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. 

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

 

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.

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

 

The browning of the left: How fascists colonised anti-imperialism – part one

Alain de Benoist, founding father of politically correct fascism

Historically, fascism has always been associated with imperialism: Hitler’s grand ambition, after all, was Germanlebensraum in a Russia cleansed of Slavs and Jews, whilst Mussolini sought to create a new Roman Empire in North Africa. This is hardly surprising, given that the ultra-imperialist Pan-German League was, according to Nuremberg prosecutor Franz Neumann, the “direct ideological forerunner” of the Nazis, whilst Mussolini’s movement was born of dashed territorial hopes following the first world war. Likewise, today’s British National Party has its roots in the League of Empire Loyalists, a pressure group to resist decolonisation within the Conservative party, whilst most of the fascist formations in France, including the Front National, emerged from the OAS, a group of French military officers committed to maintaining Algeria in the French Empire. In the words of Alexander Reid-Ross*, “Historically speaking, fascism is not a derogation from imperialism, but a deepening of it – perhaps even a force majeure, a consequence of the momentum of centuries of crusades, colonialism, and imperialism through which Europe began to colonise itself”.

 

Yet, the fascism of today increasingly proclaims itself as proudlyanti-imperialist, opposed to the wars and austerity packages of the ‘globalists’, and apparently ready to staunchly defend those nations at the receiving end of empire’s military and economic aggression from Syria and Libya to Russia and Greece. The BNP opposed the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, whilst the Front National maintains close ties to the West’s enemy of choice in Moscow, and neofascist networks are at the forefront of online ‘solidarity’ networks against US intrigue in Syria, Ukraine and Iran. What is going on?

 

In reality, anti-imperialism, just like nationalism, has always had its reactionary as well as its progressive variants. In 1873, Europe and America was plunged into a ‘Great Depression’ which lasted almost a quarter of a century. This triggered a new wave of colonial conquest, including the so-called ‘Scramble for Africa’ – but it also triggered a wave of almost millennial pessimism amongst European thinkers who saw economic decline as a harbinger of the collapse of western society at large. It was this intellectual environment that spawned theorists such as Charles Henry Pearson and Herbert Spencer, who saw imperialism as a force which, far from regenerating Europe, would ultimately destroy it. Not only was the ‘civilising mission’ rendered futile, they argued, by the genetic and cultural backwardness of non-Europeans; but by bringing Europeans into contact with supposedly inferior peoples, imperialism promoted a miscegenation that would fatally undermine the virility of the master race. In other words, these men opposed imperialism precisely because they were racist: the debate over imperialism, on both sides, was being fought strictly within the parameters of white supremacy.

 

John M Hobson, in his monumental survey The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics 1760-2010, notes that “in many racist texts it was assumed that the whites are destined to expand while the lower races will remain within their stationary limits. But in Pearson’s racist imagination it is the white West that is fated to remain within its stationary limits while the yellow races are destined to expand and triumph over the higher whites.” For Pearson, imperialism facilitated this predatory triumph of the inferior races by producing a “prosperity [which] triggered a non-white demographic explosion”.

 

A similar debate amongst racists is taking place today. Today, as then, there is a divide between liberal (‘cultural’) racists of the Fukuyama type – who believe that the innate superiority of western political and economic institutions means western culture is ordained to prevail – and the fearful fascistic racists who believe that demography dooms the west to degeneration and decline. The key difference between then and now is that today’s (’anti-imperialist’) fascists believe that imperialism creates a demographic threat to the white race not through the supposed prosperity it brings, but by so ravaging the non-European nations that its populations are forced to flee – to Europe.

 

Reading some of these writers today brings immediate parallels with the ‘anti-imperialist’ fascists of our own age, who cover their racism with entirely legitimate fulminations against liberal arrogance and hypocrisy. Spencer, for example, highlights the hypocrisy of those who preach kindness and Christian compassion at home, but support extermination of the lower races abroad; whilst Sumner criticises the arrogance of “saying to somebody else, we know what is good for you better than you know yourself and we are going to make you do it” – a clear violation of the liberty the imperialists supposedly uphold. Yet, more than all this, the ultimate crime of imperialism was its transgression of Spencer’s injunction to “keep other races at arm’s length as much as possible”. It was the cultural and biological deterioration of white society brought about by racial mixing that was truly horrifying. In the words of Hobson, “the defensive racists in general sought specifically to ‘defend the West’ by seeking to maximise the distance between the white and nonwhite races so as to maintain white racial vitality and the supremacy of Western civilisation in what amounted to various ‘racial apartheid’ conceptions of world politics”.

 

Such thinking was also at the heart of the politics of the American Anti-Imperialist League, founded in the in opposition to the extremely brutal US war on the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century. J Sakai writes that whilst the atrocities in the Philippines were denounced on humanitarian grounds, “the League was very careful to point out that their support for Philippine independence did not mean that they believed in any equality of colonial peoples with Europeans”. Furthermore, their opposition was explicitly grounded, not in internationalist solidarity, but in petty-bourgeois self-interest – specifically a fear that, by boosting the power and wealth of the monopoly capitalist class, imperialism would weaken their own position in the class struggle. Says Sakai, “they feared that the economic power gained from exploiting these new colonies, plus the permanent armed force needed to hold them, would be used at home to smother the ‘democracy’ of the settler masses”. And, like their racist anti-imperialist counterparts in Europe, the League were terrified of the degenerative effects of integrating the Philippines into the US Empire. As the League’s President Congressman George Boutwell put it, “Does anyone believe, that with safety, we can receive into this union the millions of Asia, who have no bonds of relationship with us…The question before this country shall be this: Should the labouring and producing classes of America be subjected to a direct and never-ending competition with the underpaid and half-clad labourers of Asia?” More troubling still was the thought that colonial subjects might actually become vote-wielding citizens of the mother country. In the words of Camp Clark, Filipinos “no matter whether they are fit to govern themselves…are not fit to govern us”. Furthermore, argued David Starr Jordan, the Filipino immigration that would inevitably follow annexation would lead to social chaos and breakdown – “wherever degenerate, dependent or alien races are within our borders today they are no part of the United States. They constitute a social problem: a menace to peace and welfare”. Why, he asked, are we taking “into our body politic millions of people – ignorant of and hostile to our laws, our language, our religion and the basic principles of our government?” The parallels with the racism of today are obvious: this particular, anti-immigrant, strand of ‘anti-imperialism’ has a long history.

 

But it is worth noting here how utterly impotent, hypocritical and delusional it is. The Anti-Imperialist League were silent on both the Boer War (in which their supporters’ natural sympathies towards the Boer settlers were set against their extensive US investments and employment in the British mining industry) and the vicious European suppression of the Boxer rebellion in China. And, of course, they had to perform some major ideological contortions in order to rationalise their support for the colonisation of the US itself. Leading light Carl Shurz claimed the ‘old’ colonialism (annexing Native American lands in the first place, as well as, later, California, Texas, Florida, Alaska and so on) was justified because these lands were supposedly virtually unpopulated, and therefore the demographic ‘problem’ posed by the annexation of ‘millions of….half-clad labourers of Asia’ did not arise. This not only demonstrates the centrality of racist demographic concerns to the League’s ‘anti-imperialism’, but can even be read as a rationalisation of genocide.

 

This particular type of ‘anti-imperialism’, then, is not opposed to imperialism on principle, but only to certain types of imperialism, depending on whether they are judged to serve or undermine European settler interests. The annexation of Native and Mexican lands is ‘good’ imperialism, providing the settler masses with land without diluting their white culture and stock; whilst the annexation of Filipino territory is ‘bad’ imperialism, because it threatens the settler population with miscegenation, competition, and political-cultural degeneration. In a similar manner, notes Reid-Ross, Mussolini’s fascists “insisted that the conquest of Libya would empower the working class, strengthening the nation in ways socialism could only dream of” (24)

 

Today’s ‘anti-imperialist’ fascists are the same, judging imperialism not by the impact on its beleaguered victims, but according to who is carrying it out, and who is benefiting from it. Today, the ‘bad’ (‘pro-Muslim’/ pro-banking/ ‘Jewish-instigated’) imperialism of Obama is contrasted with the ‘good’ (anti-Muslim, pro-US, coordinated with Russia) imperialism of Trump.

 

This demonstrates that the basis on which imperialism is opposed is crucial. If imperialism is being opposed not on principle, but because, for example, it is somehow ‘in cahoots with Islam’, or because it is detrimental to the needs of the (white) ‘volk’, this opens the door for supporting an imperialism which is aimed against Muslims, or which benefits the volk. And on further inspection, in fact, such a hypothetical imperialism turns out to be precisely the imperialism which actually exists.Muslims, after all, constitute the vast majority of those killed in imperialist wars, (including those killed by US-British-backed Salafist proxies); whilst the European volk do, in fact, benefit from the wars which underpin the west’s global power.

 

This is why a far right ‘anti-imperialist’ like Trump can in power escalate imperialist aggression on every single front – including against his supposed chum Putin – without prompting any major reevaluation by his fascist supporters. After all, he’s always hated Muslims and sought to increase US power: he has just realised that imperialism, far from being a hindrance to this, is, after all, quite a good means of pursuing both. In sum, allowing fascist infiltration of anti-imperialism not only allows fascist notions to develop and gain credibility on the left, but also neutralises anti-imperialism itself.

 

Whilst racist ‘anti-imperialism’ has a long history, however, its modern variant has emerged from a specific configuration of fascism developed by men like Julius Evola, Francis Parker Yockey and Jean-Francois Thiriart in the decades following World War Two.

 

Julius Evola was a leading fascist ideologue in interwar Italy who, says Reid-Ross, “criticised Mussolini’s dictatorship for not being fascist enough” and has been credited as a major influence on Italy’s anti-Semitic Racial Laws of 1938.

 

Evola’s mentor was Rene Guenon, a French convert to Sufism, whose ‘spiritual’ fascism drew on his idiosyncratic readings of Arab, Buddhist and Hindu texts. Guenon blamed Judeo-Christian civilisation for the fall of Europe’s heroic warrior culture, and for Evola, therefore, only the rediscovery of a pagan ‘traditionalism’ could liberate and regenerate a dying Europe. Following World War Two, Evola identified the US as the modern flagbearer of cultural degeneration, and called for direct action against NATO to liberate Europe from its overbearing and crippling influence: a variant of fascism which “would come to paramount influence over the resurgent global fascist movement”, according to Reid-Ross. Here can be seen the seeds of the ‘anti-imperialist’ fascism advocated by those such as Alexander Dugin today.

 

One of Evola’s most important followers was Francis Parker Yockey, a US fascist who was very likely a Nazi agent during the war. Like Guenon and Evola, Yockey saw a (racially-defined) people’s strength as a product of the extent of its adherence to its own ancient traditional culture. And, for Yockey, the west itself no longer adhered to genuine western culture – which, he argued, was actually more honoured in the Soviet Union, whose authoritarianism reflected (pre-Enlightenment) European traditions far more than the liberalism of Europe and North America. Like Evola, he saw the most pernicious threat to genuine western culture as emanating, not from the USSR, but from the US itself. Putting meat on the bones of Evola’s call for resistance to NATO in Europe, he founded the European Liberation Front (ELF) in 1948 with the explicit aim of overthrowing US influence in Europe. Demonstrating fascism’s endless ideological malleability, the ‘anti-US’ formulation developed by Evola and Yockey was both a recognition of and adaptation to the ideological hegemony of the left and the popularity of the Soviet Union in the postwar years, and was a clear attempt to occupy the terrain of the anti-imperialist left. And it was very successful; in the opinion of Reid-Ross, “Yockey’s ideological melding of left and right would set the standard for the remainder of the century”. This is no exaggeration: it was the ELF, after all, who played a key role in building the networks between Russian and European far right groups in the 1990s that are at the heart of the ‘red-brown’ fascist resurgence today.

 

If the 1940s saw the development of a fascism which had switched from an anti-Soviet to an anti-US position, the 1960s would see the emergence of a strand which would apparently reverse fascism’s attitude towards colonialism. Tellingly, this would first emerge precisely out of the most virulently pro-colonial strains of the movement.

 

The OAS was an underground organisation of French military officers violently opposed to the decolonisation of Algeria. Formed during the Algerian of 1954-1962, it’s roots lay in the Cagoule organisation of the 1930s, who practised false-flag terrorism in France, which it blamed on the communists with the aim of herding a fearful people towards accepting fascism. The OAS was formed of its remnants, and is thought to have been responsible for around 2000 deaths during their two years of operation from 1961 to 1962. One young supporter of the OAS was the Belgian Jean-Francois Thiriart, a former communist who had switched sides and helped the Nazis locate Jews and resistance fighters during the war. Thiriart provided safe houses for OAS soldiers on their return from Algeria, and had in 1960 set up his own Belgian equivalent, the Mouvement d’Action Civique, to resist the liberation of the Congo.  “However”, writes Reid-Ross, “as decolonisation spread, Thiriart’s aspiration grew to accentuate the left wing aspects of fascism and to transform the character of mainstream politics” – leading him to begin to call for workers rights and decolonisation. Once again, fascism was demonstrating its ability to adapt even its apparently most central beliefs in order to widen its appeal.

 

In reality, Thiriart’s support for third world decolonisation was superficial, and served primarily as a rhetorical justification for Yockeyan ideas about ‘liberating’ Europe both from ‘Zionist’ and US influence, and from non-European ‘infiltration’. As Reid-Ross writes, “The fascist notion of decolonisation remained distinct from the Third World decolonisation movement…their notion of ‘European liberation’ demanded the expulsion or otherwise liquidation of populations deemed non-European. The strong odor of anti-Semitism and racism continued to emanate from their literature, which emphasised violence against the state, ‘Zionists’, and NATO as a means of achieving the spiritual empire of Europe…Thiriarts’s appeal to the left by violently rejecting NATO and embracing Soviet and even Maoist influence retained only a short term promise of liberation from capital with a long term plan of genocide. This support for decolonisation was, more or less, a disingenuous ruse to cater to possible left wing recruits”.

 

In fact, whilst fascist ‘decolonialism’ clearly was an attempt to wear the clothes of the left, it was also much more than this. Using the language of colonisation to describe US (and ‘Zionist’) influence in Europe was and is about flattering the Europeans by endowing them with a (nonexistent) victimhood. At the same time, it is a transparent attempt to legitimise racism, by drawing an equivalence between third world liberation movements and white nationalism. As such, it is a perfect example of fascism’s appeal to the deep, but repressed, psychological needs of the western petty bourgeoisie. Specifically, fascism appeals to the aspiration of western peoples to maintain or restore their threatened privileges in a way that is in tune with their conscience. This idea of ‘decolonisation’ does this perfectly. Previously, biological theories of racism had served this purpose, provided conscience-salving justification for white privilege; but with the marginalisation of such theories in the postwar era, a new rationalisation became necessary. Fascist rhetoric about US colonisation of Europe not only absolved Europeans of responsibility for their own imperial foreign policies (now all projected onto the US), but simultaneously provided a veneer of ‘leftist’, ‘anti-imperialist’ credibility to attacks on immigrants, who were presented as the advance guard of a ‘colonial invasion’ driven by US-Zionist interests bent on destroying Europe. This was, then, the birth of a ‘politically-correct’ fascism which could present both the whitewashing of European crimes and anti-immigrant hatred as a part of a pseudo-left project to ‘decolonise’ Europe.

 

This precise formulation has huge currency today. The 1930s-era fascist trope of ‘communism as a Wall St plot’ has mutated into a new trope of ‘immigration as a Wall St plot’. Today, whilst the figure of the ‘poor Jew’ (communist) has been replaced by the ‘poor Muslim’ (immigrant), behind both of them lies the rich Jew pulling the strings; in both cases, supposed movements of the poor are seen as nothing more than Jewish plots to destroy Europe from within. Hatred of the poor is thus transformed into an acceptable and even necessary part of the struggle against the rich, much easier to square with petty-bourgeois sensibilities. This can be seen clearly in the obsession of many current neofascists with the supposed role of the Rothschilds and George Soros in ‘flooding Europe with immigrants’. One particularly lurid example is Gearoid O Colmain, a frequent RT commentator who proclaims himself a Marxist-Leninist (but clearly of the ‘National Bolshevik’ variety), who in 2016 penned an 11-part series entitled “Coercive Engineered Migration: Zionism’s war on Europe” published by several supposedly leftist websites such as Dissident Voice. O Colmain’s basic claim is that Zionists are using Muslim immigrants to facilitate white genocide and weaken Europe. In O Colmain’s view, the immigrant – the tool of the Jew – is responsible not only for the weakening, and potentially fatal, dilution of European culture, but for pretty much every crime and failure in the western world. For O Colmain, immigrants are responsible for the west’s wars of aggression, through pressuring western governments to invade their homelands – with Iraqi expats specifically held responsible for the US invasion of Iraq – and they are even to blame for the continuation of capitalism itself, by dividing the working class; reading O Colmain, one would imagine white people were chomping at the bit to enact communist revolution until those pesky Muslims came along. Ultimately the fulminations of O Colmain, and many others like him, represent yet another response to the Euro-Marxist despair at the western working class’s attachment to capitalism. Unable or unwilling to recognise that the western working class – their ‘chosen people’ – are, in fact, beneficiaries of capitalist-imperialism, they are forced to adopt all manner of idealist suppositions to explain their supposed failure to act in their own class interests. But O Colmain is too sophisticated for the ‘false consciousness’ argument. Instead he has another answer for the failure to make revolution in the west – the backward identity of the immigrant has divided the working class. As such, he, following in the footsteps of Yockey and Thiriart, provides a pseudo-left/ progressive veneer to anti-immigrant hostility. By opposing immigration, we are not, as it turns out, defending indefensible privileges or giving vent to base xenophobia – we are valiantly fighting against imperialist intrigue.

 

But perhaps the most important figure in the fascist appropriation of leftist concepts in the service of a more ‘politically-correct’ fascism, is Alain de Benoist. Like Thiriart, Benoist’s political career began as straightforward cheerleading for jingoistic imperialism in books like “Courage is their homeland” and “Rhodesia – land of the faithful lions”. But also like Thiriart, the decolonial upsurge of the 1960s, and the political earthquakes it unleashed in the west, led Benoist to reverse his former support for groups like the OAS and adopt a more leftist, ‘anti-colonial’ rhetoric. Writes Reid-Ross, “Though originally characterised by pro-colonial celebrations of early European warrior societies united by honour and loyalty, Benoist’s ideology transformed through the paradigm-shifting events of 1968 into a syncretic new formulation organised under the banner of the ‘Nouvelle Droite’”. In 1969, he created GRECE – the Research and Study Group for European Civilisation –  and “produced a ‘neo-Gramscian’ analysis of social conditions based on anti-liberalism and anti-Marxism without necessarily condemning socialism”, attempting to “recapture what they saw as the unity between left and right that had prefigured 20th century fascism”. Like Thiriart and Yockey, GRECE sought to “demonstrate how even left wing revolutionaries…could be utilised in order to delegitimise liberal democracy”. The aim was to fight a long term battle of ideas (termed ‘metapolitics’) waged through his think tank.

 

Benoist was in many ways a natural progression of the path forged by Yockey and Thiriart. Whilst Yockey exploited the anti-US and pro-Soviet sympathies of the immediate postwar period, and Thiriart appropriated the decolonial rhetoric of the 1960s, Benoist drew on the concepts of the New Left to fashion an explicitly fascist form of identity politics. His ‘Nouvelle Droite’ movement directly lifted New Left catchphrases about ‘respect for diversity’ and the ‘right to difference’ to advocate a politics of racially-purified ethnic separation. This was essentially a rehashing of the global apartheid theories of the nineteenth century racists, who Benoist explicitly sought to rehabilitate. Theoretically in favour of the equality of races, Benoist advocated what has become known as ‘ethnopluralism’ – the idea that each ethnicity needs to defend its unique ethnic identity by resisting globalisation, inter-racial marriage, and immigration. By presenting such goals as an imperative for all races, Benoist sought to counter claims of white supremacism, and indeed claimed to support “Black Power”, “Yellow Power” and “Red Power” along with White Power. Even his hostility to immigration was presented as good for the immigrant: “The truth is that people must preserve and cultivate their differences…immigration merits condemnation because it strikes a blow at the identity of the host culture as well as the immigrant’s identity”. In line with classical fascism, the virility of a ‘people’ is seen as being dependent on their degree of internal homogeneity, with impurities and dilutions to be resisted or purged.

 

Benoist’s neo-Gramscian strategy of ‘counter-hegemonic’ ‘cultural struggle’ aimed to use the concepts of the left to delegitimise the left whilst simultaneously providing classic fascist tropes with a new acceptability through the use of politically correct terminology. In this way, notes Reid-Ross, Benoist sought to implement Hitler’s injunction to create a people who are “ready” for fascism. His ideological framework has been gold dust for fascists desperate to whitewash their image and legitimise fascist notions of racial purity, and has been seized on by neo-Nazis such as Richard Spencer. For his supporters, anti-fascists are ‘the real racists’, whose support for immigration amounts to a form of ‘white genocide’ facilitated by a ‘colonial invasion’ of Europe. In other words, Benoist effectively lay the groundwork for the white ‘identity politics’ at the heart of modern fascism.

 

In his book, “Mistaken Identity”, Asad Haider defines identity politics as “the neutralisation of movements against racial oppression. It is the ideology that emerged to appropriate the emancipatory legacy in service of the advancement of political and economic elites”. Whilst true of identity politics in general, the white identity politics employed by modern-day fascism pushes this basic truth to the extremes. Trump’s successful harnessing of white identity, for example, has neutralised white workers so successfully that he has been able to enact some of the most extreme anti-working class policies since the Reagan era, resulting in a massive transfer of wealth from the poor (through unprecedented cuts to public housing and welfare programmes) to the rich (in the form of $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts). These tax cuts, CNN reported recently, have been used to finance a surge in share buybacks (to the tune of $178 billion), which will both artificially boost share prices – disguising the underlying sickness in the economy – and result in shareholder payouts that “could top $1 trillion for the first time ever”. In other words, Trump is facilitating the looting of the economy by billionaires before it goes bust, at the expense of the working class; but his attacks on immigrants, China, North Korea and so on allow him to parade as a valiant defender of those being plundered whilst simultaneously ensuring a solid list of scapegoats to be blamed when the impact of these policies really starts to bite. At the same time, Trump is pushing through executive orders to limit the powers of already weak trade unions to resist any of his measures. This is the reality of white ‘identity politics’ – racist tubthumping as a smokescreen for attacks on workers of allhues.

 

This article has, in its analysis of the ideological development of fascist notions of anti-imperialism, drawn attention to two major dangers in allowing fascists to infiltrate our movements: that they provide a smokescreen for the continuation of neoliberal attacks on the working class, whilst neutralising anti-imperialism itself. But there is also a far greater danger: that leftists allying with fascists on ‘anti-imperialism’ end up providing a platform for – and giving a veneer of credibility to – the other ideas of fascism, and specifically for the scapegoating of Jews and immigrants for problems rooted in the current crisis of the modern world system.

 

The various crises in which this system now finds itself – environmental, economic, and military-imperial – have been building for a long time, and the western ruling class have been preparing for them. The goal of western governments is to confine the impact of these crises, as far as possible, exclusively to the peoples of the third world. Liberal imperialism, in its various aspects (neoliberalism, ‘humanitarian intervention’ etc) has been laying the groundwork for this for some time; all that’s left is the legitimisation of the torture and killing of anyone who tries to flee. This is where the fascists come in. Capitalism in crisis has always utilised fascism – whether grudgingly or otherwise is open to debate – and continues to do so today. The question for those of us on the left is the degree to which we are willing to be utilised by the fascists.

 

* Alexander Reid-Ross’s book “Against the Fascist Creep” is one of the best accounts of the development of fascist infiltration of the left. Nevertheless, Reid-Ross himself is utterly hostile to the anti-imperialist struggle. It is indicative of the malaise in which we are in that the left is increasingly divided between an anti-imperialist wing deeply infiltrated by fascists and an anti-fascist wing dominated by those hostile to anti-imperialism. After all, as James Stuart has said, a consistent left movement must oppose both, as “fascism is imperialism at home and imperialism is fascism abroad”.

This article originally appeared in volume 25 number 4 of Counterpunch magazine. It is part one of a two-part series. The next part, in the current edition (volume 25 number 6) of Counterpunch, looks at the networks cultivated by Russian fascist Alexander Dugin. 

US-UK calls for a Yemen ceasefire is a cynical piece of political theatre

Mattis: Trump’s tweet sends message that Iran is “on the ...

The UK appears now to be gearing up towards authoring a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Yemen. For years, the UK has been the official ‘penholder’ on Yemen, meaning that it has been up to the UK to table resolutions. It has consistently used this position not only to refuse to issue any resolutions calling for a ceasefire but also to block anyone else’s attempts to do so. The apparent about-turn is a response to last week’s statements from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis calling for a ceasefire in Yemen within 30 days, to be followed up with UN-facilitated peace talks. The UK dutifully followed suit shortly afterwards, expressing their support for the initiative. This was somewhat ironic given that minister Alistair Burt, obviously not privy to the seeming about-turn, had just spent the day providing MPs with excruciatingly contorted explanations of why calling for a ceasefire was not a good idea in the circumstances. “Passing a ceasefire resolution risks undercutting the UN envoy’s efforts to reach a political deal and undermining the credibility of the Council” he told the House of Commons at midday; yet within 36 hours, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was telling Newsnight that the US call for a ceasefire was “an extremely welcome announcement because we have been working towards a cessation of hostilities in Yemen for a long time.” In the parallel universe of British double-speak, it is of course natural thatunrelenting support for what is fast turning into a war of national annihilation gets recast as “working towards a cessation of hostilities”.

Yet this latest call does appear to be at odds with the hitherto existing strategy; it was only in June, after all, when the US and UK torpedoed a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the face of impending famine. Many commentaries (such as this one in the Telegraph, for example), have suggested that the US is now taking advantage of pressure on Saudi Arabia following the murder of Saudi insider-turned-dissident Khashoggi to push the kingdom towards a less belligerent position in the disastrous Yemen war. The ever-more desperate humanitarian situation is giving the war a bad name and – so the story goes – the US are now keen to end it. David Miliband, former UK foreign secretary and now president of the International Rescue Committee, even called the US announcement “the most significant breakthrough in the war in Yemen for four years”.

Unfortunately, it is likely to prove nothing of the sort. The detail of the announcement makes clear that, far from representing some kind of Damascene change of heart, the ‘call for a ceasefire’ is little more than yet another rebranding exercise, a cynical attempt to whitewash escalating carnage with the rhetoric of peace. 

With every passing day, the war in Yemen becomes harder to defend. The airstrike on a bus full of schoolchildren in early August briefly caused international outrage, but it was sadly not exceptional; indeed, at least 55 civilians had been killed during the bombardment of a hospital and fish market just the week before, and the bus itself was but one of over fifty civilian vehiclestargeted by Saudi airstrikes during the first half of this year. For most of the war, around a third of coalition airstrikes have hit civilian sites; but according to the Yemen Data Project, this ratio reached 48% in September.

More grim news emerged on 29th October, when a detailed research project concluded that over five times as many people have met violent deaths in the conflict than previously estimated. For years, the media have consistently claimed a death toll of 10,000, but the true figure is closer to 56,000 since the start of 2016 according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, as the earlier estimate only covered deaths reported to official medical centres. The death toll from the start of the bombing campaign until the end of this year is expected to lie between 70,000 and 80,000.

Yet even this number, horrific as it is, is dwarfed by the deaths from the starvation and disease which have been the coalition’s weapon of choice against the population of Houthi-controlled areas. The bombing of water treatment systems, fishing boats, roads and bridges, the naval blockade of the country’s imports, and the coalition regime’s decision to stop paying salaries to health and sanitation workers in Houthi areas two years ago have combined to create mass starvation and the world’s biggest cholera outbreak since the end of WW2. An average of 130 children die of disease and malnutrition every day (Although “they are not starving”, noted a tweet from the Norwegian Refugee Council, “they are being starved”), with around 150,000 people thought to have died from such causes last year alone. And this aspect of the conflict is set to deteriorate exponentially.

On 15th October, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande warned that Yemen could face the world’s worst famine for one hundred years if the airstrikes are not stopped, with 12 to 13 million at risk of starvation. Nine days later, the agency’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock said that the risk was actually worse than they previously predicted with 14 million close to “pre-famine conditions” – half the country’s population. He noted that the UN was currently only able to feed 8 million of these, although these too would be at risk if the country’s main port Hodeidah – responsible for over 70% of imports – is attacked by the coalition.

Earlier this week, just as Mattis and Pompeo delivered their soothing words, 30,000 troops began massing to launch precisely that attack. The problem for the war’s backers in London, Paris and Washington is how to justify the holocaust this is almost certain to unleash on Yemen’s population in the delusional pursuit of reimposing an impotent and discredited quisling.

The ceasefire announcement, then, is about providing cover for the impending attack. Just at the moment the aid agencies have been warning against its devastating consequences, and calling for an immediate end to the bombing, the ‘ceasefire proposal’ gives the Saudis a month’s free pass to conduct their famine-inducing operation on Hodeidah. Rather than demanding the offensive be halted or delayed, the ‘30-day’ call eggs it on. Nor is the 30-day timeframe any kind of limit on the operation. Pompeo stated that“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen”. The term ‘subsequently’ is crucial, implying that the Saudis continued bombardment – including in “populated areas” – would be perfectly justified unless the Houthis had implemented a unilateral ceasefire first. This is little more than a call for unconditional surrender by the Houthis, dressed up as a peace initiative. By the same token, it sets the scene for laying all the blame for any continued fighting at the door of the Houthis

The reality is that the US and UK could end the war tomorrow, simply by threatening to cut off military supplies, intelligence, and training to the Saudis until the airstrikes stop, a point made by Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council to a UK Parliamentary Select Committee earlier this week. Yet the US are precisely NOT calling for an end to the bombing, nor threatening to use their leverage to bring it about. Instead, this so-called initiative is yet another cynical PR exercise designed to justify, rather than to reign in, this brutal war.

This piece originally appeared in Middle East Eye

Was Trump’s attack on the lira Putin’s idea?

 

Trump Impeachment Odds Slashed to Shortest Ever After ...

What did Trump and Putin agree in their secret meeting in Helsinki in July? Trump’s attack on the Turkish economy has given Putin just the leverage he needs with Erdogan over Idlib.

Trump’s critics warn us that his belligerent policies towards Iran and Turkey are pushing them into Moscow’s arms, even as they seek evidence of ‘Russian collusion’ in all the wrong places. This collusion is not to be found in shady backroom campaign meetings; it is hiding in plain sight.

“He does things the right way” Trump said of Erdogan last month. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; the two men have much in common after all: nationalist tubthumping autocrats with a contempt for constitutional limits on presidential might, who see few problems which cannot be solved through the right combination of willpower and firepower. His comment specifically referred to Erdogan’s ability to ignore his own parliament, and was followed up with a mutually aggrandising fistbump. Yet the budding bromance was to be short-lived.

 

Days later, Trump entered his now infamous two-hour private meeting with Putin in Helsinki. According to their own account, one of the main items on the agenda was Syria, which for seven years has been the battleground for a proxy war between (among others) the two men’s respective countries. In this war, Turkey and the US were supposed to be on the same side; yet Trump, on Syria as so many issues, has been ambivalent as to US goals in the conflict. The original objective, of course, was to transform Syria – an independent regional power allied to both Iran and Hezbollah – into a failed state on the Iraqi/ Libyan/ Afghan model. Yet the Syrian state – with a level of popular support surprising to those western observers susceptible to their own propaganda – stubbornly refused to be destroyed. Russian intervention helped turn the tide in September 2015, and since then, one victory after another – most notably in Aleppo – has made it clear that not only will the Syrian government survive, but that it will very likely restore its authority nationwide. Most rebel-held cities have now been retaken by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), whilst the Kurdish YPG – who have always, correctly, feared the US-backed sectarian insurgency far more than they have feared Assad – have entered into negotiations with the government, leading to a growing role for the SAA in YPG-held areas as well. The only major population centre still fully outside government control, then, is Idlib, home to almost 3 million, and largely under the control of Hay’et Tahrir Al Sham, the latest rebrand of Syria’s Al Qaeda franchise.

 

All the signs are that a government offensive on this last rebel stronghold is imminent, with government forces amassing at the western edge of the province near Jisr al Shughour. Yet one major obstacle remains. Turkey.

 

Turkish troops are now present on the ground in Idlib at around a dozen ‘observation posts’ set up under the terms of the ‘de-escalation zones’ agreed by Iran, Turkey and Russia at the Astana conference, making a direct assault on the governorate very difficult without risking a major escalation with Turkey – still, despite everything, a NATO member. Furthermore, Turkey wields extensive influence over many of the rebel groups present in Idlib. Back in May, Turkey formed a coalition of around a dozen anti-government militias there under the banner of the ‘National Liberation Front’. Earlier this month, they persuaded two HTS splinters – Nour al-Din al-Zenki, the US-UK-funded group infamous for their livestream beheading of an 11 year old, and Ahrar al-Sham, another Al-Qaeda in all but name and attitude to the west – to sign up. Through this force, Turkey now claims to control up to 100,000 fighters in Idlib, in addition to its own troops on the ground. In other words – Turkey has positioned itself to act as a major spoiler to any forthcoming Idlib operation.

 

Russia, then, seeks to pressure Turkey into agreeing to, if not a surrender of the province, then at least the removal of its troops, and a negotiated settlement with its NLF proxies – perhaps even a joint operation against HTS by the SAA, the NLF and Russia. This might be acceptable to Turkey – given a guarantee of influence in the aftermath – and Russia, but would be very hard to swallow for the Syrian government, who have no desire to share power with Al Qaeda lite. What Russia needs, then, in order to oversee an Idlib settlement on its own terms, is some kind of leverage over Turkey.

 

Enter Trump. Trump’s attack on the Turkish currency – already under pressure from the rising dollar due to its huge mountain of debt – precipitated an unprecedented decline in its value, only stemmed by a $15 billion loan from Qatar. But this is likely to only be a temporary solution. Cut out of US markets, and facing further sanctions over its purchases of Iranian oil, what Erdogan needs is a new, more dependable ally than his volatile erstwhile buddy in the White House.

 

Enter Putin. On August 10th, following the Trump tweet that triggered the lira’s plunge, Erdogan immediately spoke to Putin to discuss “trade and economic cooperation”. 3 days later, Erdogan explained that he had “made advancements in our ties with Russia in accordance to our benefits and interests”. This was followed up with a visit to Ankara by Foreign Minister Lavrov the next day and then, at the end of last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was received in Moscow by Putin himself. Russia had already reaffirmed its commitment to the delivery of its much-feared S-400 missile system by early next year, and made some vague promises to use the lira in its transactions with Turkey at some unspecified point in the future. But nothing new, nothing concrete. Russia was signalling that it was ready to come to Turkey’s aid; but at a price. That price may well be Turkish support for Russian proposals in Idlib, which Putin will be hoping to finalise in the forthcoming Syria summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran next week. Already, the statements coming out of Turkey following the various meetings which have taken place have indicated something of a shift in the Turkish position, with Cavusoglu admitting the presence of “terrorist groups” in Idlib, which need to “neutralised” – “to alleviate the concerns of our Russian counterparts”. At the same time, Putin can use the prospect of Turkish acquiescence to an operation in Idlib as leverage on the Syrian government to accept both its own proposals for recognition of Kurdish autonomy and Israeli demands on the Iranian presence in Syria. Such an outcome would allow both Netanyahu and Trump to claim a much-needed victory in their campaign to ‘rollback’ Iran, whilst simultaneously increasing Iranian and Syrian dependence on Russia. Trump’s attack on the lira, in other words, by throwing Turkey into Moscow’s arms, may have been the key to unlock the final stages of a Syria settlement under Russian tutelage. This is the real Trump-Russia collusion: not in backroom campaign meetings, but hiding in plain sight.

This article was originally published on Middle East Eye