Talking with, or at, or to, or about the oppressed of the Middle East

Lou Paulsen wwchi at enteract.com
Sun Sep 30 18:25:17 MDT 2001


The following is my own personal opinion and has to do with some deeply held
beliefs and some emotional issues.  It might be interpreted as 'moralizing'
by some, and others might be offended.  If that's what it is, I apologize.
It's not meant as a personal attack on any person or party.

----------------

You know, all of us on this list in the US have been thinking hard about the
message which we want to convey to the working class here in the US.  But we
are or ought to be internationalists - we in the most powerful imperialist
country are particularly obliged to be internationalists - and I hope we can
all bear in mind the fact that we are responsible for advancing the struggle
of the workers and oppressed globally; and for feeling the oppression of the
MOST oppressed; and for helping to convince them that the socialist road is
the road to victory.  And not merely for writing the statement that will
have the most appeal on the streets of our own cities.

In particular, I am thinking about those young people in Pakistan and
elsewhere who are wearing Osama bin Laden T-shirts.  I am thinking about the
'street' in Pakistan about which the CIA is so worried.  I am thinking about
all those of the poor and oppressed around the world who are thinking that
'the thug got beat up', in the words of the Moscow metalworker.  I am
thinking about the people on whom the US is about to drop bombs, or among
whom the US is planning to send special forces teams to root out Osamist
cells.  What are we Marxists in the US saying to them with our appeals?  Are
we talking to or with them at all?  Or are we just talking ABOUT them in the
same dismissive way that western colonialists have talked ABOUT the masses
in the oppressed countries for centuries?

Because it seems to me that one of the key political features of the
situation we are facing today is that socialism is comparatively weak where
it ought to be strong.  There OUGHT to be a struggle for liberation
throughout the Middle East, led by communists!  The most admired person in
the Middle East ought to be some communist writing and speaking in Arabic or
Urdu or Farsi, and not Osama.  That is the kind of struggle that imperialism
deserves to have waged against it.  Instead, radical Islamicism is
apparently in the ascendant.  Why is this?

Well, I have a simple answer: it is OUR FAULT.  That is, it is the fault of
generations of Marxists in the West who have failed to solidarize themselves
with the workers in the Middle East.  It is the fault of the Communist Party
of the Soviet Union for supporting the creation of Israel in 1948.  It is
the fault of all the other parties that uncritically supported the USSR's
line.  It is the fault of all the parties in Europe and the U.S. that failed
to support the Palestinian struggle after 1967.  It is the fault of the guy
who told me at an NPAC-sponsored "peace conference" in 1973 or so that
"We'll give back Israel to the Arabs the day they give back California to
the Indians!"  It is the fault of all the trade union leaders, even someone
like Cesar Chavez, who never wavered in their backing of Israel.  It is the
fault of the "leftists" which held a huge disarmament rally in 1983 in New
York at the height of the invasion of Lebanon, and refused to acknowledge
that war.  It is the fault of the parties which condemned the PFLP as
terrorists.  It is the fault of the Soviet leadership which tried for years
to enforce a two-state solution on the Palestinians, and supported Arab
governments which from time to time massacred Palestinians and did not
attempt to restrain them.  It is the fault of all those parties that failed
to protest this.  It is the fault of the Chinese CP (they aren't in the
'West' but they deserve mention here) after the death of Mao which
determined that since the USSR was the 'main enemy' they were called upon to
bloc with the US to crush the PDPA government in Afghanistan.  It is the
fault of Gorbachev and the Gorbachevites for selling out the USSR entirely.
It is the fault of all the parties that cheered Gorbachev on.

There is enough blame to go around, God knows.

There is a large sector of the poor and oppressed of the Middle East who
have learned, from the fall of the USSR, the lesson that the socialist
revolutionary project is a failure.

And from the failure of the workers' parties and organizations in the
imperialist countries, considered as a whole, to support them over a period
of 50 years, they have learned that working-class internationalism is a lie.
They have been told again and again, in deeds if not in words, "Our
internationalism, if we have any, at any rate does not extend to you.  You
are alien.  You are not part of our collectivity.  You must fend for
yourselves.  Our governments can collaborate in killing you by the hundreds
of thousands, and we will not raise a hand to defend you."  (There have been
exceptions, of course, but we are all going to be judged by the whole, not
the exceptions.)

But meanwhile the imperialist war against them goes on, so, in the absence
of convincing evidence that an internationalist approach will bring them any
rewards, they read the words of an Arabian millionaire.  They attempt to
envision a fighting force that can stand up to the US on the basis of
religion, and/or of national identity.  They draw a line around the Muslim
world and they say, "This is our collectivity.  We will stand up to the U.S.
as Islam, as Muslims of all classes, men and women and children, against
America, against all Americans of all classes, men and women and children.
This is OUR International.  This is how we will win."

That at any rate is my vision of radical Islamism, or at least of the mass
face of it.  That, it seems to me, is why young impoverished Pakistanis
would think of Osama as being someone like Che Guevara.

They believe that it is a dead-end street to pursue any kind of
internationalist ideology which would call upon them to put any faith in the
workers in the US or other imperialist countries.  They believe the workers
of the US, along with the bosses of the US, are their enemy; because the
workers of the US have, in their view, demonstrated in practice that this is
so, by passively allowing the bosses of the US to kill them.

>From their perspective, killing US workers in the course of a military blow
against the US is not a concern, any more than killing civilians of the
oppressed nations is for the US government.  And the truth of the matter is
that this is the simple logic of a purely nationalist, or Islamist,
perspective, or of any other perspective other than the internationalist
working-class perspective.  They may believe they are just as justified in
exterminating the 'civilians' of the oppressor nation as, for example, Nat
Turner was in killing 'civilian' slaveholders, or the Blacks of Haiti in
exterminating the French.

So, all you comrades in the US who have been writing as if the airplane
hijackers were metaphysically "evil" people, psychopaths, and so on, are
analyzing it in the wrong way, in my humble opinion.  It is not about mental
disorder or Good vs. Evil, it is about politics.  They have rejected the
notion of international working-class solidarity, and they are pursuing the
logic of that kind of struggle, and that is all there is to it!

Now, what do WE say when we talk with them - we Marxists in the oppressor
nation, who have THUS FAR failed to get our ruling class off their backs -
who have THUS FAR failed to convince them that the working class of the US
is concerned for the lives of the civilians in their own countries, such as
the Iraqi civilians who are dying from the blockade at the rate of about one
WTC every five weeks?

What do we say to them to help convince them that internationalism is not a
joke?  Or, more precisely, to help our communist comrades throughout the
Middle East convince them that internationalism is not a joke?

Here is the kind of dialogue that I imagine:

(Participants: a communist and an Islamist - they might be in Pakistan, or
Egypt, or Lebanon, or somewhere else)

Islamist:  You communists have been promising a struggle for years, but your
whole record is failure!  See what our heroes have done!  They have hit the
US in the heart!  They are frightened and hurt and they will make
concessions!

Communist:  But it has a bad political effect in the United States.  Don't
you see that you killed workers there?

Islamist:  What is that to us?  We are nothing to the US workers, who are
fat and wealthy compared to us.  They aren't concerned for our lives.  They
don't care if we die, why should we care if they die?

Communist:  You are hurting people who can be our best allies.  Don't you
see that if there were a revolution in the United States what a good thing
it would be?

Islamist:  There will never be a revolution in the United States.  That is
just a dream.  Start living in the real world, please.

Communist:  You are making it more unlikely that there will be a revolution
in the United States with such actions!  Don't you see what problems you are
making?  There are communists there, internationalists, people who care
about us and our people!  Good people, people who are trying to stop their
government!  By killing workers you undermine our cause with them.  You help
the US government convince the workers that we are all their enemy!

Islamist:  You are making this up.  I have never heard of such communists in
the United States.

Communist:  It's the truth!  That's the whole point of communism!  It brings
together the workers of all the world against the millionaires and the
generals of the United States and the other countries that have oppressed
us!  U.S. workers included!

Islamist:  I don't believe you.  Those workers in the U.S. are Americans,
first, last, and always.  I don't know why you want us to have mercy on
them, to spare their lives.  They never spare our lives.  They will always
hate us.  They are Christians underneath the communist skin.  They will
always hate Islam.

Communist:  You will see!  Even now that a war crisis is coming upon us,
through the folly of your martyrs, the communists in the United States will
come to our defense.  They are not patriots, they have a deep feeling of
solidarity for us!

Islamist:  Oh, really?  Let us put that to the test then.  Fortunately we
have the Internet now, and we can find out what they say.  All right, here
is one.  Let's see what it says here in the first paragraph:  [Note: I am
not quoting actual left parties or leftists here - LP] "We absolutely
condemn these murderous attacks as a crime against humanity!  Nothing can
justify this vicious slaughter!"  There is your internationalism!  There is
no understanding.  They sound like Bush!  We have wounded America, and the
Americans are squealing!

Communist:  But wait, further down they get into more of their position on
the war...

Islamist:  "We have no sympathy for these terrorists!  They are completely
reactionary.  These Islamic fundamentalists represent the worst aspects of
feudal rule."  I don't need to read any farther.  They sound just like Bush.
What do they care about the fundamentals of Islam?  What business is it of
theirs whether we have feudal rule or some other rule?  They are going to be
part of the crusade!  Here are people who gave their lives to attack the US!
They could have had good lives, they could have had families, but instead
they gave their lives to the struggle, to punish the United States for their
crimes, and to strike a blow against it.  And your friends in the US are
writing about them as if they were mad dogs!  They don't understand what it
is like to live here and be truly oppressed, and they never will.

----------------------------------

OK, you can say whatever you like about this imaginary dialogue, you can say
that I don't understand what the situation is really like on the ground in
the Middle East from my personal experience, and this would be quite true.
But I think we have to think about it with the benefit of whatever limited
understanding we have.  If we in the US are going to make mistakes, I want
to make mistakes on the side of internationalism, not on the side of
condemnations.  I would rather be misinterpreted as a defender of terrorism,
than as a defender of imperialism.  I want us to give our comrades in the
oppressed countries as much evidence of our internationalism in the
imperialist countries as we possibly can.  I want communists THERE to be
able to point to communists HERE who are standing up for the oppressed, not
communists here who are quick to label and judge and condemn people from the
countries which their own government is murdering as they speak.  I want to
see the millions of Islamists won over to socialism, because what is the
alternative?  And I don't believe that wholesale condemnation is a good
strategy for conversion, and I believe that empathy and understanding are
better strategies.  I want to talk WITH these Islamists, no matter how few
or how many they are, wherever they are, who are thinking about what to do
next.  Not merely 'to', or 'at', or 'about'.

There, I'm done for now.....

Lou Paulsen
Chicago

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