socialist movement

Trump, Assad and the US Left

Much of the left in the US is basically taking the same position that Donald Trump is taking regarding Syria. As the New York Times reports: Trump’s position is “that the United States should focus on defeating the Islamic State, and find common ground with the Syrians and their Russian backers.” “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS,” Trump has said.

Is this so very different from those on the left who see the Islamic State and al Qaeda (in the form of Nusra) as the only opponents of Assad? Is it so different from those who justify any crime against humanity in the name of combating the Islamic State fascists? What will they say if a Trump presidency actually does join forces with Putin & Co. in Syria? Will they support that?

Basically, these lefts have abandoned any class position. They see one, and only one enemy: US imperialism. The Russian capitalist state cannot be imperialist, according to them. That includes when it imposes itself on the people of Chechnya, using the same military tactics that the racist State of Israel used against the people of Gaza.

Same as the Stalinists of Old
These lefts are taking a position similar to that taken by the Stalinists and their liberal supporters back in the 1930s and ’40s. In the first place, any reports of the crimes of Stalin & Co. are purely capitalist propaganda. Second, that those who traveled to the Soviet Union as guests of the terrorist regime of Stalin and came back with glowing reports were “independent” reporters – as if the people of the Soviet Union then or Syria today would speak openly to these “reporters” for their torturer! But, most important, back in the era of Stalin his supporters argued, in effect, that the world working class must sacrifice its interests for the interests of the “socialist homeland”, which in reality meant the Stalinist bureaucracy.

“US Imperialism the One and Only Enemy”
Today, the defenders of Putin/Assad (and Rouhani and Hezbollah) make a similar argument: That the one and only battle that matters today is that against US imperialism (and its allies, including Israel). Therefore, anything is justified in opposing US imperialism, which is the only imperialist force in the world. They forget that every capitalist state is imperialist, or would be if it could. What is the Guatemalan state when it casts covetous eyes on Belize, with the desire to invade that country? What are both the Indian and Pakistani states with regard to Kashmir? How about the Brazilian state when it sent troops into Haiti to murder Haitian workers protesting in the streets? How about the Chinese state, when it expands into Pakistan, Africa and South America?

This is not an argument in defense of the Number One terrorist, imperialist state in the world: US imperialism. It’s simply saying that imperialism is an inherent part of capitalism everywhere.

Class Struggle
For these lefts, any crime is justified in combating the one and only enemy: US imperialism. When Putin and Assad use the same military tactics that Israel used in Gaza – basically leveling entire populated areas, bombing schools, hospitals and public markets – that is okay. That particular war against an entire people is okay. When the Industrial Workers of the World wrote: “The working class and the employing class (meaning the capitalist class) have nothing in common,” for these lefts that only applies to the United States. The representatives of the Russian, Iranian or Syrian capitalist class are our allies. The class struggle stops at the border of the United States.

Popular Uprising Became Militarized
Basically, what happened in Syria is that a mass, radical, popular rebellion against that stooge of the World Bank, Assad, became militarized. In such a situation, it’s nearly impossible for the masses of working class people to retain control. Who are the fighters against Assad now? We don’t really know, although as recently as last March, popular protests erupted throughout Syria against both the Islamic jihadists and Assad. But whoever they are, nothing can justify the mass slaughter being carried out by the air forces of Putin and Assad, nor the terrorism of the Shia terrorists, Hezbollah.

Inability to See Role of Working Class Leads to Abandonment of Socialism
The problem is that these lefts cannot see the working class as an independent force, as the subject rather than the object of history. As a result, they flail around, looking for some other force.

Support for Putin/Rouhani/Hezbollah/Assad is a betrayal of socialism just as much as is support for the US government. On either basis, it would be impossible to make the direct, worker-to-worker links that are so necessary to start to build a world workers’ movement against all these capitalist terrorists.


Those who like this article might also like this one, which is a report on a radio debate this writer had with a defender of Putin/Assad. The article also contains a link to a recording of the debate.

Categories: socialist movement

15 replies »

  1. I am very pleased to see this. This ideological struggle taking place on the left is very important. This is not about some far-off remote struggle. It is about our ability to distinguish between right and wrong politically and between oppressed and oppressor. You comrades got it right.

    • thank you for your comment. Please also read earlier stories, including the account of the debate with a supporter of Putin/Assad – which contains a link to a recording of that debate.

  2. There is another aspect of this crisis, which is how workers in the U.S or anywhere see the humanitarian crisis in Syria, or Allepo. They are horrified, as any decent honest person would be. How then are people who call themselves “socialists” or progressives of any kind and now justifying these crimes to be seen by ordinary working class people? I was shocked and dissapointed today to see one of the headlines of BAR, Black Agenda Report today was “East Allepo liberated from US backed Jihadists”. Wow. I have a lot of respect for the work of Glenn Ford, Bruce Dixon and BAR on many issues but they are certainly on the US Anti Imperialist bandwagon. I think this must be widely debated on the left, in print and in forums to clarify exactly what John said, an imperialist is an imperialist, a crime against humanity is a crime. And there is no way forward but an independent workers movement against it.

  3. Thanks very much for this, we need all decent folk on the left to speak out. One small comment. Regarding the militarisation of the revolution, you write: “Who are the fighters against Assad now? We don’t really know.” Of course, not everyone in the west has time to deeply study who they all are. But that may also be the case with the civil aspect of the uprising too. Of course I agree that militarisation inevitably has negative effects – basically why Assad went out of his way to militarise it. But I disagree with drawing a sharp line between the civil and military aspects of the revolution. Basically, the armed bodies are the same revolutionaries who had to take up arms to defend their demonstrations, then defend their communities, alongside the soldiers that decided to stop killing their brothers and sisters, and to protect them instead. Of course, the armed struggle has taken many ideological faces, in some cases reactionary, and resulted in many gross violations – the very nature of all civil wars, including revolutionary ones. But one the whole I think we still need to see the civil and military uprising as two parts of the same process. Keep up the great work.

    • Thank you for your comments. According to Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami, “as the revolution militarised, the vibrant popular movement gradually lost its prominence.” That would make sense. Also, as far as I understand it, when the rank and file of the soldiers came over to the side of the revolution, some mid level and even higher officers also switched sides. As far as I know, these had been loyal Assad officers for years, so if they came over, it seems likely it was merely a matter of opportunism. But as the struggle increasingly became an armed struggle, wouldn’t these officers have become increasingly prominent? The other point is that in any armed struggle it seems to me that there is a tendency to rely on one state power or another. In the case of the jihadists, wasn’t that Saudi Arabia, for example? But there is also another (capitalist) state power: The United States. Didn’t a layer of the rebels turn to the US for support?

      None of this in any way justifies the least bit of support for Assad and his backers, but to me it’s not clear who is really leading the rebellion against them at this point.

      Finally, I don’t think this would have been inevitable. To what extent, for example, were elected rank and file soldiers’ leaders taken into the Local Coordinating Committees? Also, I think what would have been necessary was a much more coordinated movement among the workers of the entire region. Hopefully, these will be some lessons for the future.

  4. I’ll be the devil’s advocate in my more nuanced reply.

    “These lefts,” as you call them, may actually be onto something with regards to Marxist geopolitical realpolitik. Even Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has come out supporting a multi-polar world. Such a nuanced position doesn’t mean cheerleading, but it should afford smirking.

    Once upon a time, Engels advocated a very critical defense of Germany in the event of an attack by czarist Russia, while wishing a plague on both their houses. This was a position taken outside a revolutionary period.

    Later, the “SPD left” Marxist Alexander Parvus supported the German war effort against czarist Russia, seeing the latter as the weak link in the imperialist chain led by the British Empire. However, his fundamental mistake was taking this position during a revolutionary period. The crucial point to understand here is that he saw the Central Powers as the lesser of two imperialist evils.

    Skipping past the Stalin apologia, next came the “tankies” and Sam Marcy’s global class war, on one side, and “State-Capitalist!” Cliff supporters and “Social-Imperialist!” Maoists on the other.

    Then, of course, we come to today and the need for Marxist geopolitical realpolitik.

    I do support a multi-polar world of a geopolitical environment. Competing capitalist interests gives workers more openings for class struggle.

    Outside a revolutionary period, the left should support a multi-polar world. This is not about reading the neo-fascist Dugin, or about reading Sam Marcy’s “global class war” stuff. This is about *partially* rehabilitating Alexander Parvus’s misguided “SPD left” position – backing Germany’s imperialist war efforts during a revolutionary period – and adapting a politically sanitized version of this to a non-revolutionary but ever-post-colonial period.

    [Reflecting on the past, the “social-imperialist” Soviet Union contributed much, much more to anti-colonial struggles than Maoist China ever did, so I’m definitely a “tankie” on this historical drama.]

    However, I personally don’t think it’s enough to just support a multi-polar world on the level of pure realpolitik. The concept of national self-determination should extend to the sphere of weapons of mass destruction, and here every country’s existing regime should have access to nukes.

    • All this gobbledygook is a smoke screen for a simple fact: Assad is a stooge for the world bank, a torturer, murderer and oppressor of the working class. How any socialist can in any way defend him and his Great Russian chauvinist sponsor – who in reality has the policy of “make Russia great again” — is beyond me. It means a complete abandonment of everything that simple working class solidarity – never mind socialism – is supposed to stand for. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

    • There’s nothing nuanced about support fascism and mass murder in Syria in the name of ‘multipolarity’ and ‘Marxist geopolitical realpolitik’.

      Furthermore, you claim your positions are grounded in a distinction between revolution and non-revolutionary periods. The Arab Spring in 2011 was the beginning of a revolutionary period — and yet you support counter-revolution in Syria. Evidently you don’t know a revolutionary period when you see one.

      • ^^^ Revolutionary periods are fundamentally different from periods in which mere regime change is likely:

        1) Mass hostility towards capitalist state rule
        2) Existence of a highly organized mass party-movement of the working class-in-itself in irreconcilable opposition towards capitalist state rule
        3) Majority political support for this class-for-itself (party-movement) by the broader working class-in-itself
        4) Confidence in capitalist state rule is destabilized by its own instruments (army, police, etc.)


  5. ^^^ Revolutionary periods are fundamentally different from periods in which mere regime change is likely:

    1) Mass hostility towards capitalist state rule
    2) Existence of a highly organized mass party-movement of the working class-in-itself in irreconcilable opposition towards capitalist state rule
    3) Majority political support for this class-for-itself (party-movement) by the broader working class-in-itself
    4) Confidence in capitalist state rule is destabilized by its own instruments (army, police, etc.)


    • (pplswar, I can’t seem to reply to your Tactics post directly, so I’ll reply further below.)

      In the modern capitalist age, overrated “democratic revolution against autocracy” is what I’ve termed “mere regime change.” The last thing we need is to back by mistake yet another Iranian Revolution-style “revolution” in that region.

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