Donald Trump and the ‘Populist International’

kkk-trump

KKK newspaper endorses Donald Trump

Article by Annie Applebaum, reprinted from the Washington Post (where it was printed under the title ‘Trump is a threat to the West as we know it, even if he loses‘).

This was written before Donald Trump’s shock election as US President, and the Washington Post is far from a typical source for a socialist group.

However, the article provides a useful overview of the recent international rise of right-wing populism, manifested in the USA as Trumpism.

Trumpism taps into a reservoir of nationalist resentment, which is unfortunately the most significant current challenge to neoliberal discourse.

The Democrats failed to provide a convincing alternative, offering a ‘business as usual’ candidate in unusual times. The #BlackLivesMatter and #StandingRock movements offer the only way forward: an anti-racist, anti-capitalist direct action movement built from the ground up. Leftists must articulate a progressive internationalism, as an alternative to both neoliberal centrism and racist nationalism.

They share ideas and ideology, friends and funders. They cross borders to appear at one another’s rallies. They have deep contacts in Russia — they often use Russian disinformation — as well as friends in other authoritarian states. They despise the West and seek to undermine Western institutions. They think of themselves as a revolutionary avant-garde just like, once upon a time, the Communist International, or Comintern, the Soviet-backed organization that linked communist parties around Europe and the world. Now, of course, they are not Soviet-backed, and they are not communist. But this loose group of parties and politicians — Austria’s Freedom Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the UK Independence Party, Hungary’s Fidesz, Poland’s Law and Justice, Donald Trump — have made themselves into a global movement of “anti-globalists.” Meet the “Populist International”: Whoever wins the U.S. election Tuesday, its influence is here to stay.

Although it is often described (by me and others searching for a shorthand) as “far-right,” the Populist International has little to do with the “right” that has thrived in Western countries since World War II. Continental European Christian Democracy arose out of a postwar desire to bring morality back to politics; Gaullism came out of a long French tradition of statism and secularism; Anglo-Saxon conservatives had a historic preference for free markets. Most of them shared a Burkean small-“c” conservatism: a dislike of radical change, skepticism of “progress,” a belief in the importance of conserving institutions and values. Most of them emerged out of particular local and historical traditions. All of them shared a devotion to representative democracy, religious tolerance, Western integration and the Western alliance.

By contrast, the parties that belong to the Populist International, and the media that support it, are not Burkean. They don’t want to conserve or preserve what exists. Instead, they want to radically overthrow the institutions of the present to bring back things that existed in the past — or that they believe existed in the past — by force. Their language takes different forms in different countries, but their revolutionary projects often include the expulsion of immigrants, or at least the return to all-white (or all-Dutch, or all-German) societies; the resurrection of protectionism; the reversal of women’s or minorities’ rights; the end of international institutions and cooperation of all kinds. They advocate violence: In 2014, Trump said that “you’ll have to have riots to go back to where we used to be, when America was great.”

Sometimes they claim to be Christian, but just as often they are nihilists and cynics. Their ideology, sometimes formalized and sometimes not, opposes homosexuality, racial integration, religious tolerance and human rights.

The Populist International holds these goals to be more important than prosperity, more important than economic growth, more important than democracy itself. Like the parties that once formed the Comintern, they are eager to destroy existing institutions — from independent courts and media to international alliances and treaties — to obtain them. This week, Britain’s Daily Mail, a newspaper that propagates the ideas of the Populist International, actually denounced three high-court judges as “Enemies of the People” because they decreed that Britain’s exit from the European Union would require parliamentary consultation. Trump is only one of many politicians — Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Hungary’s Viktor Orban — who have launched attacks on the principles of their own constitutions.

Like their Comintern predecessors, the Populist International also understands that there is much to be gained by mutual support. German Christian Democrats would never have dreamed of campaigning on behalf of British Tories. And although they had much in common, Tories didn’t intervene directly on behalf of U.S. Republicans. By contrast, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, has openly campaigned for Trump, even appearing in a “spin room” to plug the Republican nominee after one of his debates with Hillary Clinton. Geert Wilders, the xenophobic Dutch politician, showed up at the Republican National Convention, where instead of observing, as a Dutch Christian Democrat would have done, he agitated on behalf of Trump, too. All of the populist parties and newspapers use the narratives put out by Sputnik, the Russian news service that serves as an endless source of conspiracy theories and fake news. This week, a fake account of a refugee in Austria acquitted of raping a child — originally broadcast on Russian state TV — was repeated by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and then across Europe, including (again) in the Daily Mail.

All the signs are that the movement is still growing. If Trump loses, the story isn’t over: His campaign will no doubt metastasize into a television channel and a news network, and will continue to spread. But his failure will encourage the antidotes — the citizens’ parties, based on ideas rather than charisma, the independent journalists, the democracy movements — that have begun to emerge.

And if Trump wins? The Populist International will be invigorated, not just in the United States but around the world. Trump will be its leader, his daughter Ivanka will be its heir apparent, and liberal democracy, and the West as we know it, may cease to exist. Think about that before you vote.

5 Myths about the Syrian revolution

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“The start of solidarity is correcting the narrative.”

-Leila Al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and Civil War.

Since the Syrian revolution began in 2011, a mixture of propaganda and conspiracy theories has obscured the nature of the conflict. As the Syrian conflict is the biggest refugee crisis in a generation, we cannot stand by and let these myths go unchallenged.

  1. It’s just a sectarian conflict

As with many conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, Syria’s conflict is often depicted as a solely ethnic/sectarian conflict. The spectre of Arabs, and particularly Sunni Muslims, with guns is stereotyped as only religiously motivated.

However, the beginning of the revolution in 2011 was profoundly democratic and secular. All ethnicities and religious denominations took to the streets, as part of the broader regional upsurge dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’.

In the squares, Syrians chanted ‘One, One, One, the Syrian people are One’ and ‘Sunnis and Alawis are one’, referring to the oppressed Sunni majority and the dominant Alawi minority (of whom President Bashar-Al Assad is a member).

In seeking to crush the democratic movement, Assad deliberately provoked sectarian conflict. Regime death squads primarily targeted Sunnis, and the regime released salafists (militant Sunnis) from jail to add fuel to the fire. While sectarianism has grown since then, the responsibility lies with the regime, which deliberately sought to undermine the secular nature of the revolution.

The democratic current that emerged in 2011 still exists, albeit besieged from all sides.

  1. The Syrian rebels are a US proxy

Conspiracy theorists argue that the revolution was simply a CIA-funded proxy from the start. A more nuanced take holds that the US has since hijacked the revolution. Indeed, the US has in the past funded coups, dictatorships, and Islamist movements in the region.

However, there is a fundamental difference between a US-backed coup, and a popular democracy movement calling for international support.

Assad shot first. When the revolutionaries were forced to arm in self-defence, they had woefully inadequate weaponry. Their call for international support must be understood in this context.

Obama stated that chemical weapons attacks were a ‘red line’ that he would not allow Assad to cross. When Assad carried out a chemical weapons attack in Ghouta in 2013, Obama’s regime failed to act. This led to a sense of betrayal among Syrian revolutionaries.

Assad and his Russian backers continue to rain fire on the Syrian people. In Aleppo, Syrian children burn tires so that the fumes will create a makeshift No-Fly Zone. The US refuses to impose a No-Fly Zone on Assad, or grant anti-aircraft weapons to the Syrian rebels (perhaps fearing that the revolution would turn against the USA and Israel). The revolutionaries remain woefully outgunned by Assad.

If we cannot offer any alternative to the Syrian rebels, we have no right to preach to them about their decision to call for any support they can get.

  1. ISIS is the only alternative to Assad

Many commentators say that Assad is the lesser evil, as ISIS is the only alternative.

However, there are alternatives to both Assad and ISIS within Syrian society. In fact, ISIS did not originate among the Syrian people. Rather, the group formed in Iraqi jails, before recruiting disenfranchised Muslims from around the world. In Syria, ISIS are essentially a foreign occupying force.

By contrast, the Free Syrian Army and its allies have fought both Assad’s and ISIS’ forces. In liberated areas of Syria, democratic Local Coordination Committees remain as an alternative to both Assadist and Islamist dictatorship.

A Free Syria would be governed by the people, not by dictators.

  1. US and Russian intervention are equally to blame

It is no secret that US intervention has torn apart much of the Middle East and North Africa. From backing Israeli colonisation, to funding the Afghan mujahideen which would later morph into the Taliban, and more recently occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has pursued an imperialist policy that continues to destroy lives.

However, Syria is not Iraq. We cannot show meaningful solidarity with the Syrian people if we fail to explain the political conditions they face.

Assad’s regime has killed overwhelmingly more Syrians than any other force involved. Putin’s Russia, in militarily intervening to support the criminal Assad, simply wants a proxy in the region. Any attempt to depict this as ‘anti-imperialism’ makes a mockery of the term.

The United States is not the only evil on the world stage. Rising Russian imperialism poses a similar threat, backing genocide in Syria, just as the United States backs genocide in Palestine.

5. The only people worth supporting in Syria are the Kurds.

Many Western leftists, confused by the supposed “sectarian” nature of the Syrian conflict, have latched onto the Kurdish forces as the only “good guys” in the struggle. The Kurdish enclave of Rojava, ruled by the PYD (Democratic Union Party), is touted as some kind of “anarcho-feminist” safe haven of rights and democracy. This romanticisation of Kurdish culture as somehow superior to other Syrian nationalities is quite silly and somewhat racist, and leads to willful blindness to the negative side of what Kurdish forces are actually doing.

While Rojava’s leaders talk of “democratic confederalism”, PYD forces have ethnically cleansed Arab villages and shut down other Kurdish political parties. The PYD’s fight against ISIS has been supported by both United States AND Russian firepower – a real problem for those who otherwise talk about “foreign intervention” as the real problem in Syria.

Most disturbingly, the PYD have not been above actually working with the Assad dictatorship. The regime actually handed over large parts of Rojava to the PYD without a fight, and continues to pay the wages of the civil servants there. The PYD also holds parts of the northern suburbs of Aleppo, where it has helped the regime forces in the Western suburbs against rebel-held Eastern suburbs.

The Kurdish people in the north of Syria – as well as those in Turkey, Iraq and Iran – have been fighting for their right to self-determination for nearly 100 years, and of course they should be supported in this struggle. But the PYD are no more spotless angels than anyone on the Free Syrian side. Any democratic solution will have to include Syrian Arabs, Kurds and all other ethnicities joining to put an end to the Assad regime.

“When people ask ‘Who should we support in Syria?’ I should say: in Syria no political party, militia or army is worthy of our wholehearted or uncritical support. No ideology either. What we should support are the community-grown democratic and quasi-democratic institutions and the civilian communities they represent. These people deserve support which is both critical and absolute. Critical because nothing should be uncritical. Absolute because these survivors inside are under continuous and full-scale military assault, beleaguered and at risk of extinction.”

-Robin Yassin-Kassab

What can we do?

As Aotearoa/New Zealand has diplomatic ties with Russia, our responsibility is to challenge the Russian role in the conflict.

We can also donate to humanitarian groups like the White Helmets in Syria, and call on our own government to accept refugees.

For more information please:

  • Like ‘Syrian Solidarity New Zealand’ on Facebook.

  • Read the book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and Civil War, by Leila Al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab. This book is based on extensive interviews with Syrians on the ground.

Syria Solidarity: National day of action 29th October

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Civilians in Aleppo and across Syria are being intensively bombed by Russia with bunker bombs, phosphorous bombs, napalm, thermobaric and cluster bombs; and by the Syrian regime with chlorine containing barrel bombs; targetting homes, schools, hospitals, rescue teams, and underground shelters .

Like many Syrian cities, Aleppo has been under a starvation siege. The regime and Russian have even bombed the city’s water supply.
Despite these atrocious crimes against humanity, Aleppo’s people show tremendous solidarity and caring for each other, as they work to find the wounded under the rubble, and rush them to undergound clinics for treatment. Hundreds of democratically run community councils have been formed across Syria in the liberated areas. They have produced a tremendous amount of art, literature, music, and electronic media documenting the revolution and counter revolution in Syria.

The “peace” talks have broken down. It is clear that Russia and the Assad regime are looking for a military solution to enable the genocidal Assad regime to continue in power.

Most of the fighters killing Syrian civilians are not Syrians. They include soliders from Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq, many of them conscripted or desperately poor with no other options for a living.
The Assad regime and Russia have killed half a million Syrian people. The genocide has to stop! The regime regularly uses rape and torture as weapons.

The war started because people across Syria went onto the streets to demand democracy, and instead were shot, rounded up, tortured, raped and killed. So the people took up arms to defend themselves. The Assad regime has vowed to continue to obliterate the population until it accepts his rule.

Both the United States and Russia have re-defined the people’s struggle for democracy as a “war on terror” and are both responsible for killing civilians.

Isis grew in Syria with the encouragement of the Assad regime. Assad deliberately released extremists from his jails, who went on to join Isis in Syria. The regime leaves Isis alone, and Isis is continually attacking the democratic opposition groups. The democratic opposition has been forced to fight on two fronts, against the attacks from the regime and from Isis. Despite the evils perpetrated by Isis, it has killed a fraction of the number of people, that the Assad regime has. The Assad regime with its Russian and Iranian allies are the greater evil.

Stop the bombing! Troops out!
No more genocide! Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution!
Victory for Syrian people now!

Wellington action:
2-3pm 29th October, Russian Embassy, 57 Messines Road, Karori
[Facebook event]

Auckland action:
2-3pm 29th October, Aotea Square
[Facebook event]

Who are Syria’s White Helmets, and why are they so controversial?

Article by Scott Lucas, Professor of International Politics, University of Birmingham.

Reprinted from The Conversation.

A young man, wearing a white helmet and a distinctive yellow-and-blue badge on his arm, digs for four hours in the rubble of a building destroyed by a Russian-regime airstrike in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.

Finally, he sees what he’s looking for: an infant, only weeks old. He gently lifts her, still breathing, from the wreckage and takes her to an ambulance. Crying uncontrollably, he cradles her as she is treated, wounded but alert. He says, “I feel like she is my own daughter.”

Warned that Russian warplanes are overhead, volunteers in a civil defence centre get out of their beds and dress, preparing to help victims at the next bombed site. As they arrive, the warplanes target them in a “double tap” attack, dropping one bomb and then another minutes later. One rescuer is seriously wounded. His colleagues wait anxiously, and suddenly he revives, insisting on lighting a cigarette. A sigh of relief as the pack is taken from him: “No smoking for you now.

These all-too-numerous episodes often don’t end so well. Generally it’s bodies rather than survivors that get pulled out of the rubble, and the volunteers are vulnerable: 141 have been killed and many more wounded.

As Syria’s nearly six-year conflict rumbles on with no end in sight, the country’s so-called “White Helmets” continue to offer a desperately needed humanitarian response. More than 62,000 people have been rescued since the volunteer humanitarian force was formed in 2013.

So who are the White Helmets, and how did they come into being?

Pick up a stretcher

By 2013, the Assad regime was well embarked on its strategy of targeting civilian sites with intense aerial bombardment. The city of Homs had been decimated by months of attacks in early 2012, ensuring that the overstretched Syrian Army could occupy almost all of the area, and the approach was being rolled out across the country.

Those who died in opposition areas often lay unburied, while the injured were left to perish. Ad hoc groups of residents tried to cope after the attacks, but they were usually untrained and not organised.

James Le Mesurier, a former British Army officer already working as an adviser on Syria civil defence at the UAE-based consultancy Analysis, Research, and Knowledge (ARK), decided to go further and seek the finance and infrastructure for a full-time service. With initial training and courses from ARK and the Turkish NGO AKUT, the first volunteers – starting with a team of 20 people – were soon in the field. Further support came from governments and NGOs in countries such as the US, Britain, and the Netherlands, and the White Helmets were formally organised as Syrian Civil Defense in October 2014.

The White Helmets’ origins were certainly international, but by membership, the group is very much Syrian. Its men and women are from Syrian communities: decorators, taxi drivers, bakers, tailors, engineers, pharmacists, shopkeepers, painters, carpenters, students, housewives. As Le Mesurier said in an August 2015 interview:

They are all a very diverse and disparate group of individuals, all of whom made individual choices … They all had the choice whether or not they want to pick up gun, to become a refugee – but they’ve all made a choice to instead pick up a stretcher.

First on the scene. EPA/Zouhir al Shimale

Even if they are unarmed, the volunteers are a threat to the Assad regime. Damascus’s strategy – now shared by Russia – is not to just to fight rebels on the battlefield, but also to destroy any semblance of organised services and infrastructure in opposition-controlled areas. If water, electricity, schools, and markets can be blown up and cut off, then civilians can be forced to surrender, or at least reduced to powerless, besieged bystanders.

The decimation of medical services is central to the strategy, holding a Damocles’ sword of no emergency treatment and everyday care over residents. In defiance of the Geneva conventions, hospitals, clinics, drug warehouses, and blood banks have been systematically targeted, with scores put out of service.

White Helmets centres have been regularly attacked over the past year. In April 2016, one set of missile strikes destroyed a centre west of Aleppo city, killing five volunteers and destroying equipment and vehicles. The “double tap” attacks, hoping to kill and maim the rescuers, are now routine.

Defying propaganda

The joint Russian-Assad regime campaign against the the White Helmets is not just fought with bombs and missiles. Russian and Syrian state outlets are circulating “information” meant to tarnish the volunteers as allies of terrorism, dedicated only to the assistance of jihadists. As President Assad told the Associated Press in September 2016: “They use different humanitarian masks and umbrellas just to implement certain agendas.”

The theme has been eagerly taken up by those who view the Syrian conflict as a conspiracy of American “imperialism”.

That the White Helmets receive assistance from the US government’s Agency for International Development – something they have not denied – apparently means they’re American puppets, even though they draw a range of support from around the world. The fundraising support they get from a PR firm somehow proof that they are the vanguard of a proxy war fought by a US military-industrial complex.

Blogger Vanessa Beeley has switched her focus from Israel and Gaza to wage a vitriolic campaign against the White Helmets as “first responders for the US and NATO al-Nusra/al-Qaeda forces”. Never mind that the White Helmets explicitly stand against violence and extremism; ignore the absurdity of the idea that the US – which is bombing the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, and which has been in a misconceived “War on Terror” against al-Qaeda for a decade and a half – is suddenly allied with those groups. The sight of volunteers celebrating with rebels in the city of Idlib is apparently evidence that the White Helmets are “al-Qaeda”.

Max Blumenthal, another writer who has challenged Israeli policies in Palestine, frames the White Helmets as “driven by a pro-interventionist agenda conceived by the Western governments and public relations groups that back them”. Never mind that the White Helmets’ “crime” is to call for zones protecting civilians; ignore their firm declaration that they don’t affiliate with any government or NGO. To Blumenthal, they are a Trojan horse for “70,000 American servicemen” to invade Syria.

Having started the cycle of disinformation, Russian state outlets can complete it by citing “investigative journalists” such as Beeley and Blumenthal to deride the White Helmets as a “controversial quasi-humanitarian organisation” and – invoking the magnate George Soros as conspiracy master – a “Soros-sponsored” operation “cooking up lies”.

These claims are the product of disinformation and spurious inference – but all this politics and propaganda, however menacing, is irrelevant to the people on the ground, whose focus is on the next mission.

As one volunteer summarised it:

We have to have faith that this country is our country. We shouldn’t leave it. If I don’t stand by my country and by my people and those who are oppressed, who will?

If I leave and we all leave, there will be no one left.

Or as British MP Jo Cox wrote when she nominated the White Helmetsfor a Nobel Peace Prize, shortly before she was killed by an attacker in June 2016:

When the bombs rain down, the Syrian Civil Defense rush in. In the most dangerous place on earth these unarmed volunteers risk their lives to help anyone in need regardless of religion or politics.

They were ultimately overlooked for this year’s prize, and the propaganda against them keeps coming. But as the offensive in Aleppo ramps up, the White Helmets’ work goes on.

One Nation legitimises fascist ideas – The time to stop Hansonism is now!

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This article by Debbie Brennan was originally published by the Freedom Socialist Party (Australia).

Debbie represents Radical Women in CARF and is a community member of the National Union of Workers.

Contact Freedom Socialist Party of Aotearoa at freedom.socialist.aotearoa@gmail.com or Freedom Socialist Party of Australia at freedom.socialist.party@ozemail.com.au.

“I’m back — but not alone.” Pauline Hanson, leader of the extreme-right One Nation party, made a parliamentary comeback in Australia’s federal election this past July. These taunting words are from her “maiden” speech to Parliament on September 15.

In 1996 Hanson was elected to the House of Representatives, but lost her seat two years later. Back then, she said Asians were taking over the country. Twenty years later, she warns, “Now we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims”—who, she claims, will commit terror and impose sharia law.

It gets worse. As Hanson says, she’s not alone. She’s one of four newly elected One Nation Senators: two, including herself, from Queensland and the others from New South Wales and Western Australia.

Pauline Hanson and the One Nation party she formed in 1997 are notorious for their racism. In her first 1996 parliamentary speech, Hanson went on the attack against First Nations people, who, she stated, are privileged over whites. Asians were not only “swamping” Australia, they weren’t assimilating. She praised Labor Party leader, Arthur Calwell, who said in 1955: “Japan, India, Burma, Ceylon and every new African nation are fiercely anti-white and anti one another. Do we want or need any of these people here? I am one red-blooded Australian who says no and who speaks for 90 percent of Australians.”

Fast forward to 2016: Asians are replaced with Muslims. In 1996, Hanson called for a “radical review” of immigration and the abolition of multiculturalism. Today, she demands that Muslim immigration be stopped and the burqa banned.

More than racist. The notion of race was invented in early capitalism to justify slavery and plunder. In times of class conflict—like now—racism has been indispensable to capitalists as a weapon to split the working class and destabilise resistance. Islamophobia is that weapon now. But sexism, nationalism and anti-unionism are also instruments of control, and Hanson’s oratory is full of it.

Hanson’s close connection with men’s rights groups is reflected in One Nation’s policies. Since 1996, she has called for the scrapping of the Family Court—claiming a bias toward women who “make frivolous claims and believe they have the sole right to children.” She further blames the court for pushing non-custodial fathers into poverty and causing many to suicide. One Nation would force women to stay in miserable, often violent, relationships. Hanson instructs women to “put your differences aside, make your peace and come to agreements outside of the law courts.” If not, any woman going to court for custody better be ready to pay all costs if she loses.

She slams people on welfare, especially single mothers for “having more children just to maintain their welfare payments.” One Nation would deny payment increases to women after the first child. In Hanson’s words: “Get a job and start taking responsibility for your own actions.”

Hanson calls for an Australian identity card to access welfare, healthcare, education or any other tax-funded service, and she defies “do-gooders” to “complain about people’s privacy.”

In September, Hanson gave a thinly veiled attack on unionism when she accused “overpaid public servants” of bludging off the budget. Throughout the country, public sector workers have been in a tough three-year battle against the federal government over wages, which remain frozen, and the shredding of hard-won conditions. Community and Public Sector Union members in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection are planning another week of industrial action (See: Trans-Tasman Union Beat, page 9). The potential power that public workers hold in their collective hands is massive. This fight is historic: these unionists are taking on the State, and the government wants to crush them. No wonder the rabidly anti-union Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash hugged Hanson at the conclusion of her speech.

A former fish and chip shop owner, Hanson typifies small capitalists’ contempt for workers’ rights and hatred toward militant unionism. In a recent media interview, she said, “we need to protect the small end of town, the small contractors and subbies so that they have a chance to get jobs and not be bullied by unions.”

The nationalist fantasy. Hanson’s style may not be Donald Trump’s, but, like him, she appeals to prejudices to answer why life for most people has become so insecure and hard. As the global economy disintegrates and the capitalist class foists the burden onto workers and the oppressed, these far-right demagogues offer up scapegoats—served with a big dollop of nationalism.

Hanson paints Australia as expanses of farmland and infrastructure, Australian owned; a land of families, nuclear, Christian, Australian born and assimilated. The school day starts with raising the Australian flag and singing the national anthem. TVs in homes and pubs across the country show Australian athletes competing for their country and saluting the flag from the victory podium.

She condemns “foreign” capital, especially Chinese, which she says is buying up Australia’s farms, real estate and resources. These investors, she claims, put housing prices beyond Australians’ reach. She denounces big business for being behind Australia’s intake of immigrants.

The illusion she constructs is of a hardworking nation exploited by foreign capital. This idea isn’t new—fascists used it in post-World War I Germany and Italy to deflect attention from local industrialists who backed the unleashing of jackboots on a working class that was in revolt. Today, Hanson directs the attention of those attracted to her vile ideas away from the source of their problems: the global capitalist system itself.

Understanding the threat. Hanson’s September parliamentary speech had the eerie ring of fascism. Her inflammatory calls to strip women on welfare of their rights to independence and reproductive choice, her anti-union comments and demonisation of Muslims and immigrants are classic far-right speak. But is this fascism?

Fascism is more than a vicious ideology. It’s is a movement, built to destroy the capacity of the working class to organise and revolt. Fascism’s social base is the middle class—small business people like Hanson—which, caught between the two powerful classes of capital and labour, will flip to whichever side looks likely to win over the other.

In her speech, Hanson was appealing to the middle class as well as less conscious working class folks looking for scapegoats to blame. In so doing, she legitimises fascist ideas, creating fertile ground in which a jackbooted fascist movement can take root and grow. One Nation is well positioned to coalesce the far right, inside and outside of Parliament, including neo-Nazis forces, which until now have been fragmented.

Hanson is well connected with this milieu. She has spoken at Reclaim Australia rallies. Leading members of the neo-Nazi United Patriots Front campaigned for her in the federal election. UPF even offered to be her bodyguards. Hanson is also friendly with the fascist Party for Freedom. These are the known connections.

If this leads to the cohering of a mass movement aimed at crushing the ability of the working class to organise, we’re dealing with fascism. While such a movement has not yet emerged, the danger is all too real. And Hanson is a contributor, encouraging more assaults on Muslims, immigrants, women and unionists—legislatively and physically. The need to countermobilise in our streets and communities—as we’ve done from Melbourne to Bendigo—remains urgent, because the threat could escalate.

Build the united front. Since Reclaim Australia first attempted to rally at Melbourne’s Federation Square in April 2015, Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) has countered these ultra-right and fascist groups whenever and wherever they’ve gathered. This united front of unionists, feminists, socialists, anarchists and Aboriginal justice activists has successfully prevented them from growing into a movement.

As the global economy continues to sink and the need to resist intensifies, a fascist movement could materialise—unless there’s a strong working class-led movement to stop it. The time to build this anti-fascist movement is right now. The CARF united front needs to grow into a force of today’s and tomorrow’s scapegoats—Muslims, women, First Nations, LGBTIQ, refugees and immigrants, unions, radicals, welfare recipients, the homeless and unemployed.

 

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War – A clear perspective shining through the muck

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artwork from denisebeaudet.com

Book title: Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and Civil War
Authors: Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al-Shami
Publisher: Pluto Press

Released: 2016
Review by: Ani White

To myself and others in ‘the West’, Syria’s internal crisis has often appeared a confusing mess with no sides worth taking. Competing bombs (Assad bombs, US bombs, Russian bombs) and competing sects (Alawi, Sunni, now ISIS) appear to have displaced the democratic hopes of the Arab Spring. While this despair isn’t entirely unfounded, it also risks turning into dismissal. The most significant refugee crisis in a generation perhaps shouldn’t be dismissed as ‘too complicated’. History may not look on us kindly for turning away.

In the context of this confusion, promoted as much by ‘Russia Today’ as Western networks, certain slogans have struck me as important clarifications. When progressive network Democracy Now hosted another in a series of disconnected white men on the Syrian situation, a change.org petition successfully demanded “Tell Democracy Now to have Syrians on to talk about Syria.”

This is the clarity offered by Burning Country. Written by partisans of the Syrian revolution Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, on the basis of extensive interviews with Syrians, the book offers a clear perspective shining through the muck of sectarianism, propaganda and conspiracy theory.

Burning Country‘s exposition of the 2011 (and ongoing) revolution emphasises its non-sectarian nature, in keeping with the broader uprisings of the region. Demonstrators chanted ‘Sunnis and Alawis are one’, defying what has since become the central sectarian divide within Syrian society; between Assad’s Alawi minority community, and the 60% Sunni majority.

While the book briefly goes into Syria’s ancient history, this account bucks the trend of rooting sectarian conflict in ancient history. Rather, the authors emphasise the long-standing diversity and cosmopolitanism of the region, with both Damascus and Aleppo claiming the title of ‘oldest continuously inhabited city on earth.’ Site of the first agricultural revolution, the first alphabet, and a long-standing trading zone, Syrian society has the potential (like any society) to be a progressive hub.

The early days of the revolution expressed these progressive possibilities. Democratic slogans were translated into action through the formation of the Local Coordination Committees, revolutionary networks transcending sect boundaries, described as an ‘underground parliament’. Extensive accounts of the cultural transformation – beginning in 2011 and continuing, though besieged, in the liberated zones – cannot be satisfactorily recounted here. The book is worth a read for anyone curious about the meaning of the word ‘revolution’.

The authors conversely emphasise the sectarianism of Bashaar-al Assad’s supposedly ‘secular’ regime. At the formal level, atheism is forbidden, and the president must be Muslim. More crucially for this account however, the regime deliberately stokes sectarian tensions to legitimate Assad’s rule. In crushing the 2011 revolution, Assad’s forces (and regime-militias or shabeeha) deliberately targeted Sunni areas, and bolstered the Alawi minority which tends to support Assad’s Baathist party. The release of around 1,500 salafist (militant Sunni) prisoners was another calculated move designed to stoke sectarian tensions.

In contrast to misleading accounts of sectarianism as ‘ancient rivalry’, this account emphasises how powerful forces play groups against each other for political gain. As right-wing populism grows internationally (see Trump in the US, and UKIP in England), this sophisticated account can help us think through the splintering of publics for political ends elsewhere. Rather than innate racial rivalries, let alone legitimate expressions of discontent, these formations reflect manipulation of popular anxieties by elite players.

While the early days of the revolution avoided sectarianism in favour of broad democratic demands, the hardening and militarisation of the revolution allowed Assad’s seeds of sectarianism to grow. The authors underline the contradictory nature of religion, as both a balm in oppressive situations, and a tool of the powerful. In the midst of Assad’s brutal counter-revolution, they note:

Tormented, bereaved, and dispossessed, the Syrian people turned more intensely to religion… [yet] most still expressed the desire for a civil rather than Islamic state.”

Although local Islamist forces grew with the militarisation of the revolution, these were initially not the cruel militants of ISIS; surveys found that 60% of Syrian Islamic fighters thought that ‘democracy is preferable to any other form of governance’. They fought not for an Islamic state, but the end of Assad’s tyranny. ISIS appeared as an opportunistic foreign intervention, originating in Iraq and taking advantage of Syria’s strife.

Although some Syrians have joined ISIS, and others quietly accept its capacity to offer relative ‘stability’, Daesh (as ISIS is called by detractors, with a similar sound to the Arabic for ‘donkey’) overwhelmingly does not enjoy the support of the Syrian people. Revolutionary intellectual  Yassin al-Haj Saleh influentially termed their rise a transition from ‘neck-tie fascism’ to ‘long-beard fascism’. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) fights both Assad’s forces and Daesh, and where civilians have an opportunity to resist, they generally join the FSA in beating Daesh back. 

Probably the most prominent example of resistance to Daesh is the widely promoted Kurdish struggle, dominated by the formerly Leninist PYD/PKK and centred in Kobani. Conversely, the authors underline the ‘ruthless pragmatism’ of the PYD, which has collaborated with the regime. Locals reportedly express bemusement that the small town of Kobani receives such international attention, while the liberated zone of major city Aleppo remains beseiged and isolated.

As in Libya, the call for US intervention in support of the Syrian revolution is controversial. Burning Country co-author Leila Al-Shami has clarified in an interview that she is against US intervention:

I’m not calling for anything from America. I don’t think America should be involved.”

Conversely, the books’ sympathetic account helps to explain why so many Syrians called for intervention. Between Assad’s brutality and the rise of ISIS, the forces of the revolution have limited resources and few friends. Many Syrians were shocked when Obama’s supposed ‘red line’ of no chemical attacks was ignored, after hundreds were killed in the deadliest chemical attack since the Iran-Iraq War.

Although many leftists oppose any US intervention, this risks devolving into a crudely one-sided ‘campism‘, where the biggest bully is perceived as the only bully. Syrians who have survived Assad’s massacres do not see the world this way. In light of international complacency, Assad has continuously bombed his citizens and subjected them to a ‘surrender or starve’ policy. Calls for a no-fly zone were ignored. Eventual US intervention in 2014 focused only on ISIS, implicitly supporting Assad and (perhaps unsurprisingly) offering no support to the revolution. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran back the regime for an opportunistic mix of military, economic and political reasons, centrally their own hegemony in the region – any attempt to depict this as ‘anti-imperialism’ makes a mockery of the term. Turkey and the Arab Gulf states have offered some support, the authors note, “not so much [as] allies of the popular revolution as opponents of Assad.”

So what can we do, assuming here a progressive ‘Western’ audience? Most immediately, the refugee crisis demands a humanitarian response, as many realised with the spectre of drowned children washing up on beaches. By July 2015, half of Syria’s population were not living at home – including international refugees and internally displaced. A majority of international refugees live in surrounding countries’ refugee camps, while a growing minority attempt escape to ‘Fortress Europe’. Standing with the refugee and migrant worker movements, we must demand open borders, full rights for migrants and refugees.

Beyond the humanitarian level, Syria’s crisis is political, as political as our own interconnected crises. Explaining the non-sectarian nature of the Syrian revolution, and boosting voices of the revolution, can counter the myth of innate Arab-Islamic sectarianism. As the authors of Burning Country underline, “The start of solidarity is to correct the narrative.”

The authors encourage readers to learn from Syrian experiences. We must build our own solidarity networks, our own revolutionary strength, if we are to stand with the Syrian revolution. Internationally, Syrian expatriates have formed solidarity groups, largely ignored by an ‘anti-imperialist’ left focusing on the Manichean evil of US intervention. However it may manifest in the specific, these groups demand our support. The old Third Camp slogan can be appropriately reworked: Neither Assad nor ISIS but Free Syria.

Teresia Teaiwa on refugee rights in the Pacific: “Mana whenua leads to mana tangata”

Teresia Teaiwa is a poet and Pacific Studies academic in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Fightback previously interviewed Teresia here.

Ian Anderson interviews Teresia on recent media coverage of Australia’s offshore detention centres.

You have said that Australian refugee centres in Manus and Nauru are exploiting the desperation of those communities, alongside the widely-reported abuse of refugees. Who benefits from exploitation and abuse in Manus and Nauru?
Well, no one truly benefits from exploitation and abuse ever. Oppressors lose their humanity in the process of dehumanizing others.

But the primary beneficiaries of Australia’s policy of detaining asylum seekers, refugees, and other so-called undesirables offshore are corporations like Transfield Services and Serco. The operation of detention centres in Manus and on Nauru is part of a wider industrial network that links the privatisation of prisons with defence and mining. Companies that have received contracts from the Australian state to manage the detention centres have made millions of dollars in profit—by providing minimal and sub-standard living conditions.

Of course, theoretically, the people of Manus and Nauru are supposed to benefit from the detention centres as well. I remember in the early 2000s that the huge attraction of the detention centre for Nauruans was the promise of a regular fresh water and electricity supply. In both the Manus and Nauru cases, jobs and income are considered direct benefits of the detention centres for locals.

But this is my concern: the detention centres are part of a perverse pattern of negative development. Nauru has already been environmentally decimated by phosphate mining, and to go from an extractive industry to a detention centre is nothing more than a downward spiral. No one can be uplifted by the detention—indeed, the inhumane imprisonment—of others.

In an interview with E-Tangata, you recently warned of the danger of painting a people with just one brush stroke. Is this also the warning you are offering about portrayals of Nauru in recent media coverage?
My problem with the media coverage of Manus and Nauru, especially by the New Zealand and Australian media, is that the interest has been solely driven by the detention centres. Prior to the establishment of Australia’s offshore detention centres in 2001, there was little media interest in Manus or Nauru. Of course, the media industry needs crisis in order to invest resources in investigating and reporting stories. But if we continue to use the brush stroke metaphor, what we’ve got is Manus and Nauru being painted by the media solely as detention centres, and we get very little sense of these places having a life beyond this as a reason for being.

Unfortunately, the well-meaning activism that has emerged in response to the horrific abuses of detainees has also fallen into the trap of painting Manus and Nauru as simply sites. You get placards and slogans that say “Close Nauru” or “Shut Down Manus”—as if that’s all they are—sites that can be maintained or closed down at will. Then there are the slogans that go “Hell exists and it’s on Nauru,” and the constant pairing of “hell” with the images of Manus and Nauru.

Frankly, it’s disturbing to me that human rights activists’ concerns seem to extend only to the detainees and do not seek a larger analysis of the kind of underdevelopment or negative development that makes it necessary for the communities of Manus and Nauru to accept detention centres as a solution to their development challenges.

What would policy/news/activism look like if the well-being of the people of Manus and Nauru was always kept at the centre of considerations? I feel certain that if the welfare of Manusians and Nauruans was put first, there would either be no detention centres, or the detainees would actually be well cared for.

How does your own whakapapa interact with your take on this story?
I whakapapa to Banaba or Ocean Island, which is Nauru’s twin phosphate island. The Nauruans have an oral tradition that Banaba was formed as the result of a traumatic event on Nauru.

I have had relatives and friends who have lived, worked, and married on Nauru, and I was able to visit there twice in the 1990s. I developed a great affection for the island and people from those two visits—I fell in love with the geography, especially the pinnacle formations along the coast, and the Buada Lagoon inland. But what made me realise that Nauru had so much more to offer the world than phosphate was the experience I had of running a family history workshop through the University of the South Pacific’s Nauru Centre in 1997. The Nauruan participants came from a range of ages and experiences, but what they had in common was an incredible wealth of both indigenous and worldly knowledge, a wicked sense of humour, and serious story-telling talent. I’m not sure if any of the writing from that workshop ever got published, but if outsiders could read those stories, they might be able to see how Nauru is more than just a site for Australia’s human refuse.

I have not been to Manus, but I remember when I was on my way to Madang last year, that one of the ground staff at Brisbane airport assumed that I was going to Manus when I presented my paperwork at the check-in desk. I was a bit alarmed by that—just wondering, how much traffic is there from Australia to Manus? I have a friend who has Manus whakapapa, and she was telling me that her father’s people are well-known among Papua New Guineans as peaceful and welcoming. So when the riot broke out at the detention centre there early last year and a local employee and PNG police were implicated in the events and the death of Reza Barati, she felt strongly that the detention centre was a deeply corrosive influence in the community.

As a Pacific person and as a Pacific Studies scholar living and working in Aotearoa New Zealand, I recognise that Papua New Guinea and Nauru are quite peripheral to our very Polynesian-centric sense of the Pacific. But ultimately, the indigenous peoples of the Pacific all do share the same ancestry. And the question becomes whether we care about these fellow human beings who are distant relatives of ours or not?

As you’ve noted about Britain, even imperialist nations can’t be painted with one brush stroke. Australia certainly has its own refugee rights movement, alongside a strong racist current even among the working majority. How much hope do you hold for anti-imperialist movements in countries like Australia and New Zealand?
I’d like to see more connections made between the refugee rights movement, anti-imperialist movements and indigenous rights movements in Australia and New Zealand. As I’ve said, I find it disturbing that movements concerned about refugee rights can be so disinterested in the welfare of Manusians and Nauruans, let alone Aboriginal Australians or Māori.

Unfortunately, human rights discourse these days often falls short of critiquing imperialism. And some of our socialist comrades are pretty quick to buy into one-dimensional representations of Papua New Guineans and Nauruans as primitivist brutes, without trying to nuance their analyses—not trying to understand, for example, what complex social tensions might be at play in the indigenous societies of Manus and Nauru under the circumstances.

It’s important to note, too, that the refugees and asylum seekers have quite fixed ideas about the Pacific Islands in which they find themselves detained. You can’t blame them when they are seeing the islands through the bars and fences of detention centres.

Some are very clear about the kind of life that they are after: they did not risk their lives leaving one “third world” country in order to end up in another “third world” country. But most would much rather not have had to leave their homes in the first place.

Our problem is that we have such gross inequalities across the globe, and too many of the citizens of rich countries just don’t understand how their affluence is actually a result of the impoverishment and endangerment of so many people in other countries.

In the last few days, we’ve seen riots at Australia’s Christmas Island detention centre, and our own Prime Minister John Key describe detainees as “rapists and murderers.” Do you have any comments on this unfolding situation?
From what I understand the Prime Minister was actually incorrect in his categorization of the New Zealanders being detained on Christmas Island. It’s unacceptable for a Prime Minister to be so misinformed and to spread such misinformation.

It’s also supremely ironic that someone who risked his life in military service for New Zealand and received decorations for his efforts and also at one time provided security for the Prime Minister, would find himself detained at Christmas Island as well, once he was no longer deemed a desirable immigrant in Australia.

I hope that those New Zealanders who have only begun to get interested in Australia’s detention policy because they are concerned about the welfare of their fellow citizens are able to then connect the dots to see how the logic behind the detention of asylum seekers and refugees might very easily be used against them one day.

Some of the larger questions here are about who gets to have freedom of movement across national borders, and who gets to have human rights?

Christmas Island also interests me as it is an island that attracted phosphate mining in the twentieth century like Banaba and Nauru. For me, the relentless extraction of our planet’s resources is part of the very phenomenon that produces the refugee and immigration crises we are witnessing today.

Quite simply, if people were able to look after their ancestral lands, and make fully informed choices about the kind of lives they wanted to lead, there’s a good chance we would not be in this situation.

Do you have any comments on New Zealand’s refugee policy?
There’s currently a huge debate in Hawai‘i about whether the state can accommodate refugees from Syria when Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiians make up a significant proportion of the state’s homeless population, and Micronesian migrants who are already there are facing animosity from state residents and exclusion from state services.

New Zealand has one of the lowest intakes of refugees per capita among OECD nations. And just like Hawai‘i, questions can be raised about whether New Zealand has any business increasing its refugee quota when its own people aren’t being looked after—for example, the almost 1 in 4 children living in poverty in this country. But whether we’re thinking about 260,000 New Zealand children living in poverty, or whether to raise the quota from 700 to 1200 for refugees desperately looking for safe shelter, what demands our careful attention is how the wealth and resources of this country are distributed.

But as I said earlier in relation to Manus and Nauru, we have to challenge ourselves to think about what policy/news/activism could look like if Māori were at the centre of our consideration. It won’t make things easier, by any means. But it would be a radical improvement on the way decisions are made and actions are being taken or not taken now.

What sort of coalitions are necessary, in your opinion, to undermine Australia’s regime?
If you’re talking about the regime of Australia’s detention centres, there need to be some strategic coalitions around shaping public opinion both in Australia and internationally. One important area of focus should be Australia’s bid to chair the UN Human Rights Council. Australia does not deserve to chair that council, and if human rights NGOs, indigenous rights and anti-imperialist movements can mobilize to get their bid defeated through lobbying among the G77 countries, especially, then I think we will empower Australians to hold their country more accountable for the appalling human rights abuses in the detention centres. If Australia wins their bid, there will be no incentive for the government to make any changes, because becoming chair of the UN Human Rights Council will essentially vindicate the current policy.

What can readers of this article do to challenge Australia’s abuses?
It is truly sad to me that in their first encounter with each other, Somalians and Nauruans, Iranians and Manusians, for example, are not given the chance to truly recognise each other’s dignity. This is because their encounters are being mediated by the Australian state and its contracted proxies.

Readers of this article need to demonstrate their solidarity with and concern for BOTH the refugees and the people of Nauru and Manus. The readers of this article need to put pressure on their governments and elected officials to demand accountability—and more importantly, CHANGE—from the Australian government in relation to the abuses in its offshore detention centres.

Some of the media point out that Nauru has an authoritarian government that is curbing international media access and also tampering with the judiciary and perverting the rule of law. The government of Papua New Guinea is also facing accusations of corruption and poor governance.

I hope that readers of this article will think critically about a) how Australia’s detention centre policy is exploiting the weaknesses of the governments in Nauru and PNG; b) how successive Australian governments are continuing to foster the negative development of these countries—replicating Australia’s colonial history in both countries; and c) how some New Zealanders are actually in the same detention centres as refugees; d) how Aboriginal Australians and Māori might have or make common cause with the people of Nauru and Manus, and e) how those of us who are not indigenous to Australia and New Zealand would benefit by putting indigenous people’s interests before what we believe might be our own. If we take time to think about these things, I believe that right action will flow.

Any last thoughts?
You sent me these questions before the Paris attacks, so that has been heavy on my mind as I’ve been reflecting on the situation in Australia’s detention centres in the Pacific…Australia’s “Pacific Solution.”

If the Pacific is to be a solution, it will not be in the way that Australian policy is currently positioning it.

One thing that is very clear is that Paris and Beirut and Nauru and Manus and Syria and Somalia and Afghanistan and Iran and Iraq and Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and New Zealand are all connected. But we are being connected in ways that are not of our own making. We need to reclaim our own sovereignty over these connections.

My Banaban community was relocated to Fiji by the British between 1945 and 1947—ostensibly with our leaders’ consent, but I wouldn’t say it was full and informed consent. Once we got to Fiji, and after we got over our disorientation, we realised that we could not depend on the British to safeguard our future—after all, they were gleefully mining our homeland. So we found out whose indigenous lands we had been moved to, and we paid tribute to them, acknowledging their customary stewardship. As Banabans, we never forget that we’re living in someone else’s land. That’s a lesson that has informed my understanding of what it means to be a migrant myself, and I think it’s an important paradigm shift to make.

We cannot assume that the government that welcomes or rejects or detains refugees is representative of the indigenous people of the land. Europe has lost much of its sense of indigeneity and because of World War II keeps conflating indigeneity with ethno-nationalism. But Pacific people should not surrender our ethics of hosting to either our own governments or the governments of other countries. Māori are good at asserting mana whenua. I guess that’s what I’m talking about: mana whenua leads to mana tangata; without the former, you can’t get the latter.

Against campism: What makes some leftists support Putin?

obama-putin

By Daphne Lawless, Fightback Tāmaki Makarau

At the time of writing, Russian forces are intervening in the civil wars in Ukraine and Syria; supporting the rebellions in the eastern provinces in the first case, and dropping bombs in support of the government of Bashar al-Assad in the second.

While he may have been a general in the old KGB, Vladimir Putin is no socialist. While Russia is formally ‘democratic’, political rights are very limited for anyone not aligned with Putin’s United Russia party. Notoriously, queer communities are persecuted by means of a law against “homosexual propaganda”, and Putin has fought a bloody civil war to quell the independence struggle in the republic of Chechenya. Neo-liberal economics has been used to cut living standards every bit as fiercely as it has in the West.

So why would anyone on the Left support Russia intervening in Ukraine or Syria, any more than they support the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan? Because they do. Leftist magazines like Counterpunch support Russian bombs falling in Syria. Several leftists in Aotearoa/NZ are members of a Facebook group called “Vladimir Putin Fan Club NZ. Putin it right !!” (sic)

Multipolar disorder

Several arguments have been used by such people. Perhaps the most serious is that in favour of a “multipolar world”. The argument is that the current world neoliberal system hinges on the unchallenged hegemony of the “Western” bloc, under the military leadership of the biggest imperial power of the planet, the United States. Therefore, a “multipolar” world would mean more freedom for popular forces to move against the global neoliberal order.

The late President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela was a great promoter of this idea. Many Western leftists who supported his government’s struggle for the working people and poor at home were left scratching their heads as he toured the world shaking hands and doing deals with the authoritarian leaderships of Russia or China, or Libya’s Qadhafi. He even supported the Zimbabwean government of Robert Mugabe, which imprisons and tortures socialists, and counted as an ally the Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko, who boasts of “wringing the necks” of the political opposition.

As an isolated leader of a socialist government in a capitalist state, Chávez can’t be blamed for trying to get any help he could. But for those of us without the responsibilities of state power, making a virtue out of necessity is not the basis for a political strategy.

This kind of politics is often called “campism” – in the metaphor that the world is divided into several military “camps”, with the largest being the Western camp led by the United States. Therefore, any government which disagrees with American foreign policy – no matter how oppressive to its own people, or however wedded to neoliberal market economics – can be supported. These governments are even called “anti-imperialist” – as if there were only one imperialism, that of the Western bloc. Those who’ve been watching China’s moves to extend its military reach across East Asia, or its economic power in Africa, have good reason to question that.

When two camps go to war…

The best argument which has been made to explain this thought process is that it’s a left-over from the Cold War, when the world was (at first) divided between the Western/USA bloc under the slogan of “freedom”, and the Eastern/Soviet bloc under the slogan of “peace”. Later, China emerged as the leader of a third bloc under a slogan of “national independence”.

At the time, many Western leftists saw the Soviet Union or China as “workers’ states”, which were a better alternative to capitalism. This led to many twists and turns as local parties and movements jumped around to justify the foreign policy of their preferred foreign “socialist” country. It was an article of faith for such groups that since their preferred country was “socialist”, it could not be imperialist, based on Vladimir Lenin’s analysis that imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism. Therefore, even when the Soviet Union ransacked eastern Germany’s industrial base after the Second World War, or invaded Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan to support its puppet regimes, this could not be “imperialist” by definition.

In contrast, other socialists refused to take sides. They described themselves as supporters of a “Third Camp” – opposing both the Western/US camp, and the camp of the bureaucratic states claiming to be socialist, with the “camp” of independent working-class action. The Socialist Workers Party in Britain led with the famous slogan of “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but international socialism”. During the workers’ uprising in Poland in the 1980s, while other socialists were trying to justify a Russian-backed military crackdown on the Solidarity independent union, the SWP’s newspaper headline read: “Russian tanks, Western banks, hands off Solidarity.”

Old slogans

One way to see the love-fest for Putin or other “anti-imperialist” dictatorships is simply a leftover from the days of the Soviet Union. Of course neither Russia nor Syria claim to be any sort of socialist country. But when you’ve spent a long time in the habit of thinking that the real problem in the world is American military hegemony – rather than the global capitalist system which that hegemony really serves – then you can justify any oppressive regime which is anti-American.

The “campists” even still use the old Soviet sloganeering – for example, when they claim that the Russian-backed rebels in Eastern Ukraine are fighting “fascists” in the Ukrainian government. While there certainly are some vile fascist mobs backing the Kiev regime, the mobs who rule the “Novorossiya” zones are only different in the symbols they use. Like the USA uses “anti-terrorism” as an excuse for conquest today, so did the old Soviet Union use “anti-fascism”; the official name of the Berlin Wall was the “Anti-fascist Protection Barrier”.

One sure sign of a campist mindset is that vile behaviour which is condemned on the other side is condoned on one’s own side, or outright denied. Campists are rightly outraged at the beheadings, sex slavery and other barbaric practices of the Islamist extremist group Da’esh (also known as ISIS). But they keep their mouths shut about the Syrian government’s use of “barrel bombs” and poison gas against opposition forces – even arguing that their chemical attack on Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus was a “false flag” operation.

We are all pawns

The use of the term “false flag” brings up the close alliance of “campism” with conspiracy theory. Campism, which sees the world as something like a “game board” where various governments move their pieces, can’t accept the concept of independent action by oppressed peoples or the working masses. So, every uprising against an “anti-imperialist” government is rejected as a CIA-backed “colour revolution”. It’s no coincidence that RT, the Russian government-backed news channel, promotes American conspiracy theorists who are considered a joke in their own media.

And of course the United States have an interest in overthrowing such governments and replacing them with reliable toadies. But to believe that that nullifies the existence of real grassroots movements within such uprisings is to reject the idea that socialist revolution is possible at all, that everything is secretly manipulated by some government or secret service or other such conspiracy. As one British socialist put it: “If you can’t fight for yourself, either because you are too weak or too isolated the temptation is to look for other forces who can do it for you.”

The kind of mindset which could defend Zimbabwe or North Korea as “anti-imperialist” could end up actually supporting Da’esh, on the basis that the democratic Syrian opposition forces have accepted guns from the West – and this is indeed what at least one group calling itself “communist” has declared. It is the logic that “stability” under a dictatorship is better than a chaotic situation of uprisings – a point of view which should be associated with conservative “realists”, not revolutionary socialists.

The enemy at home?

Other times, you hear the argument that“the main enemy is at home”, and therefore we have to oppose our own governments, not foreign governments. “The main enemy is at home” is a slogan that the German socialist Karl Leibknecht used to oppose the Social Democrats’ sell-out to support the First World War, which was justified with the argument that the Tsar of Russia was a much worse tyrant than the Kaiser of Germany.

But the people using that slogan to support the Syrian or Russian governments on this issue ignore that Liebknecht was opposed to all the imperialist governments fighting in the war. He certainly didn’t support the Russian government of the time any more than he cheered on his own. And of course he supported the Russian Revolution which brought down the Tsar from below – not the German armies on the Eastern Front.

We certainly want to oppose our own government. So we have to oppose New Zealand military intervention in Syria, Ukraine or any other civil conflict, and deny any support for the United States military or any Western-backed coalition – just as we oppose the barbarism of the Russian or Syrian governments or Da’esh. But we can’t let ourselves become useful idiots for any other oppressive regime. To bring up the World War 1 example again, Lenin accepted a train ride from the German regime to get back into Russia; but he certainly never supported the Kaiser as a “lesser evil” to the Tsar.

Neither Labour nor National…

We can find campism not only in foreign politics, but domestic politics. You see this in America with the demands that the socialist Left fall in behind the Democratic candidate – even if that’s the thoroughly imperialist and pro-capitalist Hilary Clinton – because apparently a Republican victory would be worse than a zombie apocalypse.

Similarly in Aotearoa/New Zealand, we see the division of electoral politics into two “camps” – a National-led camp, and “the Left”, being defined as Labour, Greens and New Zealand First. The first two parties are enthusiastically in favour of neoliberal capitalism, and the third support traditional “national” forms of capitalism. None of them has anything to offer the struggle for tino rangatiratanga, real action against climate change or independent workers’ organization – and yet, we are confronted with aggressive demands that we support “the Left” electorally, as if a government of Andrew Little, Winston Peters and James Shaw would be a significant improvement on the John Key regime.

In fact, the over-the-top denunciation of Key – a rather bland merchant banker, interested in entrenching neoliberalism rather than extending it – paradoxically reveals that there is no real difference between the two “camps”. Because that’s the real secret of campism – someone who aggressively demands that you take a side between two evils has an interest in concealing that the two camps are really not that different. Campism is born of weakness and lack of faith in the ability of real popular forces to build their own alternative to Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Damascus, Wellington and all the others. But that is precisely what socialism is supposed to be about.

Special thanks to Sam Charles Hamad and John Game for ideas and research pointers on this topic.

A few helpful links:

Germany: Fighting Europe’s biggest hole

Photo from indymedia

Photo from indymedia

Guest article by Jojo (Fightback correspondent based in Germany).

For upcoming magazine issue on the Climate Crisis.

When the Conference of Parties (COP15) took place in Copenhagen in 2009, the mobilisation of the climate movement focused mainly on appealing to the governments meeting there to stop climate change. Since these governments were obviously not questioning capitalism and economic growth and were all putting their own interests first, this strategy had to fail. And it will fail again in Paris this December, when some NGOs will try to lobby the participants of this COP to find a solution to climate change. However, the more radical majority of the climate movement changed its strategy after Copenhagen and decided to fight climate change directly at its roots; for example, in the lignite field in the Rhineland between Cologne and Aachen in Germany.

This area is the biggest producer of CO2 in Europe. It has three open cast mines, one of them the size of the city centre of Cologne, as well as its own railways and several power plants. Besides producing massive amounts of greenhouse gas, it also pollutes the region with dust that is partly radio-active due to uranium in the ground. The mines destroy fertile soil, whole villages whose inhabitants are forced to move away and unique ecosystems. The mines and power plants are operated by RWE, one of the monopolists that control the German energy market.

There has always been resistance by local initiatives, but the climate movement discovered it in 2010 when the first climate camp took place there. Ever since then there has been an annual camp in the region, combining discussion and workshops with direct actions. In 2011, activists bought a house and established the Workshop for Actions and Alternatives (WAA) as a permanent space. In 2012, the Hambach forest which is home to some endangered species was occupied. This forest was once 6000 hectares large; the remaining 500 hectares are supposed to be cut down in the next few years. The activists built treehouses and a three story house out of wood between the trees. Some months later, the squat was evicted; this took three days, as one activist locked himself in a tunnel under the ground. After the eviction, they set up a camp on a meadow on the edge of the forest that is owned by a supporter. This camp still exists today and, in addition, several places in the forest are squatted with tree houses.

In the meadow, activists live in tents, caravans and self-built clay huts. They have solar panels for energy supply and collect left-overs from vegetable farmers and bakeries for food. “With our struggle in the Hambach forest we are not only fighting an absurd kind of energy production but also this capitalist system”, says Yogur, one of the squatters.

The occupation is a method of passive resistance but also a platform to start further actions. The clear cutting works, which RWE can only do in autumn and winter because of bird conservation regislations, are being blockaded and the infrastructure is sabotaged. There have also been blockades of the railway that brings the coal from the mine to the power plant. This year, activists also started going into the mine to occupy (and thus stop) the giant coal diggers that are around 200m long and almost up to 100m high, and to blockade the conveyor belts. One digger was occupied during the G7 summit and, since many police including their climbing teams were in Bavaria to stop protesters there, the activists couldn’t be evicted and the occupation lasted for more than 50 hours.

As these actions are a danger for RWE which is already almost bankrupt, repression is rising. RWE employs private security companies whose workers have beaten up activists on more than a few ocasions. Police are working closely together with the security companies and with RWE. Since autumn last year, police have begun taking activists into custody for several weeks. Just some days ago at the time of writing, another activist has been imprisoned.

Nevertheless, the movement is getting bigger. AusgeCO2hlt, the group that organises the annual climate camps has formed an alliance with other organisations like the Interventionist Left and NGOs like 350.org to organise a mass action of civil disobedience called “Ende Gelände” (“Here and no further”) in August this year during the climate camp. 1500 demonstrators went to enter one of the mines and to stop its operations successfully. The media couldn’t ignore this and the vast majority of media coverage was positive – no wonder, as even journalists were attacked by securities and police during the action.

The question however is if co-operation with NGOs might also mark a deradicalisation of the movement that, until now, has had an anti-capitalist (and mostly anti-state) perpective. Some NGOs are distancing themselves from the more militant actions happening around the Hambach Forest. It is clear that it is important for the rather small movement to grow, but at the same time activists should still stress that climate change can’t be stopped within a growth-based capitalist system.

Another important question will be how to gain support or at least understanding of RWE’s workers. When the German government planned a very moderate climate fee that owners of power plants with huge pollution should pay, their union, the IG-BCE, started a huge campaign as they saw their jobs under threat – and successfully stopped the climate fee. It will be hard to fight for a coal exit against the resistance of the workers. So it will be important to fight for conversion into environmental friendly jobs and also for better working conditions in the renewable sector.

When the COP meet in Paris this December, the climate movement will also mobilise there. Most of it will protest on 12 December, at the end of the conference, not to say “please save us from climate change” but to say “we’re not satisfied with your decisions”. The motto is “we are the ones we have been waiting for”. Until then (and after it as well) we will have to continue fighting climate change at its roots. This year’s clear cutting season in the Hambach Forest has just started and at the time of writing, activists are gathering here for a camp to share skills for actions. On the 17 October, they plan to blockade the coal railway once more.

The Hambach forest and Ende Gelände both also have English-language websites:

hambachforest.blogsport.de

https://ende-gelände.org/en/

Iran: We will turn Shahrokh Zamani’s death into the banner of workers’ solidarity and unity

Political-prisoners-in-Gohardasht-Prison

translation from: revolutionary-socialism.com, revised by Daphne Lawless

Shahrokh Zamani, a brave and tireless fighter for the Iranian workers’ movement, has died in Gohar Dasht prison. The news was received with total disbelief and utter shock by all. In our view, whatever reasons the authorities may offer, the responsibility for his death lies completely with those who have imposed conditions of slavery on the workers of Iran and have taken away their rights to organise and struggle for a better life; and with those who throw honourable and valiant human beings such as Shahrokh Zamani into dungeons.

The shocking news of his death in jail, without any prior history of illness, is not the first news of such a loss of life of a prisoner, and given the current conditions in the country’s jails, will not be the last. This untimely death will naturally appear suspicious to any unbiased person. But even without any such suspicions, the conditions in prisons, especially for worker activists and political prisoners, are already murderous enough for a thousand and one reasons – from microwave torture to unsuitable food, from inadequate sanitation to absence of medical care, from unhealthy living quarters to every kind of mental and psychological pressure.

Shahrokh Zamani had committed no crime other than defending the rights of his fellow workers. He had no official position, he had not defrauded any one, he had not harmed anybody and he was not a partner to any thieves or highway robbers. He was a building worker and a member of the Committee for the Establishment of Independent Trade Unions, a member of the co-ordinating committee for re-starting the Paint Workers’ Syndicate and an honorary member of the Paint Workers’ Syndicate of Alborz and the Central Province, and its founding mentor.

He was thrown into jail in 2011 for defending workers rights, but for a brave fighter such as Shahrokh, prison did not mean an end to struggle. In his almost 5 years of imprisonment, from his two-man cell at Gohardasht prison, he never stopped struggling and fighting for just causes until his last breath. Jails, courts, repression, and pressure from the security forces and jailers could not silence Shahrokh. With his unrivalled braveness and steadfastness, and without an iota of self promotion, he was the real symbol of Iranian workers’ resistance and struggle for liberation from oppression and exploitation.

The death of Shahrokh is an irreplaceable loss for his family and friends and for the workers’ movement as a whole. We are sincerely sorry for this great loss and declare our sympathies with his family, friends, his fellow prisoners and workers all over the country. But despite this unbearable pain, we will not retreat into our sorrow and we will turn his death into the banner of workers’ solidarity and unity.

Long live workers’ unity and solidarity!

We salute you, Shahrokh Zamani!

The list of signatories in alphabetic order:

Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Workers’ Syndicate;

Paint Workers’ syndicate of Alborz Province;

The Centre for the Defence of Workers Rights;

The Committee for the Establishment of Independent Trade Unions;

The Co-ordinating Committee for Establishing Independent Workers Organisations;

The Co-ordinating Committee for Restarting Tehran Paint Workers Syndicate;

The Free Trade Union of Workers in Iran.