The American left and the Arab Awakening

(CV #47, September 2012)

On Sunday, June 19, 2011, the Detroit Workers’ Voice Discussion Group held a meeting to discuss the reaction of the left to the Arab Spring. Below is the meeting announcement, which gave an assessment of the Arab Spring and why various left groups were upset about this upsurge of popular struggle. It pointed to the historic nature of the uprisings that shook or overthrew  entrenched tyrannies, but without glorifying the likely outcome of the democratic struggle. It’s been over a year since then, and this assessment still holds. Unlike the shameful assessments by those Trotskyist groups like the Workers World Party or the Party for Socialism and Liberation that denounced the popular struggle in some Arab countries, and unlike the wildly vacillating assessments of some other Trotskyist groups, who one day hailed the democratic movement of a country and created the impression that socialism was around the corner, and the next day declared that the people’s struggle had been hijacked by imperialism and had accomplished nothing, the Marxist-Leninist assessment of the democratic struggle provides a coherent framework to judge what’s going on in struggles such as those in the Middle East and North Africa, and where these struggles may lead.

The mass uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa have inspired millions of workers and activists around the world. One would expect a similarly enthusiastic response from left-wing groups and those who declare themselves communists. And indeed the struggle in such countries as Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain have generally been greeted by enthusiasm. But certain left-wing groups are skeptical of the uprisings in Syria and Libya, and have denigrated the movement in Iran for a long time.

For example, in the face of the horrendous massacres of the people by the Assad regime in Syria, the Workers World Party has declared its support for the regime. It embraces the bloody efforts to repress the movement and writes:

“Syria’s internal situation may be difficult to understand, but in this unfolding struggle clear statements of support for the Syrian government and against U.S. destabilization efforts have come from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and several exiled leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian organization that was elected by the people of Gaza.” (Sara Flounders, “Events in Syria — Which side are you on?”, Workers World, May 5, 2011,

What’s happening is that the mass upsurge in the Middle East and North Africa has shaken bourgeois regimes of all types: both overtly conservative regimes, and regimes which falsely posed as “socialist” and “anti-imperialist”. For decades, police-state regimes have ruled over much of this region. They have taken away from the Arab and other Middle Eastern and North African peoples much of the fruits of their past revolutionary struggles against colonialism and the local exploiters. But in the Arab spring, in one country after another where there was tyranny and increasing impoverishment, the masses rose up. Uprisings have struck at regimes whose ruling parties were associated with the “Socialist International” (such as the fallen regimes in Tunisia and Egypt), and they have struck at regimes which claim to far more radical. They have struck at regimes which tie themselves closely to US imperialism, but also to those who look expectantly to other, rival imperialisms. These uprisings have torn the mask off the sugared words of tyrants. And they have revealed once again the big gulf in the left between those who really stand for the independent organization and struggle of the working masses, and those who put their faith in supposedly benevolent tyrannies.

There is an added complexity in Libya because American and European imperialism have intervened militarily with the NATO bombing campaign. The fight between NATO and the Qaddafi regime is not a fight for humanitarianism, but one between two utterly reactionary forces, and moreover between these two anti-people forces which were increasingly good friends only yesterday. But the key struggle going on in Libya is still between the democratic uprising and the Qaddafi regime. It is a great danger both for the Libyan people and the entire region that it was this fight between two reactionaries (NATO and Qaddafi) that prevented the democratic movement from being drown in blood. But the Libyan uprising is still part of the general democratic movement of the region.

To a lesser extent, similar complexities exist throughout the Arab spring. The present upsurge is shaking the old Middle East. But it has its particular conditions. Everything the insurgent masses are split up into disparate groupings, and nowhere is the uprising led by a solid revolutionary movement. Everywhere different class factions take part in the struggle, and everywhere different class interests are expressed. Although these struggles are against bourgeois governments, everywhere elements of the bourgeoisie are involved in the uprisings; and everywhere there are strong illusions in the Western imperialists. Moreover, even as the masses fight the market fundamentalism of the old regimes, there are strong elements in the movement who advocate more market fundamentalism, and they will be supported by imperialism and regional reactionaries.

The result is that the Arab spring will be only one step in a long struggle for liberation, albeit an important step that revitalizes the mass struggle in the Middle East and North Africa and reverberates around the world. But these conditions also pose a theoretical challenge to those groups, such as the Trotskyists, who don’t believe in stages of struggle and who often finds ways of giving “military but not political support” to reactionary regimes; they pose a challenge to non-class anti-imperialists, since some of their favorite regimes are falling; they pose a challenge to the Stalinists, who also backed various of these regimes and whose idea of democratic struggle is to back the bourgeoisie; and, to all of us who desire to show solidarity with this momentous historical movement, they pose a challenge to find our way in this complex situation.

This meeting will discuss the general social nature of the Arab spring. It will show that the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism on democratic struggle, such as those outlined by Lenin in Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, provide — when combined with consideration of the present social and political conditions — a solid foundation for analyzing this mass struggle. These principles show why the overthrow of tyranny doesn’t result in immediate liberation, but in an intensified class struggle. They provide a basis for understanding that the working class not only has to fight for the most complete destruction of the old dictatorial apparatus, but to develop its own independent class movement; in fact, the two tasks are linked, because only the working masses - - not the imperialists, and not the bourgeoisie — really wants a thorough destruction of the old dictatorship.

This discussion will also deal with how the inability to grasp the social nature of the Arab spring, or — in some cases — even to support the democratic movement, shows how serious the struggle is between revisionism and real Marxism-Leninism. The revisionists (Stalinists, Trotskyists, etc.) speak in the name of the working class and even Marxism-Leninism, but have long revised or abandoned the basic Marxist principles. This is not a minor doctrinal question: it bears on such things as whether one supports or opposes the bloody repression of the democratic movement.

Come join us this Sunday and discuss these issues! <>

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Last changed on September 24, 2012.