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For a New Internationalism. Daphne Lawless (Fightback, New Zealand/Australia).

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For a new internationalism.

Anti-authoritarian forces have organised their own international units within the Territorial Defence Force of Ukraine. Image from Resistance Committee.

By DAPHNE LAWLESS. Written for Fightback’s magazine issue on Organisation

This is an important article. Posting only the first part we urge people to read the full piece linked to above. Many of the arguments, presented clearly by Daphne Lawless, will be shared by those of the internationalist left in these Isles, and in other parts of Europe. The following will receive a wide echo, “We reject the campist attempt to pretend that the kleptocrats in Moscow or the bureaucrats in Beijing are allies of the oppressed of the earth – just as we reject its liberal/neoconservative flipside, the belief that Washington bullets and Brussels banks will bring global freedom.”

Fightback says, “We implore the internationalist socialists and anti-capitalists in Ukraine, Europe, the United States and elsewhere to urgently come together – firstly, for practical solidarity for the struggles in Ukraine and other peoples under attack by Western as well as non-Western imperialism; and building out of that, to share experiences and build infrastructure that could create a new global unity. A global conference of socialist internationalists – online and in-person – might be a good first practical step.”

The Kurdish struggle and solidarity with the people of Iran against the Islamic Republic further illustrate the need for international solidarity.

I.                Once again, against campism

Fightback proudly positions itself as a socialist internationalist publication. Since 2015, we have set ourselves against what we call campism:

the metaphor that the world is divided into several military “camps”, with the largest being the Western camp led by the United States. Therefore, any government which disagrees with American foreign policy – no matter how oppressive to its own people, or however wedded to neoliberal market economics – can be supported. These governments are even called “anti-imperialist” – as if there were only one imperialism, that of the Western bloc.[1]

These politics have led a significant section of the activist Left – in Australasia and elsewhere – to endorse the Syrian state’s brutal crushing of the democracy movement; to support Chinese suppression of protests in Hong Kong and attempted genocide of Uighurs; and, most recently, to defend Russia’s incompetent but still deadly military intervention in Ukraine. Or, alternatively, to conduct a shamefaced “whatabout” defence of all those actions – even if they are bad, so the line goes, Western imperialism is always the central issue. Therefore, any uprising or struggle against a State which poses as hostile to the USA/”the West” must be assumed to be part of Western imperialism’s schemes, if not an outright CIA plot. Therefore, we must support “the other guys” – whatever their brutal track record or antipathy to basic human rights, let alone socialism.

Campism, we believe, is based on a fatal misconception about how the global order works. That misconception is that Western imperialism is the basis for global capitalism, rather than the other way around. Once you believe that, then it follows that weakening Western imperialism – towards some kind of capitalist “multipolarity”, with Moscow or Beijing getting the upper hand over Washington, London and Brussels – is the necessary precondition for pushing back against capitalism. Which means judging every single struggle by whether “the West” supports it – if so, we must be against it. As British-Lebanese journalist Joey Ayoub puts it: “The term anti-imperialism became a shorthand for people who actually mean multipolarity. They’re not against imperialism. They just want other powers to do that.”[2]

This sophisticated geopolitics often fails to convince, due to basic human empathy for the oppressed and suffering. The more degraded campists are then forced to resort to what experts in domestic violence call DARVO – Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.[3] This aims to counteract the impulse to solidarity by portraying the apparent victims of violence as in fact the bad guys. Hence, fighters for a Free Syria become “ISIS-like headchoppers”, who gassed their own children to make Russia look bad. Ukraine is not a country with an ugly Nazi subculture – like almost all capitalist nations – but an actual Nazi state which wants to exterminate all Russian-speakers (whose president, interestingly, is a Russian-speaking Jew).[4]

The disinformation required to maintain this bubble of “alternative facts” is readily supplied by Western activists and journalists (and the occasional rock star) who identify as Left-wing, but who – like their counterparts on the Trumpist or anti-vaxxer Right – happily use faked evidence, bad logic, the war propaganda of non-Western authoritarians, or outright smears to support their predetermined geopolitics of “West always to blame”. The campist Left have developed a media culture which resembles nothing less than the “information bubble” in which the Trumpist right or anti-vaxxers live. Journalism from outside the bubble is rejected as “MSM/state lies”, while non-Western state media and shadily-funded attack websites such as The GrayzoneGlobal Research or MintPress are taken as trustworthy sources.

The predominance of these beliefs – and the unwillingness to openly debate them – led Fightback to withdraw from the Organise Aotearoa project.[5] But contrary to what those not familiar with the activist-Left subculture might suppose, these beliefs are not restricted to those who self-identify as Marxist-Leninists, or even “tankies”. They are the common sense of many veterans of the progressive Left in this country, especially those grouped around The Daily Blog – for example, veteran activist John Minto or former Alliance MP Matt Robson – or this country’s major Left-wing podcast, 1 of 200.[6]

In contrast, Fightback believes that solidarity with all the oppressed and deprived is not only a moral duty, but the basic step in building a global movement to replace capitalism and imperialism. This requires us to see things from the point of view of those struggling for their lives and freedom, not from the viewpoint of which imperialist team might score points. In this sense, our job is not so much to oppose Russia, certainly not to back “the West”, and not even to support “Ukraine”; but to help Ukrainians resisting genocide – and indeed, to oppose their own government when it claws back their rights. We support the Ukrainian struggle despite the Zelenskyy government and the fascist fringe represented by the Azov regiment, just as we support Palestinian struggle despite the reactionary agenda and anti-Semitism of Hamas. Our solidarity lies always and everywhere with the people whose lives and dignity are under attack. Accordingly, Fightback has given material aid to leftist and anti-authoritarian militias resisting Russian aggression, rather than to Ukrainian state forces.

We do not accept the argument that it is “colonialism” or “white saviourism” for activists in the Western states to do anything but oppose “our own state”. On the contrary, we maintain that – despite its pretences at being “anti-colonial” – campism is itself actually a disguised form of Western chauvinism. How else can we describe refusing support to the oppressed fighting back against their oppressors, unless they can be seen to benefit the Western left in its struggle against “its own” ruling class? How else can we describe Ukrainian socialists who defend their right to receive arms (from whatever source) to defend their lives and homes being called “imperialists” or even “Nazis” by well-fed American socialists?[7] Quite apart from being morally repulsive, this tarnishes the reputation, not only of the Western left, but of the very concept of socialism itself, in the eyes of oppressed and exploited people worldwide. What are Ukrainians under fire supposed to think, when reactionaries like Boris Johnson come to their aid, while socialists like Jeremy Corbyn try to “both-sides” the conflict, and excuse Russia’s destruction and pillaging as something that NATO made them do?

We understand that one imperialist power will only help those oppressed by another if by doing so it furthers its own selfish interests. But we do not consider these inter-imperialist wranglings to be the central issue. We do not assume the right to tell any peoples in struggle what forms of help they are permitted to receive, if they want our own support; we might of course warn them that Western help always comes with strings attached, but amazingly enough, they usually already understand that. We reject the campist attempt to pretend that the kleptocrats in Moscow or the bureaucrats in Beijing are allies of the oppressed of the earth – just as we reject its liberal/neoconservative flipside, the belief that Washington bullets and Brussels banks will bring global freedom.

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Written by Andrew Coates

December 8, 2022 at 1:26 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Apart from the use of “liberal” as a pejorative and the reference to “Brussels banks”, I completely endorse this.

    februarycallendar

    December 8, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    • Agree, I could also do with some clarity about Israel and Palestine, as I, like, for example, the AWL, back the two state position.

      Andrew Coates

      December 8, 2022 at 4:45 pm


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