[lbo-talk] Platypus: what we are, what we do, and why

Adaner Usmani adaner.usmani at gmail.com
Thu Apr 8 22:57:23 PDT 2010

It is telling, Chris, that in enumerating the protagonists of this "Islamist terrorist conspiracy" you reproduce a laundry-list of alliances that is entirely a figment of the imperialist imaginary. Hamas in Gaza as members of the same 'Islamist Terrorist Conspiracy' as the Afghan Taliban? Give it a rest [1]. The Islamic Republic in Iran as allied to the perpetrators of 9/11 and 7/7? Hell, not even the perpetrators of 9/11 and of 7/7 could reasonably be called members of the same "Islamist terrorist conspiracy" [2]!

So farcical is your starting-point, here, that no lay observer of everyday events in the Middle East/South Asia could possibly take any of this seriously, much less any historian of political or militant Islam. You are well within your rights to discuss political strategy and the future/fate of the 'Left', both in the US and also around the world, it seems [3]--but the premise of any intelligent, political discussion of these issues has to root itself in facts, not in Fox News soundbytes.

Setting this aside, around the question of why anti-imperialism is a necessary part of Left politics, there is much to say [4]. Indeed, there is almost too much, so all I will do is outline the contours of a good answer, quickly and in the abstract. Anti-imperialism is critical for two sorts of reasons, relating (1) to Left politics in the US and (2) to Left politics abroad.

ONE: In the US, an anti-imperialist politics does several things:

(A) It foregrounds, for workers, the barbarity of their State and ruling elite. At its most effective, this has the effect of eating into the ideological supports of the present order--it calls into question its most basic foundations (the notion of a cohesive national formation, etc.). "If your ruling-classes are willing to spend billions of dollars developing a drone program that has already slaughtered hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, why is it that they're cutting education budgets at home? What does this tell you about how much they care about your rights, your needs?" This kind of thing.

(B) An anti-imperialist politics that cuts through the fog of racist tropes about the populations being massacred ("that they attack us because their culture is hostile to our freedoms") can lay the foundations for a true internationalist ethic--a legitimate universalism. It foregrounds the fact that people everywhere are more-or-less the same ("what would you do if your home was bombed, your children killed?"). Aside for being the sine qua non for the internationalist politics Platypus seems to want to resurrect, this line can also have the attendant benefit of inuring workers, in the US, to racist attempts to divide them.

(C) Anti-imperialist politics are desirable also because the defeat of your ruling classes is a good thing. When wars go badly, political regimes lose legitimacy. This, for example, was prominent in the Left's opposition to Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Fascism stood to benefit, if the invasion went well.

(D) Moral/humanitarian values--Platypus seems to pooh-pooh this as apolitical, but I fail to see why. Insofar as the Left is interested in transforming the world according to certain values, it is important to argue for the importance and relevance of those same values, day-in, day-out. Presumably, these would include an opposition to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of men, women, children for the purposes of imperial expansion. Complicity or silence on these issues is not a habit that the Left should ever cultivate. All else aside, a US workers' movement that denounces the moral depravity of its ruling-classes is better equipped for a Left future.

TWO: In the occupied/dominated countries, an anti-imperialist politics does several things:

(A) Imperialist intervention makes it that much more difficult to build Left politics in these countries. War and occupation have (1) the ideological effect of chloroforming class cleavages in the garb of national oppression; (2) the practical effect of making it impossible to organize, due to escalating violence and death. All of this is retrogressive for a Left project in these countries. RAWA, who you haughtily refer to in inverted commas, says this time after time, and you should take them seriously: thirty-odd years of imperialist war in Afghanistan have decimated progressive forces in that country. Further war and destruction takes us backward in the battle to rehabilitate them--not forward, not sideways (which would be your position, I take it). Very often, lest we forget, imperialist wars empower the most reactionary elements in society--this is the case with Afghanistan today, for example. A similar dynamic has unfolded in Pakistan: the expansion of the US war in the region has gone hand-in-hand with a strengthening of the position of the Pakistani Army in domestic politics--this, only two years after it was tossed from power in a mass upsurge. [5] This makes Left politics (which exists in much more robust form than anything Platypus has to show for itself, mind you) that much more difficult. [6]

(B) Anti-imperialist politics in the US, independent of whether they end imperialist war, carry valuable ideological lessons for the populations under siege. Workers in Pakistan who hear of American workers protesting drone attacks (particularly workers protesting on anti-imperialist lines) will--all things being equal--be much more receptive to class politics, and much less enamored with national/religious politics. After all, a narrative of the "barbaric West" and/or the "Christian crusaders" makes less sense when Western/Christian workers rise up to oppose their own Western/Christian rulers.

Anyway--I take all of this to be quite elementary to Left politics (and an incomplete list, I'm sure), so I apologize if people find it repetitive.

best, adaner

- - -

[1] http://www.brandeis.edu/crown/publications/meb/meb41.html

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/apr/09/july7.uksecurity

[3] As a rule of thumb, I'd recommend against proclamations that the Left is 'dead' everywhere--the more countries about which you say this without concretely engaging their respective histories, the less and less it means. Without a careful, balanced assessment of why individual Left projects have run into problems (far too often, in my experience, the Platypus line collapses a very varied history into, uniformly, a failure of the Left's own making), this argument comes off as quite puerile, really--"I want my *true* Left and I want it NOW!"

[4] By the way, I am stunned that you persist with this notion that Hitchens/Makiya are as much a part of Left politics as someone like Tariq Ali. Being critical of a heinous regime does not purchase you penance for having endorsed the massacre of the Iraqi people. Neither Hitchens nor Makiya ever had a monopoly on criticism of Saddam's regime--not before the war, not during, and not retrospectively. Platypus dresses up their immature, fatal idiocy around the Iraq War as a sensitivity to the plight of Iraqis under Saddam, something which--it is alleged--the rest of the Left was blind to. This is profoundly misleading, aside from being untrue. In short, you are celebrating an odious, racist and decisively not Left politics--the kind that outsources the salvation of the 'darker nations' to Uncle Sam, because--at its core--it believes them incapable of emancipating themselves.

[5] http://www.solidarity-us.org/current/node/2606

[6] http://progpak.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/we-have-workers-and-struggle-part-ii/

> But there was and is an Islamist terrorist conspiracy! There were attacks in Britain on 7/7 as well as in the U.S. on 9/11 and in Madrid and in Bali and the African cities where American embassies were bombed, etc., etc.!
> This Islamist terrorist conspiracy is less dangerous, in purely physical terms, than the govt. violence of the U.S. and Britain, et al. But that doesn't mean it's not dangerous. What about the Taliban regime in Afghanistan? What about the Islamic Republic in Iran? What about Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza?
> Why does saying so mean "buying into" attacks on civil liberties?! One doesn't have to defend Gitmo to condemn the Islamist terrorists in no uncertain terms!
> Clearly, the damage the U.S. and Britain et al. have done in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc., *far* outstrips the harms suffered by residents of Europe and the U.S. in the "war on terror," which of course I oppose!
> -- Chris

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list