23-07-2017 – World War III looms. The political left is warning about this as much as the political right is preparing for it. Even those whose careers depend on fealty to the corporate elite are noticing that the alignments of the most powerful nations are forming into camps, sometimes despite their intentions. The formation of the two sides has an eerie ring to it, for it conjures reminiscences of World War I. On the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia, once again the question may well be posed to working people: war or revolution?
One the one hand, we have imperialism, led by the US, and joined by its allies in the United Kingdom (UK), France, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Saudi Arabia and others. All of these governments have come behind, or have taken part in, the appalling war of regime change levelled against Syria. On the other hand, we have an anti-imperialist/independent bloc, trying to resist and survive despite the predations of the US juggernaut. This includes Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Zimbabwe and others. The two camps face off against one another, but blame cannot in any way be apportioned equally. The major provocateur is the US, and for now, the main power preventing the US from launching even more wars, is Russia. One glance at Syria today would seem to confirm this.
Given this, it would seem obvious that the task of working people and the political left would be to defend Russia against an overtly hostile US state, while seeking opportunities to build parties which can prepare working people in the capitalist world for the establishment of their own state power. In fact, in the face of a potential world war, workers seizing state power may well be an effort entirely within a framework of self-defence. One could argue that the October Revolution of 1917 itself was such an act. It would appear logical that a defence of the anti-imperialist or independent bloc of Russia, China and Iran against the US and its allies, not the least of which is the Australian state, would be an important segment of a struggle against an outbreak of what may be a nuclear world war.
Russia as a “great power” ?
Alas, some left-wing organisations do not see this, or do not want to see this. Some of them are hidebound into a “Russia as enemy” mindset, seemingly unaware that this is also the current psyche of the US war machine and large sections of its deep state. Almost invariably, those left parties which maintain a base hostility to Russia strongly supported, in deeds if not in words, the US/Saudi/Israeli war to destroy the Syrian Arab Republic. An exception was the left group Trotskyist Platform (TP), which has been active in defending Syria against six years of imperialist war. We maintain, however, that this opposition of TP has not been consistent, and tailed off dramatically once Russia, at the invitation of the Syrian government, began air strikes against ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), Al Qaeda, and other terrorist militias. These efforts of the Russian military began on September 30, 2015. On September 16, 2016, the Australian government admitted that it had taken part in a US air strike on Deir Ez-Zor in Syria, killing at least 60 Syrian soldiers, and clearing the way for ISIS to move into the area immediately after. From what we can observe, TP at the time did not denounce the actions of the Australian armed forces, in writing OR by taking part in the few rallies that gathered to protest against Australian participation in the war on Syria.
Now, in a recent article on the Syrian conflict, TP claims that it always has stood for the defence of Syria against the Western led proxy war. Yet what seems to be TP’s blind opposition to “Russia” tends to undermine such claims. It is a huge contradiction for TP – maintaining an opposition to the US led regime change war on Syria, while fostering and fomenting Russophobia (the fear and hatred of all things Russian) amongst workers. Working people, however, around the world can see that it was Russia, not the US, which was, and is, serious about defeating ISIS. Indeed, more aware workers can see that the war on Syria waged by the US was as much against Russia as against Syria.
We have noted previously that it appears that TP’s actual position is that Russia is “imperialist”, but they are unwilling to state this publicly. Now, TP introduce the concept of Russia as a “capitalist great power”, although how that differs to an imperialist state we are left to wonder. In their article “Russian Intervention and Syria”, dated May 4, 2017, TP makes what seems a tenuous claim that Russia has intervened in Syria “in order to promote it’s great power capitalist ambitions”, though it has not “threatened to become one of the direct neo-colonial overlords of Syria”. One wonders if TP is aware that the US state department repeatedly accuses Russia of “aggression” in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Crimea etc., and would readily concur with a condemnation of Russia as a “great power”. If the US state can gather some left groups to also oppose Russia, at a time of “Russiagate”, and the attempts to remove Trump from office for supposedly being too willing to come to agreements with Russia, then the job of the US deep state becomes easier and easier. If the left and the right join hands to condemn “Russia”, it is no wonder that working people fall prey to far right, or alt-right, groups.
Russian strikes on civilians?
In order to maintain its line of not (currently) calling for Russian troops out of Syria, TP begrudgingly admits that Russia is “playing a positive role” in Syria, albeit “inadvertently” (!). Yet they then go on to make the jaw-dropping claim that Russia cannot be trusted not to kill Syrian civilians in the process. They write:
“…..the fact that capitalist Russia is, currently, inadvertently playing a positive role does not change the fact that its racist state forces who so brutally oppress non-European minorities and immigrants within Russia cannot in any way be trusted to take proper care to avoid hitting civilians in their air strikes on enemy forces in Syria. Thus, we can expect the numbers of civilians killed by Russian air strikes to be of the same order of magnitude as the thousands killed by the murderous U.S., Australian and other imperialists in their air strikes on Syria and Iraq.” (Emphasis added – WL)
We will return to the question of the treatment of immigrants and non-European minorities in Russia later. But the claim that the number of civilian casualties carelessly struck by Russian air strikes may equal the number of civilians killed by US allied war actions in Syria beggars belief. If this was to even begin to look like a reality, surely the Syrian government would at least revoke its invitation to Russia, and Iran and Hezbollah – who have risked a great deal to assist Syria’s defence, would be outraged. This approach highlights that despite what TP claim, they tend towards placing an equals sign between US imperialism and Russian “imperialism”. It almost approaches a moral equivalence, similar in method and style to liberals who view Nazism and Communism as both equally reprehensible. TP would shriek at the comparison, but we maintain they perhaps unintentionally push themselves and their supporters politically close to the architects of the war on Syria – the US state itself.
We don’t doubt that Russia could potentially gain some commercial advantage by its actions in Syria, and indeed, they may be increasing their influence inside one of their long term allies. But this is beside the point. The major achievement of Russia in Syria has been that it has blocked regime change, and in the process, has defeated the ISIS bogey, a horrific game created by the Clintons, Obamas, the US deep state, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and so on. F. William Engdahl, in his article “Putin is Defeating More than ISIS in Syria”, notes that by actually holding the UN Charter to its word, Russia exposes the role of the US in arming and training “moderate” terrorists in order to bring down sovereign states. He wrote that:
“[Putin]…made clear what the international law behind the UN Charter means and that Russia is scrupulously abiding by the Charter in actions in Syria. Russia, unlike the US, has been formally asked by the legitimate Syrian government to aid its war against terror.”
Socialists can admit that the UN Charter and the UN itself is not written for the express purpose of defending the working class internationally. Yet, Russia’s actions in Syria have, in effect, politically defeated the atrocious schemes of the US ruling class – backed by Canberra- of creating barbaric death squads and funnelling them into any country the US state deems is too independent. In fact, one could argue that the political defeat for US imperialism in Syria is similar to the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam, forty years ago. Those on the left, including TP, should also recognise that the Russian state, perhaps for its own reasons, has nonetheless not only prevented regime change in Syria, but has staved off a potential world war.
Why did Russia assist Syria?
What was the motivation for Russian assistance to Syria against a US led war of extermination? TP’s claim that Russia “intervened to promote its great power capitalist ambitions” appears to be a clear example of Russophobia distorting political judgement. We can agree that the Russian government does not have world socialism as its aim – quite the contrary. Yet a country does not have to be socialist to be an enemy of US imperialism. All it has to do is maintain its independence from the US Empire. Therefore, merely to survive, some countries (e.g. Russia, Iran) have to defend themselves against US state plans for yet more global plunder. Through defending themselves, such countries block the advance of US imperialism – which coincides with the immediate interests of the world’s workers. This means that in the case of Syria, working people can support the actions of the Russian government, without necessarily offering a political endorsement. The current Russian state does not share the same ultimate aim of working people – a classless, socialist society – on this point there is no debate. Yet right now, to some extent, the Russian state is an ally – at least against Wall Street and the reckless and criminal wars it unleashes.
All allies are temporary and conditional. The current Russian state only seeks to stabilise the current world order. But as the capitalist economic crisis deepens, the US war machine itches for more – the status quo cannot satisfy the US ruling class’s need for more areas of profitable investment. This means more war, and even world war. If the Russian state acts to prevent or delay this, then working people cannot currently abandon them, much less turn on them. To turn against them in the manner in which TP suggests can only lead workers politically behind the US state. To vastly exaggerate, or indeed to concoct fantasies, about Russian “aggression” or Russian “great power capitalist ambitions” – is to let US imperialism off the hook. The vast compendium of US imperialist crimes against the world is minimised and downplayed.
Syria was a Russian ally going back decades, to the times of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Yet this is not the only reason for Russian assistance to Syria in its greatest hour of need. Lenin and the Bolsheviks – who TP refer to often in their article – fought for the equality of all nations. This was a vital component of being able to unite the former nations oppressed by Tsarist monarchy into the USSR via the victorious workers revolution in 1917. Admittedly, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government today soundly reject Leninist politics. Yet today, if they are to survive themselves, let alone stabilise world capitalism, someone or something has to act to hold the US Empire – which trashes national sovereignty at will – to account.
In a recent interview, President Putin responded to a question as to whether he believed Syria’s President Assad was an “evil guy”. Putin replied:
“It’s not President Assad whom we are protecting: we are protecting the Syrian statehood. We don’t want their interior to be a situation similar to that in Libya, or that in Somalia, or in Afghanistan – in Afghanistan NATO has been present for many years, but the situation is not changing for the better. We want to preserve the Syrian statehood. On the basis of resolving this fundamental issue we would like them to move towards settling the Syrian issue through political means. Yes, probably everyone there is to blame for something, but let’s not forget that were it not for active interference from outside, this civil war probably would not have broken out.”
We don’t agree that the conflict in Syria was ever a “civil war”, but the overall logic of the point stands. NATO and the US and its allies have ignored statehood of countless countries in efforts to save the profit system. The result has been more global chaos and a possible world war. Russia seems to have realised that if the US was not stopped in Syria, they themselves could easily be the next target. Far from “great power capitalist ambitions”, Russia’s actions in Syria seem to be an act of elementary self-defence.
More than this, the Russian government takes seriously the problem of foreign funded terrorism. The history of Islamic extremists attacking the Russian state would require a separate study. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that many of these terrorists have received the backing of the US state, much like the abominable funding and arming of genocidal mercenaries in Syria. TP, perhaps unwittingly, refers to Russia’s “brutal oppression of non-European minorities”. Yet what should Russia do in the face of some of these non-European minorities openly receiving aid and backing from the US state and quasi-state NGOs – or CSOs (“Civil Society Organisations”)? US state aid to nationalist, terrorist and separatist groups often flow from the notorious US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the equally diabolical George Soros funded Open Society Institute. Much of this aid filters through to armed fundamentalist Chechen, Dagestani and similar groups in the North Caucasus. US military support for Georgia was open, even before Georgia openly provoked Russia into a war in 2008. In short, the US has a clear strategic aim of breaking the former Soviet Republics away from Russia, and into the fold of NATO, despite Russia’s entirely justifiable objections.
Where did some of these US backed terrorists from Chechnya end up? In Syria, fighting with and alongside ISIS and Al Qaeda in their efforts to take down, using extreme violence, the Syrian Arab Republic. We do not seek to excuse all of the actions of the Russian government in the two wars fought against separatist Chechens, nor against the Georgians in 2008. Overall, however, it seems that in these cases, Russia was fighting ultra-nationalist anti-Russian and US backed forces, about which it had relatively little choice. Moreover, Russia was well aware that such terrorists who were fighting in Syria, would sooner or later return to Russia to continue their attacks against the Russian state. Russia again had little choice but to attempt to take out these terrorists in Syria, before they “came home” to do the same. Therefore, the dire necessity for Russia to defeat such US backed death squads was a major reason for their assistance to Syria – not only the defence of the concept of statehood. Unfortunately, those on the left wearing the Russophobia glasses struggle to detect this.
Syria: Russia In, Libya: Russia Out ?
It seems that TP is reluctant with their call that Russian air power should not, at the moment, leave Syria. We say this because at the same time, TP calls for Russia to get out of Libya! TP claims that Russia is inadvertently playing a positive role in Syria, but they are playing a “reactionary role” in Libya. Yet it appears that the goal of both actions is for similar reasons – the need to prevent the spread of US backed and armed fundamentalist terror militias. Such groups have actually waged war internally against Russia, and continue to receive some backing from the US state to do this. Despite this, TP complains that Russia has sent “financial, diplomatic and weapons support” to Khaliah Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). Yet the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA), a rival to the LNA, has received international support from none other than the United Nations (UN). On other issues, TP are usually one of the most vociferous in denouncing the imperial overtures of the UN.
TP goes on to claim that Russia’s aim in Libya is aimed at “securing prized access to Libya’s oil terminals, ports and airports.” We don’t deny that the Russian government had a number of weapons and oil extraction and development contracts with the pre-2011 Libyan government which was destroyed by NATO armed Al Qaeda militias. Restoring some of these contracts may be one outcome of Russia’s actions in Libya, as it may be for the French, Italian and United Arab Emirates (UAE) governments. Yet Russia has the additional aim of preventing the spread of Western-backed armed Islamic extremism. Russia takes this goal very seriously, as for them it is a matter of survival. Russia has much more actively intervened in Syria militarily, but at the invitation of the Syrian government. In Libya, the government was destroyed by NATO which was working hand in glove with Al Qaeda. Now, there is no state, and therefore no stability, in Libya.
Admittedly, the “stability” that the Russian government seeks is the establishment of a capitalist government in Libya, where Russian companies may seek investment and trade. Surely, though, this is a better outcome than an expansion of ISIS across the north of Africa, potentially linking up with other Western backed terror groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabaab. Again, Russia is seeking to stem the tide of ISIS spreading its tentacles into other regions around the world, which ultimately threatens many other countries, not the least of which is Russia itself. Quite rightly, Russia sees Western backed Islamic extremism as a major security threat. As a result, it fights such terrorists on its own territory and also abroad, seeking alliances with any other country which shares this goal. No one is claiming that Russia’s actions are entirely altruistic, but given the circumstances, working people cannot oppose Russia’s actions in fighting Western backed terror groups in either Syria or Libya. TP’s Russophobia compels it to find fault with Russia where there is none.
Islam in Russia
Another aspect to TP’s denunciation of Russia is the alleged “hard line anti-Muslim policies” of the Putin led government. TP doesn’t elaborate on this point, but it is thrown in with allegations of “brutal attacks” on the LGBTI community, also something not described. Is this true? Is there Islamophobia from the Russian government which rivals, or surpasses, the Islamophobia we have seen in Western countries in recent years? We have not seen evidence for this, and once again there is a danger of comparing Russia and the Western countries in a direct manner. Russia has a large Muslim population, numbering around 20 million, and has large communities which are majority Muslim, such as in Tatarstan, the North Caucuses, Dagestan, Orenburg, Chelyabinsk, Samara and others. Neighbouring Kazakhstan is majority Muslim. Islam is the second most common religion in Russia. Along with Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism, Islam is recognised as a religion indigenous to Russia. Given these facts, there is simply no comparison with regard to countries such as Australia, the US and Europe, where the Islamic community are much smaller minorities, and are certainly not regarded as part of the indigenous make up.
In addition, the imperialist “war on terror” following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, has had a drastic effect on Western countries, with the targeting of entire Islamic communities, regardless if they are in anyway connected with fundamentalist groups prepared to take up arms. Almost the entire religion of Islam, especially in the wake of the war on Syria, is treated as suspect in Australia, Europe and the US. In Russia, on the other hand, it is more than obvious who and what groups are “Islamic” terrorists – the ones who have waged war against the Russian state – often with underhanded political and military support from the US state.
We would not claim that there is no discrimination against Muslims in Russia. However as previously mentioned, due to the two wars fought against Chechen separatists, and those that left Russia explicitly to fight for ISIS, armed Islamic extremists are viewed, not without a basis, as anti-Russian. Salafism, and the growth of it within Russia since the early 2000s, is what is viewed with suspicion by Russian authorities. On the other hand, the vast numbers of Muslims in Russia who followed the so-called “Soviet Imams”, or even those who now reject the Salafists, are welcomed, and indeed recognised as Russian.
In addition, the Western scare campaign against President Putin and Russia in general, vastly exaggerates the position of the Russian government on many issues, in order to set up a demon. For example, it was reported that President Putin gave a speech to the Russian Duma in which he allegedly demanded that Muslim minorities integrate into Russia, learn to speak Russian, or get out. In fact, the language that Putin actually used was much more conciliatory, only insisting that Russian be the language of education and that immigrants (some of whom are of the Islamic faith) respect Russian culture and traditions. Granted, this is a reversal of what occurred in the early Soviet Union, but it is hardly the direct persecution that Western corporate critics of Russia would have us believe. Here is another area where TP’s Russophobia pushes it into the arms of the very liberals it correctly criticises on other issues.
“Brutal oppression” of immigrants ?
Does the Russian government also have a “hard-line anti-immigrant” stance, or even engage in “brutal oppression” of immigrants as TP claims? Even some scant research into the situation would reveal a scenario unlike what we in the West are accustomed to. Firstly, Russia is second only to the United States in terms of the numbers of immigrants. While it is true that many Russians have emigrated seeking more opportunities overseas, over the last twenty years, there has been a significant inflow of immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Republics. Why? If there are little or no jobs available in say, Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan, the best bet is to move to Russia and try your luck. Those that do find work are able to gain higher wages than was possible at home. This is not to say that working conditions for these workers in Russia are good, just that they are invariably much worse where they came from.
Not only that, there are many refugees in Russia which have fled from wars and similar conflicts. In the 90s, Armenians and Azerbaijanis fled to Russia after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as did Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan after civil conflict there. People from Tajikistan also fled into Russia after a civil war in the 90s. More recently, many eastern Ukrainians fled over the border into Russia after NATO installed a fascist coup government in Kiev in 2014. There are also many asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia and Somalia.
In response, is there a large scale anti-immigrant crackdown by the Russian government? Hardly. The Russian government is well aware that they are in need of the labour flowing in from especially the former Soviet Republics. Immigrants may face discrimination from Russians who may blame them for a lack of job opportunities for themselves, and they may face poor treatment from unscrupulous capitalist business owners where they attempt to find work. This is not good, obviously, but this is not coming from the Russian government TP is so keen to condemn. No one claims it is ideal either, but the danger is joining with the Western media machine with its torrents of unwarranted blame.
In fact, the Russian government is so keen to ensure the flow of immigrants to Russia from the former Soviet Republics, that it has abolished the need for visas for many of them. TP is quick to castigate US President Donald Trump for his anti-immigrant moves in the US, but in reality Trump’s anti-immigrant demagogy would not be welcome at all in Russia. Anti-immigrant political voices are often viewed there as an unacceptable form of nationalism. So where is TP’s “brutal oppression” ?
Most dangerously on this issue, TP perhaps mistakenly pushes itself towards the pro-US opposition to the Russian government. The widely known Alexei Navalny, who has led “anti-corruption” protests against Putin, amongst other activities, has been openly funded by the notorious US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), through Navalny’s party Democratic Alternative. Navalny has seized on the somewhat strong opposition to immigrant labour amongst some Russians, to demand that the Russian government reinstate visas for all immigrants, even those from former Soviet Republics. TP seems to be unaware that in Russia, politics is sometimes upside down. Liberals such as Navalny, nationalists and ultra-nationalists, including some who went to fight for the fascist Ukrainian coup, are often the ones who protest in Russia against Putin! Putin and the Russian government is opposed by these often US funded groups for not being nationalist enough. In this case it is not Putin who is whipping up nationalism, as TP views it. It is the US and EU funded NGOs in Russia which do so, in order to undermine, or take down, the Russian government. Russophobia distorts the political positions of many, inside and outside Russia.
LGBTI rights in Russia
Imperialism has long learned the skill of using the façade of progressive politics to advance the wars of Empire. The rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people is a key example, and Russia has in recent years been the key target. Liberals of all stripes, up to and including the representatives of the highest level Western corporate parties, unite as one to condemn Russia for its alleged mistreatment of LGBTI citizens. TP joins with the world’s elite with allegations of the Putin government’s “brutal attacks on the LGBTI community”. The Olympics have been used as a stage for such stunt protests. But is it true? Are LGBTI inhabitants of Russia subject to state persecution?
After the liberation of the 1917 October Socialist Revolution, homosexuality was formally decriminalised by the Soviet government in 1922. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union was not joined by other successful workers’ revolutions and was left isolated. This was one factor which led to a more conservative political leadership of the new workers republic consolidating itself by the mid -1920s. By 1933, a re-introduction of “family values” brought with it a re-criminalisation of homosexuality, at least for consenting males. For the next 60 years, homosexuality was effectively illegal. The Yeltsin-led counterrevolution in 1991-92 destroyed the Soviet Union, against the wishes of the majority of Soviet citizens. Ironically, in 1993 homosexuality in Russia was legalised, but until 1999 it was still regarded as a mental illness.
There is homophobia in Russia, but where in the world can we say that homophobia has been eliminated? Nowhere, as the question of the oppression of homosexuality is a by-product of the oppression of women within the nuclear family, which is linked to private property. Full sexual liberation for all cannot be won until the last remnants of class society are left behind by history. It is manifest hypocrisy for liberals in the US to point fingers at Russia for repression of homosexuals, especially in view of the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016. For leftists in Australia, where marriage for LGBTI partners has been made illegal, we can hardly hold up “our” model.
Moreover, the question of LGBTI rights in Russia has to take into account cultural factors. Of course there is an absolute line where “culture” cannot be justified to allow harm to people physically or psychologically. Nonetheless, it should be taken into account. For example, in Western countries, gay pride marches are now openly allowed, despite being suppressed during times such as the 1950s. In fact, that right had to be fought for over many years. Yet in Russia, there is a traditional divide between what is regarded as public and private. In Russia it is expected that private matters – such as sexual preferences and practices, or what goes on behind closed doors – should remain private. Russians in general are far from prudish, but publicly flaunting ones sexuality in street marches, is regarded as highly disrespectful.
This is not to say the situation for LGBTI people in Russia is ideal. But people in glass houses should not throw stones. The Russian Duma passed the “gay propaganda” law in 2013. This law prohibits the expression of support for “non-traditional” relationships among those less than 18 years old, and imposes fines on those organising or attending gay pride rallies. The Russian government, however, does not prosecute LGBTI people for their sexual preference or for such activity. No one on the left that we are aware of defends such laws, but it is a quite a different thing to use this issue alongside sundry liberals, the US Democrats, and the US deep state itself, to condemn Russia during a climate of near war. Moreover, leftists who wrongly condemn the Russian government for state persecution of homosexuality are usually silent on the record of state enforced homophobia in other countries. For example, in Saudi Arabia, a major US ally, homosexuality is punishable by death, which is quite a step more than being fined for advertising “non-traditional” relationships amongst children. 12 other countries also can impose the death penalty for homosexuality, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Qatar and the UAE, it should be noted, have provided weapons and funding for the terrorist mercenaries TP opposes operating in Syria.
Working people need to be aware that the Russian government can only be an ally with regard to certain actions, and on certain issues. Its actions in Syria, which have derailed a major US-led imperialist war, can only be supported. This does not mean endorsing all other actions of the Russian government. The danger is when leftists chime in with Western ruling class propaganda against Russia, which dramatically increases potentially catastrophic consequences – such as remaining silent if the US was to launch a world war. Working people have a vital interest in combating ALL Western demonization of Russia, and directing this fire back against the US/AUST/European ruling classes themselves.
“Learn to Think”
Trotsky’s 1938 article Learn to Think has been misused both by defenders of the war on Syria, and opponents of the war on Syria. The left party Socialist Alternative, who have been the most vocal in backing the mythical “Syrian revolution”, misuse Learn to Think to justify their support for the actions of death squads in Syria accepting arms and funding from the US state in order to take down the Syrian state. TP, on the other hand, misuses Learn to Think in order to justify their line of defending Syria against Western armed terrorists and not currently calling for the withdrawal of the Russian military from Syria – while at the same time whipping up opposition to “Russia”. Both misuses of Trotsky’s article give de facto, or actual, support to the US Empire during a conflict which is arguably a US proxy war against Russia.
Put simply, Trotsky’s Learn to Think article appears to have been written as a warning against ultra-left elements who, (paraphrasing) automatically place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. We can surmise that Trotsky intended to make the point that in “ninety cases out of a hundred” workers oppose the actions of a capitalist state, but in each case there still must be an analysis of concrete circumstances. The context of Trotsky’s article is what is overlooked by TP. In their article on Russian intervention, TP refers to what Trotsky allegedly advised in relation to “capitalist powers” at war. But the phrase “capitalist power” appears nowhere in Learn to Think. “Capitalist power” is TP’s euphemism for imperialist state, but the two are qualitatively different. Moreover, in Learn to Think Trotsky refers to conflict amongst imperialist states, or a case where an imperialist state might support a third state militarily or politically, against an imperialist rival. Trotsky gives the example of a rebellion in the French colony of Algeria, which hypothetically is backed by the Italian imperialists with arms for the rebels. Trotsky makes the point that even though France is a “democratic” imperialist, and Italy (at that time) a fascist imperialist, workers could not rationally oppose arms from Italy flowing through to those rebelling against French colonial rule.
TP’s attempt to apply this type of situation to the war on Syria is mistaken on many fronts. Firstly, Russia is not an imperialist state, regardless of TP’s application of the labels “capitalist power” or “capitalist great power”. The US, France, and the UK especially, are the imperialist states attempting regime change in Syria – with support from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey (not consistently) as well as junior imperialist states such as Australia and Canada. None of the actors taking steps to defend Syria against regime change are imperialist – not Russia, China (voting in the UN), Iran or Hezbollah. As previously mentioned, Russia is intervening – at the invitation of the Syrian government – to defend its ally, to defend national sovereignty, to prevent a wider war spreading further, and to protect itself from Western armed terrorists – many of whom reside within Russia’s borders. Iran is assisting perhaps because it knows it could be next, as well as assisting an ally. Hezbollah is assisting out of self-defence, and a realisation that a US backed ISIS rule in Syria would pose an immediate threat to the entire region, including Lebanon.
That is, in Syria, the US imperialist state is attempting to destroy the Syrian state in collaboration with other imperialist states. It is not a situation where there is direct conflict between imperialist states. TP of course disagrees, but it seems clear that the war on Syria is a case of all of the imperialist states lining up on one side (US, UK, France, Canada, Australia, to some extent Germany etc.), and all of the non-imperialist states (admittedly Hezbollah is not a state) lining up to oppose them – Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. In fact, other non-imperialist states have voiced support for Syria against a dirty war – from those whose region have really experienced a US funded dirty war – Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. Trotsky would be rolling over in his grave if he knew of Learn to Think being applied in a clash of non-imperialist states against imperialist ones. We can assume that Trotsky today would side with the non-imperialist states, even if we can debate about how anti-imperialist these non-imperialist states are in practice.
Kautsky’s theory of Ultra-imperialism ?
TP’s misreading of the war on Syria stems directly from which countries it views, correctly or incorrectly, as imperialist. After misapplying Trotsky, they go on to misapply Kautsky. In 1914, former Marxist authority within German social-democracy Karl Kautsky put forward his theory of “ultra-imperialism”. He viewed that it was possible for the various imperialist powers to form an alliance with each other, through which they would seek to profit from the world’s resources without resorting to war. V.I. Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolsheviks, polemicized vehemently against such a view, claiming that such a view led to fooling the workers into believing that they need not struggle against “their own” capitalist class for state power, but work with them to ensure “peace”. Lenin correctly denounced Kautsky’s ultra-imperialism as an “opportunist theory in the service of monopoly capital”.
While we agree that Lenin was correct at that time to denounce Kautsky, TP is mistaken to attempt to apply it today, in 2017. In their article, TP mention Lenin’s denunciation of Kautsky’s ultra-imperialism, but then goes on to claim that “modern day pseudo-socialists” replicate Kautsky’s mistaken theory today. They claim that the idea that “there is just one seamless, homogenous imperialist bloc in the world led by the USA” is false, and that “competing capitalist powers” have sought to form an alliance with the US for the moment, even if they have different interests.
The world political situation in 2017 is vastly different to 1914. When Lenin denounced Kautsky in 1914, there was no anti-imperialist political movement, no concept of national liberation, no Soviet Union, no Chinese socialist revolution, no Cuban socialist revolution, or anything of the sort. The October Revolution of 1917 was not even thought of. There was no Cold War, which defined virtually 50 years after World War II. So at that time, there certainly was competition between the world’s leading imperialist states – Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, Russia and others. The US at that time was a relatively new imperialist power, but Britain was by far the leading one, with perhaps Germany very close behind. The point is that once the October Revolution broke out in 1917 in Russia, this led to a bloc of countries which later became anti-imperialist, and those which have attempted to forge their independence from imperialism. The Soviet Union formed in 1922, and after it effectively defeated fascism in World War II, a form of socialism spread throughout Eastern Europe. In 1949, hundreds of millions of Chinese workers and peasants emerged victorious. In 1950-53, socialist inspired Koreans fought the US to a stalemate, leading to the founding of the DPRK (“North Korea”). Many countries in the third world fought against their colonial occupiers and won their independence. The Cuban struggle against US domination broke through in 1959, leading to socialism being established there. And so on.
TP is aware of all this, but today do not appear to recognise the role of states which have attempted to resist the domination of US led Western imperialism, and have attempted to forge an independent path. For a country does not have to be socialist to earn enemy status in the eyes of the US Empire. If a country is simply not politically pro-US, this is reason enough to be targeted and, sooner or later, subjected to a regime change war. ANY sense of independence from Wall Street is not only frowned upon by Washington – it is viewed as the worst crime imaginable. Iran of course has been an enemy state as soon as they rose up and threw out the US “advisers” in the 1979 revolution. Venezuela under the so-called Bolivarian Revolution led by former President Hugo Chavez has earned pariah status in the eyes of the US state department. Bolivia under Evo Morales likewise, to mention but a few examples.
Despite the manifest anti-Russian hysteria we see in Western corporate media these days, Russia was not always enemy number one. This developed probably since the time Russia opposed the war on Iraq in 2003. During that time, Putin and his government have managed to somewhat pull Russia out of the catastrophic economic and political crisis which was the 1990s. Putin has taken on and defeated some oligarchs, and taken back their property into state hands. Working and living conditions for the majority of Russians have thus slightly improved over the last 15 years, though obviously they are not ideal.
We would agree with TP that there is not a strongly ideologically anti-imperialist bloc opposing US imperialism. Indeed, the political leaderships of Russia, Iran and China are very keen to strike all kinds of deals with the US state, and are keen to co-operate with the US in any way possible. But this does not at all satisfy US imperialism. The dire health of its capitalist economic system means that the US must demand TOTAL subservience to Washington, to an even greater extent than when US capitalism was seemingly more “healthy” – the post World War II boom.
Fear and hatred of Russia, coming from the US rulers and their corporate parties and media, has reached fever pitch during the last six years, coinciding with the US led war for regime change on Syria. The US brought into being the genocidal ISIS barbarians in an effort to once again ensure that the US controlled the Middle East. Russia, sensing the danger to the region, and to itself, finally stepped in to prevent yet another US led destruction of an independent country. The US rulers were incensed that anyone would dare to confront them, and would dare to derail their plans. We agree with TP that the Russian state may not be motivated by purely anti-imperialist or purely altruistic motives. But the fact is, in protecting itself and the wider region, Russia has blocked US ruling class plans for plunder. This fact on its own explains the hysterical Russophobia demonstrated at the highest governmental levels in the US, Europe and Australia. We can expect that some elements of the working people here in Australia would fall for the virulent and non-stop anti-Russian propaganda pouring out from all manner of media, NGO, academic and business sources. Leftists who aspire to “Marxism” and “Leninism”, on the other hand, should know better.
Who is threatening to launch World War III?
We could go on. However, the perils of Russophobia should be apparent for those not trapped in a “Russia as enemy” psyche. It should be apparent that the political forces edging the world closer to a global conflagration are based in Washington (with the backing of Canberra), London and Paris. The political forces based in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, on the other hand, are doing their utmost to avoid such a catastrophe. The dangers of left wing groups taking up the anti-Russian venom of the West in a time of potential war should be evident. If the left uses the actual (fake) arguments of Western imperialism itself against Russia (supposed slaughtering of civilians in Syria, alleged suppression of LGBTI people, migrants, ethnic minorities), then the left not only joins with Washington, but justifies some of the actions of the US deep state.
Thankfully, not all on the left are this misguided. Yet confronting directly the anti-Russia hysteria of today is perhaps as difficult as it was defending the idea of socialism during the height of the original Cold War. Facts, however, stand against Russophobia, a 21st century manifestation of McCarthyism. For working people, a better approach would be to defend the actions of Russia where it takes measures to repel the US/NATO monster (Syria, Eastern Europe) while pushing forward the struggle for socialism – the bringing down of capitalism from within. The future may depend on it.
PO BOX 66 NUNDAH QLD 4012
 Ibid, 3.
 Ibid, 3.
 Ibid, 3.
 Ibid, 16.
 Ibid, 18.
 Ibid, 3.
 Ibid, 27.
 Ibid, 3.