Jacobin is a prominent US journal of the broad left. Its title is apposite since the Jacobins were the revolutionary leaders of the French bourgeois revolution, so it’s name signifies the retreat of Western Marxism or the broad left from Bolshevism to a defence of bourgeois democracy. This may be a died-in-the-wool Stalinist ‘stageism’ (first ‘democracy’ then ‘socialism’) or ‘crypto’ Stalinism, having arrived at stageism via liberal democracy. It is necessary to counter-pose a full-blooded Bolshevik-Leninism, that is Trotskyism, to this jaded Jacobinism.
Jacobins or Trotskyists?
In a recent article Syrian activist Razan Ghazzawi interviews Ramah Kudaimi on the 6 years of revolution and counter-revolution in Syria. Kudaimi defends the revolution but not in such a way as to advance its victory. It critiques those on the left who support the Assadist regime on the grounds that the rebels are Islamic terrorists and not Syrian revolutionaries. We have critiqued this social imperialist left as orientalist, Islamophobic, or ‘RT socialists’, since the onset of the Arab Spring. If this were not bad enough, even those who do support the Syrian revolution only give ‘conditional’ support to the revolution because they do not see the Islamic militias as fighting for ‘democracy’, but for an Islamic State.
This is a convenient ‘catch-22’ that dismisses national revolutions unless they fulfill the conditions of being secular and democratic. After all, how can a revolution for bourgeois democracy against the ‘dictatorship’, fascism and imperialism succeed if led by reactionary, ‘fascist’ and theocratic state advocates? The revolution is supposed to end with a new democratic regime in place. We call these fakers ‘unconscious Assadists’ because they all imagine that a bourgeois democratic regime can be installed in Syria without an uninterrupted or Permanent Revolution coming to fruition in the whole of MENA. Worse, even a democratic revolution is impossible in one country (with borders set and re-set by imperialism!) without the defeat of imperialism in the region as a whole.
So, for the social imperialists, the revolution by definition has to come from a secular, democratic base, and it cannot meet these conditions if its agents are calling for theocracy, Sharia Law and an Islamic State. Automatically, the only fighting forces that can militarily defeat imperialism in MENA are disqualified as revolutionaries and labelled ‘sectarians’, ‘reactionaries’ and ‘terrorists’ if not ‘fascists’.
This means that the Western left has to fall back on imperialist intervention – a reactionary utopia. Reactionary, because it is imperialism that has created the conditions for Islamic radicalism, utopian, because imperialism is the No 1 terrorist, and its apologists are aiding and abetting terrorism. It is a contradiction in terms, reflecting the social imperialist ideology of the dominant left currents who have never renounced the hypocrisy of supporting imperialism abroad to pay for socialism at home.
So, the Jacobin article correctly critiques the main US left demand for NFZs since 2011, because of the absurdity of calling on US and Russian imperialism that are already bombing Syria to impose NFZs. Yet the author replaces the NFZ with the demand to ‘stop the bombing’ which suffers from the same absurdity, that national revolutions can succeed against imperialist states by pressuring those same historic oppressor states to become ‘democratic’!
As a result, the 'democratic' social imperialist ‘left’ has refused to take the necessary steps to arm the rebels because they are not ‘democratic’ enough. Yet a popular revolution is the only way that NFZs can be imposed. Without SAMS, the US, Putin and Assad can bomb at will. Even the children of Aleppo burning tires to create a smokescreen against the bombers were more effective than 6 years of begging imperialism to stop being imperialism. As we have constantly pointed out in the last 6 years, unless the Western Left arms the revolutionaries with high tech SAMS there can be no stopping the bombing. None of the imperialist ‘ceasefires’ has stopped the bombing. None results from liberal pressure at home but rather are designed to weaken the revolution.
So, the root of the problem for the Western left is that it is no longer revolutionary, and so rejects the elementary internationalist duty of unconditional military support for any and all the enemies of imperialism. It resorts to calling Jihadists ‘fascist’ so 'democratic imperialism' becomes the lesser evil. This is much the same as the rejection of unconditional defence of the Soviet Union because the Stalinist regime was ‘fascist’ and so the war against fascism became the mission of democratic imperialism. To get out of this impasse the left has to return to Bolshevik-Leninism and the struggle to build a revolutionary Marxist party and program.
Permanent Revolution and Military Support
Those of us who claim to be Trotskyists have had plenty of practice rehearsing Trotsky’s arguments about anti-imperialist military blocs in the period since 9/11. Trotsky fought to keep alive the programmatic advances of the first four Congresses of the 3rd Communist International, in particular Permanent Revolution and, as part of that, the tactic of the anti-imperialist united front or AUF. Based on the concept of the united front, communists have a duty to strike together against the class enemy, but at the same time, to march separately to maintain their political independence and raise the communist program to win reformist workers and petty bourgeois elements to revolution. The AUF developed out of the Bolshevik Revolution which for the first time proved that the bourgeois revolution (or the national democratic revolution) cannot be advanced as a united front with the 'democratic' bourgeoisie against imperialism, feudalism or fascism, but must be led by the revolutionary proletariat to become ‘permanent’ as the socialist revolution.
In the epoch of imperialism, the national bourgeoisie is no longer a revolutionary class but the agent of imperialism against the workers and poor peasants. The Bolshevik Revolution succeeded only because the revolutionary proletariat took the leadership of the national democratic revolution and was prepared to overthrow the national bourgeoisie to stop it joining the counter-revolutionary bloc with the Tsarists and imperialist powers (i.e. the failed Kornilov Coup in August 1917). To succeed, the anti-imperialist struggle had to be led by the revolutionary proletariat, allied to the poor peasantry, against both the imperialists and their national class allies, the national bourgeoisie.
Trotsky developed the AUF to distinguish political support from military support. Like all united fronts, revolutionary workers’ bloc with other oppressed class forces fighting imperialism militarily without making political ultimatums about socialist revolution. Yet at the same time, they argue for the class independence of the proletariat as the only class capable of completing the bourgeois revolution as the socialist revolution.
The theory/program of Permanent Revolution tested by the Bolsheviks in Russia was confirmed negatively in Germany (1919-1923) and China (1925-1927) where revolutionaries prostrated themselves to reformist illusions in bourgeois democracy. The betrayal of the Chinese Revolution in 1927 resulted from Stalin’s political bloc with the Kuomintang which subordinated the Communist Party leadership to Chiang Kai Shek and led to its extermination. So even where a military bloc with fascist national leaders (like Chiang Kai Shek, Haile Selassie, or the Argentinian Generals in the Malvinas War) against imperialism were necessary, the proletariat kept its armed independence at all costs in preparation for the overthrow of the national bourgeoisie.
As we have argued before, applying the AUF to Syria is a test of Bolshevism against Menshevism. It comes more than a decade after 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan during which period revolutionaries formed military blocs with the national bourgeois factions that were fighting imperialism. We gave military support to the Taliban, to Gaddafi, to the Iraqi resistance, and today, to the Islamic militias in Syria, while they fight imperialism and its local bourgeois agents AND DO NOT serve imperialism in attacking the revolution.
But at all times we keep our political independence and do not subordinate our military independence to any of these bourgeois military leaderships. So long as we form a military bloc alongside those fighting the main enemy, imperialism, we must raise the communist program for permanent revolution. In this way, the objective situation can be transformed by our military intervention as the political consciousness of the revolutionaries is advanced to fight for the Permanent Revolution.
From Al Qaeda to Hayat Tahrir al Sham
Six years of civil war in Syria vindicates the Bolshevik program. We give military support to Daesh but in the certain knowledge that Daesh fights imperialism only to do a deal with it against the Syrian and Iraqi revolution. So, in practice, we cannot enter into a AUF with Daesh without betraying the revolution. Similarly, we gave military support to the former al Nusra before it dissociated with al Qaeda and became JFS (Jabhat Fatah al Sham). We do not put political conditions on this military bloc i.e. demanding that JFS renounce the Islamic State. But in the process, we expect that Trotskyist militias like the Leon Sedov Brigade can be in the position to raise their program for socialist revolution and influence jihadists to reject the Islamic state for a socialist republic.
As we predicted, the Syrian revolution is the critical test for the theory/program of Permanent Revolution. Those militias that are led by bourgeois warlords have sold out to imperialism and its local agents, Assad, Turkey or Jordan. For example, elements of the FSA and Ahrar al Sham joined Turkey to fight Daesh and the Kurd PRG abandoning the defence of Aleppo. They have betrayed the Syrian revolution to scramble for the crumbs of power and territory as the imperialists carve up Syria.
On the other hand, those militias like JFS (now HTS - Hayat Tahrir al Sham) that remain true to the anti-imperialist cause are advancing their political program away from the isolation of jihad towards Permanent Revolution. JFS (while al Nusra) met with popular opposition to its program and practices and transformed itself to the point where it has now won mass support to become the strongest and most consistent force of the revolution. Moreover, after the fall of Aleppo, JFS liquidated itself into the HTS merging its forces and leadership to form the most effective fighting force for the revolution.
For Jacobins, the Syrian revolution is going nowhere because the ‘rebels’ are not ‘democratic’ and have to wait until oppressor states can transmit ‘democracy’ to the oppressed states. As we know for imperialists the only democracy they can transmit is from warplanes or drones. For Trotskyists, what began as an isolated Syrian franchisee of al Qaeda is now fighting for basic democratic rights (tolerance of political and religious differences in the military bloc) which creates an opening for the revolutionary program which states that the Syrian revolution cannot win short of an Arab socialist federation.
Against the Jacobin (and Menshevik, Stalinist and fake Trotskyist) social imperialism, this transformation vindicates the Bolshevik program of the AUF which creates military blocs to advance political agreement to the point where national, religious, gender, and other differences become resolved into a single class war against the imperialists and their dictatorships.
For a military block with real anti-imperialists against fake anti-imperialists!
Victory to the Syrian Revolution!
Forward to the socialist federation of MENA!