photo by Fran Cresswell
WRITTEN BY DAVID A TURPIN JR.
Chomsky and company counter pose an abstract revolution to the real revolution: they will support an abstraction, they assure us, but they have reservations about the actual revolution taking place, going so far as to deny it is revolution precisely because it does not meet the standards set by their abstraction. They fail to see that the Platonic ideal is never met (and Plato did not expect it to be met). No matter how good my compass, no matter how sharp the point on my pencil, I can never actually draw a real circle. The circle can only be described abstractly through mathematics because the true circle is un-real. A circle is an abstraction, of which at best I can make an approximate, imperfect, physical expression. Chomsky’s “revolution” is a shining sphere that Syrians can never attain.
Chomsky and company, however, are not merely making an error in reasoning, confusing the abstract with the concrete, they are creating an ethical abyss into which they can retreat and can continue their retreat without end. Their assurances of support for abstract revolution are worthless, because the abstraction of “revolution” which they “support” can never be achieved. Chomsky and company have created the perfect excuse for ethical cowardice: the standards for supporting a revolution can continually be raised, and these higher and higher standards of abstraction lead to inaction, even when faced with the reality that Assad and Putin are engaged in genocide (a term which they would also contest by raising higher and higher abstract requirements).
Sadly, the same error is common place among the revolutionary leftists who are anti-Assad, to their credit, but refuse to build a united front with the actual solidarity forces because the latter demand a humanitarian intervention–by imperialism. These revolutionaries speak of “solidarity from below” as an abstraction, and counter pose this abstraction to the actual, real solidarity movement. They will support unity with an abstraction, but not with the actual, concrete solidarity movement. They will support a solidarity movement that does not call for humanitarian intervention, but not the movement we actually have. And for the same reason, these comrades also fall into ethical inaction. Their support for an abstract solidarity movement is a rejection of the real solidarity movement, it is a failure to join in solidarity with the oppressed who raise a demand to stop the repression of bombing.
Ironically, even their opposition to “imperialism” is opposition to an abstraction. These same comrades counter pose an abstract “US imperialism” to the real US imperialism, to the reality of inter-imperialist rivalry and to the reality that Russian imperialism, in alliance with Iran, has the immediate method and goal of physically exterminating all political opposition to Assad, whereas US imperialism seeks to control the opposition to Assad, or failing to do so, will allow Assad and Putin to pursue genocide. The distinction is significant–real–and the Syrian opposition’s call for humanitarian intervention, supported by the real solidarity movement–not an abstraction–is a practical response to the reality of imperialist rivalries, rather than abstract imperialist powers that are indistinguishable, one from the other. The Syrian opposition and their solidarity movement are using the best compass they have to draw the finest circle they can, but it will never be good enough for the demanding school masters of the “revolutionary” left, who prefer to pendantically lecture rather than engage in real, practical effort.
For such “revolutionaries” the illusions in “imperialism” are just as grave a threat to the revolution as are genocidal bombing campaigns; one useless abstraction is as dangerous as the other.