Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 24, 2016

Taking out the Baathist garbage

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:21 pm

Members of the Baathist amen corner

Daniel Lazare

Jonathan Marshall

John Hanrahan

Back in 1979, just having dropped out of the SWP after 11 years and resolving to put politics behind me, I found myself like an old Dalmatian responding to the sound of the firehouse bell. Where was the fire? It was in Central America.

Picking up the Village Voice on a weekly basis that year started out mostly as an exercise in finding out which novelist was breaking new ground but by 1980 I began turning first to Alexander Cockburn’s Press Clips column for its debunking of articles by pro-Reagan NY Times reporters like Stephen Kinzer.

I also began to rely heavily on the investigative journalism of Seymour Hersh and others who had made their reputation reporting about Vietnam. When he broke the story of the My Lai massacre, antiwar activists like myself were relieved that our work became a lot easier because of the horrors he revealed.

The role of investigative journalists in that period was inextricably linked to the Cold War. While most of us from either a Trotskyist or New Left background felt little identification with the Kremlin, our main focus was on Washington and its imperialist designs on El Salvador, Angola, and other places that fit neatly into the USSR versus USA scheme of things. There were some who went so far as to back Soviet intervention even when it was problematic at best. For example, both the Spartacist League and Alexander Cockburn supported the Soviet military in Afghanistan.

Fast forwarding to 2016, we find a most curious realignment. Stephen Kinzer, who wrote filthy propaganda about how the Sandinistas were responsible for a toy shortage in Nicaragua, is now one of Bashar al-Assad’s top propagandists in the USA while Seymour Hersh writes articles accusing the Syrian rebels for carrying out a My Lai-like massacre in East Ghouta just to provoke an American intervention.

When you have a convergence between one of the early 1980s top journalistic villains and heroes, something very odd is going on. I would suggest that it can be explained by the Spartacist/Cockburn line on Afghanistan except that it is being advanced on behalf of a Russia that has no connection to the Cold War except for those on the left for whom time stood still. Maybe because Putin was in the CP once upon a time, this means that he should be given critical support. Who knows?

After five years of Baathist state terrorism, the failure of the heroes of the 1980s, including Noam Chomsky who swears by Patrick Cockburn, is unprecedented. You would have to go back to the Moscow Trials, when the Nation Magazine and the NY Times were defending Stalin, to see such a failure of both intellect and ethics.

If you monitor the left press both online and in print for the Baathist amen corner’s latest output, you can feel swamped. I suppose I am a bit of a masochist to wade through this material but maybe it is the lasting influence of Alexander Cockburn’s Press Clips column that keeps me at it. If only he could have been willing to see the Kremlin with as much alacrity as he saw Washington and wrote on that basis, the Syrians would have far more friends on the left than enemies today.

Speaking of enemies, three articles appeared on my radar screen recently that epitomize the treachery of the left on Syria. Two of them appear on Consortium News, a website launched by Robert Parry in 1995. Parry was a hero in the 1980s, exposing the Nicaraguan contra cocaine traffic in the USA. Now his website is devoted to spewing lies about Syria even if most of the reporting on American subversion in places like Brazil or Venezuela is reliable.

The other article appeared on Truthout, a website that like Consortium is generally reliable except on Syria. I have it bookmarked and check it every day for items that are well-researched and well-written but when it comes to Syria, all bets are off.

On March 31, an article by Daniel Lazare titled “How US-Backed War on Syria Helped ISIS” appeared on Consortium. Lazare was a member of the Workers League in the early 70s (the predecessor to WSWS.org) and obviously retains some of its ideological baggage. I say that as someone who was a great admirer of Lazare for a number of years. I just checked the Marxmail archives and discovered my crossposting of a number of his articles.

The article takes issue with the report that the Syrian army allowed ISIS to take over Palmyra, the city that it has retaken with an intense Russian air attack. Consistent with the belief that outside powers have the right to bomb Syria with impunity, Lazare faults the USA for not joining Russia in its air attack on the jihadists: “So the U.S. and its allies helped Islamic State by tying down Assad’s forces in the north so that it could punch through in the center. But that’s not all the U.S. did. It also helped by suspending bombing as the Islamic State neared Palmyra.” He adds, “The U.S. thus incentivized ISIS to press forward” because it had not bombed ISIS forces “while they were traversing miles of open desert roads” as the NY Times put it. Apparently Lazare would have liked to see the USA engaging in the same kind of turkey shoot that its bombers engaged in as Saddam’s defeated army was straggling home to Iraq back in 1991.

It is so bizarre to see an anti-imperialist like Lazare get worked up over the USA being insufficiently bellicose in Syria. Apparently, when it comes to bombing ISIS, imperialism can play a progressive role.

Turning to the immigrant crisis in Europe, Lazare writes:

But as much everyone would like to blame it all on Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and others of that ilk, none of this is really their fault. To the contrary, the West’s disastrous Syria policy is entirely the creation of nice-guy liberals like Barack Obama. Desperate to appease both Israel and the Sunni oil sheiks, all of whom for various reasons wanted Assad to go, he signed on to a massive Sunni jihad that has turned Syria into a charnel house.

With death estimates now running as high as 470,000, which is to say one person in nine [the idea that Syria had a population of less than five million is as big a joke of everything else in Lazare’s article], the idea that massive violence like this could remain confined to a single country was absurd to begin with. Yet Obama went along regardless.

Like everybody else in the Baathist amen corner, Lazare’s circumlocution on the Syrian bloodbath refuses to put the blame on Bashar al-Assad. The Independent, a newspaper that features the pro-Assad columns of Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn and that can not possibly be mistaken for the Washington Post or the NY Times, reported on October 7, 2015 that Assad has killed seven times as many civilians as ISIS so if Lazare is upset over Syria turning into a charnel house, he might want to direct his polemical ire against the man whose cause he has so squalidly taken up.

On April 20, another rotten Consortium article cropped up, this time by Jonathan Marshall who like Parry had a distinguished investigative journalism career before his brain turned to rot over Syria. He wrote a book on the drug trade in Lebanon that was published by Stanford University Press, a prestigious academic press. But his article “How The New Yorker Mis-Reports Syria” is a sleazy bid to bolster a blood-soaked dictatorship that has the same relationship to Assad that Christopher Hitchens had to the Shiite sectarian regime that George W. Bush installed in Iraq: blatantly apologetic.

Adopting a herculean task, Marshall attempts to defend Bashar al-Assad’s March 30, 2011 speech that states:

And I am sure you all know that Syria is facing a great conspiracy whose tentacles extend to some nearby countries and far-away countries, with some inside the country. This conspiracy depends, in its timing not in its form, on what is happening in other Arab countries.

While there is ample evidence that the USA had supported anti-Baathist forces inside Syria during the Bush administration, Marshall has little to say about the policy of the Obama White House. As has been graphically illustrated in the Jeffrey Goldberg article based on interviews with Obama, there was a rejection of “regime change” after he took office.

Furthermore, despite citing a Wikileaks cable that pointed to anti-Baathist efforts prior to Obama’s presidency, Marshall failed to refer to one that highlighted relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia, its supposed arch-enemy once he took office. This was dated October 1, 2009 when supposedly the USA was preparing a proxy war on Syria, with Saudi Arabia as its most reliable ally:

09RIYADH1303

ASAD’S VISIT: SAUDI-SYRIAN RAPPROCHEMENT BACK ON TRACK?

Thu Oct 01 00:00:00 +0200 2009

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Riyadh

Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad’s unexpected attendance at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) opening, and his lengthy meeting with King Abdullah on the margins, has encouraged speculation about further Saudi-Syrian rapprochement and its potential regional implications. Post contacts describe media reports of the meeting as largely accurate, noting that Lebanese government formation, Palestinian reconciliation, and Asad’s invitation  to King Abdullah to visit Damascus dominated the agenda.

The cable is borne out by a NY Times article titled “With Isolation Over, Syria Is Happy to Talk” dated March 26, 2009. It is the kind of article that people such as Jonathan Marshall deftly sidestep.

Only a year ago, this country’s government was being vilified as a dangerous pariah. The United States and its Arab allies mounted a vigorous campaign to isolate Syria, which they accused of sowing chaos and violence throughout the region through its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Today, Syria seems to be coming in from the cold. A flurry of diplomatic openings with the West and Arab neighbors has raised hopes of a chastened and newly flexible Syrian leadership that could help stabilize the region. But Syria has its own priorities, and a series of upheavals here — including Israel’s recent war in Gaza — make it difficult to say where this new dialogue will lead.

It is not just a matter of the Obama administration’s new policy of engagement. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France led the way with a visit here last September. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was said to be furious at the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, welcomed him warmly in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, this month. Photographs of the two men smiling and shaking hands have been on the front pages of all the major Arab newspapers, along with frequent headlines about the “Arab reconciliation.”

You can read a slew of articles like this between 2009 and 2010. They coincide with the now suppressed Vogue puff piece on the reformer Bashar al-Assad and his glamorous wife. It was only when the Syrian people had the impudence to demand social justice and an end to repression that “the conspiracy” was revealed. Apparently when people began protesting peacefully in the streets of Syria, it was all a plot to remove a wise and benign president who had after all received 99 percent of the votes in the last election.

To bolster his case that Assad was not all that bad, Marshall cites Joshua Landis who retweeted the reference. Landis wrote just after Assad gave the March 30, 2011 speech that “For those who continue to believe in the possibility of reform and not regime-change, this speech was reassuring.” Mind you, this is the same Joshua Landis who wrote in a 2005 NY Times op-ed: “For Mr. Assad to help the United States, he must have sufficient backing from Washington to put greater restrictions and pressure on the Sunni majority.”

It is utterly beyond the purview of someone like Jonathan Marshall to cite an Arab leftist such as Bassam Haddad. The Baathist amen corner consists almost exclusively of Western commentators whose Orientalism is palpable.

Turning to the final entry in the rogue’s gallery, there is a very long article in Truthout by John Hanrahan titled “As in Libya, Avaaz Campaigned for Syria No-Fly Zone That Even Top Generals Opposed” that is directed against a campaign mounted by a group launched by Moveon.org in 2007. I personally have problems with no-fly zones but recognize that it is understandable why people being bombed mercilessly might ask for help wherever they can get it, even if the USA never had any attention to implement one as was indicated in the Jeffrey Goldberg article. In fact, if there was simply an across-the-board non-intervention policy by the USA, Assad would have been overthrown long ago. When the USA intervened to block the shipment of MANPAD’s into Syria early on, it meant that the Syrian air force would have free reign.

After 3500 words on Avaaz’s past campaigns, Hanrahan follows the same path as many pro-Assad “investigative reporters”, both professional and amateur, have trod. In a section titled “Avaaz Has Long Favored No-Fly Zone in Syria, Based in Part on the Dodgy Sarin Gas Story”, he cites arch-propagandist Robert Parry of the abovementioned Consortium and an outfit called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) that was founded by ex-CIA agent Ray McGovern. I dealt with the VIPS report not long after the sarin gas attack:

The sources for VIPS’ [a group led by Ray McGovern] most sensational claims, it turns out, are Canadian eccentric Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy site Global Research and far-right shock-jock Alex Jones’s Infowars. The specific article that Giraldi references carries the intriguing headline “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” (His answer, in case you wondered, is yes.) The author is one Yossef Bodansky—an Israeli-American supporter of Assad’s uncle Rifaat, who led the 1982 massacre in Hama. Bodansky’s theory was widely circulated after an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. A whole paragraph from Bodansky’s article makes it into the VIPS letter intact, with only a flourish added at the end.

That’s some kind of investigative journalism going on there, just the kind of thing they probably teach to RT.com reporters before they start their job.

Hanrahan also cites Charles Glass, another charter member of the Baathist amen corner, as well as Adam Johnson, FAIR’s resident Assadist, and Patrick Cockburn who is definitely for a no-fly zone but only for the Kurds. All these people plagiarize each other, making the same bogus arguments based on faulty data over and over and over again. If they are supposed to be telling the truth about Syria, god help us.

Like Parry, Hersh, Cockburn, Salon’s Patrick L. Smith, Charles Glass, Kinzer and other Baathist fan boys, John Hanrahan has been a reporter for the bourgeois press—in his case the Washington Post. Whatever they learned in journalism school obviously gave them the skills they need to turn out bullshit in the “alternative” media.

Hanrahan’s credits are listed beneath the article,  including this: “He has written extensively for NiemanWatchdog.org, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.” Among its fellows has been Dexter Filkins, Hodding Carter, and Anthony Lewis. So the sleazy Ivy League school knew what they were doing when they lined up Hanrahan to write for them.

Probably the most depressing thing about Hanrahan is his involvement with ExposeFacts, a website that includes Barbara Ehrenreich on its editorial board. Does she have an idea of the crap that is coming out in the name of a website she is associated with? My guess, probably not. I had a momentary urge to see what she has written about Syria but did not want to feel any more disgusted than I am right now.

18 Comments »

  1. Best to just read Lazare’s writings on U.S. domestic politics — in particular his book on the Constitution, THE FROZEN REPUBLIC — and ignore everything else.

    Comment by jschulman — April 24, 2016 @ 7:26 pm

  2. Consortium News has been awarded the I. F. Stone award recently. (https://consortiumnews.com/2015/10/26/parrys-speech-at-i-f-stone-award/) Seems that Jeff Cohen, founder of FAIR (which, on the rare occasions I run across it, has been reliably pro-Putin and Assad), had a lot to do with this. The incestuous world of a certain type of “left” journalism…

    Comment by QLineOrientalist — April 25, 2016 @ 2:42 am

  3. Everyone with a brain supported the red army in Afghanistan where it did battle with US-funded Mujahideen over the questions of whether women are property to be sold or humans to be educated and enriched.

    Comment by Warren Perry — April 25, 2016 @ 10:30 am

  4. The issue is not whether there was a horrible patriarchy in Afghanistan that had to be eradicated. It was instead *how* that would happen. Clearly, the point of a bayonet was inadequate to the task. It required a mass movement that was based in the exploited peasantry. The 1978 coup had no commitment to building such a movement. It ruled by fiat. Its aims were noteworthy–its tactics counter-productive.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 25, 2016 @ 1:15 pm

  5. While the widely circulated reports of antipersonnel mines in the form of exploding dolls are probably untrue (there are similar stories about the U.S.A. in World War II), there is no doubt that Soviet troops in Afghanistan committed many atrocities (read wanton mass murder). Some of these were even documented in the Russian media after the event (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-02-16/news/8903050824_1_soviet-soldiers-millions-of-soviet-people-afghan-border); and it is safe to assume that where the Russians themselves are allowing smoke to escape, the actual fire is burning out of control

    The Russians looked on the Afghans, like the Chechens, as subhuman, and behaved accordingly.

    But to people who regard Assad’s barrel; bombs as the humane and gentle harbingers of true democracy–or who look on the late Muammar Qaddadfi as the tragic victim of a CIA conspiracy led by Hillary Clinton (who “bombed Libya back into the Stone Age”) the true villainy of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan may not be discussed in polite company.

    To allow these historical truths to surface would be to admit that history is changing constantly and is not a static contest between the Good (currently Putin, Assad, and the sorrowing ghost of Qaddadfi) and the forces of unchanging Evil (currently Obama and Hillary Clinton).

    It is difficult to know who was who and what was what in the long-vanished world of Afghanistan between the Daoud coup in 1973 and the U.S./NATO invasion of 2001-2003. It is certain that tAhmed Shah Massoud, venerated by many in the West and promoted (for purely self-serving reasons) as a national hero by the thoroughly discredited Hamid Karzai, was guilty of a wanton massacre of Hazara in Kabul and many other crimes besides. Nevertheless, it would be both naive and Eurocentric in the extreme to assume that the arguably petty-bourgeois Massoud and the Taliban, with their reactionary appeal to the unlettered masses, were merely mujaheddin period, with no further qualification required.

    Such is the blindness required to see the brutal, imperialistic Soviet invasion as a humanitarian intervention.

    In fact, as I understand it, the Khalq coup, and subsequent upheavals presented top-down socialism to the Afghan people, who were basically uninvolved in these transitions of power at the beginning. These affairs were carried out almost exclusively by a very thin layer of the Afghan intelligentsia centered in Kabul who, despite the Khalq (“masses”) and Parcham (Banner) names were in fact only two factions within a radical fraction of the country’s tiny ruling elite, educated at the University of Kabul, which never actually controlled or even influenced most of the country, a fact that became glaringly obvious when they actually attempted to govern, requiring military intervention by their Soviet godfathers.

    But I suppose the pseudoleft will continue to fill us up with lies about this as they do about every other crucial turning point in recent history. What are facts compared with the eternal warfare of light and darkness?

    Comment by Pete Glosser — April 25, 2016 @ 4:38 pm

  6. Louis your position is the definition of sectarian. You’re putting your political program ahead of the actual movement. Sorry the real world doesn’t follow your plans or mine.

    “The coup ” (incidentally what anarchists call the October Revolution, and further Lenin supported coups that would link up with Soviet Russia) was a revolution with the support of ten thousand workers (virtually the entire working class at the time, along with petty bourgeois modernizers. Working class revolution wasn’t on the table and still isn’t in that backward land, just as it wasn’t in central Asia before the bolsheviks took it over.

    Luckily the USSR was next door and compelled by the threat to intervene and back the revolutionary government and in spite of everything else it ended the purchase of women, ended child marriage, broke up the Khan’s estates and opened the schools and hospitals to women and children. In other words it did more than the sandanistas.

    The other option was the taliban with Washington behind it. Easy choice.

    Comment by Warren Perry — April 25, 2016 @ 8:02 pm

  7. In other words it did more than the sandanistas.

    Always great to see a comparison between Kabul and Managua rendered in less than 500 words. Makes me want to throw my Isaac Deutscher out the window.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 25, 2016 @ 8:05 pm

  8. Hey, the ends justify the means. A popular revolution that ends with a born again Christian Ortega leading a neoliberal dictatorship that arrests women for using birth control isn’t as valuable as a coup that liberates women from from 10,000 years of backwardness.

    Btw the “coup” government in Kabul was so “unpopular” that it lasted years after the red army withdrew. It outlasted the USSR itself even in the face of US/China/Pakistani/Saudi backing mostly thanks to all woman volunteer militias.

    Comment by Warren Perry — April 25, 2016 @ 8:58 pm

  9. The ends justify the means? I am glad that you at least have the decency to avoid bringing up Syria.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 25, 2016 @ 9:02 pm

  10. I really have to admire your tenacity in attempting to smear people you don’t like as Ba’athist, when you have gone out an a limb multiple times to declare that Sadam Hussein’s invasion of Iran was justified.

    But maybe you’re just being consistent. You seem to be applying the same criteria to the legitimacy of both Islamist and Ba’athist parties: They’re above board if and only if they’re backed by Wahaibist ideologues and petrodollars.

    Comment by masoud — April 25, 2016 @ 11:59 pm

  11. when you have gone out an a limb multiple times to declare that Sadam Hussein’s invasion of Iran was justified.

    —-

    I think you have me confused with my cousin Meshabob Proyect

    Comment by louisproyect — April 26, 2016 @ 12:24 am

  12. Lou: Perhaps Syria wasn’t brought up because no commentor here yet disagrees with you there?

    After all, it obviously takes a leftist even more sophisticated than Chomsky to see that the fucking US State Department and the Pentagon’s NSC is to the left of Putin when it comes to the historical legitimacy of the Assad regime.

    The not insignificant quibble here was instead over 3 things — all related to circa 1979 — the 1st being the progressive significance of the former USSR in Afghanistan, Their atrocities equivalent to Putin in Chechnya as Glosser suggests — I seriously doubt it. Perry’s got it about right. No post-Stalin Soviet bureaucracy could dream of being as utterly pernicious and diabolical as Putin since there was previously no component of individual wealth the likes of which Putin attained. The capitalist ethos definitely changed the quotient of evil on that score. That a certain form of female sexual slavery was was ended in Kabul when Soviet tanks rolled in was equivalent to Napoleon’s armies ending feudalism in Europe — that’s certain.

    The ’79 Iranian Revolution was progressive by breaking the weakest link in the imperialist chain — until it quickly wasn’t. Kooks like Jack Barnes held onto the notion the Ayatollah was a progressive force so long that Barnes drove a once thriving working class political party into oblivion, mostly through deception & purges & bureaucratic sychophantism — the greatest emulation of Stalin in a Trotskyist political party the world has ever seen.

    The ’79 Nicaraguan Revolution. Some leftists endlessly seek to critique it as being soft. They didn’t round up 500 of Somoza’s prison guards and execute them in the streets like the Cubans. They didn’t immediately expropriate the expropriators. Instead after 10 years of week kneed floundering they allowed an artificial political party created by the CIA to win an election won at essentially gunpoint, after the country was brought to its knees by clandestine war, subterfuge and imperialist turpitude.

    I find these seemingly subtle political debates fascinating, and often decisive, as did Lenin & Trotsky. In a way they are like modern arguments about Kronstadt that need to be hashed out once and for all.

    Hamas has been railed against by Uncle Sam & Israel yet Hamas got Assad right — a reactionary force that’s got to go, and Uncle Sam basically agrees with that but was never willing to directly intervene, while its ally Israel has always supported Assad — outright if not willy nilly.

    Hexbollah was a progressive force when it drove the Zionist army out of Lebanon in 2006, even setting up a crude political form of Soviets in neighborhoods with representative government. Who can forget it even drove out the US Marines in 1983. But it became a reactionary force when it defended Assad against the Syrian Revolution.

    Take the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Most leftists, as well as the State Department, consider it a disaster of epic proportions. Yet it is was the 1st time in 8000 years of Chinese history that Peasant Women took priority in the Universities and institutions of higher learning.

    The same could be said about the Knemer Rouge in Cambodia. I know nothing about them except that Noam Chomsky was labelled a sympathizer merely because he compared their news coverage to the lack thereof when compared to the anti-communist slaughter of the East Timorese. The late Spaulding Gray even had the temerity to suggest that the Khemer Rouge leadership wouldn’t have existed without the torture & suffering through the illegal carpet bombings of the US Air Force.

    Speaking of 1979, the Red Chinese Army was considered a progressive force by Maoists, even though Mao broke bread with Nixon some years earlier while the US Air Force was literally bombing the NVA in HuyPhong harbor while the bread crumbs crumbled, that is until, under the Pentagon’s quid pro quo, Mao chose to attack the NVA in 1979. This little known war lasted approximately a week. Supposedly China lost 50,000 troops that week. Vietnam lost virtually nothing. The Imperialists must’ve been giddy with the prospects of The Red Chinese taking on the Red Vietnamese so much so that the Soviet Red Army would just throw in the towel 10 years later?

    For those who admire the bureaucracy just know they are the revolution’s doom!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 26, 2016 @ 2:03 am

  13. It’s a fact that the substantial Russian presence in Afghanistan before the invasion had a very limited number of “good” qualities–some women were able to enter the professions for example. I was in Kabul in 1971 or ’72 and had to have a tooth drilled. Denied access to the USAID compound, I was directed to a Dr. Siffeti by a Kabuli I happened to meet. Dr. Siffeti was a woman doing business without the chadori (Afghan version of the hijab) who, with only a foot-powered drill and a pot of rather questionable amalgam very skillfully and painlessly gave me a filling that lasted for thirty years. She charged next to nothing for it. Dr. Siffeti had been trained in Russia. I liked her very much, and have often wondered what became of her in the convulsions that followed.

    Oddly enough, many of the the few automobiles one saw on the streets of Kabul (apart from the very occasional upperclass Benz) were Russian vehicles that looked like hallucinated Loewy Studebakers. Even more common was an SUV-sized 4×4 with huge differential cases that used up a significant part of the vehicle’s ground clearance. [But the trucks and jitney buses that abounded all had local bodywork ingeniously constructed on American truck chassis. (The things old men remember!)]

    That said, however, there remains no conceivable justification for the conduct of the Soviet army during the invasion, and the notion that it represented a progressive force is just nonsense. No legitimately progressive movement could have governed in the top-down way that the Russian-backed People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan’s succession of regimes (Taraki and Karmal) did. They simply did not have the support of the population. many of whom one suspects had never heard of them until they tried to govern. When you add to that the pure murder of the Soviet military tactics, you have only the grotesque parody of a progressive force. Whatever inroads a progressive outlook may once have made into the hearts and minds of the peoples of Afghanistan was entirely killed off by this–no surprise: consider how Stalin killed off communism in Russia and in the wider world, so much so that only the followers of Bob Avakian and the good old CPUSA–whatever is left of it–plus Slavoj Zizek even use the word any more.

    It should be added that the existence of political parties in Afghanistan (including the PDPA) was specifically allowed by the country’s 1964 constitution–an innovation that should receive far more credit for such advances as there were in that disastrously impoverished place than the the PDPA and the Russians. There was (in Kabul among the educated elite) a decidedly liberal tendency that manifested itself in a number of ways that a Westerner would have considered enlightened. There was even a nightclub in Kabul (called the bist-du-panj or Twenty-Five Hour Club)–quite popular with visiting Western archaeologists and construction engineers–where drinks were served in defiance of the strict ban on alcohol observed by the great majority of the country’s Muslims. The abortive liberalism that in one of its manifestations allowed this probably deserves far more credit for the “advanced” tendencies in prewar Afghanistan (such as they were in the face of the world’s worst social inequality) than the PDPA.

    The fact is that the PDPA, which existed legally because of the ’64 constitution, seized power by first backing the King’s cousin Daoud in his 1973 coup and then turning on him in a coup of its own, which led (by way of an internecine power struggle) directly to the Russian invasion.

    This was not in any sense of the word revolution, and the hostile reaction that resulted during the Russian invasion is undoubtedly the primary cause for the eventual growth of the Islamist mujaheddin tendency. The U.S. merely took advantage of the situation, in which it eventually ensnared itself and the people of Afghanistan, which is another god-awful story altogether, although of course related.

    Here is link to a picture of the toylike “butterfly” antipersonnel mines that the Russians actually did use extensively (as opposed to the mythical exploding dolls). It is said that the toy-like appearance was deliberate–we really have no way of knowing, but it is obvious that this smooth and brightly colored thing would have appealed to a child in a country where the toy supply was limited:

    Kaboom! If this Satanic contraption is “advanced” or in any way adds to the glory of The People Yes, I’m a monkey’s uncle. But hey, let’s all lie about this too!

    Sorry, Louis–this is a bit tangential to the thread, but I hope related enough to be worthwhile.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — April 26, 2016 @ 3:13 pm

  14. Sorry, forgot to close the emphasis tag around “mujaheddin.” Did not mean to scream all that in italics..

    Comment by Pete Glosser — April 26, 2016 @ 3:18 pm

  15. Sorry, Louis–this is a bit tangential to the thread, but I hope related enough to be worthwhile.

    Actually, the things that you, Karl Smith and Reza write are what keeps me going.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 26, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

  16. I too apologize in advance for the tangential angle of my comment.

    But, to add a tangent to Peter Glosser’s tangent, one of the most puzzling pieces of “anti-imperialist” thinking of not-so-anti-imperialist left (they do support Russian imperialism unconditionally) is their unconditional support for whatever the Islamic Republic does in our region, specifically as pertains to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (and including their participation in the genocidal policies of Assad).

    As relates to Afghanistan … Much like the American imperialists, the Islamic Republic had quite friendly relations with some of the mujahedeen factions; namely, the Ahmad Shah Masoud faction (as opposed to the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar faction, for example). This relationship with Ahmad Shah Masoud continued after the Taliban takeover after 1996.

    And, crucially, it was this relationship that enabled the Islamic Republic to persuade Ahmad Shah Masoud’s Northern Alliance to join in the coalition that was to help the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Remember, imperialists always look for some local partners in their invasions. In other words, the Islamic Republic was more than willing to carry water for the Americans’ plans for destruction of Afghanistan, by delivering Ahmad Shah Masoud’s faction to the American imperialists. The Islamic Republic did the same in the invasion of Iraq (but, that’s another tangent).

    So, how is it that when one state (the U.S.) invades a country, it is super bad, but when a local state (the Islamic Republic) does almost exactly the same thing, it is completely ignored? The so-called anti-imperialist left has tied itself into many major-league unresolved contradictions, all of which have been left completely unanswered. And, to add insulting hubris to ignorance, they then claim that the likes of me are CIA agents! Why? Because I, along with MILLIONS of Iranians, consider it our right to have aspirations for getting rid of a tyranny, the likes of which make the former Shah’s dictatorship look like a benevolent regime.

    It’s simply mind-boggling that the ‘anti-imperialist’ western left cannot even imagine expressing solidarity with people who want to have the most basic freedoms that these leftists themselves take for granted. Not only that, if any one of these freedoms comes under attack by western politicians, cries of “fascism” are raised (consider how many articles about American fascism has been posted by Counterpunch, for example). But, meanwhile, the Iranian people (as well as our Syrian brothers and sisters) should just shut up and put out, and live under virtual fascism just so that some sadistically bizarre geo-political formulas can work in favor of these clueless leftists in the west. Do they see the disgusting irony?

    Comment by Reza — April 26, 2016 @ 11:47 pm

  17. Regarding the alleged longue durée of the series of “coup” governments that succeeded the absentee King in Afghanistan, Daoud lasted from 1973 though April 1978. The so-called “Saur Revolution” took place in 1978. The USSR invaded in 1979. Thereafter the government became the overt puppet of a military invader whose hands were red with blood from the very beginning. The fact that this foreign yoke remained around the neck of Afghanistan for some years after the invasion proves absolutely nothing. Colonial governments often do last for a considerable time.

    In fact, it’s criminal nonsense to present this as a People’s Glorious Revolution, especially in view of the complex series of betrayals and assassinations that took place within the tiny ruling hierarchy itself, doubled by the outright murder of many thousands of political prisoners and a catastrophically incompetent land reform that began the mass exodus of many Afghans, especially Pushtuns, to Pakistan. (This was crucial to the eventual machtergreifung of the Taliban.)

    Glorious People’s Revolution my fucking foot. The Saur Revolution was a revolution only in the sense that what followed it was a perfect storm of counter-revolution that has proved catastrophic not only for the region but for the world.

    Indeed, given the knock-on effects when combined with other reactionary currents in world history, it might not even be a total exaggeration to say that it has helped to put paid to any hopes for world socialism in our lifetimes.

    Truly an accomplishment worthy of great Stalin!

    Comment by Pete Glosser — April 27, 2016 @ 6:38 pm

  18. “Lazare faults the USA for not joining Russia in its air attack on the jihadists: “So the U.S. and its allies helped Islamic State by tying down Assad’s forces in the north so that it could punch through in the center.” I have no idea what Lazare is talking about here. The US certainly was not doing anything to help the rebels in the north fend off the furious Assad-Iran-Russia Blitzkrieg in Aleppo, nothing at all, as usual; on the contrary, all the diplomatic movements suggested US support for the Russian Blitzkrieg. The only forces the US was actively supporting “in the north” were the Kurdish YPG, who of course were fighting ISIS! So Lazare’s statement makes no sense. The rest is worse: “But that’s not all the U.S. did. It also helped by suspending bombing as the Islamic State neared Palmyra.” He adds, “The U.S. thus incentivized ISIS to press forward” because it had not bombed ISIS forces “while they were traversing miles of open desert roads.” That is true. But what Lazare fails to admit is that this was yet another example of US-Assadist collusion; sometimes the US and Assad collude by bombing ISIS-held regions simultaneously (eg, Raqqa on countless occasions, Deir Ezzor where the US has saved Assad’s arse a couple of times, Idlib where they both bomb Nusra etc), but sometimes they also collude by jointly *not bombing*, and as ISIS approached Palmyra last year, both the US and Assad refused to bomb a few hundred ISIS troops “while they were traversing a few hundred miles of open desert roads.” FACT.

    Comment by mkaradjis — April 28, 2016 @ 1:35 am


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