Corbyn, Russia, Syria and the Green Party

As a member of the Green Party I am putting together these notes because I need to clarify my thoughts over Corbyn, Russia and Syria and work out why, to quote Dylan, there is so much confusion.

Last weekend my home town of Shrewsbury saw an impressive coming together of some local people with new locals – Syrian refugee families – to protest against the continued slaughter in Eastern Ghouta, being perpetrated by the Russian air force and Syrian army and to demand that something is done. Then, less than a week later, I find myself arguing on social media with some (only some) of the same people about whether Putin is actually a real threat or, as some are implying, the Salisbury poisoning is all a trick by the British ‘deep state’.

Or, to ask a related question – as Caroline Lucas puts it: ‘One: Britain has a long history of foreign policy errors, some of which have had catastrophic consequences. Two: The Russian Government is vicious, authoritarian and downright dangerous, and it was almost certainly responsible for the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury. What I can’t work out is why so few people seem able to hold both of these opinions at once.”

Caroline Lucas on Salisbury

‘… because Iraq’, is beginning to sound like ‘…because her emails’*

For Corbyn & co. everything is about Iraq.

The Iraq war was launched based on a lie. I expect we can all agree on that.

Then the Arab Spring happened. This was not western inspired ‘regime change’; this was genuine local mass popular uprisings against dictatorships. In Tunisia the protests succeeded in kicking out a dictatorship relatively quickly and bloodlessly. But elsewhere the dictators fought back with everything they had: Gaddafi used his airforce against rebel areas; after initial victories in Egypt the army carried out a coup against a newly elected president.

But some argue that there was a western assault to get regime change and that the resulting chaos is the West’s fault. (Sometimes they also go for the idea that all the revolts are led by dangerous Islamists, which you’d think was contradictory to this. I’m not going to get in to this, other than to say; if you want a revolution is your own image you are going to have to wait a very, very long time.) The clear implication in the case of Libya -the spectre of which was raised in Corbyn’s Guardian article this week – is that it would have been better if Gaddafi had been left in peace (sic) to crush the uprising. I remember sitting in a pub and coming to realise that Libya was NOT Iraq. That enforcing a no-fly-zone on a brutal regime at the request of the people rebelling was IN NO WAY the same as invading a country. The subsequent civil war and emergence of ISIS in Libya – which occurred a couple of years later – was not a forgone conclusion and was more a product of failed support and engagement after Gaddafi had fallen.

Shadi Hamid – writer on US and Middle East

News of Libyans celebrating 7 years since the fall of Gaddafi

Then came Syria. Exactly 7 years ago peaceful protests began. They were met with brutal force. But soon elements of the Syrian Army turned their backs on Assad and joined the uprising. For 3 years the uprising went from strength to strength.

Short video celebrating 7 years of resistance to Assad

But by 2015 Assad had the upper the hand. Three things gave him this; Russian military support; Iranian military support and the refusal of the rest of the world to do anything after he attacked his own people with chemical weapons. (I do wish Lucas had a least mentioned Russia’s role in Syria in her latest article.)

‘Hands Off Syria’ = we prefer Assad to popular uprising

Meanwhile in the UK the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ made placards that said, ‘Hands off Syria’. At the same time they turned away actual Syrian refugees and rebels from their platforms. It was at this time that Caroline Lucas rightly distanced herself from the Stop the War Coalition leadership.

Peter Tatchell on the Stop the War Coalition

We now have to add in to the mix the frightening breakdown in our ability to tell truth from lies. In to this situation the far right in the US and the propaganda machine in Russia feed lie after lie after lie. One of the biggest was that the White Helmets –  the Syria Civil Defence organisation that continues to save lives in rebel areas – were making up videos and acting as US stooges. This is as big a fallacy as climate change denial and ‘Truther’ myths about Obama. The other huge lie was that Assad didn’t use chemical weapons on his own people. Corbyn helped to peddle that one:

Guardian investigative piece on White Helmets

Trying to answer Lucas’s question

So what is going on with the left?

Firstly, there is an out of date view that sees the world as divided in to camps, with one camp good and the other bad. The old notion that American Imperialism is the greatest evil in the world overrides everything else. This means that just because Gaddafi, or Assad, or Chavez, or Castro, use anti-imperialist words they are in the camp of the good. And so every example of oppression is dismissed or excused, and every act of resistance is taken to be CIA organised or inspired. (Just in case of doubt, nothing stated here is a defence of American imperialism.)

This thinking is trapped in ‘geopolitics’ rather than people politics. So the power play of states overrides the actual experience of people. They can justify ‘anti-imperialist’ dictatorships whilst declaring anything that comes out of western states as necessarily wrong or evil.

It could have been different.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, a different recent history. One where Corbyn and the left had consistently stood by Arab Spring uprisings against repressive regimes from Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Syria and, beyond the Arab world to Iran. Let’s imagine that they had unequivocally condemned Assad’s chemical attacks and Russia & Iran’s support for Assad which actually stopped a people’s victory. Let’s imagine they said – ‘a humanitarian foreign policy means doing all we can to stop chemical attacks on populations’. Imagine the world of western progressive politics coming together to provide real solidarity with those in the Middle East against oppression and then having the right to point to the hypocrisy of their own states. Imagine a progressive movement that laughed in the face of RT claims to be an ‘alternative’ to the ‘Mainstream Media’ because we could recognise a propaganda outfit when we saw one.

Clear green water

I get that Caroline Lucas feels the need to tread carefully around all this. But I believe there is a necessary job of work to do: to define our internationalism and solidarity politics as unequivocally in opposition to this Bolshevik/Stalinist legacy infecting much of the left.


* this is a reference to Trump supporters endless references to Hillary Clinton’s email server, as a way of drowning out any criticism of Trump

1 thought on “Corbyn, Russia, Syria and the Green Party”

  1. Hi Julian,
    I think that most folk struggle to get to grips with the complexity of the politics around Syria and Russia. I include myself in their number. It is complex and confusing and takes some effort to see a clear picture. Thank you for doing such a good job of untangling some of the knotted web here and in your Facebook posts. I do worry that, as a populace, we are losing the ability to pay attention long enough and concentrate hard enough to understand what is going on. We tend to want easy, clear-cut answers. Heroes and villains. We seem to find it difficult to hold apparently contradictory statements in our head at the same time – which is actually the nature of reality most of the time: Putin is right to condemn US Imperialism and, at the same time, an authoritarian leader with his own tendencies towards empire building. As you are pointing out, we need to condemn actions not people. We need to show our solidarity with those whose actions we admire – but only in so far as their actions remain admirable. Which means constant vigilance and holding to account actions which we condemn. This is hard work. There can be no lazy recourse to a simple picture of Goodies and Baddies.The world just isn’t like that.
    I still have hope that the Green Party could actually rise above the personality politics that is a consequence of Goodie v Baddie politics, that infects the whole planet and tries to reduce everything to a need for “strong leaders”. We see it on the Left and the Right and it’s toxic. We don’t need strong leaders – we need leaders who can admit to their weaknesses, admit when they have made a mistake – as I think Corbyn has here. We need leaders who are strong enough to stand up and be human beings and treat the rest of the world as fellow human beings too. Most of all we, as world citizens, need to stop wanting to be led and take responsibility for our selves and our planet.

    Liked by 1 person

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