People's War

Notes on the Universality of Protracted People’s War: Neither Assad nor NATO

I wanted my first post after an unexpected hiatus to be about the several drafts in store (On Queer Maoism, on Identity Politics, on Eclecticism and Dogmatism, on the BRICs/MISTs mass upsurges, etc), but as Helmuth von Moltke the Elder once quipped, no plan survives contact with the enemy. So here we go.

Much has been debated in the last few years around Syria’s civil war in the wider left, the socialist, and communist movements, including the various Marxist currents. Recently, however, there has been an upsurge of commentary and line struggle because of the recent declaration of open military support for the “Free Syria Army” (FSA) on the part of NATO and the USA. In particular, this has led to informal line struggles in my own circles both online and offline. Thus, a matter that is important but not urgent, has become one of urgency, specially because I identify certain confusions among Maoist forces, in particular an eclectic and sometimes opportunist tailing of revisionist and nationalist forces both in Syrian and out of Syria, but also an abandonment of the struggle to establish the central principle of Maoist Scientific Socialist struggle: the universality of Protracted People’s War.

As such this post is not a general post on Syria – a complex topic that cannot possibly be addressed in a single post, nor that I can address solely (I already have a significant backlog of drafts, as I mentioned), nor are we addressing the forces in the left who are pro-FSA, that is, the fun house mirror images of the pro-Assad leftists.  This is intended to enter the line struggle within Maoism as a way to clarify and develop a particular line that I and others have come to understand as the correct, Maoist, line and line of march on the topic – as such, it has a limited scope and thus please have this narrow delimitation in mind when answering.

These confusions represent an abandonment of Maoism and an embrace of revisionism and of certain forms of Stalinism and of certain forms of Trotskyism, and represent a step backward if they are widely adopted, and represent also a step backward in the struggle to establish if not hegemony, at least a differentiated position with other trends and traditions, necessary in the political struggle for the masses.

These confusions in the Maoist camp in my view play out in three main ways:

1) Confusing the principle of struggle against imperialism with that of supporting a given regime based solely on its posture towards imperialism, principally US imperialism. Lets call this confusion a mistake of the nature of imperialism.

2) Confusing the principle of proletarian internationalism with that of the defense of national liberation; in general when dealing with the antagonism between a Nation-State of a semi-colonial/neo-colonial nature and imperialist countries, in the specific when dealing with a multi-national State that was arbitrarily created by  British imperialism in the 1920s such as Syria. Lets call this confusion a mistake of nationalism.

3) Confusing the principle of the universality of Protracted People’s War with principle of the united front for national liberation. The task of communists everywhere is to make revolution, because we know it is right to rebel, but it is better to make revolution. One of the things that sets apart Maoism from other various Marxisms and from even Mao Zedong Thought is that we have come to understand the principle of Protracted People’s War as universal. This doesn’t mean that the military aspect is the primary aspect at all times (which would be ultra-leftism), but it does mean that when the military is the primary contradiction (such as is the case in Syria – I think there is little debate on this view), the perspective should be to develop the Protracted People’s War under the specific conditions of the given class conditions in a given revolutionary situation. The lines within Maoism that do not put this to the fore are putting aside the universality of  Protracted People’s War and its substitution with various other perspectives, mostly of an eclectic and of an opportunist nature. Lets call this confusion a mistake of eclecticism and opportunism.

I will attempt to address these mistakes, but first let me address a secondary error of method that is present in these confusions.

The Error of Lack of Investigation

Neither Assad, nor NATO: Kurdish women lead the way!

Neither Assad, nor NATO: Kurdish women lead the way!

My initial position on the events was quite different than that of Libya (in which I advocated against imperialist intervention while taking a no-camp perspective): the specificity of the war in Libya and that in Syria – while sharing some similarities – are different enough that a simple copying of positions. This is a secondary confusion to the three main ones above: an error of science, lets call it an error of lack of investigation. Maoists should at all times oppose book worship. In fact, Mao addresses the phenomena at hand directly, in his title heading for section four in “Oppose Book Worship”:

Without investigating the actual situation, there is bound to be an idealist appraisal of class forces and an idealist guidance in work, resulting either in Opportunism or in Putschism

Further in this section he states:

We must wipe out idealism and guard against all opportunist and putschist errors before we can succeed in winning over the masses and defeating the enemy. The only way to wipe out idealism is to make the effort and investigate the actual situation.

Lets unpack this:

1) Idealism here means the process of taking an idea and substituting this idea for the dialectical engagement with material reality. This includes the adoption of crude empiricism – for example, the privileging of certain material facts over other material facts when drawing up a particular line. In the case of Syria, for example, there is an idealism present in the description of the Assad regime as anti-imperialist, when in fact it is pro-imperialist: it serves the interests of Russian imperialism and is in itself engaged in the national oppression of non-Arab and Sunni Arab people’s within Syria, as well as other minority national groups. It also administers a semi-colonial/neo-colonial State whose borders are not the result of a process of national self-determination, but of the caprice first of Ottoman imperialism and then British imperialism.  Since this is an example, we will not now get into other specificities, but this should clearly delineate that idealism is not just abstract thinking – as it is often used – but also means the purported empiricism and materialism that is incomplete and not subjected to broad and open ended investigation.

2) Opportunism here means the abandonment of political principles in order to advance a particular strategic or tactical perspective. In the case of Syria, the opportunism mostly tends to express itself within the communist movement in the form of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. While in general this is not always a bad perspective, in the particular case of Syria it is: since there are friends available with whom we can develop alliances and political support that are not only based on a common enemy, but also based on a common direction in the struggle against the enemy, there is no reason to set the bar so low. This has a long basis in Maoism – to seek out the alliances with the forces that walk the same path besides also having a common enemy, before seeking the alliance with force with which one only has in common the enemy. We have a common enemy with both Assad and the FSA, and it is each other as well as imperialism in general. The opportunists posit that the defense of Assad is anti-imperialism – but it is not: the Kurdistan question demolishes this contention.

3) Putschism here means the view that what matters is the central control of the State machinery, rather than the popular organization of the masses. In the example of Syria, this plays out in the belief that the Assad regime represents the only force capable of opposition to NATO-USA-Israeli interests and political positions. That is not the case – he has actually shown himself a paper tiger. Those who harbor putchist illusions discount – a priori – the popular basis of the uprising against Assad, and furthermore, do so by engaging in conspiranoia and claims that the uprising is orchestrated entirely by the intelligence agencies of the imperialist. Now, lets have no illusions – the intelligence services of imperialism are all over the place in the FSA and have penetrated all levels of the uprising. Yet, to assume this truth as central is to be anachronistic, to abandon historical materialism, and to describe the class struggle as simple conspiracies among elites, that robs all agency from the masses. Lets be clear also: the masses do make mistakes. But these are the mistakes of the masses, not of the conspirators that plot to utilize their righteous rebellion to their ends. And thus the putchist believes that the masses are idle pawns in a game played by larger forces – rather than active actors in their own destiny. In Syria, the uprising began as part of the wave of rebellion that began in Tunisia and is now entering its third year in the region with the rebellions in Turkey. The initials demands of the movement were reasonable and righteous: more democratic rights, resolution of the issues of oppressed nationalities including regional and local autonomy, and the demand for open elections. From the beginning , of course, there were liberal and pro-US imperialist forces present, as well as Islamists, but there were also communist, Kurdish nationalists, and other left and progressive forces involved. In fact, the initial reaction of the regime, while rather brutal, was not abnormal even by western standards: beatings, tear gas, mass incarceration etc. It even attempted to establish open dialog with the forces in the initial uprising which had a clear anti-NATO position, including the Kurds. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) emerged as the solid left wing of these movement – led by an anarchist, containing many forces from a broad and lively left. Then suddenly and almost without warning, Assad decided on a military solution. The brutality of his crackdown was both unprecedented and unjustifiable. It pushed wide sections of the masses from a neutral position to the a position of complete opposition. It transformed what had been a political struggle into a military one. In this context, it was only natural that as the military gained primacy, the forces which initially had sought righteous redress of grievances, were to be pushed against a wall, and into the mistake and error of seeking support at any cost. The LCC collapsed as a left alternative, the FSA became populated by former regimes types flipped by foreign intelligence services, and the situation developed to the present state. Clearly, the lack of a communist revolutionary force capable of both engaging the Assad regime and retaining independence from NATO/US imperialism creates a situation in which both sides are unsupportable – yet, we must understand that this doesn’t mean the original demands from the masses suddenly become invalid. Not being able to objectively carry out correct political line is one thing, to give up on this lines to pick a side is another. The Putchists believe that the masses, lacking clarity, need to be abandoned, and thus side with what they see as the primary ally. This is an error, as Mao points out.

Now, this is an early work by Mao, and we do not want to makes the mistake we are advising against and engage in book worship ourselves – but there is no evidence in practice, nor is there any theoretical formulation proven in practice that has contradicted this position scientifically. As such, I think Mao provided an universal insight and political principle with these observations, and they remain essentially valid. After all, while Mao didn’t fully develop Maoism, he certainly was the starting point. A Maoist method is not about exegesis of what Mao said or meant, but rather, of establishing the principles openly, and subject them to scientific critique. By quoting Mao, we are not attempting an empty claim of authority, but rather, showing that this principle, more than 80 years old, still remains valid and applies to the current situation, and perfectly illustrates that this secondary error of lack of investigation.

In short those who support the bureaucratic capitalist, pro-Imperialist, Arab chauvinist regime of Assad unconditionally are not Maoists, but idealists,  seeking to align with revisionism which is tailing bureaucrat capitalism. Those who claim to be Maoists and on the name of Maoism do this, are not applying Maoist study and scientific rigor, and thus are confusing the masses by claiming to represent Maoism, but actually representing something else. As an heterodox Maoist, I do not think that having a difference of position with the majority or orthodoxy is in itself problematic: Maoism is about line struggle, and for there to be line struggle there have to be difference of line. But the essence of the error of idealism is that rather of contending lines rooted in scientific debate, to be tested in practice, there is a method of eclectic embrace of unscientific assumptions and suppositions based not on careful study of concrete situations, of the concrete class analysis, but of a superficial and worked out dogma of revisionism (and the first cousins of Stalinism and Trotskyism).

The struggle between rigorous and scientific lines is part of the process of discovering truth and establishing a correct line of march. The struggle against the error of lack of investigation is the struggle against a position that hides the truth behind a thick smog of eclectically accessed dogma, that engages in opportunism or putschism.

That is not to say that Maoists cannot develop united fronts with other leftists, progressives, socialists, and communists. We can and should do so, as part of the class struggle – even with those with whom we have deep differences (of course, with their reciprocation and not as tailism). Yet, we are Maoists contending for the attention and support of the masses, and we must at times say: that is not Maoism, that is something else. Such is the case we present here – the difference between principled struggle of line within Maoism, and what is not Maoism but lies outside of it.

 Mistake of the Nature of Imperialism

Imperialism is not a vague or simple description within Marxism-Leninism. It has a very specific meaning – it is a scientific term with a scientific basis that while having some commonalities and shared origin with non-Marxist Leninist definitions of the term, also have some major differences with them. The canonical text for this definition is Lenin’s “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism“, based on the work previously done by Karl Kautsky, and his own creative additions.

In brief, Imperialism represents the higher stage of Capitalism, higher in the sense of being a development from the previous epochs of Capitalism as it transitioned from being an European phenomenon to a global one. Imperialism as used in Marxism-Leninism does share the original perspective of the domination of one nation/country or group of nations/countries over another, but furthermore specifies how this domination happens, why this domination happens, and identifies the contradictions this generates within Capitalism as a system. It is in this specificity that often those who in good faith speak about anti-imperialism often fall short of a scientific understanding of imperialism, and often engage in dogmas from a previous era (the cold war) in order to establish political line over current events.

In particular, we tend to see a confusion between the fact that since World War II the dominant imperialism in the world has been US imperialism to then mean that this is a static fact and that it is the principal enemy. This might or might not have been correct under previous conditions (that is a matter for different discussion), but the reality today is that US imperialism doesn’t stand alone in the world. Not only are there other imperialisms allied to it, such as British and Canadian, and other imperialism have cordial but often contentious relationships to it, such European Union and in particular French and German imperialisms, but there are also emerging and existing challenges to its dominance, and in fact, a block of counter-hegemony that is in itself imperialist. The primary example being Russia, which partly inherited the social-imperialist empire of the USSR, but has since the dissolution of the USSR also developed its own empire, often carved out of the scraps that USA leaves behind as its power as an hegemon diminishes slowly.  This confusion has a its root mistaken beliefs as to what constitutes imperialism as system.

Imperialism can be best seen as a system of systems: it is the result of the international, interdependent phase of Capitalism, and thus it exists as part of the competition between the different ruling classes for profits. It has nothing to do with cultural, religious, ethnic, or other forms of dominance and oppression – it is in essence about exploitation. Now, imperialism does make use of those cultural, religious, ethnic, and other forms of dominance and oppression as part of its functioning, but those so only insofar as it provides an effective way to develop profits. As such, imperialism answers to now one but profit, it has not loyalty but capital, and it has not camp but the bourgeois. Imperialism is not simply the dominance of one country over another, but the exploitation of one country over another – in fact, imperialism can be present even when there seems to be at the surface a cordial and egalitarian relationship between the imperialist and the subject.

Competition among the imperialists, however, provides openings for the revolutionary camp. The classic example of this was the handling of these contradictions on the part of the Bolsheviks, which led to their successful revolutionary capture of State power. They pitted German imperialism against Russian imperialism, while advancing their own line, and fighting a three way struggle versus both the Czarists and the Provisional Government.

Another classic example of this was the Chinese Revolution, where the Chinese Communist Party correctly utilized the contradictions between Japanese and Western imperialisms, as well as within the Chinese nation, to establish its hegemony in a three way struggle against Chinese Nationalists and Japanese Imperialism, later transformed into US/Western imperialism.

(And what we begin to see is that these struggles were not between two contending camps, principally, but three contending camps – this is extremely relevant for my point on the universality of the Protracted People’s War)

Historically – and this is a mistake than can be traced back to Lenin’s time – the Comintern assumed a mechanical position of there being, at all times, a class line expressed in the concrete political space, and that this class line manifested world wide, and thus the Comintern members had to have a position on everything, or they would be abstentionist. Nearly all traditions rooted on this Comintern perspective suffer from this – Maoism being no exception. This is a mistake because it opens the door to dogmatic and mechanical application of abstract principles, and as Mao (and this is somewhat ironic) explained, leads to idealism, which in turn leads to opportunism or putschism. And this indeed has been the history of the revolutionary movement post-Comintern, either opportunism or putschism. We need to break with this wrong thinking.

I argue this original sin, so to speak, must be rectified. The final disappearance of the USSR opened the opportunity for this – with the absence of the possibility of inner political struggle in Russia, the complete and absolute overthrow of even the pretense of proletarian control, the world situation clarifies itself: all there is now is imperialism (whereas, while scientifically correct, the line on social-imperialism made the situation less clear). And this clarification also forces us to retake the positions of careful class analysis, and careful investigation of the concrete, even if it tells us there is no supportable camp, because there is no need to defend the real or imagined gains of the so-called socialist block. To be Maoist and not grasp and grapple with this is to allow revisionism to creep back in, to abolish decades of struggle to come to naught, and to rob the masses of the world of the guidance and scientific perspective of Maoism – that is, to stop being a Maoist and start to be something else.

We are back to the beginning of the 20th century.  The sooner we abandon the bad habits of the cold war, the sooner we can get back to the protracted struggle of building communist revolution, rather than the defensive position of simply opposing one segment of imperialism via alliance (more often than not unrequited) with another segment of imperialism, which is what the revisionists (and their first cousins) propose we do. It is right to rebel, it is better to make revolution.

Mistake of nationalism

Nationalism and imperialism go hand in hand. Nations as we know them today, didn’t exist as even a concept until the emergence of capitalism, and didn’t acquire their present form until imperialism emerged. As such, whenever imperialism is involved in a conflict, the national question arrives on the scene, and likewise, whenever the national question emerges, we need to take into consideration imperialism.

The case of Syria presents a very complex example of this. As we mentioned, it is an invented country, with a multinational State, that exists within an imperialist block (Russian imperialism and Iranian junior imperialism) – thus it is both subjected to imperialist oppression and exploitation and at the same time it participates in imperialism and on the oppression and exploitation of nationalities. An Alawite Arab elite rules over non-elite Alawites, Arab Sunnis, Shias, and Christians, a small number of Druzes, and a significant population of Kurds, as well as other smaller oppressed nationalities.

In this context, the revisionist claim that the Assad regime is a defender of Syrian national independence and thus “objectively” anti-imperialist is incorrect. The Assad regime is a continuation of the imperialist breakup of the Ottoman empire when this empire lost World War I. It rules over a country whose very existence is predicated upon and a result of, imperialism. Now, we do not discount the emergence of a right for national self-determination for Syria, and for this to be defended, but if we do so, we must be careful to not objectively support the continued oppression and exploitation of oppressed nationalities by settlerist maps and States which draw strength not from the national solidarity of the citizen, but the imposition of a minority by force. Syria has much more in similar with, say, South Africa under apartheid, than, say Lebanon today. Of course, conditions for the oppressed nationalities were better than in Apartheid South Africa and that other settler-colonial creature, Israel, until the recent crackdown that triggered the civil war, but lets have no illusions as to the oppressive and exploitative relationship of the Arab chauvinist regime towards its oppressed nationalities.

And this is the basis of the mistake of nationalism.

One of these people quite literally said:

“The Kurds are only 10% of the population. You want to sacrifice the Arab majority for the Kurds.”

The national chauvinism here is thick – and in fact very easily rebutted: we do not want the Arab nationalists to sacrifice the Kurds to retain their supremacy – we advocate proletarian internationalism against national chauvinism. The struggle is not zero sum – we can both have Kurdish national self-determination and we can have Arabs free from imperialist predation.  I must admit the adoption of such Capitalist concepts as zero sum logic is frustrating and perplexing – in particular because Maoism advocates something entirely different: the correct handling of the contradictions among the people.

Here we have a perfect example of why Assad is a bankrupt force, and why supporting him is a bankrupt position. If the uprising against Assad was indeed – as claimed by the revisionists (and cousins) – originally an imperialist attack on Syrian national sovereignty, then the logical position would have been to develop a broad anti-imperialist front to fight against this attack. Instead, his solution was an all out sectarian attack on those forces he identified as dangerous to Alawite supremacism and in opposition to Arab chauvinism. Of all the forces subjected to this brutal attack, only the Kurds were able to mount an effective defense, and fight Assad to a strategic stalemate, and then go in an offensive that has effectively liberated most of Syrian Kurdistan. Yet, this very same forces remain stalwartly anti-NATO.

The existence of this Kurdish third way is clearly inconvenient to both the supporters of Assad and those who support the FSA/LCCs: it exposes both the lack of an actual anti-imperialist motive on the part of Assad, and the utter treason of accepting NATO help. The third way that the Kurds put forth is not without problems, including the need to fight for a proletarian internationalist perspective. Yet, since the Kurdish struggle is neither new, nor subjected only to Syria, we have their example from Turkey: the dominant forces of Kurdish national liberation have indeed harbored and protected, for decades, the base areas of a number of pan-Turkish organizations, including Maoists organizations, who respect and fight for Kurdish national liberation, as well as fight for communist revolution. The Kurds have shown themselves adept both in understanding Protracted People’s War, and in engaging in proletarian internationalism, even when they are lacking in other respects. This provides an opportunity for non-Kurdish Syrians, which we discuss next. Yet this opportunity is a lost one if one insists in revisionism.

Mistake of eclecticism and opportunism

Eclecticism, which we will discuss more in depth later, and opportunism (which we briefly discuss above) interlink in interesting ways regarding Syria and Maoism. We have seen some self-described Maoist put forth arguments and engage in politics identical to those of the revisionists (and cousins). While this entirely possible to happen without diverging from Maoist method, specially the more general one gets (ie Capitalism is bad), it does start to create problems the more specific one gets (ie the nature of the Assad regime).

One of the primary eclectic contentions I have seen is that the class relationship, the class line, and thus the class line, is to be determined by looking at Assad’s relationship towards imperialism, principally US imperialism.  This is not Maoism, but Stalinist/Trotskyist defensism. While Maoists are entirely capable of defending a regime we dislike because it is under imperialist aggression, this is only done after investigating the concrete conditions of the internal regime – unless it is a proletarian State, of which there are none in the world today, there is no reason why to automatically assume that any State being attacked by imperialism is worthy of defense as a regime. To attack imperialism we do not need to defend its enemies, even if it can be a way to attack imperialism. This is the fundamental confusion: just because something can lead to another thing, it doesn’t mean it is the only way, or that it will always lead to it. A sledgehammer can kill a fly, but a fly swatter is better – try to hit a fly with a sledgehammer and you will most likely tear a muscle before you suceed: to support a regime in contradiction with imperialism can in fact lead to the opposite effect. There are plenty of examples in history of how defensism has blown in the face of the communists who advocated it – but in this case, it has led to the isolation of the Syrian masses from the international communist movement, and furthermore, the identification of communism not as a revolutionary force for overthrowing the existing, but a reformist force defending the existing.

That is not to say we do not automatically oppose imperialist aggression – we do. Yet the idea that we cannot do so without then defending politically and/or militarily the regime in question is not a Maoist idea, but a Marxist-Leninist idea, and one shared by both groups and people from both sides of the divide between Stalinists and Trotskyists. Maoists are perfectly capable of understanding that while opposition to imperialism might require unsavory alliances, it doesn’t simply require them. And this is the line struggle: there are some who want – in the name of Maoism – to adopt eclectically the positions on anti-imperialism of the revisionists, without even the semblance of study and investigation, and with facts drawn not from the concrete conditions and historical materialist contradictions, but from the dogmas of revisionism and Trotskyism.

They do so not out of principle, but out of idealism, in its opportunist form. They see the struggle against US imperialism as central and more important than anything else, ignoring that US imperialism is a paper tiger that has become wet. That is not to discount the dangers it poses – US imperialism is still a danger to the world. However, the positioning of the need for an alliance against US imperialism (As opposed to all of imperialism) in the context they operate is a way to tail nationalism – many nationalists (of First Nations/American Indians, of New Afrikans, of Puerto Ricans, but also exile Arabs, Filipinos etc) prioritize the struggle against US imperialism over all other considerations, because that is indeed the primary consideration in their national struggles. Establishing a dogmatic line on anti-imperialism generates the possibility of linkages to these forces without having to explain much, and tails the backward elements among these forces. This is the basis of the opportunism that is present.

However, as communists, we should be advocating proletarian internationalism, carefully explaining and advocating consciously communist line, utilizing the methods of the mass line to both avoid needless offense to the nationalists of oppressed nationalities, and to develop linkages not with the backward forces among them, but the advanced, communists forces to establish the hegemony of Maoist line. The mistake of nationalism then becomes part of opportunism.

The problem here is that since it is eclectic and opportunist, it represents a political straight jacket that doesn’t enable the emerging Maoist forces to engage the reality in the ground from a correct perspective.  Such as the universality of the Protracted People’s War.

Protracted People’s War is universal, and to deny this is eclecticism

This question needs exploration in the context of Syria:

1) Historical materialism demonstrates that Protracted People’s War is universally applicable as a method for the achievement of State power. Some forces that are not Maoist have actually copied this successfully, the limitations being inherent to the eclecticism this implies in relation to how does the the politico-military struggle evolve. Yet Maoism is synonymous with the application of the universality of the Protracted People’s War to a given condition. As the article M-L-M Mayhem! we linked to above explains, this doesn’t mean that one prosecutes military operations primarily, but that all revolutionary agitation culminates with the military confrontation between revolutionary and reactionary forces. When the military conflict is not the primary political situation, even if we understand Protracted People’s War as universal, the engagement in it constitutes adventurism. However, when the political situation is such that the military conflict is the primary form of politics, there is no evading the military perspective. Such is the case in Syria.

2) Since Protracted People’s War is universal, this means it applies to Syria. So the primary question for Maoists when discussing Syria is how will Protracted People’s War will be prosecuted and when to elevate the struggle to a military one. There are no organized Maoist forces in Syria, which posses the question in an even more complex form: in a situation in which the military struggle has taken primacy, were do the communists should stand? The revisionists tell us that the defense of the Assad regime is primary, but the Syrian masses tell us this regime is bankrupt. So what to do? Kurdistan is the pivot. The Kurds have been able to reach a strategic stalemate with the regime, and have throw out the FSA from Kurdistan. No small feat. This impressive achievement of national liberation, however, has been done responsibly – there has been no attempt to formally break Syria apart, only to delimit zones of autonomous control. No doubt this follows a strategy of careful national construction on the part of the Kurds, who recognize both the need for an eventual Kurdistan, and the complexities needed to create it. In essence, they are pursuing a strategy similar to Protracted People’s War, without proletarian control or communist ideological supremacy. This however creates the strategic confluence and possibility of unity between Maoist forces and the Kurdish struggle.

3) The Syrian communists who want to struggle against imperialism should realized the Assad regime is deeply a comprador regime, that it does not have the Syrian national interest in mind, and that it is not in an equal relationship with Russia imperialism, but rather it has a neo-colonial relationship with it, as well as with the junior imperialism of Iran. Syria is not so much a puppet State as it is a semi-colony/neo-colony – it doesn’t simply do the bidding of the Russians, it is in fact given great latitude in this respect, but rather serves as an outpost and ally of Russian imperialism and of Iranian junior imperialism, advancing the interests of both even when it risks the Syrian national interests. As such, it is right to rebel against Assad, and it is better to build revolution against him. To defend him is to defend – as the revisionists once did – the Kuomintang over the Chinese Communist forces.

4) However, we must recognize that the FSA is dominated by a coalition of pro-US imperialism, pro-Saudi junior imperialism, Jihadists and wannabe compradores. Since they are the main military force against Assad in the ground, this poses the clear contradiction – there is no Syria-wide military opposition to both NATO and Assad, and it would be suicidal to attempt to build it in the present period.

5) It is thus time for the long march to Kurdistan – to break with the Assad regime, to develop and link up forces with the Kurdish movement, to oppose the FSA Saudo-American national liquidators, to rebuild a popular and mass base for a New Democratic Syria. The Kurds have in effect created a sanctuary and base area free from both imperialist/jihadist and Assad interference. They also have a long history of proletarian internationalism on the basis of the respect for Kurdish customs and autonomy. It provides the perfect, concrete and material, conditions to the development of a third way capable of taking the strategic offensive, even if the Kurds themselves are not willing or capable of engaging in it.

6) For those of us outside of Syria, it is critical we oppose imperialism, but it is also critical we seek out and connected with those in Syria that agree with us, to provide them support, to also link up and advocate for Protracted People’s War in alliance with the Kurdish national forces in Syria. We should seek to develop a united front with all forces willing to oppose imperialism in concrete terms within the imperialist countries, withouts regards to our differences on how the struggle on the ground develop. Only security considerations – for example, groups known to do pigwork for Syrian intelligence or for Western intelligence – should be discarded from such a united front. Our primary struggle thus is to agitate against imperialist intervention and meddling in Syria, including opposition to the FSA and its apologists and their denunciation as tools of US/Saudi imperialism. At the same time, outside of this united front, we must engage in clear criticism of the Assad regime, and a defense of the original demands for democracy, national liberation and self-determination, and real freedom from imperialism (not just US/Saudi imperialism) that the Syrian masses bought forth before NATO intervened. We must fight also for a correct reckoning with the facts on the ground, to combat the lies and distortions put out by both sides.

This is the Maoist position – devoid of illusions, deeply materialist, in opposition to revisionism and other trends which are seeking to sacrifice proletarian independence in the name of an empty anti-imperialism. Revolution is neither a picnic nor a pick up game, you do not simply pick a team. You struggle to be a partisan and build a team composed of the advanced layers of the proletariat. Assad is not in the proletarian camp. The Kurds are. That is the pivot. The sooner we realize this, the sooner our confusion will be over, the clearer the line of march becomes, and we can begin to advance our own tasks of building revolution were we live.  By tapping into the possibilities opened by the Kurds, the International Communist Movement has an opportunity to gain valuable experience of a re-invigorated Maoist practice in a region than sorely needs it. By aligning ourselves with revisionism, we destroy the possibility of building trust in the masses, of engaging in a mass line perspective, and of ultimately struggle against revisionism for hegemony in the proletarian struggle.

These notes, while relatively extensive, are nowhere near as exhaustive as they should be, and it is my hope they generate a needed debate on the topic. The line struggle, however, should be clear: capitulation in front of revisionism (and cousins) or the fight for Maoism, for the universality of Protracted People’s War. Those are the stakes.


15 thoughts on “Notes on the Universality of Protracted People’s War: Neither Assad nor NATO

  1. Pingback: Notes on the Universality of Protracted People’s War: Neither Assad nor NATO | Red Banner(M-L-M)

    • Thank you comrades for your comment, and yes, we are thinking in similar ways about this.

      This speaks against the revisionist and pseudo-communist mythology that the only lines being contended are capitulation to imperialism or defense of Assad.

      The ignorance in the West of the Kurdish national struggle, of its complex and contradictory relationship to imperialism and to the oppressor nations, and the possible role as a pivot for anti-imperialist struggle Kurdistan can play in Syria today, is one thing we need to overcome.

  2. Paddy says:

    Very interesting article, it’s refreshing to see a concrete proposal on how to bring people’s war to a country like Syria, but I find very serious flaws in the analysis.

    First, I think the author is the one making the biggest error of lack of investigation, by uncritically tailing the PKK, and seeing the Kurdish nation overall as almost objectively being prone to revolution. This is based I think on a very naive reading of PKK statements.
    One need just only read critically this statement: shared around by a few US maoists to realize that if there really is a third way, the PKK aren’t it. Nevermind the fact that the statement now appears outdated following both the outbreak of mass protests in Turkey and the recent string of victories of the Syrian army over the insurgents; it’s outrageous enough that throughout the statement Turkey’s acknowledgement, as in, the AKP government, is brought up as a source of legitimacy for the PKK as a third camp. Second paragraph: “PKK is third way because Turkey says so”. Then the rest is just wishful thinking that Turkey will be nice and become a “beacon of democracy” and help isolate political Islam in Syria to open the way for democratic reconciliation. It even suggests that Erdogan is earnest in opposing terrorists in Syria. What a load of bullcrap. Is this really how the third camp thing is supposed to work out? To top that off, they complete it with more wishful thinking about that “a democratic reconciliation that will enable the coexistence of all ethnic, religious and social sections of the community will materialise”. Seriously, read this statement again. “It seems as if a democratic Syria in which all forces will coexist is inevitable.” You think a group coming up with such analysis can lead a third camp?? From what I’m seeing they’re just promoting, by way of Turkish junior imperialism, US hegemony.

    Of course, this is all not really surprising if you’ve been following the recent evolution of the PKK. It’s simply naive to think a movement can stay forever revolutionary and anti-imperialist, in spite of any changing circumstances, when it finds itself at the center of a region that is the central focus of US attention. The US have made Iraqi Kurdistan one of their most loyal satellites. Did you forget that just a few months back the PKK under Ocalan’s leadership began peace talks with Turkey? This is the party you are advising Syrian communists to team up with to launch a people’s war?

    – Padraic O’Brien

    • I mostly agree with your assessment of the PKK in general, yet want to note that besides the inclusion of a picture of the Popular Protection Units, which are part of a mass front led by the Syrian pro-PKK forces, I barely addressed the PKK.

      However, in the particular your final analysis I do not, and the reason is simple: the PKK in all of its contradictions, ultimately is not Assad – that is, it has the support of a significant section of the Kurdish masses, and has not endangered Kurdish national self-determination by casting its lot with imperialism in the thorough way Assad or the FSA have.

      At the same time, I repeat, my point and my contention is not directed explicitly at the Kurdish and thus PKK organically, but the military disposition of the forces on the ground. Thus, the PKK is secondary in the point I am making – and your extensive commentary on it strikes me as a digression that while interesting is not fully relevant, except to one extent:

      Why is it so easy for some so-called Maoists (not to mention others from the various Marxisms) to call for an alliance with a murderous despot in the service of regimes that actively and recently have subjected Maoists comrades to torture, death, and exile (Russia and Iran) but it is so hard for these same people to seek to develop alliances and united fronts with forces (such as the PKK, but not exclusively it) that are not in the same position? Why is the PKK subjected to extensive criticism, but the Assad regime is not?

      My answer is in this article – the mistake of the nature of imperialism, the mistake of the mistake of nationalism, and the mistake of eclecticism and opportunism.

      Since you have shown significant investigation, I will not say – at this point – there is an error of investigation, but you are certainly part of those mistakes, as I will try to expand upon below.

  3. Paddy says:

    I think a second major flaw in this analysis is an error of analysis of imperialism, to borrow your terms. US imperialism simply can’t be equated to Russian and/or Chinese imperialism, as if a shift between the two made no difference. These different states have different internal social structures and different positions in the world economic system; hence, their imperialism have different characters, which translate into different relationships with their satellites and allies. Chief among these is their impact on social relations in the countries in which they intervene.

    The US is a hegemonic imperialist power. They dominate the world no t only to defend the interests of their bourgeoisie. They also struggle to maintain and expand capitalism, and capitalist social relations, across the world. They are constantly putting pressure on every country in the planet to do this, including China and Russia. They are also fighting really hard against countries that refuse their hegemony and aren’t defined by capitalist social relations, like Libya formerly and now Syria. A US proxy triumph in Syria would mean a transformation of the social relations there into purely capitalistic relations, meaning the rule of a comprador bourgeoisie sold to US interests, as opposed to the rule of a national bureaucratic bourgeoisie. The US will try to force the Syrian government to privatise and commodify all production and resources. Syria would become a banana republic, like Libya is being turned into.

    Russian imperialism meanwhile plays out much differently. Russia doesn’t really care about how social relations are organized in a satellite or allied country. What they are interested in is a strategic partnership which allows them to reinforce their position vis-à-vis US aggression. Russia is ruled by an independent ruling class that’s still on the defensive towards the US and so is bent on protecting national sovereignty. In Syria for instance they have an important naval base, and strategic diplomatic relations with an Arab country. They don’t exploit Syria economically as far as I know, but I’m open to someone showing me the contrary. This is why some of us maintain that there is actually an independent ruling national bourgeoisie in Syria that entered into a strategic partnership with Russia, rather than a relationship of subordination.

    Chinese imperialism is a different beast, but that is another topic since in Syria it’s mostly Russia that’s involved. Although China also doesn’t care much about how social relations are organized in the countries it partners with, it does exploit them economically very seriously and so inevitably produces capitalist social relations, through favouring the rule of a sort of comprador bourgeoisie.

    In my view the debate now becomes: is it worth it for a national bureaucratic bourgeoisie like that of Syria to triumph over a US proxy, in effect humiliating and dealing a hard blow to US hegemonic imperialism? I think it is. US imperialism will hunt down and try to crush revolutionary movements all over the world, and will relentlessly intervene to impose capitalist social relations in every country. Russia meanwhile is mostly on the defensive and is ready to partner strategically with anti-imperialists and has little concerns with the maintenance of the world economic system. As for China, I think we can have a pretty good discussion about them though. In their scramble for markets and natural resources they are producing capitalist social relations. However I’m not seeing that in the case of Syria.

    • “I think a second major flaw in this analysis is an error of analysis of imperialism, to borrow your terms. US imperialism simply can’t be equated to Russian and/or Chinese imperialism, as if a shift between the two made no difference. These different states have different internal social structures and different positions in the world economic system; hence, their imperialism have different characters, which translate into different relationships with their satellites and allies. Chief among these is their impact on social relations in the countries in which they intervene.”

      I have no idea from where did you get this impression. It is as if you read a different article.

      In the section of the article subtitled “Mistake of the Nature of Imperialism”, I make clear for the need to understand inter-imperialist antagonism scientifically – that is, to study their differences clearly and with rigor, abandoning the facile shorthands of the cold war and the epoch of American hegemony.

      In other words, in your comment you seem to be making the very mistake I am making a point to criticize and assuming a position that automatically the effect on the social relations in Syria on the part of Iranian junior imperialism and Russian imperialism are more “positive” (or more politically, more “supportable”) than US imperialism. Certainly they are different – there is no doubt about it and I unite with this – but their difference in the final analysis, and in the current concrete context are not much in the way they affect the social relations inside Syria, and in some respects, are worse. Assad allied to Iran is bad news for the Kurds, for example, and has been since his Daddy’s time (and, lets not get into the monarchist aspect of this regime). So I think that there is an element in many of the critiques of the line struggle being raised here that while claiming to uphold investigation and analysis, actually show a lack of knowledge or concern for the complexities and specificities of the struggle in Syria and how they relate to anti-imperialism. This is the irony of it all: there is a claim of analysis, and then in the next sentence there is clearly a lack of it. This more often than not betrays dogmatic copying rather than actual study.

      I will not quote extensively you comment otherwise, but let me address it.

      You want me, and the readers to believe that by magic and pixie dust, the Russian State, who jails, tortures, and kills Maoists, separatists, progressives, and other advanced elements of the people, which sustains an uneven and contradictory cooperative relationship with US and European imperialism, which is the inheritor State of the disgraceful liquidation by means of bureaucrat capitalist social-fascism of the USSR and inheritor of the social-imperialist Empire, all of the sudden becomes a progressive force for the defense of national self-determination in Syria?

      That is the logic of revisionism – even if you subjectively do not see it as such.

      There was a situation, not long ago, in which even with these terrible conditions, there could be an argument made that Russia and Iran had a relatioship with Syria that offered something supportable. For example, the role played by all during the Hezbollah vs Israel war in 2006. So I understand some of the impulse – old habits die hard.

      Yet here is the issue – a popular uprising in Syria was turned into a civil war to a large extent due to the “advice” and pressures of the Iranian regime, which needs a proven ally in the region for its own reasons (and these are not a tender love of the largely Sunni Palestinians, as some think is the case).

      The internal situation in Syria is one of primarily a military nature. And the contending camps except for the Kurds are all beholden to imperialism – that is, if either side wins, it will be a victory to one imperialism or the other, and both are in the present world epoch equally bad for the prospects of socialist revolution (even if they are bad for different reasons – and this is the dialectical perspective missing from your comment, you accept they are different, but see their effects as linear).

      Now, the Kurds provide a wedge in there for the development of a different force. The situation is fluid – for example, outright imperialist invasion would change things, but the defense of Assad when there are other wedges that advance the anti-imperialist struggle and the unity of the masses more than his defense is something that would be puzzling if it couldn’t be explained by the adult disorder of revisionism in communism.

      • Paddy says:

        Ok, I get that you did not explicitly advocate for the PKK as the Third camp in Syria, but this begs the question: which other organizations are there? I haven’t heard of any other, besides the PPU, or YPG, which you mentioned as allied to PKK. I did some research on the YPG after seeing a bunch of, unfortunately not sub-titled videos appear in the social networks about them. From the little information I could gather, they are a somewhat autonomous offshoot of the PKK, with unclear objectives and ideology and who have taken over Kurdish towns and territories mostly after a strategic retreat from the Syrian army.
        I still don’t see any evidence that this group represents a mass revolutionary movement that is ready to take on the Assad government in alliance with revolutionary Arabs. In fact I don’t see any evidence that a group with those aims is active in Syrian Kurdistan. You advocate for a Long March of Syrian Arab revolutionaries to the Kurdish areas to build base areas there, but how can you be certain the armed Kurdish groups will allow them? They are a nationalist group and are fighting for self-determination, there is no evidence that they are interested in taking over all of Syria and free it from all imperialists.
        This is the main problem with your piece and I failed to emphasize it in my first comments. You speak all the time of the necessity to support proletarian mass movements, but the only concrete group you refer to are the “Kurds”. All Kurdish national parties aren’t necessarily communist. The most important, the PKK, is giving up armed struggle in Turkey and appears to have succumbed to opportunism ( In Iraqi Kurdistan, many former Kurdish rebels are now leading a state that is effectively a satellite of the US, and they appear to be also supporting the Syrian armed groups in Syria. Yes, even Kurdish nationalism can be co-opted by imperialism. You need to provide evidence that the Kurdish groups are actually practicing proletarian internationalism.

        I also want to go back to the question of imperialism because again I think there is some major misunderstanding here. Again, you fail to provide a clear picture of how Russian or Iranian imperialism manifest themselves in Syria. You say somewhere that imperialism means both oppression and exploitation, so let me ask you the question: how are Russia and Iran oppressing and exploiting the Syrian masses? I don’t deny that the Assad regime oppresses and exploits the population, but it does so independently of Russia and Iran. These two countries don’t force any policy on Syria and don’t exploit it economically, unless you can show me otherwise. The Syrian economy is still largely controlled by a national bourgeoisie and bureaucracy; in fact it was the West which was pushing the country in another direction, before the civil war broke out and Western countries opted to unseat Assad, similarly to what happened in Libya. The Syrian regime had previously been making closer ties to Western countries, while maintaining a strategic alliance with Russia and Iran, indicating the wide extent of its autonomy.

        I’m not defending the Assad regime here; my position, and that of fellow Canadian comrades also, is one of defense of the Syrian people against imperialist aggression. I would be happy to see a genuine revolutionary Third camp rise up and make gains, and I am frankly open to hear more information about the Kurdish movements, while being conscious that information is scarce and confusing on the subject. But I am also very sceptical of the potential of Kurdish-based revolutionary movement in Syria (but not in Turkey) based on my current understanding of the forces at play in the region. The PKK is turning into an ally of Turkey, and the US comprador Iraqi Kurdistan government is trying to use its autonomy and oil wealth to become a hegemonic force in the Greater Kurdistan area. The Kurdish movements aren’t immune to imperialist cooptation, and frankly I think they are more at risk in this regard than the Assad regime.

    • I am replying here because the comments do not allow nesting further, my apologies for not keep it together.

      Now, to the meat…

      “I still don’t see any evidence that this group represents a mass revolutionary movement that is ready to take on the Assad government in alliance with revolutionary Arabs. ”

      We didn’t say that. What we did say is that they control Kurdistan from a mass perspective that remains committed to Syrian sovereignty, has not gone on the offensive against the Syrian government, and has indeed gone on the offensive against the FSA.

      You are correct that the YPG is close to the PKK, in effect they are the armed militia of what amounts to the PKK in Syria. However, they do so as part of a broad pan-Syrian Kurdistan movement, and do so with the political and military support of other forces.

      You seem to still misunderstand the argument being made, but some of this is outright lack of investigation – some of which you admit yourself. For example, our sources are not merely web videos nor websites, but long standing contact and comradely relations with left forces in the region, in particular Turkey, but also Syria, Palestine, etc. In other words, I do have an idea of the region that transcends this medium. I will address this further bellow, but I think you are making a mistake of investigation around the complex situation of the Kurds, the PKK’s slow move towards reformism, and their tactical and strategic relationship to the Maoist forces in Turkey.

      This mistake, however, doesn’t mean you are entirely incorrect – the PKK is a centrist ambivalent force. However, so is Assad. It is precisely this willingness to cut slack to Assad, but hold the PKK to higher standard than what is done to Assad that we call a mistake of nationalism, or as the TKP-ML supporters in Partizan (see link below) call “Syria is not just Syria” – that is, that the national struggle for a free Syria has to take into account is multinational nature.

      And in the context of the inability of Assad to reach the military equilibrium and war of position that the Kurds have reached vs both the FSA and the Assad forces, it represents a clear case of adopting a revisionist campist position when this is not needed.

      “I also want to go back to the question of imperialism because again I think there is some major misunderstanding here. Again, you fail to provide a clear picture of how Russian or Iranian imperialism manifest themselves in Syria. You say somewhere that imperialism means both oppression and exploitation, so let me ask you the question: how are Russia and Iran oppressing and exploiting the Syrian masses? I don’t deny that the Assad regime oppresses and exploits the population, but it does so independently of Russia and Iran. These two countries don’t force any policy on Syria and don’t exploit it economically, unless you can show me otherwise. The Syrian economy is still largely controlled by a national bourgeoisie and bureaucracy; in fact it was the West which was pushing the country in another direction, before the civil war broke out and Western countries opted to unseat Assad, similarly to what happened in Libya. The Syrian regime had previously been making closer ties to Western countries, while maintaining a strategic alliance with Russia and Iran, indicating the wide extent of its autonomy.”

      In the article itself, we said:

      “This is intended to enter the line struggle within Maoism as a way to clarify and develop a particular line that I and others have come to understand as the correct, Maoist, line and line of march on the topic – as such, it has a limited scope and thus please have this narrow delimitation in mind when answering.”

      So I feel you are moving the goal posts of the article. You are correct, we need to show this relationship – but do you show the inverse relationship in your comment?

      That said, I will address some of the claims you make, because they are scientifically false or because they are tautologies that do not help in elucidating the relationship to imperialism, while a claim is made they do – as a caveat, do not expect this to be an exhaustive examination, and any shortcomings identified are due to this. However, what I am stating is easily verifiable – I think even wikipedia will have some of the sources:

      1)”These two countries don’t force any policy on Syria and don’t exploit it economically, unless you can show me otherwise.”

      Syria left Lebanon largely via an agreement with Russia in which Russia forgave 80% of the foreign debt owe to Russia in exchange not only for this withdrawal, but increased access to Syria by Russian capital and to Syria’s natural resources, as well as increased the share of military expending on the part of Syria for Russian exports. Notably, the bulk of this foreign debt had been inherited by Russia from USSR’s social-imperialism. Furthermore, Syria has been a faithful servant of Russia in the UN and other international organs – even when this has not been the case the other way around. In terms of domestic policy, while Russia certainly does little beyond the need for resources (which more often than not requires draconian measures on the population that sits on these resources – and was part of the reasons for the initial rebellion), Russia has its own Kurd problem, and Assad’s overtures and relatively calm relations with the Kurds have significantly cooled since 2005, because of Russian pressure (and Iranian pressure too, but I am discussing Russia)

      Stroitransgaz and Tatneft, Russian companies, are the largest investors in Russia, and Russian accounts for 10% of the gross domestic product of Syria.

      In the case of Iran, besides the issue of the Kurds, we have a significant presence and dependence of the Syrian Shia as political supporters of Assad, and this is not out of the goodness of their hearts. This has led to increased de-secularization of Shia areas, the re-introduction at the local level of Sharia for Shia (but not Sunnis – which is one of the basis of the current sectarian conflict within the rebellion and between Assad’s Shia+Alawite coalition – the Sunni salafists felt left out) and so on. While economically much weaker (And hence “junior”), Iran still represents an important trading partner for Syria. Syria currently has no debt with Iran, but this was part of a pay off package negotiated via the World Bank, not out of kindness and solidarity. The influence and politico-military control Iran exerts over the Syrian and regional Shias is critical for Assad’s reign in power – there is no more clear and direct intervention in the internal affairs of Syria than that.

      2) “The Syrian economy is still largely controlled by a national bourgeoisie and bureaucracy; in fact it was the West which was pushing the country in another direction, before the civil war broke out and Western countries opted to unseat Assad, similarly to what happened in Libya. ”

      That the economy is largely controlled by Syrians is nearly tautological – all national economies are. For example, in Puerto Rico, a direct colony of the USA, 70% or so of the economy is national or majority national. In a direct colony – not a sovereign country. So the point on the economy being controlled by the national bourgeois is not relevant to the question of imperialism.

      What is relevant to these question is how much does foreign trade, foreign debt, and foreign investment (And the nature of the profits from these investsments) is. In the case of Puerto Rico, there is a clear drain of profits (either because the national bourgeois invests in the USA or other markets, or because of trade deficits or the exchange process benefiting the US lopsidedly). In the case of Syria, this process is lower than in a direct colony (as is to be expected) however the largest single investor is Russia, it has a trade deficit with it, and the profits that Russia makes are largely not re-invested in Syria. Syria is a Russian neo-colony, and this is as I mentioned a result of social imperialism by the USSR. It is true that Syria had approached the West, but Russia and the West are rivals, not enemies – their contradictions are not as deep as those between the USSR and the West were.

      In this comment you point to another error – that of comparing mechanically the experience of Libya and Syria. The commonalities are obvious and rather simple. But the differences are deep and complex and one of the primary differences is precisely a politico-economic one. Syria is not a resource colony, nor is it a real country – its barely 90 years old even as an imagined polity. The Qaddafi regime came to power and ran with power in an entirely different basis than Syria, and with a completely different historical and present trajectory as it relates to imperialism and social imperialism. Even their rebellions had distinct origins (even if they did share an inspiration on the Arab Spring) distinct forces, distinct relations to imperialism.

      So there is very little we can compare between the two other than in very broad strokes (ie Oppose imperialist intervention!). When one zooms in from the very general even unto the general, these similarities disappear. From my perspective, for example, I am much more predisposed to support Assad in recent years than I was to support Qaddaffi, who had for a long time not only become a buffoon, but also an imperialist puppet playing the national-identitarian fiddle, so effective that the Neo-nazi third position in Europe looked at him as an icon. This another mistake of eclecticism: for the revisionist the general describes the particular, for the Maoist, the particular describes the general. This gives an idea for other posts.

      3) “The Syrian regime had previously been making closer ties to Western countries, while maintaining a strategic alliance with Russia and Iran, indicating the wide extent of its autonomy.”

      This is a classic mistake of the nature of imperialism. Syria had been making economic overtures to the West as part of increasing its debt facility as the USSR disappeared and Russia was unable to step up due to its own internal turmoil. As I said, this began to transform in 2005, and accelerated with the 2006 Lebanon war. Syria’s contradictions with Israel, for example, make impossible to the USA to even approach Syria,

      And of course Syria can and does pursue independent foreign policy – can you name a more classic neo-colony than Taiwan, and yet because the USA recognized the PRC, Taiwan has been forced by necessity to pursue its own independent foreign policy. Like the comment above about national bourgeois control, this shows a rather odd belief that somehow imperialism means total and absolute control of the country. While this can be the case (As was, for example, the case of Iraq for a few years) it is more generally a question of gradients and tendencies. In the case of Syria, the general tendency is to follow the international line of Russia and of Iran, to heed their “advice” and to act in their interest even when it does put the sovereignty at risk (ie the Kurd question).

      This rebellion clearly illustrates this – Russia tried to pressure Assad to negotiate with the NCC and to develop a political and police solution, whereas Iran wanted a military solution (mostly worried about what the situation would mean for them strategically). The initial paralysis in response on the part of Assad illustrates this debate internally. Ultimately the Iranian line won. And yes, it did so with plenty of internal support. In Maoism we call that being a comprador, but bourgeois academics prefer the term “gatekeeper”.

      Perhaps in future post we will address the particular issue of Syria’s political economy directly and in depth, but to hold our article to that standard, in particular when we directly warned against doing so, seems to me to illustrate perfectly what I called the mistake of eclecticism and opportunism – for example, the eclecticism here comes from using a bourgeois economic empirical perspective on economic terms, and the opportunism comes from trying to broaden the debate beyond the narrow scope with put forth. One seeks to muddle and stop debate, to turn it from a political struggle of political perspectives in the main, into an economic debate putting the economic perspective as the main – Maoists know that politics are in command. The other seeks to distract from the central line struggle – which we articulated further in our new comment here – to deal with the secondary issue of political-economy, but also impugn, without evidence or with evidence we have shown to be problematic, our own knowledge of the political economy of Syria and of Russian and Iranian imperialism – which while not specialist, is certainly enough to have the right to speak.

      “You advocate for a Long March of Syrian Arab revolutionaries to the Kurdish areas to build base areas there, but how can you be certain the armed Kurdish groups will allow them?”

      I cannot be certain. But we know from experience that the Kurdish nationalist forces have not been hostile to hosting or sharing base area spaces with communist forces that respect and support Kurdish self-determination. When Iran started to massacre Maoists, those who survived did so because Kurds saved and protected them. When Turkey did the same, the same thing happened. There are three maoist organizations in Turkey whose entire existence is dependent on Kurdish attitudes towards their base areas – the TKP-ML, the MKP, and the Bolshevik Party of North Kurdistan.

      In other words, there is a long historical demonstration on the part of the Kurdish national movement to provide solidarity and engage in proletarian internationalism with leftist, communist, and Maoist forces. The PKK – regardless of its development – in fact has its origins in anti-revisionism – and while the simple cadre in a YPG unit might not have the political sophistication due to the commandist nature of the YPG – the commanders do.

      More importantly, as I posted above, the Maoists in the region mostly agree with this part of my argument I would defer to them – as they have dealt with the Kurdish national movement for decades:

      “But I am also very sceptical of the potential of Kurdish-based revolutionary movement in Syria (but not in Turkey) based on my current understanding of the forces at play in the region. The PKK is turning into an ally of Turkey, and the US comprador Iraqi Kurdistan government is trying to use its autonomy and oil wealth to become a hegemonic force in the Greater Kurdistan area. The Kurdish movements aren’t immune to imperialist cooptation, and frankly I think they are more at risk in this regard than the Assad regime.”

      This skepticism is healthy – they are not communist forces – and this narrative your present is in broad strokes true – I think however you are incorrect on the level of meddling the Kurds suffer on the part of the USA, as evidenced by the USA’s inability to use them as proxies in Iran or Syria. This is because Kurdistan is one nation – across all the borders – and its tactical relationships are understood as such by all players. The only two fully hostile forces in the region to the Kurds are Turkey and Iran, and both are on opposing camps of imperialism. By default the Kurds are the very definition of third camp!

      And this is critical. You assert – without submitting to the same kind of rigorous examination you expect I give – that the Kurds are more vulnerable to imperialist co-option than Assad.

      Well, certainly they have historically been more willing to switch alliance to whoever they see as advancing the Kurdish national cause – including US imperialism – but the degree of independence politically, and the degree of revolutionary energy, including within the nation, that they have show historically stands against evidence against the assertion that they are more vulnerable than Assad. Mao hugged Nixon, but do so to check Soviet social-imperialism, not because Mao loved Nixon.

      Even the current civil war shows this: Assad has had to depend on Iran and Russia for support to even have middling military success. The Kurds – alone – have kicked more FSA ass than the most elite Assad Baath Revolutionary Guard. And that is just at the military level. Furthermore, Assad has weakened the national unity of Syria, and precipitated the current civil war, by following Iranian advice to pursue a military and not political perspective to the rebellion. Ironically, this is something not even the Iranian themselves did during their own upsurges – the solution was violent, but not military – police batons and tear gas and a few pistol shots as opposed to artillery shelling and tanks rolling in. This escalation by Assad was what allowed western imperialism to gain a direct foothold in Syria, and created the basis for their funding: Saudi Arabia is fighting a proxy war vs Iran.

      The Kurds, however, are interested in their own national development, and are not strategically hostile to the Syrian government, even if relations with Assad are cooled. So I think the evidence shows that Assad is ironically a greater objective risk to Syrian sovereignty than the Kurds are.

      I do not fully quote your comment, but you also address the issue of the revolutionary third camp etc. I think my article is clear, but I recognize a confusion. There are two process at hand here:

      1) The need to resolve the civil war – in which Assad (as the Turkish Partizan comrade explains) is a spent force.

      2) The prospects of protracted people’s war.

      My point on the first is that the Kurds present a possible solution – the overthrow of Assad to redevelop national unity against the pro-imperialist and jihadist forces. More than seeking a third camp, it seeks to replace the political orientation of one of the existing camps, based on the political complexities. Lets call this the Revive the NCC view.

      My point on the second is a point of speculation on revolutionary science. One of the fundamental lessons of Leninism is that revolution and war are dialectical under imperialism, and since we recognize the civil war of having elements of an intra-imperialist proxy war, so this poses the question of revolutionary agitation. Of course it is by nature speculative, but it serves to highlight the first point as it relates to communist struggle: while there might not be forces on the ground capable of communist struggle, which would be the more advantegeous environment for communist agitation? Supporting Assad, who kills communists or the Kurds, who protect communists in Turkey and Iran?

      I know revisionists like to think of themselves as great objective thinkers because they support even those who hate them if it is “objectively” correct. Well, the error they do, and this is fundamental in Maoism, is that the subjective need for political survival acquires an objective factor in itself, that must be taken into account and discussed strategically. Againsts Mao’s views in “On Practice”, the revisionist and the dogmato-revisionist sees only the phenomenon, the crude empiricism of the situation. It doesn’t seek to establish a dialectical relationship between the object and the subject. Sometimes, we have no choice but say “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, but sometimes we need to say “you are no longer my friend”.

      This line struggle is at the root one of method – of Maoism vs dogmato-revisionism, but also of Maoism vs Maoishism (an entry to the glossuary!) and much more importantly, the question of the mass line as it relates to revolutionary agitation. (Of course, some of this discussion here is not of a mass line character, but that is besides the point – to discuss the mass line one must by necessity not engage in it – to speak only to the advance).

      Ultimately the problem of Syria is one of revolution, of the universality of Protracted People’s War – and supporting the regime against which the masses rightly rose against should only be done if there is truly no alternative. For if Assad looks to the masses with which we struggle as the same old thing – and he does – then how can we tell them, it is right to rebel with a straight face?

      That is what revisionism wants us to do. We shouldn’t.

      It is true – and we said so – that question of the Kurds is an open one. But that is not the issue, the issue is that the question of Assad is a closed one.

      When there was a strong NCC, when Assad was establishing a broad united front, when the Kurds had not had their victories, this question was an open one, too. There was a line that was drawn – incorrectly or correctly- that tended to support Assad or at least this united front. But that line is now incorrect, completely. It would be like supporting the USSR after 1961 – we can describe it being social imperialist or state capitalist before then, and that would be a debate, but after 1961 the debate is revisionism, not out of caprice, but because Albania and China leaving the revisionist camp represented a concrete transformation of the social relations at a global scale. That is, what had been correct in the past, became incorrect in the present.

      Such is the issue of Assad. And with Assad closed, what we need to do is explore the alternatives, while at the same time building an anti-imperialist united front in our own context to agitate against imperialist intervention.

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  5. Deathgod Franklin says:

    Great article comrade! Your conception of a united front against imperialism is very similar to what has been on my mind for a while now.


  6. Some people seem to be confused. We do not think Bashar Assad’s regime and the FSA are the same. We think the FSA is worse, in particular in the present period.


    1) The rebellion when it began was righteous and contained positive elements

    2) Imperialist meddling degenerated both the rebellion and Bashar Assad’s response – the first by the favoring of the reactionary and pro-imperialist forces with aid – which weakened and made militarily irrelevant the left forces in the rebellion – and the second by Iranian and Russian pressure on Assad to seek a military and not political solution to the rebellion, which was possible for months via the NCC and even some of the LCCs

    3) Our task outside of Syria is to agitate and oppose imperialist intervention, and build broad united fronts on this basis

    Thus our line struggle is two fold:

    1) Against those who believe that Assad is anti-imperialist and not a tool of imperialism himself, even if it might be necessary to defend Syria’s sovereignty by means of him

    2) Those who interfere against the united front against imperialism by making support for Assad or FSA a litmus test, and who in doing so, flatten other contradictions or themselves are simply taking sides with one imperialism or the other, rather than pursuing real anti-imperialism

    The question is important to clarify in so far as there has been no broad anti-imperialist united front developed largely because of the unwillingness to abandon campism.

    More than advocating a third camp or third way, we simply show that this both exists, and should be addressed. And in doing so, we try to show that we can be anti-imperialists of principle where we live, without needing to score cookie points with X or Y regime. Yet we are not, because campism dominates the debate – and this domination becomes liquidationism.

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    • We have no opinion on it, other than the general caution one must have when dealing with all imperialism. Kurds however are fighting a valiant struggle against ISIS.

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