Michael Voss (IV, September 14) says that it is "unusual" for him to vote for the transport of weapons from the Danish to the Iraqi government.
However the vote was limited to one plane carrying weapons for Kurdish militias. For legal reasons the weapons must go through the puppet regime in Bagdad and then to a regional Kurdish government hostile to left forces, but the likelihood was (comrade Voss believes) that they would reach the intended groups.
Many socialists would use a much harsher term than “unusual” in relation to the Danish decision. Michael says that Kurdish groups lobbied for such a vote, but his main argument is one of common purpose. Revolutionary socialists want to see the defeat of IS and so also do the imperialist powers.
The weapons vote was put to the test right away. The Danish parliament voted to send fighter aircraft to the region, establishing Denmark as a full member of an imperialist blitzkrieg. In the meantime the constant manoeuvres of the different powers around the battle for Kobane has established that containing IS is not the only aim of imperialism in the area. The US has provided arms to the defenders, but this is in a context where they have been politically vetting organisations to selectively arm the most pro-western groups and where they have restricted arms to allow containment of groups such as IS without allowing the recipients to become self-sufficient in arms.
A confused approach
Michael Voss then argued that:
“The two different votes (for the transport of arms, against the jet fighters) are in line with the basic approach that the RGA want to support local progressive forces fighting ISIL or other reactionary armies, but that the party opposes US, UK or Danish direct military intervention whether is bombing campaigns or ground forces. That is also the reason that the RGA – also on 1 October - tabled a proposal in parliament that Denmark help to supply weapons and humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Kurdish/multi-ethnic areas in Northern Syria. A few days later the RGA itself started collecting money for weapons to the Kurds.”
To some extent the Danish view is supported by the majority of articles in International Viewpoint. In an unsigned "analysis" " - in reality a collection of news cuttings – in IV on 1st October makes a number of assertions;
That these bombing are an attempt by Western imperialist forces and regional regimes led by Saudi Arabia to reimpose their hegemony over the region. We agree.
That the only political groups that will benefit from these bombings are the two sides of the counter revolutions: the Assad regime[s] on one side and the reactionary Islamic and Jihadist political forces.
Moreover the regime sees a chance to regain “legitimacy” with the West as part of an alliance in the War against Terrorism. We agree.
However the foundation of the Danish perspective is laid when the article says that while many opposition groups oppose the imperialist bombing. FSA and Kurdish coordinations call on the international community to assist them militarily. The imperialists want to use the opposition but groups such as the FSA resist this because they want a guarantee that Assad will be removed.
… “In this perspective it is necessary to defend a local dynamic of self-defence rather than increasing stranglehold of imperialism and therefore we should also support the provision of weapons and arms to these democratic forces in the region to combat both counter revolutionary forces. These are important element that could empower the democratic forces on the ground and give them the tools to defend them”
“For the people who feel not at ease with the fact of demanding arms and weapons with no political conditions attached from the West” we get a duff quote from Trotsky that shows a common fault in recent analysis – that is taking historical advice by Trotsky, Lenin et al to organised proletarian forces and presenting it as justification in a perspective where the working class and its interests as a class are nowhere discussed.
The article goes on to argue that “a third progressive and democratic front gathering the objectives of the revolutions (democracy, social justice and equality) and able to oppose all foreign imperialist and sub imperialist forces have not been able yet to constitute itself as a credible alternative political force until now for the masses on the regional basis. All efforts should be put forward to build this third democratic and progressive alternative”.
A similar analysis, using exactly the same formulation, in an identical text to the above paragraph, was put forward on 10 October by Joseph Daher, member of the Syrian revolutionary Left.
The same sign as the bourgeoisie?
“Comments and discussion” by François Sabado (IV Tuesday 30 September 2014) also falls back on quotation: "In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal”
This comment is taken so far out of context that it seems to suggest the opposite of what it originally meant.
For Francois Sabado the key element of the situation is its complexity. Imperialism has no pre-determined plan and the powers have intervened in an emergency. The many conflicts in the area are partly the consequence of destructive imperialist intervention and also their weakening and decline following on from defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The democratic risings caused hesitations and changes of position. From the point of view of imperialism Daesh (IS) has gone too far. For the people the enemy is above all Daesh.
“So, can we support progressive Syrian and Kurdish sectors who are asking our governments to help them? Our criterion is the preservation of human life and the rights of peoples. And in this case, there is no hesitation”
Any suggestion of hesitation is certainly absent from Sarah Parker of the British section, who writes:
The representatives of the people of Kobani have been demanding that Nato members / EU countries restrain Turkey and supply the People’s Protection Units (YPG) with heavy weapons...
...There has been some debate on the left on the issues of arms for Kobani.... Common sense suggests it would be wise for EU and Nato members to swallow their fear of the influence of the Kurdish movement in Turkey and Syria, and to press Turkey to allow the corridor (for Kurdish reinforcements) to open.
A Class analysis
From the viewpoint of Socialist Democracy in Ireland the fact that the long history of socialist analysis of imperialism, which we have relied on over 5 decades, is to be replaced by this sort of ”common sense” is a dreadful indication of the weakness of the socialist movement and an indication of its incapacity to intervene politically in support of a working class programme.
There are profound errors and misjudgements that pervade all the commentaries and analysis that we have read so far in IV. These centre around the approach to imperialism, to the working class and to the tasks of solidarity.
A lot of the complexity that François Sabado reads into the actions of imperialism can be avoided if we ask what are the class interests of the imperialists in the Middle East? Once we ask that question the answer is reasonably self-evident. Their interest is in stability – in the status quo ante. They want a region with Israel as the central nuclear armed gendarme, the Arab masses crushed between reactionary feudal structures and military dictatorships and the structures underpinned by sectarian divisions and rivalry.
The US reaction to the various uprisings then becomes extremely coherent. They save the existing regime when they can, sacrifice the dictator and incorporate elements of the opposition where they must, sponsor sectarian fundamentalism as a way of weakening the opposition and are willing, if needs must, to accept Jihadists if that is the only alternative to a genuinely anti-imperialist government.
To see Daesh/IS as a laboratory experiment that has now got to be suppressed is, I believe, a mistaken perspective. The process we are dealing with is less the rise of IS and more the absolute collapse of the structures of imperialist rule in Iraq. The US put together a puppet government where the only criteria for office was sectarian advantage and is surprised when soldiers refuse to fight for it, the army collapses and Sunni tribes support rebellion. The first response is to mobilise Shia militia who carry out the sort of atrocities that are supposed to put IS beyond the pale and to sponsor another puppet government in Iraq, also committed to perpetuating sectarian division. IS, it is claimed, is the chief enemy, but there is little mention or concern around the role of Saudi Arabia, the breeding ground and sponsor of a conveyor belt of Jihadi movements from Al-Qaeda onwards.
A class analysis must also look at the class interests of the working class and how these can be achieved. From this perspective again we can establish that a successful “Arab Spring” – that is a bourgeois democratic revolution – is a highly unlikely outcome. There are few significant layer of the bourgeoisie in support of democracy. There are many in the middle class who would wish an end to endemic corruption and repression, but from the point of view of the majority of this layer the only viable mechanism for winning democratic reform is the sponsorship of the imperialist powers. When this sponsorship is not forthcoming the choice returns to military dictatorship, or feudal rule/the rule of the mullahs.
The uprisings around the Arab spring were an outcome of spontaneous action by the working class and oppressed. After global defeats since the fall of the USSR the levels of self-organisation are low and there is no revolutionary party or movement to articulate a programme of socialism. However the task of building such parties, of articulating a programme of socialism, although enormously difficult, represents a line of march which is actually more realistic than one of tail-ending existing democratic consciousness.
One does not have to go far to understand the inspiration that is to be gained from the democratic society that the Kurds built around Kobane and their heroic resistance to IS, but it should be clear that this inspiration does not translate into a mechanism for the overthrow of the edifice of imperialist power that dominates the region.
Full mobilisation of the working class and oppressed, the building of unity between the Middle East and workers in Europe and the Americas, is required and that requires a revolutionary programme of the working class.
From such a perspective the tasks of solidarity take on a new dimension. They are not motivated solely by humanitarian concern but are rather common tasks generated by our common role as members of the working class against a common enemy. In the present state of the working class organisations that task is primarily political.
This was at the heart of the article by Trotsky from which comrade Sabado quotes. The mobilisation of workers in the imperialist countries was to be conducted in a flexible nuanced way which defended a hypothetical workers’ uprising in Algeria or Belgium in a concrete, specific way that defended that uprising by both allowing the transport of arms to the workers in revolt and by preventing the transport of weapons that would be used against it. The approach advocated by Danish socialists does neither. It is the equivalent of allowing the British government to transport weapons to ‘the Irish’ without for a moment thinking about the ways in which the British would defend their own interests.
Trotsky‘s letter was directed against sectarian dogmatism, but the flip side of that is the kind of gross opportunism that allows imperialism to send weapons in to a zone they are engaged in and where they then control who the weapons are distributed to, with the cost that we concede to workers the possibility that imperialism can play a progressive role on the world stage.
The idea that any current socialist movement can provide significant quantities of arms or money is fantasy. Movements such as the Kurds should arm themselves however they can by any means necessary. Part of our role is to warn that imperialism gives no-one a free lunch, to point to the open vetting of opposition groups in Syria in order to gradually construct client and puppet structures and to restrict arms so that the struggle is contained in a perspective of finding a compromise with the Assad regime.
We also have a duty to workers in Denmark, France and so on. That is above all to open their eyes to the fact that the blood-drenched monsters that manoeuvre to deny rights to the workers of Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Syria etc. are also the monsters who rule at home. To speak of the Danish or French governments as “our” governments is a criminal miseducation. To suggest that they should not intervene directly but can play a useful role through indirect intervention is a profound error.
Michael Voss says his position is unusual. The unsigned author of the “analysis” says we must reject “hermetically sealed formula, which excludes fresh air” and use our imagination to see that the situation in Syria today resembles a conquest of state power by the proletariat in Belgium. François Sabado refers to the “ten cases out of a hundred” where the proletariat put a plus as does the bourgeoisie.
These are all claims of exceptionalism. The writers are aware that there is existing Marxist theory that is in counterposition to their argument so they say that this situation sits outside the existing schema. The problem is that exceptionalism is the new normal – Brazil, Italy, Germany, Denmark, France, Lybia, Iraq, Syria – all are exceptions – all examples where popular fronts and revolutionary stages can be substituted for the methods of the transitional programme.
Socialist Democracy asserts our opposition to this new normal. In the battle between jihad and military repression we see no need to rally around the flag of a “third democratic and progressive alternative” when our duty as socialists is to both assert our commitment to democratic rights while raising the flag of the working class and a socialist future.