Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 3, 2020

Grayzone’s latest pro-Assad propaganda

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

Ben Norton and Aaron Maté: inept propagandists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 10, 2019

Gray Zone versus the deep state, regime change, Trotskyite devils

Filed under: conspiracism,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 7:03 pm

On their Gray Zone website, Max Blumenthal and his mini-me Ben Norton (aka Ned Borton) have just come out with a 5,600 word diatribe against the Socialism 2019 Conference in Chicago. Most people still tethered to the planet would understand that the main political questions raised by the DSA/ex-ISO conference was whether support for Democratic Party candidates is tactically permissible. Instead, the two geniuses were playing Vishinsky-like prosecuting attorneys making the case that “Socialism is now apparently brought to you by the US State Department”.

They dug up every connection that conference speakers had to inside-the-beltway NGOs and government agencies like the NED to read the DSA and ex-ISOers out of the radical movement. One would think that these two nitwits would put more energy into helping the left put together a conference that did not have such nefarious ties. I can recommend some left groups that are as unsullied as them: Workers World, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Socialist Equality Party, the Spartacist League and Socialist Action. These five groups have never been implicated in smoke-filled room deals with officials of the Deep State, to be sure. In fact, if all of them got together to stage a Communism 2019 Conference, they wouldn’t need to line up a Hyatt hotel. A church basement would do just fine.

To turn NED funding, or any kind of aid from other such bodies, into a litmus test as to a group’s leftist credentials is problematic since it turns the nation-state into the unit of analysis rather than the social class.

For example, they excoriate the China Labour Bulletin for taking money from the NED but do not say anything about what it stands for. If you go to their website, you’ll find articles, for example, on coal mine safety in China that contains such data:

The Daping coal mine in Zhengzhou, Henan province, where 148 people died in a gas explosion on 20 October 2004, had been inspected and approved for an annual production capacity of 900,000 tonnes. In 2003, the mine produced 1.32 million tonnes of coal, and from January to September 2004 it had already produced 960,000 tonnes. Similarly, the Sunjiawan coal mine in Liaoning province, where a gas explosion killed at least 214 miners on 14 February 2005, had been approved for a production capacity of 900,000 tonnes, but its actual output in 2004 was 1.48 million tonnes. The Shenlong coal mine in Fukang county, Xinjiang province, where 83 miners died in a gas explosion on 11 July 2005, had a safe production capacity of only 30,000 tonnes, but during the first half of 2005 alone it had already produced almost 180,000 tonnes of coal.

You will find absolutely nothing about “regime change” in the CLB. It is simply one of the few outlets Chinese workers have for making their case. If the NED provides funding for their work, there is no stigma as long as the money comes with no-strings-attached.

The truth is that the NED and similar bodies from George Soros’s Open Foundation to Human Rights Watch will always try to take advantage of protests in every corner of the world in order to influence them. Why would anybody expect anything different? To be consistent, you’d have to condemn the student movement in Egypt in 2011 in the same way you condemn CLB. In fact, Global Research—Gray Zone’s closest relative—did exactly that. Tony Cartalucci put it this way in an article titled “The US Engineered “Arab Spring”: The NGO Raids in Egypt”:

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

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

Can you tell the difference between Tony Cartalucci and the Gray Zone? I can’t.

Much venom is sprayed at Anand Gopal and Dan La Botz for the same kinds of reasons. Gopal is an acclaimed journalist who has made repeated trips to Syria from Turkey without Baathist approval. As with other reporters who refuse to write propaganda for the dictatorship, he had to find other ways to interview Syrians. He would crawl beneath a barbed wire fence on the border and follow painted rocks that were placed there by villagers, allowing him to avoid land mines. In a talk on Syria recently, Gopal argued that part of the explanation for the failure of the revolution was that the leadership were small proprietors in the local governments of rebel-controlled territory that insisted on preserving private property relations. If this book is nearly as good as his book on Afghanistan that was a Pulitzer prize runner up, it should gain widespread attention. Meanwhile, Blumenthal’s reporting on Syria is the same as Vanessa Beeley’s, just regime propaganda. At least Beeley went to Syria, even if was limited to 4-star hotels and tea parties with the dictator. Can you imagine Sidney Blumenthal’s golden boy crawling under barbed wire fences and walking through an obstacle course of land mines to get a story? I can’t.

The attacks on Dan La Botz are just as apolitical. I am opposed to La Botz’s special pleading for the reactionary student movement in Nicaragua but I wouldn’t dream of smearing him as a State Department tool. This kind of attack has roots in Stalin’s demonization of his opponents who were supposedly trying to overthrow socialism in the USSR because both they and the capitalist media described him as a ruthless dictator. Trotsky had a different motivation than Winston Churchill even if Stalin made an amalgam between the two. When Stalin bonded with Churchill, the symbol of British colonialism then became a paragon of democracy. Those twists and turns were studied by the two ex-opponents of Assad, to be sure.

In channeling Stalin, Norton and Blumenthal make sure to use the word “Trotskyite” throughout, a term that is a dead giveaway for politics that have largely died out after the collapse of the USSR and the transformation of the CPs into Eurocommunist type parties, except for the KKE in Greece that is cut from the same cloth as Gray Zone.

Looking back at the history of the radical movement, you will find many attempts to take advantage of imperialist rivalry. For Blumenthal and Norton, the only imperialist powers in the world are those in the West. They clearly see China and Russia as anti-imperialist states even though the subjugation of the Uyghurs and Syrians would have been denounced by Lenin as imperialist. I am not sure where Gray Zone gets most of its ideas nowadays but it sounds like they may have been plagiarizing Enver Hoxha.

If Uyghurs and Syrians have to pass their litmus test, it would mean suicide since the world is divided into two major geopolitical blocs. For all of their ranting against the White Helmets for receiving funding from the West, you would be hard-pressed to see how else they could have otherwise assembled a first responder team that has saved thousands of lives. The implication from Gray Zone is that rescuing people from bombed out buildings is the first step in invading Syria and that bombing hospitals is warranted in rebel-controlled territory to preempt sharia law.

Fortunately, people like Roger Casement and others trying to exploit the differences between Anglo-American and German imperialism didn’t take Gray Zone type advice, not that anybody would be that stupid to offer it it in the early 20th century..

Who could blame Irish freedom fighter Roger Casement for trying to strike deals with Kaiser Wilhelm to get weapons to liberate his people? During a period of inter-imperialist rivalries, it was not considered a betrayal of socialist principles to look for such opportunities. In MN Roy’s case,  an Indian Marxist who sought weapons from the Kaiser, there was the added dimension of his writing the theses on national liberation adopted by the Comintern. How could you cozy up with imperialists and then write such classic statements of Marxist policy? The answer: easy unless you are moralizing twits like Norton and Blumenthal.

This is not to speak of V.I. Lenin’s stance with respect to the same bogeymen. In “To the Finland Station”, Edmund Wilson describes the uneasy feelings that some of his comrades had that were by no means as disgusting as Gray Zone’s attack on Socialism 2019:

In the train that left the morning of April 8 there were thirty Russian exiles, including not a single Menshevik. They were accompanied by the Swiss socialist Platten, who made himself responsible for the trip, and the Polish socialist Radek. Some of the best of the comrades had been horrified by the indiscretion of Lenin in resorting to the aid of the Germans and making the trip through an enemy country. They came to the station and besieged the travelers, begging them not to go. Lenin got into the train without replying a word.

Even after Hitler took power, some nationalists continued in the same vein, the most notable among them Subhas Chandra Bose who relied on both German and Japanese support for an army that could liberate India. Despite this marriage of convenience, Bose was politically on the left and an admirer of the USSR. Indeed, Stalin’s nonaggression pact with Hitler served his policy aims well as indicated by his 1941 Kabul Thesis written just before he travelled to Germany to consult with the Nazis:

Thus we see pseudo-Leftists who through sheer cowardice avoid a conflict with Imperialism and argue in self-defence that Mr. Winston Churchill (whom we know to be the arch-Imperialist) is the greatest revolutionary going. It has become a fashion with these pseudo-Leftists to call the British Government a revolutionary force because it is fighting the Nazis and Fascists. But they conveniently forget the imperialist character of Britain’s war and also the fact that the greatest revolutionary force in the world, the Soviet Union, has entered into a solemn pact with the Nazi Government.

While some sought advantage by aligning with the axis, others found the allies more amenable to their broader goals. 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.

Right now, the biggest question facing the left is class independence, something clearly of little importance to Ben Norton who is a big Tulsi Gabbard fan. In this interview, he is positively glowing about her political growth even though she had “odious” views in the past.

Trying to stake out a position that will stand out in a crowded “anti-imperialist” left will be tough for Norton and Blumenthal. You can read the same sort of thing in Consortium News, Moon of Alabama, Mint Press, Off-Guardian, 21st Century Wire, DissidentVoice, Information Clearing House, et al. To separate themselves from the pack, my advice to the two careerists is to find some sugar daddy that can throw some money their way. Ron Unz of UNZ Review not only has deep pockets but lots of sympathy for their tilt toward Russia and Syria. That is, if you can put up with his neo-Nazism.

September 14, 2018

Indefensible: Democracy, Counterrevolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism

Filed under: Counterpunch,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 3:11 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, SEPTEMBER 14, 2018

Rohini Hensman’s recently published Indefensible: Democracy, Counterrevolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism is an important contribution to the debate that has divided the left since 2011, the year that Syria became a litmus test. For some, support for Bashar al-Assad became tantamount to backing Franco in the Spanish Civil War while others saw my perspective as lending support to the USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other reactionary states carrying out the same neoconservative foreign policy that turned Iraq into a failed state.

On practically all other questions, ranging from defending immigrant rights to opposing fracking, the left was fairly unified. The Green Party candidacy of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka epitomized the contradictions roiling the left. Except for her appearance at an RT conference and his article hailing Assad’s electoral victory in 2014, there was little question that their campaign was a real alternative to both Trump and Clinton.

Continue reading

September 24, 2016

Dresden-esque

Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria,war — louisproyect @ 1:17 pm

Dresden

Aleppo

However just as the war crime of the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 did not invalidate the war against European fascism then, neither does the atrocity of Syrian barrel bombs invalidate the war against its Middle East equivalent today. When the survival of a country and its culture and history is at stake, war can never be anything else but ugly, which is why the sooner it is brought to a conclusion in Syria the better.

John Wight
http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/11/13/hell-comes-to-paris/

Syria’s war escalated abruptly on Friday as government forces and their Russian allies launched ferocious aerial assaults on opposition-held areas of Aleppo amid threats of a big ground offensive, while efforts at the United Nations to revive a cease-fire appeared to collapse.

Repeated airstrikes that obliterated buildings and engulfed neighborhoods in flames killed about 100 people in Aleppo, the divided northern Syrian city that has epitomized the horrors of the war, turning the brief cease-fire of last week and hopes for humanitarian relief into faint memories. The bombings knocked out running water to an estimated two million people, the United Nations said.

“It is the worst day that we’ve had for a very long time,” said James Le Mesurier, the head of Mayday Rescue, which trains Syrian rescue workers. “They are calling it Dresden-esque.”

NY Times, ‘Doomsday Today in Aleppo’: Assad and Russian Forces Bombard City, September 24, 2016

February 9, 2016

A return to the question of whether Russia is imperialist

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,mechanical anti-imperialism,Russia — louisproyect @ 9:54 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 4.45.01 PM

One of the main talking points of the pro-Kremlin left is that Russia is not imperialist. This goes hand in hand with an analysis claiming that Putin’s intervention in Ukraine was purely defensive, a move against the genuine imperialists in Washington, London and elsewhere.

The last time I dealt with this question was in June 2014 when I replied to Roger Annis, a tireless defender of Kremlin foreign policy. Annis has once again made the same arguments on Links magazine in Australia in an article co-written by Renfrey Clarke who shares his orientation to Russia. Titled “Perpetrator or victim? Russia and contemporary imperialism”, it rehashes many of the same arguments that are supposedly based on Lenin’s “Imperialism, the final stage of Capitalism”.

As I indicated in a commentary on John Clegg’s article “Capitalism and Slavery”, I find social science definitions of terms like capitalism, socialism and imperialism problematic. To start with, they are describing economic systems that are global in character so when they are used to taxonomically describe a particular country, they are strained to the breaking point. When Trotsky took up the question of whether the USSR was socialist, he answered in terms that defied the formal logic of the social scientist: “To define the Soviet regime as transitional, or intermediate, means to abandon such finished social categories as capitalism (and therewith “state capitalism”) and also socialism. But besides being completely inadequate in itself, such a definition is capable of producing the mistaken idea that from the present Soviet regime only a transition to socialism is possible.”

When it comes to a term like imperialist as a category that applies to a particular country, there is little doubt that the USA, Great Britain, or Germany qualify. This is made clear in page after page of Lenin’s essay. But using the search tool available on the Marxist Internet Archives, you will find Lenin referring to “Russian imperialism” on many occasions:

Have the socialists of France and Belgium not shown the same kind of treachery? They are excellent at exposing German imperialism, but, unfortunately they are amazingly purblind with regard to British, French, and particularly the barbarous Russian imperialism. They fail to see the disgraceful fact that, for decades on end, the French bourgeoisie have been paying out thousands of millions for the hire of the Black-Hundred gangs of Russian tsarism, and that the latter has been crushing the non-Russian majority in our country, robbing Poland, oppressing the Great Russian workers and peasants, and so on.

The European War and International Socialism, 1914

The attitude of the Soviet Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic to the weak and hitherto oppressed nations is of very pradtical significance for the whole of Asia and for all the colonies of the world, for thousands and millions of people.

I earnestly urge you to devote the closest attention to this question, to exert every effort to set an effective example of comradely relations with the peoples of Turkestan, to demonstrate to them by your actions that we are sincere in our desire to wipe out all traces of Great-Russian imperialism and wage an implacable struggle against world imperialism, headed by British imperialism. You should show the greatest confidence in our Turkestan Commission and adhere strictly to its directives, which have been framed precisely in this spirit by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee.

To the Communists of Turkestan, 1919

You speak about the revolution in Russia, but, Citizens Chernov, Chkheidze, and Tsereteli [Menshevik politicians], you have all studied socialism, and you realise only too well that so jar your revolution has only put the capitalists in power. Is it not trebly insincere, when, in the name of the Russian revolution, which has given power to the Russian imperialist capitalists, you demand of us, Germans, a revolution against the German imperialist capitalists? Does It not look as if your “internationalism”, your “revolutionism” are for foreign consumption only; as if revolution against the capitalists is only for the Germans, while for the Russians (despite the seething revolution in Russia) it is agreement with the capitalists?

Chernov, Chkheidze, and Tsereteli have sunk completely to the level of defending Russian imperialism.

An Unfortunate Document, 1917

This is what crops up when you do a search on the exact term “Russian imperialism”. It is also worth examining “Imperialism, the final stage of Capitalism” to see if there are any references to Russia there. While Lenin takes care to single out British and German domination of the financial sector, even to the point of specifically pointing to Deutsche Bank’s penetration of Russian “holding companies”, he does not let Russia off the hook in chapter six titled “The Division of the world among the great powers”. In a chart titled COLONIAL POSSESSIONS OF THE GREAT POWERS, Russia is in second place behind Britain:

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He even makes comparisons between England and Russia in their pursuit of colonial exploitation:

The British capitalists are exerting every effort to develop cotton growing in their colony, Egypt (in 1904, out of 2,300,000 hectares of land under cultivation, 600,000, or more than one-fourth, were under cotton); the Russians are doing the same in their colony, Turkestan, because in this way they will be in a better position to defeat their foreign competitors, to monopolise the sources of raw materials and form a more economical and profitable textile trust in which all the processes of cotton production and manufacturing will be “combined” and concentrated in the hands of one set of owners.

It is of course of some interest that Lenin refers once again to Turkestan, one of those regions that were seized by Catherine the Great and that were victims of the Great Russian Chauvinism that Lenin fought from his sick bed until the day he died. Like Ukraine, these regions never felt like they were truly free in the USSR. It is most unfortunate that people like Annis and Clarke are essentially seeing things the same way that Stalin did in the 1920s even though they supposedly got their political training in the Trotskyist movement.

On a more fundamental level, I find the term “imperialist” as an adjective for a particular country problematic when it functions in the same way that the term mammal applies to a kind of animal or perennial to a type of flower. A bear is always going to be a mammal while a zinnia will never be a perennial. These are fixed categories. When it comes to social and economic entities, it becomes a lot more problematic. What criteria do we use? Lenin thought that the size of financial holdings was key. For Annis and Clarke, this means that Russia is not a player: “A mass of evidence shows that in terms of the financial instruments ‒ stocks, bonds, derivatives, bank deposits, money-market funds ‒in which wealth is mostly held within modern capitalism, the finance capital of present-day Russia is startlingly weak.”

Let’s look at fascist Italy for comparison’s sake. In the 1930s, the three largest banks had a capitalization of about 500 million lira each. Since one dollar was equal to 20 lira at the time, this meant that they were worth about $25 million each. On the other hand, the five largest banks in the USA were all worth over a billion dollars each in 1935 according to a January 21, 1936 NY Times article. So Italy was not even in their ballpark. Does that mean that Italy was not an imperialist nation?

In fact, it was the very weakness of Japan, Italy and Germany in 1939 that made them more aggressive. When you are top dog, you don’t go out and pick fights with those trying to overtake you as the alpha male after all. You don’t pay them any attention except when they looking to displace you. That’s when you defend your pack. That is why the “pacifist” and “democratic” nations like the USA and Britain could scold the aggressive fascists even though they were far more harmful to people living in vast empires covering the globe.

This brings us to Putin’s Russia. Perhaps finally recognizing that when the Kremlin sent its troops to Donetsk and Luhansk or its bombers to Syria might compromise them in the eyes of a few Marxist malcontents, Annis and Clarke try to excuse this bad behavior. Boys will be boys, after all.

Meanwhile, are Russian interests taken into account when the “rules of the game” of the capitalist world-system are determined? By no means. For years after the dissolving of the USSR, Russian elites held out hopes of joining NATO. Instead, NATO has been expanded to the point where Russia now faces a threatening arc of U.S.-aligned states, on or near its borders, from Turkey to Estonia. The clear goal of imperialist policy is to pressure and intimidate Russia, so as to deepen its peripheralisation and in the longer perspective, to force its break-up.

 In these circumstances, what can one say about the Western denunciations of “Russian imperialism”? Rarely have such fervent protestations been so wide of the mark, or backed by so little substance.

 Does all this matter? If a country uses its armed strength to meddle in affairs outside its borders, doesn’t that make it imperialist per se? The trouble with that line of reasoning is that it quickly leads to absurd conclusions. Countries of the periphery commit armed aggression against one another with horrible regularity. The Ogaden War of 1977-78 began when Somali forces invaded Ethiopia. Did that make Somalia an imperialist power?

This, of course, is what the article is really about, not trying to pin down the exact character of the Russian economy. It is really about what Clausewitz referred to as “warfare being a continuation of politics by other means”. Annis and Clarke essentially view Ukraine’s Euromaidan as an encroachment on legitimate Russian interests in the same way that JFK viewed Soviet missiles in Cuba. Just as was was the case with any former colonial nation seeking support from the Kremlin, Ukraine or any of the Eastern European “buffer states” naturally would have developed an orientation to any global power that could give them some leeway against the Kremlin. Those are the realities of global politics.

Finally, what I found most telling is the comparison with Somalia invading Ethiopia. I wonder if this was subconsciously an admission on the part of Annis and Clarke that they felt guilty serving as Putin’s attorneys. If you want to make comparisons, you start with the fact that Ethiopia—like Tsarist Russia in the 18th century—was a precapitalist empire. The Ethiopian emperors colonized the Oromos to the south and the Eritreans to the north. It also colonized the Ogaden region in between Ethiopia and Somalia that was home to people of Somalian ethnicity and who were practicing Muslims. In 1977, Somalia “invaded Ethiopia” only in the sense that it sought to reassert control over territory that had been seized by Menelik II in the 19th century just as he had conquered the Oromos and the Eritreans.

Very soon the conflict became enmeshed with the Cold War as the USSR gave its backing to the Ethiopian Dergue that supposedly was evolving in a “Marxist-Leninist” direction while Jimmy Carter threw his support behind the Somalians. If your tendency is to choose sides based on who the West was supporting, naturally you would back the Ethiopians even if the Dergue was rapidly transforming itself into a military dictatorship with scant regard for human rights or economic justice.

Interestingly enough, CounterPunch has been a mainstay of the rights of the Ogaden people largely through the various articles published over the years by Graham Peebles such as this:

The ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front] is cast as the enemy of the state, and regarded, as all dissenting troublesome groups are, as terrorists. They in fact won 60% of seats and were democratically elected to the regional parliament in the only inclusive open elections to be held, back in 1992. Civilians suspected, however vaguely of supporting the so-called ‘rebels’, are forcibly re-located from their homes. The evacuated villages and settlements, emptied at gunpoint HRW (CP) record, “become no-go areas” and in a further act of state criminality, “civilians who remain behind risk being shot on sight, tortured, or raped if spotted by soldiers”. Children, refugees report are hanged, villages and settlements razed to the ground and cattle stolen to feed soldiers: HRW record (CP), “water sources and wells have [also] been destroyed”. Systematic, strategic methods of violence and intimidation employed by the Ethiopian regime, that has, Genocide Watch (GW) state, “initiated a genocidal campaign against the Ogaden Somali population”.

It is regrettable, of course, that there are so few people writing about Ukraine for CounterPunch who have the political and moral clarity of Graham Peebles who can see through Cold War or New Cold War nostrums of the sort associated with Roger Annis. Neither the Ogaden people nor the Ukrainians are pawns in a chess game. They have a right to national independence and social justice whichever side gives them a momentary advantage in a struggle against the oppressor. If Lenin could come to Russia in a railway car provided by the Kaiser, why would we expect long-suffering colonized peoples to act any differently?

January 21, 2016

Disinformation Clearing House

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Fascism,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

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So their fundraiser is a disaster. With all the bad news from every corner of the globe, finally some good news.

This week an article appeared on this website by one Robert Bridge titled “US Elites Are Trying to Destroy Europe with Immigrants that has this astonishing comment:

According to a German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn, by mid-21st century millions of migrants from Africa and Asia (950 million of them are already willing to relocate to the EU) will drag Europe back into the Dark Ages. So isn’t this exactly what Barack Obama, a man with African roots, should be willing to achieve through his foreign policy?

This Robert Bridge lives in Russia and writes for RT.com and Infowars. No big surprise there. When you see the reference to Obama having “African roots”, you need to remember that RT.com has been airing a lot of racist junk about Obama. Irina Rodnina, an MP from Vladimir Putin’s party and a triple Olympic champion figure-skater photoshopped a picture of Obama with a banana on Twitter. You get the idea.

Meanwhile, Bridge’s article has drawn comments such as these from “Subluna” just like a pile of steaming shit draws flies. Love the reference to Khazar Jews, an obscure anti-Semitic trope if I’ve ever heard one:

“While on the surface it may seem that the refugee crisis has taken Western leaders by surprise, in fact it is all part of their plan for global domination, which was outlined in a paper by the now-defunct group of US neoconservatives known as The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).”

IT IS ALL PART OF THE JEWISH PLAN FOR GLOBAL DOMINATION! That is what I’ve been saying over and over again.

Now who are these US neoconservatives? The overall majority are the KHAZAR JEWS with dual nationality, US – Israeli.

Recently George Souros, the Jewish billionaire said that: “Europe Union should take “at least a million” refugees every year…” https://www.rt.com/op-edge/320747-soros-european-…

Have a look at Jewish Barbara Spectre in this 1 minute video where she calls for Jews to have a leading role in transforming Europe into a multicultural society: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFE0qAiofMQ

The European Flag/Logo was the work of Jewish Paul Lévi, the 12 yellow stars on a blue background represent the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Count R. N. Courdenhove-Kalergi is seen by many as the father of the modern European Union. His father was a close friend of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.

Otto von Habsburg was Coudenhove-Kalergi’s successor as president of the Pan European Union. He is a honorary professor of the University of Jerusalem, and recipient of the ‘International Humanitarian Award’, of the ‘Anti Defamation-League’ (ADL) of the Jewish B’nai B’rith Masonery Lodge.

The Jewish owned media promote the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ by Samuel Huntington, who got the idea from Bernard Lewis, a Jewish scholar. Have the Christian West fight Islam, while the Jews conquer the world and make the Goyim their slaves.

Benjamin Freedman: “Act I was World War I. Act II was World War II. Act III is going to be World War III.

“The Jews of the world, the Zionists and their co-religionists everywhere, are determined that they are going to AGAIN use the United States to help them permanently retain Palestine as their foothold for their world government.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8OmxI2AYV8

Transcript: http://www.sweetliberty.org/issues/israel/freedma…

The Feast of Tabernacles is the period when Israel triumphs over the other people of the world. That is why during this feast we seize the loulab and carry it as a trophy to show that we have conquered all other peoples, known as “populace”… Zohar, Toldoth Noah 63b

January 7, 2016

“Anti-imperialism” makes strange bedfellows

Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria — louisproyect @ 11:26 pm

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December 1, 2015

Deconstructing Tariq Ali

Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:06 pm

October 7, 2015

Richard Seymour on John Wight

Filed under: mechanical anti-imperialism,Stalinism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:21 pm

(From Facebook)

John Wight

Christopher Hitchens

An unabashed mobilisation of ancient colonial binaries, with Russian imperialism cast as the guardian of secular, modern, liberal civilization against a barbarian ISIS. Its author has stated the upshot of this perspective quite explicitly: “kill them all”. Or, to put it another way, exterminate the brutes.

One is reminded of peak Hitchens, and of the traditions of imperialist apologia that he more or less deliberately evoked. And one is impressed by how deep this goes in parts of the left. Of course, Russian imperialism is not defending secular liberalism; that’s not how imperialism works. And its targets are demonstrably much broader than ISIS. Of course, the Assad dictatorship is much more steeped in blood than ISIS at this point.

The colonial unconscious, even if it has no history, should be placed in historical context. In the aftermath of the Great Indian Rebellion in 1857, in which the British press reported (usually invented and embellished) atrocities on the part of the rebels, the response of British moralists was to blame “native fanatics”. Charles Dickens wrote that he would like to address the rebels with this threat: “it is my intention, with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate the Race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with abominable atrocities’.”

When the British bombed Egypt in 1882, in response to anti-British riots, Gladstone argued that they at least ensured that “the fanaticism of the East” would not be able to kill Europeans “with impunity”. The same trope of native “fanaticism” was used to justify the war against the Mahdist insurgents in Sudan. And again in Iraq during the British Mandate, when Churchill called for the gassing of “uncivilized tribes”.

One could go on, and on. Of course, ISIS does not stand in some sort of relationship of succession to anticolonial movements. The so-called ‘Islamic State’ is, among other things, a pathology of the imperialist system, its symptom. However, it is simply not as accomplished at killing as the Assad dictatorship, and its imperialist backer. The logic of such displacements, in which ISIS embodies all of the intolerable excesses, the violence, irrationality and dysfunctionality of the Assad regime and the imperialist system into which it is integrated, is not difficult to discern. This simple gesture of moral-splitting and projection, is a constant feature of imperialist ideology. It allows one to side with the most relentless torturers, bombers and military despots. It allows one to call for more murder, and soon, sooner, soonest. It allows one to externalise evil, to say “kill them all”, with full confidence that the other side has a monopoly on barbarism.

Above all, by refusing to acknowledge a genuine Syrian opposition, by denying agency to anyone but ‘head-chopping fanatics’ and the dictatorship and its backers, it denies that there could be any rational, socially grounded reasons to wage a military struggle against the regime. The unconscious fantasy at stake here is that the regime has a matchless, unchallengeable right to rule; and the right to any means in its suppression of opposition.

October 3, 2015

War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength

Filed under: journalism,mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria — louisproyect @ 11:50 pm

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