Workers Power too, I’m afraid …

11 Mar

I’ve had a couple of exchanges of late with a supporter of what the mainstream calls the far left – the vanguard or Leninist model.1 Having read pieces from Socialist Workers Party (US), cited to straighten out my wayward thinking, I broadly agree with their analysis of imperialism2 but am troubled by the way SWP recycles accusations of Damascene and Muscovite criminality, blithely unaware of the flakiness of their sources.

For my pains I was just this week dubbed a parliamentary cretin. Stung but standing, I thought to check out what my old comrades from Workers Power – always more sophisticated in their analyses than SWP – have to say on Syria. Most alumni of my eighties cohort have gone: some to pipe and slipperhood, some to Labour Party work, Paul Mason to pen for the Graun on how ‘we’ need to stand up to Putin, and to tweet on the ‘forensic’ brilliance of what lesser mortals saw as a fact-lite hatchet job on White Helmet sceptics.3 But there’s a rump, and it’s hooked up with other Trotskyite splinterettes in Europe to offer an online voice it calls the League for the Fifth International.

What I found on its site did nothing to improve my mood. First was a posting less than a month ago, February 26. It begins:

The slaughter of civilians continued as the United Nations Security Council finally passed the resolution proposed by Kuwait and Sweden, calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta. Few believe that it will be either comprehensive or total since the Syrian envoy shrugged off the resolution, asserting his government had a right to defend its territory and would continue to “fight terrorism, wherever it is.” The last few days in New York witnessed the disgusting spectacle of the UN ambassadors of the United States and Russia trying to blame one another for delaying a ceasefire in the Damascus suburb, which has been under siege by government forces since 2013 and is home to some 400,000 people.

On February 23, the UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 417 citizens, including 96 children and 61 women, were killed in a five-day period alone. These were the result of 564 airstrikes by warplanes, while the regime’s helicopters dropped more than 219 barrel bombs. This massive escalation indicates that the Assad regime sees itself in a similar endgame where it can enforce an evacuation of fighters from Ghouta as it did in East Aleppo at the end of 2016.

Russia threatened to cast its veto …

This differs from a typical Guardian offering in that Russia is matched in disgustingness by the USA. That’s important, and puts Workers Power and League Fifth in a different solar system to the one corporate media orbit but there are similarities too, and significant ones. Since I intend to move shortly to a second of their postings, I’ll focus here on just two.

First, note that dismissive picture of an ambassador ‘shrugging off’ a resolution crafted to leave defenceless (echoes of the No Fly Zones preceding Libya’s descent to hell) a Syria besieged by Western armed jihadis. What could possibly justify his rejection of UN peacemaking? Nothing more substantial, it seems, than that after seven years of ‘civil war’ his government has “a right to defend its territory”. What a crap excuse! Any reasonable government of a secularist state would surely accept the will of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jabhat al-Nusra; would surely do all in its power to assist their continuing occupation of territory not ten miles from its capital …

Paragraph two opens with the uncritical citing of a claim by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. I’ll be returning to those guys – or to be precise, this guy – in a moment. For now I just want to say that its willingness to give time of day to such a source speaks volumes on Workers Power’s deplorable ignorance of the propaganda war on Syria.

Here’s how the second post opens:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that Bashar al-Assad’s warplanes, artillery and barrel bombing helicopters have launched a major assault on the last extensive rebel-held region of Idlib, aided by their Russian allies. It is likely that the offensive aims to concentrate the population into a narrow pocket, subject them to final liquidation or to force them out of the region.

For Christ’s sake, Workers Power – do your bloody homework! SOHR is the one man band of Rami Abdul Rahman, a disgruntled Syrian who lives in Coventry and hasn’t set foot in Syria since 2003. His methods are opaque to say the least but seem to rely on what I’ll call ‘cascade inquiry’, whereby he phones a handful of pals inside Syria. They in turn phone their pals, who phone theirs. But who are these pals? Rumours abound that Rahman is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, rivals to more recent Saudi backed Wahabbi groups led by Al Qaeda and ISIS, but nevertheless willing to work with Daesh to end Syria’s secularism and impose theocratic Sunni rule on Shia, Christian, Druze and Alawi alike. (Nor is there any evidence of widespread Muslim Brotherhood support from Syrian Sunnis, most of whom see Islam and Islamism as poles apart and value their secularist, authoritarian4 but religiously tolerant state.)

(As for the barrel bombs, do read former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, on how we’ve been red herringed on that subject.)

There’s ample evidence for all my claims, meticulously collated in Tim Anderson’s Dirty War on Syria. No ‘far left’ group should need reminding that the West has a record, going back to WW1 and collapse of the Ottoman Empire, of using Wahabbism and the Brotherhood to destabilise states which stand in the way of its control of the region. (I’ve written elsewhere on the need for nuance in the conclusions internationalists draw from the fact of Hafez al-Assad’s record of cooperation with imperialism.) In this context, citing Rahman’s grandiosely titled outfit, and not just the once, betrays an ignorance profound, and profoundly unforgivable.

The final sentence of that opening paragraph levels the gravest of charges. Or rather – given its weasel “it is likely” qualifier – of smears. If Workers Power believes Damascus wishes to subject Idlib’s population to “final liquidation”, dare we ask for evidence – or even a motive?

Moving on:

This despite the fact that the region was supposed to be a “de-escalation” zone under the terms of an agreement brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran last year. Also despite the savage irony that a Russian and Turkish sponsored “Syrian national dialogue conference” opened in Sochi the day before the latest air attacks on Idlib; though all serious opposition forces, Syrian and Kurdish, have boycotted it.

I don’t share Workers Power’s (and Guardian’s) trust in the good intent of Kurdish forces but that’s too big a subject for now. My main point here is that ‘de-escalation’ zones, like their ‘no fly’ equivalents, are not only prone to breaking down amid a mire of accusation and counter accusation. More important is their habit of serving as trojan horses, innocent sounding covers for further aggression. That organisations like Amnesty International frequently fail to grasp this truth is one thing. When marxist groupings do the same it’s quite another, especially when they leave their readers in the dark as to what they mean by a “serious opposition” too close, for suspicious souls like me, to those elusive moderate Islamists.

Next, in a way reminiscent of BBC reports that skilfully weave undeniable truths on a people’s appalling ordeal into a broader narrative of demonisation, Workers Power say this:

There are already an estimated 1.1 million refugees from other parts of Syria in Idlib and the UN reports that the offensive, which started in January, has now resulted in 212,000 people fleeing the fighting. Conditions for them are unspeakably bad and UN officials have pleaded for a ceasefire and for aid to be sent to ease the suffering of people who are without tents, food or medical supplies.

Yes, Idlib is a living hell. On that we can all agree. Ceasefires, alas, too often serve the same end as ‘no fly zones’, ‘de-escalation zones’ and ‘safe corridors’. The Workers Power I knew, for all my later disillusionment with its vanguard model, never lost sight of such basic truths.

Wait though. We’re not quite done with the neutral observers crowded into that Coventry semi.

The UK-based Observatory also reported another likely sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun where, it said, 20 children and 17 women were among the dead civilians. Film footage shows convulsing and choking victims being doused with water and loaded into ambulances, with the bodies of around a dozen young children seen being laid out on blankets in a flatbed truck. The hospital at which victims were subsequently being treated was also bombed.

Khan Sheikhoun? WTF!?! Workers Power, do you want a word you say on Syria taken seriously? Then kindly address huge evidential issues re the events of April 4, 2017. You can do the heavy lifting. Me, I’ll content myself with a UN declaring the crime scene too dangerous to send in its OPCW team but, hey, that’s no problem since the ‘rebels’ helpfully bagged up the ‘evidence’ and shipped it via Syria’s good friend and neighbour, Turkey.

So that’s alright then.

Of course, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump immediately condemned this atrocity.

 Same old same old. In sixteen words Workers Power mixes, as does SWP (US), the obligatory lead in to unimpeachable denunciation of the hypocrisy and chilling venality of the West, with uncritical acceptance of the allegations that give it cover. But let me jump to one last excerpt from this Positively Fifth League piece.

We call for the withdrawal of all the imperialist powers from Syria and the entire region – Russia, the USA and also the European powers. We demand the end of all arms supplies to the reactionary regimes of Assad or Erdogan, the withdrawal of all Turkish troops and support for Kurdish defence against the invasion.

Great! Meanwhile, here on planet earth …


  1. I reject the vanguard model as every bit as misconceived as the parliamentary model, and offering zero chance of success against a ruling class armed to the teeth. Granted, that leaves me with nothing to offer but unpalatable truths, but I never did see the sense in insisting that without a solution we’ve no business articulating the problem.
  2. My caveat is the depiction of Russia (GDP less than California’s) as an imperialism as bad as the USA. I call that specious. I don’t say Russia is not an imperialist power: only that (a) the case has not been made, and I need more than lazy references to Russia’s responses to NATO provocation in Georgia and Ukraine, (b) any danger posed by a Russian imperialism is in any case miniscule against that posed by Western powers, and (c) since that ‘far left’ offers no credible third way for Syria, I welcome Russia’s disruption of the West’s cruel neoliberal agenda for the middle east.
  3. Anyone still of the view the Guardian is a benign organ offering genuine plurality of viewpoint might read Olivia Solon’s ‘forensic’ piece, referenced in an earlier post on this site. They might note its attacks on two Canadian journalists, Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley – who unlike any of its own journalists, least of all San Francisco based technology writer Solon, actually report from inside Syria – and the fact Beeley and Bartlett requested but were denied right of reply. If that isn’t ‘no-platforming’, could someone kindly explain to me what the term actually means?
  4. One irony here is that on several fronts Bashar has shown he wants to liberalise his country after the iron rule of his father: a man with many faults but one who oversaw, with the Brotherhood fighting him all the way, undeniable rises in Syria’s prosperity. Many who joined the Daraa protests in early 2011 distinguished between a state they saw as oppressive, and a president they supported. Many more disengaged from the protests – and this too is a reality Workers Power shows no awareness of – when they saw them hijacked by Islamists armed by the West through Riyadh, Doha and Ankara.

19 Replies to “Workers Power too, I’m afraid …

  1. March 11, 2018
    Thank you for this valuable contribution, Philip.

    In an earlier exchange, you wrote: “I don’t say Russia is not an imperialist power: only that (a) the case has not been made, and I need more than lazy references to Russia’s responses to NATO provocation in Georgia and Ukraine, (b) any danger posed by a Russian imperialism is in any case miniscule against that posed by Western powers, and (c) since that ‘far left’ offers no credible third way for Syria, I welcome Russia’s disruption of the West’s cruel neoliberal agenda for the middle east.”

    I’m not sure why your “I don’t say”. As you acknowledge, the argument for a so-called Russian imperialism has never been made. But the case against this idea was definitively made by Renfrey Clarke and me in our February 2016 essay: The myth of ‘Russian imperialism’: In defense of Lenin’s analyses ( Sam King in Australia has made a similarly compelling argument as to why China does not fit the descriptor of ‘imperialist’:

    A curious unanimity emerged amongst almost all of the groups calling themselves Trotskyists following the Maidan coup in Ukraine in February 2014. They came to condemn something they called ‘Russian imperialism’ and they turned a blind eye to NATO’s new cold war against Russia. They copied this stance in relation to events in Syria. Then a further curiosity emerged: a convergence of the Trotskyists with the fractured International Socialists current and its superficial theory of ‘state capitalism’ as a descriptor of the former Soviet Union. The sum total of all the proof of a ‘Russian imperialism’ was and remains… the use of the term! ‘I say it, therefore it is true.’

    It was the Trotskyist default on the crucial question of Russia’s exact social and economic character (a default applying also to China) which sent me on a quest to find out how Trotskyism could end up in such a spectacular dead end. In truth, the situations in Ukraine-Russia and in Syria were only the latest in a rather long string of reckless and downright dangerous responses by Trotskyists and other claimed Marxists to world events—notably the coups in Haiti (2004), Mali (2012) and Egypt (2013), and the NATO intervention into Libya in 2011.

    As I have written on my website (, Trotskyism was born of a large ultraleft impulse, namely, the resuscitation by Leon Trotsky in 1929 of his theory of permanent revolution. Related to that has been the progressive dismissal by the Trotskyist movement of the crucial lessons of the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union from 1921 to 1928. NEP has by now disappeared from the Trotskyists’ account of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Their account of 1917 has been idealized beyond recognition.

    These early ultraleft impulses were amplified by the terrible setbacks suffered by the international working class with Stalin’s consolidation of power in the Soviet Union and with the rise of fascism in Germany leading to a new world war. Following World War Two, capitalism’s successful stabilization and its launch of the Cold War imposed further isolation on Marxism in the West (though the isolation was amplified by the Western Marxists’ own conduct).

    You mention the Socialist Workers Party of the United States. I know well this group and its cohorts in other countries. The SWP has steadily dwindled for more than three decades now, to the point where it now numbers 100 or fewer members. I am surprised at how many of its former members still hold the SWP’s doctrine in high esteem. This is a group which dismisses the Venezuela revolution as a form of “bourgeois populism” and which hailed the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003 as having the “unintended consequence” of bringing democracy to that country. The list of its political transgressions is very long, indeed.

    You are quite right that the ‘vanguard party’ model which Trotskyism has promoted has proven a dead end. Like much else of Trotskyist rendering of the Russian Revolution, its ‘party building’ strategy has little to do with the real-life revolutionary party which Russian revolutionaries (including Trotsky himself) successfully built.

    One of the tasks in reviving Marxism is to rescue Lenin’s conceptions of party building from the distortions of Stalinists, Trotskyists and other such ideologues. The years leading up to 1917 are exceptionally rich for studying. We learn that Lenin’s early concepts of a socialist (Marxist) party or parties are democratic and pluralist. The rescue also requires assessing the troubling record of the Bolshevik Party during and following the foreign-imposed, 1918-21 civil war. The Bolshevik Party never fully recovered from the emergency measures which were taken during the civil war. The measures restricting party and societal democracy during the civil war became entrenched in the years following 1921. This was a grave impediment to the necessary debate over the future course of building socialism which developed during the NEP years as NEP produced modest economic and social improvements. Indeed, one of the first victims of the new, Stalin-led regime in 1928 was NEP itself.

    The Soviet Union survived in spite of NEP’s elimination. This was a testament to the power of economic planning, even in circumstances of authoritarian political rule.
    Roger Annis
    Vancouver Canada

    • Many thanks for this invaluable comment Roger. You are quite right. I err too much on the side of caution – I haven’t taken a thorough look yet at Russia’s capitalism – on whether it can be validly described as imperialist. Have standards slipped since my day, or do I wear nostalgia tinted specs? I seem to recall that such terms weren’t so freely bandied about without due consideration honed by rigorous debate. (Elsewhere on the League Fifth site I saw Assad described as ‘fascistic’. This horrified me less for the slur on a mild mannered, would be eye doctor than for its sloppy, scattergun use of the f-word when communists once took great care over it!)

      Incidentally, between my post and yours, Stephen Gowans has posted an excellent but deeply disturbing piece on what the USA is up to in its illegal but largely below the radar – even for those who reject the MSM narrative – occupation and plunder of Syria, using those Kurdish proxies Workers Power seem so keen on. Recommended.

      Last but not least, I look forward to reading the pieces you cite. Thanks again.

    • @Roger Annis
      A rich source of interpretation of the demise of the original Marxist and even Trotsky and Stalin political and ideological gains. May I copy and post it to my blog as I do with Phillips work?
      Susan O’Neill

      • BTW: that Proyect merited being quoted was admittedly a tad cringe-worthy . . . But if you can bring yourself to get past that, a worthy read, I think . . .

  2. I’m glad you have posted this because I am becoming mightily disgusted with the pro Imperialist and expansionist foreign interventionist propaganda that so many on the supposed “left” and “socialist” organisations are promoting.
    What’s Left have put out a really good article by Steven Gowans:
    I should really get his book(Washington’s Long War On Syria – available through Global Research but haven’t got any money.
    Keep posting and exposing the “faux” lefty crud so I know who else to avoid(or appraise them of the real truths and facts on their own sites.)
    Many thanks.

  3. The underlying problem is that most of those who call themselves marxists do not understand the relationship between capitalism and imperialism. The capitalist system as it exists is also the imperialist system.
    The proletariat were as much a minority within the British as in the Russian empires. And both were part of a global imperialist system. This remains the case- the proletariat is simply that part of the working class which has no control over the means of production and lives entirely by selling its labour power. Unhappily it is growing as, for example, rice farmers in Malaya are transformed into Palm Oil plantation coolies and Indian small holders, fallen into debt bondage are driven into the slums of the cities.
    There is an extraordinary tradition on the left to see this position as being an advance on those of the cotter and the peasant with customary claims on the land from which they gain all or part of their subsistence. Actual proletarians have never believed this- the links between the displaced countryman and rural aspirations and practices are well known.
    Because ‘marxists’ regard the wage slave as being in an advantageous position, in comparison with the peasant, there is a tendency not only to dismiss peasant struggles but to approve of the displacement of peasants (often the cause of peasant resistance) as indicating progress. This leads to peculiar political attitudes.
    For example support for the crushing of the Russian peasantry- which was the motor of the Russian Revolution- and for the development of classically capitalist social relations between the newly minted proletarians (kicked off the land to make way for industrialised capitalist agricultural commodity production) and the employers of their waged labour power.
    Once Marxists become enthusiasts for the establishment of capitalism-banishing the ‘idiocy of rural life’- they lose touch with the compass of revolutionaries which tells us always to side with the oppressed. Siding with the oppressed means, more often than not, fighting against the establishment of capitalist production, wage labour, the privatisation of communal property (as much the concern of the C18th English people; the Indonesian peasantry today or Canadian first nations. It sometimes means, too, siding with religious and social traditionalists against the subjection of all relations to the market.
    Significantly too it implies, where capitalist relations already exist, transforming them not by Herbert Morrison or Fabian or CPSU state ownership and control but by co-operative communal ownership and control not unlike that with which the commons in England and the communal lands all over the world were formerly managed by the peasants.
    The attitude that proletarians are superior to peasants and that it is progressive to replace subsistence small holding with large farms is actually almost the same attitude as that of imperialists towards ‘natives as they are being brought kicking and screaming into the brave new world of capitalism.
    It hardly needs saying that understanding the antagonism between peasant communal life and capitalist market relations is particularly important at a stage in history in which it is necessary for us to re-adjust our relationship with nature.
    The old mechanical (positivist) model, based on stages theories and classical political economy, under which feudalism would be displaced by capitalism, the peasantry by the wage slaves of the proletariat and eventually, when all of Capitalism’s possibilities have been exhausted, a revolutionary transformation, never made much sense and now it can be seen as a recipe for planetary disaster. At the very least leading to the dying off of billions as an unsustainable system collapses.
    Groups like Workers Power (of which I retain only vague memories) and IS/SWP,, with which I have been familiar for more than fifty years, have never come to grips with the relationships between town and country, peasant and proletarian. The tradition they share favoured the industrialisation under scientific management of agriculture and the production, via commodity markets, of surpluses to capitalise production. And, of course, call it what you choose the substitution of the party’s experts for democracy.
    I recall, in 1967, the editor of International Socialism challenging me to explain what India’s 800 million peasants should do in order to bring about a revolution? The answer of course was for them to fight capitalism inch by inch, to resist ‘progress’, to throw out the creditors and to produce for use not profit. Instead we have tended to urge them to lie back and enjoy it, to allow history to wash over them like a wave and devour them.
    With that sort of attitude it is small wonder that these people don’t care enough about the Syrian people to bother with taking their side-today against imperialist/zionist aggression, tomorrow, perhaps, against GM plantation agriculture and proletarianisation.

    • Much appreciated, bevin. It saddens me that a man I consider to have written the most important work in years on imperialism calls me a ‘parliamentary cretin’ for seeing significance in Bashar al-Assad’s 2014 mandate.

      Let me pick up on one point in your very welcome comment. “Once Marxists become enthusiasts for the establishment of capitalism – banishing the ‘idiocy of rural life’ – they lose touch with the compass of revolutionaries which tells us always to side with the oppressed.” Indeed, but there’s a more precise word than “Marxists” we can apply here. You refer, I think, to the ‘stageist’ conception of historical materialism associated with Stalinism.

      • Not just Stalinism. The stadial theories of the ‘enlightenment’ were part and parcel of almost all the ‘marxist’ tendencies at one time or another.
        Marx realised that his criticism of the narodniks was off base, this seems to have been a real disappointment to many Russian ‘marxists.’
        Curious how many of the contributors to these comments are Canadians!

        • I stand corrected and bow to your greater knowledge. I dimly remember who the narodniks were but feel the need to wikit!

          Your closing sentence – is this by way of light aside?

  4. An aside anyway. I believe that both Roger and Stephen are Canadians.
    I should thank you for your recommendation of John Smith’s opus-he should thank you for the sale.
    May I recommend weapons of the weak or/and The moral economy of the Peasant both by James C Scott to read on your trip to Taiwan. All the best from Ontario.
    Thank you for your kind words.

    • I fear I’ll have time only to read shorter pieces, bevin. Have you an essay or two you could recommend? My own view is solidly marxist on matters of political economy but I’ve spent the past few years trying to reconcile our spiritual humanity – my sense of life as off the scale positive – on the one hand, a materialist understanding of why the world is so ugly on the other. I’m happy to be challenged by ‘utopian socialist’ takes but, with a vast backlog of the unread-but-desperately-important, they must be short!

  5. Hey, Philip,

    I suspect that the various competing interpretations of the situation in Syria that end up siding either ‘with’ or ‘against’ the existing Syrian government obscure more than they clarify.

    At bottom, exactly as are the governments of all other power brokers competing for influence and control over the Syrian territory and its inhabitants, the Syrian government is comprised of ‘ruling factions’ — (i.e., of landed and commercial oligarchies alongside rising and very much embourgeoised middle class elements) — whose interests are at bottom reducible to that of ‘money making.’ Consequently, I’m a long way from being convinced that the ‘socialist’ tag can be meaningfully attributed, here as elsewhere.

    Furthermore, I’m inclined to agree with Samir Amin’s thumbnail sketch of the overall situation (24 April 2012 ):

    Quote begins:

    Facing that in Syria we have objectively a situation similar to the one of Egypt: that is, a regime which a long, long time ago had legitimacy, for the same reasons, when it was a national-popular regime but lost it in the time of Hafez Assad already — it moved to align itself with neoliberalism, privatization, etc., leading to the same social disaster. So, there is an objective ground for a wide, popular, social-oriented uprising. But by preempting this movement, through the military intervention of armed groups, the Western imperialist powers have created a situation where the popular democratic movement is . . . hesitating. They don’t want to join the so-called “resistance” against Bashar Assad; but they don’t want to support the regime of Bashar Assad either. That has allowed Bashar Assad to successfully put an end, or limits, to external intervention, in Homs and on the boundary of Turkey in the north. But opposing state terror to the real terrorism of armed groups supported by foreign powers is not the answer to the question. The answer to the question is really changing the system to the benefit of, through negotiations with, the real popular democratic movement. This is the challenge. And this is the question which is raised. We don’t know, I don’t know, I think nobody knows how things will move on: whether the regime, or people within the regime, will understand that and move towards real reform by opening, more than negotiations, a re-distribution of the power system with the popular democratic movement, or will stick to the way of meeting explosions just brutally as they have done until today. If they continue in that direction, finally they will be defeated, but they will be defeated to the benefit of imperialist powers.

    Quote ends.

    Source: An Imperialist Springtime? Libya, Syria, and Beyond

    If a broad-based revolt was indeed brewing in 2011 in Syria, then all narratives either defending or indicting the Syrian government somewhat miss the mark.

    This doesn’t mean that an attempt was not made opportunistically by the Imperial West to co-opt or aggravate the moment of instability or upheaval in 2011, nor does it mean that the ‘revolt’ was in its tenor a ‘socialist revolt.’ But it would cast doubt on the nature of the military interventions by all of the militaries and foreign mercenaries implicated in Syria since 2011, on all sides and in whatever guises, including those of the Syrian military itself.

    I don’t know if you have had a chance to read this piece by Raymond Hinnebusch: “Syria: from ‘authoritarian upgrading’ to revolution?” It is certainly worth the read, in my opinion.

    Hinnebusch, I think, does a decent job of conveying the complexity of the situation, a complexity that tends to get eclipsed by arguments ‘for’ or ‘against’ the intervention of this or that capitalist camp, a camp, like all others, in fact competing to preserve or enlarge its ascendancy in both Syria and elsewhere.

    Enjoy the trip!

  6. Thanks Norman – I will! Prior to my first visit last autumn, I had a mental image of Taiwan as a huge industrial estate. In fact it’s one of the most breathtakingly scenic places I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a lot. The old Portuguese name of Formosa means “the beautiful island”. I agree.

    I’m not going to reply on all your points – countdown to departure and all – but I’ll read at leisure either in transit or after arrival. I want only to respond quickly to a point many people – I doubt that includes you – are confused on. You say:

    “I’m a long way from being convinced that the ‘socialist’ tag can be meaningfully [applied to Syria].”

    Indeed. I’d defer here to Roger Annis, whose superbly empirical/theoretical 8,000 worder on whether Russia is imperialist I read yesterday, but my woefully impressionistic take is of baa’thism as a diluted Stalinism, and Syria as practising a degree of state capitalism anathema – as in Iraq and Libya – to neoliberalism and American empire both.

    But is that relevant? Socialists do not defend imperialised states according to whether or not they satisfy such a test. Again, I’m sure you know this but I’ve seen the syllogism in both explicit and implicit forms more times than I care to remember in Graun BTL exchanges.

  7. Yes, of course: as a matter of high principle, especially among the ranks of those potentially exploitable as the muscles and brains of the Imperial Powers, the condemnation of Imperialism should be unconditional.

    At the same time, however, no one should be under any illusions, least of all those directly in thrall to either imperialised elites or comprador-bourgeoisies.

    If it is true that Assad and Co. are at bottom all about capital, Syrians need to be mindful of that.

    BTW: I’ve never been to Taiwan, but if I ever get the chance . . . I very much enjoyed the pictures you have posted on this site and from your last trip! Looking forward to seeing more!

  8. BTW: if only because the issue has been raised for me in this thread, a different reading of the matter, equally grounded in both theory and detailed ’empirical’ data, of whether or not Russia might be reasonably considered to be a player fully implicated in the “great game:”

    Russia as a Great Imperialist Power

    By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 18 March 2014, (

    Of course, if you ever find the time and feel inclined. I know you’re busy. The link is to a .pdf document, with the read beginning at page 5 (and stretching on for an additional 35 if you include the Appendix and 128 footnotes).

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