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Sam Hamad

Corbyn and the left's misguided foreign policy

In many ways, Corbyn and his movement represent the Stalinism of the 21st century [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 July, 2016

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Comment: Jeremy Corbyn's hostility to the Syrian revolution lies in a foreign policy rooted in Stalinism, and the subversion of "leftist principles", writes Sam Hamad

While the overwhelming majority of those on the left currently rush to defend Jeremy Corbyn from what they call a "coup" against him by alleged "Blairites", for someone like me - someone who believes that the Arab revolutions present one of greatest struggles for progress in the modern world - finds himself completely unmoved by the leadership challenge to Corbyn. 

The revolution in Syria presents not just a pragmatic challenge as one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in modern history, but also a moral challenge to humanity itself - a challenge that has so far not been met. Syria presents a test of values that applies across the entire political spectrum. 

One might think it absurd that Corbyn should be judged on his views on the Syrian revolution, but it is precisely due to the fact that he identifies as a leftist - one who calls himself an internationalist and supports other international causes that go against the grain of establishment politics - that makes it imperative he is judged on this basis. 

In fact, it was not supporters of the Syrian revolution who sought out Jeremy Corbyn, but rather Corbyn who sought out the Syrian revolution and its agents, so to speak.

Indeed, in almost every debate held in the British parliament regarding Syria, Jeremy Corbyn has used his voice to oppose and slander the plight of the Syrian rebels.  Of course he maintains that he has no sympathy for Assad, but all of his interventions on this subject reproduce narratives that essentially justify the Assad's counter-revolutionary war effort and hostility to the revolutionary forces. 

This is not ignorance on his part. His interventions have been intricate and calculated in putting forward the idea that rebels in Syria ought never to be materially supported.  The figurehead of a movement that considers itself to be opposed to the fearmongering politics of the "war on terror" has been remarkably fervent in accusing the Syrian rebels of being akin to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. 

The actually existing evil of the Assad regime pales in comparison to the abstract evil of the rebels

In a debate in parliament in May 2013 on the EU arms embargo, at a time when the rebels needed arms more than ever as Iran and Hizballah increased its intervention, Corbyn said of the British government's will to aid to rebel forces: 

"I just make the point… that we would be supplying arms to people [Syrian rebels] we do not know…  anyone who doubts the leakage of arms should think carefully about the way the USA raced to supply any amount of arms to any opposition in Afghanistan in 1979, which gave birth to the Taliban and, ultimately, al-Qaeda"

As with all Assad apologists, the chief concern can never be the actually existing dynamics of the war, namely Syrian rebels fighting for freedom and democracy against a decades old tyranny that was willing to commit what is now violence on a genocidal scale, but rather the potential evils of the rebels. 

The actually existing evil of the Assad regime pales in comparison to the abstract evil of the rebels, here so squalidly elided with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

It's the intricacy of Corbyn's hostility to the Syrian revolution that is quite extraordinary. A quick look through his interventions in parliament regarding Syria will illustrate the above notion being repeated over the course of a few years.

But that was when he was a backbench MP. After his ascent to the leadership of Labour, Corbyn has carried this hostility to the Syrian revolution into the halls of genuine power. 

During the debate on UK airstrikes against IS in Syria, Corbyn could've reacted to David Cameron's referencing of the Syrian rebels by enquiring why he hasn't done more to support these forces in their fight against IS and Assad. Instead, Corbyn attacked the Tory Prime Minister from the right, accusing these rebels of being Islamic extremists. 

Anti-imperialism for Corbyn means supporting regimes, no matter how brutal, no matter if they are fascistic in ideology

The same occurred when numerous MPs, Syrian refugees and parliamentarians were urging Cameron to use the RAF to drop food into areas of Syria brutally besieged by the Assad regime, Iran and Russia. Corbyn completely ignored these calls, something I documented here

One might wonder why Jeremy Corbyn has been so hostile to the Syrian revolution. The answer lies in the roots of his politics in Stalinism, which though using the language and wearing the clothes of "leftism", actually encompassed the subversion of leftist principles. 

So, anti-imperialism became merely about supporting one brutal empire, namely the USSR, over another, namely the US. Though the USSR no longer exists, the logics of Stalinism prevail - anti-imperialism for Corbyn means supporting regimes, no matter how brutal, no matter if they are fascistic in ideology, that are conceived to be opposed to US imperialism. 

In the modern world, the point of orientation for people like Corbyn is the "axis of resistance", a name given by Iran to it and its regional allies and proxies.

And it must be understood that Corbyn is a veritable lobbyist for Iran. While he takes a very hard stance on the theocracy in Saudi Arabia, do not think for a minute that his criticisms of Saudi are born of some righteous anger about Britain selling arms to a theocracy that commits horrific human rights abuses. 

Corbyn has simultaneously sought to justify, excuse and even celebrate Iran's role in Syria

Au contraire, Corbyn argues for Britain to realign itself with the brutal Iranian theocracy. Indeed, Corbyn has been a guest of the Iranian regime on numerous occasions – posing for photos with regime officials after they had cruelly crushed the democratic uprising of the Green movement and during a time when Iran was underwriting and participating in the genocidal war against the Syrian people. He also frequently appeared on the regime's propaganda outlet Press TV. 

It is clear from his actions in parliament regarding Syria that the Labour leader's main aim is to push the hegemony of Iran. Corbyn has simultaneously sought to justify, excuse and even celebrate Iran's role in Syria. This has seen him repeating Iranian propaganda claiming it had to intervene in Syria because the revolution was actually a prelude to a western attack on the country. Corbyn endorses this genocide-justifying conspiracy.  

In a debate in parliament in May 2013, Corbyn stated that Iran was merely "presumably helping Assad" due to it "feel[ing] under threat" because of what he calls "the vast amount of arms" being supplied to rebel forces, and that Iran might be "next on the western countries'" hit list.

Iran, the force that intervened in Syria before any Syrian picked up a gun, and which has provided more material support to Assad than the support provided by the mostly unwilling benefactors to rebels, is to Corbyn, the one who is under threat. 

In interviews, he has even celebrated the fact that one thing to come of Iran's role in the genocidal war in Syria is its further rapprochement with the West. In his mind, the oppressor is the oppressed and the oppressed are by some vicious switch the oppressors. 

This particular element of Corbyn's politics doesn't just apply to Syria - he has in the past denied the genocide committed by the fascist Slobodan Milosevic and made a so-called "anti-war" speech that entailed praising the mass murderous Gaddafi regime. 

The left has been almost wholly hostile to the Syrian revolution

It must be said that Corbyn's politics simply reflect the wider politics of the organised left. Wherever it may be found, whether it's the government of Venezuela, the Castro dynasty, obscure far-left sects or socialist parties with elected representatives, the left has been almost wholly hostile to the Syrian revolution. 

The problem is best underlined by the fact that the criticisms I make of Corbyn regarding Syria would be completely alien among his supporters. They wouldn't even consider what's happening in Syria to be a revolution, but would rather rely on either the same politics as Corbyn or something much worse. 

Corbyn's politics are rooted in Stalinism, and in many ways, he and his movement represent the Stalinism of the 21st century, with history repeating the initial tragedy of Stalinism in a more farcical but nonetheless dismal and dangerous manner. 

The cliche these days is that we're moving into post-fact politics. It's now far more apt to see Corbyn and his ilk within that paradigm as opposed to the easy "left-right" paradigm suggested by so-called Blairite coups and right-wing assaults on the leader, something which simply engenders a culture of undying, uncritical loyalty to Corbyn and every aspect of his politics.

If you still believe in internationalism or that progressive principle of always siding with the oppressed - if you believe that it's an imperative for progressives to support actually existing revolution, as opposed to devastatingly siding with counter-revolution, then Corbyn and his movement are simply not good enough.



Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.  

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