Trying to make sense of ISIS (I)

7 Feb

The unspeakable, bestial savagery of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ reached new depths this week as they released a slickly produced video of a Jordanian pilot burned to death, a punishment which is almost universally regarded as haram, or forbidden in Islam. The sickening cruelty of ISIS members standing back and watching the flames has enraged the world. After footage of the pilot’s death was shown, Jordanians took to the streets shouting ‘death, death to Daesh’ and calling for the execution of jihadi prisoners. That should be a slap in the face to islamophobic western ideologues and ISIS sympathisers, both of whom like to claim that ISIS’s obscene barbarity represents an authentic version of Islam sympathised by the overwhelming majority of Muslims. ISIS have even executed imams for criticising the murder of the pilot, which was shown on huge screens in areas it controls such as Raqqa. In an echo of nightmarish regimes such as North Korea, children were apparently forced to watch. Much has been written by media hacks about the ‘production values’ of ISIS snuff movies. ‘Yes, it’s disgusting, but it could have been made in Hollywood!’ This is 2015, the days of grainy videos of speeches by old men hiding in a cave are gone. It is thus hardly surprising that they are using modern media techniques to propagate their message.

That said, ISIS and its supporters are startlingly good at using propaganda and portraying very different messages to different audiences. ISIS’s snuff movies are designed, among other reasons, to provoke a brutal response from coalition forces as well as others opposing them. They also force ISIS fighters who may be having doubts or thinking of defecting to stay with the group for fear they will be killed, either by fellow fighters or by a world which despises them. They force them to fight to the death. Air strikes against ISIS which cause civilian casualties will look to the already brutalised population living in the areas ruled by the ‘Caliphate’ – and many outside it – like a straightforward indiscriminate attack on them and their community. People whose relatives are killed in coalition air strikes are not going to care too much about victims of ISIS PR stunts. Revenge attacks on Sunni civilians – equated with ISIS by militias will have a similar effect. In what ISIS terms ‘infidel’ or ‘apostate’ regimes, state surveillance, restrictions on dress, increased stopping and searching, clampdowns on freedom of speech and workers’ rights, combined with growing suspicion and hatred by Shia or non-Muslim populations, all combine to create fertile ground for jihadists to operate.

I believe that in this context the films serve several functions.

Firstly, they are designed to create a spectacle of terror among opponents of ISIS, depleting morale and creating a climate in which anyone may be under suspicion. The destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 and the images of planes crashing into buildings created such a spectacle. Highly emotive images of dead babies killed by the west and iconic images of the ‘brave’ ‘mujahideen’ are a staple of jihadism. The group which became ISIS, at that time led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, further developed such an approach in 2004 with the beheading of Nick Berg and other western hostages. Secondly, they create an impression of unstoppable momentum which is frequently not matched by events on the ground. It is no coincidence that the latest film was released when ISIS is being routed from Kobane, which it had poured a huge number of resources into attacking. They give the impression that there is nothing holding them back, that they can do anything they want and don’t give a fuck. Footage like the burning of the pilot is shown in territory held by the group to crush dissent and opposition, terrorising the people of Raqqa and Mosul into silence.

Thirdly, they distract attention from the incompetence, expropriation, thievery, misogyny and everyday violence perpetrated against occupied populations by ISIS. They also create an atmosphere of scepticism. Some of the stories circulated about ISIS seem almost too horrific to be true, and ISIS’s emphasis elsewhere on heroism, ‘women’s rights’ and the like put across a very different message to that of the burning cage. Fourthly, they serve the geostrategic aims of ISIS in promoting fractures within regional elites and rival militant groups which assist its project of a caliphate. The UAE, for example, has pulled out of the coalition against ISIS out of concern for its pilots’ safety. Selective murders of prisoners from Lebanon have helped to reignite the religious conflict.

Lastly, these pornographic images form part of a very specific recruitment strategy aimed at recruiting a demographic of people, mostly in the West, who are attracted to and turned on by violence. This is far from being their only recruitment strategy. They aim to attract a broad range of people from disillusioned ex Baathist bureaucrats to devout young women living in Saudi Arabia. The global jihadi movement would not have survived for as long or be nearly as deadly – killing over five thousand people worldwide in a single month in 2014 – were it purely attracting sociopaths or be purely about an obsession with archaic religious rules.

The fact that a group as despicable as ISIS enjoys any significant support in Iraq and Syria among locals is partially due to the brutality of Western (and Russian and Iranian) backed regimes such as Bashar Assad and Nouri al-Maliki, and the chaos in those countries. By backing Sadrist militia groups which terrorise Sunni civilians Iraq’s government fuels sympathy for ISIS. In a reversal of their position from a year ago coalition forces are now discussing helping Assad, a dictator that has killed more people than ISIS but who takes care to keep his crimes hidden rather than revel in them. Even the Jabhat al Nusra front, a jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, are increasingly seen as a more ‘moderate’ option.

This week a document was translated by the Quilliam Foundation which described the ideal ‘functions’ of women under ISIS rule. It is specifically aimed at women in the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, and was not translated into English. The document tries to portray ISIS’s ‘humane’ side. It presents an image of a tranquil, ‘sedentary’ existence where women are hidden from view. It specifically attacks Saudi Arabia’s hypocrisy in forbidding women from driving, while permitting women and men to associate in universities and workplaces. ISIS talks about setting up old age homes, ending corruption, and how its sharia courts are ‘listening’ to women’s issues:

We believe that there were few truly just courts before the establishment of the Caliphate, for two reasons: 1) Because the tyrants who administered the courts blocked the Shariah, instead ruling by human constitutions based on injustice. 2) On the administrative side of things, the Shiite junta did not rule with Sunni rulings in mind, especially regarding women. In addition to this, many women lost their rights due to rampant corruption. Now, courts that rule by that which God decreed have been established, judges have been appointed long periods within which they can consult with the people on matters of marriage and divorce and inheritance, which concern women a lot. The divisions concerned with these issues were applied without delay, as much as was possible. Women now go to courts and openly talk of their issues. They find that they are listened to and their issues are dealt with, without a need for bargaining or bribery – indeed some researchers have even suggested that the level of corruption within Islamic State is zero. If a Christian women comes to the state courts to declare their conversion to Islam, then they enjoy full protection from any harm or abuse, whether it is paternal or something else, just at the Copts who become Muslim in Egypt, where they suffer torture and imprisonment, or the sisters that face the same situation in Lebanon.

ISIS describes in emotive terms the hardship which existed for women under the threat of Shiite militias and other gangs in the days before its takeover of parts of Iraq and Syria. It contrasts this with an idealised picture of life under authentic Islamic rule. ISIS repeatedly stress that they are not against women’s education and they want to allow women to become doctors and teachers (although education should stop after the age of fifteen). ISIS stress how much they are against nationalism – borne out in the ‘breaking the borders’ campaign where they demolished the Sykes-Picot line. In their words, ‘Syria is no longer for the Syrians and Iraq is no longer for the Iraqis.’ They describe a community where settlers from all parts of the world live side by side. Some of the ‘case studies’ presented could have come from the pages of an Amnesty International report:

R.‘A., a teacher from Riyadh, told me her story. She is a divorced woman with three girls. Her government put her in a position, after more than 7 years of waiting during which she was forced to work in difficult places, in an undignified manner. She worked in a travel office where she met men and received from them what women have to when faced with men. Then, she was appointed a teacher in the village of Ras Shamikh in the south of the Gulf, far from her people. She moved there and lived in a house with several other women in the same situation. The village was not safe – it was full of drug addicts and criminals. She was transported to and from the school on top of the mountain with the other female teachers by a driver who, it was later discovered, dealt drugs. The sister continued to suffer there with no one looking into her case or trying to solve her problem. Many women are in the same situation. They need a livelihood. Others have even died because of it, in what have become known among Jazrawis as “teachers’ accidents.”

What is striking here is the difference in this message, inviting conservative women from Muslim countries to join ISIS, and the message sent to, for example, young western women, for whom joining and marrying a ‘mujahideen’ is heavily romanticised and presented as an act of adventurism. Notions that women could or should fight are refuted, with ISIS denouncing the ‘confusions’ that have taken hold as a result of ‘shoddy-minded’ feminist ideas. Women are told they should stay in their houses. It is even further away from the Call of Duty-style videos and stunts with which ISIS attempt to recruit young Western men. Isis graphic ISIS is hardly unique in playing different messages to different audiences. It is also not unique in shoving its sadism in people’s faces – videos created by Mexican drugs cartels display similar qualities. The social media campaigns by supporters of the Israeli state and the Israeli army itself often have a similar pornographic quality.Last year right wing Zionists relaxed on hills overlooking the border, taking selfies of themselves on Instagram while they watched the bombing of Gaza. Israeli soldiers uploaded videos to Youtube destroying mosques and dedicating the explosion to dead fighters. The Israeli state, and individual Zionists attempting to bolster support for Israel pose its propaganda message on multiple levels – as ‘the only safe place to be a Jew’, as a tolerant multicultural society, as a LGBT haven – messages that contradict the open celebration of violence all too apparent in many of Israel’s supporters.

Both Zionism and salafist jihadism attract young, ideologically committed supporters who are adept at using the social media and display an adept knowledge of postmodern culture. By contrast, the anti terrorist websites set up by western states appear hopelessly out of date and are easily parodied and ridiculed, such as the ‘stop-djihadisme‘ campaign in France which appears to show that not eating baguettes is a sign of becoming a terrorist. The lies and deceptions of western governments on everything from the Iraq war to child abuse scandals help to create a sense of scepticism that ISIS could really be this bad.

More than past jihadi movements, ISIS taps into depoliticised, nihilistic, reactionary violence. It appeals to many of the same kind of people who in a different setting would have become neo-Nazis or Zionist ‘lone soldiers’ who travel to Israel from the west to join the army. It is no surprise that ISIS recruiters target people who play games such as ‘Call of Duty’ and that some of their productions, such as ‘Clanging of the Swords 4‘ are designed to resemble such games. Graphics created by ISIS members include such slogans as ‘YODO. YOU ONLY DIE ONCE – WHY NOT MAKE IT MARTYRDOM.’ One jihadist described being a member of ISIS as like a real life version of Call of Duty.

A disturbing example of this nihilism is the series of videos taken of the British hostage John Cantlie. Cantlie is filmed in the style of a TV presenter giving an analysis, depicting the ISIS position as if he is presenting a news discussion. In later videos he is shown in Kobane giving a breakdown of ISIS positions (prior to their defeat). In the most recent video he rides around Mosul on a motorbike with armed fighters guarding him as if he is presenting a travel programme. In the process of these videos he makes sarcastic comments about the West’s strategy towards ISIS, such as ‘people are starting to lose their heads.’ I hope that he is making such remarks as an attempt to keep himself sane. But some of the comments beneath the video praise ISIS for ‘a top class bit of trolling’.

In a world where we are more isolated and atomised than ever, such cynicism has become the order of the day. People who sincerely believe in ISIS’s message, attracted by the rhetoric of building a religious utopia and helping oppressed people, are potentially as dangerous as Jihadi John. One film, Eid Greetings from the Land of Khilafah, shows ISIS fighters handing out sweets surrounded by smiling children. Jihadist groups are masters in using the power of images and exploiting the suffering caused by neoliberal capitalism to recruit. The 7/7 bombers claimed to be motivated by the suffering of Muslims in Iraq and Palestine and saturated themselves with such images in order to dispel any doubts.

As I will discuss in the follow up to this piece, the years after 9/11 have seen an intense rise in islamophobia in the west, and a growing suspicion of Muslims, politically motivated laws such as headscarf bans in Europe, and an intense focus on the community in terms of security and surveillance. This is one of the factors which has driven the growth of religious fundamentalism and an apocalyptic jihadist ideology. There is a growing expectation that Muslims prove their loyalty to the country as with the demands for poppy hijabs. A poll in 2014 showed 63% of French people believe Islam is not compatible with the country’s values.

These are frightening statistics. And on the surface they show that the polarisation strategy that ISIS shares with the far right and elements of the state is partially working, with religious hate proving powerful enough to erode bonds of solidarity between neighbours and workmates.

It is hardly surprising that such a climate has fuelled support in some circles for ISIS, although nowhere near the mass support that is often thought. ISIS’s meticulously choreographed image conceals the fact that many people in Raqqa, Mosul and other areas despise their rule despite the bombings by coalition forces and years of polarisation and sectarianism. People are risking their lives, to film scenes of life in Raqqa and the aspects of life that ISIS does not want people to see. Harassment by armed men, scenes of people being held down and beheaded in the street, and anything that does not fit the view ISIS wants to present to the world.  Divisions within the ranks, with locals and those forced to fight frequently despising ideologically fixated and brutal foreign fighters who carry out a form of settler colonialism for ‘all the world’s Muslims’, the wage freezes, the confiscation of salaries, mean that it could all fall apart very very quickly. A recent series of military defeats demonstrates that the group are in no way as powerful or as unstoppable as they claim. It is no coincidence that the most horrifying of their media stunts was released shortly after Kobane, where they were pushed back by a women’s militia. ISIS is attempting to portray themselves as invincible and to make themselves invincible through fear, but this will not work indefinitely.

In the ferocious response from Jordan and the coalition states following the events of this week ISIS are getting what they want, at least in the short term. ISIS’s stunts obscure the fact their support is increasingly fractured, and their military might is not what it appears. In the mean time however, the group will continue to attract sadists, ‘gangster jihadis’ and religious fanatics, as well as people who believe they can protect them from sectarianism and government attacks in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has been propelled into a position it does not deserve by the actions of local elites, international and regional powers, and by its ability to use propaganda on a global scale which differs so widely depending which audience it is addressing. It is in the vanguard of a movement which is internationalist, against racism and the nation state but at the same time reactionary, nihilistic and devoted to violence for its own sake and the sake of religious fundamentalism. ISIS is poisoning relationships between communities in Iraq and Syria and will continue to do so for a long time to come. It will provide an excuse for states to tighten restrictions on the population in the name of security. For the sake of all those who have to deal with this it is important that we inform ourselves and offer what solidarity we can to people such as those in Raqqa who have risked their lives to oppose them.

Idiots’ guide to the idiot far right

15 Jan

A fantastic guide to the far right from a comrade

Anti-Fascist Network

To welcome in 2015, the Anti-Fascist Network has put together an idiots’ guide to the idiots on Britain’s far right. No need to thank us, it’s a public service.

British National Party

Introducing the man who will revive the fortunes of the BNP... Adam Walker Introducing the man who will definitely revive the fortunes of the BNP… Adam Walker

Formerly known as Britain’s most successful and ambitious fascist group since the 1930s, recent years have not been kind to the BNP. Membership and electoral support for the party has plummeted after a disappointing performance in the 2010 local and general elections. This unleashed a series of bitter internal disputes culminating in longstanding party leader Nick Griffin being unceremoniously booted out during 2014.

Alongside Griffin, most prominent party members who were at least semi-competent and kept the show on the road have either resigned or been expelled. This has left the BNP bereft of people with the kind of basic skills necessary to do…

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having a bit of a break

14 Oct

im having a break from politics etc at the moment, but will get back in to writing this blog at some point.

In the mean time I’ve been doing some fiction and other stuff. If you want to see what I’ve been doing please go to 🙂

Tuam Babies: The evidence

6 Jun

Tuam Babies: The evidence.

A blog about this appalling and horrifying case 😦 those poor kids. beyond belief

To citizens of Ukraine and the world: No war in Ukraine!

12 May

People and Nature

This letter by Oleg Yasinsky, a Ukrainian socialist, was published on 6 May in Russian on the web site of Spil’ne [Commons] , a socialist journal based in Kyiv .

For Ukraine. Urgent letter to my country. To sign, distribute and add to.

Suddenly our country, Ukraine, has been turned into an unknown planet. At the start of all this I thought that at least I understood the language. But then, when I listened carefully, not even the language was comprehensible. The very same words turned out

"It's always the people who pay for war".  “It’s always the people who pay for war”.

to have no permanent meaning: what they meant yesterday was completely different from what they mean today.

Apart from the problem of government, and of the forces that support it, Ukraine has also changed because its people have changed. My love for friends and family alike has not changed, but I already have no idea…

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Blood on their hands

7 May

Note: This is a personal analysis on aspects of the situation in Ukraine and will not be perfect. It is not intended to support EITHER the Kiev government, Russia or the rebel groups in Eastern Ukraine.

A few months ago I published a piece on here about Nazis in Ukraine, their involvement in the Euromaidan protests and role in the new government, the role of Russia, the west and the state in these and the mixed and often very chaotic character of many social movements in Eastern Europe (in Western Europe too increasingly – witness the  increasing presence of antisemitic conspiracy theorists, Freeman on the Land types, and even the odd EDL supporter on many protests and campaigns against austerity, war, and so on. It’s OK though – we’ve got a more advanced state of consciousness than ‘backward’ Eastern Europe, so that’s all right then).

Since I wrote that article the situation has developed in a way that at the time I thought wouldn’t happen, at least for the next couple of years. Ukraine is slipping into civil war. Despite what Russia Today and the BBC want you to believe, atrocities are being committed on both sides; the deadly fire in Odessa at the weekend which Odessan police did nothing to prevent being the most horrific example. Accusations and conspiracy theories are being traded by both sides as the country slides further into a deadly conflict. Ukraine, when I went to Kiev and Odessa a few years ago, was a very modern country – while some places were obviously poor, the infrastructure was nothing like Moldova or Transnistria next door. In fact one of the things about the place was how similar in many respects it seemed to the UK in terms for example of the upkeep of the roads and buildings. People seemed happy. And then this happened.

While the Kiev government is sending working class kids out to die – at least 14 soldiers have been killed and many more injured – in its attempt to retain the ‘territorial integrity‘ of Ukraine and sending ‘civil activists‘ (ie fascist and other paramilitary gangs) to try and seize back control, don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking there is anything progressive let alone anti fascist about the main forces on the other side or that either camp of nationalists should ever be supported in this war.

Miners in Eastern Ukraine have been kidnapped, held hostage and tortured by separatists on the pro-Russian side with some having disappeared. Many miners have good reason for not wanting to join Russia, such as the threat of losing their jobs (this page is in Russian, from a mining union in Eastern Ukraine) and the mines being shut down. Antisemitic leaflets have been distributed asking Jews to register their property – initially said to be the product of the separatists but what was almost certainly carried out by someone who either wanted to stir up trouble or to take matters into their own hands. It wasn’t a ‘hoax’ as some people have stated – the leaflets and the people handing them out were all too real. Roma have been attacked and robbed by armed groups wanting to ‘cleanse’ the region of them – one of the spokespeople being a Donetsk separatist who originally joined the Right Sector – remember them? – in Kiev, then went back home to fight for the Russian side when he ‘realized’ that the revolution was ‘controlled by Jews‘. Separatists have even broadcast antisemitic propaganda on television.

Despite Russian propaganda about protesters peacefully defending themselves from fascism life in the areas controlled by separatists has become very frightening indeed. Fascists and neo-Nazis are also taking part in the pro-Russian separatist groups. It is sickening to watch the obscene spectacle of various leftists parading around their anti fascist credentials while cheering on people every bit as racist and violent as anyone involved with the coup in Kiev. Knowing that they will never have to be on the sharp end of their ‘war against fascism’ and feeling comfortable demonizing people to who statues of Lenin and hammers and sickles all too frequently mean imperialism, state repression and murder, and to overlook antifascist fascism when it is staring them in the face. If you are an anti fascist you oppose fascism and neo-nazism at all times and with no exceptions,not just when you feel like it.

These people are part of the ‘Donetsk Republic’ separatist group in eastern Ukraine. The bottom photo was taken in 2012 and shows them posing with other neo-Nazis in the banned Obraz group, notorious for murders of journalists in Russia and Serbia.

More of these antifascist protesters again:

The Russian government, of course, is firmly antifascist, so much so that it has just introduced a law banning the glorification of Nazism. An interesting turn of events given that a Russia 24 TV presenter and her guest had a nice chat about how the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves, and the relationship between the Russian state and a certain Alexander Dugin (see page 107), who has been a key influence on Putin’s foreign and domestic policy and repeatedly appeared on state TV before the Crimea referendum. Dugin is one of the founders of the National Bolshevik Party, notorious for posting pictures of girls in military uniforms on the internet. Dugin wholeheartedly endorses Putin’s Ukraine policy, saying that the south and east of Ukraine ‘welcomes Russia, waits for it, pleads for Russia to come (link broken)‘. Then there’s the Russian state’s tolerance of groups like the notorious Occupy Paedophilia, who made a name for themselves arranging to meet with and torturing gay men and posting the videos online. One of Occupy Paedophilia’s leading figures is a neo-Nazi called Tesak, who began his career filming racist attacks before he entered the field of child protection.

Furthermore, there are high level connections with European far right parties and the Russian state; in Crimea, for example, a range of observers from the European far right including Jobbik were invited to see whether the referendum was ‘free and fair’ and none other than Nick Griffin observed the Russian election in 2011. The far right were useful for the Russian states foreign policy aims – arguing that its intervention in Crimea is justified in the European Parliament for example. The flags of Dugin’s organization, the Eurasian Youth Union, can be seen in this demonstration.

What happened to Crimea anyway since its takeover by the Russian Federation? While Russia’s actions in taking over the peninsula had genuine popular support, and while the Ukrainian government had little control as a part of Ukraine, since the Crimean annexation the Tatars, a group which already faced severe discrimination, have faced government crackdowns and accusations of ‘extremism‘ for, among other things, displaying a Ukrainian flag, and now face the threat of their representative body, the Mejlis, being disbanded.

Given the state’s abysmal record on press freedom, censorship and the murders of journalists that have taken place in Russia, it is not at all cynical to think that rather like ‘anti terror’ laws in the west and prosecution of people for saying ‘we need to start rioting’ on Facebook, this ‘antifascist’ measure is going to be used to stigmatize critics of government policy and shut them up. After all, everyone hates fash, right? Just like the ‘war on terror’, this time there is a ‘war on fascism’ which is simply a way to criminalize dissent and demonize people who do not agree with the separatists Putin’s government is backing. Wonder if they’re going to bang Dugin up for his articles promoting ‘truly revolutionary, authentically fascist fascism‘? Can you guess the answer?

In much the same way, the post-coup Kiev government is talking about ‘special operations’ to fight ‘terrorists’ and one of the posters on the Maidan showed a Russian flag with a swastika superimposed onto it. As one anarchist writer in Ukraine observed, words and symbols change their meaning, and both the Maidan and ‘anti-Maidan’ sides which initially shared similar goals of economic demands, pay rises and workers rights, a better life for ordinary people, against the state and government corruption, rapidly degenerated. Demonizing the Maidan protesters and by extension Ukrainians who want the country to stay together, claiming they were all fascists – what about the anarchists and trade union organizations who stayed in the square despite being attacked by these groups, for example? – can only fuel civil war propaganda and only helps the far right and others who want to intensify this war.

The group in the photo, the ‘Russian Orthodox Army‘ of ‘Orthodox Donbass’, are supporters of Russian National Unity, and followers of Dugin and Alexander Barkashov. On Barkashov’s vkontakte page (a Russian social media site which is the equivalent to Facebook) he talks about ‘real fascism’ in Ukraine, Russia’s victory on the 9th of May and the duty to resist the fash again. His group are kitted out in the St George Ribbon which has become a symbol of Russia’s victory in the war. Again, this new found emphasis towards antifascist militancy is an interesting decision for Alex and National Unity, and marks a bit of a departure for them from their previous work in the well known communist class struggle organization ‘the World Union of National Socialists‘. This is their symbol:

Banging on about resisting fascism in Ukraine and Russia’s victory in the war may seem like a strange thing for Barkashov and his comrades in Eastern Ukraine to do, and its certainly bizarre to Western readers to see images such as this, where a far right group using the colours of an imperial monarchist flag, usually seen alongside swastikas and similar symbols during such events as the ‘Russian March‘ or protests against illegal immigration, marches alongside people who are apparently against Nazis. this is until you consider the chaotic character of the demos on either side, the fact the people marching may be – understandably – more worried about the actions of the ‘enemy’ side – in civil war and the events leading up to it people are forced into choosing a side despite the fact they may hate both of them – and the disconcerting possibility that some of the people marching behind that banner may only in fact be opposing fascism if it is by Ukrainian nationalists.

In actual fact, our friends Orthodox Donbass are behind the anti-Nazi banner. Their vkontakte page is currently recruiting for more antifascist fascists. The self proclaimed leader of the ‘people’s militia’ of Donbass, Pavel Dugarev, is a former member of Russian National Unity who supports the ‘progressive socialist party’ – sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of progression or socialism about this party, which in 2011 joined the ‘People’s Front for Russia’, a coalition of small Russian parties with Putin as its leader. Other far right groups such as a revived version of the Black Hundreds are also involved and the ‘peoples militia’ page includes images of Ukrainian people as monkeys and pigs. In this video from March taken by a Black Hundreds supporter from St Petersburg involved in the anti-Maidan movement in Odessa, Anton Raevsky, one man holds up an antisemitic sign and in a bizarre twist the Kiev government is increasingly accused of being run by both Jews and Nazis.

In Crimea, a memorial to the murdered Jews in Sevastopol during the holocaust was defaced by graffiti saying ‘AFA’, ‘CCCP’ and a hammer and sickle. This doesn’t eve begin to make any sense until you consider that for some people communism and antifascism aren’t the same concepts they are here. While some people view communism as an international movement a lot of people view it as linked with Russian nationalism and the end of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ as a Russian victory against fascism. Similarly, many Ukrainians will have a family history of fighting in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, of which a part collaborated with Hitler while fighting the Soviet Union and carried out atrocities in Poland and elsewhere, despite the fact most Ukrainians suffered appallingly under the Nazis. These red and black colours as opposed to the wolfs hooks and swastikas used by Right Sector etc are often not viewed unfavourably.

I knew people who were involved in the protests against the communist party in Moldova. Some of the people involved in this protest, which like the Maidan demonstrations ended up toppling the government, were fascists. The vast majority were not. If state violence such as that which killed 88 people in Kiev or which resulted in kids from Chisinau being tortured and disappeared in 2009 is regarded as ‘antifascism’ then what are you going to end up thinking that is? The Right Sector and similar groups gained support because of their willingness to fight the government. Imagine if you are on your first protest and then you see your mates get shot, you start to get sympathy for the nationalists because they are the most militant, and then you see the racism of the movement in full swing, you see them attacking people, you realize the enemy isn’t ordinary Russian speakers but the government – if you see people calling you and your dead mates fascist scum and cheering on ‘resistance’ as civil war breaks out in your country what the fuck is that going to do? What exactly are you going to think anti fascism is? Are these people really antifascists?

On the news of a ‘fascist bank’ run by the former governor being set alight by rebels, one commentator remarked, ‘what about all the other banks which still rob from the people’?  What about them indeed? The language now routinely used by all sides of the media – ‘Russians’, ‘separatists’ ‘pro-ukrainians’ and so on, does not help, as if there are no other Ukrainians disaffected and worried after a coup, and for that matter no others worried about the prospect of Russian intervention. The war is destroying any form of class solidarity. According to one activist any form of protest or social struggle apart from nationalism is almost dead. Most people do not want war but as the bodies begin to pile up that sentiment will change with people on both sides feeling they have no choice.

Even anarchists and communist activists are not immune from this – could anyone realistically say they would be immune if the same thing happened here? This account talks about anarchists who were involved in anti-Yanukovich demonstrations and were attacked by anti-Maidan protesters – they were forced to defend themselves alongside Right Sector fascists, for a fight and a cause they didn’t want. In this context the stance of groups such as these Donbass anarchistsmust be considered remarkable. Nobody can say how we would react over here.

Unlike the fantasies of the Western and Russian media whether it is comparing Putin to Hitler and assuming that he is personally in constant charge of the armed groups in Eastern Ukraine (or for that matter in the western part – some people have promoted bizarre theories about Right Sector being ‘agent provocateurs’), who at times have even fought each other, or saying that Kiev is governed entirely by ‘neo-Nazis’ rather than an unstable hodge podge of right-wing politicians, fash, military types, random celebrities and oligarchs and supporters of the former government, this is not a rerun of world war 2. The fascists of Right Sector and Svoboda, despite their undoubted influence in the government, have found difficulty pushing forward their own agenda, and Svoboda will almost certainly discredit itself in the eyes of its voters as the IMF’s and EU’s policies are enforced rather than their ‘social national’ ones.

Far from being a thoroughly disciplined Nazi state Kiev is finding it difficult to coordinate its operations, with reports of defections in the military and a town hall in Mariupol being captured by Ukrainian troops then abandoned an hour later. This does not mean that its policies are not causing huge suffering, a state that can’t control parts of the country and is relying on militias, far right or otherwise, to ‘defend the nation from chaos‘ is hardly much better than an authoritarian one. At the same time, the ‘cop-bandit coup’ taking place in the Eastern regions attracts significant support from the security forces, organized crime and local ‘entrepreneurs’.

In 1992 there was a war between Moldova and Transnistria which killed 1500 people and caused 160,000 to become refugees. The rebels were helped by a regiment of the Russian army, mostly made up of locals, who remained, and still remain, as ‘peacekeepers’. The war was justified on the Transnistrian side by the terrible memories of the Romanian Nazi occupation during the second world war, and the fact that the nationalist politicians had changed their flag to one almost identical to the Romanian flag and were openly discussing the prospect of joining Romania, an idea promoted by the extreme right in both countries, although in Moldova it has far wider support due to the perceived economic and defense benefits of the EU and the fact that many Moldovans consider themselves Romanian. Organized crime was heavily involved in the Transnistrian separatist movement. Another Moldovan region, Gagauzia, also came close to war, and was granted some autonomy. People suffered from that war and still do today – I once met a Transnistrian man in a bar who had been playing with his mate and picked something up. He showed me the scars but his mate hadn’t been so lucky.

Transnistria relies heavily on Russia for aid, and when you go there pictures of Putin and Soviet symbols are in evidence on many of the buildings. People even come to this tank to take pictures on their wedding day.

Even this so called frozen conflict looks like it may be optimistic and another parallel is the Balkans. There, extreme-right movements in Croatia and Serbia and to some extent Bosnia and Kosovo, gained significant support and both accused each other of being fascists – Chetniks or Ustase, both with some justification, both regimes attracting support from different sections of the left and various governments, and both attracting military and financial support from different the sections of the extreme right. In Greece, for example, adverts were placed in newspapers to ‘volunteer’ for the Serbian forces, and there is evidence some of these ‘orthodox brothers’ were involved in atrocities in Srebrenica as well as elsewhere; members of Barkashov’s group fought in Bosnia (see ‘Alexander Barkashov and the rise of national socialism in Russia‘ by John Dunlop). Other neo-Nazis from elsewhere in Europe became involved in the Croatian side. The far-right Odessa Druzhina put an ‘appeal to the Serbs‘ on YouTube to help them and several Russian far right activists have been deported from Ukraine. Other Nazis from elsewhere in Europe, such as Sweden, have gone to Kiev to help Right Sector, and both movements are clearly being provided with financial support from overseas.

But this is not to say that most of the people on either side will be far right activists. Most people don’t want war and as in the Balkans it appears to have taken many people by surprise; wars don’t necessarily start because people hate each other. It’s difficult for people to imagine it here. Many of the so-called ‘terrorists’ fighting for the Donetsk Republic and similar entities are just teenagers.

The war in Ukraine, with a population of about 45 million people, has the potential to become even deadlier than the Balkans with the possibility of other countries such as Moldova being drawn in, as well as the threat of a Russian invasion that would cause untold numbers of deaths on both sides. Communists are not pacifists but in what looks increasingly like a bloody ethnic conflict choosing a team to support is not an option. Supporting one side made up of paramilitary killers, mercenaries, arms dealers and their political and business elite, who make money out of war and the desperation and fear it produces, while ignoring indisputable evidence of far right influence and buying into war propaganda is not a genuine antifascist position.


‘Amazon – a Modern capitalist microcosm’

22 Apr

The left-communist group the Communist Workers Organization have published an article on Amazon and its working conditions. It is quite heavy going but well worth the read as someone who used to work there myself.

Amazon employs 100,000 permanent people in 89 of these warehouses around the world. Starting off as an internet bookselling business, Amazon has expanded into almost every commodity area of the personal consumer. It was floated on the stock market in 1997, since when its turnover has gone up 420 times to $62 billion in 2012. And to the continuing surprise of most commentators it continues to register an ever higher share price (at over $400 it has increased ten times since the launch). The surprise about its rapidly rising share price is that Amazon has yet to register an annual profit. For those who argued in the 1980s that only the bottom line (i.e. the profit) counted, this is a surprise, but Amazon has risen at a time when speculation is the name of the game. According to its supporters its shares are being bought not because Amazon is currently profitable but because it is expanding so rapidly all the profits are ploughed back into new warehouses[1] (sorry, “fulfilment centres”) which in their time will give Amazon such a global retail monopoly that it will be able to name its price for everything and thus become immensely profitable. Not bad for a company that actually produces nothing itself. The argument for investor confidence is a bit like that used by European imperialists during the scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century. The actual colonies that were acquired were never profitable but they were acquired on the basis that one day they would be (and if one country did not grab them than another would).