Sunday, 7 October 2012

Liberal Interventionism & The Law Of Unintended Consequences

I am sure that most of the liberals and opportunists, that have called for, or not opposed, imperialist intervention, in a series of situations, across the globe, have done so with the best of intentions, though some will have done so simply as apologists for Imperialism. But, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The consequence of these calls could well be that the world is heading for a serious regional conflict in the Middle East that could spread into Europe via the Balkans, if not into a much wider conflagration.

The liberals and opportunists do not analyse the world, or events within it, on the objective basis of historical materialism, as Marxists do. Rather they operate on the basis of a bourgeois, subjectivist methodology. Nor do they understand the world and events on the basis of dialectical logic, which reveals the way processes unfold via the interconnectedness, and feedback loops which reflects the true reality. Instead, they operate on the basis of the syllogism. The consequence is they do not see the world as a complex interrelated whole, whose real nature cannot be observed purely on the basis of superficial features and appearances, such as the nature of political regimes, but only by digging down into the class relations, and material conditions that form the foundations of those political regimes. Instead of seeing the events within that world as being merely moments within a complex process, whereby those underlying class relations and material conditions play out over time, they instead see each event as purely that, an isolated event, to be dealt with as though it were completely isolated from everything else that has happened before, or to come. Each event occurs separated from all other reality, and occurring within its own discrete block of time, rather than within the context of a continuous historical process.

I have recently been re-reading Trotsky's writings on the Balkan Wars, which provide an illustrating example of how a Marxist analyses such events, in contrast to the approach of the liberals and opportunists. Trotsky's writings illustrate how the material conditions, existing in the Balkans, of backward, historical economic development, had left its assorted countries under the domination of the Ottoman (Turkish) and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Economic development had led to the beginning of the creation of a Balkan working-class. The same conditions meant that the rational economic solution, for development of these small states, was via the establishment of a Balkan Federation, which could produce the kind of single market that was essential to the economic development of the Balkans. But, the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie, of these states, was not strong enough, and was, in any case, too divided, along national lines, to bring about such a unification. The task would fall to the infant working class, which needed to organise across nationalities, and across borders. The same factors, of economic development, were also breaking up the historic dominance of the region, by the old colonial powers, but, even as that happened, other imperialist powers, like Tsarist Russia, and Germany, stood ready to take advantage of the situation, supporting one group or another to expand their own influence, if not their territory.

In the end, this development, and the complex of military alliances, which required different countries to come to the aid of others, in the region, if they were attacked, led to World War I. Looking at the situation today, in the Middle East and North Africa, and the proximity, and interconnection, via Turkey, with the Balkans, the similarities, with this period, leading up to World War I, are striking. It is a similarity I have pointed to before in relation to the working out of the Long Wave.

Economic backwardness had led to the domination of the Balkans by old colonial powers, just as a similar backwardness led to domination of countries in MENA. Economic development, combined with weak domestic bourgeoisies, led to the establishment of various kinds of Bonapartism in the Balkans, usually in the form of some kind of “constitutional monarchy”. In MENA, the equivalent is, on the one hand, the feudal Gulf Monarchies, and on the other Bonapartist regimes that were established in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, and Iraq, and including the clerical-fascist variant in Iran. Just as imperialist powers sought to intervene in the Balkans, by open means, or more frequently by supporting proxies, as the old colonial domination began to disintegrate, so in MENA, the Imperialist powers of the US and Europe have sought to intervene both openly, as they did in Iraq and in Libya, or else by open support for rebel forces, or else by more covert methods (including their own covert military intervention), via their proxies in the Gulf tyrannies, who in turn have intervened openly themselves, and via their own proxies within the various Sunni, jihadist militias.

The real solution for workers in MENA, and for the other oppressed classes, as with the Balkans, lies in the creation of a single Federal State, providing a high degree of national autonomy, creating a single market and so on. But, as with the Balkans, the existing bourgeois classes in those countries are unable to bring about such a solution, because of their own weakness, their own divisions, and the extent to which they are all subject to the pressure placed upon them by more powerful external forces. But, for so long as the solutions for the workers and oppressed masses of MENA are viewed merely in terms of limited, bourgeois democratic demands and so long as part of the achievement even of these limited, and inadequate solutions is seen in terms of the intervention of powerful external i.e. imperialist forces, the workers too cannot be organised around an adequate program.

The current developments with the increasing conflict between Turkey (a NATO country, which is entitled to support from NATO if attacked) and Syria (behind which stands immediately Iran, and Hezbollah, and further behind which stands Russia and China) is reminiscent of the outbreak of hostilities in the Balkans, kicked off by the declaration of War by Serbia, described by Trotsky. All wars are kicked off on the basis of some deception, used to justify the first shots being fired.

There seems no doubt that earlier in the week, it was Syria that had fired mortars into Turkey, as it sought to regain control of its border post. Equally, there was little doubt that Turkey had a few weeks ago probed Syrian airspace with its jet, that was promptly shot down. The idea that Syria is trying to provoke a wider war, by attacking Turkey, seems to me to be far fetched. If open war breaks out with Turkey, NATO will back Turkey, and the war will be over in days rather than weeks. Syria, must know that. At the same time, as with the shooting down of the Turkish jet, it has to show that it will not be bullied by Turkey. Otherwise, it risks Turkey continually pressing on its borders. Turkey has already shown that it is prepared to breach borders as it has done in Iraqi Kurdistan. Part of the complex of relations here has to be the fact that Turkey, shunned in its membership application for EU membership, whilst seeing its economy grow extremely rapidly, even during the current cyclical downturn, is keen to establish its own status as a regional power. That is one reason, besides the coming to power of an Islamist Government, why Turkey has changed its position from being one of the strongest supporters of Israel, to become an opponent.

Turkey has long sought to quash its Kurdish minority, and the ambitions of the Kurds for their own state. There are significant advantages for Turkey in being able to expand into the Kurdish areas of Syria, Iraq and Iran not least for the oil resources in some of those areas. Latest reports suggest that the mortars fired into Turkey on Saturday came not from Syrian Government forces, but came from areas in the control of the Syrian rebels. In other words, this is a “false flag” operation launched by the rebels, with or without the connivance of Turkey, designed to provide Turkey with an excuse for intervention, which would create the potential for first establishing “safe zones”, “no fly zones”, etc. as a preliminary to the kind of armed intervention seen in Libya, if not that in Iraq.

We have already seen the unintended consequences of some of these actions. The US and UK invasion of Iraq, was intended to remove the ineffective Saddam, with some more effective and controllable puppet. Instead, the consequence was to strengthen the position of Iran, which now has a significant ally in the Shia regime in Iraq. Some years ago, I wrote that I thought that Iraq would be likely to break into three parts – Iraqi Kurdistan, the Sunni Triangle, and the Shia dominated rest. That didn't happen, but it is still a rational outcome of current relations. On the one hand the Kurdish North already exercises a high degree of autonomy, bringing it continually into conflict with Baghdad, which is why the regime there does not oppose the Turkish incursions. At the height of the sectarian conflict, the Sunni Gulf tyrannies made it clear to the US that they would not allow their Sunni brethren in Iraq to be subjugated by the Shia Majority. The US responded, by reversing its policy of attacks on the Sunni Triangle, erecting physical barriers between Sunni and Shia areas, and instead providing the Sunni Sheikhs with large amounts of largesse in return for them clamping down on the jihadists.

But, as the US prepares to withdraw from Iraq, effectively defeated in its objectives, just as it is about to withdraw from Afghanistan, similarly defeated in its objectives, and as it withdrew back in the 1970's from Vietnam defeated in its objectives, the Government in Iraq is dominated by Shia Clerical-fascists, closely tied to Iran, and the Sunni minority is marginalised. The same Sunni jihadist forces that are backed by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf tyrannies, which have intervened in Libya, which are now intervening in Syria, whose co-thinkers are already knocking on the door in Egypt, are now once again increasing their sectarian attacks against Shia populations in Iraq.

This is part of a growing Civil War across the region, which takes the form of a religious war between Shia and Sunni, but, just as was the case with the English Civil War, is merely a religious cover, for very real economic and material divisions between classes contending for power. Here it is the ruling class of Iran, Iraq and Syria backed by Russian and Chinese Imperialism, against the ruling class of the Gulf Monarchies, of Jordan, and of Egypt backed by US and European Imperialism.

Nor can the economic and material interests of Turkey be disregarded in this respect. Europe, as MENA developed, particularly along the southern shore of the Mediterranean, was attempting to draw in those economies as it had done with the Balkans 20 years earlier. The debt Crisis in Europe has held that process back over the last couple of years. Meanwhile, Turkey with its growing economy, and its turning away from Europe, has the potential to establish its own important economic relations with the Islamist Governments in Egypt and elsewhere.

An analysis viewed in these materialist terms that sees reality not as occurring within discrete blocks of time, but as unfolding as part of a complex, and continuous process of development, with many interconnected strands demonstrates what is wrong with the policy of liberal interventionism, advocated, or at least not opposed, by the liberals and opportunists. After its defeat in Vietnam, US imperialism was significantly set back. The confidence it had had from WWII on to intervene, such as in Korea, was shattered. That did not mean that it ceased to intervene, but that the intervention was forced to assume other forms. In place of open military intervention, CIA covert actions, and various other forms of dirty war were adopted. Mercenaries were supported, various means of encouraging chaos, so as to support the emergence of a strong man to bring order were used. This could descend to ridiculous levels as with the Iran-Contra Affair during which the CIA provided arms to Iran in return for Iran arming the Nicaraguan Contras.

In fact, it was the ability of the US to once again engage in overt military action against sovereign states under the cover of UN approval, on the basis of liberal interventionism, which paved the way for it to once again engage in overt military action against states without UN approval as it did in Iraq. It is the fact that Imperialism has been able to intervene under the cover of liberal interventionism that has left it confident to intervene via the not very disguised use of proxies in Libya and Syria, a strategy it will no doubt adopt in Iraq, and Iran, and if it is successful, may well feel confident to employ elsewhere to obtain its strategic interests including in Latin America, Asia, the Caucuses etc. Already, the US, concerned about the growing influence of China in Africa, is warning African States about those links, and demonstrating clearly what it sees as being its future relations with China, has begun moving the bulk of its naval and military power into the Pacific. There is no shortage of clerical-fascist forces in Asia, along with those clerical-landlordist forces that stand behind the demands for independence for Tibet, which could be used to cause problems for China, just as jihadist forces have caused problems for Russia. When such forces attack western Imperialism and its allies, they are, of course, “terrorists”, as the AWL recently described the Kurdish PKK, whereas when they attack the enemies of western imperialism, they are “freedom fighters” or “rebels”, and even “revolutionaries”, no matter how reactionary they might be.

Of course, for a Marxist, there is no reason to support either Western Imperialism or Russian or Chinese Imperialism in any of these strategic battles, carried out either openly or via their proxies. Nor should we provide the cloak of revolution for any of these reactionary forces that, in reality, are enemies of the working class, and frequently act either as proxies of Imperialism, or of regional powers within these disputes. Our focus is the furtherance of the real revolutionary forces within these areas, the organisations of the working class, in opposition to these reactionary rebel forces. That is not to say, in opposing these reactionary rebel forces, we are not hostile to the existing reactionary regimes either. Of course, Marxists want to see the removal of regimes such as that of Assad, or Gaddafi, just as they wanted to see the end of the Turkish regime in the Balkans.

But, as Trotsky wrote in that regard, when he opposed the attitude of the liberals and opportunists, who were the liberal interventionists of his day, we are not indifferent about how the downfall of these regimes is brought about! As he wrote, the fact that we want to remove these regimes, does not lead us, as the opportunists do, to criticise the atrocities of the existing regime, whilst remaining quiet about the atrocities committed by its opponents!

In their normal manner as epigones, the AWL have misused the statements by Trotsky over the Balkan Wars to support their own opportunist politics. They have argued, for example, that there is no reason to oppose imperialist intervention if that intervention results in something we ourselves desire, for example, the overthrow of some vile regime. Trotsky completely rejects this opportunist approach, which was adopted in relation to the Balkans by the liberal Miliukov. Trotsky wrote,

' And yet, after all, the overthrow of Turkish rule over the Slavs is a progressive fact,' says Mr. Miliukov, defending his attitude.

Undoubtedly it is. But it is not at all a matter of indifference by what methods this emancipation is being accomplished. The method of “liberation” that is being followed today means the enslavement of Macedonia to the personal regime in Bulgaria and to Bulgarian militarism; it means, moreover, the strengthening of reaction in Bulgaria itself. That positive, progressive result which history will, in the last analysis, extract from the ghastly events in the Balkans, will suffer no harm from the exposures made by Balkan and European democracy; on the contrary, only a struggle against the usurpation of history's tasks by the present masters of the situation will educate the Balkan peoples to play the role of superseding not only Turkish despotism but also those who, for their own reactionary purposes, are, by their own barbarous methods, now destroying that despotism...

Our agitation, on the contrary, against the way that history's problems are at present being solved, goes hand in hand with the work of the Balkan Social Democrats. And when we denounce the bloody deeds of the Balkan 'liberation' from above we carry forward the struggle not only against liberal deception of the Russian masses but also against enslavement of the Balkan masses.” (Trotsky: The Balkan Wars 1912-13, pp 293-4)

Could there be a clearer refutation of the ideas of liberal interventionism, and of the approach of the liberals and opportunists of the AWL type?

Trotsky's analysis here is precisely that of a Marxist, examining the underlying material conditions, and recognising the interconnectedness of reality. On the same basis of his analysis above, he would have had no difficulty in understanding the way such intervention strengthens the reactionary feudal regimes of the Gulf, or strengthens reaction within the Imperialist states themselves. But, for the same reasons, it strengthens reaction in those countries like Iran, which can point to that intervention as the basis of an external threat to their own independence. Nor would Trotsky have failed to point out that such intervention represents a “liberal deception” of the Arab Masses.

Marxists have no reason to defend the existing regimes, any more than they did to defend the Turkish regime in the Balkans. They have no reason to deny its own atrocities, but as Trotsky sets out here, as part of setting out the reactionary nature of the intervention, we have a duty to expose the atrocities of the interventionists and their allies too. Those atrocities committed in Iraq, and Afghanistan have become increasingly documented. But, the same kind of atrocities have been committed in Libya where “liberation from above” literally involved around 30,000 bombing runs, including the use of depleted uranium munitions, which killed around 30,000 people immediately, and will lead to the deaths of thousands more in years to come. In Syria, the advanced weapons, probably including depleted uranium munitions, supplied to the rebel forces, has similarly resulted in thousands of deaths already, and humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch have documented many atrocities committed by the clerical-fascist rebel forces. At this moment, those forces are threatening to execute dozens of Iranian prisoners in their custody.

The Battle of Cable Street demonstrated how workers need to
organise en masse, and rely on their own forces, against those of
the fascists and the Capitalist State, not engage in silly adventures
with miniscule forces, which then rely on the Capitalist State to
intervene from above to rescue them.
A western press, like that at the time of the Balkan Wars, prepared to be entirely blinkered in its reporting of atrocities, has been more than prepared to accept at face value all the claims of the rebels even though, those forces have time and again shown themselves to be lying, to be falsifying video and other evidence, and even to be passing off their own atrocities as those of the regime. The attempts now to risk an all out regional conflict, and possibly worse, by launching mortar attacks on Turkey, are merely the latest example of such an approach. But, they have been encouraged in that precisely by the previous actions of the liberal interventionists, who have given such forces hope that Imperialism can be counted on to come to their assistance, and provide the forces they themselves lack to seize power. Its a similar approach the AWL use in launching their own studentist, adventurist attacks on the EDL with miniscule forces, to win themselves publicity, confident in their hope that their stupidity will be compensated for by the forces of the Capitalist State stepping in to provide them with support against the fascists.  The liberal interventionists have effectively sent out the message to such forces that no matter how reactionary you may be, no matter how little support you might have to achieve your ends, you can count on us to support or not oppose the intervention of imperialism to win your battles for you, if only your cause is seen to be hopeless enough, if only your opponents can be seen to be committing atrocities.

Instead of providing a basis for building a real, revolutionary, working class movement of opposition to reactionary regimes, the liberal interventionists and opportunists like their predecessors during the Balkan Wars, do the very opposite. And, when those forces, or the imperialists themselves commit atrocities, then like the liberals and opportunists during the Balkan Wars, they keep quiet about it, and apologise for it, as the AWL did in relation to Libya, for instance. The AWL have quoted the statement by Trotsky,

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”.

But, as with many of their quotes used to justify their positions, this statement is taken out of context, chopped and bowdlerised to misrepresent its meaning. The AWL present this statement as a justification for supporting, or not opposing, intervention against brutal regimes. But, what Trotsky was saying was the exact opposite! In fact, Trotsky was attacking not the atrocities of the existing Turkish regime in the Balkans, the existence of which he did not deny, but precisely the approach of Miliukov, and other such liberals, who ONLY attacked the atrocities committed by the existing Turkish regime, and failed to condemn the atrocities committed by the opponents of that regime, and of the imperialist forces that stood behind them!

As was seen in the earlier quote in which he opposed such intervention from outside to bring about “liberation from above”, Trotsky was far from believing that these forces could simply be allowed to intervene without socialists opposing it, and opposing the atrocities they committed. In the part of that particular quote, which the AWL conveniently omit, Trotsky goes on to say,

In preparing their defence of Imperialist
intervention against Serbia, the AWl and
other liberal interventionists, pointed to the
undoubted atrocities committed, by the vile
Milosevic regime, but remained silent about
the atrocities committed against Serbs in the
Krajina, and elsewhere.
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. The working masses of the population in every country are both a potential instrument of bloody outrages and a potential victim of such deeds. 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’.” (ibid p 293)

If Trotsky's quote here were to be used at all to provide a guide to what we should protest in Libya, Syria etc. it is that we should be loudly protesting and condemning the actions of Imperialism and its allies, which, “drunk with blood”, massacres defenceless people by the use of its massive military firepower. More importantly, as was the case with the Balkans War, and development into World War I, it is the unintended consequences of such intervention that Marxists must warn against. World War I was described as a war to end all wars. It wasn't. World War III would be, but for wholly different reasons.

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