Saturday, July 21, 2012

Remembering The Main Enemy

In the belly of the beast
As the "Arab Spring" continues to challenge the established order in countries across the Middle East, a key question has emerged: given the predatory nature of the United States, what's the proper response when local forces call for "humanitarian" military assistance from American or NATO forces? There's an ongoing debate on left forums in the internet, and I am happy to report that Kasama's Mike Ely has succinctly staked out a position that jibes with my own. This is a response written to a piece by Pham Binh, which originally appeared on The North Star and was reposted on Kasama called "Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong."

Here is a portion of Mike Ely's article. Read the whole thing at Kasama.

Answer to Pham Binh: Our responsibility to oppose new U.S. crimes, by Mike Ely

Here is one of the most basic and important questions of any revolutionary movement: Do you support the government and this system or don’t you? Do you see what their interests are, and the criminal nature of their actions, or don’t you?

All my life, I have seen how in popular movements the most basic goals are controversial. In ironic ways, it has been controversial to be antiwar in the antiwar movement. It has been controversial to be communist in the communist movement.

So I’m not surprised that someone writes (for audiences of communists, revolutionaries, and socialists) that we should support the U.S. military in its previous attack on Libya, and then even urges pre-support for a not-yet-existent U.S. attack on Iran’s ally government in Syria.
(I  wonder: Is this argument the leftist pre-stage to supporting coming Israeli/U.S. attacks on Iran? And which of Pham’s arguments here can’t be applied there?)
Here is my view in a nutshell:
  • We should not support U.S. military attacks around the world. We should not support U.S. bases, fleets, drones, agents, trainers, commandos or nukes intruding into the lives of people around the world.
  • We should support the isolation, defeat and dismantling of the U.S. military (not its murderous deployment in the troubled spots of empire). “Yankee Go Home!”
  • We should politically expose this military, its purposes, its goals, and its nature — not portray it as a possible force for good.
  • We should not create public opinion for its next possible attacks in the next zone of civil conflicts.
  • We should create public opinion for the future political dismantling of the U.S. military as an institution (and for its systematic removal around the world, break up of its office corps, the destruction of its nukes, the trial and punishment of its leading war criminals). Where the Pentagon stands, we should hope for a salted field of the kind that surrounded ancient Carthage.
I would like to break down parts of Pham’s argument, piece by piece.
Starting with insult for your opponents

Pham  starts by saying
“Reflexive opposition to Uncle Sam’s machinations abroad is generally a good thing. It is a progressive instinct that….”
Since Pham then goes on to reject such opposition, it is worth noting that the phrasing here is loaded. Our opposition to U.S. imperialism is here described as “reflexive,” “instinct” and later as “a broken record.” At one point, he even compares us to dogs salivating on command.

His claim is that consistent opposition to U.S. imperialist actions is unnuanced, mechanical and unthinking, as if we don’t consider specific circumstances, and are just on autopilot following raw gut feelings. And then his own analysis is purported to be, by contrast, thoughtful and engaged with reality.

I think these characterizations are as mistaken as they are rude.
Is it counterrevolutionary to oppose U.S. imperialism?

Pham writes:
“The moment the Syrian and Libyan revolutions demanded imperialist airstrikes and arms to neutralize the military advantage enjoyed by governments over revolutionary peoples, anti-interventionism became counter-revolutionary because it meant opposing aid to the revolution.”
This jumbles everything up.
First, supporting the U.S. government (from here within the U.S.) is counterrevolutionary, because we intend to make a revolution against them.

One of the key tasks of any revolutionary movement is to systematically expose the core institutions, figures and interests that define the existing system. It is an inflexible task. Any movement that is not clear on that cannot and will not ever train forces to make a revolution.

There may be rebellions against established governments in Syria and Libya, and this-or-that group may make tactical decisions of various kinds. But their choice hardly define (for us) what we should say or do in regard to this empire and its military.

We obviously can’t control what political forces do in Libya or Syria (and we are hardly in a position to advise them). But I can tell you that regardless of what anyone says, anywhere in the world, we will oppose U.S. imperialism.

When the German revolutionaries said during World War 1 “The main enemy is here in our own country,” they were saying that their political exposure and activity had to be aimed at the German imperialists –  at the German justifications of war aims, at the German government’s pretenses of democracy and anti-autocracy etc. Why? Because they (the communist revolutionaries in Germany) intended to mobilize forces to overthrow the German Kaiser and the capitalist system in Germany.
People in other countries (say in Russia, or France during World War 1) had other tasks — because (obviously) if a Russian socialist focused mainly on exposing German imperialism’s oppressive nature it would (objectively, in the real world of politics) mean encouraging the Russian war effort and strengthening the Russian Tsar.

We (in our time and place) have a special and distinct task in regard to U.S. imperialism. We are in the belly of this beast, in the heart of the empire — and the demagogic lies of the U.S. government have an especially great influence among the people.

Here in the U.S., too many people believe “The U.S. might not always be good, but it is certainly better than a Saddam, or an Assad, or a Gaddafi, or a Brezhnev, or…..” When the Hillaries and Reagans of this government portray the U.S. as a force for good, and for “democracy,” and for ending torture, and for popular sovereignty of distant peoples, we have a special and ongoing responsibility to expose all that.

There may be times when revolutionaries in distant places may find themselves in tactical alliances with reactionary powers. Mao Zedong in China and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam took aid from the U.S. in WW2. The Vietnamese took aid from the USSR during their struggle for independence…
But again no decision by anyone anywhere should lead revolutionaries in the U.S. to ally with U.S. imperialism. And history is rich with examples of those who flirted with such pro-imperialist tactics, and the terrible consequences of that.

The illusion that the U.S. military might help the revolution
Pham assumes that the U.S. military intervention is somehow aid for revolutions in Libya and Syria.  This is perhaps the key issue (and key illusion) to discuss  (and I will open that issue here without dealing with it in great depth).

But here is the core reality to confront: The U.S. military is the single largest force of murder and oppression in world history. Its very purpose (its nature and its conscious goal) is to serve, defend and extend U.S. imperialism. When this massive and brutal military enters anywhere, that is done to extend U.S. power (and serve the larger purposes of U.S. state policy and capitalist interests).
Sometimes the U.S. fails in its policy goals. Sometimes its military actions bog down in failure and defeat (thank gawd). But their purpose and intent is always to deepen the U.S. grip on key and strategic parts of the world, to prevent genuine revolution, prevent the rise of non-revolutionary but anti-U.S. forces, to co-opt and intimidate diverse political forces, to force intrusion of U.S. economic interests and so on.

The military entrance of the U.S. imperialists is (objectively and inevitably) the intrusion of American interests and power — and (especially in fragile, undefined and chaotic political situations) they intentionally skew and transform the entire situation.

They encourage pro-U.S. puppet forces to emerge, they corrupt and compromise those who were not previously inclined that way, they attach threads to everything (including debts, trainers, etc) as political-military forces on the ground become dependent (for their day to day survival) on imperialist actions (and therefore inevitably obedient to imperialist demands, or even hints).
We oppose all of that.

We do not want the U.S. empire strengthened. We do not want the U.S. to have a say in who emerges in Syria or Libya or Iran. We do not want them to be able to mascarade as defenders of popular aspirations anywhere.

We need to oppose their practical efforts and politically expose their nature (to anyone we can reach)....

For a decade, the U.S. has been on a rampage (unprecedented since Hitler attacked his neighbors one by one in the late 1930s). This U.S. “war on the world” has focused on the wide swathe of countries from North Africa to Central Asia: Afghanistan, Iraq, Western Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, now potentially Syria and Iran. This is all part of a single global strategy that emerged from 9/11 — where Bush and Obama policies have a great deal of overlap.

Do we really need to train the people to look at each of these cases, one by one, and ponder afresh “Is this one good for the people there?”

We should (and do) support popular uprisings against oppressive governments (including in China, Iran, Syria, Libya, Greece, Egypt, etc. etc.) but we should be firm, strategic and consistent in our opposition to U.S. imperialism. (That is our special responsibility for reasons having to do with both our position in the world and our particular task within world history.)...

We are revolutionaries and communists in the belly of the beast. We are people with serious responsibilities and serious intentions.

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