Accountability for Assad’s Murder of Marie Colvin: A Precedent for Justice?

By Javier SethnessColvin RIP

Originally published on Notes Toward an International Libertarian Eco-Socialism

On Thursday, January 31, a U.S. judge found the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the targeted assassination of U.S. journalist Marie Colvin in Homs in 2012. A reporter for The Sunday Times, Colvin had been covering the regime’s besiegement of the Baba Amr district of Homs, whose population had rebelled against Assad’s rule as part of the Revolution which had begun in the southern city of Der’aa in March 2011. Though evacuated with other internationals and journalists within days of her arrival as a precautionary measure in light of a threatened regime offensive, Colvin returned with the French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik and British photographer Paul Conroy to the improvised community media center from where they had been reporting. As Conroy describes, he, Colvin, and Ochlik believed that, by reporting on the regime’s besiegement of Baba Amr, they could affect world opinion and bring relief to civilians under fire.  It was from Baba Amr that Colvin courageously went live on CNN, the BBC, ITN News, and Channel 4 News, on February 21, 2012, to belie the Assad regime’s fabrications that its assault on the district was exclusively targeting so-called “terrorists.” It was for this reason that the regime killed her, the very next morning after the broadcast. They triangulated her location via her cell signal due to Colvin’s bravery in broadcasting the devastating truth to the world, murdering her and Ochlik in a targeted artillery strike. As judge Amy Jackson observes in her ruling, Colvin was “specifically targeted because of her profession, for the purpose of silencing those reporting on the growing opposition movement in the country.”

Colvin’s remarkable story is told in two recent films: Under the Wire and A Private War. I will not here be discussing Under the Wire, which is brilliantly reviewed by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad in the New York Review of Books here. Instead, I will offer some comments about A Private War, a 2018 dramatization of Colvin’s life, directed by Matthew Heineman and written by Marie Brenner and Arash Amel.

Though Colvin covered armed conflicts for three decades, in A Private War, we follow her in her later assignments to war zones in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It is amidst covering Sri Lanka’s civil war that Colvin suffers a disfiguring injury, leading her to wear a distinctive eye-patch over her left orbit. While there is little sense in the film that Colvin had an anti-imperialist critique of U.S. participation in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the film depicts her dynamic and increasingly humanist approach to journalism, culminating in her martyrdom in Homs in February 2012. During the Libya segment, which takes place shortly after the outbreak of protests against Mua’mmar al-Qaddafi, we see Colvin outright interviewing the autocrat. Though Colvin never had the chance to question Assad—she was no Vanessa Beeley, a neo-fascist propagandist, but rather the Syrian despot’s direct victim—we get the sense that the writers and director are here channeling Assad’s specter through Colvin’s interaction with Qaddafi, given their similarities, from political authoritarianism to inter-personal repulsiveness and sexism, and their common opportunistic use of nationalist, ‘socialist,’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric to legitimize their crimes. It follows logically that both Qaddafi and Assad would present essentially all opposition to their rule as “al-Qaeda” and/or “terrorists,” as they have.

Continue reading “Accountability for Assad’s Murder of Marie Colvin: A Precedent for Justice?”

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What Were Stalin’s Real Crimes? Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part II/III)

By Javier Sethness

Fergana
The meaning of forced collectivization: an irrigation project in Fergana, Eastern Kazakhstan, 1935 (courtesy David Goldfrank)

“It is in the nature of ideological politics […] that the real content of the ideology […] which originally had brought about the ‘idea’ […] is devoured by the logic with which the ‘idea’ is carried out.”

– Hannah Arendt1

What’s the biggest problem with the “criticisms” of Stalin raised by the “Proles of the Round Table”? That they are so disingenuous and anemic. One of the three critiques raised—about Spain—in fact isn’t critical of Stalin, while we’ve seen (in part I) how the “criticism” on deportations is entirely misleading. A related question might be to ask how it looks for two presumably white U.S. Americans to criticize Stalin for some (1-2%) of his deportations of ethnic Germans, but not to do so when it comes to the dictator’s mass-deportations of Muslims, Buddhists, and other indigenous peoples. At least Mao Zedong judged Stalin as being “30 percent wrong and 70 percent right.”2 For Jeremy and Justin, though, Stalin appears to have been at least 90%, if not 95%, right. Maybe we can soon expect the “Proles of the Round Table” Patreon to begin selling wearables proclaiming that “Stalin did nothing wrong.”

Besides the aforementioned Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the May Days, and the mass-deportations of ethnic minorities, let’s now consider five of Stalin’s real crimes.

1. “Socialism in One Country”: Stalinist Ideology

His revision, together with fellow Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin, of the tradition of socialist internationalism to the reactionary, ultra-nationalist idea of “socialism in one country.” Stalin and Bukharin arrived at this conclusion to compete against Lev Trotsky’s rival concept of “permanent revolution,” which calls first for a European and then global federation of socialist republics. This Stalinist doctrine, which demanded that the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy be considered first within the Third International (or Comintern), can explain both the General Secretary’s demand to crush the anarchists in Spain in 1937 and his effective facilitation of Hitler’s rise to power by means of the disastrous Comintern policy that considered the social-democratic (that is, non-Stalinist) opposition to Hitler to be “social-fascist.” The General Secretary would only reverse course and endorse a “Popular Front” strategy after Hitler had taken power.3 Stalinist ultra-nationalism finds contemporary purchase among neo-fascist, national-Bolshevik movements, whereas—perhaps ironically—the Comintern doctrine on “social fascism” has echoes today among ultra-leftists disdainful of coalition-building with more moderate political forces (e.g., as in the 2016 U.S. presidential election). Moreover, Stalin’s preference for “socialism in one country” can help us understand the Soviet Union’s continued sale of petroleum to Mussolini following this fascist’s military invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935.4 Within this same vein, and anticipating the affinity of today’s neo-Stalinists for campist “analyses” of international relations, Moscow variously supported the feudalist Guo Min Dang (GMD) in China, the Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Afghan King Amanullah Khan, and Ibn al-Sa’ud (founder of Saudi Arabia) during this time on the grounds that these leaders staunchly opposed the West, despite their great distance from any kind of socialist paradigm.5

Civilizatsia
Courtesy Voline, The Unknown Revolution

2. Stalinist Imperialism

His “Great-Russian” chauvinism, as manifested in his brutally imperialist policies toward ethnic minorities—particularly the deportations of Muslims (as mentioned above in part I)—and other subject-peoples of the former Tsarist empire, whose colonial project Stalin enthusiastically embraced. Though Georgian by origin (his birth name was Ioseb Jughashvili), Stalin (whose Russian nom de guerre means “man of steel”) was “the most ‘Russian’ of the early leaders” who advanced not only “socialism in one country,’ but […] a socialism built on a predominantly Russian foundation.”6 According to Dunayevskaya, Stalin’s “national arrogance” was “as rabid as that of any Tsarist official.”7 In contrast to his mentor and supervisor Vladimir I. Lenin, who at least formally supported the right of self-determination for the oppressed nationalities of the Tsarist empire while greatly violating this principle in practice, Stalin was openly imperialist on the national question: according to the terms of this relationship, the colonies were to be “plundered for raw materials and food to serve the industrialisation of Russia.”8 It therefore remains clear that, under the Soviet Union, “Russia was not a nation state but an empire, an ideological state. Any definition as a nation-state would probably have excluded at least the non-Slavs, and certainly the Muslims.”9 Accordingly, the official history taught in Stalin’s USSR rehabilitated the mythical Tsarist narrative that the Russian “Empire had brought progress and civilisation to backward peoples.”10

Map_of_the_ethnic_groups_living_in_the_Soviet_Union
Ethnographic map of the former Soviet Union. Date unknown

In Georgia, a former Tsarist-era colony located in the Caucasus Mountains, the social-democratic Menshevik Party declared independence in 1918 to found the Georgian Democratic Republic, otherwise known as the Georgian Commune, wherein parliamentary democracy and a relatively collaborative relationship among the peasantry, proletariat, and political leadership lasted for three years, until Stalin and his fellow Georgian Bolshevik Sergo Ordzhonikidze organized a Red Army invasion in 1921 which crushed this courageous experiment in democratic socialism. The errant ex-colony of Georgia was thus forcibly reincorporated into the ex-Tsarist Empire—by then, the “Transcaucasian Federated Soviet Republic,” part of the Soviet Union.11 Besides Georgia, this “Transcaucasian Federated Soviet Republic” would include Azerbaijan and Armenia, which had also been occupied by the Red Army in 1920.12

In the Muslim-majority provinces of Central Asia, otherwise known as Turkestan, the poorest region of the former Tsarist Empire, Lenin and Stalin sided with the interests of the Russian settlers against the Muslim peasantry.13 In Orientalist fashion, the Bolsheviks considered Central Asia’s “Muslims as culturally backward, not really suitable to be communists and needing to be kept under a kind of tutelage.”14 Yet in light of the sustained Basmachi revolt waged by Muslim guerrillas against Soviet imperialism in the first decade after October 1917, Stalin also recognized the significant threat these colonized Muslims could pose to the Soviet Union—hence his active discouragement of pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism by means of cutting off the USSR’s Muslims “subjects,” many of them ethnically and linguistically Turkic, from the rest of the Ummah (Islamic global brotherhood or community) abroad. An early 1930’s law punishing unauthorized exit from the USSR made observation of hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, quite impossible.15 The expulsion from the Communist Party (1923) and subsequent imprisonment (1928) of the Volga Tatar Sultan Galiev, a pan-Islamist “national-communist” who envisioned organizing the Turkic Muslims into a fighting force against Western imperialism, followed a similar logic.16

Continue reading “What Were Stalin’s Real Crimes? Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part II/III)”

A “Hands Off Syria Forum”… at the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice?

by Javier Sethness, for the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ)

real blur

First of all, it is extremely unlikely that Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist leader of the Underground Railroad and anti-Confederate fighter during the U.S. Civil War, would ever countenance a “forum” uncritical of a fascist dictatorship engaged in a genocidal counter-revolution taking place anywhere bearing her name!

The International Action Center’s (IAC) announcement for an event that took place on Saturday, September 22nd, declares its opposition to the supposed U.S. war “against the people of Syria!” Certainly, the more than 15,000 airstrikes launched by the U.S. since 2014, mostly against supposed Islamic State targets, have involved many atrocities, including the destruction of Raqqa. Yet the announcement is silent about the origins of the Syrian uprising as class struggle against despotism and the clear counter-insurgent war waged by Bashar al-Assad alongside his reactionary allies: Putin’s Russia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, Liwa Fatemiyoun from Afghanistan, and other affiliated paramilitary groups from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Instead, the announcement parrots pro-Putin and pro-Assad propaganda, claiming that the regime is about to “liberate” Idlib from “Western-backed terrorist groups.” Such framing silences the estimated 100,000 detainees who have been killed by torture in Assad’s prisons since 2011, and seeks to downplay the horror that the conquest of Idlib would entail, echoing the fate of Darayya, Homs, Eastern Aleppo, Ghouta, and Der’aa. Besides, the rebel groups in Idlib are closer to Turkey than the West. To claim these to be “contra armies,” as the IAC does, is to present an extremely misleading and false equivalence between the Sandinista Revolution and the Assad Regime.

Continue reading “A “Hands Off Syria Forum”… at the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice?”

IMHO May Day Speech, Los Angeles

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Invited antiwar speech by representative of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization at May Day rally sponsored by Union del Barrio, following a march by several hundred from MacArthur Park to City Hall.

I went to one of my first protests when I was 16 against the war in Iraq during the Bush regime. I want to tell you about the the war on terror that doesn’t get talked about much. The US has bombed Syria since 2014 in name of killing terrorists. When the US-led Coalition took back the Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIS, it destroyed 80% of the city and killed 1400 civilians last year. And in Iraq, the battle to take back Mosul from ISIS was similarly bloody. The US has killed 6000 civilians in bombing ISIS in Syria. We cannot keep silent about this.

We must stand against the endless war on terror, from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Afghanistan, but we also must also stand against the bombing of Syrians by Assad. Most of the over 500,000 people killed in Syria have been killed by Assad and his imperialist allies like Russia. In Sednaya prison, 13,000 prisoners, mainly nonviolent activists, including many Leftists, have been murdered by the regime. We must reject the idea that the only choices are fascism or terrorism; that’s what fascists say to keep power everywhere.

How many more terrorists has the US created with its endless wars? Why has the US been bombing Afghanistan for 17 years? Why is the US helping to kill people in Yemen? We need to organize mass-marches to end the so-called war on terror that makes us less safe. But at the same time, we also need to let those facing mass murder from fascist regimes know that they are not alone and that we stand with them and against all imperialists and fascists! Solidarity with the Syrian revolution, including Rojava!

 

Imperial Theatrics in Syria: Where Is Justice for Syrians?

By Javier Sethness, for the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice

Douma Reuters
Douma, Eastern Ghouta (File: Reuters)

On Friday evening, 13 April, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the commencement of joint U.S. missile and air strikes with France and the U.K. against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in response to the Syrian military’s alleged use of chemical weapons during the siege of Douma on April 7th. This chemical attack on Douma has reportedly taken the lives of more than forty people and, according to the Syrian-American Medical Society, at least five hundred others have presented with symptoms consistent with exposure to chemical weapons—likely chlorine and possibly also sarin.

Continue reading “Imperial Theatrics in Syria: Where Is Justice for Syrians?”

For the People of Eastern Ghouta, Syria

Al Ghouta
“A man and three children, who were wounded in air strikes carried out by warplanes of the Syrian government, sit at a makeshift hospital.” Photograph: Samer Bouidani/dpa/Alamy Live News. 20 February 2018

By Zachary Medeiros


In Eastern Ghouta, people are dying. Only a stone’s throw away from the seat of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the luxury hotels of UN officials, they are dying in the hundreds. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Doctors Without Borders, the Syrian-American Medical Society, and residents and activists on the ground, nearly 600 people, including over 100 children, have been killed since February 18 alone. At least 2,100 have been injured, and nearly all of the hospitals and clinics in the area have been targeted, with most now out of commission. Despite the heroic work of the doctors, nurses, and other medical workers still serving this besieged community of 400,000, they lack the supplies and manpower to fully cope with the resurgent violence. These words and cold statistics cannot come close to expressing the horrors the people of Eastern Ghouta have been forced to endure: years of siege, starvation, shelling and bombardment, and the worst chemical massacre in the history of the war.

Continue reading “For the People of Eastern Ghouta, Syria”

Kevin B. Anderson, “Rightwing Populism, Neofascism, & Imperialism in the Trump Era: Where Do We Go from Here?”

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Kevin B. Anderson, International Marxist-Humanist Organization and Professor of Sociology, UC-Santa Barbara

Comments presented at the July 14 launch of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice at a public meeting at the Westside Peace Center, Culver City

The year 2017 has brought forth a new and ominous situation for the US, the world, and for progressive and revolutionary movements. First, we have seen the rise to power in the US of a form of rightwing populism with fascist overtones in the Trump regime. Trumpism shares some common features with neofascist movements abroad like the racist, anti-immigrant National Front in France or the neofascist Orban regime in Hungary. Trumpism is a hybrid form, however, as it continues many features of neoliberalism — like a cabinet of plutocrats — alongside those of rightwing populism. What is clear is that the new Trump regime is more openly authoritarian, racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and anti-environment than we have ever seen in the U.S. at the national level, even under Nixon, Reagan, or Bush.

Second, the people of the U.S. are fighting back with force and determination. For we have in 2017 also witnessed the largest popular mobilizations of progressive and leftist forces since the 1960s. This has been true not only in the U.S., with the women’s march, the scientists’ march, and the almost daily marches of immigrant rights, environmental, and anti-racist activists.   It has also been seen at the large protests outside the G20 Summit in Germany, and in the leftwing populist Mélenchon candidacy in France and that of Corbyn in Britain, and of course, the Sanders campaign here last year. (In the U.S. in 2017, the continuous mobilizations are also keeping alive the split within the dominant classes as seen in the hearings over Russia or the firing of Comey.)

This Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice was originally conceived as a new type of antiwar coalition that would be able to oppose war and imperialism not only from the U.S. and its allies like Saudi Arabia, but also from their rivals like Russia and its allies like Iran. Thus, we wanted to oppose the murderous actions of Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime in Syria, at the same time that we opposed the wars of the U.S. and its allies in Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Continue reading “Kevin B. Anderson, “Rightwing Populism, Neofascism, & Imperialism in the Trump Era: Where Do We Go from Here?””