Can “Leftists” Support Imperialist Intervention?
Strangely fitting that International Viewpoint should publish the article, Why Danish leftists supported military aid to Iraq, so close to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One.
In August, the Red-Green Alliance (RGA) parliamentary group voted to support the use of a Danish military air transport to provide support to the US effort against the Islamic State terror group. What was originally put forward as humanitarian aid has been switched to a military supply mission with the support of a range of Danish political parties from the far right to the left.
Many consider the Danish participation in the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003-2007 to be a disaster. Seven Danish soldiers died in battle in Iraq.
According to CNN in 2010: “Denmark has paid a high price in Afghanistan. Its 750 troops represent almost 5% of its entire military, including reserves—among the highest in Afghanistan. Of the total, 31 Danish troops have died there, an allied casualty rate behind only Canada and Estonia, which has just 150 soldiers fighting.”
The Danish government has been a willing supporter of imperialist misadventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Serbia.
The beginning of the inter-imperialist war in 1914, was marked by the betrayal of socialist internationalism when social-democratic parties supported their own imperialisms in the name of “defense.” This treachery split the socialist movement along the lines of reform versus revolution.
Michael Voss, a member of the RGA parliamentary group, as well as a leading member of the Danish Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP), offers a tortured explanation of how a “revolutionary” could bring himself to vote in favor of imperialist intervention. The SAP is the national section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. (USEC)
Voss makes the following arguments to justify his vote:
“…the decision was based on a concrete analysis of the situation in area. US imperialism created ISIS and allowed it to grow to a certain point. But it grew too much and became militarily too strong and dangerous for US interests – exactly as happened with the Taliban. So at the moment US imperialism wants to stop IS.
I don’t think that much argument is needed to back the fact that revolutionary socialists also want to fight and stop IS, a murderous, sectarian and deeply reactionary force. A victory for IS will set back any social, democratic, pro-women or anti-imperialist development that may have taken place in parts of Syria and Iraq.
In that way there is a temporary coincidence of interests between imperialism and socialists on the simple issue of fighting IS. We want to supply the Kurds with weapons, and US imperialism want to supply the Kurds with weapons – for the time being. Not supporting it, only because of the US command, would be as if Lenin had refused to travel in the sealed train supplied by German imperialism through imperialist Germany to Russia in the middle of the Russian revolution…” (bold my emphasis)
While I agree that the IS is a reactionary and anti-democratic force, it does not mean that revolutionaries should support any sort of imperialist intervention. Also, we should reject outright the notion that there can be any sort of “a temporary coincidence of interests between imperialism and socialists” in this instance or any other. Socialists opposed Saddam Hussein’s gangster regime. Should we have supported the US war to overthrow him because of such a “temporary coincidence?” The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was reactionary and oppressed women. Again, would a “temporary coincidence” have excused the invasion and occupation of that country?
Simply put, US or European imperialism has no progressive role to play anywhere at any time. The fact that they cynically play on the democratic and humanitarian impulses of working people to justify their interventions should not deflect from the fact that their interventions always serve the interests of the ruling class. One would think that Voss, who claims the mantle of revolutionary Marxism, would know the difference.
In fact, Voss puts the counter-argument to his position in his article. He says:
“Many valid arguments were put forward against the decision. Most basic was the problem of supporting a military action under the command of the US. The US government and military defend the interests of US big business and imperialism, both in the narrow sense of gaining access to resources, markets and profits, and in the more general sense of geopolitical dominance.
US imperialism is the basic reasons for the sectarian fighting in the region – due to the previous Iraqi wars, and specifically US imperialism has a big part of the responsibility for the existence of IS. Some of their close allies have been funding ISIS, and Turkey – without any objection from Washington – has allowed ISIS to operate across Turkish borders.”
Voss and his fellow parliamentarians put conditions on the use of the Danish plane; that the plane will only be used to deliver arms and that there will be strict limits on the use of Danish personnel. Once a “revolutionary” has found the path towards cooperation with US imperialism, the route is more easily travelled the second time.
Another justification that Voss puts forward is the need to arm the progressive political-military organizations fighting the IS. These are the Kurdish militias known as the PKK in Turkey and the Iraqi YPG. Voss hopes that the arming of the PKK will strengthen the case to have the terrorist designation removed from the PKK Of course, revolutionary socialists oppose the labeling of the PKK as a terrorist group. I would submit, however, that placing our “hopes” in the hands of US imperialism is a grievous error.
Voss himself, admits the futility of this maneuver: “That still leaves the question if the most progressive Kurdish forces, Turkish PKK and its Iraqi counterpart, YPG, actually will receive the weapons, or if the regional Kurdish government in Iraq will monopolise them. This government traditionally is in conflict with the PKK/YPG, and it is pursuing a strict neo-liberal policy in the areas that it controls.
There is really no telling exactly who will get how big a share of the weapons. But all the Kurdish forces have established a common military front to fight ISIS. There is evidence that they are actually sharing weapons, and the PKK/YPG is doing most of the effective fighting.
Confronted with relevant arguments against and without any 100 % guaranties of the outcome, I and the majority of the committee voted for the resolution allowing the MPs to vote Yes in Parliament.”
Revolutionary internationalists should never support or cooperate with imperialism. Instead, we should always work for the defeat of our own imperialism.
“Those working class “leaders” who want to chain the proletariat to the war chariot of imperialism, covered by the mask of “democracy,” are now the worst enemies and the direct traitors of the toilers. We must teach the workers to hate and despise the agents of imperialism, since they poison the consciousness of the toilers; we must explain to the workers that fascism is only one of the forms of imperialism, that we must fight not against the external symptoms of the disease but against its organic causes, that is, against capitalism.” Trotsky, Anti-imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation
This betrayal of revolutionary internationalism isn’t a new phenomenon. Leaders of the USEC were cheerleaders for the NATO bombing campaign against Libya in the name of bringing down the tyrant Gaddafi. It seems to me that the remaining revolutionary internationalists in the USEC have a choice; capitulation to imperialism or unrelenting struggle within the Fourth International for a clear proletarian policy. Nothing short of this will be sufficient. Otherwise, the Fourth International is dead as a revolutionary force and the task of reconstructing a revolutionary International worthy of the name is before us.