[Marxism] Socialist Action on Libya and Syria

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Fri Oct 21 01:41:04 MDT 2016

Ken Hiebert noted that Socialist Action hadn't always opposed the anti-Assad 
struggle in Syria, but had originally been favorable to it. In regard to 
this, he gave a link to an interesting criticism he had of their stand on 
Libya. He wrote:
> In September of 2011 I was taken aback by the SA statement on Libya and I
> wrote this comment.
> http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article2301

The last two paragraphs of Hiebert's comment in International Viewpoint were

"The statement of September 2nd has only one course of action to propose. 
'The liberation struggle in these countries also rests in the development of 
mass revolutionary socialist parties there,...'

"This advice is not very timely. Supporters of Socialist Action know through 
their own experience that it takes years, even decades, to build a 
revolutionary party. In any case, this will not be done separate and apart 
from participation in the struggles of today. If there are people in Libya 
who wish to follow the advice of SA, how should they be relating to the 
struggle today? Should they be putting forward a course of action for Libyan 
working people? What should that be?"

Now, how could Socialist Action make this sort of mistake? Well, it follows 
from their political program. As expressed "in a nutshell" (see 
https://socialistaction.org/program/ ), the following describes the only type 
of uprising they will support:

"Permanent Revolution:  This famous theory by Leon Trotsky holds that 
revolution in modern times, even in under-developed countries, has to be led 
by the working class and has to be a fully fledged socialist revolution - 
revolution cannot go through stages and cannot be made in alliance with any 
wing of the capitalist class. To be ultimately successful it also needs to be 
an international revolution. We believe that a successful socialist 
revolution will result in a workers´ government that is based on elected 
workers´ councils."

At the beginning of the struggle in Syria, Socialist Action could convince 
themselves that the struggle was an anti-capitalist one, and hence presumably 
it would develop according to the precepts of "permanent revolution". But as 
the situation developed, this would become impossible for anyone who hadn't 
been binge drinking on dogma to the point of unconsciousness. This left four 
alternatives for those who maintained a Trotskyist standpoint. 

One could renege on support for the Syria struggle; this would give rise to 
changes in position such as that by "Socialist Action". It wasn't simply an 
accident that "Socialist Action" fell backwards.

A second possibility is diehard unconsciousness, as show by the Communist 
Workers' Group of Aotearoa/New Zealand. It is convinced that the  Syrian 
struggle will continue along the path of permanent revolution. Its website 
"redrave" declared recently that  the local committes are "institutions... 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!" 

A third possibility is to repudiate permanent revolution, but try to keep 
most of Trotskyism, as put forth in the important article by Assad an-Nar, 
"Socialism and the Democratic Wager" (see the book "Khiyana: Dasesh, the Left 
& the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution").

But a fourth possibility, almost universal among Trotskyist supporters of the 
Syrian struggle, is to fall silent on the relationship of permanent 
revolution to the anti-Assad struggle or the Arab Spring altogether. This 
allowed some activists to produce a lot of good material in support of the 
Syrian democratic struggle, but at the price of avoiding a  very important 
theoretical issue and thus leaving open the possibility of future errors in 
judging democratic struggle. This position might be supplemented by shouting 
"Menshevik" at the top of one's voice against any non-Trotskyist who pointed 
out the incompatibility of "permanent revolution" with support for the Syrian 
democratic struggle. 

To return to Hiebert's critique of the 2011 article by Socialist Action, he 
asked how long it would take to build a revolutionary party in Libya, and 
said it might be decades. Now, from the point of view of "permanent 
revolution", the only thing lacking anywhere is "revolutionary leadership".  
But once emancipated from this standpoint, one can examine social, political, 
and economic factors that underlie why it might take decades to finally have 
the envisioned revolutionary party and its firm backing by the masses. And 
especially one might consider the nature of those struggles and uprisings 
that exist during the years of preparation for the "fully fledged socialist 
revolution" as Socialist Action would put it, and thus have a better basis 
for understanding what revolutionaries should do in regard to those 

-- Joseph Green

Joseph Green
mail at communistvoice.org

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