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Marxist perspective on Middle East struggles

Published Oct 30, 2011 10:38 PM

Joyce Chediac
WW photo: Stevan Kirschbaum

Excerpted from a talk given by Joyce Chediac at the Workers World Party National Conference held in New York City on Oct. 8-9.

Workers World Party founder Sam Marcy was above all a Leninist who described the world situation as a “Global Class Struggle,” with the workers and oppressed nations on one side of the class camp and the imperialists and their agents on the other.

Marcy included in our class camp anti-imperialist oppressed nations, even if they are not communists or workers. This clarification of the workers in the oppressed nations as being on the same side and having a vital interest in the anti-imperialist struggle in the oppressor nations abroad is part of WWP’s fabric.

This is true concerning the struggles in the Arab and Muslim countries. Our party has always been consistent on this. Our newspaper’s first issue in 1959 supported the Algerian revolution.

We look past the form a struggle may take to its class content. Many progressives here did not support the 1979 Iranian revolution because it had a religious coloration, but that was just the form. The substance was anti-imperialist.

When students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held U.S. personnel hostage, anti-Iranian sentiment and anti-Islamic racism swept this country, generated by the government and the establishment media. WWP demonstrated in support of the Iranian revolution then. Marcy explained what the U.S. government had done — stealing the oil, the poverty, the repression and the 1954 overthrow of an elected government. He talked about a long trade union struggle where the bosses wouldn’t budge and the strikers’ families were hungry.

“Would you blame the strikers,” he said, “if they took the company bosses hostage?” He won people to supporting the Iranian struggle.

Marxist-Leninist theory should be used to analyze today’s situation in the Middle East. Not all the struggles are the same. Marxists must distinguish the differences.

While the workers and middle class there seek jobs, economic security and democratic rights, the imperialists have something else in mind.

Until 1989, the Soviet Union was a counterweight to world imperialism and a formidable obstacle to U.S. aggression. Made even more aggressive by the world capitalist crisis, the imperialists now seek to take advantage of the social explosion rocking the Middle East to consolidate their stranglehold there. They have united to attempt to take back all that was blocked from them in the Soviet era.

Publicly U.S. imperialism claims to support the “Arab spring,” but it is selective. When Yemen’s government recently killed 100 people, there was no outrage from Congress or the White House, no U.N. move for a no-fly zone. This is a U.S. client guarding strategic waterways.

Bahrain’s regime has repeatedly attacked anti-government demonstrators. It sentenced doctors who treated wounded demonstrators to 15 years in jail for treason! But Bahrain houses the U.S. Fifth fleet and is a major Gulf oil producer. This is why Saudi troops rode into Bahrain on U.S. tanks to protect the pro-U.S. regime there. NATO is not bombing Bahrain.

U.S. imperialism is going after the Arab governments with some independence — Iraq, Libya and now Syria.

Under the guise of a “humanitarian mission,” the entire imperialist world bombed Libya, a former colonized country with no ability to defend itself militarily.

The U.S. now threatens the same scenario against Syria. Syria is in a strategic anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. This is crucial in holding back the predatory Zionist state from taking over the whole area.

Yet some progressives in the Middle East oppose the Syrian government, as some opposed Gadhafi.

Marxist perspective needed

Marxists call governments like those in Syria and Libya “bourgeois nationalist” — nationalist because they seek to develop their countries free from imperialist domination and bourgeois because they are ruled by an exploiting capitalist class. They seek to push out the imperialists to better exploit the workers, but they have common interest with the workers when imperialism threatens the country’s sovereignty.

Marxist-Leninists support these governments unconditionally against imperialism because they are manifestations of self-determination of the oppressed. However, not every policy is supported. Marxists are for the best interests of the workers. These governments cannot consistently fight imperialism, as the working class can. Vacillating in the anti-imperialist struggle is part of their nature.

Syria has been ruled since 1970 by a secular government dominated by the Arab Socialist Bath Party. The Assad family has ruled for 40 years.

Syria is a “frontline state” with a border with Israel. That has made it an object of constant imperialist and Zionist pressure. It links the Syrian people to the Palestinian struggle. Israel occupied and then annexed Syria’s strategic Golan Heights.

While Syria plays a regionally progressive role now, in 1976 the government intervened in Lebanon’s civil war against a revolutionary Palestinian-Lebanese alliance on the side of Lebanon’s Israeli-armed fascists. Syrian capitalists feared that a revolutionary Lebanon might lead to their overthrow by Syrian workers.

U.S. and Israeli pressure and Israel’s refusal to return the Golan Heights has Syria’s rulers back to an anti-imperialist stance. Despite that, Damascus seeks a better deal in the world capitalist market, which is dominated by Western banks.

During economic downturns, Wall Street forces nationalist governments like Syria to make economic concessions, which attack the workers and establish a pro-imperialist elite, a comprador bourgeoisie that undermines the government’s independence and isolates it from the workers.

In 2006, Syria adopted an International Monetary Fund plan with austerity measures, opening the economy to foreign banks and privatization of industries. For workers, it has meant unemployment, inflation and deterioration in social conditions, but it has benefited businessmen close to the Assad family.

Syria has lost the allegiance of much of its population.

Repression there did not begin with the current demonstrations, but the Assad government has responded to them with force, killing many.

Imperialism has not imposed sanctions on Syria because it has impoverished the workers, developed corruption and denied others a voice in the government. Yet it hates Syria for hosting Palestinian leaders; for not giving up its claims to the Golan Heights; for refusing to sign a peace treaty with Israel; because it won’t end its relationship with Hezbollah or with Iran; and because it opposed the attack on Iraq in 2003.

Imperialism opposes Syria for the good things it has done.

The opposition to Assad is divided and without a clear anti-imperialist focus. Well-meaning Syrians may oppose Assad, but for diametrically opposed reasons than why the U.S. opposes him.

How U.S.-NATO are ‘helping’ Libya

Libya had another bourgeois nationalist government with a dual character, inconsistent in its treatment of working people and its opposition to imperialism.

Many groups and individuals in Africa defended Gadhafi because of aspects of his record in Africa and his support for the armed struggle in South Africa.

Yet some Arab groups here and in the Middle East opposed Gadhafi because he has repressed Libyans with different political views, because he cooperated with Washington’s “war on terror” and its rendition program, and more.

While such policies deserved to be opposed, some otherwise progressive forces even called for NATO to intervene against Gadhafi.

The U.S.-NATO forces are the bosses in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The imperialists “helped” by destroying Libya’s civilian infrastructure and economy and by unilaterally bombing Libya. NATO’s assault on Libya is allowing Washington to get its military force, Africom, on African soil.

Imperialism and capitalism are always the main enemy. Imperialism is thoroughly reactionary and predatory. It has no progressive role to play. It only “helps” itself, at the expense of workers and oppressed people.

Our fate is tied to those whom imperialism oppresses abroad. We are in the same class camp. We have the same class enemy. An imperialist win abroad emboldens the capitalists in their attacks on workers here, while a defeat for them abroad weakens them here.

Workers and progressives here must oppose U.S. intervention in Syria. It would be the worst thing for oppressed people in the Middle East and for the working class and oppressed here, too.