Against left-wing doubts about the democratic movement

by Joseph Green

(CV #46, November 2011)

Below is a much-expanded version of a talk given at the Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group meeting of June 19, 2011. It was written prior to the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, so the term "Libyan regime" always refers to his regime.

This is a historic moment in the life of the Middle East and North Africa. There is a wave of struggle sweeping the region. This is a region which has been dominated by police states and monarchies who have held the masses in check, and who have stolen from the people much of the fruits of the struggle against colonialism. These are countries which have often been under states of emergency for decades. Now the ground is trembling under these regimes.

One would think that left-wing groups would welcome this historic period. It is the task of the revolutionary left to support struggles for freedom, while showing the class differences that arise in these movements and providing a realistic perspective for where they are going. These struggles will not end capitalist exploitation, but they remove some of the chains holding the working masses down and open the path towards future class struggles.

But there are left groups which regret some of these struggles, which they look on quite skeptically or even denounce. This reflects the ongoing crisis of revolutionary thought. We have talked of this crisis since our formation a decade and a half ago, but it's common in certain circles to disregard these issues as mere sectarian squabbles or minor doctrinal disputes. No, these are differences that affect even whether one supports democratic struggles. And this is why it is important to have an anti-revisionist standpoint, and not simply accept that whatever is said to be Marxism really is Marxism.

So let's look at why the Arab Spring has been so unsettling for much of the left. We'll deal with three issues. One is that some of the dictatorial regimes are favorite regimes of parts of the left. Another is that many left groups can't deal with the social nature of movements which are democratic but not socialist or revolutionary. And finally, there are the complexities posed by the NATO bombing in Libya, and other imperialist interventions in the countries in turmoil.

The supposedly anti-imperialist tyrants

The first issue is that the oppressive regimes aren't all in a single alliance; some are more closely aligned with US imperialism, others more closely to other imperialisms. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the state-capitalist bloc in Eastern Europe may have ended the Cold War, but the rivalry between the great powers over spheres of influence hasn't ended. A number of left groups don't recognize that today Russia, China, and India are imperialist powers, and they confuse the squabbles among the imperialist powers with anti-imperialist struggles against US imperialism. In line with this, they don't judge Middle Eastern and North African regimes by their class relations, but by which imperialist bloc they are closer to.

Thus, the Syrian, Iranian, and Libyan regimes, which have better relations with Russia, China or India than with the US, have been favorite regimes of certain leftists for a long time. Such a stand is similar to that of the reformist government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, which has emphasized for years its strong solidarity with such dictatorial regimes as those in Iran, Belarus, Syria, and Libya. This hasn't simply been a diplomatic effort to avoid the savage pressure of US imperialism on Venezuela; Chavez has gone out of his way to present these regimes as friends of the masses.

But the Arab Spring has had no respect for the dividing lines in the imperialist world, and the masses have risen against both staunchly pro-US regimes and some dictatorial regimes which the US squabbles with. They have struck both conservative regimes and those who have professed "socialist", anti-imperialist, or revolutionary credentials. One of their targets is the Syrian regime, where the ascendance of the Ba'ath party to power eventually put an end to open mass political life. In the so-called "Syrian Corrective Movement" of 1970, Hafez al-Assad came to power within the Ba'ath Party via a military coup against the then-ruling faction, and he proceeded to consolidate a police-state apparatus, which after his death in 2000 was continued under the command of his son, Bashar.

This regime has ruled by a state of emergency that has lasted for decades. It was lifted in mid-April, but this was only a cosmetic measure: Bashar decided he didn't need a special decree in order to surround villages with soldiers and tanks and slaughter protestors. Yet as the regime wades through rivers of blood, it has gotten the renewed endorsement of various left groups around the world. This includes the Workers World Party, a group quietly based on Trotskyist principles. It posted on its website a vile article of May 5 by Sara Flounders entitled "Events in Syria -- Which Side are you on?"(1), which embellished the lies of the Syrian government. She denounced the Syrian protesters as counter-revolutionary pawns of US imperialism, and said that what's going on in Syria is an example of "U.S. destabilization campaigns that used corporate media fabrications, externally financed opposition groups, targeted assassinations, 'special operations' sabotage and well-trained Internet operatives". Even she couldn't deny that the regime has some problems, but she ignored its police-state apparatus and its history of murderous repression. Indeed, her view is that the regime itself is the force for progress in Syria, and she wrote that it "has recognized the importance of making internal reforms". Her article is typical of WWP's lack of scruples or conscience in its support of repressive regimes.

In 2004 the Party for Socialism and Liberation split away from WWP, but it retains the same stand of backing the Syrian government as WWP. It doesn't say much about what's going on in Syria, and its main statement was an article of April 29 by Mazda Majida entitled "Oppose any form of imperialist intervention in Syria! Analysis of Syrian protest movement and its historical context".(2) It repeatedly implies that the protests are suspect. It denies that workers and activists should have solidarity actions with the democratic movement, saying that if the purpose would be "to get the word out about the Syrian regime's repression, it is unnecessary for progressive forces to do that. The business media is already doing that, and they have an audience of hundreds of millions." And it regards the "historical context" as the supposedly progressive role of the Ba'ath police-state regime. It does admit that this regime is "bourgeois-nationalist", but it regards bourgeois nationalism as the most wonderful thing for a country, short of socialism.

The Monthly Review calls itself an "independent socialist magazine", regards itself as an antidote to sectarianism, and has strong connections with a number of academics who claim to be Marxists. And it, too, is hesitant about the Syrian uprising. It won't directly praise the Syrian government, but it has a mournful tone about the mass actions. Meanwhile it also sponsors Monthly Review Zine, which lauds the Syrian government to the sky. Its article "Millions of Syrians Rally for Syria and Bashar" claimed that the Syrian people were united around Bashar al-Assad.(3) It also features a cartoon by Victor Nieto entitled "US embassy at work in Syria" (July 20, 2011) which, just like WWP, presents the uprising as a US plot.(4)

The WWP, PSL, and Monthly Review Zine support the murderous Syrian regime in the name of opposing US imperialism. This is also how they support the oppressive theocratic regime in Iran. WWP, for example, has preached year after year in support of it. It describes the oppressive life under the regime as an ongoing "revolution"; it denies that there was any fraud in the election of President Ahmadinejad; and it presents the regime as a bulwark against Western imperialism and Israeli zionism. In its eyes, here again the workers, activists, and nationalities oppressed by a dictatorial regime are essentially counter-revolutionaries, but in the case of Iran, Workers World doesn't want to say this openly, so it simply ignores what is happening to the masses. Similarly, PSL called for defense of Ahmadinejad against demonization, regarding his "reactionary social views" as a minor flaw in a leader of a regime which is supposedly "standing up to imperialism".(5) For its part, Monthly Review Zine has been so enthusiastic about the Iranian regime that one of Monthly Review's editors, Barbara Epstein, resigned in protest in 2009.(6)

Meanwhile 52 Stalinist parties and organizations, meeting at the so-called 20th International Communist Seminar in Brussels, Belgium on May 13-15, 2011, backed the Syrian regime in its time of need.(7) These groups call themselves "communist", but, like the Trotskyist WWP and PSL, they have converted Marxism, the doctrine of working-class liberation, into an apology for repression. They are parties that support various state-capitalist regimes of the present and past, regimes that spoke in the name of socialism and Marxism but sat on top of the working class, exploiting it and denying it any political rights. In its resolution on the Arab Spring uprisings, the resolution condemns the Syrian uprising as US plot, but in a bit more mealy-mouthed way than WWP does. On one hand, it repeats the same type of lies that we have seen WWP trumpet so freely, and writes: "It is clear that Syria is the victim of destructive and provocative manipulation by American imperialism and its ally Israel, and by other reactionary forces in the region. Washington has long aimed to bring down the Syrian regime, which it categorizes as part of the 'axis of evil', and to replace it with a puppet regime loyal to America and its allies." On the other hand, the resolution claims to support "the national democratic forces in Syria which are acting to obtain the legitimate demands of the people." But whether "the national democratic forces" are the people being murdered, or those shooting them down, is left to the imagination of the reader.

By backing Bashar al-Assad, these forces reveal themselves as apologists for shooting down the working people en masse. They justify this with non-class anti-imperialism: they back any regime that has some difference with the US government, especially if it has ties with Russian or Chinese imperialism, no matter what relation that regime has to the working masses of its own country. They don't realize that in so doing, they are not the most militant fighters against US imperialism, but are simply looking for a niche in the imperialist system.(8)

It would have taken a good deal of honesty and courage for WWP, PSL, Monthly Review Zine, and the Stalinist parties to admit that they have been wrong about the nature of the Syrian government and its role in the Middle East. Instead, they stubbornly cling to such an oppressive regime even as it circles towns with tanks. They won't give up on these regimes because their support for bloodstained despots isn't an isolated error, due to insufficient information. Instead, it's what they have done repeatedly over the decades.

The end of an epoch in the Arab world

Non-class anti-imperialists often look back fondly to the period where bourgeois nationalist trends succeeded in seizing the fruits of the anti-colonial and anti-monarchical struggles and establishing their own regimes. In Egypt, there was Gamal Abdel Nasser, who came to power in the military coup of 1952 which overthrew King Farouk. Nasser electrified the Arab world, but also put his foot down on top of the Egyptian communists while executing working-class strikers. In Syria and Iraq, the Baath party eventually pushed aside other forces that had risen up against the monarchy and imperialism, crushed both other bourgeois-nationalist forces and the working-class movement, and established a police state. In Libya, Qaddafi came to power as a result of the anti-monarchist struggle, and then eliminated any political rights for the masses.

In general, these regimes sought to carry out economic development, opposed for a time various of the Western imperialist policies for the region, and postured as anti-imperialist, perhaps socialist, or even as having abolished the state (in the case of Libya). They also suppressed any rival domestic currents, eliminated as far as possible any independent political life among the masses, oppressed national and ethnic minorities, contended with other nationalist regimes for regional leadership, and built huge militaries, which were used more often in fighting for regional domination (as in the decade-long Iran-Iraq war) than in opposing outside imperialism or Israeli zionism. These regimes didn't hesitate to adopt savage measures. If Britain brutally and murderously used poison gas against Iraqi villages in the early 20th century, in the mid-20th century Nasser used poison gas against the Yemenis, and in the latter 20th century, Saddam Hussein gassed the Iraqi Kurds at Halabja .

These regimes often sought support from one imperialist power against another. Nasser famously played off Western imperialism against Soviet social-imperialism in order to get aid from both sides. So did Qaddafi. In itself, it says nothing about a regime that it plays off one imperialist power against another for the sake of survival; even revolutionary regimes might be forced to that expedient. But the reason certain of these regimes could play the game so well, was that their internal repressive nature harmonized well with the exploitative nature of the imperialist powers. And conversely, the repressive nature of the state-capitalist Soviet Union allowed Khrushchov to embrace Nasser's regime even as it stomped on the Egyptian working class including the pro-Soviet communists, while Brezhnev went so far as to declare that Egypt was following "the road of non-capitalist development".

It was important to oppose imperialist savagery against these countries even if the local regimes were repressive. It was important to support Egypt regaining the Suez Canal, to oppose Israeli zionist aggression against its neighbors, to support the struggle of the Palestinian people, to zealously oppose CIA intervention, and so on. But certain sections of the left went far beyond this to glorifying various of the bourgeois nationalist regimes. They got used to this, and it became an ingrained vice; to this day, they see support of these regimes as the gold standard of anti-imperialism. In a way, this was Khrushchov's policy towards Nasser repeated over and over, even if it was done by Trotskyists who believed that it was possible to cleanse this policy of its bloody taint by declaring that it was only "military but not political support" of tyranny. Right from the start, real communist policy -- not Stalinist or Trotskyist policy -- would have been to oppose the imperialist aggression in the region while also finding ways to support the working masses within these countries. It would have been to show that real anti-imperialism didn't mean closing one's eyes to the internal class struggle.

As the years went by, these regimes shed most of their anti-imperialist colors. When they achieved certain goals and strengthened the ruling bourgeoisie that stood behind them, they made deals with the imperialists, some becoming closely attached to US imperialism and others, although seeking reconciliation with US imperialism, maintaining their traditional closer ties with other imperialist powers. Egypt under Sadat. and then Mubarak, became a collaborator with Israeli zionism in suppressing the Palestinians, and a close US imperialist ally; indeed, it became second only to Israel as the major recipient of US foreign aid, mainly military aid. It might seem that such a policy change was simply a result of Nasser's death. But the similar evolution of other bourgeois nationalist regimes suggest that it had more to do with the evolution of the local bourgeoisie as it gained a niche in the imperialist system.

For example, the Libyan regime went through a similar conservative evolution under Qaddafi. For a time Qaddafi had engaged in a zig-zag policy of first supporting and then opposing, this or that group or cause. One day he would he would support the Eritrean struggle for national self-determination, and the next day he would support the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia that was massacring the Eritreans. One day he would give refuge to Palestinians, and then in 1995 he would throw them out as an alleged protest against the Oslo Accords. One day he would support various liberation groups, and the next day send troops to support crazy Idi Amin of Uganda or offer money to build relations with the megalomaniac Bokassa I, who would later declare himself Emperor of the Central African Empire. But eventually he ended up promising the European bourgeoisie that he would be a bulwark against black migration from Africa; he would hug one European imperialist president after another; and he worked arm-in-arm with the multinational oil companies.

What was going on was that the local bourgeoisie and bureaucracy were growing in these countries, while the masses were being trampled on. Economic development programs tended to stall after a time, and the regimes eventually turned to neo-liberalism. The stronger of these regimes became would-be imperialist powers and major regional power-brokers. Their wars with neighbors, or even Saddam Hussein's disastrous wars with US imperialism, were not struggles against imperialism, but a bloody jockeying for position within it.

The current uprisings are striking not just at the most conservative regimes, but also oppressive regimes that originated as radical-sounding bourgeois-nationalist regimes. It's not that bourgeois nationalism has come to an end. All bourgeois regimes in the region, even the most conservative ones, now deck themselves out in nationalist colors. But the long detour in the development of mass politics that the left-posturing bourgeois-nationalist regimes represented may be drawing to a close.

The nature of democratic movements

So part of the left is upset that the Arab Spring spread to Syria and Libya, and didn't restrict itself to challenging the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, or Jordan. But there is also a certain doubt in parts of the left about the movement as a whole, no matter which regimes it strikes. This doubt concerns supporting a movement which only challenges certain injustices, and does not aim at establishing socialist regimes, or regimes which the left might imagine as socialist.

The Arab Spring shows the masses refusing to accept the passive role that the police states and authoritarian regimes have placed them in. It is a revolt against tyranny, but also against the increasing misery from neo-liberal reforms and economic crisis. The high food prices of the last few years, the increasing inequality fostered by neo-liberal reforms, and the growing unemployment, which extends even to educated youth, have spurred on this upsurge.

But this is not a socialist movement, nor even a radical anti-imperialist one. Instead it has a lot in common with the liberalization movements which we have seen elsewhere around the world in the last several decades. These movements brought down various dictatorships, but often left conservative or even market-fundamentalist regimes in their place.

In the case of the Arab Spring, everywhere the insurgent masses are split up in disparate groupings. Everywhere different class factions take part in the struggle, and different class interests are expressed. Nowhere is the struggle led by a clear revolutionary force, by a truly socialist force as opposed to the fake socialism of various regimes, or by a real anti-imperialist force as opposed to the fake anti-imperialism of the nationalist regimes. Even as the masses fight the market fundamentalism of the old regimes, there are strong elements in the movement who advocate more market fundamentalism, and these elements are supported by imperialism and the local bourgeoisie. And everywhere there are illusions about the imperialist powers.

Why then should this movement, which will not bring economic liberation, be supported? Why, when it will bring, not universal harmony, but a new class struggle? Already we can see, in Egypt, that the overthrow of Mubarak was not followed by freedom and prosperity, but by a new struggle over what is come next. There is a strike wave and workers organizing; there is also the attempt of Islamic forces to bring a conservative religious rule, and the attempts of Mubarak's party to make a comeback. The army, which was the backbone of the Mubarak regime, is still the ruler in Egypt; and both US imperialism and Saudi Arabia, in particular, are seeking to prop up the army in order to keep as much of the old institutions as possible.

But the reason to support this movement is precisely because it will bring a new class struggle. This is the only path to the working masses themselves taking politics into their own hands. There is no way forward for the working class other than by fighting against tyranny, and by using whatever freedoms it wins to organize, or extend and strengthen, its own independent trend. These two things -- the working class seeking freedom, and using this freedom to develop a specifically working-class trend in the movement -- are interrelated, as only the working masses seek to sweep away all the old institutions of political tyranny.

This means that the Arab Spring, even if the uprisings are successful, is only the first step, and the resulting regimes will probably be quite disappointing. But nonetheless, breaking the iron grip of the old regimes has the possibility of rejuvenating the politics of the region.

The best coverage of the Arab Spring in the radical left press has brought news of some of the strikes and attempts at new organization by the working class. It has also covered some of the efforts of the new regimes in Egypt and Tunisia to limit the democratic changes, as well as pointing out the treacherous stands of bourgeois sections of the movement. But there's also a certain disdain for the movement in much of the coverage. This is seen not just in Trotskyist journals, but in the IWW as well. In its May Day issue, it says little about the movement, other than to support Bahraini trade unions. The IWW may regard itself as revolutionary, but its syndicalist outlook results in standing aloof from political movements. So the masses assaulting tyranny in one police state after another doesn't inspire it.

Dreams of immediate socialist revolution

Certain left Trotskyists have a standoffish attitude to anything but an immediate struggle for workers' power.(9) Consider the recent Spring 2011 issue of Proletarian Revolution, the journal of the League for the Revolutionary Party. It enthuses over the upsurge and carries articles on it. But it does so in the belief that the uprisings may culminate in the immediate overthrow of "capitalist rule and imperialist domination"; it stresses that Trotsky's theory of "permanent revolution" shows that nothing significant can be gained except by carrying out socialist revolutions.(10)

It's article "Tunisia's Revolution in Danger" describes the struggle that has continued after the dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. The working masses have pushed for serious change, not just the replacement of one tyrant by another. PR lauds this mass struggle, but regards it as proof that a revolutionary socialist movement is near. Thus it writes:

"By overpowering the dictatorship's local governments and police in some cities and towns and replacing them with democratically elected councils of the struggle, the working class and poor have already taken steps toward overthrowing the ruling class and building a government of their own. Workers have also started taking over operation of some enterprises after they kicked out their bosses for having collaborated with the dictatorship. Trade unions are calling for the nationalization of the enterprises Ben Ali and his family owned."(11)

These encouraging events show that the masses have been going beyond the narrow role that bourgeois politicians would restrict them to. But the article makes no attempt to judge how much of the working class is involved, how long such actions will continue, or what the masses are willing to fight for. Instead it says things like "Whether or not the workers understood it, these were all steps toward overturning capitalist class relations and putting the working class and poor in power." So the workers are going to establish socialism without realizing it. All they need, according to the article, is a leadership that knows the theory of permanent revolution.(12)

Now it may happen that the masses aren't conscious of the revolutionary implication of their actions. But on this plea, the PR makes no attempt to get an overall picture of the mood of the working masses, to judge how extensive its organization is, to compare the strength of the left-wing forces and the Islamist forces, or to judge the economic situation. Moreover, whether or not PR understands it, even in democratic movements, popular councils, worker collectives, and large-scale economic nationalizations can and do occur. One has to avoid getting completely carried away by excitement and judge carefully what type of movement is taking place.

Instead of carefully assessing the actual state of the mass consciousness and organization, PR dreams of immediate proletarian revolution. So the PR says that the next step is for the masses to form a "militia of the working class and poor", establish "a government of councils of workers' and poor people actively engaged in transforming society", and organize "national elections ... to a Constituent Assembly", which would have the task of "ratifying the power in the hands of the councils of workers and soldiers."(13) LRP doesn't, apparently, have any doubts that revolutionaries would dominate local militias, or that the Constituent Assembly would vote for socialist revolution. It doesn't even bother discussing the issue.

PR contained similar material on the Egyptian movement, both a letter to a socialist group in Egypt, and an article "The Egyptian Revolution Must Advance -- or It will be Defeated". It is certainly correct to point out the treacherous role of the bourgeoisie and the army. But the article's basic idea is that the next step is "a conscious struggle for the working class to seize power".(14) Once again, there is no serious assessment of the weight of the different trends among the working people. Instead PR argues that there has to be an immediate socialist revolution because, in its view, nothing short of that can bring any benefit. It argues that it is impossible for there to be "a stable democratic capitalist regime ... in Egypt"; it holds that any "democratic forms" are "out of the question" in the Middle East.(15)

Far be it from us to denigrate the goal of socialism. On the contrary, at all times the socialist goal helps lend the working- class movement a revolutionary character. But the immediate tactics of the working class vary, depending on whether a socialist revolution is imminent. Pretending socialist revolution is around the corner holds back the development of the class-conscious workers movement which will eventually bring the socialist revolution; among other things, it could lead activists to overlook many important class differences in the democratic movement in the belief that the movement as a whole, except for the big bourgeoisie, was objectively socialist.

But PR ignores all the preparatory work needed for socialist revolution, and doesn't bother judging the present balance of class forces in Egypt. PR replaces an assessment of the actual conditions of the class struggle at present, with the argument that the only possibilities are utter defeat or workers' power. PR is incapable of dealing with intermediate situations, and it tries to prove that anything but utter victory or utter defeat is impossible. As mentioned above, it reasons that there can't be "genuine" or "stable" democracy, as if bourgeois democracy wasn't always an arena of struggle between the classes. The fact is that Egypt is not on the verge of socialist revolution, and PR's impatience for immediate revolution reflects its inability to understand what class-conscious workers should do now. Such fantasy is the only way it can fit Trotskyist prescriptions to the Arab Spring; otherwise, it would have to denounce the Egyptian movement.

The irony is that Trotskyism is the same trend that claims that socialism isn't possible except as a world system. On one hand, in every struggle, in Egypt or Tunisia or anywhere, PR declares that the struggle would immediately lead to socialist revolution if only it were led correctly. But on the other hand, it declares that these revolutions couldn't actually achieve socialism, as this would violate the Trotskyist view that socialism in one country is impossible.

Indeed, at the end of an article declaring that the Egyptian workers must seize power, PR implies that this alone wouldn't satisfy the workers' economic needs. That, it says, would only be possible when the entire region rises in revolution, "imperialism's client states are overthrown, including the racist colonial-settler state of Israel. Socialist revolutions throughout the region would establish a federation of workers' states.... This would maximize genuine international cooperation and the pooling of resources, the only solution to the misery of the workers and poor."(16) If this were taken seriously, it would mean that Egyptian revolution was futile unless the entire region was ready for socialist revolution. After all, the masses will only support a revolution that improves their conditions. By way of contrast, a serious demand for immediate revolution in Egypt should include an assessment of what that revolution could do to satisfy mass demands in the years before the revolution triumphs on a regional or world scale. But Trotskyism doesn't have much of an idea of this, just as it has little idea of what the goals should be in a democratic movement at a time when revolution is not imminent.

A similar, but more depressed, viewpoint is given in the May-June issue of Class Struggle, which gives the views of the Trotskyist Spark organization. This is contained in an interesting article entitled "Arab World: Set Ablaze by the Winds of Revolt".(17) Just like the League for the Revolutionary Party, Spark adheres to "permanent revolution", but it is a bit more realistic about the prospects of immediate socialist revolution.

The article mainly discusses the background to the Arab Spring, rather than the mass movement itself, but it has a significant passage about the class nature of the struggle: "Behind this expression, 'democratic transition,' are the confused aspirations of the exploited masses for more freedom and more rights, starting with the right to eat a full meal. But it also expresses the aspirations of the bourgeoisie itself for change."(18) It concludes that the movement might go on to be a "genuine revolution", and it would be "stupidly pessimistic to fix limits in advance", but "it would also be as stupid to pompously declare that a 'revolution' is developing in the Arab countries."

But Spark does not go on to distinguish between democratic and socialist movements. It still has some hope for an imminent socialist revolution, and declares that anything else would be futile. It does not discuss the particular class alignments in either a democratic revolution or a liberalization, and the resulting tasks of the working class, but simply argues that unless there is a "genuine revolution" (its term for socialist revolution), then the entire struggle will have been in vain: it will have served "only to get rid of a handful of elderly dictators who would have died anyway, and to give the imperialist powers the opportunity to cover up the dictatorships with parliamentarian cloaks."(19)

Now, it's true that how far the movement goes, which regimes collapse, and what they are replaced with, can't be specified in advance. What we do know, however, is that the struggle, as far as it is successful, will give rise to a new class struggle, and that this is a vital step forward even though socialist revolution is not imminent. Spark doesn't understand this, and the article is devoted to denigrating the idea that democratic reforms are of any value to the working class.

However, in the last paragraph of the article, Spark reverses course and concedes that, even without a socialist revolution, "the present revolts" might "end up conquering some freedom and consolidating it". But it doesn't see much value to this. The only thing it suggests that the working class could do with this freedom is learn about what activists did in the past, "even if only through reading about it in books". For Spark, it was decades ago that there were significant events from which the masses learned about politics by fighting their oppressors, and the Spark talks in its article about how the masses learned from actions in those exciting and revolutionary times. But for today and the Arab Spring, supposedly the only way the masses can learn about struggle, is to learn about the past. How much more depressed can one get about the movement of today? Of course, the history of the revolutionary movement is important, but it is only those who take part in the class struggle today who will really understand the lessons of the past and the real meaning of Marxist theory.

This approach influences how Spark deals with Libya. If it worries that the overall Arab Spring might simply result in the removal of some overage dictators who already had one foot in the grave, what it sees in Libya is mainly the imperialist intervention. Since there is no way to imagine that immediate revolution is possible in Libya, it doesn't care much about the uprising. It has little to say about the masses in Libya who are fighting the Qaddafi regime, and what the nature and prospects of their movement is. So this brings us to the complexities of the Libyan situation.

The uprising in Libya and the NATO intervention

The general character of the movement in Libya is similar to that in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. In Libya, as elsewhere, the uprising was motivated by outrage at impoverishment as well as tyranny. In Libya, as elsewhere, there are bourgeois and pro-imperialist figures and viewpoints in the movement; however, the imperialist intervention has multiplied the influence of Western imperialism.

But the first issue is to judge what type of regime is under attack in Libya. The Qaddafi regime stemmed from a revolt against the pro-imperialist monarchy of King Idris in 1969, and it started out as one of the most stridently bourgeois nationalist regimes in the region. However, it quickly became a police state subordinated to Qaddafi, and his rule has lasted for decades.

Qaddafi's regime is one of those most beloved by certain left groups. It posed as a socialist regime which had abolished the state; it defied the imperialists on oil pricing and in its support for various armed liberation groups; and it had loud, if quirky, rhetoric. It used some of its oil money to finance education, health, and housing in Libya and in an attempt to develop economically.

It also used this money to buy a huge amount of tanks and other weapons, to finance a long-running war with Sudan, and to buy influence in Africa, the Middle East, and throughout the world. It backed such vicious enemies of the masses as Idi Amin in Uganda and Bokassa I in Central Africa: Qaddafi even advised Amin to expel Asian Ugandans, which Amin did. His regime also backed terrorist trends in various liberation movements; and had a nasty habit of assassinating dissidents in exile.

Of the old stridency, only rhetoric -- and some connection to Russian and Chinese imperialism -- remain. Qaddafi's regime has long since reconciled with the European imperialist powers, and also had excellent relations with the Western oil companies. Qaddafi, who saw himself as a great leader of the African continent as well as of the Arab world, took to assuring the European bourgeoisie that he was the bulwark against black African immigration. Meanwhile Libyan developmental efforts floundered; the economy remained completely dependent on oil; Qaddafi turned increasingly to neo-liberal economic policies; and unemployment reached 20-30% during the last decade.

No matter, various left groups backed Qaddafi's regime and closed their eyes to its internal nature. And it was notorious that at least one was bribed. This was the Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain, associated with the at-one-time prominent British Trotskyist leader Gerry Healy, which received a substantial amount of money from Libya as well as funds from Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.(20)

Now, discontent had been building up in Libya, and when full-scale rebellion broke out in February this year, the revolt was broad and deep. It immediately triumphed in the second and third-largest cities in Libya, Benghazi and Misrata; there were demonstrations in the capital and largest city, Tripoli; and a significant section of the armed forces revolted. But the class basis of the movement was affected by Libya's economy being based on oil. Like many oil emirates, much of the manual work in Libya is done by foreign workers, who mainly have fled the current bitter struggle between the regime and the uprising.

At the start the uprising went from victory to victory, but Qaddafi's regime was the first threatened regime to regain its poise, and it began the bloodiest repression until then of any of them. In the ensuing civil war, by mid-March the well-equipped and trained forces of the Qaddafi dictatorship were on the verge of drowning the uprising in blood.

This created the situation that allowed outside military intervention. For their own purposes, the US and European imperialists began bombing and some other operations against the Qaddafi regime, and this intervention blunted Qaddafi's offensive. The NATO powers weren't too happy about the democratic movement in Libya, and continually expressed doubt about it. But they wanted to keep their influence in Libya, and they also wanted to prevent regional instability, which they feared would have resulted from the mass slaughter of the insurgents.

Thus the uprising survived as a result of a fight between two anti-people forces, the NATO imperialists and the Qaddafi regime. Meanwhile the imperialists didn't want to unduly strengthen the democratic movement; they provided support to the uprising in a way that they hoped would make it dependent on themselves, on their execution and interpretation of a no-fly zone, and their dribbling out of funds and supplies. The NATO countries sought to have a say in the political decisions of the uprising, even promoting the idea of a compromise settlement between the regime and the uprising. Only after the struggle had stretched on for months did various countries start to recognize the democratic movement as the legitimate government of Libya, although even now there is still some talk of seeking a compromise solution.

The NATO intervention has earned the legitimate hatred of activists. They don't want to see another imperialist war; they don't want to see big powers bombing North African and Middle Eastern countries; and they don't want to see the outside powers calling the shots in Libya. The intervention also reinforces outside influence on the nature of the government to come. It will have long-lasting negative effects.

At the same time, most activists didn't want to see Qaddafi wade through pools of blood to stay in power. Many activists denounced both the intervention and the Qaddafi regime, but usually in the belief that the democratic movement could have survived without the intervention.

But, in fact, the uprising wouldn't have survived. The Qaddafi regime was on the verge of re-establishing control by slaughtering an opposition that had little military knowledge or organization, and couldn't defend itself against heavy weapons. The regime was flush with tanks, aircraft, rockets, and other weapons bought from the imperialist powers of the East and West with its oil money, and its army had training and military experience.

Our organization, the Communist Voice Organization, has denounced the imperialist motives of the intervention, and the dangers it poses to the Libyan struggle. But we continue to support the Libyan uprising: the main and determining aspect of the situation in Libya is still the struggle between the Qaddafi dictatorship and the masses who rose up against it. It is this which determines the character of what's going on. International solidarity should center on support for the working masses who are in struggle, and on the need for an independent workers' trend inside the overall struggle. It's legitimate for an uprising to survive by making use of contradictions between reactionaries, but this does not mean that those who support the uprising have to prettify the imperialist powers who are engaged in the intervention. On the contrary, the more imperialist motives and methods are exposed and denounced, the more solidarity can be given to the democratic movement. This also does the most, as far as is possible from the outside, to help puncture pro-imperialist sentiments in the Libyan movement due to the intervention.

But it doesn't help puncture illusions in the imperialists if the left groups outside Libya call for military support for the regime against the intervention.(21) Yet this is precisely what various Trotskyist groups and others have done, either denouncing the democratic movement or pretending that there are two entirely separate military struggles going on in Libya: the uprising against Qaddafi, and the outside intervention against Qaddafi.

Trotskyist "military support" for Qaddafi

Indeed, various groups hold that the movement in Libya is essentially different from the rest of the Arab Spring. From before the beginning of the bombing, the Trotskyist Spartacist League saw nothing of value in the uprising against Qaddafi. It's not that it likes Qaddafi. It writes that "There is no doubt that Qaddafi is a butcher of his 'own' citizens" and "not least of the crimes of the Qaddafi regime has been its racist treatment of black African migrant workers, who are subjected to arbitrary arrest and deportation--and at times outright pogromist attacks--while being used as scapegoats for unemployment and other ills." But the opposition is just as bad in its eyes, as the "leadership of the anti-Qaddafi opposition includes Islamists, tribal leaders, former generals of Qaddafi's army and former officials of his blood-soaked regime". It concludes that "Marxists presently have no side in this conflict."(22)

It's true that the masses rising up against Qaddafi include many people with Islamist ideas, illusions in imperialism, illusions in Western economics, or attachment to tribal leaders. And it's true that the crisis in Libya was so deep that the regime's officialdom itself split. But that's similar to what has been happening in Egypt and Tunisia. There too, the masses are under the influence of many diverse political trends and class stands, while splits appeared in the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes.

The problem facing the Spartacist League is that it could pretend that working-class revolution is imminent in Egypt and Tunisia, but not in Libya.(23) Thus, according to the Trotskyist theory of "permanent revolution" that SL upholds, it can only take a scornful attitude to the merely democratic struggle in Libya. It doesn't matter that the masses are fighting a notorious tyranny.

Worse yet, the Spartacist League isn't simply neutral, but stands for "military defense" of the Qaddafi regime. It calls this the defense "of Libya", but what it is referring to is defense of Qaddafi. So just as it called for the defense of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf wars, it is calling for the defense of Qaddafi today.(24) However, according to the SL, military support has nothing whatsoever to do with political support. In their mind, they are "giving no support to Qaddafi's capitalist regime" when they support its military efforts. If this were true, it would mean that to vote for an oppressive regime would be political support, and forbidden, but to kill for such a regime is an entirely different matter, since it is merely military support. And in practice, the SL doesn't even try to show how one can give military support to Qaddafi against the intervention without also giving military support to his campaign to crush the democratic movement. But since they don't give a damn about the Libyan people rising against tyranny, why should they care?

Vacillating stands

Some other Trotskyist groups aren't as willing to write off the entire Libyan uprising, but they have trouble figuring out how to combine their military support for Qaddafi with a bit of sympathy for the insurgency against Qaddafi. Thus the Spark's article "Libya: Stop the Western Imperialist Intervention!" vacillates in its attitude to the opposition.(25) At the end, it finally mentions that "proletarian revolutionary militants want Qaddafi to fall", but earlier it describes the civil war between Qaddafi and the democratic uprising as "two factions competing to rule Libya". It's doesn't demand support for the insurgents, but only an end to the NATO intervention.

But didn't the democratic movement survive because it took advantage of the fight between two former friends: the NATO imperialists and the Qaddafi regime? The article hems and haws. In some places, it seems to admit that Qaddafi would otherwise have crushed the insurgency. But it's unwilling to say outright that the people should have let themselves be slaughtered rather than survive by making use of the contradiction between two reactionaries, the US/NATO imperialists and the Qaddafi regime. But that's one way the article can be read.

But it tries to avoid being explicit. Instead it presents what is going on as determined mainly by the intervention, not by the mass uprising against Qaddafi. It compares the situation to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, where "imperialist intervention resulted in a drastic aggravation of the situation of the population".

But it also claims that the insurgents turned against the bombing of Qaddafi's forces, saying that their "relief was short-lived, due to the way the military operation developed." And it states that, "in the short or in the long run", the intervention can only make things worse. Some readers might take all this to mean that the insurgency could have survived, and even done better than it did, if it hadn't been for the intervention. That isn't true, nor is it true that the insurgents turned against the intervention. If we want to deal with these facts, and help undermine imperialism's influence in Iraq, we can't close our eyes to them.

The article goes on to say that "And the more time goes by, the more the fraction of the Libyan population that had expectations might realize that imperialist support is not free." Yes indeed, the intervention will undoubtedly give rise to frictions with imperialism in the future. It's not as if the intervention could ensure the eternal loyalty of the Libyan people to imperialism, or even their agreement with its current plans. But one often gets the feeling that this is what the Spark and other Trotskyists fear. When it comes right down to it, they don't have faith in the working masses and their ability to get organized and rise in struggle. Instead they worry that the Libyan masses will be tied to imperialism forever because of the intervention, and presumably feel that if there hadn't been an intervention, then the resulting massacre in Benghazi and crushing of the democratic uprising, no matter how regrettable, would somehow have left Libyans with more of an anti-imperialist consciousness. They don't realize that it is the broader and freer development of political life and the class struggle that will eventually break illusions in imperialism.

Now, if the cause of the Libyan masses should be abandoned, on the grounds that imperialism is intervening, then what does this mean about the other struggles in the Arab Spring? Is there a single country in the Middle East and North Africa where imperialism doesn't intervene, first on one side and then on the other? As a matter of fact, imperialism has intervened, albeit in less blatant ways, elsewhere in the Arab Spring. According to the Spark's article itself, "Last January when demonstrations against the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia intensified, the imperialist leaders -- in particular of the U.S. -- were content to discreetly advise the dictator to step down. The leaders of the Tunisian army were also advised not to involve themselves too much in the repression, which was carried out mainly by the police forces. Thus, after Ben Ali's departure, the heads of the army could assert that the army had remained at the service of the people, and learn on this credit to become the true arbiters of the 'democratic transition,' due to take the place of the fallen regime.

"In taking their distance early from a discredited dictator, the U.S. leaders appeared to be in favor of a broader democracy in Tunisia, which was outrageously hypocritical -- the U.S. had supported Ban Ali almost to the end."(26)

Thus US imperialism intervened in Tunisia, and, as a matter of fact, hasn't stopped intervening. It is trying to prop up the forces it prefers in the post-Ben Ali governments. But does this mean that the Tunisian movement should have been denounced? Does it mean that one should have defended the Ben Ali government against US and European pressure? No, no, a thousand times no! To call such actions defense of Tunisia against imperialism would have been hypocritical. It would have been just as cynical and outrageous as the imperialist claims to support democracy that Spark refutes.

Spark raises the issue of whether the army can succeed in becoming the arbiter of Tunisian life. The circumstances that will determine whether this happens are the political trends among the working class and the movement as a whole, the extent to which the working masses adopt political stands truly independent of the local bourgeoisie, and the strength of the exploiting classes. The Tunisian movement is not presently revolutionary or anti-imperialist, and it will split into different class and political fragments. But the masses are coming, however slowly and painfully, into political life. These factors have to be judged carefully. But the article looks only at imperialism's role in Tunisia, and leaves out assessments of the nature and strength of the mass movement. And just as the article overlooks the mass struggle in Tunisia, it brushes it aside in Libya as well.

And it's not just Tunisia and Libya where imperialism intervenes. The Spark points out that "Essentially, the same maneuver took place in Egypt, when demonstrations started to grow against the Mubarak regime." And indeed, it's true that the US and other reactionary powers, such as Saudi Arabia, are massively intervening in Egypt to prop up the military and other reactionary forces, funneling money to the military, etc.

Similarly, imperialist intervention is taking place in all the countries of the Arab Spring. For example, US imperialism seeks to influence the opposition in Bahrain and Yemen, just as it does in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. But this is not a legitimate reason to abandon support for the democratic movement. It is, instead, a reason to pay attention to the class and political divisions in the democratic movement, to support the development of an independent working-class trend within the movement, and to realize the long struggle that lies ahead even after repressive regimes fall.

LRP's "military support" for both sides

Another example of a vacillating stand comes from the League for the Revolutionary Party in a rather incoherent article entitled "Down with the Imperialist Intervention in Libya!" in issue #84, Spring 2011, of Proletarian Revolution. It admits that "The rebellion in Libya had originally broken out as part of the broad upsurge of popular struggle against the region's rulers." But it holds that as there is now a NATO intervention, "imperialism represents the biggest and most immediate threat to the masses of Libya and the region." So it withdraws its support for the uprising, and instead demands that everyone should take the stand of "opposing all steps toward the seizure of power by forces like the TNC" [Transitional National Council -- the present leadership of the uprising]", on the grounds that the TNC called for the intervention.

This would seem to mean that the LRP supports Qaddafi's crushing the uprising and regaining control over Libya. However, the LRP also calls for opposing Qaddafi's attacks on the "masses" in the uprising, although not necessarily Qaddafi's attacks on the insurgent "fighters". In this half-hearted and incomprehensible way, it wants to support the masses without supporting the TNC. Meanwhile, it holds that "military support" should be given to Qaddafi against the intervention and, presumably, against the TNC. Thus, if there were Trotskyists in Libya, they are commanded to fight first on one side of the civil war (against Qaddafi); and then, after the start of the intervention, on the other ("military defense" for Qaddafi); and finally, after due consideration, on both sides simultaneously (for Qaddafi against the TNC's fighters, but also alongside the masses fighting against Qaddafi). No wonder the article ends up admitting that it can't quite figure out how this would work out in practice.

Let's look at this more closely. The LRP admits that, prior to the intervention, the uprising was a just struggle against tyranny. But once the intervention started, it concludes that one must "stand for the defense of Libya, without giving one ounce of political support to Qaddafi and his regime." Here again, as for the Spartacists, the term "defense of Libya" is used to mean military support for the Qaddafi regime; otherwise, the LRP wouldn't have to immediately disassociate its military support for Libya from even a single ounce of political support for Qaddafi and his regime.

In fact, the LRP is referring to their traditional formula, "military but no political support", and they have a footnote to an article by Sy Landy promoting that slogan. But they just can't quite get themselves to say "for Qaddafi", so they say "for Libya". The slogan "defend Qaddafi" just sticks in their throat. This is their blush of shame. When they agitate about various wars, they talk about support for, say, Libya, Argentina, or Iraq, but when they explain their slogans theoretically, they usually admit that they are supporting the dictators involved: they talk of "military support" to "the bloodthirsty General Galtieri of Argentina against the British imperialists, and to the criminal Saddam Hussein against U.S./U.N. imperialism -- to name only a handful of enemies of the working class who for a historical moment were forced to fight on the right side."(27) And in the same way, they imagine that today Qaddafi, like Galtieri and Saddam Hussein, has been "forced to fight on the right side" and should be supported.

But is Gaddafi "on the right side" in the present conflict? The LRP admits that he is a dictator, and he not only oppresses the Libyan people but is opposed to all the democratic struggles in the region: "Qaddafi has expressed his hostility to the Arab struggle for democracy from the beginning." But the LRP suggests that he is on the right side anyway, because he is supposedly opposing imperialism. And yet they admit that he has close ties with Western imperialism, and write that "in recent years they [the imperialists] had warmly embraced his dictatorship in return for his opening up Libya's oil resources and overall economy to greater exploitation, repressing Islamist political forces and rounding up African immigrants into concentration camps to prevent them crossing the Mediterranean into Europe." Indeed, he appeals to the Western imperialists by reminding them that he was, until a few months ago, in a common front with them; LRP points out that "when protests began in Libya against his own dictatorship, Qaddafi spoke out in an attempt to remind the imperialists of his loyalty to them as 'an important partner in fighting al Qaeda.' He appealed to the European imperialists' racist hostility to immigrants,.... Finally, when the imperialists began complaining about Qaddafi's massacre of rebels, he repeated his assertion that the rebels were nothing but armed supporters of al Qaeda and favorably compared his attacks on rebel-held cities to Israel's monstrous bombing of Gaza in 2009".(28) So much for Qaddafi's vaunted anti-imperialism.

The LRP article does say that, even now, with the intervention proceeding, it's wrong for the Qaddafi regime to attack the masses. Mind you, it's supposed to be OK for him to attack the uprising, as it is led by the TNC, but he should keep his hands off the masses who support the uprising. Just try to figure out how to make this distinction in practice! But the LRP says that it is possible for activists, while giving military support to Qaddafi, to "stand for the defense of the masses against their most immediate threats. In cases where Qaddafi's forces were attacking the masses, revolutionaries would look to fight alongside all those resisting them."(29)

But how exactly does one give military support to the Qaddafi regime, which supposedly is fighting on "the right side", while supporting the masses who are, in fact, fighting Qaddafi's regime and its army? Perhaps the LRP believes that the units of the Qaddafi armed forces are divided into those righteously fighting the intervention and those viciously fighting the masses, and that one can ensure that military supplies sent to the Qaddafi regime are only used by the units fighting the intervention? And, by the way, LRP's "military support" for Qaddafi really does mean supporting the provision of supplies, if supplies are available, or enhancing the military efficiency of Qaddafi's troops, if that is possible. It is only the lack of resources that turns LRP's "military support" into merely a slogan. The late LRP theorist Sy Landy made this perfectly clear, writing that "It may be that for lack of resources we can offer no actual military or technical support. Then the slogan becomes a propaganda statement, a means to begin to convince enough workers of our method so that in the future more tangible offers of military assistance will be possible."(30)

But in any case, what does fighting the intervention mean for the Qaddafi regime, other than slaughtering the opposition? Has the LRP listened to Qaddafi's speeches, or paid attention to what his troops are doing? Well, it turns out that while LRP doesn't try to distinguish between the units of Qaddafi's military, that being too much nonsense even for it, it does try to distinguish among the units of the popular uprising, only being willing to support certain units, and at certain times. It writes that "when Qaddafi forces are attacking rebel-held towns in order to crush not just the fighters at this point, but the masses in these areas, a bloc with the anti-Qaddafi forces to defend the masses is still very likely necessary."(31) Geez, even in this case LRP isn't completely sure whether it is right to defend the masses -- it's just "very likely".

And how long will such a "bloc with the anti-Qaddafi forces" last -- only for the hours during which the shells are falling? And what happens when the masses are not being attacked by Qaddafi's forces, but are themselves attacking Qaddafi-held areas? Presumably LRP will then turn on the masses and help Qaddafi's forces slaughter them.

So the LRP is drawing a distinction between when Qaddafi's forces merely attack "the fighters", and when they attack "the masses". Does this boil down to the issue of which side is doing the attacking? What if the uprising attacks a regime-controlled village where the masses are being suppressed by the Qaddafi forces, on which side would LRP fight then? And what about Tripoli, where the regime could only suppress anti-Qaddafi demonstrations by shooting at them? Would LRP have a "bloc with the anti-Qaddafi forces" to liberate Tripoli? Or with the Qaddafi forces to defend Tripoli from the uprising? Or imagine that it could defend the masses in Tripoli while leaving the city under Qaddafi's authority?

The LRP doesn't even try to figure these questions out. Instead of showing what its strategy means concretely, it resorts to mumbling: "It is impossible to paint the details of such hypothetical scenarios from afar." Really? It's only a "hypothetical scenario" that a civil war is going on? It's only a "hypothetical scenario" that Qaddafi's forces were attacking the masses in city after city, as well as having crushed demonstrations in Tripoli by drowning them in blood?

It's an unpleasant reality that the democratic movement in Libya was saved, for the time being, by a NATO intervention. NATO's involvement will no doubt have long-lasting bad effects. But this is just one of many obstacles to the class struggle, and revolutionary work means dealing with all the difficult conditions facing the masses. Yet LRP can't figure out how to handle this situation. So it fantasizes that it can prop up Qaddafi's military strength so he can fight the intervention and the TNC and stay in power, while counter-balancing it by occasionally supporting the masses in this or that battle against Qaddafi's forces.

The LRP's equivocations and vacillations arise from the its loyalty to a theoretical framework that is completely inadequate to deal with the actual situation. According to the theory of "permanent revolution", LRP can only support the masses in a basically socialist movement, but the uprising in Libya, as elsewhere in the Arab Spring, is a democratic movement. However, like other Trotskyists, LRP makes an exception for what it regards as anti-imperialist struggles. It can support an anti-imperialist struggle even if it isn't part of a socialist movement. But in this case, it separates the idea of anti-imperialism from any relationship to what's going on among the masses. So it can't distinguish an actual anti-imperialist movement from any fight that develops between Western imperialism and even the most reactionary, pro-imperialist governments.

The only way to build up a force that can really fight imperialism is to support the development of an independent movement of the working masses. The Arab Spring is not a revolutionary or anti-imperialist or even anti-neo-liberal movement, but it is shaking the old tyrannies. As far as this is successful, it will bring larger masses of people into political life. The immediate results of the democratic uprisings, even if they are successful, will be quite modest. But the fall of the old tyrannies will eventually contribute to a real movement against imperialism; backing the old tyrannies, whether through "military support" or outright apology, not only betrays the working people, but keeps the old bulwarks of imperialist domination in place.






(5)See, for example, Mazda Majidi, "U.S. demonization campaign targets Iran's leader: Smearing Ahmadinejad in the service of imperialism", October 2, 2007,


(7)The Freedom Road Socialist Organization was the American group at this seminar.

(8)It's typical that these articles lauding the anti-imperialism of the Syrian regime don't mention that US imperialism sent Maher Arar to Syria to be tortured for information as part of "extraordinary rendition". Nor do they mention the accommodations that exist between Syria and Israel, where even the bourgeois press has admitted that the Israeli government is worried that its supposed arch-enemy, the Syrian regime, might fall. (See, for example, "Israel fears the alternative if Syria's Assad falls" by Edmund Sanders in the Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2011.) The PSL article cited above does mention that "In April 1976, the Syrian army entered Lebanon with the backing of the United States, blocking the victory of the progressive forces" and that the regime had been "siding with counter-revolution in Lebanon and imperialism in Iraq", but regarded this as mere flaws in an overall anti-imperialist stand. It doesn't matter what the Syrian and other police states do, the non-class anti-imperialists will continue to back them. They don't recognize the economic, social and political evolution of the Middle Eastern bourgeoisie and of the regimes there.

(9)The Trotskyist movement is split into a multitude of fragments, but divides roughly into two parts. The left-Trotskyists preach their Trotskyism in the open and argue about who is more loyal to Trotsky's teachings, while the right-Trotskyists like to pretend that they regard Trotsky as only one of many revolutionaries, and they are more likely to criticize some individual views of Trotsky. Despite this difference, they share a common theoretical standpoint.

(10) Proletarian Revolution, Published by the League for the Revolutionary Party (Communist Organization for the Fourth International), No. 84, Spring 2011, "2011 - Year of Mass Struggle", p. 2, col. 2.

(11)PR, "Tunisia's Revolution in Danger", p. 3.

(12)PR, p. 3, emphasis added; p. 5, col.2.

(13)PR, p. 5.

(14)PR, The Egyptian Revolution Must Advance -- or It Will Be Defeated, p. 11.

(15)PR, To the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt, p. 6; "2011 - Year of Mass Struggle", p.2.

(16)PR, p. 11, emphasis added.

(17)Class Struggle, published by Spark, #70, May-June 2011, "Arab World: Set Ablaze by the Winds of Revolt". It is introduced by a blurb that says that the article was "written on February 23, 2011, just as the events were developing" and "is translated from the March 2011 issue of Lutte de Classe [Class Struggle], put out by comrades of the French Trotskyist organization Lutte Ouvriere [Workers Struggle]."

(18) Class Struggle, p.22, It would be more accurate to say that "sections of the bourgeoisie" aspire to some democratic change; other privileged sections of the bourgeoisie were doing just fine, thank you, under the old regime.


(20)See Weekly Worker, paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain, issue #695, Nov 1, 2007, "In the footsteps of WRP? The pro-Iran apologetics at the Stop the War conference brought back unsavoury memories of Gerry Healy's 'Libyan gold'. James Turley examines the history." In the mid-1980s, in connection with the internal crisis and split in the WRP, the International Commission of the Fourth International investigated, among other things, the connections of the WRP with various Arab regimes, the sums received, and the services rendered. The resulting confidential report, "The Interim Report of the International Committee Commission, December 16 1985", was leaked, and excerpts from it can be found at a number of internet locations, such as According to the report, the WRP also received sums from such oil emirates as Qatar, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi. But Libya seems to have supplied far and away the most funds.

(21) Some groups have gone even further, parroting the lies of the Qaddafi regime about the democratic movement, just as the lies of the Syrian regime about the democratic movement are parroted by WWP, Monthly Review Zine, etc.

(22)Workers Vanguard, published by the Spartacist League, No. 976, 18 March 2011, "Imperialists Hands off Libya!", article dated March 15,

(23)Thus Workers Vanguard #973, February 4, 2011, writes that, with respect to Egypt and Tunisia, the democratic aspirations "can be realized through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat". (See "Tunisia, Egypt, and the Permanent Revolution", And then Workers Vanguard #974, Febrary 18, 2011 fleshed this out further by giving a call for a workers and peasants government in Egypt, saying that "Today, there is a palpable basis to advance a perspective of building broader organizations of the working class. ... The emergence of such organizations, culminating in workers councils, would pose the question of which class rules society. Acting as a pivot around which millions of toilers are united in their struggles against the exploiters, workers councils, such as the Soviets which arose during the Russian revolution, would be organs of dual power, vying for power with the bourgeoisie." (emphasis added) in an article with the long title: "Mass Upheaval Topples Hated Mubarak/Egypt: Military Takeover Props Up Capitalist Rule/For a Revolutionary Workers Party! For a Workers and Peasants Government!" ( Workers Vanguard also called for a workers' and peasants' government in Tunisia: see the long elaboration of this in the article "For Permanent Revolution Across North Africa!/Tunisia: Dictator Flees, Protests Continue/For Revolutionary Workers Parties!" in Workers Vanguard #973 (

(24)For material on the debate of the Communist Voice Organization and our predecessor, the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA, with the Spartacist League over whether there should be "military support" for Saddam Hussein, see the articles linked to at

(25) Class Struggle, issue #70, May-June 2011, pp. 24-27.

(26)Class Struggle, p. 24.

(27)Proletarian Revolution #59 (Summer 1999), Sy Landy, "Self-Determination and Military Defense: The Marxist Method",

(28)PR #84, Spring 2011, pp. 13-4.

(29)Ibid., p. 14.

(30)Sy Landy, Ibid.

(31)PR #84, p. 14, emphasis added.

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