Syrian refugees: got a very different reception

Taking a principled position

Yassamine Mather takes to task the left in the Middle East and north Africa over Nato and Russia’s invasion

The war in Ukraine has led to some strange (yet expected) positions by sections of the ‘left’ in the Middle East and north Africa. Some smaller, maybe less significant, voices are heard supporting Putin, but there is also the pro-western, pro-Nato utterances of other sections of the ‘social imperialist’ left, predictably in response to the pro-Putin factions.

No doubt the hypocrisy of the west - ignoring their own wars, scorched-earth policy and complete destruction of large sections of the Middle East and north Africa, silencing anyone who tries to mention other wars, the racism shown when it comes to welcoming ‘blonde, blue-eyed’ Ukrainian refugees, as opposed to the hostile reception faced by Middle Eastern, Afghan and Africans - has been blatant. All this has exposed the false claims about upholding democracy or fighting racism. These days if you mention other wars, such as in Yemen, or the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, or if you express concern for other refugees, you are immediately accused of being pro-Russian. The mass media’s unanimous presentation of this war as a simplistic ‘good against evil’ has made a mockery of any claims of ‘impartiality’. However, none of this justifies or excuses supporting Vladimir Putin or Russia.

First of all, let me deal with the pro-Russia groups amongst young Iranians: Mehvar-e Moghavemat (Axis of Resistance) and some hard-line former supporters of the ‘official communist’ Tudeh party. One of their main problems is that, like the ultra rightwing forces they abhor, they see the current conflict as the continuation of their support for the former Soviet Union or, in the case of some younger Iranians, nostalgia for the Soviet era. Throughout the cold war, these groups or their predecessors supported Moscow and its tanks, irrespective of the specific circumstances. From Hungary to Czechoslovakia to Afghanistan, the brother party could not possibly be wrong and the ‘principal contradiction’ was between imperialism and the Soviet Union. The first duty was to support the Soviet Union and its allies.

Of course, Putin’s Russia has nothing to do with USSR. Contrary to what the American president tells us, Putin is not after re-establishing a pro-Soviet (!) eastern bloc. If anything, he is interested in regaining parts of the tsarist empire and - as one Iranian paper, associated with the conservative factions of the Islamic Republic, headlined two weeks ago - Iranian nationalists (in this case a reference to supporters of hard-line conservative clerics) should be wary of those ambitions.

Russia today is a second/third-rate capitalist country, where oligarchs have divided economic wealth and power amongst themselves and agreed on who will be the current ruler. Some groups on the Iranian left tell us there is no difference between Russian oligarchs and US/UK multi-billionaires and that use of the term ‘oligarch’ is western propaganda. They echo Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who told reporters in 2018: “The time when there were oligarchs in Russia passed long ago.” Obviously that is just not true. Oligarchs gained considerable power during the transition from state ownership to semi-capitalist and later capitalist ownership, using their political power and connection with the secret services to gain control over privatised Russian oil and gas industries, amongst many others. In this there are similarities between the oligarchs in Russia and the multi-billionaire sons and relatives of senior ayatollahs, leaders of the Revolutionary Guards, etc in Iran’s Islamic Republic. So it is not surprising that many of those in the Middle East who currently express support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine also provide backing for Iran’s rulers, the Syrian dictator, etc (as opposed to those who support the Saudi or Emirati dictators).

Of course, Russia is not unique. No doubt there is a very large number of American billionaires who exercise considerable political power in the United States. They have gained their wealth from the exploitation of US and other workers - a form of legalised theft. However, they are not directly involved in politics - and indeed do not need to be involved - as they wield their power in a far more subtle way.

Having said that, not to see any difference between an oligarch and a US billionaire is problematic. Another characteristic of these oligarchs is that they invest their wealth mainly in west European and North American countries. In that way they are different from most western billionaires, who at least appear to have some faith in their own system.

No justification

It is true that the USA, the UK, European Union states, etc cannot be considered genuine democracies. Most governments are voted in via paid-for publicity from the mass media owned by billionaires - in many such ‘democracies’ less than a third of the population supports the elected government. The last two years of a pandemic have shown us how there is one rule for the rich and those in power, and another for the rest of the population.

Yet none of these despicable failings justify supporting authoritarianism and the suppression of the opposition. We should be in the business of exposing the failures of bourgeois ‘democracy’, not defending dictators and helping to spread Russia’s lies about the war in Ukraine. It simply is not true to claim that every Ukrainian who does not support the invasion of their country is a fascist! It is a lie to claim Russia went into Ukraine to ‘deNazify’ the country. Putin has many ultra-rightist, neo-fascist allies within Russia and if he is so concerned about ‘de-Nazification’ maybe he should start closer to home.

I should add that in the pro-Russia camp there are also those who, decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, have become supporters of China - either because of financial support from the Communist Party of China or, more fundamentally, because they always need an ‘existing socialist state’ in order to survive themselves. Of course, in the case of China no-one in their right mind can have any doubt about the exploitation of workers there, along with new forms of capitalist ownership. Contrary to its claims, China’s deals with ‘third world’ countries are not between equal partners. The world’s second most powerful economic power has imperialist characteristics and has one principal aim: replacing the United States as the world hegemon. There is nothing progressive or revolutionary in supporting such a state - never mind its second rate protégé, the Russian dictator.

In response to the Middle eastern pro-Russia brigade, however, we have an even more aggressive left that is effectively pro-Nato. It finds the idiotic, pro-authoritarian, pro-Russia ‘left’ an easy target. But the arguments of this section of the so-called left are so familiar, so repetitive, they are clearly laughable. Their comments about the former Soviet Union can be described as part of the rightwing critique of the Soviet regime, focusing on the notion that the supporters of the former Soviet bloc did not pay enough attention to bourgeois democracy! But, as we all know, that was not the problem. The problem was that the former Soviet Union was not socialist and anyone claiming to be on the left who uses the same terminology as the United Sates and its allies in criticising the USSR’s ‘lack of democracy’ (meaning bourgeois democracy), far from making them appear radical, is totally exposed - as are the limits of their horizons and their illusions in bourgeois democracy (at a time when it is being so blatantly exposed globally).

The arguments of this pro-Nato ‘left’ camp are familiar. Many of them supported the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, because the US would allow trade union rights that would pave the way for ‘socialism’ (we all know where that has got us). They supported the US bombing of Libya for the same reasons, Of course, instead of democracy we have seen how civil war has led to complete destruction. In Syria, because they hated the Islamic Republic and Russia, some of this ‘left’ camp turned a blind eye to the reactionary jihadists supported by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - at times even favouring such forces. Now they support any Ukrainian fighting Russia - even if in some cases they are outright fascists - presumably because the enemy of my enemy must be my friend.

As we keep saying in Hands Off the People of Iran, we are equally opposed to both imperialism and its reactionary opponents, such as the Islamic regime. Once you become soft on one or the other of these adversaries, you are no longer on the side of the international working class.