Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘Imperialism

Will the left hear the cries from Aleppo?

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London, Saturday.

Will the left hear the cries from Aleppo?

Syrian solidarity activists should therefore go and make the case in defense of the original uprising against the Syrian regime and Russia at, for example, forums put on by the U.S. Peace Council, which is currently touring apologists for Assad. We can organize debates about Syria and Palestine at political conferences, and challenge the views put forward by Blumenthal and Khalek in left publications and websites.

This attitude of fighting to win the debate is important. We have to win the left to a genuine anti-imperialism that opposes not just the U.S. empire, but its rivals (and sometime collaborators) as well. As revolutionary socialist Eamonn McCann put it so well in a speech in the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland, we must protest American imperialism’s crimes in Iraq, Yemen and beyond, while also challenging Russian imperialism in Syria.

Finally, and most importantly, we must stand in solidarity with genuine liberation struggles from below, regardless of which imperial camp they are challenging. Our slogan is neither Washington, nor Moscow, nor Beijing, nor Damascus, nor Tehran, nor Riyadh, but self-determination for oppressed nations and international socialism.

From Socialist Worker.

No, not the UK Socialist Worker of the SWP, but the US Socialist Worker of the International Socialist Organization.

This is only one contribution to a very serious debate taking place on the entire  US Left about these issues.

One could begin with one important and  latest contribution:  The numbers game in East Aleppo by Louis Proyect.

In the UK Socialist Resistance have published this: Syria – calling for an end to intervention is not nearly enough

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty republishes this: What’s wrong with “Stop the War”?


Written by Andrew Coates

October 23, 2016 at 11:53 am

After Fifteen Years Why Has the Stop the War Coaliton Foundered?

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Image result for stop the war coalition

After 15 Years what do they have to show for it all?

Lindsey German of the revolutionary socialist group Counterfire and the Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) writes today.

Our conference next month marks the 15th anniversary of our movement. A time to say no to all the wars arising from the war on terror. And to continue our commitment to opposing the system our government is at the heart of, imperialism.

If the StWC is opposed to all wars “arising from the war on terror”, and it bases its opposition on being against ‘imperialism’ is the StWC simply an ‘anti-imperialist’ group.

The confusion that has lain for years over the StWC comes from this source.

It can be ‘against’ Western, and specifically UK, involvement in ‘bombing Syria’  but it has absolutely no answer to the multiple wars in that region, except being against the one force they identity as ‘imperialist’ – the US and its direct allies.

Who are opposed to Assad, who is backed by the Russian Federation, and Iran.

Who are not – officially – supported by the StWC because the StWC is against all ‘foreign’ involvement in Syria – even (they officially) claim those fighting ‘imperialism’, like Assad.

Who the US and its NATO allies oppose.

But even here, since some US allies, such as the Saudis and the Gulf states, back non-ISIS jihadist forces to the US against Assad and against…the Kurds.

Who, a progressive left force, are supported (in the shape of the YPG) by the Americans…

Who have been driven to oppose to Turkey, its ally, when they fight the Kurds..

Who are also…

Well, we could go on.

And on.

Stopping the War is clearly not on the cards in Syria, nor has the slogan any meaning in dealing with the fighting in Iraq.

StWC claims not to “take sides” in Syria, but somehow be to be against “war” without being pacifists – that it absolutely against any violence.

But the violence continues, and there is no such thing as a non ‘intervening’ side when not doing something is to let things, continue…

The incoherence of the position of the STWC is to imagine, or at least claim, that they are both  au-dessus de la Mêlée  and anti-imperialist.

But we all incoherent faced with the mass killings taking place.

But failing to stand up for human decency in the face of the genocides taking place and saying, in effect, “none of our business”, leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Most people have simply walked away from this crew.

Let the Festivities Commence!

It would be churlish not to leave the StWC with some crumbs of comfort.

In a note of self-celebration and a much needed pat on the pat, German also states today,

We did a great thing collectively with Stop the War. We have maintained it as an organisation and in the past year have seen a considerable increase in support, despite (or perhaps because of) the attacks on Corbyn. We are, I think, the major anti-war movement in any Nato country. The attacks from the right over the Syria bombing vote in 2013 showed the legacy of the movement and what damage we did. Ditto the Syria vote last year, used as a vicious attack on Jeremy Corbyn (and joined in by the pro-intervention left). There are many issues to debate about our history, and still a job to combat interventions in the Middle East and through Nato expansion.

But no, let us continue churlishly.

In reality all that remains of this “great thing” is that the StWC struggled to get a couple of thousand  people at its last demonstration (November 2015) and barely more than a couple of hundred at the CND anti-Trident protest outside Parliament this July.

One notes who they chose as a speaker at the November event.

And this sprightly new face, before his more recent Brexit campaigning:

Image result for november 2015 stop the war coalition demonstration tariq ali


The major reason for their decline is that the StWC is  as we have just seen, an irrelevance in the face of the events unfolding in the Middle East.

Another is that  the group, no doubt caught up in what Counterfire calls the ‘actuality of the revolution’  feels free to expound on a variety of issues  with a less than direct link to war.

It published this tissue of lies a few days ago:

Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité…Unless You’re a Muslim Woman

These are some of the most shameful episodes in the treatment of Muslim women in France that I can recall. They are state sponsored bullying and racism pure and simple. Islamophobia is only one form of racism, although it is the major one in Europe today. But it is the only one which targets the behaviour and dress of women in particular, and tried to alter this behaviour in the most draconian way.

German shamefully tries to link the ban on the Burkini to French international interventions.

She can barely resist saying of the atrocities, “they had it coming to them…”

France has also been increasingly strongly involved in interventions in Muslim countries, most notably Syria and Libya, which have led to increases in the level of terrorism.

Without going into great detail about  the issue we simply note.

  • It was not the French ‘state’ which tried to ban the burkini, but right-wing local authorities on the country’s coastline.
  • The French ‘state’ in the shape of the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State, the clue being the second part of the name…) overturned the ban. It said it was incompatible with human rights.
  • It was kind of German to express concern for the mass murders carried out by Daesh supporters in France. But perhaps something a little more forthcoming than a reference to “increases in the level of terrorism” linked to “interventions in Muslim countries” might have been more appropriate for those close to the victims in  Nice, Paris and Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, to cite but the most recent atrocities.

Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution, *US* Socialist Worker Debates the Issues.

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Image result for syria

The US Socialist Worker (long divorced from its British parent, and the paper of the International Socialist Organization, ISO) has carried an important debate on Syria in the last week.

Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution. Ashley Smith

THE SYRIAN Revolution has tested the left internationally by posing a blunt question: Which side are you on? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?

Tragically, too many have failed this test.

From the very beginning of Syria’s revolution–even before the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front some years later–a whole section of the left opposed the popular uprising against the Assad dictatorship that began in early 2011, part of the Arab Spring wave of popular rebellions against dictatorship and repression.

Since then, they have turned a blind eye to Assad’s massacre of some 400,000 Syrians, and his regime’s use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons and barbaric sieges of cities like Aleppo. Today, 11 million people–half the country’s population–have been displaced, with the Assad regime responsible for the lion’s share of the death and destruction.

The author criticises the “campist” belief that, ” there is only one imperialist power in the world–the U.S.–and that it is an all-powerful manipulator of international events.”

The U.S. does remain the world’s dominant imperialist power, but as a result of its failed war in Iraq and other factors, it has suffered a relative decline in strength. Washington is now challenged internationally by imperialist rivals like China and Russia, as well as regional powers. In this new imperial order, the U.S. is less capable of controlling world events–it fears popular revolt all the more.

This is perhaps a more specifically US stand,

The campist misreadings, however, have led them to the conclusion that the U.S. government is pulling the strings in the rebellion in Syria. Some have gone so far as to argue–absurdly–that the U.S. backs ISIS against Assad. Ironically, this puts the campists in agreement with Donald Trump, who, in his latest ravings, claims that Obama and Clinton were “founders” of ISIS.

One of the most striking paragraphs is the following,

A genuine internationalist left must stand with Syria’s popular resistance to Assad, which began as a nonviolent uprising against the dictatorship–and against intervention by American and Russian imperialism, as well as by the region’s main powers.

This stands in clear contrast to the entire strategy of groups in the UK, notably the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) , which  claims not to “take sides”.

The STWC’s John Rees’ states,

The STWC has never supported the Assad regime. Just as we never supported the Taliban, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi. Only in the minds of ‘them or us’ pretend patriots does the opposition to our own government’s wars mean support for dictators or terrorists. Our case has always been that war will worsen the problem and not solve it. We were right in that analysis in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

There is no group, in other words, that they do stand with.

This is Smith’s conclusion,

No one committed to solidarity with the Syrian struggle can align themselves with either wing of the U.S. imperial establishment. Instead, the left must reject imperialism in any form, including Russia’s.

Rather than look to imperialist powers or dictatorial regimes in either camp, the left should stand for workers’ struggle across borders and in defense of oppressed nations and their fight for self-determination.

In Syria, the revolution has suffered a defeat for the time being. While civil society activists continue to seize every opportunity to assert their goals, their forces have been ravaged by counterrevolution–in the form of the Syria regime and its international allies on the one hand, and the Nusra Front and ISIS, which was particularly eager from the start to target the rebels than regime forces, on the other.

But as Gilbert Achcar argues in his book Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising, this setback, however devastating, comes amid a long period of revolutionary crisis in Syria and the whole region.

The task of the international left today is to oppose intervention by any of the imperialist and regional powers, reject the tyranny of the Assad regime itself, demand the opening of the borders to those fleeing the violence and chaos, collaborate with Syrian revolutionaries–and win people away from campism to the politics of international solidarity from below.

There is nothing specific about the Kurdish YPD and their alliances, nothing specific about the very special threat to progressives and democrats posed by Islamic State, – with all the international echoes that Jihadism poses.

Some will welcome (despite scepticism about how it will work out) US backing for the democratic Kurdish forces and be concerned about Turkish intervention.

Others will point to the specific threat created by the  Jihaist genociders of Daesh and the international volunteers for their death squads not least from Europe.

The debate that the article has caused has unfortunately focused on the role of the US rather than such issues. One reader commented, ” “Assad must go!” is the mantra not of the left, but of the Western imperialists.” Another states, “no to U.S. militarism being used to put in place a government that becomes a U.S. pawn.”

Perhaps the UK SWP reflects this debate by publishing the following today,

Turkish and Syrian socialists issue joint statement against intervention

The US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and all the others must keep their hands off Syria.

All support given to the Baas [Assad] regime must be stopped in order for the war to come to an end.

The Syrian people must decide their own future.

Turkey must immediately cease military operations in Syria, stop its enmity against the Kurds, and open its borders to Syrian refugees.

We call all the revolutionary Syrian forces to unify their struggle against: the dictatorship, the foreigners regional and imperialist interventions, and against the reactionary forces.

We believe that the victory of Syrian people on all these counter revolutionary forces, demand the unity of all the revolutionary forces of all the Syrians.

Long live peace, long live the revolution!

Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (Turkey)

Revolutionary Left Current (Syria)

Now the this Blog has serious disagreements with the ISO, not least on issues which cross over to this searing problem, such as  its refusal to back secularists, like the French ligue de droits de l’homme, in France, against both Islamist and Nationalist-racist bigotry.

Bbut this debate is highly welcome.

Details on quite how anybody is going to stop foreign intervention in Syria and help the Syrian democratic cause win is perhaps too much to ask.



Written by Andrew Coates

August 31, 2016 at 12:50 pm

Socialist Action, Labour, and the Anti-imperialism of Fools.

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John Ross Weibo

Socialist Action ‘Guru’ John Ross.

In discussion about the Labour Party the name ‘Socialist Action’ often comes up.

We will not comment on the truth or otherwise of the details in this report,

Jeremy Corbyn acts as peacemaker between rival Labour factions after Neale Coleman quits

Labour insiders claim a pro-Livingstone group is battling for power with a camp led by John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor and Mr Corbyn’s closest political ally.

The  Livingstone faction, dubbed “the Kennites”,  includes Simon Fletcher, a former Ed Miliband aide who ran Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign and is now his chief of staff, the job he did for Mr Livingstone at City Hall. The “Kennites” are said to be less ideological and more pragmatic than the McDonnell group. They favour a conciliatory approach towards the Shadow Cabinet members and backbench MPs who have differences with Mr Corbyn.

The more hardline McDonnell camp includes Seumas Milne, a columnist on leave from The Guardian newspaper, who Mr Corbyn persuaded to become his director of communications after a shambolic start to his leadership. He is credited with injecting more discipline into the operation. But critics claim he is a divisive “control freak” who wants to be in charge of policy as well as communications and to supplant Mr Fletcher.

Mr Milne takes a less tolerant view of dissenting MPs than the “Kennites” and is said to have pressed Mr Corbyn to sack more Shadow Cabinet critics in this month’s messy reshuffle than he eventually did.  Shadow ministers angrily accused him of briefing journalists during a Shadow Cabinet meeting that Labour MPs would be whipped to vote against UK air strikes against Isis in Syria last December. When they saw the briefing on their smartphones, a rebellion forced Mr Corbyn to concede a free vote.

Team Corbyn have insisted there was “no row” between Mr Milne and Mr Coleman and dismissed as “complete rubbish” speculation that Mr Fletcher could walk out because of a rift with Mr Milne. One insider said: “Seumas is the conduit and gets all the flak. It’s not a clash, more growing into office pains. Everyone is learning as they go along, from Jeremy downwards. The stakes are high and everything gets magnified.”

The article continues,

Some Labour Kreminologists claim the current dispute can be traced back to a bitter split on the hard left in the 1980s when Mr Livingstone fell out with Mr McDonnell, his deputy as leader of the Greater London Council (GLC).  Mr McDonnell accused Mr Livingstone of selling out after he refused to defy the Thatcher Government by not balancing the GLC’s books. Mr McDonnell chairs the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), which he founded in 2004 to reach out to left-wingers outside Labour. LRC figures attacked Mr Livingstone’s Socialist Action group as “plastic socialists”. The rival factions have even been compared to Russia’s hardline Bolsheviks and more moderate Mensheviks, who split in 1903.

This is something in this.

Simon Fletcher was indeed a member of Socialist Action. as were other key members of the GLC team – in the 1980s and later when Livingstone returned as London mayor (200 – 2008). Redmond O’Neil, Jude Woodward,  and John Ross (who was his “Economics Adviser”) are the best known of the ‘org’. But it is rather more than ‘Livingstone’s group’.

Socialist Action learnt its trade in the 1980s, backing the Labour Campaign group,

This unusually close agreement between a parliamentary faction and an extra-parliamentary organisation resembles the alliance between horse and rider.

The MPs assure us that Socialist Action is cured of its youthful radicalism, and will cheerfully prostrate itself by selling the MPs’ abysmally boring Campaign Group News.

John Sullivan  As Soon As This Pub Closes

It is said that this prostration developed wider during Livingstone’s time as London Mayor. But being errand girls and boys is part of a broader strategy.

Socialist Action, as John Sullivan’s handbook on how to organise on the British left,  is at no pains to note,  is a descendant of the International Marxist Group.

But those of us on the left who were in the International Marxist Group in the 1970s – and others who took part in the split in the 1980s which gave birth to Socialist Action – have more fundamental reasons to be hostile to the ‘elite groupuscule’.

The leader of the IMG John Ross (also known as Alan Jones – note to journalists) and  founding figure of Socialist Action took an anti-European stand during the 1975 referendum. Even those in our opposing tendency who also supported a No vote accused him of nationalism. Those of us who were pro-Europe (we advocated abstention at the time, which was a serious error) could frankly feel this  in our bones.

To be blunt us lot – called at the time Tendency A – hated his guts.

By extension, that means anybody associated with them, right to the present day. And it’s true to say that some of the people in the Labour Representation Committee  come from those opposed to the ‘Rossites’ from way way back. But many do not- age is the most obvious reason – and yet they hold equally forthright views about the organisation.


Well there are plenty of reasons and they are less and less to do with the past and a lot more to do with what Socialist Action stands for today.

These are a few:

A central part of their present ideology is the ‘anti-imperialism of fools‘.

This is their analysis of the “current phase of imperialism” (What is the current phase of imperialism? May 2014).

Michael Burke begins by observing that after the collapse of the USSR the US has tried to impose its power – from the Gulf War, to the attempted “hijacking” of the Arab Spring. But this was now at a  standstill. The US faces an impasse. Why?

…the economic rise of China has warranted a strategic ‘pivot’ towards Asia in an attempt to curb the rise of the only economy that could rival US supremacy in the foreseeable future. Given this absolute priority and the reduced circumstances of the US economy, it has been necessary to suspend new large-scale direct military interventions elsewhere.

This curb on US power has had immediate and beneficial consequences for humanity. Syria could not be bombed and neither could Iran. In these, Russian opposition to US plans was a key political obstacle, especially as the US wanted to deploy multilateral and multinational forces to do its bidding and needed the imprimatur of the UN Security Council. The US response to this blockage has been to increase pressure on Russia, most dramatically with its ouster of the elected Ukrainian government in a coup and its attempt to breach the country’s agreed neutrality by bringing it into NATO.

This curb on US power, however limited or temporary, should be welcomed by all socialists, by all democrats and simply by all those who desire peace. Instead, we have the strange spectacle that some on the left have raised the charge that Russia is imperialist, or that China is, or countries such as Brazil, or India or South Africa are ‘sub-imperialist’!

This is not a coincidence. In the US State Department’s frustration it has produced every type of calumny against Putin, including that he is an imperialist[i] and akin to Hitler. Self-styled socialists who simply echo these charges are not highly amenable to logical argument. But it is vital for socialists to understand the nature of imperialism and its current manifestation[ii].

Rather than echo the frustrations of the US State Department, socialists and communists welcome the current impotence of the US, for however long it lasts and however limited it is. In 1997 a triumphalist US imperialism set out its bold plan to brook no global or regional opposition and to be able to fight two major wars simultaneously[xii]. In 2013 the US and its allies were unable to begin bombing Syria.

Imperialism is the enemy of all humanity and its set-backs or defeats are a cause for celebration as they represent an advance for all humankind and the struggle for socialism.

So China and Putin have thwarted the US….. that is ‘anti-imperialism‘ for the modern day.

This is a recent screed by this genius of the world revolution, (Socialist Action John Ross. 29th of November)

How to really defeat ISIS

The effective measures that would really defeat ISIS are very simple – the fact Cameron doesn’t propose them shows he is lying about trying to destroy ISIS.

1. Turkey should be told it must close within 24 hours the main supply route across its border to ISIS at Jarablus and at other border crossings. If it does not a UN Security Council Resolution will be adopted imposing financial sanctions on Turkey, as with Iran and North Korea, and the UN Security Council will authorise coalition bombing for 5km inside the Syrian border with Turkey to cut supply routes to ISIS from Turkey.

2. Saudi Arabia should be told it must cease all transfers of money to ISIS. If proof is found of any further such transfers a UN Security Council Resolution will be adopted imposing financial sanctions on Saudi Arabia as with Iran and North Korea.

If these measures are adopted they would, unlike Cameron’s bombing, lead to the crushing of ISIS. A resolution of the House of Commons should be adopted to embody this.

If Cameron refuses to adopt this policy it shows he is not in fact trying to defeat ISIS. Therefore no support can be given to his proposed bombing.

No supplies no funds, ISIS will just disappear off the face of the earth.

No more slavery, no more torture, no more genocide.

Why didn’t World Imperialism think of it before?


It’s also worth noting that Ross still loves his country,

Britain is also one of the world’s great historical nations. I love my country deeply, and the enormous contributions it has made to world culture and science, and in which struggles such as the Suffragettes or to create our health service are a source of great pride. There are regrettably some things in my country’s history, as with every great state, which I am not proud of. Some of these I mentioned and were crimes done by Britain to China.

He loves China too,

Note for Jeremy Corbyn – How China made the world’s largest contribution to human rights

By John Ross. October the 20th. 

Sections of the British media present a supposed choice that Britain has to choose between either pursuing purely economic interests or criticising China over ‘human rights’. This posing of the issue is totally false – China should be supported precisely because of its contribution to human rights. China has done more to improve the overall situation not only of its own people but of humanity than any other country in the world – as the facts show.

Who doesn’t love Ross.

Well, us lot still loathe him and his mates.

But it’s more important to say this. A group that rejoices in Putin’s ‘anti-imperialist’ foreign policy – not to mention anybody who foils the  power of ‘imperialism’ and any set-back for the US (without specifying why this is in itself good) – is part of the “political confusionism” our French comrades talk about. A group that celebrates the Chinese regime, on the basis of some kind of ‘economist’ reductionist view of human rights,  has no place on the democratic socialist left. And why on earth does Ross feel the need to talk about his deep love for his “country”?


See also this virulently  hostile account of the groupuscule. The strange history of Socialist Action Martin Thomas.

Political Confusion in Europe, from the anti-imperialism of fools to racism.

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Berlin last Weekend: Socialist ‘martyrs’ Qaddafi next to Allende.

Our French comrades have a word for it, “confusionnisme” (see this site for more information).

That is the tendency of some to blur the distinction between left and right, mixing the worst of both.

The ‘anti-imperialism of fools’ is one axis, conspiracy theories another, and ‘sovereigntism’, anti-European Union calls for national ‘sovereignty’ another.

The former areas have been well covered on many blogs – or, for the fools just look at the above picture.

It’s the latter that comes up today.

Jacques Sapir, an eminent French economist (really, this is not a joke*), who in 2008 publicly backed the Front de Gauche (to the left of the Socialist Party) , has now passed so far to the extreme right – notably through his opposition to the EU, and the Euro, that his material has just appeared on the front page of one of the vilest racist publications in Europe, Eléments (Nouvelle Droite).

This is their latest issue:

*Since 1996, he has been the director of studies at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, and head of the Centre d’Étude des Modes d’Industrialisation (CEMI-EHESS.

More on how the Front National is courting him, “L’économiste Jacques Sapir, ex-soutien de Mélenchon, courtisé par le FN. ” 11.1.16.

L’économiste Jacques Sapir, ancien soutien de Jean-Luc Mélenchon, susciterait les convoitises du Front national, selon un indiscret publié ce lundi dans Le Parisien.

D’après le titre, il a participé au mois de novembre à un colloque sur l’euro organisé par les élus du groupe européen du parti d’extrême droite. La réunion était organisée par Bruno Lemaire, le secrétaire général du club Idées Nation, un cercle de réflexion créé par Louis Aliot et proche du Front national.”

The economist Jacques Sapir, a former backer of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is said to aroused the interest of the Front National according to a leaked note published this Monday in Le Parisien.

In this context he took part, in November, in a colloquium on the Euro held by the MEP’s of the Extreme Right Party. The meeting was organised by Bruno Lemaire, the Secretary of the Club  Idées Nation, a discussion group created by Louis Aliot, and close to the Front National.


Written by Andrew Coates

January 14, 2016 at 11:57 am

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?

with 17 comments

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.


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.


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.


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.