Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 15, 2018

A reply to Ben Norton and Ajit Singh’s hatchet job on the Uyghurs

Filed under: journalism,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 8:27 pm

Ben Norton

Ajit Singh

An August, 2018 article by Ben Norton and Ajit Singh on the Grayzone Project defended the Chinese government against charges that it had put a million Uyghurs into detention camps. If this suggests that these people had plummeted to new depths, it can at least be stated that they didn’t fall too far. In Dantean terms, they were about 3 inches above the Ninth Circle.

Norton, of course, is familiar to one and all as the journalist who scrubbed his website of all anti-Assad articles once he made a Road to Damascus conversion lubricated by jobs with Salon and then Alternet that were peddling the standard pro-Assad propaganda found on the liberal left.

Ajit Singh was a new name to me. A brief look at an article he wrote for Telesur should give you an idea of his perspective on China:

While capitalists exist in China today, unlike in capitalist societies, they are isolated and not organized in pursuit of their collective interests. Instead, they exist under the rule of the socialist state to aid national economic development. Capitalists transgressing their boundaries are swiftly dealt with by the Communist Party and the Chinese people. An annual list of China’s richest citizens is commonly called the “death list” or “kill pigs list” because those named often are later imprisoned. Capitalists also regularly get taken hostage by workers to win labor victories with police actively assisting workers.

When I read this, I laughed so hard that the ginger ale I was drinking squirted out of my nose. The only people who write such nonsense tend to occupy the netherworld of old-school Stalinism, like the theologian Roland Boer in Australia. Most people on the left tend to identify with the young Maoist students who are facing repression for standing up for the working class in China while Singh and Norton would have you believe that the country’s government is wisely and benignly committed to the construction of socialism even though Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, is a member of the CP and worth a cool $40 billion.

The net worth of China’s Parliament’s members is $650 billion. Although the Parliament has very little political power, it is good place for the rich to join. In combination with their party membership, rich businessmen are offered protection against arbitrary measures on their property—not that Xi Jingping is interested in clipping the wings of the bourgeoisie.

In an effort to debunk the notion that Uyghurs are being interned, the Grayzone authors “correct” the impression that the U.N. has taken such a position when it was only that of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination whose members are independent researchers rather than UN officials, a distinction without a difference in my view. An August report by the committee provided the basis for numerous media articles, including one from Reuters that Norton and Singh singled out:

Gay McDougall, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, cited estimates that 2 million Uyghurs and Muslim minorities were forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the western Xinjiang autonomous region.

Ah-ha, Norton and Singh exclaim like detectives finding a smoking gun, Gay McDougall is not even a member of the U.N., as is the case with all other members of the committee who are only identified as independent experts. In addition, she is the only American serving on the committee, which in their eyes should make her a liar on a prima facie basis. Finally, a look at the official news release about the report showed that the only mention of alleged re-education “camps” was from Gay McDougall. So if an American raises a stink about internment, it must be false, right?

In a sleight-of-hand maneuver, the Grayzone boys do not provide a link to the committee’s reaction to the Chinese government’s report that cleared itself, only to a press release that reflects a range of views. So let’s go to what the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had to say about that self-serving report rather than the press release. This comprehensive 12-page rebuttal was not written by Gay McDougall. Instead, it represented a consensus by the membership that hardly conforms to the cheesy pro-Beijing propaganda served up by Grayzone:

The Committee notes the delegation’s statements concerning the non-discriminatory enjoyment of freedoms and rights in XUAR. However, the Committee is alarmed by:

(a) Numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism. The Committee regrets that there is no official data on how many people are in long-term detention or who have been forced to spend varying periods in political “re-education camps” for even nonthreatening expressions of Muslim ethno-religious culture like daily greetings. Estimates about them range from tens of thousands to upwards of a million. The Committee also notes that the delegation stated that vocational training centres exist for people who committed minor offences without qualifying what this means;

(b) Reports of mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs, including through frequent baseless police stops and the scanning of mobile phones at police checkpoint stations. Additional reports of mandatory collection of extensive biometric data in XUAR, including DNA samples and iris scans, of large groups of Uyghur residents

(c) Reports that all XUAR residents are required to hand in their travel documents to police and apply for permission to leave the country, and that permission may not come for years. This restriction impacts most heavily on those who wish to travel for religious purposes;

(d) Reports that many Uyghurs abroad who left China have allegedly been returned to the country against their will. There are fears about the current safety of those involuntarily returned to China.

(e) While acknowledging the State party’s denials, the Committee takes note of reports that Uyghur language education has been banned in schools in XUAR’s Hotan (Hetian) prefecture(arts. 2 and 5).

One assumes that if the Committee describes itself as being “upset” about such reports, that’s enough to discount the claims in Norton and Singh’s eyes. After all, with all those reports being “fake news” as Donald Trump would put it, who would believe them except those in cahoots with the CIA, the State Department and the NY Times op-ed page?

To drive this point home, they discredit pro-Uyghur NGO’s because they are funded by the West. This, needless to say, is the same stance they take with the White Helmets and obviously a function of Grayzone’s toxic mixture of Stalinism and Islamophobia. The first group they “expose” is the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which by virtue being located in Washington is all the proof you need to dismiss its findings. Would it have made any difference if the group was based in London, Paris or Bonn? Probably not. The only legitimate locales would be Tehran, Damascus, Moscow and Beijing. Obviously.

If that wasn’t proof enough, the circumstantial evidence of being funded by the National Endowment for Democracy should have cinched it. Everybody knows that the NED is a big-time supporter of regime change.

Things get a bit messy, however, when you visit the NED website and discover that it is funding “civil society” groups in Myanmar and the Philippines. Among its beneficiaries is the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which has been in the frontlines opposing the authoritarian ruler’s extrajudicial war on drugs that has left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent civilians murdered by the cops. Is opposing Duterte serving the imperialist agenda of Washington? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Norton and Singh making the case for Duterte since he has cozied up to the wise and benign socialist leadership in China. Rappler.com, a Philippine website that has been threatened by Duterte and defended by the PCIJ, posted an article about the growing ties:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping decided to “elevate” their countries’ ties into a “comprehensive strategic cooperation” even as they “continue to manage contentious issues” in the West Philippine Sea.

In a joint press conference, Xi said, “The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive strategic cooperation. This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development.”

Xi also agreed with Duterte that “every country has the right to choose its path.”

So, surely this must mean that Duterte is on the side of the angels and certainly eligible for an investigative report by Grayzone clearing his name. In fact, Norton has been in a discussion with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about doing a Grayzone interview with the creep who invited David Duke to Tehran for a holocaust revisionism conference, as well as jailing and torturing bus drivers for the offense of trying to start a union.

This reprehensible CHRD is in cahoots not only with the NED but with Radio Free Asia. However, these warmongering ne’er-do-wells are in turn heavily reliant on the World Uyghur Congress, which also receives NED funding.

At an NED conference in Washington, intrepid Grayzone leader Max Blumenthal cornered Omer Kanat, the Uyghur Congress chairman, to challenge him on the claim of Uyghurs being held in detention camps. Kanat told him that “The Chinese authorities have put more than one million Uyghurs in re-education camps, it is very similar to concentration camps.” Using the standard operating procedure of Grayzone, Blumenthal dismissed this claim because it emanates exclusively from pro-Western media.

So, who to believe? I would tend to believe David Brophy, a University of Sydney lecturer in Chinese history who is fluent in Chinese, Russian and Uyghur, a Turkic language that I can decipher very haltingly . I strongly recommend his “Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier” for its findings that establish the Uyghurs as enthusiastic supporters of the Russian Revolution in 1917, who got short shrift by both the Russian and Chinese Stalinists who replicated the colonialism of the pre-revolutionary regimes.

In an article for Jacobin, Brophy referred to a NY Times Op-Ed piece that sought to establish the existence of detention camps on hard evidence. From the op-ed:

A new study by Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, in Korntal, Germany, analyzed government ads inviting tenders for various contracts concerning re-education facilities in more than 40 localities across Xinjiang, offering a glimpse of the vast bureaucratic, human and financial resources the state dedicates to this detention network. The report reveals the state’s push to build camps in every corner of the region since 2016, at a cost so far of more than 680 million yuan (over $107 million).

A bid invitation appears to have been posted on April 27 — a sign that more camps are being built. These calls for tenders refer to compounds of up to 880,000 square feet, some with quarters for People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary security force. Local governments are also placing ads to recruit camp staff with expertise in criminal psychology or a background in the military or the police force.

Brophy adds his own observations drawn from visits to Xinjiang:

The camps are only the culmination of a series of repressive policy innovationsintroduced by party secretary Chen Quanguo since his arrival in Xinjiang in 2016. Many of these were already evident on a trip I made to Xinjiang last year: police stations at every major intersection, ubiquitous checkpoints where Chinese sail through as Uyghurs line up for humiliating inspections, elderly men and women trudging through the streets on anti-terror drills, television and radio broadcasts haranguing the Uyghurs to love the party and blame themselves for their second-class status.

I saw machine gun-toting police stop young Uyghur men on the street to check their phones for mandatory government spyware. Some have simply ditched their smartphones, lest an “extremist” video clip or text message land them in prison. On a weekday in the Uyghur center of Kashgar, I stood and watched as the city went into lockdown, making way for divisions of PLA soldiers to march by, chanting out their determination to maintain “stability.”

One might wait in vain for Norton, Singh or Blumenthal to visit China and do an investigate report clearing the “socialist” government. However, I doubt this would be of much interest to them since most of their reporting consists of researching ties between the Uyghurs and Washington that they assemble from various websites. In the old days, radical reporting is what John Reed did or what Anand Gopal does today. These jerks have more in common with Vanessa Beeley. If they ever made it over to China, their time would be spent in 3-star hotels and being led around by the nose as embedded reporters.

 

 

February 13, 2018

Ben Norton cooks the books

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Once you decide to become an Assadist propagandist, it is like selling your soul to the devil. If Faust sought infinite knowledge,  a job with AlterNet or Salon seems rather cheap by comparison. Ben Norton is a case in point.

In an article for The Real News, Norton uses all sorts of dodgy journalistic tricks to make the case for Assad. Like AlterNet, TruthDig, et al, the Real News is a bully pulpit for Assadists with Ray McGovern, Lawrence Wilkerson, et al, making frequent appearances. With over 100 articles turned up by a search for “Syria”, not a single one challenges the Assadist propaganda machine.

The goal of Norton’s article is to prove that the USA sought regime change in Syria by “following the money”. He writes:

The United States spent at least $12 billion in Syria-related military and civilian expenses in the four years from 2014 through 2017, according to the former U.S. ambassador to the country.

This $12 billion is in addition to the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011.

To start with, Norton makes no attempt to document the “the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011”. It is common knowledge that the USA spent money through two different programs, one out of the Pentagon and one out of the CIA that only began in 2013. It is a sign of Norton’s dodgy reporting that he does not bother to identify where “the billions” were coming from unless they were part of an underground, illegal network like Oliver North set up for the Nicaraguan contras. This was not Obama’s style, especially since he held the rebels in contempt from the beginning.

So let’s take a look at that $12 billion and see why it failed to make a dent in the Assadist killing machine. Most of it was actually spent on humanitarian aid that Norton considered part of the “regime change” agenda, just like the White Helmets:

Ford also reported that the U.S. spent $7.7 billion in humanitarian aid efforts in Syria in those same four years. This figure cannot be excluded from the overall cost of the U.S. regime change mission, however, because U.S. spending on humanitarian aid in Syria has often been explicitly politicized.

Did the USA spend nearly $8 billion dollars on humanitarian aid in Syria? That’s a lot of dough and it hardly made a difference, as far as I can tell. All you need to do is check all the articles on starvation conditions in places like East Aleppo, East Ghouta, and Idlib where such aid could not be distributed for obvious reasons.

If you go to the Department of State website, you’ll get a proper accounting for the funds. Of that $7.7 billion, less than half of that was spent in Syria. Most went to refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Does this Assadist propagandist really think that the people living in tents in Lebanon were a threat to the regime with its barrel bombs and poison gas? I suppose anything is possible with such a sick mind.

The $7.7 billion is not distributed by American agencies, needless to say. But even the UN, that does operate in Syria with other NGO’s, admits that it has not had access to “hard-to-reach” places, including East Ghouta. Since Norton blames the “extremist” rebels for carrying out a “false flag” attack there, I suppose he is pleased that people in East Ghouta are being reduced to Auschwitz like conditions. In November, Reuters reported that they are so short of food that they are eating trash, fainting from hunger and forcing their children to eat on alternate days. Meanwhile, Norton gets paid to write propaganda describing such suffering as necessary to prevent al-Qaeda from invading Park Slope.

Once you subtract the $7.7 billion, you end up $4.3 billion that supposedly went to weapons and material aid for fighters in programs mounted by the Pentagon and the CIA’s Timber Sycamore. You might as well subtract the $500 million that the Pentagon spent since it would only be allocated to rebels who signed a contract that they would not fight against Assad’s military and only target ISIS.

As for remainder doled out by the CIA, it paid for everything except MANPAD’s. In fact, the CIA created border guards in collaboration with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to keep the Libyan-supplied weapons out of the hands of rebels. If the CIA had kept its AK-47s that could be bought cheaply on the black market and simply gotten out of the way, the war would have likely ended in 2015 by turning Syria into a graveyard for MIGs.

It is important to mention that despite claims that Timber Sycamore supplied anti-tank TOW missiles to the rebels, there was little indication that they were received until 2015. A 2013 NY Times article describes the reality:

Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. 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. [emphasis added] These complaints continue.

“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.

I have heard Assad supporters justify the blockade against MANPADs on the basis that they can be used against civilian airliners (even though most fly above their range) but why would the USA interfere with the shipment of TOWs if it was so hell-bent on regime change?

Two years alter, TOW missiles became available but only from Saudi Arabia that plausibly was acting on its own. They proved so devastating that there were genuine fears that Assad’s days were numbered, especially after the Southern Front of the FSA overran a major air base near Dara’a in June of that year. This evidently persuaded the Russians to intervene in September. You might remember that the combined firepower of the Syrian and Russian air force was initially directed against everyone except ISIS.

Clearly, it was Russia, Iran, Hizbollah, Iraqi sectarian Shi’ite brigades and Afghan mercenaries that finally broke the back of the revolutionary resistance. This is a Pyrrhic victory. Syria is rapidly running out of oil and water, so much so that even if had been at peace for the past six years, it would still be in a deep economic/ecological crisis. This is compounded by massive infrastructure destruction that will require billions to replace but that the West has little interest in supplying. This leaves it to oil rentier states like Russia and Iran to step into the breach. Given the economic woes of both countries, it is doubtful that Syria will be anything except what Tacitus described: “To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.”

 

 

December 9, 2017

Ben Norton throws a tantrum at Jacobin magazine

Filed under: Germany,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 9:19 pm

Last Wednesday someone on a pro-Syrian FB group posted a link to a vitriol-filled blog post by Ben Norton from November 30th titled “Jacobin, leading neo-Kautskyite magazine, whitewashes SPD, erasing murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht”. I hadn’t given much thought to Norton since the Trump presidency began since it was apparent that the ultraright president had provided much less fodder to professional Assadists like Norton and Blumenthal. It was a bit difficult to write Gray Zone articles about the danger of regime change in Syria when there was every indication that there was a commonality of interests between the White House and these two knuckleheads over the need to destroy ISIS, al-Qaeda and any bearded man with the temerity to shout “Allahu Akbar” after taking out a Baathist tank.

The fellow who posted a link to Norton’s post prefaced it with:

Ben Norton being a weird Leninist Polemicist. It appears his beef with Jacobin has to do with it publishing pro-Syrian-revolution stuff. It’s funny he accuses them of having this Kautskyist editorial line, when actually they pay $50 for articles and take stuff mostly from freelancers.

I’m not exactly sure what being paid $50 and Kautskyism has to do with each other but I heartily concur with the “weird polemicist” characterization. Leninist? Well, only in the sense that he sounds like ten thousand other Internet Bolsheviks who maintain Twitter accounts festooned with pictures of Stalin, hammers and sickles, and any other regalia from the 1930s. Such people are unlikely to get FBI visits as I did in the 1960s when being a Leninist meant going out and building demonstrations. Since Norton’s chief involvement with the left is writing for AlterNet, a magazine that is two centimeters to the left of MSNBC, I doubt that he has much to worry about.

To be a proper Leninist, even in the degraded sense of sects like the Spartacist League, you have to be a disciplined, dues-paying member with responsibilities. This describes Ben Norton about as much as the term virginal describes Harvey Weinstein. When you begin throwing around terms like Kautskyist, it is like going to a Halloween Ball disguised as Lenin. More to the point, Lenin’s polemics against Kautsky have to be seen in context. In Norton’s case, the only context appears to be Jacobin’s new line on Syria that closed the door on him and his Assadist pals, so much so that after Norton attacked an anti-Assad article in the Jacobin Facebook group, he was blocked.

Turning to the article itself, it is a broadside against “the pro-imperialist, social chauvinist, and historical revisionist editorial line of Jacobin”. One wonders why Norton didn’t throw in “petty bourgeois” while he was at it, the cherished term of all those who strike Leninist poses. It seems that the AlterNet staff member had gotten himself into a proper tizzy over a November 6th item titled “When Social Democracy Was Vibrant” that looked back fondly at the German Social Democracy of the late 1800s when it formed gymnastics associations and cycling clubs, choir societies and chess clubs. I can understand the spirit in which the article was written since I had the same feelings about the CPUSA of the Popular Front era when it was providing support for Orson Wells’s Mercury Theater and drawing composers like Aaron Copland into its orbit. You can make a distinction between such contributions like these and voting for Democrats unless you are incapable of dialectical thinking (hint, that is Norton’s Achilles Heel).

The article, written by Adam J. Sacks, includes this judgment on the SPD toward the very end of the article:

World War I ended all of that. Succumbing to the militarism sweeping the continent, SPD parliamentarians voted for war credits to fund the barbaric conflict. Though they initially tried to justify the war as an act of humanitarian intervention on behalf of the oppressed peoples of the tsarist regime — and an antiwar faction soon declared independence from the party — the decision signaled the death knell of the Second International. The leading light of socialism had turned its back on the bedrock principle of proletarian internationalism.

You’d think this would be enough to protect the author and Jacobin from Norton’s curses but anybody who has been following his deceitful, Judith Miller-type reporting over the past two years should be used to this by now. No, it wasn’t enough to denounce the SPD parliamentarians voting for war credits in 1914. You also had to take a position on choirs, gyms, chess clubs and the like. Unless you took the correct position on the Ruy Lopez opening, you were providing cover for the SPD sending “millions of workers to die for capitalist empire in World War I.”

Since Sacks’s article begins by extolling an SPD rally from 1889, a date by which it had become beyond the pale of revolutionary socialism, you’d think that Norton might have taken the trouble to explain how the Erfurt Program adopted by the party just two years later could have had such a profound effect on Lenin. In 1899, Lenin wrote a draft program for the Russian Social Democracy that demonstrated him falling short of Norton’s lofty standards:

Here a few words are in order on our attitude to the Erfurt Programme. From what has been said above it is clear to everyone that we consider it necessary to make changes in the draft of the Emancipation of Labour group that will bring the programme of the Russian Social-Democrats closer to that of the German. We are not in the least afraid to say that we want to imitate the Erfurt Programme: there is nothing bad in imitating what is good, and precisely to day, when we so often hear opportunist and equivocal criticism of that programme, we consider it our duty to speak openly in its favour.

If you’ve read Lars Lih, you’re probably aware that Kautsky was the main inspiration for Lenin’s Bolshevik Party and that Lenin continued to consider himself a disciple of Kautsky until the differences over the October revolution produced Lenin’s excoriating polemics. However, there are also indications that when it came to the debate between Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Kautsky in the German Social Democracy, Lenin found himself on Kautsky’s side occasionally as pointed out by Leon Trotsky in a 1932 article titled “Hands off Rosa Luxemburg”:

In Rosa Luxemburg’s struggle against Kautsky, especially in 1910–1914, an important, place was occupied by the questions of war, militarism and pacifism. Kautsky defended the reformist program, limitations of armaments, international court, etc. Rosa Luxemburg fought decisively against this program as illusory. On this question, Lenin was in some doubt, but at a certain period he stood closer to Kautsky than to Rosa Luxemburg. From conversations at the time with Lenin I recall that the following argument of Kautsky made a great impression upon him: just as in domestic questions, reforms are products of the revolutionary class struggle, so in international relationship it is possible to fight for and to gain certain guarantees (“reforms”) by means of the International class struggle. Lenin considered it entirely possible to support this position of Kautsky, provided that he, after the polemic with Rosa Luxemburg, turned upon the Rights (Noske and Co.).

Norton clearly has an inability to grasp things dialectically. He is much more comfortable seeing things in black and white. Not only was the Bolshevik Party a direct descendant of the German Social Democracy, the German Social Democracy itself had its own divisions in which Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg were on the same side against Eduard Bernstein, the father of the “revisionism” that is manifest today in the Swedish social democracy et al. Yet this same Eduard Bernstein was one of the authors of the Erfurt Program that Lenin imitated by his own admission.

In general, I find terms such as “Kautskyist”, “reformist” “revisionist”, “petty bourgeois” and “treacherous” a dead giveaway that those using them have an inability to develop a substantive critique of their opponents in a debate. Blanket characterizations generally reflect a preference for the cleaver–the preferred tool of the politically feebleminded–over the scalpel.

The question of German social democracy is complex. While those unfamiliar with German social democratic history like Norton tend to fixate on the assassination of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, there were indications that the party was by no means as compromised as Norton would have you believe. In fact, his knee-jerk dismissal of the German social democracy is what was prevalent in the German Communist Party at the time when Lenin sought to bring the ultraleft back down to earth through the united front tactic.

In the Fall of 1923, Germany had entered a pre-Revolutionary situation. French occupation of the Ruhr, unemployment, declining wages, hyperinflation and fascist provocations all added up to an explosive situation. The crisis was deepest in the heavily industrialized state of Saxony where a left-wing social democrat named Erich Zeigner headed the government. He called for expropriation of the capitalist class, arming of the workers and a proletarian dictatorship. This man, like thousands of others in the German workers movement, had a revolutionary socialist outlook but was condemned as a “Menshevik” in the German Communist press.

After he took office on October 10, 1923, Zeigner brought two members of the Communist Party into his government. Because of this, he was deposed 19 days later by Germany’s social democratic president Friedrich Ebert, the man Norton equates to Bhaskar Sunkara.

The Russians intervened in Germany to get the Communists to overcome their hatred of the social democracy and join with Zeigner’s forces to overthrow Ebert. Unfortunately, the workers were not so eager to join an offensive that was ill-prepared. It was over basically before it began. The German Communists, the Comintern, and the Social Democrats pretty much share equal blame. Today, there is a new accounting for this historic defeat that was an important part of Hitler’s rise. For those seeking to understand it, I strongly recommend Pierre Broué’s “The German Revolution, 1917-1923”, available from Haymarket.

It was the failure of the left to become unified in Germany in the 1920s that led to the eventual triumph of Nazism. We are dealing with terrible divisions today that must be overcome if we are to provide an alternative to the two-party system. Despite my criticisms of the Jacobin/DSA “inside-outside” electoral strategy, I regard the growth of a leftwing party made up of young people to be one of the most hopeful signs of an emerging revolutionary movement. I have no problems with criticizing the DSA or Jacobin but Ben Norton’s tantrum serves nothing else but his own fragile ego.

November 1, 2017

Ben Norton and Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:56 pm

I sometimes wonder if people hate Ben Norton for his Assadist propaganda or more for his careerist “Road to Damascus” conversion that turned him into the kind of ideologue he once denounced. After taking a job with Salon in 2015, he dumped previously held positions opposing Assad and soon became one of his most fervent supporters in partnership with Max Blumenthal who went through the same kind of evolution.

To cover his tracks, he systematically deleted all traces of the old Ben Norton. However, like all criminals, he left a clue behind:

That’s dated November 29, 2015 and clearly endorses the analysis of Yassin al-Haj Saleh.

But this year he sings a different tune:

Of course, Twitter is the perfect medium for slandering people. Saleh is an exceedingly obscure figure in the Western media despite Norton’s attempt to turn him into something like Brandeis professor Kanan Makiya who was frequently cited as an Iraqi supporting regime change in 2002.

As for Erdogan’s “leftist paradise”, who knows what Norton is trying to say here. The implication is that Saleh is some kind of supporter of the AKP. Naturally, when you write a bunch of bullshit in 140 characters, you can always claim that people misread what you wrote. Just ask George Cicariello-Maher or Donald Trump.

July 15, 2017

Ben Norton’s transparent alibi

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

Initially getting the Syria war wrong, learning from past mistakes, and correcting lies

I have never seen any conflict lied about more than the horrific war in Syria.

Most of the lies have been in the interest of empire. But there has also been a fair share of lying within the camp of those who ostensibly oppose it.

I have been ceaselessly attacked from multiple sides for the evolution of my views on Syria. Some of these attacks have been warranted, I readily concede. Many others have not been.

In a recent denunciation, the blog Moon of Alabama pilloried me, Max Blumenthal, and Rania Khalek, in one of a slew of nearly identical pieces that have done the same (penned by a motley crew of deranged digital stalkers with a penchant for lying, like serial impersonator Pham Binh, Photoshop-wielding demagogue Louis Proyect, and reactionary conspiracy-monger Barbara McKenzie)…

I admit I was wrong, and it was gradually from 2014 into 2015 that I began to see that. When Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra was openly leading the opposition, and yet Cliffites continued to support it (with Trotskyite writers like Louis Proyect and Michael Karadjis cheering on al-Nusra’s offensives), I was hit with the realization that I had been fooling myself.

Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek came to similar realizations on a similar timeline. The three of us are close friends and colleagues who talk frequently. We discussed the issue at length; our views evolved together organically.

(clip)


What a lying bastard this kid is. I had never met him before August 21, 2015 when he approached me after Patrick Bond’s talk at the Verso office in Brooklyn on Rosa Luxemburg’s “The Accumulation of Capital” to telll me that he agreed completely with my analysis of Syria and Ukraine. He also mentioned that he was about to start a new job at Salon. I told him good luck. So if he had started to “rethink” things as early as 2014, why would he have come up to spend 10 minutes badmouthing exactly what he was already well on the road to becoming, namely a carbon copy of Robert Parry, Patrick L. Smith, Gareth Porter and other tawdry apologists for the Baathist killing machine.

Besides killing and displacing Syrians, the war has taken a toll on leftist journalists. Norton is as slippery as an eel coated in vaseline and will likely end up like David Horowitz. That’s what happens when you begin to write articles relying on the Saudi media for “the truth”.

I figured out that Norton had joined the conspiracist left after reading his Salon articles. In my view, it was cash that made the difference–not having a Road to Damascus conversion after reading some book opposed to Gilbert Achcar or Idrees Ahmad. If you want to understand him politically and psychologically, I’d advise reading Norman Podhoretz’s memoir “Making It”. From my first commentary on the turncoat dated June 18, 2016:

When I visited the Verso office in Brooklyn for a panel discussion on Rosa Luxemburg last August, I ran into someone named Ben Norton who I knew vaguely as a critic of the crude “anti-imperialism” that had swept across the left like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We chatted briefly about our shared political values and his latest career move, which was joining Salon.com as a staff member. I thought this was a welcome addition to a magazine that featured Patrick L. Smith, one of the worst propagandists for the Assad dictatorship to be found anywhere.

I never would have expected that within six months Norton would end up in the Smith/Cockburn/Fisk camp writing articles reinforcing the dominant narrative on the left that the USA was bent on “regime change” and that the Syrian rebels were reactionary jihadists engaged in a proxy war launched by the West against its perceived enemies in the region.

I want to review his journalism since early 2016 as a way of showing how taking the wrong position on Syria inevitably leads to bending the truth, which for a serious-minded journalist is a cardinal sin. Writing for Salon, at least until it remains in business, might pay the rent but what good is that if you lose your soul in the process?

 

UPDATE:

 

July 12, 2017

Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton: Saudi Arabia’s snitches

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:19 pm

On July 6th Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton co-authored an article for Alternet that fingered one Bilal Abdul Kareem as an al-Qaeda member, something that put not only his right to travel freely in jeopardy but also his life. Given the intensity of the “war on terror” under both Obama and Trump, such accusations might give the military or the CIA the excuse to do to him what they did to Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011—end his life with a Predator drone strike, as well as that of his teen-age son two weeks later. Not satisfied with their murder, Donald J. Trump ordered a strike on al-Qaeda in Yemen that resulted in the death of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 8 year old daughter. So, if you are going to accuse someone of being an al-Qaeda member, you’d better be damn sure you are right.

What do these two snitches point to as proof? They write, “In fact, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on June 7 that Abdul Kareem officially joined al-Nusra in 2012.”

Habituated at this point to shoddy reporting from people like these two creeps, I clicked the link to the Al Arabiya article for more information on Kareem’s membership in a group Donald Trump is committed to exterminating. I imagine that the liberals who read Alternet on a regular basis couldn’t bother checking the article since if the Katzenjammer Kids said it, it must be true.

It turns out that the article is a diatribe against Qatar in keeping with Saudi Arabia’s recent attempt to bring the impudent emirate into line, including an ultimatum to shut down al-Jazeera. Did I mention that Al Arabiya is the Saudi news agency that was created to compete with al-Jazeera but from the royalist right?

The article is titled “Al-Nusra religious leader, prominent ISIS supporter defend Qatar” and describes Qatar as the nerve center of jihadist terror in the Middle East and Bilal Abdul Kareem as one of its key operatives. It makes a bald assertion that “What’s interesting here is that Abdulkareem had traveled to Doha for the panel [sponsored by the Brookings Institute] from the Syrian city of Aleppo. He went to Doha although he joined al-Nusra in 2012.” So, if Al Arabiya, the official propaganda arm of the Saudi monarchy, says that Kareem was an al-Nusra member, it must be true. You have to believe the Saudis, don’t you, especially when they are a major player in the war on terror.

Taking note that Kareem denied being a member, the two jihadi-hunters, second only to Pamela Geller in investigative skills, offered some more irrefutable evidence:

However, one of Abdul Kareem’s closest colleagues has also been accused of membership in Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise. Akif Razaq, an employee of Abdul Kareem’s online media group, On the Ground News, was recently stripped of British citizenship for his alleged involvement with al-Nusra. A notice presented by British authorities to Razaq’s family in Birmingham accused him of being “aligned with an al-Qaeda-aligned group” and declared that he “presents a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom.”

During Abdul Kareem’s Facebook video response to the Al Arabiya report, he was seated beside Razap. Razaq has also co-hosted On the Ground News segments with him.

What did they used to call that? Guilt by association? This is more than guilt by association. It is guilt by association squared. Razaq has been accused? So who accused him? The fucking British authorities? How in the hell did these two stooges end up using the word of the “British authorities” to help sentence men such as this to execution by Trump’s out-of-control police state?

It turns out that the “al-Qaeda-aligned” group he was punished for joining was none other than Kareem’s On the Ground News.

Let me get this straight. Kareem is guilty because he is associating with Razaq and Razaq is guilty by associating with Kareem? Where is Franz Kafka when we really need him?

Moon of Alabama, a website that can be described as ground zero of the batshit Assadist conspiracy-mongering universe, was incensed with Blumenthal and Norton’s article. The screwball in charge wrote an item titled “Syria – The Alternet Grayzone Of Smug Turncoats – Blumenthal, Norton, Khalek” that rightfully accused the two boys of reversing previously held opinions without explaining why. I don’t think it takes much brains to figure out why. They do what they do for the money. Writing articles opposing Assad won’t pay the rent. All you need to do is look at the wheelbarrows of cash that poured into the pockets of people writing salutes to Seymour Hersh’s brilliant investigative reporting that contained the totally unscientific claim that fertilizer contains organophosphates (it is phosphates). I invite anybody to find a bag of fertilizer containing the organophosphate poisons normally found in pesticides in a farm supply store. If you do, I will personally eat it.

The article basically charges Blumenthal and Norton with plagiarism, pointing out that Vanessa Beeley, one of their recommended authorities on Syria, wrote a piece for 21st Century Wire on August 4, 2016 that they obviously poached. Titled “SYRIA: CNN Normalizes Suicide Bombers and Embeds Reporters with ISIS and Al Qaeda”, Beeley’s piece is her customary Islamophobic tripe holding up Bashar al-Assad as the last best hope for civilized values in Syria. This is the kind of shit that would have made Goebbels blanch.

I don’t know what Beeley is complaining about. There’s plenty of money out there for every Assadist to make a good living. It’s like writing articles hailing the Moscow Trials in 1938. If chief prosecutor Vyshinsky was praised for his integrity in the NY Times of all places, you could sell the same kind of article anywhere.

Today, there’s nothing more scary than some guy in a beard who backs sharia law and yells “Allahu Akbar” after firing an missile that blows up a regime tank. Gee whiz, if we don’t stop them in Iraq and Syria, they might come to Bushwick and destroy our way of life.

Max Blumenthal has become a new Christopher Hitchens in his quest to exterminate Sunni jihadists, even if it requires American power. If you go to 6:50 in the Real News interview above, you’ll see what I mean. He says:

In its zeal to bleed … Russia and Iran, the National Security State has completely abrogated what should be its top mission, which is to take on these Sunni jihadist organizations, which have repeatedly attacked soft targets in the West, caused chaos—they should be fighting them. Instead they are using them as proxies in many cases to bleed Russia and Iran and Syria as well—countries which pose no…which have no intention of attacking the United States and which are active in the fight against ISIS.

I don’t think it could be much clearer than this. Blumenthal is urging the “National Security State” to escalate its war on terror. To use more Predator drones, to kill alleged al-Qaeda operatives like Bilal Abdul Kareem and Akif Razaq whose guilt is established by their willingness to interview its members, and to top it all off to achieve victory in places where the Sunni jihadists held sway. Just look at the photo of liberated Mosul to get an idea of what gets Blumenthal salivating.

Update:

Apparently, my worries about Blumenthal and Norton’s piece helping to undermine Kareem’s survival were not ill-founded.

 

December 26, 2016

Ben Norton completes his Stalinist turn

Filed under: conservatism,Fascism,Spain,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 7:33 pm

Ben Norton

When someone posted a link to Ben Norton’s attack on George Orwell, my first reaction was to shrug it off. Ever since the lad got fired from Salon for what some speculate as violating their rules against writing for other publications, he has lost his bully pulpit for spreading Assadist lies. (Who really knows if he was canned for writing an article for Intercept? I doubt it was incompetence since Salon’s bar is set rather low in that regard.) Although I have my own problems with Orwell, I was more interested in Norton’s rather crude and reactionary take on Trotskyism that amounts to a defense of Stalin’s betrayal of the Spanish revolution. It has been quite some time since I have had to bother with writing about the Spanish Civil War. To kill two birds with one stone, I hope to demonstrate how Norton has capitulated to Stalinism as well as to make some points about how Franco achieved his victory. Considering the fact that Bashar al-Assad is today’s Generalissimo Franco, it is not surprising that Norton can get Spain so wrong.

Norton writes:

Apologists insist Orwell simply “sold out” later in life and became a cranky conservative, yet the story is more complex. Orwell had a consistent political thread throughout his life. This explains how he could go from fighting alongside a Spanish Trostkyist militia in a multi-tendency war against fascism to demonizing the Soviet Union as The Real Enemy — before returning home to imperial Britain, where he became a social democratic traitor who castigated capitalism while collaborating with the capitalist state against revolutionaries trying to create socialism.

If you take the trouble to clink the link for “a social democratic traitor”, you’ll discover an article written by Norton in 2014 that has not a word about betrayal. In fact, it is the sort of Dr. Jekyll politics he adhered to as a member of the ISO until he turned into Mr. Hyde at Salon. The article, titled “George Orwell, the Socialist” makes useful points, among them:

Schools prefer propagating binary ideological thinking: “Orwell was opposed to Soviet ‘totalitarianism,’ therefore he was not a ‘socialist,’ therefore he was a capitalist, therefore he supported the capitalist West,” the unspoken logic habitually goes. Orwell’s opposition to capitalism is almost never presented, nor is his advocacy of (democratic) socialism.

It is not only schools that prefer propagating binary ideological thinking. It is also the neo-Stalinist left that has rallied around Bashar al-Assad, including Norton, Max Blumenthal, Rania Khalek, Yoshie Furuhashi, the Socialist Action sect, John Rees et al. By reducing the war in Syria to a geopolitical chess game in which the USA is responsible for everything that has gone wrong, they let Putin and Assad off the hook.

Most of Norton’s article refers to “Animal Farm”, a work that was widely viewed as Cold War propaganda but that was primarily about the Stalinist counter-revolution seen in metaphorical terms. There are some on the left who view it this way, including John Newsinger who defended Orwell’s politics in a 1994 book. Norton characterizes the Orwell who wrote a “snitch” letter to British censors as “the first in a long line of Trots-turned-neocons”, including Christopher Hitchens, yet there is little evidence that either Orwell or even Hitchens had much in common ideologically with men like Paul Wolfowitz or Robert Kagan who were ferociously neoliberal.

For the most part, it was ex-Communists rather than ex-Trotskyists who helped to shape Cold War ideology, such as the six men whose “confessions” can be found in “The God that Failed”: Louis Fischer, André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender, and Richard Wright. By comparison, Orwell never wrote anything like this in his later years unless you believe that “1984” and “Animal Farm” were ringing endorsements of Washington and London. In “1984”, the world was divided into hostile camps with London just as culpable of totalitarian control as Moscow. With respect to “Animal Farm”, let’s not forget that the farmers invaded their former realm in exactly the same manner as the 21 invading armies sought to destroy Soviet power.

I have my own problems with Orwell, especially his snitching, but he has much to offer the left. Just read “Homage to Catalonia”, a work far more useful than the Daily Worker articles from 1936 that Norton is channeling. I can say the same thing about Alexander Cockburn, who Norton cites in his article as an authority on this tarnished hero of “the non-Communist left”. I have learned a lot from Cockburn just I have learned a lot from Orwell. I can forgive Orwell for his snitching just as I can forgive Cockburn for allowing CounterPunch to turn into a haven for Islamophobes like Mike Whitney, Andre Vltchek and Pepe Escobar.

As for Hitchens, despite Cockburn’s deep animus for him, the two had something in common with each other when it came to “jihadists”. The difference between them on Iraq in 2003 and Syria after 2011 is paper-thin, after all. Both of these journalists were all too ready to back outside intervention when it came to defeating “al Qaeda” even if it was being administered by a MIG rather than an F-16. In 1980, Cockburn wrote a Village Voice column that stated: “I yield to none in my sympathy to those prostrate beneath the Russian jackboot, but if ever a country deserved rape it’s Afghanistan. Nothing but mountains filled with barbarous ethnics with views as medieval as their muskets. and unspeakably cruel too.”

Nobody’s perfect, not even Ben Norton whose musings on Syria—and worse his ghoulish tweets—are informed by the same Orientalism as Cockburn’s Voice article. I can say this, however. If Norton lived for a thousand years, he never would be capable of writing a single sentence that would rank with Orwell or Cockburn.

There are three paragraphs in Norton’s article that really stick out like a sore thumb, combining his more recent turn toward the Assad/Putin/Iran reactionary bloc with more traditional Stalinist ideology:

Sure, the USSR did a lot of objectionable things, but it was also the only large country in the entire world that supported the Spanish Republicans in their fight against fascism (excluding a bit of extra support from Mexico). The Soviet Union understood that one cannot have a revolution if one cannot even defeat the fascist counterrevolution first — a lesson many on the left still have not learned today.

Yet leftists like Orwell and his devoted followers continue to lament Kronstadt and revel in their ideological purity — while conveniently living relatively comfortable lives in Western imperialist countries that commit much more heinous crimes throughout the world every day.

Orwell’s politics are social chauvinist in the rawest sense. It is no coincidence that many of his avowed admirers today lionize and whitewash “revolutionary” extremist militias in Syria and Libya, while at the same moment violently condemning progressive revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam, and beyond as mere “Stalinist bureaucracies.”

Let’s start with the rather stupid observation: “The Soviet Union understood that one cannot have a revolution if one cannot even defeat the fascist counterrevolution first — a lesson many on the left still have not learned today.”

I have no idea whether Norton understood what happened in Spain when he was a properly educated ISO member and now rejects it or simply was too intellectually challenged to ever understand the material available to him from state capitalist sources. Or maybe he was just too shallow to ever bother reading something like Tony Cliff’s “Trotsky: The darker the night the brighter the star”.

As it happens, Norton’s business about defeating the fascist counterrevolution before making the revolution is virtually word for word the same as Spanish Popular Front Prime Minister Largo Caballero’s “First we must win the war and afterwards we can talk of revolution.”

Largo Caballero, who was supported by both the Communists and anarchists, sought to restore bourgeois normalcy in Spain as the first step in defeating Franco. This meant first and foremost eradicating all forms of “dual power” in Spain that were substantial.

Workers and peasant committees had to give way to the rule of the central government as Cliff reports:

IN THE WEEKS after 19 July 1936 struggle continued between proletarian power – in the form of factory and militia committees on the one hand, and the Republican government on the other. The latter won.

One further step to consolidating the power of the bourgeois state was taken on 27 October – a decree disarming the workers.

Steps were also taken to restore the bourgeois police.

In the first months after July 19, police duties were almost entirely in the hands of the workers’ patrols in Catalonia and the ‘militias of the rearguard’ in Madrid and Valencia … The most extraordinary step in reviving the bourgeois police was the mushroom growth of the hitherto small customs force, the Carabineros, under Finance Minister Negrín, into a heavily armed pretorian guard of 40,000.

On 28 February [1937] the Carabineros were forbidden to belong to a political party or a trade union or to attend their mass meetings. The same decree was extended to the Civil and Assault Guards thereafter. That meant quarantining the police against the working class …

By April the militias were finally pushed out of all police duties in Madrid and Valencia.

A comparison Franz Borkenau made of an impression of life in Spain between a first visit in August 1936 and a second in January-February 1937 is very instructive:

The troops were entirely different from the militia I had known in August. There was a clear distinction between officers and men, the former wearing better uniforms and stripes. The pre-revolutionary police force, asaltos and Guardia Civil (now ‘Guardia Nacional Republicana’), were very much in evidence … neither guardia nor asaltos made the least attempt to appear proletarian.

A further vivid description of life in Barcelona at the end of April 1937 comes from the pen of George Orwell:

Now things were returning to normal. The smart restaurants and hotels were full of rich people wolfing expensive meals, while for the working-class population food prices had jumped enormously without any corresponding rise in wages. Apart from the expensiveness of everything, there were recurrent shortages of this and that, which, of course, always hit the poor rather than the rich. The restaurants and hotels seemed to have little difficulty in getting whatever they wanted, but in the working-class quarters the queues for bread, olive oil, and other necessaries were hundreds of yards long. Previously in Barcelona I had been struck by the absence of beggars; now there were quantities of them. Outside the delicatessen shops at the top of the Ramblas gangs of bare-footed children were always waiting to swarm round anyone who came out and clamour for scraps of food. The ‘revolutionary’ forms of speech were dropping out of use. Strangers seldom addressed you as  and camarada nowadays; it was usually señor and UstedBuenos días was beginning to replace salud. The waiters were back in their boiled shirts and the shop workers were cringing in their familiar manner … In a furtive indirect way the practice of tipping was coming back … cabaret shows and high-class brothels, many of which had been closed by the workers’ patrols, had promptly reopened.

I strongly recommend reading Cliff’s entire chapter on Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution to get the whole story on how Franco achieved victory over a self-destructive Spanish Republic leadership as well as reviewing the Marxism Internet Archive’s very fine resource page  on the Spanish Civil War that include articles by Leon Trotsky and Felix Morrow whose “Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain” can be read in its entirety there as well.

I am struck by Orwell’s description of how things were returning to normal. “The smart restaurants and hotels were full of rich people wolfing expensive meals, while for the working-class population food prices had jumped enormously without any corresponding rise in wages.”

Isn’t this exactly how some reporters describe life in Damascus except for those like Vanessa Beeley or Eva Bartlett for whom the working-class does not exist? As outright supporters of Syria’s Franco, this is understandable but what is more difficult to understand is how people like Norton, who at least demonstrates an affinity for the Popular Front’s desire for bourgeois democratic normalcy, would end up as a kind of fascist apologist.

What accounts for someone educated in Marxist politics (speaking charitably) such as Norton ending up adopting the anti-Marxist sentiments of Largo Caballero, whose opposition to socialist revolution was primarily responsible for Franco’s victory?

I would say that the left is dealing with neo-Stalinist tendencies today that share many of the same impulses as those demonstrated by the original. Norton writes:

Yet leftists like Orwell and his devoted followers continue to lament Kronstadt and revel in their ideological purity — while conveniently living relatively comfortable lives in Western imperialist countries that commit much more heinous crimes throughout the world every day.

This business about living comfortable lives in imperialist countries is pure demagogy as if Norton, who apparently comes from wealth himself, ever had to duck barrel bombs in hipster Brooklyn. With respect to “ideological purity”, this is a very telling complaint. What Norton is trying to say is that Marxism does not serve his goals. When class politics interfere with a career in journalism, why remain committed to them? The journals that he aspires to write for have little use for the sort of class rigor found in Leon Trotsky, whose ideas would only appeal to those who have made up their mind that socialism is the only alternative to barbarism, not the renewed Democratic Party called for in countless Salon, Huffington Post, Alternet, CommonDreams and Nation Magazine articles

Norton finally connects the dots between his Assadism and Popular Front Stalinism in the third paragraph cited above, issuing questionable statements such as this:

It is no coincidence that many of his avowed admirers today lionize and whitewash “revolutionary” extremist militias in Syria and Libya, while at the same moment violently condemning progressive revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam, and beyond as mere “Stalinist bureaucracies.”

One assumes that he is referring to the ISO here since it is the only group on the left of any significance that has opposed both Assad and the late Fidel Castro. But what evidence is there that the ISO admires Orwell? The only reference to Orwell in the entire ISO website is this: “As George Orwell said in Why I Write, good prose is like a window pane. He meant good writing doesn’t draw attention to itself, but to the ideas, facts and events that the writing is about.”

I believe that this makes perfect sense, even if the man who wrote the words was capable of exercising poor judgement in “naming names”. I only wish that Norton would have stumbled across this during the time he spent in the ISO since he is so flawed when it comes to drawing attention to ideas, facts and events in his sad attempt at professional journalism.

October 3, 2016

Max Blumenthal follows Ben Norton down the bloody primrose path

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:52 pm

Max Blumenthal

In today’s Alternet Max Blumenthal showed up in the Baathist amen corner sitting in a pew next to fellow liberal hack Ben Norton, a location almost guaranteed to boost the career of young or nearly-young journalists. Like Norton, Blumenthal was admired not that long ago for refusing to join Bashar al-Assad’s fan club. Norton was an ex-member of the International Socialist Organization, a group that had the backbone to oppose Assad, making a very modest living free-lancing for liberal ‘zines like Alternet. While I have no idea how much Norton now makes writing for Salon, a prime source of Assadist propaganda, it certainly must be more than what he made as a free-lancer. Meanwhile, Blumenthal, who unlike Norton never had a Marxist background to shed, has seen his career moving in the opposite direction. While once prominent enough to be a guest on MSNBC, our boy Max is now free-lancing for Alternet where his crapola appeared this morning.

Titled “Inside the Shadowy PR Firm That’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria”, it is hardly worth reading past the title given the notion that “regime change” would now be on the agenda after 5 years of American indifference to Assad’s genocidal assault on cities and neighborhoods opposed to the mafia torture state Blumenthal now pimps for.

For those of you not familiar with Blumenthal’s erstwhile willingness to oppose a criminal dictatorship, there is some background to be considered in order to appreciate how sharp a turn he has made toward the kind of crypto-Stalinism that runs through the Baathist amen corner like a shit stain.

In June 2012, Blumenthal resigned from Al Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper that had a reputation for being leftist. For him, whatever leftism it had once espoused was trumped by its support for Assad:

I recently learned of a major exodus of key staffers at Al Akhbar caused at least in part by disagreements with the newspaper leadership’s pro-Assad tendency. The revelation helps explain why Al Akhbar English now prominently features the malevolent propaganda of Amal Saad Ghorayeb and the dillentantish quasi-analysis of Sharmine Narwani alongside editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin’s friendly advice for Bashar Assad, whom he attempts to depict as an earnest reformer overwhelmed by events.

There is no small irony in Blumenthal now writing the same kind of filthy attacks on the White Helmets as Narwani.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-11-59-02-am

Then in September 2013, he wrote an article for the Nation Magazine titled “We Just Wish for the Hit to Put an End to the Massacres” that while opposing American air strikes (the “hit” alluded to in the title) empathized with the Syrian refugees he interviewed:

When I asked the refugees of Zaatari about alternatives to US intervention like a massive international aid effort, or the Russian-brokered deal to confiscate the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons supply, I was immediately dismissed. “Just hit Assad and leave us to take care of ourselves!” a 65-year-old man from Dara’a snapped at me.

Two months later Blumenthal was interviewed by Danny Postel on Syria and the antiwar movement that had begun functioning like a wing of the Baathist amen corner. Postel, as many of you know, is a leading voice of the pro-Syrian revolution left.

So you get the idea. Three years ago he had the courage to stand up to the prevailing and morally compromised left that has attached itself to the Baathist cause alongside Alex Jones, Golden Dawn in Greece, UKIP in Britain and a thousand other rightwing slobs whose main distinction is that they hate Nicholas Kristof and immigrants equally.

As I said above, there is an element of Stalinism that explains why so many on the left back Assad. It should also be mentioned that there is something that Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal have in common with earlier generation of Kremlin boosters like William Z. Foster. For the first time within Marxism, Stalin made it possible to change one’s positions without bothering to explain why. For example, the CP opposed intervening against Hitler after a pact was signed with Ribbentrop but when Hitler invaded the USSR, it switched to supporting intervention. It was transparently clear why the CP turned on a dime but its inability or unwillingness to clarify its reversal compromised it in the eyes of those on the left who were not ideologically so flexible, in other words those that had the kind of principles Norton and Blumenthal lack.

Since neither Norton or Blumenthal were ever exactly in the same sort of position as a CP’er in 1941, their silence on their u-turn is all the more disgusting. Could it be that they are just out to make a buck? Maybe so but I think the real reason is that neither of them are particularly deep thinkers. To really come to a firm position on Syria requires a commitment to reading articles and books that detail the class conflict that finally led to an explosion in the Spring of 2011. When you write for Salon, Alternet and The Nation, there’s really no need to bother with historical materialism after all. Just write what generates traffic and subscriptions. That’s what’s expected when you are running a business, after all.

Turning now to Blumenthal’s article, it breaks no new ground in smearing the White Helmets as an instrument of regime change. You can read the same crap from Vanessa Beeley, Rick Sterling and Eva Bartlett—just the sort of people he was supposedly so miffed at when he quit writing for Al Akhbar. He goes so far as to cast doubt on the Russian or Baathist role in bombing a Red Crescent aid convoy on September 18th, saying that “no evidence of barrel bombs has been produced”. Stop and think about it. The only alternative to such a finding is the “false flag” narrative that people like Beeley et al have been pushing for the past 5 years: the rebels attacked their own people to give the USA an excuse to invade Syria and overthrow Assad. Are these people out of their fucking minds? It took only 3 months after George W. Bush’s flunkies began making speeches about WMD’s for him to invade Iraq. If the American ruling class was for regime change, it wouldn’t need White Helmets to grease the slides.

Blumenthal’s main target is a group called Syria Campaign that I have not heard of before. According to him, it is responsible for making the UN’s job more difficult in Syria. He cites someone working for an NGO in Damascus who told him that the group was “‘dividing and polarizing the humanitarian community’ along political lines while forcing humanitarian entities to ‘make decisions based on potential media repercussions instead of focusing on actual needs on the ground.’” Now I hate to sound suspicious and everything but what kind of NGO works in Damascus? What are the humanitarian needs that it is responding to? I was not aware that in Assad’s capital city you had the victims of barrel bombs, siege-induced starvation and medical emergencies because hospitals had been levelled to the ground. It also makes me wonder what kind of NGO would get the green light from Assad. One that perhaps has people willing to tell a fool like Blumenthal what he wants to hear?

Much of the rest of Blumenthal’s article is taken up with the kind of dizzying connect the dots journalism that you find in 9/11 Truther websites and the further reaches of the Baathist amen corner like Moon of Alabama. One dot is the White Helmets. It connects to the Syria Campaign that connects to AVAAZ that connects to Purpose that connects to Ayman Asfari, the “U.K.-based CEO of the British oil and gas supply company Petrofac Limited. Asfari is worth $1.2 billion and owns about one-fifth of the shares of his company, which boasts 18,000 employees and close to $7 billion in annual revenues.” According to Blumenthal, all of the “regime change” propaganda he is funding is rooted in his desire to being able to return to Syria on his own terms in order to exploit the country economically. This is what has been called Vulgar Marxism in the past. In Blumenthal’s case I would just describe it as Vulgarity.

He blandly reports that “Asfari’s support for opposition forces was so pronounced the Syrian government filed a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of supporting ‘terrorism’”. One gathers that Blumenthal would be not only for the arrest but the extradition of Asfari to Syria where the Syrian cops could give him a lesson that he would not soon forget.

Descending fully into the cesspool and drenched now in fecal matter that will stick with him for the rest of his sorry career, Blumenthal casts doubt on the photograph of Omran Daqneesh, the shell-shocked young boy sitting in an ambulance. Blumenthal smears the effort to publicize the photo as orchestrated by al-Nusra and connects the man who took the photo with an Aleppo brigade that beheaded a supposedly 12-year-old named Abdullah Issa who “may have been a member of the Liwa Al-Quds pro-government Palestinian militia.” He links this allegation to a BBC article but fails to mention that it issued a retraction positively identifying him as a pro-Assad militia member. Furthermore, he was not a 12-year old but a 19-year old according to his family that presumably knew him better than Blumenthal.

Three years ago Blumenthal was willing to quit Al Akhbar rather than write tripe such as this. I guess that he needs a job to pay the rent and the cheap whiskey he will need to help him forget how degraded he has become.

 

 

June 18, 2016

Putting Ben Norton under a microscope

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:59 pm

When I visited the Verso office in Brooklyn for a panel discussion on Rosa Luxemburg last August, I ran into someone named Ben Norton who I knew vaguely as a critic of the crude “anti-imperialism” that had swept across the left like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We chatted briefly about our shared political values and his latest career move, which was joining Salon.com as a staff member. I thought this was a welcome addition to a magazine that featured Patrick L. Smith, one of the worst propagandists for the Assad dictatorship to be found anywhere.

I never would have expected that within six months Norton would end up in the Smith/Cockburn/Fisk camp writing articles reinforcing the dominant narrative on the left that the USA was bent on “regime change” and that the Syrian rebels were reactionary jihadists engaged in a proxy war launched by the West against its perceived enemies in the region.

I want to review his journalism since early 2016 as a way of showing how taking the wrong position on Syria inevitably leads to bending the truth, which for a serious-minded journalist is a cardinal sin. Writing for Salon, at least until it remains in business, might pay the rent but what good is that if you lose your soul in the process?

On January 18th, 2016 Norton advised Salon’s readers that “Sieges by Western enemies get big headlines, while larger U.S.-backed blockades are ignored”. It made the somewhat obvious point that the USA has a double standard but it is questionable whether Madaya got “big headlines”. As is the case with most instances of Baathist depravity, it hardly earns top billing in the NY Times or elsewhere.

What made Norton’s article fail the smell test was his allegation that if the Syrian army was besieging Madaya, so were the rebels besieging government-held cities like Idlib: “Before capturing the city, extremist Syrian militants had imposed a siege on Idlib for two years.”

So the rebels were starving the citizens of Idlib into submission? I was curious to get the facts on that so I checked his link to find out more. The very first sentence in the linked article demonstrated that Norton had set up a false equivalence: “A Syrian government garrison at Abu al-Duhur airbase has been overrun by fighters from Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra front affiliate after a two-year siege.” Why would Norton consider the siege of an airbase to be on the same level as starving out the people of Madaya who made the mistake of rebelling against Assad especially when they and other people had to endure years of MIG attacks originating from places like Abu al-Duhur?

In Syria you are dealing with asymmetric warfare and Norton decides to drop the first letter of asymmetric? What a sleazy trick he must have learned as an apprentice to Patrick L. Smith who recently described reports of barrel bomb attacks as unfounded.

From that point on, I decided to monitor Norton’s journalism on Syria just as I do with Smith, Hersh, Cockburn, Fisk, Whitney, Escobar, Draitser and a score of other scoundrels. It is dirty work but someone has to do it.

About a month later, Norton filed one of his many pro-Sanders articles that was all aglow over Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard becoming part of the “political revolution”. In contrast to the warmongering Hillary Clinton, Gabbard was against intervention:

Gabbard, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has condemned U.S. policy in Syria. In late 2015, she introduced a bipartisan bill that called for “an immediate end to the illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow” Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“The war to overthrow Assad is illegal because Congress never authorized it,” she said, calling the U.S. policy of arming and training rebels “counter-productive because it actually helps ISIS and other Islamic extremists achieve their goal of overthrowing the Syrian government of Assad and taking control of all of Syria — which will simply increase human suffering in the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis, and pose a greater threat to the world.”

Somehow Norton failed to mention other aspects of the Gabbard record that might have made her appear less savory. Zaid Jilani, a journalist whose work appears in the same kind of liberal online magazines that have published Norton’s work over the years, lifted up the rock and showed what was crawling around in a well-researched article for Alternet: “To Gabbard, the fact that Syria and Iraq have been through years of brutal civil war, wrecked economies and massive displacement is irrelevant; the only reason they have an extremism problem is because of Islamic theology.”

Basically Gabbard is a Bill Maher style Islamophobe who supports the fascist-like BJP in India and who has received substantial donations from its members-at-large in the USA. Even more incriminating, Gabbard is close to Christian Zionists and even spoke at one of their conferences. You can get a good idea on where she stands on Israel from her sponsorship of a resolution claiming that Israeli attacks in Gaza were “focused on terrorist targets” and that Israel “goes to extraordinary lengths to target only terrorist actors.” Co-sponsors included other hard-core Zionists like Alan Grayson (FL), Elliot Engel (NY), and Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (FL). But none of this was reflected in Norton’s breathless paean to the wretched Islamophobe.

On May 4, 2016 Norton wrote an article titled “Doctors Without Borders condemns ‘epidemic’ of hospital attacks as ‘acts of terror’” in chilling U.N. address” that ostensibly departed from the Patrick L. Smith School of Newspeak Journalism. How could one possibly find a way to tarnish the Syrian rebels when it seemed like a different hospital was being bombed by Syrian or Russian jets on practically a daily basis? Like this apparently:

On Tuesday, rebels attacked another hospital  as part of shelling that killed at least 19 Syrians in government-controlled areas of the city, according to a pro-rebel group. The Syrian government accused al-Nusra and allied Islamist groups of being behind the attacks.

Once again Norton was trying to draw an equivalence between the Baathist dictatorship and those who oppose it. But also once again if you go to the article that is linked by Norton, it tells a somewhat different story:

Zouhir Al Shimale, a local journalist, cast doubt on the veracity of the Syrian government’s claims about the shelling of al-Dabbit Hospital.

“The hospital is 6km away from the rebel held area,” he told Al Jazeera via the messenger service Whatsapp. “Rebels’ guns or simple weapons couldn’t have shelled the facility.

“Syrian state media is trying to put the blame on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to deflect attention from Assad’s campaign in Aleppo city.”

One might also question why Norton referred to “another hospital”, which gives the impression that there have been multiple attacks. It would have been more accurate to write “a hospital”. This kind of slipperiness is the sort of thing you’d expect from someone writing for the Murdoch press, not a “radical” who might have at one time in his life dreamed of being another John Reed. I guess Norton decided to settle for less—a lot less.

Five days later, Norton dipped into the Baathist amen corner’s bag of tricks and interviewed one Max Abrahms, a “terrorism expert” who shares Norton’s obsession with al-Nusra. The article paints the group as far more threatening than ISIS and—who knows?—one capable of another 9/11.

So who is this Max Abrahms exactly? You might want to look at Joel Beinin’s article “US: the pro-Sharon thinktank” from the July 2003 Le Monde diplomatique where he identifies Abrahms as a specialist in Israeli security affairs and a columnist for the National Review Online. Just the sort of authority someone like Norton would want to cozy up with after his earlier smooching with Tulsi Gabbard. I invite you to check out Abrahms’s articles at National Review. Maybe Norton could take a peek at them as well to get inspirations for future contributions to Salon. Like this one:

How does one explain this marked improvement in Israeli security? The “cycle of violence” theory would posit that such a reduction in terror derives from Israeli softness. Again, this logic was proven false. To staunch the bleeding from Israel’s July 2000 openhandedness, the Israel Defense Forces used an iron fist. Operation Defensive Shield, initiated in March 2002, brought the fight to the terrorists by deploying massive numbers of troops to the West Bank. This was language terrorists could understand. Evidently, it worked.

Finally, there’s the latest that appeared the day before yesterday and that prompted me to prepare this article. In an item on Jo Cox, the British MP who was assassinated by a neo-Nazi, there is not a single word about her support for the Syrian rebels. When asked by Oz Katerji why he covered this up, Norton responded that he did not want to mention her “infantile” right to protect liberal imperialism since he didn’t want to insult her on the day of her horrific death. So amusing to see Norton hurl the epithet “infantile” but let’s leave it at that.

What really stuck in my craw was Norton’s assertion that “Most refugees are fleeing Western-backed wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and more.” Was there a Western-backed war in Syria? Of course, Norton would say yes even though there have been reports on Obama’s indifference to the rebel cause on an almost daily basis for years now. Why let the truth get in the way of propaganda? But even if there was American backing for such a war, what exactly drove so many people to flee their homeland and risk death on the open seas in rickety boats? Was it al-Nusra or ISIS terrorism? You can actually check the results of a poll that appeared in the Independent last October.

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That is worth thinking about, if I were Ben Norton and tempted to write another piece of dodgy propaganda for Salon.com. One might expect a serious journalist to get the facts on what is driving Syrians from leaving their homeland even if it gets in the way of his political agenda based on calculations that it will serve his career path in a world where Islamophobia rules.

 

October 21, 2018

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the leftist tilt toward Mohammad bin Salman

Filed under: conspiracism,Saudi Arabia — louisproyect @ 10:10 pm

Leon Trotsky wrote an article in 1938 titled “Learn To Think: A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists” that warned about basing your politics on putting a minus wherever your own ruling class puts a plus:

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.

For most leftists who are still connected to the planet Earth, the focus must be on the brutality of the Saudi state and the Trump mafioso that is finding ways to discredit Jamal Khashoggi. Typical was Glenn Beck who tweeted: “If the Saudis did what the world is now saying they did, perhaps we will see what we all already knew: we should not be in bed with SA! But let’s also remember, Khashoggi was with the Muslim Brotherhood and not a good guy either. Both sides are bad here.”

This is basically the same thing heard from the Angry Arab who was interviewed on the Real News Network. If anything, he was even more vitriolic than Beck: “For much of his life, for the whole of his life mind this last year, this man was a passionate, enthusiastic, unabashed advocate of Saudi despotism. He started his career by joining bin Laden and being a comrade of bin Laden. There are pictures of him with weapons. He fought alongside the fanatic mujahideen, who were supported by the United States in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan among others, against the communist, progressive side in that war. And he was unrelenting in his advocacy on their behalf, as well as for his praise for bin Laden.”

Do the beliefs Khashoggi held 40 years ago when bin Laden was leading jihadists against the Russian occupation really matter today? On that basis, I probably should be denounced by the Angry Arab for having been a member of the Young Americans for Freedom in high school.

It is consistent with the Real News editorial outlook to invite the Angry Arab. For as long as I have been aware, Paul Jay’s broadcasts have featured the kind of people diagnosed by Leon Trotsky in 1938, especially the Grayzone crew that got booted from Alternet. Among them is Ben Norton who got into the act by Tweeting:

So one has to wonder if Norton is taking the side of MBS. If the CIA is the greatest danger to humanity, why not defend someone who they are targeting? As it happens, there are signs that he has shared the analysis of the Saudi state press on important matters especially when it comes to dealing with al-Qaeda, a group that keeps Norton awake at night for fear that one of its agents might put a bomb under his bed.

In July 2017, he and Blumenthal wrote an article fingering one Bilal Abdul Kareem as an al-Qaeda member. Kareem had gotten on their wrong side by interviewing jihadists in Syria. But some of their indictment came from an unlike source—the Saudi press. Given their obsession with Saudi Arabia as the source of Wahhabist terror worldwide, it is odd that they would find its media reliable.

They article states: “In fact, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on June 7 that Abdul Kareem officially joined al-Nusra in 2012.” It turns out that Al Arabia was full of crap. It reported that Kareem was guilty because the man who produced videos with him was also an al-Nusra member according to British authoritiesThis is the same state that is about to suffer economic hardship just so it can keep Muslims out and is also the same state that put down the red carpet for MBS just seven months ago. That doesn’t get in the way of Norton taking its allegations at face value.

As far as I know, the only other person who is warning about a CIA coup against the Saudi monarchy besides Norton is the Moon of Alabama blogger, a German only known as Gerhard, who wrote: “Recently Khashoggi started a number of projects that reek of preparations for a CIA controlled color-revolution in Saudi Arabia.”

What evidence do they offer, other than the fact that some people who formerly held top posts in the Obama national security apparatus go on MSNBC and CNN to denounce MBS? Isn’t it obvious that Donald Trump administration is so committed to that he likens the attack of out-of-power figures like John Brennan to the opposition to Kavanaugh? These conspiracy-mongers don’t really care very much if their predictions don’t bear out. Three years ago, I told WSWS.org cult leader David North that WWIII was not on the agenda just because Nicholas Kristof called for a stepped up defense of Kyiv. For this, I was labeled a NATO tool. When you are dealing with the likes of David North, Ben Norton, the Angry Arab et al, you are entering a fact-free zone unfortunately.

Some on the left (using the term in its most expansive manner) treated news of Khashoggi’s assassination as “fake news”. The Off-Guardian, an Assadist conspiracist website, was one example with an editor weighing in just three days ago: “Do we currently know the man is dead? Let alone who may have killed him? I don’t think we can make that claim. We have an allegedly vanished journalist. We have a number of unproven claims, of varying plausibility. None of this is evidence of anything.” Caitlin Johnstone, who sees the world in exactly the same way as the conspiracy-mongers at Off-Guardian, used the same argument on the same day, almost as if they had been in contact: “So stay skeptical. Just because the talking heads are telling you that Jamal Khashoggi has been brutally murdered and it’s very important that you care doesn’t mean you have to believe them. If this is a propaganda narrative to advance a new oligarchic agenda, there’s no reason to go helping them advance it. Eyes wide.”

Eyes wide? More like the title of Kubrick’s last movie: eyes wide shut.

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