Tag Archive | "ANSWER Coalition"

Eclectics or Dialectics? Unpacking PSL’s Defense of Racist, Collaborationist Tyrannies

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Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends published by Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is as thin politically as it page-wise. Clocking in at 46 pages, most of the book consists of freely available published material: a reprint from PSL’s newspaper, a Dissident Voice interview with Brian Becker who is the national director of PSL’s front group ANSWER Coalition, and a historical document, the Basel Manifesto. The only original work is Becker’s essay, “Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends,” which claims that socialist debates over imperialist intervention into the Arab Spring are the modern analog to the split within the socialist movement over World War One with myself as Plekhanov and PSL as – who else? – the Bolsheviks. (Whether Becker gets to play Lenin and Mazda Majidi Trotsky or vice versa in their 1914-1917 reenactment is unclear.)

The book is a reminder that seven dollars doesn’t buy much of anything these days.

Majidi’s article, “When Justifying Imperialist Intervention ‘Goes Wrong’” is a Revleft-style response to my essay, “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong.” Majidi’s strawmen speak for themselves and need not be enumerated here. However, his underlying method is of interest. He begins by asserting that, “All demonstrations and opposition movements [are] not progressive.” Undoubtedly this is true, and Majidi cites the Nazis and the Tea Party as examples. So far, so good. He then adds what he calls “color revolutions” to this list:

“Most color revolutions occurred in the former Soviet Republics, such as Georgia’s Rose Revolution, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution. But there have also been (successful or attempted) color revolutions in other countries, such as Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution in 2005 and Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009.”

What is a “color revolution” according to Majidi?

“Color revolutions usually include the formation of coherent and unified pro-imperialist political forces, which draw upon public discontent with economic distress, corruption and political coercion. They involve several operations, including the creation of division and disunity in the military and an intense propaganda campaign. … Elements who participate in such street protests are often a small part of the population and do not represent the sentiments of the majority of the people, much less the interests of the working class. In fact, many participants in the protests may not support the agenda of the right-wing leadership and its imperialist sponsors. Still, the imperialist propaganda campaign utilizes the protests, however large or small, to promote regime change and the ascension of a client state. The imperialists are not fools to do so; this is precisely what such ‘democratic’ movements produce absent an alternative working-class and anti-imperialist opposition.”

This is a description of associated features, not a rigorous definition.

Many of these features were present in the Egyptian revolution. The “coherent and unified pro-imperialist political force” known as the Muslim Brotherhood rode to power drawing “upon public discontent with economic distress, corruption and political coercion.” Their regime enjoys a much larger and firmer popular base than Mubarak’s decrepit dictatorship and in that narrow sense U.S. imperialism was strengthened rather than weakened by the January 25, 2011 revolution.

Does PSL consider the Egyptian case to be a “color revolution”? Of course not. Thus, the only consistency to PSL’s method is its inconsistency. Eclecticism is inevitable because PSL continually substitutes description for definition.

The next step in Majidi’s counter-argument is to ask, “What is the political character of the Syrian and Libyan rebels?” Earlier in the article, he poses questions of fundamental importance for approaching this issue:

“In his entire article, Binh conveniently assumes the very thing that needs to be proven—that the Libyan rebels and the Syrian opposition are revolutionary. This false premise, once accepted, leads to all sorts of false conclusions. What is the political character of the NTC-led rebels in Libya? What qualified them as revolutionaries? How does Binh determine that the Syrian opposition is revolutionary and the government counter-revolutionary? When analyzing an opposition movement anywhere in the world, this is the first question that needs to be asked.”

Wrong.

The first question that needs to be asked in assessing an opposition movement is: what is it a movement in opposition to? What is the class character of the regime it is coming into conflict with and why? Imagine trying to analyze the political character Occupy Wall Street without knowing the first thing about Wall Street! Majidi makes this exact mistake by assessing the Libyan edition of the Arab Spring without first examining the Ghadafi regime in any detail. Doing this would make defending the regime from the protest movement as PSL does impossible because the regime was guilty of the very things Majidi claims define the rebellion as reactionary and right-wing: racism, collaboration with imperialism, and pro-neoliberalism.

hanging4.7. 77

April 4, 1977, Bengazi. PSL’s “progressive” regime lynched students (without trial) every year on April 4 to “commemorate” the anniversary of a 1976 student uprising.

Racism: Much like the Polish, Ukranian, and other national minorities of Tsarist Russia, Libya’s Amazigh were forbidden from learning, speaking, or celebrating their language and culture by Ghadafi’s regime. Those that dared risked arrest and persecution.

Becker claims “Gaddafi had a lot of support from black Libyans who considered [his] Africa-centric foreign policy to be positive” (33). Does Becker believe Black Libyans supported Ghadafi when he made a racist deal with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to keep Italy free of Black immigrants, saying, “We should stop this illegal immigration. If we don’t, Europe will become Black, it will be overcome by people with different religions”?

Collaboration with Imperialism: Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends says not a word about how Ghadafi’s regime tortured people on behalf of the CIA and its British counterpart, MI6. Nor does it mention Ghadafi’s mass expulsion of thousands of Palestinian refugees in 1995 and his call on other Arab states to follow suit.

Neoliberalism: Majidi never discusses the Ghadafi regime’s embrace of neoliberalism, so comrade Becker’s words on page 27 may come as a shock:

“Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi’s government saw the handwriting on the wall and sought its own accommodation with the West. It adopted a set of neoliberal policies and invited major western oil companies to do business again, once sanctions had been lifted by Britain and the United States.”

So for PSL, it is acceptable for a racist, tyrannical regime to collaborate with U.S. imperialism and institute neoliberal policies but unacceptable for a revolt against this same regime to have racist, collaborationist, and neoliberal elements or characteristics. What is good for the goose is absolutely impermissible for the gander. When Ghadafi made deals with British Petroleum and other western oil companies, PSL said this was understandable and justified; when the post-Ghadafi government honored those same deals, PSL labeled it a pawn of imperialism.

This is doublethink masquerading as Marxist analysis.

Still, the question remains: was it correct to assume (as I did) that the Libyan edition of the Arab Spring was revolutionary and not reactionary, progressive and not regressive? If so, how do we make sense of PSL’s charges of racism, collaborationism, and neoliberalism on the part of the Libyan opposition?

The answer to the first question goes to the very heart of what the Arab Spring is – a series of bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Unlike socialist revolutions and national liberation movements, democratic revolutions are not necessarily anti-imperialist; the pro-imperialist post-revolutionary governments in Egypt and Tunisia prove this. While the socialist revolution is principally a struggle by and for the proletariat (in conjunction with other classes and oppressed groups to be sure) against the bourgeoisie as a whole, modern democratic revolutions pit oppositional sections of the bourgeoisie against ruling sections of the bourgeoisie. PSL points to the defection of neoliberal figures like Mahmoud Jibril from Ghadafi’s regime to the side of the rebellion as proof that it was reactionary while remaining oblivious to analogous neoliberal figures like Mohammad Morsi and Amr Moussa in the Egyptian revolution and Hamadi Jebali in the Tunisian revolution. PSL does not label these latter revolutions right-wing, reactionary, or “colored.”

Again, PSL’s consistent inconsistency is blindly obvious.

Having exposed PSL’s inability to grasp that bourgeois and neoliberal forces inevitably play a prominent role in modern democratic revolutions, what of their charges that the Libyan opposition was racist against Blacks and collaborated with imperialism? Does this not invalidate the claim that the Libyan opposition was democratic in character?

Historically speaking, democratic revolutions were not anti-racist nor even consistently democratic, the American revolution in which white slaveholders and racists played a dominant role being a prime example. The fact that bourgeois-democratic rights were not accorded to Blacks in 1776 and that America’s post-revolutionary government ruthlessly exterminated the continent’s indigenous peoples does not change the revolution’s democratic character. Libya’s democratic revolution in 2011 is no different in this respect.

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Salem Al-Shoushan

Libya’s Black Revolutionary Democrats

The problem for PSL and all those like Richard Seymour who saw Libya’s revolutionary democrats as little more than an anti-Black lynch mob is that they either deliberately ignored or were blissfully unaware of the significant number of Black Libyans fighting Ghadafi’s forces. This would have been impossible if anti-Black racism was the rule rather than the exception among the rebels. Southern rebel brigades made up of the Tuareg and Tebo peoples were almost all Black.

Libya’s rebels had more Black commanding officers than the Union did during the Civil War and they commanded non-Black and mixed race units.

Right: Rebel commander Wanis Abu-Khmada berates a group of rebels in the first days of the revolution for their lack of discipline.

Right: Rebel commander Abdul-Wahab Qayed. After the revolution, he was put in command of Libya’s border protection forces.

 

Thus, PSL’s depiction of Libyan rebels as Klansmen is counterfactual slander.

As for the charge of collaborating or allying with imperialism, undoubtedly this is true. The problem for PSL is that democratic revolutions – unlike socialist revolutions – are not anti-imperialist by definition, and there is no socialist equivalent of the 10 Commandments that forbids such collaboration on a temporary or limited basis. Majidi concedes this, writing:

“It is possible for one imperialist country, or a grouping of imperialist countries, to temporarily aid independence movements in the oppressed world in order to weaken the hold of their imperialist rivals in a different country.”

By the same token, it is possible for one imperialist country, or a grouping of imperialist countries, to temporarily aid democratic revolutions in rival states just as monarchist France aided America’s democratic revolution against British colonialism. Only a fool would conclude that independence movements and democratic revolutions in the oppressed world are reactionary because they receive temporary or limited aid from a reactionary power.

At the root of PSL’s litany of errors is their utter failure to understand democratic revolutions as Lenin and Marx did. This failure leads them to invent a distinction between the “good” Arab Spring (against pro-U.S. dictatorships) and the “bad” Arab Spring (against anti-U.S. dictatorships) instead of realizing that the Arab Spring is an internationalist struggle against all dictatorships. Every country affected by the Arab Spring saw a fight between bourgeois anti-democratic states on the one hand and bourgeois-democratic mass movements on the other; every one of these struggles and movements had and has progressive, democratic political content compared to the tyrannical governments they struggled to reform or remove.

Supporting one freedom struggle and not another is an exercise in the kind of selective hypocrisy characteristic of liberalism, as is the inability to recognize the difference between revolution and counter-revolution; PSL does both while claiming to be a Marxist organization.

PSL’s attempt to pass off eclecticism as Marxism is even more apparent in its internal documents. Richard Becker’s “A Class Analysis of the Revolutionary Upsurge in the Arab World” is a 6-page chronological summary that is as broad as it is superficial. It reads more like a Wikipedia entry than a thoroughgoing study of Libya’s development since 1969 when a bourgeois nationalist military coup ended the monarchy and inaugurated Ghadafi’s 42-year tyranny from the standpoint of historical materialism. Becker’s 277 words “analyzing” (read: describing) Libya contain no discussion of how Ghadafi imported right-less migrant labor to staff the oil industry, creating an unemployed lumpenproletariat among native Libyans, no discussion of the country’s changing class and state structures, and no recognition of Ghadafi’s impoverishment of the standing army in favor of irregular armies of snitches, spies, and enforcers dressed up as “revolutionary committees.” The national oppression of the Amazigh is invisible to Becker, mirroring Ghadafi’s racist insistence that the Amazigh people and culture simply did not exist.

Having failed to properly examine the context and the regime that gave rise to protests in Libya, Majidi moves on to sketch an alternate history of the revolution that conforms all too perfectly with his description of “color revolutions.” He uses the fact that the Libyan revolt could not beat the regime militarily in spring of 2011 as proof that it was not popular, not progressive, nor a genuine revolution; perhaps he has never heard of the Paris Commune of 1871 that was also unable to triumph militarily, or perhaps he believes the Commune to be the very first “color revolution” (orchestrated by German and British imperialists, no doubt). Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that Libya was the first instance in the Arab Spring where a capitalist state used lethal force against peaceful protests on a mass scale – the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions were fortunately never tested by this kind of wanton bloodshed. Ghadafi was the bloody vanguard of the Arab Spring’s counter-revolution, and his violent escalation prompted the democratic opposition led by the National Transition Council to seek military aid from imperialist powers that previously they rejected as unwanted and unnecessary.

If anyone is to blame for NATO’s intervention in Libya, it is Ghadafi. He chose to shoot unarmed protesters en masse, handing NATO the political capital it needed to step into what began as a peaceful struggle.

Majidi goes on to argue that because the NTC did not have the “support of the entire population,” it was a fake, reactionary, unpopular “color revolution,” as if there has ever been a revolution in world history that was an exercise in unanimity! As evidence of popular support for Ghadafi, he points to a single state-sponsored rally of hundreds of thousands held in Tripoli “in the midst of the massive NATO bombing” (never mind the fact that NATO attacked only a handful of targets in Tripoli’s vicinity that day). What he omits is that Ghadafi was an unelected autocrat with an entire state apparatus (including a secret police) at his disposal to coerce people to show up, and, most damningly, that there has been not one pro-Ghadafi rally in all of Libya in the almost two years since the regime’s demise. If Ghadafi’s support emanated organically from the grassroots and not from the networks of patronage created by his regime’s oil money, this would not be the case.

Regardless of what position one took on the character of the Libyan opposition back in 2011, what is indisputable today in 2013 is that Ghadafi’s repressive bourgeois state machine was smashed and razed to the ground by the self-armed population organized in militias, that there is no secret police to terrorize the masses, that strikes, protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins are now regular occurrences, that freedom of the press and expression exist, that victims of racist oppression like the Amazigh have made advances, that unlike Kosovo NATO has no bases there, and that free and fair elections for a legislature were held to inaugurate a democratic republic. All of this is a great leap forward, a tremendous democratic gain for Libya’s oppressed and exploited that vindicates those who understood the Libyan opposition to be progressive, revolutionary, and democratic in character and serves as an irrefutable rebuke to those like PSL who slandered the opposition as monarchist(!), racist, unpopular, and reactionary.

Even stranger than PSL’s defense of racist, collaborationist tyrannies in Libya and Syria from the Arab Spring’s democratic revolutions is their assertion that today’s imperialism and the tasks it poses for socialists remain almost totally unchanged from Lenin’s time. In the face of wars like Libya and Mali where Iraq-style colonization is not the name of the game, PSL can evidently only repeat 100-year-old formulas about anti-colonial wars and revolutionary defeatism.

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Standing with independent bourgeois nationalist governments as they slaughter their own peoples by the tens of thousands because said governments have conflicts of interest with imperialist powers is altogether different from standing with national liberation movements like the Vietnamese NLF who battled the slaughter wrought by French and American occupiers. The first is criminal stupidity, the second is anti-imperialism.

Two opposing trends indeed.

Posted in Anti-war, Book reviews

No Libyans allowed at ANSWER Libya Forum

Clay Claiborne, who I know from the anti-war days in L.A., details the pinheaded ANSWER Coalition and their physically blocking Libyans from entering their Libya forum. Yes, you read that right.

Because, you see, for PSL (the Marxist party that controls ANSWER), it always about them and nothing else. Further, if the US ever supports something, in the Manichean world of PSL it becomes instantly wrong. Always. Shades of gray are never permitted. And the other side must then automatically be supported. I can’t think of a better example of how the hard left has marginalized itself almost completely than this increasingly bizarre micro-cult. In practice, they are indistinguishable from the fanatic Christians they detest.

(I was in ANSWER then PSL for a bit. Got purged but was walking away from their Loony Tunes world anyway. “I used to be disgusted, but now I’m just amused.” Onward.)

Posted in Anti-war, Politics

Nonviolence does not equal complacency

I went to a protest in Philadelphia this past Saturday, and it was more disheartening than anything else.  It was against the wars and various other injustices, with a special focus on he recent FBI raids of peace activists and Pennsylvania Homeland Security spying on innocent civilians and activists.

By the end of it, I kind of just felt like going up to the megaphone and asking, “How much moral outrage can one person muster?  There are more people handing out fliers here than not, and with this country committing so many disgusting, outrageous acts, I don’t blame you.”  I won’t lie, I handed a few out myself.  Yet the contrast between the righteous causes featured in the speeches and on the signs and on the fliers and the, as a fellow protester said to me, “complete lack of solidarity” was striking.

However, I don’t believe that we should stop protesting or that we need to find another way to be activists (although protesting is by no means the only way to be an activist).  Old fashioned protests have always worked and they will continue to work.  But what I went to Saturday – and it is similar to many other antiwar protests I’ve been to, and I’m sure it’s similar to many other demonstrations by progressives, socialists, and the like – was too lethargic, too focused on recruiting for outside groups (like the ANSWER Coalition, as Bob has focused on before), and too passive to do anything other than serve as a large meeting for peace supporters.

The only thing we shut down was part of a bike lane and half a road in the business district of Philadelphia.  No one really cared, although we got some positive honks from drivers and some of them were probably annoyed.  Maybe that could be the antiwar movement’s new slogan:  “We’ll slightly inconvenience you until the wars, the empire, the torture, the spying, the ecological destruction, and the general disrespect toward life is over!”

When I got home, I saw this video on the blog Docudharma, which just compounded my feelings:

In France, the nation is being shut down.  Why?  Because the retirement age could be raised by two years.  Even then, it would still be three years younger than what it is in America!  Not to mention, similar protests are happening all over Europe.

In the comments at Docudharma, I said something similar to what I’m saying here, and I got a good reply, from user Activist Guy.  You can read the whole thing here, but basically he said screw the permit or march at night and bang on pots and pans or go through neighborhoods where this affects people instead of the business district.  And he’s right.  The protests in Europe are, for the most part, nonviolent.  Yet they are incredibly effective because of their numbers and their tactics.

For now, the antiwar movement doesn’t have numbers.  Neither do most movements, because we’ve become a very passive nation.  So we must utilize the numbers we do have, whether through coordinated civil disobedience (not just getting arrested for show, but actually affecting others’ lives, by doing things like blocking off streets without permission) or well-organized protests that emulate groups such as  the militant Wobblies, who utilized their small numbers incredibly effectively.  In any case, we’ve got to get the energy back.  That is what will bring people into the movements, and show them that the alternative to the failure of Washington is not copping out and becoming even more passive, but taking politics into their own hands.

By the way, this is my first post on PoliZeros, and I just want to thank Bob Morris for letting me write here.  I’ve been reading his blog for a bit of time now and I’ve always enjoyed it.  It’s one of the more thoughtful and open political blogs on the web, and I’m proud to now be adding to that.

Posted in Anti-war, Government spying

Redbaiting on Left? Blackout of March 21 antiwar protest?

join communist party

John Walsh at Counterpunch says liberals have censored any mention of the upcoming ANSWER antiwar protests this Saturday in DC, LA, and SF because one of the major players is Marxist. Thus, it’s red-baiting by UFJP, MoveOn, and the rest.

Now some in UFPJ have characterized A.N.S.W.E.R. as loony lefties because a leading member is a group calling itself “Marxist-Leninist.”  Zowie, kids!  That is really scary!

That’s a little inaccurate. PSL, the Marxist group being referred to, isn’t a leading member group in ANSWER, it’s more like the only group, the rest being non-players. And before someone foams at the mouth at me about this, I was a member of both groups for quite a while.

There’s been bad blood between UFJP and ANSWER for a long time. So it’s hardly news that UFJP isn’t supporting ANSWER now. Besides, founder of UFJP Leslie Cagan was a member of the Communist Party before founding a splinter group, the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. So, I’m unclear how an alleged blackout of an antiwar march by one red against another could be called red-baiting.

But that’s not what’s happening. Rather, everyone is almost completely focused on the economy, Ponzi schemes, AIG, job loss, the recession, etc, The war is not front page news now. That’s why it looks like turnout for Saturday’s protests will be dismal. People are preoccupied with the economy. It’s not because of supposed red-baiting.

The ANSWER protest in DC this Saturday will deliver coffins to corporate offices of companies profiting from the war. A dramatic gesture perhaps, but one that will not resonate much in these economic hard times. Maybe a better tactic would have been to tie the antiwar protests to the enormous amounts of money spent there which could be better spent here to help our own citizenry. Now that would have resonance.

Posted in Anti-war, Socialism

UFJP leadership pretends to oppose the war

Monthly Review details the latest UFJP national conference where they spent inordinate amounts of time discussing procedural issues (always a sign of an organization in decline or crisis) then sort of voted to sort of oppose the Iraq War without, of course, attempting to mend fences with ANSWER so a national protest could be truly unified. Of course, ANSWER isn’t exactly trying hard either.

UFPJ’s leadership didn’t respond to this call for unity, and instead proposed local actions on March 19 and a spring national mobilization in New York City on April 4. Asserting that the antiwar movement alone isn’t capable of mobilizing sufficient forces and would risk alienating the Black community if it directly confronted Obama, the New York City march will have a slogan “Yes we can . . . End the war” — but will emphasize a broad range of issues, such as corporate crime on Wall Street, the financial crisis, health care, and environmental justice, among other issues.

Like there aren’t plenty of Blacks who oppose the war… The UFJP peace stance, which is primarily coming from their leadership, not the rank and file, is so milquetoast as to be ridiculous. But this jibes with the quixotic long-term goal of their hard left leadership to take control of the left flank of the Democratic Party.

UFJP also appears to think that Obama is somehow a Leftie in disguise.

from one misguided participant:

McNary went on to describe Obama as our “quarterback” — and say that the movement’s task is to “block” for him.

Bzzzt. Obama is a moderate, not a leftie. He will do plenty of things the Left disagrees with. Our job is not to run interference for him, assuming we even had the power to do that.

Unfortunately, UFPJ has created artificial obstacles to building a united movement this spring. But given the new political climate in the U.S., this is hardly the time for inactivity. Antiwar activists should support and mobilize both for the March 21 demonstration in Washington, D.C., as well as UFPJ’s multi-issue April 4 demonstration in New York City.

And how about both organizations stop banging their rattles on the high chair and instead join together to end the wars rather than engage in narrow-minded sectarian infighting designed primarily to boost their membership, status on the left, and hidden agendas?

Posted in Anti-war


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