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It was impossible not to miss the support for Bashar al-Assad that was on display in the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville. The press drew attention to the picture of Assad with the word “Undefeated” emblazoned beneath it on the Facebook page of James Alex Fields, the man who plowed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protestors killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. There is also the video clip of a couple of fascists saying that “Assad did nothing wrong” and calling for “dropping barrel bombs on those motherfuckers”, a reference to the counter-protestors.
A Washington Post article dated August 14 concluded that there was always an underlying affinity between the Baathists and fascism:
The far right’s love affair with Assad might not be entirely unpredictable. His Baath Party is fiercely nationalist and ethnocentric, focused on the promotion of Arab identity. One of the few political parties permitted by his regime and one of his staunchest supporters in the war is the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, which drew the inspiration for its logo from the swastika.
In my view, this analysis—while not entirely wrong—is inadequate to explaining the underlying reasons for racist and fascist support for Assad. Nor does it come to terms with the much broader appeal that Assad has had for many on the left who regard him not as a fascist but as a fearless anti-imperialist warrior who is being attacked by American and Saudi proxies because of his resistance to IMF-imposed austerity. This analysis is encapsulated in Canadian blogger Stephen Gowans’s new book Washington’s Long War on Syria:
Juxtapose U.S. prescriptions for how the Washington-led global economy would be structured against the economic program espoused in the founding document of the Ba’ath Party: Industry “will be protected together with the national production from the competition of foreign production.” Natural “resources, and means of transportation ” “shall be directly administered by the State,” in the public interest. Workers “shall take part in managing the factories and they will be given, [on top of] their wages, a share of profits to be determined by the State.” The Interim 1990 constitution of secular Arab nationalist Iraq declared that the “State assumes the responsibility for planning, directing, and steering the national economy.” These views were inimical to the economic policies Washington promoted as the world’s self-appointed leader. They did not fit with the global economic order Washington insisted on creating.
Like a Rorschach test, the Syrian dictatorship is open to multiple interpretations. To really get to the bottom of this complex and dialectically contradictory phenomenon of Baathist rule, it is necessary to place it into the context of two historical sea changes that have marked this epoch.
On Christmas Day, 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved. The hammer and sickle came down and Russia joined capitalist China in completing the turn that began during Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s rule. The term TINA that became ubiquitous back then meant that there is no alternative to capitalism. It reflected the reality that the entire socialist world became governed by the economic principles of the Austrian school, except for a recalcitrant and isolated Cuba and North Korea.
A victorious neoliberalism wasted no time in bringing the working class everywhere to heel. Allende’s Chile became a sacrificial lamb in 1973, setting into motion the kind of cutthroat logic that would weaken trade unions, socialist parties and the welfare state gains of the 1930s all across the planet.
Ten years after the fall of Communism, 19 jihadists hijacked four jet liners and flew three of them into the WTC and the Pentagon. Thus began the beginning of a new crusade against the enemies of Western Civilization. Like the Communist bogeyman, al-Qaeda was the perfect target of an Orwellian “five minutes of hate”. Governments everywhere committed to a war on terrorism that at the time put Putin’s Russia and the West on a new course of mutual self-interest, at least for the moment.
Is there any connection between the fall of the USSR, the 9/11 attacks and the support shown for Bashar al-Assad in Charlottesville? I would argue that there is. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, socialism lost the main “fact on the ground” that could serve as a counter-example to capitalism. While some on the left understandably were happy to see an end to bureaucracy, secret police and the general fecklessness of Stalinist politics that embraced a class collaborationism all too willing to sacrifice the interests of revolutionary societies like Vietnam in the 1950s or Nicaragua in the 1980s, young radicals were drawn to the example of a society not governed by profit–with warts and all. But after 1991, Communist Parties everywhere entered a steep decline, including the Middle East where those that remained tended to be attached to Cold War allies of the USSR like Syria’s government as if remoras riding on the back of a shark.
A vacuum was created that was all too easy for political Islam to fill. Additionally, the spread of neo-liberal politics across the Middle East and North Africa were a spur to the growth of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and worse when they were carried out by governments still cloaked in the mantle of socialism. While many on the left like Gowans viewed Washington’s hostility toward Libya and Syria as motivated by their heroic resistance to the IMF, the World Bank, NATO and other bastions of Western imperialism, the reality is far more complex.
In 2006, Andrew Solomon wrote an article in the New Yorker magazine about changes taking place in Libya that did not square with Gaddafi’s reputation as a fierce opponent of neo-liberalism. In an interview with Shukri Ghanem, one of his top aides, we learn about thinking among the Libyan elites:
“Sometimes you have to be hard on those you love,” he said. “You wake your sleeping child so that he can get to school. Being a little harsh, not seeking too much popularity, is a better way.” He spoke of the need for pro-business measures that would reduce bureaucratic impediments and rampant corruption. “The corruption is tied to shortages, inefficiency, and unemployment,” the Prime Minister said. “Cutting red tape–there is resistance to it. There is some resistance in good faith and some in bad faith.”
Nor was he inclined to defer to the regime’s egalitarian rhetoric. “Those who can excel should get more–having a few rich people can build a whole country,” he said. Qaddafi’s “Green Book” decreed that people should be “partners, not wage workers,” but it is not easy to make everyone a partner, the Prime Minister observed. “People don’t want to find jobs. They want the government to find them jobs. It’s not viable.”
Two years after this article was written, Dominique Kahn-Strauss, then the head of the IMF and eventually the rapist of a hotel maid, wrote shortly after his visit to Tripoli that his views on the Libyan economy were “identical” to Gaddafi’s.
While nobody could disparage the fine words Gowans cited from the Syrian constitution, we should never forget that deeds count more than words especially since the Soviet Constitution approved by Stalin in 1936 was considered to be the most egalitarian ever written.
Unlike such words about the state looking after the interests of the citizenry, Syria had embarked on a deeply neo-liberal turn that caused wide-spread suffering. Bassam Haddad summed it up in the spring 2012 edition of the leftist Middle East Research and Information Project:
After Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father in 2000, the architects of Syria’s economic policy sought to reverse the downturn by liberalizing the economy further, for instance by reducing state subsidies. Private banks were permitted for the first time in nearly 40 years and a stock market was on the drawing board. After 2005, the state-business bonds were strengthened by the announcement of the Social Market Economy, a mixture of state and market approaches that ultimately privileged the market, but a market without robust institutions or accountability. Again, the regime had consolidated its alliance with big business at the expense of smaller businesses as well as the Syrian majority who depended on the state for services, subsidies and welfare. It had perpetuated cronyism, but dressed it in new garb.
Since all of these economic changes taking place in Libya and Syria were carried out in the name of socialism, is it any wonder that poor and religiously conservative farmers, workers and those making a living in the informal economy would turn to the mosques for reassurance and material support, as well as a place where they could speak freely without being tortured? Founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is the prototypical Islamic organization that has emerged out of the wreckage left behind by the former Soviet Union. It was willing to carry the fight to the Israelis, even if poorly thought out, and also able to distribute material aid to the masses made possible by the largesse of Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In the past, the USSR might have played that role. In its absence, the Quran supplanted the Communist Manifesto.
So when the Arab Spring took a distinctly Islamist turn in 2012, there was a tendency to falsely label the resistance as an assault on state socialism when in fact the underlying motivation was to attack the privileges of the elite, including a couple like the Assads who were the subjects of a fawning profile in Vogue Magazine until controversy forced the editor to deep-six the article.
Meanwhile, as these events unfolded in the Middle East, neo-liberalism created a dynamic in Europe that also acted in favor of the Assad dictatorship. Despite the populist anger directed at the European Union, its architects and ruling circles were pursuing the same exact policies that had turned Syria into a deeply class-divided society. That many on the left could not see the similarities between EU austerity and that visited on the Syrian poor was a colossal failure of intellect and class solidarity.
In 2005, Putin was on course to deepening free trade between Russia and the European Union even though there were tensions between Baltic states’ territorial claims and the Kremlin. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU, said, “Russia and the European Union are not yet on their honeymoon but it is true love.” Within a few years, Russia was backing off from economic ties to the West. Likely the outcome over the West’s siding with oligarchs friendly to its interests in trouble spots like Ukraine and Georgia, Putin began to have second thoughts about joining the WTO—an indication that the EU ties would also be aborted. Unlike China that relied on the exports of manufactured goods, Russia’s emphasis was on supplying fossil fuels to Europe, an economic strategy that joining WTO would not help leverage.
Despite this, Russia was still open to cooperation with the EU in 2010 on the eve of the Arab Spring. Driven by Putin’s eagerness to draw closer to Germany, he was ready to sign an agreement drawing the Kremlin closer to the EU as long as his security concerns could be met. It was no accident that the authoritarian leader found common ground with the newly elected Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy whose center-right policies were similar to his own.
A year later, the Kremlin had decisively drawn back from the EU. It had embarked on a new economic bloc called the Eurasian Union that was meant to provide an alternative for Ukraine and other former republics of the USSR. The Eurasian Union and the BRICS were widely seen by the left as a challenge to Wall Street hegemony and a way to avoid neo-liberal economic policies. Unfortunately, there had not been much thought given to the class divisions inside the BRICS nations that were responsible in part for the toppling of the Workers Party in Brazil and disaffection from the ANC in South Africa that had ordered cops to shoot 17 striking workers to death in Marikana in 2012.
Looking at class contradictions in Syria or China had little interest for those on the left whose unit of analysis was the nation-state rather than social classes. They saw the rivalry between Washington and Moscow as an cataclysmic showdown between national development carried out by strong men like Putin or Assad and a “globalism” that would stunt economic growth under IMF and World Bank constraints.
As this analysis grew more and more commonplace on the left, it was only a matter of time that the right would take up the same themes since it was naturally amenable to nationalist economic development led from the top by charismatic leaders who brooked no opposition.
Indeed, a look at Nazi Germany’s state-sponsored benefits program might even persuade one that the country was fairly enlightened, even if the Jews got the shitty end of the stick. Hitler established the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (NSV) in 1933, which meant “National Socialist People’s Welfare”. Once it was established, all private charity groups were abolished since they posed a challenge to the state’s authority.
Wikipedia supplies useful data on the role of the NSV. It reports that in the footsteps of Otto von Bismarck, who was the first head of state in history to initiate health insurance and retirement pensions, Hitler’s party was magnanimous. The NSV instituted old age insurance, rent supplements, unemployment and disability benefits, old-age homes, interest-free loans for married couples, and topped it off with a healthcare insurance system that would likely make Bernie Sanders green with envy.
The Office of Institutional and Special Welfare, a department of the NSV, provided travelers’ aid at railway stations, relief for ex-convicts, assistance to disabled, and relief for the elderly, homeless and alcoholics. Finally, the NSV organized an annual drive to collect funds for the poor under the slogan: “None shall starve or freeze.” As Hitler told a reporter in 1934, he was determined to give Germans “the highest possible standard of living.”
May I suggest that such programs are not “socialist”? When Marx and Engels wrote about socialism, they had the full development of the human being in mind. This included the right to speak freely without fear, to engage in politics or art or even spiritual journeys without interference from the state. In fact, the whole goal of socialism was to lead to the disappearance of the state as Engels points out in “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State”:
The state, therefore, has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies which have managed without it, which had no notion of the state or state power. At a definite stage of economic development, which necessarily involved the cleavage of society into classes, the state became a necessity because of this cleavage. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity, but becomes a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as inevitably as they once arose. The state inevitably falls with them. The society which organizes production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong–into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze ax.
Finally, the tendency of groups like Golden Dawn, Jobbik, UKIP in England, the National Front in France and individuals like David Duke, Richard Spencer and Matthew Heimach must be seen as the natural outcome of the deeply entrenched Islamophobia that took root in 2001. Originally, the target of hate was al-Qaeda but more recently ISIS replaced it as the bogeyman to be feared and despised.
With all proportions guarded, the massive support for military solutions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, the Philippines and Myanmar has become a new Crusade with both liberals and neo-Nazis determined to see all signs of “jihadi” resistance destroyed. For the neo-Nazis, Christian identity is a driving force just as it was nearly a millennium ago. Islamophobia helps to unite people under a strongman like Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin who can count on rightwing Christians as a last-ditch base of support. Eric Draitser reported in CounterPunch on March 24, 2017 how Alexander Dugin has helped to connect elements of the right and the left in such a new crusade under the banner of Russian orthodoxy and “Eurasianism”. These kinds of developments have been taking place under the radar until recently. Let’s hope other investigative journalists pay as much attention as Draitser.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s ousted Rasputin figure, has championed a coalition between Christian fundamentalists in the USA and the Russian Orthodox Church against “Islamic fascism”. In 2015, Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, met in Moscow with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. While German fascism was not particularly inspired by the Church, we should never forget that in Spain the Catholics were a key element of Franco’s assault on democracy and working-class power. Graham would likely support a fascist dictatorship in the USA even though objective conditions preclude this for the foreseeable future.
If you want to see the purest expression of the synthesis of Christian-based Islamophobia and fascist politics, look no further than Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Workers Party who was one of the key organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Heimbach, like Spencer, has obviously studied “Mein Kampf” and other fascist “classics”. Keenly aware of the possibilities of a new international movement bound together by Christianity and faux socialism, Heimbach wrote an article on his website titled “Forging the Traditionalist International: Uniting in St. Petersburg” that gives you a good handle on the grand strategy of this burgeoning international fascist movement that looks to Trump, Putin and Assad as its primary benefactors:
The first Russian International Conservative Forum that was held as a forum and staging ground to bring together nationalist Russians including Cossacks, Golden Dawn, the German NPD, former British National Party leader Nick Griffin, Forza Nuova and other groups to find common ground to begin building a world-wide alliance to find ways to work together to advance the goals of Faith, family and folk.
Each of these political parties and groups that came to the forum have stated objectives in their respective manifestos in retaking their nations from the influence of globalist Jewish bankers, NATO, the European Union and from cultural Leftism that has overtaken Europe in the post-war period.
This meeting in Saint Petersburg allowed nationalists and Traditionalists to share ideas with one another and lay a groundwork for friendship for future alliances, a very similar start to the beginning on the Communist International. The success of European nationalist political parties advances the interest of Europeans and also those of Russia.
To the Russians, the dissolution of NATO and the EU would stop the most obvious threat to Russian sovereignty of the 21st century. America and the EU are both working to advance the globalist agenda of destroying nations, religion and folkish culture in order to bring about a new world order of enslaved consumers that is beholden to the Jewish elite and their various lackeys that have betrayed their own people for a few shekels and pieces of silver.
The toppling of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, and many other regimes that stood against the idea of a Zionist plantation planet stand as examples of what happens if the globalists are allowed to win. The leaders of the people will be removed and in their place various puppet regimes very similar to the banana republics of South America where foreign business and banking interests control every facet of the nation.
The globalist overthrow of the Ukrainian government in an artificial AstroTurf coup shows that these forced regime changes are not limited to the Third World, they are coming to Europe and any place where a people has decided to reject the advances of the elites. If nationalists and Traditionalists do not come together to fight the common foe, our enemy will pick us off one nation at a time until no shred of organic society remains on the face of the Earth.
The support for Bashar al-Assad on display in Charlottesville should have been a wake-up call for the left. After six years of war in Syria, it is high time that it begins to subject its assumptions about Assad’s “anti-imperialism” to the withering scrutiny it deserves. Karl Marx once said that “But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.”
If there is anything that needs “ruthless criticism”, it is the facile acceptance that the likely victory of Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad in Syria is a victory for the working class. Instead, it will encourage counter-revolutionary state terrorism in the Middle East either from the Egyptian or Israeli military who are both pledged to support the “war on terrorism”. The path toward a fascist-inspired new Crusade victory is by no means guaranteed. It is urgent that the left shake the cobwebs out of its brain and begin to look at these issues with the clarity they deserve or else we may be doomed.