Iraq and Syria: Lining Up Behind Reactionaries

Editorial, October 2014

Who is responsible and who can stop it?

Another year, another drive towards war.

Those paying attention to President Obama’s recent speeches would be forgiven for thinking they were hearing a George W. Bush “best-of” mix rather than the original words of a liberal Nobel Peace Prize winner. Obama has hit all the classic Bush hallmarks as he sells the United States’ latest foreign military excursion, from describing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as a “network of death” (a contemporary take on Bush’s “Axis of Evil”) to bypassing Congress using the Bush-era Authorization for Use of Military Force to step up the air strikes in the region.

While Marxists don’t place much hope for peace and justice in a Congress composed exclusively of Big Business politicians, it is worth noting that even the United Kingdom – with its monarchy and unelected “House of Lords” – had a parliamentary debate on whether to join in the attack. Any situation where a formal republic experiences less democracy than a government that still has a reigning Queen is a sorry situation indeed.

But perhaps there isn’t enough time for formal democracy: after all, ISIS is a brutal monstrosity that must be stopped immediately, as we are reminded in Obama’s grandiose speeches and the scaremongering media. They are bent on subjecting the Middle East under a dictatorial Islamic caliphate and lashing out at the Western world. Of course, ISIS and its program of murder, massacre and sectarian ethnic cleansing are despicable, but behind the U.S. government’s high-minded rhetoric about its humanitarian goals we see a trail of destruction that dwarfs the Islamic State’s crimes. As we wrote in July1:

“The occupiers used classic divide-and-rule tactics after smashing the Baathist state, dividing up the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish sections of the population among ethnic-religious lines. After languishing under illegality and repression for decades, Iraq’s labor and Left organizations (such as the trade unions and the once-powerful Iraqi Communist Party) were too scattered and disorganized, and in most cases their leaderships too politically bankrupt, to oppose this trend and assert a common class identity instead.

Under Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian Shia regime, widespread discrimination, torture and death have been used to distract the Shi’ite majority away from the crushing poverty of their daily lives. Between 28 and 35% of the population live below the poverty line, with thousands of families feeding themselves by garbage scrounging. Unemployment stands at 15% according to official state figures, which count only those who are actively searching for work – not those who’ve given up in despair of the situation. Jobs are even more precarious, and on-the-job rights more lax, than in the United States. Violence is a constant danger; separation of religion from the state is rejected. Over 650,000 deaths and $4 trillion, money well spent to ‘liberate’ Iraq into oblivion!”

So it was the United States that laid the conditions for the Islamic State’s rise. It was the United States that midwifed modern Islamism in general, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as an anti-Soviet weapon in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia, a staunch American ally, is the fertile soil in which the extreme Sunni Islamist trends have their roots in addition to being a dictatorial state where infidelity and “blasphemy” are punishable by death and women are denied even the most elementary rights, including the right to drive a car or leave the house without a male chaperone. Aside from Islamist forces in the region, the U.S. is also the main sponsor of Israel, an undemocratic state which in its last war against the Palestinians alone disproportionately killed over two thousand people, mainly civilians.


The Class Line

Sixty percent of Americans approve of the U.S.-lead campaign in Iraq and Syria.2 Fifty percent of the population believes ISIS poses a “critical threat” to national security – unsurprising, given the hysteria spewing from the major media and the absence of a viable revolutionary party to counter both it and myths of “humanitarian” imperialism. Millions of Americans believe the government must act to deal with the threat, despite the fact that there is no such threat.3 Drone attacks enjoy a particularly comfortable approval rating, in part because the cynical approval process and tragically high civilian death toll associated with them are not widely known. The risk that mission creep could lead from air strikes to a ground invasion is not insignificant.

In this context, it’s vital for the socialist Left – small and fragmented though it may be – to speak out over the war drums, organizing with answers based on the international working class. Unfortunately, this is where broad sections of the left fall short.

Take, for example, Michael Karadjis’s article “Why the Syrian rebels oppose U.S. air strikes”4 published in Socialist Worker, newspaper / website of the International Socialist Organization. The ISO is the largest revolutionary socialist organization in the country and plays an important role in the antiwar movement. Karadjis is soft on the Islamist opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in typical ISO fashion. While he admits that the Sunni fundamentalist al-Nusra Front has a “reactionary leadership”, he takes great pains to prettify the group as being “at this point on the side of the revolutionary forces [emphasis in original]” and criticizes the United States for attacking them while the anti-ISIS campaign goes on. This kind of statement can only weaken socialism’s credibility.

For any Marxist it should be elementary that our starting point is the organization of all exploited and oppressed people, without distinction of religion, under the leadership of the working class masses. That is why we oppose the latest imperialist campaign in Iraq and Syria: because it is carried out in imperialism’s strategic interests rather than the people’s, because we cannot trust imperialism to fight tyranny when it uses tyranny for its own ends, because being besieged by Great Power attack actually plays into the Islamists’ hands and thus retards the conditions where working-class organization can develop.

The ANSWER Coalition, America’s second largest antiwar umbrella group, makes the same mistake in the opposite direction when it tries to give al-Assad’s Syria anti-imperialist street cred. ANSWER is controlled by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which really ought to be renamed considering their international politics read like a who’s-who of nationalist authoritarians: Muammar Qaddaffi, Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong-un, et cetera. But the choice is not between U.S. / European bombs, Islamism or repressive strongman regimes; these are all just different manifestations of the various national and competing capitalist classes.

Our choice is between lending support to one or another capitalist class or the working class and for socialism. The crisis has no short term solution, there is no other way. Right now, the idea that “our” government acts (or tries to act) in our best interests is a hegemonic one; it is “common sense.” Working class internationalism can be an effective counter to this and it can become a mass force again, but only to the extent that actual socialists fight for it.

(From The Red Vine.)



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