by Patrick Muldowney on August 8, 2012

I have been prompted to write the following article by the genuinely breakthrough thinking displayed by Pham Binh (in particular) in rejecting his former stance over Libya and joining with others here to stand up for the Syrian revolution.

Leftists supporting the Syrian revolution ought to have many issues to engage over and more honestly debate.

I’m from Australia and can’t even see the North Star, but I want to join The North Star blog and contribute to the debate in the open honest and above-board manner that I always have at Kasama. The question is does a Southern-hemisphere, self-described Maoist belong as a contributor at The North Star?

While “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong” speaks for itself and ought to be dealt with accordingly, nevertheless you will want to know something of me politically. To that end, I offer my full track record as a commentator at Kasama as an indication of my “Hitchens-style communism,” which is not a very good description of my communist politics but ought to indicate some of what readers might expect.

Dissent, Debate, and the Non-Disingenuous Left

“The inability to deal with dissenting opinions is a major reason why the Left is in the shape that it’s in.”

Spot on Binh!

Also, this earlier statement struck me as spot on as well: “Nothing is more difficult than re-examining everything you took for granted as the truth.”

The second statement so clearly applies to a socialist whose politically active life was essentially anti-war campaigning but who now wants to see weapons and military aid supplied to the Syrian people and could not care less if those weapons, satellite intelligence, and other material support are being supplied by the “Great Satan” or anyone else. Binh knows which side he is on. Well done, and doubly so for admitting how wrong he got it over Libya.

That first big step is the hardest and people take that step by being open, honest, and above board.

To genuinely participate in the re-establishment of any sort of functioning and recognizable left requires just that attitude and the exposure of those who have anything but that approach. The obvious problem is that those who are not open, honest, and above board take great pains to appear as though they are. To get to the truth you have to find out what they do.

Fortunately, these days its far easier to expose people who have a record of doing to others what they do not want done to themselves.

Some people who present themselves as left resort to censorship; when caught, they have all manner of explanations about how the views that they are protecting people from are really “enemy” views. People who carry on like this are obviously anti-democratic, and one cannot be any sort of revolutionary communist without first qualifying as a revolutionary democrat!

Those (to the extent that they are confused with any type of leftist) who censor others that they cannot win a debate against discredit the genuine left.

They are to be properly understood as garden-variety rightists that present as leftists. They are the pseudo-left and ought to be identified as such. Years ago, the expression was “left in form, right in essence.” Even earlier, the phenomena was described as an infantile disorder. Clearly, the 21st century Western left is a political infant – or better yet, an overdue newborn – so we must expect such disorders and seek treatment.

Beyond the pale views are now shown to be very difficult to shut down by continuing the old and discredited practice of disappearing people whose thinking offends the dogmatists.

Revolutionary leftists ought to consider views for and against the revolutionary transformations of Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and indeed, the whole swamp of the Middle East as part of the legitimate and ongoing debate to be had among revolutionaries. It is a debate that ought to be had completely without gatekeepers that carry on as if they are publishing an old-style “radical” newspaper with physically limited space and thus a “legitimate” excuse for some level of exclusion.

We are now in the era of the internet and there is no legitimate excuse for sectarian carry-on or (self) censorship.

Syria and the Pseuo-Left

What is a proletarian revolutionary in the West to make of the massive warfare that has predictably broken out in Syria? In my view, Mike Ely at Kasama is gearing up to shut out the “pro-imperialists”, who, like Binh, are popping out of the woodwork.

Of course Binh knows he is not “pro-imperialist,” but ultimately that will not save him from the dogmatists of anti-imperialism. He and others will be labeled as “objectively pro-imperialist” and the dissenting opinions shut down among “serious” revolutionaries.

Leftists really ought to “let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.”

“Left” dogmatists essentially insist that there is no revolution unfolding in Syria (that is of concern to Western workers) and just shrug and turn away presumably to confront the outright openly pseudo-leftist defense of Assad (and all manner of tyrants in one form or another). Revolutionary lefts might also confront these pseudo-lefts if we could be bothered, but as these people really have nothing to do with anything leftist, it is not surprising to find that mostly we can not be bothered and essentially leave that ever-so profound exposure to people with nothing better to do.

It is true that one does not have to look far in the anti-war mileu – especially the one that’s been around since 2001 – to uncover plenty of examples of active defense of tyrants like Ghadafi. They are, however, an isolated subset of a minority, and if we refute the passive defense, we refute the active subset. The defense of tyrants is usually passive and Ely does just that. But Ely does more than that because, despite a first glance, if we dig a bit deeper, we find he is an active defender as well.

Since the beginning of 2011, there has been a widespread view (I would even say a broad acceptance) that there is a bourgeois-democratic revolution unfolding across the swamp of tyranny that is the Middle East. This revolution was predicted from as far back as 2002 by some Marxists in Australia. The world’s mainstream media called it the Arab Spring and forgets to mention the bourgeois nature of this revolution. What passes for the Western left now knows that it is coming because it is already here.

Whatever it is, it is not a socialist revolution, and many Western progressives openly fear the Islamist main force fighting it and confuse those forces with the leading forces also fighting. Main and leading forces is a well-known thesis of how Mao understood the Chinese revolution through its various twists and turns. It ought to be self-evident by now that a multiplicity of forces is the reality of the revolutions that are ridding the Middle East of tyrannies and replacing them with societies where people get a meaningful vote on a regular basis on who is to form the capitalist government.


Nepalese communists have recently fought a long-ish war to bring about free and fair elections in Nepal. A constitution and election process is what the demands were all about and Kasama-style communists welcomed the elections that were held in Nepal, just as I did from just as far away and from just as ill-informed a base. The rights that were being fought for in Nepal and are now (despite the inevitable twists and turns) being implemented are nothing very special from a Western point of view (we in the West have had them for quite some time) but they are revolutionary demands that have been resisted with deadly violence in places like Libya, Nepal, Syria, and Iraq.

Being unclear befits the owning class in any country, so they do not openly speak of the requirement for a bourgeois-democratic revolution in this region or anywhere else, they just talk about democracy. Marxists from Marx to Mao have all dealt at length with the issue of revolutionaries advancing the interests of people of pre-capitalist societies and of destroying tyrannies (of any kind) by uniting the many to defeat the few, the 99% to defeat the 1%.

Effective or real revolutionaries make very basic minimum demands and then unite – just as Binh is proposing – with even the most unreliable, temporary, and treacherous of allies to achieve these demands. The last thing revolutionaries seek is a pure revolution. We do not seek the appearance of a flying-spaghetti-monster either! We simply carry-on as if neither exists and do not complain at the low stage that much of humanity is still at.

Real Revolutionaries and Syria

Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? These are questions of the first importance for the revolution.

The issue of Syria for serious revolutionaries is starkly presented as a call to encourage anyone that is able to arm and or fight with Syrians (that are opposed to living under the Assad tyranny) to do so. It is a call for states to arm and fight with the Syrian masses and overthrow the Assad tyranny and destroy his fascist army!

One such call is for the former imperial power Turkey to intervene much more than it is currently doing. The call is to do even more than what was done last year for the people from the Barbary Coast! Ships taking arms and all manner of supplies to and from Ghadafi were stopped from doing so. Was this NATO-U.S. piracy? Ought all shipping be blockaded now with respect to Syria? Putin has made his position clear: the Russian navy will come and go and protect other ships coming and going to Assad’s Syria. Putin is preventing the act of war known as a blockade from being imposed on the Assad regime. Blockades are imposed by navies, and Ely does not want a blockade on Assad’s forces. I do, and I think I am in good company with Pham Binh on this question.

But I want more than that; I want to see urgent military action by the U.S. and NATO to dominate the skies above Syria and to kill any Assad forces that can be identified on the ground. I do not believe that the ditherer-in-chief will act, but that is what the left ought to be in the street demanding of him.

The talk of revolution has met the reality of revolution yet again and the pro-liberation left (or “cruise-missile left” to the pseudo-lefts) is clearly looking for every and any ally. The irrelevant pseudo-left that is speaking out against outside imperialist meddling in Syria (just as they irrelevantly did over Libya) is demonstrating that they are no friends of the revolutionary transformation of the Middle East. They are no friends of the Syrian revolution. They go so far as to deny that it is an anti-fascist revolution (while curiously not denying that Assad and Putin are both fascists).

Years of confusing experience since September 11, 2001 has ended with the obvious ongoing slaughter of the brave if (predictably) “impure” revolutionaries in Syria. Libya and now Syria have forced a dramatic reassessment from people like Binh. The debate that was shallow in 2011 over Libya is now far deeper due to the very practice of Libya. This direct link between theory and practice has honest and open leftists reviewing their theoretical views that led them to make what they recognize now as clear errors from as little as a few months back and leads dogmatists like Ely to jump out and republish Mao’s Combat Liberalism.

The pseudo-left and the utterly sectarian left will have to run from democratic debate as their positions implode over Syria and the rest of the Middle East and will specifically misuse works like Combat Liberalism to pretend that Mao was not serious about “a hundred flowers” and “ease of mind and liveliness” to cover their retreat.

The great revolutionary tool of democracy, combined with the new tools of the internet, means nothing to the dogmatists. Instead, they will sound the retreat from democracy and genuine debate and, in doing so, delude themselves that they are following the lead of Mao and Lenin!