A new decade begins in crisis

US kills Iran’s Qasem Soleimani in Air Strike. CREDIT: AP Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office

Trump’s assassination of Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani by drone strike at a civilian airport, has caused an uproar and may lead to a regional war, with Iran striking back at US Military bases in the region. Every detail that comes out in this crisis is more shocking than the last. But focusing on the madness of the Trump circus and prelude to war means that the important movements for popular power and against sectarianism in Iraq and Iran are under threat writes ISO member Josh O’Sullivan.

On the 3rd of January the U.S. carried out a drone strike on a convoy traveling near Baghdad International Airport, Killing General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds force, nine other passengers were also killed including the Deputy Chairman of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. In retaliation Iran has launched missile strikes against two US bases in Iraq, the al-Asad airbase, and in Erbil in Kurdistan area of Iraq. Though it seems that the outbreak of a serious regional war has been narrowly averted for the time being, Trump’s latest recklessness has made the situation ever more precarious.

Soleimani was meeting to discuss the easing of tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran and the Iranian backed militias in Iraq. According to the Prime Minister of Iraq Adil Abdul Mahdi

I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran”.

The attack itself was carried out at the direction of US President Donald Trump. According to leaks from the Pentagon itself, a presentation that detailed the possible options to the President had placed assassination by drone strike at the end. Stated by unnamed Pentagon officials this was put in to make the other proposals seem more reasonable. Trump ordered the strike and told the Iraqi government of its intention just minutes before the attack.

Soleimani was not just a general in Iran, but rather over the last 20 years he has been the architect of Iran’s regional power base throughout the Middle East. He oversaw the support for Tehran’s allied militias – in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. His support was essential in developing the PMF in Iraq, the Iranian backed Shia militias that now form a large part of Iraq’s military.

The situation in Iraq was already dire for U.S. interests in the region. The US had attacked PMF forces near Iraq’s border with Syria, and the Shia militias lead an occupation at the US Embassy in Baghdad on the 30th of December. The Shia majority in the Iraqi government in response to the strike voted to expel American troops from the country in a bid to extract the country from an escalating US-Iran proxy war. Trump’s response is the announcement of large sanctions against Iraq in retaliation for asking for troops to be removed. However, given the retaliatory attacks from Iran against US bases in Iraq, the Iraqi governments attempt to extract themselves from an Iran-US proxy war seems doomed to fail and given the wider association of Iranian backed militias across the region could lead to a wider regional conflict.

There is a myriad of reasons being proposed by commentators across the political spectrum for Trump’s war footing and destabilisation of the Middle East. Some contend that this is an escalation to ensure that US forces can maintain control of Iraqi oil reserves, and state that the US is jealously staring at the newly announced Iranian oil field that might contain over 50 Billion barrels of oil. It could be, as some have stated, that Trump is getting a war-footing to maintain his position as president through the presidential elections this year. The strike has caused a complicated mess that could easily devolve into a wider regional war. But delving into this cacophony of imperial clashes often covers over the agency and activity of real people on the ground – the popular movements clamouring for revolution across the Middle East.

Despite the claims of Iranian regime supporters, Soleimani is no martyr. He is a leader that has developed Iranian influence across the region, in an inter-imperialist regional struggle between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel, with grander superpowers looming overhead such as Russia and the US.

His role in supporting and setting up militias and directing them has caused countless deaths across the Middle East not just against reactionaries like ISIL fighters and the like but also repressions against popular movements against sectarianism. In Iraq, the Iranian backed Shia militias have opened fire on Iraqi protestors fighting for major reforms from their government.

Always in the geopolitical response to these crises, states are recognised – but not the mass movements vying for freedom and inequality. Over the past 6 months – massive popular protests have swept through the Middle East region – from Baghdad to Beirut there is a clear call for revolution. In Tunisia, Jordan, Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon people overcame the persistent repression and attacks from authoritarian governments to demand equality and political reform across the whole region.

In Lebanon, a country demarcated along sectarian religious lines, mass protests erupted against new taxes, morphed into a wide-ranging popular movement for regime change and an end to the sectarian government. “All of them means all of them” protesters chanted nationwide, demanding the ouster of Lebanon’s entire ruling class. That this includes Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Iranian backed Hezbollah, led to Hezbollah supporters attacking demonstrators, re-opening key roads and setting their tents on fire. Despite this, 1.5 million Lebanese Sunnis, Shias and Christians have been walking side by side and raging against the system, demonstrating the fallacy of religious sectarianism that has been the bedrock of political power in the Middle East.

In November in Iran, the largest protest movement since the 1979 revolution erupted last year in response to a 50% increase to fuel prices. This rapidly developed across the country with popular struggle burgeoning in towns and cities across Iran. The regime’s response was brutal with at least 1000 people killed, over 4000 injured and 12,000 arrested. Details have been scarce due to the regime blocking internet access. By assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last week, Washington has helped the Islamic Republic to supercharge its discourse of resistance to the United States and suppress dissent even more effectively.

Iraq Protests

Protestors in Tahrir Square, Baghdad in November, CREDIT: Copyright Associated Press 2019

In Iraq, Baghdad’s Tahrir Square has been the centre of ongoing protests since last October, starting with demands for clean water, jobs and electricity. When Iraqis stood up against rampant corruption and poor living conditions, they were met with brutality from Iraq’s security apparatus and Iran-backed militias. The tone of the protests quickly turned against Iran. Yet the movement—though very critical of Tehran’s overreach and role in the bloody crackdown on protesters—was never pro-American.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have marched over the past ten weeks and the protests have spread across the country. The Iraqi people demand an ouster of the government, an end to corruption and a halt to the influence of both the US and Iran. “We Want a Homeland” is one of the rallying cries – calling out for an independent Iraq free from foreign meddling and ending the entire political system of sectarianism that is used to govern in the country.

The prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, has resigned but has remained in a caretaker role, and Parliament has yet to come up with someone to replace him, largely due to the aforementioned corruption. This turmoil and breakdown in government leaves the popular movement particularly exposed in Iraq and Iran.

After the storming of the US embassy by the Iranian backed Shia militias, a list was supposedly found on a laptop of people collaborating with the US. It was an obvious fabrication, but it targeted specifically the leaders of the anti-government protestors, a worrying sign for the popular movement, especially with the heavy pressure from Tehran to find a new Prime Minister friendly to Iran. But the protest movement hasn’t disappeared, far from it, on the 6th of January Iraqi protesters flooded the streets to denounce both Iran and the US as “occupiers”, angry that fears of war between the rivals was derailing the anti-government movement. As Ahmed Saadawi writes in the Guardian

The ongoing proxy battle between the Americans and Iranians – and the emaciated state of the Iraqi government – is driving this movement for a restored nation, which will persist despite last week’s events. It is the demonstrators who represent the country’s true will, which is a desire to restore Iraq’s independence and free it from its Iranian and American captors.”

As this wave of demonstrations engulfed the Middle East, one common factor connected the protests from Baghdad to Beirut: a deep and widespread feeling of anger toward the Iranian regime. This is especially true in the bloodied towns and cities of Iraq. Soleimani and Muhandis, both targeted by the strike, were possibly the two most influential men in Iraq and are responsible for the brutal crackdown on demonstrations since October. We have seen the stories about the US and its campaign for dominance and hegemony – but we also must recognise that the Iranian regime is just as much of a danger to popular movements for revolution.

Since the Iraq War of 2003 regional and local stability (for the imperial powers) in the middle east has relied upon sectarianism and exacerbating the separation between Sunni groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Shia groups supported by the Iranian regime. Any change in that balance is likely to have major repercussions for all the regional powers. It is likely that these peace talks suggested by Saudi Arabia and Iran, are more to do with making sure that the delicate sectarian balance between Sunni and Shia which empowers both states across the region continues in the face of mass revolt and democratic movements springing up from below across the middle east. The last thing Israel and Saudi Arabia want is US withdrawal from the region – both of these regional powers and their client states such as Egypt receive billions of dollars of support from the U.S. and utilise US military hegemony to go after their own interests such as the Yemeni-Saudi Arabia war and the continuing occupation and settling of Palestine.

US imperialism is nothing to support – but neither is Iran. Both look to foster sectarian divides to prevent popular struggle from usurping political power and creating a future for themselves. We cannot fall into the same trap as many in the international left found themselves in after Syria. We cannot adopt the 30 second soundbites or short headlines of the media that present the world as a simplistic black/white, US/Iran duality. Many anti-imperialists have long supported the brutality of the Assad regime in the name of being against the US, despite the barbarity of a ruling class trying to maintain power. Yet here again we have anti-imperialists turning Soleimani into a heroic figure who fought against ISIS – never mind the cruel calculated assaults on the popular movements across the middle east perpetrated by the Iranian Regime, and its key General, in its search for regional power.

For us on the other side of the world our task is easier – we must demand our government remove its troops from the region – we are acting as clients of an imperial power that is preventing democratic development and revolution in the middle east.

Secondly, we must support the nascent rebirth of the Arab Spring. From Algeria to Sudan, from Iraq to Lebanon, people continue to march on, demanding social and economic reforms, demanding a revolution, demanding an end to corruption and authoritarianism and fighting against the sectarianism that has kept them divided and under the thumb of their ruling classes.

“Neither Washington nor Tehran, but the People and the oppressed!”

A looming world recession?

At the ISO’s annual conference over the weekend 7-8 December a session on the international situation was led off with this introduction by Martin Gregory.

 

An assessment of capitalism internationally, both in its political domination and the state of its economy, is essential for forming a view of what might lie ahead for us in New Zealand. To state the obvious, New Zealand capitalism does not exist in a vacuum but is part of an international web of production, trade and imperialist political alliances. Ever since 1848, that year of revolutions, events in one country have synchronised with events in others. Therefore, an estimate of the global situation is the framework under which our expectations for NZ can be anticipated.

 

The 2008-2009 global financial crisis is still a useful reference point to start talking about the world economy. Under the cyclical theory of capitalism, crashes are supposed to be followed by booms, but a boom did not happen after the GFC. Governments intervened with bank bail-outs and spending schemes to boost their own economies. China helped out the world system with a stupendous spending and lending spree that stimulated a rapid recovery world-wide. But while there was a recovery there has not been an economic boom. No boom because the conditions for boom – increased rates of profit, and consequentially increased investments in the productive economy – were not created.

 

The creation of boom conditions would have required drastic courses of action by political leaderships of capitalist states. Here are three examples of drastic action that might be taken in a recession to create in a new lease of life for capitalism.

 

  1. Non-intervention by governments to allow more companies to go to the wall, leaving fewer competitors with greater global market share. This was the policy of Reagan and Thatcher in response to the 1982 crash. Mass unemployment is created.
  2. Repression of trade unions in order to drive down workers’ pay and working conditions to extract greater surplus value from their labour.
  3. War to destroy capital and competitors.

 

Because drastic actions like these did not happen following the 2008-09 financial crisis, or did not happen sufficiently, increased rates of profit and boom-level investment in the productive economy did not follow. Basically, the 2008-2009 crisis solved nothing. Shattering confrontations between states and/or between classes were postponed. Consequently, the long-term trend of the rate of profit to fall before the GFC has continued to trend down since.

[Read more…]

Chile: The beginning of the end of neoliberalism?

Samuel F, a former member of the ISO now active in Chile, offers these reflections.

 

After more than 40 days of almost non-stop demonstrations things are on the surface somewhat quieter on the streets of Chilean cities. Quieter does not mean “normal” in any sense of the word – the streets are filled with political graffiti, today we were sent home early from work, and shops are boarded up to repel looters; on the other hand at least one can go about life without constantly worrying about getting tear gassed. It is common to hear people discussing politics in the streets – something rarely heard before, and hatred of the police is a more or less universal phenomena. The recent viral hit “Un violador en tu camino“ not only attacks rape culture, but also targets state violence quoting in irony the hymn of the national police force, Carabineros. On a personal level, most people are utterly exhausted both physically and emotionally, and according to news reports demand for psychological consultations has gone off the scale since the start of the crisis.

Politically, the president Piñera is doing all that he can to remain in office, and at the same time being politically isolated including by his own party. His strategy can be described as both a war of attrition against the protestors, and an attempt to divert the movement against the government by pushing a law and order agenda. The law and order agenda appears to be faltering a little, not least because a city council representative from his own right-wing party was recently arrested for organizing the looting of a shopping mall. The fizzle of the law and order strategy is promising, because by reducing the call for a crackdown amongst certain sectors, in particular small business – the short term risks of further violence and economic deterioration have receded somewhat. [Read more…]

War Profiteers Not Welcome Here

Photo Credit: Cathy Casey

Photo Credit: Cathy Casey

“This is not a weapons trading event, this is normal everyday New Zealand businesses that supply goods and services to support the New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry of Defence” is what a representative said of yesterday’s Weapons Conference in Auckland’s Viaducts Event Centre, which was sponsored by none other than the world’s largest weapon’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin.

This quote’s description of the conference as “normal everyday New Zealand businesses” is reminiscent of the phrase “there’s nothing to see here”; which always means that there is something to see. “Normal everyday” is a strange combination of words, one that might be used by someone caught doing something wrong. “No, don’t worry, this is just a normal everyday grenade I always carry around.” Putting the words “normal” and “everyday” in front of a concept doesn’t remove the violence it represents. [Read more…]

Our ‘work ethic’ is not the problem

unnamedBy Andrew Tait

John Key came out this week and said it: New Zealanders are just too lazy or drug-addled to work, so we have to bring in migrants to “do a fabulous job” harvesting fruit and veges.

It’s a meme that has done the rounds on the media, slyly suggested by employers, farmers and politicians but never before as baldly stated by anyone as prominent as the Prime Minister. The truth is employers in agriculture are so addicted to profit they refuse to pay their workers a living wage. [Read more…]

Don’t turn homophobia into Islamophobia

538085720-Vigil in memory of OrlandoNicole Colson reports on the outpouring of solidarity for the victims of a horrific mass shooting–and the need to challenge the tide of racist scapegoating of Muslims.

HORROR.

The word alone isn’t enough to describe the feeling as the country woke up to news of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. For three hours in the early morning of Sunday, June 12, 29-year-old gunman Omar Mateen kept killing at Pulse, a popular Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub. By the time he was killed himself, 50 people were dead and at least 53 wounded–one out of every three people who had been at the club.

The response was immediate and overwhelming. Amid the shock and grief, thousands in Orlando and elsewhere turned out to donate blood (despite federal guidelines that bar gay and bisexual men from being allowed to donate blood) or offer any help they could.

In cities across the U.S., vigils took place the night of the terrible crime–drawing dozens in some places, hundreds in others, but all with a sober determination to stand up against hate.

Often, the Muslim community took a lead to push back against the right-wing narrative already taking shape–and with a plea: Don’t turn a horrific tragedy into an excuse for scapegoating and Islamophobia. [Read more…]

Greece and the international situation

Greek journalist chant anti-austerity slogans during a protest in central Athens, on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Greek journalists have walked off the job ahead of a general strike set to disrupt services across the country to protest pension reforms that are part of the country's third international bailout. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Greek journalist chant anti-austerity slogans during a protest in central Athens, on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Greek journalists have walked off the job ahead of a general strike set to disrupt services across the country to protest pension reforms that are part of the country’s third international bailout. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

The following was presented at the ISO national conference in November 2015

By Andrew Tait

We are living in historic times. As if in the blink of an eye we have seen revolutions sweep the Middle East, only to descend into bloody civil war, the devastation of the Greek economy and the emergence in Greece, within five years, from obscurity to power of the most far-left political party since the 1970s – and now its apparent capitulation to the Diktats of the EU and the banks. We have seen the movement of refugees, already enormous, grow a hundredfold in Europe, where they have been met, yes, with barbed wire but also, by others, with open arms. Closer to home, the hell holes designed by Howard to hide “boat people” from human rights have now also become home to New Zealanders awaiting deportation from the Lucky Country. Legal norms are stripped away by the war on terror, and overarching all this looms the possibility of catastrophic climate change.

Why study the international situation? My workmate told me what no doubt many people feel, that she could not bear to know too much about the horrors of the world that lie beyond her control. We on the contrary, understand that however weak we are, history is made by people but not in conditions of our choosing. In this talk I aim to outline the shape of the world, and draw out some practical conclusions for our work. [Read more…]

Why voting Democratic hasn’t preserved choice

The Clintons on parade for Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1997 (White House)

The Clintons on parade for Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1997 (White House)

Elizabeth Schulte makes the case that a woman’s right to choose abortion won’t be defended by subordinating our struggle to the needs of the Democratic Party.

DONALD TRUMP gave abortion rights supporters a frightening glimpse of what an administration he commands might do when he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews earlier this month that “[t]here has to be some form of punishment” for women who have illegal abortions. [Read more…]

From Slaveholders to Sanders: A Brief History of the Democratic Party

ClintonAmerican socialist Bill Crane – in an article first published at RS21 – provides a brief history of the Democratic Party from its inception to the present, and asks how revolutionaries might relate to the movement behind presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The US Democratic Party is the oldest surviving modern political party.[1] In its longer than two centuries’ history, it has survived multiple political crises, including one genuine social revolution, transforming itself accordingly each time. What was once the political operation of the slave-owners of the US South, the closest thing the country has had to an aristocracy, in the mid-twentieth century presented itself as the party of Keynesian state management, economic populism and establishment anti-racism. Toward the end of that century it transformed itself yet again to be ‘history’s second-most enthusiastic capitalist party’ under the neoliberal order.Bernie Sanders

American socialism, since its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, have always had a somewhat schizophrenic attitude toward the Democrats. If Eugene Debs, godfather of the US Socialist Party in its heyday and its perennial presidential candidate (running once from a prison cell) could say that the conflict between Democrats and Republicans had ‘no issue, no principle in which the working class have any interest,’ this did not stop his comrade Upton Sinclair from running as the Democratic candidate for governor of California on a social-democratic platformseveral decades later. [Read more…]

Nationalist poison no medicine against the TPPA

TPPA 1by Dougal McNeill

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose the TPPA. It’s part of U.S. imperialism’s strategy against China in the Asia-Pacific, working in the economic sphere as the ‘tilt to Asia’ does in the military. It gives greater powers to capitalists, and will be used to water down labour rights and environmental protections. It threatens public health provisions.

These threats are international, and face workers in all the countries that are set to sign up. So our opposition needs to be international, and internationalist. Pala Molisa’s excellent speech at the end of today’s rally in Wellington stressed just this kind of connection.

[Read more…]