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Democratic revolution and Egypt: a response to Brecht de Smet

I recently wrote an article entitled Democratic revolution and the Arab revolutions: addressing the myth of permanent revolution in Egypt, which elicited this response from Brecht De Smet, a notable commentator on the Egyptian revolution. I thought that the response was worth a reply and also served as a good basis for an addendum to the article.

Here is the original comment:

"Well, we could have an honest discussion on the validity of permanent revolution in the epoch of developed capitalism (I would argue then that the meaning of PR becomes much closer to Luxemburg's treatment of the relation between the 'political' and the 'economic' in The Mass Strike), but the piece has some basic facts wrong concerning the political attitude of the RS [Revolutionary Socialists], for example. I remember criticizing them during the presidential elections (Morsi-Shafiq) because they actually were taking their support for Morsi against Shafiq too far. Moreover, most of their cadres criticized the focus of other activists on Tahrir and aimed to spread the revolution to the provincial cities and towns, neighborhoods and workplaces.

The author doesn't realize that there can be different forms of counter-revolution and that Egypt, Tunisia and Syria represent these shades of violence and of the retaking of the initiative by the ruling classes.

The author doesn't realize that the trajectory of an originally genuine mass movement such as Tamarod was not predetermined in advance and that socialists would have been *stupid* not to participate, intervene, and orient it toward a revolutionary course (of course, in the process they lost out to the more powerful influences of the military, but what can you *do*? Remain in the background and applaud the sham 'democratization' under Morsi?).

The author doesn't realize that there is a difference between a critique of a 'confused' or 'incomplete' revolution (indeed from the *normative* point of view that to emancipate the region one must make a socialist revolution and not merely a democratic one) and an analysis of the forces of counter-revolution (i.e., the organized force of the ruling classes, which may contain popular elements).

The author claims that the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) took their support for Morsi too far, which I can only assume he means that they, like many of the "secular" revolutionaries at the time, decided to support Morsi, who represented a large component of those who had participated in and supported the January 25 revolution. Morsi’s opponent, one might remember, was the overtly and unashamedly counter-revolutionary Ahmed Shafik, whose campaign rallies were openly attended by members of the security forces and who promised to mete out "massive violence" in the event of his victory. In such circumstances, it hardly takes the abandonment of one’s principles to vote for Morsi. Other than that, I have no idea how the RS took its support for Morsi "too far"? De Smet never does go into detail about it.

De Smet says something that tellingly corresponds to the paradigm of sectarian delusion that is suffered by many Western leftists that I laid out in my initial article. He says "most of their [the RS’] cadres criticised the focus of their activists on Tahrir and aimed to spread the revolution to the provincial cities and town and neighborhoods and workplaces". He seems to be labouring under the delusion that the January 25 revolution was the RS’s to spread – not only is the RS an incredibly small sect, one which is completely unrepresentative of the majority of people and forces who took part in and supported the revolution, but the January 25 revolution had already spread all across the country.

So why did the RS support Morsi, only to turn against him so viciously a few months later? As with other political entities in Egypt, it was more than likely a mixture of political opportunism, theoretical absurdities and the political peer pressure – the RS’s comrades in the liberal April 6 Movement and that infamous network of liberal-left activists were all enthusiastic supporters of Tamarod, so they would have been veritable social outcasts if they had taken a principled anti-Morsi, but pro-democracy stance in this context. Moreover, as I said in my article, the realities of democracy made these forces absolutely irrelevant – the only thing that kept up their media profiles, including appearing on the major domestic private and rabidly anti-Ikhwan cable TV channels and western and regional media outlets, was to conform to the dominant arguments against the Morsi government and the Ikhwan. It might be useful for some if the RS was to explain their position, but they don’t really talk much about it. One can only imagine why.

As I said in the article, which I don’t think De Smet has actually read, the RS have absolutely no social base. Even giving anything other than sectarian relevance to its "debate" about whether or not to boycott the 2012 presidential election threatens to give them a significance that they quite simply just don’t have when it comes to national politics in Egypt. To put it another way, it’s not as if Mohamed Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party were sitting tensely waiting to hear if Gigi Ibrahim was going to vote for them. The reason the author doesn’t know or care about any of this is, I fear, because his consciousness as far as the January 25 revolution is concerned only extends to the narrative espoused by forces such as the RS. This is problematic as it tends to mean one is left utterly confused about the balance of forces involved in the uprising.

This is precisely the point I was making about why it became politically convenient for forces such as the RS and their comrades to act as if the post-January 25 democracy was of no significance whatsoever. It was a stunning piece of political projection, namely because they themselves were of no significance whatsoever.

De Smet actually doesn’t respond any of the content of my article, instead declaring a series of things that I apparently "don’t realise", which, in this context, I can only surmise means that I fail to mindlessly repeat parts of the delusional narrative of self-justification that underlines much of the left’s take on these events.

So, the first thing I apparently "don’t realise" is that "there are different forms of counter-revolution and that Egypt, Tunisia and Syria represent these shades of violence and of the retaking of the initiative by the ruling classes". This is another one of these statements that is massively popular among the left when it comes to the so-called "Arab spring", but it is a statement rooted in the fantasy politics associated with certain takes on "permanent revolution" and of the narratives formed by its sectarian adherents.

As I stated in the article, the revolution in Tunisia was a national democratic revolution; hence why democracy is seen as being both the main product and the main instrument of all of the forces that overthrew the Ben Ali regime. The revolution wasn’t a socialist revolution; thus, the dynamic of either Ennahda or Nidaa Tounis being "counter-revolutionary" doesn’t make any sense. For either to be counter-revolutionary in this context, they would have to be anti-democratic. Yes, both might be in favour of economic liberalism and both, it could be argued, have the potential to become counter-revolutionary, but the latter is deeply unlikely as it would involve the setting up of another tyranny (and all this entails), which is somewhat contrary to the balance of forces within Tunisia, with the will of the masses corresponding to the broad political and ruling classes, as reflected in the main product of the Tunisian revolution, which is the massively popular revolutionary constitution, enshrining all the staples of what might be called 'bourgeois democracy' – multi-party democratic system, human rights enshrined in law, establishment of a free press etc. The truth is that if an anti-neoliberal left force was capable of winning the Tunisian elections, there is nothing to stop it doing so. Indeed, the fourth biggest party in the Tunisian parliament is the Popular Front, a broadly leftist coalition led by Hamma Hammami.

This really does get to the heart of the matter – "permanent revolution" forces its proponents into grasping around wildly for reasons to dismiss all of the forces to its right as "counter-revolutionary" regardless of the context. In Egypt, this was opportunistically and parasitically selective - it led to a group like the RS disseminating the idea that the June 30 protest movement in Egypt was actually all about Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party’s adherence to ‘neoliberalism’, but, in reality, the main political forces (political forces much larger and with much more influence than the tiny RS) that supported these protests and the Tamarod campaign to unseat Morsi were actually massively supportive of ‘neoliberalism’. It led to the RS telling us all how the June 30 movement was formed because of the Freedom and Justice Party’s anti-democratic practices, yet the major political forces involved in June 30 were mostly far from democratic, whether it was opportunistic pro-military Neo-Nasserists, opportunistic elitist liberals and the remnants of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

This brings me on to the second thing that I purportedly "don’t realise", which is:

“… that the trajectory of an originally genuine mass movement such as Tamarod was not predetermined in advance and that socialists would have been *stupid* not to participate, intervene, and orient it toward a revolutionary course (of course, in the process they lost out to the more powerful influences of the military, but what can you *do*? Remain in the background and applaud the sham 'democratization' under Morsi?).”

Firstly, the trajectory of Tamarod was absolutely "predetermined" – it’s entire raison d’être was to unseat Morsi by gathering more signatures than the amount of votes Morsi received in the fair and free democratic election. The way they did this was by claiming to collect 22 million signatures, but, until this very moment, none of this has ever been verified, namely because it was an inherently anti-democratic movement that became the perfect vehicle for the anti-democratic counter-revolution. The fact that a tiny group like the RS were willing to collapse into these larger forces along the dubious reasoning of ‘permanent revolution’ tells us absolutely nothing about the nature of the movement formed around Tamarod. What does tell us about the nature of the movement is that despite the fact it did contain genuine grassroots activists and that it was a genuinely mass movement, its own founders admit that it was aided by the security forces (the so-called ‘deep state’) from its very inception and that it gained the support of every counter-revolutionary, pro-neoliberal political force in the country. These are the forces that came out in Tahrir, who were holding up signs calling for the slaughter of "Ikhwani sheep", and who were chanting "the people and the police are one hand" and then celebrating as members of the hated CSF joined the protests. Sure, some of the forces that attached themselves to it did so for what you might call ‘progressive’ reasons, they might have also been 'grassroots' etc., but its success as a counter-revolutionary movement is that it marshalled and guided these forces away from democratic participation and towards the overthrow of democracy.

Instead of the June 30 forces waiting for the parliamentary elections scheduled just a few months later, which, if Morsi’s unpopularity was truly at the levels his enemies made it out to be, would have ensured a major defeat for the Freedom and Justice Party and thus enabled the parliament to impeach Morsi (although, as we’re now seeing as a consequence and part of the June 30 counter-revolution, we know exactly the nature of the crimes that Morsi’s main enemies were accusing him of – espionage on behalf of Iran, a plot with Hezbollah and Hamas to destabilise Egypt etc. - which is yet another indication of the nature of the June 30 movement and its ideological trajectory), or they could have forced the collapse of the Qandil cabinet, or, they could have waited for the next round of presidential elections. But no, they, at first, went for the option of unconstitutionally demanding snap presidential elections in which Morsi wasn’t allowed to run, which, and this is the major point, would have necessarily entailed the intervention of the military; hence why they were supporting and backing all of this, along with their corresponding political supporters. This wasn’t a co-option of an otherwise progressive movement, one that was ideologically ‘up in the air’, which could be won to Trotksyism by a couple of hundred members of the RS in Tahrir, by the military. This was a movement that contained counter-revolutionary and pro-military forces that the RS had let itself be swept up in.

The major consciousness of the June 30 movement was one shaped by political opportunism and hysterical, ultra-nationalist and violent anti-Ikhwanism, which had been wrought by one year of relentless anti-Morsi/anti-Ikhwan propaganda from the state and private media (much of which is owned by pro-Mubarak/pro-military tycoons), which blamed him for everything from Egypt’s deep structural and socio-political problems (train crashes, water shortages, tourism drying up etc.), to these absurd notions of ‘akhwana’ or ‘Brotherhoodisation’, as if Morsi was some kind of Ayatollah Khomeini figure on the verge of declaring a theocracy. The idea that a force like the Revolutionary Socialists, whose membership is in the hundreds at most, could possibly "participate, intervene and reorient" this movement is as absurd as the German Stalinists who used the slogan "after Hitler, us". The full absurdity of the argument can be seen if we look at Tamarod’s enthusiastic endorsement of and participation in military rule, as well as its fascistic cheerleading for the destruction of democracy and every single instance of mass murder perpetrated by the Al-Sisi regime. Indeed, these people who the RS thought were the vanguard of the social revolution and who they held joint conferences with, were even advocating ‘citizen armies’ to help the police hunt down and kill pro-Morsi protesters.

Moreover, if De Smet really wants us to believe that the June 30 movement was somehow on the cusp of being ‘progressive’ and anti-military, or was susceptible to the sloganeering of tiny Trotskyist forces that most of its participants had never heard of, I’d ask him to explain the June 30 movement’s mobilisations after July 3. Following the military coup, which, let’s not forget, this movement hysterically celebrated, including that infamous moment when the Egyptian Armed Forces dropped little pre-prepared Egyptian flags on the ‘revolutionaries’ from helicopters above Tahrir, in between the celebratory fly-overs put on by the air force (I guess the RS’s missionary work wasn’t going very well at this point), the June 30 movement mobilised in large numbers on two more occasions, both of which followed the new figurehead of June 30, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s, call for the movement to fill the streets and squares to support his government’s ‘war on terror’, which actually amounted to, most famously, the massacres of unarmed pro-democracy protesters who had gathered in massive numbers in the squares of Rabaa and Nadha. The June 30 movement, led by Tamarod and Hamdeen Sabbahi's 'Popular Current', once again filled up Tahrir to support the military. This was not any kind of progressive movement and those who say otherwise are, once again, relating to Egypt only as a bizarre political fantasy upon which all kinds of dogma and ideological fixations can be imposed.

It’s within this context that De Smet must declare that "democratisation" was a "sham". He’s certainly not making an empirically coherent or justifiable point, but rather retroactively defending the woeful positions of the RS. The truth is that the RS, bereft of a social base and for all the circumstances and theoretical absurdities I talk about in the article (the ones De Smet doesn’t mention or refer to), merely collapsed into a mass movement that was objectively anti-democratic and counter-revolutionary. The dynamic in Egypt was one of a coalition of counter-revolutionary forces, including the Armed Forces and ‘deep state’ moving against and exterminating democratic forces – forces that had both been elected by millions of Egyptians via the post-January 25 democratic system and that could be removed democratically. The RS sided with former forces against the latter and their apologists continue to mindlessly perpetuate these errors. If ‘democratisation’ was such a ‘sham’, De Smet must account for the fact that since July 3 almost every product and victory of the democratic revolution has been violently reversed and halted, including the right to free assembly, a fair and free elections, academic freedom, freedom of expression (just think of all the anti-Morsi TV shows, newspapers, radio programmes etc.) and so on. It’s completely true that Morsi wasn’t perfect when these things were concerned, but it was only after and because of his demise that authoritarianism and tyranny could be restored. The notion that this year of democracy was a "sham" is a point that only those who didn’t realise or care about its preciousness and fragility; indeed, it’s why those forces who marched against democracy, such as the RS, can call those who still march against the coup, risking life and limb, "counter-revolutionaries", while the mass movement of June 30 that was supposedly potentially progressive has just melted away into indifference or active support for the regime.

The third thing that I supposedly "don’t realise" is that:

"... there is a difference between a critique of a 'confused' or 'incomplete' revolution (indeed from the *normative* point of view that to emancipate the region one must make a socialist revolution and not merely a democratic one) and an analysis of the forces of counter-revolution (i.e., the organized force of the ruling classes, which may contain popular elements)."

Even if I accept the underlying premises of this statement without argument, the point still remains that if a revolution is a ‘confused’ or ‘incomplete’ one, and amidst this alleged confusion and incompletion a multi-party parliamentary democracy is formed, socialists should still not be supporting the overthrow of a democratically elected leader by counter-revolutionary and anti-democratic forces. Indeed, this last paragraph actually validates all of the major points I made about the way in which these kinds of leftists have related to the Arab revolutions – engaging only with whatever sects they happen to agree with and orienting themselves on fantasies.

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Kobani's battle against the fellowship of terror

The final years of the last century confronted us with what seemed to be the last lesson of history: the twilight of revolutions. In consequence, the only threat to the eternal rule of ‘liberal-democratic’ capitalism came to be ‘the outside’, i.e. terrorism; ergo, ‘the war on terror’ as the sole remaining game in polis. Yet, soon a series of mass movements and popular uprisings—from Iran’s Green Movement to the Arab uprisings— reversed that lesson, and was even deemed by many as a rebirth of history. Now that revolution is once again a possibility (and in some places like Rojava has moved quietly but persistently from ‘probability’ to ‘actuality’), there seems to be an urge to choke it with countless–legitimate, illegitimate, covert, overt, high-tech, low-tech, planned, improvised— wars, conflicts, coups, missions, interventions, etc. Every iota of identity—religious, ethnic, national, tribal—ought to be utilized against the possible encounter between the masses and emancipatory politics, against the formation of a singular universality.

The real players, perching on their strongholds in Washington, Riyadh, Tehran, or Istanbul, are obviously beyond harm, resting assured that these proxy wars will never bend a twig in their backyards. Their only concern may be economic setbacks, though everyone knows that business as usual toils along somehow under such circumstances; moreover, thanks to the UN/US sanctions, there are always succulent morsels and shady deals awaiting the brave ones who know and appreciate the challenges of free trading in oil or arms. This appears to be the most spontaneous, instinctive response of our zeitgeist to the possibility of revolutionary change: a recipe for counter-revolution from Egypt and Libya to Syria and Iraq to replace the collective struggles for liberation with despotic regimes.

Consider Egypt, for instance. The Egyptian mass uprising (for various reasons) left the very core of the system, the army, and the State, untouched. The army (much favoured by the U.S.) waited for the mass movement to subside, meanwhile getting rid of Mobarak, and aggravating existing conflicts and creating new ones. Muslim Brotherhood and other petit-bourgeois parties, all made their contributions, feeding on religious-ethnic identities and petty differences, to the extent that by the time the army made its final move and regained power, its coup hardly induced a stir. Countries such as Israel and the U.S. even greeted this long-sought coup with a sigh of relief, whilst Cairo’s radical students and feminists could only react with a lugubrious resignation, surreptitiously murmuring that it was at least better than endless conflicts or wars.

In Syria, peaceful, popular protests had a rather transient life. Given the draconian record of Assad’s regime and the scale of mass dissensus against it, it soon became clear that not only Assad’s family, but also the Baath party had to flee. What made the situation both more complex and bloody was the fact that Assad’s regime had no anti-riot police force, having always relied upon its ruthless army, which, as ‘the nation’s main weapon against Israel,’ had enjoyed some support among the people (a situation contrary to Libya, where Gadhafi’s army had been merely a great, well-armed police force). The Syrian army’s prominent role in crushing the protests naturally led to a bloodbath. When Iran and Hezbollah intervened to help Assad’s regime and fill the void of a less fatal instrument of oppression, it was already too late, since the Syrian regime, well-known even in the middle-east for its boundless ferocity, had declared war on its own people.

The unprecedented violence and destruction unleashed by Assad’s State eventually opened the gates of hell, provoking Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to enter the scene, each supporting or organizing an armed militia (supposedly backed up by the endless flow of arms and money). This let loose hoards of Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Arabs, Turks, the religious, and the secular, all waging war against one another, with the splitting lines of identity and ideology piercing through every front or faction, and causing a bellum omnia contra omnes in which the friend and enemy divide kept being erased and redrawn. As a result, another political, popular uprising (i.e. an unarmed uprising relying on general strikes and mass demonstrations in many cities and towns), which could lead to a political revolution (or, who knows, even a socio-political one), faded in the horizon.

The people of Rojava—i.e. the North-eastern part of Syria, where the majority of population are Kurds—also took part in the Syrian uprising. However, when the civil war began, this region turned into a safe haven in the midst of a bloodbath. Since Assad’s army was not strong enough to squash the movement entirely, it had to constantly move, or even retreat permanently from certain regions. Rojava turned out to be the most crucial one. The retreat of Assad’s army, the hidden or open rivalries between regional powers (which barred the way to any form of military intervention), and, above all, the political will of the people accentuated with mutual bonds and traditions (expressed and embodied in a political organization), had been the main factors that made the establishment of the three autonomous cantons a possibility in 2012.

The emergence of Kobani, as a new Kurdish power, had been quite similar to the formation of Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, resulting from the American invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Even so, the affinity ends here. It is crucial to notice that Kurdish cantons in Syria relied on the support of the native people and their non-market economic relations, which despite its traditional roots, is to a great extent a new invention. The three cantons in Rojava are a conglomeration of cooperatives, which can become the bearers of socialist relations, if we keep in sight Marx’s revision of his former somewhat Eurocentric ideas as a result of his correspondence with his Russian followers that faced him with the institution of village councils in Russia and its great, historical potentials. Furthermore, these people have been organized and maintained with the aid of radical leftist political forces such as ‘The People’s Defending Battalions,’ which, for their part owed a great deal to the material, ideological, and even military support of the Workers Party of Kurdistan. These cantons sought to dissuade extreme Kurdish nationalism, identity politics, and even nation-state building, tendencies that draw a line of demarcation between them and the leaders of the highly nationalist Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq (whose main endeavour has been orientated towards State-building). Despite the presence of democratic forces in northern Iraq, the latter has consented to deal with Western and regional powers to reach its nationalist objectives.

The head of Kurdistan Regional Government even took advantage of the invasion of Iraqi borders by the forces of Islamic State (Isis) to officially request independence, whilst declaring a neutral stance in the conflict. Even when Kobani and the People’s Defending Battalions began fighting Isis two years ago (this battle, as well as the existence of Isis, remained chiefly unmentioned in the Western media until very recently), these nationalist Kurdish leaders in Iraq turned a deaf ear to the predicaments of the Syrian Kurds, and at last announced their solidarity with Kobani only under the pressure of public opinion. Their repugnance stemmed from the conviction that not only the socialist and democratic aspirations of Kobani threatened different forms of fundamentalism, but also their capitalist, ethnic-based state-building a la Qatar. Their bluffs vis a vis the establishment of an independent Kurdish government was betrayed when the forces of Isis drew closer to Erbil, and following the retreat of the KDP Peshmarge militia, the leader of Kurdish government had to plead for help from the US and regional powers, whose intervention prevented Erbil from falling.

In the last two years, the Kurdish militias (joined by male and female, Kurd and non-Kurd volunteers) have been fighting in three fronts with the Isis criminals without heavy arms and any support whatsoever from “the alliance of 40 countries”. The emergence of the Isis, however, intersects with the realization of the logic of neoliberal capitalism in the Middle-Eastern Islamic-oil regimes, all bent on building replicas of New York and Hong Kong in the midst of the sterile deserts of Arabian Peninsula (some like Dubai and Qatar have actually achieved it). The phenomenon of Isis is indeed a hybrid product—and a legitimate child— of the Western ‘war on terror’ and regional ambitions and rivalries of these Islamic-oil regimes. Without resorting to conspiracy theories, it can be surmised that the Isis has its very roots in the wars of the US in the region and the neo-conservative agenda to enforce American ‘liberal democracy’ as a new arrangement for the perpetuation of the imperialism of the West. These wars and interventions have either directly paved the way for the emergence of Al-Qaida and Isis, or indirectly led to vulnerable and frenzied situations in which every regional power could found a fundamentalist militia in pursuit of its goals, victimizing ordinary citizens in the process.

This symbiosis of terrorist fundamentalism and brutal capitalism, which revolves around the military intervention of major powers, brings to light the logic of rule and exception, where the rule is the hegemony of depoliticizing neoliberalism, and the exception, the fundamentalist terrorism obsessed with the cult of blood and death. It should not come as a surprise that rule and exception not only create, sustain, and buttress each other (both materially and ideologically), but at times they actually become one, as, for instance, the involvement of Isis in the global scene of production and trading of raw oil, slave-market1, etc. Throughout the last two decades, we have been witnessing the realization of this logic, made possible by the absence of any real communist alternative; now, more than ever, we can observe that real emancipatory politics cannot embrace the present alternatives, but requires a third way, consisting in a radical transformation of the present coordinates of the situation. In our times, this form of politics has different names according to different regional circumstances; nonetheless, Kobani is undoubtedly one of them, and, in a sense, the most revealing one. According to Joseph Daher, a member of the Revolutionary Left Current in Syria, several battalions of Arab militants, and the Free Syrian Army (fighting against both the Assad regime and Isis), are also defending Kobani.2 This resistance presents us with a third way that eludes the position of mere spectators of the massacre of innocent people in Benghazi by Colonel Gaddafi, or supporting NATO’s military intervention (which finally ended up in dividing Libya among a myriad of fundamentalist or governmental militias, hence paving the path towards the establishment of a new Islamic State).

Despite the endeavours and manoeuvrings of the Kurdish Syrian leaders who sought to be allowed to join the coalition, they have not been accepted, a fact that, beyond all Realpolitik, testifies to the position of Kobani as an exception. In a word, Isis is the exception at the service of the rule, whilst Kobani is the true exception or “the third way,” capable of interrupting this vicious circle. Even though it may seem that Kobani’s militants and the Isis occupy the same form, they fill this form with drastically different contents: Kobani’s content is true universal emancipatory politics, whereas the content of the Isis is clearly a particular identity, meant to be generalized through coercion and violence. The position of the Turkish government towards Kobani is also quite revealing. The oppressiveness exhibited by the Turkish government against its Kurdish population, which comprise a quarter of the country’s population, is well-known, and a frequently traversed field. Implicit in Tayyip Erdogan’s acerbic, abstract comparison between PKK and Isis is the heart of the matter: “It is wrong to view them differently—we need to deal with them jointly.”3 In its negotiations with Saleh Moslem, Erdogan’s government has not recoiled from disclosing its predilection to do away with the cantons or any democratic autonomy. Kobani’s collapse would enable the Turkish State to get rid of the Kurds, occupy the ravished town, rescue “the victims,” and gain hegemony. The so-called representatives of “Islam with a human face,” stumbling at the gates of the EU, certainly do not mind killing Turkish protesters or dealing with Isis on their long march towards democracy and restoration of the aspirations of the Ottoman Empire.

The fact that the US airstrikes had been futile until only a few days ago (when they partly forced the Isis to retreat for the first time) is a sign of the pure performativity of these former air raids. It must not come as a surprise that they only acted under the pressure of public opinion—when Kobani was a few steps away from annihilation— to prevent the humiliation of the defeat of their entire military capacity at the hand of a gang of fundamentalists. Following these airstrikes in the past few days, the American military claimed that it airdropped ammunitions and medical supplies to Kurdish forces.4 Implicit in this statement is another point testifying to the exceptionality of this resistance. Against the humanitarian ideology of victimization and charity, the Kurdish fighters have refused to play the victim, defying the status of mere bare lives waiting to be saved by the Western ground troops. It is for this reason that the anxieties of the non-interventionist Leftists are unfounded. All that Kobani has requested is for weapons and Kurdish and non-Kurdish volunteers to be allowed to pass the border and reach them. The lumping together of the PKK and the Isis in the list of the terrorist groups by right and left sadly implies that the only two existing alternatives prescribed by the international community is either integration into the merciless world market, or joining the fundamentalist barbarity.

Kobani’s experience must be viewed as an historical/ideological turning point for the radical left beyond the hopeless snapshots of victimization and inhuman violence, resonating with the battle of the International Brigade against the barbarism of Franco’s Fascist forces. This resistance does not merely represent some non-existing or “to-come” socialism, but a concrete political force, which is simultaneously radical, spirited, and uncompromising, an emancipatory force extreme enough in its liberatory aspirations to stand against all actually existing fanaticisms. We can glimpse in Kobani, a political will crystallized in an organization, a will capable of leading to a political revolution, which could even bear, in Marx’s terms, the seeds of a social revolution. It is a resistance bringing together virtue and reason, will and organization, idea and weapon. As an instance of a minority/particular—and secular— struggle intimately entwined with the universal, Kobani’s experience cannot but reveal that any struggle for emancipation is a struggle over the destiny of the world.


1Isis: Plea for West to help more than 1,000 kidnapped Yazidi women forced into 'sex trade', The Independent
2Kobani, the Kurdish issue and the Syrian revolution, a common destiny, Syria Freedom Forever
3Kobani: anger grows as Turkey stops Kurds from aiding militias in Syria, The Guardian
4Kobani: US drops weapons to Kurds in Syria, The Guardian

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Peering into the faultlines: a response to 'New faultlines in the Middle East: ISIS in a regional context'


At one point in Andy Cunningham’s piece entitled ‘New fault lines in the Middle East: ISIS in a regional context' published on the rs21 website, he mentions the demand by ‘Revolutionary Socialists in the region (being the Middle East) that while a response to the rise of the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, or, as I will be referring to these counter-revolutionary fascists, Daesh, which is the colloquial derogatory term for them and one that they are known to hate) is necessary, ‘any outside involvement in Iraq is unwelcome’. This sentiment might at first seem fair enough but, setting aside questions about the actual necessity of US air strikes in order to aid the Yazidis who were stranded on a mountain in Sinjar after being chased away from their homes by the takfiris (those who accuse others of being unbelievers and apostates) of Daesh, it’s a sentiment that is unfortunately rendered hollow by Andy’s regrettably simplistic take on the root causes of the rise of Daesh.

If anybody, revolutionary socialist or not, wants to see Daesh defeated or weakened without relying on or appealing to imperialism, then we must deal with the realities and complexities of the balance of forces of Iraq since the invasion and occupation by the US and its ‘coalition of the willing’. Narratives that advertise the identification of ‘new fault lines’ in the Middle East, but then end up relying on old formulations such as advocating ‘working class independence’ against Daesh, are usually those which necessarily stay as far away as possible from reality. Perhaps, following on from the usual line of regional Revolutionary Socialists, we ought to conclude that the only solution to Daesh is revolutionary socialism?

Andy correctly identifies the primary cause of Daesh having any meaningful presence in Iraq as being the fault of the US and UK invasion and occupation of the country, with the Bush regime compounding what was surely one of the worst crimes of our age by overseeing the complete destruction and dismantling of the the security apparatuses and civil infrastructure of the country. This led to a gaping security vacuum that allowed jihadists from around the world to infiltrate Iraq, most of whom were drawn towards fighting with the so-called ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’, led by the Jordanian jihadi gangster Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which was, in reality, a coalition of different takfiri militias that, like its brutally charismatic leader or figurehead, Zarqawi, had always displayed a sense of heterodoxy and independence from the Al Qaeda leadership. This was the predecessor organisation of Daesh. Its relationship with Bin Laden and Zawahiri was never an easy one, with Zarqawi accepting the ‘Al Qaeda’ title and swearing loyalty to ‘Sheikh’ Bin Laden only as a means to attract the maximum amount of foreign jihadis with the Al Qaeda ‘brand’, while Bin Laden could act as if his organisation was on the front lines against the United States.

Behind closed doors, Bin Laden had zero operational control of the group, as its leaders, Zarqawi in particular, often focussed more on targeting and murdering non-Sunni religious groups than resisting the occupation forces, which enraged Bin Laden who saw this tactic as being a good way to alienate the jihadi fighters from the Iraqi population. Even early on, Daesh was concerned with ‘cleansing’ those it deemed to be kuffar (unbelievers) and rafidah (rejectors), as opposed to focussing solely on resisting the occupation, which is something that it would repeat with much more success and savagery in Syria a few years later.

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Stop the bombing! Stop the killing! Free Palestine! Reports from Palestine solidarity demos around the UK

Emergency demonstrations have been organised all over the world in anger and sadness at yet another brutal bombardment by Israel against the people of Gaza, with a death toll into the hundreds, massive civilian casualties and destruction of homes, livelihoods and vital services.

We present here some brief reports from demonstrations around the UK. Please check out the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for more information on upcoming solidarity event, and do your best to attend the national demonstration on Saturday 19 July.

Thanks to our comrades in rs21 for some of these reports and photos.


(Pic: Jonny J)

10,000 people took part in a large demonstration in London on Friday 11 July against the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Neil R reported from the demo:
Thousands of people are blocking Kensington High St outside the Israeli Embassy in London, in protest at the continuing bombardment of Gaza. All traffic has been stopped for several hundred yards.The demonstration is predominantly young and Muslim. The crowd of people has blocked in several buses. A number 9 bus has been ‘liberated’ by demonstrators and they are now waving Palestinian flags on the roof. The police keep on trying to stop people from joining the protest. The atmosphere is electric.

(Pic: Jonny J)


This demo was called by the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign branch. Up to 1000 people joined the action. The vast majority were from the Asian community in the city plus a few students from PalSoc. We had a good response from locals passing by and the chanting was often angry.

(Christian H)

Shanice M reported that she’d never seen a demonstration so big in Birmingham city centre:



Approximately 1000 demonstrators gathered at the Clock Tower in Leicester city centre on Friday, at a vigil for Gaza called by the pro-Palestinian charity Friends of Al Aqsa, a campaigning organisation with strong local roots and a proven record of successful mobilisation. The demonstrators were mainly local Muslims and the atmosphere was peaceful but passionate.

(Tom M)


In Manchester during the 2012 Gaza crisis, 200 marched through Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester. This time thousands marched to the BBC and ITV studios in Salford to protest their lack of coverage.
(Ian A)


400 pro-Palestine activists demonstrated their solidarity with the people of Gaza in Cardiff on Saturday 11 July. The protest was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The thing that struck me about this protest was the number of young Muslim women and men in attendance and it was great to see. Israel has laid siege to Gaza, killing over 120 Palestinian people in its five-day bombardment, including two people from a charity for disabled people in Beit Lahiya. As bombs are pouring down from the sky in Gaza, injured children lay in school corridors awaiting desperately needed medical attention. Gaza is effectively an open air prison: Palestinians have no control over their land and sea borders. All imports in to Gaza have to be approved by Israel or Egypt and the Egyptian coup authorities recently denied medical supplies to enter Gaza via the Rafah border.

I caught up with Cardiff-based activist Ola Ashi, 22, who is a member of Dar Ul-Israa community centre based in the city. Ola told me that she is a Palestinian woman from Gaza, who is a protester and campaigner because she is from Palestine and campaigning against injustice is part of her identity. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) have been supporting campaigns for the last few years across the UK. At Cardiff University, where Ola graduated last year in Psychology, she was active on campus, drawing attention to injustice around the world with FOSIS, putting on projects such as Justice Week and was involved in screening the film Palestine 101 for a movie night. Ola helped to organise the Palestine conference in Nottingham, with speakers including Norman Finkelstein and PSC campaigners. Ola was also active on the Egypt and Libya solidarity protests.

Ola is involved in an organisation of medics and psychologists who go to Gaza and help in hospitals. Over the next 48 hours Israel will decide whether to send up to 40,000 ground troops in to Gaza. While the Palestinian people await their fate, we must come together in solidarity and protest at the Israeli embassy, outside the Israeli consulates' offices, and at the BBC because of their biased coverage, along with the thousands of people who are taking to the streets across the country.

Ola was a great inspiration to us today. After a mainly male-dominated start on the megaphone, we were in much need of women’s voices, so this fantastic Palestinian woman took to the platform and talked about her family in Gaza, who asked whether we even know they are being killed and asking for her to tell us, and in turn we must take action and tell our friends and colleagues. Ola then led the protest through the busy streets of Cardiff, shouting, “Free, free Palestine!”
(Kat B-M)


The anxiety and urgency of demonstrators at Market Square today was palpable. As the day heated up so did tempers. A woman passer-by professed that the fault was on Palestinian side and Lebanon weren’t helping. Several demonstrators had to be held back as they argued the Palestinian case. Despite a heavy tourist presence there was a good take-up of signing the petition urging our government to recognise Israeli war crimes and people came forward to ask for leaflets to get information of which groups to join and where to get info from.

It was heartening to see young people on their bikes come join the procession as we marched around Market Square and onto King’s Parade. The lads on their pitch trying to get people to take up punting actually took leaflets off me and joined in the chanting! My favourite chant of today was to the tune of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’: “We don’t need no occupation, we don’t need no apartheid wall. Hey, Israel! Leave our kids alone! All in all, Israel, one day you’re gonna fall!”

Assemble at 12 noon, Saturday 19 July at Downing Street. March to Israeli Embassy.
Information on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website

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'Revolution under siege?': anti-imperialism and the left's response to Syria

Leeds Friends of Syria
and LUU Revolutionary Socialists are organising a joint platform discussion on the topic of imperialism and the Syrian revolution. In the discussion we will be considering the position of the left in relation to Syria, in particular;

  • what should the left's attitude be towards the revolutionary movement in Syria?
  • what implications does this have for our perspective as anti-imperialists in the West?
  • what should our position be in relation to Russian, Chinese and Iranian imperialist interests in the region?

Speakers confirmed include:

Marcus Halaby - Author of Revolution Under Siege
Jamie Allison - Professor of International Relations at the University of Westminster
Abdulaziz Almashi - Coordinator of the Syrian Community in the UK and co-founder of the Syrian Solidarity Movement
Mohamad Isreb - Syrian activist and lecturer at Bradford University

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Ukraine and imperialism

This article first appeared as a discussion piece for the upcoming Revolutionary Unity conference taking place on 26 April.

Ukraine and imperialism

There has obviously been much debate about the crisis in Ukraine. The toppling of the pro-Russian Yanukovych government by a pro-European Union and largely nationalist protest movement, and its replacement by a right wing Ukrainian nationalist government, was followed by a military intervention by the Russian state which led to the annexation (or separation depending upon your take on events) of Crimea and pro-Russian separatist groups, suspected of being directly supported by Moscow, seizing government buildings in eastern parts of Ukraine. This has raised a number of questions regarding how the left should respond, both to the right wing government in Kiev, and the actions of Moscow; which raise issues regarding the revolutionary socialist analysis of imperialism.

Some argue that our primary concern should be the seizure of power by right wing nationalists in Kiev, which many argue are backed by the European Union and US imperialism, in an attempt to further break into Russia’s sphere of influence, as it has been doing since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. There are some truths to this narrative. The Maidan movement quickly became dominated by right wing organisations, including fascist groups, which played a key role in the street fighting which led to the seizure of power. It is also true that after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the US became by far the most powerful state in the world, Western imperialism, often through the European Union or NATO, began to encroach upon former Soviet spheres of influence. Eleven countries which were formally part of the Eastern Bloc are now EU member states. The West also increased its influence by backing movements which seized power in Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Much of the politics in these countries since 1991 have been dominated by a push and pull between the West and Russia over control of such states. This has often led both sides to manipulate political, religious and ethnic divisions in these countries in order to maintain, or attempt to establish, control. However, it is incorrect to argue that the main villain in the crisis is US imperialism attempting to encroach upon Russia’s turf. Firstly, this makes a rather problematic assumption that Russia in some way has a right to dominate Ukraine and other countries, and treat any attempt to encroach upon that as an act of aggression. Secondly, it utterly downplays the despicable role Russian imperialism has had in the region, and continues to have.

Russian imperialism in Ukraine

Ukraine was arguably Russia’s oldest colony, to various degrees subject to the Russian empire since the early 18th century. Under the tsars there was a policy of Russification of Ukraine, as there was elsewhere in the empire. The use of the Ukrainian language in print and public was suppressed, Russian nationals were appointed to all leading administrative positions, and eastern Ukraine was forcibly settled by Russian nationals. Throughout the 19th century a Ukrainian nationalist movement began to emerge. As urbanisation and industrialisation occurred, driven by the tsars, this movement became dominated by a cultural trend towards a romantic version of nationalism often led by the middle class intelligentsia. With the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ukrainian nationalism emerged as a force, and there were several attempts to establish a Ukrainian nation. The Civil War, however, devastated Ukraine. 1.5 million people were left dead, and there was a famine in the south in 1921. A national cultural revival was supported by the Soviet government following the Civil War, but these policies were reversed by the Stalinists in the 1930s. The programme of collectivisation of agriculture used to fuel the Soviet Union’s industrialisation drive in the 1930s led to a Great Famine in Ukraine where 10 million people died. In the Great Purges of 1929-34 and 1936-38 systematic state terror was used against Ukrainian culture. “Nationalist deviationists” were purged from the Ukrainian Communist Party, artists and intellectuals were imprisoned. Political repression at this time killed a further 700,000 people. The Ukrainian language and culture was once again repressed - the Stalinists returned to the “Russification” policies of the tsars.

These were the events which led up to the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany. Although the majority of people in Ukraine either fought against the Nazis, or did not fight at all, a significant number supported the Nazi invasion. The Nazi ideology, with its anti-Communist and anti-Slav elements, resonated with many Ukrainian nationalists. The brutal repression of the Soviet state drove many Ukrainians into the arms of the Nazis, and Ukrainian nationalism since has been influenced by fascism. Ukraine, particularly the west, was largely agrarian; industrialisation enforced by Russia and the Soviet Union meant much of the middle class and intellectuals were influenced by romantic, utopian ideas about conservative rural societies and this became integral to Ukrainian nationalism - the Nazis’ “blood and soil” nonsense resonated with this.

After the Second World War, Soviet repression continued. Twenty per cent of the Soviet Union’s “special deportees” in the early 1950s were Ukrainian. Tartars from Crimea were deported to Central Asia in their hundreds of thousands, ethnic Germans were also deported. The Soviet Russification of Ukraine continued. Right wing Ukrainian nationalism remained the most dominant resistance ideology right up until the liberation movements of 1989-91. Despite becoming independent with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, it remained part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and dominated both economically and politically by Russia. Attempts by Ukrainian nationalists to break from this domination, and resistance to this from elements of the ruling class which support Moscow, have become the dominant themes of politics in post-Soviet Ukraine. The current crisis is the latest phase in this process.

The Ukrainian government and fascism

It has been repeated often by many people on the left that the Ukrainian government put into power is either fascist, or it contains fascists. The government is definitely right wing, and includes three ministers from the far-right populist party Svobda, which has a number of rabidly anti-Semitic leaders and racist policies. However, it would be inaccurate to label them as fascists. They are not a dictatorial party which aims to found the state on racial grounds. Undoubtedly, like many right wing populist organisations, there may number some fascists and fascist sympathisers in their membership, but this in itself does not make a party a fascist one. The government as a whole is a mixed bag of right wing nationalists, conservatives and right neoliberals. The Right Sector, which was formed in the course of the Maidan movement, could, and should, be called a fascist organisation. It is constituted largely of neo-Nazi groups and individuals and was the core of the street fighting units in the Maidan movement. It continues to organise violent racist street gangs. The Right Sector, however, has no members in the government, and its relationship with the government is at best complex. On 25 March one of its leaders was shot dead by police.

This is not to underestimate the role of fascism in the Maidan movement. It did not start as an overtly right wing movement, and included many progressive elements, such as anarchist groups. However, the movement was quickly hegemonised by the organised right, and these progressive elements were driven out. But there is an important distinction between right wing nationalist and conservative capitalist governments, and a fascist one. It is this that needs to be made clear. A fascist government would mean the complete shutting down of all democratic freedoms in Ukraine, and the establishment of a police dictatorship. It is perfectly conceivable for the current government to become such a state, or the social forces upon which it rests to replace it with one. But this has not happened yet. This has important implications for our analysis of resistance to the Kiev government. If it is correctly designated as fascist then the role of socialists is to organise alongside those who wish to overthrow it, and this may include compromise with some unsavoury elements in the Russian separatist movement in order to do so. The overthrow of the fascist government would be the absolute priority. If this designation is incorrect then socialists’ relationship towards such a group would be different. While they should absolutely fight for any overthrow of a right wing government, any act of resistance to the state would not become by virtue of its opposition to the government an objectively anti-fascist act. Furthermore, the role of neo-Nazism is not limited to the Ukrainian nationalist movement - there are fascist groups in the Russian separatist movement too, such as the openly neo-Nazi Russian National Unity group, which has been involved in actions in Donetsk and elsewhere.

Lenin on imperialism

Many on the left have argued that a refusal to criticise Russia is based upon a theory and practice informed by the Leninist tradition, rooted in Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ response to the First World War. When the war broke out in 1914 the vast majority of the social democratic movement in Europe, most notably the German SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands), backed their respective states, in most cases arguing that it was a defensive war against the aggression of others. Lenin argued that Marxists should take a “defeatist”, rather than “defencist” position, call for the defeat of their own states, and oppose any calls for victory. The argument went that “the real enemy is at home”. The workers of Russia were oppressed by their factory owners and the tsarist state, just as the German workers were oppressed by their own capitalists and the Kaiser. By supporting their own states, the social democrats were not only propping up their own oppressors, but defending their own bourgeoisie’s right to oppress the people of other states. The war on either side was not one of defence, but an imperialist war fought between rival predatory states over the right to subjugate colonial people.

This position was absolutely correct. However, when applied abstractly to Ukraine, it ceases to have much relevance. The First World War was an all-out conflict between rival imperialist camps. While Western imperialism has no doubt been encouraging Ukrainian nationalists in the hope of facilitating a turn towards the European Union and away from Moscow, the main aggressor, both historically and currently, is Russia. As has been argued above, the troubling nature of the Ukrainian nationalist movement has its roots in historic oppression by the Russian and Soviet states, and the Maidan movement is simply the latest attempt to break Ukraine from Russian domination. There is no current military threat from the West, either towards Ukraine, or Russia; however, the events in Crimea clearly showed the direct military threat Russia poses to Ukrainian self-determination. To argue when Russian troops are annexing territories, and massing troops on the Ukrainian border, that we should not criticise this and instead insist that “the real enemy is at home” is essentially to remain silent whenever any state which happens to be in some kind of rivalry with Western imperialism commits any act of subjugation against another country. This approach was not at all what Lenin argued for. The slogan “the real enemy is at home” was raised to argue with workers that their enemy was not workers of another country, but the bourgeoisie; it was not meant as an apologia for the imperialist states of other countries.

The spirit of Lenin has also been channelled in order to justify, or apologise for, the annexation of Crimea. Crimea is, like other parts of eastern Ukraine, ethnically and linguistically majority Russian. It is also the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. After the Maidan movement seized power in Kiev, Russian troops seized government buildings and military bases. A referendum was then called by the Crimean parliament on secession from Ukraine and reunification with Russia, which was returned with a 97% vote in favour. It has been argued that socialists should support this decision, on the basis of the right of nations to self-determination, as argued for by Lenin. The Tsarist Empire dominated a huge number of national minorities in Europe and Asia. As has been referred to above, the tsarist state was extremely repressive to these national groups through the system of Russification. There was a debate among Marxists as to whether to support national struggles for liberation. Some argued that by supporting national liberation movements Marxists would be supporting backward and reactionary ideas of nationalism, which would reinforce divisions created by class society. The role of Marxists was to oppose all forms of nationalism and argue for internationalism. Furthermore, many of the leaderships of these movements tended to be from the bourgeoisie and middle classes of the national minorities, and many of them held reactionary politics. Marxists should be arguing that working class should be fighting as much against them as against the Russian autocracy. Lenin, however, argued that the right of nations to self-determination was a basic democratic right. While Marxists should be fighting for the leadership of the working class in national liberation struggles, the victory of these movements was a key part of the fight against tsarism and capitalism. One cannot argue for the self-emancipation of the working class and yet refuse to recognise the right to be liberated from imperialism of working class people in other nations.

It is simply absurd to argue that what occurred in Crimea was an exercise in self-determination for the Crimean people. That any democrat can argue with a straight face that a 97% vote carried out under military occupation does not have some question marks over its legitimacy is quite worrying. What occurred in Crimea was annexation, not liberation. While all Marxists absolutely should argue for the right of Crimean people to self-determination, a prerequisite of that must be an immediate withdrawal of the occupying Russian forces. It is a strange kind of anti-imperialist who argues that sending in the tanks is the solution to the national question. Furthermore, if we are going to argue for the right of nations to self-determination, we should apply this principle equally to Ukraine as a whole. Russian imperialism continues to attempt to dominate Ukraine politically and economically, and has just annexed one of its regions. This same tactic is being threatened in other parts of eastern Ukraine. A major concern for all socialists and internationalists at this point should be the fracturing of Ukraine along ethnic lines. All forms of capitalist imperialism have purposely exploited ethnic divisions in order to maintain or establish control, and this is exactly what is occurring in Ukraine, as a deliberate policy from Moscow. The ethnic divisions created and imposed by Russian and Soviet oppression are now being exploited to fracture Ukraine and impose Russian dominance. It was colonisation by Russia and the Russification programme which created both Greater Russian chauvinists, who considered themselves a privileged caste under Russification, and right wing Ukrainian nationalists, who looked to Western imperialism, and even sometimes fascism for liberation. We have seen from Yugoslavia to Rwanda the dangers of such divisions, which were encouraged and manipulated by imperial powers, and led to ethnic civil war. Such an outcome would be a disaster for the working class of any ethnicity. The first step for the self-determination of all Ukrainian people has to be the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and an end to its interventions in the country’s politics.

The anti-imperialist movement

The International Socialists raised the slogan of “Neither Washington nor Moscow” during the Cold War. This was based upon the analysis of the Soviet Union as a state capitalist society, in which the exploiting class was the bureaucracy. It rejected the designation of the USSR as being a workers’ state in view of the fact that the working class, as a result of the Stalinist counter-revolution, no longer controlled the means of production. This is not the place to go into the virtues of this theory; however, this theory established a policy for the International Socialists where they did not reserve our criticisms for native imperialism alone, and would oppose imperialism from both sides of the Cold War, including the one which claimed to be socialist. For example, when there was a workers’ revolution in Hungary in 1956, which was crushed by Russian tanks, they did not argue that “the main enemy is at home” and point to the real and imagined benefits Western imperialism would gain from a successful Hungarian revolution and a weakened Eastern Bloc. It was argued, first and foremost, that support for the workers of Hungary against Soviet imperialism was the number one priority for internationalists. The same was true for Czechoslovakia in 1968.

However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a shift of emphasis, not just for International Socialists, but for all the anti-Stalinist left. Where previously there had been two competing world powers, it was generally agreed that there was now only one. In a “unipolar” world, the focus of anti-imperialism was naturally the now unchallenged US imperialism, which was increasing its power through extending its control into formerly Russian spheres of influence, and was now largely unrivalled when subjugating the Third World, where previously it had to compete with Moscow. The anti-imperialist movement in response to US hegemony reached its height with the opposition to the launch of the “War on Terror” and the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only was the main aggressor obviously the US, the countries it was invading were clearly not rival imperial powers. Attempts to claim that these wars were either wars of defence or liberation were quite rightly written off as propaganda. The unipolar imperialism meant that a consensus both with regard to resistance to imperialism at home and national liberation could be formed within the anti-imperialist movement, which had previously been much more difficult when there was a competing world power. In Britain, the most obvious example of this consensus was the Stop the War Coalition, which achieved massive mobilisations over the Iraq invasion. Some of the core organisers of this were from Trotskyist, International Socialist and Stalinist traditions. Some involved, particularly from the latter tradition, held to the idea that anti-imperialists should never criticise states which are fighting against US imperialism (mostly because during the Cold War these states were either supported by the Soviet Union or their victory would weaken the US in favour of the USSR). Many of these were also sympathetic to the Ba’ath regime. While International Socialists and other Trotskyists were critical of the regime, and equally so of the politics of those who supported them, such divisions were much easier to overcome when the main threat was Western imperialism. The real enemy was at home.

The anti-imperialist consensus has largely broken down, for a number of interconnected reasons. The combination of becoming bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic crisis, severely weakened US imperialism. While it remains without a doubt the global hegemon, its relative power compared to other states such as Russia and China is weaker than it was before. One could in fact argue that the recent setbacks for the West when it has attempted to encroach upon the Russian sphere of influence - such as Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and possibly now Ukraine - were the result of Russia being able to assert itself now that the US has been weakened. This realignment has unbalanced the consensus that was established around anti-imperialism. Many in the anti-imperialist movement consider states such as China and Russia to be anti-imperialist themselves, and refuse to criticise them. This made little difference when the US was invading Iraq. However, when Putin’s Russia began sending tanks into other countries, such a position became problematic to say the least. Furthermore, the Arab Spring also broke through the consensus. While mass movements against US allies like Ben Ali and Mubarak were supported by all, when the regimes of Gaddafi and Al-Assad came under threat the divisions grew even greater. Both had been supported as anti-imperialist regimes by Stalinists, and some Trotskyists, and Syria remained a key Russian ally. Russia had troops stationed in Syria, and supplied Al-Assad with weapons to put down the revolution. At this point, the Stop the War Coalition argument that “the real enemy is at home” slogan was appropriate ceased to be a principled anti-imperialist position, and became nothing more than apologism for Putin’s Russia and the regimes he supports. This is not internationalism, as the real enemy for the people of Syria was not the US, but Al-Assad and the Russian state backing him. The same is true for the Ukrainian people now.

The role of internationalists is not to side with one imperialism over another. While we must primarily criticise our own state’s imperialism, and certainly refuse to be pulled by any attempts to paint it as progressive or benign, when a rival imperial power, such as Russia, is engaged in the oppression of another country as internationalists we should argue for solidarity with those it is oppressing. However, the resurgence of Russia may weaken Western imperialism; it is not the role of anti-imperialists to root for rival imperialisms. Socialist Resistance, Workers Power, the Anticapitalist Initiative, the IS Network and rs21 have managed to work well together on the question of Syria. We all built a conference on the Syrian Revolution, and the first four released a joint statement in its support. We may not be able to reach a similar consensus over Ukraine, but we should be looking where possible to build joint work on international and anti-imperialist issues. The Stop the War Coalition has become politically bankrupt, and while we are not in a position to build a new campaign, we should be attempting to make the argument for a new radical anti-imperialist left which builds practical and political solidarity for international resistance movements.

Further discussion on Ukraine:

Videos from the IS Network public meeting 'Crisis in the Ukraine' with Chris Ford (IWGB/Debatte Journal) and Zakhar Popovych (Ukrainian Left Opposition/Commons Journal) >>

Videos from a public meeting 'Crisis in the Ukraine' hosted by John McDonnell MP, with Zakhar Popovych (Ukrainian Left Opposition/Commons Journal) and Volodymyr Ishchenko (Commons Journal) >>

Ukrainian Left Opposition statement >>

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