Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 4, 2011

Monthly Review’s love affair with the al-Assad dynasty

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:54 pm

Bashar al-Assad: the object of MR’s affection

Since the crew that runs MR today, except for Michael Yates, has embraced a version of “lesser evil” politics in which you have to hold your nose and back al-Assad because the opposition is worse (at least if you cherry pick the facts), it is useful to remember that it wasn’t always this way.

Baathism came to power in Syria in the form of a military coup in 1963. There were shake-ups within the Baathist system that finally put Hafez al-Assad into power in 1970 as part of a general purge of the left-wing of the party. After he died, his son—the current dynast—assumed power. So basically we are dealing with Baathist rule, in one form or another, for the past 48 years. This is bourgeois nationalism in its dotage, just as it was in Mubarak’s Egypt and Qaddafi’s Libya. For people who have some understanding of the dynamics of such societies, it would be very clear that the popular movements in all of these countries are seeking an end to decade upon decade of arbitrary rule, with its torture, its suppression of a free press and all the democratic rights that the Bolsheviks fought for under Czarism. How sad that a leading socialist journal stands on the side of the latter-day Czars of the Arab world.

Apparently Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff had the ability to see through the bourgeois nationalist con games of the Middle East, at least on the evidence of an article titled “The Coups in Iraq and Syria”, written by Tabitha Petran, that appeared in the May 1963 Monthly Review.

Petran minces no words, beginning her article as follows:

The recent coups in Iraq and Syria realize the six-year-old Eisenhower Doctrine’s goal of anti-Communist “Arab unity” under United States protection. The coups’ authors are the international oil interests, the U.S., and their local placemen—the Baath and Arab Nationalist (Nasserist) parties, assorted militarists and feudal left over from Hashemite rule in Iraq, and in Syria elements from the right-wing of the Moslem Brotherhood.

She dubs Baathism as an amalgam of demagogy and petty-bourgeois social reforms that is “widely regarded as an instrument of American imperialism”. It is so interesting to see the final dregs of this system being hoisted on the shoulders of John Bellamy Foster, John Mage and Yoshie Furuhashi.

Petran’s article decries the wholesale slaughter of Communists in Iraq, a crime that no longer tends to bother the MR group based on Furuhashi’s grotesque attempts to provide ex post facto excuses for the slaughter of radicals in Khomeini’s Iran in the early 1980s. These “divisive” elements obviously stood in the way of creating strong states that might become part of counter-hegemonic blocs. Back in the early 60s apparently, MR magazine viewed class criteria as having priority over that kind of leftist realpolitik.

It’s not much different with Iran, a country whose government rises beyond the level of “lesser evil” and achieves the kind of hallowed status that once brought tears to the eyes of a Communist when watching a newsreel of Stalin receiving a bouquet of flowers from a Red Scout. Much of MRZine’s propaganda on behalf of Syria is most certainly related to what it feels are the geopolitical interests of Iran, as if the Middle East was a chessboard. Questions of the class struggle are of no consequence for these leftist versions of Metternich.

If you go back through the MR archives, you won’t find any such malarkey about Iran. Typical is a March 2001 article titled Clerical Oligarchy and the Question of “Democracy” in Iran. Co-authored by Saeed Rahnema and Haideh Moghissi, it starts with a sentence that amounts to a stake that can be driven through MR’s heart today:

For more than twenty years the Islamic regime in Iran, along with its extensive repressive apparatuses, has created an impressive array of ideological and economic mechanisms of control to construct an Islamified civil society and build consensus for the establishment of a theocratic state.

The article calls attention to the “thugs” who attacked students, women, and newspapers that differed with the government even if only within the framework of clerical rule. These are the same kinds of thugs who broke up street protests after the last election, being cheered on by MRZine.

The concluding paragraphs of the article call for a strengthening of the secular opposition in Iran and other initiatives that would break the power of the Guardian Council and other fixtures of permanent clerical rule. In referring to this goal, the article seems to foretell the objectives of every mass movement in the Arab world today:

Such developments will create real possibilities for the century-old movements for democracy, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, respect for minority rights, women’s rights, economic development, and social justice to succeed. Such objective circumstances favoring action by the secular left will almost inevitably arise, if the existing equilibrium, or “the balance of fear”–a popular term used to define the hesitation of various factions within the ruling bloc to strike the final blow–continues. This impasse within the Islamic reform movement will undoubtedly intensify the push for radical change and will give the secular opposition a chance to actively participate in the struggle for establishing–as a first step–a secular democratic state in place of the existing clerical oligarchy.


  1. Ah damn it, I posted the same link twice:

    Comment by Jenny — May 4, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  2. Gowans is arguably worse than MRZine. At least MRZine prints Patrick Bond’s attacks on Mugabe, one of Gowans’s favorite thugs.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 4, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  3. Granted, one of Bond’s writing partners took a trip with two NGOs who were funded by NED or some such, her group was also given a presidential medal of honor:

    That said, Bond also included one of authors of the fairly fluffy land reform report in his talk last November:

    So it’s good he’s trying to engage all types, I suppose.

    Comment by Jenny — May 4, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

  4. Jenny, you are a fucking idiot.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 4, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

  5. I was just telling you what he said, sheesh.

    Comment by Jenny — May 4, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

  6. Jenny, do me a fucking favor and don’t send any links. The comments section is about people expressing their own viewpoints, not being errand boys or girls for somebody else’s. If you don’t have a viewpoint, then get lost.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 4, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

  7. You want my opinion on Gowan’s pieces? Okay, I think with the Bond piece, he has a point about being cautionary although I still think Bond’s generally a smart guy. Now why do you think Gowan is wrong with that entry?

    Comment by Jenny — May 5, 2011 @ 1:19 am

  8. Louis, do you really think your abusive responses to Jenny do less harm to your blog than do Jenny’s postings of links? And your intolerance of Jenny’s links is in stark contrast to your toleration of the often-incomprehensible personal attacks by the Todd entity, who makes you look civil in comparison.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — May 6, 2011 @ 8:55 am

  9. Aaron, Jenny is a troll. She has been banned by other leftist bloggers. I suspended her for a couple of months myself.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 6, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  10. “often-incomprehensible personal attacks by the Todd entity”

    Good God! Every time I think you’ve bottomed out at a certain level of stupid, you surpass yourself.

    You are an enemy of democracy and a pissant tool for a bourgeois dictator (not to mention being a Stalinoid relic from a bygone age that ought to be tossed onto the garbage-dump of history).

    Is that comprehensible enough for you?

    Comment by Todd — May 7, 2011 @ 1:40 am

  11. For socialists, these comments seem a bit anti-social to me. That aside, the “Arab Spring” makes me think a lot about what the actually-existing alternatives to global liberal-capitalist hegemony have to offer. With the exception of the Latin American (semi)socialist experiments in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador, it seems that the freedoms embodied in western democracies may offer a path forward for many. Of course there is a huge tension between the reactionary, militaristic and hierarchical tendencies under capitalist imperialism, and the periphery bears the brunt of the exploitative features of the system. But certainly, simply being “anti-hegemonic” is no guarantee of a brighter future for the masses. I wonder, therefore, whether the “Arab Spring” would have been possible at all without hegemony.

    Comment by ReasonInRevolt — May 8, 2011 @ 1:07 am

  12. ReasonInRevolt said:

    “For socialists, these comments seem a bit anti-social to me.”


    Just continuing in the fine tradition:


    Comment by Todd — May 8, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

  13. A Syrian’s analysis of the CIA’s relationship to the protest movement:

    Comment by Binh — May 13, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

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