Our Responsibility to the Arab Spring

by Pham Binh on August 5, 2012

A Reply to Comrade Ely

Mike Ely’s response to my argument that it is a mistake for Western leftists to try to stop U.S. imperialist airstrikes on counter-revolutionary military forces when revolutionaries abroad demand them out of desperation is in many ways typical of the Western anti-imperialist left’s reaction to this heresy.

Before I respond to Ely’s critique, I must commend him for republishing my piece on the Kasama Project Web site when he so vehemently disagrees with its content (not to mention tone).

If there is one thing he and I agree on (and that Kasama and The North Star have in common), it is that party-line echo chambers have not served the American left well; they lead to flat one-way “conversationsat best and, when political differences arise, personal sniping and “gotcha” polemics at worst.

Ely writes as if I argued for supporting or allying with the U.S. government or U.S. imperialism:

“Here is one of the most basic and important questions of any revolutionary movement: Do you support the government and this system or don’t you? Do you see what their interests are, and the criminal nature of their actions, or don’t you?”

“First, supporting the U.S. government (from here within the U.S.) is counterrevolutionary, because we intend to make a revolution against them.”

“But again no decision by anyone anywhere should lead revolutionaries in the U.S. to ally with U.S. imperialism.”

I’m not sure where or how he got such a mistaken idea since there was nothing along those lines either in my original piece or in my response to Socialist Worker‘s Paul D’amato.

U.S. imperialism is counter-revolutionary. No one is debating that.

But here is the rub: the Ghadafi government in Libya was also counter-revolutionary in the spring of 2011 when it mowed down peaceful demonstrators with machine gun fire. Given this, the question is: why would we in the U.S. try to stop a conflict between these two counter-revolutionary forces, a conflict that would help Libyan revolutionaries win? (Especially when they asked for that conflict?) Why should we oppose U.S. imperialism’s actions when such opposition would help counter-revolutionary governments smash and destroy revolutions in first Libya and now Syria?

Ely’s response does not address these questions.

Women in Yemen: Libyan, Syrian, and Yemeni revolutions are one hand.

Ely is absolutely right when he says “the key issue (and key illusion) to discuss” is that “U.S. military intervention is somehow aid for revolutions in Libya and Syria” but then he does not “deal with it in great depth” even though this is the single most important issue in this debate!

The aid NATO rendered the Libyan revolution was no illusion. Ghadafi’s tanks were destroyed by NATO airstrikes as they sped towards the revolution’s stronghold, Benghazi. NATO’s air assaults forced the regime to give up tanks and heavy armor in favor of the white pickup trucks used by the revolutionaries, evening the playing field in the ground war. NATO’s air cover allowed Berber militias in the west and freedom fighters in the east under the leadership of the National Transition Council to reorganize and recover the ground they lost solely due to Ghadafi’s military superiority.

Would the Libyan revolution have been better off without NATO’s airstrikes (and later arms, logistical support, and training)? The honest answer is no. Benghazi would have been smashed and mourned by Arab and North African revolutionaries as the Paris Commune of the 21st century, the revolution that never was, the place where the birth of a more democratic order was brutally aborted by counter-revolutionary bloodshed.

Imperialism and Internationalism

In acknowledging these realities, we should have no illusions about NATO’s motives, intentions, and interests, all of which are pernicious, opportunistic, and counter-revolutionary. However, sometimes the interests of U.S. imperialism coincide partially or temporarily with our goals as revolutionaries. We should not oppose everything U.S. imperialism does, everywhere, all the time, simply because the U.S. government is doing it. Doing so would put us in the absurd position of opposing the Clinton administration’s decision to normalize relations with Viet Nam or the Bush administration’s decision to send food aid to victims of the 2005 tsunami in Southeast Asia. If the Obama administration decides to end the blockade of Cuba we should jump for joy not oppose, block, or stop such a step even though the aim of such a policy shift would be to open up the Cuban economy to American capital a la Viet Nam two decades ago.

Refusing to oppose these moves is not an endorsement of the cynical and self-serving aims that underpin these actions by the U.S. government. Similarly, not trying to stop U.S. military attacks on counter-revolutionary forces in Libya and Syria is not an endorsement of U.S. imperialism’s war aims.

Thus when Ely writes, “I can tell you that regardless of what anyone says, anywhere in the world, we will oppose U.S. imperialism,” I strongly disagree with the practical implications of this.

If we consider ourselves internationalists, as allies and supporters of every movement against tyranny, oppression, and exploitation the world over, the preferences, choices, and demands of these movements must have some bearing on our preferences, choices, and demands, even though our immediate tasks will almost always differ from theirs because we live in different countries and have to fight different battles. The Vietnamese and Cuban peoples would not want us to oppose U.S. imperialism’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with their respective governments.

The interests and needs of revolutionaries in the Arab world and North Africa should be among our top priorities for two reasons: 1) they need all the help they can get and 2) they are our best hope for a revolutionary movement here at home. Without the Arab Spring, there would be no Occupy Wall Street. The more victories the Arab Spring wins, the more difficult it will become for U.S. government to dominate, bully, control, and exploit at home and abroad even in cases where the resultant regime is not opposed to U.S. imperialism.

For example, the pro-U.S. military junta ruling post-Mubarak Egypt has terminated a lucrative gas contract with Israel and ended the blockade of the Gaza Strip, allowing Palestinians living there to travel more freely, creating major problems for Israeli and American efforts to trap, starve, and defeat the Palestinian people. In Libya, the U.S. took military action against Ghadafi’s counter-revolution, paving the way for the revolution’s victory which removed a long-standing thorn in the side of U.S. imperialism; however, workers and oppressed peoples (like the Berbers) who are now free to organize, strike, and vote will be an even bigger and more problematic thorn for the U.S. to reckon with in the long run. Let us not forget that it was the Turkish parliament’s last-minute decision to deny the U.S. military territorial access for its 2003 Iraq invasion that caused far more problems for U.S. imperialism than all the empty threats made by “anti-imperialist” strongmen in Damascus, Tehran, Tripoli, and Baghdad put together. Not for nothing has Washington invested decades of effort into blocking, hampering, and retarding the development of democracy and political freedom all over the Third World. It is far easier to bribe, bully, or box in a dictator than a politically conscious, aware, and active population of millions.

The decision by some Libyan and Syrian revolutionaries to ask for U.S. airstrikes on their enemies was and is neither a crime nor an “alliance” with U.S. imperialism but desperate gamble born of immediate tactical necessity. It was and is not our responsibility to block airstrikes on counter-revolution forces because who stands to gain from such a move on our part? The Libyan and Syrian counter-revolutions.

 The Big Picture

The Arab Spring upended Pax Americana in the Middle East, and with it, the standard political alignments of the region with Israel, the U.S., and right-wing monarchies and dictatorships on the one side and the governments of Libya, Syria, and Iran, and resistance movements like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization on the other. Things are infinitely more complicated now that the Arab and North African masses have stormed onto the stage of history and disrupted this dichotomy.

When the Arab Spring first flowered in Tunisia and then Egypt, the Western left – liberals, progressives, Marxists, anarchists, left nationalists, and anti-imperialists – greeted it enthusiastically. The masses who occupied the Wisconsin state capitol building saw it as their own Tahrir Square. Picking sides was easy: the good guys were the unarmed peaceful protestors pleading for more freedom and the bad guys were U.S.-backed dictators Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who used force against them and resisted their demands.

As these two seemingly invincible tyrants fell in a matter of weeks, the Arab Spring spread all over the region and into the “anti-imperialist” countries, Libya and Syria. The “progressive” Ghadafi and Assad dictatorships opted to kill their good guys from the get-go, and so the good guys in these countries started fighting like bad guys with guns and bombs and later asked the biggest, baddest guys – the U.S. government and NATO – to attack the local bad guys’ tanks, helicopters, airplanes, and artillery.

Tyrants that slay together, stay together

This muddied the waters, seriously confusing and disorienting the Western left. After all, who would possibly revolt against “progressive” so-called anti-imperialist dictators? Surely these revolts must be backed by the U.S., the Israelis, and the Saudis? A good guy who asks the biggest, baddest guy that lives far away for help defeating the smaller bad guy who lives next door is by definition actually bad guy too, is he not?

This abject confusion has led anti-imperialists like the Party for Socialism and Liberation to defend regimes that tortured people at the behest of U.S. imperialism, Tariq Ali to imply that the Syrian revolution is an exercise in neocolonialism, Pepe Escobar (and even Glenn Greenwald to a degree) to whip up “left” Islamophobia over Syria’s revolutionaries, and the International Socialist Organization to oppose the NATO airstrikes that prevented the victory of counter-revolution in Libya.

According to PSL, one of these men is anti-imperialist.

The pro and anti-imperialist dichotomy has blinded us to which actors in what countries are revolutionary and counter-revolutionary, which good guys are still good guys even when they get help from bigger, badder guys from abroad to defeat smaller bad guys at home, and which good guys (like Hezbollah) are stabbing other good guys in the back by siding with bad guys who are hell-bent on staying in power no matter how many of their own people they have to kill using Russian and Iranian weapons bought with blood-soaked oil money.

Indeed, one irony of this debate is that my anti-imperialist critics have completely ignored the very real and pressing problem of Russian imperialism in Syria which is providing arms and diplomatic support for Assad’s murderous counter-revolutionary campaign. Why should our anti-imperialist outrage be reserved exclusively for hypothetical(!) U.S. airstrikes on the killers of the Syrian people while Russian-made helicopters, tanks, cluster bombs, and bullets kill our comrades in Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs by the dozens and hundreds every day without so much as a peep from us? When the U.S. and Britain, for their own selfish, criminal, imperialist reasons block Russia’s equally selfish, criminal, and imperialist arms shipments to Assad, should we be indignant anti-imperialists and push for a “hands off” approach instead which, in reality, would be a “more arms for the regime” policy? Should we not welcome infighting among our enemies when it benefits our friends in Syria who are risking their lives and the lives of their families to bring down a blood-drenched tyrannical dictatorship?

While we fiddle, Syrians bleed.

Our anti-imperialism is not a guide to action, but a guide to inaction. Not since spring of 2011 has the Western left mobilized in any meaningful way to support the Arab Spring, back when it was popular, “cool,” and easy to see who the good and bad guys were. The people of Egypt knew that we in the West had their backs along with everyone else in the Middle East, North Africa, and the world that took to the streets to support or emulate them.

Once the Arab Spring erupted in countries ruled by “left” dictatorships on America’s hit list, our agitation and organization in solidarity with revolutions ground to a halt because opposing American intervention was more important for us than doing everything within our power to help these revolutions beat back the immediate clear and present danger they faced: domestic counter-revolutions.

Our inaction sent revolutionaries in Libya and Syria a very clear message: you are on your own. Our demonstrations against NATO’s military attacks on Ghadafi sent an even worse message: we wish NATO was not destroying the military forces Ghadafi sent to kill you.

The Syrians have heard our deafening silence; it is why they brave artillery shells and shabiha death squads to come out into the streets under slogans such as, “Friday of Your Silence Is Killing Us.” They are sending us a message, giving us guidance, telling us what we can do to help them. Instead of heeding their calls for action, for solidarity, for breaking our silence, the Western anti-imperialist left spreads slander that the Free Syrian Army was responsible for the Houla massacre and obsesses over the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s relationship with elements of the exiled Syrian opposition in order to justify our criminal do-nothing policy in the face of Assad’s all-out barbarism.

This is proof positive that Bashar al-Assad’s fifth column is alive and well here on the Western left. I am glad Mike Ely is not part of it, but I wish I could say the same for others who agree with his arguments in this debate.

If there is just one thing we in the West need to understand about the Arab Spring, it is this: we no longer have the luxury of taking radically principled positions without having to worry about their real-world impact or implications.

Those days are over.

If refusing disown revolutionaries in Libya and Syria who get my immediate enemy to help them against their immediate enemies and toe the anti-imperialist “line” makes me a State Department socialist and a cruise missile Marxist, so be it. Better to be branded a pro-imperialist heretic than do anything to aid and abet the bloody counter-revolutions against the Arab Spring that may kill our best shot at a mass worldwide revolutionary movement in generations.

My other writings on the Arab Spring:

{ 106 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony August 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Pham, you keep almost as busy a schedule as Hillary Clinton herself does! Congratulations! Oops, where is she now? The press says she’s headed for Turkey the imperialist turkey will do later this week but right now she has been in Africa these last couple of days…. She’s practically co-Pentagon Commander in Chief these days, is she not, Pham? Wonder what she’ll be doing in Turkey, Pham? Planning that bombing of Syria you want for her to go about doing?

I just got through writing about Hillary (Miss Daisy) today, too…. ‘When Miss Daisy is not out pushing to create more bloodshed in Syria she likes to spend some time drinking tea down on the Malawi tobacco plantations’ … Check it out, Pham! http://notmytribe.com/2012/when-miss-daisy-is-not-out-pushing-to-create-more-bloodshed-in-syria-she-likes-to-spend-some-time-drinking-tea-down-on-the-malawi-tobacco-plantations-836300.html

Pham, you say here to Occupy Chicago what???? ‘ Our demonstrations against NATO’s military attacks on Ghadafi sent an even worse message: we wish NATO was not destroying the military forces Ghadafi sent to kill you.’ You told them it was reactionary to demonstrate against the pentagon and NATO?!!! And you did that in the name of being a marxist and socialist, too!!!!!! ????? You are one lost commie soul, Comrade. LOST…LOST…LOST.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm

“You told them it was reactionary to demonstrate against the pentagon and NATO?!!!”

Not what I said. Don’t misquote me and build your case on such transparent lies and falsehoods.

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Tony August 5, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Come now, Pham. I quoted you exactly, Comrade. ‘Our demonstrations against NATO’s military attacks on Ghadafi sent an even worse message: we wish NATO was not destroying the military forces Ghadafi sent to kill you.’ Is that not you saying that it was reactionary of Occupy in Chicago to be demonstrating against NATO, which is an appendage of the Pentagon? It certainly was.

So stop your inane nonsense of saying that I am giving out transparent lies and falsehoods when I quote you word for word on this. It is YOU lying to us NOW point blank! You consider the anti NATO demonstrations by Occupy to have given the ‘wrong message’ out! That’s what you said here. The ‘wrong message’ being to you that there were some Americans who opposed the US bombing of Libya while you supported such. I think that anybody that supports the US bombing other countries for any damn reason is as true reactionary nut, Comrade Pham. No marxist with half a brain would do that, and yet your are doing precisely that!

Trying to speak out of both sides of your mouth once again, Pham, and it won’t work. And you get caught on it, didn’t you? Pham talk with forked tongue.

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Arthur August 5, 2012 at 11:52 pm

No, it wasn’t pham using your stereotyped rhetoric with labels like “reactionary”, nor was he making any general statement against any demonstrations against the Pentagon and NATO.

He made a very specific accusation that “demonstrations against NATO’s military attacks on Ghadafi sent an even worse message: we wish NATO was not destroying the military forces Ghadafi sent to kill you”.

You are not being accused of something vague and general like being a reactionary.

You are being accused very specifically of actively working in support of the military forces killing revolutionary democrats in Libya.

The appropriate stereotyped rhetorical label for people doing that is not “reactionary” but “fascist hyena”.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 12:56 am

NATO’s Libya operation was over by the Chicago demonstration, so I obviously was not referring to the Chicago demonstration with that line. To claim otherwise is 100% dishonest.

Does it make you feel good inside to oppose non-existent airstrikes on Assad’s forces? I’m sure his heart is filled with joy knowing he has an ally on the Trotskyist left.

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 1:42 am

Yeah, right, Pham. Non existent air strikes today, possibly very existent air strikes tomorrow. Especially if you and Arthur get your ways.

Have either one of you ever stopped to think about how many people die because ‘humanitarian’ liberal imperialists such as yourselves support US military interventionism instead of building a movement to dismantle the damn Pentagon and NATO altogether? Libyans, Yugoslavs, Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis, Yemenis, Iranians and the list goes on and on must truly hate dumb ass Americans for how so many of us support the Pentagon destroying their countries. Of course, very few do so while chortling on about making revolutions and talking about being marxists like you and Arthur do, Pham. Gag us, PLEASE. Marx must be vomiting inside his grave at the thought that many of his followers today have gotten themselves so politically lost in the daze of the capitalist maze.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 10:20 am

Syria shot down a Turkish plane. It was a Gulf of Tonkin moment if there ever was one. Turkey and NATO refused to attack in reply. Obviously they don’t want to launch airstrikes.

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm

No, Pham, they need your own ideological prepping the public some more before they will go for that, perhaps? Do you think that you can help the Pentagon and NATO out some?

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Arthur August 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Tony actually has a point there. The actual incident only proves that Turkey was probing Syrian air defences and that the Syrians regime does have effective air defences. But its aftermath certainly confirmed that Turkey, NATO and the US were not yet ready to use the excuse for an attack. That doesn’t prove they can never want to be only that they are not ready yet.

Ideological prepping certainly is part of that and I do think we could help out there.

We can’t hope for average corporate liberal Democrat types to spectacularly collapse in foaming apoplectic fits in the same manner as the “anti-imperialist” stalwarts here (whose have been completely distracted from even attempting the most pathetic anti-war movement they would be capable of).

But having to argue with us rather than with tea party ditto hards should be seriously discombobulating for them and weaken their own internal pressure on the Democrat administration against intervention.

So we can have a disproportionate influence on preparing public opinion.

A much more positive influence than over Iraq where left supporters of the war couldn’t contribute much since the impression provided by the pseudo-left that the left opposed the war was a signficiant factor in demobilizing right wing opposition to the war, which was far more dangerous.

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purple August 6, 2012 at 8:10 am

Yes, if you’re not with us (airstrikes) you’re against us (making Assad’s heart fill with joy). Because there are only two possible viewpoints.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 10:21 am

And what is the third way between revolution and counter-revolution? In Viet Nam, Hal Draper’s followers put their hopes in the Buddhist monks before 1968. Is there an analogous social force in Syria?

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Pham acts as if the Vietnamese back then called in for NATO and US bombing of their own countries by foreign powers now???? What is with these people?

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm

You mean like the Koreans in 1950-1953?

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Aaron Aarons September 10, 2012 at 3:59 am

I must have missed this rather cryptic remark the previous times I was on this page. I’m trying to figure out what Binh is referring to here.

On the one hand, the fascistic government installed in South Korea by the U.S. after the Japanese defeat did call on the U.S. and others to come to its rescue after the war it provoked with the revolutionary government of the North led to the liberation of almost all of the South. On the other hand, the revolutionary government of the North called on the revolutionary government of China to come to its aid after it was overrun by imperialist troops backed by a murderous bombing campaign comparable to what was done by the Anglo-U.S. imperialists bloc to parts of Germany a few years earlier and by the U.S. imperialists to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos less than two decades later.

So, clearly, revolutionary forces in Korea neither asked for nor received any help from imperialist powers. OTOH, counter-revolutionary forces in Korea did call on, or at least depend on, the imperialists to bomb their opponents.

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dissembly August 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Pham, you write: “But here is the rub: the Ghadafi government in Libya was also counter-revolutionary in the spring of 2011 when it mowed down peaceful demonstrators with machine gun fire. Given this, the question is: why would we in the U.S. try to stop a conflict between these two counter-revolutionary forces, a conflict that would help Libyan revolutionaries win? (Especially when they asked for that conflict?) Why should we oppose U.S. imperialism’s actions when such opposition would help counter-revolutionary governments smash and destroy revolutions in first Libya and now Syria?”

There are a few points to make to this.

The first (and most important) is that the bombing campaign was dangerous to civilians (and ‘revolutionaries’), such as the fifty or so non-combatants killed during the NATO campaign. Libyans on the ground knew this, and many made conscious, politically informed appeals to Westerners to oppose the NATO campaign. Instead of listening to these people, you choose to listen to (and accept the advice of) the self-appointed leaders of the revolutionary wave (more on who these people represent in a moment).

The second is that any bombing campaign or act of foreign intervention weakens a revolutionary movement, by showing people that they are incapable of liberating themselves, and their history is to be determined by the forces they’re rebelling against. The role of Marxists is to always act in the interests of maximum working class unity while advancing a realistic strategy for moving the struggle forward. The NATO campaign moves the struggle backward in two ways; at the time, it further raised support for Gaddafi from anti-imperialists within Libya, and from the families of victims of the bombing campaign, but more importantly, it told Libyans that the way forward is not class unity, but the intervention of a superior external military force.

The Libyan conflict had vital differences from the Tunisian and Egyptian ‘springs’, and these differences contributed to their military inferiority; one of these differences was the capture of the revolutionary upsurge by ‘liberals’ (including former members of the Gaddafi regime, who are prominent in the ), which contributed to a nationalist, parochial, and anti-democratic attitude on the part of the ‘official’ representatives of the resistance in Benghazi. For example, they used the flag of the hated pre-Gaddafi monarchy, invoking regional identities (that of the less populated east of the country) that consequently failed to appeal to people in western Libya and Tripoli (which is not merely the capital, but where a whole third of the country lives).

This is what enabled Gaddafi to hold on for so long, this is what enabled him to actually rally support among people in Tripoli, and of course, this is what made the U.S. and NATO feel safe about supporting this camp. The Western powers, caught completely off-balance by the ‘Arab Spring’, contradicting & confusing themselves at every step prior to this, suddenly had something to latch onto. Some way to regain control over the situation, by once again supporting the rise of a new regime (that of Mahmoud Jibril) friendly to Western capitalism.

What was the alternative to supporting the NATO intervention? The alternative was already spelled out by Tunisians and Egyptians – maximum class solidarity with appeals to the rank and file of the military. The disastrous development of the rebellion in Libya was disastrous precisely because a different approach was taken in Libya. A democratic opposition that did appeal to western Libyans as much as easterners would have undermined Gaddafi’s support base in Tripoli, and advanced the class struggle in that country (rather than taking it backwards). Even with Gaddafi gone, this is still an essential problem that needs to be resolved. It wasn’t resolved by the ‘liberal’ rebel leaders, it was set backwards by the bombing campaign, and now after all that, this question *still* needs to be addressed. Postponing the problem (by supporting NATO intervention) has not resolved it one iota.

What should Western Marxists have done? Shouted this stuff from the rooftops. Acted in solidarity with Libyans by calling for protests against both Gaddafi and Western intervention. Pointed to the Tunisian example, to the idea of appealing to Libyans in Tripoli and within Gaddafi’s forces. Where possible, sent representatives who understand local conditions to make these arguments on the ground.

But supporting the NATO intervention? Absolutely not. The tools of the intervention are tools that kill and de-power civilians. It’s like the older concept of a “worker’s (nuclear) bomb” – the very idea is a contradiction in terms. For the same reason we oppose terrorism as something that destabilizes class unity (& creates the false idea that liberation comes from some external heroic individual), we need to oppose interventions like this.

What has been won from this NATO intervention? 50 ordinary people, who would otherwise have been here today, are dead instead. Sacrificed in a cold trade-off for the military salvation of the pro-Western leadership of the Benghazi rebels, who have continued to hijack what could have been a movement of the masses. Tribal divisions, and the division between east and west, remain unresolved. Libyans have had no experience of toppling Gaddafi through their own collective strength. A weak, pro-Western government that makes propagandistic appeals to anti-imperialism continues in power. The loudest voices are those of the far right, so called ‘Islamist’ movements. Nobody can point to the strength of ordinary people on a class basis (as they can in Tunisia and Egypt) – that argument remains to be demonstrated.

So with that in mind, what should a Marxist have done? Please ask yourself this question again.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 1:32 am

“The first (and most important) is that the bombing campaign was dangerous to civilians (and ‘revolutionaries’), such as the fifty or so non-combatants killed during the NATO campaign.”

Any military action by any power or movement in the world is going to be dangerous to civilians. The Syrian army destroys entire neighborhoods if the FSA fires a single shot from the window of a building. Do you have any idea how many French civilians were killed by the resistance during WWII, how many Vietnamese civilians were killed by the NLF, and how many Iraqis were killed by massive bombings by the resistance?

“Libyans on the ground knew this, and many made conscious, politically informed appeals to Westerners to oppose the NATO campaign. Instead of listening to these people, you choose to listen to (and accept the advice of) the self-appointed leaders of the revolutionary wave (more on who these people represent in a moment).”

I’d like to see some evidence for this claim. The only Libyans I know of that opposed the airstrikes on Ghadafi’s forces were regime elements. Were there revolutionary Libyans opposed to NATO attacks on the counter-revolution? If so, I’d like to read about them.

“The second is that any bombing campaign or act of foreign intervention weakens a revolutionary movement, by showing people that they are incapable of liberating themselves, and their history is to be determined by the forces they’re rebelling against. The role of Marxists is to always act in the interests of maximum working class unity while advancing a realistic strategy for moving the struggle forward.”

The Libyan revolution was physically incapable of stopping Ghadafi’s heavy armor, as is the Syrian revolution today. Damascus even had a general strike recently (see: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/07/16/1110460/-BREAKING-General-Strike-in-Damascus) and it did not lead to the downfall of the regime.

What is your “realistic” strategy for stopping tanks, artillery, and helicopter assaults? Marxist appeals?

“The Libyan conflict had vital differences from the Tunisian and Egyptian ‘springs’, and these differences contributed to their military inferiority; one of these differences was the capture of the revolutionary upsurge by ‘liberals’ (including former members of the Gaddafi regime, who are prominent in the ), which contributed to a nationalist, parochial, and anti-democratic attitude on the part of the ‘official’ representatives of the resistance in Benghazi. For example, they used the flag of the hated pre-Gaddafi monarchy, invoking regional identities (that of the less populated east of the country) that consequently failed to appeal to people in western Libya and Tripoli (which is not merely the capital, but where a whole third of the country lives).”

Anti-democratic? The NTC barred themselves from running in Libya’s election.

The use of the pre-Ghadafi flag was not up to the NTC. People all over Libya were waving that flag before the NTC even rose to prominence because they wanted to show their patriotism sans the hated regime. PSL used this to try to smear the revolution as being monarchist!

The Berbers didn’t mind working with the people waving the old flag to smash the regime in the August uprising, so I’m not sure how you can plausibly claim that the revolution didn’t appeal to people living in Western Libya.

“This is what enabled Gaddafi to hold on for so long, this is what enabled him to actually rally support among people in Tripoli, and of course, this is what made the U.S. and NATO feel safe about supporting this camp. The Western powers, caught completely off-balance by the ‘Arab Spring’, contradicting & confusing themselves at every step prior to this, suddenly had something to latch onto. Some way to regain control over the situation, by once again supporting the rise of a new regime (that of Mahmoud Jibril) friendly to Western capitalism.”

You act as if a win for U.S. imperialism in the short term is automatically a loss for the people of Libya. This line of reasoning is demonstrably false, as the example of the U.S. embargos on Cuba and Viet Nam show. There are cases when the interests of U.S. imperialism partially or temporarily coincide with our interests as revolutionaries. We should take advantage of those situations for our benefit. For example, every Russian ship the U.S. blocks en route to Syria helps the revolution. The more Russian ships the U.S. blocks, the better.

“What was the alternative to supporting the NATO intervention? The alternative was already spelled out by Tunisians and Egyptians – maximum class solidarity with appeals to the rank and file of the military.”

They did that. It didn’t work. The same is true in Syria. Lots of appeals have led to individual defections. Soldiers who switch sides are executed and so are their families. Class-based propaganda won’t save anyone’s family from execution.

“What should Western Marxists have done? Shouted this stuff from the rooftops. Acted in solidarity with Libyans by calling for protests against both Gaddafi and Western intervention.”

Western Marxists have done almost nothing but shout from rooftops since the Arab Spring started. It hasn’t helped. We need to get into the trenches and into the streets if we want anyone to listen to us.

“But supporting the NATO intervention? Absolutely not.”

Who said anything about support? Not me.

“What has been won from this NATO intervention? 50 ordinary people, who would otherwise have been here today, are dead instead.”

If Ghadafi’s forces weren’t bombed by NATO, the number of people he would’ve killed would dwarf 50.

“Sacrificed in a cold trade-off for the military salvation of the pro-Western leadership of the Benghazi rebels, who have continued to hijack what could have been a movement of the masses. Tribal divisions, and the division between east and west, remain unresolved. Libyans have had no experience of toppling Gaddafi through their own collective strength. A weak, pro-Western government that makes propagandistic appeals to anti-imperialism continues in power. The loudest voices are those of the far right, so called ‘Islamist’ movements. Nobody can point to the strength of ordinary people on a class basis (as they can in Tunisia and Egypt) – that argument remains to be demonstrated.”

You obviously don’t know anything about the August insurrection that toppled Ghadafi. It was organized by the Berbers and revolutionaries in Tripoli itself, a textbook example of mass revolutionary action. You should read the links I included in my earlier piece: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1097

The Islamicists fared very poorly in Libya’s elections. They may be the “loudest” voices, but hardly anyone is listening to them.

Before posting again, I suggest you read up on current events since the revolution. You seem to be ignorant of what happened and is happening there, and the number of demonstrable falsehoods and errors in your comment is quite high.

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ish August 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Any military action by any power or movement in the world is going to be dangerous to civilians.

What a horrifying rationalization. Revolutionaries do not rationalize away the actions of NATO imperialism. You’ve made not an abstraction about violence, but an excuse for imperialism. Step back from the ledge.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Rationalization? Do you know of any military action by any actor in the modern world that would not threaten civilian lives? If so, please share.

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Brian S. August 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm

It would be really nice if there were ways of resolving situations like Libya and Syria without anyone getting hurt. But there aren’t. The choices are between more or less people dying, and deaths that gain something and those that don’t. The alternative to NATO’s air assault (at least as of mid-March) would have been significantly more people dead at the hands of Gaddafi’s forces and his regime still in power.

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Arthur August 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm

The FSA did appeal to rank and file of the military. Actually it was opposite in Egypt where they consciously liased with top army leadership rather than lower levels in the (successful) hope of Army permitting a peaceful transition without civil war.

In Syria the top army leadership has remained basically united behind the regime and lower ranks are regularly been shot for defeating. So a military struggle with far more casualties.

Blaming that on FSA tactics rather than on the regime is pure counter-revolutionary propaganda.

As for the alternative of “Marxists” sent representatives who understand local conditions to make these arguments on the ground, it suggests a level of ignorance and arrogance beyond any possibility of being reached by rational argument.

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Arthur August 5, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Good reply! Especially the photos.

Now we need to move forward from opposing attempts to try and stop air strikes to demanding air strikes.

There is in fact not even the remotest possibility of any “anti-imperialist anti-war movement”, let alone a “solidarity with anti-imperialist Syria” movement getting off the ground. Both variants (the “pure anti-imperialists” and the open defenders of Syrian fascism) are talking only to themselves and to each other. The only influence they have is to incline their own dwindling circles to do nothing at all rather than follow any instinct they have to side with the Syrian people.

So we don’t need to argue against such a movement or worry about it. We can move on.

Actively demanding air strikes cuts through the current “debate” and reveals their irrelvance.

Arguments should be directed squarely at the mainstream, not at the irrelevant.

Target the US foreign policy establishment which is delaying air strikes because they don’t give a damn how many thousands the fascists kill before they are defeated. Take up the guidance of the posters pointing out that this delay is breeding more bin Laden’s and is criminal stupidity like the CIA’s original funding of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

While we are attacking the US imperialists for inaction, let the completely irrevant defend that inaction while pretending that makes them more “anti-imperialist”!

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 1:50 am

Arthur simply gives up on building any movement to get rid of the US and European military establishments. He wants to use them instead, like Arthur would be some general for the White House or such!

Arthur, You are a political coward! You simply are scared to oppose the imperialist military in the US because you know that so many meat headed Americans would hate you for it if you did. It takes courage to go against the mainstream American when so many of them get their paychecks from the military industrial Pentagon complex. As a Marxist, you are a TOTAL COWARD, Comrade. Instead of fighting the military monster we have, you are busy full time making excuses to us about why it exists, saying that ‘we’ need to use it to accomplish good in the universe. And a turkey like you just called me a “fascist hyena” a second ago? Look in the mirror at yourself, Arthur. I never ever thought I would see pro Pentagon morons claiming themselves to be commies as you and Pham are doing.

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Ben August 8, 2012 at 11:46 pm

This is a stupid response. You assume too much about the person you are attacking(yes why are you attacking anyone). What proof do you have that he is a coward and that this is why he has a different viewpoint from you on Libya/Syria? Opposing war is actually the majority opinion in the US right now, it is mainstream if not well developed. Do you even know that Arthur has not fought the US military in some way? Do you assume that any activist here has never been to an antiwar demonstration in the past decade? Is he arguing that the US military must always exist because it always does good in the world? You make bad assumptions and call names, there has to be a better use of your time than this and a better way of discussing things. I imagine you yelling at people till you are red in the face perhaps using your new skin coloring to validate how truly marxist you are. Calm down before you try again please.

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dave x August 6, 2012 at 4:24 am

When all is said and done on the Syrian revolution, there will likely be two primary crimes of imperialism. One is the active support provided Assad by the Russians and others. Two will be the way the US and NATO let the Syrian revolution bleed itself out.

Most of the left will not have opposed, even nominally, either crime, though they will have vocally denounced various imaginary crimes. Imperialism, as one would expect, has no love for revolution. The reason they have no plans to bomb anything and likely won’t, at least until after the heart of the revolution has been smashed, is precisely that they don’t want it to succeed, certainly not on its own terms. This is the sort of imperialist hypocrisy we should be denouncing. They claim they are on the side of the Syrian people, that Bashad must step aside, that Syria must have democracy and freedom – but they will not let the Syrian people get the weapons they would need to do the job themselves, nor are they willing to take this job upon themselves, at least until it is over the dead and bloody corpse of the revolution.

We may not be in much of a position to change this. But the least we can do is to let the people of Syria know where we stand and to try and build up those most elementary and basic reflexes of solidarity. And if we are ever to have even a ghost of a chance of making a better world solidarity is what we will need. Lots of it, on a global scale like never before seen. We don’t build that with programmatic opposition to every (imagined) US foreign policy position, we build that with support for each others struggles, however distant, or alien they might sometimes seem.

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Arthur August 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Certainly the delay is providing decisive support is criminal but we shouldn’t accept that it is a natural or inevitable policy of the US and NATO and that there is little chance of changing it.

As well as being criminal, it is criminally stupid from their own point of view (like funding Al Qaeda to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and like continuing to back the Arab autocracies they now wish to get rid of for decades longer than they obtained any benefit from doing so).

At least letting the people of Syria know is fine. But its a lot easier to let the American people know and that would be the best way to let the people of Syria know.

Simply because leftist demands for military action are so unusual, we CAN get into the mainstream media (which WILL reach far more Syrians than any other route) and that would help demobilize opposition to intervention among a section of liberal Democrats, thus increasing the possibility of it happening faster and saving more lives.

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Aaron Aarons August 6, 2012 at 6:06 am

Pham Binh writes, “U.S. imperialism is counter-revolutionary. No one is debating that.”

Apparently Arthur IS debating it. As far as I’m concerned, he has crossed the line into the enemy camp, while Binh, who acknowledges that “U.S. imperialism is counter-revolutionary” while denying its implications, is still straddling it.

Binh writes: “However, sometimes the interests of U.S. imperialism coincide partially or temporarily with our goals as revolutionaries. We should not oppose everything U.S. imperialism does, everywhere, all the time, simply because the U.S. government is doing it. Doing so would put us in the absurd position of opposing the Clinton administration’s decision to normalize relations with Viet Nam or the Bush administration’s decision to send food aid to victims of the 2005 tsunami in Southeast Asia. If the Obama administration decides to end the blockade of Cuba we should jump for joy not oppose, block, or stop such a step even though the aim of such a U.S. policy shift would be to open up the Cuban economy to American capital a la Viet Nam two decades ago.”

I am not familiar with the details of what transpired between the U.S. and Vietnam under Clinton, but it would have been correct to denounce the U.S. for any part of the “normalization of relations” between the two countries that required any concessions by Vietnam to the U.S. or to the rules of the capitalist world market. And, of course, we wouldn’t oppose the ending of the U.S.’ embargo against Cuba, but should be quite outspoken in warning of the dangers to the Cuban revolution from a less-openly-belligerent imperialism. And, given that the Western left has a lot more ability to communicate with people inside Cuba than in Vietnam, we should encourage and materially support those in Cuba who oppose the pro-capitalist reforms and other concessions that might be made to encourage such a softening of imperialist hostility.

And, no, we had, at least AFAIK, no reason to oppose the aid the U.S. gave to victims of the 2005 tsunami, except to denounce it as insufficient, but we certainly should have and did denounce the U.S. invasion and occupation of Haiti in the name of earthquake relief in 2010.

BTW, while NATO imperialists were supposedly saving lives in Libya, their clients in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi were continuing their slaughter in the Eastern Congo that has already taken millions of lives over the past 16 years. But anti-anti-imperialists like Binh and Louis Proyect almost never pay attention to that situation, nor to the fact that tens of thousands of children die every day due to the imperialist-dominated capitalist relations that keep them from getting things like clean water. I suppose that if those children, or those dying in the Congo, were the victims of governments in conflict, however superficial, with imperialism, our anti-anti-imperialists might pay attention to their plight. In fact, I don’t have to ‘suppose’, since we’ve seen how much more has been said about people suffering in Sudan or Zimbabwe than in Uganda or the Congo.

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patrickm August 6, 2012 at 9:11 am

Apparently there are 20,000 Assad troops preparing to get to work killing many more of the revolutionary forces in Aleppo and naturally many more civilians will be added to their current toll. The Syrian death toll is in essence ALL the result of the political demand for the right to meaningful free and fair elections being resisted by Assad.

Any murders by the islamofascists that are for their own reasons fighting on the same side as the revolutionaries (the FSA and Syrian democrats generally) are more than just regretable. They harm the revolution! They are treacherous criminal acts that wil be dealt with as the revolution becomes capable of doing so. Currently though the revolutionary forces in Aleppo as but one example are fighting for their very lives and thousands more refugees are crossing the borders into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. That second fight will have to wait.

Both Binh and Mike Ely are in favour of the Syrian demands for free and fair elections and that is the demand that this revolutionary struggle pivots on. I want (and know Binh wants) those Syian Baathist troops that are preventing this development defeated by anyone that’s able to smash them, and I have assumed (for a long time now) that Turkey would end up being drawn in to do the required job, assisted by the U.S. and others.

Mike wants Assad’s troops left alone with -yet again- a supposedly ‘anti-war’ hands-off (this time) Syria dogma. It’s a stock standard ‘anti-imperialist’ position taken straight off the shelf from the totally isolated Trotskyist WW2 tradition. It is a disastrous position to be dogmatically putting forward but he right up front declares himself always committed to this stand of opposition to the U.S. military. He doesn’t debate the issue, and has no need to investigate the requirements of the revolution because for him there is no revolutionary transformation of Syria underway.

This debate demonstrates that liberation politics are not in command at Kasama and so people are talking past each other rather than progressing any argument. That argument really should be had in the MSM because the masses are much more like ‘Horton’ who being an elephant has ears large enough to easily hear a ‘Who’.

Currently western Leftists (revolutionaries and reformists) have not focused the discussion on the many months of Syrian politics and violence that have led the world’s in power political forces to this point of dithering while Putin and the Chinese block any united action against the tyranny.

Large scale fighting has long broken out and got to this point because a political demand has been rejected by force. The Assad tyranny is refusing the progressive people’s demand for a bourgeois democracy just as occurred in Libya. All progressive forces are in favour of that, one clear political demand. Intervention is on the agenda because of the initial political demand.

That foundational political demand requires united effort to achieve and is only now backed by armed struggle as a response to the tyrant’s attacks. The western revolutionary Left knows this unity and armed resistance is essential for revolutionary Syrians. I agee with Arthur, we don’t need to know more about Syria and we did not have to know more about Libya. It is ‘Simply a matter of siding with the people against fascist tyrants’. We side with the people as they unite behind that demand.

In order to further the political issue that we have placed in command we have arrived at armed struggle and because this is a life and death issue we natually and without hesitation call on those with the military capacity to act in the furtherence of our political demand TO ACT.

The insignificant western Left can only play a tiny role of support for the achievement of the foundational political demand in Syria. Hitchens being in the MSM, as one individual could influence western public opinion. But ‘precisely because the stereotype of “Leftists opposing U.S. military intervention” is so dominant and predictable.’ The MSM will undoubtedly publish an argument for revolutionary war. ‘By clamouring for the immediate destruction of the Assad’s regime air force by U.S. air power we western Leftists can help speed that intervention up.’

The Syrian people and Syrian revolutionaries will benefit from the intervention when it comes and it will have to come. The Syrian tyranny will not benefit from that intervention despite the fact that outsiders will be seen to be meddling with their hands-on policy.

The thinking of Gilbert Achar from October 2011 is now stupid in the extreme and what’s more self evidently so! The one clear message that ought to be on our lips at every opportunity is military intervention NOW. The anti intervention ‘Left’ and pseudo-left are barking mad. The more the Turks intervene right now the better, the more the U.S. military intervenenes the better and so on. The requirement is to shut down the Assad air power or the Syrian revolutionaries will cop death from it; this is transparent and only outsiders have the capacity to do it. The military intervention that has taken place to date, is far to little and too late.

Dogmatists will make the call that they always do. They have no need to think about how to serve the political issue we placed in command. Hands-off serves Assad. Hands-on will serve the revolution.

The important point to remember is there is a revolution under way.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 10:28 am

“The more the Turks intervene right now the better, the more the U.S. military intervenenes the better and so on.”

I don’t agree. It depends on how and what they do. Turkey could invade northern Syria and clean the FSA’s clock to secure control of those areas. That would be a counter-revolutionary act of the first order. Similarly, the U.S. could bomb Homs and other revolutionary strongholds. I suppose that would make our anti-revolutionary comrades happy since they seem to think everyone fighting Assad is in Al-Qaeda but it would not make our comrades in Syria happy by any stretch of the imagination.

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Arthur August 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Obviously the point was that the more they intervene on the side of the revolution against the regime the better.

There is no current threat of some other sort of intervention so it is pedantic to quibble about this.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I disagree. Turkey might decide the revolution in Syria is opening a space for the Kurds and could take action against the FSA as a result. It’s a possibility that should not be discounted.

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Arthur August 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Hmm, ok that possibility should be investigated. As I mentioned earlier I still haven’t investigated the Kurdish situation although I believe it is feasible to do so due to the extensive disapora and english language web sites from various Kurdish groups.

But as far as I can see (prior to necessary investigation) the danger would first be of the Turks cutting of their limited support of the FSA (which would be a great blow since that is where the arms are flowing from). There is nothing about the Turkish stance that suggests a possibility of invading to “clean the clock” of the FSA.

There was an interesting situation in Iraq where some Turks wanted to “support” the invasion and the Kurds politely explained that while they wanted friendly relations with Turkey it would be quite impossible to prevent Kurdish peshmerga fighting any Turks that came through Kurdistan and the Kurds would handle the northern front without Turkish “assistance” thank you very much!

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Brian S. August 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm

This just as oversimplistic an argument as the anti-imperialists, but in reverse. It takes more than a declaration that Gilbert Achcar is “stupid in the extreme” to make a coherent argument. Gilbert looks at the situation concretely and in its complexity and draws what in my view are the right conclusions. In a situation where there are deep social divisions along communal lines, with tensions that spill across state boundaries, entangled with other unstable zones, and enmeshed in both regional and global power politics, and a host of dangerous forces fishing in troubled waters, you can’t just summon up a “global Sherriff” to wade in and sort out the baddies regardless of the consequences. That’s the way to make avery bad situation into an catastrophic one.
I think the left does need to think about policies and insititutions for dealing with international conflict situations, and stop using “anti-imperialism” as an excuse for sticking its head in the sand: but this is not the solution. And if I was going to look for a “global Sherriff” it would certainly not be to the US military machine.
We haven’t made this world, and we may not like the way it works, but we have to live within its parameters until we can forge something better.

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patrickm August 6, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Brian: There is currently U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war and there is no serious ‘mass’ mobilization against this very low level of intervention; what’s happening is spinning the wheels confusion and pseudo-left carping about it – with the stock standard grave warnings that ‘progressives’ must oppose anything that the imperialists are up to. This is just what happened over Libya and it has a tradition that was understood in a mass way, as the rantings of isolated “Left-wing” communists back in the WW2 period when genuine communists were numerous and the united front against fascism real and complex.

You say: ‘I think the left does need to think about policies and insititutions for dealing with international conflict situations, and stop using “anti-imperialism” as an excuse for sticking its head in the sand: but this is not the solution.’

The simple fact of the matter is that you (read virtually everyone) would in no way tolerate an Assad annexation of Jordan right now in 2012. Yet people used to be so confused about this stuff as to march in 1991 behind ‘NO-BLOOD for OIL’ banners in an attempt to permit Saddam’s tyranny after the use of HIS massive Baathist army to grab Kuwait to actually keep his ‘Jordan’ rather than support an international united front resistance to the blatant aggression.

Once people have rejected the very “elementary right” of Gaddafi to even keep a tyrannous hold of ‘his’ own people then that former stance just sounds ridiculous ! Why on reflection would any political tendency that thinks itself of the Left permit a tyrant to get away with any war of blatant conquest?

Leftists across the world are still clearly and consistantly demanding an end to the failed war for Greater Israel launched and supposedly won by Israel over 6 days in 1967. I still hold to the predictions that the spread of bourgeois democracy will force the end of the Occupation and bring on the establishment of a Palestinian state. (An issue now also so clearly in U.S. interests that it has been declared so by General Petraus)

The return of the Golan heights to the not so distantly emerging newly democratic Syria will be placed on the immediate agenda after the purple stained elections. It is obviously in U.S. ruling class interests for the U.S. ruling elite to insist on an international settlement that returns all of the Golan Heights to a democratic Syria. Just as all of the Lebanese issues were settled some years back now. I raise these points now, not for detailed discussion, but so that when it happens in just a few years time people will get it.

All the current results and clear trends are flowing from the revolutionary ‘drain the swamp policy’ adopted after the old rotten to the core policies litterally collapsed in a giant pile of rubble on 9/11.

It’s now quite clear why the world’s governments united in the face of Saddam’s aggression and stood up to it, and why the revolutionary Left united with imperialist forces back in 1991! Even Syrian Baathists joined in throwing Saddam’s Baathist army out of Kuwait and now we even have Al Qaeda fighting on the same side as the FSA, against Assad’s Baathists, and we sure as hell don’t fire in both directions at once. No revolution is pure that’s for sure. The fight to free Syria will change the Al Qaeda type fighters involved, or they will then be fought next!

The important thing is that a revolutionary transformation of Syria IS underway. The bourgeois democratic revolution is what is at issue and there is much confusion about this. When the fighting comes to an end a state will emerge that delivers purple stained fingers, and the rights that exist right now in Iraq to form political parties run newspapers hold meetings etc., etc.. The birth of both bourgeois democraccies will have been bloody just like Nepal, but those bourgeois democracies will stand in good comparison to Putin’s Russia, fascist China, Iran, and so on. The rejection of all the old U.S. realist policy prescriptions will continue and the swamp will continue to drain.

Indeed after the U.S. elections even the ‘ditherer in chief’ will be ready to deal with the establishment of a Palestinian state (after he got so compehensibly screwed over during his first term) and he will be capable of standing up to the stalling of the well known liar Netanyahu. It is a vital U.S. owning class interest to put an end to the failed war for Greater Israel, and now most usually seen as such. It has always been proletarian interest to do so. U.S. owning class interests are massively harmed by that failed war. It really is a clearly damaging issue to the U.S., ruling elite, so no wonder they rant and rave about Iran all the time that ranting hides the real retreat over the war for greater Israel!

It’s a major policy failure, and the now 2 sets of ruling elite have spent almost a decade hardly budging the Zionists it seems, but at the start of that decade there were settlers and soldiers in Gaza and Israeli and Syrian troops in Lebanon, and there had never been a U.S. president who had told the world that the West Bank was occupied territory and that the occupation must end! Up until recently they had all called the West Bank and East Jerusalem and even Gaza ‘disputed’ territory. Just last night we even had an Australian foreign minister in Palestine talking about the future Palestinian State!! It was no shock and it is not upsetting the U.S. administration and causing any diplomatic ‘issue’.

The direction is quite clear however it really is quite astounding how long this is taking. It demonstates just how weak the U.S. superpower has become. The Zionists delay and delay all the way but the direction does not change. So Netanyahu will want Romney elected, and then stall him because Obama would want to kick his lying ass and no doubt will. Nevertheless, the Palestinians are going to move on and the U.S. can’t be stalled forever. A viable Palestinian state is still coming. The trend is still clear and this is not the old policies pre 2001!

The 21st C world is really over with imperialism and colonialism, and the Turkish military lead over Syria shows in passing a truly enfeebled superpower stumbling about trying to deal with the disastrous policies of its realist past! But the swamp continues to drain and vital U. S. ruling class interests are identified and are many years down the track in implementation. Yet where is the vibrant confident Left proclaiming the positive developments and pointing to the coming victories?

Western Leftists who are actively anti-Assad though minute in number are advocating much more military intervention over Syria NOW.

For a Leftist to get to the point of advocating attacks by Turkey, NATO and the U.S. on the regime some very small questions have to be asked.

Do we think that when this strugge is over the U.S. or Turkey or anyone else will have puppets installed in Syria, or that rather Syrians will be in charge of a new and developing Syrian reality?

Do people here believe that the struggle really is to establish a bourgeois democracy in Syria?

It is yet another example of that region wide revolution that was deliberatly sought by the U.S. after the implosion of the former dominant realist policies in 2001?

Do people here realise/accept that there has been a change of policies by the U.S., or is it still the same old same old for you?
The revolution in Syria is part of the general world wide trend where countries want independence nations want liberation and the people want revolution. Nobody is looking for a “global Sherriff” effort from an enfeebled and retreating superpower that is going the way of the other one that collapsed. What we are looking for is the defeat of the Syrian tyranny and encouraging real forces to take up the task so that the Syrian people can move on past these quite pathetic demands.

The region IS being re-made and where the U.S. once was the biggest blockage with the old and rotten realist policies they are not now and have substantially abandoned those failed policies.

The pseudo-left has picked these policies up as commenters here demonstrate with “worry-warting”.

about ‘… a situation where there are deep social divisions along communal lines, with tensions that spill across state boundaries, entangled with other unstable zones, and enmeshed in both regional and global power politics, and a host of dangerous forces fishing in troubled waters, …’

Ridding the swamp of Baathist armies is not the way to make avery bad situation into an catastrophic one. The catastrophy was blocking the revolution for decades!

Leftists do not like the way that Syria and the rest of the swamp of the Miiddle East works, but rather than ‘live within its parameters until we can forge something better’ we make political demands then unite the many to defeat the few in achieving them.

The political demand on the table in Syria is for the establishment via armed struggle of a bourgeois democracy! Revolutionaries are disgusted at the dithering of Obama. McCain has spoken far louder and far clearer in support of this revolution.

BTW I have never thought this war was going to be anything other than complex and big.
http://strangetimes.lastsuperpower.net/?p=2172

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 11:40 pm

There is such an extreme level of total confusion in this statement by you, Patrick, that it just boggles my mind how you can think of yourself as being some kind of a marxist?

‘The political demand on the table in Syria is for the establishment via armed struggle of a bourgeois democracy! Revolutionaries are disgusted at the dithering of Obama. McCain has spoken far louder and far clearer in support of this revolution.’

What ‘table’ are you even talking about? Your own dining table? The table in some lunatic asylum holding delusional left over pseudoTrotskyist failures? ‘Revolutionaries are disgusted at the dithering’ of Obama not sending the US military into bombing Syria? You gotta be kidding us!??? This sort of formulation by you puts you SOLIDLY OUTSIDE any sane sort of Leftism in the US. My head just crashes down on the table hard in dismay when I read this sort of deluded confusion. It is just a total parody of what marxism is all about. Only a political moron would talk of McCain supporting revolution as you do, Patrick. Are there any Left psychologists available for helping you people sort through your hallucinations?

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Brian S. August 7, 2012 at 11:05 am

@patrickm: Your political approach here is essentially a mirror image of those you oppose – including your insistence that anyone who disagrees with you is a “pseudo-left” – the same “holy grail” approach to political debate as voiced by the “anti-imperialists.”
Your analytic approach is also remarkably similar: you take a highly complex reality, reduce it to a few simplified factors (which may or may not have a grain of truth in them) and extrapolate wildly to draw equally over-simplified conclusions.
First, and foremost, your contention that the American state has undergone some kind of dramatic flip from a policy of global support for reaction to an equally global support for progressive causes to “drain the swamp” doesn’t make sense either factually or theoretically, Modern states and state institutions just don’t work that way.
Secondly, you seize on trends in the situation and turn them into done deals: ” a revolutionary transformation of Syria IS underway.” Maybe – but a lot of water has to be navigated before the Syrian people get there, and there will be many obstacles and diversions en route: not least the manipulation of self-interested external forces, like the US government. These are complexities that anyone concerned about the Syrian people should be “worry-warting” about long and hard. Its all very well to say “we make political demands then unite the many to defeat the few in achieving them” (no idea who the “we” is here) – but if those demands ignore the complex realities of the world around us then “achievments” are going to be in very short supply.

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Arthur August 7, 2012 at 1:57 pm

“The thinking of Gilbert Achar from October 2011 is now stupid in the extreme and what’s more self evidently so!”

There isn’t much point presenting a coherent argument for something claimed to be “self-evident”.

Take a good look at the article and compare its assumptions back in October with the actual reality that has unfolded. Its stupidity really does speak for itself. (And the author seems to have stopped spouting this stuff). Certainly the people he spoke to in Syria urging avoidance of armed struggle and of calls for foreign intervention have not paid much attention.

“Syria’s population density is much greater than Libya’s, and so is the mix of opponents and supporters of the regime, preventing the Syrian regime from making extensive use of air strikes.”

They are openly bombing and strafing suburbs of the major cities as well as shelling them with artillery!

“Meanwhile, no Syrian city currently faces the danger of a large-scale massacre in the way Benghazi did, or even a fate comparable to that of the Syrian city of Hama in 1982, when the Assad regime was able to isolate it from the rest of the country”

The second largest city is surrounded and about to be attacked by 20,000 troops. Only a Turkish invasion or air strikes can avoid that. We have no capability to influence what Turkey does but we can add our voice to speedup an air strike.

“Unlike Gaddafi’s caricatural regime, which years ago turned towards establishing strong economic, security, and intelligence cooperation with various Western states, the Syrian regime in the eyes of the US is still a stumbling block to its projects in the region, since it is allied with Iran and Hezbollah and sustains a range of Palestinian forces opposed to US-sponsored capitulation.

Acknowledging this reality does not in any way suggest that one must therefore refrain from supporting people’s demands for democracy and human rights, whether in Syria or Iran. It requires, however, to be taken into account in the way the Iranian opposition does, which completely rejects foreign military intervention in the affairs of its country and defends its country’s right to develop nuclear power in the face of Israeli-American threats that attempt to prevent it from doing so by claiming that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.”

This is blatantly confusing the fantasies and “concerns” of the circles Achar moves in (Znet et al) with those of the Syrian people who KNOW what the regime is and what its rhetoric really means.

“As for direct military intervention in Syria, whether in the form of an invasion or limited to bombing from afar, it would bring the trend of defections from the Syrian army to an end and unite its ranks in a confrontation that would convince the soldiers that what the regime kept claiming since the beginning of the uprising, i.e. that it is facing a “foreign conspiracy” that wants to subjugate Syria, has been true all along. The requests made by Riyad al-As‘ad, the leader of the Syrian Free Army (in the above-quoted interview), for international intervention in order to “implement a no-fly zone or no-sail zone in Syria,” and create a “secure zone in northern Syria that the Syrian Free Army can administrate” are at best further evidence of the lack of strategic vision among the leadership of the Syrian uprising. They are also a product of that blend of short-sightedness and emotional reaction to the viciousness of the regime that leads some of its opponents to hope for what could lead to a major historical catastrophe in Syria and the region as a whole.”

Again the stuff pseudo-lefts twitter about is served up as though Syrians react the same way – when they have explained loudly and clearly that they don’t.

In short stupid, and self-evidently so. (Just quoting it didn’t require any elaboration of why its obviously wrong).

http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/1652

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Brian S. August 7, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Yes, Arthur but to assume that what you claim to be “self-evident” is of necessity so to everyone else is just a symptom of chronic dogmatism. To refer to everyone who doesn’t share your particular “self-evident” perceptions as “pseudo-left” would be another symptom of that if it wasn’t just puerile.
Obviously Achcar’s analysis was made some time ago, so it can’t be applied schematically to the current situation – but its general thrust still holds. The situation in Aleppo is bad , but it is not comparable to the situation facing Benghazi in March 201: the civilian population of the city has been largely evacuated, and the rebel forces are an established and entrenched fighting force (albeit with a serious asymmetry of firepower) and a demonstrated capacity to defend themselves. Their main problem at the moment seems to be a shortage of ammunition – so it might be more relevant to address that mundane (but rather fundamental) need before launching into the uncertain world of US airstrikes.
You write as if the Syrian opposition has spoken clearly on what it wants: but in fact there is no such clarity .At some point over recent months different groups in the Syrian opposition have called for virtually everything. The Syrian National Council speaks in code that could be translated as a request for a no fly zone, but is most explicit about wanting a “zone of safety”; Riad al-Assad of the FSA seems to be saying the same thing. I haven’t seen anything from other figures or groups in the FSA (of which there are many.) Lacking access to Arabic sources, its difficult to determine what the grassroots organisations may be saying (there’s certainly nothing on the website that claims to be that of the LCC or that of SOHR) If I’ve missed something please enlighten me.
Gilbert’s argument that direct foreign intervention could reduce the political pressure inside the regime is even more valid than it was when he first made it. Recent defections (especially of the Tlass family) open up serious prospects of significant splits in the regime, a process which would be frozen by direct intervention.
Gilbert at least tries to undertake a concrete analysis of the problems, rather than just projecting his personal schema onto this complex situation.

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Arthur August 7, 2012 at 10:44 pm

1. The passages I quoted were clearly projecting a personal schema rather than making a concrete analysis. The concrete assertions were not facts but self-evidently false.

2. Your assertion that intervention would REDUCED political pressure on the regime(!) and there would be less splits in the regime when faced with intervention is as self-evidently absurd as Achar’s claim that it would result in less desertioins from the army as soldiers would believe it is a foreign conspiracy. In fact defectors both from the army and other parts of the regime are looking for safe havens to defect to – and currently finding safety by crossing the borders to join in the foreign intervention.

3. Aleppo has a population more than 2 million – several times the size of Benghazi. If it had been evacuated there would be a major refugree crisis. It hasn’t been. The rebel forces are lightly armed guerrillas like those in Benghazi, perhaps with less popular support. They are not “entrenched” but just arrived from surrounding rural areas. The army surrounding them includes heavy mechanized infantry, artillery and air power. The regime has already killed far more than Gaddafi ever did in exactly similar cirumstances of surrounding a city and pouding it. The defenders have demonstrated no capacity at all for positional warfare (wisely retreating whenever attacked) and so far have only limited experience as light infantry – their guerilla capabilities are to shoot and run, not stand and hold and they may well be making a serious tactical error in trying to hold Aleppo (though it may not be a strategic error if their hope of foreign intervention is soundly based). Your “concrete” (negative) comparison between Aleppo and Benghazi is self-evidently false.

4. The Syrian opposition is still not even as unified as in Libya. But its utterly clear they want intervention and have been saying it loudly and clearly. Indeed seizing Alleppo looks a bit like a gamble to try and force that issue. Their emphasis is on a zone of safety, which necessarily requires air superiority AS WELL AS a ground invasion.

5. Not everyone who opposes intervention is pseudo-left. The dominant narrative is simply the typical foreign policy establishment conservatism which can’t be bothered risking US prestige, blood and treasure just to save a few thousand lives.

This is the kind of article we should be focussed on replying to:

http://articles.philly.com/2012-08-06/news/33066226_1_syrian-president-bashar-coalition-arab

6. Instead we are focussed on replying to bizarre twittering from the pseudo-left and Gilbert Achar is serving up that twittering as though it was matters of concern to Syrian revolutionaries.

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Aaron Aarons August 8, 2012 at 1:46 am

There are so many things to disagree with here that I don’t expect to get to all of them before this web site passes into a well-deserved oblivion. But I’ll start here:

The simple fact of the matter is that you (read virtually everyone) would in no way tolerate an Assad annexation of Jordan right now in 2012. Yet people used to be so confused about this stuff as to march in 1991 behind ‘NO-BLOOD for OIL’ banners in an attempt to permit Saddam’s tyranny after the use of HIS massive Baathist army to grab Kuwait to actually keep his ‘Jordan’ rather than support an international united front resistance to the blatant aggression.

It would have been a good thing if Syria had invaded and occupied Jordan in 1970, during the Jordanian monarchy’s war against the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the limited aid that the then-leftist Syrian government tried to give to the Palestinians by sending a tank brigade into Jordan was sabotaged by then-Minister of Defense Assad, Sr., who led a successful military coup a few weeks later.
The situation now is very different, with most of the Palestinian fighters and civilian militants having been driven out by the Hashemite monarchy when the Syrians failed to support them in 1970, and the present government of Syria a lot more right-wing. Nevertheless, though I don’t know enough about the present population of Jordan to know if there would be sufficient allies for a Syrian takeover, if such a thing were possible during a war in which the Jordanian rulers sided with imperialism against Syria, I would definitely support it.
As I remember the buildup to the first U.S. war against Iraq, we had some rather militant demonstrations for days on end in San Francisco, including marching onto, and partially obstructing, the S.F.-Oakland Bay Bridge at the start of the U.S. war. None of us were, I’m glad to say, concerned with the “right” of the Emir of Kuwait and his extended family to rule that piece of land that was protected from incorporation into Iraq by the British after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in WWI.
At the time of the Iraqi invasion in 1990, the working class of Kuwait was largely Palestinian (and, IIRC, Yemeni) and was expelled from that family estate masquerading as a country when the Emir and his parasitic relatives were restored to their palaces by the imperialist alliance that defeated Iraq. (Palestinians were expelled because the main Palestinian leaderships opposed the imperialist war against Iraq. Yemenis were expelled from Saudi-occupied Arabia before the war because the government of Yemen, which, IIRC, had a seat on the UN Security Council at the time, voted against authorizing the attack on Iraq.
Anybody, pretend-leftist or open pro-imperialist, who supported that imperialist war shares in the responsibility not only for those expulsions but for the roughly 200,000 Iraqis, mostly conscript troops, killed by U.S. aerial bombardment, during their retreat from Kuwait after Iraq had been defeated, on what came to be known as the ‘Highway of Death’, and for the well over a million deaths caused in Iraq after that by a combination of embargo and military attacks.

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Aaron Aarons August 10, 2012 at 5:43 am

Arthur writes: “The rebel forces are lightly armed guerrillas like those in Benghazi, perhaps with less popular support. They are not “entrenched” but just arrived from surrounding rural areas.”

In other words, there was no uprising in the largest city in Syria. Rather, the city, or parts of it, was invaded by fighters from the countryside (and, I suspect, from across the nearby Turkish border), who took up positions inside buildings quickly abandoned by their previous occupants. Using those buildings as military positions virtually guarantees they will be partly or totally destroyed. Those fighters are lucky they’re not facing the U.S. or Israeli armed forces, or they would probably have napalm or white phosphorus dropped on them, and on any living creature or inanimate object in the vicinity. (I don’t know what the Syrian government will use against them, but I think we would have heard if those horrific incendiaries had been used already.)

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Aaron Aarons August 10, 2012 at 6:05 am

patrickm: “It’s now quite clear why the world’s governments united in the face of Saddam’s aggression and stood up to it, and why the revolutionary Left united with imperialist forces back in 1991”

Nobody on the revolutionary left supported the imperialist attack on Iraq in 1991! There were a lot of differences about how to respond to the attempted re-incorporation of Kuwait into Iraq by the hated Saddam, but no differences over opposing an imperialist attack on Iraq.

Some subjectively revolutionary leftists opportunistically went along with the call for ‘sanctions’ in order to not alienate anti-war liberals. I specifically remember a meeting in, probably, September of 1990 on Capp Street in San Francisco, where anti-war activists were meeting to plan an action or actions. Dick Becker was chairing the meeting. I introduced a motion to explicitly reject the call for sanctions against Iraq. The motion passed, with Becker voting for it. Then he got a signal from one of his comrades, probably Gloria La Riva, that it should be reconsidered and reversed, and, unfortunately, it was. It’s opportunism like that that would keep me from ever joining either Workers World or PSL.

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Arthur August 10, 2012 at 10:16 am

What you call the “revolutionary left” is what others call “nobody”.

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Aaron Aarons August 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm

patrickm writes: “Apparently there are 20,000 Assad troops preparing to get to work killing many more of the revolutionary forces in Aleppo”.

But who are these “revolutionary forces” in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria? If Reuters is to be believed, they are from outside of that city:

FEATURE-Rural fighters pour into Syria’s Aleppo for battle:
* Countryside fighters determined to take control of Aleppo
* Rebel-held areas deserted, fighters use houses as bases
By Erika Solomon
ALEPPO, Syria, July 29 (Reuters) – The route to Aleppo from the Turkish border is a long web of dirt back roads with miles of exposed ground. But undaunted and in total darkness, dozens of young men jump onto white trucks with their AK-47 rifles, keen to join the fight there.
Syria’s 16-month revolt has finally erupted in the country’s commercial hub, but the momentum was not generated inside the city – it was brought into the historic city’s ancient stone alleyways from the scorched fields of the surrounding countryside.
“We liberated the rural parts of this province. We waited and waited for Aleppo to rise, and it didn’t. We couldn’t rely on them to do it for themselves so we had to bring the revolution to them,” said a rebel commander in a nearby village, who calls himself Abu Hashish.
[For the rest, see:
http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USL6E8IT0TY20120729 or:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/29/syria-crisis-aleppo-idUSL6E8IT0TY20120729
]
While Reuters doesn’t raise the question, one wonders how many of those fighters came across that nearby Turkish border from other countries.

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Brian S. August 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm

About 30 by the estimates I’ve seen.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 10:23 am

So you would try to block the end of the embargo on Cuba as well as Viet Nam? I’m talking about actions here, not denunciations and other forms of propaganda.

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Aaron Aarons August 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I don’t know where you get the idea that I “would try to block the end of the embargo on Cuba as well as Viet Nam”? Unless you’re referring to the facts that:

1) I would oppose the imposition of anti-socialist or pro-imperialist conditions on ending the embargo;

2) I would probably (depending on specifics) support those in Cuba (probably including Fidel, if he should still be alive when it came up) who would oppose giving in to such conditions; and

3) I would never support a call for “normalization” of relations between the United Snakes and Cuba or any other nation, on the grounds that “normal” relations between the U.S. and any other country are relations that serve U.S. imperialist domination and the interests of privileged elites in those other countries.

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Arthur August 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm

US imperialism has historically been counter-revolutionary and is often counter-revolutionary today – for example in its tacit acquiescence to the Saudi occupation of Bahrain and ineffectual response to the Syrian fascists,

However it is currently on balance opposed to the stagnant cesspit of a status quo that it once fought for in the name of “stability”, anti-communism, solidarity with Zionism and contention with the Soviet Union during the decades when it became notorious as the number one enemy of the world’s people. It is certainly not as consistently counter-revolutionary as the pseudo-left who reliably side with zombie undead corpses that cling on as the worst results of US imperialism at its worst.

To find people actively advocating on behalf of fascist dictators these days (sometimes in the name of “stability”, sometimes based on islamophobia) we can still look among the isolationist right, and we can find the corporate liberal imperialists making mealy mouthed excuses for their inaction (while they enthusiastically supported counter-revolutionary wars like Vietnam). But you won’t find the same level of frothing and foaming at the mouth in support of reaction as among people who pretend to be left and call themselve “anti-imperialist” based on their continuing support for the same status quo that made all genuinely progressive people hate imperialism.

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm

‘Fascist’ is another insult you toss around without any understanding of what it actually means, Arthur. Are you a liberal Democrat, or were you one in the near past, and used to doing this ‘fascist’ name calling with Republicans you hate?

‘To find people actively advocating on behalf of fascist dictators… and so on…’

I have yet to see anybody in love with Assad in the US, Arthur. We do find people who advocate AGAINST intervention by the US and European imperialists and their ME allies. Sorry that you are so ideologically lost that you cannot seem to comprehend the difference. Because you can’t you now advocate for imperialist military intervention into the affairs of other countries. To do that in the name of marxism is just pure idiotic nonsense though.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Here’s Assad’s lovers look like in Australia: http://news.yahoo.com/video/hundreds-rally-australia-syrian-regime-121332956.html?_esi=1

Their slogan? “Hands off Syria.”

And here’s the American version: “While Syria plays a regionally progressive role right now, this was not always the case.” From: http://www.workers.org/2011/world/syria_1020/

Apparently Workers World Party thinks that slaughtering Palestinian refugees and Syrians is what “regionally progressive” tyrannies do. The Arab and North African masses seem to differ and I agree with them.

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 7:03 pm

And Pham, I followed your links to the horror of the Worker World position and that of some part of the Syrians living in Australia. Here it is in short from the WWP….

‘Many Syrians are fed up with the Assad government, and for good reason. But imperialism has not imposed sanctions on Syria because the government there has impoverished the workers and because few have a voice in the government.

U.S. imperialism hates Syria for hosting leaders of the Palestinian resistance; for refusing to give up its claims to the Golan Heights; for refusing to sign a peace treaty with Israel; for refusing to end its relationship with Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance movement and with Iran; and for refusing to be part of the attack on Iraq in 2003.

In short, imperialism is sanctioning the Syrian government and increasing pressure on it not for the bad things it has done, but for the good things.’

Now does that sound to you so bad? WWP says that many Syrians are fed up with Assad and for good reason but don’t call for the bombing of Syria by NATO and the US, like you would have them to do! Oh horrors, Pham! Workers World just doesn’t understand Marx and Lenin like you and Proyect, Manuel and all you the many other front rank geniuses at North Star do… Bad WWP. Bad Becker. Bad Australian Syrian community. Long live the Supreme Leaders of Communist Theory here in the US at North Star who call for MORE imperialist intervention (if that will help out blah blah blah).

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Matt August 7, 2012 at 12:14 am

“Many Syrians are fed up with the Assad government, and for good reason. But imperialism has not imposed sanctions on Syria because the government there has impoverished the workers and because few have a voice in the government.”

Rather doubt that. US imperialism supports or does not support sanctions for its own geopolitical reasons. My guess here would be that the US would rather deal with the devil they know than with a welter of new forces in a post Assad Syria. However since the issue has been forced by the masses in Syria, the US likely backs a “Plan B” as in Iraq: foster sectarian conflict to weaken the Syrian state, because

“U.S. imperialism hates Syria for hosting leaders of the Palestinian resistance; for refusing to give up its claims to the Golan Heights; for refusing to sign a peace treaty with Israel; for refusing to end its relationship with Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance movement and with Iran; and for refusing to be part of the attack on Iraq in 2003.”

Putting aside the stringing together of not entirely related elements (Syria sent a substantial force against Iraq in 1991), the US will continue to hate a post-Assad Syria as well.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 7, 2012 at 9:24 am

Actually they have imposed sanctions on Syria:
http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2012/08/03/20120803sanctions-push-syria-plead-russian-aid.html

I’m not sure what world Workers World is living in, but it isn’t the real world.

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Aaron Aarons August 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm

“But imperialism has not imposed sanctions on Syria because the government there has impoverished the workers and because few have a voice in the government.”

The above sentence, taken from the Workers World article, was not an assertion that “imperialism has not imposed sanctions on Syria” but that it’s reason (or reasons) for imposing sanctions was not “because the government there has impoverished the workers and because few have a voice in the government.”

I recommend that anybody commenting hear read the Workers World article itself, and not depend on Pham Binh’s interpretation of it.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 7, 2012 at 9:28 am

“So one army lines up in one place and says, ‘We are for socialism’, and another, somewhere else and says, ‘We are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution! … Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.”

The problem isn’t that you and Workers World Party (Becker runs PSL, not WWP) have a faulty understanding of Marx or Lenin, it’s that you comrades have a faulty understanding of reality, a much more difficult and serious problem.

Assad needs all the help he can get, and you seem more than willing to give it to him.

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Aaron Aarons August 8, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Imperialism can always use a little extra help, and you, Louis Proyect, Clay Claiborne, ‘Arthur’, et al., seem more than willing to provide it.

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Brian S. August 7, 2012 at 11:22 am

@Tony. WWP also says: “Governments like those in Syria are called “bourgeois nationalist” by Marxists. … Marxists support these governments against imperialism because they are manifestations of self-determination of the oppressed. This does not mean that Marxists support every policy of these governments.”
So Assad’s regime is a ” manifestation of the self-determination of the oppressed.”? I don’t think it feels like that in Syria. Nice to hear that people who say they are of the left may not support Assad’s “policy” of shooting and bombing civilian populations – but couldn’t they have been a teeny bit more explicit about it? And might they not consider if there’s a point at which their “policy” disagreements with the regime might lead to it losing entitlement to their support?

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Tony August 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm

You and Pham certainly DO NOT understand that nations have a right to be free of domination by other countries, so when Worker’s World or PSL talk of how the US government and its allies are violating Syria’s self determination by attacking it as they are currently doing, you comrades simply just don’t get it. You don’t get any of it at all! And instead, of understanding that this is the principle reason that Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua take positions counter to your own reactionary ones, you go out and counter by accusing them rather stupidly of being imperialists in their own right! Just count the times that you fools have labeled Putin as being representative of a supposed ‘Russian imperialism’ because he is actually defending nations’ rights to be free of war brought in from outside imperialist forces while you dupes of the Pentagon oppose that self determination of Syria, Iran, and Libya..

What gets me more than anything else though, is how all you Lefty humanitarian imperialist types seem to have a positive blood lust for desiring to tear up other peoples’ countries in pursuit of your own miserable ideas that imperialist war is actually some sort of revolutionary process you want to be in on. Way back when I was 15, I became a communist because we were considering ourselves the best builders of the antiwar movement. Now, you fools even oppose building that antiwar movement since it might hinder the bringing of ‘bourgeois democratic revolutions’ to the Third World via Pentagon/NATO guns!

You cannot imagine the personal contempt I feel about all you morons who now pretend to be some sort of great leninists and marxists while actually being stooges of US the war machine instead. And I am not alone as a socialist in feeling this way neither. If you morons succeed in convincing folk that your opinions on this matter are dominant in marxist circles, then marxism will become even more totally discredited in the US than it already is thought of by the masses.

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Aaron Aarons August 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Tony writes, “[…] nations have a right to be free of domination by other countries[…]”

Sorry, Tony, but I disagree with this particular formulation of yours. The issue should not be “self-determination” for abstractions called “nations” or “countries”, but freedom from imperialist domination as part of the global struggle against imperialist capitalism. I think you would agree with me that the break-up of multinational Yugoslavia into its constituent “nations” or “countries” served imperialism and was therefore a bad thing for the planet. I hope you would also agree that it would have been a good thing if the Soviet Union had conquered Poland in 1920, at least once the war between them had started. And it would have been a good thing in the 1980’s if the left in Central America had been able to defeat imperialism, at least in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and incorporate those countries, along with Nicaragua, into a Central American Socialist Republic. (This is not to say that it was ever a possiblilty, at least in that decade.)

IIRC, you were the one who wrote against the separation of East Timor from Indonesia, so I think you also are selective, as I am, about “self-determination”, regardless of whether or not we agree on every specific case.

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purple August 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

This is standard liberal interventionist fare. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t be dressed up as something different.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 10:22 am

Your comment is standard “Marxist” counter-revolutionary fare. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t be dressed up as something intelligent or remotely progressive.

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Brian S. August 6, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I don’t think there’s anything “standard” about this discussion (Except, perhaps your comment). Tell me where I can find its counterparts?

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Aaron Aarons August 8, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I hope your tongue was in your ‘purple’ cheek when you wrote, ‘That’s fine’. There’s nothing fine about propaganda that facilitates imperialist aggression.

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Brian S. August 6, 2012 at 1:14 pm

A great statement from Pham AND the Kafranbel banners- what a perfect combination. I solidarise completely with every sentence (if not necessarily every word.)
I think at least one root of the problem is that a large part of the left has forgotten how to think about the world, reflecting the long adverse political period we (maybe) are in the course of emerging from. Thus they reify “imperialism” – treating it as some form of unitary actor, or committee, that has a single mind and overarching power to shape events to its own will. Its a simple and neat vision that has the advantage of making “anti-imperialism” so simple you can do it in your sleep (which is precisely what many seem to do): just a quick check of what “the imperialists” are up to, work out what the opposite its, and off we go!
The only problem is that its largely nonsense and self-defeating. “Imperialism” is a social system – a structure which propels, directs and constrains social actors like states, institutions, corporations and classes in a multitude of ways. The moment you look at it that way, its evident that it is a highly contradictory entity. And the art of revolutionary politics is not to reduce those contradictions to some simplified caricature, but to understand them, exacerbate them, and take advantage of them. That’s not an easy task – and there’s lots of scope for political differerences over the correct conclusions. But unless we approach the problem in that way, we are just throwing away one of the most important political tools that we have.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm

It’s amazing and sad how little of the actual voices and ideas of the Syrian revolution are reflected in the Western left’s coverage, even among ostensible supporters of the revolution such as the British SWP avoid talking about the popular calls for imperialist airstrikes on the Assad regime like the plague.

Another problem with the vulgar anti-imperialists is that they think just because some imperialist power becomes involved or entangled in some struggle or revolution it automatically takes it over and hijacks it. They portray imperialism as all-powerful and deny that the masses have the ability to control their own organizations, revolutions, and leaders. And then when it turns out that revolutions were not hijacked by imperialists, as in Libya, they cherry-pick the facts to make the country look like post-invasion Iraq (2003-2007) when in reality its actually the most vibrant and open bourgeois democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring yet.

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Pepe Escobar analyzes the situation in Syria with a lot more common sense and thought than many of our ‘marxist’ geniuses posting their comments here on this blog…

‘Whenever the CIA wants to leak something it uses a faithful scribe, such as David Ignatius from the Washington Post. Already on July 18 Ignatius was reproducing his briefing, according to which “the CIA has been working with the Syrian opposition for several weeks under a non-lethal directive … Scores of Israeli intelligence officers are also operating along Syria’s border, though they are keeping a “low profile.” How lovely. How low profile do you get along Syria’s borders? An Instagram surrounded by a bunch of grinning truck drivers?

As for the Mossad’s “low profile”, the spin in Tel Aviv is that Israel is able to “control” the swarm of hardcore Wahhabis and Salafi-jihadis now infesting Syria. Even if that is manifest nonsense, one juicy point is clear; Israel is in bed with al-Qaeda-style Islamists. What this means is that the Not Exactly Free Syrian Army (FSA), crammed with Muslim Brotherhood diehards and infiltrated by Salafi-jihadis, is following the agenda not only of their financiers and weaponizers – the House of Saud and Qatar – but also Tel Aviv, alongside Washington and its trademark poodles London and Paris. So this is not just a proxy war – it’s a multiple, concentric proxy war.

Meet the triangle of death
Tel Aviv’s agenda is clear; a weakened Syrian government, an overextended army in disarray, sectarian hatred all around and a relentless slouching towards balkanization. The ultimate goal; not only the Lebanonization, but the Somalization of Syria and environs.’

Pepe can’t seem to see our US government driven democratic bourgeois revolution in the making like our so many wonderful commie comrades here can. Go figure?

Full commentary found @ http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/NH03Ak04.html

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Brian S. August 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Escobar sees al Qaeda “takeovers” whenever any people stand up for themselves in the Arab World: he announced it in Libya where it proved to be utter nonsense; and now he’s at it again.

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Yeah? Well now even al jazeera is seeing ‘al queda takeovers’, Brian. And many other folk, too. So you and Louis just keep poo-pooing Pepe Escobar as you will. You are the great unrepentant marxist brains here on North Star! Practically like Lenin and Trotsky even!

Foreign ‘jihadi’ fighters reported in Syria
Video footage suggests the involvement in Syria conflict of foreign fighters with sympathies or links to al-Qaeda.
http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2012/07/201273081149683986.html

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Brian S. August 7, 2012 at 9:57 am

Hello again Tony – I see you’ve signed up to the Pepe Escobar school of political analysis and started paying your dues. AJZ says “Foreign “jihadi” fighters reported in Syria” (this is news?) and you translate it as ‘ “al Qaeda . takeover’ ” -just like your guru saw former Libyan jihadi Abdulhakim Belhadj fighting with the rebels in Libya and proclaimed an “al Qaeda” takeover there. Except it wasn’t. Your attempt at analysis in Syria seems on course for the same degree of historical prescience. If you really want to find out about al Qaeda influence in Syria go back to the my “Whither Syria” thread of last week .

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Tony August 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Yes, yes, Brian. I am a paid agent of Workers World, Pepe Escobar, the 9/11 truthers society, and the Becker brothers over at PSL. Yawn…. You bore the living Hell out of me, Brian, as does your own unrepentant supreme marxist ‘brain’, Louis Proyect, whose lack of thoughts you echo like a young wannabe ‘socialist’ parrot. I almost would prefer to be listening to the complete works of Jack Barnes being read out loud to me than listening to your own utterly miserable ‘wind blowing’.

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Louis Proyect August 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I always get a kick out of the State Department and CIA ads that show up on Pepe Escobar’s ATimes articles:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/ND12Ak03.html

Do they know something that the pro-Assad left doesn’t?

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm

The fact that ATimes allows CIA advertising on its site is beside the point. Pandora radio does, too. So what does any of that have to do with music or Pepe Escobar, Louis? As far as I know he merely writes on that site, not decides where the Atimes owners get the financing to keep Atimes site up and running. And none of any of this has to do with Syria.

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Arthur August 7, 2012 at 9:56 pm

That’s probably google’s ad-sense at work customizing ads to sell your interest in middle east politics to advertisers looking for recruits with those interests.

(My version of the page features an ad for Forex trading – presumably because I enrolled in online courses related to finance and advanced statistics).

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Louis Proyect August 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Oh, and one other thing about Pepe Escobar. Like fellow Islamophobes at Global Research and Voltairenet, he is a 911 truther:

1. In the first months of 2001, three years after Bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the US, Mullah Omar wanted to “resolve or dissolve” the Osama-Taliban nexus in exchange for Washington maneuvering to lift United Nations sanctions. Would anyone from the first George W Bush administration confirm a solid Taliban offer? Kabir Mohabbat, a Houston-based, Paktia (Afghanistan)-born businessman also involved in the (failed) 1990s negotiation for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan pipeline, and then named by Bush’s National Security Council as a key Taliban contact, has sustained that was the case.

2. Eight names on the “original” Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) list of 19 Muslim hijackers happened to be found alive and living in different countries; the FBI has always sustained that the identity of the hijackers was established from DNA collected at all four sites – the World Trade Center (WTC), the Pentagon and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site. Would the FBI explain how is that remotely possible?

3. All four planes referenced in the official narrative have thousands of parts with a serial number, plus tail numbers. Any one of these would have been enough to identify the plane(s). How come all of these parts disintegrated or vaporized? Why was not a single one of them recovered and/or matched up with all the mass of data about these four flights?

4. How come cell phones miraculously find a signal and work properly at 10,000 meters?

5. How to explain the enormous surge in “option puts” on both United Airlines and American Airlines on September 10?

full: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/KI18Ak02.html

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I am not a ‘9/11 truther’ and this stuff by Escobar about it is really rather sad, Louis. But then again, so too is all your political stances in support of regime changes put in place by D.C. to be made by NATO and the Pentagon. I guess neither you nor Pepe is perfect, Comrade. So far from that, in fact…

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Aaron Aarons August 10, 2012 at 4:07 am

I don’t go around proclaiming that I know the ’9/11 truth’, so I’m probably not a ‘truther’. But I do think the government are ’9/11 liars’, so some folks would put me in the ‘truther’ category. In any case, ‘truther-baiting’ seems to serve the function that red-baiting used to serve. Instead of people on the left feeling the need to insist, “I am not a Communist”, they now feel the need to insist, “I am not a truther”.

Incidentally, a few years ago I had confrontations on some blog or other with a guy who called himself ‘Guitar Bill’ and was wont to describe people as ‘truther scum’. When I questioned whether his fear of investigations into 9-11 had anything to do with his support for Israel, I never heard from him again.

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Arthur August 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm

If your collecting stuff on Escobar checkout his articles immediately before and immediately after NATO intervened in Libya,

Immediately before he was denouncing the West for standing by while their stooge Gaddafi murdered the people. Immediately after he switched to “the usual”. No segue, just instant Orwellian switch. Sorry I haven’t got the links.

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Tony August 6, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Hey, I am not a great 100% Pepe Escobar fan at all. But at least he can see Israel slinking around behind all this Syria ‘Arab Spring’ crap you guys have fallen in love with. You are blind about that role the US and Israel play just barely behind the scenes, even though everyday they, the Zionists, discuss when they can start their leetle tiny Pentagon planned war against Iran. You must have your ears stuffed with pages of Das Capital or something, Arthur? Maybe you need to repeat Trotsky school in the beautiful Pocono Mountains or somewhere or the other? Redo some ‘leadership classes’???? I don’t know what will work for such stubborn ‘marxist’ mules as yourselves?

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Aaron Aarons August 10, 2012 at 3:53 am

I looked at a bunch of Escobar articles from early last year and couldn’t find one where he was criticizing the West for not intervening in Libya. Could you link to one or more such article?

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Arthur August 10, 2012 at 5:33 am

Sorry, no time – I already said I haven’t got the links and I’m not interested in suffering through Escobar articles again.

Check the dates and lookup his column around the time of the west deciding to intervene. The switch was literally from immediately before the western intervention to immediately after.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 10, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I found the links and posted them.

This is the kind of anti-imperialism that simultaneously would denounce the Allies for not bombing the rail lines leading to Auschwitz and denouncing them for bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz. Either of those actions is equally bad for these comrades.

No wonder the revolutionary masses in the MENA regions don’t look to us for guidance, leadership, or solidarity.

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Arthur August 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Thanks for digging them up. They were only a week apart and adequately illustrate the utter dishonesty and cynicism that makes it clear the “left” rhetoric is purely and simply a pose.

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Aaron Aarons September 10, 2012 at 3:28 am

Pham Binh writes:

This is the kind of anti-imperialism that simultaneously would denounce the Allies for not bombing the rail lines leading to Auschwitz and denouncing them for bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz.

How about denouncing the Anglo-American imperialists for crimes like bombing the working-class residential districts of red Hamburg in 1943 and for not , despite having the obvious capacity to do so, bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz? A left that had made arguments like these would have been in a much stronger position to oppose the U.S.-led counter-revolutionary occupation of Europe after the war. Unfortunately, the left at the time was dominated by Stalinists, who traded away the possibility of revolution in large parts of Southern Europe for non-interference with Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Escobar denounces the imperialist West for inaction in Libya:
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MC17Ak01.html

Escobar denounces the imperialist West for action in Libya:
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MC25Ak01.html

Kudos to Arthur for this catch.

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Aaron Aarons August 8, 2012 at 3:00 am

Not being an expert on the 9-11 events and the questions raised about them, I’m wondering why these statements and questions by Escobar discredit him? Are his statements false? Are his questions based on false premises? Unless you can provide and justify an affirmative answer to my questions here, then you are just engaging in ‘conspiracist’-baiting or ‘truther’-baiting.

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Aaron Aarons August 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I wrote, “[…] it would have been correct to denounce the U.S. for any part of the “normalization of relations” between the two countries that required any concessions by Vietnam to the U.S. or to the rules of the capitalist world market. And, of course, we wouldn’t oppose the ending of the U.S.’ embargo against Cuba, but should be quite outspoken in warning of the dangers to the Cuban revolution from a less-openly-belligerent imperialism. […] we should encourage and materially support those in Cuba who oppose the pro-capitalist reforms and other concessions that might be made to encourage such a softening of imperialist hostility.”

Pham Binh, presumably in response to me, writes: “So you would try to block the end of the embargo on Cuba as well as Viet Nam? I’m talking about actions here, not denunciations and other forms of propaganda.”

What actions is Pham Binh talking about here? Is putting words in his opponents’ mouths, in the manner of the execrable Louis Proyect, the best he can do? (To be fair to Binh, he doesn’t follow Proyect’s example of calling his left opponents ‘asshole’ and ‘schmuck’.)

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm

If I were to put words in your mouth, I wouldn’t be asking you direct questions now would I?

Actions, like protesting or otherwise trying to stop, block, and impair a given action, in this case the end of the U.S. embargo on Viet Nam or (hypothetically) Cuba because of opposition to the aim underlying either action.

Direct questions should beget direct answers.

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Aaron Aarons August 8, 2012 at 2:09 am

I answered you elsewhere on this page:
http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1705#comment-3154

I will make the point more succinctly: I am for ending the embargo and an against the imposition of any conditions by the U.S. in exchange for ending it. So you might say I would ‘support’ the U.S. in unconditionally ending the embargo in the same way I would ‘support’ a serial rapist who totally gives up committing rapes.

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Aaron Aarons August 10, 2012 at 4:11 am

To refine the metaphor, the U.S. ending the embargo of Cuba would be like a serial rapist discontinuing the repeated rape of one, and only one, of his victims.

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Louis Proyect August 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Tony, people who supported the Libya rebels through thick and thin were perhaps making a political error. 911 truthers, on the other hand, are making another kind of error entirely. They believe in nonsense. They posit “facts” that have about as much substance as the Yeti or reincarnation. If Pepe Escobar can raise questions about all the cell phone calls being impossible, you have to wonder how serious a reporter he is. Anybody who has taken the trouble to research the 911 conspiracy theories, as I have (http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2006/09/01/loose-change/) can tell you that most of the calls were from the plane’s telephone, not cell phones. People like Escobar, Michel Chossudovsky, and Thierry Meyssan are basically conspiracy theorists. They advance a theory of history in which the prime movers are the CIA, MI5, Mossad, Soros-led NGO’s, etc. There is little interest in the working class. You can spend days on these wretched websites and not find a single word about what ordinary Syrians were doing when they decided to build the FSA. Instead of asking why it was necessary to defend peaceful demonstrations from being attacked by snipers, they snoop around looking for sinister connections in Bourne Memorandum fashion. They are really not to be taken seriously.

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Aaron Aarons August 8, 2012 at 2:54 am

I haven’t researched it enough to know which hypotheses regarding the 9-11 attacks are valid, which are reasonable but maybe erroneous, and which are off-the-wall. But if the attacks were a false-flag operation, and I tend to believe they were, then it is not surprising that those responsible would sow confusion by promoting or encouraging hypotheses that can be discredited to take attention away from those that can’t.

BTW, it’s interesting that you assert “that most of the calls were from the plane’s telephone, not cell phones”. [Emphasis added.] So, if only some of the alleged calls were from cell phones, the same technical questions remain as would exist if all the alleged calls had been made from cell phones. (I’m not stating a position on what calls were made and how, but only on this gap in your logic. However, I’m fairly sure that if I made this point on your web site, your response would be a lot nastier than whatever you might write here.)

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Aaron Aarons August 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Pham Binh: “Benghazi would have been smashed and mourned by Arab and North African revolutionaries as the Paris Commune of the 21st century, the revolution that never was, the place where the birth of a more democratic order was brutally aborted by counter-revolutionary bloodshed.”

Would Marx have written “The Civil War in Libya” and drawn conclusions about the nature of a working-class dictatorship from the example of Benghazi, as he did from the example of the Paris Commune when he wrote “The Civil War in France”? Whatever one thinks of the uprising in Benghazi, it was NOT an uprising of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, but an uprising of a section of the bourgeoisie along with feudal/tribal remnants and. perhaps, substantial working-class support. Thinking that revolutionaries would remember it as the Paris Commune is remembered shows a complete inability to distinguish between bourgeois democracy (if Benghazi represented even that) and proletarian rule.

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Brian S. August 8, 2012 at 5:59 am

@Aaron Aarons: The only significant “bourgeoisie” in Libya was that spawned and firmly attached to the regime. Tribal institutions, in my view, played little role in the revolution (“One tribe, one Libya” was a common slogan, but that of course suggests some concern over “tribalism”). “Tribe” is an unscientific term in the Libyan context, and “feudal” even more so, but even if we allow this inaccurate language, Libya’s “tribal” institutions have little that could be called “feudal” about them. The driving force of the rebellion was the urban population, mostly youth. If you want to pin a class label on it, it was mostly petit-bourgeois and working class; but I would conceptualise it as a “popular” revolt. And there was a great deal of local, popular self-organisation from the beginning to the end of the revolution (when communities weren’t being shelled by Gaddafi’s forces.) Actually it sounds a lot like the Paris Commune to me.

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Aaron Aarons August 8, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Since Benghazi wasn’t smashed by Gaddafi’s forces, then presumably the ‘Commune’ should be alive and well, or superseded by another, more permanent, proletarian governing body. So what class actually rules in Benghazi now, and through what forms?

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Brian S. August 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm

The Paris Commune didn’t have the chance to mature as a poltical institution, but if it hadn’t been physically crushed it would likely have been absorbed into the wider French political institutions dominated by the bourgeosie, but with a significant political legacy. That’s what’s happened with the popular organisation in Libya – some of the legacy is obvious to see – the high turnout and lively debate around the elections; the burgeoning of ngo’s (especially women’s organisations; people’s readiness to take to the streets whenever they feel an injustice; Indeed since we started this discussion there have been some more specific echos of the Commune – Misrata city council recently resigned en masse after citizens criticised them (right of recall); the new law on municipal government reportedly de-centralises many important public functions to the municipal level.

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Arthur August 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Thanks for finding digging them up. They were only a week apart and adequately illustrate the utter dishonesty and cynicism that makes it clear the “left” rhetoric is purely and simply a pose.

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Arthur August 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm

whoops, wrong position. please delete dupe comment above re 2 Escobar links a week apart.

If Commune had surived proletarian rule would have been extended to whole of France (and only degenerated into bourgeois institutions much later).

There are sharp differences between bourgeois and proletarian revolutions, Being “socially diverse, fragmented, and led by a wide variety of political currents” is not one of those differences.

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Arthur August 8, 2012 at 11:22 am

I don’t think that’s right. Tribes are still important in Libya. Likewise Syria.

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Brian S. August 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm

In the days when I was an anthropology student “tribe” had a precise meaning – it referred to levels of social integration that were above those based on kinship relations, usually by the creation of some form of central political authority (kingship, chieftanship, etc.) This was an era when social evolutionary theory was dominant and contemporary conceptualisation is more fluid. But I’m old fashioned, and I find the earlier distinction more coherent.
In this perspective what are referred to as “tribes” in the Arab world are in fact “clans” – ie large social units (originating in geographically mobile societies like pastoralists) structured around a common ancestor. Tribal identity is expressed in surnames – e.g Mohammed Al-Obeidi. But the important thing about these institutions is that they are not corporate bodies and do not have any means for making collective decisions. They comprise heads of extended households, and networks of “elders”. Sometimes the latter will convene assemblies to make pronouncements on behalf of the “tribe” but this has limited significance. That is why the alleged “tribal” element in the Libyan revolution so confused the western media – one minute the million-strong Warfalla declare for the revolution; next week they declare for Gaddafi.What this actually meant is that the NTC rounded up a group of Warfalla elders to pronounce for them; and Gaddafi then found another group to do the opposite. As we know, Gaddafi summoned the tribes to descend on the coastal towns to crush the rebels, and nothing happened. That’s pretty much the story of “tribes” in the Libyan revolution.
Tribal identities and institutions do play a role in Libyan society, but My Libyan acquaintances tell me that its mostly at the social level. When the Oxford opinion survey asked Libyans about the importance of tribes in the political future of the country the largest response (33%) was “totally unimportant” ; but 31% said “very important”. A poll in Eastern Libya asked people about various influences over their personal political views – tribal leaders were the least influential, with only 14% saying “very influential” while 54% said “no influence”.Of course these things are fluid and institutions like these can become politicised under particular circumstances (e.g. manipulated by patronage-based rulers like Gaddafi.) I don’t know the situation in Syria, but my guess is it would be similar.

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Arthur August 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm

If 31% think tribes are very important then they ARE still important.

I don’t think they are as important in Syria as they are in Lebanon, but they are nevertheless important (more so among the Kurds).

In both Syria and Iraq the confessional divisions are more important, but these also involve tribes (and the fact that cross-border Sunni tribes.active in the Syrian revolution were also actively hostile to democracy in Iraq has influenced the Shia dominated government in Iraq against solidarity with the Syrian revolution)..

PS I think of clans as being much smaller units within a tribe, but the terminology isn’t the important thing. What does matter is that there’s no comparison between the Paris commune and the current revolutions. The region is VERY backward.

This also relates to earlier discussion on “bourgeois” democratic revolution. Paris commune was first attempt at proletarian revolution. This is much more like earlier bourgeois revolutions (which were certainly “popular revolts” and marked a gigantic step forward).

No doubt the importance will fade rapidly with urbanization, but urbanization is still quite recent in terms of generations.

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Brian S. August 9, 2012 at 8:43 am

The two opinion polls have different target populations, so their comparison can only be suggestive: but what it suggests is a classic survey design flaw – you ask respondnets about what other people think about tribal attachments and a significant number think that they’re “very important”; you ask people what they think about them themselves and “tribalism” appears to be very insignificant. Of course both data may be relevant.
The idea that smaller social units are simply sub-divisions of larger ones in which they are nested is usually an analytic error – much more often the larger units are grafted on to the smaller ones under particular social situations (ie the need for a broader social network than the clan can provide). The same applies to the analysis of “caste” in Hindu societies.
In general, I think the unqualified use of “tribe” as if it were some form of corporate entity is a typical orientalist confusion.
I also don’ t think the term “backward” has any useful analytic content: at all sorts of levels, from historic culture to recent politics the region has very rich traditions.

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Arthur August 9, 2012 at 9:46 am

BTW when I mentioned Lebanon it was a typo – intended to refer to Libya.

Details of terminology and opinion polls are not that important.

What is important is to understand that what’s going on does not resemble the Paris commune.

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Brian S. August 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Why not – the Paris Commune was socially diverse, fragmented, and led by a wide variety of political currents.

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Ben August 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm
Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Thanks for posting. Here’s part 2: http://libcom.org/blog/syria-imperialism-left-2-09082012

This kind of thing strikes me an attempt to write the “perfect analysis,” as if such a thing were possible. I don’t dwell on all the subtle nuances of the situation because it seems that the basics — revolution versus counter-revolution — escape the left’s understanding, and until we can understand A, B, and C, I don’t even want to really get into G, H, I, and J, so to speak. I’m also more concerned with what we can and should be doing about the Arab Spring than what paper positions we are taking on it.

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Ben D August 10, 2012 at 1:25 am

Just wanted to note that this Ben is different than myself. I used the name Ben above in the post starting with “This is a stupid response. You assume too much about the person you are attacking” I will go by Ben D in the future.

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Aaron Aarons August 10, 2012 at 3:31 am

The United States is the bastion of world counter-revolution and Saudi-occupied Arabia and the Gulf monarchies are regional bastions of counter-revolution, along with Israel, which is a rather special case.

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