Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 13, 2014

Qatar, Hamas and the Islamic State (IS): in defense of dialectics

Qatar: the heart of darkness?

Yesterday I received email from a Bard College graduate:

Could this be Gaza and the West Bank under Hamas?

https://news.vice.com/video/the-islamic-state-part-3

The Vice article was about IS brutality. So the implication was that Hamas constituted the same kind of threat as IS. Now it should be said that the Old Bardian, as we like to refer to ourselves, votes Democrat and oscillates wildly between support for Palestinian rights and fear of Hamas.

But he does raise an interesting question. If Qatar and Turkey are behind both Hamas and IS, at least according to some pundits, how can you not oppose both? Indeed, if your methodology is based on formal logic, that is a foregone conclusion. Since Seymour Hersh is the source for many of the Qatar and company as an orchestrator of jihadist terror in the Middle East reports, it is worth reminding ourselves of his latest LRB article:

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.

Now it should be said that the evil trio has been reduced to an evil duo ever since Saudi Arabia ended up on the side of the angels against IS. According to Business Insider, Saudi Arabia has asked Egypt and Pakistan to help patrol its borders against incursions from IS. The article cited The London Times: “The kingdom is calling in favors from Egypt and Pakistan. No one is certain what ISIS has planned, but it’s clear a group like this will target Mecca if it can. We expect them to run out of steam, but no one is taking any chances.” Adding to the abject failure of reality to live up to “anti-imperialist” projections, Saudi Arabia never had much use for Hamas. Along with Egypt and Jordan, it is the strongest supporter of IDF terror in Gaza next to AIPAC and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It is not precluded that Qatar will also call upon Egypt and Pakistan for military assistance if ISIS is still around 9 years from now. Its deranged leader has warned FIFA that it would attack the 2022 World Cup games because soccer was “a deviation from Islam.”

Even more confusing is the newly announced pact between Iran and “the Great Satan” over the naming of a new prime minister in Iraq, who will be more effective against the IS threat. Enjoying a military embarrassment of riches, Iraq’s skies are now dotted with drones from the two nations only six months ago described by a thousand “anti-imperialist” websites as mortal enemies.

If Qatar is an archfiend threatening secular values and benign “national development” in Syria through its proxy war, what do we make of its willingness to back Hamas? Does that conform to “anti-imperialist” guidelines or are we dealing with a profound formal logic problem equal in its complexity to the Poincaré conjecture?

The evil duo—Qatar and Turkey—are not only the targets of daily Orwellian two minutes of hate organized by the “anti-imperialist” left but also Israel’s increasingly fascist state as the Times of Israel reported:

Qatar’s recently attempted to transfer funds for the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza, following the formation of a Palestinian unity government, but was blocked by the United States, which pressured the Arab Bank not to process them. But former national security adviser Maj. Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror told The Times of Israel that the emirate’s funding for the organization’s terror apparatus, including tunnel diggers and rocket launchers, has continued unabated.

“Hamas currently has two ‘true friends’ in the world: Qatar and Turkey,” Amidror said. The small Gulf state is currently Hamas’s closest ally in the Arab world, after the movement’s relations with Egypt soured following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in June 2013. Qatar, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction and infrastructure projects in Gaza, is also home to the movement’s political leader Khaled Mashaal in Doha.

This is not to speak of Qatar’s role in funding al-Jazeera, the sole source of pro-Palestinian television coverage as well as some very good reporting on domestic and international news. Just go to their website and you fill find a hard-hitting article on Ferguson, Missouri that points out that “in 2013 nearly 90 percent of vehicles pulled over by Ferguson police were driven by African-Americans. The arrest rate was of those drivers was more than 10%, nearly double that of white drivers who were pulled over.” But if you evaluate Qatar solely based on which side it supports in Syria, then you will be forced to treat it as a mortal enemy as MRZine did.

Turkey’s Prime Minister, of course, is everybody’s favorite villain with his suppression of the Gezi park rebellion and his allowing jihadists to infiltrate Syria, not to speak of his corruption and attacks on journalism, either print or electronic.

But there are those times when he has the kind of backbone every other politician lacks. It was Erdoğan after all who put the power of the Turkish state at the disposal of the flotilla sent to Gaza. He has also threatened to send Turkish warships to defend the next flotilla, although I suspect that this is bluster more than anything. But if he did, what would we make of that? How can someone be on the side of the angels (Hamas) and the devil (IS) at the same time—leaving aside the question of whether he ever had much to do with that gang?

On August 22, 2013 the Financial Times printed a letter that served as a cautionary note against oversimplifying the Middle East:

A short guide to the Middle East

Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!

Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.

But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!

Iran is pro Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!

Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US!

Gulf states are pro US. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.

K N Al-Sabah, London EC4, UK

That letter prompted the blogger Big Pharaoh to diagram the relationships:

Screen shot 2014-08-13 at 2.53.14 PM

If anything, the letter and the diagram are out of date. To keep track of the latest developments, you’d need a super-computer of the sort that the NSA uses to snoop on our email. But this matters little to people who are bent on dividing the world into two spheres, which are not only mutually exclusive but a taxonomic guide to determining where a government or armed movement fall in terms of their historical role.

For much of the left, there is a driving compulsion to reduce world politics to a binary opposition between Good and Evil. It is understandable why they would do this since the Cold War shaped our consciousness for 45 years until the end of the Soviet bloc and even continues to do so in a rather problematic way. In 1971, when I was a member of the Trotskyist movement, we condemned the Kremlin for doling out aid to the Vietnamese as from an eyedropper as we used to put it but at the same time understood that Soviet aid was critical.

Now in 2014 the left carries on as if Putin was Brezhnev and Assad was Ho Chi Minh. Just as long as the USA is still the “evil empire”, syllogistic reasoning will prevail. 1) The United States is the evil empire; 2) The United States supports the Syrian rebels (whether or not that is true); 3) Therefore, the Syrian rebels are part of the evil empire.

So what’s going on here? I have been critical of Trotsky’s adoption of Zinovievist organizational principles that have had a baleful effect on the revolutionary movement even to the current day, but I find myself coming back to his writings when it comes to the question of dialectics.

Oddly enough, the failure to see world politics dialectically was a failing of both James Burnham and the “anti-imperialist” left today. Marx transformed Hegelian dialectics into an instrument of revolutionary analysis. In almost every major watershed debate on the left, there has been a need to return to dialectics in order for the debate to receive a proper resolution. In Trotsky’s day, the fundamental difference was over the Soviet Union that Trotsky ultimately refused to identify as “socialist”. Whenever I ran into syllogistic attempts to define the USSR over the years, I always came back to how Trotsky put it when challenged to subsume it under fixed categories: “Doctrinaires will doubtless not be satisfied with this hypothetical definition. They would like categorical formulae: yes – yes, and no – no. Sociological problems would certainly be simpler, if social phenomena had always a finished character. There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it.”

That would certainly apply to the Middle East today: “There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it.” Trotsky was referring to the Soviet Union, a society that incorporated some of the most retrograde political aspects that on the surface resembled fascism with some of the most progressive, including a planned economy. For the foreseeable future, the Middle East will have many contradictory aspects that will make the USSR look like a grade school exercise by comparison. It will continue to perplex some for being a backdrop for a religious zealotry that can cut both ways. It can serve rulers who seek to reinforce their rule through the authoritarian use of the Qur’an as it also serves the fighting spirit of men and women determined to put an end to authoritarian rule. It would be best in some ways that religion played less of a rule, thus allowing class divisions to become more transparent. But we have to start with reality, not wishes—at least if we want to influence the course of historical events.

March 5, 2012

Hamid Dabashi, Vijay Prashad, Syria, and the left

Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:43 pm

Hamid Dabashi

Vijay Prashad

I would like to call your attention to two important articles on Syria written by leftist scholars based in the U.S. The first is by Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian studies professor in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia. Formerly known as MEALAC, this department is a bastion of anti-imperialist sentiment and closely associated with the postcolonial perspective of the late Edward Said. Dabashi’s article, titled On Syria: Where the Left is right and the Right is wrong, appeared in the February 28 edition of Al Jazeera and includes a critique of a wing of the left that has been backing “anti-imperialist” dictators in the Middle East that will be familiar to my regular readers.

On March 2nd, Vijay Prashad, Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Connecticut, replied to Dabashi in an article titled The Left and the People: Extending Hamid Dabashi’s Critique that came as a surprise to me after reading it this morning under the assumption that he would have been on the opposite side of the fence. I had singled Prashad out for criticism in an article I wrote back in April 2011 titled The anti-anti-Qaddafi left. This time I expected him to sell the Syrian opposition short even though in retrospect I must confess that I was casting my net too wide when I linked him with Global Research et al in the first place.

Of course, if I had paid attention to the title of the article to begin with, I would have noticed that he was extending Dabashi’s critique not attacking it. That will learn me to read more carefully in the future, a major challenge given the cataracts I have in both eyes and the macular pucker in the left that makes reading from it virtually impossible. Furthermore, since the article was published in Jadaliyya, a website very close to Dabashi’s viewpoint politically (rather than Counterpunch, for example), I should have figured out that my expectations were in error.

As I have pointed out repeatedly, the pro-Assad left is basically using the same logic as the pro-Obama left without realizing it. Instead of doing a Chicken Little act about Rick Santorum and the Koch brothers, they harp on jihadists in cahoots with the CIA. As bad as Ahmadinejad, al-Assad or Qaddafi are or were, they are lesser evils. If their enemies prevail, the sky will fall. Dabashi puts it this way:

Yes, the Syrian regime might be corrupt and murderous, they consent, but the real danger to the Syrian revolution comes from the US and Saudi Arabia – so they remain at best ambivalent and at worst silent on the criminal Syrian regime. If anyone dares to point to Assad’s murderous spectacle, they accuse him/her of complacency with the US and Saudi Arabia, or else a mere simpleton manipulated by “the Western media”.

The Left contends that what started as genuine protests has now been hijacked by “extremist Sunni groups” inside Syria and by outside forces that extend from the US to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and by extension, the Gulf states – all lining up against Iran and Hezbollah, which, for them, is evidently the forefront of resistance against imperialism. Some on the Left who approve of the Arab Spring even suggest that the Arab revolutionaries ought to develop a strategic alliance with the ruling regime in the Islamic Republic. Yes, they say, the regime in Iran might be murderous towards its own citizens, but it is standing up to imperialism. Again: the moral depravity of the position is informed by its political illiteracy.

So, as should be obvious from the citation above, you have to put a clothespin on your nose and vote for al-Assad on Election Day. Oops, I meant to say Obama.

Prashad’s article starts with a quote that makes his affinities clear as day:

The overall anti-imperialist sentiment remains strong among the Syrian population and the attempts by parts of the Left to smear the entire uprising as a stand-in for imperialism belies a Manichean worldview that badly misunderstands the country’s history. I don’t see any contradiction in opposing intervention and simultaneously being against the Assad regime—which, we need to remember, has embraced neoliberalism and consistently used a rhetoric of ‘anti-imperialism’ to obfuscate a practice of accommodation with both the US and Israel.

–Adam Hanieh, author, Capital and Class in the Gulf Arab States, 2011.

Since this amounts to preaching to the choir, as far as I am concerned, I can only say amen.

To his credit, Prashad is not afraid to name names and kick ass, as we used to put it in the 1960s:

Regarding Syria, the first divide in the Left is in the characterization of the Ba’ath regime. One section, a very small one, takes the view that the Ba’ath regime led by Bashar al-Assad is a revolutionary regime, whose politics is made visible through its position vis-à-vis Israel (anti) and Iran (pro). In this camp (inside Syria) lies the exhausted Syrian Communist Party and (outside Syria) sits the website Global Research. Both the SCP and Global Research take their anti-imperialism into territory that occludes the authoritarianism of imperialism’s adversaries — a classic case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

He also deserves praise for calling attention to the brutality that is being visited on Homs in contradistinction to articles that seek to minimize it, such as Sharmine Narwani’s article Questioning the Syrian “Casualty List” that appeared in Al Akhbar. Narwani’s scare quotes are supposedly given credence by an Arab League’s observers’ mission report:

Importantly, the report further confirms obfuscation of casualty information when it states: “the media exaggerated the nature of the incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns.”

Since Narwani obviously cherry-picked her “witnesses” in order to prettify al-Assad at the expense of the rebels, she had little interest in bothering to answer the criticisms of the report, especially the one found in the always reliable McClatchy report:

The Arab League’s mission to monitor the bloodshed in Syria was doomed from the start, with some observers seemingly oblivious to the gravity of their assignment and others lacking the expertise to do the job, according to a leaked internal report.

The Arab observers also faced serious dangers, a scarcity of equipment and a fierce Syrian media campaign against them, obstacles that all but assured their inability to get a deep understanding of the crisis that’s on track to becoming the Middle East’s next civil war. The mission was suspended Saturday amid escalating violence.

“Regrettably, some observers thought that their visit to Syria was for pleasure,” wrote the mission chief, Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al Dabi, according to the report posted online. “In some instances, experts who were nominated were not qualified for the job, did not have prior experience and were not able to shoulder the responsibility.”

The mission’s problems began upon its arrival in Syria on Dec. 24. Syrian officials immediately confiscated the communications gear of the 166 monitors at the Jordanian border, according to the leaked report. They were left with just 10 satellite phones until the Chinese Embassy intervened with 10 walkie-talkies to help the monitors communicate with one another and their command.

The observers were posted in 15 areas of the country, some of them dangerous conflict zones, but they didn’t have enough body armor or reinforced vehicles. Rental agencies refused to rent vehicles to the monitors, who sometimes ended up overwhelmed among rioting crowds in the mission’s first days, according to the report.

Well, so what if the report was about as reliable as Judith Miller’s NY Times’s articles? They served a political purpose and that’s all that matters.

Prashad offers a different perspective entirely:

Only the most inhumane among us would not see the bombardment of Homs as unconscionable. Those who say this is a Civil War and try to defend the attack on the city forget that even if this were a Civil War and if the regime were actually progressive, it should not bomb civilian neighborhoods in such an indiscriminate manner. The habit of the Ba’ath is to raze cities and call it national integration (this is what al-Assad Senior did in Hama in 1982). No Leftist can be cavalier about Homs.

We should also acknowledge what the Angry Arab has to say on this, since his take on the revolutionaries is in line with the “extremist Sunni groups” talking points:

Today, I saw some of the footage from Baba Amr [a Sunni neighborhood in Homs]. I mean, the firepower that the regime has used against the protesters (armed or unarmed), is so much more deadly and brutal than what it used against Israeli acts of aggression against Syria in the last few decades. Not a bullet was fired against Israel when the latter attacked Syria on numerous occasions. Not one bullet.

Prashad concludes with some proposals for the left to consider in navigating between the Scylla of imperialist intervention and the Charybdis of Ba’athist repression:

If no external military intervention is either forthcoming or to be welcomed, the question for the outside Left is how best to build pressure for a drawdown from the bloodletting that threatens to leave Syria anemic. Is there an effective strategy toward a ceasefire? Should the Left in Russia build pressure on the Putin regime to push the al-Assad government toward a cessation of hostilities in Homs (a cessation is not just a ceasefire, since it means that the troops must withdraw from the city)? Should the Left in the United States and in the other NATO countries build pressure for a less maximalist position in Syria (al-Assad must go)? Such maximalism falsely emboldens the rebellion, whose members believe that this means that the Cruise Missiles are on the way. It also hardens the obduracy of the al-Assad regime, which has everything to lose by stopping its assaults? Has the rebellion already weakened the legitimacy of the Ba’ath regime sufficiently that it has had to make promises that it was unwilling to make previously? It moved its goal posts from an abstract promise of “reform” to “no Ba’ath monopoly on state power” at some future date. If this is so, could a popular momentum build up toward an expedited transfer of power and the establishment of a provisional unity government that is under popular pressure to hold a truly democratic constitutional referendum? The “referendum” held on February 26 in the midst of the violence is not serious. Even the Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said that in the absence of peace, constitutional reform is a “theoretical conversation.”

In my view, the only sensible position for the left to take is total opposition to military intervention. In wrestling with the question of whether the left should or should not adopt a “maximalist” position, Prashad in effect forces us to stake out a position that is not necessary for us to take. For example, the left did not need to take a position in 2002 whether Saddam Hussein should step down or not. The most effective slogan for an antiwar movement was “no troops in the Middle East”. This would leave room for all sorts of interpretations of the role of Ba’athism in Syria, including the unfortunately nonsensical position taken by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the group that leads ANSWER.

On their website, they endorse the analysis of Stephen Gowans, a Canadian blogger, who believes:

Apart from Syria’s irritating Washington by allying with Iran, backing Hezbollah, and providing material assistance to Palestinian national liberation movements, the country exhibits a tendency shared by all US regime change targets: a predilection for independent, self-directed, economic development. This is expressed in state-ownership of important industries, subsidies to domestic firms, controls on foreign investment, and subsidization of basic commodities. These measures restrict the profit-making opportunities of US corporations, banks and investors, and since it is their principals who hold sway in Washington, US foreign policy is accordingly shaped to serve their interests.

While Gowans is admittedly an obscure figure (his blog is ranked 4,697,308 by Alexa), his analysis is unfortunately shared by others with much more credibility such as Aijaz Ahmad who views Ba’athism almost as a greater good rather than a lesser evil:

For one thing, Syria is the last remaining representative of Arab nationalism as it used to be understood historically. It still calls itself socialist. Even though it has implemented a great deal of neoliberal reform, the state sector is still dominant. It bans, literally bans, religion from politics. It will not recognize the existence of religious political parties. It is the historic opponent of Israel for a variety of reasons. . . . If you remove Syria, the cordon sanitaire around Israel is complete.  There’s no adversary left. There is then Iran — not sharing a border, not a part of the historical Arab world. Iran gets isolated. And their perception is that both Hezbollah and Hamas will lose enormously. . . . So, Syria has that kind of strategic situation. In the old days, it was very closely aligned with the Socialist Bloc, and some of that kind of alignment still remains. . . .

One might hope that if Vijay Prashad ever runs into countryman Aijaz Ahmad at a conference, he might inform the highly respected theorist that Ba’athism and Arab nationalism are not synonymous based on a bit of historical recollection found in his article:

Much of the Left recognizes that the Ba’ath regime is neither anti-imperialist nor anti-capitalist. It recognizes that al-Assad’s government has most often played the border guard for Israel, and undoubtedly evokes no revolutionary good feelings amongst the Palestinians in either Lebanon or the West Bank (perhaps a small current in Gaza, until Hamas’ Ismail Haniya threw his support with the Syrian people against the al-Assad regime). Among the Palestinian Left the fundamental break with Syria took place during its betrayal of their cause in its invasion of Lebanon in 1975. Most of the Left is also aware that the Ba’ath Party was the enemy of both Nasserism (which banned the Ba’ath during the union of Syria and Egypt between 1958 and 1961) and the original Syrian Communist Party (when it was in its heyday before the military coup in 1961).

Perhaps the collapse of the USSR is something that Aijaz Ahmad, Stephen Gowans and the Party for Socialism and Liberation have not gotten over. Considering Ahmad’s rather quaint use of the term “Socialist Bloc”, one gets a distinct of “Ostalgia”—something that is well and good when it means a hatred for capitalism but highly dubious when it comes for changing the world. In a new century, 21st century socialism has to proceed on the basis that democracy and socialism are intertwined.

For far too long, the left has used a yardstick in which “state ownership” trumps freedom. If the “state sector” is dominant in Syria, what does this mean if people lack the freedom to decide how the wealth of society should be used?

One of the major contributions of the Occupy movement—no doubt a function of the role of anarchists as midwives—has been its emphasis on democracy and its obvious affinity with the Tahrir Square protests. While I remain skeptical whether the experience at Zuccotti Square really amounts to a harbinger of a future society, I do embrace the idea that decision-making must be made “horizontally” as the anarchists put it—or “from below” as others on the left put it.

This is the basis of our future struggles, not nostalgia for a “Socialist Bloc” that collapsed for the very reason Syria is such a tempting target for imperialism. When an authoritarian state ignores the will of the people, or does not even allow the minority of a population to argue in favor of policies that might eventually be embraced by the majority, its moral claim to speak in the name of the nation soon evaporates. Not only is democracy necessary for the construction of socialism, it is necessary for the anti-imperialist defense of the nation. Bashar al-Assad’s greatest shortcoming is that in the name of anti-imperialism, he is laying down a red carpet for its possible triumph.

February 22, 2012

Assessing the Russian and Egyptian crackdown on imperialist NGO’s

Filed under: Egypt,mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 9:11 pm

Spy versus spy

Last month Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, was forced to admit in a BBC documentary that a fake rock was used to spy on Russians. The Independent reported:

A former UK government official has admitted Britain was behind a plot to spy on Russians with a device hidden in a fake rock, it emerged today.

Russia made the allegations in January 2006, but they were not publicly accepted by the UK before now.

Jonathan Powell, then prime minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff, told a BBC documentary: “The spy rock was embarrassing.

The Russian security service, the FSB, linked the rock with claims that British security services were making covert payments to pro-democracy and human rights groups.

Then president Vladimir Putin later introduced a law restricting non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from getting funding from foreign governments, causing many to close down.

Cracking down on NGO’s is old news in Russia. Back in 2005, a law was passed that effectively made it impossible for Amnesty International, Greenpeace or any other group with foreign funding to operate in Russia.

Putin has often played the nationalist card, most recently accusing Golos, an electoral watchdog, of being a tool of the West, as the NY Times reported in December:

Golos’s critics in the Russian government say its work is tainted by the money it receives from two American agencies, the National Endowment for Democracy and the United States Agency for International Development. A promotional video clip for a report scheduled to be broadcast on Friday on the NTV channel, owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, features images of suitcases stuffed with $100 bills juxtaposed with footage of Golos’s leaders as a portentous voice asks, “Who is behind these ‘independent observers?’ ” A pro-government blogger has posted what appears to be paperwork showing that Golos received $92,653 from the United States government for the month of February.

Global Research, a website run by Michel Chossudovsky who is arguably the planet’s leading exponent of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” line of reasoning, published an article by Eric Walberg on February 9th titled Vladimir Putin and Russia’s “White Revolution” that described the judo-practicing ex-President as a kind of “lesser evil” to the opposition in the street that has been likened to the white wine-drinking/brie-eating crowd on the north side of Tehran that had the unvarnished nerve to oppose Ahmadinejad:

Putin’s statist sovereign democracy – with transparent elections – might not be such a bad alternative to what passes for democracy in much of the West. His new Eurasian Union could help spread a more responsible political governance across the continent. It may not be what the NED has in mind, but it would be welcomed by all the “stan” citizens, not to mention China’s beleaguered Uighurs. This “EU” is striving not towards disintegration and weakness, but towards integration and mutual security, without any need for US/NATO bases and slick NED propaganda.

I date my distrust for this kind of apologetics to 2002 or so when Jared Israel began to post material to Marxmail that elevated Putin into some kind of “anti-imperialist” hero. I could tolerate his over-the-top worship of Milosevic, even though I was sometimes embarrassed to be on the same side of a debate with him against KLA supporters on the left, but something about the pro-Putin propaganda really turned me off. Israel’s articles should sound very familiar to those who have been exposed to this sort of thing on Counterpunch, Global Research, and MRZine:

…the US establishment, and the Empire of which it is a leading part – perhaps we should call it the New World Empire – is very much interested in protecting its current hegemonic position in the world from possible future challenges coming from Eurasia – namely, from the still-nuclear-armed former Soviet Union.

To “strengthen civil society” these fake-democracy funding agencies set up NGOs, newspapers and TV stations and political parties as a Fifth Column to destabilize local societies along vulnerable lines of conflict. Or they inflame regional conflicts in the guise of “peace” and “mediation” groups. Ultimately these Fifth Column groups stage, or attempt to stage coup d’états, always under the guise of democratic reform, thus putting US operatives in power.

This happened in Yugoslavia and Philippines. It was attempted in Belarus and Venezuela. The basis is being laid for such coup d’états all over the former Soviet Union.

Looking back on this period, I’d have to say my instincts were pretty healthy. Within a year or so, Israel had dropped the “anti-imperialist” pose and begun to write articles defending the Likud and calling 9/11 an inside job. There was always something conspiratorial about his mindset and it was a fairly easy transition from hating the KLA to hating Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular. If there is any consolation, he seems to be retired politically.

The Egyptian army has studied Putin’s methods apparently, but is acting even more boldly—throwing Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in jail for working for an NGO that gets overseas funding without the government’s permission. (The LaHoods are Lebanese Christians.)

In today’s N.Y. Times, Thomas Friedman waxes indignantly over this affront:

Sadly, the transitional government in Egypt today appears determined to shoot itself in both feet.

On Sunday, it will put on trial 43 people, including at least 16 U.S. citizens, for allegedly bringing unregistered funds into Egypt to promote democracy without a license. Egypt has every right to control international organizations operating within its borders. But the truth is that when these democracy groups filed their registration papers years ago under the autocracy of Hosni Mubarak, they were informed that the papers were in order and that approval was pending. The fact that now — after Mubarak has been deposed by a revolution — these groups are being threatened with jail terms for promoting democracy without a license is a very disturbing sign. It tells you how incomplete the “revolution” in Egypt has been and how vigorously the counter-revolutionary forces are fighting back.

This sordid business makes one weep and wonder how Egypt will ever turn the corner. Egypt is running out of foreign reserves, its currency is falling, inflation is rising and unemployment is rampant. Yet the priority of a few retrograde Mubarak holdovers is to put on trial staffers from the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which are allied with the two main U.S. political parties, as well as from Freedom House and some European groups. Their crime was trying to teach Egypt’s young democrats how to monitor elections and start parties to engage in the very democratic processes that the Egyptian Army set up after Mubarak’s fall. Thousands of Egyptians had participated in their seminars in recent years.

Now if you were a consistent “anti-imperialist”, you’d have to back the Egyptian military, right? That would seem to be the position of Global Research, which has never been afraid of sounding stupid. In an article by Tony Cartalucci titled The US Engineered “Arab Spring”: The NGO Raids in Egypt, we learn that the “Arab Spring” was nothing but a Western conspiracy—not that different it would seem from 9/11:

In January of 2011, we were told that “spontaneous,” “indigenous” uprising had begun sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, including Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, in what was hailed as the “Arab Spring.” It would be almost four months before the corporate-media would admit that the US had been behind the uprisings and that they were anything but “spontaneous,” or “indigenous.” In an April 2011 article published by the New York Times titled, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” it was stated:

A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington.

The article would also add, regarding the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED):

The Republican and Democratic institutes are loosely affiliated with the Republican and Democratic Parties. They were created by Congress and are financed through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was set up in 1983 to channel grants for promoting democracy in developing nations. The National Endowment receives about $100 million annually from Congress. Freedom House also gets the bulk of its money from the American government, mainly from the State Department.

It is hardly a speculative theory then, that the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous organizations including NED, NDI, IRI, and Freedom House and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world. Preparations for the “Arab Spring” began not as unrest had already begun, but years before the first “fist” was raised, and within seminar rooms in D.C. and New York, US-funded training facilities in Serbia, and camps held in neighboring countries, not within the Arab World itself.

Cartalucci informs his readers that other nations are under siege from the West in this fashion, including Thailand, Russia, Myanmar and Malaysia—a virtual rogue’s gallery. Now, to give credit where credit is due, this at least has the merit of consistency: in order to take a position on a conflict between a state and its opponents, all you have to do is determine whom the West supports and then take the opposite position. In the case of Myanmar, Cartalucci is not afraid to stake out a truly absurd position: “’Democracy icon’” Aung San Suu Kyi’s entire political apparatus is US and British funded.” You see, it does not really matter how many peasants and workers have been murdered fighting for a better society. As long as there is US and British funding, that’s all you need to know.

This, I should add, is not the most outrageous position staked out by Global Research. Applying the same logic, Michel Chossudovsky has rendered the verdict that Occupy Wall Street was the American “color revolution”, implying of course that the cops had every right to pepper-spray demonstrators.

If you really want to understand how such people think, there are two important things to keep in mind. Firstly, this is the Stalinism of our age. While the CPUSA and other such groups would never dream of arguing along these lines, something that would isolate them in the “progressive” circles they travel in, this is exactly how Stalinism made the case against Trotsky and the old Bolsheviks in the 1930s. You had the imperialists on one side and “actually existing socialism” on the other. Anybody who failed to “defend” the USSR, which really meant defending every one of Stalin’s twists and turns, was an enemy of the Soviet Union. While few people outside the Stalinist milieu ever accused Trotsky of being on the imperialist payroll, this was the line of attack in the Moscow Trials.

It is easy to understand why some people are enamored with the “follow the money” way of thinking. It saves you from the trouble of dealing with contradiction. Instead of seeing the complex reality of young Egyptians turning to the NED for funding or to Gene Sharp for training, they simply lump them with Georgians, Serbs or any other “color revolution”. Essentially, this is a form of formal logic that most people absorb growing up in bourgeois society. It takes the form of “if a = b, then c”. But what if a is both b and not b? Arrghh. Don’t bother me with complexities…

The other thing to understand is that the conspiratorial mindset is very deeply engrained in some sectors on the left. Do you remember the old Mad Magazine spy versus spy comic? I suppose most of you are too young to remember, but it depicted a world in which spying counted for everything. It was very much tuned in to the zeitgeist that included James Bond novels and Cold War media reports about Soviet spies under every bed.

In such a world, the needs of—for example—Hungarian workers did not count. 1956 was about nothing except Western spooks trying to subvert a “socialist” country. If the reality of working class exploitation under Stalinist bureaucracy got in the way, the best remedy was to sweep it under the rug.

Unfortunately, the only thing that got swept under the rug after more than a half-century of lies, violence and corruption was the socialist experiment itself. Surely we can do better in the 21st century.

December 29, 2011

The anti-imperialist Egyptian army?

Filed under: Egypt,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 9:41 pm

Michel Chossudovsky on the protest movement in Egypt:

The slogans in Egypt are “Down with Mubarak, Down with the Regime”. No anti-American posters have been reported… The overriding and destructive influence of the USA in Egypt and throughout the Middle East remains unheralded.

The foreign powers which operate behind the scenes are shielded from the protest movement.

No significant political change will occur unless the issue of foreign interference is meaningfully addressed by the protest movement.

The cooptation of the leaders of major opposition parties and civil society organizations in anticipation of the collapse of an authoritarian puppet government is part of Washington’s design, applied in different regions of the World.

The process of cooptation is implemented and financed by US based foundations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and  Freedom House (FH). Both FH and the NED have links to the US Congress. the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the US business establishment. Both the NED and FH are known to have ties to the CIA.

* * * *

New York Times December 29, 2011

Egypt’s Forces Raid Offices of Nonprofits, 3 Backed by U.S.

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and

CAIRO — Egyptian security forces stormed 17 offices of nonprofit groups around the country on Thursday, including at least three democracy-promotion groups financed by the United States, as part of an investigation that the military rulers say will reveal foreign hands in the recent outbreak of protests.

In Cairo, heavily armed men wearing the black uniforms of the central security police tore through boxes, hauled away files and computers and prevented employees from leaving offices of two of the American groups, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which are affiliated with American political parties and financed by the United States government. The security forces also raided the offices of the Washington-based Freedom House.

The raids were a stark escalation in what has appeared to be a campaign by the country’s military rulers to rally support by playing to nationalist and anti-American sentiment here.

“General prosecutor & central security stormed N.D.I. office in Cairo & Assiut,” an employee of the National Democratic Institute wrote in a text message from inside its offices. “We are confined here as they’re searching and clearing out office.”

A man, who identified himself as an official with the public prosecutor’s office but declined to give his name, stood outside the offices of the International Republican Institute in the Dokki neighborhood. He refused to answer questions about the raids but said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to arrest them.”

The raids come of the heels of an investigation by the Egyptian government into foreign financing for nonprofit organizations operating in the country. The military has suggested that such funding has played a role in fomenting protests with goal of bringing down the Egyptian government.

The raids also coincided with the acquittal of five police officers in the deaths of protesters during the revolution that ousted the country’s autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak. An Egyptian court found that the police officers had either not been at the scene or, in the case of two of the men, had fired in self-defense, state media reported, a ruling likely to further inflame opponents of the country’s military rulers.

Human rights advocates have urged the Egyptian government to drop its investigation into foreign funding of civil society, which prosecutors have described as treason. A September report by state security prosecutors identified what it said were more than two dozen unregistered groups receiving foreign funding and operating in Egypt. By the country’s law on associations, the violation is punishable with imprisonment.

The Republican and Democratic institutes have worked openly since 2005 and had been assisting with election monitoring during the country’s parliamentary vote.

In separate statements on Thursday, the two groups said they were troubled by the sudden raids on their offices. “Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt’s historic transition sends a disturbing signal,” the N.D.I. president Kenneth Wollack was quoted as saying.

The statement from the International Republican Institute was even more direct. “It is ironic that even during the Mubarak era I.R.I. was not subjected to such aggressive action,” the group said.

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo and J. David Goodman from New York.

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