Event: Syria Speaks

syria peaceful revolution

NOTE: This event was delayed due to the Christchurch shooting.

March 15th is the anniversary of the Syrian revolution.

Hear Syrians in New Zealand speak against the uprising about the Assad government, the violence that has followed, the role of foreign governments in the conflict, and what New Zealanders can do to help. An informational meeting supported by Organise Aotearoa (views of speakers do not necessarily represent OA).

Speakers:
ALI AKIL came from Syria as a teenager and has lived here for two decades. His father was an activist against the Assad regime who was imprisoned, tortured and narrowly escaped execution. Ali was the founder of Syrian Solidarity NZ, which was established in 2011 in response to the dignity uprising in Syria.
(others TBA)

6pm, Friday March 15th
The Peace Place, 22 Emily Place, Auckland, New Zealand
[Facebook event]

Syrian revolution pamphlet successfully crowdfunded

free syria

Fightback are pleased to announce we have successfully met our goal of raising $1,000 for our upcoming pamphlet Syria: Revolution and Counter-Revolution. The pamphlet will be published in both electronic and printed forms, and in English and Arabic.

In Syria today, Assad and his lackeys are flattening entire neighbourhoods, so this little collection of writing seems like a small contribution in terms of solidarity.

However, ugly lies about Syria have become a commonplace, infecting even the left which claims to be a bastion of solidarity. We therefore consider it important to tell the truth about Syria, as an absolute minimum commitment of anyone who believes in democracy and self-determination.

The pamphlet will feature five articles, including reviews of the books The Impossible Revolution and Burning Country, and an interview with Syrian Australian artist Miream Salameh (alongside featuring Salameh’s artwork).

The campaign closes on March 14th, so there is still time if you’d like to contribute and receive a copy.

Funds raised will go directly to production and distribution costs, including translation. Sincere thanks to all who have pledged.

Click here here for PledgeMe campaign

Crowdfunding campaign for Syria pamphlet launched

idlib-kafranbel-protest

“The people want the fall of the regime – الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام‎.”

Having emerged from the Tunisian revolution and the wider ‘Arab Spring’, this slogan played a role in setting off the Syrian revolution when a group of youths were ‘disappeared’ for grafitiing it in the city of Dara’a. Citizens from many faiths mobilised in the streets of Syria, calling for democratic reform, before Assad’s military repression set off the ongoing crisis we see today – the greatest refugee crisis in a generation.

However, misinformation about the Syrian revolution abounds. You don’t have to go far on the internet to find claims that the Syrian revolution was a CIA conspiracy from the start – a claim made by Chris Trotter on New Zealand’s most popular left blog.

As put in the book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, “the start of solidarity is correcting the narrative.” Fightback therefore seeks to help correct the narrative with a collection of articles on the Syrian revolution. The pamphlet will contain five articles by Fightback members, including two book reviews, an interview with a resettled Syrian Australian, and other analysis.

Rather than making grand uninformed claims about the war, this material seeks to engage with work by Syrian revolutionaries, and encourage wider engagement.

The pamphlet will be published in both English and Arabic, and in both electronic and printed forms.

Funds will go towards design, printing, mailout, and translation of articles.

كتيب حول سوريا: الثورة والثورة المضادة باللغة الإنجليزية والعربية

إن شعار الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام“. بعد أن خرج من الثورة التونسية و وبشكل اوسع من الربيع العربي، لعب دوراً في إنطلاقة الثورة السورية وذلك عندما تم اعتقال مجموعة من الشبان بسبب كتابة هذا الشعار على جدران مدينة درعا. احتشد المواطنون من مختلف الأديان في شوارع سوريا ، داعين إلى الإصلاح الديمقراطي ، قبل أن يؤدي القمع العسكري للأسد إلى الأزمة الحالية التي نشهدها اليوم وهي أكبر أزمة لاجئين لهذا الجيل.

إن المعلومات الخاطئة حول الثورة السورية هي معلومات زاخرة، وليس علينا الذهاب بعيدا على الانترنت للعثور على مزاعم بأن الثورة السورية هي مؤامرة من قبل سي آي إي وكالة الاستخبارات المركزية الأميركية” – وهو ادعاء قدمه مارتين برادبري ، مدون اليسارالأكثر شعبية في نيوزيلندا.

وكما ورد في كتاب الأرض المحروقة: سوريا في الثورة والحربيبدأ التضامن في تصحيح السرد ومنظمة فايت باك دافعتسعى للمساعدة في ذلك من خلال طرح كتيب لمجموعة من المقالات حول الثورة السورية.

يحتوي هذا الكتيب على خمس مقالات من أعضاء حزب فايت باك دافع، تتضمن هذه المقالات مراجعة لكتابين ومقابلة مع سورية استرالية تم توطينها وتحليلات أخرى. فبدلا من تقديم ادعاءات كبيرة غير معلنة عن الحرب، تسعى هذه المادة الى الانخراط في العمل مع الثوريين السوريين وتشجيع المشاركة على نطاق أوسع.

سيتم نشر الكتيب باللغتين الإنجليزية والعربية ، وفي كلتي النماذج الإلكترونية والمطبوعة.

سوف يستخدم المال من أجل التصميم والطباعة والبريد وترجمة المقالات.

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It’s not about ‘regime change’: A brief history of US intervention in Syria

trump putin

By Ani White.

Chomsky’s criticism of US withdrawal from Kurdish-held territory poses a strange contradiction; why have so many on the left accused Syrian Arab rebels of being US proxies, while either supporting or remaining silent on the far more consistent US support of the Kurdish SDF against ISIS?

Given the widespread misinformation about Syria, a basic rundown of the facts about US involvement is necessary. This is a very brief outline of well-known facts about the war – for a more detailed analysis of the various forces involved, the work of Michael Karadjis is particularly recommended.

The dominant narrative on the left holds that US involvement in Syria is an attempt at ‘regime change.’ As highlighted by Karadjis, this is in contradiction with the statements of US officials:

  • In 2016, declaring that the US was “not seeking so-called regime change as it is known in Syria,” Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry added that the US and Russia see the conflict “fundamentally very similarly.”

  • In March 2017, Trump’s UN representative, Nikki Haley, despite her own tendency to spout anti-Assad rhetoric, declared that the Trump administration was “no longer” focused on removing Assad “the way the previous administration was.”

  • The same month, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, noted that “The United States has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq, and we’ve made it clear that counterterrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities. With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept.”

  • In July 2017, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clarified that the only fight in Syria is with ISIS, that Assad’s future is Russia’s issue, and he essentially called the regime allies: “We call upon all parties, including the Syrian government and its allies, Syrian opposition forces, and Coalition forces carrying out the battle to defeat ISIS, to avoid conflict with one another …”

  • Following the one-off US strike on an empty Assadist air-base after Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, US National Security Advisor HR McMaster clarified that the US had no concern with the fact that the base was being used to bomb Syrians again the very next day, because harming Assad’s military capacities was not the aim of the strike; and far from “regime change”, the US desired a “change in the nature of the Assad regime and its behavior in particular.” [note: not a change in the nature of the regime, a change in the nature of the Assad regime].

  • Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s speech in January 2018 focused on supporting the Geneva process for a “political solution,” but now the US no longer expected Assad to stand down at the beginning of a transition phase as under early Obama, or even at its end as under late Obama; rather, US policy was to wait for an eventual “free election” under Assad: “The United States believes that free and transparent elections … will result in the permanent departure of Assad and his family from power. This process will take time, and we urge patience in the departure of Assad and the establishment of new leadership.”

  • Even before his most recent, more blatant, statement, [Trump’s special envoy to Syria Jim Jeffrey] had already made a similar statement in his November 29 address to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Syria, declaring that the US was committed to a political process that “will change the nature and the behaviour of the Syrian government … this is not regime change, this is not related to personalities.”1

 

However, it’s not enough to take officials at their word. Do these claims contradict the actual practice of US intervention? Well, no.

The USA has continuously attacked ISIS-held territory since 2014, killing thousands of civilians.2 Meanwhile, two direct actions against Assad – an airfield bombing in 2017, and a chemical weapons factory bombing in 2018 – killed nobody, and both sought to warn the regime against chemical weapons attacks, rather than remove it from power per se. These two actions prompted widespread protests in the Anglosphere, while continuous US attacks on ISIS-held territory prompted silence, or in some cases support (see the open letter to the US to ‘defend Rojava’ signed by David Harvey, David Graeber and Noam Chomsky among others). If the USA sought to remove Assad from power, why not bomb Damascus? Why focus primarily on ISIS-held territory?

Crucially, the war began not with US involvement, but with an independent popular regional rebellion (against both US-backed states and ‘anti-imperialist’ ones), that was militarily attacked by Assad. In August 2012, Obama famously stated that any use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime was a “red line” that if crossed would invite direct US intervention. Yet in 2013, the Obama administration backed down from a threatened bombing campaign after Assad’s use of chemical weapons in East Ghouta killed 1,400 people.3

Although the USA offered some assistance to the Syrian rebels, this was limited. The Assad regime was able to rain death on the rebels from the sky, while rebels were limited to ground forces, so to beat Assad they would have needed aerial support or weaponry. Yet the CIA specifically blocked Saudi Arabia from providing the rebels with anti-aircraft weapons,45 and the USA did not implement a No Fly Zone. While the reasons for this are murky, they may include the fact that US policy was an ad hoc response to a volatile situation, that many rebels were anti-Zionist and hard to control, and/or the ‘realist’ policy of the Obama administration. Obama infamously mocked the rebels as “farmers or dentists” and said training them would take a lot of time and resources,6 showing a lukewarm attitude to the situation.

Finally, in 2014, ISIS intervention in the Syrian war triggered expanded US involvement. Contrary to narratives which reduce the Syrian revolution to ISIS, the group formed in Iraq, recruited internationally, and opportunistically intervened in the Syrian war as an occupying force – 3 years into the conflict. In September 2014, Congress approved a $500 million expansion of funding for US involvement, focused on equipping rebels to fight ISIS.7 A number of rebels left the training programme after it specifically placed a condition on trainees that they only fight ISIS and not Assad’s forces.8 This led to the US swivel towards supporting the Kurdish forces, which increasingly reached a detente with Assad against their common enemy ISIS. The USA also began bombing ISIS-held territory. In July 2017, Trump ceased arming Syrian rebels.9

US forces would not directly intervene against Assad until 2017, after the chemical weapons attack in Idlib. At this point Trump warned Assad and Putin of the attack, allowing them to evacuate the targeted airfield. This was a symbolic action, at most a warning against further chemical weapons attacks. Again, if the intention was to take out Assad, the USA could have rained death on Damascus rather than Raqqa.

In sum, US policy in Syria since at least 2015 has focused primarily on fighting ISIS, while remaining complicit with Assad. This is not a defence of US policy; complicity with Assad is a bad thing. Trump’s recent claim that “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there [sic] work” is a logical extension of this policy.

As for why so many leftists falsely characterise the intervention as a ‘regime change’ effort, a few factors seem salient:

  • Reducing a complex situation to an easily understandable one.

  • Relatedly, failing to catch up with a shift in geopolitics whereby the Trump and Putin administrations increasingly converge around reactionary politics.

  • Most fundamentally, solidarity with states rather than people; Assad is imagined to have ‘sovereignty’ despite obviously fake elections, while the Syrian people are secondary.

Those who still identify with the left must catch up with reality; we risk irrelevance at best, and siding with reaction at worst.

“All the world will be affected, not just Syria”: Interview with a Syrian Australian artist

Miream art

Artwork by Miream Salameh.

This article will be published in our upcoming Syrian revolution pamphlet, please click HERE to contribute.

Ani White interviews Miream Salameh, a Syrian artist living in Melbourne.

First of all, can you tell us why you were forced to seek refuge and how this happened?

At the beginning of the revolution, I worked with a group of my friends to create a magazine against the tyrannical regime that ruled Syria for fifty years. This regime is represented by the Assad family, which seized power in a military coup by Hafez al-Assad.

Our aim in founding this magazine was to present our ideas, the goals and principles of our revolution and our dream of building a new free, civil and democratic Syria. All of us should be equal under the law that achieves equality and justice for all. The aim was also to document the crimes of the Assad regime and its violations of international law – which is still under the eyes of the entire international community – against all those who have participated in this revolution and supported it even with a word.

But after six months we were forced to stop it after we were attacked by the Assadist forces. I remember very well how in the second raid we miraculously survived the inevitable deaths by field execution that Assad carried out at every raid. I lost two of my friends in that brutal way; during a raid on Deir Baalba in Homs in the first year of the revolution, the Assad gangs shot my friend Hatem Mohammad, who was an artist too, directly in his head and heart. His relatives could not take the body until fifteen days after Assad’s forces left the area – or face being arrested or dying under torture in his prisons. On this day we were three friends in the house watching a video that I filmed in a region loyal to Assad in Homs to document the crimes of Assad and his regime. In this video I documented the stolen property that Assad’s regime and its intelligence and army were selling at the lowest prices in a market they call the Sunni market; they rob those areas whose people were shelled and forced to flee, then the Assad regime enters and steals, and sometimes do not just do that, they also burn some houses. One person shown in the video told how when they left these areas with cars full of stolen stuff, the army at the checkpoints took the LCD screens and laptops and left them the rest of the stuff to sell in the Sunni market.

Going back to the raid day, as we watched the video and handed over the caricatures, Assad’s forces began to besiege the neighborhood and prepared to raid it. I quickly went out with my friends who took me out of the neighborhood and then returned to document what would happen. Assad’s forces committed an outrageous massacre, killing 20 people and arresting many, including women, who were stripped naked in public, and arrested them. Assad’s forces destroyed all our things and stole all that was valuable. During that time I received many threats and warnings, and was forced to leave for Lebanon without informing anyone. But death threats, arrests and rape will continue if I try to go back to my country. During my stay in Lebanon, one week after my arrival in Australia, I was attacked along with my friends by Hezbollah and they attempted to kidnap me. But we were rescued with the help of two Lebanese gendarmes and three Syrian people who were there by chance and brought us home safely. I don’t know if I would be alive now otherwise. Then we came here on a humanitarian visa.

How did the Syrian revolution begin? What were the demands of the revolution?

The Syrian revolution began after students at a school in Daraa wrote anti-Assad slogans on the walls of their schools. So the Assad regime arrested and tortured them and this angered their parents who went to claim and demand the release of their children, but the security forces told them: forget your children and make others, and if you cannot, send us your women to do so. People in Daraa began to take to the streets and demand the release of their children and all those detained in Assad’s prisons. These demonstrations moved to the rest of the Syrian cities, one of these was my city Homs. Our demands were initially to reform the regime, release the detainees and abolish the state of emergency, but the regime did not respond to these demands and tried to suppress the demonstrations in a brutal way, from firing live bullets at the demonstrators to firing missiles, and using internationally prohibited weapons such as cuneiform bombs. They carried out campaigns of detention against all those suspected of joining the revolution or supporting it even with a word, but the more violence the regime inflicted, the more the demonstrations grew to overthrow this bloody regime and build a free democratic civil state in which we all live equally under a law that protects the freedom and dignity of the individual – not a law that is amended to suit the regime’s interests, the way they did when Hafez al-Assad died, and they amended the constitution within three minutes to let Bashar take power after his dead father.

Who is primarily responsible for the atrocities (and the political crisis) in Syria?

All the responsibility for war crimes is with the regime of Assad, no one else, all the destruction and half a million refugees at home and abroad, and large numbers of detainees and abductees. The Assad regime committed all of this and was responsible for it with the help of his Russian and Iranian allies, as well as ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front. I include ISIS and al-Qaeda in this because Assad assisted them in entering Syria and put them in the areas to be a pretext for him to bombard and control and create displacement of their people. No-one benefits from their presence as much as Assad. In addition to al-Qaeda, Assad is the one who released the extremists and criminals from his prisons at the beginning of the revolution, for the same reasons that I mentioned earlier and to make it seem like our revolution is Islamist in form. Thus he has a strong argument before world public opinion to eliminate the revolution. Assad is the one who released Zahran Alloush [leader of the Jaysh al-Islam armed faction] who used people as shields and put them on the roofs of houses to prevent Assad from shelling them. He is no different from the Assad regime and is similar in criminality. All these Assad did to justify the war crimes he committed against unarmed civilians, bombarding them in their schools and homes, hospitals and markets using internationally banned weapons including phosphorus, chemical and others.

We all saw the massacre committed against our people in as-Suwayda city at the hands of ISIS. But we all know who brought them on buses from Yarmouk camp to the east of as-Suwayda to control the area there. This claim comes from the people of as-Suwayda who knew Assad’s games and put all the responsibility for what happened there on the Assad regime. And some of them said that the kidnappers allwere Da’esh [ISIS], in fact they were detainees in the prisons of the regime.

The Assad regime is the one who made our land an area of ​​international conflicts between America, Russia and others. There is so much evidence that the only man responsible for what happened to my country is Assad.

How do you respond to claims that Assad protects Christians and minorities?
Assad did not protect the minorities but protected himself by using them. The Assad regime did not show mercy to any of its opponents, neither the Christian nor the Druze, nor even the Alawites, who are the sect be belongs to. He arrested and killed a lot under torture and displaced them. Also he killed people whom were from his own sect and loyalists at the beginning of the revolution to claim that it was the rebels who killed them, and to lie to them that our revolution was an Islamic revolution aimed at killing all the minorities, I remember once sitting in al-Arman area, one of them told me: We shelled three buildings here in al-Arman. I asked him why he did that. He said because we want to make the people here believe that the revolutionaries did it and that their revolution is an Islamic revolution. I told him, but what about the children, women and residents of these buildings who were hit by these missiles? He said: It does not matter, the important thing is to believe what we want and fight alongside the regime. The regime has done a lot of these dirty tricks.

I am from the Christian minority in Syria and from a village called Marmarita, a Christian village in Wadi al-Nasara. I was forced to flee my country after I received many threats just because I stood against this criminal regime and participated in the revolution. Many young people in my village were arrested for the same reason, and after their release they immediately left the country. The artist and my teacher Wael Qustoun, who is from my village and was based in Homs, was arrested by the Assad intelligence and tortured to death because of his refusal to paint a helmet for the army. None of his family members knew of his fate until someone saw his body in the hospital with 200 other bodies. That person called the Wael family to take his body before they took him with the rest, to bury them in mass graves without informing anyone about their fate or what happened to them inside the prison. They forced his family to say that the unknown armed groups were the ones who kidnapped Wael and killed him. This what happened to me and my family and people really close to me. There are many, many more stories that anyone can learn, like the story of Marcel Chahrou, Basil Shehadeh and many others. They deny the claims that Assad protects minorities.

What role have international actors played in Syria, particularly the USA and Russia?

I am not a political analyst, but everyone who follows the Syrian situation is fully aware that no one cared about the death and displacement of the Syrian people. The Russians, the Iranians and Hezbollah participate with Assad in his war crimes against defenceless people. This applies to America and even to Australia, when they participated in the bombing under the pretext of eliminating terrorism.

We all know that all of them took part in this for their own interests, so that they don’t care about Assad himself and were ready to get rid of him when they were done with him. Even the Turks themselves, who some believe they are friends of the Syrian people, killed many Syrians as they crossed the border to escape the bombing to Turkey.

America has bombed many military sites and bases of Assad: but it is known to the free Syrian people that it is not because it cares about the Syrian people, especially after Trump’s decision to prevent Syrians from entering America. This applies to everyone.

After almost seven years, we no longer trust anyone, not even the United Nations and the international community, who could not prevent Assad from committing his own massacres, especially forced displacement and ethnic cleansing against the people, which is an international war crime under UN resolutions. Instead of stopping that, they were working to find safe passages to Syrians leave their homes and neighbourhoods. That is, Assad committed this crime under their auspices, and they came in after that and set up tents for us in neighbouring countries.

Can you explain what Assad and Putin’s assault on Idlib means for Syrian politics?

It’s crushing one of the last areas held by the revolutionaries. The same will happen as happened in Aleppo, Darya and Ghouta – massacres of people. Idlib has refugees from those areas that have already been assaulted. So three million people will be attacked. Assad is ethnically cleansing, which is a war crime. It will not relieve things for us, and also Turkey will face a huge wave of refugees. And many refugees will go by boat to reach Europe. All the world will be affected if this happens to Idlib, not just Syria.

And Turkey made a deal with Russia, to pursue a political resolution, not because Turkey cares about the people and want to save lives, I think Turkey just wants to save their country and not have to deal with refugees. And we all know what Russia and Assad want from Idlib, they want all of the territory in regime hands.

How do you respond to claims that the revolution is simply sectarian?

How can the revolution be sectarian? It includes all people from different religious backgrounds. There are the Druze, the Christian, the Alawi, the Sunni, and all of us have a dream of building a free and democratic Syria that is equal to everyone under the law. But what we talked about previously, about the release of the extremists by Assad and giving ISIS entry to our country, in addition to the media, which also played a big role in the painting of our revolution as Islamist. Not just this, but also it tried to show that there was no revolution at the start; when the media mention the Syrian situation they only mention civil war and never mentioned the Syrian revolution. But after seven years of the Assad regime, trying to crush our revolution in the most brutal ways, and the hypocrisy of the big powers and the international community and the United Nations closing their eyes to the crimes of Assad against us, the demonstrations in Idlib embarrass them all showing that the revolution is not dead, and did not die, and will not die.

During the revolution, its activists whose work was characterized by civil action were targeted by all the extremist parties represented by ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Assad regime. Naji Al-Jarf was targeted by ISIS who shot at him in Turkey, and Jaysh al-Islam kidnapped Razan Zaytouneh and her comrades, whose fate we do not yet know, and many more who were targeted by ISIS and al-Qaeda. And we don’t need to mention what the Assad regime did and still does to all of the activists of the revolution, because it is clear and obvious to all of us. All these criminals share one interest: to eliminate the revolution because they know that the victory of the revolution means the end of all of them.

What bearing does understanding the political situation in Syria have on refugee solidarity in Australia?

When we started leaving Syria in the first year of the revolution, the government badmouthed refugees. I don’t think the government cares about refugees. I remember there was one guy who was in the detention centre in Syria, and the Australian government deported him back to Syria, and the Syrian government arrested him there for 28 days, and they bombed his area and killed his father. If I went back to Syria, they would arrest me.

You’ve said Australia has a discriminatory refugee policy in how it ranks Syrians. Can you explain that?

Australia gave priority in granting asylum to Christian asylum seekers, ignoring the many refugees who had been stranded in the refugee camps for almost 7 years without any basic necessities of life, and that leads these people to risk their lives and the lives of their children at sea. Those who survived the drowning were detained in the detention centers of Nauru and Manus Island. In these prisons, there are families – women and children held for four years – and many more. Can you imagine children being forced to spend their childhood in such places, after they survived inevitable death in their country, for no reason?

In Australia, the boats were stopped under the pretext of preserving people’s lives. But if they really cared, they would offer an alternative to getting in unsafe boats, and offer a real solution to their suffering, like granting a humanitarian visa, easing restrictions on humanitarian visas. Humanitarian visas should be based on the conditions that people are in, not based on needing sponsors. Also Australia has bombed my country and made more refugees. If they really cared, they would not participate in the bombing.

What do you think about the protests against Trump’s bombings?

It’s funny how people get angry about this bombing, when the US has been bombing my country since 2014, and killing many civilians, yet people only protest when he bombs an Assad military base, killing nobody, and announcing it in advance so that Assad could evacuate. Listen to Syrians before you try to do something for us.

Do Syrian refugees (practically speaking) have the right to return?

The right of refugees to return will not happen until something changes in our country. They need to stop the ethnic cleansing. Assad remains in power. They need to address these things, before they talk about our return to Syria. It will not be possible to return while the regime stays in power. And in terms of ISIS and al-Qaeda, as long as the regime stays in power these problems will continue. First Assad needs to be taken out of power, then we need to address the sectarianism, then we can rebuild our country.

What can people in Australia or Aotearoa do to support Syrians?

We have to listen to Syrians, convey the truth of what’s going on, stand together as people and pressure the government here, and the rest of the world’s governments. My country, especially the media, is politicised. We must exert great pressure on the international community and the United Nations to do their work honestly, in protecting the human rights for which they were founded.

I believe that only people have the power to change for a better world. I believe that this will be the first serious step to stand with the Syrian people in their revolution and end their ordeal.

This article will appear in Fightback’s upcoming issue on Migrant and Refugee RightsTo support our work, please consider subscribing to our e-publication ($NZ20 annually) or print magazine ($NZ60 annually). You can subscribe with PayPal or credit card here.

The Red-Brown “zombie plague” PART THREE

This is the final part of a major article by DAPHNE LAWLESS to appear in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Part one is here, part two is here. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

III._Weg_b
Placard from a German Red-Brown party, Der III. Weg (“The Third Way”). The slogan reads: “For a German socialism!”

The Germs of Red-Brown Politics

Germ 1: Political confusion and despair

I now wish to return to the question of the agent of the Red-Brown zombie plague, that is: what are the political weaknesses of the existing Left which led to them being drawn into this modern Querfront?

Part of the answer is a misrecognition ofthe situation. Red-brown politics is sometimes called “confusionism”, as it relies on a consciously anti-fascist Left being confused about what a fascist or reactionary movement means in practice. As I said in the previous article, fascism acts like a social parasite, blending into its host to exploit it. The activist Left has spent the past 30-40 years fighting neoliberal globalism, which seeks to abolish not only any borders to capital and trade, but also the welfare state as we used to know it. As I said in “Against Conservative Leftism”, this long-running defensive battle has meant that much of the Left cannot see a socialist horizon beyond a return to 1960s-style social democracy (hence, the giddy, uncritical support for popular proponents of such politics like Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn).

As to “fascism”, the term has become loosely used to describe the authoritarian wing of neoliberalism – the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, or the Right-wing neoliberal success of the likes of Thatcher and Reagan. So when the smarter modern fascists emphasise their opposition to “free trade” and “globalism” and talk about “supporting sovereign states against foreign intervention”, it is not surprising that many of the current activist-Left fail to recognize that these are our worst enemies. It’s worth quoting from my “Against Conservative Leftism” on this issue:

We do not argue that conservative leftism is the same as “red-brown” politics. What we argue is that it offers no intellectual defence against it. The argument is that “red-brown” politics (and its cousin, outright fascism) have increasingly gotten a foothold in activist movements worldwide precisely because conservative leftism has no way of arguing against it. For example, conservative leftists in Aotearoa/New Zealand happily publish memes originating from far-right factions in the United States or Britain, because they have no way to tell the difference between radical and reactionary anti-globalisation.

On the international scale, red-browns and conservative leftists join together in cheerleading the Russian bombing of Syria and the strangling of its revolution in the name of “fighting Islamist terror”, and the belief that Russian bombs are somehow better than American bombs. Similarly, conservative leftist Islamophobia (including, sadly, the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt) supported General al-Sisi’s military coup against the democratically elected Islamist-backed Morsi government in Egypt in 2012. (WiCL, pp. 18-19)

Another possible factor in the Leftist embrace of geopolitics as a guiding principle is despair at the impotence of actually-existing working-class or revolutionary forces, and thus a vicarious identification with any force which seems capable of offering any kind of an alternative to neoliberal globalisation. Moishe Postone described a similar phenomenon of a previous generation of activists:

the new glorification of violence of the late 1960s was caused by a severe frustration of the faculty of action in the modern world. That is, it expressed an underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency. In a historical situation of heightened helplessness, violence both expressed the rage of helplessness and helped suppress such feelings of helplessness. It became an act of self-constitution as outsider, as other, rather than an instrument of transformation…

The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted or of the politics of the resistance involved — that is, the character of determinate forms of critique, opposition, rebellion, and “revolution.” The notion of resistance frequently expresses a deeply dualistic worldview that tends to reify both the system of domination and the idea of agency.

This quote – written before the invasion of Iraq – seems to perfectly describe the current period, where the religious totalitarian leaders of Iran describe their support for the secular totalitarian dictatorship in Syria as part of an “Axis of Resistance” – and many Western activists and writers on the Left are prepared to take this self-description of oppressive regimes seriously, as if Assad or the Iranian mullahs spoke for their people rather than exploiting and victimising them.

A third factor is perhaps the simplest – the tiny size of the activist Left, and its isolation from the communities it theoretically speaks on behalf of, leads not only to the pressures of “groupthink” (an unwillingness to stand apart from majority opinion), but of a kind of “nihilism” where the most popular narratives are those which tell the community what it wants to hear, accuracy or even truth be damned. This is, of course, a miniature version of the business model of FOX News. American journalist Charles Davis comments:

Little white lies don’t serve grand ends when the means are perceived as an expression of one’s true politics. When delivered with smug flair, they do keep those who aren’t alienated in high spirits, however, and the clicks on news that is fake, left media criticism teaches us, always exceed clicks on the (enemy) analysis that corrects. That ensures a steady stream of digital red meat, misleading content and algorithmic takes garnering more donations to the Patreon in the bio and so on and so forth until we all log off for the very last time.

This brings to mind Jodi Dean’s comment in Crowds and Party that, in the fragmented Left social-media scene of the 21st century, the ostracism and persecution of dissenting views and the willingness to put ideology in front of the facts are sometimes worse than the obedience within a monolithic old-style Stalinist party (p. 219 – see my review) .

A final factor may be an “optimistic” appetite to paint any popular groundswell against the neoliberal centre as being progressive in origin; from this point of view, to suggest that racist, misogynist or even fascist ideas might be popular with (particularly white) voters is interpreted as an unacceptable slander against the working class. This can probably most justly be put in the category of “wishful thinking”.

Germ 2: “Proletarian nations” – the ML/fascist convergence

Some argue that the real problem is the influence of “Stalinist”, “Marxist-Leninist” or “tankie” politics – that is, nostalgia for the Soviet Union and defence of contemporary states such as North Korea, Cuba and sometimes even China. Obviously, historically the Stalinised Communist Parties of the West had heavy influence on social democratic and liberal opinion, pulling them towards at least a “lesser-evil” position on such states. English socialist Ben Watson writes concerning British left politics during the Cold War:

The idea that Russian state capitalism was qualitatively different from Western capitalism led to an abstract politics that passed over the atrocities of Russian military imperialism and its atom bomb; in Britain, it encouraged a reformism that abandoned class struggle in favour of Labour Party electoralism and the promises of nationalisation (Art, Class and Cleavage, p. 67)

The parallels to the “revolutionary socialists” who have become uncritical supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party should be obvious. But how does this politics have any relevance to the Russia/Syria situation? Russia is clearly now a capitalist state, run by a right-wing strongman with extremely strong ties to billionaire oligarchs and organised crime, whose only link to the state founded built by Joseph Stalin is nostalgia for superpower status. In Syria, it’s true that Hafez al-Assad nationalised a lot of the Syrian economy, but then he started privatising it again in the 1990s, and his son Bashar has followed suit. What could be persuading Marxist-Leninists – who did not support authoritarian nationalist regimes such as Assad’s in the 1980s – to do so now? And what about the influence on – for example – the British SWP and splits from it such as Counterfire, who once proudly declared “Neither Washington Nor Moscow” in the Cold War and refused to defend any authoritarian regime?

A recent article by a US activist group calling itself the “Left Wind Collective” suggests that it’s not as simple as blaming “Stalinism”. They identify two groups as the backbone of what is called “ML” politics in the United States today:

  • Groups tracing their heritage back to the “New Communist Movement” of the 1970s, who were more or less critical supporters of Mao Zedong in China (such as Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party);
  • Groups tracing their heritage back to Sam Marcy, who led a split from the Trotskyist US Socialist Workers’ Party, over the US-SWP’s opposition to the Russian invasion of Hungary. The “Marcyists” later formed the Workers’ World Party (WWP) from which later split the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSL). It is crucial to note that WWP and PSL activists are extremely central to anti-war politics in the United States (through the coalition ANSWER); and have been the most forthright with a pro-Assad, pro-Russia position on the Syrian conflict.

The fact that one of the US’s major “Marxist-Leninist” trends in fact comes from the Trotskyist position complicates the idea that the issue here is the same as 1980s and 1990s style sectarian struggles. In fact, what holds the two factions – which we might call “post-Mao” and “Marcyist” trends – together is the very attitude to imperialism which we examined above. Writing in 1966, British socialist Nigel Harris describes Soviet geopolitics under Stalin as follows:

What class struggle remained prominent was transferred from the domestic to the international scene where it became identified with a nationalist struggle. Class was then attributed to groups or individuals according to their international position, or, more specifically, their attitude to the Soviet Union… Ultimately, the struggle was said to take place between ‘proletarian nations’ and ‘bourgeois nations’ which, in practice, signified nothing about those countries’ domestic class structure for ‘proletarian’ meant only poor, predominantly peasant (not at all ‘proletarian’) countries driven explicitly by nationalistic revulsion from imperial exploitation, and ‘bourgeois’ meant only anti-Soviet rich countries…

Li Dazhao [an early Chinese communist who died in 1927] who was similarly disinterested in the dynamic role of domestic Chinese classes, placing complete emphasis on the anti-foreigner, anti-imperialist struggle; he also identified China as a whole as a ‘proletarian nation’ and the white races as the world ruling class.

Accordingly, the American RCP used the concept in 1973 to describe African-Americans as “a nation made up mainly of workers: a proletarian nation”. Compare this with Left Wind’s description of the Marcyist concept of “Global Class War”:

In this formulation, the world is increasingly polarized into two “class camps”: one of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the other of the global working class, the socialist countries, and the national liberation movements.

Thus, Sam Marcy, coming from a Trotskyist position that Stalin’s repressive bureaucratic leadership had betrayed the Revolution, ended up supporting Russian tanks crushing the workers’ uprising in Hungary in 1956. The strength of the Soviet-led military bloc was more important than the class struggle of Hungarian workers against their local Communist Party bureaucracy. It only remains to add that the idea of a “proletarian nation” struggling against “bourgeois” ones was also embraced by Fascist movements. It actually originated in the writing of Italian nationalist Enrico Corradini and was later adopted by Mussolini himself, to argue that Italian imperialism in North Africa was justified and morally superior to the imperialism of the “Plutocratic Nations” such as Britain or France.

I believe that this idea of “proletarian and bourgeois nations” – subordinating or even eliminating the class struggle or democratic movements within countries – is the essential programmatic agreement between Fascists andtankies[iii]. The arguments used by the Italian “proletarian nationalists” about their country are mimicked by those on both Left and Right who bemoan the historical “humiliation” (i.e. fall from superpower status) of Russia, to defend its right to intervene in Ukraine and Syria and to annex Crimea. The difference between “Left” and “Right” versions of this narrative would be the difference between describing Russia as an “exploited, non-imperialist” or even “proletarian” nation, standing strong against US / Western European hegemony, and describing Russia as the embodiment of Christian traditionalism, standing strong against both Islam and secular globalism. They both end up in the same place.

This analysis of the standard “anti-imperialist” argument as “Red-brown” – in the precise sense as being indistinguishable from a Fascist argument based on the rights of national sovereignty – is echoed by many others on the Left. As if to confirm this analysis, the “Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances” blog post quoted above documents the WWP’s alliances with explicitly Red-Brown parties in the former Soviet Union, such as the Russian Communist Workers’ Party or Borotba in Ukraine.

In the words of one Twitter critic:

most of what passes for leftist “anti-war” reasoning today resembles what had been a rightist critique of hegemony and unwittingly carries on the forgotten tradition of fascist anti-imperialism

And another:

When ML Twitter talks about imperialism, it sounds less like structural analysis of imperialism based on Marxist-Leninist theory and more like they copied the script of the folks who believe there are ‘globalist’ conspiracies everywhere

If this were confined only to self-described “Marxist-Leninists” -or to Twitter – it would be a curiosity of interest only to students of the Left-wing subculture. But as I explained in a previous section, this “common sense” idea of imperialism as being identical to “US-EU hegemony” is replicated by mainstream Left voices, and increasingly, by the leadership of the British Labour Party in which so many Leftists have placed their hopes. This is the real problem.

Germ 3: Islamophobia and West-centrism

Veteran US Marxist Louis Proyect suggests, at least as far as Syria and Libya are concerned, that another factor involves:

…deep-seated Islamophobia that is rooted in 9/11. Back then, Christopher Hitchens earned the contempt for most of us on the left for his close ties to the Bush administration. Even if it was becoming obvious that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was based on a mountain of lies, Hitchens gave the Bush administration a free pass because he saw al-Qaeda as the greatest threat to “Western Civilization” since Adolph Hitler.

Today, there is a virtual army of journalists who combine the shoddy journalism of Judith Miller and the virulent Islamophobia of Christopher Hitchens on behalf of a new crusade against the “Salafist menace”. But instead of serving as the lapdog of George W. Bush, they operate as cogs in the propaganda machine for the Kremlin and the Baathist [Syrian] state. Their hatred for “jihadism” runs so deep that they justify the bombing of hospitals in Idlib because [the former Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda] has a foothold there. The ability of many leftists to lament the war crimes in Yemen and now in Afrin while cheering on Russian and Syrian mass murder is a defect in the kind of movement we have become, showing the same kind of cynical “ends justify the means” mindset that destroyed the Stalinized Communist Party.

In the Iraq War period, the Left completely rejected “War on Terror” rhetoric when it came from George W. Bush and Tony Blair in 2003. We rejected the idea that bombs, occupation and invasion were the correct response to small networks of Islamist nihilists who had adopted the tactic of attacks against Western civilian populations. However, when very similar rhetoric comes from Vladimir Putin concerning Syria (and, for that matter, Chechnya), much of the Left is happy to accept it – even to the barbaric point where even chlorine gas bombing against civilian targets can be accepted if those civilians can be made out to be “Islamists” or “Salafists”.

The Left-Islamophobic undercurrent of this pointed out by Australian academic Ghassan Hage:

An Assadist is someone who believes in the ‘dictatorship of the seculariat’. They think that the ‘secular’ bit in the concept of ‘secular dictatorship’ far outweighs in importance the ‘dictatorship’ bit.

The history of the relationship between socialist and Islamist currents is a long and complicated one which this article cannot go into in detail (although one slightly outdated attempt from 1994 may be useful to some readers). This history is a deeply contradictory one, but an adequate rule of thumb would be to say that – much like political activism motivated by Christianity – “Islamism” may take on democratic or authoritarian, progressive or reactionary forms. To instinctively take the side of “the secularists” in any such conflict is a gross form of Orientalism which excuses Western leftists from actually understanding struggles in a non-Western society. Scottish-Egyptian journalist Sam Charles Hamad sums it up thus:

The fundamental point is not that we skate over the parts of the politics of ostensibly Islamist or Islamist-rooted forces that we disagree with, but to recognise that in liberation struggles against secular tyrannies or oppressors, Islamism is a major expression of the opposition to this whether we like it or not, with a popular base rooted in the same demands for liberty that shape these revolutions themselves.  This is as true in Syria and Egypt as it is in Palestine.

In fact, one of the great ironies of the reaction of the left to the Syrian revolution is the contrast in the way it relates to the Palestinian struggle.  While the fact that the only active resistance groups to Israel are all Islamist, with the largest, Hamas, being Ikhwani Islamists, committed initially to Islamic democracy but forced to suspend democracy after almost immediately being attacked by Fatah, backed by Israel, the US and UK.  Then you have the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, originally set up as the Palestinian branch of the Salafist Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but now much more akin to Hamas in terms of ideology – Islamism intertwined with Palestinian nationalism.

To some degree, this Islamophobia is a disguised form of Ayoub’s “essentialist anti-imperialism” as described above– the Western Left putting its parochial concerns and priorities over the needs and the experience of foreign people who don’t speak our language. As one Twitter commentator noted: “By centering all conflicts around the West, these “activists” strip second and third world (particularly brown folks) of all moral agency.” Robin Yassin-Kassab agrees:

This habit of thought – whereby the real torments of far away people are dwarfed in significance and impact by the imaginary machinations of the only state that matters, the American one – is depressingly common…Strange and part-way racist, as if white people’s words enter the cosmic fabric so inevitably to determine brown people’s history for years to come. The writings, protests and battles of Syrians mean nothing in comparison.

As does his co-writer, Leila al-Shami:

This pro-fascist left seems blind to any form of imperialism that is non-western in origin. It combines identity politics with egoism. Everything that happens is viewed through the prism of what it means for westerners – only white men have the power to make history.

We therefore have a combination of Islamophobia with “alt-imperialism” and extremely one-sided anti-neoliberalism. For Trump’s US forces to carpet-bomb “Islamic State” targets with Russian backing is seen as no big deal, whereas Obama and Clinton’s miserly support for Syria’s democratic movements (some of whom might have been Islamists) was seen as a provocation to nuclear war. This is the point where the fascist and near-fascist Right finds unity with much of the existing Left, whether of Marxist, social-democratic or anarchist background.

What is to be done?

Robin Yassin-Kassab, whom we have repeatedly quoted, gives his own suggestion in a recent blog post:

If people who consider themselves leftists want to have any positive influence whatsoever in the future, they need to drive genocide deniers (and the conspiracy theory mindset which replaces facts with convenient myths, analysis with demonology, and human compassion with racism) out of their movement completely.

The failure to distinguish between truth and lies is a prerequisite for fascism. Just as Stalin and Hitler had their shills, so today British priests, … journalists like Fisk, and rightist and leftist conspiracy theorists are busy parroting victim-blaming fascist narratives.

I think most people (not just leftists) think my position is too extreme. If that’s you, well, let’s wait for the coming years and decades and see. Syrians are targeted by these lies today, Bosnian Muslims yesterday. In the future it could be any other group, including ‘leftists’ and even priests. Once you accept the notion that ‘the narrative’ is sexier than the reality, you don’t get to choose which narratives gain most traction.

From a revolutionary Marxist point of view, of course, the idea of “driving out” people who’re expressing Assadist or other red-brown ideas from our already tiny, beleaguered and isolated movement is extremely hard to swallow. Some critics have even accused Fightback of reviving the old Stalinist “social fascism” hypothesis (see article in this issue) – with Western Assadists, in this metaphor, being driven out of the movement by unjust accusations of fascism. This reminds us of nothing else than Donald Trump calling the continuing investigation into his links with Russia a “witch hunt”. It’s only a witch-hunt if there are no witches. As I suggested above, the great weakness of the contemporary activist Left is defined by its drawing a simplistic boundary around “opposition to neoliberal globalisation”. Without further precision, that includes fascists. Perhaps in the 1920s and 1930s, some might have been excused for not understanding the consequences of accepting ethno-nationalists, whose contempt for democracy and social equality is barely disguised, as allies of socialism. There can be no such excuse today.

Another variation of this argument has been expressed to us as “why is Syria the hill you’re willing to die on? Isn’t this cranky and sectarian?” As I hope we have explained in this article, Syria is not so much as a “hill” as the tip of the iceberg of a whole series of ideas pointing towards a Fascist view of the world. In the famous metaphor of Leon Trotsky, a scratch may develop into gangrene if the necessary medical attention is not given. A contradiction between working-class solidarity when it comes to local politics, and support for oppressive State brutality overseas (even denialism of the worst acts of such brutality) must be resolved in one direction or another sooner or later. Ignoring when a comrade is expressing ideas which put them in the camp of global reaction is not only not comradely, it is criminally irresponsible in an era when the Right is on the rise – putting our friendships and working relationships ahead of calling out horrible politics when we see them is, to coin a phrase, how Trump got elected.

Canadian socialist “Lucy Antigone” gave testimony of the dangers of blurring between Leftist and nationalist-Right discourse in a recent Facebook comment:

Honestly it’s alarming the extent to which conservatives, conspiracy theorists, prominent leftists on my feed share the same articles, premises, slogans. And more so that this is done it seems unwittingly by the left, more tactically on the right, so that we now have a Trumpist-Conservative running in a high-profile provincial election on the Corbynist platform of “For the many, not the few,” and no one bats an eye at the mention of the Rothschilds vis western imperialism and Syria. Okay, not *no one* – but almost that many.

Further, for the accusation of “sectarianism” to stick, it must be expanded to mean any political debate within the Left. Fightback makes no excuse for our platform of no platform for fascism, and no tolerance for Red-Brown convergence of ideas. We will confront these ideas where-ever they are raised, and whoever raises them – even if the person raising them is a popular activist with an admirable track record of struggle. Of course, most activists on the Left who hold these ideas are not consciously fascists. If they were, we would not bother debating them – we should shun and isolate them, as we do to all fascists.

We take Robin Yassin-Kassab seriously when he says that a Western left that fails to stand in solidarity with all the oppressed of the world (because of a Red-Brown notion of “geopolitics”) has no hope at all of being part of a global revolution. Fightback’s strategy is to form a pole of opposition against these ideas where-ever they appear on the Aotearoa or Australian left. We are aware of other comrades in Britain, the United States and elsewhere who are waging a similar struggle on the Left. We also stand in solidarity for everyone who stands up for the oppressed and murdered in Syria, who are mostly not socialist Leftists themselves – and why would they be, given what they’ve seen from the socialist Left on this issue?

The bottom lines for such a global realignment of the Left that we suggest are:

  • Popular internationalism; solidarity with all exploited and oppressed people, globally; solidarity directed towards peoples in struggle, not towards nation-states or their governments.
  • Cognitive openness: the old slogan of “scientific socialism” in this era cannot mean the dogmatic, mechanistic schemas of the past, but on the contrary a socialist/working-class movement which embraces the cutting-edge of scientific thought and theory, no matter its source; this against the “echo chamber” mentality when only voices who are already “within our movement” are heard or, even worse, only those which agree with our prejudices. Remember what a cunning mimic fascism is.
  • A radical, sustainable, forward-looking programme for social equality; nostalgia and traditionalism are debilitating illnesses for those who really wish to change the future.

We encourage all who feel the same way to join Fightback or to support our publications and our work, and either way to get in touch.


[iii]  Note here that I wish to use “tankie” in its correct historical sense – not to describe all Marxist-Leninists or Stalinists, but precisely those who justify and support imperialist attacks by those nations seen as opposed to the West. A “tankie” would mean one who supported the Russian tanks rolling into Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Afghanistan – and now their bombs levelling most of Syria – while decrying all Western imperialist interventions. These are the people who can argue with a straight face that “Russia was invited into Syria”, while somehow not thinking the US presence in Vietnam was a good thing even though it was requested by the Saigon government of the time.

The Red-Brown “zombie plague” PART TWO

This is part two of three of a major article to appear in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Part one is here. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

How did we get here?

For an infection to spread, you need both a germ (a virus, a bacterium, a spore or similar) and a vector (something to carry and transmit the germ). It is my analysis that the agent of the Red-Brown plague is a political weakness on the radical Left which is at least as old as the shock of the September 11 2001 terrorist outrage in New York, and has roots going all the way back to the Russian revolution. I also argue that the vector of that plague – the reason it has suddenly blown up now – has been the weaponization of social media by very well resourced reactionary propaganda organizations, both those belonging to the Russian state and by far-Right Anglo-American moneyed interests. The second story is easier to tell, so we’ll start there.

Vector 1: Information warfare, Russian and otherwise

The story is increasingly coming out of the extremely strong influence on not only the newly ascendant nationalist Right, but of much of the activist Left, of an extremely sophisticated propaganda and messaging operation led on one hand by agencies of the Russian state, and on the other hand by shadowy networks of right-wing billionaires. Recent exposés of Cambridge Analytica, the “big data” firm owned by the Mercer family (who also own the Breitbart network of white nationalist websites), have exposed its influence not only on the US presidential election of 2016, but on the UK “Brexit” referendum of the same year. These were the biggest victories for right-wing nationalism in decades, even if some factions of the Left have attempted to claim them as victories for our side (an analysis I have rejected in previous articles – WiCL, pp. 33-40).

While the Mercers, and other US activist billionaires such as the Kochs, are mainly interested in dismantling liberal or neoliberal institutions which get in the way of their profitability, the Russian state-owned television news channel RTand a whole network of websites and social media “troll farms” are openly or secretly devoted to opposing to neoliberal globalisation and to US/EU interventionist foreign policy. US journalist Casey Michel gives an example of how this works in practice:

Consider one of the flagship magazines of the American left, which, for all its support of gay rights, government transparency, and voting rights as they pertain to U.S. society, has developed a notoriously soft spot for a regime that violently opposes all of the above.

The Nation’s coverage of Russian affairs is a national embarrassment. RT is a website that hosts neo-Nazis as “expert” commentators. Yet that does not stop The Nation from publishing whataboutist articles in defense of the propaganda channel; articles pushing the same argument, with the exact same headlines, as those found in white-nationalist publications.

The Nation’s crop of Russia watchers have lately busied themselves by lending credence to the “autonomy referendums” in eastern Ukraine, thus legitimizing illegal and neo-imperialist land-grabs, or notions that the entire Ukrainian crisis was “instigated by the West’s attempt… to smuggle [Ukraine] into NATO.”

That these views bizarrely mesh with those of Trump and his Breitbart-friendly advisers is perhaps another oddity of an age of ideological psychosis. Stephen Cohen, The Nation’s lead Russia analyst (and husband of the magazine’s editor in chief and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel), has even been endorsed by David Duke and the wife of white-nationalist Richard Spencer, the intellectual godfather of the pro-Trump “alt-right,” as a rare voice of sanity when it comes to U.S.-Russian relations.

At times, the substance and style of what has been dubbed the “alt-left” are indistinguishable from that of its counterpart on the other end of the political spectrum. And Moscow’s info-warriors appear to appreciate the resemblance, as the American arm of Sputnik exhorted supporters of Bernie Sanders to vote for Trump (as did Trump himself, repeatedly).

On Syria in particular, this Russian mediasphere has played the major role in amplifying the most despicable forms of conspiracy theory and victim-blaming about Syria, such as the British blogger Vanessa Beeley. One common misconception, however, is that this is mainly a network of “bots”. Rather, the information warfare is as often or not carried out by real people, such as Ian Shilling or Maram Susli. British journalist Jonathan Freedland bemoans the efficacy of social media in discrediting traditional journalism:

It fits that social media is the weapon of choice. Its algorithms are proven to favour virality over veracity, spreading false stories faster and wider than true ones. A mysterious pro-Assad tweeter, with no other traceable existence online, has nearly as many followers as the BBC’s Middle East editor. Meanwhile, the top story on Google News the morning after the US presidential election hailed Trump as the winner of the popular vote – even though he had lost it by nearly 3m votes. The tribe tells itself what it wants to hear.

French political scientist Anton Mukhamedov adds:

It is worth remembering that at the same time as imprisoning and torturing Russian leftists, the Russian state has been issuing calls for a “multipolar world”, a euphemism for a coalition of traditionalist and deeply reactionary “Eurasianist” powers fighting off what Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian National Bolshevik ideologue with ties to the Kremlin, refers to as “Atlanticism”, hence the support for far-right identitarian parties in Europe, white nationalists in the US, but also those anti-war groups who see collaboration with Russia as key to ensuring global peace. While Putin’s vision seems to be that of hegemonic powers left alone in their own sphere of interest, RT and other state outlets have been advancing the threat of a “new Cold War” to urge the political right and the political left to unite behind Russian power.

Amar Diwarkar suggests in his excellent article “The Permutations of Assadism” that the model for this Russian discourse about Syria is in fact Israeli hasbara (“explaining”) about Palestine:

this technique embodies a public-private partnership which links information warfare with the strategic objectives of the Israeli state. Multifaceted and tailored to the digital age, it is deeply aware that perception shapes reality. While rooted in earlier concepts of agitprop and censorship, hasbara does not look to jam the supply of contradictory information to audiences. Instead, it willingly accepts an open marketplace of opinion. What it seeks to do in this context is to promote selective listening by limiting the receptivity of audiences to information, rather than constricting its flow…

It is unsurprising then that Assadism has successfully incorporated the hasbara playbook into its arsenal. In a tragic twist, many voices that are acquainted with Israeli deflection and denialism on Palestine likewise emit a deafening silence towards the Assad’s counter-revolution against Syrians. Negation is couched in terms of ‘security’ and ‘counterterrorism’, lesser evil and Islamophobic rationalizations, while routinely leading to conspiratorial allegations in desperate attempts to exonerate a bloodstained rump state.

The importance of the growth of Russian personal influence over long-term Left leaders must also be recognized. The Marxist Left was totally marginalized in the West from the collapse of the Warsaw Pact states in the late 1980s until the Iraq War/global financial crisis era, 15-20 years later. At the time, many saw it as positive that the Russian state wished to amplify anti-war voices. But a Russian supply of paid media gigs and being taken seriously has become an addictive drug, which many US and UK Leftists are now “hooked” on. Worse, this addiction has the side-effect that their critiques of US/EU imperialism are now increasingly indistinguishable from those of far-Rightists like Alex Jones, who is also promoted by Russian media. Casey Michel again:

Perhaps the starkest case in point is Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her constituency. In December 2015, the Kremlin feted Stein by inviting her to the gala celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Kremlin-funded propaganda network RT. Over a year later, it remains unclear who paid for Stein’s trip to Moscow and her accommodations there. Her campaign ignored multiple questions on this score. We do know, however, that Stein sat at the same table as both Putin and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump’s soon-to-be national security adviser. She further spoke at an RT-sponsored panel, using her presence to criticize the U.S.’s “disastrous militarism.” Afterward, straddling Moscow’s Red Square, Stein described the panel as “inspiring,” going on to claim that Putin, whom she painted as a political novice, told her he “agree[d]” with her “on many issues.”

Stein presents herself as a champion of the underclass and the environment, and an opponent of the surveillance state and corporate media, and yet she seemed to take pleasure in her marriage of true minds with a kleptocratic intelligence officer who levels forests and arrests or kills critical journalists and invades foreign countries. Their true commonality, of course, is that both Putin and Stein are dogged opponents of U.S. foreign policy.

It is important to understand that neither the Russian state, nor the Mercers or the Kochs, are particularly interested in supporting “fascism” any more than they really want to promote Green politics. They are interested in using sophisticated media strategies to build a populist bloc against liberalism and for the unfettered sovereignty of nation states. Russian media, in particular, encourages “anti-globalization, anti-imperialist” voices on the Left to the extent that they might turn Western audiences against interference with Russian foreign policy.

However, the answer is not a simple as “it was Russia wot did it”. Conspiracy theories about how mass movements and uprisings around the world are “CIA proxy wars” reveal an incorrect and chauvinistic assumption that nothing can happen unless some Great Power or other makes it happens. In this case, it’s important to point out that we wouldn’t have Brexit or President Trump if there weren’t a sizeable mass audience for xenophobic, reactionary ideas. It is the contention of this article that the Left has failed in its historic mission by becoming part of the audience for onesided antineoliberalism which aligns with fascist messaging.

image002

Alex Reid Ross’s diagram of the interplay between the Russian propaganda apparatus and fascist or Red-Brown groups – from https://hummusforthought.com/2018/03/16/the-multipolar-spin-how-fascists-operationalize-left-wing-resentment/

Vector 2: actual Red-Brown networks

Another part of the puzzle is a real and growing network of, not groups or activists which are influenced by Red-Brown ideology, but self-conscious Red-Brown activists – that is, people who want to create an alliance or fusion between the radical Left and the nationalist/fascist Right. This growing network was exposed in an extremely long, but thorough and eye-opening pseudonymous blog post earlier this year entitled “An Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances”. [ii] The author’s introduction confirms our suspicion that Syria is “Ground Zero” of the outbreak of Red-Brown politics:

This long post started as an investigation about the Left and Syria which I started after I read the Sol Process blog’s publication of three posts concerning shady pro-Assad sources used in leftist circles … and which later expanded into a more extensive investigation as well as an internal leftist critique of the Left’s present crisis from a radical leftist internationalist and anti-fascist perspective.

The article deserves full reading, but a few points are worth excerpting here:

  • It explains the tradition of “Third Position” politics (that is, a position that is anti-capitalist as well as anti-communist)– a fascism which includes socialist-sounding rhetoric and an alliance with Third World anti-colonialist movements such as those of Qadhafi, Robert Mugabe or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Crucially, some of these fascists actually ended up seeing the Soviet Union as the lesser evil – as French fascist intellectual Alain de Benoist said in 1982, “Better to wear the helmet of a Red Army soldier than to live on a diet of hamburgers in Brooklyn”. This should be a sober warning to anyone who thinks Soviet nostalgia is in itself a defence against fascist sympathies.
  • It notes that fascists attempted to take over the West Berlin branch of the Green Party in 1980 – an event with ominous echoes for the current dominance of the Jill Stein / David Cobb tendency in the Green Party USA. Meanwhile, the Greens’ 2008 presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney, is also a long-standing purveyor of “Rothschild/Soros” conspiracy theories which are thinly veiled anti-Semitism.
  • It mentions the long-running Lyndon LaRouche movement, whose acolytes can be seen selling their leaders’ work on the streets of Melbourne. LaRouche began in American Trotskyism, then pulled his cultish following over to an embrace of the far-right; fresh from accusing Barack Obama of being a new Hitler, they now push a pro-Trump, pro-Putin line.
  • It discusses the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), an honest-to-goodness old-school fascist party which is part of Bashar al-Assad’s governing coalition in Syria, and which was recently revealed to be funding prominent left-wing US Democrat Dennis Kucinich.
  • It describes several international “think-tanks”, websites and conferences against neoliberal globalisation which are sponsored and supported by left-wing anti-war socialists, Right-wing and fascist conspiracy theorists, and those who have evolved into a strange blend of the two.
  • It details strong ties between many of these Querfront activists and “Novorossiya”, the separatist states in the east of Ukraine which are supported by Russia. (Jill Stein’s repeated defence of Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine on the grounds that “Ukraine used to be part of Russia” raised eyebrows in the 2016 election).

If you can make it all the way through this extremely long article, you will be left in no doubt that fascism is a chameleon which is able to insinuate its way into socialist, green, anti-colonialist and all other kinds of progressive movement to spread its message of ethnocentrism and authoritarianism – if not exposed for its true nature as soon as possible.

Anton Mukhamedov goes into more detail:

… the threat of red-brown convergence is looming large in the wake of Syria strikes, as the recent anti-war protests have reunited self-described leftists and those individuals whose careers revolve around attacking leftists and minorities.

The former British National Party leader Nick Griffin proclaiming conditional support for Jeremy Corbyn, in case the latter continued to impute Assad with the responsibility for the latest chemical attack in Douma, must be a cause for concern. Instead of taking a look at what in Labour leader’s platform might attract British nationalists, some leftists claimed that Griffin simply “saw the light”.

Even more alarming, the Neo-Nazi blogger Tim Gionet, known as “Baked Alaska”, who previously attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, appeared alongside Los Angeles ANSWER coalition at a march featuring Syrian regime flags. Several Stop the War marches were also inundated with images celebrating Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.

Rather than “seeing the light”, the reactionaries infiltrating left-wing spaces are instead remaining loyal to their positions and attempting to subvert movements deeming themselves progressive in favour of a pseudo anti-imperialist and reactionary approach to geopolitics, which lacks any concern for civilians and promotes, under the guise of secular anti-imperialism, a ruthless and sectarian dictator who has executed thousands and continues to commit crimes against humanity….

A month ago, a piece published by the Southern Poverty Law Center depicted a political scene ripe for barely hidden collaborations between the far right and a fraction of the Western left, such as the American ANSWER coalition or Party for Socialism and Liberation embracing similar foreign policy talking points as white nationalists. The author described a surprising connection over Syria, mediated by movements such as the Hands Off Syria coalition and think-tanks (inspired by a Russian fascist ideology going by the name of “Eurasianism”), all sharing the same affinity for Russian military intervention in Syria. Soon enough, the piece—written by Portland State University lecturer and fascism expert Alexander Reid Ross—was retracted due to a litigation threat issued by one of the actors mentioned in the article [Max Blumenthal – DL].

Some other prominent Western voices calling for a Querfront between the radical Left and the Trumpist/nationalist Right against neoliberal globalism include Cassandra Fairbanks, a social media anti-police activist who publicly switched allegiance from Bernie Sanders to Trump. Australian blogger Caitlin Johnstone has become something of a celebrity for her calls for the Left to collaborate with the Trumpist right against “the establishment” (i.e. neoliberal globalism):

“We lefties need to attack the establishment at every turn and circulate awareness of what’s really happening in the world, and when this means collaborating with the right wing, we should do it … Cernovich and I probably disagree on more things than we agree on ideologically, but where we do agree it’s absolutely stupid for us not to work together” (quoted here)

Michael Cernovich, for those who don’t know, is an alt-right blogger and one of the main promoters of the “Pizzagate” hoax, a baseless conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking Democrats being part of a child-trafficking ring. Johnstone’s other claim to fame has been repeated articles claiming that the Trump-Russia collusion enquiry is an entirely bogus Clintonist scam. Johnstone now has the claim to fame of having been recommended by none other than British musician Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd. The latter, a long-standing leftist and pro-Palestine activist, has recently been repeating Syrian chemical warfare denial and Russian-sourced conspiracy theory live on stage (something which is probably not unrelated, again, to the platform he has been given for his political views by the RTnetwork).

Alexandr Dugin was briefly mentioned above, but American geopolitical analyst Eric Draitser explains his central role in modern Red Brown politics in another excellent article which deserves quoting at length:

Dugin is widely regarded as very influential in Russian policy circles – his Foundations of Geopolitics remains a required text for Russian military officers ….

One of Dugin’s most important works is The Fourth Political Theory (4PT), a pseudo-intellectual manifesto of fascist politics that eschews 20th Century political labels in favor of a “new synthesis” for a new century…. The essence of 4PT is just a repackaged variant of third positionism from an openly fascist perspective. It calls for direct alignment and alliance of forces on the far left and far right to attack the center. Even the homepage for the book states “Beyond left and right but against the center.” Sound familiar?

…his 21st Century 4PT politics is rooted in the idea of a necessary collaboration between a bygone left (communists, socialists, etc.) and a bygone right (fascists). Put another way, Dugin here is rebranding fascism as something distinctly new, separated from the tarnished historical legacy of Nazism and Italian fascism, something most necessary in our “post-modern” world. Of course, it should be noted that when Dugin says “post-modern” he means multiculturalism, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, and generally everything that has become fundamental to the Left over the last 50 years.

… this is precisely the Duginist strategy, to penetrate the left via anti-imperialism and marry it to the far right, with the two united in a common pro-Russian outlook. That’s Dugin’s agenda, and people like [Caitlin] Johnstone become very useful to that end. Just looking at the number of alleged progressives who rightly reject US corporate media narratives unless they’re backed by hard evidence, while at the same time believing reports from Russian media and Kremlin press releases as holy writ tells me that that strategy is somewhat effective.

Still to come: Germs of the Red-Brown Virus; What is to be done?


[ii]   An excellent news source on Red-Brown and Querfront activities was the Ukraine-based blog Reft or Light (http://reftlight.euromaidanpress.com/), which reprinted some of Fightback’s previous articles on this theme. Sadly, it does not seem to be updated any more.

The Red-Brown “zombie plague” PART ONE

 

The Red-Brown “zombie plague”: how fascist ideas are becoming popular on the Left – PART ONE

By DAPHNE LAWLESS

is this marxist

This is part one of three of a major article to appear in Fightback’s June issue on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Please contact fightback.australasia@gmail.com for subscription information.

UPDATE 2018/08/13: A Spanish-language translation of this piece by Jaume Allioli is now available. Una traducción al español de esta pieza por Jaume Allioli ya está disponible.

 

Preface

This analysis follows on from that in three previous articles of mine which have previously appeared in Fightback publications:

The second and third articles are collected in our Fightback pamphlet What is Conservative Leftism?. In what follows, references to articles in that pamphlet will be cited with WiCL and the page number.

Introduction: Conspiracy theories and “pod people”

When I wrote “Against Conservative Leftism” just over two years ago, I considered it disturbing that socialists would rally to support New Zealand’s colonial-era flag. If I was disturbed then, there are no words left to describe how to feel in an era when committed revolutionary activists – people who have an honourable track record of struggle in favour of a classless society and against all oppression – are happy to argue that the recent chemical warfare attacks against rebel-held towns in Syria are a “false flag”, something faked by the US state or its allies to justify an invasion. Even one of my favourite musicians has recently repeated such baseless slander from the concert stage.

It’s a toss-up whether this version is more sickening than the alternative line, that the attacks were real but were carried out by the rebels themselves – that is, the rebels murdered their own children in order to manipulate foreign opinion. This is not the place to take these conspiracy theories to pieces – this has been admirably done already by many sources, for example Bellingcat or Snopes. The British ecosocialist writer George Monbiot also ably dismantled previous Syrian regime chemical warfare denial last year. The question – among others – that I wish to deal with here is of the similarity between this behaviour and the behaviour of the Right-wing conspiracy theorists who regularly yell FALSE FLAG to every mass killing in the United States – from the 9/11/2001 attacks in New York to the depressingly regular mass shootings in schools.

It’s common sense in liberal and Left circles that ideas like “9/11 Truth”, the theories that Barack Obama’s birth certificate was forged, or that the victims of the Sandy Hook or Parkland school shootings were “crisis actors”, are wild fantasies either made up by the bigoted and ill-informed to justify their prejudices, or else false narratives being deliberately fed to such people (for profit or political gain) by unscrupulous media operatives such as FOX News or Alex Jones’ InfoWars. We are appalled when parents of school shooting victims are harassed by unhinged strangers calling them conspiracy operatives and telling them that their dead children never existed.

And yet this is precisely what much of the Western Left has been doing to the people whose children died of chlorine poisoning in the basements of Douma, Syria. Experienced Western journalist Robert Fisk even took a trip to Douma – courtesy of the Syrian government – to find an anonymous doctor who would confirm such fantasies. This, while actual Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors were still barred from the site, so that the regime and its allies could make the evidence disappear.

The motivation is clear. “False flag” theories are based on the idea that elaborate lies are being told by a secret conspiracy to manipulate public opinion, and that mainstream sources are part of this conspiracy. Alex Jones claims that school shootings are arranged/faked by the US state (or a secret faction within it, known as the “Deep State”) to take away US citizens’ rights to bear arms. The Left argues the same about atrocities in Syria, only the goal of the conspirators is to build support for a “regime change” invasion of Syria. Similar stories are currently circulating on Leftist social media about the protests against social welfare cuts in Nicaragua, and their murderous suppression by that country’s government (search “Nicaragua CIA” on Twitter). The far-Right and the Left end up with the same narrative – there is a conspiracy within the current US State to fake atrocities and protest movements so as to expand its influence, which must be pushed back. In fact, American fascists are just as keen as any on the US Left to deny chemical attacks in Syria – the Snopes article cited above reproduces a tweet from alt-right celebrity and star of the famous “punch in the face” video, Richard Spencer, doing just that.

The question is not whether states have ever faked attacks to justify interventions (there is evidence that the US intervention in Vietnam began with one. The question is the willingness of the Left to act like FOX News or InfoWars followers, to use the logical fallacy known as the “argument from consequences” to deny inconvenient facts and reporting. The fallacy goes like this: if X is true, it would lead to political consequences I oppose; therefore, X cannot be true. And any evidence that X is true is, as Donald Trump would put it, “FAKE NEWS”. If all we wish to do is to oppose US intervention in the Syrian war (ignoring for the moment that the US has been involved in the Syrian war since 2014, launching over 1000 air strikes against the “Islamic State” group), then denying the Assad regime’s chemical warfare atrocities is simply not necessary. All we have to do is argue that US attacks on the Assad regime would not prevent such atrocities, or otherwise make things worse.

Robin Yassin-Kassab, co-author of the essential text on the Syrian conflict Burning Country, recently discussed his run-ins with Western activists bending his ear about how “the Rothschilds” or “pipelines” were the secret behind all Middle-Eastern conflicts, and commented:

Arabs and Muslims are notoriously vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking, in part because in a previous generation so much politics was actually done by conspiracy, and in part through intellectual laziness. It’s always been simpler to blame ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Shia’ for all ills than to actually address the ills. But not really simpler. Conspiracy theories don’t merely promote complacent inaction, they create new tragedies too. In north western Pakistan, for instance, where word spread that the polio inoculation was a UN poison to render Muslims infertile, a new generation has been stunted by the disease.

Perhaps there’s more excuse for conspiracism in regions where the people are subject to the traumas of poverty, dictatorship and war. If so, its increasing prevalence in the educated, prosperous West is more difficult to explain.

So, what is behind the enthusiasm of the Western activist Left for these denialist narratives? The argument that I wish to make in this article is as follows:

  1. the growing willingness of Left activists to believe ideologically-convenient conspiracy theory over well-supported reporting is part of a growing convergence of Leftist and farright rhetoric, in particular around the ongoing war in Syria. While – with some exceptions to be discussed – Leftists do not openly or consciously align themselves with fascists, many increasingly accept ideas that are disquietingly close to fascist narratives. The idea of a politics which unifies Leftists and fascists has historically been known by many names, including Strasserism, Third Position or Querfront (German for “cross-front”). In this article I will use the well-established term redbrown; brown taken from the Nazi “brownshirts” (stormtroopers).
  2. This “Red-Brown” convergence is based on a political misrecognition of neoliberal globalism as a conspiracy of the US and other Western countries for global domination, rather than a strategy adopted by the global capitalist class as a whole. This has led the Left into an “anti-imperialism” which is in fact nationalism under another name; which leads to programmatic unity with fascists who support authoritarian “ethno-states”.
  3. This is a problem which cuts across the “revolutionary/reformist” division on the Left. A strong base of this thinking is found in the revitalised “Marxist-Leninist” (ML) trend on the Internet, but the acceptance of nationalism, traditionalism and anti-rationalism which I have previously called “conservative leftism” has a long history in both the social-democratic and Communist traditions on the Left, including the support base of British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
  4. This convergence is encouraged by the propaganda/intelligence branches of the Russian state, for its own geopolitical reasons. But it is also perpetuated by an unwillingness for socialists (who have lived through decades of isolations) to struggle among themselves over political line; or, worse, a more-or-less conscious rejection of international solidarity in favour of keeping the biggest “broad front” at home. Finally, there is a small contingent of people associated with the Left who have discarded anti-fascist principle and now actively support a Querfront (with the Russian state, the US “alt-right” and even the Trump administration) against neoliberal globalism. While this explicit alliance makes up a minority of the left, it must be actively fought.’

Some Leftists on social media have expressed their bemusement at their erstwhile comrades coming out with conspiracy theories in support of the brutal authoritarian regime in Syria. Some have jokingly used the term “pod people” – an image taken from the old horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where people are replaced by clones grown in pods by alien invaders. I prefer to use another science-fiction trope – that of a “zombie plague”. As I see it, Red-Brown politics is the intellectual equivalent of an infectious disease that has taken hold in a lot of the Left and led to a lot of good comrades taking up positions which have led to them supporting fascist positions. I continue to believe that there is a “cure” for this plague, that good activists can be won back from such positions, and that articles such as this one may play a part in doing so.

Class politics or geopolitics? – against “alt-imperialism”

In a piece from August last year, British-Pakistani academic and journalist Idrees Ahmed ably summed up what he calls as the “alt-left” trend in Western politics. His article is worth reading in full if you’re not already aware of the situation () but here are some salient extracts:

…a strain of leftism that sees liberalism rather than fascism as the main enemy. It is distinguished mainly by a reactionary contrarianism, a seething ressentiment, and a conspiracist worldview.

In its preoccupations it is closer to the right: More alarmed by Hillary Clinton winning the primary than by Donald Trump winning the presidency; more concerned with imagined “deep state” conspiracies than with actual Russian subversion of US democracy; eager to prevent a global war no one is contemplating but supportive of a US alliance with Russia for a new “war on terror”.

Like the right it disdains “globalists”, it sees internationalism as liberal frivolity, and its solidarity is confined to repressive regimes overseas….

For the alt-left, Hillary Clinton’s call for a no-fly zone to protect Syria’s civilians was proof that she wanted a global war. Donald Trump on the other hand was going to protect America from WWIII because of his “non-interventionist mindset” (Glenn Greenwald).

Jill Stein and Susan Sarandon both insisted that Trump was “the lesser evil”. Even his bombings were “consistent with the particular ‘non-interventionist’ outlook” (Greenwald & Tracey).

These arguments turned out to be convincing to a small but significant minority of the US voting population – which was enough to set us down the path we are on now. The 10% of people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary who went on to vote for Trump in the general election may well have tipped the balance.

As suggested above, I do not believe that this kind of politics is becoming more and more prevalent because of a conscious softening to fascism (in the majority of cases). In part, it is an outcome of the developing logic of the “conservative leftist” arguments which I have argued have become hegemonic on the Western Left – arguments based on nationalism, traditionalism and anti-rationalism. But more recently, these ideas have been assiduously propagated by extremely well-resourced media networks (both state-directed and corporate), which has led even staunch anti-fascists to adopt positions and arguments which agree with fascist principles.

The most pressing issue, as I see it, is that a sizeable part (perhaps a majority) of liberal and Left opinion in the West has adopted a one-sided view of imperialism, which has more to do with fascist ideas than the socialist tradition. In Vladimir Lenin’s classic analysis, made against other socialists who thought that capitalist globalisation would lead to world peace, imperialism is “the most recent phase (also translated “highest stage”) of capitalism” Against Karl Kautsky, who believed that capitalist globalisation might lead to an end to war, Lenin argued that the international expansion of capitalist firms and their fusion with state power would inevitably lead to military rivalries for markets and resources.

However, it seems much of the Left has (openly or quietly) has instead adopted an idea that “imperialism” only applies to the United States, or the group of advanced capitalist countries of which the US is generally seen to be the leader. States like Russia or China, by this analysis, cannot be imperialist by definition. And as neoliberal globalisation is seen as only the latest ploy by US-centric imperialism to achieve global domination, neoliberalism, globalisation/“globalism”, imperialism and “Western” power are all collapsed into meaning the same thing. This conspiratorial analysis of neoliberal globalism views the phenomenon as a ploy of one state, faction of states, or actors within a state to gain global domination. On the contrary, a systematic analysis of neoliberal globalism, following on from Lenin’s, reads neoliberalism and globalization a reaction of the global capitalist system as a whole to expand its profits. The latter points towards global solidarity of the oppressed; the former puts the Left in the same camp as fascists. (I will discuss what I see as the intellectual origins of this interpretation of “imperialism” on the Left later on in this article.)

The most obvious “outbreak” of this Red-Brown zombie plague is the debate on the ongoing conflict in Syria. Since the foreign policy of the US state under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (the high point of neoliberalism to date) was to confront Russian expansion and give support (if half-heartedly) to the “Arab Spring” liberation movements, then these movements have become seen as enemies (“US proxies” and/or “terrorists”) by many Leftists. To be blunt, for much of the “anti-imperialist Left”, for Bashar al-Assad to gas children to death in a basement is preferable than for the United States or other Western countries to interfere with this in any way. But Russian or Iranian interference to support Assad is not a problem worth talking about, let alone demonstrating about. In this, the “alt-imperialist” Left is precisely mimicking the arguments of the fascist Right – as seen when fascists march alongside Left anti-imperialists against Western intervention in Syria, both carrying pictures of Assad and Putin.

In what follows, I wish to take a deep dive into a couple of articles from Leftists – not among those consciously supporting the Assad regime or Russian foreign policy, but what are on the surface “anti-fascist” articles repeating as common sense the very ideas that have allowed fascist activists to walk hand-in-hand with anti-imperialist Leftists on the Syria issue.

My first example is respected US Marxist John Bellamy Foster. In the middle of a generally excellent article arguing that the Trump administration is indeed neo-fascist, the author gives the following summary of US foreign policy over the last decade:

The push of NATO into the Ukraine, supporting a right-wing coup in the attempt to check Russia as a reemerging superpower, led to a Russian pushback under Vladimir Putin, with the annexation of the Crimea and intervention in the Ukraine along its borders. Russia further responded by aggressively intervening in Syria, undermining the attempt by the United States, NATO and Saudi Arabia to bring down the Assad regime by supporting surrogate pro-Salafist forces (committed to the creation of a fundamentalist Sunni state) … The main part of the ruling class and the national security state was strongly committed to a new Cold War with Russia, with Hillary Clinton vowing to introduce no-fly zones in Syria, which would have meant shooting down Russian as well as Syrian planes, bringing the world to the brink of global thermonuclear war. (emphases added)

The talking points emphasised above – that the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych’s government by the “Euromaidan” movement in Ukraine in 2014 was a “right wing coup”; that the Syrian rebels are “pro-Salafist… fundamentalist Sunni”, and that a pushback against Russian support for the Assad regime would risk “thermonuclear war” – could have come straight from a Russian Embassy press release. A cursory Google search will show that they are at best misleading half-truths and at worst nothing but Russian propaganda. To give an obvious illustration, Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane over Syria in 2015 – and Donald Trump conducted missile strikes against Assad regime targets in April 2017 and in April 2018. Yet, curiously, thermonuclear war hasn’t broken out yet.

Similarly, Australian anarchist academic Ben Debney approvingly quotes Gary Leupp writing on the website Counterpunch, a website which has been a source for a lot of Assadist propaganda over the last five years, that among good reasons not to support Hillary Clinton over Trump were:

various U.S. interventions during the “Arab Spring;” the U.S./NATO assault on Libya that destroyed that modern state, etc. (emphasis added)

Debney goes on to argue that “the fifty-three percent of white females who voted for [Trump] might have felt that having a woman president of the order of a Neocon [neo-conservative] by Any Other Name wasn’t the most liberating option on the table for women”. Similarly, Bellamy Foster argues that the Obama/Clinton pushback on Russia led to a pro-Russian split in the ruling class, whose interests are expressed through Donald Trump.

The argument that both writers are making is that the rise of Trumpist neofascism, or protofascism, was in part fuelled by the neoliberals’ “hawkish” foreign policy. By this, they mean supporting the insurgency which brought down Muammar Qadhafi’s dictatorial, murderous “modern state” in Syria; supporting certain rebel forces in Syria (some of whom but not all could be described as Islamist or “Salafist” [i]); or pushing against Russian interests in Eastern Europe.

Worse yet, Trump is sometimes even seen as a lesser evil – not because he is any less militaristic than Obama or the Clintons, but because he is on the same side as Russia. Every bomb dropped on “Islamic State” targets such as Raqqa is fine by Leftists who are only concerned about whether Russia supports such mayhem or not (and it does). One particularly confused American Marxist-Leninist organisation put it like this:

… a Clinton presidency would have been more dangerous for the international working class and the oppressed peoples of the world… A President Clinton could have led in short order to a major war between Russia and the USA… (Ray O’Light Newsletter, November-December 2016, p. 4).

Fascism as a lesser evil to confrontation with Russia? Firstly, as American journalist Charles Davis has written on several occasions (for example), Trump’s foreign policy was openly more militaristic than Clinton’s. He actually promised before the election to expand the existing US/allied bombing campaign against “Islamic State” targets in Syria. No-one who had a principled position against US military interventions could have supported Trump over Clinton. But it was certainly possible if you supported Russian policy in, for example, Ukraine and Syria, and wanted the US to fall in line with that policy.

Curiously absent, too, from these criticisms of neoliberal “hawkery” is any concern with the interests and agency of the people of the territories concerned themselves. NATO intervened to support an uprising against Qadhafi; but why was there an uprising? Why would Syrians form armed factions, even ones with a conservative “Salafist” programme, in opposition to their regime? Why would many Ukrainians support parties seeking to join the NATO imperialist alliance as a “lesser evil” to domination by Russian interests? Surely that’s the first thing that socialists or anarchists, devoted to radical democracy from below, should be asking? (I will return to this “Orientalist” view of the Middle East later.)

Writing 20 years ago, the late American socialist academic Moishe Postone set out the argument against this kind of politics:

What the Cold War seems to have eradicated from memory … is that opposition to an imperial power is not necessarily progressive, that there were fascist “anti-imperialisms” as well. This distinction was blurred during the Cold War in part because the USSR aligned itself with authoritarian regimes, for example, in the Middle East, that had little in common with socialist and communist movements, that, if anything, had more in common with fascism than communism and that, in fact, sought to liquidate their own Left. Consequently, anti-Americanism per se became coded as progressive, although there had and have been deeply reactionary as well as progressive forms of anti-Americanism.

Examples of pre-Cold War “fascist anti-imperialism” could be Imperial Japan’s appeal against British and French imperialism to justify its expansion into east Asia, or Lehi, the Zionist paramilitary group in British-ruled Palestine who were explicitly fascist at some stages and Red-Brown at others.

What Postone is calling out here is what I have previously called out as “campism”, but which could also be called RedBrown antiimperialism – or even, on the model of Idrees Ahmed’s “alt-leftism”, altimperialism. This is the politics where imperialism is seen only as coming from one country, or one alliance of countries, and is contrasted to the “national sovereignty” of various regimes – no matter how autocratic, rather than in favour of the self-determination and autonomy of peoples. Lebanese journalist Joey Hussein Ayoub has given the name “essentialist anti-imperialism” to the same phenomenon: “defined solely in relation to [one’s] own governments rather than on the basis of a universal opposition to all forms of imperialism.”

Amar Diwarkar argues that this is not so much a conscious embrace of Fascist politics, but:

a tactical tolerance of the far-right’s nativist anti-establishment logic to accelerate the dissolution of the ruling order and bring about a transitional phase preceding social transformation. However, by eliminating the dimension of the international from its purview, what remains is a strikingly non-radical relativism. Its underlying logic is one that is infused with a colonial unconscious; a conviction that Western agency is the eternal subject and locus of motion – the prime mover of History.

Thus, although Debney is an anarchist who strongly criticises the Soviet state in Russia, his arguments about how “neoliberalism helped lead to Trump” are in fact in line with that very state-centric Cold War leftism which supported the USSR as the “lesser evil” against capitalist imperialism. Struggles of ordinary people in the Middle East and Eastern Europe are seen in this framework entirely through the lens of whether US “power” is extended thereby. The governments of Assad in Syria, Qadhafi in Libya or Yanukovych in Ukraine are not seen in relationship to the people over whom they claim authority, but whether they support or oppose the supposed designs of United States foreign policy. The argument is not over “militarism”, but of instinctive support for any state which is seen to oppose US foreign policy – and if they are supported by Russian foreign policy, so much the better.

Bellamy Foster and Debney demonstrate that even those Leftists who recognize the warning signs of fascism in his “base” see Trump as a possible counter-balance to those parts of the US federal government who supposedly plot global domination via neoliberal globalization. In another recent example of this, Senator Bernie Sanders, the great “left-wing” hope in the 2016 election against Clintonite neoliberalism, expressed qualified support for Trump’s protectionist economics. Whether the bad guys are called the “military-industrial complex” or “the Deep State”, the argument is precisely the same as that offered by those Rightists who admit Trump’s failings but see him as an “anti-politician” going into Washington to “combat the elites” and “drain the swamp”.

Bellamy Foster and Debney both make arguments that, in one way or another, “neoliberals did it to themselves”. This also mirrors an argument made by pro-Trump and other far-right forces. The Rightist version of the argument is to point to any support for multiculturalism, feminism or queer/trans rights and say: “This is why people voted for Trump” (Google that phrase for examples). A subtler one – heard on the Left as well as the Right – is the rightly-mocked “economic anxiety” argument, that Trump voters were motivated by poverty and insecurity caused by neoliberal economics. All these narratives have the same ideological basis – to provide an alibi for Trump voters, to argue that Trump voters didntreallysupport their candidates stated xenophobic, militaristic platform and his misogynist behaviour.

The final word has to go to Ray OLight Newsletter, who agree with Debney and Bellamy Foster, in a simpler and more extreme form:

In our view, a fascist was elected U.S. president, but strong elements of fascism had already arrived here long before Trump’s election… with Trump as President, promoters of harmful illusions about Obama, Clinton and the Democrats… will be in a weaker position… It should not take too long before the white working masses who voted for Trump have had enough experience to begin a serious struggle against this reactionary billionaire. (November-December 2016, pp. 4-5).

In other words, the German Communists’ boast: after Hitler, us!, updated for a 21st century audience.

Thus we see parts of the Left reading the victories of the far Right as an obstacle to or “payback” for neoliberal globalist overreach – or performatively shrugging, on the grounds that nothing real has changed or even that opportunities are opening up for the Left. They share a belief that Western imperialism is the great threat to the world, rather than Russian or Chinese expansionism or smaller authoritarian states; they agree that democracy is not to be trusted if it might be exploited by Islamist movements. They are state-centric (even anarchists such as Debney, or Noam Chomsky) and prize “stability and order” against democracy and self-determination. Their main interest in the growth of far-Right and Fascism movements globally is to use it as a stick to beat neoliberalism with. It’s as if 1933 never happened.

Still to come: Vectors and Germs of the Red-Brown Virus


[i]                       “Salafist” or “Salafi” means a “fundamentalist” Muslim who wishes to return Islam to the practices of Prophet Muhammad and his Companions (salaf). However, in popular articles about the Middle East it is used generally a “snarl word”, meaning any devout Sunni Muslim of whom the author does not approve. Michael Muhammad Knight’s Why I Am A Salafi (2014) is a good introduction to these issues: see a review here.

On the Oscar-nominated White Helmets Documentary

Reprinted from The Syria Campaign

Khaled Khatib is a White Helmet volunteer who worked on Netflix’s ‘White Helmet’ movie. It’s been nominated for an Oscar, results are announced on Sunday 26th. This is his story.

Dear Fightback,

I was 16 when the revolution started. In the first few years of the uprising I saw a lot of foreign photojournalists and TV crews come to document what was happening in my city of Aleppo. I watched them dreaming that I could do that: tell the story of my city and my people. When I saw the work of the White Helmets, I knew that was the story of Syria I wanted to tell to tell the world.

The White Helmets have a motto taken from the Quran: “to save a life is to save all humanity”. I started to document their work as a volunteer to show the world that everyday Syrians were pulling humanity from the rubble of bombs.

When the bombs fall I follow the teams to the scene. I watch as they use diggers, cranes, the drills, their hands — anything that can help rescue those trapped. It is my job to remain calm, to capture the reactions from people recovering from the shock of seeing their homes, families, lives buried under rubble. I try to focus on capturing their stories.

The media is so important for the White Helmets and other humanitarian groups working in Syria. We want people to see and understand what is happening: who is doing the killing and who is working for peace. I do this work because I believe if the world understands the suffering of my people they will be moved to stop it; to stand with us on the side of life.

In November 2015, the director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara contacted us about making a documentary. They had seen the rescue missions we shot and wanted to tell our story to the world. We watched their other films and understood they are people who know how to tell the stories of heroes. I hoped that we could work together to create a film that would tell the true story of the White Helmets to people around the world.

I worked with the team in Adana while they were shooting at the White Helmets training ground. I learnt a lot from the cinematographer Frank Dow about how to shoot, to edit, to tell the story. By the end my notebook was full.

Khaled At Work

It is so important that people see the film. It is important that people understand that Syria has people who want the same things they want: peace, jobs, family, and to live without the fear of bombs. This is what I hope the film does.

I plan to travel to LA next week for the Oscars where the film is nominated for an award. If we win this award, it will show people across Syria that people around the world support them. It will give courage to every volunteer who wakes up every morning to run towards bombs.

If I cannot enter the US, I will not give up: we know that we have many friends in US, that there are people that share our humanitarian values. I look forward to meeting them all one day.

When this war is over I dream of going back to study film — we Syrians have many, many more stories to tell.

In peace,

Khaled

PS. If you want to send a message of support to Khaled please hit reply to this email and we will pass them all on.

PPS. Not watched the Netflix film? Click here.

Trump, Brexit, Syria… and conservative leftism

By DAPHNE LAWLESS

poorpenny

Penny Bright, perennial Auckland mayoral candidate and conservative leftist, proudly promotes the Assad regime and Russian-backed conspiracy theories on the streets of Auckland. Photograph by Daphne Lawless.

In the 10 months since I introduced the concept of “Conservative Leftism” to the NZ Left, only one argument has been raised against it that seemed to take the idea seriously and be worthy of taking seriously in return. This argument – which has been raised by more than one sincere socialist, at greatest length by Ben Peterson at leftwin.org – is that Conservative Leftism is an “amalgam” which doesn’t really exist, that there is no necessary connection between the conservative strands of thought I identified in the contemporary activist movement.

Ben argued:

While “Conservative leftism” is a thought provoking concept, it doesn’t measure up in reality as a coherent ideological perspective.

“Against Conservative Leftism” lists a range of examples of political positions that derive from its ideological perspective. These including but are not limited to opposition to local council amalgamations, opposition to intensive housing developments, legal crank such as ‘freemen’ theories, backing the Assad dictatorship, anti-Semitism, homeownership and opposition to the NZ flag referendum.

This just doesn’t fit together. It doesn’t make sense to suggest that a person who opposes intensive housing developments is more likely to be an anti-Semite or conspiracy theorist. It doesn’t make sense to put leftist homeowners, and the not very often homeowning ‘freemen’ into the same ideological tendency just doesn’t make sense.

One way of responding to Ben’s argument using Marxist jargon would be to say: “there is a contradiction, but the contradiction is in reality.” I strongly believe that the evidence has in fact become clearer over the course of 2016, that the strands of reactionary opinion among self-identified “Leftists” that I have identified do, in actual reality, go together as a set of propositions which support each other, if not necessarily logically “coherent”.

For the record, I identified three conservative reactions on the self-identified “Left” to neoliberal globalisation:

  • opposition to globalisation in and of itself (nationalism, xenophobia, obsession with “sovereignty”, one-sided opposition to Western imperialism in particular aka campism);
  • opposition to the social changes which have happened in the neoliberal/globalised era (opposition to cosmopolitan urbanisation, anti-immigration, idealisation of “traditional” rural/small-town/working class life, scepticism of newer identities around gender/race which are smeared as “identity politics”);
  • one-sidedly deep scepticism of neoliberal media/academic narratives, reflected in an embrace of conspiracy theory, traditional “common sense” and health quackery.

We might use the following shorthands:

  1. CONSERVATIVE ANTI-IMPERIALISM;
  2. CONSERVATIVE POPULISM;
  3. ANTI-RATIONALISM (or perhaps “intellectual populism”).

The original article – and Ben’s response – was written before what a radical internationalist Left viewpoint would see as the massive catastrophes for people and planet of 2016: the Trump victory; the victory of British exit from the European Union (Brexit) which has led to an explosion of racist violence; the growing strides of neo-fascist movements across the world, from the French Front National to the online lynch-mobs known as the “alt-right”; and the ongoing genocidal destruction of Syria by its own government backed up by Russian imperialism.

It is my contention that this series of disasters has vindicated the Conservative Left idea, in that New Zealand leftists who were expressing Conservative Left ideas at the beginning of the year have either welcomed these developments, or at least seen them as potentially positive developments. To give a few examples from the New Zealand Left in particular:

  • Mike Lee, the Auckland Council member on whom I focussed in my article on the Auckland local body elections as the chief local promoter of conservative-left ideas, issued a Facebook message after the election which expressed thankfulness for the Trump victory, seemingly based on the idea (assiduously promoted by both Trumpist and Russian sources) that Hillary Clinton would start World War 3.
  • Prominent veteran NZ leftist writer Chris Trotter – who was, indeed, one of our major models when we elaborated the idea – announced that “I proudly count myself” as a conservative leftist. Most of this post either ignored the substance of my article, or was an apologia for the Russian-backed Syrian regime destruction of Aleppo, which can be quickly debunked by a quick flick through the resources on any Syrian Solidarity website or Facebook page.
  • Daily Blog proprietor “Bomber” Bradbury, who previously promoted Mike Lee’s anti-intensification and anti-youth politics, has now come out with an explicit anti-immigration screed. He even characterizes pro-immigration policy as an “elite cosmopolitan” viewpoint – a snarl-phrase which could be taken directly from a Stalinist or fascist rant.
  • Bradbury’s co-thinker on Auckland local body politics, perennial mayoral candidate Penny Bright, has been counter-protesting Syrian solidarity demonstrations supporting the Assad regime’s “sovereignty” (see image), and is reported to be sharing links on social media from David Icke, doyen of “Lizard People” conspiracy theory.

From where I sit, this is convincing data. In general, the sections of the New Zealand left whom I had in mind as either “conservative leftist” or heavily influenced by that ideology have been unanimous in – even if not outright supporting Assad/Putin, Trump and Brexit – arguing that these phenomena are not in fact that bad, that they can be seen as expressions of resistance to imperialism and neo-liberalism. This insight has been reproduced by British radical academic Priyamvada Gopal, who said recently on Facebook:

This cleavage in left circles that has arisen over the last six months is a pretty neat and sharp one, with only a few zigzags and crossovers and that generally only around Brexit. How do we read it? On one side:

  • Anti-Assad/Anti Putin/Anti-Massacres
  • Anti-Trump
  • Anti-Brexit

On the other side:

  • Assad Apologetics/Anti-Western Imperialism Only
  • Trump is No Worse than Hillary
  • Lexit

Priyamada’s schema snugly fits two out of the three points of my schema. The Assadist “Left” are clearly conservative anti-imperialists, taking the “campist” position that the main leaders of opposition to neoliberal globalisation are the leaderships of various states, who range from authoritarian to totalitarian in their internal regimes – thus excluding any role for mass action in changing the world, and indeed smearing the Arab Spring uprisings as CIA-sponsored attempted coups. Meanwhile, conservative-left reactions to the Trump debacle have ranged from welcoming it as a blow to neoliberal globalisation (ludicrous, given the identity of the various plutocrats whom Trump is naming to his cabinet), to the less wild-eyed interpretation that a “revolt of the white working class” defeated Hillary Clinton. This latter interpretation conveniently lends itself to calls for a more “traditional” left politics targeting “ordinary” (read: white, male) workers, and throwing not only the feminist movement but oppressed queer, ethnic and religious minority workers under the bus.

Meanwhile, the “Left Brexit” (Lexit) phenomenon showed a combination of both these tendencies. On one hand, it “whitewashed” (we can use the term in full irony) the Brexit movement led by reactionary tabloids and the Trump-like UKIP, seeing it as a working-class revolt rather than a reactionary populist uprising. On the other, it one-sidedly attacked the EU’s neoliberal institutions, trying to put a “left” face on British nationalist isolationism, and ignoring the fact that freedom of movement for workers between EU countries is a vital progressive gain for migrant workers. The consequences of this position were that Lexiters had to argue away the rise in racist abuse and violence after the referendum, either as “exaggerated”, something that was happening anyway, or even outright fabricated by the mainstream media[1]. This rhetorical move was a precursor to the breath-taking denials of reality we have become used to from supporters of the Putin/Assad axis in Syria.

The Morning Star, the daily newspaper traditionally associated with the Communist Party of Britain, has shamefully led the conservative-leftist charge on both these issues, both cheerleading the ongoing massacre in Aleppo as “liberation” and opposing freedom of movement for workers. Some have taken this to mean that conservative leftism is really a reappearance of Stalinism – and certainly there are similarities to the old Western Communist backing of Russian tanks and Eastern Bloc nationalism. However, it is also vital to note that the leadership of the British Stop the War Coalition – who have shamefully refused to promote the cause of Free Syria – are dominated by people who came from the anti-Stalinist revolutionary tradition, mainly former leaders of the British Socialist Workers Party. If the problem was originally a Stalinist one, then the rot has spread.

Where then is the “third leg” of the tripod, anti-rationalism/intellectual populism? Whether someone on the conservative left believes in traditional conspiracy theories, health quackery or other kinds of crank thought or not, the common move in both conservative anti-imperialism and conservative populism is to reflexively reject “mainstream”, “elite” or “establishment” viewpoints, and yet be willing to believe any alternative promoted as “alternative”. This might – for example – lead from an accurate perception that capitalist banking helps increase the gap between rich and poor and makes capitalist crisis more intense, to an advocacy of a fantasy alternative based on a misunderstanding of the real problem such as Social Credit or Positive Money.

In particular, the use of the terms “elite” and “establishment” is a sign of intellectual surrender to Right-wing populism (see Bradbury, above). These are totally empty signifiers which the listener can apply to whichever bogey-group they think are really running things. While a sincere leftist might envision the capitalist oligarchy as “the elites”, a Right-populist will think of liberal academics or gay/female/ethnic minority professionals whom they blame for “keeping them down”; others will think of the “cultural Marxists”, the Elders of Zion, the Illuminati, or hostile UFOs.

Recent analyses have suggested that the intelligence services of the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin are engaged in actively promoting this kind of “radical scepticism”. They argue that Russian propaganda does not aim to promote its own narrative, but simply to undermine the consensus narratives of Western-aligned media and academia. By a staggering coincidence, this is also how conspiracy theories such as “9/11 Truth” also work – not by attempting to prove their own point of view, but by picking at threads in the “establishment” narrative, so as to imply that their own is equally valid. This strategy has also been used in the attempt by Christian fundamentalists to get anti-evolution pseudo-science taught in public schools.

Being prepared to dismiss out of hand any report appearing on the BBC website, yet unquestioningly forwarding videos from the RT website, is essentially little different from the health crank’s high-powered scepticism of “Big Pharma”, combined with a willingness to believe anything presented by alternative-medicine profiteers (what rationalists sometimes call “Big Placebo”). The argument here is not a conspiracy theory that conservative leftism is some kind of Russian plot. The argument is merely that Russian intelligence has deftly exploited the growth of populist anti-elitism in Western countries to promote themselves as the good guys -in the same way that traditional Nazis have exploited the meme culture of 4chan and similar online forums to produce the “alt-right”.

It seems clearer as time goes on that these three strands of conservative anti-imperialism, conservative populism and anti-rationalism/intellectual populism go together, that holding one of these viewpoints is a very good predictor of holding the others. There is thus a clear cleavage between the Conservative Left which rejects globalisation per se and refuses to engage with the new social forces thrown up by it; and the radical international Left which wants ANOTHER kind of globalisation, a workers’ and oppressed people’s globalisation. The latter sees the new proletarian forces and oppressed communities thrown up by existing globalisation as the vanguard agents of change, just as Karl Marx saw the industrial workers as the gravediggers of capitalism, rather than wanting to send them back to the farms. I only wish I had a better word for this necessary alternative tendency than “radical internationalist Left”. Suggestions are welcomed.

[1] Personal experience from Facebook discussions.