This post is meant to delineate the difference between the anti-imperialism of Marxism-Leninism and the anti-imperialism of what I’d like to call Marxism-Chauvinism, as well as other sections of the left that maintain influences from liberal ideology, consciously or unconsciously. First, I will describe the source of both of these ideologies abstractly – to describe the space in which they are rooted or maintain traces from (there is, of course, a spectrum of Marxism-Chauvinism). After this, I will show how these bases interact with the ideology flows in the media, with a particular emphasis on who is believed. Then I will use the case of terrorism in Syria to demonstrate the height of the destructiveness of liberal ideological influence on the left, which has resulted in a parroting of positions propagated by the imperialist state.
The essence of the ideological difference
Liberalism is a philosophical superstructure of rationalizations and justifications for capitalism. In many ways this begins as a spontaneous reaction to the given economic conditions, especially in the ascending phase of capitalism. This spontaneous nature can result in the inversions of truth that we frequently see due to the inversion of subject-object relations that this involves. However, as capitalism began to be contested, the ruling class and those who spread its ideology had to purposefully misrepresent capitalism through the frame of liberalism. From an historical-materialist standpoint, this ideology should not be given any more credence in terms of moral or historical value than a recognition of this basis, at least without a fresh analysis of efficacy of any particular aspect of it from a consciously proletarian standpoint (I will explain the difference between these two positions in a bit). The space from which liberalism grows and conditions for its determinations are precisely the ideological space produced by the internalizations of the capitalist base being expressed in idealistic maxims and hopes that are, and must be, fundamentally grounded in private property relations. This serves to protect the bourgeoisie from suggestions of expropriation and the vicissitudes of class struggle. The spontaneous ideology of those raised in capitalist society in the global North is liberalism, and for a truly Marxist ideology to take hold of someone raised in these conditions requires not only the vigorous critique of this liberalism, but also the positive construction of a proletarian ideology.
Marxism-Leninism is an ideology from a proletarian base in opposition to capitalism. This is not to say as an opposition as a reflection, but as from an essentially and fundamentally different space – the very root of Marxism-Leninism is a positive expression of the reaction at the base to the contradiction between the relations and forces of production from the perspective of workers. This is an abstract position when not held in the minds of the proletariat and acted out concretely, but that it requires theoretical abstraction and a dialectical relationship with future struggle does not make its exposition less necessary, nor does it detract from the necessity of such an ideology for transcending (or, hopefully, destroying utterly) capitalism and its ideological traces. Marxism-Leninism is among the few movements of Marxism that actively constructs a positive proletarian ideology consciously. This conscious positive construction in fundamental opposition to liberal ideology is necessary to create a base of attack. In the revolutionary stage against capitalism, this positive ideology must take on a specifically Marxist character to protect the gains of workers from liberal ideology (which, again, is fundamentally sourced in capitalism) as they progress to communism through an understanding of this spatial difference in ideology and the interests at play.
The approach of Marxists to the media and what they take from it
When raised in imperialist countries, imperialism is internalized and acted out in various ways. This manifests in cultural artifacts such as violent movies that deal with oh so gritty moral conundrums, video games where the protagonist defends imperialism from absurd threats, and (and I don’t mean to minimize this) mass shootings. All of these things would not exist, in the current stage of society, without conditions of imperialism and capitalism, as there would be no such force generating this manner of violent ideology. To think such violence is a natural, universal condition for humanity is idealist and liberal. The United States, in particular, suffers from its history of mass violence, which it still inflicts on others on a wide scale. The embeddedness of the subject in these conditions creates a very real moral solipsism among many Western Marxists due to cynicism and sentiments shared with existentialism – the importance of this will make itself apparent later in this essay.
Raised in these conditions and maintaining such remnants, or even still garnering their ideology from the essential base, of liberalism, their interaction with the media does not involve a fundamental critique of the basic structures of the media environment of imperialist states, which are shot through with manipulation by the state and capitalist interests. Which are, in fact, identical to these interests. The popular media as a whole represents imperialism and capitalism, and therefore reproduces liberal ideology continuously as a rule. Even without purposeful media manipulation, the media would still need to be absorbed through the filter of a fundamental critique of the ideology that informs its structure and content.
Without this fundamental critique as a filter, many Western leftists are not able to understand the degree to which their own ideology is mistaken on all kinds of issues. An important result of this is the privileging, as being more objective, of liberal media over the media of states, and peoples who back these states, attacked by imperialism. This privileging ignores the structure of imperialism and how it would affect the media even without the CIA and State Department manipulations that we know exist. The popular internalization of imperialism and imperialist narratives means that the media will itself reflect this same privilege; most people who live in imperialist states would, indeed, feel honored to work with the CIA to protect imperialism. It should be no surprise that this practice is wide-spread, and in fact a good Marxist critique should suggest that this behavior be expected. The result of this interaction is that such Marxists are never acquainted with the victims of the states attacked by imperialism – these Marxists do not care to, as the narratives of the victims are seen as a priori less objective due to the method of victimization – victims in the sense of both being demonized by propaganda (most often due to an allegiance with a specifically demonized leader of a “regime”) and the belief that these victims could not possibly be truly objective, as they have direct material interests in sustaining their own status quo. This status quo, though this is apparently not obvious to the liberal Marxist, is in fact often simply not being attacked and murdered. The material interest is in fact simply not being killed.
The lionization of the rebels in Libya and Syria reflects this dynamic, as those against the status quo of these demonized states have their narratives privileged even when they are “Islamic” terrorists, including the so-called “moderate” forces.
A Marxist armed with a positive ideology like Marxism-Leninism is protected from these distortions by a fundamental critique combined with a scientific, materialist orientation informed by the study of historical materialism as a method of analysis and as a basic heuristic. Marxist-Leninists privilege the narratives of the oppressed because we know that the imperialist media is precisely imperialist media and cannot be otherwise, understand ideological differences at play and are able to empathize with those typically made “other” by liberal ideology (this social thing-in-itself is of course pure ideology and nothing else), and use materialist understanding to identify all of the idealism that forms the spontaneous worldview of liberalism as garbage as immediately as it makes itself apparent. Marxist-Leninists privilege the narratives of victims of imperialism because we know these narratives to better reflect the truth. This is not because they are more “objective,” necessarily, but because they are truer to the effect of imperialism, which is cut off by moral solipsism for many liberal leftists. This effect of mass slaughter cannot be internalized by liberals as an effect of the system they live under and benefit from, and they cannot see their embeddedness in these processes.
The destruction of Syria: anti-imperialism and “anti-imperialism”
Marxist-Chauvinists will frequently put forth a concept of imperialism that superficially applies Lenin’s list of characteristics of imperialism to apply as if it were the DSM. They look at external trade and ideological influence of non-Western states and equate these with the external trade and ideological influence of the source of today’s imperialism, which is the United States. Russia, China, and Iran become just as bad, supposedly. This ignores that most of the actions of these countries on the international stage is fundamentally formed by the primary imperialism, the imperialism of the triad of the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. The impact of the above on the understanding of Syria is one of the fundamental differences between these anti-imperialisms.
Let’s take, for instance, China. China’s economy is an export-led economy, and their exports primarily go to the imperialist triad. When they go out in search of materials with which to develop this export-led economy, they are searching for these materials that then go to feed the voracious appetite of imperialism, because this is the only way that they can feasibly develop their economy without being under outright imperialist siege. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a burgeoning bourgeoisie and all that in China, nor ignore the disaster that was the victory of the capitalist roaders, but Chinese “imperialism” is a sub-imperialism of the primary imperialism, though it maintains sharp contradictions with it. (It also shouldn’t be ignored that China generally gives much better trade deals than the imperialists.)
That countries like Russia, China, and Iran are in opposition to the primary imperialism, even as they form a part of how it acts as a totality, means that they end up being in some ways anti-capitalist, whether they like it or not, by opposing the main imperialism. By opposing the most brazen attacks of imperialism through their seats on the UN Security Council, China and Russia block what imperialism needs, under its current constraints, to preserve itself, which is chaos in much of the globe and a consolidation of ideological hegemony. When liberal Marxists see these states supporting “Assad” (as if Assad’s millions of supporters didn’t exist, as if Assad wouldn’t have won his election even if everyone who didn’t vote who was eligible voted against him – wikipedia the election and do some quick math to verify this) they scream IMPERIALISM. Their opposition to the status quo as a rule blinds them to the true nature of the conflict. Their moral solipsism means that they don’t need to meet the contradictions of the various imperialisms they see, because they don’t see themselves as embedded in it. Without perceiving this embeddedness, the impetus to question their ideology in regard to the conflict barely exists. Everyone is bad. The kind of mechanistic moralism of forms that this relies on is one of the key characteristics of the liberal ‘left.’
To oppose the destruction of Syria would require a unified effort from the left and an exposure of the lies of the media. Without this unified effort of exposure and opposition, there is no reason to expect the slaughter and slow genocide in the Middle East to stop for the foreseeable future.
With that, let’s take a look at current CIA propaganda as presented by the outlet Radio Free Syria (note: this was referenced in early September, 2015) and compare it to what the liberal and much of the Trotskyist left says.
- The rebels (?) are genuine rebels and not genocidal terrorists
- Assad constantly uses barrel bombs to massacre civilians
- Assad works with ISIS, refugees are fleeing from Assad and not terrorism, and/or some other moral conflation of Assad and ISIS
- Opposition to Hezbollah as a terrorist group or Iran proxy
- Demonization of basically all forces that are not “rebels,” including the United States
If you shared these beliefs, which form the fundamental structure of an overall narrative, with a known CIA/State Department outlet… shouldn’t that cause an alarm to go off? Shouldn’t that, maybe, make you want to question the sources of your beliefs – maybe some of those NGOs?
As an anti-imperialist, I think it should.
But because the genuine anti-imperialists in the global North cannot gain ideological hegemony on the left, nevermind generally, we are left despairing over the fresh news everyday of new atrocities, new crimes. Everyday we are confronted with ISIS’s crimes and, as historical materialists, we have to look for the ideology behind it and its sources, which can only be imperialism’s effects on the Middle East through its various proxies in the Gulf providing an ideology that would not exist without imperialism. This is even without the significant NATO support that there is evidence of.