Dogma or Revolution? The Choice Is Ours

by The North Star on July 9, 2012

By Christian Wright

I like this article, and I am glad it is written.

The American left barely exists. The self-consciously “anti-imperialist” American left, in a country of 300 million people, can probably be housed in its entirety in one of our smaller to mid-sized sports areas. Its influence is marginal, but unfortunately this rarely translates into approaches of humility.

Gazing into the darkness of our political life, often from the vantage of a dingy apartment in some gray, overcrowded, stressful, expensive city of hostile, preoccupied strangers, many of our anti-imperialist leftists comfort themselves with dogmas and rigidity. This is understandable. Why do you think Mormon missionaries forgo reading non-Mormon literature during their missions? Why do they pray so hard at night and spend so much attention on the neatness of their uniforms? It is difficult to be a missionary, a bearer of truth in an apathetic, sinful, and oft-unfriendly world. Insulating oneself within the mother-bosom of dogma, icons, and sacred writ is a useful way to strengthen oneself, regardless of how well it retards one’s own development as a critically thinking individual.

I think the “hard left” in the U.S. picked its sides and stuck with them before, and independently of, any facts or developments in Libya. If you believe certain dictators are better than others, and ought to be supported, despite their authoritarianism, because they have nationalized such-and-such resource, or initiated such-and-such social program to try and win popular support, you are going to have a hard time finding the right side to be on when one day the people tire of their dictator’s rule.

The U.S. “hard left” is a collection of aged and unsuccessful revolutionaries who developed politically in the 1960s and 70s. They grew up with a view that authoritarian one-party states, and charismatic Third World dictators ought to be supported as liberators because they were fighting against capitalistic exploiters. Long after the capitalistic exploiters had been chased away and the new emperors began developing their own ways of exploiting people, the fawning and dictator-worship remained. So what if Ghadafi’s kids were entertained on Caribbean islands by American pop stars while they guzzled cases of champagne? Their dad has said the word “socialist” before! Therefore, he deserves our support. Of course!

I don’t care what the “correct” anti-imperialist line is and I don’t care to try and rank the nation’s countries on a “socialistic” hierarchy where individual freedoms and political rights can be exchanged for social services or a cut of the pie. I also don’t care whether or not a Third World dictator is able to buy the support of some of his people by putting gas and oil profits back into infrastructure, because guess what? Global warming is real and Ghadafi and Chavez’s development of their national resources is, globally, a step in the wrong direction that will contribute to catastrophic changes in weather patterns and sea levels.

If you want to be a usefully political citizen you have to learn to be a critical thinker first. This is a world that is being destroyed ecologically by powerful people who make comfortable living for themselves by keeping the majority of people politically and economically powerless — and more importantly — confused. You can’t trust anyone or any group to do your thinking for you, you have to do it for yourself. That is a practice the hard left organizations in the United States generally (not always) do not train their members in.

Our left does not know what it means to fight to win. They have won little over my life time. They have been very adept at fighting loosing battles and spouting slogans into the air. If you’re not expecting to win anything anyway, it’s pretty easy to say whatever you want. Being “right” and letting other people know it becomes more important than being effective. Like college sophomores trying to impress one another in a dorm with their knowledge of obscure subjects, our domestically unsuccessful revolutionaries are quite vocal in their instructions to people actually fighting revolutions abroad. These instructions are not usually helpful, but of course, why would they be?

There is fundamental disagreement about who “the enemy” is. It is my opinion that most of the allegedly American Marxist organizations thought Ghadafi was closer to socialism than a post-Ghadafi Libya would be. After that point the case was closed. They would have preferred to see Benghazi leveled than to see the different classes, individuals, and parties within that country decide for themselves what political policies their nation should adopt.

People who fight to win and actually win often prioritize effectiveness over the integrity of principles. When the people you are fighting have tanks and bombers and snipers and are shelling and bombing you and you can expect to be murdered within a few hours, days, or weeks, at that point military efficiency and effectiveness, not intellectually correct political positions, will be of great value.

Those whose conception of a revolution anywhere today involves a self-consciously Marxist, feminist, grassroots network of democratically functioning workers’ councils, with its own movement controlled independent media and accountable leaders, and, heck, commitment to non-violence and secularism to boot, can expect to be disappointed by what actual revolutions actually look like. This even more so in the Middle East.

Revolutions are not academic exercises in political correctness. They start with the humans we have today, whose political development has been determined by the real world and the legacy of past victories, failures, promises, and betrayals, and whose resources, allies, and agendas are confused, vacillating, and often contradictory.

Al-Jazeera has been criticized for being controlled by the Qatari monarchy. Hence, I suppose, it must be incapable of ever telling the truth or functioning independently. It must have been illusion then, when I noticed in 2010 and 2011 that Al-Jazeera supported the Egyptian Revolution wholeheartedly from day one to the great distress and embarrassment of that government’s principle military sponsor, the United States of America.

I also noticed someone in this discussion posted a link to a Huffington Post article, but no one here then criticized the Huffington Post. Did you know the Huffington Post is run by member of the bourgeois class? Did you know they like to not pay their writers and that many left writers recently stopped writing for them in protest of its policies? Did you know that the Huffington Post Web site is getting paid by Sears to advertise a new grill they are selling, and while the capitalistic owner of the Huffington Post is being paid by Sears for the use of their site, Huffington Post writers are themselves often not paid? Isn’t that a terrible example of capitalistic exploitation? They are even supporting Barack Obama for God sake! So why is a link to their Web site posted here, and no one points this out, and no one says that everything on the Huffinton Post cannot be believed because it is obviously controlled by a member of the ruling class?

That is because we know the Huffington Post continues to post many useful and relevant articles, despite its shortcomings. The Huffington Post likes gay people having rights too and has news about that. The Huffington Post directs scrutiny against the misdeeds of Wall Street. The Huffington Post likes people being able to have health care and thinks Wal Mart workers get a raw deal and that they deserve a better one.

The Huffington Post is an ally of justice and of oppressed people. At the same time, it functions as an imperfect entity, containing within itself relations of injustice and oppression. Often it sides with oppressors and is content to celebrate the charity of exploitative billionaires at the same it laments the condition of poverty in America.

It is contradictory and imperfect.

As is everything. Everywhere.

Navigating our political world, we must pledge our allegiance to genuine principles, not to organizations, presidents, or parties. All of these can, have, and will fail us. All of them can be corrupted. You can make use of some of them by doing so critically, and you must constantly evaluate what you get from something, versus what potential bad thing might happen later if you get involved with it. By reading the above Huffington Post article, I contributed to advertising revenue and market share of an exploitative and capitalistic news agency. I did so because I felt it was worth it to understand this discussion.

It disappoints, but does not surprise me, that an individual here found a problem with the idea that, “the international left base its positions regarding imperialist intervention on what the 0.2% of the world’s population who lived in Libya might have wanted.” Is this not, then, revealing?

I believe wholeheartedly that Libyans and no one else had the right to determine how a revolution in Libya should proceed.

A revolution is made by a people. When you have a movement, and the power structure represses it, you have to decide whether to retreat, reorganize, and try again later, or whether to respond and escalate and accept the consequences of that escalation. Revolutions are highly escalated political dialogues between rulers and ruled people. The right to determine when to risk that escalation, and when to open the Pandora’s Box of armed conflict, is the right of free people everywhere.

When a people decides to have a revolution, it is done not through a ballot box or through an online internet survey. There are those ahead of the game, and those who lag behind it. There are those who lead and those who follow. There are hotheads who invite premature and catastrophic oppression. There are conservatives who mask the protection of their own vested interests and positions behind concerns for “peace” and “orderliness.” Politically “combined and uneven development” is the rule. It cannot be otherwise.

I might also take this opportunity to remind our laptop revolutionaries that an actual revolution is a bloody awful and horrible thing. If you embark on a revolution you know that you are going to risk everything and everyone that you love and that is important to you. You may even loose yourself, and you may find yourself doing terrible things in order to prevent them being done to you.

If and when a revolution is necessary, that is to be determined by an internal dialogue among the people waging it. When it does occur and you find yourself in a military engagement, you are no longer fighting on moral terms. You may have to make compromises and temporary allegiances with untrustworthy, and even politically suspect allies. May I remind you that we in the United States are no longer ruled over by a monarch because of our alliance with the reactionary, slaveholding, French aristocracy in the 1770s and 1780s? Should black Americans in the 1860s have opposed the intervention of the North in the Civil War that freed them because the North was ruled by capitalists?

Were the Viet Minh wrong to accept the help of the Americans in their fight against the Japanese during World War Two?

Certainly, the Americans later betrayed them. Cold war politics led them to side with the French, and assist their re-conquest of their former colony in exchange for French anti-communist political support. In doing so, they turned their backs on their old allies. The Americans ultimately behaved dishonorably and against the goals of the Viet Minh in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Still, if it was 1943 and you were in Viet Nam fighting the Japanese, even if you could see in the future that the Americans might betray you, would you still refuse their gifts of arms and the military training OSS officers were willing to provide for you?

OSS members pose with Viet Minh leaders Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap during training at Tan Trao in August 1945. Deer Team members standing, l to r, are Rene Defourneaux, (Ho), Allison Thomas, (Giap), Henry Prunier and Paul Hoagland, far right. Kneeling, left, are Lawrence Vogt and Aaron Squires.

A revolution has the right to choose its own allies, make its own mistakes, and succeed or fail as it will. I support the right of Libyans, Syrians, and everyone else who can expect to be murdered by a dictator’s henchman to secure whatever military support they can from where ever they can get it to support their cause.  I’ll leave the long-term consequences of such alliances for them to determine the potential benefit or liability of. No one is going to shoot me tomorrow or shell my house if I fail to win. As such I am not about to substitute my own uninformed and distant opinion for the decisions made by actual revolutionaries actually fighting a revolution.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony July 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm

This commentary is extremely offensive because it simply misstates over and over again the basic reasons many comrades have for why ALL marxists should be against regime changes driven by imperialist governments. Christian, if you lie constantly and tell others that people who disagree with you are 100% supporters of Assad and Gaddafi do you somehow make that really true? No you don’t and it bores the living breath out of us to have to constantly respond to this repeated and nauseating lie.

Comrade Proyect might have disagree one with the US and NATO making regime changes in the Balkans because HE alone thought that he was defending some Mr. Socialist good guy (Milosevic), but other comrades also were against regime change made by imperialist NATO simply because we should oppose all such efforts, and not just when we’re madly in love with whatever guy is under attack, such as Louis seems to have been with Slobodan.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm

1. Neither the Libyan nor the Syrian revolutions are driven by imperialist governments.

2. Opposing said revolutions means supporting the status quo in Libya and Syria, so yes, in that sense those who oppose both revolutions against Assad and Ghadafi support them staying in power. That is not the same thing as being a Ba’athist or a Green revolutionary.

3. Louis Proyect is not mentioned in this piece and any comments relating to him are 100% irrelevant. As I said in another thread, if you have a problem with him this is not the place for it.


Tony July 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm

‘1. Neither the Libyan nor the Syrian revolutions are driven by imperialist governments.’

Pham, I am sorry, but you simply bluntly just stating that the Libyan and Syrian opposition to their nationalistic governments had and have no connection with the imperialist USA simply is not going to make it ever so. Here is the fact of the matter from some info readily available on wikipedia…
In May 2005, the Organizing Committee for the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition held a series of weekly meetings to discuss and develop an agenda for a conference “to put together practical approaches for following up on many efforts made by various Libyan political groups and individuals in their challenge of the Libyan dictatorship” of Muammar Gaddafi.

The National Conference for the Libyan Opposition was formed on 26 June 2005 in London. Composed primarily of opposition advocates and activists living outside Libya, the Conference met sharing three demands:

The relinquishing of all Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s revolutionary, political, military and security powers;

The formation of a transitional government run by individuals who are recognized of being trustworthy and have the capabilities to run the country for a period no longer than one year, in order to bring the country back into constitutional life; and

Establishment of a constitutional and democratic state built on key concepts such as political and cultural diversity and peaceful transition of government powers; a state that guarantees fundamental freedom and human rights, that establishes the rule of law, equality and equal opportunity to all Libyan citizens without any form of discrimination; that protects and develops national resources, and endows balanced foreign relations built on mutual respect.
Pham, it is generally considered illegal to organize for the overthrow of another government in a country in the US and Britain, UNLESS the US and British government actually support and are assisting that overthrow effort, and they were. Britain and the US would not allow for groups of activists to openly organize on US and British soil for the overthrow of the Israeli or Saudi governments, for example.

And as to your Point #2, Pham, you are also dead wrong. Opposing regime changes sought by imperialist countries is not to politically support the dictators that might reside at the head of the countries targeted by imperialism. It is to support the self determination of those countries which is being violated by US and European imperialist powers. You personally have ZERO understanding about that, which is why we are at opposites here, not because I am supporting Gaddafi and Assad in anything other than their defense of their own sovereign nations from imperialist sponsored war making.

The utter lack of respect for the nations under attack by US imperialism and the utter lack of showing that you understand that their self determination is under attack by foreign imperialist governments is appalling! It show s a complete absence by yourself and your co-thinkers from any efforts to build an antiwar movement in the US and Europe. Why would you build an antiwar movement when you share the same goals of your own capitalist governments when it comes to bringing about regime changes in the countries they have targeted?


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

1. You are ignoring the grassroots opposition within Libya and using Wikipedia(!), a user-edited site, as a source for factual information. That’s two strikes.

2. “Opposing regime changes sought by imperialist countries is not to politically support the dictators that might reside at the head of the countries targeted by imperialism.” So because Uncle Sam wants regime change in Syria and Libya, the people in those countries are not allowed to want regime change? And here I thought you believed in self-determination for Third World countries.


Brian S. July 9, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Actually, I think Wikipedia is a great source and depend on it a lot, as long as you don’t let it substitute for critical thinking.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 10, 2012 at 9:34 am

Wikipedia is a decent introduction but is not a valid source for factual material because it is user-edited. A Wiki article can change day to day, hour to hour. I saw this happen with the Wiki entry for my former socialist group, the International Socialist Organization: Critics were inserting things that were half-truths, bogus claims, as well as some valid criticisms that nonetheless violated Wiki’s guidelines and were subsequently removed.


Brian S. July 9, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Hello again Tony I’ve apologised to you on the other thread for reading innacurate things into your posts, so I’ll try and avoid doing that here. I agree with you that its theoretically possible to oppose imperialist intervention without supporting the regimes that the intervention is directed against (most of my one-time comrades try to do that). But you direct an immense amount of invective against the opposition to Gaddafi and Assad, and very little (that I’ve seen) against the regimes. Is it surprising that people conclude you support the regimes against their internal opponents (ok maybe its only 90%)? If that’s not the case I think you should step back and set out your position in a clearer way.
You’re at it again here: you cite a 7-year old tenuous link between a Libyan opposition group and the British government (on the grounds that it was held on British soil! – does that make the Bolsheviks agents of the British/Swedes/ Swiss / Czechs?) And make the absurd claim that an opposition conference of this sort is somehow illegal.
As Pham points out, this ignores the fact that the Libyan revolt was neither initiated by any external opposition group – although they naturally parachuted in after the fact – nor led by it subsequently on the ground. Its clear that the western governments were taken by surprise, and as you know the CIA was divided on what side to support.
You talk about “respect for the nations under attack” but in this case doesn’t that mean respect for the Gaddafi regime? If not, what? In my book, the cause of self-determination here (unless your using it in some legalistic way) was that of the Libyan rebels.


Tony July 9, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Brian, I do not feel that it is our job in the US to help heap invective on dictatorships that the imperialists of the US government are trying to topple from power, while those countries are under direct attack most especially. That does not however mean that I would think that Syrians and Libyans under Gaddafi and Iranians all ought to all shut up about the frequent abuses that their own governments dish out to their dissidents of all types.

I think that Cuban dissidents have that right as well to open their mouths about dysfunctional elements of the government there, too. Should I ALSO jump on board with them because I do see problems with the Cuban government that need discussing, even as our US government continues its long standing warfare against the Cuban government. NO, I should not.

I find a lot of innocence about comrades thinking that supposedly the imperialists have had only minimal roles in forming opposition to the Syrian and Libyan governments they are trying to overthrow, or have already overthrown. Would these same supposed marxist innocents believe the innocent same about Cubans who are opposed to the Castro regime being not really influenced in major way by the Pentagon and D.C.? Would they? Then why this play innocence from US socialists when it comes to Libyans and Syrians who have opposed their authoritarian governments?

Cuba has had Castro-s in power for some very long times now and it is reasonable to know that this causes an opposition to form. But it is also reasonable to know what and who is the main force behind Cuban opposition to the government in power. The US government is… same as with Libya and Syria.


Brian S. July 10, 2012 at 10:48 am

I think it doesn’t make sense to defend another state simply because imperialism doesn’t like it (I’m probably at risk of going around the circle again here) – there must be some thing there worth defending in its own right: a positive balance in its contribution to global humanity (and blocking imperialism might be part of that calculation). You also need to look at the dynamic – does this state show signs of moving forward or having a capacity to change for the better.
What is it you find worth defending in Gaddafi’s Lybia and Asssad’s Syria? What was/is the dynamic of these regimes?
Your argument about imperialist meddling in Cuba vs Libya/Syria is unconvincing. In the case of Cuba, its obvious, well documented and transparent. In the latter caseswe’re not talking about general meddling (that I am sure is going on) but very specific allegations – that popular opposition movements in those countries are the creatures of imperialist manipulation. For that there is no evidence (hence the desparately thin argument of your last post.) All you have to base it on is general principle and your personal assertion.
Not enough.


Tony July 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Brian, it should be obvious what is worth defending, and that is the right of the people not to be subjected to a war pushed off on them by imperialists exploiting differences inside these 2 nations in order to get their desired regime changes accomplished. Now, how about you doing some real soul searching here, and ask yourself why the Pentagon wants regime changes in Libya and Syria from what we have had there? The answer is also part of the answer to me that you asked.

For you to state that you can find no evidence of US manipulation in the internal affairs of Syria and Libya is just appalling nonsense, and shameful to hear it from a marxist no less. I guess you can find no evidence of US manipulation in the affairs of Mexico, also? Nor in Pakistan either? I simply find this sort of nonsense unfathomable coming from one who considers himself a socialist internationalist. I’m beginning to think that your ideological camp simply has absolutely no shame and will say preposterous nonsense same as the USA First people in general are willing always to do.


Brian S. July 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm

A lot in this I agree with. I think behind this debate over Libya (and to some extent Syria) lie some more fundamental issues.
I think that we (not sure who that is exactly but I lean towards the French formula “the left of the left”) have got to face up to the fact that history over the past half century or so has not moved in the way we had expected (i write this as a “68er” . Particularily with the disintegration or transformation of Soviet-style state socialism (no matter how much it was deformed or we may have dissented from its practices), we have lost any substantial embodiment of the idea that “another world is possible”. Its like we have been transported back a century or more to a situation where “socialism” is only a utopian ideal. This, I think, means that we need to revisit and rethink some basic concepts and begin to search for new bearings.
An important element of this process will be a rethinking of our attitude towards “democracy” – its meaning, its significance, and what role it has to play in our political strategies (if we ever manage to work any out).
This may sound a bit abstract but I think its something we have already started to do intuitively, and it has a lot to do with the sharp differences we have been airing on this site over international matters.
On the one hand, I think there is a group of us who are coming to regard democracy (or some other expression) as a central (if not the central) value: for us the most important thing is that people should be able – collectively, but also individually) to take control of their lives and futures. For us this is more important than the particular use they make of that power, within a certain range (personally I’m a bit inclined towards John Stuart Mill for guidance here, but I don’t expect others to follow). What is important is that the choices should be free ones, that minorities should not be penalised, and that there should be room for dissenting voices (which will probably include ours for some time to come).
So when it comes to choosing between an upheaval in Libya that espouses sjuch a cause and a repressive regime that denies it, our choice is clearly for the former, even if the latter gets more up the nose of western imperialism and has a lot of nationalised industries. if a “democratic” movement is forced to turn to alien forces for its survival (imperialism, NATO etc) we worry about it, express some criticism, but don’t regard it as irretrievably compromised or reverse ouit preferences. Similarily if this movment culminates in choices that would not be ours (western-leaning liberalism, tolerant Islamists). This is the just part of the historical process in which we have to situate ourselves.
I don’t want to usurp the right of the other side in this debate to summarise their own perspective, so let me just say that I think they have almost the opposite view – democracy is lower down their scale of values and subordinated to specific outcomes rather than seen as a relatively fundamental means for all the outcomes we may want to achieve. So better an authoritarian regime with some “anti-imperialist” effecst than a democracy that may in the immediate term not have that impact.
This is just a first cut at saying something on this subject – and its essentially a static one.There’s more to be said if we look at things dynamically. But this is enough for one evening’s theorising on my part.


Aaron Aarons July 10, 2012 at 2:15 am

The self-consciously anti-imperialist American left is small, the people to criticize and, perhaps, make psychological observations about, are those who claim to be “left” but are NOT anti-imperialist. When the above article, which mostly attacks straw men, first appeared on this site as an overly-long comment to another anti-anti-imperialist screed, there were a few useful responses to that comment.

One of those responses was my own one calling Christian on his reactionary identification with the founders of the United States, expressed in the rather nonsensical question, “May I remind you that we in the United States are no longer ruled over by a monarch because of our [sic!] alliance with the reactionary, slaveholding, French aristocracy in the 1770s and 1780s?” But Christian Wright, when he’s not being so non-specific as to be banal, loads his polemic with historical examples that, aside from being mostly mis-represented, are irrelevant to the present discussion.

By the way, while there was nothing wrong with Ho Chi Minh’s forces accepting arms and military training from the U.S. while both were fighting the Japanese, it was very wrong for Ho to continue the alliance with the Western alliance after Japan was defeated. In particular, Ho allowed the British branch of that alliance to invade Saigon in September of 1945, supposedly to accept the surrender of the Japanese troops there, and violently repressed working-class militants and others who wanted to resist that invasion. Of course, the British quite quickly paved the way for the French colonialists to reoccupy Southern Vietnam.


Aaron Aarons July 10, 2012 at 2:27 am

C.W.: “A revolution has the right to choose its own allies, make its own mistakes, and succeed or fail as it will.”

Revolutions do not make choices. People involved in them do.

If you’re going to lecture us on critical thinking, Christian, you should start with a little bit of self-criticism of your own sloppy, cliche-ridden writing. Dealing with all the lapses in critical thought in this one polemic of yours might be too big a job for us anti-imperialists who are, as you pointed out, small in number.


Brian S. July 10, 2012 at 10:24 am

I thought this was a dicussion about politics, not literary stylistics.


Aaron Aarons July 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm

It is a discussion about politics, including the issue of “critical thinking” that Christian Wright raised in his comment-article while turning the matter on its head in his attempt to use it as a cudgel against the anti-imperialist left. I’m trying to use critical thinking in specific contexts in order to show how mushy Wright’s arguments, and those of many of his co-thinkers, appear when exposed to real critical thinking.

But maybe you don’t see, Brian, that describing all the often-contradictory choices made by the various individuals and groups involved in a “revolution”, “insurrection”, “uprising”, or whatever as choices made by that “revolution”, “insurrection”, “uprising”, or whatever is, objectively if not intentionally, a way to impede analysis of what is actually happening and of who is doing what to whom.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 10, 2012 at 10:03 am

A good example of the Libyan revolution’s contradictions is that Benghazi, the center of the revolution, was also the center of a movement to boycott the first national elections since Ghadafi was defeated:

Turnout in there was even higher than the national figure of 64%.


Brian S. July 10, 2012 at 10:57 am

And the “federalists” have announced that “the people have spoken” and they are going to dissolve.


Tony July 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I think it is very clear that the selection has cleared up nothing for Libyans and that they actually will face continued sectarian warfare between various Right Wing gangs into the indefinite future. No socialist in the US should be cheering events happening currently in Libya. Not even a stable and independent corporate run democracy seems on the near horizon here, let alone a real social and economic revolution in the making.

The country is in about as big a mess as Iraq, Somali, Afghanistan, and Yemen are. And Egypt may very well follow along with Bahrain and other Gulf States into this chaos. All this thanks to Pentagon war making throughout the entire region. If comrades talking about the so-called ‘Libyan Revolution’ had participated in the least in trying to create an antiwar movement in the US, their current thoughts would have be a lot less delusional than they now are.


Brian S. July 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Hi Tony – You’re at it again – showing no regards for the facts.There are a lot of people who have been forecasting that Libya will go the way of Iraq. Afghanistan, etc. In my view that’s an ill-informed analysis by people who simply haven’t properly studied the situation But its a possible outcome, whose probability shifts from day to day as the Libyan situation unfolds (it seems that a serious confrontation is brewing between the Misrata militia and Bani Walid: this is going to be the first big test for post-election Libya – and of course the new institutions are not yet in place to influence it -, so I’m watching it with considerable trepidation. We’ll see.)
But to claim that Libya is already in the position of Iraq, etc is just to display a combination of ignorance and prejudice (either you don’t know the facts about Libya or you do and you weight the facts in a totaly biaised fashion.
Do you know what the civilian death toll was in Iraq in the first year after the end of the war? According to Iraq Body Count (the most reliable, but a relatively conservative estimate: 120 000
Do you know what the civilian death toll was in Libya in the first year after the end of the war?
There’s no” Libya body count” and some methodological issues; but let’s do a rough upper-end estimate, including deaths in inter-militia fighting, deaths of prisoners in custody and other repressive actions by militia, and inter-ethnic fighting and cross border disputes in the South and other areas (which are only partially related to the revolution): about 700-800? – let’s round it up and say 1000. Adjust for population and the time span and the number of deaths in Libya is about 5% of those in Iraq in that first year.
Libya is troubled but = Iraq! Only in the most fevered imaginations.


Tony July 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Brian, I did not say that the situation in Libya was IDENTICAL to that of Iraq, now did I? In fact, I compared the situation GENERALLY to a growing group of countries, all of which are messed up now from US imperialism though none of them in exactly identical manner.

Still, Iraq is Afghanistan is Yemen is Somalia is Libya, Comrade. None of them are messed up in an exactly identical manner though, but these countries are a bloc of messed over nations for the same reason that all of them have been hit by US militarism being involved in exercising control over their own ability to practice their own self determination and not have US foreign intervention running the nation behind the scenes.

If you do insist in seeing Libya as now a thoroughly independent and in control over itself society though, nobody can make you understand otherwise for now. That’s how it is with exceptionally obtuse folk, Comrade. However, I sense that your real interest in Libya is so minimal that you will simply have moved on to making another political mistake of some kind or other by the time the shit truly hits the fan for Libyans, so to speak. The country is already half smashed up but you are celebrating that evidently, not fully understanding that here has been no great advance here, but demolition.

Honestly. This desire for you to be so obtuse about what is being said to you baffles me. Would you really like to be a Libyan in the destruction that the US has left for them now? Oh, I know! You think that the Libyans just started brawling all on their own because of the Big Bad WolF, Gaddafi, don’t you? Except you are incredibly wrong here. The US government had been working to overthrow Gaddafi for years, and the hard work finally paid off for the Pentagon, whether you have figured that out or not, Brian… My guess is that you never have known blip about eh country until just a few months ago, and what you still know now is NOTHING.


Brian S. July 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm

“The country is in about as big a mess as Iraq, ” – Tony


Tony July 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Brian, you’re a trip, Man!

‘The country is in about as big a mess as Iraq, Somali, Afghanistan, and Yemen are.’- Tony.

Do you see the difference in what I actually said and what you say I said, Comrade? Don’t rewrite quotes from other people, Guy. Really now!

I have no doubt that Somalia for example is much worse off than Libya right now. But so? The net result is that Libya is part of a GROUP OF NATIONS TORN APART BY THE USA. Get it now? It is not alone at the dawn of a new age like you, Clay, and Pham would have us all believe. I just don’t get this intentional dullness about these matters on your parts?

I haven’t seen this sort of nonsense since the ‘Save Darfur’ people were all going hysterical demanding ‘that we must do something!’ (meaning that the Pentagon must do something). One of the young local Zionist women even specialized in crying when she spoke and demanded action, in a place for a people she knew ABSOLUTELY NADA about. Brian, you know absolutely nada about Libya, is that not the actual case? Tell us the truth, Brian. What do you actually know about the country and the people there? ZILCH?


Brian S. July 11, 2012 at 10:25 am

Eh! – this is a drect quote from you, not “rewritten”.
Let’s do some more:
“I have no doubt that Somalia for example is much worse off than Libya right now.”
So how is this “a group” if it includes countries in such very different circumstances?
And if Libya is much better off than Somalia (the correlate of Somalia being much worse off than Libya) in what sense has Libya been “torn apart” (by the USA or anyone.) You do take refuge in a tremendous amount of imprecise language.
I don’t now what you attack me for knowing nothing about Libya (other than you’re getting unduly grumpy). I’ve never have my “boots on the ground” in Libya, but it would be a real lapse into solipsism if you argued that this meant I could have no valid knowledge of the country. Although on reflection that is probably consistent with your world view.


Ross July 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I think a serious political discussion of Libya and its revolution is impossible if comments by people like Tony and Aaron are taken seriously. A lot of people on the socialist left are unequivocally opposed to intervention. It’s a valid position. It is in fact counterintuitive to even suggest that a legitimate popular revolution could make use of, much less depend on, Western airstrikes. But it is not impossible. If revolutionaries have decided (and no easy decision could it be!) to incorporate the tendency of NATO governments to intervene and possibly turn it to their favor, being fully aware of the risks, both to politics and to life and limb itself, that does not automatically make them counterrevolutionaries by any stretch, and it does not condemn their revolution to the creation of a Western stooge state. This is true, crucially, even if a significant portion of the Libyan people, including active revolutionaries, opposed this move. We were not part of the debates, and we didn’t face the consequences of defeat in the same way that Libyans did.

All we can do on the outside is face reality. The intervention happened, Qadafi is gone, and the people of Libya are in a very different situation than they were a year ago. The only sensible debate for us is how Libyans can proceed now, what their use of NATO means for our antiwar movements, and how developments in Syria might change the situation further. We need fact based analysis, sound political arguments, and strategic thinking towards an actual goal (which must include the end to militarist intervention!). We cannot have such a debate when not only are certain commenters hell bent on proving everyone else counterrevolutionary before debate even starts, but when each comment is replied to as though it were a reasoned attempt at persuasion, when they are clearly not.

I realize the internet is not known for sensible arguments in comment sections, and the left is by no means any exception to that, but come on. It might actually be necessary to eliminate the comments section altogether, and have debate occur the old fashioned way, with actual rebuttals, “letters,” and some form of transparent editorial mediation.


Tony July 10, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Come on, Ross, can’t you do better than this tortured apologetic for SUPPORTING NATO being in the thick of the matter in the forces overthrowing Gaddafi?

‘…But it is not impossible. If revolutionaries have decided (and no easy decision could it be!) to incorporate the tendency of NATO governments to intervene and possibly turn it to their favor, being fully aware of the risks, both to politics and to life and limb itself, that does not automatically make them counterrevolutionaries by any stretch, and it does not condemn their revolution to the creation of a Western stooge state…’

I realize that Gaddafi was a miserable sort of thug to have been ruling over Libya, but when Libyan opposition forces actively allow themselves to be recruited into the US imperialist / Pentagon forces, YES that does make them counterrevolutionaries and not socialist revolutionaries like obviously you would want them to actually be.

Plus your ending paragraph essentially calls for censorship of this debate IN FAVOR OF YOUR OPINIONS and against the opinions of others. One simply gets sick of this mind set on the Socialist Left. It’s what makes us so damn unpopular with much of the masses. They see us as all being censors and wannabe dictators, which is what you,Ross, say you are supposedly all against.

‘A lot of people on the socialist left are unequivocally opposed to intervention. It’s a valid position.’

Yes, well… but it obviously is not your position though. You are here calling the merging of opposition forces with NATO acceptable and even part of a possible strategy by revolutionaries, when in fact, it simply is not. To call in imperialist forces in the Third World to back up your rebellion against a dictator and allow imperialist forces to organize your own actions, is to become part of something much more counter-revolutionary than the local dictator you are rebelling against.

Lenin certainly never called on German forces to continue to attack and bomb Russia so that the Bolsheviks might take quicker take power. The masses of Russian certainly would have hung him if he had. He came back calling for an end to imperialist attack on Russia, which was an imperialist empire in its own right. Libya was certainly not that though, which makes uniting with US imperialism doubly sickening.


Brian S. July 11, 2012 at 10:59 am

Good points Ross. I accept that opposition to intervention was the predominant view at least on the far left (don’t know if you’ve followed Gilbert Achcar arguments, who was one of the first to challenge this and who pretty much reflected my view). Despite the attempt of some on this board to present us as “pro-NATO” , I doubt that anyone here was enthusiastic for the military intervention ( my position was in favour of aid in the form of military equipment to the rebels, but there wasn’t sufficient time to develop that demand, and left “non-interventionists” didn’t support that either). I was simply not prepared to join demonstrations opposing actions that were going to save people whose courage I admired and whose cause was fundamentally just from being killed. I was very aware, and remain aware, of the dangers of the revolution becoming dependent on western intervention and western influence. But the alternative was its destruction – possibly for a generation (with knock-on effects for the rest of the “Arab Spring”)
I solidarise completely with rest of your remarks. What strikes me is that the left/anti-war movement has been so obsessed with opposing NATO actions that it seems to have found no time to solidarise with anyone. If the anti-interventionists had expressed some solidarity with the grass-roots movements in Libya (and now Syria), I could have more respect for their positions. But I didn’t see it.
Tony’ s response to you just reinforces your point about the problems in this debate. But I still feel that people who are prepared to discuss in a comradely and rational fashion can shape forums like this in a positive way.


Josh Laurel July 11, 2012 at 2:04 am

The NTC in Libya and the FSA Syria are, in fact, led by reactionary, pro-capitalist puppets of the West and the evidence for this assertion is, frankly, incontrovertible.

Those who make the ludicrous claim that these organizations are leading “revolutions” are, it should be stated, objectively in the camp of capitalism and US – NATO imperialism and objectively hostile to the basic interests of the international working class.

If Pham Binh, Clay Claiborne and Louis Proyect really believe that such organizations are “revolutionary,” they are imbeciles; my feeling is that they know otherwise and have consciously decided to devote their meager “intellectual,” “analytical” and writing “talents” to the defense of the capitalist-imperialist status quo in the US, in particular the Democratic Party and its leader, Barack Obama.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 11, 2012 at 9:29 am

“The NTC in Libya and the FSA Syria are, in fact, led by reactionary, pro-capitalist puppets of the West and the evidence for this assertion is, frankly, incontrovertible.”

The burden is on you to produce such evidence. Assertions that the evidence is “incontrovertible” won’t wash here.

And why are you name-dropping myself, Claiborne, Proyect, and Obama? Stay on point. You only make yourself look foolish by clumsily avoiding the issues this piece touches on.


Josh Laurel July 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

“The Libyan National Council, the Benghazi-based group that speaks for the rebel forces fighting the Gaddafi regime, has appointed a long-time CIA collaborator to head its military operations. The selection of Khalifa Hifter, a former colonel in the Libyan army, was reported by McClatchy Newspapers Thursday and the new military chief was interviewed by a correspondent for ABC News on Sunday night.” … “McClatchy Newspapers published a profile of Hifter on Sunday. Headlined “New Rebel Leader Spent Much of Past 20 years in Suburban Virginia,” the article notes that he was once a top commander for the Gaddafi regime, until “a disastrous military adventure in Chad in the late 1980s.”

Hifter then went over to the anti-Gaddafi opposition, eventually emigrating to the United States, where he lived until two weeks ago when he returned to Libya to take command in Benghazi.

The McClatchy profile concluded, “Since coming to the United States in the early 1990s, Hifter lived in suburban Virginia outside Washington, DC.” It cited a friend who “said he was unsure exactly what Hifter did to support himself, and that Hifter primarily focused on helping his large family.”

To those who can read between the lines, this profile is a thinly disguised indication of Hifter’s role as a CIA operative. How else does a high-ranking former Libyan military commander enter the United States in the early 1990s, only a few years after the Lockerbie bombing, and then settle near the US capital, except with the permission and active assistance of US intelligence agencies? Hifter actually lived in Vienna, Virginia, about five miles from CIA headquarters in Langley, for two decades.

The agency was very familiar with Hifter’s military and political work. A Washington Post report of March 26, 1996 describes an armed rebellion against Gaddafi in Libya and uses a variant spelling of his name. The article cites witnesses to the rebellion who report that “its leader is Col. Khalifa Haftar, of a contra-style group based in the United States called the Libyan National Army.”


“CIA agents have been deployed to Turkey to organize the arming of the so-called rebels in Syria seeking the overthrow of the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The report, citing information provided by senior US officials as well as Arab intelligence officers, states that the CIA operatives are directing a massive smuggling operation through which “automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries, including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and paid for by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.” …

“Last month, the Washington Post reported that the so-called rebels had “begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States.” The Post, in its May 16 article, also stated that US operatives had “expanded contacts with opposition forces to provide the gulf nations with assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.”

And last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that “the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department—working with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and other allies—are helping the opposition Free Syrian Army develop logistical routes for moving supplies into Syria and providing communications training.”

The result of this operation has been a sharp escalation in the armed violence in Syria, with a spike in the number of Syrian soldiers killed and wounded and a proliferation of terrorist attacks.

The Obama administration’s pretense that it is not arming the Syrian militias for the purpose of toppling the Assad government has been thoroughly exposed. Its claim is based on the fiction that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, none of which would carry out such an operation without Washington’s approval, are doing the arming, and the CIA agents are merely “vetting” the Syrian rebels to assure that weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.” …

“The reality is that the operation being mounted by the CIA against Syria bears a striking resemblance to the one it carried out in the 1980s along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, when Saudi Arabia also provided much of the funding for arms and Al Qaeda was born as an ally and instrument of US imperialist policy.

There is increasing evidence that Islamist elements from within Syria and from surrounding Arab countries are the backbone of the imperialist-backed insurgency seeking regime change in Damascus. The Associated Press Thursday carried a lengthy report on Tunisian jihadis flocking to Syria. It reports that fundamentalist Islamic clerics are urging youth to make their way to Syria to topple the “unbeliever” regime.

According to an earlier report in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung “at least 3,000 fighters” from Libya have reached Syria, most of them through Turkey. Other similar forces have crossed the border from Iraq to prosecute a sectarian conflict similar to the one that unleashed a bloodbath between Sunnis and Shiites in that country under American occupation.”


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm

So where is the proof that Hifter was a pawn and that, as the CIA’s pawn, he exerted influence in the interests or at the behest of the CIA?

The NTC has repeatedly bucked Western and U.S. interests:

Arming the Free Syrian Army does nothing to prove that the FSA is under CIA or U.S. control. You really should think twice before repeating what the Assad regime claims.


Brian S. July 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm

This is very confused as far as Libya is concerned. The story it links to on WSWS is from March of last year, as are all the stories I can find on McClatchy (the reference to the NTC should have indicated that.) This is very old hat. He was hailed at the time by Vijay Prashad in Counterpunch as “the CIA’s Man” in Libya”. If so, it rather demonstrates the lack of CIA influence at that point, because he was never able to take up that post, getting caught up in a factional dispute in the NTC which led to Abdul Fatah Younis becoming military commander. In any event it was something of a storm in a teacup, because throughout most of the conflict there was no effective command, rebel fighter units basically commanding themselves. After the overthrow of Gaddafi he tried to make a come back, but was last seen being shot at by the Zintani militia guarding Tripoli airport after he tried to enter it without their permission.(Although Prashad claims he’s still important behind the scenes.)
Very strangely (perhaps the stopped clock principle: right once a day),there’s a Twitter post suggesting he might be making back on the scene, so I’ve been watching for some news all day. But can’t find any other mention.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 11, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Comrades from the Socialist Equality Party won’t let facts get in the way of a politically correct argument. The best they can come up with is weak suppositions and guilt-by-association. I suspect if you read their coverage of Syria and the statements from the regime in Damascus you’d have a hard time figuring who was saying what. That’s scary.


Josh Laurel July 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Pham — Do not name the people from the Socialist Equality Party as comrades; they are revolutionary Marxists who stand diametrically opposed to the imperialism, whereas you support imperialism and capitalism and one of their two main political instruments in the US — the Democratic Party.

Your comrades are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and their multi-millionaire and billionaire financial backers, but certainly not the working class.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 12, 2012 at 10:04 am

Comrade, you have evaded the central arguments once again using some left rhetoric. The man you pointed to as a CIA asset turns out to have been completely marginal to events in Libya.

It seems your diametrical opposition to the Libyan revolution is founded on ideology, not facts and evidence. This is disappointing because revolutionary Marxists are supposed to be materialists, interested in concrete analysis of concrete reality with all of its contradictions. The weak and laughably false accusations about me have a rich history in the socialist tradition — remember what Stalin did to Trotsky?


Brian S. July 14, 2012 at 7:02 am

@ Josh Laurel I guess if you’re not comrades I can’t expect you to be comradely. So I’ll stop talking to you then.


Tony July 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm

‘Dogma or Revolution? The Choice Is Ours’… Nobody I have heard of has accused life time anti-capitalist revolutionary, Tariq Ali, of ever being a dogmatist. So lets see that he has to say about -Tariq Ali: What is really happening in Syria? @


Arthur July 27, 2012 at 6:37 am

I really like the general thrust of the article. Its a pity the discussion was more of “the usual” instead of directly responding.

Three points of disagreement (given that I agree with most of it):

1. “This is a world that is being destroyed ecologically …” That was just a passing reference not central to the main theme. But even lip service to this stuff should be avoided. Its no coincidence that the pseudo-left is even more unanimous in pandering to doomsday ecology than in defence of reactionary dictatorships.

2. “The U.S. “hard left” is a collection of aged and unsuccessful revolutionaries who developed politically in the 1960s and 70s.” I’m from that generation, (though not from the US). The 1970s were a period of decline after the 1960s but I seriously doubt that many of the people who became politically active in that period of decline have gone along with the openly reactionary stuff peddled as “anti-imperialist” in recent decades.

The 1960s movement was basically anti-authoritarian and overwhelmingly hostile to the Soviet Union and East European police states. The generation that was active then have overwhelmingly had nothing to do with the overtly reactionary groups that have pretended to carry on. It is fairly obvious for example that nobody who had any experience of how to organize a mass anti-war movement has had anything to do with the recent pathetic attempts.

3. Given the (basically accurate) description it is inappropriate to continue to refer to these people as “left”, let alone “hard-left”. What reason is there to doubt that their politics is of the same kind as the regimes they defend? In order to establish a left it is necessary to find another term for what has been passed off as left for many years. Although accurate, terms like reactionary, social-fascist etc would not help clarify matters but just add to the atmosphere of abuse that goes together with rejection of critical thinking. “Pseudo-left” should be popularized as a term that simultaneously acknowledges that they have been successfully passed off as “left” (and so there might still be hope for some who were taken in), while clearly stating that it is not actually left at all.


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