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الخميس، 12 سبتمبر 2013

In the court of leftist public opinion

In the court of leftist public opinion

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist



September 8, 2013
Yesterday I crossposted British filmmaker/activist Ben Allinson-Davies’s report on a recent trip to the FSA controlled Idlib region of Syria and got this comment from Alan Haber, a cabinet-maker in Michigan who was one of the early leaders of Students for a Democratic Society:
The relevant thrust of this story seems to be: Assad is a killer, the United States, whatever its motives, should bomb him to hell. That is the question to the American public and politics now, bomb or don’t bomb. What is this observers opinion? and Louis Proyect, what is yours? Alan Haber
Allison-Davies does conclude his article with a call for intervention: "The Obama administration, and indeed the whole world, has delayed action for long enough, consolidating genocide, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, and strengthening the regime itself." But I did not crosspost it as a sign that I am in accord with this call. My intention was to get some useful eyewitness reporting on life inside rebel-controlled territory. For all of the reputation of the Washington Post and the New York Times being imperialist warmongers, they do not have any reporters covering this beat. The last one who did was the NY Times’s Anthony Shadid who died tragically far too young from an asthma attack in Syria. Nowadays the more typical article from the NY Times is the recent one about rebels killing their captives based on a year-old video.
In terms of my opinion on Obama attacking Syria, this is not the first time I have been asked to testify in the court of leftist public opinion. Last week Keane Bhatt, a young activist who works with NACLA, asked me the identical question. And a day before I was challenged by Haber, a certain "bankotsu" put me on the spot as well:
I think it’s time for the author of this blog to state clearly and unequivocally his position regarding the coming U.S. and allied gang attack on Syria. I know that the author rejects the Assad regime, but I want to know his position on the U.S. imperialist assault. Whether he supports or opposes the assault.
This is basically the reply that I have made to such interrogations that I repeat now for Haber’s benefit:
My position is that Obama must be opposed. I have not written anything to that effect for the same reason I have not written anything lately about opposing drone strikes. Because I have not blogged about drones, one should not draw the conclusion that I favor what Obama is doing to the Yemenites. Basically, what he wants to do in Syria is a drone strike on steroids.
My focus lately has been about the disinformation campaign blaming rebels for the August 20 chemical attack. I am not like the typical leftist who all of sudden discovers that the country of Syria exists when Obama brandishes threats against it. For the past two years I have made videos, raised money, and written articles on behalf of the FSA/LCC Syrian revolutionaries but have always opposed the jihadists. That being said, the main enemy is Bashar al-Assad. I am not a johnny-come-lately. So when people come along and all of a sudden worry about a "war on Syria", I tend to wonder where all of the concern is coming from. There has been a war for the past 2 and 1/2 years, courtesy of Russian imperialism. I guess that they think that because Putin was in the Soviet secret police once upon a time, that puts him on the side of the angels. Tell that to Pussy Riot.
I am not the only high-profile blogger on trial. Richard Seymour, whose "Liberal Defence of Murder" established him as one of the most forceful critics of "humanitarian interventions", has been treated to the same kind of prosecutorial zeal on Lenin’s Tomb after writing an article that states: "Of course, the idea that the opposition is dominated by a few thousand salafists is as implausible as the idea that when US boots land on Syrian soil their major foes will be 'Al Qaida’.  It’s horseshit."
For refusing to bow to the established wisdom that the rebels are Evil Incarnate, Richard has had to put up with comments like "Oh Lenny, you’re such a twat. The so-called opposition was taken over by the American fascists as soon as it manifested." That’s slightly more elevated than the comment that went into my spam filter yesterday: "The phony left is mainly close zionist Trotskyist groups pro Israel. We don’t have left in the west. Those who call themself 'left’ are exactly these group all pro 'jewish state’. Otherwise no one would support al qaeda through 'humanitarian intervention’ of the Cowboy, and baby killer Obama, who was installed by Jewish bankers and groups like Jewish Lobby." It doesn’t matter that "humanitarian intervention" advocate par excellence Michael Berube once denounced me as a prime example of the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" philosophy. I am condemned for being in league with Jewish bankers. No wonder Nick Griffin got the red carpet treatment in Damascus.
Because I once wrote about NATO’s crimes in the Balkans, people must have expected me to apply the same analysis in a formulaic fashion like Diana Johnstone, Edward Herman/David Peterson, and just about anybody who writes for Global Research. For these people, class analysis does not exist. They could be less interested in how people live in FSA-controlled territory or what made them take up arms to begin with. After Nicholas Kristof wrote an article attacking the Baathists, they decided to take their side. Leon Trotsky wrote about such characters in an article titled "Learn to Think":
In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.
Not long after Milosevic was ousted in Serbia, I noticed a kind of knee-jerk support for any third-rate piece of shit dictator who was threatened by a "color revolution". When bus drivers tried to organize a union in Tehran, Ahmadinejad had their leader jailed and tortured. Why in the world would any leftist side with union-busting? MRZine’s Yoshie Furuhashi stood up for Ahmadinejad because Freedom House had issued a statement on their behalf. Is this what the American left had come to? I was not on board with this.
As someone who is a fairly high profile blogger, I have to put up with more static than most people in the organized left whose party organs simply don’t allow room for interrogatory challenges like Haber’s. That does not present a problem since I am contentious by nature. In fact I invite such challenges, while reserving the right to put Jew-baiting comments into the trash.
That being said, my views on Syria are identical to what the ISO—the largest group on the US left—believes, based on their circulation of a statement of left groups in the Middle East that while opposing an American attack states:
A LARGE block of hostile forces from around the world is conspiring against the Syrian people’s revolution, which erupted in tandem with the uprisings spreading through a large section of the Arab region and the Maghreb for the past three years. The people’s uprisings aimed to put an end to a history of brutality, injustice and exploitation, and attain the rights to freedom, dignity and social justice.
Meanwhile, two of the largest groups on the Australian left have arrived at pretty much the same conclusion. One of them, a group called Socialist Alternative that emerged out of Tony Cliff’s state capitalist tradition, published an article by Corey Oakley that is extremely good. Socialist Alternative opposes any American attack on Syria, but stands behind Oakley’s statement:
Prominent British leftists Tariq Ali and George Galloway have come out stridently in opposition to the insurrectionary aims of the uprising, claiming that the revolution has been taken over by reactionaries and arguing that a negotiated settlement with the regime is the only answer. Ali, in an interview with Russia Today, said the choice was between a "Western imposed regime, composed of sundry Syrians who work for the Western intelligence agencies…or the Assad regime." Galloway, the left populist MP best known as a campaigner against the Iraq war, goes even further, denouncing the Syrian resistance for not accepting the peace plan advanced by the UN.
Much of this left-agonising about the Syrian revolt reflects the legacy of Stalinism, which led many to identify leftism with various despotic but "anti-imperialist" regimes that opposed the West and oppressed their own people in equal measure. But others on the left not weighed down by the legacy of Stalinism echo Galloway’s attitude over Syria. John Rees, until a few years ago a leading member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, wrote last month that he was in "broad agreement" with Galloway and Ali.
I couldn’t have put it better.
Like Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Alliance has been organizing protests against American intervention. Formerly known as the Democratic Socialist Party, these comrades were close to the American SWP but broke with it after the party went off the deep end. Like Corey Oakley, Michael Karadjis has been writing some brilliant stuff for their party press:
I will first clarify what I think is going on generally. The Syrian revolution, which broke out in February 2011 as a democratic mass revolt against the dictatorship, is still the fundamental fact. The fact that after eight months of slaughter by the regime revolt was forced to take up arms by late 2011 does not change that.
Countless reports from liberated towns about the nature of this democratic process, under attack from the dictatorship, for example in Taftanaz, Saraqeb, Qusayr, the Damscus outer suburb Duma, Sarmada, Idlib, Azaz, parts of Aleppo and elsewhere, are examples which deal with the real-world difficulties of revolutionary democratic governance from below, but nevertheless reveal some semblance of popular structures that surely deserve defending against the dictatorship and its tanks, scud missiles and torture chambers, and which on the whole do not show evidence of imposition of sharia law or sectarian cleansing of minorities.
I strongly urge my readers to check out Karadjis’s thoroughly researched article at
Finally, it is worth mentioning that despite his reputation as a "humanitarian intervention" advocate based on his support for a no-fly zone in Libya, Gilbert Achcar is another example of being able to walk and chew gum at the same time (ie., opposing Obama and supporting the rebels.) In an article titled "Welcoming the vote of the British Parliament while supporting the Syrian uprising", Achcar makes some very good points:
The third reason to welcome the parliamentary vote is the one most directly predicated on my resolute support to the Syrian popular uprising. The military action that is being contemplated by Washington is about dealing the murderous Syrian regime a few military blows in order to "punish" it for the use of chemical weapons against civilians. I have hardly any doubt that the Syrian regime did resort to such weapons in its barbaric onslaught on the Syrian people. True, it will be hard for the UN inspection team, which was allowed to reach the scene of the crime only several days after it was perpetrated, to find any smoking gun. But the fact that the Syrian regime possesses chemical weapons and the means to strike with them (to mount a large scale rocket and artillery attack, as did happen) is beyond doubt, as is its cold-blooded-serial-killer aptitude to use them on civilians.
Having said all this, even if there were not a single group in the US or in Australia that held such positions, that would make no difference to me. After careful study of unfolding events in Syria, and after interviews with some Syrian-American activists, and finally after a year’s worth of Skype conversations with a young man now living in Yemen who had defected from the Syrian military, I am as sure about which side to support in Syria as I was about Vietnam, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Others of course are free to make their own choices. I would only advise putting their brain in gear before making them.


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