Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 12, 2018

Max Blumenthal and the Streisand Effect

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

On the Southern Poverty Law Center, this rather odd statement can be read:

Yesterday, Friday, March 9, we published an article entitled “The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment.” After receiving some concerns about the article from Max Blumenthal that evening, we took it down, pending further review.

The article was written by Alexander Reid Ross as a follow-up to earlier articles for SPLC titled “The Internet Research Agency: behind the shadowy network that meddled in the 2016 Elections” and “The far-right influence in pro-Kremlin media and political networks”.  Subsequent to the removal of the latest, the other two have been removed as well.

The three articles are all focused on the real problem we face from Putin, which is much less about the 2016 elections that Clinton was mostly responsible for subverting, than it is about his outreach to the American left. If our main goal is to overthrow American capitalism, how do we reconcile that with the growing ties between those viewing themselves as radicals and a regime that is promoting fascism everywhere in the world, including the USA.

Ross is not the only investigative reporter looking at these ties. In a book-length post on the Ravings of a Radical Vagabond blog titled “An Investigation Into Red-Brown Alliances: Third Positionism, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, And The Western Left”, you can discover the same kind of research that Ross credits in the deleted article that can still be read here. (Make sure to adjust the embedded links since they concatenate the web archive URL, where it is located, with the original URL’s.)

Despite the SPLC’s massive treasury based on donations made by wealthy liberals, I doubt that they will be publishing the article even after its dubious “review”. Most people surmise that Max Blumenthal, who is the main target of Ross’s article, has threatened legal action that we can assume his daddy Sidney will support. Sidney is not that rich (only $4 million according to some analysts) but his ties to American liberal elite circles would certainly make those same elites at SPLC think twice about antagonizing.

Since the purging of Ross’s article has touched a nerve, there is every possibility that more people are reading it than would have been the case if Max Blumenthal had simply ignored it. Someone described this as the Streisand Effect as Wikipedia described it:

The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently drew further public attention to it. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters to suppress files, websites, and even numbers. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored on the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.

Why was Blumenthal so worked up about Ross’s piece?

In another Tweet, Blumenthal characterizes it as part of a new “red scare” and has referred to past articles tying him to the Kremlin’s propaganda offensives over Syria, Ukraine, etc. as “red-baiting”. McCarthyite, a red scare, red-baiting? People were red-baited in the 1950s because they signed a petition supporting the Spanish Republic in 1938 and even lost jobs. Meanwhile, people all across the political spectrum write articles in praise of Bashar al-Assad without consequence, from Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe to David Bromwich in the NY Review of Books. Does Bromwich have to worry about being fired from Yale because of this?

When a “red” supports war criminals like Putin and Assad, the only thing they have to fear is getting attacked by an anarchist like Alexander Reid Ross or a Marxist like me, something that poses no risk to their tawdry careers.  What rankles Blumenthal is being exposed as being on the same side of the barricades as Pamela Geller, David Duke and Richard Spencer–all of them Assad propagandists just like him. It is all driven by an Islamophobia that sees the clean-shaven Bashar al-Assad as the Middle East’s best hope.

You have to ask why Blumenthal gets the red carpet treatment on the Tucker Carlson show unlike other leftists who get baited mercilessly. What is going on? You can ask the same question about how Stephen F. Cohen became one of WABC radio show arch-conservative host John Batchelor’s favorites. The three most frequent guests on the Batchelor show are Cohen, Sebastian Gorka and Malcolm Hoenlein, the one-time executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization and about as rabid a Zionist you can find.

Perhaps the bigger question is whether there is anything particularly “red” about Blumenthal himself. The main topic Ross addresses in his purged article is the shared preference for a “multipolar” world by outright fascists like Aleksandr Dugin and people supposedly on the left like Blumenthal. In websites such as Global Research and Katehon, there is zero interest in world revolution. They are preoccupied with defending Russian and to some extent Chinese foreign policy because it reduces American power. In its most naked formulation, it devolves into a defense of the Russian takeover of Crimea because it had to protect strategic military interests on its border. Does that ring a bell? It should because that was the same excuse JFK made for the Cuban missile crisis. Indeed, even Noam Chomsky acknowledged Russia’s right to bully Ukraine on this basis.

Socialists, on the other hand, don’t approve of either JFK or Putin’s neocolonial trampling on the rights of weaker nations. People like Max Blumenthal have zero interest in socialism. Their opposition to imperialism is a reductionist one viewing any struggle against the USA as progressive, whether it is Fidel Castro standing up to JFK or Bashar al-Assad standing up to Barack Obama. Since Obama feared the Syrian rebels more than the Baathists, his “support” for the FSA consisted of light arms that could have easily been purchased on the black market (and was) but also positioning the CIA on the borders of Syria to make sure that anti-aircraft missiles did not reach the FSA. If the CIA had minded its own business, the war probably would have ended in 2014.

Fundamentally, Blumenthal et al function in the same way as the Daily Worker did in the 1930s but without any regard for the class distinctions that at least explained how a CPer might have been doing wrong with the best of intentions. That’s a whole lot better than his doing wrong with the worst of intentions.

 

16 Comments »

  1. Max Blumenthal, even in his earlier and semi-monumental (if rather badly written) truth-telling books about Israel, was not and never had been a Red.

    One problem is that much of the so-called American “left” at least since Vietnam hasn’t been socialist. It’s a bunch of transcendentalists doing things politically because they like the individual moral drama involved.

    The late, unlamented Symour Martin Lipset was famous for arguing (starting with the vastly overrated Tocqueville of course) that there was not in the Sixties and never ever had been a significant socialist left in the U.S. (The irony of Lipset, a red diaper baby who grew up surrounded by communists and Trotskyites, coming to that conclusion goes without saying.)

    The bloodless, abstract, moralistic, and entirely individualist culture of the U.S. at present is a huge obstacle to any form of socialism, and, while Lipset’s writings on the subject are a monument of special pleading, always has been intensely problematic, as was noted by sources ranging from Marx himself to Antonio Gramsci.

    American eligious radicals like Chris Hedges, when they get a bit of basic Marxism from the likes of “David North,” are likely to go nuts until they manage to reassert their fundamentally individualist and moralist framework and return to their roots.

    Does this affect tergiversators like Blumenthal and the far less significant Norton? It’s interesting to call them Stalinist, and they may well be opportunists, but is part of the problem simply that they are individualist moralists in the good old American mold–i.e., people culturally deprived of the intellectual foundation to be genuinely Left in the first place–and likely to wander all over the place in their self-obsessed, Mr. Christian-like mania to be saved?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 12, 2018 @ 6:28 pm

  2. To me this all seems like a matter of strategy. I do not believe that Blumenthal or any “Assadist” leftist does really support Assad because he likes his actual politics or ideology. The fear is less of islamic radicalism, but of US capitalism ruling globally. It is true that currently China and Russia are terrible in any respect. However, if we allow the US to run the planet uncontested, it will be much harder to get any revolution off the ground, especially in the US. I am certain you do not have to be reminded of the story of Lenin and the role of the reactionary German empire in it. To succeed therefore the US has to be maximally weakened. I do believe that revolution in the US is the worlds best hope, because the other great powers are insufficiently developed.

    Comment by Xavier Evans — March 12, 2018 @ 9:39 pm

  3. P.S. The honest fascists will likely see things the same way – trying to weaken the U.S. position to prepare a fascist takeover. This is where all subversives and the Russian national interest converge.

    Comment by Xavier Evans — March 12, 2018 @ 9:45 pm

  4. I do not believe that Blumenthal or any “Assadist” leftist does really support Assad because he likes his actual politics or ideology.

    Actually, we don’t have much of an idea of what Blumenthal thinks now but before he made his “turn”, he was emphatically opposed to Assad. His trick now is not to praise Assad–something that takes a psychotic like Vanessa Beeley or Stephen Gowans to do–but to hurl venom at anybody opposed to him, especially the White Helmets whose sin it is to take funding from the West as if they could get it from Cuba or Venezuela.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 12, 2018 @ 10:42 pm

  5. Must admit that as a third-worlder by birth, for loooong I have hated the fact that certain western academics and journalists (academics in political science, sociology, ‘developmental studies’, ‘regional studies’, cross-cultural studies, all the way to the more respectable anthropologists and archeologists; and journalists from establishment ones to the ‘leftists’) cut a figure and gain credibility and lucrative positions by recording/reporting on our misery.

    It is perhaps not far-fetched to say that they sub-consciously, or even consciously and opportunistically, relish our miserable conditions which provide the opportunity to cut a figure by *selectively* documenting and commenting on the myriad miseries plaguing our various peoples in the third world.

    In their narratives, we invariably end up looking like some newly discovered plant or insect species. They’re always wondering how to classify us or how to explain important events happening to us, as if we’re totally of a different species from them. The same things they take as God given gifts in their own societies (like women’s rights, or LBGTQ rights, or labor rights, or free speech rights, or any number of rights they take for granted ) are deemed irrelevant in Iran or Syria, for example.

    Still, and as much as I hate to give the guy some credit, his must be given its due: At least Blumenthal had enough decency left in him to have panicked at the sight of his name being associated with neo-Nazi’s. Dialectics works in the strangest ways.

    Comment by Reza — March 13, 2018 @ 5:11 am

  6. My misgivings re. Blumenthal are of a different nature. Call it spooky. In fairness to analogous conclusions or allusions to “red scare” tactics, one shouldn’t have to wait for the equivalent of being outright blacklisted to speak up about it. I would expect no less, particularly when one is defending one’s own rep. Still, the Streisand effect seems apt here.

    Comment by davidly — March 13, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

  7. Louis, what influence do you think the U.S. left has on events in Syria? Do you think that Blumenthal et al’s support for Assad (or your support for the FSA, for that matter) is making any concrete difference on the ground? At least people like Caleb Stevens are willing to travel to Syria to fight for the YPG. I don’t know how much their sacrifices are accomplishing, but they are willing to put their lives on the line for what they believe in, like you did when you went to Nicaragua. This seems much more important than a war of words on the Internet that is completely disconnected from any actual organized struggle. Writing a blog post about a blog post about a blog post seems even more futile than getting in a fistfight with a Hare Krishnsa outside a Piggly Wiggly over a spot to sell the Militant. If you’re going to grumble about how young people today aren’t engaged in the kind of activism you were in the ’60s and ’70s, maybe you should set a better example.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — March 13, 2018 @ 1:55 pm

  8. I write what I write because I have an orientation to the Arab and North African left. They are a critical element in the future of their region and the world revolution. I don’t keep count but I have hundreds of FB friends from the region and would be happy to unfriend everybody else if I had to make a choice. Fortunately all of them share my views. I also check visits to my blog and can assure you that there have been hundreds of thousands of visits from the region since the blog began. I hope that this answers your question.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 13, 2018 @ 2:05 pm

  9. “…war of words on the internet …”

    Jesus, Dave. Since you are following the internet, presumably the wars of words mean something to you. Anyway, it’s a low form of argument to chew someone out because, having done x they didn’t do some y that has no immediate logical relation to the x that they did do. “Oh yeah? What about the baby seals???”

    I think you just don’t like LP’s position re the YPG and their current relations with the Assad regime. Why not just say so instead of offering some putative hero (Stevens) and then getting all offended about nasty mere “words” as opposed to (presumably) glorious deeds?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 13, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

  10. Auden wrote a poem about refugees, Refugee Blues. Did it influence the fate of a single refugee? Almost certainly not. But the words still stand.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — March 13, 2018 @ 3:13 pm

  11. Trotsky has a few choice insights for the time when Stalin teamed up with Hitler in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. It is undeniable that Stalin instructed the German Communists to openly collaborate with the Nazi Party in the 1931 Red Referendum. I would submit that, barring a few minor variances with Uncle Joe, we see almost exactly the same thing at play with Putin’s connections to the European right. It is undeniable that Stalin and Putin both tried for years to build a geopolitical accord with the west and they were shamelessly rebuffed again and again, leading them towards the right wing parties in Europe.

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1939/09/ussr-war.htm

    Comment by stew312856 — March 14, 2018 @ 1:52 am

  12. On Twitter read this :

    ‘The legal threat Max Blumenthal had sent to the Southern Poverty Law Center was composed by a former Sputnik editor who previously represented “alt-right” star Cassandra Fairbanks, who also worked at Sputnik.

    It’s as if Russian state media promotes Red-Brown alliances.’

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — March 14, 2018 @ 10:13 pm

  13. What a strange turn of events considering how he treated Alyson Weir a few years ago…

    Comment by stew312856 — March 15, 2018 @ 12:46 am

  14. Matthew–Russian state media and everyone associated with the Russian government assuredly do promote red-brown alliances. They are without a doubt the nastiest people in the world (DC lawyers excepted) and will stop at no crime if it advances the corrupt interests of Putin and his gang of murderers. They don’t love Assad but regard him as useful.

    Our official scary people these days are all jokers like Trump or Richard Spencer. We can’t imagine how terrifying the likes of Hermann Goering or Vladimir Putin can actually be–we have shitsmeared, whoremongering, subhuman, dishonest lawyer filth who sneak around and fill that role under cover of darkness while pretending to love humanity.

    But what you have to grasp, I suspect, is that in the mind of a true Duginite, everything associated with the West is contemptible and weak, including its red-brown catspaws. I suspect that includes our own brown clowns (Alex Jones), the red-brown assholes at Moon of Alabama (or whatever it’s called) and also dishwater liberals like Thom Hartmann.

    Add the bullying but abject Mike Whitney (“Way to go, Vlad”). Whitney reminds me of the character in the movie Dracula who is being fed flies by the vampire and keeps begging for something with warm blood. It also includes the abundantly self-deceived Scot John Wight–proud bearer of a uniquely individual disease process involved with his inadequate socialism and overweening narcissism.

    Americans (or Scots or other westerners) who actually think they are in league with Putin are like people who claim to have an alliance with Satan. Why would Satan (or Putin) bother with these pissants if they are volunteering their souls for nothing? The more they kid themselves, the funnier.

    Contrariwise, it is perfectly possible for the Putinites to give a forum to some line of talk that they find weakening to us that actually damages them–they aren’t perfect and (like all Russians) vastly overrate their own cleverness vis a vis actual people.

    So RT and, to a lesser extent the more frankly propagandistic Sputnik News, encourage and provide a platform for a wide range of tendencies that they value not because they agree with them but because they think it weakens the U.S.

    To be part of this is to be complicit to one degree or another with the crimes committed, though I suppose it’s possible not to realize whose hand it is that keeps proffering the half-dead flies. You do not have to be a friend of the U.S. government or policies to see that this is true.

    While some, like Hartmann, may be naive, it’s difficult to see how Certain People could have done what they have been proved in certain censored but apparently entirely factual publications to have done and not understand what they are lending themselves to.

    How justly one hates them and hopes for their destruction.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 15, 2018 @ 6:08 pm

  15. But I don’t think the red-brown alliance, in Britain for example where I live, needs to be admired by its manipulators to do its work at weakening the collective political consciousness and political discourse. Farage on the Right, Milne/Corbyn on the Left, are likely to chime on Russian regime related attacks. MH 17, Ukraine, Syria, the recent nerve agent attack – the red-brown Putinists sound similar to me and they infect the political air in Britain. But theres nothing new under the sun. Orwell constantly said he had to explain to people that the Daily Worker, and the CP, at the time of the Spanish Civil War, were as right wing as the Daily Mail, and as lying.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — March 15, 2018 @ 7:29 pm

  16. “our goal of overthrowing American Capitalism”? Seriously? Don’t you realize that’s part of the propaganda system Ross discovered?

    If that’s really your goal, then your entire career has just been proven to be founded on lies.

    Comment by Collin237 — March 28, 2018 @ 2:41 pm


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