A Debate on Imperialist Intervention in Libya.

Opposition to the military intervention in Libya has been muted in the UK, and positions on the left have been exposed by the tension between support for democratic struggle in the Middle East and a deep distrust of Western motives. This is an edited version of an online discussion between Commune members between 20-25 March, which aimed not at expressing a final position but exploring some of the contradictions.

Dave Spencer: Perhaps because I am from Coventry and was born during the Blitz, I am totally opposed to the bombing of civilians. Of course the imperialists have their own agenda which up till now has included links with Gaddafi.  However, I think the Stop the War position [blanket opposition] is wrong.

If the intervention of the imperialist allies leads to the victory of democratic forces in Libya, then that is a good thing for the revolutionary process taking place in the Middle East which will be a beacon to the rest of the world. The question for the imperialists is whether they can control this situation. They haven’t much option but to try… The international working class at the moment is asleep. To stand any real chance of organising, there is a need for democratic freedoms.

I think any analysis should stem from basic principles. Opposition to the massacre of civilians is a basic principle. Revolutionary struggle from below is another.  Support for the working class within that revolutionary struggle is another.

Shlomo Anker: The Left articles I read… all ignore what the Arab Masses and specifically Libyan Masses are saying. I am not saying they all support the Air Strikes and I am not saying they are right, but I am saying their opinion is being ignored. The fact that the people of Benghazi seem to be pro-air strikes should just be added to our opinion (although i’m not saying we should agree with them on everything)….I think Benghazi’s population is 600,000. And there were 3 main rallies calling for a No Fly Zone and estimates were between 10,000 to 50,000 people attending. Tahrir square demos had the same numbers and Cairo is 17 million people. So I think there is no question there is mass support for the No Fly Zone in Benghazi. Not sure about Tripoli. In terms of the Arab Street, in Palestine etc, just judging from friends, blogs, Facebook groups, there is far more support for this than Iraq War, and extremely low opposition (in comparison to Gaza War, Iraq War).

Mark E: I’d like to know who the opposition to Gaddafi is and what is the basis of their support. Secondly, which sections of society are backing Gaddafi? Why was there no mass uprising in Tripoli? No doubt if Gaddafi had retaken Benghazi there would have been reprisals but I’m not convinced there was a big risk of a humanitarian disaster. However, it would have been good to see the Gaddafi regime fall and I am disappointed that the rebellion is under threat but I can only conclude that the support for Gadaffi is a lot broader than we have been led to expect by the western media. As such I’m sceptical whether western intervention is going to resolve anything here although I must admit I have wavered in this I don’t want to see the rebellion fail either! Having said that, though, undoubtedly there is a mix of motives for this intervention including a recognition of the strategic importance of Libya’s oil as well as a liberal humanitarianism. This doesn’t make it easy to take a position without that analysis of the composition of Libyan society.

David Broder: I am not sure to what extent the fact of the rebellion demands any less criticism of what France, UK, US etc are doing. Is this really so different from what our attitude would be to the US bombing a peaceable but totalitarian régime’s military installations? Monstrous though Gaddafi’s crimes (particularly in recent weeks) are, they actually pale in comparison to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. ‘Inaction’ in 2003 would also have meant allowing him to continue crushing the population, but it was clearly right to oppose the war.

The so-called no-fly zone has the clear intention of reviving the idea of humanitarian intervention and thus could have far wider, more dangerous consequences than is immediately obvious. Moreover, since the régime is not cracking apart like in Egypt, it could just mean a longer and more deadly war and harsher reprisals by the régime = more deaths. Of course, the intervention does not in any way justify such actions, but presumably it will be useful for Gaddafi’s propaganda purposes. Given that the rebellion is/was on the verge of defeat, I find it hard to see how these latest actions will help it win the popular support which it apparently lacks

Of course, we should defend the rebels’ right to organise and other such civil liberties regardless of their politics. But while they know the situation better than us, we also have to consider who they are and what they want. Are the calls for western intervention representative of the whole movement, is this movement representative of popular opinion? In Iraq democrats like [Ahmed] Chalabi supported the 2003 US-UK invasion, but that certainly didn’t represent the will of the majority of the population.

Taimour Lay: Was the rebellion on the point of defeat because of lack of popular support or because of the imbalance of arms? Mark rightly wonders why Tripoli did not ‘rise up’ – it’s impossible for us to say. It may be that the security services were that much more concentrated there, or this was seen as a revolt by ”them” (the easterners/Warfalla ”tribe”) or the state was able to placate them quickly through patronage and oil money. Or, as was the case in Tajura, a district of Tripoli which hit the streets quite early on, the crackdown was hard.

If it’s about an imbalance of arms, presumably this bombing will be accompanied by the funneling of arms to the ”rebels”, who will be encouraged to hold their ground and then move west.

So a long, messy, protracted, western-fuelled civil war? Or an unopposed crackdown by Gaddafi on Benghazi followed by a long period of reprisal? Two bad options. Are we forced into supporting or opposing this? Can we not simply provide an analysis and see the two bad options as a product of something utterly rotten and dysfunctional? Or is that copping out?

The humanitarian aspect here does exist. It’s too crude to call it a fig-leaf. Surely the uprising has created the conditions in which 1) it can’t be business as usual with Gaddafi, even after he ‘wins’ a civil war and 2) it hobbles domestic opposition to the strikes (unless on pacifist grounds). People were wondering last year: what will be Cameron’s Falklands? Where could he possibly find a war to distract us all? In many ways he can’t have wished for a better combination of circumstances than this one.

Dave: In my opinion it is a matter of basic principle rather than analysis. We are communists and should support democratic revolution from below. There is a process of revolution from below starting in the Middle East which might even spread further. The revolt in Libya against Gaddafi is part of this process. The situation in Iraq was quite different….We cannot support Gaddafi and we cannot say “Leave it to the Libyan people themselves,” since Gaddafi has massive fire power. We must be for the rebels and against the dictators. Calling for “analysis” seems to me like fiddling while Rome burns.

Mark: Dave’s view is that communists should support democratic revolutions in principle, and therefore unreservedly. On the surface I think this is a reasonable position to take and indeed I can’t recall any time where I have not supported such a principle when the issue has arisen. However, we have to be careful here in that we shouldn’t fetishise bourgeois democracy at the expense of a commitment to proletarian democracy and communism. What would be of interest to me in the current situation in Libya would be whether there any working class initiatives which go beyond a formal bourgeois democracy; and if not, why not?

Secondly, taking a stand on the principle in support of bourgeois democracy does not entail that we call for its enforcement using any means necessary. There is no necessary logical step that we must take from supporting the Libyan uprising to calling for western military intervention in its support. Even if we agreed that military intervention would be a positive thing, this is a separate argument from supporting a democratic revolution. So for example, would we have called for NATO military intervention in support of Hungarian workers in 1956 and Czechoslovak workers in 1968? I think we would have supported the democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe around that time and indeed I’m sure we all did around 1989 but calling for military intervention is a different matter. Why? Because not only does it change the character of the revolution from one ‘from below’ to one which depends predominantly on being enforced ‘from above’ (literally in the case of Libya) but the dynamic of military intervention is likely to favour the consolidation of western dominance of the region.

So while I agree with Dave and Shlomo that we should support these democratic revolutions I’m unconvinced that this means we necessarily then have to support western intervention. However, I would be convinced that western intervention is something that we need to support if it was likely that it would forestall some form of genocide. I may be wrong but there is nothing to suggest that this is likely to occur if Gaddafi’s troops retake Benghazi.

I think we can simply provide an analysis which in the end might not come down on one side or the other. There may not be a good choice between support for military intervention and allowing the civil war to unfold without that. It may be that either way will not be beneficial for the Libyan people. I’d rather see them try to deepen the revolution into a social revolution – in which case they would never get the support of the governments of the West….

Barry Biddulph: Today in Libya, Egypt and so on, why would democracy be limited to bourgeois democracy? The Arab revolution is not restricted in advance to bourgeois democracy. We should support and call for mass democracy from below. Simply raising questions is not enough. But we cannot support “western” intervention. Britain France and USA, have their own agenda as we have seen. Their humanitarianism is pure hypocrisy. Western imperialism plays into Gaddafi’s hands and discredits the opposition in the eyes of the Arab masses.

Talk of a countrywide massacre was propaganda and exaggerated. If the western imperialists wanted the rebels in Benghazi to defend and organize themselves they would have supplied arms to the rebels as requested. The breathing space was for the imperialists to impose control over the revolutionary process.

Let’s not fall into the trap of saying that,Cameron is more civilised than Gaddafi so we support the coalition. The death and destruction caused by western wars is hardly a lesser evil or something to give critical support.

Joe Thorne: It is a difficult debate. There are basically two positions on the revolutionary left (no one says “support intervention”, I believe). These are: “oppose intervention” (everyone except AWL) and: “No trust in or support for the US and other imperialist powers! If they impose a no fly zone over Libya or bomb Qaddafi’s forces, they will do it in their own brutal way and for their own cynical, profit-ensuring reasons! Solidarity with the Libyan revolution, and specifically democratic and working-class forces within it!” (AWL)

The pointed thing about it, of course, to be considered alongside the broadly positive content of the words themselves, is that they avoid opposing the bombing of Libya. What I’d say is that you can “neither support nor oppose” in principle, but it’s not necessarily a catch-all response to get you out of engagement. All these slogans only mean something on the basis that they express positions we would implement practically if we were able to, or close to being able to do so.

What if the movement was in a position to stop the bombing? For example, if we had influence in the armed forces? What then? You’d have to jump one way or another. Just like if you were to say “neither for nor against the invasion of Iraq” in 2003, it would be politically indefensible. So what makes this different? Could be a few things. But not necessarily obvious qualitative differences.

We can be both against intervention, and against Gaddafi (and hence take no responsibility for either). The difficulty comes with the point that a movement in this country would immediately have much more capacity to practically implement one side of that equation than the other: i.e. it could more easily stop intervention than Gaddafi. I can’t see a way out of it based on the assumption that one must take responsibility for whatever results from one’s slogans being implemented in practice but in isolation from an international communist workers’ movement which would have the capacity to make them more than purely negative.

Mark: I’m not in favour of supporting military intervention. However, to actively oppose it, is be complicit in the crushing of that rebellion – let’s say by disrupting the intervention (if we had communists in the armed forces or military suppliers – which would be more likely).We would be thanked by Gaddafi but not by the rebels, at least by those who have spoken in favour of intervention. This is not a good position to be in.

So maybe neutrality towards the intervention is a reasonable stance to take in this case? I don’t know. That would mean of course a policy of non-disruption of the intervention. In a sense it would mean being complicit in the re-assertion of western influence in the region if that occurred (which is likely), but as the AWL say it could be opposed in other ways, along with building solidarity links with the left elements of the rebellion.

Barry: But now imperialist intervention gives credibility to Gaddafi and will help establish an imperialist friendly regime that will not allow revolutionaries to operate, to put it mildly. Imperialist intervention could lead not to averting a defeat in Benghazi, as asserted by the AWL, but to an overall defeat for the revolution.

Adam Ford: To be a communist is to take the side of the working class, and the working class only. Not one faction or other of the ruling class, in the (mistaken, in my view) belief that they would treat working class people better. Therefore, we must oppose imperialist intervention in all its forms, including the policing of a ‘no-fly zone’ against the Gaddafi regime. (Even the no-fly thing is now clearly a fig leaf, after the bombing of the Gaddafi compound and other targets – they want regime change).

‘The rebels’ are not a homogenous block. As always, there are class divisions. Many of the self-appointed ‘Transitional’ leaders are ex-Gaddafi generals, who saw that they were losing a few weeks ago, or saw an opportunity to step out from Gaddafi’s shadow, and went over to the other side. They are the ones providing most of the equipment being used to fight Gaddafi’s forces, and they will demand positions of power over the working class should they be victorious. The democratic (and behind them, material) aspirations of the working class will not be met by holdovers from the Gaddafi regime, any more than they will be met by holdovers from the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes in Tunisia and Egypt respectively.

It is western imperialism that creates the power of Middle Eastern dictators, and it is only the power of the international working class that can overthrow them. Mubarak fell precisely at the point when a strike wave went through Egypt, and the same appears to be happening in Bahrain. This is where the power of working class people lies – not begging arms from this or another general for an insurrection, or begging support from imperialists.

Joe: The distinction AWL makes is between a general opposition to both sides (which they say they have, and which most but not all of them probably hold sincerely); and an agitational slogan meant to secure a specific outcome, in a context in which our slogans would – we could imagine – have impact only against one of the sides which we oppose. Now, you could argue that this sort of analysis amounts to assuming a strong movement here, but not there (since it would need to be supported), as the hypothetical context in which the slogan’s value would be tested – and that this is patronising, or just ad hoc and baseless.  But neither is it inconceivable that a strong enough movement here would never be faced with a Libya-type situation abroad.

There’s a culture on the ultra-left and among left communists of proclaiming, quite abstractly, opposition to almost everything, and then sitting back and feeling well pleased with the avoidance of  left mistakes.  A lot of the time, there’s something in this.  But what it misses, and what some Trots have due to a stronger and more engaged activist tradition, is a sense of the potential material consequences of raising a slogan: it’s not just raised in order to give a specific expression to the general position of independence from all sides, it’s actually meant as something which they intend […] to realise.

With respect to the power of the working class.  It isn’t expressed in a universal way, independent of the real level of development and form of the economy.  An oil based economy without a developed industrial base, or indeed a developed ruling class outside of the state clique, such as Libya, is far less vulnerable to the sort of strikes (outside oil) that finished off Mubarak.  This is the pattern in spigot economies throughout Africa and the Middle East. Any mass revolutionary movement at all was always likely to take on a military character.

Mark: My question, then: Is anti-imperialism a principle or a position which depends on situational context, so that there can be exceptions to taking an anti-imperialist stance? Similarly, is humanitarianism a principle or a position which depends on situational context, so that there can be exceptions to acting on humanitarian grounds? If both are principles then we are then in the realms of philosophical debate at best.

Joe: Of course, we don’t come to the question fresh, naive, and without a pre-existing analysis of imperialism. But that analysis ought to feed in to how we see the particular dynamics, not substitute for them.

Dave: I think we need to understand imperialism at a time of a recession in global capitalism…The USA cannot go throwing its weight about like it used to, even if it wanted to. We also need to analyse this new phenomenon of the democratic revolutions. There are imperialist powers in a mess and the masses rising up against this mess to change their regimes. They are asking for support in Libya from the imperialist powers. The imperialist powers are in a  spot. Of course, they have their own agenda and  you can’t trust them. But if they go beyond what is asked from them by the rebels they will be discredited in the eyes of the world. If the intervention works then more rebellions can be expected.

Barry: The western intervention is popular at the moment with the population of Benghazi, but in the medium and long-term the imperialist damage to the interests of the Arab Masses could be greater. And looking to western intervention will weaken any independent fight from below. when those Northern Ireland Catholics in Belfast in 1969 celebrated the arrival of British Troops, little did they know what lay ahead: internment, Bloody Sunday,  death squads. Tony cliff and the IS group did not oppose the intervention of British troop claiming the troops would provide a breathing space of safety for the Catholics to organise. In fact, the troops undermined the independent organisation of the nationalists as Catholics looked to the troops for security. The intervention of the troops was not progressive but provided space for a British imperialist solution.

Has the leopard changed its spots? Imperialism is not progressive as claimed by the AWL. Can imperialist intervention in the interests of the capitalist ruling class in France Britain and the USA simultaneously represent the interests of the international working class or the Arab Masses contrary to the Communist ABC?

And if our rulers can act in this manner indirectly in our interests then surely we can change the domestic coalitions policy as well. Forget class lines; we can cross them. Like a broken clock, the Con-Dem coalition at home and abroad can sometimes be correct. There will be a time  when our interests coincide. This ignores the history of imperialism in general which caused the problems in the region in the first place, shaped the regimes, drew lines on maps dividing the Arab people and it does not take seriously the nature of capitalism or respect the history of independent working class opposition.

44 thoughts on “A Debate on Imperialist Intervention in Libya.

  1. Comrades,

    A very interesting and intelligent debate. I have just seen the latest comment from the AWL, where Sean quotes Trotsky.

    “An individual, a group, a party, or a class that “objectively” picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive.”

    This, of course, seems a powerful argument, and statement of Trotsky’s position under such circumstances. But, in fact this quote tells us a lot about the AWL’s politics, and less about what a communist position should be. Firstly, the AWL present this quote within a specific context, in which they have been arguing that the possibility of a massacre in Benghazi means that we have to put to one side our opposition to Imperialism. But, in fact, doing that is essentially to distort what Trotsky is saying.

    What is it exactly that Trotsky is saying here? He is saying that under such conditions Communists must ACT! But, the AWL’s position is based upon the notion of NOT ACTING!!!

    Secondly, it tells us a great deal about the politics of the AWL, and the fact that it has completely lost faith in ability of the working class to act independently. If we were to base ourselves on Trotsky’s statement above then its real indictment of the “Left”, and of the AWL, would be, not that it opposed Imperialism, but that if failed to act itself, that the Left failed to be able to mobilise the working class to provide its own independent solution to the situation in Libya, and elsewhere, to provide its own military fighting forces as was done by the International Brigade in Spain, to organise industrial action by workers in the amrs industry, and shipping industries to ensure that arms were diverted towards Libyan workers. The fact, that other smaller, less well organised groups such as Al Qaeda are able to do this, that even pacifist and humantiarian groups such as Medicin Frontieres are able to organsie such international intervnetion, should provide a sense of deep and lasting shame within the international Labour Movement, 150 years after Marx set up the International for precisely such purposes.

    And, this is the real key to what our response should be now. Our position can only be to put forward a Communist solution, whether we have the reesources to implement it or not. We should do so, only because by putting forward such solutions, and adopting a strategy and tactics based arouynd it, will it ever be possible to build an international working-class movement based on sound principles, and that WILL be able to muster the forces to be able to effectively intervene. That indeed was the nature of the debate between the Minority and Majority in the AWL over Iraq, and the Minority were right to argue the need to raise the demand for troops out in the context of building a working-class movement capable of implementing that demand.

    The reality is that if we had the forces to intervene in the way Joe states above – which is unlikely, because as Trotsky set out against the Stalinists who thought it was possible to control the foreign policy of the capitalist state rather than needing to overthrow it – then we WOULD have the forces needed to directly intervne ourselves in Libya. We would not waste our time OPPOSING Imperialist intervnetion to that extent, because we would be too busy sending our own forces to fight alongside the Libyan workers!!! But, this is where the quotes I have provided from Trotsky elsewhere are significant, in regard to the fact that to fight for liberation in a country like Libya, it is also necessary to fight Imperialism. For can anyone doubt that if we had such forces at our disposal, if we were able to send them to effectively intervne on behalf of the Libyan workers, that Imperialism would stand idly by???? Of course, not. They would immediately find the basis to find common cause not only with Gaddafi, but with all of those apaprently many reactionary forces that are to be found within the so called “rebel” Camp!

    Our focus should be not to get bound up with the limited goal of bouregois democracy, and to concentrate on attempting to build up the working class in Libya as elsewhere. As I have set out in my blog Loose Talk, what has been so poor in the Left’s response has been the almost complete lack of any kind of analysis of the forces within the “rebel camp”. It is ironic that the AWL, which based part of its opposition to the call for “Troops Out” in Iraq, on the fact that the “rebels” were clerical-fascists, now find themselves uncritically supporting literally the same forces – indeed the BBC showed recently that these forces in Libya, from just one town provided by far the largest number of jihadists fighting against the US/UK in Iraq! The Communist position on the National and Colonial Question is quite clear in arguing that we have NO requirement to support such forces which will be the hangmen of the workers.

    It may be that the consequences of non-intevention by Imperialism would have been a massacre in Benghazi. Our responsibility was to argue for, and help mobilise a workers force internationally to come to the defence of the workers there, not to support an imperialist intervnetion, which on so many occasions as in Iraq, has been seen to cause even greater levels of death and destruction, and to do so in a way that can only weaken the working-class. The fact that we are not able to do so, should cause us shame, and cause us to begin the work of rebuilding the labour movment to remedy that situation. It should not cause us to macquiesce in our weakness, and instead rely on our class enemies. It is an indication of the politics of the AWL – and indeed of most of the Left – that it did not even raise such a demand, and instead can only see the options in such situations of relying on one of the two factions of the enemy class camp either Imperialism or Anti-Imperialist forces.


  2. Just as an addendum. I have just been ploughing through the “discussion” on the AWL website. It really is hard work, ebcause as many commentators have pointed out the AWL always seem to substitute invective and abuse for rational argument even against those whose comments such as “Tom” are quite measured and reasonable. It speaks volumes to the Stalinist nature of their organisation.

    However, the question that arises from all of the AWL’s argument is this. If the basis is the need to prevent an “immediate” massacre, why did they OPPOSE the intervention of Russian forces to prevent the genocidal massacre that was already underway, and being carried out by Georgian troops in South Ossetia??? On that occasion they came out with all of the correct arguments about opposing external intervention by states, and the need for a workers soluiton to such situations that they now oppose when made in respect of Libya.

    The horrific nature of the genocidal mattacks being undertaken by Georgia were illustrated by Newsnight’s Tim Whewell in his report here. In fact, although the AWL did eventually take a position of opposing the Russian intervnetion, whilst condemning the Georgian massacres, in the days preceding that, Jim Denham, at Shiraz Socialist, produced posts which doubted that Saakashvilli was undertaking such terrible crimes. Its notable that one of the arguments the AWL use today, is to accuse those who oppose the intervention by Imperialism, of essentially doubting that Gaddafi would carry through such a massacre.

    But, in fact, this zsigging-and zagging of position to oppose Russian intervention, whilst not opposing Imperialist intervnetion in Serbia or in Libya – the AWL have also had little to say about the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo now that the Albanians are in control under the auspice of imperialist protection, just as htey had little to say about the actions of the KLA in attacking Serbs in Kosoxo prior to the intervnetion, and which gave the pretext for Milosevic’s attacks – is typical of the AWL’s politics. It is typical of Stalinist politics in general.

    The same could be seen with the AWL’s position in Iraq compared with its position re. Soviet troops in Afghanistan. In the former it argued that it was not right to argue for troops out because it would lead to a Civil War, the victory of the Sunni Clerical-fascists and so on. Yet it argued for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the clear knowledge that such a withdrawal would lead to a bloody Civil War, to the rise of the Mujaheddin, who were to become the Taliban and so on.

    The AWL’s politics are not grounded on objectivity or principle, but prurely on subjectivism. They decide which position they will adopt depending upon who they have chosen to support, and then justify their decision afterwards, finding whatever arguments they think might justify it, backed up with some grotesquely distorted quotes from Trotsky. In short they have decided that Democratic Imperialism is “good”, and anything else is bad. Their positions are based on supporting the former and opposing the latter – except where the latter as with the Islamists in Libya, or those such as Sistani in Iraq are themselves clients of Imperialism.

    As with Stalinism which operated with the same methodology, the constant zigging and zagging from one position to another, and the need to justify it with the most ridiculous antics leads to the need to dismiss any credible arguments against it by whatever means are necessary. That is why all arguments on the AWL website quickly degenerate into namecalling – though the fact that it has never grown above being simply a student debating society makes the tendency towards infantilism worse – and abuse, in order to avoid actually dealing with rational argument. It is why they have routinely resorted to censorship of comments. It is why once any Minority arises within its own organisation it has to be dealt with by the same kinds of methods as used against external challengers.


  3. I came across this quote at the ICFI website which puts the Trotsky quote in context.

    <a href=http://wsws.org/articles/1995/dec1995/balk-d14.shtml?Trotsky On The Balkans War of 1912-3


  4. In the debate I made the points that imperialist intervention could lead to the overall defeat for the revolution and weaken the independent fight from below. The counter revolutionary nature of the imperialist intervention has now become clearer. The question now is: what is left of the spontaneous revolution from below ? Moshe machover in the Weekly worker writes that the revolution has been defeated.

    Moshe describes the AWL as social imperialists. certainly the AWL’s neutrality in the conflict was bogus. It was a double cop out: not opposing imperialist intervention and not openly supporting the imperialist intervention as progressive. The underlying ,consistent position of the AWL is that imperialism is progressive. Moshe regards Gilbert Achar as a comrade ,but Gilbert claimed that the imperialists were receptive to public opinion or humanitarian concern about human life in Benghazi. What makes western governments more prograssive for Gilbert is the weight of public opinion on policy makers. This is not a communist view or an independent working class stance. Take the Humanitarian concern for the impact of the cuts on the most vulnerable here in Britain. Would we bring the weight of this concern onto the Coalition government and advocate public opinion changing the governments policy? There is the small matter of class interest. The imperialist intervention was based on western capitalist interest not humanitarianism. The imperialists have been selective. Why not intervene eleswhere where there has been killing of protesters.

    Gerry Downing of socialist fight argues that the Libyan Rebels as a movement were all counter revolutionary from the outset. Rebel leaders,particularly former Gaddafi ministers and army officers are not revolutionary and would form part of any reshaped imperialist regime, but why describe the youth led spontaneous uprising against the gaddafi regime, in Libya, as counter revolutionary? This position is not based on any facts or empirical investigation or information, but on loyalty to the first four congress decisions of the third international. Specifically the second congress on the colonial and national question. This is the Leninist critical support for nationalists, even dictators as progressive. The AWL position is a one sided reaction to this view. Gerry seems to overlook the fact that thesis on nationalism and colonialism is at odds with Trotskys theory of permanent revolution. Trotsky placed himself in the cult of Lenin and placed on one side his theory which he did not apply internationally until I think1926. Even then he sometimes applied lenins position and sometimes a mixture of his own and Lenins. But his most influencial position and one that has influenced gerry is the one theoretical example, of supporting a brazilian fascist dictator against imperialism in 1936.

    So Gaddafi is in a sense progressive against imperialism. Although in the current issue of the weekly worker gerry hedges his bets. Gaddafi is justifiably a brutal dictator against pro imperialist forces but unjustifiably a brutal dictator towards workers. But this theoretical inconsistency was always at the center of the third international thesis.


  5. Trotsky On The Balkans War of 1912-3.

    Reading this article again in more detail, I was struck by the similarity of the attitude taken at the time by the WRP criticised in the article, and by the position adopted by the AWL. It is no coincidence as suggested above that we find similar organisational methods and attitudes. The interesting thing in the article is also the point it brings out, that what Trotsky was criticising in making the quote was the attitude of the social-chauvinists of his day, those such as Miliukov, who criticised atrocities on one side, whilst hushing them up or apologising for them on the other. That is a perfect description of the attitude taken by the AWL.


  6. Barry,

    I think your reading of the Thesis on the National & Colonial Questions is wrong. There is nothing there that suggests that such Dictators are progressive. In fact, the Thesis argues that Communists only have a responsibility to support movements in these countries that are truly revolutionary in the sense of forming the embryo of future truly Communist Parties. It argues for an alliance with other forces fighting against a Colonial Power, or for National Rights, but hedges that around with large caveats.

    Similarly, Trotsky’s Brazilian example does not commit him to supporting a fascist dictatorship, but only the State being attacked by Imperialism. All of the arguments Trotsky raised in relation to, for example, the USSR, of conducting that defence whilst struggling to replace the existing regime, showing why that regime ould not wage a consistent struggle etc. would continue to apply.

    In fact, Marxists should stop trying to fit their analysis of these different struggles into these models, and start to think for themselves, and actually analyse the concrete reality of each struggle. Theories should be tools to assist such analysis not straitjackets for the mind. I would suggest that, Egypt is a different situation to Libya, to Bahrain and so on, as I have tried to set out in my blog Egypt What Is To Be Done?, which looks at the extent to which these previous theories and models have any application.

    The problem I have had with the left’s position on Libya, but the same is true of the whole “Arab revolution” idea is precisely that it has not analysed the concrete nature of each struggle, has not looked at the social forces involved, and has simply jumped for joy at the fact that somebody is doing something, and concluded it must be good, without asking the basic question who is that is doing what?

    I have to say, that I am very dubious about the forces involved in Libya, but that does not mean that there are not/were not some genuinely progressive elements involved. But, the fact remains that until we find out who they are, and have some means of making contact with them, we should be circumspect. The memory of the left’s love affair with Khomeini, and his followers who were seen to be doing something, ought to be fresh in the left’s mind.


  7. Hi,

    I just want to say something about one of the reasons that has been used to advocate for either neutrality or support for western intervention and the no-fly zone. This justification is that by helping the rebels this will help the working class even if they are as yet unorganised, by creating a democratic space in Libya which can be used to further working class politics. However, after doing a little research, I’m sceptical that the rebels in the east of the country will allow much autonomy for working class politics.

    First of all, it seems that the initial rebellion has been consumed by a tribal civil war. Libya has a weak national identity with tribal allegiances in the western and eastern parts of the country locked in struggle over control of the state. The Libyan elite around Gaddafi is based on allegiance to the Qadhadhfa tribe, which is why many of the individuals in government or who have political influence are family members or childhood friends. This tribe has dominated Libyan politics since the revolution of 1969, although it has until recently been able to count on alliances with other tribes such as the Warfella, which now seems to have gone over to the anti-Gaddaffi camp. This revolution was carried out against the Sanusi monarchy which was declared in Benghazi in 1951 with Idris al-Sanusi as king. The Sanusi order emerged in the nineteenth century as a religious movement preaching an austere vision of Islam. It had its roots in the tribal structures of Cyrenaica, but was seen more broadly as part of the identity of the eastern part of the country. The 1969 revolution put an end to the political dominance of the eastern tribes and the Qadhadhfa have been in a protracted political conflict with them ever since, particularly with the Sa’adi confederation. Gaddafi’s ideology based on “The Green Book” has been seen a challenge to the more conservative version of Islam entrenched in the east. So it is no surprise then that the flag of the rebellion is the old monarchist one. This tribal conflict has meant that Gaddafi’s regime has systematically deprived the eastern part of the country of economic development. This deprivation was intensified after the Islamist rebellions in the 1980s and mid-1990s, of which the current one seems to be the latest in a long line. What would be interesting to research would be how tribal identities cut across class lines or whether they are less relevant amongst the lower classes, workers, sub-proletariat, peasantry etc.

    Secondly, the rebellion is likely to have been coloured by a conservative Islam which has deep roots in the east. In recent decades this has taken on a more political and militant hue. Interestingly, this conservative and political Islam has found fertile soil in first generation migrants to the urban and semi-urban areas. Often arriving as students from rural areas many joined Islamist movements as a response to the disruption of traditional social relationships found in the urban areas and then reimported this militant version of Islam back to the villages from which they had originated, but as part of a rural middle class. Alison Pargeter mentions that different neighbourhoods of Benghazi have differing versions of Islamism: ” in some, such as Ben Younis or Slmai Sharqi, the Muslim Brotherhood dominated, while others, such as Majuri or Borghdaima, were known for being home to those of a more militant bent.” (Pargeter 2009: 1041-2) There are parallels here with militant working class migrants to the urban areas of Western Europe which sometimes took on a socialist and communist politics, but here in Libya it has been heavily influence by religion. However, there are parallels in England which saw the influence of Methodism amongst workers in the nineteenth century. What we have yet to see is independent working class organisation and activity or at least there have been either little or no reports of it.

    The east has seen protests and rebellions against Gadaffi in the past, most recently in 2006 when violent protest broke out in Benghazi in response to the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, but which soon took on an anti-government character. More seriously, in the mid 1990s the regime faced a militant Islamist movement centred around the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Activists who were to form this group had been active in Afghanistan in the war against the Soviet Union. However, this movement, including more moderate Islamists, were crushed by brutal repression and by 1998 this opposition had been more or less wiped out. The cadres and the bedrock of support for militant Islamist groups within Libya has come from the eastern cities of Benghazi, Derna and Ajdabia.

    However, the east is also renowned for a militant anti-imperialist identity which harks to the Ottoman empire but more recently to the resistance against Italian colonial rule, a resistance symbolised by Omar al-Mukhtar, who was executed by the Italians for leading the a guerrilla war against them. Such is the admiration for al-Mukhtar that his portrait is to be seen everywhere in Derna (Pargeter 2009) and the groups which originated in fighting the US in Lebanon in the 1980s named themselves the Omar al-Mukhtar Brigades. However, this symbol of al-Mukhtar is not confined to radical Islamists but has appeared across the Middle East where people have been fighting imperialism, most notably as a symbol of resistance during the Palestinian intifada (Nassar and Boggero 2008). However, in the east of Libya this anti-imperialism is often expressed as a defence against foreign cultural values, particularly in relation to attitudes towards women, and for which Gaddafi is seen as too influenced by the West. The narrowness of the elite and its distance from the lives of the deprived masses in the east reinforces this conservative and politicised Islam. Most of those Libyans who fought in Iraq have come from the east and Pargeter mentions that “following the death in custody in May 2009 of the militant Ibn Sheikh Al-Libi, who had been handed over to Tripoli after his capture by US forces in Pakistan in 2001, thousands of mourners attended the funeral service held for him in his eastern home town of Ajdabia.” (Pargeter 2009: 1044). It is going to be interesting to see how the West will try and control the political orientation of this rebellion. But they have been there before in the support of the jihadists in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, and in their the support of the conservative Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. Conservative and even politically militant Islam are not necessarily in conflict with Western imperialism.

    So I think it is probably accurate to say that this rebellion has all the hallmarks of a tribal civil war, whatever its initial impetus, and which probably is deeply coloured by a conservative Islam. It’s dependence on Western intervention is likely to provide some interesting and contradictory factionalism within the Islamist camp. Whether the working class in the oil fields and the major cities can provide an alternative has yet to be seen but the call for western intervention on their behalf seems to be based on little understanding of the likely character of the rebellion. While I can’t claim that this is an accurate portrayal of the situation of Libya, given I have no expertise in this area, I hope that I have demonstrated that any political position we take must be based on at least some analysis of what is going on the world. One of the things covered is the role of migrant workers in the Libyan economy which seems substantial. For example, in 2002 it was estimated that there were 2.5 million migrants, “one immigrant for every two Libyans” (Young et al. 2007). If we are to understand the possibility of independent working class politics in Libya then we need to understand this dynamic between migrant and indigenous workers within the economy. Does someone else want to take this up?

    In what I have written I have relied heavily on some of the following:
    “Libya – tribes”, GlobalSecurity.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/libya/tribes.htm
    Nassar, Hala Khamis and Marco Boggero (2008). “Omar al-Mukhtar: the formation of cultural memory and the case of the militant group that bears his name”, Journal of North African Studies, 13: 2, 201-217.
    Pargeter, Alison (2006). “Libya: reforming the impossible?”, Review of African Political Economy, vol. 33, no. 108, pp. 219-235.
    Pargeter, Alison (2009). “Localism and radicalization in North Africa: local factors and the development of political Islam in Morocco, Tunisia and Libya”, International Affairs, vol. 85, no. 5, pp. 1031-1044.
    Young, Helen, Abdalmonium Osman and Rebecca Dale (2007). “Darfurian livelihoods and Libya: trade, migration and remittance flows in times of conflict and crisis”, International Migration Review, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 826-849, Winter 2007.


  8. I agree well done Mark. It would indeed be interesting to see how the cross cutting cleavages of class and tribe etc. work themselves out. There was an interesting comment by one Comrade in one of the threads at Dave osler’s blog, which pointed out that around Tripoli, the greater economic development, the greater role of the State, which employs a large number of people is likely to be an important factor in securing support for the regime, because all of these people can see an immediate financial benefit from its continued existence. The same thing has been seen in other Arab States where the State has looked to mobilise Public Sector workers in its defence on the same basis – a lesson for those who fail to learn the lesson of the real nature of State Capitalism, and its conservative social and ideological role in the West.

    I would suggest that from what we know from elsewhere, for example the protestants in Northern Irleand, working class whites in South Africa, the fincancial/social advantages for workers do not have to be that substantial to act as a means of adhering them to the Capitalist State and dividing them from other workers along some other vertical cleavage such as religion, tribe etc. In Libya, as Moshe Machover points out, the relatively small size of its poulation means that the oil wealth can be used effectively to buy off sections of the population. However, what distinguishes Libya from Egypt, is the relatively undeveloped state of its economy. Like many of the other oil rich states, it remains largely a Rent based economy. Egypt by contrast has experiecned real economic development in the last two decades, with the consequent social changes attendant upon that. In fact, its that reason that I would suggest makes the potential for a successful democratic revolution in Egypt far greater than in say Bahrain.

    But, the other feature of these oil rich, rent based economies such as Libya is that even where they do have what can be identified as working-classes in the oil industry, they are often heavily reliant upon foreign workers. A look at all those Egyptian, Tunisian, British and other European workers who flooded out of Libya in the first couple of weeks is an indication of that. The more skilled workers tend to be brought in, often from the home country of whatever oil company controls the oilfield, and the unskilled workers are often brought in from elsewhere. That is why we have seen in recent days the rebels in the East threatening to lynch various African oil workers.

    As I have pointed out in various posts on my blog Imperialism did have a plan, before all this kicked off, and it did involve the idea of democratic change in some of these countries, but under its control, and at its tempo. I have pointed out that the countries of the Middle east and north Africa had been brought into the Mediterranean Economic Zone with the EU, and were being provided with the same kind of access to markets etc. that Eastern European and Balkan states were given prior to their membership of the EU. There was even talk of some of the more developed states being brought into the EU after a process of demcoratic change had been udnertaken.

    But, we should remember exactly what Lenin said about bouregois demcoracy quoting Engels. In State and Revolution he points out that Capital wants bouregois democracy not out of any moral or ideological conviction, but merely because for a developed Capital it is “the best political shell”. That is it masks the Dictatorship of Capital more effectively, and in doing so enables Capital to more effectively exploit and control Labour. As Communists our goal is not bouregois democracy. In fact, Universal Suffrage as Engels and Lenin point out can be nothing more than a guage of the maturity of the working class. The workers have an incentive to win the bouregois demcoratic freedoms of free speech, freedom to organise, to join a Trade UNion and so on, because without these the workers cannot organise their superior workers demcoracy, cannot organise against Capital. But it is parliamentary cretinism to beleive that Universal Suffrage stands on the same level as these other advances. As soon as bouregois demcoracy is established the Communist function is to mobilise the workers against it! So we should not be too won over by any attempt by Imperialism to install bouregois demcoracy.

    Aljazeera today is reporting that there is now proof that some Libyan rebels are being trained in Egypt by the CIA and other US Special forces, and by the Egyptian Military. They have also been supplied already with new weapons including heat seeking Katusha rockets. In other words, the idea that this was ever just a humanitarian mission has been shown to be bunk. Imperialism is now arming one side of a Civil War, and in so doing acting to perpetuate it, and to ensure that thousands more will die. In fact, its been clear that the West has had boots on the ground in the form of special forces from the beginning, and that seems to have been stepped up. Does anyone seriously believe that those they are arming and training will be worker friendly elements? Despite that the rebels appear to be pretty poor fighters, and are now also apparently facing the problem that many civilians in none rebel held towns are being armed, and are fighting against them. According to Aljazeera, bombing in Western Libya has led to many civilian deatsh, and an increase in support for Gaddafi. The West is now recognising that the rebels probably cannot win, and is now openly discussing a Bosnian solution of inserting western troops on the ground around Benghazi, supposedly to extract civilians. However, the experiecne of Bosnia shows that what will actually happen is that these troops will take one side of the Civil War, and push Westwards in a way that the bombing campaign has failed to achieve.


  9. Our Analysis should be based on what is going on in the world as Mark Writes. We are rather more familiar with imperialism than the social structure and history of Libya. Marks research has given us a background and framework to make a start,but the focus is national rather than regional. Moshe Machover in the current weekly worker looks for the “Arab Revolution”. He learned this from Trotskyism in his youth. According to Moshe one of the leaders of Permanent Revolution sees a wider regional solution. So a weak national identity could have a positive side. The weight of class would be greater in any regional solution.

    We should be careful with Lenin’s remark about Bourgeois democracy as the best political shell for capitalism. Since 1848 outside the capitalist heartlands and their spin offs in USA Australia and so on bourgeois democracy has not always been the political form best suited to capitalism and imperialism. Lenin was heavily influenced by Kautsky and his perspective on the coming revolution as bourgeois democratic revolution down to 1917 was falsified by events. Lenin’s support for nationalism against imperialism which is still a strong influence today, rested on a schema of bourgeois democracy in the east as bourgeois progress. This was also falsified by events. One example china. Marx’s view of Bourgeois democracy from below in 1848 was falsified by Bismark. Historically and politically there is action and reaction,balance of forces and the rest. The notion of best possible shell could lead to always looking for a bourgeois democratic phase.


  10. Yesterday there were demos against the war across Italy. There were a few thousand in Rome – so not big – and I went along to the one in Turin, the fourth biggest city, which had maybe 500 people.

    Even if small these protests made quite a splash in the news. Here an ongoing major news story is the fate of the many thousands of North African refugees in Lampedusa (an Italian island just off Tunisia) and held prisoner in ‘Identification and Expulsion Centres’ in Sicily.

    The far left seems confidently anti-war. The hypocrisy of ‘humanitarianism’ is obvious. Not only was Berlusconi previously chummy with Gaddafi, but the Libyan state was a gendarme for Italy’s – and thus the EU’s – border controls. At the same time as bombing Libya out of humanitarianism, the Italian state is trying to force refugees to go back there and to Tunisia. In fact it is far more likely that NATO will give up the bombing than Italy will end its war on African migrants.

    Much of the anti-war camp is abstractly pacifist, with the consequence that a couple of people at the Turin demo had placards with idiotic slogans like “negotiations, not war” (negotiations between who? Gaddafi and Berlusconi?!). But other groups who prominently pose the migrant question have a more coherent response.

    Also, thanks to Mark E for his very useful analysis.


  11. Barry,

    I think its undialectical to understand Lenin’s comments about the “shell” in absolutist terms. Of course, the truth is always concrete, and so, in this or that instance, Bouregois democracy will not be the best possible. In Germany in the 1930’s, it was not, precisely because it was no longer capable of serving the interests of Capital. Wherever, the bourgeoisie is weak, either in absolute or relative terms, bouregois democracy may not be possible. Hence Bismark, hence the assortment of Bonapartists, military junta in countries around the globe on the way to development. Also hence the distinction that Trotsky makes of progressive Bonapartism and Reactionary Bonapartism. He viewed the Bonapartism of Cardenas as progressive, Bismark’s was also a progressive Bonapartism. It becomes reactionary in those instances such as Germany – Trotsky characterised Nazism as a special form of Bonapartism – where it is not due to an absolutely weak bourgeoisie in a country that is seeking to industrialise, but is down to a relatively weak bourgeoisie compared to the growing class power of the workers.

    Yet, the reality is that where it is objectively possible, Capital does prefer Bourgeois democracy to Bonapartism or fascism, for all those reasons that Lenin and Engels set out.

    I think that Moshe’s argument and the argument put forward in PR has a problem. Clearly, a preferable solution would be one that encompassed a regional dimension. As Moshe points out, some of the income and wealth that derives from the possession of Oil, could be used to provide the necessary Capital, for a more rapid industrialisation. A form of Primary Accumulation. But, that assumes that the countries that have most of the oil are at a stage where socialist revolution is possible and likely. It is precisely because of the lack of development of these states, the fact that they are Rent based, and that the working-class is relatively undeveloped and weak, that I don’t think that is the case. Egypt and Tunisia are a different matter. The only way that the oil rich states could then be drawn into such a solution would likely be as a result of some kind of revolutionary war waged against them, by a workers state in Egypt. I doubt that is either a preferable course of action, or even remotely likely.

    My feeling is that Communists should focus their attention on building and eveloping the working-class in Egypt rather than diluting their efforts elsewhere.


  12. Hi Boffy

    I do not think I was guilty of a philosophical deviation in making comments about Bourgeois revolutions. I was simply pointing to the historical fact that the capitalist class has not always led revolutions or Bourgeois development has not always been politically directed by capitalists. The main point I was trying to make was that democracy and the bourgeoisie,particularly capitalists, do not always or usually go hand in hand. It could be argued that capitalists prefer to make money and let others, the bourgeoisie in a broader sense , rule indirectly in their interests.

    Although indirect rule can be a form of political representation for property owners,for the propertyless or the proletarian revolutionary process this representation is direct in the form of workers power. In that sense there is a fundamental difference in the process of bourgeois revolution and proletarian revolution. After 1917 Trotsky lost sight of this, with his analogy with the French and Russian revolutions. It was part of his failure to understand the nature of stalinism. Stalin as the proletarian Bonapart. A workers state without workers power or a workers state against the workers.

    Was Bismark progressive? national Unity was a conservative counter revolution from above or a greater Prussia,not democratic revolution from below as envisaged by Marx. The structure of the German state had reactionary implications, as you probably know. Even Bismarks pioneering welfare capitalist policies were in the context of attempting to neutralise or counter the influence of social democracy. Democracy was not usually freely chosen by the bourgeoie in Germany or elsewhere. Democracy was conceded as an alternative to a workers threat or following the defeat of the workers movement.

    Anyway we are straying from the discussion on Libya. As you wrote Egypt is the main player.


  13. Hi Boffy

    I missed your points about the theses on the national and colonial question. The theses revised by Lenin after the objection of the an indian communist, did imply dictators in underdeveloped countries werre progressive. The theses was strongly influenced by kautskys influence on Lenin and the stage of bourgeois democracy supposedly destined for “backward nations” Trotsky and his theory of permanet revolution differed from “lenins theory” After the objections of Roy .Lenin Hedged his theory of progressive or revolutionary Bourgeoisie in backward Nations with clauses and amendments. so like the menshevik and right wing Bolshevik view of the provisional government in feb 1917, the nationalist boureoisie in china and elsewhere were revolutionary in so far as- they promoted the revolutionary process. But the theoretical qualifications were academic as in 1917 in relation to the provisional government. The sons of the agrarian landlords in china were not prepared to tolerate the liberation of the peasants. Trotsky did state that in theory he would support a fascist dictator in Brazil in a backward nation against imperialism. In class terms wromg and wrong in terms of his theory of permanent revolution.


  14. Barry,

    I don’t think the philosophical underpinning of these arguments is getting away from the point. I think its central to understanding it. The point at issue was Lenin’s comment that bourgeois democracy is the best political shell for Capitalism. He is right, but clearly because the truth is always concrete – which is the basis of Dialectics – he is not saying that under each and every instance, in any historical circumstances, and correlation of class forces is that the case. It is the political shell that Capital will choose if the conditions permit it. Under unfavourable conditions where it is weak for one reason or another, it is forced to accept or resort to other political forms Bonapartism, Fascism or as in Russia Tsarism. But, all these alternatives are second best, precisely because they involve costs for Capital. They involve economic costs – bribery and corruption of the Bonapartist bureaucracy, periodic serious social upheavals, rivalries and palace coups, and the kind of costs seen in the USSR as workers resist by passive means, low productivity, poor quality and so on. But, they involve other costs too in relation to the fact that the bourgeoisie are unable to exercise direct political control, but have to cede political power to the bureaucracy.

    It is vital to understand this, precisely because it is the failure to understand this that leads the “idiot anti-imperialists” to conclude that under all circumstances “Imperialism” will seek to impose some kind of Bonapartist, or dictatorial regime on non-imperialist states, and that it will do so in order to extract additional surplus. But, it is clear that this is nonsense. There are several reasons why an “Imperialist” power might involve itself in the affairs of some other state. Firstly, as was the case with Colonialism, the country might have important raw materials that it wishes to secure preferential access to. Secondly, the country might be in an important strategic position in relation to access to the above, to sea routes, or in relation to potential future enemies. Thirdly, in order to defend the basic rules of Capitalist International Order that govern the relations between states.

    The first of these is actually what developed not under Capitalism, but under Mercantilism i.e. under that period particularly from the 16th to the 19th Century when the ruling landed aristocracy had a symbiotic relation with the Merchant Class. The Merchants secured these foreign territories and trading relations, bringing back goods for the landlord class, and the Landlords also established versions of their own fiefdoms abroad, extracting Surplus in the form of Rent in the same way. Both classes extracted Surplus not by productive investment of Capital, but by extraction of Surplus product. Political regimes which enforced this arrangement were appropriate. But, particularly from the end of WWII, when US Multinational Capital became dominant, and Multinational Capital in general followed it, this kind of arrangement was no longer applicable. This multinational Capital now needed free access to markets, including labour markets. In pre-capitalist societies, mainly those which were the sources of primary products, in place of Colonial regimes, often an arrangement with a Comprador bourgeoisie was established as a cheaper alternative. But, the main method of extraction of surplus for this Industrial Capital is not unequal exchange, but the extraction of Surplus Value from industrial workers, and as had happened in the developed economies, increasingly extraction of Relative as opposed to Absolute Surplus Value. A central aspect of that is what the French Marxists termed “Fordism”, which is not just the aspects of mass production, but the other elements that Ford introduced such as higher wages, better conditions etc. that tied the workers into the system. A central element of that is the establishment of bourgeois democracy.

    Was Bismark progressive? Absolutely. Once again your approach is not dialectical. Every moment within a process is contradictory containing elements of the past as well as the future. Given the condition of Germany in the 19th Century, the measures carried through by Bismark that developed the productive forces, just as with Louis Napoleon in France, or Cardenas in Mexico were progressive. They may not have been progressive viz a viz a socialist transformation, but the point is that without the transformation of the productive forces they carried out – and the creation of a modern working-class upon them – no socialist transformation would have been possible. That just as the brutal expropriation of the peasantry, and the misery inflicted on British workers by the bourgeoisie at the beginning of the 19th century, which was needed to transform the productive relations, were historically progressive. It is when the productive forces have been transformed, and the bourgeoisie looks to some Bonapartist regime to prevent their further development by the working class that such a regime is reactionary.

    I think Trotsky understood Stalinism better than anyone. Moreover, for someone who understands the dialectic, and as I have set out above, there is no contradiction in the idea that there can be a Workers State without Workers Power, just as in Russia there was a Capitalist State with a Tsarist Political regime and so on. What there cannot be is Socialism without Workers’ Power and Control. It is just as understandable that under unfavourable historical conditions a weak working class has to accept the political rule of a workers Bonaparte in order to bring about the necessary transformation of the productive forces, as that the bourgeoisie should look to a Bismark.

    I think the arguments you put forward in relation to the Theses on The National & Colonial Question are quite simply wrong. Its quite clear that Lenin and the Comintern were extremely wary of supporting many of these movements. Lenin’s position was developed in OPPOSITION to the ideas of Kautsky in relation to Imperialism, and I think your interpretation of the role of Roy in the final version of the Theses is wrong. Trotsky’s position on making temporary alliances with revolutionary forces stems from the Theses, but it is precisely the caution that the Theses exhibit, and the lessons of permanent revolution, which meant that Trotsky could adopt the correct position in relation to the Chinese revolution and the fight against Japanese Imperialism, and in relation to Spain. Those lessons are extremely important to learn in understanding how to orientate towards events in Libya, and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa at the moment.,


  15. Boffy

    You write “it is the political shell that capital will choose if the conditions permit it” But this is not dialectical or concrete or historically conditioned. Its a norm or an ideal type and the implication is that the bourgeois is by nature politically democratic. The history of the workers struggle against capitalism and the history of imperialism shows otherwise. Moreover,even bourgoeis democracy can be counter revolutionary in certain situations such as 1917 Russia or post war europe 1945/46. Its not so much a question of idiot anti imperialism but idiot progressive imperialism.

    As for your metaphysical comments on developing the productive forces,in general and in the abstract,this is undialecticalTrotskist dogmatism. The greatest productive force is the workers and without their creativity and political freedom there can be no development towards socialism .A workers state without workers power? Your dialectic like god works in mysterious ways. How can you oppose stalin or stalinism if a weak working class must accept the rule of a workers Bonapart who develops the productive forces? Counter revolutionary revolutionaries. Now there is the Trotskyist dialectic for you.

    You assert that Bismark was not just progressive but absolutely progressive.why? oh yes its that Trotskyist dialectic again. Bismark developed the productive forces. But Bismark did so in the political and historical context of a counter revolution from above, police oppression against the social democratic masses and imperialism which led to the barbarism of the first world war. The history of Bismark’s Germany is just one example of the Communist manifesto’s overestimation of the revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie. Marx adopted,if I can use a term, a more dialectical approach as capitalism unfolded.

    Trotsky had the correct position on china? Trotsky’s writings on china were eclectic and vacillated between the recognition that Chiang Kai Shek and the KMT feared the chinese masses more than the Janpanease occupation army and the view that they were objectively revolutionary despite being the executioners of the chinese workers. Trotsky thought it was possible to participate in the KMT struggle even under Chiangs orders. we are back to counter revolutionary revolutionaries.

    The early Communist international regarded the KMT as a bourgeois democratic progresive force. But the facts did not conform to this schema with tragic consequences for the chinese working class. At the fourth comintern congress in november 1922 Radek described the tasks of communists as bringing themselves into line with the objective revolutionaries of Chinese nationalism. Maring, the comintern agent in china, recommended working inside the loosly organised KMT on the grounds that the communists could preserve their independence within such a structure. But Borodin, another comintern agent turned the KMT into a highly centralised and disciplined organisation, on the lines of the Bolshevik party ,when the comintern trained and armed the KMT officers. M.N Roy was briefly in China as well, for a period ,trying to persuade the left wing of the KMT to go with the masses not the KMT, but obviously without success. The comintern position was based on a Two stage perspective of first the bourgeois democratic revolution or the national revolution which sounded more revolutionary. This predated stalin and stalinism and was based on Lenins theses.


  16. In the Critique of the Gotha Program (1875) Marx refers to the new German Empire as “a state which is nothing but a police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with a feudal admixture, already influenced by the bourgeoisie, and bureaucratically carpentered.”
    How “absolutely progressive” is THAT?


  17. Barry and Dave,

    I am always dubious about people who appear to deliberately misrepresent what I have said, for the purpose of furthering their own argument. In response to your questioning of the whether Bismark was progressive I wrote, “Was Bismark progressive? Absolutely.” I did NOT write, “Bismark was absolutely progressive”!!!

    The point is that both of you in trying to make this argument on the basis of looking merely at the superficialities of the political superstructure rather than the objective material basis of the productive forces upon which that superstructure rests, demonstrate the extent to which your methodology is NOT the method of Marx, but the subjectivist methodology of bourgeois sociology. So, when Marx talks in glowing terms about the revolutionary and progressive role of Capitalism, particularly in relation to Britain, do you think he had simply not noticed the brutal nature of the political regime in Britain too? Was this just some oversight on his part?

    No, of course not. It was precisely Marx’s materialist and dialectical method that allowed him to recognise the progressive nature of Capitalism in revolutionising the productive forces, and thereby creating the preconditions for Socialism despite the brutal, oppressive nature both of Capitalism in its exploitation of the workers and in the nature of its political regime, which operated through the Combination Acts, through the use of the dragoons at Peterloo, and in the violent suppression of Chartists etc. It was that, which enabled Marx to see through the latter, and led him to bitterly oppose the kind of Moralistic, Subjectivist ideas that you present here. In his time that trend of Moral Socialism was represented by Sismondi. Fifty years later it was represented by the Narodniks in Russia, and opposed by Lenin. Those trends were petit-bourgeois trends, just as is the Third Camp today.

    Barry says,

    “You write “it is the political shell that capital will choose if the conditions permit it” But this is not dialectical or concrete or historically conditioned. Its a norm or an ideal type and the implication is that the bourgeois is by nature politically democratic.”

    But, of course the exact opposite is the case! It is precisely because I have said “if the conditions permit it”, which proves that it IS to be determined concretely and IS historically conditioned!!! How else could this be interpreted? In other words, German Capital did not abandon bourgeois democracy in the 1930’s on a whim, but precisely because of very concrete, historically determined conditions i.e. its fear of a powerful and rising working-class! Similarly, as Engels describes in his “History of the Working Class”, the British bourgeoisie adopted bourgeois democracy when its economic and social power was sufficient to sustain it. It adopted the modern form of bourgeois democracy towards the end of the 19th Century, precisely because, as he says, of the concrete, historically conditioned reality of the fact that the industrial bourgeoisie could only achieve political power with the support of the workers, which it incorporated via bourgeois democracy, Universal Suffrage, the establishment of a Welfare State, Trades Union collective bargaining and so on.

    So, it is incredible to claim that this means that I must attribute to the bourgeoisie is by nature politically democratic!!! The very opposite is the case, and the quote proves it. The bourgeoisie is happy to adopt whatever political regime best meets its needs to exercise its Dictatorship under the given conditions. The fact remains, for the reasons that Engels and Lenin set out it has found that the best possible means of achieving those aims is via bourgeois democracy! That does not mean that under some conditions the “best possible” is not achievable!

    And where have I denied that bourgeois democracy is reactionary??? That indeed would be undialectical. But, I’d be interested to see any quote you can provide where I have said otherwise.

    “As for your metaphysical comments on developing the productive forces,in general and in the abstract,this is undialecticalTrotskist dogmatism.”

    In that case it must also be undialectical Marxist dogmatism too. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote, precisely about the revolutionary role performed by Capital in revolutionising the means of production. And in his writings against the Narodniks, Lenin makes the same points in identifying the revolutionary role played by Capital in Russia.

    “The greatest productive force is the workers and without their creativity and political freedom there can be no development towards socialism.”

    But, from a Marxist perspective this is nonsense. It is unscientific, ahistorical claptrap. There have always been “workers” in the sense of producers, but the whole basis of Marxism is to identify the fact that how productive those workers are is itself historically determined, and is dependent precisely upon the particular Mode of Production. Workers within a Slave Mode of production are much, much less productive than a wage-worker, but that is not at all due to the individual characteristics of the slave as opposed to the wage worker! The Medieval worker likewise is much less productive than the wage worker. It is quite clear that the determination of productivity is not the bourgeois, individualist notion of the individual worker, but is precisely the Mode of production, which is able to organise activity in such a way as to maximise the potential of each worker, by maximising the collective productivity of workers. Moreover, those same workers suffering under the cosh of Capital, suffering from the Alienation of Labour, have still participated in a process of significant progress, which objectively is itself a “development towards socialism”, precisely because it is a process of development towards a more mature Capitalism, which is closer to its own demise.

    By the same token, the development of some further Mode Of Production based on some form of collective as opposed to private ownership of the means of production has the potential for raising the productivity of labour even higher. But, it is precisely because this has to be understood dialectically i.e. within the context of each concrete historically determined instance of such a Moe Of Production that this potentiality as opposed to its actual realisation has to be understood. The first instances of Capitalism itself did not raise the level of productivity of labour, or develop the productive forces. Merchant Capital in the Mediterranean City States acted to destroy the producers. Even British textile Capital could only defeat traditional Indian textile production at the beginning of the 19th century with the help of high tariffs against Indian Imports, and other administrative measures. But, no one can doubt that ultimately, the productive potential of Capitalism did demonstrate its superiority, did show its ability to raise the level of the productive forces way above what had previously been possible.

    Of course, Socialism is not possible without the workers themselves owning and controlling the means of production. But, how undialectical is it to suggest that some measure of progress short of actual Socialism is possible, even without that. Indeed, it is empirically falsified. The USSR despite all of the drawbacks of Stalinism, despite all of the massive problems faced by a backward economy and society, increased its productive potential in the 1930’s at a faster rate than has ever been achieved before or since. Indeed, many Capitalist economies under similar conditions have adopted similar methods via State capitalism to achieve the same kinds of result.

    “How can you oppose stalin or stalinism if a weak working class must accept the rule of a workers Bonapart who develops the productive forces? Counter revolutionary revolutionaries. Now there is the Trotskyist dialectic for you.”
    In the same way that revolutionaries argue for opposition to Capitalism, whilst recognising the objective reality that at any one time the working class is not strong enough to overthrow it!!! What do you propose in place of actually recognising the reality of the balance of class forces????

    As for Marx and Bismark, this article by Engels, gives some idea of their actual position. Throughout, Engels speaks of the progressive measures undertaken, only criticising Bismark for not going far enough. But no one is suggesting that Bismark was a socialist. The point is that Bismark was progressive vis a vis the feudalism that existed in Germany at the time! You seem to want to go straight from Feudalism to Socialism without the need for Capitalism in between, which of course is needed to develop the working class, so that Socialism is possible. That is of course, precisely the kind of Romantic nonsense that the Narodniks proposed. It is thoroughly unMarxist precisely because it places itself wholly within the realm of idealism.

    You say, “But Bismark did so in the political and historical context of a counter revolution from above, police oppression against the social democratic masses “ What Counter-Revolution? Germany was a feudal society that Bismark was transforming into an industrial Capitalist society. For this to have been a counter-revolution, then a Workers State would have had to have existed. Please tell us when this German Workers State existed in Germany that Bismark conducted a counter-revolution against!!!

    Marx never changed his view about the revolutionary role played by Capitalism. If you can provide a quote from his later writings, or any other writings that contradict that please cite it.

    Trotsky argued against the idea that it was possible for Communists to work inside the KMT. That was the whole basis of his opposition to the Stalinist position in relation to the Popular Front. Within the United Opposition, as he admits he had to accept what he believed to be an incorrect position in that regard. But, once again you demonstrate your inability to think in dialectical terms. It is, of course, quite possible to identify the KMT as revolutionary in so far as they were fighting against Japanese Imperialism, whilst recognising that they are reactionary as against the revolutionary workers? That is why it was, of course correct to support a genuine revolutionary struggle against Japanese Imperialism without merging the Communist forces in the KMT, and arguing for the organisational and political independence of the workers.

    It is simply not true that the Comintern prior to the Stalinist degeneration adopted a two-stage approach to revolution in China. That would have been totally opposed to the ideas that Lenin had developed in the April Thesis. It is also opposed to the ideas of the Theses on the National and Colonial Question, which states,

    “From these fundamental premises it follows that the Communist International’s entire policy on the national and the colonial questions should rest primarily on a closer union of the proletarians and the working masses of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landowners and the bourgeoisie. This union alone will guarantee victory over capitalism, without which the abolition of national oppression and inequality is impossible.

    The world political situation has now placed the dictatorship of the proletariat on the order of the day. World political developments are of necessity concentrated on a single focus—the struggle of the world bourgeoisie against the Soviet Russian Republic, around which are inevitably grouped, on the one hand, the Soviet movements of the advanced workers in all countries, and, on the other, all the national liberation movements in the colonies and among the oppressed nationalities, who are learning from bitter experience that their only salvation lies in the Soviet system’s victory over world imperialism
    fourth, the need, in backward countries, to give special support to the peasant movement against the landowners, against landed proprietorship, and against all manifestations or survivals of feudalism, and to strive to lend the peasant movement the most revolutionary character by establishing the closest possible alliance between the West European communist proletariat and the revolutionary peasant movement in the East, in the colonies, and in the backward countries generally. It is particularly necessary to exert every effort to apply the basic principles of the Soviet system in countries where pre-capitalist relations predominate—by setting up “working people’s Soviets”, etc.;
    fifth, the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form;
    sixth, the need constantly to explain and expose among the broadest working masses of all countries, and particularly of the backward countries, the deception systematically practised by the imperialist powers, which, under the guise of politically independent states, set up states that are wholly dependent upon them economically, financially and militarily. Under present-day international conditions there is no salvation for dependent and weak nations except in a union of Soviet republics.“
    Your argument is based on the Stalinist perversion of Marxist Theory and its attempt to claim Lenin for itself not on an honest analysis of the facts.


  18. ‘“Was Bismark progressive? Absolutely.” I did NOT write, “Bismark was absolutely progressive”!!!’
    Boffy, there is no difference in meaning whatsoever between these two statements. Therefore there was no misreprentation. Get over it.


  19. BOFFY; “The point is that both of you in trying to make this argument on the basis of looking merely at the superficialities of the political superstructure rather than the objective material basis of the productive forces upon which that superstructure rests, demonstrate the extent to which your methodology is NOT the method of Marx, but the subjectivist methodology of bourgeois sociology.”

    MY COMMENT: Hardly. I would argue that the entire diamat dogmatism about base/superstructure needs to be dumped. Marx’s “pre-Capital” writing had in mind societies that hadn’t yet properly developed capitalism. Serious students of Capital, from (the young) Lukacs onwards see Marx’s analysis of commodity fetishism as breaking down the old base/superstructure ‘model’ which Engels was later responsible for popularising (not surprising, giving that he didn’t understand Marx on the former). Marx’s great insight was that commodity production is not just a structured form of material social practice, but is also a material structuring principle of social subjectivity and objectivity. Since we have seen that shuffling the ownership of value-producing industry between classes (or their representations) based on abstract labour doesn’t produce either a stable capitalism or a viable “socialism,” clearly Marx was right.

    BOFFY: ‘You {Barry] say, “But Bismark did so in the political and historical context of a counter revolution from above, police oppression against the social democratic masses “ What Counter-Revolution? Germany was a feudal society that Bismark was transforming into an industrial Capitalist society. For this to have been a counter-revolution, then a Workers State would have had to have existed. Please tell us when this German Workers State existed in Germany that Bismark conducted a counter-revolution against!!!’

    MY COMMENT: Barry is right. There was a counter-revolution in 1848 against the democrat revolution, which did have a socialist element, and indeed socialist clubs and parties.” Are you saying Bismark wasn’t of the same class forces that suppressed the 1848 Revolution?

    BOFFY: “Marx never changed his view about the revolutionary role played by Capitalism. If you can provide a quote from his later writings, or any other writings that contradict that please cite ”

    MY COMMENT: Bo problem. If you look at ‘First Draft of Letter To Vera Zasulich’ at
    you will see that Marx had indeed changed his view by 1881, as when he writes:

    “In dealing with the genesis of capitalist production I stated that it is founded on “the complete separation of the producer from the means of production” (French edition of Capital) and that “the basis of this whole development is the expropriation of the agricultural producer. To date this has not been accomplished in a radical fashion anywhere except in England… But all the other countries of Western Europe are undergoing the same process. I thus expressly limited the “historical inevitability” of this process to the countries of Western Europe.”

    The best analysis of this issue in Kevin Anderson’s book, ‘Marx at the Margins’.

    Of course Marx changed his views Boffy. Dialectics, init?


  20. “There is no difference between these two statements.” Of course there is!!! Saying, Bismark was absolutely progressive is undialectical it deals in absolutes. The second statement merely says essentially “Was, Bismark progressive. Yes” It may have been better had I said that, but it is clear from everything else I have said that this was the meaning. And saying Yes, Bismark was progressive in this context is no different from Marx saying that Capitalism was progressive. The meaning of such a statement made by a Marxist is clear. It is saying Bismark (Capitalism) is progressive relative to what went before! Only a pedant or someone more interested in trying to pick on words to score debating points (i.e. some kind of troll) would interpret it in any other way.


  21. A personal comment – this debate has now got to the point where it is totally inaccessible to anyone who wants to talk about Libya. In fact, totally inaccessible to anyone who isn’t well versed in Marxist perspectives on 19th Century European great power politics.

    We don’t have, and shouldn’t have, a huge host of rules about posting on the site, but could I ask for a little restraint. Boffy, in particular: this always seems to happen when you post. Your first three comments total 1,728 words, the rough length of most articles in our paper. Could I request that in future you consider writing a post on your own blog and linking to it? I’m not at all against debate, but I feel that once they get both so involved and so detached from the original subject it makes the site less accessible, in particular to those with less time, or those less able or willing to engage in an esoteric historic and textual debate – about Lenin’s views for instance. I don’t think that’s what the site should be like. Just a personal view, and a personal request.


  22. Dave,

    I don’t think your argument on the base superstructure stands up unless you interpret it in the old crude determinist manner, as a straw man to knock down. As for Engels not understanding Marx, I’d point out that nearly all of Engels writings including Anti-Duhring where this relation between base and superstructure is repeated, and which was one of his later writings, were all read by Marx, and agreed by him. Marx clearly thought that Engels understood him and his method well enough that he trusted him to write articles, such as those on the Civil War in France, which went out in Marx’s name. He trusted him enough to leave to him the proof reading and publishing of Capital and so on.

    Your comment on the question of counter-revolution is nonsensical. Firstly, there was not a counter-revolution in 1848. There was a defeat of the Revolution. As the revolution never succeeded, as bourgeois Democracy was never established then there could not have been a counter-revolution against it. But, even were that the case, the fact remains that whichever class Bismark belonged to his actions were to replace what existed, which was a Feudal Regime with a Capitalist regime based on a modernisation of the economy, and of the political relations based upon it. Whatever happened in 1848, Bismark’s later actions could NOT possibly be described as counter-revolutionary, precisely because they were driving forward not backward the existing productive and social relations. To say there were socialist clubs is meaningless. There are Labour Clubs, and a Labour Party in Britain, but it does not in any way signify any socialist content to the nature of the British State!

    I am amazed for several reasons that you quote Marx’s letter to Zasulich as evidence that he changed his view of the progressive role played by Capitalism – which in order to do he would have had to throw over the whole of Marxism, and the Theory of Historical Materialism! For a start everyone knows, or should know the context in which Marx wrote that letter. It was in the context of Marx being approached by the Narodniks, who sought to garner his support for their idea that Russia could by-pass the Capitalist stage in history, and move directly to Socialism. Marx essentially believed this idea was nonsense, because it went against the whole of what he had been arguing. But, he did not want to lose the support of the Narodniks, and those Marxists like Zasulich in Russia, by saying so in those terms. He framed his response accordingly.

    But, if you read his actual response rather than cherry pick sentences to meet your objectives – and the sentence you quote does not even have Marx saying that he has changed his mind about the progressive role played by Capitalism – then you will see that what he says contradicts your argument. So for example, in answering Zasulich’s question, Marx writes that it is conceivable that Russia could move to Socialism without passing through Capitalism, but he writes,

    “By going back a long way communal property of a more or less archaic type may be found throughout Western Europe; everywhere it has disappeared with increasing social progress. Why should it be able to escape the same fate in Russia alone? I reply: because in Russia, thanks to a unique combination of circumstances, the rural commune, still established on a nationwide scale, may gradually detach itself from its primitive features and develop directly as an element of collective production on a nationwide scale. It is precisely thanks to its contemporaneity with capitalist production that it may appropriate the latter’s positive acquisitions without experiencing all its frightful misfortunes. Russia does not live in isolation from the modern world; neither is it the prey of a foreign invader like the East Indies.”

    So here Marx makes clear that the ONLY means by which the skipping of the capitalist stage was possible, was precisely because of Capitalist development elsewhere in Europe, Capitalist development that Marx here describes as “increasing social progress”. The dialectical approach of the Manifesto is repeated when Marx talks of “the latter’s positive acquisitions without experiencing all its frightful misfortunes.” In other words, he repeats exactly the point he had made to the Moral Socialists like Sismondi who held the same subjectivist, and formalistic positions that you adopt. Capitalism is progressive in developing the means of production despite the brutal means by which it effects that change. The other points he makes there in relation to “neither is it the prey of a foreign invader like the East Indies.” Only reinforce this point that he is making. He is emphasising precisely the point about why Russia might conceivably diverge from the path he had previously described. That is unlike India, where he had described in detail the revolutionising role of Capitalism introduced there by British Imperialism stating that it was the only genuine social revolution that the country had ever experienced, Russia did not face the likelihood of being colonised, and therefore, of capitalism being imposed from the outside. That, of course, looked less certain in 1917.

    And Marx then repeats this formulation later in his letter just so it cannot be thought that the first reference was some mistake. He writes,

    “On the other hand, the contemporaneity of western production, which dominates the world market, allows Russia to incorporate in the commune all the positive acquisitions devised by the capitalist system without passing through its Caudine Forks [i.e., undergo humiliation in defeat]”.

    And yet further on contradicting your assertion that marx changed his mind about the progressive role played by Capitalism he writes again,

    “it can gain possession of the fruits with which capitalist production has enriched mankind,”

    In other words far from repudiating his theory of Historical Materialism and the conclusion from it that Capitalism was historically progressive precisely because of its role in developing the productive forces, his letter to Zasulich is a restatement of it! It is also an application of the concept of combined and uneven development, because what Marx is saying is that it is precisely tht fact tht Capitalism had developed in the West that was the only basis upon which Russia could conceivably skip to a development of the village Commune. He writes,

    “If the spokesmen of the “new pillars of society” were to deny the theoretical possibility of the suggested evolution of the modern rural commune, one might ask them: Was Russia forced to pass through a long incubation period in the engineering industry, as was the West, in order to arrive at the machines, the steam engines, the railways, etc.? One would also ask them how they managed to introduce in their own country in the twinkling of an eye the entire mechanism of exchange (banks, joint-stock companies, etc.), which it took the West centuries to devise?”

    So, it is quite clear from these statements that Russia could not have made that progress UNLESS Capitalism existed in the West. So he is saying that not only has capitalism fulfilled a revolutionary and progressive role in the West, but the consequences of that are precisely the means by which Russia could adopt the positive consequences of that development!

    Moreover, I am surprsied that you cite this letter in defence of your position, because within it, Marx once again restates the basics of the Theory of Historical Materialism, and the relation between base and superstructure when he writes,

    “There is one characteristic of the “agricultural commune” in Russia which afflicts it with weakness, hostile in every sense. That is its isolation, the lack of connexion between the life of one commune and that of the others, this localised microcosm which is not encountered everywhere as an immanent characteristic of this type but which, wherever it is found, has caused a more or less centralised despotism to arise on top of the communes.”

    There could hardly be a clearer exposition of the relation between the material economic base of society, and the political superstructure that is conditioned by, and rises upon it. Marx’s writings on the village communes in India follow a similar pattern.

    But, then Marx passes from the purely theoretical basis upon which Russia might have passed straight from the Commune to Socialism and sets out all of the practical reasons as to why that would not happen. He sets out the way in which in reality the Commune was bound to decay from the inside, sets out that already upon the Capitalist development that had occurred in Russia, and the increasing differentiation of the peasantry, the State in Russia had already become a Capitalist State based upon that new economic base, and was acting accordingly to further the interests of Capital as against the peasants. He writes,

    “… In a word, the State has given its assistance to the precocious development of the technical and economic means most calculated to facilitate and precipitate the exploitation of the agricultural producer, that is to say, of the largest productive force in Russia, and to enrich the “new pillars of society”.”

    And Marx clearly does not see this as a negative development. In the next sentence he writes,

    “This combination of destructive influences, unless smashed by a powerful reaction, is bound to lead to the death of the rural commune.”

    If you want to try to portray Marx as saying something 180 degrees from what he actually said, you will need to do better than that.


  23. Communard,

    Fair point. I had been considering not responding to these latter comments on the basis that they had drifted miles from Libya, but they were so wrong I thought a response was justified. I’m happy to accept your request.


  24. I appreciate Communard’s concern about wordiness and drifting off-topic. But Boffy, can you give me ONE example of Marx using the term “Historical Materialism”?


  25. Why take this debate off site? why not put under new heading? Historical discussion is important. The speed in which the Arab Revolution unfolded drew comparisons with the revolutions of 1848. Some of the themes of Andersons marx at the margins- which is important to understand capitalism and imperialism -were present in the discussion. The Trotskyist and Leninist Tradition is still very influencial so valuable to engage intellectually. As for time well I work fulll time and could still take part. In short i do not want to dismiss Boffy and his views or shunt them to one side.


  26. I am in the process of writing a blog post on “progressive Imperialism” which will cover some of this ground. So I am happy to host such a discussion there.


  27. In answer to my question “can you give me ONE example of Marx using the term “Historical Materialism”?” Boffy responds “That’s the kind of question only a troll would ask. I don’t respond to trolls.”
    I think the question was fair enough, given that Boffy wrote:

    “I am amazed for several reasons that you quote Marx’s letter to Zasulich as evidence that he changed his view of the progressive role played by Capitalism – which in order to do he would have had to throw over the whole of Marxism, and the Theory of Historical Materialism!”

    And by the way Boffy, trolls don’t use their real names.


  28. Its a trolling question because it reduces debate to pedantry. Whether Marx ever used the term or not is irrelevant that is the term, which Marxists have always used to describe his theory – as opposed to Dialectical Materialism, which is a term that the Stalinists developed.

    Marx first described his theory as “the materialist conception of history”. That was shortened to “Historical Materialism” by Engels in his “Socialism: Scientific and Utopian”, a work proof read and approved by Marx, and for which Marx wrote the preface in 1880. Clearly Marx did not have the same problem with the term as you do, but then he wasn’t a pedant.

    Incidentally, on the matter of Anderson’s work. It is presented as though this was something new, but of course it isn’t. Its only a repetition of discussions from 40 years ago. When I was studying Economics back in the 1970’s a basic text for Development Economics was Umberto Melotti’s “Marx and The Third World”, (1972) which sets out Marx’s Multilinear view of development within the context of Historical Materialism, and with far better contextualised references of Marx’s writing in relation to the Asiatic Mode of Production, and with detailed discussion of his writings in relation to individual countries including the semi-Asiatic Russian model.

    Its one of the downsides of age that little seems genuinely new. By the same token one of the downsides of youth is that they often believe they have discovered something new, when infact they have only discovered something new to them.

    That is my last comment on this here in line with the commitment I gave to Communard above. I will be writing a blog post on my own blog covering some of these issues in the next week or so, anyone is welcome to contribute to a discussion on it there.


  29. Well a few more points. I Made a number of comments about the greatest productive force being workers and Boffy with great confidence replied that such a statement was nonesense and A historical claptrap. A Good line in abuse. But since he thinks that Trotsky was comrade 100% let me cite Trotsky from the revolution betrayed, page 82 pathfinder press new York 1972 : “In any case,state ownership of the means of production does not turn manure into gold,and does not surround with a halo of santity the sweatshop system,which wears out the greatest of all productive forces: Man.”( Humanity or Mankind)

    As for pedantry. According to Boffy there was no counter revolution following the revolution in 1848. There was just a defeat of the revolution in Germany
    I will make more points tomorrow.


  30. More pedantry from Boffy on”Historical Materialism.”:
    “Its a trolling question because it reduces debate to pedantry. Whether Marx ever used the term or not is irrelevant that is the term, which Marxists have always used to describe his theory – as opposed to , which is a term that the Stalinists developed.”
    Wrong again. “Dialectical Materialism” was invented by Plekhanov in 1892, and endorsed by Engels.


  31. I at least am sticking to the commitment I gave to Communard above. I have created a thread covering this discussion on my blog Marx And The progressive Role Of Capitalism.

    I look forward to your comments there. However, seeing “Dave Black’s” latest offering I think its clear who the real pedant is. Of course, even people who use “real names” – whether their own or not being another matter – clearly does not mean they are not trolls.


  32. Hi Boffy

    Made comments on your site, but then tried to sign in, but google would not allow me in and lost comments so thats the end of the debate. You should have stayed on here.


  33. Hi All
    I thought this was supposed to be a discussion on the military invasion of Libya and the progress of the rebellions against dictators in the Middle East.
    We’ve drifted some way away from it! In my view the situation in Libya should be seen in the context of the rebellions in other neighbouring countries and not in isolation — in other words as part of a regional, even potentially international movement. To see it in isolation and then compare what is happening with isolated examples from the past, like Iraq, N. Ireland, Brazil etc is therefore wrong.

    Also I think we must look at the context of changes in global capitalism, after the recession, increases in unemployment and the cost of living on a world scale, the rise of China India etc.. This has weakened US imperialism and also nation states throughout the world. there is a feeling that the real riuling class are global and beyond the control of individual nation states which are there merely to rubber stamp the demands of their masters.

    Most important thing –Do we support the rebellions? I think we should. What can we do about it and how can we get in dialogue with the rebels?
    I think we should try to set up an international solidarity campaign.
    We should also look to changing the political situation in Britain. We need some popular democratic demands and some proposals for constituational changes. Democracy must firstly come from below in the workplace.
    I think that the working class have become disillusioned with the political system and that is because they have no representation. The youth too are alienated.

    Unfortunately the Left Groups will not take up these issues because they do not believe in democracy for their own oganisations let alone for the working class as a whole.

    Dave S


  34. Dave,

    WW have put forward this idea about an “Arab Revolution”. Clearly, events in one country are affecting what happens in otehrs, if only at the level of a demonstration effect. But, in general I think its wrong. As I’ve said elsewhere the conditions in each country are different, and the nature of the rebllions in each country are also different. To be honest, in most of the countries that remain essentially pre-capitalist, rent based economies I do not think the conditions for stable bourgeois demcoracy even exist. WW have suggested that an Arab revolution could ensure that the oil riches of some coutnries could be used to provide the resources needed for the economic development of others. But, that is even less possible. If the conditions for bouregosi democracy do not exist in many of those countries, and if a sizeable working-class does not exist within them, then it is impossible to see how a socialist revolution in those countries is possible except if it was part of some reoluitonary war conducted by other states that had become Workers States. I don’t think that is likely or desirable. And, outside a socialist revolution there is no reason why oil rich states would hand over their riches to otehr states for the purpose of their development.

    On the question of supporting the rebels, on balance I think we should not. Mark E. has set out some of the details in relation to who they are, and they are far from being very progressive. They are likely to be the opponents of any genuine Libyan workers movement. We should concentrate on trying to make links with Libyan workers organisations, and if they find any basis for organising common action with some of these rebels then fine, provided they maintain political and organisational independence from them.

    It seems clear now that Imperialism is gearing up to put some kind of force into Libya in the same way they did in the Balkans. They already have connections with some of the rebels, and any intervention is almost certainly going to be on the basis of putting in its own puppe regime. We should not fall into the trap of the SWP and others, and make our main activity opposing Imperialism, but we should combine opposition to Imperialist meddling with at least equal calls for an Intenational Labour Movement response to support the Libyan workers, and we should make clear that the Egyptian, Tunisian, Syrian and Algerian Labour Movements have a particular responsibility in that regard as their nearest neighbours.

    Having got involved in a distraction from the original topic, I’m going to resist commenting on your points about demcoracy in Britain, interesting as such a discussion would be.


  35. Boffy
    Fair enough I understand where you’re coming from. I don’t agree with you however. One point stands out. “Call for an International Labour Movement response.” This is an abstraction or an idea that’s long since past its sellby date if ever there was one. Are we talking about the British TUC and its international contacts? The Labour Party, the Communist Parties of the world. Who are the International Labour Movement? Are we talking about the Left Groups? Some of them probably think that Libya, Syria etc are deformed workers’states because they are secular and have some nationalisation. Any movement of support has to come from below and brush aside the sell-out merchants of the official International Labour movement. It must come about through the unity of people who are ready for a revolutionary change within their own nation state linking internationally. That’s why we should build a solidarity capaign in the UK not wait for the TUC or the Left.

    Dave S


  36. Dave,

    I agree that the Labour Movement support should be built from below. I see no reason in the context of the unfolding events why those workers in Egypt, for example, that have begun to move – and whose movement is probably the main motivation for the generals organising the coup against Mubarak – could not play a big role in assisting workers in Libya.

    But, also calling on the Trades Unions in Britain and elsewhere is not the same as calling on the Capitalist State to act. These are still, in theory, OUR organisations, and winning back control of them is not like having to undertake a revolution against the State for control. Moreover, regaining control of these organisations is a necessary part of us rebuilding the Labour Movement, which in turn is necessary if socialist advance is to occur. We may want to build OTHER forms and structures too in the same process, but we WILL have to regain that control.

    And, there are some sections of those unions and organisations that could be won over to the idea of creating an active internationalist force. As I’ve said elsewhere, the pacifists can do it, the organisations like medicins Frontieres can do it, and of course, the Islamists cand do it. Its defeatist then to simply say we the Labour movement cannot do it. In truth i doubt the Labour Movement and Trades Unions in the 1930’s were THAT MUCH different to what we have today, and yet the International Brigade was created.

    I’m really not bothered what the minutae of analyses of the various groups are provided they agree that the prime duty is to defend the Libyan workers against their class enemies. The contradiction of that in the event of attacks from the Gaddafi regime for those that continued to beleive it was in some sense a Workers regime, would soon become apparent. That after all is why the USSR had to keep rotating its troops in Czeckoslovakia.

    I was reading an article in an old Capital & Class yesterday about how Marxism has failed to understand Nationalism, because it fails to udnerstand the pwoer of emotion. It raised an important point I thought. It said, we have Tombs Of The Unknown Soldier, and so on, which are important symbols, but we do not have such Tombs of the Unkown Marxist or even Liberal. But, there is no reason we should not have similar totems, for example Tombs of the Unknown Worker, that attests to all the workers killed in industrial accidents, let alone those who died in fighting for progressive change. They would provide important symbols, and rallying points in connection with May Day etc. It is the kind of symbolism that an idea of Class as opposed to Nation requires.

    But, I do understand the difficulty about the nature of the Trades Unions. I was just reading another article from the 1980’s about the development of the ETUC, and of international Combine Committees. Of course, they have not really amounted to much. Faced with simialr austerity measures across Europe, the ETUC has not been able to organise even co-ordinated actiona cross Europe to oppose those measures or for the establishment/defence of common, decent Pensions and so on. There are very good reasons for that to do with the fact that Capital sets worker against worker far more effectively via its operation, far more than it brings them together in a common condition. That is one reason I have argued the need for building Co-operatives on at least a European basis, thereby materially joining together workers interests.

    The argument that we cannot currently do much to organise a Labour movement intervention into Libya is not a reason to not raise that demand, or to settle for some second best alternative on the basis that “something must be done”. My posiiton he remains the same as that I argued, and that Dave Broder argued in relation to Iraq. We raise the necessary demand for workers to act to provide a solution, as the very minimum that has to be done to build the working-class into a force that IS capable of providing that solution.


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