This is a translation of an article written by the French Trotskyist group, L’Étincelle (The Spark), as a contribution to a discussion within the NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party) of France.
The general situation in the world is currently characterized by two things: an overall offensive against the working class, not only in France or Europe but globally, and a series of wars led by the Western, imperialist powers on a scale unseen since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, which ended the long period of wars led against colonial independence.
The offensive against the working class and the poor is certainly not a development of the last few years. However, since the financial crisis of 2008, it has shifted to a higher gear.
The same can be said for wars. Capitalism has never truly ceased executing its bloody assault on the world, nor from increasing France’s interventions in Africa. However, the disappearance of the USSR has also added tremendous instability, more so even than during the period of the Cold War. At that time the maintenance of order over the world’s peoples was split between the two superpowers. With the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and then of Iraq two years later, the United States, feeling that it has a free rein, has tried to ensure for itself increased control over the planet’s main oil-producing region, as well as access to oil resources located in the southern outskirts of Russia and Central Asia. Since 2011, the imperialist powers’ military interventions are also a reprisal for the explosion of revolutions in the Arab world. Thus we have an intensification of the war in Northern Iraq and Syria, where bombardments against the Islamic State go hand in hand with support for the region’s most reactionary forces that stifled the 2011 revolts.
Facing this situation, we must recognize that the NPA (New Anti-capitalist Party) as well as the rest of the far left, does not have the means to substantially intervene, and is essentially reduced to denunciative propaganda. Our message of solidarity (manifested through party positions and various protests) towards oppressed peoples or war victims still stands; while at the same time we try to define the key outlines of an independent class policy that we must defend for those who are exploited.
Confronting the Islamic State and Imperialist Powers
The most debated issue in the NPA concerns the “Islamic State”’s offensive and the Kurdish resistance. First and foremost, we do not believe in simply calling on the French or even the American government to provide weapons to Kurdish combatants resisting the IS in Northern Iraq or in Kobani, Syria. It is not worth pausing to examine this ridiculous notion: neither Hollande nor Obama have waited on us to start sending troops (military advisors on the ground and fighter planes in the sky), nor to rejoice at having found within the Kurdish militia the ground troops that they prefer not to send, at least for now — fighters, recruited from within the heart of an oppressed people, who will likely soon be discarded, especially considering it is out of the question for them to get in the way of their main allies in the Middle East (starting with Turkey), by actually supporting the claim for independence and unity of the Kurdish people. In the present context, it would be unrealistic to see in this any kind of fortuitous convergence of interests that oppressed people could exploit to reach their fundamental demands. All the peoples of the region will be victims of the new military intervention carried on there by the great powers.
The Western powers are struggling with forces that may seem to elude them, but which they themselves brought into being: by the occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the abuses of power during the interim period of Paul Bremer (civil administrator of Iraq until July 2004), then by the repressive control carried out by the Maliki government put into place by the US in 2006, and finally through the direct financial aid to the regional allies of the Western powers (Saudi Arabia, Qatar …) in Syria, the neighboring countries, reactionary forces, and Islamic militias (including the IS). However, the IS has become enemy number one, just as Bin Laden had been in his time, after having been the Americans’ partner in Afghanistan against the USSR.
It is understandable that in this situation Kurdish nationalist organizations are requesting weapons and military support from the Western powers whom they are helping by halting the advance of IS troops. But let us not forget that by this policy, the Kurdish nationalist leadership is probably preparing the Kurdish people for new setbacks when these one-time imperialist allies betray them.
These nationalist leaders, both the leaders of the PKK – Kurdish Worker’s Party – (in Turkey and elsewhere) and of the PYD – Democratic Union Party – (in Syria) as well as Barzani (the current head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government), have their own interests in power for themselves. Moreover, they are competing among themselves for a monopoly over Kurdish representation: it is obvious that PKK reinforcements sent to Iraqi Kurdistan to fight on the frontlines against the IS, were sent not only due to the sympathy for all Kurds but also to the competition between the PKK and Barzani’s party for power over Iraqi Kurdistan.
With their more-or-less Maoist past and Öcalan, their leader, imprisoned in Turkey, with their female soldiers and proclaimed secularism, the PKK and its Syrian branch appear to be the most modern and “leftist” party. However, toward their own people, they are no less dictatorial, no less willing to physically eliminate all opposition.
The leaders of the Syrian PYD are currently trying to have it two ways. On one hand, they have formed a tactical alliance with Assad, which has enabled them to momentarily win autonomy over their area; never mind the rest of the Syrian people, never mind the Kurds themselves, who are further isolated from the other oppressed people in Syria by this policy. On the other hand, they have the goal of forming an alliance with the Western powers (while keeping the alliance with Assad intact), and seeking the international recognition that will result one day in their very own territory to govern. They seem to congratulate themselves for the military alliance which has brought about some initial recognition with Western powers who will most probably drop them in the near future. The entire history of the struggle of the Kurdish people has been made of similar alliances, with such and such a government, followed by just as much treachery.
Therefore our task is to first denounce our governments’ responsibility for the creation of this Islamic State that they claim to fight, and more generally, their responsibility for the bloody and fiery devastation of Iraq, Syria, and a large part of the Middle East. Our task involves denouncing the true goals of their interventions, namely the installation of regimes that support their own interests, even at the cost of more brutality. Their obsession is to maintain their grip on this region of the world, while blocking it from anything that could lead it towards a revolutionary and democratic outcome for the popular masses.
There are just as many reasons to not call for some kind of military intervention from the great imperialist powers. We have all known the bitter experience of seeing the Left leaning parties, the Front de gauche in France, and even some comrades from the IV° international support a Western military intervention in order to supposedly « save the Libyan people » from Kadhafi’s dictatorship. At present, the Libyan population is at the mercy of reactionary armed gangs in rivalry with one another, which the Western coalition relies upon.
Needless to say, we extend our solidarity to the Iraqi people threatened by the reactionary hordes of the IS, and to those in Syria caught in the crossfire of the Assad dictatorship and various armed clans competing with him for power, who only get along in order to stifle the democratic and social demands from the revolt of 2011. But this solidarity should not be confused with political support for mostly self-proclaimed nationalist leaders, even if some among them, whether Kurdish or not, claim to be progressive.
We have had a few opportunities, mostly through protests and rallies, to show our solidarity with peoples who are submitted to life under dictatorships and wars incited by imperialist appetites. Unfortunately, we hardly have the means to bring them a more effective solidarity. However, it is still within our reach (and our duty) to bring the maximum amount of political or even material aid to small revolutionary groups in these countries, wherever class struggle, anti-capitalism, and internationalism are to be found.
The same applies to our solidarity with the Palestinian people, which we have shown this summer in order to protest the attacks on the Gaza Strip — this despite pressure from the French government, and critics who had the nerve to say that we were going to fuel anti-Semitism. In no way could this solidarity lead to political support for Hamas, and even less to the Palestinian authority of Mahmoud Abbas.
Incidentally, most nationalist organizations of the 1960s and 70s (years of struggle for colonial emancipation) that claim to be more-or-less on the left or more-or-less secular, have either been vanquished or have lost credibility, like the PLO for example, because of its management of the miserable ghettos that are the Palestinian territories of Cis-jordan and Gaza. Organizations that have taken control and could attract a part of the youth with their apparent radicalism are often, like Hamas in Palestine, profoundly reactionary and dictatorial organizations (the same goes for Hezbollah in Lebanon, today allied with Assad).
Hamas’ radicalism, which is only military, comprised of suicide attacks or firing a few rockets at Israel, in some ways facilitates the Israeli government’s propaganda in making its people accept the war being waged against the Palestinians. At this level, the first Intifada of 1978-1988 launched by angry youth did more damage to Israel’s policy than Hamas’ rocket attacks, mostly because of Israel’s young military recruits became aware that they were up against their own counterparts. At that time the protests against the war inside Israel were quite a bit bigger than the meager protests of this past summer. And when we see, right in the middle of the Israeli attack on Gaza, Hamas executing supposed traitors (or perhaps mere opponents…we are not sure), we cannot help but think that the aim of these public executions is to terrorize the people of Gaza, to coerce them into backing the dictatorship of Hamas.
As for the BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), supposing that it has a propagandist character and that it calls attention to the imperialist involvement with the State of Israel, it hardly has a chance of changing the direction of this State. Rather than vainly hoping to suffocate the State, it would be better to give a little air to those who, even in Israel itself, are anti-capitalist and opposed to the oppression of the Palestinian people. Our own propaganda must also address the Israeli population, themselves victims of unemployment, price increases, and the costs of war. It must assist those in Israel who object to their own government’s policies (even if today they seem fewer than yesterday) and must endeavor to contribute to what the oppressed peoples of both communities, Israeli and Palestinian, have in common: their class struggle.
In Tunisia and in Egypt, for the past three years, regardless of their rivalry with one another, all of the counter-revolutionary forces: the army, politicians from the old regime (notably recycled from the Nidaa Tounes Party in Tunisia or supporting General Sisi in Egypt), and the Islamists have endeavored to put an end all of democratic aspirations and social demands that led to the revolutions that overthrew Ben Ali et Mubarak in January-February of 2011.
The Arab revolutions of 2011 were based on democratic demands, a general discontentment against corrupt regimes, the lack of freedom, arbitrary police tyranny, as well as unemployment and poverty. All groups in society mixed indiscriminately, but first and foremost it was a struggle of the young. Workers participated without any specific politics of their own, even if in Tunisia as well as Egypt, strikes played an important role in the fall of the regimes. However, it was after this fall that the task of revolutionaries was to endeavor to respond to political and social dissatisfaction with a policy for workers and the unemployed; with a democratic and social program that emphasizes class struggles and mobilizations instead of trapping the social movement in an electoral impasse that the all of the bourgeois tendencies set up for the popular social classes.
Along with Islamist political parties, the demagogues of the extreme right have managed to grab the attention of working people and win their votes at the polls with more than just the weight of religious tradition. They managed this also because there was no political choice offered to the workers and to the poor apart from waiting for a new Constitution, then a new election again, a new provisional government for the transition, etc.
The extreme left is certainly quite weak. But in the name of this weakness, some have come to the conclusion that co-called “united fronts” are needed. These have essentially boiled down to electoral coalitions, and thus political wavering and in general to aligning themselves with reformist tendencies. In Egypt we have seen some of these far left militants from the Socialist Revolutionaries group support a possible presidential bid for Morsi; and this same far left group then split over the issue of his overthrow by the army. In Tunisia, the comrades with ties to the IV° International blindly followed the PCOT (Workers’ Party of Tunisia), whose policies can be summarized by their desire to guarantee democracy first and, like many other leftist nationalists, “straighten out” the country before taking on social demands. The Popular Front’s program for the October 26, 2014 election promises to economically straighten out the country precisely this manner, with a more “balanced” budget, thanks to the support from “heads of patriotic businesses”, the supposed “job creators”. Our challenge is to make our voice heard, despite our small numbers, with a completely different voice.
In Europe: The politicians of the “Left of the Left” or “Los indignados”, How to move forward?
Facing the corporate offensive against the working class, we are confronted with similar political problems here in Western Europe, where we have slightly more resources as militants, and are in a less dramatic situation.
The labor, political, and union movement is weaker compared to what it was fifty or even just twenty years ago. But we must remember that the dominant Communist Parties of the time were Stalinist, with substantial means to paralyze or even betray workers’ struggles. The current weakness of the workers’ organized movement does not mean a lack of fighting spirit: strikes and massive protests have taken place against austerity measures in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. What is missing from these struggles is a class perspective.
The near disappearance of Stalinists from the CP in France has generally left room for left wing democrats, both in the field of politics and at the head of unions, such as those of the Socialist Party here in France, the Pasok in Greece or the PSOE in Spain. Political parties known as “the left of the left” arising from the Communist or Socialist Parties (like Mélenchon’s PG in France, the Parti de Gauche, or Syriza in Greece), in reality distinguish themselves very little from the classical Left of yesteryear, by their programs or their perspective on governmental policies. Nostalgia for the old school Left, regret over Keynesian policies during the aftermath of World War II, illusions about the possibilities of developing a truly “national” economy, all form their stock in trade. They represent just so many dead-ends for the working class, frequently displaying national chauvinism that helps the demagogy of the far Right, especially when they hold the rest of Europe, or even more foolishly, the Euro, responsible for the crisis and the austerity measures. On the contrary, we must call for an alliance of all the workers of Europe, the convergence of their struggles facing the united policies of the employers.
The “Indignados” movement, (Indignados meaning “the outraged ones”) which was able to mobilize important fractions of youth appalled by the crisis in Spain, for example, takes pride in being apolitical. This has not stopped Podemos from tapping into its forces and from trying to build a new party from its ranks based on its relative electoral success at the European elections. With what objectives and based on what program? To do a little cleaning up among the political leaders? Impose a few more taxes on the rich? To audit the debt and perhaps even carry out some nationalizations in order to give the State the means to control strategic sectors? Up to this point, leftist, slightly demagogic politicians can make the same offers during elections.
We must of course speak to those “outraged” by games and political lies, and to those who are drawn to Podemos (and not just young people). We must participate in their protests, their meetings, but at the same time try to show them the links between their revolt and the workers’ struggles, explaining in particular that there is a gap between a party’s rose-colored politics that only aspire to become a political institution like the others, and revolutionary anti-capitalism
Once again we run into the unavoidable problem of needing to find the means to oppose a revolutionary working class policy to the dead-ends or even the traps of the “left of the left.”