Above: about as “anti- imperialist”-foolish as you can get: Rees, Murray and Galloway
By Camilla Bassi
‘The Anti-Imperialism of Fools’
The day after 9/11 I attended a local Socialist Alliance committee meeting in Sheffield, England, as a representative of the revolutionary socialist organisation, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) comrades present discussed the 9/11 attack as regrettable in terms of the loss of life but as nonetheless understandable.They acknowledged the attack as tactically misguided, yet refused (when pressed to do so) to condemn it. Later, in November 2001, at a public meeting of the Sheffield Socialist Alliance, I shared a platform with a then national committee member of the SWP to debate the US and UK war in Afghanistan. Besides from agreeing on opposition to the imperialist war onslaught, I was alone on the platform in raising opposition to the Islamist Taliban rule and in arguing for labour movement solidarity with forces such as the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which resist both imperialism and Islamism and demand a rogressive, democratic secular alternative.
The SWP comrades present, both on the platform and from the floor, alleged a political error on my part and those who argued along with me. Their rationale was that, to fully oppose the War on Terror, we had a duty to oppose the main enemy and greater evil – US and UK imperialism – and this alone. Anything else, they argued, would alienate the masses of disillusioned, angry British Muslim youth that socialists needed to win over.
The SWP’s dual camp of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ (a socialistic inversion of imperialist war discourse of ‘the status quo versus regression’) came to dominate England’s anti-war movement. They publicly launched their initiative the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten days after 9/11, with the aim of mobilising a broad political grouping against the War on Terror.
Since then the SWP vanguard of the StWC has, at critical moments, steered the political course that England’s anti-war protests have taken. Read the rest of this entry »
Marxism and imperialism
Lenin’s theory has been turned into dogma
By Martin Thomas
(First published in 1996)
We are not a government party; we are the party of irreconcilable opposition…. Our tasks… we realize not through the medium of bourgeois governments… but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow. Such a ‘defence’ cannot give immediate miraculous results. But we do not even pretend to be miracle workers. As things stand, we are a revolutionary minority. Our work must be directed so that the workers on whom we have influence should correctly appraise events, not permit themselves to be caught unawares, and prepare the general sentiment of their own class for the revolutionary solution of the tasks confronting us.
By the end of the ’60s, what had once been ‘the pride’ of Marxism – the theory of imperialism – had become a ‘Tower of Babel’, in which not even Marxists knew any longer how to find their way.
Giovanni Arrighi 
There is not, nor can there be, such a thing as a ‘negative’ Social-Democratic slogan that serves only to ‘sharpen proletarian consciousness against imperialism’ without at the same time offering a positive answer to the question of how Social-Democracy will solve the problem when it assumes power. A ‘negative’ slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not sharpen, but dull, consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase, meaningless declamation.
V I Lenin 
If European capitalism needed colonies in the first half of this century, why has it not collapsed without them in the second half? If early 20th century imperialism marked ‘the highest stage of capitalism’, the ‘epoch of capitalist decay’ – as revolutionary Marxists wrote at the time – what is the late 20th century?
To answer these questions we must first clear away much confusion. Though Lenin’s famous pamphlet on imperialism is one of the finest polemics in the whole of Marxist politics, the ‘Leninist orthodoxy’ which made it, or rather a garbled version of it, into the master-textbook of twentieth-century world politics and economics has confused rather than clarified. The concepts of ‘export of capital’, ‘finance capital’, or ‘monopoly capital’ as the essence of the matter are – so I shall argue – neither special theoretical innovations of Lenin, nor adequate keys for an understanding of imperialism in a broader view of history.
Imperialism and high finance: Kautsky builds on Engels to answer Bernstein
Maybe the first big classical-Marxist statement on imperialism was by Karl Kautsky, in 1899, replying to Eduard Bernstein’s call for a ‘Revision’ of the perspective of Marx and Engels.
In the 1890s Engels had identified monopolies, cartels, credit and high finance as expressions that classic individual capitalism was decaying and becoming ‘socialistic’, but in an upside-down way which sharpened plunder, swindling, and crises. Colonialism was a profit-making venture of the new financial aristocracy. 
Bernstein argued, on the contrary, that the new trends made capitalism more open to peaceful and piecemeal progress. Credit gave the system more flexibility. Industrial cartels (associations of companies bound together by agreements on production levels, prices and sales) gave the capitalists more conscious control. They could avoid overproduction by mutual agreement. The growth of the world market, and improvements in communications and transport, also made the system more flexible. Capitalism could probably postpone ‘general commercial crises’ for a long time.
Bernstein criticised the way the German government pursued its imperialist policy, but argued that the trend was towards peace and harmony between nations. ‘The workman who has equal rights as a voter… who… is a fellow owner of the common property of the nation, whose children the community educates, whose health it protects, whom it secures against injury, has a fatherland…’, and so should oppose Germany being ‘repressed in the council of the nations’. Moreover: ‘Onlya conditional right of savages to the land occupied by them can be recognised. The higher civilisation ultimately can claim a higher right.'
Bernstein’s scenario of peace and free trade was an illusion, replied Kautsky. ‘Protective tariffs are easier introduced than abolished, especially in a period of such raging competition on the world market… Free trade! For the capitalists that is an ideal of the past.’ Bernstein claimed that speculation was a disease of capitalism’s infancy. But infant capitalism was being promoted across the world by the ‘overflowing capitals of the older countries… Argentinian and Transvaal speculation holds its ‘wildest orgies’ not only in Buenos Aires and Johannesburg, but equally in the venerable City of London.’
And colonialism, Kautsky insisted, was inseparable from militarism and the despoiling of colonial peoples for the benefit of ‘the modern kings of finance [who] dominate nations directly through cartels and trusts and subject all production to their power’. 
‘The financier,’ Kautsky went on to argue, ‘finds militarism and a strong active governmental policy, both external and internal, very agreeable. The kings of finance need not fear a strong governmental power, independent of people and Parliament, because they can rule such a power directly either as bondholders [i.e., as people who lend money to the government], or else through personal and social influences. In militarism, war and public debts they have a direct interest, not only as creditors, but also as government contractors…
‘It is wholly different with industrial capital. Militarism, war and public debts signify high taxes… War signifies besides this… a break in trade… A strong governmental power arouses anxiety in [the industrial manager] because he cannot directly control it… he inclines rather to liberalism… [But] The opposition between finance and industry continually decreases… finance ever more and more dominates industry.'
Much of Kautsky’s argument was a Marxist conversion of ideas which were to be summed up with great verve by the English radical liberal, J A Hobson, in a book motivated by the Boer War (Imperialism, 1902).
‘The Imperialism of the last three decades,’ wrote Hobson, ‘is clearly condemned as a business policy, in that at enormous expense it has procured a small, bad, unsafe increase of markets, and has jeopardised the entire wealth of the nation in rousing the strong resentment of other nations.’ But imperialism continued because, ‘the business interests of the nation as a whole are subordinated to those of certain sectional interests.’
Arms contractors, some exporters, the shipping trade, the military, and those who wanted jobs for their sons in the Indian Civil Service, all had an interest in imperialism. But ‘the governor of the imperial engine’ was ‘the great financial houses’, which were investing abroad at such a rate.
‘The economic taproot of Imperialism’ was overproduction and glut of capital. ‘Messrs Rockefeller, Pierpoint Morgan [etc.] need Imperialism because they desire to use the public resources of their country to find profitable employment for the capital which would otherwise be superfluous.’
Imperialism was also parasitic. ‘To a larger extent every year Great Britain is becoming a nation living upon tribute from abroad, and the classes who enjoy this tribute have an ever-increasing incentive to employ the public policy, the public purse and the public force to extend the field of their private investments, and to safeguard and improve their existing investments. This is, perhaps, the most important fact in modern politics.'
The overproduction and glut were due to inequality of income. The workers could not consume much because of low wages; the capitalists could not possibly use all of their huge incomes on luxuries, and thus had vast amounts left seeking investment. Balance should be restored through social reform, higher wages, more spending on public services. This would lead to more balanced national economies and less searching for markets abroad.
Kautsky saw a similar permanent glut. ‘If the capitalist mode of production raises the mass production of goods to the utmost, it also limits to a minimum the mass consumption of the workers who produce these goods, and therefore produces an ever greater surplus of goods for personal consumption…' He differed from Hobson in arguing that this glut would be resolved by the collapse of capitalism and the socialist revolution, rather than by ‘social reform’, and in contending that finance-capital dominated, rather than being only a ‘sectional interest’ counterposed to ‘the business interests of the nation as a whole’.
Another difference was that Hobson used the word ‘imperialism’, where the German Marxists at this stage would use a term like ‘world policy’. ‘Imperialism’ was not special Marxist jargon: on the contrary. The Marxists took over the term from the common usage of British bourgeois politics – where some, like Rosebery, called themselves ‘Liberal Imperialists’, others, like Hobson, anti-imperialists. They used it in the same sense as common usage – the new aggressive colonial and world-economic policy of the big powers – and sought to uncover its economic roots in the rise of high finance.
Many of the core ideas of the whole literature were already expressed by 1902: militarism, colony-grabbing, conflict and an authoritarian state as the political trends; high finance, economic decadence and glut, and export of capital, as the economic underpinnings.
But what exactly was finance capital? This question was never properly resolved. And the recurrent idea of metropolitan capitalism having become ‘glutted’ would also cause confusion.
Effective demand depends not only on consumption but also on investment; and, in fact, fluctuations in demand for investment goods are generally the prime movers in crises. Demand for those investment goods can soar while final consumption stagnates – and, vice versa, the run-up to a crisis is generally a period of unusually high working-class consumption but sagging investment.
‘Overproduction’ is not a permanent condition; capitalism constantly sheds overproduction through crises and then builds it up again. The relation between supply and demand for money-capital is determined by the tempo of self-expansion of capital. It is a relation between profits accumulated from past capitalist exploitation, and profits available from present capitalist exploitation. The spasmodic nature of capitalist development means that this supply-and-demand relation is constantly falling out of balance and generating ‘surpluses’ of money-capital. But those surpluses are a function of the cycle of boom and slump, not of any absolute level at which an economy becomes ‘full up’ of capital.
The notion of an absolute level after which a capitalist economy will become permanently ‘glutted’ and awash with surplus capital is a recurrent theme in mainstream economics, from Adam Smith to Keynes. It has been attractive to socialists because it seems to show that capitalism must inevitably break down. It is misleading.
The most famous World War One poets – Sassoon, Brook, Owen, Blunden and Binyon – were officers from the British middle and upper classes. Isaac Rosenberg (above) was different: he was from a working class background and, as his name suggests, was Jewish. He served in the ranks and turned down the opportunity to become a lance corporal.
Also unlike most of the better-known 1914-18 poets, he was critical of the war from the start, but enlisted in 1915 because he needed employment to support his mother.
He was killed on the Somme on 1 April 1918.
Break of Day in the Trenches
The darkness crumbles away
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies,
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver -what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.
The November 6 London Review of Books has published Patrick Cockburn’s latest article, ‘Whose Side is Turkey On?’. Now, as I support the struggle of the Syrian Kurds, led by the PYD and its armed militia, the YPG, against ISIS’ genocidal siege, I have no interest in defending Turkey’s shabby role in this, even if I think both the US and Turkey, in their current difference on this issue are both being totally cynical in their different ways. So this critique will not deal with these issues.
Unfortunately, the angle from which Cockburn criticises Turkey is full of the same contradictions that significant parts of the left espouse, basked in an overall hostility to the Syrian revolution. Valid criticism of Turkey’s sabotage of the defence of Kobani – connected to Turkey’s own oppression of its Kurdish minority – is mixed in with criticism of Turkey for allegedly wanting to help overthrow the Syrian tyranny of Bashar Assad. As if there were something wrong with wanting the overthrow of a tyrant who has burnt his whole country, sending 1.5 million Syrian refugees into Turkey.
Indeed, the fact that Turkey plays an otherwise positive role (for its own reasons which I can’t go into here) in allowing Syrian resistance fighters to cross the border is labelled “facilitating ISIS”, as if the Syrian rebellion has anything to do with ISIS, its vicious enemy. Don’t get me wrong – Turkey may well be facilitating ISIS around the Kurdish regions of the north-east for specifically anti-Kurdish regions, but that simply has nothing to with its *rightful* facilitation of the anti-Assad rebellion elsewhere.
Unless one held the view that only the Syrian Kurds had the right to resist massacre, torture, ethnic cleansing and so on. After all, the Syrian rebellion, based largely among the vast impoverished Sunni Arab majority, has faced a regime that makes ISIS’ tyranny appear amateurish in comparison, and considering how barbaric ISIS is, this is a big claim, yet one that is simply empirically true.
Indeed, and I digress a little here – not understanding that it is the Syrian and Iraqi Sunni Arab populations that have been bombed to pieces, ethnically cleansed, dispossessed physically, politically and in every other way, by both the American invasion of Iraq and the Assad regime’s burning of its whole country to keep a narrow mega-plutocracy in power, is one of the keys to the left’s misunderstanding of many of these issues. It is the Sunni Arab populations of both countries that have suffered a decade-long apocalypse, not, overall, the Shia, Alawites or Kurds.
Who arms “jihadis”?
Referring to the “coalition” that the US has built to confront ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Cockburn writes:
“When the bombing of Syria began in September, Obama announced with pride that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey were all joining the US as military partners against Isis. But, as the Americans knew, these were all Sunni states which had played a central role in fostering the jihadis in Syria and Iraq.”
Ah, no, they didn’t actually. And just because Cockburn continues to make that assertion, always evidence-free, doesn’t make a non-fact a fact. Actually, only less than 5 percent of ISIS funds came from outside donations at all, and of that, what came from the Gulf certainly didn’t come from the regimes (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/06/23/231223/records-show-how-iraqi-extremists.html?sp=/99/117/). Read the rest of this entry »
By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)
A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.
The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.
So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.
But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.
And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.
The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.
And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.
The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.
Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.
The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.
It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.
All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.
The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.
It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).
But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.
“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.
Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.
Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.
“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…
“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…
“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).
The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.
On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.
The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.
The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.
Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.
As ever, with a reblogged article, please do not assume that all of us at Shiraz agree with all the contents of this piece, which first appeared on the Australian GreenLeft discussion group:
Above: the US Answer anti-war coalition last year on Syria: what do they say now?
“Anti-imperialists” protesting US war on Iraq?
By Michael Karadjis
For days now, the US military has been launching air strikes against the reactionary Sunni-fascist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS, or just IS now) in Iraq. Yet, strangely, not only have I not seen any evidence of anti-war demonstrations, or organising for them, I have also not seen the entire faux-“left” cybersphere full of fulminating attacks on US imperialist intervention, with everyone repeating and slightly re-wording the same half-baked, evidence-free article, like we saw last August during the alleged build-up to an entirely imaginary US attack on the reactionary, secular-fascist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
The geopolitics is of course interesting. While the Syrian regime of Assad barely fired a shot at ISIS for an entire year (and vice versa), and instead both focused on crushing the Free Syrian Army (FSA, and its more moderate Islamist allies, and also Jabhat al-Nusra), often even directly and blatantly collaborating against the FSA, and in oil deals, and “the West”, forever refusing to send even a bullet to the FSA under the bullshit rubric that such arms “might get into the hands of extremists”, even though for the whole year, the only force in the entire region (apart from the Kurds) that were actually fighting ISIS (the worst extremists) were the FSA and its allies (and indeed are still furiously resisting ISIS in Syria right now); well now that the US is bombing ISIS, and bolstering and arming Assad’s ally, the sectarian-Shia regime of Maliki, so now the Assad regime and ISIS have also FINALLY come to blows! What an amazing coincidence!
Anyway, let’s try to figure out some differences for anti-war western leftists.
Perhaps we should only oppose US interventions when they are just a figment of our imaginations, as opposed to ones that are actually happening in our face.
Perhaps we should only oppose imaginary US interventions when the US shows that it is impossible to intervene without going around in a whole lot of circles like countless committee meetings, taking a war proposal to Congress for the first time in half a century etc, whereas when the US shows that you can order air strikes without all that pretense, then it is OK.
Perhaps it should depend on the degree of imaginary “anti-imperialism” of the reactionary tyrants under real or imaginary US attack. So apparently, since the Syrian Baath regime has collaborated with US imperialism for decades, right up to the rendition and torture program of “terror” suspects on behalf of the US in very recent times, and slaughtered Palestinians and their camps and organisations and militants with a passion rivalling the Zionist regime, we should defend such a well-intentioned regime, whereas a regime like ISIS which is totally, fundamentally anti-imperialist to the core (I don’t use that as a compliment, rather it is a neutral statement), then we should not oppose a US attack.
Perhaps we should look at who has done the most slaughtering. Both of course are monstrous tyrants to the core and neither has any redeeming feature whatsoever. But since ISIS has probably killed several thousand, and Assad has pretty much levelled every city in Syria, turned the whole country to rubble, killed over 100,000 people to be generous, tortured tens of thousands to death in medieval dungeons, bombed hospitals and schools with a fury rivalling Israel in Gaza, and at that very time, last August, had bombed hundreds of children in their sleep with chemical weapons, of course we should defend only Assad, not ISIS.
Perhaps someone could offer some other suggestions.
This is part one of a brilliant 1964 BBC series on WW1. It contains the best archive film then available, and is narrated by Michael Redgrave. It gives due emphasis to the socio-political background to the conflict, including the role of the labour movement. Well worth watching the whole series if you have the time:
H/t James Bloodworth
Coatesy has some interesting stuff on France’s entry to WW1 here
[Please note that I shall be incommunicado for the next week or so. I’m hoping Rosie and/or one or two other occasional Shirazers will step into the breach while I’m away, but if not normal service will resume on my return – JD]
By Dale Street (first published by Workers Liberty)
Sam Williams has written 16,000 words to claim that Russia is not imperialist, even when its tanks are rolling through other nations.
He describes the old Stalinist states “the former socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” In those days there was “no true Soviet imperialism”, claims Williams, because “wealth was not accumulated in the form of capital, and therefore not in the form of finance capital — there was not a single kopeck of finance capital.” Any other view is down to “imperialist Western propaganda and its bought and paid-for historians.”
And Russia retains its non-imperialism even after it has unambiguously reverted to capitalism. “Has the military-feudal imperialism of pre-1917 Russia been restored?” asks Williams. No, it’s not feudal. (But it was not the feudal residues in Tsarist Russia which made Marxists of the time classify it as imperialist. It was its domination and exploitation of other nations).
“What about a modernised Russian imperialism based on the rule of monopoly capitalism and finance capital?” He rejects this argument as well: Russia is “very poor in finance capital. … (Therefore) today’s Russia is very far indeed from becoming an imperialist country.”
This is really just a re-run of Williams’s denial of Stalinist imperialism. There was no finance capital in Stalin’s USSR, and therefore no Stalinist imperialism. Today’s Russia is “very poor” in finance capital, and therefore there is no Russian imperialism.
However, Williams’s equation of “imperialist” with “rich in finance capital” obliges him to classify Taiwan, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and New Zealand as imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »
Ernest Mandel once proposed that World War Two should be seen as, simultaneously, an inter-imperialist dispute and an anti-fascist struggle. The two elements are difficult to disentangle, even in retrospect, but both should be recognised and, insofar as we can, distinguished between. D-Day was, I’d contend, indubitably part of the anti-fascist struggle. The young workers who fought and died then, and the dwindling band of elderly survivors, deserve our profound respect and gratitude.
Max Hastings (yes, I know he’s a Tory, but he’s also a damned good military historian), wrote in his superb book on WW2, All Hell Let Loose (Harper Press 2011):
Meticulous planning and immense armaments promised Overlord‘s success, but the hazards of weather and the skill of the German army fed apprehension in many British and American breasts. The consequences of failure must be appalling: civilian morale would plummet on both sides of the Atlantic; senior commanders would have to be sacked and replaced; the presige of the Western Allies, so long derided by Stalin for feebleness, would be grievously injured, likewise the authority of Roosevelt and Churchill. Even after three year’s attrition in the east, the German army remained a formidable fighting force. It was vital that Eisenhower should confront von Rundstedt’s sixty divisions in the west with superior combat power. Yet the invaders were supported by such a vast logistical and support ‘tail’ that, even when they reached their maximum strength in 1945, they would deploy only sixty American and twenty British and Canadian combat divisions. Air power, together with massive armoured and artillery strength, was called upon to compensate for inadequate infantry numbers.
For the young men who made the assault on 6 June 1944, however, such grand truths meant nothing: they recognised only the mortal peril each one must face, to breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The invasion began with drops by one British and two American airborne divisions on the night of5 June. The landings were chaotic but achieved their objectives, confusing the Germans and securing the flanks of the assault zone; paratroopers engaged enemy forces wherever they encountered them with an energy worthy of such elite formations.
Sgt. Mickey McCallum never forgot his first firefight, a few hours after landing. A German machine-gunner mortally wounded the man next to him, Private Bill Atlee. McCullum asked Attlee ‘if he was hit bad’. The soldier replied, ‘I’m dying Sergeant Mickey, but we’re going to win this damn war, aren’t we? You damn well A we are.’ McCallum did not know where Atlee hailed from, but thought his choice of words suggested an east coast man. He was passionately moved that this soldier, in his last moments, thought of the cause rather than himself. In the hours and days that followed, many other such young men displayed similar spirit and were obliged to make a matching sacrifice. At dawn on 6 June, six infantry divisions with supporting armour struck the beaches of Normandy across a thirty-mile front; one Canadian and two British formations landed on the left, three American divisions on the right.
Operation Overlord was the greatest combined operation in history. Some 5,300 ships carried 150,000 men and 1,500 tanks, scheduled to land in the first wave, supported by 12,000 aircraft. On the French coast that morning, a drama unfolded in three dimensions such as the world would never behold again, British and Canadian troops poured ashore at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, exploiting innovative armoured technology to overwhelm the defences, many of them manned by Osttruppen of Hitler’s empire. ‘I was the first tank coming ashore and the Germans started opening up with machine-gun bullets,’ said Canadian Sgt. Leo Gariepy. ‘But when we came to a halt on the beach, it was only then that they realized we were a tank when we pulled down our canvas skirt, the flotation gear. Then they saw we were Shermans.’ Private Jim Cartwright of the South Lancashires said, ‘As soon as I hit the beach I wanted to get away from the water. I think I went across the beach like a hare.’
The Americans seized Utah, the elbow of the Cherbourg peninsula, with only a small loss. ‘You know, it sounds kind of dumb, but it was just like an exercise,’ said a private soldier wonderingly. ‘We waded ashore like kids in a crocodile and up the beach. A couple of shells came over but nowhere near us. I think I even felt somehow disappointed, a little let down.’ Further east at Omaha beach, however, Americans suffered the heaviest casualties of the day — more than eight hundred killed. The German defending unit , while no elite, was composed of better troops than those manning most of the Channel front, and kept up vigorous fire against the invaders. ‘No one was moving forward,’ wrote AP correspondent Don Whitehead. ‘Wounded men, drenched by cold water, lay in the gravel … “Oh God, lemme aboard the boat,” whimpered a youth in semi-delirium. Near him a shivering boy dug with bare fingers into the sand. Shells were bursting on all sides of us, some so close that they threw black water and dirt over us in showers.’
A private soldier wrote: ‘ There were men crying with fear, men defecating themselves. I lay there with some others, too petrified to move. No one was doing anything except lay there. It was like mass paralysis. I couldn’t see an officer. At one point something hit me on the arm. I thought I’d taken a bullet. It was somebody’s hand, taken clean off by something. It was too much.’ For half the morning, the Omaha assault hung on the edge of failure; only after several hours of apparent stalemate on the sands did small groups of determined men, Rangers notable among them, work their way up the bluffs above the sea, gradually overwhelming the defenders.
Statement from the AWL. This is important in view of the willingness, on the more ignorant sections of the neo-Stalinist left, to go along with Putin’s monstrous, hypocritical “anti-fascist” justification for Russian imperialism:
Accounts vary of the clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalist groups in Odessa on 3 May, in which some 42 people were killed.
Some people say it started with an attack by militarised Russian and pro-Russian far-rightists on a peaceful Ukrainian nationalist demonstration. After that, “ultras” among the Ukrainian nationalists set out for the building where the pro-Russians had their headquarters.
Some say that it was a planned assault by far-right Ukrainian nationalists on pro-Russians who did no more than defend themselves.
Yet others suggest conspiracies. Maybe the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists and the far-right pro-Russians have a common interest in fomenting bloodshed which will irreparably split Ukraine. If it leads to the east being annexed by Russia, then the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists will have a better chance of influence in a rump Ukraine than if it stays united.
Maybe, so Ukrainian leftist Volodymyr Ishchenko suggests, “one of the reasons why all these protests in the Eastern Ukraine started now, and why they are so violent, is actually to halt the national elections in May — to postpone them and give [Yulia] Tymoshenko some time to gain more popularity among Ukrainians”.
Tymoshenko is way behind in the polls. Her pitch is Ukrainian nationalist. But she is also known to have had, and may still have, good relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Putin certainly wants to sabotage Ukraine’s presidential election due on 25 May. Maybe he also looks forward to a later election when Tymoshenko can win and then do a deal with Moscow.
None of the stories give any special trade-union significance to the fact that the building which the Ukrainian nationalists stormed was the trade-union headquarters in Odessa. It appears in all stories just as the big public building in the city (built in a time when the “trade unions” were just departments of the state administration) where the pro-Russians happened to have gathered.
Some structural facts, however, are evidenced enough to be clear even at a distance.
The local coups in the cities of east Ukraine are not just external Russian interference. There is little evidence of active popular resistance to them, for example by workers in the public buildings which have been seized.
We would, anyway, expect a base for pro-Russian sentiment. A large minority of the population, over 30% in some areas, is Russian. The cities are more Russian than the countryside. The east has voted more pro-Russian, in independent Ukraine’s elections, than the west.
The new Kiev government is distrusted everywhere, but more so in the east. People in eastern Ukraine will be reluctant to resist the pro-Russian coups not just out of fear, but also out of a wish to avoid supporting the new Kiev government, and a lack of any strong third alternative.
There are no reports of the local coups raising social demands, but it is plausible that some support accrues to them because of the social concerns of people in eastern Ukraine, worried that its old heavy industry will decline fast if Ukraine is more integrated into the world market.
The local coups also show evidence of being decisively shaped and led by people closely linked to the Russian government. They did not well up from mass protests about social or regional or language-group concerns, but started straight off with seizures of public buildings by armed groups.
The issue is not Russian-majority pockets near the Russian border, and a call for adjustment of the border. Putin has staked a claim to the whole of Novorossiya, which is a vast area of south and east Ukraine. Despite all the diversity within Ukraine, it has been a historically-defined nation for a long time. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is the central issue here, and can and must be defended without endorsing the ideas, or all the actions, of Ukrainian nationalists.
The Kiev government has put new laws for regional autonomy to the parliament, and promised to uphold the laws for Russian language rights introduced by Yanukovych, but in the east people seem to distrust the government that these measures change little.
Russia’s aim is to establish de facto control in the east so as to give Russia more options. Putin’s preference, probably, will be for a deal in which he agrees to reverse the local coups in return for strong influence over all Ukraine. Immediately, he wants obstruct and discredit the Ukrainian elections on 25 May and prevent a Kiev government gaining authority.
Volodymyr Ishchenko points out that “you have to understand that the political mainstream in the Ukraine is much further to the right than, for example, in Western Europe. Things which would receive very strong criticism in the West are more or less tolerable in the Ukraine. It’s more or less okay to talk about things like ‘the defense of white European people’; this kind of thing can even be said by mainstream politicians. It’s okay to be homophobic, not to recognize any need to defend LGBT people… The Right Sector and Svoboda [the Ukrainian-nationalist ‘ultras’] are being criticized because their violent and provocative actions are seen as something that can be used by Russia” [i.e. not really out of a leftish revulsion at their far-right bias].
This rightward tilt of the political spectrum is at least as true of eastern Ukraine as of western Ukraine. There are many reports of strong far-right forces within the pro-Russian coup-makers.
We cannot orient ourselves here by asking which side seems less right-wing, and especially not by taking Stalinist nostalgia as evidence of good left-wing resistance to right-wing Ukrainian nationalism. We can orient only by the fundamentals: Ukraine’s right to self-determination.
The Kiev government is in an impasse. It cannot mobilise the population of east Ukraine against the coup-makers. It cannot send in the Ukrainian army full-force, because that would rally people against it and open the way for a Russian invasion “to restore order”. Equally, it would like to be able to prevent the local referendums scheduled in some districts in east Ukraine for 11 May, on propositions as yet unclear, but amounting to some sort of secession. It remembers the Crimea referendum on which those gambits are modelled. It will condemn the new referendums as undemocratic, like the Crimea referendum, and it will be right, but that won’t help it gain a grip in the east.
So it tries an ineffectual middle way, moving against the coup-makers, but mildly and tentatively.
The US and the EU side with the Kiev government, but see no overriding interest in Ukraine, and (especially the EU) fear the effect on their own economies of even sharp economic sanctions against Russia. So Putin, sees Ukraine as a vital issue for which he will take risks, has the upper hand.
A way out of the impasse will require the Ukrainian left to mobilise Ukrainian workers, west and east, on socialist demands against the corruption and oligarchic inequality which people both east and west name as their main concern. Those socialist demands will be integrated with a democratic programme of national self-determination for Ukraine and full minority rights for Russians within Ukraine.
At present, though, the Ukrainian left is weak. As well as helping it as much as we can, we must also support the national self-determination of the whole Ukrainian people against Russia’s moves to grab territory, tacitly threaten invasion, and seek decisive influence over the whole country.