Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 20, 2018

Syria and neo-McCarthyism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:02 pm

Tim Hayward

A group of academics in England dedicated to the Herculean task of clearing Bashar al-Assad’s name has been stung by a couple of articles in Rupert Murdoch’s London Times. Since the articles are both behind a paywall and germane to the analysis I will be putting forward in this article, I have used my retiree benefits from Columbia University to penetrate the paywall and make them available to the general public.

University of Edinburgh professor Tim Hayward launched the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media to “to facilitate research and debate with respect to the 2011-present war in Syria and the role of both media and propaganda.” Like many who write about Syria, the focus of the group is exclusively geopolitical. The unit of analysis is not social class but the state. For them, the narrative is all about how the CIA, reactionary Middle Eastern states, Israel et al decided to destabilize Syria using proxy forces in 2011 as part of a general strategy against the “axis of resistance”. Interest in questions such as the role of neoliberalism, elite kleptocracy symbolized by Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf sheltering billions in Panama banks, the misery of farmers during a period of drought and declining state investment in the countryside are really beside the point. All you need to know is what side Nicholas Kristof or George Soros took. Where they put a plus, it was necessary to put a minus and vice versa. While it is certainly important not to neglect the geopolitical side of the conflict, if it becomes the exclusive focus, there is always the tendency to descend into conspiracy theory where history is determined not by class struggle but by back-room cabals. When referring to 9/11 Trutherism, a belief held by one of Hayward’s board members Mark Crispin Miller, Alexander Cockburn identified its origins in a retreat from class analysis:

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list.

In my view, a lot more thought has to be devoted to capital accumulation rather than “false flags” to understand both 9/11 and the war in Syria.

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9 Comments »

  1. Apart from being an excellent article the quote from Cockburn really crystalises the problem, which is widespread internationally,

    “These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list.”

    I like the French noun “conspi” for people like this.

    It saves time.

    Comment by Andrew Coates — April 20, 2018 @ 5:09 pm

  2. On my way home today from work, the local public radio was broadcasting a BBC Trending piece about conspiracy theories spread by online activists. Beeley and Sarah Abdallah were mentioned as such conspiracy mongers (link below).

    Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-43745629

    Comment by Reza — April 20, 2018 @ 10:49 pm

  3. In the United States, at least, IMHO, the retreat from reality into conspiracism represents the triumph post-Reagan of the American individualist ideology and the success of neoliberalism in promoting the illusion that there is no alternative to the marketplace as the ultimate paradigm for social experience. The way forward for this was cleared by the liberal transformation of the class-based Civil Rights movement, with its unspoken debt to Communist party organizers of the 1930s, into a classless assertion of individual rights and “content of character” in the abstract, and the moral panic generated during the Vietnam War by the perceived urgency of forming any alliance at all that promised to bring about the withdrawal of American troops.

    RT and Sputnik News are to a considerable merely making use of this longstanding turn in American thinking.

    Thus it’s not altogether correct to say that the American left has abandoned Marx. Most of the conspiracist and crackpot moralist pseudoleft we now have were never Marxist to begin with.

    But perhaps a few of them will see the light if those who stand for the truth continue to resist the waves of lies and intimidation–the foul spectacle of McCarthy’s heirs cynically fighting under the banner of anti-McCarthyism.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 20, 2018 @ 11:35 pm

  4. “to a considerable” –> “to a considerable extent”

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 20, 2018 @ 11:37 pm

  5. “conspi” is good, BTW I think

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 20, 2018 @ 11:40 pm

  6. BTW, to a considerable…….degree

    Comment by Curt Kastens — April 21, 2018 @ 7:45 pm

  7. How is the Syrian conflict not “inter-imperial-competition”?

    I will, however, give you credit for quoting Cockburn who wisely kept you off of Counterpunch.

    Comment by Rojo — April 22, 2018 @ 10:09 pm

  8. Cockburn who wisely kept you off of Counterpunch.

    —-

    I learn something new every day.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 22, 2018 @ 10:47 pm

  9. The Syrian conflict began spontaneously as part of the 2011 Arab Spring wave of protests. It grew out of discontent with the Assad government and escalated to an armed conflict after protests calling for Assad’s removal were murderously suppressed by Assad.

    The role of imperialist powers like the United States and Russia is, broadly speaking, to attempt managing the agony of the Syrian people in order to keep the lid on a situation that, both directly and indirectly affects the world oil supply and touches on various geopolitical considerations in a manner that these capitalist powers, in their different and frequently antagonistic ways, consider an affront to their interests and to the interests of international capitalism.

    Assuredly neither the U.S. nor the former U.S.S.R. has the interests of the Syrian people at heart. But that is very different from saying that the suffering Syrians are merely the passive victims of super-states that are playing the Great Game over their dead and dying bodies. It is also not really accurate to assert that no rebel forces in Syria can be legitimate unless they refuse to make any use ever of resources provided by the Great Satan USA or any other actor–e.g. small arms provided by the C.I.A.

    In any case, concretely, it’s beyond serious dispute that the greatest evil in Syria at present is represented by the mass-murdering Assad regime as supported by Russia and Iran. Statements by the despicable Vanessa Beeley and her associates–especially the nonsensical, pseudotechnical, manufactured, paranoid “false flag” doubt-mongering about Assad’s guilt in the Sarin gas attacks on his people–are so much hot air no matter how much Flat-Earth-Society-style “evidence” they pile up to support their crazy claims.

    If by the way anyone here still grovels at the stinking feet of Vladimir Putin (not saying that any present do, but if) or persists in exempting Russia from the “imperialist” label, it’s worth noting that, in February of this year, Russia gained exclusive rights to the redevelopment of Syria’s devastated oil production capabilities. (https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Russia-Is-Taking-Over-Syrias-Oil-And-Gas.html)

    Wasn’t that a sublime gesture of defiance against Satan?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 23, 2018 @ 4:25 pm


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