Among the Marxist Revolutionary left are idealistic people who are extremely critical of people and groups, such as the Workers World Party, who support anti-imperialist, by supporting repressive governments. They use the term “tankies” to describe these folks. The term tankie probably goes back the picture of the Chinese protester who stood in front of a tank prior to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Some Marxist did support the Chinese crackdown on Tiananmen Square. But the tankie label is put on the support of any government the anti-tankies deem unacceptable and that actually includes almost all of them in the world today.
Today the most common target of the anti-tankies are people or groups who support Bashar Hafez al-Assad,(بشار حافظ الأسد) the President of Syria, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Kim Jong Un (김정은) and his Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea.
I found the following argument on a facebook page:
Kaitlin Ulyanov “We should support the working class struggles within countries which are targets of imperialism. The best way, ultimately the only way to fight imperialism is though class struggle. In countries where there isn't a coherent or effective left advocate independent working class politics and demands, such as Ukraine (the Ukrainian CP are pro-Russian, voted against allowing protests, I don't know much about Borotba, what I hear they don't sound much better) we can raise the slogan of independent working class politics as a nucleus to build a movement.”
There are all kinds of problems with that quote. One is to imply that a country that has no working class movement needs someone outside their country to advocate “independent working class politics and demands,” How do we know what the working class in these countries really want? In both Syria and Iran there are communist organizations that try to raise worker demands. But in Syria the Syrian Communist Party is supporting the Assad Regime because of both agreements they made with that government to protect them and they have been attacked by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the government’s main paramilitary opposition. For this working class party it is a matter of survival to support the Regime. Most of us on the left don’t admire or respect Assad. He is not progressive or socialist and he has used outright murder to keep down opposition to his rule. While he is being attacked by US imperialism at present he has made deals with imperialists in the past.
However his opposition, the FSA is extremely reactionary and strives to work as an agent of US and European Imperialism. There are a few anti-tankies that take opposition to Assad so far as to support the FSA. Such a policy is very destructive to the anti-imperialist movements. An organization cannot be anti-imperialist and support such groups as the FSA.
There is also the problem that even the most anti-Assad activist has to realize they can’t oppose the FSA and in a round-about way be supporting Assad. After all opposing US aid to the FSA aids him no matter what we say. We can avoid the “standing in solidarity” crowd who believe we must stand with every government that is attacked by the US. But there are times when we must support unsavory characters for strategic reasons only. So there is a slim line between outright support of a bad regime and opposing the attacks leveled at them from the US or other imperialist agents.
In the case of Iran there is leftist opposition and that government has clamped down hard on its internal left. The Communist Party of Iran (Marxist–Leninist–Maoist) and The Communist Party of Iran are both active and opposed to the Islamic republic. Also active is the once pro-Soviet Tudeh Party of Iran. That party suffered a setback after the government tried to liquidate it. The Fedayeen Marxist guerrillas where also the target of liquidation. A Maoist group called Peykar was liquidated completely a few years after the revolution. With this kind of repression against the left it would be irresponsible for a leftist group to “stand in solidarity” with this regime.
There are leftist who do that. They include the Socialist Workers Party, who at least in the 1980s, supported the Iranian Revolution.
Another example is the Workers World Party. Here is Workers World Supporter Defends its Position on Iran–
It is not WWP, with its opposition to imperialism, “who think the world is stuck 50 years ago,” as Rowland Robinson of the blog “By Any Means Necessary” claims. Rather, it is those who think that they can take a shortcut around the hard road of fighting imperialism that are living 30 – 50 – really, at least 70 years — in the past – back to the time of Max Shachtman and James Burnham, who elaborated the views later taken over by “Trotskyists” and “Maoists” of various types.
In fact, the position elaborated by these Western “revolutionaries” against Iran’s government (or China, or North Korea, or Hamas, etc.) is essentially identical to the doctrine of “Soviet social-imperialism” so popular with U.S. Maoists in the 1970s and 1980s. This amounted to drawing an equal sign between U.S. imperialism and the Soviet Union (or worse, calling the Soviet workers’ state the “main danger”) and thereby abandoning their anti-imperialist responsibilities toward Angola, Cuba, Ethiopia, Vietnam, etc., ad nauseum.
Who, in this crisis, is asking the fundamental questions about the role of U.S. imperialism? About who stands to benefit from a collapse of the Ahmadinejad government in the current situation? About what the collapse of the Iranian regime under these conditions will mean not only for the people of Iran, but for occupied Iraq and Afghanistan? For Palestine and Lebanon? Venezuela and Nepal? About how far a U.S. oil grab in Iran would set back the struggle in the Middle East, and here?
Even those who do not support Iran have opposed the US efforts in helping the so called "democracy" movement. We know that the US will use this as an opening and create another puppet regime as they have in Iraq and Afghanistan. We also oppose this country’s belligerence against Iran for developing nuclear power. It is not up to the US to make this decision and we should speak out against such interference into Iran’s internal affairs.
The Anti-tankies are hard on those they consider tankies and that includes them using a lot of ridicule. There is a site called “Shit Tankies Say.” It’s one thing to disagree with someone’s position—it is another thing to attack them more than imperialism itself. It becomes a kind of “Infantile disorder” and it becomes just waste a lot of time that could be better spent on real enemies.
It is also easy to attack complicated positions by using arguments that are simple. They may seem obvious. But when it comes to international politics we have to be careful of what we say.
The next article will be on the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. Continued…
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