[Marxism] Mike Ely on Libya

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 28 17:37:23 MDT 2011

(Mike Ely blogs at the Kasama Project, an attempt to break with 
sectarianism by comrades from the Maoist tradition.)


August 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm

J.M. (This is Jay Moore, who Mike is going to reply to) writes:

     “As far as I’m concerned the default Marxist position (of any sort 
of revolutionary Marxism that I can think of) is to oppose imperialism 
(and its agents). It is incumbent upon those, like Proyect, who think 
differently, to demonstrate it for us.”

Mike Ely:
In fact there is no “default Marxist position” on such matters — or any 
matters of practical politics. And describing your own personal position 
as a “default” serves to avoid the needed demonstration that you declare 
others need to make.

This view of marxism is itself one of the controversies in our 
discussions here — since arguments can’t (imho) be based on simply 
assuming or declaring some pre-existing “default,” then (on that basis) 
avoiding analysis, then denouncing those who disagree on the basis of 
violating the default.

Communism is a movement against class society and the oppression it 
creates. How that is fought (and against whom) at different moments and 
in different places — is a subject of analysis and line struggle.

To give an example:

In the course of China’s complex revolutionary process, Mao Zedong 
frequently spoke of three mountains on the backs of China’s people: 
imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.

At different points in the revolutionary struggle, different “mountains” 
were the central focus of the popular struggle.

For example in the early base areas (in remote feudal regions), the main 
focus of the revolution was the class struggle for agrarian revolution 
(i.e. against feudalism), while waging armed struggle against the 
attacking armies of warlords and the GMD (i.e. local feudals and the 
national bureaucrat capitalists).

With the invasion of China by Japan, the situation changed. Mao viewed 
the contradiction as having objectively shifted to the one between 
China’s people and Japanese imperialism. Modifications were made in the 
policies of agrarian revolution (i.e. land seizures were stopped, rents 
were controlled, etc.), alliances were proposed and made with those 
bureaucrat capitalists opposed to the Japanese invaders. And, there was 
even an alliance (of sorts) with the imperialist war block fighting 
Japan in the Pacifiic (so that the Yenan forces of the communists 
accepted arms and war material from the U.S. imperialists etc.)

With the victory over Japan, the focus shifted to a new civil war with 
the GMD (again: bureaucrat capital) who were backed to the hilt by U.S. 
imperialism. And after the defeat of the GMD, the Chinese army had yet 
another war to fight agains the U.S. directly in Korea (with its diverse 
UN allies).

Finally, after the countrywide seizure of power in society was secured 
(through literally two decades of complex warfare and class struggle) 
the Communist Party of China led the world-historic agrarian revolution 
of the early-fifties, breaking the back of feudalism in China.

In the end, all three mountains were removed.

But such a complex process could not have been waged ( a ) with a 
Marxism that assumed itself to have some “default,” and ( b ) by an 
analysis that assumed (apriori? based on what?) that the contradictions 
in China, in the Third World and in the world as a whole were fixed, 
permanent, and easily deducible.

* * * * * * * * *

On the question of Libya….

There is an insistence that the only question here is whether to support 
or oppose U.S. imperialism. And then (by a sleight of hand) the measure 
of opposition to U.S. imperialism is presented as support for the 
Gaddafi regime.

If you don’t support the Gaddafi regime, you must support U.S. 
imperialism. If you oppose U.S. imperialism, you must support the 
Gaddafi regime.

This is mechanical in the extreme, and consists of a sequence of blurred 
over assumptions that flatten reality to a binary two-dimensions.

We live in the heartland of U.S. imperialism. We have a responsibility 
to expose and oppose the actions of “our” imperialists. We cannot build 
a movement worth spit if we don’t do that — militantly, consistently, 

But there is no reason that this requires prettifying the bureaucrat 
capitalist regimes of the third world that they are (at various times) 
bullying — or denying the right (and need) of the people in these 
countries to overthrow these local oppressors as the opportunity emerges.

* * * * * * * *

There is another matter that I want to bring up:

It is implied in various parts of this dicussion that “anti-imperialism” 
is the view that specific imperialist powers is always and everywhere 
the “principal contradiction.” I think this too is reductionist.

Imperialism is a world system (not simply a set of powers). Certainly 
the U.S. military is a major and highly visible pillar of world 
imperialism. But the governments of major resources producers were 
themselves part of that world system — integral to its operations, and 
exploiters in their own right.

Opposing imperialism as a world system involves (of necessity) more than 
simply opposing the imperialist armies of great powers — it involves 
critiquing and overthrowing the relations between dominated countries 
and that world system. And that domination is embedded in the existence 
and operations of major bureaucrat capitalist forces in those countries 
as well.

Some people have trouble imagining that Gaddafi can be emmeshed in 
imperialism (as a mid-level player) if a) he is known to haggle over oil 
prices and b) he is targeted by the U.S. Why?

The whole OPEC thing is not anti-imperialist — it is a bargaining over 
price (by oil producer cartels) fully within the confines of capitalism 
and imperialism.

And the U.S. has often targeted (and killed) leaders of various third 
world states (Diem of Vietnam, Noriega of Panama, Saddam Hussein of 
iraq) without them having the slightest claim to anti-imperialism or 
progressive politics. That is, in fact, business as usual in the empire 
(and any empire).

In other words, U.S. targeting is hardly proof of any progressive 
content. And being targeted by the U.S. or fighting its forces doesn’t 
make you “objectively” anti-imperialist — it doesn’t change your class 

Also in this discussion, it is sometimes claimed that because some oil 
revenues were used for education or other social services that this 
documents some progressive (and again, anti-imperialist, and even 
socialist?) nature to the libyan government. However all oil producers 
use their massive funds to buy some social stability (is saudi arabia 
“progressive” because it pays for education and medical care? Was 
Saddam?) On the contrary, this is actual part of the mechanism of 
bureaucrat capitalism (and the difference between such bureaucrat 
capitalism and the kind of imposed government called ‘puppets’).

In some cases, leftist mind sets are back in the 1950s — where very 
crude “puppets” were imposed in the first days after colonialism. (Diem 
is an example). And if the subsequent third world governments 
nationalize industry, and demand higher prices, and use some of those 
funds for political stability — there are some socialists in the world 
who see their highest aspirations being realized. To me this reveals the 
nature of vision of socialism — in the form Mao called “goulash 
communism,” where political power, liberation and social transformation 
are forgotten, and “socialism” becomes little more than a package of 
bennies (handed out by an oppressive, capitalist state).

* * * * * * *


There is nothing anti-imperialist about the Gaddafi regime. Its ruling 
family were mid-level players fully within the world imperialist system, 
on a fully capitalist basis — using classic mechanism of oil regimes.

I am not saying that all capitalist forces are the same, or that all 
capitalist governments are the same, or all capitalist politicians are 
the same (we are not trying our own reductionism). But I am arguing that 
inventing a socialist, popular, or anti-imperialist nature for this 
state (or for Iran, or for Saddam’s Iraq) is to be deeply mistaken. (And 
it is in fact a historical residue of the era of Bresnev politics — 
where the imperialist Soviet state itself decreed various potential 
allies among the worlds bureaucrat capitalist regimes to be progressive, 
non-capitalist etc. This is not a spontaneous confusion, but a long 
historical line struggle over fundamental questions of class analysis 
and revolutionary strategy.)

I think that the main thing to do around the recent Libyan war was to 
loudly oppose the U.S./NATO attacks. These interventions were the major 
obstacle to the hopes of Libya’s people, and meant that (ultimately) the 
uprisings of against a government became instruments of continuing 
imperialist domination. And that is, in fact, an anti-imperialist 
position (while prettifying Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein is not 
understanding imperialism or opposing major forms of that system).

WE are anti-imperialist in these sense (and to the extent) that we 
oppose imperialism (as a world system). And we (revolutionaries within 
the U.S.) oppose and expose U.S. imperialism (in particular) with a 
self-conscious consistency and tenacity — both because of our position 
and because of our analysis of its role in the world.

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