Above: Seumas (right) and his hero
Cross-posted from Paul Canning‘s blog (17 July 2015):
|#MH17 victims of #RussiaInvadedUkraine Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin|
A year ago today hundreds of Western bodies tumbled out of the sky in the middle of a European war zone.
Nobody predicted the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 but with hindsight they could have. The war in Eastern Ukraine was at a turning point. Despite a corrupt and crumbling army and 92 thrown together groups of ragtag militia, the Ukrainians were turning the tide on the rebels.
But if it was not obvious that the exact same ‘little green men’ scenario played out in Crimea was being played out in the Donbas it should have by the time that the first planes started getting shot down. The fighter jets started going down and then the high flying transport planes.
Those transport planes were being shot down by some very sophisticated weapons, ones that took a lot of coordination and a lot of training to operate. They did not, to turn around Putin’s joking phrase, from when he was still pretending that those in Crimea were ‘local volunteers’, ‘come from a shop’.
We now know thanks in large part to the work of one British man, Eliot Higgins, almost beyond all reasonable doubt, that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile system. This means a Russian crew, precisely because of the training required to operate such a system and Higgins just said that his Bellingcat team now have Russian names and have provided them to the official investigators, the Dutch Safety Board, where he is an official witness.
How could they know Russian names? Because those Russians posted the evidence themselves, on social media. After the jump watch the film by Vice News’ Simon Ostrovsky where he follows up on evidence gathered by Higgins of one Russian soldier’s presence on the Donbas battle fields. Ostrovsky finds the exact same spots where one soldier took his selfies. That soldier was from Buryatia, a Russian region whose people are Mongols. Hence the soldier got noticed in Eastern Ukraine.
After MH17 the tide turned back and the rebels with their Russian ‘volunteer professional assistants’ ensured that the war did not end last August but carried on, as it still does today, Minsk ‘peace’ or no ‘peace’.
10% of Ukraine lost, 6000 dead and over 2 million displaced.
Russia has come up with five, to date, explanations for MH17, none blaming themselves of course and some out of science fiction. One by the Defence Ministry is described by Bellingcat as Russia’s “Colin Powell moment”.
That moment when the former American Secretary of State went before the UN Security Council to argue for war on Iraq has become a poster for Russia’s lavishly funded international propaganda TV network RT. You may have seen it on the Washington Metro or on London’s Tube. But just as the West tolerates RT so does Western media have ‘balance’ and thus MH17 will remain ‘he said, she said’ until the official report comes out in three months time.
That ‘balance’ and essential fairness which underpins our Western societies is used against us by Russia. Their security services and their ‘political technocrats’ know full well that with something like MH17 they can muddy the waters enough that many in the West won’t blame Russia. They can somehow wriggle out of this.
The FSB and the Kremlin will find willing partners on both the left and the right but they will also find unwitting ones like journalists. Journalists such as one Mike Kelly writing today for the Newcastle Chronicle. (Newcastle is where two of the British victims hail from.) Kelly presents MH17 as a tale of ‘versions’ and he condemns the ‘squabbling’ over whodunnit, comparing this notion of his with the ‘quiet dignity’ of today’s memorials.
Putin could not have said it better – in fact he has said it with his talk of the politicisation of the MH17 inquiry. But just as climate change is not about ‘sides’ of equal veracity neither is MH17, to say otherwise is to damn the whole profession of investigative journalism and to sign up to the Russian propaganda meme of there being no such thing as the truth! And it is no service to the victims’ loved ones to pretend otherwise.
Tomorrow Ukraine will disappear from people’s radar but come October we know what the Dutch report will say. Not because we are arrogant but because others have done the hard work.
Even when we then have a Russian war crime spelt out in black and white I predict we will still hear the siren voice of appeasement, from the left and from the right. Business will still go on and London palaces will still be bought with corrupt money.
- Others than Higgins have of course investigated. Two are James Miller and Michael Weiss and they have a long read at the Daily Beast spelling out how come we know Russia dunnit.
Watch Simon Ostrovsky’s astonishing report tracking down one Buryat soldier to one of Russia’s remotest regions:
On the 29th anniversary of the Sebrenica massacre/genocide, we re-publish this important critique of the role of much the international left towards the Bosnian war at the time. First published by Workers Liberty, June 2011:
31 March 2003: Relatives of some of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre search rows of coffins next to freshly-dug graves for loved ones
Ratko Mladic, who commanded Serb forces during the Bosnian war of 1992-5, was arrested on 26 May in a Serbian village, and will now face a war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.
In July 1995, two of the areas which the United Nations declared “safe havens” in the midst of a fierce war were overrun by Serb forces under Mladic’s command. In Zepa, some 200 lives were killed, and the bulk of the population of 40,000 fled.
In Srebrenica, over 8,000 civilians were massacred. In classifying the massacre as an act of genocide the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia outlined what happened:
“They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”
Srebrenica was only the most infamous of the atrocities by Serb forces in the Bosnian war. Like the wars conducted by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic in Croatia in 1991-5 and in Kosova in 1999, that war was an imperialist war in the most straightforward sense: a war by a dominant power to gain control over other nations, conducted without regard to the wishes or the lives of the subject peoples.
By now Milosevic’s wars have few defenders. Although many people in Serbia mourned Mladic’s arrest, Serbia’s government is in no danger of being toppled by protest against it handing over Mladic to The Hague. In Britain, even the Morning Star has reported the arrest in a manner suggesting neutrality or approval.
At the time, though — and the scandal should be remembered, and learned from — large chunks of the left betrayed the left’s basic values of consistent democracy and freedom for oppressed nations. Some sided with Mladic and Milosevic explicitly. Others, including the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), gave them backhanded support by way of a form of pro-imperialism posing as “anti-imperialist”. They claimed there was nothing to choose between the forces in conflict within Yugoslavia. The only “imperialist” thing, to be opposed with vigour, was the police actions against Serbia which NATO took to contain the conflict, in 1995 and in 1999. Thus they presented the Serbian state as not imperialistic, but the fighter against imperialism. Read the rest of this entry »
Lindsey German, Andrew Murray and members of ‘Workers Power’ at the last London meeting of Useful Idiots For Putin and His Fascist Friends
By Dale Street
In what is threatening to become an annual ritual, two conferences in solidarity with the Donetsk and Lugansk ‘People’s Republics’ (DPR/LPR) – one aimed at the far right, and one at the (Stalinist) ‘left’ – took place last month.
Last year two such conferences – one for the right, one for the ‘left’ – were staged by the same organisation (‘Novaya Rus’’) in the same hotel (Hotel Intourist) in the same place (Yalta) in a matter of weeks.
This left hapless organisations such as the British ‘Workers Power’ group trying to explain why they had teamed up with Russian chauvinists, Stalinists and homophobes in an event staged by an organisation which collaborated with fascists and the far right.
This year’s conferences were different. Although the rhetoric of the two conferences had much in common, they were not initiated by the same organisation.
The driving force behind the conference of the far right, held in Donetsk on 11th/12th May, was the French MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser. The conference had first been announced by Schaffhauser at a press conference held in March of this year.
Although never actually a member of the French National Front (FN), Schaffhauser has won local and Euro-elections as a candidate on FN slates.
He advocates lower business taxes, an anti-Muslim crackdown on multi-culturalism, workfare for the unemployed, and welfare benefits only for those who have lived in France “a long time” (code for: not immigrants).
Exploiting his longstanding links with Russian bankers and politicians, Schaffhauser played a central role in securing a loan for the FN from a Russian bank last September. Estimates of his commission on securing the loan – nearly 10 million euros – vary from 140,000 to 450,000 euros.
The three other speakers at Schaffhauser’s press conference – who also attended the Donetsk conference itself – were Manuel Ochsenreiter, Alessandro Musolino and Alain Fragny.
Ochsenreiter has a long record of involvement in German far-right politics. He is currently editor of the neo-Nazi magazine “Zuerst!”, which stands for “the preservation of German ethnic identity” and “the life and survival interests of the German people.”
The magazine attacks the legacy of denazification, carries interviews with the Russian fascist Alexander Dugin, and denounces “welfare immigrants” and “gypsy pickpockets”. Ochsenreiter also appears regularly on the pro-Putin “Russia Today” propaganda outlet.
Musolino is a prominent member of the right-wing Forza Italia party, originally founded by Silvio Berlusconi as a vehicle for his own personal political ambitions. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dale Street
“The fascists are not in Ukraine, they’re meeting here!”, “Nazis licking Putin’s ass, OMG!” and “We don’t need foreign fascists here, we’ve nowhere to put our own!” read protestors’ placards outside the St. Petersburg Holiday Inn on 22 March.
The hotel was hosting the “International Russian Conservative Forum”, organised by the “Russian National Cultural Centre, The People’s Home”, a flag of convenience for members of the Russian “Motherland” party (Russian-nationalist, far-right and pro-Putin).
Organisations which sent official delegations to the conference included Golden Dawn (Greece), Ataka (Bulgaria), the National-Democratic Party of Germany, Forza Nuova (Italy), the Danish People’s Party, the National-Democratic Party(Spain), Millenium (Italy), and the Party of the Swedes.
All of these organisations are either on the far right or overtly fascist.
The French National Front, the Austrian Freedom Party and the Serbian Radical Party were invited to attend but decided not to do so for tactical reasons: participating in a conference with openly neo-Nazi organisations would undermine their attempts to appear “respectable”.
Other attendees included Nick Griffin (ex-BNP, now British Unity Party), Jim Dowson (ex-BNP, then Britain First and Protestant Coalition), Nate Smith(Texas National Movement), and Jared Taylor and Sam Dickson (American white supremacists).
Russian politicians and political activists who attended the event included members of “Motherland”, Putin’s “United Russia”party, the Russian Imperial Movement, the National Liberation Movement (slogans: “Motherland! Freedom!Putin!”), Battle for Donbas, Novorossiya, and the “social and patriotic club” Stalingrad.
Alexander Kofman (“Foreign Minister” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic) pulled out of attending the conference at the last minute. But the Russian fascist Aleksei Milchakov, leader of the neo-Nazi Rusich brigade which has fought in the Donbas, made a point of turning up: “I’ve come direct from the front line, to make contact with European colleagues, to ensure that in Europe they know the truth about the Donbas, so that Europeans flood into Novorossiya (to fight), not into Ukraine.”
Summing up speakers’ contributions, one journalist wrote: “Overall, three things united the nationalists of the different countries: hatred of the US government, hatred of homosexuals, and hatred of the ‘Kiev junta’.”
All three themes were encapsulated in the contribution from Chris Roman, a Belgian active in the recently founded far-right “Alliance for Peace and Freedom” international federation: “In the West you’ll soon be able to marry a dog or a penguin. From the age of five children are taught how to play with themselves, and that it is normal to be gay.
“I support the Russian army, the Russian rebels. I don’t recognise the Kiev junta, a puppet of Wall Street. I don’t recognise the liberal Russian opposition, a fifth column. Politkovskaya, Nemtsov and Berezovsky are now all in hell.
“Crimea is Russian. Alaska is Russian. Kosovo is Serbian. Russia is our friend, and America our enemy. Glory to Russia! Glory to Novorossiya!”
The Russian government was not directly represented at the conference. But the composition, location and themes of the conference underline a growing alliance between Putin and the European far right.
The conference also exposed, yet again, the spurious nature of the Kremlin’s “anti-fascism” and the “anti-fascist struggle” of its puppet governments in Donetsk and Lugansk.
By Dmitri MacMillen
I have made little secret of my disappointment with much coverage and discussion of the ongoing developments in Ukraine this past year, but rarely more often so than when it is stirred by certain elements of the British left. Earlier this week I happened to see Seumas Milne, a Guardian editor and columnist, as well as a leading voice on the British left regarding capitalism and imperialism, at an event and thought it appropriate to approach him and confront him over his poor reporting on Ukraine; unfortunately, the opportunity did not arise. As an individual who sympathises with many of Milne’s and the left’s arguments, I find it disheartening when they fail to apply standards of moral consistency and objectivity for the likes of Ukraine and not only.
So I wrote him two emails of varying lengths, openly expressing my frustrations with his coverage of Ukraine, and also his chairing, days earlier, of a discussion featuring Putin at the Valdai conference. To a large degree, I can say that the impressions penned in these emails are an accurate summary of not only my dissatisfaction with Milne’s politics, but also that of swathes of the left (John Pilger comes to mind) in this country and others, who refuse to contemplate embracing anything other than a ‘tunnel vision’ disproportionately suspicious of the West and its allies, consequently producing material which regrettably falls short of balanced and well-researched journalism. The correspondence is as follows:
Dear Seumas Milne,
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dmitri and I am a student at a London university. I was also present at the event last night at the Argentine embassy, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak to you as I would have hoped to.
There is much that I admire about your work and writings, in particular that what you have written regarding the War on Terror, Palestine and the effects of capitalism in this country. However, and to be frank, I have begun to despair of your writing of late.
As a matter of disclosure, I am a Russian citizen, and one appalled by the events for over the past half year in Ukraine, to a very large extent instigated by my own government. Your writing on Ukraine has been unimpressive to put it mildly, almost entirely pinning the blame for the conflict on the West (funnily enough, not a word from you about Russia’s own devastating intentions and actions – just mere apologism) as well as propagating the notion of swathes of fascists and neo-Nazis roaming in the Ukrainian establishment and society; the absurdity of your latter thesis was effectively laid to rest by the results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections and the nature of their conduct.
As someone whose reputation as a campaigner and journalist is to a large extent seen as having been consistently grounded on anti-imperialism, to see you sharing a stage with Vladimir Putin just days ago was bewildering, if not exactly surprising by now. If you are serious on seeking out the dangerous forces of fascism, I politely advise you to reread a transcript of Putin’s Q and A session at the session you moderated and look at his comments regarding ethnic Russians in Crimea, just for a start. If this does not incite concern in you, then that is unfortunate and equally inconsistent.
You are a powerful voice on the left and one which many read and look up to. You are a writer of considerable talents and one whose campaigning I have often admired. However, if moral consistency across the board is not something you wish to strive for, and your politics are really defined by an innate suspicion of the West, but not the rest, then so be it. If you want to exclusively judge the likes of Ukraine on the basis of a pre-conceived world view, rather than carefully examining the country’s own circumstances, then so be it. But that is a tunnel vision, and it is rarely worthy of wider respect. And I, alongside many other erstwhile enthusiastic readers of yours, deeply regret that.
A courteous reply promptly ensued, the exact contents of which I shall not publish here but instead paraphrase. In brief, Milne said he disagreed with my interpretation regarding responsibility for the events in Ukraine over the past year as well as my criticism of his portrayal of the far right’s significance. He added that moderating Putin’s speech in no way constituted endorsement of him, given that journalists are often asked to fulfil such a role. He did not accept that his politics are innately anti-Western, but underlined the imbalance in power between the West and its allies and that of powers such Russia and others in world affairs. I followed up with a reply.
Dear Seumas Milne,
Thank you for courteous reply, for which I am grateful considering how harsh some of what I may have said did sound. I hope you don’t mind if I make a few points regarding the aforementioned.
Regarding the far right in Ukraine, I in no way dismiss it. I am of direct Ukrainian Jewish descent and my family have had their own experiences with Ukrainian nationalism, so I am more than aware and also wary of its potential dangers.
But the role of the far right in Ukraine, as you and others have put it, as it now stands, is too often exaggerated and overblown. You may insist otherwise, but the impression that many gathered from your readings was that Maidan was effectively a fascist coup (and no, I do not subscribe to the comfortable and simple narrative of a pro-Western, pro-democratic revolt against Russia). Maidan was complex, as were its origins – there is no straightforward interpretation. The nature of Ukrainian nationalism and the far right is also fairly complex and deserves scrutiny. But to describe it all with broad brushstrokes, often entirely ignoring the real significance to modern-day Ukrainian nationalism of basic figures such as Stepan Bandera, no matter how unpalatable to some like myself, is intellectually dishonest. Accusations of an astronomical surge in xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine, as a result of the protests, have time and again been disproved by public figures and protestors, many of them of the very ethnic backgrounds that you would believe are most at risk from marauding fascists. In fact, many of these communities have stated time and again that those most responsible for fascism in Ukraine are not the far-right, but Putin and his very actions in Ukraine.
At the beginning of the Maidan, the fascists were almost invisible. After the New Year, as the protests radicalised in the face of government intransigence and the subsequent crackdowns on the square, their presence grew (although they were still a minority). You suggest Yanukoyvch was overthrown in a coup. A figure as repulsive as Yanukoyvych, who in the face of popular pressure was prepared to resort to armed force on his own people, plundered the national budget in the billions and ran away to Russia of his own volition (a coup?) at a time when statesmanship was most needed (with the assistance of the Russian state, as you would have heard at Valdai), surely also merits some condemnation from you too.
To say the government that came after Maidan had many fascists is dishonest; there were at best a few. To see how badly the far-right did in this Sunday’s elections (and this at a time when Ukraine is fighting a war with an external aggressor, that has historically been a catalyst for Ukrainian nationalism, struggling to retain its eastern provinces and fighting on so many other domestic fronts) is by and large a testament to the maturity of a great deal of the Ukrainian electorate and also the relative irrelevance of fascists in Ukrainian politics, at least on a substantive level.
Yes, the West no doubt bears some responsibility for what has taken place; but why cannot you bring yourself to recognise Russia’s more than considerable role? If fascism is what you feel strongly about, why don’t you also condemn Russia for fuelling some of its worst effects, especially in Ukraine? Why cannot you condemn the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea (especially when it is grounded on such spurious and equally disconcerting arguments such as a supposed threat to Russian-speakers and ethnic Russians – why is it neither imperialism)? Is it not fascism when Russian rule has led to thousands of Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians and others having to leave Crimea, or the abductions and murders of local pro-Ukrainian activists and Tatars (none of which have been investigated), coupled with attacks on local religious minorities or communities, all with Russian acquiescence? Or is the installation of puppet states in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, professing totalitarian and rabidly pro-Russian nationalistic narratives, ostracising and oppressing, with often murderous and gruesome consequences, locals supportive of Ukraine and its territorial integrity, not fascism? That is fascism and its real life consequences; overtly totalitarian and militaristic tendencies, insisting on dividing people on ethnic markers which until recently were of very little relevance on a daily basis, and now bearing devastating repercussions.
I am not advocating whataboutism; I am in no way blind to abuses committed by the Ukrainian establishment. But I ask for consistency – something which I have not felt apparent in your writings.
Regarding moderating the Putin event; I understand journalists might need to moderate these events, but where does the buck stop? You have accepted that he is authoritarian (although to leave it at there would be simplistic); but is it still acceptable? If you were invited, in the unlikely event, to moderate an event featuring Barack Obama, would you go? Would you reject an invitation by a certain government? Is there not a moral compromise in any case by involving oneself in these events in such a capacity?
I am happy to discuss this further.
I rest my case.
Ever since the Maidan uprising against Putin’s stooge Yanukovych just over a year ago, the Morning Star (indirectly controlled by the British CP and funded by many UK trade unions) has persisted in referring to the Kiev government and its forces as “fascist” and the pro-Putin rebels as “anti-fascists.” The M Star‘s circulation is small, but it carries some weight within the trade union movement and sections of the left. This makes its grotesque misrepresentation of what’s going on in Ukraine, and its uncritical repetition of Putin’s propaganda, so politically poisonous. No article or letter published in the paper has challenged their version of events, until this letter, published today. Shiraz Socialist has no idea who the author is; we’re republishing here because we broadly (but not in every detail) agree with it and because letters published in the M Star‘s print edition do not appear on its website:
Naïve ‘anti-fascist’ label for rebel Russians breathtaking in its error
YOUR description of the eastern Ukrainian rebel soldiers as “anti-fascist fighters” is breathtaking in its crassness and naivety.
They’re no more fighting fascism than Mussolini was.
As ethnic Russians whose ancestors were moved in during the Soviet era (and possibly before), they have simply spotted an opportunity to have the area they live in returned to Moscow’s control.
In this we have seen the encouraging hand of Vladimir Putin, just as in Crimea and Georgia.
Please don’t insult our intelligence by describing Putin as some sort of defender of the left — he is a dictator who maintains his position by imprisonment and assassination of political opponents and by strict control of the media to ensure re-election.
At least in the (later) Soviet era there was some sort of brake by the Communist Party on excesses by the leadership.
Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Pinochet and their like were fascists.
You are simply losing all credibility by desperately trying to tar the Ukraine government with the label. Shame on you.
I am considering ceasing to buy the Morning Star, despite your support (with which I agree) for the Jack Jones Square campaign in Madrid.
PETER CARR, Sawbridgeworth
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 »