update + sneak peek at a post i’m working on

I got a political analyst job at a start-up so I’ve put my blog on the backburner for awhile, I was about 1/3 way through a comprehensive analysis of the ISO’s position on Syria and how it evolved over time, but I want to give a sneak peek into one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen so far in the ISO’s coverage of Syria

In late December, al-Qaeda terrorists suicide bombed government buildings and an orphanage with two car bombs, killing 44 people including a child at the orphanage. A couple weeks later, the ISO reported on the incident, saying:

With the prospect of a revolutionary movement that cut across religious and ethnic lines, the regime tried to reassert its role as the protector of minorities–most recently pointing to bombings in the capital of Damascus as the work of al-Qaeda and Sunni fundamentalists. Revolutionary activists claim that the regime itself planted the bombs as a pretext for further repression.

The ISO’s media strategy has been to downplay the vicious sectarianism by the opposition and to portray all sectarianism as coming from the government. As Asad AbuKhalil pointed out, the Syrian government has been steadfastly refusing to make sectarian claims, even when doing so would make the opposition look bad. During the protests where “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave” was one of the most common protest chants, the ISO refused to report on anything critical of the  protests, reserving all their criticism for the Syrian government. They refused to report the case of foreign FSA fighters kidnapping 500 Alawites and blaming the government when the FSA decided to massacre their hostages. In the context of the ISO’s and bourgeois media’s propaganda campaign against Syria, portraying the Bad Guys as saying one thing and the Good Guys as saying another will naturally make their readers believe the Good Guys.

The ISO’s Good Guys, however, are al Qaeda terrorists. Being a partner in the imperialist propaganda war isn’t enough to satisfy the ISO, they also white wash terrorism by al Qaeda.

For those of you concerned about the rights of women in Syria if the FSA wins

NOMAS branch of Aleppo

The Aleppo branch of NOMAS

The ISO tells us that fighting in a NATO/GCC-backed rebellion will lead to people gaining a class essentialist anti-sexist political stance


So in Egypt, Syria, Greece and other recent sites of revolt and rebellion, women and men mobilized and organized together in unprecedented ways. During struggles on this scale, workers’ ideas change–men’s ideas about women, and women’s ideas about men and also about themselves. In the process of confronting their shared and powerful enemy, such as the state and its police, men and women workers come to see their potential power as a united force.

Ideas like sexism are exposed for what they are–useless and destructive–not only because they are wrong, like misconceptions about what women are capable of, but because they divide the working class. They are exposed for their real purpose–to keep those at the top in power by dividing the masses below.

Libya was just a fluke, right?

JMP demolished this kind of vulgar class essentialism in a fantastic post everyone should read

JMP on Trotskyism

Sorry for cutting these up, they’re both fantastic articles that should be read in full


Earlier, in the context of another post, I briefly indicated that Trotskyism was flawed by an essentialist understanding of class; because of this the prototypical Trotskyist understanding of class consciousness, class position, and class struggle annihilates the possibility of concretely understanding race/racism, gender/sexism, and other sites of oppression as part of social class.  Trotskyism’s crude class reductionism, which at the end of the day obliterates a proper understanding of class as a social category, also connects to its general eurocentric understanding of world history.  There is a reason that Maoism is simply another species of “Stalinism”––this is because no one from places like China, according to the most rabid Trotskyite cult recruiter, are capable of theoretical thought.  The same goes for any revolutionary African historical materialism: I have heard numerous Trotskyists, for example, write-off Frantz Fanon because he was not a proper “revolutionary theorist”––apparently writing theory in the midst of an anticolonial revolution does not qualify as properly revolutionary.  No, to be a proper revolutionary one must cling to theory that emerged from the “civilized” centres of world capitalism where workers struggles, we are told, are far more advanced than the “primitive” and “degenerated” struggles in the peripheries.

Trotskyist theory of world revolution, then, generally tends to be a eurocentric game.  The entire theory of Permanent Revolution, which relies on the erroneous analysis of world capitalism being “combined and uneven development” (one mode of production cast upon the entire globe), ultimately produces an understanding of revolution that is both chauvinist and paralyzing: the task of underdeveloped nations (and there is no clear understanding of the global capitalist relationship that develops underdevelopment), was for the germ of the working classes there to pursue the bourgeois democratic revolution in their own country and keep alive a revolutionary spirit (i.e. holding the revolution in permanence), while keeping alive a revolutionary spirit, thus creating a larger and more advanced working class––ultimately all of the nations that did this would have to hold the revolution in permanence for a long time until everyone in the world was in a similar place, like the “advanced” working class in the already capitalist developed nations, so as to have a socialist revolution altogether.  Maoist theories, along with theories emerging from revolutionary African movements (i.e. Fanon, Cabral, etc.), rejected this position as a half-truth; this is why the theories of New Democratic Revolution and Cultural Revolution, for example, emerged in China.




My point here, however, is only to point out that it is entirely significant that academic marxism now accepts a specific discourse about Stalin and so-called “Stalinism” and that this, more than anything else, is the influence of trotskyism.  I treat this as significant because trotskyism’s core dogma is not about the so-called “permanent revolution” but primarily about anti-stalinism.  Indeed, it fundamentally defines itself as anti-stalinism more than anything else: orthodox trotskyists attack every communism they despise as “stalinist” and they focus obsessively on a “socialism in one country” that they see as the hallmark of “stalinism”.  Moreover, trotskyism is the tradition that is most responsible for inversely theorizing “stalinism” because so-called “stalinists” always claimed they were only “Marxist-Leninist” and that Stalin was just a Leninist revolutionary.  Thus, everyone who is a non-trotskyist marxist-leninist, according to trotskyists, is a “stalinist”––especially if they believe that a socialist revolution can be accomplished in a single country without waiting for the workers of the advanced centres to lead the revolution.  This obsessive anti-stalinism, then, might be the only dogma of trotskyism.  Thus, if it was unsuccessful in making its other theories hegemonic in academia, trotskyism has been successful in this one area: an uncritical anti-Stalin-Trotsky-was-the-victim stance is at the root of the majority of academic marxism.

This discourse about Stalin and “stalinism” is so hegemonic in academia that to even suggest, in proper academic marxist circles, that maybe Trotsky was more responsible for wrecking the international communist movement than Stalin is generally unwise (and the fact that I am writing this here, where it will probably be read by my academic fears, is something that might possibly affect my already non-existent career prospects).  Indeed, to suggest that the discourse of stalinism runs parallel to a cold war discourse about Stalin-as-mass-murderer and that we should be suspicious about these kinds of things is bad for one’s academic health––or at least enough to get yelled at by people who don’t want to believe that their understanding of Stalin era Soviet Union and its supposed crimes is not “progressive” as they somehow and bizarrely want to believe but actually a banal and common belief amongst reactionary historians.  Nor does the fact that the vast majority of the world’s communists (meaning those who don’t live at the privileged centres of capitalism) tell themselves a different and more critically nuanced story of the Soviet Union under Stalin.  Hell, even leftists living in the former Eastern Bloc who remember that era do not, for some reason, believe what we are supposed to believe here about that period: the Russians who can remember the Stalin era proudly bear his picture on victory day marches, the Eastern Orthodox Church has received an overwhelming requests to make Stalin a saint, and even in places like the Ukraine where we are told that Stalin personally and intentionally exacted the worst totalitarian policies (a claim initially made by the cold warrior historian Robert Service who has now, in fact, distanced himself from that theory), there is a communist party that tells a more critical story about the famine.


A comradely criticism of ftm-communist

I’m making this a separate post to encourage discussion and responses. I don’t think it’s helpful to dismiss him as a kid playing red, because that doesn’t help us understand his beliefs. His views aren’t unique, this strain of left-liberalism is widespread in the first world left. It would be too lengthy to criticize all of his positions that show these liberal tendencies, so I’m just going to pick 2 of the worst offenders.

1. He doesn’t understand the contradictions of the NEP

It is vital to understand the causes of the collapse of the USSR because it affects how we approach policies in a socialist state. My view is that the dominant basis for the restoration of capitalism was the ~20% of the economy that was made up of illegal, capitalist enterprises, which distorted the policies and ideology of the Party and the USSR. I expand on this considerably in the link below. If this view is correct, then allowing private, capitalist enterprises of any sort opens the society up to a capitalist restoration.

ftm-communist’s view, as I understand it, is that the bureaucracy acted as a class and pursued its class interest in returning to capitalism. When asked what killed the soviet union, he blames an unaccountable bureaucracy. If the bureaucracy is unaccountable to the proletariat and peasantry, then they aren’t the ruling classes. This leaves the bureaucracy as the only logical option left as the ruling class.

As I said in an earlier post, this theory is not backed up by solid evidence or reasoning:


there are 6 common misconceptions over the cause of the collapse


4.bureaucratic counter-revolution

this theory basically argues that the bureaucracy formed into a possessing class and the breakup was a result of the Yeltsin faction of the bureaucracy defeating the Gorbachev faction. however, this doesn’t explain why the bureaucracy apparently backed Andropov’s Marxist-Leninist point of view in 83, gorbachev’s revisionist reformist ideology in 87, and yeltsin’s free market cannibalism in 93. Since theft from the state by the bureaucracy was embryonic in 87 and became more and more blatant in the 90s, this suggests that outside class forces were causing the collapse and opportunists within the bureaucracy jumped on board.

An authoritative, in-depth study based on interviews with the Party elite showed that the bureaucracy was incapable of collective action to save or hurry the dismantling of the system.

5.lack of democracy/over-centralization

this theory attempts to save socialism by distancing it from the Soviet Union. It argues “The Soviet Communists screwed up, but we are different and smarter. They were too bureaucratic, undemocratic, and over-centralized, but we know better than that.” This explanation doesnt have any explanatory power whatsoever, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a common anti-Communist staple. It makes up for analysis with lofty utopianism and tries to explain history by the degree to which a country conforms to an ideal, instead of looking at the material conditions behind the collapse.

The bureaucracy didn’t have any of the traits associated with social classes (intermarriage, friendship, lifestyle, etc). As Al Szymanski points out in Is The Red Flag Flying:

Of the 47 government ministers of the USSR (the nearest Soviet equivalent to the richest owners and top managers of corporate wealth in the West) 40 percent in 1966 had manual working-class parents, 27 percent had parents who were peasants, 15 percent had parents who were low level white color workers, and only 18 percent had parents in the intelligentsia. i.e. about 80 percent came from humble origins.

The two leading bodies of the Communist Party, the Central Committee and the Politburo, are also predominantly composed of people from lower status non-intelligentsia backgrounds. For example, a study of the 1966 Central Committee showed that, of the 74 percent on which information could be found, 36 percent had manual working-class parents, 47 percent peasant parents and only 16 percent non-manual )ie either intelligentsia or low level white color) parents. ie About 90 percent of the leading Party members came from humble origins.

These facts combined with authoritative Western studies showing that the bureaucracy couldn’t act as a class show that it was influences external to the bureaucracy that was the cause of capitalist restoration.

The fundamental difference between my view and ftm-communist’s is that we view the source of capitalist restoration as coming from different places. With ftm-communist’s view, the way to prevent capitalist restoration is to avoid “authoritarianism” and a large state bureaucracy. His view doesn’t see the existence of capitalist institutions as a threat to the socialist structure. This view can be summed up in one phrase, “capitalism without contradictions”.

Every single leader and theoretician who has tried to take socialist countries back to capitalism has praised the NEP’s toleration of capitalist institutions. NEP-like programs should only be implemented in the most dire of circumstances due to the corrosive effect of capitalist institutions in a socialist society.

If there’s disagreements with minor points (for example, if ftm-communist doesn’t think the bureaucracy was a class), it doesn’t affect my fundamental argument that capitalist institutions have been the basis for capitalist restoration in every socialist country that has become capitalist.

2. He believes in the liberal conception of human rights

This tendency is extremely prevalent among first world leftists and is one of the most critical aspects of liberal imperialist ideology. By constructing a false narrative of human rights, liberalism creates justifications for imperialism. These justifications reduce civil resistance to imperialism and increases identification with liberal ideology and goals. I argue that we should have a materialist understanding of human rights, an understanding that is based in the class structure of society. For the sake of space, I’m only posting the introduction, but i encourage everyone to read it.


Human rights discourse today is largely grounded in value judgments, and this has the effect of disguising the class interests behind human rights. Rather than human rights being progressively developed and expanded as a result of enlightenment, discussion, and liberal thought, the idea and implementation of human rights has been embedded in the class relations of the societies. Class, rather than constitutions, are the driving force behind human rights.

While a moralistic stance towards human rights can be politically useful, it doesn’t get us any closer to understanding the causes. Societies don’t limit or expand public advocacy rights because the leadership is good or bad, power-hungry or humble, they’re limited or expanded based on class structure and power.

There’s 13 factors determining the limitation and tolerance of public advocacy in any given society:

This liberal conception of human rights views human rights as free floating ideas and principles that aren’t determined by the class structure of society. This is a decidedly un-Marxist view, and the historical record shows that human rights are entirely dependent on the security of the ruling class (whether proletarian or bourgeois), domestic threats, international threats, and other factors dealing with class structure and power.

By viewing human rights in a liberal fashion, imperialism becomes an acceptable vehicle for delivering freedom. Ideas are not imposed on the material world, the material world is the basis for ideas. This is the heart and soul of Marxist philosophy and is precisely why Marxism is a revolutionary leap; Marxist philosophy fundamentally changed the practice of philosophy.

As the materialist conception of human rights shows, this threat of imperialism actually makes class structures that fear for their safety and security more likely to clamp down on internal threats. This is a vicious cycle, as imperialism leads to restrictions on human rights, leading to more imperialism.

The ISO, Libya, and the need for self-criticism


This is somewhat of a reply to zedweiller’s post here and a continuance of our discussion here, but my criticisms aren’t really of his positions, but of the ISO’s.

The problem with the ISO was that they refused to report facts about the NATO rebels that didn’t fit their initial analysis of the events in Libya. From the beginning, they claimed that the NATO rebels were a popular uprising by a broad swath of the producing classes of Libya. Under the circumstances, this is an understandable misconception, because Al Jazeera and other media networks were pumping out tons of misinformation (more on al jazeera’s propaganda here: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/chandan260311.html). However, after a few weeks it was crystal clear that this was not a popular uprising, but an uprising by a coalition of bin ladenites, monarchists, and neoliberals rife with ethnic cleansing.

The problem with the ISO isn’t that they criticized the Libyan government, it is that they refused to report facts that didn’t fit their analysis, leading them to be far less critical of the rebels than mainstream outlets like ABC, Fox news, and NBC.

If someone only got their information on Libya from the ISO newspaper, here’s some of the facts they would be completely unaware of:

  • 1 million people (~1/6 of the country) came out in support of the Libyan government
  • Amnesty International showed that there weren’t any cases of mass rape, anti-aircraft guns being used against protesters, African mercenaries were not used, aircraft machine guns were not used against protesters, and there was no evidence of genocide by the Libyan government.
  • Tawergha, a town that used to be populated by mostly black Libyans, was completely depopulated and ethnically cleansed by the NATO rebels.
  • NATO rebels are torturing anyone they suspect of supporting Gaddafi (these people are mostly black)
  • Black Libyans were being mass arrested by NATO rebels.
  • NATO rebels were creating fake mass grave sites

The Amnesty International report debunked several of the false claims that the ISO made, yet there was no retraction or notification. Instead, they refused to report it. This is what separates criticism from assisting the propaganda war.

I believe the cause of this “selective” media reporting is a result of the ISO’s polemical stance early in the anti-Libya campaign, where they attacked organizations that questioned the rebels. To admit that the rebels are a racist, extremist group wiping entire towns of black Libyans off the map would mean that their initial analysis was wrong.

As I’ve said before, this is not the first time that the ISO has uncritically supported neoliberal movements in countries targeted by western imperialism.

While the capitalist media skews their reporting based on dollars, the ISO skewed their reporting based on the Party line. Self-criticism is needed to prevent another Yugoslavia and another Libya.

For those interested in the real reasons behind the US intervention, read this:


Why do Trotskyists keep supporting neoliberal movements?


trotskyism reminds me of a concept in the Gender Knot by Allan Johnson, where he talks about how patriarchy is so effective because it provides paths of least resistance that are incredibly bad for society. this is really prevalent in trotskyism today, because most modern day trotskyists agree with the vast majority of western propaganda claims against the USSR. instead of critically looking at the USSR’s successes and failures and learning from them, the ISO and SWP writes it off as “state capitalist” and applauded the collapse of socialism in eastern europe and russia because they thought Real Socialism would flourish. instead of a resurgence of socialism, US and neoliberal hegemony was the result, with disastrous results for the millions who have been killed as a result of unbridled US imperial ambitions.

this tendency for taking the path of least resistance also leads them to support neoliberal movements in third world countries, like the green movement in Iran, the KLA terrorists in Yugoslavia, and the NATO rebels in Libya. to this day, the ISO and SWP consider these groups to be progressive forces. (Good articles to read: Iran 1 2 3 Yugoslavia 1 Libya 1 2)

As Cailean Bochanan put it in an excellent article showing how the British left spread misinformation on Libya, “NATO must be pleased with opponents like these.”



Lulz, ISO and SWP as good examples of Trotskyism. You’re talking about some of the most confused, sectarian, cult-of-personality-ridden Trotskyist groups. The SWP repeatedly tells their members to quit their jobs and go work in factories! I met someone who actually dropped out of grad school for them!

If you want to see true Trotskyist analysis look at the Socialist Alternative and the CWI (US and international arm of the same organization). When I first had a conversation with a guy from SA about the USSR we spent two hours discussing the successes and failures. The CWI does not consider the USSR as state capitalism, since there were no markets that the state competed in and there was no profit except in international trade for supplies like oil. And even then, the trade was mostly between the USSR and other Communist countries. The Soviet Union was a degenerate workers’ state bogged down by unaccountable bureaucracy however it was not state capitalist.

I’m not sure about those other movements, but CWI spends a long time discussing different international movements in their book Marxism in Today’s World. Visit socialistworld.net for their version of the news. And don’t knock out an entire tendency because some of its groups are fucked up.

While the CWI’s line on Libya is much better than the ISO/SWP’s, it still perpetuated nearly all of the imperialist myths about Yugoslavia and Iran. The CWI wholeheartedly supports the neoliberal green movement. It results in funny articles like this, which makes claims that the demonstrations are anti-capitalist, then admits a couple paragraphs later that a socialist consciousness isn’t very prevalent. Hell, Time’s class analysis of the green movement was far better than the CWI’s. The CWI cherrypicked facts to fit their analysis, they completely ignored that most of the Iranian working class recognized that the green movement was one that was run by the middle class and in the interests of the middle class.

The CWI cannot keep their analysis of Iran straight for more than a paragraph.

The idea that the Soviet bureaucracy was unaccountable just doesn’t match up with reality. in the interest of length, i’m just going to give one example from Is The Red Flag Flying by Albert Szymanski:

Letters to editors of the Soviet press, which very often amount to guest editorials or articles, play a very significant role. This institution provides a major forum for the producing class to present its opinions and participate directly in the sharp confrontation of conflicting ideas. Many discussions are thus initiated from below. Letters to government agencies, Party organs, etc. also play a very important role in initiating public discussion and influencing the decision making process. It appears that group opinion, as expressed in the letters and the media, exerts a significant influence on the course of events.

All the mass media have letter departments which keep letters received on file and forward them to the appropriate government agency. By law any agency against whom a complaint or suggestion is directed must respond within 15 days and the sender must be notified of the results. The state takes very seriously the channelling of complaints and grievances to collection points where they can be processed. The press thus serves the function of ombudsman for the masses. In 1970 Pravda handled about 360,000 letters a year and Izvestia 500,000. Obviously the press cannot publish all the letters it receives, but all must be processed and referred to the agencies against which a complaint is directed.

The press itself does more than provide a forum for public debate and opinion formation. it also actively performs the role of social critic (although not of the basic premises of Soviet society listed above), The newspapers actively search out corruption, managerial incompetence, inept government and flaws in social organization. They investigate allegations of injustice, ineffeciency, bungled planning and highhanded bureaucracy. Pravda and other major papers, in particular, systematically engage in public exposures. The press maintains public surveillance over official programmes, checks the performance of social institutions and promotes create solutions to complex problems of Soviet society. It encourages citizens to take an active part in criticizing everyone who may be abusing the public trust, except the persons of the top leaders. Complaints, many of them originating from readers, have produced criminal prosecutions and disciplinary action against Communist Party members.

This is just one example of the many ways that the Soviet bureaucracy was held accountable.



the ISO supported Polish Solidarity on the grounds that it was an internal, working class challenge to the state, seeking progressive labor reforms. 

secondly, ISO (dunno about SWP) no longer use the “state capitalist” formulation as our official stance on Russia, Cuba, or North Korea. I think it rings true for China these days, though.

thirdly, what’s so bad about criticizing both qaddafi and the Empire?

The ISO defends the collapse of actually existing socialism as a progressive historical event:

The 1989 revolutions thus marked a turning point in history. They didn’t produce socialism–in every case, the new order was a step sideways to a different form of capitalism. But the immense struggle from below that finally swept away the dictatorships of Eastern Europe remains an inspiration today.

Millions of people died from privatization, and working class people have far less control over their lives and over the state as a result. By any objective measure, this was a massive regression in worker power, not a progressive event. Internationally, the Soviet Union was the one bulwark to American imperialism.

ISO still regularly refer to actually existing socialism as state capitalism, here’s an example from 2008. A search for “state capitalism” on their website shows tons of examples of them using it to refer to actually existing socialism.

The ISO went beyond criticizing Gaddafi and actively supported the neoliberal-monarchist-bin ladenite rebel coalition. They sponsored protests all across the US in favor of the NATO rebels. Every single imperialist war has a phase where the imperialist media spreads disinformation in order to justify war, and the ISO assisted this imperialist propaganda effort on the streets and in the newspapers. As I quoted earlier, NATO must be pleased with enemies like these.