Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Degeneration Of Theory

The AWL, to their credit, have written an article criticising the reported atrocities committed by some Libya rebels. However, that can hardly compensate for the terrible position that they have taken over the Libya War, and the arguments they also now put forward in this article, show just how far their approach is now separated from Marxist Theory.

Let us be clear, the AWL are right to say that the atrocities committed by the rebels, can in no way be used, as they correctly say some on the Left are doing, to lessen the vileness of Gaddafi's regime. This is not an ugly contest. Sacha Ismail writes, however,

“Having said all that: the idea that, because of this, there is no difference between the totalitarian state of Qaddafi and the popular uprising against it is bizarre. It also exposes broader political inconsistency.”

This is a version of the principle that the violence of the oppressed cannot be equated with the violence of the oppressor, but it is a wrong and perverted version. That principle means that we should not hold the oppressed to the same standards as the oppressors in the means by which they are forced to exercise their resistance. It means we recognise their weakness, and that as a result some of their methods are more indiscriminate, sometimes more brutal. But, in making this analysis we are talking about such methods directed AT the oppressor, and which only incidentally might badly affect others. It is not an argument to be used to justify, or in any way to excuse or lessen atrocities committed by one group of the oppressed against another group of the oppressed. We do not in any way excuse, justify, or seek to lessen violence against black women by black men, for instance, by reference to the fact that black men are themselves oppressed.

Yet, despite the fact that Ismail's piece says that it seeks to criticise these atrocities that is essentially what he does. Atrocities committed by the rebels do not in any way lessen the vile crimes of Gaddafi, but nor can the vile crimes of Gaddafi, lessen or justify the crimes, which flow from their politics, and not from their oppression, of sections of the rebels. In the 1930's Trotsky in opposing the intervention of Imperialism against Nazi Germany, argued that it could only strengthen the position of Hitler.

He wrote,

“The democracies of the Versailles Entente helped the victory of Hitler by their vile oppression of defeated Germany. Now the lackeys of democratic imperialism of the Second and Third Internationals are helping with all their might the further strengthening of Hitler’s regime. Really, what would a military bloc of imperialist democracies against Hitler mean? A new edition of the Versailles chains, even more heavy, bloody and intolerable. Naturally, not a single German worker wants this. To throw off Hitler by revolution is one thing; to strangle Germany by an imperialist war is quite another. The howling of the “pacifist” jackals of democratic imperialism is therefore the best accompaniment to Hitler’s speeches. “You see,” he says to the German people, “even socialists and Communists of all enemy countries support their army and their diplomacy; if you will not rally around me, your leader, you are threatened with doom!” Stalin, the lackey of democratic imperialism, and all the lackeys of Stalin – Jouhaux, Toledano, and Company – are the best aides in deceiving, lulling, and intimidating the German workers.”

But, the fact that Germany suffered this “vile oppression”, and that it created the conditions of despair that facilitated Hitler's victory did not lead Trotsky to in any way, consider the atrocities of the Nazis, against Jews, socialists, and German workers, any more justified as a consequence. He recognised Hitler as the worker's main enemy inside Germany, that the workers had to be organised to fight.

The same has been true in many more such instances. The fact of oppression of Imperialist or Colonial domination, have never been a basis for Marxists to fail to warn the workers within the oppressed country about the dangers of believing the words of those who usually provide the leadership of the anti-imperialist movement. And the same is true in relation to those same forces when they are the ones leading a “Democratic” revolution. On the contrary, our whole experience of the Popular Front, and of failing to advise the workers to maintain their independence of such forces, of warning them of the threat to the workers that these forces present to them, is written in the blood of the tens of thousands of workers who were slaughtered by those very “Democratic” revolutionary forces, before during or after that revolution had been completed.

In 1979, in Iran, another group of “Democratic” revolutionaries overthrew the vile dictatorship of the Shah. Most of the Left, including the predecessors of today's AWL, failed to warn the Iranian workers of that danger, taking at face value the Democratic speeches of Khomeini and others. The AWL, in their article write,

“Already, those on the left who are determined to prove that there is no difference between the two sides – or even that the rebels are worse than the old regime – are gleefully citing such atrocities.”

The implication is that the rebels could not possibly be worse than Gaddafi. Yet, in the light of the experience of the Iranian revolution, the AWL said they had learned their lesson about taking the words of such “Democrats” at face value. They did so, because in reality the medieavalist, theocratic, clerical-fascist regime in Iran IS, if anything, worse than that of the Shah. At least the Bonapartist regime of the Shah was modernising. In the light of that, the AWL also argued in relation to Iraq, that the clerical-fascist resistance could not be viewed as a national liberation force, because its very politics were the very opposite of liberation for the Iraqi people.

In fact, many of those clerical-fascist fighters in Iraq, came from Libya. In fact, just one town in the East of Libya provided more jihadists in Iraq than anywhere else. These are the same jihadists who have been fighting to overthrow Gaddafi, and who make up the most organised, effective fighters amongst the Eastern rebels. But now, apart from this current article, instead of arguing that such forces cannot provide real liberation for the Libyan people, the AWL have kept quiet about any potential problems that might arise if these forces are successful. As on so many other occasions the difference in approach seems to come down to this. In Iraq, those jihadists were fighting AGAINST “Democratic Imperialism” and its allies. In Libya, they are fighting on the same side as that “Democratic Imperialism”.

But, what is worse is the utter confusion that is then used in the article to justify the AWL's position. They confuse the struggle in Libya, which is at best a “Democratic Revolution”, and at worst a Civil War, fought out by a range of groups, tribes, and other geographical divisions each seeking to further its own interests, via a common front against the centralised state apparatus, with the anti-colonial struggles of Egypt, but more bizarrely the American Colonies against Britain. But, even then he blurs over important points. He quite rightly states, that Marxists had to support the anti-colonial struggle of the Egyptians, even led by Nasser, against the war being waged by them, by Britain, France and Israel. But, precisely for the reasons set out above, Marxists would not, in that process have failed to criticise Nasser, not just for those reactionary policies and actions being undertaken by his regime against Egyptian Jews, but precisely because of its CLASS nature. Marxists would not have proposed a Popular Front of Egyptian workers with Nasser, but would have argued for the Egyptian workers to maintain their independence from it. As Lenin put it, in Two Tactics Of Social Democracy In The Bourgeois Revolution, we might march in the same direction, but we keep an eye on our erstwhile allies as upon an enemy.

But, there has been no hint of this in any of the AWL's statements on the War in Libya. From start to finish they have bigged up the rebels, and glossed over the real nature of their politics in sharp contrast to their focus on that in respect of Iraq. But, of course, the lunacy of this comparison is that in Egypt, the revolutionary nationalist forces were fighting AGAINST an imperialist attack, designed to secure control over the Suez Canal, whereas in Libya, the rebel forces, that the AWL have acted as apologists for, have been fighting WITH Imperialism, and its desire to establish more effective control over the country, and its oil resources!!!

But, Ismail is ready with an historical precedent to justify this siding with Imperialism too. In the American Revolution you see,

“In passing, it is also noteworthy that the American revolution only triumphed because of outside military intervention, by the imperialist powers of the Netherlands, Spain and France – the last two of which, of course, had their own large colonial empires in the Western hemisphere.”

Has anyone noticed the problem with this argument? The American Revolution was a bourgeois democratic revolution waged to win independence from a Colonial power. It was indeed facilitated by the intervention of other Colonial powers, though it has to be said that in Libya, the main military force was provided by Imperialism with its massive bombing campaign, the modern weapons provided to the rebels, and the the Special Forces from Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar, it has now been confirmed have been fighting alongside the rebels on the ground. In the American Revolutionary War, it was the American rebels who provided most of the military might. But, this is rather besides the point. Ismail seems to forget exactly when this Revolution took place. It took place in the late 18th Century when not only was Socialist Revolution not on the agenda, but even in Britain there was not even a sizeable working-class that could have carried through such a revolution. Even less was that a possibility in America, even less was it possible to rely on an international Labour Movement coming to their assistance!

Under those conditions, at a time when Capitalism was still a progressive revolutionary force, as against Feudalism, there was no potential for arguing for a working-class solution, no potential to advise a non-existent working-class to maintain its independence and fight for its own interests. Even so, would it not have been the duty, even of radical bourgeois revolutionaries, in America, to have warned of the danger of placing any faith in these external allies? Indeed, many did do so. And would not revolutionary, bourgeois democrats in France, Spain, and the Netherlands have had a duty to fight against their own feudal rulers, and their own Colonial ambitions in America?

But, herein lies the root of the confusion in the AWL's politics when it comes to such struggles. In reality they do not proceed on the basis of a class analysis, but on the basis of a moral argument. That is why they are happy to warn of the dangers of clerical-fascist rebels in one case, whilst calling for support for them and bigging them up in another.

In a comment on the article, David Kirk writes,

“Marxists should not weigh up the policies of this or that opposing state to work out who is the most "progressive". They should always orientate towards the Labour movement and side with those fighting for democratic demands and self determination. Consistent democracy should be our principle and not be afraid to attack fearlessly all forces that fail this test even if we generally support their cause.”

That would, of course have meant supporting the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks against the Bolsheviks in relation to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, it means tying a bourgeois democratic noose around the neck of the working-class, as Trotsky put it, in its struggle for Socialism. Our priority is not to fight for bourgeois democratic demands and self-determination – in fact, in so far as the latter acts to divide workers from one another we should oppose calls for self-determination, even whilst supporting the right of oppressed minorities to such a right – but to fight for Socialism. The fight for these bourgeois democratic freedoms is wholly subordinate to that aim, and the raising of these demands is purely a matter of tactics.

But, David Kirk's argument is consistent with the AWL's approach, and that of the Third Camp. Yet, the AWL are far from consistent, not just in their constant zigging and zagging to support one position in one instance, only to reverse it in the next. If they really believed in their arguments about the progressive nature of democracy v fascism, and so on, then they should have supported democratic Britain, France and Israel as against Nasser's Egypt, just as they support Israel as against Iran, and are prepared to justify any attack made by Israel upon it. At best, as with their attitude to a War by Imperialism against the USSR or Cuba, they should argue for a position of defeatism on both sides, or as with the arguments they have made that essentially come down to the same position the Stalinists adopted in WWII in support of Democratic Imperialism against Nazi Germany, they should argue that the former is more progressive, and be open about their support for it.

But, they are not even consistent in their inconsistency. Marxists, as Trotsky demonstrated, in all these instances, base themselves not on the superficialities of the political regime – bourgeois democratic, fascist, authoritarian, - but on class analysis. We support a Workers State, even if it does not meet the demands of bourgeois democracy, in a war against even the most democratic of Capitalist States. We support a non-imperialist state against an Imperialist State, even if the former is a fascist dictatorship, and the latter is “democratic”. We do so, because our objective is not bourgeois democracy, but Socialism, and the means for achieving Socialism remains as it always has been a task that only the working-class can achieve. The workers have to liberate themselves.


Anonymous said...

'As on so many other occasions the difference in approach seems to come down to this. In Iraq, those jihadists were fighting AGAINST “Democratic Imperialism” and its allies. In Libya, they are fighting on the same side as that “Democratic Imperialism”.'

That's just it, isn't it? So in Kosovo, so in Libya. If these guys were fighting against a Western-backed regime or movement, they'd be condemned in true Matgamnaite fashion as 'clerical-fascists' or 'genocidal nationalists'. It's funny how the AWL, with its nose so sensitive to the merest whiff of Islamism, doesn't seem to have noticed their presence either in the Balkans then or Libya today. But then they're fighting against Serbs or Gaddafi, and their presence can thus be overlooked.

Dr Paul

Anonymous said...

so many words become overused in public discourse: "atrocities" is one of them, "democracy" another, often closely followed by "terrorism" - "imperialism" is too under-used these days to suffer the same fate

democracy in the mind of americans is pitted against communism, terrorism, whatever - in fact it is taught that way, as my daughter discovered - i felt some pride she questioned her teacher, he arch-enemy of the communists ("they are against democracy!" he opined with vehemence.

i like "vile oppression"

democracy to americans does not = capitalism, despite the monarchs enthusiastic gushings for expanding markets "abroad" which make me want to throw up

great blog post

Anonymous said...

And who are the guys that the imperialists want to run Libya after the Colonel? Here's the BBC site on the bloke about whom there is all the fuss:

‘Mr Belhaj – known in the jihadi world as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq – commanded the now defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). The group was formed in 1990 by Mr Belhaj and other Islamist Libyans who had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s. The LIFG waged a three-year low-level insurgency mainly based in eastern Libya, and staged three attempts to assassinate Col Gaddafi in 1995 and 1996, according to Middle East analyst Omar Ashour of Exeter University. By 1998, the group was crushed. Most of its leaders fled to Afghanistan and joined forces with the Taliban. There, Mr Belhaj is alleged to have developed “close relationships” with al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban chief Mullah Omar, according to an arrest warrant issued by the Libyan government in 2002. The warrant says that he was based in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, from where he ran and financed training camps for Arab mujahideen fighters.’

A great step forward, from Bonapartist dictator to head-banging Islamist...

Boffy said...

I think they are wrong about the LIFG being defunct. Look at the number of fighters the Islamists have managed to mobilise just from Britain who are known to have LIFG links.

The other interesting point about the AWL position re. the Islamists is the awful position they adopted in that regard in Iraq. Their basic position was that the "insurgents" could not be viewed as a national liberation movement, because their objective was not "national liberation". I think that argument is dubious. They DID want national liberation from the Occupation, but "national liberation", would not have meant that the Iraqi people themselves would have been free politically. But, many if not most "national liberation" movements have been far from models of liberal democracy either, so the same argument could have been made. It could have been amde about Nasser, for example, yet they now still say it was right to support Nasser!

But, in Iraq, they identified the "insurgents" as only the Sunnis, i.e. those that were identified with Saddam's regime. They made a point of arguing that there was no connection between Sunni insurgents, and Shia Islamists. The SWP and others no doubt did exaggerate the links, and the subsequent sectarian conflict showed that there was no unified "insurgency".

However, it was ridiculous to claim that the Shia clerical-fascists were not part of an insurgency against the Occupation. They were being provided with resources from Iran, for precisely that purpose. Rather like the jihadists in Libya they were using Imperialism to attack, their enemies, whilst carrying out their own attacks on Imperialism in their strongholds.

But, the AWl had to played down the Shia clerical-fascists. In one discussion on this at the time, Clive Bradley bigged up the democratic credential of Sistani, who was the closest Shia islamist to the Occupation, talking about him being in some sense a Constitutionalist! This is where "my enemy's enemy is my friend" politics leads you. Just as the SWP ended up supporting clerical-fascists as "anti-imperialists", so the AWL's support for "Democratic Imperialism" involves them in becoming apologists for the Imperialists allies, who are equally as vile as those forces the SWP has supported. Its hte logic of the "Third Camp" morality politics.