Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 4, 2015

A masterclass in sophistry: Patrick Cockburn on the Russian intervention in Syria

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 3:56 pm

P U L S E

by Gilbert Achcar

A recent 2-part series on Syria in The Independent by Patrick Cockburn, one of the most influential journalists on the subject, is a masterclass in sophistry that illustrates why the conflict is so misunderstood. A closer look is therefore instructive.

On October 2, in an article titled “Syria crisis: The West wrings its hands in horror but it was our folly that helped create this bloodbath”, Cockburn writes:

Reaction to Russia’s military intervention in Syria shows that the lack of knowledge of the Syrian political landscape on the part of Western political leaders and media is hindering the adoption of more constructive policies. During the past four years, over-simplifications and wishful thinking have prevented any realistic attempt to end the civil war, mitigate its effects or stop it from spreading to other countries.

Since 2011 the departure from power of President Bashar al-Assad has been prescribed…

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9 Comments »

  1. As terrible as Assad as, I feel like it’s a bit absurd to rally behind the anti-Assad rebels. Even if the US prevented the Gulf states from funding the jihadists, the FSA has no clear political program or a guarantee that it wouldn’t break apart into competing militias once Assad is gone. And yes Assad has killed more than anyone else (including ISIS), yes he was the one who sectarianized the conflict, but to feed his direct opposition is to enable him.

    The only real solution is to give near-unlimited funding to the PYD and give them power in the region, and get some kind of enforced reconciliation with Assad and the rebels on the side so they can fight ISIS.

    Comment by cartoondiablo — October 4, 2015 @ 5:37 pm

  2. Cartoon Diablo writes:

    “As terrible as Assad as, I feel like it’s a bit absurd to rally behind the anti-Assad rebels. Even if the US prevented the Gulf states from funding the jihadists, the FSA has no clear political program or a guarantee that it wouldn’t break apart into competing militias once Assad is gone. And yes Assad has killed more than anyone else (including ISIS), yes he was the one who sectarianized the conflict, but to feed his direct opposition is to enable him.”

    “The only real solution is to give near-unlimited funding to the PYD and
    give them power in the region, and get some kind of enforced reconciliation
    with Assad and the rebels on the side so they can fight ISIS.”

    ~

    Cartoon Diablo immediately states his position: “Assad is not the worst person to rule Syria”

    He wishes to support Assad ad the butcher of Syria and despite the fact that half of all Syrians are displaced with 4 million refugees, and a quarter million people dead–Cartoon Diablo thinks that supporting the uprising is absurd. Why? Its because “The FSA has no clear political program or a guarantee that it wouldn’t break apart into competing militias once Assad is gone.”

    A program this one? http://en.etilaf.org/coalition-documents/declaration-by-the-national-coalition-for-syrian-revolutionary-and-opposition-forces.html

    Then Diablo writes that the Kurds run things.. really!?

    The Kurds are not going to be able to take over all of Syria.. that’s just silly since they have absolutely no desire to, and the idea that the rebels are supposed to just kiss and make-up with Assad after 4 years of horror to fight your IS boogeyman is incredibly out of touch.

    Genocidal dictators need to get overthrown–end of story.

    Comment by AF — October 4, 2015 @ 11:13 pm

  3. Patrick Cockburn does not claim to speak as a class conscious Marxist. He is a wishy-washy left-liberal who has no involvement with working class politics. Hence his decision to align with one faction or another of the band of capitalist warring brothers in their struggle to carve up the resources of the Middle East is entirely unremarkable.

    On the other hand, it is remarkable that Gilbert Achcar, who claims in his writing to represent Marxist and working class politics, explicitly uses Marxism to advocate political alignment with French, European and North American reactionaries – and their respective clients in Turkey and the Gulf states – wherever they find themselves in competition with their no less reactionary Russian, Chinese and Iranian rivals.

    A fundamental principle of Marxist politics is the struggle for the political independence of the working class and opposition to all imperialist geopolitical intrigues carried out, inevitably as they are, at the expense of the working classes worldwide. Yet, like Parvus, who aligned himself with the German imperialism against Russian tsarist reaction a hundred years ago, the Marxist Achcar today aligns himself with French, European and North American imperialisms against the Russian and Iranian reactions. In doing so Achcar marks himself out, no less than Parvus and the rest of the criminal and right wing leadership of the workers’ movement did at the outbreak of WW I, as a social chauvinist turncoat who is “socialist in words, imperialist in deeds”.

    This is what Yassamine Mather wrote in response to Achar’s support for the French and NATO bombing of Libya:

    Achcar seems completely ignorant of the long association by imperialism of ‘humanitarian intervention’ with its military actions and how this relates to social-imperialism. ‘Humanitarian intervention’, far from being the exception, has a long history, going back to the Spanish colonisation of Latin and central America. In the 19th century colonial expansion itself was justified in such terms. In 1839 the British empire’s first war in Afghanistan was fought to liberate Afghan women! And indeed more than a century and a half later the same argument was used to justify the 2001 war against Afghanistan.

    Contrary to what Achcar writes, ‘social-imperialist’ is not just a “favourite label of Stalinism in its heyday”. The term long precedes Stalinism and was used extensively in the late 19th century against those advocating the “benevolent spirit or principle of empire”. For example, Karl Pearson in Socialism and natural selection wrote in 1894: “When the extra group struggle with inferior races abroad has run to its end; then, if not sooner, the population question will force on a severer struggle for existence between civilised communities at home.”

    In Britain, France, Italy and elsewhere ‘imperial socialists’ identified the ‘progressive nature’ of many colonial and imperialist interventions and they were promptly condemned for their “social-imperialism” by Marxists. In 1915 Luxemburg used the term in ‘Rebuilding the International’ and Lenin used it in drafting a motion of left wing delegates to the international socialist conference at Zimmerwald. ‘Social-imperialism’ and ‘social-chauvinism’ were used interchangeably to describe those who were “socialist in words, imperialist in deeds”.

    In more recent times Marxists have used the term to describe those such as the Eustonites, Norman Geras and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who have excused, advocated or supported western intervention against self-evidently reactionary states.

    Achcar accuses me of failing to understand long articles – apparently I only read the first paragraph, and that is why I have failed to grasp the ‘complexity’ of his arguments. I am sorry, but I like to call a spade a spade, and when someone tries to deny the essence of what they have said, using weasel words about “exceptional circumstances” to justify their excuses, I refuse to be fooled. The irrefutable fact remains that Achcar, having in reality supported western intervention in Libya, now calls on the west to arm the rebels in Syria.

    http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/976/gilbert-achcar-enough-humanitarian-exceptions/

    Comment by Noram — October 5, 2015 @ 2:05 pm

  4. Noram, if supporting the FSA means aligning yourself with Western imperialism, then include me as well. You need to “Learn to Think”, as Leon Trotsky put it.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 5, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

  5. Obviously you are just as free as Achcar and Cockburn to identify yourself politically with any one or more of the French, British, North American, Russian, Chinese, Saudi, Emirati, Iranian, Turkish etc, bourgeois forces in their current struggle to re-partition the Middle East. It is to your credit that you are at least willing to publicly declare your identification with these reactionary forces, in contrast to Achcar, who continues to dishonestly deny his social chauvinism over the French and NATO interventions in Libya the wider Middle East.

    What you are not free to do is sully the name of a principled working class politician like Trotsky in your effort to justify your Parvus-like descent into the fetid swamp of chauvinism and political reaction. It was Trotsky, after all, who broke with Parvus over his turn to social imperialism and his championing of Hohenzollern Germany against the Tsarist Empire in 1915.

    Comment by Noram — October 5, 2015 @ 6:25 pm

  6. I am free to identify myself with whoever I want. We are not in Syria where the Baathist death squads can put a bullet in my head or in Iran where the cops can haul me off to Evin prison for expressing “Un-Islamic” views. Now kiss my ass and fuck off.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 5, 2015 @ 6:29 pm

  7. I just deleted the latest post from Noram because it was signed “Nomra” and used a different email address. If you want to troll this blog, at least pay me the courtesy of using a consistent email address and name.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 5, 2015 @ 9:48 pm

  8. I did not realize you are such a wilting violet. I noted your eloquence and asked you a last question.

    Off? Where to? To the US holiday resort in Guantanamo, or perhaps off to Obama’s protectorate in Saudi Arabia – which just happens to have acquired a seat on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations? Or do you mean off to solitary in your US bourgeoisie’s delightful gift to humanity and civilisation which is the US gulag system. To a police run black site in Chicago, or to some other domestic Abu Graib perhaps?

    Comment by Noram — October 6, 2015 @ 7:00 am

  9. @AF First of all, I made no mention of whether Assad is the “best” or worst person to rule anything, my point was that even excluding Islamic Front, the FSA has no political program or guarantee that they wouldn’t devolve were they militarily successful. Saying “Syria collapsing is bad” is not the same thing as saying “Assad isn’t the worst guy;” maybe the absolute number of atrocities will go down with Assad gone but it risks ISIS further spreading to Damascus which I’m pretty sure is a bigger ideological/ethical threat to the world than some dictator repressing his population.

    Secondly, getting the rebels and Assad to “kiss and make up” and do some kind of Russian-backed transition of Assad out of power is the only solution. The FSA and Assad for all their funding are at a stalemate, what’s out of touch is to say they should keep fighting each other when it’s clear nothing will change.

    And lastly, no I’m not saying the PYD should (or even can) control all of Syria, I’m saying we should secure them from any outside threat (ISIS, Turkey etc.) and allow them to develop by giving them massive funding.

    PS: as a sidenote to Proyect, is there anything to suggest the FSA won’t immediately split if Assad is ousted ala Tripoli right now? At best they’re moderate neoliberals which isn’t the worst side to support in the war but it’s also not the best.

    Comment by cartoondiablo — October 10, 2015 @ 7:51 am


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