DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed on my blog are mine alone. No other member of Platypus, let alone Platypus as an organization, is responsible for them. So if you have gripes with anyone, it’s with me. While I recognize that for many members of the sectarian Left this is an outrageous notion, that individual members of an organization are allowed to have opinions that do not conform to a prescriptive “line” it lays down, Platypus is quite serious about this point.
As for “support” of state repression, there’s nothing of the sort in the article. There’s a critique of the protests, which is hardly translatable into support for the arrests. My point about “punishment” was more general, and admittedly formal-legalistic. I only meant in accordance with the strictures of bourgeois legality and the norms of its judicial system. (Which, incidentally, is the same point I’d raise regarding the recent rape allegations against senior members of the British SWP. Calling for “justice” to be doled out by the bourgeois state means that an apology should be granted to the accused should they be deemed innocent by a jury of peers, but punished if found guilty. And no, I’m not equating rape allegations with allegations of complicity in funding “questionable” organizations).
Whether this is an adequate or correct position or not is less clear to me today. As I’ve indicated, I’ve had arguments in the past with Corey Ansel and Cam Hardy from Platypus about this article in particular. My anti-Stalinism and anti-leftwing terrorism stance was much more severe when I wrote this piece, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I would reach a different conclusion upon reconsidering it further.
The so-called “war on terror” between the American and Western governments against various “anti-imperialist” Islamist groups in the Middle East is not a struggle of the Left versus the Right. It is a struggle between one form of right-wing ideology and another form of right-wing ideology. The PFLP has, to its credit, largely abandoned such tactics as part of a viable political strategy.
— Ross Wolfe, 3/21/2013
As is widely known, a wave of uproar has arisen throughout large sections of the American Left in response to the recent FBI raids on peace activists’ homes in Minneapolis and Chicago. The main anti-war groups targeted by these raids were the Maoist Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO/frso.org branch) and the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN). Sympathizers with the activists whose homes were searched claim that the raids were made on the basis of the trumped-up charge that these groups had provided material support to organizations designated as “terrorist” by the U.S. government and a number of other countries, such as the guerrillas in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Some suspect that the FBI spied illegally on members of these peace groups, thereby violating their civil liberties. Amy Goodman has gone so far as to refer to the raids on the activists’ homes as the “criminalization of dissent.”
Predictably, the reaction from the mainstream American right-wing has been deplorable — ranging anywhere from the invidious association of President Obama with the alleged supporter of Islamic extremism, Hatem Abudayyeh, all the way to blatant, undisguised racism. But this really isn’t anything new; after all, such imbecility and opportunism is to be expected from the Right. However, the broad support these activists have received from the Left in this country is hardly less problematic. So far, the response has largely come in the form of a reflexive, kneejerk call for solidarity with groups that appear to have been singled out for state repression. In general, very little thought has been given in the way of a critical reexamination of the situation. Scarcely any attention has been paid to the actual nature of the social organizations involved — who they are, their history, and what they stand for. It seems as if most leftists would rather not risk letting any doubts cross their mind, fearing that this might cause them to second-guess their unwavering support of the activists under suspicion.
Historically, what has set the Left apart from the Right is its commitment to unsentimental, critical self-appraisal. Nothing for it is to be held up as sacred or unquestionable. If the Left can lay claim to any sort of political integrity above and beyond that of its opponents, it cannot be afraid to face up to the reality of the present case. Some reflection on this whole affair, on the actors and ideologies at play, would therefore seem to be in order.
Beginning with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization: The FRSO was founded in the mid-’80s, rising out of the ashes of the New Communist Movement, which, along with the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), was one of the more notable Maoist tendencies that crystallized during the 1970s. Despite their pledge to fight sectarianism within their own ranks, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization finally split in 1999 after a series of debates around the issue of China’s response to the student movement at Tienanmen Square and the suggestion to rebuild the organization as a “mass socialist party,” which some members took to be tantamount to a betrayal of the spirit of Marxism-Leninism. Both groups that emerged from the split retained the name of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, distinguishing themselves with reference to the different web domains they operated, freedomroad.org and frso.org.
The group raided on Friday, September 24 was not the freedomroad.org but the frso.org branch of the original party. Therefore, for the remainder of this article, “FRSO” will be used exclusively to refer to the organization tied to the frso.org site name, unless otherwise specified. In contrast to their schismatic brethren, the FRSO/frso.org group defends the actions of the Chinese government at Tienanmen Square in 1989, where the student movement was brutally suppressed, as an appropriate response to counter-revolutionary forces. Furthermore, in spite of his nearly universal discreditation, the FRSO continues to regard the writings of the infamous former Soviet premier Iosif Stalin as canonical, writing that
Today, it is clear why Stalin has been subjected to bitter slander and calumny by the enemies of socialism. Stalin remained loyal to Leninism. Under his leadership the Soviet people accomplished miracles. After Stalin’s death, the revisionists and mainly Krushchov and Gorbachov rejected Leninist principles and went from failure to failure.
The editor of the WordPress blog The Marxist-Leninist, a member of the FRSO, has even dedicated an entire entry to celebrating the “Universal Contributions of Comrade Joseph Stalin.” In it he reiterates the organization’s general position on the Stalinist legacy, providing a great number of links purporting to dispel the popular anti-Communist “myth” that Stalin was a tyrant.
Like most Maoist-inspired groups on the Left, and by extension the majority of the Left today (descended as it is from the New Left tradition, which was largely informed by Maoism), the FRSO adheres to what has sometimes been termed “Third Worldism.” After the great socialist movements of the West failed to foment a successful revolution in the “core” of capitalism following the First World War, the Soviet Union under Stalin abandoned its obligation to internationalism, pursuing instead a policy of isolation under the famous dictum of «Социализм в одной стране» [“Socialism in One Country”]. With the successful overthrow in 1949 of nationalist forces in China by Mao Zedong’s CCP, whose base of power rested predominantly in the peasantry, followed by similar successes in undeveloped nations like North Korea and Cuba, many leftists in the West placed their hope in the revolutionary potential of the Third World, along the so-called “periphery” of capitalism. Mao’s tactic of the “mass line,” which explicitly encouraged revolutionaries “learn from the peasants,” became programmatic for many insurgent groups operating in countries suffering from similarly backwards economic circumstances. Of course, because these grass-roots movements relied mostly on agrarian populations to carry out their revolutions, there was a propensity for this to foster anti-intellectual, anti-urban, and even anti-modern currents in their ideologies. This was in large part inherited from the peasant mentality (or “the idiocy of rural life,” as Marx called it). Also, these national liberation movements, when successful, have almost invariably resulted in backwater authoritarian regimes just as oppressive as those who had come before them.
In the Europe and the United States, on the other hand, the revolutionary aspirations of the workers’ movements had been considerably weakened, as most unionists began to buy into the notion of representative democracy. The New Left, which largely saw the mantle of anti-capitalism as having been passed on to radical student movements, began to identify capitalism as a whole with the one great capitalist superpower remaining after the Second World War, the United States. In other words, anti-capitalism for them became little more than anti-Americanism. Later, this was coupled with anti-Zionism, in which Israel was viewed either as a puppet of U.S. power in the region or, conversely, as the puppeteer of U.S. foreign policy, drawing it into needless foreign commitments and combat. The Marxist scholar Moishe Postone draws an interesting parallel: “On the German right a century ago, the global domination of capital used to be considered that of the Jews and Britain. Now the Left sees it as the domination of Israel and the United States.”
Moreover, this was now combined with a somewhat suspect reappropriation of the theories of imperialism developed by earlier twentieth-century Marxists like Hilferding, Luxemburg, Lenin, and Bukharin. The New Left therefore decried any intervention of the United States into other parts of the world as “imperialist” and self-interested, the naked exploitation of marginalized nations. While there is doubtless some truth underlying the Left’s frequent exaggeration of this point, this often leads it to lend its support to any movement that seems to offer “resistance” to American hegemony. Under the banner of anti-imperialism, the Left proclaims its solidarity with often hideously reactionary movements, many of which subscribe to a nativist and sometimes even a religious fundamentalist ideology. As Postone continues,
Not having any vision of a post-capitalist future, many have substituted a reified notion of “resistance” for any conception of transformation. Anything that “resists” the United States becomes regarded positively.
Returning to the origin of this discussion, precisely this tendency can be witnessed in FRSO’s main publication, Fight Back! News. There one can find the group’s joyous celebration of Ahmadinejad’s 2009 re-election in Iran and Hezbollah’s noble “resistance” of the U.S.-backed Israeli military in Lebanon, as well as heart-felt apologia against the “demonization” of Saddam Hussein. Needless to say, the theocratic Islamic Republic in Iran is a far more reactionary government than the liberal democratic United States, whatever one might think of the U.S. government’s interests in the region. Under the mullahs the Iranian Left was stamped out far more viciously than it ever had been under the Shah. Ahmadinejad, a member of the far right in Iran, has repeatedly shown himself to be virulently anti-Semitic. Hezbollah (literally “The Party of God”) is of course little more than a proxy for Iran, possessing an ideology founded on Islamic fundamentalism and employing plainly terrorist tactics against Israel. Saddam’s Ba’athist regime had thousands of Iraqi communists and other leftists executed or imprisoned, just as that party had done in Syria beforehand. Yet Saddam was glamorized by the FRSO as someone who defiantly stood up against U.S. aggression and valiantly “resisted” its project of imperialist domination. Likewise, the FRSO has spoken out on numerous occasions in support of nominally Marxist organizations like FARC and the PFLP, who, despite their supposedly progressive political program, routinely resort to terrorist tactics in order to continue their military struggles. FARC makes the majority of its money from kidnappings, military hostages, and above all the drug trade (mostly cocaine). The effectively Stalinist PFLP was known to have hijacked several airplanes early in its existence, as well as targeted civilians at an airport. More recently, they have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack in 2003. The FRSO’s standard line when such criticisms are leveled at these groups (with whom they openly sympathize) is, of course, that these allegations are nothing more than slander and lies, the invention of the U.S. and Israeli government designed to draw support away from these heroic liberation movements. But then again, this is exactly what they say when it comes to Stalin’s and Mao’s countless atrocities, the reality of which, as with the reality of the atrocities committed by FARC and the PFLP, has been established beyond the shadow of doubt.
Similarly, as Postone has argued, those “who regard the struggle against the existence of Israel as progressive are taking something reactionary and regarding it as progressive.” Hatem Abudayyeh, the peace activist and founder of the AAAN, whose home was raided by the FBI, has written on several occasions for FRSO’s Fight Back! News. In 2006, Abudayyeh applauded the Palestinians for resisting the U.S. and Israel by electing the radical Islamic fundamentalist group, Hamas (literally the “Islamic Resistance Movement”), known for its flagrantly anti-Semitic, Nazi-esque conspiracy theories about the Jews, its explicit denial of the Holocaust, and its active enlistment of children or use of children as shields in combat. During a possibly even more outrageous interview, published by FRSO as an article, Abudayyeh made the following ridiculous claim, which has unfortunately become a commonplace amongst the unthinking Left:
The U.S. and Israel will continue to describe Hamas, Hezbollah and the other Palestinian and Lebanese resistance organizations as ‘terrorists,’ but the real terrorists are the governments and military forces of the U.S. and Israel. The vast majority of the world sees and understands this, and are in full support of Lebanese, Palestinian and worldwide resistance to Israel and the U.S.’s naked aggression, war, imperialism and occupation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting and stating this very strongly over the past two weeks, and millions more will join the chorus if Israel continues its brutality. This mass movement against war and imperialism must continue, and the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance must be supported.
The lunacy of this statement should be apparent to anyone, though the actions of Israel and the United States are hardly immune to criticism. The U.S., Europe, and Israel are far from benevolent, and as a rule act quite clearly in their own self-interest (or more specifically, the interests of the world bourgeoisie). However, for activists on the Left to voice solidarity with groups that are involved with suicide bombings, kidnappings, drug trafficking, extortion, and who use civilians for cover is not only irresponsible, it’s reprehensible. To speak of Hamas and Hezbollah as brave fighters against U.S. and Zionist imperialism, as if they have any emancipatory potential at all, is even more wretched and insane. These are organizations with a penchant for anti-Semitism, who moreover adhere to an anachronistic ideology of religious extremism — one that is sexist, homophobic, and generally promotes cultural backwardness. Whether or not the peace activists under suspicion did actually channel funds to such organizations, their vocal support of such groups should move us all to think twice about expressing solidarity with them against claims of government harassment.
To be sure, if the members of the FRSO and AAAN turn out not to have provided material support to these terrorist groups, I hope they are exonerated and receive a public apology from the FBI. Also, if the information used in the case against them is shown to have been gathered by illegal means, I hope that it is thrown out. Whatever I or anybody else might think of these activists’ politics, they should be granted the basic justice ensured to them by liberal democracy. However, I would personally not be too surprised if legitimate evidence did surface that implicates these organizations. It might well have been acquired by means other than the illegal monitoring of these groups’ activities, also. The retrieval of a number of computers seized after the bombing of a major FARC camp on September 22 might have been what revealed incriminating evidence linking the FRSO and AAAN to these groups. If a connection is irrefutably established linking the activists’ funds and FARC or the PFLP, I would equally hope that they would be punished accordingly. [A piece of autocritique, now almost three years on: I was overhasty and crudely anti-Stalinist in announcing my "hope" that these activists be "punished accordingly." This is a matter of basic civil rights.]
For the time being, no explicit accusations have been made and no formal charges have been filed.