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The new war in Libya part 2: Is Haftar doing the West’s dirty work? 

19th September 2019

Sources: Libya's Haftar to meet US President Trump at the White House

On April 4th 2019, the Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, launched a new offensive on Tripoli. The move came just ten days before a major peace conference was due to take place, under the auspices of the UN, to flesh out an agreement between Haftar and his rival Serraj al-Fayez made a month earlier – and it appears to have been at the behest of – or at least given the green light by – Saudi Arabia. 

 

On March 28th, one week before Haftar launched his offensive, Haftar was in Riyadh meeting with the two most powerful men in the kingdom – King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. Senior advisors to the Saudi government told the Wall Street Journal that, at this meeting, Haftar was promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation. And once it was underway, Saudi-linked twitter accounts launched an “avalanche of tweets” in support of Haftar, according to journalist Mary Fitzgerald. 

 

But why would the Western world’s number one Arab ally be sponsoring an offensive against a government – the so-called Government of National Accord (GNA) – which was not only backed by, but in fact largely a creation of, the West itself? Are we seeing an unprecedented divergence between Saudi Arabia and its Anglo-American allies? Is this the beginning of the end of the Saudis’ long-established role of doing the West’s bidding in the region? Has Saudi Arabia gone rogue? Or is something else going on? 

 

Saudi Arabia has a long track record of doing the West’s dirty work, financing violence which the US and UK governments want carried out, but would prefer not to be directly associated with. The current pummelling of Yemen and the building up of Syrian anti-government death squads since 2011 are but the most recent examples; in the 1980s the Nicaraguan contras, UNITA rebels in Angola, the Lebanese Phalangists and the Afghan Mujahideen were all recipients of Saudi largesse; and in the 1970s, the House of Saud bankrolled King Hussein’s attack on the PLO in Jordan. In every case, Saudi Arabia was financing and equipping the enemies of governments and movements deemed undesirable by the CIA. Are we to believe that this mutually-serving relationship has now come to an end? 

 

There is, of course, another explanation: that the Libyan National Army’s attack on GNA-held Tripoli does, in fact, serve western goals just as surely as it serves those of the Saudis. For, whilst the GNA is indeed a creation of the West, it – like so many others before it – has increasingly come to see more of a future, economically at least, with China. 

 

In May last year, the GNA signed a major oil contract with PetroChina, paving the way for GNA’s decision to sign up to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – also known as ‘One Belt One Road’ – in July. Involving over $1trillion of Chinese infrastructure investment across 152 countries, the BRI is the most ambitious attempt to promote South-South relations and reduce trade dependence on the Western world since the end of the colonial era. Trump’s policy towards the BRI was neatly summed up by his former National Security Advisor Steve Bannon in just eight words “Let’s go screw up One Belt One Road”. Following the GNA’s momentous decision to be part of it, notes Samuel Ramani in The Diplomat, “the GNA’s diplomatic outreach toward China has intensified and broadened. In September 2018, al-Sarraj openly called for an expansion of Chinese investment in Libya, and at the February 2019 Munich Security Conference, GNA representatives lauded Libya as a potential gateway for Chinese economic influence in central Africa.” 

 

To those such as Trump, such statements are a red rag to a bull. Trump has made economic war on China a cornerstone of his foreign policy; for the GNA to openly tout Libya as a “gateway” for Chinese economic influence in Africa, then, is a major snub to their US overlords. And China has been receptive, too: continues Ramani, “ In response to these statements, Chinese Ambassador to Libya Li Zhiguo praised the GNA for improving Tripoli’s security situation and stated that China had plans for a swift expansion of its economic presence in Libya”. 

 

Is it so far-fetched to suspect that the US might have approved Haftar’s operation against the GNA in order to punish their insubordination over China – and to entrench their dependence on Western military support? 

 

There is much evidence that the West has indeed been ‘cooling’ in its attitude towards the Libyan government it created. Shortly after Haftar launched his latest offensive, GNA Prime Minister Al Serraj toured Europe’s capitals seeking public condemnations of the LNA advance. He did not receive them; instead, he was rebuffed by both French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel. Al Monitor comments, “By failing to explicitly support Sarraj’s demands, the UN Security Council and European nations appear more willing to forgive Hifter’s military advance than the GNA’s ongoing inadequacies as a functional government. Therefore, the GNA, a direct product of the international community, is now being abandoned by it.”  

 

Likewise, the International Crisis Group notes that to the extent that “escalation” – carefully worded to avoid singling out the aggressor – has been condemned by the US, UK, France, Italy and others, “none of these statements included the threat of sanctions and none made explicit mention of the need to support the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.” They add thatTo many Libyans this suggests that foreign governments are tacitly backing Haftar in his ambition to seize the capital and power” 

 

The GNA even apparently feels let down by the UK, the power which arguably did the most to push for both the NATO destruction of the Jamihiriya in 2011, and for the installing of the GNA in Tripoli in 2016. Notes the BBC: “Militia leader and GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha accused the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, of abandoning Tripoli in its hour of need by withdrawing British military and embassy staff from the city when it came under attack. Relations between the countries had been “damaged” by this, he said, and it would be difficult to rebuild them in a short space of time.” The Foreign Office response to this was decidedly not to reassure the GNA that they had the full support of the UK, but merely to note that Britain is “in contact” with the GNA. The Guardian added that, according to then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, “The UK is not ruling out the warlord Khalifa Haftar from a role in a future Libyan government despite his attack on the capital.” Ahmed Maiteeq, Libya’s deputy prime minister, concluded that “Britain just left Libya behind.” 

 

France, meanwhile, has long had a relationship with the LNA and Haftar – who received emergency medical treatment in Paris in 2018 – with the depth of their involvement made public when three French soldiers were killed fighting alongside LNA units in Libya in 2016. Shortly after the advance on Tripoli began in April this year, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, explained that France backed Haftar because he had “fought terrorism in Benghazi and the south of Libya, and that’s in our interest.” The LNA victories in Southern Libya which preceded the attack on Tripoli had been “facilitated by French military operations” according to the intelligence analysts at Jamestown Foundation, whilst a high-ranking government official from the GNA’s Presidency Council has claimed that the French operate a drone control room at the Sidra oil terminal in northern Libya which they are using to attack GNA positions. In May the GNA decided to take revenge on French interests in Libya in May by suspending the operations of 40 French companies, including oil giant Total, who had been operating in the country. 

 

Then there is the US. Haftar was, of course, a Virginia-based CIA asset for decades before returning to Libya with NATO in 2011, and has, according to the New York Times, now allowed the CIA to establish a base in LNA-controlled Benghazi. Following the attack on Tripoli, the US threatened to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, with the UN’s Libya envoy Ghassan Salame commenting “The American line was to say: no, give war a chance.” According to the Guardian, one US “diplomat said the US was more adamant in its opposition than Russia, which had asked for amendments to make the resolution more “balanced” and less explicitly anti-Haftar, but did not go so far as brandishing a security council veto.” US President Trump had apparently had a phone call with Haftar on 15th April, and had been impressed. 

 

Yet none of this necessarily means that the US and its European hangers-on actually seek an LNA/ Haftar victory. As I have argued elsewhere, the aim of Western policy towards the global South today appears to be the creation not of Cold War-style puppet regimes, but rather of ‘failed states’. Unable to compete with China financially, the old imperial powers understand that any stable regional power today – however capitalist, pro-western, or right wing – is far more likely to be drawn towards economic ties with China than the West, and that this threatens the entire edifice of South-to-North wealth-extraction that has been carefully crafted over hundreds of years. By this analysis, a stable Libya under either the GNA or the LNA is equally unwelcome to the West; far preferable is a Libya at war with itself: precisely the scenario, that is, that has been imposed on Libya by NATO ever since 2011. 

 

This makes the Saudi intervention just days before the April UN peace talks were due to begin much more comprehensible. Although it is easy to say in hindsight, of course, these talks did appear to have a much greater chance of success than previous attempts. The summer 2018 attack on GNA-controlled Tripoli by an alliance involving some of the powerful Misratan militias which had been sidelined by the GNA shocked Prime Minister Al-Serraj into incorporating some of them into his government. These militias in turn had a more open attitude towards dealing with Haftar’s LNA, and, on the eve of the planned UN peace conference in April, had succeeded in pushing the GNA towards a more conciliatory attitude. One former US official told Al-Monitor that Haftar was offered a “very generous” deal to join forces with the GNA, in which he would be head of the country’s united armed forces, subject to civilian oversight, but with the prime minister being  “hands off in terms of military operations”. Indeed, such an agreement had already been reached in principle between Serraj and Haftar during talks in the UAE in February. Had the West and its regional proxies at that point made their continued military and financial support for Haftar contingent on his cooperation with this process, he would have had little choice but to comply; instead, as we know, they did precisely the opposite, offering him millions of dollars to reject the talks and advance on Tripoli. 

 

Haftar, then, appears to have been pushed to launch a self-defeating war just when the western militias were ready to contemplate power-sharing. The result is both the weakening of the China-friendly GNA and the deepening of Libya’s civil war – exactly in accordance with western strategic aims. Bringing these two elements together is the fact that China had in fact been a key player pushing for peace. Notes Ramani, “In order to subtly advance the GNA’s position without jeopardizing its neutrality, China has actively supported a ceasefire in Libya, as the GNA has historically possessed an upper hand in peace negotiations, due to its status as Libya’s UN-recognized government.” He adds that “China’s adherence to strict multilateralism in Libya reflects its skeptical view of the ability of external stakeholders to constructively influence the situation in Libya” and that “China’s May 21 expression of support for an expansion of the African Union’s (AU) role in ending hostilities in Libya also aligns with these principles, as the AU has consistently called for a ceasefire in Libya without external interference.” All this has now been thrown into the fire. 

 

It is not simply guesswork to speculate that the Saudis and the West are aiming to keep Libya weak and warring, however: there are ample historical precedents.  In the 1980s, for example, the US and the Saudis ‘supported’ Iraq’s war with Iran with weapons and financial backing. Was this because they genuinely sought a strong, stable Iraq? Just to ask the question immediately exposes the idea as ridiculous. Before the war was even over, it was revealed that the CIA was secretly shipping weapons to Iran as well, whilst the war-wracked Iraqi economy came under concerted attack from US proxy Kuwait through the outright theft of its oil. The US then ultimately used the resulting Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which they had earlier greenlighted, as an excuse to rain hell on Iraq’s (retreating) army, as well as its civilian infrastructure. They then spent 12 years systematically rendering the Iraqi state defenceless before finally destroying it altogether. 

Likewise, the Vance-Owen Bosnian peace plan was, in 1992,  on the verge of acceptance by all sides, before the US pressed their proxies (namely the leader of the Bosnian Muslim faction, Izetbegovic) to reject the deal and keep fighting. Finally, after three more years of war, a virtually identical deal was signed up to by the mutually exhausted parties. 

In Libya today, just as in 1980s Iraq, the West’s proxies are again backing both sides, whilst, as in 1990s Bosnia, they are pushing their dependents into rejecting peace and stepping up their attacks. Meanwhile, the stream of weapons to both the LNA from NATO-allied Saudi Arabia and UAE, and to the GNA from NATO-allied Turkey and Qatar continues apace; there are UN sanctions against shipments, but, notes Bloomsberg, they “are among the world’s least enforced”. In fact, peace would be relatively easy to bring about, should the Western powers actually seek it; as Jason Pack points out in Al-Monitor, “If the main international players would look past their sunk costs and find a common interest in a stable Libya, they might see a fairly simple way out of the seemingly endless wars of post-Gadhafi succession: denying all sides access to external sources of funding and arms, while also forcing the Libyan central bank and the internationally recognized government to eliminate subsidies and cut salaries to militiamen on all sides.” 

Instead, through its proxies, the West continues to sponsor a mutually destructive war between the two rival governments its (repeated) intervention has spawned. 

Originally published in Counterpunch magazine

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The Brexit Referendum: A Historic Moment in Europe’s Slide to Fascism

Originally posted 26th June 2016

Pro Brexit Rally, London UK, organised by UKIP with far right ...

This is indeed a ‘historic moment’, and will be seen as a key

date in future histories of Europe’s current descent into open

fascism. The Brexit movement was driven, first and foremost, by

hostility to foreigners (immigrants), supplemented on occasion

by some pseudo-leftist rhetoric, with an overall narrative

framework emphasizing the decline of national supremacy and

the need to reverse this. The three main elements, that is,

constituent of fascism.

 

Some of my leftist friends tell me this kind of

characterization of Brexit doesn’t help, that it puts the backs up

of sections of the white working class. But the requirements of

political activism cannot be privileged above those of intellectual

honesty; and any strategy lacking an honest assessment of the

real situation is doomed to failure anyhow, however politely we

put things.

 

This proto-fascist movement, then, as I shall continue to

call it, will provide – and clearly, judging by their elated

statements, has already provided – a major boost to all the far

right and proto-fascist forces on the continent. As these forces

are empowered ‘on the streets’ this will, obviously, increase the

physical threat already faced by immigrants and refugees across

the continent. At the same time, it will push European

governments, and the EU itself, in the direction of ever more

hostile policies towards immigrants and refugees, to show they

have ‘listened to’ and ‘understood’ the ‘message’ of the Brexit

vote. This trajectory already exists within the EU, as evident in

the rapid turnaround, under far right pressure, from the initial,

fairly humane, principle proposed by the EU in response to the

Syrian refugee crisis two years ago – to disperse refugees across

the continent according to a quota based on the wealth and

population of host countries – to the policy of allowing refugees

to drown, sinking their boats, or sending them back to Turkey.

All these tendencies will now be greatly strengthened.

 

On an ideological level, Brexit has deepened, legitimized

and popularized the scapegoating of immigrants for the

economic consequences of neoliberal capitalism. Poverty, low

wages, unemployment, and declining public services are all now

associated, in the public mind, with immigration. This

ideological work, of course, did not begin with Brexit, but has

been greatly boosted and developed by it. By drawing attention

away from failures of government policy and the economic

system – cuts to public services, housing and wage markets

heavily skewed in favour of powerful investors, anti-union laws,

failed and costly privatisations, and the unemployment-inducing

impact of technology under capitalism, for example – it actually

allows the further, unimpeded, development of the neoliberal

agenda. And whilst Jeremy Corbyn made a valiant effort at

refocusing attention on such policies every time he discussed the

issue, this narrative was completely overwhelmed by the deluge

of anti-immigrant analysis coming from every other quarter, the

Remain camp included. Intriguingly, he is now being hounded

from within his own party for being ‘too timid’ in his

campaigning: code for not lining up strongly enough with the

anti-immigration agenda in order to ‘show the grassroots he is

listening’. Unfortunately, centuries of colonial supremacist

brainwashing has taken its toll on the collective psyche of this

nation, and that worldview continues to be backed up by

material privileges accruing to the British section of the global

working class. Indeed, it is precisely the defence of declining

privileges which is the guiding principle of fascism (as opposed

to socialism, which advocates liberation of the entire proletariat,

rather than privileges for one section of it).

 

We are told this vote is the democratic will of the people.

Yet democracy, if it means anything, means that those affected

by political decisions are able to exert some influence over those

decisions. In this case, millions of those affected – indeed, the

most affected, EU immigrants themselves (British taxpayers, no

less) – were barred from voting. Their combined vote would

certainly have tipped the vote the other way, by quite a margin.

The vote itself was thus illegitimate and undemocratic, and it is

testament to just how fearful mainstream politicians are of

voicing ‘pro-migrant’ sentiment that no prominent remainer has

ever, to my knowledge, pointed this out.

 

We often hear the refrain that this was a ‘blow to the

establishment’. It was no such thing. The truth is, there was a

split in the establishment – a civil war in the Tory party, between

the centre right and the far right. The far right wing of the

establishment (led by a banker and two Etonian Cabinet

members no less) won by mobilising latent anti-immigrant

sentiment, peppered with the occasional pseudo-left policy

gimmick; again, straight out of the fascist playbook.

 

None of this, please note, is a defence of the EU. Most of

the ‘leftist’ arguments I have heard against the EU (ie, apart from

the anti-immigrant ones) have been essentially correct. It is

neoliberal, it is militarist, it is, yes, even fascist, at least in

elements of its foreign policy (drowning refugees, supporting

supremacist death squads in Libya and Ukraine). But this

trajectory will not be reversed by Brexit, either within the EU, or

within Britain. Brexit is a part of the same movement: capitalist

crisis driving a section of the establishment towards outright

fascism, mobilizing the alienated masses in the process. Brexit

will free the British ruling class to more avowedly discriminate

against immigrants, rip up (what remains of) workers rights and

environmental standards, avoid banking regulations, arm

proxies without worrying about EU arms embargoes, etc – which

will generate immense pressure for other member states be

given similar freedoms in order to bribe them to stay within the EU.

 

And the argument that the EU itself will be weakened also

seems to miss the point. The EU is merely the coordinated

actions of its members. There is no reason to think that, even if

it collapses entirely, its constituent elements will be any less

destructive. Historically, there is no basis for the belief that

fascism is any less warlike than ‘ordinary’ imperialism; quite the

contrary.

 

In its choice of question, the referendum was rigged. A

meaningful choice would have between three broad suggestions:

no change; a shift to the right; or shift to the left. Obviously this

one only included the first two. And who ever wants to vote for

the status quo? Certainly not those who have been battered by

an increasingly vicious economic system implemented by an

equally vicious political elite. The British working class have

been neglected, mocked, or demonized for years whilst their jobs

have disappeared, their wages stagnated and their public

services decimated. The tragedy is that the resulting anger has

been channelled towards the movement it has.

 

The most compelling argument I have heard in favour of

Brexit – the only potential silver lining, really – is that, by

providing new grounds for Scottish independence, it may lead to

the break-up of the UK. Such a turn of events would certainly be

welcome. But it is far from inevitable. If Scots did not vote for

independence in the middle of an oil price boom, it is unlikely

they will see independence as economically viable now prices are

barely a third of what they were then. And a new far right Brexit

government is likely to put the boot in even harder than last time

to prevent such an outcome.

 

It is time for socialists to give up on the illusion that a

genuinely internationalist socialist movement can ever take

power in the West under anything like the current conditions. It

is this illusion that leads them up such disastrous blind alleys as

supporting far right takeovers ‘just in case’ a socialist

government one day inexplicably comes about and uses that

newly found ‘sovereignty’ for something other than hounding

foreigners or granting impunity to financiers. Rather, we need to

organize a genuinely internationalist socialist movement that is

realistic about what it can and can’t achieve, and provides

whatever it can in the way of ideological resistance and practical

solidarity to those under attack – from either ‘wing’ of the ruling

class

 

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The new war in Libya part 1: Government in Name Alone: How NATO’s new ‘Libyan government’ entrenched militia misrule

Originally published in Counterpunch magazine, June 2019

Image result for Abderrahman Swehli

Abderrahman Swehli, UK-backed Misrata militiaman whose support for the ‘Government of National Accord’ ensured it functioned as a front for the paramilitaries

By late 2015, the West’s Libya policy was in total disarray.

To the untrained eye, of course, it looked as though it had been in disarray from the start. The 2011 intervention had, after all, turned the country into a death squad free-for-all, destroying state authority, and drawing militias from across the region – including Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and ISIS – to its vast territory to set up camps, loot state armouries, and train the fighters who went on to attack Tunisia, Nigeria, Algeria, Manchester and elsewhere. The 30,000-strong city of Tawergha – the only black African town on the Mediterranean – was completely ethnic cleansed by NATO’s proxies; it is now a ghost town, it’s former inhabitants scattered across refugee camps where they are still hunted down and killed to this day. Thousands of African migrants remain detained in illegal facilities by the country’s hundreds of militias, where they face regular torture and rape, and public slave auctions have been reintroduced. The country remains at war, without a functioning government, facing rampant inflation and regular power cuts. The criminal justice system has collapsed throughout much of the country, which remains under the control of ever more powerful and unaccountable armed groups. Per capita income has collapsed by more than a third, from $12,250 in 2010 to $7,820.28 in 2014, whilst the country has dropped 40 places in the UN’s human development index, from 53 in 2010 to 94 in 2015. Life expectancy has dropped by three years over the same time period.

If the goal was, as NATO proclaimed, to improve human rights, then, by any standards, the intervention was an utter disaster.

But no serious person ever believed it was really about that. NATO – with Britain leading the charge – was concerned about Gaddafi’s growing influence on the African continent, his role as a bulwark against US and UK military encroachment, and the money he was pouring into financial institutions explicitly designed to reduce African dependence on the IMF and World Bank. As with the previous intervention in Iraq, however, the goal was not only to remove this particular thorn-in-the-side but in fact to prevent the country from ever again re-emerging as a strong, unified independent power. The goal was not to change the government, then – but to prevent effective government altogether. To this end the leading NATO powers have consistently acted to ensure the country’s hundreds of rival militias are empowered and remain at war with one other. From this point of view, the West’s Libya policy has been a roaring success. But by 2015 it had come under serious threat.

Under the tutelage of the NATO-imposed government, the years following the 2011 bombardment saw the power of the militias entrenched. Rather than disbanding them, or attempting to bring them under a unified chain of command, the new regime began arming them and paying their salaries. Faced with few other prospects, young people flocked to join, and the number of militiamen grew from a maximum of 25,000 who fought in 2011 to 140,000 two years later. Naturally, those in charge of these armed gangs – accountable to no one but themselves – grew in power as their numbers and resources swelled, and turf warfare was common. The rule of the gun had become institutionalised.

By 2014, Libyans were sick of it. Seeing as the government was effectively toothless, hostage to the militias it had empowered, elections were largely seen as a waste of time at best, a process with no other function than to legitimise a dysfunctional status quo. Turnout in the 2014 elections was estimated at less than 20%, down from 60% two years earlier. Yet the result was nevertheless a blow to the militias, with their political sponsors – Libya’s equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood – the biggest losers. The militias’ parliamentary patrons had suffered a decisive defeat; and one they did not accept. In July 2014, they launched an attack on Tripoli to drive the new government out of the capital. By August they had succeeded, and the newly elected House of Representatives was forced to relocate to Tobruk in the east. But the House of Representatives had two major assets on their side. Firstly, the Libyan National Army (LNA), the country’s largest and most effective single fighting force – had pledged its allegiance to them. Over the year that followed, the LNA made steady gains, and by the end of 2015, after almost two years of fighting, were on the verge of retaking Benghazi from a coalition of militias led by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia. Secondly, as the elected parliament, they were internationally recognised as the legitimate government of Libya.

To add to NATO’s headaches, supporters of the pre-2011 government were growing in strength. Despite criminalisation – the notorious Law 37 had made open support for Gaddafi a crime punishable by life imprisonment – the ‘Green Resistance’, as it became known, was becoming ever more emboldened and popular. The stark difference between the relatively prosperous and stable lives people had led under Gaddafi, and the disaster which they were living now, became harder and harder to ignore. By August 2015, as a kangaroo court handed down death sentences to 8 former ministers, including Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, the green movement was openly leading large public demonstrations across the country, even in ISIS-occupied Sirte. At the same time, the east of the country was moving towards a reconciliation with the Green Movement, with the House of Representatives allowing Gaddafi’s widow to return from exile, and the LNA openly recruiting Gaddafi loyalists, including Gaddafi’s Tuareg commander General Ali Kanna, into its forces.

And finally – particularly worrying for the forces of disorder that had unleashed chaos on Libya – an end to the civil war between the two parliaments even seemed to be finally in sight. The two warring sides – Operation Dawn, which supported the General National Congress, the parliament of the defeated militias, and Operation Dignity, the Libyan National Army-led operation in support of the elected House of Representatives – had signed a ceasefire in January 2015, and by November of that year had made substantial progress towards a compromise resolution of their differences.

If NATO wanted to stop these moves towards unity, reconciliation, and defeat of the militias, they would have to act fast. That’s where the UN came in.

The UN had created UNSMIL (the UN ‘Support Mission in Libya’) in 2011, ostensibly to promote reconciliation between the various militias which had emerged, and UNSMIL had then set up the ‘Libya Dialogue’ in September 2014, following the fall of Tripoli to the Libya Dawn faction. Clearly dominated by Libya’s conquerors – its meetings often took place in London or Rome, under the watchful eye of British, Italian, US and IMF officials – it was rejected by Libyan nationalists, who instead favoured direct negotiations, without outside interference. Thus, in December 2015, there were two parallel sets of negotiations taking place – the UNSMIL Libya Dialogue (boycotted by the GNC parliament) and the the so-called ‘Libya-Libya Dialogue’ involving direct, unmediated discussions between the heads of the two parliaments. Whilst the UNSMIL version seemed to be getting nowhere – with both sides sceptical of its Western overlords – the direct negotiations were bearing serious fruit. Meeting in Malta and Muscat in December 2015, the heads of both warring parliaments endorsed an initiative to create a unity government appointed by a prime minister and two deputies chosen in turn by both parliaments. But a workable agreement between Libyan parties, based on a principled rejection of outside interference, was the exact opposite of what the UN’s controllers were seeking. For over a year, UNSMIL had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the two parliaments to support their own deeply flawed plan, the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). Now, as the Libyans’ own process was gaining momentum, desperation was growing amongst Western officials that their plan was becoming marginalised.  As one EU diplomat candidly admitted, “the pressure to sign the accord came from Political Dialogue members who feared that the Libya-Libya initiative could gain popular traction”. Unsurprisingly, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), “the most engaged Security Council permanent members – the U.S., UK and France – were particularly vocal in pushing the UN to finalise the deal”. The very powers who had destroyed Libya four years earlier were desperate that they not be sidelined by an independent Libyan initiative.

Fear of the rival negotiations gaining momentum was not the only thing driving the west’s urgency to impose a ‘deal’, however. There was also real fear that the LNA might actually win the war. As one Western official told the ICG: “Not signing and endorsing the accord would have been a major defeat for those like us who had been advocating a negotiated power-sharing deal as the only solution to the Libya crisis. It would have meant a failure of the principle of negotiations, and that would have allowed those governments that throughout 2015 had advocated direct unilateral action in support of the HoR and its government to declare victory.” This is a clear admission that the LPA was aimed at giving a shot in the arm to the flailing militias, to bolster them and prevent their defeat in the face of a unified National Army representing the elected parliament.

The problem for supporters of the western-drafted LPA remained, however, its lack of support amongst Libyan stakeholders. For a start, neither parliament endorsed the agreement; indeed, said the ICG, “A substantial HoR majority opposed the military and security provisions” whilst the GNC were boycotting the talks altogether. Furthermore, the real powers on the ground – the armed groups actually in control of Libyan territory – were not consulted, and were mostly opposed to it. The ICG concluded that “In retrospect, proponents inflated support for the accord within the rival legislatures to justify going forward.  The claim of majority backing was factually dubious – many members supported an agreement in principle but differed widely on details – and politically misleading, since key opponents were outside the HoR and the GNC and had military power to intimidate supporters”.

Lacking support for its deal, but anxious to impose it to prevent the possibility of either a LNA victory or a Libyan-led negotiated settlement, the UN simply cobbled together a handpicked group of willing members from each parliament to sign up to their flawed blueprint (It was fitting that the man brought in to do this was named Martin Kobler). Thus, the Skhirat Agreement, as it became known, was signed by an arbitrary group of unrepresentative Libyans in Morocco on December 17th 2015. It was instantly anointed the holy bible of Libyan politics by the Western powers.  And yet, “There is no real political agreement”, a senior UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) official admitted. “This is an agreement to support those who seem trustworthy for the sake of saving the country”. Saving it, that is, from unity and independence. This was naked colonialism of the pure and shameless nineteenth century variety.

Nevertheless, the western-imposed LPA did initially manage to gain some degree of support, or at least acceptance, both within Libya, and amongst non-western powers abroad. Khalifa Haftar, leader of the LNA, whilst not officially endorsing the deal, did cooperate with it at first, meeting Kobler the day before its signing and proposing a close associate, Ali Qatrani, for the Presidency Council it created. Aguila Saleh, head of the House of Representatives, gave tentative support to the deal on 31st December 2015, two weeks after its signing. On the GNC side, the Misratan leader Abderrahman Swehli gave last minute support to the deal, bringing with him a large number of the Misratan militias, a move which, according the ICG, “changed the force balance in the deal’s favour”. And at the UN, Russian and Chinese support ensured the deal achieved Security Council endorsement on 23rd December.

The LPA’s support from Saleh and Haftar (briefly) and Russia (more long term) warrants closer scrutiny. After all, in hindsight at least, the LPA has functioned effectively to bolster and legitimise the very militias which Haftar’s Russian-backed LNA is fighting. In practice, the sole function of the GNA (Government of National Accord) which was created by the ‘agreement’ has been – much like that of its Syrian cousin, the erstwhile Free Syrian Army – the provision of international recognition, funding and weaponry to any militia that pledges nominal allegiance to it, without actually having to submit to any unified chain of command. The GNA truly is a Government in Name Alone.

Yet this was not necessarily obvious at the time. Not unlike Security Council 1973 which paved the way for NATO intervention in 2011, the LPA’s drafters made sure to include many tempting concessions to its potential opponents, safe in the knowledge they could simply be ignored once the deal was signed. In the case of UNSC 1973, provisions were made for negotiations to take place before any military action began, and for any intervention which did occur to be strictly limited to a no-fly zone and preventing the Libyan army retaking Benghazi. Much to the humiliation of the African Union, which had predicated its endorsement precisely on these measures, all of them were ignored by NATO even before the ink had dried.

In the case of the LPA, on paper, it looked like it was biased, if anything, towards the House of Representatives, not the militia-backed GNC. This was not entirely surprising, given that the HoR had participated in the ‘Libya Dialogue’ talks which preceded it, which the GNC had boycotted. Under the terms of the LPA, the HoR would remain the official Libyan parliament, and creation of any new government would be conditional on HoR ratification: effectively the HoR was granted power of veto over any arrangements which would emerge. For the HoR, and its supporters in the LNA and outside Libya, then, on the face of it, there was nothing to lose.

As with UNSC 1973, however, these provisions were to be entirely ignored. Under the terms of the agreement, a Presidency Council would be formed, made up of nominees from both parliaments. This Council would then appoint a government, which would be dependent on approval by the HoR. Yet, the UN Security Council itself violated the agreement within a week of its signing, by ‘recognising’ a government which had not only not yet been formed, but which, according to the terms of the LPA, could not be formed without HoR approval. This approval has never been granted; yet the GNA’s Cabinet was nonetheless created on January 2nd (where, lacking support in Libya, it operated from Tunisia) by the Council President, Fayez al-Sarraj, triggering a boycott of the Council by two of its (eastern) members. Given that under the terms of the LPA security decisions could only be taken by the Council with the unanimous support of its five deputies, the PC thus no longer had the authority to make these decisions. This too was simply ignored.

Another sticking point emerged in March 2016, when the GNA moved to Tripoli, opposed by both the GNC and the HoR. According to the LPA, to be integrated into state security forces, militias were required to give up their weapons. Lacking any enforcement power of its own, however, the GNA simply ignored this provision too, and effectively paid a cartel of, mostly Misratan, militias to provide it with protection. Meanwhile British, Italian and German warships were stationed off the city’s coastto cow incalcitrant forces into acquiescence, reportedly sending text messages to the various militias warning them not to attempt to resist the GNA’s imposition. Nevertheless, the GNA still only managed to gain control of three of the country’s ministries, with most of the ‘government’ operating from the city’s naval base. Unsurprisingly, it was once again “Most notably the U.S. and UK,” notes the ICG, who “were lobbying for moving the Presidency Council to Tripoli and recognising the unity government as the legitimate government as soon as possible, even without formal HoR endorsement”.

A report in the UK newspaper The Independent later that month revealed why these governments were in such a rush. On 25th March 2016, it reported on a leaked briefing from King Abdullah in Jordan confirming that British and American special forces were on the ground in Libya, working with the Misratan militias. Granting such militias pseudo-legitimacy through their association with the GNA was crucial to provide a semblance of legality to these operations – which were, after all, military operations in support of armed gangs at war with the country’s elected parliament.

The following month the takeover of the GNA by the western militias was formalised by the appointment of Abderrahman Swehli, representing a bloc of Misratan militia, as President of the High State Council. The High State Council was created by the LPA as an ‘advisory body’ to the GNA, to be composed of former members of the GNC, the parliament which had lost the 2014 elections. Swehli, says the ICG, was viewed by “many Libyans… as the architect of the July 2014 “Libya Dawn” operation and the “Libya Sunrise” siege of eastern oil terminals later that year.” He was the man, in other words, who had initiated the armed overthrow of the elected government following the 2014 elections.

Thus, what looked on paper like an arrangement favouring the HoR – who would retain a veto over appointments – against the GNC – whose role was supposed to be ‘advisory’ – came in practice to be a means of transferring legitimacy from the elected HoR to the (electorally defeated) Tripoli and Misratan militias backing the GNA, with the provisions relating to the HoR’s role simply ignored.

It did not take long for the US and UK to utilise this transfer of legitimacy to start channelling arms to their favoured factions. Within days of Serraj announcing in May that the GNA was ready to start work (triggering the resignation of another four ministers, given the blatant illegality of operating without approval from the elected parliament), the UN Security Council declared it would start arming the GNA (that is, the militias now working under its banner, but not its command). It is worth noting here that the UNSC had consistently refused to lift the arms embargo on Libya when the HoR was the internationally-recognised government, battling Al Qaeda and ISIS-aligned forces in Benghazi (forces which often had tacit support from the GNA).

Indeed, the very next month, Britain successfully lobbied the UNSC to adopt a resolution mandating existing EU anti-migrant naval operations in the Mediterranean (‘Operation Sophia’) to also enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya. Now that the embargo on the GNA militias had been removed, this meant specifically cutting off arms to the LNA.

Thus the LPA, and the GNA it created, have served to legitimise the militias that have laid waste to Libya, whilst delegitimising the Libyan National Army and the elected parliament. Part of the reason for this was the desire to see that the LNA did not take Sirte.

For years, the LNA had been at the forefront of the fight against Al Qaeda and ISIS in Libya, and had completed its liberation of Benghazi from their affiliates in February 2016. The militias aligned to the GNA, meanwhile, had generally been at best ambivalent about such groups. If Britain and the US were to keep Libya out of the hands of the LNA, therefore, it needed to ensure its own favoured militias retook ISIS territory, and not the LNA. Top of the agenda was Sirte. The city had fallen to ISIS in May 2015, and, following its successful Benghazi operation, the LNA then began the march to retake Sirte. This was when British special forces were inserted to make sure this did not happen. Ultimately, Sirte did fall to the British-led Misratan militias and not to the LNA, in an operation more or less completed by the end of the year.

Thus, the LPA – and the Government in Name Alone it created – achieved NATO’s goals of both scuppering the Libyan-led dialogue then underway, and arresting the progress of the Libyan National Army. It has done so by transferring legitimacy from the elected parliament to the various rival militias vying for control of western Libya – and in the process, it has bolstered and entrenched militia rule.

A recent report by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs gave a stark outline of the impact this has had on Tripoli. Titled “Tripoli’s Militia Cartel: How Ill-Conceived Stabilisation Blocks Political Progress, and Risks Renewed War”, it is worth quoting at length. The report wrote that, on its arrival in Tripoli, “The Presidency Council rapidly fell under the influence of the militias protecting it and made little effort to reach out to others”. Within a year, a cartel of four militias had established themselves as an effective oligopoly, running most of central Tripoli. “The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) backed the militias’ expansion with its tacit approval,” the report adds, “as well as with advice to GNA officials who liaised with the armed groups…Under the Presidency Council’s watch, the militia oligopoly in Tripoli has consolidated into a cartel. The militias are no longer merely armed groups that exert their influence primarily through coercive force. They have grown into networks spanning politics, business, and the administration….To pursue [their] fraudulent practices, commanders in Tripoli’s large armed groups began placing agents throughout the administration. Since late 2016, new appointments in ministries and other government bodies have been overwhelmingly made under pressure from the militias. Through their representatives in the administration, the networks associated with the militias are increasingly able to operate in a coordinated manner across different institutions. According to politicians, militia leaders, and bureaucrats in Tripoli, the Presidency Council and the GNA have become a mere façade, behind which the armed groups and their associated interests are calling the shots.” By establishing protection rackets, kidnappings, and extorting local banks to help them operate black market currency rackets, these militias are becoming ever more wealthy. Yet these very wealth opportunities – created by the takeover of the GNA – make the ‘capture’ of Tripoli (and the GNA) an ever more attractive prize for the country’s other militias. Thus, concludes the report, “the militia cartel threatens to thwart the UN’s ongoing attempts at brokering a more viable political settlement and risks provoking a major new conflict over the capital”.

Indeed, it is pertinent that the report, published last April, predicted not only last summer’s violence in Tripoli – when the Seventh Brigade of Tarhouna (also a creation of the GNA), allied to discontented Misratan militias, attacked the capital in an attempt to wrest control from the cartel – but also the very locations from which it would occur:

“The stranglehold over the administration exerted by the militia cartel means that the profits from the pillaging of state funds now benefits a smaller groups of actors than at any point since 2011.Unsurprisingly, this is fuelling serious tensions. A handful of Misratan militias are also present in Tripoli and support the status quo there, but the bulk of that city’s armed groups, and many of its politicians, increasingly resent their marginalisation by the Tripoli cartel. In Zintan, which hosts the second largest forces in western Libya, after Misrata, such resentment is combined with the long-held desire to return to the capital and efface the humiliation suffered in 2014, when Zintani forces were forcibly dislodged from the capital by a Misratan-led coalition. The recent appointments of Zintani figures in senior positions in Tripoli are not sufficient to assuage these ambitions. Yet another force with designs on the capital is based in Tarhuna. Throughout the first months of 2018, actors from these three cities have attempted to build an alliance to enter Tripoli by force. The complexity of the alliances around the capital and engagement by UNSMIL have, to date, prevented such an offensive from happening. But the longer the current situation in Tripoli persists, the more likely it is that such forces will start a new conflict over the capital.”

The GNA is absolutely not a Government of National Accord. It does not govern, it is not national, and it does not promote accord. Rather, it is a Government in Name Alone, a colonial imposition designed purely to legitimise western support for destabilising militias at the expense of the country’s elected parliament and most effective unified force. It is time for Libya’s factions to return to their own negotiations – and to reject, once and for all, the interference of the foreign powers which have destroyed, and continue to destroy, their country.

 

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Drug smuggling is HSBC’s raison d’etre

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HSBC Tower in Hong Kong; the cannons are pointed at the Bank of China Tower. 

31st January 2016 

HSBC are in the news for attempting to suppress a report into money laundering. This is no surprise as the company’s entire history, right up to the present day, is one of financing drug cartels.

HSBC are not known for their transparency. Britain’s wealthiest company, with a stock market valuation of $215billion, has enough advertising muscle in the British press to ensure that critical investigative pieces have been spiked in both the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph – in the latter case, causing that newspaper’s chief political commentator to resign in protest. Then last year, the bank’s friends in the Swiss government sentenced the whistleblower who exposed the bank’s massive facilitation of tax avoidance to five years in prison, the longest sentence ever demanded by the country’s public ministry for a banking data theft case. And back in 2011 HSBC was revealed to be the UK financial sector’s most enthusiastic user of tax havens, with no less than 556 subsidiary companies based in offshore jurisdictions. Tax havens, as leading expert Nicholas Shaxson notes, “are characterised by secrecywhat they are fundamentally about is escape – escape from the rules, laws, regulations of jurisdictions elsewhere. You move your money offshore and you can then escape the laws that you don’t like”. This is clearly an institution with much to hide.

So it should not have surprised anybody when, earlier this month, it was revealed that HSBC are now seeking to block the publication of a report into HSBC’s compliance with anti-money laundering laws. After all, it was only three years ago that HSBC were hit with a massive $1.9 billion fine for laundering around $1 billion on behalf of some of the world’s most vicious gangsters. According to US assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer, “from 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia, and other drug traffickers laundered at least $881 million in illegal narcotics trafficking proceeds through HSBC Bank USA. These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard.” This is putting it mildly; in fact HSBC went to great lengths to facilitate the drug cartels. As Matt Taibbi wrote in his definitive piece on the scandal, HSBC “ran a preposterous offshore operation in Mexico that allowed anyone to walk into any HSBC Mexico branch and open a US-dollar account (HSBC Mexico accounts had to be in pesos) via a so-called ‘Cayman Islands branch’ of HSBC Mexico. The evidence suggests customers barely had to submit a real name and address, much less explain the legitimate origins of their deposits.” The bank did have a system in place to identify ‘suspicious activity’; but it routinely flouted it. As Nafeez Ahmed has written, “By 2010, HSBC had racked up a backlog of 17,000 suspicious activity alerts that it had simply ignored. Yet the bank’s standard response when it received its next government cease-and-desist order was simply to ‘clear’ the alerts, and give assurances that everything was fine. According to former HSBC compliance officer and whistleblower Everett Stern, the bank’s executives were deliberately ignoring and violating anti-money laundering regulations.” Taibbi wrote that “In one four-year period between 2006 and 2009, an astonishing $200 trillion in wire transfers (including from high risk countries like Mexico) went through without any monitoring at all. The bank also failed to do due diligence on the purchase of an incredible $9 billion in physical US dollars from Mexico and played a key role in the so-called Black Market Peso Exchange, which allowed drug cartels in both Mexico and Colombia to convert US dollars from drug sales into pesos to be used back home. Drug agents discovered that dealers in Mexico were building special cash boxes to fit the precise dimensions of HSBC teller windows”. HSBC’s customers – cartels like Colombia’s Norte del Valle and Mexico’s Sinaloa – were at the time involved in mass murder and abuse of the most psychopathic variety, including beheadings and torture videos. The official death toll from these groups in Mexico alone is 83,000 over the past decade. That they have the capacity to carry out violence on such a

massive scale is the result of the massive financial growth of their industry. And that growth was wilfully facilitated by HSBC. 

Given that this has all now been established in court, were the rule of law actually applied, the bank’s Charter would have been revoked, and its directors (including former UK Trade Minister Stephen Green) would now be in jail. The reason this did not happen is that the sheer size of HSBC’s operations make it too strategically important to close down. “Had the US authorities decided to press charges”, explained Assistant Attorney General Lenny Breuer, “HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking licence in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilised.” That is to say, HSBC’s wealth and power put it officially above the law. Even its $1.9 billion fine, massive though it might seem, amounted to a mere five weeks profit for the bank.

But all of this is entirely in keeping for a bank whose roots lie precisely in illegality, drug trading and massive violence.

HSBC’s website notes that it was formed in 1865 to “to finance trade between Europe and Asia”, whilst the official 763-page history of the company explains that “the expansion of international trade with China had inevitably led to demand for trade finance and money-changing facilities – demand that the traditional Chinese banks, the quianzhuang, had been unable to meet”, with HSBC kindly stepping in to help. Yet neither source deigns to tell their readers of exactly what this trade consisted. 

The previous century had seen a huge growth in UK imports of tea from China; indeed, these were growing so large that Britain’s silver supplies were draining away to China to pay for them. The problem for Britain was that it had nothing China wanted to buy in return; as Emperor Qian Long explained in a long letter to King George III in 1793, “our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.” But the traders of the British East India Company, which had taken control of Bengal in 1757, came up with an ingenious solution. They would force the dispossessed peasantry of India – starving and desperate following the Company’s destruction of their textile industry through extortionate taxes, plunder and the imposition of ‘free trade’ – onto newly founded opium plantations, and sell this to the Chinese. This was entirely illegal; but that posed no problem for the British, who simply bribed corrupt Chinese officials to turn a blind eye to the trade. By the 1830s the trade had reached 40,000 chests per annum; selling for up to $1000 per chest, the trade became, according to Frederic Wakeman, “the world’s most valuable single commodity trade of the nineteenth century”, and accounted for almost two thirds of British overseas trade with China. But this tidy little scam came under serious threat in 1839. By that time, the trade had grown so large that China’s silver was now draining away to Britain to pay for the drug, and the Emperor decided to launch a crackdown. As the Le Monde Diplomatique recounted recently, “a senior Chinese government official, Lin zexu, known for his competence and moral standing, issued a warrant for [British opium trader Thomas] Dent’s arrest in an attempt to close his warehouses” and eventually forced the British superintendent of trade to surrender 10,000 chests, which were then destroyed. China’s flagrant attempt to protect its citizens and enforce its own laws was deemed an affront too far for the British, who responded by sending gunboats to the coast of China, and opening fire. Town after town was destroyed by cannonfire, and then

looted by British troops; indeed, according to historian John Newsinger, “it was during this war that the Hindi word ‘lut’ entered the English language as the word ‘loot’”. In one town alone, Tin-hai, over 2000 Chinese were killed, with the India Gazette reporting that “a more complete pillage could not be conceived…the plunder only ceased when there was nothing to take or destroy”. This destruction continued for three years, until the Chinese agreed to the British terms: handing over Hong Kong to the British, opening more Chinese ports to British trade, paying the full costs of their own bombardment, and fully compensating the opium traders for the loss of their property.

A second war followed, lasting from 1856 to 1860. This one was even more destructive, with British warships advancing up the Peiho river to Beijing itself, eventually reaching the Emperor’s majestic Summer Palace. Captain Charles Gordon explained that his troops, “after pillaging it burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal manner most valuable property…everybody was wild for plunder.” One of the items looted was the Emperor’s pet Pekinese dog, taken as a present for Queen Victoria. She called it Looty.

This time, the Chinese were forced to legalise the opium trade. Over the decades that followed, the trade would reach dizzying heights, with British opium exports climbing to 60,000 chests per year by the 1860s, and 100,000 in the 1880s, making it, according to the Cambridge History of China, “the most long continued and systematic crime of modern times”, with millions of Chinese addicts paying the price.

This was the trade which HSBC were created to facilitate. Thomas Dent – the opium trader whose arrest hepped trigger the first of the ‘opium wars’ – was one of its founders. Another was Thomas Sutherland, the Hong Kong superintendent of British shipping company P and O and chairman of Hong Kong and Whampoa dock; opium accounted for 70% of maritime freight from India to China at the time.

As the British research group Corporate Watch have shown, “After the second round of wars the Chinese government could only pay off its massive war fines by turning to such merchants as the Hong King and Shanghai Bank. According to one historian, ‘They…had the effect of placing the revenues of China almost totally in foreign control.’” In other words, then as now, the sheer overwhelming dominance of the bank and its backers created an economic dependency on it which effectively put it above the law.

The combined impact of Chinese government’s dependency and the growing opium trade created profits which catapulted HSBC to the position of most profitable British bank (either overseas or domestic) within 25 years of its foundation. It would stay at or near this position right up to the present day.

Following legalization, Chinese opium production took off, eventually eclipsing even British imports, which ended in 1917. But by this time, HSBC was fully embedded in the Chinese economy, able to position itself as chief financier of the new Chinese entrepeneurs. When this production itself was wiped out by the victorious Communist Party in 1949, production shifted to South Asia (with help from the CIA, according to Peter Dale Scott). HSBC followed. According to Richard Roberts and David Kynaston in their official history of HSBC, The Lion Wakes: “In search of new business, the bank expanded operations elsewhere in Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, it extended its branch network in Singapore and Malaysia, and for the first time opened branches in Borneo.”

Today, drug profits form a major part of the entire global financial system. According to a 2005 UN report, the illegal drugs trade was worth £177 billion per year, equating to a staggering 8-9 % of total world trade; the latest UN figure is £320 billion per year. Of this, Alain Labrousse of Geopolitical Drug Dispatch, estimates that around 80% of the profits end up “in the banks of the wealthy countries.” Indeed, so dependent has the financial system become on the illicit trade that in 2009, the UN drugs tsar testified that it was

only laundered drug money that kept the global economy from collapsing during the crisis of 2007-8.

Little wonder, then, that wherever you look – from Afghanistan, to Kosovo, to Libya, to Mexico to Colombia, and even ‘at home’ – the policies of the world’s leading financial centres serve to boost the production, distribution and profitability of the drugs trade. And little wonder that HSBC are still keeping their ‘money laundering checks’ to themselves.

 

This article was originally published by RT. 

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Refugees don’t cause fascism: liberalism does

October 2nd, 2015

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Europe needs to fascisise its policies, because if it doesn’t – fascism will grow. This was the message from Frans Timmerman, Vice-President of the European Commission following last week’s fraught negotiations over the so-called refugee crisis. “We have to patrol our borders better”, he told reporters on Thursday. “If we’re not able to tackle this issue, if we’re not able to find sustainable solutions, you will see a surge of the extreme right across the European continent.”

Sustainable solutions are, of course, available, and always have been; namely 1) stop destabilising Africa and the Middle East: which means, precisely, stop arming sectarian insurgencies (Syria, Libya and Somalia), stop sabotaging diplomatic solutions by insisting on one side’s surrender as a precondition to talks (‘Assad must go’) and stop forcing vulnerable economies to adopt regressive neoliberal policies which impoverish small producers (‘structural adjustment programmes’ and ‘free trade areas’); and 2) implement the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, and give refuge to all those fleeing persecution and war. If tiny Lebanon – with its population of 4.5 million and a GDP of less than one third of one percent of that of the EU – can take in 1.5million refugees, one would have thought the EU – more populous and wealthier than any country on the planet – could manage a few hundred thousand.

But this is not what Timmerman is talking about. Having failed to reach consensus on taking in even a token fraction of the refugees arriving on Europe’s shores, the talk is now of a more or less formal acceptance of the ‘Hungarian solution’ – razor wire fencessurrounding fortress Europe. “After weeks of condemnation over the border fence,” noted the Daily Telegraph last week, “EU officials now appear to concede that [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban has a point”.

Using the spectre of the far right to justify the wholesale adoption of their policies is nothing new, with elections across Europe increasingly resembling ‘racist auctions’: each party trying to outbid the others in their hostility to migrants, and always on the grounds that, if they do not, the far right will reap the benefits. ‘We will ban their benefits for two years’ announced the Labour party manifesto before this year’s election in the UK, ‘Well we will ban them for FOUR years’ rebuffed the Conservatives – neither divulging that the proportion of migrants actually on benefits is barely 1/20, compared to 2/3 of all British families.

Besides, Timmerman is profoundly wrong. Refugees do not cause the growth of the far-right any more than Jews ‘caused’ Nazism. InThe Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton argues that fascism rests on“popular feelings about master races, their unjust lot and their rightful predominance over inferior people.” More precisely, he describes it as a mass emotional response to national humiliation and decline which blames internal enemies for weakening the nation’s power. This humiliation is usually caused by military defeat and a decline in global status and power, and is accompanied by economic upheaval for previously privileged sections of the ‘masses’, who resent being pushed into the ranks of the proletariat, and seek to restore their previous position.

This was obviously the situation in 1930s Germany and Italy. Italy, although on the winning side of World War One at that war’s conclusion, was denied the fruits of victory it had been promised by its allies – an outcome blamed by the nascent fascist movement on the socialists and communists who had weakened the nation sufficiently to make it ripe for bullying by the other ‘Great Powers’. At the same time, it was suffering from economic crisis and unemployment – especially amongst former soldiers – again blamed on ‘communist disruption’. Germany was in a similar position, forced by its vanquishers to sign a humiliating peace treaty, and was by the 1930s suffering some of the highest levels of unemployment in Europe. Both calamities were blamed on ‘Jewish Bolsheviks’ who had, the Nazis claimed, stabbed the army in the back with their ‘unnecessary’ surrender at Versailles, and then subsequently wrecked the country’s economy with their control of both high finance and the trade unions.

The key in both cases was that fascism tapped into an emotional pride that could not accept that national decline was simply the result of the nation’s relative weakness. There had to be another explanation – an enemy within that had weakened the nation by diluting its inherent strength. National strength could, following this logic, be rejuvenated so long as the internal enemy was extinguished. This is the core of fascism. And very similar objective conditions to those that facilitated the growth of fascism in Germany and Italy in the 1930s are also present across Europe today.

Europe today – having spent five hundred years building up a self-aggrandising mythology of itself as the font of civilization and all that is good in the world – is now in the throes of a multi-pronged crisis, at once political, economic, military and ideological. On the political level, the rise of the BRICS countries, and especially China, is threatening the world’s domination by Europe and the European settler states (the US, Australia and Canada), and this threat is increasingly manifest in every global institution – from the IMF to the World Bank and the UN. On the economic level, global capitalism is still in the throes of the crisis whose latest phase began in 2007-8, with the result that long term mass unemployment is now a permanent and growing feature of every European country at the same time as the welfare safety net for the jobless is being ever more viciously slashed away. And whilst the military defeat of Britain and some of its European allies in Afghanistan and Iraq is hardly the same level of trauma as defeat in world war, it is worth noting that the main fascist street movement in Britain today, the English Defence League, has its roots precisely in the rituals around returning soldiers from Afghanistan.

The result is that the masses of Western Europe – who have, since at least 1945, enjoyed a highly privileged position amongst the global working class – are now seeing their economic privileges evaporating, their nations’ power being challenged across the globe, and their armies being forced into unseemly retreats everywhere they venture.

All of this is the inexorable unfolding of global capitalism – whose development compels the whole world to simultaneously adopt its techniques (resulting in national competition and the rise of new global powers), lower its costs, cut its workforce – and thereby also cut the demand that underpins the whole system. This ultimately is what caused the dislocations both in the 1930s and today.

Not to the fascist, though. For the fascist, national decline must be caused by the presence of the enemy within – a ‘foreign body’ infecting the national purity which, if regained, will again restore the nation to its rightfully privileged global status. A scapegoat is essential to fascist ideology.

But this scapegoat has to be very precisely chosen. It must at once symbolize the new powers deemed to be usurping the chosen people’s rightful place in the global hierarchy, but simultaneously be vulnerable enough to be the target of attacks at home. For Hitler, the Jew met both these criteria, representing the powerful external ‘Soviet threat’ (of ‘Jewish Bolshevism’) whilst being a group easy to persecute on home soil. Likewise, the scapegoat must represent the middle class fear of expropriation from both ‘above’ and ‘below’ – once again, for Hitler, the Jew worked perfectly, symbolizing the threat to small businesses represented by big business and banking and by communism – for, in Nazi mythology, the Jew controlled both.

In today’s Europe, the Muslim plays precisely the role played by the Jew in the 1930s. The Muslim fills the ranks of the despised poor in Europe’s inner cities – always on the verge of rebellion and political radicalism, the ‘Jewish Bolshevik’ of his day – but is also the ‘Arab tycoon’ – buying up London, pricing out ordinary folks, and manipulating oil prices. The Muslim is the internal enemy, weakening the national spirit from within, whilst also representing the rising powers abroad.

This is the fascist worldview. The objective conditions for its acceptance are relative national decline; economic crisis, poverty and unemployment; and military defeat. The subjective conditions are hundreds of years of ideological brainwashing that Europe is the font of civilisation, uniquely innovative and progressive, destined to dominate the world and entitled to permanently privileged living standards. Refugees are not responsible for any of these conditions, Mr Timmerman. But you, and your entire political class, have exacerbated all of them.

This piece was originally published by Counterpunch

 

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Libya’s relentless decline represents a continuation of the NATO war

New opinion polls, economic statistics and human rights reports from Libya point to one conclusion: western policy to keep Libya weak and divided is a resounding success.

Line graph. The percentage of Libyans who are thriving dropped from 31% in 2012 to 19% in 2018.

A poll released by Gallup this week demonstrates the increasing desperation facing Libyans even before the latest round of fighting began last month. The poll, based on telephone interviews with over a thousand Libyans conducted over July and August last year, reveals that record numbers of Libyans lacked money for food and shelter over the previous year, and a record low are deemed to be ‘thriving’. 43% said they lacked money for food at some point over the previous year – a number which has been consistently rising since the annual poll began in 2015 – whilst 37% said they had lacked money for shelter, almost double the 22% recorded in 2012. Respondents were then asked to give a rating between nought and ten for both their life today, and their expected life in five years, and were classified as ‘thriving’ if they gave an answer of at least seven and eight respectively. Only 19% did so.

 

A majority of 52% said their local economies were getting worse, quadruple the 2012 figure of 13%. Most damningly, perhaps, over a third of Libyans now say they would like to leave their homeland permanently.

 

The Gallup poll, however, is but the latest in a plethora of reports detailing Libya’s unrelenting decline since 2011. The UN’s Human Development Index, published annually, ranks 169 countries according to measures such as life expectancy, access to education, and healthcare. Under Gaddafi’s rule, Libya stood at an impressive 53 on the scale, in the top third of countries worldwide and officially classified as ‘high human development’, with the longest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates on the African continent. Since then life expectancy has dropped three years, from 74.5 to 71.6, under pressure of ongoing warfare and the collapse of public services, whilst the country’s overall ranking has dropped 55 places to 108, almost into the bottom third of countries overall.

 

Another indicator of decine comes from the UK Foreign Office’s biannual economic factsheet. The latest, published last month, reveals that Libya has an annual inflation rate of 23.1% – that is, its currency is losing a quarter of its value every year – whilst it ranks 186 out of 189 countries for ‘ease of doing business’, one place ahead of Yemen. Per capita income has fallen every year since 2011, and now stands at $6,692, a little over half its pre-invasion level of $12,250.

 

Amnesty International’s annual report makes even more devastating reading. In 2010, their Libya report did not record any ‘grave’ or ‘serious’ human rights violations, such as torture or extrajudicial killing,  that year. Fast forward to 2018, however, and we read that “torture was widespread in prisons, where thousands were held without charge,” adding that “many detainees had been held since 2011 with no judicial oversight or means to challenge the legality of their detention.” In particular, “migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers were subjected to widespread and systematic serious human rights violations and abuses at the hands of state officials”. The report adds that “Up to 20,000 people were held in detention centres in Libya run by…the Ministry of the Interior of the GNA. They were held in horrific conditions of extreme overcrowding, lacking access to medical care and adequate nutrition, and systematically subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, severe beatings and extortion.” In addition, “armed groups and criminal gangs ran thousands of illicit holding sites throughout the country as part of a lucrative people-smuggling business”, some of whom, it noted, were selling off their detainees in open slave markets. Meanwhile “armed groups and militias abducted and unlawfully detained hundreds of people because of their opinions, origin, perceived political affiliations or perceived wealth,” including “political activists, lawyers, human rights activists and other civilians”. Whereas the 2010 report noted that “freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be severely curtailed”, there was no suggestion that journalists’ lives were at risk. By 2018, however, “Journalists, activists and human rights defenders were particularly vulnerable to harassment, attacks and enforced disappearance by armed groups and militias aligned with various authorities of rival governments.” Overall, “an environment of impunity continued to prevail, leaving perpetrators of serious abuses emboldened and without fear of accountability”.

 

This massive deterioration of all aspects of Libyan society since NATO’s 2011 war – whether in terms of social welfare, economic conditions or basic human rights – has necessitated some serious intellectual contortions by its defenders. According to them, Libya’s collapse has nothing to do with NATO’s destruction of its state apparatus, but rather result from either Gaddafi himself (still causing havoc from beyond the grave) or from subsequent ‘mistakes’. Florence Gaub, for example – who, in a clear nod to her colonial intellectual lineage, calls herself ‘Florence of Arabia’ – argues in her book, The Cauldron, that “NATO’s intervention in Libya was soundly conceived and executed”. The reversal of all development indicators since 2011 is, for Gaub and co, attributable to policies before 2011 and after 2011, but never to the fateful events of 2011 themself; indeed, for such analysts, the intervention set the country up for a success which it foolishly squandered.

 

Yet the link between that intervention and Libya’s current problems is hard to deny: after all, it was precisely NATO’s war that destroyed the state’s security and public service infrastructure, and left power fragmented in the hands of the rival militias now slugging it out. Whilst Gaub and others are right that decisions taken since then – such as the ill-fated move in 2012 to pay militia wages without integrating them into a unified command structure, or the law the same year granting effective immunity from prosecution to militiamen – have helped entrench instability and factional rivalries, the reality is that this is not a divergence from, but rather a continuation of, 2011. When it comes to western policy towards the global South, Clausewitz gets inverted: politics truly is war by other means. And the aim of that war – as was clear in 2011 and has since become ever clearer – was nothing less than the permanent prevention of Libya’s re-emergence as a strong, unified, independent state.

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The browning of the left part two: Alexander Dugin and the rise of ‘politically correct’ fascism

 

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Dugin, clever dickhead posing as a threat to US imperialism but ultimately sharing its goals

Alexander Dugin is quite possibly, after Steve Bannon, the most influential fascist in the world today. His TV station reaches over 20 million people, and the dozens of thinktanks, journals and websites run by him and his employees ultimately have an even further reach. You yourself have probably read pieces originally emanating from one of his outlets.

 

His strategy is that of the ‘red-brown alliance’ – an attempt to unite the far left and far right under the hegemonic leadership of the latter. On the face of it, much of his programme can at first appear superficially attractive to leftists – opposition to US supremacy; support for a ‘multipolar’ world; and even an apparent respect for non-western and pre-colonial societies and traditions. In fact, such positions – necessary as they may be for a genuine leftist programme – are neither bad nor good in and of themselves; rather, they are means, tools for the creation of a new world. And the world Dugin wishes to create is one of racially-purified ethno-states, dominated by a Euro-Russian white power aristocracy (the ‘Moscow-Berlin axis’) in which Asia is subordinated to Russia by means of a dismembered China. This is not an anti-imperialist programme. It is a programme for an inter-imperialist challenge for the control of Europe and Asia: for a reconstituted Third Reich.

 

Dugin represents a strain of fascism known as National Bolshevism, which first emerged in the years following the Bolshevik revolution and subsequent civil war. Some of the defeated remnants of the white army began to believe that if Bolshevism could not be overthrown by force, then perhaps its authoritarian currents could be developed and gradually pushed towards right wing ultranationalism. This was a classic infiltration strategy of taking over the left and destroying it from within. Under the leadership of Stalin, some of the National Bolsheviks were allowed to return to the USSR, and were partially rehabilitated in an effort to bring nationalist and patriotic credibility to Stalin’s government; essentially, both sides were using each other to legitimise and expand the appeal of their respective projects.

 

The current remained relatively marginal, however, until the Brezhnev era. Then, in the 1980s, the National Bolshevists joined forces with other ultranationalist trends to form ‘Pamyat’, an anti-Semitic and monarchist association which blamed a Zionist-Masonic plot for the Russian revolution, and indeed for pretty much all of Russia’s problems. Dugin joined its central council. But he apparently found it too ‘modern’, and sought to develop a more mystical and ‘traditionalist’ form of fascism. Following his expulsion from Pamyat in 1989 – after a failed attempt to change its direction – he embarked on a tour of western Europe, where he became influenced by French fascist Alain de Benoist’s Nouvelle Droite and developed close relationships with leading figures such as Jean-Francois Thiriart, Robert Steuckers, and Benoist himself. These figures had been instrumental in a developing a strategy of whitewashing and rehabilitating fascism by appropriating the slogans and concepts of the left and even liberals (see my piece in the last edition of Counterpunch), and were to be hugely influential on Dugin’s own political trajectory. De Benoist had advocated stepping back from the overt promotion of a fascist programme in order to focus instead on cultivating the intellectual terrain in which such a programme would again become acceptable. To this end he created a think-tank, GRECE (the “Research and Study Group of European Civilisation”) to wage a long-term ‘cultural-ideological struggle’ he termed ‘metapolitics’, based on a strategy originally advocated by the Italian communist leader Gramsci. Dugin, following some abortive attempts to enter politics directly (receiving less than 1% of the vote when he stood as a candidate to the Russian State Duma in 1995, for example), soon began to employ a similar strategy. His first journal, Elementy, founded in 1993, praised the Nazis and the Conservative Revolutionaries which preceded them, and published the first Russian translations of esoteric interwar fascist Julius Evola. Since then, he has founded or developed dozens of journals, think tanks, publishing houses and web platforms to spread his ideas, including Katehon, Geopolitika, Arktos, Eurasia journal, Editions Avatar, Voxnr.com, Arctogaia, Fort-Russ, the Centre for Syncretic Studies, the Duran, New University, Vtorzhenie (invasion), Eurasianist Review, Evrazia.info, Russian Time journal, the Global Revolutionary Alliance, The Green Star, New Resistance/ Open Revolt, the Centre of Conservative Research at the Faculty of Sociology of Moscow State University, the St Petersburg Conservative Club at the Faculty of Philosophy of St Petersburg State University, and the Amphora publishing house. A worrying number of them have gained traction amongst some on the left, their articles shared and posted unsuspectingly on social media by people who would never have dreamed of circulating material by more overt white supremacists like the KKK.

 

Much of this work is financed by the Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev, and the various platforms cover a wide base in terms of their appeal and intended audience. Some sites are more traditionally right-wing, whilst others appropriate more anarchist and workerist imagery and language. The US-based New Resistance is a case in point. New Resistance was founded by James Porazzo, previously leader of the more openly white supremacist American Front (modelled on the UK’s National Front) who once described Jews as “a filthy, evil people the world would be better without”, and is clearly part of Dugin’s global network, frequently republishing Dugin’s pieces, and with links to the site prominently displayed on Dugin’s Centre for Syncretic Studies and in his books. New Resistance issues classically leftist-sounding phrases like “Too often we in the working classes internalize the zero-sum, dog-eat-dog ‘logic’ of capitalism” and “Workers of all nations are cynically pitted against each other by the ruling classes, forced to wage military and economic warfare that is contrary to our own class interests” and even publishes stickers of communist freedom fighter Leila Khaled for its supporters to download. Their 11 point programme is a classic fascist mish-mash of traditional socialist wishlist, return-to-the-land tribalist nostalgia and right wing dogwhistles like gun ownership and overpopulation, and it is only when you get deep into the manifesto that the demands for ethnic purity and segregation become more apparent. Elsewhere, Gramsci’s understanding of ‘organic intellectuals’, rooted in the working class, gets twisted into support for a ‘New Aristocracy’.

 

Alexander Reid-Ross explains how these Duginist sites and think tanks then amplify their influence across the rest of the web: “Dugin’s thought pieces are read by journalists and editors with other sites like Fort-Russ, which claims to receive some millions of views per month. RT and Sputnik pick up stories and writers from sites like Fort-Russ and Katehon, elevating the Kremlin’s “spin” to more and more users. They then bring on leftist journalists from North Atlantic countries in order to make that spin more attractive to larger audiences in the West.” Fort-Russ’s own website confirms this strategy: “With 3 million readers a month, we have often featured ‘uncomfortable truths’ which ‘mainstream’ Kremlin backed sources like RT and Sputnik were unable to. We gave the raw story to readers before RT and Sputnik found the right angle to couch it in. As a result, many of our features and breaking stories have been featured by both of these outlets later on.” In December 2013, Dugin compiled a list of hundreds of politicians and intellectuals he sought to cultivate through involvement with RT, entitled “Countries and persons, where there are grounds to create an elite club and/or a group of informational influence through the line of Russia Today”. The list included rightwingers like Viktor Orban and de Benoist as well as leftwingers such as Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras.

 

At the same time as following this ‘metapolitical’ strategy, Dugin also had a role in developing and influencing almost every far right Russian formation that now exists. After co-founding the National Bolshevik Party in 1993, he went on to write the programme of the (grossly misnamed and deeply anti-Jewish) Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), and served as advisor for Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s (similar misnamed and fascistic) Liberal Democrat Party. Subsequently he has been advisor to the Speaker of the Duma and has established the Eurasia Party (2002) and the Eurasian Youth Movement (2005), whilst also briefly a leading member of the overtly fascist Rodina party. In 2008, he gained a professorship at the prestigious Moscow State University, and his textbook “Foundations of Geopolitics” is apparently required reading in Russia’s military academies. He is also close to the American far right, with links to former KKK leader David Duke, whilst one of his disciples, Nina Kouprianova, is married to leading US fascist Richard Spencer and him and Alex Jones feature on each other’s TV shows. But he has also attempted to develop links with left groups such as Syriza, whose former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias invited him to give a lecture on Eurasianism at the University of Piraeus in 2013 according to the Financial Times. Dugin even appears to have a role as ‘unofficial envoy’ of the Russian government, allegedly helping to broker the rapprochement between Turkey and Russia following Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet in 2015.

 

Dugin’s outlook essentially boils down to a combination of “ethnopluralism” and what he disingenuously terms Neo-Eurasianism. Both ideas lend themselves well to the building of a ‘red-brown’ fascist-led alliance, as both have elements which are superficially appealing to the left whilst in fact providing theoretical cover for genocide and imperial war.

 

Following de Benoist, ethnopluralism purports to be based on a respect for the unique cultures of all peoples, urging an end to the high-handed universalist arrogance of imperial liberal modernity. Politically-correct fascists in the Benoist-Dugin mould often claim to support ‘Black Power’, ‘Red Power’ and so on, along with White Power: Africa for the Africa; Europe for the Europeans. The corollary of both, of course, is that non-Europeans should get the hell out, and immigration is presented as a threat to, or even a plot against, the essentialised traditional European culture Duginists support. Indeed, a key strategic aim of the Duginists appears to be the morphing of the antiwar movement into an anti-refugee movement, portraying war refugees as a weapon employed by Jewish financiers such as George Soros to dilute and weaken European culture.

 

Nevertheless, this hostility towards migrants as an impure degenerate influence on pristine European cultural tradition is matched with a flattery towards other ‘traditional cultures’, Islam in particular. Dugin has had some major successes in co-opting Muslims to his cause, his close collaborator (and fellow former Pamyat member) Geydar Dzhemal having set up his own fascist think-tank the Florian Geyer Club. Dugin’s 2014 book Eurasian Mission also claims that Sheikh Talgat Tadzhuddin, Chief Mufti of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate, is a supporter. Whereas the mainstream hard right have shifted, post 9/11, to a superficially ‘pro-Jewish’ (or at least pro-Israeli) position of unity against Islam, the Duginists appear to want to return the far right to its pre-9/11 tradition of courting right wing Muslims into a joint anti-semitic programme. Ethnopluralism is, by definition, antisemitic, for what Dugin calls “subversive, destructive Jews without a nationality” are, by their very existence, a threat to its conception of racially-purified, culturally homogenous, ethno-states. This does not, of course, rule out support for Israel as the potential basis of such a state itself, and Dugin’s Arctogaia has indeed cultivated links with ultranationalist Zionist groups whose conceptions of cultural purity resonate with his own.

 

What Dugin calls ‘Neo-Eurasianism’, meanwhile, builds on US fascist Francis Parker Yockey’s advocacy of a grand coalition against ‘Atlanticism’ and US power. Again, this is at first sight appealing to genuine anti-imperialists; after all, what could be more anti-imperialist than a policy to isolate and weaken the world’s leading imperial power? On closer inspection, however, Dugin’s Eurasianism amounts to a crude attempt to form a Russian-led white power bloc aimed at destroying China and preparing for grand inter-imperialist world war. Dugin’s Manichean and occultist view of world history posits an eternal struggle between a degenerate ‘sea empire’, a ‘Leviathan’ represented today by the Atlanticism of the US and UK in particular, and a Russian-led ‘land empire’ – a ‘Behemoth’ upholding traditional Slavic and European culture, and defending it against the Muslim and Chinese hordes unleashed by Atlanticist globalisation. Dugin’s “Foundations of Geopolitics”, whilst advocating a propagandistic focus on the USA (“the main ‘scapegoat’ will be precisely the U.S.”, as he succinctly puts it), sees the real enemy as China, which, he writes,must, to the maximum degree possible, be dismantled”. Thus, despite its apparent hostility to the US, Duginism’s immediate goal is in fact precisely the same as that of US imperialism – the destruction of China.

 

In fact, Neo-Eurasianism is a euphemistic misnomer for this project. The original Eurasianists of the interwar period – who, like the National Bolsheviks, arose from the remnants of the Russian white army in exile – were inspired by the Mongol Empire, and sought in some ways to recreate it. Dugin’s project, however, as Edmund Griffiths has pointed out, is essentially the reconstitution of the territories of the Third Reich (including the parts of Russia it never conquered) under joint German-Russian tutelage (the ‘Moscow-Berlin axis’ as he terms it). In this, he is close to his mentor Thiriart’s conception of a ‘white-power bloc’ from Lisbon to Vladivostock (and excluding all of Southwest and Southeast Asia). The real inspiration Dugin appears to have gained from classic Eurasianism was its strategy of the infiltration and colonisation of the left rather than direct confrontation with it.

 

Like Hitler, Dugin’s model for his future ‘Eurasian empire’ appears to be the British empire. Following the First War of Indian Independence of 1857 – the largest anti-colonial uprising of the nineteenth century, which took the British three years to quell – Britain began to focus more on cultivating ‘traditional’ (and preferably sectarian) leaders for the outsourcing of some of empire’s dirty business, with the ruling families of much of today’s Arab peninsula a still-existing product of this period. In the same fashion, Dugin’s vision for ‘Eurasia’ appears to be a vast collection of cultural-nationalist bantustans controlled by Russian-anointed gangsters (or representatives of the traditional, patriarchal natural hierarchy, to use Dugin’s own formulations) under overall Russian control. At the same time, Dugin’s flattery of Islam has a geopolitical corollary in his advocacy of a “continental Russian-Islamic alliance” – with Iran in particular – based on the “traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilisation”. None of this flattery, it should be noted, has prevented Dugin from applauding a US President who has made the strangulation of Iran a defining feature of his foreign policy, just as it has not prevented Putin from collaborating with this strangulation of his supposed ‘ally’, both by greenlighting Israeli airstrikes on Iranian forces in Syria, and by pumping extra oil to allow Trump’s blockade of Iranian oil. Far from it; indeed such actions only increase Iran’s dependence on Russia, illustrating the chauvinist nature of the ‘alliance’, both as it appears in Dugin’s philosophy and its realpolitik manifestation today.

 

Where ‘Neo-Eurasianism’ really reveals its compatibility with its supposed Atlantic enemy, however, is in its attitude to China. The dismemberment of China – identified in “Foundations of Geopolitics” as Russia’s chief regional rival – should begin, Dugin suggests, with the Russian annexation of Tibet, Xinjiang and Manchuria (as well as Mongolia) as a “security belt”. The ‘metapolitical’ cultivation of hostility towards Russia’s supposed rival is subtly but clearly underway throughout Dugin’s networks, as even a cursory glance at the Katehon website reveals. One article, entitled “China is on the warpath: who will be the first victim?”, tells its readers that “ the Chinese army [is] preparing for war…breaking the delicate balance that has developed in the world after the Second World War” as “One by one it pinches off the territories of the countries of the former USSR – Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan”. Its “aggressive aspirations” are also apparently revealed by its role in the South China Sea, though the article completely airbrushes out of the picture the increasingly belligerent US military encirclement and attempts to gain control over crucial naval ‘choke holds’ which are the obvious context and cause of China’s defensive actions. As such, the piece, with a little subediting for grammar, could easily have been a straightforward US neocon oped. Another piece – “Is there an alternative to the Chinese New Silk Road?” – attempts to discredit China’s Belt and Road Initiative as against the interests of the partner countries, and openly salivates about opportunities for Russia opened up by Trump’s economic war on China. In the sense Dugin’s geopolitics is little different from those of Kissinger, Brzezinski, Clinton or Trump: the sowing of division between Russia and China. The only difference is which of the two they flatter and which they attack at any particular moment.

 

Thus, ‘Neo-Eurasianism’ is far from being the anti-western, even pro-global South, initiative it is sometimes falsely seen as. It is the polar opposite of the ‘tricontinentalism’ of the 1960s and 70s, seeking instead to unite with one section of western imperialism (Europe) whilst actually fulfilling the geopolitical goals of the other (the destruction of China). This may well ultimately backfire for Russia. Indeed, the very fascist militias now waging war against ethnic Russians in the Donbass were but a few short years ago part of Dugin’s ethnopluralist networks.  

 

Given the lack of a social base for genuine socialism (anti-imperialist and internationalist) in the west, leftists can be utilised by fascism without fear. By helping to delegitimise liberal democracy, leftists can inadvertently help lay the basis for fascism, which is, I believe, the natural home of the western masses in eras of crisis. Dugin is in this way in some ways similar to Trotskyist groups such as the British Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) – harnessing anger at the injustices of capitalism and imperialism but using this anger to actually further imperialist aims, whilst never challenging, and in fact perpetuating, colonial attitudes. In the case of SWP, for all their revolutionary spiel, when push comes to shove, they support Brexit, campaign for imperialist parties at election time, oppose all successful third world revolutions, etc. With Dugin, meanwhile, his programme amounts to a geopolitical attack on the USA’s chief rival combined with the scapegoating of migrants for the cultural depredations of capitalism. Duginism is a classic fascist blend of ‘anti-elite’ rhetoric, demands for ethnic purification, and an imperial foreign policy agenda, all dressed up in politically-correct appeals to cultural distinctiveness and anti-western tubthumping. Its particular danger comes from the deep inroads it has made into anti-imperialist and leftist circles.

This piece originally appeared in Counterpunch magazine