John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

How did Communist parties handle issues of internal discipline and democracy in Lenin’s time? The recent intense discussion within the British Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and beyond has heard claims that the SWP rests on the traditions of democratic centralism inherited from the Bolsheviks.

John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Some extended thoughts about Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide because of the bedroom tax.

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the killing of Blair Peach by the police. David Renton looks back at Blair Peach’s life as a poet, trade unionist and committed antifascist

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Bunny La Roche of RS21 on Nigel Farage's visit to Kent

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Financial Appeal

We're up and running! An appeal for funds to kickstart the IS Network

Financial Appeal

MENA: Egyptian socialists sentenced to two years in jail

MENA Solidarity Network reports that Mahienour el-Masry and Hassan Moustafa, two leading activists with the Revolutionary Socialists in Alexandria, Egypt, have been sentenced for defying anti-protest laws.

They each face two years of hard labour in prison and a £4,000 fine. Four other Alexandrian activists, Lu’ay Al-Qahwagi, Amr Hafez, Nasir Abu-al-Hamd and Islam Muhamadein, received the same sentence.

The activists were charged with organising a demonstration without police permission. This was made illegal in Egypt under new laws brought in late last year by General al-Sisi’s regime.

MENA Solidarity is asking people to do three things:

  • sign their statement in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution
  • distribute their toolkit to campaign against the anti-protest laws
  • join the demonstration outside the Egyptian embassy in London on 25 January, 2pm, marking the third anniversary of the revolution

Here is a video interview with Mahienour recorded in 2012. Click on the captions icon (fourth from the right at the bottom) to switch on English subtitles. You can also follow her on Twitter at @Mahienour.

This was originally published on the RS21 blog.

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This Thursday: Syria and Egypt - Are the Arab revolutions in retreat?

SYRIA and EGYPT

Are the Arab revolutions in retreat?

What are the results and prospects?

MEETING

THURSDAY 19 SEPTEMBER

7:30pm, at ULU, Malet Street, WC1E 7HY

Speakers:

GILBERT ACHCAR, author of The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising

HANNAH ELSISI, socialist activist from Cairo

Organised by:

Socialist Resistance, International Socialist Network and the Anti Capitalist Initiative

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MENA Solidarity Network: Egypt: labour lawyer Haitham Mohamedain arrested by army

 

Comrade Haitham Mohamadain of the Egyptian RS was arrested today after getting stopped at a a checkpoint in Suez. Here is MENA SOLIDARITY'S call for practical things you can do in solidarity

Haitham Mohamedain, one of Egypt’s leading labour lawyers and an activist with the Revolutionary Socialists, has arrested on his way to meet clients in Suez. He was detained by the Army near Suez and has been transferred to a police station in the city. According to the latest information from Egypt, he has been charged with assaulting an army officer.

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Read more: MENA Solidarity Network: Egypt: labour lawyer Haitham Mohamedain arrested by army

Jamie Allinson: On walking and chewing gum at the same time

The parliamentary vote against UK participation in any US air strikes on Syria, and the consequent weakening of Western power as a whole, is a welcome outcome for anyone who thinks that Arab countries should determine their own future. Less heartening is the response from a large part of the Western left: to oppose the imperialist machinations of their own government by simply accepting the narrative of an opposing imperialism.

It is quite possible, and necessary, to oppose both. This means opposing the proposed US attack, and giving solidarity to the Syrian revolutionaries being attacked with all the weapons – including chemical ones, as I argue below – of the Assad regime.

First of all, why is the US – hobbled and hesitant, far from the grand strategy of a decade ago – so concerned with this ‘red line’ and not others? The so-called taboo on chemical weapons use is meaningful for the US: it preserves a monopoly of destructive and terrifying force in the hands of nuclear powers and deters the development of such force by poorer states using the cheaper technology of chemical warfare. Of course this taboo does not apply when the US or its allies use chemical weaponry of their own in Fallujah or in Gaza, or when (US made) tear gas is used to suffocate to protestors to death in Egypt. The prohibition on chemical weapons is hypocritically enforced by the US – the dropper of horrific weapons from Hiroshima to Iraq – for power-political, rather than humanitarian reasons. But the aim of maintaining that prohibition (for these strategic reasons) is a genuine one.

There is a further reason why the US is willing to launch a war at this point. Obama, and his tin-pot allies filled with colonial nostalgia, has painted himself into a corner. Having insisted that the use of chemical weapons was a rubicon that must not be crossed, and avoiding judgement on previous claims of their use, the flagrant nature of the attack on the Ghouta puts the Americans in a position of attacking or looking weak in the face of a Russian ally. To talk so big, and to do so little in the end, would be a very dangerous statement of decline for the US.

What will they do then? The nature of the air strikes being planned is so far unclear.  The tone of leaks on the matter has changed from ‘limited punishment’ to ‘wider damage’. Given the unclear aims of the operation (how would they know when Assad has been sufficiently ‘punished’?) it is entirely likely that the former would pass into the latter. As this statement by Syrian and other Arab leftists makes clear, neither of these would serve the revolution against the regime and the dalliance of certain Free Syrian Army officers with providing intelligence to the strikes is ‘skipping over the movement and of the masses and their independent decision’. Even if Assad were deterred from further use of chemical weapons by a so-called ‘punishment’ strike, he would be completely free to carry on killing thousands and thousands of people with conventional forces. A wider offensive would, even more than the former option, only boost the Arab nationalist credentials upon which the regime relies and in the event of its fall could only lead to the kind of sectarian divide et impera previously practiced in Iraq.

So, supporting an imperialist strike on Syria in the hope that it will weaken the Assad regime is a bad idea. This does not mean, as unfortunately seems to have been taken to be the case by many in the anti-war movement, that one should swallow the line of the US’s imperialist rival, Russia, that to claim Assad’s responsibility for the attack is ‘ridiculous’.

Now, when it comes to weapons inspectors in an Arab state, we have of course all been here before. Scepticism of the claims of Western intelligence agencies is a wise precaution. However, unlike in Iraq circa 2002, there is no need to rely on such sources to support the claim that chemical weapons were used against the civilians of the Ghouta by the Assad regime.

The contrary claims – that there was no attack or that it was mounted by rebel forces – are rarely made in specific detail, relying only on dark hints that not all is what it seems, no one can have full knowledge of the situation and so forth. Of course all of that is true, as much as it is about the statement ‘Abraham Lincoln was president of the USA between 1861 and 1865’. I was not in the room when the order was given to launch the attack. Very few people can have been. If that is the standard of proof being required here, then let’s just drop making statements about anything. But if you apply equal doses of scepticism to the claim ‘the rebels gassed the Ghouta civilians’ and ‘Assad forces gassed the Ghouta civilians’, you can only come to the conclusion that the latter is true. The first story has changed without explanation and relies on speculation and false dilemmas. The second one is believable based on what we already know.

First of all, Russia claimed that there had been no attack at all. Everything was (presumably) faked, as demonstrated by the time-stamp of the videos uploaded to YouTube: apparently the day before the attack. When it was explained that this was due to the time difference between Syria and California, where YouTube videos are time-stamped, the claim was dropped with no explanation and the pro-Assad argument shifted to say that the attack was a false-flag operation by the rebels to encourage Western intervention.

Let’s apply some of the famous scepticism to this claim. The main, indeed the sole, logic offered in its support is that there was no motive for the regime to use chemical weapons because it is ‘winning the war’ and the UN weapons inspectors were in Damascus at the time. But this is a false dilemma based on an incorrect reading of the military situation. There is a stalemate in Syria, with partial breakthroughs for one side or the other. Using Hizbollah (as an aside, it is odd that this ‘foreign Islamist militia’ inspires no horror at all amongst those who use the same language to damn the opposition) Assad scored a major victory at Qusayr. However, in the Eastern suburbs of Damascus and down to the Jordanian border, the opposition has been advancing. No one denies that the regime possesses chemical weaponry and it has hardly shown itself held back by concerns about civilian life. The simplest explanation for the attack is this: the regime used one of the terrifying weapons in its arsenal to kill its enemies, in order to win its war. This is what you would expect it to do.

What about the presence of the weapons inspectors? What about them indeed, you might ask. For two and a half years, Assad has slaughtered people while the world looked on and his Russian backer on the UN Security Council protected him with all the tenacity with which the US protects Israel. The attack may have been a gamble, or the result of a decomposition of the chain of command: at any rate, the last two years would be enough for the regime to calculate that it could get away with pretty much anything.

If you knew that your opponents had mounted a false-flag chemical weapons attack to discredit you, what would you do? Would you continue bombing the area, destroying evidence, or would you produce such evidence for all the world to see? Where is it? Apart from a few half-hearted pictures of medical supplies, there is none. If there were, the Syrian state media, Russia Today, and the anti-anti-Assad commentariat would be pushing it morning, noon and night.

What about the attack itself? Two kinds of missiles have been found in the area after the attack. The first of these appears to be a Soviet 140 mm M14 artillery rocket. The second is an unknown kind of apparently improvised munition, but one which has been spotted 14 times in use by regime forces in Syria and never by the opposition. It has been claimed that these are opposition ‘Hell cannon’ missiles but they are not: both the shape and the length are quite obviously different. A video showing Hell Cannons being launched, purportedly on the Ghouta itself, was posted weeks before the attack. There is a video of Liwa-al-Islam, one of the opposition groups, allegedly ordering sarin gas to be launched: but it is not video of the Ghouta and it is not even the original soundtrack. It is surprising how readily people can believe footage of children dying of chemical weapons asphyxiation is fake, but a one-minute video with dubbed-over voice is real.

It has also been claimed that the attack was in fact an accident caused when opposition forces mishandled ‘tube-like’ chemical weapons given to them by Saudi Prince Bandar. This doesn’t make any sense at all. How could so many people have been killed by such an underground accident? Why are there missile fragments (of the regime kind described above) all over the site? Why haven’t the dead handlers of the weapons been identified – presumably they would have been right next to them? The Saudis have not been shown to possess such weapons, so where did they get them from to give them to Syrians? If we are going to follow such interminable chains of tenuous speculation, we might as well go the whole hog: Bashar al-Assad is a long-term creation of Prince Bandar, designed to discredit secular leftism (given how difficult most such people have found it to support the revolution against him) and promote reactionary religious doctrines instead. After all, when you really ask yourself, who benefits?

If you believe that the FSA launched the gas attacks on the Ghouta, you have to believe that they acquired weapons they never had before, with no one knowing about it, and decided then not to launch them at military positions in areas where they might turn the tide, but on their own supporters in an area they control, with no evidence of any communications directing such an attack. It does not stand up. To believe the regime did it all you have to say is that they used weapons everyone knows they have to kill their enemies in a war already characterised by extremely brutal behaviour on Assad’s part.

The attack on the Ghouta is another entry in a dreadful legacy that will last Syria a generation or more. That legacy is the responsibility of the regime, which used the most violent measures at its disposal to crush the Syrian revolution from the beginning. Progressives are entitled to propagate fantasies about the Ghouta, and the rest of the past two and a half years, if they wish: but don’t be surprised if the Syrians who survive listen to imperialists, obscurantists and reactionary murderers instead.

Jamie Allinson is a researcher specialising in Middle East politics. This article first appeared at New Left Project.

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We stand behind the Syrian people’s revolution – No to foreign intervention

Statement by: Revolutionary Socialists (Egypt) – Revolutionary Left Current (Syria) – Union of Communists (Iraq) – Al-Mounadil-a (Morocco) – Socialist Forum (Lebanon) – League of Worker’s Left (Tunisia)

Published on Saturday 31 August 2013


Over 150 thousand were killed, hundreds of thousands injured and disabled, millions of people displaced inside and outside Syria. Cities, villages, and neighborhoods were destroyed fully or partially, using all sorts of weapons, including warplanes, scud missiles, bombs, and tanks, all paid for by the sweat and blood of the Syrian people. This was under the pretext of defending the homeland and achieving military balance with Israel (whose occupation of Syrian land is, in fact, being protected by the Syrian regime, which failed to reply to any of its continuing aggressions).

Yet, despite the enormous losses mentioned above, befalling all Syrians, and the calamity inflicted on them, no international organization or major country – or a lesser one – felt the need to provide practical solidarity or support the Syrians in their struggle for their most basic rights, human dignity, and social justice.

The only exception was some Gulf countries, more specifically Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, their aim was to control the nature of the conflict and steer it in a sectarian direction, distorting the Syrian revolution and aiming to abort it, as a reflection of their deepest fear that the revolutionary flame will reach their shores. So they backed obscurantist takfiri groups, coming, for the most part, from the four corners of the world, to impose a grotesque vision for rule based on Islamic sharia. These groups were engaged, time and time again, in terrifying massacres against Syrian citizens who opposed their repressive measures and aggressions inside areas under their control or under attack, such as the recent example of villages in the Latakia countryside.

A large block of hostile forces, from around the world, is conspiring against the Syrian people’s revolution, which erupted in tandem with the uprisings spreading through a large section of the Arab region and the Maghreb for the past three years. The people’s uprisings aimed to put an end to a history of brutality, injustice, and exploitation and attain the rights to freedom, dignity, and social justice.

However, this did not only provoke local brutal dictatorships, but also most of the imperialist forces seeking to perpetuate the theft of the wealth of our people, in addition to the various reactionary classes and forces throughout those areas and in surrounding countries.

As for Syria, the alliance fighting against the people’s revolution comprises a host of reactionary sectarian forces, spearheaded by Iran and confessional militias in Iraq, and, to much regret, Hezbollah’s strike force, which is drowning in the quagmire of defending a profoundly corrupt and criminal dictatorial regime.

This unfortunate situation has also struck a major section of the traditional Arab left with Stalinist roots, whether in Syria itself or in Lebanon, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab region – and worldwide – which is clearly biased towards the wretched alliance surrounding the Assad regime. The justification is that some see it as a “resilient” or even a “resistance” regime, despite its long history – throughout its existence in power – of protecting the Zionist occupation of the Golan Heights, its constant bloody repression of various groups resisting Israel, be it Palestinian or Lebanese (or Syrian), and remaining idle and subservient, since the October 1973 war, concerning Israel’s aggressions on Syrian territories. This bias will have serious ramifications on ordinary Syrians’ position regarding the left in general.

The United Nations and the Security Council, in particular, was unable to condemn the crimes of a regime, which the Syrian people rejected continuously and peacefully for more than seven months, while the bullets of the snipers and shabbiha took demonstrators one by one and day after day and while the most influential activists were being detained and subjected to the worst kinds of torture and elimination in the prisons and detention centers. All the while, the world remained completely silent and in a state of total negativity.

The situation persisted with small difference after the people in revolution decided to take up arms and the emergence of what became known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – whose command and soldiers came, to a large extent, from the regular army. This led to the horrific escalation of crimes by the regime.

Russian imperialism, the most important ally of the Baathist regime in Damascus, which provides it with all sorts of support, remains on the lookout to block any attempt to condemn those crimes in the Security Council. The United States, on the other hand, does not find a real problem in the continuation of the status quo, with all the apparent repercussions and destruction of the country. This is despite the threats and intimidation utilized by the US president, every time someone in the opposition raises the question of the use of chemical weapons by the regime, up until the latest escalation, when it was considered crossing a “red line.”

It is clear that Obama, who gives the impression that he will go ahead with his threats, would have felt great embarrassment if he did not do so, since it will not only impact negatively on the president, but also on the image of the mighty and arrogant state that he leads in the eyes of subservient Arab countries and the entire world.

The imminent strike against the Syrian armed forces is led by the US in essence. However, it occurs with the understanding and cooperation of allied imperialist countries, even without rationalizing it through the usual farce, known as international legitimacy (namely the decisions of the UN, which was and remains representative of the interests of major powers, whether in conflict or in alliance, depending on the circumstances, differences, and balances among them). In other words, the strike will not wait for the Security Council due to the anticipated Russian-Chinese veto.

Unfortunately, many in the Syrian opposition are gambling on this strike and the US position in general. They believe this would create an opportunity for them to seize power, skipping over the movement and of the masses and their independent decision. It should not be a surprise, then, that the representatives of this opposition and the FSA had no reservations on providing information to the US about proposed targets for the strike.

In all cases, we agree on the following:

The western imperialist alliance will strike several positions and vital parts of the military and civilian infrastructure in Syria (with several casualties, as usual). However, as it was keen to announce, the strikes will not be meant to topple the regime. They are merely intended to punish, in Obama’s words, the current Syrian leadership and save face for the US administration, after all the threats concerning the use of chemical weapons.

The US president’s intentions to punish the Syrian leadership does not stem, in any way or form, from Washington’s solidarity with the suffering of children who fell in the Ghouta massacres, but from its commitment to what Obama calls the vital interests of the US and its homeland security, in addition to Israel’s interests and security.

The Syrian army and its regional allies, led by the Iranian regime, will not have enough courage, most probably, to fulfil what seemed to be threats by their senior officials that any western attack on Syria will ignite the entire region. But this option remains on the table, as a final option with catastrophic results.

The imminent western imperialist assault does not intend to support the Syrian revolution in any way. It will aim to push Damascus into the bargaining table and allow Bashar al-Assad to retreat from the foreground, but keeping the regime in place, while greatly improving conditions to strengthen the position of US imperialism in the future Syria against Russian imperialism.

The more those participating in the continuing popular mobilization – who are more aware, principled, and dedicated to the future of Syria and its people – realize these facts, their consequences, results, and act accordingly, the more this will contribute to aiding the Syrian people to successfully pick a true revolutionary leadership. In the process of a committed struggle based on the current and future interests of their people, this would produce a radical program consistent with those interests, which could be promoted and put into practice on the road to victory.

No to all forms of imperialist intervention, whether by the US or Russia.

No to all forms of reactionary sectarian interventions, whether by Iran or the Gulf countries.

No to the intervention of Hezbollah, which warrants the maximum of condemnation.

Down with all illusions about the imminent US military strike.

Break open the arms depots for the Syrian people to struggle for freedom, dignity, and social justice.

Victory to a free democratic Syria and down with the Assad dictatorship and all dictatorships forever.

Long live the Syrian people’s revolution.

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MENA Solidarity Network: Egypt: Emergency statement on the military crackdown

MENA SolidarityWe are appalled by the killing of hundreds of protesters by the Egyptian security forces and army during the forced dispersal of supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi from protest camps in Cairo on 14 August. We also note with grave concern a wave of attacks on Christians and churches across Egypt in the wake of the dispersal of the protest camps.

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