Who is this ‘we’, mammal?

by Richard Seymour on September 1, 2013

Two and a half years.  Approximately 100,000 documented deaths on all sides.  And despite fractures in the regime, despite some advanced forms of decomposition, there seems to be no prospect of Assad falling soon.

The opposition, meanwhile, has never cohered.  It has made advances, and it has taken control of local state apparatuses – a town here, a police station there.  But this has merely accelerated the fragmentation and disintegration of political authority within Syria.  The one area of the country where the opposition is unified is in the Kurdish north-east, where a regional administration is governing with the support of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – out of a fusion between the old SNC, the Muslim Brothers, the secular democrats, the socialists, the Free Syrian Army and the Local Coordinating Committees – might suggest that some cohesion has been achieved, and that a popular interim government is ready to take power if the military balance of forces changes.

It is not as simple as that.  It is true that the regime is militarily backed by Russia, but it clearly retains a significant degree of popular support, from which it has been able to forge a counter-revolutionary armed force with which to defeat its opponents.  It is not, and never is, purely a military calculation: the revolution has failed to spread because it has not won politically.  And this is because despite what some people would call ‘top table’ agreements between leaders, there is very little practical unity on the ground between anti-Assad forces.  It is this which has given a certain space to the salafists, so-called ‘Al Qaida in Syria’ (Jabhat al-Nusra), to punch well above their weight.  Of course, the idea that the opposition is dominated by a few thousand salafists is as implausible as the idea that when US boots land on Syrian soil their major foes will be ‘Al Qaida’.  It’s horseshit.  But it is better organised and more efficient than many of the other groups, it does get involved in most major anti-government actions, its politics are extremely reactionary, and it bears responsible for some of the worst war crimes.

Now we are potentially on a war footing*, with the ostensible issue of the conflict being the use of Sarin nerve gas in the suburbs of Damascus.  Think about this gas.  It works by causing the muscles to spasm, causing your respiratory system to stop working.  It literally renders you helpless.  There is nothing you can do except die, through a sequence of convulsion, vomiting, defecating and urinating until terminal suffocation.  That is the grim end that hundreds of pale corpses reached in Damascus.  It is true that hundreds of people are dying grisly deaths every day in Syria.  It is also true that war crimes, some committed by the revolutionary forces, are a routine occurrence.  It is true that most of the weapons used by the regime are indiscriminate in nature – shelling, cluster bombs, thermobaric bombs.  Still, I think there’s something specifically obscene about this type of attack.  It solicits attention; and it says ‘fuck you’.  I don’t claim to know who carried out this attack.  And the fact that we have bounced into ‘humanitarian’ war before, on the pretext of certain salient atrocities, is reason enough to maintain a wary caution about official attributions of responsibility.  Still, this atrocity has been used to push the button for ‘intervention’.  And, as we all know, ‘intervention’ solves all problems everywhere, ever.

What are the possible justifications for war, then?

1)  Punishment.  This strikes me as the most futile idea in the history of war.  The concept of punishment has always been futile, but in this case it is woefully underwhelming and incredibly vague. How much ‘punishment’ exactly would be sufficient?  If you bomb a police station or a barracks, is that enough?  If you bomb a palace or two, will that do it?  How much is enough to express the disapproval of ‘the international community’ at the use of nerve gas?  Yet, staggeringly, this is the main justification for war being reported.  I now suspect Robin Yassin-Kassab was correct when he said that the idea was to save face.

2) Tilt the balance of the war in favour of the opposition.  It seems highly unlikely that this would be the goal of any such intervention.  After all, it would take more than a few scuds to do that.  As I said, the balance of forces is necessarily, though not exclusively, a political problem.  And indeed one aspect of that political problem is likely that significant sections of the Syrian population regard the revolutionaries as too dependent on external support.  If the US intended to overcome that, it wouldn’t be enough to bomb a few targets; it would have to start funnelling arms in a serious way directly to the opposition.  It would have to start sending in special forces to start training opposition fighters, and bring a load of cash to buy favour and keep the influence of well-organised jihadis at bay.  It would have to think about bombing strategic targets.  Given how entrenched the regime appears to be, it would have to seriously consider the possibility of significant aerial and ground commitments.  ‘Mission creep’ would be an obvious peril, and the military leadership of the US is, I suspect, profoundly wary of this.

3) Regime change.  This is the most obvious goal in a way, but it seems unlikely again.  They would need a government-in-waiting, and the opposition is too fragmented to be that; the bourgeois leadership doesn’t have sufficient control over the base, and is too divided among itself.  The Obama administration has recognised the opposition as the legitimate government of Syria, but it has been extremely lukewarm.  So if regime change did become the goal, they would have to find a way to knock the opposition into their desired shape – the ‘interim government’ that Hollande claims it is – and fast.  Then they would have to be prepared for precisely the sort of escalating commitment that the Pentagon and imperial planners would do a great deal to avoid.  This is to say nothing of whether such means would actually reduce the amount of civilian incineration and slaughter, which seems extremely unlikely at best.

4) ‘We have to do something’.  This argument isn’t an argument.  It’s just one step up from ‘think about the children’.  If you’re thinking ‘we have to do something’, just do yourself a favour and fill your mouth with cake or something.  And anyway, as I was saying, who is this ‘we’, mammal?

*The UK parliament voted against war tonight, with Labour voting against the government.  David Cameron, summoning up his immense, salesmanlike dignity, said: “It’s clear to me that the British parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action; I get that, and I will act accordingly.”  He might actually have to resign.  Well, fuck my socks.

Originally posted here

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Saturn September 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Glad to see a dissenting voice from interventionism posting on North Star. And very very glad to see Richard Seymour posting on North Star!


Steve Owens September 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Hi Saturn, There are two sides to this civil war on one side a dictatorship personified by Assad on the other side are the anti dictatorship forces the most prominent group being the Syrian National Council.(SNC)
The dictatorship wants the US to back down, the SNC wants the US to strike.
If Obama backs down it will boost the dictators position, if he strikes it will boost the moral of the revolutionaries its as simple as that.
The proposed US action is more symbolic than anything else but symbolism is important.
What would be best is if the US would provide the revolutionaries with some effective weapons but for their own reasons they would rather see the Syrian revolution drown in blood.
Victory for the revolution is paramount everything else is of a secondary nature. US pride, anti imperialist sentiment, all secondary.


TRPF September 1, 2013 at 6:09 pm

This is what happens when you take a position (“no to X”) a priori and develop “analysis” backwards from that. Some people learned nothing from Libya it seems. They are even trotting out the same “predictions.”


Derick Varn September 2, 2013 at 5:01 am

Yeah, I agree with TRPF here, history is not a solve for x when a solution beyond the equals sign already provided.


abraham Weizfeld September 2, 2013 at 4:35 am

I realize that the peace movement is opposed to any such strike even though the Syrian opposition has asked for it to take place.
There has always been a difference between the peace movement and the anti-war movement. Usually they are together but there is nonetheless a difference between doing nothing to stop war and doing everything possible to stop war.

This reminds me of the Spanish civil war when Germany and Italy supplied the fascist Franco regime and the West did nothing, so allowing the fascists to win. Or, another example is when the Allies were too busy to bomb the railways to the Nazi extermination camp in Poland Berkinwald and Treblinka, where my families were destroyed.

In Syria the revolutionary socialist opposition is against a strike, I know. However they do call for aid both military supplies and humanitarian aid, it would seem here; “Yet, despite the enormous losses mentioned above, befalling all Syrians, and the calamity inflicted on them, no international organization or major country – or a lesser one – felt the need to provide practical solidarity or support the Syrians in their struggle for their most basic rights, human dignity, and social justice” (full text follows with link).
I would go further to say that I would not oppose such a strike even while knowing that this will not be sufficient to overcome the reactionary repression of the Syrian people. It is the Syrian opposition that must take the decisive action with the necessary resources which must be provided. While the independent rebels have the arms brought over by the defecting soldiers, they do not have the ammunition to win crucial battles. It is more important to call for aid to the rebels. The Assad regime has lost its revolutionary potential long ago. Even HAMAS has left that regime behind. Any such regime will eventually fall and it is better that the rebels win the struggle than some other force. Unfortunately the Islamists have built up their strength now since they are being supplied. This will likely mean a second and civil war after the Assad regime is gone.


Bill Weinberg on Facebook September 1, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Well, I see the North Star has radically changed its tune in the post-Binh era.


Saturn September 2, 2013 at 6:46 am

Alright here is the problem as I see it with interventionism. Maybe once upon a time the French assisted the American revolution. Those were very different times with very different economic dynamics. These days the Americans are like the mafia because of capitalism. You let these people in on what you’re doing and you’ll never get them out. This is because the competitive drive for profits creates a constant compulsion towards overseas markets and therefore imperialism, where literally every single military intervention by capitalist states will end with any involved power attempting to gain a permanent foothold that denies all democracy and national sovereignty. People are arguing that US assistance will strengthen the revolution and weaken the regime. To be clear I want the regime to fall as well. The problem is US involvement will legitimize the regime as anti-imperialist and delegitimize the revolution as a tool of foreign powers. And I think Seymour is correct in pointing out just how much US assistance would be required to really make a difference so it would not be just a few rocket strikes or something like that. I wish Seymour had flushed out the meaning of his title more because this I think is the really critical point. When we say that we must do something, who is the we that we are talking about? If the US government intervenes in Syria it will not be like the American protest Left getting involved in Syria. It will not be the American people-in-general. It will be the American ruling class, a regime which has mercilessly used chemical weapons several times in the last 10 years and sold them worldwide in total negligence to human rights concerns. I appreciate the way North Star pushes the boundaries. We definitely need people who think outside the box, especially in such a dogmatic Marxist scene. However throwing overboard the wisdom of opposing the military overseas intervention of capitalist states, even so-called humanitarian intervention (by a consistently anti-human system?) is throwing out the baby with the Ba’ath water.


TRPF September 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm

That’s not what happened in Libya. Seymour claimed the same thing then, that U.S. involvement in Libya would necessarily mean boots on the ground eventually. He was wrong all along the line.


Brian S. September 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm

People should read the joint statement issued by 3 British left groups last week: while I think they fail to follow their position through to a logical conclusion, they do identify the key parameter here: what we should be opposed to is foreign intervention that takes the initiative away from Syrian political forces and places external powers in control.
In this context, whether or not Obama carries out a couple of demonstrative air strikes looks largely irrelevant. They won’t have a huge impact on Asad’s military capacity (although every bit helps) but they won’t allow the US to take over the Syrian revolution either. On balance I’m against them (although I can see why people in Syria would like some sort of gesture that shows the world gives a damn) because both the UK and the US are linking them to the Geneva II process, which I think holds serious dangers for the anti-Asad struggle.
You can argue that any reliance on western aid gives imperialism leverage, but as both Binh and I argued at great length here, revolutions have always had to strike compromises to survive. What you need is not some universal abstract principle (imperialist intervention is always wrong) but a concrete analysis of what is gained and what is lost by a specific” pact with the devil.”


Saturn September 2, 2013 at 7:01 am

I wrote my previous comment from my iphone microphone while at work. Feel free to change any obvious typos. Sorry.


Steve Owens September 2, 2013 at 10:08 am

Hi Saturn I think that your reply makes a lot of sense and I agree that any US “assistance” comes with big problems. I don’t rely on my own judgement about what is appropriate but try to listen to the people on the ground who are fighting the fight and making the sacrifices.
Within the opposition there are revolutionary democrats. I think that in a struggle against a dictatorship revolutionary democrats will hold the progressive high ground. Now if the revolutionaries were strong they wouldn’t need any help but with decades to fortify their position and with willing international allies it is the dictatorship that holds the on the ground strength. In that position the revolutionaries will make the call of accepting help from any quarter. Who are we to say that they are wrong? I support the revolution and I will support the calls made by the political leadership of the revolution, its not like they are saying please America send your armies but they are saying please America send us the weapons we need to defend our people and if you threaten to strike Assad well please don’t back away from such a threat.
regards Steve


Pavel Dubrovsky September 2, 2013 at 11:12 am

“Who are we to say that they are wrong?”

Mmmm… If someone’s advocating dropping bombs on people’s houses and incinerating children as some of the self-proclaimed ‘cruise missile marxists’ (sic) do, then wouldn’t they require an extraordinary level of conviction that such an extreme course of action could be legitimated? Wouldn’t there need to be an almost incredible _casus belli_ to somehow try to wriggle past the immediate extreme wrongness of the act? Even if foreign interventionists could somehow work their way through all that, wouldn’t there also need to be a way of assuring that the humanitarian bombs and revolutionary shrapnel will in fact lead to an outcome that’s far better than just installing another dictator or us-styled ‘democrat’ who rules by force of foreign arms?

Shrugging and saying “who are we to say they are wrong” in that context – as if that is all that one needs to say – is extremely careless.

Also, I keep hearing about these progressive Syrian revolutionaries in the FSA. They would seem to be wonderful organisations. Can someone please tell me who they are, precisely?


patrickm September 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Just to make it clear Pavel they are the people who took to their streets to demand the right to form their own political parties and contest free and fair elections and were shot down for their trouble.

The Assad tyranny started this war. No cruise missile Marxist has called as far as I know for anything other than targeting the fascists military such as the regimes air power and tanks.


Pavel Dubrovsky September 2, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Please be more specific. I know there are plenty of people fighting. But who are the armed, organised ‘progressive Syrian revolutionaries’?


Deran September 2, 2013 at 6:31 pm

I realize you are one of the putchists, comrade Dubrovsky. But, unless the new paleo-leninist clique has already deleted all the previous posts re Syria here on The North Star, there is a great deal of empirical evidence presented for your edification. Unless of course comrade Binh’s writings are forbidden to you by the new CentComm? I realize it is more aesthetically pleasing to keep your blinders on and ignore things outside your sacred texts, but if you had been paying attention over the last two years you wouldn’t be asking such snarky comments.


Derick Varn September 3, 2013 at 12:46 am

Even though this breaks pretty much all of commenting rules which, as I say once again, but you will not believe me, were established by Binh. The funny thing is all this talk of anti-sectarianism is coming from people who basically do not want anyone who disagrees with them or uses words they don’t like, or perhaps go to socialist pep rallies, and keep on coming up with conspiracy theories because, at root, you basically do not have an argument about the “putch [sic]” since you keep on babbling about things you do not know much about. Even if I showed you the conversations, you would not back down and yet you would blab on and on about democracy.

To you, Democracy is basically agreeing you and speaking ONLY to you and yours. You may talk about good talk about pluralism, but the fact you fall back on essentially ad hominems and conspiracies indicates that you can’t handle it.

We have read the comments, I have read almost every single article on this site and for the past six months helped proof them. We are not censoring much of anyone. Otherwise, your whining and your conspiracy mongering would have been wiped from this site. You have people thinking things that have not happened are happening, we are not going to delete Binh’s posts, his comments, we didn’t delete Ben’s. We will probably still publish Binh’s work if he chooses to write it.

Now if you guys want to start your own network, we will have no beef with you. You can put the work in, and get what you get. Good luck to you. In our world, diversity is always a necessary thing.

Now kindly, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


Abraham Marx September 3, 2013 at 12:54 am

This is getting ridiculous.

Last I checked a group of people who have published very little have decided to stop publishing all original content. Oh wait, they and their friends podcasts get a pass; and so does a big fuck you to Binh via the galloway article.

This small group of people have been doing almost everything they can to alienate or marginalize people who would like to get more deeply involved with this site – Proyect, myself, Deran, and a few others. I’d take up an editorial post; or try to put together a constructive committee. If it were offered in good faith. Pretty sure Proyect would help with the web stuff if it was also requested in good faith.

Only starting an open thread, a real centralized debate, on the NS could solve the problems now. Post an article with a few questions, a few considered options, and let the fur start flying in the comments.


Derick Varn September 3, 2013 at 1:33 am

“This small group of people have been doing almost everything they can to alienate or marginalize people who would like to get more deeply involved with this site – Proyect, myself, Deran, and a few others. I’d take up an editorial post; or try to put together a constructive committee. If it were offered in good faith. Pretty sure Proyect would help with the web stuff if it was also requested in good faith.” Why are you guys conspiracy-mongering if this is in good faith? Why say Pavel is Ben or that we couped Binh. Why keep going on about that if this was in good faith. You guys started accusing, started railing, and attacking before you have half-information. “Last I checked a group of people who have published very little have decided to stop publishing all original content. Oh wait, they and their friends podcasts get a pass; and so does a big fuck you to Binh via the galloway article.” No editorial members podcast has gotten a pass since Binh left. The Podcasts reposts have been part of the North Star feed for months, look it up. They are reposts then and they are reposts now. We are releasing new content next week. As for the Galloway article, once again, for people who talk about inclusion, when someone actually publishes an opposing view, you guys get really shrill.


Richard Estes September 3, 2013 at 7:26 pm

This is an evasion. Who are they today, and what is their prominence in the resistance in comparsion to armed Islamicist groups funded by Saudi Arabia and Qater. It should be a fairly easy question to answer, without recourse to criticizing the person who asks it.


Brian S. September 4, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Richard, as you should be aware from our previous discussions, the answer to this is not as simple as you suggest. The left needs to learn to live with complexity or it might as well shut up shop.
At one end of the spectrum in Syria you have the democrats who initiated the revolution in March 2011, many of whom remain in some form of civil opposition movement and some of whom have taken up arms and are dispersed across a range of fighting units; at the other end you have the explicit jihadist groups both Syrian (Jabhat al Nusra) and linked to al- Qaeda in Iraq (ISIS). In between you have a range of groups who are largely Syrian nationalist and express their vision of a future Syria in Islamic language, but not necessarily in a form which prevents them being “revolutionary democrats”. Broadly speaking, the latter are the units grouped together in the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, and those which identify as FSA. These probably account for about two-thirds of the rebel forces. ( The sectarian takfirsts probably account forless than 10%)


Steve Owens September 2, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Pavel I don’t know of anyone advocating dropping bombs on peoples houses.
The Syrian National Council is advocating Obama who threatened to deliver a military blow to the Assad dictatorship should do so.
The Syrian National Council advocates in their national charter
Human Rights
Judicial Independence
Press Freedom
Political Pluralism
and the Establishment of a Democratic State
Lots of bombs have been dropped in Syria, lots of children have been incinerated. The main perpetrator of this is the Assad dictatorship.
It is sad but people will die whatever happens next. We can support the dictator, we can support doing nothing, or we can support the revolution. Ive made my choice.
regards Steve


Pavel Dubrovsky September 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Anyone who advocates aerial bombardment is also advocating ‘collateral damage’: bombed houses, schools, hospitals, churches and mosques as well as incinerating the people who are in them. You cannot have the one without the other.

The Syrian National Council is a coalition operating outside Syria of various groups with different politics. Who are the armed, organised ‘progressive revolutionaries’ in Syria, the ones we’re supposed to support via US bombing campaigns?


patrickm September 2, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Glad to see that you approved that comment and have thus recovered your senses.

The fact is that I am a long term commentator at this site in very good standing even if not liked or agreed with. I have even had an article published here, and soon I will submit one for your consideration. Naturally it will not be your views but will challenge them.

You did not approve my comment with a direct call for a cruise missile attack on Assad’s air power so it is pretty strange to then talk about what people like me were calling for. I was speaking for myself and you can do the same. You can also do what you have done for months and that is ignore me as I do commentators like Arron and ish etc.

Naturally when we pro-war lefts call for war we understand that their will be unintended casualties. But when you call for no war (from the west) there are going to be casualties as well (currently the number is well past the 100,000 mark, so get off any moral high ground you think you occupy because you don’t have the moral high ground.

Lets discuss what revolutionary westerners ought to think about the slaughter that’s going on in Syria day in and day out. If we are to help in bringing this slaughter to an end when all political power grows out of the barrel of a gun then we can’t just say give peace a chance. I come from a fighting communist tradition not a pacifist one.

This site has always had space for people that believed in a WW2 united front approach to smashing fascism. Assad’s tyranny is the principle problem. This site was set up because people changed their mind over Libya and I am only continuing in that vein. Did you not approve of the NATO attacks against the Libyan tyranny??

Those of us Like Binh that did support that war are calling for as much of the same effort as we can get in Syria right now and have done for the last year at TNS.


Pavel Dubrovsky September 2, 2013 at 2:06 pm

You have had comments moderated because they violated our policy, specifically points 3 and 5 below.

1/ Do not repost comments, which may be delayed as they are approved.
2/ Stay on topic.
3/ Engage substantively. No one-liners or snarkiness for its own sake.
4/ Back up your arguments with credible evidence.
5/ Do not post ad hominem attacks, threats, slurs, slander, abuse, or spam. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia will not be tolerated.

You still refuse to provide any credible evidence – point 4 – that I have requested about the ‘progressive revolutionaries’ in Syria, or even to cite them.

It doesn’t matter how long you have been here, abusive and derailing comments won’t be tolerated. You can argue your points, but you will be expected to argue them, not call names or depend on claimed autobiography. Most of our readership don’t know each other: your background is of little interest or concern to them.

This site is not, and never was, about supporting overseas wars. This site was, and remains, about reconstituting a socialist movement for our times. Two very different things. “Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder… The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose — especially their lives.” (E V Debs)

We will de-empahasise the Syria coverage, and put the focus on why people came here in the first place, which is the real work of organising in the places where we live to build socialism and the theory that flows from that, not ‘demanding’ that our rulers bomb foreigners, which they are already chomping at the bit to do.


Steve Owens September 3, 2013 at 10:50 am

Pavel I shudder at the thought that Left regroupment can happen in the absence of an internationalism that doesn’t stand in solidarity with the very very oppressed masses in Syria. Plus that Debs quote is very narrow. I prefer Stephen Colbert who said ‘WAR what is it good for, with the exception of defeating slavery and fascism’
regards Steve


Derick Varn September 3, 2013 at 11:57 am

Since when does distrust of NATO tactics could as standing against the FSA, much less the Syrian people. These sort of claims remind of the Orwell polemics about the left when we was working for the British government at the time.


Aaron Aarons September 28, 2013 at 7:22 am

Why, exactly, is it so important to “stand in solidarity with the very very oppressed masses in Syria”, while almost never even mentioning the far more numerous and more oppressed masses in the Eastern Congo, the oppressed masses in Haiti, the tens of millions of oppressed Adivasis (indigenous people) in India, and other peoples whose oppression can be linked either directly to U.S. and Western imperialism, or to local elites allied to that imperialism?


jp September 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm

i wish you well, but i don’t think your site will be able to recover from having created this identity : ‘ This site was set up because people changed their mind over Libya and I am only continuing in that vein. Did you not approve of the NATO attacks against the Libyan tyranny?? Those of us Like Binh that did support that war are calling for as much of the same effort as we can get in Syria right now and have done for the last year at TNS.’

the tns site is considered a place you can go if you want to debate whether the us destruction of iraq was a good thing. that speaks for itself


Derick Varn September 3, 2013 at 10:35 pm

The larger question becomes, if that is true, why are you here? The NATO invasion of the Iraq was a huge disaster, even from the point of view of the conservative technocrats who wanted it. That said, if there had been a Kurdish rebellion with a military force fighting and now US troops were commitment, the question becomes much harder to so easily dismiss.

But then there is a larger question, why are leftists arguing lines on things they have virtually no control over and less context on the ground. Syrians are who we need to hear from about this, me thinks.


jp September 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm

a really thoughtful answer – ‘why are you here?’and that from an editor? i thought the original intention of the site was worthwhile.

on the other hand, a good point that we need to hear from syrians, but the real difference expressed on this site is on usa hands-on or off, and that’s not to be decided for us by syrians.

usa military and corporate withdrawal from… everywhere

Steve Owens September 4, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I agree lets hear from the Syrians. So far the murderous dictatorship that has been relentlessly bombing civilian areas has said please don’t anyone intervene on the side of the people we a slaughtering and the political formation that is leading the revolution is saying please intervene because our hopelessly under resourced Free Syrian Army cant defend our people against a government that seems to have no regard for human life.
Yes I’m all for hearing from the Syrians
PS I agree that leftists should not argue about things they have virtually no control over. Thats a lesson that comes straight from Marx who never said anything about things that he had no control over. Thats why he never took a position on the American civil war.

Richard Estes September 4, 2013 at 5:22 pm

“This site was set up because people changed their mind over Libya and I am only continuing in that vein. Did you not approve of the NATO attacks against the Libyan tyranny?? Those of us Like Binh that did support that war are calling for as much of the same effort as we can get in Syria right now and have done for the last year at TNS.”

This is not true. It was created for the purpose of developing a dialogue about the creation of a non-sectarian left. There has never been a North Star policy of support for either the Libyan intervention of the proposed Syrian one. Pham himself said it.

I have commented on this site even though I have opposed intervention in Syria, which I have stated from time to time. My interest has been primarily in the other subjects addressed here. It will be interesting to see if proponents of it will remain here now that Pham is no longer here to post about it.


Pavel Dubrovsky September 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm
Steve Owens September 2, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Pavel you cite Haytham Al-Manna of the National Coordination Committee. This group advocated pacifism towards the Assad dictatorship. In the middle of a revolution its hard to see how a pacifist group maintains relevance.
As to your point about who are the armed progressive revolutionaries well the honest answer is I don’t know. But then I didn’t know the names of the Viet Cong. But I did know about their leadership. Like the SNC it was somewhat removed and not exactly to my liking but it was leading the struggle and my choice was oppose it support it or do nothing.
regards Steve


Pavel Dubrovsky September 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I guess my question is why do you assume it’s a revolution without knowing anything about the players? In the case of Vietnam, we knew that the Viet Cong existed and what they wanted; in this case nobody seems to be able to point me to an armed, organised Syrian ‘progressive revolutionary’ group that actually exists or to be able to tell me anything about what they want besides US-style ‘democracy.’ I can’t understand how anyone can be so careless and blase’ about dropping bombs on civilians without even knowing who who they think they are doing it for.

It’s utterly unserious.


Steve Owens September 3, 2013 at 10:24 am

Pavel I assume it is a revolution because I know the definition of revolution and that is what is happening in Syria.
The Viet Cong were attempting to spread the dictatorship in the North to the whole country. This was a progressive act which I still support despite the many many shortcomings of the Vietnamese government.
Now having supported the victory of the Vietnamese dictatorship I have no difficulty in supporting the overthrow of the dictatorship in Syria even on the basis that virtually anyone new would be an improvement, however I have confidence in ordinary people no matter what country.
The revolution in Syria gives ordinary people the opportunity to create something better. The sooner Assad is defeated the better chance we have of seeing a result that has not been fowled by the hatreds that arise through war.
regards Steve
PS could the people who want to turn every thread into a discussion about the editorial board find one thread to be rude to each other on and leave other threads to the topic intended


Aaron Aarons September 28, 2013 at 7:31 am

If you “know the definition of revolution”, Pavel, please share it with us. It would be interesting to see whether your definition applies only to things you, or leftists in general, would support. Or would it also apply to, e.g., the fascist uprising in Spain in 1936, the Cristero rebellion in Mexico ten years earlier, the royalist uprising in the Vendée in France in the 1790’s, etc?


Pavel Dubrovsky September 28, 2013 at 8:02 am

You have either made a typo or confused me with Steve Owens. Maybe next time, take a break from the angry polemic and think about what you are actually saying before pressing the post button.

Saturn September 2, 2013 at 5:59 pm

For one thing, it is very difficult to figure out which parts of the opposition are sincere revolutionists and which parts of the opposition are pretty much just saying what the USA wants to hear because they are US-funded.

Furthermore, just because rebels want support doesn’t mean they are thinking clearly about the giant invasive capitalist system that will always be tied to that support, which will end up costing them more.

I tend to trust my own judgment from my studies of history and power dynamics. The idea of trusting the people on the ground is not always good, because the world is full of all sorts of flawed opinions. It’s like saying trust the American worker when a good deal of them are Republicans.


Brian S. September 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm

@Steve Owens. Well said.


Phil Thornton September 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm

The problem with the yanks is that they’re shit at imperialism. Their ‘victory’ over communism bankrupted their economy and unleashed the very kind of inter-ethnic/religious/political hatred that Tito and co had contained for 50 years. Likewise in the middle East, their woeful incompetence in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria has now spread a contagion that the Ba’athists kept a lid on for a generation. If this is some ‘masterplan’ then I’d like the US/Israeli axis to explain their logic. A last gasp end of empire oil grab is one thing, opening up an endless conflict without a game plan is quite another.


Abraham Marx September 2, 2013 at 5:31 pm

lol. Some real talk from Phil. The brits did it better longer.

But, seriously, is there any real debate among leftists? American intervention bad; Assad bad; hope for the best?

Or are we just arguing to argue with each other because we are powerless to stop the situation? Is that why we’re developing complicated multi-conditional sentiments on this? Wouldn’t oppose a strike/send small arms/oppose at all costs/support a no-fly zone. None of this is up to us.


Derick Varn September 2, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Exactly, actually, so much of this is quarterbacking from a position of powerlessness.


Saturn September 2, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Actually the war drive has been collapsing, at least partially because of international protest. The UK’s withdrawal from the “coalition of the willing” shows that at least parts of the system can be halted here.

So while I found Syria to be a pointless debate before, now there is a serious question of: do we protest against intervention, or do we demonstrate *for* it?


Derick Varn September 2, 2013 at 5:46 pm

A few alternative view points to consider on this one. The question of the FSA and what is going on has to be dealt with:


Goes into specifics, but seems to take a lot of the information at face value. I think it is worth a read though regardless. I do not share its optimism about NATO, or the refusal to deal with third campism, but it should be dealt with none-the-less.

While one must get beyond the Mao talk in this piece, the general skepticism of both sides of the FSA/Assad problem as well as some ignored specific groups (such as the Kurds) are more developed in this post, which when the jargon is extracted is probably closer to my personal opinion:



Robin Yassin-Kassab on Facebook September 2, 2013 at 9:54 pm

since binh left this has become just another infantile leftist website.


Derick Varn September 3, 2013 at 12:17 am

Referring to an those who would not work with Unionists–the reference to Lenin pamphlet–as those who are skeptical of NATO and Obama’s toying with both FSA and the Ba’athist as infantile isn’t even a valid metaphor. Much less an argument.


The North Star on Facebook September 3, 2013 at 12:20 am

Obviously not


The North Star on Facebook September 3, 2013 at 12:22 am

Why not take a look instead of making dramatic pronouncements Bill?


The North Star on Facebook September 3, 2013 at 12:27 am

There’s been a fair amount of Proyection going on the past few days….


Abraham Marx September 3, 2013 at 12:45 am

Or maybe, Proyect, having seen a whole lot of sects in action; and having seeded this website; and having earned some respect from a lot of people; deserves if not respect or gratitude then at least something a little more constructive than dismissive bullshit?


Derick Varn September 3, 2013 at 1:38 am

Proyect has earned as much hate as respect for his tendency of going personal and gossipy on other leftists often. I think you are stepping into waters you do not understand. Also, since Proyect could not bothered on reading beyond the second page of a google search when attacking me, and attacked me for using a nom de plume when I was in a country where being a Marxist and a foreigner is a deportable offense if the political mood serves the government, I think you guys should probably back off with the personal attacks until you know something personal about me. As for my political misdeeds, I have many, and if asked, I will admit to them in public but they are not what you guys seem to think they are.

This is my last comment on this. IF you make an argument that has something beyond an assertion in it, I will respond. Otherwise, this conversation is effectively done. This is a polemic battle in public and it is one for which the context of what is actually going on is missing by half of those involved.


Abraham Marx September 3, 2013 at 2:55 am

A personal attack would be thusly: Derick Varn is an x. All x’s are unworthy of respect. You can solve the variable if you wish.

But, that’s not where my statements have been leading. You may very well be a wonderful human being. And maybe you’re a super-revolutionary because you live abroad and so forth. But that’s neither here nor there.

Taking a website which was growing organically, and replacing original content with reposts of stuff that is dated and esoteric, is foolish. Then, instead of actually advancing a new orientation or policy or editorial line, you fall back into sniping in comments, or what’s worse, cold or outright hostile emails.

Post an article with a few questions – a poll if you wish, or an attempt to redirect criticism towards something constructive – about how to move the north star forward, and you might get a better response. Couple that with a few clear paragraphs about what goals the north star has set for itself, what the vision of the north star is, and you might yet get/recover support.


Derick Varn September 3, 2013 at 3:25 am

“A personal attack would be thusly: Derick Varn is an x. All x’s are unworthy of respect. You can solve the variable if you wish.”

That would be a syllogistic ad hominem. As for the rest, your point is well-taken. Let us see where this goes first. The interviews and what not will come out next week or so. You can see where we are actually going then. Until such time, We will not be putting classic texts up for context, mainly because the ones I wanted are already up.

As for being a revolutionary, we shall see. The problem is not who is more or less revolutionary, it is what could be understood to make that change possible. In so much that we are interested, in that, we are interested in the same thing, if not, not.


Anthony Abdo September 8, 2013 at 6:37 am

Nobody Leftist in Western Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, and NZ particularly likes the mullahs of Iran, Assad in Syria, or the now tortured dead Gaddafi of Libya, yet most of us simply recognize how ‘opposition movements’ in Muslim countries are most frequently organized and financed by the Pentagon and its myriad allies. However, a small minority in the Left ignores all of this ,and constantly pretends that revolution is in the works that has nothing to do with what outside imperialist powers are doing. That is just mindless and moronic pseudo Leftism though. Ignoring realities of imperialism in one’s own country is totally a bankrupt and infantile fake Leftism.

The situation in the US remains as always. If comrades want to help out the many peoples that live elsewhere around the globe, then you should be concentrating your energies and efforts on building a movement to dismantle the US military. Even if all you want to do is concentrate on trying to help out the US national working class inside US borders, comrades you still need to concentrate most of your energies and efforts trying to dismantle this ugly war machine. Cheerleading?- or not cheerleading any regime elsewhere, does nothing of this at all. That should have been learned way back when, when US nitwits of the Left were often seen chanting ‘Hey Hey Ho Chi Minh, Vietcong is going to win!’ Yes perhaps so? But it had nothing to do with your particular form of ‘marxist’ cheerleading, which actually never did anything to build that gigantic antiwar movement that once existed in the US, when other Leftists once did something much more than just regime cheerlead, or cheerlead in support of removing some foreign regime or the other, as many Lefty types are now being seen doing. The fight still remains at home, and with one’s own particular imperialist ruling class.


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Aaron Aarons September 29, 2013 at 8:40 am

My apologies! My comment was correctly labelled as a reply to Steve Owens. But when I wanted to make explicit to whom I was responding, I must have been thrown off when I saw the name ‘Pavel’ both directly following and directly below the name ‘Steve Owens’ at the start of the latter’s comment.

BTW, there was nothing sarcastic about my comment.


Pavel Dubrovsky September 29, 2013 at 1:43 pm

No worries Aaron. We just switched over to Disqus so things may take some time to get used to.


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