Groups like the UK’s “Stop The War Coalition” (STWuk) are a big part of the problem of the West’s betrayal of Syrians struggling for representative government. They have been destroying the positive contribution progressive politics in the West could have made. They have shouted down those calling for a viable partnership with Syrians.
A poem by Michael Rosen of “Stop The War Coalition” (STWuk), shows that the pious clergy of the Trotskyist Hard Left just cannot grasp their mistake:
A new poem from Michael Rosen (9/12/2015)
Whatever they say about us,
we haven’t killed anyone.
They’ve killed hundreds of thousands.
Hundreds and hundreds of thousands.
Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands.
Perhaps they think that if they keep pointing
at us, saying,
‘Stop the War are the problem!’
no one will notice the blood
on their hands.
Assume “They” refers to the right-wing elites in the West. Who sponsor the “capitalist imperialism” of client neo-colonialist regimes, who prop up what they misleadingly claim are “Western Interests” (they really mean Western elitist interests). Included in this are Zionists, who oppose any truly comprehensive criticism of Israel’s advanced racist state.
The problem is it is not just “they” who are critical of STWuk, and are disgusted by its misleading claim to be progressive. Even the opposition of STWuk to “wars of intervention” in the Middle East, has been of the least effective type.
The purpose of going to war in Afghanistan was revenge for 9/11. The purpose in Iraq was creating chaos, out of which a more compliant dictator would be installed to ensure American oil interests. The public relation (PR) reasons of repressive repellent dangerous Taliban and Baathist governments were still true, even if they were not the motivators.
Groups like STWuk pitched the illegitimacy, human suffering and resulting sectarian strife caused by these wars, against the valid PR reasons of removing repressive, repellent and dangerous regimes. The public debate then centred on the potential costs versus benefits of these interventions. In the perception of the public (probably not the intelligence community), not intervening meant a potential, at the time unquantified risk to the West. Intervention meant an equally unquantified risk to the peoples of these countries.
Campaigns demanding a viable partnership with the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq to create representative governments, would have been more threatening to the intentions of “capitalist imperialism”. This is not an argument of perfection, no plan can be created that guarantees successful intervention, but at least wholly inadequate plans can be exposed.
The intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, used sectarian rivalries between ethnic groups to supress the Pashtuns, not just the Taliban. The country had endured decades of war, and neglect. A new set of militias and warlords had emerged. In this context how was representative government going to be created that worked with this chaos and the underlying traditional social structures? Perhaps there was not time to test this in the post 9/11 climate but truly informed critics should have tried?
The intervention in Iraq in 2003 crushed the Iraqi army, as well as unnecessarily destroying infrastructure. The Baathist regime and government structures were then both liquidated.
The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein was dominated by Sunni Arabs, who ahd oppressed the majority Shia population. In addition Iraq had fought an eight year war with post Islamic Revolution Shia Iran, sponsored by the Americans. It was therefore inevitable that a Sunni versus Shia civil war would break out in this situation. The Shia militias being equipped by their neighbour Iran, and the Sunni militias using their previous military connections. Saddam also oppressed Kurds in Northern Iraq, leading to an Arab versus Kurd civil war after the regime ended.
In addition the anti-regime opposition who had lobbied for representative government in exile, were side-lined by the Americans. Reconstruction was handed to American companies, who failed abysmally. The whole intervention only succeeded in moving amazingly “trillions of dollars” from the American government to large corporations with Republican connections. Even the ultimate goal of installing a new compliant dictator to protect Western interests failed, as they underestimated the Iranian regime.
Where was the plan to engage with Iraqi opposition? Where was the Iraqi led post invasion planning? Where was the resulting plan to preserve government structures after the invasion, limit civilian casualties, resolve sectarian conflicts and rebuild the economy?
Where was the “progressive movement” questioning this lack of engagement with the Iraqi opposition, the lack of post invasion planning, and suspicious American intentions? The largest street demonstration in London’s history was organised by SWTuk on 17th February 20013 against the Invasion of Iraqi. A million people marched with placards with slogans like “Stop the War, defend civil liberties, no to racism”, “Out of Iraq and Afghanistan”, “No Blood for Oil”, “Why Iraq Why Now” and “Bye Bye Blair”. The message was one of rejection of any intervention in Iraq, which was just ignored by the Blair government.
The treatment of Iraq by the West prior had been criminal. America supported an eight year war against post Islamic Revolution Shia Iran in the 1980s. They encouraged by omission the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, followed by a short war to “liberate” the Kuwaiti monarchy. Iraq then suffered over ten years of sanctions, which the Baathist dictatorship ensured only really hit the poor. The invasion in 2003 to remove the regime, was followed by a deliberate power vacuum, in which a perfectly predictable insurgency and Shia versus Sunni civil war erupted.
So thirty years of criminally negligent intervention by America and her Allies has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Iraq now has deep sectarian conflicts, and ordinary people still do not have their freedom. The scale of “Stop The War Coalition” demonstration against the invasion of Iraq, has been cited by UK politicians, as a reason not to risk further intervention in Syria.
The Arab Democratic Uprising (“Arab Spring”) in 2011, led to large scale revolts in six Middle Eastern countries, and major protests in six others. In Libya and Syria the totalitarian governments responded with unrestrained violence by the armed forces.
STWuk with CND organised small “Hands Off Libya” demonstrations to oppose intervention. However a No Fly Zone was imposed and limited arms supplied to Libyan rebel groups, and by October the Gadhafi regime had fallen. Thirty thousand Libyans died in this eight month struggle. Four years later the country is dominated by rival groups of militias. Government of any kind has become peripheral, and is now split between two rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk, who trade political insults with each other. A counter revolution is under way with UAE and Egypt backing General Haftar (a Gaddafi regime defector).
The problem in Libya after 2011, was the government vacuum in a similar sense to post Baathist Iraq, except that under Gaddafi non security state institutions were weak anyway. The militias were not encouraged by the West to form a central command and organise with professional leaders, rather than on a basis of local connections or ideology. The revolution was undermined from the beginning, to ensure Libyans did not get in the way of a new regime in Libya.
STWuk have organised stream of “Hands Off Syria” demonstrations, as well as an internet campaign and meetings to lobby parliament. Syria has been run by the Assad clique (a few leading Alawite families, with backing from wealthy Sunni business elite) since an illegal military coup in 1970. The regime has used the threat and reality of systematic torture as a principal method of control. At the same time it has resisted the territorial expansion of the Zionist Israel, but also tried to annex Lebanon.
The Assad clique has dominated the economy impoverishing the majority of Syrians, a situation made worse by recent period of drought, and so called privatisation of the economy under Bashar Assad. It was estimated that prior to 2011, the family of Bashar Assad directly controlled 60% of the Syrian economy. Hacked emails have exposed the lavish lifestyle of the Assads with their Harrod accounts. The irony of calling this regime socialist or anti-imperialist seems to still escape STWuk.
It was not surprising that the regime responded to demonstrations with unrestrained violence, and transparently fake offers of dialogue. At least 200,000 Syrians have died in the nearly five years of civil war, around 80% killed by the Assad regime. The regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, notoriously in Ghouta in 2013. Tens of thousands have been tortured to death in Assad torture centres, as exposed graphically by the state photographer codenamed “Caesar” who smuggled out extensive evidence in 2013. There are at least 4 million refugees outside Syria, and 8 million displaced inside Syria. The vast majority of Syrians are living in dire poverty.
The West and Gulf States have given very limited military support to the Syrian rebels, who have faced a professional Syrian army designed to oppose Israel. The security vacuum in Syria and Iraq has led to the explosive expansion of Sunni extremist jihadist groups, in particular “Islamic State”, all with the convert backing of Saudi Arabia and the more authoritarian Gulf states. The argument against arming the Syrian rebels was that weapons would end up in the hands of extremists, experience has shown this was wrong just as many Syrian activists predicted. Many moderate Syrian rebels have been forced to give up fighting, or join groups whose leadership are extremists. This has then lead the anti-intervention lobby to claim the armed moderate opposition does not exist, and therefore there is no point in supporting them.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the upheaval following the Arab Soring in 2011, there has been an increase in sectarian violence of all types. Particularly Sunni v Shia violence, backed by the mislabelled “protectors” of the two major strands of Islam, the authoritarian governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran. These regimes are repressive, promoters of distorted versions of Islam and squanders of natural resources. They attempt to gain “sectarian legitimacy” by attacking the civilians of the nominally “opposite” side. Directly by means of their armed forces, or indirectly by backing sectarian militias. Currently Iranian forces and their militias, are killing Sunni civilians in Iraq and Syria. While Saudis are killing Shia Houthis in Yemen, and backing extremist Jihadis in Syria who are killing Shia civilians (especially from the esoteric Alawite Shia sect).
Diplomacy means that Saudi Arabia and Iran will agree to end sectarian violence, if support for struggles against authoritarian regimes in the region are ended. This is rather like having rival mafia bosses who force different towns to accept their dubious “protection”. They then offer to stop killing their rival’s citizens, as long as all legal action against their crimes is stopped. This is then presented as a humanitarian act, rather than just a continuation of their murderous oppressive extortion.
If you think this unrealistically duplicitous, then consider the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s. The Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) had by this time gone from being the liberators of Algeria from French colonialism in the 1960s, to neo-colonialists themselves, having formed a mislabelled “socialist” authoritarian regime (similar to Libya,Syria,Egypt and Iraq). After the fall of the Soviet Union, rival parties and elections were introduced in Algeria. The moderate Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) made the error of being too popular for the election to be rigged with any credibility. When the FIS were set to win the 1992 general election with a landslide, a military coup restored dictatorship. This was followed by a brutal civil war, in which the armed wing of the FIS, the Armée Islamique du Salut (AIS) confronted the regime.
At the same time an extremist jihadi group Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) appeared, founded by a veteran of Afghanistan Abdelhak Layada. The GIA committed appalling atrocities against Algerian civilians. There are strong claims of a connection with Algerian Intelligence, who implemented a technique used by the French, of deliberately creating “false flag” rebel groups to commit atrocities that would discredit genuine rebels. The GIA claimed to be against the regime, but also began attacks on the armed wing of FIS (AIS). After more than 100,000 deaths and support from France and others in the “War on Terror”, the civil war subsided by 2000. The authoritarian regime stayed in power, and a “peace process” gave amnesty to both sides, including GIA founder Abdelhak Layada.
There are many potential parallels between the outcome of the Algerian Civil War and the proposed solution to the current Syrian Conflict. The UN made the Algerian political insider Lakhdar Brahimi Special Envoy to Syria between 2012 and 2014.
In Western democracies public opinion has little to do with foreign policy until there is a major disaster. Elites in the West and East (Russia, China…) have a common interest with the elites of Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes in suppressing ordinary people in the region. Their motivation is clear, and are much deeper than surface rivalries of Sunni v Shia, Secular v Islamist, (or from the Cold War era) Socialist v Monarchist.
The motivation of STWuk and their supporters is more surprising. The Right in Western democratic politics have historically favoured deterrents and military conflict, over international progressive politics that tackle the causes of conflict. The world wastes vast resources in the Big Business of arms manufacture and military organisations, for humanity to fight each other, rather than invest in ending world poverty and stopping climate change. Clearly posing as “seriously progressive” means being against the military. Any military intervention that ends badly is then eagerly embraced as vindication for this stance. No one is motivated to examine the intervention, for alternative implementations or justifications.
The history of the anti-war movement since the 1950s also needs to be examined. If you are old enough to have protested against the Vietnam War, you will know that the genocide in Vietnam killed nearly 2 million people, in a war that lasted twenty years (1955-75) and brought devastation to the country and its neighbours. At the same time a belligerently confrontational approach to the Soviet Union, risked mobilising for total nuclear war (a risk that was greater than we realised at the time). In this context anti-war dogma and the rhetoric of the “bloody hands” of Western Imperialism makes historical sense.
The UK “Stop The War Coalition” was setup as a popular front, pulling in progressives to oppose right-wing military intervention by the West. It has attracted Socialists, Greens and ordinary Muslims (that is not say you cannot be all three). Surprisingly at its core it is a creation of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a hard line Trotskyist Marxist group that goes back to the 1940s. They see themselves as the high priesthood of the Marxist faith, rejecting the Soviet Union as “State Capitalism” for instance.
The SWP has setup a number of successful collaborations and front movements over the years. They have campaigned with the “Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament” (CND), and in the 1970s setup the popular “Anti-Nazi League” and “Rock Against Racism” campaigns. This was one strategy of many designed to recruit SWP members.
In 1999 SWP started a “Stop The War” campaign against threats of Nato intervention in Kosovo against ethnic cleansing by Milosevic’s Serbia. The autonomy granted to Kosovo in Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia had been removed, and the around 80% of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo (90% Muslim), feared the end of the Balkans Conflict with control in the hands of a nationalistic Serbia intent on continuing its policy of discrimination and ultimately ethnic cleansing. An armed resistance by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) had emerged from frustration and fear in 1998. Serbia responded with a “counter insurgency” offensive that killed more than a thousand Kosovo Albanians, and forced 400,000 from their homes.
The rejection of peace talks and a renewed offensive by Serbia, lead to 78 days of Nato bombing of Serbia, aimed at civilian infrastructure, which killed around 500 civilians. During this time the Serbian Army displaced half of the entire Kosovo Albanians from their homes, and killed around 10,000 civilians. Eventually the Serbian Army withdrew, Kosovo gained independence and the semi authoritarian Milosevic rule of Serbia ended.
Figures come from the Independent Commission on Kosovo Report in 2000, but there is still wild exaggeration from all sides about the Kosovo Conflict. Including unpolitical pacifists who are keen to dismiss evidence of any benefit from forceful intervention. This was termed “humanitarian imperialism” by the Socialist Workers Party at the time. A semi successful Nato intervention to protect Muslims, badly let down by the UN during the Balkan Conflict of the 1990s, is not something SWP mentions now. Neither do they acknowledge the lack of support by the West for peaceful autonomous government by Kosovo Albanians prior to 1998, which may have prevented the escalation of Serbian Army and KLA violence.
The campaign then morphed into the “Stop The War Coalition” (STWuk) in 2001, in which the Socialist workers Party (SWP) pulled in CND and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). MAB have been closely associated with the moderate wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. STWuk aimed to oppose the War On Terror after the 9/11 terror attacks on America, and the invasion of Afghanistan.
The veteran left wing Labour politician Tony Benn was president until 2014. STWuk attracted notable support from Unions, Labour MPs, UK Green Party, Scottish National Party and founders of the Respect Party (UK Socialist Party closely linked to opposition to Iraq War). After the mass demonstration against the Iraq War in 2003, the SWP took over the effective running of STWuk.
Lindsey German, John Rees and Chris Nineham were key individuals in both organisations. They all resigned in 2009, after a disastrous collaboration between the SWP and the Respect Party. They all remain hard line Trotskyist Marxists. Splits in these political groupings are very common, as are the neo-theological language of their statements (sometimes elevated to “theory”), which appears more like a form of bizarre taxonomy to the novice.
Trotsky championed the idea of sociologically rather than economically driven revolution. Countries with less advanced economies could have successful “permanent revolutions”. This gave Trotskyists an authentic international appeal, as compared to Russian Soviet neo-imperialism. Tony Cliff (aka Yigael Gluckstein) founded what would become the SWP in the 1940s. In the 1960s he developed a modification to Trotskyist theory of “deflected permanent revolution”, in which revolutions without the conscious involvement of the masses, liberated by Marxism, could become “State Capitalist” authoritarian regimes that have come off the revolutionary rails and wear the badge of “socialism” (or some other badge) as a cover for oppression. “Arab Socialist Revolutions” of the time were seen as being founded on defective pseudo Marxist ideology, so leading to invalid “State Capitalist” regimes. This being worse than “Deformed Workers States” which could be ideologically reformed. Someone should organise a quiz, “which is worse, a ….. or ….. ?” .
Trotskyists were producing similar explanations for the failure of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Franco in the 1930s. The workers and peasants were not full of the right radical ideology. It was not that pamphlets are no match for the then new mechanised weapons of war, the machine gun, tank and plane.
The SWP ideological line, following the drift of Tony Cliff’s theories, is that the revolutions of the Arab Spring are invalid. They will lead under the influence of “capitalist imperialism” to different forms of “State Capitalist” authoritarian regimes. John Rees says in Counterfire (some sort of online Trotskyist house magazine) in the article “Syria, the left and a revolution divided.” 9th June 2012.
“Those who cry ‘Hail to the Martyrs’ and ‘victory to the revolution’ without analysing imperialism and its influence on democratic revolutions (revolutions that have not yet developed the capacity to become socialist revolutions) are actually weakening our opposition to imperialism. They are handing over the masses in Syria to the leadership of pro-imperialist political currents.”
The article is studded with nonsense. Many of the Syrian activists were still hoping to appeal to nationalism, in their refusal of foreign intervention, as well as concerns over the motives of Western elites. This is planet madness. Does he not realise the Assad Regime have been running a Stalinist “State Capitalist” regime for the last 45+ years, that is dependant of an imperialist structure, that runs to Russia, Iran and China. What does he think the torture centres are for? The elaborate state security structures? The extortion of most of the economy by the ruling clique?
This whole “bad revolution, good revolution” theory depends on accepting the very foundation of Trotskyist revolutionary democracy. This theory depends on an underestimation of Western Democracy (although it has been in gradual decline as a result of market fundamentalism for the last thirty years!). It depends on putting social forces, above personalities and structures. Publics in Western Democracies can be encouraged to support Arab revolutions as progressive, rather than blindly follow the disguised cant of ideologically motivated zealots.
The process of removing or preferably forcing out dictators can be made more efficient, and the post revolution transition to democracy can be made more efficient so it becomes achievable under the stress of limited resources. Have a central command structure and professional leaders for armed groups. Have an outline plan for reconstruction, reconciliation and stability, rather than unachievable timetables for writing constitutions. Keep the government structures in place when the ruling elites are replaced. It a matter of construction based on experience that achieves progress, rather than semi static political theories that may evolve over time but produce nothing but rhetoric.