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Is there an 'anti-imperialist camp'? A debate (part 2)
August 2, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This is the next installment of the debate between Felipe Stuart and Michael Karadjis on the question of the concept of an anti-imperialist "camp" and related positions, strategies and tactics. The first part can be read at "Is there an 'anti-imperialist camp'? A debate (part 1)". Below, Stuart responds to Karadjis' previous contribution, followed by a final reply by Karadjis. Further discussion will continue in the comments section at the end of this post.
By Felipe Stuart
Michael Karadjis, thanks for your response to my last article.
I suspect that your distinction between class-based politics and anti-imperialist-based politics is rooted in a failure on your part to understand that imperialism itself is all about class and class struggle. I hope I am wrong, but let’s discuss that.
The US ruling class is not an abstraction. It really exists and organises its global imperialist system of exploitation and oppression through a state and government system -- the most powerful in the world. In its struggle to emancipate itself from capitalist exploitation, the US working class must become more than class conscious, it must become anti-racist and internationalist in order to forge and secure its unity (Black-Red, white/native born-immigrant worker unity), and it must become anti-imperialist. Unless the US working class opposes the imperialist expansionism and wars of its own ruling class it will never defeat it and be able to establish a government of the toiling classes in Washington.
Socialists began to understand this problem when Marx and Engels argued the necessity of the British working class to actively support the Irish freedom struggle, but it was Lenin's struggle against the social patriots of the pre 1914 Second International that clarified this in a profound theoretical and programmatic way.
Hence, we should underline here that it is not only the workers of the colonial and semi-colonial countries who are challenged to acquire anti-imperialist consciousness and take the lead of their struggles for national liberation. The working class of the imperial heartlands also must take on this challenge. This will be the highest expression of internationalism; as we sing in the Internationale: "The international party shall be the human race."
Michael, I doubt that, on reflection, you will disagree with the thrust of the above generalisations. Perhaps when they are applied concretely we might not always agree. If you see this differently, explaining how and why could be important to clarifying possible differences between us.
Now, what is our discussion really about? I’ll rely on your summary you wrote:
“First, my view can be summarised:
“1. I’m differentiating between anti-imperialism which of course I support, and the concept of an ‘anti-imperialist camp’ in the way it is usually used, so I apologise if my brief line rejecting the “camp” was unclear and caused confusion; and
“2. I see the issue of class as much more fundamental than ‘anti-imperialism’ in an abstract sense – of course, we always have, but I believe that in a great deal of left discussion, an abstract and mechanical ‘anti-imperialism’ has replaced class, especially since 1991. When certain capitalist states are arbitrarily shoved into some ill-defined ‘anti-imperialist camp’, it is along these classless ‘anti-imperialist’ lines.”
This is interesting because if I were enamoured with word games I could re-write point 2. and replace your phrase “an abstract and mechanical ‘anti-imperialism’ has replaced class” with “an abstract and mechanical ‘workerist classism’ has replaced the Leninist view that anti-imperialism is an expression of class consciousness, especially in heartland imperialist countries.” – and so what?
Michael, you have sculptured a paper-Mache piñata only to then dedicate your whole letter to bashing it for the candies to fall out -- of course your favourite sweets that you placed inside it. Your name for this piñata is "anti-imperialist camp".
I am not aware of any political organisation that subscribes to this caricatured notion or uses it as a framework for its politics. Perhaps some fringe groups or leftist academic research centres operate in such a framework. But to my knowledge no serious political actors on the world stage do.
Certainly, I don't.
If you can convince me that such a threat really exists in the form of an organisation that is more than a halfway house for lunatics, or of a state, government or mass movement, I offer to forge a “united front against campism” with you and your co-thinkers to counter its fantasies. In addition, in that scenario, I am sure that the FSLN’s Department for International Relations (DRI-FSLN) would come on board and help us get a hearing at the level of ALBA.
However, before moving off the plane of abstract and phantom camps to return to the realm of real, actually existing anti-imperialist formations, I think it is necessary to respond specifically to your comments on the Argentine generals’ dictatorship and what British social patriots and their queen call “the Falklands war for self-determination”. Necessary, because if translated to Spanish it would tear against many raw nerves in Argentina and everywhere up and down our Patria Grande.
Quoting you: “In the late 1970s, the Argentine junta was one of the most vicious dictatorships on Earth. And its monstrous repression of Argentine workers was of course backed by imperialism. So I don’t think anyone viewed it as part of the ‘anti-imperialist camp’ (at least by this more narrow definition – re your other definition, it was a member of NAM and G77). But in 1982 it entered into a very concrete conflict with British imperialism, over the Malvinas. I think our view was correct, to support Argentina in this specific, concrete, anti-imperialist action. But did this mean Argentina ‘swapped camps’? Because if it did, it shows how meaningless the concept is; but if it didn’t, then I see no concrete meaning for this alleged ‘camp’ either. In most cases it is simply used to defend indefensible actions by regimes that are not carrying out any real, concrete actions against imperialist interests at all.”
Why do you play around with the word “camp” here? Argentina didn’t decide to “swap camps” (your words, not mine). The UK drove Argentine military regime out of the pro-imperialists club with bombs and warships, and Washington went along with Her Royal Highness! Unfortunately we did not have a CELAC then to enable the Patria Grande to speak with one voice. We had only Cuba. But Cuba spoke for us and to and for our future generations.
There was no anti-imperialist camp (if you will) back then, but there sure as hell was an imperialist camp, called NATO – the same gangsters who have nearly destroyed Syria and Iraq, not to speak of Libya, and the same “democrats” now bent on militarising Ukraine to further tighten its noose around Moscow’s neck.
In Britain the anti-Argentine pro-imperial camp was so ideologically triumphant that they were able to sail the South Atlantic with not a few social patriots, some who even self-identified as “revolutionary Marxists”, in tow – including leading Trotskyist groups such as the then Militant Tendency, now split into Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency (IMT) and Peter Taffe’s Committee of a Workers Iinternational (CWI). Michael, if you think you are an effective “anti-campist” Marxist you haven’t met those guys. Their eyes evolved to see nothing except “class against class”, and their programmatic tool box has only two items: nationalise everything NOW, and a hammer to drive out doubters from their sects.
You stuffed many other gems into the piñata – Indonesia, China vs. Vietnam, Cuba and Venezuela’s alleged “reactionary position … on Syria”, the “Sri Lankan Sinhala-chauvinist regime”, and so on.
To respond to each would require me to start another book project. But be assured that in the concrete it is very unlikely you and I would disagree on any of them except on the issue of the Washington-NATO campaign to oust the Assad regime in Syria. I agree with the ALBA position on Syria which is to defend the country against imperialist assault and destabilisation. The politics of that stand are no different from the stand Cuba and Venezuela took in defence of Iraq when Bush and his “Coalition of the Willing” (damn it, another effing camp!) invaded and destroyed Iraq as a viable economy and country.
As for the other gems and candies, I think they have the same weight in your argument as the Argentine-Malvinas “proof” you entered. Prick it, and woooof!
Now, let’s return to the realm of real, actually existing anti-imperialist formations. That should offer us a way not just of clarifying our differences but of narrowing them by eliminating false understandings of each other's positions.
Let's start with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). It is clearly objectively anti-imperialist because it consciously excludes Canada and the United States from membership, not because they speak English, but because they are imperialist powers.
Why do even venal capitalist regimes like the Colombian narco-state feel they have to be part of CELAC? Is President Juan Manuel Santos a closet anti-imperialist? I very much doubt it. But he is a very, very bright leader of the Colombian ruling class who knows that their future cannot remain rooted in cocaine exports, but in diversifying and industrialising. Moreover, on such a course, relations with Brazil and Mercosur will acquire greater importance. He sees that Colombia needs more wiggle room. A multipolar world and a multipolar hemisphere offer Colombia a better chance of escaping its dependence on cocaine production.
Does this mean that Bogota, even under extreme pressure from Washington, would never attack Bolivarian Venezuela? Not at all. But it does mean that such a capitulation to Washington is now more politically difficult and costly, not just throughout the CELAC realm but within Colombia itself. This returns us to the question of why CELAC?
Colombia and other right-wing Latin American governments joined CELAC not just because more wiggle room is desirable from their point of view, but because of rising anti-imperialist and pro-Patria Grande consciousness throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. From their own domestic political position, it was advantageous to present themselves as advocates of Latin American-Caribbean unity. Santos just won re-election in part because of his stand in favour of continuing the Havana peace talks with the FARC and because he claimed to favour peaceful relations with Caracas, Quito and Managua.
Let me offer myself as a target here. I think it is a good thing that Juan Manuel Santos won, and not Uribe's bootlicker stand-in candidate, Iván Zuluaga. The defeat of the Uribe death-squad camp (if you will) can only embolden anti-war and anti-imperialist currents in Colombia and the region. Colombians can now demand from Santos that he act on his campaign promises to negotiate a just peace with the FARC and the ELN; that he defend peaceful diplomatic and trade relations with his three ALBA neighbours -- Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua; and that he agree to abide by the World Court decision restoring to Nicaragua its sovereign rights to a huge swath of Caribbean maritime space illegally claimed and seized by Colombia. Santos also promised to end immunity for the death squad murderers and to respect the land claims of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Blacks driven off their lands by US, Canadian, and European owned corporations. Let’s hold his left hand to the fire!
Santos in CELAC is his contradiction, not ours!
CELAC is what its name claims – a community of Latin American and Caribbean states. We might well have called ourselves a “Camp of Latin American and Caribbean States” and even had the same acronym; but I am sure this was avoided in order to avoid pointless arguments about campism down the road.
Is the CELAC community anti-imperialist? That’s hard to say on the subjective level, but we do know that it is objectively an anti-imperialist thorn in Uncle Sam’s butt, and a shield protecting the vanguard of the broad anti-imperialist struggle – the Bolivarian revolution, socialist Cuba and the ALBA alliance.
Subjectivity is hard to measure even in an individual, let alone a multi-state community. We can, however, judge CELAC’s outlook based on the programmatic positions it has adopted. I will only mention a few. More can be found by checking out its website at http://www.celac.gob.ve/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=1&lang=en.
- CELAC called unanimously for Cuba’s inclusion in all hemispheric summits, such as the next Organization of American States (OAS) summit. (Cuba does not want to join the OAS which it considers to be the US Ministry for Colonial Affairs.)
- CELAC demanded an end to Washington’s economic and financial blockade of Cuba and for the liberation of the Cuban 5.
- CELAC demanded that the UK negotiate the return the Malvinas Islands to Argentina.
- CELAC declared all Latin America and the Caribbean to be a nuclear free zone, including the Caribbean Sea, much to the ire of Washington’s Fourth Fleet, now in service again after having been mothballed.
Now, that is not exactly the Second Declaration of Havana, or Che’s call for creating Two, Three, Many Vietnams. But I think Che would have signed on to the CELAC agreements with all four limbs.
We can ascertain the character of UNASUR or the Group of 77 using the same approach. Judge their role by the political positions they take. UNASUR, for example intervened to defend the Evo Morales government when it was threatened by a coup organised by reactionary forces in the Media Luna lowlands with US encouragement. UNASUR has just taken a stand against US-promoted destabilisation of Venezuela and the sanctions imposed against Bolivarian leaders.
I watched on Telesur the opening-day proceedings of the summit of the Group of 77+China, just held in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. It was attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and now includes 133 countries. The opening addresses were made by ALBA presidents Evo Morales (Bolivia was host), Raul Castro (Cuba), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Nicolas Maduro (Venezuela) and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (El Salvador’s just-elected FMLN president). If I had not known beforehand, I would have thought it was an ALBA summit. But, no, it was a summit of 133 non-imperialist countries plus China, also not an imperialist country, although it is a nuclear armed economic powerhouse.
I just posted the Official Declaration of the Santa Cruz Summit to the Green Left discussion list so I will not dwell on it here. We can say, however, that neither Obama nor the Queen (The City, London, I mean) were pleased by the Bolivia summit. Here is the Cuban News Agency’s summary of the Group of 77 Declaration of Santa Cruz:
HAVANA , Cuba, Jun 17 -- The Declaration of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, adopted by the Summit of the Group of 77 plus China this week, ratified the priority of the member nations of working to eradicate poverty as the main objective of the post-2015 Development Agenda, said Bolivian President Evo Morales.
The declaration underlines the problem posed by inequality, which worsens due to current consumption and production patterns which are considered unsustainable in developed countries.
The document states that the excessive orientation towards profits does not respect Mother Earth and the influence of big companies with negative effects for development in the world economy sparks serious concerns.
Major issues agreed in the document included the ratification of the principles of unity, complementariness and solidarity; the setting up of a new world order that establishes a fair and democratic system in the benefit of all.
On the suggestion by Argentina, the declaration reiterated the need to prevent the freeze of the restructuring of the external debt.
The declaration also condemned espionage and supports the recovery of natural resources as well as the consideration of basic services as human rights.
The Group of 77 plus China also demanded the elimination of certain agricultural subsidies and favours the equality of women. Other aspects addressed in the document are climate change, the attention to the needs of small island nations, the rejection of extraterritorial laws, the blacklisting of countries with respect to terrorism, drug traffic and traffic in persons. The declaration also supported the struggle of Palestine, Argentina and Cuba.
The Summit of the Group of 77 was held in the city of Santa Cruz June 14 and 15 to mark the 50th anniversary of the multilateral organization that groups 133 developing nations. (Source: http://www.cubanews.ain.cu/world/896-group-of-77-declaration-of-santa-cruz-stresses-fight-on-poverty. The declaration is available in full in English at http://www.g77bolivia.com/en/declaration-santa-cruz. En español, http://www.g77bolivia.com/es/declaracion-de-santa-cruz.)
Michael, you seemed puzzled by my inclusion of a long list of progressive social movements in my discussion of CELAC; you suspect that I don’t really get or appreciate the distinction between grassroots movements and their hemispheric networking, on the one hand, and states and their multilateral coordination or alliances, on the other. But to the contrary, I not only get the difference, I pointed to it precisely in order to highlight the role of grassroots pressure and continental networking in bringing pressure on our governments to break out of the pro-imperialist framework and launch a community or camp[!] to represent our Patria Grande.
Who led whom in this process? Were the masses leading, pushing? Or did ALBA take the lead? But, where did ALBA come from? The social revolutions in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador? Yes! But, Michael, doesn’t that then prove your point? That ALBA is all about class and therefore the anti-imperialist advances are a class question that are not driven by abstract nationalist anti-imperialism!
Well, not really. ALBA is an anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation, anti-imperialist and anti-war alliance that counters North American political and economic oppression with a diverse economic and social program rooted in solidary and equal trade relations, aid from richer to poorer members, and creation of a common currency for trade to evade the problems created by having to pay for imports with US dollar reserves or loans.
However, the motor force of this process, at the mass level, is not socialist anti-capitalist consciousness (this would only be evident in the cases of Cuba and Venezuela, and less so in Bolivia and Nicaragua) but anti-imperialist, Patria Grande consciousness.
Any effort to erect a Chinese wall between class and anti-imperialist forces and/or consciousness is futile. Even in Venezuela, where the Bolivarian revolution runs deep and strong among workers and campesinos, socialist consciousness is highly inflected by Christian liberation theology, as it is in Sandinista Nicaragua.
(Canadians familiar with the powerful social gospel movement on the Prairies that fuelled agrarian socialism and the formation of the CCF, the social-democratic party that introduced socialised medical care in Canada, will appreciate both the strengths and potential limitations of such spiritually-based consciousness.)
To probe a bit deeper into the matter of the relationship between grassroots consciousness and state-level anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist coordination, I would like to take a brief detour into some of the history we travelled on the road to ALBA.
Two events, which both took place in Managua in 1992, should help to shed light on this path.
The Foro de Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo Forum) was formed in 1990 as a punto de encuentro (meeting place, or forum) bringing together the Latin American left. The Foro’s official name is Meeting of Left and Anti-imperialist Parties and Organizations of Latin America (Portuguese: Encontro de Partidos e Organizações de Esquerda e Antiimperialistas da América Latina). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foro_de_S%C3%A3o_Paulo].
The continental political climate in 1990 was in flux. Events like the Venezuelan Caracazo had just confirmed the capacity for mass resistance to fierce repression but also the resolve of the decrepit ruling class and social-democratic government of the Fourth Republic to slaughter civilians to shore up their power. By the 1992 meeting in Managua, which I attended as a new full member of the FSLN, the hemispheric left had been buffeted by the electoral defeat of the FSLN government in Nicaragua and the status quo ante bellum outcome of the end of the El Salvadoran FMLN-led armed resistance. Added to that blow came the implosion of the Soviet Union and capitalist restoration throughout the Warsaw Pact countries that had experienced “really existing socialism”. Worst of all, our cherished Cuba, now seemingly alone and surrounded by enemies, had entered its “Special Period”. Our enemies cheered and pre-announced the death of Fidelismo. None of us back then could deny, even to ourselves, that socialist Cuba might sink. But we also knew that we were part of the equation. What we did mattered. It wasn’t just the Cubans or their fate in play. We mattered.
They were grim years requiring profound ideological reflection and rethinking of a whole gamut of questions including those involved in the distinctions between Stalinism, Trotskyism and Leninism. The Zapatista uprising in Chiapas and the Bolivarian electoral victory in 1998 still lay in the future. Hugo Chavez at the time was not much known outside Venezuela.
The second Managua event was the Third Encounter of the Continental Campaign 500 Years of Indigenous, Black and Grassroots Resistance, held October 7-12, 1992. The principal organiser of this event was Mirna Cunningham Kain, a Miskitu Indigenous physician and leader, and former FSLN governor of the North Caribbean Coast Special Region 1 of Nicaragua during the 1980s. Our special guest speaker was the Mayan heroine Rigoberta Menchu Tum, who just four days after our Encuentro was awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace prize (see http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/2560). I was one of Mirna’s assistants and worked full time in the Continental Operative Secretariat, before and after, until we published the Memoria: A Record of the III Continental Encounter, Managua, Nicaragua, October 7 to 12, 1992: Continental Campaign 500 Years of Indigenous, Black, and Grassroots Resistance.
We did not and could not have known then that one of the Bolivian delegates would in the coming century become the first Indigenous president in a country of our Patria Grande – Bolivia. His name is Evo Morales Amaya, now world famous because of his country’s vanguard role in defence of Mother Nature, our Pacha Mama and because the majority-rule process in Bolivia constitutes so far the high-water mark of that Indigenous tidal upsurge. Ironically, a key debate at the Encuentro was about what would later be tagged the “from below” versus the “from above” schools, a modern replay of the old dispute between genuine (non-Stalinist) Marxism and anarchism. When Evo won, I thought back to Managua 1992 and felt like shouting “that settles it”. Apparently not, and rightly so, because as Hugo Chavez said, “Winning the government is the easy part.”
Now, the point of this detour into history is perhaps best made by noting that 12 of the left parties present in Managua 1992 are now the governing parties of their respective countries, while only one – the Cuban Communist Party – had power then. The following countries are currently being governed by leaders and member parties of the Foro de São Paulo:
Several other Foro de São Paulo member parties now constitute official opposition parties in their respective countries. These and many other interesting details and maps are available at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foro_de_S%C3%A3o_Paulo.
My experiences in the working-class struggle and in anti-imperialist struggles began roughly at the same time as the 1950s decade was coming to a close. In 1961, I became one of the leaders of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee on the west coast of Canada (British Columbia). I visited Cuba for several months in 1963. Since that time, my beacon has always been the Cuban socialist revolution and its communist leadership. They are class-struggle Marxists in the tradition of Marx and Engels and the Russian Revolution. Ever since the First and Second Declarations of Havana, they have insisted on the intimate connection between anti-imperialist struggles and the international struggle against capitalist madness. They have fought to create the broadest fronts in that cause, but have never flinched when they found themselves virtually alone. That was their situation when they opted to risk all – even the revolution at home – to come to Angola’s aid and fight to defeat Pretoria’s US- and Israel-backed invading army. We won against the Afrikaner Zionists. They lost. They failed despite Tel Aviv having shared with them nuclear weapons knowhow. (Beginning of story, not the end!)
Michael, I decided to initiate our discussion because I greatly value what Australian socialists have accomplished, not only in their own country but also in the realm of internationalism and solidarity. Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal online is perhaps the highest expression of this, but also Green Left Weekly and the various solidarity campaigns promoted in GLW. I am well aware that I can also learn from an exchange like this, not just impart notions rooted in my decades in “movements” here in the Patria Grande and in Canada.
There is a world of learning to be had from leaders of the calibre and achievements of the Cubans, and a world to win or lose. That why days ago in Bolivia’s Group of 77+China Summit, president after president offered a special tributary word honouring Cuba and Comandante Fidel Castro. And some also remarked on the coincidence with Ernesto Che Guevara’s birthday (June 14, 1928) who, it was noted, would now be 86 had he survived the Bolivian campaign.
In the streets of Caracas, people energised by their particular Chavista version of liberation theology remind one another that “Chavez lives … he is with us! So are Che and Bolivar!”
Who am I, a Sandinista, Marxist, atheist to say anything to the contrary?
In a way, I do believe them. Our martyrs live because they are us, we are them. They live in, with, and through us because, like them, we don’t know what the word ‘surrender’ means. That means we are anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists to the marrow of the bone and the deepest recesses of the soul.
Again on the ‘anti-imperialist camp’
By Michael Karadjis
Felipe begins his second contribution with the following claim about my view:
“I suspect that your distinction between class based politics and anti-imperialist based politics is rooted in a failure on your part to understand that imperialism itself is all about class and class struggle.”
No, I suspect you didn’t read what I wrote. I wrote the exact opposite of that. I wrote that the only genuine anti-imperialist “camps” are those which have class-based politics right in the core of them. I explained that ALBA wouldn’t be ALBA if it were not for ongoing, or at least partial, socialist revolutionary processes in the middle of them. I responded to your mention of Baku by reminding you of the obvious fact that the state hosting Baku was the world’s first workers’ state. I also said that even to the extent that you may be correct about CELAC having a more “anti-imperialist” character than the other regional blocs of non-imperialist states around the world, the reason was that the others don’t have Cubas, Venezuelas etc (i.e., ALBA states) at their core, even if in a more indirect way than with ALBA itself.
Yes I understand the basic fact that imperialism is about class and class struggle, and therefore I reject the kind of anti—class “anti-imperialism” that advocates support for capitalist class dictatorships brutally suppressing their working peoples, as unfortunately you have revealed that you do in the case of Syria. I do not see ruling class victories against their working peoples as “anti-imperialist victories” precisely because I have a class view of these issues.
At the end of the day this is precisely the point for me, even if you largely argued about other issues in your second piece. My central point is that only victories of working people can defeat imperialism, and that the only genuine anti-imperialism is one that veers towards anti-capitalism. I say “veers towards” because I don’t want you to misunderstand – I am opposed to the sectarian “socialist maximalism or nothing” view. In fact I’ve spent a lot of time arguing against this view before. But it must at least “veer towards” an anti-capitalist direction, because to the extent that local ruling classes win class victories against their working peoples, it means one of two things, or both:
Firstly, it means that such a ruling class is under less popular pressure to genuinely fight imperialism. Their class interests are entirely tied up with imperialism. Even if they find it useful at times to use bogus, empty “anti-imperialist” rhetoric for ‘bread and circuses’ purposes, it will have no meaning in practice if their working peoples are crushed.
Second, even if there is some conjunctural or rhetorical dispute with imperialism, if it is a capitalist jackboot regime which shoots, jails, tortures or bombs workers, peasants, national minorities etc, then there is no political or moral reason for socialists to give any support whatsoever to such a regime, and even if we defend that nation as a whole against a direct imperialist invasion (such as with Iraq in 2003), this should not be seen as defense of the regime; such a regime would weaken defense of the country against a real imperialist threat; and short of an actual invasion, it would be entirely justifiable for working people to use to their advantage, to the extent possible, any divisions between the regime and imperialism to push for a better situation for workers, without being labelled imperialist stooges and their torturers being labelled anti-imperialist heroes, as unfortunately happens often enough around bits of the western left.
All the opposite of the campist point of view which does indeed tend to list a collection of progressive governments and reactionary dictatorships in their anti-imperialist “camp” theories, despite your denials.
Indeed, I was hoping that after we had both clarified our views in the first exchange, we could move on and discuss real differences second time round. Instead, much of your reply provides a lot of useful information about issues that I had already explained there is no great disagreement about (and you unfortunately also use space telling me things that are commonly accepted among leftists, and among the kinds of people who are on such discussion lists, and were thus completely superfluous, such as that … the US ruling organizes a global imperialist system of exploitation and oppression. Yes, we know).
Yet when it comes to what is actually in dispute – the idea of a non-class-based “anti-imperialist camp” – you dismiss the idea as one that “no political organisation subscribes to,” except perhaps some “fringe groups” but certainly “no serious political actors on the world stage.”
You even insist that if such a view did exist, then not only your good self, but even the FSLN government itself in Nicaragua would “counter” such “fantasies” and join a “united front against campism” which would get a hearing at ALBA.
The great irony of all this is that if it was only “fringe groups,” and not governments such as those in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba – ie, ALBA – that held this anti-class “anti-imperialist camp” view, then it wouldn’t be so bad.
How a Sri Lankan chauvinist butcher became a human rights champion
It is interesting you claim that the FSLN would be on board to counter such fantasies if they existed, yet if memory serves me right Nicaragua was precisely one of the states, alongside Cuba and Bolivia, that gave political support to the blood-drenched Sinhala chauvinist regime of Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council, presumably to demonstrate “anti-imperialism” in the face of ever-so-light western wrist-slapping of this very ordinary repressive capitalist regime which has no anti-imperialist history at all.
Indeed, in the very week after our first round of discussion, Álvaro García Linera, vice president of Bolivia and president of the Legislative Assembly, presented Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa with the ‘Parliamentary Order Merit Democratic Representative Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruza” at the Legislative Assembly in La Paz, Bolivia, on Monday. In particular, the Bolivian leader made clear why he thought an ordinary repressive capitalist ruler deserved such esteem, explaining that Rajapaksa “was selected for the honour for having defeated terrorism and established peace and development in Sri Lanka,” ie, for the genocidal pogroms against the Tamil struggle (“terrorism”), and, for good measure, for his “commitment to human rights” (http://newsfirst.lk/english/2014/06/president-receives-peace-democracy-award-bolivia/40374).
This of course is utterly surreal. All this has occurred at much the same time as our reactionary Tory regime in Australia just handed over a boatload of 41 Sri Lankan refugees, who had come to Australia to seek refuge from a regime which Australian human rights advocates assessed was not above subjecting them to torture, directly back to the Sri Lankan authorities, in flagrant violation of international human rights law. The further attempt to hand back another 153 Sri Lankans to the Sri Lanka military was prevented at the last moment by the High Court.
But with the campist view of the ALBA governments, particularly this surreal event described above in Bolivia, perhaps I should consider Australia’s disgusting anti-refugee Abbott regime to have engaged in anti-imperialist resistance to Australia’s “imperialist High Court” because, after all, it was only handing them back to a government that is highly committed to human rights!
Of course, as I stated last time, I tend not to spend time criticising these leftist Latin American governments whose attempts to move towards socialism I fully support and who have the US breathing down their backs. If they have to do absurd acrobats sometimes for reasons of diplomacy that enable them to survive, then so be it. It is still wrong in my opinion, but I’m not going to get on my high horse about it, and certainly not in any public way (but we can have an public “internal” discussion among leftists, like this one, in which we all understand where each other is coming from).
However, a number of points can be made.
First, I believe Linera could have had the Sri Lankan leader over for trade talks without having to go all unnecessarily gushing about what a great freedom-lover and anti-terrorist fighter he was. Therefore, I believe there is actually a political problem beyond the mere need for diplomatic niceties.
Second, however, to the extent that part of the problem still is these governments’ diplomatic needs, that is something that does not apply to leftists in other countries and we should still be obligated to think for ourselves and not just put pluses wherever China and Russia do and minuses wherever the US does just because Cuba and its allies may be under that kind of diplomatic pressure to do so.
Third, while some of those holding the “anti-imperialist camp” view may well be fringe groups, such as the Workers World Party/Party for Socialism and Liberation double in the US, the influence of this thinking is considerably wider among the left, with a range of left media adopting this line hook, line and sinker, from left-conspiracist sites like Global Research to better sites like the online version of Monthly Review to various leftist journalists, some big names like Ed Herman and others, and all in all this view is far more influential than you make out.
And my final point is that what perhaps makes this view reasonably influential, despite it being dominated by fringe groups and conspiracist sites, is quite likely precisely the fact that our ALBA comrades have adopted this anti-class way of thinking around a host of issues. So while I prefer not to criticise these governments, it is unfortunate that their stance does have a negative impact on the Western left.
Just getting back to the ALBA states and their diplomatic needs. I hardly think they need the diplomatic support from some petty tyrant in Syria, for example. But given the massive arming of the Syrian tyrant by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it may simply be a matter of their diplomatic need for Russian support in the face of US subversion. This is understandable as far as it goes. But the problem, to quote Canadian socialist Richard Fidler, is that the approach of embellishing a number of reactionary bourgeois regimes, of defending “counter-revolutionary policies and actions” which are inconsistent with our internationalist traditions, “tends to reduce solidarity to state relations with little or no attempt to relate otherwise to progressive social movements which may often be in conflict with the governments involved.” As I will show below, this error is particularly acute in the Middle East today.
While you can decide you don’t want to talk about what the argument is actually about, remember that this discussion began when you took up my statement on the Marxmail discussion list that the idea of an “anti-imperialist camp” was an anti-Marxist and anti-working-class aberration.
But what was the context? I had posted an article about the reactionary Thai coup-makers cozying up to Beijing due to some mild US wrist-slapping about their flagrant violations of human rights. I headed it, “Thai junta joins anti-imperialist camp.” Some poster didn’t get the irony and said he nearly spat out his coffee when he read that interpretation. I responded that of course I didn’t think this meant the Thai junta was in an “anti-imperialist camp,” that such a view was as absurd as the idea that the Syrian capitalist tyranny was in an “anti-imperialist camp” just because Putin’s Russia and the Iranian theocracy arm it to the teeth to smash its country to bits. Do you deny that there is a tendency to see whoever happens to be connected to the Russian and Chinese capitalist regimes to be in an “anti-imperialist camp”? So it is precisely this kind of “anti-imperialist camp” that was in question, regardless of what you wish to debate.
I will get onto commenting on the bulk of your contribution and how I may slightly differ from your interpretation of these issues on which there is no great disagreement. But before doing so, I need to turn to the issue of Syria.
The importance of Syria
Felipe says that, regarding a number of issues I listed (Sri Lanka, China-Vietnam etc.), he agrees with me on all of them “except on the issue of the Washington-NATO campaign to oust the Assad regime in Syria.” He agrees “with the ALBA position on Syria which is to defend the country against imperialist assault and destabilisation. The politics of that stand are no different from the stand Cuba and Venezuela took in defence of Iraq when Bush and his “Coalition of the Willing” invaded and destroyed Iraq as a viable economy and country.”
Elsewhere, Felipe also says that there is “an imperialist camp, called NATO – the same gangsters who have nearly destroyed Syria and Iraq, not to speak of Libya.”
Now of course, I could well ask, if you agree with me on the other issues, that is fine for you, but the issue is not Felipe, the issue is what such issues mean for any analysis based on an alleged “anti-imperialist camp.” I have already discussed Sri Lanka again. Needless to say, while you may agree that China is bullying Vietnam, I’m still unsure how this fits into an “anti-imperialist camp” analysis.
But no need – because you, Felipe, ensure you fall into the “anti-imperialist camp” trap by spreading falsehoods and total delusions about Syria. To compare the US invasion of Iraq, with hundreds of thousands of troops, with US policy on Syria – i.e., to refuse to send even a bullet to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) for three years while the Assad regime destroyed the entire country with every conceivable “conventional” weapon of mass destruction – is too absurd to even begin to take apart; basically, for you to even make such an impossible comparison is in itself a classic example of bogus “anti-imperialist” analysis furiously attempting to push square poles into round holes.
It is fascinating to read a writer like Felipe, who in other ways is very lucid and logical, refer to NATO having “nearly destroyed Syria”. So apparently, the MiG fighter planes, helicopter gunships, ballistic missiles, barrel bombs, cluster bombs, incendiary bombs, tanks, artillery, starvation sieges of whole towns (and for that matter, of Palestinian refugee camps), and chemical weapons, have all been supplied to Assad by NATO! Oh, but no, you don’t mean that, do you. You simply think that the duty of “anti-imperialism” is to look the other way while a regime of mega-capitalists destroys every city of its country, including the working-class sections of Damascus and Aleppo, because condemning a capitalist regime for waging unlimited war on its working people is apparently too difficult for modern-day “anti-imperialist” analysis unless you can somehow show that imperialism is responsible.
And so since the imperialists issue criticisms of the Syrian regime’s genocide, and arm the opposition with … the occasional supportive speech (and even those are laced with jihadist-mongering similar to that of “the left”), therefore we don’t know what to say. So we have to instead create a conspiracy, and pretend that this mass uprising of ordinary Syrians is all a foreign conspiracy involving the US, the Gulf states and al-Qaida (and some even throw in Israel for good measure despite Israel’s quite constant support for the victory of a weakened Assad).
And what exactly has been the role of the US and NATO? As I have continually documented with a great deal of evidence over the last two years, not only has the US sent nothing of any use to the Free Syrian Army, but moreover it has moved operatives into Turkey to actively block the delivery of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (manpads) and other advanced forms of weaponry to the rebels, when regional states had planned to send a few of these defensive weapons to the rebels to help defend their communities against Assad’s savage air war. (Assad’s air war in comparison to the Kiev regime’s air war in east Ukraine is basically an elephant-to-flea comparison). However, it has promised to maybe, perhaps, if they’re really good, to think about possibly supplying a few arms to a few “vetted” rebels if they agree to use them to launch a frontal attack on Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian wing of al-Qaida. Yet the left conspiracists would imagine that the US supports al-Nusra, in order to “destroy Syria.” You need to question your analysis when it begins to rely on total delusions like this.
Of course, one might say, Syria is just one country, the world doesn’t revolve around Syria. True enough. But it is also something difficult to ignore. Some 170,000 people have been killed directly by the war; meanwhile, a report by the European Commission for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response claims another 200,000 Syrians have died due to lack of medical care (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-14-177_en.htm), and 650,000 have been injured in war; and the Syrian regime is responsible for 90% of the 150 confirmed attacks on 124 healthcare facilities according to Physicans for Human Rights (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/825236 – and since the remaining 10% are not subdivided, I’d wager that nearly all of them have been carried out by ISIS, leaving the FSA and allies only a very small proportion). Meanwhile, there are over 3 million Syrian refugees living outside the country (mainly in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon), a new Palestinian-style diaspora, and another 6-7 million displaced inside the country.
To understand what this all means, and to avoid saying inane things such as “yes, the regime is repressive, but” (name the particular grovelling “but” you prefer), take a look at these pictures of Syrian regime “repression”: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/how-assad-junior-has-reformed-syria/
Now, when you look at these pictures of the Hiroshima the regime has brought to Syria, let’s remember about two and a half years ago I posted to the GreenLeft discussion list the following pictures of the devastation of the Libyan city Sirte, by the combination of NATO bombing from the sky and a siege by ex-rebels going on for two months after Gaddafi’s dictatorship had been overthrown: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article29405.htm.
When Felipe saw these pictures that I sent, he wrote to the list, quite rightly calling what happened to Sirte an “immense crime against humanity” (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/GreenLeft_discussion/conversations/messages/75514). So what has happened, now that such scenes are not in one or two cities but everywhere in Syria? Right now, the Zionist regime is yet again visiting such scenes of mass killing and savage destruction in Gaza. We raise our voices in great anger against the Zionist crimes against the Palestinian people. Given the unconditional support given by our governments and media to these Zionist crimes, we of course feel more angry, we have a greater stake in trying to prevent these crimes than we do in relation to Syria.
being on the left and being anti-imperialist is not supposed to be some fashion
label that denotes membership of some “camp.” If these are immense crimes
against humanity when carried out by Israel, or directly by the US, then they
are just the same when carried out (basically an Operation Cast Lead every day for
three years against the Syrian people) by a government that is not directly
controlled by the US too, even one that some might imagine, for reasons best
known to themselves, to be an “anti-imperialist camp” government. The left is
consistent in support for human liberation and against tyranny and state terrorimmense crime
against humanity immense crime
against humanity , , , or otherwise has no right to that label.
I’m not sure which Latin American dictatorships are comparable to the Assad regime in this respect – as I noted, I remember that Somoza bombed Managua as he fled, but I assume that you, as an FSLN member, do not blame the Sandinista rebels for Somoza’s crime against humanity in doing so. Somehow you manage to get it the other way round in Syria, where Assad’s destruction turns Somoza into a mouse.
Of course, by insisting that the regime wages unlimited war rather than then mere “repression”, I do not want to give the impression that repression is alright. Anyone can tell you about the levels of torture, of mass imprisonment, often for decades, of killings of children, of disappearances, that take place in Syria; it’s not a secret. This is a place where 334 people were tortured to death in May alone, the month before the Mobutu-style “election” circus (http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2014/Jun-02/258572-334-people-tortured-to-death-in-syria-in-may.ashx#axzz33VaC9nLA). How does it happen that a comrade who knows about fascist-style rule throughout Latin America can give such political support to a regime that is in every respect at the worst end of the worst of those regimes?
What this kind of ‘anti-imperialism’ means for the Middle East
I could go on, but I think the point is clear that such an immense catastrophe cannot be seen as a side issue. It is interesting that both our opposing kinds of anti-imperialists would probably see the question of Palestine as central to Mid-East politics. Yet whose “camp” are the Palestinians in? According to the latest Pew Global Attitudes Survey, some 83% of Palestinians under occupation consider Assad “unfavourable”, including 65% who see him as “very unfavourable,” while only some 10% had a favourable attitude (http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/06/04/palestinians-in-palestine-still-overwhelmingly-against-assad/). For anyone who knows about the Syrian regime’s history of waging war against the Palestinian people, their refugee camps, their organisations and their leaders, this should come as no surprise. What does it mean for the famed “anti-imperialist camp,” however? Perhaps that the Palestinians are in the “pro-imperialist camp”?
Who exactly is leading the “resistance” to the Zionist occupation regime today? It is Hamas, is it not? Now, OK, the leadership of Hamas is also bourgeois nationalist. But as the leadership of a people under the direct colonial jackboot, it has only the options of resistance or outright collaboration, like the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority. States like Iran and Syria and movements like Hezbollah may attach fancy labels onto themselves like “resistance camp,” but that is hollow and irrelevant; the only actual resistance is Hamas. And precisely because it reads, and is influenced by, the mood of the Arab and Palestinian street, Hamas supports the Syrian revolution. So since Western lefties like to style the Syrian revolution “pro-imperialist,” does that mean Hamas is in the “pro-imperialist camp”?
This view is reflected among the “new Palestinians” – the millions of Syrian refugees. “An ACRPS opinion poll of Syrian refugees and displaced persons in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and within Syria along the Syrian-Turkish border found that 78% of respondents viewed the June 3, 2014, presidential elections planned by the Syrian regime to be illegitimate. In contrast, only 17% of the respondents accepted the legitimacy of the 2014 presidential elections in Syria”
(http://english.dohainstitute.org/release/c63f7d20-c95a-46a8-8bfd-fcbc78082afe). Presumably, all these millions also simply don’t understand that it was really NATO that destroyed their country and so they can be relegated to the pro-imperialist camp.
Incidentally, the Pew survey showed that Assad enjoyed only single digit support elsewhere in the region too, except for Lebanon where the sectarian factor kicks in. But what of the popularity of Iran, another country allegedly in the “anti-imperialist camp” (except, I assume, when Iran and Hezbollah supported NATO in Libya and held celebrations when Gaddafi was lynched)? We know that the popularity of Hezbollah was at an all-time high back in 2006 (among both Shia and Sunni), and that this also elevated Iran’s popularity. Now, following massive Iranian foreign intervention to bolster Assad, Iran’s popularity has crashed throughout the region (http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/06/19/why_is_rouhani_s_popularity_plummeting_in_the_middle_east?utm_content=bufferc0b57&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer).
I cite these issues regarding the views of the Palestinians, of the Palestinian resistance, the new forced Syrian diaspora, and regional views towards Iran and especially towards Syria, to question where the Cuban and Venezuelan policy of support for reactionary dictatorships at war with their people has left their standing among the peoples of the Middle East, and thereby question the validity of the more extreme forms of “necessary diplomatic manoeuvre” of being of any use whatsoever to the defence of the ALBA states against imperialism; the complete opposite appears to me the case.
Getting back to where there is no great dispute, I’ll make a number of points on the rest of Felipe’s contribution.
First, regarding Argentina and the Malvinas, you note that “the UK drove Argentine military regime out of the pro-imperialists’ club with bombs and warships” and ask why I “play around with the word ‘camp’ here”. The reason I “play around with it” is precisely because the argument is precisely about “camp” theory; it is not about anti-imperialism. So I should ask you why you “play around with” telling me commonalities like the fact that Cuba came to Argentina’s defence and that some leftists capitulated to British social-patriotism. Since it was very clear from my first post that I agree with this defence of Argentina against “Great” Britain in this war.
You see, the very fact that a regime as breathtakingly reactionary and pro-imperialist as the Argentine junta of the time could actually end up in conflict with imperialism over a piece of its territory long ago conquered by the colonialists is a good argument against the idea that different capitalist regimes can be shoved into “pro- and anti-imperialist” camps. For example, campists might put the Syrian junta into the “anti-imperialist camp” for reasons best known to themselves; but whereas the Argentine junta actually challenged Britain over the Malvinas in 1982, the Syrian junta has never challenged Israel over the Golan Heights, brazenly stolen by Israel in 1967. Not even symbolically. In fact the main reason Israeli leaders and military and security chiefs continually express their preference for a weakened Assad over a victory of any of the alternatives is precisely because, as they state, he has never bothered them on the Golan, but they don’t have any faith that any of the opposition (which many “camp” theorists might put in an imaginary “anti-imperialist camp”) would be so obliging.
So why would the Argentine junta before 1982 be considered “pro-imperialist” and the Syrian junta be considered “anti-imperialist”? For no reason at all, if looked at in class terms. For some metaphysical reason, if looked at in “camp” terms.
Next, you say you want to now “return to the realm of real, actually existing anti-imperialist formations.” Fine, but remember what the discussion is about; if you want to convince yourself about the usefulness of CELAC etc., that is fine, but it was pretty clear from my post that this was no big area of disagreement. So I’ll try to follow where you’re coming from with this.
You first explain why even a reactionary “narco-state” like Colombia would want to be in CELAC, not only because “Colombia needs more wiggle room,” but also “because of rising anti-imperialist and pro Patria Grande consciousness throughout Latin America and the Caribbean” making it “advantageous to present themselves as advocates of Latin American-Caribbean unity.”
Why do you think I would disagree with that? What that shows is that any capitalist regime can play the game of anti-imperialism up to a point, can feel anti-imperialist pressure etc. What it definitely does not show is that the Colombian oligarchs are by definition in a different “camp” to capitalist regimes like Russia, Belarus, Iran, Syria, ex-Libya, ex-Myanmar, or, hell, perhaps the Taliban (“anti-imperialists” often can’t get their heads around that one, even though, in contrast to all the rest on this list, it has actually fought imperialism the last 13 years), perhaps Sri Lanka (for whatever reason), perhaps the US-invasion-installed but Iran-aligned Iraqi regime, or whatever other thug regime happens to occasionally engage in some anti-imperialist demagoguery.
Thank you. We can perhaps compare it to the fact that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, like all Arab states, not only have zero relations with Israel and are very strong (vocal) supporters of Palestine, but also always vote against the US embargo on Cuba. Good, now we’re getting somewhere. So next time someone writes some inanity about how the Syrian rebels must be bad because they’re backed by “pro-imperialist” regimes such as Saudi Arabia against the “anti-imperialist” regime in power, I’ll expect you to pipe up and explain why this is classless nonsense.
Indeed, let me state my own view a little more strongly: now that we have dispensed with the rubbish about a specific “anti-imperialist” and “pro-imperialist” camp of capitalist regimes (a bad hangover from what may have validly described the situation about 50 years ago during the height of Nasserism et al.), then the fact that the overwhelming majority of Arab states are (in theory at least) opposed to the Assad regime and have even invited the opposition leadership to the Arab League is simply the same Arab solidarity (and mostly just as hollow) as their support for Palestine. There are no “pro-imperialist” Arab states lined up against some “anti-imperialist” ones. So the best measure of which capitalist state in the region at any particular time is fleetingly the “most reactionary”, based on class analysis, is simply a matter of which one uses the greatest amount of barbaric violence against the working masses of the country. It is pretty obvious which one that currently is.
You also rightly note that, despite the presence of regimes such as Colombia or Mexico, CELAC has taken a number of progressive stands, such as opposing the embargo on Cuba (like nearly every other country on Earth) and calling for a nuclear-free zone and so on. Again, well and good. You further give a list of leftist parties that are now in power in Latin America which were not in 1992, and imply that this leftish move may be related to this Patria Grande orientation of CELAC. Quite possibly.
Question: are you implying that I think Cuba, Venezuela etc. should not orient to regional blocs that include capitalist governments and try to build anti-imperialist consciousness this way, thereby forcing even reactionary governments to take some officially progressive stances? While also increasing coordination and cooperation among non-imperialist states so they can increase their bargaining position vis a vis imperialism? Well, I don’t, and I don’t know why you think I do. I think it has been very sensible policy on the part of Castro, Chavez etc.; they would have been remiss if they hadn’t oriented this way.
You also appear to be totally confused about why I questioned your list of progressive social movements. You think perhaps I don’t get that you want to “highlight the role of grassroots pressure and continental networking in bringing pressure on our governments to break out of the pro-imperialist framework.” No, I get that. But what I also get is that it is only in ALBA-influenced CELAC, from what I can see, that the kinds of progressive policies advocated by these social movements have been at least partially or verbally adopted, and in some cases more.
What I pointed out precisely was the stark contradiction between the aims of these social movements – e.g., women’s rights, rights for indigenous and national minorities, occupational health and safety, labour solidarity, land to the tiller, defending political prisoners, environmental justice etc. – and the kind of “anti-imperialism” which I am criticising. I will repeat what I wrote, because you have not taken it up at all, you have merely changed the subject:
“If you are being specific about ALBA (and perhaps by extension in a more limited way, CELAC – MK), well and good. But I’m afraid I struggle to see any 'anti-imperialist camp' (of states) anywhere in the world that fights around these issues against imperialist states. I would suggest that the overwhelming majority of capitalist states in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America would be absolutely rotten on peasant land-use issues, labour solidarity, women’s liberation, political prisoners, workplace health and safety (!) etc. And so particularly are the majority within the more restrictive definition, if not often worse.
“If anything, on many of these issues it is precisely First World-based liberal NGOs and humanitarian interventionists which at times promote an imperialist agenda by exploiting these issues against some capitalist regime that the West has some problem with. I oppose such imperialist interference; however, I also reject ‘anti-imperialist camp’ type arguments of solidarity with capitalist dictatorships, fascist tyrannies etc. when they assert their ‘right’ to carry out ‘sovereign’ massacres of workers, torture of political prisoners, misogynist policies and practices against women, evicting peasants from their land for ‘development’, violent suppression of national minorities etc.
“So that paragraph to me does not make sense; it is precisely ‘anti-imperialist camp’ discourse that regularly justifies the open and massive violation of all these principles you list, whereas because I see class as more important than abstract, rhetorical, ‘anti-imperialism’, I reject the ‘rights’ of ‘anti-imperialist’ (including the overnight version) capitalist rulers to carry out these anti-working class actions.”
I also gave numerous examples of just what I meant. This criticism still stands.
If anything, this critique is even starker when you raise the issue of Indigenous struggle, and how important it has been to the developing (genuine) anti-imperialist consciousness in Latin America. You discuss the Managua Encounter of 1992 and explain how this has now led to Evo in power in Bolivia. What you do not explain is how this connects either to any other regional bloc of non-imperialist states in Asia, Africa or the Middle East, or to the usual “anti-imperialist camp” hodge-potch of reactionary regimes.
You note that “the principal organiser of this event was Mirna Cunningham Kain, a Miskitu Indigenous physician and leader, and former FSLN governor of the North Caribbean Coast Special Region 1 of Nicaragua during the 1980s.” As we know, the FSLN came close to killing its own revolution early when it committed a number of violations of the national/indigenous question in relation to the Miskitu. We also know that the FSLN, a revolutionary socialist-oriented organisation (back then, anyway), managed to overcome these errors in proletarian fashion, probably with a little help from Cuba. This is certainly an excellent example.
But what has it to do with an imaginary “anti-imperialist camp” outside ALBA-influenced CELAC? How ironic that we have a Miskitu leader, and Evo, mentioned in the same section, yet Nicaragua and Bolivia have defended the criminal chauvinist Sri Lanka regime which engages in the exact opposite policy towards the Tamil minority; indeed a policy far worse than anything the FSLN would have even conceived of at its worst moments. Other “progressive, anti-imperialist” regimes have waged war against the Kurdish people’s struggle for decades; and generally, there exists a non-imperialist, capitalist world where massive and systematic violations of the rights of ethnic minorities and Indigenous is the norm.
Two types of regional integration
But why, however, is CELAC somewhat different? Of course, we cannot romanticise CELAC; even among those non-ALBA countries such as Brazil which are also not ruled by the open right, we need not be deluded about the progress of the kinds of issues the social movements fight for. Brazil in particular, with its massively unjust allocation of agricultural land that the MST has fought for decades to change, not to mention the violence of the dispossession of the poor before the World Cup. But I can take your point that the kind of Patria Grande consciousness you write about is connected to many of these other progressive issues and that this undermines both the openly right-wing states like Colombia and anti-popular policies in the softer capitalist states like Brazil.
But such regional blocs of explicitly non-imperialist states are not connected to such progressive policies elsewhere, not even in theory, and still less in practice; and even less in most of the imaginary “anti-imperialist camp” states. What is the reason for the difference?
You provide the reason yourself:
“Who led whom in this process? Were the masses leading, pushing? Or did ALBA take the lead? But, where did ALBA come from? The social revolutions in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador? Yes!”
Yes! My point from the start – that it is precisely where there is a socially revolutionary, at least partially anti-capitalist, process (in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and perhaps Nicaragua) right at the centre of a regional bloc of states. As I explained right from the start, that is precisely what is different about ALBA: the class-based nature of the process. And to the extent that even CELAC is different to any other regional bloc, it is precisely because it has ALBA right in the centre of it.
Sonny Melencio, chairperson of Partido Lakas ng Masa-Philippines (Party of the Labouring Masses) in the Philippines, makes this point quite clearly in relation to another regional bloc, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations):
“On the horizon, we see two types of regional integration happening in the world today. One is the integration, such as the ASEAN one, which serves the transnational corporations and the imperialist powers. While we prepare for the hell that is the ASEAN integration in the global capitalist economy, we dream of paradise. And our idea of paradise is for each country to work for the welfare of its people, and not for a few corporations, or the multi-billionaires and the elite. And this points to an anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalist regional integration that is happening today in Latin America, led by the socialist leaderships of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba. This is the integration like the ALBA (the Alternativa Bolivariana para Las Americas) in Latin America, which serves as a counterweight to the anti-people, pro-corporate agenda of ASEAN integration. This is the kind of Asian integration that we should fight for.
“It is utopian to think that the ASEAN countries could be pressured right now to follow a similar path as ALBA. ASEAN needs to be dismantled first. Which means the bourgeois regimes in the ASEAN countries should be overthrown first so the government of the masses in the Philippines and other ASEAN countries could be established to be able to set up an ALBA type of socialist integration” (http://links.org.au/node/3910).
Very well said. But back to Felipe, after having arrived precisely at my very conclusion, he then tries to contradict it. He writes:
“But, Michael, doesn’t that then prove your point? -- that ALBA is all about class and therefore the anti-imperialist advances are a class question that are not driven by abstract nationalist anti-imperialism! Well, not really. ALBA is an anti-capitalist, anti-globalization, anti-imperialist and anti-war alliance” (and you go on to explain how), “however, the motor force of this process, at the mass level, is not socialist anti-capitalist consciousness (this would only be evident in the cases of Cuba and Venezuela, and less so in Bolivia and Nicaragua) but anti-imperialist, Patria Grande consciousness.”
Yes, certainly. Did I argue against anti-imperialist consciousness? Did I argue that anti-capitalist forces should stick narrowly to so-called “class” issues and not engage in genuine anti-imperialism and take the anti-imperialist struggle and the consciousness forward? Where did I argue that? Why would I?
You see, that doesn’t contradict my argument at all. It is precisely because you have socialist, anti-capitalist elements working with that anti-imperialist consciousness that it develops into a more rounded, progressive kind of anti-imperialism connected to other aspects of human liberation. Where that does not exist, “anti-imperialism” can well be genuine on the ground, but can also be exploited by every class oppressor to push a thoroughly reactionary agenda, and usually to gut even the “anti-imperialist” aspect itself of any real meaning.
That doesn’t just go for reactionary “secular” capitalist tyrannies like that of Syria, but also theocratic tyrannies like in Iran, like the ISIS regime that has arisen over parts of Iraq and Syria (and which, rhetorically at least, is in conflict with the Syrian regime), or like the Taliban. Russian fascists, Serbian fascists, Croatian fascists, you name it, can all play this bogus “anti-imperialist” game. In fact, the whole of European fascism, using arguments at once “anti-EU imperialist” and viciously Islamophobic has come in behind their Syrian cousin regime in its war against the Syrian people, including providing troops. Reactionary Turkish generals and nationalists, annoyed that the US invasion of Iraq gave more autonomy to Iraqi Kurdistan, turned vociferously “anti-imperialist” for a time, until their opponent, Erdogan’s soft-Islamist regime, stole their thunder from a different angle, and became a leading anti-Zionist advocate, while imposing “Islamist” neoliberalism at home. Just the Middle East and Balkans can fill whole books with examples that represent the total opposite of everything that is even remotely progressive about CELAC; before going into Africa, South Asia and East Asia.
Thus when you say that “any effort to erect a Chinese wall between class and anti-imperialist forces and/or consciousness is futile,” surely the shoe is on the other foot? I don’t erect any such wall – I point out that when such a wall exists, i.e., when there are no progressive class forces involved, that the “anti-imperialism” will be as hollow and demagogic as it is often out and out reactionary.
At the same time, that should not be read to mean there are no issues on which all the non-imperialist countries, in all these regional blocs, and in common global non-imperialist blocs such as Group-77 (now meaning in reality Group-133, the whole non-imperialist world), can come together against the imperialist world. I specifically made that point in my first contribution, so again your extended response on that was somewhat unnecessary.
However, it was probably partly motivated by the excellent Official Declaration of the Santa Cruz Summit in Bolivia. It clearly reflects the Bolivian host’s views. And as you said opening addresses were made by the ALBA states and so on. So if you think that I think the ALBA states should ignore such bodies and not work within them, to give a voice to genuinely radical and anti-imperialist views within such forums, you are incorrect. Castro, Chavez, Evo etc. have done an excellent job in such forums.
At the same time, aside from this political impact, I assume you don’t take it too seriously when around 130 capitalist states declare their “priority” is to eradicate poverty? And I assume you take it even less seriously when they “underline the problem posed by inequality.” After all, not only is massive and increasing inequality just a normal feature of capitalism, especially of many of these ex-colonial countries, but moreover it is if anything worse in a number of the “BRICS” bloc, including Brazil, India, China and South Africa. And I don’t see the declaration itself as having much impact on prodding these capitalist states to really “respect Mother Earth,” or to promote “solidarity,” or “the equality of women,” still less “the setting up of a new world order that establishes a fair and democratic system in the benefit of all.” As for “blacklisting countries with respect to terrorism,” well I’m sure the US can agree with that, whatever it in fact means.
Of course that does not mean the ALBA states shouldn’t use this forum to propagandise such ideas. But is it so different to the fact that they – in particular Cuba – also use the United Nations as a whole – i.e. a body that includes imperialist states – to propagandise in exactly the same way? As they should. And that all these platitudes about “eradicating poverty,” reducing inequality,” turning back global warming, equality for women, “blacklisting terrorism” and the rest are part and parcel of the UN development lexicon today – hell, even the World Bank lexicon is full of it.
But where Group-77/133 calls for the elimination of First World agricultural subsidies it is making a useful demand on behalf of non-imperialist countries (though with the reservations I expressed in my first contribution); and where “the declaration also supported the struggle of Palestine, Argentina and Cuba” it is of course very good – basically these three issues are issues left over from the age of direct colonialism, and so while the Group-77 countries can carry out all kinds of economic exploitation and violations of human rights within their countries, the nature of their membership of such bodies requires them to support basic anti-colonial demands.
But again this returns me to the very point – not only Iran, Syria, North Korea etc. vote to support “Palestine, Argentina and Cuba,” but so do Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. Thus again there is no specific “anti-imperialist” bloc of capitalist states; there are just out and out imperialist states, and non-imperialist states.
At the same time, I also generally support the heresy that can land one in Trotskyist purgatory that says “sub-imperialist” is a useful term to describe larger capitalist states which have economically (and in some cases militarily) expanded beyond their borders. While not in the same league as the imperialist states, their actions represent the simple fact that as capitalism develops it goes beyond borders. And so the bigger it is, the more likely it is to get into either cooperative or competitive relations with older imperialist states. The BRICS are examples of such formations.
This can mean that at times, progressive and revolutionary movements and countries can exploit these differences to their advantage, such as when Cuba and Venezuela take advantage of Russia’s and China’s desires to rival US influence in the Americas. But it can also mean that these states might aggressively push their capitalist/sub-imperialist interests in ways that are detrimental to smaller countries and peoples. China’s aggressive Monroe Doctrine in the South China Sea (also known as the East Sea) and its bullying of Vietnam is a case in point. And the fact that Vietnam tries to manoeuvre with both Russia and the US to balance China is in the end no different to what Cuba and Venezuela do with Russia and China to resist the US.
Incidentally, a debate is to be had on whether China is now an imperialist country. But what I am saying here does not depend on the outcome of that debate. One may decide China is not imperialist; but once we understand that all capitalism expands, and that China can therefore be thought of as “sub-imperialist” in this sense, then the same political point holds about the right of countries such as Vietnam to resist this onslaught, and for other peoples to resist the exploitative relations China has often established with them.
And in Syria, it is Russia that has intervened directly, via massive and continual arming of the Syrian tyranny to crush its people over a number of years; there is no comparison to the US role of avoiding sending any arms to the anti-Assad side for years. It is the fact that much of the left is stuck in the wrong idea of “anti-imperialism” that has led them to vigorously denounce “US intervention” against Syria even when there is none, but not to denounce the massive Russian intervention. Again, this should be independent of whether or not we judge Russia to be fully “imperialist” – clearly it is a large capitalist power pushing its own imperial (if one does not want to say imperialist) interests.
Conflict, in other words, must be judged on the basis of what is happening on the ground in class terms, not on the basis of an abstract, bourgeois “geopolitics” that both ignores class and romanticises capitalist “challengers” to the established imperialists regardless of the real play of class forces.
‘Learn from Fidel and our martyrs’
Felipe ends his contribution talking about learning from Fidel. I agree there is plenty to learn from Fidel, though at the same time an important thing to learn is that he was never hesitant about admitting he sometimes got it wrong – thus again the need for us to think for ourselves.
As for the martyrs, today tens of thousands of martyrs are fighting and dying throughout the Middle East challenging tyranny. Old martyrs are great, but new ones keep the momentum of history going. The great paradox of Cuban and Venezuelan support for the class enemy in parts of the Middle East and sometimes elsewhere is an important dilemma highlighting how important it remains for us to “learn to think” and not just put a plus wherever Fidel puts a plus and a minus wherever Uncle Sam puts a plus.
During the recent destabilisation campaign by the right in Venezuela, we pointed to the class forces involved – the Chavista leadership’s support from the poor in the barrios, and the protests’ overwhelmingly middle- and upper-class composition. In Syria the roles are completely reversed – the revolution from the start was solidly plebeian, peasant, urban poor and working class, while the parts of Damascus and Aleppo that remain to this day regime-loyalist are the middle to upper class areas. Working out the reason is not rocket science, at least for Marxists; Syria is a capitalist state, so the regime represents (indeed, is largely composed of) the mega-capitalist oligarchy. Standing on the side of the same class forces elsewhere that are trying to overthrow you at home is not a good situation, and is one of the dilemmas of this kind of “anti-imperialist” thinking.