[Marxism] The Syrian uprising and the illusions of the permanent revolution
jgreen at communistvoice.org
Mon Oct 3 11:16:01 MDT 2016
>From the Detroit Workers' Voice list for October 2, 2016:
A reply to some supporters of the permanent revolution
1. Reply to redrave: The reality of the Syrian uprising
vs. the illusions of the permanent revolution
2. Redrave's polemic against the Communist Voice Organization
3. A list of some CVO articles on the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising
Reply to redrave: The reality of the Syrian uprising
vs. the illusions of the permanent revolution
By Joseph Green, Communist Voice Organization
A polemic has appeared against the Communist Voice Organization's position on
Syria. It was written by the Communist Workers' Group of Aotearoa/New
Zealand, which is a Trotskyist group which calls its website "red rave". By
putting forward absurdly unrealistic scenarios for Syria, it inadvertently
shows how useless the theory of "permanent revolution" is in dealing with the
struggle against the dictator Assad. Redrave denounces as "unconscious
Assadists" all those who "support the Syrian revolution", but don't see the
democratic struggle in Syria as a socialist revolution.
So at a time when there's a major fight in the left over the attitude to the
dictator Assad and whether to support the democratic movement in Syria,
redrave says that all those who don't agree with the Trotskyist theory of
"permanent revolution" are really "unconscious Assadists". That's an
astonishing feat of sectarianism. As those who read the Detroit Workers'
Voice list know, the DWV list has reprinted statements from Syrian and
American activists denouncing the US-Russian deal and opposing the Assad
dictatorship. We have indicated where we have disagreements with these
statements, but despite our disagreements we have welcomed statements from
Terry Burke, from prominent Syrian intellectuals, and from a number of
American activists. Redrave, however, would regard them all as "unconscious
Redrave insists that the Syrian uprising is a socialist movement. It writes
that "There can be no victorious bourgeois national revolution anymore unless
it is a permanent or socialist revolution."
But anyone who looks seriously at the situation in Syria knows that even a
successful overthrow of Assad will not lead to socialism. It would be of
immense importance; it would spread political life throughout Syria; and it
would change the Middle East. It would open the way for class struggle. But
socialism itself isn't imminent in Syria, or any country at this time.
Redrave, however, insists that one can see "Permanent Revolution in the
flesh" in Syria, arguing that workers' soviets are being built there. It
exaggerates beyond measure the nature of the committees and local groups that
exist in opposition-run areas of Syria, saying that "These are not
institutions of bourgeois democracy but of workers' democracy. They are the
result of proto workers communes that if joined up would be the basis for an
embryonic workers' state. ... That is why our program in Syria is ... armed
workers soviets everywhere!"
The Syrian people have shown tremendous initiative in building local
committees, militias, and groups. They have done so despite half a century of
enforced political passivity under the Ba'ath dictatorship. They have
continued to struggle despite incredible hardships. These are heroic actions
of the Syrian people, which will never be forgotten.
But the local groups aren't soviets. They are groups that deal with the
immediate necessity of the democratic uprising, and have a mixed class
character. Only people with their eye's closed, people drunk on abstract
dogma, can see this as the spread of armed workers' soviets. The theory of
"permanent revolution" encourages this wild speculation. It leaves no room
for considering what these committees really are, what their immediate tasks
are, or even what is the specific role of socialists in this situation.
Redrave goes on to talk about what it thinks is the true immediate
perspective for the Syrian struggle. Based on the theory of "permanent
revolution", it looks forward to the Syrian uprising doing such things as the
* "fight(ing) the Arab and Kurd national revolutions as one workers'
* "...the workers and peasants ... split(ting) decisively from their treacherous
bourgeois and petty-bourgeois class leaders and join(ing) forces with workers
and peasants of the whole MENA [Middle East and North Africa]."
* "....Iraqi, Egyptian, Palestinian, Kurd, and Iranian workers and peasants ...
tak(ing) the lead in their own national revolutions against imperialism, and
turn(ing) them into victorious socialist revolutions."
* A revolutionary bloc in Syria forming that "could unite not only all Arabs
in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but the whole of MENA".
* "A permanent revolution in which the Arab workers and peasants unite across
the whole of MENA to form non-sectarian, democratic, socialist republics in a
socialist federation with the Kurd and Iranian revolutions."
All this is supposed to be possible right now if only the Syrians have the
right orientation and leadership. This shows the non-serious rhetoric which
is encouraged by the theory of "permanent revolution". In reality, the day of
the socialist revolution will come, but it's not today. It's not
revolutionary to denounce those who are fighting hard today, because they
can't accomplish impossible feats. This holds back the movement, rather than
helping it forward.
Perhaps some people will think that the euphoric, other-worldly assessments
of redrave are just the musings of some small isolated group, which few other
Trotskyists would share. But that's not so. Back in 2011, when the Arab
Spring broke out, one after another of those Trotskyist groups which
supported the uprising wrote similar assessments. In articles I wrote at that
time, such as "Against left-wing doubts in the democratic movement", I quoted
a number of major Trotskyist groups in this vein. They may have come from
different Trotskyist tendencies then redrave, but when it came to "permanent
revolution", they were just as wild then as redrave is now.
For example, back then the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) was
enthusiastic about the mass upsurge, but stressed that "permanent revolution"
meant that nothing significant could be accomplished unless there was a
socialist revolution. Thus it wrote that the next step in Egypt was "a
conscious struggle for the working class to seize power". With regard to
Tunisia, LRP exaggerated the nature of the local councils and held that "the
working class and poor have already taken steps towards overthrowing the
ruling class and building a government of their own." Meanwhile "Spark" was
more realistic about how far the working masses had come. Nevertheless, it
wrote that unless there was a "genuine revolution" (its term for socialist
revolution) in the Arab Spring, the entire struggle will have been useless,
since 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." (1)
The fact is that the theory of "permanent revolution" makes it impossible to
accurately access what type of struggle is taking place. With regard to the
Arab Spring and the struggle against Assad, it left Trotskyists with four
1) When a Trotskyist group was enthusiastic about a mass struggle in the Arab
Spring, it would generally have a euphoric view of what was possible at this
time and call for the socialist revolution. At this time, the group would
back up its stand by talking about the "permanent revolution". Well, it's
true that there will eventually be a new wave of socialist revolutions in the
world. But it was utter fantasy to believe that socialism was imminent during
the Arab Spring. One has to analyze seriously the class forces to see what's
possible, and "permanent revolution" doesn't allow it. It has a
one-size-fits-all analysis: socialism is supposedly always imminent in any
mass uprising, if only there is revolutionary leadership.
2. When a Trotskyist group saw that the struggle was facing major setbacks in
the Middle East and North Africa, and that socialism wasn't imminent, then
the theory of "permanent revolution" would force it to either denounce the
struggle or lose interest in it. Some groups would simply stop writing on
this or that struggle, rather than explain why the struggle hadn't gone
according to "permanent revolution". The Spartacist League went even
further. It couldn't see any possibility of permanent revolution in Libya,
so, although it said Qaddafi was a "butcher of his 'own' citizens", it gave
him "military support" anyway. (2)
3. Some Trotskyists have simply ignored the theory of "permanent revolution"
when writing about Syria. This is especially so for those who have written
valuable material in defense of the democratic uprising. Ignoring "permanent
revolution" allows them to deal with the actual circumstances in Syria,
rather than simply repeating mechanical dogmas.
4. Some pro-Trotskyist activists who support the Syrian uprising want to
jettison the theory of "permanent revolution". The book "Khiyana: Daesh, the
Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution" reproaches the large section
of the left that has betrayed the Syrian people. It's an anthology, and the
first chapter, entitled "Socialism and the Democratic Wager", was written by
Assad an-Nar. This seems to be a pseudonym for a group of activists who still
adhere to a Trotskyist framework, but can't reconcile "permanent revolution"
with their support for the Syrian uprising. Assad an-Nar writes that "After
Trotsky's death Permanent Revolution was falsified by reality. ... As a
coherent current Trotskyism disintegrated, since clinging to Permanent
Revolution in defiance of the real world led either to a denial of the
reality of the anti-colonial revolution or the ascription of socialist
properties to many unlikely candidate social formations (often
Revolutionaries need to examine the concrete situation and particular
features of every struggle. "Permanent revolution", however, contemptuously
regards such assessments as "stageism"; it replaces realistic analysis with a
dogma that is repeated year after year, for every uprising, no matter how
times the analysis fails, no matter in how many countries the analysis fails,
no matter how many times even the Trotskyist group involved has had to back
off on the predictions of "permanent revolution". The truth is that the
Trotskyist theory of "permanent revolution" can't deal with the situation
facing democratic uprisings which aren't going to continue to a socialist
revolution. For this reason, "permanent revolution" has been a complete bust
with respect to the Arab Spring and other democratic movements around the
So it's no accident that redrave was led astray by "permanent revolution".
Other Trotskyist activists haven't done any better then redrave in applying
"permanent revolution" to Syria.
Finally, Redrave makes several particular arguments that deserve being
Redrave complains that I have denounced "Trotsky's Permanent Revolution as
denigrating the struggle for bourgeois democracy." Redrave says this isn't
true because it and Trotsky do use the term "democratic". True, but the point
is that "permanent revolution" says that a democratic struggle won't
accomplish anything if it doesn't lead immediately to socialist revolution.
That's what it means to denigrate the democratic struggle.
Redrave claims that I hold that "the bourgeois national democratic revolution
must be completed before socialist revolution is possible." But I never said
that. Redrave is just repeating a century-old polemic among the Trotskyists,
which has nothing to do with the position of the Communist Voice
Organization. If, instead, one examined the situation in Syria, one would see
that, among other things, the working class and the revolutionary movement in
Syria are just as disorganized as they are elsewhere around the world. Even
if Assad had been overthrown immediately, the working class was not in a
position to lead a revolution for socialism. This is a matter of an
assessment of the class forces and political realities involved, not of
waiting until there is a perfect bourgeois democracy.
Redrave denounces "stageism", and this leads it to ignore that different
struggles have their own particular character. Redrave can only imagine two
particular "stages" or characterizations of a struggle: either "bourgeois
national democratic revolution" or socialist revolution. There are many more
concrete situations than that. But Redrave doesn't even have a vocabulary
that would allow one to discuss the concrete situation in Syria.
It's long past time when the dogmas and jargon of Trotskyism should be
rejected. It's not only Stalinism, but Trotskyism that is bankrupt with
respect to the Arab Spring.
(1) "Against left-wing doubts about the democratic movement" by Joseph Green,
"Communist Voice" #46, November 2011 at
http://www.communistvoice.org/46cLeftWingDoubts.html. See the section "Dreams
of immediate socialist revolution" for the references to the LRP and Spark.
(2) Ibid., the section "Trotskyist 'military support' for Qaddafi".
Redrave's polemic against the Communist Voice Organization
Redrave's polemic against the CVO, which I have replied to above, is found in
its article "Hands off Aleppo! Victory to the Syrian Revolution!" [September
12, 2016]. The entire text can be found at
Below are excerpts that contain the polemic against the Communist Voice
The short definition of Permanent Revolution is that the bourgeois democratic
revolution cannot be completed except as a socialist revolution. Hence the
bourgeois democratic revolution does not represent a stage necessary to
prepare for socialism. The national democratic revolution becomes a
continuous, uninterrupted, and hence permanent revolution until it becomes an
international socialist revolution.
...The Syrian revolutionary war is the advance guard of the Arab Revolution.
That is why we insist that it is a definitive test of all those who claim to
lead workers to socialist revolution. This revolution exposes all those
self-proclaimed Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyists who fail this test and
objectively end up in the trenches of the class enemy. They can be
categorised roughly into two groups. Those who support Assad as an
anti-imperialist when he is a stooge of both U.S. and Russian imperialism,
and those who reject Assad as anti-imperialist but fall into the Menshevik
dogma that Arab workers as not ready for socialism and must fighting
alongside the national bourgeoisie to complete the national democratic
revolution to prepare the conditions for socialist revolution.
In the first group are the Blind Assadists who regard the workers as 'not
ready' for even the struggle for bourgeois democracy because they have been
replaced by imperialist backed jihadists. ... The most influential are those
who say that the 'rebels' are no different to the 'jihadists' funded by U.S.
proxies, Saudia Arabia, Turkey, etc. Hence they draw the conclusion that the
Assad regime is waging a just anti-imperialist war against US imperialist
In the second category are the Unconscious Assadists; those who recognise and
support the Syrian revolution but do not see the working class as capable of
socialist revolution without first exhausting the limits of bourgeois
democracy. This grouping includes Mensheviks, Maoists and Trotskyist
centrists, though their positions are far from identical. The
Menshevik/Maoist view is that in the epoch of imperialist decay the bourgeois
national democratic revolution must be completed before socialist revolution
is possible. A good example is the US organisation Communist Voice.
Joseph Green of Communist Voice rails against Trotsky's Permanent Revolution
as denigrating the struggle for bourgeois democracy. Yet Trotsky did not
reject bourgeois democratic demands such as the right to national
self-determination, merely by rebranding them 'transitional demands'. He
rejected the Menshevik division between the 'minimum' and 'maximum' program
as substituting a pre-ordained stageism for the dialectics of workers taking
the fight for immediate democratic demands that would be met inevitably by
imperialist repression, all the way to the socialist insurrection. We will
see below whether it is Leon Trotsky or Joseph Green who is right in the case
of the Syrian Revolution.
For Permanent Revolution!
Our task is to expose those who reject or revise Permanent Revolution. For us
there can be no stage in the national democratic revolution where fighting
for bourgeois democracy dictates in advance the defence of bourgeois
parliament. For the proletariat, the defence of bourgeois democracy is
justified only when it advances the socialist revolution. Whether or not
workers defend bourgeois parliament is a tactical question that depends on
the balance of class forces, that is, the advance or retreat of the
...Already the [Syrian] revolution has built new institutions based on
popular democracy to administer the territory it occupies. In other words
here is the Permanent Revolution in the flesh. To defend the immediate
bourgeois rights to live and of freedom of expression, workers, poor farmers,
street vendors etc., have created workers rights through their armed struggle
against "democratic" imperialism and their Syrian dictator Assad!
These are not institutions of bourgeois democracy but of workers' democracy.
They are the result of proto workers communes that if joined up would be the
basis for an embryonic workers' state. We do not defend the gains made, or
respect the loss of life in the revolution so far, by retreating to even the
most advanced bourgeois democracy, the 'constituent assembly'. In Syria
voting for bourgeois rights has been replaced by taking them arms in hand
against the bombs and mercenaries of self-proclaimed 'democratic'
imperialism. That is why our program in Syria is not for a Constituent
Assembly but armed workers soviets everywhere! ...
To do this we have to fight the Arab and Kurd national revolutions as one
workers' revolution. This is about class not nation. Turkey is carrying the
can for U.S. and Russia to divide and defeat the workers' revolution and
create stable pro-imperialist statelets ruled by their bourgeois clients.
There can be no victorious bourgeois national revolution anymore unless it is
a permanent or socialist revolution. And socialist revolution in one country
cannot survive unless it is international.
That is why the Arab and Kurd national revolutions cannot succeed unless the
workers and peasants who do the fighting split decisively from their
treacherous bourgeois and petty bourgeois class leaders and join forces with
workers and peasants of the whole MENA. It is necessary for the ranks of the
rebels to throw out the FSA and YPG leaders who are collaborating with the
U.S. and Russia. It is necessary for Iraqi, Egyptian, Palestinian, Kurd, and
Iranian workers and peasants to take the lead in their own national
revolutions against imperialism, and turn them into victorious socialist
They must reject the partition of Syria, Kurdistan and Iraq along sectarian
lines, and fight for unity along working class lines. We must appeal to
Turkish workers to reject Erdogan's deals with Russia and the U.S. and join
forces with the Arab and Kurd masses. We must oppose a new Sykes/Picot in the
form of a Kerry/Lavrov deal and fight for a victorious Arab revolution hand
in hand with a Kurd Revolution. If the FSA and PYG stopped fighting one
another over who controls north Syria and formed a revolutionary bloc, they
could unite not only all Arabs in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but the whole of
MENA against the deals being made by Russia and the U.S. to divide and defeat
these two revolutions.
We want a permanent revolution in which the Arab workers and peasants unite
across the whole of MENA to form non-sectarian, democratic, socialist
republics in a socialist federation with the Kurd and Iranian revolutions.
[End of excerpts from redrave's polemic] <>
Some CVO articles on the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising
For links to articles dealing with the theoretical issues raised above, see
"On the democratic uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East" at
For some of the more recent articles on the DWV list about Syria, see
* "American activists denounce the US-Russian deal" at
* "The statement of 150 Syrian writers, artists, and journalists against the
US-Russian deal" at http://www.communistvoice.org/DWV-160924.html.
* "The policies that led to the Syrian civil war" by Frank Arango, Seattle
Communist Study Group, at http://www.communistvoice.org/DWV-160924.html.
* "Terry Burke exposes the apologists for the Assad dictatorship" at
* Book Review: "Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian
Revolution" by Phil West, Seattle Communist Study Group, at
* "Assad's regime of murder" by Pete Brown, Detroit Worker's Voice, at
* "Support the Syrian people against the Assad dictatorship" at
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