Home > Dave's Favourites, Marxism > My deeply disturbing thesis; don’t attack Syria

My deeply disturbing thesis; don’t attack Syria

I note with grim bemusement some of the opinions coming out of this blog in recent weeks as regards potential operations in Syria, and the rather shocking attitude of Carl to people he believes hold principles that forbid military intervention in another nation. A deeply disturbing thesis, he calls these principles. Well, I for one disagree. I’m against any attack on Syria by any government.

Western governments cannot be trusted with a gun in their hand, period. It has nothing to do with the possible creation of safe zones, the potential for the Syrian people to rise up if they get Western help or their fate if they don’t. If you put guns in the hands of a movement which is not led by the independent organisations of the working class then, as in Libya, you invite disaster.

This disaster comes in the re-emergence of whatever social roots the criminal dictatorship can rely on, and it comes in the rise of racial, ethnic and tribal tensions. Separatism, as might be emerging some Libyan regions (not forgetting that this country was created by the West), becomes the focus of politics, as it attempts to bury the class struggle that must be waged against the privatisation which Gaddafi had come around to, and which the TNC will support.

If you think this is all abstract Marxist theorising, rather than being based on real events, look at the demands emanating from the local elites in Benghazi regarding Libya’s oil. Look at the details Amnesty International have of the looting of Black Libyan areas by the rebels. And I need not even mention how ethnic, racial and religious tensions became real with a vengeance in Iraq.

When socialists reproach pro-interventionists for listening to propaganda regarding the brutality of Bashar al-Assad, they’re not challenging the veracity of the stories. They’re challenging Western media emphasis on them, and the selection of these particular evils out of a whole world full of torture, oppression and misrule. Pro-interventionists aren’t being sufficiently critical in their approach to such evils. And they plainly haven’t learned the lessons of Western intervention elsewhere.

That lesson is an abject one in total hypocrisy. Concern for the victims of Assad now becomes indifference towards the victims of the Western militaries (and their less politically correct allies) and outright enmity towards those of divergent political aims. To foist such “help” upon the brave civilians who are standing up to Assad is absolute lunacy.

In the end, intervention is not an abstract instrumental question, it is a political one. The reckoning between the people of Syria and the dictatorship will not remain within those narrow parameters because of this. Eleven months into the uprising, the rebels have not been subdued. In fact, if reports are to be believed, Assad is using foreign hired guns to do what he dare not ask the army rank and file to do. Meanwhile the rebels must bring the rest of Damascus over to them – the stirrings of revolution.

Western intervention would almost certainly halt that – and may even result in some accommodation with the regime, after the removal of Assad. How is that justice for the thousands who have died?

These rebellions across the Middle East are not accidental or spontaneous. Dictators who have paid for their rule with oil wealth and relatively good living conditions are being hit by the global economic crisis. People are coming out into the streets not just to demand political freedom but to demand more from regimes that one by one succumbed to the depredations of market capitalism. The other capitalist nations will be more than happy to grant the former if they can forestall demands regarding the latter.

The sort of people the foreign powers are willing to deploy, to shut up the Syrian populace and prevent any further spread of the Arab Spring, is deeply telling however. Up until just this month, head of the Arab League observer mission was Mustafa al-Dabi, the Sudanese military official in post in Darfur whilst the genocide was going on. When the Western nations intervene, or the Arab League intervenes, the purpose will not be to limit civilian deaths, it will be to achieve an outcome satisfactory to those governments.

Moreover, looking at the sort of people likely to attempt to take control of Syria. Another unelected unaccountable trigger-happy transitional authority will simply release the same pressures as it released in Libya – and will thereafter pursue the same policies as Assad, perhaps resulting in worse casualties should any region or ethnic group dare to assert its separatist demands. By the time that happens, we’ll be lucky if there’s a Western media presence never mind a military presence.

Unlike Egypt, but like Libya, the Syrian people have started this with a handicap. They don’t have independent organisations of the working class. But they must develop them. The most we can do is hope on their behalf, and pressure our own governments to both stay aloof and to oppose Arab League intervention. That is not as satisfying perhaps as demanding the immediate bombing of every Syrian military installation in range of the 5th fleet, but that demand is not a solution to the problem – it complicates it. Meanwhile trust the Syrians to feel their way towards the right path. Assad’s continuing trickle of concessions are the surest sign that they will get there.

Meanwhile I wonder if the anti-war movement should be gearing up to oppose military intervention in a conflict closer to home, as it were, as the tension ratchets up over the Falklands again. I’m sure we’ll be hearing all the pro-interventionist piffle about democracy and self-determination on behalf of the islanders, should Argentina invade. As with Belgium in World War I, it is so much hypocritical twaddle in the mouths of capitalist leaders.

Which neatly brings me back to the deeply disturbing thesis. The capitalist state cannot be trusted to wield the military. Capitalist leaders, in their comfortable London drawing rooms, cannot be trusted to put the welfare of people in front of business when there are no lives at stake – why should they be trusted to put the welfare of people in front of what they consider to be the national interest when there are? Hands off Iran, Hands off Syria, Hands off the Falklands and while you’re at it, Hands off the NHS.

Categories: Dave's Favourites, Marxism
  1. February 14, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    “I’m sure we’ll be hearing all the pro-interventionist piffle about democracy and self-determination on behalf of the islanders, should Argentina invade.”


    Hmm. Do you advocate an Argentine ‘intervention’ to take control of the islands from Britain?

  2. February 14, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    More to the point, what is wrong in principle with solidarity with an invaded people?

    Would respectfully submit that this is more opportunism than it is serious analysis.

    The basic situation is that the islands shouldn’t really matter that much to either side. They matter most in terms of whipping up nationalist hysteria on both sides, but this is also of far higher relative importance to Argentine nationalism than it is to Britain.

    Meanwhile, people live there and shit…

  3. February 14, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    No of course not. I’m indifferent as to who controls the islands – but whether or not Argentina invade, I’m against British military intervention. I’m against Argentine intervention too – but that will be the responsibility of their trades unions and socialists, just as stopping British intervention is ours.

    Edit to address additional comment: Tom, the right to self-determination is not a negotiable concept. Where are your principles, before you accuse me of opportunism? Even after a hypothetical invasion, it would be the responsibility of Argentine socialists and the Argentine working class to push for that. What I’m against is a counter-invasion.

  4. February 14, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    I’m sorry Dave, but the notion that:

    Western intervention would almost certainly halt that – and may even result in some accommodation with the regime, after the removal of Assad.

    — is predicated on a set of unintended consequences – which may result in good or may result in a worse situation, but we cannot tell this in advance.

    I’d suggest we cannot even tell this of Libya – as we cannot say what would have happened had Gaddafi been allowed to stay in power for longer we are unable to say whether things would have got better or worse for the Libyans.

    As Kierkegaard said: “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.”

    As much as I’d love to have some sway over what happened in Libya after Gaddafi I don’t, but that is not to say I’m neutral about it. The separatist problems there are not an expense worth paying for the end of Gaddafi’s dictatorship, not at all, but such a view is a privilege we can only afford with hindsight. The action taken was to halt his slaughter, and to halt the clear and present danger he posed to people who had bravely come out against him.

    As regarding the outcomes and the consequences, they did not relate to the success of the foreign action. But if, say, troops from the US took to the ground and enforced liberal democracy, I can only imagine what scorn would have been poured on those efforts.

    You, as I, supported the No-Fly Zone over Libya because its principle task was to limit Gaddafi’s power while not being, directly or indirectly, an imperialist mission of putting fingers all over the levers of power in Libya after dictatorship. It was almost value-free what we supported, just a non-political means to stop someone committing genocide.

    But we can’t have it both ways. We could only have crossed our fingers when Gaddafi had gone. It’s entirely possible that had troops stayed on the ground things in Libya now would be better, but those for whom that would not have sat well with opposed that on the grounds that what we believe in, principally, is that Libyans control their own destiny as far as possible, and not be at the mercy of a vengeful dictator using Russian weaponry, possibly gas.

    I still believe in that, and accept the risks. I think the “west”, if we want to talk about it like that, did the best they could do by cutting Gaddafi’s air power, and what happened next was shit. What happens now, however, does absolutely nothing to my opinion that intervention can be appropriate.

    This is the same as in Syria. Unlike you, Dave, I’m comfortable with the fact that capitalist governments are doing it but my hope is that they act in a non-political way, that is to say they aren’t after something. To be sure, whatever people’s suspicions, I didn’t support intervention in Libya because I thought there was oil to be gained. I’m not even sure what our capitalist government would achieve by intervening in Syria, but after 11 months of Assad killing people on the floor with armed gangs, showing no mercy, disappearing people and only going further while the UN muck about with indecision – the fault of Russia and China – I’m thinking in spite of our guesses as to what happens post-Assad, if the people of Syria decide they want foreign intervention, a coalition of willing nations should appease them.

    I’ll say this: I think the Syrian rebels should yell out requesting foreign intervention, but if they come together to decide this won’t be appropriate, then that’s that. But anyone can see that without it, Assad will just grow stronger, especially as he makes good on Russian arms deals. Who’s arming the rebels? Are socialists of the world arming the rebels? No, and we really cannot wait until they do.

  5. February 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    If you genuinely are comfortable with the capitalist governments acting, then bully for you – but you’re a moron if you really think they’re in it for nothing. Western governments will say just about anything at home, to justify what they do, and do just about anything abroad. The issue is never so clear cut as immediate gain of resources – but if you don’t think there’s a geopolitical game being played, you’re obviously not paying enough attention. The vetoes at the UN are proof of it.

    As for the argument that separatism etc can only be seen with hindsight, I beg to differ. The entire gamut of ethnic and religious troubles that have plagued Iraq were foreseen by the anti-war movement well before the American invasion. It’s no different in Syria. Invasion is no solution, nor is stocking up one side in the conflict. If invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq forced the West to get into bed with religious extremists and drug-dealing warlords, allowing them free reign to kill their enemies both for and against the dictatorial regimes, arming the rebel elements of the Syrian bourgeoisie – for that is what we’re talking about – will produce no different results.

    And as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, it will unleash the same sort of problems – problems fostered by the very class we’d be arming or supporting with armed force.

    If we can only see truth in hindsight a la Kierkegaard (and thanks for the fortune cookie wisdom there, really), then as EInstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    We should not be intervening. The rebels have survived this long, they’re not going anywhere, and even if they are defeated, the dictatorship isn’t going to just go away. The Syrian people will be back on the streets. The question is one of programme and tactics – and the Syrians have to be allowed to feel their way to the right set of each. By intervening, there’s no guarantee that we’ll achieve a smaller body count – but there is a guarantee that our governments will do everything in their power to prop up whatever cabal is installed into power, whether it’s the rebels or some accommodation between rebel leadership and regime. And we know what happens to dissenters to such lash-ups.

    If you think this is in some way predicated on a set of unintended consequences, you’re missing my point. The lesson the Americans learned from Iraq was that de-Baathification creates a lot of unnecessary headaches – seriously. Over and over again these people prove that they don’t care who did what, they just want to achieve a solution that suits them – no matter the bodies, no matter the injustice, no matter the democracy, for that matter (and it is ironic really that this is the drum our governments beat regarding a country so close to our cuddly ally Saudi Arabia). The consequences here are intended.

    The unintended consequence will be if the military intervention comes off without too many casualties.

  6. February 14, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    What was a NFZ if it didn’t risk the unintended consequences of undemocratic and murderous Islamists? While foreign troops settled in Afghanistan to prop up a government and train up an army, while pursuing free elections, the US and the UK were deemed imperialist. When they pursue a policy of minimum humanitarian intervention they’re told they’ve opened the door for religious extremists and drug-dealing warlords.

    Einstein had a point, but in a controlled experiment, if the same thing is done over and over in the same conditions, expecting something different is stupid. If, however, the conditions are different, it is stupid to expect anything but different results. Syria, in this case, is different to Iraq and Afghanistan. Even from Libya.

    On the geopolitical game, the burden of proof is on the person who affirms there is definitely one – other than the noble one of democracy in the Middle East. By consequence it could knock out an Iranian ally – but is this a bad thing? It’s not a reason to go to war, indeed it is not the reason I would cite as the reason to escalate some military intervention.

    To me the fact that there are undemocratic, murderous dictators fighting back without justice or justification while world economies change axis, is the coincidence too far, not necessarily that there are natural resources that we want to pinch, particularly post-Arab Spring. But in any case, this is not my reason for supporting intervention in the country, and I can only speak for myself. A pity that the state, and not I, control the British army’s military engagements.

  7. Facey Romford
    February 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    ‘Western governments cannot be trusted with a gun in their hand’.

    In a nutshell.

  8. February 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    “The separatist problems there are not an expense worth paying for the end of Gaddafi’s dictatorship, not at all, but such a view is a privilege we can only afford with hindsight. The action taken was to halt his slaughter, and to halt the clear and present danger he posed to people who had bravely come out against him.”

    This is nonsense. The whole point of Marxist (in fact of any kind of scientific analysis of anything) is to be able to have some chance of predicting what the future consequences of any particular course of action might be. For, Marxists we do not treat each historical event as being discrete. We are not Goldfish swimming around a bowl, who are each time surprised when we see the things we have seen the last time round! That is why many Marxists like myself predicted accurately, in advance, what the likely consequences would be of events in Libya.

    We know from the past, that when outside forces intevene in such circumstances they do not do so for altruistic reasons. They do so for their own material reasons, even if they may not be immediately tangible – for instance, seeking strategic advantage in a region. Of course, as with the Imperialist invasion of Iraq, things may not turn out as they hoped. They may find some other social force, takes advantage of the situation. In the case of Iraq, it is Iran. But, again, a number of Marxists such as myself analysed the reality of Iraq at the time, and concluded that such an outcome was quite likely.

    We also know from the past that in situations like Libya, the outside intervention on the side of a particular faction, usually means that faction does not have significant social backing within the country to be succesful. In other words, the rebellion is itself adventurist in nature, and unlikely to have a progressive outcome. But, there was more than adequate analysis of the nature of Libya, not just by Marxists, but by regional specialists, who argued that the many tribal, ethnic, and otehr divisions in the country would almost certainly blow up, after the existing State was removed. In fact, these kinds of Bonapartist States, be it in the Middle East, or in the Balkans, have frequently come into existence, precisely because of such divisions in society, that often are as or more significant than class divisions. The whole basis of Marxism is to base yourself on such historical materialist analysis, not on a moralistic response that relies on hope over judgement!

    Einstein once said that the definition of stupidity was someone who kept repeating the same experiment, and each time expecting that the outcome would be different. When it comes to their attitudes to such situations, Einstein’s definition is more than appropriate.

  9. February 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    That’s not a Marxist analysis, you’ve taken from Libya and applied it to Syria. That’s all you have done. But, prey, tell me, with your Marxian wisdom, what would have happened if nothing had been at all by outside nations in Libya?

    Important to Marxism, too, is the notion that the end of history is not reached mechanically, i.e it is not determined. We must fight and organise for the preferred end of history. You might think it better not to do anything at than to contribute to make Empire stronger, but let me tell you this is a naivety that is insulting to use Marx’ name. Would he have sat on his hands while Libyans died at the hands of a vengeful dictator? Who cares. I know I wouldn’t and that’s that.

  10. February 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    There is also a wider perspective that needs to be considered here too. Across the region, what we see developing is a simmering Civil War between Shia and Sunni. Often, as in the Gulf it is oppressed Shia majorities suffering under the heel of brutal Suuni elites. And, of course, as in Bahrain, the reality of those regimes is usally brushed over by western governments, and media. This division between Shia and Sunni, also reflects a big power game between the West, and Russia and China, each side of which is promoting their own economic and strategic interests. Russia and China sell weapons and commodities to their historic clients, whilst the West does the same in relation to the Sunnis.

    In Palestine, the West backed Fatah against Hamas. In the past they backed the Sunnis in Iraq, but line up more with the Shia in order to overrthrow Saddam, when he proved unreliable. They may think twice about that next time, given that the Iraqi Shia played both ends against the middle, taking US-UK support to further their efforts, whilst using Iranian munitions, to carry out terrorist attacks on those very US-UK forces! The focus on Syria, as opposed to any concern with the equally brutal regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc. is part of a strategic interest of the US to weaken the allies of Iran, and other Shia forces in the region. The US do not seem to concerned about the fact that many of these Sunni forces, as in Libya are connected to Al Qaeda, just as they had no such concern when they provided those forces with weapons and money to fight the Russians in Afghanistan.

    Socialists should be very wary of these big power games in the region – by both sides – and should be very careful about seeing every rebellion as necessarily beneficial to the workers in the region. Frequently, they are not, especially given the very weak and unorganised nature of the working classes in these countries. The experience of the 1979, Revolution should have been sufficient evidence of that fact.

  11. February 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Carl if you’re going to argue with someone at least have the courtesy to answer their arguments. Boffy is absolutely right in raising two key points – first that any attempt to put politics and history on a scientific basis implies being able to predict things about the future. That doesn’t imply mechanistic teleology. Second that we can extrapolate from other examples.

    Nor is he suggesting that we do nothing. I am not suggesting this either. The proper response is not to give support, critical or otherwise, to a bourgeois government intent on pursuing its own interests. It is not to send in the army of a bourgeois state, in concert with the armies of other bourgeois states. It is to stop the intervention from outside. Intervention means different people die, not less. It means any chance of social reform will be killed. It means the unleashing of sectarian forces, as that is all the bourgeoisie know how to do – and if you doubt the transitional councils of Syria represent anything else, do some research. They are just a political caste in waiting.

    Lastly, with your banging of the interventionist drum, you are responsible for the future deaths as if you pulled the trigger yourself.

    People are going to die no matter what happens. You are fetishising this fact and forgetting all political context. It’s like Belgium in World War I. Lenin and the other Zimmerwaldists knew it was a war for imperial aggrandisement – but the governments of the day talked about the rights of small nations to self-determination. The same governments who were dividing up the spoils even before the war had been won. An intervention in Syria will be no different.

    Marx would have pursued the class war. He would not have invoked one bourgeois nation against another. That is simply a recipe to divide the international movement of the working class.

  12. February 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    What would have happened if outside forces had not interfvened in Libya? Well, much of the country would not have been destroyed by more than 20,000 bombing runs for one thing. The long-term effects of using depleted uranium munitions on the health of future generations of Libyans would have been avoided for another. For another, the descent of the country into outright Civil War, and the introduction of a Clerical-Fascist regime would not have happened for another. The only thing that will prevent the installation of such a regime, is if the Liberal politicians of the TNC, who have no social base in the country, bring in the Imperialist powers to crush the armed militias, via a new Civil War, which will also mean a period of prolonged repression of the Libyan workers.

    Whilst the torture of Gaddafi has ended, it has merely been repalced by the torture of the new State apparatus. That torture is so extensive and so noxious as to cause organisations such as Medicins Frontieres to pull out because they were being asked to patch up people, only so they could be sent back to be tortured even more! What would have happened is that the oppression of women that is already happening, and will intensify when the clerical-fascists extend their control, would not have happened, as will be the case for gays, and black africans. What would not have happened would have been the several month long aerial bombardment of the people of Sirte, which caused what the UN called a humanitarian catastrophe. Nor, would the massacre of the people of Sirte have happened at the hands of the clerical-fascist rebels.

    What would have happened would have been that the terrible regime of Gaddafi would have continued for a while longer, but the only progressive means of bringing that regime, and many others like it, is at the hands of the working-class. That is what Marx meant, when he talked about the need to create our own history. He certainly did not eman that worekrs should look to their main enemies the Capitalists and Imperialists to achieve that for them, and he was scathing of all those who did make such a suggestion.

  13. February 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    As for what Marx would have done, I’d remind you of what he said in relation to Poland. he said the freedom of the Poles would be won by the workers in Britain. he did not mean by that that the British worekrs should demand the British State intevene in Poland. he meant that only when the British workers overthrew Capitalism in the most developed economy of the time, would it be possible to create the kind of revolutionary State that could intervene on behalf of others. The main enemy is at home. If British socialists want to help others around the globe, they should focus their attention on overthrowing their own oppressors.

  14. February 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    All those who bang the drum for intervfention by the Capitalist State should put their money where their mouth is. Sign up. Join the army, and offer your services. I understand the armed forces are having difficulty recruiting.

    Of course, Marxists do not advocate doing nothing. I would love it, if the working-class and socialists were as dedicated to their cause as the clerical-fascists are to theirs. They seem to have no difficulty obtaining fighters, of them going for training in camps around the globe, and going wherever they are needed to fight for their ideology. If only socialists, like the interventionists showed as much dedication, and banged the drum for the establishment of such Working Class Defence Squads, Militia and so on to do the same, as happened with the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War!

    But, marxists are not delusional either. We recognise that at present, the working class is weak. We are struggling to defend oursleves against our own oppresssors at home, let alone anything more. But, why would anyone in their right mind believe that our oppressors at home, would be the saviours of our comrades in other countries??? As Trotsky pointed out in relation to the Balkan Wars, the outrage of Opportunists at atrocities is always a matter of cherry picking. It is used the cover their cosying up to their own ruling class. He wrote,

    ““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”.

    “On the other hand, a party or the class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes when they are threatened with external injury – such a party or class is sound of heart. Protest against the outrages in the Balkans cleanses the social atmosphere in our own country, heightens the level of moral awareness among our own people… Therefore an uncompromising protest against atrocities serves not only the purpose of moral self-defence on the personal and party level but also the purpose of politically safeguarding the people against adventurism concealed under the flag of ‘liberation’.””

    And that is precisely what the interventionists and Opportunists do, they cherry pick, which atrocity to be outraged about, always seeming to ignore that atrocities by those they have asked to intervene, or those allied with them.

  15. February 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    To Boffy and Dave,

    I look to Marx debating the toss on Britain’s rule of India, which came close to accepting the status quo opinion that Britain should remain – the point here is not to say Marx was an imperialist or even imperialist sympathiser; the point is rather to accept that what can often look like the status quo opinion is actually very radical. We must not forget two basic elements of capitalism: namely, that it is decidedly radical and that it shapes itself to whatever means creates the conditions for more open markets in which to draw the most profit. In this way more freedom in the Middle East is a step towards those very conditions where open markets lends itself to draw maximum profits.

    We can hardly extrapolate what the underlying or secret intentions our capitalist government has, but it just so happens that it wants similar results to me, and indeed us, that is a more open Middle East. I want that because people ought to be free to make their own history. They may want it for different reasons, that I cannot prove one way or the other, but the fact that our principal objectives are similar does not mean I am singing from a capitalist hymnbook.

    Humanitarian intervention is value-free, it neither lends itself to a socialist future any more than a capitalist one. Where I think this left wing aversion to humanitarian intervention has come from is from a real aversion to those who have misused it or perverted the term (we might think George Bush here). But remember this is as erroneous as disliking socialism for Stalinism.


    Dave, yes people will die anyway but the old argument on this applies: we can either watch it happen and pretend a moral high ground that we’re not contributing to the killing, or we can use the only means we have available which is a military attached to the capitalist state apparatus to avert it, particularly when, as luck should have it, it seems to be in that capitalist state’s interest to do so anyway.

    But I loathe to talk on behalf of the capitalist state; I’d support action whether Britain was a Pinochet-esque shithole or a Leninist paradise. I’d love, also, for Turkey to be able to go it alone – seems a while since talk was them going at Syria themselves.

    And finally, inaction is contributing to the killing. Inaction is every bit as responsible, if not more so, “for the future deaths as if you pulled the trigger yourself.”

  16. February 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    It’s not humanitarian aid when you begin the bombing. It’s not humanitarian aid when you choose to back rebels – who are not worth backing – with weapons, and training, and other types of intelligence and support. It’s not humanitarian aid when the point is not just a “more open” Middle East but is a Middle East with compliant bourgeois regimes that will have no more trouble killing their own people in the name of democracy or self-determination than their dictatorial predecessors had killing for openly political ends. And nor is humanitarian intervention value free in any case.

    I am not inactive. I am following my political principles. I oppose invasion, and I oppose the bourgeois government of Britain. I will not see the British Army march anywhere, for any reason, while its orders are set by the same bunch of racist bastards who made such a mess of Iraq. Either the British ruling class (and its French compatriots) are so stupid as to have contributed to the developing mess in Libya, or they had a political aim in doing so. Whatever the case, they cannot be trusted.

    You are singing from a capitalist hymnbook. Of that there is no question. You have subordinated the political context to the aims of the capitalist state – you could at least have the honesty to admit this, to admit that you are placing some hypothetical, uncertain saving of lives above the political and social end result in Syria or anywhere else the bourgeois Western nations decide to move against. Lest we forget, these same arguments will almost certainly be used as pretext for an invasion of Greece should a revolution break out there.

    Restoring order. Democracy. Self-determination. Humanitarian aid. Every word of it is a lie in the mouth of David Cameron and co – and it is those lies your viewpoint gives credence to. What makes me weep is that not a bit of this is new. The most recalcitrant Tsarist generals professed themselves to be the most convinced democrats when it allowed them to pursue their real goals of counter-revolution. The most avowed imperialists cried tears over self-determination when it suited their ends. Our modern capitalist leaders are no different. Only the battlefields have changed – not the lies.

    If any of them ever saved a life of a worker, then it was purely by accident.

  17. February 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    And if I seem to be singing from the capitalist hymnbook, then it is purely by accident, also. I pity the fact that the only reason you give for not supporting a humanitarian intervention in Syria, is because of the status of the state apparatus here. What Syria chooses to do when the killing spree of their state has stopped, or is stopped, is there own business, but now the eyes of the world watch as a dictator kills his fellow countrymen and women. Better western proactivity than so-called socialist appeasement.

  18. February 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Look here fuckwit, just stop using terms you clearly don’t understand because it would be comical, if it weren’t such a tragedy, watching you with every word drift into the camp of the most vociferous pro-war, pro-Tory hawks. Appeaser is the word Blair and the pro-war camp used against any opponents of war the last time around.

    It’s first of all historically inaccurate on multiple counts. Appeasement was one of the policies of the bourgeoisie, to forestall a war they thought might threaten their interests. No principled communist can be accused of anything remotely like this. The second inaccuracy is that Hitler’s regime was established on the corpse of the workers’ movement in Germany. No such corpse exists in Syria. Whatever the current leadership of these rebels, the very social conditions which have given rise to the Arab Spring of which this is a part suggest that somewhere in there is the potential for the emergence of a working class movement.

    The survival or victory of that movement need not be based on events within Syria. A wave of revolution and counter-revolution is sweeping the region. It might be that the demand for a second Egyptian revolution lends the correct impetus to the development of independent organisations of the working class in its less developed near neighbours. This is not a pipe dream. These organisations can develop under fire. There are plenty of dictatorship-afflicted countries where that is the case. It will be a pipe dream if the West is permitted to intervene.

    Western intervention will freeze the leadership in place however, as it did in Libya, where the TNC is so accountable it refused to reveal the details of its membership. This leadership will then act against the frustrated hopes – against the social content of these rebellions – and that will also involve bloodshed. Opposing such a situation is not appeasement – it is merely a refusal to compromise with the deeply untrustworthy capitalist, reactionary, conservative governments of the West simply to stave off a few deaths in the medium term when in the long-term it might be a catalyst for a very bloody wave of counter-revolutions across the whole region.

    In any case, I’ve heard enough. This is where we part ways.

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:04 pm

      I hope that’s not you trying to close down a debate – this isn’t the Dave Semple I know. Certainly isn’t the Dave Semple who said I was unwilling to change my opinion earlier on in this thread.

      What I’m worried about here is that you feel I have lost a critique of the state. Support for a humanitarian intervention is not a foregoing of a critique of the state, or capitalism, or the concentration of capital in the hands of the few. As I discussed yesterday, support for a humanitarian intervention can still be appealed to even if the result is not peaceful bliss.

      We don’t have the kind of Closing Doors scenario where we can see what would have happened if no UN resolution had been passed when Libya was on the table, and we also currently in the aftermath – the conclusions of what happened post-Gaddafi cannot fully be drawn up yet as we are still there. We cannot just intervene willy nilly, so we must just cross our fingers that race and religious wars don’t blow up in the country, but if they do the humanitarian intervention wasn’t at fault. There were clear reasons why that resolution was passed, what didn’t pass was those contributing nations having anything to do in the aftermath to ensure democratic elections and against separatism.

      Nor, by the way, can intervention be blamed if there is a wave of counter-revolutions across the whole region, a) because the Arab Spring looked likely to prompt this anyway, opening the door to hitherto banned groups like Islamist parties and al-Qaeda sympathisers, and b) because humanitarian intervention isn’t the same as colonialism, where we control the state apparatus of that country. no resolution will be passed for such a thing – is it even desirable anyway?

      But where is the evidence for the counter-revolution? I don’t doubt its possibility, but is it worth the lives of thousands more Syrian rebels for patchy guesswork?

      And of course there are plenty more dictatorships out there, but Syria is the one that’s up for debate today, and the issue that has just passed through the UN. It’s not me who is bringing it up over, say, Saudi Arabia or Yemen.

    • modernity's ghost
      February 16, 2012 at 12:46 am


      You do yourself no favours by taking this tone with Carl.

      This debate is very worthwhile & invective doesn’t help matters.

      I think the question might be put along the lines of: are there ANY circumstances where intervention would be the right thing to do?

  19. February 15, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Where did Marx call for British Imperialism to remain in India???? Marx said that the consequences of British Colonialism in India in breaking up the old Asiatic Mode of Production was historically progressive, that is true, but he also talked about the wholly brutal way in which it brought that about. Just because Marxists recognise that some particular social phenomena is historically progressive, only causes us to argue against a return to some past less progressive condition. It does not cause us to argue either FOR such a development, or to defend such a development as the status quo, as against its future development!

    Engels, in his letter on “Socialist Colonialism” to Kautsky, makes clear that a socialist country clearly could not hold Colonies, and Marx made the famous statement that no country that holds another in chains could ever itself be free. In his letter to Kautsky, Engels makes clear his support and expectation of an Indian Revolution for freedom from Britain, which he sees as progressive, even though it would necessarily lead to large scale violence and destruction.

    Its not true that Capitalism always works towards open markets, and bouregois democracy. Developed Industrial Capital has a tendency to do that, but part of the condition is as Engels points out sufficient development that it can buy off the workers with Social Democracy. Neither Libya, nor Syria possess such conditions. In countries where there is no developed industrial Capitalism, for example, in economies such as those in the Gulf, or in Libya, which are essentially Rent based economies dependent upon Oil, the dominant groups are those that are tied to old feudal landlord classes, and merchant Capital i.e. the the very groups whose synergistic interests were the basis of Colonialism. In these conditions, Capital has been quite happy to operate via, Bonapartist regimes, Monarchies, and other undemocratic polities. Even in countries with developed industrial capital, the Capitalists have demonstrated time and again that they would sweep away any vestige of bourgeois demcoracy if it threatened their control, and Capital Accumulation. That was true in Italy and germany in the 1930’s, in Iran in the 1950’s, in Chile in the 1970’s and so on.

    In what way are “WE” using the military attached to the Capitalist State in the west to avert atrocities???? “WE” are doing no such thing, because “WE” are as powerless to demand that the Capitalist State DOES intevene, as to demand that it does not! It is not our state. That is precisely the point. It is no more to be complicit in those atrocities by demanding the Capitalist State does NOT intervene, whilst arguing for opposition to Assad, arguing for the building of an international workers movement capable of supporting Syrian workers, than it is to be complicit by arguing for such an intervention.

    If we were strong enough to be able to influence events in either direction, there would be no need to rely on the Capitalist State, precisely because we would be strong enough to intervene directly ourselves, in the way the clerical-fascists do! But, those who do want the capitalist State to intervene of course, do have an option as I said, they can join the Army, or go fight with the insurgents. For my part, I would prefer to argue for the building of the kind of international workers forces we need to be able to intervene under our own banner.

    “What Syria chooses to do when the killing spree of their state has stopped, or is stopped, is there own business,”

    This is bourgeois liberal crap. There is no “Syrian people”, any more than their is a British people. There are classes. By avoiding that reality, you simply step outside the real world, in which what happens in Syria as anywhere else will be determined as a consequence of that class struggle, and the extent to which the different classes, will be able to rely on support from their class allies elsewhere. The whole point of intervention by Imperialists forces is to shape that reality in the interests of the domestic bourgeoisie, or of those anti-working class forces – including where necessary clerical-fascist forces who are likely to be even worse than the existing regime – who best meet the economic and strategic interests of Imperialism.

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:22 pm

      “Syrian people” is akin to e-prime, by which I mean I’ve simplified the sentence rather than saying something convoluted like the people who live in the territory known as Syria which is actually just a land attached to the rest of the world while what divides us as people, I know, is class and borders are just a slideshow for the blah blah blah.

      You’ve linked the colonialism issue to Syria and Libya, whereas I was merely saying that what looks like Marx was uttering the status quo is in actual fact different as regarding the reasons he reached that opinion, and to what end he believes believing it will achieve.

      It was to show that while I, in principle, favour intervention if the Syrian people decide it is appropriate and necessary, even if the state of Britain also favours this, I would not be necessarily in it for the same reasons. But, actually, I don’t know what secret reasons Britain would have for assisting in the eventual goal of weakening Assad. All this has been discussed elsewhere, but if there were any other means of doing it, then fine. If Turkey could go it alone then fantastic. If us socialists clubbed together and added to the rebels, to avoid humanitarian catastrophe – which it actually already is there – then all the better. But none of those things are on the cards, and if the Syrian rebels decide they need assistance, do you really think they’ll give a shit at the reason we give them for not going: actually capitalism needs to be overturned in our country first.

      As for Marx, it was in 1853 he backtracked. Before that endorsed imperialism. Louis Project blog is a good Marxist blog, he writes, referring to Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s assertion that Marx “made approving noises about British rule in India”, that:

      “While it is true that Marx and Engels held such attitudes early in their career, it is important to understand that they eventually discarded them. Marx wrote his articles on India in the early 1850s, but even if he gave critical support to Great Britain, there was no mistaking his analysis for those of the Fabians or Norm Geras.”

      All he is saying is that Marx was not as hardcore about it as the modern-day colonialism-friendly leftists such as the Euston-ites.

      But nobody denies the early opinions of both Marx and Engels stoop a little to close to colonial-friendliness for comfort.

  20. February 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    “As I discussed yesterday, support for a humanitarian intervention can still be appealed to even if the result is not peaceful bliss.”

    But, Imperialism never does intevene for humanitarin reasons, so whatever reasons you might have for wanting it to intevene are irrelevant. Your end result is not the same as the end result required by Imperialism. As you have absolutely no control over the actions of Imperialism, calling for it to act makes you complicit in the consequences of its action.

    “We don’t have the kind of Closing Doors scenario where we can see what would have happened if no UN resolution had been passed when Libya was on the table, and we also currently in the aftermath – the conclusions of what happened post-Gaddafi cannot fully be drawn up yet as we are still there.”

    But, on that basis you could argue in exactly the same way AGAINST such an intervention. If you have such a lack of confidence in your ability to analyse concrete situations, to use the Marxist method that you have no clue whatsoever what might the consequences of a particular action, then you should indeed keep your mouth shut. But that applies to keeping it shut about intervention as much as opposing intervention. On your basis we could not have known what the longer term consequences of not-intervening would be. You argue dishonestly. On the one hand, you argue we have to support intervention, because the massacre is happening now, and damn the longer term. On the other hand, after the intervention, when things predictably go pear shaped, you say “well, we can’t draw any cocnlusions from that, because we don’t know what might happen longer term! Massacres, atrocities and torture are happening in Libya now, so why don’t you make the same argument, and call for intervention against the rebels who yesterday you were supporting?

    Yes, of course, the intervention was at fault, if sectarian wars develop, because a Marxist analysis tells you that what was preventing those sectarian wars, was the existence of a Bonapartist State regime that kept a lid on them! We may hate that fact, we may hate the regime, but all you have done is take that hate, and opt for what you saw as a lesser-evil to it. I might hate the sight of a dog being penned up for long periods of time, but if I release the dog, and it then goes and savages a young child, I cannot divorce my first act from responsibility for the second. There was after all a reason for the dog being penned up.

    As for the Arab Spring being likely to have released sectarian wars, you may be right, but that is why a marxist analysis of those rebellions should have led us to be very cautious about supporting “rebels” on a willy-nilly, uncritical basis. There was a very good reason why Lenin and the Communist International argued the need fore a struggle against Pan-Islmism, and movements that promoted the interests of the mullahs. That should have been the lesson that was learned from Iran, not to mention from 1848. We are not bourgeois Liberals, our goal even immediately is not to achieve bourgeois demcoracy, but to fight for the interests of the working-class against the interests of its enemies within the other classes.

    “where we control the state apparatus of that country.”

    Who is this “We”? Colonialism involves the State that oppresses us, us controlling the State which oppresses the colonised. Their is no “we” here other than our common goals with those being oppressed.

    “But where is the evidence for the counter-revolution? I don’t doubt its possibility, but is it worth the lives of thousands more Syrian rebels for patchy guesswork?”

    For there to be a counter-revolution there would first have to be a revolution. In fact, even the bourgeois media admit that the regime has considerable support, and that the opposition are divided, and cannot be seen to form a majority. It is also clear that Al Qaeda is operating in Syria, though some of the opposition are opposed to its intervention. Either way, the experience, in Iraq, in Libya, in Tunisia, and in Egypt, gives good grounds for believing that the main beneficiaries will be the clerical-fascists, and our experience from Iran should lead us to believe that such a solution does not even constitute a lesser-evil for Syrian workers. And, to be honest I don’t give a fuck if a bunch of clerical-fascists in Syria don’t like the reasons I give for opposing intervention. Its not the job of Marxists to provide them with support. My main cocnern would be that the Syrian workers would have good reason for criticising me and others for NOT warning them of the danger of the victory OF the clerical-fascists, just as they would have for criticising those who failed to warn of that danger in Iran in 1979.

    ““Syrian people” is akin to e-prime, … what divides us as people, I know, is class and borders are just a slideshow for the blah blah blah.”

    Its not just class that divides us. Its tribe, sect, and many more things. That is the point, of why you cannot simply talk about a “people”, and impose on such a group responsibility for what happens after an intervention. If one group within a country wants intervention for its own reasons, and those interests are achieved as a result of such intervnetion, then on what basis can all the other groups in that country who have suffered as a consequence for what has happened be held responsible?

    Marx did not support Colonialism. The closest to anything like it, is the short article by Engels about the intervention in Algeria. But, there are a number of things to point out. he was referring to a country that was at a stage not even of feudalism. Secondly, those who make this argument do not understand Marx and Engels dialectical method. It is quite possible for Marx and Engels to point to the fact that a particular act had historically progressive consequences whilst also criticising that act as subjectively reactionary, because of the way it was carried out. That in fact, is precisley Marx and Engels approach to capitalism itself. It fulfilled a revolutionary historical role, but by extremely brutal methods. Its rather like Trotsky said about if the Kaiser had succeeded in uniting Europe as a single state as a result of the War. We would not call for it to be split back up into individual nation states, but that is not the same as saying we would support a World War to bring about a European State!!!

    “favour intervention if the Syrian people decide it is appropriate and necessary”

    Again, who are these Syrian people? The working-class in Syrian as in Libya are a small minority. If the workers oppose intervention – which in both cases given that the majority of workers work for the existing State they probably do – but a majority of the petit-bourgeoisie favour intervention, then are you saying that we should ignore the workers, and side with their class enemies, simply because they form a majority?

    I deny that Marx and Engels ever supported Colonialism.

  21. February 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm


    So let me ask you a straight question: are there ANY circumstances in which external intervention in another countries actions would be acceptable, ANY?

    I would appreciate a concise reply.

    • February 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      Just to quickly say, good to see you back around these parts mod

  22. February 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Intervention is acceptable if it is revolutionary action in the true sense of being by an independent working-class force, or by a revolutionary Workers’ State.

  23. February 16, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    OK Boffy, good Marxist answer, but doesn’t that imply that any other form of intervention is NOT acceptable?

  24. February 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Then let me give you another Marxist answer. I could only tell you if soem other intervention could be supported if I knew the concrete condiiotns under which it was taking place. Just going for a walk. I will give you some examples, and why I don’t think they would be likely in modern conditions, when I get back.

  25. February 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Okay examples. In his article in Defence of Progressive Imperialism in Algeria, Engels argued that the intervention against the Algerian Berbers – Barbary Pirates – was defensible, because the country was in a state that was not only precapitalist, but even pre-feudal. It was at a stage of economic and social development that was essentially what he descibed in “The origin…” as Barbarism. Even so, he made sure to criticise the brutal nature of the intervention. He argued that compared to the barbarous state of the society, the intervention would have the advantage of bringing with it all of the progressive elements of bourgeois society.

    He did not include, amongst those advantages bourgeois democracy, and could not have done, because at the time, even in the most developed Capitalist country, England, bourgeois democracy itself was not secure. The bourgeoisie were still vying for political control with the Landlords. His argument was rather like that advanced by Marx in relation to India, and also akin to that advanced in the Communist Manifesto. The progressive, revolutionary role of Capitalism is manifest most clearly in the fact that what it creates above all is its own gravediggers, in the form of the modern proletariat. Marxists cannot oppose developments, which create the conditions for the establishment and growth of the very class they see as the agent of future historical change, the necessary condition for Socialism.

    Now, if there were similar conditions today, it MIGHT be possible for Marxists to take a similar attitude. For example, there are still many tribes living in a condition of Barbarism, and even at a stage of being only hunter gatherers, in the rainforests of South America, parts of Asia, and Africa. A socialist State would at some point want to rescue these peoples from their current conditions – though as Engels pointed out in his letter to Kautsky on Socialist Colonialism, even after we had achieved power in our our own countries, we would have enought to do their, before trying to sort out the problems of other countries would be a priority. Socialists would seek to rescue these peoples in a sensitive way.

    If Capitalism acted to do that, then there would be a basis for Marxists to support such action. But, is there any reason for us beleiving that Capitalist States would do so? On the contrary. All the evidence is that the bourgeoisie have no interest in saving such peoples. The only thing that Capital is interested in in these areas is, if anything, laying its hands on the natural resources, of the areas in which these peoples live. Rather than intervening in these areas to bring the peoples into the modern world, and thereby acting in an historically progressive manner by turning them into modern proletarians, the whole history is rather of such peoples being exterminated, cleared from their lands, in order that large companies can come in to carry out deforestation, mineral extraction and so on, on a massive scale.

    So, in these cases, the basis of Marx and Engels arguments for the progressive role of outside intervention no longer holds.

    The other situation, would be one similar to that described by Engels in Algeria. That would be the situation in Somalia, where a society that is again at a stage essentially of Barbarism, and where piracy forms a significant economic role exists. Unlike, some of those tropical rainforests, which possess accessible, and significant economic resources, Somalia appears to have no such immediate benefits for Capital. That is probably why Imperialism has shown no interest in intervening there to bring about any kind of economic development. Its intervention has been based rather on a policing role, and an attempt to secure an important strategic position on an important trade route.

    But, again, the kind of intervention required to achieve these aims has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of progressive changes that Marx and Engels saw as deriving from the economic transformation that would result from the establishmnet of Capitalist productive relations. On the contrary, all that is required is the establishment of a powerful military force.

    So, in the only cases where a Marxist could even consider seeing an outside Capitalist intervention of having an historically progressive role i.e. where it is in relation to pre-Capitalist social formations, the conditions, which made that in any way defensible in the 19th century, no longer apply today. The only instances where Capital where Capital is interested in intervening today to bring about a more rapid Capitalistic economic development, is in those countries, where such a development is already largely underway, where a certain degree of economic development has already created an accessible working-class, where it has created sufficient infrastructure for Capitalist industry to prosper, where a Capitalist State has been established, which can fulfil its function of ensuring that Capital is defended and reproduced.

    If we look at other countries such as the Gulf regimes, or Libya, what we find is not economies of the kind described above, but essentially Rent based economies. They are not feudal, but more akin to a form of mercantilism, and it is Merchant Capital that frequently plays a significant role. That is one reason these societies sustain, not bourgeois democracy, but the same kind of Bonapartist or Monarchist regimes most closely associated with that period of history.

    And, indeed, because the economic base in these societies, and the social base arising from it, does not provide the material basis for the establishment of bourgeois democracy, any intervention, and indeed until such conditions are created, and rebellion/revolution, will not result in bourgeois democracy, but will only result in one despot, one experience of brutality being replaced by another. That is why marxists cannot support it.

  26. February 17, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Sorry Boffy, I just wanted a concise answer on intervention, not a treaty on Marx and Engels.

    Taking your previous point, basically, if it doesn’t conform to those general parameters then an intervention isn’t acceptable?

    Is that what you are saying?

    And if you can answer concisely I would appreciate it.

  27. February 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    The whole point about a Marxist answer is that it cannot be concise, because it depends on the concrete situation. So, the shortest answer I can give is that as far as I can see in advance, the only conditions I would support intervention, would be on the basis I’ve set out. The conclusion is – we need to build independent working-class forces capable of intervening in the way the Islamists do, until such time as we have a revolutionary Workers State. I’d no more rely on or trust the Capitalist State to be the savious of workers in these cases as an alternative, than I would rely on it, to save workers as an alternat5ive to them building their own Trades Unions etc.

    • February 19, 2012 at 4:21 pm


      You have already given me an answer, I was merely asking you to confirm it, because I wanted to draw out the logic of this type of reasoning, in a dialectical way🙂

  28. February 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I’d just give anotehr example, and illustration of why those that argue in support of intervention do so from a bourgeois moralistic Idealism and Utopianism, rather than on the basis of Marxist Historical Materialism. That would be Afghanistan. It is again a country that is largely pre-capitalist, and where a Capitalist intervention COULD have fulfilled a progressive role, by modernising its economy. But, in the whole of the 11 years that the major Imperialist powers have been there, and despite the hundreds of billions of pounds they have spent in the process, have they don so? Absolutely not! In fact, an impoverished USSR probably did more to modernise the Afghan economy whilst it was there, than has the combined resources of Imperialism. Why, because there is no real immediate profit to be gained, by pumping billions of pounds into developing a modern capitalist industrial economy in Afghanistan. Its only role for Imperialism is strategic, as is its involvement in all of the other “Stans”, where it is more than happy to prop up the most vile dictators, who resort to things such as boiling there opponents in oil!

    The question surely is not why I as a Marxist have no faith in such Imperialists acting to enhance humanitarianism, but why someone like yourself does!

  29. Herbie Destroys the Environment
    February 19, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Boffy’s position is hopeless.

    His argument says there is this bad capitalism and this good capitalism and Marxists can pick out the good bits like its a buffett. So multi nationals posioning a tribes water supply and killing them is bad capitalism but a multi national displacing them, building a hotel complex and giving them jobs as waiters is good capitalism. That may well be so but whether they posion the water or displace them to become wage slaves, both are part of the same process, you cannot have one without the other. Attack one and you attack both, support one and you support both.

    Time to get off the fence and stop bullshitting.

    PS Why anyone would think it good to have Modernity on their blog is a total mystery!

  30. February 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Its precisely because its part of the same process, that I argued in practice such an intervention could not be supported! I didn’t talk about good or bad Capitalism because those are moral terms, not scientific terms. Marxists talk rather instead about whether something is historically progressive or not. When British Colonialism broke up the Asiatic Mode of Production in India, which was based on the village commune the consequences of its action was historically progressive, because as marx points out, that AMP was incapable of transforming itself. By laying the basis of Capitalist production in India, it was progressive. That is no reason for a Marxist to support the means by which it was done!

    Its not true to say simply you cannot have one without the other. Its true that say in the development of Capitalism in Britain the consequences of the development involved tremendous suffering for workers, but the whole point about Marxism is the argument that within this process, workers are no simply some victim of the historical process, but an active agent. It meant that workers could through class struggle have an effect on the way that process unfolded. There are, in fact, lots of instances where the “intervention” of Imperialism – understood as global Capitalism – is progressive. The investment by foreign multinationals in a whole host of countries in Asia, in Latin America, and now in Africa – though a large part there is being done by China – has brought about a high degree of economic development that has lifted living standards, and created increasingly powerful working-classes, as well as creating the conditions for liberal bourgeois democracy, which has also facilitated workers struggle for their instances. That is completely different from military intervention by Imperialist States into the affairs of other states.

    Those who have argued in defense of military intervention have said that they understand that the reasons for the intevention may have nothing to do with humanitarianism, but that so long as it has the immediate effect of ending a particular atrocity or achieving some other immediate end, it cannot be opposed. But, there are several problems with this.

    Firstly, if its understood that the real reason for the intervention is some particular reason of the imperialist power, why is it assumed that at the end of this intervention, the imperialist power will simply pack their bags and leave? Surely, if they intervended to achieve a particular end, they will not simply leave when the immediate atrocity has ended, but only when they have achieved their own goal.

    Secondly, if the argument they put forward holds then they should answer a few questions. Would they have not opposed an intervention by Nazi Germany for instance, if Irish Nationalists had called for it to free them from the continued oppression of British Imperialism? On the same basis, would they have not opposed an intervention by Japanese Imperialism, if it had been called for by Indian Nationalists to remove the oppression of British Imperialism? Why did they generally not support the intervention of Russia to end the atrocities being carried out by Georgia in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

    In reality, as Trotsky pointed out in relation to the Balkan Wars, Opportunists always cherry pick the atrocities they wish to denounce. They use such atrocities to raise a moral outrage to further a particular political agenda.

  31. Herbie Destroys the Environment
    February 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    “Marxists talk rather instead about whether something is historically progressive or not.”

    The same principle applies. Whether it is historically progressive or not it is part of the same process. Capitalism doesn’t really think about what is progressice or isn’t, it is only interested in blind gain, at any cost. Even at its most progressive capitalism is making parts of the planet uninhabitable for many people, and it has no answer to this. I think we are at the point where capitalism is absolutely not progressive. In fact if the current crisis means less growth then that is actually a good thing, because it reduces capitalism’s destructive powers.

    It isn’t hard to see why religious fundamentalism should flourish in such a situation.

  32. February 19, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    I agree with your post Dave and have reading the comments in fascination. Imperialism isn’t about leading soldiers all fluffy cuddly social workers of military intervention into a country to be peaceful arbiters. It doesn’t happen! There’s a good track record of what imperialism, interventionism and occupation does. Imperialism is blood soaked. Nothing good comes from it except further turmoil, blood shed and death. Best thing for countries like the UK to do is to butt out.

    BTW: I agree more with Dave than I do with Carl BUT Dave do yourself a favour and stop calling Carl silly names, it doesn’t do much for your argument and actually you do yourself a disservice. Carl hasn’t resorted to this kind of behaviour. Name calling makes a mockery of debate, “fuckwit” etc. is so juvenile and playground immaturity and sometimes can actually make people think you have lost the debate. Argue the points, disagree but lose the insults.

    PPS: it is good to see you again Dave🙂

  33. modernity's ghost
    February 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    So Harpy, are saying no intervention **ever**? Or some circumstances?

  34. February 19, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    Harpy, if people are so weak-minded as to be unable to follow the logic of a given argument irrespective of expletives, then I pity them – and this blog isn’t really for them. I swear. It is an easy way of demonstrating anger.

    As evidenced by the Ed Balls post a few months ago, people seem quite happy to let it slide when it’s aimed at someone or something they don’t like. Moreover, you obviously followed the argument and the comments regardless of swearing.

    I’d say the more serious issue was Carl lining up with the Harry’s Place goons and the other Blairite tossers in calling people who disagree with any proposed war “appeasers”. That’s the sort of terminology one sees in the Sun, not from a contributor to a socialist blog.

    As regards the argument, I don’t think we’ll see British troops sent in to Syria. I think the Western powers are more likely to find whatever section of the rebel leadership suits their agenda and throw all their support to them – in an attempt to see an accommodating regime installed, which by definition means frustrating the social hopes that are a decisive motivating feature of the Arab Spring. We shouldn’t allow the West a free hand to do that.

    To argue that such an accommodating regime is still better than what we have, or that we shouldn’t be too concerned about the West depriving Iran of allies, is to miss the point, which is the role of war in a global capitalist crisis. To give the Western governments any sort of free hand – without meeting every mobilisation with protests – is to invite disaster for any hopes we have of socialist change anywhere now and in the future.

    I’m not singling out the Western powers as being any worse than Iran or whatever other bogeyman regime du jour one cares to mention – but my analysis necessarily focuses on these as the powers we (the Western working class) can directly affect, whose ambitions we can directly frustrate.

    Lastly, in terms of winning the argument, my purpose was merely to assert an aggressively anti-interventionist point of view. I’m a socialist, and I want nothing to do with the dupes of Western imperialism anymore than I want to be posting apologetics for the criminal regimes in Syria or elsewhere.

  35. February 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm


    I had intended to draw out the logic of your relative positions, but as neither of you seem particularly inclined to engage in an exchange on this type of issue I won’t bother.

    I suspect you will get your desires, the West won’t do much in Syria.

    Irrespective of your particular arguments you would have to admit (given the evidence), what will happen.

    The Syrian regime will continue its slaughter of civilians, people in the West will wring their hands. Syrian tanks will crush civilians or blow them apart. Politicos in the West will say “nothing could be done” and look away.

    You know all of this, without pressure the Syrian regime will hold on to power and continue the mass murder.

  36. February 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm


    “neither of you seem particularly inclined to engage in an exchange on this type of issue “.

    How do you justify this comment. I have answered the question you put both in summary and at length. Perhaps the answer didn’t produce the answer you were hoping for, in order for you to be able to attack it, but its not my fault if your argument is not strong enough to deal with such an eventuality. I do not doubt that the attacks of the butchering Syrian regime will continue. That is what happens in Civil Wars. pretty much the same comments could have been made to justify an Imperialist intervention against the Bolshevik regime – and was by the Interventionist forces – to prevent its bombing, and attacks against its opponents. In the end it comes down to a political question, not a moral one. In this latter case I would have been on the side of the Bolsheviks. In Syria, I oppose the regime, but from what I can see of the opposition, I see little to provide a basis for giving support. I prefer to remain in the independent Camp of the working-class rather than side with one bourgeois force against another in such a circumstance.

    I would have thought that the experiecne of Iran in 1979 shows the problem with siding with what appears to be a lesser evil on the kind of basis you propose in Syria. If it were not, then we can look to many otehr such situations, such as during the Spanish Civil War, or the Chinese Revolution of the 1920’s. Or we could look at the experience of Iraq, where the murdering of Saddam Hussein was repalced by the even greater murdering and destruction inflicted on the Iraqis by the imperialist intervention. It looks likely that as in Iran, the Iraqi people will now suffer further as the result of the imposition of a clerical-fascist regime.

    Were that not enough we could look more recently at the experience in Libya where the murdering of Gaddafi was repalced by the even greater death and destruction brought about by imperialist bombing, and Special Forces. Once again, even greater death and misery is likely as the country descends into Civil War and chaos, and the imposition once again of a clerical fascist regime. Is this what you want to impose on these peoples?

    Its necessary to distinguish between Imperialist intervention in the sense of military intervention, and the role of Imperialism understood as global Capitalism. It is quite clearly the case that the latter in bringing about massive economic development in previously undeveloped economies continues in Marx’s terms to fulfil a progressive role. Around 20 million new workers are created in developing economies every year. That is a huge advance in the forces of the revolutionary class. We are in the most powerful boom in human history. Of all the goods and services produced in human history, almsot a quarter have been produced in just the last ten years. Marxists should welcome that fact. It makes the task of constructing Socialism that much easier, and also means that the class we look to has seen a significant improvement in its condition.

    • February 24, 2012 at 12:05 am

      “I have answered the question you put both in summary and at length. Perhaps the answer didn’t produce the answer you were hoping for, in order for you to be able to attack it, but its not my fault if your argument is not strong enough to deal with such an eventuality.”

      My apologies, Boffy, but your reply of February 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm seem to suggest that you weren’t actually going to engage with the issue of the Syrian government slaughtering people.

      You seemed more intent on monologues on Marxism, which are all very interesting if you haven’t heard them for four decades (as I have), but they don’t connect to the issue of how to stop the Syrian government from slaughtering people in Homs.

      I had not intended to attack you, if I had you would notice.

      Rather I was looking for clear outlines of your position in less than 700 words, so I could have a dialogue on them.

      PS: As for my arguments, I initially presented none. I was more content to understand your views, which seemed the logical point to start from, although I appreciate that within the British political scene that isn’t a method many employ.

  37. February 22, 2012 at 8:24 pm


    “I’m not singling out the Western powers as being any worse than Iran or whatever other bogeyman regime du jour one cares to mention – but my analysis necessarily focuses on these as the powers we (the Western working class) can directly affect, whose ambitions we can directly frustrate.”

    Actually, I don’t think we can directly affect or frustrate the actions of our State in this regard. We are no more able to prevent its intervention than to force it to intervene, which is why all of Mod’s hand wringing over the issue is rather pointless. Only ruling class’s can control the actions of State’s in War as in anything else. Were we the ruling class I would have no objection to intervening! But, on the side of Syrian workers of course, not their class enemies.

    In the event, if an intervention were to take place, then Trotsky’s Proletarian Military Policy provides the model for a Marxist response. It would be for us to demand democratic rights within the armed forces, to build revolutionary cells within the armed forces, and for those cells to propagandise for the intervention to be directed to supporting Syrian workers, arming them etc to fight their class enemies. But, of course, unlike the early part of the last century, the forces of Marxism are far too weak to be even in a position to carry out such a policy, because for the last 60 years or more, there has been too much of a reliance on calling on the capitalist State to act in one area of life after another, rather than building independent working class solutions. We will never remedy that situation by continuing the policy of calling on that State to act in the way Mod and others propose. We will only as Marx puts it in the Critique of the Gotha Programme only confirm that the working class is neither the ruling class nor yet ready to rule.

    • February 24, 2012 at 10:38 am


      I misunderstood your original question. It took it to mean were there any conditions anywhere in which I would support intervention, not were there any conditions under which I would support intervention in Syria. As I’d previously set out that the only conditions I’d support intervention was if was by a truly revolutionary working-class or Workers State, and those conditions did not exist in relation to Syria, I naturally thought you were asking a wider question.

      As I have now set out my argument specifically in relation to Syria, I look forward to your dialogue upon it.

      • modernity's ghost
        February 29, 2012 at 12:34 am

        “the only conditions I’d support intervention was if was by a truly revolutionary working-class or Workers State, and those conditions did not exist in relation to Syria,”

        Boffy, you have outlined this position clearly, but surely you can see the problem with it?

        Whilst it might convey a Marxist underpinning, those conditions are unlikely to be met in most circumstances.

        If, for example, some hypothetical fascist dictator in Latin America decided to slaughter a section of the population in a partly capitalised economy, then your criteria might apply and you would support no intervention.

        And so on.

        As your criteria are unlikely to ever be met.

        I ask you can you see what the problem would be, if, as with Syria, the regime decides to slaughter a section of the population to stay in power?

  38. February 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Boffy, I wasn’t aiming that at you – I was aiming it at the Right, who invariably say that we are quite happy to lecture about the evils of the West and let the evils of other nations fly by. I disagree that we can affect the actions of our state. We can do so indirectly as ever, acting through the minds of the ruling class, by making it too painful for them to contemplate. This was after all the point of the anti-war movement last time around, failure notwithstanding. With the correct tactics, understanding and leadership, we can stop them.

  39. February 23, 2012 at 11:32 pm


    No we cannot control or change the actions of the Capitalist State unless we overthrow it. As Trotsky put it, when he argued against the Stalinists who made that argument in the 1930’s when they wanted to support the Imperialists intervening against Fascism. he wrote,

    “Where and when has an oppressed proletariat “controlled” the foreign policy of the bourgeoisie and the activities of its arm? How can it achieve this when the entire power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? In order to lead the army, it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. There is no other road. But the new policy of the Communist International implies the renunciation of this only road.

    When a working class party proclaims that in the event of war it is prepared to “control” (i.e., to support) its national militarism and not to overthrow it, it transforms itself by this very thing into the domestic beast of capital. There is not the slightest ground for fearing such a party: it is not a revolutionary tiger but a trained donkey. It may be kept in starvation, flogged, spat upon it – it will nevertheless carry the cargo of patriotism. Perhaps only from time to time it will piteously bray: “For God’s sake, disarm the Fascist leagues.” In reply to its braying it will receive an additional blow of the whip. And deservingly so!”

    Letter To French Workers

    Or as he put it ahead of WWII in setting up his Proletarian Military Policy,

    “Our agitation in connection with the war must be as uncompromising in relation to the pacifists as to the imperialists.

    This war is not our war, the responsibility for it lies squarely on the Capitalists. But, so long as we are still not strong enough to overthrow them and must fight in the ranks of their army, we are obliged to learn to use arms as well as possible….”

    See: Writings 1939-40 pp104-5.

    This is precisely what was wrong with the Popular Frontist and Pacifist nature of the anti-war movement both during the 1930’s and more recently. It could never prevent the Capitalist State going to War let alone control the actions of that State when it went to War. We can as Trotsky argues, oppose it, mobilise against it, and so on not just before, but during a War, but short of overthrowing the State, we cannot prevent it, or control it.

    For a longer discussion on it see my blog Proletarian Military Policy

  40. February 25, 2012 at 11:21 am


    I posted a comment on 23rd. that I’ve noticed is still in the moderation queue. It could be hyperlinks have sidelined it.

  41. Edgar
    February 25, 2012 at 11:45 am


    you have given us your view. You want British and USA military intervention in Syria and then you want hell unleashed in Iran.
    And when we factor in Iran, we could also say Boffy wants the same thing because Syria is merely the prelude to operation destroy Iranian ‘clerical fascism’. So stop arguing both of you and raise a toast to John McCain “Bomb Bomb Iran”.

    • modernity's ghost
      February 29, 2012 at 12:36 am

      No, Edgar.

      That is not my view.

      I certainly do not want any conflict with Iran, or more broadly in the Middle East.

  42. February 26, 2012 at 11:55 pm


    What on Earth are you on??? How given that I am opposing any intervention in Syria, and that I’m equally opposed to any attack on Iran do you come up with this bizarre statement???? In fact, as I’ve written elsewhere, one thing that Marxists ought to factor in is precisely the extent of an equaivalent of the “Big Game” being played out in the Middle East between, Western Imperialist powers, and Russian and Chinese Imperialism. In fact, we have a developing Cold War played out by proxies.

    Part of that is a developing war between Sunni and Shia across the area, with the Sunni Monarchies based in the Gulf States acting as armed mercenaries for western Imperialism. In both Libya and now in Syria, the Qatari Monarcvhy has played a significant role in providing financing, as well as weapons, and Special Forces troops on the ground, just as Iran is doing the same thing in Syria, in Lebanon, in Gaza etc. whilst Imperialism has backed the Sunni Islamists in Libya, is backing those forces to the exclusion of all other rebel forces in Syria – as was seen this weekend at the meeting in Tunisia – and backed Fatah against Hamas in Palestine.

    The Marxist position in such inter imperialist conflicts is not to side with one bourgeois Camp as against another, certainly not to back one sect of clerical-fascists against another, but is to do all in our power to defend the interests of the working-class, which all expericne of Popular Fronts in the last Century shows is not served by entering Popular Fronts with bourgeois forces, and certainly not by subordinating workers interests to them!

  43. March 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    @Mod #45. I don’t see why you think that position represents a problem! If there is some fascist regime carrying out atrocities, then, of course I favour protesting those atrocities. I argue that we need to build international workers organisations that can intervene to support workers against such atrocities. The fact that we do not currently have such organisations does not change things.

    I argue for workers to take action to deal with bosses making threats against them. The fact that in any particular situation, the workers concerned, are not strong enough to defend themselves, or that other workers do not come to their defence, does not cause me to change my position of what is needed for those workers. It would not cause me to advise those workers to rely on the Capitalist State, for example, to act as neutral arbiter, or for them to rely on any of its institutions, such as ACAS!

    The reality is that in the past workers have given international solidarity with workers facing attacks – a recent example was the action of South African dockers who blacked arms from China to Zimbabwe, or the actions of US dockeowrkers who blacked military supplies to the US forces in Iraq – including physical support, such as the International Brigade. The Islamists are able to organise themselves to do such things, even humanitarian organisations like Medicins Frontieres are able to organise themselves to intervene. I see no reason why Marxists should excuse the International Labour Movement, be it the international Trades Union Movement, the Socialist International etc. from the responsibility to organise such a force.

    I also see no reason why a Marxist would support an intervention by Imperialism in such circumstances. We know even from recent history that it is not even a lesser evil. It simply means death and destruction from a different source than that from which it is currently coming. Often it means death and destruction on an even greater scale, and certainly means nothing good for the workers in such cases. In Iraq, and Libya it has meant the coming to pwoer of clerical-fascist regimes. With what we know of Syria it looks inevitable that the same would be the result.

    But, I ask again the question I raised above. If you support, or do not oppose intervention on this basis would you then support the Russian intervention in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Given the attacks by Albanian Kosovans, under the cover of the Imperialist presence, would you support a Russian intervention in defence of the Serbs? Had Ireland asked Nazi Germany to support them in freeing themselves of British Imperialism, would you have supported an intervention by Germany? Had India or other parts of the British Empire called on Japanese Imperialism to help rid them of the slavery imposed by Britain, would you have supported such an intervention?

    If not, why not?

  44. modernity's ghost
    March 3, 2012 at 2:52 am

    “If there is some fascist regime carrying out atrocities, then, of course I favour protesting those atrocities.”

    So is it the regime, or the actions of that regime that define “fascist” in this context?

    Is the shelling of civilians with tanks and mortars for a month not bad enough to qualify?

    How doesn’t the Syrian dictatorship meet these criteria ?

    Your question, Had Ireland asked Nazi Germany to support them in freeing themselves of British Imperialism, would you have supported an intervention by Germany?

    NO, as it was a fascist regime and clearly so.

    I am talking about regimes slaughtering people on a daily basis, without stop.

    What is a Marxist to do? Wring his/her hands and think of reasons to do nowt? Please, where is the internationalism?

    • March 7, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      The defining of fascist is not the important issue here. I am just as concerned to protest atrocities committed by a bourgeois democracy as by a fascist regime. So I am in favour of protesting the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime. But, protesting those atrocities does not in any way commit me to supporting an intervention by some other bourgeois regime be it bourgeois democratic or otherwise, given that history shows that such intervention generally leads to one set of atrocities being repalced for another.

      What does Germany being a fascist regime have to do with anything? The argument that has been put forward by those who defend intervention is that they have no illusions in the nature of Imperialism, including that it will intervene for its own ends, but that so long as its actions help to achieve the same ends as those opposing the atrocities etc. they should not be opposed!

      “I am talking about regimes slaughtering people on a daily basis, without stop.”

      You mean like the US and UK were doing after 2003 in Iraq, or have been doing in Afghanistan, including pissing on those they’ve killed and filming it, torturing people in Abu Ghraib, burning copies of the Koran and so on. Ot what about the actions of those they were in alliance with in Libya, who have been regularly killing and torturing people? Or like the atrocities committed by Imperialism in the bombing and bombardment of Sirte as featured yesterday on Channel 4 News. Or perhaps all the murdering and oppression on a daily basis conducted by the British Empire in India etc. would count.

      No one is suggesting doing nowt. What is being proposed is to build an effective Labour Movement response to provide support. What is being proposed is to focus on overthrowing our own bourgeoisie that is part of the problem not the solution, and thereby to be in a position to actually intervene in a revolutionary way.

  45. Edgar
    March 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    When Israel was slaughtering Palestinians on a daily basos, you modernity, were defending Israel! So cut the bullshit about internationalism and what is a Marxist to do!

    And if you are not for all out war in the Middle East why do you constantly badger those who are anti war and constantly provide support for pro imperialists? You really are a priceless turd.

  46. modernity's ghost
    March 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm


    You are an illiterate, you’re not interested in my views.

    You constantly misrepresent them.

    You have no cogent arguments, just a “Tu quoque” .

    My why? I take an interest in the Middle East, and I’m curious as to other people’s views. I might disagree with Boffy, but he is sincere and does make an effort to advance arguments unlike you.

    I think socialists should be concerned with understanding things, discussing things, thinking about things, etc. and NOT the petty politics of political sects and abuse, which have led the British Left to shrink to an all-time low.

    You epitomise that moronic approach to politics. You advance no arguments, you misrepresent your interlocutor’s views and rant.

    Socialists, and especially Marxists, shouldn’t be afraid of debating issues in a fraternal way.

    Only authoritarians, the Far Right and the intolerant seek to close down these discussions.

  47. Edgar
    March 4, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I may well be a moron Modernity but you still haven’t answered the question, why do you constantly and doggedly badger those who are anti war and provide backing and solidarity to those that are pro imperialist?
    Now I may not get the supreme subtlety of the beyond the reach of mortal men method you employ, but please for us mere mortals, just answer the fucking question. Directly!

  48. modernity's ghost
    March 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    “I’m curious as to other people’s views.”

  49. skidmarx
    March 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Edgar – I don’t think answering questions is within his capabilities:

    Is anyone else sick of modernityblog?
    on November 11th, 2009 at 15:02
    Rhetoric, modernityblog style.
    1. Repeatedly asking the same ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ questions of individuals, derailing threads by *demanding* an answer over and over again. If they don’t reply, or don’t provide the answer he wants to hear, he’ll accuse them of evasion – if they successfully dismantle his crap arguments, he’ll ignore them and move on to someone else.

    Oh, and from the same thread:

    Are you really saying you couldn’t tell that:
    “On Lenins Tomb re the Euro vote you called the Irish a bunch of backward reactionary simpletons because they lived in a Catholic country.”
    referred to:
    It’s good to see the Catholic, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, nationalist, reactionary forces of rural idiocy routed, and modernism, internatialism[sic], urbanism and multi-culturalism triumphant.?
    Whether you agree with the interpretation or not, I would say that you are either dishonest or very stupid in saying that you can’t see the link.

    Another question he appeared to be incapable of responding to, like whether he accepts there was a Nakba or not.

  50. Edgar
    March 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks SkidMarx, between the 2 of us I was never expecting an answer anyway!

  51. modernity's ghost
    March 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I’ll pass on this thread.

    Not sticking around to discuss complex politics with those hung up on Jews, like Skidmarx.

  1. February 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm

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