Replying to the FSP's Kathleen Merrigan--

Struggling to have it both ways
in the class struggle

by Frank Arango, July 11, 2008

The FSP defending its stand
Blustering and misplaced indignation to cover an untenable position
Critical support for reactionaries
Supporting the rights of oppressors
Putting off the class struggle
On the FSP's secret support for the right of the Kurds to self-determination
Leninism vs. Trotskyism


. My last article in this debate showed that the Freedom Socialist Party's approach to supporting the Iraqi people against the imperialist occupation relies on formulas that separate the class struggle from anti-imperialism. (1) This results in its anti-imperialism being turned into naught as it lines up support for fundamentalist and Ba'athist exploiters and oppressors of the people who only fight the U.S. occupiers so that they themselves can become big shots in the region.

. In reply, the FSP's Kathleen Merrigan doesn't deny that the FSP supports these forces, in fact she vigorously defends its support for them. [See her statement Communist Voice Organization Continues to Misconstrue and Malign Freedom Socialist Party's Support for the Iraqi Resistance.] Nevertheless, she does complain that the title of my article--Freedom Socialist Party continues to support exploiters and oppressors of the Iraqi masses-- "could hardly be more inflammatory." Well, I had indeed hoped that this title would inflame thought. But Merrigan apparently sees it as inflammatory because she thinks that this stand shouldn't be widely debated in the movement. In fact, her reply is not posted on the FSP website, and appears to have only been sent to selected activists. (2)

. To resolve this question in a revolutionary way, however, requires carefully studying the political situation in Iraq, and seeing what is necessary for the working class to establish its own independent trend, put its stamp on the anti-occupation struggle, and defend itself against both the Iraqi and foreign exploiters. But this is difficult for the FSP because it's very comfortable with a formulaic approach, and particularly the approach and formulas of Leon Trotsky. And it's also comfortable with eclecticism, i.e., it seems entirely unshaken when it's pointed out that the FSP's approach leads it to support valiant women and working class organizers in Iraq, and at the same time support forces that suppress and murder them! This is trying to have it both ways in the class struggle.

. Now Merrigan refers to my article as a "lengthy diatribe against the Freedom Socialist Party" (the FSP suddenly becomes the issue), to Williams' article as "CVO's original 13-page opus," and she writes that the FSP is "appalled that CVO expends such time and effort arguing" the position that we do (my emphases). Yet she replied to my alleged "mess of confusion" because the issues are important. And, indeed, the theoretical issue of whether the very heart of anti-imperialism (the class struggle) can be glossed over and still have anti-imperialism is a crucial question for anti-occupation activists both in Iraq and this country. Thus, I do not begrudge the time spent writing another article in this series of exchanges between CVO and FSP members.

. Also by way of introduction, I would note that Merrigan criticizes me for "basing (my) entire polemic on one FSP statement and two short articles in the Freedom Socialist, one of them almost five years old," which implies that I somehow missed the FSP's real views. But no, I didn't. In this reply to Merrigan I draw on other FSP articles to support various arguments, and they all happen to confirm that Williams' criticism of the FSP Statement on the Third Anniversary of the Occupation of Iraq was accurate, as was my subsequent article.

The FSP defending its stand

. Merrigan raises that the U.S. imperialists don't like the FSP's support for the Iraqi resistance, nor do various misleaders of the anti-war movement who are allied with the Democratic Party. This has resulted in the FSP being attacked by reactionaries, abused by pacifists, and so on. But other anti-war activists and groups also suffer attacks and abuse, and raising this diverts attention away from the issue that the FSP actually supports the reactionary political forces that dominate the resistance. Consistently democratic and anti-imperialist anti-war activists don't like this, and this is what we're struggling to resolve. The FSP writers are therefore forced to justify their stand before the masses, and the result is not a pretty picture:

Blustering and misplaced indignation to cover an untenable position

. I emphasized to Megan Cornish that "while armed struggles in other countries often have had several different organized political trends fighting for influence, the situation in Iraq is that the mass involvement is scattered and leaderless as a political trend" and that "this adds seriousness to the issue that the present leadership is mostly Islamic fundamentalists and Ba'ath party loyalists." Thus, in the course of building the anti-occupation struggles, the Iraqi workers must not only support the democratic struggles that arise in opposition to these reactionaries, but must strive to build up their own independent trend in the midst of these struggles. That is, they cannot leave the class struggle for another time.

. Merrigan's reply?

"In the war between U.S. imperialism and the Iraqi resistance, which side are you on? If you refuse to support those fighting against the occupation, you are objectively siding with imperialism. "

. And, in the April-May 2005 Freedom Socialist Cornish put this even more strongly:

"There are two sides in the Iraq war. One is an imperialist aggressor. The other is a resistance that, by defending besieged Iraq, is challenging the very right of imperialism to exist. [!] The question boils down to: which side are you on?"

. But the reactionary forces dominating the resistance are helping to destroy the ability of the Iraqi workers and other progressive people to unite to fight the occupation by breaking up their organizations, pitting them against each other, and murdering them. And it's the masses of workers, poor people and progressive democrats who are the anti-imperialist forces in Iraq. It is they who our solidarity is with. And if this is to be real solidarity we must not only support their struggles against the U.S. occupiers and the collaborationist government, but also against those resistance leaders who are attacking them, and have them under a state of siege. And, as a matter of fact, these masses comprise a third side--weakly-organized as it is--that Merrigan and Cornish leave out of their formula!

. The fundamentalist and Ba'athist resistance leaders, on the other hand, represent a bourgeoisie with ambitions to have the "rightful place" in the imperialist pecking order that control of Iraqi oil wealth would give it. Hence, their fight is not at all challenging the right of imperialism to exist, nor is refusing to support their fight "objectively siding with imperialism." Moreover, "which side are you on" when they attack the democratic masses, as the FSP knows they do?

. But Merrigan seems to sense that the "which side are you on?" bluster isn't speaking to the issue. So much of her reply is devoted to indignantly pointing out the FSP's "history of consistent emphasis on the workers and women who are resisting both U. S. occupation and religious fundamentalism. " And she even points out that the very FSP statement (3) that Mark Williams first criticized says in black and white:

"Though the specter of civil war is present, there are forces within the Iraqi resistance who are organizing across ethnic and religious lines to continue the fight to expel the U.S. The fastest way to end this war is to support the indigenous resistance movement of trade unionists, women's organizations, intellectuals, students and elders who want a secular and democratic Iraq. "

. So, see! The CVO is just maligning people when it writes of the FSP ignoring the class struggle in Iraq!

. Additionally:

"Freedom Socialist articles too numerous to mention have discussed the contradictions within the Iraqi resistance, condemned the crimes of the fundamentalists and emphasized the importance of building working class organizations."

. More proof that the FSP maintains a class standpoint toward the Iraqi resistance!

. But Merrigan is indignantly leading us over hill and dale only to prove . . . on the one hand the FSP supports the struggles of the largely disorganized Iraqi workers and women, while on the other hand it supports the much more organized reactionary bourgeois resistance forces that work to destroy independent activity of the masses.

. Nevertheless, traveling over hill and dale with Merrigan does have its interests.

. Firstly, a perusal of older issues of Freedom Socialist shows the FSP continually portraying the struggles of the Iraqi workers or women as simply being resistance to U.S. imperialism when in fact their struggles are very often against exploitation and oppression by Iraqi capitalists (both supporters of the collaborationist government and supporters of the armed resistance), or against gangs organized both by governing parties and the armed resistance leaders. So in this way the internal class struggle in Iraq is continually glossed over, which shows that the FSP statement and articles that Mark Williams and I criticized were not in any way aberrant.

. Secondly, Freedom Socialist articles also continually lump together the armed resistance and the struggles of trade unionists, women's organizations and others, when in reality they're basically outside the armed resistance, and have varying attitudes toward it. (In fact, the cry of "which side are you on" would label as "objectively" pro-imperialist all those workers and women's organizations who oppose reactionary groups in the resistance; indeed, the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq even goes to the extent of wrongly opposing the armed resistance as a whole.) So lumping everything together this way glosses over this class contradiction as well.

. Thus, with this double glossing over accomplished, everything becomes very simple: "In the war between U.S. imperialism and the Iraqi resistance, which side are you on?" This is non-class anti-imperialism, a fraudulent anti-imperialism.

. Life is not so simple, however, and the U.S. occupation isn't the only problem facing the Iraqi people. Up to a certain point, the FSP realizes this. Thus it gives political support to various Iraqi groups that struggle against their domestic exploiters, and it stands for a secular and democratic Iraq when the dominant resistance leaders do not, both of which are praiseworthy. But then it runs into a blind alley that its application of Trotskyist formulas have engineered. Let's make another stop on our journey with Merrigan in order to illustrate this.

. On the one hand, the FSP supports various Iraqi women's groups (i.e., the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq) who are under constant attack by fundamentalist and other thugs from the collaborationist government, the dominant resistance groups, and from Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army. On the other hand, it supports the reactionary resistance leaders, and al-Sadr's reactionary army in particular.

. Thus, in the December 2004-January 2005 issue of Freedom Socialist Megan Cornish, in hailing the fact that some women were joining the armed resistance, neutrally wrote that the "Mahdi Army even has recruitment videos and posters featuring women." (In the previous issue Cornish had glorified al-Sadr in her Al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army: Iraq's most abused and desperate stand up to empire.) (4)

. So is Cornish advocating that Iraqi women join this outfit that at times rebels against the U.S. occupiers, but all the time acts as a brutal and murderous enforcer of women's oppression? Should they strengthen its bloody hand against progressive women, such as those in the OWFI? Megan would obviously answer no to the latter, but she should go on to critically examine the political theory that leads to such a crying contradiction.

Critical support for reactionaries

. Merrigan writes that:

"The concept of critical support is fundamental to Leninism and Trotskyism. It allows revolutionaries to take clear positions on all vital struggles of oppressed people. . ."

. But this is separating the concept of critical support from the class struggle. It is class analysis of political situations, belief in the role of the working class, understanding the necessity to build revolutionary organization, and careful analysis of the stage of the struggle that are among the things that make Marxist-Leninist analysis so important for the struggles of oppressed workers and peoples. The idea that one might be allied for a time with temporary and conditional allies, or give critical support to various trends, is part of Marxist tactics, but it does not distinguish communism from most other trends, who also follow such tactics. It's the class analysis of communism, which determines its relation to other trends, which is distinctive to Marxism. But it is distinctive to Trotskyism to believe, with Merrigan, that "critical support" is consistent with "unconditional support"--this is another example of the FSP wanting it both ways in the class struggle.

. So what allows revolutionaries to take clear positions on the vital struggles of the oppressed is not that they critically support other political forces, but a concrete analysis of the situation--which, contrary to Merrigan, is what is really fundamental to Leninism. It's such an analysis that, among other things, allows them to correctly sort out which forces should be supported, and which not. And this in no way means that Leninists support fundamentalists and reactionaries just because they're fighting an imperialist power, although Trotskyists often do. (The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.) In fact, my article pointed out that Lenin argued for the need to combat such trends, and Merrigan ignores this. Further, critical support for a just overall resistance means that we must oppose, expose, and fight against the dominant leaders when they're reactionaries like those in Iraq today. This is crucial if the workers are to build up an independent and therefore truly anti-imperialist organization.

. The Trotskyist FSP takes the opposite stand, however. For example, writing in the Feb. -Mar. , 2007 issue of Freedom Socialist, Monica Hill says the "Islamic right wing" deserves critical support! (A "clear position," but hardly a revolutionary one. ) This leaves the FSP sometimes criticizing or denouncing various atrocities of the Ba'athists and fundamentalists against the masses, but always supporting them no matter how many innocent people they blow up: "unconditional, but critical" support for them.

Supporting the rights of oppressors

. When pressed about this stand in public debates, FSP members invariably take refuge in talk about defending the right of the Iraqi people to resist. Of course, this is something that no progressive can argue against until they realize that FSP includes blood-stained exploiters in their definition of "the people." Merrigan puts this as "we do support the right of all Iraqis to resist occupation" (her emphasis).

. But this is an abstract, non-class refuge, i.e., the concept "right" cannot be separated from the class struggle. In life, the reactionary resistance leaders are driven by class motivations, with their bourgeois conception of right justifying their resistance. They also have the money, guns, and organization that make the kind of fight they've been waging possible; and they're going to fight whether or not anyone on the U.S. left preaches that they have the right to do so. But sections of the masses are also resisting, and our proletarian conception of right leads us to support them. The FSP, however, glosses over these two opposing class conceptions of right in order to justify supporting the reactionaries dominating the resistance movement.

. Now various FSP members, including Kathleen, defend this stand by stressing the importance of leading the U.S. anti-war movement to support the Iraqi resistance, particularly in face of all the calumny of the bourgeoisie against it. But one does not need to support the Ba'athist and fundamentalist leaders in order rally support for the mass resistance, including the masses resisting with guns. (The CVO, for example, has been rallying such support since the first days of the occupation. ) Further, many workers and young people in this country already sympathize with their compatriots in Iraq, and they would like to see them rise en masse to drive out the U.S. But they also justly hate clerical-reactionary and Ba'athist oppression. Thus, to tell them that support for the resistance of the people means that they must critically support these scoundrels, defend their rights, etc., is not just theoretically wrong, but it also greatly discredits socialism and anti-imperialism when done in their name.

. Another FSP defense of supporting the reactionaries dominating the resistance is as follows:

"Pro-capitalist and anti-communist, the Islamic right wing does not side with workers or women, or any other movement for democratic rights. But in the face of military occupation by western imperialism, they can be a force for militant opposition. They deserve critical support -- defending their right to resist imperialist armies, while condemning their reactionary politics and actions. " (Monica Hill in the February-March 2007 issue of Freedom Socialist)

. Let's examine it sentence by sentence:

. 1) The decision on whether to support another resisting political force indeed hinges on its relationship to the masses, but Hill progresses from noting the general truths that the fundamentalists are pro-capitalist and anti-communist to prettifying their concrete relationship with the masses, i.e., the Islamic right wing's relation to the exploited and oppressed people is more than it doesn't "side with" their democratic movements. Rather, it's a force that attacks and seeks to utterly smash these movements.

. 2) While the second sentence is true, it leaves out that the Islamic fundamentalists are only militant against western imperialism in order to set up a regime that militantly oppresses the masses while it reaps the benefits of oil revenues. This omission leaves us with the argument that we should support the fundamentalists simply because they're militant against the west.

. 3) So after prettifying the fundamentalists' relation with the democratic masses, and then stripping their militancy against the west of its class aims, Hill can safely conclude that they deserve critical support. What kind of honesty is this?

Putting off the class struggle

. Merrigan writes that:

"The invasion and occupation has created an environment in which fundamentalism and sectarianism thrive, and an end to the occupation itself would be the single biggest blow against these elements."

. Really? History has repeatedly shown that how an anti-occupation struggle is waged, and which trends are dominant in it is of tremendous importance for what follows. A liberated Iraq dominated by some alliance of reactionary trends in the resistance and in the collaborationist government is one in which the tragedy of the Iraqi people will continue. Nevertheless, we should support the struggle against the occupation in any case; and in the case of a bad outcome, the masses will more clearly see the reactionary nature of their new domestic oppressors and eventually organize against them. But it is the job of communists to help shorten the road to liberation, not help pave the way for decades of continued tragedy.

. But Merrigan only writes of the end to the occupation itself being a blow against these reactionary elements in defense of the FSP's support for a section of these elements today. The deliverance of the real blow against them (and U.S. Imperialism), however, requires building up the independent organization and activity of the masses today, i.e., opposing these elements today. Similarly, when she writes that: "We believe that driving the occupiers out of Iraq is the necessary first step in fighting for a democratic, secular and socialist revolution . . .," she glosses over the secular, democratic and socialist tasks today. (She also mushes together democratic and socialist revolutions, a question that we'll take up in the concluding section. )

On the FSP's secret support for the right of the Kurds to self-determination

. Merrigan writes that:

"Because the Kurdish struggle is not mentioned in that particular statement [the FSP's third anniversary statement], CVO claims that we do not support Kurdish self-determination."

. But the truth is that for almost five years of war and occupation, i.e., up until Cornish's reply to Williams, no Freedom Socialist article actually supported the right of the Kurds to self-determination, even in word. The closest thing (and it's not close) is an April-June 2003 article that mentions Hussein's ruthless repression of the Kurds and hails "Kurdish rebels" building up their bases of resistance and underground organizations against him.

. Meanwhile, Freedom Socialist articles spoke of "Complex ethnic and religious and tribal relations have been fanned [by the U.S. ] into hostilities among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that invite the horrors of ethnic cleansing -- the same war tactic used in the former Yugoslavia" (February-March 2006), or, under the headline Iraq's sectarian strife: mayhem made in the USA, they said "The U.S. occupation has planted the seeds of ethno-sectarian division, preparing Iraq for civil war . . .Why would the U. S. deliberately foment ethnic antagonisms and civil war? . . . Chillingly, there is more and more talk in U.S. ruling circles of partitioning the country."

. So in critiquing the FSP's third anniversary statement, Mark Williams wrote that the "FSP statement's assertion that the U.S. plan is to 'balkanize Iraq' combined with its silence on the right of self-determination for the Kurds, also implies that support for Kurdish national rights means playing into the hands of U.S. imperialism." And, in replying to Megan Cornish, I pointed out that she didn't distinguish between the achievement of national rights by the Kurds, and ethnic cleansing and sectarian warfare. I also wrote that:

"She says the main division in Iraq is between 'advocates of national unity' and 'separatists', and that leaves the Kurds, who want their own separate state, as 'separatists'. Yet an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq -- or even the maintenance of the present autonomy -- would be separation. Hence, according to Cornish's logic, it would be a catastrophe. She can be for the right to self-determination of the Kurds, or she can be for the maintenance of national unity in the present borders of Iraq, but she can't be for both."

. Merrigan replies: "CVO confounds our position against the forced partition of Iraq by the U.S. with opposition to Kurdish national rights!"

. Thus, when pressed about the anti-Kurdish self-determination logic in what the FSP has time and again written (not to mention the fact that for nearly five years it's been silent on the question) Merrigan tells us that there's an exception to the FSP's opposition to any breaking of the national unity in the present borders of Iraq: the FSP really does support national self-determination for the Kurds. More, she elaborates on how important this is for the working-class struggle.

. This is good, even excellent . . . if it's now turned into practice. The struggle against national oppression, like the struggle against ethnic or racial discrimination, is not one that proletarian revolutionaries can be passive about. To the contrary, they must actively rally the masses of people against all the manifestations of this oppression, and agitate for the right of an oppressed nation to secede from its oppressor. Only in this way can the kind of trust necessary for the eventual merger of nations be built up. And from the immediately practical angle, the progressive Arab workers of Iraq must stand up for the equality of the Kurds, and for their right to secede. Otherwise, the chauvinism of the bourgeois factions will continually drag them down.

. But the FSP no doubt sends the Freedom Socialist to Iraqi activists; and surely some of these activists have also been confounded (confused) by the FSP's long silence on the right of the Kurds to self-determination combined with its strident opposition to an alleged U.S. plot to partition Iraq. In fact, the FSP may have strengthened the wrong view among some of them that the Kurdish question isn't really that important, or that raising it is "divisive," or that struggling for the right of the Kurds to self-determination should be opposed because this would be merely playing into a U.S. plot to divide Iraq into pieces. So proletarian internationalist support for the struggling Iraqi masses demands that the FSP begin to actively and clearly agitate in its publications for the right of the Kurds to self-determination, something that it has not previously done.

. Because of its Trotskyist heritage, this is not going to be easy for the FSP to do, i.e., the Kurdish struggle also has internal class contradictions that shouldn't be glossed over. But it should strive to do so nonetheless.

Leninism vs. Trotskyism

. Today, it is mainly Stalinists and Trotskyists (like those of the FSP) who speak in the name of Leninism. As a result, a caricature of Leninism prevails in much of the left; i.e., one that presents that Leninism means supporting any reactionary government or movement (like al-Sadr's) that happens to have a contradiction with U.S. imperialism. The CVO therefore spends a great deal of effort establishing what Leninism really is because we think the stands and analytical method of Lenin are necessary tools for advancing the movements of the 21st Century.

. A brief summary of Leninism on issues relevant to this discussion with the FSP (and which was written long before it) can be found in the article at (issue #29). Among other things, it points out that Leninism

". . . doesn't just deal with the class struggle in the developed capitalist countries, but with the class struggle in the colonies and throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America.
. "Leninism lays stress on the key role of the toiling masses in the oppressed nations. Its criterion of what strikes a blow at capitalism and imperialism isn't simply whether this or that government's policies are frustrated, but how the position, organization and activity of the working masses are affected.
. "It doesn't talk of an undifferentiated struggle for liberation or emancipation, but it looks into the specific features of different types of struggles. It recognizes that national liberation is only one step on the road to the emancipation of the working masses, and it follows the Marxist method of distinguishing between bourgeois-democratic and socialist revolutions.
. "It promotes the independent role of the proletariat (in any country that has a proletariat), and not just its participation inside the broader democratic and anti-imperialist movements. It shows that, at all stages of the struggle, the tasks of socialist activists go beyond the general democratic and anti-imperialist tasks.
. "It promotes proletarian internationalist solidarity between the workers of the oppressed and oppressing countries. This requires the workers of the imperialist countries to support the general liberation movements against the imperialism of their bourgeoisie, and it also requires that they give special support to the proletarian and toiling elements in the oppressed nations. "

. But relying on Trotsky's own writings, this same article shows that Trotsky separated the class struggle from anti-imperialism. The logical product was that during the Italo-Ethiopian war of the 1930s he posed that the duty of the proletariat was "making a choice between two dictators" (Mussolini and Emperor Haile Selassie), i.e., the FSP's "which side are you on?" Trotsky then glorified Selassie as a progressive, and wrote that his victory "would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole." (There's a striking similarity between this and Cornish's statement that "by defending besieged Iraq" the reactionary-dominated Iraqi resistance "is challenging the very right of imperialism to exist.")

. History was not kind to Trotsky's ignoring of the class and national struggles in the Ethiopian empire however. Shortly after he had glorified Selassie and called on the world's workers to support him, the feudal autocrat fled to imperialist Britain. And one of the reasons he fled was that had he stayed after the fall of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to the Italian fascists, he would have had to retreat past areas inhabited by the Oromo people whose lands had been annexed by the dominant Amhara nationality. The Ethiopian government therefore couldn't count on their support, and its troops had already met hostility from some of the Oromo.

. But Trotsky didn't sum up this experience. Rather, he continued to ignore the class struggle in weak countries under attack by imperialism, and went by the mechanical rule that it sufficed to know that one country was imperialist in order to support the leadership of the other, no matter what its aims, and no matter what its relation to the working masses.

. The same article takes up the fact that Trotsky failed to support the right of Morocco to self-determination during the Spanish Civil War, in which Franco's fascists overthrew the Spanish republic. But like the Kurdish question in Iraq today, this was no a small matter. Spanish Morocco had risen in an unsuccessful revolt in the 1920s, and Franco was now using Moroccans as cannon fodder in his fascist army. Thus, recognition of the rights of the Moroccan people by the Spanish republicans would have been essential for any serious effort to stir the Moroccans to a new revolt, this time against Franco.

. In defending Leninism against distortion by several modern-day Trotskyist groups, numerous other Communist Voice articles have also taken up Trotsky's erring stand and method when dealing with the movements in the subordinate countries; and Williams accurately summarized this work in the final paragraphs of his criticism. Cornish replied by writing it all off as CVO "slander" of Trotsky, but didn't deign to demonstrate to her readers how this was so. Merrigan replies that Williams and I "admit"(!) that the basis of our disagreement with the FSP "boils down to what the CVO sees as the misguided and incorrect ideas of Leon Trotsky. "

. This is humorous given that Williams initiated a critique of Trotsky and Trotskyism regarding the national liberation movements in the first article in this series of exchanges. But perhaps Merrigan is trying to appeal to people who consider criticism of Trotsky as the sin of sins. Nevertheless, my article also contained the following passage:

"Cornish believes that one can put aside the class struggle if one is dealing with a 'cross-class formation' such as the Iraqi resistance. She implicitly admits that the anti-occupation struggle will not give rise to a socialist revolution, and she sees that it should be supported despite the fact that it's not a socialist struggle, but she concludes that therefore one can downplay the class struggle. She thereby, despite her flowery words about the Iraqi workers, retreats from internationalist solidarity with them, and helps weaken the anti-occupation struggle.
. "Marxism-Leninism has always had a different view. Unlike the Trotskyist theory of 'permanent revolution,' it holds that yes, one should support various progressive struggles that aren't socialist. But developing the independent role and organization of the working class is vital in these struggles, and the power of these struggles depends greatly on how far the class struggle develops."

. Merrigan replies by saying that I malign but don't explain Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution, a subject that Trotsky devoted an entire book to. Nevertheless, the Communist Voice has explained this theory in the article An outline of Trotskyism's anti-Marxist theories (part one) in issue #30 (at Some points relevant to this discussion that it makes are that:

"Trotskyism sees only one stage of revolution throughout the world, regarding the idea of two (or more) stages as reformism everywhere and always.
. "Trotskyism is led to give a socialist gloss to movements and demands that leave capitalism in place, just as many reformists do. This socialistic gloss results in Trotskyism failing to see what independent socialist tasks a revolutionary working class trend should carry out in the midst of bourgeois-democratic revolutions and movements, since Trotskyism sees the overall movement itself as inherently socialist.
. "In his view, one talked about the democratic revolution simply to gain support, while all revolutions actually had a socialist character. He opposed the view that the democratic revolution could ever be something separate from socialist revolution. "

. Now let's look at Merrigan's explanation:

"In a nutshell, the theory of Permanent Revolution states that national liberation struggles in colonized countries, and democratic movements everywhere, naturally tend to grow over into revolutionary struggles -- for the very reason that only the working class has the power and will to win them. In the age of imperialism, these democratic movements (as well as all-out revolutions) continuously erupt around the globe, and put socialist revolution on the order of the day. This means that supporting democratic movements is the most important job of revolutionaries, not only because it is the prerequisite of international solidarity, but because it builds the revolutionary struggle."

. Thus, the national liberation movements and democratic movements everywhere are portrayed as inherently socialist, i.e., they "naturally tend to grow over into revolutionary struggles." (By "revolutionary struggles" Merrigan means struggles for socialism. ) But this explanation sloughs over the fact that victorious national liberation struggles themselves have often been revolutionary, i.e., they've smashed the stranglehold of semi-feudal and other backward relations in society, instituted land reform, and so on--which is what in fact what gave them their power against imperialism. In social content, these were bourgeois-democratic revolutions in the era of imperialism.

. Moreover, Merrigan's explanation says nothing of the immediate tasks of the workers of any country or oppressed nation. The Leninist theory, on the other hand, shows the importance of the leading role of the working class if the most radical outcome of the liberation struggle is to be achieved; of not holding back from revolution from fear of alienating the bourgeoisie; of the importance of utilizing the struggle to build up an independent movement of the proletariat; of the possibility that the struggle might go over to socialism in certain circumstances; and of the importance of upholding the independence of the working class. Trotskyism substitutes for this the idea that the struggle always goes over to socialism; that all struggles are revolutionary, and all revolutionary struggles are socialist. And from that apparently revolutionary standpoint, Trotskyism ends up with the old reformist positions, except that it doesn't shrink from prettifying the fundamentalists and tyrants, while the old-style reformists prettified the liberal bourgeoisie.

. So while the working class certainly had the will to win the many successful national liberation struggles of the last century, it often lacked sufficient ideological and organizational strength to lead the national movement, and this was often connected with the fact that it was then a small minority of the population, especially in Africa. Nevertheless, these national liberation movements did give rise to independent states. A stage in the revolutionary process had been completed (sometimes more than half century ago), and capitalism reigns throughout this area. This shows that one can't substitute wishful thinking and formulaic thinking--every revolution proceeds in one stage--with the reality. In Iraq, one faces the struggle to have an independent movement of the proletariat, and the armed resistance--far from being a social revolution, has its leadership dominated by reactionaries.

. Lastly, Merrigan argues that "supporting democratic movements is the most important job of revolutionaries," and that the "prime job" of revolutionaries in imperialist countries in fighting their own ruling class is to fight its imperialist adventures internationally and support democratic movements at home. (5) So she's again true to Trotsky in that no mention is made of giving special support to the proletarian elements in the democratic movements. And this is another example of her wanting it both ways, i.e., she talks of supporting democratic movements, while supporting reactionaries who are against the development of such movements.

. Trotsky ended his Permanent Revolution with the fine sentence "And the worst illusion in all its history from which the proletariat has up till now suffered has always been reliance upon others." In other words, it had to act independently. But Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution gave him no guidance as to what this meant when it came to the struggles of the toilers in weak or backward countries under attack by imperialist powers, and he ended up proclaiming that the "choice" was between two dictators. During the first Gulf War the FSP faithfully followed this formula when it ignored the class struggle in Iraq, and lined up support for the dictator Saddam Hussein. Today it continues on the same path with its demand "which side are you on?"---the U.S. imperialists or the reactionary clerics and Ba'athists dominating the armed resistance. Behind this is a conservative approach, not a revolutionary one. <>


(1) Communist Voice, vol. 14, #1 (February 20, 2008): Freedom Socialist Party continues to support exploiters and oppressors of the Iraqi masses. (Issue #41 at (Return to text)

(2) Merrigan's reply (Communist Voice Organization Continues to Misconstrue and Malign Freedom Socialist Party's Support for the Iraqi Resistance) was sent to various activists in Seattle, as well as to the CVO. (Text)

(3) This is in reference to the FSP Statement on the Third Anniversary of the Occupation of Iraq, March 19, 2006, which is carried in Communist Voice #38, vol. 12, #2, (July 27, 2006). Issue #38 at (Text)

(4) Freedom Socialist, Vol. 25, #4 (October-November 2004) (Text)

(5) I would add that Merrigan's reduction of the "prime job" of revolutionaries in imperialist countries to simply fighting imperialist adventures internationally and supporting (what about striving to lead?) democratic movements at home is jarring because while Marxists indeed fight imperialism abroad and reaction at home, they have also always held that the class struggle is composed of three basic forms: the political (of which the struggle for democracy is a component), the practical-economic (resistance to the capitalists), and the theoretical struggle. And Engels (later supported by Lenin) placed the latter on par with the political and economic struggles. Moreover, they've striven wage these struggles in harmony, connected together, and in a systematic way. Merrigan seems to forget all this because she's bogged in a framework that talks about democratic movements simply to gain support, and thinks that these movements are inherently socialist. (Text)

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Modified August 1t, 2008.