1. Javier Sethness is the author of Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe, Eros and Revolution: The Critical Philosophy of Herbert Marcuse, and For a Free Nature: Critical Theory, Social Ecology, and Post-Developmentalism, and editor/translator of I Am Action: Literary And Combat Articles, Thoughts, and Revolutionary Chronicles by Praxedis Guerrero.
This tendency is a worrisome development, suggestive as it is of a red-brown alliance (or axis) that is not consistently anti-imperialist or internationalist but rather, only opposed to U.S. imperialism. It also fails analytically to see how the U.S. has increasingly accommodated Assad’s ghastly ‘victory,’ as reflected in Donald Trump’s cutting off of the White Helmets in May and his non-intervention as Assad, Russia, and Iran defeated formerly U.S.-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) units of the Southern Front, reconquering Daraa, birthplace of the Revolution, and the remainder of the southwest last month. In stark contrast to such approaches, today we will discuss militarism and imperialism from anti-authoritarian and class framework-analyses.
Toward this end, I want to suggest that Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation’s definition of imperialism is apt: from our Point of Unity on Internationalism and Imperialism, “Imperialism is a system where the state and elite classes of some countries use their superior economic and military power to dominate and exploit the people and resources of other countries.”This brutal concept applies clearly to contemporary and historical global practices which since 1492 primarily Western European and U.S. ruling classes have imposed onto much of the world, from the trans-Atlantic slave trade—this month marks 500 years—to colonial famines, genocide, military occupation, and settler-colonial regimes. Yet, more controversially amo ng many so-called leftists who adhere to a ‘campist analysis,’ whereby the world is split up into competing military blocs,this concept of imperialism and its related concept of sub-imperialism can also be applied to the contemporary practices of the ruling classes of such societies as Russia, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, otherwise known as the BRICS. According to Rohini Hensman in her new book Indefensible: Democracy, Counter-Revolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism (2018), the “pseudo-anti-imperialists” of today can be divided into three categories: tyrants, imperialists, and war criminals; the neo-Stalinists who openly support them; and Orientalist ‘progressives’ who focus exclusively on Western imperialism, to the exclusion of all other considerations, such as the agency of Middle Eastern peoples, as well as the realities of non-Western imperialism & sub-imperialism (47-52). For those to whom the concept may be unfamiliar, sub-imperialism is defined in the Marxist theory of dependency (MTD) as a process whereby a dependent or subordinate country becomes a “regional sub-centre,” unifies “different bourgeois factions by displacing internal contradictions, develops a “specific national and sub-imperialist political-ideological project,” forms and advances monopolies, and simultaneously transfers value to the core-imperialist countries while also exploiting materially and geopolitically weaker countries for the benefit of its bourgeoisie.
The central military roles played by Putin and the Islamic Republic in rescuing the Assad Regime from defeat in the Syrian Revolution—and, indeed, their joint responsibility for the overall murder of nearly 200,000 civilians [According to the New York Times, of the latest total figure of 511,000 dead, many more than 200,000 were civilians. Editors]and the forcible disappearance of over 80,000 Syrians in this enterprise over the past seven years, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), and as confirmed recently by Assad’s mass-release of death notices for detainees—thus starkly demonstrate pressing cases of imperialism and sub-imperialism on today’s global stage, yet in contrast to the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians just across Syria’s southwest border, it is apparently eminently controversial among U.S./Western neo-Stalinist ‘leftists’ to acknowledge the reactionary, authoritarian, and yes, (sub)imperialist functions served by Vladimir Putin and the Islamic Republic in propping up Assad, a neo-fascist who does not just rule over a ‘dictatorial regime’ but rather heads an exterminationist State, as the Syrian communist Yassin al-Hajj Saleh observes, and as the death toll attests to. According to Saleh:
“I do not talk about Syria because I happen to come from this country afflicted with one of the most brutal ruling juntas in the world today, nor because Syria is under multiple occupations while Syrians themselves are scattered around the world. Rather, I speak of Syria because the Syrian genocide is met by a state of global denial, where the left, the right, and the mainstream all compete with one another to avert their eyes and formulate cultural discourses, genocidal themselves, to help them see and feel nothing.”
The Russian Defense Ministry just announced on Wednesday, August 22, that 63,000 soldiers have fought in Syria in the past three years, while in June, Putin announced that Russian troops were “testing and training” in Syria so as to prevent a similar situation arising in Russia proper. (Does this sound to anyone like Dick Cheney talking about Iraq?) Hence, in light of the effective occupation of Syria perpetrated by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shi’a militias (e.g. Liwa Fatemiyoun) to prop up the regime, taken together with their attendant contributions to what Saleh calls the Syrian genocide—a counter-insurgent reaction which others have termed ‘democidal’—it is my view, and I believe that of my co-panelists, that several of the struggles against Assad, Putin, and the Islamic Republic of Iran form critical parts of the global anti-imperialist movement which by definition resists militarism and regional and transnational domination and exploitation. If human rights are the “tribunal of history” and their end (or goal) the construction of an ethical and political utopia, these regimes, in parallel to Western imperialism, are on the wrong side of history. In accordance with the conclusion of Hensman’s book, democratic movements like the Iranian popular revolts of early 2018; the ongoing Ahwazi mobilizations for socio-ecological justice; those of feminists and political prisoners in all three countries; and Russian Antifa, among others, demand our support and solidarity as socialists. Of course, anti-imperialist forces should continue to oppose established Euro-American imperialism and settler-colonialism—“the main enemy is at home,” as Karl Liebknecht declared in 1915, denouncing what he termed the ‘genocide’ of World War I—together with the neo-colonial crimes of allied autocracies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Yemen today. Liebknecht’s statement notwithstanding, we must recall that he in no way supported the Tsar or other imperialist rivals of the German State, but the Russian Revolution instead.
Therefore, a truly humanist form of anti-imperialism today cannot exclude the Syrian, Russian, and Iranian regimes from critique and, it is to be hoped, support for organization toward their ultimate demise. The atrocity-denialism engaged in by many self-styled ‘progressives’ and ‘leftists’ in the West when it comes to the Assad Regime, as identified by Leila al-Shami and others, is abhorrent. If we really believe as internationalists and egalitarians that each human life has equal dignity and value, we must play no part in it.
For our own sake and for the sake of the global revolution, too, it would behoove us to examine the actual affinities between the Trump Regime and Putin, which span allegations of collusion or conspiracy during the 2016 election to Trump’s very obvious servility before the former FSB chief at the Helsinki Summit of July 2018, besides Trump’s aforementioned withdrawal of U.S. support for the Syrian rebels, a move that may well have been coordinated with Russia as an affirmation on Trump’s part of Assad’s ghoulish campaign to retake the entire country.
The red-brown axis certainly has its precedents: the historian Marko Attila Hoare has correctly diagnosed several self-described Euro-American ‘anti-imperialists’ as being ‘left-revisionists’ who reject the orthodox Western view that holds Serbian nationalism to be the primary aggressor in the Balkan wars of the 1990’s that led to the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Muslim Bosniaks, Kosovar Albanians, and Croats, as reflected in the so-called leftist intellectuals and publications (Noam Chomsky, Diana Johnstone, CounterPunch) who effectively supported the embattled ultra-nationalist Serbian president, Slobodan Milošević, for his ‘resistance’ to the US/NATO, thus betraying their campism where we should expect humanist solidarity with those victimized by Serbian expansionism.
Rohini Hensman argues as an alternative to established pseudo-anti-imperialism that we pursue and tell the truth; critique ideologies that delegitimize democracy and promote authoritarianism; reaffirm the morality of resisting oppression and proclaiming solidarity with the victims of violence; place internationalism center-stage; and consider reforms to State sovereignty in light of mass-slaughter and the absence of democracy.
 This definition differs somewhat from Lenin’s definition of imperialism as “the monopoly stage of capitalism,” whereby the merging of big banks and industry exists inevitably alongside “a colonial policy of monopolist possession of the territory of the world.” It does not contradict Lenin’s subsequent redefinition in the same text: “Imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and of monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom. Whatever the political system, the result of these tendencies is everywhere reaction and an extreme intensification of antagonisms in this field. Particularly intensified become the yoke of national oppression and the striving for annexations, i.e., the violation of national independence (for annexation is nothing but the violation of the right of nations to self-determination).”
 Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), World Workers’ Party (WWP), World Socialist Website (WSWS), Max Blumenthal, Rania Khalek, Vanessa Beeley (actually fascist), Seymour Hersh, “Revolutionary Left Radio,” Glenn Greenwald, and others. See here for a complete list of prominent Western Assadists, as put together by Kester Ratcliff.
 Adrián Sotelo Valencia, Sub-Imperialism Revisited: Dependency Theory in the Thought of Ruy Mauro Marini, trans. Jacob Lagnado (Haymarket Books: Chicago, 2017), 67-8.
 By BRRN’s definition, above; also cf. Rudolf Hilferding, cited in Lenin’s “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism”: “European capital can maintain its domination only by continually increasing its military forces.”
 Costas Douzinas, The End of Human Rights (Hart Publishing: Oxford, 2000), 380.
 “International proletarian class struggle against international imperialist genocide is the socialist commandment of the hour.”
 See the findings of a lab working for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which confirm use of sarin gas from regime stockpiles in Ghouta (2013), Khan Sheikhoun (2017), and Khan al-Assal (2013). According to OPCW findings, it was chlorine, not sarin, that was used in the chemical attack on Douma, Eastern Ghouta, in April 2018.
Videolink for talk by Javier Sethness:
2. Frieda Afary, is an Iranian-American librarian and translator, producer of the blog Iranian Progressives in Translation and member of the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists.
First, what are some of the theories of imperialism being discussed by socialists today?
There is Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest State of Capitalism (1917): Lenin’s analysis, rooted in Marx’s Capital, saw the capitalist drive for the further extraction of surplus value from living labor, leading to the concentration and centralization of the means of production in fewer hands and the creation of monopolies. He discerned that these monopolies or capitalist combines would in search of a higher rate of profit go to other countries, especially “backward” countries where the wages were lower and raw materials cheaper. Furthermore, he recognized that imperialism is characterized by a simultaneous drive toward the monopolization of capital and competition between different international capitalist monopolies, a tension which leads to wars for the redistribution of the world among them.
There is David Harvey’s New Imperialism (2003) which draws on Rosa Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital and Marx’s discussion of the primitive accumulation of capital. Harvey argues that an overaccumulation of capital has pushed capitalism into an ever greater recourse to non-capitalist forms of plunder as opposed to the extraction of surplus value from wage labor. These non-capitalist forms of plunder include confiscation of communal property, public property or nature, and privatization of welfare. He calls this process “a shift in emphasis from accumulation through expanded reproduction to accumulation through dispossession.”
There is Rohini Hensman’s new book, Indefensible (2018), which argues that with the rise of globalization in the 1980s, and the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the USSR in 1991, imperialism and militarism are no longer of any use to capitalism. They are not useful because global capitalism is characterized by competition between various multinational corporations, and because competition and productivity would be hampered by imperialism and militarism. (p. 40) However, she asks: “If imperialism is no longer of any use to global capitalism, what explains its persistence?” (p. 47) Hensman argues that one section of capitalists, those involved in the military-industrial complex still have a vested interest in the continuation of capitalism. More importantly, she argues that the current form of imperialism arises from “the desire to wield power over others, through structures ranging from patriarchy to absolute monarchy to empire, [which] predates capitalism by millennia” (p. 48). The motivation for imperialism today is in her view, mostly ideological.
There is also John Smith’s Imperialism in the 21st Century (2014) which argues that it is the “super-exploitation” of wage workers in the global South that is the foundation of imperialism in the 21st century.
Now, in the Middle East today, we can find both wage labor and slave labor of women and men. There are both economic and ideological motivations for imperialist interventions. Russia and China are interested in their investments in the oil and gas and nuclear industry, and specifically China’s One Belt, One Road Project which also includes Africa. They also sell arms to all powers in the region.
The U.S.’s intervention in the Middle East has not been solely for oil but for proving its global domination. It has experienced a huge economic loss in Iraq after its intervention in 2003. Since Obama’s presidency, the U.S. has mainly pivoted to the Pacific where competition with China is more important for U.S. capitalism. In the Middle East, the U.S. is currently mainly interested in stopping ISIS and Al Qaeda, reducing Iran’s influence, defending Israeli imperialism and Israel’s war on Palestinians, selling arms to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt among others, preserving its military base in Qatar and promoting its investments in Saudi Arabi. Saudi Arabia has in turn launched a vicious war on Yemen which since 2015 has caused the death of tens of thousands and displacement and injuries/diseases of countless others.
Iran’s imperialist interventions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen are partially driven by the desire to export Shi’a fundamentalist ideology and oppose Israel. However, Iran’s militarized state capitalist regime also has strategic goals which are driven by the long-term interests of Iranian capitalism, namely, challenging Saudi Arabia, another regional imperialist and building a route to the Mediterranean through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In fact, in a recent speech, Iranian president Rouhani stated that Iran’s strategic frontiers extend to the Indian subcontinent in the East, the Mediterranean in the West, the Caucasus in the North and the Red Sea in the South. ( جنگ با ایران مادر همه جنگ هاست Zamaneh, July 23, 2018)
Russian and Iranian imperialist intervention in Syria succeeded in crushing a genuine popular revolution against the Assad regime which arose in 2011. The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel also never wanted the collapse of the Assad regime. At most they wanted the person of Assad to go. Turkey intervened in Syria to destroy the possibility of Kurdish self-determination in the North and to promote is own brand of Sunni fundamentalism.
Syrian revolutionaries and progressives who stood for social justice and democracy, continued their struggle against both the Assad regime and religious fundamentalist extremists for 7 years. Over 500,000 Syrians died from barrel bombs, air strikes, starvation sieges, ground assaults mostly from the Assad regime and its allies. Approximately 12 million or half the population have been displaced and have become refugees in their country or abroad.
In the face of this, the majority of the global left supported the Assad regime and the Russian and Iranian intervention. They defended Assad as an “anti-imperialist” and labelled all Syrian revolutionaries as Jihadists. In her book, Indefensible, Rohini Hensman calls this phenomenon, “pseudo-anti-imperialism” and has offered readers 400 pages of research and analysis to expose and challenge it. Please see my review-essay on the website of the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists.
In the rest of my time, I would like to talk about Iran. The contradictions of Iran’s capitalist patriarchy, with economic bankruptcy arising mostly from its military interventions in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, have led to a new mass uprising in Iran. Since December 28, 2017, there have been ongoing protests involving unemployed youth, workers, teachers, nurses women, students, oppressed minorities and families of political prisoners demanding an end to the Islamic Republic and its military interventions in the region.
The Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists has made an effort to publish articles that can offer English speaking readers a sense of the demands of these struggles. I have a few samples here and you can find more on the Alliance website.
It is critically important for socialists to learn from the experience of Syria and not allow the current movement in Iran to be crushed by the Islamic Republic and its allies or by intervention from Saudi Arabia, Israel, U.S. or by a possible deal between all these parties.
What does internationalist socialist solidarity demand?
First, it demands that we opposes Trump and Saudi Arabia and Israel’s war threats and sanctions against Iran.
Secondly, it demands that we reach out to labor and women, student and environmental struggles and the struggles of oppressed minorities inside Iran.
Thirdly, it demands that we also develop an understanding of the the contradictions and problems within the movement in Iran that are standing in the way of moving in a revolutionary socialist direction.
Fourthly, it demands that we view the current wave of protests in Iran in the context of the Middle East as a whole. That means first and foremost, not forgetting about the Syrians who are suffering under the Assad regime and not accepting the Assad regime. It means speaking out about the 300,000 political prisoners in Syria. It means helping the Syrian refugees in ways that we can. It means continuing to speak out against all authoritarian regimes and all imperialist interventions in the Middle East.
For those who are interested, I have a list of articles from the website of the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists which offers direction on how you can express your solidarity and make a difference:
Here are some things you can do:
Express your solidarity with feminist human rights activists who are currently in prison and have received long sentences for defending the Girls of Revolution Avenue or for starting a campaign against the death penalty. See this brochure:
Support the teachers’ union, three of whose leaders are currently in prison and have been charged with sedition. Take this article to the L.A. teachers’ union or other unions:
Reach out to the Free Union of Iranian Workers or the Bus Workers Union or the Sugar Cane Workers Union and talk about what U.S. labor activists are doing to challenge Trump’s capitalist militarism. Tell them about what you are doing to help immigrant workers here?
Defend political prisoners in the Middle East. Join this campaign in solidarity with Middle Eastern Political Prisoners and organize a meeting around it in your school or union or community group.
Videolink for Frieda Afary’s talk:
3. John Reimann, is a retired carpenter and the former recording secretary of Carpenters Union Local 713 (Hayward, CA). He always opposed the pro-employer policies of the union leadership and was expelled from the union for that and for his role in the 1999 SF Bay Area wildcat strike of some 2,000 carpenters. He has visited the workers movement throughout the United States, from the West Virginia teachers’ strike to the movement in Ferguson after Michael Brown was killed and internationally in Pakistan, Venezuela and in Egypt during the Arab Spring.
- • ▪ In Brazil, there are attacks on Venezuelan economic refugees and a far-right racist politician leads the pack in the race for the presidency.
- • ▪ In India we see the attacks on Muslims by racist Hindu groups.
- • ▪ Throughout Europe, we are seeing attacks on refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Muslim world. The latest of these attacks were in Germany, where the chauvinist Pegida demonstrated in Dresden and Chemnitz.
- • ▪ And, of course, we see the attacks on Latino economic and political refugees in the U.S.
Socialists must be in the forefront of opposing these attacks and this division of the working class, but we cannot play that role if we don’t also support revolutions and oppose counter-revolutions such as the one that is sweeping Syria today (led by Assad & Company).
This leads directly to the question of how it has come to be that so many “socialists” are supporting this counter-revolution. Here are several aspects of the process here in the US:
Following WW II, we saw the post war economic upswing. This upswing led to the softening of class relations in the US. It also combined with the role of the Soviet bureaucracy to open the door to anti-communism – not just opposition to the Stalinists but to anything that sounded like socialism in any way. These developments largely isolated socialists from the US working class. Or at the very least socialists were marginalized. This semi-isolation from the working class served to disorient many socialists.
These were the objective developments – ones which affected the socialist movement from the “outside”, so to speak. But there also were developments from within the socialist movement. Partly, this is due to the pragmatic traditions in the United States. General ideas and theory don’t matter. The thinking is that all that matters is what to do right now. But since theory is just compressed history, ignoring theory means ignoring history, the actual events that lead us to the present situation.
That ignoring of theory goes back a long ways: In the 1970s, the “New Left” arose out of the movement against the Vietnam War. That movement tried to avoid all the old debates that wracked the socialist movement in decades past – the debates between the supporters of the ideas of Stalin and those of Trotsky.
First and foremost, this meant the debate over whether the capitalist class can lead the colonial revolution, as Stalin claimed. On the other side, Trotsky explained that the capitalist class in the former colonial world was inextricably linked with imperialism on one side and with the old landlord class on the other. Therefore, it could not lead the colonial revolution; only the working class could. But in doing so, the working class would have to seize state power and overthrow capitalism itself. This was the theory of permanent (or uninterrupted) revolution, vs. Stalin’s theory of a revolution in distinct “stages”. It was also related to the view that Trotsky explained, that it is impossible to build socialism in one country and that the Russian Revolution was always predicated on that revolution leading to revolutions throughout Europe and elsewhere. Stalin renounced this view.
As the victors in practice – having seized state power – the Stalinists were the victors in this debate. But the debate also had another implication: That the working class is not the subject of history; it is the object. And, therefore, it is simply a pawn in the game of geopolitics. That’s why, for example, Stalin could support the founding of the racist State of Israel – because he thought it would weaken British imperialism, and the effect on the Palestinian masses be damned.
So, what happened was that by trying to avoid these old debates, many socialists ended up accepting the ideas of the victors. They might have done so unconsciously, but they did it nevertheless.
In the United States, this belittling of the role of the working class in the underdeveloped world went along with a similar view of the US working class. As socialists were largely marginalized in the unions, the union bureaucracy was more and more able to stamp out the fighting traditions of the US labor movement. As they did that, fewer and fewer rank and file members were involved in the union. Those who went to union meetings, for example, were mainly the union bureaucrats and their supporters. Socialists started looking more and more to this layer of the union membership instead of to the rank and file members. In other words, they stopped seeing the US working class as the real agent of change, as a potentially independent force in US society.
And if they don’t see the working class as that force, then how on earth can we expect them to see the Syrian working class as being the force there?
Ironically, the return to capitalism in the Soviet Union even further disoriented many socialists as well as the working class in general. “Only the free market can save us” was the idea of the day. “Socialism is dead”. We’re at “the end of history,” was the widely quoted claim of Francis Fukuyama, a strategist for US capitalism. This even further isolated socialists, leaving them to turn even further inwards, focusing on themselves. And while “Stalinism” collapsed, the ideas of Stalinism remained. First and foremost the idea that the capitalist class in the former colonial world can play a positive role and that the working class in that part of the world is just the pawn of history.
That is the view, for example, of all the “socialists” who support Assad and his sponsors. This includes those who deny supporting him while they completely gloss over the massive crimes against humanity committed by his regime and those of Putin and Rouhani.
So, for socialist internationalists, this leaves us with some important tasks:
- 1. 1) First, we must oppose all divisions of the working class and clarify that the real division is the class division. This doesn’t mean that we belittle the racism and xenophobia that is rampant today within all classes. Rather, we see the working class as the only force that can end this disaster; We see the working class as the subject, not the object of history; We try to unite the working class all around the world. It is only the working class that can resolve all the crises that exist, including chauvinism and xenophobia, racism, sexism and the environmental crisis.
- 2. 2) Here in the United States, we link the struggles of workers with the need to build a mass working class political party. We explain that this cannot be done while we are supporting ANY Democratic Party candidates.
- 3. 3) We concretely try to advance the cause of international working class solidarity. A first step in this can be gathering support for a letter of solidarity to Iranian workers in struggle. See the letter below: https://workersinternationalnetwork.blog/2018/09/08/statement-of-solidarity-from-us-labor-activists-in-struggle-in-iran/
Videolink for John Reimann’s talk:
4. Alexander Reid Ross, is a Lecturer in Geography at Portland State University. His book Against the Fascist Creep was listed one of the best books of 2017 by the Willamette Week.