The Wishful Thinking Left

Published on Dissident Voice, by Jean Bricmont, August 19, 2013. (Linked with our new blog: politics for the 99% (Frontpage), and it’s new post: Not Too Big to Jail).

Once upon a time, in the early 1970s, many people, including myself, thought that all the “struggles” of that period were linked: the Cultural Revolution in China, the guerillas in Latin America, the Prague Spring and the East European “dissidents”, May 68, the civil rights movement, the opposition to the Vietnam war, and the nominally socialist anti-colonial movements in Africa and Asia. We also thought that the “fascist” regimes in Spain, Portugal and Greece, by analogy with WWII, could only be overthrown through armed struggle, very likely protracted.  

None of these assumptions were correct. The Cultural Revolution had nothing to do with the anti-authoritarian movements in the West, the Eastern European dissidents were, in general, pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist, and often fanatically so, the Latin American guerrillas were a pipe dream (except in Central America) and the national liberation movements were just that: they (quite rightly) aimed at national liberation and called themselves socialist or communist only because of the support offered to them by the Soviet Union or China. The southern European “fascist” regimes transformed themselves without offering a serious resistance, let alone an armed struggle. Many other authoritarian regimes followed suit: in Eastern Europe, in Latin America, in Indonesia, Africa and now in part of the Arab world. Some collapsed from inside, other crumbled after a few demonstrations.

I was reminded of these youthful illusions when I read a petition “in solidarity with the millions of Syrians who have been struggling for dignity and freedom since March 2011”, whose list of signatories includes a veritable who’s who of the Western Left. The petition claims that “The revolution in Syria is a fundamental part of the North African revolutions, yet it is also an extension of the Zapatista revolt in Mexico, the landless movement in Brazil, the European and North American revolts against neoliberal exploitation, and an echo of Iranian, Russian and Chinese movements for freedom.”

The signatories, of course, demand the immediate departure from power of Bashar al-Assad, which is supposed to be the only “hope for a free, unified, and independent Syria”. They also characterize Russia, China and Iran as standing “in support of the slaughter of people”, although they are “allegedly friends of the Arabs”; they acknowledge that “the U.S. and its Gulf allies have intervened in support of the revolutionaries”, but blame them for “having done so with a clear cynical self-interest” and trying to “crush and subvert the uprising”. It is not clear how this squares with the next line of the text, which claims that “regional and world powers have left the Syrian people alone”.

The upshot of the petition consists in grandiose claims of “solidarity” from “intellectuals, academics, activists, artists, concerned citizens and social movements”, “with the Syrian people to emphasize the revolutionary dimension of their struggle and to prevent the geopolitical battles and proxy wars taking place in their country.” Nothing less!

This petition is worth analyzing in detail, because it nicely summarizes everything that is wrong in today’s mainstream leftist thinking and it both illustrates and explains why there is no Left left in the West. The same sort of thinking dominated the Western Left’s thinking during the Kosovo and the Libyan wars, and to some extent during the wars in Afghanistan (“solidarity with Afghan women”) and Iraq (“they will be better off without Saddam”) … //

… People who succumb to the illusions of revolutionary romanticism or who side with the apparent underdog, regardless of the underdog’s agenda, are being taken in by the tactics of present-day imperialism. But those who aspire to a more peaceful and more just world order, and who think that a precondition of this order is the weakening of U.S. imperialism, easily see through this camouflage. These two different world views divide both the Left and the Right: liberal interventionists and neoconservatives on one side, libertarians, paleoconservatives and traditional leftists on the other, and it may call for new and heterodox alliances.
(full long text).

(Jean Bricmont teaches physics at the University of Louvain in Belgium. He is the author of Humanitarian Imperialism. He can be èreached here. Read other articles by Jean).

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