From the May-June 2017 issue of News & Letters
Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2017-2018:
Philosophy and revolt confront Trump’s drive to fascism
I. Trumpism as an excrescence of world capitalism’s crises
II. The capital relation
III. U.S. forces of revolt as reason; philosophy as force of revolution
IV. International crises
V. Lies, facts and ground
VI. The Russian Revolution, 100 years ago and its meaning today
IV. International crises
On March 30, in coordinated statements, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN ambassador Nikki Haley announced that, in Haley’s words, U.S. policy toward Syria was “no longer to focus on getting Assad out.” This was not unexpected.
The green light Trump had already given Assad’s ally, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, for the destruction of Free Aleppo, its revolutionary people and their institutions, spoke more clearly than any diplomat. At the same time, we have seen the continuing escalation of U.S. bombing of Syria, Iraq and Yemen result in hundreds of civilian deaths under the guise of “anti-terrorism.” Here is the kept promise of a racist election campaign.
These massacres complement Trump’s attempts to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. He has viewed all Muslims (including those who might be Muslim by virtue of name or birthplace) as being compromised by their religious identity.
On the morning of April 4, the genocidal Assad regime attacked the civilians of the Free Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib with deadly and illegal sarin gas. At least 91 people died, including 33 children. Whole families were decimated, with anguished survivors transformed into mourners in a few cruel minutes. To add to the horror, Russia bombed the hospital where the injured had been taken.
These attacks were meant to amplify the regime’s leaflet drops over revolutionary areas: You have been abandoned by the world. Surrender or die.
The attacks exposed the lie that the world had been living since August 2013, when Assad’s sarin massacre of over 1,400 in East Ghouta led to a “deal” between the U.S. and Russia to “turn over” Syria’s supply of chemical weapons. Far from justice, this deal was a green light for attacks with all conventional weapons and an opening for Russia to come to Assad’s rescue with air power in 2015, which now sees Russia burning out Free Syrian towns with phosphorus, thermite and napalm.
TRUMP FEARS THE FREEDOM MOVEMENTS
It is the people’s revolutionary struggles that must form the ground for approaching these developments, including Trump’s unexpected Tomahawk missile attack on the Syrian military base from which the sarin attack was launched. It was a limited response—Assad was warned of it by Russia, and a few days later the airstrip was back in action.
Trump was forced to this response by the pressure of massive, unprecedented protests like the worldwide women’s marches and airport occupations, which have continued most recently in the “Show Your Taxes” demonstrations April 15 and the April 22 March for Science. These protests against his misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and robber baron policies have given anti-Trump elements of the ruling class the spine to oppose him more narrowly over his and his closest advisers’ shady ties with Putin.
Trump was forced to respond to Putin’s flagrant breaking of the unprincipled and false 2013 deal with President Obama. Despite some harsh rhetoric, though, his attention soon wandered to North Korea. Meanwhile Assad and Putin escalated their bombing campaign, attempting to annihilate the liberated section of Daraa as they did of Aleppo and continued their campaign of ethnic cleansing.
At the same time the Syrian Revolution persists. It continues to oppose Assad and ISIS/al-Qaeda. The absolute commitment to human-to-human communication found in places like Kafranbel, Maarat al-Numan, and Aleppo—forged by Muslim and “secular” revolutionaries alike—has been a form of theory in itself, an expression of revolutionary humanism.
HUMANISM OF THE SYRIAN REVOLUTION
That essence of the Revolution was seen on April 16 when a terrorist car bomb (most likely sent by ISIS) killed over 30 Syrian rebel fighters along with over 70 civilian evacuees from Assad loyalist areas. In the wake of this, Free Syrian Army fighters joined with civilian White Helmets, as well as Assad loyalist soldiers, to rescue victims. No distinction was made between Sunni and Shia, and both Free Syrian and pro-Assad victims were treated at nearby Syrian American Medical Society hospitals.
It was the vision of a different Syria made real in the face of absolute terror. It’s no surprise. Free Syrians have stated no less than this clearly and relentlessly for six years.
Nothing more starkly reveals how deeply today’s ideological retrogression has polluted the Left as the influence of those who defend Assad as “anti-imperialist” and deny the existence of revolution in Syria.1For one, John Bellamy Foster reduces the entire Arab Spring to a component of “a series of U.S.-led wars and regime change in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and North Africa” and “the attempt … Continue reading It reveals a Left that refuses to surrender to capitalism but surrenders anyway by implicitly abandoning revolution as a realistic goal. It perceives no positive in the negative because it assumes the masses to be backward as a given. It sinks into pure negativity—the mirror image of Trump—defining itself entirely by its opposition to U.S. imperialism.
They therefore thoughtlessly pass again and again from one position to its opposite. This section of the Left opposes the alt-right yet emulates them, mainlining the same type of fake news as Trump followers, even touting some of the same articles, as long as they say what these self-declared anti-imperialists want to hear. In their anti-imperialist zeal they parrot the propaganda of a competing imperialism—Russia and its mouthpiece RT (Russia Today)—and tout the authority of former military officers and CIA agents who proclaim Assad’s innocence and the nonexistence of the revolution.
They bounce from proclamations that Hillary Clinton is a far worse imperialist than Trump, to rushing after the Nov. 8 election to take over anti-Trump marches. Denouncing Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airbase—while keeping silent on his killing civilians by bombing schools, mosques and houses in Syria and Iraq—they find time to mention how much worse Clinton would have been and to portray Trump as not much different from Obama.
The deadliest weapon of mass destruction in the Syrian conflict has been the lie that there is “no good alternative” to Assad, echoing the bourgeoisie’s “no alternative” to capitalism. As never before, the necessity for revolutionaries to be motivated by an idea of what we are for, the social revolution, and not just by what we are against, becomes clear and pressing.
The U.S. Women’s March reaching out to Syrians was an important reiteration of a connection that has existed since the Arab Spring revolutions began at the same time as the Georgia, U.S., prisoner strike, and soon thereafter Egypt’s Tahrir Square found a mutual affinity with the Madison, Wisc., workers’ occupation. (See “Women for Syria,” p. 2.)
HUMAN SOLIDARITY VS. FASCISM
The state of Europe today illustrates the central importance of this kind of revolutionary solidarity. This is seen with Brexit in the UK and its ensuing “carnival of reaction” targeting foreign workers. It is seen in the threat of Marine Le Pen and the fascist National Front in the French elections (see “French elections,” p. 12). It is seen in the widespread rise of the Far Right supported by Putin and Trump and sometimes funded by Russia. A fascist narrative threatens to close off the idea of human solidarity altogether.
Europe’s future is haunted by the specter of the Brexit-era UK and of Hungary, where the Right has perhaps gone furthest in achieving state power. In 2016, Britain sent a shock through world politics by unexpectedly passing the racist, anti-immigrant referendum on leaving the European Union.
Poet George Szirtes, who immigrated to Britain after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, said recently that the Leave campaign’s “rhetoric called forth certain demons….It called forth the firebombers. It called forth those who immediately set upon elderly widows of French and German birth who had lived in the country for decades and taunted them by asking when they were going home. It called forth the teenagers on the Manchester tram who demanded a Black American get off it. It called forth the murderer of Jo Cox.…
“What I am suggesting is that that which was successfully suppressed after [the racist] Notting Hill [riot] in 1958 was inarticulate and still struggling for maneuver in 2016 when it finally found an outlet in the referendum campaign. The end of empire had found its cry. Hence the fury. Hence the demons.”2Address to a Southampton University symposium on “The legacy of Brexit: Mobility and citizenship in times of uncertainty,” March 31, 2017. Posted at … Continue reading
That rage at the end of empire is about as far from socialism as one can get. Even if, at times, it uses a version of “anti-capitalist” language. Yet a significant part of the Left remains deluded about the politics of Brexit, as if it held some progressive aspect that a formula could release.3For example, from the UK Socialist Worker: “It’s not true that the main factor behind the Leave vote was racism against migrants—as polls keep showing. It was a way of punishing the elite and … Continue reading It is a “Marxism” reduced to anti-establishment fetishism. It alienates this Left from that majority of youth, national minorities and workers who opposed Brexit. It fumes as the Right entrenches itself in state power.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HISTORIC MEMORY
False narratives of history result from denying the historic moments of human solidarity, which have created high points of revolution. In Europe this can be symbolized by Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz party government’s removal of a modest statue of revolutionary thinker Georg Lukacs from a public park. On the prodding of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party with which they share power, they are doing this—not so much because Lukacs was a Marxist but, even more shamefully, because he was a Jew.
By eliminating his memory, they would like to wipe out the truth of Hungary’s 1919 revolution, and even more so of 1956, when Lukacs, after decades of capitulation to Stalinism, joined in the people’s uprising against Russian “Communist” imperialist rule. As Dunayevskaya pointed out, it was the Hungarian Revolution that brought Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts out of the archives and helped make a philosophic category of Marx’s humanism.
In place of Lukacs’ image, Hungary’s current rulers would place a medievalist statue of St. Stephen of Hungary, the alleged founder of their state. Europe’s Right employs such images both to summon up thoughts of the Crusades, and to falsify the real history of class struggle—as if centuries of mass movements of workers, women, national minorities, anti-imperialists, and others had never fought for freedom and won concessions from these unholy states.
With the fall of Communist Party rule in 1989, the introduction of “free market” policies opened space for the old anti-Semitic Right to present itself as representative of “the people,” the real Hungary, which was being exploited by globalization. In other countries in Europe this has led to both ideological confusion and genuinely interesting political developments: Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, “Unsubmissive France” today.
In Hungary it led to the revival of anti-Semitism, to a paramilitary “Hungarian Guard” attached to Jobbik that has hid behind law-and-order rhetoric to attack the minority Roma population, and to a xenophobia that has hunted down and brutally beaten immigrants and has begun to isolate them in shipping containers, a form of torture that it is feared will spread to other countries. Oozing from that milieu comes Trump’s Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka, who as a Hungarian political leader publicly endorsed a violent anti-Semitic militia.
Yet Hungary 1956 remains a beacon, both for its revolutionary workers’ councils and for its revival of Marx’s humanism. At such a moment, revolutionary thought becomes the historic memory if it comes together with current subjects of revolution.
|↑1||For one, John Bellamy Foster reduces the entire Arab Spring to a component of “a series of U.S.-led wars and regime change in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and North Africa” and “the attempt by the United States, NATO and Saudi Arabia to bring down the Assad regime by supporting surrogate pro-Salafist forces” in his tediously pretentious “Neofascism in the White House,” April 2017 Monthly Review.|
|↑2||Address to a Southampton University symposium on “The legacy of Brexit: Mobility and citizenship in times of uncertainty,” March 31, 2017. Posted at https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2017/04/02/george-szirtes-the-immigrant-at-port-selda/.|
|↑3||For example, from the UK Socialist Worker: “It’s not true that the main factor behind the Leave vote was racism against migrants—as polls keep showing. It was a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politicians. There’s an anti-establishment feeling in Britain that can be turned into resistance” (“Don’t lump together Brexit and Trump,” Feb. 21, 2017). As if the non-Marxist and deliberately vague terms “elite,” “mainstream” and “anti-establishment” constituted a serious theoretical proof of something! And the clause about polls is absurd in light of concrete reality.|