When bad faith debaters have difficulty debunking their opponents’ arguments, they turn to the “Gish gallop.” The Gish gallop seeks to provide a surfeit of poorly constructed, dishonest, trivial, and illogical arguments– in other words, it seeks to bury the opponent in so much nonsense that it is impossible for them to respond to all of it in a timely fashion.
The Communist League of Richmond has found ourselves on the receiving end of a Gish gallop in the form of an article by Shama Bismas – Proletarian Internationalism and “Anti-Imperialist” Harringtonism Cannot Co-Exist – writing in response to our open letter to the principled Marxists in DSA .
Given the quantity of sloppy arguments leveled against us, we won’t respond to every point, but will use a few examples to illustrate the poor quality of Bismas’s piece.
- We are accused of stating that “‘the chances’ of revolution in the United States ‘are low’”. Note the gap in the quotation marks – Bismas is omitting the full quote in order to dishonestly claim that we do not believe that a revolution can likely occur here. They even go so far as to claim that we believe that we might as well flee to another country. Later in their response, Bismas quotes the full sentence: “the chances that the next revolutionary wave will begin in the US, or anywhere else in the imperialist core, are low”, an ironclad indication that they were aware of what our position really is and simply lied about in earlier in their article.
The position that the next wave of revolutions is more likely to begin in the weak links of capitalism, in those countries dominated by imperialist countries, is entirely different from claiming that a revolution is unlikely to occur ever in imperialist countries.
The entire thrust of our letter was to explicitly call for the left to orient itself towards a revolutionary strategy, and we call for revolution throughout our piece.
Furthermore, we state “In an age of anti-imperialist struggles, a capitalist market in near-permanent crisis, increasing worker militancy, and privations and instability caused by climate change we can be assured that revolutions will occur at some point in the future. The question is whether Marxists will wait until it is already too late to form a party, or if we will begin that long journey while we still have time.”
Considering we are openly aiming this statement and call for party-building at Marxists in the United States, can there be any doubt that we believe a revolution can, should, and must occur here?
- We are accused of rejecting Lenin’s strategy of turning the imperialist war into a civil war. It’s true that we have not engaged in a fully exhaustive analysis of Lenin’s strategy for revolution and opposition to imperialism in what was intended to be a timely and brief intervention, nor did we quote the phrase verbatim. However, the idea that we reject or neglect Lenin on this point is totally bogus. We state, “As long as the US is an advanced, capitalist state, it will be imperialist. We must confront the capitalist state with a movement that can threaten it, not plead with it to become something it can never be.” Moreover, we say, “Elections are but one means of organizing and preparing the working class for revolution, readying the class not to liquidate themselves into the capitalist state but to smash it and replace it with a workers’ state.” We are clearly positing the necessity for revolution as a response to the lukewarm social democracy of much of DSA, and as the solution to imperialism. That we neglected to say the “magic words” that Bismas so desperately wants to hear does not change the fact that our letter’s content is consistent with the revolutionary example of Lenin.
- The author themself has a tenuous grasp on revolutionary defeatism. We call for mobilizing workers in the United States to fight imperialism and the US government’s complicity in Israel’s crimes but the author denounces us for not mobilizing US workers against the governments of Russia, China, and Venezuela. We stand for socialist revolution everywhere and the bourgeoisie nowhere. However, the essence of revolutionary defeatism is precisely that workers of an imperialist country can best contribute to that struggle by combating their own bourgeoisie. This is the meaning behind the famous Marxist slogan, “the main enemy is at home!” We do not apologize for opposing US wars abroad and for opposing Iron Dome funding. To put these tasks on the backburner until the Palestinian proletariat overthrows the Palestinian bourgeoisie (a development, to be clear, that we would enthusiastically welcome) is to disguise dereliction of our duties as anti-imperialists behind a mask of ultra-left “principle.”
- Bismas engages in a bizarre interpretation of a clause in a sentence praising soldiers’ mutinies in Vietnam, falsely alleging that we are surprised by this and don’t consider it to be an important aspect of anti-imperialist and revolutionary strategy. But a mere three paragraphs above this sentence, we state that we are “contrast[ing] two examples from recent US history: the Vietnam and Iraq anti-war movements.” We do not consider mutinies of soldiers in imperialist armies to be extraordinary in the annals of the history of revolutions, rather we illustrate that Vietnam War mutinies are extraordinary when specifically compared to the anti-Iraq War movement, where GI resistance was less frequent and often less militant. Any honest reader can see that we praise these actions and in no way diminish them, and criticize anti-war movements which have failed to take up these tasks. Bismas criticizes us of rejecting or downplaying the very tactics we loudly support!
- The author accuses us of seeing CIA socialism as the original sin of DSA and not accounting for previous anti-Marxist currents in world history. But Michael Harrington’s association with Bayard Rustin and Norman Thomas, and the latter two’s association with the CIA is simply a fact – why would we lie to our readers to conceal this? How can Bismas accuse us of being Harringtonites while whining at us for revealing this unsavory aspect of Harrington’s background?
We never stated that this is the only problem or the biggest problem with DSA, and we sharply criticize DSA’s failure to acknowledge and act on a Marxist theory of the state later in the piece at the end of the section “What’s at Stake.” This failure to arrive at a Marxist theory of the state is one of the very same grounds that Marx criticized the Lasalleans on in his “Critique of the Gotha Program.”
We excoriate the SPD in our article as a den of “followers of academic fads, proponents of ‘socialist imperialism’, and advocates of the peaceful cooperation between classes”. The author complains that we fail to address Bernstein and Lasalle, but any Marxist who is not being deliberately obtuse would understand that Bernstein’s revisionists and the remnants of Lasalleanism are exactly who we are criticizing.
- It is implied that we support Tlaib and Omar. This is yet another strawman. It is alleged that we support their politics, and DSA’s international line in toto. But we explicitly say that some of the rank and file of DSA– not their elected officials like Tlaib or individuals unaffiliated with DSA like Omar – may be taking “the very first baby steps” in the right direction. Hardly a ringing endorsement, given that it requires two qualifiers, “baby steps” and “very first”! We are not stating that the DSA has the right position, or even that most of its furthest-left members do – we are plainly saying that their stances are still undeveloped and require correcting. That is precisely why we are pushing them, and asking them to continue to engage with us to further that development.
- We are accused of support for Kemalism in one of the most strange digressions of Bismal’s response. Bismal’s argument is essentially that the Turkish state is Kemalist, Erdogan is the head of the Turkish state, Ilhan Omar supports Erdogan, some DSA members have praised Omar (presumably on stances other than her embrace of Turkey’s nightmarish regime), and we have written an open letter to the better segments of DSA pushing them on their organization’s support for imperialism and lack of revolutionary strategy. There are, hence, four degrees of separation between CLR and the positions Bismal sleazily attributes to us and some of the links are extremely questionable. This doesn’t stop Bismal from breezily generalizing about “the DSA rank-and-file, and by extension, the CLR.” Kemalism should obviously be opposed by any Marxist organization but the idea that we are promoting Kemalism by failing to denounce it by name in an article meant to be an intervention in a specific conflict involving Israel and democratic centralism is totally specious. All communists should also support the right to an abortion, but nowhere in Bismal’s piece do they express support for this right – are they by omission supporting the anti-abortion movement? Not every article on imperialism needs to include a laundry list of every instance of imperialism in the contemporary world that one condemns. Such a line of argumentation reeks of bad faith and can’t be taken seriously by intelligent people.
This brings us to the most consequential error in Bismal’s error-ridden piece – the idea that we believe “‘anti-imperialism’ is merely a placard, a collection of foreign policy opinions.” We wrote our letter because no amount of posturing online, staking out positions in publications, or engaging in microscopic acts of activism by microscopic organizations can bring about proletarian revolution and end imperialism.
In order to actually intervene effectively against capitalism and imperialism, a proletarian party guided by sound Marxist theory is needed. Only a party can coordinate and execute revolutionary tactics and strategy at a scale big enough to really win. We wrote this letter not to score points in a “more ultra-left than thou” contest, but to make a practical intervention in the struggle to form a party.
Lenin famously declared that “revolution teaches.” Indeed it does, but failure teaches as well. Many DSA members are stunned by the actions of the NPC and the venom of the NPC’s defenders. It is our hope that we can reach many of these people and help them to see the need for an authentic revolutionary strategy and a genuine revolutionary party, so that they can play a role in the gathering of forces – until now, disparate – that might fuse into a party, without liquidating a revolutionary line into a counterrevolutionary one.
It is still our goal for our letter to spark responses from individuals and groups inside and outside of DSA – but we can only hope that the responses will be more productive, thoughtful, and honest than the piddling little hatchet job provided by Shama Bismas.
– from the Communist League of Richmond
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