The Karm al-Jabal district of Aleppo, March 2013. In whose interest was it to allow the massacre in Syria? (Image: Basma (CC BY-ND 2.0))

Bob Newland and Dave Lister debate left-wing policy on interventionism

Bob Newland

Chartist is an excellent vehicle for discussing the development of a creative, forward-looking left policy. There isn’t space in the journal for significant polemic but the online forum offers that.

I have concerns about trends within recent Chartist articles regarding peace, nationalism and internationalism. The discussion appears to be reacting to an established imperialist agenda and seeking to modify it. We should start from our principles and develop our own case. We must recognise that Britain and many European nations were imperialist and colonialist – occupying countries, enslaving their peoples and stealing their resources.

Dave Lister’s article on ‘simplistic internationalism’ appears to set up false arguments to knock down to defend intervention in Libya and Syria, suggesting that to oppose these would mean opposing the International Brigades. There was substantial opposition to the International Brigades within social democracy, with the French Government closing the border and the wider embargo on arming the Republic. This contributed to the Fascist victory.

Whenever considering these questions, we need to ask, “Who? Why? In whose interest?”. Whatever the disguise for such interventions, they have mainly been against socialist or anti-imperialist regimes and driven by the fight for resources and markets.

We should avoid choosing arbitrary dates to justify our argument. The crisis in former Yugoslavia was provoked by Germany unilaterally recognising the breakup of Yugoslavia, against UN and EU policy, to gain advantage in the race to buy the assets of those weakened states. The international campaign against Serbia was provoked by their refusal to privatise state enterprises and return public housing to ‘former’ owners. The crisis was not started in 1998 in Kosovo but with ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. It didn’t end with the return of refugees to Kosovo: there was massive ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo. I am not defending the horrific events that were unleashed, but feel we must return to why, and in whose interest?


An ethical foreign policy

Dave Lister

I do not accept Bob’s claim that I and other contributors to Chartist have sought to modify an imperialist agenda. Many of us come from a Marxist background and fully understand this concept. I am also a historian and am well versed in the role of Britain and other European countries in the past. I am also aware of the crimes of Stalinist regimes in the past and present and do not accept a simplistic division of the world into imperialists and anti-imperialists.

My point about the International Brigades was that you cannot simply oppose all interventions in conflicts in other countries and I gave a number of examples where this has arguably been justified.

Bob says that he is not defending the horrific events that have been unleashed but provides no clue as to how he thinks that massacres in Syria and Libya could have been prevented. What are the “socialist or anti-imperialist regimes” that he claims have been attacked? Afghanistan? Iraq?

An ethical foreign policy cannot just be based on his questions “Why?” and “In whose interest?” In whose interest was it to allow around half a million people to be massacred in Syria? Assad’s? Russia’s? I have argued that some people on the hard left see regimes such as Iran and Russia and organisations such as Hamas as being in some way progressive and worthy of support. They are not. Thus, for example, defence of and support for the Palestinian people ought not to extend to support for the reactionary and racist Hamas group.

The world is a very complex place and we need to have a sophisticated analysis of what is going on based on democratic socialist principles – yes, democratic as well as socialist.

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