By Ali Kiani, for the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice
President Trump has ordered a quick withdrawal of US forces from Syria. The Wall Street Journal comments, “In Shift, Trump Orders U.S. Troops Out of Syria.” This is in conflict with the State Department and Pentagon, because it marks an abrupt shift of the U.S.’s posture in the Middle East regarding ending a four-year so-called campaign against the Islamic State in favor of Turkey, resulting in James Mattis departing as Defense Secretary over Trump’s order to pull out of Syria. In a letter to Trump, Mattis said the president has the right to a Defense Secretary ‘whose views are better aligned with yours.’ A day after Trump’s pull-out order, Jim Mattis announced that he would resign at the end of February.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the withdrawal will be from the northeastern region of the country where Kurdish militants are strong, leaving them open to attack by Turkey. But according to The New York Times, unnamed official sources believe a “full withdrawal” is imminent. The “anti-war leader and human rights promoter” Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday praised President Trump’s surprise decision to pull out of Syria, even as the United States’ closest allies criticized the move and said they would remain in the war-ridden country due to the threat still posed by Islamic State. CodePink also applauded the prospect of all U.S. troops leaving Syria. Trump proclaimed victory over ISIS, saying: “And we’ve won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.” The French government also disagreed with the White House’s assessment that the fight against the Islamic State is over. France’s Defense Minister Florence Parly said, “Islamic State has not been wiped from the map nor have its roots. The last pockets of this terrorist organization must be defeated militarily once and for all.”
The United Kingdom expressed a similar view, releasing a statement reiterating that it will continue its actions in Syria, claiming that the Islamic State still poses a threat even if it no longer controls much territory. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas seconded this view, tweeting a statement saying the 1,200 personnel German personnel in Syria will remain.
The Turkish Defense Minister has declared that Syrian Kurdish militants will be “buried in ditches when the time comes.” This means that Turkey will likely attack Syrian Kurds, an outcome that was likely negotiated with Erdogan, who days ago announced a new offensive against the remaining SDF-controlled region of Syria. Turkey perceives the US-backed YPG as a security threat in northern Syria, and Ankara’s upcoming military operation is aimed against the group.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked US forces to clear the contentious Manbij town of YPG forces so as to avert any direct confrontation with Washington. The upcoming operation aims to target the YPG-controlled areas east of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria. The YPG recruits most of its cadres from the Kurdish-populated areas of northern Syria, which neighbours Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish-populated southeastern region.
Soon after the Assad regime withdrew from northern Syria during the civil war, the YPG moved in, creating ‘cantons,’ or autonomous areas, in the region in 2012. Turkey has repeatedly said that the country will not allow a PKK-imposed Kurdish corridor ranging from northern Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Turkish and Iranian presidents just met to discuss “regional stability.” Turkey is ‘intensely’ preparing for a new operation east of Euphrates.
“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.”
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’tcritical 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
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
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
By Javier Sethness, for the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice
Last Tuesday, October 2, 2018, the Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, 59 years of age, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. To date, while no definitive evidence of his fate has been presented to public light, it is presumed that Khashoggi was assassinated in the consulate that same afternoon, shortly after arriving. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is certainly no friend of a free press, given that his State imprisons about one-third of all journalists incarcerated globally, it appears that he may have initially been seeking to play a delicate balancing act in treating Khashoggi’s disappearance as a murder case while simultaneously seeking not to antagonize Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who appears to have ordered the assassination, a move that could jeopardize Turkey’s mutually profitable relations with the Saudi kingdom. The evidence of Khashoggi’s grim fate seems clear, since camera footage shows him entering, but the journalist was never seen to have left the consulate that day.
In fact, a consular source said to have been present that day has reported to have heard sounds of struggle, screams, and subsequent silence that afternoon, consistent with the journalist’s torture and possible murder. The Washington Post investigation triggered by Khashoggi’s disappearance has revealed that two private Saudi planes arrived in Istanbul on October 2, and since then, the Turkish government has published the list of the names of the 15 Saudi operatives reportedly involved in the operation, including an Air Force lieutenant and an autopsy expert. This same team fled the country just hours after their crime, while it is understood that the second Saudi plane included a forensics team to “clean up” the murder site. Though the Saudis officially deny these lurid charges, The Onion’s satirical approach appears to be more honest: “Saudis Insist Missing Journalist Was Already Dismembered Before He Left Consulate.” Turkish sources have indicated they have video recording of Khashoggi’s murder.
If it is true that this journalist was in fact assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the question that logically follows is, “Why?” Mehdi Hasan insists that Khashoggi was not a “dissident,” and that he supported the Saudi monarchy, but that he disagreed with the ascendant 33-year old bin Salman’s highly authoritarian approach. His friend Dr. Daud Abdullah, who dined with him just days before his disappearance, notes how Khashoggi had expressed concern over certain of his compatriots chastising his opposition to the “Saudi-led blockade of Qatar; [the kingdom’s] support for Egypt’s military rulers; and its incarceration of hundreds of religious scholars, university lecturers, journalists and human rights activists.” Indeed, Khashoggi’s last Washington Post column calls on bin Salman to declare an immediate cease-fire in the Yemen war to stop the “loss of innocent life” and express support for the “value of human life,” thus representing restoration of the “ethics [and dignity] of Islam” in its historical birthplace. Khashoggi even compared bin Salman to Bashar al-Assad in this column. While accurate, when considering the vast extent of human suffering in Yemen, and Assad’s targeting of journalists, such a charge, taken together with the implications the journalist makes regarding the Crown Prince’s defilement of Islam and the Ummah, or global Muslim community, must certainly have offended bin Salman’s vanity, and may partly explain the abduction and suspected assassination.
The latest news from southern Syria is that Assad Regime forces, backed by heavy Russian aerial bombardment, Iranian artillery strikes, and allied paramilitary infantry, have fully retaken the revolutionary city of Der’aa near the southwestern border with Jordan. This is the very “birthplace” of the Syrian Revolution, as it was in this city in March 2011 that 15-year old Mouawiya Syasneh and his comrades, expressing their youthful sympathies for the ongoing Arab Revolts—which by that time had toppled Zine al-Abidine bin Ali and Hosni Mubarak—wrote graffiti on a wall in southern Der’aa, proclaiming in Arabic, “Your turn, Doctor,” “Freedom” (حرية), and “The People Want the Fall of the Regime” (الشعب يريد السقوط النظام).
The indignation felt at the regime’s callous threat to disappear fifteen teenage boys accused of collectively authoring such seditious messages was the spark for the Syrian Revolution against Bashar al-Assad and the Ba’ath Party. As of mid-June 2018, Syasneh was still alive and fighting the Regime, following his taking up of arms, presumably with the Free Syria Army’s (FSA) Southern Front, in 2013. At that time, he declared that his “opinion of the revolution ha[d]n’t changed. For us, the revolution continues,” whereas his comrade Samer Syasneh recalled that, “In the beginning, I was proud of being the reason for the revolution against oppression. But with all the killing, the displacement and the homelessness over the years, sometimes I feel guilty.”
There is no lack of evidence of destruction in Syria. Since March 2011, armed conflict in Syria has caused 3 million homes to be razed, with the Regime accused of responsibility for 90 percent of this destruction. More than half a million Syrians have been killed, including 200,000 civilians, and the Assad-Putin-Iran axis has been found responsible for more than 90 percent of these civilian deaths. More than half the country’s population, or about 12 million people, have been displaced either internally or across international borders—though in the face of a resurgent chauvinism both in Europe and the United States, as in countries neighboring Syria, increasingly more refugees are being forced to return, in violation of international law, despite the immense risks. The fate of Der’aa, bombed into submission by Russia, Iran, and the Regime and thus violently reintegrated into the Ba’athist State, resembles that of Darayya, Eastern Aleppo, and Eastern Ghouta, other rebel-held territories that have fallen in the recent months and years, after having been subjected to devastating scorched-earth tactics.
An estimated 350,000 Syrians fled the Regime’s offensive against the Der’aa governorate which began on June 12, being so forced to enter the desert and request asylum from neighboring Jordan and Israel, both of which cruelly maintained their borders closed, notwithstanding the plea by the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria that 750,000 lives were at risk. Several displaced children have been reported as dying already due to thirst, scorpion bites, and exposure, and the Regime has repeatedly bombed field hospitals for the displaced. At least two hundred civilians died in Regime and axis attacks on the city. Many of those displaced lacked rudimentary shelter against the desert heat and winds, with little to no food. Meanwhile, the Jordanian government shamelessly has refused entry to these would-be refugees, and even clarified that it would provide material aid to these “enemies of the State” only insofar as Assad would permit this. Indeed, in a telling manifestation of capitalism’s basis in accumulation by dispossession, both Jordan and the Syrian Regime have celebrated Assad’s capture of the Nasib-Jaber border crossing from FSA control, anticipating a reactivation of exploitation and extraction within the free-trade zone that had existed there until the Revolution. Nevertheless, the Jordanian people have mobilized in a spirit of mutual aid to support those fleeing Assad and Putin’s war machine.
As a response to “Afrin Under Attack by Neo-Ottoman Erdogan: We Must Defend Afrin,” a statement published on the website of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice on January 22, Fredo Corvo’s posing of the question, “Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?” (Libcom, 5 March), unfortunately presents several arguments based on straw-men. Though he ostensibly writes from a libertarian-communist perspective, he dedicates much effort to critiquing Marxist humanism, thus overlooking the fact that our Coalition represents a convergence of different revolutionary-left groupings and individuals. Plus, Corvo’s critique is only vaguely anti-capitalist, far from being concretely humanist or anti-imperialist. It is unclear whether Corvo’s critique can be considered anarchist.
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.
by Ali Kiani, International Marxist-Humanist Organization
The danger of nuclear war is present today more than ever with Trump’s threats against North Korea and Iran. Without precedent in US history, the president openly states that he is willing to wage war and destroy a nation for US interests, disregarding his allies’ wishes. Trump not only follows the advice of his buddy Benjamin Netanyahu about the Iran nuclear deal, but he also announces that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. He remains ahead of schedule on the opening of the US embassy there as well as cutting off funding for Mahmoud Abbas for a Palestinian state, unless he bows to Israel and respects Trump. At same time, his military commander General Jim Mattis announces that the US should be ready for war at any moment.