FRFI at the Anti-Imperialist Camp: which way for the anti-imperialist struggle?

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

At the beginning of September a delegation of eight members of the Revolutionary Communist Group travelled to Assisi in Italy to take part in the Anti-imperialist Camp, a week long event attended by communist, revolutionary, progressive and national democratic organisations from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. While there we were able to talk to and interview a number of revolutionaries from Palestine, Iraq, the Philippines, Nepal, Morocco and Venezuela who have been in the front line of the struggle against imperialism and for socialism, to learn about these struggles and take part in political debates. ED SCRIVENS reports.

The most intense debate that took place was one between ourselves and the organisers of the camp, the International Leninist Current (ILC) over the nature of imperialism in the present period. Two fundamentally different ways of analysing the world emerged. The ILC argues that the European imperialist powers, in particularly France and Germany, are too weak to compete with the USA and have therefore been absorbed into US imperialism to produce one united imperialist system that they have labelled ‘Americanism’. They do not agree with the widespread view that ‘globalisation’ spells the end of the nation state, but for them ‘the US will continue to exist as a nation, but others can’t work as nations any more’. There will be only the American Empire. ‘The imperialist bourgeoisies from other countries are completely integrated into the US, leading to one international ruling class.’

However for us the period since the collapse of the USSR and the socialist bloc has been one of a return to the classic features of imperialism defined by Lenin as a system in which the different imperialist powers tend towards conflict over markets, resources, outlets for the export of capital and ultimately profits. The post-1945 world order was a unique period in which inter-imperialist rivalries abated. It was based on three essential points. First, the ruined economies of defeated and devastated Germany and Japan were rebuilt with US capital. Second, the crushing of the working class movement by fascism before the war led to exceptionally high profits in the post-war period which could be shared out by the imperialists. Third, the victory of the USSR in the war and the subsequent rise of a large socialist bloc forced the weaker imperialist powers to unite under the leadership of the USA against their common enemy, the socialist system.

The phenomenal profits of the immediate post-war period have long gone as the rate of profit has fallen to a fraction of what it was, leading to increasing contradictions between the imperialist powers since the mid-1970s. It is now no longer a case of sharing out the profits but of the different powers attempting to secure their own prosperity and shoving their losses on to other rival powers. With the fall of the socialist bloc the post-1945 world order has been breaking down as the lack of a powerful common enemy has enabled pre-existing economic contradictions to break out into open rivalries.

The outputs of the USA and the European Union (EU) are now fairly evenly matched at 31.5% and 26% of world output respectively in 2001. By 2004, with the extension of the EU by ten member states, the combined economies of the EU will match that of the USA and their population will exceed the USA’s. The EU’s share of total foreign investment is now 52.5% of the world total, nearly two and a half times that of the USA. Foreign investment is the export of capital overseas in search of extra profits, in other words, imperialism. The figures demonstrate the strength of EU imperialism as an independent force. From 1980-2001, US total of world investment has halved while that of the EU has grown by 25%. US capital is losing ground to the capital of the EU. The economic weakness of US imperialism is striking and despite the overwhelming dominance of the US military, its military aggressiveness must be seen in this context. It is not a sign of strength but of vulnerability. The US government uses its military supremacy, built up in the long years of the Cold War, in an attempt to defend its world domination from increasingly powerful economic competitors in the EU.

FRFI has consistently argued that this was one of the key reasons for the US and British invasions of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and most recently of Iraq when the rift between Britain and the USA on the one hand and France and Germany on the other was out in the open.
Marxist theory is not simply a way of understanding the world but is a guide to practical action. Hence theoretical differences are not an irrelevant academic diversion but lead to differences in practice, and can profoundly affect our political work and tactics. For this reason, despite a desire for an international anti-imperialist coalition, we could not endorse the declaration of the Anti-Imperialist Camp; a call to struggle against the ‘American Empire’. We object to a slogan which overlooks the difference between the USA as a country and the American continent, from the Andes to the Caribbean. As communists we oppose and will fight US imperialism but as communists in Europe, we must fight the imperialist bourgeoisies of our own countries.

To shout out against the ‘American Empire’ or even US imperialism, without confronting British imperialism on the streets of Britain means pandering to populism. This is a tactic of social democracy, refusing to confront the British Labour government, and explains the failure of the anti-war movement despite its enormous size. Its mis-leaders pretended that it was the USA’s (Bush’s) war and not Britain’s (Blair’s) and therefore avoided confronting the British government or the Labour Party. Even more dangerously, the tactic proposed by the ILC in a time of increasing inter-imperialist rivalries can lead to illusions in one or
other imperialist power, such as the alleged ‘humanitarianism’ of French or German imperialism for opposing the war on Iraq. The ultimate logic of this argument leads to the position of social chauvinism, supporting one imperialist power against another when each is as brutal and exploitative as the other. We must oppose imperialism as a world economic system, as the highest stage of capitalism.

Iraq was the central theme of the 2003 Anti-Imperialist Camp, which launched a campaign for material support for the resistance to the occupation forces. FRFI spoke to two participants in the Iraqi struggle: Jehad, a Palestinian student in Baghdad and Awni Al Kalemji of the Iraqi Patriotic Coalition.

Jehad was studying hotel management at a university in Baghdad. When the war started he decided to stay and fight because, he said: ‘We know the great danger of imperialism, not just in Iraq but for the whole world...the Zionist invasion of Palestine and the American aggression against Iraq, is the same - same kind of weapons, same techniques, same we decided to stay there and participate in this war, for the sake of freedom for humankind, not just for Iraqis or Palestinians.’ Jehad joined the battle against the US army at the airport of Baghdad.

Jehad was arrested by US troops. ‘I was in my house, with no guns, nothing to indicate that I was in the resistance, and I had documents to prove I was a student in the university. This did not matter to the Americans. They just wanted to catch anyone.’

He was first held overnight in an outdoor tennis court, handcuffed without food or water, left to sleep on the wet floor. ‘Then they moved us to the airport, with around another 60 prisoners. Some of them were old men, around 70-80 years old, some of them were minors under 18, most of those were around 14-15 years old, some of them were mentally ill. We stayed in the airport for two days. There were three small rooms, three by three metres and in each room there was 20 prisoners. So you couldn’t even lay down to sleep, you had to sit.’

Jehad was shifted through four more places of detention in Baghdad, Nasiriya and Um Qasar, all with insufficient food and medical care. In two other camps the captives were forced to sleep outdoors on the sand with the scorpions and snakes.
After 50 days of these conditions, Jehad was processed by a military tribunal without any legal representation, where the judge was eating potato chips and drinking Coca-Cola. The court’s decision was that Jehad was a civilian, held in US custody for attempting a ‘belligerent act’.
‘I asked what do they mean when they say belligerent act. They told me it’s a wide concept. It can be because you fought against the Americans, or maybe you are a thief, a rapist, a killer, a criminal, or maybe it’s for just being in Iraq when you shouldn’t be.’ Jehad was released near Basra and given just $5 to get back to Baghdad.

Awni Al Kalemji represented the Iraqi Patriotic Coalition, an alliance of seven parties formed in the 1970s to struggle against the regime of Saddam Hussein by every means including armed struggle. He told us that at the moment, although the Iraqi people are resisting the occupation in many places, there is no real co-ordination between the resistance groups in the different towns and regions. For this reason the Iraqi Patriotic Coalition is returning from exile in Europe to Iraq in an attempt to provide co-ordination and leadership. Awni Al Kalemji himself was held under house arrest for two weeks and had his house searched in Denmark during the war.

FRFI spoke to Rio Mondelo of Bayan from the Philippines. Bayan is made up of militant workers’ unions, federations of the peasantry, women, indigenous peoples as well as migrant Filipinos and organises around 1.5 million members. Rio told us that Bayan is a legal and open part of the National Democratic Front. ‘The NDF was established by the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1973 to be the united front formation of the revolutionary organisations. It is now composed of 14 underground revolutionary armed organisations which include the CPP, the New People’s Army, women’s, youth and professional underground organisations, we even have the organisation of indigenous people and they have their own army. And course the Moro people are also represented.’

One concrete example of the colonial relations between the Philippines and the United States is the mutual defence treaty. Of course there is a lopsidedness to this treaty because if the Philippines is attacked the USA can help but if the USA is attacked the Philippines has no capacity to help because it is so poor. One of the provisions of the treaty is for the US to provide training for Filipino soldiers. In 1991 the Filipino Senate was forced to close the two big US bases but now the treaty allows US troops to be stationed in any part of the country without building a base.

Last year a Bayan international solidarity delegation visited the southern Philippines where 1,000 US troops had arrived. Under the treaty they are not allowed to carry out any type of combat. However the delegation established that a Moro civilian who had been shot in his own home had been injured by US troops. This incident severely embarrassed President Gloria Arroyo and the US State Department. The next month the State Department reacted by banning the CPP, its founder Professor Jose Maria Sison and the NPA.

Sison is a refugee in the Netherlands, but after being placed on the US list of alleged terrorists the Dutch government followed suit. This is a very serious move because Professor Sison is the theoretician of the Filipino left and ‘the ultimate objective of the US is to be able to extradite him so they can imprison him indefinitely by falsely accusing him of a crime’. After having labelled him a terrorist their other option is his physical assassination. For this reason Bayan is supporting a campaign for the removal of Professor Sison, the CPP and the NPA from the EU’s list of alleged terror-ists and for the defence of Sison’s democratic rights.


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