12 August 2017 – The April 7 U.S. missile attack highlights that, at this time, the main goal of the U.S./ Australian intervention in Syria remains to impose regime change on that country’s people – or at minimum to force the Syrian government into taking a servile attitude towards these Western imperialists. Indeed, the Western imperialist powers have been plotting regime change in Syria from even before the current upheaval began in 2011. For years Washington had been funding pro-Western NGOs and “dissident” figures within Syria. For, although Syria’s Baathist Assad government is a capitalist government – unlike that of North Korea and China who are targeted because of their socialistic character – and although it has facilitated a level of imperialist exploitation of Syrian workers and local natural resources, it is still currently not subservient enough to be accepted by the imperialists. To be sure, in the years leading up to the start of the conflict, the Syrian government had been implementing more and more neo-liberal economic policies. However, its privatisation program was not anywhere as deep going as that of, say, neighbouring Jordan. Thus, its economy was not “open” enough to be as deeply plundered by Western multinational corporations as these corporations would like. Furthermore, the Syrian government backs some opponents of key NATO ally, Israel, and has friendly relations with present Western foe, Iran. The imperialist powers thus insist on installing a regime in Damascus that will be far more servile to them – like the monarchy that lords it over Jordan or the military dictatorship that rules Egypt.
Nevertheless, when unrest broke out in Syria in 2011 this was not simply a Western-directed regime change movement. The protests in Syria at that time were partly triggered by the Middle East uprisings that began in Tunisia and Egypt and spread across other countries in the region. Many came out on the streets out of anger at rising prices, unemployment, corruption and government repression. However, even from the very start of anti-government demonstrations, Western-funded liberals and pro-Western politico-religious movements like the Muslim Brotherhood were already playing a prominent role. After all, they and various “NGOs” had been nurtured for years by their imperialist patrons to intervene when such a crisis broke out. Hence, they were able to hit the streets running when the so-called Arab Spring emerged in Syria. Yet, these were not the only forces participating in the anti-government actions. There were also some leftists, liberal secularists and others who did not want to become allies of imperialism as well as a large number of people who were unclear on what direction they wanted to go except to simply say that they wanted change. However, concerned that the “Arab Spring” was destabilising its key allies in the region like Egypt, Washington moved to turn the focus of the Middle East uprisings against those governments that had failed to join the U.S. fold – like Libya and Syria. The Western capitalist powers moved their intervention into the Syrian events into high gear like only they can. As U.S. money, media and machinations inflamed the anti-government movement in Syria and Western arms and material flowed lavishly into their most favoured armed “Rebels,” imperialist-backed groups naturally gained an ever increasing weight in the opposition movement. At a certain point, the armed opposition, in particular, became decisively subordinated to the drive for imperialist-imposed regime change in Syria. Some eight to twelve months after the upheaval broke out, it was clear that the armed “Rebels” had become proxies for the agenda of the Western imperialist powers.
Since then Trotskyist Platform has argued for the defence of Syria against the U.S./Australian imperialists and their “Rebel” proxies. We were the first Marxist-based Australian group to take up this position. Indeed, Trotskyist Platform were the first non-Arab leftists of any stripe to join with those Syrians and other Arabs in Australia opposed to the “Rebels” in protests against Western imperialist meddling. Our stance is based entirely on the Leninist position of defending against the capitalist “great powers” those countries who are – directly or indirectly – subjugated by imperialism. As Lenin famously wrote in his 1915 Marxist classic, Socialism and War:
… if tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, India on England, Persia or China on Russia, and so forth, those would be “just”, “defensive” wars, irrespective of who attacked first; and every Socialist would sympathise with the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slaveowning, predatory ‘great’ powers.
However, most of the rest of the Left have taken the opposite position. The Socialist Alternative and Solidarity groups have campaigned in rabid support of the imperialist-backed “Rebels.” So has the Socialist Alliance group although it has now become more circumspect in that support. All these nominally socialist groups have even portrayed the “Rebel” movement as spearheading a progressive “Syrian revolution.” Thus, they have lined up behind a concerted imperialist campaign. For not only have the Western imperialists been arming and training their “Rebel” allies, providing military intelligence to these forces and even giving battleground direction to these “Rebel” proxies via its special forces officers, they have also hit Syria with sanctions, placed her under immense diplomatic pressure and bombarded the public with propaganda supporting their regime-change drive. The latter has been ably assisted by big business or government owned mainstream Western media. Meanwhile, the U.S.’s key regional ally, Israel, has conducted many airstrikes on Syrian government positions.
This does not mean that the imperialists could not in the distant future make a rapprochement with the Syrian government. That is one of the many areas where the Syria issue is, indeed, quite different to the North Korea and China questions. Unlike Syria, North Korea and the Peoples Republic of China are socialistic states. Therefore, in the long-term there will always be implacable hostility between these states and the capitalist powers because it reflects the innate conflict between capitalist ruling classes and socialistic working class rule. Any easing of tensions between the workers states and the capitalist powers will necessarily be tenuous and temporary. In contrast, because Syria is under capitalist rule, it is possible (although unlikely at present) that, in the long term, imperialist powers could quietly drop their regime change drive. This will especially be the case if the Assad government signals it is more willing to accommodate the interests of key imperialist powers. Yet all this is not the point right now. Because right now the imperialists are intent on imposing regime change on the people of Syria. For six years the U.S.A, Australia, Britain, France and other capitalist powers – assisted by regional allies like Israel, Turkey, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – have all been hell bent on violently toppling the Syrian government. In this post-Soviet world, the imperialists are not willing to accept anything but complete subordination from governments in their ex-colonies.
When Donald Trump unleashed his April 7 cruise missile barrage against Syria, those left-wing groups that were backing the pro-imperialist Syrian “Rebels” were confronted by a political dilemma. The fact that the Western capitalists had made their first open and declared strike on Syrian government targets starkly exposed the pro-imperialist character of these groups’ support for the Western-backed, anti-government “Rebels.” As a result Solidarity, Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance sought to refurbish their anti-imperialist credentials by stating opposition to the missile attack while maintaining their support for the“Rebels.” In this they were taking a similar position to that which they took during the 2011 imperialist-backed regime change war in Libya. Then, these left social-democratic groups stated opposition to the imperialist airstrikes but backed the pro-imperialist “Rebels” that were effectively acting as NATO’s ground troops.
The reality of this position was seen all too clearly three days after Trump’s missile attack on Syria in a demonstration called by the “Syria Solidarity” coalition in which members of Solidarity, Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance formed the majority of the rally. The rally was against the Syrian government but claimed to be also against Trump’s bombing of Syria. Yet the call out for the demonstration retailed the very propaganda used by Washington to justify the bombing. Syria Solidarity’s call out spread the highly dubious claim that the Assad government had used chemical weapons against the people of Khan Shiekhoun (https://www.facebook.com/events/1420705451314295/?acontext=%7B%2 2ref%22%3A%22106%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D) . Indeed, photographs from their rally showed that almost everyone holding a placard was holding one that simply said: “Chemical Massacre in Syria.” Any signs opposing Trump’s bombing were either not present at all or so insignificant as to be invisible. Thus, especially given its timing, this rally could only have served to justify Trump’s missile strike, regardless of any pretensions otherwise. Furthermore, the fact that this demonstration promoting Washington and Canberra’s line that Syria had used chemical weapons was held outside the UN offices in Sydney had more than the whiff of being a call for greater imperialist political and/or military intervention against Syria.
So there is no two ways about it: to side with the “Rebels” in their proxy war to topple the Syrian government means to side with the U.S. and Australian imperialists. The only way that those nominally socialist groups who hail the Syrian “Rebel” forces could claim otherwise is for some of them to concoct a nutcase conspiracy theory that the U.S. and Australian imperialists, while energetically arguing for the need for regime change in Syria and while engaging in a frenzied propaganda campaign behind this goal, are actually secretly doing the opposite. Now, the capitalist powers certainly do engage in hoaxes, false flag attacks, manufacture of “alternate facts” and secret actions behind the backs of the masses. However, what they don’t do is for years implement a particular foreign policy agenda while aggressively campaigning for the opposite. This is not because of any honesty on their part. Rather, it is for the simple reason that political campaigning and propaganda are an essential part of the imperialists’ need to mobilise support behind – or at least mollify opposition to – their goals. So, could you imagine that at the very same time that Australian governments have been persecuting dozens of CFMEU construction workers union activists in the courts, that these same capitalist governments would be running an aggressive propaganda campaign about the need for militant unions in the construction sector, about the greed of construction sector bosses and about the necessity for the CFMEU to conduct militant actions to defend workers’ rights? That is definitively not what has been happening! And it never could! Just like it is impossible for the imperialists to wage an intense, six years-long propaganda campaign in favour of regime change in Syria while actually secretly doing the opposite. And if this notion that the Western imperialists are actually supporting the Syrian government in the current conflict sounded completely like a whacko conspiracy theory before, it is pure lunacy now in the wake of the open U.S. missile strike on Syria and the associated further escalation of imperialist political attacks on the Syrian government.
A slightly less crazy-sounding argument of the Left-backers of the “Rebels” is that there’s is a “progressive” uprising against neo-liberalism. Indeed, anger at the effects of neo- liberal economic polices, in particular rising prices – a result of the pro-free-market removal of price controls – and unemployment were major factors in breeding hostility to the Syrian government. The average inflation rate in the five years prior to the 2011 upheaval was a high 7.5% and the average official unemployment rate in that period was an also large 9% with many others barely employed at all in insecure part-time and temporary work or in self- employed operations that had no prospects. However, there is a massive difference between a movement given support by people angered by the effects of neo-liberal economic policies and a movement against such policies. Unfortunately, anger at the effects of capitalism does not always end up with struggle against capitalism. Indeed, it can be channelled into reactionary movements. We only need to look at some of the supporters of Trump who were angry about unemployment and low wages but voted in a capitalist billionaire exploiter who wants to give massive tax cuts to the rich. Then there is some of the support for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation here where anger at social decay, crumbling infrastructure and a lack of jobs ends up being channelled into support for ultra-racist bigots – ones who, furthermore, support deep cuts to the already meagre welfare provisions for the unemployed and poor. Then there is the rising support for far-right French leader, Marine Le Pen. And then there was Hitler! The Syrian “Rebel” movement is, likewise, another movement where, in part, anger at the effects of capitalism has led to a reactionary movement that, if victorious, would serve to reinforce the rule of capitalism over the masses – in this case by increasing Syria’s subjugation by the capitalist great powers. The Syrian “Rebel” forces have another characteristic of reactionary right-wing movements – they are in good part mobilised on the basis of hostility to ethnic and religious minorities. Thus, even if one excludes ISIS from the list of “Rebel” groups (even though they were once one of the Washington-backed “Rebel” outfits), the strongest “Rebel” organisations – Al Nusra, Ahrar al- Sham and Jaysh al-Islam – are Sunni communalists who are viciously and often violently hostile to the country’s Kurdish, Shia, Alawi, Druze and Christian minorities. It is partly on the basis of this extreme bigotry that these groups have recruited fighters from not only Syria but from extreme religious fundamentalists throughout the world.
Those Western leftists who support the imperialist-backed Syrian “Rebels” should ask themselves: since when do the U.S. and Australian capitalist rulers back any movement against neo-liberalism … anywhere? If the “Rebels” were, indeed, a progressive movement against neo-liberal economic polices, Washington and Canberra would be firmly on the other side: backing Assad’s Baathist Party government! And that has certainly happened before when the Baathists were suppressing actually progressive movements. This was most starkly shown in the events in Syria and Lebanon in 1976. It was then that Lebanon was in a civil war that pitted leftist and Palestinian forces in a coalition against conservative forces. Although there was also a sectarian aspect to the conflict with many Muslims supporting the leftist-Palestinian side and many Christians the right-wing side, the working class definitely had to side with the leftist-Palestinian coalition. However, with this progressive side nearing victory, Bashar Al-Assad’s father, Hafeez, sent in the Syrian Army to crush their movement. Although Syria at the time was a Soviet ally and probably had even frostier relations with the West than it had at the start of the 2011-2012 uprising, the U.S. and France welcomed the Syrian Baathist government’s repressive intervention.
Of course, when nominally socialist groups support forces backed by their own imperialists abroad and retail the propaganda used by their rulers to justify this support, it has major domestic implications. It sends the very false message to those that they influence that, while their “own rulers” may be no good, at least they are on the right side of the fence in Syria. It says that: these Australian capitalist rulers may be capitalist but they are not as cruel and barbaric as others – like the “Syrian regime.” In other words, these pro-“Syrian Rebels” left groups, by supporting Canberra-backed forces abroad, are diminishing hostility to the Australian ruling class at home. Now, at the same time that they are doing this, these groups do participate in – albeit with a left social- democratic rather than a revolutionary program – many progressive struggles at home including in defence of trade unions and for refugee rights, Aboriginal rights and LGBTI rights. Yet by adding to the myth that the racist Australian ruling class is backing in Syria the side that is fighting for “democracy”, groups such as Solidarity, Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance are actually harming the very campaigns that they work for at home. For one, if they are saying that the Australian capitalist rulers back – in Syria – the side that is standing for “human rights”, it gets in the way of asserting the truth that Australia’s rulers are an extremely brutal, racist, ruling class that secured its power through genocidal terror against Aboriginal people.
SUPPORTING “DEMOCRACY” OR OPPOSING IMPERIALISM?
As well as sometimes claiming that the “Rebel” movement is a movement against neo-liberalism, the Socialist Alternative and Solidarity groups wax lyrical that the armed struggle against the Syrian government is a “democratic revolution.” Yet the strongest groups in this “democratic revolution” are extreme religious fundamentalists who want to subjugate women, axe all secularist laws and behaviours and impose a strict theocracy. Don’t take this characterisation from us … see what these “Rebel” groups say themselves! Thus, the largest “Rebel” group, Ahrar al-Sham openly rejects democracy as a concept. Although they say they accept elections of political leaders, that is “as long as it is regulated by sharia” and only candidates whose policies “are bound by sharia” are involved. Indeed, in an interview, Ahrar al-Sham leader Hassan Aboud said of his fellow “Rebels”: “there are no secular groups” in Syria (http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-crowning-of-the-syrian-islamic-front). The truth is that the “Rebels” could be more accurately described as fighting for an “anti-secular, theocratic revolution” rather than a mythical “democratic revolution.”
Australia’s “Left” supporters of the “Rebels” would scream that there are actually secular people in the “revolution” against Assad. Indeed, there are. Except that their weight in the movement is so small that they could only, at best, act as recalcitrant “Rebels” who express their displeasure with the religious fundamentalist platform of their much bigger “Rebel” allies while shooting in the same direction as them. In other words, they will be, regardless of their intentions, shooting towards the same goal of an extreme theocratic, undemocratic order. Similarly, there are also a small amount of one-time leftists supporting the present “Syrian Revolution.” These leftists may well receive no direct imperialist aid. However, the fact is that they are in a military united front with much larger proxy forces of imperialism – meaning that they are, in practice, in a united front with imperialism themselves. To be sure, some of these people may genuinely believe that they are still leftists. But there is a huge problem! They are lining up behind the biggest enemies of liberation of the Syrian and entire world’s toiling peoples: the Western imperialists. Therefore, for any Australian leftist to highlight the small number of secular-democrats and leftists among Syria’s “Rebels” is a bit like right-wing apologists who stress that there are some non-white people in Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party or some blacks and Muslims who support Donald Trump!
Unlike the Socialist Alternative and Solidarity groups who have never wavered in their cheering of Syria’s pro- imperialist, armed “Rebels,” the Socialist Alliance party has over time, to an extent, recognised the dominance of thoroughly misogynist, religious fundamentalist cutthroats within the “Rebels.” Thus, an article in their Green Left Weekly newspaper written on the day of the April 7 U.S. missile strike on Syria describes these “Rebels” as a “fractious array of Sunni Islamist opposition groups” with a model “far from” one of “ethnic inclusion and religious tolerance.” That, however, has not stopped Socialist Alliance from siding with these “Rebels” against Syrian government forces. Thus, when Syrian forces and their allies defeated the “Rebels” in Aleppo, Socialist Alliance issued a statement portraying the victory negatively. They stated that: “The Socialist Alliance affirms the position we have held since 2011 in support of the Syrian people’s right to rebel against the Assad dictatorship” (Peace in Syria can only come from the democratic empowerment of Syrians, Socialist Alliance statement, 18 December 2016). In the context of the current conflict that can only mean support for the imperialist-backed “Rebels”, however critically, against the Syrian government.
However, since 2014 in particular, Socialist Alliance have switched the main focus of their support in Syria from the “Rebels” to the PYD/YPG, the most powerful group based on the Kurdish minority of northern Syria. This group had fought for the national rights of Syria’s oppressed Kurdish minority. As in neighbouring Turkey, the Kurdish minority in Syria have faced intense national oppression, albeit not with the same genocidal brutality that they have faced in Turkey. In the early period of the conflict, the PYD had an uneasy, on-again, off-again relationship with the Arab-based “Rebel” groups and with more conservative Kurdish groups. However, in mid-2012 the Assad government withdrew its military from Kurdish areas of Syria leaving the PYD/YPG largely in charge. This was the crowning of a tacit, semi-alliance between the Kurdish forces and the Assad government. The PYD/ YPG, meanwhile, increasingly came into conflict with “Rebel” groups who were violently opposed to even the most minimal expressions of self-determination for the Kurdish minority. These “Rebels” also wanted to replace the relative secularism of PYD/YPG controlled areas with a theocratic order. Among these imperialist and Turkish backed “Rebels” was the then still emerging ISIS. When the U.S. and Australian imperialists decided to turn on their former ISIS proxy – to some degree – they found in the PYD/YPG a useful and militarily effective ally. Today, the Western imperialists are backing the PYD/YPG with airstrikes, massive shipments of arms and through direct support by a large number of U.S. special forces on the ground. Indeed, U.S. special forces troops in Syria have even been wearing badges of the YPG on their uniforms! This new alliance with Western imperialism saw the PYD/ YPG also make a rapprochement with some “Rebel” Free Syrian Army groups. They have together formed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This alliance between the PYD/YPG on the one hand and, on the other, the Western imperialists and some of their “Rebel” factions is complicated by the fact that the PYD/YPG has also been clashing with other – mainly Turkish-controlled – “Rebel” outfits and with Washington’s Turkish NATO ally. Furthermore, the PYD/YPG has been diplomatically supported by Moscow, the most powerful foreign backer of the Syrian government, even as it is in an alliance with the Western powers, who are the most powerful force behind the “Rebels.”
The PYD/YPG is lionised by Socialist Alliance and some anarchists for its secular, left-leaning platform and its stated commitment to democratic, “self-governing” forms of organisation in the areas that it controls. Its platform is indeed secular-democratic and the position of women in the areas that it controls – known as Rojava – currently does appear to be significantly better than in the parts of Syria controlled by the “Rebels”. However, the massive problem is that the PYD/YPG are in a direct alliance with the greatest forces against any form of social liberation in the world: the U.S., Australian and other Western imperialists. Granted that this alliance is partly directed against a group with a horrific, reactionary program, ISIS. However, as despicable as ISIS is, it is the Western imperialists with their enormous military and economic power who are able to do far more damage. As we explained in our leaflet issued after the April 7 U.S. missile attack on Syria:
It is not ISIS but the U.S., Australian and other imperialists who have been able to intervene in and destroy whole countries – like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and indirectly Syria – who have dropped nuclear bombs on human beings (as the U.S. with Australian backing did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki), who today are threatening a new war against North Korea that could again kill millions and who one day, because of the crisis-ridden nature of their violent system, could end up again leading humanity into a savage global slaughter the way they did in World Wars I and II … but this time with nuclear weapons! They are the tyrants who rule the world … and lord it over the world … and in the future could destroy the world!
Defend Syria against U.S./Australian Imperialism & Their “Rebel Proxies, Trotskyist Platform statement, 12 April 2017
It is telling that the Western leftists hailing the PYD/YPG only started energetically doing so after the Western imperialists started backing them in 2014. They certainly weren’t supporting the PYD/YPG when they were in a de-facto, semi-alliance with the Syrian government forces against the Western-backed “Rebels.” We are not suggesting some conspiracy here or some conscious decision by these leftists to jump onto the same side as their own ruling classes. However, it does reflect how cravenly these groups bend to the propaganda of the mainstream media which suddenly started running documentaries sympathetic to the PYD/YPG and how much they bend to the progressive, middle-class public opinion that is shaped by imperialist propaganda.
The question remains when evaluating whether it is correct to support the PYD/YPG: does the positive of their stated left-leaning, secular-democratic platform outweigh the negative of their alliance with U.S.-led Western imperialism? The answer is a resounding: NO! Firstly, by helping the Western imperialists to achieve victories – even it be, in part, against the ultra-reactionary ISIS – the PYD/YPG are strengthening the strongest, most tyrannical oppressors of the world’s masses. For one, any victories for the Western Coalition in the North and North-East of Syria would not only give these forces a geographic/military presence to enforce their agenda in the region but would politically embolden them to intensify their push to impose regime change on the Syrian people, to still further subordinate Iraq under their domination and to threaten Iran with a bloody Libya-style regime change assault. Already, as the subordination of the PYD/YPG to the Western imperialists deepens, these forces have increasingly clashed with Syrian government forces. In August last year, in Hasakah city, intense clashes erupted between the YPG and the Syrian Army. In recent months the conflict has escalated further. In mid-June, the YPG-dominated SDF clashed with Syrian government troops near the town of Tabqa, which is in the vicinity of ISIS-held Raqqa. As part of these battles, the U.S. military shot down a Syrian fighter bomber. Then, just today, news emerged that the SDF had killed four Syrian Army soldiers after shelling their positions in the western Raqqa Governorate. The YPG – and the SDF that they dominate are, thus, now openly on the wrong side of the most significant conflict within Syria: that between, on the one hand, the Western imperialists and their “Rebel” proxies and, on the other, the Syrian government. The YPG may have leftist pretensions and may have implemented, in some aspects, a more socially progressive platform than other forces but they are on the side of imperialism, of neo-colonialism, of the greatest enemies of social progress on the planet.
It is, nevertheless, true that the PYD have a relatively progressive platform on the women’s rights question and the presence of a sizeable proportion of women fighters in the YPG does matter a great deal. However, the PYD/ YPG’s role in strengthening imperialist influence in the region threatens to derail this. For continued imperialist domination of the former colonies is the main reason why even nominal democratic rights that, to a degree, exist – albeit in increasingly attenuated form – in the imperialist countries, like separation of religion and state, formal legal equality between men and women and parliamentary “democracy” are severely curtailed in the ex-colonies. For through their domination of world markets, their control over sources of capital and their sheer bullying, the imperialists so severely gouge the wealth of “Third World” countries and so exacerbate social inequalities there that the masses in these lands can only be kept in line by the most severe repression and by reinforcing all sorts of religious and other social reaction to keep the toilers divided and distracted. Very immediately it is noteworthy that, under Washington’s prodding, among the “Rebel” groups that the PYD have entered into an alliance with in the SDF (including the Euphrates Martyrs Battalion – a former faction of the al-Tawhid Brigade – and the Two Holy Mosques Brigade – a former member of the 19th Division of the Army of Mujahedeen) are extreme religious fundamentalist opponents of secularism and women’s rights. What this means is that in areas that the U.S.-backed SDF have taken over, the PYD/YPG share administration, in part, with reactionary theocratic forces.
That is why it is bogus to speak of “fighting for democracy” in a “Third World” country if one is simultaneously strengthening the hand of imperialism. The most crucial democratic task in such countries is achieving freedom from neo-colonial domination – the task upon which the success of all other democratic tasks depends. This means that even if the Syrian “Rebels” hypothetically were dominated by forces claiming adherence to a secular- democratic platform, the international working class would still need to defend Syria against these “Rebels” if the “Rebels” remain imperialist-allied. This point has much relevance to Iran. For it is possible that in the future, the U.S. and other imperialists will be able to incite “Rebel” proxies there to wage a Syria-style insurgency against the Iranian government. Unlike in Syria, these Iranian “Rebels” may turn out to be more secular and have a less repressive position on the women’s rights question than the government they are fighting against – the theocratic, Iranian dictatorship. However, in the event of such a scenario we would still need to defend Iran against the imperialists and their “Rebel” proxies. For the victory of the pro-imperialist forces would not only strengthen and embolden imperialism for more marauding around the globe, it would intensify the exploitation of the Iranian masses and in the long run end up reinforcing the subjugation of Iranian women too. We only have to look at what has happened since the 2003 imperialist invasion of Iraq. At the time of the invasion, Iraq was a capitalist dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, the invading powers like the U.S. and Australia were capitalist, nominally parliamentary “democracies” where the population had certain formal democratic rights in excess of those that were present in Iraq. However, the strengthening of imperialist domination of Iraq since the invasion has led to brutal repression and torture of the Iraqi masses that far exceeds the brutality of even Saddam. It has led to the ascendancy of reactionary theocratic forces, a severe degrading of the position of women, increased oppression of LGBTI people and an intensification of the discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities.
Of course, it is only a socialist revolution in countries like Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Iran that can decisively free these countries from imperialist subjugation and/or economic dependency and which alone can open the road to not only the toilers’ emancipation but to the liberation of women and oppressed ethnic minorities. Such a revolutionary struggle in the Middle East would include, on its banner, standing up for the right to self determination for the downtrodden Palestinian and Kurdish people. However, on the road to such conquests of power by the working class it is crucial to, as Lenin insisted, stand in any conflicts for “the victory of the oppressed, dependent, unequal states against the oppressing, slaveowning, predatory `great’ powers.”
OPPOSE ISIS FIRST OR OPPOSE IMPERIALISM FIRST?
Those on the Australian Far Left that are most rabid in backing the Syrian “Rebels” – in particular, both the Solidarity and Socialist Alternative groups and a small number of avowed anarchists – are prone to making excuses for the fact that a major part of these “Rebels” consist of extreme, anti-women, religious fundamentalists. Yet, the Socialist Alliance group which is also on the side of these imperialist-backed “Rebels” against the Syrian government forces – albeit more tepidly now – simultaneously advocates its position of supporting the PYD/YPG in good part based on the latter’s opposition to the misogynist, ISIS reactionaries. Similarly, that section of the anarchists who lionise the PYD/YPG support them, in part, on the basis that they are fighting “ISIS fascism.” The Communist Party of Australia – even as a small number of its members campaign hard against imperialist intervention in Syria – also appears to support the PYD/YPG. A back page article in the 24 May issue of the CPA paper, The Guardian, is an interview lionising the PYD’s struggle against ISIS (http://cpa.org.au/guardian/2017/1778/19-hunger-for-peace.html). The article avoids mentioning that the PYD/YPG is, today, staunchly backed by the Western imperialists.
ISIS are, indeed, brutal religious fundamentalists who horrifically oppress women and non-Sunni, non-Arab religious and ethnic minorities. They are one of the most reactionary forces on the entire planet, bar one: the imperialist powers. As well as carrying out murderous attacks on women, religious and ethnic minorities and secular Sunnis in Syria and Iraq, ISIS and its parent, Al- Qaeda, have brought some despicable terror to Western countries as well. For this reason their reactionary nature is very much in the consciousness of Western leftists. Yet in the Middle East – and in the whole globe put together – the terror stoked by ISIS is dwarfed by the scale of the monstrous violence committed by the U.S.A, Australia, Britain and other imperialist powers. Indeed, because of the savagely indiscriminate manner that they have conducted their battles against ISIS in Mosul and their airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, the Western imperialists and their allies have in their anti-ISIS operations alone killed more civilians than the ISIS cutthroats have killed in total around the world throughout their history.
If one wants to know who the biggest force for social reaction in the world is then think about what the effects of imperialist military victories are: even when they are made in alliance with forces with a secular, left-leaning platform like the YPG/PYD and even when they are in battles against terribly reactionary forces like ISIS or the Afghan Taliban. For one, imperialist successes in their wars in the Middle East would encourage them to unleash new regime change operations around the world. Recent successes of the U.S.-led Coalition in their battles against ISIS in Iraq and Syria are, no doubt, in some way contributing to making U.S. president Trump confident enough to threaten military action against the left-leaning government in Venezuela or the not servile enough one in Iran. Meanwhile, battlefield successes for the U.S., Australia and other capitalist powers would be emboldening them as they make increasingly bellicose threats against socialistic North Korea – and through that indirectly threaten North Korea’s socialistic neighbour, China, too.
Consider what the battlefield victories of imperialism and its allies mean to the countries where these wars are waged. For one, it means death and demoralisation for the population. The fact that the PYD/YPG forces allied with imperialism have a secular-democratic platform will, thus, mean little to the people suffering destruction. They will understandably resent not only imperialism but all its allies. Indeed, for the people of ISIS-held areas suffering under not only ISIS’s rule but also the indiscriminate and ferocious Coalition airstrikes, the fact that the U.S.-led Coalition’s PYD/YPG allies have a secular democratic platform will only give progressive secularism a terrible name! In the end, just as the 2003 U.S./British/Australian invasion of Iraq opened the way for the emergence of ISIS, their current interventions in Syria and Iraq could well create the conditions for a new crop of ultra-reactionary forces to emerge. Meanwhile, any increased strength and reach of the imperialists that comes from any victories for themselves and their current YPG allies would make them better placed to back or even create ultra-reactionary forces should that serve their purpose – the way that they orchestrated the creation of Al Qaeda to fight the socialistic USSR and its allies in Afghanistan and then for a crucial period backed ISIS in its early years, in Syria.
Think carefully also what victories for the U.S. and Australian ruling classes abroad mean in their own countries. Every bomb that the imperialist Coalition drops on Syria and Iraq, every advance that they and their YPG allies make encourages flag-waving nationalism at home. This is destructive to the international and inter- racial unity crucial to the struggle for workers’ rights. Meanwhile, the rise in nationalist arrogance is helping fuel the terrifying growth of fascist forces in the U.S., Australia and other Western countries. For all these reasons we must on principle oppose the Western imperialists and any allies that they have in all their wars in the “Third World” – even those against religious fundamentalists or other reactionaries.
The force that leftists should seek to build to defend people in areas where the ISIS and Al Nusra reactionaries are present are worker and peasant militias that are totally independent of – and hostile to – the intervening imperialist militaries. Right now there is another force that is opposing ISIS and Al Nusra that is not aligned with the Western imperialists and that’s the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies. Given that ISIS and Nusra attacks on Syrian government forces serve the imperialists’ drive to impose regime change in Syria which, at this time, remains the main goal of the imperialists in Syria and the most significant axis of the multi-directional Syrian conflict, we must side with the Syrian government and their Russian and Iranian allies in these clashes despite the fact that these are pro-capitalist forces.
Ironically, some pro-Syria leftists themselves focus on ISIS as the main enemy rather than Western imperialism. According to them, the Western imperialists are actually still fully backing ISIS. ISIS, in this analysis, remains a complete puppet of the U.S. imperialists. This is, however, a slightly whacky conspiracy theory. Of course, it is true that a few years ago, the U.S. and its allies did fund and support ISIS. Now, however, the picture in Syria is more complex, as we noted in our leaflet issued after the April 7 U.S. missile attack on Syria:
Certainly, when ISIS has clashed with the imperialist-backed “Rebels” or Washington’s new-found Syrian Kurdish allies, the U.S.-led airstrikes and special forces operations have aggressively targeted them. At some other times, however, the imperialist forces seem more to be herding the ISIS forces so that ISIS end up concentrating their forces against the Syrian government rather than against the “Rebels” – just as U.S. operations often herd the Al-Qaeda troops in Yemen into battle against the Houthi forces. Additionally, there have been some reports of U.S. weapons drops to its “Rebel” and Kurdish allies in Syria suspiciously going “astray” and “accidentally” ending up with ISIS. To be sure, the U.S. does seem to think that, even in Syria, ISIS is a force that they cannot control and so needs to be put down.
Defend Syria against U.S./Australian Imperialism & Their “Rebel” Proxies, Trotskyist Platform statement, 12 April 2017
The line taken by some pro-Damascus Western leftists that portrays ISIS and Al Nusra as the main enemy – rather than directly the U.S., Australian and other imperialist powers – is an attempt to mesh in with the Western regimes’ “war on Islamic terror.” In doing so it is unhelpful to the struggle. For it feeds into an, at bottom, racist narrative of Western imperialism; moreover one that they are frequently using to justify their interventions abroad. Furthermore, it obscures the truth that the main enemy of the world’s toiling masses aren’t Islamic fundamentalist terrorists but the ruling classes of the rich capitalist powers.
OPPOSITION TO IMPERIALIST INTERVENTION IN SYRIA
In the face of the ruling class’ propaganda campaign, the secular, anti-colonial section of the Syrian and Lebanese communities in Australia built large demonstrations from 2012 onwards that opposed the pro-imperialist “Rebels” and Western support for them. In Sydney, they formed the Hands Off Syria coalition to organise the actions. Later, non-Arab leftists became involved in Hands Off Syria. They added their knowledge to the movement and political depth into the campaigns. However, the movement dwindled in size somewhat – in good part because the Australian regime’s “war on terror” intimidated many in the local Syrian community from participating in any anti-government rallies.
Those involved in the Hands Off Syria movement had shown quite a degree of political courage to resist the screeching media drive to promote the “Rebels” and to stand firm in the face of the many on the Left who echoed the capitalist media’s narrative. In the days following the U.S.’s April 7 missile barrage against Syria, the mainstream Australian media ran a witch-hunting campaign against two leaders of Hands Off Syria for their refusal to accept the “justification” for the bombing. The media witch- hunt sought to remove these individuals – academic Tim Anderson and casual tutor Jay Tharappel – from their teaching jobs at the University of Sydney. Despite significant political differences with them, we opposed the media witch-hunt against them – although it later emerged how seriously flawed the politics of Anderson is in particular (see further below).
However, even from the start, the politics of Hands Off Syria groups had problems. Rather than focussing exclusively on mobilising working class opposition to the Australian regime that was part of the proxy war against Syria, the coalitions sought, in part, to appeal to the Australian ruling class or at least elements within it. In particular, Hands Off Syria groups sought to win support for their cause by portraying the Syrian government’s opposition to the “Rebels” as synonymous with the Western regimes’ war on “radical Islam.” This appealing to the Australian ruling class was apparent in the presence of the flag of Australian imperialism at the pro-Syria demonstrations. Especially as the size of the protests became smaller and thus easier to control, the presence of Australian flags in the demonstrations reflected not only illusions among the mass of participants but flaws in the leadership’s program.
Despite these problems, Trotskyist Platform actively participated in the actions called by Hands Off Syria Sydney against imperialism’s proxy war on Syria. We did so, however, bearing our own slogans that sought to appeal to the working class and others at the bottom of this society to mobilise in opposition to all forms of U.S. and Australian intervention in Syria. We simultaneously sought to warn against any appeals to the imperialist Australian ruling class. Thus, while calling to “Defend Syria against U.S./Australian Imperialism & Their “Rebel” Proxies!”, we invariably also carried placards at the actions with slogans like the following: “Australian Government’s Plans for a New Pro-Imperialist Regime in Syria Will Only Serve Australia’s Capitalist Exploiting Class. Australian Working Class: Oppose all Imperialist Meddling in Syria!”
In late 2014, weaknesses in Hands Off Syria’s perspective came to the fore at a critical moment. This was when the U.S., Australian and other imperialists began to openly send large air and ground forces to Iraq and Syria under the guise of fighting ISIS terrorism. It was a time which called for urgent mobilisation against this direct intervention. However, the Hands Off Syria movement was weighed down by illusions that it was possible for imperialism for its own purposes to end up supporting, in some sort of way, their cause. Thus, when the imperialists said they would be intervening in Syria to “fight against terrorism”, some in the Hands Off Syria leadership in Australia and abroad thought that they could “use” imperialism for their own purposes in this situation. They thought that by fighting off ISIS, the Western imperialists would end up helping the cause of Syrian independence without meaning to. Others were not so sure but thought it was a possibility. Thus, the Hands Off Syria groups became paralysed at a most crucial time. They did not mobilise any actions to oppose the sending of a large contingent of U.S. and Australian military forces to Iraq and Syria. Therefore, we in Trotskyist Platform felt it necessary to take on the work of building such an action. In the face of illusions in the potential benevolence of the imperialists amongst even opponents of the neo-colonial conquest of Syria, Trotskyist Platform initiated a united front rally in Sydney on 29 November 2014 that opposed the entire U.S. and Australian intervention in Syria and Iraq, saying: “Obama, Abbott and Shorten’s Military Intervention Is Bad For Working Class People – Oppose the U.S. & Australian Ruling Class and Down with Their War in the Middle East!” and calling to, “Defend Syria against Western Imperialism and its `Rebels!’” Unfortunately this was the only action in Australia to oppose the 2014 deployment of large imperialist military forces to both Iraq AND Syria and which called to oppose the neo-colonial attacks on Syria that would inevitably follow. To their credit, however, some leading individuals in Hands Off Syria Sydney, with a stronger anti-imperialist sense, chose to participate in that action.
Eventually, as it became obvious over a period of several months that the direct imperialist military intervention, while it included attacks on ISIS, was being used to strengthen the drive to subjugate Syria, Hands Off Syria began to correct itself and – to their credit – mobilise against the intervention. However, their earlier line that imperialism could be “used” had confused many of their supporters. Hence, the movement became weaker at a time when the need to oppose the neo-colonial drive became more urgent. Moreover, two years after Hands Off Syria groups took a dive when the U.S. and Australia made large open deployments to Syria and Iraq in the latter half of 2014, the groups’ willingness to embrace pro-capitalist forces would send them plunging into an even deeper hole – as we will detail below.
HANDS OFF SYRIA’S DALLIANCES WITH THE FAR RIGHT
Although Hands Off Syria Sydney does participate in Sydney May Day rallies and other leftist events, overall these groups have always lacked a definitive perspective of siding with the working class against the capitalist exploiters. Thus, their strategy is to look to ally with whoever would support Syria against the “Rebels” regardless of which side of the class fence they were from. That meant that the movement was looking to win support from, among others, a section of the capitalist class. However, the only section of the capitalist class that included opponents of the Syrian “Rebels” is the far-right, ultra-racist wing. Now these ultra-right wingers are no opponents of imperialism. Far from it! Nor could they ever be – since they are part of the capitalist exploiting class for whom imperialism is a necessity. For example in the U.S., Steve Bannon, the fascistic mastermind of the election victory of Donald Trump, stands for intensifying the hostility of the U.S. regime towards the socialistic Peoples Republic of China. However, for a congruence of different reasons, some in the far right do “support” Syria in the conflict with the “Rebels.” For one, in their warped, race-obsessed view of the world, the main “threat” to what they think of as “white civilisation” is radical Islam. Thus, for them Assad is a lesser evil to the Islamic fundamentalist “Rebels” not from any anti-imperialist point of view but from their white supremacist standpoint. Then there is their Hitler-like hatred of Jewish people. These extreme right wingers oppose Israel not because of its fascistic oppression of the Palestinian people – who have suffered genocidal terror of the type the White Australian capitalist regime has perpetrated against Aboriginal peoples and that White American capitalism/feudalism imposed on that country’s Native American first peoples – but because the Israeli state happens to be run by Jews. The Syrian government, which has sometimes stood up to Israel, and which is opposed by the Israeli regime is, thus, seen as relatively worthy by some of the far right – again for really reactionary reasons. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, some of the far right are opposed to attacks on Syria because Syria is currently backed by Russia. Putin and Russia’s capitalist rulers, in general, are heroes of most of the far right around the world – except in some of Russia’s neighbours where opposition to Russia is one of the recruiting themes of fascist groups. Putin, himself, is not an actual fascist – although like Trump he has key advisers who are, indeed, fascists. He is, rather, a right-wing conservative – a kind of Russian equivalent to Tony Abbott – although that analogy should not be taken too far since the history and position in the world of Russia and Australia are different. However, the Russian government’s right wing policies – including its harsh crackdown on “illegal” immigrants, its Jacqui Lambie-like anti-Muslim rhetoric and its attacks on LGBTI rights – are hailed by much of the far right in the West. Putin is glorified by these extreme rightists as a strong, white leader who rejects what they see as the “political correctness,” “cosmopolitanism” and “multiculturalism” of the more liberal of the leaders in the West, like Obama; and who, unlike U.S. leaders, is not one of the main backers of Israel (although Russian-Israeli relations have lately been surging). Much of the Western extreme right see the Russian government as their “great white hope” and – in good part for that reason – some of these far right groups support the, currently Russian-backed, Syrian government.
Treacherously, some of the leaders of the Hands Off Syria movement both in Australia and internationally started to look towards making common cause with these filthy right-wing racists – even though some of the leaders of the Hands Off Syria movement were themselves avowed leftists. One leader of Hands Off Syria in Australia – who is definitely not a leftist but a right-wing conspiracy theorist type – even did a friendly interview together with notorious American fascist, David Duke. David Duke was one of the main leaders of the horrific white supremacist rally that has taken place in Charlottsville, Virginia over the last two days. One of the Neo-Nazis taking part in that demonstration rammed his car at speed into anti-racist protesters – murdering one of them, Heather Heyer. And it is these type of people that some of the leaders of Hands Off Syria think it is acceptable to make common cause with! It is not only the prominent, right wing Hands Off Syria member who did the “united front” work with David Duke that is the problem here. It is the many others in the leadership of the movement – including avowed leftists – who defended this deed or, at best, refused to publicly condemn it.
As Donald Trump’s bid for the White House gathered steam, the willingness of some in the Hands off Syria groups (both locally and internationally) to collaborate with – or make apologies for – the far right increased. Trump’s stated intention to improve ties with Russia and his occasional rhetoric saying that the then Obama administration’s Syria policy was wrong made some in the Hands Off Syria movements in Australia and abroad start to back him. Of course, those who still had pretensions of being leftists were not going to openly proclaim that they were supporting a hard right presidential candidate. Yet they may as well have! These people denounced any condemnations of Trump as being necessarily pro-Clinton. When commenting on Trump, they ignored his plans to make medical cover even less affordable for the poor and his agenda to give huge tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the masses. Most notably, they greatly minimised the extreme racist character of his attacks on Muslims, Blacks and Mexicans and the white supremacist terror that he was inciting on the streets. Instead, they almost portrayed him as a pro-working class populist with some “Left” policies. Once Trump was elected, some of these avowed “leftists” associated with Hands off Syria groups – both internationally and in Australia – even denounced any protest against Trump. They slimily claimed that any anti-Trump demonstration would necessarily be pro-Democratic Party. With that logic they would not be attending most progressive demonstrations against racism, sexism and exploitation of workers in Australia since, currently, the politics leading these rallies usually includes back-handed support for the ALP and Greens. Yet, any sincere leftist would thoroughly condemn anyone who used that as an excuse to oppose such protests. Instead, they would insist on intervening in such actions in order to both support their progressive aspects and to argue against illusions in the ALP and Greens. Of course, the “leftists” condemning demonstrations against Trump know all this. It is just that they had gone so far down the road of critical support for the hard right president that they even attacked the protests – which were mostly driven by hostility to Trump’s extreme racism, sexism and homophobia – during Trump’s inauguration. In summary, these political groupings acted as “left”-apologists for Trump.
Therefore, we in Trotskyist Platform became wary of attending rallies or meetings organised by Hands Off Syria groups. Unfortunately, our fears about the direction of the movement became more than confirmed. This became apparent at a rally held by Hands Off Syria Sydney against the killing of dozens of Syrian soldiers in Deir al Zour from airstrikes by the U.S.-led Coalition. The U.S. dubiously claimed that the attack was a strike on ISIS that “accidentally” went wrong. It seemed far more likely to have been a deliberate attempt by dominant sections of the then Obama Administration and U.S. military to scuttle the 9 September 2016 deal that their own secretary of state, John Kerry, had struck with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for a ceasefire in Syria and joint U.S.-Russian air strikes against ISIS. It was certainly worthwhile to protest against the attack on Syrian soldiers in Deir al Zour. However, this 24 September 2016 rally, held at the height of Trump’s bid for the White House, came with a backdrop of significant parts of the Hands Off Syria movement in Australia and internationally lurching towards a de facto alliance with sections of the far right. In this context, Trotskyist Platform, although sympathetic to its nominal theme, was wary about the action and did not attend this particular rally. Just as well that we didn’t! A key component of that demonstration turned out to be the Russian far right group – the Zabaikal Cossack Society of Australia. This group harks back to Tsarist Russia. They eulogise the role of anti-communist Cossack generals in the counterrevolutionary White Armies that fought against Soviet Russia in the 1918-1921 Civil War that followed the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia. They are staunchly pro-Putin – which many others in the Russian community currently are – but they are much more than that. The Zabaikal Cossack Society fanatically espouses Orthodox Christian fundamentalism, “traditional values”, Islamophobia, and homophobia. They are in a very close alliance with Australia’s main fascist group, the Australia First Party (AFP) and the Greek Neo-Nazi group, Golden Dawn. The Australia First Party were one of the instigators of the horrific December 2005 white supremacist riot at Cronulla Beach. Their trademark is inciting racist violence against Asians, Muslims, Blacks and members of the LGBTI community. Golden Dawn is, meanwhile, notorious for murdering many refugees as well as other non-white migrants and leftists in Greece. Just a month after his participation in the Hands Off Syria rally, Zabaikal Cossack Society leader Simeon Boikov and AFP leader Jim Saleam were special guests at the national conference of the Australian chapter of Golden Dawn. This is how the Golden Dawn scum describe the Zabaikal Cossack Society participation at their conference:
The Event then continued with the introduction of our fellow Nationalists outside the Greek community, starting first with the head of the Russian Cossack Association of Australia, Simeon Boikov. Simeon took to the stage, and spoke of the historical alliance between the Russians & Greeks…
… The Russian Cossacks of Australia presented Golden Dawn with the resistance flag of Novo-Russia, to which we shared a Greek flag with the Russians, a flag from our head office in Greece, which had survived many protests against the globalist filth (and their enablers) on the Streets of Athens.
Simeon was also awarded with a plaque to recognise our official friendship and alliance with Russian nationalists, and a promise that Golden Dawn holds true to its word that should (or when) we take power, to align the Greek state against the Zionists of Washington, and towards our comrades in Moscow.
For the local movement, special guest and speaker Dr. Jim Saleam took to the stage on behalf of Australian Nationalists, representing the Australia First Party.
Boikov’s extreme hostility to Lenin, the Bolsheviks and communism stems in part from the experience of some of the descendants of the classes that he represents. After losing the Civil War to the heroic communist-led workers and poor peasants of the Soviet workers state, some of the former exploiting class of Russia and its privileged military officers fled to the then still capitalist-feudal country, China. The wealth that they brought with them and their lauded status as “refugees from communism” in Chiang Kai-Shek’s imperialist-dominated China allowed them a privileged life there. Yet when the Communist-led agricultural labourers, urban workers and poor tenant farmers of China took power in the 1949 Revolution and over the following decades consolidated their rule, the descendants of the former Russian exploiting class and their military protectors now lost their privileged status in China too. Some of these twice-cut-down-to-size by communism families linked to Russia’s former Tsarist oppressors – like Boikov’s himself – then ran to Australia, bringing with them a doubly fierce hatred of Communist-led revolution.
Video footage shows that at the 24 September 2016 Hands Off Syria event, Boikov’s extreme rightists were not only merely a part of what was by Hands Off Syria Sydney’s standards a rather small action but their huge portrait of Putin, large Russian flags, nationalist “Forward Russia” flags and the flags of their hard right Serbian Chetnik allies almost visually dominated the rally! They seemed to have a disproportionate influence on the political line of the demonstration too. Boikov led participants in chants of “Putin, Putin, Putin” and, thus, diverted the thrust of the action away from the key question of defending Syria against Western imperialism.
As Trump won the U.S. presidential election, the Hands Off Syria movement in Australia and internationally flirted even more ostentatiously with the far right. Most disgustingly, two leading members of Hands Off Syria, including Tim Anderson, attended a 24 December 2016 Sydney rally organised by the Zabaikal Cossack Society and its fascist allies, the Australia First Party and the Australian chapter of Golden Dawn. Also present were other far right groups including Serbian Chetniks and a right-wing, Russian nationalist bikie gang called “Night Wolves.” The rally protested against the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey a few days earlier and there were a small number of non-fascist, mainstream capitalist figures present including the Turkish and Russian ambassadors. Yet this rally was openly led by fascists, was numerically dominated by extreme right-wingers and some very prominent fascist figures participated – including local fascist Nathan Sykes and Australian Golden Dawn leader, Iggy Gavrilidis, who was a featured speaker at the event. Also a featured speaker at the demonstration was none other than AFP leader, Jim Saleam, Australia’s most notorious neo-Nazi. Saleam was imprisoned for a few years after organising a drive by shooting on the house of anti-Apartheid activist, Eddie Funde, in 1989. Video footage of the December 2016 rally (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD7RMqplRYY for footage from the filthy fascists themselves) shows that not only was there not the slightest hint of a single person at the rally heckling Saleam throughout his entire speech – or even at the end of it – but he received strong applause at the conclusion of the speech. What the rally served to do was to legitimise the very forces that are conducting and inciting – and organising for even larger scale – racist terror against Muslims, Asians, Aboriginal people, Jewish people and Africans as well as violent attacks on leftists and on the LGBTI community. And supposedly “leftist” Hands Off Syria leaders were a part of this disgusting rally!
Now, it is quite probable that the Russian and Turkish ambassadors and their small entourage were simply unaware of really who was behind this 24 December 2016 commemoration. The same, however, could not be said for the likes of Tim Anderson who has a decades- long association with the Left. Furthermore, around the time that Saleam was prosecuted for organising the shotgun attack on the Australian representative of the anti-apartheid ANC, Anderson was active in the anti-apartheid movement himself. He would know exactly who Saleam is!
It is important to stress that, given that it is far easier to influence events at home than those abroad: the main effect of leaders of Hands Off Syria participating in the far-right rally was not any effect on events in Russia, Turkey or Syria but to give comfort and encouragement to the fascist terrorists at home.
A UNITED FRONT WITH LOCAL FASCIST FILTH HAS
NOTHING IN COMMON WITH THE 1939 GERMANY-USSR NON-AGGRESSION PACT
Almost as harmful as the conduct of Anderson and Co. in attending the 24 December 2016 fascist-led event was that of others in the Hands Off Syria movement who defended his participation in the far right action. Since the Syrian question has seen avowed leftists of various varieties throw out the most sophisticated arguments for terrible positions we must make a pre-emptive strike here: one against any attempt to legitimise the conduct of those joining in de facto “united front” actions with fascists in Australia by comparing that with the USSR’s entry into a non-aggression pact with Nazi-ruled Germany in August 1939. The socialistic USSR, then headed by Stalin, entered into this Germany-USSR Non-Aggression Pact as a defensive measure to delay an impending German invasion. From before he took power, Hitler had made clear that his main foreign policy goal was to destroy the Soviet workers state which his propaganda called the “Jewish Bolshevik” state. Under the serious threat that the USSR was faced with, the most durable, effective defence strategy was to fight to extend socialistic rule through politically supporting the struggle for workers revolution – which in Spain and France in particular had great possibilities in that period. However, the by then conservatised, bureaucratic leadership of the Soviet workers state recoiled from such an internationalist perspective – turning their backs on one of the key strategies that guided the 1917 Russian Revolution. Stalin did, however, attempt to defend the USSR through diplomatic-military manoeuvres which, especially in the absence of successful socialist revolutions abroad, was indeed necessary. In particular, Stalin sought a military alliance with British and French imperialism against Nazi-ruled German imperialism. However, given the Allied powers’ refusal to give a guarantee that they would oppose a Hitler attack on the USSR and rightly seeing that the British and French rulers were actually hoping that their German counterparts would do the “job” of crushing the Soviet workers state, Stalin was pushed into a non-aggression pact with Germany as a defensive measure.
Of course, given the flawed perspective of seeking “peaceful co-existence with imperialism,” there were some very negative aspects to the USSR’s conduct around the pact. In particular, rather than being crystal clear to its supporters that this was a temporary non-aggression, military deal with the enemy designed to buy time, the Soviet leadership caused confusion and demoralisation in its ranks by instructing the Communist International, which it led, to somewhat tone down its anti-Nazi, anti-fascist propaganda. This was, certainly, not a policy that was uniformly implemented. Thus, when Soviet forces moved into what was then Eastern Poland in September 1939 they made clear that this was to protect the ethnic Ukrainian and Byelorussian populations that lived there against the horrors of Nazi fascism. Furthermore, even the bureaucratised Soviet leadership never thought that the Nazis had ceased to be their enemies. Ironically, the year and a half that the Germany-USSR Non-Aggression Pact was operational, the largely USSR-directed, communist parties in the Allied countries conducted much better work than they had in preceding years. Previously, shackled by Moscow’s direction that they should form “peoples fronts” with the “progressive, democratic” bourgeoisie in these countries in order to aid the USSR’s diplomatic efforts to forge a pact with these countries rulers against Hitler’s Germany, the communist parties in these countries acted to contain, within certain limits, the militant working class upsurge that was arising in order to preserve their hoped for alliance with the “progressive bourgeoisie.” Most criminally, the Moscow-line communist party in Spain opposed the workers revolution unfolding there and in France betrayed the revolutionary upsurge there as well. After the Non-Aggression Pact was signed, however, the Moscow-line communist parties in the likes of Britain, France, the USA and Australia rightly identified the entire capitalist class in these countries as the enemy and correctly labelled the impending war between the Allied powers and the German-led Axis powers as an, at bottom, inter-imperialist conflict. Meanwhile, on the military front, less than a year after the pact was signed, Stalin, without the consent of Germany, sent Soviet Red Army forces to occupy the Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – and parts of Finland as a forward defence against a potential Nazi invasion.
By a year into the pact, the USSR’s excellent intelligence network began warning the Soviet leadership that Hitler was finalising plans for the Nazi invasion of the USSR:
In December 1940 the Soviet agent Rudolf von Scheliha (code-named Ariets) reported that Hitler planned to declare war on the Soviet Union in March 1941. By Feb. 28, 1941, the same agent provided a provisional launching date of May 20. This intelligence was corroborated by sources in Bucharest, Budapest, Sofia and Rome, to say nothing of the information provided by the famous spy Richard Sorge (code-named Ramsay) in Tokyo. On April 17 a Prague informant predicted a German invasion in the second half of June. The precise date and time of the invasion were revealed by a reliable source in Berlin fully three days before the Germans attacked.
“Stalin’s Intelligence”, New York Times, 12 June 2005
However, blinded by their perspective that it was possible to build “peaceful co-existence” with imperialism which made them susceptible to being tricked by Hitler’s lying “assurances,” the then Soviet leadership chose to ignore this intelligence. Indeed, Red Army officers and Soviet officials who insisted on considering the warnings about an imminent German invasion were denounced by their own hierarchy. The then Soviet leaders convinced themselves that their non-aggression pact with Hitler would last for a period longer and went into denial when presented with compelling evidence to the contrary. As a result, when the Nazis launched their June 1941 Operation Barbarossa invasion, Soviet defences were completely unprepared. Much of the Soviet air force did not even leave the ground leaving the planes to be destroyed before even taking off. Of course, the USSR did famously recover. Through the heroism of its peoples, their commitment to defending socialistic rule and the economic and social organising power of a system based on collective ownership of production, the USSR, at great sacrifice, went on to smash the Nazis. However, the first few weeks after Hitler’s invasion were an absolute disaster for the USSR – and, thus, the international working class. In a matter of days, the Nazis took huge swathes of Soviet territory – including much of its key industrial and agricultural regions – and killed hundreds of thousands of Red Army troops. It was the failure to fully understand the limits of the non-aggression pact and not the actual entry into it – which was, after all, effectively forced by circumstance – that was the cause of the tragedy here.
However, whatever issues there were around it, the 1939 Germany-USSR non-aggression pact was never about communists doing joint work with fascists within any particular country. Rather, it was a pact involving a military, non-aggression deal between a workers state and a capitalist state administered by fascists. During the year and a half that the pact was tentatively and precariously operational, the fascists continued to imprison, torture and murder communists in the states where they were administering capitalism. Meanwhile, in the Soviet workers state, although the by then bureaucratized leadership was in that period carrying out very harmful repression and purges against fellow communists – including long–time communists in the Red Army – Stalin at the same time continued to administer very necessary repression against the far right within the USSR: including active Nazi sympathisers, Tsarist supporters and other White Guardists. In capitalist countries not then administered by fascists – like the Australia of today where certain Hands Off Syria leaders are joining in fascist-led activities – fascist gangs continued to physically attack communists and the best of the communists continued to mobilise anti-fascist self-defence actions. In summary: the USSR’s non-aggression pact with fascist-administered Germany in 1939 – whatever serious flaws there were in issues around it – never stooped to what some Hands Off Syria leaders have done by joining fascist-led political activities here in Australia.
What some in the Hands Off Syria movement were doing by joining fascist-led activities was not “Stalinist.” It was White Australia left-liberalism gone mad! The essence of left-liberalism is the notion that while capitalism may be no good there are still always “good” capitalists who should be allied with – even it be for just a specific cause. This is counterposed to the Marxist understanding that capitalism is a complete system that must be opposed – and that the entire capitalist class and all the political forces representing them are the political enemy (regardless of whether individual capitalists may be at a personal level nice people). Usually left-liberals look to “progressive” capitalists and pro-capitalist politicians to ally with. However, in this case nominally “anti-imperialist” left- liberals were joining in a united front with the most reactionary forces in Australia!
The White Australia chauvinist aspect of some Hands Off Syria leaders’ plunge into united fronts with the far right cannot be ignored too. Only those insensitive to the terrible racist oppression that Aboriginal people and non-white, migrant-derived communities face – regardless of their own particular racial background – could bring themselves to join activities led by the very forces who are working feverishly to incite violent terror against people of colour on the streets. By legitimising – and, hence, emboldening – these extreme racists and homophobes, those in the Hands Off Syria movement who participated in – or defended – joining fascist-led activities, to some degree, bear indirect responsibility for the racist terror on the streets of Australia that the fascists have energetically worked to incite: from the heinous running over murder of 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie to the firebombing murder by a far right fanatic of an Indian-born Brisbane bus driver, Manmeet Alisher, to the countless assaults upon Muslim women and the many racist attacks on Chinese students.
Any attempt by fascists to build their forces or to gain publicity and legitimacy is a threat to people of colour, Muslims, Jews, members of the LGBTI community, feminists and leftists. This is the case irrespective of the stated political content that the fascists may build an activity around. If anti-fascists could have mustered adequate forces, what was on the order of the day of the 24 December 2016 fascist-dominated rally was to build a mass mobilisation to drive the Australia First Party, Golden Dawn and Zabaikal Cossack Society scum off the streets. The Russian and Turkish ambassadors and their small entourages would not have been harmed at all and Anderson and other Hands Off Syria members would have, of course, been spared … provided they did not come to the physical defence of their fascist, then “united front” partners! It is worth recalling what happened when most of the same forces involved in the 24 December 2016 pro-Russia rally tried to openly mobilise on the streets of Brisbane on 2 May 2014. It was then that over a hundred construction workers from the BLF, CFMEU and ETU trade unions formed the core of a demonstration of 200 anti-racists – including also anarchists, Trotskyist Platform supporters and individuals from Socialist Alliance – that successfully shut down an attempted march by the Australia First Party and Golden Dawn. Yet, two and a half years later, some leftists were joining events co-organised by these very same far right groups and some others on the Left were justifying this or trying to downplay the harm it has done.
TRUMP’S APRIL 7 MISSILE ATTACK ON SYRIA SHOWS
THE NATURE OF THE EXTREME RIGHT’S “ANTI-IMPERIALISM”
The ugly fruit of the liaisons with the far right – including apologies for Trump – of some in the Hands off Syria groups were borne when the racist U.S. president ordered the first, open, direct U.S. military attack on Syria on April 7. Only those particular individuals in the movement that happen to be so blinded by their own insensitivity to racial oppression that they are willing to give Trump another go, continue to make excuses for Trump or seek to downplay his responsibility for the missile strike. We will not bother even arguing with such people – some of whom later even espoused sympathy for French far right leader, Marine Le Pen! For others within the movement who had been sucked into the despicable dalliance with the far right, this was hopefully a wake-up call.
In response to Trump’s April 7 attack on Syria, Hands Off Syria Sydney called a protest for April 23. This was the only demonstration called at the time that was squarely against the attack on Syria. We in Trotskyist Platform felt it was crucial to take a stand since this was, in this war, the first, openly declared, direct military attack on Syria by the Western imperialists. At the same time we were concerned that fascists may turn up to the rally “in support of it.” However, in deliberating on the issue of what attitude to take to the planned rally, we calculated that given that it was an action against a military strike by the hard right, U.S. president – the same one whose electoral triumph was so enthusiastically supported by fascists from Saleam to Boikov – fascists would be unwilling to turn up to participate. Therefore, we decided to participate in the rally. However, we resolved that if fascists did, indeed, join the rally we would approach organisers to insist that they should be removed and if rally leaders instead accepted the fascist presence we would walk out of the event and refuse to be part of it.
Fortunately, the far right did, indeed, stay away from the April 23 Sydney protest. We in Trotskyist Platform were able to put forward at the demonstration our class struggle-based opposition to Australian imperialism and its support for Trump’s missile strike – as it so happens with a small contingent composed entirely of people of colour with backgrounds from various parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As well as calling to defend Syria against U.S. and Australian imperialism and its proxies, our signs at the rally sought to cut against any softness on the far right – or, indeed, any embrace of any wing of the U.S. and Australian capitalist ruling classes. Thus, among the slogans we carried was: “Trump and Turnbull Regimes: Racist and Anti-Working Class Policies At Home, Imperialist Tyranny Abroad” and “Oppose the U.S. & Australian Ruling Class & Down With Their War in the Middle East.”
There was an aspect of the April 23 Sydney rally that was especially welcome: it seemed that not a single Australian flag was carried at it. It would have been terrible if it was; especially given that the Australian regime was fully behind the U.S. missile attack – and, indeed, the joint U.S.-Australian Pine Gap spy base was undoubtedly involved in gathering target information and pinpointing the strikes. The Australian flag does not represent the masses of this country but, rather, the current Australian state. Despite its “democratic” facade, this state machine does not serve the Australian people as a whole but only the exclusive interests of the capitalist big end of town. It consists of organs – including the military, ASIO, police and courts – that act to suppress the working class masses in order to protect the rule of exploitation of the big business owners. As well as being the flag under which Australian state bodies attack pro-working class resistance, the Australian flag is the symbol under which the invading power has meted out brutal terror against Aboriginal people and the flag of the forces that have carried out imperialist violence and neo-colonial subjugation of the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, PNG, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. If there were Australian flags being allowed to be waved at the demonstration that would have unmistakably indicated (especially since the April 23 rally of some 80 to 100 people was small for a Hands Off Syria rally and, thus, easier to guide and direct) that the leadership of the protest was still openly courting sections of the capitalist class – or, at least, not opposed to doing so – and leaving the door open to a united-front with reactionary Australian nationalists (including dubious, “neither left wing nor right wing” conspiracy theorist types). That no one joining the rally did march with the Australian flag shows the possible beginnings of an understanding that opposing the neo-colonial takeover of Syria means making a stand to oppose Australia’s capitalist order. It also indicates a reluctance of participants to buy into the false notion – pushed by many in the Hands off Syria movement – that the Australian rulers are not part of the imperialist enemy who are intervening in the Middle East to advance their predatory overall agenda but are, instead, misguided and ill-informed individuals being duped by Washington into supporting a Syria policy that is against their very own interests.
Australian Imperialist Military Get Out of the Philippines and South Pacific Now!
HANDS OFF SYRIA LEADER’S SHOCKING ASSOCIATION WITH FASCISTS
It emerged in the weeks after the April 23 rally that the descent of some in Hands Off Syria into common activity with fascists went further than most people knew about. At the very end of April, one prominent member of the Hands Off Syria leading committee was even outed as a white supremacist himself. This person, Paul Antonopoulos, is an academic, celebrated by some as a learned entity on Syria and a contributor to political websites such as Global Research. He was exposed as having been, for the last ten years, posting the most despicable racist hate speech against Aboriginal people, Asians, Africans, Arabs and Jews on various online forums – including the world’s most well known neo-Nazi website, Stormfront. He ranted that Asians are “gooks,” Arabs “sand nig__ rs” and black people “negro trash,” while referring to Iranians as “dumb Persians.” Immediately after Antonopoulos was found to be an extreme racist by Al Masdar News, which he had worked for, Tim Anderson and Hands Off Syria did suspend him from the group.
Yet, days later it emerged that Anderson himself had associated with and carried out joint political work with fascists in a way even deeper than initially thought. A 2nd May exposé by the hard working anti-fascists of Anti-Fascist Action Sydney revealed that Tim Anderson had spoken as a guest speaker at the annual fascist conference called the Leura forum. This conference held in the Blue Mountains town of Leura in November 2016 – around the time of the U.S. election – brought together a range of different fascists and other hard right figures. This included NSW’s most notorious fascists including Jim Saleam, Nathan Sykes and Ross May, the latter a neo-Nazi prominent for his violent physical attacks against leftists, Asians, blacks and people in the LGBTI community as well as sexual assaults against women. This racist and misogynist scum invited Anderson to speak about Syria at their conference … and he accepted! Others on the panel with Anderson included “historian” Keith Windschuttle – an apologist for genocidal terror against Aboriginal people and for the despicable claim that the Stolen Generation of Aboriginal children is a myth – and, of course, Jim Saleam.
There is no controversy as to Anderson’s participation at the conference or the tone of the forum. The fascists, themselves, posted up video footage of Anderson’s presentation at it. That is how much they understood that the participation of a prominent “leftist academic” at their meeting would help boost their efforts to gain legitimacy. This was a propaganda coup for some of Australia’s most violent bigots! Indeed, following the exposure of Anderson’s participation at the Leura conference, Jim Saleam’s Australia First Party on May 19 published a statement defending Anderson from criticism by the “extreme left.”
The Leura forum was chaired by James Sternhill, a leading member of the fascist Party For Freedom which is notorious for its extreme hostility to Muslims, its attempts to start a new Cronulla white supremacist attack on the tenth anniversary of the 2005 riot and its recent alliance with the violent neo-Nazi gang, Squadron 88. Sternhill’s introduction involved the usual tirade against the Left, an attack on the LGBTI community and a prayer for Trump. After politely sitting through this disgusting introduction and then through presentations by two of the far right featured speakers, Anderson then gave his presentation in front of a large right-wing banner put up by the organisers extolling “national security” and Christian heritage! At various points while he was talking, various fascists threw in filthy anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments without a peep of objection from Anderson! Indeed, never did he even in the mildest way take issue with any of the bigoted comments made during Sternhill’s introduction, the other two presentations or the comments made during his speech. He ended his presentation with a polite statement, “thanks for your patience folks.” Following Anderson’s presentation, there was one by Jim Saleam. Saleam devoted his entire presentation to “yellow peril” xenophobic, fear- mongering against Chinese people and China.
As the exposé by Anti-Fascist Action Sydney (a coalition involving many anarchists and anarcho-communists, some avowed communists and other leftists) points out:
Not only did Dr Anderson agree to speak at an explicitly white nationalist forum alongside outspoken racists,
anti-Communists and downright fascists – he sat through the entire day’s proceedings (and presumably joined them for lunch!) At any point during the event, Dr Anderson “might” have been able to save some small shred of Leftist credibility, had he called-out any of the numerous racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic or transphobic comments during the day. He could have challenged their far-right and fascist “discourse”. He could have gotten up and walked out of there [But he did not].
Better yet, he could have refused to participate in the first place.
Anderson’s participation as a featured speaker in the Leura forum further shines a light on his and another leading Hands Off Syria member’s participation in the 24 December 2016 fascist-led rally just weeks later. Anderson would have long known who Saleam is anyhow. But how much Saleam is an enemy of the Left and ethnic and religious minorities would have been reinforced at the Leura forum and it would have become clear too who some of the other fascists that would participate in the December 24 demonstration were – like Nathan Sykes. On arrival at the tiny, fascist-led, December 24 event, Anderson would have immediately noticed Saleam, Sykes and their allies and seen the prominent place that they were holding in the tiny rally. This makes Anderson and Co.’s participation in that demonstration all the more disgusting.
Just as with his participation in the 24 December 2016 fascist-led rally, almost as bad as Anderson’s participation in the Leura forum is the fact that many Hands Off Syria activists defended his participation in it or sought to minimise it as a minor error. Others in the Hands Off Syria movement refused to make any public statements condemning this association with fascists – effectively acquiescing to it. These people have kicked in the guts all those who have been victims of violent attacks and intimidation by fascists – or those incited by fascists – from Aboriginal people to Asians, Africans, Muslims, Jews and members of the LGBTI community to leftists and women attending abortion clinics.
Furthermore, joining fascist-led political activities – what is more as featured speakers (!) – actually does great harm to the cause of opposing the neo-colonial subjugation of Syria. For opposing the depredations of the U.S. and Australian imperialists means class struggle opposition to them at home. Consider the most powerful anti-imperialist actions in Australia’s history. These include the union bans against Dutch ships being sent from Australia to reinforce Dutch reconquest of Indonesia after World War II and the refusal of waterfront workers and seamen to load or carry weapons and supplies intended for Australian troops fighting in the neo-colonial, anti-communist Vietnam War against Vietnamese revolutionaries. And when the Australian working class begins to mobilise again like this then it would be the fascists – the extreme nationalist enemies of the Left – who would organise to physically threaten such internationalist, anti-imperialist actions.
Although fascists sometimes use rhetoric against the banks and monopoly capitalists to appeal to the middle class and even sections of the working class – alongside their vicious attacks on the Left-led workers movement – no one should be fooled by this. The fascist movement is based on smaller scale capitalists as well as on the most reactionary layers of what in Marxist terminology is called the petit bourgeoisie – the self-employed. Since these layers of society (in the absence of the petit bourgeoisie being attracted to and led by a powerful left-wing, anti-capitalist workers movement) are always tied to and politically bow down to the big capitalists, fascist attacks end up being directed exclusively against the workers movement and minorities. The fascists’ extreme opposition to the multiracial workers movement – the only movement able to defeat the financial elite – means that they end up pandering to the finance capitalists too. Thus, fascists end up being the crudest and most rabid enforcers of capitalist interests in every way imaginable. When fascist movements in Australia reached their high point in the late 1920s to the early 1930s, their paramilitary fascist squads – in particular, those of the Old Guard and New Guard outfits – were notorious for attacking workers’ strikes, bashing union leaders, violently storming communist meetings and even targeting left ALP events and politicians. Needless to say, strengthening fascists, by giving them both legitimacy and self-confidence through participating in their events, bolsters the ugly forces who would violently oppose union struggles and especially attack union and leftist actions against Australian imperialism. Moreover, anything that allows the fascists to enter the mainstream and gain broader acceptance allows them to further spread their race hate – the very racist lies and threats that both divide workers and intimidate non-white workers. All this undermines efforts to mobilise the working class in struggle – the struggle against the actions abroad of Australian imperialism both in faraway places like Syria as well as in our neighbouring South Pacific.
AS FAR AS BEING ANY SORT OF USEFUL FORCE
HANDS OFF SYRIA HAS EFFECTIVELY KILLED ITSELF
Although we have a different ideology to many of the activists in Anti-Fascist Action Sydney, we need to give these determined anti-fascists great credit for the fact that when they released their exposé of Tim Anderson’s association with fascists, they went out of their way not to use that as a rationale to side with the backers of the pro-imperialist Syrian “Rebels.” Thus, Anti-Fascist Action Sydney introduced their article with the statement that:
To be clear, what follows is not an attack on Dr Anderson’s work on Syria. Nor should it be read as an attempt to weigh in on the Syrian conflict, or an implicit endorsement of one side or the other. Rather, given the history of fascist attempts to infiltrate Leftist circles and university campuses, we believe people must be vigilant in the face of fascist entryism and the emergence of a possible ‘red and brown alliance’. It is important that Leftists of all stripes, regardless of their position on Syria, are aware of Dr Anderson’s ongoing willingness to share a platform with fascists and their fellow travellers.
Nevertheless, not only has the joining of fascist events by some Hands Off Syria leaders – and the acquiescence to this by many others in their movement – done harm to the class struggle and, therefore, to the struggle against imperialism, it has also given those left social democrats backing the pro-imperialist “Rebels” a political gun with which to shoot the opponents of the neo-colonial takeover of Syria. Of course, there is plenty of hypocrisy in groups like Solidarity, Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance using outrage at association with fascists to attack opponents of their stance on Syria. During the capitalist powers’ Cold War against the socialistic Soviet Union, Solidarity and Socialist Alternative – then united in the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) – ended up cheerleading for several fascist forces (or for anti-communist movements in which fascists played a prominent role) arrayed against the then Soviet and East European workers states. So did the Socialist Alliance – then called first the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and then the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) – even though it was less rabid in its hostility to the USSR than the ISO. Thus, the SWP caused a scandal in the early and mid- 1980s when they promoted the ultra-right wing Croatian “Movement for Statehood” (HDP) who were apologists for the Ustasha fascists that murderously ruled Croatia during the Nazi Axis occupation of Yugoslavia during World War II. The ISO and DSP (the groups that are today called Solidarity, Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance) both cheered the August 1991 counterrevolutionary barricades protecting the Yeltsin-led Russian parliament a movement in which fascists played a sizeable role and which led to the destruction of the USSR. They also supported the late 1980s, fascist-infested Ukrainian anti-Soviet movement. Out of this movement and the August 1991 anti-communist movement in Moscow, arose among others – some of the ultra-right wing figures who retain a level of influence and some access to positions of power in today’s Ukraine and Russia. Following on from this, the Solidarity group today works in a united front in the pro-Syrian “Rebels” movement in Australia with a far right Ukrainian nationalist, Oxana Kriss. This association was again exposed thanks again to the painstaking work of Anti-Fascist Action Sydney – a fact which, by the way, demolishes Anderson’s attempts to dismiss their critique of his dalliances with fascists as a plot to assist Western imperialist propaganda over Syria. Now, as the evidence presented by Anti-Fascist Action Sydney proves, Kriss is an apologist for the Ukrainian Stepan Bandera Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) movement that collaborated with the Nazis during WWII. Bandera’s forces murdered 60,000 Polish civilians as well as Jews and Russians in its fascist ethnic cleansing drive. As well as joining rallies with Solidarity and Socialist Alternative to support the pro-imperialist Syrian “Rebels”, Kriss collects money for the fascist-infested Ukrainian volunteer forces fighting in the conflict in the Eastern part of the country. The Anti-Fascist Action Sydney article also notes that Kriss and leading left proponent of the “Syrian Rebels,” Solidarity member Mark Goudkamp are political allies. Having said all the above, it must be noted that while it is despicable to cheerlead for fascists abroad or to associate with their exiled supporters here it is even more politically depraved to join the events of locally- based fascist groups (as Anderson has done). For in the latter case, the racist violence unleashed and incited by the fascists is right smack in front of one’s view. And since political actions have more impact at home than abroad it is worse, too, in terms of the harm that it does by giving encouragement to the forces who sow racist terror and who divide and suppress the class struggle here.
There is no getting away from the truth that the participation in fascist events by some Hands Off Syria leaders – and the apologising for this by many others in their movement – has dirtied the name of the worthy cause of opposing imperialist-imposed regime change in Syria. It has also, very understandably, tarnished the reputation of the Hands Off Syria groups in Australia. Indeed, as a force able to play any sort of positive role – even in the flawed way that they had done so previously – Hands Off Syria is now as good as dead. At least, without the application of major surgery!
Those within the Hands Off Syria groups who have refused to condemn the association with fascists of some of their leaders should not avoid addressing the issue by comforting themselves with the notion that this is not a big deal as “Syria is winning the war” and, thus, the role of the movement is no longer important. For one, although Syrian government forces backed by their Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies are scoring victories against ISIS and the “Rebels”, U.S. and Australian imperialism and their SDF allies are also gaining strength. Although both these different forces are currently arrayed mainly against ISIS they have also been clashing with each other to some extent. In the likely scenario that ISIS is for the moment defeated, you will have the imperialists and their SDF proxies in control of a large portion of Syrian territory. The history of imperialism teaches us that they will not simply relinquish this without at minimum demanding significant concessions. Such concessions could include forcing changes to some of the leading personnel of the Syrian government or arm-twisting it to make specific policy changes that would allow easier penetration of Western capitalist economic interests and better alignment with Washington and Canberra’s geopolitical goals. And while it may not be likely right now given the depth of current tensions between U.S. imperialism and Russia’s ambitious capitalist rulers, it is not impossible that the U.S./Australian imperialists and Russia could cut a deal at the expense of Syria’s independence. Another scenario that is possible, although currently unlikely given that the imperialists are currently focussed on a bigger goal – strangling the DPRK workers state and through that advancing its number one strategic goal of destroying socialistic rule in China – is a future all out conflict between, on the one hand, a Western-backed SDF-“Rebel” alliance and, on the other hand, the Syrian government and its allies. Any one of these possibilities may not take place immediately but may take years to emerge. However, as with their violent toppling of governments in Iraq and Libya that had failed to sufficiently accept their diktats, the imperialists are capable of playing a long game when pursuing their interests.
So there definitely is still a need for a movement that opposes the U.S. and Australian regime’s direct and indirect military and diplomatic intervention in Syria. However, for the Hands Off Syria movements to perform any sort of useful role in this, they would need a massive shake up. At the very minimum, there needs to be a very clear distancing from the actions of some of its leaders in joining fascist events and from the apologies for these outrages – or the ostrich-like refusal to respond to them – by many other prominent activists in the movement. The groups need to issue public statements condemning the participation in fascist-led activities by some of their leaders and strongly repudiating their previous refusal to have made such condemnations. Then anyone who refuses to support such a correction should be summarily expelled from the groups. For such a major re-orientation to occur, someone or some people in the groups are going to have to muster the political courage to fight for such a course which would, inevitably, involve a big split.
However, given the degree to which many prominent Hands Off Syria activists have defended or ignored Anderson’s participation in fascist events – with some even apologising for raving, racist, social media contributor Paul Antonopoulos – it is doubtful whether the movement is capable of even the most elementary self-correction. We won’t be holding our breath. We look forward to participating in actions which oppose imperialist meddling in Syria that are initiated by some of the people we know who both defend Syria against imperialist-imposed regime change and have gone on record opposing the sharing of platforms with fascists and/or previous apologising for Trump of some Hands Off Syria activists; or to join with such staunchly anti-fascist, anti-imperialists in building united front actions against imperialism and its proxies in Syria.
WHERE DID ALL THESE POLITICALLY DEVIANT DEEDS COME FROM?
We have detailed here how most of the Left have in one way or another taken bad positions related to events in Syria. But why? To begin to answer this question we first need to stress that serious flaws in a leftist tendency’s stance on a major particular issue always reflects a broader disorientation and is often also a continuation of similar problems from the past. In the case of those who support the so-called “Syrian Revolution”, i.e. the imperialist-backed “Rebels” (which turns out to be the majority of the “Far Left” in Australia), their stance reflects these groups’ long history of bending to the “human rights” propaganda of the Western capitalist ruling classes and to the left-liberal middle class opinion shaped by such propaganda. The biggest example of this occurred in the 1980s-early 1990s Cold War II. It was then that these pseudo-Marxist groups capitulated to anti-communist “human rights” propaganda and supported the forces working to destroy the Soviet Union. Then, as the imperialists, having successfully strangled the USSR, turned their fire against the Chinese workers state, these groups also started campaigning in support of anti-communist forces arrayed against the Chinese state. They backed recently dead neo-con “dissident,” Liu Xiaobo, and the yuppy, Western-backed, Hong Kong anti-PRC movement. Having, thus, spent decades supporting imperialist-backed “human rights” causes, in 1999 the leftist tendencies that are now known as Solidarity, Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance went a step further: they marched in demonstrations actually calling for the Australian government to send the military into another country. The rallies screamed “Troops In Now” to, supposedly, “Save East Timor.” The Australian regime did, indeed, proceed to send the troops in. The result was that Australia’s capitalist rulers were able to hijack the East Timorese people’s just struggle for self-determination from Indonesian occupation and, thus, bring East Timor under direct Australian neo-colonial domination. The presence of Australian troops in East Timor allowed the Australian imperialists to mould the fledgling East Timorese state into serving their interests and to pressure it into ensuring that most of the oil wealth of the country would be plundered by Australian-owned multi-national corporations. As a result, East Timorese people’s real independence is curtailed and its children have one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the entire world.
The actions of most of the Left around the time of the Australian intervention into East Timor were, indeed, a watershed. Up until then, most of what is considered the Far Left had – to varying degrees – opposed most direct military interventions by the Australian ruling class – for example, during the Vietnam War and in the 1991 first U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Now much of the Left was treacherously sending a message that even direct military interventions by capitalist powers can sometimes be a “good” thing. Having thus entrenched themselves in the practice of supporting particular overseas interventions by Australia’s capitalist rulers, groups like Solidarity, Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative then found it easier to back subsequent imperialist campaigns: like the U.S. and Australian rulers’ “regime change” agendas in Libya and Syria.
What then of the prominent activists in the Hands Off Syria groups? What led some of them to descend into participating in fascist-led activities or defending – or at best ignoring – such shameful association with the violent racist enemies of the Left and the workers movement. After all, unlike the in practice social democratic left groups that fell in behind imperialism’s proxy war against Syria, these people had in the first few years of the Syria conflict played a progressive role. Well, in the case of Tim Anderson in particular, a clue to the political defects that led to his participation in fascist events can be seen in the stance that he took with respect to the Australian-led occupation of East Timor. You see, those who backed that Australian intervention included not only those groups who today cheer for the imperialist-backed Syrian “Rebels” but also the likes of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and Tim Anderson. Thus, as with those pro-Syrian “Rebels” left groups that he so bitterly opposes, Anderson’s pro-imperialist position on the Australian intervention in East Timor not only reflected his own illusions in capitalist powers sometimes playing a progressive role (even if inadvertently) but would have further locked in such a flawed approach. Fast forward many years then to the Syrian conflict. Here Anderson and those with similar political thinking find no wing of the capitalist ruling class that they can expect to conduct a “positive” policy on the Syrian conflict, as they supposedly did over East Timor, except, in their eyes, a burgeoning Far Right. So, especially as Trump made his charge for the White House, they ended up gravitating towards an association with the Far Right.
Today, following the U.S. regime’s April 7 missile strike on Syria and several other subsequent attacks on Syrian government forces by the U.S. and Australian imperialists or – more frequently – their SDF/PYD allies, all but the most useless people within the Hands Off Syria movement no longer openly apologise for Trump. Others prominent within the Hands Off Syria groups both internationally and in Australia simply don’t mention their earlier efforts to prettify Trump hoping that no one will remember. Some, however, still seek to quietly justify their earlier stance by saying that Trump’s foreign policy is now being dictated to by the American “Deep State” … as if the “Deep State,” which is tied by a million threads to the capitalist big business owners, does not have ultimate power during every single U.S. administration! The so-called “Deep State” is simply the capitalist state and is the ultimate political power in every single capitalist country! Whoever chooses to be in government in any capitalist country, let alone the head of government, chooses to become one of the key administrators of the “Deep State” and bears responsibility for all its crimes.
Trump’s foreign policy was never anything “positive” for the working class and downtrodden of the world. If for the same reasons as the outright fascists he initially spoke of turning away from hostility to Syria, it was only as part of targeting other people more viciously. Trump adhered to the perspective of Steve Bannon’s extreme right wingers in trying to forge a U.S. capitalist super alliance with Russia in order to undermine socialistic China. Since his administration took over, U.S. anti-China moves have indeed stepped up. These include trade measures against China, sanctions against Chinese enterprises associating with North Korea, an escalation of the U.S. war drive against North Korea that is ultimately aimed against China and in June the announcement of a massive U.S. arms sale, including advanced missiles and torpedos, to that renegade capitalist-ruled part of China, Taiwan. However, due to strong pressure from decisive other wings of the U.S. capitalist ruling class who are unwilling to allow any room for Russia to emerge as a rival, Trump’s initial plan for bringing Washington and Moscow together has been put on hold. Nevertheless, there has indeed been a slight shift in U.S. policy from the last period of Obama’s reign. The shift is subtly, in terms of rhetoric at least, away from focussing on Russia as a primary adversary to concentrating on other targets. So what are the priority overseas goals at this point in the Trump presidency? Well, it is to give still more ostentatious support for the murderous Israeli regime so that it can carry out still more savage oppression of the Palestinian people, it is to accelerate U.S. support for the right wing opposition in Venezuela, intensify hostility to Iran, increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan, put further pressure on the Cuban workers state and, most notably, greatly escalate war threats against socialistic North Korea. Needless to say there is nothing “anti-imperialist” about such a shift in priorities! Similarly, there is absolutely nothing “anti-imperialist” about the pro-Russia, outright fascists that some Hands Off Syria leaders chose to associate with. Thus, the Australia First Party Jim Saleam’s presentation at the Leura Forum – immediately after Anderson’s (!) – was entirely a call to arms against China. The racist bigot called for Australia to ally with [capitalist] Russia against Red China.
Even if Trump was allowed to go further in reaching an accommodation with Moscow, this may do no good for Syrian independence in the long run. Say, Trump and Putin do cut a deal. And, say, such an arrangement does not involve Moscow knifing in the back Syria for concessions from Washington elsewhere which is a possibility too, albeit less likely at this point. Rather, imagine that Trump bows to the reality of the U.S.-backed forces’ currently inferior military position in Syria and agrees to accommodate Russian interests in Syria which, inadvertently, brings immediate benefits to the cause of Syrian self-determination. However, in exchange, the U.S. regime, of course, demands something in return. This could include Russia agreeing not to get in the way of – other than for some impotent, angry verbal protests designed for public consumption – U.S.-led war moves against North Korea or Iran or attempts to turn the screws further on socialistic China. If this led to a military attack or still more crippling sanctions against North Korea or a Syria-style imperialist proxy war against Iran or the weakening of socialistic China this would not only leave Syria more isolated but would greatly embolden the Western imperialists. All this would then provide the thrust for a renewed neo-colonial drive against Syria sometime in the future.
BLOWN ALONG BY NOXIOUS POLITICAL WINDS
Like chunks of society in capitalist countries, the political course of Hands Off Syria groups has been pushed by the political winds of a period that has seen far right populist and fascist movements growing. Thus, those groupings that are not rooted in a firm Marxist grounding and working class basis can easily be swept along by the noxious winds blowing to the right. At first this may be almost imperceptible as they borrow arguments used by the Far Right – for example those which portray fundamentalist Islam as the number one threat – to justify their own positions. Yet, using such deviant rationales is harmful even when it is used to justify correct positions as it entrenches acceptance of aspects of the Far Right’s reactionary worldview.
There has also been another, related, yet somewhat distinct, pressure on political groupings in this period including the Hands Off Syria groups. That is the influence of “neither Left nor Right,” “anti-establishment” ideologies that have gained traction over the last decade or so. Such political currents were notable during the 2011 Occupy Sydney activities. One such current is the, often Guy Fawkes mask-wearing, hacktivists associated with the diverse groups that identify as “Anonymous.” Other currents are further to the right. Although proponents of such politics were numerically smaller than the leftist components in the Occupy Sydney protests, they seemed to have an influence on them that was disproportionate to their size – in good part because reformist left groups in their obsession with “unity” and “inclusiveness” were willing to tailor the movement to suit such elements. These “neither Left nor Right,” “anti-establishment” ideologies do reflect grievances of self-employed layers in society and of unemployed or underemployed educated youth – many of which are legitimate. Such concerns include fury at the tyranny of the banks, outrage at big corporations bullying self-employed business people, rage at unemployment or casualisation of jobs, anger at corruption and hostility to growing repressive state powers in Western countries. However, reflecting their social base and, thus, their physical and political distance from the union movement, these political currents, despite their “anti-corporate” rhetoric are, at best, neutral in the conflict between the organised working class and the owners of businesses using hired layer; which is the fundamental divide in capitalist society and the main axis along which the downtrodden can come together to overturn this unjust society. At worst, some are actually opposed to militant union struggle. Furthermore, although they do not openly espouse white supremacist ideology or the race hate rhetoric of the fascists, reflecting the current prejudices of the social layers that they are based on, many elements of them subscribe to anti-immigration and economic nationalist demands. These are sometimes justified on the basis of some way out conspiracy theories. For, since many of the people involved in these “neither Left nor Right” tendencies are separated from the main axis of struggle that shapes society – the conflict between the capitalist exploiters of labour and the organised workers movement – the socio-economic dynamics that govern the way capitalist society works are obscured from these groups. Hence, they easily fall for conspiracy theories that purport to “explain” what is wrong with society. In turn, they are themselves the main proponents of the conspiracy theories that flood the internet. Such theories do a lot of harm. For they obscure from people the centrality of the class structure of society in determining the political and economic realities of countries. At worst, these conspiracy theories can take on an open or subtle anti-Semitic hue – reflecting the stain of decades-long right wing propaganda that continues to have an influence on discourse.
At the same time, because many people influenced by “neither Left nor Right,” anti-establishment tendencies, are angry at the way society is going, they can be rightly suspicious of Western military and political interventions abroad. They can often see the injustice and hypocrisy involved in them – although, again, they have an inclination to explain this in terms of conspiracy theories rather than a Leninist understanding of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. These tendencies are influenced by websites such as Global Research which mix some leftist critiques with their own version of “neither Left nor Right” anti-establishmentarianism.
Many people influenced by these “neither Left nor Right” ideologies became hostile to the Western powers’ proxy war against Syria. Indeed, other than for a very small number of leftists, they became among the few people from non-Middle Eastern backgrounds supporting the Hands Off Syria groups – if only, in many cases, just through social media. Furthermore, many Syrians involved in the Hands Off Syria groups themselves subscribed to aspects of these ideologies. However, the leftists within the leadership of the Hands Off Syria groups failed to try and win over the best of the non-leftist, “anti-establishment” types to a leftist, anti-capitalist perspective. That would have entailed drawing a sharp line against the reactionary aspects of the “neither Left nor Right ideologies” while insisting on a pro-working class, internationalist perspective. But such a political struggle did not sit well with the perspective leftists within Hands Off Syria had of building an all-inclusive alliance and would have clashed with their own hesitancy to adhere firmly to a pro-working class line. Thus, instead of challenging the worldview of their “neither Left nor Right” supporters, the leftists within the leadership of Hands Off Syria groups politically coddled up to these people. The result? Well, there is a law of politics that if you are in frequent political contact with people – especially as part of the same movement – and if you are not influencing them … then they are influencing you! And thus, step by step, in at first subtle ways, the small number of leftists within the Hands Off Syria groups started to imbibe the analysis and even conspiracy theories of these “neither Left nor Right” ideologies – some of which are, what’s more, synonymous with the shibboleths of the Far Right. Thus, gradually, some of the leftists within Hands Off Syria came to accept, or at least act on the basis of, the idea that the main direct threat to the world’s peoples is ISIS/Al Qaeda-style Islamic fundamentalism (rather than capitalist imperialism). What is more, they began to accept the idea that ISIS and Al Qaeda are puppets who are one hundred percent controlled by the U.S. – and, possibly, Israel – and that Russia’s present capitalist rulers are a consistent force for good in the world.
The individuals associated with “neither Left nor Right” type ideologies have themselves shifted politically. It has always been the case that political tendencies not wedded to one of the two decisive classes in society the capitalists and the working class – are unstable and can swing quickly to one side or the other. And tendencies based on the intermediate classes, if they do not lock in behind the struggle of the multiracial working class against the capitalists, inevitably end up swaying behind one or another wing of the ruling capitalists. Thus, as the Far Right made its push, personified by the rise of Trump, many of the “neither Left nor Right” “anti-establishmentarians” were gradually sucked in behind them. The conspiracy theories of these tendencies started to merge into those of the Far Right. And as these “anti-establishmentarians” lurched to the right, they pulled some of the leftists in Hands Off Syria groups with them a certain distance too. Indeed, if five years ago you told some of these leftists in Hands Off Syria groups around the world what they would be doing today they would be furious at you for even suggesting such things, for suggesting that they would in the present period have sought to minimise the thoroughly reactionary character of hard right politicians like Trump, for saying that they would be retailing conspiracy theories critical of giving asylum to refugees from Syria and certain other Muslim countries, for suggesting that they would, for all practical purposes, be uncritical apologists for a capitalist power like Russia and for saying that they would be claiming that certain fascists who supposedly “support” their cause are not actually fascists … but merely “confused.” Yet this is what has, in fact, happened in the case of some of these leftists.
Indeed, it can be said that some of the leftists involved in Hands Off Syria groups around the world have not merely associated with fascists or justified such an association but have shown signs that they, themselves, are in the early stages of starting to take on aspects of the fascists’ outlook. If the growth of the Far Right around the world intensifies and corresponding political winds to the Right get stronger, the seemingly unthinkable could occur: a few of these inconsistent leftists could turn into fascists themselves. Unfortunately, they would not be the first ones to go down that path. We recall here the case of Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Mussolini had, before he founded the fascist movement, actually been a leader of the leftist Italian Socialist Party and the editor of their newspaper. Given that some of those leftists involved in Hands Off Syria groups who have justified participation in fascist events have publicly stated adherence to Marxism and Leninism for many years, they would, of course, still like to call themselves “communists” or “Marxists” even if they end up embarking on a course towards fascism. Thus, they may end up like the sinister “National Bolshevism” movement in Russia whose members sport communist symbols alongside fascist attire but have a thoroughly fascist, extreme Russian nationalist agenda.
Those leftists involved in Hands Off Syria groups overseas or in Australia that are starting to lurch to the right but are of non-white racial backgrounds would, of course, have good reason to baulk at a further drift towards the white supremacist extremists. Others, like Tim Anderson himself, have strong personal connections to people of colour or historical connections to anti-racist movements. These would likely deter him from an outright jump into the camp of fascism. Yet there are white, nominally leftist members of the movement internationally – including possibly in Australia – whose stated opposition to racism is so perfunctory and toothless that their current softness on collaboration with fascists and their current partial embrace of certain fascist conspiracy theories opens up the possibility, as improbable as it may seem now, that they will in the future end up as full on fascists. They should realise that if they go down that road, the revolutionary working class will not have any nostalgia for their former participation in the Left. If they do the unthinkable and turn into fascists then things could end up badly for them. They should take note of what happened to one infamous leftist turned fascist: Mussolini. In 1945, brave Italian communist partisans arrested and then executed Mussolini and his entourage. The next day his corpse was dumped in a major public square in Milan and after a huge crowd gathered to understandably kick, spit and urinate on his body and pelt it with vegetables, his corpse was famously strung up upside down from a service station roof to the sound of cheering crowds.
IT’S HIGH TIME TO ASSERT THE FUNDAMENTALS OF MARXIST-LENINISM
Given the multi-sided disarray of Western-based leftists over the Syria question it is urgent that the basic principles of Marxism and Leninism are brought into the debates. And when we are talking about the principles of Marxism and Leninism, here we are talking about the very A in the A-B-C of Marxism-Leninism. That is, the understanding that the exploitation and injustice inherent in modern society is due to the capitalist system. That this capitalist problem is not a matter of the moral character or ideology of individual capitalists or capitalist political factions. That the problem is the whole system based on the exploitation of workers’ labour. Marx’s famous Communist Manifesto is dedicated to advancing the struggle of the working class against, not just particular wings of the capitalist class, but against the capitalist class as a whole. It is a fundamental principle of Marxism that all the capitalist bosses and all the factions representing them are, by virtue of their position in the economic system, the political enemy of the masses regardless of which ideology they personally espouse. Furthermore, Leninists understand that in this period of capitalism at its highest stage, the ruling class of the richer, more powerful capitalist countries, having outgrown national boundaries, are also imperialists. That means that in order to make up for the inherent contradictions of their system these capitalists of the powerful countries are forced to seek out super-profits from plundering resources, super-exploiting labour and controlling markets in the poorer or weaker capitalist countries. It is not a personal choice whether these capitalists act as imperialists or not: it is a necessity for their own economic system’s very survival. If one understands this then one sees how preposterous the notion is that the capitalist rulers of Australia could act in a non-imperialist way when they intervene abroad: whether that be when they militarily occupy East Timor or when they support a proxy war on Syria.
Indeed, other than for the Leninist principle that we should side with semi-colonial and poorer countries when they are in military conflict with the imperialist powers – or their proxies – the conclusions of Marxist and Leninist ideology for socialists living in the richer, capitalist powers are very simple. Firstly, all the capitalists and all the factions serving them must be opposed. And, secondly, all military and political interventions abroad by imperialist powers should be opposed irrespective of the purported motivation behind them. To the latter there are two very particular exceptions … but otherwise this is an absolute principle. One exception is the case where a capitalist power, in order to promote its own geo- strategic position with respect to rival capitalist powers, happens to stifle an attempt by a rival capitalist power to attack a workers state. In the second exception, for similar reasons as above, an imperialist or mid-ranking capitalist power hinders an attempt by a rival power to further subjugate a semi-colonial or otherwise dependent country. The latter exception would only apply provided that the power making the intervention is not in a position to immediately, itself, become the neo-colonial oppressor of the poorer, weaker capitalist country. When a situation arises when this exception applies, it means that leftists should not get in the way of the intervention by the power stifling the predatory moves by its rival. Yet, at the same time, we should not in any way attempt to prettify the capitalist class that is making the blocking intervention. Instead, we would stress that it is doing this purely for its own capitalists’ interests which, in this rare case, happens to assist the overall interests of the world’s toiling masses. We would make clear that this capitalist ruling class remains 100% the enemy of its own working class and we would stand by all of this working class’ efforts to fight against it.
The particular circumstance of a capitalist power hindering attempts by rival powers to further subjugate an economically dependent country does, indeed, occur in the Syria conflict. It applies to the intervention by capitalist Russia. This intervention is being unleashed for the Russian exploiting class’ own greedy, ambitious interests but happens to, at this time, protect Syria from imperialist-imposed regime change (for a detailed exposition of this point see our article: http://www.trotskyistplatform.com/russian-intervention-and-syria/). Therefore, at this point, the international workers movement, including the working class in Russia, should not hinder this intervention. At the same time, we must make clear that this intervention does not in any way weaken the need for the Russian working class and other downtrodden groups to fight against their own capitalist exploiters and oppressors. In the context of currently tense relations between Russia, on the one hand, and Australia and its main ally the U.S., on the other, it would, of course, be wrong for leftists in Australia to make opposition to the Russian capitalists the main headline focus of agitation here. However, it would also be wrong to harm the building of class struggle in Russia by acting as apologists for Russia’s capitalist rulers. That would be spitting on the very working class which a hundred years ago smashed the rule of the Putins and Yeltsins of their time and the early 20th Century equivalents of [multi-billionaires] Mordashov, Lisin and Timchenko in the greatest victory for the downtrodden that humanity has ever known. It would also undermine efforts to build up the class struggle against the capitalists here in Australia since it promotes the notion that there can be “good capitalists.” It is important to stress all this because shared support for Russia’s capitalist rulers and shared softness towards the hard right U.S. president are a good part of what brought some Hands Off Syria leaders and the Far Right to associate with each other. As it was for other prominent leftists within the Hands Off Syria groups to take the disastrous step of apologising for, or in a cowardly manner simply ignoring, some of their leading members’ participation in the political activities of the fascists.
Any socialist with even a partial commitment to the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism would never allow themselves to end up as an apologist for Russia’s capitalist rulers. Nor would they ever, even for a period, act as “left”, critical supporters of Donald Trump on the grounds that he would be supposedly “less imperialist” or even “anti-imperialist”. Why? Let us first deal with the latter issue. The Leninist understanding of imperialism is that it is not a policy choice as to whether a rich capitalist ruling class acts in an imperialist way or not. Imperialism is capitalism, itself, at its highest stage. Therefore, to expect a rich capitalist power, when administered by a particular leader, to act in a non-imperialist way when intervening abroad is as fanciful as saying that a capitalist corporation would avoiding exploiting the labour of their workers if they had a particular CEO! Thus, it is simply impossible that Donald Trump – or, for that matter, any other leader or pro-capitalist political faction in a rich capitalist country – could be “less imperialist” let alone “anti-imperialist.”
Moreover, Donald Trump has been spewing vile racist abuse at Mexicans, Muslims and Blacks and has implemented new discriminatory measures against migrants from Muslim countries, “undocumented” migrant workers, refugees and transgender people. This has translated into a startling rise in violent racist attacks on people of colour on the streets of America as well as an increase in bigoted attacks on the LGBTI community. Trump’s agenda has naturally emboldened murderous fascist paramilitaries as we saw over the last couple of days in Charlottsville. All this reactionary terror on the streets deepens racial divisions within the American working class and intimidates its crucial coloured component. Needless to say, all this is very harmful to organising working class resistance – resistance against both attacks on the working class and other oppressed groups at home and against U.S. imperialist actions abroad. In other words, those who have, even for a period, acted as “left” apologists for Donald Trump have done a lot of harm to the struggle against imperialism.
This applies all the more so to those within Hands Off Syria groups who have either participated in events led by outright fascists or who have defended – or turned a blind eye to – such participation. The central slogan of The Communist Manifesto is the famous call for workers of all countries to unite. No one with any serious commitment to Marxism could ever coddle up to or apologise for a faction of the capitalist bourgeoisie let alone its most extreme reactionary nationalist wings who are hell bent on dividing workers across national and race lines!
Now, what about attempts by some within the Hands Off Syria movement to portray Russia as an “anti-imperialist state” or as “capitalist but good capitalist”? How does this stack up against the basic principles of Marxism and Leninism? An entire chapter of Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto is devoted, in good part, to warning against sections of the capitalist bourgeoisie who masquerade as supporters of working class interests but who, to quote from this great work, “endeavour… to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms” and “violently oppose all political action on the part of the working class.” Put simply, the idea that particular capitalist ruling classes, like that of Russia, are somehow progressive has nothing to do with communism but a lot to do with left-liberalism. Small-l left liberals, rejecting a clear class line, always insist that there are “progressive capitalists” that can be allied with – if only for a particular campaign. Some “leftists” in the Hands Off Syria groups have practiced a particular form of this liberalism where those credited as the relatively “good capitalists” are not just particular opposition factions of the ruling class in home countries but the entire capitalist ruling class of another country – like Russia and Iran.
As to the notion that Russia is an “anti-imperialist state,” this claim is so far removed from the principles behind the October 1917 Russian Revolution that the category of “anti-imperialist state” simply does not exist in Marxism and Leninism. It does not exist in the theory of communism because it does not exist in the real world! Leninist theory only recognises two types of states in the modern era: capitalist states and workers states. The only truly “anti-imperialist states” can be workers states – that is, states created by the overturn of capitalist state power. The problem with some in Hands Off Syria milieus – both internationally and at home – crediting certain capitalist states as “anti-imperialist states” is not so much the flawed analysis, in itself, but the political conclusions that they draw. For, once they put a state into the “anti-imperialist” basket, they then defend it against any exposure of its crimes. Although, as leftists, they may occasionally pay lip service to the capitalist nature of these states, in practice they oppose just about every working class and progressive struggle in these countries. In other words, those obsessed with the idea that some capitalist states can be considered part of an “anti-imperialist camp” act as apologists for the capitalist exploiting classes ruling these states. Worse still, when a capitalist faction in the imperialist centres shows sympathy for one of these “anti-imperialist states” then that becomes a reason for them to support that faction. That was what, in good part, led them to apologise for the initially pro-Russia Donald Trump and to accept association with the far right Zabaikal Cossack Society and its white supremacist Australia First Party allies.
It is, of course, the case that the states administering capitalist rule in countries that are subjugated by imperialist powers or that otherwise remain economically dependent on imperialism can have conflicts with the imperialist bullies. That is why we need to, today, defend Syria against Western imperialism and its proxies and to strongly oppose imperialist threats to Iran. Conflicts between the imperialist states and their neo-colonies and semi-colonies arise because, sometimes, the imperialists demand such a big share of the wealth of these countries and insist on distorting the political direction and foreign policy of these countries to such an extent that the local capitalist rulers there object. These capitalist rulers face a fundamental contradiction. On the one hand, they are economically tied to and dependent on the imperialists – who control world markets, sources of capital and access to technology – and rely on the might of these big powers for protection from any progressive revolt from their own masses. However, on the other hand, they bristle at how much of the surplus extracted from the country’s natural resources and exploited from the country’s toilers is grabbed by the imperialists. That leaves less profits for them to feast on. Secondly, they get irritated when the imperialists demand policy directions which hurt even capitalist development in these countries. Such demands could include that the country sell off key nationally-owned strategic industries to multi-national corporations or that it put off spending resources on vital infrastructure projects in order to focus on merely producing low-priced crops, minerals and manufactured goods that can then be sold off at high prices by imperialist trading monopolies. Often, the imperialist overlords will also demand that a subject country’s government turn its back on useful opportunities for trade, investment and other economic links with either socialistic states (which today means, largely, China) or rival capitalist powers. Moreover, the capitalist class in countries subjugated by imperialism sometimes seek to win broader support for their rule amongst the imperialist-hating masses by, at times, standing up to the imperial powers. They sometimes find this necessary because their rule is fragile and rests on a narrow base. For since the imperialists plunder so much of the wealth of these countries, the capitalist class in the ex-colonial countries is numerically small. So is the size of the privileged upper-middle class. In imperialist countries this affluent layer of the middle class is quite large and this provides for the capitalist ruling classes there a base of wider support upon which they can rest. Without a large upper-middle class layer to rely on, the isolated capitalist rulers in the neo-colonies and semi-colonies are sometimes compelled to curry favour with sections of the masses by claiming to be at the forefront of standing up to the imperialists. Within each of these countries there are factions of the local capitalist exploiting class that are a bit more inclined towards such a course while other factions are more content with totally bowing down to the imperialists. So, in general, the capitalist class in the countries subjugated by, or otherwise dependent on, imperialism are torn between a pull towards subservience to imperialism and a push to resist imperialist depredations. At times this contradiction plays out in a way that leads these capitalists being pushed by their masses to stand up to imperialism. We welcome this when it happens and socialists must work hard in such cases to ensure the victory of the subjugated or dependent countries against the imperialist overlords and their proxies. Indeed, we are likely to see more conflicts between the imperialist powers and the countries that they oppress. For, given the economic crisis that imperialist-capitalism is quite obviously in, they are going to try to exploit even more the peoples of the ex-colonial countries in order to make up for their own economic woes at home.
But even in these cases where the capitalist states in neo-colonies, semi-colonies or otherwise imperialist-dependent countries resist the imperialist bullies we would not call these states “anti-imperialist states.” For the economic and political factors pulling the capitalist rulers in these countries towards subservience to imperialism do not disappear even when they are in conflict with imperialism. These capitalist rulers can just as well in future cut a deal with the imperial powers and act as their running dogs. Syria’s Baathist government has certainly done this in the past. We have already noted earlier in this article how, in 1976, to the cheers of U.S. and French imperialism, Bashar Al-Assad’s father, Hafeez, sent in the Syrian Army to crush the leftist-progressive side in the Lebanese Civil War. Then, in 1991, Syria’s Baathist government criminally sent nearly 15,000 troops to participate in the 1991 first U.S.-led Gulf War slaughter of Iraqi people – an attack that paved the way for the death, suffering and chaos that has wracked Iraq ever since. Similarly, while today the Iranian government resists ever more unreasonable demands on it by the Western capitalist powers, at other times it has played a major role in ensuring the success of imperialist campaigns. During the 1980s, the Iranian government was alongside Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the main non-Western supporter of the imperialist-backed Afghan Mujahedin religious fundamentalist cut-throats that fought an anti-communist war against the then secular, leftist Afghan government and its Soviet Red Army protectors. Iran provided a massive amount of arms to Shia-based Mujahedin groups and hosted the exile bases of these groups within Iran. Then, in 2001, the Iranian (so-called) “anti-imperialist” state provided crucial support to the U.S./Australian/ NATO imperialists in their invasion of Afghanistan. This involved not only providing diplomatic support for the U.S. to set up military bases in Central Asia and for building the links between Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance insurgent forces and the invading imperialist forces but also actual direct military support to the Western imperialists. Iran provided intelligence to the invading U.S. military and even provided search and rescue for downed U.S. aircrew members fighting there. Moreover, when the capitalist rulers of imperialist-subjugated or otherwise imperialist-dependent countries are threatened by anti-capitalist revolt from their own revolutionary masses, even the most avowedly “anti-imperialist” of them will not hesitate to turn to the imperialists to help them prop up their own exploitative rule. A classic case of this occurred in Iraq in February 1963. This was a time when the Iraqi toiling masses were restive and the Iraqi Communist Party held great influence. Fearing socialist revolution, the country’s capitalists, represented through the Iraqi Baathist Party, collaborated with the CIA to launch a military coup to topple the government of then prime minister Abd al- Karim Qasim – who was seen as being not hard enough on the communists – and to carry out an anti-leftist purge. The Baathists murdered thousands upon thousands of communists and turned Iraqi foreign policy relations away from the USSR and towards the U.S. Soon after the Baathist coup, a massive arms deal was announced between the new Baathist government and the U.S. The Baathist party that carried out these pro-imperialist crimes is the same one that had participated in the 1958 anti-imperialist upheaval that culminated in the toppling of the pro-British, pro-U.S. monarchy. This Baathist Party that conducted the February 1963 pro-imperialist coup is also the very same party that vows that “anti-imperialism” is a central part of its ideology. At the time of their February 1963 coup, the Iraqi Baathists were actually united with the Syrian Baathists in one Arab “Socialist” Baathist Party. The Iraqi and Syrian wings only went their separate ways three years after the coup and president Assad today leads the Syrian Baathist government.
If it is wrong to call Syria and Iran “anti-imperialist states” then this is even more the case with Russia which is not a semi-colony subjugated by imperialist powers or otherwise dependent on imperialism. Capitalist Russia is, indeed, the only other military superpower in the world other than for the United States. Although the 1991-92 capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed socialistic rule there greatly weakened Russia’s economy, the country’s new capitalist rulers still inherited the former USSR’s powerful industrial and technological base. Of course, Russia is not anywhere near the planet’s main imperialist oppressor of “Third World” peoples – that title goes to the U.S. capitalist rulers and their allies like the British and Australian ruling classes. Russia is, however, probably somewhere between a middle capitalist power like Turkey and Saudi Arabia and a full blown imperialist one. Where it exactly fits in this spectrum is hardly the most important question facing socialists. We’ll leave that to be pondered by some leftist academics eager to boost their careers by stacking up their resumé with journal paper contributions. For active communists the point that matters is that Russia is not a semi-colony and is, at least, a middle capitalist power. That makes it even more wrong to refer to it as an “anti-imperialist state” than it is to do the same for countries subjugated by imperialism, since all middle powers want to be big imperialist ones. Suggesting that a middle capitalist power does not have ambitions of being a fully-fledged imperialist power is as ridiculous as claiming that medium-sized capitalist companies do not seek to become, one day, large-scale monopoly corporations. This is all the more so in the case of Russia whose ruling class can hark back to the vast capitalist-feudal empire that it had up until 100 years ago and under which it lorded over tens of millions of non-Russian people.
To be sure, the diplomatic rhetoric and propaganda broadcast by Russia today is different in tone to that used by, say, America. This, however, reflects merely their different current places in the world. Russia’s diplomatic language stresses multilateralism and a multi-polar world because it is an up and coming capitalist power and wants a diplomatic consensus that allows space for new powers like itself to break into the big league. In contrast, the U.S. sells itself on the diplomatic stage using American exceptionalism and the notion that the U.S. has a crusading duty to bring “freedom” to the world. That accords with the U.S. ruling class’ interests in maintaining itself as the top dog imperialist by seeking to justify special “rights” for itself to police – i.e. ride roughshod over – the world. Meanwhile, the German imperialists place slightly less stress on military action than, say, the U.S., Britain and France only because Germany is weaker militarily than any of them and, thus, prefers a world where its comparatively strong economic clout rather than its comparatively weak military muscle will be the decisive factor in determining its place.
FOR AN ANTI-IMPERIALIST MOVEMENT
BASED ON THOSE AT THE BOTTOM OF CAPITALIST SOCIETY
The fact is that every capitalist ruling class that is not part of a country suffering imperialist domination either is an imperialist oppressor of semi-colonial and neo-colonial countries or wants to be one. That is why none of them can ever be considered part of an “anti-imperialist camp.” And as we have shown with the case of Syria and Iran, even the ruling classes of dependent capitalist countries that are currently in conflict – or have tense relations – with imperialist powers are far from consistently “anti-imperialist.” There are, indeed, two fundamental camps in the world but those camps are not a pro-imperialist camp and a supposed “anti-imperialist” camp. Rather, the two fundamental camps are, on the one hand, the capitalist ruling classes of the world and pro-capitalist “dissidents” in the socialistic countries and, on the other, the socialistic states, the class conscious working class and downtrodden of the world and the broader masses of the so-called “Third World” suffering under neo-colonialism. Yes, semi-colonial and dependent capitalist states can sometimes resist imperialism and we must wholeheartedly welcome and energetically support that when it occurs. And, in rare cases, ambitious capitalist powers in pursuit of their own interests can inadvertently play a helpful role by blocking the predatory designs of other powers – as Russia is currently doing in Syria. Yet, any of these capitalist ruling classes can switch, at other times, into playing a terribly reactionary role. Let us recall the role of capitalist Russia in Afghanistan, for example. We should firstly remember that the Russian capitalist ruling class has a big responsibility for the suffering of Afghan peoples. They are the ones who, with Washington, London, Berlin and Canberra’s massive assistance, smashed socialistic rule in the USSR and then immediately cut off the lifeline to the then secular-leftist government in Afghanistan which in turn led to the 1992 victory of the woman-hating, religious fundamentalist cutthroats. Later, this Russian ruling class, like that of Iran, gave much assistance to the 2001 imperialist invasion of Afghanistan. Russia provided intelligence and logistical support to the U.S./NATO/Australian forces, its troops conducted “search and rescue” missions to assist the imperialist forces and it provided big arms supplies to the West’s Northern Alliance proxies (see for example: https://www.csmonitor.com/2001/1015/p13s1-wosc.html). Today, while Russia’s intervention in Syria is at this point having a positive effect, in Libya, Russia is, like other intervening capitalist powers, involved in a mad scramble for privileged access to Libya’s oil resources and future infrastructure contracts. This is serving to deepen the regional and tribal conflicts there. In a de facto alliance with French imperialism and staunch U.S. allies, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Russia is backing with weapons, money and diplomatic cover one of the rival gangs of pro-imperialist Libyan “Rebels” brought to power by NATO in 2011 and which are, today, engaged in blood feuds with each other (for more details see: http://www.trotskyistplatform.com/russian-intervention-and-syria/).
The reality of the world is that all capitalist ruling classes, when they act abroad, do so not out of any real commitment to claimed foreign policy principles whether that be “anti-imperialism”, “spread of democracy”, “anti-terrorism” or “multi-lateralism” but in order to pursue their own greedy interests. Not only does this mean that we should not credit capitalist states currently in conflict with imperialism – or otherwise impeding it in some theatres – as being part of a definite “anti-imperialist” camp, it also means that those capitalist states deemed to be part of the “pro-imperialist camp” can also have conflicts with each other. For example, two months ago a full-scale cold war erupted between staunch U.S. ally, Qatar, and other strong U.S. allies in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Eqypt, Yemen and Bahrain. The tensions between the two sides are so intense that the opponents of Qatar have not only imposed crippling economic sanctions on that tiny country but have blockaded Qatar’s only land border and denied Qatari aircraft access to their airspace. One of their points of anger with Qatar is that it has relatively good relations with Iran, even while Qatar hosts a massive U.S. air base and is third only to the Western powers and Turkey in backing the Syrian “Rebels.” Since the crisis began, Qatar’s ties with Iran have continued to strengthen and, to a lesser extent, their relations with Russia too. Meanwhile, at the time this article is being written, Turkey, the main regional backer and most aggressive diplomatic supporter of the Western-backed Syrian “Rebels” is experiencing a deterioration in relations with NATO countries while its ties with Moscow are rapidly improving and relations with Iran are warming too. It has even been reported that Turkey, to the anger of other NATO members, is on the verge of signing a massive deal to buy S-400 anti-aircraft missiles from Russia. There is no certainty that relations between Russia and Turkey will continue to advance given that they currently still back opposing sides in Syria and given their mutually conflicting plays for influence in Central Asia and the Caucuses. However, say that these capitalist powers do draw even closer together by cutting a deal over Syria (that would likely see one or the other of them stabbing in the back the side it is currently supporting in the conflict there). Will the adherents to the anti-Marxist notion of “anti-imperialist capitalist states” then quietly move Turkey over into the “anti-imperialist” category and start denouncing any criticism of the Turkish regime’s brutal attacks on leftists, trade unionists and the country’s cruelly oppressed Kurdish minority?
Whether or not the rulers of another capitalist country currently have good relations with the U.S. and Australian regimes does matter in terms of the emphasis of the work of leftists living here. It would be wrong for leftists to make the primary focus of our work opposing a capitalist state that currently has tense relations with one’s “own” ruling class. That is why we are not going around organising rallies against the anti-working class privatisations and attacks on racial minorities of the Putin government. Furthermore, we make clear that we oppose the sanctions that our “own” capitalist rulers – and that of allied powers have put on Russia. Rather, the actions we organise – and the headlines of our publications – are overwhelmingly targeted against the anti-working class measures and brutal racist attacks of the Australian capitalist regime at home and that of allied capitalist ruling classes like those of the U.S., Britain and South Korea. However, to have such an emphasis in our work is very different to acting as “left” apologists for whatever capitalist states are deemed to be “anti-imperialist.” To do the latter is to spit on exploited masses in these countries and their struggles. Furthermore, it serves to undermine progressive struggles here because it undermines workers’ understanding that none of the capitalists can be relied on to provide anything positive for the masses and every step forward for our liberation will have to come from our own efforts united with all of the oppressed.
The liberal notion that some capitalist powers are “anti-imperialist” is a significant part of what has led many activists who initially did positive work on the Syria issue, both overseas and here, to lead the movement into a disastrous – and, ultimately, politically suicidal – course. They have reduced the struggle against imperialism to one that consists mainly of cheering and apologising for those states that they deem to be “anti-imperialist” and of “critically” supporting those local capitalist politicians that show sympathy for these states. This is directly counterposed to what is actually needed for an effective anti-imperialist movement in Australia and other Western countries: hard work to mobilise the working class at home in a struggle connecting opposition to the capitalist regime’s attacks against the masses at home with mobilisation against the regime’s imperialist interventions abroad. Such a perspective is based on the simple fact that the imperialist enemy of ex-colonial countries like Syria, East Timor, PNG and the Philippines is also the capitalist exploiter and oppressor of the working class and poor at home. An important part of realising this perspective is through strengthening the workers movement and liquidating threats to its unity by mobilising mass actions to smash the fascists – not seeking common ground with fascists as some in the Hands Off Syria groups have done. Indeed, the anti-imperialist movement that must be built would seek its strongest bases of support amongst the very people who are under attack from the fascists – who are one and the same people most oppressed in this society. Thus, Muslim people, as well as more broadly Middle Eastern, Asian and African communities, who are targeted by the fascists also cop abuse, discrimination and media demonization in this society and, thus, can be less wedded to believing the propaganda of the establishment. Meanwhile, another target of the fascists, LGBTI people, whatever their legal status ends up, know that this society remains full of prejudice against them and this leads many of these people to be suspicious of “mainstream” society’s political agendas. Most importantly, Aboriginal people who, because they face such brutal police and redneck terror and all-round discrimination, have every reason to be distrustful of anything the Australian state does – whether at home or abroad. Indeed, throughout Australia’s post- 1788 history it is often the very same people involved in the subjugation of colonies and ex-colonies abroad who are orchestrating racist violence against Aboriginal people at home. This goes right back to the 1800s. Thus, some of the police officers most notorious for overseeing massacres of Aboriginal people during the late nineteenth century frontier wars in Queensland had also served in enforcing British colonial subjugation of the people of China and New Guinea.
It would be helpful to the struggle against neo-colonialism if some of those involved in Hands Off Syria groups who are repulsed by the movement’s softness on the Far Right will fully understand what is wrong with the movement’s left-liberal perspective and can, thus, turn their talents towards the building of a working class-based anti-imperialist movement. Trotskyist Platform is ready to assist any of the most sincere of these activists to make such a political self-clarification. We also look forward to working in a united front manner to build the anti-imperialist struggle with any activist who had been involved in Hands Off Syria groups who is prepared to publicly condemn the groups’ acceptance of some of their leaders’ association with fascists. As to the left groups that continue to support the imperialist-backed forces in Syria, they need to have their views exposed and thoroughly discredited. That is an important part of clearing the obstacles standing in the way of building a powerful anti-imperialist movement.