The Russian intervention in Syria and Permanent Revolution

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12/10/2015 by socialistfight

Given that Putin claims to be fighting IS, but our own government is definitely at war with IS, and both the Tories and the Blairite right are trying to get parliamentary endorsement for bombing of IS in Syria, it would be wrong to endorse Putin’s war against IS.

The Russian intervention in Syria and Permanent Revolution

Socialist Fight Minority Statement

By Ian Donovan

The most important starting point for us in imperialist Britain should be that the main enemy is at home, and we are for the defeat of our own ruling class in this situation.

We should be acutely aware also that our own ruling class is currently at war, in the sense of bombing, with the forces of Islamic State. It is not currently at war with Assad, though it is pretty obvious that the Western imperialists would like to be rid of both Assad and Islamic State. The earlier attempt at war against Assad failed; and then was eclipsed by the fall of Mosul and the rise of IS.

Our own government is planning to begin bombing IS in Syria shortly and is trying to split the Parliamentary Labour Party over just this question. The US has been doing this openly for months, Britain has also engaged in drone killings of some IS Jihadists of British origin without parliamentary approval, which it is seeking now as a cover. The UK joined the US to start bombing IS in Iraq with Labour support just over a year ago, but the Labour leadership that sanctioned that has now been replaced with a left-wing leader who is a key figure in the anti-war movement. Obviously the Labour Party is split over this, Corbyn opposes both the Iraq bombing and the Syria extension, many of the New Labour elements will certainly support it.

There is not currently an imperialist proposal to attack Assad; the rise of IS has made that unfeasible for now. When a proposal to bomb Assad was on the table, in 2013, it failed both in Britain and the USA because it lacked enough bourgeois support. Labour under Ed Miliband moved the technical amendment that blocked it and the Tories and Lib Dems were insufficiently united to be able to overrule that, despite their government having pushed through the earlier attack on Libya. Obama then responded to this by calling off the mooted attack, having been deprived of British political cover.

Indeed one of Cameron’s anxieties is that his defeat in 2013 over bombing Assad could affect his ability to get a vote through parliament authorising bombing ISIS. Which is probably not true, as an attack on IS does have enough New Labour and bourgeois support.

It is certain that were a similar proposal to attack Assad to be put today, it would get even less support. Why? Because of the aftermath of the overthrow of Qadaafi, among other things. It was a pyrrhic victory that actually destabilised much of North and West Africa, but not to the benefit of imperialism. It has strengthened anti-Western Islamic trends from Libya all the way to Nigeria, and caused such grave internal misgivings as to give them second thoughts about trying the same with Assad. That’s why they could not pull it off. That’s one very good reason why the idea that IS is in some way their tool against Assad is wrong.

There has been recently a degree of pressure, from the logic of the situation, on the imperialists to make a tacit deal with Assad against Islamic State. This is the context of the Russian bombing. There are two aspects to this, the first being that Russia wants to ensure Assad’s survival as the regime is looking more and more unsteady, and therefore wants to defeat the forces fighting it. One of which is IS. The others are a melange of smaller groups, some of whom are remnants of those Islamist and other forces that were directly proxies of the US, who have been squeezed between Assad and IS. Putin and Assad are at war with both of these sets of forces.

But Putin also wants a bloc with the West to defeat IS. Particularly in the context of the US/Iran deal and its passing through Congress, he sees a window of opportunity to do this in the fag end of Obama’s lame duck term, before the next president tears it up, which looks highly likely.

Given that Putin claims to be fighting IS, but our own government is definitely at war with IS, and both the Tories and the Blairite right are trying to get parliamentary endorsement for bombing of IS in Syria, it would be wrong to endorse Putin’s war against IS.  Putin has been talking about a repeat of the WWII alliance with the West against Hitler, this time against IS. But this is doubly bad for us as anti-Stalinist Marxists; we were opposed to the Popular Front of the working class led by the Stalinists with Churchill and Roosevelt, let alone a latter day version with Russia (no longer ‘communist’ even in name) with Obama, Cameron and Hollande.

Our position in the current wars should be to continue to oppose attacks on IS, and to support the defence of those forces against imperialism. Insofar as Putin makes (in his own words) a WWII style bloc with the West against IS, we should defend IS also against Putin and Assad. IS is not Hitler’s Germany, it is a non-imperialist force, that has actually inflicted defeats on some imperialist proxies, particularly in Iraq.

Insofar as there is a breakdown of relations between the West and Putin, on the other hand, and a recrudescence of Western imperialist threats against Assad/Putin takes place, tending towards a proxy war, then we should shift our stance towards a defence of Assad as well as IS. But it is not clear that at the moment, this is how things will move. The Western powers are seriously antagonistic to both Assad and IS, but they are currently at war only with IS. We have to concretely oppose the imperialist attacks on IS, we cannot retreat from that on the basis of some sort of drift towards endorsing a latter day WWII coalition.

This does abstract from whether Russia should be considered imperialist, or not. This is a complex and problematic question and there may a need for further examination of the nature of Russia even going back to pre-revolutionary times in fully resolving this question. But even if Russia is not considered imperialist, the West is not currently at war with Russia over Syria; it is at war with IS over both Syria and Iraq.

These are the issues of principle; it also seems doubtful whether Putin’s action will succeed, as he, like the West, had ruled out ground troops, fearing a quagmire no doubt as does the West. Bombing on its own is not that effective against irregular forces; the West’s more hi-tech bombing campaign against IS has not been very effective.

The relations of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar with Al Nusra and to a lesser extent IS are reflective of the tendency to a bourgeois Sunni-Shia conflict that is another strand of what is happening in the region.  But it is mistaken to see this simply as a reflection of imperialist interests per se. These forces have their own dynamics and their own limited agency. A Sunni-Shia conflict that may demolish all the coherent states in the region is something that suits Israel quite well, weakening and dividing all Israel’s opponents and potential opponents in the region, but Israel is the only imperialist state with such an objective material interest in region-wide chaos. This is because it a tenuous alien formation build on land everyone else in the region regards as stolen. It is a unique imperialist state in that regard. Objectively and rationally, the interests of the US would be in building alliances with conservative client states that have some stability and staying power, as they do elsewhere in the world. The same is true of the UK, as the US’ junior partner, and indeed the EU is not that different. It is the peculiar role of Zionist influence in the imperialist countries to make such an imperialist strategy impossible. Which is actually why imperialist policy appears incoherent.

All these are points of analysis that are crucial in understanding what is happening in the current highly unstable and dangerous situation in the Middle East. But what should guide us above all is the theory and programme of Permanent Revolution. We critically defend all non-imperialist forces that come into military conflict with imperialism, whether secular despotisms like Assad’s, or Islamist forces such as IS. This does not involve one iota of political confidence in any of them. We rather stand by the understanding developed by Trotsky after the failed Chinese revolution of 1926-27, that only the programme of Permanent Revolution can bring liberation and real democracy to semi-colonial peoples oppressed by imperialism. Since all of the important countries of the Arab and Muslim Middle East, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia, have potentially powerful proletariats, our perspective must involve seeking independent working class mobilisations in line with this perspective:

“Does this at least mean that every country, including the most backward colonial country, is ripe, if not for socialism, then for the dictatorship of the proletariat? No, this is not what it means. Then what is to happen with the democratic revolution in general – and in the colonies in particular? Where is it written – I answer the question with another question – that every colonial country is ripe for the immediate and thoroughgoing solution of its national democratic tasks? The question must be approached from the other end. Under the conditions of the imperialist epoch the national democratic revolution can be carried through to a victorious end only when the social and political relationships of the country are mature for putting the proletariat in power as the leader of the masses of the people. And if this is not yet the case? Then the struggle for national liberation will produce only very partial results, results directed entirely against the working masses. In 1905, the proletariat of Russia did not prove strong enough to unite the peasant masses around it and to conquer power. For this very reason, the revolution halted midway, and then sank lower and lower. In China, where, in spite of the exceptionally favourable situation, the leadership of the Communist International prevented the Chinese proletariat from fighting for power, the national tasks found a wretched, unstable and niggardly solution in the regime of the Kuomintang.”

Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, 7. What Does the Slogan of the Democratic Dictatorship Mean Today for the East? 1930 https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/pr07.htm

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