|Victims of the massacre at Daraya, Syria August 25/26, 2012|
The situation in Syria is escalating every day as the regime has been given the "green light" by Obomber that no US intervention will happen unless the regime crosses the "red line" of using a "whole bunch of chemical weapons" . The latest massacre of 630 at Daraya during the weekend of 25/26 August is one of the results. This highlights the question of imperialist intervention in Syria. Can revolutionaries support the intervention of imperialism on the side of the resistance to the Assad regime?
In the last issue of Class Struggle we reprinted an article from the RWG (Zimbabwe) paper Revolutionary Worker. In it we stated that much of the ‘anti-imperialist’ left refused to take the side of the insurrection because they argue it is controlled by the US or by Islamic radicals (usually Al Qaeda). A big debate on the online Trotskyist left has blown up over this question. Against the ‘knee jerk’ anti imperialists, there are those who want US imperialist intervention on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. What was Trotsky’s position on this question?
It comes down to the difference between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’. It is necessary to be ‘anti-imperialist’ in strategy but able to modify this in concrete circumstances to the ‘tactic’ of a limited united front with imperialism. Both ‘knee jerk’ anti-imperialists and ‘humanitarian’ anti-imperialists have a problem because they cannot differentiate between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’.
This has come up most clearly in the article by Pham Binh posted to The North Star site titled “Assad’s Bloodhounds”. Binh insists that those who use the slogan “Hands Off” are doing it indiscriminately which means in Syria they wind up on Assad’s side because whether or not the regime is armed by Russian imperialism, the rebels are denied US and EU imperialist aid. Binh on the other hand calls for the US to provide weapons and other assistance to the insurrection on the grounds that given the concrete conditions this is the most important fight, not anti-imperialism abstractly conceived.
While Binh is correct to attack the hypocrisy of the anti-imperialists who in effect are backing Assad, (as they backed Gaddafi before him), he is wrong to say that all those who call for imperialist “Hands Off” are backing Assad. There are those that use the ‘Hands Off’ slogan to refer to imperialisms overall reactionary character and to signify that no support can be given to imperialism in any circumstances. In particular we cannot defend ‘humanitarian’ imperialism without sowing illusions in imperialism which is reactionary in character.
Yet, this does not stop them from saying that under particular conditions, workers can enter into specific military bloc, where despite imperialists reactionary character, it may be of tactical assistance to a working class or otherwise progressive struggle.
It is important to distinguish here between the reactionary motives of imperialism in any military bloc, and the progressive use of any imperialist aid. What makes this aid progressive has nothing to do with imperialism and everything to do with its use by the revolutionary movement.
Binh is wrong to demand that we cannot continue to use the slogan “Hands off” because that will mean no tactical bloc with imperialism is possible. Trotsky writes clearly about this problem in his article “Learn to Think”. Here he argues that the overall “Hands off” strategy does not prevent tactical alliances over practical struggles.
“Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists.
At the same time, the French maritime workers, even though not faced with any strike whatsoever, would be compelled to exert every effort to block the shipment of ammunition intended for use against the rebels. Only such a policy on the part of the Italian and French workers constitutes the policy of revolutionary internationalism.
Does this not signify, however, that the Italian workers moderate their struggle in this case against the fascist regime? Not in the slightest. Fascism renders “aid” to the Algerians only in order to weaken its enemy, France, and to lay its rapacious hand on her colonies. The revolutionary Italian workers do not forget this for a single moment. They call upon the Algerians not to trust their treacherous “ally” and at the same time continue their own irreconcilable struggle against fascism, “the main enemy in their own country”. Only in this way can they gain the confidence of the rebels, help the rebellion and strengthen their own revolutionary position.”