[Marxism] Socialist Action on Libya and Syria

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Sat Oct 22 06:22:03 MDT 2016

I will deal in this note with some issues which I think apply to everyone who 
replied to my contribution to this thread,  and I will deal in separate notes 
with specific points raised by individual comrades.

I was disappointed that no one dealt with whether the theory of pernmanent 
revolution was responsible for Socialist Action denouncing the anti-Qaddfi 
struggle in Libya. It pretty clearly was, but it seems that various people 
would prefer this swept under the rug. There is a theoretical crisis in the 
left, and the left is going to deal with it seriously, it has to look at 
these examples seriously. Otherwise it's just a matter of clinging to dogmas 
of the past, and refusing to see what has to be changed.

It's not as if Socialist Action is some kind of outlier and exception. It was 
hardly the only Trotskyist group which was led astray on Syria and the Arab 
Spring by permanent revolution. I have given quotes elsewhere from a number 
of Trotskyist groups. True, some Trotskyists do support the democratic 
uprising on Syria and write useful material on it, but that's not the result 
of the theory of permanent revolution and it's not representative of the 
Trotskyist movement as a whole.

It has been charged that I have distorted the meaning of permanent revolution 
or don't really understand it. But that charge was made with respect to the 
definition of permanent revolution that came from Socialist Action: I quoted 
their own description of "permanent revolution".  Moreover, I have studied 
"permanent revolution" from the writings of Trotsky and various Trotskyist 
groups. Indeed it's notable that one comrade, while writing that my 
understanding of permanent revolution was supposedly shallow, went on to 
criticize Trotsky's formulations as well.  Apparently Trotsky didn't really 
understand it either.

The fact is that the Arab Spring is a major problem for permanent revolution. 
But the defenders of permanent revolution want to avert their eyes from this. 
One way they do it is by not mentioning permanent revolution when they have 
to go against it in practice, such as when supporting the democratic movement 
in Syria. Another way they do it is by pretending that the critics of 
permanent revolution are Mensheviks or have distorted it;  they pretend that 
no serous issue has been raised by the practice of the Arab Spring or by the 
critics of Trotskyism. There's a certain "code of silence" that is widely 
observed, in which the important thing is to rally around the "old man" or 
permanent revolution, not to test revolutionary theory in the light of 
events, not to advance revolutionary theory, not to examine why things have 
gone wrong repeatedly.. 

In line with this, it also seems that various people who commented on my 
views didn't bother to first see what my views were. Instead they repeated 
shopworn arguments from the past, and stock curses. But theory does advance 
over time, whether the Trotskyist movement cares to look at it or not. The 
fact is that Trotskyist theory is backrupt with respect to the Arab Spring, 
and so far no one I've seen has been able to produce an analysis based on 
"permanent revolution" that has stood up to the events of the Arab Spring. 
The Communist Voice Organization can reproduce what we wrote at the beginning 
of the Arab Spring, and the general framework still stands. But the 
predictions based on the permanent revolution were wishful thinking at best

-- Joseph Green

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