Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Yes, Protest The Russian Embassy

Yesterday, Boris Johnson said that people should be protesting outside the Russian Embassy, in London, against the bombing of civilians, in Aleppo, by Russian and Syrian warplanes. He's right. Socialists should be protesting the brutal actions of Putin and Assad, but we can make no common cause with people like Johnson, in undertaking such protests. Johnson represents a government, which along with its NATO allies, has been responsible for widespread, murderous attacks on civilians across the globe, including the use of cruise missiles, and other such weapons of mass destruction, and the use of depleted uranium munitions, whose terrible effects will continue to affect people for generations to come, just as did the use of Agent Orange, by the US, in Vietnam.

Socialists should protest the brutal actions of Putin and Assad's forces. Johnson's criticism of people like the Stop The War Coalition, who fail to protest, or even criticise, the actions of any of those reactionary forces, ranged against the reactionary forces of western imperialism, effectively place themselves in the camp of one set of reactionary forces as opposed to the other. They make themselves, at the least, passive dupes of reactionaries like Putin or Assad, or Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian Mullahs and so on. They are a mirror image of those like the AWL, who make themselves willing dupes of imperialism, in such conflicts. Both, are the result of the same Third Campist, petit-bourgeois, moralistic approach to politics, which starts from a moral imperative of some worthy aim – opposition to imperialism in one case, opposition to anti-democratic, authoritarianism in the other – rather than the Marxist imperative to defend and advance the cause of the global working-class, and to build its unity, self-activity and self government.

Both groups, thereby place the fate of the working-class in the hands of some alien class force, having lost faith in the working-class itself to be the vehicle of progressive change, or at least faith in its ability to provide solutions to immediate problems. Trotsky warned against such an approach long ago. In his writings on the Balkan Wars, for example, he wrote that even where imperialist forces intervene in such situations to overturn some existing set of reactionary conditions – in that case the oppression of peoples within the Ottoman Empire – they do so for their own reasons, and so even the end result of their actions can never be the end result that we as socialists seek. Moreover, we never advocate that the working-class should passively rely on, or fail to oppose the intervention of our class enemies in such situations, rather than advocating the building of working-class unity, and self-activity. Eighty years after the Battle of Cable Street, we should remember that lesson.

Democracy has no right, political or moral, to entrust the organisation of the Balkan peoples to forces that are outside its control – for it is not known when and where these forces will stop, and democracy, having once granted them the mandate of its political confidence, will be unable to check them.” (Trotsky – War Correspondence, The Balkan Wars 1912-13, p 148-52)

...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.” (ibid, p 293-4)

It is necessary to vindicate the possibility for these peoples themselves to settle their own affairs, not only as they wish and see fit but also by their own strength, in the land where they are established. This means that European democracy has to combat every attempt to subject the fate of the Balkans to the ambitions of the Great Powers.” (ibid, p 148)

Bourgeois politicians, like Johnson, and the liberal interventionists point to Syria as an example of what happens when western imperialism fails to intervene in such situations, as an antidote to the criticism of their disastrous adventures in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. But, in doing so they lie. A large part of the problems currently existing in the Middle East stem from the original intervention of western colonialism in the region, and the carving up of the region into countries that met the requirements of those colonial powers, rather than being based on any consideration of tribal, ethnic or religious divisions. It was as Trotsky describes in relation to the Balkans a solution imposed from above.

The more immediate problem emanating from the growth of ISIS, and other Islamist organisations, is itself a consequence of the fostering of such organisations by the US, for its own global strategic interests. It was the US that encouraged the growth of Bin Laden and the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan to oppose the Russian backed regime in Kabul, during the 1980's. It was the US, via the CIA that utilised Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to turn the facscistic, criminal thugs of the KLA, into a more effective terrorist organisation in Serbia, to stir up ethnic tensions in Kosovo, to undermine the Serbian regime, and thereby weaken Russian influence in the region. It is US, UK, and French armaments shipped to the regime in Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf Monarchies that has enabled them to oppress their own populations, and to arm and finance the Wahhabist militants that have spread across the globe, as the breeding ground of Islamist terror.

It was the intervention of the US and UK in Iraq that opened the door to sectarian division of the country, and enabled the Islamists to walk into the resulting vacuum. It was the lying words of the UK, US and EU in calling for a no-fly zone in Libya, which turned into them undertaking tens of thousands of bombing runs, and cruise missile attacks to overthrow Gaddafi, which opened the door to the establishment of the Islamist reign of terror there. Moreover, the talk of war crimes by Russia and Assad, are wholly hypocritical coming from politicians and regimes that undertook the three month long intensive bombardment, and massacre of the people of Sirte!

But, the claim that the US, and UK have not been intervening in Syria is itself a lie, even prior to their more recent bombing of ISIS. The fact is that it is only the prospect of such intervention, based on the past intervention in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, that has led to small groups of people undertaking adventures to overthrow regimes without the necessary social forces to succeed. They do so in the expectation that imperialism will come to their aid, and do the work for them that their own resources cannot achieve. And, in Syria, it was the West's allies in the gulf monarchies that directly financed, trained and armed the Islamist terror groups acting in Syria. NATO member Turkey allowed a free flow of Islamist terrorists, not just from Islamic states, but also from the US and Europe into Syria to undertake such activity. They were given tacit sanction, and often safe harbour, by the Islamist regime in Turkey itself, just as in the 1980's, the US utilised the Islamist regime in Pakistan to channel terrorists and arms into Afghanistan to fight the Russians.

The US and its allies have utilised Islamist terror groups to further their own global strategic interests, and they bear the responsibility for the vile atrocities that those terrorist organisations have inflicted. But, as Trotsky pointed out in his writings on the Balkan Wars, the fact that such conflicts see terrible atrocities on one side, does not mean that socialists can ignore or fail to oppose the atrocities committed on the other, even where they are committed by forces that claim to be acting to promote “liberation”. In the Balkans, it was the “liberal interventionist” forces of Russia, that claimed to be liberating the people's of the area from the Oriental despotism of the Ottomans. It was those liberating forces that claimed the moral high ground for themselves, and their imperialist apologists who censored the criticism of the atrocities committed by the “liberating” forces.

Trotsky wrote about the atrocities committed by such “liberal intervention”.

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. 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)

Liberation”, for the people of Syria, and for the rest of that region cannot be handed to them from above, by the actions of imperialistic “liberal interventionist forces”. It can only be won by the masses of that region themselves, with the active support of the global working-class. If we had, at least, a functioning socialist internation across Europe, it would be a powerful force to throw its weight behind the masses of Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, and so on, not only to fight for a democratic solution to their problems, but also for a sustainable solution based upon the formation of a Middle East Federation of states, in the same way that Trotsky argued for the Balkans. It would be able to throw its weight behind the working-class of Russia, suffering under the heel of Putin's authoritarian regime.

Where the solution does not lie, is in demands for western imperialism to impose solutions from above, such as the proposal for a “no-fly zone”. Who exactly would impose and police this no-fly zone? In reality, it is simply a demand for Putin and Assad to give up their current dominant position, and to hand it over to the US and NATO. That will never happen, and any attempt to impose such a no-fly zone, whilst Russina planes continue to fly, in the area, is an open invitation for the start of World War III!.

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.” (ibid pp 153-4)

Lenin made a similar point,

“The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected...

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.” 

(Lenin - The Discussion On Self-Determination Summed Up)

However much we may sympathise with the plight of the Syrian people, we cannot risk the possibility of a conflict between Russia and its allies, with the US and NATO, because that would threaten not just the interests of the global working-class that must come first, but the future of humanity itself.

By all means we should protest outside the Russian Embassy, and the Syrian Embassy against the atrocities they are committing in Syria. But, we should also protest outside the US Embassy, outside the UK Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office, as well as outside the Saudi and other Gulf State Embassies against their own acts of barbarism and support for the terrorists operating across the Middle East.

The solution to the problems in the region lies with the working-class of that region, and the support that can be given to it, by the global working-class. That is the movement we should be building, not simply protest movements against western imperialism. Such a movement has to openly criticise an oppose the reactionaries like Putin and Assad on the other side, who form part of the problem not the solution.

Trotsky, who argued the need to oppose the liberal intervention, was criticised as a "doctrinaire", by those liberal politicians, but a hundred years on, the words of Trotsky in relation to the “liberation” of the Balkans, still resonate in what we see today of the supposed “liberation” of Syria.

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'” (loc.cit. p 332)

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