Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 3, 2020

Grayzone’s latest pro-Assad propaganda

Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,propaganda,Red-Brown alliance,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:51 pm

Ben Norton and Aaron Maté: inept propagandists

Unlike people who were in solidarity with the Syrian revolution, the Assadists of Grayzone continue to act as if it were August 2013 and the only obstacle to Obama launching an invasion of Syria after the sarin gas attack in East Ghouta was their propaganda. Here we are 7 years later and the revolution lies in tatters, with what’s left of the rebels huddled in Idlib barely able to survive against hunger, COVID-19 and continued asymmetric warfare. Perhaps the only explanation for Grayzone’s assembly line of horseshit is someone paying them handsomely to churn it out.

On September 23rd, Ben Norton wrote a nearly 4,300 word article titled “Leaked docs expose massive Syria propaganda operation waged by Western govt contractors and media” that begins: “Leaked documents show how UK government contractors developed an advanced infrastructure of propaganda to stimulate support in the West for Syria’s political and armed opposition.” To make sense out of this sentence, you have to replace the word stimulate with simulate. There was  never any real support for the Syrian rebels whose plebeian roots hardly recommended themselves to President Obama who told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in a 2016 interview:

When you have a professional army that is well armed and sponsored by two large states—Iran and Russia—who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …The notion that we could have—in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces—changed the equation on the ground there was never true.

After starting a new job at Salon in January 2016, Norton began to write pro-Assad propaganda, most likely because it was consistent with the liberal magazine’s Islamophobic orientation. Keep in mind that Salon, The Nation, Alternet, et al, viewed Syrian rebels as bearded, head-chopping, sharia-law supporting fanatics so it made sense that an ambitious young careerist would drop his past anti-Assad views since they were not commercially viable. At the time, Pham Binh nailed Norton in an Medium piece titled “Benjamin Norton Sheds Positions and Causes Like a Snake Sheds Skin” that included links to articles and Tweets that he deleted after January 2016. These were typical:

In the second Tweet, you’ll notice a shout-out to Max Blumenthal who shared Norton’s anti-Assad politics until they interfered with his career.

Norton’s investigation reveals that a clandestine PR campaign in the UK was behind the major media’s support for the White Helmets:

The files confirm reporting by journalists including The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal on the role of ARK, the US-UK government contractor, in popularizing the White Helmets in Western media. ARK ran the social media accounts of the White Helmets, and helped turn the Western-funded group into a key propaganda weapon of the Syrian opposition.

What planet were Norton and Blumenthal living on? You didn’t need a cabal of PR operatives to be sympathetic to the White Helmets. Unless you were part of the “axis of resistance” network loyal to Damascus, you understood that the White Helmets were volunteers rescuing people from caved-in buildings that had been barrel-bombed. People from Grayzone joined bottom-feeders like Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett to smear them as a wing of al-Nusra. In a darkly comic turn, Beeley accused them of muscling in on their turf. The conspiracist website Moon of Alabama called them out in an article titled “Syria – The Alternet Grayzone Of Smug Turncoats – Blumenthal, Norton, Khalek” that accused them of plagiarizing Vanessa Beeley:

Blumenthal knows this well. His piece about the “White Helmets” for Alternet Grayzone was obviously sourced (if not plagiarized) from earlier work by Vanessa Beeley and other authors at the above sites.

Being accused of plagiarizing Vanessa Beeley is tantamount to being accused of dumpster-diving to get someone’s left-over McDonald’s Whopper.

Grayzone’s methodology is extremely crude and typical of people lacking a class analysis. You search for support from the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros’s Open Society and, where it is found, you charge those taking their support guilty of being involved in a “color revolution”, tools of imperialism, etc. To be consistent, you’d have to line up with Michel Chossudovsky’s “Global Research” that, using Grayzone’s Inspector Clouseau-type detective work, wrote off the entire Arab Spring as a CIA plot:

It is hardly a speculative theory then, that the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous organizations including NED, NDI, IRI, and Freedom House and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world. Preparations for the “Arab Spring” began not as unrest had already begun, but years before the first “fist” was raised, and within seminar rooms in D.C. and New York, US-funded training facilities in Serbia, and camps held in neighboring countries, not within the Arab World itself.

In 2008, Egyptian activists from the now infamous April 6 movement were in New York City for the inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) summit, also known as Movements.org. There, they received training, networking opportunities, and support from AYM’s various corporate and US governmental sponsors, including the US State Department itself. The AYM 2008 summit report (page 3 of .pdf) states that the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James Glassman attended, as did Jared Cohen who sits on the policy planning staff of the Office of the Secretary of State. Six other State Department staff members and advisers would also attend the summit along with an immense list of corporate, media, and institutional representatives.

It is hardly a speculative theory then, that the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous organizations including NED, NDI, IRI, and Freedom House and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world. Preparations for the “Arab Spring” began not as unrest had already begun, but years before the first “fist” was raised, and within seminar rooms in D.C. and New York, US-funded training facilities in Serbia, and camps held in neighboring countries, not within the Arab World itself.

In 2008, Egyptian activists from the now infamous April 6 movement were in New York City for the inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) summit, also known as Movements.org. There, they received training, networking opportunities, and support from AYM’s various corporate and US governmental sponsors, including the US State Department itself. The AYM 2008 summit report (page 3 of .pdf) states that the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James Glassman attended, as did Jared Cohen who sits on the policy planning staff of the Office of the Secretary of State. Six other State Department staff members and advisers would also attend the summit along with an immense list of corporate, media, and institutional representatives.

Unlike Grayzone, Marxism assesses insurgent movements on a class basis. If we didn’t, we’d never be able to explain why Lenin got on board a German train in 1917 destined for the Finland Station. Or, let Leon Trotsky put it all together:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

Let’s turn now to Aaron Maté’s September 29th article “The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté testifies at UN on OPCW Syria cover-up”. It starts, “At an Arria-Formula Meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Aaron Maté of The Grayzone delivers remarks on the OPCW’s ongoing Syria scandal.” You’d get the impression that the UN Security Council called the meeting, which is exactly the impression that he wants to convey. However, if he explained at the outset what an “Arria-Formula” meeting was, the game would be up.

Arria-Formula meetings can be convened by any single member of the Security Council, are open to non-members of the council and conducted on an informal basis. It turns out that this one was courtesy of Dmitry Polyanskiy, the First Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia Flag of Russia to the UN. What? You were expecting someone from the UK or the US? Don’t you know that they are biased. You can only rely on the Russians, whose impartiality is unquestionable. Just ask Grayzone.

Besides Maté, testimony was heard from OPCW “whistle-blower” Ian Henderson and retired MIT professor Ted Postol. So, basically the Russians set up an informal meeting that allowed three people to echo and rubber-stamp the position that Assad did not use chlorine gas in Douma.

There’s something grotesque about this exercise. In the minds of people like Norton, Blumenthal and Maté, they are the moral equivalent of Robert Fisk and Julian Assange in 2003 who tried to expose the “weapons of mass destruction” lies that Bush used to invade Iraq. Does anybody in their right mind think that Donald Trump ever had any “regime change” intentions in Syria?

Instead, Maté, realizing how absurd such a threat now appears 9 years after the war in Syria began (it only took a couple of months for Bush to invade after Colin Powell’s UN speech), believes that his efforts might help end the sanctions against Syria, which admittedly are hurting the Syrians—even those who fought against him.

Assad clearly didn’t plan ahead. He assumed that ties with Russia would have been enough to compensate for any economic measures taken against his dictatorship. Syria stated that it will enter into new trade agreements that will help get the economy off its death-bed. With Russia clobbered by sanctions and sinking oil prices, Syria’s future looks bleak

Meanwhile, Assad and Putin have refused to end the blockade of international aid coming into Idlib, where there are millions of Syrians opposed to his dictatorship. The only way they’d permit aid to come in if it was distributed from Damascus. This is like relying on Somoza to distribute relief supplies equitably to Nicaraguans after the earthquake hit in 1972.

Most people understand that the Syrian government is a mafia state that caters to the needs of Assad’s cronies except when they, like his cousin Rami Makhlouf, keep a bit too much of the loot hidden in his favorite offshore bank.

With few prospects of the economic crisis easing up, there are already protests by the Druze, a sect that stood apart from the revolutionary movement for the most part. Middle East Eye reported in June:

The collapse of the Syrian pound in recent months has caused prices to skyrocket and created widespread hardship for many Syrians. What began as protests against deteriorating living conditions on Sunday eventually descended into anti-government calls.

On Tuesday, dozens rallied in Sweida for the third day running, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group.

Men and women massed near the main provincial government headquarters before marching through the streets chanting anti-Assad slogans, according to a video released by Suwayda24.

The financial crisis in Syria has been exacerbated by a coronavirus lockdown and international sanctions.

However, speaking to MEE on Monday, one protester said that the government was primarily to blame for the economic problems.

“The deliberate practices of the regime over the past nine years have led to a complete economic collapse and crazy increases in prices and starvation of civilians,” a demonstrator who wished to be identified as Rayan told MEE.

Another article appeared in June, this time in The Independent, that suggested the Alawites, Assad’s main base of support, might soon be joining the Druze:

In the beauty salons of the Syrian regime stronghold of Tartus, the wives of army officers quietly chatter about readying their fake identity cards and passports.

In case Syria and its battered economy completely collapse, they whisper to one another, they may have to flee at a moment’s notice.

Disillusion with the government of President Bashar al-Assad is running high in the seaside city.

“We used to love the president, and we were a strong supporter of al-Assad,” says Suzan, 31, who works at a salon and is a member of the Alawite Muslim sect which Mr Assad hails from. “He has protected us from the terrorists, but he is now starving us.”

Across the country, from regime territory to the rebel-held north, Syrians are barely surviving as the currency has tumbled and food prices have soared. Suzan, once an ardent government supporter, describes how an unprecedented financial crisis gripping the country has even hit the well-off in the Mediterranean city, largely spared the horrors of Syria’s nine-year civil war. There, residents fear the worst is yet to come. On Wednesday the US enforced its toughest sanctions yet on Syria, targeting 39 individuals and companies including, Mr Assad and his wife Asma.

Even before the restrictions bite, Suzan says in the poorer districts of the Alawite stronghold, the economic crisis had already translated into poverty, hunger and lawlessness. Just last week, Suzan’s own house was burgled.

“Theft is widespread, someone entered our house a couple of days ago, but he only stole food from the kitchen and left,” she tells The Independent. “Many types of medicines are unavailable.”

She said some people were planning protests against bad living conditions and behind closed doors, mounting anger was directed at the president himself.

“There is a limited amount of bread for each family, which is not enough anyway. People cannot cope.”

14 Comments »

  1. Read ‘ The Battle for Syria ‘ by Christopher Philips published in 2017 . Even this very detailed , somewhat western oriented view of the Syrian conflict by an expert who’s lived in the country admits that although there were ‘ some idealists ‘ amongst the rebels back in 2012 , ‘ most were drawn from the ranks of the unemployed , former gangsters and low level criminals . And by 2014 the rebels comprised of over 1000 different groups , and 2500 small ‘ companies ‘ . The scenario was analogous to the French Resistance in WW2 . In Aleppo the was no desire for revolution at all and the rebels were bussed in from hard core Islamist towns from the countries border areas . But then back at the start of all this , here in the UK at least this was made clear on the BBC whose reporter actually travelled down in a convoy with the shout bearded rebels shouting ” Allah Ahkbar ” , while informing us that the people of Aleppo feared an Islamist takeover . Which is what they got until 2015 .

    Comment by tim waite — November 4, 2020 @ 2:09 pm

  2. And so which version of Syria that Gen David Petraeus outlined in 2014 (assuming an Assad climbdown ) would you liked to have seen – partition into four or five statelets like the Balkans ? Or the replacement of the secular Assad gov’t with an Islamist one under Sharia Law ? Both favourable to Israel of course and no longer aligned with Iran – which is all this sick conflagration has been about achieving .

    Comment by tim waite — November 4, 2020 @ 2:18 pm

  3. Just another idiot posting garbage I’ve heard a million times. If you want an idea of the reality of the Syrian revolution, don’t talk to me about Christopher Philips. Read Anand Gopal’s article in Harper’s (not behind a paywall). This was a revolution drowned in blood, just as was the case in Latin America for the past half-century. The only reason we don’t associate Syria with peasant struggles in Peru or El Salvador is because of a mixture of Islamophobia and Putin worship, a sickness fairly widespread on the left.

    Anand Gopal:

    All around Taftanaz, amid the destruction, rebel councils like this were meeting—twenty-seven in all, and each of them had elected a delegate to sit on the citywide council. They were a sign of a deeper transformation that the revolution had wrought in Syria: Bashar al-Assad once subdued small towns like these with an impressive apparatus of secret police, party hacks, and yes-men; now such control was impossible without an occupation. The Syrian army, however, lacked the numbers to control the hinterlands—it entered, fought, and moved on to the next target. There could be no return to the status quo, it seemed, even if the way forward was unclear.

    In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

    It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

    “We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

    full: https://harpers.org/archive/2012/08/welcome-to-free-syria/

    Comment by louisproyect — November 4, 2020 @ 5:23 pm

  4. ” a popular revolution ” ? The above quote reminds me of the hilarious photo of Aleppo’s ‘ democratically elected city council ‘ back in 2014 . Twelve or thirteen pissed off looking young guys under 35 – big bushy beards and guns , staring into the camera looking like the men of destiny people like you no doubt imagine them to be . Something about that particular version of ‘ democracy ‘ in that photo struck home with many observers at the time . What was it now ? Oh yes of course , no Alawites , no Shia , no Druze , no non observant Muslims ( ie : most Syrians ) , no women , no ‘ westernized ‘ Syrians ( I visited in 2005 and they’re a lot of them ) , no gays ( lots of openly gay men back in 2005 in Syria I can tell you ) , no one with a functioning razor .

    Comment by Tim Waite — November 4, 2020 @ 5:53 pm

  5. “Let them eat theory ” – the epitaph of the immortal Louis Protect !

    Comment by Tim Waite — November 4, 2020 @ 5:58 pm

  6. Whoops ‘ Proyect ‘ !

    Comment by Tim Waite — November 4, 2020 @ 5:59 pm

  7. “The above quote reminds me of the hilarious photo of Aleppo’s ‘ democratically elected city council ‘ back in 2014.”

    Except that by 2014, Assad’s killing machine had turned the war into the sectarian disaster he pinned his hopes on. Alawite death squads brought out the jihadist element that he could manipulate in interviews, suckering people like Norton and Blumenthal to reverse themselves 180 degrees and begin writing bullshit propaganda. They, of course, were getting paid under the table. What’s your excuse, motherfucker?

    Comment by louisproyect — November 4, 2020 @ 6:14 pm

  8. I often say to people who really dig armed revolutions and big up ‘ Syrian Rebels ‘ , I wonder if you had had ( like me ) the privilege of touring around this amazing country , the most archaeologically rich in the middle east , with it’s secular society , tolerance of homosexuality and liberal attitude to dress codes and religious observance , gentle ( mostly ) and curious people – the only country in the region other than Israel with full adult literacy , hot and cold running water for everyone , and an independent bank that pays 10 % interest to anyone who can save anything – would you think ‘ Hey let’s arm The Muslim Brotherhood ‘ minority to the fucking teeth , bring in another 30 , 000 jihads from 85 countries ( including 3 , 500 Chinese Uighur ) and get them to flunking rape this hell hole ‘ ?

    Comment by Tim Waite — November 4, 2020 @ 6:14 pm

  9. Whoops sorry Cockbreath , – ‘ Operation Timber Sycamore ‘ one of the largest ever CIA covert operations armed and equipped between 14 and 30 thousand jihads ( no one knows the exact figure ) both Syrian and foreign in training camps in Jordan in either 2012 or 2013 . Are you an actual genuine blogger or some useless cunt paid to run this site as a stunt by some Billionaire joker who’s into 21st century ‘ happenings ‘ , the social media equivalent of 1960’s street events designed to shock the poor deluded plebeians ?

    Comment by Tim Waite — November 4, 2020 @ 6:23 pm

  10. “I wonder if you had had ( like me ) the privilege of touring around this amazing country , the most archaeologically rich in the middle east…”

    You are such a dumb fuck, not even realizing how much you sound like a hippie tourist. Maybe you should have visited the hinterlands in a place like Jezira and discover why people were angry against the dictatorship.

    https://louisproyect.org/2016/12/14/the-economic-roots-of-the-syrian-revolution/

    Constituting 40 percent of Syrian territory, the Jezira produced 70 percent of the wheat. In the 1950s, it enjoyed something of a boom as Aleppo merchants invested in the cotton industry. Just as is the case with cotton farming everywhere, irrigation without draining the land and monoculture led to the impoverishment of the soil.

    The drought that began in 2007 only increased the already existing misery. Up to 75 percent of the farmers in the Jezira suffered total crop failure of the sort that John Steinbeck depicted in “Grapes of Wrath”. Since wheat production relied on underground wells, a shortage of rain led to an increase in the price of a well. In Raqqa, the cost of a new well in 2001 was 16,000 euros—well beyond the capability of a small farmer to afford.

    Herdsmen were also impacted. With insufficient water for cattle and goats, livestock had to be sold at 60 percent below cost. As fodder prices rose by 75 percent in January 2008, the flocks were decimated by half.

    Not only were agricultural supports removed by the dictatorship; fuel was no longer subsidized. The price for a gallon of gasoline rose by 350 percent. This meant that motor pumps, so essential to drawing water from underground wells, became difficult to afford. All in all, the economic institutions that had been created by Hafez Al-Assad and abolished by his son came together in a perfect storm with the advent of a crippling drought.

    The conditions of life in the Jezira could not be more distinct from the paradise enjoyed by the Damascus yuppies—both Alawite and Sunni—that were benefiting from a neoliberal boom. Ababsa writes:

    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 out breaks 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.

    As they were suffering from malnutrition and lack of income, small. scale farmers and herders and landless peasants stopped sending their children to school. According to a UN needs assessment, enrollment in some schools in eastern Syria decreased by 70 percent after April 2008. This decrease reversed decades of literacy efforts and school creation in the Jezira, where the illiteracy rates were the highest in the country: 38.3 percent in Raqqa governorate, 35.1 percent in Hassaka governorate, and 34.8 percent in Deir ez-Zor governorate. More than a third of the active population was illiterate, including more than half of the female active population. Between 160 and 220 villages were abandoned in Hassaka governorate. The wells dried up and the population could not afford to bring water from private tankers at a cost of 2,000 SYP per month (about 30 euros).

    Comment by louisproyect — November 4, 2020 @ 6:23 pm

  11. Yeah, I am a cunt. But I know something about class relations. Read some Karl Marx and get educated before you troll a Marxist blog.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 4, 2020 @ 6:31 pm

  12. Yes I’m so sorry I now fully understand and I actually wish Israel would have discharged it’s entire Nuclear Arsenal onto Syria back in 2008 / 2009 . The better for Syrians as a people and the world at large . Can we arrange for armed insurgencies everywhere there’s hunger , anaemia and poverty please Louis ? Where can we start with ? How about Yemen . Oh hang on er that ones already underway …..anyone else any suggestions ?

    Comment by Tim Waite — November 4, 2020 @ 6:33 pm

  13. “Can we arrange for armed insurgencies everywhere there’s hunger ,” So you acknowledge that there was hunger. Very nice. As the psychiatrist might say, we are finally making some progress. Now go read some Marxist literature on Syria and come back when you are less of a drooling imbecile.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 4, 2020 @ 6:38 pm

  14. Hmmm so maybe that nice Mr Obama was torn between something like the Berlin Airlift to supply poor hungry Syrians in those governates with Tacos , Root Beer and Tootsie Rolls , but simply settled on giving them ‘ non lethal weapons ‘ including TOW shoulder launched missiles , + ‘ Hell Cannons ‘ . Yep I can see the logic Louis boy .

    Comment by Tim Waite — November 4, 2020 @ 6:51 pm


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