Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 20, 2012

The Houla Massacre

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:28 pm

Last month more than 90 people, including 32 children under the age of 10, were killed in a village in the district of Houla in Syria. The immediate response of the major media was to accuse pro-Assad forces, either the army or militias, of the crime. The NY Times reporting was typical:

The New York Times

May 27, 2012 Sunday

Late Edition – Final

Many Children Among Victims In Syria Attack

BYLINE: By NEIL MacFARQUHAR and HWAIDA SAAD; An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

The White House said the attack was ”a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality.”

Gory images posted online — particularly the scene of rows of dead children smeared with blood — prompted an emotional outpouring of antigovernment demonstrations across Syria and calls for sectarian revenge.

Activists said that much of the slaughter had been carried out by pro-government thugs, or ”shabiha,” from the area. Houla is a Sunni Muslim town, while three villages around it are mostly Alawite, the religion of President Bashar al-Assad and whose adherents are the core of his security forces. A fourth village is Shiite Muslim.

A man in a black knitted mask who appeared on one YouTube video, for example, said it was time ”to prepare for vengeance against this awful sectarian regime.”

The rebel Free Syrian Army, the loose federation of armed militias across the country, issued a statement saying it was no longer committed to the United Nations truce because the plan was merely buying time for the government to kill civilians and destroy cities and villages.

”We won’t allow truce after truce, which prolongs the crisis for years,” the statement said.

The Syrian government blamed ”terrorists,” its catchall phrase for the opposition, for killing the civilians.

There are two things to be noted here. One is the reliance on accounts from activists opposed to Assad. The other is the NY Times reference:  “An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria. Since the foreign press is largely excluded from Syria, or tightly controlled by the state, the assumption is that the aforementioned reporter is in Syria, but was not even reporting from Houla.

Two of the most respected foreign reporters on the ground in Syria were Anthony Shadid of the NY Times and Marie Colvin of the London Times. Both have died–Shadid of untreated asthma and Colvin from gunfire during a battle in Homs.

Because the Syrian state is hostile to foreign media and vice versa, and because foreign reporters are excluded or tightly managed, the foreign press has relied heavily on the anti-Assad opposition. Media coverage has occasionally gone beyond mere bias and taken the form of the somewhat hackneyed phrase: “The first casualty of war is truth”.

One of the first to catch the foreign media in the act was blogger Clay Claiborne, who is no friend of the Baathist state. Claiborne took note of the fact that a photo used by the BBC to show those slaughtered in Houla was actually taken in Iraq in 2003. Although it was up for only 90 minutes, one of the pro-Assad websites claimed  asked: “In the face of such damning manipulation, why then would so many people still believe the mainstream media’s version of reality in countries like Syria?” Those are the words of Alex Jones, a 9/11 Truther and anti-immigration diehard.

Claiborne posed the following questions about the bogus photo:

My question is: What is going on here? Clearly the BBC made a blunder by publishing the picture as it did. They claimed it was an unverified photo from an activist and I don’t think anyone is seriously claiming that they used di Lauro’s photo on purpose. It was on his website. They would have had to know it would be exposed as a fake in short order. They would have been setting themselves up for a fall.

No, I think the BBC was setup by someone else. Most certainly the “Activist” that sent the photo to the BBC. That entity almost certainly knew the photo was fake, probably got it from the di Lauro website, and should have known it would be exposed as a fake in short order. Therefore their purpose was certainly not to expose the crimes of the Assad regime against the Syria people but instead to obscure then. All of these outlets harping on the fake photo are also using it to imply that the massacre was fake.

The BBC photo was just the initial salvo in a full-scale defense of the Baathist state, supposedly an innocent victim of imperialist machinations. On June 9th an article appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by Rainer Hermann that has been picked up by all the pro-Assad websites and that likely got its first airing on Moon Over Alabama, an erstwhile propagandist for Muammar Qaddafi. The Moon translated and posted what it considered the most relevant passage in Hermann’s article:

Syrian opposition members who are from that region were during the last days able to reconstruct the most likely sequence of events based on accounts from authentic witnesses. Their result contradicts the pretenses from the rebels who had accused regime allied Shabiha they alleged were acting under the protection of the Syrian army. As opposition members who reject the use of lethal force were recently killed or at least threatened, the opposition members [talking to me] asked that their names be withheld.

The massacre of Houla happened after Friday prayers. The fighting started when Sunni rebels attacked three Syrian army checkpoints around Houla. These checkpoints were set up to protect the Alawi villages around the predominantly Sunni Houla from assaults.

One attacked checkpoint called up units from the Syrian army, which has barracks some 1500 meters away, for help and was immediately reinforced. Dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed during the fighting around Houla which is said to have lasted about 90 minutes. During these fights the three villages were closed off from the outside world.

According to the witness accounts the massacre happened during this timeframe. Killed were nearly exclusively families from the Alawi and Shia minorities in Houla which has a more than 90% Sunni population. Several dozen members of one extended family, which had in recent years converted from Sunni to Shia believe, were slaughtered. Also killed were members of the Alawi family Shomaliya and the family of a Sunni member of parliament who was [by the rebels] considered a government collaborator. Members of the Syrian government confirmed this version but pointed out that the government committed to not publicly speak of Sunnis and Alawis. President al-Assad is Alawi while the opposition is overwhelmingly from the Sunni population majority.

As was the case in the NY Times article, Hermann was reporting from Damascus and not on the spot in Houla. The only thing that struck me as a bit implausible in Hermann’s article is this: “Members of the Syrian government confirmed this version but pointed out that the government committed to not publicly speak of Sunnis and Alawis.”

I really have to wonder how he can say this when early reports, also widely circulated by pro-Assad bloggers, made it clear that no such commitment existed. Early on, in a departure from the one-sided version of the NY Times, Bloomberg News presented the government version:

Among the dead in Houla was the family of a lawmaker who refused to withdraw his name from the parliamentary vote, Haddad said. Several hundred militants carried out the killings in Houla, General Qassem Jamal Suleiman, who heads the Syrian investigation into the killings, said May 31.

Syria has found evidence that fighters from Libya and Tunisia with ties to al-Qaeda are “already among the rebels,” Haddad said, adding that some of the massacre was filmed. “The main aim is to cause failure of the Annan plan and to provoke foreign military interference.”

Apparently, General Qassem Jamal Suleiman did not get the message about not blaming anybody in public. Maybe his cell phone was off that day.

But the plot thickens, as they used to put it on radio serials when I was a little kid.

Yesterday Der Spiegel, another big-time German publication, made their own phone calls to “eyewitnesses” and their account  differs from Herman’s:

Defending the Rebels

Eyewitnesses Contradict Houla Massacre Claims

By Christoph Reuter

Recent German media reports have suggested that Syrian rebels carried out the Houla massacre and then blamed President Assad’s forces. But eyewitnesses to the killings contradict those claims.

It was the afternoon of May 25, when Houla near Homs became internationally famous as a synonym for the brutality of the Syrian regime. It was the site of a massacre where 108 people died, mostly women and children.

In recent days, German media reports have suggested that rebels carried out the massacre and then blamed Assad’s troops. Reports from eyewitnesses who spoke to SPIEGEL give a different impression, however.

Aiman Hassan Abd al-Rassak, a farmer and survivor of the massacre, watched as buses containing Syrian military troops drove up the hill where the village of Fullah is located, half a kilometre to the south, shortly before 5 p.m. on that day. Some 60 to 70 uniformed men marched towards the village, accompanied by around 200 men in civilian clothes.

Al-Rassak, who had recently been arrested, found a hiding place between the bushes and fields. Just minutes later, he heard his wife and five children being killed.

Two further eyewitnesses, Umm Shaalan Abd al-Rassak and Samira Suwai, also observed the two groups of military and civilian-clad men as they gathered on the hilltop and walked into the Taldo district. The army’s grenade bombardment of Houla had stopped shortly before.

Another witness, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, Saria, described the arrival of two big white buses and at least three large cars. He also saw soldiers in uniform, intelligence officers with weapons and men wearing tracksuits and civilian clothing carrying machetes and clubs.

It was only these men who went into the houses, he reports. It is impossible to prove whether they were really shabiha militia from Fullah and neighbouring Alawi villages. That seems to be a reasonable assumption, however, seeing as they arrived by foot in the village on the hill.

Other statements by witnesses also contradict the recent reports, published in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other outlets, which blamed the opposition for the massacre. Contrary to the reports, only Sunnis live in Houla, and not any Shiite converts who are loyal to the regime.

And why in any case would rebels carry out a massacre of their own supporters, who were, incidentally, buried with the participation of Sunnis from Houla?

So who’s telling the truth? I have no idea. I would say this, however. If you think that Der Spiegel’s reporting is to be rejected out of hand because it is supposedly biased against Bashar al-Assad, keep in mind that they published this as well back on March 29:

An Executioner for Syria’s Rebels Tells His Story

By Ulrike Putz in Beirut

Human Rights Watch has condemned abuses committed by Syrian rebels in their stronghold of Homs. But one member of a rebel “burial brigade” who has executed four men by slitting their throats defended his work in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. “If we don’t do it, nobody will hold these perpetrators to account,” he said.

Hussein can barely remember the first time he executed someone. It was probably in a cemetery in the evening, or at night; he can’t recall exactly. It was definitely mid-October of last year, and the man was Shiite, for sure. He had confessed to killing women — decent women, whose husbands and sons had protested against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. So the rebels had decided that the man, a soldier in the Syrian army, deserved to die, too.

Hussein didn’t care if the man had been beaten into a confession, or that he was terrified of death and had begun to stammer prayers. It was his tough luck that the rebels had caught him. Hussein took out his army knife and sliced the kneeling man’s neck. His comrades from the so-called “burial brigade” quickly interred the blood-stained corpse in the sand of the graveyard west of the Baba Amr area of the rebel stronghold of Homs. At the time, the neighborhood was in the hands of the insurgents.

(clip)

Not the kind of reporting one would expect from a pro-rebel outpost.

Oddly enough, there is a curious kind of role reversal going on with the pro-Assad left. Despite its disdain for organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, its intervention into the Houla massacre has followed the same logic. Basically, the questions that preoccupy Marxists, namely those that revolve around historical tasks, are pushed to the side in favor of a kind of casuistry based on which side is more brutal.

And closely associated with this is a line of reasoning in which the Jihadist tag trumps everything. As was the case with Libya all that is required is proof that the Free Syrian Army consists of al-Qaida operatives and then a guilty verdict is assured. You find this most of all on the left (broadly interpreted) from Asia Times’s Pepe Escobar who gets as worked up over Sunni extremists as the late Christopher Hitchens on a bad day.

One of the odder things I’ve noted on the Houla controversy is the kind of politics makes strange bedfellows affinity between leftists like Michel Chossudovsky (again, broadly interpreted) and some howling Islamophobes like Pam Geller. Here’s Geller dredging up  all the talking points of the pro-Assad left around Houla:

Here is part of the reason I have not been screaming for the ouster of the Assad regime. Clearly, I am no Assad fan, but I am much less a fan of the jihadist rebels. As we have seen in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, etc., there are Islamic groups that are far more gruesome than the secular regimes they overthrow. The Muslim Brotherhood is agitating for overthrow and is calling for intervention.

Jordan for the first time publicly stated that its security officials arrested two jihadists affiliated with al-Qaida on their way to Syria to fight against President Bashar Assad.

The bloodshed and the massacres are as much the work (if not more) of the “opposition”; knowing the enemedia, Islamic supremacists, and their apologists will blame Assad.

    Syria: Houla massacre blamed on Assad regime actually work of jihadi rebels  Jihadwatch

    And the BBC illustrated its report on the Houla massacre with a ten-year-old photo from Iraq. All this goes to show: when it comes to jihad violence, you just can’t trust the mainstream media. At all. Not even a little bit. “Report: Rebels Responsible for Houla Massacre,” by John Rosenthal in National Review, June 9…

This is the same Pamela Geller who encouraged Israel to “stand loud and proud. Give up nothing. Turn over not a pebble. For every rocket fired, drop a MOAB. Take back Gaza. Secure Judea and Samaria. Stop buying Haaretz. Throw leftists bums out.”

Maybe Geller was on to something. Perhaps being for Israel and being for Assad is not such a contradiction in terms:

The Assads were in many ways ripe for celebrity treatment by the news media. The president, who was trained as an ophthalmologist, received part of his education in Britain, where he met his wife, a Briton of Syrian descent who grew up in London and worked as an investment banker in New York.

Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who once worked for a charity sponsored by Mrs. Assad, summed up the appeal the Assads had for some news outlets: “He speaks English, and his wife is hot.”

–NY Times, June 12, 2012

Washington Institute for Near East Policy Board of Advisers:

Max M. Kampelman
Senior Diplomat

Henry A. Kissinger
Secretary of State

Samuel W. Lewis
U.S. ambassador to Israel

Edward Luttwak
Center for Strategic and International Studies

Michael Mandelbaum
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Robert McFarlane
National Security Advisor

Martin Peretz
Editor in Chief and Chairman, New Republic

Richard Perle
Assistant Secretary of Defense

James G. Roche
Secretary of the Air Force

George P. Shultz
Secretary of State

R. James Woolsey
Director of Central Intelligence

Mortimer Zuckerman
Publisher, U.S. News and World Report

29 Comments »

  1. As’ad Abukhalil, also a vociferous critic of Assad, has highlighted the embarrassingly unsubstantiated, anti-Assad coverage of US and European media as well. Barely a day goes by on his blog where he does not point out one of these reports phoned in from Beirut, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, reliant upon anti-Assad and pro-Hariri sources. Of course, this should not be construed as a defense of Assad, merely that it is difficult to know what is really happening there unless you have personal contacts, as As’ad and others do. All in all, it is a rather odd situation, because I believe that if the US wanted to militarily intervene for the removal of Assad, it would have already done so. One possibility is that the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia favor a protracted struggle in Syria because it inflames sectarian conflict between Sunnis, Shia and others, consistent with the way they characterize the protests in Bahrain and the purported peril of Iran’s nuclear research program. Needless to say, the possible human consequences of this polarization is frightening to contemplate.

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 20, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

  2. Louis, you write:

    The only thing that struck me as a bit implausible in Hermann’s article is this: “Members of the Syrian government confirmed this version but pointed out that the government committed to not publicly speak of Sunnis and Alawis.”

    I really have to wonder how he can say this when early reports, also widely circulated by pro-Assad bloggers, made it clear that no such commitment existed. Early on, in a departure from the one-sided version of the NY Times, Bloomberg News presented the government version:

    Among the dead in Houla was the family of a lawmaker who refused to withdraw his name from the parliamentary vote, Haddad said. Several hundred militants carried out the killings in Houla, General Qassem Jamal Suleiman, who heads the Syrian investigation into the killings, said May 31.
    Syria has found evidence that fighters from Libya and Tunisia with ties to al-Qaeda are “already among the rebels,” Haddad said, adding that some of the massacre was filmed. “The main aim is to cause failure of the Annan plan and to provoke foreign military interference.”

    Apparently, General Qassem Jamal Suleiman did not get the message about not blaming anybody in public. Maybe his cell phone was off that day.

    But nothing you quote here contradicts the assertion that “the government committed to not publicly speak of Sunnis and Alawis.” Maybe, “General Qassem Jamal Suleiman did not get the message about not blaming anybody in public” because nobody claimed there was such a message! He did not, at least in what you have quoted here, mention ‘Sunnis’ or ‘Alawis’ or ‘Shia’ or the sectarian affiliation of anybody involved.

    Maybe, to be non-sectarian, he shouldn’t be allowed to mention fighters with ties to al-Qaeda because everybody knows that al-Qaeda are Sunni? Or maybe it’s impermissible to mention support for either side from any entity whose sectarian affiliation is known? Please clarify, Louis!

    P.S. My only position on the Syrian conflict is to oppose any intervention by the imperialist powers or their clients, and to oppose those in Syria who also have become such clients, regardless of their original intentions. That may make me objectively on the side of Assad, however much I despise him and his regime for so many things he and his family dynasty have done. So be it!

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 20, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

  3. Please clarify, Louis!

    That may difficult in light of the FAZ reporter’s rather unclear formulation. It sounded to me like he was saying that the Syrian government did not want to accuse either side. Generally, when you refer to the Sunnis, it means the opposition and Alawites means the ruling party. I don’t think this is useful but I can’t be responsible for how other people phrase things.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 20, 2012 @ 8:36 pm

  4. The thing that the pro-Assad forces seem to always leave out of their narrative on Houla is the fact that the massacre started with an artillery barrage that could have only come from Assad’s forces. As soon as UN observers got on the scene and said that only 20% of those massacred were killed by artillery and 80% were killed at close range, pro-Assad forces started playing “I shot the sheriff, but I did not soot the deputy.” Then they forget all about the sheriff. First they argued that there was “no proof” those killed with knives and small arms were killed by the pro-Assad forces and this quickly became a charge that the massacre was cause by Armed Terrorist Gangs [ATG] and the shelling victims fell off their radar.

    Because the Houla massacre has become one of those iconic incidents, like the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War, they hope that if they can throw enough dust into the air around this one incident, it will get into the eyes of neutral observers and obscure what is really going on, but like My Lai, the Houla massacre is only unusual maybe in terms of the numbers and certainly in terms of the publicity, but otherwise is typical of the way one side of the conflict has been waging war against the people.

    With the Syria/Russian mis-information machine working in high gear this week as Russia deepens its support for Assad, the debate on these questions in the left has been fast and furious. My DailyKos dairy BREAKING: Russian troops headed to Syria on Satruday generated 91 comments and my diary on Monday BREAKING: Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria generated 186 comments and counting. But when all the dust has settled, and the double-speak worked through, the facts remain: Russia is in the process of sending two Russia warships with 450 Russian Marines [combat troops], along with 16 “refurbished” Mi25 helicopters. So far the “anti-interventionists” seem to want to handle this bold intervention by an imperialist power by denying that it is actually happening or justifying it.

    Really, read the comments to my dairies, see how often some version of “It’s only natural they’d want to protect their only base in the area,.etc” gets said. I can only imagine how these same people would squeal if 450 US Marines were headed to Syria.

    As I write this Russia Today is complaining about and “debunking” what they claim are inflammatory reports of joint war-games in Syria to be staged by Iran, Russia and China. But it was Information Clearing House that republished the original false story Iran, Russia, China, Syria to Stage Biggest Joint Wargames in Middle-East by Fars New Agency. This sound an awful lot like they are planting their own false stories so they can debunk them.

    Well, some sections of the western ‘left’ may be all confused about what is really going on the MENA but the Arab Street knows what’s happening. The chant yesterday in Tahrir Sq. directed to SCAF was “If they want to be Syria, we’ll give them Libya.”

    My diary today is about Libya: Qaddafi & Libya through western eyes and I reprint a big part of the blog by the same name by Abubakr Al-Shamahi on Comment Middle East.

    Comment by Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) — June 20, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

  5. Red Snapper, – since you recognize that your position objectively put you in support of a regime with a very long history or massacring its own people to stay in power, I would like to hear more about “those in Syria who also have become [imperialist] clients, regardless of their original intentions.” When and how if they go from being legit resistance fighters to agents of imperialism?

    Did they have to do anything to deserve this reclassification or has it been entirely determined by what the imperialists decided to do?

    Comment by Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) — June 20, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

  6. The main enemy for revolutionaries in the U.S. must always be U.S. imperialism.

    Comment by ish — June 21, 2012 @ 3:10 am

  7. Clay Claiborne writes:

    The chant yesterday in Tahrir Sq. directed to SCAF was “If they want to be Syria, we’ll give them Libya.”

    Yeah, and how are they going to get NATO to bomb the SCAF? No NATO, No ‘Libya’.

    Given the apparent lack of any leftist anti-imperialist force playing any noticeable role in the struggle against Assad, my predominant interest in that situation is to undermine the ability of the U.S.-led Western imperialist bloc to strengthen its position in the region. And, quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about Russian imperialism, except to hope that it can serve as a bit of a counterweight to the far more powerful Western one, thereby providing a bit of maneuvering room for left movements and governments in the neo-colonies.

    My original post, BTW, was meant mainly to point out to Louis and others another example of his careless habit of criticizing people for things they haven’t, in fact, said or done. I don’t find his response very convincing.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 21, 2012 @ 3:29 am

  8. so just that we’re clear, the argument claiborne has against the mistaken photo is: “no, it’s not a conspiracy; it’s a DOUBLE-conspiracy!”

    um, yeah…

    Comment by not a curmudgeon ike louis proyect — June 21, 2012 @ 9:26 am

  9. Neocons are amicably divided on this as well as all other intra-Arab middle east uprisings. Mr. Tabler may be hot for Assad’s wife, while Josh Muravchik feels similar hotness for some obscure pro-western Arab democrat whose family has done hard time in Assad’s prisons. Over cocktails, they can politely disagree over who should win, after a toast to Israeli flags flying over the Golan in 2050.

    Western leftists both anti-authoritarian and anti-imperialist on the other hand who feel need to take sides in this civil war must find and hitch their support to whatever Syrian grouping is most analogous to that of Abulhassan Banisadr and his supporters during the Iranian Revolution. Situation is different in that Assad unlike Shah or Mubarack is ostensibly enemy of U.S./Israel/Western imperial powers, but of course the other side is as well, or would be if it ever comes to power.

    This all reminds me of my first exposure to socialist thought, subscribing to the Militant as a 14 year old in 1980-81. The Iranian Revolution was one of the top ongoing stories, and I watched as uncritical acceptance was slowly mixed with short perfunctory criticisms of this or that action of the new regime, as one Trotskyist or secular radical after another was hanged and new Islamist laws made the anti-modern, anti-woman character of the regime impossible to ignore. Their criticism grew somewhat, their coverage and attention to Iran declined commensurately, and they finally settled for the most part on an embarrassed silence about the revolution, just as my subscription ran out. The lesson would seem to be don’t support anyone uncritically, and don’t expect to be able to support anyone uncritically in the near future, no matter what the U.S./Israel/Western imperial powers do or say.

    Comment by Markus (bard '90) — June 21, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

  10. Not only the thugs, US/Israel/Turkey/Saudi Arabia’s thug carried out this genocide to frame Syrian government but the western ‘progressives’ like RICHARD FALK, a lawyer, LIED purposely to frame Aassad so prepare the ground for military action. He wrote:

    {The chilling nature of this vicious attack that refused to spare the most innocent among us, young children, does seem like a point of no return. What happened in Houla, although still contested as to details, seems established as mainly the work of the Shabiha, the notorious militia of thugs employed by Damascus to deal cruelly with opposition forces and their supposed supporters among the Syrian people. This massacre also represents a crude repudiation of UN diplomacy, especially the ceasefire 280 unarmed UN observers have been monitoring since it was put into effect on April 12th. In this regard the events in Houla reinforced the impression that the Assad regime was increasingly relying on tactics of depraved criminality and state terror to destroy the movement that has been mounted against it. Such defiance also created new pressure on the UN and the international community to do something more interventionary than bemoaning and censuring when confronted by such evil, or face being further discredited as inept and even irrelevant.}

    No one should TRUST Richard Falk. He is a member of COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS and his mission is to inject the US line into “progressives” stooges like himselve to bring them on board for military action.

    Comment by patricia — June 22, 2012 @ 2:55 am

  11. Your post is full of inanities, to the point where I just stopped reading.

    You set up the strawman of Alex Jones, then knock him down. He is a “pro-Assad website”. Then you knock him down by saying he is a “9/11 Truther”. Of course he is a truther and hardcore conspiracy theorist and nutcase. Which brings up the question of why you would bring his name up in the first place. It is like saying “Oh, you’re a football fan? So is Jerry Sandusky, the child molesting football coach.”

    Then you are incredulous leftists take Human Rights watch reports with a grain of salt. Well, what was HRW called when it was founded? It was called Helsinki Watch, it was for neocons and Scoop Jackson types to talk about the Helsinki human rights accords that the Warsaw Pact countries signed.

    Or to ape your Alex Jones line, they were concerned about human rights in the Warsaw Pact, just like Meir Kahane was.

    Trotskyites claim they are capable of nuance and shades of grey, like critical support of degenerated worker states. Yet if I take Human Rights Watch reports with skepticism, or I feel hesitant when faced with US or NATO militarism, then I Manicheanly become a Baathist in your view. Why do Trotskyites claim only they are capable of any nuance?

    Comment by Adelson Velsky Landis — June 22, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

  12. Why do Trotskyites claim only they are capable of any nuance?

    I don’t know. Why don’t you go ask one?

    Comment by Louis Proyect — June 22, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  13. Why would anyone oppose Syrian revolutionaries getting arms from Uncle Sam? Ho Chi Minh did it; why can’t they?

    Comment by Binh — June 22, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

  14. Lou I really fear that you may be stepping onto the slippery slope as you seem to be aiming your criticisms less at imperialism than at those who put a plus sign where a minus is (or however you put it). The internationalist left, especially Trotskyists if you’ll allow have to its credit consistently defended even the most odious regimes form military threats by imperialism (and without giving a codicil of political support to those regimes). Recall the Maldives and Videla in Argentina versus a Thatcher led British imperialism.

    Comment by bob montgomery — June 22, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

  15. “The main enemy for revolutionaries in the U.S. must always be U.S. imperialism.” — And guess who the main enemy in Syria is today? Hint: not U.S. imperialism. We have to stop looking at things from a wholly or solely U.S./Western point of view if we want to be internationalists.

    Comment by Binh — June 22, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

  16. Binh @13: “Why would anyone oppose Syrian revolutionaries getting arms from Uncle Sam? Ho Chi Minh did it; why can’t they?”

    One could just as well ask, “Why would anyone oppose murdering Trotskyists and independent nationalists who opposed letting imperialist troops land in their country? Ho Chi Minh did it; why can’t they?”

    But Ho’s accepting arms from one imperialist power to fight another certainly wasn’t in itself wrong, just as it wouldn’t have been wrong for the Irish to accept German arms to fight the British, and it wasn’t wrong for the Indian National Army to make an alliance with Japan against the British occupiers of India, although both Ho and the INA probably went too far in conciliating their respective imperialist patrons.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 22, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  17. Binh @15:

    “The main enemy for revolutionaries in the U.S. must always be U.S. imperialism.” — And guess who the main enemy in Syria is today? Hint: not U.S. imperialism. We have to stop looking at things from a wholly or solely U.S./Western point of view if we want to be internationalists.

    Revolutionaries in the U.S. do have a special responsibility to fight U.S. imperialism both physically, where possible, and ideologically, especially to combat patriotism among large sections of the U.S. working class. However, U.S. imperialism, as the main enforcer of neoliberal global capitalism, is the main threat to the 7 billion humans on the planet, and to the ecosystem that makes life possible. So, for internationalists, U.S. imperialism is the main enemy in Syria and everywhere else.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 22, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

  18. Red Snapper, it’s good to see you support imperialist intervention (sending arms is a form of intervention). Maybe there’s hope for you yet.

    If Viet Nam’s Trotskyists were as tactically flexible and cunning as Ho Chi Minh, maybe they would have survived to lead Viet Nam’s national liberation struggle. They weren’t and they didn’t.

    Comment by Binh — June 22, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  19. If Viet Nam’s Trotskyists had been as ‘tactically flexible and cunning’ as Ho Chi Minh, they would have prioritized physically liquidating their left rivals over fighting the imperialist enemy.

    But, aside from preventing the taking of power in the South by a working class they didn’t control, what did Ho’s gang accomplish by allowing British troops to take over Saigon and prepare the way for the French reconquest? Please note that, in the decades following Ho’s success against the Trotskyists and their working-class supporters in the South, imperialism could only be defeated there by armies coming from the North.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 25, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

  20. [...] En lång genomgång av den aktuella diskussionen kan man hitta på den engelskspråkiga bloggen Louis Proyect. Också tyska Wikipedia har en utförlig skildring av de olika ståndpunkter som redovisats i tyska [...]

    Pingback by Vad är sanning om Syrien? « Tidens tecken — June 25, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

  21. Red, if you can’t figure out who the right enemy is at the right time, you won’t be able to lead a proletarian revolution. Ho’s gang knew who and when to strike and that’s why they won and the Trots lost. Really it was an unforgivable mistake on their part, since by then Trotsky himself and much of his family had been wiped out by the Stalinists. The writing was on the wall for anyone who chose to read it. Can’t blame Uncle Ho for that.

    Comment by Binh — June 27, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

  22. Are you arguing, Binh, that, because Ho’s forces came out on top after 30 years of slaughter and ecological devastation, they were somehow good proletarian revolutionaries?

    Are you criticizing the Vietnamese Trotskyists for not realizing, despite what had already happened elsewhere, that their Stalinist recent allies would turn on them and slaughter them? And are you saying that, because the Trotskyists were fools to trust him, ‘Uncle’ Ho can’t be blamed for betraying that trust?

    Just how cynical are you, Binh?

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 28, 2012 @ 5:42 am

  23. Binh, I hope we are internationalists but the main enemy remains at home. Even if it could be shown that NATO/US intervention in Libya was some kind of neutral exercise — which I don’t for a second believe it was — do you not see that today’s “humanitarian” intervention enables tomorrow’s genocidal war of conquest? This seems so basic to me. Did you notice how NATO just rattled its sabers over the possible Syrian attack on Turkish sovereignity? Remind me what NATO’s response was over the Israeli attack on Turkish sovereignity after the Mavi Marmara incident? These countries are playing games on all sides. One can find everything abhorrent about the Assad regime without turning a blind eye to the machinations of imperialism.

    Comment by ish — June 29, 2012 @ 2:02 am

  24. Ish, our main enemy is at home, but the main enemy in Syria for Syrians is in Damascus. In other words, their main enemy is at home too.

    Red, when you quit erecting strawmen, maybe you’ll figure out some of those answers for yourself. I’m not here to do your thinking for you. What I’m saying ought to be common sense. Only a complete fool would trust a Stalinist leader by the 1940s.

    In other news, let’s see how much of the left that blamed the rebels for the Houla massacre jumps on this:

    http://english.the-syrian.com/2012/06/28/the-russian-misinformation-campaign-on-houla-massacre/

    Comment by Binh — June 29, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

  25. We are not in an epoch of equipotent rival imperialist blocs, as was the case in 1914, where revolutionaries in each imperialist country were seen to have as their primary responsibility the struggle against their own imperialist ruling class. On the contrary, we are in an epoch where, for humanity in general, the main enemy is in Washington/Wall Street and in its allied capitals, including London, Paris, Berlin, Tel Aviv, et al..

    While I’m not going to condemn people in Syria who are more concerned with local oppression, whether by Assad or his opponents, than with fighting Western imperialism, the latter should be the main concern of the international left. With that in mind, I will leave attempts, valid or not, to blame Assad for the massacre in Houla to the well-staffed and well-funded agencies of Western imperialism. Unless it can be blamed on pro-Western forces, there is no reason for the left to talk about it while there is so much mass murder and other devastation going on every minute of every day that can clearly be blamed on Western imperialism.

    Comment by Red Snapper — June 30, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  26. Binh, you’re not here to do my thinking for me, and I’m not here to figure out what meaning is intended by your cynical formulations.

    As for the Vietnamese Trotskyists, I don’t think they trusted Ho and his Stalinists in 1945, but they probably did underestimate their willingness to prioritize their struggle against the left over their conflict with imperialism and capitalism. And, unlike the Stalinists, they had neither American arms nor the resources of French and world Stalinism behind them.

    It should be pointed out, BTW, that the left that was eventually crushed by the Stalinists included many thousands of militant workers that were not Trotskyists and not necessarily even Marxists. One source I recommend is the book, IN THE CROSSFIRE: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary by Ngo Van. There’s a web version at (http://www.bopsecrets.org/vietnam/).

    For the left today, differing interpretations of what actually happened in Vietnam in 1945 may not be a critical divide, but the difference between your cynical apologetics for the winners and repudiation of their murderous sectarian opportunism should be such a divide. I can imagine being in a struggle around particular issues together with people like you, but not in a party contending for leadership, formal or not, of the workers and oppressed.

    By the way, “common sense” is merely the unsophisticated, mass-market, version of the dominant ideology at any place and time.

    Comment by Red Snapper — July 3, 2012 @ 8:15 am

  27. […] bribing poor Syrians to spread propaganda blaming the rebels for the killings. The propaganda even made news attributed to so-called Syrian “opposition sources”, but was eventually discredited by […]

    Pingback by Syria: Deciphering the Propaganda War over the Ghoula massacre | Ceasefire Magazine — September 20, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

  28. […] bribing poor Syrians to spread propaganda blaming the rebels for the killings. The propaganda even made news attributed to so-called Syrian “opposition sources”, but was eventually discredited by […]

    Pingback by Syria: Deciphering the Propaganda War over the Ghouta massacre | Ceasefire Magazine — September 20, 2013 @ 9:30 pm

  29. […] bribing poor Syrians to spread propaganda blaming the rebels for the killings. The propaganda even made news attributed to so-called Syrian “opposition sources”, but was eventually discredited by UN […]

    Pingback by Syria: Deciphering the Propaganda War over the Ghouta Massacre | PopularResistance.Org — September 21, 2013 @ 3:56 pm


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