The enemy of my enemy - notes on not having really shit politics

The enemy of my enemy - notes on not having really shit politics

For what seems like forever, the Julian Assange saga has been everywhere. On TV, in the papers, on Facebook and Twitter, it's been impossible to avoid it and all the horrific misogyny and rape apologism that comes with it. Underlying all of which is a cliché - at that a fallacious one - which defines pretty much all of the worst in leftist politics: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

This blog is not about the finer points of the Assange case itself. If you're interested in that, there's a pretty decent round up of posts about it over at The F Word. However, since everyone and their mate has blogged about that, I won't be going there. Rather, I'll be using Assange as a jumping off point.

Notable in the arguments surrounding the events - aforementioned misogyny and rape apologism aside - is the assertion by many that Assange is in the right because he is an opponent of the United States. Some supporters have tried to be more nuanced about it, careful to talk about evidence and motives, distancing themselves from the lunatic fringes whilst still claiming that to label their view as a "conspiracy theory" is to dismiss them too lightly. Others wear their tinfoil hats with pride, even going so far as to label anyone who disagrees with them as a state asset.

In all cases, we're brought back to a simple binary - Assange versus US imperialism. The implication being that we have to choose a side. The idea that he might still have to answer serious allegations, regardless of American motives towards him being unthinkable. And, of course, when you remove those pesky grey areas it becomes so much easier to label those who disagree with you as agents of the CIA/whoever pushing a global conspiracy.

But this kind of "us and them" politics isn't limited to the case of Julian Assange. It's long been a staple of the left1, and even as the Assange case has taken up most of our airtime lately there have been other recent examples.

George Galloway - who continues to put himself out as the most vile commentator on Assange - has often been an example of such two dimensional politics. Earlier this month, he rehashed his views that Tibet was not a country and he endorsed its repression by China, accusing those who disagreed of "Dalai Lama obscurantism." Alongside which, he has defended Iran's practice of executing homosexuals, supported the Palestinian Islamist organisation Hamas and condemned Syrian revolutionaries as “serving the Crusaders” by fighting against the authoritarian regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

Nor is Galloway alone in these views. They echo across a spectrum from Stalinists and orthodox Trotskyists to the oddballs who witter about fluoride in the water and 9/11 being an inside job. All things are defined in relation to America or to imperialism (or the New World Order), and nobody has agency except to be for or against such.

I even remember seeing people on Twitter demanding to know, "If Pussy Riot protesters were men and the venue was a Mosque, your views would be?" The implication (mirrored on the right) being that since we jail racists for vandalising a mosque it was just fine for Putin to lock up a band for playing music inside a church. Or, if you want to take it to even more absurd lengths, solidarity with the band is "fueled by inter-imperialist rivalry and residual anti-communist ideology." Really.

The problem with all of this - beyond that the politics involved are utterly batshit - is that the people spouting these views have far more influence than they should in left circles. Not to mention that this simplistic black-and-white version of left wing politics is not confined to the odd moronic outburst in the media or on the internet.

As well as undermining solidarity with those who deserve it - the global working class, whoever they're in struggle against - such views can also lead to behaviour which threatens us all. After all, if those who are not with you are against you, how easy is it to reach the view that dissent must be suppressed? Nor am I talking about specifically revolutionary situations such as Krondstadt. In the here and now, we see examples of this - from Greek Stalinists stading with the police against anarchists to innumerable instances of Unite Against Fascism collaborating with the police to unmask and foil militant anti-fascists.

That's why this kind of politics galls me, and why I think those of us with genuine class politics should always be on guard against it. If it was just the occasional moron on Twitter, I could ignore it. But these people are in our trade unions, on the stalls in the town centres and stewarding our marches, as well as being far beyond the fringes of rational thought. In history, they shot us against walls, now they pull our masks down on demos whilst Nazis are taking photos or call us CIA moles for not supporting rapists.

The enemy of your enemy isn't always your friend. The person who thinks that this saying is true never is.

  • 1. With a mirror on the right, of course, but that's not what I'm here to discuss.

Comments

NannerNannerNan...
Aug 22 2012 08:57

What's so bad about Hamas?

Anyway, spot on article.

Juan Conatz
Aug 22 2012 09:23

Diggin this. Needs to be said more often than should be neccesary...

Auto
Aug 22 2012 09:31

Great article. This is the thing that annoys me the most about general 'left-wing' politics. It seems to me that it's a remnant from Cold War politics, where everything must be boiled down to a simplistic binary, good on one side, bad on the other.

Pro tip: If your politics lead you to support one group of thieves and murderers against another group of thieves and murderers, you should probably reconsider your position.

Book O'Dead
Aug 22 2012 11:31

Perhaps now I understand better why I hadn't really made up my mind about the Assange case and Wikileaks (besides the fact that I hadn't really paid much attention to either). Useful as wikileaks may appear, I never thought I needed leaked internal Pentagon e-mails to make my case against capitalism or imperialism or to support my views for socialism.

That aside, I thoroughly agree with the article's denunciation of that oft-used principle of alliance with the "enemy of my enemy".

I have a question, though: Is the "enemy of my enemy" principle comparable to my own dilemma regarding the current electoral choices in the U.S.? By that I mean that I have been considering voting for Obama in November because I think that by abstaining (something I done far too often up until the 2008 elections) I might help elect someone else whom I believe to be much worse and possibly a greater threat to the working class.

In your view, am I engaging in the same ideological error as those people on the left that the above essay so aptly describes?

Havaan
Aug 22 2012 12:00

Great article, I've been thinking about this for a while and this pretty much sums up what was in my head (but better). Although the false dichotomy seems to be something that's been a staple of human intellectual debate since forever, I think there's a great deal of value in putting out arguments on why it's generally just absurd and tends to lead to a very reactionary response from all parties involved and really does stifle any further dialogue.

Sten
Aug 22 2012 12:43
Quote:
Galloway [...] condemned Syrian revolutionaries as “serving the Crusaders” by fighting against the authoritarian regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

Yes, because while the Assange case isn't a simple binary issue, the Syrian uprising is.
And while it is wrong to label people who oppose Assange's case as "US imperialists", labelling people who oppose the Syrian uprising as pro-Assad authoritarians is totally right.

*rolls eyes*

Havaan
Aug 22 2012 12:41

@sten

erhmm are you attributing the position of george galloway to the author of the blog post, it's not clear.

Sten
Aug 22 2012 12:44

The post author was criticizing Galloway because of Galloway's 'shady' opinions on several issues (such as Palestinian nationalism and the Syrian uprising).

However, by doing this, the post author is applying a double standard.
He attacks people for treating complex situations as "binary issues", but then he treats equally-complex situations as binary issues himself.

Mr. Jolly
Aug 22 2012 13:09

When one is a an anti-imperialist 'believer', that is one who moves beyond seeing imperialism as a important variable in a complex situation to one where it is the only thing driving political reality, then such blinkered, binary, conspiracy fuelled world view amongst many in the left is its logical outcome.

Dannny
Aug 22 2012 14:15

@sten
The post author isn't treating Palestine or Syria as anything here, merely pointing out that Galloway's (and by extension, much of the left's) position on them is of a piece with their "enemy of my enemy" catch-all approach to politics.

Book O'Dead
Aug 22 2012 14:47
Sten wrote:
[[...]labelling people who oppose the Syrian uprising as pro-Assad authoritarians is totally right.

*rolls eyes*

How then would you label people "who oppose the Syrian uprising" if at all?

Sten
Aug 22 2012 15:08
Book O'Dead wrote:
How then would you label people "who oppose the Syrian uprising" if at all?

Some are Baath loyalists (and thus authoritarians), but opposing/not supporting the Syrian uprising doesn't mean you're supporting Assad. I can't think of an all-encompassing adjective, but if there is one, it's not authoritarians, given that there's abundance of authoritarians on the anti-Assad side too (nationalists or Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia) and that one may oppose the uprising on 'leftist' grounds too (ie, thinking of it as part of an inter-imperialist conflict).

Dannny wrote:
@sten
The post author isn't treating Palestine or Syria as anything here, merely pointing out that Galloway's (and by extension, much of the left's) position on them is of a piece with their "enemy of my enemy" catch-all approach to politics.

Well, if he's calling the Syrian opposition "revolutionaries" ... I'm assuming he supports them?

Arbeiten
Aug 22 2012 15:11

'inter-imperialist conflict'....

Book O'Dead
Aug 22 2012 15:22
Sten wrote:
Book O'Dead wrote:
How then would you label people "who oppose the Syrian uprising" if at all?

Some are Baath loyalists (and thus authoritarians), but opposing/not supporting the Syrian uprising doesn't mean you're supporting Assad. I can't think of an all-encompassing adjective, but if there is one, it's not authoritarians, given that there's abundance of authoritarians on the anti-Assad side too (nationalists or Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia) and that one may oppose the uprising on 'leftist' grounds too (ie, thinking of it as part of an inter-imperialist conflict).
[...]

I'm not sure that your logic makes sense to me as your characterizations are somewhat imprecise.

Be that as it may, wherein do you place yourself among the categories of pro\anti-Assad factions you offered above? IOW's, where do YOU stand on the question?

[edit]

Also, how do you feel about the Assand affair? Is there any merit to the accusations of rape against him? Should he return to Sweden to face his accusers? Should he be allowed to leave England for Ecuador? Should the UK invade Ecuador and make Swedish the official language of that country?

Sten
Aug 22 2012 15:30
Arbeiten wrote:
'inter-imperialist conflict'....

Yes. You won't see radical democracy being estabilished.
If the uprising succeed what you will see is a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East from an Iran-led front to a Saudi Arabia-led front. That's all.

Are proletarians taking part in the uprising because they see it as a genuine struggle against oppression? Yes.
Is the Assad regime authoritarian? Yes.
Is the Syrian opposition a socially radical and socially revolutionary mass movement? No.

Where do I stand on the question?
Well, I would support a radicalization of the opposition movement (or radical elements within the opposition movement - at the moment, those are far from majoritarian, though).

Book O'Dead wrote:
Also, how do you feel about the Assand affair? Is there any merit to the accusations of rape against him? Should he return to Sweden to face his accusers? Should he be allowed to leave England for Ecuador? Should the UK invade Ecuador and make Swedish the official language of that country?

I think that Assange's rape charges aren't politically motivated (as some Assange supporters claim) and thus feel he should be trialled.
However, I fear that once in Sweden he would be extradited to the US and prosecuted for his Wikileaks-related activities. I would be happy if he was trialled in absentia and then extradited to Sweden by the UK/Ecuador only in execution of a sentence.

Arbeiten
Aug 22 2012 15:37

I'm asking this question with no strings attached. Why do people think Assange is more likely to be extradited from Sweden than the UK? Given Britain's history of extradition and extraordinary extradition [sic] to the U.S.....

Havaan
Aug 22 2012 15:37

You seem to be simplifying the Syrian (civil war, uprising, revolution, I think I'm going to call it the Syrian "troubles" for the particularly funny euphemism, not to downplay what's going on) into just a proxy battle between two imperial blocs.

Now there is admittedly that geopolitical fight taking place with arms from different imperial benefactors going to various different factions, but there is also some level of popular participation and while it may be funnelled for the large part into particular factions, but there is a a mobilisation of people of, strikes etc and a level of discourse within the population as a whole towards questioning the politics/motives of the different players.

So whatever state arises hopefully people have the "cultural memory" (bad term) of struggles past to be able to stand up to it and to not be in a position they were prior the "troubles".

Sten
Aug 22 2012 15:48
Arbeiten wrote:
I'm asking this question with no strings attached. Why do people think Assange is more likely to be extradited from Sweden than the UK? Given Britain's history of extradition and extraordinary extradition [sic] to the U.S.....

Assange is just as likely to be extradited to the US from the UK as from Sweden.
Right now he isn't under the jurisdiction of either.

Arbeiten
Aug 22 2012 15:59
Sten wrote:
Arbeiten wrote:
I'm asking this question with no strings attached. Why do people think Assange is more likely to be extradited from Sweden than the UK? Given Britain's history of extradition and extraordinary extradition [sic] to the U.S.....

Assange is just as likely to be extradited to the US from the UK as from Sweden.
Right now he isn't under the jurisdiction of either.

I know, that is the background knowledge implied in my question. Why do people think it is like this, even though it doesn't seem to be the case?. *rolls eyes* [sic] .

Perhaps there isn't an answer to it. It seems to me it might be just some sort of odd rationalization mechanism that keeps Assange apologism internally coherent. But I was wondering if anyone else could shed some light on this problem.

Mr. Jolly
Aug 22 2012 16:05

Assange best position is to be in a place that wont deport him to US. UK AND Sweden wont guarantee it, the only thing he can rely on, which is imho quite a strong card, is the massive global outcry if this was put in place. The question is is if he is found guilty would that outpouring be as large and vehement, especially by those who matter?

ocelot
Aug 22 2012 16:29

In Sweden there is no Jury system. Your guilt is decided by the judge and a panel of 'lay judges' who are in practice, political bigwigs from the currently governing political parties. In other words, whether guilty or innocent in actuality, once Assange is in front of the Swedish court, the likelihood of him not being judged a convicted rapist in short order is roughly on a par of the likelihood of waking up one morning and finding that David Cameron, on his latest visit to the Queen, has decapitated her, barricaded himself in the palace, eaten the corgis and is now broadcasting on a pirate waveband calling for the people of Britain to rise up, smash the state and implement FULL COMMUNISM now. In other words, not very likely.

Once he's officially a convicted rapist, the powers that be can do what they like with him and who will be able to protest re extradition to Guantanamo or whatever, for fear of being labelled a supporter of a convicted rapist (Galloway excepted, ovs). It's perfectly simple really.

Jason Status
Aug 22 2012 18:34

I will never really understand why people think telling everyone whos side youre on accounts for support. Its just identity politics, wherin actual activism and class warfare are swapped out for wearing opinions like badges on a jacket.

Reddebrek
Aug 22 2012 19:44
Quote:
Yes. You won't see radical democracy being estabilished.

I'm sorry but I find this paragraph really confusing, you won't find Assad establishing a radical democracy either so why would that be a factor in your stance?

Quote:
If the uprising succeed what you will see is a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East from an Iran-led front to a Saudi Arabia-led front. That's all.

Err I think you might want to refresh your knowledge of the phrase balance of power, Saudi Arabia has always been the dominant nation in the region arguably more powerful and important then Israel. At its peak the Islamic Republic of Iran could only be called a "rising power" and the trouble with rising powers is they often trip up and fall back down. Without Syria whose Arab Nationalism was always a barrier to really close ties the only nations Iran has close ties with is Iraq and Lebanon and I suppose Gaza (but there quite isolated) in both cases there are large and powerful opposition forces within those nations and large external powers like the West and Israel waiting to swoop in should pro Iranian forces gain the upper hand.

But this is tree gazing if you think the only things at stake here are power balances between Tehran and Riyadh then why oppose or support either side?

Quote:
Are proletarians taking part in the uprising because they see it as a genuine struggle against oppression? Yes.
Is the Assad regime authoritarian? Yes.
Is the Syrian opposition a socially radical and socially revolutionary mass movement? No.

Ok and how do you rate the chances of a radical Socially revolutionary mass movement developing in Syria under the oppression of the Assad regime, better,worse about the same? Unless you think there was a better chance of such a movement developing without this challenge to the regime I don't see how this would affect your stance on the issue. It reminds me of a Maoist complaining that the Arab Spring was rubbish because there was no Communist (I assume Maoist) party in a leadership role, I asked him if he thought such a party to grow to be capable of such a task with the security forces breathing down there necks but he never replied.

Quote:
Where do I stand on the question?
Well, I would support a radicalization of the opposition movement (or radical elements within the opposition movement - at the moment, those are far from majoritarian, though).

Ok here's the problem, you haven't actually told us were you stand on this problem at all. You've just outlined your grievances and told us your personal ideal scenario. That isn't the same thing I think we'd like to know where you stand on the situation as it is currently not after you've had your three wishes.

Sten
Aug 22 2012 21:06

I consider both movements to be largely controlled by foreign/authoritarian interests and I think none will benefit the Syrian people. So, I don't want to choose a side. And don't have to.

Arbeiten
Aug 22 2012 23:20
ocelot wrote:
It's perfectly simple really.

Is it really 'perfectly simple'? I mean. I am not expert on the respective laws of Sweden, the UK, the US and international law (all are implicated), but this is anything but simple. As I said in my last post, it seems to me to be something more like cognitive dissonance. JK's link makes it seem anything but simple. Similarly this article seems to suggest it would be quite difficult and that,

Quote:
if the US wants Assange extradited from Sweden, he will have the protection of both the Swedish and British legal systems. It would appear easier to have him extradited directly from the UK.

But, as I say. I am no expert....

LauritzTheAgitator
Aug 23 2012 02:36

Perhaps the OP or others can remind me of exactly what charges alleging sex crimes have brren brought against Assange in Sweden? Oh, that's right, there aren't any. The reason Assange refused to go to Sweden is that the minute he entered a Swedish police station to be interviewed as a "person of interest", he could be extradited to the US, and the Swedish government refused to give any guarantees that would not happen. As to the absolute red herring being bandied about here, the UK has no basis hold Assange, and therefore to extradite Assange to the US, that's why he's safer in England than in Sweden.

And then we move on into the discussion and the threadwhere the apparent current anarchist line is that any skepticism of the moral superiority of the US empire and its global system of rendition bases,. into which Assange would be disappeared, is only ciriticized by ignorant, naive, shallow phony leftists, quickly beefed up with some sterling anarchist calls for US "shock'n'awe" on Damascus as representing the highest degree of sophistication and nuance. Wherein it reads like Richard Seymour as he follows the same old Trotskyite road previously ventured by Burnham, Kristol, Podhoretz and Hitchens. Now with 47% more anarcho-syndicalism!

And we wonder why the contemporary left is hopeless, why the hegemony of capitalist-imperialism is absolute. Pfft. Look in the frickin' mirrors and watch as you move your mouths and the words of hegemony come out of them.

Jim Clarke
Aug 23 2012 02:58

Lauritz, you don't understand Swedish law, you don't understand UK law, you don't understand international law and you don't seem to have a very strong grip on capitalism or imperialism either. I'm also not sure why you think Assange being interviewed and charged with rape's his own lawyers have admitted he committed would lead to him being immediately whisked off into a series of rendition bases. Especially when the UK has participated in extraordinary rendition and regularly extradites people to the US on spurious grounds.

You are grossly ignorant and clearly massively naive, so perhaps should think before throwing those words around. The rest of your post doesn't make sense.

freericeforlife
Aug 23 2012 09:57

in reply to Nanner Nanner Nan...
basically the fact that they seek to become a state but going into more depth, with gaining power they would simply reverse the oppression. they too would create an authoritarian, Islamist state & a racist one too based on the supremacy of some and oppression of others, no different to what we see in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia etc.

ocelot
Aug 23 2012 10:11
Arbeiten wrote:
ocelot wrote:
It's perfectly simple really.

Is it really 'perfectly simple'? I mean. I am not expert on the respective laws of Sweden, the UK, the US and international law (all are implicated), but this is anything but simple. As I said in my last post, it seems to me to be something more like cognitive dissonance. JK's link makes it seem anything but simple. Similarly this article seems to suggest it would be quite difficult and that,

Quote:
if the US wants Assange extradited from Sweden, he will have the protection of both the Swedish and British legal systems. It would appear easier to have him extradited directly from the UK.

But, as I say. I am no expert....

Sorry, I didn't make that clear. What, imo, is perfectly simple, is that the extradition question is not the immediate question. In this sense the reason the Dreyfusards give for resisting Assange's extradition to Sweden - the question of immediate extradition to US - is a bit of a red herring. The real reason Assange doesn't want to end up before a Swedish court is because he knows he has no chance of being found innocent. The Anti-Dreyfusards say this is because he is guilty (to them, not only a jury, but even a trial are surplus to the requirements of justice). I submit that the fact that that decision is effectively in the power of the Swedish government, means that he has no chance - but naturally the Assange camp can't come out and say this directly, because that would be the equivalent of refusing to recognise the court, which is always a suicidal move, judicially speaking.

What seems to me most troubling about this whole mediatised furore (other than how easily people's opinions are manipulated) is the degree to which each camp assumes a non-sequiteur in support of its position. For the Anti-Dreyfusards, the assumption that Assange is a rapist, means that any suggestion that he is being fitted up by the CIA is rape apologism. For the Drefusards, the assumption that Assange is being targetted by a vengeful US state for exposing its murderous activities, means that Assange must be innocent. The possibility of considering that Assange may both be being fitted up by the CIA and also (possibly) guilty of rape, seems to be excluded by both sides - on the grounds of either being a supporter of US imperialism or a apologist for rape.

P.S. Sweden is not unique in this aspect of the legal system. Norway is similar. For example, Anders Breivik was tried without a jury (a fact that may have got overlooked in the wall-to-wall media coverage). In his case the normal judge + 2 lay was expanded to 2 judges + 3 lay (as is provided for in Norwegian law for long or complex cases). Given the social engagement around the Breivik case, legitimacy was provided by the televisation of the whole trial. Naturally Assange's case would not be televised - as is correct for a rape case.