The last three decades have seen increasing political confusion about the meaning of anti-imperialism, a notion that itself had not been much debated before. There are two main reasons for this confusion: the victorious end of most post-World War II anti-colonial struggles, and the collapse of the USSR. During the Cold War, the United States and allied Western colonial powers waged a number of wars directly against national liberation movements or regimes, along with more limited military intervention and proxy wars. In most of these cases, the Western powers faced a local opponent supported by a large popular base. Opposing imperialist intervention and supporting those it targets seemed like the obvious choice for progressives; the only debate was whether support should be critical or unreserved.
Rather, the main division among anti-imperialists during the Cold War was caused by attitudes toward the USSR, which the communist parties and their close allies saw as the "homeland of socialism"; They determined much of their own political positions by siding with Moscow and the "socialist camp," an attitude that has been called "campism." This was facilitated by Moscow's support for most of the struggles against Western imperialism in its global rivalry with Washington. As for Moscow's intervention against worker and popular revolts in its own European domain, the campers sided with the Kremlin and denigrated these revolts on the pretext that they were fomented by Washington.
Those who believed that the defense of democratic rights was the supreme principle of the left supported the struggles against Western imperialism and the popular uprisings in the Soviet-dominated countries against the local dictatorial regime and the hegemony of Moscow. A third category is made up of the Maoists, who since the 1960s have branded the USSR as “social fascist”, described it as worse than US imperialism and in some cases even sided with Washington, as in the attitude of Beijing.South Africa.
However, the pattern of exclusively Western imperialist wars waged against popular movements in the Global South began to change when the USSR waged the first such war since 1945: the war in Afghanistan (1979-1989). And while not led by states then labeled "imperialist," Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978 and China's attack on Vietnam in 1979 caused widespread disorientation in the ranks of the global anti-imperialist left.
The next big complication was the 1991 US-led war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. This was not a popular, albeit dictatorial, regime, but one of the most brutal and murderous in the Middle East, which had even used chemical weapons to massacre thousands of Kurds in their country, with the complicity of the West, as it was carried out During the Middle East war Iraq against Iran happened. Some figures who had previously belonged to the anti-imperialist left switched to supporting the US-led war this time around. But the vast majority of anti-imperialists opposed it, even though it was carried out under a Moscow-sanctioned UN mandate. They made little sense in defending the possessions of the Emir of Kuwait over British-granted rule by him, populated by a majority of disenfranchised immigrants. Most weren't Saddam Hussein fans either: they denounced him as a brutal dictator while opposing the US-led imperialist war against his country.
Another complication soon arose. After US-led war operations ceased in February 1991, George H.W. The Bush administration, having deliberately spared Saddam Hussein's elite force for fear of a regime collapse that could have benefited Iran, allowed the dictator to use them to crush a popular uprising in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprising. in the mountainous north, and did use helicopters in the latter case. This led to a massive wave of Kurdish refugees pouring across the border into Turkey. To stop this and allow the refugees to return, Washington imposed a no-fly zone (NFZ) over northern Iraq. There was almost no anti-imperialist campaign against these NFZs, as the only alternative would have been to continue the ruthless repression of the Kurds.
NATO's wars in the Balkans in the 1990s presented a similar dilemma: Serb forces loyal to the Slobodan Milosevic regime engaged in murderous actions against Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims. But Washington has deliberately neglected other means of preventing massacres and enforcing a negotiated deal in the former Yugoslavia in its attempt to turn NATO from a defensive alliance into a "security organization" waging wars of intervention. The next step in this mutation was to involve NATO in Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001, thus removing the limitations of the alliance's original Atlantic exclusion zone. Then came the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last US-led intervention, which united all anti-imperialists under conditions to oppose it.
Meanwhile, Cold War “campism” re-emerged in a new guise: it is no longer defined by alignment behind the USSR, but by direct or indirect support for regimes or forces that are the targets of Washington's hostility. In other words, there was a shift from "my friend's enemy (USSR) is my enemy" logic to "my enemy's enemy (USA) logic. While the former led to some strange bedfellows, the latter logic is a recipe for empty cynicism: oriented solely towards hatred of the US government. support for openly reactionary and anti-democratic regimes, such as the brutal capitalist-imperialist government of Russia (imperialist by any definition of the term) or the regime theocratic of Iran, or those of Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.
To illustrate the complexity of the problems facing progressive anti-imperialism today, an unfathomable complexity by the simplistic logic of neocampism, consider two wars that emerged from the 2011 Arab Spring. When popular uprisings succeeded in overthrowing the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011, the entire spectrum of self-proclaimed anti-imperialists cheered unanimously, as both countries had Western-oriented regimes. But when the revolutionary shock wave reached Libya, which was inevitable for a country bordering Egypt and Tunisia, the neocampists were far less enthusiastic. They recalled that for decades the highly autocratic regime of Muammar el-Gaddafi had been ostracized by Western states, apparently unaware that it had made a spectacular move there.cooperation with the United Statesand several European countries since 2003.
True to form, Gaddafi brutally crushed the protests. When insurgents seized Libya's second city, Benghazi, Gaddafi, after calling them rats and drug addicts and famously vowing to "cleanse Libya inch by inch, house by house, house by house, street by street, person by person" . the land is cleansed of filth and filth" - prepared an attack on the city, using the full range of its forces. The probability of a large-scale massacre was very high. Ten days after the start of the uprising, the Security Council of The UN unanimously approved aresolutionRefer Libya to the International Criminal Court.
The Benghazi people pleaded with the world for protection while emphasizing that they did not want foreign boots on the ground. The League of Arab States supported this motion. Consequently, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing "the imposition of an NFZ" in Libya and "all necessary measures... to protect the civilian population... excluding any form of foreign occupation in any part of Libyan territory". Neither Moscow nor Beijing vetoed the resolution: both abstained because they were unwilling to accept responsibility for a planned massacre.
Most Western anti-imperialists condemned the UN Security Council resolution as a blow back to those who authorized the 1991 attack on Iraq. In doing so, they overlooked the fact that the Libyan case actually had more in common with the NFZ imposed on northern Iraq than with the all-out attack on Iraq under the pretext of liberating Kuwait. The UN Security Council resolution was clearly flawed and open to interpretation in a way that would allow for prolonged interference by NATO powers in Libya's civil war. However, in the absence of alternative means to prevent the impending massacre, the NFZ could hardly be fought in its initial phase - for thesame reasonsthat had led Moscow and Beijing to abstain.
It took NATO only a few days to strip Gaddafi of much of his air force and tanks. The insurgents could have continued without direct foreign involvement, provided they were provided with the necessary weapons to contain Gaddafi's remaining arsenal. NATO preferred to make them dependent on their direct involvement in the hope that they couldcontrolYou. They ended up thwarting NATO's plans by completely dismantling the Gaddafi state, creating the current chaotic situation in Libya.
The second, even more complex case is Syria. The Obama administration never intended to push an NFZ there. Given the inevitable Russian and Chinese vetoes in the United Nations Security Council, this would have required a violation of international law, such as the one perpetrated by the George W. Bush administration in invading Iraq (an invasion Obama He opposed). Washington held alow profilein the Syrian war, it increased its involvement only after the so-called Islamic State emerged and crossed the border into Iraq, and then limited its direct intervention to fighting ISIS.
However, Washington's most crucial influence on the war in Syria was not its direct involvement, which is all-important only in the eyes of neocampists focused exclusively on Western imperialism, but rather its ban on the supply of anti-aircraft weapons by part of their regional governments. allies to the Syrian insurgents, mainly because ofisrael resistance. The result was that the Assad regime enjoyed a monopoly in the air during the conflict, even resorting to extensive use of devastating barrel bombs dropped from helicopters. This situation also encouraged Moscow to directly involve its air force in the Syrian conflict starting in 2015.
Anti-imperialists were bitterly divided on Syria. The neocampists—like in the United States the United National Antiwar Coalition and the United States Peace Council—focused exclusively on the Western powers in the name of a peculiar one-sided “anti-imperialism” while supporting or ignoring an incomparably more important intervention by Russian imperialism ( or timidly mentioning it, while refusing to fight it, as in the case of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK), without mentioning the intervention of Iranian-backed Islamic fundamentalist forces. Progressive democratic anti-imperialists, including this author, condemned the murderous Assad regime and its reactionary and foreign imperialist supporters, punished the Western imperialist powers' indifference to the fate of the Syrian people while speaking out against their direct intervention in the conflict, and condemned the nefarious role played by the Gulf monarchies and Turkey in fostering reactionary forces in the Syrian opposition.
However, the situation was further complicated when a fledgling ISIS threatened the Syrian left-wing Kurdish nationalist movement, the only advanced armed force then active on Syrian soil. Washington fought ISIS through a combination of bombing raids and brazen support for local forces that included Iranian-allied militias in Iraq and Kurdish leftist forces in Syria. When ISIS threatened to seize the city of Kobanî held by Kurdish forces, they were rescuedUS bombing raids and airdrops. No section of the anti-imperialists rose up to openly condemn this flagrant intervention by Washington, for the obvious reason that the alternative would have been to crush a force linked to a left-wing nationalist movement in Turkey traditionally supported by the entire left.
Washington subsequently deployed ground forces to northeast Syria to support, arm and train the Kurdish-led forces.Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF). The only vehement opposition to this US role came from NATO member Turkey, the national oppressor of the majority of the Kurdish people. Most anti-imperialists remained silent (tantamount to an abstention), contrary to their position on Libya in 2011, as if Washington's support for popular uprisings could only be tolerated if led by leftist forces. And when Donald Trump, under pressure from the Turkish president, announced his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, several prominent figures on the American left, including Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, the late David Graeber and David Harvey, released aexpressionIt demands that the US "continue military support to the SDF" (although without specifying that direct intervention on the ground should be ruled out). Even among neocampers, very few have publicly denounced this claim.
Three guiding principles emerge from this brief summary of the recent complications of anti-imperialism. First things first: truly progressive positions, unlike apologists for dictators, are determined by the best interests of peoples' right to democratic self-determination, not by knee-jerk opposition to anything a power does. imperialist under any circumstances; anti-imperialists mustlearn to think.” Second, progressive anti-imperialism requires opposing all imperialist states and not siding with some of them against others. Finally, even in the rare cases in which an emancipatory popular movement benefits from the intervention of an imperialist power – and even if this is the only way to save such a movement from bloody oppression – progressive anti-imperialists must advocate distrust. total imperialist power. and to ask that your participation be limited to ways that limit your ability to assert your dominance over those you intend to save.
Any discussion that remains among progressive anti-imperialists who agree with the above principles is essentially a matter of tactics. Almost no discussion is possible with the neocampers: insults and slander are their usual modus operandi, following the tradition of their predecessors from the last century.