Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 23, 2018

Petrified Assadism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:00 pm

Petrified wood (wood that has turned into stone)

If you’ve been following Assadist propaganda as closely as me, you’re probably aware that it divides into two fairly distinct approaches: hard and soft.

The soft approach goes something like this. In 2011, Syrians rose up with legitimate grievances but before long (ranging between 6 months and 2 years approximately), the revolt was commandeered by jihadists. It is not unusual for people in this camp to be very critical of Assad, to refer to his neoliberalism, his repression, etc. The only solution to the country’s problems is to convene an international conference that can resolve the crisis through peaceful means. This requires allowing the dictatorship to remain in place since attempts to remove it will only prolong the misery. Vijay Prashad, Phyllis Bennis and the Stop the War Coalition in England are fairly representative of this trend.

The hardies view Assad as the head of a “developmental” state like Gaddafi’s Libya. Attention is paid to the Baathist past when state ownership was central to the economy and when social welfare measures were generous. There is a tendency to characterize the rebellion as illegitimate from the start, with claims that it initiated the violence and was Islamist from the outset. Much of the narrative has a conspiracist quality, with frequent references to Wikileaks and the infamous document on the Judicial Watch website that supposedly proves that the West favored groups like ISIS when in fact, it concludes that this would be the worst possible outcome. Typifying this camp are Stephen Gowans, The Partisan Girl, Vanessa Beeley and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

If you had asked me a year ago how the Grayzone people fit into this spectrum, I would have placed them either in the soft group or in between the two. For example, in a Real News interview in 2017, Max Blumenthal put forward a fairly “soft” position:

In my opinion, they [the media] have abrogated their mission, which should be to challenge mainstream narratives and particularly imperial narratives on issues like Syria. I understand there are massive human rights abuses by the Syrian government, but that’s not reason enough to not explore what the West’s agenda, the Gulf agenda is for that country, what the consequences are, to actually get into the geopolitical issues. [emphasis added]

However, more recently it appears that Blumenthal and his gang are firmly in the hard zone, if not reaching the point where they will be creating a new group that might be called Petrified Assadism. The evidence can be found in recent tweets by Blumenthal that reflect a surprising affinity with deranged propagandists like Stephen Gowans.

Yesterday, Blumenthal linked to a Gowans attack on Medhi Hasan with this preface: “Stephen Gowans on @mehdirhasan’s moral posturing and his attempt to discipline the consequential left”. Here’s the background on this. The chemical attack on Douma has provoked a number articles criticizing the Assadist left for its “false flag” trolling. Among them is Medhi Hasan’s (@mehdirhasan) one on the Intercept titled “Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists: Your Hero Is a War Criminal Even If He Didn’t Gas Syrians”. Hasan must have irked people like Blumenthal who has endorsed the “false flag” narrative:

Now, I totally understand why those of you on the MAGA-supporting far right [Make America Great Again] who cheer for barrel bombs don’t give a damn about any of this. But to those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?

Remember: Whether Assad used chemical weapons in Douma is irrelevant to the moral case against him. What about the rest of his crimes? Was Assad any less of a war criminal when his “indiscriminate bombardments,” according to the U.N., were destroying “homes, medical facilities, schools, water and electrical facilities, bakeries and crops,” without the aid of sarin or chlorine? When he was dropping barrel bombs (68,000 since 2012, according to one count) on defenseless civilians? Or cluster bombs? Or good ol’-fashioned shells?

In a tweet responding to Hasan, Blumenthal endorsed the reporting of Robert Fisk, the go-to guy for all things Assadist:

Now here is @mehdirhasan reinforcing the official msm/Guardian narrative that if you accept the credibility of Robert Fisk’s reporting from Douma or question the credibility of the insurgent-allied, US-funded White Helmets, you’re a crazy conspiracist…

Since Blumenthal is on record as a supporter of the truthiness of Russian media, I hope he can explain the latest report on RT.com that is sharply opposed to Fisk’s. It relies on coverage by ZDF television in Germany. At first blush, the article’s title appears to be consistent with the tale told by the Kremlin: “’Whole story was staged’: Germany’s ZDF reporter says Douma incident was false flag attack”. However, when you read a bit further, it veers off in an entirely another direction:

The scene of the attack, which allegedly took place on April 7, was in fact the “command post” of a local Islamist group, the [ZDF] reporter said, citing the witnesses he was able to speak to at the refugee camp.

He went on to say that, according to the locals, the militants brought canisters containing chlorine to the area and “actually waited for the Syrian Air Force to bomb the place, which was of particular interest for them.”

As the Syrian forces eventually struck the place, which was apparently a high-priority military target, the chlorine canisters exploded. The locals also told Gack that it is not the first such provocation in Douma that was staged by the militants. [emphasis added]

According to other witness accounts, the militants deliberately exposed people to chemical agents during what they called “training exercises” then filmed it and later presented as an “evidence” of the alleged chemical attack in Douma.

So RT.com publishes an article that states “chlorine canisters exploded” during a helicopter bombing. These innocent helicopter crews had no intention of gassing people. The dear hearts only wanted to blast them to kingdom come with nice, little barrel bombs.

A good prosecutor would put RT.com in the witness stand and ask which story was right. Was it a totally staged Mission Apollo hoax in which a nonprofessional cast pretended to be dead with artificial foam on their mouths? Or were there dead people whose relatives only had the jihadis to blame? If they hadn’t devilishly been putting chlorine canisters under the direct aim of helicopters, everybody in Douma would have lived happily ever after. Maybe with some amputated limbs and a few killed here and there but all’s fair in love and war.

This is not to speak of how absurd Fisk’s story now appears. If he was put in the witness stand, the prosecutor would ask why he was circulating a false report. What dust storm? Did you cover up the ZDF report? All these stories contradicting each other are typical of Assadist propaganda and those promoting them should all be found guilty of perjury and given stiff sentences.

Turning to Gowans’s article, you enter the domain of really unabashed propaganda. Titled “Mehdi Hasan, beautiful soul, and his diatribe against the consequential Left”, it states in the first paragraph that Fisk’s reporting has “demolished” the “ridiculously thin” allegations of a chemical attack. Well, one gathers that Gowans won’t be following on up on RT.com’s version 3.0. Maybe it was a combination dust storm and jihadi chlorine gas provocation organized by the Mossad and funded by the Rothschild Bank. And have intrepid journalists also looked into the possibility of chemtrails?

Basically, Gowans defends Assad’s mass murder along the same lines as the wretched John Wight who once wrote a defense of barrel bombing on the basis that the allies firebombed Dresden so what’s the big deal? Both wars were against fascism and hence required a no holds barred strategy. Obviously, people like Wight and Gowans have little use for weak tea liberals like Howard Zinn who viewed both the firebombing of Dresden and Hiroshima/Nagasaki as “terror bombing”.

Like Wight, Gowans defends “extraordinary measures” to defeat Islamofascism. Assad found himself in the same position as FDR or Churchill:

It would be wrong to denounce the anti-fascist war as deplorable because some, or indeed many, of its methods, were distasteful–from the virtual dictatorships exercised in Britain and the United States, to the abuse, torture and summary executions of Axis prisoners of war, to sieges and the starving of civilians. And was the Allied countries’ refusal to guarantee the rights of assembly and free expression of Nazi and fascist supporters to be condemned as a human rights violation? Every accusation Hasan makes against Assad he can equally make against Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s conduct in WWII. Curiously (or predictably) he doesn’t, choosing instead to direct his venom at the duo’s ally, Stalin, the only one of the three whose goals were authentically leftist.

So based on this, Assad did everything that could defend his socialist state against “jihadis” backed by Washington, Saudi Arabia and Israel: barrel bombing, starvation sieges, chemical attacks, 13,000 prisoners executed in Saydnaya prison, rape, torture, and all the rest.

For this argument to succeed, Gowans has to sweep the class character of the Syrian war under the rug. An examination of the plight of Syrian farmers would make comparisons with German and Japanese big business laughable. In my review of Gowans’s ludicrous book on Syria, I pointed out:

You can search in vain for any reference to economic data in Gowans’s book. Since his goal is to portray the conflict purely as one involving a socialist government’s attempt to suppress an extremist threat to the idyllic status quo, he needs to sweep countervailing data under the rug. In all likelihood, Gowans has never read a single article or book about the class divisions that grew apace in Syria since the early 2000s so perhaps he is off the hook.

If he had read the two-volume “Syria: from Reform to Revolt” edited by Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl, he would have learned why those in the Jezira farm belt decided to pick up arms. Unlike the Krupps, who wanted to turn Eastern Europe into a slave labor camp, these were poor people trying to survive as Myrian Ababsa points out in a chapter titled “The End of the World: Drought and Agrarian Transformation in Northeast Syria (2007-2010)”:

The drought put an end to decades of development in the fields of health and education in the Jezira, and the sanitary situation became dramatic. In 2009, 42 percent of Raqqa governorate suffered from anemia owing to a shortage of dairy products, vegetables, and fruit. Malnutrition among pregnant women and children under five doubled between 2007 and 2009. To complicate matters, vegetable and fruit growers in dry northern Syria used polluted river water to irrigate their crops, causing outbreaks of food poisoning among consumers, according to environmental and medical experts. Experts pointed out that the problem stemmed from sewage and chemicals allowed to reach rivers in rural areas near Aleppo, Lattakia, and Raqqa.

Reading through Gowans’s drivel, I was somewhat surprised by the venom he hurled at Eric Draitser in an addendum. I was aware that Draitser, whose podcasts are a regular feature on CounterPunch, had been evolving but until now I didn’t realize how much the Petrified Assadists like Gowans had come to hate him:

The intellectual predecessors of Hasan, Draitser, and their ilk likewise adopted a position of neutrality in the struggle between slave owners and the slave rebellion, deploring the methods of struggle chosen by both sides, but particularly the violence of the slave rebellion, the necessary condition of the slaves’ emancipation. “If only they could work out their disagreements amicably,” they sighed.

In the 1930s, the neutralists, seeking to hover God-like above the fray, refused to side with either the Communists or Nazis, abhorring the deployment of defensive violence by Communists and Jews against the Nazis who would destroy them.

In my view, anybody who can get the execrable Stephen Gowans so worked up deserves the widest hearing. From now on, his podcasts will be up front on my agenda. I had noticed a significant change in Draitser’s approach some time ago 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, he made a clean break with these cynical, lying, venal propagandists:

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.



  1. “The consequential left”. That’s a phrase to conjure with. A bit like “necessary murder”.

    Comment by John Gamey — April 24, 2018 @ 3:04 am

  2. If only the Assadists were half as pretty as that petrified stump.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 24, 2018 @ 7:27 pm

  3. Yes, the photo is pretty. But Assadism, Putinism, keeps bringing forth monstrosities of deeds, and words.

    Today apparently, part of its ongoing attempt to push its propaganda after the Douma chemical attack, Russia brought out a child that ‘ they’re psychologically abusing after forcing him to ‘be interviewed’ at a Syrian regime military base … this is the sort of moral depravity we’re dealing with’.

    Putrified Assadism.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 26, 2018 @ 5:24 pm

  4. Actually, Wight did not and does not defend barrel bombing, unless describing it as a war crime counts as defense in your perverse Trotskyite-regime change-fanatical worldview. Who knew that in the twilight of your crushingly failed political career you would finally find your niche as Jaish al-Islam and Nusra’s amanuensis?

    Comment by John Wight — April 29, 2018 @ 2:48 am

  5. John Wight:

    Allowing for a moment the idea that the Assad government was the main cause of the Syrian conflict when it began in 2011, in 2015 the same government is without any shadow a necessary part of it ending with Syria’s survival. Barrel bombs are an atrociously indiscriminate weapon, for sure, and their use rightly comes under the category of war crime. However just as the war crime of the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 did not invalidate the war against European fascism then, neither does the atrocity of Syrian barrel bombs invalidate the war against its Middle East equivalent today. When the survival of a country and its culture and history is at stake, war can never be anything else but ugly, which is why the sooner it is brought to a conclusion in Syria the better.


    This attempt to analogize barrel bombing to firebombing Dresden comes naturally to someone like Wight who used to be a regular on Andy Newman’s blog that featured commemorations of Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin for their glorious stand against Hitlerism. It is warmed over Stalinism and repugnant to anybody who has read and admired Howard Zinn. In the 1960s, when I became a socialist, we relied on historians like Gar Alperovitz to develop a new understanding of the war that people like Stephen Spielberg glorified in films like “Saving Private Ryan”. To take this stuff seriously means that you are clueless about imperialism. Wight has spent 7 years defending Assad’s war crimes. I wonder why his junk doesn’t appear in CounterPunch lately. Let’s hope it is because the editors have wised up to Russian mouthpieces like him, especially after their run-in with a Russian troll who writes the same kind of garbage. I assume that Wight is getting paid just like her to crank out propaganda for war crimes. It must help him pay the rent and the booze he needs to salve whatever is left of his conscience.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 29, 2018 @ 12:32 pm

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