[Marxism] Submission re: Syria

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Thu Nov 12 23:57:58 MST 2015

Andrew Stewart wrote:
 > I greatly appreciate the kind words and insightful comments. However, just 
>to push back respectfully and stimulate discussion, two points:
I appreciate your response, Andrew, and I agree its useful to look further  
into these theoretical matters. 

> A) The Stalin national question is laid out first in the 1914 book OF 
>MARXISM AND THE NATIONAL QUESTION, which Lenin wholeheartedly embraced, and 
>it was in that book that the two stage theory is outlined. 

The distinction between different types of revolution was being made by 
Marxists long before Stalin was born, to say nothing of his book of 1914. The 
distinction between bourgeois-democratic and socialist revolutions is a basic 
point of Marxism. The Trotskyist version of "permanent revolution" holds that 
Marxism is outdated on this point. 

In an "An Outline of Leninist anti-imperialism" I discuss Lenin's 
presentation of what the Trotskyists call "two-stage revolution." It's also  
In "Leninism and the Arab Spring" (www.communistvoice.org/46cLeninism.html), 
I discuss the continuing relevance of this distinction to the analysis of the 
Arab Spring. 

The world isn't simply either/or: Stalinism or Trotskyism. There is life 
outside the spheres of Trotskyism and Stalinism.  But to see an alternative 
analysis, one needs to take the time to examine it.

>Trots of the more grouchy variation, in my experience, are prone to 
>emphasize that they think Stalin plagiarized the work from others and that 
>Lenin impacted how it was written in a major way.

So it seems that they are obsessed with spin control rather than serious 
analysis. We need to look into more important issues. We need to examine the 
Marxist theory of the different types of revolution, the Marxist version of 
"two-stage revolution" and of the tactics of the working class in such 
revolutions; we need to evaluate whether it holds today, and whether both 
Stalinist and Trotskyist theory departs from it. 

 > 2) The emir was used as an example but not a solitary one, he was invoked 
> to justify Soviet backing of Chiang Kai Shek in China and other bourgeois
> anti-imperial national liberation fighters.

There are many examples, and each of them involves specific issues of the 
local economic and political situation. Each requires its own particular 

 But sometimes it is useful to go deeper in a couple of examples in depth. 
Clarity doesn't necessarily come from a large number of examples, if each one 
is covered superficially.

So let's stay on Afghanistan and Ethiopia for awhile. For example, how would 
the theory of "permanent  revolution" apply to the issues of the Emir of 
Afghanistan in 1920s  and Haile Selassie in the 1930s? There was no 
possibility at all of a socialist revolution or the establishment of a 
workers' regime in Afghanistan or Ethiopia at that time: for one thing, 
neither country had many workers. In this situation, would the Trotskyists 
agree with Stalin's analysis of the Emir of Afghanistan, giving him similar 
revolutionary features to those Trotsky dreamed that Selassie might have? Or 
would they disagree? And if so, on what basis?

It might seem at first that Trotskyism couldn't say anything about 
Afghanistan or Ethiopia in those years.  But Trotsky saw the necessity of 
saying something about Ethiopia, so he appealed to a mechanical rule which 
ignored the internal situation in Ethiopia. According to this mechanical 
rule, similar to that put forward by Stalin about Afghanistan, all that 
mattered was that Italy was imperialist and attacking a weaker country. With 
regard to the situation in the mid-1930s, this rule correctly called for 
resistance to the Italian colonial war on Ethiopia, but was impotent in 
dealing with the internal situation in Ethiopia. That means, it was impotent 
in giving advice about how to actually fight imperialism. And applied to 
Afghanistan, this rule would back Stalin's stand in the "Foundations of 

Today we see that the "non-class anti-imperialists" who denigrate the  
struggle against Assad also apply a mechanical rule. They could appeal to 
either Stalin or Trotsky for support for this monstrous stand. And this time 
the mechanical rule is even more wrong than in the past, since it justifies 
support for the Assad dictatorship.

Some "non-class anti-imperialists" have applied this mechanical rule to the 
Taliban. After all, there is still no immediate possibility of socialist 
revolution in Afghanistan. So the mechanical rule would make the Taliban into 
an alleged anti-imperialist force. This monstrous conclusion  was debated 
with a certain openness in the British left, which was the occasion for my 
article "The socialist debate on the Taliban".

 We need to establish a different framework for judging events than that put 
forward by either Stalinism or Trotskyism if we are to be able to judge 
events in Syria and elsewhere in the world from a serious class standpoint.. 
For example, with respect to the Arab Spring, the advocates of "permanent 
revolution" could support the popular movement only if they imagined that it 
might lead to workers' revolution. This led to euphoria when the movement was 
making progress, and denunciation of the movement when it suffered setback. 
It made it impossible for  them to see why a democratic movement could be 
valuable. Support for such a movement would be seen by them as Stalinist 

-- Joseph Green

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