It seems that every time we turn around there is another international crisis revealing just how incoherent, inconsistent, and inchoate is Leftist thought. The recent foray into Syria by the Russian military has brought this reality into focus as the Left is yet again divided on whose imperialism is more progressive: America and their allies or Russia and theirs? For the simple fact that American imperialism has a strategic interest in the future of Syria we have Leftists all over the western world celebrating Russian interventionism as a supposed solution to the crisis. And for the simple fact that Russian imperialism has a strategic interest in the future of Syria we have Leftists all over the western world advocating American interventionism as a supposed solution to the crisis. By the very nature of the argument those who are advocating these positions are claiming that the ruling class that garners their respective favor is an agent of “progressive” change. How about that! An imperialist ruling class as a revolutionary force!
One of the best renowned leftist writers on geopolitical conflicts is Patrick Cockburn, and he has become quite the supporter of Russian military imperialism, “One of the many problems in ending, or even de-escalating these crises, is that these self-interested players are strong enough to fight their own corners, but too weak to ever checkmate their opponents. This is why the involvement of Moscow could have a positive impact: Russia is at least a heavy hitter, capable of shaping events by its own actions and strongly influencing the behavior of its allies and proxies”. In the same article from which the above quotation is lifted Cockburn makes the argument that the Cold War was highly beneficial to the world. Nothing like millions dead in Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iran, Nicaragua, Honduras, Argentina, Guatemala, Angola, Congo, Greece, India, Pakistan, and so on, to provide the world with Cockburn’s much touted benefits.
Also, what else could civilization have done with the tens of trillions of dollars spent by the Soviet Union and the United States on military competition? Surely all that wealth was equitably distributed within each society, not to mention that investment in products that can only be used once are excellent stimulators of economic growth and not at all inherently wasteful. Plus, what would the developing world’s worst regimes have done were the Soviet Union not to have produced all that weaponry that was stolen and profitably redistributed to conflicts zones around the world after the collapse of the socialist republics? Not to mention that the world’s most prolific arms producers are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
The truth of the matter is that one of the primary contradictions of global capitalism is between the masses constituting the international working class and the various imperial ruling classes, whether those ruling classes are American, British, Russian, Syrian, Chinese, Iranian, Israeli, or Saudi. These competing imperialisms have numerous aligned interests, just as all capitalists share the same aligned interests in advancing the aims of global capitalist hegemony, but the inherently competitive logic of capitalist imperialism generates sufficient advantage seeking behavior as to divide these imperialisms when it comes to such a conflict as exists in Syria. Western interventionism into Afghanistan and Iraq, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, destabilized all of Western Asia, undermining the traditional allies of their imperial competitors, both in the region and outside it, like Iran and Russia. It was one thing when western imperialism was overthrowing neutral states such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but now that the regional instability has produced rebellion and revolution the imperial ruling classes of Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc. have recognized the threat to their own internal stability, regional and/or geopolitical interests, and they are undertaking direct action to protect those interests.
Unfortunately, the entire dialogue surrounding these issues has devolved into a bitter binary wherein one is relegated to choosing to support one imperialist ruling class over another. Reacting to the support for western interventionism by some on the Left others have taken to advocating Russian and Iranian interventionism as a kind of anti-imperialist bulwark. We can support the Syrian people in their struggle to liberate themselves from the clutches of a murderous dictatorship, while at the same time condemning any potential imperialist intervention. Any Syrian organization accepting aid from the imperialist camp, regardless of what faction within the imperialist camp from which they have received said support -whether American, Russian, Iranian; etc.- is not a genuine revolutionary organization. We do not have to support the Taliban in order to oppose continued American military involvement in that country. Nor to recognize that in terms of total wanton violence, the amount of bloodshed committed by the Islamic State is greatly outweighed by that committed by the Assad regime. We can say no to imperialism, no to the Islamic State, and no to Assad. We can, and we must, if the Left is ever to build a genuine internationalist solidarity movement.