Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 11, 2015

US versus Russia versus “anti-imperialists”: Who is best advocate of killing Syrian truck drivers?

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

(This was posted to the Marxism list this morning by Michael Karadjis)

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 10.22.33 AM

In recent weeks, US and Russian warplanes bombing Syria have been targeting trucks allegedly transporting “ISIS oil.” Indeed, Russian leaders have accused Turkey of being a major market for this “ISIS oil”, a claim that indicates spectacular hypocrisy given the very well-known, long-term oil trade between ISIS and Russia’s ally, the Syrian genocide regime.

Of course, as is well known, ISIS sells oil to hundreds of small private traders who then transport it to whoever wants to buy it, which can include Kurdish authorities, Syrian rebels, Turkey or the Assad regime.

While Russia has focused almost entirely on bombing the Free Syrian Army (FSA), indeed in provinces and regions with zero ISIS presence, even to the point of directly facilitating ISIS advances against the rebels (as in northern Aleppo over the last fortnight), it has also taken some potshots against ISIS, above all slaughtering civilians in Raqqa and destroying civilian infrastructure.

One form of “fighting ISIS” has been bombing these impoverished drivers who make their living by transporting oil or other goods from whoever wants to sell them to whoever wants to buy them.

Soon after Russia invaded Syria, the US also began bombing these civilian trucks and killing their drivers. The US had already been bombing civilian oil infrastructure under ISIS control for a year or so.

One of the talking points of the pro-Russian imperialist “anti-imperialists” then became that “the US only began bombing the oil trucks after Our Mother Russia first bombed them goddamned terrorists.”

For some it seems, “anti-imperialism” today, oddly, means supporting whichever superpower can better slaughter civilian truck-drivers doing their job in a poor country far from home. That is quite a sensational development.

An article which, quite correctly and uncontroversially, points out that Assad buys more “ISIS oil” than anyone else, also gives a good description of how small-scale, insecure and desperate these middle people are:

“The trucks don’t have to go far to sell ISIS oil. In fact, it’s cheaper and easier for them to sell oil to locals who run basic refineries in the countryside, not far from the main oil fields in eastern Syria … With few exceptions, these backyard refineries are just stills in which small batches of oil are heated and the resulting vapor is condensed into low-grade fuel. The owners, usually desperate Arab families who don’t belong to ISIS, run several at a time. The work is dirty and dangerous; the scene is apocalyptic. Toxic plumes of black smoke, scorched earth, soot, and explosions make Mad Max look tame. Hundreds if not thousands of these stills are now active across Syria. Combined, they provide tens of thousands of barrels in daily refining capacity. Fuel from these refineries is sold at roadside pumping stations or in bulk to middlemen who deliver it to population centers where demand is greater”.

These are the people that some “anti-imperialists” think are criminals who the superpowers should blow to bits from the sky if they are serious about “fighting ISIS.”

Moreover, just because Russian media showed pictures of trucks allegedly crossing the Turkish border, hardly proves they are all necessarily transporting oil. According to the truck drivers in this video, many of them are transporting food or other goods to supply some of the millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, and they constantly get bombed by the Russian air force.

While it may be difficult to vouch for the validity of what these truck-drivers are saying, that is hardly different from a great deal of “information” floating around the region, above all from the Russian and Iranian versions of Fox News which are mere propaganda organs for the Assad regime.

Between a belligerent invading state’s media showing pictures of trucks and calling them “ISIS,” and bombing and killing working people trying desperately to make a living, and truck drivers in a video claiming to be delivering food, I’ll take my bets on the latter.


  1. Now let me start by saying I have no truck with either Assad, Russia, America and the UK governments position on Syria. What has too be understood from a Marxist position is that its a class analysist. Now owners of oil tankers would fit on the petite bourgeois section of society. They quibble about being bombed by Russia and the Western alliance. Yes I would argue nobody should be bombing anyone in Syria. But these people have made a conscious decision to participate in trade with IS, an organization which would take Arabs back to an age of servitude. Thousand s of others within the Arab world have taken the choice to fight against such forces. The excuse of just trying to make an honest buck doesn’t wear here.Its about making a stand against the forces of backwardness rather than lets try and make as much money as we can from it. Throughout history in confrontations against reaction people across the world have made sacrifices both monetary and with their lives. The argument of lets just get on with making money in such circumstances is not an edifying one. Though this is not a justification of Russian and Western bombing.

    Comment by Bob — December 11, 2015 @ 11:41 pm

  2. Now owners of oil tankers would fit on the petite bourgeois section of society.

    What blowhard sectarian bullshit.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 12, 2015 @ 12:02 am

  3. Of all the fucked over Revolutions on this God forsaken & morally bereft orb probably no where else in history have working class people been more thoroughly right grafted bent and dicked over the coals than Syrians just trying to get by after legitimately attempting to oust an unfathomably brutal degenerate tyrant amidst an Arab World that seemed so ripe for it, being Spring and all.

    Now it’s an Arctic winter when the stark privations of Ernest Shackleton’s crew are equivalent to a beacon of hope for the Syrian Proletariat insofar as at least Shackleton got everybody home alive.

    Not so for the Syrian working class who’ve been doomed to Jim Morrison’s adage that “No one here gets out alive”.

    I mean when Arendt described the banality of holocaust perpetrators she’d need to invent another tier of barbarity to capture the hypocrisy that’s become the abyss in Syria.

    If Holocaust is a word meant to amplify profound tragedy then new words are required to describe Syria.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 12, 2015 @ 12:19 am

  4. Now owners of oil tankers would fit on the petite bourgeois section of society.

    What blowhard sectarian bullshit.


    @ # 1 That is indeed a bunch of mindless blowhard sectarian bullshit since if one understood jack squat about real world life on the ground not only in Syria, where perhaps the one industrial job remaining is driving a truck, nevermind the USA where Reagan’s deregulation has structurally forced men & women out of the Teamsters Union and into the pitfalls of solo trucking where, at least by & large outside labor is NOT hired — it’s just man or woman versus machine and company deadline — then you’d realize all your petite bourgeois analogies are as stuffed with peppercorns as an Xmas ham.

    Let me say it another way to schmucks who imagine that there’s a big difference these days in the grunts who deliver fuel & food to the masses. These men & women are proletarians through and through and it does not matter if they happen to own their own rigs or are employed by others in the grand scheme in this day and age of the 1% versus the 99%.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 12, 2015 @ 12:55 am

  5. Bob, so I guess the owners of the mini-refineries are also petty-bourgeois: “The owners, usually desperate Arab families who don’t belong to ISIS, run several at a time. The work is dirty and dangerous; the scene is apocalyptic. Toxic plumes of black smoke, scorched earth, soot, and explosions make Mad Max look tame.” As Louis and Karl said, our “class analysis” definitely needs to escape standard categories applicable to imperialist countries, or even more developed capitalist countries, when talking about somewhere like the Syrian apocalypse. Personally, I’m amazed that anyone is capable is making a living today in Syria. The fact that they do says something about the human spirit. These people do not have a choice to trade or not to trade with ISIS, which has a huge presence in eastern Syria (and if they were to be really “principled,” presumably they should also not trade with the regime?). ISIS odes not continue to exist due to the activities of tiny desperate “petty-bourgeois”. These are the masses. In the first year of the uprising, Assad sacked 85,000 industrial workers and closed a huge part of industry. Class is indeed essential to understanding Syria: the revolution is concentrated among the peasantry impoverished by neo-liberal reform under Bashar and the sub-urban precarious workers, precarious micro-“petty-bourgeois”, the vast plebeian masses in the peripheries around the cities (while the regime is based among the bourgeoisie and upper petty-bourgeoisie). These are the Syrian “barrios” where the Chavezistas have their base in Venezuela. Yes, these layers are not traditionally conducive to proletarian ideologies, at least as leaders, but with left/working class leadership, like in Venezuela, their role is essential. But that just happens to be the situation in Syria right now for a host of reasons that have been widely analysed. The irony is that the more these layers, in regions around where ISIS controls, are smashed to bits by the regime, the US, Russia etc, the more attached many become to the relative “security” provided by the Islamic State.

    Comment by mkaradjis — December 12, 2015 @ 1:53 am

  6. The more mkaradjis contributes the more it becomes obvious that a great War Crime is being perpetrated daily in Syria with the apparent blessing of the entire World.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 12, 2015 @ 2:18 am

  7. Yes, lorry owners are petty-borgois. But they are transporting life’s neccessities. Who would like to starve because someone opposed to oil transportation couldn’t tell which trucks were carrying oil and which were carrying food? And isn’t fuel a life neccessity too? Should people die because they can’t heat their homes, cook food or travel because they can’t do this without oil that comes from ISIS-occupied oilfields.

    Comment by Jason Pike — December 12, 2015 @ 9:07 pm

  8. I think a problem comes from assuming that being petty-borgois is somehow the same as being evil. can’t this be used as a term of analyis without being a term of abuse? Marxism teaches the proletariat to stand up for the non-proletarian oppressed and exploited, not treat them as the main enemy.

    Comment by Jason Pike — December 12, 2015 @ 9:11 pm

  9. The point of stating that they are petite bourgeois is that they have no class allegiance. Lets face it war kills innocent people no matter who wages it, whether its the forces of the left or right. During the Civil war in Spain people made a choice of who they supported, there was no excuse of well we want to trade with the nationalists while we support the aims of the republicans. Similarly in other conflicts where peoples have waged war against regimes of terror. People lived and died on the basis of which side they took. Now I can see why individuals take a position in the hope that it might protect their families, which is fair enough. But in the general scheme of things, especially the victors of the conflict they might be seen as either collaborators or saviours. In the past principles guided those who wished to make a stand, are we now to say they are excused by only trying to make a living? War is shit, decisions are made on numerous levels, the personal, the strategic and the altruistic.Each has to make their own. I have no doubt that the situation in Syria is horrendous and I have every sympathy for all the families caught up in the barbarous fighting.

    Comment by Bob — December 12, 2015 @ 11:54 pm

  10. Lets face it war kills innocent people no matter who wages it, whether its the forces of the left or right.

    You don’t seem to get the point of this article. It is meant to put a human face on an abstraction (trucks transporting ISIS oil). This is what has been missing from the “Marxist” supporters of Assad like Tariq Ali and John Rees who reduce everybody into a proxy of American imperialism. Michael Karadjis did a yeoman job of putting these humble people into context. What your purpose is in assigning terms like “petty bourgeois” is anybody’s guess. In fact most countries in the Middle East have a huge self-employed sector from the fruit vendor who self-immolated in Tunisia to many men who took up arms against Assad like farmers, small shopkeepers, professionals, etc. Your purpose is obviously to tarnish them through phrase-mongering. What a fucking pig you are.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 13, 2015 @ 12:01 am

  11. Bob: When I was about 10 in the early 70’s my dad (who was in the SWP) and I both got work dental work done for free by a fellow SWP comrade. Afterwards my dad explained how he felt sorry for this comrade because the Party had ostracized him, making him feel rather unwelcome. Puzzled I asked why that would be? He explained that the Party leadership felt petty bourgeois dentists “have no class allegiance”. Later my father came to fully understand what a bunch of ignorant fucking pigs that Party’s leadership really was.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 13, 2015 @ 1:38 pm

  12. “The working-class movement achieves victory in the democratic revolution, the liberals passively waiting to see how things go and the peasants actively assisting. Plus the radical, republican intelligentsia and the corresponding strata of the petty bourgeoisie in the towns. ” Lenin, 1906

    Comment by magpie68 — December 13, 2015 @ 7:44 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: