Marxist Idealism and the Arab Spring

by Pham Binh on February 7, 2013

marxtfThe bourgeois-democratic revolutions known as the Arab Spring have ruthlessly exposed the methodological and analytical deficiencies of many Marxists. Evidence-based, detailed, rigorous, and critical evaluation of the social, political, and human contradictions driving these revolutions is rare (rarer still is any sense of what is to be done to aid these struggles) while lazy thinking, abstractly correct positions, and we’ll-have-to-wait-and-see-how-things-turn-out passivity are common.

These deficiencies became painfully obvious once the Arab Spring spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya and Syria. The revolutions that swept Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power were “clean” and “pure” for Marxists because they were against U.S.-backed dictators and vindicated our bias towards general strikes and working-class action.

This was the good Arab Spring.

The revolutions in Libya and Syria, on the other hand, were unclean and impure, tainted by U.S. imperialism, backed by reactionary powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and quickly devolved into armed struggle, with little or no role played by the working class acting as a class. These revolutions were not nice, worker-based, and peaceful but vicious, militarized, and complicated by foreign powers and Islamic extremists who played a prominent role.

This was the bad Arab Spring.

Missing from both the good and bad Arab Spring narratives are the complex layers of interlocking contradictions between and within classes, parties, governments, and peoples as well as any appreciation of the intangible, non-material factors that revolutions involve (the moods of the masses, the feeling in the streets). Instead, Marxists have used each revolution as fodder for pre-set political morals – “strikes are more effective than arms” (Syria), “no to U.S. intervention” (Libya), “the need for a revolutionary Marxist workers’ vanguard party” (Egypt) – without any regard for the actual political, social, or historical terrains or even the wishes and aspirations of the people making these revolutions.

Every revolution could be Russia 1917 all over again, if only (fill in the blank).

By refusing to grapple with these revolutions as they are, the self-proclaimed proponents of historical materialism have turned out to be practitioners of its opposite: ahistorical idealism.

Salus Revolutionis Suprema Lex

The Marxist left’s “no to imperialist intervention” stance served as a distorted prism for viewing each stage of the Arab Spring’s development. The wars in Libya and Syria were not analyzed as “politics by other means“; instead, every movement, organization, and figure in these revolutionary wars was subjected to a simple litmus test: for or against imperialist intervention. Such a starting point would be correct if the Arab Spring was fundamentally a war between an occupying power and an occupied people (such as the Palestinian struggle) and not a struggle between revolution and counter-revolution where “the success of the revolution is the highest law” as Georgi Plekhanov put it.

For example, the U.S. intervened into Egypt’s revolutionary process in February of 2011 by directly warning mid-level officers of the military not to shoot peaceful protesters. This intervention helped restrain counter-revolutionary violence by Egypt’s military junta, allowing millions to flood the streets and strike without fear of being mowed down by machinegun fire.

This was the first instance of a revolutionary movement benefitting from U.S. intervention in the Arab Spring but it would not be the last.

Syria: Death Agony of a Dictator

British Marxists John Rees of Counterfire and the Stop the War Coalition and Richard Seymour of the Lenin’s Tomb blog and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) share the intervention litmus test approach despite their disagreement on the importance of imperialism vis-à-vis the class war in Syria. Rees assigns primary importance to the former while Seymour assigns primary importance to the latter. While Seymour was and continues to be right against Rees, his underlying reasoning is flawed. In defending his position on Marxmail, he wrote:

“There are two conditions that could make me change my mind about the Syrian revolution. The first is if [sic] it’s leadership were to succeed in calling in imperialist bombers with no resistance from the rank and file. The second is if the Free Syrian Army started waging a supremacist war on Alawis and others. Those two outcomes would tell me very conclusively that the revolution was no more.”

Thus the existence of a Syrian revolution for Seymour hinges on its congruence with his positions on imperialist intervention and sectarianism. That might explain why he chose to cite an 11-month old statement by Local Coordinating Committees opposing intervention while ignoring the tens of thousands rank-and-file Syrians who voted to call for foreign intervention on the side of the revolution at least four times since 2011.

Homs, Syria: anti-regime demonstration in Al-Khaldiah district
on the Friday of “Immediate Military Intervention,” March 16, 2012.

Closing our eyes to facts we do not wish to see guarantees that we will be blindsided. Our political preferences as Marxists should not serve as a litmus test by which to judge the choices of others. Most movements and organizations will be found deficient and unworthy of support using such a method (a problem that has dogged Seymour on Venezuela for a decade).

Litmus tests are woefully insufficient for analyzing revolutions because revolutions by their very nature involve all kinds of contradictory elements – sectarian and nationalist, pro and anti-imperialist, religious and class-based, pro and anti-capitalist, sexist and feminist, progressive and reactionary – elements that may call for imperialist intervention one day and reject it the next (as in Syria). Similarly, some forces fighting to topple Assad like salafis are sectarian towards religious minorities while other forces appeal to those minorities to join the fight on the basis of Syrian nationalism.

Even if the elements that we Marxists find abhorrent were the dominant strand in the Syrian uprising, it would still be a bourgeois-democratic revolution, an armed struggle against tyranny and political oppression. A struggle’s class and political content is not reducible to the character or program of the political forces leading it, dominating it, or that end up in power as a result of it. Bourgeois-democratic revolutions have almost always been led by undemocratic forces and led to less-than-fully-democratic outcomes. The American revolution was led by white male property-holding slaveowners bent on ending British rule so they could finish exterminating the indigenous peoples and colonizing their land. The Iranian revolution toppled the U.S.-backed Shah and led to the creation of a police state with some democratic trappings after Islamist forces gained enough popular support to crush the left.

To conclude from these facts that the American revolution was no more in 1776 or the Iranian revolution dead in 1979 would be a mistake. Revolutions do not cease to exist simply because political forces we Marxists oppose become dominant or make choices that contradict our principles.

conferencesWhile Seymour is right for the wrong reasons, Rees is wrong all along the line, from his arguments to his conclusions. He sees the negotiating tables at imperialist conferences in Washington, Paris, London, and Ankara as the decisive battleground for Syria’s future rather than the streets of Homs, Aleppo, Lattakia, and Damascus.

Rees has it exactly backwards.

The gains of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and its salafi co-fighters on the ground in Syria over the past six months have shifted the terrain under the imperialist negotiating tables abroad. Russia let the cat out of the bag, stating that the revolution’s victory “cannot be ruled out.” Iran has begun planning for a post-Assad Syria. President Obama partially reversed U.S. policy after deriding the Syrian opposition for almost two years as too divided for American patronage (although the U.S. continues to starve Syrians fighting Assad of the heavy weapons they need to defend themselves from jets that bomb Palestinian refugee camps and other civilian targets such as Aleppo University).

Out of an understandable desire to oppose imperialist meddling in the Syrian revolution, Rees argues that Western activists should oppose “their” governments arming any segment of the FSA.

This is mistaken for two reasons.

20 students in this photo were killed when a Syrian jet attacked Aleppo University on January 15, 2013.

As a matter of principle, Western activists who believe that oppressed peoples have the right to self-determination and to armed self-defense have no business telling the oppressed who they can and cannot take arms from or make dirty deals with. Warning them of the strings imperialist powers will attach to arms shipments or funding is one thing; attaching strings to our support for their fight by means of a litmus test is another.

As a practical matter, Syrian revolutionaries do not have the luxury of obtaining heavy weapons from non or anti-imperialist sources since organizations like Counterfire and Stop the War Coalition are in no hurry to provide them or the funds to purchase them. Western imperialist powers have starved the FSA of heavy weapons and money (as Rees advocated), creating an opening for arch reactionaries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar to arm their favored Syrian factions at the left‘s expense. The rise of Jabhat al-Nusrah and similar right-wing trends was not inevitable but became inexorable as the West’s self-styled internationalists – unlike Islamist states, parties, and individuals – failed to send money, guns, volunteers, or humanitarian aid to people defending themselves from the death agony of a dictatorship.

The revolution came and the international left did not even vote “present.”

The reality that Rees and many Marxists are unwilling to face is that living revolutions are full of contradictions and are always morally compromised by the imperialist and capitalist contexts that give rise to them. As Lenin famously put it:

“So one army lines up in one place and says, ‘We are for socialism’, and another, somewhere else and says, ‘We are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution! … Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.”

Pretending that imperialist intervention into a revolutionary process is synonymous with the end of that process does nothing except provide a convenient excuse for us to do nothing. The point of interpreting revolutions is to find ways to aid them concretely if Marx’s final thesis on Feuerbach is more than just a clever aphorism. That we have not done so is a testament to the political paralysis caused by litmus test “thinking” and knee-jerk isolationism disguised with rhetoric about national self-determination.

Libya: Smashing the State Machine

Marxist opponents of NATO’s intervention on the right side of Libya’s revolutionary war have paid scant attention to developments there since Ghadafi was overthrown. Doing so would force them to re-examine their dire predictions of catastrophe and mayhem that would result if Western imperialist powers took military action against the regime in conjunction with the revolution from below.

The reality that Libya and Libyans are much better off today with the victory of a “tainted” revolution than the victory of Ghadafi’s counter-revolution is unconscionable for those who argued that “imperialism could play no progressive role in the situation” (Committee for a Workers’ International [CWI]) or that “the actions of NATO and the U.S. will make matters worse” (Socialist Worker) because they view imperialism as an evil tree that can only bear evil fruit.

This is moralism, not Marxism.

Libya’s is the most radical of the Arab Spring’s bourgeois-democratic revolutions because Ghadafi’s 42-year-old state machine was utterly destroyed by popular revolutionary militias, by the “self-acting armed organization of the people” as Engels put it. This development made an Egypt-style transition (and with it, Western imperialist manipulation of Libyan politics from above) all but impossible. Instead of noting and studying the political significance of this fact, Marxists focused instead on the “chaos” and “lawlessness” created by the triumph of the popular militias. CWI held up the assassination of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens by Islamists in Benghazi as evidence of the chaos and lawlessness wreaked by NATO to vindicate its opposition to intervention and concluded:

“The creation of independent, democratic workers’ organisations, including a workers’ party, is vital. This is the only way working people, the oppressed and youth would be able to overcome the growing divisions and begin a struggle to achieve a real revolutionary transformation of the country and thwart the imperialists’ plans, end dictatorship and transform the lives of the mass of the people.

“To achieve their goals a workers’ movement would need to defend all democratic rights, involve and defend the rights of migrant workers, and oppose the privatisation of Libya’s assets.”

“End dictatorship”? Here, CWI completely ignored not only the bourgeois-democratic revolution that smashed Ghadafi’s state apparatus and made such organizing possible but the actual strikes and militant protests by Libyan workers (including in the oil industry) which are the only hope of successfully resisting neoliberal attacks. Like Libya’s workers, the long-oppressed Amazigh people are taking advantage of their hard-won political freedom to fight for their interests, organizing to push for official recognition of their language alongside Arabic.

Since the overthrow of Ghadafi, Libya has been a seething cauldron of mass self-activity and democratic agitation with the formation of new civic associations and political parties, new media outlets, militant street protests, sit-ins, and even armed occupations of parliament. The aftermath of Ambassador Stevens’ assassination showed the newfound confidence of the Libyan masses who organized marches numbering in the tens of thousands that ran Islamist extremist militias out of Benghazi.

The Libyan masses chase Islamist extremists out of Benghazi.

Acknowledging any of the above would force CWI to confront the erroneousness of its spokesman Peter Taaffe’s determinist claim that “nothing remotely progressive” could result from NATO’s military action because such action would “not strengthen the working class, increase the sense of its own power, to see itself and its organisations as the real and only lever for achieving its ends.” Tripoli’s carefully planned and meticulously executed grassroots uprising that toppled the regime in August 2011 and the subsequent explosion in self-activity by the masses, including the working class, prove that they did not become passive nor rely on NATO. Quite the opposite.

This inability to acknowledge reality on the ground in Libya is not unique to CWI. Socialist Worker, in place of serious analysis, continues to write-off the Libyan revolution with one word – “hijacked” – and attributes Ghadafi’s fall to NATO airstrikes, as if foreign airstrikes have ever toppled a dictator let alone uprooted a dictatorship. The fruits of the Libyan revolution – free and fair elections for a national legislature and the creation of a democratic republic (which Lenin described in State and Revolution as “the nearest approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat”) – are sour grapes for so-called anti-imperialists rather than cause for celebration. What the Libyan masses fought and bled for counts for nothing because they did not fight and bleed according to puritanical Marxist schemas and therefore what and how they won does not even merit critical examination. All that matters to Socialist Worker is that the revolution was “compromised” by imperialism.

Libya should be of special interest to Marxists for two reasons.

  1. The destruction of a bourgeois state machine and its replacement by popular militias (a very old element of the orthodox Marxist program) is an exceedingly rare occurrence, one that poses unique challenges for Marxists and working-class forces given the Arab Spring’s bourgeois-democratic content.
  2. NATO’s effort to derail the revolution and preserve the old regime’s special bodies of armed men was decisively repulsed by Libya’s revolutionary forces. Only Marxist Gilbert Achcar was scrupulous enough to analyze the struggle between NATO and the revolution in detail as they acted against Ghadafi. The Libyan revolution was not hijacked but contested, and the hijackers failed. Not one instrument of Ghadafi’s rule was left behind.

Egypt’s Unfinished Democratic Revolution

Before the Libyan and Syrian revolutions broke out, the first sign of willful blindness by Marxists to the ugly realities of the Arab Spring was the failure of a single socialist news source to mention Lara Logan’s rape and sexual assault by hundreds of men in Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011 during the massive celebration of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. Whether this was because of some hopelessly utopian notion that the revolutionary masses are, by definition, incapable of sin or the result of anti-Logan bias due to her fawning over General David Petraeus and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is unclear. (Journalist Nir Rosen’s apalling “anti-imperialist” justification for Logan’s rape also escaped the notice of the socialist press.)

What is clear is that this “see no evil” approach allowed the Islamophobic right to own the narrative around Logan and helped obscure the issue of public sexual violence against Egyptian women, a problem undoubtedly connected with the explosive rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. If hundreds of Egyptian men could attack a famous Western woman reporter and her camera crew in the middle of a historic event, what is daily life like for the women of Egypt who have no fame, fortune, cameras, or security details to protect them as they travel to work or school?

The Brotherhood’s prominence is both a symptom and a cause of the fractured state of left, working-class, and secular-democratic forces. These forces fielded four candidates in the first round of Egypt’s presidential election in 2012.


Candidate Party Votes Percentage
Khaled Ali Social Democratic 134,056 0.58%
Hisham El-Bastawisi Tagammu 29,189 0.13%
Abul-Ezz El-Hariri Popular Socialist Alliance 4,090 0.00%
Hamdeen Sabahi independent 4,820,273 20.75%


Instead of presenting a united front at the ballot box, Egypt’s far left worked at cross purposes with itself. The Revolutionary Socialists (RS) did not endorse a candidate but also did not call for a boycott. The Socialist Renewal Current (a split from RS) endorsed liberal Islamist Abouel Fotouh. Tagammu opportunistically endorsed the candidacy of Hisham El-Bastawsi. Only the self-described “upper middle class” Social Democratic Party endorsed the working-class candidate in the race, labor lawyer Khaled Ali, who began his run as an independent.

The divides on Egypt’s far left are reflected among Marxists in the West by the fact that each trend focuses exclusively on the activities and statements of its respective franchises. CWI promotes the statements of its Egyptian section, the U.S. International Socialist Organization and British SWP promote the Cliffite RS, and the U.S. Socialist Equality Party’s World Socialist Web Site denounces everyone because they have no affiliate of their own to promote.

Every Marxist trend treats its counterparts as competitors not comrades in the class war.

The only exception to this sectarian tunnel vision occurred during the second round of Egypt’s presidential election when RS was condemned by every Marxist Web site and blog on the planet for conditionally endorsing the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in a runoff against the military junta’s Ahmed Shafiq. Their endorsement was the practical realization of Cliffite theorist Chris Harman’s slogan, “with the Islamists sometimes, with the state never.” After the universal outcry, RS quickly decided that this was not one of those times after all and boycotted the runoff without acknowledging or explaining its initial position.


The Muslim Brotherhood: reactionary, not reformist.

“Competing” Marxist currents attributed RS’s mistake to moral failings: either crass opportunism or capitulation to the pressure to choose the lesser of two evils. In fact, RS’s error was entirely political and flowed logically from its understanding of the Brotherhood as “reformist.” According to RS, there are three basic forces at work in Egyptian politics: the counter-revolution of the bourgeoisie and its generals to defend the status quo, the revolution of the workers, the poor, the youth, and other oppressed groups to upend the status quo, and the reformists like the Brotherhood who wish to tinker with but not radically alter the existing institutional arrangements.

This description does not correspond well with reality. It is not the case that the generals resist any and all change – they threw Mubarak and his family to the wolves when it suited them and made a strategic alliance with the Brotherhood against the revolution, masking their rule behind Morsi’s façade and broadening the counter-revolution’s social base. They do not fear change or oppose reform in post-Mubarak Egypt because they are firmly in control of its pace, scope, and character.

For its part, the Brotherhood has been more than happy to function as the military’s “plan B” for ruling the country despite corrupt elections and repression because political power – not bourgeois democracy – is what it needs to impose its religious and social policies on the people. The Brotherhood’s agenda conflicts with basic bourgeois-democratic aims – freedom of (or from) religion, rights for women and children, the right of workers to associate and strike – and this conflict is the bedrock of their partnership with the generals. This means the Brotherhood is not a left but a right-wing force and has nothing in common politically with genuine reformists like the left nationalist/Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi or Khaled Ali, both of whom it would have been absolutely correct to support in a runoff election against Shafiq.

The Brotherhood’s occasional ambiguity towards the military junta and the street protests is the result of their shift from reluctant opposition to indispensible collaboration, not reformist vacillation between the revolution and the counter-revolution as RS asserts. Missteps and tensions between the military and the Brotherhood should not be mistaken for thoroughgoing conflicts of interests rooted in class antagonisms, nor should the Brotherhood’s mass following among the oppressed and exploited obscure their counter-revolutionary hostility to bourgeois-democratic aims.

On this point, there should be no confusion among Marxists.

The unwillingness to face facts in Egypt by Marxists has also manifested itself regarding the prospects for a second, socialist revolution when the first, democratic revolution has yet to be completed. Within a week of Mubarak’s resignation, the International Marxist Tendency declared that a “break with capitalism” was “both necessary and possible” while RS and CWI called for the formation of soviet-style workers’ councils. These calls were not based on thoroughgoing assessments of the state of the workers’ movement nor were they a response to a burning need felt by the masses for greater self-organization to accomplish widely supported immediate steps such as coordinating strikes, ousting managers, controlling production, or forming workers’ militias. Instead, these calls seemed to be based solely on subjective desires to repeat Russia’s February 1917 revolution when workers’ and soldiers’ councils emerged seemingly spontaneously with the fall of the Tsar, as if the Egyptian working class that struggled mightily just to create and sustain semi-legal unions over the previous decade was remotely comparable to the working class that created soviets 12 years prior to 1917.

A more realistic appraisal of immediate tasks would have focused on wrestling control of the state-controlled unions from the grip of Mubarak’s apparatus, creating new independent unions, campaigning to drive out all the “little Mubaraks” from management positions in state and military-owned enterprises, forming a united independent workers’ party, taking tentative steps to organize the military’s rank and file, and launching serious campaigns to disband the secret police and convene a parliament to replace military rule, all with the understanding that a second, socialist revolution is simply not possible without first winning political freedom. Being able to assemble, strike, march, and organize without fear of being shot or tortured is an achievement that cannot be skipped if the working class and the oppressed are going to reach the level of self-organization necessary to contest and displace capitalist management of existing economic, political, cultural, and military institutions.

A necessary corollary of the above perspective would be to liquidate the organizational boundaries between marginal socialist groups to maximize collective effectiveness. Old 20th century disputes mean little to the working masses we must orient towards today if we are serious about winning socialism in the 21st century. If every difference of opinion over live issues like how to deal with the Brotherhood leads to irreversible organizational schisms, the socialist movement will forever resemble the early Christian movement – tiny groups promoting allegedly incompatible doctrines and competing for individual converts to save them from the heresy of their rivals.

Since January 25, 2011, Egypt’s far left has participated in a dizzying array of divided unity initiatives, coalitions, and fronts – Popular Socialist Alliance, Coalition of Socialist Forces, Egypt Bloc, Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, Revolution Continues Alliance, the Democratic Workers Party (DWP), and the Revolutionary Democratic Coalition (RDC) – most of which have come and gone with little progress in developing a following among workers and the oppressed. RS’s effort to create a broad church, the DWP, secured the support of some unions and other socialist groups but appears to have been a false start. Although RS took the lead in creating the DWP as a broad-based workers’ party, it then pushed within the DWP to boycott the parliamentary elections (it was one of only two left parties to do so, the other being Egypt’s Communist Party). The point of creating a workers’ party is to fight the parties of other classes for state and legislative power. In practice, abstaining from elections (however undemocratic, flawed, and limited in importance given the continuation of military rule) meant ceding those contests and powers to bourgeois liberal and Islamist parties, undermining the DWP’s reason to exist. This abstention may be part of the reason why the DWP seems to have died a quiet death.

Speculation aside, the point is that what happened to the DWP and why is anyone’s guess since Marxist organizations almost never publicly engage in critical self-reflection or detailed assessments of the results of their initiatives. This is a bad habit (one of many) that Marxist forces will have to shed if we wish to learn from the mistakes we make and become central to shaping the revolutions of the 21st century.

We will never overthrow capitalism if we cannot even bring ourselves to look in the mirror.

The intensifying contradictions between Egypt’s military rulers, the collaborationist Brotherhood, and the way secular-democratic forces are not represented in parliament have led to increasingly volatile street clashes in recent weeks.


Party Seats Percentage
Freedom and Justice (Muslim Brotherhood) 235 seats 47.2%
Al-Nour Party 121 seats 24.3%
New Wafd Party 38 seats 7.6%
Egyptian Bloc 34 seats 6.8%
Non-party (independents) 26 seats 5.2%
Other parties 18 seats 3.6%
Al-Wasat 10 seats 2.0%
Reform and Development 8 seats 1.8%
Revolution Continues 7 seats 1.4%
Military/presidential appointees 10 seats


Nearly 10 million people or 50% voted for secular candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Ahmed Shafiq in the 2012 presidential elections and yet secular parties constitute less than 20% of a legislature that, in Carl Finamore’s words, “failed to enact even one meaningful reform.” The impotence of secular-democratic forces in the face of the artificial, crushing predominance of Islamist forces that used their parliamentary majority to rubber stamp the new constitution before it was ratified in a referendum has fueled angry frustration among young secular revolutionaries who have adopted Black Bloc tactics in recent anti-Morsi demonstrations. The Brotherhood struck back with smears, claiming that Black Block is:

“part of the alleged revolutionary movements, such as anarchism and the Revolutionary Socialists. These movements reject the existence of a political, judicial or parliamentary system at all. They call for societies without the state. In order to achieve this, they adopt all forms of violent and barbaric acts, such as killing and burning. These anarchic sabotage groups are not revolutionary groups. Rather, they use the revolution as a cover to cause chaos.”

Here, the Brotherhood called for order to prevail.

As with Libya and Syria, these ominous developments failed to conform to CWI’s political preferences and thus the actors shaping them were found wanting. In “Mass Demonstrations and Brutal Repression,” Aysha Zaki continually stressed what a mass workers’ movement led by socialists would do to fight the Brotherhood, prevent Black Blocs from developing, stop the National Salvation Front (a secular coalition) from negotiating with the generals, overcome sectarianism, nationalize banks and industries under workers’ control, appeal to workers all over the region, and eventually, form a “democratic, socialist, workers’ government in Egypt” – would, if such a movement with such a leadership existed. Zaki used the word “would” in this manner eight times while what could or should be done, by what means, and who could begin to constitute such a movement or leadership – the burning questions – were not touched upon.

Here, Marxism becomes a guide to hypothetical action instead of serving as a starting point for an all-sided interrogation of reality, the precondition for developing working hypotheses that could serve as the basis for practical policy.

With regards to defending female protestors from rape and sexual violence, Zaki declared Black Bloc tactics to be bankrupt compared to those advocated by CWI:

“Many female protesters have faced violent sexual assault in Tahrir Square. But it is not relatively small numbers of masked youth that can successfully stop these attacks but the organized movement of workers’ and youth. The CWI advocates building mass self-defence, organized democratically, to ensure protesters have secure stewarding, which should be linked to a programme to change the social system.”

The problem is that Black Bloc did exactly what Zaki declared was impossible for them to do. At least four women were rescued by activists armed with makeshift flamethrowers from Black Bloc and the Dostour Party (a bourgeois-liberal constitutionalist party founded by Mohamed ElBaradei):

“Suddenly men wearing black ski masks and carrying long knives and clubs were jumping the fence to our left. It was impossible to tell which side they were on, but they turned out to be from the Black Bloc and joined those protecting us. Some of them were now trying to rescue another woman stripped naked by the mob metres away.”

Calling for a youth and worker-led, democratically organized, mass self-defence force armed with “a programme to change the social system” did not save anyone in Tahrir Square but the Black Bloc’s courageous action did. Deeds and actions outweigh words and calls on the scale of revolutionary struggle. Criticism of the Black Bloc must be based on their actual activities and practical impact rather than on their unwillingness to embrace the Marxist party line on the centrality of the working class or the need for a revolutionary party.

The only left force with mass influence is Hamdeen Sabahi who leads the newly founded Popular Current. The relationship of the far left’s RDC to the Popular Current beyond joint protests is unclear. However, standing aloof from the current Sabbahi leads because his politics fall well short of the Marxist ideal would be a mistake. Marx did not approach the First International this way, despite its extreme organizational and ideological heterogeneity. As he explained:

“[W]e do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.”

In accordance with these words, Marx joined the First International and helped guide it.

Following Marx, Lenin urged communists to work with the British Labour Party and throw themselves into reactionary craft unions, parliaments, and even pigstys to reach the working and oppressed masses struggling to assert themselves where ever they happened to be or whomever they happened to follow. Today, millions follow Sabahi because his anti-free market, pro-democracy, ideologically inclusive rhetoric resonates with those who risked their lives to forcibly end Mubarak’s reign. Their aspirations for an Egypt without poverty, corruption, and repression are combined with illusions about “the good old days” under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Many even view Sabbahi as something of a 21st century Nasser; at his rallies, the chants are “Nasser! Nasser!” rather than “Sabahi! Sabahi!” As Akram Ismail of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party explained, “In the mentality of people in villages there’s only Islam and Gamal Abdel Nasser.”

Between these two trends, Marxists cannot remain neutral.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, proponent of “Arab socialism”

Nasserism’s enduring popularity is not indicative of enduring support for Nasser’s reactionary crackdown on communists and extermination of independent workers’ organizations. There is little memory of either among the masses because repression – combined with the old left’s fatal mistake of equating bourgeois nationalism with proletarian socialism – succeeded. This, along with the turn of Nasser’s successors towards the U.S., Israel, and neoliberal economics, explains why the newly awakened millions groping for a progressive language and ideology to express themselves reached first for Nasserism in the person of Sabahi. Only by working among Sabahi’s followers will it be possible to influence them, to help them shed their illusions through their own experience and struggle, to outgrow Nasserism for Marxism.


Never in human history have so many people from so many nations moved so quickly and forcefully to assert themselves and their humanity in the face of murderous barbarism. Marxists ought to seriously study these revolutions and the peoples making them as they actually are and look unflinchingly at all of their ugly and unpalatable dimensions instead of bemoaning their “failure” to conform to previous models or our own romanticized notions. The worst thing we can do is vivisect and force-fit the Arab Spring’s contradictions into our favorite schemas and shibboleths. Surely we in the West who have failed to resist austerity have more to learn from than teach revolutionaries who rapidly overcame murderous military machines and decades of political passivity by the masses to topple their bloody dictators “left” and right alike.


Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” The Arab Spring is not this “first step” but a prerequisite for it. Fundamentally, it is a struggle to win the battle for democracy, for bourgeois democracy, one that necessarily involves a different set of classes than the socialist revolution – namely, the urban poor, the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat, and even segments of the ruling bourgeoisie and various imperialist powers at times.

The diverse class nature of the Arab Spring has a number of important implications:

1. Although there is some overlap in aims between different class forces as they struggle against the common enemy of counter-revolution, the working class cannot rely on other classes or their parties to fight for its bread and butter or look after its interests. The working class must do both independently of (and often in opposition to) its erstwhile allies. The greater its strength, independence, consciousness, organization, and militancy, the more it will be able to impose its agenda on its allies in temporary, conditional but nonetheless necessary agreements as well as shape the revolution’s methods and outcome.

2. Whether or not the working class ultimately wins or loses in material terms once the battle for bourgeois democracy is won is by no means guaranteed. The transformation of the Eastern Bloc in 1989-1991 into standard-issue bourgeois democracies presaged the vicious and wholesale destruction of peoples’ living standards as working classes throughout Eastern Europe were unable to organize effective resistance on either the economic or political fields. The left in these countries fell into a trap of either championing hated police states because of their social welfare policies or championing free markets in the name of political freedom. A similar danger for the left exists in the Arab Spring as pro-capitalist liberal and Islamist forces win elections in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. Because it is possible for the working class to both win the battle for democracy while losing the battle of democracy, weak-kneed elements on the left will inevitably hanker for the old discredited dictators like Assad and Ghadafi or otherwise conclude that the Arab Spring was for naught because pro-neoliberal (or pro-U.S.) forces came to power instead of fighting and defeating the Islamists and the liberals on the battleground of bourgeois democracy.

3. Here it is important to revivify what might be called the classical Marxist view of the democratic and socialist revolutions or the centrality of democracy to the socialist project as outlined by Lenin in Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. A century ago, one of the defining features of Marxism was its fierce advocacy of bourgeois-democratic revolutions which anarchism in those days tended to dismiss as leading to phony democracy, capitalist trickery, fraud for working people, and otherwise not worth fighting for since it would simply create new, capitalist ruling classes in place of old, feudal ruling classes (all true, aside from the value judgment). Lenin answered thus:

“In answer to the anarchist objections that we are putting off the socialist revolution, we say: we are not putting it off, but we are taking the first step towards it in the only possible way, along the only correct road, namely, the road of a democratic republic. Whoever wants to reach socialism by a different road, other than that of political democracy, will inevitably arrive at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and the political sense.”

The difficulty in re-coupling the socialist and democratic projects that were, in reality, always inseparable lies in the actual course and outcome of the Russian revolution launched in 1917, both of which introduced virulently anti-democratic and anti-human strains into the Marxist tradition. Lenin’s legacy is one of terrible irony: having spent three decades of his life fighting for political freedom as the only path to socialism, he ended it presiding over a party-state that banned factions within its ranks and forbid organizing outside its ranks. Since then, Marxists have frequently been on the wrong side of the barricades during popular revolutions against “left” police states (allegedly socialist, anti-imperialist, or otherwise “progressive” compared to [fill in the blank’s] capitalist government), having “arrive[d] at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and the political sense” Lenin warned against so long ago.

Attempting to “solve” this paradox is beyond the scope of this essay; putting it on the table is not.

4. Although Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution contains many insights directly relevant to the Arab Spring, it is also woefully insufficient because it was written in a different time for a different country, namely, his own. Perhaps the biggest difference is that feudal social formations are no longer a major factor in democratic revolutions while the modern petty bourgeoisie is a very different and more influential force than it was in Lenin’s day. For example, Mohamed Bouazizi, the man whose self-immolation ignited the Arab Spring, was not a proletarian but a fruit vendor. Bouazizi’s plight exemplifies the desperate scramble to survive that dominates the daily lives of tens millions throughout the Middle East and North Africa as doctors work second jobs as cab drivers and workers alternate between wage labor and petty commerce to make ends meet. Neoliberalism has frayed and destabilized the boundaries between the proletariat, the lumpenproletariat, and the petty bourgeoisie, creating difficult and unique challenges for Marxism as a class-based strategy. Combating sexism, religious sectarianism and obscurantism, and the special oppression of minorities like the Amazigh in Libya or the Bedouins in Egypt are tasks that must be integrated into and become integral to a revitalized and consistently democratic Marxism.

The relevance of Two Tactics is not so much about any particular position he held but rather his method – rigorously and carefully dissecting Russia’s socioeconomic structure, its classes, their parties, the class content of their politics, and how precisely their interests coincided and collided.

The path to a horizontal, classless society lies not through “left” police states or “socialist” autocracies that deny democracy and freedom to the masses but through radically extending democracy and freedom for the masses first into the political sphere and then into the economic and social spheres in an all-encompassing manner. Economic and social freedom can only be achieved in and through the exercise of political freedom. Only on that basis can we explode contradiction inherent in the phrase, “bourgeois democracy.”

More in-depth analysis of the Libyan and Syria revolutions from Binh:

More analysis of the Arab Spring from The North Star:

Special thanks to Ben Campbell and Jeff Meisner for their thoughts and comments on drafts and to Joseph Green for his work through Communist Voice on Lenin, Trotsky, Trotskyism, and the Arab Spring.

{ 274 comments… read them below or add one }

David Berger February 7, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Can you supplement this with material concerning the union, before, during and now.


John Morgan-Evans February 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm

This is a really fresh and thorough article. Your analysis is spot on and has given some intellectual depth to my crude instincts on the arab spring


Pham Binh February 7, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Thank you. I’m glad you feel that way. :)

I’ve learned, un-learned, and re-learned more in the past two years about revolution from the Arab Spring and by participating in OWS than I did in the dozen years prior reading and studying revolutions past. I only have the vaguest understanding of the revolutionary processes taking place in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, not to mention Tunisia the “forgotten” revolutions in Yemen and Bahrain. The collapse and disappearance of the left in most of the Arab world has made our learning process infinitely more difficult, especially since so few of us speak or read Arabic.


byork February 9, 2013 at 2:45 am

Here’s the reality on the ground… a truly liberated anti-fascist woman: It’s as simple as ‘Which side are you on?’ (I wasn’t sure where to post this on the site, so hope it’s okay to put it up in this thread).


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 4:12 am

” It’s as simple as ‘Which side are you on?’”

Only for the simple minded.

This is not a strike (which is what that song was written about). This is not union miners verses mine operators. This is not class struggle.

This is a dead end inter-imperialist struggle between nationalist gangsters, Islamists, terrorists, NATO, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Kurds, Turkey, and a decrepit old nationalist regime, which regular people being used as pawns.

It’s a goddamned bloody capitalist massacre, and you’re cheering it on from the comfort of your living room.

Which side are YOU on? The one of death and destruction.



Brian S. February 9, 2013 at 8:42 am

@Cliff the “massacre” you refer to is being perpetrated by the regime (I haven’t seen any FSA jets and cluster bombs around) – the people we are “cheering on” are those who are RESISTING the massacres, as this “regular person” tries to explain to anyone willing to listen (that seem to leave you out):
And what exactly is your advice to the Syrian people – that they should have kept their heads down, suffered Asad’s “decrepit old nationalist regime”, and let it continue to run their lives? This is your idea of a road to socialism?


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 12:37 pm

“The old Syrian opposition of the Syrian National Council, with its long-term exiles and links to the CIA and the US State Department, was totally discredited. The new opposition, to give it its full title, the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, is now recognised as ‘the legitimate representative of the Syrian people’. This new bunch of gangsters, formed in late November in a conference at Doha and consolidated at a meeting in Morocco on 12 December, from which the Free Syrian Army network was sidelined, and which was recognised by more than a hundred countries, reflects many of the problems of the current situation, including faction fights between the major powers of France, Britain, the USA and Germany, and the fact that Syria is a prized strategic crossroads. The most controversial aspect of the new opposition is its fundamentalist leanings, which shows the west, once again, playing with the fire of ‘holy war’. The nature of the opposition more closely reflects its masters in Saudi, Qatar and the other Gulf states where these Sunni leaders promote radical, religious-based ideologies that have fuelled anti-western sentiments for some time now. These regimes, as autocratic and vicious as Assad’s, have no time for the ‘democratisation’ process that the USA is attempting to foist on them and this represents a further division among the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’.” –

My idea of the road to socialism is… wait for it… a fight for socialism, not dying in inter-imperialist wars.


admin February 9, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Cliff, your contributions to this thread have rapidly degenerated to one-liners and insults. Heated debate and disagreement is welcome, but it must be substantive. Please see our commenting policy. Unsubstantive replies may not be approved in the future.


Cliff February 10, 2013 at 1:46 am

Does that mean Louis Proyect won’t be able to comment here anymore? Because he posts nothing but one liners.

I posted a quote and a comment explaining my position. It differs from the other comments in this post only in political position.


admin February 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

Scroll downthread to see your unsubstantive one-liners. The previous post was meant as a warning, not a discussion about this site’s moderation.


byork February 10, 2013 at 2:42 am

It might be worth considering a ‘junk folder’, accessible to those who want to peruse it (so the views are not actually censored) but not part of the main site. I find jim sharp’s latest hard to reconcile with your comments policy. It’s just a personal attack.


byork February 10, 2013 at 2:44 am

I hasten to add that I’m not suggesting Cliff be sent to a junk folder.


Brian S. February 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm

@Cliff: this quoted “analysis” of the the Syrian situation is somewhere between bizarre and vacuous. There may be a growth in “fundamentalist” (a term that most of us on this site have outgrown in favour of more accurate vocabulary) influence on the ground in Syria, but there are no such “leanings” in the Syrian National Coalition – its complexion is pretty much the same as its forerunner. To refer to them as “a bunch of gangsters” is simply to substitute the spleen for the brain as the organ of reasoning. And to talk about the west “playing with the fire of “holy war” is to adopt the language of right-wing Islamophobes, as does most of the rest of this piece, which also contains large slabs of disinformation. Your source says that Asad is on “the point of implementing a scorched-earth policy, which would only be an extension of what’s already really happening.” So how do you suggest the Syrian people should respond to this? And if they decide to fight the regime what attitude should the international left take towards them?


byork February 9, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Cliff, over my 45 years of political interest and activism, I have become accustomed to reactionaries telling me that my outlook is simplistic or “simple-minded”. They say it when I support the Occupy movement and the notion of 99% against 1%. They said it when I supported the Vietnamese and South Africans in their struggles for regime change in the 1960s and 1970s. And they say it now when I stand with the democratic forces against a dictatorial regime that (back then) everyone claiming to be on the left would have had no trouble in condemning as ‘fascist’ or ‘fascistic’. What is different now is that some people using the rhetoric of the left effectively support such regimes. Taking a side is basic – a starting point. The hard part is analysis within that framework. But you are on the wrong side to begin with, regardless of what analysis you may conjure up to oppose heroic Syrians such as ‘Guevara’ in their armed struggle against the regime there. You may wash your hands of “a dead-end inter-imperialist struggle”, from the comfort of your loungeroom, but the Syrians will not give up. And the better armed they become, the quicker their victory (and less of the protracted ‘death and destruction’).


jim sharp February 9, 2013 at 10:05 pm

b.y ’68
by now we all know you’re an
exceptional exceptionalist who sees himself
descending amidst blank proletarian pages who
didn’t have it in ourselves to ascend without you!
but! we are aware that marx’s outlook on life was
deeply ethical with a passion for freedom; not as a flunky
of the oligopolistic imperialism but as communist humanists


Cliff February 10, 2013 at 1:44 am

I’m sure the black miners in the slums of South Africa who make a few dollars a day and the sweatshop workers in Vietnam who work for even less making Nike shoes that retail for $150 in the US thank you very much for your heroic sign holding in the United States during those periods. Clearly “national liberation” has led them to a state of freedom and liberation, which greatly outweighs the deaths of millions of workers and farmers.

Which side would you have taken in World War I comrade?


Aaron Aarons February 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Many people, including mostly-Black rank-and-file soldiers, did a lot more than “sign holding in the United States” in order to undermine the U.S. war against Vietnam. Unfortunately, the rest of us didn’t do nearly enough, and almost totally failed to “bring the war home” in a military sense. If we had been willing and able to do so, the U.S. might not have been able to (1) carry out massive destruction of the Vietnamese natural and human-made environment and (2) impose an embargo on Vietnam that increased the suffering to the point that capitulation to imperialism was probably inevitable. (This is not to deny the negative effects of the anti-working-class repression by the U.S.-armed, peasant-based Stalinists in late 1945.)

Of course, if we had done what was necessary to impede the “American War”, the pretense of ‘democracy’ in the U.S. would have been dropped and some of the imperialist slaughter that we would have helped limit in Vietnam would have been carried out against us instead.

South Africa is another story, since the struggle for workers’ power and socialism there was preempted by the conscious betrayal of the working class by the leadership of the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance.


Aaron Aarons February 14, 2013 at 3:50 am

The Vietnamese struggle was not simply one for ‘regime change’, but a social revolution. In South Africa, a militant working-class struggle against white supremacy and capitalist exploitation was diverted into a struggle for regime change alone, with no or negative content vis-a-vis the struggle against capital. And the “99% vs. 1% mantra” of the occupy movement might have been good P.R., but was less than useless in preparing social fighters for the fight against real capitalism, with its rather large middle class.


Aaron Aarons February 7, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I’m going to pass for now on commenting on what is happening in Egypt, Libya or Syria, leaving that for others who have studied those countries more than I have. However, there are several things Binh says that should make one wary of looking for political guidance from him.

Binh writes:

Even if the elements that we Marxists find abhorrent were the dominant strand in the Syrian uprising, it would still be a bourgeois-democratic revolution, an armed struggle against tyranny and political oppression. A struggle’s class and political content is not reducible to the character or program of the political forces leading it, dominating it, or that end up in power as a result of it. Bourgeois-democratic revolutions have almost always been led by undemocratic forces and led to less-than-fully-democratic outcomes.

Why is “an armed struggle against tyranny and political oppression” automatically a “bourgeois-democratic revolution”? Is an insurrection led by, e.g., Christian or Muslim clergy together with dispossessed members of privileged classes, and even with substantial popular support, against a politically dictatorial but socially more liberal and economically more egalitarian regime something to be supported? What about the Cristero rebellion in Mexico in the 1920’s and after? What about the revolt in the Vendée in France in the 1790’s?

Binh then writes:

A struggle’s class and political content is not reducible to the character or program of the political forces leading it, dominating it, or that end up in power as a result of it. Bourgeois-democratic revolutions have almost always been led by undemocratic forces and led to less-than-fully-democratic outcomes. The American revolution was led by white male property-holding slaveowners bent on ending British rule so they could finish exterminating the indigenous peoples and colonizing their land. […]

To conclude from these facts that the American revolution was no more in 1776 […] would be a mistake. Revolutions do not cease to exist simply because political forces we Marxists oppose become dominant or make choices that contradict our principles.

Binh seems to believe that any ‘revolution’ that ‘exists’ should be supported, regardless of its social content. The ‘American’ slaveholders’ and settler-colonists’ ‘revolution’ was, according to him, something that ‘Marxists’, had they existed at the time, should have supported! Does this mean that such hypothetical ‘Marxists’ should have opposed the majority of enslaved Africans who, in fact, sided with the British against the ‘revolutionaries’, or the many indigenous peoples who also allied with the British against the genocidal colonists?


Manuel Barrera February 7, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I think it would be better to address the political questions raised by this article than to attempt baiting “inquiries” that seem primarily aimed at discrediting the author. My reading of this article is, of course, based on my political experiences and I come to it with a range of political understandings including my reading of Binh’s previous work. I do not see the need to bait him on issues. Rather, I hope we can begin right away on the political questions not the questioning of character. I am sure we are all potentially vulnerable to such inferences and innuendos based on what we may appear to “omit” but in fact are not as germane to the questions or topics being discussed.

I bet Binh would welcome a genuine set of queries regarding some of his comments and, at least I, would welcome the opportunity to engage a true and comradely debate. Formulations can be corrected or clarified, but it requires a will to do so and not the potential fear that the questions raised are merely debater’s points for an already-determined and unchangeable point of view. We are all comrades here, let’s learn to act like it.


Pham Binh February 7, 2013 at 9:18 pm

AA is a specialist in whatabout-ery, the last refuge of the willfully ignorant. The first line of his comment says it all.


Aaron Aarons February 8, 2013 at 4:17 am

I was responding to analogies and arguments Binh himself made in this same post to justify his positions on contentious present-day issues. I did not bring up anything he said or did in regard to other matters, political or personal. Binh is the one who can’t deal with political criticism and feels a need to respond to such criticism with personal attacks, as he has just demonstrated here.

So, Binh, do you really hold the position that any insurrection with popular support against a repressive government is (1) a ‘revolution’ and (2) something that should be supported by Marxists and other leftists, no matter what social strata and political forces are leading it? Especially if one were to accept, as I don’t, your stage-ist argument that “socialist revolution is simply not possible without first winning political freedom”, how does the victory of an insurrection dominated by anti-working-class reactionaries with a mass base provide that ‘political freedom’? Doesn’t it rather replace an unpopular, and therefore less effective, repressive regime with one that is far stronger?

Regarding the so-called “American Revolution”, a good starting point for debunking it is the book, Slave Nation, by Alfred Blumrosen and Ruth Blumrosen. (ISBN: 1360314241 hardcover, 1402206976 paperback). Those who don’t have time to read a book can find a few reviews.


Shane H February 8, 2013 at 6:52 am

So in response to an article about the Arab Spring you ask us to articulate what positions we would have taken in relation to the American Revolution in 1776 and the revolt in the Vendée in France in the 1790′s. I wonder what position Marxists should have taken (had they existed) in the invasion of Australia by British colonists which was met by a combination of collaboration and guerrilla tactics.


Aaron Aarons February 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm

It was Pham Binh, not I, Aaron Aarons, who brought up the so-called ‘American Revolution’ in “an article about the Arab Spring” in order to justify his apparent position that just about any popular insurrection against a repressive government is a ‘revolution’ that ‘Marxists’ should support. Why do Binh’s apparent supporters ignore that fact in criticizing me for using his example against him? And what is wrong with bringing up historical examples like the Vendée or the Cristeros to question his generalization?

Moreover, why have none of the commenters here, two of whom (in addition to Binh himself) have criticized me for bringing up historical examples to counter Binh’s generalizations, not reacted to Binh’s totally non-political and dishonest personal attack on me? In particular, he calls me “willfully ignorant” because I started my comment with the following:

I’m going to pass for now on commenting on what is happening in Egypt, Libya or Syria, leaving that for others who have studied those countries more than I have.

Of course, if I had Pham Binh’s self-confidence, to use a polite term for it, I would opine on what is happening in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Mongolia, or on the moon regardless of how little I actually knew about any of those places.


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 7:21 pm

You can’t properly use my example of the American revolution against me when you admit how utterly uninformed you are about what is going on in Syria, Libya, and Egypt. You seek re-litigate 1776 and parse my words without having bothered to investigate for yourself the developments in any of these countries in order to see whether my comparisons are valid or not.

As long as you continue to bring zero new information and refuse to inject any evidence into these debates, I will continue to label you willfully ignorant, uninformed, and a know-nothing. Calling a spade a spade is not an ad hominem, nor is it a personal attack. You are more than welcome to prove me wrong, but that isn’t going to happen by playing word games with historical analogies.

Your move.


Aaron Aarons February 9, 2013 at 6:50 am

You, Binh, make the argument — I’m paraphrasing, so feel free to correct me — that

1) the ‘American revolution’ was, in fact, a ‘revolution’ and therefore supportable by ‘Marxists’;

2) certain contemporary insurrections (Libya and Syria) are less flawed than was the ‘American revolution’; and

3) for this reason, and other reasons, these contemporary insurrections should be supported by ‘Marxists’.

I think it is quite legitimate to refute the first part of your argument without taking any position on the second and third parts. In fact, I don’t need to be an expert on Libya or Syria to agree with the second part! I don’t choose to deal here with the conclusion that “these contemporary insurrections should be supported by ‘Marxists'”, except to say that the ‘other reasons’ had better suffice, since ‘this’ reason, i.e., the inference from (1) and (2), is worthless, because the first premise is wrong.

Your apparent unwillingness to either defend what you wrote about the ‘American revolution’ or retract that part of your argument, but to instead attack me for making an issue of it, doesn’t speak well for your seriousness, despite your ability to produce large amounts of text in a short time.


Louis Proyect February 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

So, Binh, do you really hold the position that any insurrection with popular support against a repressive government is (1) a ‘revolution’ and (2) something that should be supported by Marxists and other leftists, no matter what social strata and political forces are leading it?

Aarons used to pull this shit on me until after six months of it I decided that he was not qualified to grill me as if he were Perry Mason. Bihn should invite him to write his own god-damned analysis for North Star, which is much more of an open forum than my blog ever pretended to be. Then we can ask him if he has stopped beating his wife. He couldn’t get Diana Barahona to write a serious analysis, so I doubt that Aarons could get past 3 or 4 sentences without his head blowing up like a cartoon character in a Monty Python episode.


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 11:16 am

Actually, I did get Barahona to write something: I did a lot to clean this up and polish it, but in the end it was still trash analytically. AA has been invited to write something substantive in the past but has not; he prefers to play word games in comment sections.


Brandy Baker February 9, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Sorry to go off-topic, but that Barahona piece is absolutely awful. She must be PSL, if so, that has to be why she spun the LA ANSWER event and omitted how horrifically Libyans and Libyan-Americans (no Libyan/Libyan-Americans were on any of those panels during that whole tour) were treated by PSL/Answer organizers.


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Barahona was part of the goon squad that barred the Libyans from the ANSWER forum on Libya in L.A.:

She was later expelled from PSL.


Brandy Baker February 9, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Yeah, and once inside, there were a few Libyans who got in and denounced the pro-Qaddafi nonsense of the PSL while giving testimonies about loved ones who were killed, and they were told by these PSL assholes to, “get a life”.


Aaron Aarons February 11, 2013 at 4:06 am

If you’re going to apply the word ‘revolution’ to various historical and contemporary events, and use those applications of that word to make a political argument, you should be ready to defend both the application of the word and the conclusions you draw from it. If you aren’t, then you are the one playing word games.


Aaron Aarons February 14, 2013 at 4:16 am

Anybody who still takes you seriously, Louis, should look up all the exchanges between us on your blog (they were all in 2011) and evaluate how you handled criticism. They might notice that I never asked you a question of the ‘when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife’ type, and that your reactions to my criticisms were generally ad hominem and abusive.

P.S. If you’re going to liken me to a fictional lawyer, I’d much prefer that it be Horace Rumpole, rather than Perry Mason.


Christian February 7, 2013 at 9:33 pm

That article is really good! You should submit it to the ISR!


Pham Binh February 7, 2013 at 11:01 pm

I’m still waiting on them to publish “Mangling the Party.” I emailed it directly to them as well as every IST group in the world before I sent it to Links.


Darwin26 February 8, 2013 at 2:09 am

Thank you ~ a lot for this novice to sink ones teeth into… however, little by little..


Cliff February 8, 2013 at 3:27 am

Pham is about as “Marxist” and Chris Hitchens was in 2008.

It’s plain and simple. If you think there can be organic “bourgeois democratic revolutions” in 2013, that means capitalism can still be progressive, and so socialism is not on the menu. So then the fight is not for revolution in a period of decadence, but of pursuing positive reform. Of course that’s exactly where the logical conclusion of Pham’s politics lies.

Pham’s politics seem to originate in the sterility of academia and the dead trees of book pages rather than the real world. It’s a bizarre kind of mechanical application of a vulgarized historical materialism.

Only the blind would think capitalism is in any kind of ascendant phase or that positive reform is on the table. Even the system’s most vocal adherents don’t dare pretend that to be so.


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 10:06 am

“If you think there can be organic ‘bourgeois democratic revolutions’ in 2013, that means capitalism can still be progressive, and so socialism is not on the menu.”

Wrong. Lenin spoke of a whole era of bourgeois-democratic revolutions against imperialism in the colonies and semi-colonies in the post-1917 world in the era of proletarian revolution. You obviously don’t know how to think in terms of contradictions. You think everything is “plain and simple.” It is not.

Socialism is not on the menu yet in the countries involved in the Arab Spring because the working class is not organized enough or conscious enough.

“Only the blind would think capitalism is in any kind of ascendant phase or that positive reform is on the table. “

Only a fool could misconstrue any of the arguments as “capitalism = progressive.”

And yes, there is plenty of room for reform. Look at Venezuela from 2002-2012; it’s been a series of reforms, one after the other.


Cliff February 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm

“Wrong. Lenin spoke of a whole era of bourgeois-democratic revolutions against imperialism in the colonies and semi-colonies in the post-1917 world in the era of proletarian revolution. You obviously don’t know how to think in terms of contradictions. You think everything is “plain and simple.” It is not.”

And Lenin was wrong on that, and many other things (including his book “Imperialism”, Rosa was right). If you want to duplicate Lenin and the results of the October Revolution you’re (1) insane, and (2) gonna be waiting a lifetime.

Of course you’re even wrong about your characterization of the mistaken Lenin:

“According to Lenin, capitalism had reached its highest stage and could no longer provide for the general development of society. He expected reduced vigor in economic activity and a growth in unhealthy economic phenomena, reflecting capitalism’s gradually decreasing capacity to provide for social needs and preparing the ground for socialist revolution in the West. Politically, World War I proved the decadent nature of the advanced capitalist countries to Lenin, that capitalism had reached the stage where it would destroy its own prior achievements more than it would advance.” (wiki)

Weird that with your rigid vulgar stagist view of historical materialism you refuse to recognize the basic truism that a mode of production is either ascendant or decadent. It’s not static and can’t be.

So which one is it?

If bourgeois revolutions have something to offer in the 21st century than capitalism and the bourgeoisie still has something to offer and their system is not exhausted. That would be a good excuse for your lining up behind some national bourgeoisies against others. Maybe you should go with that.


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Either/or is a sign of static thinking, the very thing you accuse me of.

Lenin was wrong about a whole era of bourgeois-democratic revolutions? What do you call all the new, bourgeois states in Africa and Asia that gained their independence from imperialism in the post World War Two period?


Aaron Aarons February 8, 2013 at 6:44 pm

You mean ‘bourgeois-democratic revolutions’ like the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian revolutions? In many, if not most, cases, the bourgeois states that came into existence in the formerly colonial world resulted from the defeat of the left, sometimes immediately, sometimes much later, by its domestic and foreign enemies, often with help from its false friends, not from the intention of proletarian and peasant fighters to limit the struggle to the achievement of bourgeois demands.


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 1:49 am

Thanks for imparting some sense into this Aaron. Appreciated.

I’d go further to mention that there hasn’t been a viable bourgeois revolution anywhere in the “post World War Two period.” Not one. I defy you to show me a viable, independent bourgeois liberal democracy that sprung up anywhere in that time. Capitalism in the imperialist epoch simply won’t allow for it. That time is over. The fight now is for socialism over barbarism. It may seem far off, but hey there was no one in France January 1968 that could have predicted what was gonna happen shortly there, same as in Hungary in early 1956 or Russia in early 1917.

I don’t accuse you of static thinking. I accuse you of thinking modes of production can be static or that the bourgeois is still in its ascendency.

There isn’t always a side to take in a war. It’s not like a football game where you have to which side of the stands to sit in. Sometimes the best thing to do is avoid the game. I think you’re poisoned by the crude petty-bourgeois “anti-imperialism” of the 20th century looking for a side to cheer for.

Interesting in hearing if you support the government of Mali or the Islamist rebels in the north in the latest reactionary kerfuffle though. One of them must represent the “bourgeois democratic revolution” 500 years into capitalism, right?


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 2:35 am

South Africa is now a bourgeois democracy. Portugal became one in 1974-1975. You make it very easy to poke holes in your arguments. Cut down on the blanket statements. That might help you.


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 4:05 am

Are you kidding me?? South Africa and Portugal have been capitalist long before the 1970’s and the 1990’s (!).

Wow, talk about confusing form for content. A shuffle at the top of who will represent the bourgeoisie in the bourgeois state does not a revolution make. Otherwise every coup, run off and hiccup would be a world historic moment. Maybe you think the overthrow of Mussolini was a bourgeois democratic revolution too??

Perhaps you could draft a long article, complete with charts and tables, to the families of the dozens of miners massacred by the ANC-SA Communist Party-COSATU government in South Africa last August to show them how much better off they are under the new “bourgeois democratic” regime ushered in 1994. Clearly they just don’t know about historical materialism and the need for stages like you do. Probably didn’t have the same professor and books.


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 1:53 pm

You asked for bourgeois revolutions after WW2 and I gave you examples. Now, you’ve moved the goal posts to make it about capitalism as opposed to feudalism.


Douglas Lain February 20, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Would you characterize pre-Arab Spring Egypt as bourgeois? If so, should the emphasis be on the word “democratic” rather than “bourgeois” when we read and think about a “bourgeois democratic revolution” in Egypt? Also, to what extent do you think this kind of bourgeois democracy is a necessary step on the road to a socialist/communist future? Is it conceivable, given the technological development of the Industrial world, that countries stuck in undemocratic bourgeois regimes could develop very quickly if a more global effort could be conceived?

These are not rhetorical questions.

Aaron Aarons February 9, 2013 at 8:29 am

The leftist military coup in Portugal in 1974 opened the way to a radical working-class movement that posed the possibility, at least in the minds of many on the left and on the right, of socialist revolution. What eventually occurred, in late 1975, was a bourgeois-democratic counter-revolution.

In South Africa, a deal was worked out in 1990-1994 to stabilize bourgeois rule over a militant and radical working class by making the system formally democratic and thereby incorporating into the capitalist state, and even into the capitalist class, petty-bourgeois layers who had previously sided with the working class. Again, a bourgeois-democratic counter-revolution.


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I agree with you for the most part. Glad again to see a voice of reason here.


Shane H February 8, 2013 at 7:05 am

Well that makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not an expert on these matters but it beats most of the ‘analysis’ I have read which is clear ‘read off’ a template of some kind into which events are made to fit a pre-existing schema. At least there is some notion here of real social forces in all their contradictions. I’d be interested in hearing any analysis which argues that the balance of forces is different but what position we should have on the Vendee or the whether Arab revolutionaries should decide on their strategy and tactics based on whether capitalism is in an ‘ascendent’ phase or not, rather than on concrete analysis of concrete forces shows how poor Marxist analysis is.

Ask yourself if you were in Egypt – or wherever – which side of the barricades you’d be on (and I assume comrades would be on the revolutionary side) and then ask who would be there with you. Without this we go nowhere — and shouting insults about academic analysis is pointless.


Cliff February 8, 2013 at 8:00 am

Assuming you were a Marxist, the same place you’d be in say, WWI, arguing against sending workers off for an inter-imperialist slaughter, trying to turn the bourgeois war into a war against the bourgeois system.

For Marxists things are not static. Capitalism is either ascendent or decadent. If it’s ascendent, socialism isn’t possible. If it’s decadent, reformism isn’t possible and neither is going on with capitalism. The choice is socialism or barbarism. We’re now getting a taste of the later, with the tacit approval of our comrades in academia on the other side of earth.

And yea, that analysis you’re looking for is easy to find in about 3 seconds with the help of Google.

Here’s perhaps the two most relevant:


Louis Proyect February 8, 2013 at 10:04 am

Wow. Pannekoekites! That’s something you don’t see everyday.


Cliff February 8, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Wrong again Lou. Pannekoek was a council communist, the ICC are left communists. And you see them in Europe, especially Turkey and Italy, about as often as you see washed up Trotskyist social democrats.

Pitiful that you never really address any of the arguments. Your one line ad homs make up the vast percentage of your replies to comments nowadays. Guess you’re too busy reviewing the latest film festival tripe to engage the plebs. So much for your vast left wing united front.


Aaron Aarons February 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Please don’t discourage Louis from “reviewing the latest film festival tripe”! Think of how much more time he would have on his hands to insult people on the left if he were to give up that harmless hobby.

And, to be fair, the fact that Louis chooses to review a film is no excuse for calling it ‘tripe’.


Louis Proyect February 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Actually I don’t review films. I review society. Movies are a way for me to comment on the U.S., especially documentaries that are usually about some issue of concern to the left–like undocumented workers, toxic waste, corporate malfeasance, etc. For example, when I wrote about “Lincoln”, it was not to evaluate Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance but to remind my readers of the role of Black abolitionists. I think most people get what I am trying to do but from time to time I run into some drooling imbecile on Marxmail who likens my writing about film to parliamentarians voting for war credits in 1914. This is usually what you hear from people on their way out. What we used to call shitting on the living room floor in the SWP.


Aaron Aarons February 14, 2013 at 2:57 am

Maybe you could provide a link, Louis, to the Marxmail post where somebody [“drooling imbecile” or not] “likens [your] writing about film to parliamentarians voting for war credits in 1914.” To be honest, Louis, I doubt that your characterization of whatever post you are referring to is accurate, if you really are referring to a specific post and not some synthesis of various nasty things that have been said about you.

Incidentally, ‘drooling’ is, AFAIK, usually the result of some neurological disorder and the term ‘drooling idiot’ should be no more acceptable than the term ‘retard’.


Dario Cankovic February 8, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I find it hard to take seriously any theory that makes claims like:

“[u]nlike the ‘long 19th century’, which was a period of almost uninterrupted moral, intellectual and material progress, since 1914 there has been a marked regression on all fronts”,

“capitalism, having completed its mission of developing the productive forces, has fallen into the most implacable contradiction with the needs not only of present historical evolution, but also with the most elementary requirements of human existence”, and

“Capitalism has outlived itself, and has entered the phase where the destructive action of its unleashed forces ruins and paralyses the creative economic conquests already achieved by the proletariat in the chains of capitalist slavery.”

“On the basis of its assessment of the world economic situation the Third Congress was able to declare with complete certainty that capitalism had fulfilled its mission of developing the productive forces and had reached a stage of irreconcilable contradiction with the requirements not only of modern historical development, but also of the most elementary conditions of human existence. This fundamental contradiction was reflected in the recent imperialist war, and further sharpened by the great damage the war inflicted on the conditions of production and distribution. Obsolete capitalism has reached the stage where the destruction that results from its unbridled power is crippling and ruining the economic achievements that have been built up by the proletariat, despite the fetters of capitalist slavery…What capitalism is passing through today is nothing other than its death throes.” (these last three quotes being from the proceedings of the first four world congresses of the Communist International from 1919-1923 which the articles quote extensively)

The implication being that by 1914 ‘all the productive forces for which there is room in [capitalism] have developed’, that since 1914 capitalism is moribund. Just as I can understand the fascination with and emulation of the Bolsheviks in the wake of the Russian Revolution, I can understand how during and in the immediate aftermath of the two World Wars one could think that capitalism was dying, that it was no longer progressive, no longer capable of developing productive forces. But in the wake of the post-WWII economic growth, continued integration of national markets into the world market via globalization, revolutionization of production methods, extension of bourgeois liberties in the advanced industrial countries, etc., the claim that capitalism has been moribund since the start of WWI is absurd. I think we can have a discussion of whether or not capitalism has become decadent today, or will do so in the near future but you would have to have been living under a rock to think that it has been decedent since 1914.


Aaron Aarons February 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm

No, capitalism isn’t dead, just deadly. Even at its best, it has spread devastation at the same time that it has provided some benefits to some portion of the global population. If humanity had had some magic vaccine with which to permanently prevent the development of capitalist social relations for the last 500 years or so, the development of its benefits would probably taken a lot fewer person-years of history, and with a lot fewer person-years of suffering and a lot less environmental devastation.


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 2:07 am

Well if you’re a Marxist and you think capitalism is NOT decadent, then you wouldn’t be fighting for socialism, since it wouldn’t be on the table. “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. ” after all. You’d instead be a “21st century Menshevik,” something our stagist comrade Pham seems to be take the lead in.

And it’s not as simple as saying something like “look, computers were invented so capitalism is alive an well.” The question is one of expanded reproduction. That means not only replacing the system but expanding it, and doing so at a level that outpaces the destruction it racks.

Has the development of low wage and temporary work outpaced the losses endured from automation?

Has the minor, uneven, capital-centric development in the third world since 1970 outpaced the destruction and rot of the old capitalist centers (the complete disintegration of the industrial base in places like Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Gary, Youngstown, Buffalo, Lorraine, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Haute-Normandie, Glasgow, etc)? Has the construction of a few shoddy apartment blocks, showpiece skyscrapers and a handful of trains outpaced the utter rot of infrastructure (collapse of roads and bridges, decomposition and mass layoffs in the few public rail system, closure of schools and libraries, etc) in the US, still the centerpiece of the world economy?

Has the relocation of jobs to places like the sweatshops of China and Vietnam made up for the mass unemployment in the West and the steady overall fall in wages and living standards in places like the US since 1970?

What about all the destruction caused by the permanent state of war capitalism was forced to fall into in the 20th century? Was that not only replaced but expanded upon?

What about the rate of profit? Why does it now take two or even three people per family working to maintain equal or lesser standards of living than used to come with one full time worker?

These are the things that need to be considered when determining the state of things. Not what consumer gadgets Apple has come up with.


Dario Cankovic February 9, 2013 at 1:11 pm

You’re right, whether capitalism continues to be capable of developing productive forces isn’t a question of what consumer electronics we have, nor did I claim that. Capitalist expansion—especially when it resorts to primitive accumulation, `accumulation through dispossession’—is a destructive affair, we need only look at the early history of capitalism to see that. You seem to see a decisive break between capitalism pre-1914 and post-1914 where I see continuity. I think you’re conflating the historic weakness of the working class in the advanced industrial countries with the decadence of capitalism. In the aftermath of WWII the capital destroyed during the war was not only replaced but considerably expanded upon. The war helped the post-war recovery by destroying dead capital and increasing the rate of profit thus driving up investment. It also saw capitalist states organize an unprecedented research and development project, the technological fruits of which were, in the post-war period, transferred to the private sector, and laid the foundation for post-war productivity gains. The post-WWII economic expansion saw workers’ wages and standards of living keep pace with gains in productivity, and while workers’ wages have stagnated and declined since the 1970’s in the advanced industrial countries, productivity has kept going up. In other words, it is the rate of exploitation that has increased. Though this had been masked by the growing pool of credit made available to workers; the ruling class had ramped up the rate of exploitation, keeping a greater share of surplus value, and then proceeded to lend that money back to workers at an interest, money that would have otherwise been paid out in wages had the post-war consensus continued. The concessions gained by the working class in the immediate aftermath of WWII were a function of the pre-war strength of the working class, the necessity of their mobilization for the war effort, and the ruling class’ fear of revolution. The declining rate of profit saw the ruling class break the post-war consensus and undertake an assault on the gains of the working class by ramping up the rate of exploitation. Something which became all the easier to do with the entry of China into the world market, and the pouring in of a mass reserve army of labour into the world market. The threat of outsourcing is intended to keep the working class in the advanced industrial countries complacent, lest their jobs be shipped overseas. It isn’t the decadence of capitalism that is responsible for the declining standards of living for workers in developed countries, just its normal functioning. The ruling class has been waging a largely one-sided class war, and we’ve been the victims, what we need to do is fight back, and small leftist sects aren’t an effective way of doing that.

I’m a communist because ‘communism is the real movement that seeks to destroy the present state of things’. The struggle for socialism is the struggle against capitalism. Our job as communists is to aid in this struggle, and to, as best as we can, get workers to realize the systemic nature of their problems. I do believe that ‘the material conditions for the existence of socialism have matured in the womb of capitalism’. The tension that exists between means and mode of production, which becomes apparent during crises such as the one in which we are in, is that the means of production developed by capitalism have become so productive that they are capable of satisfying human needs and wants the world over, but the capitalist mode of production, due to it being driven by endless pursuits of profit, creates barriers to the realization of generalized abundance. A theory of decadence—especially one that conflates the immiseration of the working class with the inability of capitalism to develop productive forces, and claims that capitalism has been ‘decadent’ since 1914—doesn’t at all advance our understanding of either capitalism nor our present condition.

Marxism isn’t a dogma, it is a method. And just as we need to do away with ‘Leninism’ and all sectarianism, so to we need to do away with scriptural Marxism which replaces ‘ruthless criticism of everything existing’ with ritualized denunciations of failing to abide by scripture.


Juliet March 20, 2013 at 11:45 pm

The shallow denunciation some people have of ‘Leninists’, ‘Maoists’ etc. as “dogmatic” just because they disagree is pretty tiring. Just because someone generally agrees with Lenin’s understanding of socialism doesn’t mean that because they disagree with you, that means they think you’re simply not subscribing to their scripture.


Juliet March 21, 2013 at 12:00 am

It’s strange how some socialists claim to be scientific, but they are completely hostile to the idea of rival theoretical frameworks. How many different, conflicting theoretical frameworks have there been for physics, biology, philosophy, economics etc. throughout scientific history? A lot. Real dogmatists are just people who incorrectly think that their theoretical framework does not need to develop further, and that it cannot benefit from the ideas of others. People who simply agree with a theoretical framework are not dogmatists.


Aaron Aarons February 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm

The trouble with asking which side of the barricades you’d be on is that there aren’t just two sides in these situations, and there is not, in any of the current struggles, a “revolutionary side” that is strong enough to play a meaningful role. Whatever leftist revolutionaries do exist in those countries after decades of combined imperialist, Islamist and bourgeois-nationalist repression, will at times side militarily with one or another larger force, but they should be very careful not to be absorbed by, or stabbed in the back by, those allies.

BTW, I brought up the Vendée as an historical example of a popular uprising, or what Pham Binh would probably call a ‘revolution’, that would not be supportable by leftists. I didn’t want or expect to start a debate on that particular historical topic. OTOH, our attitude to the so-called ‘American Revolution’, which Binh himself brought up and which most people raised in the United Snakes have been taught, even by leftists, to proclaim as part of our heritage, certainly is debatable, especially when someone uses a bad interpretation of it to support their position on a current struggle.


Anonomously February 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

Great piece, especially on Syria. I also agree there’s no question of remaining neutral between Nasserism and the MB. But seriously this article also demonstrates the incapability of – let’s call them, “imperial-optimistic” Marxists – to retain their independence on imperialism, due to their stagist understanding of revolution.

There is a litmus test for Binh at work here also – which he doesn’t hide exactly. It comes out most clearly when he describes the disagreement between Rees at Countefire and Richard Seymour as being a dispute about “the importance of imperialism vis-à-vis the class war”, a formulation Binh of the antagonism which also subscribes too, if falling on the “contrarian” third position that *imperialism* is important *to* the class war. And that’s where the integrity of the analysis continually gives way.

There’s no doubt that imperial intervention is a contradictory presence in the context of a revolutionary and counter-revolutionary divide. But contradictory doesn’t mean “force for the good” even in some part.

What it means is a force for *order* which operates against *both* the emancipatory disorder of revolution and the reactionary disorder of counter-revolution simultaneously. So, for instance, the US intervention to prevent the military firing on crowds was deeply connected to the disastrous consequences that would descend upon its power in the region were such a spectacular crackdown to occur, with everyone watching, and what that would have to entail in terms of actions for the maintenance of the imperial order in the region -diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions, and so forth – exactly due to the democratic ideology of the bourgeois imperium.

Now, where one broad tendency on the left can’t grasp *any* authentically contradictory aspect to imperial intervention due to “litmus-test thinking”, the other side of that is the lean which comes through even a rigorous piece like this one toward conceiving of imperial intervention in a stagist sense as a product of a more advanced set of civilized morals, as though *the democratic ideology of the bourgeois imperium were not actually ideological*. Thus, the entire *point* of the US intervention, as my quick canvas of the consequences of it opting not to work against a crackdown show, is that it operates from the double-edged imperative of creating spaces of bourgeois-revolutionary scope to *close off* spaces of more radical revolutionary possibility. As such, by intervening on the military, this call not to fire was attached to a gameplan in which the military was prevailed upon to dump Mubarak as a means to maintain its rule.

The fact Binh has decided these are bourgeois-democratic revolutions *definitionally* and *alone* – whatever the excellent degree of nuance in thinking through how bourgeois-democratic revolutions in themselves are driven by proletarian power – would tend to produce positive auras around inherently conservative drives to intervene upon these revolutionary situations. Also, as a side point, bourgeois-democratic revolutions achieved exactly *none* of the things historically Binh imputes to it: “freedom of (or from) religion, rights for women and children, the right of workers to associate and strike”. So if there’s any truth to what he’s saying about these practitioners of historical materialism being ahistorical idealists, we can also call this counterposition the “historically delayed” version of historical materialism, grounded in a false understanding of the political societies in which *we*, in the advanced capitalist countries, live.

Bourgeois revolutions have already happened in the Middle East – all the world over in fact. They went by the name of decolonization. One outstanding contradiction of them, however, was the way in which independence movement translated into dictatorial control: *due to empire*, whether via neo-colonial control of the local bourgeoisie or resistance to empire and the ideology of anti-imperialism, bourgeois revolutions in this part of the world have not required the democratic ideology. Thus, the battle for democracy here *already lapses over into socialist revolution*. To think of it in terms like this – where there are no “prospects for a second, socialist revolution when the first, democratic revolution has yet to be completed” – is the grossest stagism and fails to grasp the purely regressive role, from a socialist standpoint, of the bourgeoisie under empire. The enemy of bourgeois-democratic revolutions in the sense Binh talks about it is not a perennial Old Regime composed of perpetual Arab pashas and irredentist mad mullahs who resist modernity but the bourgeoisie itself, of which said ‘pashas’ and ‘mad mullahs’ are the most modern part, exactly in a line with the prevalence of our democratic ‘advancement’ over their polities.

This creates a deep tension within the revolutionary movements, then, over capitalism (and, incidentally, this is exactly why Islamism assumes the outsized presence it does). And you’ll notice, for an analysis that purports to be all about class analysis, that there is *zero* said about capitalism. The bourgeoisie becomes a floating – worse, a floating *democratic* – category. Unless Marxism can respond to the dilemma where – as I think Binh grasps correctly – a socialist revolution cannot spring out of spontaneous will *while also* grasping that “a first stage” bourgeois-democratic revolution cannot happen in this context – because if a revolution ends up on the side of the bourgeoisie here, it ends up against democracy, and this exactly because of the world history of the Anglo-European bourgeoisie’s global colonial domination – then Islamism or the counterrevolution will prevail. In short, if it isn’t understood that *the only means to attain democratic inroads is against the bourgeoisie*, we fail to grasp the grain of truth in the “subjective desires” of the IST, RS and CWI: that it will, indeed, require “a burning need felt by the masses for greater self-organization to accomplish widely supported immediate steps such as coordinating strikes, ousting managers, controlling production, or forming workers’ militias” in order to break the bourgeoisie and attain a form of “social-democracy”, at bare least – demonstrating, of course, the socialist element which has always been present *in* such democracy, to the extent capitalist polity can really be called democratic in its non-ideological sense, all along. There’s no liberal “interregnum” possible here, as liberalism itself is the overriding and fundamental anti-democratic force.


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

I appreciate thoughtful, substantive criticisms and disagreements like this.

To respond to the points, piece by piece:

“… this article also demonstrates the incapability of – let’s call them, “imperial-optimistic” Marxists – to retain their independence on imperialism, due to their stagist understanding of revolution.

“There is a litmus test for Binh at work here also – which he doesn’t hide exactly. It comes out most clearly when he describes the disagreement between Rees at Countefire and Richard Seymour as being a dispute about “the importance of imperialism vis-à-vis the class war”, a formulation Binh of the antagonism which also subscribes too, if falling on the “contrarian” third position that *imperialism* is important *to* the class war. And that’s where the integrity of the analysis continually gives way.

“There’s no doubt that imperial intervention is a contradictory presence in the context of a revolutionary and counter-revolutionary divide. But contradictory doesn’t mean ‘force for the good’ even in some part.”

Of course it does not mean “force for good.” I never argued or implied otherwise, so far as I can tell. The CIA’s heavy weapons blockade of the Free Syrian Army has condemned them to fight Assad’s planes, tanks, and heavy artillery with rifles, slingshots, and jihadi-salafi car bombs. MANPADs could have saved dozens of Syrian students from being killed when Assad’s forces bombed Aleppo university. Obama has a lot of blood on his hands, Syrian as well as Afghan and Pakistani.

The reality is that reactionary forces can, in some circumstances, take actions that benefit progressive movements. The U.S. imperialist military helped to desegregate the South; that same military handed out tremendous amounts of food aid to Tsunami victims in 2005. Does acknowledging any of this make imperialist militaries a “force for good”? Of course not. If a murderer and a rapist break into my house and I get the murderer to kill the rapist, has he not done a good, progressive thing despite his status as an outlaw, a criminal, a killer?

“What it means is a force for *order* which operates against *both* the emancipatory disorder of revolution and the reactionary disorder of counter-revolution simultaneously. So, for instance, the US intervention to prevent the military firing on crowds was deeply connected to the disastrous consequences that would descend upon its power in the region were such a spectacular crackdown to occur, with everyone watching, and what that would have to entail in terms of actions for the maintenance of the imperial order in the region -diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions, and so forth – exactly due to the democratic ideology of the bourgeois imperium.

“Now, where one broad tendency on the left can’t grasp *any* authentically contradictory aspect to imperial intervention due to ‘litmus-test thinking’, the other side of that is the lean which comes through even a rigorous piece like this one toward conceiving of imperial intervention in a stagist sense as a product of a more advanced set of civilized morals, as though *the democratic ideology of the bourgeois imperium were not actually ideological*. Thus, the entire *point* of the US intervention, as my quick canvas of the consequences of it opting not to work against a crackdown show, is that it operates from the double-edged imperative of creating spaces of bourgeois-revolutionary scope to *close off* spaces of more radical revolutionary possibility. As such, by intervening on the military, this call not to fire was attached to a gameplan in which the military was prevailed upon to dump Mubarak as a means to maintain its rule.”

I generally agree except for the part about what would’ve happened if the Egyptian military had slaughtered the masses a la Assad/Ghadafi. I don’t think there would have been sanctions, although sending $2 billion a year would probably become politically untenable if a lengthy civil war developed. That was a bind the U.S. was desperate to avoid, and they did so successfully.

In this case, pressuring the military not to kill Egyptians en masse did not weaken but strengthened the emancipatory impulse; imperialist intentions and aims and real-world outcomes are often two very different things. (Obama’s starvation of the mostly secular FSA of heavy weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of Islamist extremists is another example; weakening the FSA in this manner allowed Jabhat al-Nusrah to command influence in Syria over revolutionary forces all out of proportion to its miniscule numbers because it is the most militarily effective group, and now they have heavy weapons thanks to their victory at Taftanaz air force base.)

Slaughtering Egyptians en masse could have crushed and destroyed the rising confidence of the masses in the context of January/February 2011, not led to a greater and deeper radicalization. Tahrir Square would have gone down as the Paris Commune of the 21st century, or Tianenmen Square, or Budapest 1956 — take your pick of successful counter-revolutions.

Really this boils down to the fact that mass slaughter has zero emancipatory or radical political content content. Period.

It’s easy to fall into black and white, sinner and saint, or “force for good/evil” dichotomies because (socialist) politics always has a strong moral component (or should anyway), but the real world is a place where bad guys sometimes do good things and good guys sometimes do bad things. Sorting this from that is not always easy but it always necessary.

“The fact Binh has decided these are bourgeois-democratic revolutions *definitionally* and *alone* – whatever the excellent degree of nuance in thinking through how bourgeois-democratic revolutions in themselves are driven by proletarian power – would tend to produce positive auras around inherently conservative drives to intervene upon these revolutionary situations. Also, as a side point, bourgeois-democratic revolutions achieved exactly *none* of the things historically Binh imputes to it: ‘freedom of (or from) religion, rights for women and children, the right of workers to associate and strike’. So if there’s any truth to what he’s saying about these practitioners of historical materialism being ahistorical idealists, we can also call this counterposition the ‘historically delayed’ version of historical materialism, grounded in a false understanding of the political societies in which *we*, in the advanced capitalist countries, live.”

I haven’t decided that they are bourgeois-democratic revolutions, definitionally and alone. That is what they are, by any objective measure. Not one of the Arab Spring’s revolutions have raised anti-capitalist or socialist measures as demands or points of agitation and not one of them has seen the participation of the class conscious, militant, and organized proletariat that could even begin to push in this direction. The most popular demands in all cases are: the dictator must go (“Yalla er7al ya Bashar”;; we want free elections (for a bourgeois parliament, not soviets); we want freedom of speech, assembly, and so on. The rebelling masses have not even raised demands like doubling the minimum wage, restoring fuel subsidies, or other socioeconomic measures. What they keep raising are all bourgeois-democratic, not socialist, demands, but socialists (as I argued at length here) must champion bourgeois-democratic demands as the precondition for a fight for socialism. The working class and other oppressed classes (fruit vendors, petty merchants) have not yet put forward their own independent agenda, and that is a big reason why sections of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie are participating in these overturns in the way that they have. If or when socialist and working-class elements begin to come to the fore, that will alter the class alliances, with much greater parts of the bourgeoisie and parts of the petty bourgeoisie going over to the counter-revolution to protect themselves from a socialist or socialistic overturn.

There is nothing conservative about acknowledging the state of these revolutions as they actually are. They are tremendously disruptive and anti-conservative by nature.

Yes, bourgeois-democratic revolutions historically in Europe and the U.S. did not achieve “freedom of (or from) religion, rights for women and children, the right of workers to associate and strike.” But we are not talking about Europe in the 1600s-1800s and this ain’t the U.S. of A in 1776. The American revolution was a bourgeois-democratic revolution that extended the franchise to white property-owning males. Are we really saying that that should, could, or would be the outcome of a bourgeois-democratic revolution in a place like Egypt where there are no white white property-owning males (nevermind slave holders)?

In the context of the Middle East and North Africa, these gains are what many of these revolutions are aiming for, and that is what is producing so much conflict in places like Egypt. People ousted Mubarak to win these things and now the Brotherhood stands in the way. In Libya, Ghadafi used Islamic rhetoric to dress up his rule, and now the new government is comparatively secular, but even there, there is a big fight over women’s rights. Something like 20% of the people elected to their new legislature are women; when an unveiled woman participated in a ceremony inaugurating the legislature, she was replaced by a veiled woman, and triggered a big fight over the issue there (you can read about it here: Was the class content of that fight socialist or bourgeois-democratic in nature?

“Bourgeois revolutions have already happened in the Middle East – all the world over in fact. They went by the name of decolonization. One outstanding contradiction of them, however, was the way in which independence movement translated into dictatorial control: *due to empire*, whether via neo-colonial control of the local bourgeoisie or resistance to empire and the ideology of anti-imperialism, bourgeois revolutions in this part of the world have not required the democratic ideology. Thus, the battle for democracy here *already lapses over into socialist revolution*. To think of it in terms like this – where there are no ‘prospects for a second, socialist revolution when the first, democratic revolution has yet to be completed’ – is the grossest stagism and fails to grasp the purely regressive role, from a socialist standpoint, of the bourgeoisie under empire. The enemy of bourgeois-democratic revolutions in the sense Binh talks about it is not a perennial Old Regime composed of perpetual Arab pashas and irredentist mad mullahs who resist modernity but the bourgeoisie itself, of which said ‘pashas’ and ‘mad mullahs’ are the most modern part, exactly in a line with the prevalence of our democratic ‘advancement’ over their polities.”

Just because you have one bourgeois revolution does not mean you cannot have a second or third. The U.S. is a good example of this.

The battle for democracy does not “lapse” into or somehow automatically become the socialist revolution. Libya is not socialist. Neither is Tunisia. Both have eradicated their secret police forces, and in Libya, the entire old state machine was smashed and replaced by popular militias, who have become the backbone of the new, bourgeois state machine.

This is not “gross stagism.” This is reality. This is what is actually going on. Failure to engage it is where the Marxist left has gone off the rails into fantasy about Arabic soviets (not saying you personally are doing this, but I think this is where it ends up).

Another issue is that you seem to be implying (correct me if I’m wrong) that bourgeois revolutions are always and forever anti-feudal in nature. This is mistaken. The American civil war eradicated slavery, which was not a feudal holdover. Indeed, there was no European-style feudalism to eradicate in 1776 much less 1865. This is precisely why I argued at length for updating/contextualizing Lenin’s Two Tactics. We’re not dealing with feudal landowners or other forms of medieval oppression. Like the U.S. civil war, the Arab Spring’s bourgeois-democratic revolutions are overturning remnants and fetters of old bourgeois superstructures and replacing them with new ones that correspond better with where these countries are at economically, politically, and culturally.

“This creates a deep tension within the revolutionary movements, then, over capitalism (and, incidentally, this is exactly why Islamism assumes the outsized presence it does). And you’ll notice, for an analysis that purports to be all about class analysis, that there is *zero* said about capitalism. The bourgeoisie becomes a floating – worse, a floating *democratic* – category. Unless Marxism can respond to the dilemma where – as I think Binh grasps correctly – a socialist revolution cannot spring out of spontaneous will *while also* grasping that ‘a first stage’ bourgeois-democratic revolution cannot happen in this context – because if a revolution ends up on the side of the bourgeoisie here, it ends up against democracy, and this exactly because of the world history of the Anglo-European bourgeoisie’s global colonial domination – then Islamism or the counterrevolution will prevail. In short, if it isn’t understood that *the only means to attain democratic inroads is against the bourgeoisie*, we fail to grasp the grain of truth in the ‘subjective desires’ of the IST, RS and CWI: that it will, indeed, require ‘a burning need felt by the masses for greater self-organization to accomplish widely supported immediate steps such as coordinating strikes, ousting managers, controlling production, or forming workers’ militias’ in order to break the bourgeoisie and attain a form of ‘social-democracy’, at bare least – demonstrating, of course, the socialist element which has always been present *in* such democracy, to the extent capitalist polity can really be called democratic in its non-ideological sense, all along. There’s no liberal “interregnum” possible here, as liberalism itself is the overriding and fundamental anti-democratic force.”

A class analysis does not need to argue that “socialism is on the agenda” in any and all cases. Lenin’s analysis of the Easter Rising in 1916 said nothign about a socialist Ireland. Why? Because it was a bourgeois-democratic revolt led by petty-bourgeois elements (James Connolly’s martyrdom notwithstanding). Abolishing capitalism is simply not on the cards at this stage of the game in the Arab Spring. Not by a long shot. Perhaps not for decades, but hopefully sooner.

You are wrong when you argue that, “bourgeois-democratic revolution cannot happen in this context – because if a revolution ends up on the side of the bourgeoisie here, it ends up against democracy”. Who rules Libya today? The socialist proletariat? No. A bourgeoisie, one that split with Ghadafi early on in 2011 and stuck with the revolution (despite vacillations, pressure from NATO, and hesitations). Libya is right now experiencing the “liberal ‘interregnum'” you declare to be impossible. So is Tunisia. In fact, these liberal-democratic regimes are increasingly under threat by Islamist forces.

Now, there is a case to be made that the Egyptian revolution is going to be a hell of a lot more difficult, and possibly bloody, than the Libyan revolution or the Tunisian revolution (I’d rather not contemplate a Syria-style holocaust lasting for years in Egypt) because the Egyptian military is probably the most well armed, financed, and politically experienced/crafty/cunnning enemy that the masses have in the entire region. That probably means the working class will have to play a much greater role in the democratic revolution than elsewhere; the conclusion that flows from that probability is that the Egyptian revolution, to succeed in ending military rule, will by necessity need to encourage revolt within the ranks of the military, from the middle-class officer corps on down to the grunts. That is no easy task! And it may form a bridge to the socialist revolution, but not necessarily. Portugal in 1974 experienced an officers’ revolt that ended what was arguably a fascist regime. Did it grow over into a socialist overturn? No. Did that failure to grow over lead to a fascist counter-revolution? Also no.

The underyling problem/disagreement we have seems to be over the issue of stages, which have gotten a very bad name thanks to a century of Stalinist practice. However, if you read Lenin’s discussion of these topics, in 1905, 1917, 1918, and beyond, he often talks about particular stages of development the revolution (or civil war, or party) is in. That did not make him some kind of mechanical stage-ist. Thinking of how things develop in the framework of “stages” or “periods” is useful if you can keep in mind how all the stages are connected, how one leads to the other (and sometimes how things can be pushed backwards to earlier stages in retrograde fashion), if you pay attention to the conditions and contradictions that underpin their evolution and how those underlying conditions and contradictions themselves evolve, change, grow, and die off. If you can’t do that, stages gets you into a lot of trouble. But to reject stages and the Marxist method underpinning them I think is a big methodological mistake, one that can give rise to the opposite problem: collapsing all stages into one and the same thing — the democratic revolution is the socialist revolution, or the bourgeois-democratic revolution cannot stop at bourgeois democracy but must, of necessity, become the socialist revolution. We have more than 100 years of experience in many, many countries to prove how false that line of (fatalist) thinking is.

(And by “you,” I don’t mean you personally, but in general — us, we, really.)


Aaron Aarons February 13, 2013 at 1:47 am

If recognizing stages means raising slogans appropriate to the present level of consciousness and organization of the proletarian/plebian masses in order to weaken the hegemony of the ruling class and privileged strata, that is revolutionary. But if it means using the argument that the revolution is only bourgeois-democratic in order to tie those masses to the bourgeoisie and stabilize bourgeois rule, that is counter-revolutionary. The latter is what the SACP, COSATU, et al. have done in South Africa and what people like the writer who uses the pen-name, A Libyan Rebel, on this site (along with Clay Claiborne and others) want to see happen in Libya.

Proletarian/plebian/socialist revolutions don’t take place where bourgeois-democratic revolutions lead to stable bourgeois states.


Brian S. February 13, 2013 at 7:27 am

@AaronAarons:The first part of this “If recognizing stages means raising slogans appropriate to the present level of consciousness and organization of the proletarian/plebian masses in order to weaken the hegemony of the ruling class and privileged strata, that is revolutionary. ” is I think helpful. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but that is certainly my main point in these discussions, (and since Binh takes his lead from Lenin’s “revolutionary democratic dictatorship” I would presume he has a similar view.) I am hoping to see the building of autonomous popular organisations (trade unions, peasant associations, womens and civic organisations) to push the revolution forward, so am certainly opposed to anything that subordinates the masses to anyone (I think the South African story is a bit more complicated that you suggest – and I don’t agree that nothing has been accomplished with the ending of apartheid: but I don’t disagree with the main thrust of your characterisation).
But I am also unhappy with perspectives that mix up what are in one sense “bourgeois democratic tasks” (in that they at best modify the capitalist market rather than superceding it – democratic rights + social and economic measures that benefit the popular classes + resistance to imperialist control) with socialist tasks (replacing the bourgeois state with soviets, establishing a fully socialised and planned economy). If such talk is general educational propaganda outlining the long-term vision for a distinct socialist movement, perhaps. But if it is seen as defining real objectives for the popular movement in the forseeable future, then its likely to produce strategic and programmatic errors.
I don’t see any general theory of the Libyan revolution in the posts of Libyan Rebel or of Clay, and certainly nothing that is oriented towards “subordination”. What I do see a view similar to that outlined above. The closest we have come to concretising these issues has, I think, been in the exchanges between you (I think it was you) and myself over the attempts in Libya to integrate the militias into a public security force. I am guessing that is what is behind your comments – and in that case your target is me. I plead a qualified guilty to wanting a “stable democratic regime” in Libya -if the only alternative is an UNSTABLE regime – and I think it is. If you can see other possibilities present in Libya at the moment then please share them with us. (There are other issues that we probably differ over in areas like economic change, but until you concretise what you think should be done in post-conflict Libya its difficult to pursue these.)


Aaron Aarons February 15, 2013 at 2:42 am

I don’t see why a stable bourgeois parliamentary regime, even where it is possible, is preferable, from an internationalist anti-capitalist perspective, to an unstable one. Even when such a parliamentary regime comes under attack from fascists, imperialists, et al., the job of leftists is to organize the defense against those forces in a way that strengthens independent proletarian/plebeian consciousness and organization, rather than strengthening the hegemony of that parliamentary regime. Think of how the Bolsheviks dealt with Kornilov in 1917.

The difference between a bourgeois parliamentary regime with a standing army and, OTOH, Lenin’s concept of a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship” is the difference between night and day. The latter is inherently unstable, since it means state power essentially in the hands of workers, peasants, et al., while economic power remains with the capitalist class.


Aaron Aarons February 16, 2013 at 12:31 am

I don’t offer a program for what should be done in Libya following the victory of the anti-Qaddafi forces, but I would make a few suggestions as to what should be the priorities for the left:

1) Prevent the use of Libyan territory in support of imperialist interventions in the region.

2) Defend the rights of women, minorities, and foreign workers.

3) Prevent the stabilization of either an Islamist regime or a neo-liberal, pro-Western one. Depending on the balance of forces at any time, it may be necessary to make limited tactical alliances with the weaker of those anti-socialist forces against the stronger. In particular, it will sometimes be necessary to bloc with the losers in an election against the winners, who will generally be the most dangerous enemy.


Arthur February 16, 2013 at 3:17 am

I love it “bloc with the losers” – pseudoleftism in a nutshell!


Brian S. February 16, 2013 at 7:32 am

Hi Aaron – on your two posts. Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, but my point is that there is no merit in favouring “instabiity” for its own sake, as you appear to do. If instability results from mass action to push the revolution forward, so be it; if instability of the existing order is a step on the road to a better order, ditto. But if instability is being created by anti-democratic forces then I am not in favour of it. Nor does it make sense to advocate some sort of “permanent chaos” until the Libyan masses acquire socialist consciousness. You appear to concede that there is no real alternative to the present order in Libya, so your “Kornilov” scenario has little relevance, since it took place in the context of “dual power”. But in your programmatic point 3 you still seem committed to the pursuit of instability for its own sake. Libya, of course, doesn’t have an organised left – and if the newly emerging political currents in the country associate ideas like yours with the “left” it never will have.
Libya is currently celebrating the second anniversary of the revolution – and people feel free to go into the streets and voice their concerns, both in favour of and critical of, the current government.
If you had your way they would be cowering in their homes in fear of violent “destabilisation.”


Matt February 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm

“This is mistaken. The American civil war eradicated slavery, which was not a feudal holdover. Indeed, there was no European-style feudalism to eradicate in 1776 much less 1865”

Not quite. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf satrapies anyone? And of course the Arab bourgeoisie is completely fused with this regimes, in much the way the French haute bourgeoisie (all monarchists after the Revolution) were fused to the royal absolutism of the ancien regime.

And the American war of independence – its dominant characteristic – did have as a subordinate revolutionary attribute the eradication of the vestiges of English feudalism, specifically with regards to land ownership. Land and its natural resources are not and cannot possibly be a commodity product of capitalist production, ie they are non-commodities, and thus have ever been the anchor for the survival of “feudal remnants” all the way to the present time, as in Saudi Arabia. In Britain it underpinned the “traditional” landlord gentry caste and its monopoly of agricultural land (who were so clueless to bourgeois ways as to not notice that their tenant capitalist farmers were making off with an increasing part of the land rent under their ’99 year’ leases, helping thus to launch early English capitalist accumulation); this in turn underpinned a royal monarchy that in typical feudal style held colonial land as “public”-private property; in this way after 1769 the British Whig imperial regime sought to keep out the American settler-farmers by extending its new Canadian territory all the way down to the Ohio river, while they strived mightily to root landlord gentry manoralism in New York province as a wedge against both Pennsylvania (a personal proprietary colony of the Penn family nevertheless) and small proprietor commodity producer New England. The War of Independence has as its social revolutionary aspect the sweeping away of all these barriers, as Penn’s proprietorship was dissolved and New Englanders poured into upstate NY, making it finally a “Yankee” state. And the Midwest was opened to the settler-farmers. It is this very specific revolt against some very powerful feudal “survivals”, rooted in land and resource ownership, and not in commodity means of production, that defines this also as a thoroughly bourgeois and partially democratic revolution.

The same was true of the Mexican Revolution of 100 years ago: revolt against the hacienda system, demand for land redistribution to the small farmers, the program of Zapata. This also connected to the domination of mining and railroads by US, French and British imperial capital, all facilitated by the hacienda “feudal remnants”. Overturning the hacienda also threatened the overturning of the positions of capital in Mexico, hence the constant descriptions in the NY Times and Times of London of that era of the “murderous bandit Zapata”!

And slavery was also a feudal holdover. This was *mercantile* slavery, meaning merchant capital of the pre-capitalist, feudal type, which is why they had resort to slave labor, not wage labor. It’s lineal ancestor was the Venetian slave plantation island colonies in the Mediterranean, and was continued by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and English in that order in the Americas, Africa and Asia. In Britain the landlord gentry and colonial slave merchants ruled jointly in a class bloc in the period of the “Whig Supremacy”, while actual British capitalists remained outsiders until the mid 19th century. Quite a few “remnants”!

And who can deny that it is precisely in the Arab Middle East that the most powerful “feudal remnants” in the world persist in power? What is currently on the agenda at the limit of the present revolutionary movement is ultimately the eradication of the Saudi monarchy and the Gulf satrapies, aka the bourgeois democratic revolution. Hence the low profile of the working class movement. Ghadaffi and Assad are just necessary waystations to this goal of liberation. The whole “problem” of “Islamic fundamentalism” is in essence the problem of these feudal remnant states from which this emanates, one that has also already bit the bourgeois capitalist US in the ass as well. Given that the quasi-bonapartist-democratic U.S. regime is committed to defend these “remnants” to the death, it is not likely that the Arab revolutionary movement will not succeed in a purely bourgeois-democratic effort, and will inevitably be forced beyond this limit.

Finally, Binh plays down too much the role of the Egyptian proletariat in the present revolution.


Matt February 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Correction: ” it is not likely that the Arab revolutionary movement will succeed in a purely bourgeois-democratic effort, and will inevitably be forced beyond this limit. ” That is, it will not succeed.


Aaron Aarons February 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Matt: You know more than I do about social conflicts within the white settler population of the Northern colonies. But it seems to me that leftists should be primarily focusing on the role and position of the most oppressed sectors of the population of the proto-United States in relation to the UDI of 1776 and the subsequent wars, including not only the so-called ‘revolutionary war’ and the war of 1812, in both of which the majority of the enslaved African population and of the indigenous populations were, for good reason, on the side of Britain.

There’s a new book on this subject that, unfortunately, is a bit pricey, even in digital form, which is why I haven’t read it, But here’s a link to a page that includes a very extensive and informative review as well as the necessary information for those who might want to buy the book:
Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. Before Emancipation by Gerald Horne

It should also be recalled that it was precisely white (actual or would-be) small farmers who, along with slaveholders, fought to be allowed to take more land from the indigenous peoples. (Later, those two groups would fight over whether the Western lands would be used for slave plantations or small farms, leading to ‘Bloody Kansas’ and the Civil War.)

My reason for emphasizing this point about the so-called ‘American Revolution’ is that I believe that, in the United States in particular, one of the main tasks of the left, whether Marxist (of any brand), anarchist (of any brand), or whatever, is to undermine U.S. nationalism or patriotism of any kind, including the “Communism is 20th Century Americanism” poison of Earl Browder’s CP of the ‘Popular Front’ period.


Robert Gahtan February 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

I hope you are considering publication for this excellent article. It deserves to be read by a greater readership than is available through North Star


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

Any suggestions?


Louis Proyect February 8, 2013 at 11:10 am

I hope you are considering publication for this excellent article. It deserves to be read by a greater readership than is available through North Star.

You’d be surprised. I am not sure about North Star but I get about 2000 unique visits on my blog on a good day. Right now I am working on an article for “Capitalism, Nature and Socialism”, a left print journal that has 1100 subscribers and comes out about two or three times a year. The SWP crisis partly reflects their failure to engage with the Internet, the Gutenberg Press of the modern era.


Christian February 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm

About the bourgeois revolutions… they have never really been as neat and tidy as the name implies. Nor have they always been led by the bourgeoisie. Nor have they always been won to the benefit of progressive members of the population. Let’s keep in mind the transition from feudal states to the modern Western European type democratic states did not occur in a century- much less the 50 years since the end of colonization that the middle east has had to work with.

The English Parliment managed to execute a king in 1649, yet it remained hundreds of years before that country reached the type of freedoms or social liberality that characterize it today. Likewise many very basic political freedoms dreamed of by the French in 1792 were not won until after the second world war. The “bourgeois” revolutions have often been messy, half hearted, and faltering. Often and even in Europe the bourgeoisie has preferred the stability of a dictator (Bonaparte, Bonaparte III, Piłsudski, Mussolini, Franco, etc) to the uncertainty of a wavering democracy or an excited working class.

In the Lenin era many Russian Revolutionaries pointed out that the small Russian Bourgeoisie, though it dreamed of a society unfettered by Tsarist bureaucracy, had a tendency to seek shelter beneath it when revolutionary rhetoric began resonating a bit too strongly among their employees. In the analysis of the Bolsheviks it was ultimately up to the proletariat, hopefully with the support of the peasantry, to accomplish the eradication of feudalism. Keep in mind here that people are rarely as self interested or schematic as our definitions paint them. It is quiet possible for a bourgeois person to truly believe in civil liberties, democratic elections, and rights for the lower classes, whether or not their actions are ever able to achieve them.

Even with their analysis, the Russians ultimately failed. The economic basis of post civil war Russia was too poor and too isolated to overcome feudal traditions. The condition of women, child poverty, hoarding, theft, prostitution, alcoholism, the strength of religion and superstition, all frustrated the new communists in power with their constant reminders of the great gaps between what socialism wanted to accomplish, and what, given a devastated economy, it was actually able to provide for its people. When an energized bureaucracy decided to dispense with civil liberties entirely to implement “socialism” by force, the farcical dictatorship they erected resembled the autocratic pagentry of the tsar far greater than anything even the Cadet party might have advocated before 1917.

The relics of what a marxist academic might consider feudalism still exist to a great extent in the middle east. For examples, the condition of women, the strength of superstition, the importance of religion, the lack of democracy, free press, freedom of strikes, etc. In many countries, it has in fact been the bourgeoisie, and the bureaucratic ruling classes surrounding people like Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, Ben Ali, Qaddafi, Asad, etc… who have led their actual ruling classes (bourgeois, state capitalist, or otherwise) to rule on the basis of the most repressive backwards ideologies and authoritarianism. The ideologies and practices of such regimes have almost nothing in common with the ideas of 1776 or 1789, yet we often consider such dictatorships to have come to power through an anti-colonial “bourgeois revolution”.

The point is that “bourgeois revolution” is almost never in practice what Marxists hope it to be. If the ideal result of a bourgeoise revolution is something like a Western European parliamentary democracy, civil liberties and social liberalism prevailing among a social safety net and relative freedom of worker self organization, it seems very few of the actual bourgeois who have profited immensely under Middle Eastern autocracies would be too interested in establishing such a state to the determinant of their own social position.

The bourgeoise revolution remains a dream of many. Indeed it can be a great dream. Surely, to anyone living in a backwards capitalistic country, “deformed” by bureaucracy, restrictions on democracy, or authoritarianism, the ideas of free speech, electable and recallable representatives, rights for women, free unions, etc… are all marvelous ideas. They deserve to be fought for. What many participants in the Arab Spring are doing is fighting for them. They have quite a few opponents, both among the islamists and the bourgeois- bureaucratic remnants of their partially overthrown dictatorships.

It would be a quite possible outcome of the Arab spring for a liberal, democratic state to be established in one or more countries. Surely, one promises to be an improvement over the current condition of many. If, upon reaching such a point, the popular victors of such a system look around and see that they can go farther, it is entirely their right to do so. Whether that means grafting a social safety net and strong civil liberties onto a liberal democratic capitalist state, or social reform programs on the scale of the Venezuelan process, or even something further and closer to the truly socialist and egalitarian society almost entirely found today between the covers of books and the ears of their readers’ heads, that would be their right as well, and certainly we would applaud them for it.

But the point is that writing in the West we are extremely removed from the situation. We are generally so ignorant of facts on the ground and the relation of political forces that any advice we could possibly offer would be of very little value. Certainly, to people being shelled, machineguned, and bombed by a falling dictator clinging to power, schematics for socialist revolution are valued far less than financial contributions, first aid supplies, or weapons.

Worst of all would be to condemn anyone, either fighting in those countries or attempting to analyze them, for placing himself on the wrong side of the various, revolutionary “stages” we hypothesize exist, yet persist in being quite difficult to graft onto the actual unfolding, living situation.


Cliff February 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm

“It would be a quite possible outcome of the Arab spring for a liberal, democratic state to be established in one or more countries. ”

Where has that happened anywhere in the last 100 years?


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Libya. Tunisia. :)


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 2:09 am

Oh yea?? Libya and Tunisia are liberal democratic states now huh? Can’t take you seriously at all anymore. Sorry for bothering with it now.


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 2:22 am

If you have some evidence that they are not, let’s see it. Then we’ll find out who is to be taken seriously in this debate.


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 3:50 am

“Thousands of Tunisians have attended the funeral of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, who was killed on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle.

“Unions say the Islamist-led government is to blame for the killing, an accusation it denies.

“Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has tried to defuse tensions by announcing he would form a non-partisan, technocratic government.

“His governing Ennahda party has rejected this. But Mr Jebali on Friday told reporters he would go ahead with his plan, saying a technocratic government would not require the approval of the constituent assembly.” (February 8, 2013).

This kind of thing happens a lot in France, Sweden, even the US, right??? I heard just last week Ralph Nader got knocked off by a Republican on a Suzuki, and now Obama plans to construct a technocratic government staffed with the members of the Fed.

Get your nose out of your books and crack a window comrade.

Besides, it’s not for me to disprove anything. You’re the one making the assertion, you have to prove it. Didn’t they teach you that at whatever liberal arts university cranked you out?


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 11:22 am

Yes, French nationalists killed Jean Jaures as World War I broke out, therefore it was not a bourgeois democracy. Some method you got there.


Brian S. February 9, 2013 at 1:51 pm

@ Cliff. “This kind of thing happens a lot in France, Sweden …” Rather more often than in Tunisia as it happens. Or haven’t you heard of the assassination of Olaf Palme in 1986 and Anna Lindh in 2003. Or of JFK, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, the attempts on Ronald Reagan, and Gabrielle Giffords? So Sweden would appear to be only 50% as much a bourgeois democracy as Tunisia.
Of course, a silly conclusion resulting from an even sillier method.
The establishment of democracy isn’t a matter of waving some magic wand (no matter what the neo-cons may have told you) – its an historical process that takes time and has inevitable ups and downs. Libya is a good case in point:it has serious security issues but it also has real achievements and the prospect of continuing advance.


Cliff February 10, 2013 at 1:38 am

Right, Reagan, RFK and JFK were opposition leaders and unionists knocked off by the party in power, whose leader then went on to proclaim that he would unilaterally form a technocratic government against the wishes of his own party. Same with Palme and Lindh. Oh wait, none of those people were assassinated by the party in power. Whoops.

Olaf Palme – In power, killed by small time criminal, non-political.

Anna Lindh – In power, killed by a lone mentally ill man. “Despite Lindh’s popular image and the time of the assassination, the murder was not deemed an act of partisan political gain” (wiki)

JFK – President in power, killed by individual with no relation to the state apparatus

Robert Kennedy – killed by lone Palestinian nationalist with no relation to the state apparatus

Martin Luther King – not a bourgeois politician, killed by an individual racist

Malcolm X – not a bourgeois politician, killed by the Nation of Islam after he left it

Ronald Reagan – President in power, attacked by a lone mentally ill man who wanted to impress a movie star.

Gabrielle Giffords – In power, shot by lone mentally ill man with no connections to state apparatus.

Want to keep trying? Ruling parties don’t assassinate opposition members in “liberal democratic states” and then go on to push for an auto-coup. Sorry.

Face the facts, there hasn’t been a viable bourgeois liberal democracy founded in the last 100 years. Instead there have been corrupt autocracies tied by 1000 strings to the main capitalist powers formed.

The bourgeoisie was frightened to death by what they unleashed in their early revolutions and learned the lessons not to go so far in the future. Then the original capitalist powers and the workings of the capitalist system itself limited the possibilities in the rest of the world. Heck, even the liberal democracies that were founded in the period of bourgeois revolutions have been steadily eroding the limited rights and guarantees of working people have over the last several decades.

The period of bourgeois revolutions is over by a long shot. The choice now isn’t between feudalism and capitalism. It’s between socialism and barbarism. Bloody factional scuffles among the bourgeoisie in 2013 aren’t progressive revolutions. They’re massacres.

It’s a vulgar form of mechanical historical materialism that’s being morbidly applied here to justify support for one bourgeois faction over another is a bloody massacre that has nothing to offer the working class.

Even if one were to madly assume these were bourgeois democratic revolutions it still wouldn’t mean much. The US and France have been bourgeois democracies for centuries and yet the working classes there are no better organized or closer to seizing power than they are anywhere else. And in fact the only places socialist revolutions of any consequence have been attempted were in countries that were NOT liberal democratic states.

Your history is sloppy and your application of it is inane.


Pham Binh February 10, 2013 at 12:56 pm

The ruling parties in bourgeois-democratic Germany and America assassinated Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknicht, and Fred Hampton.


Brian S. February 16, 2013 at 9:37 am

Its easy to win arguments when you respond to facts that disprove your point by changing the terms of the argument. I could provide a string of “viable bourgeois liberal democracies” created within the last 40 years – starting with Spain and Portugal. But of course you’ll just reply that the debate isn’t about “viable bourgeois liberal democracies” but some other category that you come up with (maybe ” “viable bourgeois liberal democracies” founded on the third Wednesday in December and headed someone whose name begins with Q”.)


Arthur February 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I don’t speak Arabic and even if I did it would not be possible to correctly analyse the details of Egyptian politics from outside.

Nevertheless it ought to be possible to at least be broadly on the right side in the main struggle going on.

As far as I can make out this article identifies the current struggle in Egypt as between secularists and leftists on one side and the military regime in collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood on the other.

For example the article clearly sides with the “secular” and “left” groups in opposing a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the final round of the Presidential elections. Yet it is blindingly obvious that a victory for the other candidate, supported by the remnants of the old regime, would have been a major defeat for the revoluton.

That strikes me as much the same fantasy world as is inhabited by the various Trot groups whose lazy thinking is denounced elsewhere in the article.


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Sometimes elections and wars have two reactionary or counter-revolutionary sides to them. I believe the 2012 runoff was one of those cases.

One can make the case that defeating Shafiq trumped the counter-revolutionary politics of the Brotherhood, but RS’s mistake was to approach the issue as one of reformist versus counter-revolutionary.

Another issue that hasn’t been broached in any of this (by myself included) is why millions would vote for Shafiq in the first place? I tend to think many or most of them did so out of fear of the Brotherhood, not because they are right-wing or anti-revolution, but this is a sort of guestimate partly based on the fact the SCAF does not appear to have a candidate or party front in parliament.


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Correction: RS endorsed Morsi conditionally and listed a whole series of things they wanted to see him/the Brotherhood do. How an organization of under 1,000 imagined it could make demands of Egypt’s most popular, well-financed, and powerful political party numbering in the tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands in a meaningful way they did not say. Then they reversed themselves and boycotted the vote entirely without explanation. That is the bulk of my criticism; I’m open to the argument that defeating Shafiq trumped all (after all, Lenin and the Bolsheviks never hesitated to call for voting for Cadets to keep the Black Hundreds out of power when circumstances demanded they do so.)


Arthur February 9, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I’m glad you are “open to the argument” that it was necessary to defeat Shafiq, candidate of the old regime.

But you explicitly adopted the opposite view in your article and have provided no analysis whatever in support of it. I have just spent many hours going through your links (many, many, many hours going through a ridiculous number of links in an absurdly long article on multiple topics). But there simply isn’t anything there (although it was pleasant to review some of the classics). Instead of actually attempting to understand the situation in Egypt your interest has been in the posturing of the various completely irrelevant Trot sects. Some of that posturing you expose reasonably wel, with appropriate references to the classics but when it comes to concrete analysis you adopt essentially the same approach of just spouting a line that sounds plausible without any concrete investigation at all.

What’s worse is it that it only sounds plausible if you have been reading Trot analyses. As I said, it is BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS that a victory for the old regime’s candidate (Shafiq) would have been disasterous for the revolution. What possible use is your article if it doesn’t even get that right?

The “secular” Nasserist forces you want to unite with have fored an alliance against with remnants of the old regime in a National Front” and have been engaged in an explicitly undemocratic campaign for the military and/or judiciary to give them a minority veto against the elected government.

“You side with their complaint that since they lost the elections and the Muslim Brotherhood won, therefore the elections are illegitiate and should be set aside by the military and the old regime’s courts.

“Nearly 10 million people or 50% voted for secular candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Ahmed Shafiq in the 2012 presidential elections and yet secular parties constitute less than 20% of a legislature…”

In doing so you have explicitly acknowledged that the “secular” candidate you back is in the same camp as the regime candidate Shafiq, but that didn’t make you pause for thought.


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 9:04 pm

My criticism of RS on the runoff was focused on the political basis or reasoning underpinning their endorsement (I.e. Morsi=reformist), not that they made the wrong call. (People can do the right thing for the wrong reason.) Conditionally endorsing Morsi the way they did was odd because they listed a number of conditions/demands outlining what they wanted to see Morsi do, but it was unclear whether they withhold their endorsement if such conditions were not met. My other criticism was that they didn’t explain why they reversed themselves; their boycott was based on a number of undemocratic irregularities rather than a political assessment of Shafiq vs. Morsi. RS also continues to abstain from parliamentary elections, which is a big problem.

I didn’t take a hard and fast stand on the runoff itself. If I did, please quote my words to that effect. The reason I didn’t outline a specific position is because, as I said, I remain open to the “defeat Shafiq” argument. What isn’t clear to me is to what extent the runoff was rigged in the sense that the military was prepared and willing to partner with Morsi so that they won no matter the outcome. As you know by now, I’m not afraid to take unpopular stands or be wrong, so my ambiguity/failure to be crystal clear on the runoff is not any type of slippery posturing (I can’t stand that shit personally).

I agree with your criticism of the Nasserists and bourgeois liberals (and parts of the left) who, out of fear of what they call the “Brotherhoodization” of the state, have allied themselves with old regime elements. This is a big mistake for reasons you outline. I also agree that the Islamists have something of a democratic mandate and that trying to topple or force out Morsi and co. (or limit their power by underhanded means) is mistaken. However, I continue to believe that most people who voted for Shafiq did so thinking he is a secularist rather than because they like the idea of an Assad/Ghadafi-style solution to Egypt’s problems. You may deride this as being unimportant or see this as me contradicting myself, but why people vote for someone is just as important as who they vote for.


Arthur February 10, 2013 at 6:21 am

“I agree with your criticism of the Nasserists and bourgeois liberals (and parts of the left) who, out of fear of what they call the “Brotherhoodization” of the state, have allied themselves with old regime elements. This is a big mistake for reasons you outline. I also agree that the Islamists have something of a democratic mandate and that trying to topple or force out Morsi and co. (or limit their power by underhanded means) is mistaken.”

Ok, glad we are in agreement on that. FYI the article not only does not make that clear but conveys exactly the opposite impression. I’m not suggesting you are covering up but simply that your article, perhaps as a result of the focus on the “analysis” of completely irrelevant and insignificant Trot sects, conveys the opposite impression from what we are agreed on.

As to the “However…” no doubt many who voted for Shafiq did so because he is a secularist. It is absurd to contrast this with “because they like the idea of an Assad/Gaddafi style solution to Egypt’s problems. Plainly General Shafiq and the other generals did not like that idea or it would have happened.

It is equally absurd to join the chorus of people pretending the Muslim Brotherhood is merely a cover for the old regime. Again it is BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS that they have made compromises to ensure a relatively peaceful transition rather than any possibility of an Assad/Gaddafi reaction. Denouncing them for that is denouncing them for skillfully avoiding unnecessary bloodshed. As you have agreed, the Nasserists and bourgeois liberals and parts of what you still call the left are the ones who have in fact been aligning with elements of the old regime, precisely AGAINST the Brotherhood. Naturally those doing this who pretend to be “left” cover themselves with “militant” posturing as though THEIR support for counter-revolution is fundamentally different from any other reactionary’s support for counter revolution. You should be familiar with this stuff as it is much the same as similar stuff you have seen through from “leftists” over Syria.


Aaron Aarons February 15, 2013 at 3:33 pm

It’s not clear whether Arthur Dent thinks that a revolution has actually taken place in Egypt, something I think most of us here would disagree with, or he is using the term “counter-revolutionary” in the broader sense that fascism and Naziism were “counter-revolutionary” in Italy and Germany, even though they were not ‘countering’ an actual revolution. In that latter sense, it is hard to see how the Muslim Brotherhood is any less counter-revolutionary than the Egyptian military.

A.D. also writes, “it is BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS that [the MB] have made compromises to ensure a relatively peaceful transition rather than any possibility of an Assad/Gaddafi reaction.” But would they be any less right-wing, pro-capitalist, anti-woman, etc., if they hadn’t made such compromises?


Brian S. February 8, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I have a degree of sympathy with your view, Arthur. Viewed from a distance and with limited background, I too was nervous about the Egyptian opposition’s failure to identify the “main enemy” as the military. But I have come to modify this view (albeit to the point of “qualified uncertainty”) on two grounds: 1. it seems fairly clear that Morsi had cut a deal with the military to take office with only limited cosmetic changes to the structure of power; 2. The MB was acting in this context not as a “hegemonic” bourgeois strata aiming to lead the nation, albeit within social and political limits, but as a self-interested faction seeking to grab the maximum power for themselves.
In this framework I think the Egyptian popular scepticism about the MB may be more insightful than my (and your) somewhat schematic approach (and indeed more in keeping with my framework of “popular democracy” that I have articulated elsewhere).


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I think you make an important point re: Morsi cutting a deal. SCAF will veto anything it doesn’t like. Imagine if Sabahi and ElBaradei were the two top vote getters; would they have allowed the runoff to proceed? I doubt it. The military makes its own budget with undisclosed amounts, has its own appointees in parliament (they and Morsi apparently have to agree), and is accountable to no one. It continues to be a power unto itself.


Brian S. February 10, 2013 at 11:27 am

@Binh The new Constitution does seem to make major inroads into the institutional power of the military. It looks like a deal in which they withdraw from politics (which they’re probably keen to get out of anyway) in exchange for keeping control of their own affairs and their piggy-bank. So they don’t have any legislative powers or representation in the lower House of Representatives, which is entirely elected. “The Minister of Defense is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, appointed from among its officers.” and military personnel can only be tried by military courts, which can also prosecute civilians for “crimes that harm the army”. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is enshrined in the Constitution but without any defined role or powers. The provisions on the budget are contradictory – on the one hand the lower House is supposed to have oversight over everything; on the other the military budget is handled by National Defense Council – a joint body with both politicians and top brass. There’s a lot of ambguity in the Constitution, so plenty of scope for Morsi to massage the deal one way or the other, as he needs or wishes.


Arthur February 9, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Viewed from a distance with eyes firmly shut the “opposition’s” claims to take the revolution further than the Muslim Brotherhood could look plausible. But even a superficial reading of the reports makes it clear that their hopes are entirely pinned on the Army and the old regime’s judiciary preventing the majority of the Egyptian people (64%) from getting the Constitution they voted for.

As a normal political party the Muslim Brotherood won elections and insists an opportunity to carry out its program. As bunch of “secular” people with an overwhelming sense of entitlement the opposition are throwing tantrums about that. Their open alliance with the regime remnants makes it obvious why they have so little support. For the very large numbers of people in Egypt who do still fear democracy because it inevitably means a Muslim Brotherhood government it makes more sense to vote for Shafiq than for Nasserists who failed long before Shafiq failed.


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 9:58 pm

64% of those who voted. The turnout to vote on the constitution was pretty low at 33%. 64% of 33% is… well, I’m not a math major, but it’s not a democratic mandate by any stretch.

The secularists have the support of millions. Sabbahi alone won 4 million votes and that’s not counting the millions who voted for bourgeois liberals. And then there’s liberal Islamists who seem to straddle the Brotherhood-secular divide, which complicates things.


Arthur February 10, 2013 at 6:35 am

No doubt the secularists (or more accurately the Nasserists) have thesupport of millions. So do the supporters of the old regime and so do the Salafis. Of these three major tendencies competing with the Muslim Brotherhood the Nasserists appear to be the smallest. Instead of analysing Trot sects it would be more useful to try and understand these four major tendencies and the contradictions among them.

Obviously 36% of a 33% turnout has a lot less claim to a mandate than 64%. The overwhelming majority of that minority do understand that and will organize to win public opinion to their views, including at the forthcoming elections since they understand the importance of democracy. But some of them are instead rioting (and even taking advantage of soccer hooligan riots) trying to provoke a military coup. I think they are already stepping back from the brink and it was just a tantrum. But if I am wrong about that they are going to get badly burnt and will thoroughly deserve it.


Brian S. February 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I’ve been reflecting on these issues and also trying to fill in the blanks in my knowledge of the current Egyptian political situation. I think this is an important discussion both because of the centrality of Egypt to the Arab Spring, but also because it allows us to crystallise some of the issues that we have been talking about abstractly, such as “bourgeois (or other) democracy” and “stages”.
I have reached a couple of conclusions, so I offer a few of them as parameters for the discussion:
1. Morsi has a formal legal mandate as president as a result of his victory in the election; but his claim on political legitimacy is weak – he was elected with a narrow majority of a diminished voter turnout (52% of 52% = 27% of the electorate); but he has conducted himself as if he has an unqualified right to use (and expand) his powers as he sees fit.
2. His Presidential decree of November 22nd reflects this partisan approach to government – some of the measures he took to prevent the old-regime judiciary interfering in the political process may have been justified but he hitched this legitimate step to a wider drive to enlarge his powers during the transition period to an unjustified degree and without any consultation. This, perhaps understandably sparked the concern of the secular opposition that this was a Muslim brotherhood power grab. This has been reinforced by Morsi’s repressive response to opposition protests, which has further confirmed suspicions about the Brotherhood’s authoritarian agenda.
3. Nevertheless Morsi’s decree was time-bound – it was to lapse once the constitutional processes were completed, which now means with the Assembly elections likely to take place in April.
4. The handling of the Constitution by Morsi was poor and again partisan. It was drafted by a small body of 100 appointed by the parliament. It initially included representation of opposition groups, but most of these (40 members) withdrew due to the way things were being handled. It carried out its work in 6 months with little or no public consultation. Morsi ignored opposition calls for a delay in the referendum to ratify it, and it was rushed to a vote 15 days after it was finalised. It was supported by 64% of those who voted, but in a 33% turnout (considerably lower than that of both preceding elections – suggesting a largescale boycott)- so the “basic law” for governing the country has a narrower base than that of the Muslim Brotherhood.
4. The constitution has serious flaws from a democratic standpoint – it concentrates excessive power in the hands of the President, and continues to provide a special status for the military (albeit without an overt political role). But it is, on balance, a flawed democratic constitution – not an UNdemocratic one.
5. The response of the opposition to this situation has been ill-judged: rather than focusing on the dangers of Morsi’s power grab and protesting his repressive actions, it has allowed itself to drift into a position of demanding Morsi’s resignation. This seems especially inappropriate given that parliamentary elections are due in the next two months. What it should be doing is exposing Morsi’s intentions with a view to generating an a broad anti-Morsi mobilisation in the parliamentary elections.
6. I’m unsure about the evolution of the Egyptian revolutionary socialists’ line. In my view their position of critically supporting Morsi against Shafiq in the second round was broadly correct. They now seem to have performed a summersault into talking about a “second revolution”.
This seems to be a muddle of sensible strategic goals – left unity, participating in the electoral process, building independent workers organisations – mixed in with an ultraleft assessment of the context. “Historic conjunctures like this don’t occur often. Either we must go forward to a second Egyptian revolution or our fate will be the victory of counter-revolution.” In brief, they fail to anchor themelves in a clear understanding of the “stage” that the Egyptian revolution is in. Whether this is homegrown or has taken place under the guidance of the SWP, would be interesting to know.


Arthur February 11, 2013 at 4:45 am

Looking forward to discussing this but unfortunately not for a day or two. Hope you take up Pham’s suggestion below and elaborate in a separate article:

(Unfortunately I can’t do it as don’t have time to do the minimal research I consider necessary before writing anythng less ephemeral than off the cuff comments in response to others. But your notes are already good enough to enable a substantive discussion – which would be better in its own thread.)


Arthur February 13, 2013 at 10:04 am

Ok, I gather there won’t be a separate thread immediately so I’ll jot some off the cuff responses to Brian’s numbered points:

1. Morsi is the elected President and has been extremely cautious about exercising the powers of that office to avoid provoking a military coup. Revolutionaries want more action from the President while conservatives sayng he has no mandate are really trying to preserve the power of the generals and the old regime.
2. The old regime’s judiciary had already declared the elected lower hourse invalid and were about to prevent a constitution being put to a referendum. The generals had already attempted to usurp both the legislative power and the drafting of the constitution. The decree was absolutely necessary to prevent this power grab by the generals and judiciary and ensure elections would be held instead of prolongation of transitional military rule.
3. Agreed. But this means the complaints are simply from people who know they cannot win in the elections and are trying to prevent them being held and prolong transitional military rule.
4a. Demands that the elected President shoud be “non-partisan” are anti-democratic. The opposition won 30% of the legislature and were given 40% of the drafting body. They boycotted in the hope of a judicial and military veto. That anti-democratic ploy was defeated and the people decided the issue in a referendum. There was no boycott and the opposition had every opportunity to and did attempt to, mobilize everyone dissatisfied with either the government or the draft to vote no. They were resoundingly defeated (as expected – which is why they were relying on the military and judiciary instead of simply running a “No” campaign from the start). The orginal deadline was extended and the rush at the end was to avoid an open confrontation with the judiciary. The opposition’s demand for a delay was quite openly and unamiguously a demand that the constitution be drafted by a body appointed by the generals as SCAF had already proposed.
4b. The constitution drastically weakens the power of the President. A strong President will be needed to stand up to the military and judiciary. People wanting to weaken it further are trying to strengthen the ilitary and its protectors in the judiciary.
There is no doubt it is basically a democratic constitution. Its flaws are not what the struggle is about.
5. The opposition’s tactics have indeed been “ill-judged”. More to the point they have been outrageously anti-democratic. Despite getting a second bite at the cherrry from the judiciary they cannot focus on trying to win at the election because they already know from the previous one that they haven’t got a hope.
6. The “Revolutionary Socialists” are of no significance whatever. What does matter is that the Nasserists along with many of the liberals and “left” have clearly aligned with the old regime.


Manuel Barrera, PhD February 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I’m a little troubled, Arthur, with your comments in 4b to 6.
4b: You say ” The constitution drastically weakens the power of the President. A strong President will be needed to stand up to the military and judiciary. People wanting to weaken it further are trying to strengthen the ilitary and its protectors in the judiciary. There is no doubt it is basically a democratic constitution. Its flaws are not what the struggle is about.”
–I may not quarrel, right now, with the appraisal of the Egyptian constitution weakening the power of the President, but you seem to imply that this weakening is a bad thing because of the objectives of those who wish to strengthen the military and their supporters in the judiciary. Is that what you mean? If so, it seems a bit myopic to argue against “weakening” the presidency because the current supporters among the political parties and military don’t want a “strong” president to oppose them. Again, your appraisal about the forces opposing and supporting a weak presidency may be accurate, but my question is whether revolutionaries would be interested in a “strong” President or a strong constitution that provides the masses with the most openness in participating in the political process with greater strength in building real democratic institutions on a local, regional, and national level. Revolutionaries are not bound to argue “with” the supporters of the military for more democracy. Perhaps I am missing an element of democracy here and that a road to democracy for the masses involves a “strong President” in a constitution ostensible written to guide the democratic process of a country and which would improve the prospects for supporting the masses in their struggle for democracy?

5. You say : “Despite getting a second bite at the cherry [a new election] from the judiciary they cannot focus on trying to win at the election because they already know from the previous one that they haven’t got a hope.” A) when you refer to the opposition, I assume the opposition to Morsi, correct? If so, it seems a bit fatalistic to predict that such an opposition is going to lose. It may be true, but it just seems such commentary amounts to arm-chair “quarterbacking” promoting a fait accompli when it is likely that none of what is happening in Egypt can be ascribed so statically. I suppose I would prefer a more optimistic approach to analyze what it might take for revolutionaries–who I assume comprise some form of the “opposition” albeit neither of the pro-military, or pro-capitalist type–to gain an upper hand in the context of another election period, what you call the “second bite of the cherry”. I consider that “second bite” to be a reflection of the relationship of class and political forces that precipitated enough reaction in the populace to force people like Morsi to have to continue a democratic process despite his own intents. After all, any bourgeois election (bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic, or dictatorial or military form) is always a way to “stack the deck” against the working masses even if it is at the same time an opportunity for the masses to exert their political will. I don’t believe you would consider the new elections to be some counter-revolutionary event whose effect would prevent the democratic and, therefore, revolutionary process in Egypt. So, why the pessimism and, more to the point, why not a more detailed analysis of what the current alignment of forces might provide for revolutionaries to help press the continued process of democracy in the current context?

6. You say categorically that “The ‘ Revolutionary Socialists’ are of no significance whatever. What does matter is that the Nasserists along with many of the liberals and “left” have clearly aligned with the old regime.” It seems again to imply a pessimistic view that revolutionaries a) are not having much of an impact and b) that the bourgeois-democrats like “Nasserists and liberals” are capitulating, hence, what? Egypt is screwed? It’s pointless? Or, perhaps it is just important to be “sober” about prospects? All of that seems to go no real good place and I just have to doubt it is that bleak when there remains a democratic revolution ongoing in ferment in Egypt.

I have to say, with that kind of “analysis”, I am left with a certain fatalism that does not seem to be justified, especially in Egypt. I wonder whether there is a “downturn” in mobilization going on in Egypt and whether revolutionaries should just hunker down and find a way to consolidate forces? The apparent ferment in the cradle, if not the birthplace, of the Arab Spring seems a bit too dismissed here.


Brian S. February 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I don’t want to respond to Arthur in detail until I’ve clarified my knowledge and thinking on a number of matters. But perhaps I can define some of the areas where we will likely disagree and Arthur may want to clarify his views (again following the original list of points.)
1.Arthur might like to clarify what Morsi’s “caution” consisted of. I don’t see him in that light at all- I don’t disagree with the LACK of caution that seems to have marked his conduct from August through December, but I do wonder what might have lain behind it, in terms of his relations with SCAF.
2. I assume you are talking about the November decree: parts of that were necessary, but other parts were not. I don’t think the threat to the democratic transition was as serious as you think: the judiciary were essentially running a rearguard action,; the military were effectively out of the picture since the removal of Tantawi in August.
3. I see no evidence that the opposition is “trying to prevent the elections being held” and military rule has been as effectively over as its going to get for 6 months.
4. Ditto and you we will need to discuss the nature of constitutional democracy. In my view Morsi will not be “standing up to the military” any time soon – he has reached a mutually amicable deal with them.
5.I agree that the mainstream opposition have been and remain a political mess: but your repeated assertions that they are “aligned with the old regime” (what old regime?) and unsubstantiated contention that they are trying to provoke a military coup (an absurdity, in my view) require documentation if they are to be taken seriously.


Arthur February 14, 2013 at 8:55 am


As previously mentioned my comments are off the cuff. I don’t speak Arabic and don’t believe it would be feasible to have a detailed understanding of events in Egypt even if I did. But I have taken an interest for many years and do welcome the opportunity to clarify views concerning the main issues – central to which is whether to view the current struggle as between secular and islamist forces or as between democratic and undemocratic forces.

1. Egypt has had essentially the same military regime since 1952. Removing Mubarek was viewed by SCAF as completing the revolution and solving the problem of it becoming another hereditary regime under Gamal. But for democrats that was only the start of a much deeper transition to full democracy. It is well known that the Muslim Brotherhood has (with good reason) been very cautious about direct challenging SCAF. Indeed a lot of the rhetoric from their opponents suggests the opponents are fighting against a continuation of the old order now under Brotherhood management. But when you actually look at the concrete struggles it turns out that these opponents have no other strategy than an alignment with the old regime using pretty much the same slogans as the old regime “democracy would result in islamists governing so to preserve secularism we cannot allow democracy”. Morsi’s actions in August were decisive – by retiring the leaders of SCAF he clearly established civilian supremacy. But that is precisely what all the hysteria is about. The “National Salvation Front” is extremely uncomformtable at this “power grab” by Morsi taking power from SCAF. The “leftists” aligned with remnants of the old regime in SCAF are taking much the same stand as in Turkey where they lined up with the Kemalists and military against a much more democratic islamist party.

2. Yes I agree that the judiciary and army were essentially running a rear guard action and agree that you are right to stress this. I did not mean to give the impression that they were likely to win. The fear has been broken and space for political activity has opened up in a way that may be irreversible.

3. Only formal civilian supremacy has been established. The entire bureaucracy, judiciary, local “notables” and business circles are still dominated by elements of the old regime (who also have substantial mass support and were able to claim nearly half the vote in Presidential elections). The people are not armed and the army, police and internal security services are armed to the teeth and have hardly been touched. In this situation SCAF (strongly supported by those who now make up the NSF) was able to cancel the first elections to the legislature and has already prolonged the transition for two years. The old regime’s judiciary was about to dissolve the Constituent Assembly which would have prevented the elections that will now be held in April. The NSF was actively pushing for this further prolongation. I do not suggest that would have prevented elections forever but it simply isn’t controversial that the NSF has been trying to prevent elections that will be held despite them BECAUSE of the decree that they have been throwing tantrums about.

4. The “mutually amicable deal” is far from stable. There will be an ongoing struggle. The issue being avoided is that the NSF is now more or less openly on the wrong side of that struggle.

5. I mentioned that I think they are backing off and were just throwing tantrums. But the only strategy behind violent protests demanding that the freshly elected President be brought down and burning down the offices of the party that won elections is to create enough chaos to justify military intervention. There is obviously no other way in which such “demands” could be met.


I hope the above responses to Brian could also clarify some of the issues you raise.

Re weak or strong Presidency. There is a fairly wide consensus in favour of a much weaker Presidency with much more power to the legislature – and that is reflected in the Constitution that has just been adopted and was not really controversial. But since the first legislative elections were cancelled there is no legislature until new elections are held and meanwhile SCAF proclaimed itself to remain in charge and issued “Constitutional decrees” restricting the President’s authority. Morsi’s counter decree and retirement of the SCAF leaders was denounced as a power grab by Morsi whereas I believe any democrat should support it as the necessary action of a strong President standing up against military rule.

Re pessimism and optimism. My point is that the opposition has been fighting a rear guard action against democracy while President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have been far more democratic. I am quite optimistic that the NSF will again be soundly thrased at the elections and they are quite pessimistic in holding the same view. I think you’ll find my expectation that they will do badly isn’t controversial – its just that the media is “pessimistic” about this “disaster” so as usual people claiming to be “left” have the same reaction. I don’t know enough to predict how well the Salafi party will do and was surprised that it did so well last time. I certainly hope they do badly.

Again, the complete irrelevance of the “Revolutionary Socialists” is simply not controversial. I am confident that Egypt will become a modern democracy and I look forward to the same struggle against the conservative and reformist bourgeois parties that will govern that democracy as against the ones that rule the country I live in. Unlike the moteley collection of Nasserists, regime remnants liberals and “leftists” in the NSF I don’t think that Egypt or any of the other Arab countries are “screwed” just because islamist parties will benefit from democracy. That was precisely what anybody that had the slightest knowledge of the region expected would be the result of overthrowing the autocracies and was always the main excuse for supporting the autocracies.


Brian S. February 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

@Arthur. Thanks for your reply. Most of your points are, at least partially, contrary to my understanding: but I too need to deepen my understanding. What I am hoping to do is post a framework for the discussion – a chronology of key events and some links to sources. Not sure how long it will take me to put together – so don’t hold back on my account.
I take your point about the weight of the bureaucracy etc associated with the old regime, and I’ll need to look more closely at that.
One factual point: I get the impression that you think the upcoming elections for the National Assembly have been necesssitated by the judiciary/military dissolution of the previous assembly. I don’t think that is so: it would have been necessary to hold these elections anyway once the new constitution had been adopted.


Arthur February 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Nope. The assembly was elected for a term of 5 years under the provisional constitution (article 34). There was no expectation that the new constitution would result in shortening that term.

The electoral decree required “independent” (non-party) candidates for seats that were not under the Proportional Representation party list system (initially two-thirds). This was intended to favour local “notables” including remnants of the old regime against more radical parties (the regime’s NDP being dissolved and excluded) but was not enforced after a threatened boycott by the parties (which also resulted in two thirds under the party list system). In fact there was little support for the “notable” remnants and Muslim Brotherhood candidates won almost half the seats (and Salafis another quarter). So the judiciary enforced the decree requiring independents by cancelling the results for one third of the seats and then allowed SCAF to usurp the legislative power by dissolving the entire assembly including those elected on the list system (where islamists had also won a clear majority).,_2011%E2%80%932012

See also the ICG report.

The Constitution now adopted by referendum has no restriction on parties running candidates in any seat.


Brian S. February 15, 2013 at 9:06 am

Hi Arthur – Constitutional matters in Egypt have got very tangled because of the shifting interventions of the SCAF and the Supreme Court. And military councils don’t make good constitution writers. But remember that the Constitutional document you link to was a transitional document, still enshrining military rule, intended to apply until a new constitution was adopted (art. 60 ). It would be unusual (although not impossible) to adopt a radically new constitution and then continue with a legislature elected within the framework of the old one.
More normal would be to dissolve the Assembly and hold new elections under the new rules, and I’m fairly sure that was always the intention. E.g. “On 8 July, shortly after his election, President Morsi issued a presidential Decree (11/2012) annulling the SCAF’s Decree 350/12 and instructed the People’s Assembly to temporarily reconvene until fresh elections are held within 60 days of the adoption of the new Constitution.” When Morsi reestablished the legislative authority of the upper house on 25 December he linked it to a “vote for new lower house in 2 months”.

Arthur February 15, 2013 at 9:37 am

Your tangled speculations merely confirm that you were not following events as they unfolded. Morsi’s decree of 8 July was a direct response, shortly after his election, to SCAF’s DISSOLUTION of the lower hourse following the judicial decision of 14 June declaring one third of the results invalid.

There was no question of the legislature functioning temporarily until adoption of the constitution until AFTER it had been declared invalid (NOT expired).

Please don’t waste time on stuff like “I’m faily sure that was the intention”. Its pointless. We’re talking about matters of well known historical fact and record.

Brian S. February 8, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Let me add my voice to those who found this contribution both impressive and timely. I agree that it should be given maximum circulation, but I also agree with Binh that that would be most effectively done by further online networking. I would suggest that Binh contacts New Left Project (I know he’s had a negative experience with them previously, but I think this is a different proposition.) And what about Jadaliyyaa?
On the debate that Binh has fruitfully initiated here, I have a few comments.
Anonymous accuses Binh of “gross stagism” – Binh is certainly a “stagist” – he has regularly theorised in that vein. But we need to clarify what we mean by “stagist” – one version of stagism involves imposing preconceived “stages” on an historical social movement – holding back the real dynamic of the movement and betraying its concrete potentiality – in the way the Stalinists did in the Spanish popular revolution of the 1930s, for example. This form of stagism is indeed “gross” in both the literal and vernacular senses. But that is not Binh’s form of stagism – his involves the recognition that in some concrete circumstances the popular struggle has to pass through one (or a series) of stages before it can place socialism on the agenda; and recognises the need for the left (domestically and internationally) to formulate a programme and a strategy – and rhetoric – that recognises that fact.
While “gross stagism” may be a theoretical and practical sin, so is “gross anti-stagism” – i.e. the attempt to impose on an historical movement a non-stagist schema, that leads to a mis-definition of programme and strategy.
Binh has capably outlined the character of the movements that have erupted in the Arab world, and the reasons why they are best understood as entering into and operating within a “democratic” stage.
I specify “democratic” rather than “bourgeois democratic” because I think the latter term is theoretically ambiguous and has implications that could suggest “bad” stagism.
Binh has pointed out elsewhere in his post that the historical “bourgeois democratic” revolutions have always had poor democratic credentials. What the historical record shows is that the popular classes have done the heavy lifting during these upheavals, and the emerging bourgeoisie have tried to appropriate the benefits. But what this has meant is that the popular classes have always pushed against the “bourgeois” constraints of the revolution (indeed, that’s how socialism was born).
Let’s look at this from the standpoint of concrete demands: are trade union rights “bourgeois democratic”? Practically, no bourgeoisie has ever espoused them – and from a conceptual point of view the idea of a “right” to COLLECTIVE organisation is highly anti-liberal.
What about demands for the state to take responsibility for popular welfare (food prices, employment) – a demand in every popular revolution – but highly non-bourgeois in every sense?
What about the land question? The popular demand is for land reform – breaking up of large land holdings and re-allocation to small holders. But the large landholders are part of the bourgeoisie.
In my view what we need to reference is “popular democracy”(or, if you prefer, just “democracy”) – a “stage” that will not immediately be “socialist” in form or content – but which will involve a whole series of measures that have social content and therefore push beyond the boundaries of “bourgeois democracy”.


Andrew February 8, 2013 at 2:12 pm

“what about Jadaliyyaa?”

Great suggestion.


Pham Binh February 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm

My experience with Jadilyya has been decidedly negative. I submitted this ( to them weeks before I posted it after going through the trouble of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s of their submissions process ( After a few days of not hearing back, I repeatedly sent polite queries, asking them to at least let me know if it was being rejected. I got no response. After a week or two, I posted “When Anti-Imperialism” goes wrong here.

I’m not about to waste my time again begging for a rejection.

New Left Project is a good idea but their submission guidelines ( preclude them from publishing this.


Brian S. February 8, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Sorry to hear about the problems with Jadaliyya. It is a bit of a personal perspective site. You could sound out NLP to see if they would make an exception – play up the”North American” focus of North Star or whatever it might take to persuade them?


Louis Proyect February 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Jadaliyya hates the FSA. If you look carefully at Bassam Haddad’s articles, you will see that they are closely related to Josh Landis. They hoped that nonviolent pressure from the streets could have convinced al-Assad to step down or accept democratic reforms. When things turned ugly, they began to devote most of their energy demonizing the fighters.


Deran February 8, 2013 at 5:28 pm

My two-cents on if this article *needs* to be published in a print journal or some such – I found The North Star about a month or so ago online and read everything you all post. I am pretty blind and low income, so I no longer subscribe to Left journals (theoretical or journalistic) like I used to. And I think in this day and age online gets information and analysis out to an even larger readership than does a traditional print journal. I guess what I am saying is that The North Star, and for instance, Mr. Proyect’s blog, are probably much more important as far as open access to debates, analysis and news, than are the most widely read print medium that covers the same array of topics. And online permits more direct and immediate discussion than does print.

This essay is such a breath of fresh informed air.

Sorry this last bit is off the direct topic. Has anyone associated with North Star ever approached Abu Yazan/Mohammed Matter who was imprisoned in Gaza by Hamas for his leadership of Gaza Youth Breaks Out, and who is a young Palestinian secular leftist, for his analysis and in put on the topics raised in this post by Pham Binh? Abu Yazan is very articulate. All the interviews with him I’ve read are predominantly about Palestine, soccer or literature and such, but I know he considers himself a Leftist, and it would seem very interesting to see what he has to say more directly about socialism, the Arab Spring etc.


Michael Pugliese February 8, 2013 at 7:06 pm

‎”This video shows Jahbat al-Nusra members trying to pull down the Syrian Revolution flag! The people answer by chanting the Syrian people are one!” h/t @Matthew Richardson

شبكة أخبار ثورة العاصي||Alaasi Revolution News Network
#ادلب – سراقب : بيان رقم 3 للعام 2013:

خرجت في مدينة سراقب مظاهرة سلمية تنادي بالحرية و اسقاط النظام و تؤكد على وحدة الشعب السوري و وحدة أراضيه و قامت برفع علم الثورة السورية ,
و في تكرار لحادثة كسر علم الثورة السوري التي حصلت في مظاهرة الجمعة الماضية 1-2-2013 ,
قام عناصر من كتائب أحرار الشام اليوم 8-2-2013 بانزال علم الثورة و كسره ,
… بعد أن قامت بالدخول الى المظاهرة و حاولت ايقافها و التصدي لها و قطع طريقها , كما حاولت الاعتداء على المتظاهرين ,
و رد المتظاهرين السلميين على هذه التجاوزات و الاعتداءات بترديد شعارات الثورة السورية في الحرية و “الكرامة” .

إننا و اذ ندين هذه الأعمال اللاأخلاقية بحق الثورة و علمها و الشعارات التي خرجت من أجلها منذ الأيام الأولى للثورة السورية ,
فإننا نحمل جميع الكتائب المسلحة في مدينة سراقب مسؤولية حماية المظاهرات السلمية و التي كانت السبب الأساسي في تسليح هذه الكتائب ,
كما نحمل كتائب أحرار الشام بشكل خاص مسؤولية سلامة الناشطين السلميين , و ندعوهم لعدم تكرار أفعال النظام من ظلم و اعتداء على مظاهرات الحرية .
و نؤكد على حق أبناء المدينة و أبناء سوريا جميعاً بالتظاهر السلمي حتى اسقاط النظام و اقامة سوريا الجديدة لكل السوريين .

و قد قام بعض الناشطين بتوثيق هذه التجاوزات في مقطع الفيديو أدناه .

::: أبو عمرو :::


Brian S February 9, 2013 at 9:39 am

@Michael P. As always Michael a good find. The first link doesn’t seem to work. But the second is very interesting. If I have decoded my Google translate correctly its Ahrar-al-Sham, not Jabhat al Nusra that’s accused here. What’s interesting is that while the Islamists are clearly out in force for this demo, they don’t get their way. There is a running conflict in Saraqeb that does involve Jabhat al Nusra:
This is shaping up to be the first major confrontation between the salafist brigades and the civil opposition – important to see how it plays out.
For a nice example of the spirit of the Saraqeb civil opposition see:


Michael Pugliese February 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Video of Abu Mariam (who was imprisoned in Aleppo by “Sharia Cmte”) throwing Islamist banners away in a protest via DarthNader


anitah February 8, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Cliff, Marxists don’t always get it right – the mark of the best Marxists is that they admit when they got it wrong. Using Christopher Hitchens as the straw man here is well reprehensible. Even though i don’t always agrre with PB he is continuing to put out thoughtful pieces for discussion as well as keep up with comments. I think he is doing remarkably well under the circumstances. It is ridiculous to say he is commenting from the sterility of academia or dead books. He is clearly looking to what is, while attempting to explain and analyse it rather than your quick dichotomising of reform vs revolution. Frankly we are all sick of that trope.


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 2:11 am

What experiences does this kid have with the real world, with organizing? I’d love to know. Seems to me he is like the writers that learned to write from writers who learned from writers. Sterile and dead. Nothing like the living experience of life in the real world, which is doubly important for Marxists. At least Marx and Engels were involved in workers lives and struggles rather than postulating from an armchair from afar.


Brian S February 9, 2013 at 7:24 am

As I’ve said previously, this “prolier-than-thou” style of criticism is the hallmark of someone who has nothing meaningful to say on the issues of substance.


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 11:20 am

It’s also the hallmark of armchairs and do-nothings.


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I was heavily involved in two union drives and walked a dozen picket lines. How about you kid?


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I forgot, you’re on your way to Syria right now to join the heroic bourgeois democratic revolution.


Brian S. February 10, 2013 at 10:54 am

Is that a dozen per week or a dozen per life?


Darwin26 February 9, 2013 at 12:46 am

i’m a newbie when it comes to comprehending Lenin and the Bolsheviks; and i have to wonder do the participants in the Egyptian and Syrian up-risings, for instance, have any clue as to the theoretical and philosophical ramifications the participants on this thread are having?
In America, not that many people know much about the workings of Democracy or Capitalism much less the trappings of Marx and Engles etc… Do the participants in Egypt and Syria have an understanding of these dudes ‘n concepts? i try to keep up with it and this link seems to simplify it a bit.

One thing i did hit upon in this thread was that Capitalism hasn’t run its course yet which is why Socialism hasn’t manifested itself… i was born a socialist 1946; and i have never liked Capitalism at all. Do we have to purge Capitalism from the planet before we can begin to live like humans and not exploited serfs in America?
How much longer do i have to wait for Banking, Big AG, Transportation, Health Care and Energy to be Nationalized /socialized ?


Cliff February 9, 2013 at 2:15 am

Well, if you think nationalizing has anything to do with socialism than you’ll be waiting a few more lifetimes.

“But, the transformation—either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership—does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine—the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers—proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head.” – Engels


Brian S February 9, 2013 at 7:41 am

@Darwin26: The political situations in the different Arab Spring countries is very variable, but Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia all have historical left traditions, important contemporary movements that are on the left (Binh has referred to some of them in his piece), some traditions of popular political radicalism, and large and quite sophisticated communities of intellectuals. So the ideas being discussed here are quite capable of finding an audience there (whether they actually do or not I can’t say).
The issue of whether and in what form we have to put up with capitalism for the indefinite future is one of the central questions that is regularly discussed on this site – so stay tuned if you want to hear more.
My view is that – for a whole bunch of reasons, more political than economic – we are not going to see a wholesale transition to socialism anywhere in the near future: but we will see lots of struggles over the way capitalism operates and oppresses and exploits people: and some of those struggles have the capacity to significantly alter the way capitalism operates and win real gains for the mass of the population (The Arab spring revolutions being an example of that sort of process). Some people (me included) would argue that such gains could be more than just reforms which soften the burden of capitalism but could include structural reforms which might help build a bridge towards a different kind of society. Your idea of socialising important sectors of the economy might be part of such an approach. These are the big issues of socialist strategy that we need to be talking about over the coming years.


Darwin26 February 9, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Thank you Brian for filling in a few vacant and obscure areas… still a lot more to go ~

Where does subjective end and black and white begin ?
The video of the Woman Syrian Sniper is mind blowing to me, when looked at in the light of this Kyle ‘sniper’ trash, Yankee tool of anonymous death ~ … it hit me the comparison of these two people; i passed the video link along to several folks and wouldn’t you know, Dr Terpstra’s response suggested the video was a “CIA puff piece to attract more syrian “Rebels” ~ can anyone say that this isn’t plausible ? omg i only want to hear NO answers.

It would be nice if there was glossary of terms somewhere herein: like “boozua democratic” i don’t know how to spell boozua ~ ~~ slippery slopes make for arguing past one another.
My question is how does this all fit into or connect with Palestine and their nemisis? I hear very little of such nuanced political perspectives left, red, Lenin, right, ? not that it doesn’t happen/exist/?
The ‘Chosen Ones’ / Capitalism /fascism/ Occupation /in numerable ck pts/ in the middle of all this where does it fit in to the picture from the perspective of North Star comrades.

Is anyone on this thread in Syria or the MENA now ?


Pham Binh February 9, 2013 at 10:38 pm

A couple of items re: the connection betwen Israel/Palestine and Syria:

The first of these is written by a Syrian-American anarchist and the second by your truly. You’ll see that in most of my writing I avoid Marxist jargon because it ends up being obscurantist and requiring a glossary (Lenin explains what bourgeois-democratic revolution is in Two Tactics).

I don’t think we’ve had folks in Syria commenting on The North Star although we’ve had at least one comment from a Syrian-Palestinian expat on my most recent piece dealing with Syria exclusively:

And Syrian in Syria republishes a lot of The North Star material on their blog:

I’m also proud to say we have had contributions from someone who fought in the Tripoli Brigade in Libya:

If you are interested in learning more about the Syrian revolution at the grassroots level, I suggest the following:


Andrew Coates February 9, 2013 at 6:27 am

I am not at all sure about Syria, but the general approach of this (as people have said) “timely” and clear contribution, here is one adopted by at least some sections of the European Left.

That is, above all, the conclusion,

“the path to a horizontal, classless society lies not through “left” police states or “socialist” autocracies that deny democracy and freedom to the masses but through radically extending democracy and freedom for the masses first into the political sphere and then into the economic and social spheres in an all-encompassing manner. Economic and social freedom can only be achieved in and through the exercise of political freedom. Only on that basis can we explode contradiction inherent in the phrase, “bourgeois democracy.”
On the Arab Spring (before Libya, or Syria), December 2011.

“Arab Spring, Islamist Winter, and the Left. Tendance Coatesy.”

“The Mind, wrote David Hume, has a capacity to form such a “lively idea” of the connection between experienced events that it joins them together in a causal sequence. “All our reasonings concerning the probability of causes are founded on the transferring of the past to the future”. (A Treatise of Human Nature. 1738) But, Hume went on to say, “we have no reason to draw any inference concerning any object beyond those of which we had experience.” The Marxist Mind is perhaps too accustomed to forming connections that come from the experience of classical revolutions that it discounted the Islamists. They did not, however come out of the blue, as the initial outbreak of the Arab Spring did.

Peter Market could not have made a poorer judgement than when he announced that, “Revolution is indeed “growing over” into a movement for wider and historic change—that a process of permanent revolution with global implications is under way.” (Act One of the Egyptian Revolution. International Socialism 130, 2011) Instead, Islamism’s own conquest of power is underway. A first step forward would be to support the modernist democratic secularist Arab left against the Islamists. The only way the Islamists’ ideological hegemony can be challenged is through a counter-hegemomic strategy. Secularist protests have taken place in Tunisia backed by feminists and sections of the left even if, with a certain disdain, Sadri Khiari, has already dismissed these forces as the voice of the well-heeled and Westernised. (Contretemps. October. 2011) But do we have the right to criticise their brave stand ? Surely one would wish to encourage their fight, which is playing out at the heart of the contradiction within Islamism : its support for ‘democracy’ and its anti-democratic religious agenda.”


Cliff February 10, 2013 at 10:16 am

The real question then is what the difference is between Mao’s failed “new democracy” concoction and Pham’s insistence on “bourgeois democratic revolutions” in the Arab world in 2013. The content of both is nearly identical. Only the form varies, with Mao openly embracing Stalinist stagism.


Pham Binh February 10, 2013 at 10:23 am

Marx and Lenin often thought in terms of stages or phases of development. Try not to confuse that with Stalinism.

And if you think Libya and Tunisia today are anything like Mao’s China, you are beyond hopeless.


Louis Proyect February 10, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Cliff obviously has trouble conceptualizing the dynamics of revolutionary change in countries outside the orbit of Western Europe, where Marx thought the “classical” proletarian revolution would begin. In countries where there are feudal remnants, including family dynasties like Qaddafi or al-Assad, the mass movement tends not to think past itself especially when the Marxist movement is underdeveloped, usually a function of underdeveloped capitalist development. Lenin did not think that socialism had arrived after 1917. He said that a bourgeois revolution had taken place, one that only created the possibilities for socialist development. To understand this sort of thing, you need to think dialectically.

Let us, however, finish what we have to say about the bourgeois-democratic content of our revolution. Marxists must understand what that means. To explain, let us take a few striking examples.

The bourgeois-democratic content of the revolution means that the social relations (system, institutions) of the country are purged of medievalism, serfdom, feudalism.

What were the chief manifestations, survivals, remnants of serfdom in Russia up to 1917? The monarchy, the system of social estates, landed proprietorship and land tenure, the status of women, religion, and national oppression. Take any one of these Augean stables, which, incidentally, were left largely uncleansed by all the more advanced states when they accomplished their bourgeois-democratic revolutions one hundred and twenty-five, two hundred and fifty and more years ago (1649 in England); take any of these Augean stables, and you will see that we have cleansed them thoroughly. In a matter of ten weeks, from October 25 (November 7), 1917 to January 5, 1918, when the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, we accomplished a thousand times more in this respect than was accomplished by the bourgeois democrats and liberals (the Cadets) and by the petty-bourgeois democrats (the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries) during the eight months they were in power.



Pham Binh February 10, 2013 at 10:23 pm

My only disagreement here is with the notion that the Assad or Ghadafi regimes had any feudal remnants whatsoever. Louis, have you seen any demands in Libya or Syria for anti-feudal measures like the redistribution of landlords’ estates or ending practices like foot-binding of women? I haven’t, but I don’t claim to know or see all, especially since I don’t read a word of Arabic.

Just because a country has one successful bourgeois-democratic revolution does not mean it cannot have another, and just because a country is capitalist doesn’t mean a bourgeois-democratic revolution is impossible; the United States had one in 1776 and the civil war was a second one that did not rub out a feudal remnant but a remnant from an earlier period of capitalist development (slavery was not a feudal holdover).

Lenin said a few things in Two Tactics that shed light on this topic:

“Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. What does this mean? It means that the democratic reforms in the political system and the social and economic reforms, which have become a necessity for Russia, do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism; they will, for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.

“A bourgeois revolution is a revolution which does not go beyond the limits of the bourgeois, i.e., capitalist, social and economic system. A bourgeois revolution expresses the need for the development of capitalism, and far from destroying the foundations of capitalism, it does the opposite, it broadens and deepens them. This revolution therefore expresses the interests not only of the working class, but of the entire bourgeoisie as well.
Since the rule of the bourgeoisie over the working class is inevitable under capitalism, it is quite correct to say that a bourgeois revolution expresses the interests not so much of the proletariat as of the bourgeoisie. But it is entirely absurd to think that a bourgeois revolution does not express the interests of the proletariat at all. This absurd idea boils down either to the hoary Narodnik theory that a bourgeois revolution runs counter to the
interests of the proletariat, and that therefore we do not need bourgeois political liberty; or to anarchism, which rejects all participation of the proletariat in bourgeois politics, in a bourgeois revolution and in bourgeois parliamentarism. From the standpoint of theory, this idea disregards the elementary propositions of Marxism concerning the inevitability of capitalist development where commodity production exists. Marxism teaches
that a society which is based on commodity production, and which has commercial intercourse with civilised capitalist nations, at a certain stage of its development, itself, inevitably takes the road of capitalism.

“A bourgeois revolution is absolutely necessary in the interests of the proletariat. The more complete and determined, the more consistent the bourgeois revolution, the more assured will be the proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie for Socialism. Only those who are ignorant of the rudiments of scientific
Socialism can regard this conclusion as new or strange, paradoxical. And from this conclusion, among other things, follows the thesis that, in a certain sense, a bourgeois revolution is more advantageous to the proletariat than to the bourgeoisie. This thesis is unquestionably correct in the following sense: it is to the
advantage of the bourgeoisie to rely on certain remnants of the past as against the proletariat, for instance, on the monarchy, the standing army, etc. It is to the advantage of the bourgeoisie if the bourgeois revolution does not too resolutely sweep away all the remnants of the past, but leaves some of them, i.e., if this revolution is not fully consistent, if it is not complete and if it is not determined and relentless. Social-Democrats often express this idea somewhat differently
by stating that the bourgeoisie betrays its own self, that the bourgeoisie betrays the cause of liberty, that the bourgeoisie is incapable of being consistently democratic. It is of greater advantage to the bourgeoisie if the necessary changes in the direction of bourgeois
democracy take place more slowly, more gradually, more cautiously, less resolutely, by means of reforms and not by means of revolution; if these changes spare the ‘venerable’ institutions of serfdom (such as the monarchy) as much as possible; if these changes develop as little as possible the independent revolutionary activity, initiative and energy of the common people, i.e., the peasantry and especially the workers, for otherwise it will be easier for the workers, as
the French say, ‘to hitch the rifle from one shoulder to the other,’ i.e., to turn against the bourgeoisie the guns which the bourgeois revolution will place in their hands, the liberty which the revolution will bring, the democratic
institutions which will spring up on the ground that is cleared of serfdom.

“Marxism teaches the proletarian not to keep aloof from the bourgeois revolution, not to be indifferent to it, not to allow the leadership of the revolution to be assumed by the bourgeoisie but, on the contrary, to take a most energetic part in it, to fight most resolutely for consistent proletarian democracy, for carrying the revolution to its conclusion. We cannot jump out of the
bourgeois-democratic boundaries of the Russian revolution, but we can vastly extend these boundaries, and within these boundaries we can and must fight for the interests of the proletariat, for its immediate needs and for the conditions that will make it possible to prepare its forces for the future complete victory. There
is bourgeois democracy and bourgeois democracy. The Zemstvo monarchist who favours an upper chamber, and who ‘asks’ for universal suffrage while secretly, on the sly, striking a bargain with tsarism for a curtailed constitution, is also a bourgeois-democrat. And the peasant who is fighting, arms in hand, against the landlords and the government officials and with a ‘naïve republicanism’ proposes ‘to send the tsar packing’, is also a bourgeois-democrat. There are bourgeois- democratic regimes like the one in Germany and also in England, like the one in Austria and also like those in America or Switzerland.”

I would argue that the bourgeois-democratic “limits” of the Arab Spring are not based on objective socioeconomic (under)development the way it was in early 20th century Russia but rather on subjective factors — namely, the insufficient consciousness, organization, and militancy of the working classes of the Middle East and North Africa, an understandable problem given the objective conditions in Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen where there were about as many legal workers organizations as in Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, or Hitler’s Germany for the better part of half a century.

The Tunisian workers’ movement is the most advanced in this regard — a general strike has broken out in reaction to a political assassination (, but this was only possible because Ben Ali was toppled and their secret police abolished (Cliff needs to read a bit more about Tunisia before running his uninformed mouth denigrating their revolution when he knows absolutely nothing about its accomplishments). Still, even the Tunisians are a long way off from the socialist revolution. In Egypt, union rights are being rolled backwards under the rule of the Brotherhood (see the CWI link posted near the bottom of this thread).

The reality is a working class that is too fearful, passive, confused, or weak to win a raise from the bosses is not going to throw bosses and boss rule out the window any time soon. Marx was addressing the Cliffs of his day when he said, “Whereas we say to the workers: ‘You will have to go through 15, 20, 50 years of civil wars and national struggles not only to bring about a change in society but also to change yourselves, and prepare yourselves for the exercise of political power’, you say on the contrary: ‘Either we seize power at once, or else we might as well just take to our beds.’ ”

We are in year three of this process, but Cliff, he is where he always was — in his bed, waiting for the moment where the choice is “socialism or barbarism” and decrying the rest of the world for not being on the brink of the socialist revolution he won’t live to see.


Manuel Barrera, PhD February 10, 2013 at 11:47 am

You all do know that there is really no point in replying to Cliff, right? There simply is nothing substantial to discuss if someone who thinks supporting Middle Eastern social revolutions against their despots is tantamount to “Stalinism” or imperialist “tailism” or both. We either believe that there is a point to debate here or not; if there is a group here or elsewhere in the socialist left that is honest, actually engaged in solidarity and/or anti-war work who truly have such illusions, I believe it important to address them than this ersatz “defender” of the working class (though I do reserve the right to engage Cliff should he ask mature questions in a mature manner). Binh has done an admirable job in distilling the vast amount of argumentation on this issue, especially for just ONE article.

I would encourage people with similar if different backgrounds in political perspectives to write what you think with the same level engagement; doesn’t need to be “scholarly”, it just needs to be thoughtful and the questions and/or disagreements should be supported by facts or other references.

Here’s the point: making argumentative points with “gotcha” statements or “diverse” interpretations of words and formulations is more a tradition of the far right than (or at least than should be) of the far left. It is the written equivalent of the caricature of a sectarian leftist “debating” minutiae (at least to the masses) at a mass demonstration and wholly useless as doing so is only giving the “antagonist” fuel to continue.

In truth, the answer to Cliff’s, what pass for, questions, are in Binh’s article and trying to get Binh’s analysis to be “interpreted” as some counterrevolutionary tract does not move this important discussion forward.

There are important questions that have arisen here of more importance. For example, I was struck by Arthur’s comments, not for the minute issue of what constitutes “64% of 33%” or “36% of 33%”–it’s a little over 21% and “36% of 33% ” is just under 12% in case you need to know; though, Binh, I would never argue a great point of political science by ceding a rather low ground about one’s knowledge of mathematics–but for the disdain that reeks from a statement, “if I am wrong about that [that some of the Egyptian left engaging in “hooligan riots” and having “tantrums” are “stepping back from the brink”] they are going to get badly burnt and will thoroughly deserve it”.

How would Arthur know whether a) the tactics employed and then described in the media are “hooliganism” and “tantrums” in the context of Egyptian ferment (I assume he gets the accounts from the bourgeois media as I have, but if there are more credible reports used, by all means, please edify)?; b) they imply an isolationist outcome from the Egyptian masses, and C!) that they “deserve it”? According to whom? Morsi? The Army Generals? Obama? . . .Arthur?

Such statements, to me, imply not only a disdain for leftists inside another country whose only context about what they are doing most of us would have are the bourgeois media reports, but a disdain and potentially isolating from ourselves and the revolutionary masses in ferment on the streets of Egypt as a whole. I say “imply” because, in truth, I also do not “know” what Arthur means except on the basis of his written words.

To be sure, the question of “black blocism” and other forms of ultra leftism or sectarianism inside the mass movements in the Middle East and North Africa are important observations to make and to draw lessons from–both for us outside and for our revolutionary comrades on the ground there. If that is really the question Arthur wishes to ask or present, it is truly of substantial worth despite the self-righteousness and seeming conservatism implied in saying that if, in fact, they are being ultra-left in context that they “deserve” getting “badly burnt”; I have to ask, Arthur, what exactly is the “bad burning” such implied ultraleftists deserve? Getting isolated by a bourgeois media campaign? Denounced by Morsi and MB? Tortured and executed by the Army? Droned by Obama? What and why do they “deserve” that even if they are actually being ultraleft?

I believe it is simply bad analysis to make diagnoses and then prescriptions for those diagnoses when we are so far away from the battle, especially with political formulae that we “learned” from reading even really great works of analysis such as Lenin’s. I further believe that Binh’s article is exactly that, an exercise in striving to have us look at revolutions through our OWN eyes–just like Lenin had to–through our own analyses of “facts on the ground”–just like Lenin and Marx and Engels before him. If we do that, then it is really not a difficult reply to make; Solidarity–the slaves’ version of praying for a wind when the master’s house begins to go up in flames that Malcolm once observed.

If Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan, or Tunisian revolutionaries were to ask us (assuming they have more humility than we apparently have for them) what we think about black blocism or other forms of ultraleftism, what exactly would we say? Would we be as formulaic about a “Leninist” or for that matter a “Trotskyist” revolutionary strategy? Or, would we start from the perspective of being revolutionary and scientific socialists and ask them questions to probe better what they see as the political forces and situation whereby we could discuss, not tell, what we “know” about these issues?

That, I hope you can see, is my other point, that when it comes to revolutions in progress and we are not actually even involved never mind leading them, it is our revolutionary duty to study and to learn not tell revolutionaries no matter how much “better” we think we are than they, what to do.

I think it is better that we start now in developing our revolutionary leadership skills if we are to be any use to our revolutionary comrades where, you know, revolutions are actually happening (?) or to the working class and oppressed where we are that we hope to join and make a revolution.

One important skill is to learn to forego our (seemingly “natural”) learned behavior to attack a point of view when it does not conform to what we think we “know”; to learn how to reframe our “ire” into probing questions that seek to clarify. If, in fact, another point of view is actually in error, having to answer for one’s point of view with a thoughtful query will make it clear and, if it is not in error, the issue will receive even more illumination and then, one can hope, we can come to a different form of agreement.

This point is not about “going along to get along” or some bourgeois nonsense about “disagreeing without being disagreeable”: there is a time and place to “Mic Check” as a revolutionary tactic (just like other tactics have their time and place). A forum where we accept the “unconditional positive regard” that we are all interested in revolutionary socialist politics is not the time and place to “accuse” or attack. Of course, if “we” are all simply “intervening” in a discussion, then such unconditional positive regard is impossible.

So. What say you, Arthur? What exactly is your actual question? Or anyone else?


Arthur February 10, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I did not say, and do not believe that anybody is being “ultra-left”.

I pointed out that the Nasserists and many of the groups claiming to be left have in fact joined a “National Salvation Front” together with remnants of the old regime and are engaged in an explictly anti-democratic campaign to try and provoke a military coup against the elected President in “protest” against having badly lost at both the elections and the referendum. I also said that I think they are currently backing away from the violent attacks (and support for soccer hooligan riots) which they have engaged so that their strategy looks like just a tantrum. But if I am wrong about that they will get badly burned and will richly deserve it.

Obviously that means I believe the people who fought for democracy in Egypt will physically smash any serious anti-democratic attempts to frustrate the results of free elections and referenda and that the people currently throwing violently tantrum about having lost an election will deserve getting physically smashed if they turn out to be serious and persist.

If you have an argument to present against that view, by all means present it. Claiming incomprehension is not an argument.


Manuel Barrera, PhD February 10, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Ah. Ok, I appreciate the difference here, Arthur. Your comments make more sense now and, you are correct, I should have reviewed more of what you read on the subject. As to whether anyone may or may not “richly deserve” being “burnt”, if you mean that this National Salvation Front and it groups will deserve being politically rejected and their “hooligan” tactics attempting to bully people who disagree with them combated by the mass movement, of course, I could not but agree. Sorry for the misinterpretation. It only reinforces my other points, however, even if I hate having to be the exemplar :)


Aaron Aarons February 14, 2013 at 2:01 am

While I have no intention of defending the National Salvation Front, or any alliance of leftists with either old or new regime elements, the idea that leftists owe any obeisance to the winners of bourgeois elections is absurd. Of course, any belief among those that leftists are trying to mobilize and organize in the legitimacy of such elections is a problem that can’t be ignored, it can only be made worse by the ratification of such supposed legitimacy by supposed ‘leftists’.


Pham Binh February 10, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Arthur, Brian S., and Manuel might find the following CWI article of interest:

Although the analysis and conclusions are questionable (at best), it has some good empirical information. If someone wants to submit something on Egypt’s revolution two years on, that would probably be the best way to advance the discussion my piece stimulated.


Brian S. February 13, 2013 at 8:45 am

Thanks for the link. There is some interesting stuff here and in some of their other articles. I’m just finishing up a rather time-consuming project on the Hasawiya massacre, and once that’s done should be able to take a fuller look at Egypt.


Pham Binh February 10, 2013 at 5:12 pm
Arthur February 11, 2013 at 5:59 am

Thanks for link to the “Guide”. It has an enjoyable rebellious spirit that resonates as “genuine left” (despite any disagreements).

The CWI article on the other hand was just “the usual”. For “empirical information” the bourgeois think tanks are much more useful. One has to read between the lines but they are actually trying to understand what’s going on from their own point of view while CWI ultimately derive any empirical information they do have from such sources while not making any serious attempt to understand anything.

eg The ICG isa useful starting point for empirical information:{B915F536-D27C-4FAC-A808-06B2551C8ADB}#results


admin February 11, 2013 at 2:00 am

Commenting privileges have been revoked for user ‘cliff’. This is another instance where a commenter was unable to keep differences political and substantive, and indeed indicated that he had no desire to do so. To the extent that there was one, the substantive position defended by ‘cliff’ is welcome—nobody has been censored from this site for political disagreement. But we will not tolerate spam, trolling, and personal attacks just to demonstrate how ‘open’ we are. See our commenting policy.


Darwin26 February 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm

There are simple ways of getting your points across without resorting to grade school bully tactics, ie name calling.
When i see one poster insulting the previous poster with ad hominum attacks ~ i tend to leave your post ~ Civil discourse is imperative ~ geeeeze, just state your position/and support doc and WE can judge for ourselves… with or without support resouces WE can still learn, interpret, investigate without narcissitic authoritarian rants and verbal pot-shots pigeon-holed in the conversation all designed to poison the well of previous posts… keep your poison dry and toxic bullets in the cellar.
That ‘way’ is: just state your position, it’s called Sharing ~ should dialogue insue great ~ but to infer in the most terse form ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’ i tend to feel i’m reading the writing of a self-centered demi-god.
i’m new, a socialist to the core~ but not new to the net and group conversation. I don’t expect choir practice to break out here but the vitriol from a couple of posters results in a verbal cacophany, especially when you do have some substantial views and info to share.
i like Louis’s film critiques ~ and i appreciate the ‘regulations’ we have to abide by in order to have this society.
So lets look to a clean slate ~


Pham Binh February 11, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Some remarks from Kautsky, Lenin’s political and theoretical mentor, on democracy and socialism:

“There are two things that the proletariat urgently needs: democracy and socialism. Democracy means extensive freedoms and political rights for the mass of the people and transforming the institutions of state and municipal administration into mere tools of the people. And then socialism, which means transforming private production for the market into social – ie, state, municipal or cooperative – production for the needs of society. Both require the proletariat in equal measure. Social production without democracy could become one of the most onerous shackles. Democracy without socialism does nothing to abate the proletariat’s economic dependency.

“Of the two great demands of the proletariat – the demand for democracy is not specific to it alone. Other classes can represent it too. Yet today it is, of course, the only class which – as the lowest of all classes – demands (and has to demand) it with the greatest
energy in all circumstances and to the greatest extent. On the other hand, the demand of socialism is its specific demand. All other classes’ points of view are based on private production. For them, socialised factories are at most isolated implements of private production, not a general way of overcoming it.

“The two demands also differ in that democracy can be attained with a single blow and can be realised where the mass of people has gained political interest – thus, everywhere where the mass of the people is demanding it – whereas socialism can never be attained at once and the extent that it can be realised is dependent on the level of capitalist development.

“For the moment, democracy is still more important than the proletariat’s economic elevation. No doubt it would soon helplessly hover in the air, were it not to quickly find the means to considerably improve the situation of the working masses, but this momentary outcome is not its most important one. Rather, this consists in democracy providing the basis for the possibility of the proletariat’s permanent ascent.

“Democracy is significant in this not merely in that it enables the proletariat to win positions of power. Although offering them no immediately obvious advantages in terms of Realpolitik, it is invaluable to the proletariat.

“In order to liberate themselves, the workers not only need certain material preconditions at their disposal and to be numerically strong; they also have to become new people, endued with the abilities that are required for the reorganisation of state and society. They only attain these abilities through class struggle, which requires democratic rights and freedoms if it is to be carried out by the masses ruling themselves and not conducted by secret committees.”

I haven’t finished reading the above text, but I can understand Lenin’s admiration. Kautsky anticipated the difficulties Kornilov ran into in his abortive coup attempt in 1917 which did a lot to shift mass support behind the Bolsheviks.


Aaron Aarons February 14, 2013 at 2:43 am

“Democracy means extensive freedoms and political rights for the mass of the people and transforming the institutions of state and municipal administration into mere tools of the people.” [emphasis added!]

But such a transformation has never, AFAIK, occurred, at least in a capitalist country, without a revolution. In fact, it’s hard to imagine such a transformation, especially in a country with a large working class, not including or immediately fostering a socialist transformation of economic relations.

OTOH, parliamentary democracy generally serves to stabilize bourgeois rule, as it has in South Africa, where the introduction of bourgeois democracy since 1990 has served to disorient a historically militant and pro-socialist working class that was far more prepared for socialist revolution in 1990 than it is today.


Louis Proyect February 14, 2013 at 8:16 am

transforming the institutions of state and municipal administration into mere tools of the people.

Well, how else would you describe the Paris Commune? Those who lack a familiarity with French history might assume that this was the French version of the Soviet, a brand-new political institution. In fact it had been around since 1789 and can be accurately described as a bourgeois institution:
On July 14, 1789, at the end of the afternoon, following the storming of the Bastille, the provost of the merchants of Paris, Jacques de Flesselles, was shot by the crowd on the steps of Paris City Hall. Although in the Middle Ages the provosts of the merchants symbolized the independence of Paris and even had openly rebelled against King Charles V, their office had been suppressed by the king, then reinstated but with strict control from the king, and so they had ended up being viewed by the people as yet another representative of the king, no longer the embodiment of a free municipality.

Following that event, a “commune” of Paris was immediately set up to replace the old medieval chartered city of Paris, and a municipal guard was established to protect Paris against any attempt made by King Louis XVI to quell the ongoing revolution. Several other cities of France quickly followed suit, and communes arose everywhere, each with their municipal guard. On December 14, 1789, the National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) passed a law creating the commune, designed to be the lowest level of administrative division in France, thus endorsing these independently created communes, but also creating communes of its own. In this area as in many others, the work of the National Assembly was, properly speaking, revolutionary: not content with transforming all the chartered cities and towns into communes, the National Assembly also decided to turn all the village parishes into full-status communes. The Revolutionaries were inspired by Cartesian ideas as well as by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. They wanted to do away with all the peculiarities of the past and establish a perfect society, in which all and everything should be equal and set up according to reason, rather than by tradition or conservatism.

Thus, they set out to establish administrative divisions that would be uniform across the country: the whole of France would be divided into départements, themselves divided into arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons, themselves divided into communes, no exceptions. All of these communes would have equal status, they would all have a mayor (maire) at their head, and a municipal council (conseil municipal) elected by the inhabitants of the commune. This was a real revolution for the tens of thousands of villages that never had experienced organized municipal life before. A communal house (mairie) had to be built in each of these villages, which would house the meetings of the municipal council as well as the administration of the commune. Some in the National Assembly were opposed to such a fragmentation of France into tens of thousands of communes, but eventually Mirabeau and his ideas of one commune for each parish prevailed


Aaron Aarons February 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I’d be interested in knowing what happened to these communes, particularly the one in Paris, between the 1790’s and 1871. To what extent, if any, were they “tools of the people” during that time, especially during the period of openly authoritarian rule under Louis Bonaparte?


Louis Proyect February 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I’d be interested in knowing what happened to these communes, particularly the one in Paris, between the 1790′s and 1871.

So would I. Let us know what you find out.


Matt February 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm

“As a matter of principle, Western activists who believe that oppressed peoples have the right to self-determination and to armed self-defense have no business telling the oppressed who they can and cannot take arms from or make dirty deals with. Warning them of the strings imperialist powers will attach to arms shipments or funding is one thing; attaching strings to our support for their fight by means of a litmus test is another.”

Correct. And none of this implies that *we* as revolutionary Marxists have to call on imperialism (including the Gulf States/Saudis as obvious clients) to do the same. This latter does not follow at all. It is a logical non-seqitor. What we can do is give our own military support to the democratic-secular forces of the Syrian revolution, including here independent “Islamist” forces.

Here is a counterexample where the party I then belonged to (IWL, now long gone) decided to support the call *on imperialism* to impose sanctions on apartheid regime South Africa (1980’s). This call was especially prevalent in the student and Black civil rights movement here in the U.S.. “Naturally” a factional split appear over this issue in our party; we were accused of some “opportunistic bloc with imperialism” etc., you know the rest already. If fact we made the call our own because 1) unlike in the Arab Spring situation, a considerable mass movement *indigenous to the U.S.* raised this call – a very important point – and 2) our perspective was that sanctions worked directly against and undermined the actual imperialist strategy to arrange a “peaceful transition” to a post-apartheid regime that kept South Africa in “safe” hands. And they succeeded in this, precisely because imperialism refused political and economic sanctions against the old regime that would threaten its ability to intervene in the transition. We stated it this way: We 100% support imperialism shooting itself in the foot (or better yet, head).

Neither 1) or 2) apply in the case of the Arab Spring: There is no mass movement anywhere in the U.S. (or in the rest of the imperialist countries) in support of the Arab Spring (not the fault of Marxists, BTW); 2) imperialist intervention would not necessarily be a counterproductive “foot-shooting” operation, unless “it went too far” as with Iraq and in an aside, we underestimate how much a defeat Iraq was for U.S. imperialism – they didn’t even get their “4 permanent mega-bases” (remember those?) – we need only look at its reluctance to directly intervene in the Middle East or North Africa.

But we can definitely call on imperialism to sanction Israel and Bahrain, up to and including military action, should anti-regime forces there call on it. Hell the US 5th Fleet sits conveniently at anchor in Bahrain! The Morsi-military regime in Egypt as well, still basically an imperialist client via the military. So a call on the U.S. to cut off the massive aid to the Egyptian military and police is at a minimum in order. Too bad it is a formalism as there is no mass movement here demanding the same. (Because the M.E. is all about Israel in the American mind – including the minds of US workers, students, ect).


Matt February 12, 2013 at 8:17 pm

“Deeds and actions outweigh words and calls on the scale of revolutionary struggle.” And that is the why for the criterion that a mass movement *in one’s own imperialist country* calling on imperialism to “shoot itself in the foot” in so many words is essential. Otherwise, no arena to act in.


Brian S. February 13, 2013 at 7:44 am

@Matt. I really don’t understand what you are saying. You seem to be subordinating international solidarity by the left to whether or not there is a movement in our own countries in favour of that perspective. That strike me as opportunism rather than internationalism. And of course its a self-fulfilling prophecy – if the left sits on its hands over Syria at best, then where is such an “indigenous” solidarity movement going to come from? I have already documented in another thread the significant solidarity movement that has developed in France, and a long time ago we noted the solidarity actions that were being taken by the Syrian communities across the western world – but isolated by the indifference or hostility of the left. There was a real opportunity there – as the contrary experience in France shows – and the rest of the international left just passed it over.


Matt February 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Assuming the stance of lecturing “newbies” is another hallmark. What Engels says is *objectively true*, but what I believe Darwin26 wants to know is how we present this to the masses. So for example, capitalism at present is characterized by a distinct drive towards the so-called “privatization” of the “external conditions of the capitalist mode of production” especially in the area of that key external condition, the reproduction of living labor power, an inherently “non-capitalist, non-commodity” production process – indeed it features the destruction (“consumption”, realization of use value) of commodities generally in favor of the production of a single, potential commodity, labor power. If nationalization by the bourgeois state is just more capitalism (agreed), then how to explain “privatization” to the masses? “Objective” statements to the effect that the movement between privatization and nationalization “makes no difference” as if this were some eternal, inevitable political-economic historical cycle of the capitalist state, is a failure both theoretically in terms of developing a Marxist understanding of the real specific meaning of privatization, and a failure in practice to explain to the masses the real, felt difference in the higher prices and shoddier “external conditions of the capitalist mode of production” that invariably comes with privatization.

As a specific response to Darwin26’s 2nd paragraph, capitalism *has* run its course as a “historically progressive” system, and the decisive turn towards privatization, beginning with Thatcher, etc., is very symptomatic of one part of the reality referenced by this Marxist historical characterization. We need only contrast the present with the political environment of 100 years ago, when “public ownership” was very much fashionable among bourgeois liberal reformers, so much so that the socialists had to take pains to distinguish their own approach from that of the reformers, which might give concrete context to Engels statement, without though appearing to oppose public ownership which, after all as Engels concludes, brings “the capitalist relation…to a head”. That is something revolutionary socialists favor, bringing matters in capitalist society to a head, isn’t it.

Hence for example in the U.S. it was valid to support the reform slogan of “Medicare for all” precisely on the understanding that the capitalist class in the main was absolutely committed to the “neoliberal” – another commonly used term, poorly understood by all including Marxists – course of “privatization”, and by and large supported Obama into power precisely to maintain that course through the turbulence of the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, one that is still with us. And precisely as “Medicare for all” would be considered “socialism” in the US ideological context, we would both champion it as such (despite the fact that it isn’t), demand to go beyond it (because it isn’t socialism!), and contrast it to what the liberals actually implemented (more privatization). And the results with Obama and the liberals bear out this perspective – but that perspective depends on the further advance of the Marxist theorization of “the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production”, subject matter beyond the analysis of Capital.

The above can be related back to the question of “bourgeois-democratic revolution” and “stagism”. I support what North Star is doing, not because I agree with them on certain particular questions – I don’t – or based on a fetish of “socialist unity”, but because *it is a battering ram against the real problem: the goddam historic mess that are the bureaucratic sects*, most lately exemplified by the British SWP. But Pham Binh needs to give substance to his claims about “bourgeois democratic revolution”, for example: if such revolutions can “happen repeatedly” (“just because there is one bourgeois-democratic revolution doesn’t mean there can’t be another” – yes, precisely, *what does that (not) mean*!), 1) how is this not a static circular concept of history characteristic of the ancient Greeks (and of contemporary post-structuralism a la Deleuze), and 2) doesn’t this imply a *limit* to bourgeois democratic revolution beyond which society cannot move – indeed, “repeatedly”, over and over again – except to move beyond it even before that limit is reached, since we’ve seen it all before?

So the comrade needs to be a little less flippant when it comes to off the cuff characterizations of the Tunisian and Libyan revolutions as “victorious bourgeois democratic revolutions”, especially with Tunisia so soon after the assassination of an apparent leftist leader also apparently in connection with the ruling *Islamist* party, judging from all the subsequent turmoil. Doesn’t smell like victory to me.


Matt February 14, 2013 at 5:27 pm

(The previous post somehow ended up here, it was intended elsewhere)

Brian S. I think I understand your objection. “Essential” is not the same as “principled”. In principle, we of course favor the destruction and abolition of imperialism, either by its own hands or by others. We can therefore support movements (“acts and deeds”) internationally that we analyze as objectively acting along the lines of the same principle, independently of whether or not a parallel movement advancing alone the lines of the same principle exists in one’s own country.

But I was responding favorably to the assertion that “Deeds and actions outweigh words and calls on the scale of revolutionary struggle”. But if you are a member of an actual revolutionary Marxist-socialist organization, as a practical matter it is precisely “essential” that an indigenous solidarity movement (that is, one not simply of emigres, etc) exist in “one’s own country”, which in scientific revolutionary terms is simply the immediate practical sphere of one’s “deeds and actions”. And these indigenous movements do not spring out of the head of a revolutionary Marxist slogan, however correct it may be.

I’ll look at your thread on France, but here in the US there is no such movement of a progressive sort calling for armed support for the FSA, etc. At best you’d get an echo from the Obama-the-drone-king-loving “privatization liberals”, which I assume is something not wanted here. I think this has a lot to do with the post-Iraq aversion to backing forces that are objectively opposed to the Islamist forces backed by its Qatari/Saudi client allies. So in Iraq the US fell into backing the (more conservative wing of) the Shia and Kurds against the Sunni militias backed by sympathizers in the Gulf/Saudi Arabia, and fears being in the same position after Assad fell if it went “all in” for the FSA. This, I believe, is the real Obama policy – alignment with the reactionary semi-feudal Gulf/Saudi dictatorships (“monarchies” for the warm and fuzzy). Since the “progressive left” in the US is either totally onboard with or flummoxed by Obamaism, they have followed his lead here. Just as they followed Obama’s mentor, Woodrow Wilson, into the slaughter of WWI. Hence no “indigenous movement”. And it IS a shame. Because it leaves our worst enemies, which is not Ghadaffi or Assad or the Iranian mullahs – they are obstacles, not the “main enemy” in the Middle East – but the fucking Gulf-Saudi theocratic petro-dictatorships, backed by US military power, in the driver’s seat in that region. The bourgeois democratic revolution is continuously on the agenda in the Middle East because these (and the “Jewish” democratic-theocracy Israel) exist, and so long as these exist it will not be victorious, but lead to “Islamist” governments of various stripes that murder leftists as in Tunisia.

Finally, as a matter of principle, I don’t think the international relation to the FSA is the same as the relation to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Imperialism is not in an overt client relation with Assad as it was with apartheid S.A., and the FSA does not not exhibit the potential (as far as I can see, you are free to prove otherwise) to spill beyond the bounds of a post-Assad transition that would make Syria “unsafe” for imperialism. It was otherwise with South Africa in the 1980’s context, but in the event “luckily” for imperialism the USSR dissolved and “communism died”, greatly facilitating a transition into “safe” hands. So in conclusion it is wrong in principle to call on or support an overt NATO intervention into Syria or Libya, and I am not seeing much concern from the imperialist side that Libya, for example, has fallen into the “wrong” hands. The call to supply arms with no strings attached to the FSA – because the FSA itself call upon it – I do support even though no solidarity movement here is raising it, because is a *very different matter* to call on arms to be handed over gratis to a social and political force existing independently of imperialism, as this amounts to a demand that arms be taken from the hands of imperialism into the hands of an autonomous Arab bourgeois-democratic revolutionary force.

One that I want to see march all the way to Riyadh, guillotine in hand, to lop off one of imperialism’s various heads, regardless of whether or not this is “staged before” the socialist revolution.


Pham Binh February 14, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Obamamania has zero to do with the left’s unwillingness to lift a finger to aid the Syrian revolution. The left born of the 2000s adapted (downward) to the intellectual level and political sophistication of President Bush; knee-jerk “opposite day” anti-imperialism became predominant instead of knee-jerk solidarity with the oppressed and the exploited, isolationism as opposed to internationalism.

The Arab Spring ended the post-9/11 era and the left has not caught up. It’s a bit like how the anti-globalization types who thought the state was finished because of the multinationals and they couldn’t adjust, cope, or understand the new tasks posed by the war drive in 2001-2003. They lurched from thinking that the U.S. state was on its last legs to thinking America was half a step away from fascism under Ashcroft.


Pham Binh February 15, 2013 at 11:23 am

An interview with Gilbert Achcar that delves into left/opposition politics in both Egypt and Tunisia:

He makes a distinction between the old regime candidates Ahmed Shafiq and Amr Moussa in Egypt, with the latter serving as its “liberal” face.


Brian S. February 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Thanks for the heads up. As always a good analysis by Achcar: especially interesting on Tunisia, which we’ll obviously have to watch closely. Sensible, if rather general comments on Syria. And interesting comments on Egypt. I’m not so convinced that Morsi’s star is waning. It looks to me as if Morsi’s support has held up rather well throughout the 3 elections (Presidential, Assembly, Consitutional Referendum) if you take into account the different nature of each election. I am also inclined to read what’s going on in the military a bit differently: I think this is a military that has decided it want to back out of direct political involvment. Hence its readiness to cut a deal with Morsi.


Arthur February 15, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Its certainly better than “the usual” and correct in understanding that the masses need to experience failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to solve problems in order to move beyond them and also that the opposition alliance with “liberal” regime remnents is hindering rather than assisting that.

I suspect the lower turnout in the referendum reflects the often observed consequence of the fact that the result was a foregone conclusion and pro-regime forces mobilized far less votes than in elections where they hoped to affect the outcome. Also the noisy trantrums from the opposition alliance with regime elements seem more likely to consolidate Muslim Brotherhood support than reflect its rapid decline. Anyway, we’ll know soon enough with the April elections.

The usual complete misconception of what happened in Iraq results in the usual incomprehension of why even the Obama administration would be more critical of Mubarek than of the democratically elected government of Egypt (though far weaker on supporting democratic change than the Bush administration was).


JC February 16, 2013 at 4:38 pm

This author consistently misrepresents the best Left arguments against NATO’s Libyan adventure.

At least two points need to be clarified on this count:

1. Opposition to NATO’s involvement is not opposition to the guerilla. It was simply a *strategic assessment* based on *historical evidence* of how a NATO military campaign alters the trajectory of the rebellion.

2. CIA and NATO military coordination, perhaps even leadership, of parts of the rebellion, need to be examined in terms of their *long term* geopolitical or regional effects. Benghazi is likely now a CIA station in North Africa. Is it realistic to think that the Libyan revolutionaries can keep the combined forces of the largest Western militaries and intelligence agencies at a safe distance from their political institutions?

Then, what does the author have to say about Mali? There, the insurgents are in part made up of belligerents who fought to defend Gaddhafi, and it would appear that the current Malian government is the more “bourgeois” of the two.


Pham Binh February 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm

1. I never claimed that opposition to NATO’s attack on the Ghadafi regime was based on opposition to “the guerilla” (assuming you mean the revolutionaries here). The ISO and CWI claimed to support them and then reversed their positions once they succeeded in getting NATO to attack Ghadafi.

2. You can’t base a policy on speculation (“likely”), especially when whatever operations the CIA had in Benghazi were crippled by the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens.

Ghadafi’s collaboration with the CIA was much worse than whatever the new, democratically elected government is doing. They aren’t torturing people at the CIA’s behest anymore and the secret police has been abolished. Why do you oppose this step forward?

3. Mali is not part of the Arab Spring last time I checked and therefore it involves different issues and concerns.


JC February 16, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Thanks for your reply. Perhaps I misunderstand your overall point, but in relaying the Marxist Left’s views (“bad” vs. “good” Arab Spring) you do seem to argue that the Left has badly miscalculated and has mistakenly abstained from taking a side in the Libyan revolt, or perhaps even initially backed Gaddhafi. I don’t doubt some on the Left have erred in this way, but you leave out the key point which is that many on the Left supported the revolutionaries (the guerrilla) but *at the same time* opposed NATO’s war. I don’t think this is a small distinction. The war has huge regional and geopolitical consequences, and at the level of political strategy, the influence of NATO and Western power needs to be broached as a real danger. The *historical record* is very clear–I cannot think of any examples where Western military intervention of the Libyan kind has ended with progress for Leftist social movement.

Secondly, it’s not speculation that the CIA and NATO are turning their attention to northern Africa and that they needed to recover from the setback of the overthrow of Mubarak (and here–this is *of course* not to accept the myth of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country as the standard-bearer of the Egyptian revolution). Whether the station is in Benghazi or elsewhere, or whether the link is more informal, is not crucial. We are in the first years of AFRICOM, and the main Western powers have lost their key ally in the region.

So, Mali is very much related–as is Algeria–because many of the belligerents are the same, and the West is keen on preserving the Malian state as it is, which may indeed draw it in further and sooner, and precipitate a wider regional conflagration.

Of course I am not against the steps forward in limiting CIA-sponsored torture in Libya taken by the current regime. But the situation is changing rapidly, and we should know from the history of the country–Gaddhafi’s own conversion from enemy of the West to grudgingly-accepted ally in the War on Terror–that the identity of the regime in place is unfortunately less important than the use it is to the major imperialist powers.

Thanks again for your response and your article.


Brian S. February 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm

@JC. “many on the Left supported the revolutionaries but at the same time opposed NATO’s war.” Maybe, but I didn’t see them, unless by “supporting the revolutionaries” you mean muttering a few pious phrases – and even that mostly stopped once the NATO intervention had begun. I am not aware of any significant solidarity actions with the Libyan revolution – not even public meetings – undertaken by the British left. Others can speak for the US left.
I accept that in the short term the overthrow of Gaddafi has marginally strengthened the position of the US in North Africa. But the Libyan government doesn’t seem overly preoccupied with pleasing the Americans -they haven’t made the tracking down of Chris Stevens killers much of a priority, and their policy with regard to Syria was hardly in line with the US. They’re far too busy working out how to write a constitution.
And that’s what’s important in the long run. It seems to me inconsistent of the left to on the one hand believe that imperialism is an oppressive and exploitative force, and on the other to claim that it can sit comfortably alongside a popular democracy.


Brian S. February 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm

There are two members of the British SWP who are academics with genuine knowledge of Egypt (and the Arab world) – Anne Alexander and Philip Marfleet. Anne Alexander, in particular, has a lot of knowledge of the workers movement. They are responsible for most of the more analytic material in the International Socialism journal, which contain a lot of information. See Philip Marfleet’s latest: (Marfleet also co-edited a book a couple of years ago which is very useful for background.)


Pham Binh February 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm

I’ve dealt extensively with Libya, NATO, and the revolution elsewhere:

You write, “many on the Left supported the revolutionaries (the guerrilla) but *at the same time* opposed NATO’s war. I don’t think this is a small distinction.”

The problem is that the revolutionaries we supported asked for NATO’s war and they got it. The revolution and NATO’s intervention became inextricably intertwined, inseparable, erasing this distinction.

“I cannot think of any examples where Western military intervention of the Libyan kind has ended with progress for Leftist social movement.”

Surely the end of the Ghadafi regime, its torture on behalf of imperialism (and for itself), and the strikes, demonstrations, and grassroots organizing that has swept Libya is such an example?

This is why I cannot agree with you that, “the identity of
the regime in place is unfortunately less important
than the use it is to the major imperialist powers.” This is the imperialist point of view, not the Libyan point of view. Surely their voices and interests should be paramount in a discussion about the fate of their revolution?

Mali: a very different situation. Mali is not a struggle between a revolution and a counter-revolution in which an imperialist power takes action against the counter-revolution for its own selfish predatory reasons to the benefit of the revolution. The belligerents are not the same; Islamist militias were not terrorizing Libyans, NATO did not send ground troops into combat, France did not fight alongside the Libyan government. Therefore the issues are not the same, and I have not seen anything rigorous from either the pro or anti-intervention side dissecting Mali’s war as “politics by other means.”

Thank you for approaching these issues in the spirit of comradely debate, something altogether lacking in most discussions about imperialism’s role in the Arab Spring.


JC February 22, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Thanks again for your thoughtful response. I disagree, however, that we can say with any certainty whether the Libyan regime is, at this early point in time, a success–since it seems to me that the situation is still quite fluid and really is still in the midst of transformation. Is Libya in any case really the only historical example that one can provide in response to my inquiry–to name simply *one* example of a successful progressive or pro-socialist NATO intervention? If it is, then it would seem that you are in fact conceding that the historical record is very much stacked *against* NATO intervention as a progressive force.

This gets to the heart of my first and fundamental reservation about the position you’ve advocated: it was precisely the intertwinement of NATO and the revolutionary movement that I suggested should be a cause for concern; because once the fate of the revolution is bound to the far more powerful and ambitious one of the major imperialist powers, the *quality* of the revolution changes.

And then: I don’t think, for strategic purposes, taking on the “imperialist point of view” when attempting to understand geopolitics or regional politics in Northern Africa is something to be avoided. In fact, I would say this is one of the fundamental responsibilities of revolutionary intellectual labor, to understand the motives, functions, effects and points of view of the imperialist powers.

On Mali: as I understand it, many of the belligerents are in fact the same; the Tuareg rebels, the French, among others; and one must not forget the materiel from Libya transported into northwestern and northern sub-saharan Africa. There are Islamic rebels who view the region as a whole, as the “Islamic Maghreb.” I don’t think any of these geographical questions are self-evident, so they shouldn’t simply be dismissed out of hand. Of course, in the Malian context, some of the elements play the obverse or reverse roles that they did in Libya. But there is nevertheless a concrete *relation* between the two wars.

NB: A just-published article from the New York Times (“U.S. Opens Drone Base in Niger, Building Africa Presence”) about a new American drone base in Niger, used to surveil Libya and to aid in the French campaign in Mali, is somewhat interesting:


Pham Binh February 23, 2013 at 12:05 am

You can call that a concession if you wish. I never claimed otherwise, nor did I advocate any sort of general rule based on the Libyan experience.

NATO hasn’t been around that long and hasn’t waged many military campaigns, so it’s an odd yardstick to use re: the question of imperialist powers and revolution. German imperialism intervened in the Russian revolution by letting Lenin go through the country to get home; Tito exploited British aid to wipe out his partisan rivals in Yugoslavia; Ho Chi Minh accepted American arms to fight the Japanese; France armed America’s Founding Fathers to bleed the British. History is rife with examples of revolutionaries exploiting contradictions between two or more counter-revolutionary forces in pursuit of their own agenda, and the Libyans have done the same.

The situation is becoming less fluid by the day; the country is not overrun by militias or criminal gangs. History’s verdict two years in is clear: winning political freedom for the masses by accepting limited military assistance from NATO was a success from the Libyan point of view. And it is their views and interests that should be our primary concern in the Arab Spring rather than the imperialist chessboard, which is just imperialist realpolitilk in reverse. There are times when our interests and their interests will temporarily coincide. Ghadafi was a thorn in the side of imperialism that they will no longer have to cajole or bribe, but he was an even bigger thorn on the heads of the Libyan people. What imperialism gained in Libya pales in comparison to what the Libyans have gained. After all, bourgeois-democratic governments with activist, politicized citizenrys are much harder for imperialists to manipulate than corrupt dicatorships.

It’s a bit strange to argue about Libya based on what happened later in Mali. Ghadafi was a tyrant and a killer who armed other tyrants and killers all over Africa, and his end was and is a big win for all the peoples of the entire continent. Furthermore, the new Libyan government was the first to recognize the SNC as the government of Syria, gave them $20 million (half their budget), and Libyan fighters and weapons are now in Syria aiding the fight against Assad. That’s another win if you ask me.


JC February 23, 2013 at 1:47 am

If I may, I would say that the main difference between our two views is one of scope, both in terms of historical time and geography. Perhaps I am more concerned about the long-term consequences, for the region and the continent; perhaps it would be fair to say you are much more concerned about the success of the Libyan revolt in its national context and its relation to Syria.

This is why I have emphasized NATO’s and AFRICOM’s strategic interests, at the behest of which any short term gains in any given nation-state can be easily reversed should the stewards of empire find it necessary (one can find many examples of such reversals in the last decade alone). When the Left lends its support for NATO intervention, this weakens US-European domestic pressure against future interventions–interventions which likely will be unambiguously reactionary and counterrevolutionary, as most have been historically. So there is a major risk even if the best case scenario this time prevails.

Then, on the question of imperialism and nationalist rebellions. I don’t think your historical comparison is quite on the mark, because in each situation you name, revolutionary forces were capitalizing on *inter-imperialist* rivalry. In our own age, there is only one empire, and it is quite diffuse at that. And furthermore, Lenin never allowed German imperial ground troops or spies into Russia. With Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam, though I have only cursory knowledge of the history, is it not the case that the Viet Minh experienced eventual betrayal by the OSS, the precursor to the eventual American assault on Southeast Asia? The American colonists and the French: is it not true that this was aid, not direct military intervention? But today, NATO involvement in the Maghreb includes permanent or semi-permanent bases; airpower; special forces on the ground; covert CIA operations, surveillance, the development of an entirely new command structure in the largest military in the world. So, I would say this is far more intrusive than the supply of cash or arms.

But I did not know about Libya’s support for the Syrian rebels. Very inspiring.


Brian S. February 23, 2013 at 6:13 am

@JC: On the contrary, I think it is Binh and those who hold similar views who have the most concern for the “long term”. The old left model that an effective “anti-imperialist” bulwark could be built out of authoritarian nationalist/populist regimes has failed completely – those regimes have decayed – internally and externally – into repressive autocracies quite willing to collaborate with imperialism in pursuit of their narrow self-interests. How then can we envisage a long-term future for the development of anti-imperialist forces? Our answer: only by the dismantling of these regimes and their replacement by popular democratic institutions. This is not a guarantee, and the time frame for such a process is uncertain, but it has a least a chance of producing tangible results in some forseeable future.
Your preoccupation is actually with the short term military manoeuvres of imperialism – so far I have not seen from you any sort of long-term perspective nor any treatment of the POLITICAL processes that are at the heart of this debate.
As I have to repeat so often that it is becoming tedious – I (and I think I can say “we” for at least most of this side of the debate) are not in favout of “NATO intervention” in any blanket sense. We are in favour of support being provided to popular democratic forces from whatever quarter it comes – and sometimes that may mean imperialism.
You are right that such support comes at a cost – and that taking this stance requires a more complex and differentiated form of politics than the ritual invoking of “Hands off X” for every conceivable situation. But I think that is what we are trying to foster – the development of an INTELLIGENT left that can handle the complexities of the real world (which is where the people who do the heavy lifting in these situations have to live) rather than one that cannot think beyond a handful of hand-me-down formulae.


Brian S. February 23, 2013 at 6:15 am

PS: Report of the death of a young Libyan-Irish “international brigader” in Syria:


Pham Binh February 23, 2013 at 2:42 pm

“… any short term gains in any given nation-state can be easily reversed should the stewards of empire find it
necessary (one can find many examples of such reversals in the last decade alone).”

You attribute power to the imperialists that they simply do not have, although they wish they did. Do you really think NATO can “easily reverse” the gains of the Libyan revolution, overturn bourgeois democracy, and install a new dictator? Nothing short of Iraq-style invasion would do it, and even then it’s highly unlikely they’d succeed.

“When the Left lends its support for NATO intervention, this weakens US-European domestic pressure against future interventions–interventions which likely will be
unambiguously reactionary and counterrevolutionary,
as most have been historically. So there is a major risk
even if the best case scenario this time prevails.”

No one supported NATO intervention in Libya; the argument put forward by myself, Clay Claiborne, and Gilbert Achcar was that it was a mistake to oppose NATO’s military attacks on Ghadafi’s forces under slogans like “Hands Off Libya,” as if NATO was bombing all of Libya, Bengazi hospitals and orphanages as well as military targets in Tripoli alike. Supporting NATO intervention and refusing to oppose their attacks on counter-revolutionary forces that revolutionaries in Libya explicitly asked for are not one and the same thing! NATO tried to force the Libyans to accept a negotiated settlement that would preserve the old regime’s army and police; that too was NATO intervention, and it was rejected by the revolution and by its supporters in the West. Refusing to oppose one aspect of imperialist policy does not mean giving them blank check of support for all of their policies.

The notion that refusing to oppose X action by imperialists today will weaken opposition to Y action by imperialists tomorrow is a myth. U.S. public opinion mostly supported the Korean war, but the Viet Nam anti-war movement was huge and successful; U.S. public opinion wholeheartedly supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and yet the anti-war movement against Iraq was huge albeit unsuccessful; opinion on Libya was ambiguous at best, and the pathetic mobilizations against attacks on Ghadafi’s forces were seen (correctly) by Libyans as counter-revolutionary and will not even register as a footnote in the history books (thank God) much less serve as the basis for a movement in the future.

People judge wars on a case-by-case basis and Marxists ought to do the same because war is politics by other means and the politics of two wars are rarely identical even when they involve the same actors — the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq war involved the same forces and yet the politics involved in each was not identical.

You reject my historical analogies but the comparisons are apt because the Libyans — like Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, and Tito — rejected imperialist “boots on the ground.” Ho Chi Minh even rejected Chinese troops, correctly, because he didn’t want Viet Nam to end up as a “socialist” colony of China. The Libyans acted in the same vein. How much of Libya today is occupied by NATO? None of it. How many bases does NATO have there? Zero. So Libyan sovereignty and independence emerged from the revolution intact despite NATO’s best hijacking efforts. Anti-imperialists should be hailing the Libyans for this remarkable feat, not hemming and hawing about Libya’s “murky future” or claiming unconvincingly that “the jury is out” on the revolution almost two years after the fact.

On both Libya and Syria, Western anti-interventionists have blurred the distinctions between imperialist airstrikes, ground invasion, arms shipments, and humanitarian provisions without acknowledging that the real-world consequences of each of these interventionist actions is markedly different and therefore our attitude towards each cannot be identical. To oppose or to block sending imperialist blankets and bread to Syrian refugee camps in Turkey or Jordan under the slogan “hands off Syria!” would be treason to humanity, for example. I would argue that the same applies to Western governments arming the Free Syrian Army which is trying to protect a largely defenseless population from Assad’s collective punishment via heavy artillery and air strikes, but many would disagree with me. Fair enough. But what about when the U.S. and Britain block Russian ships filled with arms for Assad from reaching their destination? Are we really going to denounce the U.S. and Britain for actions that benefit the Syrian revolution and raise slogans like “hands off Russian ships” or “hands off Assad’s weapons”? When we pose these questions in a concrete way, the way the life itself is posing them, we see that knee-jerk anti-imperialism has become utterly bankrupt with the advent of the Arab Spring; the forcible entrance of the masses onto the stage of history has made world politics infinitely more complicated than the post-9/11 era where U.S. imperialism went on a unilateral rampage.

We have to recognize that imperialists will always try to turn every gain we make to their advantage. If they succeed, it doesn’t mean it was wrong or a mistake to fight for and win those gains. Viet Nam’s success against the U.S. helped bring China and the U.S. into a closer alliance against both the Vietnamese and the USSR; did this mean we should have opposed Viet Nam’s struggle? No. The end of apartheid in South Africa made it safe and legit for Coca Cola to do business there again; should we have opposed the end of apartheid for this reason? To ask this question is to answer it. The U.S. intervened in Egypt to restrain counter-revolutionary violence against demonstrators and to oust Mubarak at almost the last possible moment; should we have said, “hands off Egypt! Let SCAF shoot the protestors in the name of Egyptian self-determination!”? Obviously not. Mubarak’s ouster was a gain for the masses and a gain for U.S. imperialism which now has a more stable, popular partner in Morsi. In February 2011, we were temporarily on the same side as Obama on whether Mubarak should go, although our reasons couldn’t be more different from Obama’s.

Revolution is not a zero-sum game with respect to imperialism in either the short or long term.


JC February 23, 2013 at 4:33 pm

I very much appreciate your points, but I cannot fully agree with the idea that Obama was in favor of Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011. The US was pushed on its heels, and there were outrageously tone-deaf statements coming out of the State Department and the Vice President’s office until the bitter end, to the effect that “Mubarak was not a dictator” etc. Morsi represents the attempt to reestablish order; he is a counterrevolutionary placeholder, and Egypt to this day represents a kind of ambiguous case for the US, which is now looking elsewhere for a base of operations in Africa (my view is that the Libyan war was an attempt to establish a new client state in the Maghreb). But I think in fact that the last-ditch efforts to ride the coattails of the masses at Tahrir from 2011 to today is instructive–the result has been the conversion of a populist upsurge into a restoration of order in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood. So it is precisely this cautionary example of US involvement in popular movements which is fresh in mind.

Now, I do think that the relation between Libya and the ongoing drone/NATO wars in Northern Africa and the Middle east and Central Asia is far more proximate than the examples you provide (Vietnam, China, South Africa). I don’t think we are out of the woods when it comes to the American “unilateral rampage” as you call it (an excellent characterization). The unilateralism seems to be done by remote and at a smaller scale, but actually the geographic range has expanded when compared to the Bush years. I completely hope you are right that the Libyan forces can keep NATO at bay, and I would not for a moment advocate supporting the Assad regime or attempt to blur the distinction between aid and direct military presence. Though it must be admitted that the CIA operated in Libya at least until this past fall, and that any air war includes on-the-ground target painters, military advisers, special forces etc. (see: Niger, Mali, Yemen, Pakistan). And just yesterday the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times all reported that US drones are still aloft in Libyan skies (I posted one of these articles above).

I would also only emphasize my previous point that there is no inter-imperialist setting, and so the situation today is qualitatively different from the examples you’ve provided from the 18th-20th centuries, when nationalist resistance movements effectively had to choose between imperial powers–this came with great risks as well as opportunities. My concern is that the more US unilateral actions are routinized–short-term police actions, constant drone patrols, threat of bombing campaigns–the less chance there will be for political maneuver.

I agree that anti-imperialism must be practiced on a case-by-case basis and that no political slogan is appropriate for every scenario. The question in my mind that needs to be evaluated is whether the expansion of NATO air war/special forces and covert operations–and attendant effects at both material and legal-ideoleological levels–is outweighed by the gains in the long run.


Arthur February 24, 2013 at 2:45 am

“…the argument put forward by myself, Clay Claiborne, and Gilbert Achcar was that it was a mistake to oppose NATO’s military attacks…”

Actually you vehemently denounced Gilbert Achar’s position at the time. It is to your credit that you subsequently reversed that position, but you have a very long way to go and falsifying your own history will not help.


Pham Binh February 24, 2013 at 11:15 am

The three of us are widely known on the far left as being “pro NATO” and “pro intervention,” and my comment is a response to that mischaracterization. Earlier in the discussion with JC, I posted a link to the article where I announced my shift; that is hardly falsifying history. I chose the word “was” because I’m referring to events from 1-2 years ago. As soon as I found out how Tripoli was taken in late August 2011 I realized how wrong the pseudo left position was. You’ll find my date-stamped comments to that effect on Louis Proyect’s Unrepentant Marxist blog. The important thing here is the substance of the arguments, not my personal evolution or history.


Michael Pugliese February 23, 2013 at 6:22 pm

“But I did not know about Libya’s support for the Syrian rebels. Very inspiring.”

Anti-tank weapons of Croatian origin, that Croatia had sent to Libyan opponents of the regime of Colonel Gaddafi a few years ago, in Syria now, being used by FSA brigades? Up to 113 containers worth, among the weapons are M79 rockets, known as the Wasp and the RPG-22, hand-held grenade launcher RBG-6 and M60 recoilless cannon. Reportage by Michael Weiss, who has worked for the Henry Jackson Society, , a follow up is at via via


Arthur February 24, 2013 at 2:39 am

The link does NOT make the (evidenly absurd) suggestion Croatian anti-tank weapons were supplied to Libyan opponents of the Gaddafi regime a few years ago. It suggests clearly, and far more plausibly, that they were supplied to the regime then and subsequently inherited by the new regime and passed on to Syria (but they could also have been directly supplied from Croatia to Syrian rebels).


Brian S. February 24, 2013 at 10:23 am

The original Brown Moses blog on the emergence of new weapons was good journalism and important. These secondary articles are largely speculative (as Weiss concedes). (And then we have the usual “internet whispers” – there are now dozens of posts buzzing around proclaiming that Croatia is arming the Syrian rebels.)
In fact, the claim that the weapons are of “Croatian origin” is pure speculation (the weapon models seem to have a connection to the former Yugoslavia, not just Croatia, but there is no evidence on the specific weapons, which have only been seen on video; in fact the earliest to appear – the more sophisticated FN-6 is of Chinese orgin.) Moreover all these weapons have been around for a long time and have entered the international arms trade (the “Real IRA” used an RPG 22 to attack MI6 headquarters in London last year). The idea that Croatia would have been supplying them directly is absurd (and Weiss only flirts with this hypothesis).
The good point that Weiss does make is that what is of most interest is not where the weapons originated from, but who paid for them and how were they transported. Until recently the reports were that weapons could not be shipped from Libya because the US was blocking it. Is this change (and we don’t know that its anything other than a very modest one) a sign of some small shift in US policy, perhaps accompanied by some leverage on the Saudis. My impression is that this new weaponry has been flowing to units who have some connection with the Muslim brotherhood.
Its interesting to see that the Farouq Brigade has now been re-badged as a “moderate” force; its not long ago that the western media was lumping it into the “jihadist” category. I guess the emergence of Jabhat al-Nusra has forced them to recognise that all things are relative.


Michael Pugliese February 24, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Yes, “Brown Moses,” is an excellent source. Brian, if you know anything about the persistent scuttlebutt that Kosovo has been hosting Syrians in training camps there, let us know. The MOSSAD disinformation dissemination factory called Debkafile, ran this a few days ago, , and some months ago, this Western NGO activist, denied Russian reports that former KLA were training FSA in Kosovo, . On one hand, I could give a smidgeon of credibility to these allegations , given that it could easily be seen that the Islamist version of proletarian internationalism to the Ummah is being seen here but, the source of these reports give me pause. Googling “Kosovo Syria,” I find pieces like this, , which has embedded hyperlinks to articles such as this, . A figure noted in these articles, has a connection to the FDD, a neocon democracy promotion think tank. A connection noted here. “Despite his anti-regime views, he takes a lot of heat from within the opposition itself. In response to my inquiry seeking contacts one dissident group wrote, “[Abdulhamid] lives in USA and has strong links with the neo-cons. Please be careful of him.” All of this, reminds me of one of my recurring questions about the Syrian Revolution, which is the attempted co-optation (some more willing than others) or steering of the political wing of the revolutionary bloc in the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces towards an alignment with the Western powers , which would accelerate the “neo-liberalization,” of the Syrian economy begun by the Assad regime after the death of Hafez, and
attempt to prevent any leftist currents within the revolutionary movement (whether social democratic or revolutionary socialist) from asserting themselves in a post-Assad polity. Insofar, as figures like Abdulhamid, and Moaz al-Khatib of the NCfSRaOF, who worked for Royal Dutch Shell, signal certain directions friendly to the Western economic model, that is problematic, to say the least. The revolutionary process itself and the expectations it unleashes which are the terrain on which leftist hopes will express themselves, in a post-Assad Syria, will be subjected to great pressures from both the Islamists within Syria (many who were formerly relatively non-observant) and the Western powers and their Syrian allies.


Brian S. February 25, 2013 at 8:22 am

@ Michael. On various points that you raise:
1. The Kosovo story looks to me like a classical Russian FSB-US far right co-production. Its spun out of the thinnest of threads – a short visit to Kosovo in April last year by 3 Syrian oppositionists, led by independent figure Ahmed Abdulhamid, who you mention. His comment on the story is here: (scroll down to “The Kosovar Connection”) and the Seyward Darby comment you link to is a voice of reason on this (she’s also written a lengthy article on the visit).
2. I hold Abdulhamid in some regard. He is independent of the different Syrian factions,provides generally sobre accounts of the situation, is the only Syrian oppositionist I know of who consistently champions the Kurdish cause, and he regularily insists on the key role of the grassroots opposition. Its true about his neo-con connections – he was close to the Bush administration and seems to have maintained those ties. Whether that is due to his ideological views or is a marriage of convenience I don’t know. He is certainly prepared to entertain an important role for the US in post-conflict Syrian reconstruction.
3. The story about al-Khatib’s connections to Shell is largely disinformation. He was a petroleum engineer – so not suprisisingly he worked for a petroleum company: this was in fact a joint venture between Shell and the Syrian state oil company (I think the latter was the majority partner ).
4. I take what you say about the dangers of post-conflict imperialist influence. That’s obviously an issue in Libya: but as we’ve discussed above, Libya even now is far from being a US poodle. But its far less likely to be a problem in Syria (which I fear, will face far greater problems) , given the complete disillusionment of both the fighters and the civil opposition with the US and its allies as a result of their failure to support the struggle.
I also have some findings on the arms issue – but I’ll make that separately above.


Michael Pugliese February 24, 2013 at 6:15 pm

“Its interesting to see that the Farouq Brigade has now been re-badged as a “moderate” force; its not long ago that the western media was lumping it into the “jihadist” category. I guess the emergence of Jabhat al-Nusra has forced them to recognise that all things are relative.”

Jeffrey White, a former U.S. defense intelligence officer with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Joseph Holliday, a research analyst with the Institute for the Study of War consider the Farouq Brigade to be “moderately Islamist”—that is, neither secular nor Salafis. While many of their fighters wear Jihadist-style black headbands and beards, it is unclear how much of this is genuine belief and how much is to secure additional funding from Islamist donors.[3] Via . Holliday, is the author of this excellent report, from WINEP, a right-leaning Washington think tank. They have produced numerous other reports on Syria, , among which, I recommend as well, for analysis and data on Jabhat al-Nusra. All of their reports, feature the type of in depth , concrete detail, too often lacking in the material which is relied upon by those, opposed to the Syrian Revolutionary Process, in toto, for their background analysis. The only writers that come close, from that camp, Tony Cartalucci or Pepe Escobar, too often impose their conspiranoid template upon events, to reinforce the bases of their audience.


Brian S. February 25, 2013 at 6:03 am

Yes, this is a correct assessment of the Farouq brigade. They were the co-founders of the Syrian Liberation Front with similar minded groups last September:
The founding statement of the SLF is here:
(on the Farouq brigades bi-lingual website)
You can get a sense of the SLF’s diversity from the iconography of its site:
My impression is that they have strong ties to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood -probably based more on or interest in access to resources than political sympathy. That would explain why they have become the main conduit for this flow of new weapons.


Michael Pugliese February 24, 2013 at 5:13 pm

To Arthur, I read this passage ,”According to the first, the weapons came directly from Croatia, and according to another, those are the weapons that Croatia has sent to Libya opponents of the regime of Colonel Gaddafi a few years ago, that has now has been transferred to Syria,” @ to mean that Croatia had supplied the Libyan rebels with the weapons.


Brian S. February 25, 2013 at 8:36 am

@Michael et al: Following up on the Brown Moses photos from the Syrian media of allegedly captured weapons, I now have a positive identification of the munitions – the M79 90mm rockets. These are labelled in cyrilic and lead you straight to the Balkan Novatech company in Serbia:
These are in their current catalogue so its entirely possible that they have been trafficked through the private arms trade. On the other hand, I get the impression (I’m not an expert here) that munitions are usually laelled in the language of their intended user (for obvious reasons) – so the fact that these are in cyrilic would suggest they were originally intended for use by Serbian forces. But, of course, stockpiles of these could easily have leaked into the private trade (especially through the Bosnian Serbs)


Michael Pugliese February 26, 2013 at 11:18 am

“Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases….” C.J.Chivers at the NYT with additional data on the supply of weaponry from Croatia @ . His blog has some more additional details, with videos, FEBRUARY 26 2013 entry.


Michael Pugliese February 26, 2013 at 11:21 am

Weapons From the Former Yugoslavia Spread Through Syria’s War


Pham Binh February 19, 2013 at 10:24 am

Pretty interesting reports on protests by the Ultras and various elements of the left-liberal opposition:

The first report contains material discussing how many of the Ultras are making a distinction between Morsi and the Brotherhood on the one hand and SCAF on the other.


Brian S. February 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm

@Binh. Yes – I saw this too and thought it was interesting. Not quite sure what lies behind it – one thing I read suggested that as a whole the Ultras are not very political (not suprisingly their main priority is football) but that they have a strong group identity and some politically aware figures among them. In this instance I think the main thing they want is a reversal of the Port Said verdicts – and they think that Morsi might give that to them. (And they might be right.)
One thing that struck me looking at the videos on Jadaliyya was how similar (with some specific differences – e.g. the greater prevalance of business suits among MB cadre) the two sides look in the MB/Opposition battles.


Brian S. February 20, 2013 at 11:12 am

Whoops – my confusion. The Ultras al Ahlawy were not, of course, calling for a reversal of the Port Said verdicts (which they agreed with) but something else – presumably the extension of the punishments to the security and police officials who they hold ultimately responsible (not entirely clear). But my other comments hold.
Of the 21 death sentences handed down in Port Said none was of an Official. The trial was a travesty; and the convicted are probably a combination of thugs hired by state security for the ocassion, scapegoats (probably the majority) and likely some genuine al Masry fans swept up in process.
I think this whole episode shows just how much work has to be done before any effective opposition/popular movement can be built in Egypt. We now have one major city (Port Said) in virtual insurgency over a decision that appears to be supported by other sections of the opposition (or is it just the Ultras?) in Cairo.
(As always qualification that I don’t have access to Arabic sources, but in the case of Egypt there’s a very wide range of sources in English.)


IWPCHI February 20, 2013 at 5:28 pm

This article is really a poor example of the application of Marxist analysis to the “Arab Spring” uprisings.

In fact, it is decidedly sub-Marxist. What political party do you, Pham Binh, belong to? Parts of your ideology appear to be typical two-stage Stalinist; that is, conter-revolutionary non-Marxism; other aspects reflect an appallingly vulgar appetite for twisting the meanings of the writings of the great Marxist theoreticians like Lenin in an effort to justify your tailing after the workers no matter where they are headed, like the International Socialist Organization; and you seem to have never heard of Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution”! Nor have you comprehended the most important lessons learned and taught by Lenin in the years leading up to and after WWI. Where to begin criticising this?

Pham Binh; your heart may be in the right place, but your politics is such a mess at this stage of your political development that you really should spend more time reading, studying and comprehending Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky before you go out and try your hand at “correcting” today’s established Marxist political parties and their programmes. There is much to criticise, no doubt about that; and you – along with everyone in the present generation – are more than justified at being frustrated at the inability of the existing so-called “revolutionary left” in modern capitalist nation-states to win workers over to socialism. We of the postwar (WWII) generations have all done a piss-poor job of that and we all deserve – some of us more than others, to be sure – the frustration and even contempt of a new generation of workers who are inheriting the horrible mess we’ve bequeathed to you and our children and grandchildren.

Let us first explain where we ourselves are coming from politically, having already set off all the alarm bells in the admin’s computers. We are Trotskyists and Leninists, advocates of the vanguard party form of organization. Why? Because it was proven to work very well, in Russia and – in a much distorted form – in North Korea, China and Vietnam. Our organization will be modeled largely on elements of the programme of the Spartacist League, whose program (on paper at least) we feel is quite sufficient for the purposes of overthrowing the capitalist system and establishing a workers republic in any nation-state existing today, whether its ruling class is a bourgeoisie of the US type or a monarchy, like Bahrain, or an hereditary satrapcy like Syria’s.

The first rule for revolutionary Marxists, is this: never lie to the working class. We revolutionary Marxists must educate the workers. Why? Because although revolutionary consciousness, or the basic desire to overthrow the repulsive existing order in a country like Tunisia or Bahrain or Syria can arise spontaneously among the working class, we take our starting point from this fact, proven time and time again throughout the history of the workers movement: Marxist revolutionary consciousness DOES NOT ARISE SPONTANEOUSLY in the minds of the workers; it must be brought to them by cadres of professional revolutionaries, trained in the history of working-class movements and the evolution of Marxist dialectical materialism from 1848 to 1917. This is why we need to build revolutionary Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyist workers parties to provide the political program and the leadership that is absolutely indispensable if the righteous anger and frustration of the masses is to be concentrated and oriented in a revolutionary direction politically. There are many, many roads to defeat and only one that leads directly, in any given situation – with the fewest casualties among the working class forces possible – to a successful workers overthrow of the capitalist system and the creation of a revolutionary workers republic.

While it is true that the countries of the “Arab Spring” each have unique internal political and social characteristics that differentiate them from each other and make an absolute mechanical application of the lessons of “Russia 1917” inappropriate, the similarities of the overthrow of Tsarism (and the weak bourgeois democracy that isssued from that overthrow) outnumber the differences. There is absolutely no reason why the proletarian uprisings in the various “Arab Spring” countries must proceed no further than the dead-end “stage” of the creation of a bourgeois-democracy. The proletarian forces in Egypt, Syria and all the oil-producing states have developed at least as far as they had done in 1917 when the Bolsheviks led the first successful workers revolution in history.

The “Arab Spring” is not a series of “revolutions”; thus far, these are very promising, pre-revolutionary elemental proletarian uprisings of workers who are, for the most part, not being organized and led by anything even remotely like revolutionary Marxist workers parties. There are some left “Marxist” parties in many of these countries, if not all of them; and they are the potential nuclei of the workers revolution wherever they exist in all these nation-states. It does not matter a bit how many votes they received in the last election, as Pham Binh claims: the volatility of the political situation in these countries is as impossible to accurately discern from a “snapshot” of an election as it would have been at any time during 1917 in Russia. The correlation of revolutionary forces ebbs and flows in situations like this; today, a revolutionary party might not be able to field a candidate; 2 months from now, with a revolutionary program being applied to the situation by that party, the situation could be very different. As soon as the revolutionary workers party is capable of delivering the death-blow to the ruling class and its state, that blow must be given, regardless of “how you did at the polls in the last election”! To expect that in the incredible ferment of a revolutionary situation you will be able to set up an election that will pass all the inspections of “UN observers” for its “democratic” nature (meaning bourgeois-democratic, or utterly phony!) would be to delay the revolution on the eve of its victory in order to placate bourgeois “public opinion” – and would result in the defeat of the revolution and a bloody reprisal of the type inflicted so any times on the working class, from the Paris Commune to Germany in 1919, to China in 1927 and in too many other cases to mention. There are many roads to defeat, unfortunately; and the bourgeoisie is very skilled at drawing the workers into well-prepared traps that have been successfully deployed by them in thousands of situations. The capitalist class has had more than 300 years of practice in how to maintain their class rule, even in the most hopeless-looking situations, whereas the workers have been successful in overthrowing them only a handful of times.

Pham Binh completely abandons Marxist philosophy many times in this article. He claims that the US intervention in Egypt was directed to prevent the Egyptian military from shooting Egyptian workers, as if this “proves” that, sometimes, “imperialist intervention” can be utilized to benefit a workers revolution! He forgets that US imperialism had fully backed the Mubarak regime for years, and had assisted its imperialist partners in arming and training the Egyptian military and police to destroy the workers organizations, beating, torturing and murdering every workers leader worthy of the name! If US imperialism counseled the Egyptian ruling class to back off the attacks on the workers for a time, you can be certain that it was for some other reason than that the US capitalist class had even momentarily taken the side of the Egyptian working class against the Egyptian ruling class; and even if it had, it would have been due to some overarching reason that would benefit the US capitalist class at the expense of an expendable, more vicious wing of the Egyptian capitalist class. In other words, the decision to pressure the Egyptian ruling class to relax its brutal suppression of the workers’ uprising was a tactical decision; it most certainly did not mean that, even for a moment, US imperialism had “sided” with the Egyptian working class. What the capitalists desire more than anything, of course, is internal “stability”, which they and their liberal and fake-left apologists sometimes call “peace”: the peace of the grave for the working class. Perhaps Pham Binh might have considered the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem to be a “sign” that US imperialism was “taking sides with” the Vietnamese workers against the puppet government the US had installed in Vietnam? This is just foolishness; thankfully, Binh isn’t in a position to pull the wool over the eyes of the Egyptian working class regarding the “huanitarianism” of US imperialism. It would have been interesting to see him explain this alleged “change of heart” in Washington to a crowd of Egyptian workers back when the Obama Administration was making this tactical maneuver against those very same workers in order to obtain a breathing spell for the Egyptian ruling class in the uprising – the better to smash the Egyptian workers movement later! The US had simply decided that they could “do business” with a temporary puppet Muslim Brotherhood government, is all, on the way to establishing the political “stability” the capitalists require in any country in order to effectively rob the workers of the products of their labor-power.

In attacking Richard Seymour and his stance against US imperialist intervention in Syria, Binh shows his utter bankruptcy as a “Marxist” when he derides Seymour for opposing imperialist intervention “while ignoring the tens of thousands rank-and-file Syrians who voted to call for foreign intervention on the side of the revolution at least four times since 2011.” In fact, the task of a Marxist revolutionary lies in doing precisely that: pointing out the suicidal nature of calling for imperialist intervention into what should be an internal civil war in Syria. A revolutionary socialist would constantly, tirelessly explain to the Syrian workers what imperialist intervention would mean to the possibilities of successfully overthrowing the Syrian ruling class; that imperialist intervention would seek to STRENGTHEN the Syrian ruling class, not to weaken it, and would ultimately disarm the Syrian workers and drown the revolution in blood, as imperialist interventions by the US have invariably done since the late 1800s. Pham Binh: have you “forgotten” the history of US imperialist intervention in: the Phillippines, Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Guatemala… ad infinitum? “Those who forget the past”… are NOT Marxists.

And what about this gem? “A struggle’s class and political content is not reducible to the character or program of the political forces leading it, dominating it, or that end up in power as a result of it.” No one who can make such a statement can be considered to be a Marxist, period. They can call themselves “Marxist” just as Joseph Stalin called himself a “Communist”, but it doesn’t matter. The class character of any political movement lies PRECISELY in and is ALWAYS “reducible to” the class character of the programme that political party promulgates; and a bourgeois programme will not “spontaneously” lead to a workers revolution or bring any class to power BUT the bourgeoisie! Binh wants to tail after the “spontaneity” of the masses, not comprehending that revolutionary Marxist consciousness does not, can not and will not arise “spontaneously” among the masses but must be brought to them from without by trained cadres of professional Communist revolutionaries. So, tailing after the masses, Binh and his party will find themselves traveling a road that will take them further and further away from the desired goal of workers revolution. To them it will be a surprise when, following the “spontaneity of the masses”, they wind up in front of a firing squad assembled by the capitalist class. We, excercising our responsibility as leaders, not followers, of the working class, will attempt to warn both the workers and Pham Binh about the dangerous situation that they are heading blindly into, like so many “tailists” before them. Disaster to the revolution has happened over and over and over again to pseudo-Marxists who condescendingly tail after the after the workers rather than leading them, coddling the workers with platitudes rather than trying to warn them of approaching danger; pseudo-Marxists who speed-read Lenin, uncomprehendingly taking sentence fragments like “the success of the revolution is the highest law” out of context, not even realizing that the text they refer to is illustrating the exact opposite of what they think it represents!

The length of your article just allowed you more time to make more errors. There is nothing here that can be called revolutionary Marxism, we’re sorry to say. Perhaps if you read “What is to Be Done” and “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” again – but this time reading the whole of the pamphlets rather than rooting through them for nuggets of sentence fragments that uphold your own mistaken ideas – then you can someday possess the basic elements of actual revolutionary Marxism and become a leader of workers rather than seeking to have them lead you. Thank god you are not in Egypt or Syria spreading this nonsense around – you could do a lot of damage! But we all make mistakes when we are starting out in any effort; fortunately for the working class, you are making your mistakes here rather than as a revolutionary leader of workers in a revolutionary situation that could cost thousands or even millions of workers their lives. After all, the revolution isn’t about you, or us; it’s about organizing and leading millions of workers in a struggle for the emancipation of the working class worldwide. Anyone who dares to propose to lead a revolution had better have their shit together politically or they will almost certainly be the organizers of a massive defeat that will result in a bloodbath for the working class. This is not a game – hundreds of millions, billions of lives and the future of life on planet Earth are at stake.

We would recommend to you that you read the works of the Spartacist League in the time period of 1964-1989, paying particular emphasis to their articles on Vietnam, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Poland and the Soviet Union. They swung a huge bat politically for a long time; their polemics against support to Solidarnosc, their articles in “Women and Revolution” on Afghanistan and their principled Trotskyist defense of the USSR are excellent examples, among others of the correct application of Marxist dialectics to a range of issues that threw almost every nother “left” organization for a loop. They “told the workers the truth”, no matter how painful, and it did not win them many converts or friends on the Left, but they were not looking to ingratiate themselves with the working class; they wanted to lead them in a successful workers revolution. Never lie or sugar-coat reality to make it more “palatable” to the working class. When you find yourself doing that in order to “win over” the more backward workers, you are no longer a revolutionary Marxist, and you are no longer the “leader”; you are being “led” by alien class forces. You will find that, if you “tail after” the masses, you will have deceived yourself into believing that “the untutored masses” know better than you do – you who has, unlike the “masses” been carefully studying the history of the workers movement for years – and you will find yourself very quickly following counterrevolutionary forces down a road that ends at a blank wall like the ones at Pere Lachese cemetery in Paris where the last of the Communards perished at the hands of the military forces of the French bourgeoisie. If the workers aren’t following the lead of professional revolutionaries, then they will most assuredly come under the sway of some reactionary political organization of the bourgeoisie or petit-bourgeoisie, or even outright reactionaries, like the Islamic fundamentalists seeking the allegiance of the working class in every “Arab Spring” country. Expecting the working class to “spontaneously” find the political road that leads to a workers republic is like expecting a bunch of college students to “spontaneously” teach themselves advanced physics. It’s impossible.

Please feel free to get in touch with us; we’d be very happy to do whatever we can to assist you in your studies. We all can do a lot better than we have done so far with what we know.

Workers of the World, Unite!

Independent Workers Party of Chicago
Find us on Wordpress and Facebook


Brandy Baker February 20, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Those crazy motherfuckers.

Any group that is patterning themselves after the SL is over before it begins.


Michael Pugliese February 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Our organization will be modeled largely on elements of the programme of the Spartacist League, — Satire?

Clicking their name, in the embedded hyperlink, Independent Workers Party of Chicago @ . would appear that these neo-Sparts at least don’t have an irony deficiency.


Brian S. February 21, 2013 at 8:52 am

Their politics may be a bit lacking, but you can’t fault an outfit that produces such nifty “stackable mugs”! I’m just waiting for their Home Decor range to appear.


Arthur February 21, 2013 at 10:17 am

Hmmm. I’m impressed. I especially enjoyed the royal “we”. Don’t have time to checkout “IWPCHI” at the moment, but satire is certainly vital for recovering from pseudoleftism.


Pham Binh February 20, 2013 at 11:21 pm

To respond to Doug Lain:

I’ve broached the issue of feudal/bourgeois regimes in previous, lengthy comments:

To address your questions specifically:

1. Yes, Egypt prior to 2011 was bourgeois or capitalist, no doubt about it. Bourgeois-nationalist military coups in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt in the 1950s-1960s resulted in land reform, the end of monarchies, and other achievements (like winning independence from colonial powers) that promoted industrial capitalist development.

2. I am not sure how we would stress the democratic part of bourgeois democratic, except maybe using italics, like so: bourgeois-democratic revolution?

Even if we could stress the democratic side of that formulation, I wouldn’t want to because it would de-emphasize the class character and content of these overturns, a huge mistake that most Marxists have made in discussing the Arab Spring in our eagerness for the proletarian-socialist revolution that, if we are honest with ourselves, is a long way off if we’re lucky. I see no upsides and only downsides in stressing the democratic aspect at the expense of the bourgeois aspect.

What do you think?

3. Many have mistakenly concluded from my text that I’m some sort of born-again Stalinist because I (following Lenin) draw a distinction between the bourgeois-democratic and proletarian-socialist revolutions and talk of stages of development and preconditions for socialism.

There’s nothing magical about bourgeois democracy that makes it, “a necessary step on the road
to a socialist/communist future.” The necessary step on this road is winning the freedom to organize workers and the oppressed unmolested on a mass scale, not bourgeois-democratic government per se. That was the single most important gain of the 1917 February revolution in Russia, and without it there would have been no workers’ and peasants’ government formed out of a victorious insurrection in October, eight months later. The failure of the Russian proletariat and peasantry to seize power in February of 1917 had everything to do with its lack of freedom to organize and nothing to do with the level of technological development.

In conclusion, I don’t think it is possible to go straight from an undemocratic bourgeois regime to dismantling that regime and creating socialism in the first revolutionary onslaught. in Russia, it took eight months of freedom to organize without fear for the working class and the peasantry to take over the country; there’s nothing to say the same couldn’t happen in a given country in eight weeks, given the right subjective and historical conditions (history of struggle, level of organization, state of mass consciousness and political experience). In the case of the Arab Spring, the timeframe between the democratic and the socialist revolutions was summed up best by Marx: “we say to the workers: ‘You will have to go through 15, 20, 50 years of civil wars and national struggles not only to bring about a change in society but also to change yourselves, and prepare yourselves for the exercise of political power.'”


Brian S. February 21, 2013 at 9:24 am

Just to pursue one of the theoretical issues raised in this post:
“I am not sure how we would stress the democratic part of bourgeois democratic …Even if we could stress the democratic side of that formulation, I wouldn’t want to because it would de-emphasize the class character and content of these overturns.”
But is it the “class character and content” of these upheavals? If we attach a class label to a political event/process, even allowing for its broad-stroke character, we would seem to be referring to one of two things: 1. the character of the social forces leading or initiating or (perhaps – in a week sense), benefitting from that event; 2. the social-programmatic boundaries of the event. So if we say “bourgeois revolution” we are identifying a process that is either led/initiated by the bourgeoisie or that stays within the bounds of “bourgeois right”. Few classical “bourgeois revolutions” have clearly qualified for the label by criteria 1; but most have by criteria 2. Lenin’s arguments in 1905 were a response to that fact in the Russian context – recognising that the bourgeoisie was not going to lead the revolution, probably not initiate it (and quite possibly in its majority oppose it). That it seems to me is precisely the situation in the Arab Spring (and most of the rest of the third world) – which is why [email protected] has some relevance. But does criteria 2 apply? In part, in the sense that bourgeois democratic tasks may be at the forefront; but very quickly other social demands will come to the fore – right to form trade unions and strike (not bourgeois in any sense); price controls; food and rent subsidies; health and welfare programmes. Nationalisation of the banks and provision of micro-credits. And those are precisely the demands that socialist would encourage.
Where does that leave the “bourgeois” in this revolution? Its only bourgeois in the sense that its not proletarian – but to label it on that basis is not a reflection of its social character but only of the poverty of our language.


Michael Pugliese February 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Brian S. : “Their politics may be a bit lacking, but you can’t fault an outfit that produces such nifty “stackable mugs”! I’m just waiting for their Home Decor range to appear.” Nah, that is Cafe Press, “This shop is powered by CafePress Inc.,” , which doesn’t care what kind of politics you have, as one sees by inputting “white nationalist,” into their search box, , where I see a popular symbol for neo-nazis on one of their t-shirts. Want a Gadsen Flag (popular Tea Party symbolism) , on some pj’s,,562699589 ?


Pham Binh February 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm

On the revolutionary militias that still control Libya:

Interesting subtitle on this article, “The Libyan government wants a professional standing army, but the many militias still on the streets are too good at their job to be replaced with a fledgling, inexperienced military.” Too good at their job for the bourgeoisie, I guess?


Brian S. February 25, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Difficult issues here. Its certainly right that the creation of an integrated national force shouldn’t take place until the political issues over the influence of former Gaddafi figures is resolved. And the idea of a a decentralised but unifiable-on-demand military forces is attractive. But the Misrata militia (or some units) have been responsible for the worst post-Gaddafi human rights abuses (especially re Tawergha people).
I think we should call in the dialecticians here to see if they can come up with anything.
Brian McQuinn’s work is top class:
One of the things it shows is that the Misrata militia can produce a detailed social profile of its members – I wonder how many western militaries could do the same?


Pham Binh February 25, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Certainly the militias aren’t above reproach, but the Western left uses such abuses to deride the entire revolution. Tawergha is often cited as an example of racism against blacks but then is totally at a loss to explain things like this:

Here again, militia members engage in democratic protests unthinkable during the Ghadafi era:


Brian S. February 25, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I’ve continually argued with people on the left that Tawergha was not solely (or indeed primarily) about racism, using the arguments that there were many rebel fighters of “African appearance”. But that doesn’t change the fact that their treatment was criminal (literally and morally) and influenced by racism: no other pro-Gaddadfi community has been treated to this kind of collective punishment or been abandoned in the way the Tawerghans have. They have now announced that they are going to return to their homes at their own initiative – we’ll have to see how that is handled. I’m not optimistic. But until their situation is resolved their case is a stain on the revolution, and particularly on the Misratan militia.
This is a recurring problem of popular democratic politics – local institutions are closer to the people and may be more accountable; but they are also more prone to domination by cliques, corruption, and manipulation.


Pham Binh February 25, 2013 at 10:53 pm

The plight of Tawergha was used by Western leftists to justify their do-nothing/hands-off-Ghadafi policy re: Libya. If we had organized some real solidarity actions in 2011 with the revolution, they might give a damn what we think about their mistakes.

Also, if you think Tawergha was bad, wait until you see what happens in Latakkia and Qardaha in Syria when the revolution arrives in full force. The blood-letting hasn’t even begun, if you can believe it.


Brian S. February 26, 2013 at 5:06 am

I fear you are probably right about the future of Syria – although the suggestion that the blood letting will be worse than at present I find very odd. However there will also be important counter-vailing forces within the Syrian opposition – and we should be promoting and supporting their efforts as much as we can from this distance (just as I try to raise the Tawergha issue whenever I’m in contact with Libyans). Although of course the abysmal record of the western left over Syria will give us very little political capital to draw on.


Manuel Barrera February 25, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Seriously, the “need” to convince some on the left that there should be ongoing solidarity with the Libyan, Syrian, Egyptian, and other masses AND their current revolutionary-minded forces seeking either to extend their revolutions or end dictatorial rule is insulting and utterly bankrupt. There isn’t a one of you who “knows” what is best for the people and organizations leading the way in their respective countries. You d0n’t even know whether the “right wing” forces (e.g., the Salafists) are ALL actually right wing or whether the more “pure” mass leaders are actually all that pure. If You Are a Materialist Dialectitian, It Should Not Matter To You. It is one thing to observe and examine the forces of revolution and reaction if you are outside any possible influence providing meaningful analyses and quite another to “determine” your support or opposition to an entire revolutionary process–in midstream no less!–based on our spotty–at best–conjectures about who’s “in charge” or “who” is arming the struggling freedom fighters based on … a brand name on the side of cargo box!??! What, are you going to call for Russia to “save” the Syrian Despot or for France to “save” the Libyan masses from the threat of “muslim fundamentalism” (oh, wait, I forget, that’s actually being tried in Mali, huh)?

If you are an actual revolutionary and fighter to end capitalism and imperialist rule, the very least you must do is to acknowledge the revolutionary character of the Arab uprisings and the unqualified solidarity of the struggles to overcome despotic rule, even if at the same time the leaderships, literally thrown up by the struggle itself, may or may not be making what “we” (in our ersatz wisdom) believe are the “best” decisions.

I am personally dumbfounded by some of the utter jingoism and petty excuses I am reading about the “concerns” with which some here write to argue, it seems, against the character of these revolutions. Binh’s initial post, to support these revolutionary processes with the unqualified solidarity of the revolutionary spirit becomes some battleground to argue what is unarguable; that the Arab Spring has brought the world struggle for socialist revolution decidedly to a new stage. That “we” don’t like how it conforms to our romantic idealism about socialist revolutions, born of decades of battling internecine wars among the “anointed”, should really not make it this hard to understand the nature of and opportunities of the actual world battle for socialism. The kind of petty “opposition” to the nature of how these revolutions are unfolding blinds us to the opportunities right before our eyes. We cannot afford to get this part of the revolutionary struggle–solidarity with the struggling masses–wrong. It is not simply that revolutionaries in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Mali, or, for that matter, in Ethiopia or Somalia will dismiss us; and rightly so. We also cannot afford the turn to backwardness and chauvinism inherent in our “objections”. Doing so, only prevents us from learning how better to struggle when the masses of our imperialist countries begin to move; because if you think the working masses of “America” or “Britain” are going to engage “progressively” and “purely” without resorting to isolationism, racism, and sexism, never mind our own forms of religious “fundamentalism”, you will be sadly–and likely fatally–mistaken.

Marxists, especially revolutionary Marxists, are guided by deep sense of belief in the power of the masses and how we will come to overcome capitalism. Engaging in premature–and immature–doubts like some of what is said here only discloses one’s utter disbelief in that power and in the underlying will of the masses once they begin to move.

Let’s have more actual analysis of the forces and issues in these revolutions, but let’s do it within in the context of real, verifiable, and observable solidarity with the revolutionary peoples of the Arab East and Northern Africa!


Pham Binh July 1, 2013 at 11:46 am

Pretty important development:

If Morsi resigns and new elections are held, I think the Brotherhood will win the presidency again in a vote because the opposition is so divided.


Brian S. July 1, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I’m not so so sure: the anti-Morsi campaign has gathered both steam and extraordinary breadth. The Brotherhood is certainly rallying around Morsi, but it also looks very isolated (the Nour party declared itself neutral in the current campaign, although its getting nervous now). Remember that Morsi won in the second round of the Presidential election only because he was standing against the SCAF candidate; its unlikely that anything like that could result again, even with a divided opposition. The problem is, can the opposition create a viable alternative government , especially with the illusions it has developed about the military?


Arthur July 1, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I haven’t been following closely but it certainly looks like an important development.

I think there is no question whatever of Morsi resigning for new Presidential elections. Hopefully he will dismiss and preferably arrest the Defence Minister and others hinting at a coup.

Main point is that the opposition is now openly counter-revolutionary, seeking military rule and celebrating their hope for a coup.

The “neutrality” of the Salafi Nour party is a further confirmation of the anti-democratic character of this movement.

Even the pathetic Egyptian “left” is starting to pull back from playing with fire and beginning to stand against the “opposition”:

Sadly mainstream liberals are more consistent democrats and saw the logic of this earlier:

Even if Morsi doesn’t do the right thing and dismiss and arrest those threatening a coup my guess is it will still fold as army rule against popular opposition that had a majority in the elections is in fact untenable. If the army was going to go for it, rather than huffing an puffing with hints of it, the time was before the elections, not after.

I think the fascists burning down the officers of the party that won the elections will get their fingers burnt in the backlash.


Aaron Aarons July 2, 2013 at 12:28 am

Unless Arthur Dent knows something specific that he’s not sharing with the rest of us, his labeling of the people who “burn[ed] down the officers of the party that won the elections” as fascists is just another example of the electoral cretinism of his political tendency.

Suppose that a mass crowd of defenders of abortion rights in, e.g., Texas, were to burn down a headquarters of Governor Perry’s Republican Party, which one the most recent elections in that state, would Mr. Dent label them as “fascists”? It wouldn’t surprise me if he would!

Certainly, no leftist in Egypt should support a military coup against Morsi, but neither should they be calling on Morsi to act against his opponents in the military, unless it can be convincingly argued that the military is planning to overthrow Morsi in order to intensify attacks on the working class, women, religious and ethnic minorities, et al.. Basically, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood are the leading forces in two rival bourgeois factions, and both must be opposed, along with whatever neoliberal factions may exist independently of the main two. And, if there is a new election for President, the genuine left will call for a boycott of any runoff election, presuming, as is probable, that it will be a runoff between reactionary, pro-imperialist, capitalist forces.


Red Blob July 2, 2013 at 5:48 am

Aaron the holding of elections in Egypt was a huge step forward. Protests against the government are fine, burning offices is not. A threatened military coup is not fine it is counter revolution. The military is demanding that the elected President stand down. It’s impossible to know what are the right tactics for Morsi to pursue but it is clear about who to support, either the elected President or the unelected heads of the military.
I hope that Morsi can ride this out without it becoming violent but if it does the responsibility is with the military and those on the streets that can’t accept the outcome of a democratic process which they participated in.


Red Blob July 2, 2013 at 6:17 am

Aaron take an American perspective if the US military demanded that Obama stand down would you still say not my business just “2 rival bourgeois factions, and both must be opposed”
If the US military had demanded Bush stand down again “2 rival bourgeois factions, and both must be opposed”
Then you say “And, if there is a new election for President,….” What makes you think that there will be a new election? Why would the military do that? They know the outcome why go through it all again?
If the military overthrow Morsi you wont see elections again for a very long time.


Brian S. July 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm

@ Red Blob. You are misreading the situation. The military are making noises because they handed power over to Morsi on the basis that he could create an orderly civilian administration, and he hasn’t been able to deliver that. At the moment they are attempting to put pressure on him; if he doesn’t move towards a compromise with the opposition, they may take further action, but it won’t be to restore long-term military rule – it will be to back another civilian horse. So elections certainly will take place .


Arthur July 2, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Any “elections” that took place on the basis that a previously elected government had been removed by the military would be fraudulent.

The remnants, including the Interior Ministry, SCAF and much of the Mugwamma is what disrupts an “orderly civlian administration”. Arbitration by the military is arbitration by the remnants. The military backing “another civilian horse” IS military rule and will not be accepted by any democrat.


Aaron Aarons July 2, 2013 at 7:54 pm

The hypothetical actions of the U.S. military in some undefined situation are not worth commenting on, except to say that, unfortunately, there’s no chance of the U.S. military taking action against a (hypothetical but possible) elected Christian clerical-reactionary government, or any other reactionary government.


Aaron Aarons July 2, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Whether burning offices of a reactionary political party is fine or not depends on who does it, why they do it, and how they propagandize around it. There are certainly many places in the U.S. where I would participate with crowds burning Republican Party headquarters in response to, e.g., their attacks on abortion rights or social programs, while at the same time I would denounce the Democrat Party for its role in enabling many of the same policies as those the Republicans more actively push.

In general, and in Egypt, I don’t see any reason why leftists should support an elected reactionary, even though, in almost all cases, we would oppose a military coup against same. Far more important than whether a politician or a party can win an election is what policies that politician or party promotes and implements. And, for example, if an elected government were to try to re-legalize the genital mutilation of young girls, a practice outlawed under Mubarak in 2008 but still extremely widely practiced, support for the overthrow of such a government should be automatic.


Pham Binh July 2, 2013 at 8:12 am

Talk about a spurious analogy.


Brian S. July 2, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Well, there’s going to be some major shift in Egypt over the next few days : with a half dozen members of his cabinet resigning, and his interior minister announcing support for the Armed Forces declaration, Morsi is either going to have to retreat or be pushed.
Let’s be clear: no one in Egypt (including the Armed Forces) is seeking a return to a military regime. However sections of the opposition have made the grave political error of welcoming the Army’s involvement to put pressure on Morsi, and some even seem prepared to accept the army taking temporary control to secure reforms.
What’s particularily negative about this is that it reinforces widespread illusions about the military – a recent poll showed very high levels of popular confidence in the military – about 94% across all political currents, including the Islamists. Even worse, 60% of supporters of the opposition were prepared to accept temporary resumption of military rule.
Its important that the left has taken a stand against this dangerous trend. Some groups – like the Revolutionary Socialists and Strong Egypt- have had a consistent line throughout; but what is significant is that there now seems to be a broad consensus,with a mass base. This creates at least a possibility of some sort of united left pole for the next elections.
The poll I referred to above is interesting. It confirms my impresssion that the Islamist pole is united but also very isolated. The bottom line is that Morsi retains the support of only about 25% of the population (which was his share of the vote in the first round of the Presidential election), almost all of it drawn from those who identify either with his party or the salafist al-Nour. The largest grouping are those who identify neither with the Islamists nor the opposition (c.33%): but they are just as hostile to Morsi (sometimes more so) as the opposition.
The reporting of the poll statistics is not sufficiently detailed to allow much unpacking without speculation: but it is striking that it indicates opposition to Morsi across all regions of the country – even former MB strongholds. On the other hand it suggests a considerable residual support for the ancien regime – perhaps a third of those hostile to Morsi give answers that would suggest some degree of attachment to (or nostalgia for) the Mubarak regime.
Happy to provide further info if anyone is interested – or, better still, check it out for yourself:
Link to poll:


Arthur July 2, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Thanks for the link. The sharp discrepancy between the vote on the Constitution where the opposition mounted a “Vote No” campaign and the majority opposition to it in the survey strongly suggests the survey is distorted. However it could still be useful in understanding the views of the different segments. What stands out is that the supporters of the Morsi government want immediate parliamentary elections while the opponents do not. Half the opponents want military rule and a third support Mubarek.

Basically the “rebellion” is against the opposition having to face the humiliation of yet another crushing defeat in elections – a fate it can only avoid through military intervention.

“Morsi is either going to have to retreat or be pushed.” Well that’s the way they think.

The other alternative of course is that he could stand firm (as currently appears certain) or advance by sacking the Defence Minister.


Brian S. July 3, 2013 at 8:00 am

@Arthur: Makes sense to continue this discussion in the new Egypt thread so I’ll respond to you there.


patrickm July 3, 2013 at 8:36 am

Arthur: It’s a great idea to sack and arrest the defense minister / leader of the military that made the threat or announced the coup depending on how one sees this, trouble is that the president and the MB have so little actual state power. Not enough obedient troops and police as they can’t even stop their own headquarters from being trashed by the bunch of undemocratic fascists that ought to have been arrested and be appearing before a magistrate about the same time as this 48hr period is up (about now).

Now I realize that the Army won’t be able to solve the economic problems and they will rapidly get worse if they do go ahead with this but they must see it differently and intend to involve everyone else ASAP except for the MB who have said they won’t be in it because as far as I can see the die is cast for this next round of struggle and the counter-revolution is already born.

The example of Chile is not the current model either there are far to many people on the streets for the moment. Rather after something reasonably dramatic (don’t have a clue what, but I guess they do) then a progressive failure to obey the president on all fronts and more slowly take charge of things involving the masses that they are leading, plus involving the ruling class courts to give the legal gloss. There will be plenty of work for the millions of thugs that have kept the MB down for all these years and they are going to be unleashed big time again to put down MB leadership and try to prevent their demonstrations etc!

So IMV it ought to spin out of all control pretty rapidly anyway one looks at this.

I think they would be better served not going this route but I’m not in their shoes and know that I don’t think the same way ANY of these people do. So having stuck my neck out that far I will now observe what happens with great interest. I expect developments to be far faster than 30 days this time, but then I always expect things to go faster then they do.

RB; remember who you are dealing with above. This ‘revolutionary leftist’ actually supported the Baathist – Kurd gassing tyrant – from Iraq annexing Kuwait! He’s a class act is Aaron – a half arsed supporter of piracy out from Somalia who hates workers that work in mines or ship coal around the world! Over the years I have struck some seriously deluded people on the net but this ‘progressive’ never lets the Znet team down.


Arthur July 2, 2013 at 2:54 am

I haven’t come across Patrick Galey before but this strikes me as the right approach:

Not sure whether the title reflects a pessimistic appraisal of the likely outcome. For what it’s worth I think the celebration of threats of a military coup marks the bankruptcy and exposure of the opposition’s alliance with the remnants (including the Nasserists who some thought were potentially “left”). The opposition has basically admitted it cannot form a viable alternative government by looking to the military to form one, while SCAF already knows it cannot since it has already tried (and can see the results of lost legitimacy in Syria).

The attraction of pseudoleftists towards this opposition is entirely understandable.


Aaron Aarons July 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm

The attraction of pseudo-leftists to one or another of the bourgeois factions is, unfortunately, entirely understandable.


Manuel Barrera July 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I believe the issue since Mubarak was deposed is and always has been the creation of a truly democratic constitution that protects the rights of individual citizens, oppressed sectors–women, oppressed nationaliities, and different religions–the working class and democratic organizations, and guarantees the freedoms of assembly and people’s self-organization and communication. If elections are re-held, supporting candidates that defend these rights and constitutional process for enhancing mass movements will be important. Revolutionaries must be clear that we/they are for democracy first and foremost. The advancement of proletarian demands and organization depends on it at this critical juncture. Agitating, educating, and organizing within the mass movement for this kind of perspective and it success will have the surest result in further dividing the army from the ruling classes and expanding the opening for political democratic struggle in the interests of the oppressed.


Aaron Aarons July 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Manuel Barrera “believe[s] the issue since Mubarak was deposed is and always has been the creation of a truly democratic constitution that protects the rights of individual citizens, oppressed sectors–women, oppressed nationaliities, and different religions–the working class and democratic organizations, and guarantees the freedoms of assembly and people’s self-organization and communication.”

How does one create a document with such magical powers that it does all those things? Or does Barrera really mean that he wants to focus the energies of those who might be influenced by him on the creation of a document that gives lip service to those things, rather than on organizing the workers and oppressed sectors to defend those rights and freedoms in the world beyond paper?

Of course, genuine revolutionaries in Egypt (or who can be heard in Egypt via the Internet) will use any debates over a constitution to agitate and organize for such rights and freedoms, but will never spread illusions in the power of a constitution, however written, to actually defend such rights and freedoms against the interests of the capitalists and associated oppressors and exploiters.


David Berger (RED DAVE) July 3, 2013 at 9:58 am

Back to basics:

PHAM BINH: The bourgeois-democratic revolutions known as the Arab Spring

DAVID BERGER: Since a “bourgeois-democratic revolution” involves the process of the bourgeoisie coming to power in a country, I fail to see why these uprisings (to use a term Binh once used for Occupy Wall Street) can be so termed. The bourgeoisie was the ruling class in the Arab countries both before and after the uprisings.


Pham Binh July 3, 2013 at 10:40 am

The bourgeoisie is not a homogenous class and not all forms of bourgeois rule are the same (see Lenin in Two Tactics for more on this topic).

You might as well argue that what happened in Portugal in 1974 or Iran in 1979 were not revolutions because the end result was capitalism or bourgeois rule, ignoring the very real and important changes in class rule that took place in those countries.

You’re right, this is back to basics, and what you’re advancing is essentially a pre-Marxist (or perhaps anarchist) view of revolutions, which is wrong all along the line.


Brian S. August 5, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Those who tried to label the entire Libyan revolution as “racist”should meet Libya’s new minister of defence:


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