Posts Tagged ‘Leila al-Shami’

On Internationalist Socialist Solidarity and Anti-Imperialism

August 27, 2018

Presentation at Left Coast Forum panel on imperialism and anti-imperialism, August 25, 2018

In light of the fate of the Syrian Revolution, which has now nearly been crushed entirely by the bloody counter-revolution carried out by Bashar al-Assad together with his Russian, Iranian, and Lebanese allies, there has been renewed debate on the global left regarding the meanings of imperialism and anti-imperialism, and the political implications these carry. Many authoritarians claiming leftism cross-over with the white-supremacist right’s open support for the Assad Regime by denying its crimes and overlooking the (sub)imperialist roles played by Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran in Syria, focusing exclusively on the U.S.’s supposed opposition to Assad’s rule.

This tendency is a worrisome development, suggestive as it is of a red-brown alliance (or axis) that is not consistently anti-imperialist or internationalist but rather, only opposed to U.S. imperialism. It also fails analytically to see how the U.S. has increasingly accommodated Assad’s ghastly ‘victory,’ as reflected in Donald Trump’s cutting off of the White Helmets in May and his non-intervention as Assad, Russia, and Iran defeated formerly U.S.-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) units of the Southern Front, reconquering Der’aa, birthplace of the Revolution, and the remainder of the southwest last month. In stark contrast to such approaches, today we will discuss militarism and imperialism from anti-authoritarian and class framework-analyses.

Toward this end, I want to suggest that Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation’s definition of imperialism is apt: from their Point of Unity on Internationalism and Imperialism, Imperialism is a system where the state and elite classes of some countries use their superior economic and military power to dominate and exploit the people and resources of other countries.”1 This brutal concept applies clearly to contemporary and historical global practices which since 1492 primarily Western European and U.S. ruling classes have imposed onto much of the world, from the trans-Atlantic slave trade—this month marks 500 years—to colonial famines, genocide, military occupation, and settler-colonial regimes. Yet, more controversially among many so-called leftists who adhere to a ‘campist analysis,’ whereby the world is split up into competing military blocs,2 this concept of imperialism and its related concept of sub-imperialism can also be applied to the contemporary practices of the ruling classes of such societies as Russia, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, otherwise known as the BRICS. According to Rohini Hensman in her new book Indefensible: Democracy, Counter-Revolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism (2018), the “pseudo-anti-imperialists” of today can be divided into three categories: tyrants, imperialists, and war criminals; the neo-Stalinists who openly support them; and Orientalist ‘progressives’ who focus exclusively on Western imperialism, to the exclusion of all other considerations, such as the agency of Middle Eastern peoples, as well as the realities of non-Western imperialism & sub-imperialism (47-52). For those to whom the concept may be unfamiliar, sub-imperialism is defined in the Marxist theory of dependency (MTD) as a process whereby a dependent or subordinate country becomes a “regional sub-centre,” unifies “different bourgeois factions by displacing internal contradictions, develops a “specific national and sub-imperialist political-ideological project,” forms and advances monopolies, and simultaneously transfers value to the core-imperialist countries while also exploiting materially and geopolitically weaker countries for the benefit of its bourgeoisie.3

The central military roles played by Putin and the Islamic Republic in rescuing the Assad Regime from defeat in the Syrian Revolution—and, indeed, their joint responsibility for the overall murder of 200,000 civilians and the forcible disappearance of over 80,000 Syrians in this enterprise over the past seven years, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), and as confirmed recently by Assad’s mass-release of death notices for detainees—thus starkly demonstrate pressing cases of imperialism and sub-imperialism on today’s global stage, yet in contrast to the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians just across Syria’s southwest border, it is apparently eminently controversial among U.S./Western neo-Stalinist ‘leftists’ to acknowledge the reactionary, authoritarian, and yes, (sub)imperialist functions served by Vladimir Putin and the Islamic Republic in propping up Assad,4 a neo-fascist who does not just rule over a ‘dictatorial regime’ but rather heads an exterminationist State, as the Syrian communist Yassin al-Hajj Saleh observes, and as the death toll attests to. According to Saleh:

“I do not talk about Syria because I happen to come from this country afflicted with one of the most brutal ruling juntas in the world today, nor because Syria is under multiple occupations while Syrians themselves are scattered around the world. Rather, I speak of Syria because the Syrian genocide is met by a state of global denial, where the left, the right, and the mainstream all compete with one another to avert their eyes and formulate cultural discourses, genocidal themselves, to help them see and feel nothing.”

The Russian Defense Ministry just announced on Wednesday, August 22, that 63,000 soldiers have fought in Syria in the past three years, while in June, Putin announced that Russian troops were “testing and training” in Syria so as to prevent a similar situation arising in Russia proper. (Does this sound to anyone like Dick Cheney talking about Iraq?) Hence, in light of the effective occupation of Syria perpetrated by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shi’a militias (e.g. Liwa Fatemiyoun) to prop up the regime, taken together with their attendant contributions to what Saleh calls the Syrian genocide—a counter-insurgent reaction which others have termed ‘democidal’—it is my view, and I believe that of my co-panelists, that several of the struggles against Assad, Putin, and the Islamic Republic of Iran form critical parts of the global anti-imperialist movement which by definition resists militarism and regional and transnational domination and exploitation. If human rights are the “tribunal of history” and their end (or goal) the construction of an ethical and political utopia,5 these regimes, in parallel to Western imperialism, are on the wrong side of history. In accordance with the conclusion of Hensman’s book, democratic movements like the Iranian popular revolts of early 2018; the ongoing Ahwazi mobilizations for socio-ecological justice; those of feminists and political prisoners in all three countries; and Russian Antifa, among others, demand our support and solidarity as socialists. Of course, anti-imperialist forces should continue to oppose established Euro-American imperialism and settler-colonialism—“the main enemy is at home,” as Karl Liebknecht declared in 1915, denouncing what he termed the ‘genocide’ of World War I6—together with the neo-colonial crimes of allied autocracies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Yemen today. Liebknecht’s statement notwithstanding, we must recall that he in no way supported the Tsar or other imperialist rivals of the German State, but the Russian Revolution instead.

Therefore, a truly humanist form of anti-imperialism today cannot exclude the Syrian, Russian, and Iranian regimes from critique and, it is to be hoped, support for organization toward their ultimate demise.7 The atrocity-denialism engaged in by many self-styled ‘progressives’ and ‘leftists’ in the West when it comes to the Assad Regime, as identified by Leila al-Shami and others, is abhorrent. If we really believe as internationalists and egalitarians that each human life has equal dignity and value, we must play no part in it.8

For our own sake and for the sake of the global revolution, too, it would behoove us to examine the actual affinities between the Trump Regime and Putin, which span allegations of collusion or conspiracy during the 2016 election to Trump’s very obvious servility before the former FSB chief at the Helsinki Summit of July 2018, besides Trump’s aforementioned withdrawal of U.S. support for the Syrian rebels, a move that may well have been coordinated with Russia as an affirmation on Trump’s part of Assad’s ghoulish campaign to retake the entire country.

Appendix:

The red-brown axis certainly has its precedents: the historian Marko Attila Hoare has correctly diagnosed several self-described Euro-American ‘anti-imperialists’ as being ‘left-revisionists’ who reject the orthodox Western view that holds Serbian nationalism to be the primary aggressor in the Balkan wars of the 1990’s that led to the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Muslim Bosniaks and Kosovar Albanians, as reflected in the so-called leftist intellectuals and publications (Noam Chomsky, Diana Johnstone, CounterPunch) who effectively supported the embattled ultra-nationalist Serbian president, Slobodan Milošević, for his ‘resistance’ to the US/NATO, thus betraying their campism where we should expect humanist solidarity with those victimized by Serbian expansionism.

Rohini Hensman argues as an alternative to established pseudo-anti-imperialism that we pursue and tell the truth; critique ideologies that delegitimize democracy and promote authoritarianism; reaffirm the morality of resisting oppression and proclaiming solidarity with the victims of violence; place internationalism center-stage; and consider reforms to State sovereignty in light of mass-slaughter and the absence of democracy.

Notes

1This definition differs somewhat from Lenin’s definition of imperialism as “the monopoly stage of capitalism,” whereby the merging of big banks and industry exists inevitably alongside “a colonial policy of monopolist possession of the territory of the world.” It does not contradict Lenin’s subsequent redefinition in the same text: “Imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and of monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom. Whatever the political system, the result of these tendencies is everywhere reaction and an extreme intensification of antagonisms in this field. Particularly intensified become the yoke of national oppression and the striving for annexations, i.e., the violation of national independence (for annexation is nothing but the violation of the right of nations to self-determination).”

2Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), World Workers’ Party (WWP), World Socialist Website (WSWS), Max Blumenthal, Rania Khalek, Vanessa Beeley (actually fascist), Seymour Hersh, “Revolutionary Left Radio,” Glenn Greenwald, and others.

3Adrián Sotelo Valencia, Sub-Imperialism Revisited: Dependency Theory in the Thought of Ruy Mauro Marini, trans. Jacob Lagnado (Haymarket Books: Chicago, 2017), 67-8.

4By BRRN’s definition, above; also cf. Rudolf Hilferding, cited in Lenin’s “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism”: “European capital can maintain its domination only by continually increasing its military forces.”

5Costas Douzinas, The End of Human Rights (Hart Publishing: Oxford, 2000), 380.

6“International proletarian class struggle against international imperialist genocide is the socialist commandment of the hour.”

7See Asr Anarshism’s open campaign to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran.

8See the conclusions of a lab working for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which confirm use of sarin gas from regime stockpiles in Ghouta (2013), Khan Sheikhoun (2017), and Khan al-Assal (2013). According to OPCW findings, it was chlorine, not sarin, that was used in the chemical attack on Douma, Eastern Ghouta, in April 2018.

Left Fascism on Syria on the Airwaves, Part II

August 2, 2018

Assad Nazi (no)

This is an addendum or appendix to “KPFK’s ‘Indy Media on Air’ Brings Fascism to the Airwaves,” first published on April 23, 2018. It refers to an interview held by “Revolutionary Left [sic] Radio” with Rania Khalek in April about “Syria and U.S. [but not Russian] Imperialism.”

In parallel, Breht Ó Séaghdha’s interview with Assadist “journalist” Rania Khalek on “Revolutionary Left Radio” presents much the same conclusion [that is, Vanessa “Beeley and [Chris] Burnett’s affinities for the authoritarian-militarist campaign that the Assad Regime is currently engaged in to reconquer the country”]: that what would be best for the “ordinary working people of Syria” would be for them to submit to the fascist State that has been murdering them en masse for seven years (54:12-45). Unlike Beeley, Khalek, a Russia Today regular who has visited Syria “several times” in the past two years, acknowledges the March 2011 uprising against Assad, but like Beeley, she has little to say about the regime’s brutal suppression of these popular protests. Compared to Beeley, Khalek is a less enthusiastic Assadist, as she recognizes the regime to be an authoritarian police state, but she disingenuously trivializes the breadth and depth of this authoritarianism, declaring the regime to act “just like any other State” does. Khalek and Séaghdha present Assad as the “lesser evil” relative to the opposition, which is supposedly dominated by “rightist Islamists.” Furthermore, they frame the Syrian war as a U.S.-led regime-change operation and hold only the U.S., not Russia, to be guilty of imperialism.

Khalek’s perspective on the Syrian opposition, which apes that of Beeley and, indeed, Assad, is that essentially all of it is al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS/ISIL). Khalek specifically claims that the regions in which regime control collapsed over the course of the war were readily conquered by “Salafi jihadists.” This convenient narrative completely ignores the inspiring model of self-organization via the Local Coordinating Councils (LCC’s) which from Darayya to Aleppo democratically administered social and political life in zones liberated from regime control. It is especially galling in this sense to hear Séaghdha, who claims affinity to libertarian socialism, essentially silencing the life of the Syrian anarchist Omar al-Aziz, who inspired the LCC model and for this reason died in a regime dungeon in 2013.

In their discussion of the fall of Eastern Ghouta, which focuses primarily on the political orientation of the rebel groups present there, with no word about the reality of the vast human-rights violations amidst Assad’s effectively genocidal attack on the enclave, Séaghdha and Khalek give their audience the impression that these rebels are Da’esh affiliates. For Khalek, Jaish al-Islam is “effectively like ISIS,” whereas Faylaq al-Rahman is “effectively al-Qaeda.” Such takes are rather misleading, given that the former group formed part of the Islamic Front, which did not include Da’esh or al-Qaeda and in fact waged war against Da’esh in 2014, and that the latter has a non-Islamist orientation, being part of the more secular Free Syrian Army (FSA).1

It is rather telling indeed that neither Séaghdha nor Khalek mentions the origins of the FSA through mass-defections from Assad’s military of soldiers and officers disgusted with their orders to shoot down ordinary Syrians, together with civilians willing to take up arms against the regime. Additionally, Khalek claims Jabhat al-Nusra as being the “largest group” in Eastern Aleppo before its brutal reconquest by the regime and Russia in late 2016, yet Joseph Daher reports that only 2.5-10% of opposition forces in the district belonged to al-Nusra at that time. Khalek cites the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki’s infamous beheading on tape of a teenage Palestinian boy in 2016 as evidence of rebel atrocities, but neither she nor Séaghdha have a word to say about the regime’s indiscriminate destruction of the Yarmouk refugee camp for Palestinians, where more than a thousand civilians are still trapped as of this writing [early May 2018]. Ultimately, there is little sense in this interview that the extent of Assad’s brutal counter-insurgency encouraged support for apocalyptical-millenarian movements such as that of Da’esh.

The pair’s misrepresentations reach a climax when they turn to the April 7 Douma chemical attack. Séaghdha “finds it difficult” to find objective info about chemical-weapon use in the Syrian war, whereas Khalek claims that it’s “really hard to know” who carried out the chemical-weapons attacks that have been reported. Both speakers thus appear entirely ignorant of the United Nations’ findings that the regime has perpetrated at least 34 chemical-weapons assaults since 2011. There is no recognition here of the UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) holding Assad responsible for the April 2017 Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas attack. In fact, Séaghdha goes so far as to claim that chemical-weapon use “has not been proven” in Douma, and that it’s unclear “to this day” who is responsible. Yet this view overlooks the fact that the chemical weapons were dropped on Douma from regime helicopters, and that the rebels lack an air force. The host’s Assadist affinities are clearly revealed when Séaghdha asserts that the regime has been “fully cooperating” with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) investigation, given the reality that Russia and the regime have actively blocked access to the site of the attack.

As an estimated 200,000 detainees languish in Assad’s prisons, with at least 60,000 having perished due to genocidal conditions, the solidarity expressed by Burnett, Beeley, Séaghdha, and Khalek with the regime can only be described as fascist. This is a total contradiction to the liberatory tradition to which Burnett and Séaghdha lay claim as leftists; it is more consistent with the worrisome historical and contemporary support lent to neo-fascist third positionism and Stalinism. In this sense, the last word is for al-Shami: “I will never see people who place grand narratives over lived realities, who support brutal regimes in far off countries, or who peddle racism, conspiracy theories and atrocity denial, as allies [or comrades].”**

1Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (London: Pluto Press, 2016), 123-5.

**This thought by al-Shami also closed the original version of this essay.