Three Lessons and Two Basic Points of Orientation
August 9, 2021 | revcom.us
In 2001, fanatical Islamic fundamentalists hijacked several airplanes and flew them into the World Trade Center, a massive office building in New York. The center was destroyed and nearly 3,000 people were killed. They also attacked the Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department. In response, the U.S., under Republican President George W. Bush, declared war against the government of Afghanistan, which had allowed the group that had done this—al Qaeda—to stay in their country. The Afghanistan government was headed by a fanatic and repressive Islamic fundamentalist group, the Taliban.
This qualitatively intensified a dynamic identified by Bob Avakian:
What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade [increasingly globalized western imperialism] on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these “outmodeds,” you end up strengthening both.
While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these “historically outmodeds” has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, and in particular the U.S. imperialists.
Bob Avakian, BAsics 1:28
Biden has now announced the withdrawal of U.S. ground forces by September of this year, after 20 years of war and tens of thousands of Afghan deaths and countless more destroyed lives. We will in future weeks further analyze what is behind this move and how it factors into today’s explosive political situation. This withdrawal has caused concern and alarm among a number of liberal commentators as to the harm that it will bring to women. And there is a basis for this alarm: it is very possible that the Taliban will again take power and impose extremely reactionary forms of oppression against women and girls, denying them all basic rights and utterly negating their humanity, and enforcing this with brutal barbarity.
In looking at this situation, it’s important to pulls the lens back.
As the accompanying articles point out, the U.S. has in part justified this war as a war to “liberate the women of Afghanistan.” As these articles also show, while some reforms did happen, they remained oppressed and subordinated. But this tactic proved successful in mobilizing support for this war from “progressive” sections of U.S. society, including many liberals and progressives.
A question: why would anyone who cared about the half of humanity who is female call on the powerful country that sits atop a system in which millions of women a year are trafficked into prostitution and sexual slavery… in which the right to abortion, and soon birth control, is under constant assault and now hangs by thread… in which rape and other forms of assault go on all the time against women and the hatred and denigration of women permeates society, taking countless forms and in which those horrors take an even more concentrated form in the very armed forces that were supposedly being sent to “liberate” the women of Afghanistan… in which discrimination in every sphere still runs rampant… and in which the super-profits that make the “standard of living” possible in imperialist countries is disproportionately sucked out of the labor of bitterly exploited women in the global South? Why, when you came to grips with these facts, would you call on people to line up on the side of such major oppressors of women, in the expectation that they would end the oppression of any women, anywhere?!?
And what in fact did this war bring? Death, destruction, and horror—the overwhelming majority of it against civilians—far beyond what was done on September 11. By August 2016, some 111,000 people had been killed and over 116,000 injured as a result of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Nearly five million people have been forced from their homes by the war. At dungeons set up by the U.S. military, countless numbers of Afghans were imprisoned without trial and brutalized, including two prisoners tortured to death at the notorious Bagram prison. One repressive and corrupt government after another, all imposed and run by the U.S., which perpetuated and made worse the misery, poverty, and enforced backwardness that the Afghan people had to confront every day. Afghanistan is among the 10 poorest countries in the world, with nearly 50 percent of people living under the poverty line and 36 percent facing “acute food insecurity.” And yes, a few reforms for a small sliver of women—the opening of schools to one-third of girls—while the overall horrific oppression of women went on.
And what are the net results of the two decades of horror that killed thousands and thousands of people and destroyed the lives of millions? First, that the barbarically patriarchal Islamic fundamentalist grip on Afghanistan will be strengthened, at least in the short run.1 Second, that the U.S. imperialists were able to at least temporarily mobilize a section of people who have progressive impulses behind the utterly false, corrupting, and profoundly damaging idea that this government can be pressured to “bring democracy” to other countries and that therefore when these butchers are able to drape their wars in these robes the people should support them. The spirit captured in BAsics 5:7—that American lives are NOT more important than other people’s lives—which once ran through a significant section of the society has suffered greatly over these past two decades and must be revived; internationalism is more important than ever!
At the same time, a third result must also be noted: that the vaunted U.S. war machine can wreak tremendous destruction and savagery, but it cannot always impose its will, even on opponents who are much weaker than it is. And it is also a fact that this war, along with the even more baseless war launched against Iraq, has contributed to the whole crisis that the U.S. ruling class now finds itself caught up in. This lesson—that as powerful as their machinery of death and destruction undeniably is—it is NOT all-powerful, even up against lightly armed opponents—is important for people to reflect upon.
In conclusion, two lessons:
One: People cannot allow themselves to be drawn into crusades by the imperialists in the name of supposedly ending one form of oppression while defending and strengthening another form of the same oppression. As the crucial quote from BA at the top of this article drives home, this is a bloody dynamic that only strengthens oppressive relations overall. And the only way to begin to break this dynamic is by firmly opposing one’s “own” imperialists when they launch any war, whatever their excuse.
Two: What we here in the imperialist countries must do is not only oppose these wars launched supposedly to implant “democracy,” but we must boldly instill in people everywhere a spirit of welcoming the defeats of these oppressors in trying to carry out these vicious schemes.
1. It is the case that the dynamic that has played out in Afghanistan, and in significant sections of the Middle East, is exactly what Bob Avakian described in terms of the two outmodeds confronted right now. As the U.S. and other imperialist powers launched horrific and repressive attacks against the Afghan population, what has transpired is increasing support for the Taliban in opposition and resistance to that. What is now the situation, with the Taliban poised to take control of Afghanistan, with horrific effects, is the result of 20+ years of this dynamic. [back]
An excerpt from THE NEW COMMUNISM
by Bob Avakian
From the section: “Internationalism—Revolutionary Defeatism”
What do I mean by revolutionary defeatism, and why is it so important? Revolutionary defeatism means that you oppose the actions of your own government and ruling class in carrying out their wars, which are wars for empire. It means that you welcome any setbacks they suffer in those wars, because that weakens their oppressive hold over masses of people, here and in the world more generally. Now, we do have to recognize that we have a different situation than back in the day with the war in Vietnam. In those days, the National Liberation Front (NLF) in Vietnam was a revolutionary organization of the people in South Vietnam who were waging the fight, along with the government and people in North Vietnam, against the U.S. imperialists. And the leader of that struggle, until he died in the late 1960s, was Ho Chi Minh, who called himself a communist but was actually more of a revolutionary nationalist. Beginning soon after the end of World War 2, Ho Chi Minh led the armed struggle of the Vietnamese people to drive out the French, who had colonized Vietnam, and then to drive out the Americans, who, beginning in the 1950s, attempted to replace the French as the colonial master of Vietnam. Now, back in those days we used to go to demonstrations and people would march through the streets chanting, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is gonna win.” It felt very good, and it was right to do it. It was right to be on the side of the Vietnamese people and Ho Chi Minh leading them. It wasn’t just that you wanted your government to lose the unjust war it was waging, you could actually be on the side of the people fighting against your government, because those people represented a righteous cause, they represented a real struggle against imperialism. They weren’t going around attacking civilians. They were fighting against the military of U.S. imperialism that had invaded their country and was bombing it massively. So, in those days, you could actually be with the people fighting against the U.S. government, the U.S. imperialists.
Today, unfortunately, the situation is different and not as favorable in the short run. Nobody coming from a decent place should want to root for these reactionary Islamic jihadists who are in fact also enforcers of brutally oppressive relations—particularly, but not only, horrific patriarchal relations—and who, in the service of that, carry out all kinds of depraved slaughter of ordinary civilians. So you cannot, if you’re coming from the right place, identify in any way with these forces and support them. Now, there are some people around the world who call themselves leftists or even communists or Maoists, people like this guy Ajith, who try to put a pretty face on these Islamic fundamentalist jihadists and insist that they are anti-imperialists, that they’re waging an anti-imperialist struggle. But the fact is that, while they may fight against the U.S., they do not represent a positive, progressive, let alone a revolutionary force; and where they have succeeded in exercising power, their rule is brutally oppressive. That has been shown repeatedly in the real world. In your mind, you can try to make these people into something other than what they are, but that can only do a great deal of harm, because in the real world they are not a positive force, even while, coming from where they’re coming from, they’re opposing U.S. imperialism, to some degree, although not in any thoroughgoing way and not toward any positive end.
This makes for a difficult situation because, especially given how parasitic U.S. society is—where significant sections of the people, particularly among the middle strata, receive some share of the spoils from imperialist domination and plunder in the world—when the U.S. government is able to point to the continuing atrocities carried out by these Islamic fundamentalists, this reinforces the tendency for people to side with, or at least not to seriously oppose, their own country and government in the wars it is waging against these Islamic fundamentalists. It makes it easier for people to go along with what is, and take the position: “I don’t really like these wars, but look at these other people; we have to do something about groups like ISIS.” Never mind the fact that Saudi Arabia, a big ally of the U.S., beheads a lot more people than ISIS does, and embodies and enforces all kinds of horrendous oppression, against women and others. But still, people can say, “Well, look at these people, like ISIS.” This makes it easier for people not to do the hard thing of going up against their own government in the wars it is waging.
Yes, it is true: the Islamic fundamentalists who are opposing these imperialists are no good, they don’t pose a positive alternative. But that does not make the wars of empire being fought by this government just wars. This situation has gone on way too long and needs to be frontally and deeply challenged. These are wars for empire. These are unjust wars. They are carried out with massive means of destruction, killing civilians in the hundreds of thousands, torturing people in the service of these wars. This should be opposed and opposed strongly. It is not acceptable that people just take the stand, “Yes, I wish those wars would be over with, but we gotta do something about these Islamic fundamentalists.” It is crucial that people come to see what the nature of these wars being waged by their government actually is, and why these wars have to be actively opposed; and even if you can’t, and shouldn’t, support the other side, you still have to have the basic approach of welcoming the defeat of your own government in the wars it is waging. The defeat of these imperialists should be welcomed because, number one, their wars are unjust, even if the people opposing them are also unjust. And, two, every such defeat weakens this system and its ruling class and brings closer the time when people can actually bring it down and bring something liberating into being in its place.