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Raising Atlantis? Review: The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited, Sean Matgamna. Workers’ Liberty. 2015.

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Raising Atlantis?

Review: The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited Sean Matgamna. Workers’  Liberty. 2015.

“Les bruits lointains d’une atlantide disparue, de cette ville d’Ys engloutie que chacun porte en soi.”

The distant sounds of a vanished Atlantis, of that sunken city that everybody carries inside.

Ernest Renan. Souvenirs d’enfance et de Jeunesse. 1883.

Ten years after the 1989-91 fall of Soviet-bloc Communism, Perry Anderson wrote, launching the Second Series of New Left Review (NLR) that, there was “no longer any significant oppositions” “within the thought world of the West”. The governing and intellectually dominant neo-liberalism had no rival on the radical left. Amongst the aftershocks of the collapse of the USSR, “Virtually the entire horizon of reference” for his generation on the left, “the landmarks of reformist and revolutionary socialism”, Bebel, Bernstein, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Jaurès, Lukács, Lenin, Gramsci and Trotsky, have been “wiped away”. For students they had become “as remote as a list of Arian bishops.” (1)

The second volume of The Fate of the Russian Revolution is, like the first, aimed at re-establishing, in the face of Anderson’s verdict, the present day importance of one of those distant figures, Leon Trotsky In his Introduction to The Two Trotskyisms Sean Matgamna draws how own parallel with the heresiarch Arias and his followers. The reference is not, as one might expect, to the unequal contest between the founder of the Fourth International’s circle of supporters and Stalin’s Established Marxism-Leninist Church. It is to disputes within the Trotskyist movement, “The Heterodox were the Arians, and the Orthodox the Catholics of post-Trotsky Trotskyism.” The leader of the – ‘heterodox’ Trotskyist – Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) argues that this division, which originated in the 1940s, amongst those who “embodied the great truths of Marxism” the only “authentic Marxist-communist tradition” was of lasting significance. Revolutionary socialists, “must go back to re-examine the old debates and the flaws and lacunae in the political legacy which Trotsky left at his death – back to 1940.”(2)

Apart from Matgamna’s lengthy Introduction we are offered an extensive – over 600 pages long – selection of original articles from 1939 to the early 1950s, by Trotsky, his ‘orthodox’ champions, and those expressing opposing views on the errors and gaps in their political approach. The present work aims to present a demythologised account of the raucous debates of the Trotskyist movement inside the American Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP –henceforth the SWP referred to) during the 1940s – placing the heretics on an equal, if not superior, footing to the Orthodox. The texts are not always easy reading. Anybody unused to the disputes of hard-core Trotskyism will find the often wildly intemperate language unattractive – the suffix “ite” for opponents’ standpoint, “deviation”, and “petty bourgeois individualism”- gets freely aired. The articles range from the ‘Shachtman” opposition to Trotsky call for defence of the Soviet Union, to the scepticism of Felix Morrow, a leading American Trotskyist and author of an orthodox account of the Spanish Civil War, who became sceptical about the Fourth International’s prediction of post-war European revolutions. Morrow by contrast could see that it was more probable that,  “bourgeois” democracy would be restored, and advocated a left-wing democratic response. Morrow was the main subject of an important 1970s, Where Trotskyism Got Lost. (Peter Jenkins. 1977), which might also seem an appropriate sub-title for The Two Trotskyisms.

The first thought of the reader is to ask whether it is worth the time and effort to look into this literature. Are we delving into the “archives” of a lost Atlantis, as former Fourth Internationalist Tariq Ali, prefacing the philosopher and life-long Trotskyist activist Daniel Bensaïd’s An Impatient Life  (2015) has described records of the Trotskyist movement? Are they files of failure swept into the depths by the Triumph of Capital? A more urgent task might be to respond to the post-Communist “lucid recognition of defeat”- as NLR Editorialised a decade after Perry Anderson’s verdict. The “archipelago of a thousand Marxisms”, the research programmes of the academic left which the same Bensaïd saw flourishing in Marx for our Times (2002), and which has not ceased bearing fruit, might seem to offer more fertile soil on which Trotskyists too can plant their seeds. There is indeed debate on collective agencies, opposed to capitalism, in which this left could intervene. If it often, as indicated by the writings of those associated with groups like the British Socialist Workers Party and its Diaspora, or from those associated with Red Pepper, of uneven quality, dominated by “movementist” ideas based on the most recent wave of protests, that sparkle briefly and then are forgotten (remember anti-Globalisation, anti-capitalism, and Occupy?). But for Matgamna at least the original City of the Trotskyist movement has not been submerged in the deluge following the Fall of Official Communism. We should first of all, like a modern Montaigne, return to the library in its principal Tower. (3)

In this respect a useful contrast might be made with Lars T. Lih’s influential Lenin Rediscovered (2005). Lih argues that Lenin’s politics developed in the shadow of German Social Democracy, and its chief theorist, Karl Kautsky. A strategic emphasis on the importance of political liberty, as a condition for the development of the movement, was grounded on a “world historical epic about the coming of socialism”. The task of the left was to bring the “Good News” of socialism to the working class, merging intellectual resources and the labour movement. But for Trotskyists in the 1940s, after two decades of Stalinist rule in ‘socialist’ Russia, forced collectivisation, famine, the Great Terror and the Gulag, there was little tangible to evangelise about. The German Communists had lost to the National Socialists; the Spanish Civil War had ended with defeat for the Republic and the left. Nazi and Fascist tyrannies were now poised to turn Europe into a totalitarian Empire. The old colonial powers of France and Britain, they considered, looked only to protect their own interests, as were the Americans. There was, in short, an abundance of very Bad News. The Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin’s years of leadership during the founding of the USSR, and Trotsky’s battle against Stalin’s rule, remained, for them, touchstones, but their faith in the future of socialism had returned to belief in “things unseen”.  (4)

It could be argued that the left has yet to settle accounts with Stalinism. While High Stalinism, beyond the borders of North Korea, may have vanished, there it ample evidence that its outlook continues to leave its imprint on the left, not least in “anti-imperialist’ quarters. That if there is to be a democratic socialist strategy that could succeed in winning political power it can learn much from those who refused to compromise with totalitarianism. That at least some Trotskyists, the ‘heterodox’, have something to offer in outlining ways in which the left can be both opposed to capitalism and democrats, above all in the way in which they confronted a much stronger ‘socialist’ power that had dispensed with all pretensions to democracy. That in facing up to this “bad news”, the 1940s dissidents offered signposts for the future. That, at last, is the implication of Matgamna’s arguments. For that reasons alone Matgamna’s case should be taken extremely seriously.

The Rise of the Heterodox.

Our knowledge of the heterodox side in the early centuries of the Christian Church comes from fragments of their documents, and the commentaries of the victorious Catholics. Backed by Emperors the Orthodox considered the Arian congregations to be rebels against the supreme powers of Heaven and Earth. Although the analogy is perhaps strained those who criticised Trotsky and the leadership of the American Trotskyists, the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1930s and 1940s, are like Arian ecclesiastics, largely known through the literature of their adversaries.

Max Shachtman (1904 – 1972), a founder of that SWP, and a member of the Executives Committee of the Fourth International, has, to Matgamna, suffered the worst from the “handed down” and “apparatus historiography” of Orthodoxy. A Pride’s Progress, from criticisms of Trotskyism to support for American imperialism, was his, and the majority of his comrades’ their fate. This parable was part of the consoling “revolutionary mythology” that helped the Orthodox stand together against an assortment of enemies on the left and survive the ascendancy of Official Communism. For Matgamna declarations of doctrinal righteousness did not prevent them from chasing after the radical causes of the moment, including “alien political movements”, and, above all, becoming “critical supporters of varieties of Stalinism.” (5)

The Two Trotskyisms, with its companion volume, Lost Texts of Critical Marxism, presents a rich selection of articles and other material. Matgamma – one assumes, or hopes,  half-jokingly – referred in the first book to them as the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls” of this movement. Unlike the Essenes, the Heterodox manuscripts have not been buried for a couple of millennia. But The Two Trotskyisms presents together texts that have, up till now, only been available, but still in dispersed existence, to a limited readership. Following the first Volume’s publication of writings on, amongst other topics, the Stalinist Counter-Revolution and the Third Period ultra-radicalism that swept the world’s Communist parties, the present work assembles the efforts of small Trotskyist groups to grapple with the Second World War, and the expansion of the USSR into Eastern Europe in its aftermath. (6)

Sean Matgamna reminds readers, a few of whom may need this underlined, that Trotsky – by definition the lodestar of Trotskyism – was not infallible. Over the period leading up the War he presented a “large quiver of half-evolved and half-eroded “positions”, ambivalences, and contradictions. He is keen to make one point clear. The founder of the Fourth International did not lay down a hard and fast ‘line’ on the central issue of the controversies. “While defending the view that the totalitarian regime created over the foundation the October Revolution laid down, in nationalised property and planning may have been evolving as “transitional society” into a new social formation. He admitted, in effect, the theoretical possibility that the USSR was already established as a new exploitative class society, a semi-slave society.” We would also note that Trotsky’s frequent use of the term “totalitarian” – a word first used in Marxist circles by the dissident’s dissident Victor Serge – would raise hackles amongst those who have consigned it to Cold War political ‘science’.  (7)

That 1940s Trotskyism divided into two strands is a claim that rests on an account focused on North America. In the 1940s the SWP (US) was the largest Trotskyist group in the world, whose several thousand members had played a substantial part in the trade union movement. The publication by Shachtman of criticisms of dialectical materialism from a ‘pragmatist’ philosophical standpoint by James Burnham in the party’s theoretical journal, New International in 1938 was not universally welcomed.  Trotsky came down hard on the “anti-dialecticians”, harbingers of open ‘anti-Marxism’. Broader political differences emerged. What Trotsky and his immediate supporters called the “petty bourgeois” opposition began to engage in open factional warfare with the majority. This bitter quarrel was less over the value of the ABC of Materialist Dialectics than on the nature of the Soviet Union and the SWP’s policies towards Stalinism.

Specialists in this history would no doubt observe that by the late 1930s there as indeed a shift in parts of the American left from an interest in Marxism, including Trotskyism, towards democratic “anti-totalitarianism’ inside the American radical intelligentsia affecting figures such as Max Eastman and Edmund Wilson. Sidney Hook, a more substantial intellectual figure than Burnham, author of the still read, From Hegel to Marx (1st Edition, 1936), a student of the pragmatist philosopher and educationalist John Dewey, Chair of the Dewy Commission (1937) which condemned the Moscow Trials and their accusations against Trotsky, perhaps symbolises this change. By the end of the decade Hook had moved from the traditions inspired by Marx, including a period of “Trotskyesque” anti-Stalinism, towards a rejection of historical and dialectical materialism, and anti-communist (big and small ‘C’) support for the American Constitution and liberal democracy. (8)

Inside the SWP rifts hardened during the first years of the Second World War. The SWP minority recoiled from the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939. Shachtman, Martin Abern and other dissenters began to question the policy of “Defence of the USSR”. The SWP majority accounted that on the basis of the economic foundations laid down by the October Revolution it was their duty to back the country. For the majority Stalin’s occupation of half of Poland, the invasion of Finland and other Soviet manoeuvres in Eastern Europe, found them “partisans” of the USSR side, to the point of calling for the people in occupied territory to back the Red Army.

From the Bad News of the Gulag there was soon even worse news about the conduct of the Soviet invasions and fresh slaughters. For the dissidents these actions proved that Russia had acted as “imperialist” power – acting with a brutality which no slogan could cover up for. The claim that at least something of a workers’ state remained in the country, however “degenerated”, rang hollow. Russia was not in a “transition”, however unstable, towards socialism. Unrestrained violence was embedded in “bureaucratic collectivist” society; its apparatus was marked by exploitation of the workers, tyranny and mass murder. It would be simpler to recognise that there was nothing worth defending about the ‘Soviet’ State. Amongst the Heterodox the contours of what became known as the ‘Third Camp” position, standing neither with the Soviets nor the Imperialists but for international socialism, began to see the light of day.

These opinions were met with unrelenting hostility by the SWP leadership around James P. Cannon. Trotsky’s interventions, in the early stages of the dispute – attacking the Heterodox in his own right – give it lasting importance. He did not condone the full scope of the actions of the “Kremlin oligarchy”, but considered that the “nationalisation of the means of production” called for defence of the USSR, coinciding with “preparation of the “world proletarian revolution”. For his biographer, Pierre Broué, every declaration that Trotsky made has to be seen in the light of his priority: building a Fourth International that would play a leading role in this upheaval. In Poland and Finland (1939) he began by proclaiming, as a would-be commander of his own revolutionary forces, that the Kremlin, with the “Red Army on the side of the workers in a civil war”, would be “forced to provoke a social revolutionary movement.” With more information to hand, and faced with Shachtman’s criticisms, he announced a few months later that the USSR was planning to ‘Sovietise’ the country, under bureaucratic command and police repression. This is the “revolution”, which. Matgamna does not fail to emphasise, that became the norm in post-45 Eastern Europe. (9)

The murder of the leader of the recently founded Fourth International in August 1940, during the early stages of the Second World War, indicates that these views had importance in more than the limited circles of the SWP, not least for the Kremlin’s chief critic. This extension of ‘side-taking’ to something close to support stands out. Matgamna observes that as the war developed the Orthodox party paper praise for the Soviet Armed Forces appeared as the war. This reached an apogee with SWP columns glorifying “Trotsky’s Red Army”. The ‘progressive’ Revolutionary foundations of the ‘workers’ state became, for a time, more important than its ‘degeneration’.

The minority was expelled from the SWP in the same year, 1940, as Trotsky’s assassination. They took 40% of the membership with them and a majority of the youth wing. SWP leader James P. Cannon’s account in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, absorbed by generations of Trotskyists, and percolating through the wider left, presented the conflict, as a battle between a “shabby crew” of “adventurers, careerists, self-seekers, dilettantes quitters-under-fire” and serious proletarian revolutionaries. Outside of the material in The Two Trotskyisms we know, from the SWP’s own publications, that Cannon and his earnest allies dispensed with “formal” democracy in order to effect the exclusion. That is, bluntly, he ignored the party’s own statues in order to be rid of the minority. This could be considered evidence in support of a frequent charge against Trotskyists: that they are democrats to the tips of their toes, except when democracy is an obstacle to their factional manoeuvres.  (10)

The new Workers’ Party (WP) of the minority engaged, Matgamna observes, in serious trade union work. But years of this activity in Cold War 1950s America drained their politics of distinctive themes. Apart from a radical minority, whose best-known figure was Hal Draper, author of the landmark democratic Marxist Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (3 Vols. 1977), most of the remaining members drifted from revolutionary Marxism towards the Democratic Party. Shachtman’s evolved towards the “liberal anti-Communism” of that Party – in 1961 he refused to condemn the Bay of Pigs Invasion and later supported the US over Vietnam. With Burnham’s rightwards turn, after swiftly exiting the WP, the later careers of the main supporters of the Shachtman current are presented as proof that the Heterodox can be dismissed. This tale has had a long life. Alex Callinicos has offered a version of the “inevitable fate of those who stray from orthodoxy” position. In his account of Trotskyism he stated, “in the absence of an articulated theory of the new mode of production, the concept of bureaucratic collectivism has acted primarily as a means whereby its adherents could adapt to the prevailing mood on the local Left.” (11)

Whether the failure to have a substantial – ‘correct’ – line on the USSR was a factor in the group’s evolution, or whether bureaucratic collectivism was the nearest label at hand for the Workers’ Party leadership to justify its – decade long- evolution towards the American political mainstream is hard to determine. For Matgamna the original arguments of this dissenting strand of Trotskyism did not stray into the ideology of the “petty bourgeoisie”, or owed their origins to fashion. It can be argued that the bare bones of the theory of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ was part and parcel of a political response to the Soviet state, principally the actions just described in the early years of the War. This political legacy is important for the renewal of revolutionary Marxism. Indeed, In the 1940s, the Heterodox “elaborated a politics of consistent anti-Stalinism as well as consistent anti-capitalism.”  (12)

Armed Bureaucratic Collectivism.

The debates in this volume centre, as we have indicated, on the political actions – the armed foreign policy – of the USSR. But behind this is the issue of the nature of that regime. Some might consider that arguments about the character of the former Soviet Union – whether it was a workers’ state, a degenerated workers’ state, state capitalist, bureaucratic collectivist, a “new class society” – resembles discussion on the Trinity. If some Trotskyists have sunk into religious veneration for Trotsky a more common fault is scholasticism – “proof” of any view by appeal to the authority of quotations from the Old Man, Marx, Engels and Lenin.  But there is little doubt that when it comes to working out what was wrong with Stalinism, the economic and social framework of the former Soviet Bloc, the several decades of Trotskyist, orthodox and heterodox reflection and debate, play a substantial, essential, part in the effort to develop a socialist alternative today.

Differing stands on these issues, examining Trotsky’s and many other views, is explored more widely in Marcel van der Linden’s Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (2007). In this context the clash between the ‘Orthodox’ and the ‘Heterodox’ Trotskyists is only one of many, more or less intense, debates. Few would be as confident that one position is the only viable theory. Linden notes that Shachtman initially prepared to give some credit to Soviet nationalised property forms, and regarded bureaucratic collectivism as a temporary, unstable domination based on property relations. Shachtman, one would conclude did not a particularly coherent theory – what exactly distinguished forms from relations? As Charles Bettlelheim much later would put, it, property forms are the embodiment of social relations, extraction of the surplus is not distinct from the way rights over fixed and moveable goods are established. But Shachtman’s critical view of the USSR was, as the debates primarily political: the working class had no handle on the State, and in this respect had become a “reactionary obstacle” to socialism. Above all, as Martin Thomas of the AWL observes, it was the “movement of the USSR into imperialist expansion” already outlined above, which prompted his interest, use and development of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism. (13)

With the benefit of hindsight more general conceptualisations may have been a better way to approach the nature of Official Communism. The political character of high Stalinism, its dissolution of independent Law, the boundaries between power, civil society and the state, and the concentration of that force in the hands of an Egocrat meant the destruction of politics as an open clash of different interests and opinions. In this respect the ‘heterodox’ Trotskyists produced evidence of totalitarianism sprung to life – the actions of the USSR in the first years of the Second World War, that show a state prepared to override democracy and basic human rights, beyond and above the demands of armed conflict, in order to further its own interests. On the wider theory of bureaucratic collectivism our present judgements are mixed. Were these forms a “freak” of history, as Shachtman sometimes argued?  The persistent idea that these societies were, as Linden summarises, arranged in a sequence from capitalism to something new, whatever we label it, also seems to have outlived its use. But the USSR’s statist planning and mobilisation of ‘labour armies’, including forced labour in the Gulag, its “socialist primitive accumulation” may be considered, as Martin Thomas argues, not as a leap out of the capitalist world at all. It was “a compressed, intensified version of the use of direct extra-economic force’ in the ‘historic genesis of capitalist production’”. In other words, the mode of production was not really transformed by the Bolshevik Revolution at all. If this was an oddity, normality eventually reasserted itself. (14)

There is a vast space for more detailed accounts of the mechanisms of these social formations, from their initial creation, growth, expansion, and, decisively, the dissolution of an all-powerful repressive-ideological apparatus. The narrowing of politics into ‘monolithic’ unity simply could not be imposed on society without enormous human cost, and even then, lasted in its pure form until Stalin’s death. Rival interest groups, effectively differing political ‘factions’ within a still authoritarian and repressive regime, as the “pluralist” school of Soviet Studies, then re-merged. The economic transformations that have taken place in the former Eastern Bloc since 1989 may have caused massive social shake-ups. But they have been achieved remarkably swiftly and without mass resistance.

The study of the collapse of Official Communism, after full-blown Stalinism had long been tamed by bureaucrats, as the planned economy became ever more ramshackle and unable to deliver Red Plenty, continues. It raises much more profound issues than a clash between Marxist interpretations, let alone rivalry between ‘two Trotskyisms’. How can socialisation of the means of production take place in a different form? How can democratic control over the economy replace the market? Post-Communism also leaves open the issue, which is in the belly of the of Matgamna’s case for the Heterodox, of Stalinist imperialism. Whether, as the last echoes of Isaac Deutscher in New Left circles were wont to argue, the USSR was in the post-War period, a progressive international force through its support for national liberation movements, or that this too was pure Realpolitik, remains a live topic. There are those on the left who consider that Russian President Putin and a host of other non-Western powers represent today a kind of necessary ‘counter-balance’ to the US-led Imperium.  This might be considered, recalling Alex Callinicos’ words, to be an example of the use of a  theory, clutched to and adapted to the needs of local lefts desperate to discover some “resistance” to the American hegemon.

Two Trotskyisms?

 The Two Trotskyisms presents a view of the history of the Trotskyist movement. Any account on this topic, by the established rules of the genre, has to be controversial. Matgamma succeeds in demonstrating that there is a value in looking at the critical stand of the ‘Heterodox’ towards the SWP leadership, and the orthodoxy associated with Trotsky. Yet it is a mental wrench for the reviewer, politically brought up on British and other European left-debates, including Trotskyist ones, to enter the political and cultural world of the 1940s American SWP. This was Trotskyism with a capital T. This is a group that George Orwell described in 1945 as having “a fairly large number of adherents” with a “petty fuehrer of its own” with an “essentially negative inspiration.” Left political culture in Europe, while containing a few organisations of the same stripe, had and has much broader influences. From social democrats, Communist thinkers, democratic socialists, autonomists and anarchists, Western Marxists, non-Trotskyist Leninists, not to mention activists and writers directly involved in the trade unions. Some of these would challenge Matgamna’s claim to ownership of the Revolution. Others would find the assertion empty. But, to be brief, the US SWP even at its height is a party on the margins of our mental horizon. (15)

It is harder still to associate ‘orthodoxy’ with the main Fourth International, figures such as Ernest Mandel or Michel Rapitis, charged with apostasy by the same James P Cannon in the 1953-4 split in the Fourth International, accused of straying from Trotskyism for their support for Third-World movements of national liberation, not to mention the 1970s controversies on guerrilla warfare. To reverse the argument: to claim that the various ‘orthodox’ French Trotskyist parties led by Pierre Boussel (‘Lambert’) were pro-Stalinist ignores their intimate association with the American funded post-War break-away from the Communist led trade union federation, the CGT, Force Ouvrière, not to mention their actual writings – virulently hostile – on the Eastern Bloc. (16)

The history of Trotskyism indicates other directions. Bensaïd called the Trotskyists’ splintering into mutually antagonistic tendencies, in the aftermath of the Second World War the creation of that Eastern Bloc, and the victory of the Chinese Communists, the “scattering of the tribes”. At the Second Congress of the Fourth International in 1948 the Workers’ Party and Shachtman were still present. In a protest at the lack of clarity and democracy during the conference he united with one faction, represented by Cornelius Castoriadis. The Franco-Greek theorist’s subsequent history went beyond heterodoxy – designating the USSR as ‘bureaucratic capitalist’ – to rejection in the name workers’ self-management of all the main tenets of Trotskyism, except Revolution. (17)

Castoriadis’ small group (never more than a 100 members, though with some significant working class activists), Socialisme ou Barbarie, took a root-and-branch stand of opposition to all forms of Stalinism. They split from the FI came in the wake of the majority’s decision to side with Yugoslavia against Stalin. Their journal published some of the most revealing accounts of Stalinism, from East Germany to China as well as the USSR, available in the 1950s left press. But their political practice, based on unremitting hostility to Stalinism social democracy, Parliamentary politics, all existing trade unions, and even participation in the French system of workplace representation, left them isolated. That Castoriadis has enjoyed some posthumous fame as a philosopher of ‘autonomy’ – the democratic self-creation of social forms, may be some comfort to his admirers. But the failure of Socialisme ou Barbarie to make any real impact on French political life in the 1950s, and its own history of divisions, indicates one direction that principled hostility to Stalinism in this period could lead. (18)

French Trotskyism is significant in that during the German occupation the policy of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ was put into practice, in different ways by its already divided forces. Trotskyist histories of the period glorify efforts to convince German soldiers to unite with French working class and other internationalist actions. They tend to look with suspicion on any ‘nationalist’ support for the Resistance – that is when a small number of Trotskyists joined the armed fight against Pétain and the German occupation. (19)

Yves Craipeau – acknowledged by the AWL as an early ‘bureaucratic collectivist’ – recounts one important part of that history. When the Allied forces landed in Normandy his faction, probably the largest, published in its underground paper, La Vérité, a headline, “ils se valent” – they’re the same.  (June 1944) It went on to read, “En réalité, la libération de Roosevelt vaut tout autant que le socialisme de Hitler’. In reality the liberation of Roosevelt means as much as the socialism of Hitler. The divisions within the Greek Trotksyists were even more severe. One wing, already in conflict with the other, refused the ‘defence’ of the USSR and spent the War violently hostile to the other. The Stalinists physically liquidated  some of them, though reliable estimates give the total at 50 (both groups together) not the total, 300 – Matgamma asserts. (20)

In post-war the Fench Trotksyists briefly united in the Parti Communsite Internationaliste. The majority view, set out much later by Ernest Mandel was that they had has called the  electoral strength of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF)  and, one hopes, with some due modesty to the  legacy of the Communists’ role in the Resistance. Part of the ‘scattering of the tribes’ Craipeau left the Fourth International in the belief that there were forces on the left, outside the PCF and the Socialist SFIO, who could form an independent left party. The long story of efforts to create one, up to the radical ‘new left’ democratic socialist Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU), in which Craipeau played a significant part, indicate another direction that the ‘heterodox’ could take.  (21)

Going back to Sources.

For many on the left Trotskyism is a by-word for factionalism, of the single-transferable speech and sloganeering.  They have been criticised for trying control everything, for expressing open contempt for their opponents and adept at underhand organisational methods to win and hold onto organisational power. These accusations are not aimed at the 1940s SWP leadership or culled from accounts of present-day British Trotskyist groups, but were amongst those made in 1939 by Marceau  Pivert originally the leader of the Gauche révolutionnaire the left tendency of the French Socialists, the SFIO. He moved from the SFIO and became subsequently chief of the ‘centrist’ (that is ‘in-between ‘revolutionary; and ‘reformist’ politics) party, the Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan ( PSOP), Pivert experienced the methods of the French Trotksyists (after the famous ‘French turn’ of 1936 when they jo0ined the SFIO, and then tried to move into the PSOP). Pivert was eventually forced to remove these hectoring groupuscules.  (22)

But there are different voices. Pierre Broué, once an Orthodox activist in the French Lambertists who became respected historian of the movement, left this statement in his Memoirs. Reflecting on the Fall of the Soviet Bloc and the faults of the organisation which expelled him, he wrote in conclusion, “We must return to our sources, become again the ‘party of communists’ which only marks itself out from the mass of people with whom we live by our devotion, our continuous thinking, our openness to the world, our capacity to struggle, our will to clarify, to help the masses see things through their own eyes.”  (23) By its important indications of democratic and serious thought on some of the most serious issues of the 20th century the Two Trotskyisms has contributed to these generous aims.

 

References:

(1) Page 17. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. Second Series No 1. 2000.

(2) Page 98 The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited Sean Matgamna. Second Edition. Workers’ Liberty. 2015. (TTCS) Vol. 2 of The Fate of the Russian Revolution Workers’ Liberty. Page 133

(3) A Letter from Atlantis: Remembering Daniel Bensaïd. Tariq Ali. Introduction to An Impatient Life. Daniel Bensaïd. Verso.  Editorial. Shifting Sands. Susan Watkins. Page 23. New Left Review 61 Second Series 2010.

(4) Pages 42 –3. Lars L. Lih. Lenin Rediscovered. Brill 2005.

(5) Page 97-8. TTCS. 

(6) Sean Matgamna Introduction. Lost Texts of Critical Marxism. Vol. 1. The Fate of the Russian Revolution. Workers’ Liberty.

(7) Pages 5-6. TTCS. On Serge and Totalitarianism see: Victor Serge: totalitarisme et capitalisme d’État. Philippe Bourrine   Fundación Andreu Nin. 2001.

(8) Chapter Five. Young Sidney Hook. Marxist and Pragmatist. Christopher Phelps. Cornell University Press. 1997.

(9) Pages, 268 –9, and Page 280. Pierre Broué. Trotsky. Chapter LIX. La Ive at la guerre.  1998. Marxist Internet Archive.

(10) Part 1. The Struggle for a Proletarian Party. James P. Cannon. 1943. Marxist Internet Archive. “Perhaps it is not generally known in the International that in the 1940 struggle in the SWP, the Burnham-Shachtman minority was supported by the majority of the resident IEC of the Fourth International, at that time located in New York. … They claimed the formal right to spoke in the name of the Fourth International” “The Convention of the SWP (April, 1940) paid no attention to the formalistic arguments which were undoubtedly in their favour.” Letter from James P. Cannon to Leslie Goonewardne. February. 23. 1954. Towards a History of the Fourth International Part 3. Volume 4. Part 3. International Committee Documents. 1951 – 1954. Socialist Workers Party. 1974.

(11)  Chapter 4: 1. Heresies: Max Shachtman and the evil empire. Trotskyism. Alex Callinicos. Marxist Internet Archive.

(12) Page 3. TTCS. 

(13) Shachtman and his critics’ views are covered in: Chapter 3 From Stalin’s ‘Great Leap Forwards’ to the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (1929–41) Marcel van der Linden Western Marxism and the Soviet Union. Brill 2007. Three Traditions? Marxism and the USSR. Martin Thomas. Historical Materialism. Vol.14.3. 2006.

(14) For these political conceptualisations of totalitarianism see: Claude Lefort. Un homme en trop. Réflexions sur l’Archipel du Goulag. 1976 (2015). Belin. Claude Lefort, Essais sur le politique. Edition de Seuil. 1986. Martin Thomas. Ibid.

(15) Page 370. Notes on Nationalism. 1945. Political Writings. George Orwell. 2001.

(16) On the Lambertists see the hostile account, in great, if contentious, detail: Les Trotskistes. Christophe Nick. 2002.

(17) Strategies of Resistance and ‘Who are the Trotskyists?’ Daniel Bensaïd. Resistance Books. 2009. Max Shachtman. The Congress of the Fourth International. An Analysis of the Bankruptcy of “Orthodox Trotskyism (October 1948) Marxist Internet Archive. Chapter 6. From the Second World Congress to the 1953 Split. The Long March of the Trotskyists, Pierre Frank. 1969.  Marxist Internet Archive.

(18) Francois Dosse. Castoriadis Une Vie. La Découverte. 2014.

(19) Ian H. Birchall. With the Masses, Against the Stream. French Trotskyism in the Second World War Revolutionary History, Vol.1, No.4, Winter 1988-89. See also: Ernest Mahttps://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/1948/10/fi.htmndel. A Rebel’s Dream Deferred. Jan Willem Stuje. Verso. 2009. The Meaning of the Second World War. Ernest Mandel. Verso. 1986. The less than clear history of Continental Trotskyism during the Second World War is defended in the same writer’s interviews published as Revolutionary Marxism Today, ed. by Jon Rothschild. New Left Review. 1979

(20)  Yves Craipeau. Mémoires d’un dinosaure trotkyste. L’harmattan. 1999. This total of deaths and on the tangled history of Greek Trotskyism: Alexis Hen. Les trotskystes grecs pendant la seconde guerre Mondiale Cahiers balkaniques 38-39 (2011)

(21) Further material on Craipeau in English: The Third Camp in France. Workers’ Liberty 2#2. This, a small but important part of the majority view on Stalinism was given by Ernest Germain (Mandel) Stalinism – How to Understand it and How to Fight it. April 1947. Marxist Internet Archive. On the wider revolutionary expectations in France in this period amongst intellectuals – a significant constituency for French Trotskyists – see this useful study:  La Révolution rêvée. Pour une historie des intellectuels et des oeuvres révolutionnaires. 1944 – 1956. Michel Surya. 2004.

(22) Le P.S.O.P. et le trotskysme. Marceau Pivert Juin (Journal) June, 1939

(23) “nous devons revenir à nos sources, être de nouveau ce “parti des communistes” qui ne se distingue de la masse où il vit que par son dévouement, sa réflexion permanente et son ouverture au monde, sa disponibilité à lutter, sa volonté d’éclairer et d’aider les masses à voir de leurs propres yeux.” Mémoires de Pierre Broué. Circulated  as text  2014/5

Update:

Reviews of “The Two Trotskyisms”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

February 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Protests at Crimes Against the Kurds as Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoğlu Visits London.

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PM Davutoğlu flies off to London to promote Turkey’s huge investment potential.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu started his one-week “investment tour” on Sunday which will include visits to London, Davos and Berlin. The first visit will be to London, where Davutoğlu will meet with 350 leading investors, who collectively manage around $10 trillion. Davutoğlu will give the opening speech at the 16th Turkish Investment Conference organized by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a leading investment bank, and will address various business circles as well as invite international investors to Turkey, at various events organized by Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs and the Foreign Economic Affairs Board. He will inform the investors regarding Turkey’s legislative reforms as well as Turkey’s plans for accession to the European Union and will give out the message that Turkey is worthy of investment and has an economic atmosphere which minimizes risks. Davutoğlu will announce the Middle-Term Economic Program and will explain Turkey’s road map until 2018 to investors. Davutoğlu will also attend a lunch with CEOs and other executive managers of 18 of the most crucial global investment funds at Goldman Sach’s European Headquarters. During the round-table meeting scheduled for Chatham House in London, Davutoğlu will be providing insight and express his views regarding regional and international events and developments.

Daily Sabah.

The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is in London to meet UK PM David Cameron. The visit comes at a time when the Turkish state is killing innocent Kurdish civilians, imprisoning dozens of journalists, politicians, human rights activists and academics.

We condemn the Conservative government’s collusion with the Turkish state and its silence in the face of Kurdish massacre.

• We demand that the UK government criticise and pressure Turkey to stop its human rights abuses against Kurds.
• We demand that the UK government impose sanctions on Turkey.
• We ask that you write to your local MP about this issue and pressure them to bring it up in Parliament.
• We request that you boycott Turkish tourism and products.

Support us in our struggle for the recognition, right to self-determination and freedom of Kurds!

Support us in our struggle for a democratic, secular and gender-equal society!

Support us in our struggle for a peaceful and political solution to the Kurdish question!

Protest at 14.30 today Downing Street.

Facebook.

 

Kurdish Question

Support for academics who demanded that the Turkish state stop its atrocities against the Kurdish people with the declaration, ‘We will not be a party to this crime,” is growing.

RELATED: More Than 1000 Academics Call For Peace Talks To Resume Between Turkey And PKK

565 academics, as of date, across UK universities and higher education institutions have signed an open letter supporting Turkish and non-Turkish academics who released the initial declaration calling for the Turkish state to stop violence against Kurds and resume peace talks.

The open letter, undersigned by 565 academics, to the Turkish government is below:

Open Letter of support for academics being victimised in Turkey

As scholars associated with universities and higher education institutions in the UK and internationally, we are extremely disturbed by Turkey’s recent treatment of academics that have spoken out against atrocities being committed by the Turkish state against Kurds.

1,128 Turkish and Kurdish ‘Academics for Peace’ originally signed the statement “We will not be a party to this crime”, calling on the Turkish government to cease hostilities against its Kurdish population. Since the publication of this statement, these academics have been subject to a sustained campaign of abuse and violence from both the Turkish state and its supporters.

In recent speeches, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly denounced these academics. Subsequently, prosecutors have begun proceedings to charge all 1,128 of the original signatories with “propagandising for a terrorist organization” and “overtly insulting the Turkish nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the Government of Republic of Turkey and the judicial organs of the state”.

This has resulted in 22 academics having been taken into custody (at the time of writing).  If convicted of these charges they could face 1-5 years imprisonment. The legitimacy of arrests has already been questioned by prominent legal experts and described as “extra-legal” decisions. Signatories have also been publicly exposed in the press and social media by government supporters and nationalists, leading to fears of reprisals from fascists that have declared they will ‘spill the blood’ of the signatories. Many of the signatories also face disciplinary proceedings and possible sackings from their institutions.

These unjust acts are unfolding in a context of continuing state violence against Kurds- in December 2015 alone 100 Kurds were killed as a result of military operations conducted by the Turkish state. Since August 2015 there have been 52 open-ended and round-the-clock curfews imposed on over one million inhabitants in south east Turkey.  In such a context, the clamp down on academic freedom constitutes another moment in the deepening authoritarianism of the Turkish state. This includes not attacks on not only academics but also the continuing imprisonment and deaths of journalists, lawyers and activists.

We call on the Turkish government to withdraw its prosecutions, immediately release all those imprisoned and commit to the principles of academic freedom and free speech. We moreover reaffirm the Academics for Peace call on the Turkish government to cease their hostilities against Kurds.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 18, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Absolute Unconditional Support and Love to our Kurdish Sisters and Brothers.

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Christmas celebration in Qamishli -Rojava – Kurdistan.

As the New Year approaches we remember the heroic fighters of Kurdistan.

We also remember that it was the Americans who came to help our beloved sisters and brothers in their hour of need.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 30, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Anti-Fascism, International

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The Stop the War Coalition: Is Trotskyism the New Conservatism?

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Socialist Unity carries a defence of the Stop the War Coalition against Phil’s The Anti-imperialism of FoolsIn Defence of the Stop the War Coalition.

I was going to begin with this, “Given the extent to which some on the left in the West continue to call for the toppling of Assad in Syria (a goal they share with Western governments), is Trotskyism the new neo-conservatism? ” by John Wight, also of Socialist Unity.

His message?

Like latter day John Browns such voices, wielding a copy of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution in one hand and a one-way ticket to irrelevancy in the other, unleash verbal broadsides of calumny at any who dare question the intellectual and ideological idiocy they parade with the kind of gusto one associates with the infantile disorder of a type well known.

For such people ideological templates are all the rage, employed as a convenient opt-out of the obligation to come up with a concrete analysis of a concrete situation. Revolution is but a parlour game as they relive 1871, 1917 or 1968, the years bandied around like connoisseurs of champagne discussing a favorite vintage.

But I’ve had enough champagne in recent days..

I return to In Defence of the Stop the War Coalition.

Andy Newman begins

I was very disappointed to see a rather shoddy hatchet job against the Stop the War Coalition recently, not from the usual “decent” suspects, but from Phil Burton-Cartledge, on the usually pro-Corbyn and pro-left website, Left Futures.

Newman asserts that Phil’s criticism of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ – which are widely shared and have developed on this site – are invalid.

Phil summarised this aspect of Lenin’s politics , as they have been interpreted over the generations, to mean, “The role of revolutionaries everywhere was to turn inter-imperialist war into revolutionary civil war, to prevent soldiers from turning their bayonets outwards against other workers of other nationalities to the real enemy within – the owners of capital on whose behest the Great War was fought.”

Revolutionary defeatism was its name, overthrowing capitalism its game. And then, with mass parties of workers who’d traditionally been locked out of the political system, and were familiar with socialist and, in some cases, Marxist rhetoric, it actually made sense. Whether one disagrees with revolutionary socialist politics or not, it was a real possibility in several European countries as a wave of uprisings and revolts swept the continent as decayed and weakened empires collapsed.

Some of Andy Newman’s points carry weight,

The terminology of imperialism may sound oddly old fashioned, but Britain really did have a global Empire, built upon military conquest, plunder, rapine and murder. The powerhouse of the British economy was indeed built upon the crimes of Atlantic slavery, upon the transfer of vast amounts of capital to the UK from the colonies, and destroying indigenous economic capacity in order to create mass markets for British manufacturing.

This is not only of historical interest, because Britain’s current economic endowment as a capital rich, high skilled economy has arisen from that legacy. And the prestige and influence of the British state is still bound up with the post-colonial network of military, commercial and diplomatic alliances that arose with the rise of the USA as a global superpower. And yes, British foreign policy is still shaped by those interests, and habits; and there is still a mindset of entitlement, nowadays wrapped up in rather selective concerns about human rights, that has over recent years has led to some misplaced military interventions.

Newman mistakes the object of Phil’s critique.

It is not that ‘imperialism’ has not existed, nor that there is no form of imperial – in the sense both of capital exports, control of trade, cultural dominance, and the global reach of powers such as the US and the UK, and their military extensions – have evaporated. There is a rich and important debate on the forms of this, the “new imperialism” “empire” and the neo-liberal finance-led shaping of the process of “globalisation”.

The real issue here however is the politics of revolutionary defeatism.

Lenin and Revolutionary Defeatism.

The origins of this principle lie in Lenin – few can deny that. During the Great War  Lenin was thinking in terms of the growth of the revolutionary movement resulting from military defeat at the hands of the enemy government.

This, Hal Draper observed in The Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism (1953/4), was taken by Trotsky in 1939 to mean a general view that,

 Defeatism is the class policy of the proletariat, which even during a war sees the main enemy at home, within its particular imperialist country. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a policy which locates the main enemy outside one’s own country. The idea of defeatism signifies in reality the following: conducting an irreconcilable revolutionary struggle against one’s own bourgeoisie as the main enemy, without being deterred by the fact that this struggle may result in the defeat of one’s own government; given a revolutionary movement the defeat of one’s own government is a lesser evil. Lenin did not say nor did he wish to say anything else. There cannot even be talk of any other kind of ‘aid’ to defeat.

Draper was a supporter of the ‘third camp’ position: “The Marxist alternative is to reject the whole victory-or-defeat dilemma with its “lesser evil” trap, in the consistent Third Camp fashion which characterized Trotsky and Luxemburg’s approach.”

That is, to support the interests of the workers, the people, the masses, as they exist in particular conditions come first, and then we look at the policies and  states. Left-wing international politics are not some kind of chess board where we play off pieces (states) against one another. Workers and oppressed people’s interests are independent of state power. Plainly in some circumstances of armed conflict these needs could coincide with their governments’, bourgeois or not.  When Hitler invaded independent countries it would be wrong to assert that the armed forces of one’s country should be beaten. In fact democratic socialists backed the Allies against the Axis well before the USSR entered the war on the rational grounds that they were a threat to all.

Some Trotskyists in the 1930s and 1940s  pushed the contrary argument. They stated that only special classes of movements for defence against invasion should be supported (defending the Soviet Union). This would mean, in the Second World War, that nobody could fight Hitler except completely ‘independently’ of all bourgeois taint. Whether they wished for the crushing of their own bourgeois state by another was avoided by claiming that they would organise resistance to both.

One faction of French Trotskyists illustrated the absurdity of a full ‘defeatist’ position, when in 1944, the  paper, La Verité, published this front page article, welcomed the liberation by putting the Allied invaders, the French Resistance, the Nazi occupiers and the Vichy regime on the same plane: those fighting the Nazis are the exact equivalent of the SS and Vichy.

So much for history.

Phil makes the point that today ‘anti-imperialism’ entails a very specific kind of defeat-wishing. That to will the end of imperial hegemony is to set upon the means of finding an agency to do this, free from the corrupt politics of the “labour aristocracy” of the West, “…if that is your position, it follows that anything shutting down the funnelling of wealth from the south to the north would weaken capital’s capacity to absorb the demands of metropolitan workers.” “Therefore, to be consistent, the role of the revolutionary in the imperialist West is to work for the defeat of one’s own state, and that can be done by promoting the cause of its enemy.”

Anti-Imperialist alliances.

The Anti-imperialism of Fools asserts that this explains StWC, SWP, Counterfire backing – covert or overt – for all kinds of ‘anti-imperialist’ forces, up to and including the Baathists in Iraq, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Iranian theocracy and not doubt Assad today. It would explain why in the  “multi-polar” world they consider the “designs and manoeuvres of rival states and enemies are benign or, at least, less harmful.” In the UK the StWC reached out not just to Muslims in protests against wars involving Islamic countries, but to Islamists, political Islam as allies in the fight to defeat imperialism and, domestically “against the State. Or, as Phil notes, crudely, its leaders whether (then) the SWP or (now) Counterfire, regard Muslims as a privileged area of recruitment (not with much success one has to say).

This is a pretty stark – bare-bones – account.

StWC leaders represent a number of different strands of thought. For many the main objection to specific  foreign interventions – as in Syria now –  is that they are dangerous adventures that cost human lives without bringing justice, or human rights in their wake. There are those who indeed have a visceral objection to ‘imperialism’ because they do not consider that universal human rights can be enforced (to echo Robespierre) by the bayonets of a democracy. This are honourable positions – largely because they happen to be right.

Andy Newman’s strongest point, which underscores the previous argument,  is the following,

given the fact that the actual lived experience of the military campaigns has been disastrous, and indeed the disastrous outcomes have been made all the worse by the ideologues in Washington who have not respected state sovereignty, and indeed seen the actual destruction of states as a beneficial outcomes – in both Libya and Iraq, and now in Syria.

But… inside the StWC  here are also those who are clearly not in favour of stopping any military campaign if it involves Russian help to Assad to defeat Daesh.

Like John Wight, also of Socialist Unity.

There are also those, in the SWP and Counterfire, who think that an Arab revolution is still out there, waiting to be ignited if the ‘West’ is defeated in the Middle East; a starting point not so different from those who think that the Arab Spring can be continued by armed Western support for Syrian democrats.

Apart from that, the vaguest of vague wishes, there is little evidence that the StWC supports the victory of just any of  imperialism’s ‘enemies’, Daesh to the fore. Overwhelmed, Assad’s defenders (Wight excepted) argue that he has to be backed faute de miuex.

The reason why Phil’s article stung – and we hope to have made our own contribution to the pain – is that he singles out the loss of a ‘moral compass’ in the StWC’s calls to ‘stop the war’ when they clearly have not the slightest idea of how this might come about, above all in Syria.

The depravity of their reaction to Charlie and the Casher-Hebdo massacres  still lingers: arguing in terms of a, if not legitimate but at least ‘understandable’, ‘blowback’ may be more muted now,

But they have indeed recycled equally distasteful ‘whirlwind’ arguments – suggesting that if people should be afraid of more Paris massacres. Posing as messengers of Peace against the harbingers of war, they want us safe at Home.

The Syrian civil war has meant over 200,000 deaths and millions of refugees. The Assad Baathist state  stands accused of mass murder and systemic torture. Daesh has created a genocidal Islamic regime with ambitions to wider totalitarian power.

Other Islamists with totalitarian ambitions are rife. Many are backed by the Saudi-brokered “anti-terrorist” alliance.

Democrats, principally the Kurdish led forces, fighting with rare courage, are attacked by one of the pillars of the Western intervention, Turkey.

In Syria and Iraq hundreds of thousands of Christians and other religious groups, such as the Yazidis,  have been cleansed from their homelands by the forces of Islamist bigotry.

These are our sisters and brothers.

The StWC considers that “Our” responsibility starts and ends at “home”.

It does not even argue for defence and military support for the one alliance which stands out as a bulwark against all forms of reaction, the People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel) and their more recent allies.

The Real Problem.

The Stop the War Coalition involves groups, including leading figures, who have a contentious view of ‘imperialism’ and some are influenced by a sour unappealing version of ‘revolutionary defeatism’. At times their spokespeople come close to a “Little Englander” stand that the risks of foreign wars – costs to our pockets, our military deaths, potential domestic terrorism –  are too great. This is as unappealing as the moral puffery of those who would impose human rights at the end of a cluster bomb.

But this is not their principal problem.

This is that the StWC  have no way of conveying a political message of solidarity with those suffering in the Syrian civil war, to further the aspirations for democracy and human rights, other than UK Stop Bombing.

They, whether Trotskyist or not, are truly conservative: repeat that, and all is resolved…

Update: Stop the War Replies to Critics: People are rude about us because we are so Awesome.

They attack Stop the War because we’re an effective anti-war movement and we won’t stop.

Within the anti-war movement there will be different views about what are the solutions to peace in the Middle East — the key question for us is opposing further intervention there by British and other forces.

Some on the left seem incapable of understanding this. But then, some on the left have never really understood the importance of a mass anti-war movement aimed at our government..

One of the major successes of Stop the War has been its ability to unite different forces. We will continue to do so.

The support we have received in recent weeks is in total contrast to these witch hunts, with many people joining, donating and coming out on the streets for our demos.

Can Left-wingers Criticise the Stop the War Coalition?

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Left-wing criticisms of Stop the War will not go away. 

The assault on Stop the War is really aimed at Jeremy Corbyn wrote Tariq Ali a few days ago in the Independent.

He stated, “In addition to the wars in the Middle East there is a nasty and unpleasant war being waged in England, targeting Jeremy Corbyn.”

Richard Burgon, Shadow Treasury Minister has remarked that,

…the attacks on Stop the War were “proxy attacks” on the Labour leader.

Responding to criticism the Labour leader said at a fundraising dinner for the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) last Friday, that the alliance was  “one of the most important democratic campaigns of modern times”, and accused the coalition’s critics of trying to close down debate.”

“He wished the group the very best, saying it has been a movement “dedicated to peace”. The “anti-war movement has been a vital force at the heart of our democracy”, he said. “I think we’ve been right on what we’ve done.”

Corbyn added: “We are a peaceful, democratic force. We are a force for good. We are a force for opening out people’s minds and mobilising them to challenge those that would take us into another war.

“I’ve been proud to be the chair of the Stop the War coalition, proud to be associated with the Stop the War coalition.

“We are very strong, there are very many more of us than there are of those people that want to take us in the other direction.”Corbyn insisted on attending the Christmas fundraiser in Southwark, as Labour sources said he had promised to hand over the chairman’s role in person. (Guardian.)

The StWC itself has said

While most of our critics have supported all the wars of this century in the face of growing evidence that they have failed, the Stop the War Coalition has a proud record of campaigning against wars since the start of what was originally called ‘the war on terror,’” the group claimed in a statement on Wednesday.

StWC also attacked the vote on bombing Syria.

The politicians who voted for further war last week fail to acknowledge the dismal record of previous interventions,” StWC argued. “Many of them are the same people who were the cheerleaders for the war in Iraq.

In the wake of the vote to bomb targets in Syria, a number of MPs claimed to have been harassed or even sent death threats by opponents of the move.

StWC said these claims were due to “the fact that some of our supporters have had the temerity to lobby their parliamentary representatives.”

Wild claims of intimidation of MPs have been shown to have been falsified,” it added.

RT

John McDonnell has been cited as saying,

…one of the things we normally do is campaign against unjust wars.

“That is why we were involved in the foundation of Stop the War. Again, others have been critical of Stop the War and some of the positions they have taken, but that is honest political debate.

“As far as I am concerned, Stop the War have got it right in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan and in terms of the bombing of Syria. So of course we continue to support the organisation.

Guardian.

There is no argument that there are many, in the media, and amongst Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour opponents who have used the controversy about the Stop the War Coalition as a means to get at the Labour leader.

But what of “honest political debate”?

It has not escaped the attention of many left-wingers that the Stop the War Coalitions problems are deeper than the crass posts – now removed, apparently –  on its Web site. That the ‘whirlwind’ and Daesh as “Internationalist Brigades”  posts – amongst others – have been removed alters little about the overall politics of the group.

George Galloway, a prominent StWC supporter, has spoken at their recent rallies. Apart from his sympathies for Russian bombing in Syria, this is one of his recent statements during his campaign to be London Mayor,

Galloway also promised to support the police and security services in the fight against terrorism.

“The police will find a friend in me,” he added.

Every terrorist will be shot down dead, and if I can, I will pull the trigger myself.

“I say to the police officer in the room, when it comes to your wages, your resources and your strengthening, you can count on me.”

Waltham Forest Guardian.

The StWC protested, it might be recalled, at the terrible police shooting of suspected “terrorist” Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005.

Perhaps some may find it odd that they now promote somebody advocating a free hand to the police to shoot….terrorists.

In January this year after the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper-Casher massacres Tari Ali gave a classic ‘whirlwind’ blow-back explanation of the killings,

That has been going on since 9/11. The West ref­uses to address the causes. Any attempt to explain why is usually denounced and so it bec­omes civilisational, or good versus evil, or free speech versus barbarism. The fact is that the West has reoccupied the Arab world with disasters in Syria, Iraq and Libya where things are much worse than under the previous aut­horitarian regimes. This is the prime cause of the radicalisation of young Muslims. The Left is in a bad way or seen as part of the problem, so they go to the mosque, search for hardline solutions and are eager to be used by jehadis.

What is the context in which the Paris killing should be seen?

As I described above but vis-a-vis France, these guys were a pure product of French society. Unemployed, long-haired, into drugs, alienated till they saw footage of US torture and killings in Iraq.

So you think western interventionist policies in the Arab and Muslim world are responsible for radicalisation of sections of Muslims in Europe and the United States?

In my opinion, one hundred per cent.

How serious is Islamophobia in France and other European countries?

France is the worst in Europe and tries to mask it by proclaiming its secular values (sound familiar?), but these values don’t apply to Islam. In fact, French secularism means anything but Islam. And when satirical magazines taunt them, they react. It’s as simple as that.

Outlook.

The ‘West’ was to blame for violent Islamism; Charlie Hebdo was “taunting” Moslems – we know what happened…

The more recent Paris slaughter has wider targets than the wrong kind of “secular” leftists at Charlie Hebdo and Jews, but one can see in Ali’s response (I have not referred to his later ‘wise guy’ comments giving the ‘inside dope’ on the weekly’s history and internal conflicts) that ‘reaping the whirlwind’ claims are not new in the StWC

Ali’s position on Syria appears to be that the “causes” of the civil war – Western intervention – are the prime target. StWC is opposed to “foreign interventions and especially where the British Government is involved.” The focus on Britain avoids the problem, which supporters of Syrian democrats emphasise, that Assad is backed by foreign intervention, and that StWC systematically excludes their voices from the debate.

In the Independent Ali evokes 19th century opposition to British colonial expeditions. “starting with William Morris’s observation in 1885 that the defeat of the British Army in the Sudan under General Gordon at the hands of the Mahdi (a religious leader par excellence), was a positive event insofar it weakened the British Empire.”

Is it the case that in “different times” – now – religious leaders weakening of the British or US ‘Empire’ can be welcomed?

Or, is Ali perhaps evoking the much more influential 19th century opponents of British colonial expeditions – the Little Englanders, such as John Bright (1811 – 1889)? Bright stood for many honourable causes, successfully joining opponents of UK support for the Southern side in the American civil war, and, less successfully, speaking against the Crimean War. As an anti-colonialist Bright tends to be forgotten for his equally ferocious campaign against Irish Home Rule. But the theme of British responsibility, the focus on the moral responsibility of the British government, and the need to fight “our” rulers, has left its mark on the modern ‘anti-imperialists’ of the StWC.

One does not have to agree with the claim that there are substantial numbers of Syrian democratic revolutionaries left in much of the country to see that this is clearly a problem.

Many feel that they have a responsibility to people across the world – it’s called internationalism.

In this context we note also Peter Tatchell’s criticisms of the StWC.

The dismissive response, whether one agrees with assertions about the strength of the Syrian democrats or not, has not been helpful.

Andrew Murray, Chair of the StWC, who is a considerably greater figure than any of the two already cited, has failed to explain why, as a member of the small Communist Party of Britain (CPB) – which backs Russian bombing in Syria to support Assad on the grounds that the Syrian state is sovereign – he is a leading figure in a movement that’s called “Stop the War”.

In an interview a few days ago with John Harris in the Guardian this exchange took place,

I suggest that the Assad regime has to go, and ask Murray if he agrees. But he doesn’t directly answer the question. We bat the point around for a few minutes, before we arrive at the reason why: as a staunch anti-imperialist, he says it’s not his place to call for the toppling of regimes overseas: a strange position for an avowed internationalist, perhaps, but there we are.

“Look, Assad has been bombing his own civilians, and he’s wreaked incredible suffering on the Syrian people,” he says. “I find nothing to applaud in the regime. Except this one aspect: it appears to have quite a lot of support from minority religions in Syria, and there is a fear that there could be mass killings of Christians or Shia Muslims – which is why a transition to democracy is what is needed.”

But why avoid saying Assad should go?

I’ve said [the regime] is awful. But you’re wanting me to take the place of the Syrian people. You’re wanting me to say, like the other colonialists down the years: ‘This regime should go.’”

Feeling a mild desperation, I bow to Godwin’s law, and mention Nazi Germany. In the 1930s and 40s, it would have been perfectly legitimate to insist that Hitler’s regime was so heinous that it ought to have been brought down, in a completely non-imperialist, moral context. So why can’t you say the same about Assad?

Eventually, Murray talks about a diplomatic push for a transition “that will end up with Assad going”. He goes on: “In my view, the important thing is that the Syrian people decide who their leaders are. I don’t believe it is the responsibility of people in Britain to choose the governments of foreign countries. If Assad wants to chance testing his popularity, that’s up to the Syrian people.”

John Rees and Lindsey German – the other key figures in the StWC – are leaders of Counterfire, a split from the Socialist Workers Party. Their principal difference with their former comrades was that they both wished to continue building a “united front” in the anti-war movement (that is work with other forces in the pressure group on a long-term basis), while the SWP wanted, as they always do, to switch over to whatever new campaign was their priority as the time (which few can remember).

Counterfire has a ‘revolutionary’ strategy,

At the point where revolutionaries took the step of initiating the Stop the War Coalition in 2001, we undertook an analysis something like this. We had already understood the nature of the new imperialism from theoretical work at the end of the Cold War, during the First Gulf War, and during the war in the Balkans. We understood the contradiction between expansive US military power and its relative economic decline. We judged, from preceding experience in the anti-globalisation movement, that there would be a mood to resist and that the left might not be divided in the way it had been in the Cold War.”

Rees claims, then, that the left determined the political direction of the StWC. “We” grasped the “subjective” element in politics and organised the “mood to resist”. The words ‘united front’ have all but evaporated. Instead we had another approach, which led (see below) to the formation of Respect. That is one based on access to “workers’ consciousness”. This method was not only applied to wage-labours. In 2003 he noted that amongst Muslims, “Some of these have been radicalised by the war, and by the effect on them of racism bolstered by the war and government policy. This has made them open to working with and being influenced by the left.” The alliances of the StWC and the left within it, was therefore not a matter of confronting people’s contradictory opinions, but to get a hold on “radicalised” forces – primarily Muslims.

Phil comments that the strategy has not worked well.

The Anti-imperialism of Fools.

The US is no longer the world’s unchallenged hegemon. Yet Stop the War has more or less carried on as if none of this has happened, as if the USA is the only active agent in the world and – implicitly – the designs and manoeuvres of rival states and enemies are benign or, at least, less harmful. This is why Putin never gets as much stick as Obama, why leading members of its steering committee have occasionally associated with sundry undesirables, why the Kurds get no support while IS are clumsily and favourably compared with the International Brigades. Why it appears that authoritarians and totalitarians get a free pass while democratic countries are criticised and mobilised against.

We need a new Stop the War coalition or, rather, we need one with new politics, one that recognises the inequitable and unjust character of international relations and global political economy, that sometimes war and peace is a messy business, and acknowledges that it’s not our place to soft soap regimes and terror outfits. Not that difficult you’d think, yet here we are.

Phil B. Left Futures.

In conclusion how better to illustrate this politics in action than this?

Condemn some bombing?

 Pat Murphy, NUT Executive (pc)

On 10 December the NUT National Executive debated a motion on Syria. It was based on something the SWP had sent out earlier in the week but was moved by Dave Harvey from Outer London.

The motion was pretty bland, reaffirming a previous decision to oppose UK air strikes on Syria, condemning the recent vote to bomb and calling for support for demos and protests against this including those called by the Stop The War Coalition. I wrote an amendment which added condemnation of all bombing, specifically naming Russian and Assad regime bombing. It also called on Stop The War to condemn this military intervention as well as UK attacks and it called on the UK government to demand that NATO member Turkey cease all attacks on the Kurds.

The debate was short but bizarre. The most common response was that people ‘didn’t disagree with a word in the amendment but it takes the focus off the UK bombing and that has to be our main thrust’.

The crassest argument by far came from the SWP. To criticise Stop The War at this time is to criticise Corbyn and that’s a no-no. So we had self-styled revolutionary socialists using their lifetimes of Marxist education to urge Labour Party members to be more loyal to their leader. Much like members of the SWP do for their leaders I guess.

12 Executive members voted for my amendment and 26 against. The main motion was then carried with one vote against (Ian Leaver of Leicester who seconded my amendment). There was probably a case for that stance. For him it was a gesture of his frustration with Stop The War’s recent publication of articles appearing to compare Daesh to the anti-fascist International Brigades and to blame the West for the Paris atrocity. There was certainly a case for abstention though it was not a particularly strident motion. My amendment took nothing out (rightly or wrongly) but added stuff in.

The vote for the amendment crossed the obvious political divides to some extent but the bulk of support for it came from LANAC supporters. The determination to defeat this condemnation of Russia and Assad and the minor criticism of Stop the War came from supporters of the Socialist Teachers Alliance and their bag-carriers in the SWP.

Both organisations are so saturated in low level, lesser-evil anti-imperialism that they have forgotten that such a thing as socialist internationalism ever existed. Now it’s just ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ (or at least a less bad enemy). It was very much like watching the last spasms of a dying species.

Workers Liberty.

Front National Win in First Round of French Regional Elections: an Analysis.

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Front National: National Preference.

France 24.

France’s far-right National Front (FN) party rode a wave of fear over immigration and terrorism to storm to a commanding position in the first round of voting in the country’s high-stakes regional elections on Sunday.

The anti-immigration party led by Marine Le Pen scored around 28 percent of the vote nationally and topped the list in at least six of 13 regions, according to final estimates from the interior ministry.

The FN came ahead of both former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains (formerly the UMP), which earned 27 percent, and President François Hollande’s Socialists, with 23.5 percent, official estimates showed.

Le Pen and her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen broke the symbolic 40 percent mark in their respective regions, shattering previous records for the party as they tapped into voter anger over a stagnant economy and security fears.

The polls were held under tight security in the first national vote since Islamic State group terrorists killed 130 people in a wave of attacks across Paris on November 13.

Despite its commanding position, the FN now faces a tougher battle in a second round of voting next Sunday after the Socialists announced they were withdrawing candidates in three regions in a bid to block the far right from power.

Progression of Front National.

Le Monde states that the Front National (FN) totaled 6 million votes in the first round.

The real importance of this result gives Marine Le Pen’s party a chance to normalise and streamline its presence,

The Financial Times cites this,

James Shields, professor of French politics at Aston University said: “These results are a shock but they shouldn’t be a surprise.

“What Marine Le Pen wants above all is a chance to show that her party can govern more than a medium-sized town. For that, a region with several million inhabitants offers a perfect testing-ground, giving her party time to deliver some results before the presidential and legislative elections of 2017.”

The Front National has talked of the “suicide collectif du PS” – the group suicide of the Socialist Party.

The far-right won in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, one of the birthplaces of the French labour movement, and the socialist and Communist left. Over the last few months there have been many reports on growth of the FN the area, including a whole series on the radio station France-Culture. As the political scientist Jean-Yves Camus states, “C’est une région à forte tradition ouvrière, victime de désindustrialisation, de délocalisations, de chômage de masse et de fermetures d’entreprises,” It’s a region with a strong working class tradition, the victim of de-industrialisation, the delocalisation of companies, mass unemployment and business closures.”

Languedoc-Roussillon Midi-Pyrénées was another region affected: the birthplace (Castres) of Jean Jaurès (1849 – 1914) the leader of twentieth century French socialism. It was where he received his first Parliamentary mandate, backed by the miners of Carmaux. Jaurès was assassinated in 1914 by a sympathiser of the extreme right, precursors of the Front National.

There is little doubt that spreading anxiety about Islam played a part in the elections. But the FN’s breakthrough cannot be simply attributed to fear in the wake of the Paris murders and Marine Le Pen’s leadership’s (not to mention their activists) attempts to spread hatred against Muslims.

Its  strategy has been to campaign and stir up hatred against all foreigners, beginning with those running the European Union (EU). The message, given very clearly in the poster above, is that outsiders are out to get the French, take their jobs, their homes and undermine their living standards.

The party demands that France leaves the Euro, and that “priorité nationale”(or La préférence national) be given to French nationals in employment. Jobs will be given to those with French nationality in preference to anybody else (Les entreprises se verront inciter à prioriser l’emploi, à compétences égales, des personnes ayant la nationalité française). This also means – in terms very close to those proposed by the David Cameron’s government, that social benefits, from housing onwards, are taken away from migrant workers and immigrants. It demands an end to “massive immigration” and free movement in Europe. The FN denounces immigration as “une arme au service du grand capital” (a weapon of Big Business), an apparently ‘anti-capitalist’ position They propose to limit legal immigration 10,000 a year.  Being born in France will no longer mean automatically acquiring French nationality.

If the FN claim to support ” laïcité” and to support “assimilation” of different cultures into France this is on the basis of the «racines chrétiennes de la France», Christian roots of France (sometimes «judéo-chrétiennes») – at odds with the universalism of humanist values which have no such unique roots.

The Front National has also worked UKIP and British tabloid territory in spreading scare stories about benefits and housing for migrants and refugees. They even include the principle that demonstrations in favour of illegal migrants are forbidden. and that anti-French racism is  recognised as  an aggravating factor in criminal offences (1)

The measures the FN propose imply a disengagement from the EU and a return to full national sovereignty. In some respects the FN’s ideas have an echo across a wide spectrum of political currents, including a section of the left. The FN does not simply attack the EU and the effects of globalisation. They stand for ‘sovereignty’, restoring what they claim should be the full power of the ‘nation’. This, known in France as “souverainisme” (soveriegntism)  is  embraced equally vociferously  in the United Kingdom by those urging leaving the EU. Like the British Conservatives they are also hostile to the European Convention on Human Rights.

For the FN this is wider than a political demand.  It is tied to a wider programme of economic protectionism. These economics are more widely shared than in the UK. Emmanuel Todd  – known in the English-speaking world for his scorn against the Je Suis Charlie movement – is a long standing supporter of “intelligent protectionism”. He, like the FN,  is anti-Euro and goes so far to find inspiration in the German nationalist protectionist Frederich List.

Many of the FN’s national policies may be classed as pure demagogy. For their working class and “popular” electorate the FN  propose to raise the minimum wage, benefits, notably pensions,  (for French citizens), and put controls on the price of  gas, electricity, transport and petrol. (Le Front national, cette imposturele Monde. 4.12.15.)

The governing Parti Socialiste has been unable to offer much in the way of making life better for those out of work in regions like Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie – the national unemployment rate stands at a  stubborn 10,2%. In this northern area unemployment amongst the young is at  31,8 %.

These economic issues, rather than identity or religion, are also at the heart of the failure of the Parti socialiste to continue to win overwhelming support from those of a Muslim background. Le Monde (4.12.15.) reports that it is not opposition to gay marriage or to teaching gender equality in schools – issues on which a number of organised Islamic groups made common cause with the conservative Christian right – which has affected their voting behaviour. It is the inability of President Hollande, and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls to improve their living conditions which has struck home.

The complicated alliance of the Socialists’ left opponents in the left-wing Greens (EELV) and the Front de gauche make it hard to decipher their national score of 10 to 11 % (sometimes aligned together, sometimes not), although it is clear that the Green vote has almost halved (l’Humanité). To to predict where and if there will be agreements with the PS is equally hard.

On the far-left the results are negligible. The Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) was too weak to present its own lists and backed Lutte ouvrière who obtained  320 054 votes nationally  (1,5 %)

The Socialists meanwhile are discussing – and arguing about – possible agreements with other forces for the second round.

Sarkozy’s Les Républicains (LR) have just announced that they will refuse to enter into any alliances with the other parties.

The French political class – and all those dependent on the decisions and funding of the French Regions – will soon have to face up to the Front National with its hands on some levers of power.

Indications that initial flash points will concern exactly the allocation of the regional funds.

Left reaction:  Communiqué de Ensemble! Contre le Front national et la droite, il faut un sursaut à gauche !

Political scientists’ analysis: «Le FN réussit à incarner le vote utile contre la gauche»

Le vote Front national devient « un vote de plus en plus national » et « inter-classiste ». C’est ce qu’estiment cinq chercheurs de l’Observatoire des radicalités politiques (ORAP) de la fondation Jean Jaurès. Dans une analyse fine des résultats, ils mettent en évidence « l’hégémonie culturelle » de l’extrême droite, l’échec de la « stratégie Buisson » de la droite et l’aveuglement de la gauche.

Their voters are more and more national (and not locally based), and cross-class. They decsibre the “cultural hegemony” of the far-right and failure of the right (LR, Sarkozy) to capture their electorate by their own nationalist rhetoric and cultural conservatism (Buisson, one of his main advisers), and the blindness of the left.

You can read this (downloaded paper) for free:  Le « nouveau » Front national en question. Alexandre Dézé April 2015.

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(1)  Front National programme: Immigration Stopper l’immigration, renforcer l’identité française: “Les manifestations de clandestins ou de soutien aux clandestins seront interdites.

– Le racisme anti-Français comme motivation d’un crime ou d’un délit sera considéré comme une circonstance particulièrement aggravante et alourdira la peine encourue.”

Say No To Blackmail: Oppose Bombing Syria.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d2/Image_of_a_15_Squadron_GR4_taken_over_Royal_Air_Force_Lossiemouth%2C_and_surrounding_countryside._MOD_45155748.jpg/1024px-Image_of_a_15_Squadron_GR4_taken_over_Royal_Air_Force_Lossiemouth%2C_and_surrounding_countryside._MOD_45155748.jpg

Say No to Resignation Blackmail: Labour Should Oppose Bombing Syria.

“L’objectif, c’est d’anéantir l’Etat islamique globalement”

The objective is to wipe out the Islamic State across the world.

John Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Defence. (Le Monde. 24.11.15)

The French government talks of a “hybrid world war” against Daesh. The first is on the battle-field in the Levant, against the Islamic “state being built”. The second is against terrorism, fought in the “shadows” world-wide, and by the state of emergency in France. The British government proposes to join the ‘coalition’ to play an aerial part in Syria. It will make Britain safer. Jeremy Corbyn refuses to take part in the conflict. It will male the UK less safe. Uniting with David Cameron leading figures in the Labour Shadow Cabinet, who back air strikes, threaten their Party and Leader. The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) brandishes the prospect of mass protests.

We have not been here before. Very few people are interested in demonstrating that the present US and French responses to the Syrian civil war are part of plans to extend the American Empire or the New Imperialism (Socialist Register. 2004 and 2005). Whether taking part in the conflict is integrated in a long-term strategy of “bomb and build”, covered by the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention, remains to be seen. For the moment minds are concentrated on the claims of the French government, made in response to the agony of the Paris murders, to take on Daesh.

Leading Labour politicians are, they say, standing on principle against Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to back the use of air power in Syria. The ability to find an incontestable line that will guide intervention amongst the multiple contenders, the external forces in play, is a rare talent. The belief that the way to resolve the conflict begins with wiping out the Islamic State (ISIS/Daesh) – is less common amongst specialists reporting and analysing the region.

The possibility of a democratic settlement sealed by the gathering coalition for military action has yet to be demonstrated. A list of those it would have to involve includes (to start with), the Baath Party and Assad, the Free Syrian Army, the non-Daesh Islamists, the Turkmen, Christians, the Kurds, free-lance militias, and all their contending backers, from the Gulf States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, the US, to France. The actions of Turkey alone, as shown in the last few days, with the shooting down of a Russian plane, indicate that the grounds for belief in an end to the fighting are not strong. That the players called to agree include tyrannies, religious or not, should encourage scepticism about their human rights intentions.

Anti-War Movement.

But if the Labour rebels are people of principle, then so are the StWC and its supporters.

The anti-war movement is still congratulating itself on condemning the Paris slaughter. These were ordinary people. They were not the wrong kind of leftists at Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish customers of the Hyper-Casher, murdered earlier this year in what many of them described as a response to French secularist Islamophobia. The StWC had, we have to say, tweeted about Paris reaping the “whirlwind” and the Socialist Workers Party had claimed that ultimately the dead were the victims of imperialist intervention in the Middle East. Some ventured that again it was AllAboutOil. But now they all condemn the attacks, if still trying to “understand” them. There even moral cretins around on the fringes who state, “The real terrorists are in power today across Europe and in the United States.” (Here) And many more are warning about more future murders at home if Britain joins in air strikes. Which concern them. Although the entirely justified US support for the Kurds, including air-strikes, which saved them in their hour of need,  does not get mentioned.

The anti-war movement is concerned about prejudice and attacks on Muslims in the wake of the Paris killings. Is it concerned about the deaths in Syria? Syrian democrats rightly point to the origins of the civil war in Assad’s refusal to contemplate democratic reform when the hopes of the Arab Spring reached their country. How will Jeremy Corbyn’s call for more negotiations produce a different result?

Violent Islamism is far from restricted to the Middle East. Its development there may well have been favoured by the failures of the Arab Spring, or, further back, of Arab left-wing nationalism. The West has its imprint. In the aftermath of Western intervention in Iraq, the sectarian conflicts (not least led by the Shiites), Daesh was born. But what of Tunisia, – latest bombing site – which now has a democratic state? Is this too experiencing ‘blow back’ for its imperialist involvement? Is Nigeria, scene of the largest number of Islamist terrorist killings, also caught up as a result of its place within the US Empire? Are Bangladeshi secularist bloggers paying the price for their country’s involvement in the Levant?

Jihad.

France’s ‘war of the shadows’ against Jihadist terrorism is equally unclear. Gilbert Achcar points to a domestic origin in France’s ‘banlieue’, the territorial, social and ethnic apartheid Prime Minister Valls has himself denounced. (Le Monde.26.11.15). The day before Olivier Roy talked of a restricted generational revolt, both by those of a Muslim background against traditional faith, and by converts who (unwilling to read left-wing literature) find it the only “radicalism” on offer. Their path is towards nihilism: fascination with death, pride in killing, and the accumulation of sexual slaves. In Daesh’s utopia, detached from Muslim society and religious tradition, is one long battle, in which they play the role of lowly troops. (Le Monde. 25.11.15) How any, by necessity, long-term plan to end the social exclusion that may have encouraged these willing recruits to the Islamic State’s Einsatzgruppen, could bear results is yet to be debated.

In Jafar Panahi’s Taxi Tehran (2015) the laws of an actually existing Islamic State, Iran, are discussed inside a cab. Film censorship, correct dress, hanging for theft, the film opens a window into life in a country ruled by religious law. The Sunnite version of this oppression, in Saudi Arabia, is even better covered in the media. The bigotry of political Islam, that is faith made into law and enforced on people’s daily life, is all too known across the world today. Countries like Iran, which still tries to export its ‘Revolution’, and Saudi Arabia, whose financial weight extends into Europe’s mosques and other Islamic institutions, have spread the belief that the Sharia and an ‘Islamic society’, are utopias. Their community has little place for non-Muslims, who have little place in these worlds. They are based on punishment. They united against unbelief. Whether there is an existential gulf between the ideology of the rulers of Tehran or Riyadh and that of Daesh and the world’s Jihadists, is hard for most people to tell.

Oppose Bombing.

What is certain is that David Cameron’s plans for Syria are as clear as mud. France has switched from Laurent Fabius’ (French Foreign Secretary) strategy of toppling Assad to allying de facto with him in weeks. President Hollande’s Defence Minister is open in advocating putting troops on the ground – how and which troops is not announced. (Le Monde. 22.11. 15) Yet moral outrage at those who urge caution is building. Moral indignation at bombing – when war is already raging, and when the indignant have less than straightforward alternatives – may not have a great echo. Nobody has any solid plans, for all the welcome US air support for the Democratic Forces of Syria, to help one of the few forces in the maelstrom the left can support, the Kurds of Northern Syria in the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), above all faced with Turkey. But let’s put it simply: the Coalition against Terror has no effective and sustainable solution that it can enforce militarily without massive loss of life and unsure future prospects.  We hope that Parliament refuses to go along with them.

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Note: This is the Crucial Point in Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to Labour MP’s:

…the Prime Minister did not set out a coherent strategy, coordinated through the United Nations, for the defeat of ISIS. Nor has he been able to explain what credible and acceptable ground forces could retake and hold territory freed from ISIS control by an intensified air campaign.

In my view, the Prime Minister has been unable to explain the contribution of additional UK bombing to a comprehensive negotiated political settlement of the Syrian civil war, or its likely impact on the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK.

For these and other reasons, I do not believe the Prime Minister’s current proposal for air strikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it.

Labour List.