April 21, 2011
There is still much ado among socialists and left-wingers of various stripes as to the question of support for the Libyan rebels, and more particularly, what to make of the US/British/French/NATO intervention in that country. Now that the Americans, deeply fearing being enmeshed in a third hopeless and unwinnable enterprise, have quickly withdrawn, the onus is on the British and French to finish the job and drive out Ghadaffi without making it too obvious their aim is to drive out Ghadaffi: surely a task worthy of a second Suez. Since the respective leaders of the UK and France are about as intelligent and capable as their counterparts during the Suez ‘crisis’ were, this should come as no surprise. In practice, perhaps following instinct, virtually no left-wing parties and organizations whatever have actually come out in support of the foreign intervention against Ghadaffi. This seems to be entirely independent of the reported fact that some elements in the Revolutionary Council in Libya, an outfit of great political variety and opacity, had actively requested such intervention. However, among the general population there is less clarity. Although it seems that generally the majority opposes further war in Libya, probably due to war exhaustion, there is a general feeling in most responses as well as in the wider media of sympathy with any Western-led enterprise to at the very least punish the evil man Ghadaffi for his attacks on the rebels. The only prominent counterpart to this has been the consistent campaigning by MRZine and Counterpunch against the rebels themselves; they seem to have either bought “Colonel” Ghadaffi’s appeals to his Arab Jamahiriyan brand of sham socialism, or they have simply translated their habitual anti-imperialism into a position of ‘say the opposite of what your enemy says’. Neither seem to be very wise from any point of view.
That said, it does behoove us to address more fully the important question of a case like this, where there is rebellion against a disliked government, with a seeming progressive element in it, although it is unclear to what extent. At the same time, there is a potential imperialist element to the rebellion itself, because of the support from outside. This is a question of both political theory, in terms of what we take imperialism and anti-imperialism to be, as well as strategy, in that we need to decide to what extent we consider outside help by opposing forces to be acceptable to achieve generally desirable aims. To understand this, I believe it is useful to go back to an older discussion, now long forgotten: a discussion between Max Schachtman, a leader of an American socialist group originally committed to opposing both the US and the USSR in the Cold War but generally veering towards supporting the former, and Hal Draper, who had split off from the former’s group over exactly this issue, and insisted on considering each equally undesirable from the long-term point of view of socialism. The time here is the 1960s, and while one can debate the correctness of the assessment against the USSR and its allies, it may be clear that neither country involved really represented socialism as we think of it, or made any real moves towards getting there. It is in this context that the debate must be understood. The debate was about the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which at the time appeared as an uprising within Cuba itself of anti-Castro forces; it was clear to all that those forces had the support of the US, but this being the second day of the invasion, it was not yet generally known that the whole thing was set up by the US to begin with, at least not to Schachtman. For our purposes this is not the interesting part, nor is the question of whether Castro following the Soviet line was really as bad a development as it is made out to be here, since there is no equivalent situation to that in Libya today. What is interesting to us is assuming that we think of Castro as a dictator, generally undesirable but flashing ‘progressive’ credentials (like Ghadaffi), and of the rebels as they were seen initially: a motley bunch with a left and a right, the politics being entirely undetermined as yet, claiming to fight the tyrant for a free politics in Cuba of whatever kind (similar to the rebels in Libya today). Read the rest of this entry »
While the eyes of the world public have been on the internationalized conflagration in Libya, and we now have to bemoan the loss of Bahrain as a site of revolution after its bloody suppression with the connivance of Saudi-Arabia and the United States, events have been developing in a revolutionary fashion in Syria. This country is a longstanding opponent of American influence in the Middle East but also itself notorious for its meddling in the affairs of its neighbour Lebanon. The Assad clique, representing the Alevite minority in a strongly Sunni majority country, have professed themselves as most Arab dictators in such a position as forces for nationalism and progress as against the reactionary powers of sectarian politics and liberal openness to American power. With the Arab world divided in many ways between these three pathways, the Assad-Nasser-Saddam Hussein path of nationalism and state-building may appear to be the most progressive. At the least, one could be inclined to see in it a way towards the ‘developmental state’ that could lift the economic and social levels of the peoples concerned to a point where they would actually have the consciousness and ability to resist their domestic tyrants without the help of clergy or American bombers. But of course in practice they have proven as opportunistic, as stubborn and as tyrannical as their colleagues of the clerical or the Westernizing kind, and their appeals to ‘Arab socialism’ as a different way forward have long ago been revealed to be so much hollow talk. In Syria as much as in all such countries the order of the day is corruption, repression, and hypocrisy. The frequent adventures abroad and the talk of defending larger interests, whether of their so-called ‘socialism’ or the Palestinian case are but masks for the massive enrichment of a small elite at home while the people are held mute and ignorant, leaving them with little more than religious fervor to give them a sense of dignity and an ideological source for resistance. And the Assad clique has repressed even that with characteristic bloody-mindedness, virtually levelling the city of Hama when a religious rebellion against the regime of Assad sr. broke out in 1982. This suppression was done with such force that almost everyone in the city who had not fled was killed en masse, reminding one of the ‘liberating fervor’ of the Crusaders. The primary organizer was none other than Rifaat al-Assad, the brother of the current President and his main competitor for this position, sidelined since. Read the rest of this entry »
April 14, 2011
Many Marxists have been great theorists. Equally many, perhaps more, have been great practical men and women: great organizers, trade unionists, and practical politicians. Unfortunately, what has been most rare are the people whose genius resides in their grasp of the intermediate field, the field of understanding the implications of general theory for a particular case. This field, what one might call applied theory or political interpretation of theory, is perhaps the most difficult of all. For that reason, insofar as it has been done at all it seems to have been the domain of leaders of petty sects and mini-parties. Their obvious lack of success has led many to think that there is nothing to it: either that one cannot make general rules about the application of Marxist theory in a specific case, or that it is a matter of the individual genius of particular politicians, e.g. Lenin. The latter seems hard to reconcile with the principles of historical materialism and tends to lead to cults of authority, something Marx and Engels always despised and which tends to impede the communist movement. The former is more defensible, but while flexible seems to dangerously underutilize the long experience of Marxism as a tradition and movement. After all, ‘best practice’ is important in any learning, and internationalism demands that we look to experiences of other countries in other times to see how we can improve on ourselves. It is also useful if there is a coherence to our approach, not in the last place with the aim of showing how Marxism can actually help a workers’ movement. Moreover, Marx and Engels themselves were highly active in the political organisational matters of their time, and so were many of the great theorists after them, whether Rosa Luxemburg or Lenin or even Huey Newton. For these reasons, it is interesting to study better the materials that exist on the interpretation of Marxism, in particular the ‘Marxism’ of Marx and Engels themselves, to the level of practical politics, the kind that is reported upon in the newspapers and debated in the parliaments. Read the rest of this entry »
April 1, 2011
Reading Cordelia Fine’s most excellent work of popular neuroscience, Delusions of Gender, reminds me once again of the importance of opposing the reactionary scientism that has taken hold in increasingly large sections of the population.(1) This way of thinking manifests itself in a revival of many old stereotypes, clichés and damaging rigidities of cultural and social roles that once seemed on the verge of eradication, but are now back in vogue. What has given them a new lease on life is the supposed support they have in intuitive appeals to scientific knowledge and the bamboozling use of neurology, sophisticated statistical testing, and social psychology in order to underpin them. In the New Left period of Western politics it was seen as obvious that we would soon not only do away with racist and sexist structures and beliefs in our society, but overcome gender and race as parts of our conceptual apparatus altogether. Now very few indeed seem still to be interested in such a proposition of politics or even to deem it feasible. This is because the great counterrevolution in the West from the 1980s to now has been accompanied not only by a new pseudoscientific orthodoxy in economics and statecraft, but also in ideas about cultural norms and roles. ‘Scientific racism’, once seemingly utterly banished, is now making a creeping revival, and ‘scientific’ sexism is sold everywhere in mass market paperbacks. Few on the left, even in the radical parties and groups, make any real attempt at countering this or even providing a serious analysis of the arguments at hand. Instead, the focus is all too often on the outward sexist appearances of certain religious or cultural practices. This is justified enough of itself, but we must win the battle on all fronts, and that includes dispelling certain important ‘intuitions’ many people, even the middle class intelligentsia, now (again) have about gender and race. Read the rest of this entry »