Let us be clear, over the issue of war in Afghanistan, the British establishment has been proven wrong, and the arguments made by the Stop the War Coalition at the time have been vindicated by events.
Over the question of the invasion of Iraq, the British establishment has been proven wrong, and the arguments made by the Stop the War Coalition at the time have been vindicated by events.
Over the question of the overthrow of the Libyan state, the British establishment has been proven wrong, and the arguments made by the Stop the War Coalition at the time have been vindicated by events.
The Stop the War Coalition is indeed a coalition of people with different views united around the single aim of opposing those particular British military adventures that have arisen from the so-called war on terror. It therefore includes pacifists, it also includes those who believe that the British state does have a legitimate role in using armed force to protect and promote British territory, citizens and interests, but are not convinced that the particular military actions proposed do represent Britain’s best interests. It includes some who believe that the British state should be overthrown in a socialist revolution, and it includes some people who profoundly disagree with that point of view and even find it distasteful.
Naturally, as the specific issues have changed and evolved then the nature of the coalition has also adapted. For example, some who opposed the war on Iraq now distance themselves from Stop the War because they are more sympathetic to some of the rebels in Syria. What is more, as the intensity of public opinion has subsided since the high point of 2003, then the numbers actively involved have declined. Nevertheless, the Stop the War Coalition has been an indispensible part of British democratic life, and has played a constructive role in seeking to question and hold to account the government and the military.
This last point is important. In Britain there is a deep pride in the armed forces, and respect for the ideal of service that they represent. Every family and every community has links to the forces. The military covenant requires that soldiers do not involve themselves in politics, but do whatever duty is required of them, at whatever personal cost it requires. There is therefore a civic duty for those of us outside the military to exercise diligence and scrutiny on their behalf, to ensure that British service men and women are not exposed to danger, or required to involve themselves in questionable actions. It is up to us to hold the government to account.
The Stop the War Coalition are the good guys. What is more, the particular individuals involved in the leadership have generally done well to maintain its plurality, and have worked successfully together despite not always agreeing on secondary matters.
Recently, the Stop the War website has published a couple of silly articles, clumsily worded or crudely expressed. Compared to what they have been right about over the last several years, this is clearly chiff chaff.
Yet Stop the War has been exposed to relentless criticism, almost becoming a moral panic.
Even the concept of pacifism has become exposed to ridicule. I personally am not a pacifist, but pacifists count amongst their number some of the bravest people imaginable, for example, those who believe that whatever the danger or provocation, they must show witness to God by refusing to use physical violence, even in their own self defence. Pacifists have been imprisoned, tortured and even executed without renouncing this principle. Whether or not we agree with them, they are worthy of respect.
Phil takes a different tack, with a poorly argued and ramshackle argument that Stop the War has the politics of the SWP, and then Phil takes issue not with the contemporary arguments of Stop the War, but with a man who has been dead for nearly a hundred years … Lenin.
Firstly, it is not in fact true that Stop the War ever derived its politics from the SWP. What did happen is that in many parts of the country the organizational impetus and backbone of the STW in its early days came from the SWP, but the politics were always coalitional, and given the short attention span of most SWP activists the most long enduring STW groups genuinely included a wide variety of views, priorities and opinions.
Phil offers us a caricature of “anti-imperialist” politics, for example:
To understand the politics of Stop the War, one must delve a little into political history.
Lenin published his little pamphlet, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism back in 1916 when the world has been carved up by the big powers and they were locked in a deathly grip over a redivision of its spoils. The role of revolutionaries everywhere was to turn inter-imperialist war into revolutionary civil war, to prevent soldiers from turning their bayonets outwards against other workers of other nationalities to the real enemy within – the owners of capital on whose behest the Great War was fought.
Revolutionary defeatism was its name, overthrowing capitalism its game. And then, with mass parties of workers who’d traditionally been locked out of the political system, and were familiar with socialist and, in some cases, Marxist rhetoric, it actually made sense. Whether one disagrees with revolutionary socialist politics or not, it was a real possibility in several European countries as a wave of uprisings and revolts swept the continent as decayed and weakened empires collapsed.
Phil has a PhD and is a clever cookie, so his sleight of hand in introducing the concept of imperialism via Lenin, and by implication with the small groups who still adhere to his thought is a cheap trick. Yes, Lenin did write a pamphlet in 1916 popularising the work of the Austrian social demococrat and mainstream social theorist Hilferding.
But more to the point, the British Empire really did exist, and has had an enduring effect on British culture, economic life and politics. Indeed, a contemporary with Lenin, was the British Labour Party thinker, H.N. Brailsford, the author of the 1914 work War of Steel and Gold who exercised widespread influence in both the UK and America, influencing the foreign policy positions of the Labour Party. Brailsford also argued that the driver for war was the growing power of finance capital, and that what he called “vast aggregations of modern capital” were engaged in struggle to partition the world. A follower of Brailsford was future Labour Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald.
Arguably, Brailsford (and Lenin’s) argument was demonstrably refuted by events. The main imperial threats to British trade interests came from France and Russia, not Germany. Siding with the Entente against the central powers was more a continuation of traditional English policy to intervene to avoid any continental power becoming predominant. While the increasing role of finance capital did go hand in hand with the growth of militarism, it did not play a determining role over specific foreign policy.
Neverthless, what Phil, has done is seek to associate what are actually rather mainstream concerns about Britain’s imperial legacy and military misadventures and over concerns about US militarism, with small groups on the edges of the political spectrum, as a mechanism for not dealing with the actual arguments, and instead seeking to imply that these are odd people with funny beliefs. This is of course a technique perfected by Nick Cohen, and Phil should take a look at the direction he is taking.
Let us again be clear. The terminology of imperialism may sound oddly old fashioned, but Britain really did have a global Empire, built upon military conquest, plunder, rapine and murder. The powerhouse of the British economy was indeed built upon the crimes of Atlantic slavery, upon the transfer of vast amounts of capital to the UK from the colonies, and destroying indigenous economic capacity in order to create mass markets for British manufacturing.
This is not only of historical interest, because Britain’s current economic endowment as a capital rich, high skilled economy has arisen from that legacy. And the prestige and influence of the British state is still bound up with the post-colonial network of military, commercial and diplomatic alliances that arose with the rise of the USA as a global superpower. And yes, British foreign policy is still shaped by those interests, and habits; and there is still a mindset of entitlement, nowadays wrapped up in rather selective concerns about human rights, that has over recent years led to some misplaced military interventions.
The Stop the War Coalition is criticized by Phil as follows:
Yet, as per the pick ‘n’ mix, the SWP ensured Stop the War had nothing to say about the Iraqi regime, the theocracy in Iran, the repugnant character of the Taliban and so on. The patronising logic was the coalition needed to be kept broad around stopping war, anything else would threaten unity.
In fact there has hardly been any shortage of those offering decontextualised, liberal platitudes about all those complex issues, so this was no gap that STW had to fill. What Stop the War has done instead is focus on the inadequacy of UK military action as a solution. Particularly given the fact that the actual lived experience of the military campaigns has been disastrous, and indeed the disastrous outcomes have been made all the worse by the ideologues in Washington who have not respected state sovereignty, and indeed seen the actual destruction of states as a beneficial outcomes – in both Libya and Iraq, and now in Syria.
For sure, anyone discussing the reality of modern international relations using Lenin as an infallible yardstick maybe a fool, but what do we make of someone seeking to use the boogyman of “Leninism” to delegitimise the main anti war campaign that has sought to hold the government to account for the mountains of bodies and ruined lives in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria.
Hilary Benn’s speech in favour of bombing Syria is being presented to us as if it belongs on the same level as Churchill’s ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech after Dunkirk. Even though we have a media establishment in this country which supports a government that is in the business of closing libraries instead of opening them, surely even they don’t think we’re stupid enough to fall for that one?
Rather than Churchillian or Ciceronian, Benn’s speech was a scream from the bowels of mediocrity, a tocsin sounding the call to the barricades for every middle manager, placeman, machine politician, unprincipled opportunist and technocrat in the land. It was delivered by a man who during the Spanish Civil War you know would have described as a mindless rabble the working class men and women who, in defiance of the non interventionist policy of the British government of the day, heeded the call of those holding the line against fascism in Spain.
Indeed the most offensive part of his speech was the cynical opportunism involved in exploiting the courage and heroism of the International Brigades to argue in favour of eight ageing British bombers dropping bombs on an Arab country in clear violation of its sovereignty, while allied to regional governments that have been and continue to facilitate the very menace we are supposed to be fighting. Never in the annals of historical revisionism has such an absurdity been articulated and lauded and praised from the rafters.
In the aftermath of what history will record was a low point to rank with any involving the House of Commons, the forces of reaction have waged a full on media and political offensive not only to cement their victory over bombing Syria, but to return the Labour Party to the tender embrace of Blairism, Thatcher’s most cherished accomplishment. The determination with which the anti-Corbyn faction within the PLP have sought to demonise the Labour leader’s supporters with accusations of intimidation and bullying is being vigorously supported by newspaper editors and columnists whose revulsion of democracy is only matched by the passion with which they use it as justification when it comes to defending the indefensible.
Democracy to them is the exclusive property of people educated at Eton, Oxford and Cambridge, while anyone with a working class accent who dare become politically engaged beyond their station of being allowed to cast a vote every few years is a reprobate, part of a rascal multitude deserving of contempt.
Labour’s by-election victory in Oldham immediately after the Syria vote proves that Corbyn’s message is managing to penetrate the dense fog of anti-Corbyn media bias, which has descended over the nation’s political discourse like smoke over a battlefield. Now is the time for Jeremy to start imposing his leadership within the shadow cabinet and to reject completely the portrayal of his supporters as an unruly mob intent on sowing mayhem.
His mandate is a matter of record and his pledge to democratise the Labour Party constitutes the only hope of it being re-fashioned as a weapon of social and economic justice. This is why the Tory establishment fear him more than they ever could the mediocrities who’ve revealed beyond doubt that Jeremy Corbyn’s bitterest foes are to be found in the Commons sitting behind and alongside him, rather than opposite.
They mistake his decency for weakness, and his lack of bombast for timidity. The time has arrived for him to prove them wrong and bring his mandate to bear. Protests, lobbying, agitating, these activities come under the rubric of legitimate and honourable political activity in any democratic society, which is the very reason they loathe it so. Being exposed and held up to scrutiny by ordinary working people beyond the hallowed halls of the Commons is not something our political class is used to. It makes them accountable and accountability, real accountability, for them constitutes an unpardonable intrusion into their right to rule.
During her farewell address to the volunteers of the International Brigades in Barcelona in 1938, Dolores Ibarruri, known to the world as ‘La Pasionara’, said: “You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk.”
Hilary Benn was a medicroity prior to his speech on Syria and remains a mediocrity after it. Shame on him for blaspheming the name and heroism of those men and women of the International Brigades.
There is no doubt that the Chinese government strikes hard against terrorists like the ones in Paris. China’s long-term strategy however is a policy of peace, based on economic relations and non-intervention. ‘Our values versus theirs’ is not something we are going to hear from Beijing as a response to the terrorists’ invitation to have a full-grown clash of civilizations. Does China’s global strategy offer a hopeful alternative or might it be an illusion, an incorrect choice of priorities? This question was at the heart of a debate that took place at the Manifiesta-festival organised by the Workers’ Party of Belgium near Ostend in September. Two Marxist-inspired analysts sometimes agreed, then disagreed in their answers to those questions. Jenny Clegg, author of China’s Global Strategy: Towards a Multipolar World, entered into the debate with Jo Cottenier of the Workers’ Party of Belgium. The first contribution is Jenny Clegg’s, the second Jo Cottenier’s. The latter contribution has been developed into a new article. The two pieces are followed by questions that came from the floor at the event.
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Less than 100 years ago, China was known as the sick man of Asia, the object of imperialist intervention and division. Today we see China poised to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, emerging as a major power, starting to take significant steps to shape the world’s future.
Looking to the future, you turn one way and see the US and China edging ever closer towards collision. Looking the other way, you see great transformations in Asia, Africa and also Europe.
China has brought about an astonishing poverty reduction having already lifted more people out of poverty than anywhere else in the world. It accounts for more than three-quarters of global poverty reduction, this being the chief reason why the world reached the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty. Yet China is still marginalized in the political debate in the West.
In 1979, Deng Xiaoping recognized that China was just at the first stage of building socialism, a period which would last for a protracted time. Following the world financial crisis of 2008, things however are changing faster than previously thought. This gives US strategists, who see a China threat looming, much less time to react. So they have taken a pivot to Asia and are building up their military alliances with Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines. China however will actually remain a Third World country for a long time, militarily backward and with a weak soft power, a country that has to feed 20% of the world’s population with the produce of 7% of the earth’s arable land. Let’s endeavour to bring into focus China’s place in the world, in the current context of the international situation. How we understand this context will shape how we understand China.
By its scale and speed China’s development is achieving in decades what it took other countries centuries to attain.
Undoubtedly China’s growth has been driven by cheap labour and labour intensive exports, mainly under western brands. It has also been driven by investment squeezing down consumption. It has brought with it serious pollution, inequality between towns and countryside, uneven growth in different regions, corruption, inefficiency and waste. This was recognized by China’s leadership. In 2007 prime minister Wen Jiabao described China’s economic growth model as unsustainable, uncoordinated, unbalanced, and unstable. The decision was taken to slow the rate of growth, shifting from one set of pillars, exports and investment, to a new set of pillars: innovation (plus high tech exports), services and consumption. China was to shift from traditional industries of iron, steel and coal towards the emerging sectors of green tech and advanced IT-systems. In order to support innovation and emerging industries investment flexibility is needed. The Renminbi also needs to be internationalized. So, China has embarked on a new phase of reforms, the deepening of financial markets. To this end the Communist Party of China decided at its 3rd Plenum of the 18th Party Congress in 2013 that it would allow ‘markets to play a decisive role’ (mind: not ‘the’ decisive role as it was mistranslated in the West, among others by the Financial Times) in resource allocation, whilst maintaining the dominance of public ownership. Recently another plan was announced aiming at strengthening the state sector.
On the question of the multipolar trend, since 2003 China has joined the surge in South-South cooperation, as one of the BRICS. These large developing countries are very different from each other with lots of sources of distrust and friction, but also much to gain from cooperation especially to raise trade levels, building on each other’s strengths, coordinating trade and investment, setting up joint R&D projects, reform global rules on intellectual property rights and so on. We also see them adopting similar positions on Syria, climate change, opposing sanctions against Russia etc.
A special case is China’s cooperation with African countries over the last ten years, concerning which there has been so much media hype. China’s investments in the continent exceed those of the World Bank and were are different, with a ‘no strings attached’ policy in stark contrast to the Western conditionality that imposes neoliberal policies. China’s infrastructure investment enables small African countries to realize long held dreams about development projects that were completely beyond their financial capacity. Of course African countries need to take ownership in partnerships with China, and China agrees. If China wanted to dominate Africa, why would it have set up the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, supported the African Union, encouraged African countries to work together? Is not the basis of dominance: divide and rule? The partnerships with China offer African countries an alternative , they offer bargaining power to loosen the grip of Western powers. They offer Africans a choice and so help to restore sovereignty to governments. This is bringing an end to the era of neo-colonialism in which countries gained political independence in form but remained in a position of economic dependence and subordination.
The story of the BRICS and the example of China-Africa Cooperation offer an insight in why the multipolar trend is so important: it is the final completion of the anti-colonial and national liberation struggles of the last century.
What does all this mean for the world at large?
1. China is taking more initiatives in shaping the world of the future.
There are the examples of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which India, Pakistan, and Iran are now planning to join: the trilateral summits of China, Japan, South Korea; the forums of cooperation with developing regions such as Africa (FOCAC) or the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). There are the New Development Bank (so-called BRICS-Bank), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the internationalization of the Renminbi.
2. These are gradually building the foundations for a different kind of international order and a departure from the current casino economy based on the central role of the US Dollar in the international monetary system. In other words: a shift from a system in which surplus capital is pumped into the circuits of speculation. China indeed pumps the surplus into investment, diverting it to the real economy. We saw China pumping 600 billion dollar worth in to its own economy in 2008, 2009. This may be considered as a ‘people’s quantitative easing’ (in Corbynite terms) and it produced a double digit growth in China, which helped prevent the world crisis and recession of 2008 from turning into a deeper depression.
3. We see China, through the AIIB and other development banks, putting up ‘seed capital’ of 150 billion US dollars into the ‘One Belt; One Road’ project to revive the Silk Road networks. Over the next 20 to 50 years we will see the largest infrastructure project ever conceived with roads, ports, railways, optical cables, oil and gas pipelines reaching across Eurasia, with maritime routes linking it with Africa. This is a game changer of the 21st century.
What about Europe’s choice?
For centuries Europe has looked across the Atlantic, fostering its Transatlantic ties. What does transatlanticism offer us today? It means TTIP; it means more military expenditure and NATO expansion. It could even drag us into a war with China in order to maintain US primacy. Europe needs to develop a Eurasian vision. Surely the Silk Road projects offer a way out of our economic doldrums. We are running out of time: that is the challenge and the choice put to Europe.
* * * Jo Cottenier
Thanks to its policy of reform China has experienced an enormous boom, but the country has also developed a rather hybrid form of socialism. During 65 years of socialist society tremendous progress has been made. China evolved from a poverty-stricken country into the largest trading nation and second largest economic power in the world. China is no longer one of the poorest countries, it has joined the ranks of middle income countries.
The UN Human Development Index between 1980 and 2012 proved it year after year: unique achievements were realized in the domains of housing, employment and health care for women, the fight against hunger etc. In all those domains China does better than neighbouring India, a country it is more or less comparable with, taking into account their large numbers of inhabitants and the backwardness both countries started from. China could not have gained its successes without first disconnecting from the imperialist world order. That was a precondition for being able to map its own independent development course, even if this did not always follow a straight line. Only this has enabled China today to take its very own place in the world and play a unique role. This role is positive for the most part.
At the same time we should be critical about the internal developments. Though in 1978 it was the right choice for China to take steps backwards by liberalising and falling back on the market forces in the countryside, many questions may be asked about the current changeover to a market economy and the growing role of private capital. In 1993 a major shift took place, with the choice for full marketization and competition, between state owned enterprises and private enterprises, but also between state owned enterprises among themselves, as the drivers for development.
Today’s debate is firstly about China’s role in the world, a role which will undoubtedly become more important in the decades to come. China’s economy is about to surpass the US economy in terms of size. Will China succeed in bringing about what it calls a ‘multipolar world’ and what are the consequences of China’s rise for international relations?
1. A policy of respect for state sovereignty
According to Xi Jinping ‘China will never seek hegemony or expansion’. This pledge derives much of its credibility from China’s track record. This has been characterized by decades of consequent application of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. In 1982 China adopted those principles into its constitution and declared them binding in its foreign relations. Two of the principles are quite topical at the moment: one is ‘respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity’, and the other ‘the mutual non-interference in internal affairs’.
In the fight for the respect of the sovereignty of member states in the UN, China suffered defeats and learnt lessons from the handling of wars in Iraq and Libya. Because of its lenient stance (demanding that Iraq should follow UN rules regarding Kuwait, abstaining in the United Nations Security Council vote on establishing a no-fly zone in Libya), in neither conflict China has been able to prevent the US and other Western states from violently invading those two countries in order to install pro-Western regimes. That is why so far China has systematically exercised its veto regarding intervening in Syria. China demands respect for the principle that a legitimate government should not only protect its population, but is also allowed to defend itself against internal insurrection. Critics claim that consequently China is supporting dictators. One of the well-known controversies is about Beijing’s cooperation with President Bashir of Sudan. The Chinese counter-argument is that foreign intervention or exporting revolution – a policy it used to follow in the past – are not good solutions either. The population of each country will have to fight out its conflict with its government for itself. The choice to financially support and arm parties in other countries has all too often turned out to be a cover for imperialist intervention. Just think about our own Belgian history of colonialism and intervention in Congo, with the murders of Patrice Lumumba and Pierre Mulele.
The other topical principle ‘mutual non-intervention in internal affairs’ is not equal to ‘a policy of indifference’. In failing states, where chaos rules and endless civil wars are waged, China tries to act as a mediator and aims for peaceful solutions, if need be with intervention by the UN or regional organisations of states. This for example is the case in Syria, Sudan, the Ukraine and in Libya. This is also China’s attitude with regard to conflicts between states that cause a permanent state of misery or a danger for world peace. Those situations do not leave China unaffected. Since 2005 it has exerted itself more energetically for peaceful solutions, for mitigating and defusing conflicts. Some examples are the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the confrontations between North and South Korea. China takes part in various UN peace missions, such as in Sudan or Mali. The contrast with imperialist policy is very clear here: when participating in these missions China is not seeking benefits and it systematically refuses to take sides in conflicts.
2. Economic relationships that facilitate development
Is there any question of Chinese neo-colonialism or even economic imperialism in Africa and other developing countries, as claimed by various opinion makers such as Hillary Clinton, Western media and NGOs? Regarding economic contracts and investments China applies another principle of Peaceful Co-existence: ‘equality and mutual benefit’. At least for state sponsored contracts and investments, China consistently tries to apply this principle. Here too the contrast with Western practices is blatant.
In its economic and financial relations with developing countries, Western imperialism follows the Washington Consensus: extending loans for exploiting raw materials or for carrying out prestige projects such as the Inga dam in Congo. Eventually those countries are forced to ask for new loans to pay back earlier loans. Western ‘aid’ comes with conditions: the execution of structural adjustment plans, privatisations, the opening-up of countries to multinational corporations. To disguise those conditions, social aid programmes are implemented, epitomizing hypocrite relations of inequality and charity.
The Chinese model is sometimes called the Beijing Consensus. This is seldom or never about ‘aid’ but always a contract based on equality and mutual benefit. China needs food and raw materials, African countries need elementary infrastructure and resources for a ‘take off’. A striking example is the 2008 contract between China and Congo. The People’s Republic gave a loan of 9 billion dollars, 3 billion of which were to be used for putting into working order again a copper and cobalt mine, and 6 billion for public works, infrastructure, schools, housing, hospitals and universities. The work started right away, but the loan is to be paid back with 10 million tonnes of copper and 600,000 tonnes of cobalt, when the mine will be ready for operation again. It is a kind of barter, infrastructure against raw materials, with a current account with the Chinese Eximbank as ‘facilitator’. The money will be made available progressively for the execution of the work, in order to avoid corruption.
3. For a multipolar world, against hegemony
China actively tries to build a world with various growth centres, explicitly aiming at fighting US hegemony. This is the application of two more principles of peaceful co-existence: peaceful co-existence itself, on equal terms, between countries with different political regimes and the mutual agreement of non-aggression. China is building this ‘new world order’ on different fronts.
a. South-South collaboration.
The Chinese Africa policy is the best exponent of this. More than a thousand mutually beneficial contracts have been concluded, providing employment for half a million workers. China enters into those agreements with all countries, without any exceptions, and in all industries (so not only in oil or mining). The only condition it sets is the recognition that there is only one China. With these contracts, China tries to gradually create the requirements for the industrial development of those countries. In exchange for raw materials it delivers infrastructure, machines and equipment. Nowadays it is also trying to transfer its own labour-intensive industries to Africa while investing in its own high-tech sector. In this way it tries to get going a win-win cooperation and turn Africa into a growth pole.
China has been the main driving force for a front of the strongest emerging countries of the 21st century, a front of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. They challenge US supremacy by their communal political actions and economic and financial cooperation. One of the strongest results is the establishment of the BRICS-development bank with a 50 billion dollar starting capital. The purpose is supporting mutual cooperation, but also aiding South-South cooperation.
c. Overtures to the European Union
By launching the OBOR-initiative (One Belt One Road) China is sending an immense invitation for cooperation to the European countries. China wants to invest in both a new silk road by land and a maritime silk road in order to stimulate economic relations with Europe. It is also a manner of driving a wedge between the US and the EU. China goes for two important ports for the supplies of goods in Europe: Piraeus in Greece and Rotterdam in The Netherlands.
d. Will the multipolar strategy lead to war or to peace?
According to the People’s Republic of China a multipolar world forms an alternative for US desire for hegemony. The different poles should form a counterbalance and should stand up for a world order in which the principles of peaceful co-existence apply. Is this a dream or is it a strategy with some chance of success? The Communist Party of China builds on the insights of Lenin, who proved that imperialism inevitably goes together with the uneven development of different regions in the world. Socialist countries and third world countries have opportunities to take advantage of the contradictions originating from this to build a counterforce. The other aspect however is equally true: uneven development brings along new tensions among ruling powers and leads to wars.
Are we seeing the making of a new international order or will war inevitably erupt? It is already obvious now that the US gears its military strategy to a possible confrontation with China, which is seen as the only real future threat to its world dominance. For making disappear the threat of war, its economic foundation, imperialism itself will have to go. War preparations the US is making in the East and South China Seas seem to confirm those fears. For years the US has been engaged in a strategy of encircling China, by means of bases, the permanent presence of its navy (along with aircraft carriers and planes) in the region. The US wants to be capable of closing off the Strait of Malacca, of disorganizing China’s defensive belt and destroying its rocket bases. The US is arming and stirring up its allies Japan and the Philippines, countries claiming territories in the East and South China Seas just like China does. China is properly aware of this and building its own defensive systems, an electronic and military belt along its coastline, together with its own air defence identification zone (ADIZ).
4. The expansion of Chinese enterprises in the West
Until now China’s foreign policy has deserved to be qualified as anti-imperialist. But then there is the new phenomenon of Chinese enterprises in the West and their adjustment to the ins and outs of capitalist market economy. The Chinese government aims at putting on the map domestic players and brands that are able to globally compete with Western monopolies. There is not yet a surge of such enterprises as has been suggested, but we have a tendency here that will get stronger. This phenomenon, of Chinese multinationals may be called into question with an eye on the future of socialism.
To the ‘open door’-policy, which has led to export-oriented growth and strong technology transfers since 1978, now has been added a ‘go out, go global’-policy. Enterprises are stimulated to go abroad, to engage in take-overs and investments in the West. This should further the conversion from a labour-intensive to a high-tech economy. Since last year the amount of FDI (foreign direct investments) leaving China about equalled the amount entering the country, nearly 100 billion dollars. At the end of 2014 there were 107 Chinese SOEs present in 8515 branches in 150 countries. Their activities, in the past mainly in the sectors of resources and mining, are shifting now towards leading industries, finances and real estate. Among those Chinese enterprises abroad 70% are SOEs, but also private enterprises are coming to the fore. A few examples: Geely bought Volvo, Lenovo bought the pc division of IBM. Also worth mentioning are China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO) that already possesses part of the Greek port of Piraeus and intends to acquire the rest in the framework of the privatisations that the EU imposes on Greece. And finally: 50 Chinese enterprises, 49 of them SOEs, are among the 500 biggest in the world.
At the moment it is impossible to conceive the future of this trend and its consequences. There may be consequences for China’s foreign policy. How will the government of China adapt to its economy being more and more closely knit to global capitalism? How will it react if Chinese enterprises deem that their interests in the West are menaced? The main question however is most probably what this interconnectedness means for the socialist project in China itself. The biggest SOEs and private enterprises by now are prepared to enter into the competition with the most powerful Western monopolies. This substantially corroborates the social stratum of capital owners, administrators and managers who don’t want to have anything to do with Marxism anymore.
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From the floor came a lot of questions. We confine ourselves here to the ones about the main theme
1. What about questionable and even racist Chinese practices in Africa?
2. Would certain African countries not ‘pay back’ China for all its investments by defecting into alliances with the US or Europe?
To those questions Jenny Clegg and Jo Cottenier responded in a rather consentient way.
1. In Africa there are sometimes racist attitudes among the people on both the African and Chinese sides. They have to be opposed (and usually are) by the officials of respective governments.
2. China may certainly run the risk of ‘ingratitude’, but will not deviate from its unconditionality. The African governments on the other hand may well take China as a model for emulation to a certain extent. It has been said that China may turn into a new imperialist power, but imperialism presupposes monopoly capitalism and resource looting, which neither China nor the BRICS in general can be accused of. The relations between China and African countries are about the exchange of investment, knowhow and end products for resources.
Remaining points of debate between Jo Cottenier and Jenny Clegg
According to Jo Cottenier the main contradiction is that between imperialism and socialism. Jenny Clegg thinks that Lenin once said “whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it”.
Another difference of opinion is on the question whether war is inevitable under imperialism or not. Jo Cottenier is certain this is the case. Jenny Clegg on the other hand believes that there is surely a danger of war, and that the peoples have to take that into account, but must not lose hope of avoiding war.
Proof that the British political class hasn’t learned anything after Iraq came with David Cameron’s ludicrous assertion that there are 70,000 moderate rebels fighting in Syria. It was an outright fabrication to rank with Blair’s sexed up dossier on Saddam’s WMD, which the then prime minister asserted could be launched against Britain within 45 minutes.
We know Cameron’s claim is fiction because as far back as 2012 the US Defense Intelligence Agency produced a classified intelligence report which identified that, “The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” This was a full two years before ISIS/Daesh exploded across the region at the beginning of 2014.
The Prime Minister’s assertion was made as part of an increasingly desperate attempt by him and his supporters to win support for British airstrikes which every military expert agrees will have no appreciable impact.
Make no mistake, crushing this menace of ISIS must be the priority of all right-thinking people, with the only question one of how not if. It is a priority which makes the cognitive dissonance and contradictions that have underpinned the West’s actions and policy towards the conflict in Syria all the more grievous, ensuring we have only helped to prolong it, along with the ability of ISIS to operate. Here the equivalence that continues to be drawn between the secular government of Bashar al-Assad and this sectarian death cult is not just fallacious it is utterly and wholly obscene.
No sentient being would compare the Syrian president to Nelson Mandela. But comparing him to Hitler is even less credible. He leads a secular government under which the rights of Syrian minorities are upheld and protected, a government that still enjoys the support of the majority of Syrians and a government whose survival in 2015 is indistinguishable from the country’s survival. The alternative to Assad at this point – the only alternative – is Syria being turned into a mass grave of said minorities as it descends into an abyss of mass murder and slaughter that will make the status quo seem like child’s play by comparison. The Assad government can be negotiated with, ISIS cannot, and as bad as anybody believes Assad is he is not in the business of planting bombs on passenger aircraft or sending death squads to massacre British tourists in Tunisia or civilians in Beirut, Paris or anywhere else.
Attributing the refugee crisis to Assad, or claiming the majority of civilians who’ve been killed have been killed by his military, comes to us straight from the regime change playbook. We heard the same propaganda in the run up to the war in Iraq in 2003 and also in the run-up to NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011. Both countries are now failed states as a direct consequence of Western military intervention.
Making the same catastrophic mistake again would be a crime that history will not forgive.
While crashing into the third Arab country since 9/11 may titillate the Churchillian sensibilities of the British ruling class, it will do little when it comes to defeating ISIS and ending the conflict. Indeed, given the recent incident of a Russian jet being shot down by Turkish F16s the risks involved in throwing British aircraft into the mix are self evident. If the Americans, who’ve been bombing ISIS (at least so they’ve been telling us) in Syria for the best part of a year, have failed to make any appreciable difference, what makes David Cameron and his Labour supporters believe Britain’s handful of fighter-bombers will or can?
There is a glaring need for the West to coordinate its efforts with the Russians and the Syrians, who are engaged in the very joint air and ground campaign every military expert agrees is the only way to crush ISIS/Daesh. However miltary action is not by itself enough. Confronting the murky relationship that exists between ISIS and Western allies in the region is also now non-negotiable.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia in particular have been at the heart of supporting the medieval fanatacism that recently exploded onto the streets of Paris. In the case of the former, without Turkey’s Syrian border being tantamount to a revolving door for ISIS fighters, materiel, and arms to pass through, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Nor is it anymore a wild claim to make that Turkey, elements within Turkey, have actively facilitated the trade in stolen Iraqi and Syrian oil that has funded their operations and so-called caliphate. Here we are entitled to ponder the question of whether Turkey’s real motive in taking the extraordinary step of shooting down a Russian jet was because Russian airstrikes had begun targeting the huge convoys of trucks transporting this oil towards Turkey’s border?
As for the Saudis, the fanatacism and medievalism which underpins ISIS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria is indistinguishable from the Wahhabi Sunni doctrine that bears the imprimatur of state religion in Riyadh. A major crux of this issue has been the Wahhabisation of Sunni Islam that has led to the normalisation and legitimisation of sectarianism. The Saudis have used their oil money to fund the building of mosques and other projects across the Muslim world, all with the aim of asserting the dominance of this particularly extreme literalist form of Sunni Islam. This influence must also be challenged.
Until Britain, the United States, and other Western governments are willing to deal with the role of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia in fomenting this crisis, they are not serious when it comes to defeating ISIS and the wider issue of the perverse ideology that drives it.
This brings me to what I consider is the real motive behind British airstrikes in Syria. They are not primarily about crusing ISIS. Instead they have been undertaken with the objective of establishing an overt British military presence in the country with a view to the post-ISIS settlement and regime change in Damascus. In this respect they rank with Suez in their perfidious opportunism, evidence that just as 9/11 was used as a pretext to unleash the war on Iraq and regime change in Baghdad, the atrocities of Paris are being used as a pretext vis-a-vis Syria and regime change in Damascus.
As for those 70,000 moderates, the only place they are to be found is in the ranks of the non sectarian Syrian Arab Army, made up of Alawites, Sunnis, Druze, and Christians fighting for their homes, their people, and their country.
Possibly the best film I have ever seen about politics is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It is partly inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s extraordinary book, “Team of Rivals”, that includes biographies of Edward Bates, Salmon Chase and William Seward, who served in Lincoln’s cabinet, but were also opponents of his who had themselves sought the Republican nomination.
Lincoln of course had an extraordinarily difficult task, as he was a relatively obscure figure compared to his opponents, all of whom had more experience than him in the corridors of power. Lincoln won due to superior organisation in the nomination contest, and a grassroots reputation gained following his success in the famous debates with Democrat Stephen Douglas in 1958, after which he toured, for example accepting the invitation to speak against slavery in Seward’s powerbase in New York
Once elected President, Lincoln had to contend with the chronic disloyalty of Salmon Chase who despite being a Cabinet member schemed and conspired to replace the President, and was deeply resentful that a political outsider like Lincoln should occupy the highest office of state. Lincoln had the advantage of his mandate as elected President of the United States, but his rivals were better connected within the political establishment.
The genius of Spielberg’s film is showing how Lincoln holds together the disparate coalition of interests from the extreme radicals who believed that blacks should have the same rights as whites( in 1860 a fringe view amongst white Americans) to the conservative Republicans and War Democrats who were prepared to compromise with the slave owners’ rebellion.
In one scene in the film that stuck in my mind, Lincoln discusses the role of political principles as a compass which shows you the direction to travel, but that a compass doesn’t tell you how to deal with lakes, rivers and cliffs that you might meet when traveling in that direction which might require you to detour or even temporarily turn around.
The former Whig Congressman, Lincoln, whose political career had earlier been cut short by his outspoken opposition to President Polk’s military aggression against Mexico had a distinct advantage over – for example – our own Jeremy Corbyn, because Lincoln was the leader of a new political party, the Republicans, that had coalesced out of the Whig Party, the few anti-slavery Democrats, and the northern part of the anti-immigrant but otherwise progressive Know Nothing Party. The Republican Party had not developed its own conventions and institutions that Lincoln’s political opponents could leverage against him. The authority of the President of the United States is also through direct suffrage to choose state representatives for the electoral college, which gives an independent mandate, and a constitutional position of patronage and veto that allows leverage against Congress.
In contrast, the British Labour Party is a highly complicated organism where the parliamentary party has more than a century of tradition behind its convention of autonomy; an autonomy that has also been long respected by the affiliated unions. What is more, the labourist traditions that derive from the party’s relationships with these trade unions have underpinned an acceptance of the economic benefits of Britain’s imperial heritage, and there is a strong interpenetration between parts of the parliamentary party and the British state, the British military and therefore directly or indirectly with American influence. These institutionalized interests are imperiled by Corbynism, and sometimes consciously and sometimes instinctively they will feel more comfortable supporting the establishment than the new direction of the Labour Party.
The Tsunami of popular support that swept Corbyn to the office of Party leader is a mighty social phenomenon, based at least partly upon the movement that derived from the anti-war protests over Iraq, partly from the Peoples’ Assemblies, and partly from the loose but engaged networks that social media have enabled over the last decade. It has enormous potential, and over the last week the movement against the bombing of Syria, both inside and outside of the Labour Party, has significantly shifted public opinion and effectively turned the terms of the debate, so that last night’s vote saw Jeremy Corbyn backed by the majority of the parliamentary party, the majority of the shadow cabinet, and the majority of the wider party. This includes support from a number of MPs who are seen as on the right of the party.
It is important to understand three things though. Firstly, while the grassroots base of Corbyn’s support are extremely exercised by opposing British military involvement in the Middle East, this is an issue of relatively marginal concern among the wider electorate. Secondly, Corbyn’s principled challenge to the military instincts of the establishment, its NATO alliance and the prestige of the UK as a nuclear power will be determinedly, irreconcilably and ruthlessly opposed by not only the Conservative Party, but also the newspapers and BBC, and parts of the Labour Party. Thirdly, Corbyn’s mandate of support and powerbase in the Labour Party has limited purchase in the PLP.
Whether or not Jeremy was right or not to offer a free vote on the Syria debate is a matter of judgement and opinion. But it is entirely plausible that had he imposed the whip, then several Shadow Cabinet members would have resigned, creating a media circus and mood of crisis that would have led to Corbyn’s demise, especially as it might have played into a self fulfilling narrative of catastrophe in Oldham. Furthermore, the determination of some MPs to vote with the government, as Alan Johnson explicitly said in his parliamentary speech yesterday, would have meant they did not feel obliged to follow the whip. It is entirely plausible that as many MPs would have voted with the government. What is more, the opportunity to embarrass and possibly remove Corbyn would have been likely to ensure that Cameron proceeded to the vote, even had Labour been whipped to oppose.
In my view, Corbyn did well over the last week. The parliamentary vote in favour of war was contained to mainly the most predictable suspects. Corbyn spoke for the anti war opinion in the country, and the campaign against British military involvement in Syria continues.
There is simply no word to describe the decision by Jeremy Corbyn to allow Labour MPs a free vote on bombing Syria other than disastrous. He had a massive mandate for imposing a whipped vote, and in so doing would have stayed Cameron’s hand, given that the Prime Minister had indicated that he would not call a vote unless he was certain of winning. Just as importantly, imposing the whip would have drawn a line in the sand against the relentless and ongoing campaign within both the PLP and Labour shadow cabinet to undermine his leadership.
The Labour leader buckled under pressure, allowed himself to be bullied by Hilary Benn annd Tom Watson et al., and now faces the humiliating and ignominous experience of opening the debate for the opposition with an argument against bombing Syria, while his shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, sitting alongside him on the front bench, will close the debate for the opposition with an argument in favour of bombing Syria. It is absolutely untenable and ensures that a leadership which began with such hope and inspiration will go down in history as yet another glorious failure by the left to make substantive and lasting change to politics in this country.
Rather than maintain party unity, Jeremy has merely set a precedent of being jostled aside by Blairites and others who no matter how much he gives them, how hard he tries to placate or reach out, will not be satisfied until he and McDonnell are gone.
Syria is a sovereign country whose government has been fighting for its survival as a non sectarian state against the forces of hell over the past four years and more. Britain flying bombing sorties in the country without respecting that sovereignty, given the struggle its people and army have been engaged in, will go down as a grievous injustice. It will also be futile, given the universal agreement among all military experts than only troops on the ground can possibly defeat Daesh. The Americans have been bombing ISIS for the best part of a year in Syria (at least so they tell us) to little or no effect, so what makes Cameron and his Labour supporters think Britain can do the same with different results? Andy Newman, on this blog, has clearly and eloquently defined the role the Government can play in impacting Daesh and its ability to operate so effectively; tackling its funding and the support it receives from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Western allies whose relationship to this sectarian death cult can no longer be denied.
It is nothing more than an empty gesture, engaged in not so much in order to defeat ISIS but to ensure British/Western influence over what comes later when the conflict ends. It is as transparent and egregious an act of imperial opportunism we have seen, up there with Sykes Picot and Suez.
Just as worrying is the fact it may well put Britain on a collision course with Russia. After one of its jets was shot down by Turkish F16s recently, and one of its pilot murdered by anti Assad rebels as he parachuted to the ground, Russia will not be minded to take any chances should British jets come too close to one of theirs in such a congested airspace.
On all levels nothing can come good of this decision by Jeremy, only bad. While I would not, pace Tallyerand, go so far as to describe it as a crime, it is most certainly a blunder.
It is the nature of political coalitions that they bring people together on the basis of those points where they find agreement, and therefore there can be considerable divergence in the overall standpoints represented. In so far as the Stop the War Coalition seeks to bring together those who oppose British military involvement in the Syrian civil war, then it is potentially resonates with the majority of the British population. Nevertheless, I feel that Stop the War fails to articulate a credible alternative argument, because it does not acknowledge that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) does need to be defeated. The recently published six arguments from John Rees are particularly weak in this regard.
My position is that British military involvement would be wrong and counterproductive in the fight against ISIL, and would not only increase the terrorist risk to the British people, but also the risk to British interests internationally.
Nevertheless, I believe that ISIL does need to be isolated, contained and defeated; and that it is legitimate for the left in Britain to support and indeed advocate those measures necessary for the defeat of ISIL.
Much of the discussion about the question unfortunately does not seek to understand the nature of ISIL, which is certainly a terrorist organisation and inspiration of terror, but is more fundamentally a warlord polity, and while it is characteristic of warlordism for them to assume the functions of a proto-state, the ideological element of ISIL has made them rapidly self-aware of this function, and they actually present themselves as a state. This gives it its unique character.
The most important thing Syrians lost because of the conflict is simply their state, which is exactly what ISIL is attempting to provide by reversing the process of state collapse. The key to its success is that it plans and acts like a state. When it dominates an area and considers it part of the Islamic State it acts as the one sole actor in charge. It ensures that it has complete monopoly over the use of force in the area, and it has developed a comprehensive model for running a proto-state; a model that includes governance and the provision of public services, for example, judiciary system, policing, education, an army, an ideology and indeed intelligence. It offers a surprisingly effective and adaptive governance model. Its reputation for governance is one of its key recruiting tools for both civilians and fighters.
Areas dominated by the war economy environment are very vulnerable to ISIL expansion and JAN infiltration. The extremely high levels of unemployment, together with very high prices and the absence of other sources of income, has left men of fighting age, who typically have to provide for their families, in a very exposed position and vulnerable to recruitment by extreme organisations. ISIL pays the highest combatant salaries in Syria starting from USD 400 per month. It is followed by JAN which pays around USD 100 per month whilst most other armed groups struggle to match even JAN’s salaries. The salary system for fighters in ISIL reflects the fact that most of its high and mid-level leadership is composed of valued Arab and foreign fighters, who are much better paid, ideologically driven and strongly believing in the proto-state. The bulk of its fighting force is composed of Syrian men who are paid less, not believers in the ‘state’ but had very little choice.
The indispensable precondition of warlordism is the absence of a state, and its two indispensable components are control of territory and a war economy.
Turkmani describes a war economy as a state of affairs “which destroyed the local legitimate economy so that many people had no other source of income except through joining an armed group, and in which access to resources depends on violence”
This describes ISIL as being a non-traditional terrorist organisation, the report
identifies ISIL’s primary sources of revenue which are mainly derived from illicit proceeds from its occupation of territory. These sources include bank looting and extortion, control of oil fields and refineries and robbery of economic assets. Other sources include the donors who abuse Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs), Kidnapping for Ransom (KFR) and cash smuggling (areas where FATF has conducted in-depth research), to new and emerging typologies which have not yet been addressed by the FATF, such as the extortion of goods and cash transiting territory where ISIL operates and grass-root funding strategies.
Anyone seeking to understand warlordism needs to read Antonio Giustozzi’s magisterial book “Empires of Mud” which provides detailed case studies of the warlord polities of Ismail Khan, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan.
Giustozzi discusses two aspects which are useful to understand, one of which is the degree to which the collapse of state authority can “orphan” military commanders and units, who seek a new role. While the perception of ISIL in Britain has been coloured by the stereotypes of foreign born fanatics like “Jihadi John”, a considerable component of ISIL comes from former Ba’athist army officers from Iraq, as reported in the British press last year.
Hassan Hassan, a Dubai-based analyst and co-author of the book Isis: Inside the Army of Terror . “A lot of people think of the Islamic State as a terrorist group, and it’s not useful,” Hassan said. “It is a terrorist group, but it is more than that. It is a homegrown Iraqi insurgency, and it is organic to Iraq.”
The de-Baathification law promulgated by Paul Bremer, Iraq’s American ruler in 2003, has long been identified as one of the contributors to the original insurgency. At a stroke, 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi army were barred from government employment, denied pensions — and also allowed to keep their guns.
Another useful concept from Giustozzi is that of military charisma within warlordism.
The drive to perpetual warfare is partly created by the parasitic consumption of the substantive, real, economy by the war economy of plunder, and indeed the FATF report referenced above refers to the relative inefficiency of economic activity in ISIL controlled areas creating a drive towards constant expansion to plunder new resources, especially as they estimate that ISIL needs to spend US$ 10 million per month.
But perpetual warfare also creates the “charisma” of leadership, and underpins the patronage of the warlords.
The charisma of ISIL for those attuned to its hateful message, has been created both by military success, but also by its effective and shocking use of news management and the deliberate feeding of the thirst for atrocity by the 24 hour news channels. While it may seem distasteful to use such a marketing term, ISIL has been adept at becoming the brand leader of Jihadi terrorism.
By 31st December 2014 the higher prestige of ISIL compared to other Jihadi terror groups had led to an estimated 19000 foreign fighters joining them, Many of these fighters have brought funds with them, for example taking out substantial cash loans before they travel to Syria. Foreign donor support can also be significant, for example, attracted by ISIL’s success foreign organizations, like Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf Group or the Egypt-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), have raised funds and channeled these illicitly through the banking system.
The high profile, and the financial sophistication of ISIL, even includes crowdfunding strategies using social media, for example through its propaganda arm called the Al-Itisam Establishment for Media Production and the Al Hayat Media Center. The FATF reports notes “The development of a Twitter campaign like #AlleyesonISIS and a mobile android phone application free for public download are signs of ISIL’s growing technological savvy”
The overall picture that emerges is that ISIL is like a barbarous and murderous Ponzi scheme, that needs to perpetually move and expand to survive. Its funding sources are diverse: from smuggling oil, phosphates and other minerals; from illicit tariffs charged on goods in transit through areas they control, from bank looting, extortion and human trafficking; from plundering ancient artifacts, from kidnap and ransom; from foreign sponsors; and even from crowdsourcing.
An additional aspect of complexity is that the civil war contests territory within the Iraqi and Syrian states, that previously had integrated economies, administration and infrastructure. For example, in both Iraq and Syria bank branches exist of national banking institutions within ISIL controlled territories, and in Iraq, the state continues to pay salaries for government officials within areas controlled by ISIL, that are subject to a 50% levy from the Jihadis. All sides in the Syrian civil war engage in barter and trade, due to the necessity to maintain food supplies, water and fuel. In Aleppo, the Free Syrian Army and ISIL collaborate over the limited objective of maintaining flour mills and bakeries even though they are engaged in combat with each other on the same front; similarly despite brutal war between ISIL and the Syrian government, credible sources suggest that there is trade in crude and refined petroleum due to mutual necessity.
Turkmani argues that this trade and the way this allows the reproduction of normal life for the civilian population underpins a key economic front in the war.
ISIL offers a surprisingly effective and adaptive governance model. Its reputation for governance is one of its key recruiting tools for both civilians and fighters.
ISIL seems to give priority to the control of strategic resources in all of its military moves inside Syria. This includes controlling oil resources, power plants, water resources and all that is needed to provide bread including silos, mills and bakeries. This has meant that other Syrian actors become dependent on ISIL especially for the provision of oil. The lack of any legitimate sources of much-needed diesel and other types of fuel in the countryside of Idleb and Aleppo has given ISIL the opportunity to sell crude oil to these areas, to make them dependent on it. The Syrian government is also dependent on ISIL’s control of strategic resources. It is reported to be buying oil from ISIL, it paid it transit fees for allowing wheat trucks from Hasaka to cross its areas and it struck deals with it to ensure the provision of water to government-controlled areas in return for providing electricity for ISIL controlled areas.
In particular, Turkmani argues that the other rebel groups opposed to the Assad government have failed to develop governance infrastructure, and therefore struggle to hold territory contested by ISIL. As Turkmani says “Any contested area in Syria is a potential region for ISIL expansion. Ending the conflict requires serious commitment to an inclusive political solution that is supported by regional and international consensus. Very strong emphasis also needs to be put on restoring governance in opposition-controlled areas, especially those most vulnerable to further ISIL expansion.”
This is an important point, because it is these ineffective rebel groups, vulnerable to ISIL expansion, that David Cameron and the UK government are relying upon to provide the ground troops to take and hold territory from ISIL.
In actual fact, if we understand that ISIL is effectively a warlord polity, the support for which is contingent and often mercenary, and fed by the reality that fighting for ISIL is often the only paid employment in areas devastated by a war economy, then ISIL’s military strength may be fragile, in that it gathers support and momentum when winning, but will lose support and may suffer rapid degradation should it start to lose and a credible alternative force capture and hold the territory it currently controls. Indeed, ISIL itself recognizes the lack of full committment from some of its troops by the different levels of Bay’ah, the oath of allegiance given to ISIL by new recruits, so that many recruits only agree to fight for ISIL under specific, limited conditions.
A strategy to defeat ISIL requires that it is defeated militarily, that it is displaced from the territory that it currently occupies by a credible military force that can bring with it effective governance and civil administration, and that the war economy upon which warlordism feeds is replaced by the restoration of a substantive productive and commercial economy. The experience of Afghanistan shows that in certain circumstances warlordism can be overcome without even fighting, if a political process exists.
Outside the fantasy of Western liberals, there is only one force in Syria that can play that role. It is the Syrian government, supported by its Russian and Iranian allies. That is not a value judgement on the virtue of the Syrian government, it is simply a fact on the ground.
Certainly a political process is indispensible, that offers an end to the war, and a conflict resolution model that allows combatants to cease fighting. It is necessary to understand that many who have taken up arms, even for ISIL, are conscripts or mercenaries. However, Western preconditions are an obstacle to any solution if they require concessions from the Syrian state that it cannot realistically meet.
There is certainly a terrible prospect of the British government committing RAF air support for the anti-Assad rebels, in Syrian territory, and if those rebels do advance into ISIL controlled areas, which could even be rapid if component parts of ISIL defect with the turning tide, then those rebels may find the same ground that they just captured with RAF support being contested by Syrian government forces. Will the RAF continue to support them?
I therefore do not believe that there is any sensible case for British military involvement in the Syrian civil war. We would only make things worse.
However, Britain could have an important role. The British government could use diplomatic pressure to seek sanctions against those states and corporations that are funding, trading with and arming ISIL. This would include Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as other Gulf states. As John Ross observes, if the UK were serious in defeating ISIL, then measures like the following, would be advocated:
1. Turkey should be told it must close within 24 hours the main supply route across its border to ISIS at Jarablus and at other border crossings. If it does not a UN Security Council Resolution will be adopted imposing financial sanctions on Turkey, as with Iran and North Korea, and the UN Security Council will authorise coalition bombing for 5km inside the Syrian border with Turkey to cut supply routes to ISIS from Turkey.
2. Saudi Arabia should be told it must cease all transfers of money to ISIS. If proof is found of any further such transfers a UN Security Council Resolution will be adopted imposing financial sanctions on Saudi Arabia as with Iran and North Korea.
London’s key role in the world’s financial system means that Britain is well placed to assist in the furthering of the international cooperation necessary to prevent, for example, insurance companies paying out for ransom demands (which is the case in UK law, but not internationally), and furthering the capacity for international banking institutions to prevent money laundering. Britain could seek to ensure that corporations are not involved in the oil and mineral smuggling and the trade in antiquities. The FATF report discusses the difficulty that many states have in practically enforcing prohibitions on money transfers to terrorist groups, this is an area where Britain could assist, and could do so more credibly as a non-combatant nation
Such measures would be more effective than a few raids by RAF planes, but they would require a fundamental shift in outlook, whereby Britain sought to strengthen the rule of law, rather than involve itself in possibly illegal wars; it would mean respecting national sovereignty rather the participating in the destruction of states, as we did with Iraq and Libya. It would mean recognizing that nations that do not benefit from the democracy that we enjoy in Britain will not achieve our model of liberalism simply by being bombed.