The “Poisoned Chalice” of National Liberation?
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Many years ago the left-wing sectarian group, of which I was a member, supported the Mullahs in Iran in their “anti-imperialist” stance whilst, at the same time, these Mullahs were jailing, torturing and murdering men and women who had devoted their lives to the struggle for socialism. We were actually supporting a regime that was destroying our real socialist comrades in Iran. Such an outlook is not socialist but more a radical liberal position. The proletariat is a global class. We must, of course, oppose the predations of the major capitalist powers (and we must organise against them ‘at home’) but that does not automatically mean that we support such regimes as the theocracy in Iran, Hamas in Gaza, etc, which articulate class interests other than those of the proletariat in their ‘own’ regions. At best, such support must be conditional and tactical. Sometimes I think we tend to forget that religious movements can also serve to articulate class interests. Islamism is no different from any other religious movement in this respect. What are the class interests being articulated at this point in the war in Syria by different internal and external ‘parties’, etc? Whose class interests are articulated in the Islamist crusade of the Jihadists?
We must always look to the proletariat as a class in and for itself and those socialist forces in these parts of the globe. This is what we must do in relation to Iran, which has a long and rich tradition of proletarian struggle and socialism. This is the only consistent way in which we, as a class, can further and develop our interests globally. To build links with the organisations of our class all over the world. And not just in the major centres of power of capital and its state. And not to tie ourselves to the coat-tails of the local nationalist, “anti-imperialist”, bourgeoisie. In the end, if ‘push comes to shove’, this bourgeoisie will always fall back on the major capitalist powers for assistance. The nationalist bourgeoisie in the non-metropolitan lands would form alliances with global capital – with all the subordination which that involves – rather than be subject to the rule of the proletariat.
We need to address the question of class politics in the relationship between the major capitalist powers and those ‘nations’ which they wish to subordinate. We need to become conscious of class antagonisms in places like Iran, Palestine, etc. And become conscious of these class antagonisms becoming buried under the nationalist muck of radical, ‘anti-imperialist’ liberalism and the gloss of the so-called “anti-imperialist” struggle.
I was a member of the WRP in Britain (Workers Revolutionary Party) from 1976 to 1985. We supported any struggle that was vaguely “anti-imperialist”: Gaddafi, Idi Amin, Arafat, Saddam, Khomeini, Galtieri (the fascist dictator in Argentina) during the Malvinas war, etc. Later – when we drove the serial sexual abuser Gerry Healy out of the WRP – we discovered that some of these bloodthirsty regimes had been funding the party on condition of its support. The relationship was totally corrupt and degenerate to the core. We proceeded on the basis of a formalised definition of “National Liberation” divorced from class politics. This way of proceeding was mediated by the corruption of the relationship between the WRP and the regimes which it supported, justifying the worst forms of oppression and atrocities against communists and socialists.
The unfolding events of the “Arab Spring” are instructive here. In my opinion, the proletariat and its organisations now have more room for manoeuvre now that Ben Ali, Mubarak, etc, are gone. Of course, many limitations remain but overall I think we need to see the ‘Arab Spring’ as a step forward in the struggle for democratic rights which are an essential part of any environment for the proletariat to freely organise within. The right to assemble, circulate literature/ideas etc, form independent trade unions and organise strikes, demonstrate without fear of arrest and being shot at, etc. Establishing democratic rights and toppling the state power of capital are distinct but not separable aspects of the struggle for socialism. But the support for the realisation of these aims must be linked to the realisation of the historic interests of the proletarian class.
Revolutions do not unfold according to dictionary definitions or straight line graphs. They are real living struggles containing all the contradictions and cultural baggage of the place and age. All revolutions unfold as dialectical movements beyond the old and, so accordingly, tend to turn back on themselves and are forced to return to situations which appear to be what they have just transcended. But contained within this ‘spiralling’, returning movement, there is always an irreversible advance beyond the old. It may appear that Egypt has returned to a “New Mubarak” in El-Sisi but an advance has undoubtedly been made on the trajectory of the whole historical spiral.
My thoughts are with all those brave men and women and their families who have sacrificed their lives to get this far in the Arab uprisings. The police and goonsquads just gunned them down. Every day that passes, in Syria, we hear of the terrible, most disturbing, slaughter and mass murder of people, children, their pets and domesticated animals in their communities by death squads, even babes in arms and toddlers. People and their kids simply butchered in cold blood. No medicines, painkillers, drugs, etc, to treat the injured. It is truly disturbing and upsetting. We must stand full square behind the Arab proletariat and they will decide themselves how to conduct their struggles. I doubt if they will consult any of the left-wing sectarian groups on the fringes in Europe.
Global capital and its chief personifications are very pragmatic in their approach to the ‘Arab regimes’. As long as their economic, (capital investments/ market access and dominance, oil, etc) and geostrategic/geopolitical interests (Zionist state, access to the Gulf, etc) are guaranteed and safeguarded in the region, they are open to regime change. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves why they supported the intervention in Libya but have not intervened militarily in Syria? The use of nerve gas by Assad and the interests of the Zionist state seemed to have motivated them to threats. What are the economic/geostrategic objectives to be realised by an invasion of Syria, with all the deaths of US soldiers which that would entail?
I remember when they stabbed Ferdinand and Imelda (of the 1000 shoes) Marcos in the back in the Phillipines when Corazon Aquino – despite all the populist bluster – guaranteed US interests in the region. After all, Pragmatism is the philosophy/outlook, par excellence, of the American bourgeoisie and Realpolitik is merely its political expression in the global arena. But, of course, firmly rooted in the interests of US global capital. If some major US-based transnationals were located in Syria and if it were floating on a sea of oil, mineral resources, etc, or the region was of fundamental geostrategic importance, the US military would already be in Syria.