Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 11, 2014

Where are the “anti-imperialists” now that Obama is bombing ISIS?

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:38 am

Michael Karadjis (Socialist Alliance member in Australia):

For days now, the US military has been launching air strikes against the reactionary Sunni-fascist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS, or just IS now) in Iraq. Yet, strangely, not only have I not seen any evidence of anti-war demonstrations, or organising for them, I have also not seen the entire faux-“left” cybersphere full of fulminating attacks on US imperialist intervention, with everyone repeating and slightly re-wording the same half-baked, evidence-free article, like we saw last August during the alleged build-up to an entirely imaginary US attack on the reactionary, secular-fascist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

The geopolitics is of course interesting. While the Syrian regime of Assad barely fired a shot at ISIS for an entire year (and vice versa), and instead both focused on crushing the Free Syrian Army (FSA, and its more moderate Islamist allies, and also Jabhat al-Nusra), often even directly and blatantly collaborating against the FSA, and in oil deals, and “the West”, forever refusing to send even a bullet to the FSA under the bullshit rubric that such arms “might get into the hands of extremists”, even though for the whole year, the only force in the entire region (apart from the Kurds) that were actually fighting ISIS (the worst extremists) were the FSA and its allies (and indeed are still furiously resisting ISIS in Syria right now); well now that the US is bombing ISIS, and bolstering and arming Assad’s ally, the sectarian-Shia regime of Maliki, so now the Assad regime and ISIS have also FINALLY come to blows! What an amazing coincidence!

Anyway, let’s try to figure out some differences for anti-war western leftists.

Perhaps we should only oppose US interventions when they are just a figment of our imaginations, as opposed to ones that are actually happening in our face.

Perhaps we should only oppose imaginary US interventions when the US shows that it is impossible to intervene without going around in a whole lot of circles like countless committee meetings, taking a war proposal to Congress for the first time in half a century etc, whereas when the US shows that you can order air strikes without all that pretense, then it is OK.

Perhaps it should depend on the degree of imaginary “anti-imperialism” of the reactionary tyrants under real or imaginary US attack. So apparently, since the Syrian Baath regime has collaborated with US imperialism for decades, right up to the rendition and torture program of “terror” suspects on behalf of the US in very recent times, and slaughtered Palestinians and their camps and organisations and militants with a passion rivaling the Zionist regime, we should defend such a well-intentioned regime, whereas a regime like ISIS which is totally, fundamentally anti-imperialist to the core (I don’t use that as a compliment, rather it is a neutral statement), then we should not oppose a US attack.

Perhaps we should look at who has done the most slaughtering. Both of course are monstrous tyrants to the core and neither has any redeeming feature whatsoever. But since ISIS has probably killed several thousand, and Assad has pretty much leveled every city in Syria, turned the whole country to rubble, killed over 100,000 people to be generous, tortured tens of thousands to death in medieval dungeons, bombed hospitals and schools with a fury rivalling Israel in Gaza, and at that very time, last August, had bombed hundreds of children in their sleep with chemical weapons, of course we should defend only Assad, not ISIS.

Perhaps someone could offer some other suggestions.


  1. Regarding anti imperialists, I am still here. Israel by advancing its nazist ideology and a nuclear armed colonial outpost working for US as a police of hundreds millions of people, is a far worse thing than US bombing ISIS from a distance. Of course, FSA having the audacity of asking for a no flying zone from NATO, just like Libyan “opposition, is enough for me to never support them.
    If you ask me for a solution, grant “free” citizenship and transport for whatever country from NATO any Libyan, Syrian or Iraqi chooses to go, the same way US did to the scum that ran away from Cuba. At least this time, it would not be a scum.

    Comment by Daniel de França — August 11, 2014 @ 2:00 am

  2. Perhaps socialists should stick to class politics, which means opposing your own imperialists in any adventure they undertake , mainly by organizing strikes against those activities.

    Comment by steve d — August 11, 2014 @ 2:14 am

  3. Agree with Steve,trying to sort out which lunatic fringe to pick over the other in the my God is better than your God game is hopeless.

    Comment by Larry — August 11, 2014 @ 3:35 am

  4. Surely the efforts by the US and others to give humanitarian aid to minorities who have fled persecution from IS should be supported. However, as in Libya this move appears to be accompanied by moves to start bombing IS and protect Americans and their Kurdish allies when the IS marches on Erbil.The aim seems to be as in Libya to downgrade the military capacity of IS so that the Kurds and Iraqi forces can defeat them. This is a very risky policy likely to make the situation worse. Sunnis who cooperate in many instances with IS in ruling occupied areas will not be happy to see US bombing IS. They will be seen as allies with the hated Al Maliki government. The unity government desired by the US is nowhere in sight and strengthening the Kurds wlll increase their demands on the central government and attacks on IS will alienate the Sunnis even further. If the number of people slaughtered is to be some sort of measure of who to support perhaps we should support US imperialism.
    Some of this article seems complete nonsense. Why bother posting it. There was nothing imaginary about Obama’s proposed intervention in Syria. It would be too tedious to repeat all the half truths and distortions in such a short article of sarcastic drivel. My suggestion is that Louis not post any more of this stuff.

    Comment by ken — August 11, 2014 @ 4:06 am

  5. This is a ridiculous rant. Anti-imperialists are still here. The attacks on Iraq (because that’s what they still are) are like those undertaken under Clinton. I other words, they are part of a bigger project to attempt to control the situation in the Middle East. Like the previous phases of the west’s war on what is called Iraq, the likely result will be one that results in hundreds of meaningless deaths and millions of dollars in profit for the arms industry. Your so-called heroes in the FSA and other rebel groups in Syria allied themselves with IS at times and many have ended up being just so many warlords and corrupt profiteers. Does this mean IS is good? Of course not. Nor is Assad, al-Maliki or the US and Britain. I oppose imperialist intervention because I oppose imperialism. Plain and simple. Bombing Iraq for whatever reason Washington comes up with is imperialist intervention.

    Comment by ron jacobs — August 11, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

  6. I oppose imperialist intervention because I oppose imperialism.

    Pro forma statements like this are meaningless. Frankly, every pro-Assad article I have ever seen on the left has always referred to his neoliberal turn and to his repression but when push comes to shove, they defend his use of violence to put down anybody who has the temerity to overthrow him. In September and October 2013 there was a tsunami of articles hollering about how Obama was about to invade Syria for the purpose of “regime change”. Not a SINGLE article like that is appearing now. Most tend to be lofty analyses of what the USA seeks to achieve rather than militant calls to demonstrate in the streets. Part of the subdued approach can be explained by the moron Phil Greaves’s article positing an “axis of resistance” that included Maliki. What utter stupiditiy.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 11, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

  7. Steven D. nails it. The “choice” is not between Assad and the US, which is no choice at all, as neither side provides anything but destruction, a destruction dictated by the failures of the economy.

    As for “anti-imperialism” what we’re witnessing here, with leftists lining up to support this anti-imperialist Assad, or that anti-imperialist Putin, or lining up to oppose this bagman for imperialism Assad, or that bagman for imperialism Putin, is nothing but the death agony of this nonsense ideology that defines imperialism as somehow distinct from capitalism; as somehow changing the class relations of capitalism.

    This big myth, buttressed by the smaller one, that everything is a product of the US seeking to control resources or countries, rather than the product of inability of capitalism to control the destruction that is essential to it, that is in fact its avatar, has functioned as the implacable opposition to class program, and class struggle.

    Comment by sartesian — August 11, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

  8. `2.Perhaps socialists should stick to class politics, which means opposing your own imperialists in any adventure they undertake , mainly by organizing strikes against those activities.’

    Make shit up why don’t you. There is no such apolitical blanket approach to events. Trotsky used the example of dock workers in a fascist imperialist state correctly lifting their strike to allow the regime to send arms to a liberation movement in a semi-colony of a democratic imperialist state. You pseudo anti-imperialists and neo-Stalinists used the remote prospect of air support for the Syrian National Democratic Revolution as all you needed to persuade the international labour movement to switch allegiances and oppose it. In reasly you are not opposing imperialism, you support the Russian variety soon enough, but revolution and the result has been Assad’s mass butchery and the emergence of ISIS in the wake of the left and indeed so-called democratic imperialism’s impotence. I would say that even if air support had been forthcoming the position of Marxists would have been to urge the rebels to push on with the rebellion, take advantage, but beware false friends.

    Comment by David Ellis — August 11, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

  9. Oh and just to answer Michael’s question our neo-Stalinists are silent on the American intervention against ISIS, certainly something I wouldn’t demonstrate against, because it helps Putin’s ally Assad and they are all for Putin. The neo-Stalinist perspective is to support the rewinding of the film of US-sponsored globalisation and the return to multi-polarity and inter-imperialist power balancing as the road to peace. It is actually the road to barbarism but anything is better for our neo-Stalinist chums than world revolution which is what should great America’s and world capitalism’s violent decline.

    Comment by davidellis987 — August 11, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

  10. David,

    What’s “apolitical” about opposing imperialist policies? Me, and I know I’m one of those ultra-lefts, but I opposed the US “humanitarian intervention” in Somalia; the US “aid” to Haiti after the earthquake because if you look into the execution of that “aid,” it put the US in charge of the entire relief effort, allowing the US to direct and deny aid to/from groups based on ideology. That is the plain fact about humanitarian intervention by the bourgeoisie. Not for nothing do these “humanitarian rescues” take place under the direction of the military.

    I don’t buy Trotsky’s arguments, not that such a circumstance can’t arise, but because Trotsky is essentially transforming a tactic into a moral imperative. It might be tactically, and even strategically of importance……….if the workers involved in the strike deem it so (as opposed to having it ordered by some version of the 3rd International); but it might not be of greater tactical and strategic importance.

    Suppose in WW1, Germany was actually going to deliver weapons to the Irish nationalists. Suppose further, that the dockworkers in Hamburg were on strike against the decline in living conditions brought upon by the war. You think those workers would have been in violation of class solidarity if they had refused to load the ships headed to Ireland?

    Gee, and if that’s the case, what about those workers at docks in the US who threatened and engaged in strikes during WW2? When the US was providing materiel to the fSU during the “great anti-fascist struggle.” I mean, what’s the difference? Doesn’t the Soviet Union with its “healthy” property forms deserves consideration equal to Ho Chi Minh’s fighters in Vietnam in WW2? And look how well arming Ho worked out for the Vietnamese workers in 1945. Good, you think?

    Comment by sartesian — August 11, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

  11. Worked out very well for Ho, not so much for the workers themselves though.

    Of course a lot of these “comrades” would have been with the CPUSA screaming at the US workers who went on strike or even threatened to during WW2.

    The sad truth is that the class perspective disappeared from most of the left long ago; Stalinoid, Trot, whatever. They’d rather write academic papers or at best organize cross-class “peace” demonstrations with Al Sharpton than try to do some real worker organizing that could have effect, like dock worker strikes against war.

    Comment by Steve D — August 11, 2014 @ 3:25 pm

  12. Proyect writes: “In September and October 2013 there was a tsunami of articles hollering about how Obama was about to invade Syria for the purpose of “regime change”. Not a SINGLE article like that is appearing now. Most tend to be lofty analyses of what the USA seeks to achieve rather than militant calls to demonstrate in the streets.”

    Here’s where some anti-imperialists are:

    call for San Francisco Emergency Protest, Aug. 8, to stop US airstrikes in Iraq

    report on Aug, 9, Minneapolis protest

    Comment by alan ginsberg — August 11, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

  13. Forget “anti imperialism”. Any American who supports US intervention anywhere in the world for any purported purpose is no anti capitalist (ie. socialist). At best they could be a second international social democrat sell out. Full stop.

    Comment by Teddy Putra — August 12, 2014 @ 5:25 am

  14. “There was nothing imaginary about Obama’s proposed intervention in Syria.” Yes there was. Matter of opinion, of course. When something didn’t happen, hard for me to prove it was always bullshit and hard for you to prove it wasn’t. Believe what you want, just please, please don’t make me cringe by telling me Obama pulled back from what he and ruling class really wanted to do due to … the “anti-war movement.” Sarcastic piece? I plead guilty. In my defense however I have written 10s of thousands of words of extremely well-research, well-referenced stuff and after all that I think I can have a break and just lash out at bullshit sometimes. “Half truths and distortions”? In a sarcastic piece there may a little license. For example, it probably wasn’t half a century since a president last took a war to Congress. Maybe it happened twice within that time. Changes nothing – the point being that Obama has been bombing Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, for years and never went through all this nonsense or took it to Congress etc, just like now in Iraq. Only when he allegedly wants to bomb Assad after the latter broke the good boy red line on chemical genocide, only then Obama has to do all this and find it simply impossible, and then some still think it was a serious intention. Balls in your court to prove it as far as I’m concerned, but it makes no difference – the fact is that since then Assad has felt even freer than before to use even more conventional WMD on the people while the US is busy cooperating ion removing the chemicals. What a joke. Apart from Congress, so there were no other half-truths in my piece, it was entirely factual.

    Comment by mkaradjis — August 12, 2014 @ 7:32 am

  15. Did the comment, “Israel by advancing its nazist ideology” strike a very very sad bell.

    What was it you the US left is most famous for?

    Of hold on I’ve Googled it,

    Bernardine Rae Dohrn:

    “Dig it! First they killed those pigs and then they put a fork in pig Tate’s belly. Wild!”

    Hey, dig you crazy Yanks!

    Comment by Andrew Coates — August 12, 2014 @ 11:07 am

  16. Obama’s proposed intervention in Syria was surely prevented by Assad granting a huge concession in destroying his chemical weapons. For some reason you see fit not to even mention this. Is it not relevant?
    In a deal meant to avert a threatened U.S. military strike, U.S. and Russian officials reached an ambitious agreement over the weekend calling for an inventory of Syria’s chemical weapons program within one week. All components of Syria’s chemical weapons program are to be removed from the country or destroyed by mid-2014. The Syrian government has yet to issue an official statement on the agreement.
    The impetus toward destroying Syria’s chemical weapons began with a 9 September rhetorical suggestion by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria turn over all of its chemical weapons within a week.[3] At the time, the U.S. and France headed a coalition of countries on the verge of carrying out air strikes on Syria in response to the 21 August, 2013 Ghouta attacks.[4] The suggestion received a positive response from Russia and Syria, and U.S.–Russian negotiations led to the 14 September 2013 “Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” which calls for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles by mid-2014.[5][

    Comment by ken — August 12, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

  17. So who in the fuck is supporting American intervention? But the real question is how such a broad swath of the “left” is totally committed to Russian intervention. I put left in scare quotes since Putin’s resistance to Obama has more in common with Tojo’s to FDR than Stalin’s to Hitler.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 12, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

  18. Why do they defend Putin’s intervention? Why because Russia is Russia and had a revolution once upon a time, was a deformed workers’ state (for deformed workers), then a degenerated workers’ state (for degenerated workers), and because the Red Army defeated the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad and Kursk and on and on and on, but most of all because the US is the major, bigger, number 1 enemy (leftoid equivalent of the Greater Satan). Isn’t it perfectly clear to the most casual observer?

    Comment by sartesian — August 12, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

  19. ” Isn’t it perfectly clear to the most casual observer?”, Yes, that’s how I see this. Not only the country, obviously, but its capitalist class has achieved the nearly the highest possible epitome of concentration and centralization in Capitalism, without a remote precedent in History. Not that the class is American, but, any country which is under its military umbrella. Maybe China is evolving to be some sort of polar antagonism, but right now it’s still dependent on US and ally technology.

    Comment by Daniel de França — August 12, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

  20. It is quite probable that the last thing the imperialist powers do before they turn on eachother properly is try to maintain a pseudo unity by creating a grand alliance for the dismemberment of China and no doubt it will find plenty of agents in the Maoist bureaucracy and the emerging Chinese capitalist class. Japan is getting super beligerent and would love to move into China but a re-run of the 1905 Japan-Russia war first is not ruled out.

    Going back up the thread nobody is supporting imperialist intervention except the pro Putin neo-Stalinists. We unconditionally support the Syrian National Democratic Revolution and simply do not use the excuse of opposing our own imperialism to turn our back on it and start cheer leading for the butcher Assad. The revolution has the right to seek help wherever it can get it. We warn it always that the help it seeks from imperialism will either not be forthcoming or if forthcoming entirely self-serving. We try to develop and independent class line not some cuckoo ideology that justifies support for semi-colonial tyrants and we certainly wouldn’t go on demonstrations alongside Assad and Gadaffi thugs demanding that they be given the right to bome entire cities into rubble with impunity. In Ukraine we defend unconditionally the right of Ukraine to self-determination and support, neight demand, that the Ukraine Army takes on and defeats the pro-Russian, ethnic cleansing, fascist militias in the East whilst putting forward a programme for unity of East and West under a revolutionary democracy that confronts gangster capitalism whichever imperialism it looks to for support. We warn the Ukrainians not to expect help from the West who have been in secret talks with Putin to exchange Ukrainian land for Western gas supplies but to rely on their own strength and the support of the international proletariat.

    Comment by David Ellis — August 12, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

  21. `Suppose in WW1, Germany was actually going to deliver weapons to the Irish nationalists. Suppose further, that the dockworkers in Hamburg were on strike against the decline in living conditions brought upon by the war. You think those workers would have been in violation of class solidarity if they had refused to load the ships headed to Ireland?’

    Yes, they would be nothing but wretched trade unionists.

    Comment by davidellis987 — August 12, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

  22. Apparently the cardinal sin IS(IS) committed was to smash the Sykes-Picot line. Splitting Sudan, Yugoslavia, Iraq into nation-states and autonomous areas is one thing, but it’s an unspeakable taboo to violate the post-WWI boundaries. That’s why Assad the Elder maintained the formal independence of Lebanon and most of the Arab League came out against Saddam in 1990.

    Of course, ISIS will be fine as long as they draw back to Syria and just become ISS.

    Comment by andrew r — August 12, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

  23. Daniel has never heard of Singapore perhaps.

    Comment by Teddy Putra — August 13, 2014 @ 2:07 am

  24. Enlighten me, please.

    Comment by Daniel de França — August 13, 2014 @ 2:27 am

  25. David,

    So if, hypothetically, you have a representative in the US Congress, and some other representative introduces a bill that adds money to the Pentagon budget specifically to supply weapons to… the Ukraine military; or Syrian rebels; or Ho Chi Minh’s guerrillas; (provide another example if you wish) what does your representative do– vote for it, vote against it? What does your organization do? Me, I’m against it, but then, I’m an “ultra-left.”

    That’s one.

    And here’s two:

    You say: “In Ukraine we defend unconditionally the right of Ukraine to self-determination and support, neight demand, that the Ukraine Army takes on and defeats the pro-Russian, ethnic cleansing, fascist militias in the East whilst putting forward a programme for unity of East and West under a revolutionary democracy that confronts gangster capitalism whichever imperialism it looks to for support.” To me that’s kind of any oxymoron. If you support unconditionally the “right of the Ukraine to self-determination” how can you place “demands” of any sort on the Ukraine Army? If you want to argue that there can be NO resolution of this conflict without a class-based social revolution, then say that. But you do not. You bypass or “cover” a class struggle program in your characterization of the struggle as one for the “right” of “self-determination.”

    You’re really not demanding anything of the Ukraine army. You’re only requesting. “We request the Ukraine Army takes on and defeats pro-Russian ethnic cleansing fascist militias.” And if they don’t, and they won’t, do you still support the Ukraine Army’s “struggle for national self-determination” ? That’s what unconditional would require.

    I think there’s a definite misapprehension of history, a lack of historical materialism, in this notion of “unconditional support for national self-determination” as the prospects for national self-determination have simply been eclipsed by capitalism itself. And Trotsky himself, back in the day, before he became the “best Bolshevik” recognized that, implicitly, in the analysis of uneven and combined development.

    The experience of “supporting unconditionally while demanding” has been that of sacrificing the proletarian organizations to the unconditional support…. going as far back as the 3rd International’s support of the KMT.. And look where that “anti-imperialism” led.

    Comment by sartesian — August 13, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

  26. David,

    I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to “gut check” you on this issue. But the notion of “anti-imperialism” has been used as a substitute (and an obstacle) to class analysis and class program. What the current struggle in the Mideast and elsewhere have done is drive the conflicts inherent between “anti-imperialism” and class analysis to the breaking point. In my opinion…anyway.

    It’s not simply that there are “dangers” in the “anti-imperialist” analysis– that lead to supporting things like arms shipments to guerrilla groups who will and must turn those weapons on working class organizations sooner or later. These aren’t “dangers”– “possibilities” that can be guarded against– they are inevitabilities, more or less immediate, based on social formations, and class organization.

    I don’t see how you can characterize the Hamburg dock workers as wretched trade unionists for not loading a ship which their bourgeois government, and even the “national liberationists” claim will be used for “self-determination,” and not oppose strikes in WW2 that disrupted the shipment of materiel to the Soviet Union.

    Comment by sartesian — August 13, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

  27. This is coming after a few days Snowden got a 3 year visa and is adjusting to Russian life. Now, call Snowden a putinite: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/08/snowden-the-nsa-not-assad-took-syria-off-the-internet-in-2012/

    Comment by Daniel de França — August 13, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

  28. Call Snowden anything you like Daniel, but don’t call him a Marxist, and don’t bother calling him a revolutionist. He is neither.

    Comment by sartesian — August 13, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

  29. Daniel seems to have missed something of significance: Namely the last two paragraphs of the article that he thinks rescues Assad:

    “It isn’t clear how the failure of a single router within Syria’s national network would have caused the outage on November 29, which lasted for nearly three days and cut off all traffic from the country to the outside world. It’s likely that the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment withdrew Syrian networks from Internet routing tables to prevent further attacks while they tried to determine the cause of the outage.

    Syrian state television blamed “terrorists” for the outage at the time, though it was widely assumed the outage was part of a campaign by the Assad regime to deny communications to rebel groups. Syria had previously used illegally obtained network monitoring gear from Blue Coat to break SSL encrypted Web traffic and identify dissidents posting to blogs and social media.”

    Ummhh…..it’s likely that official Syrian powers disconnected the network; the statements of state television that blamed “terroristis”– the rebels– for the outage were wrong, and Syria had previously use network monitoring to identify “dissidents.”

    This is hardly the material for “rethinking” the functioning, purpose, and actions of the Syrian government in its attempt to suppress the rebellion.

    Comment by sartesian — August 13, 2014 @ 7:46 pm

  30. I was being sarcastic in relation the putinite thing, like he was acting on behalf of Putin.

    Comment by Daniel de França — August 13, 2014 @ 7:53 pm

  31. Quizá es que los anti-imperialistas de izquierda, ni son tan anti-imperialistas, ni son de izquierdas en absoluto. Quizá lo único que defienden son los intereses geopolíticos y nacionalistas de dos naciones: China y Rusia. Respecto a lo que hace EE.UU., no me sorprende nada. Nunca tuvo la menor intención de acabar con el régimen de Bashar al-Assad (precisamente por ser “amiguito” de Irán), y no dejará de defender al régimen que ha colocado en Irak (igualmente “amiguito” de Irán). Pero es que Irán es el principal aliado de EE.UU. en su estrategia para el dominio de Oriente Medio, más incluso que Israel. Y eso es exactamente lo que cierta “izquierda” no quiere ver, porque no le interesa.

    Comment by Sara Mago — August 31, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

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