Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 20, 2016

Eric Draitser’s mea culpa

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:59 pm

One cannot exactly be sure why Eric Draitser wrote an article titled “Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence” but it probably marks the first acknowledgement that there are people who oppose the pro-Assad articles that he, Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, John Wight, Andre Vltchek, Diana Johnstone, Rick Sterling, Gary Leupp, Jeff Mackler, Paul Larudee, Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett and others have been writing for the past 5 years.

In a refreshing break from the “Assad or the country burns” mentality of the ultra-Baathist stance of someone like Bartlett or Sterling, Draitser issues a mea culpa:

But what does it mean to oppose the war? Does it mean that we should be opposing just Russian and Syrian bombs being dropped? Does it mean that only US-Saudi-Turkey-Israeli supplied weapons are doing the killing? Sadly, these too are not rhetorical questions as so many on the Left, including many self-described anti-imperialists, have positioned themselves as hawks in a war that has utterly devastated the country. It seems that many, myself included up to a point, have gotten so enveloped in the embrace of partisanship in this war that we have forgotten that our responsibility is to the people of Syria and to peace and justice.

If you’re supportive of Assad then it’s a certainty that you’ve chosen to ignore or downplay the horrific violence of the bombings, the brutality of the torture chambers, and other unspeakable atrocities (I admit that I have often strayed too far into the latter) out of a desire to uphold the nominally anti-imperialist position.

And how about the refugees? I’ve seen the fascist talking points spouted by many fake “anti-imperialists” who with one breath proclaim their commitment to peace and justice, and with another demonize and scapegoat Syrian refugees whose politics don’t align with the pro-Assad position. Words like “traitors,” “cowards,” and “terrorists,” are shamefully applied to ordinary Syrians fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in hopes of saving their families. Indeed, it is precisely this narrative that is at the core of the white supremacist, fascist ideology that underlies a significant amount of the support base for Assad and his allies (see David Duke, David Icke, Alexander Dugin, Brother Nathanel, Alex Jones, Mimi al-Laham, Ken O’Keefe, and on and on and on). I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true, and too many of the pro-Assad camp have willfully ignored this fundamental point.

I ask these questions as someone who took a firmly pro-Assad position from the very beginning, someone who felt (as I, and many others, still do) that Syria, like Libya, was a victim of US-NATO-GCC-Israel imperialism and that, as such, it should be defended. And while I still uphold that resistance, I also have enough humility to know that, in doing so, I abandoned other core beliefs such as defense of ALL oppressed people, including the ones with politics I reject.

The questions alluded to in the paragraph immediately above are as follows:

  • Were this the 1980s one wonders whether they’d be saying the same things about the “revolutionary” contras in Central America who, like the so-called rebels in Syria, were also backed with US weapons, money, and training. How about the mujahideen in Afghanistan?
  • And what about those foreign fighters fleeing Syria? Are they revolutionaries when they go back to Libya and engage in human trafficking for profit? Or to Chechnya to smuggle Afghan heroin? Or to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else?
  • What will you be doing when Hillary’s fire burns and cauldron bubbles? Will you continue to ignore the material reality of this war in favor of the chimera of a revolution betrayed? Put simply: will you be supporting US imperialism in the name of the “revolution”?

As it happens, I am pretty well qualified to answer the first question about the contras since I was the president of the board of Tecnica that supplied volunteers to Nicaragua including the engineer who supervised the repair of the electrical grid that contras were continuously blowing up. After another engineer named Ben Linder was murdered by contras in 1987 while working on a small-scale hydroelectric dam in northern Nicaragua that was a Tecnica-sponsored project, our volunteers took over for Ben after his death. So I know a thing or two about opposing the contras.

However, there is a big difference between the Nicaraguan contras and the FSA. The contras were trying to return Somoza type rule to Nicaragua while the FSA was trying to overthrow Syria’s Somoza. I choose my words carefully here since the crony capitalism of Bashar al-Assad has much in common with Somoza’s dictatorship in which connections to the dictatorship could have enormous economic rewards.

Unfortunately, Draitser has a very poor grasp of class relations inside Syria and like many of his cohorts prefers to write about the conflict between hegemonic blocs rather than about Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, who controlled 60 percent of the Syrian economy and bled dry the nation’s poor workers and farmers just as Somoza’s cronies did in Nicaragua. It was the greed of men like Makhlouf that caused the uprising not a Western plot to undermine the BRICS–his primary worry.

Speaking of the BRICS, Draitser has called attention to the “destabilization of the ANC-led government in South Africa” that “continues as political forces align to remove President Jacob Zuma” in a Global Research article (where else?). If “stability” means gunning down striking workers in Marikana, I am all for “destabilization”. Indeed, you might as well ask if the striking workers were like the Nicaragua contras since apparently any challenge to oligarchies within the BRICS hegemonic bloc is tantamount to supporting imperialism. Does this kind of Manicheanism have anything to do with Marxism? With the zero engagement with class relations in the articles of people like Mike Whitney et al, apparently not.

In terms of “foreign fighters fleeing Syria”, I suppose this is a reference to ISIS since by all accounts every other armed group is made up of people born and raised in Syria. Oh, just to clarify. I exclude the government’s armed groups that now consists of Hizbollah from Lebanon, Iranians, Russians, Iraqis Shia militias and impoverished Afghans who became mercenaries out of desperation.

This sort of baiting question is what you might expect from someone like Draitser who obviously has a need to make an amalgam between ISIS, al-Qaeda and the admittedly wide range of rebels in Syria who, excluding the FSA, to one degree or another incorporate Islamist politics. Speaking of the FSA, Draitser has referred to it as being composed of “terrorist elements” so perhaps it is only logical that he lumps it in with ISIS. I should add that except for this rather unsubstantiated claim, he has never written anything about the FSA or the wide range of unarmed groups that remain in the country fighting for democracy and social justice. That would only interfere with his geopolitical chess game narrative that reduces them to pawns.

Finally, on the question of American imperialism and “regime change”. Like Ashley Smith, I am opposed to American intervention period, which includes no-fly zones. I am opposed to Western air attacks in Syria, Yugoslavia, and Iraq. Furthermore, I would have even been opposed to them in Germany during WWII, no matter that Draitser’s co-thinker John Wight supported barrel bombing as the moral equivalent of bombing Dresden–god help us.

My opposition to aerial bombing and US military boots on the ground flows from my analysis of American imperialism that remains one of my lingering Trotskyist influences. James P. Cannon and other SWP leaders went to prison in 1941 for opposing WWII and their example still inspires me. Beyond that, I view bombing as a war crime in and of itself as I pointed out in an article about Sven Lindqvist’s “A History of Bombing”. Lindqvist wrote:

The first person to step forward and openly acknowledge what the others were hiding was the Italian Giulio Douhet. He arrived as a young cadet in Torino, the capital of the Italian auto industry, and wrote his first book on the military use of motor vehicles (1902). In 1910 he published a book on the problems of the air force, and in 1912 he was appointed chief of the newly formed air squadron in Torino. The next year he and Gianni Caproni constructed the first heavy bomber, a tri-engine monster created to make bombardment from the air the dominant form of attack.

When the World War broke out, Douhet became famous for his criticism of the way the war was conducted and his impassioned pleading for the use of the heavy bomber. The generals were enraged, and Douhet was relieved of his post and court-martialed.

Following the Italian brass, I advocate that any head of state that uses aerial bombardment be put in prison. This includes Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. It also includes Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton if she uses American air power to enforce a NFZ.

Let me wrap up with some questions to Eric Draitser:

  1. After Assad bombed a Douma marketplace in August 2015 that resulted in the death of more than 100 civilians, you wrote an article casting doubt on the Syrian dictatorship’s culpability.  You pose an “alternative theory”, namely that “the Syrian military carried out an airstrike in the rebel stronghold town of Douma, and that the strike hit its target, a building housing a terrorist faction long since known to be in the city.” If the target was a building where a terrorist faction hung out sort of like Hamas in Gaza, how do you explain the photographs and video below? If there was pinpoint targeting, it must be same kind the IDF uses in Gaza.

  1. As someone who claims that the rebels gassed themselves in East Ghouta as a false flag operation to provoke regime change, how do you explain the failure of such cold-bloodedly devilish counter-revolutionaries to launch Sarin gas attacks on Damascus or any other government-controlled areas henceforth? These are obviously powerful weapons so why have they failed to exploit them? Are they afraid of being denounced by Vanessa Beeley?
  2. Finally, in August 2013 you wrote an article linking the “red line” rhetoric over the Sarin gas attacks as the opening salvo of a proxy war on Iran. Surely, you have become aware that at exactly the time that Obama was warning Assad about an intervention, he was in the first stages of a rapprochement with Iran. In fact, despite your frequent warnings about regime change, even as late as August 2016, there is ample evidence that this was never Obama’s intention as the NY Times reported on October 22nd 2013, just when the “red lines” rhetoric had fooled everybody writing for Counterpunch or Global Research except maybe me. The Times article stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”

So my question is why you continue to write articles about “regime change” after nearly six years of Assad’s scorched earth policies that goes unanswered by the USA. Isn’t it possible that Obama had simply acted on the recommendation of the RAND corporation that “Regime collapse, while not considered a likely outcome, was perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests”?


  1. Enjoy the Syria analysis. All the bums currently running for President ought to read and carefully consider the possible future consequences of U.S. intervention there. I’m convinced Obama’s current strategy has been perhaps the safest out of a long list of bad options.

    Comment by Chris Swenson — October 20, 2016 @ 5:06 pm

  2. Proyect writes: ‘no matter that Draitser’s co-thinker John Wight supported barrel bombing as the moral equivalent of bombing Dresden–god help us”.

    Which of course is a lie. I, as I suspect Proyect well knows, described the barrel bombs as indiscriminate and therefore a war crime. The point I went on to make that so was the firebombing of Dresden a war crime, but one that did not invalidate the wider struggle against the Nazis. Of course, for Proyect the Nusra Front are the equivalent of the Partisans, despite their intention of eradicating Syria’s minority communities from the face of the earth.

    As for Draitser, ideological collapse has taken root. As the saying goes, ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow but the tooth fairy’.

    Comment by John Wight — October 20, 2016 @ 6:42 pm

  3. Yes, you described it as a war crime but you also supported it. In terms of you versus Draitser, he shows some capacity for growth. You, by comparison, are frozen in your Stalinist-like rationale for murder just like someone in Dante’s Inferno.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 20, 2016 @ 6:48 pm

  4. John Wight is anti-homosexual, anti-woman, anti-Corbyn, and the enemy of the Syrian people. What is he for anyway? He dispraises the great authors Alan Ginsberg and Jean Genet in the interests of the inconsequential fascist blowhard Marinetti, whom no person of intelligence regards as more than a footnote, and is in fact far closer to fascism than he is to the authentic Left.

    Of course this creature is, as he says with typically clownish lack of critical reflection. “from the street.” So was Hitler.

    Of course Wight supports Assad. The question is, does anyone support him? I understand that he has written a book about the fact that he went to Hollywood and nobody noticed.

    How typical.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — October 20, 2016 @ 7:07 pm

  5. Ok, Louis. You say any head of state who drops aireal bombs is a war criminal. That seems reasonable. In this world which leaders will you get to prosecute? The weak ones. Well, that seems fair.
    Should I assume mortars, artillery, rockets and mines are acceptable? Barrel bombs out VIBEDS in?
    Your FSA is no more than a fig leaf. The “opposition” anything but democratic. I see the nation of Syria defending itself from what are mostly outside forces. Wahhabis funded and armed by KSA Turkey and the west.
    I don’t live in Libya, but from what I can gather life there would have been a lot better under Gadaffi than it is now. They had state funded education and medicine. Do they have that now? Syria has state funded education and medicine. Will they still have it when your “FSA” comes to power?

    Comment by Doug Colwell — October 24, 2016 @ 12:14 am

  6. Should I assume mortars, artillery, rockets and mines are acceptable? Barrel bombs out VIBEDS in?


    In general, these are the sorts of weapons insurgents can get their hands on. As it happens, no revolutionary movement has ever had an air force. Air forces tend to be the main line of defense for mafia states like Assad’s Syria, Somoza’s Nicaragua, Batista’s Cuba, etc. In terms of Libya, there was also state funded education and medicine in the Soviet bloc but that was not sufficient to keep working people obedient to the dictatorships. You seem to be indifferent to the right of people to speak their mind but my inclination is to identify with Marx and Engels who were deeply involved in the 1848 revolutions in Europe even though the outcome was often disappointing. I can only advise you to join some Stalinist sect if you are nostalgic for paternalistic dictatorships but my guess is that you already belong to one.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 24, 2016 @ 12:25 am

  7. Well, Louis, you’ve responded to one of my questions. Thank you! But you say I am “indifferent to the right of people to speak their mind”. Could you show me where I said that?
    “Stalinist sect” I love that!
    My other questions?

    Comment by Doug Colwell — October 24, 2016 @ 12:48 am

  8. But you say I am “indifferent to the right of people to speak their mind”. Could you show me where I said that?

    You seem to be rather dense. I was referring to your support for Gaddafi.


    Alakermi, the second longest serving prisoner in the North African country, was imprisoned for being a member of an Islamic political party. From a small village near Jadu, 200km from the capital, Ali was arrested on 17 April 1973, when he was just 22, and spent almost 30 years in prison. In Libyan jails he witnessed the worst atrocities: “Torture was perpetrated against detainees to oblige them to confess crimes that they did not commit. Salt rubbed on knees cut by razor blades, teeth and nails ripped out, dog bites, penetration with hot iron bars. These are only some examples of the torture techniques used by sadistic prison guards. Medical neglection led to tuberculosis and from there to death. A minor toothache would lead to years of suffering,” recalls Ali who passed through several prisons.

    He spent his last 18 years in Abu Salim: “You cannot imagine what happened there. For 12 years I was not even able to see my family. I cannot forget the events of the 29th of June 1996 when 1269 prisoners among whom doctors, lawyers, intellectuals and university professors were killed in less than three hours and put in a mass grave. Four years later, in order to hide the crime, the remains of the inmates were burned, the ashes put in plastic bags and thrown in the high sea.”

    Abdullah Senussi, the ex-spy chief and the dictator brother’s in law, is thought to be behind what has become known as the massacre of Abu Salim.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 24, 2016 @ 12:52 am

  9. You give me a horrific example. I accept it is likely true. I don’t “like” Gaddafi. But I believe the general population would have had better lives than they do now. Do you think they prefer their lives today?
    My other questions?

    Comment by Doug Colwell — October 24, 2016 @ 1:30 am

  10. Your objection to a No Fly Zone rests on the claim, which you do not support with argument or evidence, that the NFZ would require airpower be used to bomb civilians. Perhaps you could elaborate, since you offer nothing in the article to support your position.

    Comment by David Turpin Jr. — October 24, 2016 @ 12:52 pm

  11. Assad’s antiaircraft armaments are in Damascus, not out in the desert. I gave up on the possibility of pinpoint targeting during the war in Vietnam. More importantly, I am opposed to American military intervention of all sorts, including the boots on the ground near Mosul today.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 24, 2016 @ 12:58 pm

  12. Is it really worth commenting on this sort of thing?

    Comment by chris owen — October 25, 2016 @ 11:02 am

  13. It’s remarkable how many of the self-righteous resort to the “better-lives-if-they’d-kept-quiet” meme when glorifying Qaddafi. The reality is that the Libyan people had been pushed into a corner over many years where finally they had no choice but to take up arms in self-defense.

    It was not the Libyan revolutionaries who destroyed the–largely illusory–beauties of the Leader’s green paradise: it was Qaddafi and his obscene family themselves.. This was not a Satanic coup staged by a laughing Hillary Clinton as her cauldron bubbled. Are you denying all effective agency to the Libyans themselves? What Eurocentric nonsense.

    It is tragic that the revolution–perhaps temporarily, as Libya still exists and is not, pace Counterpunch, destroyed beyond all reconstruction–failed politically when it could not find a basis of trust sufficient to permit the disarmament of the militias that had borne the brunt of the actual fighting. The role of imperialist meddling in all this remains to be established, but how can you deny the right of revolution to an oppressed people, no matter how risky the revolution may be?

    A HIndu in my office–a naturalize U.S. citizen–said to me the other day in a most imperious tone of voice that “these people”–by whom he meant specifically the Egyptians, but probably by extension also the Libyans–“are not ready for democracy.”

    That is the sentiment–however disguised–behind so much of the fashionable “anti-imperialist” rant we see so much of these days. Such hypocrisy!

    Comment by Pete Glosser — October 25, 2016 @ 7:01 pm

  14. Corrections: HIndu=Hindu, naturalize=naturalized

    Comment by Pete Glosser — October 25, 2016 @ 7:29 pm

  15. Thank you Pete Glosser!

    One of the things that infuriates me deeply is that a lot of leftists who reside in the west don’t understand a most basic point of oppositional upheavals: as long as there is extreme exploitation and oppression in any country, that very oppression creates channels for interventions by imperialists after any uprising takes place.

    The basic fact is that in societies like Libya or Syria, no matter which imperialist the ruling dictator sides with, the local and very real oppression of vast majority of people is always *the real and only cause* for the people to rise up because human beings want to live freely and free of oppression.

    When an uprising or an all-out revolution does take place, the imperialists (naturally) have more resources to intervene and divert the uprising/revolution. This post-fact intervention, however, does not negate the original agency of the people who are being oppressed, nor their right to rise up, and it does not render unjustified the desire of the people to have freedoms that are part of what we call basic human rights.

    Unfortunately, the ‘anti-imperialist’ left is a strange animal. This animal knows nothing about solidarity, and the only agency it recognizes as really existing is that of the imperialists (the U.S. to be more specific; it does not even consider Russia as an imperialist state). This left views itself mostly as a political science professor who gives pass or fail grades to all sorts of social movements that spring up. If the movement to dislodge a dictator is against a dictator liked by the U.S., the movement gets a pass. If, however, the movement is unlucky enough to happen in a country with a dictator who has some beef with the U.S. (no matter how oppressive and reactionary the state is), the movement gets a fail grade, and all sorts of justifications are manufactured to rationalize its illegitimacy. Such rationalizations include the (almost insane) claim that CIA brought millions of people to the streets to destabilize a particular regime (exactly what these people claimed when millions of people took to the streets of Iran in 2009).

    This left sees as unnecessary any sort of analysis to find out what gave the impetus to millions of people in any given society to rise up against a dictatorship in the first place. In short, this left is NOT concerned with social justice, but only with a twisted chess game, which most of them get wrong anyway.

    Comment by Reza — October 26, 2016 @ 1:50 am

  16. Of course in 1953, the CIA didn’t bring lots of people onto the street in what you claim to be your country, now did it Reza ?

    Nor did the CIA bring lots of people out in the street in Indonesia in 1965-66 …

    Nor did it finance, organize, equip and train mujahideen fighters and coordinate with Saudi and Pakistani intelligence from the late 1970s through the early 1990s so as to bring said fighters to Afghanistan to topple a Soviet-backed government

    No, the CIA clearly is a completely inept and, moreover, inadequately funded and equipped “intelligence” organization which has never been involved in overturning regimes that US imperialism regarded as being some kind of obstacle to the realization of its aims …

    Comment by William A. Johnson — October 29, 2016 @ 11:09 pm

  17. Of course in 1953, the CIA didn’t bring lots of people onto the street in what you claim to be your country, now did it Reza?

    What kind of knucklehead dogmatist are you? The fucking clerics now ruling Iran worked hand in hand with the CIA in 1953, while Reza risked his life opposing the Shah in the 1970s that the CIA had imposed on Iran with Shiite support.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 30, 2016 @ 2:49 am

  18. “Of course in 1953, the CIA didn’t bring lots of people onto the street in what you claim to be your country, now did it Reza?”

    This is the kind of upside down and backward logic I’ve become far too familiar with coming from clueless ‘leftists’.

    A coup, by nature, is supposed to be an event that does not involve the masses of people. That’s basic politics. The people the CIA did pay to take to the streets in 1953 were the religious fanatical followers of Ayatollah Kashani (Khomeini among them) who were spreading the lie that Mossadeqh was a communist, so he had to be overthrown. The goons brought out by the religious leaders were brought out to attack and beat up peaceful demonstrators who had taken to the streets to support their elected prime minister in a moment of crisis. The same goons were brought out 25 years later to beat up on people like me — socialists, democrats, women’s rights activists and labor activists — so that the new counter-revolution could consolidate itself.

    In 2009, after the phony results of the ‘elections’ were announced in the most unorthodox manner, 3 million people took to the streets of Tehran alone, in a mere three days. Only extreme social injustice can bring out 3 million in one city alone. There were millions more in other cities. Are you saying CIA can bring out that many people onto the streets of Iran just like that? If so, you are a useful idiot for the mullah’s.

    Comment by Reza — October 30, 2016 @ 4:43 pm

  19. Pete Glosser writes: ‘John Wight is anti-homosexual, anti-woman, anti-Corbyn, and the enemy of the Syrian people. What is he for anyway? He dispraises the great authors Alan Ginsberg and Jean Genet in the interests of the inconsequential fascist blowhard Marinetti, whom no person of intelligence regards as more than a footnote, and is in fact far closer to fascism than he is to the authentic Left.

    Of course this creature is, as he says with typically clownish lack of critical reflection. “from the street.” So was Hitler.’

    Whoever the ‘creature’ Glosser is describing here, it isn’t this John Wight.

    Comment by John Wight — January 4, 2017 @ 6:33 am

  20. “In terms of “foreign fighters fleeing Syria”, I suppose this is a reference to ISIS since by all accounts every other armed group is made up of people born and raised in Syria.”

    oh, really? “All” is a big word.

    “The battle in these parts is led by a conservative Islamist coalition, spearheaded by Al Qaeda’s the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Suqoor el Ezz, headed by a Saudi called Sheikh Sakr. The coalition includes Jabhat al-Nusra, which is also tied to Al Qaeda; the Salafi Ahrar al-Sham brigades; and groups solely made up of foreign fighters, who are here in great numbers. The rebel Free Syrian Army is also fighting here, but not in the lead.”


    Comment by proudprimate — February 26, 2017 @ 3:13 am

  21. Yes, you do strike me a primate. This New Yorker article was likely referring to ISIS, which was made up of foreign fighters. It is difficult to be for sure, since this was written without much regard for scholarly rigor. This was also an article written 4 years ago by a reporter with an obvious bias. For more authoritative analysis of the composition of Syrian militias, I recommend Charles Lister that would perhaps be beyond your reading comprehension.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 26, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

  22. […] agenda. I first noticed a significant change in Draitser’s approach and would urge you to look at what I wrote about him in 2016. Showing an integrity that is sadly lacking in the professional Assadist class, […]

    Pingback by Petrified Assadism | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — April 23, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

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