Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 30, 2012

The Arab Revolt and the conspiracist left

Filed under: conspiracism,middle east — louisproyect @ 4:07 pm

After reading Charlie Skelton’s 5000-word article in the July 12th Guardian titled The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?, I was reminded of the difference between Marxism and what I call conspiracism. Marxism is based on a class analysis but the conspiracists essentially subscribe to a Great Man theory of history in which the CIA and parastatal institutions pull the strings in a global puppet show.

They think that the left’s main purpose is to pull back the curtain like Toto in The Wizard of Oz and expose the puppeteers, as if such knowledge will put a stop to capitalist intervention in the Middle East or elsewhere. And more problematically, the conspiracists see CIA support for an insurgent movement as prima facie evidence that it must be opposed. For most of the conspiracist left, Libya and Syria are poster children for their peculiar worldview. But at least for one high-profile member of this current—Michel Chossudovsky of Globalresearch.org—the net is cast wider. The Egyptian revolution is tainted as well since some of its leaders had the backing of the West.

Skelton’s article consists of an effort to connect the dotted lines between the anti-Assad movement and Western imperialism through numerous “revelations” such as the Bilderberg links of an SNC leader:

Here is Bassma Kodmani, seen leaving this year’s Bilderberg conference in Chantilly, Virginia.

Kodmani is a member of the executive bureau and head of foreign affairs, Syrian National Council. Kodmani is close to the centre of the SNC power structure, and one of the council’s most vocal spokespeople. “No dialogue with the ruling regime is possible. We can only discuss how to move on to a different political system,” she declared this week. And here she is, quoted by the newswire AFP: “The next step needs to be a resolution under Chapter VII, which allows for the use of all legitimate means, coercive means, embargo on arms, as well as the use of force to oblige the regime to comply.”

This year was Kodmani’s second Bilderberg. At the 2008 conference, Kodmani was listed as French; by 2012, her Frenchness had fallen away and she was listed simply as “international” – her homeland had become the world of international relations.

Skelton is some kind of special correspondent on Bilderberg for the Guardian, filing his first article in 2009. I am not quite sure how he got this gig since his prior jobs were writing comedy and reviewing porn films for the Erotic Review. Well, maybe that was just the right preparation.

Bilderberg is a kind of Holy Grail for the conspiracy-minded. This is supposedly where the ruling class gets together once a year to map out plans on how to dominate the world. For a leftist Ian Fleming, this is a collection of super-villains just waiting for a leftist James Bond to take on. Maybe someone like Charlie Skelton:

I arrived last night, under cover of darkness. I told the cab driver to stop 50 metres from the hotel. He asked why. I couldn’t tell him that it was so I could case the entrance for FBI lenses. I simply muttered that I couldn’t explain. His eyes lit up. “Aha! I see! I know!” What did he know? And who is that following us? A man in a BMW. Definite spook.

In Skelton’s entire 5000-word article, there was not a single reference to the ordinary Syrians who have risked their lives to oppose Bashar al-Assad either through peaceful protests or through armed struggle. 20,000 people have lost their lives in this conflict so far, the overwhelming majority of whom it is safe to say are opposed to the dictatorship. If Syria had the same population as the USA, this would have represented 300,000 deaths, a staggering figure.

What would cause so many people to risk their lives in such a one-sided battle? For an answer to this, you must look elsewhere than comedian-conspiracists like Charlie Skelton. For all of the preoccupation with the Western corporate elite and the CIA, the real answer lies within Syria itself and the wrenching social changes that Marxist scholar Bassam Haddad has identified in the article The Syrian Regime’s Business Backbone:

By the late 1990s, the business community that the Asads had created in their own image had transformed Syria from a semi-socialist state into a crony capitalist state par excellence. The economic liberalization that started in 1991 had redounded heavily to the benefit of tycoons who had ties to the state or those who partnered with state officials. The private sector outgrew the public sector, but the most affluent members of the private sector were state officials, politicians and their relatives. The economic growth registered in the mid-1990s was mostly a short-lived bump in consumption, as evidenced by the slump at the end of the century. Growth rates that had been 5-7 percent fell to 1-2 percent from 1997 to 2000 and beyond.

After Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father in 2000, the architects of Syria’s economic policy sought to reverse the downturn by liberalizing the economy further, for instance by reducing state subsidies. Private banks were permitted for the first time in nearly 40 years and a stock market was on the drawing board. After 2005, the state-business bonds were strengthened by the announcement of the Social Market Economy, a mixture of state and market approaches that ultimately privileged the market, but a market without robust institutions or accountability. Again, the regime had consolidated its alliance with big business at the expense of smaller businesses as well as the Syrian majority who depended on the state for services, subsidies and welfare. It had perpetuated cronyism, but dressed it in new garb. Families associated with the regime in one way or another came to dominate the private sector, in addition to exercising considerable control over public economic assets. These clans include the Asads and Makhloufs, but also the Shalish, al-Hassan, Najib, Hamsho, Hambouba, Shawkat and al-As‘ad families, to name a few. The reconstituted business community, which now included regime officials, close supporters and a thick sliver of the traditional bourgeoisie, effected a deeper (and, for the regime, more dangerous) polarization of Syrian society along lines of income and region.

Successive years of scant rainfall and drought after 2003 produced massive rural in-migration to the cities — more than 1 million people had moved by 2009 — widening the social and regional gaps still further. Major cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo, absorbed that migration more easily than smaller ones, which were increasingly starved of infrastructural investment. Provincial cities like Dir‘a, Idlib, Homs and Hama, along with their hinterlands, are now the main battlegrounds of the rebellion. Those living in rural areas have seen their livelihoods gutted by reduction of subsidies, disinvestment and the effects of urbanization, as well as decades of corrupt authoritarian rule. The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings motivated them to express their discontent openly and together.

The other thing that you will never find in conspiracist literature—such as it is—is an examination of one of the most telling connections between the CIA and the Arab world, namely the service that Qaddafi and al-Assad performed for President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. Compared to them, Bassma Kodmani’s attendance at Bilderberg meetings is small peanuts.

One of the victims was Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian citizen and telecommunications engineer who spent a year in Bashar al-Assad’s prisons being beaten with shredded cables.

Accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, Arar’s politics are anything but Islamist. He recently founded an online publication called Prism that is radical and secularist. There you can find an article by Arar titled Syria: Foreign Interference Between Myth and Reality that is a welcome corrective to Charlie Skelton’s maunderings. Arar writes:

Exaggeration of ‘outside influence’

Now to claim that there is no outside, foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs is to deny the obvious. But in my opinion this “interference” has been exaggerated (the analyses I’ve read with respect to this issue are based on speculations that are not supported by facts on the ground). Yes, there are countries who have always had a strong desire to see the Syrian-Iranian marriage fall apart. But to what extent these countries are influencing events on the ground is far from certain. For instance, the efforts reportedly led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to equip the rebels with heavy arms have not yet borne fruits, and it seems the FSA is mostly using light to medium weapons.

Most of these weapons have either been bought from corrupt army officers, or have been acquired by raiding weapons caches. Qatar and Saudi Arabia reportedly would want to make sure that weaponry would only be distributed to those groups that would pledge allegiance to them. While some groups may accept the deal, it is far from certain that all groups would accept any preconditions – as recently reported by Time magazine.

While the CIA may be present near the Syrian-Turkish border, all evidence points to the fact that the US is not very keen to arm the rebels, out of fear the arms would eventually fall in the hands of al-Qaeda and like-minded groups. In fact, Washington, despite the anti-Assad rhetoric we read about in media headlines, is not very keen on replacing the Assad regime with one whose allegiance to the US would be uncertain.

The two reasons just mentioned explain why the US has so far refused to supply weapons to Syria’s armed opposition. The latest discussions that took place in Geneva demonstrate that the US still prefers “a political solution” (whatever that means).

In light of Arar’s reference to CIA fears that arms would fall into the hands of Islamists, it should be noted that the bourgeois press has stepped up its warnings about the threat of Jihadism in Syria in a manner that suggests compliance with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. Despite all the talk about the U.S. pulling strings in Syria, there is every reason to believe that Washington has about as much use for the FSA as it does for Hamas or Hizbollah.

For some conspiracists, the Jihadist angle is paramount. Al-Qaeda is underneath every bed in the Middle East, a fear that originates with the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. For people like Global Research’s Michel Chossudovsky and Voltairenet’s Thierry Meyssan, the revolts in Libya and Syria are just the latest evidence of CIA plots drawing upon willing Islamist assets.

Meyssan is the author of two “truther” books: 9/11: The Big Lie and Pentagate, a book that argues that a missile rather than a jet hit the Pentagon. Ordinarily, I would discount Meyssan as a typical nutcase but apparently he does have some traction with self-avowed Marxists like the PSL’s Diana Barahona who advised North Star readers:

For a good explanation of who the armed Syrian opposition really is, read “Who is fighting in Syria” by Thierry Meyssan, reporting from Damascus. http://www.voltairenet.org/Who-is-fighting-in-Syria

Brian Slocums, the author of the article On the Ground with the Syrian Opposition that Barahona was commenting on, took a look at Meyssan’s piece and found it lacking:

However lets look at the rest of the claims in this article. Conroy’s companions in the photo are described as “al Qaeda” leaders”. Abdulhakim Belhadj (who is correctly identified) was certainly nothing to do with al Qaeda when the photo was taken, but its true he did have a jihadist past 10 years ago, so that’s a half-truth (a good score for Meyssan). The guy who I think is mis-identified as al-Harati,probably had a similar past. But the real al-Harati has neither any al Qaeda connnection nor a jihadist past: he was living quietly in Dublin from his teenage years until the outbreak of the Libyan revolution in 2011. The article claims “According to former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Mahdi al-Harati is still wanted in Spain for his involvement in the Madrid bombings “. This piece of Meyssan arithmetic is a slander within a slander: the accusation that Aznar made was directed against Belhadj , not al-Harati, and that had no foundation in fact – no named persons are “wanted in Spain” for the Madrid bombings.

It has always struck me odd that sections of the left, either Marxist like Barahona or conspiracist like Meyssan, can be so credulous when it comes to matters such as this. When their enemies are writing something that goes against their ideological grain, they will use every last ounce of intellectual energy to debunk a Judith Miller or a Christopher Hitchens. But when they are promoting their own agenda, critical faculties go down the drain.

For his part, Michel Chossudovsky blames the 9/11 attacks on a CIA/ISI cabal:

The 9-11 terrorists did not act on their own volition. The suicide hijackers were instruments in a carefully planned intelligence operation. The evidence confirms that Al Qaeda is supported by Pakistan’s military intelligence, the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI). Amply documented, the ISI owes its existence to the CIA.

So no wonder he views the Syrian revolt as more of the same:

Since the middle of March 2011, Islamist armed groups –covertly supported by Western and Israeli intelligence– have conducted terrorist attacks directed against government buildings including acts of arson. Amply documented, trained gunmen and snipers including mercenaries have targeted the police, armed forces as well as innocent civilians. There is ample evidence, as outlined in the Arab League Observer Mission report, that these armed groups of mercenaries are responsible for killing civilians.

To give credit where credit is due, Chossudovsky is at least consistent in applying the conspiracist template to Middle East politics. It is not just Libya and Syria that are victims of a CIA conspiracy. You can find it virtually everywhere, including Egypt and Tunisia:

The cooptation of the leaders of major opposition parties and civil society organizations in anticipation of the collapse of an authoritarian puppet government is part of Washington’s design, applied in different regions of the World.

The process of cooptation is implemented and financed by US based foundations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and  Freedom House (FH). Both FH and the NED have links to the US Congress. the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the US business establishment. Both the NED and FH are known to have ties to the CIA.

The NED is actively involved in Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria. Freedom House supports several civil society organizations in Egypt.

But the plot thickens. It is not just the Middle East that is the victim of such a massive conspiracy. Guess what? Remember those protests on Wall Street that offered its solidarity with revolts in the Middle East? Those too were tainted by the Masters of the Universe whose headquarters are in places like Langley and Foggy Bottom:

In the course of the last decade, “colored revolutions” have emerged in several countries. The “colored revolutions” are US intelligence ops which consist in covertly supporting protest movements with a view to triggering “regime change” under the banner of a pro-democracy movement.

“Colored revolutions” are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House, among others. The objective of a “colored revolution” is to foment social unrest and use the protest movement to topple the existing government. The ultimate foreign policy goal is to instate a compliant pro-US government (or “puppet regime”).

“The Arab Spring”

In Egypt’s “Arab Spring”, the main civil society organizations including  Kifaya (Enough) and The April 6 Youth Movement were not only supported by US based foundations, they also had the endorsement of the US State Department. (For details see Michel Chossudovsky, The Protest Movement in Egypt: “Dictators” do not Dictate, They Obey Orders, Global Research, January 29, 2011)

Several key organizations currently involved in The Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) movement played a significant role in “The Arab Spring”. Of significance, “Anonymous”, the social media “hacktivist” group, was involved in waging cyber-attacks on Egyptian government websites at the height of “The Arab Spring”.(http://anonops.blogspot.com, see also http://anonnews.org/)

In May 2011, “Anonymous” waged cyberattacks on Iran and last August, it waged similar cyber-attacks directed against the Syrian Ministry Defense. These cyber-attacks were waged in support of the Syrian “opposition” in exile, which is largely integrated by Islamists. (See  Syrian Ministry Of Defense Website Hacked By ‘Anonymous’, Huffington Post, August 8, 2011).

The actions of “Anonymous” in Syria and Iran are consistent with the framework of the “Colored Revolutions”. They seek to demonize the political regime and create political instability. (For analysis on Syria’s Opposition, see Michel Chossudovsky, SYRIA: Who is Behind The Protest Movement? Fabricating a Pretext for a US-NATO “Humanitarian Intervention” Global Research, May 3, 2011)

Ah, what a mind-boggling conspiracy! So deep that it is capable of turning the most powerful anti-capitalist movement in recent memory into a cats paw serving the interest of multinational corporations.

Most of the people whose articles appear on Global Research are outright cranks like Chossudovsky or Marxists with conspiracist deviations like Richard Becker, a leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Unfortunately you also see pieces by people like John Pilger and Eva Golinger who should know better.

It is difficult to determine in advance how the conspiracist current will fare in a period of deepening class confrontation. With its obvious hostility to grass roots movements in the Middle East and willingness to write off even the Occupy Wall Street movement as an imperialist plot, you are dealing with people who can’t tell the difference between right and wrong. Once upon a time such an inability could serve as an insanity defense in a murder trial. Let’s hope that things don’t reach such a state that the left has to confront sometime in the future the criminally insane among us.


  1. “In fact, Washington, despite the anti-Assad rhetoric we read about in media headlines, is not very keen on replacing the Assad regime with one whose allegiance to the US would be uncertain.”

    This has been evident for quite awhile. One wonders if there is a relationship between the emergence of a conspiratorial anti-imperialism and the decline of a class based politics on the left. In many instances, the former has been substituted for the latter. While one can criticize the simplicity of it, the anarchists of Occupy see the police and the military attacking protesters in Egypt, Libya and Syria and draw the obvious, straight line conclusion based upon their own experience, protesters good, police and military bad. It also requires a lot less effort to explain.

    Comment by Richard Estes — July 30, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

  2. Oh, really? The pesky media have been drumming up the destruction of Syria all on their ownsome? Please ignore the destruction of Iraq and Lybia. It’s ancient history. Washington are keen on destoying the Assad regine and not replacing it with anything.

    Comment by Phil Dunn — July 30, 2012 @ 8:36 pm

  3. “to pull back the curtain like Toto in The Wizard of Oz” – hey you stole my metaphor! 😉

    Connect-the-dotism has always been a lazy-minded substitute for serious analysis of reality. Its coming to the forefront is a symptom of the backwardness or demoralization of the left. Actual mass movements with good leaderships will sweep it aside, hence pay them no mind.

    The same goes for an anti-imperialism that is based on “anti-hegemonic power blocs” rather than on the international working class movement. It is rooted in a demoralized perspective on one’s own working class, extended to those working classes and mass allies that don’t cooperate with the “anti-hegemonic bloc”. Post-USSR, that means coming to hate an awful lot of people.

    Comment by Matt — July 30, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

  4. When you get to the Middle East, conspiracy theories are rampant. Must be in the climate. Pan-Turkism is a British plot. Pan-Iranism is a British plot. Pan-Arabism is a British plot. Wahabism is a British plot. Bahaism is … a Russian plot.

    If you want a good read, read My Uncle Napoleon, a wonderful satire on Iranian conspiracism in general and anti-British conspiracism in particular.

    Of course, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was variously a French (because Khomeini got his last refuge in France before returning to Iran), a British (because, well, “everyone knows” the British run “the mullahs”), an Israeli (because the Shah was turning towards the an alliance with the conservative Arab regimes and shifting away from the State of Israel), an American (see the General Huyser mission to Iran just before the revolution), or a general Western (see the Guadeloupe Conference) conspiracy. It’s all quite bizarre.

    The interesting question is, How did conspiracy theories get so popular these days? Is it because of the general decline of the left’s level of morale or culture? The rise of the internet, a regular breeding ground for conspiracy larvae? The assimilation of Middle Eastern political reflexes, since so much of the political violence is centered on the Middle East? The rise of the Libertarian Right, with its base in the famous “paranoid style in American politics”? Maybe our politics is indeed more and more dominated by political cliques and cabals and not class interests. In any case, our political discourse in the sixties and seventies could be plenty loopy, but nothing like today. Ahh, kids…

    Comment by Evan — July 30, 2012 @ 11:57 pm

  5. Both Matt & Evan have touched on some crucial points.

    Matt touches on the demoralization angle while Evan touches on the general decline of the left being responsible for today’s inter cine madness.

    This is an important topic Louis has raised in light of the shattered left that’s emerged since the collapse of the Soviets in which the only ray of light in that 2 decades since has been OWS, which to it’s credit, has managed at least to focus not only these smashed left splinters into a tangible movement but also ignite the imagination & fighting spirit of the broad youth & proletarian masses toward a general angst against the 1% of ultra bourgeois parasites that currently usurp the vast proportion of the World’s wealth via the most despicable means, both financial & military.

    The point is when the Soviets held sway over a vast land mass & population that weren’t starving — the Pentagon was limited in it’s machinations and therefore the ideologies of both right & left were necessarily constrained in the Cold War paradigm.

    The problem is with the collapse of the Soviets a paradigm shift didn’t really occur “sociologically” because the paradigm that Trotsky set forth in “Revolution Betrayed” still reigns pertinent today and in fact predicted the collapse of the Soviets.

    As an aside I’d argue the CPUSA and all the other CP’s that clung to the left false paradigm of Stalinism, now that it’s been shattered, is largely responsible for the vacuum that’s been filled by all these pseudo leftist conspiracy kooks today.

    The failure of the left therefore was largely it’s attraction to Stalinism on the one hand and on the other hand the revulsion of Trotskyism on the other — but for all the wrong reasons, meaning, as Lou has argued for years, while the Trotskyist party building tradition has been fatally flawed, at the same time the political analysis of what is to be done by Stalinists or Maoists is absurd, amounting to either voting for Democrats or worse, mindless Maoist RCPism.

    These 2 atrophied lines of thought are precisely what makes anarchist youth Rising UP Angry today so viable!

    Why hasn’t the analysis of 20th century politics been able to vanquish Trotsky? Because the hallmark of science (as opposed to pseudoscience) is successful prediction. Fact is nobody was able to define the nature of the USSR and where it was going better than Trotsky.

    So while cats like Lou may understandably declare they’re “not Trotskyists” the fact is their worldview is informed every day by the insights of Trotsky’s invaluable sociology and political science, nevermind Lenin, who is still arguably the most important figure in the trajectory of human history in the last 100 years.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 31, 2012 @ 4:27 am

  6. The so-called “Syrian Files” were nothing more than propaganda planted by the US government in conjunction with Julian Assange to divert attention, create false claims against Syria and promote the coming military strike against Syria.

    Surfacing just in time to prove that Syria has WMDs is a 2006 communication that was supposedly confidential which claims Syria and Iran are working together to develop 5 new chemical weapons plants; in particular that Syria has new sites that are fronts for manufacturing facilities.

    This time the global Elite are not just claiming that the “enemy” has WMDs, they are planting the evidence so that the debacle that faced former President George W Bush with Iraq’s non-existent WMDs will not be an issue.

    According to the falsified documents provided by WikiLeaks, a US diplomat states: “Iran would provide the construction design and equipment to annually produce tens to hundreds of tons of precursors for VX, sarin, and mustard [gas]. Engineers from Iran’s DIO [Defense Industries Organization] were to visit Syria and survey locations for the plants, and construction was scheduled from the end of 2005-2006.”

    A 2008 correspondence by the US State Department says that Syria has become “sophisticated in its efforts to move equipment and resources from civilian programs to weapons development.”

    According to the document “the Australians believe Syria is committed to improving and expanding its program, including through testing. Syria maintains a basic indigenous capability, in contrast to other countries of concern, but maintains some dependence on precursor imports. . . . Syria appears focused on importing precursors and precursors of precursors.”

    The false flag assertion of Syrian chemical weapons is giving the international community the necessary fuel to support the US/Israeli military attack of Syria. It is being kept secret from the general public with the assistance of the MSM that the murder of Syrian civilians is being committed by the FSA under the direction of the CIA, the script being played out to keep Assad’s armies under foot with “little chance of turning defeat into victory.”


    Comment by sarara — July 31, 2012 @ 5:14 am

  7. Richard Estes writes: “While one can criticize the simplicity of it, the anarchists of Occupy see the police and the military attacking protesters in Egypt, Libya and Syria and draw the obvious, straight line conclusion based upon their own experience, protesters good, police and military bad. It also requires a lot less effort to explain.”

    While hostility to police and militaries is generally a good thing, and may (or may not) be correct in regard to all three of the countries mentioned, it might well be wrong in countries facing counter-revolutionary movements, as was the case in, e.g., Poland in the early 1980’s and in many places in Eastern Europe in the following years. Moreover, the government of Cuba might be forced to use repression against those who take advantage of the (very dangerous) reforms being initiated in order to push for true capitalist restoration.

    Also, since Lou and others have recently been recommending Trotsky’s essay, ‘Learn to Think’, I’ll remind folks that one of the arguments there is that the French capitalist government should not have been criticized by the left for its violent suppression of a fascist mini-insurrection in 1934.

    Comment by Red Snapper — July 31, 2012 @ 8:13 am

  8. BTW, why does one have to choose between the position that everything that happens is the result of ruling-class manipulation and the equally absurd position that nothing is? How about trying to figure out what various ruling-class agencies are up to without either over-estimating their power or ignoring it?

    Comment by Red Snapper — July 31, 2012 @ 8:31 am

  9. Also, since Lou and others have recently been recommending Trotsky’s essay, ‘Learn to Think’, I’ll remind folks that one of the arguments there is that the French capitalist government should not have been criticized by the left for its violent suppression of a fascist mini-insurrection in 1934.

    I just took a look at “Learn to Think” and could find no such argument. Maybe you can explain. Also, whatever you want to say about the opposition to al-Assad, fascist mini-insurrection is the last thing that comes to mind. Fascism is a tool of big business, and big business–such asi it is in Syria–has been solidly behind the Baathists. Just read the Bassam Haddad article I referred to in my article.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 31, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

  10. Here in the heartland I’m more worried about rightist conspiracy nuts. Thankfully their anticollectivism will keep them atomized and navel gazing for some time, but still…not to be snarky but only in a place like New York, or in some insular Trotskyist sect, would anybody be concerned about “left” conspiracy nuts. These rightists are convincing people by the thousands that the Illuminati is the source of the FEMA camps that are coming.

    Comment by Bob Allen — July 31, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

  11. Bob’s right about that. The battered working class & stampeding petty bourgeoisie gravitate way more to sites like PrisonPlanet rather than CounterPunch. Ironically, however, I’ve noticed that PrisonPlanet has been regularly featuring articles from CounterPunch, but of course only those types of authors and stories that have a conspiracist flavor.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — July 31, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  12. While I erred in thinking that ‘Learn to Think’ contains a reference to the February 1934 fascist riots against the French Parliament, it does contain the following:

    If the French fascists should make an attempt today at a coup d’etat and the Daladier government found itself forced to move troops against the fascists, the revolutionary workers, while maintaining their complete political independence, would fight against the fascists alongside of these troops. Thus in a number of cases the workers are forced not only to permit and tolerate, but actively to support the practical measures of the bourgeois government.

    Trotsky wrote a lot in 1934 about France, so he may have made a specific reference to the February events somewhere else. I will try to research it later.

    It may be correct that none of the opposition to Assad is ‘fascist’, but would Trotsky have taken a different attitude to the suppression, by the government of a subordinate capitalist country, of right-wing Islamists who are backed by a major ally of imperialism? I do not, however, claim to know to what extent such a situation exists in Syria, which is why I only take the position of opposing imperialist intervention, and not of supporting or opposing any particular force there other than opposing anybody working with the Saudis and other allies of imperialism.

    Comment by Red Snapper — July 31, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

  13. Nothing I have just written should indicate political support of Assad or of the Syrian government going back to 1970. I’d celebrate any kind of leftist rebellion that overthrew that regime.

    Comment by Red Snapper — July 31, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

  14. Conspiracies go on all the time and can be very important politically. Adolf Hitler was initially rescued from obscurity and placed at the head of what would become the Nazi Party by a conspiratorial “intelligence” operation headed by Ludendorff. One does not have to be a subscriber to the Great Man theory to understand that this made a significant difference in history. And the fact of the matter is that the CIA and the other organs of the capitalist state also operate conspiratorially.

    To deny that this can ever be the case might be dubbed “normalism”–the absurd contention that there are never any conspiracies, and that if there were they wouldn’t matter. WMDs anyone?

    At least in the United States, conspiracism and normalism caper about the stage of bourgeois political discourse like a pair of old-fashioned comedians wielding rubber chickens.

    Their fight is unwinnable, and the defeatism this engenders reinforces the belief that politics and public life are a waste of time compared with the “private” search for personal goodness. (The latter, of course, is necessarily apolitical, “spiritual,” and transcendent, although it is always somehow connected with shopping.)

    Actual belief is less important here than the mobilization of emotion. In actual fascism, it mattered if you said “Eja, eja, alala!” :Heil Hitler!” or “Duce!” Exclamation points mattered. You had to understand that there were specific Jew/Negro queer communist devils among you, conspiring in very specific ways against your very blood and bone. Everyone had a uniform to wear and an oath to recite. The masses performed to a centralized choreography–even if the “philosophical” underpinnings were a half-baked mass of contradictions, which they were.

    The rulers of the United States now understand that it suffices for purposes of social control merely to confuse, frighten, and isolate people in a matrix of post-Bernaysian marketing schmooze and mental manipulation. Let everyone consume whatever beliefs s[he] chooses in the marketplace of ideas (except “terrorism”). But one must never offer the people anything that could become a focus for genuine solidarity of any kind, not even a Fuehrer. Let them have Mittens Romney and Barack Obama instead. They are there to be selected–however reluctantly–so that one can return ASAP to the jungle of private consumption–or the hope of it.

    Conspiracism–a better word might be paranoia–on the socialist left arises at least in part, paradoxically, from the fact that people on the left at least retain the concept of coherent analysis combined with persistent political practice, notions that in themselves are rejected as paranoid by many straight-thinking American “good people.” This does not make the idea of a conspiracy between Julian Assange and the State Department any less gobsmackingly goofy on the face of it. But when we point to some kind of “failure of the left” as the cause of such apparent deviations from reality (though not, it must be noted from possibility), we are attributing far too much actual power to the left–itself a dangerously paranoid conception, in that we are then in danger of assuming that if the left could only get hold of the correct party line, it would thereby immediately become more powerful than it is. Many people make mistakes in analysis or succumb to paranoia because they don’t know what the hell else to do.

    What we are really up against in this country perhaps is not so much the failure of the left as the victory of the right–or, what is not necessarily the same thing, the victory of the bourgeoisie. The Left has been underestimating the strength of the old enemy ever since Lenin and Trotsky assumed the immanence of a socialist revolution in Germany that was ultimately defeated..

    Not failure as such–not even the treachery of “the renegade Kautsky”–but specifically defeat by a stronger enemy even in the face of temporary victories. Paradoxically, perhaps the way to avoid defeatism is to acknowledge that the enemy has hitherto proved stronger, take comfort in the fact that the old mole is still there, and to move forward with that understanding.

    Part of conspiracism is to paper over the reality of defeat, reducing the opposition to fake wizards behind screens rather than the terrifyingly powerful combination of social forces that it is.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — July 31, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

  15. There is one key aspect of U.S. NGO meddling in Egypt that Chossudovsky mentions but ignores the significance of:

    Both the April 6 Movement and Kifaya (Enough!) received prior training from CANVAS in Belgrade “in the strategies of non-violent revolution”.

    It should be clear to everybody on the left who hasn’t been inoculated against revolutionary violence that there was and is no way of smashing the Egyptian state non-violently and, for this reason, the U.S. promoted and promotes non-violent opposition there. In other words, the purpose of U.S. support for certain opposition groups in Egypt , although not in some other places, is not to undermine the existing state but to protect it from revolution.

    Comment by Red Snapper — July 31, 2012 @ 6:34 pm

  16. I don’t think that the relevant dichotomy is between violence and nonviolence in Egypt. Rather it is between class-collaborationist liberalism, the natural outcome of which was the al-Baradi candidacy, and working class mass action.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 31, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

  17. In the context of Egypt, non-violence and liberalism are two sides of the same coin. Working class mass action that doesn’t lead to the necessarily-violent overthrow of the state just provides pressure in support of bourgeois reformism.

    Comment by Red Snapper — July 31, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  18. [Working class mass action that doesn’t lead to the necessarily-violent overthrow of the state just provides pressure in support of bourgeois reformism.]

    Snapper: Didn’t the Bolsheviks take State power overnight without essentially firing a shot in a political clusterfuck not so dissimilar to Egypt’s?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 1, 2012 @ 12:55 am

  19. As Lou reinterated some months ago: Isn’t the real crisis in the world today, as capitalism teeters on universal bankruptcy, from OWS to Egypt to Syria, summed up in Trotsky’s old axiom: the crisis of proletarian leadership?

    Fact is the gravest crisis this planet faces today is the crisis of proletarian leadership for only it can lead humanity out of perpetual war, economic ruin, environmental despoilation, social catastrophe & certain doom.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 1, 2012 @ 1:07 am

  20. […] First published by Unrepentant Marxist. […]

    Pingback by Marxism Versus Conspiracism — August 1, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

  21. Ok Louis,

    But give us your class analysis of the Syrian situation then, rather than saying the ‘conspiracist left’ don’t have one.

    Also, and for the record, there are Marxists and socialists of a non conspiracist bent who take a critical view of the Syrian opposition and the role of imperialism.

    Comment by Steve — August 1, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

  22. But give us your class analysis of the Syrian situation then, rather than saying the ‘conspiracist left’ don’t have one.

    I thought I urged my readers to check out the linked Bassam Haddad article. Just google “Bassam Haddad” for more information on the class dynamics of Syrian society.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 1, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

  23. For two alternative views of the conflict in Syria see the following

    1. -“Syria: the imperialist offensive intensifies”
    by Andrew Williams, “Socialist Action” (UK)
    Wednesday, 01 August 2012


    The guerrilla conflict in Syria

    “For several months now the US has acknowledged its participation in the organisation of guerrilla operations in Syria. Britain is less up front, but its involvement is also reported.
    The US with its NATO allies and Israel, working with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are coordinating a complex array of military operations.
    Mercenaries and foreign fighters inspired by the sectarian campaign are being infiltrated into the country, whilst Syrian guerrilla units are also trained and armed.

    Weapons and fighters are entering Syria from Lebanon and Iraq and also from Jordon where there are training camps. The principal base of operations for the offensive is reported to be in Turkey near the Syrian border from where the US air force operates.
    The counter-revolutionary forces of the FSA and Syrian opposition are being equipped with anti-tank rockets, anti-aircraft guns, roadside bombs and other explosives.
    The Syrian regime and its supporters are targeted with assassinations; many of those captured are being executed, tortured or kidnapped. The economic infrastructure, such as pipelines, is being bombed and offensive operations are launched in the middle of civilian populated areas.
    The objective is to grind down the regime and its mass base, sabotage the economy and divide the population.”


    2: – “Empire and revolution – Syria and the critics of the anti-war movement”
    by John Rees, “Counterfire”
    Wednesday, 01 August 2012


    “The Western powers want regime change in Syria, as they constantly proclaim. What has prevented them from getting it is that the Libya debacle alerted Russia and China to the fact that they would be taken for a ride if they authorised action at the UN, losing influence in one of only two allied states in the Middle East and opening up the path for an attack on the other: Iran.

    But the more the US and its allies have been prevented from direct military intervention the more they have relied on indirect intervention, and the more they have sought to buy a stake in the government of a post-Assad Syria. Some of the critics of the anti-war movement talk as if all this is simply the imaginings of conspiracy theorists or as if indirect intervention has no real effect. Many in the Middle East know different. Syrians will recall the CIA coup that ended the country’s brief post war democratic experiment in 1949. Iranians recall the CIA backed coup that deposed elected nationalist leader Mossedegh in 1953. We all now know how much effort the US spent on backing the Afghan Muhajadhin against the Russians. Further afield covert operations from the early days of Vietnam, to the overthrow of Allende, to Iran-Contra come readily to the mind of many.

    These are not fantasies. They are one way in which imperial power is exercised. It is being exercised this way in Syria now with the help, as it nearly always is, of some domestic forces.”


    Comment by prianikoff — August 1, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

  24. Prianikoff, why am I not surprised at you crossposting links to marginal Trotskyist and state-capitalist sects? The Socialist Action piece is particularly dumb. Do they have any connection to the American sect, btw? (As if I care.)

    Comment by louisproyect — August 1, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  25. Both of these groups are much less marginal than you might imagine.
    And I certainly would never categorise them with the conspiracists like Chussodovsky et al.

    But Socialist Action state capitalist?
    Far from it.

    They have no relationship to the US version of SA, other than a common origin in the USFI.
    But they took a diametrically different position to when the USSR broke up.

    They were closely involved in Ken Livingstone’s adminsistration when he was London Mayor,
    are still involved in the Stop the War Coalition (although less central to its formation than Rees-German, now of ” Counterfire” were)
    They also participate in the management of the the”The Morning Star” daily.

    Comment by prianikoff — August 1, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

  26. The Bassam Haddad article reveals us that politics and business are closely linked (who would have thought it), as if that will change post Assad!

    What it doesn’t tell us is the particularities of the rebel forces, the classes they represent, the role of Syria in the world market or the role of imperialism etc etc. I.e. It tells us very little.

    Now maybe the Syrian people will rise above sectarianism and throw off the chains of oppression, but my money is on a puppet state of one kind or another. This will not bring stability to Syria or the region, as imperialism didn’t to Afghanistan or Iran. History will repeat itself, not as farce though but as another bloody tragedy.

    So I think the left are correct to stick to anti imperialism while supporting the democratic yearnings of the Arab masses.

    Comment by Steve — August 1, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

  27. Attention all revolutionaries concerned! The actual existence of the Syrian Soviets commands not only our immediate attention but our revolutionary allegiance out of principle:


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 2, 2012 @ 4:11 am

  28. […] on War in Context , but also by people considering themselves Marxist and revolutionary, like Louis Proyect on Unrepentant Marxist , and Pham Binh on North Star . Both are from a Trotskyist […]

    Pingback by Syria, imperialism and the left (2) « Rooieravotr — August 11, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

  29. I am amazed that this article contains no reference to the Sunday World article of 9 November 2011 which alleges that 200,000 Euros in 500 denominations was stolen from Mahdi al-Harati’s home in Dublin, and that he told the gardai that he was given the money by an American intelligence agency. Either you produce evidence to debunk this article or Brian Slocums’ analysis, that you set such store by, is junk. But then if you are not aware of this article that is plastered all over the internet, along with Youtube videos of al-Harati in the midst of battle, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9EaHwgVxm4&feature=related then perhaps you ain’t don’t your homework very well either.

    Comment by RichardL — August 26, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

  30. […] on War in Context , but also by people considering themselves Marxist and revolutionary, like Louis Proyect on Unrepentant Marxist , and Pham Binh on North Star . Both are from a Trotskyist […]

    Pingback by Syria, imperialism and the left (2) « Tahrir-ICN — November 2, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

  31. […] on War in Context , but also by people considering themselves Marxist and revolutionary, like Louis Proyect on Unrepentant Marxist , and Pham Binh on North Star . Both are from a Trotskyist […]

    Pingback by Syria, imperialism and the left (2) | Ravotr — January 7, 2013 @ 11:47 am

  32. Conspiracy thinking was described by Norman Cameron who invented the term “paranoid pseudocommunity” The arch conspiracy theorist whom Cameron would have loved to study, is of course Lyndon LaRouche. Bildeberg group was one of his main targets

    Comment by Peter Myers — May 9, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

  33. What do Bilderberg & LaRouche have in common?

    Rabid anti-communism.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 10, 2013 @ 1:01 am

  34. This is a very strange line of reasoning here. Did the Gulf of Tonkin false flag happen? What about Gladio bombings in Europe? What Air America’s heroin trafficking? What about Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, which was one massive meta-conspiracy more properly called the Iran-Contra-Crack-BCCI-Mujahideen-Heroin Affair?

    Michael Parenti gives the most lucid assessment of the relationship between conspiracy and class power:

    Comment by Eric Saunders — September 3, 2013 @ 4:43 am

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