In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Comrade Callinicos takes on the non-existent, leftist anti-imperialists

Posted by seumasach on July 26, 2012

And Comrade Ali seeks to avoid the dustbin of history( wherein the enemies of the trotskyists were once presumed to reside)

Cailean Bochanan

26th July, 2012

Socialist Worker has been second to none in its support for the Syrian “revolution”, its ardor often surpassing that of its “bourgeois” fellow-liberators in the BBC. Thus , whereas the main stream media showed some degree of caution concerning the alleged massacre at Houla and in the case of some German media provided an opposing narrative, our proleatarian campus revolutionaries showed no doubt:
“Despite Bashar al-Assad’s regime blaming the atrocity on rebels and “Al Qaida terrorists” it is clear that responsibility for the carnage lay at the feet of his security forces and his sectarian Shabiha militia.”
There is, of course, nothing the British left values more than unity and this means fingering and marginalising any dissonant voices, any black sheep, who may be rocking the already leaky ship of the left. Thus, an article by Tariq Ali claiming that the West is engaged in a form of colonialism in Syria, is the cue for the big guns to be wheeled out, for none less than leading party theoritician Alex Callinicos to take centre stage. That the theme of troublesome, dissident anti-imperialists in the left is very much in vogue is surprising: the left virtually in its entirety is behind the Western backed destabilisation programme a la contras of Nicaragua fame which it trumpets as a democratic revolution. The dissidents must be very thin on the ground and I regret very much not having come across them. So who are they? Well Callinicos, as I say, has fingered Tariq Ali. Could there be others? Redress, another enthusiastic Free Syria Army supporters group, points to some shady individuals

“here in the West, lurking in the darkest corners of ignorance – on the internet and on the English-language propaganda television channels of Russia and Iran, RT and Press TV, cynics and self-styled “anti-imperialists” and some “leftists” continue to pour out their bile and poisonous disinformation in defence of Syria’s doomed dictator.”

But they are reluctant to identify them more precisely( but Tariq Ali has appeared on RT):
“They know who they are – we won’t waste our time engaging with them in interminable, futile debates. But very soon history will judge them, and the inexorable march of the Arab Awakening will expose them and confine them to the dustbin of history, forever.”

So the identity of the phantom anti-imperialists remains a mystery apart from the above-mentioned Tariq Ali. Let’s look then at what Comrade Ali has to say on RT about Syria:
“Syrian President Bashar Assad should resign if he doesn’t want to repeat the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, while Russia and China should help him to do so, the Middle East expert Tariq Ali told RT.”
Isn’t that exactly the position Britain’s Foreign Minister was expressing a mere couple of weeks ago. Surely then it would be unobjectionable from the standpoint of the Socialist Worker’s Party?

The Revolution Betrayed

“The past few days may have seen the balance of forces tilt decisively against Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Paradoxically, a significant section of the Western left seems to have tilted as decisively in their favour.”

Comrade Callinicos has identified a dark tendency amongst the left, a shift in favour of the evil dictator. He doesn’t specify who this “significant section of the Western left is” but he cites one example: Tariq Ali. Whereas Ali supported regime change earlier in the year as shown above his position has shifted. What makes this all the worse is that the scene of his apostasy is the website of Stop the War, presumably indicating that it is no longer a front organisation for Comrade Callinicos’s own SWP outfit. Let’s look at what Comrade Ali had to say as reported by STW:
“TARIQ ALI says we are witnessing in Syria a new form of re-colonisation by the West, like we have already seen in Iraq and in Libya.
Many of the people who first rose against the Assad regime in Syria have been sidelined, leaving the Syrian people with limited choices, neither of which they want: either a Western imposed regime, “composed of sundry Syrians who work for the western intelligence agencies”, or the Assad regime.
The only way forward, in the interests of all Syrians, says Ali, is negotiation and discussion. But it is now obvious that the West is not going to let that happen because they are backing the opposition groups who are against any negotiation.”

“Negotiation and discussion”?- Ali is sounding like the Russians. Doesn’t he realize that it is only through uncompromising terror that the revolution can succeed? “Sundry Syrians who work for the western intelligence agencies”,”a new form of re-colonisation by the West”. There can be no doubt that Callinicos is right: Ali has drifted off-message. And leading theortician Callinicos knows that only through polemic can things be put to right

Callinicos takes issue firstly with Ali’s recolonisation claim. According to Callinicos, the invasion of Iraq was only a recolonisation in a temporary sense:
“Undoubtedly, the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 did lead to the country’s temporary recolonisation, under a “Coalition Provisional Authority” headed by a Washington-appointed neoconservative.”

One wonders then what all the fuss was about at the time, all the rhetoric of “the greatest anti-war movement in history” “no blood for oil” and so on if it was only a temporary recolonisation.” Wouldn’t it have been easier to sit back and say,”Don’t worry, it will all blow over in time”

Callinicos considers that “the idea that Syria is being “recolonised” implies that it is a long-standing Western priority to remove the Assad regime.”

“But there is no evidence of this” he continues

OK, here’s a video of a 2007 speech by General Wesley Clark telling us about “a long-standing Western priority to remove the Assad regime.”. He actually dates it back to 1991 conversations with Paul Wolfowitz at the Pentagon. That would be about right as the infamous Wolfowitz memorandum listing Syria amongst other regime change targets such as Iraq and Iran dates from 1992. Callinicos’s unawareness of such documents is as unbelievable as it is convenient but he does provide some a priori justification:
“Under Bashar’s father Hafez, the Syrian state established itself as a brutal but reliable capitalist manager.”
So the West would never remove a capitalist regime. This seems absurd but is quite a clever ruse within the context of the British left. He’s waiting for someone to say that Syria isn’t capitalist, the Baath party is socialist. But the SWP poo-poos claims that any of the world’s “regimes”, including Cuba and Venezuela, are socialist. So there are no socialist countries, only capitalist ones. So the West would never remove any regime. Reductio ad absurdum.

Sensing a possible weak point Callinicos admits Saudi Arabia and Qatar are behind “some of the forces fighting the regime” and that they are pursuing a sectarian agenda against “what they regard as the heretical Alawi sect and Syria’s alliance with Shia Iran”. Strangely, he fails to point out that this sectarian agenda is also directed against Syria’s two million Christians, as documented on the Vatican’s Fides website. Or that they are targeting Palestinians as Ramzy Baroud has pointed out.
“There is plenty of evidence that the Gulf states have been supplying arms to some of the forces fighting the regime. And the West has stepped in to call for Assad’s removal.”
Is that really all the West has done? Everyone knows that Western intelligence and special forces are involved as they were in Libya. Hasn’t the CIA given us the unlikely story that they are there making sure weapons fall into right hands? Does Callinicos really believe Hagues’ assurance that aid to the “rebels” is “non-lethal”?
‘But the chances that the US and Britain will follow this up by sending troops to Syria, or even providing air cover to the rebels as they did in Libya, are remote.”
In a little bit of sophistry Callincos pretends that Western intervention could only take the form of sending troops or bombing. But what about the contras campaign against Nicaragua? Couldn’t this be something along the same lines as so many have pointed out?
Ali’s reference to “sundry Syrians who work for the western intelligence agencies” hits a particularly sore point for those like the SWP who have characterised them as the people at arms.
“Are Tariq and those who agree with him sure that these are all puppets of the US and the Gulf reactionaries?”
Pretty sure although there are some indigenous elements.
According to Callinocos that would mean “they are being betrayed by their masters, since the regime’s forces have been able to beat them back because they lack tanks and heavy weapons”.
Didn’t we here precisely these claims of betrayal from the Libyan rebels after the overthrow of Gaddafi. In fact, the Syria rebels are already crying betrayal claiming that the false reporting from Aljazzera and the Al-Arabiya( I don’t suppose they read Socialist Worker) had led them to expect victory instead of the comprehensive beating they’ve actually received. The left has such touching faith in the class enemy: they would never just use people and discard them. Incidently, it’s not at all clear that rebels lack tanks and heavy weapons. There are many indications that they are exceptionally well armed including RPG’s and a lot of high tech satellite and infra-red stuff

“The fighting bears all the hallmarks of an improvised and desperate armed rising.”
The fighting bears all the hallmarks of a fully co-ordinated attempt by the Western powers, paricularly the USA, UK and France to overthrow Assad in a manner similar to their overthrow of Gaddafi, gleefully celebrated by Socialist Worker. It could have succeeded but for the fact that NATO weren’t there to bomb the place to hell.
Callinocos justifies everything by asserting that this is essentially a popular revolt. As the bodies of thousands of foreign fighters are recovered from the debacle and thousands are taken prisoner it is becoming increasingly obvious that it is not. He virtually admits this in regretting  the “the absence of the independent working class action”, left code for popular mobilisation and in claiming that the left in the region is politically dead. That’s rich coming from the British left of whom only Tariq Ali has been prescient enough to shift sides just in time to avoid the old Trotskyist curse of residing “forever’ in the dustbin of history.

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