January , 2019

People Aur Politics

A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

The merger of three leftist parties into the Mazdoor Kissan Party is discussed in the ...
KAMPIAL, Indonesia - To the sounds of a gamelan orchestra, white-dressed Balinese pay ritual homage ...
Ben Lewis reviews: Anne Lopes and Gary Roth, 'Men’s feminism: August Bebel and the German ...
In the current context of international crisis of capitalism, sub-Saharan Africa is presented as a ...
EGYPT, the largest and most important country to overthrow its government during the Arab Spring, ...
Niilo Kauppi Radicalism in French Culture: A Sociology of French Theory in the 1960s Ashgate, Farnham ...
Glorious October Revolution-A critical appraisal One hundred years ago the most democratic revolution in history took ...
“The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong ...

Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The Indian economy in a tailspin-Prabhat Patnaik

Posted by admin On October - 5 - 2018 Comments Off on The Indian economy in a tailspin-Prabhat Patnaik

shiva trishul

Originally published: Peoples Democracy (September 30, 2018)   |
THE Indian economy is in a tailspin. This cannot be attributed only to innocence in economic matters of the command-centre of the NDA government. While that is indubitably a contributing factor, the current travails of the economy point to something deeper, namely the dead-end to which neo-liberalism has brought the economy. Without moving away from the neo-liberal trajectory, the economy cannot come out of its current difficulties.

India’s success in raising the GDP growth rate, the main selling point for the neo-liberal regime, was, unlike China’s, built upon the quicksand of a persistent trade and current account deficit on the external front. This was covered all this time by financial inflows, which were large enough even to add to the foreign exchange reserves. A major factor contributing to such inflows in recent years was the much lower interest rates in metropolitan economies, especially in the U.S. where they were virtually pushed down to zero to revive the economy after 2008, compared to India.

But now the U.S. itself has started raising the interest rates; and uncertainty over the future of neo-liberalism in the wake of Trump’s protectionist measures is making globalised finance flow massively to the U.S. as its safe “home base”. The dollar, for both these reasons, is rising relative to other currencies, especially relative to the rupee. This state of affairs is not going to be reversed in the foreseeable future, which is why the rupee continues to slide vis-à-vis the dollar, even after Arun Jaitley announced a slew of measures on the 14th to attract finance into the economy to stem the rupee’s slide.

The sliding rupee is raising import costs, especially of crude oil; and the latter get passed on in the form of higher petro-product prices.This fact together with the rise of crude prices in the world market, following an agreement within the OPEC itself, has now raised petrol and diesel prices in India to dizzying heights; and the rise continues daily. Here again there is no question of any respite within the neo-liberal regime from the relentless impact of this exchange-rate-depreciation-cum-inflation syndrome. The only thing Arun Jaitley can think of doing is to attract sufficient financial inflow to stabilise the rupee, but that as suggested above is now more difficult; and even if there is some temporary reprieve through such inflows, it cannot but be temporary.

Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram attack the NDA for its economic incompetence, which is undeniable, but they have hardly any better ideas. At the most they may jack up interest rates a bit more, but that, while its effects on financial inflows would be dubious for reasons already mentioned, would amount at best to merely papering over the cracks (since the basic problem of the current account deficit would still remain unaddressed); besides it will worsen unemployment, and damage further the economy of the small producers.

One way of providing relief to the people against the skyrocketing petrol and diesel prices, whose effects are felt even by the poorest persons because they increase the transport costs of all goods, is to lower the taxes on these goods which make up the bulk of their prices. Some state governments, of whom Kerala was an early example and Karnataka the latest, have indeed reduced their taxes on petro-products to provide relief to the people. But there are limits to the extent to which such relief would be forthcoming, for two obvious reasons, both related to the neo-liberal regime.

One is our overwhelming reliance on indirect taxation, and the eschewing of direct taxation, because of the compulsion to retain so-called “investors’ confidence”, so that finance flows in adequate quantities to keep the balance of payments on an even keel. The second is the disastrous move towards a Goods and Services Tax, again in conformity with the demands of a neo-liberal economy, which has affected government tax revenues adversely.

In the face of this already adverse effect, the need to maintain government revenues becomes even more pressing, and puts a limit to the degree to which taxes on petro-products can be lowered (unless greater direct taxation is resorted to). Indeed the only reason that some states have been able to reduce taxes, for lowering petrol and diesel prices, is because these goods fall outside the GST ambit; but naturally they cannot keep doing so beyond a point without raising revenue in other ways. (And such ways are no longer available to state governments even to the limited extent they were earlier).

The way out of the current economic predicament however is obvious, though invisible to eyes blinkered by neo-liberalism. Since the inflow of finance will no longer cover the current account deficit, the slide in the rupee would require controlling this deficit; and this can be effected only by directly controlling inessential imports. Even in 2013 when the rupee was sliding, the government had controlled gold imports as a means of stemming this slide.Wealth-holders then were moving from rupees to gold. This had boosted gold imports, and direct controls over such imports played a significant role in reducing the trade deficit and halting the rupee’s slide. The ambit of import controls now will of course have to be wider, but there is no escape from such controls. The rupee will have to be stabilised immediately with a combination of import controls and use of foreign exchange reserves.

But this may not be enough to stabilise petro-product prices in view of world market trends. These prices will have to be not just stabilised, but actually lowered to prevent down-the-line cost-push inflationary effects on commodities in general. This can be done by significantly lowering taxes upon them, and making up for the revenue shortfall caused by such lowering through larger direct taxation, in particular wealth taxation.

Wealth taxation in any case is the best way to finance public expenditure as it has no adverse effects upon any investment “incentives”: since all forms of wealth are taxed without discrimination, there is no special disincentive for holding wealth in the form of productive assets. In addition it has the effect of keeping wealth inequality in society in check, which, as is commonly accepted now, is an essential prerequisite for democracy.

It is shocking that in India, where wealth inequalities have been rising so sharply of late, there is hardly any wealth taxation. Using direct taxation on wealth as a substitute for indirect taxation on petro-products will thus kill several birds with one stone: it will prevent the inflationary squeeze on the people that rising petro-product price are imposing, and at the same time bring greater wealth equality in society which is desirable per se.

Lower petro-product prices, it may be argued, would encourage larger consumption of such products, which, in the current context of rising world crude prices, would raise the country’s import-bill, bringing pressure on the rupee once again. Alongside controlling, and lowering petro-product prices therefore, the government has to take steps to control petro-product consumption directly. Since much of this consumption occurs within the government itself , with the defence sector in particular being a major consumer, controlling consumption can be effected through a set of directives within the government. As for consumption outside the government sector, several measures can be taken which effectively ration the use of petro-products.

Many of these measures are advocated and even implemented on environmental grounds. The “odd-even” scheme for instance that was implemented in Delhi, was also a means of petro-product rationing. In many countries, to avoid congestion in peak hours, a minimum number of occupants per car is insisted upon; this also acts as a measure of directly controlling petro-product consumption. In other words, measures of petro-product rationing would also kill several birds with one stone: they would reduce road congestion; they would reduce environmental pollution; and they would also reduce the consumption of petro-products with beneficial effects for our balance of payments.

A combination of direct import controls on inessential items, reduction of petro-product prices, measures for reducing the consumption of such products, and direct taxation, especially on wealth, is the obvious way of getting out of the tailspin in which the Indian economy is currently caught. But this combination of measures which is desirable, not just for getting out of the current travails, but on other, more long-term considerations as well, runs contrary to the direction of neo-liberalism. There is however no alternative to them if we are to avoid the fate of countries that eventually run to the IMF and get caught in the vice-like grip of “austerity”.

About Prabhat Patnaik
Prabhat Patnaik is Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His books include Accumulation and Stability Under Capitalism (1997), The Value of Money (2009), and Re-envisioning Socialism (2011).


Socialism and Gay Liberation: Back to the Future-Doug Ireland

Posted by admin On September - 7 - 2018 Comments Off on Socialism and Gay Liberation: Back to the Future-Doug Ireland


(DOUG IRELAND, a veteran radical journalist, is the U.S. correspondent and a columnist for the French political-investigative weekly magazine Bakchich and the International Affairs Editor of Gay City News, New York’s largest LGBT weekly ne)
Doug Ireland
IN 1865, WHILE MARX, IN HOLLAND, was playing the Victorian parlor game “Confessions” with his daughter Jenny, when asked for his favorite maxim he replied, “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” or “nothing human is alien to me,” a dictum he had lifted from the second century B.C. Carthaginian slave-turned-playwright Terentius (Terence.)

Unfortunately, this admirable and inspiring attitude was never extended by either Marx or Engels to same-sexers. Well before the invention of the word “homosexual” by Karoly Maria Kertbeny in 1869, the correspondence of Marx and Engels is riddled with what we would now characterize as unmistakable homophobia of a vicious character. When the pioneering German homosexual liberationist Karl Ulrichs sent Marx one of his books on the subject, which Marx forwarded to his collaborator, Engels described Ulrichs’ platform of homosexual emancipation from criminal laws as “turning smut into history.” Marx, in commenting on Karl Boruttau’s Gedanken über Gewissens Freiheit (Thoughts on Freedom of Conscience), disparaged the author as “this faggoty prick” (Schwanzschwulen) The homophobia of Marx and Engels has been meticulously documented by Hubert Kennedy of San Francisco State University, Ulrichs’ U.S. biographer, in his es-say“Johann Baptist von Schweitzer:The Queer Marx Loved to Hate,” which is included in the anthology Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left, edited by Gert Hekma, Harry Oosterhuis, and James Steakley (Haworth Press) and is also available online.

Notwithstanding this unfortunate lapse into prejudice by socialism’s two most famous names, virtually all of the early important figures who worked for homosexual liberation were socialists. John Addington Symonds, the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness, was a radical socialist; he helped found several “Walt Whitman Societies” in the north of England—the first recorded English groups of gay men founded explicitly to discuss same-sex love—wrote the pro-homosexual A Problem in Greek Ethics, published in 1883, and circulated privately printed essays in defense of homosexuality that were very influential. Edward Carpenter, the libertarian socialist poet and essayist who played a significant role in making possible the birth of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party, took up Symonds’ homosexual liberationist mantle on the latter’s death in 1893, and his 1908 book on the subject, The Intermediate Sex, would become a foundational text of the gay liberation movements of the 20th century. Oscar Wilde, who wrote The Soul of Man Under Socialism and joined the agitation in favor of clemency for the Haymarket Martyrs, was profoundly influenced by the writings of Ulrichs and adopted his “Uranian” terminology. Wilde and his friends referred in their letters to the campaign for legalization of homosexuality as “the Cause,” joining a secret Uranian organization, the Order of Chaeronea, to fight for it (Wilde’s position as an important precursor of gay liberation was solidly documented by Neil McKenna’s groundbreaking 2003 revisionist biography, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde.) The Order of Chaeronea’s founder, George Ives, also thought of himself as a socialist.

In Germany, the pioneer sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a member of the Social Democratic Party, founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in 1897 to fight for repeal of the statute criminalizing homosexuality, and he was able to secure public support for repeal from socialist leaders like Karl Kautsky, Edouard Bernstein, and the SDP’s parliamentary leader August Bebel (who introduced the repeal bill into the Reichstag). The man who became Hirschfeld’s deputy and eventually his successor as head of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in 1929, Kurt Hiller, was a well-known radical socialist essayist who coined the slogan, “The liberation of the homosexuals is the task of the homosexuals themselves.” When the pacifist novelist Henri Barbusse became the editor of the French Communist Party’s newspaper, l’Humanité, in 1926, and — well before Stalin’s recriminalization of homosexuality in 1933 — began polemicizing against homosexuality as the product of decadence in the bourgeois sector of society and a perversion favored by fascism in articles widely reprinted in the world Communist press, it was Hiller who provided the most stinging rebuttal to Barbusse in a famous gay liberationist speech, the “Appeal on Behalf of an Oppressed Human Variety,” written for the Second International Congress for Sexual Reform held in Copenhagen in 1928. Thanks to the work of Hirschfeld, Hiller, and their colleagues in the early German homosexual rights movement, the German Communist Party was the only one in the Western Hemisphere to reject Barbusse’s bigotry.

In the United States, however, both Socialists and Communists bought into the “homosexuality-is-capitalistdecadence” argument and used homosexual stereotypes to attack their enemies. It was thanks to American anarchist writers and propagandists that the defense of homosexuality developed in Europe by the likes of Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, Carpenter, and Symonds crossed the Atlantic to these shores — at a time when no other political movement or notable public figure in the United States dealt with the issue of same-sex eroticism and love, as Terence Kissack has detailed in his important 2008 book, Free Comrades: Anarchism and Homosexuality in the United States, 1895-1917.

“THE ANARCHIST SEX RADICALS,” Kissack writes discerningly, “were interested in the ethical, social, and cultural place of homosexuality within society, because that question lies at the nexus of individual freedom and state power.”Thus the American anarchists were virtually alone here in the States in defending and iconizing Wilde (who had said he was “something of an anarchist”) after his trial and imprisonment, at a time when his plays were banned and his books removed from library shelves. The towering figure of American anarchism, Emma Goldman, an extremely charismatic public speaker, spoke repeatedly to large audiences all over the United States about homosexuality in the first two decades of the last century, devoting whole lectures to the subject. And Alexander Berkman’s Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, a best-seller published by Goldman’s Mother Earth publishing house in 1912 (with an introduction Goldman had solicited from Carpenter and a frontispiece excerpt from Wilde‘s “Ballad of Reading Gaol”), was one of the most important political texts dealing with homosexuality to have been written by an American before the 1950s.

When Harry Hay, who’d been influenced by Carpenter’s writing, led a group of queer Communists and fellow travelers in founding the “Bachelors for Henry Wallace” during the 1948 Progressive Party presidential campaign, that pioneering (if closeted) effort at starting a gay organization became the nucleus for the creation of the Mattachine Society in 1950 as the earliest lasting homophile organization. But if Mattachine’s roots in the radical left have long been well-documented, Christopher Phelps, in his essay which appeared in the last issue of New Politics, has performed a singular service of historical excavation in demonstrating that there were similar homosexual liberationist stirrings in a parallel time frame in Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party. (Phelps gets extra points for understanding the importance of his discovery because he is not homosexual himself.)

When Sylvia Rivera and other transgendered and gender rebels launched the fight-back against a brutal police raid at New York’s Stonewall Inn 38 years ago, that sparked the birth of a radical gay liberationist rebellion — against the State, which made us criminals; against the medical and psychiatric professions, which declared us sick; and against the culture of heterotyranny which made us the targets of disdain, ridicule, opprobrium, hate, and violence. Born in the wake of the Stonewall rebellion, the gay liberation movement insisted — to borrow from the title of an early film by the gay German cinéaste Rosa von Praunheim — that “it is not the homosexual who is perverse, but the society in which he lives.”

Drawing from feminist critiques of the tyrannies of patriarchy and the family, gay liberation rejected the white, middle-class culture’s patriarchal rigidities, hierarchies, and rituals; homophobia and misogyny were seen as two sides of the same coin. Gay liberation insisted on the right to plural desires and opposed “any prescription for how consenting adults may or must make love,” as the historian and gay activist Martin Duberman then put it. Gay liberation was, he wrote, “a rite of passage — not into manhood or womanhood as those states have been traditionally defined; not sanctioned by supernatural doctrine; not blueprinted by centuries of ritualized behavior; not greeted by kinship rejoicing and social acceptance; not marked by the extension of fellowship into the established adult community,” but rather placing “ourselves in the forefront of the newest and most far-reaching revolution: the re-characterization of sexuality.”

In the early seventies, when I came out, gay liberation saw itself as “a paradigm of resistance” to the stultifying political culture of the Nixon years, and was infused with a sense of commitment to unleashing the collective energies of a hitherto invisible people as part of the much larger effort to maximize social justice and human liberation for all. The early cadres of gay activists were almost always graduates of the sixties struggles on the left — for civil rights, against the Vietnam war and the “corporate liberalism” that dominated the large multiversities. Since official liberalism of that day rejected gay liberation as a “pathetic” celebration of “perversion,” we felt it was doubly subversive, and were proud of that.

The accomplishments of the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement were many. It shattered forever the silence that had imprisoned same-sexers in untenable solitude and alienation; its raucous, media-savvy confrontations changed the nature of public discourse on homosexuality — symbolized by the insistence on the word “gay,” a code word for same-sex love for more than a century, instead of the clinical, one-dimensional “homosexual.” The most significant victory was the successful fight to have the American Psychiatric Association drop same-sex attraction from its catalog of “disorders” in 1973. And, of course, gay liberation made coming out — the most radical act in a homophobic society — not only the basis of mental and emotional health for gay people, but the imperative for creating the political movement that could carry through the fight for civil rights.

AS MORE AND MORE PEOPLE BEGAN TO come out, thanks to the liberationists’ clamorous visibility, the out gay community increasingly began to reflect the demographic, political, and cultural makeup of the society as a whole. And thus the gay liberation movement was replaced by what Jeffrey Escoffier, in his seminal 1998 book American Homo: Community and Perversity, called “the gay citizenship movement.”

Gay liberation considered innate homosexuality as much a challenge to a suffocating and unjust social order as the political radicalism that many of its proponents, including myself, embraced. But it was transformed in a relatively short time into a more limited quest for gay citizenship.

Or, as Escoffier wrote, the liberation movement “celebrated the otherness, the differentness, and the marginality of the homosexual; whereas the gay politics of citizenship acknowledges the satisfaction of conforming, passing, belonging, and being accepted.”

The de-radicalization of the gay movement was accelerated by a number of factors. For one thing, gay liberation was largely the work of people who had been participants in or influenced by the sixties movements for black civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, or by labor or radical campus struggles. As the first generation of activists began to burn out, the movement was populated with younger people with little or no previous history of political protest. Simultaneously, the fulgurant rise of the commercial gay ghetto and the emergence of the gay market contributed to the rapid growth of an out gay middle class, which saw itself as having more of a stake in the dominant culture than did the young marginals and intellectuals who made up the movement’s first wave.

Finally, the backlash against visible homosexuality and against the demand for full gay citizenship drove the movement to seek political advances through a more traditional form of interest-group politics. The need to appeal to the non-gay electorate helped water down and eventually extinguish the radical liberationist discourse; in this, the gay movement did not escape the similar fate of other initially radical social protest movements.


From 1981, when it was first identified as a “gay cancer,” until well into the ’90s, AIDS was used to stigmatize homosexuals, especially gay males, by the political homophobes of the right. And whatever shards of liberationist thinking and attitudes that remained in the gay community were effectively snuffed out.

First, the epidemic and the social opprobrium it brought with it forced the gay community to turn back in upon itself in a struggle to survive. Government was entirely absent from the fight against AIDS in the Reagan years, so the burden of prevention, education, and even care for the sick fell upon gay people themselves. AIDS consumed an enormous amount of the gay community’s money and energies, as we took day-to-day responsibility for our afflicted “extended families” of friends and lovers.

Worst of all, this grimmest of reapers also took away forever thousands of gay liberation’s most original and tireless activists, a hemorrhage unparalleled in the history of any other U.S. social movement. I always think of my late, dear friend Vito Russo, the epitome of radical gay and AIDS activism and the author of The Celluloid Closet (a history of gays in film) as symbolizing the enormity of this lethal hemorrhage of irreplaceable talent.

Finally, any radicalism that still existed in the gay community was increasingly channeled into the fight against AIDS with the founding of ACT UP. The struggle for simple survival took primacy over the larger issues of social and sexual transformation.

By the end of the nineties, the institutionalization of the gay movement was complete. The Human Rights Campaign, the wealthiest national gay organization with the largest staff, some 114 people now — to which today’s corporate media invariably turn for the “gay view” on issues — adopted a top-down, corporate structure that demands little more of its members than writing a check or attending a black-tie dinner, or occasionally writing a letter (or more likely sending an e-mail) to a public official. In their endless search for corporate sponsorships for gay events and activities, in their insistence on presenting a homogenized and false image of gay people, the gay institutions like HRC and their access-obsessed gaycrats are committing serious strategic and tactical errors — like acquiescing in a truncated version of the still-to-be-passed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act for gays and lesbians that excludes the transgendered — which play into the hands of our heavily funded and organizationally sophisticated enemies on the right.The lack of attention paid to queers in the Black and Latino communities by the institutional gay movement, and their invisibility in the image of homosexuality portrayed by HRC and much of the gay media, also works to our detriment. (Witness the fact that in all the November, 2008 state referendums to ban gay marriage, those communities of color voted overwhelmingly against marriage equality for same-sex couples.)

Yes, the political center of gravity in this country has moved significantly to the right in the decades since Stonewall — and with it the political center of gravity of the out gay community. But now that three and a half decades of struggle have created an ever-enlarging cultural and political space for LGBT people, I’m sensing a hunger for a return to some of the earlier principles of sexual liberation for all with which our movement began, not just here at home but abroad — and that includes a growing demand for our gay institutions to abandon their navel-gazing isolationism and embrace international LGBT solidarity.

In the long term, developing new strategies of resistance and liberation will require the gay movement, which has become so embourgeoisé, to begin a serious and radical rethinking of homosexualities and gender identities so as to understand at a deeper level why the fear and loathing of same-sex love and gender variants are so deeply engrained in society and culture not only here in the United States, but around the world. This also means breaking the forms of social control implicit in the gay market ideology. And re-connecting to other movements for social justice who should be our natural allies — all the while remembering the dictum of a great black civil rights organizer who also was gay, Bayard Rustin, who taught us that “all successful coalitions are based on mutual self-interest,” which means embracing the struggles of others as we ask them to embrace ours.

But, as important as the demands of the gay citizenship movement are, ultimately one cannot change minds and hearts simply by legislation alone. Only a fundamental redefinition of human freedom that includes a re-characterization of human sexuality in all its glorious varieties — the original project of gay liberation — can do.



The terror machine-K.P. FABIAN

Posted by admin On August - 30 - 2018 Comments Off on The terror machine-K.P. FABIAN

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda-linked militant who led a bloody campaign in Iraq. He was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who rose to be the Caliph of the ISIS, addressing worshippers at a mosque in the militant-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul on July 5, 2014.
Abu Mohammad al-Adnani al-Shami, ISIS spokesman, with an Islamist flag at an undisclosed location in this video grab taken on October 2, 2013. The group announced on August 30, 2016, that Adnani was killed in Aleppo, Syria.

A historically sound account of the origin, growth and reach of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
THE general public as well as international relations scholars will benefit from this eminently readable book by Stanly Johny, who combines academic rigour with the ability and mobility of the journalist to reach out to places and persons. He wrote this book in order to answer questions such as: How did the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emerge as the most potent “terror machinery” of our time in a matter of few years? What enabled the ISIS to attract many thousands more fighters than Al Qaeda? “It was from this surprise and confusion that this book was born,” says the author.

The book has two parts. The first deals with the ISIS, its origins, growth and its defeat in Iraq/Syria. The second part deals with its connection with India. In the first part, we are given a historically sound account of the origin of the group. It is a rather complex story with many unfamiliar names, but Stanly presents it coherently.

‘True Islamic emirates’
The narration starts with Al Qaeda, founded by the Saudi Arabian billionaire Osama bin Laden in 1989 following the successful anti-Soviet jehad in Afghanistan. Inspired by Sayyid Qutub, the Egyptian thinker who wielded much influence in the Islamic world, bin Laden despised the Muslim countries as “un-Islamic”. He had a programme to establish “true Islamic emirates” where the Sharia would prevail. But, that programme was not implemented. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who had installed himself in a mountainous enclave in northern Iraq, controlled by Ansar-al-Islam, a Salafi-jehadist group of Iraqi Kurds fighting Saddam Hussein’s government, was destined to carry forward the idea of establishing a Caliphate. It may be recalled that United States Secretary of State Colin Powell had incorrectly asserted in his infamous February 5, 2003, speech in the United Nations Security Council that Zarqawi was in Iraq working with Saddam’s government. The author points out that Powell was wrong not only about Zarqawi but also about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Zarqawi and bin Laden met in Afghanistan, by then ruled by the Taliban who called it “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. The meeting did not go off too well as the two interlocutors had diametrically opposite world views. Zarqawi wanted to target Shias, whereas bin Laden wanted the support of the entire ummah that included Shias. However, bin laden handed over $5,000 as seed money to Zarqawi to set up a network in Herat, close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran. By the time U.S. President George Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, Zarqawi had built up a force of 3,000.

After fighting the U.S. forces in Afghanistan for a while, Zarqawi, through Iran, came over to Iraq where he found a favourable climate as the U.S. had destroyed the Ba’athist state there. The Shias, until then suppressed under Saddam, gained power, a development that corroborated Zarqawi’s thesis that Shias needed to be put down at any cost. Zarqawi wanted to establish a foothold in “Greater Syria” with a view to establishing a Sharia-ruled state. He “welcomed” the ongoing sectarian war in Iraq.

Unlike bin Laden, who carried out attacks from his hideout without seeking to control territory, Zarqawi wanted to carve out territorial havens. Although a U.S. air strike killed Zarqawi in June 2006, the organisation that he had built up survived.

Caliph of the ISIS
The next important protagonist is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a “low-level Islamic academic” who rose to be the Caliph of the ISIS. His original name was Ibrahim bin Awwad bin Ibrahim al-Badri. His was a Salafist family. He was arrested by the U.S. security in Falluja when he went there to meet a friend who was on the wanted list. He was sent to a prison called Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, named after the U.S. firefighter Ronald Bucca, who died in the 9/11 rescue operation. Ibrahim led the prayers for the 24,000 inmates and gave Friday sermons. In short, Camp Bucca was “a pressure cooker for extremism”. The Americans respected Ibrahim and used him to settle quarrels among inmates. It assessed that he was not a dangerous person and released him after 10 months. That was in December 2004.

Ibrahim joined the Al Qaeda of Iraq and did propaganda work for it. In October 2006, Zarqawi’s successor, al-Masri, announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), but that announcement was not followed up by much action. Bin Laden was not pleased with the announcement either. But, Ibrahim was all for the ISI.

When al-Masri was killed in a raid by the U.S. in April 2010, Ibrahim emerged as the leader of the ISI with the support of military officers who had worked under Saddam. When bin Laden was killed by the U.S. Navy SEALs in April 2013, Ibrahim’s status as a jehadi leader was reinforced. Later, he transformed the ISI into the ISIS. That announcement was opposed by Joulani, who was heading a jehadi group called Al-Nusra, which held pockets of territory in Syria. Both Joulani and Ibrahim appealed to bin Laden’s successor, al Zawahiri, whose verdict was that Ibrahim should focus on Iraq and Joulani on Syria. Ibrahim rejected the verdict. The ISIS and Al-Nusra fought against each other and the ISIS conquered Raqqa in March 2013. By January 2014, the ISIS, which declared Raqqa as its capital and was formally expelled from the Al Qaeda family.

The author shows a good sense of history when he draws attention to the two failed attempts to establish a Wahhabi state by the Al Saud family. The still enduring Wahhabi state was finally established in Saudi Arabia in the 1920s. The author feels Saudi Arabia is the third Wahhabi state and the ISIS is the fourth in history. He points out that a crucial difference between the fourth and the third is that while the latter agreed to live in peace with its neighbours and accept the emerging international order, the former has adopted “continuous jehad” as the duty of every true Muslim.

Jehadism & the West
A remark or two might be in order at this stage. The author correctly refers to the anti-Soviet jehad in Afghanistan and bin Laden as the starting point of jehadism in our times and delves much deeper into Islamic history. It will be interesting to ask why the jehad in Afghanistan was necessary.

Obviously, because the Soviet military invaded Afghanistan. By now it is accepted by most scholars that the U.S. Special Forces were working in Afghanistan months before the Soviet military entered the scene and that Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, sent him a message congratulating him for giving the Soviets their “own Vietnam”. In short, if Carter had not maliciously drawn the Soviet military into Afghanistan we might not have had bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, and if Bush had been wise enough not to invade Iraq in 2003 even the ISIS might not have entered history.

Another point to be noted is that the ISIS became a force to reckon with only after it captured Mosul in June 2014. The U.S. under Barack Obama could have prevented the capture of Mosul, but chose not to do so as U.S. intelligence for a while considered the ISIS as a counterweight to be used against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Let us not forget that the Pentagon controlled Iraqi airspace and did know that al-Baghdadi was advancing towards Mosul from Syria.

In short, to understand the origins of jehadism, it is necessary to highlight the contribution of the West in different ways. Any account that leaves out the commissions and omissions of the West is historically unsound.

The India connection
The second part dealing with the ISIS’ India connection will no doubt be of greater interest to the public. The organisation got more foreign fighters than others in the same category mainly because it had territory. The ISIS looks at the world through a “core and periphery prism”. It does not believe in a nation state and seeks a “perpetually expanding Caliphate”. The South Asia operations are carried out from the ISIS wilayat (province) of Khorasan in Afghanistan. Dhabiq, the ISIS’ online English magazine, once carried an interview with an ISIS leader who said that they would take over Kashmir in the near future.

Indians from India and West Asia have joined the ISIS in Khorasan. It is to be noted that the ISIS got many more operatives from the economically advanced south Indian States compared with the relatively backward States in the north. A study by Brookings Institution shows that of the 142 recruits from India, Kerala accounted for 37, Telengana 21, Maharashtra 19, Karnataka 16, Uttar Pradesh 15, Madhya Pradesh six, Tamil Nadu five and Gujarat four.

The Salafist
The author tries to explain the reasons for the relatively large number of ISIS recruits from Kerala. The Salafist movement in Kerala goes back to 1922 when the Muslim Eikya Sangham (Organisation for Muslim Unity) was founded. It started exhorting its adherents to live as the Prophet and the ancestors lived. Over time, Salafism moved away from its reformist currents and embraced the “puritanical Wahhabi ideals”. The strong connections with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are also a contributing factor. What is striking is that the young who are attracted to the ISIS are educated and employed.

Stanly has met and talked to parents of the young people from India who joined the ISIS and some of those who were arrested before they could leave. The case of two brothers, Ijaz Rahman, 34, a doctor, and Shihaz Rahman, 28, a management graduate, is particularly interesting and even intriguing. At some point of time in their life they turned “extremely religious” and started giving up “luxuries”. They left to join the ISIS with their wives and Ijaz’s son. Shihaz pretended that he was taking his family to Mumbai while Ijaz claimed that he was going to Lakshadweep. Rashid, supposedly the leader of the group of 21, including six women, who left India, is a 30-year-old software engineer associated with the Islamic scholar M.M. Akbar’s Peace International School. The family members of the 21 have said that they were influenced by online propaganda. Most of them sent messages to their families that they had reached Dawlatul Islam, an expression used by the ISIS to refer to territory it controls.

In the last chapter, the author correctly argues that despite the ISIS losing territory in Iraq and Syria, its “organisational network and fighting force are far from destroyed” as evidenced from terrorist attacks carried out in different parts of the world. Further, there is no guarantee that the ISIS will not come back to the cities it has lost as it might not be possible for the government to undo the huge damage caused by the war against the ISIS and restore harmony and normalcy. The ISIS has indicated clearly that it will be “globalising” its operations.

There is a useful glossary and some documents in the annexure. The detailed footnotes are helpful. The editing could have been better. It is stated (page 73) that at its peak the ISIS was as big as the United Kingdom, “ruling over 2 million people”. The comparison with the area of the U.K. is more or less correct. But, according to Rand Corporation, at its peak the ISIS had 11 million people under it. Mosul was captured in June 2014 and not in July 2014 as stated on page 101. In a book that contains so many unfamiliar names, an index would have been useful.

Ambassador K.P. Fabian is the author of Diplomacy:

ISIS and counter-revolution: towards a Marxist analysis-Anne Alexander

Posted by admin On August - 29 - 2018 Comments Off on ISIS and counter-revolution: towards a Marxist analysis-Anne Alexander






Four years after the Arab revolutions of 2011 the hopes that the uprisings kindled seem to have been all but extinguished. Libya, Syria and Iraq present grim variations on the theme of “failed states”.1 Meanwhile, a United States-led military coalition of Western powers and their Arab allies is back in action in northern Iraq and Syria, justifying their intervention with the same “humanitarian” rhetoric that provided cover for the catastrophic occupation of Iraq after 2003. In Egypt the dictatorship has resurrected itself in a more violent and bloody form than even the worst days of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, killing over 1,000 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in a single day on 14 August 2013, jailing over 40,000 political prisoners during the following year and creating a new cult of personality around Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. The iron grip of repression on Bahrain has not eased since the crushing of the uprising there in 2011.


Looming over all this, at least in the vision of the region that emerges from the Western media, is the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now also known simply as the Islamic State (IS) or by its Arabic acronym, Da’ash. This violent, sectarian jihadi group seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, routing the Iraqi army. It has captivated the Western media with well-publicised atrocities including the beheading of captured British and US citizens and systematic brutality against women, religious minorities and Muslims from other backgrounds to their own. As they have advanced across western and northern Iraq, ISIS fighters have carried out massacres and ethnic cleansing, including mass killings of members of the Yazidi religion, Shia prisoners in Iraqi jails and men from the Albu Nimr tribe, to mention only a handful of examples.2


Why is ISIS so mesmerising? It is tempting to reduce the impact of the group to the internet pornography of its violence and hope that by looking the other way it will exhaust itself and burn out. But this leaves too many questions unanswered. Is it a neo-Wahhabist state modelled on the emirates built two centuries ago by the ancestors of the Saudi ruling family and the Islamist preachers who were their allies? A gang of foreign mercenaries led by an over-ambitious communal warlord? The political and military glue holding together a new alignment of the “Sunni elite” in Iraq? Or a transnational network of alienated jihadists? Does its rise reflect the “Sunni-Shia faultline”? What about the Kurds? What role have the US, the Gulf states and Iran played in its rise?


This article represents a preliminary effort to set an agenda for answering some of these questions. It focuses on three primary tasks: first to sketch out a general theoretical framework for the analysis of ISIS from a Marxist perspective, and then to explore the specific Iraqi context in which ISIS first set down roots in more detail, followed by an analysis of the interaction between the defeat of the Syrian Revolution and the consolidation of Nouri al-Maliki’s authoritarian rule in Iraq after 2008. The focus on Iraq reflects the key role played by the current Iraqi leadership of ISIS. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has led the group since 2010, is said to be from Samarra’a, the crucible of the 2006-7 sectarian civil war, although at the time he was apparently in US detention at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, and only released in 2009.3


Finally, the article locates ISIS within the context of the crisis of reformist Islamist movements in the wake of the 2011 revolutions. The general and specific levels of this analysis are deeply connected. The catastrophe that has engulfed Iraq reflects the working out of processes at global and regional levels, but the scale of that catastrophe has in turn intensified those same processes. The weakening of US hegemony as the concrete outcome of military defeat in Iraq lies behind the relative rise of regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, and has set in motion a fractal process creating the conditions for the consolidation of new proto-states such as the Kurdish entity in northern Iraq.4 Will ISIS itself fall into this pattern? Its leaders have made a wager with history that they can stabilise not just a new state, but a new kind of state—the first outpost of a transnational caliphate. There are many reasons to question their judgement, just as there are many reasons to oppose the strategy adopted by the US and its allies for “dealing with ISIS” through bombing. Only the revival of forms of social and political struggle that connect the poor and oppressed of the region across differences of religious belief, language or culture can provide a real alternative to both.


Neoliberalism, sectarianism and imperialism


The 40 year long process of the adoption of neoliberalism by ruling classes across the region is the reference point onto which the other phenomena we are discussing here can be mapped. While there is not space here to explore the development of neoliberalism in the Middle East in detail, three key points are of particular importance to the analysis proposed here.5 First, neoliberalism did not entail the withdrawal of the state from the economy. On the contrary, as Sameh Naguib notes, the adoption of neoliberal policies created “an even more intimate relation between the state and capital”.6 Profitable state-run industries and services were earmarked for privatisation while others faced neglect and eventual closure, but this process created new amalgams of the state and private capital, where “privatisation” often meant the sale of public assets to the sons and daughters of officials from the ruling party.7


There were also real changes in welfare and public services as neoliberal policies transferred a greater proportion of their costs onto the poor, while facilitating their transformation into machines for making profits. Those who could not afford to pay big business for healthcare and education turned to other “private” providers: religious institutions and charities. Ironically, the political beneficiaries of this process were often the Islamist opposition movements that combined providing charitable services for the poor and lower-middle class with calls for greater personal piety and cultural resistance to the “secular state”.8


While it is tempting to see this long sweep of social change as creating a smooth transition to the new economic and political order, in reality the process intensified the uneven and combined development of the region. Unevenness increased both within economies at national level,9 and also between them. It also accentuated the frictions caused by the combination of features from different phases of capitalist development.10 For lack of space, we will simply highlight two specific axes of unevenness that have proved particularly important.


The first is the friction caused by uneven development within national economies, with some areas and sectors being more rapidly integrated into global markets and flows of investment than others. The rapid progress of the Syrian Revolution of 2011, through the most impoverished provinces and the city suburbs that had become home to the tens of thousands who abandoned Syria’s agricultural heartlands in the face of a devastating drought between 2008 and 2010, is one example.11 The three poorest regions of the country, Deir Ezzor, Hassaka and Raqqa,12 are also those that have been the cradle of ISIS’s consolidation in Syria.


The second, and equally important, example is the growing weight of Gulf capital on both a Middle Eastern and a global scale. As Adam Hanieh demonstrates, conglomerates spanning circuits of productive, commodity and financial capital accumulation have begun to play a crucial role in the wider region: investing in production and services, and using loans, diplomacy and threats to drive through neoliberal policies bent on opening new markets.13 This unevenness made the Gulf states into more powerful regional actors than they had been in the past, capable of shaping the outcomes of revolution in Egypt and Syria by backing military-led counter-revolution in one case, and working for the hegemony of Islamist armed factions over the military struggle in the other.


Neoliberalism did not entirely sweep away the political and social relations of the previous phase of capitalism, but rather combined with them in new and unstable amalgams. Eleven years after the US invasion the World Bank lamented in its 2012 “Iraqi Investment Climate Assessment” that Iraq’s economy was still dominated by the state: “the private sector today has limited role or presence, and incentives for its expansion are absent”.14 This does not mean that the application of neoliberal principles to the economy had no effect: they profoundly reshaped Iraqi politics and society. This process first hollowed out the state behind its Ba’athist facade under sanctions during the 1990s, then partially smashed it and reconstituted a new authoritarian system run by sectarian parties and militias after 2003.


The second anchor for our analysis is Karl Marx’s approach to understanding where ideas come from. Whether we are examining religious belief in general, particular sectarian ideologies or the political perspectives of specific Islamist movements, a Marxist analysis has to depart from the widely-held premise that these ideas have a life of their own, separate from material reality. In the case of the Middle East, many mainstream analysts go further, claiming that the religious beliefs of the people living there determine material reality, so that the region can only be understood through the prism of its “ancient hatreds”.15 It is no accident that the ideas expressed by ISIS’s fighters are frequently described using metaphors drawn from biology or epidemiology. Alastair Crooke, in a widely-read article, presents ISIS as a “mutation” of the “Wahhabist gene”, in other words of the transplantation of the ideology developed by Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, the 18th century Arabian preacher, and his followers in the course of his movement’s long alliance with the Al Saud dynasty.16


The problem with such approaches is not that they are always wrong in substance: Crooke is certainly correct that the “Wahhabism” disseminated by Saudi official policy has been taken up by groups that risk becoming a threat to the Saudi regime itself. But by making ideas, rather than human action, the motive force of history, they obscure the ways that society changes. As Chris Harman explains, “Humans cannot act independently of their circumstances. But this does not mean they can be reduced to them. They are continually involved in ‘negating’ the material objective world around them, in reacting upon it in such a way as to transform both it and themselves”.17


The actual history of Iraq tells a very different story from the simplistic picture presented in the media. Religious, linguistic, ethnic and tribal communities are not, and have never been, a simple mosaic of discrete pieces. In Iraq, for example, marriage between Sunni and Shia Muslims was relatively common during the mid-20th century. Sunni and Shia Islam cross the linguistic divisions between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, while there are tribal confederations with Sunni and Shia members.18 Moreover, all of these “communities” are divided by social class—the landowners, businesspeople and senior state officials who claim to represent the whole, of course, have very different interests to the majority.


However, although these horizontal social cleavages, particularly those based on social relations formed in the course of production, give a “truer” picture of Iraqi society than the vertical divisions based on religious belief or tribal affiliation, 20 years of war, sanctions and occupation have created a new material basis for sectarian consciousness. Clerics who can increase the appeal of their sermons by giving families access to the mosque’s electricity generator, or tribal leaders whose connections with government officials provide access to jobs and patronage for their supporters, create social relations that help to knit together different social classes despite their contradictory “real” relationships. The strength or weakness of these social relations cannot be measured in isolation from the strength or weakness of other social relations. In a society shattered by civil war, where millions have fled their homes, the offer of a job fighting for a tribal leader or a sectarian militia may make the difference between life or death for individuals and their families. In contexts such as these there will be few opportunities for workers to test out class solidarity in practice.


Likewise, the starting point for understanding Islamist movements cannot simply be the ideas that they articulate, but rather their social content: in other words, the relationship between their members and leaders and class divisions in society. Mass Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, usually contain enormous social contradictions within their structures, with the class interests of the leadership often at variance with the aspirations of members from the working class, urban poor or lower middle class.19 ISIS is, and always has been, of a very different character as a movement. It is an elitist, military organisation which, as we will explore in more detail below, is rooted in the competition between armed sectarian factions in US-occupied Iraq.


This does not mean that the organisation is incapable of benefiting from the contradictory aspirations of people from different social classes for political or social change, and the defeat or marginalisation of other forces that appeared to advance these hopes. For example, ISIS has thrived by appearing to offer Sunnis in Iraq protection from their systematic oppression at the hands of the sectarian Shia Islamist parties at the helm of the Iraqi state. However, the entirely sectarian agenda of ISIS, combined with its military structure and rejection of any programme for political or social change that ordinary people could make their own, means that revolutionary socialists cannot take the same perspective towards the organisation that we do in relation to Hamas, Hizbollah or other armed Islamist forces.20 Unlike these organisations, which have at times provided a deflected route towards the expression of real social and political grievances for ordinary people, ISIS’s politics represent a dead end.


The third anchor for our framework is a Marxist analysis of imperialism in the region, and specifically of the catastrophic impact of US intervention in Iraq. As Alex Callinicos has discussed at length in this journal and elsewhere, the failure of this “vainglorious project” has had profound consequences at both global and regional levels.21 As noted above, US imperial overstretch in Iraq, combined with the workings of neoliberalism at a regional level, created a fractal process of centres with fraying peripheries across several dimensions. The relative loosening of US hegemony gave regional powers more room to manoeuvre against each other, just as it created spaces in which new and unpredictable actors such as ISIS could arise. Yet further imperialist interventions to “correct” the problems spawned by previous interventions—whether by bombing raids or deploying “boots on the ground”—will either bolster ISIS’s claims to be defending the people under its rule or set the scene for the rise of successor movements. Although there is no space to explore properly the relationship between imperialism in the Middle East and the rise of racism and Islamophobia in Europe and the US, these processes are intimately connected, feeding in turn into the alienation afflicting some of ISIS’s foreign recruits.


The final pivotal point on which our analysis rests is an understanding of the role of human agency in determining the outcome of impersonal and long-term “processes”. In one sense, this is an issue about connecting together different scales of analysis. One of the great strengths of revolutionary Marxism is its ability to connect together individual and collective action with abstractions that help us understand better how society works. Marxist analysis offers a unique perspective because it grasps the kind of agency that provides a real alternative to ISIS: the active intervention of the mass of ordinary people across the region in the struggle for the demands of bread, freedom and social justice, which became the watchwords of the 2011 revolutions.


Iraq after 2003: “consociationalism” and neoliberalism embed sectarianism in society


The US occupation of Iraq in 2003 set in motion processes that transformed the Iraqi state and society, leading directly (although not inevitably) to the resurgence of ISIS in 2014. US officials strove to create a “consociational democracy”, where power would be shared between representatives of different religious and national communities according to a quota system. The consociational approach to governing Iraq reacted with the extreme neoliberalism espoused by figures such as Paul Bremer, appointed to run the Coalition Provisional Authority in the wake of the invasion, to produce a toxic combination in a society shattered by sanctions, war and occupation. US officials expected confidently that they would be able to keep the mechanisms set in motion in 2003 working in their favour, nudging the balance of sectarian power in the “right” direction from time to time as necessary. In reality, the system they created quickly ran out of their control, and could only be temporarily corrected by an enormous infusion of money and troops during the “surge” of 2007-8.


It is important to put the developments after 2003 in the correct context. Iraqi society before 2003 was certainly not free of sectarianism. The Ba’athist regime had long used sectarianism and encouraged ethnic conflicts in its efforts to maintain power. For example, its propaganda portrayed all Shia opposition groups as a “fifth column” working for neighbouring Iran, and it settled Arab citizens in largely-Kurdish areas of northern Iraq in order to assert control over the oil-rich northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. However, the impact of sectarianism on society was blunted by a number of factors, including the mixing of Iraqis from different religious backgrounds in state employment. The capital city, Baghdad, retained a large Kurdish population, even at the height of Saddam Hussein’s brutal war against the Kurdish insurgency in the north,22 and, despite the efforts of some Shia Islamist forces to persuade them otherwise, the majority of Iraqi Shia conscript soldiers did not break ranks and side with their Iranian co-religionists during the Iran-Iraq war. Moreover, the legacy of the great political struggles of the 1940s to the 1960s, dominated by competition between secular currents such as the Communist Party and the Ba’ath Party itself in the context of high levels of strikes and social protests, was still influential among an older generation of activists.23


However, the defeat of Iraqi forces in 1991, and the impoverishment of Iraqi society as a result of the sanctions regime that was imposed immediately afterwards created much more fertile ground for sectarianism to take root in society. Reeling from the impact of the uprising that began in the South, the Ba’athist regime desperately sought allies who could exercise military and political power on behalf of the state. Saddam Hussein created an Office of Tribal Affairs in order to manage relationships with tribal leaders who had been empowered by the weakening of central government. He also presented himself as a great Sunni leader, mobilising faith campaigns and courting the Sunni religious establishment. At the same time the weakening of state institutions under the crushing pressure of international sanctions created spaces into which religious institutions expanded their activities, providing welfare, education and health services to an increasingly desperate population.24


From the very beginning, even before they had set foot in Baghdad, US officials decided to deal with Iraq as a country composed of competing, distinct communities. This view of Iraqi society seems to have been based on the rough estimates of the percentages of Arab Shia, Sunni Kurds and Sunni Arabs reflected in a map of Iraq that circulated widely among US officials in 2003.25 Sectarian “balance”—and therefore its corollary, sectarian competition—was enshrined in America’s Iraq from the start.26


The practice of muhasasa, or the use of a sectarian quota system for appointments, was implemented by political parties whose survival was bound up with entrenching sectarianism. As Toby Dodge explains, it is a system “that has, in effect, privatised the Iraqi state. The system has allowed the Iraqi political elite to strip state assets for personal gain and to fund the parties they represent”.27


A key reason why this process quickly spiralled out of control was its interaction with the neoliberal assault on Iraq’s remaining infrastructure. Paul Bremer rushed through laws forcing open the public sector, the welfare system and health services to privatisation.28 However, although US corporations initially made a quick buck from the contracting process, it was not international investors who were the main beneficiaries of the partial dismemberment of the Iraqi state, but rather local strongmen, leaders of militias and sectarian parties who were able to turn many of its institutions into highly profitable protection rackets.29


The initial political winners of this process were the Shia Islamist parties closest to the US, such as the Da’wa Party and its rival, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). They led the efforts to mobilise Shia support for the occupation on a sectarian basis, in an attempt to undercut the success of other Shia Islamist forces such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement, which opposed the US. Kurdish allies of the US also benefited, with the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, becoming Iraqi president in 2005. The PUK and the other major Kurdish faction, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani, meanwhile consolidated their grip on the Kurdish-majority regions of northern Iraq, which had attained de facto independence during the 1990s under the protection of the US no-fly zone.30


The rising calls for Shia communal solidarity from the Shia Islamist parties allied with the US reflected the danger that a combined Sunni-Shia insurgency represented to the new political establishment. Even if their attacks were not coordinated with each other, the mere fact that the occupation was under combined attack from fighters in “Sunni” Fallujah and “Shia” Sadr City and Najaf threatened to disrupt the mechanisms by which the US and their allies were attempting to govern Iraq. Opinion polls in March and May 2004 commissioned by major US newspapers and even by the Coalition Provisional Authority itself showed that 80 percent of Iraqis in both Sunni and Shia majority areas thought of US troops as occupiers, and 81 percent wanted them to leave, despite the fact that Sunni areas had borne the brunt of repression.31


It was a military as much as political problem, demonstrated by the fact that in 2004 Shia troops refused orders to march on Fallujah with the US to quell resistance there.32 Yet the US and its allies were successful in derailing the beginnings of a cross-sectarian alignment between insurgents in majority Sunni and Shia areas. They isolated and stormed key areas in western Iraq that were centres of military resistance, in particular Fallujah. However, this was complemented by a strategy to bolster the idea of a common “Shia” interest in securing power in the emerging structures of the post-Ba’athist state. The intervention of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a key figure in the Shia clerical establishment, was critically important in this respect. Al-Sistani spoke strongly in favour of participation in the 2005 parliamentary elections, making it extremely difficult for anti-US Shia leaders such as Moqtada al-Sadr to support calls from Sunni insurgents for a boycott.33


The rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the sahwa, and the surge


Over the course of 2004-5 the potential for building political and military alliances against the US that cut across sectarian divisions ebbed away. One major factor was the consolidation of a sectarian consensus among the major Shia Islamist parties, who agreed broadly on a goal of seizing control of the apparatus of the state (and the inability of anti-US Shia forces such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army to challenge this consensus). Another important factor was the US strategy of smashing military resistance by full-scale assaults on Fallujah and other towns in Anbar province. In combination, these events created the space in which Sunni sectarian jihadist groups, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), were able to grow. AQI was founded by Jordanian Islamist Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi in 2004, following a declaration that his small group of Islamist fighters had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organisation. AQI’s appeal in western Iraq was largely bound up with the fact that the group’s fighters won a reputation for effectiveness against US troops, yet their leaders focused on igniting a sectarian civil war by carrying out mass bombings of Shia shrines and sites of pilgrimage.34 Meanwhile, the armed wings of various Shia factions, including ISCI’s Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, were working as anti-Sunni death squads within the police and security forces, killing and torturing hundreds of Iraqis every month.35 The bombing of the Shia al-Askari mosque in Samarra’a in February 2006 triggered a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, transforming previously mixed neighbourhoods into segregated enclaves and forcing those on the “wrong” side of the sectarian divide to flee.36


The temporary alliance between jihadist groups and other anti-US fighters in western Iraq presented a huge military and political problem for the US. Success in set-piece battles such as the assaults on Fallujah produced conditions for a perpetual insurgency. In 2006 they appeared to have made a breakthrough by breaking the tactical alliance between the jihadi forces and other armed groups from Anbar Province. It is worth outlining the “Awakening” (sahwa in Arabic) in some detail. It began as a localised military partnership between US forces and a number of Anbari tribal leaders. US forces provided training, payment and arms to Anbari volunteers who joined them in the fight against AQI.37 The alliance was initially promoted by second or third rank tribal leaders, whose ascendancy through the Sahwa eclipsed more prominent tribal leaders who had fled into exile because of the high levels of violence.38 Some sources hint that AQI posed a social challenge to the authority of these tribal leaders and attracted some of those who were marginalised within the tribal hierarchy.39


The alignment between AQI and other Anbari insurgent groups was in large part based on their assessment that US forces represented the primary threat to local people’s security. The city of Fallujah’s experience with the US occupation and the Iraqi government was extremely bitter, for example, the city was besieged and then stormed by US troops twice in 2004:


The 2004 offensive destroyed 70 percent of the city’s infrastructure including 36,000 buildings, 8,400 shops, three pipelines for water purification and two electricity stations. When civilians returned, US forces tracked them with fingerprints and iris scanners. Each had to show a US-issued personal biometric ID card when entering or exiting the city.40


AQI quickly squandered their credibility, however, by launching brutal campaigns of murder and intimidation to enforce their authority over their allies and the areas under their control. Their sectarian tactics also caused repulsion among many Anbaris, who certainly felt alienated and marginalised by the growing sectarianism of the Iraqi state, but were not engaged in a tit for tat sectarian civil war.41 Narratives from the US Army’s official oral history of the Awakening (which is over 300 pages long) make clear the intensive work US officers put in to “win hearts and minds”. An interview with “Miriam”, the wife of an Iraqi police officer, describes the work of “Captain Stephanie”, the US officer who worked with her and other women in a local NGO:


Stephanie distributes products. We call her “Santa” or “Mamma Claus.” Stephanie helped people love security. She helped women get jobs. She put rules on who should be hired: target unemployed college graduates to maximise employment… At the time, it was raging with insurgency. There were no rations available, except through Stephanie. She brought in a truckload of food and supplies—1,500 shares.42


The “Sons of Iraq” programme beyond Anbar was an attempt to transfer the Awakening to other Sunni majority areas. US forces recruited 100,000 largely Sunni volunteers across Iraq, paying them around $300 per month. As the security situation improved, US commanders promised that SoI volunteers would eventually be offered jobs in the regular Iraqi security forces or in the civil service. In 2009 the programme was officially handed over to the Iraqi government, despite the fact that Nouri al-Maliki’s regime “viewed thousands of armed Sunnis as a strategic threat”, and thus disbanded the SoI units, in some cases accompanied by extra-judicial executions or exile.43


The Awakening and the Sons of Iraq programme were part of a wider US strategy of a “surge” in troops that swelled the number of US soldiers in Iraq to 166,000 by 2007. It was these “boots on the ground” and the massive financial commitment accompanying them that made the Awakening a temporary success. As David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq during this period, tacitly admits in a lengthy and hubristic article published in October 2013, a key change in tactics by US forces after 2007 was essentially the reconquest of Baghdad neighbourhood by neighbourhood, establishing local, small-scale bases for US troops who had previously been concentrated in large bases away from the local population.44


Yet a closer look underlines why that success was ultimately shallow and short-lived. The Awakening was not in itself a break with the strategy of sectarian divide and rule. It simply represented US efforts to “redress” the sectarian balance in favour of Sunni Arab social and political elites in western Iraq, after fighters from the region had demonstrated that they could not be cowed by other means. The lubricating factors were money, jobs and weapons, while AQI’s brutal methods aided the US by alienating their potential supporters. The Awakening did nothing to challenge the sectarianisation of the state: on the contrary it contributed to its further fragmentation by creating another body of armed men who were almost exclusively from one specific religious group.


Al-Maliki’s ascendancy and the failure of the sectarian state


In many ways, the years following the “victory” of the US surge in 2008 repeated a dismally familiar pattern from the 2003-6 period. Sunni political elites from western Iraq attempted to negotiate a place for themselves within the sectarianised state apparatus. Their hopes had been raised by cooperation with the US and they approached their Shia Islamist rivals such as Nouri al-Maliki of the Da’wa Party with renewed confidence. The parliamentary elections of 2010 at first appeared to augur well for a “rebalancing” of political and sectarian factions within the state: the Al-Iraqiyya electoral bloc won the most seats, with Maliki’s State of Law bloc coming second. Al-Iraqiyya was a cross-sectarian alliance of parties led by former Ba’athist Iyad Allawi, which included a number of groups with strong roots in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq.


Maliki’s reaction to this unexpected defeat was to undo the results and impose a State of Law government under his leadership. His supporters in the judiciary issued rulings that undermined Al-Iraqiyya’s claim to form the next government. In December 2011 he had bodyguards working for the Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, arrested and, based on their confessions, ordered Hashemi’s trial on charges of organising terrorism and sectarian death squads, leading to a death sentence in absentia for the most senior Sunni politician in the Iraqi state. Other major Sunni politicians, such as finance minister Rafi’a al-Issawi, were targeted. The arrest of al-Issawi’s bodyguards on terrorism charges in December 2012 triggered a widespread protest movement across western Iraq.


Meanwhile, in the background, Maliki pursued a ruthless campaign to assert his personal control over Iraq’s sprawling armed forces. Not content with using a pattern of sectarian appointment-making to ensure that Shia commanders predominated in the upper levels of the military, Maliki created an entirely new command structure through regional Operations Commands which answered to him personally through the Office of the Commander in Chief (OCINC). Finally, he bolstered Shia sectarian militias and death squads, such as the Asa’ib Ahl-al-Haq, a splinter from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, and which is thought to operate at least partially under Maliki’s command. Maliki’s control over the Iraqi Army and his use of sectarian paramilitary groups intermeshed through the OCINC, which purged army officers who had taken action against the Shia militias.45


It is important to understand the specific characteristics of Maliki’s regime, as they help to explain the swiftness of the Iraqi army’s collapse at Mosul. He systematically used sectarian rhetoric to bolster his own power and undermine his rivals, and organised and enabled sectarian violence and discrimination. But Maliki’s power was also highly personalised, relying on networks of cronies in the army and the institutions of the state, including the Iraqi army commanders who apparently fled Mosul even before their troops.46 Thus behind the imposing authoritarian facade, which brooked no criticism, rivalry or dissent, it was also fragile, incompetent and increasingly dysfunctional.


The initial response in Sunni areas of Iraq to Maliki’s offensive was not, in fact, to relaunch military action against the central government forces. Quite the contrary. Maliki’s repression and attacks on Sunni politicians triggered a widespread popular protest movement that experimented with tactics reminiscent of the street protests and occupations of the Arab revolutions of 2011. The protest movement seems to have mobilised wide social layers in the cities of western Iraq such as Ramadi and Fallujah, catching established politicians by surprise. In its early stages tens of thousands took part; their slogans demanded an end to sectarian discrimination against Sunnis and challenged Maliki’s use of repression under the banner of “fighting terrorism”. They found at least a rhetorical echo from other Iraqi political figures, including Moqtada al-Sadr, who issued a series of supportive statements, but declined to offer any more than verbal backing for the movement. A violent raid on one of the protest camps at Hawija by the Iraqi security forces on 23 April 2013, which killed 50 people, was the final turning point on the road that led to the rapid resurgence of AQI, triggering a wave of sectarian bombings in response.47


This cycle of events took place, however, in a world that had significantly changed since 2007. As discussed above, the counter-revolutionary backlash against the uprisings of 2011 included a significant rise in sectarian rhetoric across the region (with the regimes of the Gulf playing a critical role in both directly filling the airwaves and social media with anti-Shia sectarian bile and enabling others to do so). The question of sectarianism at a regional level was not of course confined to rhetoric but had by 2012-13 taken the form of interventions by regional powers into the spiralling conflict in Syria, with Sunni Islamist forces armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf States confronting Hizbollah’s Shia Islamists backed by Iran alongside Assad’s troops. The Assad regime had taken the decision early on to mobilise sectarian militias, such as the shabiha, largely drawn from members of the ruling family’s Alawite sect, but as its attempts to defeat the revolution faltered, its strategy became more and more focused on transforming the battle into a sectarian civil war pitting the Alawite elite and other minorities against the Sunni majority and pulling in regional support from Iran on that basis. This process eventually marginalised and defeated the armed revolutionary factions and local committees that had led the uprising at the beginning.


The Syrian Revolution’s transformation into civil war also had profound consequences for the revival of AQI in Iraq. It created new spaces where the jihadi fighters could operate beyond the reach of any state and accelerated the process of erasing the Syrian/Iraqi border that had been in train for several decades. This in turn intensified the mutual interactions between jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq. The flows of fighters, arms and battle experience went in two directions across this now vast region, with Syria functioning as a hinterland for Iraqi jihadists, who were able to simultaneously create an effective military presence within the Syrian conflict and relaunch themselves back into Iraq as a result.48


But by far the biggest change was in the relative strength of the US as an actor in the struggles over the carcass of the Iraqi state, and more broadly over the resources of the Middle East. After 2011 the US not only did not have the “boots on the ground” that contributed to “victory” in the surge, but was in no position to turn the clock back and reconquer Iraq for the third time in the space of a decade. This was not simply the result of the military and political failures outlined above, but reflected the impact of the global economic crisis on the US after 2008. The occupation of Iraq cost an estimated $1 trillion dollars and the lives of 4,500 US soldiers.49 In a world racked by the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, US officials no longer had the blank cheque they had been given to spend their way to victory when neoconservative dreams of a “New American Century” seemed a realistic prospect.


From prison-breaks to state power?


In 2010 AQI appeared to have been crushed. Within two years, however, the organisation had begun to revive, and by September 2013 the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think-tank, announced that it was “resurgent”: capable of operating across Iraq to unleash a wave of its signature car bombings which were beginning to push casualty rates back up to war-time levels last reached in 2008.50 January 2014 saw AQI (now renamed ISIS after announcing a merger with the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda) take full control of its first city, Raqqa in the north east of Syria, after heavy fighting with other jihadi forces, including its own erstwhile sister organisation in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN).51 Six months later ISIS seemed unstoppable as Mosul fell to its forces on 10 June.


This dizzying upward curve of military and political success conceals startling transitions and poses challenges that it is very unlikely that ISIS in its current form will overcome easily, if at all. The most serious of these challenges are connected with ISIS’s claim to statehood. The group’s audacity in imposing jihadi governance on major population centres in Syria and Iraq demands that it transform itself from guerrilla network to conventional army. At the same time it has to move from running a protection racket—collecting “taxes” from frightened shopkeepers—to collecting real taxes and ensuring the delivery of basic services for hundreds of thousands of people. There are many reasons to doubt that this will be easy for a small, elitist, military organisation reliant on spectacular acts of violence to ensure compliance with its will.


One of the major contrasts between ISIS and other armed Islamist movements that have achieved some degree of state authority in areas under their control, such as Hizbollah or Hamas, is illustrated by the means through which AQI began to revive within Iraq during 2012. In contrast to Hizbollah, which complemented its military struggle with Israel by organising welfare services for decades before it first entered a coalition government, AQI seems to have rebuilt itself in 2012 through a coordinated series of jail-breaks. The “Breaking the Walls Campaign” did exactly what its title suggests: AQI fighters smashed their way into prisons across Iraq to restore experienced jihadis to their ranks, culminating in an attack on Abu Ghraib prison on 21 July 2013 which released 500 or more prisoners.52


Meanwhile, AQI’s fighters were also operating in Syria alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s branch there. Again AQI’s military experience was instrumental in creating opportunities for the organisation to grow in Syria, where it began to compete with JN and ultimately with Al Qaeda’s overall leadership in Afghanistan. Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, AQI’s leader since 2010, announced the merger of the Islamic State of Iraq (as AQI had renamed itself in 2006) and Jabhat al-Nusra on 8 April 2013.53 This provoked a furious response from JN’s leader, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, who rejected the merger, and earned al-Baghdadi a reprimand from Al Qaeda’s leader, Egyptian militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, who instructed the Syrian and Iraqi branches to restrict their work to their respective states.54


Yet events were unfolding in Iraq that would dramatically accelerate ISIS’s development, allowing it to eclipse its parent organisation. Within days of Baghdadi’s announcement of the merger with JN the Iraqi army had stormed a camp set up by Sunni protesters in Hawija, Kirkuk governorate, killing dozens.55 This bloody end to the “Sunni spring” protests that had rocked western Iraq for months presaged the polarisation of the movement between those who began to look to armed solutions and those who were prepared to compromise with Nouri al-Maliki’s government in Baghdad. The moment was ripe for intervention by ISIS, which launched a series of sectarian attacks, while Iraqi government forces raided Sunni neighbourhoods, carrying out mass arrests during “anti-terrorist” operations in Anbar and Diyala provinces.56


At this stage ISIS was still a resurgent guerrilla group, shunning urban areas and keeping its distance from the protest camps. It is unlikely that any of ISIS’s fighters were involved in the clash with the Iraqi army at Hawija, as the military forces most closely aligned with the political demands raised by the protesters were the neo-Ba’athist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandiya (JRTN).57 Nor did ISIS at this stage appear to have recovered enough credibility to be able to work with local armed groups in defending their areas. This was to change dramatically within a few months as ISIS began asserting formal control over urban areas in both Iraq and Syria, and in some cases attempting to build or run government institutions. This assertion of formal control does not mean that ISIS came into cities only to conquer them: the group’s seizure of Mosul was preceded by ISIS penetration of the city over the course of several years.58


In Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq, ISIS fighters took the opportunity afforded by a new upsurge of protest against yet another provocative arrest of a leading Sunni politician, Ahmed al-Alwani, on terrorism charges by Nouri al-Maliki on 28 December 2013. Protesters poured into the streets in both towns. ISIS fighters appeared alongside them, planting their black flag on municipal buildings in Fallujah as well as surrounding Ramadi and seizing part of the main highway to Baghdad.59 They faced different responses from the local political and military leaderships in the two cities. Ramadi’s political leaders, who were largely supportive of the Iraqi Islamic Party and prepared to cooperate with the government in Baghdad, rejected ISIS and called on local residents to work with Iraqi government forces to expel them. In Fallujah, however, political and military leaders attempted to negotiate an ISIS withdrawal through mediation with a newly-established military council of their own, rather than leaving the Iraqi army to bombard and attempt to recapture the city.60


Nouri al-Maliki’s government did nothing to allay Fallujah residents’ fears that the history of the 2004 assaults on the city would repeat itself. With elections on the horizon, he made the call for Shia unity behind the crushing of rebellion in Fallujah a key campaign issue while the Iraqi army increased its shelling of the besieged town. The city’s military council was thus forced into a “Faustian bargain” with ISIS, cooperating with them against the Iraqi army, but attempting to restrict their role in running the now almost empty city.61


ISIS experience in ruling Raqqa began with rebel groups taking over the city as Syrian government control collapsed in March 2013 and key tribal leaders switched allegiance from the Assad regime.62 ISIS then emerged victorious from a long and bloody power struggle with other jihadi groups to assert its authority over the town in January 2014. There are indications that ISIS focused its military assets in Syria on the battle for Raqqa in order to secure the city.63 Until the capture of Mosul in June 2014 Raqqa represented ISIS’s most developed attempt at building or running government institutions. In a detailed study, largely using social media sources, Gabriel Garroum Pla lists an array of different state institutions in Raqqa claimed as institutions of its new state by ISIS, including schools, bakeries, media institutions and courts. ISIS social media accounts claimed that an office of Consumer Protection checks for counterfeit medicines, the Awqaf Department (Religious Endowments) collects taxes and rents from shops, while the Unified Collection Office takes payments for electricity, water and phone bills. These services were provided within a system of rule which also includes spectacular displays of public violence, such as regular public executions and the crucifixion of victims’ bodies, the public burning of illicit material such as alcohol or cigarettes, and the institution of “Dignity” checkpoints where citizens are interrogated about their personal observance of ISIS’s version of Sunni ritual.64


Reports from Mosul are sparse, but interviews with residents in October and November 2014 suggest that ISIS was attempting to implement a similar system of rule to that instituted in Raqqa. “Mays”, a teacher, speaks of changes to the curriculum, with ISIS decrees banning subjects such as art and physical education and imposing strict dress codes on pupils. “Faisal” describes severe water and electricity shortages, while “Nizar’ recounts how the homes formerly belonging to the city’s Christian population had been given to ISIS members.65 Other anonymous reports via social media paint a similar picture of acute water shortages in a city overcrowded with refugees from elsewhere in Iraq, skyrocketing fuel prices, and pervasive fear of ISIS reprisals against dissenters.66


The shift from conducting guerrilla operations to running daily life in major cities has the potential to open up enormous contradictions for ISIS. Raqqa is Syria’s sixth-largest city and had a population of 220,000 in 2004, while Mosul is the second-largest in Iraq with a population of between 1.5 and 2 million. At one level, intensifying social contradictions in the cities under their control will confront ISIS with the same dilemmas that any ruler faces: how to balance coercion and consent in order to stop those they rule discovering their power to overturn the system which oppresses them. This is where ISIS’s trademark brutality can be a liability as much as an asset: fear and horror have their uses in the short term but are difficult to maintain indefinitely.


At a military level, ISIS’s bid for statehood also poses severe challenges. The transition from underground guerrilla network to a more conventional armed force, with territory to lose, requires knitting together new command structures, providing different weapons and training, and mastering different kinds of tactics. ISIS fighters have so far seemed capable of making use of captured US equipment,67 but rapid success can equally rapidly come undone as supply lines stretch and fighters have to divert resources to deal with restive populations. However, there is nothing certain about ISIS’s rule imploding under the weight of its own contradictions, as it it did in Iraq in 2006. Other factors which come into play here include the impact of Western intervention. Alongside news of discontent and misery in territories under its rule, there are also frequent reports of how US bombing pushes other armed groups to ally with ISIS for self-protection. Fighters from the Free Syrian Army and Islamist factions in Syria were reported to be seeking alliances with ISIS in late November as US bombing intensified.68


Counter-revolution and the crisis of reformist Islamism


The final context for the rise of ISIS is the crisis of reformist Islamism in the wake of the revolutions of 2011 and the counter-revolutions that followed. The popular uprisings which rolled across the region in early 2011 were fraught with promise and danger for the major Islamist organisations such as Ennahda in Tunisia or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria. The success of the street protests and strikes in shaking loose the structures of power appeared to offer a historic opportunity for their leaders to negotiate new openings for themselves within the state, far exceeding the modest gains they had made through years of patient electoral work. Yet the major reformist Islamist organisations69 that did win elections and form governments, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, found themselves trapped between the still-mobilised movement from below on the one hand, and the resurgent structures of the old regime on the other. Unable to contain continued social and political protests and restore the “normality” that prospective investors and large swathes of the middle class craved, and equally unable effectively to confront the core of the “military-bureaucratic machine” of the state, they lurched from triumph to tragedy in the space of a year. The overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi by the Egyptian military on 3 July 2013 was then followed by the mass murder of his supporters at protest sit-ins in Cairo and Giza and a counter-revolutionary offensive aimed at wiping out all trace of the 2011 Revolution. This offensive was not therefore aimed solely at the Brotherhood, but rather at the whole loose coalition of forces that had assembled in the uprising against Mubarak: left and liberal activists, striking workers, Islamists outside the Brotherhood who identified with the revolution’s basic demands of bread, freedom and social justice.


At a regional level, the primary backing for Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s counter-revolution came from the states that represent the capitals of the Gulf. They chose to reinstate Mubarak’s old order rather than work through Islamist reformists such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Here the unevenness in regional development operated to intensify counter-revolution. Without the confidence that the massive financial resources of Saudi Arabia, UAE (and more recently Qatar) were behind him, would Sisi have had the audacity to commit crimes of the same magnitude? Note here that Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi rulers made decisions based strictly on their judgement of who would be the safest pair of hands to restore conditions for a return on their investment, not their presumed ideological affinity with Islamist currents.70 In Syria, counter-revolution came from two directions: a “secular” authoritarian regime which was in reality prosecuting a sectarian civil war as its basic survival strategy, and later the gradual rise of ISIS itself which overcame other factions opposed to Assad in order to impose its rule over rebel-held areas, as described above.


The defeat of reformist Islamist currents by revived authoritarian regimes, or their eclipse by other forces was always likely to lead to a resurgence of specifically jihadi alternatives. The history of Egyptian Islamism is littered with examples of this pendulum-like movement. Sayyid Qutb, whose ideas about the permissibility of rebellion against tyranny have inspired generations of jihadists, was a disillusioned reformist who turned towards vanguardist terrorism because the consolidation of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule in Egypt convinced him that neither the existing state nor a popular movement from below could be trusted to deliver the kind of society he wanted to see.


The catastrophic defeat of reformist Islamist movements on a regional scale has intersected with the specific dynamics of Iraqi society, projecting ISIS to a wider audience, and allowing it to vie with Al Qaeda’s historic leadership for the allegiance of those looking for successful, powerful organisations that appear to be able to challenge imperialism and dictatorship. ISIS is also attractive in the context of that defeat because it offers false explanations and constructs new narratives of victimhood, providing other targets for their rage and disappointment: Shias, Christians, “immodest women”. Other dynamics of frustration and alienation are most likely at work on ISIS’s recruits from Europe: anger at rising levels of racism and Islamophobia in the context of endless imperial interventions in the Middle East.


This does not mean, however, that we can expect to see ISIS-type spectacles across the Middle East. As this article has outlined, the specific dynamics of Iraq since 2003 have interacted with the defeat of the Syrian Revolution to produce a zone of intense competition between regional powers, and new political and military actors, such as ISIS itself, in the Jazeera region, that lies between Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Kurdistan, and its hinterland. These conditions are not present across most of the region, and more importantly, much of the rest of the region has a far richer experience of the kinds of struggle from below that are the real alternative to ISIS.


This is why it is also crucial to grasp the significance of 2011 as a rupture with the past. The revolutionary crisis was at once the detonation of the accumulated tensions between the social and political aspects of the transition from state capitalism to neoliberalism (if we can use such short-hand terms for a messy and complex reality) and the potential negation of the entire process. It is important here to distinguish between the idea of 2011 as creating the possibility of a reversal of neoliberalism, in other words the restoration of the state capitalist regimes that the region’s nationalist and Stalinist left craves, and the potential for opening a route to a different kind of society altogether.


Of course, even at the dizzying heights of the revolutionary wave, as regimes across the region were reeling under the impact of the greatest popular uprisings the world had seen for decades, there would have still been a very long way to travel before potential became reality. Yet the key point here is that the revolutions of 2011 made other futures beside neoliberalism possible. Moreover, and this above all is the reason why the revolutions potentially negated the trajectory of the previous decades, it was the agency of millions of ordinary people that detonated the revolutionary crisis in the first place. They marched in the streets, went on strike, occupied their workplaces, organised popular committees, broke open the regimes’ torture chambers and took up arms on a scale few had imagined was possible. There was nothing inevitable about the explosion of revolution in 2011. This rupture was not simply a natural consequence of shifting tectonic plates or the realignment of the stars: it was created by struggle from below.


And it is no accident that such struggles were, from the first, profoundly anti-sectarian, both in form and content. Anti-sectarian banners, slogans and chants dominated Tahrir Square in Egypt during the uprising against Mubarak, and were the watchwords of the early stages of the Bahraini and Syrian uprisings. The revolutionary wave also triggered a mass movement against sectarianism in Lebanon for the first time in decades. This was not a temporary aberration, but was an expression of the class content of the revolutions: the real horizontal cleavages that unite workers and the poor across the region in the face of neoliberalism and imperialism.




1: Sameh Naguib, Phil Marfleet, John Rose and Alex Callinicos gave very helpful comments on the draft of this article. Special thanks are also due to all the participants at the SWP educational on “Analysing ISIS” on 22 November 2014, as the article was rewritten in the light of the intense and fruitful discussion there.


2: Chulov, 2014; Human Rights Watch, 2014a; Human Rights Watch, 2014b.


3: Cockburn, 2014, pp28-29.


4: The emergence of a Kurdish statelet in Iraq’s northern provinces was triggered by the weakening of the Ba’athist state in the 1990s, but the inability of the US occupation to re-empower Baghdad’s authority over the region has created the conditions for its consolidation.


5: See chapters 1-2 of Alexander and Bassiouny, 2014, for a more detailed discussion of the development of neoliberalism in Egypt, and Achcar, 2013, and Hanieh, 2013, for regional perspectives on the process.


6: Naguib, 2011, p5.


7: Haddad, 2011.


8: Harman, 1994.


9: For more on this question see Alexander and Bassiouny, 2014, chapter 2.


10: Leon Trotsky, in his analysis of Russia’s economy at the beginning of the 20th century, argued that the uneven and combined nature of that development created an “explosive amalgam” of contradictory social and political relations which, when ignited by the sparks of protests and strikes, triggered a much deeper revolutionary process than any had foreseen (Trotsky, 1992). Trotsky’s argument centred on the combination of social and political relations across two distinct modes of production: feudalism and capitalism. When we are using the term here, we are referring to the combination of social and political relations from different phases of capitalism—Choonara, 2011.


11: Maunder, 2012.


12: Go to www.ruralpovertyportal.org/country/home/tags/syria for more details on rural poverty in Syria before the revolution.


13: Hanieh, 2013.


14: Cordesman and Khazai, 2014, p227.


15: Burleigh, 2014; Conant, 2014.


16: Crooke, 2014. See Al-Rasheed, 2010, pp13-68, for an overview of the role played by Wahhabism in the process of state formation in Arabia.


17: Harman, 1986, p11.


18: Batatu, 2004; Zangana and Ramadani, 2006, p60.


19: Harman, 1994; Naguib, 2006.


20: See articles by Philip Marfleet and Bassem Chit in this journal for more on the recent development of Hamas and Hizbollah, and Assaf, 2013b, and Harman, 2006, for further background.


21: Callinicos, 2014a; Callinicos, 2014b, p19; Callinicos, 2009.


22: Zangana and Ramadani, 2006.


23: Alexander, 2003, and Batatu, 2004.


24: Alexander and Assaf, 2005a.


25: International Crisis Group, 2013, p4.


26: Alexander and Assaf, 2005a, and Zangana and Ramadani, 2006.


27: Dodge, 2014, p17.


28: See Dodge, 2010; Herring and Rangwala, 2006, pp222-236, for more on this process.


29: See Herring and Rangwala, 2006, pp236-241, for more on the role of US transnational corporations in Iraqi “reconstruction”, and Dodge, 2014, for its later impact.


30: There is not space in this article to deal properly with the impact of the Kurdish question on Iraq. For a historical perspective on the Kurdish question see McDowall, 2003, and for the role of Kurdish parties in post-2003 developments see Herring and Rangwala, 2006.


31: Alexander and Assaf, 2005a, p27.


32: Alexander and Assaf, 2005a.


33: Alexander and Assaf, 2005b.


34: Alexander and Assaf, 2005a.


35: Buncombe and Cockburn, 2006.


36: Damluji, 2010, pp75-76.


37: Montgomery and McWilliams, 2009.


38: Al-Jabouri and Jensen, 2011.


39: International Crisis Group, 2014.


40: International Crisis Group, 2014, p9.


41: International Crisis Group, 2014.


42: Montgomery and McWilliams, 2009, p43.


43: Dermer, 2014.


44: Petraeus, 2013.


45: Sullivan, 2013.


46: Dodge, 2014; Sullivan, 2013.


47: International Crisis Group, 2013, and Assaf, 2013a.


48: Cockburn, 2014.


49: Chulov, Hawramy and Ackerman, 2014.


50: Lewis, 2013.


51: Pla, 2014, p27.


52: Lewis, 2013, p7.


53: Lewis, 2013, p9.


54: Atassi, 2013.


55: Human Rights Watch, 2013.


56: International Crisis Group, 2013, pi; Lewis, 2013, p21.


57: Lewis, 2013, p19.


58: Abbas, 2014.


59: International Crisis Group, 2014, p6.


60: Al-Jazeera Arabic, 2014.


61: International Crisis Group, 2014; Al-Hayat, 2014.


62: Holliday, 2013.


63: Lewis, 2013, p17.


64: Pla, 2014, p35 and pp27-28.


65: BBC News Online, 2014.


66: Beauchamp, 2014.


67: Chulov and Lewis, 2014.


68: Mahmood, 2014.


69: “Reformist” is used here to indicate where these organisations sit within a broad spectrum of responses to the state by Islamist currents, ranging from guerrilla warfare aimed at overthrowing the existing regime to withdrawal from society in order to found a conservative utopia, and is not meant to imply that these Islamist organisations can be equated with social democratic organisations. See Alexander and Bassiouny, 2014, chapter 1, for more on this point.


70: See my review of Gilbert Achcar’s and Adam Hanieh’s recent books for more on this point (Alexander, 2014).




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Elections in Pakistan: Ali Wazeer, a Marxist in the parliament dominated by feudal lords and capitalists-Farooq Tariq  

Posted by admin On July - 29 - 2018 Comments Off on Elections in Pakistan: Ali Wazeer, a Marxist in the parliament dominated by feudal lords and capitalists-Farooq Tariq  

July 28, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal —

Ali Wazeer, a central committee member of The Struggle group, has won a seat in the national parliament with 23530 votes and his closest rival from religious alliance MMA got 7515. Thus winning the seat with a majority of 16015.

Ali Wazeer was one the main leader of Pashtun Tahafaz Movement and during this year, mass meetings were organised in major cities to raise voices for the fair compensation to the victims of the war on terror” and to demand the release of all “missing” persons or to bring them to the courts if they are guilty.

Two other leader of this PTM also contested for the national parliament and one of them Muhsin Dawer also won the seat after a close competition. Mohsin Javed Dawer got 16526 votes while Aurangzeb of Imran Khan PTI got 10422. However the MMA candidate Mufti Misbahudin MMA got a close 15363.

These two PTM leaders contested from South Wazeeristan, an area dominated by religious fanatics. However, a strong movement for civic rights of Pashtuns had cut across the influence of the fanatics and Pashtuns voted despite all the threats to elect their mass movement leaders.

Two main leaders of PTM presence in the parliament has given a hope to many in Pakistan that at least there would be peoples voices in a parliament dominated by feudal lords, corrupt capitalists and stooges of the military and judicial establishment.

Who is Ali Wazeer
Ali Wazeer is a very special person. His personal ordeal best illustrates what prompted his demands. Ali Wazeer was pursuing a degree in law at the turn of the century when his hometown, Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan agency, became the epicenter of global terrorism when a host of Taliban-allied groups sought shelter in the communities.

No doubt the terrorists had some individual local facilitators, but ultimately it was the state that failed to prevent them from using the territory. When his father, the chief of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, and other local leaders complained of their presence, government officials ignored and silenced them. Instead, Islamabad spent years denying the presence of any Afghan, Arab, or Central Asian militants.

By 2003, the militants had established a foothold in South and North Waziristan tribal agencies and were attempting to build a local emirate. Ali Wazeer elder brother Farooq Wazir, a local political activist and youth leader, became the first victim of a long campaign in which thousands of Pashtun tribal leaders, activists, politicians, and clerics were killed with near absolute impunity. Their only crime was to question or oppose the presence of dangerous terrorists in our homeland.

In 2005, Ali Wazeer was in prison when his father, brothers, cousins, and an uncle were killed in a single ambush. He was there because a draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) law holds an entire tribe or region responsible for the crimes of an individual or any alleged crime committed in the territory.

Ali Wazeer had committed no crime, never got a fair trial, and was not sentenced, yet he was prevented even from participating in the funerals for his family.

In the subsequent years, six more members of our extended family were assassinated. The authorities have not even investigated these crimes let alone held anyone responsible.

Ali Wazeer and his family faced economic ruin after all of the notable men in our family were eliminated. The government failed to prevent the militants from demolishing his family owned gas stations. They later used the bricks to build bathrooms, claiming they were munafiqin (hypocrites) so even the inanimate materials from his businesses were not appropriate to build proper buildings.

His family owned apple and peach orchards in Wana were sprayed with poisonous chemicals, and tube wells were filled with dirt to force them to surrender to the forces of darkness.

In 2016, his family owned market in Wana was dynamited after a bomb blast there killed an army officer which was an accident. They nevertheless destroyed their livelihoods under the FCR. After the demolition, the government prevented the local community — mostly members of our Ahmadzai Wazir tribe — from collecting donations to help them. They were told it would set an unacceptable precedent because the government cannot let anyone help those it punishes.

So all together 16 members of his family, including his father, two brothers were killed by Taliban during these years.

He was one of the main leader of Pashtun Tahafaz Movement, a civic rights movement for the rights of the victims of war on terror. Recently he toured around the country and organised mass rallies in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Swat. Lahore Left Front was the host of Lahore public meeting which was formally not permitted by the authorities, we were not allowed to campaign, no posters stickers were allowed to be spread in the city, Ali Wazeer and seven more were arrested a night before the public meeting and after a massive immediate response, they were released before the rally. Yet, over 10,000 participated in this public meeting.

In April this year, dozens of of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) supporters were injured and 10 were killed as a result of an attack on PTM leader Ali Wazir by the “pro-government militants”, also known as Peace Committee.

However, the PTM sympathisers gathered to welcome Ali retaliated, upon which the militants fled, leaving Ali’s cousin and a Voice of America VOA journalist injured among others.

In an interview during April 2018, Ali Wazeer said,
“The past few months have transformed my life. Amid the agonies I have endured and the threats, suspicion, and accusations I face, the love, support, and respect I receive is overwhelming. Since February, when we began protesting to draw attention to the suffering of ethnic Pashtuns — among the worst victims of terrorism — I have learned a lot about the potential of ordinary Pakistanis. Their thirst for change is inspiring and heralds a peaceful, prosperous future we must build for generations to come”.

During those difficult years, he didn’t lose faith in mass movement and remained committed to politics of class struggle. He ran in the parliamentary elections in 2008 and 2013.

In 2013 general elections, his victory was changed into a defeat at gunpoint. He lost the election for just over 300 votes after the Taliban intimidated voters and tortured his supporters and campaign volunteers.

Amid the volcano of violence, thousands of civilians have disappeared, and thousands have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings. The leaders of PTM are profiled as suspected terrorists across the country, face humiliation at security check posts, and innocent civilians face violence during security sweeps and operations. As the world’s largest tribal society, the Pashtuns are known for their hospitality, commitment, and valor, yet they were falsely reduced to terrorist sympathizers despite the fact that they are their worst victims.

Ali Wazeer belongs to The Struggle Group, of Pakistan Marxists.

The group has joined Lahore Left Front, a united platform of several Left groups and parties. However, Lahore Left Front has organised some mass activities where Ali Wazeer participated.

The general election of 2018 was the most rigged elections in the history of Pakistan. The society has moved further to the right with Imran Khan Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf coming to power. Imran Khan called Ali Wazeer prior to the elections and offered him PTI nomination from the area which Ali politely refused. However such a respect of Ali Wazeer that Imran khan told him that in any case we will mot put up our candidate against you.

Prior to the general elections, a whole sale rigging took place on the behest of the Establishment. PMLN candidates were threatened, forced them to change loyalties and so on. PTI had an open support of the most of the state institutions.

In this background when a more right wing party PTI, than the previous ruling party PMLN
Has come to power, a Marxist in the parliament would be a wave of fresh air from the stinking parliament.

Although other Left groups also contested including Awami Workers Party and had launched a tremendous election campaign, however, the election campaign of Ali Wazeer was of some special characteristics. He addressed every day few public meetings, went door to door with his meagre resources. Thousands cheered him all the times. We were all sure that he will win but were afraid of any incident that could cancel the elections from this constituency.

Ali Wazeer has opened the gates for the entire Left. He is loved by most of social activists as well, a sober person who is always down to earth in his presentation in workers meeting but speaks like a lion when he is addressing the ruling class. A fearless class fighter who has emerged as the one of the most respected Left leaders in recent working class history.

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Sheikh Bedreddin: A Greco-Turkish Communist Internationalist Avant la Lettre-  Sungur Savran

Posted by admin On July - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on Sheikh Bedreddin: A Greco-Turkish Communist Internationalist Avant la Lettre-  Sungur Savran


To draw the net from the water together
while singing a song in unison,
to forge together the iron fine like lace,
to be able together to cultivate the land,
to be able to eat the honeyed figs together,
to be able to say: “all together in everything,
save the cheek of the beloved”…

Nâzım Hikmet
From the poem “The Legend of Sheikh Bedreddin” (1936)

The press reports that during a visit to Western Thrace, where a sizeable Turkish minority lives, Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, evoked the name of Sheikh Bedreddin, praised him and said that he should be a source of inspiration for all of us today. So, who is this Muslim sheikh whom a nominally leftist Greek Prime Minister, avowedly atheist, recommends as a source of inspiration to all Greeks, irrespective of their religion? A most ticklish remark at first sight. We should be thankful to Tsipras for having raised the topic, hastening to add that he personally, given his record in office, is absolutely unfit for inspiration by the grand old man.
Sheikh Bedreddin (1359–1420) lived in the second half of the 14th and the first two decades of the 15th centuries, the latter period being one in which the fortunes of the rising Ottoman state came to a temporary halt under the impact of the Ankara war of 1402, in which the armies of Tamerlane, the Mongol nomadic emperor, routed the Ottomans. The next decade and a half saw civil war between the different contenders to the throne raging on the territory of the Ottoman state in Asia Minor and the Balkans. Bedreddin’s deeds of historic importance had this civil war as their background.

His life is a web of contradictions. He was both a fakih, i.e. a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, one of the best ever even by
the admission of his ideological opponents, and a sufi, one who lives religion more according to its inner meaning than
according to outward rules. He spent long years in Cairo, the major learning centre of the epoch, and was converted to Sufism by a
certain Shikh Ahlati. He was never the same man again after that conversion. He visited Khorasan and Aleppo and finally returned home to Ottoman territory.

But make no mistake. Bedreddin, despite his Muslim credentials was half-Greek from his mother’s side, allegedly converted to Islam
when she married Bedreddin’s Turkish father. Their son was born in Dimoteka (Greek: Didymóteicho) in 1359 and died in Serez (Greek: Serres) in 1420, both localities being Greek territory today, but were under
Ottoman rule back then. So it is a great shame that this great man of Greek descent as well as Turkish has not been sufficiently cherished
jointly by our two nations in a manner that befits his legacy. For he himself was not only a communist, but an internationalist as well.

A Communist Revolutionary
This, of course, is the pinnacle of the web of contradictions that form Bedreddin’s life. This man of high religious standing, who had been
given a hand by his sheikh, Ahlati, as the latter was dying and was therefore the sheikh of a religious order, was also a communist. He
and his disciples, among whom Börklüce Mustafa, an illiterate Turkish peasant from the Aegean region of Anatolia right across the
island of Chios and a Jewish convert, Torlak Kemal, from a region slightly more to the northeast, but still in the Aegean region,
defended common property in the means of production, land and farm buildings and beasts of burden and agricultural implements. Their
programme is sometimes misinterpreted as the “distribution of land.” No, it is common property, abolishing all private holdings.

The other aspect of their programme is internationalism. Of course, at that time different ethnic groups were more commonly identified by their respective religion. Bedreddin and his disciples stood for the unity and fraternity of all religions, Muslim, Christian and Jewish
alike. It is a well-established historical fact that Bedreddin, during one of his multiple visits to the Aegean region of Anatolia, crossed over, in company of Börklüce Mustafa, to the Greek island of Chios to have long talks with the local notables of the Orthodox
church there and with ordinary peasants, which no doubt was part of their preparations for an uprising. In fact, some evidence exists to
suggest that the influence of the Bedreddin movement extended all the way from Enez (Greek: Ainos) in continental Eastern Thrace (today part of Turkey) to Crete, evidence that is worthwhile to pursue by historians from both Greece and Turkey.

How is it that a theologian became a revolutionary internationalist communist? How, in particular, did his very advanced conception of common property emerge? And how did a religious order act like a revolutionary organization? I have explored all these questions in an
article published at the beginning of this year to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Bedreddin’s revolutionary uprising against the Ottoman state. I cannot go into the details of the answers to all these questions. Suffice it to say that Bedreddin was a materialist
in disguise, that common property in the means of production was not exceptional among the dervishes of the period, leading to the formation of farmsteads that functioned on what can only be depicted as communistic principles, and that religious orders were, as a rule,
class organizations.1

6th Centenary of the Revolution of 1416
When that revolution erupted in 1416, it was far from being local as many jacqueries are. It extended across a vast geographical area from the Turkish Aegean and Chios all the way to Deliorman (Bulgarian: Ludogorie) in Bulgaria at present and Serez (Serres) in Greece, both in Western Thrace. There were three uprisings at least, with tentative evidence of other centres of insurrection. Börklüce and his ten thousand combatants, Turkish and Anatolian Greek landless peasants, Turkoman nomads and Greek islander seafarers, routed the Ottoman army twice before being defeated in the end at the hands of a huge army. Börklüce himself was crucified on the back of a camel, no doubt to
affront the synchretic nature of the religious faith of the Bedreddin order. The second insurrection was that led around Manisa by Torlak Kemal, which also ended in a debacle.

Perhaps the most massive participation was in the third insurrection, this one led by Bedreddin himself. He had been kept under forced residence in the Marmara region and, having eloped, he moved to Deliorman in what is Bulgarian territory today and roused the masses to
insurgency. The insurrection spread like wildfire. However, the more shaky allies within the revolutionary camp secretly made a pact with
the Sultan and betrayed the cause. Bedreddin was abducted and taken to the Sultan’s court where he was tried and convicted to death. He was hanged in the marketplace of Serez (Serres) on 18 December 1420.

This is the 600th anniversary of that great internationalist communist revolution. Obviously the revolution came before conditions were mature for communism. It was bound to fail, if not before taking power, then after it. However, that it should have erupted in a geography that
now harbours the two nations of Greece and Turkey is a great honour for us. We will strive on both sides of the Aegean to create the conditions of such an internationalist revolution once again within the framework this time of 21st century capitalism, much more favourable to the rise of the working class to power and the building of a classless society. •



Unfortunately, for the evidence regarding all of this, I have to refer the reader to the original article: Sungur Savran, “İki Devrimin Hikâyesi: Nâzım, Bedreddin ve 1416 İhtilali”, Devrimci Marksizm, no. 26, Spring 2016, pp. 107-158.
Sungur Savran is based in Istanbul and is one of the editors of the newspaper Gercek (Truth) and the theoretical journal Devrimci Marksizm (Revolutionary Marxism), both published in Turkish, and of the

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Turkish elections, looming fascism and left politics-Baris Karaagac

Posted by admin On July - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on Turkish elections, looming fascism and left politics-Baris Karaagac

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Socialist Project

— The elections on 24 June in Turkey for a new president and parliament, which took place under a state of emergency, constitute an historic moment in Turkish republican history with important consequences.

Firstly, it has institutionalized and consolidated the regime change put in place by the controversial 2017 referendum. The Turkish political system has successfully transitioned from a parliamentary to an executive presidential one.

Secondly, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the incumbent president and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has come out even stronger with new powers, which are likely to bolster his authoritarian tendencies.

Thirdly, Erdogan’s presidency and the victory of the coalition of the AKP and the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), the most prominent fascist actor in Turkish politics, should and will revive a debate on states of exception in general, and fascism, in particular.

Last, but not the least, the failure of a reinvigorated opposition to dethrone Erdogan and a likely more authoritarian – or worse – fascist future have exposed the necessity for a different kind of politics on the left.

Challenging the pillars of the current regime
It is imperative for the Turkish left to produce an alternative and inclusive socio-political project that challenges the pillars of the current regime, i.e., crony neoliberalism, increasing authoritarianism, chauvinistic nationalism and social conservatism. Such a project cannot be confined to electoral politics only and requires organizing and resistance in various forms and spaces that are outside those dominated by the ruling bloc. It also requires the inclusion – if not leadership – of the Kurdish movement, which has emerged as the most organized and the only mass political actor able to challenge the dominant structures of oppression in Turkey and beyond.

The AKP was founded in 2001 as a coalition of mostly conservative groups and individuals, and constituted the last representative of a series of legal Islamic parties since the 1970s. The main constituent elements of the party were twofold: the Fethullah Gulen community and a group around the future prime minister and president, Tayyip Erdogan, who had broken away from the Milli Görüş (National Vision) movement and its last political party, i.e. Fazilet Partisi (the Virtue Party), that was shut down in 2001 by the Constitutional Court. These two groups converged on a neoliberal, socially conservative and majoritarian project. This was the marriage of a relatively ‘liberal’ version of Islam with neoliberalism, and this combination made the AKP quite popular on the global stage. The party’s popularity was mostly thanks to its two achievements: (1) It was able to defeat the old secularist guard, which was seen as increasingly unreliable by the West; and (2) it marginalized the radical Islamic groups while sustaining the Western-Turkish alliance in the Middle East. The AKP was viewed by many as an antidote to the revolutionary Islam of Iran and violent Sunni movements/organizations.

The party came to power following the financial crisis of 2001 and only one-and-a-half years after it was founded. Its initial electoral base was composed of those who were demoralized and impoverished by two decades of brutal neoliberalism, corruption, economic crises, instability and rigid secularism. In terms of its relationship with capital and capital fractions, the party’s initial base was the internationalizing medium-sized capital groups located mainly in Anatolia. As soon as it came to power, the AKP also won the support of big domestic (mostly Istanbul based) and foreign capital through its refusal to deviate from the neoliberal trend set earlier and by its willingness to strengthen the integration of the Turkish economy into global markets.

Since 2011, which more or less marks the beginning of the authoritarian turn in the country, there has been tension at times between big capital and its organization, TUSIAD (Turkish Industry and Business Association), on the one hand and the AKP, on the other. The main causes of the tension have been twofold: concerns about secularism and increasing authoritarianism, and the deteriorating and unstable relations with the EU, into which Turkish capital has firmly integrated. Despite the ongoing tension, one of the major outcomes of the 16-year old AKP rule has been the creation of conditions most conducive to capital accumulation at the expense of the labouring masses in the country. The current state of emergency, too, has a strong class character, which has empowered capital vis-à-vis labour.[1]

The AKP came to power for the first time with a sweeping victory in 2002. Despite getting only 34.3 per cent of the popular vote, the party captured 327 of the 550 seats in parliament thanks to the extremely high threshold of 10 per cent. In the 2007 and 2011 elections, the AKP increased its popular support, acquiring 46.7 and 49.8 per cent of the votes respectively. The drop to 40.8 per cent in the June 2015 election was remedied in the November 2015 election after the AKP ended the peace process and resumed its war with the Kurds. The reversion to the nationalist discourse and militaristic policies were rewarded by the electorate with an almost 9 per cent increase in the polls. The most recent election marks a drop in the support for the AKP but the party was still able to garner the majority as a result of its alliance with the fascist MHP.

Although the most recent elections were originally due on 3 November 2019, early elections were called on 18 April 2018 by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was getting anxious to institutionalize and consolidate the regime change put in place by the 2017 referendum.

The controversial referendum, which succeeded with only 51.41 per cent of the popular vote, endorsed a number of constitutional changes, which abolished the then existing parliamentary system of government and strengthened the position of the president, who used to be a rather symbolic figure for most of the republican era.

The president was given powers that included, among others, directly appointing ministers and vice-presidents, imposing a state of emergency, and increased control over the appointments to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). These changes were criticized by both the domestic opposition and international observers for removing some of the critical checks and balances in the Turkish political system and concentrating power in the hands of the president.

The June 24th elections were thus a rushed and pre-emptive effort by Erdogan to consolidate this regime change and secure his power while denying the opposition an opportunity to organize and rally support. Due to widespread corruption involving himself and his inner circle as well as the heavy toll of his authoritarian rule on tens of thousands of people, loss of power is not an option for Erdogan. Becoming stripped of his current immunity would mean years of prison for the Turkish president and his cronies.

Two new developments
There were two important developments on the part of the opposition in this short period. The first was the foundation of a new party Iyi Parti (Good Party), by those who broke away mostly from the fascist MHP due to the latter’s alliance with Erdogan’s AKP.

The second was the candidacy of Muharrem Ince, an MP from the Kemalist, social democratic CHP (Republican People’s Party). Ince’s charismatic personality and campaign came as a surprise to the ruling party, as Ince pushed Erdogan onto the defensive for the first time in sixteen years while gathering large crowds across the country (the one in Istanbul was possibly the largest rally in Turkish history). Despite his subscription to Kemalist nationalism and coalition with nationalists (i.e. Iyi Parti), his rather inclusive discourse and attitude toward Kurds made the latter more receptive to his message and led many Kurds to vote strategically for him in the presidential election instead of for Selahattin Demirtas, the pro-Kurdish HDP’s (People’s Democratic Party) candidate.

Ince’s campaign rejuvenated a dormant and hopeless opposition, which brought together different segments of Turkish society. Although he failed to offer a clear and coherent alternative social project, Ince’s clean record, communication skills, and criticism of the AKP’s corruption, crony neoliberalism, religious conservatism and increasing authoritarianism made him a beacon of hope for a significant part of the population.

Various colours of the left, too, threw their support behind Ince despite serious reservations about his religious references and nationalism; he was seen as the lesser evil versus a power-hungry warmonger.

The results, however, were quite disappointing. Under a state of emergency and amidst serious allegations of fraud and voter intimidation, the AKP-MHP coalition captured 53.66 per cent of the popular vote and 344 out of 600 seats in parliament. The Nation Alliance, led by the CHP, on the other hand, received 33.94 per cent of the vote with only 189 seats. The HDP managed to pass the undemocratic 10 per cent threshold and increased its vote to 11.7 per cent. The HDP’s entrance into parliament played the key role in preventing an AKP majority, which rallied some Turks – mostly on the left – behind the party.

As regards the presidential vote, Erdogan won it comfortably in the first round frustrating all expectations that there would be a second round. There are still conspiracy theories and some controversy regarding the vote-counting process and its aftermath. The former include alleged threatening of the rival candidates by the AKP-controlled state, which led them to concede victory to Erdogan prematurely and disappearing from the public eye for hours, which demoralized and demobilized the opposition.

Notwithstanding these yet unknowns, what is clear is that Erdogan has secured his position as the most powerful political figure in post-war Turkey with even more constitutional powers and a tighter grip over the Turkish state and society. Although his victory is not complete, as the AKP will need the support of the fascist MHP in parliament for a majority, the latter’s almost unconditional recent support and the increased powers of the president point to a more authoritarian future for the country.

The dependence of the AKP on the MHP for a parliamentary majority will also likely sustain the nationalist and militaristic approach to the Kurdish issue (and foreign policy in general) and prolong the devastating war between the Turkish state and Kurdish guerillas. It will also strain relations with Turkey’s neighbours, who are already quite critical of the aggressive so-called neo-Ottoman turn in Turkish foreign policy in recent years.

The current political and social situation in Turkey calls for a rigorous debate on the new regime and the corresponding state-form that has been in the making for some time. This task becomes even more urgent in the face of a looming economic crisis that will likely lead to tremendous social and economic dislocation, paving the way for even more authoritarian and repressive responses from the state and Erdogan at its helm.

An accurate analysis of the ongoing restructuring and the emergent regime are critical, as it will inform the type(s) of resistance by the progressive forces in the country. What is worrisome is that the regime and the state-form in Turkey display features characteristic of fascism. This does not mean that Turkey is a fascist state at the moment. Nevertheless some of the features of fascism are in place currently and the rise of a truly fascist regime and state is a possibility in the near future.

Fascism, as a modern phenomenon, has been discussed in the literature mostly as an exceptional regime confined to the inter-war period; that is, a one-time only deviation in the development of capitalist states and regimes. This is an erroneous conceptualization and study of fascism. Rather than being a deviation and buried in the ashes of a bygone era, fascism should be studied as a regime whose seeds are present in capitalist social relations and their contradictory nature. It corresponds to a response to a specific political crisis under capitalism and is an outcome of specific class/social relations. At the same time, as opposed to some left analyses, there is no automatic/mechanical relationship between the liberal democratic state and its crisis on the one hand, and the rise of fascism, on the other.

As regards the features of fascism that are existent in the Turkish context currently, we can observe the following:
the disciplining of the military accompanied by an increase in the power of the police and intelligence service;
the decrease in the autonomy of the media and academia vis-à-vis the executive (this has gone hand in hand with rising anti-intellectualism);
restructuring of the judiciary – the implementation of exceptional law(s) has been normalized (particularly via the state of emergency declared following the 2016 coup attempt);
the emergence of a new power-bloc composed of a powerful executive, the police, the intelligence service and a restructured judiciary;
an increase in the autonomy of the state from the dominant classes (in particular from the TUSIAD) as well as global powers (in particular the U.S. and the European Union);
the emergence or creation of paramilitary forces supported and armed by the state;
a leadership cult created around the leader, i.e. Erdogan.

To these, we need to add two more features which should be emphasized as arguably the most salient and distinctive features of fascism: chauvinistic nationalism/racism and (attempts at) mass social mobilization aiming at reshaping society in accordance with a particular worldview. This worldview or ideology in the current Turkish context has taken the form of the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, which has its roots in the junta of the early 1980s.

With fascism – or if not fascism, a nevertheless very repressive regime – looming on the horizon, the critical question for the left is that of resistance.

Only a few days after the elections, the incumbent minister of the interior has given the first signals of what is awaiting Turkey in the upcoming months. He has already threatened the leaders of the pro-Kurdish party, HDP, with death and given orders to keep members of the main opposition party, the CHP, from funerals of the military personnel killed in the war against Kurdish militants, which insinuates an association between the CHP and so-called ‘terrorism’ – a common form of ‘othering’ by the AKP of the opposition since the end of the peace process in 2015 and during the most recent electoral campaign.

Left opposition
Under these circumstances, it is imperative that the left, ranging from the reformist social democrats to the communists, form a united front around an alternative social project which has the potential to bring together the broad segments of the population that have been hurt by the AKP’s rule.

This is not a time for sectarianism. This social project should be based on the following:
defense of secularism (not the rigid French laïcité and its bastard version of the republican era);
inclusion of and equal status for ethnic and cultural groups, and genders;
an end to the aggressive foreign policy and military interventions in neighbouring countries;
a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question;
an immediate end to the state of emergency and restoration of the liberal democratic institutions and rule of law;
an end to neoliberal restructuring and policies in favour of a more equitable redistribution of wealth.

Resistance based on such a political project cannot and should not be confined to electoral politics only. It should combine electoral politics with long-term grassroots politics involving creating solidarity networks and alternative spaces to the ones controlled by the regime. There are millions of young people in the country who have never lived under a different government and are thus unable to imagine a society beyond the one created by the AKP.

The new left politics requires a long-term and patient approach to build the structures through which a new, progressive social imaginary can emerge and ultimately by which state power can be claimed.

This process must also include the Kurdish movement that has risen in the past decade in particular as the most organized and progressive force in the Middle East. The HDP under the leadership of the currently imprisoned Selahattin Demirtas has made a genuine bid to embrace all ethnicities and the labouring classes in Turkey, and voice their concerns and desires within a left program. This should be taken seriously by skeptical Turks, who have not been able to break free from the nationalist propaganda with colonial undertones.

The most recent elections has made it clear that the natural ally of the Turkish social democrats under the current circumstances is the Kurdish left, not the ultra-nationalists nor the dissident Islamic conservatives they entered into an electoral alliance with.

The elections further empowered the AKP and its leader Erdogan despite a drop in the party’s popular vote. It also opened the way for the ruling party to strengthen and extend its grip over the Turkish state and society. In the face of deepening divisions exacerbated by the exclusionary politics of the AKP and an approaching economic crisis, it is quite likely that the authoritarian tendencies already inherent in the ruling-bloc will grow stronger.

The June 24th elections have led to tremendous (and rightful) frustration and disappointment among the progressive forces in the country. However, with fascism hovering above like the sword of Damocles, there is no time for grief nor hopelessness. It is time for a new politics that overcomes sectarianism and challenges the pillars of the current regime in favour of all the labouring and marginalized segments of Turkish society. While our intellect may fall into pessimism, the past struggles of the honest and brave people of Turkey (and Kurdistan) should keep our optimism alive.

Baris Karaagac teaches international political economy and economic development at Trent University and researches European social democracy, state theory, and Turkish political economy. He is the editor of Accumulations, Crises, Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism (2013).


“Erdoğan’dan itiraf: OHAL’den istifade ederek grevlere anında müdahale ediyoruz,” Cumhuriyet, 12 July 2017. Accessed on 28 June 2018.


[1] A speech by Erdogan from 11 July 2017 is noteworthy. At a meeting with foreign investors, Erdogan identified investors, entrepreneurs and international capital as the main pillars of development. He further stated: “When we came to power there was a state of emergency in Turkey but all factories were under the threat of strikes. Remember those days. But now we intervene wherever there is the threat of a strike by virtue of the state of emergency” (Cumhuriyet, 12 July 2018).

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

The Lasting Legacy of the Revolt that Shook France in 1968-Mitch Abidor’s New Oral History

Posted by admin On May - 10 - 2018 Comments Off on The Lasting Legacy of the Revolt that Shook France in 1968-Mitch Abidor’s New Oral History


The Merry Month of May
Mitch Abidor’s New Oral History Explores the Lasting Legacy of the Revolt that Shook France in 1968-Richard Greeman
Where Are the Riots of Yesteryear?

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the wave of radical revolts and revolutionary uprisings that startled the world in 1968 and which,  although ultimately crushed by the forces of reaction that dominate the world to this day, left in its wake rights so fundamental that we tend to take them for granted — sexual freedom, civil rights, women’s’ equality. Yet a half-century later these hard-won rights are under attack and people are once again rising to defend them.

Today in France, where in 1968 the student-worker rebellion led to a weeks-long of general strike, the students have once again occupied the universities, while the railroad workers, airline, and public service workers are striking against the counter-reforms being imposed by the autocratic, neoliberal President Macron. Following the example of May ’68, these diverse groups are hoping to unite and force the government to cease their attacks on public services and working peoples’ standard of living.

In the United States as well, a wave of spontaneous strikes by underpaid, overworked, idealistic “Red State” teachers backed by public opinion is making sweeping gains, and movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and other post-Occupy Wall Street anti-capitalist struggles are on the rise. Is there hope for real change?

For more read https://indypendent.org/2018/05/the-merry-month-of-may-a-firsthand-history-of-68-france/.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

‘Audacious movements have to start’-Interview with Samir Amin

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Interview with Samir Amin. By JIPSON JOHN and JITHEESH P.M.
THE following is the second part of the interview with Samir Amin. The first part was published in the Frontline issue dated May 11, 2018.

Along with the emergence and growth of neofascist forces, there are glimpses of a growing popular support for Left politics across the world. Even in metropolitan countries, which have been lulled into consensus politics for many years, Left politics attracts a considerable following. The popularity Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders achieved in the British and the American elections respectively is a well-known example. What are the prospects and challenges for the Left in the contemporary political scenario?

In my book Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?, I say that we cannot move out of this pattern of crisis without starting to move out of the system itself. It’s a gigantic challenge. The solution will not be found in a few years anywhere, neither in the North nor in the South. It will take decades and decades. But the future starts today. We cannot wait until the system has led to a gigantic war and ecological catastrophe to react. We have to react now.

This requires that the Left, the radical Left—or, I would say, the potential radical Left, which is much broader than the actual small number of heirs of the Third International, the communist parties and their milieu, much broader than that—acquires audacity. At present, there are resistance movements everywhere in the world, in some cases quite strong resistance movements. Working people are fighting perfectly legitimate struggles, but they are on the defensive. That is, they are trying to defend whatever they have gained in the past, which has gradually been eroded by the so-called neoliberalism. That is legitimate, but it is not enough. It is a defensive strategy which allows the power system of monopoly capital to maintain the initiative. But we have to move from there to a positive strategy, that is to an offensive strategy, and reverse the relation of power. Compel the enemy—the power systems—to respond to you instead of you responding to them. And take the initiative away from them. I am not arrogant. I have no blueprint in my pocket for what a communist in Austria should do, for what communists in China or those in Egypt, my country, should do.

But we have to discuss it frankly, openly. We have to suggest strategies, discuss them, test them and correct them. This is life and struggle. We cannot stop. I want to say that what we all need in the first place is audacity!
Now, it can start to change if the popular movements move from resistance to an aggressive alternative. That could happen in some countries. It has started happening, but only in some countries of Europe: Greece, Spain and Portugal. In Greece, we have seen that the European system defeated that first attempt. And the European people, even those who are very sympathetic to the Greek movement, have been unable to mobilise an opinion strong enough to change the attitude of Europe. That is a lesson. Audacious movements have to start, and I think they will start in different countries. I discussed this with, for instance, people from “La France Insoumise”.

I did not propose blueprints, but I generally pointed to strategies starting with the renationalisation of big monopolies and specifically financial and banking institutions. But I’m saying that renationalisation is only the first step. It is the precondition for eventually being able to move to the socialisation of the management of the economic system. If it stops at the level of just nationalisation, well then you have state capitalism, which is not very different from private capitalism. That would deceive the people. But if conceived as a first step, it opens the road.

Capitalism has reached a level of concentration of power, economic and therefore also political power, that is not comparable to 50 years ago. A handful, a few tens of thousands, of enormously large companies and a smaller handful, less than 20, of major banking institutions alone decide on everything. Francois Morin, a top financial expert who knows this field, has said that less than 20 financial groups control 90 per cent of the operations of the global integrated monetary and financial system. If you add to this some 15 other banks, you go from 90 per cent to some 98 per cent. It is a mere handful of banks. That is centralisation, concentration of power, not of property, which remains disseminated, but that’s of less importance; the point is how property is controlled. This has also led to control of political life. We are now far from what the bourgeois democracy of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was.

We have now a one-party system. With the social democrats having become social liberals, there is absolutely no difference between the conventional Right and the conventional Left. That means we are living in a one-party system, as is the case in the United States where Democrats and Republicans have always been one party. This was not the case in Europe, and therefore, capitalism in the past could be reformed. The social democratic welfare reforms after the Second World War were big reforms. In my view, they were progressive reforms even if they were associated with the maintenance of an imperialist attitude vis-a-vis the countries of the South. Now this is becoming impossible, and you can see it in the one-party system, which is losing legitimacy. But this also opens up a drift to fascism, to neofascism, which is on the rise everywhere, in the North and the South. This is one of the reasons why we have to dismantle this system before reconstructing it.

A Fifth International
Can these isolated struggles in different countries pose any challenge to generalised monopoly capital, which is truly international in character? What about the need for some kind of international cooperation or for the spirit of internationalism of the struggling masses?

I think that we need a Fifth International. We not only need a revival of internationalism as a fundamental part of the ideology of the future, but we also must organise it, that is, try to interconnect the struggles in different countries. Now, this international cannot be a reproduction of the Third. Because the Third International came after the victory of the October Revolution and a strong new state, the Soviet Union, and therefore survived, for better or worse, as a model for the others. We are not in such a position now, and therefore, we must imagine another pattern for the new international. If we look at the Second and Third Internationals—the Second up to the First World War, not after—they shared the idea of “one country, one party”—the correct party, all the others being “deviationists” or even “traitors”.

Moreover, when we look at the Second International, we discover that there was indeed one party in Germany, but this party was half-Marxian and half-Lasallean. There was one party in France, but it [was] really associated [with] three currents. There was one party in Britain, but it was a mix of trade unionism and Fabianism. So they were different from one another, but they all had in common their pro-imperialist colonialist attitudes, and as was proven in 1914, they worked with their bourgeoisies against one another. The Third International recognised only “one country one party”—the 21 conditions [for membership to Comintern]—all the others being traitors and revisionists.

Today, we are in a different situation. We have potentially radical, pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist forces, different in each country. We have to bring them together. We have to understand that what we share in common is more important than the differences among us. We have to discuss the differences and discuss them freely without arrogance and proclaiming: “I am right and you are wrong.” What we have in common is more important, and that should be the basis for reconstructing internationalism. I am saying that for the North and the South as well. Each has its specific conditions, and conditions are different from one country to another. The general view is similar but conditions are different. At any rate, this is my vision on how to start the process.

There are these ambiguities and we cannot avoid them. We shall have broad alliances with people who have never thought that socialism should be the answer to the crisis of capitalism. They will still think that capitalism can be reformed. So what? If we can work together against this capitalism as it is today, it will be a first step.
But we have to think ahead about how to create a Fifth International. I don’t have a blueprint for this. It is not about establishing a secretariat or organisational leadership bodies. First, the comrades have to be convinced of the idea, which is not always the case. Second, Europeans have abandoned anti-imperialist solidarity and internationalism in favour of accepting the so-called aid and humanitarian interventions, including bombing people. That is not internationalism. I think that national policies—we use this word because there is no other word—are still the result of struggles within the borders of countries. Whether these countries are indeed nation states or rather multinational states, they struggle within defined borders.

But the existing problems do not refute the idea that change has to start from the base and not from the top. And the base is the nation. Don’t expect a United Nations conference with all the governments of this world deciding anything good and effective. That will never happen. Don’t expect that even with respect to the European Union. It has to start from below. It is [about] changing the balance of forces within countries, which then starts changing the balance of forces at the international level. Therefore, the task for internationalist solidarity, that of a Fifth International, should be to minimise the conflictual aspects of these changes and make them complementary to one another. This is true internationalism.

Along with popular movements and class mobilisation, there are civil society movements and NGO (non-governmental organisation) movements going on all over the world. Different identity movements are also there. Are you in agreement with these civil society movements?

The protest against capitalism cannot just be a protest of movements against the consequence of neoliberal frontal attacks against their social interests. It must reach the level of getting politically conscious of the types of new wide social alliances which can replace the comprador alliances ruling our countries and the pro-imperialist alliances ruling the Western countries.

What is the relevance of Lenin’s idea of democratic centralism and the Communist Party as the vanguard of the proletariat? What are your thoughts on the form, content and shape of the revolutionary struggles of the present?

Probably, in Lenin’s time a one-party system was the only possible alternative to the old pattern of ruling. This is no more the case today. We have to rebuild a new international, an international of the working people and others. That means a number of peasants and segments of the society that go far beyond the proletariat. In India, you can see that if you do not have an alliance between the urban proletariat and the urban poor, who have no proletariat consciousness, and the vast majority of Indian rural society or peasants, then you cannot build resistance. These are different social forces and they can be represented by different political voices.
But we have to know what we share in common. The interests we share are more important than the differences. We need a wide political alliance that can mobilise people belonging to different classes but who are all victims of the imperialism of today.

China has achieved significant economic growth recently. Although it is still a communist state, its economic achievement is generally attributed to the success of its market-friendly approach since 1978. What is your take on the Chinese model of economic development?

We have to start from the Chinese Revolution. We had in China what I call a great revolution. There have been three great revolutions in modern history—the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution—along with some in other countries like Vietnam and Cuba. But let’s take the three major ones.

What I mean is that the project target of great revolutions looks far ahead of the agenda of what is immediately possible. The French Revolution said liberty and equality. The so-called American Revolution did not project this target. The word “democracy” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. And democracy was considered a danger. The system was invented to avoid this danger. The system did not change the relations of production. Slavery remained a decisive part of the system; George Washington was an owner of slaves. The French Revolution tried to connect conflicting values of liberty and equality. In the U.S., it was liberty and competition, that is, liberty under the condition of inequality. The Russian Revolution proclaimed: “Proletarians of all countries unite.” As Lenin said, “The revolution started in the weak link but should expand quickly”, that is, in a short historic time. He expected it would happen in Germany. History proved that he was wrong. It could have happened but it didn’t. Internationalism was not on the agenda of real history.

The Chinese Revolution invented the slogan “Oppressed peoples unite”, which means internationalism at a global level, including the peasant nations of the South, which is a step ahead. Widening internationalism! This also was not on the agenda of what could be achieved immediately. Bandung in 1955, which was an echo of the Chinese Revolution, was very timid. It didn’t achieve much. It was watered down by nationalistic forces and to a large extent remained in the frame of a bourgeois national project.

Precisely because the great revolutions were ahead of their time, they have been followed by Thermidors and restorations. Thermidor is not restoration; it means a step back in order to keep the long-term target but manage it in time with concessions. When was Thermidor in the Soviet Union? Maybe it was the year 1924 with the NEP [New Economic Policy], although [Leon] Trotsky said it was 1927. The Chinese say it happened with [Nikita] Khrushchev. There are good arguments for this, but other people think it occurred later with [Leonid] Brezhnev. However, the restoration of capitalism really came with [Boris] Yeltsin and [Mikhail] Gorbachev. At that point, the target of socialism was abandoned.
In China, we had a Thermidor from the start, from 1950. When Mao Zedong was asked “Is China socialist?”, he said: “No, China is a People’s Republic”, and building socialism is a long road; he used the Chinese expression “a thousand years”. So Thermidor was there from the start. There were two attempts to go beyond that Thermidor. The first one was the Great Leap Forward.

Then we had a second Thermidor with Deng Xiaoping. We still don’t have a restoration even now. Not just because formally the Communist Party has a monopoly on political power, but because some basic aspects of what has been achieved by the Chinese revolutionary process has been maintained. And this is very fundamental. I refer here specifically to the state ownership of land and its use by families in the frame of the revival of peasant agriculture, associated with the construction of a modern industrial system. These are the two legs on which China stands and moves. It defines a kind of state capitalism. Simultaneously, the Chinese project does not reject the idea of its participating in globalisation, which is dominated by capitalist/imperialist major powers. For sure, globalisation comes into conflict with the “two legs” Chinese strategy. They are not complementary; they are in conflict. China has entered into the globalisation of trade, and the globalisation of investments, but with state control, at least to a certain effective extent.

In addition, China is not operating within globalisation like those countries that accept the conditionality imposed through free trade, free investment and financial globalisation. China has not moved into financial globalisation. It has maintained its independent financial system, which is operated by the state, not only in form but in substance. My qualification is that China is not socialist, but it is also not capitalist. It contains conflicting tendencies. Moving towards socialism or capitalism? Most of the reforms that have been introduced, particularly after Deng Xiaoping, have been rightist, making room, and expanding room, for the capitalist mode of production and the emergence of a bourgeois class. But, so far, the other dynamic, identified by the “two legs” strategy”, has been maintained, and this conflicts with the logics of capitalism. That is how I situate China today.

The most important weaknesses of the Soviet Union were bureaucratic centralism, lack of inner-party democracy, not dictatorship of the proletariat but one-party dictatorship for the proletariat, etc. Prabhat Patnaik says that the option of multiple parties for the working class would help prevent one-party dictatorship. How do you analyse the desired and needed political structure of a socialist state against the background of the experience of the Soviet Union?
I have the highest appraisal and appreciation for Prabhat Patnaik. His arguments are most interesting, and usually correct. I think his criticism of the bureaucratic tendencies in the Soviet Union is fully correct. His criticism of the bureaucratisation of working parties in India is also a valuable contribution. We should see those problems case by case. It is different in India and different in Egypt and elsewhere.

You have written a lot about the emergence of political Islam, its ideology and nature. Although Islamists often utter rhetoric against Western culture, you have analysed how these forces are in close alliance with the imperialist forces. How would you explain the contemporary political landscape of the Arab world?

The U.S. was surprised by the explosion [anti-government uprising in 2011] in Tunisia and Egypt. They did not expect it. The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] thought that [President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali [of Tunisia] and [President Hosni] Mubarak [of Egypt] were strong, like their police forces. The French also believed this with respect to Tunisia. But these gigantic, chaotic movements in Tunisia and Egypt lacked a strategy, and that allowed them to be contained in the old structures and decapitated. But then, just immediately after these two explosions, the Western governments understood that similar movements could also happen elsewhere in the Arab countries for the same reasons.

They decided to “pre-empt” the “revolutions” by organising “coloured” movements controlled by them. They selected to that effect, supporting Islamist reactionary movements financed and controlled by their allies, the Gulf countries. The Western strategy was successful in Libya but failed in Syria.

In Libya, there was no “popular” mass protest against the regime. Those who started the movement were small Islamist armed groups who immediately attacked the army and the police and, the next day, called NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation], the French and the British, to rescue them! And indeed NATO responded and moved in. Finally, the Western powers have reached their goal, which was destroying Libya. Today Libya is much worse off than it was then. But that was the target. It was not a surprise. The target was to destroy the country.
The same is with Syria. In Syria, there was a growing civilian democratic popular movement against the regime because the regime had moved towards accepting neoliberalism in order to remain in power. But the West, the U.S. in particular, did not wait. The next day, they had the Islamist movements moving in and, with the same scenario, attacking the army and the police and calling the West in to help. But the regime was able to defend itself. The dissolution of the army expected by the U.S. did not happen. The so-called Syrian Free Army is a bluff. These were only a small number of people who were immediately absorbed by the Islamists. And now the Western powers, including the U.S., have to recognise that they have lost the war, which does not mean that the Syrian people have won it. But it means that the target to destroy the country through civil war and intervention failed. The imperialist powers have not been able to destroy the unity or the potential unity of the country. That is what they wanted to do with, of course, the approval of Israel—to repeat what happened in Yugoslavia. And they failed.

In Egypt, the U.S.—backed by the Europeans, who simply follow the U.S.—chose the Muslim Brotherhood as the alternative. Initially, on 25th January 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood, lined up with Mubarak against the movement. Only one week later, they changed sides and joined the revolution. That was an order from Washington. On the other side, the radical Left was surprised by the popular movement and unprepared; the youth was divided into many organisations, resulting in a lot of illusions and the lack of analytical and strategic capacity. Finally, the movement resulted in what the U.S. wanted: elections. In those elections, Hamdeen Sabahi, supported by the Left, got as many votes as [Mohamed] Morsi, that is around five million votes. It was the U.S. embassy, not the Egyptian electoral commission, that declared Morsi the winner!

The mistake of the Muslim Brotherhood was to think that they had achieved a final and total victory and that they could exercise their power alone. So they entered into conflict with everybody, including the army. If they had been smarter and had found an agreement with the army, they would still be in office and sharing power with the army. They wanted all the power for themselves and used it in such an ugly and stupid way that just a few weeks after their victory, they turned everybody against them.

This led to the 30th of June 2013: 30 million people demonstrating in the streets across the country against the Muslim Brotherhood! At that point in time, the U.S. embassy asked the leadership of the army to support the Muslim Brotherhood despite the people. The army decided instead to arrest Morsi and disband the so-called parliament, a non-elected body made up exclusively of people chosen by the Muslim Brotherhood! But the new regime is simply continuing the same neoliberal policy.
The book “Orientalism” published in 1978 by Edward Said was a path-breaking and widely debated postcolonial critique of the Eurocentric world view. However, it was your book “Eurocentrism” that brought the capitalist critique into the larger project of criticising the Eurocentric world view. What are your agreements and disagreements with postcolonialism and varieties of postmodernism, which are critical of modernity? Is there any notable change in the Eurocentric world view at present?

Orientalism is a cultural critique of imperialism. It is not a political and economic critique of imperialism. But the thing is that imperialism is not only cultural. It is basically a form of political domination and economic exploitation which leads to a cultural domination. And Orientalism looks only at the cultural aspect of the problem. And here Edward Said missed the most important aspects: political and economic.

Marx famously said that capitalism produces wealth at one pole and poverty at the other pole. This is also the case with the relationship between capitalism and workers and the relationship between core countries of the North and peripheral countries of the South. The dependency theory championed by scholars like you narrated the magnitude of this contradiction of capitalist development. How does it work in this era of neoliberal globalisation?

Capitalism has created massive pauperisation, particularly for 85 per cent of the people of the planet. And I think India is an example of that. Whatever high growth you have in India, perhaps only 15 to 20 per cent of the people benefit from it and 85 per cent of the people are pauperised. They not only benefit from it but suffer from it.

What is the legacy and relevance of Marxism today? Many people feel that though Marx’s analysis of capitalism is true, its political project is unviable. What do you have to say to these critiques? What sustains your belief in socialism?

I think Marxism is more important and relevant today than ever. Look back to The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848: no text published in the middle of the 19th century is as relevant as this to the present world. It describes many features of the capitalism of that time which are relevant to present conditions. We need Marx today. Of course, we should not just repeat what Marx said at his time, but we should continue his mode, that is giving Marxist answers to present challenges.

Third World Forum

Could you speak about the Third World Forum (TWF) of which you have been the director for around 40 years? What is its mission and priority?
The Third World Forum is an international independent association, recognised as such by the host country where it has its headquarters [Dakar, Senegal]. Founded in 1975, it is one of the oldest international, independent organisations of its type. It has been successful in adjusting to a changing world and seemingly has also succeeded in having a growing impact.

The TWF assembles concerned intellectuals committed not only to the pursuance and expansion of the debate on various possible development alternatives (itself considered in all its economic, social, political and cultural dimensions) but also to making a real impact on the society concerned through debates.

The TWF mobilises throughout the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America about 1,000 personalities whose well-known names are usually associated with creative thinking and capable of exhaustive probing and analysis of issues as well as with men and women who proved their worth through their contributions in the formulation of policies, either as experts and/or top civil servants or as leaders of thought and social movements.

The TWF has been active for 25 years, during which time it has been functioning as a network for intellectuals of three continents engaged in debates on various aspects of the “challenge to the development” of the peoples concerned. Since this “development” is in turn defined on the basis of the exigencies of a progressive social context (“development for the benefit of the masses”), that could foster enhanced democratisation of society in all of its dimensions (progress of political democracy, social rights, gender issues, etc.) in view of the mutual relationship between the internal social changes peculiar to the peoples and nations concerned and the prevailing trends in the global system. These debates concern macroeconomic strategies, the forms of microeconomic management, analysis of economic forces’ vision of society and sociopolitical movements, in other words, all aspects of social life, as they include all the major issues concerning the world system (the world economy, North-South relations, problems of the environment and those relating to national and regional security and geostrategy).

Positively, the objective of the TWF is to identify concrete alternatives and formulate policy recommendations in the various areas in which it conducts research. Those alternatives and policy recommendations should not be the product of teams of researchers studying the problems in isolation. The product must be the result of interactions between “theory and practice”, between the scientific analysis of the problems and challenges on the one hand, strategies of action and targets of actual social movements, on the other hand. In that spirit, the TWF operates as a “network” associating, on the one hand, organisations of what is usually called civil society and, on the other hand, centres of reflection where scientifically equipped thinkers pursue their research in response to the demands formulated explicitly (or implicitly, in some cases) by the movements.
That choice is fundamental for the TWF. It stems from the idea that the real world is not changed through pure “academic” reflections but basically through the activities of social actors. But, simultaneously, it considers that the more those actors are intellectually equipped to analyse the challenges, the more feasible, possible, efficient from the point of view of advancing towards required alternatives their formulation of targets for action and policy recommendations will be.

Jipson John and Jitheesh P.M. are associated with the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and contribute to various national and international publications, including The Wire, The Indian Express and Monthly Review. They can be reached at jipsonjohn10@gmail.com and jitheeshpm91@gmail.com
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Karl Marx, 200 years later-Ramin Jahanbegloo

Posted by admin On May - 5 - 2018 Comments Off on Karl Marx, 200 years later-Ramin Jahanbegloo


To ignore Marx the philosopher is to remain impoverished in a market-driven world

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, the author of Das Kapital and the leading spirit of the International Workingmen’s Association (known as the First International). In the words of Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright and writer, “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” If this statement is true in the case of only one thinker in the history of ideas, that person would certainly be Marx.

If Marx had not decided to change the world, he would have been remembered today only as a name on a gravestone in Highgate cemetery in London. Thus, there is no question why a thinker like Marx was at the same time a great influence on the most important thinkers of the twentieth century and a victim of a terrible misunderstanding for all those who made a revolutionary prophet out of him.

Not of gulags, killing fields

For over a century the fate of Marx’s thought was tied to that of Marxism. Even today, three decades after the fall of the Soviet empire, many still blame Marx for the cruel atrocities that happened around the world in the name of Marxism.


Karl Marx in five core ideas

However, to think and to repeat that Marx is responsible for the Stalinist gulags or the killing fields of Pol Pot in Cambodia would be nothing but pure nonsense. No doubt, he would have been one of the first victims of Stalin, Pol Pot or any communist dictator. As such, the responsibility for the horrors of communist totalitarianism would be on the shoulders of no other ideology than Marxism-Leninism, which turned the materialist and historicist philosophy of Marx into a revolutionary eschatology and in many cases into a thermodynamics of terror. As Voltaire says majestically, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

Despite what happened in the past hundred years in the communist countries, Marx remains an important thinker and a central figure of the modern canon around the world. In other words, he should be read closely, with precision and patience. As such, any loosely philosophical approach or iconic view of Marx would turn the critical edge of his analysis of modernity and capitalism into wrong principles of a wrong struggle.

This is not to say that Marx provides us with all the answers to all our problems. Marx knew it himself and that is, most probably, one of the reasons why his writings were so complex and so antithetical. On the one hand, Marx is a philosopher who believes in the autonomy of human beings, since he affirms that human beings make their own history, that the emancipation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves. On the other hand, he is obsessed by the Hegelian idea of making a total system, dominated by the universal law of social transformations in history. It was precisely this second Marx, the theorist of historical materialism, who was elevated by Engels, Lenin, Stalin and many others as a prophet of a secular religion called socialism. But, the great mistake of several generations of Marxists was to consider Marx’s philosophy of history as a readymade revolutionary recipe for action.


Must-read Marx

Raymond Aron, the French sociologist of the 20th century, once said: “It is really no more difficult to present Marx’s leading ideas than those of Montesquieu or Comte; if only there were not so many millions of Marxists, there would be no question at all about what Marx’s leading ideas are or what is central to his thought.”

As a matter of fact, Marx’s critical attitude in regard to the economic, social and political realities of his time was far from being just a medical prescription for future revolutions.

On the contrary, for Marx thinking rigorously and critically was an important matter. Marx walked almost daily to the British Museum to study the works of classical philosophers and economists rather than spending his time with the masses on the streets of London or Paris. The British Museum was the place where he was able to get away from the everyday debates of revolutionaries and ideologues and find a sanctuary where he could examine the social and economic causes of human misery.

Marx and Marxists

“I am not a Marxist,” Marx is said to have said, and it’s appropriate to distinguish Marx the philosopher and the economist from Marx the ideologue. Marx would have certainly never approved the statement of the Russian revolutionary, Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov, that “Marxism is an integral world outlook”. The truth is that Marxist revolutionaries such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc. adapted those ideas of Marx which suited best the needs of their revolutions and bureaucratic powers.

After 1917, the mythological charisma of Lenin followed by Stalinism inflicted on the communist parties around the world prevented any objective assessment of Marxian philosophy. For more than seven decades, in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, any allusion to Marx the philosopher and the author of the Manuscripts of 1844 would had provoked indifference or for the most only a bitter laughter.

When Soviet communism fell apart towards the end of the 20th century, nobody could say what would be the destiny of Marx beyond the demise of Marxist regimes. For a long period of time Marx was read and practised as the founder of a new faith. For some his church continues living on the ruins of the political and economic system he inspired. For others who suffered the communist regimes or simply believed in an anti-communist crusade, Marx continues to be a dangerous mind who should be banned from our schools and universities.

But now that the statues of Marx were torn down bitterly and indistinctively as those of Lenin and Stalin, what really remains of him for future generations of readers? The answer could be: a critical mind with the great intellectual courage of a Socratic gadfly who continues to defy our way of thinking and living in a market-driven world. If that is the case, then we should celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of a major thinker of human history who has found his place in the pantheon of great philosophers next to Kant, Schelling, Fichte and Hegel.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is Director, Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace, Jindal Global University, Sonipat
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

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