The Fake Left at the Left Forum

Danny Haiphong

“Black Agenda Report and the Black Alliance for Peace have been called ‘Assadists’ for defending the Syrian people’s rightful decision to determine who governs them and under what type of state.”

I was at the Left Forum held on the first weekend of June in New York City. I did what I’ve done every year that I’ve attended. I spoke at Black Agenda Report’s panel, chatted with a few comrades I rarely see due to distance, and attended a few of their panels. More than a few colleagues mentioned to me that a contingent of so-called “Trotskyists” publicly protested Black Alliance for Peace founder Ajamu Baraka for his support of the Syrian government. These so-called “Trotskyist” forces passed out leaflets condemning Baraka and protested his remarks at the closing plenary in opposition to “the brutal Assad regime.” A UNAC statement on the matter can be found here.

While some were engaged in unprincipled, pro-empire, and chauvinist actions such as these, others such as myself were using the Left Forum to figure out who the left is and what it should stand for and do. This is an important task because the real left in the United States is small. As Glen Ford stated in Black Agenda Report’s panel,the small size of the real left means that it shoulders a heavy burden. Not only must the real left in the United States find a way to develop an organized anti-imperialist, and class-based opposition to the ruling class, but it must also combat the fake left in its many forms. Those who participated in slandering Baraka are what the fake left looks like and sounds like in the flesh.

“The real left must combat the fake left in its many forms.”

The fake left at the Left Forum should be distinguished from the fake left of the non-profit industrial complex. The non-profit industrial complex indeed hires fake activistsbeholden to government and corporate funders responsible for the very problems that non-profit activists oppose in the first place. Fake left activists reside in non-profit organizations such as MoveOn.org and Indivisible. The fake left I refer to in this piece are perhaps even more insidious than those paid by foundations and non-profits. This band of leftists verbally states opposition to imperialism and an embrace of socialism in theory yet behaves more like amateur soft agents of the US intelligence services in practice.

These fake leftists reside in an alphabet soup of so-called Trotskyist organizations like the International Socialist Organization (ISO). So-called “Trotskyist” organizations have a long history of supporting US imperialism. I don’t pretend to know which organization the fake leftists who protested Baraka belonged to. An attendee told me that the organizers of the protest of Baraka stemmed from the League for the Revolutionary Party. Thetrend is more important than the organization. Just days prior to the Left Forum, activists in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) wrote an opinion piece claiming that “The 2,000 US troops in Syria are not there to conduct ‘regime change.’ They are there to defend the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in North East Syria and to oppose ISIS. Trump has made that clear.” One of the authors of the piece has been active on social media denouncing Baraka and the Black Alliance for Peace for being so-called apologists for Assad. This falls in line with the ISO, which has long been known to support US-led operations in Libya and Syria in the name of “revolution.”

“This band of leftists verbally states opposition to imperialism and an embrace of socialism in theory yet behaves more like amateur soft agents of the US intelligence services in practice.”

While claiming to want revolution, there are many activists in these organizations that choose to insult and defame every revolution that has ever occurred in history, even the Russian Revolution of 1917. According to their pro-war ideology, every socialist revolution in history has been led by despotic, self-interested authoritarians who wielded “state capitalist” formations to repress and impoverish the working class. This includes the Chinese and Cuban revolutions in addition to the Russian. And it ultimately includes any government that the US doesn’t like and wants to overthrow. As Diana Johnstone put it simply, “The trouble with these Trotskyists is that they are always “supporting” other people’s more or less imaginary revolutions. They are always telling others what to do. They know it all. The practical result from this verbal agitation is simply to align this brand of Trotskyism with U.S imperialism.”

Syria has been in the crosshairs of these fake leftists for some time. Real leftists at Black Agenda Report and the Black Alliance for Peace have been called “Assadists” for defending the Syrian people’s rightful decision to determine who governs them and under what type of state. This position is the essence of self-determination. Self-determination, as V.I. Lenin articulated , means that the independence of oppressed nations struggling against colonialism must be achieved and then defended for the conditions of socialism to exist at all. Syria has a long history of struggling against colonialism and imperialism, dating back to the early 20thcentury when it was divided up by the colonial powers under the Sykes-Picot agreement. It just so happens that the same colonial powers that dominated Syria in the early to mid-20thcentury have coalesced with the United States to place the Arab nation back under their political and economic thumb. The so-called “revolutionaries” in Syria have long been proven to be armed terrorist proxies of the colonial powers and their Gulf allies, something that fake leftists like those who protested Baraka refuse to admit.

“The attack on Baraka is an attack on any person, group, or organization that dares to struggle against imperialism.”

For this, Baraka, the Black Alliance for Peace, and the real left has been the target of a smear campaign. In this campaign, support for countries under the threat of US warfare is considered “fascist” and part of some mythical “Red-brown” alliance.” This theory was concocted by the likes of academics like Alexander Reid Ross and other self-proclaimed experts of fascism. What is their evidence for such a claim? The evidence lies in spurious connections in the political positions of the left and right. Right-wing groups and organizations are said to be infiltrating the real left and directing them in a right-wing direction. This assumes that the Syrian government, the Russian government, and the Iranian governments are fascist entities. No such label has been awarded to the U.S. government, the Israeli government, or their allies in Europe and the Gulf. Ukraine is under the direction of a U.S. installed fascist government but this has garnered little concern from the crusaders of the “red-brown” alliance theory.

The wide umbrella of pro-war propaganda includes the fake leftist politics that reared its head in the ugliest of ways at the Left Forum. What transpired at the Left Forum is much more than a smear campaign against Ajamu Baraka, someone who has spent much of his life struggling to overthrow capitalism. The attack on Baraka is an attack on any person, group, or organization that dares to struggle against imperialism. And it sends a clear message. Anyone who supports the right to self-determination is in league with the fascist, imperialist alliance of Syrian, Iran, Russia, and China. This alliance is said to be more dangerous than US imperialism. After all, just look at all the children the White Helmets have saved from Assad’s lethal weapons of mass destruction (sarcasm my own)!

“The same colonial powers that dominated Syria in the early to mid-20thcentury have coalesced with the United States to place the Arab nation back under their political and economic thumb.”

We have a name for such foolishness: social imperialism. A social imperialist is anyone who espouses socialism yet promotes imperialism. Social imperialism doesn’t require evidence, just racism and pro-American chauvinism. It is the subtlest variant of American exceptionalism. While claiming to be against police brutality, mass incarceration, and drone warfare, social imperialists huddle alongside the State Department to demonize nations abroad that US imperialism desperately wants to destroy. Social imperialists call Assad a war criminal yet have nothing to say when presented with the well-documented evidence of atrocities committed by proxies backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and a host of imperialist countries. In fact, social imperialists deny the very existence of these forces, thus negating over four decades of marriage between US imperialism and jihadist mercenaries .

Social imperialism is not new. Its origins lie in the Second International’s betrayal of the colonial peoples during World War I when only the Bolsheviks were willing to oppose the war. It is our duty as the real left to ensure that historical mistakes are not repeated. While workers and oppressed people have little exposure to the more radical forms of social imperialism such as the attack on Ajamu Baraka, they are exposed regularly to the likes of the Congressional Black Caucus and Bernie Sanders. These forces have used their political power to expand the war machine alongside their allies in the intelligence and military apparatuses. We must defend Ajamu Baraka and the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) from social imperialist attacks because they distract us from our real target: the ruling class. But we must also be unafraid to call out whoever has decided to serve as a pig for imperialism. Especially when it manifests in pathetic displays like what transpired at the Left Forum this year.

Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He is currently writing a book with Roberto Sirvent entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Fake News of US Empire. He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990@gmail.com