[Marxism] Submission re: Syria

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Thu Nov 12 12:02:46 MST 2015

Andrew Stewart wrote:
> Per the recent controversy re: Syria, I composed this piece to provide a
> brief ideological background, I think it goes very deeply into an Old Left
> fight between Trotsky and Lenin. Special thanks to Louis Proyect and other
> voices on this list that aided in this effort, I could not have done it
> without your vital aid.
> http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/11/10/what-spain-in-1936-teaches-us-about-syria-in-2015/

The theoretical issue raised by Andrew Stewart is of a great deal of 
interest. Stalin and Trotsky present themselves as polar opposites, but in 
reality both separated anti-imperialism from the class struggle and from 
Leninist anti-imperialism.  

Stewart points to Stalin's famous passage in "The Foundations of Leninism" 
concerning the Emir of Afghanistan and "the revolutionary character of a 
national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression". I analyzed 
this passage in detail in my article "Anti-imperialism and the class 
struggle" from June 2002 (www.communistvoice.org/29cEmir.html). At the time 
Stalin was writing, the then-Emir of Afghanistan was not a bloodstained 
dictator like Bashar al-Assad, but a reformer, who sought both to introduce 
domestic reforms in Afghanistan and to preserve Afghan independence against 
British imperialism. It was correct for the the Soviet Union to develop 
relations with the Emir's government; this did not betray the popular 
movement in Afghanistan. However, Stalin went overboard in painting the Emir 
as a revolutionary. Stalin's theorizing was a problem even then, and it later 
has been used as a theoretical basis for such monstrous crimes as supporting 
the Taliban as "anti-imperialist". Indeed, the article I linked to discusses 
Stalin's stand with reference to the debate on that time against those who 
regarded the Taliban as anti-imperialist.

The same article also deals with Trotsky's stand with respect to Emperor 
Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Just as it was correct for the Soviet Union at 
that time to support the Emir of Afghanistan against British imperialism, it 
was correct for Trotsky to back the Ethiopian government against Italian 
invasion in the 1930s. But just as Stalin went overboard in painting the Emir 
as a revolution, Trotsky went overboard in painting Haile Selassie as a 
revolutionary. He dreamed that Selassie would perform revolutionary deeds 
that would "mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at 
imperialism as a whole, and would lend a powerful impulsion to the rebellious 
forces of the opressed peoples". In reality, Selassie fled Ethiopia right 
after Trotsky dreamed that he might be a new Cromwell or Robespierre (those 
were strange models for a socialist to put forward in the 20th century, but 
that's Trotsky for you), and the Ethiopian people were left to fight the 
occupiers by themselves. When Selassie returned to Ethiopia, he did his best 
to continue absolutist rule.

Thus both Stalin and Trotsky, despite apparently opposite theories, were 
overboard in painting various figures as revolutionaries. And both Stalin's 
theorizing on the Emir of Afghanistan, and Trotsky's theorizing on Haile 
Selassie, were used by some groups to defend the Taliban's struggle. These 
groups regard themselves as great anti-imperialists, but they are non-class 
anti-imperialists, who are dragging the good name of anti-imperialism through 
the mud.

Leninist anti-imperialism is quite different from either Trotsky's version of 
permanent revolution or Stalin's version of multi-stage revolution. I wrote 
about Lenin's views in "An outline of Leninist anti-imperialism" 
(www.communistvoice.org/29cOutline.html). It is Leninist theory, and neither 
Trotskyism nor Stalinism, that provides a theoretical basis for a true 
anti-imperialist stand with regard to the current world. And such a stand 
shows the need to back the mass struggle against the vicious Ba'ath 
dictatorship, which has suppressed political life in Syria for about half a 

-- Joseph Green

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