The passing of Abimael Guzman, Colin Powell and bookending chapters of history

Abimael Guzman, the Peruvian Communist leader of the Maoist insurgent group the Shining Path, and former philosophy professor, passed away after decades in prison. A rebel with a definite cause, he remained true to his ideals of a people’s war against the Peruvian (and American-backed) oligarchy.

No, I do not endorse Maoism, and neither do I regard Guzman as the ‘fourth sword of Marxism’, following Marx, Lenin and Mao. However, he died fighting a financial oligarchy that condemned millions of indigenous and non-indigenous in Peru to poverty.

There was another death in October, one that highlights the opposite trajectory of Guzman’s – that of an imperial servant. It is possible for a professional military person to take on a mercenary role.

Colin Powell, former American Secretary of State and military officer, also passed away earlier this month. He was the loyal servant of a mercenary empire. He added, in a cynical way, ‘diversity’ to a project that has cost the lives of millions around the world, including Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, Grenada – not to mention the so-called ‘war on terror.’ Powell never questioned the motives of US imperialist wars, lied to the United Nations, and participated in and oversaw numerous war crimes.

Guzman, in his own way, changed the Communist Party of Peru – previously a collection of politicised peasantry and leftist students – into a powerful political force. Intending to transplant the successful example of agrarian-based, guerrilla war with a class struggle focus from Maoist China, he was eventually captured in 1992. The President of Peru responsible for Guzman’s capture, Alberto Fujimori, ended up in prison himself, convicted of corruption, embezzlement and human rights abuses during his time in power.

Guzman was put on display, liked a caged animal, by the Peruvian authorities in 1992. Wearing a pantomime black-and-white striped prison outfit, his outdoor cage was revealed to the assembled cameras in an act of gloating by Fujimori. Guzman spent the remainder of his life behind bars, never renouncing the ideology he steadfastly advocated his entire life.

Guzman’s organisation reflected his Maoist outlook – his party maintained a hostile stance towards other non-Shining Path leftist revolutionary organisations. Siding with China during the Sino-Soviet split, he held that the USSR was on a deviationist course from the one true Marxism. Ironically, it was Guzman who unhesitatingly flew the red flag in the immediate aftermath of the 1990-91 dissolution of the Eastern bloc, swimming against the anti-communist tide.

While I do not endorse his actions, it is also important to avoid the hysterical campaign of screeching condemnation and demonisation of Guzman. For as long as their are criminal oligarchies, using the police and army as instruments of their financial misrule – such as in Peru – there will be Abimael Guzmans in the future, ready to wage an insurrectionary class war.

Since his 1992 imprisonment, developments in official Peruvian politics confirmed Guzman’s central contention – the criminal and predatory nature of the oligarchic structures which dominate Peruvian society. After Alberto Fujimori, numerous presidents have been indicted for corruption, malfeasance and entanglement in financial scandals.

Colin Powell, in 1990-91, was one of the main US officers responsible for the one-sided attack on Iraq. That war, plus the sanctions on Iraq since then, have resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead. Powell, an architect with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, never faced accountability for the crimes he committed. His behaviour was consistent throughput his career – he was a soldier fighting for the expansion of US imperial rule.

While it is impolite to speak ill of the dead, the current hagiographic outpouring for Powell necessitates a critical examination of his conduct. Actually, Powell as a politician played an insidious role – acquiring bipartisan support for industrialised mass killing. Powell was an effective communicator and political operative, neutralising whatever mild opposition – lukewarm as it is – from the opposite side of the political fence.

It is all well and good when a black American man makes it to the top. Powell, in his capacity as a serving officer, orchestrated and participated in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, a Caribbean nation which was headed by the New Jewel movement. The invasion destroyed not only a new social experiment, it returned a predominantly black Caribbean country to the service of American corporations.

Kelsey Atherton, in Jacobin magazine, notes that Powell was diligent and loyal – but these qualities mean nothing when they are devoted to the mercenary project of unceasing imperial violence. Perhaps he was a victim of deceit by the CIA – but he was also a willing victim. He had access to the highest corridors of power – and did nothing to challenge the deception at those levels.

Guzman died after in his own country, fighting against an oligarchy exploiting its population; Powell died after a lifetime serving a predatory empire deploying violence to further its interests.

The oversized shadow of Amin al-Husseini, anti-colonialism, and Palestinian nationalism

European racial antisemitism is responsible for the mass murder of the Jewish people – namely in the policies of the genocidal Nazi regime. While Europe has had antisemitism for centuries – going back to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the massacres of Jews by the Tsarist Russian empire – racist antisemitism is a product of European nationalism.

When examining the Holocaust and collaboration with the Axis powers, the person of Palestinian Mufti Amin al-Husseini is raised, usually by Zionist commentators.

This may initially appear unusual – the Arabs were neither victims nor perpetrators of the Holocaust. However, when discussing Palestinian nationalist resistance to Zionism, the Mufti’s conduct during the war years is raised to portray Palestinian – and the wider Muslim-majority nations – as incorrigibly antisemitic.

Israel was created on the land of Palestine, on biblically significant areas, and thus provoked a reaction from the Arab world. If Arab opposition to Zionism – indeed any such opposition – can be slandered as antisemitic, then the Palestinian cause can be weakened. Obsessively referring to the Mufti’s wartime activities helps to portray Arab nationalism as a result of antisemitic pathology.

Appointed by the British authorities as the Grand Mufti in Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine, al-Husseini was very much Britain’s man. His support for the British has been conveniently forgotten in all the invective launched against him in the post-World War 2 period. After 1936, with the defeat of the widespread Palestinian rebellion against British rule, he sought the support of Nazi Germany as an anti-British nationalist. Britain, in response to the 1936-39 uprising, decided to officially partition Palestine.

The Mufti made his way to Berlin, where he did indeed meet Hitler in 1941. He gave the Nazi salute, after meeting Himmler in 1943, while reviewing Bosnian and Azerbaijani Muslim recruits for Waffen SS divisions. He gave antisemitic broadcasts as the war dragged on, and as the failure to blunt Zionist inroads into Palestine became apparent. The Nazis were never interested in supporting non-European anti-colonial movements.

The Mufti’s collaboration was sordid and reprehensible, but it was not an isolated example. Husseini was not the first anti-British non-European leader to seek Nazi support. Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian anti-colonial activist, sought out German support for Indian independence. Aung San, father of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, appealed to Imperial Japan for assistance in the nationalist struggle for Burmese independence.

There was, in fact, one Arab political leader who modelled the party he created along explicit fascist lines. Seeking support from the Axis powers, he initiated the closest thing the Arab world has to a European-style antisemitic party – Pierre Gemayel, who created the Lebanese Christian Phalange. It is that party, finding support among the Maronite Christian Lebanese community, that would go on to ally itself with the Israeli state in the post-1948 period.

It is interesting that Maronite Christian separatism was cultivated by the leaders of Tel Aviv from the 1950s onwards. As for Husseini, the military failure of the Arab armies to reverse Israeli gains in 1948 sealed his fate – he soon after retired into political irrelevance. His collaboration with Nazism amounted to absolutely nothing. His political outlook, and his appeals for Nazi cooperation, were disreputable and bankrupt.

Rather than list the various attempts by all factions of the Zionist leadership, in the interwar years, to cooperate with the Nazi regime, it is better to highlight the distinct partiality Nazi officers displayed for the ideology of Zionism. Adolf Eichmann, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, visited budding Zionist settlements in Palestine, and spoke approvingly of what he witnessed. He commented that, had he been a Jew, he would have been an ardent Zionist.

With the passage of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, outlawing marriage and sexual relations between Jews and so-called ‘Aryans’, one Nazi officer commented approvingly of the role of the Zionist Federation in Germany – Reinhard Heydrich. A vicious antisemite and loyal Nazi to the end, he stated that while he staunchly rejected ‘world Jewry’, he appreciated the strict racial position adopted by the Zionist movement. With regards to Palestine, he wished the new colonists well in their endeavour to build their new state.

The Nazi leaders understood the benefits of, if not an outright alliance, then a marriage of convenience between the two racially separatist ideologies. Zionist spokespersons have long comprehended the necessity of antisemitism to their state-building project. In the Arab world, antisemitism had to be imported from Europe; Holocaust denial which involves the pseudoscientific production of materials purportedly ‘debunking’ the genocide of the Jews constitutes the ‘anti-Zionism of fools.’

Do not equate anti-colonialist Palestinian nationalism with European style genocidal antisemitism. Do not exploit the reprehensible political activities of the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini to Nazify the Arabic-speaking and Muslim-majority nations. Discussing the presence of antisemitism in the Arab world is one thing; obsessing about the marginal and ultimately failed role of the Mufti only serves the false goal of the Nazification of Arab nationalist resistance to settler-colonialism.

Education in Texas, Holocaust denial and fabricated outrage over critical race theory

A school administrator in Southlake, Texas, has come under heavy criticism for suggesting that the school district’s curriculum should contain books that offer an ‘opposing view’ of the Holocaust, balancing out the existing Holocaust materials already being taught. The suggestion of including Holocaust denial resources took place in the context of a wider debate regarding educational materials, and viewpoints that should be taught to students.

The Republican controlled state legislature in Texas, in line with their political colleagues in other states, has been waging a campaign to ban critical race theory (CRT) – which involves teaching students the history of bigotry and racism in the United States. A newly passed law in Texas, HB3979, legislators have undermined efforts to teach CRT. This effort is part of an ultranationalist right wing campaign to deflect from teaching future generations about racism and white supremacy.

The dispute in Texas involves more than just one school board or curriculum; it speaks to the nature of whitewashing history, removing any reference to the culpability of racism and white nationalism in American – and western – colonialism. Influencing the school curriculum obviously impacts how future generations understand their history – and develop amnesia regarding the crucial role of racism in shaping American capitalism.

Holocaust denial hiding behind the shield of scepticism

How does Holocaust denial fit into all of this? The denial of the Holocaust is sadly nothing new. It is part of a concerted attempt by ultranationalist and hard Right forces to remove the genocidal culpability of the Nazi regime and its ideology, white supremacy. By cancelling the main crime of Nazism, its doctrines are open to rehabilitation. This is already occurring in numerous Eastern European nations with ultrarightist regimes.

Holocaust deniers do not live in a vacuum – they have witnessed the condemnation of Nazi doctrines after the end of World War 2. So to make their message palatable, they have adopted the disguise of being ‘sceptics’; academics and writers who are merely ‘questioning’ the globally accepted version of the Holocaust. What is wrong with free scholarly inquiry?

The notion of balance – listening to opposing points of view – is all well and good, but it is not unlimited. The Texas state teachers repudiated any attempt to shrewdly introduced Holocaust denial material into the curriculum, stating that the notion of ‘balance’ does not give anyone the right to attack historically verified facts. There are not ‘two sides’ of the Holocaust.

Critical race theory – don’t buy into the ultrarightist hysteria

The Australian Senate explicitly voted to reject CRT – which is surprising, given that Australian politicians think they have the power to restrict the national curriculum. In the United States, CRT has come under strong attack for being a purportedly ‘divisive’ subject. So, what is it?

CRT began as an obscure collection of legal doctrines which sought to answer serious questions – why do economic inequalities and racial disparities in health care, law, education, employment, real estate and so on – persist decades after the abolition of segregation and the civil rights movement? A number of academics, such as Kimberle Crenshaw, sought to answer these questions in terms of intersectionality. People experience oppression and discrimination in multiple ways, including race and ethnicity.

Race is now recognised as a social construct, but this does not prevent people from categorising into biological ‘races.’ Institutional discrimination, while suffering a fatal blow in the 1960s, did not end there. Numerous systemic measures – from the economic to the cultural – have maintained racial disparities over the succeeding decades. This is part and parcel of settler-colonial capitalism, and understanding these facts contributes to a better appreciating of measures at redressing racial discrimination.

The purpose of CRT is not to create a new racial hierarchy with African Americans at the top – it is to expose the racialised hierarchy of settler-colonialism, and work towards abolishing racist hierarchies altogether. No, CRT is not ‘racist towards white people’, but rather seeks multiethnic cooperation in an antiracist alliance.

No, not every mention of settler-colonialism is an application of CRT. It is an understanding of the history of societies based on the violent dispossession of indigenous peoples. It is not entirely surprising that the conservative airwaves have resounded with shrill denunciations of CRT, with supportive politicians attempting to block it. An exposure of the embedded white racism in the foundations of American capitalism highlights American culpability for the crimes of white nationalism.

CRT is not a Marxian conspiracy to subvert the American way of life. It is an attempt to comprehend the racist history of settler-colonialism, and understand ways to change it. Let’s recognise that white supremacy continues to harm minority communities. Rather than denying history, it is better to focus our energies on strategies to confront racism and build a more inclusive and socially just society.

Iraq rejects moves to begin ties with the Israeli state

The Iraqi government has cracked down on participants in a conference which called for the normalisation of ties between Baghdad and Tel Aviv. Attended by political, business and community leaders in Erbil – the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan – the conference was organised by the Centre for Peace Communications, a conservative American think tank.

Normalisation of a sordid situation

What could be wrong about establishing connections between Israel and its Arab neighbours, such as Iraq? Surely the Abraham accords – the recent peace deals struck between Tel Aviv and several Arab capitals – are a positive development? Behind the cynical deployment of promoting cultural understanding between Muslims and Jews, Tel Aviv is pursuing a calculated, strategic goal of furthering its own economic and military interests.

In fact, Tel Aviv has long practiced the cynical manipulation of the stories of Jewish communities in Arab nations, to promote support for the narrow settler-colonial policies of Zionism. By alleging that Arab nations – in the late 40s and early 50s – engaged in a systematic policy of expelling their Jewish minority populations – Tel Aviv hopes to rebalance the moral calculus, and distract from its own ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the 1940s, and in subsequent settlement expansion.

The subject of the dispossession of the Palestinians by the Zionist movement – its ‘original sin’, so to speak – is a sensitive issue for Tel Aviv. Countering attempts by Palestinians, and their supporters, from exposing the criminal policies of the Zionist parties requires the cynical and selective deployment of sympathy. The story of Iraq’s Jewish community, and the complex, multi-factorial causes of their flight from Iraq, have been twisted and oversimplified into a falsely slanderous portrayal of Iraq, and Arab societies generally, of being hatefully antisemitic.

The Iraqi Jewish community – victims of ruthless geopolitics

The Iraqi Jewish community had historical connections and roots in Iraq, going back to Mesopotamia. Iraqi Jews built economically and culturally successful communities when Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire. Britain, which acquired Iraq as a mandate colony after the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish empire in 1920, maintained cordial relations with Iraq’s – and particularly Baghdad’s – prosperous Jews. The latter had successfully integrated into Arabic-majority Iraq.

The Baghdadi Jewish community, having had special protected status as a non-Muslim minority under the Ottoman Turkish authority, appealed to the British for similar recognition. Britain, eager to put down Iraqi nationalist revolts in its new colony, shrewdly appealed to Baghdad’s Jews. While employing their commercial prosperity and administrative skills, the British authorities made sure that the Jewish community did not grow too powerful.

Britain supported the Zionist movement’s drive to colonise Palestine – from 1917 onwards. There was hardly a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews to the kibbutzim of Palestine. The Baghdadi Jews were assimilated, occupying crucial positions in the administration of British authority in the nation, and were indifferent to the Zionist project.

By the time World War 2 began, the only multiconfessional political formation in Iraq was the Communist party. Pro-German factions in the Iraqi army cunningly appealed to Iraqi nationalism, hoping to establish a pro-Nazi regime in the nation. However, the troubles of those times passed, and the Iraqi Jewish community thrived.

It was the 1948 Zionist colonisation of Palestine, and the Iraqi military’s incompetent performance on the battlefield, which brought sectarian polarisation to a head. The close identification of the Jewish community with the British-backed Iraqi monarchy made them convenient targets for anticolonial sentiment. As much as Iraq’s Jews protested that they were loyal citizens, and repudiated Zionism, the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Said regarded them as a potential fifth column.

The new Zionist government in Tel Aviv claimed to speak for Jews worldwide, and its agents did their utmost to increase tensions between the Iraqi government and the Baghdadi Jewish community. Encouraging the latter to emigrate was the intended goal of the Zionist movement; exploiting internal Iraqi problems would create enough of an external push-factor to incite Iraqi Jewish emigration.

Zionist operatives, active inside Iraq, organised the bombings of cafes, synagogues and areas that Iraqi Jews frequented, increasing sectarian tensions. The government, under British and American pressure, passed a denaturalisation law in 1950, allowing those Iraqi Jews who renounced their citizenship to emigrate.

Nuri al-Said was Britain’s right-hand man in Iraq; dedicated to maintaining the British-backed monarchy in the country. Facing this destabilising campaign by Zionist agents, he relented and allowed thousands of Iraqi Jews to leave. Was he incapable of providing a political programme to unite Iraq’s various ethnicities? Yes. Was he a vicious antisemite, out on a Hitlerian frenzy to eliminate every Jewish person in sight? No, he was not.

The evacuation of Iraqi Jews, presented by Tel Aviv as an ‘in-gathering of the exiles’, was actually the uprooting of an ancient and established community. The Israeli forces, throughout 1947-48, acquired territories outside those allotted by the UN partition plan – extra space, especially ethnically cleansed areas, require filling by extra numbers of people.

The misleading characterisation of the Israel/Palestine conflict as resulting from ‘ancient hatreds between Muslims and Jews’ only serves to disguise the original guilt of the Zionist movement; the dispossession of the Palestinians. Do not use the claim of ‘cultural understanding’ or ‘religious tolerance’ to mask economic and political objectives.

The Lost Cause myth – a long running disinformation campaign to rehabilitate white supremacy

In September this year, the 12-tonne statue of Confederate general and racist traitor, Robert E Lee, in Richmond Virginia, was taken down by the authorities. In its place, a statue commemorating the emancipation of slaves was erected. This measure, undertaken by the Virginia state government, reignited a debate about memorialising the Confederacy, and the persistent myth of the Lost Cause.

Let’s examine why this is not only a historical issue, but compellingly relevant for today’s politics.

The Lost Cause, a propaganda campaign developed over several decades after the end of the Civil War, downplays the importance of slavery and racism in driving the Southern states to secede. Instead, the partisans of Lost Cause mythology posit several, seemingly legitimate reasons for secession – states rights, preserving the ‘Southern way of life’, and hostility to ostensibly greedy Northern interests. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), a pressure group formed after the Civil War, promoted public activities to rehabilitate the Confederacy.

By denying the role of slavery – and its aggressive promotion by the slave owning states – the Lost Cause myth absolves the Confederacy of its racism, and recasts the Southern states as historical patriots. The Lost Cause – advocated by ex-Confederate generals and soldiers – is a counter factual reading of history, removing the stain of white supremacy from the Confederate cause.

Fighting for ‘states rights’ against a supposedly overbearing federal authority sounds like a ‘noble’ motivation. Fighting for the expansion of slavery to benefit white Southern landowners and politicians sounds more materialistic in intent.

The naming of streets, statues, military bases and public spaces after Confederate generals is not a matter of simply adhering to historical veracity. They are public tributes to segregationist traitors and slave-owning racists, and promote the claim that white supremacist ideology is something to be normalised. After the Civil War, Confederate apologists worked tirelessly to deny the expressly stated intention of the secessionist states – slavery, and the white supremacy upon which it was based.

Repurposing the Confederate cause as one of defending ‘cultural heritage’ has a cynical and perverse consequence – uniting whites from the Southern and Northern states into one racialised block against the African American community. Disguising the role of the Southern landowning aristocratic class in instigating the Civil War serves to break down interethnic bonds between poor whites and black Americans.

The UDC, and similar Confederate advocacy organisations, monitored school textbooks and evaluated the history sections, ensuring that a Southern-sympathetic point of view was included. As the decades after the end of the Civil War proceeded, and the veterans of that conflict passed on, a concerted effort was made to ensure that succeeding generations learned the repackaged Lost Cause myth of the Civil War.

From the 1880s onwards, numerous projects to erect statues to Confederate generals were undertaken. As Reconstruction was wound back, new ways of enforcing racial segregation were explored – resulting in extensive Jim Crow legislation. Public rallies, children’s activities, ceremonies honouring the bravery of Southern soldiers, renaming military bases after Confederate generals – and the growing white supremacist vigilante insurgency by the KKK – all these events helped to reintegrate the Confederate cause into the public consciousness.

The Lost Cause advocates have never tired of recycling an old falsehood – the myth of the loyal slave. While slave owning was downplayed by neo-Confederates, the pernicious distortion of the happy black slave has been promoted in books and films. Indeed, the Lost Cause contends that these ‘loyal slaves’ even took up arms for the Confederacy. Former US President Donald Trump recycled this myth in his frequent outbursts defending the old South.

That claim is interesting, because the Confederacy – even when the tide of the Civil War turned against the South – the ‘happy slaves’ were never armed by the ‘non racist’ slave owners. In fact, the Southern aristocratic class were constantly terrified of slave uprisings, escapes and rebellions. This unending anxiety was not confined to the Confederacy; throughout the slave owning colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean, slave owners were terrified of the growing number of – and possible uprisings by – the African slaves.

The Emancipation proclamation only heightened the fears of the Confederate slave owners that the erstwhile slaves would escape to the North for freedom – which they did. Black persons were employed by the Confederate armies – as servants. Armed black slaves was the last thing the Confederacy wanted; a situation which undermines the claim that racism was not a factor in secession.

Are we being too harsh, with the benefit of hindsight, to judge our forebears and their actions? In our everyday world, that makes sense. However, Confederate statues were not constructed as public artefacts to commemorate history. They were erected as part of a toxic campaign of white nationalist resentment, not for any innocuous cause of states rights. By removing these memorials to white supremacy, we can see the racist history of American capitalism more clearly.