Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 12, 2016


Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:57 pm

Below is an excerpt from the first article collected by editors Jules Alford and Andrew Wilson in the newly published “Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution”. Titled “Socialism and the Democratic Wager”, this 41 page article by Assad an-Nar deserves to be published separately as a pamphlet since it takes head on (and most eloquently so) the issues that have divided the left for the past five years.

In addition to that article, there are others by people who have been writing in support of the Syrian revolution for the past five years, including me. The table of contents and excerpts from the book can be read here: http://ammarxists.org/khiyana/

I should mention that the word Khiyana is Arabic for treason, a word that resonates with the title of my article “Betrayal of the Intellectuals on Syria” that begins with a reference to Julian Benda’s La Trahison des Clercs, or “Treason of the Intellectuals”.

The book cost $15 and can be ordered from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Khiyana-Daesh-Unmaking-Syrian-Revolution/dp/0992650968) but I also invite you to buy a copy from me. Not only won’t I charge sales tax but the proceeds will go to Syrian Solidarity groups rather than a scumbag like Jeff Bezos. Drop me a line with your particulars at lnp3@panix.com and I will give you the Paypal information.

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The anti-Stalinist left should be used to the fact that large sections of the left are susceptible to Stalinist illusions. A crucial issue is how a lack of confidence among people in their own ability to unite in struggle has intersected with Stalinism’s alarming ability to reinvent itself since the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Though the Soviet Union disappeared, the ideological illusions it created have clung on. Marx long ago observed that if you wished to abolish religion you would also have to abolish the material conditions that gave rise to religious illusions. The material conditions that generate the need for people to look for substitutes for their agency—distress and oppression on the one hand, married to feeling relatively powerless, on the other—all of that continues to exist in late capitalism both because of, and despite the miscarriage of concrete utopia.

Instead of genuine internationalism we have the dominance reverse ersatz internationalism, where swathes of the left dream of a new edition of the Congress of Vienna, but with Vladimir Putin leading proceedings along with who else one may ask? Perhaps Marie Le Pen? General Sisi? Those who rule in Tehran and currently lock up and kill trade unionists? Or someone who knows how to deal with troublesome Muslims as Putin did he second Chechen war, over a decade before lending Assad his aid and experience in laying waste to whole towns and cities? To pose the question is to reveal how reactionary the answer is.

The dangers of campism are ever-present, and so the temptations or dangers of reverse-campism, can unwittingly lead sections of the left into their own specific campist positions. This problem reflects the complexity of contemporary late capitalism. There is no immunity to a dilemma arising from real contradictions, and which demands of the left respect for the complexity of the world as the prerequisite of analysis. For example it is understandable that supporters of the Syrian revolution will support any robber or bandit who is willing to help protect them from genocide. We understand that the interests of the robber or the bandit do not coincide with the revolution. If they did there would be absolutely no risk or price to be paid for accepting their aid. As the situation is, the problems of the revolution dictate that you would probably be a fool not to accept the aid offered despite the risks: we are discussing a real revolution no matter what the charlatans on the left say. Nevertheless we also see supporters of the Kurds appeal to the same logic—a logic that has partly led to, and reinforced the fragmentation of the left today. It is a difficulty that admits of no easy answers but again suggests scrupulous analysis of the geopolitical situation without succumbing to the merely geopolitical is a bare minimum for left politics. For example the support of any news source that challenges Russia or Iran but may perhaps be inflected by seemingly modest anti-Shia sectarianism can affect those who lose their critical faculties and hatch into something darker, say, uncritical support for Saudi foreign policy in the region.

In the case of the Syrian revolution, campism’s logical development is the complete denial of the agency of the revolutionary sections of Syrian society. The dominance of the ‘proxy war’ narrative and the idea that ‘the Saudi’s’ (or ‘Qatari’s’ or whoever) are behind everything, has flourished on the left like a stubborn Syria prejudice. But leftists and socialists should be very careful using the term ‘proxy war’. To begin with it is a term used by those who favour stability over revolution. It is the ‘view from the top’, originating in policy circles, right wing or liberal think tanks, elite universities and so on before migrating to the pages of the ‘serious° bourgeois broadsheets and employed to obscure the domestic social and political struggles of the region and opponents of the revolution outside the region. It is associated with the reduction of revolutions across the MENA to the interests of lesser and greater powers, the competing hierarchy of nation states, as well as bolstering the conspiracy theories of existing states like; for example, the absurd charge that Morsi’s ascendancy was part of a Qatari plot against the Egyptian nation. Have various powers tried to intervene in the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary war in Syria? Yes. Does this mean the struggle in Syria can be reduced to a ‘proxy war’? Emphatically not. Very simply to believe the struggle in Syria is reducible: to a ‘proxy war’ is to view the events of the last five years upside down. The wider jostling of states like Iran and Saudi Arabia is real enough but the Syrian struggle cannot be reduced to this deadly sub-imperialist conflict.

The idea that revolutions in this situation cease to exist and become instead ‘proxy wars’ reflects the same ‘view from the top’ that regards the masses as more or less useful pawns mobilised in the cause of someone else’s struggle. As a fundamentally elitist idea it obscures analysis in an expedient, conservative fashion and turns aside from the real complexity and tragedy embodied by real struggles. Geopolitics should be understood in terms of revolutions and social conflict, not the other way around. The fact that Marxists have largely not had a coherent analysis of these vast and tragic social upheavals does not justify turning away from these events in the hope that something better than reality will turn up to vindicate our theories. Such a ‘guide’ to life, such theory deserves to die horribly. Revolutions do not cease to be social upheavals simply because they do not subscribe to theoretical schemes concocted a century ago. Theory that does not illuminate beyond the bewitched circle is not worth a candle. The absorption of the language of Realism and the view from Mount Olympus is not a sign of the sophistication of today’s socialists but a symptom of their decrepitude.


1 Comment »

  1. Can’t quite believe there are no responses to this whatsoever. An absolutely brilliant summation and analysis of where we stand and what is to be done.

    Comment by Stephen Hero — April 15, 2016 @ 7:11 pm

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