Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 10, 2016

Jill Stein, the South Front and the lesser evil

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:58 pm

For the past month or so, I have seen vitriolic attacks on Jill Stein from people I am close to on the question of Syria. I have already dealt with the question of whether Syria should be a litmus test for the Green Party but want to look at the question from a different angle now, namely how it is that she came to embrace a position that my pro-Syrian revolution friends label as “pro-fascist”. Like the friends of the Hillary Clinton campaign pouring over every Jill Stein speech looking for “anti-science” pandering, there is now a concerted effort by Syrian solidarity activists to discover evidence of this “pro-fascism” in her every utterance. The latest discoveries are that she attended an RT.com conference in Moscow in December, had dinner with Putin when she was there, and that her VP candidate has been writing some truly awful stuff about Syria.

With respect to RT.com, it has published 105 articles in praise of Jill Stein so naturally she might have accepted an invitation to their conference. Since she has given no evidence that she has a mastery of the Syrian struggle and only reflects the left consensus, it is probably unrealistic to think that she would have turned down the invitation.

As for Ajamu Baraka, my guess is that he will be speaking mostly about domestic politics rather than Syria in his various speaking engagements but that can’t be guaranteed. However, it is quite likely that if he says anything about “regime change” and the jihadist threat, he will be preaching to the choir. Is there any reason to think that there will be people in the audience who have somehow learned to think outside the box when it comes to Syria, especially when their understanding of the country is likely drawn from The Nation, ZNet, Salon, CounterPunch, Consortium News, WBAI news, and countless other zines and print publications that have been making the same points as Baraka for the past five years? It baffles me that anybody could think otherwise.

I was reminded of how left opinion is shaped when I stumbled across a website called South Front this morning when trying to find out the latest news about the battle for Aleppo.

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In a nutshell, this is just one more website that is pushing the Kremlin/Baathist agenda. The first thing I did was look up the domain. Unsurprisingly, it is registered in Russia.

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But what is somewhat surprising is how a website based in Russia can put out a product that is so professional looking and whose articles are obviously written by people whose first language is English. And if it is not the case, it written by Russians who have been trained to write exactly like they were.

For most people unfamiliar with the logistics and economics of websites, it might be easy to take South Front for granted but I can tell you that this is an expensive proposition both in financial and human resources terms. The website would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to maintain, if not more. Meanwhile, pro-Syrian revolution websites are run on a shoestring and count on people like me to supply content. If some rich bastard in the USA had given me that kind of money back in 2011, I could have put together a website that might have not only competed with the Baathist amen corner but crushed it. But what is the likelihood that a hedge fund billionaire would have funded a website that took up the cause of scruffy, bearded, Quran-citing, poverty-stricken rural folk who fight alongside al-Qaeda militias when it suits them? This is not to speak of the American government whose main goal was to keep the rebels on a tight leash so that a neoliberal government sans Assad could be cobbled together in Syria as Michael Karadjis pointed out in an essential article in the New Arab.

I am afraid that those who are so ready to dismiss Jill Stein as “pro-fascist” have delusions that Hillary Clinton would step into the breach and come to the aid of the Syrian rebels. People somehow have forgotten that Clinton is a cynical politician who counts Henry Kissinger as a major source of wisdom on foreign policy. She does not act on principle but on the dictates of the billionaires who run the country who paid her handsomely for her tawdry speaking engagements. She will say and do things for their benefits, not for those of the Syrian people. To get an idea of how “flexible” she is, all you need to do is pay attention to what she said in a February 26, 2012 interview with CBS’s Wyatt Andrews:

WYATT ANDREWS, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the violence continuing in Syria and Assad refusing to allow medicine to reach the injured, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with CBS News argues the United States is doing what it can, but within limits.

CLINTON: I am incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something, but it is also important to stop and ask what that is and who`s going to do it.

ANDREWS: What to do about Assad was supposed to be answered last Friday when a global conference called “Friends of Syria” again demanded that Assad step aside. But several Arab countries starting with the Saudis argued for action to arm the Syrian resistance. The Obama administration is resisting that.

ANDREWS: The U.S. has repeatedly said that it`s reluctant to support the direct army of the dissidents, why?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, we really don`t know who it is that would be armed.

ANDREWS: Specifically, the administration fears that arms will wind up in the hands of terrorists including al Qaeda.

CLINTON: We know al Qaeda, Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al Qaeda in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition, are we supporting Hamas in Syria?

So I think, Wyatt, you know despite the great pleas that we hear from those people who are being ruthlessly assaulted by Assad. If you are a military planner or if you are a secretary of state and you`re trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, we don`t see that.

In contrast to Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein stakes out positions on the basis of principle even if unfortunately the position is based on an incomplete understanding of history and politics. If you spent five years reading Salon, Counterpunch and The Nation and had never heard of Robin Yassin-Kassab or Idrees Ahmad let alone read them, what are the chances that you would have developed an analysis that favored a rebel victory over Assad?

Back in 1965, when I first faced the draft, my thinking on the Vietnam war was foggy at best. I hated Communism, or at least what I had been told about it, but never considered the possibility that the NLF’s cause was just. It took a full year of debate and discussion with an SWP member at the New School in New York to convince me that the USA had violated the Vietnamese right to self-determination and that the NLF were patriots fighting an occupying power.

And then it took another year for him to convince me that socialism was a more rational and just system than capitalism. What if I had not run into him? There was a good chance that my ideas about Vietnam and socialism would have remained as they were, even if my mind would have never been changed on the existential question of staying out of the army. My main goal in life was to read novels, smoke marijuana and listen to jazz. Politics? No thanks.

I really wonder whether most of my pro-Syrian revolution comrades have given much thought to how their thinking evolved about Syria. It is obvious that someone like Robin Yassin-Kassab, who is Syrian, would have come to the right outlook since he knows people from his homeland who were being brutalized by the dictatorship and could read authoritative analyses in the original Arabic.

Speaking for myself, it took a while to wrap my head around this question since I had, like most CounterPunch readers, seen American intervention in the Middle East after 2011 in the same way I saw Iraq in 2003—just another case of meddling that had to be resisted. I should add that I remain anti-intervention but along a different axis, namely opposed to CIA efforts to keep MANPAD’s out of the hands of the rebels.

Accepting the self-evident bankruptcy of the Green Party’s official position on Syria raises the question of its relevancy to the ongoing struggle to create a party of the left in the USA. For some of the British comrades who are outspokenly against Jill Stein, there seems to be little interest in the key question facing the left in the USA, namely how to build a party of the left. If Syria is a litmus test, then we have to wait until the Greens adopt a new position that is unlikely to happen given the ideological balance of forces in the USA, to a large extent one that has the Kremlin’s fingers on the scale. For all of the uproar over a “new McCarthyism” about Trump and Putin, there is plenty of evidence that the Kremlin does use RT.com, South Front, and other outlets to shape American public opinion.

In the long run, the only way to combat these ideas is to build a left that is predicated on the idea of working class internationalism and solidarity with the oppressed. Unfortunately, the left has been afflicted by a tendency to consider the nation-state as an instrument of struggle rather than the working class and its allies. Someone like Jill Stein’s vision of peace and global progress is based on the idea that Russia is a lesser evil to the USA. How ironic that a politician who has so effectively rebutted the idea that we need to choose a lesser evil on election day can turn around and apply in effect the same discredited logic to vote for Vladimir Putin.

August 1, 2016

Is Jill Stein anti-science?

Filed under: Green Party — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

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In addition to the charge that a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump, the “lesser evil” contingent in various liberal and left outlets maintain that she is “anti-science”.  We of course understand that if her views on mercury in vaccines were in conformity with “science”, this would matter little to the vote-for-Hillary brigades that would go digging up some other dirt on her.

A lot of the “anti-science” stuff has been posted on the Patheos website, one that describes itself as devoted to the subject of religion and that was founded in 2008 by Leo and Cathie Brunnick–two web developers in Denver, Colorado. It is not exactly clear why a website investigating spirituality and the like would become a forum for anti-GP attacks but a search on “GMO” reveals numerous articles there making the case for genetically modified crops, all by self-avowed atheists who are the same people bashing Jill Stein. One has to wonder if the real beef with Stein is less about her views on mercury but on Green Party concerns about GMO’s.

Articles about Jill Stein being “anti-science” have been written by Dan Arel, a leftist who has written for CounterPunch, Michael Stone, a self-described progressive secular humanist, Matthew Facciani, a neuroscience PhD student and activist, and Bo Gardiner, an environmental scientist. Gardiner is probably the most obvious example of the sort of understanding that these people have of science since she is gung-ho not only on GMO but nuclear power. In a July 27 article titled “Dr. Jill Stein Is Anti-Science, Bad for the Environment, and Deserves Her Anti-Vax Label”, Gardiner writes:

Perhaps the most obvious point anti-GMO activists leave out is that banning GMOs would mean the conversion of thousands more square miles of land to agriculture, creating more pesticides, more waterway-killing fertilizers, and more carbon emissions. And, of course, the story of the mass farmer suicides in India due to GMOs has been thoroughly debunked. In other words, Stein is willing to sacrifice biodiversity on the altar of bourgeois, pseudoscientific food purity.

The link for “thoroughly debunked” takes you to a website titled Neurologica: Your Daily Fix of neuroscience, skepticism and critical thinking. I wonder if there is some connection between neuroscience and this sort of “scientific” thinking that more often than not is funded by Monsanto. I do know, however, that the organized Skepticism movement is very much pro-capitalist and pro-GMO as this would indicate. You can find out more about how rancid these skeptics are in my article on Michael Shermer who is one of its leading lights. Although I haven’t done any deep investigation of the matter, my guess is that atheist and skeptic associations have overlapping memberships.

Gardiner’s position on nuclear power is clearly in the same vein:

Then there’s her party’s inflexible stand opposing nuclear power, which almost certainly will have to be part of the solution in accelerating the weaning off of fossil fuels before we do further irreparable planet-wide damage. The climate and oceans can’t afford to wait until better solutions are widely available.

I haven’t seen Gardiner cited by my FB anti-Stein friends (isn’t there a better word for such people you have never met or spoke to on the phone even, like maybe acquaintances, which is really what they are). They tend to post articles by Dan Arel, who has a bit more credibility on the left. Why you can even find an article by Arel on CounterPunch titled “The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party” so naturally one might conclude that he is no ordinary “lesser evil” talking head. He even declaims, “if Sanders stands on the podium at the Democratic National Convention and asks supporters to rally behind Secretary Clinton he will be betraying his revolution but that does not mean the revolution must come to an end.” Whoa, big fellow. Make sure when you write stuff like this you don’t get the FBI breathing down your neck.

For those leftists arguing for the “lesser evil”, Dan Arel is a rather double-edged sword. Despite his fulminations about Jill Stein’s views on mercury and GMO’s, he still supports her. If anything, he is critical of her from the left stating that the Greens have to catch up with his bold call for socialist revolution.

There was a time when such a position on GMOs was more widespread on the left when Frank Furedi’s group in England was publishing Living Marxism and had some credibility in leftist circles. If there is any barometer of leftist opinion on GMO’s, a search for articles in support of the technology on Counterpunch would be a good place to start. There are none.

Although I can’t be sure that Arel has still decided to vote for Stein, his reaction to a Washington Post interview with her suggests someone at a breaking point—sort of like Leon Trotsky trying to decide in the late 1920s whether Stalin had degenerated to the point where a new International would be necessary. The video interview only lasts 2 minutes and 38 seconds and contains these two statements:

I think there’s no question that vaccines have been absolutely critical in ridding us of the scourge of many diseases — smallpox, polio, etc. So vaccines are an invaluable medication,” Stein said. “Like any medication, they also should be — what shall we say? — approved by a regulatory board that people can trust. And I think right now, that is the problem. That people do not trust a Food and Drug Administration, or even the CDC for that matter, where corporate influence and the pharmaceutical industry has a lot of influence.

Monsanto lobbyists help run the day in those agencies and are in charge of approving what food isn’t safe. There is rampant distrust of our institutions of government right now. The trust level for the presidency is somewhere around 15 percent. The strong confidence in Congress is somewhere around 4 percent, and the same is true of our regulatory agencies.

Let’s take up the GMO question first. With all due respect to Stein, I don’t think the question is whether GMO foods are safe or not. It is more about the possibility that they will allow corporations like Monsanto to use their intellectual property rights to bring farmers under their thumb and also lead to the development of superweeds that develop a resistance to Monsanto’s glyphosate in the same way that pests developed a resistance to pesticides. When such a resistance develops, there is a tendency to increase the amount of chemicals that get poured into the air, water and soil in a vicious cycle. This is the real problem, not whether eating a GMO tomato will give you cancer. I searched in vain for any article written by Arel that mentions glyphosate. If you can find one, your researching skills are better than mine and mine are pretty good.

After reading what Stein had to say about vaccines, it would be difficult to maintain that she is an anti-vaxxer so Arel takes a somewhat different tack. He refers once again to the Washington Post interview:

As a medical doctor, there was a time where I looked very closely at those issues, and not all those issues were completely resolved. There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant, the toxic substances like mercury which used to be rampant in vaccines. There were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don’t know if all of them have been addressed.

For Arel, this is pandering to those parents who believe that there is a connection between autism and the mercury that was used in vaccinations to kill bacteria and fungus. In reality those concerns came from within the establishment itself as the NY Times reported in a November 10, 2002 article titled “The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory” that profiled Neal Halsey, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins. He was also the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious diseases between 1995 and 1999 and often quoted in places like the NY Times saying things like: “Many of the allegations against vaccines are based on unproven hypotheses and causal associations with little evidence.”

Reacting to parents’ concerns about mercury, a Congressman from New Jersey directed the FDA in 1997 to take inventory on the amount of mercury (called thimerosal) that was being included in vaccinations. The NY Times reported on Halsey’s reaction to the findings:

The F.D.A. team’s conclusions were frightening. Vaccines added under Halsey’s watch had tripled the dose of mercury that infants got in their first few months of life. As many as 30 million American children may have been exposed to mercury in excess of Environmental Protection Agency guidelines — levels of mercury that, in theory, could have killed enough brain cells to scramble thinking or hex behavior.

”My first reaction was simply disbelief, which was the reaction of almost everybody involved in vaccines,” Halsey says. ”In most vaccine containers, thimerosal is listed as a mercury derivative, a hundredth of a percent. And what I believed, and what everybody else believed, was that it was truly a trace, a biologically insignificant amount. My honest belief is that if the labels had had the mercury content in micrograms, this would have been uncovered years ago. But the fact is, no one did the calculation.”

Making matters worse, the latest science on mercury damage suggested that even small amounts of organic mercury could do harm to the fetal brain. Some of the federal safety guidelines on mercury were relaxed in the 90’s, even as the amount of mercury that children received in vaccines increased. The more Halsey learned about these mercury studies, the more he worried.

”My first concern was that it would harm the credibility of the immunization program,” he says. ”But gradually it came home to me that maybe there was some real risk to the children.” Mercury was turning out to be like lead, which had been studied extensively in the homes of the Baltimore poor during Halsey’s tenure at Hopkins. ”As they got more sophisticated at testing for lead, the safe level marched down and down, and they continued to find subtle neurological impairment,” Halsey says. ”And that’s almost exactly what happened with mercury.”

The only thing I would add to this reporting is to link it to the lead poisoning that has afflicted the people of Flint, Michigan who were victims of the state’s regulatory bodies failure to do their job. Arel should really take heart at Stein’s statement that it is “really important that the American public have confidence in our regulatory boards so that all of our medical treatments and medications actually are approved by people who do not have a vested interest in their promotion.” If anything, that is a sign that she sees the real need to make sure corporations and capitalist politicians don’t put a muzzle on regulatory bodies. One would think that someone in favor of socialist revolution would understand that.


July 29, 2016

The demonization of Jill Stein

Filed under: Green Party,third parties,two-party system — louisproyect @ 6:09 pm

After it became clear that the Sanders Political Revolution was history, the pro-Clinton propagandists redirected their fire at Jill Stein. The contrast between Sanders and Stein could hardly be greater but that made little difference to those who not only favored the two-party system but the hegemonic role of ruling class politicians like the Bushes, the Clintons and Barack Obama within it. Even though Sanders never had any intention of making a breach with corporatist Democrats, he was considered a trouble-maker for pointing out the obvious, namely that the system was rigged in favor of Wall Street.

As a standard-bearer of the anti-Sanders propaganda offensive, it was to be expected that the Washington Post would turn its attention to Stein once the relatively toothless Senator from Vermont was out of the way. On July 26th an article titled “As Green Party’s Stein woos Sanders backers, some see unhappy flashbacks to 2000” appeared. Like the last time a relatively successful Green Party campaign for President made an impact on American society, the Democrats worry that Stein might steal votes from Clinton just like Nader supposedly stole votes from Gore:

“I’m sure she’s a great person, but I can’t see how the effort can lead to anything but helping Trump,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), who had been one of Sanders’s most high-profile supporters but is now urging the party to unify behind Clinton. “Trump is such a clear and present danger to the republic that we’ve got to get behind the candidate who gives us the best chance of defeating Trump.”

To make sure that people got the message, an op-ed piece titled “A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump, and that’s the point” appeared the very next day making the same point. Tom Toles, the Post’s cartoonist, warns: “This is one where there doesn’t need to be any confusion. Voting for Jill Stein (in a competitive state) is voting for Donald Trump to be president. There isn’t any room to quarrel on this.” The repetition of basically the same article in the Post and others referenced below remind me of Adolf Hitler’s observation: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

The same basic article appeared on the Huffington Post: “Think Really, Really Hard Before Voting For A Third Party Candidate. Really Not content with just one such article, Huffington ran another a day later: “The Progressive Case Against The Green Party’s Jill Stein”.

At one point Salon.com was relatively fair-minded about Stein’s campaign in keeping with its liberal pretensions but since the demise of Sanders’s Political Revolution, the gloves have come off. Amanda Marcotte, a typical “progressive” hack of the sort that Salon hires, crapped on both the disaffected Sanderistas and Jill Stein in an article titled “Hanging with “The Bernouts” and Jill Stein: The Bernie-or-bust crowd is loud at the DNC — but they’re powerless”:

Like the Cleveland rally, this one was composed mostly of white men who really, really hate Hillary Clinton and aren’t afraid to make wild accusations about the first woman to be a major party nominee for president. Or to carry signs that they probably did not realize communicate subconscious phallic fears of Clinton’s ascension to power.

“White men” and “phallic fears”? Very transparent use of racial and sexual demagogy, isn’t it.  Maybe the problem is that people don’t want to vote for a candidate who represents everything the left hates.

A day later Salon reporter Sean Illing conducted a hostile interview with Stein that included questions in the “When did you stop beating your wife” vein:

In 2000, people implored Ralph Nader to run only in “safe states.” (non-swing states). He refused to do so and we know what happened. The idea was to allow progressives to vote their conscience in greater numbers and send a message to the Democratic Party without empowering the GOP. Voters know the Green Party or the Libertarian Party candidates aren’t going to win. These are protest votes, and more people would cast them if they were confident they weren’t doing Donald Trump or George W. Bush a solid. This matters a great deal to people who detest the two-party system but care deeply about core liberal principles or the balance of the Supreme Court. Why won’t you do what many now wish Nader did?

Slate Magazine, which is much more in tune with Hillary Clinton’s political agenda than Salon, chimed in with “Jill Stein’s Ideas Are Terrible. She Is Not the Savior the Left Is Looking For”. The author is Jordan Weissman who also complained about Sanders’s attack on free trade. Since he believes that “The fact is, most of the world has seen its standard of living improve quite a bit in the era of free trade,” naturally he would have no use for Jill Stein.

One of the more vitriolic attacks on Jill Stein came from a character named Dan Savage who writes for an alternative newspaper in Seattle called The Stranger and produces radio show podcasts at http://www.savagelovecast.com/. In May, after someone called in to express support for Jill Stein, Savage went postal:

Disaster will come. And the people who’ll suffer are not going to be the pasty white Green Party supporters — pasty white Jill Stein and her pasty white supporters. The people who’ll suffer are going to be people of color. People of minority faiths. Queer people. Women.

Don’t do it. Don’t throw your vote away on Jill Stein/vote for, bankshot-style, Donald Trump.

Since Savage is gay, the demagogy about “pasty white” Jill Stein and suffering gay people was to be expected. It is also worth mentioning that he was a big-time backer of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, saying “Because we’re not just at war with al Qaeda, stupid. We’re at war with a large and growing Islamo-fascist movement that draws its troops and funds from all over the Islamic world. Islamo-fascism is a regional problem, not just an al Qaeda problem or an Afghanistan problem.” So naturally he might be motivated to support Hillary Clinton who voted for the war like him and also like him ultimately admitted that it was a “mistake” to back the war in 2002. You can bet your last dollar that if the war in Iraq had gone smoothly, neither Savage or Clinton would have decided it was a mistake.

This brings me to the matter of Jill Stein’s problematic position on Syria that shares most of the left’s tendency to see it terms of a potential repeat of 2002 as if the USA ever had any intention of “regime change”. In 2013, a year after her last campaign for president, Stein assembled a Shadow Cabinet that included David Swanson as “Secretary of Peace”. In brief, Swanson’s views on Syria are identical to those of most on the left. He has written nothing about the uprising and focuses exclusively on alleged American plans to remove Bashar al-Assad going back to 2006.

He has written: “In 2012, Russia proposed a peace-process that would have included President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, but the U.S. brushed the idea aside without any serious consideration, suffering under the delusion that Assad would be violently overthrown very soon, and preferring a violent solution as more likely to remove the Russian influence and military — and perhaps also due to the general U.S. preference for violence driven by its weapons industry corruption.” In fact no such proposal was ever made as I pointed out in a September 2015 article.

Furthermore, her statements on Syria have not been so much in the Swanson apologetics mode but more in the vein of wishful thinking:

The US and Russia should support diplomacy leading toward a peace settlement in Syria. A peace settlement should include provisions for civil society in Syria that has been working for democracy. The US and Russia should work cooperatively to help resettle refugees feeling the war and the drought.

There is about as much chance of this happening as Hillary Clinton breaking up Wall Street banks.

While I consider Syria to be a kind of litmus test for the left, I tend to apply it a little less forcibly when it comes to someone whose speeches are almost totally about Wall Street criminality, fracking, immigrant rights, single-payer health insurance, and police killings.

Unlike Swanson, I doubt that Stein has ever paid much attention to Syria, something backed up by a search of Nexis. From 01/01/2012 to 07/29/2016 there were 132 articles that turned up in a search on “Jill Stein” and “Green Party” but when you add Syria to the search, nothing comes up.

In fact, the candidacy of Jill Stein and Ralph Nader’s should be understood less as a smorgasbord  of positions than about the possibility of opening up a space on the left that can facilitate coordination and common struggle around burning questions facing American working people. When I attended a sold-out Madison Square Garden rally for Ralph Nader in 2000, I was less interested in what he had to say than I was at the sight of nearly 18,000 warm body in the seats. I said to myself that if only ten percent of these people could become serious activists in a nationally coordinated organization that could fight for clean air and water, jobs for all, civil rights, etc., Nader’s bid would be worth it even if much of what he said was beside the point. If I remember correctly, he went on for ten minutes about how bad Coca-Cola was for youngsters. While I don’t think that he was wrong to attack a drink that apocryphally has been used to clean car batteries, it might have been a better use of those ten minutes to explain why Al Gore was a fake on the question of climate change. I doubt that Nader had any ability to expound upon Marxist economics given his preference for Jeffersonian small businesses, but it would have also been great to hear something about the capitalist system’s contradictions.

After Nader was blamed for Gore losing the election, the Green Party became demonized by the same sorts of people who are demonizing Jill Stein today. In 2004 the pressure exerted by people like Eric Alterman and Todd Gitlin resulted in the nomination of David Cobb, an obscure figure who the “Demogreens” felt would pose no threat to John Kerry. It turns out it was Kerry’s terrible campaign, just like Gore’s in 2000, that led to his defeat.

Jill Stein has the courage of her convictions. In an interview with Paste Magazine, she was emphatic: “The lesser evil thing is false. It’s not going to fix this problem. We’ve been using that strategy since Bush-Nader-Gore and where has it gotten us? The politics of fear has delivered everything we were afraid of. All the reasons you were told you had to vote for the lesser evil is exactly what we’ve gotten: expanding wars, the meltdown of our climate, the prison-industrial complex, more student debt, police violence, the off-shoring of our jobs, Wall Street.”

It is her stiff-necked determination to push forward that will help to build the Green Party. There is an enormous potential for the growth of the left that hasn’t been seen since I was in my 20s. On February 5, 2016 the Washington Post reported that in a poll on socialism versus capitalism, respondents younger than 30 rated socialism more favorably than capitalism (43 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively). Now, of course, these are likely people who understand socialism in terms of Sweden rather than Cuba but if you have the ear of someone who simply has little use for capitalism, you at least are dealing with someone who can be reached politically.

Furthermore, a WSJ/NBC poll revealed that there was a big opening for Third-Party candidates due to the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump. Reporting on the poll, the Washington Post noted:

Those whose views on the race haven’t hardened seem open to choosing Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein. These “persuadable” voters comprised nearly three in 10 of those surveyed.

Of them, 28% leaned toward Mr. Trump and 25% toward Mrs. Clinton. Some 21% favored Mr. Johnson and 12% went for Ms. Stein.

To me those are jaw-dropping figures. Imagine that, Stein’s favorability was only half that of Hillary Clinton even though the media has been hostile to the Greens as indicated at the start of this article. Actually, that’s probably one of the reasons people are leaning in her direction.

March 15, 2018

The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment

Filed under: Red-Brown alliance,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:53 pm

​During his recent tour of Europe, disgraced former Trump strategist Steve Bannon declared “Italy is in the lead.”

Amid the historic resurgence of the Italian far right that returned right-wing populist Silvio Berlusconi to prominence, Bannon fantasized about “the ultimate dream” of unifying the anti-establishment Five Star Movement with the far-right League (formerly the Northern League) through a populist movement. Bannon’s international vision of nationalist populist movements is locked into the Kremlin’s geopolitical ideology of a “multipolar world.”

The League is tied through a cooperation pact to Putin’s Russia, and its deputy in charge of relations with foreign parties, Claudio D’Amico, explicitly called for a “multipolar world” in Katehon, a think tank created by fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. Following the ideological line Dugin put forward in his text, Foundations of Geopolitics, Katehon calls for uniting a “Eurasian” bloc in constant struggle against “Atlanticist” countries. For Dugin, the “21st century gamble” is to create a “multipolar” confederation of “Traditionalist” regional empires united under Russian sovereignty that will overthrow the “unipolar” empire of “postmodern” democracies.

Shortly after Putin’s election in 2000, the Kremlin released a set of foreign policy guidelines calling for a “multipolar world order” against the “strengthening tendency towards the formation of a unipolar world under financial and military domination by the United States.” Escalating with the Ukrainian Orange Revolution in 2004, the Kremlin’s production of soft-power networks throughout Europe and the United States involves- think tanksloansforumspropaganda outlets and cooperation agreements with far-right parties like the Austrian Freedom Party and the League. From Russia to Iran to Western Europe and the U.S., this international movement uses conspiracy theories and “gray material” to warp the political spectrum into a populist referendum along “geopolitical” terms set by fascist engagées.

Red and brown polarities

As a recent major report on syncretic networks exposed, the modern fascist movement’s obsession with geopolitics emerged in force amid the post-Cold War antiglobalization movement. In 2002, a front group formed out of the U.S.-based Workers’ World Party known as the International Action Center joined forces with the Assisi-based “Campo Antimperialista.” As Duginists infiltrated the Campo, opening a journal called Eurasia that garnered the influential involvement of Campo participant Costanza Preve, the International Action Center continued their cooperation.

Soon, a similar Russian group called the Anti-Globalist Resistance began to repost the Campo’s dispatches. Sharing support for Milosevic with the Campo and the International Action Center, the Anti-Globalist Resistance emerged simultaneously with the same tendency to fight globalization by linking far-right to hard-left. In 2008, they brought the Campo to Moscow for the third “All-Russia Anti-Globalist Forum,” introduced by long-time U.S. fascist Lyndon LaRouche. The next year’s conference included Duginist leaders like Leonid Savin and retired General Leonid Ivashov, along with LaRouche and Holocaust denier Israel Shamir.

As their work continued, the Campo and Anti-Globalist Resistance drew more anti-globalization activists into their syncretic orbit. In 2012, a group came together at a Campo Antimperialista event in Assisi and developed what would become the Syria Solidarity Movement. The movement’s steering committee came to include top figures from groups from the U.S. hard left, including the Workers World Party, its affiliate, ANSWER and a spinoff of the latter group called the Party of Socialism and Liberation.

After changing their name to the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, the group drew people from the Syria Solidarity Movement’s network to a conference called the “Right of Peoples to Self-Determination and Building a Multipolar World” in 2014. A delegate from the International Action Center attended, along with delegates from another Workers World Party front group called United Anti-War Coalition, including an editor with the Black Agenda Reportnamed Margaret Kimberly. Among the conference’s other attendees were Michael Hill of the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Texas Nationalist Movement, as well as the far-right Republika of Srpska and National Bolshevik Italian Communitarian Party.

The following year, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia met with a purported Cherokee Nation elder named “Mashu White Feather” and a representative of the Uhuru Movement, also connected to the Black Agenda Report. They then organized a state-funded conference that drew members of the fascist Italian group Millenium, Mutti’s associate Antonio Grego, and a leading member of the far-right Rodina party, as well as representatives of separatist groups like the Texas Nationalist Movement and the Catalan Solidarity for Independence party. The now-notorious troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, would later invite the Texas Nationalist Movement to join an armed, Islamophobic protest launched by the fake “Heart of Texas,” while also inciting counter-protestors.

This network map shows the flow of movement building from parties to front groups to participation in and creation of syncretic coalitions.

The Syria connection

The Syria Solidarity Movement lists on its steering committee a host of syncretic figures like DuginistNavid Nasr and an Australian representative of the fascist-modeled Syrian Social Nationalist Party affiliateMussalaha. Before a report revealed her associations with Global ResearchRon Paul and the right-wing British Constitution Party, conspiracy theorist Vanessa Beeley held a position on the steering committee as well.

As an editor at the alt-right-associated conspiracy theory site, 21stCenturyWire, Beeley’s repeated conspiracy articles attempting to link the White Helmets to al Qaeda and George Soros earned her a visit with Assad in Damascus and senior Russian officials in Moscow; however, they have been thoroughly debunked. A defender of right-wing Hungarian president Viktor Orban, Beeley promotesantisemites like Gilad Atzmon and Dieudonné, even speaking at a conference hosted by the latter in partnership with notorious Holocaust denier Laurent Louis. Regardless, the Syrian Solidarity Movement and the associated Hands Off Syria Coalition recommend Beeley’s work.

Along with members of the Syria Solidarity Movement, delegates who attended the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia’s “Multipolar World” conference sit on the Hands off Syria Coalition’s steering committee. Showing its commitments and affinities, in January 2016, the Hands Off Syria Coalition published a “Multipolar World Against War” statement signed by the leader of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, Alexander Ionov.

Similarly, the Hands Off Syria Coalition website publicizes self-described Marxist, Tim Anderson, who has an interesting record of attending far-right conferences. In 2015, Anderson attended the far-right Brandherd Syrien Congress, and the next year he was at Defend Our Heritage’s Leura Forum, chaired by a leader of far-right party Alternative for Germany. Following that, Anderson’s pet project, Center of Counter Hegemonic Studies, convened a conference that brought in Paul Antonopoulos, an editor for the Duginist website Fort Russ.

The Hands Off Syria Coalition advertises Anderson’s book, The Dirty War on Syria, which is published by syncretic conspiracist site Global Research. Multiple “Research Associates” of Global Research sit on the “scientific committee” of the Campo-linked Duginist journal Geopolitica, and the site lists as its “partner media group” the Voltaire Network. Publishing LaRouchite and Duginist articles, the Voltaire Network boasts the Syrian Social Nationalist Party’s Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs as its Vice President. One of the Voltaire Network’s leading contributors is Mikhail Leontyev, an associate of Dugin who has moved from prominent media personality to the role of spokesman for Russian state oil company, Rosneft. The Syria Solidarity Movement publishes Voltaire Network articles by founder Thierry Meyssan, a contributor to Campo-linked journal Eurasia who associates with Holocaust deniers and open fascists, among others.

Hands Off Syria Coalition steering committee member Issa Chaer joined Meyssan on a panel at the Second New Horizons conference in Iran in 2012. Conference speakers that year included World Workers Party member Caleb Maupin, Alt Right journalist Tim Pool, Holocaust denier Kevin Barrett, and Duginists like Voltaire Network associate Mateusz Piskorski, German editor Manuel Ochsenreiter, Leonid Savin, and Claudio Mutti the leading fascist infiltrator of the Campo Antimperialista. The banner image for last year’s New Horizon features Aleksandr Dugin.

Multipolar propaganda

According to the metrics search engine BuzzSumo, most of the leading articles with the terms “multipolar world” and “multi-polar world” in the title come from an interconnected network of sites, including Global Research, The Duran and Sign of the Times. With an estimated six million unique daily views per month, the biggest and most influential in this network is the Russian state-run media site Sputnik News.

Billing itself as pointing “the way to a multipolar world that respects every country’s national interests, culture, history and traditions,” Sputnik frequently publishes PiskorskiOchsenreiter, Mutti’s fellow Campo infiltrator Tiberio Graziani, commentator Andrew Korybkoand Fort Russ editor Joaquin Flores. Furthermore, Sputnik has joined RT in consistently using dubious sources affiliated with theSyria Solidarity Network to attack the White Helmets and throw doubt on the Assad regime’s war crimes, for instance its use of chemical weapons.

A syncretic hub on Sputnik, anti-imperialist John Wight’s podcast, “Hard Facts,” promotes the same figures associated with the pro-Assad network in the West, including Beeley, Anderson, and Nasr. Perhaps most interestingly, Wight also hosted trans-national far-right figure, Edward Lozansky during the 2016 election and again early the next year.

With more than 30 years of involvement in the U.S. and Russian far right, Lozansky is perhaps most known as the creator of the American University in Moscow. Boasting a number of Fellows involved in pro-Kremlin media outlets like The Duran, RT and Russia Insider, the American University in Moscow appears to be an ideological center in the concerted social media campaign associated with the Internet Research Agency to boost anti-Clinton, pro-Kremlin propaganda in the U.S. Lozansky also hosts conferences with known fascist ideologues and an annual “Russia Forum” featuring far-right politicians and left-wing media operators from Russia and the U.S.

During both of his pro-Putin, pro-Trump interviews with Lozansky on “Hard Facts,” Wight advocated “a multipolar alternative to the unipolar world,” insisting, “we’re talking about a struggle for a multipolar world to replace the unipolarity that has wreaked so much havoc since the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.”

The most important anti-imperialist hub on Sputnik, however, is hosted by Brian Becker, whose fellow party member and brother sits on the steering committee for the Syria Solidarity Movement. The leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Becker regularly hosts Fellows of the American University in Moscow on his Sputnik podcast, “Loud & Clear.”

“Loud & Clear”‘s Lozansky-affiliated guests include far-right PR man Jim Jatras, Mark Sleboda of the Dugin-founded Center for Conservative Studies, the Ron Paul Institute’s Daniel McAdams and Alexander Mercouris of the syncretic conspiracist site, The Duran. The program also provides a platform to a variety of explicitly far-right guests, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, antisemite Alberto Garcia Watson, alt-right figure Cassandra Fairbanks and militia movement leader Larry Pratt.

Aside from marginal guests, Loud & Clear can bring on some heavy hitters. During his two appearances on “Loud & Clear” in late 2017, bestselling author Max Blumenthal called the red-brown radio show “the finest public affairs programming” and declared, “I am increasingly turning to RT America for sanity.” No stranger to Sputnik, Blumenthal also went on “Hard Facts” that August, claiming that notorious ISIS militant Mohammed Emwazi was ushered into the Syria conflict by the CIA via a “rat line” from Saudi Arabia.

This Venn diagram suggests that certain syncretic groups exist as containers for the intersection of right and left wing groups, ideologies.

Highway to the Grayzone

Around the same time he went on “Loud & Clear,” Blumenthal appeared on Tucker Carlson‘s FOX News show to defend RT — his second time on the far-right show that year. Blumenthal’s RT appearances have been praised by white nationalists like Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., who murdered three people outside of a Jewish Community Center in 2014, so his courting of the right on FOX drew considerable backlash.

Two months later, Blumenthal offered up a staunch defense of “Russia’s position in the world” to author Robert Wright in an interview on bloggingheads. Admitting that Putin’s Russia remains far from left-wing, Blumenthal justified support for the country’s authoritarian conservative government as “part of the multipolar world.”

“If you believe in a multipolar world,” Blumenthal told Wright, “you believe in détente, you believe in diplomacy.” He specifically mentioned Becker’s Party for Socialism and Liberation and groups like it, arguing that they “tend to get all the major issues right regardless of their ideology or agenda.”

Blumenthal was not as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics before he appeared at the same RT gala as disgraced former National Security advisor Michael Flynn and the Green Party’s Jill Stein in December 2015. During that occasion, he joined a panel called “Infowar: Will there be a winner” alongside Alt Right anti-Semite Charles Bausman of Russia Insider. A month later, Blumenthal’s pro-Kremlin position crystalized with the founding of the Grayzone Project.

Grayzone is a collaborative project also featuring journalist Benjamin Norton, who cosigned the Hands Off Syria Coalition’s points of unity statement along with Beeley and others. After going on “Loud & Clear” with Duginist Mark Sleboda and Infowars regularRay McGovern, Norton plugged the Party for Socialism and Liberation on a podcast episode titled “Hands off Syria.” With other Grayzone contributors, Norton has been criticized for downplaying war crimesand helping publicize false theories about rebels contaminatingDamascus’s water supply.

When reached for comment by email, Norton retorted, “I know your goal is to outlandishly smear anyone who opposes US imperialism and is to the left of the Clintons as a ‘crypto-fascist,’ while NATO supports actual fascists whom you care little about.”

Grayzone is perhaps best known for Blumenthal’s controversial two-part article attacking the White Helmets, which brought accusations of plagiarism from Beeley. Grayzone contributor Rania Khalek had, Beeley insisted, “pumped me for information on the [White Helmets] and then Max wrote the article.”

While Blumenthal may have repeated some of Beeley’s theories, Beeley cannot be seen as a credible source. Regardless, Khalek has since used a questionable interview sourced from Beeley as evidence that the White Helmets “were deeply embedded in al Qaeda.”

Grayzone recently announced their move from independent news site AlterNet to The Real News Network, a left-wing site with a penchant for 9/11 truther inquiries. Neither Blumenthal nor Khalek responded to efforts to reach them for comment.

Right uses left

Through its amplification of an interlinked, multi-centered network organized around institutions like Lozansky’s American University in Moscow and the Voltaire Network and conferences like Moscow’s “Multi-Polar World” and Tehran’s “New Horizons,” syncretic networks associated with Dugin’s Eurasianist ideology have combined distortions and ambiguities into a geopolitical narrative meant to confuse audiences and promote authoritarian populist opposition to liberalism.

The “gray measures” used to deny the Kremlin’s influence operations may seem dubious when delivered through channels like Sputnik that are, themselves, political technologies of far-right political influence. When cycled through “narrative laundering” of secondary and tertiary networks enhanced by trolls and coordinated influence operations, however, propaganda is “graywashed” of its dubious sources and presented as cutting-edge journalism.

As shown with Figure 3, think tanks like Katehon and connected Russian Institute for Strategic Studies develop strategies for media spin and online promotion through influence groups and botnets. These think tanks engage in feedback loops with Russian state media channels and linked syncretic news sites, amplified through social media with the help of botnets, and eventually reaching more legitimate sources often freed of their dubious sourcing. The results are explored by a recent study from Data and Society called Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online: “Online communities are increasingly turning to conspiracy-driven news sources, whose sensationalist claims are then covered by the mainstream media, which exposes more of the public to these ideas, and so on.”

A conceptual model made in Vensim intended to present the workings of “Graywashing.”

The problem with multipolarism, aside from assuming polarity as a useful prescription, may be that it supports not the emergence of Russia as a world power but the rise of the Kremlin’s authoritarian conservative political ideology. In this, multipolarists tend to support other authoritarian regimes and movements from Iran to Syria to Italy. Although anti-imperialists may believe that these measures land them on the right side of history, taking stock of the fascist movement suggests that the strategy of opposing a liberal order through red-brown populist collaboration makes the left a willing accomplice.


February 15, 2018

The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Filed under: Gay,television — louisproyect @ 8:37 pm

My wife and I are huge fans of Ryan Murphy, the gay writer/director/producer who just signed a 5-year deal with Netflix for $300 million that begins after his contract with Rupert Murdoch’s FX expires in July. Murphy is probably best known for “Glee”, an ABC network show about a high school glee club that is a backdrop for various dramas involving gender, race, class and other fragmented identities in American society. My impression is that it had a lot in common with “The White Shadow”, a CBS network show that ran in the late 70s using a racially mixed high school basketball team to offer the same sorts of social commentary.

We originally got hooked on Ryan Murphy after discovering “Nip/Tuck”, a cable TV show that ran on FX from 2003-2010. We only decided to pay for cable TV after we lost our barebones network TV connection as a result of the 9/11 attack taking out the TV transmitter that fed our high-rise.

“Nip/Tuck” used a plastic surgery clinic in the same way that “Glee” used its youthful singers–as a way of commenting on American society, in this instance the foibles of rich people who were never satisfied with their appearance. As I pointed out in my review of Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Nose, Iranian Style”, this is a sad practice that has been adopted in the Islamic Republic.

I made the case for “Nip/Tuck” in a 2006 article:

With enough postmodernist tropes to keep a MLA convention going for an extra week, FX’s “Nip/Tuck” uses plastic surgery as a metaphor for various gender, racial and broader cultural issues. Although not as acclaimed as some of HBO’s marquee attractions such as “The Sopranos” or “Sex and the City,” “Nip/Tuck” is certainly as well written, acted and directed. Now in its fourth season on the FX cable network, which is not a premium outlet like HBO or Showtime, it is a true pop culture achievement. Past seasons can be viewed on DVD as well.

A year after “Nip/Tuck” came to an end, a new Ryan Murphy show began. Like “Nip/Tuck”, “American Horror Story” was laden with Grand Guignol visual effects but this time using a butcher’s knife instead of a scalpel. It borrows elements from the genre involving vampires, zombies, killer clowns, serial murderers, etc. and wraps them in Murphy’s unique comic sensibility, as well as exploiting them for social commentary.

If you haven’t seen “American Horror Story”, I urge you to watch “Cult”, an 11-episode series from last year that can be seen on Amazon and iTunes. The first episode depicted a clash between candidates Trump and Clinton supporters in a small, upwardly mobile town. Two of the main characters are married lesbians who have had a falling out over one deciding to back Jill Stein instead of Clinton. The main Trump supporter is a Richard Spencer wannabe named Kai whose top lieutenant was abducted by the two lesbians and tied to a chair in order to prevent him for voting for Trump. To make his escape, he cuts off an arm. He is played by Chaz Bono, the transgender son of Cher and Sonny Bono originally named Chastity.

The show is not that interested in presenting an MSNBC type commentary (thank god) but much more in examining American cults of one sort or another. Kai is trying to build a fascist cult that will start by taking over the small town the characters live in and using it to catapult him into the presidency with the help of his stormtroopers.

The series incorporates reenactments of infamous cults, including those led by Jim Jones and Charles Manson, who are played by the same actor who plays Kai. Blood flows by the bucketful as the characters become increasingly crazed. It is vastly entertaining.

Once again, a psycho criminal is the main character in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” that is now showing on Season 2 of FX’s American Crime Story. As you may know, this is based on the July 15, 1997 murder of the trendy designer on the front steps of the mansion he owned in South Beach, Florida. The killer was Andrew Cunanan, a deranged gay man who had traveled across the USA, serially killing people one by one to facilitate the mission he was on. To this day, there has never been a satisfactory explanation why he targeted Versace, nor any of the other mostly gay men along the way.

Since my wife and I have always been curious about the Versace murder, having stayed a month in South Beach not far from his mansion in 2009 and sharing a general interest in fashion (she is an adjunct at Fashion Institute in addition to her main gig as a tenured economics/business professor). What we had trouble understanding is how FX and Murphy could have turned this into a 9-episode series since the story could have easily been told in an hour or so, as it was in a documentary we saw some years ago and that can be seen here:

Watching episode 5 titled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last night, it became crystal-clear why Murphy decided to create a show based on the killing of Versace. He saw it as much more than the tale of a serial killer. It was to be an ambitious epic tale about the state of Gay America in 1997 when equality was still beyond the grasp of gay men and lesbians. In an amazing coincidence, it turns out that the first of Cunanan’s victims was a former Navy officer named Jeff Trail who was an important figure in the struggle for gay liberation.

All this is detailed in Maureen Orth’s “Vulgar Favors” that Murphy’s docudrama is based on. In 1992, Trail was a naval officer on the USS Gridley, a cruiser docked in San Diego, where Cunanan lived. Just by chance, the two met in a gay bar where the  Cunanan approached the still closeted sailor. The two became fast friends, mostly because Cunanan—very much out of the closet—helped him to navigate the gay world that Trail had begun to explore.

If Jeff Trail could not reveal his sexuality on the USS Gridley, he could make the case for gays in the military on a CBS “48 Hours” in 1993. His face was not visible in the interview and his voice was disguised. You can see the interview here: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/02/versace-jeff-trail-american-crime-story-interview

Even though Versace was in an industry that had as many out of the closet men as in ballet, he still kept his sexuality a secret. In this episode, you see him arguing with his sister about being seen too often in gay hangouts. It might alienate men who would otherwise wear his clothing, especially from the macho sports world and among those actors who cultivated a macho identity. The two men’s wrestling with homophobia is interwoven skillfully by Murphy.

In 1995, Versace did an interview in the Advocate, the U.S.’s most widely read gay magazine that can be read here: https://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/2018/2/15/seen-american-crime-story-read-interview-where-gianni-versace-came-out Unlike Jeff Trail, Versace never denied who he was sexually but neither did he advertise it. Over the past 22 years, the struggle has been to make it as easy as possible to be upfront about your sexuality in the fashion industry, the navy and in public restrooms even if that turns off the Christian Right and the homophobic morons in the Socialist Equality Party.



November 22, 2017

Charles Manson and the 1960s

Filed under: cults,television — louisproyect @ 8:54 pm

Just by coincidence, the 83-year old Charles Manson died in Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield just 12 days after American Horror Story aired a chillingly accurate recreation of the infamous Helter Skelter murders in 1969 that landed him and all but one of his henchmen in prison for the rest of their lives. Steve Grogan was the only member of his cult to ever be paroled. Even as the judge in his trial stated that he “was too stupid and too hopped on drugs to decide anything on his own”, he spent 14 years in prison. Another cult member, one “Squeaky” Fromme was not involved in the Helter Skelter killings but gained infamy for aiming a gun at President Gerald Ford in 1979. At her trial, where she refused to cooperate in her defense, she reacted to the life sentence by saying, “”I stood up and waved a gun for a reason. I was so relieved not to have to shoot it, but, in truth, I came to get life. Not just my life but clean air, healthy water, and respect for creatures and creation.”

Clearly, these people were borderline psychotic or even fully fledged.

This, the seventh season of American Horror Story, is titled Cult and is deeply engaged with American politics today even if it avoids making social commentary. The primary purpose of the series that concluded last week is to use the right/left divide in the USA today as satirical fodder after the fashion of Mike Judge or Trey Parker but with a Grand Guignol sensibility.

The primary character is a Richard Spencer type named Kai who shows up in a small town just before the 2016 election to build support for Donald Trump. Before long he finds himself in a clash with a married lesbian couple who are divided over who to support. One is committed to Hilary Clinton and the other to Jill Stein.

Before long, Kai has built up a cult of locals, including the Jill Stein supporter who has abandoned her Green Party politics as easily as a snake sheds its skin. The cult is on a secret mission to plunge the town, the state, and eventually the entire nation into fascism through a series of false flag incidents. One he dubs “The Night of a Thousand Tates” in homage to Charles Manson. He will send out his cult members to knife a thousand pregnant women, just as Roman Polanski’s wife, the very pregnant actress Sharon Tate, was killed in 1969. Manson intended his murder to spark a race war by having his acolytes scrawling the word “pigs” on Polanski’s house, a word associated with Black militancy. In Cult, it is not made crystal clear why killing pregnant women will spark a war between the Christian right and Hilary Clinton voters but by episode 10, Kai is a raving lunatic.

To prepare his followers for “The Night of a Thousand Tates”, Kai recounts the Helter Skelter murders that are reenacted quite graphically in episode 10 with the actor playing Kai also playing Manson (in the previous episode, he became Jim Jones). The purpose of the politics in Cult is simply to provide a peg upon which gruesome scenes can unfold with deadpan humor and it succeeds nicely. If you want to get your minds off the real horrors taking place in Puerto Rico or Syria, this FX series is just the thing.

I have vivid memories of the Charles Manson incident since some on the left endorsed his attack. In 1981, Lucinda Franks wrote a 6600-word article for the NY Times that made an amalgam between SDS, the antiwar movement, and Manson:

”All white babies are pigs,” one Weatherman shouted during the council, in which some 400 people crowded into a large hall hung with signs reading ”Piece (that is, guns) now.” Bernardine Dohrn, who later took control of the organization when it went underground, made a speech accusing the left of being scared ”honkies” for not burning down Chicago when Hampton was killed, and urging her audience to take up arms and be ”a fighting force alongside the blacks.” The Weathermen were to become as savage as Charles Manson, who massacred Sharon Tate and her friends in her Beverly Hills home. Dohrn said: ”Dig it, first they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach. Wild!”

While everybody understood that the Weathermen had lost their minds by this point, there were others who were nearly as bad, even though they were considered to be reasonable. The New Times, a magazine that was the Salon.com of its day, had a cover photo of a handcuffed Manson with the heading, “The Media Assassination of Charlie Manson: Last Interview from Jail”.

You have to keep in mind that Manson had adopted the guise of a hippie guru after being released from prison in 1967. He headed straight for Berkeley where a fellow ex-con had helped him find an apartment. He supported himself at first by begging on the street, which was very common in those days, and then went on to leech off of various wealthy people, including Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. Manson and his 12 female cult members moved into Wilson’s mansion where the two were served by them as if sultans in a harem. Manson, who had dreams of becoming a musician and songwriter, impressed Wilson so much so that he actually recorded a song Manson had written titled “Never Learn to Love” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRGI5Exr3ZQ).

By 1969, the bloom had faded from the hippie rose. First, there was Manson’s cult and then there was the free Altamont rock concert in 1970 when Hells Angels hired as security guards for a rock concert knifed a black man to death during a Rolling Stones performance. Billed as Woodstock West, it was ample proof that the “groovy” vibe of the earlier concert had died. The Angels had become respectable after Ken Kesey, the author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, had invited them to one of his acid-dropping sessions.

In keeping with the nihilistic anthem “Sympathy for the Devil” that the Stones began to perform, a confrontation began that resulted in the murder of Meredith Hunter, an 18-year old African-American man who was totally stoned and bent on mounting the stage. After he was punched out by a Hells Angel, he drew a 22 caliber pistol from within his jacket and headed toward the stage again. At that point, the Angel drew a knife and stabbed him to death. For young “peace and love” hippie types, this incident symbolized the end of an era and meshed perfectly with the sense of futility over the continuing war in Vietnam. The Maysles brothers made a documentary about the concert titled “Gimme Shelter” that can be viewed here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEw_FuglGVU

I watched all this going on from a distance feeling rather superior to the hippie implosion. I was around people who had never taken drugs and who went about their mission of overthrowing the capitalist system with a single-mindedness that was the polar opposite of the hippie dream of achieving peace and love by “dropping out”.

I had no idea at the time that I too belonged to a cult but one that was far less malevolent than Manson’s or Kai’s. What they all had in common was a subordination of the individual to the Divine Master that prevented independent thinking. By the end of the seventies, I had become a disillusioned ex-cult member but not one who had given up on the stated purpose of the cult, namely to create a society based on human need rather than private profit. I had come to the conclusion after a very painful experience that socialist revolutions are carried out collectively but Marxist thought is a deeply individual endeavor. Unless you think for yourself, you cannot make a contribution to Marxism. The conditions that created the deep alienation and criminality of Helter Skelter and the Altamont concert are spawned by a system that has long outlived its usefulness. It is no accident that the fascist-like movements that are making headway around the world, including the USA, put a premium on following a leader blindly. This is essentially the message of American Horror Story: Cult that lies beneath its Grand Guignol surface.


August 22, 2017

Reply to a disgruntled 27-year old

Filed under: socialism,third parties — louisproyect @ 3:31 pm

Kshama Sawant: going to Washington DC to explore possibility of a new People’s Party

Customarily when I receive a private message such as the one below, I answer it publicly without identifying the sender since it might likely be a question that other readers of this blog have been wrestling with:

Hi there,

I’m a disgruntled 27 year old who’s been reading your blog recently, because I’ve become interested in left wing analysis of, well everything. I admittedly don’t consider myself a Marxist, but I also don’t consider myself an anarchist or a liberal or a centrist or anything like that, so I don’t know where I fit. Maybe anti capitalist? But I don’t have a replacement on hand so it seems kind of a useless term. Reading through your blog, I have read you have had decades of experience with activism going back to the 1960s. So what I’m asking simply is, what is my generation, this generation, supposed to do? I understand you or anyone else probably doesn’t have an answer, or not much of one, but I’m hoping you might have some insights on how this generation can deal with the massive issues now and coming. I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, and feel free to ignore it.


Hi, J

To start with, there are good reasons why identifying as an anti-capitalist rather than a socialist might make sense. In 2009, the French Trotskyist group known as the Revolutionary Communist League dissolved itself into a new group called the New Anticapitalist Party because it was trying to get away from the “Russian questions” that had gotten much of the socialist left bogged down in doctrinal hairsplitting. After all, why argue over when the USSR became a “degenerated workers state” or “state capitalist” when the real problem facing Americans was how to secure health care or affordable housing.

There are other new left formations in Europe that have taken the same tack as the NPA with even greater success, such as Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece. While Syriza has been disavowed by most of the left for having caved into the demands of German banks and other lending institutions, there was a need for the Greek left to come together in a broad left formation that did not impose an ideological straightjacket on its members. Whatever your take on Soviet history or its various leaders, the pressing question for Greeks was how to get from under the crushing debt cycle. That Syriza failed this test is more a judgement on its Eurocommunist leadership than on its origins as a broad-based anti-capitalist party.

There is nothing quite like this in the USA today. I held out hopes ever since Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign that the Green Party would move in this direction but am dismayed by the party’s failure to develop into a nation-wide membership party. About six months ago, I paid $25 to become a Green Party member but nothing has come out of that. I wasn’t expecting to get a phone call or anything but if there was a national office for the party, it might be consolidating members in New York so that they could come together and discuss what can be done to challenge the status quo. With a transportation crisis in New York City, a well-organized Green Party chapter consisting of hundreds of members could play an important role in mobilizing support for investment in subway infrastructure.

As you probably are aware, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have experienced explosive growth in the past year with reports that it now has a membership in excess of 25,000—many of whom are your age and probably of a similar background. I had questions on whether this was only a paper membership but their participation in the protest against the far-right “Freedom of Speech” rally in Boston suggests a departure from past norms. Currently the main problem with the DSA is its failure to break decisively with the Democratic Party. Ever since the cooptation of Tom Watson’s Populist Party, the Democrats have managed to prevent a leftist third party from emerging. In my view, the need for such a party eclipses any considerations of ideological purity. Last year I took a lot of heat from people I had been close to around Syrian solidarity issues because of my support for Jill Stein, who had ambivalent positions on Syria—and sometimes even worse. It was more important that a third party emerge rather than making international questions a litmus test. However, the main obstacle to the Green Party becoming that party is not difference over this or that question but the general inability of the top tier of leadership to understand the need to take party-building seriously. I have no idea what Jill Stein did with the millions raised to investigate voting irregularities in the presidential vote but surely some of it could have been funneled into creating a national office with a competent staff.

On the third party front, Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative has now issued a call for such a party:

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant will be in Washington, D.C., early next month to discuss the possible launch of a new party.

Its name may sound familiar to Seattle: The People’s Party.

However, while Sawant was an early supporter of the newly founded Seattle Peoples Party and its mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver, the two groups with similar names have no formal relationship with each other, though they are feeding off the same populist fervor. And just as the Seattle Peoples Party upended local political dynamics during the mayoral primary, the national party has simliar ambitions.

“I think Nikkita Oliver’s campaign is a symptom and actually an example of what’s happening politically in this country,” says Dr. Bill Kildall, Washington State coordinator. “The two party system no longer represents our working people and [her] campaign obviously was directed at gaining support from working people.”

A town hall will be hosted in Washington D.C. on Sept. 9 to discuss the formation of the new People’s Party. It will be livestreamed across the country to similar gatherings. The event in D.C. will be headlined by Sawant, Dr. Cornel West, and Nick Brana, founder of Draft Bernie for a People’s Party (that organization was what gave rise to the national party’s name).

“What we will be doing,” Kildall says, “is establishing what I would call chapters in each place where the sister townhalls are going to be held. There will be follow up meetings where we will actually form these chapters of the People’s Party and elect officers and make by-laws.”

I am not sure that Socialist Alternative has the clout to pull this off but on paper it sounds great. Perhaps if the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the DSA put their shoulders to the wheel, it might work. Icitizen, admittedly not a neutral body, took a poll in June that had some eye-popping results. In their online survey of 1,176 adults, nearly sixty percent are likely to consider voting for a third-party candidate for president in 2020 and over half believe that if a third party gained Congressional seats, legislation would improve.

As Leon Trotsky might have put it, conditions are rotten-ripe for a new left party.

This brings us to the question of what is to be done by your generation. When I was your age, the largest groups on the left were either Trotskyist like the one I belonged to or Maoist. Both types of party were sectarian mistakes. I have written dozens of articles since 1992 or so explaining why Trotskyism had a self-imposed glass ceiling by demanding that members be committed to a program much more narrow than any mass party would consider. The same thing was true of the Maoists as Max Elbaum pointed out in his “Revolution in the Air”. That epoch has come to an end. The only people starting new “Leninist” parties today are young and inexperienced and their efforts are mostly Internet-based. After all, to start a new “Revolutionary Communist Party-Marxist Leninist” in the USA, a WordPress account suffices.

I have no problem recommending membership in the ISO or Socialist Alternative even though they claim to be “Leninist”. They are so far from the rigid and cultish norms of the Trotskyist and Maoist groups of the 1960s and 70s that you certainly won’t come out of as damaged goods like me when I left the SWP in 1978. As long as you are not afraid to speak your mind, these groups could provide a useful education and the avenues to productive work in the mass movement.

If it weren’t for its temporizing with the Democratic Party, the DSA would be hands down winners. I have a feeling that their potential for growth is practically unlimited since it allows total political and intellectual freedom for its membership, which as it happens was the same kind of freedom that existed in Rosa Luxemburg’s party in Germany or Lenin’s in Russia.

If you are reluctant to join any party at this point, I’d recommend looking into a Jacobin reading group. Many of the people who get together to discuss radical literature have the same kind of background as you and can be a useful resource in hooking you up with activism in the city where you live.

Finally, I’d stay away from the two big temptations today, Democratic Party politics and black bloc/antifa adventurism. In a PJ Wodehouse short story, the manservant Jeeves told his master Bertie Wooster: “You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.” I feel the same way about the Democrats and ultraleftism.

July 2, 2017

When Seymour Hersh was interviewed on Infowars

Filed under: Fascism,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

This week, when a Facebook friend referred to a Seymour Hersh appearance on Alex Jones’s Infowars, I did a double-take. Could that be possible? I understand that his judgement is poor but nobody with an ounce of sense would agree to be interviewed by arguably the worst rightwing demagogue in the USA. It turns out that he spoke with Jones on December 30, 2015–timed with his LRB article about how American Generals sidestepped Obama to provide critical intelligence that the Russians and Assad used against the opposition. Not only did Hersh consent to the interview, it was about as amiable an encounter as Barack Obama being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Is it possible that this shows signs of senility? That might be one way of explaining the inexplicable. You saw similar behavior from another elderly celebrity of the left. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Ryan Dawson did a podcast with MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol on August 25, 2014 in order to blame the rebels rather than Assad for using Sarin gas in East Ghouta a year earlier. Much of the show consisted of Postol crediting the Syrian Girl for help on clearing Assad’s name. Also known as Partisangirl, Maram Susli is a fascist (I use the word advisedly) who has appeared on David Duke’s radio show. It’s a small world when it comes to Assadism, senility and fascism apparently.

In making the case for Bashar al-Assad as a big improvement over the opposition, Hersh says that the mass murderer was responsible for major reforms. One of them is that now “you can bank there”. There are ATM machines everywhere. There were 30 different foreign broadcasts on TV as well.

So you can understand why with all those ATM’s and foreign broadcasts, a revolution in Syria would be unnecessary. Yes, it’s true that back in 2011 there might have been some “moderate” rebels but in no time at all, the rebels became fanatical supporters of Sharia law and determined to oppress Christians and Alawites if they took over. With such an analysis, it makes perfect sense why Hersh would accept an invitation to speak on a podcast hosted by a fanatical Islamophobe.

Hersh admits to Jones that Assad was a dictator but the opposition was worse. Hersh states that ISIS executed 200 of his soldiers in one fell swoop. On the other hand, Amnesty International reported that 13,000 prisoners have been secretly hanged in Assad’s prisons but you can’t believe a word that they say since they are a tool of imperialism (except when they are reporting on rebel war crimes). Same thing with Doctors Without Borders. When they claim that Assad bombs hospitals, they are lying but when they report on Saudi Arabia doing the same thing in Yemen, they are telling the truth. How postmodern.

Hersh understood the value of Alex Jones, at least on his own terms. In the old days, it was the NY Times and the Washington Post that controlled the agenda but now because of the Internet and what guys like Jones do, the word gets out there automatically. In his view, “that’s good” because now we have more and better communications. So let’s applaud Infowars, Breitbart News, Global Research, Al-Masdar News, Duran, 21st Century Wire and SOTT for providing a much needed alternative. Along with WBAI, we can now get an alternative to the mainstream news. As far as I know, Jones does not give away Gary Null tapes.

Just this week Alex Jones made the news by both inviting and appearing to take seriously a guest who charged NASA with operating a child slave colony on Mars. Largely through his connections to the Donald Trump campaign, Jones has become infamous in the last year or so as a close ally of the emerging alt-right. But for those who have been aware of Jones for the past decade or so, the NASA slave colony stuff comes as no big surprise since Jones is a major league conspiracy theorist whose attorney even defended him as a purveyor of entertainment rather than a reporter. Taste, they say, is largely in the mouth.

Would Hersh have had agreed to be interviewed by someone like Jones if he knew in advance that he was obviously so deranged? Maybe Jones hadn’t come up with something so outrageous back in December 2015 but it didn’t take much research to find out that he had already described the Sandy Hook Massacre as “staged”.This is not to speak of Jones’s long-standing affiliation with the 9/11 Truther movement.Why would a “legendary” Pulitzer Prize winning reporter want to even take part in a podcast interview conducted with someone that detached from reality? Would he have gone on the David Duke show? I really have to wonder.

This week I have seen repeated credit given to Hersh by people who should know better. For example, Jeff St. Clair touted his Die Welt article as a “landmark piece of investigative reporting”, while the Monthly Review website has linked to the article as well as one Ray McGovern’s wrote in support of Hersh’s article that also appeared on CounterPunch. Does John Bellamy Foster, who has devoted many hours reading about soil chemistry in conjunction with his research on the “metabolic rift”, believe that it is possible to create a toxic cloud that killed 58 people and wounded 300 by dropping a bomb on fertilizer? What about Fred Magdoff, the son of the late editor that Foster replaced after his death? Magdoff is Emeritus Professor of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont. What if one of his students wrote a paper that made such a claim? What kind of scientific evidence would Magdoff expect from his student? Wouldn’t he be as exacting with a journal edited by his respected father? Would the fact that they must have deemed it a waste of time discomfit him? They must have figured that anything written by Seymour Hersh didn’t have to be read with a critical eye. As Donald Trump would say, how sad..

The other day Paul Street, a guy I have a lot of respect for, posted a link on Facebook to a CounterPunch article by Jonathan Cook along the same lines. When, probably to his surprise, a number of people became indignant over this, he understandably didn’t try to defend Hersh (which would have required defending the idea that a bomb dropped on fertilizer can have the same effect as Sarin gas). Instead, he fretted over how the left can become so divided over “foreign” affairs and urged the need for a united front against the capitalist class in the USA. Surely that will be necessary as I tried to indicate in my defense of a Jill Stein vote in 2016.

However, there is something that Paul probably didn’t quite grasp. In the six years of leftist propaganda for Assad, the truth has become less and less important. I first noticed this on CounterPunch articles about East Ghouta that motivated me to resign in 2013. It was not just disagreeing over how to assess Assad. It was how so many people were willing to argue along the lines that it was “illogical” for Assad to carry out such an attack since he was winning the war and since UN inspectors were in the area.

I always wonder why people who raise such cavils never seem nearly so interested in what was in the minds of the rebels they accuse of mounting a “false flag”. Between the two Sarin gas attacks blamed on the rebels by Seymour Hersh, Theodore Postol, et al, 1800 supporters of the rebels were killed and 5000 wounded. What are we to make of men who are so heartless as to kill their own supporters, including many family members, on a gamble? And if they are so heartless, why haven’t they used such a deadly weapon a single time in 6 years of war on Assad’s military, his government bureaucracy or his wealthy supporters who could be reached by sarin-weaponized artillery in the Damascus suburbs that Postol blamed for the East Ghouta massacre. None of this makes any sense, of course.

There’s a real danger when the left embraces such lies in order to pursue “anti-imperialist” goals. As Leon Trotsky points out in “Their Morals and Ours”, the ends do justify the means but under no conditions would a revolutionary socialist like Trotsky accept telling lies to further justifiable ends. The more we bend the truth to support a political agenda no matter how laudable (giving support for Assad the benefit of the doubt), the greater the danger it will finally break.


January 12, 2017

Beyond the Golden Showers

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 12:47 am

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-7-47-43-pm(click to animate)

I have finally gotten around to reading the 35-page dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia that has only become viral because of the Golden Showers reference. I will take the president elect’s denial at his word and accept that this lurid tale is the result of a prank on the spook who collected various memos into a dossier.

You can get that side of the story on Zero Hedge, the conspiracist website that is party of the Putin/Assad old boy’s network:

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

Here is 4Chan’s explanation of how the story came to light:

>/pol/acks mailed fanfiction to anti-trump pundit Rick Wilson about trump making people piss on a bed obama slept in

>he thought it was real and gave it to the CIA

>the central intelligence agency of the united states of america put this in their official classified intelligence report on russian involvement in the election

>donald trump and obama have both read this pol/acks fanfiction

>the cia has concluded that the russian plans to blackmail trump with this story we made up

just let that sink in what we have become.

There’s only one problem with the claim that this “fanfiction” about Golden Showers was transmitted to the CIA via Rick Wilson, namely that the dossier was apparently put together by a man named Christopher Steele who is reputedly a former MI6 agent and who is a top executive at Orbis, a private intelligence company similar to Stratfor. While Steele has not admitted to being the man behind the Golden Dawns dossier, there are reports that support such a claim including the Wall Street Journal:

A former British intelligence officer who is now a director of a private security-and-investigations firm has been identified as the author of the dossier of unverified allegations about President-elect Donald Trump’s activities and connections in Russia, people familiar with the matter say.

Christopher Steele, a director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., prepared the dossier, the people said. The document alleges that the Kremlin colluded with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and claims that Russian officials have compromising evidence of Mr. Trump’s behavior that could be used to blackmail him. Mr. Trump has dismissed the dossier’s contents as false and Russia has denied the claims.

Mr. Steele, 52 years old, is one of two directors of the firm, along with Christopher Burrows, 58.

What is left out of the WSJ article and every other I have read about the dossier’s provenance is who commissioned it. These sorts of reports cost a bundle of cash and it would be interesting to see who paid for it. Likely, we’ll never know. (Update: The Guardian reports that it was a unnamed opponent of Trump in the Republican Party that paid Orbis for the dossier.)

Once you get past the Golden Showers business, which occupies only a couple of sentences in a 35-page document, you’ll find that most of it is a rather unsurprising account of how Russia worked with the Trump campaign to get him elected. Quelle surprise. Towards the end of the dossier, you’ll discover that Putin encountered “buyer’s remorse” over being outed in the American press as responsible for getting Trump elected, who does not quite seem to be regarded as a reliable asset by the Kremlin. That would explain why they were so anxious to accumulate damaging material on Trump even if the Golden Showers business does seem unlikely. Why would Trump spend good money to have prostitutes put on a pee show when the guy was much more interested in “grabbing their pussy”.

Most of the 35 pages are about efforts being made to intervene politically in the American elections after the fashion of the report made by American intelligence agencies on January 6th that had less to say about hacking than it did about the open propaganda such as the kind RT.com traffics in:

In an effort to highlight the alleged “lack of Messaging on RT prior to the US presidential election democracy” in the United States, RT (RT, 3 November) broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a “sham.”

Holy fuck. I never thought I’d end up as a Kremlin propagandist myself.

As many on the left have noted, there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy involved with such accusations. The USA has openly admitted if not bragged about doing exactly the same thing in countries that had the impudence to stake out an independent course.

During the late 80s, when I was co-editor of the NY Nicaragua Network newsletter, I was always writing about how the USA was basically buying candidates to run against Daniel Ortega. The National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and other groups operating sub rosa like the CIA spent millions of dollars to unseat Ortega in 1990. On its own, the CIA spent $38 million—an amount that far exceeds proportionately what the Koch brothers routinely spend buying candidates here.

Obviously acting on behalf of its own interests, the Kremlin curried the favor of Americans predisposed to its political agenda. And if there is a more motley crew than those named in the dossier, I’d be astonished. It seems that Putin cultivated the support of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the Larouche cult, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who attended an RT banquet alongside Stein, and a key Trump adviser named Carter Page.

From left to right: Flynn, Putin and Stein

Page’s name keeps cropping up in the dossier like a bad penny. He is cut from the same cloth as Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who was dropped in favor of Steve Bannon. Page and Manafort were big-time operators in Russia seeking to promote the interests of Putin and his flunkies like the toppled Ukrainian president Yanukovych.

Page is an investment banker who formed an energy oriented firm in partnership with Gazprom executive Sergei Yatsenko. In other words, Page has the same relationship to Russia as Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil and a close associate of Vladimir Putin.

People like Diana Johnstone are tickled pink that people like Tillerson and Page are key players in the Trump administration. Supposedly this will forestall any moves toward WWIII as the beady-eyed conspiracists at WSWS.org keep warning about even though many on the left are far more worried about a war with China since Trump’s saber-rattling against a country supposedly cheating the USA is well known.

What I found intriguing was a comment in the dossier that claimed Trump was far more interested in partnering with China than Russia: “Suggestion from source close to TRUMP and MANAFORT that Republican campaign team happy to have Russia as media bogeyman to mask more extensive corrupt business ties to China and other emerging countries.” That, of course, backs up what I reported on the article titled “Trumponomics as Professional Wrestling“.

Is there any reason to put a lot of confidence in this dossier? I wouldn’t since most of it is patently obvious, as if it hasn’t been clear for the longest time that Russia is using RT.com and perhaps hundreds of paid trolls to influence voters in the USA. Since I have found Stratfor next to useless over the years, I find no reason to take Orbis’s intelligence more seriously.

The only thing we can be sure about is that Trump, Putin, Obama and Clinton are united around the need to make money for the capitalist class that they orient to. Unlike 1914 or 1941, there is little evidence that the nation-state of today is bent on going to war with its adversaries over the control of markets and resources. With ExxonMobil in partnership with Putin, Lenin’s essay on imperialism cannot be applied mechanically even though some sectarians are in the habit of doing so. There is a war going on, however, and that is between the global capitalist class that these politicians serve and the rest of us who work for a living and would face imminent ruin if we lost our jobs.

Eugene V. Debs put it well:

And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.


December 29, 2016

A conversation with Anthony DiMaggio about Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

Anthony DiMaggio

Anthony DiMaggio, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University and long-time contributor to Counterpunch on American politics, wrote an article about Syria on December 28th that is distinguished by its attempt at evenhandedness. Titled “The Pathologies of War: Dual Propaganda Campaigns in Reporting on Syria”, it adopts a “plague on both your houses” stance toward RT.com et al on one side and the American bourgeois media on the other. What is missing unfortunately is any engagement with the reports from those who have taken up the cause of the Syrian rebels such as Robin Yassin-Kassab, Idrees Ahmed, Gilbert Achcar and Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, a Syrian communist who spent 16 years in prison for writing articles critical of the system in the same manner that DiMaggio does on Counterpunch.

I recommend reading the article since it is noteworthy for taking exception to the dominant narrative at Counterpunch put forward by Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek, Rick Sterling et al. It is not as if Counterpunch is censoring writers critical of Assad; it is more that there are so few of us who have decided that the cause of the Syrian rebels is worth taking up. DiMaggio writes, for example:

Despite the documentation of war crimes and human rights atrocities, pro-Russian, state funded media outlet Russia Today denies responsibility for the attacks. Pro-Russian citizens of the west who indulge in Russian and Syrian government propaganda are given free rein on the network to exonerate these countries from moral condemnation or blame (Wahl, 3/21/14; Bartlett, 12/17/16). Numerous Americans I’ve spoken with on “the left” accept this propaganda, and are willing to accept any claim from countries opposing U.S. military power, no matter how outlandish.  No evidence, no matter how thoroughly documented, is strong enough for them to take seriously if it threatens to harm the image of Putin and the Assadists.

This, needless to say, is a statement that would have been more difficult to put forward a couple of years ago. I suspect that “quantity has become quality”, to put it in crude Marxist terms. There is nothing like a year’s worth of Russian bombing on everything that moves in East Aleppo to focus one’s attention if not break down sobbing.

After raising some concerns with DiMaggio privately about the value of Patrick Cockburn’s reporting, he asked me to provide some detail that would help penetrate the propaganda haze surrounding Syria. In focusing on the part of his article that deals with the alleged problem of pro-rebel propaganda, I will try to differentiate my own Marxist perspective from that of John McCain, Nicholas Kristof, Hillary Clinton or any other bourgeois politician that many on the left amalgamate with my views. I should add that those views are different from many of those who support the rebels, starting with being opposed to no-fly zones and supporting Jill Stein for president in 2016 even though her ideas are obviously in sync with Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Stephen Kinzer, et al.

Turning now to the section of DiMaggio’s article that seeks to debunk the mainstream media’s portrayal of the USA as a disinterested party in the Middle East only concerned with peace and fair play, there a familiar approach that pivots on the use of Wikileaks and a selective reading of the bourgeois press to show that Obama’s real intentions were anything but. He writes that the USA was responsible for helping to destabilize Syria by supplying weapons to the rebels early on despite pretending that it sought “to protect regional order and stability in the Middle East.”

He cites the WSJ:

U.S. officials said the Obama administration is pursuing what amounts to a dual-track strategy, which aims to maintain military pressure on Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters while U.S. diplomats see if they can ease him from power through negotiations. U.S. officials said the pressure track was meant to complement the diplomatic track by giving the U.S. leverage at the negotiating table.

Despite DiMaggio’s take on the WSJ article as revealing some deep, dark secret, the sad fact is that applying military pressure on Assad in order to ease him from power through negotiations was exactly the strategy Washington hoped would protect “regional order and stability in the Middle East”. Basically, the American ruling class sought the same kind of solution that it sought for Yemen and Egypt when unpopular dictators were eased out of power in order to keep the system intact. As Count Tancredi says in Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, “For things to remain the same, things will have to change.”

Washington was never opposed to Baathist rule, only to the sort of excesses that had driven the country’s desperate peasantry to rise up. In the spring of 2011, when peaceful protests began taking place in Homs, Daraa, the suburbs of Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere, Washington hoped that Assad would be forced to resign by members of his inner circle who thought like Tancredi. Instead, he directed his cops and soldiers to begin firing on protests, which led to the formation of militias whose only goal was to protect protestors—not overthrow a government that had a powerful air force and armored divisions. When the USA began arming the rebels in the early period, it was only with an eyedropper. From the very beginning the FSA complained about being inadequately armed. For the full report on the US role in arming the rebels, I recommend Michael Karadjis’s thoroughly researched article on “Yet again on those hoary old allegations that the US has armed the FSA since 2012”.

Karadjis makes the essential point that the USA had to supply light arms such as RPG’s and automatic rifles in order to put itself in the position as a control monitor of arms shipments. Once it had ownership of the pipeline, it could more effectively block the shipment of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that could have ended the war as early as three years ago. He cites an article from the NY Times in 2013 whose title would at first blush indicate that the USA was “destabilizing” Syria: “Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.” But a careful reading of the article demonstrates that imperialism’s real goal was to put a leash on the opposition:

But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft. Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought.

I would recommend that DiMaggio have a look at the documentary “The Return to Homs” that illustrates what “destabilizing” Syria meant in practice. In 2011 the city’s poor began peacefully protesting Assad only to be shot down in the streets. Young men formed self-defense units that relied on RPG’s and automatic weapons, some obtained from the USA, others from Sunni-dominated states in the region and others on the black market. Once they were capable of preventing slaughter in the streets from Baathist cops and foot soldiers, Assad escalated his attacks on the neighborhoods opposed to his dictatorship. Tank cannons blew holes in tenements killing everybody inside and helicopters began dropping barrel bombs on street markets. In order to stave off such criminal attacks on civilians, the FSA needed anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that they could have received from Libya. And what happened? The CIA organized what amounted to an embargo on heavy weapons and prolonged the misery of Syria’s desperate, poverty-stricken masses.

Next DiMaggio addresses the perennial question of “jihadis” in Syria that has prompted so many to view Assad as a lesser evil even if he has killed far more of his countrymen than any group falling into this category. In fact, Assad militarized the conflict early on since he knew that it would provide an opening for groups with little interest in the democratic aspirations of the protesters in 2011. With support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, such groups could play a role all out of proportion to their actual political support just as ultraright street fighters were able to do in Ukraine during the Euromaidan protests.

DiMaggio quotes one of Clinton’s hacked emails to show how far the USA would go in building up the jihadists: “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the [Middle East] region”.

Well, if someone said this in an email to Hillary Clinton, it does not make it true. The truth is that ISIS gets no support whatsoever from the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia that have funded groups far more willing to take on ISIS than Assad ever did. A cursory glance at the historical record would bear this out in spades, starting with the Daily Star in Lebanon’s January 4, 2014 article “Syria rebels fight back against ISIS”.

But more significantly, ISIS has all the money and arms it ever needed, mostly acquired by driving the oppressive Shi’ite officials, cops and soldiers out of the Sunni regions in Iraq in 2014 that it then replaced with its own medieval rule. I tried to document this in an article that was written in reply to Ben Norton who like Patrick Cockburn relied on the Wikileaks email DiMaggio cites.

My article cites an Amnesty International report that identifies the heavy weaponry ISIS captured from fleeing Shi’ite soldiers in Iraq.

Most armoured fighting vehicles currently in use by IS are Russian-designed or US types captured from Iraqi military stocks. The main battle tanks deployed by IS are the Russian T-54/T-55 and T-62; IS has been able to capture some Chinese Type 69-II tanks and US M1A1M “Abrams” in Iraq. It appears, however, that all captured M1A1M tanks were later destroyed by IS, and there is no evidence of their use in further combat.

Additionally, during the current conflicts in Syria and Iraq, IS has captured hundreds of light ar- moured fighting vehicles of more than a dozen different types that were in service with the Syrian and Iraqi armies. However, the vast majority of light armoured fighting vehicles used by IS fighters comprise only a few models: the Russian BMP-1, MT-LB Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the US M113A2 Armoured Personnel Carrier, M1117 Armoured Security Vehicle, and up-armoured HM- MWV (Humvee) variants.

Furthermore, ISIS never needed a penny from the Qatari or Saudi governments (which it is a sworn enemy of) or even from wealthy Salafists acting on their own in those kingdoms. When it conquered Sunni cities in Iraq, it emptied the banks of their currency and gold to the tune of a half-billion dollars.

Even if it had not walked off with such a massive stash, it could have kept going on the same basis of any state in the world: through taxation and the sale of oil within territory it controlled. In 2014 the RAND corporation reviewed 200 documents captured from ISIS and concluded that only five percent of its revenues came from foreign donors. Mostly it relies on the following sources:

  • Proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets)
  • Kidnapping ransom
  • Material support provided by foreign fighters
  • Fundraising through modern communication networks

Finally, there is no engagement in DiMaggio’s article with the all-important question of whether receiving training and arms from the USA and its allies constitutes prima facie evidence of a “destabilizing” presence in the region. If being backed by the USA is a kind of litmus test, I am afraid that we would be forced to condemn Ho Chi Minh for “destabilizing” Asia. While he would eventually find himself locked in a deadly struggle with American imperialism, Ho Chi Minh had no problem connecting with the OSS during WWII as recounted by William Duiker in his 2000 biography “Ho Chi Minh: a Life”:

While Ho Chi Minh was in Paise attempting to revitalize the Dong Minh Hoi, a U.S. military intelligence officer arrived in Kunming to join the OSS unit there. Captain Archimedes “Al” Patti had served in the European Theater until January 1944, when he was transferred to Washington, D.C., and appointed to the Indochina desk at OSS headquarters. A man of considerable swagger and self-confidence, Patti brought to his task a strong sense of history and an abiding distrust of the French and their legacy in colonial areas. It was from the files in Washington, D.C. that he first became aware of the activities of the Vietminh Front and its mysterious leader, Ho Chi Minh.

The next day, Patti arrived at Debao airport, just north of Jingxi, and after consultation with local AGAS representatives, drove into Jingxi, where he met a Vietminh contact at a local restaurant and was driven to see Ho Chi Minh in a small village about six miles out of town. After delicately feeling out his visitor about his identity and political views, Ho described conditions inside Indochina and pointed out that his movement could provide much useful assistance and information to the Allies if it were in possession of modern weapons, ammunition, and means of communication. At the moment, Ho conceded that the movement was dependent upon a limited amount of equipment captured from the enemy. Patti avoided any commitment, but promised to explore the matter. By his own account, Patti was elated.

As Leon Trotsky pointed out in an article written in 1938, you can’t automatically put a minus where the ruling class puts a plus. If that was the case, Lenin never would have gotten on that German train bound for the Finland Station in 1917. Trotsky writes:

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 us imagine that in the next European war the Belgian proletariat conquers power sooner than the proletariat of France. Undoubtedly Hitler will try to crush the proletarian Belgium. In order to cover up its own flank, the French bourgeois government might find itself compelled to help the Belgian workers’ government with arms. The Belgian Soviets of course reach for these arms with both hands. But actuated by the principle of defeatism, perhaps the French workers ought to block their bourgeoisie from shipping arms to proletarian Belgium? Only direct traitors or out-and-out idiots can reason thus.

Let me conclude with a reference to the very best article on the nature of the Syrian uprising that was never reflected in either RT.com or the NY Times. Very few Western reporters, including Patrick Cockburn, ever took the trouble that my friend Anand Gopal took in 2012 when researching the article titled “Welcome to Free Syria” that appeared in Harpers. Gopal took considerable risk in sneaking across the Syrian border from Turkey in the dark of night to reach the men and women Cockburn has entirely ignored in preference to Damascus hotels and being escorted around by the Baathist military. Gopal writes:

Matar brought me to a mosque that sits next to one of the mass graves. Inside, there were heaps of clothes, boxes of Turkish biscuits, and crates of bottled water. An old bald man with a walrus mustache studied a ledger with intensity while a group of old men around him argued about how much charity they could demand from Taftanaz’s rich to rebuild the town. This was the public-affairs committee, one of the village’s revolutionary councils. The mustached man slammed his hands on the floor and shouted, “This is a revolution of the poor! The rich will have to accept that.” He turned to me and explained, “We’ve gone to every house in town and determined what they need”—he pointed at the ledger—“and compared it with what donations come in. Everything gets recorded and can be seen by the public.”

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.”)

It was Gopal’s article that convinced me that the Syrian revolution had to be supported in the same manner that I supported the Vietnamese in 1967 and the Nicaraguans 20 years later. What others on the left decide to do is their own business. I only hope that they at least take the trouble to get all sides of the story before taking up the cause of Bashar al-Assad who was determined to crush the kind of developments Gopal reported on.

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