Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 8, 2013

In the court of leftist public opinion

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

Yesterday I crossposted British filmmaker/activist Ben Allinson-Davies’s report on a recent trip to the FSA controlled Idlib region of Syria and got this comment from Alan Haber, a cabinet-maker in Michigan who was one of the early leaders of Students for a Democratic Society:

The relevant thrust of this story seems to be: Assad is a killer, the United States, whatever its motives, should bomb him to hell. That is the question to the American public and politics now, bomb or don’t bomb. What is this observers opinion? and Louis Proyect, what is yours? Alan Haber

megiddo@umich.edu

Allison-Davies does conclude his article with a call for intervention: “The Obama administration, and indeed the whole world, has delayed action for long enough, consolidating genocide, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, and strengthening the regime itself.” But I did not crosspost it as a sign that I am in accord with this call. My intention was to get some useful eyewitness reporting on life inside rebel-controlled territory. For all of the reputation of the Washington Post and the New York Times being imperialist warmongers, they do not have any reporters covering this beat. The last one who did was the NY Times’s Anthony Shadid who died tragically far too young from an asthma attack in Syria. Nowadays the more typical article from the NY Times is the recent one about rebels killing their captives based on a year-old video.

In terms of my opinion on Obama attacking Syria, this is not the first time I have been asked to testify in the court of leftist public opinion. Last week Keane Bhatt, a young activist who works with NACLA, asked me the identical question. And a day before I was challenged by Haber, a certain “bankotsu” put me on the spot as well:

I think it’s time for the author of this blog to state clearly and unequivocally his position regarding the coming U.S. and allied gang attack on Syria. I know that the author rejects the Assad regime, but I want to know his position on the U.S. imperialist assault. Whether he supports or opposes the assault.

This is basically the reply that I have made to such interrogations that I repeat now for Haber’s benefit:

My position is that Obama must be opposed. I have not written anything to that effect for the same reason I have not written anything lately about opposing drone strikes. Because I have not blogged about drones, one should not draw the conclusion that I favor what Obama is doing to the Yemenites. Basically, what he wants to do in Syria is a drone strike on steroids.

My focus lately has been about the disinformation campaign blaming rebels for the August 20 chemical attack. I am not like the typical leftist who all of sudden discovers that the country of Syria exists when Obama brandishes threats against it. For the past two years I have made videos, raised money, and written articles on behalf of the FSA/LCC Syrian revolutionaries but have always opposed the jihadists. That being said, the main enemy is Bashar al-Assad. I am not a johnny-come-lately. So when people come along and all of a sudden worry about a “war on Syria”, I tend to wonder where all of the concern is coming from. There has been a war for the past 2 and 1/2 years, courtesy of Russian imperialism. I guess that they think that because Putin was in the Soviet secret police once upon a time, that puts him on the side of the angels. Tell that to Pussy Riot.

I am not the only high-profile blogger on trial. Richard Seymour, whose “Liberal Defence of Murder” established him as one of the most forceful critics of “humanitarian interventions”, has been treated to the same kind of prosecutorial zeal on Lenin’s Tomb after writing an article that states: “Of course, the idea that the opposition is dominated by a few thousand salafists is as implausible as the idea that when US boots land on Syrian soil their major foes will be ‘Al Qaida’.  It’s horseshit.”

For refusing to bow to the established wisdom that the rebels are Evil Incarnate, Richard has had to put up with comments like “Oh Lenny, you’re such a twat. The so-called opposition was taken over by the American fascists as soon as it manifested.” That’s slightly more elevated than the comment that went into my spam filter yesterday: “The phony left is mainly close zionist Trotskyist groups pro Israel. We don’t have left in the west. Those who call themself ‘left’ are exactly these group all pro ‘jewish state’. Otherwise no one would support al qaeda through ‘humanitarian intervention’ of the Cowboy, and baby killer Obama, who was installed by Jewish bankers and groups like Jewish Lobby.” It doesn’t matter that “humanitarian intervention” advocate par excellence Michael Berube once denounced me as a prime example of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” philosophy. I am condemned for being in league with Jewish bankers. No wonder Nick Griffin got the red carpet treatment in Damascus.

Because I once wrote about NATO’s crimes in the Balkans, people must have expected me to apply the same analysis in a formulaic fashion like Diana Johnstone, Edward Herman/David Peterson, and just about anybody who writes for Global Research. For these people, class analysis does not exist. They could be less interested in how people live in FSA-controlled territory or what made them take up arms to begin with. After Nicholas Kristof wrote an article attacking the Baathists, they decided to take their side. Leon Trotsky wrote about such characters in an article titled “Learn to Think”:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

Not long after Milosevic was ousted in Serbia, I noticed a kind of knee-jerk support for any third-rate piece of shit dictator who was threatened by a “color revolution”. When bus drivers tried to organize a union in Tehran, Ahmadinejad had their leader jailed and tortured. Why in the world would any leftist side with union-busting? MRZine’s Yoshie Furuhashi stood up for Ahmadinejad because Freedom House had issued a statement on their behalf. Is this what the American left had come to? I was not on board with this.

As someone who is a fairly high profile blogger, I have to put up with more static than most people in the organized left whose party organs simply don’t allow room for interrogatory challenges like Haber’s. That does not present a problem since I am contentious by nature. In fact I invite such challenges, while reserving the right to put Jew-baiting comments into the trash.

That being said, my views on Syria are identical to what the ISO—the largest group on the US left—believes, based on their circulation of a statement of left groups in the Middle East that while opposing an American attack states:

A LARGE block of hostile forces from around the world is conspiring against the Syrian people’s revolution, which erupted in tandem with the uprisings spreading through a large section of the Arab region and the Maghreb for the past three years. The people’s uprisings aimed to put an end to a history of brutality, injustice and exploitation, and attain the rights to freedom, dignity and social justice.

Meanwhile, two of the largest groups on the Australian left have arrived at pretty much the same conclusion. One of them, a group called Socialist Alternative that emerged out of Tony Cliff’s state capitalist tradition, published an article by Corey Oakley that is extremely good. Socialist Alternative opposes any American attack on Syria, but stands behind Oakley’s statement:

Prominent British leftists Tariq Ali and George Galloway have come out stridently in opposition to the insurrectionary aims of the uprising, claiming that the revolution has been taken over by reactionaries and arguing that a negotiated settlement with the regime is the only answer. Ali, in an interview with Russia Today, said the choice was between a “Western imposed regime, composed of sundry Syrians who work for the Western intelligence agencies…or the Assad regime.” Galloway, the left populist MP best known as a campaigner against the Iraq war, goes even further, denouncing the Syrian resistance for not accepting the peace plan advanced by the UN.

Much of this left-agonising about the Syrian revolt reflects the legacy of Stalinism, which led many to identify leftism with various despotic but “anti-imperialist” regimes that opposed the West and oppressed their own people in equal measure. But others on the left not weighed down by the legacy of Stalinism echo Galloway’s attitude over Syria. John Rees, until a few years ago a leading member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, wrote last month that he was in “broad agreement” with Galloway and Ali.

I couldn’t have put it better.

Like Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Alliance has been organizing protests against American intervention. Formerly known as the Democratic Socialist Party, these comrades were close to the American SWP but broke with it after the party went off the deep end. Like Corey Oakley, Michael Karadjis has been writing some brilliant stuff for their party press:

I will first clarify what I think is going on generally. The Syrian revolution, which broke out in February 2011 as a democratic mass revolt against the dictatorship, is still the fundamental fact. The fact that after eight months of slaughter by the regime revolt was forced to take up arms by late 2011 does not change that.

Countless reports from liberated towns about the nature of this democratic process, under attack from the dictatorship, for example in Taftanaz, Saraqeb, Qusayr, the Damscus outer suburb Duma, Sarmada, Idlib, Azaz, parts of Aleppo and elsewhere, are examples which deal with the real-world difficulties of revolutionary democratic governance from below, but nevertheless reveal some semblance of popular structures that surely deserve defending against the dictatorship and its tanks, scud missiles and torture chambers, and which on the whole do not show evidence of imposition of sharia law or sectarian cleansing of minorities.

I strongly urge my readers to check out Karadjis’s thoroughly researched article at http://links.org.au/node/3434.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that despite his reputation as a “humanitarian intervention” advocate based on his support for a no-fly zone in Libya, Gilbert Achcar is another example of being able to walk and chew gum at the same time (ie., opposing Obama and supporting the rebels.) In an article titled “Welcoming the vote of the British Parliament while supporting the Syrian uprising”, Achcar makes some very good points:

The third reason to welcome the parliamentary vote is the one most directly predicated on my resolute support to the Syrian popular uprising. The military action that is being contemplated by Washington is about dealing the murderous Syrian regime a few military blows in order to “punish” it for the use of chemical weapons against civilians. I have hardly any doubt that the Syrian regime did resort to such weapons in its barbaric onslaught on the Syrian people. True, it will be hard for the UN inspection team, which was allowed to reach the scene of the crime only several days after it was perpetrated, to find any smoking gun. But the fact that the Syrian regime possesses chemical weapons and the means to strike with them (to mount a large scale rocket and artillery attack, as did happen) is beyond doubt, as is its cold-blooded-serial-killer aptitude to use them on civilians.

Having said all this, even if there were not a single group in the US or in Australia that held such positions, that would make no difference to me. After careful study of unfolding events in Syria, and after interviews with some Syrian-American activists, and finally after a year’s worth of Skype conversations with a young man now living in Yemen who had defected from the Syrian military, I am as sure about which side to support in Syria as I was about Vietnam, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Others of course are free to make their own choices. I would only advise putting their brain in gear before making them.

19 Comments »

  1. http://libya360.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/anti-empire-report-120-syria-and-a-us-history-of-war-crimes-interventions-and-global-terrorism/

    United States bombings, which can be just as indiscriminate and cruel as poison gas. (A terrorist is someone who has a bomb but doesn’t have an air force.)

    The glorious bombing list of our glorious country, which our glorious schools don’t teach, our glorious media don’t remember, and our glorious leaders glorify.

    Korea and China 1950-53 (Korean War)
    Guatemala 1954
    Indonesia 1958
    Cuba 1959-1961
    Guatemala 1960
    Congo 1964
    Laos 1964-73
    Vietnam 1961-73
    Cambodia 1969-70
    Guatemala 1967-69
    Grenada 1983
    Lebanon 1983, 1984 (both Lebanese and Syrian targets)
    Libya 1986
    El Salvador 1980s
    Nicaragua 1980s
    Iran 1987
    Panama 1989
    Iraq 1991 (Persian Gulf War)
    Kuwait 1991
    Somalia 1993
    Bosnia 1994, 1995
    Sudan 1998
    Afghanistan 1998
    Yugoslavia 1999
    Yemen 2002
    Iraq 1991-2003 (US/UK on regular no-fly-zone basis)
    Iraq 2003-2011 (Second Gulf War)
    Afghanistan 2001 to present
    Pakistan 2007 to present
    Somalia 2007-8, 2011 to present
    Yemen 2009, 2011 to present
    Libya 2011
    Syria 2013?

    The above list doesn’t include the repeated use by the United States of depleted uranium, cluster bombs, white phosphorous, and other charming inventions of the Pentagon mad scientists; also not included: chemical and biological weapons abroad, chemical and biological weapons in the United States (sic), and encouraging the use of chemical and biological weapons by other nations; all these lists can be found in William Blum’s book “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower”.

    Comment by BARBBF — September 8, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

  2. I’m somewhat confused by this response for it fails to address which Syrian rebels have your support. My issue with the cruise-missile Left as regards the Syrian conflict is how often they fail to make any distinction between the grass roots domestic opposition to the regime and the Saudi-backed lunatics. I’m still waiting for these same jackasses to acknowledge their complicity (propaganda-wise) in the Libyan atrocity.

    Is it really this difficult for “leftist” to recognize that any role that the United States or the Gulf Tyrannies plays in Syria will be counter-revolutionary? I’m curious about something. How have the welfare states of Iraq and Libya survived western and Saudi-backed intervention?

    Comment by Bill J. — September 8, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

  3. which Syrian rebels have your support.

    The LCC/FSA people, although the idea that they are “moderates” is a fiction. Anybody who stands up to MIG’s is pretty fucking fierce.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 8, 2013 @ 9:40 pm

  4. Either the above commenters or I have misread Lou’s article. Going on against US intervention in Syria is well and good, but Lou’s piece advocates no such thing as I read it. I don’t get the point of chronicling empire’s misadventures here. How does that relate here?

    Comment by amerikanbeat — September 8, 2013 @ 11:30 pm

  5. I believe that BARBBF was using those examples as the scenario for what will befall Syria.
    l
    And Bill, is it not possible that the potential for better organisation of the working poor and oppressed can be increased after the fall of such dictatorships?

    Comment by Joshua — September 9, 2013 @ 4:44 am

  6. Billy-Boy wrote:

    “My issue with the cruise-missile Left as regards the Syrian conflict is how often they fail to make any distinction between the grass roots domestic opposition to the regime and the Saudi-backed lunatics.”

    My issue with the brainless, knee-jerk Left as regards the Syrian conflict is how often they fail to remember that the fucking point is to make the world a better place by doing what can be done with the tools available and not worrying about keeping our hands lily-white to match our self-images.

    “I’m still waiting for these same jackasses to acknowledge their complicity (propaganda-wise) in the Libyan atrocity. ”

    Have you, like, actually listened to someone who’s, you know, lived in Libya while Quaddafi was running the show? You want a text-book definition of “atrocity” before you pull one out of your ass, I suggest you try listening to Libyan Rebel’s interview that our Delilah made our earlier. If you think life was somehow better living under that bourgeois scumball after listening to the interview, I dare you to call yourself anything more than a liberal.

    “Is it really this difficult for ‘leftist’ to recognize that any role that the United States or the Gulf Tyrannies plays in Syria will be counter-revolutionary?”

    Apparently it really is difficult for some who self-identify as politically left to use their brains and hearts properly. They’re far more interested in mouthing empty slogans and rhetoric to suit their self-images.

    Comment by Todd — September 9, 2013 @ 5:48 am

  7. Thank you for your blogging on Syria. Agree with almost all you’ve written on this topic. I’ve tracked the Syrian situation closely since 2011 (via social media, a Syrian friend, etc.), but am too chicken to blog on this topic myself. At least in my neck of the woods (Madison), my views are in an extreme minority among those on the left, and I think I would likely lose a bunch of friends were I to open my mouth. As you note, it seems that most folks have only recently become aware of Syria (with many falling for the disinformation campaigns, etc.). I feel like I’m watching motivated reasoning at its worst.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 9, 2013 @ 6:28 am

  8. Got a Facebook invite to a StWC protest due when Kerry arrives in UK today. Here is my response:

    I will not protest a so far mythical intervention when it would involve me marching shoulder to shoulder with Assad and Putin thugs and their UK left lakeys on a day off from mass murder and gay bashing. I will continue to give physical and political support to the Syrian National Democratic Revolution and demand the lifting of the EU/US arms embargo that is preventing Syrians from defending themselves whilst the crypto fascist Russian oligarchs arm Assad and the Gulf states arm the Jihadis. If there is a strike against Assads offensive capability I will instead of protesting it urge the rebels to take advantage to move forward but to beware self serving false friends who have stood by whilst tens of thousands of your brothers and sisters and children have been butchered by the tyrant Assad and millions have been turned into refugees. I will also be asking US policy makers: what about the five million Palestinian refugees? When do they get to go home. No I will not be attending this pro Assad rally.

    I think this is the correct interpretation of the Trotsky quote above. Whilst it is nice to see an avowed anti Trot attempting Trotskyism in fact what we get is somebody still trapped within the neo Stalinist so called hegemony wanting to have their cake and eat it. For instance Louis if you are so opposed to this mythical strike will you be attending protests against it alongside Assad and Putin thugs and their left lackeys?

    Comment by David Ellis — September 9, 2013 @ 7:13 am

  9. My issue with the cruise-missile Left as regards the Syrian conflict is how often they fail to make any distinction between the grass roots domestic opposition to the regime and the Saudi-backed lunatics. I’m still waiting for these same jackasses to acknowledge their complicity (propaganda-wise) in the Libyan atrocity.

    ***************

    Well, well, BIllj. Anti revolutionist extraordinaire. The Cruise Missile Left would be actively calling for a strike not pointing out that there likely will not be one and that the rebels must continue to rely on their own strength but if there is one take advantage. In fact the actual Cruise Missile Left if you notice are opposing a strike because it would help Islamists which they now characterise all those fighting Assad as. If anybody is in alliance with them it is the Poison Gas Left such as you not Louis though I do think he is yet to make a complete break with the neo Stalinist sects and may yet find himself on a demo next to the likes of you and your Putinesque chums.

    Comment by David Ellis — September 9, 2013 @ 7:25 am

  10. Kafranbel’s message to “anti-war” activists: http://www.occupiedkafranbel.com/sites/default/files/1239757_512344118849808_1982212907_n.jpg

    Better to stand with them than with Assad on the issue of airstrikes.

    Comment by G. Sabra Jr. — September 9, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

  11. But I thought al-Qaeda was opposed to the “Jewish bankers” and the “Jewish lobby,” too.

    Comment by jtg1977 — September 9, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

  12. G. Sabra Jr: Absolutely. To be against US intervention in principle is itself unprincipled and Marxist politics reduced to mere Stalinist ideology as if they havent demanded it in the past for themselves as in WWII. Ask a million dead Rwandans. We can see that the US does not want to intervene when it actually has a principled reason for doing so but no actual physical interest so in this case we should not be arguing with those Syrians who think it should. In the unlikely event of intervention designed to degrade Assads offensive capability we should not protest it but on the contrary urge the rebels to take advantage but beware false friends who have stood by whilst tens of thousands have been butchered and who have imposed sanctions on Syria for years and it has deprived the Revolution itself of arms.

    Comment by David Ellis — September 10, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  13. The Syrian rebellion is backed by imperialist powers in order to serve their hegemonic goals in the middle east, for this reason, I completely reject the Syrian rebellion. The Syrian rebels must be fully and thoroughly destroyed.

    Comment by Bankotsu — September 10, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

  14. Yes, Bashar has been a real threat to those hegemonic goals:

    https://louisproyect.org/2013/08/27/sir-bashar/

    Comment by louisproyect — September 10, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  15. “Obama, who was installed by Jewish bankers”

    What a stupid comment. While it’s true that I’ve never cast a vote for Obama, it’s only fair to recognize that it was Obama who rejected the demands for an invasion of Iran which the real Israel lobby had been pushing for at full steam in 2008. McCain might very well have carried out such an invasion of Iran, and that was why all of the neo-conservatives were gung-ho for McCain in 2008.

    As for Obama’s current moves around Syria, my guess, which is only a guess, is that Obama is more interested out-maneuvering Republicans than in doing anything specific with regards to Syria. There are some Republicans like Rand Paul who have tried to posture as anti-interventionist, and then there are others like John McCain who are ready to storm full speed ahead into Syria. The same divides exist among the Israel lobby, with Daniel Pipes going one way and William Kristol another.

    The political danger for Democrats would be that if they made no attempt to “reach out” in a sort of politically BS kind of way, then no matter what they do they will be slammed for it in 2016. So Obama has thrown the ball back in the other court. Whatever happens now the argument will be that Republicans voted for it, and that is what is important in this political game which Obama is playing. If Republicans vote for a mass-invasion a la McCain, then Obama can position himself as the moderate who only advocates some surgical strikes. But if Rand Paul wins an anti-interventionist vote, then Obama can present himself as a constrained humanitarian whose efforts are held back by others. Either way, it’s a smart move by Obama.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — September 10, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

  16. Rania Masri and Chris Hedges On Obama’s Syria Address
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=10703

    Comment by Bankotsu — September 11, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

  17. Joshua, no, I get the point BARBBF was making, just not what it that point has to do (except very broadly–it was about Syria, I guess) with Lou’s post. Sure, a military intervention in this case would be a bad thing, and the record of past actions stands as evidence. But since Lou wasn’t advocating an intervention, the point seems superfluous here. Maybe BARBBF was just “piling on.” I dunno.

    Comment by amerikanbeat — September 11, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

  18. Well said, Louis. On walking and chewing gum: http://imgur.com/iboPYej

    Comment by Leigh — September 13, 2013 @ 8:04 am

  19. […] and clicked “Syria” on the right-hand side of the home page, you will find an article titled https://louisproyect.org/2013/09/08/in-the-court-of-leftist-public-opinion/ that […]

    Pingback by Jonathan Cook proves my point | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — November 23, 2013 @ 10:58 pm


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