Following the missile strike on Shayrat in Western Syria last Thursday, a wave of protests broke out across the United States. These proved something of a mixed bag, as one might expect. In addition to those who support the Free Syrian Army but oppose further American intervention, a number of unsavory sorts also showed up. Portraits of Putin and Assad could be seen alongside yellow signs put out by the ANSWER Coalition. A few flags featuring the modified orange tornado-swastika of the fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party or SSNP, a close ally of the Ba’athist regime, also appeared at the demonstrations. Some organizers took a more principled stand, however, rejecting calls for a heightened US military role while at the same time refusing to march with Assadists.
While I’m heartened by such unequivocal declarations of principle, we are still all too ready to forgive those who make excuses for reactionaries. Marxists must do more to distance ourselves from bourgeois nationalists, religious fundamentalists, and others who present false alternatives to foreign domination. Even more so, we must stop giving a pass to those who discredit the antiwar movement through casuistry and moral equivalence. Under the crude logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” anyone and everyone who challenges Anglo-European hegemony is viewed as a potential ally. Cliffites, like the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) in Britain or the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the US, lend their “critical but unconditional support” to openly antisemitic groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas against Israeli aggression into Gaza. Giovanni Scuderi of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Italy (PMLI) recently called on his followers to unite with the Islamic State against Western imperialism.
Of course, it’s far easier to skewer obscure sects with barely a hundred members than it is to do the same to beloved Marxist academics. Domenico Losurdo, for example, enjoys the reputation in the English-speaking world of a diligent and wide-ranging intellectual historian. Richard Seymour was among the first to herald his work, opining in 2007: “Losurdo is, if you ask me, the best critic of capitalist ideology writing today.” His arguments were cited frequently, moreover, in the 2010 study Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea by Badiou translator Alberto Toscano. Meanwhile, the monolingual Hegel scholar Harrison Fluss praises Losurdo’s research to the rafters, Ishay Landa lauding him for his “masterly dialectical style” [meisterhafte dialektische Art]. Speaking just for myself, I find his book on Hegel and the Freedom of Moderns (1992) to be his strongest work, though his critique of Arendt on totalitarianism and overview of Heidegger and the Ideology of War: Death, Community, and the West (1991) are also pretty good.
Glancing at some of the PCI philosopher’s past political positions, however, one is shocked to learn that he’s consistently sought to rehabilitate both Stalinist dictators from the age of “actually-existing socialism” as well as nationalist strongmen whose interests happened to run counter to US geopolitical aims in the postcommunist era. With regard to the latter, of these, a couple of cases suffice to make the point. Back in the 1990s, Losurdo was an outspoken apologist for Slobodan Milošević, going so far as to preface a pamphlet in defense of the disgraced Serbian leader as late as 2005. Milošević was suspected of inciting violence against Albanians earlier in the decade as well as subsequent ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Croatia. Yet Milošević is not the only nationalist strongman Losurdo has supported since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. He earlier defended the Romanian premier Nicolae Ceausescu, in power for decades, from charges of genocide artificially concocted by the “lie industry” [l’industria della menzogna] — i.e., the Western media — which Losurdo considers an “integral part of the imperialist war machine” [parte integrante della macchina di guerra dell’imperialismo].