Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 2, 2018

A Private War; Under the Wire

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:45 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 2, 2018

On February 22, 2012, London Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin and her photographer Paul Conroy were in the ground floor of a multi-story building in Baba Amr, a neighborhood in Homs, Syria, that was being used as a press center when a shell scored a direct hit that left her dead and Conroy badly wounded. Two new films are focused on their experience as the last foreign journalists reporting from Homs that was the first of the liberated areas to be reconquered by the regime mostly as a result of the asymmetric warfare that has drowned the revolution in blood. “A Private War” that opens in NY, Washington, and Los Angeles theaters today (screening information: https://www.aprivatewarfilm.com/) is a narrative film with biopic elements hoping to explain how a 56-year old woman with bad knees could have ended up in such a precarious situation. “Under the Wire”, a documentary that opens at Village East Cinema on November 16th, is much more Paul Conroy’s story and serves as a complement to the narrative film. Watching the two in tandem will remind you of the need for an independent press that is committed to telling the story of people under siege, particularly the women and children who Colvin made it her life’s mission to defend through her journalism.

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June 1, 2018

Vogue Magazine in hot water again for puff piece on Mideast tyrants

Filed under: journalism,Saudi Arabia,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:43 pm

NY Times, May 31, 2018
Vogue Arabia Hails Saudi Reform, Ignoring Jailed Activists
By Megan Specia

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is putting women in the driving seat — and so are we.”

That’s how Vogue Arabia described its June cover, which features a glamorous woman behind the wheel of a classic car, parked in the desert.

But the problem for some has been which woman the magazine decided to put in the driver’s seat in an issue that “celebrates the women of the kingdom and their wide-reaching achievements,” but makes no mention of the country’s most recent crackdown on women’s rights activists.

Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah al-Saud — one of the late King Abdullah’s 20 daughters — sits behind the wheel, even as some prominent female activists who fought for the right for Saudi women to drive remain locked behind bars.

In mid-May, at least 11 activists were arrested and labeled “traitors” by the Saudi government, a move that surprised many as the country is just weeks away from allowing women to drive. Some of the activists have been released, but others remain detained.

On June 24, Saudi women will legally be able to drive for the first time. But critics say the Vogue coverage fails to highlight some Saudi women whose activism helped draw international attention to the issue, and who now face persecution.

The issue does feature Manal al-Sharif, one of the Saudi activists who took part in the 2011 protests against the restrictions and was later arrested for the action, but does not mention the latest arrests.

Twitter users were swift in their reaction, calling out Vogue Arabia for what some saw as an oversight.

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In March 2011, Vogue magazine published, for the benefit of its 11.7 million readers, an article titled “A Rose in the Desert” about the first lady of Syria. Asma al-Assad has British roots, wears designer fashion, worked for years in banking, and is married to the dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has killed over 5,000 civilians and hundreds of children this year. The glowing article praised the Assads as a “wildly democratic” family-focused couple who vacation in Europe, foster Christianity, are at ease with American celebrities, made theirs the “safest country in the Middle East,” and want to give Syria a “brand essence.”

Vogue’s editors defended the controversial article as “a way of opening a window into this world a little bit,” conceding only that Assad’s Syria is “not as secular as we might like.” A senior editor responsible for the story told me the magazine stood by it. A few weeks later, the article and all references to it were removed from Vogue’s website without explanation. In August, The Hill reported that U.S. lobbying firm Brown Lloyd James had been paid $5,000 per month by the Syrian government to arrange for and manage the Vogue article.

For all the controversy, the article’s author, former French Vogue editor Joan Juliet Buck, did manage to spend some one-on-one time with both Asma and Bashar al-Assad, an exclusive many journalists might have killed for. Today, as the world watches for cracks in the Assad regime and in the Assad family, Buck’s interviews are an increasingly important tool for understanding the man at the top of Syria and the woman next to him.

Sadly, Vogue’s piece of the Syrian puzzle has been almost entirely scrubbed from the internet. But, somehow, the text can still be found at a website called PresidentAssad.net, a gif-filled but meticulously updated fan page to the Syrian dictator. The site is registered to a Syrian man living in Rome named Mohamed Abdo al-Ibrahim. A personal site for Ibrahim lists him as an employee of the Syrian state-run news agency.

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May 22, 2018

An extraordinary meeting on Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:30 pm

Anand Gopal

Last night I attended a meeting on “From Syria to Palestine: The Fight for Justice” in Brooklyn that was extraordinary on a number of levels. To start with, it was attended by at least 80 people, standing room only. It was also marked by a high degree of unity with groups focused on Syria or Palestine endorsing the event alongside those on the left like the ISO and the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins. Finally, there was a talk by Anand Gopal on the people of Saraqib, a town that epitomizes the 7 year resistance to Assad. My impression is that Stanley Heller of the Connecticut-based Promoting Enduring Peace played a major role in pulling this together. For this, we are in his debt.

Since the chairperson, a Palestinian woman who did a great job of keeping things in order and whose name I unfortunately did not record, instructed the audience that recording the talks was strictly forbidden for security reasons, I will try to summarize the proceedings since they should be of great interest to those of us who are in solidarity with the Syrian people.

Before the first speaker, Emerson College professor Yasser Munif, arose to took the mike, I sat next to him and told him that it was a shame that meetings like this were not being held in 2011. Almost as if to be answering me, when he took the mike he pointed out that Syria is going to be a long, epochal struggle and that until the conditions that created the uprising are overcome, it will continue. Although he was as eloquent as usual, he spent no longer than about 5 minutes making his presentation.

He was followed by Ramah Kudaimi, a Syrian-American like Munif, who works for the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. As such, she was the ideal person to speak about the connections between the slaughter taking place on the border between Gaza and Israel and the destruction of Yarmouk, a home to over 100,000 Palestinian refugees when the war started. She insisted that unless you understood how Netanyahu, al-Sisis and Assad were motivated by the same hatred of the Palestinians, you’ll never understand the dynamics of the struggle in the Middle East.

The final speaker was Anand Gopal, who is as gifted as a speaker as he is a writer. I have known Anand as a cyber-friend since 2012 but this was the first opportunity to meet him in person.

With telling photos and video clips, he described the resistance to Assad in Saraqib, a place he has traveled to a number of times since 2012. In addition to his reporting on Syria, Anand is the author of “No Good Men Among the Living” that consists of profiles of a broad cross-section of the Afghan people, including a former Taliban fighter. The book was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2015 and deservedly so.

In contrast to Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, who have never spent time in a place like Saraqib, Anand was determined to find out what made such people begin protesting in 2011 and to endure horrible onslaughts from the regime ever since. This was not something easily done since unlike Fisk and Cockburn, he could not get a visa to travel to Syria. So instead, he used to go to Turkey and get rides to the border with Syria to gain access to the Idlib region where many of the small and medium sized farming cities and towns rose up. Once he arrived at the border, he’d climb beneath a chain-link fence and follow a trail of white stones that led to Saraqib. Those stones had been painted by activists in Saraqib to make sure that he would not step on a landmine.

Saraqib is a town of about 35,000 people. When news of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt reached this farming community in the boondocks, people began protesting every Friday. Like other ordinary citizens becoming active politically for the first time, their demands were rudimentary: democracy and the removal of Bashar al-Assad.

Before 2011, Saraqib did not have a single newspaper but afterwards at least 5 newspapers took off, as well as a radio station. They were used to exchange ideas in a kind of grass roots democracy that not only threatened Assad but every dictator in the region. That is why someone like General al-Sisi is an ally of both Assad and Netanyahu against the Syrian and Palestinian masses.

When the protests came under attack from Assad’s snipers, local activists had an intense debate over whether to arm themselves or not. Many had bad memories of the murderous assault on Hama in 1982 that left at least 20,000 dead over less than a month. But when the sniper attacks escalated, they were left with no other choice except to form six brigades led by six of the key activists in Saraqib, including people who had argued against armed self-defense.

The regime went after Saraqib with a fury, sending in tanks that destroyed many homes. Anand reports that the Baathist troops went from door to door, killing anybody who had not fled to safety. Many were set on fire, including a man whose charred corpse was shown in one of Anand’s photos.

Despite the ferocity of the attacks, the town managed to run its own affairs. Like other such towns and cities, a local council was formed that took care of what might sound like mundane affairs, such as garbage collection and the distribution of bread that was a staple of the Syrian diet and made in a state-controlled bakery. Once the town was liberated, the workers at the bakery continued running it in close coordination with the local council.

This reminded me of a discussion taking place on FB between me and a number of FB friends who likened the formation of food co-ops, etc. in the USA as a form of incipient dual power. This is an idea that has some currency on the left, especially as part of nominally Marxist theories advanced by Richard Wolff, Peter Marcuse, Eric Olin Wright, et al. In my view, dual power arises in a revolutionary situation when an armed working class, farmers and small proprietors have assumed the social and economic leadership of a city or town after the old order has been sent packing. This occurred during the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik revolution, the Spanish Civil War and even in Syria despite the absence of a socialist leadership. In order for such people to live, they need water, food, medical care, and policing against counter-revolution. You cannot suck the institutions of dual power out of your thumb. They are linked to revolutionary struggles and have nothing to do with blueprints for a socialist future.

Into this liberated but chaotic community, the Islamists finally made their entry in early 2013, four of whose leaders Anand interviewed. Their most senior organizer was a man who had devoted himself to teaching prisoners like himself to reject both democracy and socialism. There was not much in the way of socialism in Saraqib but there was plenty of democracy.

The Islamists very quickly became a counter-force to those in Saraqib who had zero interest in a caliphate. The only way they gained a foothold was through their organizational cohesion that had been developing for decades. Unlike the locals, these were men who were organized as the Muslim Brotherhood or even as al-Qaeda. They had the inside track to arms and money from wealthy private citizens in Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey. As such, they were a powerful seductive force even if the people of Saraqib valued their new-found freedoms.

Eventually, al-Nusra (the affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria) became the most powerful Islamist group in the region. When someone made the idiotic comment during the Q&A that the USA funded al-Nusra, Anand explained that they consciously rejected foreign assistance since that would make them dependent on sources that could easily change their mind. Like ISIS, they relied on taxation to finance their operations.

In one of the more dramatic video clips shown by Anand, we see two groups in the middle of a street arrayed against each other, one chanting in favor of a non-sectarian state and the other calling for a caliphate. Eventually, al-Nusra tired of those in the town unwilling to bow down before them and surrounded the house of the FSA commander in order to arrest him. When word went out about what was going on, a march on the house to defend the commander began only to be dispersed by al-Nusra’s machine gun fire. This too is revealed in a video clip shown by Anand that gives the lie to the Assad versus al-Qaeda version of what has been taking place over the past seven years.

In his concluding remarks, Anand stressed the tripartite political division in Syria that is denied by Max Blumenthal, Vanessa Beeley, et al. You have 1) Assad; 2) the Islamists and 3) the people. Our job is to find ways to solidarize with the people that includes reviving an antiwar movement based on the need to concentrate on who is responsible for most of the killing: the regime and the foreign entities intervening against the people. Stopping the violence has always allowed civil society to emerge and thus reconstitute itself as the legitimate voice of a people with the same goals they have had for the past 7 years: to live in freedom and dignity, enjoying the country’s wealth on an egalitarian basis.

During the Q&A, someone asked what we can do concretely to help the Syrian people. Someone in the audience replied that this meant opening the door to Syrian refugees, most of whom were like the people of Saraqib. When Donald Trump cut off support for the Syrian rebels, which was being dispensed with an eyedropper under Obama, and then of the White Helmets, he demonstrated his affinity with all of the tyrants in power in the Middle East.

I am not sure what will happen next with the Syrian Solidarity Movement but this meeting was an auspicious first step.

 

 

May 18, 2018

Ann Coulter on Syria and Gaza

Filed under: Palestine,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:07 pm

E.M. Forster: “Only Connect” (epigraph to Howard’s End)

May 8, 2018

Steve Ellner, Syria, and the “leftist utopians”

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:50 pm

Steve Ellner

On today’s ZNet, there is an article by Steve Ellner titled “Support for Governments Under Imperialist Siege” that begins:

A recent post of mine on the situation in Syria (http://steveellnersblog.blogspot.com/2018/04/in-conflict-in-syria-there-doesnt-seem.html) led to some interesting and critical comments coming both from those who felt I was too hard on Assad and Russia and those who felt I was letting them off the hook. The position I presented reflects my view of the current situation worldwide. As is often the case, the issue of Syria has to be placed in a broader, in this case global, context. Contextualization is fundamental for the achievement of an objective analysis and evaluation of the Syrian government and others that confront U.S.-promoted intervention, put forward an anti-imperialist discourse, and (in some cases) raise socialist banners, such as Nicaragua, Venezuela and Libya under Gaddafi.

As far as I know, there were no “critical comments” on his blog about letting Assad and Russia off the hook, where this ZNet post originated, nor on Twitter. In fact, it is very likely that the only critical comments to ever appear were mine on Facebook where he invited comments on the first article titled “Regarding the Conflict In Syria, There Doesn’t Seem to Be Any Good Guys”. I started off by calling it unadulterated horseshit and when he insisted that I offer some constructive criticisms, I warned about the usefulness of categories like “Good Guys” or “Bad Guys” and provided a link to something I wrote on the economic roots of the Syrian revolution.

In the next day or so, a thread developed with me responding to the toxic Assadist arguments of British economist Alan Freeman and Stansfield Smith, a former Marxmail subscriber and self-styled Cuban revolution supporter who made the same kinds of points you can read in Telesur or Granma most days. After seven years of writing about Syria, I have grown weary of dealing with such people and unfriended Ellner. I had toyed with the idea of writing a critique of his first article but decided I had better things to do. But since his follow-up article is almost certainly a response to what I told him on FB, I decided to answer him now.

In the more recent article, there is possible reference to me as a “leftist utopian”:

“Leftist utopianism” takes an all-or-nothing approach. It thus refrains from attempting to determine the relative seriousness of the errors of progressive governments, and ends up condemning all of them as sell-outs. Such an intransigent position is excessive. Thus, for instance, criticism of the populist policies of progressive governments that go overboard in providing handouts to non-privileged groups cannot be given the same weight as the privatization of strategic sectors of the economy carried out by the right.

If you’ve read my article on “Nicaraguan Contradictions”, you’ll realize that there is nothing “all-or-nothing” about my approach. I argued for taking a dialectical approach to the Ortega government that includes recognizing the benefits it has provided to poor campesinos. In comparing Ortega to Juan Perón, I hoped to convince my readers that left caudillos can make the same kind of difference to the working class that social democratic governments in Europe have made. Perhaps Ellner had Dan La Botz in mind whose “socialism from below” politics and obvious affinity with Samuel Farber are totally different from mine as my defense of the Bolivarian revolution should make clear.

But nobody from the ISO or New Politics offered comments on Ellner’s defense of Assad that appeared in his first article, only me. Let me now turn to that article but not before stating at the outset that Ellner appears to have very little background on Syria or the Middle East. He certainly is a highly-regarded expert on Latin America—and deservedly so—but in the 7 years he has been blogging, the only time he has referred to Syria has been mostly to warn about Trump and Hillary Clinton’s saber-rattling. Except for that, you can read this blithely unaware post from September 26, 2014:

At this point does anybody doubt that ISIS has the resources and willpower and is ruthless and deceptive enough to have used chemical weapons in Syria last year and then blame the Assad government? The United States came close to bombing Syria after accusing the Assad government of employing chemical weapons. Why doesn’t the corporate media revisit that incident in light of what we now know about ISIS? Conclusion: If you want critical analysis, you’re not going to get it from the corporate media.

Since he was obviously referring to the East Ghouta sarin gas attack in 2013 that supposedly crossed Obama’s red line, wasn’t he aware that ISIS had no presence to speak of in the agricultural belt surrounding Damascus? ISIS had a foothold in the north of Syria in places like Palmyra and Raqqa but had been driven out of the south by the FSA and other militias who saw them as Assad’s accomplices. Furthermore, if ISIS had sarin gas, why hadn’t these used it to repel the Shiite militias in Iraq or Assad’s? It is one thing for Ellner to pose insipid questions but it is another for him to not invest in the 15 minutes it would have taken to get up to speed on them before embarrassing himself on his blog.

Returning to the article titled “Regarding the Conflict In Syria, There Doesn’t Seem to Be Any Good Guys”, it starts with an attack on Ramah Kudaimi who had appeared on Democracy Now shortly after Donald Trump had ordered a missile strike on four buildings involved with chemical weapons R&D after the chlorine gas attack on Douma on April seventh.

Because Kudami focused more on Assad’s war crimes than Trump’s show of force (that was preceded by a phone call to the Kremlin and that cost not a single life), Ellner deduced that this meant that “her argument was a cover for support for greater U.S. intervention in order to topple the reviled Assad regime.” Why? It seemed that “Her basic point was that one-shot airstrikes are not enough.” Here is what she actually said:

Once in a while, as Trump did last year, as then Trump did this year, they’ll bomb a regime target—really an empty airfield, an empty chemical weapons factory—and then say, “See, we want Assad gone.” And yet, again and again, their actions have proven that, in fact, they want regime preservation.

Well, isn’t that obvious? Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg that he had no interest in regime change and just before the Douma chemical attack, Trump had cut off all military aid to the rebels. He followed that up this month with cutting off all aid to the White Helmets. So, instead of recognizing the facts that are staring him in the face if not tweaking his nose, Ellner warns darkly about regime change. I suppose this is the direct result of reading Telesur propaganda for 7 years and studiously avoiding anything written by the Syrian or Arab left. When you are fed a steady diet of lies, naturally you will repeat them especially since everybody knows that the Venezuelans and the Cubans are really “Good Guys” in all this.

Ellner is irked that the “commercial media” does not refer to the Islamic Front in Douma as “Bad Guys”, thus implicitly making you feel that if you were clued into their evil, mustache-twirling character, you might have seen the need to subdue them by any means necessary even if it entailed the collateral damage of civilians succumbing to chlorine gas. Too bad that Americans and Brits rely on the warmongering commercial media that a philosopher-king like Steve Ellner can easily debunk:

Typical of the disarray of the anti-Assad forces, the Islamic Front has spurned ties with other rebel organizations grouped in the Syrian National Coalition. Furthermore, the trajectory of the Islamic Front is characterized by extreme factionalism. In addition, Islamic Front leaders have articulated Sunni extremism and abhorrence for Shiites (who they call “Zoroastrians”!) and opposition to democracy. The commercial media tends to gloss over these details.”

In fact, the Islamic Front has been pilloried over and over again in the commercial media, including the Guardian that has the reputation of being the most fiercely committed to regime change. In a December 25, 2015 article, it referred to one of its leaders in the same terms as Ellner:

Alloush’s early propaganda videos were overtly sectarian, urging the expulsion of Shias and Alawites from Damascus. Assad belongs to the Alawite minority, which is nominally part of Shia Islam, and who are considered heretics by Sunni extremists. He was also opposed to the Islamic State terror group, and lost many fighters in battles against the militants.

CNN, another commercial media regime change advocate, made identical points on December 12, 2013, citing Aron Lund, an expert on the various jihadist groups who regarded the Islamic Front as “hardline Islamists influenced by the Salafi school of thought. They want a theocratic state, and are opposed to secularism and Western-style democracy — although they’ve said they can imagine having some sort of elections in a framework of Sharia law.”

In fact, nobody I consider a co-thinker is “for” the Islamic Front. Even the people who are supposedly the worst warmongers like John Kerry saw them as legitimate targets of American bombing.

Ellner concludes this tendentious article with a call for the left to support democracy in Syria but oppose the withdrawal of Russian bombers and foreign fighters from Iran (and implicitly Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan as well.) But isn’t it this intervention that helps to preserve the Baathist dictatorship? How could Ellner not understand this?

I will be briefer with Ellner’s follow-up article that makes an amalgam of Venezuela, Cuba, Libya and Syria as putting forward an “anti-imperialist discourse” and raising “socialist banners”. Yes, we should never forget those beautiful socialist banners held aloft by Bashar al-Assad, whose cousin Rami Makhlouf controls half the nation’s wealth and hides his profits in Panamanian banks. Isn’t Ellner aware of this? I would have thought that someone who writes scholarly articles referring to permanent revolution in Venezuela would have had a more rigorous approach to these questions but when it comes to the Arab world and North Africa, nothing much surprises me after 7 years of foolishness from journalists and academics alike.

Primary to Ellner’s distinction between Russia and China on one side and the USA and its partners on the other is that the BRICS powerhouses are not imperialist, thus making their intervention kosher as opposed to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003:

But the fact of the matter is that neither of these two countries behaves like the pre-World War I European powers described by Lenin, nor like the U.S. since 1946. Neither Russia nor China has military bases scattered throughout the world and both have provided political and economic support for progressive governments such as Venezuela. Furthermore, China’s and Russia’s bilateral economic deals may favor their own interests but do not attach strings fostering dependence, as in the case of the IMF, World Bank and Washington.

Actually, Lenin referred to Czarist Russia as imperialist even though it had not a single military base outside its borders and was decidedly third-rate economically compared to Great Britain. I dealt with the question of Russia as imperialist in 2014 and see no reason to take Ellner seriously on this matter, especially since he doesn’t bother to supply any data. A serious scholar like Michael Roberts makes sure to back up his arguments but apparently Ellner views his blog as a place for idle musing.

As for Lenin, this is what he wrote:

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

—The European War and International Socialism, 1914

If Lenin was alive today, I am sure he would have regarded the Russian aerial bombardment of East Aleppo last year as being just as barbarous.

Ellner takes the “ultra-pragmatists” to task as well. This is the Vanessa Beeley/Max Blumenthal/ANSWER coalition wing of the Assadist left that insists that the rest of the left “should refrain from leveling criticism of any nature at progressive governments under siege.”

All that is well and good but what is “progressive” about Syria? That is what Ellner must address. Just because Syria is ruled by something called the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, it does not mean that it has much in common with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. People like Ellner really need to brush up a bit on the political economy of Syria. There are vast amounts of literature on the topic but obviously outside of his comfort zone. I recommend the two-volume “Syria: from Reform to Revolt”, edited by Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl, that I cited extensively in my article on the economic roots of the Syrian revolution. I also recommend Michael Karadjis’s blog “Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis” that is distinguished by its careful, scholarly approach. I particularly recommend his take on the situation in East Ghouta titled “Ghouta: Issues Behind the Apocalypse: Armed and civil rebellion, Class and Islam” written in March. I also recommend Omar Hassan’s article “The origins of the criminal Assad dynasty” that appeared in the Marxist Left Review last summer, a journal published by Socialist Alternative in Australia. It debunks the idea that there is something “anti-imperialist” about Syria.

Finally, I recommend Tony McKenna’s article in the latest edition of the International Socialist Review, the ISO’s journal. Titled “Revolution and counterrevolution in Syria”, it is the most comprehensive article that will help you get your bearings on a topic that is so poorly understood by the left, including Steve Ellner. Like Ellner, McKenna discusses the two poles of opinion on Syria but one much more rooted in the history of the Marxist left rather than dubious distinctions between utopian/pragmatist or—even worse—good versus bad:

The issue of the Syrian revolution offers up the single most important challenge to the radical and revolutionary Left in many decades. It has provided a test for Marxist thinkers and activists that we have not known the like of since Soviet tanks rolled in to crush the workers’ and students’ councils which emerged in the context of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. And there is a level of parity between these two revolutions in the way the radical Left has responded to both.

The year 1956 provoked a fissure in the radical Left, with many of the old Communist parties of Europe cleaving to the party line and supporting the forces of the USSR. The irony that the Soviet Union was actually murdering the forms of popular, working-class democracy—the soviets—on which it was founded was lost on much of the higher levels of the party bureaucracy, which received both funding and direction from Moscow. But towing the Stalinist line was about more than just material gain and position. The Stalinist bureaucracy had arisen out of the ashes of the proletarian revolution in Russia—and reached its ghastly fruition in a period of revolutionary retreat more broadly. Revolutionary outbreaks of the working class in Germany, Hungary, Italy, and China had all been crushed (sometimes with the active collusion of the Stalinist state), and in the wake of this there lingered a pervasive sense of despair.

The palliative was provided, somewhat perversely, by the existence of the Stalinist state itself. Though it had murdered much of the original Bolshevik vanguard, though it treated the Russian working class with the utmost brutality, it nevertheless decked itself out in the colors and idiom of the proletarian revolution. It presented itself to the world not as a bureaucratic aberration whose power was premised on the wreckage of the worker’s democracy, but as a lonely and fateful entity carrying forth the proletarian flame at a time of the most abiding darkness.

In the aftermath of World War II such a sense of things was heightened. The successful establishment of a genuine worker’s democracy was not forthcoming, and in its absence many communist radicals clung to the image of the non-capitalist USSR as the next best thing, as a challenge to Western hegemony, and the true carrier of the communist tradition. Even Trotsky—who had maintained a lonely and noble opposition to Stalinism for which he would pay with his life—had developed a theoretical justification that would support such a perspective. He and his followers argued that—as Stalinism abolished capitalist social relations in countries by invading them and placing Stalinist bureaucracies at their helm—what the USSR was in fact doing was forming new workers’ states albeit in a “deformed” guise.

If one had to give a brief explanation of Stalinism’s ideological pull then, one could do worse than say it was first and foremost a council of despair—the conviction that socialism could be imposed by an external power from above in a period when the living, breathing possibility of a revolution awakening from below was felt to be either negligible or nonexistent. Of course this was a delusion that worked against the grain of the most fundamental dictum of all Marxist thought—“the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes.”

But what was perhaps even more problematic was that the Left—large sections of which had spent many years orientating themselves toward Stalinism as a form of pseudo salvation from above—was increasingly not equipped to attend to revolutionary upheavals when they did break out from below. So when the USSR suppressed the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Communist Party of Great Britain along with a large swathe of Marxists and communist activists, applauded Moscow.

At the same time, however, from this rump—ossified by tradition—a key element began to break away. There were mass resignations and expulsions. Those Trotskyist groups, usually miniscule, maintained their noble opposition to Stalinism and decried the events of Hungary. More broadly, a “new left” began to cohere, one that tended to operate in terms of a more humanistic, anti-Stalinist vision of Marxism. Many such figures gathered around the journal New Left Review. In the 1960s, as these elements began to develop new theoretical perspectives, it must have seemed like a kind of springtime on the left, an airing out of all the dusty, accumulated dogma of ages, the chance to breathe in a new, fresher air.

Decades later, it is notable, with regards to Syria, how depressingly monotone the current Left seems to sound. Almost across the board, its leading figures seem united in the conviction that, though the Assad regime itself is not an unqualifiedly good thing, it nevertheless represents the most progressive force on the ground and is preferable to its adversaries. Slavoj Žižek, for instance, argues that the opposition shows “no signs of a broad emancipatory-democratic coalition, just a complex network of religious and ethnic alliances,” and that any secular resistance has been “more or less drowned in the mess of fundamentalist Islamist groups.”50

Tariq Ali draws the inevitable conclusion51 from such a perspective—“If you want to fight ISIS, you should be going in and fighting alongside Russia and alongside Assad.”52 Ali is a serious Marxist thinker—part and parcel of that new left of the sixties, which emerged very much in opposition to Stalinism and its emissaries in the European communist parties. In addition, Ali has also been an excellent chronicler of the development of Islamophobia in the context of the ongoing Western military interventions in the Middle East over the course of the last fifteen years.

And yet, one can’t help but feel the logic that underpins his analysis of the Syrian upheaval has both Stalinist and Islamophobic connotations—albeit that he remains oblivious to them. It has Islamophobic connotations in as much as it helps blur the shades of differentiation within the opposition into a single tone of uniform extremism—all those who fight under the banner of Islam are understood as ISIS-influenced combatants or their ilk. And once one has established this—has understood that the forces from below are irredeemably incapable of rising toward more progressive forms of social organization and social struggle—then the door is open to a Stalinist-like logic, an inevitable and fatalistic last resort. The despair that comes from faithlessness in popular power is neatly amended by the masochistic desire for an external force to step into the breach and impose some form of order from above. Enter stage left—Assad and his Iranian and Russian cronies.

 

May 7, 2018

Diana Johnstone’s attack on Tony McKenna

Filed under: Red-Brown alliance,Stalinism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:24 pm

Beware the dreaded Leon Bronstein

As you might expect, Diana Johnstone starts her Consortium News attack on Tony McKenna’s ISR article about Syria in a way that makes you think she has either not understood what she was reading because of declining intellectual powers or because, having understood it, mischievously misrepresented it.

She objects to Tony’s framing of the term “ideological lynchpin” in the following paragraph:

Much has been made of Western imperial support for the rebels in the early years of the revolution. This has, in fact, been an ideological lynchpin of first the Iranian and then the Russian military interventions as they took the side of the Assad government. Such interventions were framed in the spirit of anticolonial rhetoric in which Iran and Russia purported to come to the aid of a beleaguered state very much at the mercy of a rapacious Western imperialism that was seeking to carve the country up according to the appetites of the US government and the International Monetary Fund.

She tut-tuts Tony for failing to represent the “ideological” justifications of the Iranian and Russian regimes accurately that never said anything about imperialism. Their purpose was merely to defeat Islamic, Wahhabi extremism, not fend off the Rothschild Bank and other greedy Western financiers.

However, if you read Tony’s article as it was intended, it was obvious he was referring to people like John Wight, Mike Whitney and Stephen Gowans who have spent the last seven years trying to make Assad look like Syria’s Fidel Castro, fending off a Bay of Pigs type invasion. You see the words “rapacious Western imperialism” in the paragraph above? It is repeated later in the article and should have been enough to even tip off even the semi-conscious Ms. Johnstone who he was talking about: “Many, on the Communist left in particular, saw these invasions as being part of the last bastion of resistance to the imperial power projected by the United States and the heartlands of global capitalism, and so they failed to recognize that Stalin’s military takeovers represented a form of rapacious imperialism in its own right.” [emphasis added]

For Johnstone, the Saudi/Israeli/American proxy war was all about helping Israel destroy one of its main enemies in the Middle East. As a key player in the “Axis of Resistance”, keeping Assad in power was a sine qua non. She writes, “There are a few alternative hypotheses to Western motives – oil pipelines, imperialist atavism, desire to arouse Islamist extremism to weaken Russia (the Brzezinski gambit) – but none are as coherent as the organic alliance between Israel and the United States, and its NATO sidekicks.”

You sometimes have to wonder whether Johnstone and people like her read anything out of their comfort zone. To start with, the Baathists collaborated with the Zionists to smash Palestinian resistance during the Lebanese Civil War. Tal al-Zaatar, a refugee camp with over 50,000 Palestinian refugees, was besieged by Lebanese fascist militias backed by Hafez al-Assad over a two-month period. The Syrian military and its Phalangist allies machine-gunned refugee columns during civilian evacuation. Others were killed by grenades and knives, and numerous cases of rape followed the fall of the camp on August 12, 1976.

As the civil war in Lebanon dragged on, Syria finally decided to back a faction in the PLO in 1983 that would oust Yasir Arafat and replace him with someone more compliant to Baathist interests. Guess who backed Hafez al-Assad in this operation? None other than Muammar Gaddafi. In recounting Syria’s machinations, Michael Karadjis cites an Israeli official who was close to Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir:

Direct Syrian control of the PLO will be beneficial to us for a number of reasons. … our experience has shown that Syria can keep a firm hand on the Palestinian terrorists if it is in their interests to do so. Despite the fierce rhetoric from Damascus, there has been no attack against us from the Golan Heights for 10 years (Christopher Walker, ‘Israel welcomes prospect of Syrian-controlled PLO’, The Australian, November 11, 1983).

Obviously, the most “rejectionist” wing of the Palestinian movement would laugh at the notion that Syrian rebels were agents of the West acting on behalf of Israel. In February 2012, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya made clear where he stood. “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.” Even when Hamas came under intense pressure from Iran to support Assad, it stubbornly spoke out against the kind of criminality that people like Diana Johnstone defends. When Russian and Syrian jets were bombing hospitals, Hamas issued a statement that said: “We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely.”

Johnstone’s article concludes with a broadside against Trotskyism in terms that should be familiar. It is identical to the arguments I have heard from Stephen Gowans and even Johnstone’s occasional writing partner, the physicist Jean Bricmont. Basically, it boils down to justifying strongmen like Stalin or the various nationalist politicians that the Kremlin supported during the Cold War, including the Assads, Gaddafi, et al. She writes:

Socialism or communism was above all a rallying cry meaning independence and “modernization” – which is indeed what the Bolshevik revolution turned out to be. If the Bolshevik revolution turned Stalinist, maybe it was in part because a strong repressive leader was the only way to save “the revolution” from its internal and external enemies. There is no evidence that, had he defeated Stalin, Trotsky would have been more tender-hearted.

Countries that are deeply divided ideologically and ethnically, such as Syria, are not likely to be “modernized” without a strong ruler.

Actually, this is the same analysis put forward by Kremlinologist Adam Ulam who analogized the USSR with the bourgeois revolutions that carried out primitive accumulation in order to incubate modern capitalist states. It fetishizes hydroelectric dams, subway systems, superhighways, military prowess, et al as the chief accomplishments of the USSR—barely understanding that this is the same criteria by which you can judge both Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt as well.

If you are familiar with Lenin’s writings, you’d understand that this was the last thing on his mind just before his death. Nine months he succumbed to a stroke, he wrote an article titled “On Cooperation” that projected the most humane, logical and socialist path forward for the USSR:

At present we have to realize that the cooperatives system is a social system we must now give more than ordinary assistance, and we must actually give that assistance. But it must be it assistance in the real sense of the word, i.e., it will not be enough to interpret it to mean assistance for any kind of cooperative trade; by assistance we must mean aid to cooperative trade in which really large masses of the population actually take part. It is certainly a correct form of assistance to give a bonus to peasants who take part in cooperative trade; but the whole point is to verify the nature of this participation, to verify the awareness behind it, and to verify its quality. Strictly speaking, when a cooperator goes to a village and opens a cooperative store, the people take no part in this whenever; but at the same time guided by their own interests they will hasten to try to take part in it.

Furthermore, he understood that the biggest threat to the development of socialism around this time was Stalin’s bureaucratic tendencies that culminated in the forced collectivization. Written just a couple of months before “On Cooperation”, Lenin called for the removal of Stalin as General Secretary in a letter to the CP Congress. Primarily, this was motivated by Stalin’s treatment of the Georgian Republic that was typical of Great Russian chauvinism even if Stalin was from Georgia himself. Lenin wrote:

I think it is unnecessary to explain this to Bolsheviks, to Communists, in greater detail. And I think that in the present instance, as far as the Georgian nation is concerned, we have a typical case in which a genuinely proletarian attitude makes profound caution, thoughtfulness and a readiness to compromise a matter of necessity for us. The Georgian [Stalin] who is neglectful of this aspect of the question, or who carelessly flings about accusations of “nationalist-socialism” (whereas he himself is a real and true “nationalist-socialist”, and even a vulgar Great-Russian bully), violates, in substance, the interests of proletarian class solidarity, for nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice; “offended” nationals are not sensitive to anything so much as to the feeling of equality and the violation of this equality, if only through negligence or jest- to the violation of that equality by their proletarian comrades.

Like the Cold War liberals, Johnstone views Stalin as the natural outcome of the Russian Revolution. Despite Lenin’s insistence that peasant cooperatives be organized on a voluntary basis and the need to oppose national chauvinism, she champions the very behavior that would have gotten Stalin deposed in 1923.

Johnstone is mesmerized by modernizing industrialization and by the value of strong men carrying it out even though it has zero to do with the original vision of Karl Marx whose 200th birthday we celebrated 2 days ago. She certainly would have backed Stalin against the Georgians in 1923 just as she supports Putin against Ukraine today.

Like a lot of people who were radicalized in the 60s, Johnstone developed a reverence for Stalinist strong men as a way of overcompensating for LBJ, Nixon, et al. Totally alienated by American society, she became infatuated with men like Assad, Putin, Gaddafi and anybody else who was pilloried in the bourgeois press. Like the fraternity boys who kept posters of Ronald Reagan chopping wood on dorm room walls, her heart flutters for Vladimir Putin and anybody else who embodies her romantic idealization of men and women on horseback.

This would include Marine Le Pen, the ultraright Islamophobe that she described once as “basically on the left”. When people came out to protest Donald Trump’s viciously racist immigration crackdown, Johnstone described them with as much malice as Ann Coulter: “Whatever they think or feel, the largely youthful anti-Trump protesters in the streets create an image of hedonistic consumer society’s spoiled brats who throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want.”

Most people with their head screwed on right understand that Le Pen is a nativist just like all the other scum that are rising to the surface in Europe, from Viktor Orban in Hungary to Nigel Farage in England. In 2017, Johnstone decided that the real issue in the French election was national sovereignty and who better to defend it than Marine Le Pen? After all, Johnstone states that “Le Pen insists that all French citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their origins, race or religion.” Oh, how nice. This politician said that if she was elected, she’d stop all immigration to France.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that Johnstone’s article appeared in The UNZ Review as well as Consortium News except there it had a most revealing subtitle: “Obsessed with Stalin, the disciples of Leon Bronstein see betrayed revolutions everywhere”. Leon Bronstein? What the fuck? Is Johnstone okay with that? Now, if it was me, I wouldn’t allow UNZ to publish anything I wrote, especially since Ron Unz, the guy who runs it, is a disgusting rightwing pig. In 2016, he wrote an article titled “American Pravda: The KKK and Mass Racial Killings” that posed the question why there was so much attention paid to lynchings when Communism was responsible for the death of millions. He also took exception to a string of racist cop killings by pointing out that the victims were “bad guys”. He describes Trayvon Martin as a “violent young thug” and Michael Brown as “a gigantic, thuggish criminal”.

There is something sad about these journalists who made their reputation in the 60s and 70s and who are now hell-bent on destroying it, even if unintentionally. There is something compulsive about the behavior as if such self-destructiveness stems from some deep psychological need to be connected to vicious criminals like Assad. In the 1930s, much of the left flocked to Stalin like a moth to a flame. Today we see much of the left lining up with Putin and Assad from the same sort of political abnormal psychology. Tony McKenna’s article was a useful corrective to the cesspool of lies these sorts of people bathe in. The fact that Johnstone took the trouble to attack it just confirms its value.

April 28, 2018

The shifting sands of Assadist propaganda

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:08 pm

Two days ago, RT.com published an article based on the testimony of 17 Syrians that no chemical attack took place in Douma. Basically, they are defending the position of Robert Fisk:

The hospital received people who suffered from smoke and dust asphyxiation on the day of the alleged attack, Muwaffak Nasrim, a paramedic who was working in emergency care, said. The panic seen in footage provided by the White Helmets was caused mainly by people shouting about the alleged use of chemical weapons, Nasrim, who witnessed the chaotic scenes, added. No patients, however, displayed symptoms of chemical weapons exposure, he said.

If that story doesn’t have the desired result of fingering the White Helmets for a “false flag”, RT.com offers an alternative version so you have multiple choices like between brown rice or white rice at your favorite Chinese restaurant.

Just two days prior to the article cited above, RT.com offered up an article titled “‘Whole story was staged’: Germany’s ZDF reporter says Douma incident was false flag attack”. Well, it might have been staged but the script had a different plot line entirely:

The scene of the attack, which allegedly took place on April 7, was in fact the “command post” of a local Islamist group, the reporter said, citing the witnesses he was able to speak to at the refugee camp.

He went on to say that, according to the locals, the militants brought canisters containing chlorine to the area and “actually waited for the Syrian Air Force to bomb the place, which was of particular interest for them.”

As the Syrian forces eventually struck the place, which was apparently a high-priority military target, the chlorine canisters exploded. The locals also told Gack that it is not the first such provocation in Douma that was staged by the militants.

You get a Douma resident named Khaled Mahmoud Nuseir backing up ZDF’s reporting on this AP video. He states that his wife and children were killed by chlorine gas but blamed the jihadis. I should hasten to add that the interviewee was being watched by the Syrian military as he spoke to AP but why should that matter? They would never threaten anybody with dire consequences, even the 11-year old boy they interrogated in military headquarters and who has become noted for his claim that nothing happened in Douma except being splashed with water in a hospital. Why would he ever feel intimidated? Everybody knows how scrupulous the regime is about respecting the right of peaceful dissent.

So, which is it? Chlorine canisters exploding or a dust storm? In warning about the perfidy of the mainstream media, Max Blumenthal found both Fisk and Khaled Mahmoud Nuseir convincing even though their stories clashed. Par for the course, I suppose.

There’s nothing new about this. Every time there has been a major story developing about a chemical attack in Syria, Putin and Assad’s propaganda brigade has put out multiple and contradictory accounts, all hinging on the false flag narrative.

On August 21, 2013, East Ghouta was subjected to a sarin gas attack that left hundreds killed. One of the first defenders of the regime was Mint Press, an online newspaper based in Minneapolis edited by Mnar Muhawesh, an Iranian-American. She published an article under the byline of Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh that claimed that local rebels had mishandled sarin gas supplies—maybe like the Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy. Sarin leaked out of broken bottles and killed a bunch of rebel supporters. This was not a “false flag” story but good enough to be picked up by all the usual suspects and spun that way, including Consortium News.

Among those giving credit to the Mint Press account was Jim Naureckas of FAIR, a leftist media watchdog that has disgraced itself through its servile transmission of Assadist propaganda. Not long after Naureckas’s piece appeared, FAIR had to issue a correction since Dale Gavrak, a long-time and respected member of the press, issued a statement that the article had nothing to do with her. Her name had been attached to it without her permission.

Eventually, the Assadist left lined up with the version put forward by Theodore Postol and Richard Lloyd. They did not specifically identify what happened as a false flag but concluded that the villages that suffered the attack were out of range from regime rocket launchers. So, draw your own conclusion even if this involves a failure to account for the failure of these nihilistic, medieval-minded terrorists to ever turn their guns around–to use the Leninist formulation–and aim them at the Syrian military. Evidently, they prefer to kill their own children.

Postol would figure once again in a chemical attack incident that garnered front page attention. As it happens, people like Postol, Blumenthal, et al generally don’t pay attention to chemical attacks that are beneath the media radar. For example, there were 3 chlorine gas attacks in Douma prior to the one that got Trump’s attention but our Assadists did not bother to mount a “false flag” propaganda campaign.

On April 4, 2017, Khan Sheikhoun suffered a sarin gas attack that led Trump to launch a missile attack, which like the latest one killed not a single Syrian and also prompted an advance phone call to the Kremlin.

Postol offered clashing versions of what took place in Khan Sheikhoun, with each one superseding the previous one and lapped up eagerly by the Assadist left. In his final report, he refers to a French intelligence report that supposedly falsifies the White House allegation that it was a fixed-wing jet that dropped a sarin-laden bomb. The French named a helicopter as the culprit. Subsequently, it was discovered that Postol had confused a French report from 2013  rather than the one about Khan Sheikhoun 4 years later that took place on April 29th rather than April 4th. Well, I guess we can be thankful that Theodore Postol has not gone near hazardous substances in MIT’s labs given his failing intellectual powers. The prestigious university might have gone up in smoke ages ago.

There were also clashing versions over what caused the fatalities. Some like Postol made the case for rebels detonating a ground-level bomb that sprayed sarin gas while others like Gareth Porter argued that it was the accidental bombing of a warehouse that contained phosphine-producing smoke munitions. This accident produced a toxic cloud that killed a bunch of locals supposedly. Seymour Hersh, addled as ever, theorized that the toxic cloud probably came from a bomb dropped on organophosphate-based fertilizer used by local farmers or chlorine used to clean corpses prior to Islamic burial (they use soap and water instead.) He likely meant to say pesticides rather than fertilizers, as other “experts” claimed, since this is generally where you will find organophosphates in a farm belt. That bombing fertilizer is incapable of generating toxic fumes hardly mattered to Hersh, whose investigations of such incidents is as preposterous as Postol’s. Additionally, even when pesticides explode, you don’t find such a lethal outcome as I pointed out here.

None of this mattered to the Assadist left. Google “Gareth Porter” and “Khan Sheikhoun” and you will end up with 8,700 results. Ironically, for at least one Assadist, his analysis is a bridge too far. When Tim Hayward wrote a massive article accusing the rebels of being responsible for all of these chemical attacks, a commenter named Adrian, who trolled my blog a week ago, reminded him of Porter’s phosphine speculations. This led Hayward’s fellow conspiracy theorist Paul McKeigue to offer his own comment to Adrian warning against taking Porter seriously: “Unfortunately the article by Gareth Porter that you link to contains serious scientific errors. Porter appears to think that positive results in lab tests for sarin exposure could be caused by phosphine.” Well, of course. Anybody who read my post on this would have understood this. As googling “Louis Proyect” and “Khan Sheikhoun” only returns 342 results, naturally Porter’s propaganda has the inside track.

Most of the time, however, atrocities in Syria do not involve chemical weapons and thus do not require pseudo-scientific conjectures from the likes of Postol and Porter. Dropping barrel bombs can hardly avoid being recorded on an iPhone, after all. A search for “barrel bombs” on Youtube will turn up 89,300 results.

But, no worry. The democratically elected president of Syria, who enjoyed 98 percent of the vote in 2007, denied that a single barrel bomb had ever been dropped in an February 10, 2015 BBC interview:

Q: What about barrel bombs, you don’t deny that your forces use them?

A: I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven’t heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots.

Q: Large barrels full of explosives and projectiles which are dropped from helicopters and explode with devastating effect. There’s been a lot of testimony about these things.

A: They’re called bombs. We have bombs, missiles and bullets… There is [are] no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels.

If Assad can get away with such brazen lies, what makes you think that he wouldn’t dragoon 17 pour souls from Douma, including an 11-year old boy, into backing him up on the Douma chemical attack?

UPDATE:

This was a comment on the post by Greg Gelembluk, a FB friend:

There’s remarkable similarity between the disinformation tactics used by the Assad regime/Russia and that used by Franco’s Nationalists/Germany during the Spanish Civil War.

After the infamous bombing of Guernica, the Nationalists/Germany:

1. Made false flag claims (asserted that they hadn’t bombed the town – that, instead, Republican forces set the town on fire to generate international sympathy/intervention).

2. Trotted a group of Nationalist-accredited journalists through Guernica (e.g. William Carney, Georges Botto, and James Holburn), to generate articles absolving the Nationalists – directly analogous to Assad regime/Russian tactics with Robert Fisk, Pearson Sharp, etc.

3. Offered “witnesses” (prisoners taken by the Nationalists) to testify that Republican forces set the town on fire.

4. Franco set up a fake commission to determine the cause of the destruction of Guernica.

5. Claimed that other nations were ignoring Hitler’s sincere humanitarian diplomatic efforts.

It’s all incredibly analogous to what we’re seeing now in Syria.

Here are several news articles that were a product of the Nationalists/Germany disinformation offensive:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CS6axEE7jegO16cZ9KwjEgDvXvJlsNuF/view

April 23, 2018

Petrified Assadism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:00 pm

Petrified wood (wood that has turned into stone)

If you’ve been following Assadist propaganda as closely as me, you’re probably aware that it divides into two fairly distinct approaches: hard and soft.

The soft approach goes something like this. In 2011, Syrians rose up with legitimate grievances but before long (ranging between 6 months and 2 years approximately), the revolt was commandeered by jihadists. It is not unusual for people in this camp to be very critical of Assad, to refer to his neoliberalism, his repression, etc. The only solution to the country’s problems is to convene an international conference that can resolve the crisis through peaceful means. This requires allowing the dictatorship to remain in place since attempts to remove it will only prolong the misery. Vijay Prashad, Phyllis Bennis and the Stop the War Coalition in England are fairly representative of this trend.

The hardies view Assad as the head of a “developmental” state like Gaddafi’s Libya. Attention is paid to the Baathist past when state ownership was central to the economy and when social welfare measures were generous. There is a tendency to characterize the rebellion as illegitimate from the start, with claims that it initiated the violence and was Islamist from the outset. Much of the narrative has a conspiracist quality, with frequent references to Wikileaks and the infamous document on the Judicial Watch website that supposedly proves that the West favored groups like ISIS when in fact, it concludes that this would be the worst possible outcome. Typifying this camp are Stephen Gowans, The Partisan Girl, Vanessa Beeley and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

If you had asked me a year ago how the Grayzone people fit into this spectrum, I would have placed them either in the soft group or in between the two. For example, in a Real News interview in 2017, Max Blumenthal put forward a fairly “soft” position:

In my opinion, they [the media] have abrogated their mission, which should be to challenge mainstream narratives and particularly imperial narratives on issues like Syria. I understand there are massive human rights abuses by the Syrian government, but that’s not reason enough to not explore what the West’s agenda, the Gulf agenda is for that country, what the consequences are, to actually get into the geopolitical issues. [emphasis added]

However, more recently it appears that Blumenthal and his gang are firmly in the hard zone, if not reaching the point where they will be creating a new group that might be called Petrified Assadism. The evidence can be found in recent tweets by Blumenthal that reflect a surprising affinity with deranged propagandists like Stephen Gowans.

Yesterday, Blumenthal linked to a Gowans attack on Medhi Hasan with this preface: “Stephen Gowans on @mehdirhasan’s moral posturing and his attempt to discipline the consequential left”. Here’s the background on this. The chemical attack on Douma has provoked a number articles criticizing the Assadist left for its “false flag” trolling. Among them is Medhi Hasan’s (@mehdirhasan) one on the Intercept titled “Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists: Your Hero Is a War Criminal Even If He Didn’t Gas Syrians”. Hasan must have irked people like Blumenthal who has endorsed the “false flag” narrative:

Now, I totally understand why those of you on the MAGA-supporting far right [Make America Great Again] who cheer for barrel bombs don’t give a damn about any of this. But to those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?

Remember: Whether Assad used chemical weapons in Douma is irrelevant to the moral case against him. What about the rest of his crimes? Was Assad any less of a war criminal when his “indiscriminate bombardments,” according to the U.N., were destroying “homes, medical facilities, schools, water and electrical facilities, bakeries and crops,” without the aid of sarin or chlorine? When he was dropping barrel bombs (68,000 since 2012, according to one count) on defenseless civilians? Or cluster bombs? Or good ol’-fashioned shells?

In a tweet responding to Hasan, Blumenthal endorsed the reporting of Robert Fisk, the go-to guy for all things Assadist:

Now here is @mehdirhasan reinforcing the official msm/Guardian narrative that if you accept the credibility of Robert Fisk’s reporting from Douma or question the credibility of the insurgent-allied, US-funded White Helmets, you’re a crazy conspiracist…

Since Blumenthal is on record as a supporter of the truthiness of Russian media, I hope he can explain the latest report on RT.com that is sharply opposed to Fisk’s. It relies on coverage by ZDF television in Germany. At first blush, the article’s title appears to be consistent with the tale told by the Kremlin: “’Whole story was staged’: Germany’s ZDF reporter says Douma incident was false flag attack”. However, when you read a bit further, it veers off in an entirely another direction:

The scene of the attack, which allegedly took place on April 7, was in fact the “command post” of a local Islamist group, the [ZDF] reporter said, citing the witnesses he was able to speak to at the refugee camp.

He went on to say that, according to the locals, the militants brought canisters containing chlorine to the area and “actually waited for the Syrian Air Force to bomb the place, which was of particular interest for them.”

As the Syrian forces eventually struck the place, which was apparently a high-priority military target, the chlorine canisters exploded. The locals also told Gack that it is not the first such provocation in Douma that was staged by the militants. [emphasis added]

According to other witness accounts, the militants deliberately exposed people to chemical agents during what they called “training exercises” then filmed it and later presented as an “evidence” of the alleged chemical attack in Douma.

So RT.com publishes an article that states “chlorine canisters exploded” during a helicopter bombing. These innocent helicopter crews had no intention of gassing people. The dear hearts only wanted to blast them to kingdom come with nice, little barrel bombs.

A good prosecutor would put RT.com in the witness stand and ask which story was right. Was it a totally staged Mission Apollo hoax in which a nonprofessional cast pretended to be dead with artificial foam on their mouths? Or were there dead people whose relatives only had the jihadis to blame? If they hadn’t devilishly been putting chlorine canisters under the direct aim of helicopters, everybody in Douma would have lived happily ever after. Maybe with some amputated limbs and a few killed here and there but all’s fair in love and war.

This is not to speak of how absurd Fisk’s story now appears. If he was put in the witness stand, the prosecutor would ask why he was circulating a false report. What dust storm? Did you cover up the ZDF report? All these stories contradicting each other are typical of Assadist propaganda and those promoting them should all be found guilty of perjury and given stiff sentences.

Turning to Gowans’s article, you enter the domain of really unabashed propaganda. Titled “Mehdi Hasan, beautiful soul, and his diatribe against the consequential Left”, it states in the first paragraph that Fisk’s reporting has “demolished” the “ridiculously thin” allegations of a chemical attack. Well, one gathers that Gowans won’t be following on up on RT.com’s version 3.0. Maybe it was a combination dust storm and jihadi chlorine gas provocation organized by the Mossad and funded by the Rothschild Bank. And have intrepid journalists also looked into the possibility of chemtrails?

Basically, Gowans defends Assad’s mass murder along the same lines as the wretched John Wight who once wrote a defense of barrel bombing on the basis that the allies firebombed Dresden so what’s the big deal? Both wars were against fascism and hence required a no holds barred strategy. Obviously, people like Wight and Gowans have little use for weak tea liberals like Howard Zinn who viewed both the firebombing of Dresden and Hiroshima/Nagasaki as “terror bombing”.

Like Wight, Gowans defends “extraordinary measures” to defeat Islamofascism. Assad found himself in the same position as FDR or Churchill:

It would be wrong to denounce the anti-fascist war as deplorable because some, or indeed many, of its methods, were distasteful–from the virtual dictatorships exercised in Britain and the United States, to the abuse, torture and summary executions of Axis prisoners of war, to sieges and the starving of civilians. And was the Allied countries’ refusal to guarantee the rights of assembly and free expression of Nazi and fascist supporters to be condemned as a human rights violation? Every accusation Hasan makes against Assad he can equally make against Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s conduct in WWII. Curiously (or predictably) he doesn’t, choosing instead to direct his venom at the duo’s ally, Stalin, the only one of the three whose goals were authentically leftist.

So based on this, Assad did everything that could defend his socialist state against “jihadis” backed by Washington, Saudi Arabia and Israel: barrel bombing, starvation sieges, chemical attacks, 13,000 prisoners executed in Saydnaya prison, rape, torture, and all the rest.

For this argument to succeed, Gowans has to sweep the class character of the Syrian war under the rug. An examination of the plight of Syrian farmers would make comparisons with German and Japanese big business laughable. In my review of Gowans’s ludicrous book on Syria, I pointed out:

You can search in vain for any reference to economic data in Gowans’s book. Since his goal is to portray the conflict purely as one involving a socialist government’s attempt to suppress an extremist threat to the idyllic status quo, he needs to sweep countervailing data under the rug. In all likelihood, Gowans has never read a single article or book about the class divisions that grew apace in Syria since the early 2000s so perhaps he is off the hook.

If he had read the two-volume “Syria: from Reform to Revolt” edited by Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl, he would have learned why those in the Jezira farm belt decided to pick up arms. Unlike the Krupps, who wanted to turn Eastern Europe into a slave labor camp, these were poor people trying to survive as Myrian Ababsa points out in a chapter titled “The End of the World: Drought and Agrarian Transformation in Northeast Syria (2007-2010)”:

The drought put an end to decades of development in the fields of health and education in the Jezira, and the sanitary situation became dramatic. In 2009, 42 percent of Raqqa governorate suffered from anemia owing to a shortage of dairy products, vegetables, and fruit. Malnutrition among pregnant women and children under five doubled between 2007 and 2009. To complicate matters, vegetable and fruit growers in dry northern Syria used polluted river water to irrigate their crops, causing outbreaks of food poisoning among consumers, according to environmental and medical experts. Experts pointed out that the problem stemmed from sewage and chemicals allowed to reach rivers in rural areas near Aleppo, Lattakia, and Raqqa.

Reading through Gowans’s drivel, I was somewhat surprised by the venom he hurled at Eric Draitser in an addendum. I was aware that Draitser, whose podcasts are a regular feature on CounterPunch, had been evolving but until now I didn’t realize how much the Petrified Assadists like Gowans had come to hate him:

The intellectual predecessors of Hasan, Draitser, and their ilk likewise adopted a position of neutrality in the struggle between slave owners and the slave rebellion, deploring the methods of struggle chosen by both sides, but particularly the violence of the slave rebellion, the necessary condition of the slaves’ emancipation. “If only they could work out their disagreements amicably,” they sighed.

In the 1930s, the neutralists, seeking to hover God-like above the fray, refused to side with either the Communists or Nazis, abhorring the deployment of defensive violence by Communists and Jews against the Nazis who would destroy them.

In my view, anybody who can get the execrable Stephen Gowans so worked up deserves the widest hearing. From now on, his podcasts will be up front on my agenda. I had noticed a significant change in Draitser’s approach some time ago and would urge you to look at what I wrote about him in 2016. Showing an integrity that is sadly lacking in the professional Assadist class, he made a clean break with these cynical, lying, venal propagandists:

But what does it mean to oppose the war? Does it mean that we should be opposing just Russian and Syrian bombs being dropped? Does it mean that only US-Saudi-Turkey-Israeli supplied weapons are doing the killing? Sadly, these too are not rhetorical questions as so many on the Left, including many self-described anti-imperialists, have positioned themselves as hawks in a war that has utterly devastated the country. It seems that many, myself included up to a point, have gotten so enveloped in the embrace of partisanship in this war that we have forgotten that our responsibility is to the people of Syria and to peace and justice.

If you’re supportive of Assad then it’s a certainty that you’ve chosen to ignore or downplay the horrific violence of the bombings, the brutality of the torture chambers, and other unspeakable atrocities (I admit that I have often strayed too far into the latter) out of a desire to uphold the nominally anti-imperialist position.

And how about the refugees? I’ve seen the fascist talking points spouted by many fake “anti-imperialists” who with one breath proclaim their commitment to peace and justice, and with another demonize and scapegoat Syrian refugees whose politics don’t align with the pro-Assad position. Words like “traitors,” “cowards,” and “terrorists,” are shamefully applied to ordinary Syrians fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in hopes of saving their families. Indeed, it is precisely this narrative that is at the core of the white supremacist, fascist ideology that underlies a significant amount of the support base for Assad and his allies (see David Duke, David Icke, Alexander Dugin, Brother Nathanel, Alex Jones, Mimi al-Laham, Ken O’Keefe, and on and on and on). I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true, and too many of the pro-Assad camp have willfully ignored this fundamental point.

I ask these questions as someone who took a firmly pro-Assad position from the very beginning, someone who felt (as I, and many others, still do) that Syria, like Libya, was a victim of US-NATO-GCC-Israel imperialism and that, as such, it should be defended. And while I still uphold that resistance, I also have enough humility to know that, in doing so, I abandoned other core beliefs such as defense of ALL oppressed people, including the ones with politics I reject.

Bravo!

April 20, 2018

Syria and neo-McCarthyism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:02 pm

Tim Hayward

A group of academics in England dedicated to the Herculean task of clearing Bashar al-Assad’s name has been stung by a couple of articles in Rupert Murdoch’s London Times. Since the articles are both behind a paywall and germane to the analysis I will be putting forward in this article, I have used my retiree benefits from Columbia University to penetrate the paywall and make them available to the general public.

University of Edinburgh professor Tim Hayward launched the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media to “to facilitate research and debate with respect to the 2011-present war in Syria and the role of both media and propaganda.” Like many who write about Syria, the focus of the group is exclusively geopolitical. The unit of analysis is not social class but the state. For them, the narrative is all about how the CIA, reactionary Middle Eastern states, Israel et al decided to destabilize Syria using proxy forces in 2011 as part of a general strategy against the “axis of resistance”. Interest in questions such as the role of neoliberalism, elite kleptocracy symbolized by Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf sheltering billions in Panama banks, the misery of farmers during a period of drought and declining state investment in the countryside are really beside the point. All you need to know is what side Nicholas Kristof or George Soros took. Where they put a plus, it was necessary to put a minus and vice versa. While it is certainly important not to neglect the geopolitical side of the conflict, if it becomes the exclusive focus, there is always the tendency to descend into conspiracy theory where history is determined not by class struggle but by back-room cabals. When referring to 9/11 Trutherism, a belief held by one of Hayward’s board members Mark Crispin Miller, Alexander Cockburn identified its origins in a retreat from class analysis:

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list.

In my view, a lot more thought has to be devoted to capital accumulation rather than “false flags” to understand both 9/11 and the war in Syria.

Continue reading

April 18, 2018

Family photo of two war criminals

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:30 pm

Bashar is standing right in front of Hafez. His older brother Basel, who is wearing jeans, died in the 90’s. His younger brother Amjad with the ginger hair died in the 2000’s. Only his other younger brother Maher remains. Axis of resistance? Give me a fucking break.

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