From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters
At around 1:00 a.m. Baghdad time on Jan. 3, in an illegal act of war authorized by Donald Trump, a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, along with his allied Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and a number of his aides, at Baghdad International airport. Trump’s unilateral action was shocking, no matter what one thought of Soleimani—and Marxist-Humanists regarded him as a genocidal war criminal. This event indicates a truly changed world.
It shows, for one, the freer hand U.S. imperialism has gained by not being dependent on Middle Eastern oil, as does the follow-up threat issued by Sen. Lindsey Graham to Iran’s oil fields.
In the wake of Soleimani’s demise, both states indulged in further threats. Their rhetoric reflected an utter lack of humanity. This inhumanity was horrifically manifest in the Iranian regime’s downing of a Ukrainian civilian airliner, resulting in the murder of 176 innocent civilians. The regime at first denied responsibility, and Trump cared little about it, either.
It was the Iranian people who cared, showing it by pouring into the streets of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, and a dozen other cities. They chanted “Death to the dictator,” “Soleimani is a murderer,” and “The Supreme Leader is a murderer! His regime is obsolete!” Hundreds of thousands risked everything to protest, completely overshadowing the obscene spectacle of Soleimani’s totalitarian memorial and its pathetic echo in the clueless bourgeois press.
In opposing imperialist war and counter-revolution, as principles, it is important to grasp the concrete specifics of this changed world. This can begin with the question: Who was Soleimani?
FROM REPRESSION TO IMPERIALISM
Soleimani rose to prominence as a counter-revolutionary Iranian hardliner. His early career included a role in suppressing Iran’s Kurds following the 1979 Revolution. In the wake of student protests for freedom in 1999, he and other military officials signed a letter threatening then-President Khatami if he didn’t destroy that movement. He also supported hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in crushing the Green Movement for democracy following the stolen Iranian election in 2009.
The recent protests in Iran, criticizing the government’s imperialist adventures at the expense of the people’s living standards, have implicitly been directed against Soleimani, as have anti-sectarian and revolutionary protests in Iraq and Lebanon. The counter-revolutionary murderousness of world and regional imperialisms, whether Trump’s or Soleimani’s, must not be allowed to overshadow the continuing struggles for freedom.
Trump’s assassination of Soleimani undercuts the Iranian people’s freedom struggle and may allow the Iranian regime to concentrate more of its forces against that struggle.
The Arab Spring, and its high point in the Syrian Revolution, offered a potential opening act of world revolution which must be comprehended philosophically, theoretically, and practically if the current stage of counter-revolution is to be opposed and defeated.
A CAREER IN SYRIAN GENOCIDE
As one Free Syrian activist stated, “We know that Trump didn’t do this for us. We like it anyway.” This sentiment was echoed by people all over the region who have suffered through Soleimani’s career of counter-revolution: first, as the architect of Iran’s regional imperialism; and second, at the most recent crossroads of world history, as world imperialism’s tool against the Syrian Revolution.
At both stages, Soleimani represented the utmost filthiness and deceit. As many have pointed out, the road to Quds (Jerusalem) taken by his fascist “Quds Force” is littered with the bones of peaceful Iranian protesters, Syrian revolutionaries, Yemeni Arab Spring activists, the Palestinians of destroyed Yarmouk Camp—the center of Palestinian life and culture he helped to obliterate, which is now being resettled by his minions—and, most recently, the hundreds of Iraqi Shi’a protesters shot down by his militias.
On each of the rare occasions that Soleimani’s forces lobbed ineffectual missiles at Israel from Syria, he knew he was sacrificing dozens of his fascist followers to Israeli retaliation. Their continuing loyalty was paid for with the spoils of ethnic cleansing of Syrians and Palestinians.
Soleimani never made one serious gesture toward the alleged goal of “liberating” Jerusalem. He left that job to the organizers of Holocaust-denying conferences in Tehran attended by the dregs of the world’s rabid Rightists and foolish “Leftists.”
Genocide, in theory and practice, was the essence of Soleimani’s career.
THE LIE OF ‘HE FOUGHT ISIS’
Soleimani found himself in the unexpected employ of the U.S. when the crimes of U.S. and Iranian imperialism in Iraq had inadvertently given birth to the monster ISIS. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was another consequential fascist who attempted to snuff out the idea of freedom embodied in the Arab Spring revolutions.
Both Soleimani and Baghdadi traced their origins to the immense brutality of the Iran-Iraq war, Soleimani through his own service and Baghdadi through family members’ service in Saddam Hussein’s security forces and the Iraqi military, members of which formed the core of ISIS’ leadership. Both ended up perversely joining extreme, fascist violence to the reactionary religious ideas that pervaded bourgeois society in its world crisis.
Soleimani’s replacement, Esmail Ghaani, parrots and defends the same fascist views—views that have been utterly discredited among most Iranians. One thing the death of Soleimani—and the redundancy of Iranian regional imperialism, now that it has served its genocidal, counter-revolutionary role—represents is the final descent of the “Islamic Republic of Iran” ideology into history’s underworld. There it will live on as an anti-human idea alongside Nazism, Stalinism, Gaddafism, and the Confederacy, to be dredged up by counter-revolutionaries—like a nightmare upon the brain of the living, as Karl Marx put it. Americans saw exactly this with Trump’s use of the Alt-Right in the 2016 presidential election.
The designation of Soleimani’s Quds Force as a terrorist organization by the U.S. last April was essentially a memo to an employee to fall in line or face termination. But like many self-inflated and overly ambitious henchmen, Soleimani had forgotten who he worked for. Trump and Soleimani found themselves in opposition but they are merely opposite sides of the same coin, not absolute opposites.
They are both manifestations of the changed world. Challenged by crises and revolutions, above all the Arab Spring, this crumbling system has turned increasingly to counter-revolution, reviving fascism, throwing up a series of militaristic nationalists like Trump, and doubling down on repression and the march to war.
Trump shocked a world that has become used to his self-indulgence, his ignorance, and his guarantee that those who do terrible wrongs—himself included—will not be punished. He makes no effort to oppose the ongoing genocide in Syria’s Idlib, for example, where Russian and Assad regime warplanes massacre tens of Free Syrian civilians every week. But to Trump that is a virtue, not an aberration, as the pardon of war criminal Eddie Gallagher shows.
The truth is that both Baghdadi and Soleimani fought the same reactionary battle against the revolutionary forces in the Middle East and the world. That they both died by the reactionary hand of U.S. President Trump, the ultimate beneficiary of their work, indicates that the world had changed around them as they blinded themselves with the bloodlust and nihilism that christened a new stage of counter-revolution. This changed world has yet to be comprehended by what remains of the Left.
If imperialist war and counter-revolution are to be defeated, this philosophic comprehension must come. If not, the reactionary world war that has been fought in situ against the Syrian Revolution shows all humanity’s future.
for The Resident Editorial Board, January 6, 2020
. “Iranian workers, youth reach for new radical beginnings,” Gerry Emmett, N&L, Jan.-Feb. 2018 and “The Arab Spring is ongoing,” N&L, Nov.-Dec. 2019.
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