[Marxism] Socialist Action on Libya and Syria - reply to Ken Hiebert
jgreen at communistvoice.org
Sat Oct 22 06:22:03 MDT 2016
Ken Hiebert <knhiebert at shaw.ca>
Ken Hiebert writes that I misunderstood his his criticism of the Socialist
Action article of Sept 2011 on Libya. He says that his point is that
> The task of building a revolutionary party is never counterposed to
> participating in the struggles of the present day, however limited those
> struggles are."
(Hiebert's full criticism can be found in
http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article2301, where it appears
under the title "A retreat from previous positions?"). I agree with comrade
Hiebert that party-building should be connected to participation in the mass
struggles. However, I don't think that is a very strong criticism of the
Socialist Action article.
The Socialist Action article of Sept 2, 2011 differed from the previous
article of April 28, that Hiebert had liked, by denouncing the struggle
against Qaddafi. It didn't do this because it discovered that revolutionaries
should abstain from present-day mass struggles. It did this because it held
that the particular struggle against Qaddafi was now suspect and a pawn of
Socialist Action holds that "permanent revolution" means that there has to be
a revolutionary leadership of the struggle by the working class, leading to
socialism. In the line with this, the earlier article of April 28 said that
"workers and peasants needed to begin organizing now -- starting with
workplace, neighborhood and militia gatherings".This was supposed to lead to
a new leadership of the struggle, concretized in a "constituent assembly"
with a "revolutionary program". While Socialist Action praised the "first few
weeks" of the Libyan uprising, it held that the movement had subsequently
degenerated in large part to being "local clients" of imperialism. So it
looked towards a new worker and peasant-dominated assembly that "could seek
to mobilize its own armed forces to battle both Qadhafi and the
imperialists", with the word "imperialists" referring to the forces of the
ongoing anti-Qaddafi struggle.
Thus the article of April 28 already regarded most of the fighters against
Qaddafi a "local clients" of imperialism. It could only support the movement
against Qaddafi beause it imagined entirely new institiutions being built,
including new armed forces which would both fight Qaddafi and prosecute a
civil war within the anti-Qaddafi movement. It's standpoint isn't much
different from the current stand of redrave on Syria, where redrave only
supports the anti-Assad struggle because it envisions that it would lead to
workers' soviets throughout the country. (Hiebert's article only excerpted
the April 28 article, but it helpfully gave a link to the article as a
But within a few months, Socialist Action had to admit that the wonderful
developments that it envisioned weren't going to happen. The article in
September spoke repeatedly about the leadership of the anti-Qaddafi movement,
and concluded that there were no signs that there was going to be a
revolutionary leadership. So the article characterized the anti-Qaddafi
movement as a whole as a "a six-month imperialist-led onslaught".
Now, would one try to build a mass revolutionary party by taking part in "an
imperialist-led onslaught"? Hardly. So the issue involved is the assessment
of the anti-Qaddafi struggle, not whether revolutionaries should take part in
onging struggles. Based on their understand of "permanent revolution" and of
Trotsky's theorizing on anti-imperialism, Socialist Action had concluded that
the anti-Qaddafi struggle had become reactionary. Because Socialist Action
adhered to permanent revolution, they could only support the anti-Qaddafi
struggle as long as they had fantastic illusions in what would happen in the
In his critique of the Septenber article, Hiebert wrote that the April 28
article "was still proposing a course of actions for the insurgent Libyans".
I think that's an excessively charitable view of the article of April 28.
Yes, it talks of demands to be given and so forth, but the overall context is
imagining a fantastic alternative to the struggles of the present day, and it
includes a call for civil war within the anti-Qaddafi movement.
What happened is that Socialist Action applied its understanding of
"permanent revolution" to the situation in Libya. This is what inspired its
fantastic schemes in April, and its utter denunciation of the movement in
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