Libya and Syria: "When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong"

This essay originally appeared on North Star. We post it here, not to endorse this view, but to engage it with substance.

Yesterday, Mike Ely wrote:

"The North Star site has published a series of essays that (essentially) argue that revolutionaries should support U.S. intervention in places where popular movements are struggling to overthrow oppressive dictators.

"Specifically Pham Binh wrote a piece called “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong.” It is the kind of piece that engages a key issue sharply and articulately.

'It is (in my opinion) deeply deeply wrong — in its conclusion and in its sequence of arguments one after another."

By Pham Binh


Reflexive opposition to Uncle Sam’s machinations abroad is generally a good thing. It is a progressive instinct that progressively declined in the 1990s, as presidents Bush Sr. and Clinton deftly deployed the U.S. military to execute “humanitarian” missions in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans and progressively increased in the 2000s, as Bush Jr. lurched from quagmire to disaster in transparent empire-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, what is generally good is not good in every case. The progressive instinct to oppose anything the U.S. government does abroad became anything but progressive once the Arab Spring sprang up in Libya and Syria, countries ruled by dictatorships on Uncle Sam’s hit list. When American imperialism’s hostility to the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to the Ghadafi and Assad regimes (their collaboration with Bush Jr.’s international torture ring notwithstanding), the Western left’s support for the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to American imperialism.

The moment the Syrian and Libyan revolutions demanded imperialist airstrikes and arms to neutralize the military advantage enjoyed by governments over revolutionary peoples, anti-interventionism became counter-revolutionary because it meant opposing aid to the revolution. Equivocal positions such as “revolution yes, intervention no” (the one I defended) were rendered utopian, abstract, and useless as a guide to action by this turn of events.

“Libyan Winter” Heats Up

To say that the Libyans were fortunate that anti-interventionists were too weak to block, disrupt, or affect NATO’s military campaign would be an understatement. Libya would look like Syria today if the anti-interventionists won at home in the West.

[ < caption left: By any means necessary, or by any means we in the West deem acceptable?]


In both cases, the Western left mistakenly prioritized its anti-imperialist principles over its internationalist duty to aid these revolutions by any means necessary. By any means necessary presumably includes aid from imperialist powers or other reactionary forces. If this presumption is wrong, then we are not for the victory of the oppressed by any means necessary and should remove those words from our vocabulary in favor of by any means we in the West deem acceptable.

When the going got tough and the F-16s got going over Libya, the revolution’s fairweather friends in the West disowned it, claiming it had been hijacked by NATO. Instead of substantiating this claim with evidence that NATO successfully pushed the Libyans aside and seized control of their war against Ghadafi, the Western left instead 1) focused on the alleged misdeeds of the National Transitional Council (NTC) and 2) hid behind phrases such as “Libyan Winter” and “civil war,” implying that the Arab Spring in Libya froze the instant NATO jumped in and that neither the rebels nor Ghadafi deserved anyone’s support.

Both evasions of the central issue – that NATO’s air campaign had mass support among revolutionary Libyans which was faithfully reflected by the NTC’s stand against foreign invasion and for foreign airstrikes – were very serious methodological mistakes that only a handful of commentators managed to avoid, Clay Claiborne of Occupy LA being the most prominent. Far from freezing over, the struggle in Libya became a long hot summer of multifaceted conflict with international, conventional military, tribal, and underground dimensions that eventually culminated in Ghadafi’s grisly execution, raising and personalizing the stakes for Assad.

Anti-imperialists were so focused on the NTC’s cooperation with NATO, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and repressive Arab governments that they were as blindsided as Ghadafi was when forces independent of NTC control – Berber militias in Western Libya and underground networks in Tripoli – overthrew his regime in a surprise move on August 20. The NTC that the Western left portrayed as all-powerful due to its CIA and Arab state patronage was not able to move into Tripoli for weeks afterwards. To this day, the NTC has not disarmed rebel fighters, contrary to the confident predictions born of anti-imperial hubris by anti-interventionists who sought to convince us that the revolution was a mirage and that the West’s pawns chosen from above were firmly in control of post-Ghadafi Libya.

Broken Records Lead to Broken Crystal Balls

When NATO launched airstrikes in Libya, the anti-interventionists heard the same pretexts about human rights and freedom used to justify wars for empire and oil in Afghanistan and Iraq. This identical stimulus triggered an identical reaction – they used the contradictions and hypocritical flaws in the official rationales for intervention as the basis for opposing NATO’s action – just as Pavlov’s dogs reacted as if they were being fed when they heard a bell ring, regardless of whether any food was actually served.

This conditioned reaction to the broken record of justifications led anti-interventionists to conclude that NATO’s end of the Libyan war would resemble the Afghan and Iraq wars and so their case against intervention was built around the following predictions: was simply not a factor for them.

This image became very popular among Western leftists prior to NATO’s intervention. Revolutionary Libyans did not feel that U.N.-backed airstrikes constituted foreign intervention, a term they used to describe invasion and other forms of unwanted imperialist meddling. The Western left disregarded the thoughts and feelings of their Libyan comrades and called for an end to NATO airstrikes against Ghadafi’s forces.

The driving force behind the military offensive by Berber militias in western Libya that was timed to coincide with the surprise uprising in Tripoli that ousted Ghadafi was not NATO. NATO did not organize the underground network of neighborhood cells in Tripoli that penetrated Ghadafi’s secret police. And NATO certainly did not pick August 20, the day Muhammad entered Mecca, as the day to launch a risky grassroots insurrection in Tripoli.

Hammered by NATO’s airpower from above, by the Berbers from without, and by revolutionaries from below, Ghadafi’s forces in Tripoli melted away. The “Libyan Winter” proved to be the hottest chapter of the Arab Spring thus far.

Post-War Libya

Rebels who stormed Ghadafi’s Tripoli compound were eager to expose his regime’s relationship with imperialist powers and one of their commanders sued the British foreign minister for handing him over to Ghadafi to be tortured, hardly the acts of anyone on the CIA payroll.

Events shortly after Ghadafi was toppled provide even more evidence that the revolution was not hijacked by NATO. When rebels stormed Ghadafi’s compound, they were quick to show Western reporters the dictator’s scrap book featuring himself arm-in-arm with Condoleeza Rice. A top rebel commander publicly accused the British government of handing him over to Ghadai’s regime to be tortured right before he filed a lawsuit against Jack Straw, Britain’s former Foreign Minister for authorizing the rendition. The new Libyan government refused to hand over Ghadafi’s son Saif to the International Criminal Court (now it has even arrested their lawyers), the body responsible for dispensing NATO’s “justice” to Slobodan Milosevic. No U.S or NATO bases have been established in Libya unlike in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

In other words, Libyan sovereignty emerged from the revolution intact despite NATO’s involvement. This would not be the case if NATO was directly or indirectly in charge of Libya or set up some sort of neocolonial regime.

The bottom line is that the bulk of the Western left could not bring itself to wholeheartedly support a democratic revolution that co-opted foreign intervention for its own ends. The revolution landed safe and sound at a qualitatively more democratic destination precisely because control of the revolution never left Libyan hands.

Today, Libyans enjoy freedom of speech, freedom to protest and organize, and most importantly, freedom from fear of state repression. The Western left ought to join the revolutionary masses of the Arab and North African world in celebrating this historic victory, not isolate ourselves from them by mourning (or slandering) it.

Instead of trying to learn from their mistakes, the anti-interventionists simply moved on to Syria to make the same errors without a second thought about why the reality of post-intervention Libya looked nothing like their dire forecasts. This willful blindness makes them incapable of understanding why any Arab revolutionary in their right mind would look to Libya as a model, why Syrians would chant, “Bye, bye Ghadafi, Bashar your turn is coming!” while crowds in Tahrir Square chant, “If they want to be Syria, we’ll give them Libya” in response to the Egyptian military’s latest power grab.

The Main Enemy In Syria

The anti-interventionists are repeating their mistakes over the Libyan revolution blunder-for-blunder over the Syria revolution. In place of their attacks on the Libyan NTC, they denounce the Syrian Nation Council (SNC); they dwell on the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) U.S. backing, just as they painted Libya’s rebels as tools of the CIA; instead of “hands off Libya,” they put forward the slogan “hands off Syria,” as if Syria’s death squads were Uncle Sam’s handiwork and not Assad’s.

Hyperbolic condemnations of the FSA, SNC, or the coordinating committees do nothing for Syrians whose lives do not depend on the anti-imperialist credentials of these groups but on whatever assistance they can provide. Similarly, criticisms that the Syrian revolution should rely less on armed struggle and more on strikes by workers have a questionable relationship to reality at best. Since when has a strike ever stopped a death squad from breaking down a door and murdering a sleeping family or prevented a civilian neighborhood from being shelled by artillery? Does anyone seriously believe that the Syrian struggle is being led astray by trigger-happy gunmen (most of whom are working for Assad, not against him)?

German socialist Karl Liebknecht wrote an anti-war leafleft in 1915 under the title, “The Main Enemy Is At Home!”

Our first duty in the West is to do whatever we can to aid, abet, and provide material support for our Syrian brothers’ and sisters’ fight against the Assad regime. Our main enemy is at home in the West, but theirs is not. Washington, D.C. is not sending death squads door-to-door to execute women and children, the regime in Damascus is; the Pentagon is not shelling civilian targets and killing journalists in Homs, the regime in Damascus is. Their main enemy is at home, just as ours is.


This grim reality must be our starting point in any discussion about Syria, not a hypothetical U.S. military action down the road, the contours of which cannot be known in advance. We cannot have the same attitude towards U.S. airstrikes on Assad’s forces and a full-scale ground invasion of Syria because their impact on and implications for the revolution would be completely different. The contours of imperialist intervention must shape our attitude towards it. Sending the FSA small arms and anti-tank missiles or video cameras is not the same as sending American marines into the streets of Damascus, although they are all forms of U.S. intervention.

Syrian revolutionaries know damn well what atrocities Uncle Sam is capable of – Iraq is right next door – and the Arab world knows better than we in the West ever will what the colonial boot feels like. To lecture them of perils and pitfalls they know better than we do is to insult their intelligence. To pretend that we know the dangers of dealing with imperialist devils better than Third World revolutionaries do is a kind of white anti-imperialist’s burden, and its arrogant paternalism is just as misguided as its colonialist antipode.

We have no business criticizing the SNC, FSA, or the coordinating committees unless and until we have fulfilled our first duty by matching our words of solidarity with deeds and acts that can make a difference in the revolution’s outcome, however small they might seem.

Self-Determination and Intervention

The biggest obstacle to Syrian self-determination today is the Assad regime which increasingly rests on Russian bayonets drenched in Syrian blood. He is determined to stay in power by any means necessary and will not rest until their struggle for self-determination (which is what a democratic revolution is) is buried, in mass graves if need be. Respect for Syrian self-determination means respecting how Syrian revolutionaries organize their struggle and their choices even when they conflict with our own preferences and choices.

If Syrian revolutionaries ask for Western airstrikes because they lack an air force to counter the Assad regime militarily, who are we to oppose those airstrikes? Who are we to tell them that all-out defeat is better than the triumph of a revolution “tainted” by an unavoidable compromise with imperialists powers? Who are we to tell them they must face Russian helicopter gunships without imperialist aid because “the revolution will be won by Syrians themselves or it won’t be won at all”? Do we really want our Syrian brothers and sisters to confront tanks with rocks and slingshots as so many Palestinians have?

While the Western left is raising a hue and cry over the minimal aid Syria’s rebels receive from the CIA and reactionary Gulf states, Russia is overtly ramping up its military aid to Assad. Whether we like it or not, the struggle between the Syrian revolution and Assad’s counter-revolution has been internationalized just as the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 was. The Western left in those days demanded foreign intervention in the form of arms, military aid, and volunteers for the Spanish Republic. The anti-interventionists (mostly fascists or fascist sympathizers) were more than happy to see the Republic starved in the name of “non-intervention” while Hitler bombed Guernica and did everything possible to ensure Franco’s victory.

Those who oppose Western military action today against Assad in the context of a revolution that has developed into a full-blown civil war where segments of the revolution and the people are begging for foreign arms, aid, and airstrikes while the counter-revolution imports arms to slaughter them follow in the anti-interventionist footsteps of the Spanish Republic’s opponents whether they are aware of it or not.

“Hands off Syria” should be the slogan raised at demonstrations in front of Russian embassies and consulates around the world, not the one directed at foreign powers aiding the rebels lest we become little better than Assad’s unwitting executioners in the eyes of revolutionary Syrians. Instead of focusing our fire on the shortcomings of the SNC, FSA, and the coordinating committees, we should be organizing events and fund-raisers for humanitarian relief, fact-finding missions, and video and communications equipment with the aim of smuggling it into Syria. These activities are already taking place but not with the participation of the Western left since we are more worried about our precious anti-imperialist principles and hypothetical Libya-style airstrikes (as if the outcome there was a step backward and not a step forward) than tackling the ugly realities of the Syrian revolution whose straits become more desperate with each passing hour.

We fiddle furiously while Syria burns and Syrians bleed.

The most important thing for the Western left to do is to forge close and enduring relationships with revolutionary Syrians living abroad by demonstrating our unequivocal support for their revolution through deeds, through joint work with their communities. Only in that context and on that basis can criticisms we have about deals with U.S. imperialism or mistakes made by the SNC, FSA, and the coordinating committees gain a hearing among the people who count: revolutionary Syrians.

One way to begin building these relationships would be to organize forums and debates over the question of intervention with revolutionary Syrians of various shades of opinion. The single most embarrassing aspect of the Western left’s opposition to NATO’s Libya operation was the way revolutionary Libyans were barred from Libya forums organized by anti-interventionists.

This outrage was the absurd but logical outcome of the white anti-imperialist’s burden, a burden we must cast aside if we hope to act in concert with the Arab Spring.


The Western left should reject knee-jerk anti-imperialism because its unthinking, blind, reflexive, natureput us at odds with the interests and explicit demands of first the Libyan and now the Syrian revolutionary peoplesand in line with the interests of their mortal enemies.

Knee-jerk anti-imperialism leads to our enemies doing our thinking for us: whatever Uncle Sam wants, we oppose; whatever Uncle Sam opposes, we want. This method plays right into U.S. imperialism’s hands because the last thing Uncle Sam wants is a thinking enemy.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Binh

    The argument is that it would be a mistake to try to stop imperialist airstrikes on counter-revolutionary forces, not that "revolutionaries [in the U.S.] should support U.S. intervention in places where popular movements are struggling to overthrow oppressive dictators," a phrase that is devoid of time, place, context, as well as thorough and concrete analysis of a given intervention and its form which is the key to figuring this question out. I elaborated on this in a subsequent post written in response to Paul D'amato:

    Thank you for publishing my piece despite whatever deep disagreements exist. If only the left would embrace Kasama's methods for hashing these questions out publicly and openly, we'd be a lot better off.

  • <blockquote>"The argument is that it would be a mistake to try to stop imperialist airstrikes on counter-revolutionary forces, not that “revolutionaries [in the U.S.] should support U.S. intervention in places where popular movements are struggling to overthrow oppressive dictators,” a phrase that is devoid of time, place, context, as well as thorough and concrete analysis of a given intervention and its form which is the key to figuring this question out."</blockquote>

    I welcome the clarification Binh, though I think you are making a distinction without a difference.

    And it is consistent with the method in your whole piece -- which splits hairs endlessly, in an attempt to claim that supporting the U.S. military in a third world intervention can (somehow) not only serve the interests of the people, but be an obligation (!) of revolutionaries <em>in the U.S.</em>

    This is one of the most basic and important questions of any revolutionary movement: Do you support the government and this system or don't you? Do you see what their interests are, and the criminal nature of their actions, or don't you?

    All my life, I have seen how in popular movements the most basic goals are controversial. In ironic ways, it has been controversial to be antiwar in the antiwar movement. It has been controversial to be communist in the communist movement. And so I'm not surprised that someone writes (for audiences of communists, revolutionaries, and socialists) that we should support the U.S. military in its previous attack on Libya, and then even urges pre-support (!) for a not-yet-existent U.S. attack on Iran's ally government in Syria.

    (Is this argument the leftist pre-stage to supporting coming Israeli/U.S. attacks on Iran? And which of your arguments here can't be applied there?)

    <strong>To be clear, here is my view: </strong><ul>

    We should not support U.S. military attacks around the world. We should not support U.S. bases, fleets, drones, nukes intruding into the lives of people around the world.

    We should support the isolation, defeat and dismantling of the U.S. military (not its <em>murderous deployment</em> in the troubled spots of empire). "Yankee Go Home!"

    We should politically expose this military, its purposes, its goals, and its nature -- not portray it as a possible force for good.

    We should not create public opinion for its next possible attacks in the next zone of civil conflicts.

    We should create public opinion for the future political dismantling of the U.S. military as an institution (and for its systematic removal around the world, the destruction of its nukes, the trial and punishment of its leading war criminals). Where the Pentagon stands, we should hope for a salted field of the kind that surrounded ancient Carthage. </ul>

    <b>On a few specific arguments</b>

    Let me sketch some initial issues (and because of a lack of time, I hope others will also engage).

    <strong>Starting with insult for your opponents
    You start by saying

    <blockquote>"Reflexive opposition to Uncle Sam’s machinations abroad is generally a good thing. It is a progressive instinct that...."</blockquote>

    Since you go on to reject such opposition, it is worth noting that this very phrasing is loaded.

    Our opposition to U.S. imperialism is here described as "reflexive" and "instinct" and later as "a broken record" -- as if we are unnuanced, mechanical and even unthinking, as if we don't consider specific circumstances, and are just coasting on gut feelings and autopilot.

    And as if the analysis you are about to present is, by contrast, thoughtful and engaged with reality.

    So you start basically by calling anyone who is anti-imperialist (essentially) a meathead indifferent to reality and specifics.

    I think your remarks here are as mistaken as they are rude.

    <strong>It is counterrevolutionary to oppose U.S. imperialism?! Hmmmmm.
    You write:

    <blockquote>"The moment the Syrian and Libyan revolutions demanded imperialist airstrikes and arms to neutralize the military advantage enjoyed by governments over revolutionary peoples, anti-interventionism became counter-revolutionary because it meant opposing aid to the revolution."</blockquote>

    This jumbles everything up.

    First, supporting the U.S. government (here in the U.S.) is counterrevolutionary, because we intend to make a revolution against them. Any movement that is not clear on that, cannot and will not ever train forces to make a revolution.

    One of the key tasks of any revolutionary movement is to systematically expose the core institutions, figures and interests that define the existing system. It is an inflexible task. When the German revolutionaries said during World War 1 "The main enemy is at home" -- they were saying that their political exposure had to be aimed at the <em>German</em> imperialists, at the <em>German</em> justifications of war aims, at the <em>German</em> governments pretenses of democracy and anti-autocracy etc. Why? Because they intended to mobilize forces to overthrow the <em>German</em> Kaiser and the capitalist system <em>in Germany</em>. People in other countries (say Russia, or France) had other tasks -- because (obviously) if a Russian socialist focused mainly on exposing <em>German</em> imperialism's oppressive nature it would (objectively, in the real world of politics) mean encouraging the Russian war effort and <em>strengthening</em> the Russian Tsar.

    We have a special and distinct task in regard to U.S. imperialism -- we are in the belly of this beast, in the heart of the empire -- and the demmagogic claims of the government here have great influence among the people. (When the Hillaries and Reagans of the world portray the U.S. as a force for good, and for "democracy," and for ending torture, and for popular sovereignty.... and when people believe "The U.S. might not always be good, but it is certainly better than a Saddam, or an Assad, or a Ghaddafi, or a Breznev, or.....") These are the illusions that surround us, and we have a <em>special</em> task to oppose them (in a long term, ongoing, systematic, and tireless way).

    Second, there may be rebellions against established governments in Syria and Libya, but their tactical choices hardly define (for us) what we should say about this empire and its military.

    I can't control what political forces do in Libya or Syria. But I can tell you that <em>regardless</em> of what anyone says, anywhere in the world, we will oppose U.S. imperialism. (When rightists controlled the Chinese foreign ministry and urged a tactical alliance internationally with U.S. imperialism, revolutionaries in the U.S. opposed them too.) There are even times when revolutionaries in distant places may find themselves in tactical alliances with reactionary powers (Mao and Ho took aid from the U.S. in WW2, the Vietnamese took aid from the USSR during their struggle for independence)... but no decision by anyone anywhere should lead revolutionaries in the U.S. to ally with U.S. imperialism. (And history is rich with examples of those who flirted with such pro-imperialist tactics, and the terrible consequences of that...)

    Third, you assume that the U.S. military intervention is somehow "aid" for revolutions in those countries.

    This is perhaps the key issue (and key illusion) to discuss in depth (which I will not deal with much at the moment.)

    The U.S. military (which is the single largest force of murder and oppression in world history) exists to serve and defend U.S. imperialism. When it enters <em>anywhere</em> it is to extend U.S. power (and the larger purposes of U.S. state policy and capitalist interests). <em>If</em> it enters a conflict around the world, it does so to serve those interests (and IT WILL serve those interests). Sometimes the U.S. fails in its policy goals, sometimes its military actions fail (than-gawd). But their purpose and intent is to deepen the U.S. grip on key and strategic parts of the world, prevent genuine revolution, prevent the rise of non-revolutionary but anti-U.S. forces, force intrusion of U.S. economic interests and so on.

    We oppose that. We do not want the U.S. empire strengthened. We do not want the U.S. to have a say in who emerges in Syria and Iraq. We do not want them to be able to mascarade as defenders of popular aspirations anywhere. We need to oppose their efforts and (in the process) expose their nature (to anyone we can reach).

    The military entrance of the U.S. imperialists is (objectively and inevitably) the intrusion of American interests and power -- and (especially in fragile, undefined and chaotic political situations) they intentionally skew and transform the entire situation. they encourage pro-U.S. puppet forces to emerge, they corrupt and compromise those who were not previously inclined that way, they attach threads to everything (including debts, trainers, etc) as political-military forces <em>on the ground</em> become dependent (for their day to day survival) on <em>imperialist</em> actions (and therefore inevitably obedient to imperialist demands, or even hints).

    <b>Supporting U.S. attacks is internationalist duty?!</b>

    You write:

    <blockquote>"In both cases, the Western left mistakenly prioritized its anti-imperialist principles over its internationalist duty to aid these revolutions by any means necessary. By any means necessary presumably includes aid from imperialist powers or other reactionary forces."</blockquote>

    This is wrong in its basic point. And I have to say that (by quoting Malcolm in this shameful way) is one of the most demagogic statements I have seen in a long time.

    First: We cannot and do not take as our first priority solving the specific and immediate horrors created by this system. If we could solve such problems <em>under this system</em> and by supporting the government and U.S. military -- why would anyone need a revolution?

    In fact most problems of this society <em>can't</em> be solved under this system -- the horrors of war, the massacre of rebels, the torture by governments, the homelessness of millions, the rape by priests and patriarchs.

    And (to be very clear) every determined reformist in the universe has argued "You act like you don't care about xxxx." And the urgency of xxxx is raised as their argument for a) voting for the Democratic Party, b) supporting the empires drone strikes, c) joining the "fight against terrorism," whatever....

    After all, we don't have power. So (IF our main priority is to solve each horrific problem of the system in real time) who else do we have to rely on and turn to? The U.S. imperialists who (whatever else is true) have vast power and the instruments of projection.

    You claim that on some general plane it is fine to oppose U.S. imperialism and its intervention, but you claim that in <em>specific</em> moments we should be open to supporting it. This makes a general and strategic approach impossible, and in fact breaks up time into smaller and smaller moments where our politics are inappropriate. No. We don't have to shift with every micro-moment around the world. We should support popular uprisings against oppressive governments (including in China, Iran, Syria, Libya, Greece, Egypt, etc. etc.) but we should be firm, strategic and consistent in our opposition to U.S. imperialism. (<em>That</em> is our <em>special</em> responsibility for reasons having to do with both our position in the world and our particular task within world history.)

    Politics and tactics <em>should</em> be reconsidered (and at times considered moment to moment), but that consideration should be in the context and framework of our strategic goals -- which are (to repeat) overthrowing U.S. imperialism and all class society.

    We do not have some hysterical or overriding responsibility to do whatever we can <em>in every situation of suffering</em> real-time around the world.

    And (if we adopted that standard) we would become aides to Hillary Clinton -- because then we would seek out those wings of the bourgeoisie who were (somehow) <em>seeming</em> to side with change elements, and we would support them. However what you discover is that they only support "change elements" in places where the U.S. has been relatively squeezed out, and their "support" is really cooptation and counterinsurgency (made in the guise of "supporting democracy).

    We can and should have a general sympathy for oppressed people when they rise up. We can and will provide political support from afar (in the ways we can).

    But we also can and should have a general (and militant) hostility when the U.S. wades into a complex conflict to pursue their sinister global interests.

    <b>A note on raw demagoguery</b>

    You end your piece with this argument:

    <blockquote>"Knee-jerk anti-imperialism leads to our enemies doing our thinking for us: whatever Uncle Sam wants, we oppose; whatever Uncle Sam opposes, we want. This method plays right into U.S. imperialism’s hands because the last thing Uncle Sam wants is a thinking enemy."</blockquote>

    Notice, this is an argument for <em>supporting</em> U.S. military intervention, in the name of being a "thinking enemy" to U.S. imperialism.

    We must (supposedly) free ourselves from <em>opposing</em> U.S. imperialism, so that we are not slaves to opposing <em>their</em> attempts to brutalize and dominate the world. And by <em>supporting</em> U.S. attacks we have become "thinking enemies" of U.S. imperialism.

    My jaw has dropped. This is one of the most amazing twisted feats of doublethink i have seen in a long time.

    As stalin said "Paper will put up with anything."

    Then there is the argument that our tactical view should be defined by Malcolm X's phrase "by any means necessary" -- and that this should imply that we can't rule out the "means" of supporting drones (or presumably nukes) when the U.S. wants to topple or bully some third world dictator.

    First, our tactical views are not confined to any single phrase, in some simple-minded formulaic way. Tactics involves situating actions and forms of struggle <em>within our strategic goals</em> so that what we <em>do</em> serves the <em>road</em> we are trying to pursue.

    But, more important, when Malcolm talked about "by any means necessary" -- he was raising the question of using violence in the struggle against the oppression of people, against police dogs, against lynch mobs, and ultimately against the U.S. imperialist state.

    And it is (perhaps) worth it to quote this famous and quite revolutionary phrase from 1965 <em>in its actual context</em>:
    "We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary."</blockquote>

    To twist his words like this, to argue that "by any means necessary" can be a slogan for <em>supporting</em> U.S. drone and air strikes <em>in Arab countries</em> (of all things) -- is outrageous.

    And I note that one of your captions said

    <blockquote>" By any means necessary, or by any means we in the West deem acceptable?"</blockquote>

    This implies that <em>opposing</em> U.S. imperialism "in the West" is somehow connected to privilege and chauvinism, and that opposing U.S. imperialism is a luxury that people outside "the West" somehow can't afford... so that we ("in the West") should <em>support</em> U.S. imperialism (and its attacks in Arab countries) as a way of breaking with our own arrogance of "the West."

    I find such an argument amazing in its use of identity politics moralism in defense of <em>pro</em>-imperialist politics. Essentially: we (being people literally situated "in the West") should not think at all, abutnd should simply adopt what random political forces in the Third World are calling for, even if it would strengthen U.S. imperialism.

    You should be ashamed of yourself for such demagogic twisting of logic and Malcolm's noble phrase.

    <strong>I don't have time for more. but will check in later.</strong>

  • Guest - Gary

    This is so entirely wrong I don't know where to begin. Just to get started:

    <blockquote>"Reflexive opposition to Uncle Sam’s machinations abroad is generally a good thing. It is a progressive instinct that progressively declined in the 1990s, as presidents Bush Sr. and Clinton deftly deployed the U.S. military to execute “humanitarian” missions in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans and progressively increased in the 2000s, as Bush Jr. lurched from quagmire to disaster in transparent empire-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq."</blockquote>

    Excuse me? 

    Iraq wasn’t a question of lurching into disaster, which is another way of saying it was a “mistake.” It was a crime that wasn’t lurched into but carefully planned through protracted preparations including a massive disinformation campaign directed at the people of the U.S. It’s not a question of POLICY that we critique; it’s a question of the SYSTEM we want to overthrow. Because (among other things) everything it touches and creates winds up being used towards its essentially anti-human ends.

    Even in its most “successful” and anti-fascist instances (such as the occupation of Japan) what did U.S. imperialism do but consolidate its position versus popular movements all over the world?


    "However, what is generally good is not good in every case. The progressive instinct to oppose anything the U.S. government does abroad became anything but progressive once the Arab Spring sprang up in Libya and Syria, countries ruled by dictatorships on Uncle Sam’s hit list."</blockquote>

    No. Libya was NOT on the U.S. hit list as of last year. Gadhafy had a cordial first-name relationship with U.S. intelligence officers; Richard Perle had repeatedly visited; Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi were friends. He was targeted by Sarkozy because as French president he wanted to shrewdly deal with the phenomenon of the “Arab Spring” (having supported the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators) and pose as a friend of Arab peoples as he anticipated Gadhafy’s inevitable downfall (while also making amends to the U.S. for France’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq). The U.S. military establishment was not initially keen on involvement at all but Obama was drawn into it due to pressure from European allies and Congress. Libya had been on the “hit list” mentioned by Gen. Wesley Clark based on his post-9/11 conversation with colleagues at the Pentagon. But it had been taken off that list after negotiating the end to its WMD program and the resolution to the Lockerbee issue.

    And as Binh mentions, Syria had cooperated in the U.S.’s “renditions” and torture program after 9/11. Syria had cooperated with the U.S. during the first Gulf War and Hafez Assad was reportedly admired by the first Pres. Bush. The Israelis feared and attacked Syria but also could come up with not better alternative to support versus his secular Baathist government.


    "When American imperialism’s hostility to the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to the Ghadafi and Assad regimes (their collaboration with Bush Jr.’s international torture ring notwithstanding), the Western left’s support for the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to American imperialism."</blockquote>

    What is the “Arab Spring”? Any movement against any Arab dictator? Even if those leading it, or a faction of it supported by the U.S. and its allies, are totally fucked up? Should the left support any movement, even knowing nothing about it, or even suspecting it's been coopted, in order to somehow stand with a general trend of Middle Eastern change---even though we know that powerful people in the U.S. government (especially associated with the neoconservatives) have been hoping and praying for regionwide "regime change" favorable to the U.S. and Israel for many years?


    "The moment the Syrian and Libyan revolutions demanded imperialist airstrikes and arms to neutralize the military advantage enjoyed by governments over revolutionary peoples, anti-interventionism became counter-revolutionary because it meant opposing aid to the revolution."</blockquote>

    What sort of “revolution” has occurred in Libya?

    What I see is tribalism, separatism, Islamism including a new base for al-Qaeda, the inability of the “liberal” victors in the election to establish a government, the murder and deportation of black Africans….

    Why should the U.S. left have supported those who sought and gleefully accepted NATO bombing---bombing that alarmed not just the civilian victims but Vatican representatives and Russian and Chinese workers who documented the fact that this was NOT an intervention to protect civilians but active siding with one side in a civil war? A side that has not shown it is any better than the Gadhafy regime---which actually could boast of some achievements?

  • Guest - andrewraygorman

    The US government intervening would not result in a revolution. There is such a thing as humanitarian intervention, but it can not be done by a country which has a track record of spreading its own capitalist empire. The group of rebels which the US wishes to help are not the same rebels that we, as communists, should be helping. How can the greatest purveyor of evil assist the international proletariat?

    Charlie Skelton, writer for The Guardian, writes*:<blockquote>
    "Last year, the Washington Post picked up a story from WikiLeaks, which had published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables. These cables appear to show a remarkable flow of money from the US state department to the British-based Movement for Justice and Development. According to the Washington Post's report: "Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified US diplomatic cables show that the state department has funnelled as much as $6m to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria."

    A state department spokesman responded to this story by saying: "Trying to promote a transformation to a more democratic process in this society is not undermining necessarily the existing government." And they're right, it's not "necessarily" that."
    *The Syrian opposition: who's doing the talking? ~ Charlie Skelton

  • Guest - carldavidson

    Phan Binh is on a slippery slope. Once the US left's anti-interventionism--US, NATO Hands off Syria!--is counter-revolutionary, where does one turn for allies? They are out there, and they will be singing a siren song.

    What happened to Christopher Hitchens is a case in point. He hated Saddam Hussein much as Assad is hated in this context, and had Iraqi friends killed by Saddam, when Saddam went after the Iraqi communists, who were largely Shia. The US had its own geo-political objectives in getting rid of Saddam (even though they turned out to be poor ones), and Hitchens was pulled along in their wake. Let's hope Pham stops at the brink, and changes course.

    Otherwise, there's a whole batch of NeoCons more than willing to feather a nest, especially if he comes to see all his former comrades, as 'counter-revolutionary.'

  • Guest - Binh

    Does anyone here think Malcolm X would have hesitated to take a gun from the CIA to shoot the Klansman on his porch? I don't think so. He certainly had no problem asking for and receiving protection from the NYPD when he believed (correctly) that the Nation of Islam would try to kill him. Was he any less revolutionary for this "alliance" with (or "support for") the NYPD, an arm of the American state? Again, I don't think so.

    You write, "Mao and Ho took aid from the U.S. in WW2, the Vietnamese took aid from the USSR during their struggle for independence)… but no decision by anyone anywhere should lead revolutionaries in the U.S. to ally with U.S. imperialism."

    So should we have opposed arming Ho Chi Minh and Mao during WWII in the name of "anti-imperialism"? Should we have tried to block those arms shipments?

  • Guest - carldavidson


    I've used your argument here myself to urge using the National Guard to oppose KKK-Types attacking Black kids during the Boston busing crisis. In that context, given the actual movements and forces in play, it mattered.

    But all analogies fall apart, and this one certainly does in Syria. First of all, there is no Ho or Mao there, and the Syrian left is itself divided. It's a civil war aggravated by the US and others going after Iran. Or will you back intervention and arming of 'insurgents' there too?

    Here's a case. When the Serbs were committing mass slaughter against Bosnians and Albanians, I argued that small arms should be made available to the anti-Serb forces, but I opposed Clinton's idea of 'assistance,' which was to bomb the Serbs. Hitchens and I were on the same page on that one, but later we parted company, when he went off the deep end on Iraq. Before then, we were friends and kept in touch. No so afterwards. There's a line here you don't want to cross, bridges you don't want to burn.

    The U.S will always aim and try act in its interests, not the interests of those it is 'helping.' Even if you are in a tacit alliance, you have to distinguish your line from the line of your own bourgeoisie. Take bin Laden. I've argued that it's a just cause for him to be neutralized and put out of business via collective security around the world, including the involvement of US security forces. But I also argued that it was dead wrong and unjust to invade and bomb Afghanistan to do so.

    Finally, keep some perspective here. You and I have no influence whatsoever on the outcome of this one way or another in any practical terms. It would be nice if we were a major factor, but we're not. And not being on the ground there, you and I have very little idea of what's really going on, or the deeper games being played. It's best to rachet the level of rhetoric down a few pegs here. We can still discuss the matter and learn from it want we can--but it's not about us at the moment. No need to get pompous on a high horse.

  • Guest - maju00

    I didn't like this article, Binh: it is too one-sided.

    In Libya I did not support foreign intervention and although I supported the rebellion for whatever it was worth, I still do not support the bombings. Not the less because depleted uranium is a very sad and harmful legacy, in Bosnia, as in Kosovo, as in Iraq, as in Gaza, as in Libya now. And not the less because the rebels were and are often Islamists, which is a reactionary ideology and a form of fascism at the extreme.

    In fact while I do support the Arab uprising and I understand that the old school dictatorships are over no matter what (but then what about Saudi Arabia, which is really the core of all Arab tyrannies?), I am most concerned about the fact that most of those "revolutionary" forces are Islamists, i.e. fascists (or at the best right wing "moderate" rectionaries).

    They are not Left forces, even if there are also some weak Left and class forces at work. This is in the end a bourgeois revolution and, like all bourgeois revolutions, it is manned by brainwashed workers.

    In the case of Syria the social division and the lack of actual information is huge. We do not know what fraction of what the Western media says is true, if anything at all. We do see Syrians fighting each other not only in Syria but also in Lebanon and even at my hometown (a local kebab is Syrian-managed and the two partners had a violent fight on political matters, I understand): Assad has support even if also opposition. Why? Because Baathism (and Syrian Baathism is the left wing, while Iraq's was the right wing) is probably the most progressive force in the Arab World: secularist, socialist... even if authoritarian (old school).

    Baathism (secular Arab nationalism) is also a historical threat against all major players: Israel, Saudi Arabia, US imperialism, Turkey and Iran (even if Syria and Iran are allies this is a matter of circumstances, not ideology). It is the most Western-like kind of regime in all the region incidentally, specially since the Islamists took over Turkey.

    But what I truly don't like is your comparison with the Spanish Civil War. The Condor Legion of this war, if any, would be the US and Turkish planes bombing Syria with depleted uranium and other criminal weapons. And Assad government, like the Spanish Republic, is the legitimate government so far, even if the legitimacy is in question.

    I imagine that it will collapse in short time because the opposition is well armed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and the USA and it's clear that old school authoritarian regimes are obsolete (beware China!) but I won't support any foreign intervention, certainly not for those who cry "Allah u akbar!"

    Islamism is not a progressive force but (in the Sunni case) the tentacles of Saudi Arabia and hence of the US-Zionist Empire. We must only support secularist forces, if any.

  • Guest - jere14

    My internet sources (CounterPsyOps, etc) tell me that in fact the Free Syria Army is a proxy for western Imperialism and the sources appear completely credible. I am not commenting on the goodness or badness of Assad. I make the point that Syria is the remaining bulwark against Western and Zionist hegemonic takeover, left among Arab states. Syria is the only benefactor state for the Palestinians as well, that in itself lends credibility. Syria is a gateway to Iran and complete western domination of the Mideast. The Assad name, starting with his father, is so vilified that even Jordanians, etc. reflexively oppose him. The United States is master of propaganda, and they can and do make any dictator including petty tyrants who may even have benign aspects (e.g.,Qadaffi) into Stalineque figures. I see almost the entire Progressive internet community falling for this propaganda trap lock, stock, and barrel. I request Pham Binh to check out other Internet sources such as CounterPsyOps, Webster Tarpley, the Voltaire Network, etc.

  • Guest - Systemic Disorder

    I don't have much to add to the critiques above, as the basic ideas are expressed very well. I do note it is quite inconceivable for the CIA to offer arms to Malcolm X or anybody like him — Binh, let's not stretch the analogies past the breaking point.

    "Humanitarian bombing" is an impossibility. NATO was the Kosovo Liberation Army's air force during the breakup of Yugoslavia; NATO was the air force for the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya. If the U.S./NATO intervenes in Syria, for whom will it be the air force? None of us have an understanding of what the true lineup of forces in Syria. Who or what would be supported? What is happening in Syria is a civil war. That is unquestionably a tragedy, and the Assad regime is most responsible. But what progressive forces exist there? If the current regime is going to be replaced by an Islamic dictatorship or some other reactionary government, why should we support that? In what way would that be an improvement over Assad?

    In the past, there were significant Left forces in the Arab world and in Iran. It is the U.S. that was the principal agent for wiping out the Middle Eastern Left. Without a Left, there is nothing organized to oppose Arab (generally U.S.-backed) dictators except reactionary organizations. The same U.S. that did all in its power to destroy any progressive alternative is now suddenly the great hope that will spread goodness? It will take a far greater ability to forget the past than I have to conceive of such an "idea."

    Binh finishes by writing: "the last thing Uncle Sam wants is a thinking enemy." Blinding oneself to the entirety of history by supporting U.S. military interventions can not be further removed from being a "thinking enemy."

  • I reread Pham's post today several times. There are many important issues here, but I would like to raise one about thinking.

    Pham makes a point (as I mentioned above) of describing anti-imperialists as unthinking actors -- operating by "instinct" as a "broken record." He even compares us to dogs salivating on command at one point.

    Ok. I answered that this was untrue. We are quite capable of thinking, thank you very much.

    But what struck me is that he is also ultimately arguing that <em>his</em> position should be adopted without thinking -- in a way I would like to unravel.

    The key sentence (methodologically) says:

    <blockquote>"If Syrian revolutionaries ask for Western airstrikes because they lack an air force to counter the Assad regime militarily, <em>who are we</em> to oppose those airstrikes?"[my italics]</blockquote>

    In other words, we (and I will get to the "we" here in a second) have <em>no right</em> to oppose U.S. bombing of a Third World military and government -- if some groupings of local political forces want them.

    And why do we have no right to oppose U.S. imperialism here? Because it presumes we know better than local political forces.

    <blockquote>"Syrian revolutionaries know damn well what atrocities Uncle Sam is capable of – Iraq is right next door – and the Arab world knows better than we in the West ever will what the colonial boot feels like. To lecture them of perils and pitfalls they know better than we do is to insult their intelligence. To pretend that we know the dangers of dealing with imperialist devils better than Third World revolutionaries do is a kind of white anti-imperialist’s burden, and its arrogant paternalism is just as misguided as its colonialist antipode."</blockquote>

    There are many layers of wrongness here.

    First, it invents a category of "Syrian revolutionaries" who presumably "know damn well" all kinds of things. There are no interests discussed (particularly class or religious sectarian interests).

    In fact, of course, many political forces in the third world <em>both</em> know what the U.S. is capable of, and want it to intervene on their side (and prop them up). And there are class and ethnic forces who simply think U.S. intervention is in their interests.

    Second, there is is no law of nature that people in the Third World just "know" (i.e. understand the nature of) U.S. imperialism simply by virtue of living in a poor country. People don't automatically know their interests, and they don't automatically know how the world works, and even people in colonial countries don't automatically know what U.S. imperialism is and what it will bring about if unleashed.

    Third, some group of local political leaders speaking to the western/world media don't automatically represent the people of Syria, or the interests of the oppressed masses of Syria. To act like no one has any right to contradict demands and calls emerging from Syria is naive at best. <em>All kinds</em> of political forces and programs emerge in crisis and uprisings -- and they are capable of making all kinds of schemes and demands (based on their immediate interest and views).

    Fourth, this quote makes a remarkable assertion:

    <blockquote>"...the Arab world knows better than we in the West ever will what the colonial boot feels like."</blockquote>

    Again this invents a non-existent homogenous entity ("the Arab world") that apparently knows something (both collectively and individually). And it assigns us (in this conversation) to another non-existent homogenous entity ("we in the West") who apparently will <em>never</em> understand well "what the colonial boot feels like."

    Can you imagine a more reductionist model with more preposterous claims?

    First of all "the Arab world" is highly diverse -- and (just to take the class aspect for a second) significant and powerful forces of that Arab world help <em>wear</em> and <em>administer</em> the "colonial boot." And other forces (waiting in the wings) aspire to wear (or lick) those colonial boots.

    Lots of people (millions of them) in <em>any</em> country have very little understanding of history, politics, and economics (even their own). If you go out <em>among the oppressed</em> in the Arab world you will discover that many of them have great illusions about life in the West, and about the motives of western powers, and about the history of colonialism in their own societies. And that is because real knowledge doesn't automatically arise from being a member of some identity group, or just residing in some location.

    Now what about our "we" -- are we really defined as some entity "in the West"? Is it really true that no one reading this "in the west" can truly understand what colonialism and imperialism are? is knowledge so direct and so mysterious that we literally <em>can't</em> know about the world -- and must therefore simply bow obediently to any random proclamation from within "the Arab World"?

    The reductionism, moralism and raw unmaterialist know-nothingism of that is extreme.

    In face the "we" that is operating here is revolutionaries and communists (mainly in the U.S.) -- and of course we can understand things about colonialism and imperialism that all kinds of conservative forces in "the Arab World" either don't understand or hide. People become communists because of both experience and study -- and often know things in depth... and if you were able to peel back and see what made the communists who read this site, you would understand that obviously people have deep and many-sided ways of truly knowing things about the world (including especially the nature and motives of U.S. imperialism).

    And certainly all kinds of forces in the "Arab world" might call for a stronger U.S. action in Syria, and we (communists and revolutionaries in the belly of the beast) have every right <em>and basis</em> to disagree with them, and oppose such U.S. action -- and actively <em>fight</em> politically to restrain the U.S. ability to unleash new madness and oppression in the Middle East.

    And I have to say that this logic (which is part and parcel of the worldview called "identity politics") is constantly arguing against thinking and analyzing, and is constantly telling people to just shut up and shut down, and simply do what they are told by whoever is proclaiming themselves representatives of this or that oppressed group.

    It is not the case that people <em>claiming to speak</em> for oppressed groups necessarily know the interests of those groups, or represent the interests of those groups, or have understood how to solve the problems of those groups. Direct experience as a member of some group does not bequeath sophisticated political knowledge and revolutionary strategy. And anyone who has spent any time among oppressed people understands this well.

    Second just living "in the west" does not make people incapable of sorting out right and wrong -- and it certainly does not prevent communists from understanding the nature and role of US imperialism. And it cannot prevent we communists from opposing U.S. imperialism.

    Pham actually dares argue that making our own, independent analysis (and <b>opposing</b> U.S. imperialism on that basis) is

    <blockquote>"a kind of white anti-imperialist’s burden, and its arrogant paternalism is just as misguided as its colonialist antipode."</blockquote>

    And presumably: freeing ourselves from this "white burden" and "arrogant paternalism" requires that we <em>support</em> U.S. drone attacks on Syria, U.S. agents scattering throughout their villages, massive funding of selected political forces, new embargoes etc.

    I must say again, the moralist double think here is unbelievable to me.

    This is a method, and a whole way of thinking, that we need to excavate and expose so that more and more people see the utter nonsense concentrated here. Over and over, people are simply told to stop talking and stop thinking, that they have no "right" to make an analysis, and no right to engage in actual debate over right and wrong.

    And what are we supposed to do?

    Because "we" live "in the west" we must assume we don't know enough to oppose U.S. imperialism. And so to shed our "white burden" we must support U.S. imperialism. (And who says everyone in this discussion is white, or that everyone 'in the west" is so befuddled with privilege as to be unable to think and act clearly?)

    I want to answer Pham's question:

    <blockquote><em>who are we</em> to oppose those airstrikes?</blockquote>

    We are revolutionaries and communists in the belly of the beast. We are people with serious responsibilities and serious intentions.

    It is (as I said above) startling to see someone argue that communists and revolutionaries <em>in the U.S.</em> somehow <em>can't</em> know enough to oppose new U.S. crimes <em>if</em> someone in the Third World calls for them.

    Of course we can... and do... and will.

  • Guest - ish

    I'm glad Kasama joined this discussion and am grateful for Mike's arguments against Binh's misguided positions; I think Mike has summed up the issues quite well.

    For me there is something so monstrous about modern imperialist warfare that it's sort of inconceivable somebody thinks it might somehow be harnessed for good or might be manipulated to the advantage of a supposedly revolutionary force. The thought of people and their buildings in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Libya being bombarded by death machines in the sky beyond sight of the people on the ground, perhaps controlled by operators sitting at desks continents away is to me terrifying and repulsive. The people on the ground totally unable to detect, predict or respond to the attacks is something out of a science fiction bad dream. Is it an accident that the list of countries imperialism can hover over and raid with utter impunity has grown longer and longer since the end of the cold war when imperialism discovered this so-called humanitarian pretense for war? I don't see how adding Syria to this list makes things anything but worse for the people of the whole world, feeding energy to a machine hungry for more domination and death. It is so important that those of us in the belly of this beast focus our energy on stopping that machinery, not in turning a blind eye.

    Syria needs genuine revolutionaries, just as the whole world does. The best thing revolutionaries in this country should be doing to aid them -- and revolutionaries everywhere -- is smashing that hightech machinery of murder. To the Syrian people now we should say that asking for imperialist aid is misguided, a choice they will come to regret. That doesn't mean excusing Assad nor suggesting his repressive regime is somehow better than whatever the Free Syrian Army has in mind. Assad has certainly betrayed the Palestinian people again and again...but will a government backed by Turkey or Saudi Arabia do any less?

  • Guest - louisproyect

    This was crossposted to The North Star and is worth reading:

    The one thing I have noticed on this controversy is almost consistent knee-jerk opposition to the movements in Libya and Syria by non-Arab peoples, except for "The Angry Arab" who seems incapable of mustering any kind of analysis longer than a tweet. The article linked above was written by Robin Yassin-Kassab, who grew up in England but has spent a lot of time in the Middle East. I would also recommend a talk by the British SWP's Simon Assaf (;feature=player_embedded) who tends to be far more enthusiastic about the Syrian revolution than most other "State Caps", the ISO in particular. Finally, there is, a very important Marxist/left-liberal website founded by Bassam Haddad, probably the most authoritative Marxist scholar on Syria today. There is nothing on that remotely resembles what I have seen in the comments here or in Mike's article. Unlike Binh, I have given up on trying to debate these questions out on my own blog because most of my critics are capable of nothing more than angry accusations that I am the new Christopher Hitchens. Life is too short to argue with assholes.

    For those interested in what a CIA agent like myself is saying (to quote a regular here) about Syria, have a look at:

  • Guest - Louis Proyect


  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    When the <i>Titanic</i> sank, those in the lifeboats heard the screams of those dying in the water, begging to be saved, though such screams were short lived. Had those in the boats gone to rescue those in the water, the boats would have overturned, killing those inside. No matter how much they loved those dying, no matter how much they wanted to save them, they had no power to do anything but get themselves killed also.

    The left are people moved by the suffering of others, and we see in the rising of the people in Libya and Syria, great suffering. We are taken by an all to human need to rush in and end their plight. Like those in the too few boats of the <i>Titanic,</i> we cannot save them. We can only be destroyed trying to do so.

    Because we cannot save them, some look around for a force capable of acting in their stead. The most powerful force on the planet at this time is the Empire. The Empire is a system so evil, that it sacrifices nine million innocent children to the hunger of profit every year ... and that's just the children under the age of five. Every success the Empire has prolongs it's existence. Every day taking the lives of another 25,000 children.

    As much as we want to help save those suffering from the dictatorships of Libya and Syria, we cannot. We must bear the pain of not being able to help, of fighting the Empire tooth and nail. Every day that the Empire continues because of its successes, means more people die than died in either Libya or Syria to date. If we support the Empire in aiding those rebellions, we are complicit in its continued survival, and we share the blame for the blood of those 25,000 children a day, for every day longer the Empire exists.

  • Guest - trotskyite


    I grew up in Syria, and I am overjoyed to at last hear some sense coming from the left on the issue of the Syrian uprising. Thank you very much for writing this article.

  • Guest - Ajagbe Adewole-Ogunade

    All those words just to end up carrying water for the real murderers on the planet: the US.

  • Guest - Ajagbe Adewole-Ogunade

    If Syrians want to overthrow their government, we're under no obligation to support the main enemy of the entire planet in arming them.

  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    In a period marked by the stagnation and atrophy of proletarian theory, proletarian theory is being totally overtaken by petit bourgeois intellectuals who are stripping away the core of its living essence: the working class struggle. One of the tendencies in this period is the fact that the petit bourgeoisie is fighting to impose its own notion of communism, its own theory of the path to communism. But to do that, the petit bourgeoisie promulgates its own brand of anti-working class, anti-scientific socialism, and (in the final analysis) its own brand of anti-communism, for the triumph of a metaphysical illusionary notion of democracy.

    During the past 50 years or more, we are witnessing the total bankruptcy of the theory created by the radical petit bourgeoisie, and their incapacity to construct scientific socialism. Many examples are right in front of us that show clearly the impotency of the petit bourgeoisie to offer any viable alternative to imperialism and capitalism. Instead they simply oppose it and hope that a more humane version is possible.

    The political trademark of the petit bourgeoisie in its approach to interpreting an objective reality is pragmatism. The consequences are right opportunism/ populism and its twin, left opportunism/populism, and most of the time left opportunism will quickly transform to right opportunism.

    One of the fundamental aspects of imperialism is that while it is a stage of parasitism and putrefaction of capitalism, at the same time it is creating a series of new sets of contradictions. The petit bourgeoisie is incapable of grasping these, since for many of them imperialism is a term, not a concept with theoretical value detectable by the laws of contradiction, in which a lot of its actual forms remain unintelligible.

    Schematically, there are two aspects of imperialism:

    1) One is as a stage of development of capitalism in a particular social formation, where we witness the hegemonic role of banking capital in its fusion with industrial capital. In that fusion it has become for ever more difficult to decipher the two, although there is an ongoing struggle for hegemony, for the primary benefit to be held by one form of concentration of capital over the other (as well as for the benefit of all the capitalist class).

    2) The relation of the imperialist social formation with other social formations. The ongoing debate in two recent Kasama posts is addressing that relation. So, I will limit myself to that point.

    First, I will decline to use the concept “third world” -- not because of semantics but because I have fundamental differences with that concept. It is, for me, a sociological concept unable to explain the reasons for the constant deterioration of societal organizations. The concept “third world” seems to imply a natural state, but for me the incapacity of these social formations to advance is nothing natural. It is instead defined and determined by two types of contradiction: one internal, and the other a pertinent contradiction affecting the internal contradiction and the internal dynamic of class struggle of these social formations. I use a more materialist and dialectical concept that better explains such pertinent relations: domination. (As a side point, the concept “third world,” a bourgeois concept, carries in its content a racist undertone and as well as implies a permanency for the status of these social formations).

    Imperialism is a pertinent contradiction affecting the development of dominated social formations. The concept of domination will allow us to give a materialist interpretation of imperialism and all its negative consequences. For example, the question of migration can’t be understood outside the theory of imperialism. Another example: imperialist domination generates a series of contradictions in the development of the productive forces as well as in the transformation of class structures inside social formations, and create conditions for parasitical classes to be historically constituted and for opportunism to take hold among the working class (especially inside the imperialist social formations, by constructing a working class aristocracy).

    Inside the dominated social formations, three types of contradictions exist: 1) the overtly fundamental contradiction between the dominant classes and the fundamental masses and the people’s camp in general; 2) the inter-contradictions among the dominant classes for a constant re-adjustment of the power bloc; and 3) the pertinent contradiction with imperialism.

    We cannot look only at imperialist domination while totally disregarding the fundamental contradictions between the dominant classes of these dominated social formations and the fundamental masses. We should be aware that imperialist intervention in any social formation for the purpose of resolving internal class antagonism is intended to ultimately benefit the dominant classes of this social formation, for the ultimate interest and objectives of the perennial domination of imperialism. Most of the time, imperialist intervention is quite contradictory because of the uncontrollable dynamic of class struggle, class objectives and class interests, and their need to reorganize the reactionary dominant classes both for their own interest and ultimately for the interest of imperialism against the popular masses.

    In case of occupation, and direct military intervention, the fundamental contradiction is still between the fundamental masses and their dominant classes, even if this is temporally overlapped by the direct presence of imperialism. Most of the dominant classes are allies of imperialism; even if class alliances are contradictory, in the final analysis all are sycophants of imperialism and the contradictions between them are secondary. Viewing imperialist intervention as a simple act of aggression is a manifestation of petit bourgeois pragmatism. It is not a simple act of aggression, but more than that it is the attempt to resolve two problems: inter-imperialist contradictions and the re-structuring of classes for the reproduction of a dominated form of capitalism (neo-liberalism) for the extraction of surplus value. Most of the time, imperialist intervention is rationalized because of lack of solid internal bourgeois democratic structures that would allow the dominant classes to resolve the internal obstacles to their own reproduction.

    Imperialism has no solutions. The material reality of domination constantly creates conditions for the weakening of the power bloc’s democratic structures that comprise their dictatorship, and simultaneously creates conditions for the historical constitution of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, another thorn in imperialism’s ass even though it is also a reactionary class.

    Under imperialist domination, the theory of the stages in any social formation is not a proletarian line, but a reactionary theory that will develop a reactionary political line. In Nepal, the son of Prachanda is objectively participating in the form of primitive accumulation: corruption -- opening a path for the bureaucratic bourgeoisie to be constituted.

    Imperialism is a social process that has pertinent effect in the social formations they dominate. And the internal dominant classes as a bloc, even if temporarily against imperialism, are entirely reactionary. (An exception to this is the national bourgeoisie in such cases that they are historically constituted).

  • Guest - Tom Watts

    Anti-Imperialism has not failed, Pham Binh has, failed to recognize that a qualitative change in the character of the Syrian Revolution occurred when it embraced US imperialist aid. It became co-opted, date-raped and engaged to be married all at once. The anti-imperialist duty of people everywhere hasn't changed. But your "revolution" just became a client of the CIA and the mad drive to consolidate US imperialist global hegemony. It's called selling-out. You don't ask the wolf to help you with your fox problem. You don't invite the vampires to come in.

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