Imperialism & the Soleimani assassination

Updated: Feb 12

Dan Jeffery and Simon Hannah look at the regional implications of the US assassination of one of Iran’s most powerful generals.

8 January 2020.



The assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a senior military commander in Iran, has thrown petrol on an already unstable and violent situation in the Middle East.


The responses to his death have been varied, some celebrating, some despairing.


The right place to begin to analyse this event is to observe that the US war machine now believes it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere, with no judicial oversight. This apparent right is bestowed on them because the US is an imperialist power; its economic and political might stretches far beyond its borders. It dominates the world in ways that other countries’ governments can only dream about. It has rivals growing in strength, Russia and China, and an imperialist bloc in the European Union led by France and Germany, but despite its declining hegemony, the US is still the most powerful force on the planet.


Some people define imperialism only in terms of military force. While the military dimension is crucial, it is only one part of the equation. An imperialist country is also defined by its economic and therefore political might, it exports capital; its financial services expand beyond its borders; it dictates trade deals and throws its weight around in international arenas such as the World Bank, the IMF and at global summits.


The US can impose sanctions on Iran and freeze the bank accounts of officials; Iran cannot do likewise to the US. It can use its extensive spy satellites, drones and foreign intelligence assets to choose whomever to kill, whenever they like.


The ‘right’ to assassinate foreign officials is, of course, a right that the US has enjoyed since World War Two. This is only the latest example of the global reach and power of US imperialism.


Socialists therefore unreservedly oppose the assassination. The US did not assassinate Soleimani for ‘progressive’ reasons – their rationale is only ever from the basis of furthering imperialist interests. If they wanted to do so for progressive reasons, which they never would, they would have killed him four years ago while he was directing murderous slaughter of the Syrian people during the failed revolution against President Assad. If they wanted to rid the world of evil men they would perhaps start with the Saudi Royal family, or Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt or indeed Assad in Syria. But they will not use their advanced military capacities to eliminate such people because they are allies of the West. The assassination was entirely due to the global interests of the US as well as the imminent re-election campaign of Donald Trump.


But it would also be wrong to defend Soleimani as some have done. Several commentators have pointed out he was some kind of hero for helping to defeat ISIS (while they remain silent on his other role as the man responsible for coordinating Iranian forces and their proxies against the Syrian revolution). We should be clear: Soleimani was a monster, a butcher of the Syrian revolution and a man who has promoted sectarian violence in Iraq. But only the people of Iran can mete out true justice to monsters like Soleimani – as the Romanian’s did to Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989.


Such actions by a foreign power do nothing to help the Iranian working class and left to overthrow the regime. The assassination has only bolstered support for the Iranian government, now they are able to command wider backing among their people in the guise of their ‘fight’ against the USA. It allows them to whip up more support for the military and their ideology.


In the context of Britain, Trump’s actions expose our country’s own role. Britain is an imperialist country too, although one that is declining relatively rapidly. One wing of the ruling capitalist class hope to hitch their wagon more firmly to the USA – for them, leaving the EU is an opportunity to realign their imperialist alliances towards Washington, not Brussels.


The main complaint from the British government seems to be that they should have been informed first. Nevertheless they are totally in support of bellicose military actions against the ‘Iranian threat’.


Whatever happens as tensions escalate, Iran’s pledge to accelerate its nuclear enrichment programme provides us with a sense of the stakes involved in such sabre rattling.


If there is to be war there will have to be an anti-war movement. It will have to oppose and defy any British war efforts while also coordinating internationally with the movement in the USA and – importantly – movements across the Middle East. We think socialists in the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) were wrong to provide no solidarity to the revolutionaries in Syria or those in Iran fighting against the regime. Some even went as far as to slander and oppose the people fighting against their regimes.


Those forces that are defending Iran need solidarity, as will those forces opposed to the imperialist attack, but also seeking to build a movement against their own regime. One thing is clear: regime change in Iran imposed by imperialist powers is no solution – as we have seen in Iraq after 2003.


Simon Hannah is a Labour and trade-union activist and author of A Party with Socialists in it: a history of the Labour Left.


Dan Jeffrey writes for Mutiny.

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