[Marxism] Socialist Action on Libya and Syria - reply to Ken Hiebert

Joseph Green 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 
the struggle.

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 

---Joseph Green

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