Saturday, 31 August 2013

AWL – Apologism Without Limits

A few weeks ago, the AWL seemed to have modified their policy on Syria, to recognise that the logic of their position could only mean the coming to power of the jihadists. Their latest outburst - here - shows that their apologism for imperialism over rides any such concern. They proclaim,

“Equally, if the US destroys the bases used by Syria’s military to massacre its own citizens you will not find the AWL on the streets protesting.”

This is what Trotsky and the early Communist International had to say about those that adopted such a position.

“The British Socialist who fails to support by all possible means the uprisings in Ireland, Egypt and India against the London plutocracy – such a socialist deserves to be branded with infamy, if not with a bullet, but in no case merits either a mandate or the confidence of the proletariat.”

Manifesto of the Second World Congress 

“Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International has the obligation of exposing the dodges of its ‘own’ imperialists in the colonies, of supporting every liberation movement in the colonies not only in words but in deeds, of demanding that their imperialist compatriots should be thrown out of the colonies, of cultivating in the hearts of the workers in their own country a truly fraternal relationship to the working population in the colonies and to the oppressed nations, and of carrying out systematic propaganda among their own country’s troops against any oppression of colonial peoples.” 

The AWL's apologism for imperialism has long since meant they are way beyond infamy. To be honest such a gang hardly merits the expense of a bullet.

He was actually a bigger enemy of the Iranian workers
than was the Shah.  The mediaevalists backed by
imperialism, and the feudal regimes of the Gulf
are likewise the main enemy of Syria's workers. 
Their headline proclaims that Assad is the main enemy. But, for a Marxist that is not true. Assad's regime is state capitalist. As such it represents everything that capitalism, as a mode of production, represents, as a stage in history. That is, whatever its political regime, it is based upon all of those things that go along with the capitalist mode of production, i.e. the rationalism, and modernism that flowed from the Enlightenment. On the other hand, the jihadists opposing Assad, represent everything that went before that, they represent mediaevalism and mysticism. In a struggle between rationalism and modernism, and mediaevalism and mysticism, Marxists support the former against the latter.

Does support here mean that we have to be apologists for Assad, in the same way that the AWL are apologists for Imperialism and their jihadist allies? Absolutely not. Marx 'supported' the bourgeoisie against the feudal aristocracy on the same basis. We support modernism and rationalism because it represents the potential for progress to the future we desire, whereas the mediaevalism and mysticism that the jihadists represent only offers a regression to the past. The very worst of Capitalism, for a Marxist is always preferable to even the very best of feudalism, the worst of modernism is preferable to the very best of mediaevalism and mysticism.

No, Assad is not the main enemy in Syria, the jihadists are, and socialists should do all in their power to ensure their defeat. Staying quite whilst imperialism arms those jihadists for its own purposes, whilst it bombs the forces of the regime so that those forces are provided with a military advantage is not an option for a Marxist, even were it not a matter of the basic principle that Marxists oppose the actions of imperialism in such interventions.

The AWL say of the massive loss of life and devastation in Syria,

“The main responsibility for this utterly avoidable catastrophe belongs to the Syrian government and military.” 

But, that is not true. The Assad regime is vile, but it did not simply begin killing people and destroying the country on a whim. When the initial uprising of the Syrian people themselves began, the regime began to suppress them violently, but on nothing like the scale of what has happened over the last year or so. Under such conditions, as those which existed at the start of the uprising, Marxists always have to ask themselves the question about whether they have sufficient forces to carry through such a revolution, and what the costs of persisting will be.

Marx was right to warn the Paris workers in 1870 against
starting a revolution, because they were not yet ready.  He still
supported the Paris Commune, but as he feared, it ended in
defeat and the slaughter of tens of thousands of workers.
Sometimes, even when we conclude that it is not, we may have no choice if we are unable to control that movement. Marx advised in 1870 against the Parisian workers rising in revolt, because he felt they were not yet ready. But, when they did, as a revolutionary he naturally threw his support behind them. In the “July Days” in 1917, Lenin tried to hold the movement back for similar reasons. He was right, because the consequence of the “July Days” was a period of reaction when he and other Bolsheviks had to go into hiding. But, Marxists should not act like WWI Generals simply sending the forces of the working class over the top on every possible occasion to be slaughtered. We have a duty to try to preserve the forces of the working class, and to fight battles where possible only when we have a reasonable chance of victory.

The truth is that the forces of the working-class, and of the bourgeoisie in Syria were not strong enough to carry through a political revolution in Syria, just as, in fact, has turned out to be the case in Egypt, and Libya. In Tunisia, too, the bourgeois democratic political revolution is as tenuous as in Egypt. It is the organised force of the political-islamists there too that has won power, and the new polity is really just a different form of Bonapartism, where the final word has yet to be spoken. In to that vacuum in Syria stepped the jihadists, backed by the Sunni Gulf Monarchies, and imperialism for their own strategic reasons.

The real reason there has been such massive devastation and loss of life in Syria is not down to Assad's regime, it is down to the ferocity of the civil war waged by those jihadists, and by the mass of weapons those forces have been given by imperialism and its allies. As Trotsky put it opposing the same kinds of interventionists as the AWL,

“To speak of the 'liberation' of Macedonia, laid waste, ravaged, infected with disease from end to end, means either to mock reality or to mock oneself. Before our eyes a splendid peninsula, richly endowed by nature, which in the last few decades has made great cultural progress, is being hurled back with blood and iron into the dark age of famine and cruel barbarism. All the accumulations of culture are perishing, the work of fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers is being reduced to dust, cities are being laid waste, villages are going up in flames, and no end can yet be seen to this frenzy of destruction...Face to face with such reversions to barbarism it is hard to believe that 'man' is a proud sounding word. But at least the 'doctrinaires' have one consolation, and it is not small: they can with a clear conscience say, 'Neither by deed nor word nor thought are we guilty of this blood'” (The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky – The Balkan Wars 1912-13, p 332)

Trotsky speaks of "doctrinaires" here, because just as the AWL attack socialists for opposing imperialist intervention, their liberal equivalents in Trotsky's time, such as Miliukov and Kirillovic, accused socialists like Trotsky of being doctrinaires for their opposition to the intervention.

Trotsky opposed the reactionary nature of the Ottoman Empire, just as we should oppose the Assad regime today. But, Trotsky's opposition to Turkish rule did not commit him to support or even to refrain from opposing the imperialists that sought to intervene, for their own reasons in Macedonia, just as we should oppose the intervention of imperialism in Syria today. As Trotsky said,

“The Social Democrats of Austria denounce every step taken by their government toward intervention in the affairs of the Balkan Peninsula, expose the antipopular character of Austro-Hungarian imperialism, and demand the complete countermanding of mobilisation, which is ruinous to the people and fraught with bloody consequences.

Not in the thundering of guns and not in patriotic howling, but in this enlightening work carried on by the international proletariat do we find the best outcome of all mankind's previous efforts to emerge from darkness and savagery on to the road of free development.” (p 317)

Indeed, in the past the AWL have quoted from these writings of Trotsky. They cite his comment,

“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.” 

as justification of their refusal to oppose imperialist intervention. But, the hallmark of the AWL's bureaucratic centrism is the way it continually bowdlerises such comments to justify its latest zig-zag. In fact, far from speaking out to oppose atrocities, and thereby justify intervention, Trotsky's quote above is written from entirely the opposite perspective! The atrocities he is speaking of above, are not the atrocities committed by the Turkish regime, whose existence he by no means denied or excused, but were the atrocities of the 'liberation' forces! His statement here is a part of a series of statements opposing 'liberation' from above, and demanding vehement opposition to imperialist intervention!

But, when it comes to questions of opposing imperialism, the AWL are anti-Trotsky Trotskyists, just as when it comes to their statism and economism they are anti-Marx Marxists.

Trotsky goes on, in a piece of this statement that the AWL leave out,

“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’.” (p 293)

Trotsky's comment was written in opposition to the equivalent then of the AWL today, Pyotr Miliukov, a Russian liberal apologist for imperialist intervention, who like the AWL focussed only on the atrocities of the Turkish regime, and kept quiet about the atrocities of the 'liberation' forces and their imperialist backers.

Writing to Miliukov, Trotsky wrote,

“You defined your war as a crusade for civilisation against barbarism. You strove, with your pencils and scissors, to adjust all our telegrams and correspondence to those two categories. But now Europe will learn that the path of the crusading army was marked by crimes that must evoke shudders and nausea in every cultured person, in everyone capable of feeling and thinking.” (p 282-3)

Of course, Trotsky was no friend of the Turkish regime any more than socialists today can be friends of Assad's regime. But, the fact that we were in favour of Turkish despotism being dealt with, just as we are in favour of Assad's despotism being dealt with, does not mean that we are indifferent to how that is achieved.

“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.” (p 293-4)

The AWL say,

“Bashar Assad’s small ruling inner circle has chosen to reinforce and exploit sectarian divisions in Syria in order to cling on to power.”

In fact, the Syrian armed forces are drawn from across the sectarian divide, and although some defected to the Free Syrian Army, the vast majority have not. As part of a minority community, it would be stupid for Assad to foster sectarian divisions, because that would narrow his potential base of support. The real basis of sectarian division is that which has been generated by the foreign jihadists, backed by Al Qaeda and by viciously anti-Shia forces, who are also behind the upsurge in sectarian violence in Iraq. The real basis of sectarian violence in Syria, is the massive amount of weapons and jihadists fighters that have been sent into the country by the Gulf Monarchies as part of their geo-strategic proxy war with Iran.

It is notable that the AWL raise the demand for the withdrawal of the forces of Hezbollah and Iran from Syria, but they make no such call for the Sunni jihadists to be withdrawn, just as they actually welcomed the intervention of the forces of the Gulf States in Libya, even proclaiming that intervention by such feudal regimes was now one of the means by which bourgeois democracy was to be spread!!!!

The BBC put out this picture of rows of dead children's bodies
in Syria.  The trouble is, the picture was taken 10 years earlier, and is of
dead children's bodies in Iraq!!!
As in the past, the AWL simply trot out the claims of the jihadists and their imperialist backers that the chemical attack was carried out by Assad's regime. But, even British MP's were this time not happy with the “evidence” provided to support this allegation. The same seems to be true in the US, though Obama seems set not to even allow the US Congress to debate the matter, in case he gets the same bloody nose that has been inflicted on Cameron.

Before the Iraq War, a substantial amount of evidence was produced to show that Saddam had WMD, and action was required immediately. Of course, all of that substantial amount of evidence was simply bullshit, and cleverly presented lies, but at least it was substantial. The inept Cameron could not even do that. He came before the House of Commons with two sheets of A4. John Kerry with all of the US's massive array of surveillance and other spying paraphernalia, has come forward with nothing more. They seem to have been so ashamed of how little they had, they didn't even provide their British counterparts with a copy. Their evidence seems to consist of “common sense”, and a series of Youtube videos. But, of course, from the beginning Youtube videos have been part of the stock in trade of Al Qaeda, and the 'rebels' in these various conflicts.  The Youtube video they have not referenced is of those same jihadists sawing off the head of a Syrian Christian bishop with a bread knife.  But, these are the forces the AWL wants to see US bombing help take power in Syria!

Even the British Joint Intelligence Committee, admitted they could find no rational explanation as to why Assad's regime would use chemical weapons when they are winning the civil war, and when they knew it would lead to an attack by the US. The US intelligence agencies themselves cannot give an affirmative assurance that the regime actually did carry out the attack, only a statement that its likely that they did.   Even Friday's FT quotes the many questions about the evidence, including that of a US chemical and biological weapons expert who asked why it was that first responders at the scene appeared to be wearing normal street clothes, not bio-hazard suits??  Yet, the AWL are happy to provide a justification for bombing to begin!

The AWL ridicule Galloway for his alleged comment about chemical weapons being provided by Israel. In reality, the jihadists could have obtained them from anywhere. But, Galloway's argument is no less legitimate than the logic of their own argument that it must have been the regime, despite the fact that it must have known that such an attack would provide just the excuse imperialism needed to intervene. In the end the question of who was responsible is irrelevant, because both sides are equally vile and capable of carrying out such atrocities. The issue of responsibility here does not change the basic responsibility of socialists in such situations, or what our prescription is to deal with the situation.

In the end, as Trotsky said in relation to the Balkans, only the peoples of the area can sort it out for themselves, and our responsibility is to oppose the intervention of imperialism, or of the Gulf Monarchies, or other expansionist powers such as those of Iran, Turkey, Russia and China.

As I'm writing, Russia has several warships stationed in the Mediterranean of the coast of North Africa. Russia has provided Syria with anti-ship missiles and other defensive equipment. If the US launches Cruise Missiles against Syria illegally, without a UN mandate, the Russian ships would be entitled to shoot them down. If it does so, what then? If those Russian ships follow the US example, and launch an attack on Israel chemical weapons facilities as part of a duty to protect the Palestinians from future attacks, what then? The US says it intends only a limited action. Yeah, like there was only a no fly zone in Libya. Syria, as a sovereign state has the right to defend itself if attacked. If it sinks a US warship that sends Cruise Missiles against it, what then? The FT report that the UK Ministry of Defence had already drawn up plans for the likelihood that if Britain attacked Syria, then Syria would launch Scud missiles against the UK military base at Akritiri in Cyprus.

In similar circumstances, in the Balkans, Trotsky wrote,

“But the majority of politicians, while quite properly refusing the Great Powers the right to make any claims on the Balkans, desire at the same time that Russia should help, arms in hand, the Balkan peoples to reorganise the Balkans as these leading political personalities would like the Balkans to be. This hope, or this demand, may become the source of great mistakes and great misfortunes. I say nothing about the fact that this approach to the question transforms the Balkan War into a conscious provocation to a measuring of strength on the all-European scale, which can mean nothing short of a European War. And, however dear to us the fate of the young Balkan peoples, however warmly we wish for them the best possible development of cultured existence on their own soil, there is one thing we must tell them plainly and honestly, as we must tell ourselves: We do not want, and we are unable to put our own cultural development at risk. Bismark once said that the whole Balkan Peninsula was not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. We too can say today: If the leading parties of the Balkans, after all their sad experience of European intervention, can see no other way of settling the fate of the Balkans but a fresh European intervention, the results of which no one can foreordain, then their political plans are indeed not worth the bones of a single infantryman from Kursk. That may sound harsh, but it is the only way that this tragic question can be seen by any honest democratic politician who thinks not only of today but also of tomorrow.” (pp 153-4)

He was right the Balkan Wars were the prelude to the slaughter of World War I.  Still less today in an era of potential nuclear annihilation can socialists simply stand back while imperialism once again throws its weight around. The fact that the AWL are happy to proclaim their refusal to oppose imperialism shows just how far they are from being socialists.

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