Monday, 2 July 2012

Whither Syria? - Part 1 of 3

An individual, a group, a party, or a class that ‘objectively’ picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive”.

On the other hand, a party or the class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes when they are threatened with external injury – such a party or class is sound of heart. Protest against the outrages in the Balkans cleanses the social atmosphere in our own country, heightens the level of moral awareness among our own people… Therefore an uncompromising protest against atrocities serves not only the purpose of moral self-defence on the personal and party level but also the purpose of politically safeguarding the people against adventurism concealed under the flag of ‘liberation’.”

(“The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky: The Balkan Wars 1912-13”)
The workers of Paris were butchered by the
 bourgeoisie after the Commune Was Crushed
 in 1871
No one who has watched the terrible events unfolding in Syria over the last year can be filled with anything but revulsion. That is not in any way reduced by comparing the hypocritical and simpering attitude of the media to events in Syria, to their attitude to the events in Bahrain, where, on a proportional basis, an even greater number of people have died, at the hands of the western backed, feudal, despotic regime, to which Britain, and other western powers, continue to supply arms, to murder its people, and where the US has its Sixth Fleet based.  No massacre, no act of inhumanity can be reduced by simply comparing it to some other act of inhumanity. 

As Socialists, as Marxists, as simply decent human beings, we should be horrified at such actions wherever and whenever they occur. Of course, we are not pacifists either. We recognise that sometimes it is necessary to meet the violence of the oppressor with the violence of the oppressed, and nor do we equate one with the other. But, even our support for the violence of the oppressed does not commit us to supporting wanton acts of butchery and savagery. We are only reluctantly not Pacifists, and our defence of violence accordingly is a defence of revolutionary violence to defeat the violence of the oppressor, not a defence of violence in itself. We should abhor the fact of needing to resort to it in our own defence, as much as we abhor its use by our oppressors, because violence in itself is dehumanising, which is why individual soldiers who have been dehumanised by conditioning to it, and indeed whole societies that have endured it, can so easily descend into inhuman acts.

But, as Marxists our great advantage is that we approach such events not just with our own moral compass, but with a scientific outlook and analysis. A doctor who is so consumed by their own moral outlook (for example on abortion), or their own emotions is often of little use to the patient, who requires someone with a more detached, scientific approach to resolving their problems. Unfortunately, just as with a doctor our scientific, materialist analysis sometimes causes us to diagnose that there is no good solution, or even any solution to a particular condition. I fear that is the case with Syria today.
Of course, we should protest vociferously against the butchery, and the vile nature of the Assad regime. We should also protest loudly at the butchery, and vile nature of the clerical-fascist forces, often from outside Syria, that have themselves been responsible for some of these massacres, such as, it seems, the Houla Massacre, that the West has blamed on supporters of Assad, but which it now turns out was committed against supporters of the regime, including a recently elected, pro-regime MP and his family.

We should protest loudly against the vile, feudal Monarchical regimes in the Gulf, which oppress their own people with the support of the West, and which have fanned the flames of sectarian Civil War in both Libya and Syria, for their own sectarian and politico-strategic reasons, to oppose their Shia and Christian enemies within the region. We should also condemn the Shia Clerical-Fascists in Iran and Iraq, who for similar reasons have stoked up that Civil War from the opposite direction, and for their own politico-strategic reasons. We should condemn the actions of Russia and China who for their own economic and politico-strategic reasons have supported the Assad regime. We should condemn the US and its allies who have used the sectarian divisions in the region to pursue their own strategic goals in attempting to maintain control of Gulf Oil, and the maintenance of strategic military bases on the flanks of their global opponents Russia and China.
And, as Trotsky makes clear in the quote above we should most definitely not allow our humanitarian concerns to dictate to us that “something must be done” even though all our experience tells us that sometimes that “something” when carried out by our class enemies is worse than nothing.
Therefore an uncompromising protest against atrocities serves not only the purpose of moral self-defence on the personal and party level but also the purpose of politically safeguarding the people against adventurism concealed under the flag of ‘liberation’.”
Let us assume that between two great monarchies there is a little monarchy whose kinglet is “bound” by blood and other ties to the monarchs of both neighbouring countries. Let us further assume that the declaration of a republic in the little country and the expulsion of its monarch would in practice lead to a war between the two neighbouring big countries for the restoration of that or another monarch in the little country. There is no doubt that all international Social-Democracy, as well as the really internationalist section of Social-Democracy in the little country, would be against substituting a republic for the monarchy in this case. The substitution of a republic for a monarchy is not an absolute, but one of the democratic demands, subordinate to the interests of democracy (and still more, of course, to those of the socialist proletariat) as a whole.”
And Lenin also wrote that where National Liberation struggles were merely a cover for “Monarchical intrigues”, we should not support them.
That is why, Marxists had to oppose, for example, Britain's intervention in the Falklands. That did not mean in any way supporting Galtieri's invasion, or his claim to the Falklands, or Argentina's suppression of the rights of the Falkland Islanders. But, the task of dealing with Galtieri, and opposing his colonialist invasion rested with the Argentinian workers, not with British Imperialism. As British socialists our duty was to protest the atrocity of Galtieri's invasion, but also to opposeadventurism concealed under the flag of ‘liberation’.” by the British State. And, as Lenin argues above, there was no way that British Marxists could support a war that might cost the lives of thousands of British and Argentinian workers (because it was workers who overwhelmingly made up the ranks of both armies), and did cost the lives of hundreds on both sides, simply to defend what is after all only a bourgeois, and not a socialist principle on behalf of a handful of people.
It is, of course possible that Britain's fortunes may have not been so good. They almost ran out of ammunition, for instance. Although, neither side really wanted a war in the first place, the political dynamics forced them into one. Similar military and political dynamics could conceivably have led Britain to launch air strikes against Argentinian airfields had things been going against them, they may even have been led, as happened in Yugoslavia, to follow up with a ground assault if air strikes were not sufficient, though it is highly unlikely that would have been the case. But, it is precisely because war has a dynamic of its own, that it is impossible to say once a shooting war begins.
Ultimately, Britain's invasion of the Falklands did not resolve the matter. It could have only made things worse. The decision to exploit the oil and mineral reserves around the islands is leading once again to tension. A more economically powerful and assertive Latin America has generally sided with Argentina rather than Britain over the issue. Britain's military presence on the islands has led to the islanders failing to come to any kind of settlement with Argentina that could provide a stable, and peaceful future. It may be that all the 1982 war did was to put off a final settlement that could be even more bloody, if a more powerful, and in future better armed Argentina, once again presses its claims against an economically weaker, and militarily weaker Britain.
Many atrocities were committed
 against Serbs in the Krajena
But, there are more recent examples of similar military interventions where the negative consequences are already apparent, and serious. The atrocities that were committed in the Balkans in the 1990's, and early years of this century were wholly deplorable. But, just as the atrocities today in Syria are being presented as being just on one side – the side that the West supports – so too in the Balkans. Serious atrocities were committed against Serbian populations by forces that historically were linked to the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia. Some of these forces openly proclaimed that heritage. In Kosovo the KLA, backed by Albania and the CIA began a program of attacks on Serbs, that were deliberately designed to provoke sectarian conflict between Albanian and Serbian Kosovars who had lived peaceably together for decades. When the Serb Nationalist, Milosevic responded, by sending in the military, to crush the KLA, it also unleashed pogroms against Abanian Kosovars in general, just as the response of Serbia, and Serb militia in Bosnia had done. In both cases, it provided the justification that Imperialism was looking for to intervene to remove Milosevic, and his regime that was still linked to Russia, and instead created the conditions for installing a regime that looked West.
In Kosovo, in particular, the consequences of that are that the oppression and ethnic cleansing of Kosovan Albanians has been replaced by the oppression and ethnic cleansing of Kosovan Serbs. It threatens to erupt at any time, and any spread of a sectarian Civil War out of Syria, could be the spark that re-ignites it.
Of course, to point to all this is not to deny that the rights of various groups throughout the Balkans were not being infringed or that atrocities were being committed. That is no more the case than to deny that the rights of the Falkland islanders were being infringed by Galtieri. It is to argue that as with the Falkland islands, a desire to protest that fact, and to seek a solution to it, does not lead Marxists to look to the forces of Imperialism for a solution, or to remain silent when Imperialism seeks to use such situations to further its own global-strategic interests, to assert its right to act as global policeman, and to determine the regimes of sovereign states, even states we might ourselves detest.

A similar scenario applied to the invasion of Iraq. However, my own view of Iraq is somewhat different from the mainstream view. Just as Thatcher, and certainly the British State, had no desire initially to get into a shooting war over the Falklands, my own view is that, at least sections of, the US State did not want to engage in a war in Iraq. Saddam, having failed to meet their objectives, in the war they had encouraged between Iraq and Iran, was probably seen as needing to be replaced, but, my guess is that the wiser heads, within the US State, understood the implications of removing the Iraqi Bonapartist State apparatus, in a country where the majority of the population were Shia. That is why under the first Bush, they did not continue the first Gulf War to remove him.
In every Nation State there are three contending powers. There is what I call the “Socio-Economic Power”, there is the “Political Power”, and there is the “State Power”. The first is similar to what Marx calls “Civil Society”, but I have in mind here more the power exercised within Civil Society by a dominant group or class by virtue of its control over the means of production, and other aspects of social life. Usually, this is the ruling class, but in a revolutionary situation, or a condition of dual power, it may not be.
Attlee's Labour Government won the votes of workers
and the middle class.  It operated within the confines
 of bourgeois Social Democracy that was continued
 by "Buttskillism"
The Political Power is quite simply that exercised by Government. In a bourgeois democracy the rules governing this power are constrained by the dynamics of electoralism i.e. the need to build a sufficient coalition of electoral support to win office. As a consequence, the Political Power does not necessarily reflect the “Socio-Economic Power”. Although, in a bourgeois democracy, the Political Power always operates within the confines of bourgeois ideology, it is forced to make compromises with this or that section of the ruling class, and with the other classes in order to get elected. In a condition of Dual Power, i.e. a situation where there is a stalemate within the “Socio-Economic Power”, the Political Power may continue to reflect the dominance of the old ruling class, or it may, as in the case of a Workers Government, reflect the interests of the revolutionary class. Likewise, where such a stalemate results in the State being able to raise itself up above Civil Society, the ensuing Bonapartist regime will bring about a fusing of the “Political Power” and the “State Power”.
The “State Power” is the power of the State as classically theorised by Marxism. It is the power of the permanent State bureaucracy embodied within the Civil Service, the Police and Army and Judiciary, and in modern states through its ideological apparatus in the Schools, and Universities, the media, and the institutions of the Welfare State. Under normal conditions of bourgeois democracy, the State Power acts as the channel for the interests of the dominant section of the ruling class. It is tied by a thousand golden strings of financial, family, social, cultural, educational and other ties to the ruling class proper. It acts to moderate the Political Power in order to ensure those interests are met. Where necessary, as in the case of Allende's Chile, or as was threatened even with Wilson's Britain, it can show its hand openly to overthrow the Political Power where it oversteps the mark in its actions to challenge the power and privilege of the ruling class. By the same token it can act to moderate or frustrate the actions of right-wing Governments where their actions, for whatever reason, threaten the interests of the dominant section of Capital. Given that Capital itself is not homogeneous, and that different sections of Capital – for example Money Capital as against Productive Capital – have conflicting interests, there is a necessary fluidity within the State that reflects the changing fortunes of these contending groups.
I feel that this explains the actions of the US, and the conflicting positions that were adopted within the State Power, and which were reflected to an extent within the Political Power. The War, I would argue, was the project of the “Political Power” i.e. of the dominant role played by the Neo-Cons that stood as the power behind George W. Bush, rather than the project either of US Big Capital, or of its main representatives within the “State Power”. Of course, the US State itself is just one, though the most powerful, State within the Imperialist system of States, which also explains why other States in Europe, opposed the War, and why others like the UK attempted to play a mediating role between them.

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