“During a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government.”–Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, “The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War
“…in wars of national liberation patriotism is applied internationalism.”–Mao Zedong, “The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War”
“What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own? It is the spirit of internationalism, the spirit of communism...”–Mao Zedong, “In Memory of Norman Bethune”
An Aside on the Enduring Importance of the National Question
Capitalist rule has since its inception been defined by crises of nation and class. Where does one end and the other begin? As Cedric Robinson argued in Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, the interstate Westphalian system provided competing, unevenly compensated bourgeoisies with separate institutional facilitators of profit accumulation through centralized, territorialized states. Through accompanying “nations,” these bourgeoisies were able to develop foundational myths of blood-and-soil bonds—a sound ideological tool for bourgeois political rule. With the advent of colonialism, the nationalist form of political rule became various bourgeoisies’ simultaneous advantage and weakness. The example Robinson led with in this titanic work was the British colonization of Ireland: in defining the Irish as a “race,” portrayed by the British ruling classes largely as a swarm of brutes and subhuman savages, the British bourgeoisie was for a time able to keep its “own” underclasses under wraps. British workers were given the impression that they were at least superior to the Irish “race.” From Ireland to India to Africa to North America, colonial enterprises would go on to maintain this basic ideological form and method of social control. In Robinson’s own words:
“Colonialism in America had required a different rationale: the Savage. Conveniently… English colonialism had had available to it the savagery of the Irish to draw upon. The notion had traveled well. When the need was for labor, the Irish, the poor of the metropole’s cities, the African and the native American were comfortably herded together under the notion of savagery. When the issue had been the expropriation of the lands of the natives, there was little cause to respect the claims of the savages or to comprehend their resistance as little more than savagery.”
This sweetheart arrangement could not last forever. Eventually these Irish, themselves “infected” by the national ideal, decided they would peel away from British rule on the basis of their own national identity, thus fracturing British accumulation circuits and political strictures. The cause and effect was simple: if the build-up of British industry depended the looting Ireland of resources (investing stolen wealth into its own development projects and feeding its workers with Irish crops) and the intentional de-development of Ireland (preventing any nearby competition), then Irish resistance, both violent and non-violent, slowed or prevented British imperial ambitions, including ambitions elsewhere on the map. Through resistance leading (in prospect) to independence, Ireland could also thereby secure its own ability to industrialize. The dawn of Ireland resistance occurred through the organizing principle of nationalism: in the beginning stages, a cultural project aimed at reclaiming an erased history and a lost language, as an integral component of the struggle to reclaim land. Irish nationalism, and, in its most advanced forms, Irish republicanism and socialism, continues to provide a model for a beautifully recalcitrant anti-colonialism, in the geographic heart of Europe of all places. The freedom fighters of the Easter Rising did not simply light the torch for a 32-county republic; they could scarcely have rendered a better service for humanity as a whole than to distract the British army as its forces launched rapaciously into the inter-imperialist rivalry of the First World War. The honorable cause of Irish independence shows how a national cause may double as an anti-systemic cause, at fundamental odds with the unjust global system, depending on its objective placement within the leading players of that system.
Put another way, the cause of Irish Republicanism, like that of Pan-Arabism, eventually transformed into a simultaneous campaign for a broken homeland’s reunification and against imperialism: blows for the former necessarily serve as blows against the latter, unraveling and weakening the offending system of control by reversing and preventing its achievements and goals. For this very reason, economist Ali Kadri has criticized Arab Communist Parties for historically underestimating the power of the national question in the Arab world. For example, Kadri has argued in the context of the 20th century Arab world that the pro-Soviet Communists in Iraq actually played into Israel’s hands by opposing the formation of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria, a union forged on both nationalist and socialist grounds. This initial Communist Party approach, in actuality less internationalist than the cross-border pan-Arab trends, “underestimated the necessity of anti-Israeli struggle in the region by bowing to the Soviet strategy of detente with the US.” The anti-systemic capacities of these kinds of nationalist projects, which seek to erase colonial borders in order to establish means for independent trade as well as cross-border organizing between workers and peasants, has been helpfully described by Stephen Gowans as part of the “struggle against the international despotism of Wall Street.” Invoking the central argument of Domenico Losurdo’s Class Struggle: A Political and Philosophical History, Gowans also emphasizes that this current phase of Arab struggle, for national liberation against what should now in 2017 be called recolonization, is a form of class struggle waged on the plane of international relations: “The class struggle fought by Arab nationalists in Syria continues, despite the concerted efforts of Washington, its neo-colonial allies, its Arab satraps, apartheid Israel, and Leftist collaborators, to crush it.”
This is the most essential point lost on those vogue Marxists whose “internationalism” is devoid of anti-colonialism. For these self-described Marxists, anti-colonial nationalism is outdated. In this conception, a struggle such as, say, the Vietnamese Revolution, waged against US imperialism when the USSR was still around as a progressive counterweight, was emblematic insofar it could only fulfill the promises of the 1954 Geneva Accords for a reunified and nominally independent Vietnam. It did not, and indeed could not, deliver “true” socialism; it could only earn Vietnam a place at the Westphalian table, in a thoroughly liberal world system. On the economic question, Vietnam became like so many “postcolonial” states, including even South Africa after its successful struggle against apartheid, a “neoliberal regime” able to exercise some degree of military control over its borders, but unable to prevent the influx of financial capital and the rise of a local crony elite. For proponents of this viewpoint, those leftists defending Syrian sovereignty, whether on pan-Arab grounds or otherwise, are focusing exclusively on political content to the detriment of economic content. These anti-imperialist dinosaurs are thus un-Marxist in their method.
On the contrary, to insist on an arbitrary division between politics and economics is un-Marxist, and it is un-Marxist in a very particular way. This insistence necessarily dismisses everything radical about the discoveries of anti-colonial Marxist leaders historically, from Che Guevara to Thomas Sunkara, Ho Chi Minh to W.E.B. Du Bois. (It has been a habit of some quarters of the left, especially in quarters of the Western left, to argue or imply that these leaders were simply nationalists using Marxism as chimera.) Today this insistence leads to a variety of liberal conclusions about the Arab world: the “Axis of Resistance,” as a phrase describing a geopolitical bloc, is purely a propaganda tic used to hide cynical ambitions either attached to or mirroring the US bloc in its basic ambitions; the settler-colonial implant “Israel” is basically analogous in its violence to “Assad,” the head figure of a postcolonial state; and the struggles within Arab states should be treated as self-contained (even if that means, as aforementioned, analogizing “Israel” to “Assad” while the Zionist air force attacks the Syrian state along with US bomber jets). These types of arguments are remarkable for eliding the history of a very basic set of relations any Marxist ought to want to understand: what was the role of movements from below in the creation of the Axis of Resistance, as a political bloc and as a vocabulary? Why does the Zionist entity have the power to attack Syria without repercussion while the Syrian state is bombed by the US, ostensibly for actions undertaken within its own territories? What is the relationship between what the US is doing in Syria and what it is doing in Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen?
These questions are useful and necessary, and not exhaustive. Another approach for understanding the link between merely “political” anti-imperialism and economics could be to return to the example of Vietnam. If we can forgive the National Liberation Front for not having overthrown capitalism for us, we might be see how profoundly its victory over the United States affected global capitalism. The Vietnamese struggle was largely responsible for forcing the US–today’s inheritor of a 500-plus year legacy of Western colonialism–into a more precarious position of global rule. Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik make clear that this historic victory forced the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system:
“Under that system the U.S. dollar was a reserve currency convertible into gold at the rate of $35 per ounce of gold. By taking advantage of this role of the dollar, the United States ran large current account deficits for maintaining its string of military bases all around the world. (This role also enabled American companies to buy up European firms with dollars printed in the United States but sanctified by the system to be ‘as good as gold.’) As the Vietnam War escalated, the U.S. current account deficit widened, and a torrent of dollars poured out of the United States, even as excess demand pressures appeared in the world economy and increased the rate of inflation to levels that could no longer be ignored (Kaldor 1976). There was therefore a rush to gold, in which President De Gaulle of France took the lead, the gold-dollar link could no longer be sustained, and the Bretton Woods system collapsed.”
True to that early lesson passed down from the Irish, the Vietnamese hampered US imperialism and, as such, the capitalism system itself. In other words, the National Liberation Front bled the United States of both blood and treasure. The blood loss created in the US the most significant social crisis its regime had ever before faced in the combined strength of the antiwar and Black liberation movements. The treasure expended forced the US to improvise a new fiat-based financial system in order to keep its empire afloat. That new system, still in effect today, is remarkable for depending overwhelmingly on one part of the world: West Asia, or “the Middle East.” What might happen to the capitalism system if US imperialism were to suffer a Vietnam-style defeat in that region?
An essay by Atif A. Kabursi and Salim Mansur titled From Sykes-Picot Through Bandung to Oslo: Whither the Arab World? offers some intriguing possible answers to that question. The premise of the essay rests on a reminder that much of what we variously call “globalization” and “neoliberalism” since the 1970s is actually a transition in ruling style in the 500-plus year course of Western colonialism, or “the system of domination and exploitation inaugurated by the conquest of Columbus in the Americas,” which following the Second World War the emergent US empire and its junior partners in Western Europe sought to reclaim against the twin threat of communism and national liberation movements. The 1945 baton-passing to the United States would inaugurate a global economy “underwritten by American power as was the post-Napoleonic order between 1815 and 1914 underwritten by British power.” Similar to how the inter-imperialist war of 1914-1945 pushed Britain and France to a point a financial weakness, the Vietnamese Revolution sapped US resources until its then-figurehead Lyndon B. Johnson “sought to wage the war by indirectly taxing American allies through pressing them to accept an unlimited flow of U.S. dollars.” This maneuver foreshadowed Nixon’s decision to float the US dollar and completely remove it from the gold standard by six years. Charles de Gaulle refused to abide by US commands, and effectively described those commands as a proposal for US global domination so extreme, even the sovereignty of its Atlanticist imperialist partners would be vulnerable to it:
“The fact that many States accept dollars as equivalent to gold, in order to make up for the deficits of any American balance of payments, has enabled the United States to be indebted to foreign countries free of charge. Indeed, what they owe to those countries, they pay, at least in part, in dollars that they themselves can issue as they wish, instead of paying them totally in gold, which has a real value, and which one possesses only if one has earned it. This unilateral facility attributed to America has helped to spread the idea that the dollar is an impartial, international sign of exchange, whereas it is a means of credit appropriated to one state.”
When the Nixon Administration went through with the decision to de-link the US dollar from gold, “the management of international exchange rates (defining the price of other currencies in terms of the U.S. dollar) became a matter of negotiations among the treasuries and central banks of the leading industrial states” with the US dollar now deemed as good as gold in all international transactions. Within this scheme, Kabursi and Mansur argue, “The place of the Middle East and the Arab economy in America’s global standing since 1945 is analogous to the place that India occupied in the British empire during the period of its global hegemony.” The key to this arrangement is well-known: oil. Unable to export much of anything besides war and capital, the US could, through total or near total control of the Arab world, at least monopolize the most essential energy source of the past century, ensuring the empire remain profitable for oil conglomerates and Wall Street speculators.
This privileged position for US currency in the global economy was earned through military blackmail, and subsequently maintained through the same. The supremacy of the US dollar and the ubiquitousness of the US military run hand in hand. And as the US extended its tentacles internationally, forced to make up the difference between its domestic consumptive capacities and its waning industrial output through the theft of the Global South, it has increasingly faced a domestic crisis as well. With the majority of US income tax dollars increasingly flowing towards military subsidizations, and the local US economy increasingly dependent on unsustainable debts and lines of consumer credit, there cannot be a “third way” for US rulers between the military might necessary to maintaining the supremacy of the US dollar and returning job security and livable wages to the US people.
The selection of Donald J. Trump to the role of the US presidency is thus a sign of the general direction of US rule in the coming years. Prior to Trump, the Council on Foreign Relations, managers of international finance traversing many fields from politics to media, had always gotten their preferred candidate in office. Trump was an exception, signaling that some sectors of the bourgeoisie see fit to drop fashionable cloaks of neoliberalism and cosmopolitanism (provided by the Obamas and the Clintons) for international finance and deal with impending unrest through a strategy of brute military confrontation–in other words, the same strategy used by the US to crush rebellion overseas. In a word, routine protests and demonstrations will increasingly be treated as matters of counterinsurgency and Trump’s rhetoric will match this reality. This does not mean that Trump, in contrast to Obama and Clinton, is somehow more honest. He is a liar, but a different kind of liar meant to con a different demographic, his slogan “Make America Great Again” spouted with that hope that it will grab a layer of white Americans to serve as the front lines of domestic repression alongside cops and troops as part of a fascist pact.
In this coming period, what was always the case should become more apparent: the source of oppression and exploitation of workers in the US is the same source of oppression and exploitation of workers the world over, including and especially in the Arab world, the essential link in the chain of US hegemony. Thus, no constructive steps can be taken towards substantive socialism in the US without ending the empire and everything that goes with it, including the US military and the US dollar. Are we ready to invoke and act on the internationalist principles required to bring the end of the empire about? It begins with searching for organized projects underway at every level of possible engagement. In that spirit, we should observe that there already exist coordinated efforts to undermine the dollar among China, Russia, and Venezuela. In the Arab world, this task requires conscious attempts to link up with the organized forces of Arab liberation from US imperialism and Zionism extending from Lebanon and Palestine to Yemen. Our task cannot succeed if we prove incapable of identifying those organized structures, with no locus with which to orient ourselves and our analysis. It will not suffice to insist, as Tony Cliff did (and as do his adherents today), that “the Arab working class is the only power in the Middle East which can stop Zionism and smash imperialism” as if the “Arab working class” were self-evident as an organized front at a time when the US works overtime to divide the class along sectarian lines and to scatter its members among oceans and refugee camps.
The Arab Struggle Against Imperialism in the Age of Trump
Trump’s visit to the Arab world only increased the urgency for those in the West to locate those Arab national structures and nationalist movements taking aim at the common imperialist enemy. Let us pull back and examine his engagements in the Arab world in brief sequence. On April 5, during the very week the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat airbase in Homs, Trump met with King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House. At the meeting, a joint invasion of southern Syria by the combined forces of U.S., U.K., and Jordanian Special Forces was planned. The news passed quietly as these imperial troopers stormed Dara’a, attempted to monopolize the al-Tanf crossing, and began gunning by land for Deir ez-Zor in the east. That last location the US had been eyeing for quite some time. Recall when, in December of 2015, the Syrian government accused the US of firing missiles at a Syrian army camp in Deir ez-Zor. And recall when, in September of 2016 under the Obama regime, the US and the UK bombed an airbase just outside “accidentally” for over an hour, according to CENTCOM’s own report.
The enlistment of Jordanian services had clearly been in the works under Obama. In 2015, the US announced an increase in assistance to Jordan from $660m to $1bn annually for the 2015-2017 period. Much more recently, on May 9th, the Trump regime overruled Turkish objections to arm the Kurdish YPG more aggressively. The plan was two-fold. On the Syrian front, the US and its assorted “rebel” proxies in the southeast would move northward to meet the US and its YPG proxies, effectively forming a crescent of direct US military occupation from the north, through the east, to the south. On the Iraqi front, US military personnel would consolidate border areas. Overall, the US would swallow the land formerly occupied by its ISIS destabilization proxies. The arrival of Russian troops in southern Syria has since slowed this operation. Even more essential was the directive of the Syrian government to move troops back to Deir ez-Zor as it faced an ISIS onslaught—effectively forestalling incoming US troops and eventually breaking the years-long siege of the city maintained by ISIS. This development undoubtedly brought the the Syrian Army and its allies closer to victory, but it would be premature to assume that the war is over, as weapons supplies are still slated to flow into Syria for years to come, albeit through more inscrutable networks than before.
As these Syrian troops were on the move towards Deir ez-Zor, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Walid al-Moallem called out Jordan’s intrigues. According to SANA: “Al-Moallem said that Jordan’s role form the beginning of the crisis till today is known for us, not to mention the Military Operations Command (MOC), asserting that ‘if the Jordanian forces entered without coordination with the Syrian government they will be considered as hostile forces.’” The involvement of the Jordanian king’s troops in Syria will make clearer the regional alignments–who is progressive and who is reactionary–that Obama so successfully obscured during his presidential tenure, as the embrace between King Abdullah and the Zionist entity becomes more public. The people of Jordan, mostly Palestinian in origin and militantly pro-Palestine in disposition (boasting, for instance, one of the strongest BDS coalitions in the world), recently launched a massive uprising in solidarity with al Quds around the same time that Mohammad Jawawdeh, a 16-year-old Jordanian, was murdered by an Israeli embassy guard just outside of Amman. As The Atlantic quoted one Palestinian in Jordan at the time: “It’s all related, Al Aqsa and the existence of this embassy. The king didn’t do anything while our people were killed… “We as Jordanians are with Jerusalem and Palestine, and we refuse any normalization or engagement with the Zionist government.” The people’s rage was not directly solely at the Zionists, but also at the Jordanian regime. It is, after all, nowadays an open fact that the CIA paid Abdullah’s predecessor, Hussein, in the millions beginning in the early 1970s in return for favors on the Palestinian issue. That Trump works in such a way as to bring this history and set of relationships back to the surface should be celebrated and exploited.
The deal for de-escalation zones have left Syria’s external relations in limbo. Russia’s presence certainly discourages full-blown NATO invasion in the style of Libya. It also suggests the possibility of de facto partition, and Russia’s ongoing open friendly enough relations with the Zionist entity place a question mark on its willingness to back ongoing Arab efforts to expel occupying Zionist forces from Syria. The Syrian government, however, will continue dealing with its own pressures from an anti-Zionist public. On this count, it is important to take note of the Syrian government’s maneuvers, in deed as well as public outreach, since it became apparent that Trump would follow the US establishment directives for destabilization in Syria. In fact, the Syrian leadership anticipated Trump’s embrace of Saudi Arabia in advance of much of the world—and responded militarily, albeit indirectly and therefore subtly. The pan-Arabist journalist Abdel Bari Atwan published an article on March 17, 2017, arguing that the Syrian decision to attack and down a Zionist jet on that day in Syrian airspace was in fact a riposte to the emerging consensus between Trump and King Salman on the need to address the “Iranian threat.” In undertaking the dangerous decision to attack a Zionist military asset, the Syrian Arab Army was, in Atwan’s estimation, recommitting itself to its fundamental creed in recalling its biggest and primary enemy: the Zionist entity. One might add that the decision signaled a recommitment on the Syrian leadership’s behalf, after some wavering language about the possibility of working with Trump, to not only the Resistance Axis in the region, but to anti-colonialism worldwide. Bashar al-Assad’s April, 2017, interview with Telesur was thus far the most radical critique of colonialism and imperialism he has made in English, ensconced as it was in an internationalist appeal to the peoples of Venezuela and South America, linking their plight to that faced by the peoples of Iran, Russia, and Korea. The times—which is to say, the American war of aggression against Syria—have pushed him further into this direction. His comments amounted to a searing critique of the role of capital in the war to unseat him:
“The American President has no policies. There are policies drawn by the American institutions which control the American regime which are the intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, the big arms and oil companies, and financial institutions, in addition to some other lobbies which influence American decision-making. The American President merely implements these policies, and the evidence is that when Trump tried to move on a different track, during and after his election campaign, he couldn’t. He came under a ferocious attack. As we have seen in the past few week, he changed his rhetoric completely and subjected himself to the terms of the deep American state, or the deep American regime. That’s why it is unrealistic and a complete waste of time to make an assessment of the American President’s foreign policy, for he might say something; but he ultimately does what these institutions dictate to him. This is not new. This has been ongoing American policy for decades.”
The times have also pushed Assad to back up rhetoric with action—which leads us back to the role and strategy of the PFLP to restore to the Palestinian cause its original pan-Arabist content. Again in March, Assad traveled to Tunisia (a site of ongoing popular unrest) to speak to the Popular Front for Tunisian national parties on the pressing need under present conditions to adopt “a collective progressive pan-Arab project through a deep party and social dialogue,” according to SANA. In this iteration, Arabism is understood in traditional terms, but now as an ideological buttress against Wahhabism and sectarianism. The Wahhabists’ war—committed in conjunction with and made possible by imperialism—marks “one of the most dangerous manifestations of the terrorist war waged on Syria and the region,” which “aims at undermining the Arab identity and culture and deforming the concept of affiliation to Arabism and the homeland through disseminating extremist mentality that is based on canceling the other.” Earlier, in July of 2016, Assad had traveled to Lebanon to consult with and address a new coalition of nationalist and leftist organizations, of which the Syrian government is part, calling itself the “Progressive Arab Front.” The point of the conference was to re-affirm the principles of Arabism against the tide of sectarian violence sweeping the region. Parties in the coalition also include Al-Murabitoun (or the Independent Nasserite Movement) and the PFLP.
On April 19th, on the cusp of joining a massive Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, PFLP Secretary General Ahmed Sa’adat explicitly called for conjoining analytically the daily Zionist assaults on Palestine to the imperialist project across the region, most pressingly where direct war has been launched (for our purposes, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen). He spoke on the pressing need to “confront these projects aimed at the liquidation of our national cause.” An essential part of the way out of this crisis, as Sa’adat sees it, is to confirm that “the mobilization of the Palestinian role is capable of providing a real climate for resistance to these projects”—a task to which over 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners committed themselves in voluntarily emptying their stomachs as Irish Republicans as well as past Palestinian resisters have done before. (True to Sa’adat’s Arabist call, the prisoners’ strike extended to Zionist dungeons outside of historic Palestine; Siqdi al-Maqt, the Syrian resister imprisoned for exposing Zionist-al Qaeda coordination in the occupied Golan Heights, has also joined the strike.) Sa’adat added:
“The most prominent, central task which can play a decisive role in this direction is to rebuild the national-democratic movement and its extensions in each country to fill the vacuum that has opened the door to all forms of international intervention in Arab internal affairs. The Progressive Arab Front, launched last year, can be an important step in that direction… building the Arab Progressive Front and expanding its ranks to activate its role on the overall level to bring about integration between the Arab and Palestinian dimensions of the struggle and to mobilize the Arab masses to counter the dissipation of the Arab national movement and rise out of the current impasse of the Arab nation. I hope that the Front’s next national Congress will further develop to awaken and indeed double this role, in proportion to the size of the responsibility placed upon it as an organization and as a national leftist democratic framework.”
On May 15th, on the commemoration date of the Nakba, the Arab Progressive Front released an important statement: “No to a New Baghdad Pact!”—a reference to Trump’s schemes to form an “Arab NATO,” set to include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, and Egypt. Among the points emphasized in the statement were: a condemnation of the joint US-UK-Jordanian invasion of southern Syria; a warning that the US wants to re-ignite civil war in Lebanon; an affirmation of support for the Palestinian prisoner strike and recent people’s struggles in Tunisia; and words of concern on the dangerous repercussions of Hamas’ revised charter, as what is being called “deal of the century” aims to liquidate the Palestinian cause.
What is “the deal of the century”? Only the latest of many imperialist attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian cause, the central nerve point for so many pan-Arab and pan-Islamic aspirations, must be liquidated as even an idea in order for the Zionist entity to live and the American empire to dominate the world free from contestation. Imperialists argue over how to liquidate the Palestinian cause: co-optation or brute force? Oslo was one such attempt at co-optation. On those terms, it was rather brilliant, as it isolated “radical” elements by inviting centrists to the negotiating table. The economic aspect of Oslo, bound within the Paris Protocol, ensured that police duties of the West Bank occupation would fall to the rank-and-file Palestinian soldiery of the Palestinian Authority, armed with American weaponry and unable to imagine upward mobility outside of such ugly work. Oslo nonetheless proved powerless to stop the Intifada. Palestinians continue to resist, sharp and relentless. One of the more insidious ideas hatched for co-optation, to kill the Palestinian Revolution with a whimper rather than a bang, came from Yigal Allon (of Labour and not Likud, it must be noted) in the days of Black September: squelch the two-state solution and replace the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with either “the United Jordanian and Palestinian State” or the “the Federal Republic of Palestine and Jordan.” With such a move, the Zionist movement would persist with its nasty century-long slog to remake the region according to its interests.
And now “the deal of the century,” the Trump regime’s own unique strategy to liquidate the Palestinian cause. According to a report from Middle East Monitor, working from a direct translation from a Hebrew commentary in Haaretz, the plan has gone as follows: first, make a pledge to the Saudi monarchy to support it even more steadfastly against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Thereafter, “Saudi Arabia may allow Egypt to have a foothold along the eastern coast of the Red Sea so as to assuage the public outrage in Egypt in the aftermath of the decision by Egyptian President Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi to hand over the islands of Sanafir and Tiran to Saudi Arabia.” Egypt would then “concede an area in the north of Sinai to be annexed to the Gaza Strip where a Palestinian state will be established”—thus, the Palestinian pseudo-state, that pathetic scrap of enclosed land perennially dreamt up by Zionist planners eager for Palestinians to shut up and accept their subjugation, will land in Egypt rather than Jordan or the West Bank. Israel’s only role will be to annex its existing settlements in the West Bank and decide which lands in the West Bank are suitable to Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority’s only prescribed job will be to look happy and foolish and offer a salute complete with a “yes, sir!” Of course, the Palestinians will resist still. That deteriorating racist crank Donald Trump assumes Palestinians are as beguiled as the leadership America forced on them; but the narcotic of Oslo could not lull the Palestinian Revolution to slumber, and so neither will this tawdry sequel.
The role of Hamas in this proposed deal is perhaps murky, but as the Progressive Arab Front pointed out, it did not for the moment bode well that the organization’s revised charter “considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.” The real “formula of national consensus” lies at the intersection of liberation and return, and nowhere else. This turn of phrase about the “two-state solution,” unofficially and offhandedly made by Khaled Meshaal over the years, conspicuously came only five years after Meshaal fled Damascus for Doha. Yet the combined Saudi-UAR-Egyptian-Jordan isolation of Doha provided again an opportunity (if a forced one) for Hamas to re-join the Axis of Resistance. The offensive against Qatar was nonetheless consistent with the broad outline of the so-called “Deal of the Century”—if Trump could gain Saudi participation by committing the US to increased covert aggression against the Islamic Republic of Iran (the first attack of which occurred on June 7 of this year), then he could gain full Egyptian participation by taking a harder line against the Muslim Brotherhood and all of its affiliates, including Hamas. The future place of Hamas in the Palestinian national movement remains to be seen, especially as it dissolves its government in Gaza based on PA demands. But if Hamas does end up softening the resistance plank of its national program, Palestine Islamic Jihad will be well prepared to take its place as the Islamic cornerstone of that movement. But overall the remaining Palestinian resistance factions will remain jubilant and the US anti-imperialist left will still have to find a way to relate to it.
The Meaning of Solidarity in the Global North
As the mad-scramble for Syria’s east paces on, and the US secures strongholds in Syria for joint military rule of those territories with its Zionist allies, anti-imperialists will have to ask how various grassroots projects can be brought together, namely some kind of marriage between pro-Palestine movements and the scattered remains of the anti-war movement. Because the Arab world lies at the nexus of so many material foundations of US imperial rule worldwide—oil, the dollar, weapons—it is crucial that these joint ventures commit themselves, in the long-term, to the defeat of the US military-political project in the Arab world. In short, a deeper, more serious, more uncompromising internationalism is needed. Pro-Palestinian politics in the United States, still the centerpiece of Arab and Muslim unity at a time of deepening divisions, faces a dilemma. In its earliest stages, Palestinian solidarity in the US was smaller but truer to regional context, Arab nationalist and focused on the liberation of the whole of Palestine. Over the past decade especially, the movement has grown considerably through mass politics imbued with the language of human rights. How to combine the stronger aspects of both of these trends—the militancy of the former and the numbers of the latter? How do those acting and thinking in support of Palestinian human rights go from being critics of Israel and its policies to being actual partisans of the Palestinian and Arab causes? And if that task should prove too arduous in a period of rising reaction, how to create the conditions within a mass movement that can protect, rather than reject, its most radical sub-units?
If anti-imperialists are willing to engage these questions, it should be clear, as a much-needed first order of consensus, that existing attitudes towards Syria among Western leftists are overall poorly devised. The most popular choice for partisan commitment in Syria, the YPG and YPJ, does not challenge the global US-led order, and even increasingly aids and supplements it. YPG’s collaboration with US-Zionist imperialism began as a matter of convenience, wherein the YPG could gain air cover and weaponry in their existential battle with ISIS while the US could gain a military foothold in Northern Syria in the form of Special Forces operators and bases. The relationship slowly began to transform as the YPG began to run favors for the US (and British and French) Special Forces; one report in Le Monde claimed that YPG and YPJ fighters went so far as to guard an abandoned Lafarge factory occupied by imperialist troops.
After Trump’s inauguration, the YPG’s support for the US only increased, leaving the realm of mere tactical convenience and actually affecting the subjective politics of PYD leadership. In one interview, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) co-chair Ilhem Ahmed announced that her organization would not allow SDF-held territories to become Iranian “corridors.” The timing of the announcement came suspiciously soon after the commencement of the Trump plan to target and isolate Iran. Further comment from Ahmed, this time to Al-Riyadh newspaper on June 18, described Saudi Arabia as a force for regional stability. What business does the leadership of a Kurdish liberation movement in Syria (and, depending on how wide one’s scope, in Turkey), ostensibly dedicated to socialism, have taking vocal sides in a regional dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran if they do not have the intention of doing the US’s regional bidding, i.e., serving as proxy?
The experience of the YPG and YPJ holds one potential commonality and lesson with that of Zionism: the subjective politics of a given movement—its affirmations and words, whether relating to “socialism” or “revolution”—cannot alone transcend its objective position in the global system. Many of the Zionists who colonized Palestine in 1948 were, after all, self-proclaimed socialists. What is the point of a socialism built on the bones of a so-called “inferior” race if not to build fascism? Some will object to any analogy to Zionism and insist that the Kurds are not imported European settlers, but rather an oppressed people of the region. Yes, the historic plight of the Kurdish people remains real—but even the best intentions can be co-opted by imperialism, sometimes overnight. What’s more, the anti-capitalist value of the Kurdish struggle in NATO-member Turkey remains intact, as the Kurdish struggle remains the lynchpin of left-wing and dissident activity within Turkey’s borders. There is furthermore a proud history of left-wing, pro-Kurdish assistance to the cause of Palestinian liberation. And yet it nonetheless remains true in the case of the YPG and YPJ that a “socialist” enclave run by the US empire, the national head of the global capitalist system, is absurd on its face. Would the communes of Jordan 1970 and Lebanon 1976, or even the communes of today’s Venezuela, hold any anti-systemic value, or any material grounds for Global South solidarity, if they were effectively governed by US military advisors?
Some partisans of the YPG and YPJ still maintain that the Rojava militias recognize the US as the face of capitalism, that the alliance is only temporary. These are nice words sutured to rosy sentiment, but those anti-imperialist forces based in the US are still required to think in terms of the concrete strategy of opposing the US, lest they liquidate their own raison d’être. If a rupture does form between the YPG and the US, as Rex Tillerson seems to anticipate, without an alliance to the Arab nationalists and Muslim resisters of the Resistance Axis, no such defeat of the US military will be possible. In the meantime, the YPG and YPJ are helping the US and its chemical weapons to invade Raqqa, a verifiably non-Kurdish territory, and they continue to expand relations with the regional enemies of Arab liberation, and they deepen the foothold of US and Zionist military presence in Syria, perfectly reminiscent of the KDP protectorate in Northern Iraq–a nightmare scenario with long-term ramification for other peoples in the region, from Palestine to Yemen, Lebanon to Iraq.
“Socialism,” declare the anarchists and democratic socialists. If so, it is “socialism” once more built on the corpses of the Arab masses. And like Zionism, this preferred idea of socialism is a product of national chauvinism among Western leftists, preventing them from searching for strategic allies in the objective conditions in order to build simultaneous wars of attrition against empire, waged internally and externally, through the combined strength of actually existing resistance to imperialism. Those objective forces can include organizations that do not fall under the self-defined “socialist” camp, so long as they effectively work towards the defeat of the United States in the international arena on an anti-colonial basis—a material precondition for substantive socialism, at any rate. Such organizations include Hezbollah in Lebanon and Ansar Allah in Yemen, both of which share necessary animosity towards the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia as the main sources of regional reaction; traverse both Islamic and Arab nationalist language in their resistance rhetoric; and consciously work to upend Sykes-Picot borders for both pan-Arab and pan-Islamic alliances.
To embrace their struggles in a resistance capacity is not at all to betray the organized left in the Arab world, for their struggle against the twin reserve forces of imperialism in the Arab world—Zionists and takfiris—serves to protect Arab workers from massacre and reaction. This is a simple, essential principle: there can be no Arab working class to organize and support if the Arab working class is fragmented, scattered, and dead. The Lebanese Communist Party promoted this principle at the height of the 2006 onslaught against Lebanon, even as internal disagreements about social and economic policy persisted between the LCP and Hezbollah: “We agree on liberation of land and nation,” their statement of support to Hezbollah’s resistance read.
The employment of this strategy, with antiwar and antiracist movements once again becoming cornerstones of US left activity, would in the long term identify the United States, as an idea and nation hatched for an imperial rule of white settlers, as enemy territory. In some ways, these politics would mark a return to the Vietnam War era, or even the Vietnam era mentality, through which US revolutionaries actively desire and exploit divisions among US rulers, between the intelligence agencies and various bureaus, and within the Democratic and Republican Parties. Undoubtedly, we must carefully outline the errors of the past and the specificities of the present; more important, we must show patience and engage in mass work, the real key of which is to turn local work internationalist as opposed to trying to impose internationalism as an abstract principle from the top-down. Alas, the practical and mundane aspects of this task, which is where the real work lies, must be the subject of its own future essay. But we must also know, as a general point of reference, where we wish to head. If the US has decided that its continued global domination still depends on crushing revolution in the Arab world, then we must uphold Arab resistance to US domination. We must not, for instance, as so many left-liberal academics have done, mourn the “loss” of Aleppo to the Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah; rather, we must celebrate Hezbollah’s victory, for in Aleppo they delivered disaster to the US and its plans for the region for the third time, following Lebanon in 2000 and 2006. And ultimately, as with the Vietnamese Revolution against the United States before it, we must treat the Arab Revolution as part of our own revolution.