Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 21, 2016

Tariq Ali joins with Smears against Jo Cox.

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:12 pm

Tendance Coatesy

http://tmm.chicagodistributioncenter.com/IsbnImages/9780857422095.jpg

Tariq Ali: Better off tilting at Windmills than engaging in Politics.

Recently former Marxist Tariq Ali made a return to British politics.

He starred at the 13th of June Camden “rally of shame” calling for Brexit, or as they tried to call it, Lexit (left Exit, geddit?).

London says #Lexit: The Left Case Against the EU – Tariq Ali.

Ali stood on the same platform as Caroline Tacchella, a representative of the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique, a French Trotksyist group, whose historical record even a genial codger like Tariq must remember with loathing.

The group from which this micro-party originates (the ‘Lambertists’) are famous for opposing the French students in 1968.

In a celebrated confrontation hundreds of this sect’s Service d’ordre  paraded in military style, demanding that the petty bourgeois intellectuals not build barricades in the Sorbonne but wait for the working class and its vanguard (not unrelated…

View original post 168 more words

Separated at birth

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 10:38 am

Dumb and dumber

Dumbest

June 20, 2016

Jo Cox, the White Helmets and the Baathist amen corner

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:17 pm

In 2015 Rick Sterling, a member of the steering committee of the Syrian Solidarity Movement, posted no less than five articles to CounterPunch that attacked the White Helmets as a tool of Western imperialism’s “regime change” plot.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/31/humanitarians-for-war-on-syria/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/03/about-those-chlorine-gas-attacks-in-syria/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/20/biased-reporting-on-syria-in-the-service-of-war/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/14/eight-problems-with-amnestys-report-on-aleppo-syria/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/09/18/what-has-changed-since-aylan-kurdis-death/

One might ask why one article was insufficient to make his point but experts in the art of propaganda understand that repetition is key. As Adolf Hitler put it, “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

The Syria Solidarity Movement was initiated by Sara Flounders of the Workers World Party and Richard Becker of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, a split-off from the WWP. Interestingly enough, the two groups never explained why the split took place—somehow deciding that Lenin’s attempts to clarify the split with the Mensheviks was not the sort of thing they’d bother with. Despite the immense sympathy for Bashar al-Assad that runs the gamut from CounterPunch to the very posh London Review of Books, the two self-described Leninist groups have not been able to capitalize on it. They number in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Is it possible that young radicals don’t have much stomach for mustached dictators who have a murderous ambition to remain in power no matter how much suffering and death it causes?

It should be mentioned that the offensive against the White Helmets has the highest priority from the Syria Solidarity Movement. In addition to Sterling, Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley have been burning the midnight oil cranking out articles to the same effect. This campaign has been so effective that White Helmet leader Ra’ed Al-Saleh was banned from entering the United States even though the State Department gave his group 23 million dollars. If the West is bent on “regime change” in Syria, it is not doing a very good job apparently.

As a casualty of both the smear campaign orchestrated by the beady-eyed Assadists of the Syria Solidarity Movement and a gunman linked to American neo-Nazis, Jo Cox has been trashed for her support for the White Helmets. When you Google “Jo Cox” and “White Helmets”, the first result is from the Holistic Works website, one dedicated to Colonic Irrigation and the like. Annie Dieu-Le-Veut, an anonymous writer who assumed the name of an 18th century French pirate, wants the world to know “The Truth About the Late Jo Cox MP and Her Husband, Brendan”:

We’re being told what a truly, extraordinarily wonderful person Jo Cox was, because her life was devoted to helping refugees. I’m sure she was a very sweet person – her face shows that. But how wise and truly aware was she? Today, with her body barely cold, her husband Brendan Cox is tweeting out a Go Fund Me link to his wife’s ‘favourite causes’ and one of those is the White Helmets.

The White Helmets is not a charity, and neither are they ‘the good guys’ despite their white helmets. The White Helmets is the military propaganda arm of the Allies attempt at regime change by destabilising Syria – and this is exactly what is causing the refugee component of Europe’s migrant crisis in the first place.

The article is basically a regurgitation of the talking points made by Sterling and company. How they managed to line up experts in Colonic Irrigation to share their story has the making of a good Gawker article.

As far as I can tell, the Baathist amen corner has been stressing the following points in its prosecution of the White Helmets, aka the Syrian Civil Defense. The talking points below come from Vanessa Beeley articles that read like Rick Sterling’s that read like Eva Bartlett’s (part one, part two):

  1. It was started by a British military veteran, not Syrians.

The culprit is one James Le Mesurier, who Vanessa Beeley describes as:

A British “security” specialist and ‘ex’ British military intelligence officer with an impressive track record in some of the most dubious NATO intervention theatres including Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.

I have no doubt that this is an accurate description of his record but it begs the question of why he would be wasting his time training men to dig people out of rubble when his expertise could be better used to lead armed assaults on the military bases that have been creating the rubble. Of course, this is the Achilles Heel of Sterling, Beeley, Bartlett, et al. They can’t explain away the fact that armored helicopters and MIG jets have been dropping bombs and firing missiles wantonly. As I mentioned to someone the other day, the tactic seems to be a crude imitation of the one used against MOVE in Philadelphia and David Koresh’s cult in Waco. Some might even call dropping bombs on apartment buildings a war crime but then again the Baathist amen corner has a talent for excusing such behavior. When John Wight seized upon the example of the firebombing of Dresden to make the case for Assad, it was obvious that he had not read Slaughterhouse-Five. If Wight had taken the same tack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would CounterPunch have published that article? I suppose if it generated enough clicks, it might.

  1. It is funded by George Soros, USAID and the UK Foreign Office.

The amount to train and support White Helmet workers is apparently around $40 million in total. That is about the same amount the Syrian and Russian jets spend creating rubble in a single day. In a different context, this is what Marxist economist Arghiri Emmanuel called an “unequal exchange”. In terms of why such destruction has been taking place on such a massive scale recently, the War is Boring website  identified Russian “safety first” principles:

The targeting cell issues daily tasking orders some 24 to 36 hours in advance, ordering crews to bomb specific geographic coordinates. Crews then spend lots of time planning missions and programming their navigation and attack systems correspondingly. Safety is a paramount issue — not only because Russian military commanders dislike the idea of losing aircraft, regardless if in training or in combat, but because their political masters, ever mindful of the propaganda value of Russian operations, cannot afford bad news.

Therefore, well above 95 percent of combat sorties by Russian fighter-bombers are flown at medium altitudes between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, where aircraft remain outside the reach of enemy defenses — especially man-portable air-defense systems.

Whether the mission is flown by day or by night, more than 80 percent of weaponry deployed by the VKS is so-called “dumb” bombs. Obviously, when dropped from medium altitudes against geographic coordinates — frequently through cloud cover — such weapons are grossly inaccurate.

Well, no matter. The only good jihadist is a dead jihadist, after all.

  1. The White Helmet leaders are actually bad guys.

Beeley identifies Farouq Al Habib as one of them. She writes:

At least three other members of the team were a part of the Syrian “revolution” including Farouq al Habib, one of the 3 most prominent White Helmet leaders who was also a leader of the Homs uprising against the Syrian government and according to his testimony, was tortured by the Syrian “regime” security forces in 2012 for smuggling a journalist into Syria to “cover” the “peaceful protests”. Habib was a founder member of the ‘Homs Revolutionary Council’ (the CIA have been linked to nearly all ‘Revolutionary Councils in Syria) before fleeing to Turkey in 2013 (A more in-depth analysis of his anti-Syrian government testimony will be presented in Part II of this article).

Interesting how Beeley is so fond of using scare quotes. Does the fact that she does not enclose tortured with them mean that she accepts that he was tortured? I guess he deserved it for “anti-Syrian government” activity. That’ll teach his ass. I suppose that is consistent with Bashar al-Assad’s participation in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. If you are involved in a serious war on terror like the USA, Russia, Israel and Syria, any measure is acceptable. Don’t believe me? Just read Alan Dershowitz’s “ticking bomb” defense.

  1. White Helmets are all al-Qaeda.

Evidence of this was a Youtube video showing White Helmet workers taking away the dead body of a man executed by al-Nusra combatants. Since part of its responsibility is to dispose of dead bodies, whatever their role in the fighting, there is some question of whether them carrying out this duty was a sign of affiliation with the executioners. Beeley states, “These impartial humanitarian workers did NOTHING to prevent this execution, they appear a full 5 minutes prior to this murder at the behest of the executioners and they are ushered into shot immediately after the victim is shot twice at close range in the head, to collect the body.” Maybe the fact that they were not armed and that al-Nusra is a vicious jihadist group had something to do with it.

The above Youtube clip has been deleted since it does not meet their standards but you can find another clip that according to Beeley does confirm that they are al-Qaeda because they were seen piling corpses of dead Baathist soldiers “unceremoniously one on top of the other” and then trampling upon them. I can’t understand the Arabic in the clip but I can’t see much trampling going on. Maybe its the cataracts playing tricks on me but I doubt it.

Another proof of White Helmet extremism is a photo that shows them holding up a sign that says, “We Will Not Kneel”. Terrifying, isn’t it. I suppose they should have held up something like what Assad’s supporters scrawled on walls early on: “Either Bashar or the country burns”.

She offers more proof that al-Nusra and White Helmets are in cahoots through the example of one Muawiya Hassan Agha, who is seen standing on top of an “Al Nusra tank” with a gun in hand. It is not exactly clear what makes the tank part of Al Nusra, but let us take Beeley at her word. Since there are 2,700 volunteers working with the White Helmets, one man’s indiscipline is hardly indicative of the entire organization.

screenshot-429

Al-Nusra tank?

The problem with Beeley, Bartlett, Sterling and company is that they are simply not capable of sweeping the evidence under the rug of cities blown to smithereens. The images of Aleppo, Homs, and other pro-revolution strongholds being reduced to the rubble that require volunteers to dig through in search of survivors is the proverbial 800 pound gorilla.

Much of the damage is being done by barrel bombs, a device even more lacking in precision than the Russian bombs dropped from 3 miles high. In one of the more chilling articles to come off the Vanessa Beeley propaganda assembly line, you see her trying to justify their use:

The barrel bomb itself is a rudimentary missile, cheap to produce [around $ 200 per bomb depending upon level of TNT].  It has design faults in that the fins on the bomb are still not aerodynamically perfect, despite several changes.

But then again why care about precision when the obvious goal is to blast a street market into smithereens and drive the citizens to emigrate?

It must be remembered that the SAA is fighting a war but not against anti government rebels as depicted in the mainstream media, rather its a dirty war against a merciless, depraved and bloodthirsty proxy army funded, armed and supported by the Empire interventionist alliance [US, Turkey, KSA, Jordan, NATO, Israel].

That’s reason enough I suppose to blow a man selling cabbages from a pushcart to kingdom come. And this really caps it off:

In war, civilian life is lost, it is unavoidable and particularly when terrorists embed themselves into civilian areas, converting civilians into human shields…Neither is it mentioned that the SAA make every feasible effort to evacuate densely populated civilian areas prior to targeting terrorist cells.

Isn’t Beeley aware that this is the same line that the IDF uses to defend its war crimes in Gaza? What an irony that she posts this material from a website called “The Wall Must Fall”, a reference to the one erected between Israel and the West Bank. History will have a hard time figuring out what drove people like Sterling, Beeley and Barrett to come to Assad’s defense when he was so obviously following the military strategy of Putin in Chechnya and Netanyahu in Gaza.

There is at least one Palestinian group that can see things more clearly than this crew:

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 2.47.07 PM

 

 

 

June 19, 2016

Notes on the demise of the Kasama Project

Filed under: Maoism,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:43 pm

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 2.38.06 PM

I had been suspecting for some time now that the Kasama Project was finished but finally got confirmation of that yesterday from a FB friend named Ben Stevens who I had contact with as Ben Seattle during the early days of Marxmail. The RCP alluded to below in Ben’s post is Bob Avakian’s cult (I use the word advisedly), the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Whatever happened to the Kasama Project?

The Kasama project emerged at a time when the internet was making it possible to bring together many scattered and isolated activists who had been around the RCP, but who had problems with the RCP’s cult-like nature. Kasama emerged boldly proclaiming that it would organize in a more open way, and be accountable to the movement.

But the apple did not fall far from the tree.

Now the project appears to have collapsed–with no accountability whatsoever to the movement concerning what happened and why. Of course, being around for a while, I can guess at the likely scenarios.

Kasama, like most cargo cults, was based on the principle of attempting, as an organization, to keep its political contradictions “secret from the class enemy”. By some strange coincidence, this principle is also useful in concealing the incompetence, hypocrisy, deception and manipulation common to cargo cults.

In practice, this principle requires attempting to keep political contradictions secret from the movement. And, as this happens, the true nature of these contradictions is inevitably concealed from members and supporters–and they cannot be resolved. Eventually there is nothing but gridlock, paralysis, demoralization and depolitization. This is often followed by collapse into (1) passivity, (2) social democracy or (3) sectarianism.

Kasama Project founder Mike Ely showed up on Marxmail in 2007 after Bob Avakian’s name came up in a thread on Maoist critiques of the RCP. In a way, Ely was never able to transcend that approach even though he always claimed that the goal of left unity was uppermost. I don’t think he had a secret agenda only that he was incapable of rising to the occasion. You can even get an idea of the limitations from the very name that is explained on their website: “The name Kasama: In Tagalog, a language of the Philippines, Kasama is the word for the companions who travel the road together — in this case, the revolutionary road.” This sounds nice but it hardly addresses the state of class consciousness in the USA that is so different from the Philippines that has had revolutionary guerrilla movements going back to the Theodore Roosevelt period.

Ely posted excerpts from a critique of Avakian that struck a chord with those of us who had left the American SWP:

Problems of dogmatism, self-isolation and political fantasy — that have always plagued the RCP — are now in command to a new degree. The heart of this is how the RCP’s central leader, Bob Avakian, is seen and promoted.

In place of the mass line, there is a one-sided stress on telling — in patronizing ways. The fetish of the word morphs into the fetish of the leader and tries to “vault over” the complicated processes by which people really decide what to think and how to act.

Leaders dream up grand schemes out of whole cloth — without forming alliances, constituencies or trained networks over time. They don’t have their own base to bring to the process. They “plan” to reach millions without actually organizing thousands. We should be suspicious of such contrivances and “get rich quick” schemes.

So given that kind of analysis, which was reminiscent of what Max Elbaum wrote about the “New Communist Movement” (ie., Maoism) in “Revolution in the Air”, I wondered if Ely might eventually play a role in steering the left out of the sectarian ditch that had made it so ineffective for decades. It was never possible unfortunately. Let me try to explain why:

  1. An inability to fully theorize the “Leninism” question:

Since the Kasama website has fallen into disrepair, some of the key documents there are no longer downloadable. Fortunately, they can be read on the “Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line” section in MIA, including articles by Max Elbaum. That is where you will find Ely’s “Nine Letters to Our Comrades” from which he excerpted passages for Marxmail.

In this 72-page pamphlet, the words “democratic centralism” appear only once and only in a comment that the RCP had a militarized version of what Lenin advocated. Furthermore, the term “Leninism” only comes up as part of the label “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”, a sign that Ely had not quite gotten to the bottom of what was destroying the left. The term “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” is nonsensical. Throughout the 9 letters, it is mentioned continuously without once considering the main lesson of Elbaum’s book, namely that a new approach was necessary.

  1. Ultraleftism

Despite his on-target critique of the RCP, Ely carried a lot of its baggage with him, particularly a fetish over militancy. For him, revolution was synonymous with violent protests. He romanticized guns, particularly the urban guerrilla mystique of the Black Panther Party. Oddly enough, he reminded me a bit of Farrell Dobbs, the leader of the SWP who was largely responsible for the “turn toward industry”. Peter Camejo once told me that Dobbs could never get over the idea that the radicalization that would finally culminate in the overthrow of American capitalism would largely have the characteristics of the 1930s CIO organizing drives in which he played a key role as Teamsters organizer.

When Ely would reminisce about the Panthers, SDS street battles, etc., he struck me as embodying 1960s nostalgia in the same way Dobbs related to the 1930s. I would say that unless you are open to the specific characteristics of the class struggle in the period you live in, you will inevitably go wrong.

  1. Clandestine norms

Five years ago Ely and fellow Kasama Project notable Eric Ribellarsi were giving a talk at the now defunct Brecht Forum in NYC, a victim of rising real estate prices rather than dogmatism, that was meant to introduce the project to a broader audience. I took the trouble to bring my video camera down there with me to record the event and help publicize it but Ely nixed it because it might be used by the cops. The idea that the FBI had no idea what Ely and Ribellarsi were up to was nonsense. Furthermore, they were not like Syrians or Iranians whose identity had to be protected. Instead it was just a silly acting out of notions of what it meant to “go up against the man”. Ely also could have given me the green light to record the audio but probably preferred to sustain the illusion that they were operating in Czarist Russia in 1902 or something.

I should add that Ely’s talk betrayed the ultraleftism that would keep the Kasama Project from reaching its potential. He talked about how the Greek left was “getting things done”, which meant how some guy drove a car through the front door of a bank. Considering the horrible disunity in Greece that makes effective action against the austerity regime so difficult, the last thing that is needed is tactical militancy. Instead it is figuring out how to create a united front of the ex-members of Syriza still committed to socialism, the KKE, Antarsya and the anarchists so that the social power of the masses can be effective. For that you need a mastery of Marxism and a subtle understanding of strategy and tactics, not driving a car into a bank.

  1. Grandiosity

It was rather telling that the Kasama Project started to sink into oblivion at the very moment it was issuing proclamations that had all the sorry pretensions of all past attempts at launching a new Leninist party. Timed with a new version of the website, it was filled with embarrassing bombast:

Organization, Regroupment, and Strategic Conceptions

The oppressed and exploited majority of humanity cannot win liberation, the communist future cannot be conquered, without revolutionary communist organization. The kinds of organization that we will need will vary depending on the tasks and the time. We draw on the rich and varied organizational experiences of previous generations of revolutionaries but also understand that the forms we develop must answer to the new and radically changed conditions that confront us in the 21st century.

We are committed to building a country-wide and multi-national organization of communist revolutionaries within the U.S. that is both serious and flexible, disciplined and anti-dogmatic, grounded in history and alive to what is new in this world. We do not believe that we are that organization yet or even that we necessarily constitute its nucleus. But we are seeking to help bring it into existence. We seek to regroup scattered revolutionary communist forces, not just the remnants of previous efforts but also, and more importantly, the new ones propelled forward by new struggles, and to forge along with them the organization that we need.

Serve the people, power to the people

We are guided by love for the people. We seek to embody a different way of living, the possibility of a different future. Communists should promote a style and aesthetic of humility, caring, militancy, universalism, a living radicalism, critical thinking, a deep practicality, and a respect for the planet’s life — its people, its many species and its biosphere generally. We should make a movement for total human emancipation seem like the most practical, radical, and loving thing in the world.

Only the people in their millions can make a socialist revolution in the United States. The organization we need will require the fusion of presently scattered conscious revolutionaries with whole sections of the oppressed in a process of mutual transformation to constitute a revolutionary people. We strive to identify the faultlines in this society along which struggles that have the potential to facilitate such a fusion are likely to break out and, as our forces permit, to support and initiate organizing projects to begin that process.

Groan.

I have a complete different take on the tasks facing the left. To start with, we have to drop the term communism once and for all no matter how much that will disappoint Jodi Dean.

We have to speak to people in terms that make sense to them. Socialism does not have the connotations that communism does even though for Marx and Engels they are interchangeable. But even if socialism is a more viable way of describing your goals, it is much better to articulate a program that focuses on the failure of the capitalist system to provide for our needs—in other words the kind of proposal just adopted by the Green Party.

We also have to recognize that organizational initiatives have to be based on objective conditions. The most urgent need right now is a broad left party that can begin to draw in the millions of people that have grown sick of the two-party system. If nothing else, the Sanders campaign indicated the dynamics at work that make such a goal realizable. It takes a committed core of a thousand or so people to move that process forward. It is the goal that the North Star website tries to promote and that is consistent with the state of class consciousness in the USA.

My recommendation for those who agree with that perspective is to check out the Socialist Convergence conference in Philadelphia being organized by the Philly Socialists, a group that is in the vanguard of political organizing today—in the genuine sense of the word.

 

Hairdos separated at birth

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm

Peter Sellars, brilliant opera director

Kim Jong-un, bizarre Confucian/Stalinist president for life of North Korea

June 18, 2016

Putting Ben Norton under a microscope

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:59 pm

When I visited the Verso office in Brooklyn for a panel discussion on Rosa Luxemburg last August, I ran into someone named Ben Norton who I knew vaguely as a critic of the crude “anti-imperialism” that had swept across the left like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We chatted briefly about our shared political values and his latest career move, which was joining Salon.com as a staff member. I thought this was a welcome addition to a magazine that featured Patrick L. Smith, one of the worst propagandists for the Assad dictatorship to be found anywhere.

I never would have expected that within six months Norton would end up in the Smith/Cockburn/Fisk camp writing articles reinforcing the dominant narrative on the left that the USA was bent on “regime change” and that the Syrian rebels were reactionary jihadists engaged in a proxy war launched by the West against its perceived enemies in the region.

I want to review his journalism since early 2016 as a way of showing how taking the wrong position on Syria inevitably leads to bending the truth, which for a serious-minded journalist is a cardinal sin. Writing for Salon, at least until it remains in business, might pay the rent but what good is that if you lose your soul in the process?

On January 18th, 2016 Norton advised Salon’s readers that “Sieges by Western enemies get big headlines, while larger U.S.-backed blockades are ignored”. It made the somewhat obvious point that the USA has a double standard but it is questionable whether Madaya got “big headlines”. As is the case with most instances of Baathist depravity, it hardly earns top billing in the NY Times or elsewhere.

What made Norton’s article fail the smell test was his allegation that if the Syrian army was besieging Madaya, so were the rebels besieging government-held cities like Idlib: “Before capturing the city, extremist Syrian militants had imposed a siege on Idlib for two years.”

So the rebels were starving the citizens of Idlib into submission? I was curious to get the facts on that so I checked his link to find out more. The very first sentence in the linked article demonstrated that Norton had set up a false equivalence: “A Syrian government garrison at Abu al-Duhur airbase has been overrun by fighters from Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra front affiliate after a two-year siege.” Why would Norton consider the siege of an airbase to be on the same level as starving out the people of Madaya who made the mistake of rebelling against Assad especially when they and other people had to endure years of MIG attacks originating from places like Abu al-Duhur?

In Syria you are dealing with asymmetric warfare and Norton decides to drop the first letter of asymmetric? What a sleazy trick he must have learned as an apprentice to Patrick L. Smith who recently described reports of barrel bomb attacks as unfounded.

From that point on, I decided to monitor Norton’s journalism on Syria just as I do with Smith, Hersh, Cockburn, Fisk, Whitney, Escobar, Draitser and a score of other scoundrels. It is dirty work but someone has to do it.

About a month later, Norton filed one of his many pro-Sanders articles that was all aglow over Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard becoming part of the “political revolution”. In contrast to the warmongering Hillary Clinton, Gabbard was against intervention:

Gabbard, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has condemned U.S. policy in Syria. In late 2015, she introduced a bipartisan bill that called for “an immediate end to the illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow” Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“The war to overthrow Assad is illegal because Congress never authorized it,” she said, calling the U.S. policy of arming and training rebels “counter-productive because it actually helps ISIS and other Islamic extremists achieve their goal of overthrowing the Syrian government of Assad and taking control of all of Syria — which will simply increase human suffering in the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis, and pose a greater threat to the world.”

Somehow Norton failed to mention other aspects of the Gabbard record that might have made her appear less savory. Zaid Jilani, a journalist whose work appears in the same kind of liberal online magazines that have published Norton’s work over the years, lifted up the rock and showed what was crawling around in a well-researched article for Alternet: “To Gabbard, the fact that Syria and Iraq have been through years of brutal civil war, wrecked economies and massive displacement is irrelevant; the only reason they have an extremism problem is because of Islamic theology.”

Basically Gabbard is a Bill Maher style Islamophobe who supports the fascist-like BJP in India and who has received substantial donations from its members-at-large in the USA. Even more incriminating, Gabbard is close to Christian Zionists and even spoke at one of their conferences. You can get a good idea on where she stands on Israel from her sponsorship of a resolution claiming that Israeli attacks in Gaza were “focused on terrorist targets” and that Israel “goes to extraordinary lengths to target only terrorist actors.” Co-sponsors included other hard-core Zionists like Alan Grayson (FL), Elliot Engel (NY), and Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (FL). But none of this was reflected in Norton’s breathless paean to the wretched Islamophobe.

On May 4, 2016 Norton wrote an article titled “Doctors Without Borders condemns ‘epidemic’ of hospital attacks as ‘acts of terror’” in chilling U.N. address” that ostensibly departed from the Patrick L. Smith School of Newspeak Journalism. How could one possibly find a way to tarnish the Syrian rebels when it seemed like a different hospital was being bombed by Syrian or Russian jets on practically a daily basis? Like this apparently:

On Tuesday, rebels attacked another hospital  as part of shelling that killed at least 19 Syrians in government-controlled areas of the city, according to a pro-rebel group. The Syrian government accused al-Nusra and allied Islamist groups of being behind the attacks.

Once again Norton was trying to draw an equivalence between the Baathist dictatorship and those who oppose it. But also once again if you go to the article that is linked by Norton, it tells a somewhat different story:

Zouhir Al Shimale, a local journalist, cast doubt on the veracity of the Syrian government’s claims about the shelling of al-Dabbit Hospital.

“The hospital is 6km away from the rebel held area,” he told Al Jazeera via the messenger service Whatsapp. “Rebels’ guns or simple weapons couldn’t have shelled the facility.

“Syrian state media is trying to put the blame on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to deflect attention from Assad’s campaign in Aleppo city.”

One might also question why Norton referred to “another hospital”, which gives the impression that there have been multiple attacks. It would have been more accurate to write “a hospital”. This kind of slipperiness is the sort of thing you’d expect from someone writing for the Murdoch press, not a “radical” who might have at one time in his life dreamed of being another John Reed. I guess Norton decided to settle for less—a lot less.

Five days later, Norton dipped into the Baathist amen corner’s bag of tricks and interviewed one Max Abrahms, a “terrorism expert” who shares Norton’s obsession with al-Nusra. The article paints the group as far more threatening than ISIS and—who knows?—one capable of another 9/11.

So who is this Max Abrahms exactly? You might want to look at Joel Beinin’s article “US: the pro-Sharon thinktank” from the July 2003 Le Monde diplomatique where he identifies Abrahms as a specialist in Israeli security affairs and a columnist for the National Review Online. Just the sort of authority someone like Norton would want to cozy up with after his earlier smooching with Tulsi Gabbard. I invite you to check out Abrahms’s articles at National Review. Maybe Norton could take a peek at them as well to get inspirations for future contributions to Salon. Like this one:

How does one explain this marked improvement in Israeli security? The “cycle of violence” theory would posit that such a reduction in terror derives from Israeli softness. Again, this logic was proven false. To staunch the bleeding from Israel’s July 2000 openhandedness, the Israel Defense Forces used an iron fist. Operation Defensive Shield, initiated in March 2002, brought the fight to the terrorists by deploying massive numbers of troops to the West Bank. This was language terrorists could understand. Evidently, it worked.

Finally, there’s the latest that appeared the day before yesterday and that prompted me to prepare this article. In an item on Jo Cox, the British MP who was assassinated by a neo-Nazi, there is not a single word about her support for the Syrian rebels. When asked by Oz Katerji why he covered this up, Norton responded that he did not want to mention her “infantile” right to protect liberal imperialism since he didn’t want to insult her on the day of her horrific death. So amusing to see Norton hurl the epithet “infantile” but let’s leave it at that.

What really stuck in my craw was Norton’s assertion that “Most refugees are fleeing Western-backed wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and more.” Was there a Western-backed war in Syria? Of course, Norton would say yes even though there have been reports on Obama’s indifference to the rebel cause on an almost daily basis for years now. Why let the truth get in the way of propaganda? But even if there was American backing for such a war, what exactly drove so many people to flee their homeland and risk death on the open seas in rickety boats? Was it al-Nusra or ISIS terrorism? You can actually check the results of a poll that appeared in the Independent last October.

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That is worth thinking about, if I were Ben Norton and tempted to write another piece of dodgy propaganda for Salon.com. One might expect a serious journalist to get the facts on what is driving Syrians from leaving their homeland even if it gets in the way of his political agenda based on calculations that it will serve his career path in a world where Islamophobia rules.

 

June 17, 2016

Parched

Filed under: feminism,Film,india — louisproyect @ 7:19 pm

Opening today at the AMC Empire 25 in NY and the Laemmle in LA, “Parched” is a militantly feminist Indian movie that has elements of “Thelma and Louise” and women’s prison genre films like the 1950 “Caged” except that the prison in this instance is a poor and isolated village on a dusty plain where men treat women like slaves. The Gospel of St. John refers to the word being made flesh. “Parched” essentially makes flesh the words of Frederick Engels in “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State”:

The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife, and modern society is a mass composed of these individual families as its molecules.

In the great majority of cases today, at least in the possessing classes, the husband is obliged to earn a living and support his family, and that in itself gives him a position of supremacy, without any need for special legal titles and privileges. Within the family he is the bourgeois and the wife represents the proletariat.

Director Leena Yadav’s characters are the lynchpins of a melodrama but they are also representative of how women are victimized in a brutally sexist society either in the village depicted in “Parched”—a woman’s prison without bars—or India’s biggest cities where gang rape is a common occurrence.

With one exception, the men in “Parched” are monsters that defy conventional film-making strictures calling for complex characters even when villains. That being said, the women are deeply flawed themselves—a result of conforming to ancient customs such as arranged marriages in which the bride is often 14 years old as was the case with Rani, the film’s main character now a 32-year old widow. She is seen in the beginning of the film on her way to a nearby village with her close friend Lajjo to pick up a 15-year old girl named Janaki who was effectively “bought” for her loutish son Gulab through a dowry secured by a loan. Once the “bounty” is returned to her household, a hut really, she is expected to serve her son sexually and herself as a domestic servant.

The cash nexus defines relations between the sexes in this film as surely as it does define broader social relations in the Marxist-informed Italian neorealist classics of the 1950s.

Lajjo is married to a man who beats and controls her in the same manner as mass murderer Omar Mateen treated his first wife. She is slapped and even punched for any and every offense, with the most damaging blows a frequent punishment for her infertility.

Rounding out the trio of flawed heroines is Bijli, who dances at a local tent show in a nearby town in the fashion of “hoochie coochie dancers” at county fairs in the 1950s. Men crowd into the tent to watch her perform a Bollywood version of a pole dance, kept more chaste than Western versions. Afterwards they can pay for sex with her, where the chastity is dispensed with entirely. At the age of 35, her value as an exotic dancer and prostitute is beginning to fade but she refuses to take crap from any man including her pimp. The message here is obviously that a modicum of independence is only possible when the cash nexus governs sex. Or to paraphrase A.J. Liebling, freedom of the vagina belongs to those who own it.

The only decent man in these parts is Kishan, the owner of a handicrafts shop that employs Rani and Lajjo in piece-work done in their homes just as was the case in the earliest days of capitalism. He is married to an educated woman named who comes to the aid of a young woman who has fled a deeply oppressive marriage that was also arranged in the same fashion as Janaki’s. She cries out in the village courtyard surrounded by elders determined to return her to her proper “owners” that her husband never makes love to her and that she is simply passed around to different men as a piece of flesh to be exploited sexually, including her father-in-law. For the villagers, Kishan and his wife are outsiders who will taint their culture through their belief in the rights of women, including the right to be educated.

Some Marxist scholars view these words found in the Communist Manifesto to be widely misunderstood:

The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.

For example, Hal Draper argued that a more appropriate English version of Marx and Engel’s words would be “the isolation of rural life”. Whatever the case may be, idiocy and isolation both apply to the social relations found in “Parched”. People are trapped into paternalistic and self-destructive patterns that victimize women primarily but also harm men. Rani’s son Gulab resisted the idea of an arranged marriage but was forced into it because the heavy weight of tradition acted upon his mother and made his own resistance impossible. His only satisfaction is in getting drunk and paying for sex with Bijli.

It is worth quoting the comments of director Leena Yadav in the press notes at some length:

The Inspiration behind ‘Parched’

In the winter of 2012, I went searching for stories in the parched dessert of Kutch, Gujarat. This is a remote stretch of scenic land in North—West India, home to 2 million people living in small clusters and villages, governed by ancient patriarchal “norms” decreed by the village council, that is largely made up of men. The landscape of Kutch called out to me, with it’s barren cracked earth and brightly dressed women.

The Women of ‘Parched’

In one village I met a woman called Rani. She invited us into her hut, cooked lunch for us and shared her story. She had been widowed at age fifteen. Already a mother by then, Rani has since then dedicated her life to bringing up her children. Her story was real, even funny at times. The decisive moment for me as a storyteller was when Rani held my hand and said, “I haven’t been touched in 17 years. I have buried all my own needs so I can do the right thing for my children.” Her words shocked and moved me. What is ‘right’? Is it ‘right’ to order a child of fifteen to spend the rest of her life wearing black and single—handedly raise kids born from a child—marriage that was enforced upon her? Why was the right to color and/or human touch taken away from her? Who decided these societal ‘norms’ and why did Rani accept them?

Another day, a young lady sat with us giggling and chatting, like she had not a care in the world. Her face and arms were speckled with bruises. When I got up the nerve to ask her if she’s alright, she shrugged it off. “He works hard and gets frustrated sometimes. Who else will he take out his anger on? This is my life…lets talk about something else.” She smiled brightly into my face. That smile inspired me to write the character of LAJJO

I met hardworking women who cooked, cleaned, raised children alone, did back— breaking farming work by day and earned extra money from making handicrafts— delicate embroidery designs that are stitched by hand, and eventually sold in cities at high price— by the lamplight at night. These women are brainwashed to believe that their contribution is zero and it is the men who are the real providers. “Poor thing, he works hard all day and comes back tired at night, so its alright if he enjoys with a drink,” the women would say of their drunk husbands, many of whom are seasonal truckers.

The Stories of ‘Parched’ are Universal

It started when I first sent the script of ‘Parched’ to a handful of friends living in different parts of the world. Each reader (male or female) inadvertently sent back a long impassioned email, venting their own story, or sharing a story of someone close to them, that ran parallel to the stories of these women in remote Kutch. I received deeply moving and personal stories from Delhi and Mumbai, London, New York and Turkey. This trend has continued through the making, completion and now the release of the film. Almost every person who watches ‘Parched’, identifies it to an aspect of their own life, or that of someone they know.

It is clearly to me that the experience of watching ‘Parched’ touches a raw nerve and starts a dialogue the world desperately wants to have.

 

June 16, 2016

The conspiracy theory shared by Donald Trump and the Baathist left

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 3:33 pm

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In May 2015 a declassified Pentagon report appeared on rightwing website Judicial Watch that was cited widely by the pro-Assad left as proof that the USA supported the growth of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

It has now gotten the exposure that the pinheaded comrades never could have hoped for. Donald Trump, the man of a thousand conspiracy theories, has now referred to it as proof that Obama supported jihadists, linking it to the mass murder of people in Orlando. Salon.com covered the story in their patented destroy Donald Trump fashion:

Even while a majority of Americans say they disapprove of Donald Trump‘s response to the mass shooting in Orlando over the weekend, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate is doubling down on some of his most ludicrous conspiracy theories — and ridiculously citing discredited right-wing websites as evidence.

In an attempt to defend his controversial suggestions that President Obama somehow allowed the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history to occur because he is secretly a “Radical Islam” terrorist sympathizer, Trump took to his favorite social media platform to share “proof” from the right-wing website Breitbart.com.

The Breitbart story (http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/06/14/hillary-clinton-received-secret-memo-stating-obama-admin-support-for-isis/) cites “a newly discovered SECRET classified memo” that purportedly proves Obama’s terrorist sympathies. The memo shows, Breitbart claimed, that the Obama administration, specifically Hillary Clinton’s State Department, backed ISIS in Syria when it equipped and trained Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad:

Hillary Clinton received a classified intelligence report stating that the Obama administration was actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that became the Islamic State.

The memo made clear that Al Qaeda in Iraq was speaking through Muhammad Al Adnani, who is now the senior spokesman for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Western and Gulf states were supporting the terrorist group to try to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad, who was being propped up by the Russians, Iranians, and Chinese.

What the Salon.com article fails to point out is that they came to the same exact conclusions as the nasty, awful Breitbart.com report that Trump tweeted. On May 28, 2015 Marcy Wheeler wrote essentially the same kind of article that appeared on Breitbart:

What did the CIA know and when did they know it?

That’s the real question that ought to be raised by a recently declassified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, obtained by Judicial Watch in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The August 2012 document describes how the U.S. ended up on the same general side in the Syrian Civil War as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS.

Somewhat to the left of Salon.com, Jacobin, which has been lionized in the NY Times as the Marxist voice of the millennial Brooklyn hipster, jumped on board the Judicial Watch “revelation” in two different articles—not content to spread bullshit only once.

In a June 1, 2015 article with a title redolent of Breitbart.com (“How the US helped ISIS”), David Mizner told the bright young things who read Jacobin:

While American politicians and pundits have blamed the ascendance of ISIS on former Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki and Assad — or on the removal of American troops from Iraq — the DIA report reminds us that the key event in the rise of ISIS was the corresponding rise of the insurgency in Syria.

Mizner credits Brad Hoff of the Levant Report for alerting him about the Judicial Watch discovery. It should be mentioned that Hoff’s website is a cesspool of Baathist propaganda and hardly the sort of reading one would expect from champions of democratic socialism.

Greg Shupak followed up more recently in Jacobin with another nod to the declassified report:

A 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report notes that “the West, Turkey and the Gulf” support the Syrian opposition, admits that the Syrian war could result in the creation of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria, and warns that “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

What Mizner, Shupak and just about everybody else who refers to this dubious report fail to mention is the conclusion that follows the reference to a “Salafist principality” immediately.

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Does that sound like the USA wanted to “help” ISIS? Grave danger? You’d think that people like Mizner would at least take the trouble to address the conclusion of the report that runs counter to their talking points. But when you are more interested in writing propaganda, the truth be damned.

Seumas Milne is the press adviser to Jeremy Corbyn—the British version of Jacobin darling Bernie Sanders supposedly—and has the reputation of being a fearless investigative reporter. Two days after Mizner’s report appeared in Jacobin, he wrote essentially the same article (the Baathist amen corner is not averse to plagiarism). Titled “Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq”, it once again relied on the Pentagon report without bothering to include the conclusion:

A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts – and effectively welcomes – the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became Isis) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria.

Vijay Prashad, who would probably want to avoid appearing as pro-Assad as Milne or the two stooges writing for Jacobin, could not resist citing the Judicial Watch material in an article that appeared in The Hindu, just 5 days after Milne’s piece appeared:

A U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) intelligence report from August 2012 suggests, however, a much more cold and sober reality. The report came to light in mid-May because of a lawsuit brought by the conservative group, Judicial Watch, with regard to the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. A senior intelligence official, who cannot go on the record, said that the report is only one among many. Other reports would likely have contradicted its assessment — although it is one that is highly informed and was circulated across the intelligence community.

I see that comrade Prashad studied in the Seymour Hersh School of Investigative Journalism by referring to a “senior intelligence official, who cannot go on the record.” That report was only one among many? One can only wonder if they shared the report’s conclusion that the growth of ISIS would be a disaster.

Prashad’s opinions on White House policy would startle anybody familiar with the actual record of indifference mixed with outright hostility to Syrian rebels or, even better, who has read Jeffrey Goldberg’s account in the Atlantic Monthly that reveals a president with about as much interest in “regime change” as he had in changing the way Wall Street does business:

The callousness of U.S. policy is that despite such an assessment the U.S. government continued to support the “rebels,” who had now largely been recruited into extremist groups. U.S. President Barack Obama’s refrain — “Assad must go” — was not shared by these DoD analysts, who suggested that Assad’s “regime will survive and have control over Syrian territory”.

The only callousness an objective observer could see was a White House that saw the rebels (love Prashad’s scare quotes—not) as a greater evil than the Baathists. Obama was never interested in regime change, only Assadism without Assad, a variant on the Yemen solution that the ghoulish family dynast would never accept.

Next in line is Daniel Lazare, a man who has written many intelligent items on American political history but who turns into Mr. Hyde when the topic of Syria comes up. In an article for Robert Parry’s Consortium News (24/7 Baathism), Lazare takes up what he calls “A New Anti-Assad Propaganda Offensive”. It refers to a New Yorker Magazine article that deals with Assad’s war crimes. War crimes? Imagine that. What will they report on next? The earth revolving around the sun? How eating McDonald’s is bad for your health?

Although you wouldn’t know it from a travesty like “The Assad Files,” the facts about Syria have long been clear. In August 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report stating that Al Qaeda, the Salafists, and the Muslim Brotherhood were “the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” that their goal was to establish a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria, and that this is “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition” – which is to say Turkey, the Arab Gulf states, and the Western powers – “want in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Lazare is totally obsessed with “exposing” people who have the audacity to charge Assad with war crimes. He showed up at a Columbia University meeting for Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al Shami who were on a book tour for “Burning Country”. His hand shot up during the discussion period when he breathlessly poured out a litany of how the rebels were evil incarnate. He reminded me of the kind of people who used to show up at SWP forums in the 1960s accusing it of “betraying the working class”, the kind of people who look like Diane Arbus photographs and who went on to form WSWS.org. As it turns out, Lazare was one of those people and retains the bad habits of his youth.

So what unites Trump and all these high-minded leftists who can recite Karl Marx chapter and verse? It is a dirty little secret: Islamophobia. In Trump’s case, it is fairly obvious that he has the same attitude toward Muslims that George Wallace had to Black people. With Jacobin et al, it is something a bit different. For these leftists, the minute people rebelled against Assad, it became a Western conspiracy. Instead of paying close attention to what Syrians were saying or doing, they were more concerned with speeches by Samantha Power or op-ed pieces in the NY Times attacking Assad. Who could possibly identify with people whose cause they took up? It was far too easy to treat them as pawns on a chess game without faces, without ideals, without humanity. So in writing articles warning about a repeat of George W. Bush’s “regime change” intervention in Iraq 14 years ago, they have become latter-day Christopher Hitchens warning about how al-Qaeda was gonna get your mama.

June 15, 2016

Debates within ecosocialism: John Bellamy Foster, Jason Moore and CNS

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:52 pm

John Bellamy Foster

Jason E. Moore

It has been well over 15 years since I paid much attention to John Bellamy Foster’s writings on Marx and the metabolic rift or his 1999 quarrel with James O’Connor, the editor of the journal “Capitalism, Nature and Socialism” whose Frankfurt School leanings became a bone of contention between the two big-time academic Marxists. At the time I had much more interest in getting involved in these debates than I do now. When O’Connor invited me to write an attack on David Harvey for his journal, I relished the opportunity. After submitting it, however, O’Connor changed his mind since I erred too much in the direction of the kind of historical materialism that Foster promoted. Around the same time, I got the same invitation from Immanuel Wallerstein who had his own beef with Harvey. Once again, after submitting something to the ganzer macher of World Systems, I got a runaround with Wallerstein requesting changes that I had no patience to work on. After all, I wasn’t trying to get tenure somewhere.

Without much enthusiasm I return to controversies that will have very little impact outside of the world of journals and academic conferences. This time it is round two of Foster versus the Frankfurt School and a new dust up between him and Jason Moore, the author of the well-received “Capitalism in the Web of Life”. I was particularly interested to read the critique of Foster in Moore’s book that Foster responded to on Ian Angus’s blog. I consider myself to be strongly influenced by Foster’s ecosocialist theories even though I’d like to wring his neck for allowing MRZine to function as an extension of RT.com, PressTV and SANA—a toxic dump whose editor Yoshie Furuhashi once advised her readers: “Moreover, the president of Syria has a weapon in the obligatory media war accompanying any protest in a geopolitical hotspot these days, which neither any other Arab regime nor the Islamic Republic of Iran can claim: his undeniably charming wife Asma.” Disgusting.

In John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark’s 11,700-word article “Marx’s Ecology and the Left” that is accompanied by 121 footnotes, there is almost no possibility of the layperson understanding much of it unless you are familiar with Foster’s “metabolic rift” writings, the Frankfurt School and Neil Smith, who was influenced by the Frankfurt School. Although I am pretty familiar with Foster and the Frankfurt School, I found the discussion of Smith difficult to follow. For example, I have read this paragraph several times and still do not understand what Foster and Clark are driving at:

Hence, in Smith’s inverted Frankfurt School perspective on the domination of nature, nature as a whole was envisioned in almost Baconian terms as increasingly produced by human beings for their own ends. It was possible, he argued, to speak of “the real subsumption of nature” in its entirety within human production. The late twentieth century, he proclaimed, marked the infiltration of society into the last “remnant[s] of a recognizably external nature.” Indeed, there was no longer any meaningful nature anywhere apart from human beings: “Nature is nothing if it is not social.” “The production of nature,” in Smith’s words, was “capitalized ‘all the way down.’” From this perspective, the historical production of nature represented “the unity of nature toward which capitalism drives.”

I had some of the same difficulties with Moore’s critique of Foster that revolved around his supposed embrace of Cartesian dualism. By positing the “metabolic rift” as a result of the estrangement of society from nature (specifically through the growth of cities and the depletion of soil nutrients that attends capitalist farming), Foster is charged with failing to conceive of the dialectical unity of the social and the natural.

In Ian Angus’s interview with Foster, he defends himself from this charge:

The constant references to Cartesian dualism, or what Moore calls the Cartesian binary, are extremely misleading. In his seventeenth-century rationalist philosophy, Descartes distinguished between mind/spirit on one hand, and matter/mechanism on the other. Human beings were generally associated with mind, and animals with machines. This was quite different from the distinction between society and nature that Moore calls a “Cartesian binary.”

I have to agree with Foster. For Descartes, dualism was all about the mind-body dichotomy, having little to do with social relations. He was dealing with an epistemological quandary that had vexed philosophers going back to Plato. Ultimately, Descartes’s purpose, even if he didn’t fully grasp it, was to break the hold of organized religion on the Enlightenment that reflected the class interests of the emerging bourgeoisie.

In order to diminish the role of the Church and the feudal aristocracy, a totally new view of the universe had to be constructed. Instrumental to this was a new view of nature, which was seen as transcendent and outside of humanity, but not sacred. Scientists would replace priests in this new world-view, since they alone had the ability to explain the natural order. Newton becomes a key figure in the general assault on the old order.

If nature is conscripted on behalf of the rising bourgeoisie, the natural tendency is toward a kind of bourgeois materialism. Against this generally progressive philosophical current, he posits historical materialism. The difference between bourgeois and historical materialism is that the latter mode of thought does not see nature as transcendent but as something that society interacts with dialectically. Nature is always being transformed through labor. Furthermore, science in bourgeois society is always qualified by its social role, as Thomas Kuhn argues. The purpose of socialism is to liberate science from its class ties and make it available for the transformation of society.

In a very real sense, Descartes’s philosophy was the foundation stone of the French Revolution.

I will hold off saying anything more about Moore’s ideas until I get a chance to read his book from cover to cover but can say this much now. His main contribution to ecological thought has been his ability to weave together the origins of capitalism with Europe’s ability to displace its environmental contradictions through colonialism. In an article titled “The Capitalocene”, Moore presents an analysis that should serve as a lantern for young scholars hoping to integrate history, politics and environmental thought:

The rise of capitalism after 1450 was accompanied, and made possible, by an epochal shift in the scale, speed, and scope of landscape transformation across the geographical expanse of early capitalism. The long 17th century forest clearances of the Vistula Basin and Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest occurred on a scale, and at a speed, between five and ten times greater than anything seen in medieval Europe. Feudal Europe had taken centuries to deforest large expanses of western and central Europe; after 1450, comparable deforestation occurred in decades, not centuries. To take but one example, in medieval Picardy (northeastern France), it took 200 years to clear 12,000 hectares of forest, beginning in the 12th century. Four centuries later, in northeastern Brazil at the height of the sugar boom in the 1650s, 12,000 hectares of forest would be cleared in a single year. These are precious clues to an epochal transition in the relations of power, wealth, and nature that occurred over the course of the long medieval crisis and the expansion that commenced after 1450.

It is the same kind of rigor displayed in Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule” and just one more indication that Marxist scholarship is finally returning to the principles enunciated in Chapter 27 of V. 1 of “Capital”–“The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”. While Marx identified slavery and colonialism as key, he did not (and probably could not) document the  the devastating impact of colonialism on the natural world (does that sound like I am lapsing into Cartesianism?)

Turning to Foster and Clark’s very long article criticizing a wide range of thinkers mostly associated with James O’Connor’s journal, it would probably be useful to provide some background.

In February 1999 Monthly Review published an attack on James O’Connor by Foster’s close associate Paul Burkett. Titled “Fusing Red and Green”, it was a pretty sharp take-down of O’Connor’s new book “Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism”.  In keeping with Foster and Clark’s article, it defended Marx against charges that he was indifferent to capitalism’s assault on nature as described in Moore’s citation above:

Surprisingly, O’Connor does not systematically address the extent to which Marxism’s historical neglect of the conditions of production is rooted in partial and/or distorted interpretations of the work of Marx and Engels. Instead, Natural Causes merely recites the standard accusations of ecologically incorrect thinking against the founders of Marxism, with no real consideration of the evidence for and against these charges or of alternative interpretations, in which Marx and Engels assign a central role to natural conditions and ecological themes.

As is the case in all of these debates in the academy over theoretical questions (Kliman versus the URPE editorial board, etc.), it can get pretty nasty. Two years after Burkett’s article appeared, O’Connor organized a symposium on Foster’s “Marx’s Ecology” that amounted to revenge—a dish served cold in this instance. All the contributors dumped on him in the same fashion that Burkett dumped on O’Connor. When Foster requested space in CNS for a 3000 word rebuttal, O’Connor turned him down. Paul Burkett did reply, however.

As you can probably gather, the CNS issue is behind a paywall. When I read it fifteen years ago, I was a lot closer to Foster and even considered him a friend. So when I wrote about it (this was long before I began blogging—actually there was no such thing as a blog back then), I held the Foster banner aloft. Ironically the first article I trash was co-authored by Salvatore Engel-DiMauro who somehow got me to write for CNS two years ago after convincing me that the bad old days of O’Connor runarounds were over.)

The first article in the June symposium is so banal that one wonders why O’Connor bothered to include it. Titled “Failed Promise” and co-authored by Maarten de Kadt and Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, it makes the startling revelation that Marx’s ecological analysis revolved around the problem of soil fertility and failed to address such problems as nuclear weapons or PCB’s. One wonders why de Kadt and Engel_Di Mauro did not fault Marx for not living into the 1980s. Too much red meat, cheap wine and cigars, one supposes.

Alan Rudy’s “Marx’s Ecology and Rift Analysis” gets to the heart of Foster’s study. For Foster, the question of a “metabolic rift” is key not only to understanding Marx, but in developing ecosocialist solutions for today’s world. Basically, the metabolic rift was created as a result of the development of cities under capitalism, when the source of organic nutrients in the form of animal or human waste was separated from the soil. It led to “guano wars” in the 19th century, open sewers in the streets of London and a host of other social problems. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx proposed the abolition of the distinction between town and country as a first step toward mending the metabolic rift. Moreover, in the absence of a socialist transformation of the world, every chemical advance to compensate for the loss of soil fertility has led to further contradictions, including the seepage of fertilizers into bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico, cancer epidemics due to pesticides, etc.

For Rudy, “[T]he concept of metabolic rift…has a far greater affinity for natural resource economics than the dialectics of ecological Marxism.” In contrast, Rudy would shift the discussion away from scientific considerations of natural resource usage altogether–either Marxist or bourgeois. Why? Because, to put it bluntly, he is committed to the kind of anti-scientific prejudices that characterized the Frankfurt School. Foster supposedly subscribes to the “the Baconian conception of an atomized nature.” Such a conception “undergirds the assumption that there is one scientific method because, at root, all of nature is comprised of discrete piles of differently arranged, hierarchically organized, though fundamentally similar things.” That’s odd. In my reading of “Marx’s Ecology,” I found a steadfast defense of the kind of dialectical understanding of science that you find in Lewontin and Levins.

After having declared his affinity for the kind of science spoofed by Alan Sokal in “Social Text,” Rudy attempts to refute the concept of metabolic rift by referring to England at the time of the Enclosure Acts. He writes, “The metabolic rift argument suggests that the movement of human and animal waste from the country to the city leads to the accelerated depletion of agricultural soils. However, the increase in rural livestock suggests that the problem may have been as much related to the maldistribution of rural wastes as the separation of rural from urban wastes. The scientific or cultural or infrastructural incapacity to engage in this redistribution of animal waste then would need to be explained.”

This distinction is next to useless. Marx’s concern was not just with the separation of town and city, but the failure of capitalist farming in general, which tended to put short-term profits over long-term social considerations. Maldistribution of rural wastes simply suggests that the English gentry’s verbal commitment to “improvement” was at odds with the mode of production. What else is new?

Perhaps Rudy’s biggest problem is his tendency to assume that the concept of metabolic rift rests upon some kind of binary opposition that was not present in 19th century Europe at all. He writes:

“The imagery of rift suggests a chasm between country and city, nature and society, and agriculture and industry. Yet the 19th century is the era of massive road, canal and railroad construction; of extraordinary scientific and technological innovation (only exceeded by the following century); and of phenomenal introductions and migrations of non-native crops, peoples, diseases, and invasive species all multi-directionally across the increasingly accessible globe.”

What can one say? Rudy simply doesn’t get Marx’s argument, nor Foster’s very effective presentation of that argument. All of the sweeping changes described by Rudy, and which constitute the first part of the Communist Manifesto as well, are simply mechanisms to facilitate the development of the modern urban-based capitalist economy that is the root of our problem. Railroad construction made and makes it possible to separate livestock from their feed sources. The consequences are pig feces filling the rivers and lakes of North Carolina and monoculture production of corn in the Midwest with all the attendant problems. The idea is to reorganize society, not stand breathless in the face of capitalist transportation “miracles.” (Unfortunately, Foster has not explored the connections between metabolic rift and the consequences of farming based on nonrenewable energy. More about that anon.)

Nothing has occurred in the past fifteen years to make me want to take back a single word. In the ideological battle between Foster/Clark and a variety of Frankfurt-inspired thinkers, I continue to identify with the Monthly Review authors even though I find the magazine’s failure to understand the nature of the conflict in Syria a tragic mistake.

June 13, 2016

On the marbling of al-Nusra and “moderate” Syrian rebels

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:20 pm

One of the things I’ve noticed over the past five years of genocidal war against the Syrian people is the apparently well-orchestrated defense of the regime by elements of the “left” who are as disciplined in their way as members of the Communist Party when Stalin was running the show. Using websites such as Salon.com, Jacobin, CounterPunch, the London Review of Books and Consortium News, they can be relied upon to crank out basically the same article with the same embedded links reading in some ways like plagiarized versions of Syrian state media. It was most prominently displayed in September 2013 when it seemed like a chorus of a thousand voices spoke as one in defense of the idea that the Sarin gas attack was a “false flag” operation mounted by the rebels to give the USA the excuse it needed for “regime change”. To give you an idea of the massiveness of the propaganda campaign, Googling “Sarin gas” and “false flag” returns 58,800 results with CounterPunch, Iran’s PressTV and the LRB included in the first six.

Right now the main talking point of the Baathist amen corner seems to be the question of American support for Al Qaeda in Syria aka al-Nusra front, which is usually formulated as support not exactly for al-Nusra but those rebel groups that engage in joint military actions with it. It is like saying that Winston Churchill, one of the 20th century’s most vicious anti-Communists, was pro-Stalin because English and Soviet soldiers both targeted Hitler.

While I have grown inured to these articles, they seem to be gathering momentum as the “peace” talks broke down and allowed Russian and Syrian jets to bomb hospitals and other civilian targets. What better way to make such barbarism tolerable than to smear the rebels as those who would launch attacks on the American homeland if given half a chance. In an odd way, it reminds me of how LBJ used to defend the invasion of Vietnam except in this case it is jihadism rather than Communism that has to be stopped in its tracks.

Weighing in on Truthout.org, long time Iranian theocracy defender Gareth Porter speaks about how “Obama Broke Pledge to Demand Syrian Opposition’s Separation From Nusra Front”. It starts off:

The gradual erosion of the cease-fire in Syria over the past month is the result of multiple factors shaping the conflict, but one of the underlying reasons is the Obama administration’s failure to carry out its commitment to Russia to get US-supported opposition groups to separate themselves physically from the Nusra Front — the al-Qaeda organization in Syria.

The rest of the article contains exactly the same observation repeated continuously to the conclusion. Of course, repetition is a key device in propaganda just as it is in Trivago commercials. The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov refers to the intermingling of al-Nusra and USA supported (verbally) rebels as “marbling”, a term that ironically evokes the way that fat is found in cuts of beef. Given the slaughterhouse that Syria has become, this must have reflected Russian subliminal thought.

As bad as Porter is, he does not come close to the sheer mendacity of Patrick L. Smith, Salon.com’s resident expert on all things Syrian. His article is titled “Our Syria policy is still a mess: These are the dots the media refuses to connect”  and covers the same bases as Porter’s, especially the refusal of Syrian rebels to separate themselves physically from al-Nusra as if it was as simple as obeying a parent to stop hanging around some trouble-makers in high school. The article begins:

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s widely respected foreign minister, dropped a big one here last weekend. After an hour-long conversation with John Kerry, Lavrov asserted in nationally televised remarks that the American secretary of state told him he wanted Russian planes to stop bombing al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, in their air campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. GlobalSecurity.org carried the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty account of the exchange; it is here and worth a read.

“They are telling us not to hit it [al–Nusra] because there is ‘normal’ opposition next…to it,” Lavrov explained very soon after the two put their telephones down.

For Smith, the real explanation for physical proximity between “moderate” (an idiotic term) rebels and al-Nusra is their ideological proximity:

For the record, it has long been understood and occasionally acknowledged by those on the ground in Syria that many of the militias the U.S. has armed and trained are hopelessly tangled up with al–Nusra rebels. If you listen closely, this is not a matter of logistics or military strategy, and still less of happenstance. It is primarily a reflection of ideological affinity, given how regularly these groups are in and out of alliances with one another. Washington’s moderates, in other words, do not give much evidence of moderation. There is little ground left to qualify this even as a topic worth debate.

Once he has established that it is nothing but jihadists that are fighting in Syria, the next step for a propagandist like Smith is to serve as an attorney for Baathist extremism (or exterminism, more accurately) as he plunges the butcher knife in ever more deeply:

One concerns the propaganda that crawls like kuzdu all over official statements and press reporting on the Syria conflict. The two usually coincide, we need to note, though this is not always so.

Barrel bombs (of the kind American deployed against the Vietnamese), targeted hospitals, civilian casualties, blockaded populations pushed to starvation: If you have not read of all this and more you have not been reading the newspapers. Here is our question: How much of this do we know to be so and how much as to the culpable parties?

Oh sure, everybody knows that this is just like the reports of the Huns impaling Belgian babies on their bayonets in 1914:

And you get how Smith throws in the reference to Vietnam? What is the point? That it is hypocritical for us to condemn their use there because “our country” used them against the Vietnamese? Not for me, at least. I opposed them in both Vietnam and Syria. What a hack like Patrick L. Smith was doing to oppose the war in Vietnam back then is anybody’s guess.

Maybe the best tactic the Russians can use against marbling in Syria would be the one they used in Chechnya:

Russian warplanes dropped leaflets Monday on the capital of separatist Chechnya, declaring that the war-torn city is surrounded by troops and warning residents that they must flee by Saturday or die.

The bluntly worded statement threatened that anyone who does not leave the city of Grozny will be deemed a terrorist and will be destroyed in a massive campaign of shelling and bombing.

“You are surrounded,” the leaflet said. “All roads to Grozny are blocked. You have lost. You have no chance of victory. Your commanders do not know what to do next. Further resistance is senseless.”

–LA Times, December 7, 1999 (http://articles.latimes.com/1999/dec/07/news/mn-41422)

As was the case in 1999, the American president spoke sternly to Russia about such a threat. With a scowl on his face, Clinton said, “Russia will pay a heavy price for those actions with each passing day, sinking more deeply into a morass that will intensify extremism and diminish its own standing in the world.” Those words had some impact, didn’t they?

The only question is where Russia learned such a tactic. If you want to separate “terrorists” like the Chechen rebels and al-Nusra front from those irresponsible enough to be in close proximity to them, there’s no better solution than to drop leaflets telling them to get out of Dodge or be blown to kingdom come.

Is it possible that they learned it from the most vigilant opponents of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East?

The air-dropped leaflets warned Gaza residents that failure to comply with instructions to evacuate “will endanger their lives and the loves of their families,” according to Reuters. The area is home to at least 100,000 people.

The BBC quotes the Israel’s military as confirming that it dropped leaflets in the area this morning.

“We do not wish to harm civilians in Gaza, but these civilians must know that remaining in close proximity to Hamas terrorists and infrastructures is extremely unsafe,” the IDF said.

–NPR, July 13, 2014 (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/07/13/331122214/palestinians-flee-gaza-after-israel-drops-warning-leaflets)

Clearly two countries having so much in common in dealing with an existential challenge to civilization and cultural diversity such as Russia and Israel would naturally begin to not only cross-fertilize each other in terms of military tactics; they would inevitably draw closer together so that cheek-by-jowl they could form a united front against the dreaded jihadists who are threatening not only Moscow, Damascus and Tel Aviv but New York as well. What the world needs now more than ever is a war on terrorism with Christians, Jews, atheists and forward-thinking Muslims against the threat to our most deeply held values.

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