Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 19, 2016

N+1, Syria and the Democratic Party

Filed under: journalism,Syria,two-party system — louisproyect @ 10:27 pm

Nikil Saval, N+1 co-editor

Although not so nearly as well-known as Jacobin, N+1 has been mentioned in tandem with it as the voice of millennial hipster Marxism. For example, Columbia PhD student Timothy Shenk, who is intimately familiar with the terrain, wrote an article in the Nation Magazine titled “Thomas Piketty and Millennial Marxists on the Scourge of Inequality” that states:

Cloaked in the moral authority of Occupy and connected by networks stitched together during those hectic days in 2011, a contingent of young journalists speaking through venues both new and old, all of them based in New York City—Jacobin, n+1, Dissent and occasionally this magazine, among others—have begun to make careers as Marxist intellectuals.

Well, who wouldn’t want a career as a Marxist intellectual unless you were someone like the young Max Horkheimer who wrote: “a revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief”? The older Horkheimer, of course, discovered that banquets and honorary titles were not so bad after all.

While the Nation and Dissent could not be possibly be mistaken as millennial, they certainly have provided a roost for that contingent of young journalists trying to make careers as Marxist intellectuals. Furthermore, as should be obvious by the time you finish reading this article, young and old Marxist intellectual careerists making the rounds in the four magazines are in total agreement over Syria and the Democratic Party.

As readers of my blog will certainly know, Jacobin has been a primary venue of Assadist propaganda. In numerous articles, there are warnings about “regime change” in Syria that would have you believe that Barack Obama was getting ready to intervene in Bush-like fashion to put the rebels in power. Does it matter that it only took three months after Bush and his gang began talking about the need to invade Iraq in January 2003 for the invasion to take place while a war in Syria now goes on for more than five years and no such action has occurred under Obama? Probably not.

Unlike Jacobin, N+1 has been pretty good on Syria with a 2011 article making the case that a genuine revolution was unfolding and one four years later that put the blame on the Baathists for the suffering of Palestinians in Yarmouk. They are both very much worth reading and did not prepare me for an article that appeared in the Spring 2016 edition titled “Bernie’s World”. Stung by what struck me as the kind of material that would appear in Jacobin, I wrote a blog post and cc’d the editors who asked if they could print an edited version as a letter in the Fall 2016 edition with their reply. I am now reproducing excerpts from “Bernie’s World”, my edited reply, their rejoinder and concluding with my rejoinder to theirs.

1. Bernie’s World

(The full version of the N+1 piece can be read at https://nplusonemag.com/issue-25/the-intellectual-situation/bernies-world/. Emphasis added throughout).

But on one significant topic — American foreign policy — Sanders has remained flat-footed. In December, after the shootings in San Bernardino by self-declared supporters of the Islamic State returned the war on terror to the center of the campaign, Sanders refused to answer questions about ISIS and seemed annoyed that reporters had raised the issue at all. On the Syrian conflict he has been at sea. At that month’s Democratic debate he bizarrely referred to Jordan’s King Abdullah as a “hero,” and in January he called Abdullah “one of the few heroes in a very unheroic place.” One doesn’t often hear democratic socialists go out of their way to praise hereditary dictators. Sanders has gone further out of his way, repeatedly suggesting that the US strengthen its ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “They have got to start putting some skin in the game,” he said in one debate, the theory being that these countries will put up the money and the troops needed to combat extremism in the Middle East, diminishing the American role and thus the opportunity for American malfeasance. Of course the problem is the opposite: both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two of the US’s strongest and least salubrious allies, are already putting lots of money into the Syrian conflict, much of it going to al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (also supported by the US) and the Islamic State.

What’s missing isn’t the anti-imperialist Sanders. It’s the antiwar movement he was once part of, and which no longer exists.

ONE REASON WHY the Sixties antiwar movement continues to be a source of both nostalgia and inspiration for the left is that it had genuine radical potential. Having begun as a movement to stop a war, it nearly became a wholesale revolution that reshaped American politics and foreign policy. It was John Kerry, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, who best summed up the movement’s aims: “So when thirty years from now our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say ‘Vietnam’ and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.” That turning never took place: thirty years after Kerry’s speech, the war on terror commenced in earnest. Kerry voted in 2001 along with his colleagues Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to invade Afghanistan, and in 2002 with Clinton again to invade Iraq. Just as Kerry abjured his antiwar past as the 2004 presidential candidate — he ran as a war hero, not an antiwar hero — the movement, in the long run, fell far short of its hopes.

But as Daniel Schlozman details in When Movements Anchor Parties, the antiwar movement failed both to anchor itself within the party structure and to create a lasting alternative coalition. No national elected official came out of the movement. On its own, the movement fragmented and radicalized, beset by Nixon’s repression on the one hand and by faltering strategies on the other. The distinction from the labor movement in the 1930s is enormous. At that time, organized labor, gaining in strength and numbers, weighed working outside the Democratic Party against negotiating with the party for legislative gains and legitimacy. Labor chose the latter strategy. The result was the passage of the National Labor Relations Act and the election of officials who declined to send in troops when workers occupied factories. (This is not to diminish the costs, over time, of being so close to the Democratic Party and blandishments of power, but the benefits were significant.) Nothing comparable occurred with the antiwar movement. By the time its electoral reforms delivered a candidate — George McGovern of McGovern-Fraser — it was too spent a force to work with the candidate. In 1972, McGovern suffered what was then the worst electoral defeat of the postwar era, until Mondale outdid him in 1984.

2. My letter

(I should start off by saying that N+1 butchered my original blog piece to such an extent that it was practically robbed of its meaning. I suppose that they did this to save space and admittedly it was my mistake to give them permission to run the letter but I urge you to read the original here.)

Dear Editors,

I was rather disappointed with your editorial statement on foreign policy (“Bernie’s World”), which repeated many of the talking points of the “anti-imperialist” left about Syria. One can certainly understand why the editors would fall short on Syria. With so many other smart magazines publishing articles that could have been lifted from RT.com, it is difficult to swim against the stream. After all, who would want to be associated with a struggle against Bashar al-Assad, who in his genial clean-shaven and well-groomed manner seems to be much more like us than the unfathomable, bearded Allahu akbar–yelling men in fatigues who would surely launch an attack on the American homeland if given half a chance? If Vogue was willing to run a profile on the Syrian president and his lovely wife a while back, who are we to quibble? After all, being photogenic compensates for bombing hospitals.

The editors are generally OK with Sanders except on foreign policy. They fret over his suggestion that the US strengthen its ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar since the two countries are major donors to “the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (also supported by the US) and the Islamic State.” In fact, Qatar insisted that it would only give money to al-Nusra if the group severed its ties to al Qaeda. When negotiations broke down in 2015, the group continued to finance its own militias in Syria the way it always has, through donations by sympathizers in various Sunni countries, including Qatar. Does this mean that Qatar backs al-Nusra? Only in the sense that the US backed the Irish Republican Army in the 1970s when most of its funding came from US citizens, living especially in Boston’s South End. Nor does the US support al-Nusra. The country has bombed the group repeatedly, always making the excuse that it was after the Khorasan — a nonexistent group that supposedly had plans to launch September 11–type attacks in America.

The editors also criticize the Vietnam antiwar movement for failing to “anchor itself within the party structure,” a clear reference to becoming a wing of the Democratic party. In 1937, when Chicago steelworkers went on strike, Mayor Edward Kelly — a Democratic “friend of labor” who was backed by the Communist party and as such would ostensibly be loath to attack workers — ordered an attack by the cops that left ten people dead. The antiwar movement kept the Democratic party at arm’s length because it was led by the Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers party, who had a much more class-based understanding of the Democrats than the CPUSA. The CP, which worked with the SWP and the pacifists in a kind of tripartite coalition, was always trying to get the coalition to follow the Democrats’ lead. If it had been successful, there never would have been a Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam or any other mass demonstration. You can take my word on that.

— Louis Proyect

3. The editor replies

Louis Proyect writes that we and others on the left are insufficiently willing to confront Bashar al-Assad because we have been duped by his haircut and a Vogue puff piece that described the dictator and his wife as “wildly democratic.” Not only do we not think that “being photogenic compensates for bombing hospitals” — we don’t think this of Obama, either — we can’t find any liberal or left-wing writer who thinks of Assad as “genial.” With their profile, Vogue’s editors executed a flawless caricature of themselves as clueless fashionistas, and that is how the profile was received everywhere. The reaction was so overwhelmingly negative that the piece was taken down from the magazine’s website.

Is the idea that we are “appeasing” Assad? That was the idea the last time the US foreign policy establishment began to dream of ousting a Middle Eastern dictator. In a kind of ritual humiliation, liberals and leftists were required, like kids reciting the Bill of Rights in class, to demonstrate that they understood Saddam’s crimes against humanity before they could voice any objection to America’s military involvement in the region. That we might still be subject to this ritual isn’t surprising, but it is a bummer.

That the US has bombed al Nusra Front groups in Syria on occasion does not mean the US hasn’t also supported al Nusra on occasion. Alternately supporting and attacking various groups and figures (among them, Saddam Hussein) is a recurring motif in the history of US’s military involvement in the Middle East. And while Qatar may also have had a falling-out with the group in 2015, a report from last December described a prisoner swap between al Nusra and Lebanon that Qatari officials encouraged by giving al Nusra $25 million. The US has also tracked shipments of Qatari arms directed to the Islamist groups that further destabilized Libya in the wake of the Western intervention there. Qatar’s relationship with al Nusra has had its ups and downs, but the country has long served as a key source of funds and materials for extremists in the region.

With respect to Bernie Sanders, Proyect does not voice an objection to our claim that for all the candidate’s galvanizing rhetoric on domestic policy, there remains too little distance between his foreign policy views and those of the Democratic party mainstream, especially with respect to the use of force. His efforts to make the party platform use the word occupation when discussing Palestine are welcome, but in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, his campaign tweeted, “From what is now known, this was a terrorist act by an ISIS sympathizer. That despicable and barbaric organization must be destroyed.” But Omar Mateen had no real connection to ISIS — he sympathized with the group like Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker,” sympathized with Satan. To watch Sanders fall back on this bogus war-on-terror logic is to see the full impoverishment of the Democratic party’s foreign policy thought. Proyect says that the Vietnam-era antiwar movement had good reasons to keep its distance from the party, that to engage more fully would have prevented even a single mass demonstration from taking place. That may be true, and yet the movement’s failure to make a more permanent place for itself in the country’s party politics during the postwar years is a failure — one we hope can be remedied soon.

4. The last word

Perhaps as a result of being fatigued from having made the same arguments dozens of times over the past five years, I did not develop them this go round to the extent where the N+1 editor understood what I was driving at. So let me try again.

The Vogue article was scheduled to appear in the March 2011 issue, the very month when the protests began taking place and when Hillary Clinton was disposed to call Assad a “reformer”. As it happens, the only place where it can be read now is on Gawker, reason enough to hate Peter Thiel for destroying such a fearless website.

It was unfortunate that I focused on the appearance of the Assads when the article was much more about their supposed political assets:

Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”

When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.

“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”

“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.

“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road?

That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.

The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”

In fact, Vogue was simply expressing the dominant viewpoint of the mainstream media in the years just prior to 2011 when Assad unleashed the dogs of war. For example, on March 6, 2009, the Guardian reported:

Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, has good reason to be pleased. Barely a day goes by without a western politician or envoy knocking on his palace door. Europeans, led by the hyperactive Nicolas Sarkozy, have been doing it for months. News that two high-level representatives of the Obama administration are heading for Damascus means that Assad’s visitors are getting steadily more important.

Hillary Clinton’s announcement of the impending arrival of officials from the state department and national security council (message: they’re on the same side under this president) was the moment the Syrians have been waiting for – more than the secretary of state’s carefully choreographed public handshake with the influential foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, at the Gaza donors conference in Egypt this week.

In terms of  N+1 being unable to find any liberal or left-wing writer who thinks of Assad as “genial”, maybe it is better to analogize the Syrian civil war with the 2016 American elections, one in which the choice is between a “lesser evil” and the dreaded alternative. It is doubtful that anybody on the left, at least that part of it occupied by N+1 and Jacobin is concerned, would consider Hillary Clinton as the second coming of FDR as Obama was mistakenly heralded in 2008 but she is accepted as the lesser evil to Donald Trump unless you are like some CounterPunch contributors such as Andre Vltchek or Paul Craig Roberts.

Essentially, this is how Assad is regarded, as a lesser evil to the Syrian rebels who are reduced to a homogenous glob of Sharia-law supporting head choppers. If Stephen Kinzer would likely never apply the adjective “genial” to Assad, he is still capable of writing articles with the title “On Syria, Thank You Russia” on February 12, 2016. Charles Glass has a particular skill at articulating the lesser evil perspective and even verges on accepting Assad as the greater good in the NY Review of Books, a journal that caters to elite liberal opinion:

The only forces fighting with success against the Assad regime are Sunni Muslim holy warriors who are destroying all that was best in Syria: its mosaic of different sects and ethnic communities—including Christians, Druze, Turkmen, Yazidis, and Kurds, along with Alawites and Sunni Arabs—its heritage of ancient monuments, its ancient manuscripts and Sumerian tablets, its industrial and social infrastructure, and its tolerance of different social customs. “The worst thing is not the violence,” the Armenian Orthodox primate of Syria, Bishop Armash Nalbandian, told me. “It is this new hatred.”

You get the same sort of thing from Jeffrey Sachs and David Bromwich but there’s no point in citing them since I don’t want to induce the same sort of fatigue that I experience writing about Syria.

The N+1 editors feel that I am subjecting them to some sort of ritual in which they are required to denounce Assad, like a “moment of hate” scene from Orwell’s “1984”. If they got that impression, I must apologize since that was not my intention. I only wanted to take exception to their notion that Turkey and Saudi Arabia were backing al-Nusra and ISIS.

I don’t want to waste any bandwidth in exploring this topic at any length and would simply refer you once again to Sam Charles Hamad’s article that I cited in my blog article and repeat what I wrote:

I recommend two new books on Syria that will clarify the role of such jihadist groups in Syria. One is titled “Burning Country” co-authored by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. The other is “Khiyana”, a collection of articles including one by me but the more relevant one is titled “The Rise of Daesh”, written by Sam Charles Hamad. His research is thoroughgoing and essential for getting past the stereotypes of Saudi Arabia being Dr. Frankenstein to the monster of ISIS:

One of the forces that received generous Saudi funding was the secular nationalist FSA-affiliate Liwa Shuhada Suriya (Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade) led by Jamal Maarouf. Far from Saudi’s funding Daesh when the FSA and Qatar and the Turkish funded Islamic Front launched an offensive against Daesh it was led by a FSA coalition called the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front led by Jamal Maarouf. The weapons they used against Daesh on the frontlines were paid for by Saudi Arabia.

The only hard line Salafist group that Saudi has funded is Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam) which was a merger of several different Salafi forces initiated by Saudi’s to attempt to deflect both Syrian and foreign Salafi recruits away from the growing threat of Jabhat an-Nusra (which at that time was still what Daesh called itself in Syria before its split). The reason for this was that Jabhat al-Nusra, as with all al-Qaeda ‘franchises’, espouses a virulent and violent anti-Saudi theology and politics.

By snipping this material, N+1 lets itself off the hook with a breezy reassurance that “That the US has bombed al Nusra Front groups in Syria on occasion does not mean the US hasn’t also supported al Nusra on occasion.” Whatever. Just tell that to the people of East Aleppo who are now being bombed by F-16s according to some reports because they are harboring the rebranded al-Nusra in the same way that Israeli F-16s bombed Gaza’s schools because they were a haven for Hamas.

Finally, let me turn to the question of the Democratic Party. I have no idea who wrote the reply to my letter but there is a good chance that it was co-editor Nikil Saval, who wrote a book titled “Office Space: The Cubicle Dweller’s History of the American Workplace”.

It seems that Saval was a big-time Sanderista, reporting on his volunteer work for the campaign in the same issue where my letter appeared. Dated April 5th, it is a 7000 word (!) journal titled “Canvassing” about his experiences going door-to-door for Sanders in Philadelphia, where he makes his home.

Saval writes that Sanders is “the first candidate in two generations who is not a neoliberal, the first in decades to call himself a socialist, running as a Democrat but, bless him, not one”. In fact, Sanders registered as a Democrat in 2015 but why quibble. With respect to him calling himself a socialist, so did François Hollande who runs France in the same way that Hillary Clinton will run the USA. It was pretty much precluded that Sanders would ever get the opportunity Hollande got to impose a neoliberal agenda but at least he has the distinction of endorsing Clinton’s right to do so. Everybody knows that allowing Goldman Sachs to have its way beats the gas chambers Donald Trump has in store for Marxist intellectual careerists.

Saval also admits to canvassing for Obama but can’t remember what he said in his favor. Hmm. Repressed memories?

Saval seems to have a thing about the appearance of the people he is canvassing. Is that why he was so insistent on clearing the air on the Vogue article? I hope not. He refers to an elderly woman sucking “from a limp cigarette”, her “open mouth revealing a stretch of missing teeth.” He also meets a “75-year-old toothless Italian American with a buzz cut.” Jeez, I am glad I got a dental implant before going out to Brooklyn for an N+1 cocktail party. The buzz cut, however, I’ll stick with.

After putting up with some frustrating experiences, Saval hits pay dirt:

A 75-year-old white woman who arrives at the door with her two East Asian grandchildren, whom she asks to let me know who she voted for. “BERNIE SANDERS!” they cry in unison, and mawkishly enough I choke back tears. I suddenly feel as if an era of my life were passing. I leave half my packet unfinished and head back to the house.

Well, not being in a position to know the publication schedule of N+1, I wonder if Saval would be as thrilled today as he was when he wrote this article. The Sanderistas gave their hero a hard time at the Democratic Party convention last month for kowtowing to the Clinton campaign. I won’t begrudge Saval for sticking with the Sanders “political revolution” to the bitter end. If it brought him tears of joy, god bless him. It is hard enough being a revolutionary socialist so I can empathize with someone seeking change through the Democratic Party, a fool’s errand if there ever was one.

August 10, 2016

Jill Stein, the South Front and the lesser evil

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:58 pm

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 10.42.39 AM

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 10.44.32 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 7, 2016

The Battle of Aleppo

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:29 pm

In my review of Gilbert Achcar’s “Morbid States”, I referred to the imminent fall of East Aleppo—an event that would likely mean that the war would end on terms favorable to the Baathist dictatorship. Just three days after posting the article, I was quite surprised and elated to discover that the battle had turned against the Baathists. In a surprise attack on the Ramosa military base, an alliance of rebel groups gained control of its weaponry and opened up a corridor that will allow food and medical supplies to be shipped in to the besieged slums.

Essentially Assad and Putin were carrying out the same strategy that was used in 1999 against the people of Grozny in Chechnya, almost to the last detail. Putin had leaflets dropped on the city announcing a safe corridor for civilians just as was the case in East Aleppo. And as they began leaving in trucks, the Russian air force bombed them. That is probably one of the reasons the people in East Aleppo decided to take their chances on staying put.

And those that stayed put had to face the same kind of criminal attacks that the Chechens faced in 1999:

At least 10 explosions devastated a downtown market and maternity hospital in Grozny, Chechnya, on Thursday evening, according to accounts from the breakaway Russian republic.

The explosions reportedly killed scores of people and injured hundreds more in a scene of panic and horror. Chechen officials told The Associated Press that at least 118 people died and more than 400 were injured, although the number could not be confirmed.

Ultimately, the Chechens could not withstand such attacks and a puppet government was installed that rules in mafia style to this day.

Aleppo has been a microcosm of the war in Syria with seemingly unresolvable contradictions. In 2012, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, the legendary communist opponent of Baathist misrule who was imprisoned for 16 years for the crime of writing critiques of the regime, touched upon some of these contradictions in an article titled “Aleppo: a tale of three cities”.

The first two Aleppos were in the regime controlled western part of the city and the third was in the east that has proven indomitable up to this point, about which Saleh noted:

The third Aleppo, the one now in open revolt, started from the rural parts and from the most marginalized slums: Salahuddin, Alsakhur, Alklaseh, Bab Alhadid, Al Shaar, Al Zabadieh…. As if these neighborhoods had retained their spirit and personality while the major districts had become devoid of them, with the state having sizable presence, capital and domesticated religiosity.

When it comes to the spirit and personality of a city, the regime exhausts itself trying to eliminate them and pursue their ghosts. When it feels endangered, it kills. It has already killed Homs, Deir ez-Zor, and nothing will deter it from killing Aleppo if it could. If left alive, this wild monster will kill all of Syria.

I remember when the better-off parts of Aleppo were reported to be disturbed by what they saw as revolutionary invaders from the “rural parts”. Edward Dark, who washed his hands of the revolution when it proved too crude and unruly, could barely contain his disgust with the riffraff. In a 2013 article titled “How We Lost the Syrian Revolution”, he accused them of betraying the original goals of the revolution:

They were the underprivileged rural class who took up arms and stormed the city, and they were out for revenge against the perceived injustices of years past. Their motivation wasn’t like ours, it was not to seek freedom, democracy or justice for the entire nation, it was simply unbridled hatred and vengeance for themselves.

Extremist and sectarian in nature, they made no secret that they thought us city folk in Aleppo, all of us, regime stooges and sympathizers, and that our lives and property were forfeit as far as they were concerned.

Using a pseudonym, a young educated Aleppoite who left Syria, echoed Dark’s complaints in a Vanity Fair article from July 2015 :

But most of Aleppo regarded the Arab Spring with indifference. When the revolution broke out in earnest later that year, much of the city distanced itself from the turbulence. Demonstrations remained confined mostly to slums like Al-Saladin, Bustan Al-Qasr, and Al-Marijah. Protests were brief, with demonstrators chanting before running from the security forces.

In Aleppo, the revolution gives the impression that it is a revolt of the poor. When rebel groups from the northern countryside pushed towards the city, these slums were the first that welcomed them, unlike the richer neighborhoods, which, instead, remained in the hands of the regime.

Despite this, the author captures the spirit of solidarity that exists in the slums:

The Syrian air force has a habit of following their first barrel bomb with a second. People say this is to kill first responders. (The government still denies that it uses barrel bombs.)

Despite this, the crowd did not run away. They dug in the rubble with their bare hands—old men, Civil Defense volunteers, and militants alike—all except the media activists shooting video. When they found a victim, they gathered to help snatch them out, screaming “Allahu Akbar” as they did. Once they laid the victim in an ambulance, they began to dig again.

“If you see a body lying down, are you going to hesitate? Even when you know that if you stop to move it away, the sniper is going to make them two?,” a shopkeeper in the Al-Qasr neighborhood once asked me. “No! Your conscience wouldn’t let you walk away.”

Steps away from the scene, neighbors thanked God for safety.

In the best of all possible worlds, Bashar al-Assad might have been less savage and less determined to turn the country into a sectarian battleground. He would have actually protected his own class interests by stepping down and allowing some rich Sunni to take his place in the same way that the English-speaking ruling class of South Africa persuaded or coerced the Afrikaners to allow Nelson Mandela to become president.

This would have allowed the democratic opposition to organize itself into an effective movement capable of convincing people like the better-off Aleppoites to make common cause with the rural poor. Clearly, the university students were in the vanguard of the protests and most educated and professional Syrians would have preferred to live in a country where you didn’t have to worry if a loved one was going to be tortured or killed just for demanding change.

But Assad was a master strategist understood in narrow terms. He polarized the country along Sunni and non-Sunni lines and militarized the conflict so that those that had access to money and arms could dominate the opposition. If you had co-thinkers in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, you could rely on them for support even if they had no interest whatsoever in democracy or socialism—god forbid.

The net effect of all this was to give added weight to Islamist militias in East Aleppo, including al-Nusra that was critical to the breaking of the siege. It was their suicide bombers that were critical in storming the Ramosa military base. Speaking of al-Nusra suicide bombing, it is worth mentioning that it bears little resemblance to ISIS terrorism. The targets are always military as a search in Google would reveal:

Aleppo: Jabhat Al-Nusra Suicide Bombing Leads to Fierce Clashes in the North (March 2015)

A Turkish suicide bomber from the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” attempted to drive his vehicle into a National Defense Forces barricade at the village of Deir Zeitoun in northern Aleppo; however, the vehicle was allegedly destroyed before it could reach its destination, according to a military source.

The suicide bomber was identified by Jabhat Al-Nusra social media pages as “’Usama Al-Turki” – a Turkish “Mujahid” carrying out his “martyrdom” operation for the militant group’s offensive that directly followed his death on Monday night.

Syria’s Nusra Front stages deadly suicide bombing in Aleppo (July 2015)

A suicide bomber from Syria’s al Qaeda offshoot the Nusra Front blew himself up in a Syrian army outpost in a contested neighborhood in the divided northern city of Aleppo and killed at least 25 soldiers and allied militia and injured scores, a monitor said.

For the past year or so, there has been a rapprochement between the USA and Russia over the need to prioritize attacks on ISIS in Syria even to the point of the Pentagon having demanded that rebels sign a contract agreeing that any arms they receive will only be used against ISIS and not the Baathist military.

Over the past few months, Russia has escalated its demands. It insists that the rebels separate themselves physically from al-Nusra so that its bombers can destroy the group and presumably any civilian that backs it. In other words, Grozny deux. Consider what this would have meant for East Aleppo. To start with, if it was risky for civilians to exit the slums, what would have happened to anybody considered a fighter? Which for all practical purposes would have meant men between the ages of 16 and 60. And those that remained behind? If you consider what has happened in Aleppo over the past 5 years, the results would have been horrific.

It is difficult to predict what will happen next in Syria. Without a doubt, al-Nusra and probably most of the militias that defended East Aleppo over the past five years would seek to impose their vision of an Islamic society. But  we can all agree that it would be a step forward if it allowed the population relief from barrel bombs, Russian missiles and the various militias intent on killing anybody who dares to oppose Bashar al-Assad. Well, maybe not Patrick Cockburn or Seymour Hersh who must be wearing sackcloth and ashes since the recent turn of events.

When asked for what he saw as a solution to the Syrian misery, Yassin al-Haj Saleh offered the following. Needless to say, a precondition for it taking place is an end to the war and the sectarian impasse that the demon of Damascus created:

One could think of a historical compromise that ends the war, guarantees full withdrawal of foreign forces, and is the basis of a wholly different political landscape in the country. A sustainable solution can only be built on a new political majority. This cannot be achieved through facing Da’esh alone or the regime alone. A new Syrian majority requires a substantial political change that is impossible to envisage without putting a full-stop to the rule of the Assad dynasty that has been in power for 45 years, a dynasty responsible for two big wars in the country: 1979-1982 and 2011-…

This change is the political and ethical precondition for a war against Da’esh with the broad participation of Syrians. The global powers have so far been putting the cart before the horse by targeting Da’esh only, ignoring the root cause of the militarisation, radicalisation, and sectarianisation that has occurred over the past five years, namely the Assad regime. This is a short-sighted and failing policy, not to mention unethical. It is a prescription for an endless war.

The new Syria could be built on a number of essential principles: decentralisation; thinking of different ethnic, religious and confessional communities as equal constituent communities; full equality among individual citizens (Arabs, Kurds and others; Muslims, Christians and others; Sunnis, Alawites and others; religious, secular and others). It is not acceptable to talk about Syria as a secular state, as the Vienna document of 30 October 2015 states, when the same document says nothing about justice and accountability, and avoids the word democracy. Lecturing about secularism reminds one of the worst traits of the colonial discourse.

What a terrible shame that so many on the left, including Jill Stein I am sad to admit, were indoctrinated by the writings of Patrick Cockburn and Seymour Hersh, et al without ever having the opportunity or the desire to track down the writings of a Syrian revolutionary anti-capitalist.

August 5, 2016

Should Syria be a litmus test for the left in the 2016 elections?

Filed under: Green Party,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:23 pm

At the risk of alienating people who I have strong affinities with, it is necessary for me to explain why I support Jill Stein even though her VP candidate Ajamu Baraka is someone I have described as a “pro-Baathist hack”. I can honestly say that if Baraka had been the presidential candidate, I probably would have endorsed another left candidate even though my support for the Greens over the long haul would have persisted. As I have made clear for the past two decades or so, there is an urgent need for the American left to form a party to the left of the Democrats. This party might not be the one that leads a socialist revolution but as Trotskyist James P. Cannon once put it, the art of politics is knowing what to do next.

In fact, if in the unlikely event that Bernie Sanders had declared that he was launching such a party, I would have switched my allegiance to it for the simple reason that quantity turns into quality as Plekhanov would have put it. With the millions of dollars and tens of thousands of passionate supporters he could count on, Sanders would have raised the ante considerably in the long and arduous fight against the two-party system.

As it happens, the same complaints about Stein were made against Sanders by my comrades in the pro-Syrian revolution camp, which is to be expected if Syria is a litmus test. I have my own litmus test obviously, which is the need to oppose the Democrats on a principled basis in the same way that the Bolsheviks opposed the Cadets, the Russian version of the Democratic Party.

For example, Jett Goldsmith, who works with Elliot Higgins’s Bellingcat project, wrote an article for the Middle East Eye about Sanders’s failings on Syria:

The Syrian regime – which Sanders opposes intervening against – is so corporatist, corrupt, and non-democratic that its basic structure shatters Sanders’ entire “getting money out of big politics and restoring democracy” platform. The Assad regime was born and bred from the special interests-laden corruption of the Baath Party in post-Mandate Syria, and functions as a government that controls society through a patronage system paid for by the Assads’ inner circle, which Hafez worked for decades to foster, while suppressing civil society and essentially all political dissent.

Jett Goldsmith is entirely correct, of course, but the creation of a left party in the USA would have had been a major step forward in confronting capitalist rule. It might not be obvious at first blush but Sanders’s accommodation to Assad and his unwillingness to run as an independent go hand in hand. That is the consensus of the American ruling class that Sanders was willing to challenge but only up to a point. Liberal opinion in elite circles is consistent with Obama’s willingness to see the Syrian revolution be drowned in blood and Sanders is definitely at one with it.

You could have seen the same hostility to Jeremy Corbyn who had the crowning bad judgement to make Seumas Milne his press secretary. Seumas, like Baraka, is a pro-Assad propagandist of the worst kind as I pointed out in a September 2015 article where I took issue with his reliance on the Judicial Watch document that “proved” the USA backed the Islamic State—this despite the fact that the document warned that such an eventuality would be a disaster. What? You were expecting Milne to write truthfully?

James Bloodworth is an outspoken British opponent of the Baathist dictatorship who blasted Corbyn in a December 2015 article titled “The bizarre world of Jeremy Corbyn and Stop the War”. As much as I sympathize with any article that details the sordid record of the STWC on Syria, I have to part ways with Bloodworth on the broader questions of capitalist politics. He has a neo-Eustonian outlook that shares Tony Blair’s opposition to Corbyn, even to the point of condemning STWC for showing solidarity with the Sunni resistance to the American occupation of Iraq in the early 2000s. Given the inconsistencies of the “anti-imperialist” left, it makes perfect sense that John Rees and company would now adopt a kind of inverse Eustonian outlook with respect to Syria since Russian imperialism is kosher in their calculations. I know, I know. It is difficult to keep track of such gyrations.

Returning to the Jill Stein campaign, there are a number of things worth pointing out.

To start with, as I have pointed out before, a search in Nexis for “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “Syria” returns zero articles while for “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “fracking” returns 18 and “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “global warming” returns 21. So this will give you an idea of where her priorities are.

I hate to say it but when I see my Syrian solidarity comrades looking for incriminating quotes from her on Syria, I can’t help but be reminded of the “anti-science” critiques. My general impression is that her opinions on Syria are about the same as Bernie Sanders and hardly ones that she would emphasize in her public talks.

If you go to her official website and look at her platform, there is not a single word about Syria. I should add that the website does not have anything about Ajamu Baraka, which might be a function of it not having been updated yet or—as I suspect—the secondary character of all vice presidential candidates.

Essentially the only way to understand Green Party problems with Syria (and there are some as this misinformed article would indicate) is to see it in context. The likelihood of Jill Stein or any other leading Green adopting positions on Syria that resemble my own or my comrades is almost zero. People don’t evolve political positions in a vacuum. They tend to rely on the word of the leftist universe in which they dwell. If you get your ideas from The Nation, Salon, CounterPunch, ZNet, Truthout, Consortium News, the LRB, Mondoweiss, CommonDreams, Alternet et al, you will simply find very few articles defending the Syrian rebels. You need to consult websites that are generally not on the radar screen of a Jill Stein such as Pulse Media, magazines like New Politics or books such as “Burning Country” or “Khiyana”. Studies in the sociology of knowledge would probably explain how certain ideas remain beyond the pale but I suspect that to a large extent it can be explained by Islamophobia. With literally thousands of articles describing Syrian rebels as either al-Qaeda or collaborating with its fighters, you end up going along with the crowd. It is also a major problem with some truly retrograde characters taking up the cause of the Syrian rebels, starting with Hillary Clinton who some Syrian solidarity activists regretfully urge a vote for.

There are historical precedents for the tendency of good people (the best actually given the horrors of the Baathist tyranny) to make Syria a litmus test. In 1948 Henry Wallace, a member of FDR’s cabinet, broke with the Democrats and ran as a candidate of the Progressive Party. In my view, this third party bid was the most significant of 20th century history as I tried to point out in an article on the Ralph Nader campaign in 2000.

The Wallace campaign has served as a whipping boy for dogmatic Marxist electoral theorizing, much of which I took seriously when I was in the Trotskyist movement. It was supposed to prove what a dead end middle class electoral politics was, in contrast to the insurmountable power and logic of a Labor Party. Unfortunately, the Labor Party existed only in the realm of propaganda while the Wallace campaign, with all its flaws, existed in the realm of reality.

While most people are aware of Wallace’s resistance to the Cold War and to some of the more egregious anti-union policies of the Democrats and Republicans, it is important to stress the degree to which his campaign embraced the nascent civil rights movement.

 Early in the campaign Wallace went on a tour of the south. True to his party’s principles, he announced in advance that he would neither address segregated audiences nor stay in segregated hotels. This was virtually an unprecedented measure to be taken at the time by a major politician. Wallace paid for it dearly. In a generally hostile study of Henry Wallace, the authors begrudgingly pay their respects to the courage and militancy of the candidate:

 The southern tour had begun peacefully enough in Virginia, despite the existence in that state of a law banning racially mixed public assemblies. In Norfolk, Suffolk, and Richmond, Wallace spoke to unsegregated and largely receptive audiences. But when the party went on into supposedly more liberal North Carolina, where there was no law against unsegregated meetings, the violence started. A near riot preceded his first address, and a supporter, James D. Harris of Charlotte, was stabbed twice in the arm and six times in the back. The next day there was no bloodshed, but Wallace was subjected to a barrage of eggs and fruit, and the crowd of about five hundred got so completely out of control that he had to abandon his speech. At Hickory, North Carolina, the barrage of eggs and tomatoes and the shouting were so furious that Wallace was prevented from speaking, but he tried to deliver a parting thrust over the public address system: ‘As Jesus Christ told his disciples, when you enter a town that will not hear you willingly, then shake the dust of that town from your feet and go elsewhere.’ If they closed their minds against his message, he would, like Jesus Christ, abandon them to their iniquity.  (Henry A. Wallace: His Search for a New World Order, Graham White and John Maze)

When I wrote this, I wasn’t thinking much about anti-Stalinist opposition to Henry Wallace but it was not just about rejecting the “bourgeois” character of the Progressive Party along the lines of the World Socialist Website’s vituperative attacks on the Green Party. It was more than that. You have to keep in mind that Henry Wallace’s campaign was influenced to a large extent by the CPUSA’s leading role as well as Wallace’s friendliness to the Kremlin that was a legacy of FDR’s New Deal. By 1948, many people on the left had woken up to the depravities of Stalinism even if not to the extent of the post-Khrushchev revelations. But as is the case today, the consensus was that the USSR was a “socialist country” even if it was authoritarian—in other words given the same kind of leeway as Gaddafi’s Libya or Assad’s Syria.

And Henry Wallace was exactly the kind of person who bought into these lies as indicated in a New Yorker article titled “Uncommon Man” dated October 14, 2013.

Wallace was hardly the only politician of the period to form an unduly rosy picture of Stalin’s regime, but he went further than most. In May, 1944, he embarked on a good-will mission to Soviet Asia and China, and during a tour of Siberia he fell for an elaborate Potemkin-village presentation. In his 1946 travelogue, “Soviet Asia Mission,” he wrote admiringly of Red Army choruses, needlepoint artwork, and enlightened farming methods. “The larch were just putting out their first leaves, and Nikishov gamboled about, enjoying the wonderful air immensely,” Wallace wrote. He was referring to General Ivan Nikishov, the master of the Kolyma Gulag system. In China, Wallace showed himself more alert to the shortcomings of Chiang Kai-shek. (He did not favor the Communists, though, as he was later accused of doing.) A diplomatic amateur, he was too easily impressed by whichever host responded to his interests or appreciated his gifts, which included a shipment of fifty baby chicks and a glow-in-the-dark portrait of Stalin executed in radioactive paint.

If I had been around in 1948, I would have urged the left to back Henry Wallace despite all this. Whatever flaws he exhibited on Stalin, there was an urgent need back then to create a party to the left of the Democrats that was in favor of civil rights, the CIO, and against the looming Cold War and witch-hunt. When such a party came into existence, there would be other fights necessary to make it an instrument of the rank-and-file rather than the Stalinist hacks but it had to be born first. Instead it was strangled in the cradle just as the Clintonites are trying to do to the Green Party. Make no mistake about it. The fight to defend Jill Stein as a legitimate candidate of the left is necessary, warts and all.

 

 

August 3, 2016

Morbid Symptoms

Filed under: Egypt,political Islam,Syria — louisproyect @ 3:25 pm

Gilbert Achcar’s aptly titled Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising arrives at the very moment when Bashar al-Assad’s military and his assorted foreign legions are on the brink of final victory over the rebels according to some analysts. As the killing machine advances on East Aleppo in order to impose a siege that will likely cost the lives of thousands of civilians through a combination of bombing and starvation, it is a supreme irony that al-Assad will be following essentially the same strategy that Adolf Hitler used against Leningrad in WWII but with Putin’s air force standing in for the Luftwaffe.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International reported that Egypt’s National Security Agency (NSA) is abducting, torturing and assassinating activists in unprecedented numbers in order to intimidate the entire population into accepting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s neoliberal regime. While the title of Achcar’s book is a reference to such reversals in Syria and Egypt, it also might remind one of the ideological morass of large sections of the left that cannot make the connection between al-Assad and al-Sisi. Al-Assad manages to enjoy the support of a wide spectrum of leftist intellectuals and journalists even if it is accompanied by the disclaimer that he is not very nice. Meanwhile al-Sisi is universally condemned. Morbid indeed.

But if you put aside geopolitical bias, you cannot help but recognize the similarities between the two despots since they both claim to be defending secularism and democracy against Islamists. With the Muslim Brotherhood serving as al-Sisi’s bogeyman and a wide variety of Islamist militias in Syria functioning as al-Assad’s scapegoat, one might expect both dictators to be equally blessed by the pro-Baathist left. What prevents al-Sisi from getting such support is that he never was an ally of the Kremlin either during the Cold War or afterwards.

It is the singular merit of Gilbert Achcar’s scholarship to transcend Cold War mythologies and to examine class relations in Middle East and North African society to arrive at an assessment of the current conjuncture. He rejects the Scylla of “secular” dictators on one hand and the Charybdis of Islamists on the other, urging the left to adopt a principled, class-based orientation that while difficult to maintain in a hostile political environment remains necessary.

Morbid Symptoms is divided into three parts. A chapter on Syria is titled The Clash of Barbarisms, which despite evoking Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and Tariq Ali’s The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity, is distinctly Achcarian and solidly within the Marxist tradition. Unlike Huntington and Ali, who follow geopolitical compasses of either the right or the left, the unit of analysis for Achcar is class, not the nation-state. If there is anything that has disoriented the left ever since the spring of 2011, it the failure to think in class terms.

The chapter titled The “23 July” of Abdul al-Sisi examines Egyptian politics in the aftermath of General al-Sisi’s coup within the framework of the Egyptian left’s failure to develop an independent class orientation against two equally reactionary forces. The political lessons to be drawn from this debacle are not only necessary for moving forward in Egypt but for an entire region that is now polarized between Islamists on one side and self-appointed military saviors on the other.

The conclusion, subtitled “Arab Winter” and Hope, is a brief survey of developments in Libya, Tunisia and Yemen that despite its brevity is essential for understanding the region’s difficulties and possibilities.

Despite the “anti-intervention” posturing of the pro-Baathist left, the most significant imperialist intervention in Syria was to block the shipment of MANPAD’s to the Syrian rebels from non-USA sources. The net result of this imperialist intervention has been to foster a devastating asymmetric warfare. With regime jets and helicopters, augmented eventually by Russia air power, al-Assad has levelled entire urban centers such as East Aleppo and Homs. Homes have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands killed, and survivors forced to seek refuge in Europe even if it meant taking perilous voyages across the Mediterranean to destinations where nativism reigned supreme.

Despite the reputation that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have as fierce enemies of the Baathist regime, they cooperated with the USA to keep MANPAD’s out of the hands of the rebels. Achcar cites an October 17, 2012 Wall Street Journal article that details the efforts of a task force consisting of these supposedly “regime change” states working with the CIA to block MANPAD’s from reaching Aleppo even though the rebels “pleaded” for an effective defense against aerial bombardment. Some on the left might argue that such weapons can fall into the hands of al-Qaeda or ISIS and thus lead to the downing of civilian aircraft. Achcar answers these concerns by referring to an article by military affairs analyst Anthony Cordesman that reveals how they can be modified to be disabled if they fall into the wrong hands just as easily as a stolen laptop.

The principal motivation for keeping the rebels on the losing end was political. The Obama administration had little interest in seeing the plebian rank and file of the armed opposition taking power in Syria. Since the Rand Corporation is a think tank launched by the Douglas Aircraft Company to provide analysis to the Pentagon, you’d think that they would be an accurate barometer of elite opinion. As such, the findings of a workshop they convened in 2014 should be given due weight:

Key Findings

Workshop participants felt that prolonged conflict was the best descriptor for the situation in Syria as of December 2013, but momentum seemed to be leaning toward regime victory.

Negotiated settlement was deemed the least likely of the possible scenarios.

Regime collapse, while not considered a likely outcome, was perceived to be the worst possible outcome for U.S. strategic interests [emphasis added].

Was the CIA’s decision to block the shipment of MANPAD’s consistent with the strategic planning at one of the Pentagon’s primary R&D resources? It would appear to be so.

If the Free Syrian Army had been able to secure the weapons it needed to neutralize the Syrian air force, it is likely that the war would have come to an end long ago. Syria would have been forced to tackle a new set of problems but at least the wholesale murder of civilians in working-class neighborhoods would have come to an end.

Instead the war dragged on and Islamic rivals to the FSA were able to usurp the leading military role largely because of their ready access to money and weapons from likeminded benefactors in the region. There was an inherent contradiction between the aspirations of the Syrian masses and the conditions brought on by militarization. Warfare is a costly business and the deep pockets of states like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey could be helpful in material terms but only with strings attached, namely adherence to a political program that was inimical to the goals of the Arab Spring. Turkey was determined to be rid of al-Assad but only as part of a broader campaign to deny the Kurds the right of self-determination. After the birth of grass roots democracy, the Turkish government felt threatened by it in the same way that al-Assad feared the democratically-minded opposition based in civil society. Basically, Erdogan and al-Assad had common class interests despite their geopolitical rivalries. Indeed, recent news that Turkey was ready to realign its relationship to Syria indicates that class trumps religion as the support of the Sunni bourgeoisie for al-Assad should have indicated all along.

Gilbert Achcar’s prognosis is guarded at best. After five years of brutal warfare and the emergence of Islamist militias with no interest in the democratic aspirations of the masses who poured into the streets of Homs, Aleppo and smaller towns in the impoverished rural areas five years ago, the temporary solution is to stop the bloodshed and allow civil society to reemerge:

In order for any progressive potential to materialise in an organised political form among the Syrian people at large, the precondition at this stage is for the war to stop. In that regard and given the abysmal situation that has arisen in Syria after four years of war, the appalling level of killing and destruction, and the immense human tragedy represented by the refugees and displaced persons (about one half of Syria’s population), one can only wish for the success of the international efforts presently being deployed to reach a compromise between the Syrian regime and the mainstream opposition.

In the immediate aftermath of the al-Sisi coup in Egypt, there were bitter recriminations over the role of the left with some making analogies between the ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi and Alexander Kerensky. For example, John Rees wrote:

But when the threat of Kerensky being overthrown by a counter-revolutionary coup led by General Kornilov became real, the Bolsheviks defended Kerensky’s government from the threat from the right. Trotsky helped organise the defence of Kerensky from the prison cell in which the very same Kerensky had put him.

Considering John Rees’s regrettable tendency to demonize Syrian rebels as threats to secularism and democracy, one might accuse him of using a double standard. Perhaps if al-Sisi had a background as an “anti-imperialist” in the Gaddafi and al-Assad mold, there would have been greater readiness to back the coup. That being said, it is entirely conceivable that before very long, he will be seen as part of the anti-imperialist camp given the reports from as early as mid-2015 that Egypt and Russia would be strengthening their ties through the creation of a free trade zone and Egypt becoming part of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Kremlin’s competition to the EU.

In my view, the Kerensky analogy has limited value. The Russian Social Democracy always considered the Social Revolutionary Party as part of the democratic revolution against Czarism even though it vacillated toward the Cadets. Lenin thought that a vote for SR’s was tactically permissible but never for the Cadets. In 1909 he wrote an article titled “How the Socialist-Revolutionaries Sum Up the Revolution and How the Revolution has Summed Them Up” that defended the Bolsheviks against Menshevik charges that they were adapting to the SR’s:

Now that is where your mistake begins, we say to the Mensheviks. True, the Socialist-Revolutionary doctrine is pernicious, fallacious, reactionary, adventurist and petty-bourgeois. But these vices do not prevent this quasi-socialist doctrine from being the ideological vestments of a really revolutionary—and not compromising—bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in Russia.

Based on this criterion, the Muslim Brotherhood could hardly be put in the same category as the SR’s. Their commitment to democracy was always on a tactical basis, namely whether it could advance their own goal of creating an Islamic state. That being said, the best approach to Egyptian politics is not through the prism of Russian history but class relations within the most populous Arab nation that has historically played a key role in setting a pattern for other nations. To understand what political options the left was forced to make three years ago requires an analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood itself. For this, citations from either Lenin or Trotsky have limited value except as a reminder that the SR’s emerged out of the Russian revolutionary experience. After all, Lenin’s brother was a Narodnik.

To understand what al-Sisi stood for, it is better to look at Egyptian history and particularly the Nasserist model that figured heavily in the events of July 2013. He exploited the reputation of the nationalist leader to conceal an economic program that differed radically from Colonel Nasser’s nationalism, crowned by the bold seizure of the Suez Canal.

For many Egyptians, Nasser is the Father of the Country in the same way that George Washington and Mustafa Kemal were for the USA and Turkey. When Mohammed Morsi became president of Egypt in the summer of 2012, the liberal and left opposition were seduced by Nasserist rhetoric that camouflaged counter-revolutionary goals. Since the Morsi administration was accommodating itself to the military immediately after taking power, it was not difficult to understand why the left was unable to think outside the box. It might be likened ironically enough to Erdogan’s recent bid to refashion himself as a neo-Kemalist.

For its part, the USA was prepared to live with if not prosper by the rule of either Morsi or al-Sisi. Despite its willingness to take part in the mobilizations against Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood never sought the transformation of Egyptian society. Its model was Erdogan’s Turkey, a model whose viability was already eroding rapidly on the eve of Morsi’s taking power. If in Turkey, the model could be married to an expanding manufacturing sector led by a pious Anatolian bourgeoisie, what applicability would it have to Egypt, a country that was suffering from a deep economic crisis that had spread across the entire Middle East and North Africa and that was a key factor in the Arab Spring?

If the Morsi administration wanted to assure Washington that it was trustworthy, what would be more effective than continuing Egypt’s friendly relations with Israel? Citing the Arab-language press, Achcar, is able to provide the depth that non-Arab reading commentators cannot—not that this ever inhibited them from freely offering their opinion:

On 17 October, the new Egyptian ambassador to Israel handed then-Israeli president Shimon Peres a letter from Morsi in which the Egyptian president addressed his counterpart as “my great and dear friend”, expressed his “strong desire to develop the affectionate relations that fortunately bind our two countries”, and wished Israel “prosperity”.

Such moves earned Hillary Clinton’s praise, who stated: “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.” (Washington Post, November 21, 2012)

Confident that Washington had his back, Morsi issued a new constitutional decree one day later that gave him unprecedented power. If he saw himself as following in the footsteps of Erdogan, he neglected to polish the shrewd tactical skills of the Turkish authoritarian.

From that point on, the opposition would congeal around a program that while opposing authoritarianism was all too ready to cede power to al-Sisi. In a way, it was presenting the Egyptian people with the same kind of Scylla and Charybdis choice as offered to Syrians: authoritarianism either in a beard or in a necktie (or strictly speaking, a uniform).

In class terms, the Morsi government had the same disregard for working class rights as the AKP. Workers had their own class interests that would not be mollified by parliamentary democracy. They clashed with the government repeatedly in 2013, emboldened by the spirit of defiance that had arisen ever since the occupation of Tahrir Square. That year there were nearly as many working class protests as in the decade that concluded in 2010. This was something the Muslim Brotherhood would not tolerate. In April 2013, the army was used to suppress a strike of 70,000 railroad workers—evidence that the military and the Islamists shared class interests.

Unfortunately, the workers’ movement lacked the power to determine the outcome of the conflict between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. That task fell on the shoulders of the Tamarrod Movement (the Arabic word for rebellion) that cobbled together the pro-democracy sentiments of Tahrir Square with Nasserism. The young people who rallied in Tahrir Square mistook the military’s decision to remove Mubarak from office. This was not a sign that it was on the side of the people, only that it sought to defuse a highly volatile situation that could have gone much further if the working class’s big battalions became a factor. It is a symptom of the calcification of Syrian politics that such a maneuver was rejected by the Baathists in favor of a genocidal war that has ruined the country economically and socially. Assadism without Assad was never a viable option.

As opposed to John Rees, his former comrades from the SWP-led international movement aligned itself with Tamarrod. The Revolutionary Socialists party in Egypt saw this as an opportunity to push for a radical program within the context of a mass movement whose goals were a mixture of progressive and reactionary elements.

Showing his ability to distinguish between Islamist opportunism and genuine solidarity, Achcar refuses to grant any legitimacy to the Muslim Brotherhood based on its orientation to Syria:

Most importantly, the very backbone of the old regime, the army, played a pivotal role in the success of the gigantic anti-Morsi mobilisation on 30 June 2013. The closer the deadline of Tamarrod’s petition campaign approached, the more open the military’s support for the mobilisation became. One week prior to the long-planned climax, Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi proclaimed loudly and clearly that the military would protect the nationwide demonstrations and rallies — this a few days after the Muslim Brotherhood, on 15 June, had ominously flexed its muscles by staging a massive rally in Cairo in solidarity with the Syrian uprising, on an openly Sunni-sectarian and jihadist platform. Morsi addressed the rally in person, announcing the severance of diplomatic ties with Damascus and calling for a no-fly zone over Syria.

In summarizing the Scylla and Charybdis choices that faces the people of the Middle East and North Africa, Gilbert Achcar urges us—like Odysseus—to steer clear of movements even if we can seek tactical alliances as the need arises:

It can on occasion and for purely tactical reasons strike together with “unlikely bedfellows” — whether with Islamic forces against old-regime forces, or vice-versa — but it should always be marching separately, clearing its own fundamental path at equal distance from the two reactionary camps. Tactical short-term alliances can be concluded with the devil if need be; but the devil should never be portrayed as an angel on such occasions — such as by calling the Muslim Brotherhood “reformist” or the old regime forces “secular”, thus trying to prettify their deeply reactionary nature.

While it is beyond the scope of Gilbert Achcar’s book, and in many ways beyond the scope of any living human being, there is an overarching question that this reviewer has been grappling with since the early 1980s when he witnessed the early stages of the implosion of the Socialist Workers Party, a group that Leon Trotsky held in the highest esteem. As might be obvious from Achcar’s words cited above, the idea of “marching separately” and implicitly “striking together” are the hallmarks of the Trotskyist movement’s United Front strategy. Sharing the fate of the Communist and Maoist parties of the sixties and seventies, the Trotskyist movement is now significantly weaker.

There was a period when someone like Ernest Mandel could have spoken to large audiences in Syria or Lebanon and sowed the seeds of a revolutionary organization capable of carrying out the United Front alluded to above. In the absence of such a movement and even those with far more imperfect programs, a vacuum came into existence that the Islamists were all too eager to fill.

When the Arab Spring arose, the well-organized and well-funded groups like the Muslim Brotherhood were able to prevail over inexperienced youth whose understanding of class politics was underdeveloped. In other parts of the world, when mass movements lacked the experience and acumen to take a fight to its conclusion, there was always the possibility of recovery and preparation for a new round in the class struggle.

In Syria, Egypt and the other countries analyzed by Gilbert Achcar, the possibilities for renewed struggle on a higher level are much more constrained. The ferocity of the ruling classes, the absence of a powerful working class (except in Egypt), and the entrenchment of political Islam makes the left’s task more daunting. Perhaps the most important task in this period is to bring to bear the political clarity that can help a new generation of activists become grounded in Marxism. As such, a book like “Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising” will have the power of a well-aimed artillery shell.

July 24, 2016

William Blum channels Donald Trump

Filed under: Islamophobia,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:20 pm

William Blum

Exactly four years and one day ago, I wrote an article titled “Libya, Syria, and left Islamophobia” that called attention to leftist support for Gaddafi and Assad that despite its “anti-imperialist” posturing was more in line with the sort of thing that Christopher Hitchens was writing over a decade ago in support of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I cited Pepe Escobar as following in Hitchens’s footsteps. For him, there was no point in distinguishing the FSA from al-Qaeda as he writes in his patented and rather plastic journalistic style:

Destination of choice of the $1,500 Kalashnikov in 2012: Syria. Network: al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI. Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing last Friday in Aleppo.

Who would have thought that what the House of Saud wants in Syria – an Islamist regime – is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?

Nothing has changed since he wrote this crap. You make an amalgam between FSA and al-Qaeda and when ISIS comes along, you add them to the mix. So when Syrian and Russian bombers blow up entire neighborhoods, including their hospitals, you justify it in the name of “fighting terrorism” just as Hitchens did. You come to this position because it is the “axis of resistance” killing people rather than the USA. And when the USA joins in, your response is muted. Has anybody seen the ANSWER coalition organizing protests against American bombing in Iraq or Syria? I haven’t. In fact, when you go to their website you will see an article that warns about the possibility of American intervention against ISIS being a decoy maneuver that is intended to prepare the way for “regime change”. One imagines that if these assholes could be guaranteed that the USA would stick to killing ISIS and any civilian unfortunate enough to be within 5 miles of their fighters, they’d shrug their shoulders and say “go ahead”.

As inured as I have become to this kind of political decrepitude, it did not prepare me for the totally disgusting rant by Bill Blum that appeared on Information Clearing House five days ago. Titled “ISIS Has Nothing To Do With Islam?”, it starts off with a warning that “Warning! What follows is very politically incorrect.”

Since William Blum announced his support for Donald Trump on March 11, 2016, you can guess that his reference to being “politically incorrect” is in line with the oft-repeated mantra of the American Marine Le Pen. Blum has it in for the left because it is “politically correct”:

The left is the worst when it comes to political correctness. Here is the very progressive Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), criticizing the New York Times for labeling the mass-murder truck attack in Nice “terrorist” … “despite admitting that it had no knowledge of the presumed killer’s motives.”

This is a real knee-slapping joke considering the fact that FAIR has been part of the Baathist amen corner for the longest time, with staff member Adam Johnson writing some of the worst offal outside of ZNet, Salon or CounterPunch.

But as bad as Johnson is, he has never written anything like this:

Is Nice the last straw for you? The last victims before you call it by its proper name: radical Islamic terrorism? French Prime Minister Hollande was quick to point out that it was a “terrorist attack”, but not a radical Islamic attack. Oh? When the perpetrator is a Muslim named Mohamed, as in this case, and the victims are celebrating an iconic Western holiday, why the reluctance to use the latter term? President Obama’s preference is “violent extremists”.

The Islamic teachings I refer to are not necessarily explicitly mentioned in the Koran or any other sacred texts, nor have any connection to actual historical events of the 7th through the 21st centuries, but rather are an imbedded part of the atmosphere surrounding a young person growing up in a Muslim culture or environment. This atmosphere, this education, this culture must be severely curtailed. The West must oversee the classes in Islamic schools in France, the UK, the US, et al; and particularly Pakistan if feasible. Even if it means sending in spies to the classes, outfitted with recording devices. The teachers of these classes, if they have had any connection at all to anything smacking of radical Islam, should not be hired; if already hired, should be fired.

Let’s get straight to the point. These are the words of a bigot and someone who has about as much understanding of the roots of terrorism as the crew that beat the drum for George W. Bush in 2003.

Like the 9/11 attack, the spate of ISIS-directed or inspired terrorist attacks in Europe and the USA have derailed a wide section of the left. It is not understood as a departure from “radical” principles but upholding them in the name of secularism, diversity and Western Civilization.

The one thing that might be a saving grace is that Blum is writing this racist garbage on Information Clearing House, a website that is a cut below ZNet, Salon and CounterPunch, journals that (hopefully) will understand that Blum is now beyond the pale.

July 22, 2016

The beheading of a Palestinian child by Syrian rebels–none of it is true except the beheading

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:21 pm

Earlier this week the Baathist amen corner was all abuzz over the bestiality of a group called Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki that beheaded a 12-year-old Palestinian civilian named Abdullah al-Issa who was on his way to a hospital for treatment according to the Baathist media.

Moon of Alabama, a prime outlet for Baathist and Kremlin propaganda, posted this article:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 5.00.09 PM

Mint Press accepted the regime’s story as genuine as did Daniel Lazare on Consortium News. Mint News, of course, is the sleazy Baathist outlet that published an article about the rebels in East Ghouta being responsible for the Sarin gas massacre that was disavowed by the reporter whose byline was attached to the article without her permission. Meanwhile Lazare, who is otherwise a reasonable person, turns into a stark raving madman when dealing with Syria.

This week Syrian, Russian and American jets have been killing civilians in huge numbers and this is the subject that these filthy propagandists want to put on the front burner. They would make Joseph Goebbels blanch in horror.

The only thing worth mentioning is that killing captive soldiers is wrong, whether by a firing squad as the Red Army did in the Russian Civil War or by a sword. Given the horrors that the Baathists and their ghoulish allies  have visited on the Syrian people over the past 5 years, it is a miracle that this kind of retribution doesn’t take place every day.

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Thursday, 21/07/2016 (updated) at 17:24 (GMT)

Boy beheaded by Syrian rebels was ’19-year-old regime fighter’

A Syrian who was beheaded by a rebel group in Aleppo this week was a 19-year-old pro-regime fighter suffering from a growth defect and not a child, activists have claimed.

He was named as Abdullah al-Issa and that his family members said he was a 19-year-old who volunteered to fight with the regime’s National Defence Forces militias.

Other social media users said he was from the Alawite village of Wadi al-Dahab in Homs, and photos emerged allegedly showing his funeral in the area.

Issa was said to be suffering from thalassemia, which led to a growth defect that made him appear to be a child. Photos shared of Issa online show him in military fatigues and carrying a rifle.

“This boy, whose [beheading] has caught the world’s attention is my cousin Abdullah Issa from Wadi al-Dahab district of Homs, and he suffers from thalassemia,” his alleged cousin – Loly Alamora [“Loly the cutie”] – wrote on her Facebook page.

“That is why he appears younger than his age, but he is 19-years-old.”

Banners reading “I am Syrian” with Issa’s picture were put up [Facebook]

The Syrian regime had earlier claimed that Issa was a 12-year-old Palestinian civilian who was on his way to hospital for treatment when he was picked up by militants from the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group.

His murder caused outrage, particularly as he appeared to be a child.

He was initially reported to be a child fighter with pro-government militia Liwa al-Quds.

Facebook account user Zoze Aisa – alleging to be Issa’s sister – posted a series of angry comments about regime claims he was Palestinian.

“He is the son of Assad’s Syria,” she wrote, referring to the Syrian president.

A picture of Issa posing with weaponry was shared on the social media platform [Facebook]

“How can they turn a brave Syrian fighter into a Palestinian refugee?” she claimed.

The account user listed the exact locations where Issa had allegedly fought to “defend his country”.

This included Palmyra, Jebel Shaar, T4 airport, Hama and Homs. He would spend month-long deployments on the front-lines before returning home for medical treatment.

Issa’s cousin confirmed that he had suffered from the growth defect, but rather than staying behind to receive medical care chose to fight for Syrian regime forces.

An image of Issa’s alleged national ID card was circulated online, showing that he had joined the ranks of the National Defence Forces militia umbrella in August 2015.

Issa was beheaded by members of the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group in Syria’s Handarat district, just a few miles north of Aleppo.

The rebel group – who have received US-backing in the past – said that the killing was a “mistake” committed by some of its members. The murderers are allegedly being held by rebels who are investigating their cases.

 

June 30, 2016

Contradictions within the Baathist amen corner over Brexit

Filed under: immigration,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:14 pm

During the midst of the controversy over the invitation to arch-Baathist Tim Anderson to a conference on refugees in Lesbos, Michael Karadjis alluded to simmering differences within this camp over how to view the refugee crisis—specifically a quarrel that had broken out between Sukant Chandan and Jay Tharappel. I paid it little attention at the time but now I realize its significance as a sign of fissures in the ranks of the Baathist amen corner over the racist ramifications of Brexit.

Both are originally from India, share Maoist politics, a passionate devotion to the Baathist state and frequent appearances on Russian and Iranian television shows so when Chandan opened up an attack against Tharappel on FB, it was a sign that the issues posed by Brexit would lead to fissures:

Jay Tharappel was my comrade and younger brother for a number of years. A very bright wonderful comrade, from Indian Keralan heritage, has an excellent grasp of Indian politics, is broadly pro CPM (half of my family are CPM, and I respect the CPM with all my criticisms), and has some understanding of anti-imperialist politics generally. However, like many, he has found himself surrounding by fascists and those who are internalising fascist politics in the process of advocating for the defence of Syria from imperialism.

What is this fascism that is being promoted, proliferated, protected and promoted by Jay and others? It is:

1 – That there are deserving and non-deserving refugees, that Syrians are the only kind of real refugees (even then), and all other Asian and Africans are ‘fake’ refugees.

2 – That there is a ‘globalist’/’jewish’ plot to destabilise europe with refugees.

3 – That the west is ‘pure’ and ‘white’ culturally, and this should be maintained and not ‘impurified’ by non-whites.

4 – That Syrians are actually not ‘backward Arabs, but ‘white’ like white europeans.

5 – That the western far right (like trump, farage, le pen, alt for germany, and other far right forces) are the ‘natural’ allies for Syrians and also Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Russians etc, and they are actively working to ally with such far right forces.

6 – Is hostile especially to South Asian and African, especially darker skinned Asian and African people. These fascists just hate them, dehumanise them, elevate themselves over and above them, and eschew any solidarity and unity building with them.

7 – Using Syria (or Palestine / Iran / Iraq / Russia / Ukraine etc) to impose upon refugees that ‘a lot ‘ or ‘most’ of them are ‘terrorists’, and that they all must come back to Syria, and they really should not have left Syria in the first place.

I will always oppose imperialist war and coloniality, as I have been for the past nearly 25 years. But I will not ever accept that imperialist oppression is a situation through which to protect and promote fascism.

This fascist protection and promotion is being done in a context of the alarming and fast rising racism and fascism from state and non-state levels across the West. There is a liberal fascism developing, which talks liberal and left by supports Nato wars an strategies, and there is a right wing fascism emerging which sometimes puts out rhetoric that it is against wars but supports all the concepts of colonialism and imperialism.

Our struggle is not a joke. I am not in the business of congratulating lefties and commies for being anti-racist. I am not in the business for allowing this fascist collaboration and organising to pass, rather our decolonial, anti-imperialist and socialist legacies, histories, ideologies and struggles informs us that we go out and conceptually and actually fascists to smash them, and neutralise all forces that are protecting them.

I except people to militantly oppose, expose and defeat this fascist infiltration and protection. ie., if you see people promoting or protecting any of the 6 points: I would strongly advise to enact anti-fascism and anti-imperialism. Our people are being targeted increasingly, the western narrative is becoming even more heightened in its racism and fascism. I am not some liberal middle class western-based type who postures and plays with our politics. I tried to engage Jay on these things for years. He is not interested. He is for a number of reasons loyal to the fascists over the anti-fascist cause. That’s his choice. He like many others has sold out. I am not about to be loyal with such over and above our peoples anti-imperialist and anti-fascist cause. I suggest and request that we MUST maintain clarity of strategy and analysis over and above petty personal loyalties that push us into fascism.

We either step up to the growing challenges, or we should step down or be made to step down.

When you read this, it is a little difficult to figure out specifically what the problem is since Chandan, never scrupulous about evidence to begin with, does not name names except for Tharappel. In Maoist circles, it is obviously very easy to denounce someone as a fascist. I say that as someone who has been the target of such abuse at least 10,000 times since I broke ranks with people like Chandan long ago.

Tharappel’s response to Chandan was similarly obscure:

As you probably already know…

Sukant Chandan has accused me of promoting fascism and racism for reasons that he knows to be completely false like the shameless liar that he is, indeed his lies about me are so outlandish that they’re being rejected in the comments section of his own post.

Specifically, he accuses me promoting the view that there are deserving and undeserving refugees, that “Syrians are the only kind of real refugees”, that “Asian and Africans are ‘fake’ refugees”, and that “there is a ‘globalist’/’jewish’ plot to destabilise europe with refugees”.

This is a lie. I have always maintained that the refugee crisis is a consequence of imperialist exploitation and war, that we in the imperialist countries should welcome those seeking asylum, but most importantly that we should oppose the wars that create refugees in the first place – in February I even wrote a post condemning the idea that there’s some globalist agenda to destabilise Europe which SC commented on (see screenshot).

He accuses me of promoting the notion that “the west is ‘pure’ and ‘white’ culturally, and this should be maintained and not ‘impurified’ by non-whites”, and accuses me of being “hostile especially to South Asian and African, especially darker skinned Asian and African people”, which needless to say is an obvious LIE, as anyone who spends a minute or so examining my openly communist and post-colonial leanings would know.

He then accuses me of promoting the view that “Syrians are actually not ‘backward Arabs, but ‘white’ like white Europeans”, which is another lie as I have never endorsed this view ever.

In truth what angers SC is that I refuse to replicate word-for-word his personal crusade against those of Syrian heritage who consider themselves ‘white’, for the simple reason that it’s mostly irrelevant to me how they identify themselves, but on planet Sukant, by not vociferously denouncing these views, I’m promoting them.

His next accusation is that I’m promoting “the western far right” including the likes of “trump, farage, le pen, [and] alt for Germany” as “natural allies for Syrians and also Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Russians” which is another lie, in fact, aside from Trump, I don’t think I’ve EVER publicly mentioned any of those far-right personalities and parties.

I once innocently pointed out that Trump’s stated foreign policy agenda is strictly less threatening to Syria and Russia (which is objectively correct) compared to that of Hillary Clinton, which Sukant then creatively reinterpreted to mean that I was endorsing Donald Trump in some way.

You can see that discussion here: http://bit.ly/1VEWuck

His final allegation and lie is that I am “using Syria (or Palestine / Iran / Iraq / Russia / Ukraine etc) to impose upon refugees that ‘a lot ‘ or ‘most’ of them are ‘terrorists’, and that they all must come back to Syria, and they really should not have left Syria in the first place”, which is another cheap and baseless lie.

Are former anti-government fighters leaving Syria for Europe? Yes. Have I ever demonised ALL asylum seekers based on this fact? No.

What I have said is this, even if a portion of those asylum seekers were once fighting the governments of Syria and Iraq, we should welcome the news that by abandoning the battlefield and leaving for Europe they’re no longer destabilising the middle east which is the real target of destabilisation, NOT Europe.

As for the other civilian migrants who were simply caught in the middle of this war, contrary to Sukant’s claims, I have never said that they should be sent back, nor have I ever encouraged them to go back, because as someone who doesn’t face their consequences I am in no position to judge them for leaving Syria.

What Sukant is perhaps unable to comprehend is that unlike him I view the exodus of civilian refugees primarily from the perspective of the countries that have been destabilised, for whom the exodus of their best and brightest citizens undermines their ability to resist – the cruel logic of imperialism has always been that it encourages racism towards the very people it benefits from exploiting, that too after financing the destruction of their countries.

In the real world we have to pick our battles, and in the case of Syria many of us on the Left find ourselves in an alliance with a national liberation struggle against imperialism, which draws the support of many who are not Leftists and therefore do not share our opinions on every issue, and while I’m more than happy to state my disagreements with them, I’m not going to waste my time denouncing them relentlessly, I’d rather focus on opposing and exposing imperialism.

Tharappel referred his readers to a discussion that took place on May 17th as seen above. I reproduce the most salient part here:

Screen shot 2016-06-30 at 8.47.28 AM

 

This gets to the heart of the contradictions within the Baathist camp. As it happens, the Kremlin and its allies internationally are hostile to the EU, open borders, and everything else that smacks of “globalism”. So naturally you see an affinity between Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin. Trying to reconcile solidarity with the butcher of Damascus and Nigel Farage is no easy task, especially when you retain some belief in the words “Workers of the World Unite”.

To his credit, Chandan has been hammering away at the racism unleashed by Brexit on his “Sons of Malcolm” blog. Three days ago, he wrote a post titled “CORBYN INCHES TOWARDS THE RIGHT, SUPPORTS BREXIT, WOBBLES ON IMMIGRATION” that attacks what he views as adaptation to nativism in Britain similar to that I critiqued in my article on Diana Johnstone yesterday:

Corbyn and his team are choosing to ignore the two thirds of Labour voters who are hostile to Brexit, Corbyn is choosing to align himself with UK nationalist ‘left’ forces who are developing racism further by positioning a showdown with the EU in the context of growing racism and fascism. Part of this is Corbyn’s total contradictory position on immigration, while he said a FANTASTIC thing on immigration in this interview by stating there must be no upper limit to it, he also stated that the central colonial feelings that inform racism by people is not racism.

Andrew Marr: But there are lots and lots and lots of people around this country who do feel that immigration is for them a problem, they see their communities changing very, very quickly and they feel their identity is challenged and they feel their kids are not getting school places and so forth. They are not racists. They’re not far right people. They’re just people really worried about immigration and they feel that people like you are not really listening to them.

Jeremy Corbyn: I’m not calling them racists. What I’m saying is it’s a failure of our government to properly fund local authorities. …

Will any of this make any difference when it comes to supporting Assad’s murderous war that is responsible for the bulk of Syrian refugees? Probably not. These people are hopeless on this matter, I am afraid. But perhaps the growing affinity between openly fascist movements in Europe and the Kremlin will finally give them reason to pause and think things over. The Red-Brown alliance that has emerged out of the geopolitical chess game is one of the most shameful episodes of the left in decades and it is high time that it gets addressed. I don’t have much use for most of Chandan’s problematic ideology but give him credit for calling a spade a spade.

June 27, 2016

Guess what, neo-Nazi group attacked in Sacramento is pro-Assad and pro-Putin

Filed under: Fascism,right-left convergence,Russia,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

It is old news by now that virtually every neo-Nazi or ultraright outfit in Europe is solidly behind Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, from Golden Dawn to Marine Le Pen’s National Front. As you are also probably aware, the Brexit campaign was pushed heavily by Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, a rabidly anti-immigrant group that advocates working with Bashar al-Assad.

The first sign of a similar development in the USA was obviously the Donald Trump campaign that is first cousin to the UKIP. Trump stated that the Brexit vote was a great thing and hoped that its goals could be replicated in the USA. As it happens, the neo-Nazi group that was attacked in Sacramento yesterday by anti-fascists falls squarely within the global Red-Brown alliance. You almost have to wonder whether a pro-Assad group like the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) might be tempted to come to their aid the next time the neo-Nazi group is threatened.

The neo-Nazis are constituted as the Traditional Worker Party and led by a character named Matthew Heimbach who first came to attention as the Donald Trump supporter who roughed up a Black female protester at his rally in Louisville in early March. That’s him in the red baseball cap.

Before he launched the Traditional Worker Party, Heimbach operated as the top man of the Traditionalist Youth Network. From early on, he backed Assad because he saw him as a pillar of resistance to Muslims who were falsely accused of threatening the Christians in Syria. In 2013 Heimbach organized a protest in Michigan that sounds very much like the sort of thing that would be embraced by the Baathist left as an exercise in Red-Brown politics.

CORUNNA, MI — An organization accused of having ties to the white supremacist movement is planning a protest in support of embattled Syrian leader Bashar Assad during a Sept. 11 event in Corunna.

The event, organized by the Traditionalist Youth Network, was initially billed as a “Koran BBQ,” a protest geared toward showing “Islamic immigrants and citizens alike that they are not welcome here in Michigan” that included burning copies the Quran and images of the Prophet Muhammad, but changed direction after President Barack Obama asked Congress for authorization to use military force in Syria.

Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Youth Network, said the event was changed to focus on Syria to protest what he claims is the Obama administration’s offer of support to al-Qaida and Islamist militants working with rebels to topple Assad’s regime.

Heimbach said the protest will be “anti-jihadist,” which he says is an appropriate message on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Protestors are expected to meet in McCurdy park around 5:30 p.m.

With respect to Putin, you can listen to Matthew Heimbach interviewing Dr Matthew ‘Raphael’ Johnson, a self-described Christian Orthodox Medievalist, on his Ayran Radio show about the huge breakthrough for neo-Nazi groups by the Kremlin’s strong leadership against the West.

Finally, some snapshots from Matthew Heimbach’s Faith-Family-Folk Twitter account (https://twitter.com/MatthewHeimbach):

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.39.46 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.39.31 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 10.39.13 AM

 

June 26, 2016

The latest idiocy from the Baathist amen corner

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:39 pm

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 2.45.35 PM

James Carden, house conservative at The Nation

Michael Hudson

The idiocy put forward in the name of “anti-interventionism” has reached biblical proportions. This week The Nation Magazine published an article titled “The State Department’s Wrong-Headed Push for War With Syria” that was written by James Carden, a contributor to both The Nation and American Conservative. Does that sound a bit odd to you? Not as long as you understand that the Red-Brown banner is held aloft at the magazine by publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel’s husband, the feckless Stephen F. Cohen who is an almost weekly guest on the John Batchelor show on WABC AM radio. Indeed, Cohen seems to be interviewed by the rightwing host as much as Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice-Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who uses the show to promote Netanyahu’s wars on Gaza, banning BDS, and other hot button issues of the Israel Lobby.

While most of Chris Hedges’s Truthdig interview with Michael Hudson focuses on the world economy, he failed to follow up on something Hudson said that is about as idiotic as Carden’s piece. In trying to explain the vote for Brexit, the self-described Marxist economist blamed U.S. intervention in the Middle East and the Ukraine.

If there is anyone who is responsible for the Brexit, it is Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They destroyed Libya. They turned over Libyan weapons to [Islamic State], al-Qaida and [Nusra Front]. It was their war in Syria, where many of these weapons ended up, which created the massive exodus of refugees into Europe. This exodus exacerbated nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Clinton and Obama are also responsible for a huge exodus of Ukrainians. This is all a response to American war policy in the Middle East and the Ukraine. In central Europe, with the expansion of NATO, Washington is meanwhile demanding that governments spend billions on weapons rather than on recovering the economy.

There are so many gaffes in this “analysis” that one wonders where to begin. I suspect that someone like Hudson can utter such nonsense because he has never read a single word that runs counter to the Baathist amen corner’s propaganda that makes the rounds on CounterPunch, ZNet, the LRB, Salon, The Nation, and a thousand other print and electronic outlets committed to the survival of mass murderer Bashar al-Assad.

It’s a little bit like asking someone in 1938 whose ideas about the Soviet Union were based exclusively on articles in the Daily Worker and Walter Duranty’s dispatches in the NY Times to evaluate the legality of the Moscow Trials. Sure, everybody knows that Trotsky was a Nazi spy. Sure, everybody knows that Obama and Clinton turned over weapons to Daesh, al-Qaida and Nusra. (Isn’t Hudson even vaguely aware that al-Qaeda and Nusra are identical? It is like saying that the USA had to intervene in South Vietnam to stop the NLF and the Vietcong.)

In terms of the non-existent weapons being responsible for the Syrian refugee “problem”, it would certainly not occur to someone as blithely ignorant of Syrian reality to check the facts, but polls reveal that it is his main man in Damascus who is responsible.

When asked by the Berlin Research Center why they left their country, twice as many refugees blamed President Assad’s military response to peaceful demonstrations for the country’s woes than on the jihadists. And even more tellingly, 489 of the 889 surveyed called for a no-fly zone to stop barrel bombs in order to reduce the emigration flow. Meanwhile, 49 thought the answer was to support Assad.

With respect to the mass exodus of Ukrainians being responsible for Brexit, this is a strikingly ignorant statement. Ukrainians have been leaving their homes but they are going east to Russia, not to Western Europe. The war between Kiev and the Kremlin has been a disaster for those living in Donetsk and Luhansk but to connect that in some fashion to Brexit is bizarre. Of course, it is possible that Michael Hudson is just going a bit weak in the head as happens to many people when they hit their 70s and confused Russia with Germany or Sweden. I invite anybody who sees me displaying such symptoms to get in touch with my wife in order to replace my Macbook with jigsaw puzzles.

Turning now to James Carden, it is important to put him into ideological context. Like Paul Craig Roberts, Donald Trump and many rightwing parties in Europe from Marine Le Pen’s National Front to UKIP in Great Britain that spearheaded Brexit, the Kremlin is seen as a bastion of peace, family values and anti-globalization policies that can stop Hillary Clinton in her tracks.

Carden is the executive editor of the American Committee for East-West Accord whose board includes Stephen F. Cohen and his father-in-law William J. vanden Heuvel. The board also includes John Pepper, who is the former CEO of The Procter & Gamble Company as well as a Nation Magazine contributor. Showing a good grasp of his class interests, Pepper is the author of “Russian Tide: Procter & Gamble’s Entry into Russia.” They say a large part of Trump’s bromance with Putin has to do with his jockeying for the right to build condos in Moscow. When capitalism came to Russia, P&G jumped in with both feet and began selling Tide detergent and Crest toothpaste. Starting with sales of $1 million in 1990, P&G can now count on $3 billion per year in exports. Expect Russia to develop its own household goods industry? Don’t be foolish. Everybody knows globalization benefits everybody. Just ask Thomas Friedman.

Like a thousand other pundits, Carden is aggravated over the 51 dissident career diplomats who want Obama to increase the military pressure on Assad. This has triggered the kneejerk response from the Baathist amen corner about the imminent threat of “regime change”. You’d think after 5 years of scorched earth asymmetric warfare including missiles, bombs, poison gas, torture and firing squads, these people would have learned that the USA had no interest in removing Assad. In fact, I am predicting that Hillary Clinton will carry out the same policy since it corresponds to the realpolitik outlook of centrist Democrats. Recently the “anti-interventionists” got all hot and bothered by Hillary Clinton cozying up to Henry Kissinger. Haven’t these brain-dead propagandists taken the trouble to find out what Kissinger thinks about Syria?

In fact, he believes that the destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad and can hardly be distinguished from Stephen F. Cohen or James Carden.

Like Hudson, Carden accuses the Obama administration of financing and training “so-called ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels (who are in fact Salafist extremists in league with Al Qaeda) since 2013.” Don’t they have editors at The Nation? Any fool understands that putting scare quotes around moderate and using the word so-called amounts to the same thing. I understand that the content of The Nation Magazine is bilge but at least they could put more of an effort to make it stylistic bilge. These terms like Salafist and Wahhabists are thrown around by people like Carden in the same way the word Communist was used in the 1950s. Ooh, scary stuff. If we don’t stop them in Syria, they will take over the USA next. But rest assured. We have the plucky Syrian army (or at least the several hundred Alawites who haven’t deserted yet), Hezbollah, Iranian soldiers, Russian jets, and Shia mercenaries from Iraq and Afghanistan to stop them dead in their tracks.

Help is on the way, however. There is one American politician at least who can be counted on:

Efforts to halt the administration’s illegal and counterproductive war for regime change in Syria have been lead [sic] by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Last year, Gabbard, a two-tour Iraq war veteran, sponsored a bill that would cut off funding for what Gabbard calls the administration’s “regime-change war in Syria.”

As I have pointed out here repeatedly, Gabbard is a frothing at the mouth Islamophobe who backs the BJP in India, a fascist-like party with a role in the killing of 2000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. As a rabid supporter of the state of Israel, she was a keynote speaker at a conference organized by Christians United For Israel, a group founded by John Hagee. This is the same Hagee who argued in a late 1990s sermon that God sent Hitler to help the Jews get to the promised land. Nice, really nice.

Apparently Gabbard spoke to the high-minded liberals (and conservatives) at The Nation on June 19th. She warned them darkly: “Escalating the war to overthrow Assad will make things even worse. It will cause more suffering and chaos and strengthen ISIS and Al Qaeda to the point where they may be able to take over all of Syria.”

Actually, Gabbard, Michael Hudson, Stephen F. Cohen, Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, David Bromwich, Tariq Ali, Kim Kardashian, Steven Seagal, Donald Trump, and the Duke of Windsor really don’t have much to worry about. Heeding Henry Kissinger’s sage advice, the USA will continue to bomb Daesh in partnership with Russia for the foreseeable future. Sunni suffering will mount with little attention paid by any state power, including Turkey that has now begun to patch things up with Russia—so much so that border guards killed a bunch of Syrians trying to get across the northern border.

 

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