Category Archives: Anti-War

Fidel Castro’s Reflections: The duty to avoid a war in Korea

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April 5, 2013

A few days ago I mentioned the great challenges humanity is currently facing. Intelligent life emerged on our planet approximately 200,000 years ago, although new discoveries demonstrate something else.

This is not to confuse intelligent life with the existence of life which, from its elemental forms in our solar system, emerged millions of years ago.

A virtually infinite number of life forms exist. In the sophisticated work of the world’s most eminent scientists the idea has already been conceived of reproducing the sounds which followed the Big Bang, the great explosion which took place more than 13.7 billion years ago.

This introduction would be too extensive if it was not to explain the gravity of an event as unbelievable and absurd as the situation created in the Korean Peninsula, within a geographic area containing close to five billion of the seven billion persons currently inhabiting the planet.

This is about one of the most serious dangers of nuclear war since the October Crisis around Cuba in 1962, 50 years ago.

In 1950, a war was unleashed there [the Korean Peninsula] which cost millions of lives. It came barely five years after two atomic bombs were exploded over the defenseless cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which, in a matter of seconds, killed and irradiated hundreds of thousands of people.

General Douglas MacArthur wanted to utilize atomic weapons against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Not even Harry Truman allowed that.

It has been affirmed that the People’s Republic of China lost one million valiant soldiers in order to prevent the installation of an enemy army on that country’s border with its homeland. For its part, the Soviet army provided weapons, air support, technological and economic aid.

I had the honor of meeting Kim Il Sung, a historic figure, notably courageous and revolutionary.

If war breaks out there, the peoples of both parts of the Peninsula will be terribly sacrificed, without benefit to all or either of them. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was always friendly with Cuba, as Cuba has always been and will continue to be with her.

Now that the country has demonstrated its technical and scientific achievements, we remind her of her duties to the countries which have been her great friends, and it would be unjust to forget that such a war would particularly affect more than 70% of the population of the planet.

If a conflict of that nature should break out there, the government of Barack Obama in his second mandate would be buried in a deluge of images which would present him as the most sinister character in the history of the United States. The duty of avoiding war is also his and that of the people of the United States.

Fidel Castro Ruz

April 4, 2013

11:12 p.m.

Source

The DPRK Did Not “Vow Nuclear Attack on Washington”: On Preemptive Strikes

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

March 8, 2013

Former Chicago Bulls Forward Dennis Rodman became the first US citizen to meet DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, and in doing so, he set a standard for international solidarity that the US Left should learn from.

Fox News, CNN, the BBC, and a host of other Western news outlets were aflame yesterday – no pun intended – after a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) said that their country would launch a preemptive strike against US aggression. The sensationalist headlines kicked into high-gear, with Fox News reporting, “‘North Korea vows nuclear attack on US, saying Washington will be ‘engulfed in a sea of fire.’” Almost 60 years after the armistice that ended the Korean war, the US media seems more eager than ever to make people believe that a nuclear strike by a small, partitioned nation is likely.

For all of the venom the Western press has spilled over the DPRK’s latest comments, it’s incredibly difficult to find the full quote or the context of such a statement. Also absent from any of the reporting is a real definition of the term “preemptive strike,” compared to a “preventative strike.”

University of Chicago Professor of Korean History Bruce Cumings famously said that reading the DPRK’s official news network gives you a better understanding of the truth in the Korean Peninsula than reading the South Korean or US press. This is indeed the case.

The Korean Central News Agency published the statement by the Foreign Ministry that caused so much controversy in the US. Entitled, “Second Korean War Is Unavoidable: DPRK FM Spokesman,” the statement details the multitude of ways that the US is trying “to ignite a nuclear war to stifle the DPRK.” Since the US and European media refuse to quote the piece in context, we will quote it at some length:

The U.S. is now working hard to ignite a nuclear war to stifle the DPRK.

Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises kicked off by the U.S., putting the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war, are maneuvers for a nuclear war aimed to mount a preemptive strike on the DPRK from A to Z.

The U.S. is massively deploying armed forces for aggression, including nuclear carrier task force and strategic bombers, enough to fight a nuclear war under the smokescreen of “annual drills.”

What should not be overlooked is that the war maneuvers are timed to coincide with the moves to fabricate a new “resolution” of the UN Security Council against the DPRK, pursuant to a war scenario of the U.S. to ignite a nuclear war under the pretext of “nuclear nonproliferation”.

It is a trite war method of the U.S. to cook up “a resolution” at the UNSC to justify its war of aggression and then unleash it under the berets of “UN forces.”

That is why the U.S. is hurling into the war maneuvers even armed forces of its satellite countries which participated in the past Korean War as “UN forces”.

After directing the strategic pivot for world hegemony to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. regards it as its primary goal to put the whole of the Korean Peninsula under its control in a bid to secure a bridgehead for landing in the Eurasian continent. It also seeks a way out of a serious economic crisis at home in unleashing the second Korean war.

The U.S. is, indeed, the very criminal threatening global peace and security as it is staging dangerous war drills in this region, the biggest hotspot in the world and a nuclear arsenal where nuclear weapons and facilities are densely deployed.

Ignoring this context changes the entire message of the article. If we took the US media’s claims at face value, many are led to believe that DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un woke up on the wrong side of the bed and haphazardly declared his intent to bomb Washington D.C. An actual study of the KCNA statement paints a different picture, namely one in which the US is the primary aggressor whose bellicose military exercises and insistence on debilitating sanctions on the DPRK are bringing the region closer to war.

The statement goes on to address the DPRK’s response to the aggressive war games that the US carries out in the Korean Peninsula. We quote it here:

The DPRK has so far made every possible effort while exercising maximum self-restraint in order to defend the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

The U.S. is, however, responding to the DPRK’s good will and self-restraint with large-scale nuclear war maneuvers and the “annual” war drills are developing into a real war. Under this situation the opportunity of diplomatic solution has disappeared and there remains only military counteraction.

Is the statement really incorrect? The DPRK is surrounded by US warships containing nuclear missiles. They have pushed for dialogue with the international community about their nuclear weapons program, but Washington has rebuffed their attempts and responded with harsher sanctions, which is a form of economic warfare. Former US President George W. Bush once said that North Korea is “the most sanctioned country in the world,” Independent scholar Stephen Gowans explains the terms of these sanctions, which restrict “the export of goods and services,” the “blocking of any loan or funding through international financial institutions,” and a “ban on government financing of food and medicine exports to North Korea.” Rather than attempting good-faith rapprochement with Pyongyang, the US continues to point its most deadly weapons at the small country and heavily sanction its access to essential goods and industrial equipment.

Let’s now look at the statement in controversy from the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK:

First, now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country.

The Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army declared that it would totally nullify the Korean Armistice Agreement (AA) from March 11 when the U.S. nuclear war rehearsal gets into full swing. This meant that from that moment the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will take military actions for self-defence against any target any moment, not restrained by AA.

Contrary to the media’s fixation on the phrasing of the first statement, it is actually the following paragraph that explains the DPRK’s understanding of a preemptive strike. Joe Barnes of Rice University describes the difference between a ‘preemptive strike’ and a ‘preventative strike’ in a March 2007 paper entitled, “Preemptive and Preventative War: A Preliminary Taxonomy.” The following quote from Barnes’ paper illustrates the ‘right to a preemptive nuclear attack’ that the statement alludes to:

The two categories of national strategy are preemption and prevention. Preemption is the taking of military action against a target when there is incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to initiate a military attack. Prevention is the taking of military action against a target when it is believed that an attack by the target, while not imminent, is inevitable, and when delay in attacking would involve greater risk.

For most US citizens, their first exposure to the term “preemptive war” was when the Bush Administration invoked in in 2003 to justify their imperialist invasion of Iraq. They unleashed brutal war and occupation on the Iraqi people on the basis of a total lie, namely that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and might be a threat to the US. However, if we look at Barnes’ quote, we understand that the war in Iraq was a preventative war, not a preemptive war. There was no “incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to initiate a military attack.” Instead, all of the evidence pointed to Iraq not having weapons of mass destruction, much less having the capability and the will to fire such weapons at the US. As Noam Chomsky puts it:

The grand strategy authorizes Washington to carry out “preventive war”: Preventive, not pre-emptive.  Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might be, they do not hold for preventive war, particularly as that concept is interpreted by its current enthusiasts: the use of military force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat, so that even the term “preventive” is too charitable.  Preventive war is, very simply, the “supreme crime” condemned at Nuremberg.

The DPRK has threatened preemptive war, not preventative war. The difference is so glaring that one can only conclude that the US media is knowingly distorting and lying about the DPRK’s military intent. Because the DPRK rightly recognizes the crippling sanctions on itself as a form of economic warfare and they recognize the growing threat of US invasion, they have made a strong statement expressing their willingness to shoot first if “there is incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to attack.” This becomes painstakingly clear in the second paragraph of the statement in question, in which the DPRK claims it will only nullify the armistice “when the US nuclear war rehearsal gets into full-swing.”

Admittedly, the use of the term “when” rather than “if” seems fatalist and damning, but when one considers the 63+ year aggression that the DPRK has continually faced by the US, their cynicism at the US radically changing its pro-war policy seems justified.

This statement is nothing new from the DPRK, which has continually upheld its right to self-defense and self-determination. The DPRK acquired nuclear weapons out of necessary reality, a point further underscored by the US war with Iraq and NATO’s war with Libya in 2011. Again, we quote Gowans about the deterrent provided by nuclear weapons in his article, “Why North Korea Needs Nuclear Weapons“:

Subsequent events in Libya have only reinforced the lesson. Muammar Gaddafi had developed his own WMD program to protect Libya from Western military intervention. But Gaddafi also faced an internal threat—Islamists, including jihadists linked to Al Qaeda, who sought to overthrow him to create an Islamist society in Libya. After 9/11, with the United States setting out to crush Al Qaeda, Gaddafi sought a rapprochement with the West, becoming an ally in the international battle against Al Qaeda, to more effectively deal with his own Islamist enemies at home. The price of being invited into the fold was to abandon his weapons of mass destruction. When Gaddafi agreed to this condition he made a fatal strategic blunder. An economic nationalist, Gaddafi irritated Western oil companies and investors by insisting on serving Libyan interests ahead of the oil companies’ profits and investors’ returns. Fed up with his nationalist obstructions, NATO teamed up with Gaddafi’s Islamist enemies to oust and kill the Libyan leader. Had he not surrendered his WMDs, Gaddafi would likely still be playing a lead role in Libya. “Who would have dared deal with Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability?” asks Major General Amir Eshel, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division. “No way.”

Rather than threatening to destroy Washington D.C. in a sea of nuclear flames – which even the Western media admits the DPRK has no way of doing, even if they wanted to – the DPRK is once again asserting its right to defend itself and strike first if the US provokes nuclear war. The stakes are too high, and although liberals in the US and Western Europe may complain about these measures, they do so from the safety and comfort of their homes within imperialist countries. The people of the DPRK hang in the balance of a life-and-death struggle against nuclear war with the US. No one in the DPRK wants war, including the leadership. However, the DPRK has made clear that they will not hesitate to retaliate and defend their people from nuclear holocaust.

Once we cut through the lies of the US media, one truth stands above all others for US citizens: The ball is in your court if you don’t want nuclear conflict with the DPRK. Washington has shown a total disregard for human life – whether Korean, Iraqi, Libyan, or even American – when it comes to starting imperialist wars. They have continued economic warfare on the DPRK in the form of sanctions and currently carry on war games in the Korean Peninsula. They are not going to change on their own.

Nuclear war is a disturbing and horrific possibility, and all freedom-loving people should do everything they can to prevent it from happening. In the US, this means organizing and rebuilding the anti-war movement as an anti-imperialist movement. Rather than playing into the racist and chauvinistic rhetoric of US politicians, the US Left should pursue international solidarity with oppressed nations like the DPRK and stand resolutely against any military aggression by their own government.

Incredibly, former Chicago Bulls Forward Dennis Rodman may have set a better line on the DPRK than most of the US Left. His recent travel to Democratic Korea may have irked social-chauvinists like George Stephanopoulos, but Rodman has allowed many people in the US to view the DPRK through a different light. Even Rodman said in his interview with Stephanopoulos that Kim Jong-Un wanted US President Barack Obama to “call him.” The level of distortions and outright falsehoods by the US media is incredible when we consider that the DPRK wants dialogue, not warfare. Anti-imperialists on the US Left must make this clear and challenge the false narrative put forth by the imperialist class.

Ultimately, this is why reactionaries like Stephanopoulos and US politicians decried Rodman’s trip so loudly. Realizing that the DPRK is not a nation hell-bent on destroying the people of the US, but rather a nation that enjoys many of the same things that Americans do, makes it harder for the imperialists to build popular consensus for war. The US Left should commend and learn from Rodman’s example and seek to build greater cultural and political ties with the people of the DPRK while boldly opposing sanctions and military aggression by the US.

Workers’ Party of Belgium opposes imperialist intervention in Mali

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The following statement below was circulated by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

Against the Belgian participation in the military intervention of France in Mali

The Belgian government has decided to participate in the military intervention of France in Mali, contributing two C-130 transport planes, two helicopters and 75 soldiers. The Western military force is avowedly aimed at stopping the advance of Islamist rebel groups in the North of the country, at the demand of Mali’s government and with the support, provided only after the start of the intervention, of the UN Security Council.

With the military intervention of France, French President François Hollande plays ‘cavalier seul’. By his act of war, he undermines a peace initiative the UN elaborated with several African countries. The fact that Mali has recently become a hornets’ nest is largely due to the consequences of the NATO war in Lybia and of decades of Western political meddling in the country’s affairs. In Mali’s complex situation, the only chance for peace, stability and development to succeed is by extremely cautious initiatives that have a large base of support and are principally African.

France’s intervention is of course not devoid of self-interest. As the former colonial power, France continues to have huge economic interests in the region. Mali possesses gold mines and petroleum, while also uranium is extracted in the region, which is used for part of the French nuclear industry.

Just like with the deadly NATO bombing on Lybia two years ago, Belgium has been very quick to offer its participation to the French military intervention. And this without any democratic debate about its objectives, consequences or cost. In a period of painful austerity measures and cuts in the social budgets, any increase in the Defense budget is simply cynical.

The Belgian government is not clear about the duration of its military intervention in Mali. Defense Minister Pieter De Crem only informed the Belgian taxpayers that it could be of a « very short, short, or medium » duration. As a first evaluation will be made only at the end of February, the mission will take at least six weeks. That is, as a starter, because this period may be prolonged several times yet, as was the case with the Belgian military mission in Afghanistan. In the meantime, for how many deads, wounded and refugees in Mali the Belgian government of Di Rupo (PS) will be responsible ?

The Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB) is opposed to any imperialist intervention in Mali, as elsewhere.

Against Left Opportunism: Syria & Anti-Imperialism

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

By Vince Sherman
December 10, 2012

The time has come for the left in the United States to make a choice.

Either it can continue to play into the hands of Western imperialism through its bizarre, undying support for the Syrian rebellion, or it can break decisively from opportunism and consistently uphold Syria’s right to self-determination by supporting President Bashar al-Assad.

NATO’s ruthless assault on Libya proved that all of the Western polemics in the world could not conjure a workers revolution into existence that opposed both Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and NATO. It proved that the call to support the rebellion while also condemning Western aggression was worse than taking no position at all. Liberals and opportunists in the US spent more time criticizing Qaddafi than they did organizing actual resistance to the horrific actions of their own government in Libya, and ultimately they supported the Obama administration’s so-called “humanitarian intervention,” if not in words than certainly in deeds.

With President Barack Obama winning a second term handily over Mitt Romney, the administration no longer has the disincentive towards war with Syria and Iran that it did a little over a month ago. Xinhua and RT challenge the narrative put forward by the Western media about the progress of the Syrian rebellion, arguing that they are essentially locked in a stalemate on the ground coupled with a worsening international situation. CNN, on the other hand, runs stories titled “Syria endgame in sight: ‘We welcome this fight’” that claim a rebel victory is within reach.

Washington tipped its hand last week in revealing the purpose of the propaganda war: Accusing a supposedly desperate Assad of planning to use chemical weapons. Imminent victory for the rebellion is an important component of the pro-war narrative because it gives Assad, by all accounts a rational world leader, a motive for planning a patently irrational action. While the US is in a less advantageous position internationally to launch an assault on Syria than they were ten years ago with Iraq, the possibility of invasion has never been greater.

This is the larger context of the US left’s positions, and it’s shocking how little hue and cry there is over imminent war with Syria. Takis Fotopoulos, the famed Greek left-libertarian political philosopher behind the “inclusive democracy” concept, perfectly describes the phenomenon of leftist support, explicit or tacit, for the criminal attacks on countries like Libya and Syria. In the Winter/Spring 2011 issue of The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, he wrote of the “degenerate left” in the United States. We will quote him at some length:

The world mass media controlled by the transnational and Zionist elites, crucially assisted this time by the “alternative” world media (from Aljazeera — which has become the unofficial channel of the “revolutionaries” and the transnational elite — to the Iranian Press TV), have played a very important role in creating the illusion of a monolithic “world against the tyrant”, which was not created during all the previous criminal wars of the transnational elite (see Section 4).

This has had very important implications as regards the stand of the Left (statist, libertarian, Green, etc.), who have mostly sided with the “revolutionaries”, if not with the criminal campaign itself! Furthermore, it has not just been the reformist Left who have sided with the new criminal campaign, as they have done in the past. This time, a very significant part of the anti-systemic Left have also indirectly been in favour of this war, through their support for the so-called “revolutionaries” in Libya. This has created (or perhaps revealed) a new kind of degenerate “Left” who, instead of demystifying the systemic propaganda, as used to be their traditional role, have directly or indirectly been supporting it, justifying the conclusion I derived ten years ago about the end of the traditional antisystemic movements. (1)

We are eager to read Fotopoulos’ new book, Redesigning the Middle East: The Arab “Revolutions”, Counter-Revolution in Iran and Regime Change, which promises to explore this concept further.

The point is, by not putting forth a consistent, unified, principled anti-imperialist position on the Libyan or Syrian question, the left aids and abets Western imperialism. One cannot call the US left’s willingness to hitch its wagon onto any protest movement, regardless of its composition or political context, anything but the most degenerate form of opportunism. Just as in Libya, the Syrian rebellion today has generally worked with the West and its puppet states towards the overthrow of a nationalist, anti-imperialist government since the beginning. Thanks to news services like RT, even Western leftists have had access to this information from day-one, and yet they cannot be bothered to sacrifice some vague notion of “principle” and support Assad and Syrian self-determination. As we will see, this opportunism has run the gamut from outright support to more insidious forms.

Like Libya, Syria Reveals Opportunism in the US Left

A cruise-missile leftist blog called The North Star raised the ire of a number of leftist groups in the US when they posted an article entitled “Lybia and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong.” The piece took left-opportunism to a new level by openly calling on leftists to support the demand by the Syrian opposition for Western imperialist intervention. In subsequent pieces, the author, Pham Binh, heavily criticized the Cliffite-Trotskyite International Socialist Organization (ISO) for “quietly [abandoning] its support for the Libyan revolution once the going got tough and NATO’s F-16s got going.” (2) For Binh, the ISO’s clumsy and ham-handed justification for supporting the Libyan rebels but not the NATO intervention of 2011 was “the anti-imperialism of fools,” but not because they supported the invasion. Rather, Binh criticizes the ISO for not actively supporting the NATO airstrikes to bring down Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s government, claiming that leftists should support the ‘Arab spring’ – itself a completely empty term employed by the West to blur the line between popular uprisings, like those in Egypt and Tunisia, and the imperialist-instigated plots against Libya and Syria – “no matter what side the U.S. government eventually decides to back.” (2)

This bizarre episode of explicit opportunist support for imperialism provoked many strong responses from other left groups around the world. Directly responding to both The North Star and the ISO’s own left-opportunist view of the Syrian question, Mazda Majidi of the Party for Socialism & Liberation (PSL) wrote a fantastic piece for Liberation News entitled “When justifying imperialist intervention “goes wrong” Cruise-missile socialists.

At Return to the Source, we see no reason to reinvent the wheel, and we unite with the criticisms of Binh’s piece levied by Majidi and the PSL. We encourage any and all Marxist-Leninists interested in this debate to read the aforementioned article.

Unlike Libya, however, the question of the Syrian ‘rebellion’ is still at the forefront of the struggle against imperialism. anti-imperialists must resolutely struggle against the possibility of a Western military invasion of Syrian and rigorously combat the left-opportunist elements – like the ISO and The North Star – which seek to give cover to an invasion.

In terms of honesty, logic, and consistency, The North Star gets high marks. Polemic-trading between The North Star and the ISO should not blur the fact that both of these groups view the so-called ‘Syrian rebellion’ in the same way: a genuine popular people’s movement against the so-called “Assad dictatorship.” This is crucial to understanding the common tie between the ISO and The North Star, which is left-opportunism and social imperialism. Majidi notes this in the PSL’s response, saying that ”[they] accept all the same premises: that the Libyan government had no significant base of support and that the revolt was a popular “revolution” with an “understandable” desire for foreign help.” (4)

However, The North Star accepts the logical conclusion of its support for the so-called ‘Syrian rebellion’, while the ISO fallaciously tries to have their cake and eat it too. In perhaps the most bizarre piece put forward by the ISO, author Paul D’Amato presents its position “to support the revolutions in Libya and Syria against dictatorial regimes, while at the same time opposing intervention by the U.S. and its imperialist allies.” He follows up these mutually contradictory positions by saying that “some of us who haven’t lost our heads,” (!) presumably the ISO, “still consider imperialism to be the greatest enemy of both the revolutions of the Arab Spring and national self-determination in the Middle East.” (5)

D’Amato’s seems uncomfortable for the duration of the article as he attempts to distinguish the stance of the ISO from The North Star. The reason for D’Amato’s discomfort is that Binh’s piece on The North Star is just a more honest and logical presentation of the ISO’s own horrendous position: tactical support for imperialism.

It becomes evident in D’Amato’s piece, along with two follow-up pieces further articulating the ISO’s left-opportunist position, that the ISO supports an imaginary ‘rebellion’ in Syria. Lee Sustar of the ISO blatantly denies facts now acknowledged by the Western media in his August 16, 2012 screed entitled “What is the future of the Syrian revolution?”  We quote Sustar at some length to give the reader a sense of scale for the ISO’s delusion:

SocialistWorker.org has been among publications on the left that have supported the Syrian revolution while criticizing leading elements of the Syrian National Council (SNC) for their attempts to make alliances with imperialism. Key members of the SNC have called for stepped-up intervention by Western powers, such as military action to establish safe havens for refugees on Syrian territory or the imposition of a no-fly zone to neutralize Assad’s air power.

But for Rees and some others on the left, that’s enough to write off not only the SNC and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), but also the Local Coordinating Councils (LCCs) that have organized heroic mass resistance for more than a year and half despite the most savage repression–mass arrests, torture, artillery attacks on civilian areas, massacres and, now, aerial bombardment.

Is it really the case that one of the most inspiring, self-organized revolutionary movements in recent decades has degenerated into a pliable tool of the West? Are we looking at a repeat of Libya, where NATO air strikes played the decisive role in turning the tide in the civil war? Are ultra-sectarian Islamist forces–backed by the Saudis and Qataris–becoming a dominant force?

The answer is no. While imperialist forces are angling to install a post-Assad leadership to their liking–a preferably a military strongman, as Reuters reported–the revolutionary movement has continued to develop in response to the struggle in Syria itself.

Moreover, there are well-documented divisions within the SNC and the FSA–and criticisms of both from grassroots Syrian revolutionary forces on the ground in the LCCs. And does it make any sense to equate an SNC leader who calls for a no-fly zone and meets with State Department officials with a farmer who distributes AK-47s smuggled in from Turkey in order to defend a village from Syrian army tanks?

Notice how Sustar actually avoids answering the serious indictments of the so-called ‘Syrian rebellion’ that he himself brings up via rhetorical questions. All he can muster is some flaccid claim that “the revolutionary movement has continued to develop in response to the struggle in Syria itself,” (?) and that “there are well-documented divisions within the SNC and the [Free Syrian Army].” (6)

Of course there are divisions in the ‘rebellion’! There were the same divisions in Libya between the comparador bourgeois elite and the Islamist elements connected to al-Qaeda. This isn’t the point, though. The point is that both of these interests, which have comfortably coalesced in Syria as they did in Libya, are the unquestionable leading forces for the ‘rebellion’. US officials, who are now openly collaborating with al-Qaeda to bring down the Syrian government, now admit that the radical Islamist network “has advanced beyond isolated pockets of activity in Syria and now is building a network of well-organized cells.” (7) With several hundred militants operating in Syria, the Associated Press writes that US officials “fear the terrorists could be on the verge of establishing an Iraq-like foothold that would be hard to defeat if rebels oust President Bashar Assad,” a peculiar concern for the US to hold if the ISO’s ‘local coordinating committees’ were in the driver’s seat separate from al-Qaeda and Islamists. (8) In trying to downplay their numbers, Sustar neglects the stark reality that Islamists “are using their experience in coordinating small units of fighters in Afghanistan to win new followers,” allowing them to take control of many so-called ‘independent’ groups of ‘rebels’ that the ISO claims to support. (9)

Even the US government acknowledges divisions in the rebellion. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks in late October that withdrew support for the Syrian National Council (SNC1) reflects Washington’s growing alarm at the presence of al-Qaeda militants on the ground, who have little to no loyalty to the Syrian exile elite. Independent scholar Stephen Gowans explains this phenomenon in a November 2, 2012 article:

Uprisings aimed at overthrowing governments are often divided between militants who do the heavy lifting on the ground and politicians who lead the fight in the political sphere. Outside powers scheme to anoint an acceptable politician as a leader-in-waiting to step into the void if and when the current government is toppled. The leader must be both acceptable to his or her foreign backers and to the militants on the ground. (8)

Gowans goes on to explain that the strong presence of exiled Muslim Brotherhood members – consistent opponents of Assad’s secular Ba’athist government in Syria – prevented the SNC1 from gaining the loyalty of the rebels on the ground. Indeed, the Obama administration and the faux-socialist Hollande government in France have gone back to the drawing board in supporting the rise of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC2), which hopes to garner the loyalty of the various sectarian elements in the Syrian rebellion.

Rest assured, though, Washington’s hesitance to commit to the SNC1 has nothing to do with minimizing a “revolutionary alternative” or the ‘local coordinating committees’ within the Syrian rebellion, as the ISO might claim. Gowans further explains that the impetus to the new SNC2′s formation “is to marginalize the influence of the Jihadists, many though not all of whom have spilled into Syria from other countries, bent on overturning a secular regime led by a president whose Alawi faith they revile as heretical. If the Jihadists can be sidelined, Washington may be able to funnel arms to “acceptable” militant groups, without fear of their being used later against US targets.” (8) Secular, “anti-imperialist” rebel groups are not a substantial factor in Washington’s calculus for intervention, despite what the ISO would have its members believe, because the truly anti-imperialist groups in Syria, like the two communist parties, critically support the Assad government.

Appalling as it may be, The North Star’s position is simply a more honest rendering of the same opportunist position taken by the ISO. It approaches the Syrian question not from a perspective of dialectical materialism, but from a perspective of craven idealism. The opportunists in the US left cannot view the Syrian rebellion in any terms other than a metaphysical struggle against tyranny. They buy wholesale the reports of retaliatory violence by the Syrian security forces in order to characterize Assad as a tyrant, and in doing so, they confound the central contradiction facing the Syrian people: the contradiction between imperialism and national liberation.

Ironically, Leon Trotsky – the ideological godfather of the ISO – may have put it best in a 1938 interview, when he said, “Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!” (9) It’s a testament to the absurdity of the US left’s opportunism that we now say, in this particular moment, D’Amato and Sustar could learn a lot from reading Trotsky!

Perhaps the most confounding question of all for the ISO is this: Where is their coverage of the ‘Libyan revolution’ now? Now that the rebels that were supposedly independent of the West have ascended to power, what happened to the ISO’s enthusiasm and the phrase-mongering about ‘democratic rights’? An ever-defiant ISO published an attempt at summating the lessons of the ‘Libyan revolution’ shortly after the fall of Tripoli. ISO leader Alan Maass, in an article titled, “Who really won in Libya?” writes, “Qaddafi deserved to be overthrown. But the circumstances of his downfall are an advance for imperialism–which means a setback for the struggle to extend democracy and freedom.” (10)

One almost expects to hear a Homer Simpson-esque “Doh!” at the end of the article, as if to say, what a shame that the US compromised the integrity of another revolution! The ISO did nothing but apologize for the crimes of the Libyan rebels – shamefully downplaying and apologizing for the lynching of black African migrants – and ignore the long-standing evidence that the rebellion was instigated and supported by Western imperialist countries from the beginning. And then they act surprised when NATO attacks Libya at the request of those same rebels for whom they pledged support.

If the ISO had published a thoughtful, reflective piece that asked honest, hard questions about the flaws with their line in Libya, they might have earned a little credibility. Instead, they applied their tautological ideology to Syria and doubled-down on their support for the foreign-backed rebellion, whose ties to the West are even more documented than those of the Libyan rebels.

The ISO may be the most peculiar of all the US left sects, but their position was echoed by countless liberal publications and thinkers, including The Nation, ZNet, and the academic Immanuel Wallerstein. Sadly, these groups and individuals have learned nothing from the Libyan experience and continue to support the Syrian rebellion, even in the face of renewed US aggression.

Opportunism in the Western Left

Although opportunism has led many groups in the US left down the path of social imperialism – socialist in word, imperialism in deed – this perverse trend extends far beyond to the US to many of the so-called “left” groups in Western Europe.

SYRIZA, the Greek coalition of ostensibly leftist groups, has enjoyed the support of many on the US left vis-a-vis the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). The so-called “Coalition of the Radical Left” exposed its opportunism to the people of Greece in its continued acceptance of the Eurozone, despite its verbal commitment to opposing austerity. However, SYRIZA has quietly worked with the other conservative parties in Greece to support the Syrian rebels and argue for Greek intervention into the conflict. On September 12, 2012, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras “expressed his concerns about the developments in Syria and the need for Greece to “intervene” in order  for the EU to enhance assistance so Greece can host refugees fleeing the violence in the country.” (11) During the duration of NATO’s attack on Libya, SYRIZA leaders made nary a statement whatsoever and made only a vague reference to the criminal assault in a statement to the Coalition Against NATO/G8 rally on May 20, 2012.

We contrast SYRIZA’s opportunism with the plethora of statements by the KKE against Greek involvement in aggression towards Syria and Iran. (12) KKE consistently upholds proletarian internationalism and is strongly critical of any attempts by its own government to intervene in Syria. SYRIZA, instead, has broken their opportunistic silence during the assault on Libya and crossed the threshold into the territory of social imperialism, calling openly for Greek intervention in Syria.

SYRIZA is but one example of the increasingly prevalent role that so-called “left” parties and movements are playing in supporting imperialism. Much ado was made of France electing a ‘socialist’ President, François Hollande, earlier this year. Playing into the historical trend of social democracy towards supporting imperialism – the major schism in the Second International that Lenin fought against – Hollande has doubled-down on the increasingly hawkish policies of former President Nicholas Sarkozy and supported the Syrian rebels at every juncture. To date, France’s so-called ‘socialist’ government has supported the reactionary terrorist rebellion more prolifically than the United States!

France now delivers money and arms to proxies along the Turkish border that are subsequently funneled to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has primarily directed the terrorist activity of the rebellion in Syria. (13) The Guardian reports that Hollande’s support has even ”reached Islamist groups who were desperately short of ammunition and who had increasingly turned for help towards al-Qaida aligned jihadist groups in and around Aleppo.” (13) Going further than the United States, Hollande recognized the SNC1 as the legitimate government of Syria and has called for the Syrian opposition to begin forming a “provisional government.” (14)

Of course, every Marxist-Leninist should expect social-democrats like Hollande and SYRIZA to function as part of the capitalist system. However, the vanguard role that a nominally ‘socialist’ government is playing in spearheading imperialist aggression towards Syria is particularly striking in this period. Hollande and SYRIZA are opportunists, but the similarities in their positions on Syria with elements of the left in the US are incredibly disturbing.

Lenin, Syria, and the Struggle Against Opportunism

As Social-Democratic parties across Europe got behind their own bourgeois governments in lockstep during the First World War, Lenin was one of the harshest critics of what he termed “social chauvanism,” which was the placing of national interests above proletarian internationalism through the use of socialist phrases. Indeed, the distinguishing feature of the Bolsheviks was their consistent opposition to the First World War and the imperialist crimes of their own government.

Reading Lenin’s attacks on social chauvanism in 2012 will draw obvious analogies to SYRIZA, Hollande, and opportunist elements of the US left in the mind of astute readers. We will quote from his 1915 essay, Social Chauvanist Policy Behind a Cover of International Phrases at some length:

To influence the workers, the bourgeois must assume the guise of socialists, Social-Democrats, internationalists, and the like, for otherwise they can exert no influence. The Rabocheye Utro group disguise themselves; they apply plenty of paint and powder, prettify themselves, cast sheep eyes all around, and go the limit! They are ready to sign the Zimmerwald Manifesto a hundred times (a slap in the face for those Zimmerwaldists who signed the Manifesto without combating its timidity or making reservations!) or any other resolution on the imperialist nature of the war, or take any oath of allegiance to “internationalism” and “revolutionism” (“liberation of the country” in the censored press being the equivalent of “revolution” in the underground press), if only—if only they are not prevented from calling upon the workers to participate in the war industries committees, i.e., in practice to participate in the reactionary war of plunder (“a war of defence”).

Only this is action; all the rest is words. Only this is reality; all the rest is phrases. Only this is needed by the police, by the tsarist monarchy, Khvostov and the bourgeoisie. The clever bourgeois in countries that are cleverer are more tolerant of internationalist and socialist phrases if only participation in defence is assured, as is evidenced by comment in the French reactionary press regarding the London Conference of the socialists of the “Triple Entente”. With the socialist gentry, one of these papers said, it’s a kind of tic douloureux, a species of nervous malady which forces people involuntarily to repeat the same gesture, the same muscular movement, the same word. It is for that reason, the paper said, that “our own” socialists cannot speak about anything without repeating the words, “We are internationalists; we stand for social revolution”. This is not dangerous, the bourgeois paper concludes, only a “tic”; what is important to “us” is their stand for the defence of the country.

That is how the clever French and British bourgeois reason. If participation in a war of plunder is defended with phrases about democracy, socialism, etc., is this not to   the advantage of rapacious governments, the imperialist bourgeoisie? Is it not to the master’s advantage to keep a lackey who swears to all and sundry that his master loves them, and has dedicated his life to their welfare? (15)

The particulars have changed, but the general opportunist trend that Lenin observed in Social Democratic parties has re-emerged in 2012. Groups like the ISO and intellectuals like Wallerstein assert that their support for the Libyan or Syrian rebels is a part of some greater move towards ‘democracy’ or ‘revolution’. Central to the ISO’s argument for supporting the Libyan rebels, even after the NATO intervention, was constantly repeating the phrase, “Arab Spring,” and waxing on about how the rebellion in Libya was part of a larger revolutionary movement sweeping away “dictators” in the Arab world.

Reality collided with their idealist phrase-mongering, and the ISO tacitly supported the criminal assault on Libya by ruthlessly demonizing Qaddafi, first and foremost. Today, as opportunist groups on the US left call for the toppling of Assad – whether they take the next logical step and call for outright intervention, like The North Star, or veil it, like the ISO – we are witnessing a similar trend.

Just as Lenin and the Bolsheviks combated social chauvanism through ideological struggle, so too much genuine revolutionaries in the US and Western Europe combat the opportunist elements that functionally support US imperialism. There can be no more mixed messages; no more social democrats playing the role of imperialist cheerleaders. The anti-war left in the US must firmly embrace anti-imperialism and begin building resistance to war with Syria that includes upholding Syria’s right to self-determination.

Victory to Assad and the Syrian people!

Hands Off Syria!

For Return to the Source’s essay on supporting nationalist governments, like that of Assad, please refer back to Marxism & Bourgeois Nationalism.

——

(1) Takis Fotopoulos, The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Winter/Spring 2011, “The pseudo-revolution in Libya and the Degenerate “Left”,” http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/vol7/vol7_no1_takis_Libya_part1_pseudo_revolution.html

(2) Pham Binh, The North Star, July 18, 2012 “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools and the Syrian Spring,” http://bit.ly/OZaabI

(3) Reuters, Published on The Guardian (UK), August 20, 2012, “Barack Obama warns Syria over use of chemical or biological weapons,” http://bit.ly/Qj7N3s

(4) Mazda Majidi, Liberation News, July 17, 2012, “When justifying imperialism ‘goes wrong’: Cruise Missile Socialism,” http://bit.ly/LwSIPl

(5) Paul D’Amato, SocialistWorker, July 16, 2012, “Siding with the greatest purveyor of violence,” http://bit.ly/NY0VLe

(6) Lee Sustar, SocialistWorker, August 16, 2012, “What is the future of the Syrian revolution?” http://bit.ly/PmC19d

(7) Associated Press, August 11, 2012, “US officials: Al-Qaeda spreading in Syria,” http://bit.ly/NZqtqW

(8) Stephen Gowans, what’s left, November 2, 2012, “Will Damascus Survive Washington’s Latest Attempt to Impose a Puppet Government on Syria?” http://bit.ly/U5FnSz

(9) Leon Trotsky, “Anti-Imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation,” September 1938, http://bit.ly/UpGian

(10) Alan Maass, Socialist Worker, “Who Really Won in Libya?” August 23, 2011, http://bit.ly/qJbLQG

(11) Al Yunaniya, September 12, 2012, “SYRIZA leader says Greece should host refugees from Syria,” http://bit.ly/Z2TqcY

(12) Communist Party of Greece, May 31, 2012, “NATO and EU are Preparing for Bloodshed,” http://bit.ly/K3QgM0

(13) Martin Chulov, The Guardian, December 7, 2012, “France funding Syrian rebels in new push to oust Assad,” http://bit.ly/VoCLdr

(14) Julian Borger, The Guardian, August 27, 2012, “François Hollande calls on Syrian rebels to form provisional government,” http://bit.ly/SJyvXW

(15) VI Lenin, December 1915, Social Chauvanist Policy Behind a Cover of International Phrases, http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/dec/21.htm

The Vice Presidential Debate and National Liberation

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The following article below was originally published as a Facebook Note, but I’ve been asked not to link back, nor to include the author’s name: 

October 12, 2012

Libya’s Col. Muammar Gaddafi (left) and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad (right)

There were two discernible moments in last night’s Vice Presidential debate that I thought were the most telling and most important moments we’ve seen in the two confrontations between the Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan tickets. It wasn’t Congressman Ryan’s brilliant swipe at Vice President Biden’s long history of gaffes. It wasn’t Biden’s blistering attack on Romney’s 47% comment or his rock-solid defense of the Administration’s tax plan, in which he pointed out that 97% of small business owners don’t make more than $250,000 per year. These were all interesting moments, although by my own standards of debate – cultivated from four years of competing in high school and three years of coaching in college – Biden won the arguments.

But the moment I’m referring to was more important than all of that. I get that this election is about jobs and the economy in the minds of voters so I don’t use ‘important’ to mean ‘election-altering’. I mean that for progressive-minded people, organizers, and activists in this country, these two moments told us a lot more about the country we live in and the policies we organize against than anything said on the campaign trail.

The two moments I’m referring to were the Libyan embassy question at the beginning of the debate and the Syria question near the end.

First on Libya: Ryan targeted the Obama Administration for not labeling the embassy attack as “terrorism” earlier and not being prepared. Biden countered by saying that Ryan’s budget had cut security funding for embassies by millions of dollars and short-changed the staff there. Romney and Ryan clearly want to win this election, so why do they – let alone the supposedly “free” and “investigative” press – not point out the obvious: NATO, under the direction of the Obama administration, funded, armed, and brought to power the same Libyan ‘rebels’ that attacked the US embassy in Benghazi on September 11th.

We can quibble as to whether or not the attackers were literally “the same rebels,” but NATO commanders and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all admitted that a large section of the rebels that they supported in Libya last year were members of al-Qaeda or other Islamist extremists. When NATO was criminally murdering Libyans through their bombing campaigns, they didn’t distinguish between “good rebels” and “bad rebels.” They armed the rebellion by any means necessary – the rebellion that systematically lynched black African migrants; the rebellion that attacked hospitals and schools for children with Down-syndrome; the rebellion that, with NATO’s air strikes, killed more civilians than Libya’s national army; the rebellion that sodomized and murdered Colonel Muammar Qaddafi without trial; and ultimately the rebellion that was directed on the ground by al-Qaeda and Islamist militants.

Qaddafi was a bulwark against radical Islamists, much like Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Al-Qaeda committed terrorist attacks against Libyan targets and Qaddafi showed no tolerance for their indiscriminate violence, so much so that he opportunistically joined the war on terror in 2005. Just as it doesn’t matter in Syria today, though, Washington’s short-term interests in acquiring oil overrode any possible problem they had with materially supporting the same people that attacked the US on 9/11. The Obama administration knew it and they did it anyway.

So fast-forward to 9/11 in 2012. Al-Qaeda attacks the US embassy in Libya right after receiving aid from the US and NATO in 2011. With the amount of support they received, there is a good chance that the same weapons used to breach the embassy were provided by the US, much like how many of the same arms given to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan by the US in the 1980s are now used by the Afghani resistance against US troops today.

Why doesn’t Romney or Ryan bring this up? Why don’t they hammer Obama and Biden on the biggest hole of all in the White House’s sketchy narrative on the embassy attack? Even in catering to the racist and Islamophobic base of the Republican Party, why don’t they point out that the Obama administration, in this case, literally armed al-Qaeda and Islamist extremists?

The answer is because they don’t fundamentally disagree on what happened in Libya. Republican or Democrat, neither one of them has an interest in laying the real question before the American people: Why did we bomb the hell out of Libya and arm our so-called enemy against a government that didn’t threaten the United States? Outside of the Ron Paul clique, nary a critical word was thrown at the President for the crimes his administration committed against the Libyan people.

The two parties can posture all they want over tax policies or Medicare reform, but let’s make one thing clear: When the rubber hits the road and we’re talking about dropping bombs on civilian targets that suck the oxygen out of a mother’s lungs before her and her child are charred by the flames; when we’re talking about black African migrants who are strung up on light poles and disemboweled because of the color of their skin; when we’re talking about a school, where children with Down-syndrome go to learn and are cared for every day, being obliterated by firebombs; when we’re talking about real people dying – who you and I will probably never meet – the two candidates are one and the same.

Isn’t that deeply unsettling? I have conversations with Obama supporters to whom I bring this up and they dismiss it out of fear that it might play into Romney being elected. They then proceed to lecture me on how there are differences between the candidate’s domestic policies. And then for the closer, they turn these concerns on their head and ask me why I care so much about foreign policy when there are people hurting in this country.

I just grow weary of it, folks. I get that Romney’s policies on a lot of economic and social issues are more reactionary than Obama’s – although I would follow it up by saying, “Not by much. They’re both reactionaries.” What I don’t get is the national chauvinism that pervades the lesser-of-two-evils progressive community that writes off foreign policy as if it’s some separate sphere to evaluate candidates.

The mother charred by fire from NATO’s death machines in Libya doesn’t care that Obama’s tax policy only affects 3% of small businesses. Frankly, she doesn’t even care that Romney’s policy will raise taxes on workers in this country. She was living a normal life with her family, raising her children, working a productive job, and putting food on the table in one form of another until her country was invaded. Violence was committed against her, and it was done in the name of the United States – violence, for no honest reason; violence, for no positive outcome; violence, completely divorced from any semblance of justice; violence, that even the most opportunistic and hateful critics of the President in this country cannot condemn, especially at the Vice Presidential debate.

For the hanged black migrant, for the dead Libyan infant, for the wounded Syrian bus driver, and for any oppressed person around the world, this election is literally meaningless and tonight’s debate proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Now someone’s ready to protest, “But we’re not Libyans. We’re not Syrians. We’re Americans who live in this country and have to deal with the consequences of this election.” Yes we are. And if those consequences guide progressives to vote to defeat Romney – however they think they can best do that in their respective states – they should absolutely do so.

But I want people to understand that there is only one way to vote for the President and not have Libyan and Syrian blood on your hands: Resistance. Whether Obama or Romney win on the evening on November 6th, progressives must issue a declaration of independence, not just from both parties but from the entire system of imperialism. We have to commit to organizing our communities, our workplaces, our classrooms, and our places of worship to resist the attacks that come down on us and on oppressed people around the world. We have to build a new movement – not an anti-war movement like we saw under Bush, but an anti-imperialist movement that recognizes that the crimes perpetrated on the Libyans are made possible by the crimes committed against workers and oppressed people in this country, and vice versa.

That’s all anti-imperialism is. It takes the anti-war movement and joins it with the battle against budget cuts, the fight against bosses on the shop floor, the struggle to keep collective bargaining rights, the campaigns for affordable public education, and the continued war against racism, national oppression, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and every other phobia that oppresses people here and around the world. It recognizes that the struggle of Libyan freedom fighters against NATO and the Islamist rebels is intertwined with the struggles that we wage here in the US against anti-union laws, foreclosures, budget cuts, racist violence, and attacks on women’s rights.

Imperialism is a system that oppresses people domestically to commit untold horrors against entire nations internationally. And it’s a system we have to fight and dismantle if we’re serious about wanting freedom in our lifetime.

Clearly it won’t happen through the ballot box. The Vice Presidential debate showed us that. If we hope to achieve that freedom, we have to fight for it in the streets.

Lincoln, Assad & the Vice Presidential Debate

Now onto Syria: The second moment that stood out to me in last night’s Vice Presidential debate was downright awkward and embarrassing for Ryan. Trying desperately to distinguish the Romney campaign’s position on Syria from Obama’s position, he fumbled around and could not answer the moderator’s question, which was, “What would you do differently?” About all he could muster was the flaccid jab at the Obama administration for calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “a reformer.”

Except Obama never said that, and neither did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Clinton made a statement in March 2011 that “many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer,” but her agenda was the same as Romney and Ryan’s from the beginning: Use the civil unrest, which later became a civil war, to topple the Syrian government at any cost.

All things considered, Biden knocked it out of the ballpark in terms of honesty. He noted that the US hasn’t worked through the UN on the question of Syria, having never endorsed or accepted Kofi Annan’s peace plan, and began aiding the so-called “rebels” directly in the early stages of the civil war. He candidly admitted that the US was completely aligned with the oppressive Turkish government and the reactionary Saudi and Qatari monarchies, all of whom are funneling arms – most likely provided by the United States – to the Syrian “rebels.” About the only thing he left out in his effort to bolster the Obama administration’s “Tough on Assad” credentials was the White House’s announcement last week to put troops on the Jordanian border with Syria.

For their part, neither candidate endorsed a US military operation in Syria under the current conditions. I take this to mean that both tickets understand how unpopular the idea of another war is with voters, which by extension means that the Syrian government has at least until December to put down the rebellion before the threat of a Libya-style NATO intervention comes back on the table. This is the good news.

The bad news is that both candidates agreed to a disturbing caveat, stated not-so-eloquently by Ryan: “Well, we agree with the same red line, actually, they do on chemical weapons, but not putting American troops in, other than to secure those chemical weapons.” If there’s one thing that the past two Presidents have taught this generation about justifications for this type of preemptive war, it is that a targeted government doesn’t have to have actual weapons (Iraq) or plan to use them on the population (Libya) to still launch full-scale military operations. What Biden and Ryan – and ultimately Obama and Romney – are really saying is that they won’t exercise military force until after November 6th.

Realize too that when Ryan said, “[our strategy with Syria] means like embargoes and sanctions and overflights, those are things that don’t put American troops on the ground,” he is talking directly about the type of intervention that NATO launched in Libya. Save for some military advisors, US troops were not “on the ground” in Libya in the same way they are today in Afghanistan. It’s horrifying, of course, that drone and aerial warfare allows the US to victimize thousands of people without having to weigh the consequences of physical risk. There are no longer any counter-weights or human cost calculations that go into setting up no-fly zones, which Ryan calls “overflights.”

Between Libya and Syria – and Afghanistan and Iraq, despite how Biden may have postured to pretend like he didn’t vote to put the same two wars “on credit cards,” like Ryan did – we have to admit that we don’t have a choice in the US Presidential elections. If you even have a semblance of sympathy for the women, men, and children who will bear the full brunt of war in these countries, then you have to admit that there’s nothing democratic about the choice that voters will make on November 6th. The candidates are in full agreement that the United States should continue to build its empire, declare war on smaller nations for their resources, and do so in the most brutal and efficient manner possible. This is one area – probably the most major area, if we are honest with ourselves as human beings – where there is literally no difference between a second-term President Obama and a President Romney.

Immediately after the debate, CNN aired the second trailer for the new Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln, which has Daniel Day-Lewis portraying the Great Emancipator himself, President Abraham Lincoln. The juxtaposition of both candidates’ characterization of Assad “turning guns on his own people” coupled with this exciting movie trailer hit me pretty hard. Most Americans in 2012 revere Lincoln as a national hero, and the film’s Thanksgiving release date all but guarantees it will be the movie event of 2012.

But why is that? Most people in the 21st century view the American Civil War as a totally just war and condemn slavery as an institution – though it should be noted that a disturbing number of reactionary Republican lawmakers are beginning to come out as slavery apologists – but it wasn’t always seen that way. Neither was Lincoln enshrined as “the Great Emancipator” by mainstream American canon until relatively recently (read: the last forty years).

For a large portion of the country, Lincoln was remembered as a brutal tyrant who “turned guns on his own people” and grossly violated their constitutional rights. He was remembered as a radical who forcibly expropriated the “property” of the rich – namely slaves – and waged a brutal civil war on the American people. His unwillingness to compromise on the issue was not touted as a virtue as it is today; rather it was seen as the stubbornness of a dictator whose decisions cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their lives. He was seen as divisive, conniving, and wicked by a large section of the country.

Most Americans probably do not think of it this way, but a great number of atrocities were committed during the Civil War, and by no means were they limited to the racists in the Confederacy. Thousands of people – many of whom never owned slaves – were put into prison camps, forced to work without pay, starved, took ill, and died. For the first two years of the war, the Union Army, under the direction of the scoundral George McClellan, refused to liberate slaves in the South, leaving them under the bondage of the white slaveowners. Not least of these victims were the freed slaves, who received second-class treatment when they were allowed to join the Union Army and received unequal compensation.

Indeed, Lincoln’s policies and military draft program were so divisive that they led to massive riots in the North that left hundreds dead, most of whom were black residents targeted by racist pogroms. The media was not silent on these matters either. The Chicago Times in 1863 was topped with the headline, “DICTATOR PROCLAIMED, for the Proclamation can never be carried out except under the iron rule of the worst kind of despotism.”

But here’s the simple and undeniable truth: Lincoln was a hero, the Union was on the right side of history, and the American Civil War was not just justifiable, but necessary and honorable. As Americans in 2012, most of us wouldn’t think twice about making that judgment because we instinctively understand that slavery was a wicked instrument of oppression and the Confederacy was an evil empire seeking its preservation and expansion. All of Lincoln and the Union Army’s actions that were viewed as tyrannical by some people in 1860 are worthy of praise in 2012 because we understand what the conflict meant to oppressed people; so worthy of praise that a legendary director and actor are teaming up for a film honoring President Lincoln.

This should all sound familiar in the context of Syria: Here we have a leader, a President no less, waging a civil war to hold the country together. Opposite him and the Syrian Army is an unholy alliance of neo-liberals seeking to sell Syria’s resources and labor to the West at a profit, militants of al-Qaeda, and other radical Islamists. Assad fights for secular government against theocratic tyranny; he fights for a self-determined Syria against a puppet regime that will prostitute the Syrian people to Western corporations; he fights for an independent country in a region occupied and dominated by the United States and Israel; and now he fights for the self-determination of the Kurdish people in the northern part of Syria.

That last point is particularly salient in the comparison with Lincoln. The Syrian government has by no means consistently stood for Kurdish self-determination or nationhood, and Kurds have in the past faced oppression in Syria. Similarly, the United States government was the chief perpetrator in the crime of slavery against the black Africans kidnapped from their homes to work under the whip in North America. However, just as Lincoln realized that the question of winning the American Civil War was inseparable from the question of emancipation, Assad realizes that winning the Syrian Civil War is impossible without Kurdish independence. And just as the Union Army could not have won the war without the emancipated and slaves liberating themselves, Assad will have the Kurds to thank if he succeeds in putting down the rebellion.

When the Vice Presidents talked last night about the possibility of intervening in Syria, it made me think of the Trent Affair during the Civil War. Oligarchs in France and Britain considered intervening on behalf of the Confederacy. Though the countries were officially neutral, they engaged the Confederacy on possibly intervening on their behalf in the American Civil War and were only dissuaded by the Union victory at Antietam.

As an American, would you have tolerated British or French intervention in the American Civil War, especially on behalf of the Confederacy? I wouldn’t have. Most of us would like to say we would have supported President Lincoln, but I think all of us could agree that foreign intervention would have been wrong.

President Assad will be remembered by Syrians much in the same way President Lincoln is by Americans. Both leaders are fighting a civil war to hold their country together in the face of threats of foreign intervention – in Assad’s case, this is a more likely and greater threat than it was for the Union – and basic questions of freedom and oppression are at stake in the war’s outcome. From every indicator, a majority of the Syrian people supports the government, and it’s only a small band of traitors calling for military intervention.

As progressives, I don’t think it’s sufficient to just call for “Hands Off Syria.” That’s a start, of course, but in 21st century hindsight, “Hands Off America” would have fallen drastically short in 1862. Anti-imperialism means doing what we can to stop the government we live under from violently attacking another nation, but it is also a call to support those forces who are on the right side of history; those forces who find themselves struggling for independence and liberation; those forces who are most threatened by the kind of slaughter we witnessed in Libya last year. And those forces are President Assad and the Syrian people.

When people go to watch Spielberg’s film in November, voters will have already elected a new President. Last night’s debate showed us that the election won’t determine what happens in Syria because both sides are in agreement. Two factors can turn the tide, though: The first is an overwhelming victory for the Syrian people against the terrorist rebellion. And though I pray that happens, we need to begin exercising the second factor: American resistance to war with Syria.

U.S. anti-war, religious leaders meet with Iranian President Ahmadinejad

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The following article below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

September 26, 2012

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

New York, NY – 150 prominent anti-war activists, religious leaders and supporters of Iran attended a special here on Sept. 25 with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is in New York to address the opening meeting of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly.

For the past year there have been escalating threats by the U.S. over Iran’s alleged development of nuclear weapons. Many speakers made it clear that Iran has no nuclear weapons and no plan to develop them. In fact, Phil Wilayto, one of the event organizers, said, “Iran has called for a nuclear free Middle East.” Unlike Israel, which has over 150 nuclear weapons, Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and allows inspectors of its nuclear facilities.

According to a number of speakers, the U.S. is already intervening. Economic sanctions are an act of war, according to international law; the U.S. has admitted to carrying out cyber attacks on Iran’s nuclear processing facilities; and to having special operation troops on the ground. As with Libya and Syria, the U.S. is also looking for opposition groups to back inside Iran.

In addition, this past week the U.S. government removed the Mojahedin el Khalk from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. It is widely believed that they have carried out assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Ironically, two of the anti-war activists attending the meeting – Joe Iosbaker, a key organizer of the Chicago anti-NATO protest and Sarah Martin, a member of Women Against Military Madness and Freedom Road Socialist Organization – have been targets of a grand jury investigation for allegations of “providing material support to terrorist organizations” in Palestine and Colombia.

‘Terrible time in history of America’

Prominent among guests was Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. “This is a terrible time in the history of America. America and Israel are pushing this nation to war with Iran over alleged attempts to build weapons of mass destruction.” He warned, “We have to stand against the war mongers.”

Ramsey Clark, who was U.S. Attorney General when the Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, said, “The heart of the treaty was for the nuclear powers to eliminate their nuclear weapons.” He concluded, “The nuclear powers failed,” explaining how the U.S. has not lived up to its end of the deal.

Ellie Ommani, of the American Iranian Friendship Committee congratulated Iran “… for successfully hosting the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned movement with 125 nations. This puts to rest the myth of Iran’s isolation.”

Leah Bolger, president of Veterans for Peace, called for the U.S. to, “Remove carrier battle groups armed with nuclear weapons from the region.” In a proposal to President Ahmadinejad, Bolger also called for a delegation of vets to visit Iran.

In closing remarks, President Ahmadinejad said, “The U.S. wants to expand its hegemony over the center of energy. Iran will not allow this.” This brought cheers from the crowd.

Victory Against Repression: Carlos Montes Court Case Ends in Victory!

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The following statement below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization:

By Committee to Stop FBI Repression
June 5, 2012

Fight Back News Service is circulating the following statement from the LA Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

Los Angeles, CA – On June 5, 2012 Carlos Montes’ criminal court prosecution ended in a victory for Carlos and the movement.

Carlos Montes’ home was raided on May 17, 2011, by the combined forces of the LA County Sheriff’s Swat Team and the FBI, by crashing his door down at 5:00 a.m., with automatic assault rifles drawn, almost killing him. He was charged with 6 serious felonies with a possible jail time of up to 18 years.

With local and national support, via solidarity protests, call-in campaigns to President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Holder, local rallies and protests, and an offensive legal strategy, two felonies were dropped – this was a first partial victory. However the District Attorney still stated that they wanted Montes to do at least 5 years in state prison for the 4 felony charges remaining.

The local and national Committees to Stop FBI Repression launched a petition drive and a “Call the D.A.” campaign, with phone banking and a robo call by Carlos to over 4 000 supporters, urging folks to call District Attorney Steve Cooley. The D.A.’s office was flooded with calls and letters.

Montes’ attorney made several motions to get charges dropped on various grounds, but the Los Angeles Superior Court judge rejected them. Preparations were made for a trial, knowing well the state judicial system is not ‘fair and impartial.’ Montes and his attorney Jorge Gonzalez got widespread support and media coverage including in the Democracy Now TV show, La Opinion and the Guardian UK newspaper.

The local D.A. on the case then sought for a resolution and proposed to drop three additional felonies, if Carlos pled “no contest” to one count of perjury. This proposal included no jail time, three years of probation and community service. Under advice from supporters, friends and his attorney Montes moved forward with this proposal.

This is a victory for Carlos Montes and the movement against police political repression. A trial had the danger of him being convicted of four felonies with jail time and the additional old felony – a total of 5 felonies. At this point Carlos is out of jail, will continue to organize against repression, for public education, against U.S.-led wars and for immigrant rights. He is already planning to attend the protest at the Republican National Convention on August 27, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.

Next steps: The local committee with supporters and rank-and-file members of SEIU 721 will hold a victory party to thank everyone who worked on this campaign and to help pay off legal expenses. It is set for Saturday, June 23, 7:00 p.m. Details will follow.

Carlos wants to thank all the people, organizations, unions and community people who worked and supported him in this struggle against police/political repression.

The struggle continues to defend the 23 other anti-war and international solidarity activists who are STILL under an FBI investigation for showing solidarity with the oppressed people of the world, especially the Palestinian and Colombian people. Stay updated via: www.stopfbi.net!

FBI harassing North Carolina activists

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The following article below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

By Tom Burke
June 1, 2012

Asheville, NC – The FBI is harassing anti-war and international solidarity activists in North Carolina again, this time in Asheville. The last time was on Sept. 24, 2010 when the FBI visited a Durham anti-war activist at the same time they were raiding seven homes and the Anti-War Committee office in Minneapolis and Chicago. Back on that day the FBI delivered 14 subpoenas to a grand jury in Chicago, which all the activists refused to participate in.

This time the FBI knocked at an activist’s door in Asheville at 5:00 p.m. on May 30. Her boyfriend answered. He woke her up to tell her the FBI wanted to talk with her. The FBI agent asked to enter her home and she said, “No you cannot come in.”

The FBI agent had a number of print outs of Fight Back! news articles. The top one in the pile was Colombia: Eyewitness Report from Solidarity Delegation, from September 2009.

The FBI agent talked about the Democratic National Convention coming soon to Charlotte. The agent also talked about the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – the most powerful left-wing rebel movement in Latin America – saying, “the FARC is getting a lot of press right now in Colombia.” He asked for a promise that she would let him know if something violent was going to happen. He gave her his card.

The FBI agent then asked about solidarity activists mentioned in the Fight Back! article. The agent also mentioned Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

“Do not let the FBI in your home. They are there to intimidate you,” said Jeremy Miller, a North Carolinian who has been told that the FBI wanted to ‘talk to him.’ “In this case they pretended to be concerned about the upcoming DNC protests, but they are really trying to gather information to put anti-war activists on trial, claiming ‘material support for terrorism’. They are lying to you. Their presence is intimidating and scary, but the best thing is to give them your lawyer’s phone number and not talk to them.”

15,000 march against NATO in Chicago

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The following article below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

By Tom Burke
May 21, 2012

Carlos Montes, Los Angeles activist targeted by FBI repression, at Chicago anti-NATO protest. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Chicago, IL – In the largest anti-war protest ever held in Chicago, 15,000 people took to the streets marching against the NATO military summit. Inside McCormick Convention Center, politicians, generals and bankers discussed the faltering U.S./NATO war and occupation in Afghanistan. They also forged agreements that set the stage for destabilizing and overthrowing independent governments in places like Syria and Iran.

Outside, in the streets of Chicago’s South Loop however, waves of protesters marched in contingents with a message against NATO and G8, opposing war and poverty. Protesters were chanting and singing, surrounded by police on all sides. They were in high spirits and feeling their power, knowing their message of opposing war and poverty was reaching across the world to people suffering from NATO wars and occupations.

The day began with music and poetry at Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park, a park famous for 1960s protests against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Rebel Diaz, Tom Morello, David Rovics and hip-hop poets performed, with an appearance by the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). As the crowd began to grow, many taking shelter in the shade of nearby trees, protesters listened to speakers from scores of groups and movements that built for the protest against NATO.

The audience listened closely when Chicano leader and anti-war activist Carlos Montes took the stage. Members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held a big banner reading “Justice for Carlos Montes” behind him. Montes said, “I am here in solidarity with you today, despite being on trial in Los Angeles as part of an FBI frame up. I am being persecuted because of my anti-war, immigrant rights and labor activism. I organized protests against the U.S. War in Vietnam in the ‘60s and I organize against NATO and the U.S. war in Afghanistan today. We were in solidarity with and inspired by the people of Vietnam in their struggle against U.S. imperialism and we act in solidarity with the struggles of the people of Colombia, the Philippines and Mexico today. I call for the U.S. out of Afghanistan and to no U.S. or NATO intervention in Syria and Iran.”

Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian-American, who is one of 23 Midwest anti-war activists subpoenaed to a grand jury investigation and had his home raided by the FBI because of his solidarity work, also spoke: “We are organizing toward the day when Palestine will be a free and sovereign nation, with the right to return for refugees. We call for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and for people here to join us in demanding Palestinian liberation!” A big roar went up from the entire crowd.

Meredith Aby from the Minneapolis Anti-War Committee spoke about the need to get NATO out of Afghanistan and prevent future U.S. wars for oil and Empire. Aby is also one of the 23 who the FBI raided and she asserted, “Being anti-war is not a crime!’

The Reverend Jesse Jackson, from Chicago’s Operation PUSH and a former presidential candidate, called for an end to spending billions on war. He demanded the money be used to fund social services and end poverty. Jackson educated the crowd about poverty in this country, often portrayed in the media as only affecting African-Americans and other oppressed peoples. Reverend Jackson said, “The largest single category of poor people is white women who are single parents with children.” Reverend Jackson used the African-American call and response tradition in his speech, much to the amazement of Occupy Wall Street activists who use a similar technique.

The contingent against political repression lines up to march against NATO in Chicago. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

All in all there were more than 40 speakers from students, labor, immigrant rights, war veteran, environmental, housing and healthcare groups. Speakers included Leah Bolger, the President of Vets for Peace, Larry Holmes of the International Action Center and Lisa Grab with Students for a Democratic Society. Many were interested to hear from the Afghan women for peace, and the International League of People’s Struggle representing many international movements for freedom.

There were dozens of international guests who came to the protest, particularly anti-NATO organizations from European NATO countries. The importance of this is not to be underestimated, as NATO is fragile and some countries have already pulled troops out of Afghanistan.

The afternoon march began with a group of Afghan women for peace joined by a large contingent of Iraq and Afghan war veterans marching together. The Coalition Against NATO and G8 (CANG8), the organizers of the march, held the lead banner, with the United National Antiwar Coalition F(UNAC) as a part of that.

A river of protesters stretched across four lanes of traffic and for nearly a mile on Michigan Avenue. Onlookers and whole families came out on apartment balconies and onto sidewalks to film and take photos.

When the march came to within a few blocks of McCormick Place, it was time for the war veterans to take command. In one of the most moving moments of any anti-war protest in a generation, U.S. military veterans made declarations against U.S. and NATO wars and occupations, throwing their medals off the stage and into the street. One war veteran describing his combat experience began choking back tears and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” to which thousands in the streets began chanting, “It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault!”

Other veterans gave impassioned speeches against wars for oil and U.S. imperialism, denouncing the 1% and the U.S. government, while throwing their combat service awards and other medals as far as possible down the street towards the NATO summit. Jacob Flom of IVAW dedicated his medals to Carlos Montes and the Anti-War 23.

The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) ended the day with an announcement for people to exit to the west, taking note that there was a tremendous build-up of police in riot gear and military-type uniforms. The official show of force was intimidating to people and clearly planned and funded months ahead of time.

The crowds of protesters were so large, however, that it appeared impossible for everyone to exit in time for the end of the permitted Veterans rally. It soon became a scene of police encircling and pushing and shoving a much smaller crowd of people, some who responded in kind and were beaten and arrested. Others were simply singled out for arrest or beaten at random, including a few journalists. The big business media took up this story and these images to attempt to quickly bury the largest and most successful anti-war protest ever held in the city of Chicago.

While the greatest purveyors of violence in the world were meeting inside the NATO summit, the anti-war protesters outside sent a message heard round the world: “Say no to NATO! Troops out now!”

Veterans to return medals to NATO commanders

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The following article below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

By Jacob Flom
May 18, 2012

Screen-print by artist Kevin Caplicki

Chicago, IL – Dozens of U.S. military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plan to return their medals to the commanders they served under on Sunday, May 20. Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will lead thousands of anti-war protesters from Grant Park to the site of the NATO summit in downtown Chicago. Outside McCormick Place, the veterans and service members will return their medals to NATO commanders. Veterans of the U.S.-led NATO war and occupation in Afghanistan will march side by side with the group Afghans for Peace at the head of the march organized by the Coalition Against NATO/G8.

“By returning my medals I can begin the healing process,” said Iraq veteran Zach Laporte, a member of the Milwaukee IVAW chapter. “The NATO commanders may not acknowledge us as we return our medals,” said Laporte, “but by making our presence felt in the media and on the ground people will know our story. They will know the real story that the NATO commanders do not want the public to know.”

Through their action on May 20, IVAW hopes to bring attention to the human cost of the NATO occupation in Afghanistan, as well as the continuing effects of the Iraq war. But for the veterans returning their medals, this is also a personal process of healing the wound caused by NATO and U.S. occupations. Speaking to Democracy Now!, Chicago IVAW member Aaron Hughes said NATO is, “perpetuating a failed policy and unfortunately we have to live with that failed policy on a daily basis, and we don’t want to be a part of that failed policy anymore.”

Returning service medals as an act of protest was popularized at the 1971 action Operation Dewey Canyon III, organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. At that event, over 800 combat veterans threw their medals toward the U.S. Capitol building in protest of the Vietnam War.

Sunday’s rally and march against the NATO summit will start at the Petrillo Bandshell on the corner of Jackson and Columbus in Chicago. Entertainment and speakers begin at 10:30 a.m., followed by the mass march to McCormick Place at 2:00 p.m.