin defined it.

        Now you ask: “but how can anybody defend the capitalist regime of one country sending its troops into another to bomb the hell out of the people of that country and to help maintain in power a ruthless, neoliberal dictator who’s remained in power by the use of mass torture, among other things?”

        You seem to suggest that if we don’t accept the premise that Iran and Russia are imperialist that we must not oppose their intervention in Syria. That is incorrect, though, as it is perfectly possible–nee, necessary–to observe that Russia, while not being an imperialist power, is undertaking actions in Syria that are harming the only solution to the sectarian civil conflict there: the rising up of an independent and multi-sect working class to resist U.S. imperialism, topple Assad, suppress the Islamic cut-throats, and expel Russia and other foreign armies from their land. The importance of noting that the US is imperialist while the other countries are not is that the involvement of the other countries, like Russia, is not a matter of principle, but rather a matter of concretely looking into the intentions and effects of what they are doing on the ground re: the class struggle. This is different than the calculation we use when considering the intervention of imperialist countries. It’s a matter of Marxist first principles to oppose boots on the ground regardless of their stated aims (e.g., the US “humanitarian” intervention in Haiti following the earthquake in 2010).

  5. More gobbledygook, more “theoretical” abstractions. More failure to deal with the issues raised in this article. And all designed to cover up and to avoid a very simple question: Do you support the Assad regime and the intervention of Putin, Rouhani and Hezbollah or not? Do you condemn what those forces are doing or not? This has nothing to do with whether we support any role for US capitalism, which we have answered decisively here and in other articles.

    • No, I do not “support Assad” or any other party in the sectarian civil war racking Syria at the present moment. Nor do I think that theory is “gobbledygook.” As Lenin said, without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary practice. Discard theory and you end up with the nonsense you have honed in on with this blog, re: the opportunism of SocAlt and Sawant.

  6. I would add this, to explain why I inserted my “gobbledygook.” I call for the defense of all Syrians, from Assad to Islamists, from *imperialist* boots on the ground and believe that the international proletariat has a side with any Syrian strikes against those forces. There is a principled position, the Leninist position. If ISIS were to strike against Russia, the working class has no side.

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