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Problems Problems
From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Editorials
Date: June, 2012
By: Editorial

Democracy—Syria

The United States and Britain are warning of the danger of civil war in Syria while doing their damnedest to bring it about.

The time when they might have said, with any degree of credibility, that they were supporting a movement to overthrow a tyrant so that freedom and democracy might be established, has long passed. That was their story when they invaded Iraq nine years ago, and destroyed the Baath system of state on which the security and the liberal freedom of the individual depended.

It might be that George Bush junior believed that there was a system of liberal democracy latent in the population of Iraq, waiting to spring into place when the Tyranny was destroyed. And Tony Blair genuinely believed whatever the President believed (or pretended to believe). But it is not credible that senior figures in the American administration did not know that what we call civilisation was maintained in Iraq by what we call a Tyranny, and that the destruction of the Tyranny would unleash the religious civil war that was being contained by the Tyranny.

Bush may have just been stupid. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt and say that he was, and that he simply did not know what he was doing. But Barrack Obama is clever. And Hilary Clinton is a real smartie. So we must assume that they know what they are doing when they foment religious civil war in the Syrian state in the name of democracy.

Reformed socialists, Communists and Trotskyists have been prominent in the Democratic Militarism of Ameranglia during the past 20 years. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq a former Communist Party member, who shed tears over his complicity in Stalin’s Terror (which had happened before he was born), made war propaganda in the Irish media. That was John Lloyd—who carried immense credibility in those financially innocent times, as he was on the editorial staff of the Financial Times. And David Aaranovich, a Guardian journalist from a Communist background, was given the run of British television to say that anyone who opposed the Ameranglian invasion to overthrow the Tyranny would be guilty of the murders that would be committed by the Tyranny if it was not overthrown.

The Tyranny was destroyed—and the killing increased a hundredfold. And John Lloyd and David Aarananovich stayed quiet. They did not accept responsibility for the mass killing that followed the destruction of the Tyranny—the State—though they had foisted responsibility for the minor killing done by the regime on all who had opposed the invasion.

In this they were not at all exceptional. Many thousands of others, from the same quarter of the political spectrum, behaved similarly. They were Liberal Democrats on a mission, impelled by a new Utopian ideal in place of the old one. And they felt good about it, regardless of the chaos it brought upon millions—and regardless even of the fact that the political outcome was an enhancement of the power of the religious fundamentalists which they condemned. They are in tune with the White House, so their consciences are at ease.

The White House is the new Rome of the Western world. It is the keeper of the Ideal, and it is the force which imposes that Ideal on the world. And, if it does not actually realise the Ideal in its intervention in other regions, at least it keeps it in mind by tormenting the world with it.

The first Rome conquered a great part of the known world, and administered it for hundreds of years. It knocked the conquered populations into shape by atrociously brutal methods and created what we think of as Europe. It was not existentially problematical to be a Roman citizen. Rome was order and duty. Imperial Rome in decline gave itself a fresh innings when the Emperor Constantine constructed a new Imperial religion for it, drawn from various sources, called Christianity. The distinction between Church and State, which has been the cause of so much conflict in recent times, was a product of Roman Christianity. The action of the Roman Church acted to some extent as a constraint on the destructive activities of the states that were formed on the break up of the Empire.

That restraint was broken when England broke free of Rome, and established itself as a totalitarian Empire in which Church and State were merged, with the State controlling the Church and tending to the consciences of its agents. The unconstrained British Empire embarked on great extermination campaigns with a good conscience because it was the dictator of its own morality.

It set in motion the vast extermination campaign which led to the United States of America, and which the USA continued after its rebellion. In regions where extermination was not practicable the Empire established administrations controlled by Whitehall. The populations of these areas were knocked into shape by brutal methods. Imperial Britain understood itself to be a new Rome, greater than the old Rome. It learned its methods by studying ancient Rome, and copied its brutality. The last major acts of Imperial brutality were conducted after what is now being represented as the War Against Fascism, in Malaya in the late 1940s and Kenya in the 1950s.
The Empire, even at the height of its vigour, was never quite sure what its ultimate purpose was in areas where it was not exterminating the native populations in preparation for colonisation. It governed them forcefully and systematically as a master race, while at the same time toying with the notion that it was getting them ready for independence as nation states.

England was an Empire which had its origin in an assertion of total national independence, and therefore nationalism and Imperialism were confusingly blended in its ideology. This gave it great flexibility in political argumentation, but in the end generated a state of mind in which it did not quite know what its purpose was.

The two World Wars which it launched in the first half of the 20th century brought it to the brink of collapse. The First made it a financial dependency of the USA. Its complete bungling of the Second brought Communism to dominance in most of Europe and much of Asia. It was never a serious combatant in the Second. It withdrew from serious battle in June 1940 and only returned in 1944 as a minor ally of the USA. The invasion of Europe in 1944, after the Nazi Armies had been held in the East and were being driven back, had more to do with seizing ground in the West before the Communists reached it than with defeating Germany.

The Empire was unsustainable after 1945. The Empire in Asia had been undermined by Japan, even though it was itself defeated. The two Powers which defeated Germany, the Soviet Union and the USA, were hostile to the Empire. But two last barbarous wars were fought by the Empire, in Malaya and Kenya, in the name of anti-Communism And, when a final attempt at Imperial self-assertion was made in 1956—with the joint Anglo/Israeli/French invasion of Egypt—it was sabotaged by the US threat to wreck the British economy financially. (This account leaves aside the small Imperial wars to control various outposts.)

British Imperialist blundering had brought the capitalist world to the verge of extinction when the United States took over from the Empire in 1945. The capitalist system was secure in the USA, which had asserted its ultimate sovereignty over the entire Continent by the Monroe Doctrine. But the “manifest destiny” of the United States, proclaimed in the mid-19th century with regard to the Continent, had extended itself beyond the Continent, to Asia, long before 1945. In 1918-19 it had baulked at asserting itself in Europe. In 1914 it had backed Britain and France financially in the Anglo/French/Russian war on Germany, and in 1917 it entered the war itself. The only adequate reason that can be found for its entry into the war seems to have been the need to save the immense debt owed to it by Britain and France, which could have been lost if Germany had won.

Britain and France (having lost Russia in 1917) had proved incapable of winning the war, despite their superior resources, and were becoming exhausted and were in danger of losing the war. It was American fighting power, modelled on Prussia, that defeated Germany. Britain and France then ensured that the principles which were proclaimed by the US when entering the war—and which had played a part in securing the Armistice with Germany—were refused implementation. Instead they insisted on imposing a triumphalist, punitive, plundering, provocative and obviously unstable settlement on Germany, and on treating the Armistice as an Unconditional Surrender when it was followed by an incompetent democratic revolution in Germany, a revolution which was encouraged by the Allies.

A viable settlement could only have been made if the United States, as the Power which had won the war, had been willing to assert its hegemony in Europe as it was doing in Asia. It might easily and reasonably have done so, but it chose not to assert its financial, industrial and military power. Europe was left to the exhibitionist but incompetent militarism of the British and French Empires to be made a mess of.

In 1945 European capitalism could not be left to its own devices and survive. In France the democratically legitimised Government of Vichy was treated as treasonous, a pretence was made that De Gaulle’s desertion of 1940 had somehow been authorised by the French people, and state power was taken by the wartime Resistance, which proceeded instantly to do to the Algerians what the Germans had done to France. In Britain a kind of socialist reform or revolution had been enacted during the war when a Labour Party, energised by the forceful and thoughtful Trade Union boss, Ernest Bevin, had taken over from a demoralised Tory Party. The reform was consolidated politically by the 1945 election. And then Socialist Britain launched its dirty war on Malaya in the name of resisting Communism, because in its virtual bankruptcy it just could not do without Malayan tin and rubber and could not afford to pay market prices for them to an independent Malaya.

But these aggressive remnants of the capitalist Imperialist world could not have been functional without the US undertaking to make them so. Thus there was inescapable US hegemony of the capitalist order of things.

The US had from the early 19th century conceived of itself as a kind of world state. But, when it came to be the undisputed hegemonic power over the capitalist world in 1945, there was no precedent for its relationship to the various parts of its world. It could not be imperialist, either in the sense that the Roman or British Empires were. It could not undertake direct Imperial responsibility for its de facto possessions. It sought to shape them, or at least control them, ideologically and financially, but with resort to military action when that did not suffice.

It sometimes seemed that its purpose was to reproduce its own liberal-democratic capitalist model in nation states around the world. But when independent developments occurred which conflicted with its own economic interests, it felt free to overthrow national Governments. And its commitment to liberal democracy was heavily compromised right at the start by its alliance with the most viable state in Western Europe after 1945—Fascist Spain. It also took into its own service elements of the Nazi regime which had been at the centre of the Nazi state.

Until 1990 such things might have been explained as being necessary for the preservation of Capitalism—in its totalitarian conflict with Communism, everything was permissible.

That rationale for its conduct in the Capitalist half of the world disintegrated in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the conduct of the USA has not altered appreciably since then—on the contrary. It upholds certain states and knocks down others, apparently in accordance with no other standard than the pursuit of its own interest as a major World Power.

It was once the utterly dominant Power in what it used to call the Free World, and is finding it difficult to adapt to a situation in which the capitalist world is not only capable of existing without its rule but of coping better without it.

US conduct in the Middle East is beyond rational comprehension. It appears to be a follow-on from its inexplicable collaboration with the Soviet Union in 1947 to impose a Jewish State on Palestine in defiance of the inhabitants of Palestine and of all the states in the Middle East, after Britain, which had launched the project in 1917, had submitted to Jewish terrorism in 1946-7 and piously washed its hands of responsibility; and then to maintain it against the world after the Soviet Union had thought better of the situation and remembered that it was supposed to stand for the self-determination of actual peoples in their territories, rather than for colonial projects and ethnic cleansing.

Perhaps there was some reason, in the Cold War conflict, for unconditional UN support for Jewish nationalist irredentism, to the extent of making Israel an armed nuclear state. When Moscow changed its mind about Israel, it became as good a battleground for the Cold War as any other. But what sense is there in it now?

Democracy is certainly not what the US/UK/Saudi assault on the Syrian State is about. It should have been clear long before 2003 to anyone who had observed the course of the world that democracy was not the issue in the invasion of Iraq. It should now be clear, in the light of what followed the destruction of the Tyranny in Iraq, that what we call democracy is an immensely complex and artificial political construction by comparison with all that preceded it in human history—to which populations get broken in over time. It is not a formula that can be applied to human material anywhere with predictable results, as chemical formulas are applied to non-human material.

This must be well known to the powers-that-be in the United States. It must therefore be concluded that, when the US destroys another state, justifying the destruction by the fact that it is not a democracy as we understand it, the object is merely to destroy it because it obstructs the will of the American state.

England is the first major state which was governed by the political system that we call democracy. A democratic system was first projected in the Putney Debates of the New Model Army in the Civil War of the 1640s. It was two and a half centuries later that something like what we call a democracy came to be established in England, and then it bore little resemblance to what the democratic agitators of the 1640s imagined.

Democracy as we know it rests on a strong state bureaucracy that is part of the structure of government. That structure of government has continuous existence as Parliamentary majorities come and go. Parliament itself consists of parties which act on behalf of the populace, and which have been subject to election by the adult population only since 1928. The bureaucratic system of the state is subject to some degree of direction by the party which holds the majority in Parliament for the time being, but it effectively resists drastic changes of direction. The administrative bureaucracy is the main element of continuity and stability in the state. And the two-party system of Parliamentary politics, established before the democratic franchise was introduced, is a conservative, stabilising element in Parliament despite the ballyhoo of Parliamentary banter.

The logic of the representative system by parties is that the two parties shape themselves to each other in substance while denouncing each other in the marginal sphere of ideology. The parties have been ‘stealing each other’s clothes’ since the mid-19th century. In the 1997 British Election the Tory Government desperately tried to establish policy differences between itself and the Labour Opposition, but Labour thwarted it by adopting by midday any policies the Tories announced in the morning. Today there seems to be nothing at all at issue, in policy terms, between the parties of the most durable democracy in Europe, but they denounce each other vehemently as if there was.

It is unlikely that this political system would have evolved in England if over the centuries England had been subject to active interference by other states in their own interests in the way it has interfered with other states in its own interest.

In Basra, Mesopotamia and Mosul Britain threw together, for its own convenience, a medley of peoples who had lived in harmony in the Ottoman Empire, and required them to function democratically as a nation-state, while continuing to interfere actively in their affairs—thus making development impossible. And it invaded its own creation three times for its own purposes.

France did likewise in Syria.

Eventually the Baath movement arose and began to hammer the peoples of Iraq and Syria together, so that they might function as a national populace for the purpose of conducting a nation-state—as the Whig Aristocracy did in England in the 18th century, and also attempted to do in Ireland with the Penal Laws to make Ireland British.

A realistic description of functional democracy would be a system of management by which it is brought about that there is government with the consent of the governed, with the governed choosing every few years from a very short list of parties which party will govern them. When we take part in the destruction of another state on the ground that it is not democratic—and Ireland has begun to do that, and wants to do more of it—we pretend that Democracy is a simple matter of letting people govern themselves. That is the fig leaf of destructive Imperialism.