BRITAIN’S DEFENCE Secretary Michael Fallon recently said that NATO “is waking up to the challenge of Kremlin aggression and could confront Vladimir Putin’s forces in a showdown” within two years.
Fallon assured MPs that former general Sir Richard Sherriff’s prediction of war with Russia in 2017 was “too extreme”. So that’s alright then.
These comments might seem absurd were it not for the context of a new cold war in which Russia has faced economic sanctions and the increase of NATO air, sea and land forces stationed on its borders. These measures are designed to contain Russia and surrounding it with a belt of NATO-aligned states and military bases.
Such moves have been shaped by the USA’s strategy of containing its Eurasian imperialist rival Russia. In return Russia has sought above all to preserve its client Assad, to exert influence on the wider Middle East through Iran’s alliance with Assad and others, and to preserve access to its naval base on the Mediterranean at Tartus.
And it is in Syria where the tensions between the world’s rival imperialists are most on show.
The protracted nature of the Syrian conflict has been the result of the escalation of hostilities between the imperialist powers; between the USA and its NATO allies on the one side and Russia on the other. The weakening of US hegemony in the Middle East has in turn encouraged the USA’s own nominal allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar to act increasingly autonomously in pursuit of their own regional ambitions.
Putin’s blood-drenched defence of the Assad dictatorship has to be seen as part of this developing inter-imperialist rivalry, one in which all the global powers are pursuing reactionary objectives, however much they might claim to be defending “democracy” (in NATO’s case) or “national sovereignty” (in Russia’s). And whatever limited aid either imperialist bloc might occasionally provide to their rivals’ immediate victims in the course of pursuing these aims, this does not make those aims any less reactionary or self-interested.
Western imperialist policy during the Arab Spring in particular has been characterised by belated verbal support for progressive revolutionary movements and even this only where it reinforced its interests in the region. If faced with the choice of supporting a democratic movement or siding with an important ally, the imperialists’ geo-strategic interests will always prevail. This is most clearly the case with the Saudi suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain, or the Saudi invasion of Yemen today. Or Israel’s horrific attacks on the population of Gaza (with 504 children killed) that did not warrant a protest, let alone the halting of logistical support which could have stopped it.
The “democratic” imperialisms of the West are no more the champions of democracy than the “authoritarian” imperialisms of Russia or China are the champions of national sovereignty (Chechnya? Tibet?).
Faced with the threat of war between the imperialist powers, socialists should reject all and any attempts to give imperialist governments a mandate to pursue military action, even if the ostensible purpose of such action is in support of progressive aims, or of forces waging entirely legitimate struggles of their own. The struggle of Syrians against the vile Assad dictatorship and its Russian backers will not be the genuine reason for any direct NATO intervention. Nor would it actually help these aims. All imperialist powers seek democratic or humanitarian pretexts to cultivate popular support as cover for their own aggressive designs.
It should be a principle for revolutionary socialists that we are for the defeat of our own imperialist ruling class in any conflict with any other imperialist power: “the main enemy remains at home”. In a period of mounting rivalry between the global imperialist powers, this principle can become a practical necessity very quickly.
We stand closer now to the danger of military clashes between the two major nuclear armed imperialist powers than at any time since the 1980s. Such a clash could have incalculable consequences and cause immense suffering, far greater even than the terrible suffering already endured by the Syrian people at the hands of Putin and Assad.
It should be clear from the above that we should not only denounce the duplicitous and hypocritical role of Western imperialism in the whole Arab Spring in general, but also categorically reject the idea that the British military can be an agent for progressive goals in Syria or anywhere else.
If the labour movement worldwide had immediately taken up the cause of the Syrian revolution and mobilised to collect and transmit aid, including arms, had it clearly and unequivocally opposed both what Russia was doing in Syria and what Western imperialism was doing in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, then things might have been very different.
When either imperialist bloc undertook its bloody attacks on civilians elsewhere, it would have been possible to initiate “workers’ sanctions” against it, along the lines of those imposed by trade unionists globally against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, or of the actions of the British trade unions that undermined British imperialism’s attempted interventions into the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Had this course of action been followed, then around the world a mass anti-war movement similar to that of 2001-04 could have come into existence, able to check the plans of the warmongers both East and West. And not only that, but it would have created the potential for struggles to remove the warmongers from power altogether, in the only real answer to imperialism: socialist revolution.
It is not too late to start again – or more correctly there is no alternative to doing so – unless we wish to be dragged remorselessly and helplessly towards another world conflagration.