No 1485 14th January 2016
New lurches in global finance signal imminent return of capitalism’s crisis catastrophe ten times worse than 2008. Fake -“left” increasingly stranded and exposed by its failure to warn of meltdown and give workers the only possible answer, the urgent building of revolutionary understanding and leadership. Instead they feed more illusions in “left pressure” and “democratic paths” riding the back of reformism Corbynism and impossible “anti-austerity” populism. Lalkar Stalinism shows its duplicity over Venezuela electoral coup failure covering up past eulogies for philistine “21st century socialism” and continuing capitulation to imperialist “war an terror” hysteria and Nazi kill-them-all frenzy. Defeat for imperialist warring and its skulduggery is vital, the struggle to build Leninist party and science crucial
World wide financial breakdown and war is exposing the uselessness and treachery of the fake-left” day by day.
Their hopelessness and duplicity does nothing to warn the working class of the epochal class war struggles which are coming.
Worse, it twists and turns to cover up its own failures and misleadership.
The entire “left” has been hailing the “Bolivarian revolution” for example which started under Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.
But the recent ousting of “left” populism in Venezuela and Argentina by CIA stitched-up electoral coups, has shattered the so-called “21st Century Socialism”, eulogised as a “new way forwards”.
It re-confirms that illusions in parliament or even “democratic revolution” are a disaster for the working class, as many deadly examples haven proven in history, notably in nearby Chile with its 1973 General Pinochet bloody torture and butchery of similar “democratic socialism”, and multiple times since.
The reestablished US-funded military dictatorship in Egypt, shooting down thousands of civilians in cold-blood, and imprisoning and executing many more, is a latest example.
The real “21st century socialism” required is that founded firmly on 19th and 20th century understanding of Marx, Engels and Lenin.
At the heart of that is the need for the working class to overturn capitalism completely and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.
That is the only means of ending the greatest catastrophe ever and building a new world of cooperative planned socialism and a rational peaceful and fair society.
Only the defeat of the colonial-imperialist tyranny dominating the world and dragging it to World War Three, can open the way for the all out class-struggle needed.
Billions of Third World masses, and the working class everywhere, are desperate for such a revolutionary socialist lead for this unstoppable and urgent fight.
Failure to offer revolutionary understanding means that it is the militancy and combativeness of world insurgency, in its mainly Islamic manifestations, which fills the vacuum where communist clarity should be.
But the “left” of all shades denounce this, while continuing to foster illusions in economic recovery, “stopping austerity”, and saying “No to War”.
If only capitalism can be regulated they say, or kept in check, slump can be controlled and war destruction like the Middle East be halted.
It is hopeless opportunist garbage, and dangerously disarming at that, leaving the working class vulnerable to counter-revolution.
Worse it is utterly treacherous, joining in the ruling class “anti-terror” and “kill them all” nazi war hysteria.
The “left” line up on the wrong side effectively, “condemning” the huge spontaneous anti-imperialist revolt breaking out everywhere, helping imperialism justify its blitzing of country after country.
“Terrorism” will not be “solved” by destroying yet more countries.
War cannot be stopped at all except by stopping the capitalism which wants it.
The “war on terror” is just a means for it to get there.
Capitalism is clogged solid with “surplus capital” which it needs to destroy.
The world is already in the greatest agonising refugee turmoil, war destruction and chaos since WW2, and with a demented Nazi-frenzy now being whipped up for the US presidential election.
It is driven by the great capitalist economic disaster which surfaced in the global credit crunch.
But it will shortly get a thousand times worse.
The financial catastrophe of 2008 has not gone away but is returning.
Even then, leading bourgeois experts declared it to be “greatest disaster ever”, worse than the 1930s Depression which led to World War Two.
The new meltdown will be a hundred times worse for having been deferred with Quantitative Easing Mickey Mouse money printing, the fantasy credit that alone has held off disaster for a few years (and allowed the topdog US to push its effects onto the rest of the world).
Yet not one of the fake-“left” puts the great crashing catastrophe of capitalism’s economic order at the centre of all analysis and understanding: most are barely aware of crisis at all except possibly as a formal academic problem.
But bourgeois analysts and experts are in a blue funk:
Investors face a “cataclysmic year” where stock markets could fall by up to 20% and oil could slump to $16 (£11) a barrel, economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland have warned.
In a note to its clients the bank said: “Sell everything except high quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small.” It said the current situation was reminiscent of 2008, when the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank led to the global financial crisis. This time China could be the crisis point.
Stock markets have already come under severe pressure in 2016, with the FTSE 100 down more than 5% in its worst start since 2000. In the US, the Dow Jones industrial average has made its poorest ever start to a year.
Oil prices have also fallen sharply on fears of lower demand and a supply glut, especially with Iran due to start exporting once more when sanctions are lifted.
RBS is not the only negative voice at the moment. Analysts at JP Morgan have advised clients to sell stocks on any bounce.
Morgan Stanley has said oil could fall to $20 a barrel, while Standard Chartered has predicted an even bigger slide, to as low as $10.
Billionaire speculator George Soros has added to the gloom in global markets by claiming the world risks a return to the turmoil of the 2008 financial crisis.
Soros, who famously helped to force the pound out of the exchange rate mechanism on Black Wednesday in 1992, highlighted China’s struggles to find a new growth model and said its currency devaluation was spreading problems to the rest of the world.
“I would say it amounts to a crisis. When I look at the financial markets there is a serious challenge which reminds me of the crisis we had in 2008.”
Rarely have financial markets had a more traumatic start to the year. Shares plunged, the price of oil clattered to its lowest level in 11 years, trading on the Chinese stock market was halted twice, and the World Bank warned that a “perfect storm” might be brewing.
George Osborne chose his moment well to go public with his concern that the UK faces a “cocktail of threats”. In addition to the $2tn wiped off global stock markets, the North Koreans claimed they had exploded a hydrogen bomb and relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran worsened markedly.
On the face of it, there seems no reason why the global markets should remain depressed. Rising oil prices have traditionally been associated with recessions, so a drop of more than two-thirds in the cost of a barrel of crude should, logically, be good for growth. Cheaper energy means lower costs for businesses and additional spending power for consumers. There are winners and losers from a falling oil price but on balance the impact should be positive.
What’s more, it could be that the gloom about China is overdone. The slowdown in the rate of growth is not just intentional but desirable. Should the economy cool more quickly than planned, Beijing has plenty of power to ensure there is no hard landing: it can boost public spending; it can push the currency lower to boost exports; it can cut interest rates.
...Only the rich play on the Chinese stock market and their activities have little bearing on corporate investment. Share prices rose by 150% between June 2014 and May 2015: events since have seen the froth blown off the market, but the wider implications for China, let alone the rest of the world, are negligible.
There is, though, an alternative – and much darker – interpretation of the events of the past week, which begins and ends with China.
Rapid growth in what is now the world’s second-biggest economy helped prevent a second Great Depression in 2008-09, but there was a heavy price to pay. China spent public money lavishly – often on pointless projects – and by making credit cheap and abundant it set off a property boom. There has been misallocation of capital on a colossal scale, resulting in empty office blocks and unproductive factories.
Laura Eaton of Fathom Consulting says Beijing has hit the panic button: “In our view, the ongoing series of stimulus measures employed by the Chinese government merely highlights their discomfort. Quite simply, we believe that their actions belie their words. China is suffering a hard landing.”
Eaton expects the People’s Bank of China to devalue its currency aggressively over the coming months. The impact of that would be to flood the global economy with cut-price Chinese goods, putting added pressure on competing developing nations and turning ultra-low inflation to outright deflation in the west.
All this would happen at a time when other central banks and finance ministries are low on ammunition. In previous economic cycles, countries have gone into recessions with healthy public finances and relatively high levels of interest rates. That has allowed public spending to rise, taxes to be cut and the cost of borrowing to be lowered. Almost seven years into the recovery from the downturn of 2008-09, interest rates in the developed world are barely above zero and the repair job on public finances remains unfinished.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said last week the global economy would remain fragile in 2016. She said there was likely to be an “increased divergence” in monetary policy in developed countries. The fund thinks the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank will be providing extra stimulus at a time when the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England are pushing up interest rates. In the past, this has tended to be a recipe for trouble in the markets.
Lagarde also predicted that China’s attempt to rebalance its economy towards consumer spending rather than exports would prove a bumpy process rather than a trouble-free one: the transition was leading to lower demand for commodities, with knock-on effects for those countries producing oil and industrial metals.
Pressures on commodity producers are already evident. Russia and Brazil are in recession; Saudi Arabia has announced an austerity budget and is planning to sell a stake in its state-owned oil company Aramco. If the Saudis are feeling the pinch from an oil price that has fallen from $115 a barrel in August 2014 to $33 a barrel on Friday, other countries in the emerging world are probably getting close to breaking point.
The last time the developing world was in crisis, Alan Greenspan, the then chairman of the US Federal Reserve, rode to the rescue with cuts in interest rates. The dotcom bubble resulted, and when that went pop Greenspan responded by again slashing interest rates. That led to the US sub-prime housing bubble. When that went pop, China came to the rescue while the west sorted out its wrecked banking system.
So what happens if the first week of 2016 is more than a temporary wobble? More quantitative easing? Negative interest rates? Helicopter drops of money? Nobody really knows. As Sir Alex Ferguson once said: this is squeaky bum time.
Finger-pointing “blame the Chinese” nonsense is part of the scapegoating frenzy which the ruling class is increasingly turning to, to avoid responsibility for world collapse and bankruptcy.
It was not the China that began the domino toppling of bankrupt banks and institutions in 2008, not the mire of instability and collapses that have been bursting through the capitalist world since the 1970s “oil crisis”, in various South-East Asian currency implosions, Latin American credit failures, Russian meltdowns, numerous “Black Mondays” on the Stock Exchanges, and the near two decades of stagnation in Japan, still struggling with twice the debt levels of Beijing.
Just the opposite, it was the Chinese workers state which largely rescued otherwise bankrupt capitalism from immediate implosion in 2008 using all the levers that its still centralised control economy allows.
It remains to be seen whether Beijing’s dire revisionist leadership has placed too much emphasis on using the capitalist mechanism to push along its economy, or even whether temporarily rescuing the world capitalist economy was a good idea anyway.
While the workers state has needed to develop from a low point of rural backwardness and relative poverty, it has been a sensible policy (as Lenin advocated) to boost investment by making concessions to attract outside capital, sustaining trade and preventing siege blockades like those which have hampered communist Cuba and bullied various Western-hated “rogue” nations with starvation sanctions (notably Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe etc).
But it also needs care within a workers state, which China remains yet.
Technical control is vital but more so the sharpest Marxist leadership to counter the pernicious influence of constantly re-arising bourgeois ideology, a battle not obviously sharply engaged by Beijing revisionism.
It may well be, even hampered by its dire revisionist illusions in “not rocking the boat” and “steadily overtaking the West” – the Chinese version of the disarming and wrong “permanent peaceful coexistence” line first put forwards by Stalin in the early 1950s (see EPSR issues 1190–1196 or EPSR Books Vol 21 ) – that Beijing’s workers state organisation and Red Army strength can allow it at least stay to one side of the imploding world economic catastrophe, albeit at some cost.
It does not need to destroy capital to restore the rate of profit as imperialism does.
But it is unlikely to be undamaged by the enormous economic turmoil wiping out whole swathes of industry across the planet.
And what Beijing, and all continuing revisionism should be challenged on is precisely the failure to give the world working class any sense of the gigantic epochal breakdown that is underway and its revolutionary implications.
It was not for nothing that the great militancy and revolutionary energy of Karl Marx was devoted first and foremost to 25 years of long daily study in the British Library and the writing of Capital, to untangle the nature of money, profit, and production under capitalism, and its intractable contradictions, nor that his comrade Frederick Engels devoted more years to publishing much of it.
But it was this foundation that demonstrated that it is not only the monstrous unfairness and injustice of life for the majority which demands a new, fairer, socialist planned world.
It is the impossibility of the world moving forwards finally in a private profit system, due to its inevitable, regular, and ever greater disastrous crashes and war destruction which make a revolutionary transformation both necessary and possible.
The bourgeoisie knows full well what disaster it faces, and the enormous explosion of class war which is coming as a result, but hides it away behind the insane pretence that there is a “recovery”, as Osborne, and as Obamaism has just done in the presidential “State of the Union” speech.
The aim is to lull and disarm the working class, heading it further from conscious grasp of the need for revolution, and diverting it into petty chauvinism and “anti-terrorist” war fever.
Petty bourgeois-minded class collaborationism (Labour eg) plays right into this turkeys-voting-for-Christmas delusion with its talk of “stopping austerity” by controlling “bad capitalism” (as if there is a good kind!!!) or “regulating the banks”.
Revisionism and all the “lefts” also keep workers tied back to illusions in parliament, the lying cover for the outright dictatorship of the ruling class and now its worldwide rampaging and Slump destruction.
And whenever events give the working class new lessons in the need for revolutionary class struggle they twist and turn every way possible to hide their own mistakes.
They not only cover up their failures and errors but go to all kinds of lengths to talk their way out of them.
Venezuela and Latin America, are the great current example.
These have been a desperate “last ditch” for the fake-“left” to avoid spelling out revolutionary perspectives, even as their hopelessness and opportunism has been exposed for its uselessness and treachery everywhere else.
So they have all hailed a “new example” of workers progress without all that “old hat” Leninist talk of the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The “solidarity” meetings that the fake-“left” love to attend, to make themselves feel worthy, – “left charity” do-gooding for the liberal petty bourgeoisie, smugly and patronisingly patting the Latin American workers on the head – have been relentlessly hostile to any attempts to raise revolutionary questions.
The CPB and other revisionists pack out such meetings and some Trotskyists like Lindsey German’s Counterfire join in too, sneeringly putting down any Leninist interventions by declaring that the Venezuelan workers should first “test the limits of democracy”.
What monstrous misleading treachery!
Just like the Chileans???
Their “test” cost thousands of workers’ lives in 1973 under Salvador Allende’s leadership and left the working class fatally disarmed in the face of military coup, pushing the working class back down into terrorised and tortured oppression.
Multiple massacres and coups have followed.
How many times does the working class need to go through such “tests” before leadership is rebuilt which states the clear lessons – that bourgeois democracy is a giant lying fraud covering over the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, under which no real gains for the working class will ever be allowed, all protest will be put down with as much ruthlessness as needed and under which, in the Slump, even past achievements (the NHS etc) will be dismantled.
Now the Venezuelans have seen more than a decade of Chávista populist struggle – and improvements to workers lives – all toppled by world crisis, by deliberate economic sabotage by the local bourgeoisie and its CIA backers, and by endless provoked rightwing middle class street violence, culminating in the outrageous manipulation and propaganda onslaught which has pushed out the “left” government.
A similar right wing manipulation has pushed out the halfway house “leftism” of President Cristina Fernández in Buenos Aires.
Honduras is already back in drug crime mayhem, like Mexico, after the 2009 military coup supported by Obama and Hillary Clinton’s Washington regime.
The glaring need for Leninist politics and exposure of the fraud of bourgeois democracy could not be sharper.
But the “left” say nothing – or worse still they cover up their previous nonsense like Harpal Brar’s Lalkar museum-Stalinists, bi-monthly alter ego for the CPGB-ML Proletarian, pretending that they knew all along that Chávism would not suffice and sharply scolding the rest of the fake-“left” thus (as usual the protagonists remain vague and unnamed, avoiding any real polemic):
The Venezuelan revolution has been lauded to the sky so far in opportunist circles precisely because it apparently gave credence to the theory that it is possible to overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish socialism by peaceful, parliamentary means, and further, to organise a capitalist economy for the benefit of the masses of working class and peasantry.
Presumably we are to infer (correctly) that such is not possible, though no more is said about what the alternative must be, least of all explaining the need for a revolutionary party, battling for understanding through open polemic to educate and lead the working class, and certainly not a mention of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
But even this much is dissembling humbug!!!!
It is the first time that Lalkar/Proletarian has come near to making such a point, almost certainly because it knows it stands exposed to the Leninist grasp which has consistently been advanced by the EPSR (alone).
Leninism has not attacked Chávism in the way that one or two of the most sinisterly oddball groups have, notably the Trotskyist Spartacists, who took a typically ultra-left position of opposing the Chávez regime because it is not a "full revolution" (and not following the “perfect” revolutionary line typically prescribed by these subjective idealists).
That simply undermines the working class and helps the counter-revolutionary opposition.
But it has constantly pointed to the flaws and failings of “Bolivarian” populism which did little to educate and lead the working class in the vital grasp it needed of world capitalist crisis and revolutionary party building and organisation.
The Brarites did not do that.
Like the entire fake-“left”, just three years ago Lalkar/Proletarian devoted half its pagination to the death of Hugo Chávez “lauding to the sky” his achievements and declaiming him a “heroic and tireless internationalist revolutionary”.
Not a word of critique was made of his new “21st century socialism”, an eclectic and garbled mishmash of Trotskyism, reformism, and revisionism supposedly guiding the “Bolivarian revolution”, to be achieved through parliamentary elections, with the inane promise of calmly stepping aside according to “democratic principles” in the event of losing, exactly what Lalkar now tells us is not possible.
Nor was there any criticism of Havana’s revisionist leadership, which too has lauded Chávezism from the start, (declared wrongly to be a socialist hero, as Salvador Allende was equally before), saying nothing about the fact that despite the huge popular working class support for him, his regime had neither come close to overturning the bourgeoisie nor said anything about the need to do so, and was vulnerable from the start.
The heroic Cuban revolution itself from the beginning, correctly and firmly made sure it had taken power, – which required years of armed revolutionary struggle, culminating in 1959 with the expulsion of the bourgeoisie, and with the great land, hotel, finance and industrial properties taken into common ownership.
Socialism was developed under the firm control of a workers state, steadily drawing its masses into the only real democracy there ever can be, that of the great majority when the bourgeois power has been ended, guided by the constant struggle of communist leadership, and constantly alert to imperialist spying, subversion, sabotage and counter-revolution (with all the workers state police surveillance and military power that demands).
It has defiantly built a coherent and fair society in the teeth of terrible economic blockade and shortages, with one of the world’s best medical health systems, great culture, education, innovation, sports and science and a supreme record of generous internationalist aid, both medical and military, for Third World struggles.
Such a brilliant practical example, inspiring the whole world working class, has not been reflected in the theoretical pronouncements from Havana tragically.
But far from take it up on these questions, Lalkar has kept silent.
Even now plays down the significance of the Venezuelan bourgeois takeover, and while that can be partly excused as not giving in to defeatism, it also continues the same disarming delusions suggesting there can be a fightback using the same (“constitutional”) methods as before!!!!:
(though it) is the largely comprador bourgeoisie now controlling the legislature, ...the working class and oppressed classes generally are (still) controlling the executive power. The military is believed still to be firmly in the hands of the Chavistas, though there can be little doubt that the bourgeoisie - overwhelmingly made up of white people of Spanish descent - and its imperialist backers will have been working overtime to reverse that situation, and it yet remains to be seen what success they have achieved, if any.
Notwithstanding the powers that the opposition now have to attack the Venezuelan revolution, the progressive classes are not without powers. The most potent constitutional power is the presidential power to make laws without recourse to the legislature at all, a power that could prove really meaningful so long as the government can continue to rely on the support of the Venezuelan army:
“Maduro currently holds enabling powers that were granted to him by the National Assembly in March 2015 to shield the country from US aggression, after US president Barack Obama signed an executive order designating Venezuela as an ‘extraordinary threat ’ to US national security.” (‘Venezuelan Communist Party & Trade Unions ask President to pass Workers’ Councils Law’, Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, Venezuelanalysis, 15 December 2015).
The Venezuelan Communist Party is advocating that Maduro should pass laws giving ‘workers’ control’ to Workers’ Councils.
Yes but why is the CP not advocating the immediate building of revolutionary understanding????? And why is Lalkar not criticising it for not doing so??????????
Of course the bourgeoisie, which has managed to stitch up a two-thirds, constitution-changing majority is going to make sure it never lets the working class back near the levers of real power.
It is no good complaining about how unfair all this is, as the Lalkar now does bemoaning the way the election was stitched up by sabotage and economic troubles:
Naturally, if the President were to rely on enabling laws on the pretext that they are necessary as a counter to US imperialist interference, this would be decried as dictatorial and undemocratic in the light of the ‘clearly expressed will of the Venezuelan people to see the back of the ‘revolution’.
[but], contrary to superficial appearance, the Venezuelan people, far from wanting to see the back of the Bolivarian revolution, in fact want to see it deepened, and quickly.
As Lucas Koemer (op.cit.) points out: “... while the opposition has indeed won a super-majority and the concomitant legal power to pursue these changes, this does not necessarily mean that they have a popular mandate to carry out such a reactionary agenda.
“That is, they have won an election widely viewed as a punishment vote against the ruling PSUV amidst a severe economic crisis, but they have not, however, reconstituted neoliberal hegemony.
“Polls have long shown that the vast majority of the Venezuelan people support the radical social democratic initiatives of the Bolivarian Revolution, including the social missions, as well as measures to defend the working class, such as food price regulations and periodic minimum wage increases. Likewise, over two-thirds of the population oppose neoliberal policies, such as the privatization of the state oil company PDVSA or of the state electric company CORPOLEC.
...“Over 62% of Venezuelans consider themselves ’partisans or followers of the ideals of Hugo Chávez which does not necessarily make them all revolutionary socialists, but it does indicate a consensus regarding the legitimacy of popular participation and social democratic state policy.”
Moreover, “With 40% support, the PSUV still gained the votes of more than five million Venezuelans, even in the midst of excruciating hardship. Five million Venezuelans remain firmly committed to socialism and the Chávez vision. Five million Venezuelans have risen to say no to US imperialism and capitalism in the face of a crushing economic war, in the face of an unmistakable rightward shift in Latin America as the Empire makes its countermove against all the gains the Left has made in the last two decades. (Eric Draitser, ‘Assessing Venezuela’s elections: the good, the bad, and the indifferent’, Counterpunch, 15 December 2015).
There may also have been some tampering with the polls since there appear to have been an extraordinarily high proportion of null votes which have operated against the government. This is currently being investigated.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that ordinary Venezuelans have of late been suffering grave hardship. Venezuelan socialism has been heavily reliant on oil revenues which the Chavistas, having the support of the bulk of the Venezuelan army, were to a large extent able to divert out of the pockets of US imperialist multinationals into making social provision for Venezuelan people, thereby alleviating poverty to a considerable degree, eliminating illiteracy, providing medical services, initiating community projects to provide employment, etc., etc. However, as we have pointed out jn the past, the export of Venezuelan oil has necessarily been accompanied by use of the petro-dollars generated to pay for imports, which in turn have undermined the building of competitive local industries to absorb the labour power of Venezuela’s millions of displaced peasants. Although there are jobs in the oil industry and in the distribution of the imports, this simply is not enough.
The PSUV has certainly made every effort to create employment through the projects that it funds, but, as was pointed out recently in a meeting to discuss the election result held in London by the Venezuela Solidarity Committee, (VSC) this is.....necessarily a slow process when the reins of the economy are in the hands of the bourgeoisie, i.e., when as a result profitability rather than the needs of the people is still the driving force of the economy.
...public spending on social provision that depended on the high price of oil... has been totally undermined by the fact that the world price of oil has dropped from $140 a barrel to $40. To maintain social spending the Maduro government had to print money that was not backed up by the prices obtainable for the commodities that Venezuela is producing, and the result has been rampant inflation, felt by the poor in terms of rapidly increasing prices of the basic food and other requirements on which they depend. Attempts by the government to restrict the prices at which staples are sold simply resulted in these items ceasing to be readily available, and making shopping a total nightmare of shortages, high prices and queues.
All this was unceasingly castigated as being the result of ‘incompetence’ on the part of the Venezuelan government, a message whose force was backed up by millions of dollars of US aid to the anti-Chavista, pro-comprador, political groupings, to help ensure that it was blasted out day after day, hour after hour, from every possible medium of communication for months and years on end. It is not, however, a question of ‘incompetence’ but an ideological question of whether or not a government should put the needs of its people before corporate interests in profiteering - which is all the Venezuelan government has done. And in so doing it has demonstrated not its own bankruptcy but the bankruptcy of the capitalist system which it has been attempting “to force into delivering a reasonable standard of living to the masses”.
So why have Chávez, his successor Nicolás Maduro, and behind him the great army of fake-“lefts” - including Lalkar – not warned of these inevitable difficulties???
Why have they not prepared workers for them and let them understand the onrush of world crisis???
Worse still, why have they told the entire world working class for a decade that this is a “new way” and able to “rally the left which has suffered so many setbacks everywhere else”, with gushing speeches from “left celebrities” like Tariq Ali, Dianne Abbott and Seamus Milne????
Why did they not warn them about the oil price collapse (and deflationary collapse of everything else) instead of telling the world for two decades that the Iraq war, Afghanistan, etc etc was “all about oil” (in Harpal Brar’s portentous phrase “he who would understand the war must first learn to spell the word oil” (roughly recalled)).
The EPSR, four years before the global crash, was warning about potential oil collapse and more (No 1236 08-06-04) despite “left” mockery of “catastrophism”, a point made now not to crow, but to emphasise the importance of the Leninist scientific method:
It might keep going, but it might collapse at any moment, just like in 1929 when it was crazed market speculation in Florida land futures which was the final burst bubble bringing Wall Street down.
Wild guessing about what the world economy will do next now is almost as hysterical as the grotesque speculation itself, and Marx’s formula (EPSR box) can only provide a very general guide.
Detailed scenarios are impossible, but a total dollar collapse, followed by a markets collapse, still seems the obvious logic out of a world run on dollar-printing since 1945 in order to finance the “triumph of anti-communism”.
Oil price hysteria is another side of dollar collapse hysteria.
There is even more evasion in the Lalkar piece which has only made its stern warnings about parliamentary illusions after the event.
And anyway Venezuela is a “special case” it seems:
... in Venezuela, where the ruling bourgeoisie had alienated the national army through its white chauvinism, thereby depriving itself of the most essential prop of bourgeois state power, it was indeed for a while possible for a socialist government to take power and implement measures of significant importance for the benefit of the proletarian masses of Venezuela, and quite rightly this opportunity was duly seized.
However, the laws of capitalist economics are inexorable. Just as King Canute could stand on the sea shore and order the tide to go back, and find it apparently obedient for a while, inevitably the tide did turn and heartlessly demolish his apparent power, so the Venezuelan revolution has come up against the capitalist economic crisis that has devastated the price of oil, at least for the time being.
This is pure sophistry. Of course the chance to defeat bourgeois rule had to be taken and was, even brilliantly surviving the 2002 coup attempt, but the “inexorability” of crisis is precisely why the opportunity this left-nationalist reformism opened up, had to be used much further to explain, and to educate the working class in revolutionary perspectives.
And as an aside, the final point about the oil price collapsing “for the time being” underlines completely the petty bourgeois ethos behind all this, which simply does not believe the epochal scale of the crisis, deep down believing the bourgeoisie will “find a way” to come back.
But like mistake after mistake by these museum-Stalinists all this will be brushed under the carpet shortly.
The old reformism and left pressure will revive under cover of “immediate problems”; “we know all about revolution and will be there on the day” and “what do we do in the meantime?”.
There is no “meantime” as the EPSR alone has consistently warned the working class.
That is not some idealist call of “to the barricades now”.
It is a call to develop the revolutionary perspective now, building the Leninist party to do it.
Of course all kinds of defensive (reformist) battles are drawing more and more into struggle, even such extraordinary participants as NHS doctors.
Spontaneous often confused struggles are erupting everywhere from “Black Lives Matter” to strikes and refugee turmoil, and with it must come a giant debate to sort out the way forwards, learning lessons from the great successes and failings of past struggles, most of all the huge achievements of the Soviet Union and other 20th century communist states.
The anti-communism which saturates everyone within capitalism needs to be challenged, and the Trots who help promulgate this poison, too.
But the difficulties and mistakes cannot be evaded by Stalin worship either, covering-up and suppressing discussion.
Even greater issues continue to unravel, most of all the great “world terrorism” turmoil, from Paris and New York to Jakarta and Istanbul.
The “left” are in total confusion about this, with one point in common, that they line up with capitalism to denounce and “condemn” it.
This capitulates totally to the “kill them all” chauvinist war frenzy which the ruling class is whipping up, (as in the Republican presidential race).
This Nazi-hysteria is its main strategy for avoiding and escaping the crisis which alone is the cause of breakdown, alienation, and war destruction in the world.
Despite the ever spreading spontaneous eruption revolt throughout the Third World and its obvious hatred of the West, the “left” goes out of their way to deny such movements are “anti-imperialist”.
All kinds of complicated logic is used to declare Islamism to be “a new kind of reaction”, a “form of fascism”, just “headbanging madness” or “all created by the CIA”.
This is nothing to do with Marxism which looks for the material contradictions of the world class struggle (and in all development) as the basis for understanding - not what is in peoples’ heads.
The Lalkarites have had their own bizarre version of this capitulation, stemming from their Stalinist wooden one-sided and undialectical assessment of regimes like the Assad Ba’athists, whose erratic and bourgeois nationalism has long been forced by local Arab street pressure to make a show of anti-Zionist resistance and non-compliance with imperialism (though, as the following bourgeois piece illustrates, only as much as needed to avoid its own toppling, a recalcitrance which has drawn the ire of the Palestinian Hamas leadership for example).
Complete failure to grasp revolutionary movement and the whole world class struggle picture has seen them support Saddam Hussein etc a disastrous nonsense (EPSR 1193 15-07-03):
the imperialist warmongering epoch’s greatest trick of feeding “democracy” and “peace protest” illusions to the working class is totally swallowed by the entire fake-’left’, peddling electoral politics as a “genuine way forward”; and even when imperialism’s warmongering racket starts to go wrong, and its reactionary purpose begins to show through its “liberating” pretence, such is the paralysis bequeathed by Stalin’s theoretical confusion that bogus “revolutionaries” like Lalkar cannot see the difference between calling for an imperialist DEFEAT, and calling for the victory of such reactionary degenerates as Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.
By all means let imperialist adventures LOSE to ANYONE. But for the working class to start WINNING anything, then their firepower needs turning AGAINST such fake and useless “anti-imperialists” as Milosevic and Saddam as soon as the imperialist no-good intervention has been sent packing.
Now they support another, Assad, because the regime has similarly made some token reformist moves in the past. And while this is at least on the other side to the treacherous all-out support by many Trots for the pretend “street revolts” set off in Syria and Libya in 2011, (obvious CIA “colour revolution” stunts backed by massive bourgeois press coverage and demonisation, and secret sniper provocations inside Syria, to inflame sectarian war), it is just as bad.
It is part of a mire of contradictions which emerge from their failure to focus on solely on imperialism alone as the enemy – among which are celebrating (!) the 2013 General Sisi coup in Egypt which deposed the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, - (an illegality, for what it is worth, which seems not to bother the Lalkarites despite endless insistence that Assad is “the legitimate government”), - a coup which has butchered and shot down thousands of innocent protestors, and imprisoned many more, many being victim to mass judicial death sentences, including Morsi.
Sisi’s is a regime now again heavily subsidised by the US, collaborating with nazi-Zionism to shut down all support for the Palestinians and which has released the former dictator Hosni Mubarak, whose overthrow was the rationale for the original and genuine 2011 Arab Spring.
Lalkar also treats Russia as if it were a soviet state, failing utterly to say a word about its counter-revolutionary gangster oligarch rule, declared anti-communism from the idiot Bonapartist Putin, and its now imperialist civilian blitzing butchery in Syria, in alliance with imperialist France (!!!) and now the US.
They eulogise Iran as part of an “axis of resistance” skipping lightly over its nature as a fully-fledged theocratic sharia state, despite their non-stop denunciations of “Islamic headbanging”.
The tangles they are in get more knotted around ISIS and the insurgency in Syria, declaring all opposition to Assad to be “terrorism” and blind to the complexities of the emerging anti-imperialist movement that currently forms ISIS.
To a certain extent this confusion mirrors capitalism’s own confusion, reflecting growing weakness and splits in Washington itself, driven by years of bodybag retreats and economic catastrophe.
It is clear that Syria’s war (and Libya too) were deliberately set going, and certainly that they used all kinds of past trickery and manipulation to stir up sectarian hatred and use local jihadism.
But this was a desperate and panicked response to try and hem in the Cairo rebellion, the biggest spontaneous upheaval yet seen in the Middle East, which threatened to spread across the whole region, catching fire in Yemen, Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia, all reactionary sheikhdoms or US stooges.
The Arab Spring “extension” against Assad and Gaddafi on the other hand was totally bogus, as obvious from their targets (anti-imperialist mavericks) and as confirmed by endless admissions of CIA and Zionist training and aid, and the huge finance and arms support from the Gulf States, and the NATO blitzing.
But all this was last-minute, fraught desperation by an imperialism which did not have the will or strength to intervene directly.
It has gone badly wrong. The sectarian insurgency (which was never “created” by imperialism as the “left” shallowly declare, but was just manipulated) has broken free and “blown back” with its own, now, anti-Western agenda, trying to dismantle an imperialist “lines in the sand legacy” going all the way back to the first World War division of colonial spoils in the secret Sykes-Picot treaty.
The imperialist strategy is in disarray and its propaganda.
The original aim of toppling Assad using a total hyped up “local rebellion” (of directed jihadist terror) with non-stop Goebbels world media demonisation of the Damascus government, is increasingly supplanted by the need to “stop ISIS” and play to the public “anti-terrorism” propaganda.
Elements of the US ruling class want to finish the Assad job but increasingly the target advocated by the Pentagon is the ISIS insurgency which, it is dawning on the ruling class, is now the real threat.
Out of all this comes the cynical hypocrisy of Western war declarations “against terror” followed by more than a year of half-hearted inaction against ISIS (almost undamaged by the biggest firepower forces on the planet, which knocked out Saddam in a week); the explanation being the desperate hope by some sections of the ruling class to continue using ISIS to topple Assad.
Hence bombing of ISIS has been partial and strategic, heading it off when it came too close to toppling the Baghdad regime (a US selected pro-Washington Shia stooge) but leaving it more or less intact near and inside Syria.
This is not confirmation that ISIS is “just a mercenary imperialist tool” as the Stalinists shallowly declare.
This is a philosophical nonsense on multiple levels – firstly how would “fighting for pay” begin to describe the fanatical suicide sacrifices of any of the insurgencies and how does it account for the wave of outbreaks from Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s Al-Shabaab to Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangla Desh and Afghanistan?
These are causing imperialism major headaches, and troops have had to be sent by France, the UK, and the US into various locations in Africa and Afghanistan. Why on earth would imperialism deliberately create such difficulties for itself and its otherwise peaceful exploitation??
Secondly how does it account for the extraordinary attraction these movements have for the disaffected and alienated right into the heart of capitalism???
The “lefts” evade many of these questions by concentrating only on ISIS in Syria (not the many other eruptions) where all kinds of conspiracy theories flourish to “justify” their craven denunciations of “terror”, including pointing the finger at Saudi Arabian money, Turkish regional expansionism, Zionist plotting and interventions, US CIA skulduggery, and Russian imperialist ambitions.
All of these are present but all miss the overall world imperialist crisis context of all these developments.
And they miss the confusion of capitalism’s own ruling class. Some of that is captured in a new detailed account by Washington insider journalist Seymour Hersh, partially quoted here (more next issue):
Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.
The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’
‘Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and actually having a negative impact,’ the former JCS adviser said. ‘The Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by fundamentalists. The administration’s policy was contradictory. They wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So who was going to replace him? To say Assad’s got to go is fine, but if you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It’s the “anybody else is better” issue that the JCS had with Obama’s policy.’ The Joint Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama’s policy would have ‘had a zero chance of success’. So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.
Germany, Israel and Russia were in contact with the Syrian army, and able to exercise some influence over Assad’s decisions – it was through them that US intelligence would be shared. Each had its reasons for co-operating with Assad: Germany feared what might happen among its own population of six million Muslims if Islamic State expanded; Israel was concerned with border security; Russia had an alliance of very long standing with Syria, and was worried by the threat to its only naval base on the Mediterranean, at Tartus. ‘We weren’t intent on deviating from Obama’s stated policies,’ the adviser said. ‘But sharing our assessments via the military-to-military relationships with other countries could prove productive. It was clear that Assad needed better tactical intelligence and operational advice. The JCS concluded that if those needs were met, the overall fight against Islamist terrorism would be enhanced. Obama didn’t know, but Obama doesn’t know what the JCS does in every circumstance and that’s true of all presidents.’
Once the flow of US intelligence began, Germany, Israel and Russia started passing on information about the whereabouts and intent of radical jihadist groups to the Syrian army; in return, Syria provided information about its own capabilities and intentions. There was no direct contact between the US and the Syrian military; instead, the adviser said, ‘we provided the information – including long-range analyses on Syria’s future put together by contractors or one of our war colleges – and these countries could do with it what they chose, including sharing it with Assad. We were saying to the Germans and the others: “Here’s some information that’s pretty interesting and our interest is mutual.” End of conversation. The JCS could conclude that something beneficial would arise from it – but it was a military to military thing, and not some sort of a sinister Joint Chiefs’ plot to go around Obama and support Assad. It was a lot cleverer than that. If Assad remains in power, it will not be because we did it. It’s because he was smart enough to use the intelligence and sound tactical advice we provided to others.’
The public history of relations between the US and Syria over the past few decades has been one of enmity. Assad condemned the 9/11 attacks, but opposed the Iraq War. George W. Bush repeatedly linked Syria to the three members of his ‘axis of evil’ – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – throughout his presidency. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks show that the Bush administration tried to destabilise Syria and that these efforts continued into the Obama years. In December 2006, William Roebuck, then in charge of the US embassy in Damascus, filed an analysis of the ‘vulnerabilities’ of the Assad government and listed methods ‘that will improve the likelihood’ of opportunities for destabilisation. He recommended that Washington work with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to increase sectarian tension and focus on publicising ‘Syrian efforts against extremist groups’ – dissident Kurds and radical Sunni factions – ‘in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback’; and that the ‘isolation of Syria’ should be encouraged through US support of the National Salvation Front, led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president whose government-in-exile in Riyadh was sponsored by the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 2006 cable showed that the embassy had spent $5 million financing dissidents who ran as independent candidates for the People’s Assembly; the payments were kept up even after it became clear that Syrian intelligence knew what was going on. A 2010 cable warned that funding for a London-based television network run by a Syrian opposition group would be viewed by the Syrian government ‘as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime’.
But there is also a parallel history of shadowy co-operation between Syria and the US during the same period. The two countries collaborated against al-Qaida, their common enemy. A longtime consultant to the Joint Special Operations Command said that, after 9/11, ‘Bashar was, for years, extremely helpful to us while, in my view, we were churlish in return, and clumsy in our use of the gold he gave us. That quiet co-operation continued among some elements, even after the [Bush administration’s] decision to vilify him.’ In 2002 Assad authorised Syrian intelligence to turn over hundreds of internal files on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Germany. Later that year, Syrian intelligence foiled an attack by al-Qaida on the headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, and Assad agreed to provide the CIA with the name of a vital al-Qaida informant. In violation of this agreement, the CIA contacted the informant directly; he rejected the approach, and broke off relations with his Syrian handlers. Assad also secretly turned over to the US relatives of Saddam Hussein who had sought refuge in Syria, and – like America’s allies in Jordan, Egypt, Thailand and elsewhere – tortured suspected terrorists for the CIA in a Damascus prison.
It was this history of co-operation that made it seem possible in 2013 that Damascus would agree to the new indirect intelligence-sharing arrangement with the US. The Joint Chiefs let it be known that in return the US would require four things: Assad must restrain Hizbullah from attacking Israel; he must renew the stalled negotiations with Israel to reach a settlement on the Golan Heights; he must agree to accept Russian and other outside military advisers; and he must commit to holding open elections after the war with a wide range of factions included. ‘We had positive feedback from the Israelis, who were willing to entertain the idea, but they needed to know what the reaction would be from Iran and Syria,’ the JCS adviser told me. ‘The Syrians told us that Assad would not make a decision unilaterally – he needed to have support from his military and Alawite allies. Assad’s worry was that Israel would say yes and then not uphold its end of the bargain.’ A senior adviser to the Kremlin on Middle East affairs told me that in late 2012, after suffering a series of battlefield setbacks and military defections, Assad had approached Israel via a contact in Moscow and offered to reopen the talks on the Golan Heights. The Israelis had rejected the offer. ‘They said, “Assad is finished,”’ the Russian official told me. ‘“He’s close to the end.”’ He said the Turks had told Moscow the same thing. By mid-2013, however, the Syrians believed the worst was behind them, and wanted assurances that the Americans and others were serious about their offers of help.
In the early stages of the talks, the adviser said, the Joint Chiefs tried to establish what Assad needed as a sign of their good intentions. The answer was sent through one of Assad’s friends: ‘Bring him the head of Prince Bandar.’ The Joint Chiefs did not oblige. Bandar bin Sultan had served Saudi Arabia for decades in intelligence and national security affairs, and spent more than twenty years as ambassador in Washington. In recent years, he has been known as an advocate for Assad’s removal from office by any means. Reportedly in poor health, he resigned last year as director of the Saudi National Security Council, but Saudi Arabia continues to be a major provider of funds to the Syrian opposition, estimated by US intelligence last year at $700 million.
In July 2013, the Joint Chiefs found a more direct way of demonstrating to Assad how serious they were about helping him. By then the CIA-sponsored secret flow of arms from Libya to the Syrian opposition, via Turkey, had been underway for more than a year (it started sometime after Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011).?? The operation was largely run out of a covert CIA annex in Benghazi, with State Department acquiescence. On 11 September 2012 the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed during an anti-American demonstration that led to the burning down of the US consulate in Benghazi; reporters for the Washington Post found copies of the ambassador’s schedule in the building’s ruins. It showed that on 10 September Stevens had met with the chief of the CIA’s annex operation. The next day, shortly before he died, he met a representative from Al-Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services, a Tripoli-based company which, the JCS adviser said, was known by the Joint Staff to be handling the weapons shipments.
By the late summer of 2013, the DIA’s assessment had been circulated widely, but although many in the American intelligence community were aware that the Syrian opposition was dominated by extremists the CIA-sponsored weapons kept coming, presenting a continuing problem for Assad’s army. Gaddafi’s stockpile had created an international arms bazaar, though prices were high. ‘There was no way to stop the arms shipments that had been authorised by the president,’ the JCS adviser said. ‘The solution involved an appeal to the pocketbook. The CIA was approached by a representative from the Joint Chiefs with a suggestion: there were far less costly weapons available in Turkish arsenals that could reach the Syrian rebels within days, and without a boat ride.’ But it wasn’t only the CIA that benefited. ‘We worked with Turks we trusted who were not loyal to Erdogan,’ the adviser said, ‘and got them to ship the jihadists in Syria all the obsolete weapons in the arsenal, including M1 carbines that hadn’t been seen since the Korean War and lots of Soviet arms. It was a message Assad could understand: “We have the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks.”’
The flow of US intelligence to the Syrian army, and the downgrading of the quality of the arms being supplied to the rebels, came at a critical juncture. The Syrian army had suffered heavy losses in the spring of 2013 in fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups as it failed to hold the provincial capital of Raqqa. Sporadic Syrian army and air-force raids continued in the area for months, with little success, until it was decided to withdraw from Raqqa and other hard to defend, lightly populated areas in the north and west and focus instead on consolidating the government’s hold on Damascus and the heavily populated areas linking the capital to Latakia in the north-east. But as the army gained in strength with the Joint Chiefs’ support, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey escalated their financing and arming of Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State, which by the end of 2013 had made enormous gains on both sides of the Syria/Iraq border. The remaining non-fundamentalist rebels found themselves fighting – and losing – pitched battles against the extremists. In January 2014, IS took complete control of Raqqa and the tribal areas around it from al-Nusra and established the city as its base. Assad still controlled 80 per cent of the Syrian population, but he had lost a vast amount of territory.
CIA efforts to train the moderate rebel forces were also failing badly. ‘The CIA’s training camp was in Jordan and was controlled by a Syrian tribal group,’ the JCS adviser said. There was a suspicion that some of those who signed up for training were actually Syrian army regulars minus their uniforms. This had happened before, at the height of the Iraqi war, when hundreds of Shia militia members showed up at American training camps for new uniforms, weapons and a few days of training, and then disappeared into the desert. A separate training programme, set up by the Pentagon in Turkey, fared no better. The Pentagon acknowledged in September that only ‘four or five’ of its recruits were still battling Islamic State; a few days later 70 of them defected to Jabhat al-Nusra immediately after crossing the border into Syria.
In January 2014, despairing at the lack of progress, John Brennan, the director of the CIA, summoned American and Sunni Arab intelligence chiefs from throughout the Middle East to a secret meeting in Washington, with the aim of persuading Saudi Arabia to stop supporting extremist fighters in Syria. ‘The Saudis told us they were happy to listen,’ the JCS adviser said, ‘so everyone sat around in Washington to hear Brennan tell them that they had to get on board with the so-called moderates. His message was that if everyone in the region stopped supporting al-Nusra and Isis their ammunition and weapons would dry up, and the moderates would win out.’ Brennan’s message was ignored by the Saudis, the adviser said, who ‘went back home and increased their efforts with the extremists and asked us for more technical support. And we say OK, and so it turns out that we end up reinforcing the extremists.’
But the Saudis were far from the only problem: American intelligence had accumulated intercept and human intelligence demonstrating that the Erdogan government had been supporting Jabhat al-Nusra for years, and was now doing the same for Islamic State. ‘We can handle the Saudis,’ the adviser said. ‘We can handle the Muslim Brotherhood. You can argue that the whole balance in the Middle East is based on a form of mutually assured destruction between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and Turkey can disrupt the balance – which is Erdogan’s dream. We told him we wanted him to shut down the pipeline of foreign jihadists flowing into Turkey. But he is dreaming big – of restoring the Ottoman Empire – and he did not realise the extent to which he could be successful in this.’
One of the constants in US affairs since the fall of the Soviet Union has been a military-to-military relationship with Russia. After 1991 the US spent billions of dollars to help Russia secure its nuclear weapons complex, including a highly secret joint operation to remove weapons-grade uranium from unsecured storage depots in Kazakhstan. Joint programmes to monitor the security of weapons-grade materials continued for the next two decades. During the American war on Afghanistan, Russia provided overflight rights for US cargo carriers and tankers, as well as access for the flow of weapons, ammunition, food and water the US war machine needed daily. Russia’s military provided intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and helped the US negotiate rights to use an airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The Joint Chiefs have been in communication with their Russian counterparts throughout the Syrian war, and the ties between the two militaries start at the top. In August, a few weeks before his retirement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey made a farewell visit to the headquarters of the Irish Defence Forces in Dublin and told his audience there that he had made a point while in office to keep in touch with the chief of the Russian General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov. ‘I’ve actually suggested to him that we not end our careers as we began them,’ Dempsey said – one a tank commander in West Germany, the other in the east.
When it comes to tackling Islamic State, Russia and the US have much to offer each other. Many in the IS leadership and rank and file fought for more than a decade against Russia in the two Chechen wars that began in 1994, and the Putin government is heavily invested in combating Islamist terrorism. ‘Russia knows the Isis leadership,’ the JCS adviser said, ‘and has insights into its operational techniques, and has much intelligence to share.’ In return, he said, ‘we’ve got excellent trainers with years of experience in training foreign fighters – experience that Russia does not have.’ The adviser would not discuss what American intelligence is also believed to have: an ability to obtain targeting data, often by paying huge sums of cash, from sources within rebel militias.
A former White House adviser on Russian affairs told me that before 9/11 Putin ‘used to say to us: “We have the same nightmares about different places.” He was referring to his problems with the caliphate in Chechnya and our early issues with al-Qaida. These days, after the Metrojet bombing over Sinai and the massacres in Paris and elsewhere, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we actually have the same nightmares about the same places.’
Yet the Obama administration continues to condemn Russia for its support of Assad. A retired senior diplomat who served at the US embassy in Moscow expressed sympathy for Obama’s dilemma as the leader of the Western coalition opposed to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine: ‘Ukraine is a serious issue and Obama has been handling it firmly with sanctions. But our policy vis-à-vis Russia is too often unfocused. But it’s not about us in Syria. It’s about making sure Bashar does not lose. The reality is that Putin does not want to see the chaos in Syria spread to Jordan or Lebanon, as it has to Iraq, and he does not want to see Syria end up in the hands of Isis. The most counterproductive thing Obama has done, and it has hurt our efforts to end the fighting a lot, was to say: “Assad must go as a premise for negotiation.”’ He also echoed a view held by some in the Pentagon when he alluded to a collateral factor behind Russia’s decision to launch airstrikes in support of the Syrian army on 30 September: Putin’s desire to prevent Assad from suffering the same fate as Gaddafi. He had been told that Putin had watched a video of Gaddafi’s savage death three times, a video that shows him being sodomised with a bayonet. The JCS adviser also told me of a US intelligence assessment which concluded that Putin had been appalled by Gaddafi’s fate: ‘Putin blamed himself for letting Gaddafi go, for not playing a strong role behind the scenes’ at the UN when the Western coalition was lobbying to be allowed to undertake the airstrikes that destroyed the regime. ‘Putin believed that unless he got engaged Bashar would suffer the same – mutilated – and he’d see the destruction of his allies in Syria.’
In a speech on 22 November, Obama declared that the ‘principal targets’ of the Russian airstrikes ‘have been the moderate opposition’. It’s a line that the administration – along with most of the mainstream American media – has rarely strayed from. The Russians insist that they are targeting all rebel groups that threaten Syria’s stability – including Islamic State. The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East explained in an interview that the first round of Russian airstrikes was aimed at bolstering security around a Russian airbase in Latakia, an Alawite stronghold. The strategic goal, he said, has been to establish a jihadist-free corridor from Damascus to Latakia and the Russian naval base at Tartus and then to shift the focus of bombing gradually to the south and east, with a greater concentration of bombing missions over IS-held territory. Russian strikes on IS targets in and near Raqqa were reported as early as the beginning of October; in November there were further strikes on IS positions near the historic city of Palmyra and in Idlib province, a bitterly contested stronghold on the Turkish border.
Russian incursions into Turkish airspace began soon after Putin authorised the bombings, and the Russian air force deployed electronic jamming systems that interfered with Turkish radar. The message being sent to the Turkish air force, the JCS adviser said, was: ‘We’re going to fly our fighter planes where we want and when we want and jam your radar. Do not fuck with us. Putin was letting the Turks know what they were up against.’ Russia’s aggression led to Turkish complaints and Russian denials, along with more aggressive border patrolling by the Turkish air force. There were no significant incidents until 24 November, when two Turkish F-16 fighters, apparently acting under more aggressive rules of engagement, shot down a Russian Su-24M jet that had crossed into Turkish airspace for no more than 17 seconds. In the days after the fighter was shot down, Obama expressed support for Erdogan, and after they met in private on 1 December he told a press conference that his administration remained ‘very much committed to Turkey’s security and its sovereignty’. He said that as long as Russia remained allied with Assad, ‘a lot of Russian resources are still going to be targeted at opposition groups … that we support … So I don’t think we should be under any illusions that somehow Russia starts hitting only Isil targets. That’s not happening now. It was never happening. It’s not going to be happening in the next several weeks.’
The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East, like the Joint Chiefs and the DIA, dismisses the ‘moderates’ who have Obama’s support, seeing them as extremist Islamist groups that fight alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and IS (‘There’s no need to play with words and split terrorists into moderate and not moderate,’ Putin said in a speech on 22 October). The American generals see them as exhausted militias that have been forced to make an accommodation with Jabhat al-Nusra or IS in order to survive. At the end of 2014, Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German journalist who was allowed to spend ten days touring IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria, told CNN that the IS leadership ‘are all laughing about the Free Syrian Army. They don’t take them for serious. They say: “The best arms sellers we have are the FSA. If they get a good weapon, they sell it to us.” ... They take for serious Assad. They take for serious, of course, the bombs. But they fear nothing, and FSA doesn’t play a role.’
Build Leninism Don Hoskins
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