#Syria and the End of the Left

by Michael Neumann on November 19, 2012

First published here.

The Anglo-American left — at least that portion of the left concerned with foreign affairs — has consistently backed Assad. At one extreme, this is explicit and based on the acceptance of an alternate-universe sort of news flow. At the other end of the spectrum, there are pro-forma condemnations of Assad coupled with calls for ‘patient negotiations,’ or condemnations of ‘ Western meddling’, or just a throwing up of hands, like Chomsky’s “I don’t know.”(*) It hardly matters which of these responses predominates. If heeded, they can only benefit the régime, and everyone knows it.

Does anyone who counts for anything listen to the left? It’s possible. For one thing, however modest the left’s more obvious victories, it’s had extensive indirect and diffuse influence — witness the rise of ‘political correctness’, which originated in 1960s leftism. For another, the left may have influence on Western policy because — as was the case with ‘political correctness’ — it’s pushing at a partly open door. The West is too frightened to act on Syria; it looks for reasons not to. The left’s incessant calls for inaction and disengagement have gained audience by their inclusion in papers/Web sites such as The Guardian, which has attained virtual mainstream status. Perhaps this gets the attention of decision-makers, or those who have real influence with the decision-makers. So the left might modestly congratulate itself on helping Assad survive a bit longer.

It is hard to imagine a more clearly mistaken and less excusable stance. Mistaken, because the facts on Syria are cloudy only to those who want them to be. And even those who supported, say, the Stalin trials, had more excuse, because they had more reason to be mistaken and later, to plead ignorance. How did this happen? The causes lie in an ideology which fostered obliviousness to change.

The Bad-Person Ideology

At the heart of Chomsky-style anti-imperialism is the judgement that America has a bad character. It is selfish, mean, and — apparently worst of all, from the thousands of articles devoted to the topic — hypocritical. This claim is supported by surveying most or all of American history and finding a pattern of selfishness, covetousness, brutality, hypocrisy and other vices.

Philosophers can defend the idea of abstract entities such as America, and you could devise some coherent notion of what it is for those entities of have a character. Is America a specially immoral abstract entity, as opposed to all the other nations? Perhaps Chomsky cherry-picks a bit — America has done some good things, like abolishing slavery, instituting some civil liberties, fighting Hitler, and so on.

But even if he’s perfectly correct, theories about the character of abstract entities are not an adequate basis for politics. For one thing, you don’t support or not support political agents just because they’re of good or bad character. You have to look at the actual effects of supporting them. For another, politics depends crucially not only on what stays the same — on the enduring features of an abstract entity, for instance — but also on what changes.

Obama, for instance, is not Jack Kennedy, the son of a bitch who invaded Cuba and pushed the Việt Nam war into the criminal slaughter it became. And other things have changed too. America does not, as in days of yore, want to plunder the world for resources. What would it do with them? It doesn’t manufacture any more and — this is much too recent and fundamental a change for the left to process — it doesn’t have to worry about oil supplies any more. It doesn’t need an empire or ‘hegemony’, because there are now numerous independent and vile régimes with whom it maintains a mutually beneficial relationship. Even more important, America has lost too many wars. Some say this started with Korea. Certainly Việt Nam was an ignominious defeat, and Afghanistan will be the same. In Iraq, the U.S. never achieved effective control of the territory: if the situation in Germany circa 1946 or later had been anything like the situation in Iraq, ever, Truman or Ike would have sacked the entire general staff. So that, even in narrow military terms, counts as a defeat as well.

As a result of all this, America is weak, both in relative and in absolute terms. It has been pretty consistently unable to impose its will despite its best efforts. It’s timid, too. It doesn’t want to extend its global reach. Even to maintain its position, it puts its faith in others’ armed forces, with almost comical results in Iraq and Afghanistan. It wants the United Nations and NATO to take over so America doesn’t keep getting defeated in its farcical adventures. Since this isn’t going to happen, it doesn’t know what to do.

Bad-person ideologues have a hard time acknowledging this because, for them, it isn’t enough for America to be bad. It has to be importantly bad, and therefore very powerful; only this can justify the good old routine of condemning America to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. The stubborn commitment to America as a juggernaut has an unpleasant yet typically American side effect: the rest of the world is virtually deprived of agency. That’s why, for bad-person ideologues, 9/11 was a mere crime, a police matter, not a major assault on U.S. power. And that’s why, to the left, America’s victims seem tiny, helpless, hardly human. How, after all, could these little people stand up to America? This stealth-chauvinism naturally distorts the analysis of events like the Syrian or Libyan uprisings which, because applauded by the U.S., are seen as mere pawns in an American game.

Evading Realities

These distortions may divorce the bad-person ideology from political reality, but they don’t raise doubts among its adherents. After all, their moral beliefs are unaffected, and are likely to remain so. America is and will continue to be bad. That’s because states, generally speaking, are indeed of bad moral character. Countries generally pursue their own interests, often at the expense of the world’s poor and oppressed, often as part of their national democratic mandate. Yet they pretend to do otherwise, so they’re hypocritical. As long as this doesn’t change — and it won’t — bad-person ideologues can keep preaching with minimal regard for the course of history.

What would it take to expose the weakness of the bad-person ideology? Recognition that being a morally bad country doesn’t preclude being on the morally right side of things. Bad countries can pursue good policies, just as bad people can do good deeds. Until recently, this wasn’t happening: the U.S. was pretty consistently on the wrong side of any conflict. But what about Syria? The US, ineffectually as usual, sides with the Syrian revolution. Because the U.S. is for it, and the U.S. is bad, the left is against it. Rather than abandon its obsession with bad character, it sides with atrocity. Since, of course, it can’t admit this, it does what all bankrupt ideologues do: it denies reality. It can persist in this denial because, once more oblivious to change, it doesn’t realize it’s lost one of its main assets: access to secret or suppressed information.

Once, the left had such access. It exposed atrocities in the American South, in Việt Nam, in Chile, in Palestine and many other places. Indeed this was probably the chief immediate and concrete accomplishment of the left. Today — at most in the past couple of years – things have changed. The left no longer has special access, and has moved from sources no one else had, to sources no one else wants.

This has very little to do with social media; it has much to do with the brand-new ubiquity of smart phones and camera phones. We’re flooded with data from everywhere. Yes, some of that is fake, but here too, the left doesn’t get it. For one thing, most of the material is video. It can be faked or misrepresented, but it’s a much tougher proposition than faking a single image — and by now there are well over 100,000 mutually reinforcing videos presenting the opposition case.(**) For another, online activity doesn’t just repackage data as truth; it analyses it. Every day, even the videos favorable to the Syrian opposition are examined for forgery by the Syrian opposition. And because journalists now get most of their information from online sources, they too participate in the vetting process. It’s not perfect, but when a conflict produces literally hundreds of thousands of videos, it’s accurate enough: so far, no important falsehood is known to have survived online examination for more than a few hours.

Aleppo, Syria.

The left protects itself from dealing with this change by ratcheting up selective skepticism. “It’s all faked!” This level of suspicion, oddly enough, never extends to pro-Assad reports, just as it never extends to pro-Ghadafi reports. If the left applied to Israel the childishly distorted standards of evidence it applies to Syria, the Israelis could claim with impunity that they’ve never harmed a hair on any Palestinian’s head.

Bereft of genuinely special information, the left has made a fool of itself. It has turned to beyond-the-fringe ‘experts’ like Michel Chossudovsky, whose Global Research site offers ‘anti-imperialists’ new levels of delusion. When, for example, the Syrian and Turkish governments agreed that Syria had fired shells across the Turkish border, Chossudovsky ran a piece citing “widespread speculation that the one Syrian mortar that killed five Turkish civilians well might have been fired by Turkish-backed opposition forces intent on giving Turkey a pretext to move militarily, in military intelligence jargon, a ‘false flag’ operation.[1]” The footnote is to a Reuters piece which, being sane, says nothing of the kind.


It is difficult to know how much of this fringe material is offered in good faith. No doubt some of the bad ideologues realize that the Syrian revolution is not a great-power plot allied with a fundamentalist rampage, but want to oppose the U.S. for supposed geopolitical reasons. In other words, the less deluded part of the left apparently believes it is engaging in realpolitik: let the Syrians bleed because, though Assad is a bad person, he is the enemy of a worse person, America, and therefore our friend.

This is an infantile sort of realism. When Bismark instituted a welfare system to co-opt the socialists, when Stalin allied with Hitler and when the West later allied with Stalin, that was realpolitik. Supporting Assad is not. It lacks one essential ingredient of any ‘Politik’ — an objective.

For the left’s ‘realpolitik’ to have an objective, keeping Assad in power would have to be good for something. It can’t be. Assad, win or lose, is a spent force. The most he can ever do is fight and repress an opposition which will never cease to struggle for its very survival. Even if they were all wiped out, there would be hundreds of thousands seething with anger and looking for any opportunity for revenge. Assad’s atrocities are not the sort of thing forgiven or forgotten. That covert rage was essentially the reaction to Hafez al-Assad’s repression of the 1982 Hama revolt; a much broader and deeper reaction is all that could be expected today. Nor will the régime be able to buy its way towards reconciliation: if Assad wins, his economy will be choked by sanctions and trade disruptions. No one can rationally expect him to be any good to anyone — not Iran, not Russia or China, not Hezbollah, not the Palestinians, not any great cause. So there is nothing to ‘anti-imperialist’ support for Assad, and opposition to toppling him, but spite and resentment, nothing but bitterness towards the Morally Bad Person, the West, or the U.S. That’s not politics, that’s sulking.


The Syrian revolution is a political watershed. Never have the facts — for those willing to look — been so clear. No amount of scare-mongering can offer reasons to favor the régime. If Assad wins, unending atrocities are certain. If the Free Syrian Army wins, the future may turn out to be anything from as bad to much better: no one has offered scenarios that look worse, and it seems as if only the more optimistic possibilities are discounted. The certainty of Assad’s horrors cannot be preferred to the uncertainties of his overthrow.

Of course contemporary leftists are far from the only ones to have chosen brutality over humanity. But they are perhaps the first to make that choice quite so pointlessly and in the face of such undeniable realities. Their decision is driven by hard-hearted petulance and the conviction that their aimless, obsolete moralizing somehow exempts them from common decency. These are reasons that do not even rise to the level of intelligent cynicism.

Syrians say they will never forgive this. Neither should anyone else. If there is to be a left that can be mentioned without disgust, it will emerge only when the existing ‘anti-imperialist’ left is thoroughly dismissed.

It is in that sense that we witness the end of the left.

(*) Allegedly his response to a question on Syria at a talk in Cairo, October 2012. After a year and a half, he doesn’t know? Hard to imagine clearer evidence of ideological paralysis.

(**) “Anyone can make a fake video and post it just as anyone can send a fake picture to the BBC, but over a hundred thousand videos of the struggle in Syria have been posted to YouTube in that last year and they make up a very convincing record that can not be faked.” – Daily Kos: Fake Houla Massacre Photo: Was the BBC set up? See also Jess Hill on “Assad’s Useful Idiots“.

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

David Berger November 19, 2012 at 9:13 pm

You say that “the character of abstract entities is not a basis for politics.” But then you posit an abstract entity called “the left” and construct a political stance based on this entity. Beyond the demon Chomsky, what “left” are you talking about?

David Berger


john November 20, 2012 at 9:16 pm

For someone who complains about abstractions, “the left” is a pretty big one. In reality, most sections of the left do not remotely support Assad. We just aren’t so fucking gung ho about US intervention as a solution. There’s nothing abstract about it. The question is would such an intervention make things better or worse? And what kind of intervention are you talking about? How would it develop in practice? Do the names Afghanistan and Iraq mean anything to you?


David Berger November 21, 2012 at 11:42 am

Exactly my point. The article verges on bullshit. Some people are so overjoyed to be able, from a “left” perspective to support US intervention that they lose perspective entirely.

David Berger


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp November 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm

“most sections of the left do not remotely support Assad.”

Opposing U.S. arms to the Free Syrian Army and U.S. interference with Russian arms shipments to Assad as the vast majority of the Western leftdoes (the socialist groups + the anti-war coalitions + the liberal-left milieu like Dennis Kucinich, Code Pink, and so on), in practice, concretely, helps the Assad regime stay in power. Bleating “Assad is bad” doesn’t change that reality one bit.

“We just aren’t so fucking gung ho about US intervention as a solution.”

No one is, not even the imperialists. There’s nothing in this article that could be construed as being “gung ho about US intervention as a solution.”

“The question is would such an intervention make things better or worse? And what kind of intervention are you talking about? How would it develop in practice? Do the names Afghanistan and Iraq mean anything to you?”

Does the name Libya mean anything to you?

Libya’s revolutionary movement asked for military aid from NATO in the form of airstrikes, arms, logistical support, and a naval embargo on Ghadafi and that is what they managed to get. They completed their democratic revolution and now they have elections, political parties, strikes, and demonstrations. How many NATO bases are in Libya now? Zero.

Surely all of that is a step forward from the continued reign of terror of Ghadafi and his mukhabarat.


Aaron Aarons November 21, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Thanks to the attack of September 11 in Benghazi, there’s one less CIA base in Libya than there was on September 10. But that happened against, perhaps, the “democratic” wishes of the majority of the so-called “revolutionaries” or the Libyan population as a whole, so I presume you don’t support it, Anti-imperialists do.

For anti-imperialist leftists, the most important criterion in deciding what position to take on a matter is NOT how it will affect a local situation but how it will affect the overall struggle against the global capitalist class and its linchpin, the U.S.-dominated Western bloc. And, since we’re also concerned with helping human beings in the short run, there are plenty of situations (Haiti, the Congo, Palestine, Bahrain and other Gulf states, South Africa, etc.) where we can help the local people by opposing imperialism, not supporting it.


Matt November 28, 2012 at 2:45 am

Since almost every foreign “consulate” or “embassy” of the US is basically a CIA base, are you seriously advocating a world-wide military campaign against them now? While one can have nothing in principle against the abolition of US imperialism and its institutions, to concretely advocate such as a practical matter NOW, under present conditions, is to indulge oneself in the most foolish and irresponsible adventurist fantasies.

Or perhaps we should be content to sit back in our easychairs and applaud other forces, alien to the left, the working class and socialism, such as the reactionary jihadis who likely did the deed?

Then we would not only be fools, but cowards as well.

One might as well have advocated that the USSR nuke the US. That would have ended US imperialism as well, and by this logic “as consistent anti-imperialists” we would have to support this. But it would be clearly mad “logic”.

As for the article, there are points that I agree with, such as the dismal overrating of the effectiveness of US imperialism, especially against “non-state actors”, and its corollary, the denial of any agency on the part of those potentially or actually oppressed by that imperialism, or the notion that US imperialism constitutes an all encompassing, all-powerful “Empire”. Happily it does not.

But US imperialism is still the most powerful imperialism on earth by a long shot, with a massive nuclear arsenal capable of the destruction of human civilization as we have known it. The US outspends all other states combined on military power, and furthermore commands the most powerful military alliance in the world, NATO, which has further added several Eastern European states to its number, while the US maintains hundreds of military bases worldwide, all the while maintaining exclusive military alliances with the second and third most powerful militaries in East Asia, Japan and South Korea.

The total combination of US multinationals is the most powerful capitalist bloc in the world; the New York-London axis is (still) the center of world finance capable of throwing the whole EU into a deep financial and economic crisis; the US, through its strategic military presence in the Persian Gulf, controls the destiny of its wretched Saudi feudal client (the spiritual homeland of the reactionary jihadis) and by this means, controls the world oil price, suppressing supply so as to keep the price high enough to make high cost North American crude profitable to produce, which is HOW North America is tending towards “self-sufficiency”,; this in turn keeps the USD the “world reserve currency” forcing others such as China to eat it in the face of a US policy of debauchery of that currency, while, per above, it has the financial power to export the ill effects to the rest of the world.

And finally the article is flat out wrong to say that the US “doesn’t manufacture anything anymore”. The *commodity value output* of US manufacture – of US capitalist production – has remained fairly constant over the last generation. It is the number of industrial workers producing that value that has fallen precipitously over the same interval. All that indicates is that labor power is being replaced by machines; good old relative surplus value extraction is alive and well in the US, and this in fact is a sign of the continuing *advance* of capitalist production in that country. Marx long ago identified relative surplus value production as the “optimal” path of capitalist development within the historical limits of its social relations of production.

And what country just landed a sophisticated piece of advanced technology in good working order on the surface of Mars?

Shall I go on? Thus to the extent the article glosses over these realities, is it sliding by on BS.


Arthur November 23, 2012 at 6:48 am

Well I’m gung ho for intervention!

Its good that people opposed to that don’t want to admit even to themselves that they are objectively supporting the Assad regime.

But there shouldn’t be any equivocation from people who do want that regime smashed.


Arthur November 23, 2012 at 7:04 am

Yes “the left” is an inappropriate abstraction. People so thoroughly reactionary should never be described as “left”.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been much coverage of recent developments here so “How would it develop in practice” is a reasonable question.

A pointer is provided by the fact that Britain and the EU look like joining France, Turkey and the Gulf States in recognizing the Syrian opposition as representatives (or sole representatives) of the Syrian people. That’s a clear and significant step towards active assistance to liberated areas and establishment of no fly zones etc.

Expect it to develop with the usual anguished hand-wringing, especially from politicians who opposed armed intervention to overthrow the Baathist regime in Iraq and who want to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban.


Aaron Aarons November 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm

It’s interesting that few of the commentators here who support imperialist intervention in Libya and Iraq but nominally disagree with ‘Arthur’ about the imperialist slaughters in Iraq and Afghanistan ever confront him on his more enthusiastic and more general support for imperialism.

BTW, it was imperialist support for the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan from before the late-1979 Soviet intervention till the withdrawal of the Soviet military in 1988-89 that led to the situation where the Taliban is the strongest indigenous force in Afghanistan. And it’s no coincidence that most of those, like me, who defended the pro-Soviet Afghan government and the Soviet intervention to defend that government against CIA-backed “freedom fighters” are also, for the most part, opponents of Western intervention anywhere.


Matt November 28, 2012 at 2:52 am

Do you support, critically or otherwise, the Taliban successors now?


Matt November 28, 2012 at 4:18 am

Arthur, you don’t strike me as a “leftist”, much less a working class oriented socialist, but as a liberal believer in the good grace of US imperialism. It is to be completely rejected on a site such as North Star.

You bemoan the “isolationist” mood of the “American people” in the Obama era, and mention the experience with Iraq. Funny you should mention that.

Pray tell, what do you think the US policy was toward that country in the 15 year period 1991-2006 – just to make clear we are not talking about a “foolish aberration” under GW Bush as liberals such as yourself would have us believe? Was it a policy aimed at preserving the sort of “cohesion and unity” of Iraqi society and state that you presume the US advocates for Syria?

Answer: “Expect it to develop with the usual anguished hand-wringing, especially from politicians who opposed armed intervention to overthrow the Baathist regime in Iraq and who want to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban.” I’ll be happy to see you off to go fight the good fight, chickenhawk.

On another level, tell us Arthur, why does the US maintain an arsenal of thousands of strategic nuclear weapons capable of destroying human civilization? To maintain the “cohesion and unity” of humanity?

Let’s guess the answer: “Yes”.

If this were a site I had any say over, I’d have your ass out of here in a split second (Binh!). If I want to chat with intelligent liberals, there is Brad DeLong’s site. You can go there too, or to the may other liberal sites. Or read your crap in the NYT. There is plenty of freedom around for your ilk.


Arthur November 28, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Matt addressing a kindred spirit in another thread:

“And what is up with all the gratuitous insults? Not the mark of serious socialists.”

Unless there’s an unexpected change in tone I am no more likely to respond to points raised by Matt than those made by Aaron Aarons (ie only occasionally as clearly no interest in actual dialogue).

But for the record, US policy in the region for decades prior to 2001-09-11 favoured maximum stability under existing autocratic regimes. This policy blew up in their faces with 911 and subsequent US policy has favoured destabilization of the existing autocratic regimes. Naturally pseudo-leftists are indignant about that and rally with the traditional US foreign policy establishment in pining for a return to thegood old days of stability.


byork November 21, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Aaron Aarons, there is nothing leftist in your view that “the most important criterion in deciding what position to take on a matter is NOT how it will affect a local situation but how it will affect the overall struggle against the global capitalist class and its linchpin, the U.S.-dominated Western bloc” when it results in actual support for fascistic regimes in the ‘local situation’. No wonder what passes for left-wing thinking has such little support and no wonder we need a new conceptual tool – the notion of a ‘pseudo-left’ – to account for this phenomenon.


Aaron Aarons November 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm

In the case of Syria, I’m not supporting any regime, “fascistic” or not. But the remaining in power of the Assad regime would be a lesser evil than its overthrow by “democratic” imperialism and its reactionary Gulf clients

In the case of Libya, I did, once NATO attacked, support the forces of the Libyan regime against NATO and all who were working with it. A failure of NATO to impose its will there would have been a great boost to all those resisting, or thinking about resisting, Western imperialism everywhere. That didn’t happen, and it was against the odds that it could happen there, but I’m still hoping for more disasters there for the imperialists similar to the destruction of their intelligence base on September 11.

BTW, ‘pseudo-left’ is a good term for those who would call on imperialist killitaries to carry out their program for them.


David Berger November 21, 2012 at 8:12 pm

“For anti-imperialist leftists, the most important criterion in deciding what position to take on a matter is NOT how it will affect a local situation but how it will affect the overall struggle against the global capitalist class and its linchpin, the U.S.-dominated Western bloc.”

Would you care to source this or defend it politically? This is the kind of logic the Stalinists used for never commiting fully to the anticapitalist struggle in Spain.

David Berger


Aaron Aarons November 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm

The Stalinists actively opposed and suppressed the anticapitalist struggle in Spain (and thereby paved the way for a victory of Franco’s even more brutal counterrevolution) because they wanted to convince the “democratic” imperialist powers, particularly Britain and France, that it was safe for them to ally with the USSR against Nazi Germany. Despite that, the “democracies” continued to quietly work for the victory of Franco over the Spanish bourgeois democrats because they didn’t trust the latter to be able to keep the revolutionary Spanish working class under control.


David Berger November 22, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Thanks for the history lesson, but you evaded my point, which is that the Stalinists used the same kind of logic for their actions in Spain that you are using when you post:

“For anti-imperialist leftists, the most important criterion in deciding what position to take on a matter is NOT how it will affect a local situation but how it will affect the overall struggle against the global capitalist class and its linchpin, the U.S.-dominated Western bloc.”


Aaron Aarons November 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm

The Stalinists starting in 1934-35 took the reactionary position of depending on an alliance with “bourgeois democracy” against “fascism”, rather than siding with revolutionary anti-capitalist workers and peasants against capitalists. They did not base their positions and actions on the needs of the global anti-capitalist struggle of workers, peasants, oppressed colonial peoples, et al., but on the needs of their own state, and particularly of their own bureaucratic caste.


David Berger November 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm

However, they justified what they ere doing on the basis of preserving the USSR as the font of all revolution. My point is the essential logic of subordinating a local struggle to a larger struggle, the judgment being made by those who “know,” is the essence of stalinist logic, and you are applying the same kind of logic to Syria.

Which group or tendency, if any, do you belong to?

David Berger


Arthur November 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm

He’s obviously an (ex) Trot – like most people described as “Stalinist” by Trots. The stereotypical attitudes and behaviour of “Stalinists” as described by Trots is EXACTLY the attitudes and behaviour of various Trot sects. The main exception is that Trots often also describe both “Eurocommunists” and supporters of the post-Stalin Soviet regime as “Stalinists”, presumably because, like the various Trots with similar attitudes and behaviour, a signature of their political theory and history is that they also bitterly hate, virulently denounce and have no compreension at all about a historical figure named Stalin.


David Berger November 25, 2012 at 7:53 am

Who is the “he” you’re referring to? For openers.


Arthur November 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Obviously I was referring to the person you replied directly to, when you asked him “What group or tendency , if any, do you belong to”.

Aaron Aarons November 25, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I wrote about my political history in a number of comments on the Unrepentant Anti-anti-imperialist’s blog in 2011, before he banned me, probably because he couldn’t come up with any new words, beyond ‘shmuck’ and ‘asshole’, with which to refute my arguments. I have not been a member of a ‘cadre’ organization since getting expelled from the Spartacist League in 1966, shortly after the founding conference of same. I was, and probably still am, too much of an anarchist for the ‘Trots’, too much of a ‘Trot’ for the anarchists, and too much of a ‘third world’-ist (for lack of a better term) for most of the ‘first-world’ left. Moreover, I am not capable of functioning as a ‘cadre’, probably for the same reason(a) that I can’t write long essays or complex computer programs. So I express my ideas in relatively short comments, something I used to do in calls to radio talk shows and now do mostly on the web.


Matt November 28, 2012 at 2:54 am

Killing a lot of people is not the criterion of labeling a regime “fascist”.


Byork November 28, 2012 at 5:51 am

Massacring thousands of people who are fighting for democracy is a definitive characteristic of fascist regimes. That is its political character: opposition to democracy, support for the minority class dictatorship.


Louis Proyect November 21, 2012 at 4:56 pm

@Aarons: But the remaining in power of the Assad regime would be a lesser evil than its overthrow by “democratic” imperialism and its reactionary Gulf clients

One can’t help but feel that the pro-Assad left is in some kind of time-warp. They see Syria as it was in 1969, when it was on the leading edge of economic change in the Middle East—or so it would seem. You get the same thing with the Qaddafi or Mugabe fan club, mostly involving the same people. Of course, there are pro forma acknowledgements that such governments have adopted neoliberal measures, but you are left with the impression that if not for them, things would only get worse. In many ways, this is the same “lesser evil” politics that leads to supporting Obama over Romney, but transposed to the “anti-imperialist” realm. It is necessary to back Bashar al-Assad because his foes would be worse. The same line has been applied to Zimbabwe and Qaddafi’s Libya. Mostly, it is inspired by a kind of bastardized version of “Defend the USSR”, making no effort to really come to grips with the nature of the Syrian economy.

full: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/the-economic-contradictions-of-syrian-baathism/


Aaron Aarons December 12, 2012 at 6:42 pm

If I had said in 2002 that the remaining in power of the Hussein regime in Iraq would be a lesser evil than its overthrow by a U.S.-led invasion, would you have disagreed? If I had said in 2003 and after — and in fact I regularly did say it — that every military action directed against U.S.-led occupation forces was supportable, would you have disagreed? Would you disagree with those statement even in retrospect? If not, does that make you part of the “pro-Saddam left” or “the Saddam fan club”?


byork November 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm

You have just admitted that you support Assad’s national socialist regime and you supported the fascist Gaddafi – all in the name of anti-imperialism. It places you on the wrong side, as the Libyan people hated their oppressor as much as the Syrians hate theirs. A left-wing position would support the people against their oppressive regimes, and particularly support the forces seeking democracy in its basic sense of the right to free and fair parliamentary elections, the right to elect a government. If the left had traction and a mass base of support, there would be much bigger, broader, demonstrations and rallies around the world in solidarity with the Syrian people and demanding that the US and other countries provide appropriate military hardware (such as RPGs and MANpads) to the revolutionaries so they can at least defend themselves, and the people, from the regime’s tank and air attacks. Support for parliamentary democracy should be basic and fundamental to the left, all the more so in countries denied it and where people are dying in the fight for it.


Aaron Aarons November 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I presume, byork, your comment is a reply to me so I’ll respond.
1) I don’t agree that Assad’s regime is “national socialist”.
2) I don’t agree that Gaddafi was a “fascist”.
3) I don’t support Assad’s regime.
4) I didn’t, in general, support Gaddafi, but I did support the resistance he and his supporters put up to the NATO attack.
5) A large segment of the Libyan people supported Gaddafi, and there’s no evidence that most Libyans actually hated him. The same goes for the Assad regime in Syria.
6) There really is no such thing as “free and fair parliamentary elections”.
7) There are countries, regions, cities, etc., where the left actually has “traction and a mass base of support”, but there are not, perhaps with minor exceptions, any of the kind of demonstrations and rallies that you are arguing for. Maybe that’s because they realize that any leftist revolutionaries that might exist in Syria are not going to be the ones who get any arms the imperialists have been and will be sending in.
8) Parliamentary democracy should be defended — until the left is strong enough to overthrow it and establish proletarian rule — in cases where the main enemy, global capitalist imperialism, is treating it as an obstacle to its plans, as may be the case soon in Southern Europe. (But in those cases, the imperialists are smart enough to leave the forms of parliamentary democracy in place as long as possible while leaving no room for any elected parliament to actually do anything against capitalist/imperialist interests.)


Brian S. November 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm

@Aaron Aarons. I share your criticism of abuse use of the term “fascist”, which is robbing it of any analytic value, but not much else.
Re: 4. The problem is Gaddafi’s “resistance” wasn’t directed at NATO – what he was “resisting” was the democratic tide from his own people. So his modus operandi was to crush civilian protest (especially in Tripoli), defeat military insurgency where possible, and where not to contain it and mount punitive operations against opposition centres like Misrata, shelling them from the periphery and deploying snipers to target the populace (and he would have used air power, like Assad, if NATO hadn’t denied him that option). Still so keen?
Re 6: There are certainly well-established criteria for what would constitute “free and fair elections” – and some political systems manage to come reasonably close to meeting them most of the time, while others always fall far short. We could easily establish a scale of “free & fairishness”. Of course we have to remember that this is a concept that is grounded in the domain of “bourgeois right” – so it doesn’t directly challenge inequalities in the social sphere. But there have been (or could be) measures which expand democracy and push against these boundaries – effective restrictions on campaign spending; allocation of media space and public resources to parties in accordance with their public support; inclusion of minority parties (which would include anti-capitalist parties) in these arrangements, etc.
7: I see no reason why the left should confine support to “leftist revolutionaries”; if the left is seriously committed to democracy (ok:I know that lets you out) then they should be supporting all those who are fighting for democracy (or democracy+) against dictatorship.
9: If democracy is worth defending in the West why isn’t it worthy of fighting for elsewhere?


Aaron Aarons November 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I don’t have the time or energy at the moment to respond to all your points, and much of this exchange is repetitious anyway. But here are a few thoughts:

Re 7: Words like “democracy” and “dictatorship” are too vague to use without further elaboration in any political discussion. If you mean a parliamentary government with what you would probably call “free and fair elections”, South Africa, with the greatest inequality in the world, is a good example of the worthlessness of such “democracy”. I think it would be hard to argue that the poorest half, and certainly the poorest quarter, of the South African population would be worse off if there had been a worker-and-peasant revolution, even if it had resulted in a Stalinist-style “dictatorship”. Instead, we have Stalinists managing capitalism, with its far greater inequality, and much more extreme immiseration, than existed in any of the Stalinist regimes with collective economies.

Re 9: My point 8 above should be enough explanation of when and why I would defend parliamentary democracy. Basically, it’s a question of what global class interests will be served by weakening or strengthening it in each situation.

An additional point: In regard to imperialist countries in particular, the majority of the people affected by the outcomes of their elections, and especially of those most adversely affected, are not eligible to vote, either because they live in other parts of the world or are not citizens of those countries where they do live and work. So their “democracy” deserves as little respect from the oppressed of the world as Athenian “democracy” deserved from its slaves and colonies.


Matt November 28, 2012 at 3:09 am

byork, you clearly have no idea what fascism is.

It is not butchers slaughtering people. Otherwise you have to say that Stalin and Mao were “fascists” – typical liberal tripe.

First and foremost, it is a type of *capitalist* political regime that arises in – and this is an important criterion – IMPERIALIST COUNTRIES. IOW, fascism is a type of capitalist and imperialist political regime whose program features 1) destroying the worker’s movement by force and 2) destroying its imperialist competition by deployment of a highly militarized and aggressive foreign policy. Japan, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Italy. Spain an anomaly, too exhausted doing #1 to accomplish #2.


byork November 23, 2012 at 1:17 am

Aaron Aarons, Assad and Gaddafi do a remarkable fascist impersonation, if they are not fascists. They walk(ed) like fascists, talk(ed) like fascists, believe(d) in fascistic ideology, and smell like fascists. Dictators who deny the people a vote in competitive multiparty elections and who crush them with tanks and jets when they rise up in demand of such are truly worthy of the ‘f’ word.

I still think you support Assad because you said “the remaining in power of the Assad regime would be a lesser evil than its overthrow by “democratic” imperialism and its reactionary Gulf clients”. You support him as a ‘lesser evil’. And as for Gaddafi, you said “I did support the resistance he and his supporters put up to the NATO attack”.

The NATO air power was essential to the overthrow of the regime by the Libyan people who have since voted in free and fair, competitive, multiparty elections. More than 60% voted and there were more than a hundred parties and groups standing. And guess what? The largest single vote went to secularists but no-one obtained an outright majority. Very different from the days when your anti-imperialist mate/buddy ruled.

Assad might have 20% of the people behind him – a significant minority – but he will never test his popularity at the polls because he knows he would be trounced. The same applies to all the dictators in the world. Let them have competitive elections under proper supervision, let them test their popularity with the people. They will never submit to that. They believe they are born to rule. That’s why the people inevitably rise up – there’s no other way. And the left should be in the forefront of solidarity with such struggles.

A left whose anti-imperialism results in objective support for such regimes is not worth having. What is worth having is a left that stands at the head of demands for democracy, including parliamentary democracy. If your ‘proletarian rule’ is going to be a one-party rule, then count me – and the rest of the wage-slaves – out. In places that have a basic form of bourgeois democracy, the people will still want to be able to kick the governing party out of power by voting, if they so desire, after the revolution. In countries that don’t have it yet, the idea that the regimes that massacre them for wanting it should somehow be supported as a ‘lesser evil’ on anti-imperialist grounds will similarly get nowhere.

The outrage in Syria is that the international community, including and especially the US, is not supplying military hardware of the defensive kind to the revolutionaries.

The history of fascism reveals that it seeks to win support by pretending to be socialist, and to be anti-imperialist when it suits it. The question of democracy is what separates the fascists from the left and other progressive forces. Such was the case in Spain, as the left understood at the time, and such is the case in the early C21st.

Forward the bourgeois democratic revolution!


Aaron Aarons November 23, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I’m glad you brought up the conflict in Spain in 1936-39, ‘byork’. It’s one event I’ve studied extensively, starting with reading Vernon Richards’ book, Lessons Of The Spanish Revolution, in 1956 or 1957, while I was a member of an anarchist group, the Libertarian League, and, since then, reading quite a lot on the subject from anarchist, Trotskyist, other leftist, and even bourgeois perspectives.

When the army rose up against the bourgeois-reformist Popular Front government that had been unable to restrain worker militancy, the mostly-anarchist workers in large parts of Spain rose up in a violent revolution that smashed the bourgeois state and left the workers in power. In the following months, capitalist property was expropriated throughout so-called “Republican” Spain and the old state institutions, and the Catholic Church, were smashed.

Unfortunately, the anarchist leaders were so averse, as anarchists, to taking power, that they managed, step-by-step, to hand power back to the virtually-nonexistent elected government of the bourgeois state which, by then, was dominated by the Stalinists. In the interests of Soviet diplomacy, the Stalinists, with the aid of agents from the Soviet secret police and with the enthusiastic support of the remnants of the bourgeoisie, proceeded to liquidate the social revolution and, more rapidly, physically liquidate revolutionaries.

One of the major achievements of world Stalinism at the time was to make the Spanish workers’ revolution invisible to most of the world outside of Spain and present the struggle as one between ‘democracy’ and ‘fascism’. And that lie lives on in much of what passes for ‘the left’.


Matt November 28, 2012 at 3:17 am

“The history of fascism reveals that it seeks to win support by pretending to be socialist, and to be anti-imperialist when it suits it. The question of democracy is what separates the fascists from the left and other progressive forces”

Holy cow, son!

That was true only in Germany, because of the relative *strength* and *popularity* of the idea of socialism among the German working class at that time. Otherwise in every other such country, the fascists were *overtly* anti-socialist.

“The question of democracy”? Hitler and the Nazis came into power by legal and “democratic” means.

And the sine qua non of fascist ideology is that it is ALWAYS fervently pro-imperialist!


Aaron Aarons November 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Clarification: It wasn’t the “elected government of the bourgeois state” that was virtually nonexistent after the right-wing military uprising and the workers’ uprising in response to it, but the bourgeois state itself.


Richard Estes November 27, 2012 at 1:18 am

The “end of the left” as described by this article happened awhile ago, although it is hard to pinpoint precisely when it occurred. Indeed, I would argue that many of the American anti-imperialists that support the Syrian and the Iranian regimes aren’t really left at all, but are actually rooted as much in an isolationist anti-imperialism that goes all the way back to opposition to the Mexican American War and the Spanish American War as they are in a Marxist leftism. A cursory examination of the articles posted at antiwar. com bear this out.

It is a curious coalition of leftists who mistakenly believed, despite the admonitions of people like Giovanni Arrighi, that the emergence of post-colonial regimes in Asia and Africa foreshadowed the emergence of a class based resistance to the US with libertarians. It is a contemporary manifestation of the Anti-Imperialist League of 100 years ago. The critical concept here is the loss of faith that these leftists have in a class based politics of mobilization and resistance. Hence, they supported Gaddafi, as they continue to support Assad and Ahmanijedad, despite their obvious warts, as substitutes for a working class that they believe has been shattered by 40 years of neoliberalism.

MRZine, as maligned by Proyect, is pretty clear about this. Maybe, down the road, there is a potential for the reemergence of a working class politics under Assad and Ahmanijedad that is impossible under US imperial domination. Of course, the flaw in this sort of leftism is the fact that these regimes and US imperialism have a symbiotic relationship to one another, as shown by Assad’s cooperation in the “war on terror” post-9/11, Gaddafi’s profiteering through economic ties with Italy and the UK and the Islamic Republic’s invocation of the American peril as a justification for domestic repression. There is additionally the inconvenience of the Israeli ambivalence, if not opposition, to the removal of Assad and the perpetual refusal of the US and the EU to take measures that would actually get rid of him. For these leftists, in a world without a working class that possesses the capacity to influence the future, there is the only the binary opposition of pro-US and anti-US, and, of course, as with Bush and the “war on terror”, one must choose.

Neumann astutely identifies Chomsky as providing the intellectual rationalization for this arid anti-interventionist leftism. Obstensibly anarchist, Chomsky provides an astute analysis of American imperial abuses divorced from any class context. In recent years, his writings and public pronouncements increasingly emphasize US statecraft as the explanation for events over social movements and popular culture. Indeed, if confronted with his remarks without attribution, say, during his Democracy Now! interviews, one would frequently have difficulty in determining whether they had been made by Chomsky or the late Chalmers Johnson, a nationalistic anti-imperialist who maintained that the future survival of the US is dependent upon demilitarization. One finds a similar perspective in relation to Palestine, where the Palestinians, lacking a historical agency, are merely victims that must be protected from an unconquerable Israel. It is not so much that Chomsky is wrong, he is often correct, but that he describes a world in which the prospect of collective action lies over a distant horizon that one can never reach.

The horror of Syria lies in the cynicism of Assad and his US/EU opponents, with Assad believing that he can survive indefinitely because the US and the EU are happy to permit him to remain in power in his weakened state. Of course, this will mean that the bloodletting will continue with no end in sight. It is entirely possible that a US/EU intervention could get rid of him fairly quickly through a combination of political and military actions, but this is not possible because it is the US/EU intention to atomize any centers of indigenous collective social identity so that the country can be economically colonized like the republics of the former Yugoslavia. It is a very dangerous plan because it can easily get beyond the control of the colonizers and may have already done so. This is what the left should emphasize, the need for an intervention that preserves an independent Syrian civil society to avoid a degeneration into the sort of violence associated with Algeria and Chechnya during the 1990s. Such an intervention could take on unanticipated forms, such as, for example, a willingness to work with the Russians to defund Assad and the Syrian military while imposing a cease fire along with a no-fly zone as a transition to an immediate democratization. I say this, because I believe that there are many Syrians who want Assad gone but do not support the armed opposition, so a policy that would emphasize ending the violence while opening a political space for Syrians to decide their future would be best, if admittedly a bit utopian. But this sort of effort would require that the US and the EU, particularly the French, abandon their imperial pretensions. Given that this appears unlikely, I fear that the future for most Syrians is grim.


Matt November 28, 2012 at 3:43 am

This well-written piece is right on the money with “The critical concept here is the loss of faith that these leftists have in a class based politics of mobilization and resistance.”

However it does not follow that it is the task of we sitting here looking in from the outside to have to advocate an outside intervention in a civil war where there is little to choose politically between the antagonists, as was also generally the case in the former Yugoslavia.

It is our task to align ourselves internationally with political forces that we can clearly identify with. That means working class oriented political movements.

It does not, however, also follow that those political forces, including the ones with which we identify – particularly the ones we identify with – with do not have the right to call on *whomever they see fit* to intervene from the outside in their favor. That is an entirely different practical question for what our task, as outsiders to the situation, must be, per above.


Arthur November 27, 2012 at 3:53 am

Yes, it certainly happened a long time ago and the current “anti-imperialists” aren’t really left at all. Pseudo-left is a useful term to acknowledge the connection while repudiating them.

BTW antiwar.com was actually established by the anti-imperialist right. Here’s an insightful article by its founder:

” It is entirely possible that a US/EU intervention could get rid of him [Assad] fairly quickly through a combination of political and military actions, but this is not possible because it is the US/EU intention to atomize any centers of indigenous collective social identity so that the country can be economically colonized like the republics of the former Yugoslavia.”

Unfortunately this level of “analysis” both comes from and gives support to a milieu in which right-wing isolationists are mistaken for leftists. It substitutes simply ascribing malice to the imperialists for any actual concrete analysis of concrete conditions.


Richard Estes November 27, 2012 at 10:25 am

Libertarians and leftists who support Assad have been consistently complaining that the US and the EU want to be rid of Assad and are conspiring with Syrian militias and the Gulf States to do so. I do not agree with this, I believe the US and the EU are ambivalent about this, and, hence, decline to undertake any action that would ensure his removal. It would be worth investigating, I think, why they are so ambivalent. I also believe, perhaps wrongly, that it would be quite easy for them to remove him, so again, the question becomes, why won’t they do so? I have advanced one theory, based upon a recent historical precedent, it would be interesting to hear others.


Brian S. November 27, 2012 at 11:26 am

@Richard Estes. I think it is both easy and not easy for western powers to remove Assad. On the one hand, given the steady disintegration of the regime and the significant successes of the opposition forces (surviving this long being a success in its own right) it should be possible to tip the balance fairly easily by providing the FSA with the sort of modern weaponry that could counter the regime’s monopoly of airpower. But that would mean doing exactly what you (quite rightly) suggest the US wants to avoid – empowering local Syrian forces to take control of the situation. That is why you have all this frenetic activity by US agencies to control (and thereby restrict) the flow of arms and the obsession with having a single centre of opposition authority to deal with (ie someone that the US “can deal with” – that is control). I have suggested in other threads that the central concerns of imperialist agencies are stability and predictability: they have multiple instruments to influence identifiable and authoritative actors; but what they have trouble with is uncertainty, shifting centres of authority, and the turbulence that is popular political power. As long as that is on the horizon they are effectively paralyzed.
As you say, that could define an agenda for a serious left that could see beyond a ritualistic “anti-imperialism” and focus on who to support in Syria rather than who to oppose.


Arthur November 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Just because the usual suspects are complaining about something does not necessarily imply that thing is not happening at all. I see nothing controversial about claims the US and EU want to be rid of Assad and are conspiring with Syrian militias and Gulf States to do so. The lack of appropriate action can be due to ambivalence, vacillation, indecisiveness, other priorities etc etc Others here may share your doubts or emphasis on ambivalence but even if you don’t believe they want to be rid of Assad at all its a VERY long bow to deduce “intention to atomize any centers of indigenous collective social identity so that the country can be economically colonized…” and the concluding reference to Yugoslavia is redolent of the similar analysis we got from the same usual suspects justifying their support for the Serbian dictatorship and ethnic cleansing against the NATO intervention there.

The US and EU emphasis on establishing a centralized governmental and military authority representing the Syrian people suggests an opposite concern – maintain the collective social identity of Syria rather than let it disintegrate into an Alawite enclave (perhaps with other minorities) and separate Sunni fundamentalist state. That seems a plausible and legitimate concern, with ramifications for Lebanon and Jordan etc.

As to how easy it would be, it seems obvious that it won’t be as easy as Libya and that took much longer than expected. The popular mood in the US is strongly inclined towards traditional isolationism and the current administration defines itself in opposition to the previous administration’s invasion of Iraq. So delays are hardly uexpected and don’t need such speculative explanations.

Anyway, on the plus side, let’s focus on agreement that the US and EU SHOULD be actively assisting the Syrian opposition much more than they are and that mobilizing public opinion against the isolationist right and pseudo-left would be helpful.

PS My theory is that they are moving but simply don’t have any motivation to move quickly as there is no immediate danger of the regime successfully crushing the opposition as there was in Libya. They don’t attach a high enough priority to saving Syrian lives at the cost of US and EU treasure.


Richard Estes November 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm

My view, which is admittedly simplistic, is that the US conditions any intervention of this kind with the intention of turning the country involved into a client state. I have an even stronger belief in this regard when it involves countries in the Middle East and Central Asia. The fact that the US has, to date, failed to accomplish this objective in Iraq and Afghanistan should not be accepted as a repudiation of this objective. This is why the left should emphasize the neutrality of a future Syria in relation to the US/EU and the Russian Republic, much as was done in regard to Austria in the mid-1950s. At the risk of coming across like a Metternich with a belief in the great power chessboard, I do believe that the US, the EU and the Russian Republic acting together could reduce the violence in Syria significantly and bring about the removal of Assad.

Otherwise, each side will keep pouring in arms and money in response to the other, until either Assad prevails, which strikes me as unlikely, or his regime collapses. A lot of people are going to die unnecessarily, and, sadly, perhaps this cannot be avoided. At the risk of sounding overly cynical, the US has no problems with people in the Middle East killing each other indefinitely, just look at Kissinger’s response to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. So, if forced to choose between an open-ended conflict in Syria or the acceptance of a new independent government, the US is likely to choose the former over the latter.

And this brings me round to Yugoslavia. The violence experienced by a generation of Serbs, Croats and Kosovars during the decade in which Yugoslavia broke apart is something that we should try, from a our limited vantage point, to avoid in Syria. There are a lot of things that can be done to achieve this beyond merely militarily intervening on behalf of the opposition and the left should be loudly insisting upon them. This is based upon my general anti-authoritarianism centered around a belief that many Syrians would like an opportunity to take political control of their society independent of either Assad or the resistance. This can only happen if great powers involved in the country take aggressive action to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the violence inflicted upon them. Unfortunately, no matter how much the left insists upon either a multilateral (US, EU, Russian Republic) or unilateral intervention (US/EU), the likelihood of this happening is slight, and it is slight because of US/EU hegemonic goals in the region.


Brian S. November 27, 2012 at 6:54 pm

@Richard Estes. Richard, as we have discussed at considerable length in previous threads on this site, no one is “pouring in arms” for the benefit of the FSA – if they were the fight would probably be over by now. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are allowing a modest flow to their particular proteges (various Islamists forces) while the US obstructs flows from other sources, effectively only allowing a trickle to the FSA, at least until very recently. The Russians (and probably Iranians) are providing military assistance to Assad, but they don’t have to “pour” much in since they’ve been equipping the regime militarily for decades. “US, the EU and the Russian Republic acting together could reduce the violence in Syria significantly and bring about the removal of Assad. ” Certainly – Russia couldprobably do this by itself over a long weekend. But what on earth makes you think they would want to do so? They’ve swallowed all Assad’s brutalities thus far and even the palpable crumbling of the regime hasn’t induced them to falter in their support. It looks to me as if their prime interest is in making like difficult for the US.


Arthur November 28, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Historically the US has intervened to establish or maintain client states.

Since the crushing victory in Vietnam that policy has been unsustainable. They would have had to be literally insane to imagine that invading Iraq would establish a client state in the 20th century, more than a quarter century after their defeat in Vietnam. Unfortunately the left was in such an abysmal state with no capability for independent analysis that many people (not just the pseudo-left) came up with the “theory” that they were indeed literally insane. Subsequent confirmation that there was indeed no possibility of establishing a client state in Iraq is then taken as a failure to achieve that insane objective instead of a reason to think more carefully to understand the reasons for the mistaken analysis in the first place.

This is curious because nobody could seriously imagine that there was an anti-war movement that contributed towards Iraq not becoming a client state, whereas the worldwide and especially US (and GI) protests over Vietnam were a significant factor assisting the Vietamese.

Claiming that prospects of US/EU intervention are “slight because of US/EU hegemonic goals in the region” is so completely incoherent and radically inconsistent with the rest of the “analysis” that it suggests these phrases just emerge from the memory and pass out of the mouth without any conscious reflection.

” There are a lot of things that can be done to achieve this [avoiding violent civil war] beyond merely militarily intervening on behalf of the opposition and the left should be loudly insisting upon them.”

Adding the words “beyond merely” does not change opposing military inervention into doing something (unspecified and unspecifiable) more effective than military intervention.


Arthur November 28, 2012 at 9:30 pm

(sigh) 20th century –> 21st century


jim sharp November 29, 2012 at 1:44 am

a petit poseur
arfur the robotic erstwhile
poses as a proletarian tribune
& yet those of & for the class
shovel ‘is l.s.d. acid stoned
dope hope shit! back into
‘is gaseous cranium


Richard Estes November 27, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I don’t know what the Russians do or don’t want to do, although it is clear that the US and Russian Republic have an adversarial relationship when it comes to Syria. The question is, of course, why and whether the answers to that question opens the door to the possibility of compromise and cooperation. Certainly, given that the Russians support Assad, and the US/EU gives lip service to the opposition, shouldn’t the left demand that both act to get stop the bloodshed and get rid of Assad? The left should insist upon the exhaustion of any and all avenues to get rid of Assad, and this is one of them. Of course, US policymakers aren’t going to be very enthusiastic about it, just like the Russians aren’t happy about losing Assad, but there is no reason why the left should limit itself to policies that might find favor in DC.


Brian S. November 28, 2012 at 7:35 am

@ Richard Estes.Of course the left can demand that the US and Russia “act to stop the bloodshed and get rid of Assad”. It could also invoke the aid of the tooth fairy – that would have a similar probability of realisation. Indeed, many otherwise sane leftists do exactly that – check out Jonathan Steele ershtwile of the UK Guardian for a co-thinker on this issue. (You could also take a look at http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/blog_comments/syria_a_response_to_my_critics for an extended exchange between myself and a supporter of Steele: scroll down to the comments that start with James Arnold).
The problem is that while the left is preoccupied with these kind of fantasies Assad’s killing machine continues to grind on. If you want to stop the killing in Syria the only way is through the overthrow of the regime – and that means arming the FSA sufficiently to offset Assad’s current monopoly of airpower.


Richard Estes November 28, 2012 at 10:33 am

No, you’ ve decided that a multilateral option is as plausible as the “tooth fairy” because it isn’t what you want to do. Why you believe that US/EU support for the FSA is more plausible, given the passage of time, isn’t immediately evident to me, except for the fact that neoconservatives like John McCain had advocated for it. In any event, for those who insist upon dealing with “concrete conditions”, 34 people in a pro-Assad suburb were killed by car bombs today. Normally, we would act upon that to demand action by all to stem the violence, precisely because of the peril that I identified. In light of Clay Claiborne’s post at the top of the homepage, maybe we should be protesting Gaza, the playground attack and this most recent one against purported pro-Assad civilians.


Brian S. November 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm

@ Richard Estes. No, Richard I haven’t “decided” that a multilateral option isn’t plausible because it “isn’t what I want to do” (I don’t even know what the latter phrase means – it seem to suggest that I determine my political positions on the basis of some personal gratification I get out of them) Eight months ago when the Annan mission’s observers were in Syria I had the same view as I have expressed here – that there was no prospect of Assad accepting a mediated solution – but I argued for support for the UN mission, on the grounds that you had explore every alternative to armed conflict, however slim, and that it might at least provide a breathing space for the civil opposition to regroup. In the event it turned out I was over-optimistic. I have decided that a multialteral option isn’t possible on the basis of the experience of trying to pursue it.
The Damascus car bombing is disturbing but I don’t recognise the “we” in “Normally, WE would act upon that to demand action by all to stem the violence. I cut my political teeth in the anti-Vietnam war movement: and there “we” responded to an unjust and asymmetric conflict not by “demanding action to stem the violence” but by clearly identifying who were the victims and who were the perpetrators of the violence, and expressing our solidarity with the former and our opposition to the latter. The same principles govern my political judgements today.


Richard Estes November 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm

The resistance set off car bombs in a neighborhood when thousands of people were going to work, school and other places during the early morning rush hour. Some reports say 34 died, others say 44 did. Who knows how many people were wounded, perhaps over a hundred.

I consider this attack more than “disturbing”. I consider these people victims, which you appear hesitant to do, and I consider the perpetrators of this attack reprehensible, as I do those in the Syrian military who used cluster bombs on schoolchildren. For those who died today and their families who survived, some of whom may have supported Assad, some of whom may not have, and many who were probably just trying to survive the conflict, I am most definitely in ‘solidarity’ with them. To speak of ‘assymetrical conflict’ is an evasion.

In this, I echo the position of Camus during the Algerian War when he condemned violence by both sides directed towards pied noir and indigenous civilians. Warfare is increasingly directed towards people who have nothing to do with it at all, and the left should speak forcefully on their behalf. The resistance made a decision to launch a campaign of car bombs against civilians, just as Assad had decided to use military force against them. They should be held accountable for these decisions. An intervention to impose a cease fire, and, then, a political settlement that would facilitate the departure of Assad would save the lives of many who would otherwise find themselves randomly killed.


Brian S. November 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm

@Richard Estes. “The resistance set off car bombs … The resistance made a decision to launch a campaign of car bombs against civilians” . But two issues here:
The Syrian armed opposition is a far from homogenous entity and certainly doesn’t have any overarching central command as you seem to suggest. The only organisation to have carried out these sort of attacks previously is the jihadist group Jabhat al Nusra. The FSA does not undertake or condone this sort of action, but has been forced on some occassions into acccepting military assistance from jihadist groups precisely because of the “asymmetrical” nature of the conflict (I can’t see what is “evasive” about recognising this fundamental fact ) but in many cases they have resisted their influence (sometimes forcefully). My solidarity is with the mainstream FSA forces who have their origins in the popular civil resistance, initially non-violent but eventually driven to armed resistance by the regime’s brutality.
But there is another dimension to this: – some analysts believe Jabhat al-Nusra had its origins in in Syrian intelligence service sponsorship – so this may not have been an act of “the resistance” at all.
I see that you talk about ” An intervention to impose a cease fire and then a political settlement”. I assume you realise that means a large scale military operation if not a full scale invasion?


Richard Estes November 28, 2012 at 5:39 pm

“I see that you talk about ” An intervention to impose a cease fire and then a political settlement”. I assume you realise that means a large scale military operation if not a full scale invasion?”

Interestingly, this is one of several reasons that Susan Rice is wary of getting embroiled in the conflict. “Boots on the ground” as she fearfully says. But, at the risk of sounding silly, how true is this, if there was a UN agreement on how to proceed? Some would be required, of course, but how many, if the FSA and the regime accepted a cease fire? As you have been there, wouldn’t this leave the jihadist groups isolated? Both the playground attack and the car bombs suggest the prospect of the violence spiraling even more out of control. The car bomb attacks also suggest the possibility, as I am sure you are aware, of jihadists carrying out a sectarian campaign of cleansing under the guise of the resistance, as the bombings have reportedly been taking place in Druze and Christian neighborhoods. Algeria, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Chechnya and Iraq are cautionary examples of where this can lead.

I interpreted Rice’s remarks, as well as HRC’s in recent months, as a rationalization for US disinterest in getting embroiled in Syria for other, unstated reasons. After all, the US has had no problem putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, even if we assume that the boots would have to be mostly American. And she trumpets the fact that she came around to consider military force for “humanitarian” reasons acceptable because of Rwanda, and, yet here, she prevaricates.

Accordingly, the current US emphasis upon persuading the FSA to unify in a way acceptable to the US and the EU is an interesting effort. Don’t be surprised that, if successful, it leads towards a subsequent effort to persuade the FSA and the regime to negotiate to the exclusion of the jihadists. The US is much more concerned with them than it is the deaths of Syrians, which is why US/EU military support for the FSA, as you advocate, or a multilateral resolution worked out by the US, the EU and Russian Republic, as I do, remain unlikely. It is also why I am extremely pessimistic about the future for people in Syria.

“But there is another dimension to this: – some analysts believe Jabhat al-Nusra had its origins in in Syrian intelligence service sponsorship – so this may not have been an act of “the resistance” at all.”

While refusing to disassociate the resistance from the car bombings, there is a possibility that the regime permits such acts to go forward for calculated political reasons, as some have accused the Algerian military of doing in the 1990s in relation to gruesome Islamicist mass killings. More recently, the US supported the operations of Shia death squads in Baghdad as a means of defeating a Sunni insurgency. Of course, I’m not in a position to have proof of it, but such a possibility should not be summarily dismissed. All the more reason that the left push all outside parties manipulating the situation to unify around a cease fire and the removal of Assad.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) November 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm



Jonathan Nack November 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm

The assumption that a large number on the left in the U. S. support the Assad regime in any way is just plain wrong.

It is a huge mistake to use the word “left” in an article without defining what is meant. In this article, it appears the author is referring to U. S. Marxists-Lenninists. Some Marxist-Leninist groups have been giving critical support to the Assad regime while opposing imperialist intervention.

Marxist-Leninists in the U. S. are a small part of the radical left. I won’t make the same mistake that Michael Neuman made and define what I mean by the “radical left”. For my purposes here, radical left includes all those people in the U. S. seeking either a radical reforms or revolutionary change in U. S. capitalism and the political system in the name of social justice, egalitarianism, radical environmentalism, and people’s control over government and economic forces.

In my 37 years as an active radical left activistist, Marxism-Leninism has always been a minority tendency in the U. S. radical left. Today, Marxist-Leninism undoubtedly represents a much smaller minority of the U. S. radical left than ever.

The failures of Communist states, along with powerful critiques of the authoritarian and anti-democratic, and bureaucratic nature of Marxist-Leninist ideology, have led to a steady decline in the Marxist-Leninism within the U. S. radical left. The very reformist strategy of some Marxist-Leninist groups, such as the CPUSA, has also contributed to the decline of Marxism-Leninism among radicals here.

Anarchist, neo-Marxist, feminist, radical ecological thought, and non-Marxist socialist thought have far eclipsed Marxist-Leninism as the dominant forms of ideological thought on the radical left in the U. S.

The great majority of the U. S. radical left does indeed continue to oppose imperialist military intervention in Syria. Such military intervention has now reached a critical stage.

While opposing imperialist military intervention, most on the radical left in the U. S. offer no support to the Assad regime. In fact, the majority of radical leftists in the U. S. are sharply critical of the Assad regime and sympathetic to the secular demands of the rebels.

Even within the small world of Marxist-Leninist left in the U. S., many oppose the Assad regime. There are M-L groups and individuals offering critical support to Assad regime, but it’s not at all clear that this a majority position even within this small section of the U. S. radical left.

When one writes an article that starts off with a premise that is flat out wrong, there is no place for the article to go but down hill into a land a make believe.

The Assad regime is no doubt a horror. Imperialist military intervention in Syria, now in full swing backing the armed rebellion, is based on imperialist interests, not the welfare of Syrians. You don’t need to be a radical left genius to know this.

Most on the radical left in the U. S. are in solidarity with the revolutionary demands for secular democracy and an end to government repression in Syria. I think we would should express our solidarity through internationalist, solidarity, and other movement organizations, not by calling for an imperialist military intervention which seeks to sink the talons of western multinational corporate capitalism deep into Syria.


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