Salameh Kayleh: Ideology is Awareness

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Last April Salameh Kayleh was detained and then deported by Syrian security forces. (photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Sarah al-Qudah

Published Sunday, June 3, 2012

Last April Salameh Kayleh was detained and then deported by Syrian security forces. Al-Akhbar sat with the Palestinian Marxist and talked about the state of the Arab uprisings.

Sarah al-Qudah: Where is the intellectual in the Arab Spring? And how effective was the role of intellectuals in these movements?

Salameh Kayleh: In modern times, we have learnt to delve deep into issues. This is what Marxism gave us, because it was no longer satisfied with simple descriptions, it also searched for the essence of issues.

Marxism changed logical thinking into dialectical materialism, so that we understand the complexity of issues. The main point introduced by Marx, which

I consider to be the basis for material understanding, is that one should start with the economy. The economy is what is specific in the final analysis. Therefore, if we do not begin with the economy, we remain on the surface.

What happened in our countries is that the Marxists remained on the surface. At home, they faced a struggle with a regime, and internationally there was one type of imperialism against another. They stuck to political arguments. None of them know any statistics about their own countries, about people’s living conditions. They live as an abstract elite in ivory towers, believing that they are fighting imperialism and that they will change the world.

At the same time, they hold the masses in contempt, because they do not see them. When they do see them, they find them, in comparison to their own intellect, to be simply rabble. This situation does not produce true understanding.

Elites have to understand reality and its composition, so that they can begin to place themselves within it and have an effect on it. This is the most important thing and this is what Marxism offers. It allows me to see society and its problems, and structures within it, in a way which builds upon the class struggle so that I can effect a change.

The elites only talk about politics, imperialism and normalization [with Israel]. They live under superficial illusions.

Of course I am against imperialism, but I am not against it only on the political level, I am also against the whole capitalist system and seek to overturn capitalism in the whole world.

Nevertheless, I have to see reality and facts. For example, today Russia and America might be different, but Russia itself is imperialist, so what compels me to stand with Russia against America? Do I just support Russia because it supports the Syrian regime? It might support it today, but tomorrow it will plunder its economy.

SQ: How do you see the effect of the Arab Spring on the Arab people?

SK: I believe that these revolutions erupted to end a period, not only of regimes, but also of elites and awareness at the same time. All these elites are now a thing of the past. These revolutions will produce young people with great depth and understanding.

They will reformulate all ideology and political activity. I have met young people who have astounded me. In the past, I used to struggle to find young people who even wanted to read.

However, after these revolutions, I found that the young person who had refused to read was now protesting. He had been trying to get out of his crisis through two routes. One was religious, in which he retreated into himself to find spiritual tranquility, to help him accept his situation as an unemployed, marginal person who is a burden on his family and himself.

The other course is totally different, based on frivolity; internet, friends, trips and parties. Both of these are escapist routes. However, as soon as these young people understood that this was no use and that their problems did not go away, they exploded onto the streets. They began to feel that they were doing something political.

To explode against a regime is the most important real political activity, it is revolution. After taking this step, the young people began to feel that they needed to be more aware, that things were not that simple.

They needed to know how to lead the struggle. In this way, the revolutions became an education in application and awareness. They compelled young people to question, to engage, to seek knowledge and culture and to find out how to conduct the struggle.

SQ: How do you see the next phase?

SK: This is the phase when a real awareness will develop. It will be a return to culture, reading, discussion and dialogue and will result in the development of new ideologies.

It will be a return to the building of real organizational structures which emanate from the people, and not from elites who revile the masses. This has already started in some areas, by young people who are still in their twenties. They write from a realistic logical angle.

SQ: Why, in your opinion, has the intellectual angle been absent in explaining the Arab Spring?

SK: The awareness and formal logic that governed the elite stopped them from seeing reality. For example, when the revolution began in Tunisia, there was unprecedented support for it among intellectuals, because Ben Ali was linked to America and had to fall. The elite were looking at the revolution from a purely political angle.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was tainted by Camp David, the protection of Israel and [supplying it with] gas, so they supported the revolution in Egypt. When it came to Libya and Syria, the elite began to change their minds because these were frontline states, and they even began to doubt the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

This is the result of a very superficial understanding of reality; the view that it all falls within an imperialist Zionism framework, and this is the worst analysis. It is simply extreme naivety.

If they had a materialist Marxist approach to these matters, they would see that the region is heading towards revolutions that have nothing to do with imperialism or Zionism.

Anyone analyzing the social economic situation of the Arab world would see the changes that came as a result of economic openness, and the collapse of industry and agriculture. They would see the economy changing into a “Mafioso” family-based rentier economy, whereby a small minority controls wealth and there is widespread poverty among the rest of society. There was also the imperialist attack on Iraq, and the eruption of the second Palestinian Intifada.

They will feel that there was a high degree of frustration among ordinary people in the region but not among the elites. There is a moment when people reach a stage where they can no longer bear it. The trigger might be small. For example, in the eighties, the trigger was the rise in the price of bread. But anyone who applies a Marxist analysis to this situation and looks at the class system, then at the economy to get to politics, knows very well that we are living in a period of revolution.

Unfortunately, for the elites there is no such thing as revolution, no such thing as thought or philosophy, only politics.

This is what led the elites to accuse the revolutions of being conspiracies. As if the Americans have the ability to move people in the region in this way. As if the people are led by ‘remote-control.’ If America tell them to rise, they rise. This is an alarming way of looking at people. It is the worst way the elites can look at their own people. It is a view of extreme contempt bordering on racism and it should be revealed and exposed.

SQ: Has nationalist ideology disappeared to the point of no return?

SK: All past ideology is becoming extinct, but there will remain individuals. It is the right of any person to adopt the ideology he desires.

Nationalist ideology played a role in the 40s and 50s, in my own analysis, because the communist parties abandoned their true role. Today, I do not think there are any grounds for the rise of nationalist parties, because nationalist thought has been distorted, and nationalism is built on idealistic thought which cannot be influenced by current ideas. Nationalist ideas no longer have real solutions to the current problems.

Scores of nationalist parties might actually arise, but I believe that their role is now defunct. This, however, does not mean that the nationalist cause is over.

I believe that the Marxists will be the ones to adopt the nationalist project, the Arab unity project, the liberation of Palestine and the confrontation with international imperialism. This will be a natural part of their practical involvement on the ground.

SQ: You often write from an ideological point of view, does this not weaken your understanding of political and intellectual phenomena?

SK: I do not believe that I have an ideological vision, I adopt Marxist analysis. So I concentrate on a way of thinking. I am not concerned with texts or ideas written by Marx, Engels or Lenin, and I do not feel obliged to adhere to a text because it is Marxist.

The most important thing Marxism has offered is a new methodology for reasoning this methodology cannot be ideological in the sense of being dogmatic, because it is a methodology for analysis which is based on the ever changing reality. We have to analyze reality during these changes, which means that nothing in it is fixed.

I might say something today, but in a while, I might find that the idea is no longer valid or has changed because of certain circumstances. But if I stop at the original idea, I become dogmatic. And because I understand Marxism to be a way of thought, I have been able to be objective in my thinking, not ideological.

What I call ideology is a positive awareness in order to achieve what is required. But what they mean when they accuse me of this is dogmatic ideology, while Marxism is awareness based on knowledge before anything else. If I was ideological, as they claim, then I would not be able to conclude that we are entering a phase of revolution.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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