Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 13, 2014

Qatar, Hamas and the Islamic State (IS): in defense of dialectics

Qatar: the heart of darkness?

Yesterday I received email from a Bard College graduate:

Could this be Gaza and the West Bank under Hamas?


The Vice article was about IS brutality. So the implication was that Hamas constituted the same kind of threat as IS. Now it should be said that the Old Bardian, as we like to refer to ourselves, votes Democrat and oscillates wildly between support for Palestinian rights and fear of Hamas.

But he does raise an interesting question. If Qatar and Turkey are behind both Hamas and IS, at least according to some pundits, how can you not oppose both? Indeed, if your methodology is based on formal logic, that is a foregone conclusion. Since Seymour Hersh is the source for many of the Qatar and company as an orchestrator of jihadist terror in the Middle East reports, it is worth reminding ourselves of his latest LRB article:

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.

Now it should be said that the evil trio has been reduced to an evil duo ever since Saudi Arabia ended up on the side of the angels against IS. According to Business Insider, Saudi Arabia has asked Egypt and Pakistan to help patrol its borders against incursions from IS. The article cited The London Times: “The kingdom is calling in favors from Egypt and Pakistan. No one is certain what ISIS has planned, but it’s clear a group like this will target Mecca if it can. We expect them to run out of steam, but no one is taking any chances.” Adding to the abject failure of reality to live up to “anti-imperialist” projections, Saudi Arabia never had much use for Hamas. Along with Egypt and Jordan, it is the strongest supporter of IDF terror in Gaza next to AIPAC and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It is not precluded that Qatar will also call upon Egypt and Pakistan for military assistance if ISIS is still around 9 years from now. Its deranged leader has warned FIFA that it would attack the 2022 World Cup games because soccer was “a deviation from Islam.”

Even more confusing is the newly announced pact between Iran and “the Great Satan” over the naming of a new prime minister in Iraq, who will be more effective against the IS threat. Enjoying a military embarrassment of riches, Iraq’s skies are now dotted with drones from the two nations only six months ago described by a thousand “anti-imperialist” websites as mortal enemies.

If Qatar is an archfiend threatening secular values and benign “national development” in Syria through its proxy war, what do we make of its willingness to back Hamas? Does that conform to “anti-imperialist” guidelines or are we dealing with a profound formal logic problem equal in its complexity to the Poincaré conjecture?

The evil duo—Qatar and Turkey—are not only the targets of daily Orwellian two minutes of hate organized by the “anti-imperialist” left but also Israel’s increasingly fascist state as the Times of Israel reported:

Qatar’s recently attempted to transfer funds for the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza, following the formation of a Palestinian unity government, but was blocked by the United States, which pressured the Arab Bank not to process them. But former national security adviser Maj. Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror told The Times of Israel that the emirate’s funding for the organization’s terror apparatus, including tunnel diggers and rocket launchers, has continued unabated.

“Hamas currently has two ‘true friends’ in the world: Qatar and Turkey,” Amidror said. The small Gulf state is currently Hamas’s closest ally in the Arab world, after the movement’s relations with Egypt soured following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in June 2013. Qatar, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction and infrastructure projects in Gaza, is also home to the movement’s political leader Khaled Mashaal in Doha.

This is not to speak of Qatar’s role in funding al-Jazeera, the sole source of pro-Palestinian television coverage as well as some very good reporting on domestic and international news. Just go to their website and you fill find a hard-hitting article on Ferguson, Missouri that points out that “in 2013 nearly 90 percent of vehicles pulled over by Ferguson police were driven by African-Americans. The arrest rate was of those drivers was more than 10%, nearly double that of white drivers who were pulled over.” But if you evaluate Qatar solely based on which side it supports in Syria, then you will be forced to treat it as a mortal enemy as MRZine did.

Turkey’s Prime Minister, of course, is everybody’s favorite villain with his suppression of the Gezi park rebellion and his allowing jihadists to infiltrate Syria, not to speak of his corruption and attacks on journalism, either print or electronic.

But there are those times when he has the kind of backbone every other politician lacks. It was Erdoğan after all who put the power of the Turkish state at the disposal of the flotilla sent to Gaza. He has also threatened to send Turkish warships to defend the next flotilla, although I suspect that this is bluster more than anything. But if he did, what would we make of that? How can someone be on the side of the angels (Hamas) and the devil (IS) at the same time—leaving aside the question of whether he ever had much to do with that gang?

On August 22, 2013 the Financial Times printed a letter that served as a cautionary note against oversimplifying the Middle East:

A short guide to the Middle East

Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!

Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.

But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!

Iran is pro Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!

Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US!

Gulf states are pro US. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.

K N Al-Sabah, London EC4, UK

That letter prompted the blogger Big Pharaoh to diagram the relationships:

Screen shot 2014-08-13 at 2.53.14 PM

If anything, the letter and the diagram are out of date. To keep track of the latest developments, you’d need a super-computer of the sort that the NSA uses to snoop on our email. But this matters little to people who are bent on dividing the world into two spheres, which are not only mutually exclusive but a taxonomic guide to determining where a government or armed movement fall in terms of their historical role.

For much of the left, there is a driving compulsion to reduce world politics to a binary opposition between Good and Evil. It is understandable why they would do this since the Cold War shaped our consciousness for 45 years until the end of the Soviet bloc and even continues to do so in a rather problematic way. In 1971, when I was a member of the Trotskyist movement, we condemned the Kremlin for doling out aid to the Vietnamese as from an eyedropper as we used to put it but at the same time understood that Soviet aid was critical.

Now in 2014 the left carries on as if Putin was Brezhnev and Assad was Ho Chi Minh. Just as long as the USA is still the “evil empire”, syllogistic reasoning will prevail. 1) The United States is the evil empire; 2) The United States supports the Syrian rebels (whether or not that is true); 3) Therefore, the Syrian rebels are part of the evil empire.

So what’s going on here? I have been critical of Trotsky’s adoption of Zinovievist organizational principles that have had a baleful effect on the revolutionary movement even to the current day, but I find myself coming back to his writings when it comes to the question of dialectics.

Oddly enough, the failure to see world politics dialectically was a failing of both James Burnham and the “anti-imperialist” left today. Marx transformed Hegelian dialectics into an instrument of revolutionary analysis. In almost every major watershed debate on the left, there has been a need to return to dialectics in order for the debate to receive a proper resolution. In Trotsky’s day, the fundamental difference was over the Soviet Union that Trotsky ultimately refused to identify as “socialist”. Whenever I ran into syllogistic attempts to define the USSR over the years, I always came back to how Trotsky put it when challenged to subsume it under fixed categories: “Doctrinaires will doubtless not be satisfied with this hypothetical definition. They would like categorical formulae: yes – yes, and no – no. Sociological problems would certainly be simpler, if social phenomena had always a finished character. There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it.”

That would certainly apply to the Middle East today: “There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it.” Trotsky was referring to the Soviet Union, a society that incorporated some of the most retrograde political aspects that on the surface resembled fascism with some of the most progressive, including a planned economy. For the foreseeable future, the Middle East will have many contradictory aspects that will make the USSR look like a grade school exercise by comparison. It will continue to perplex some for being a backdrop for a religious zealotry that can cut both ways. It can serve rulers who seek to reinforce their rule through the authoritarian use of the Qur’an as it also serves the fighting spirit of men and women determined to put an end to authoritarian rule. It would be best in some ways that religion played less of a rule, thus allowing class divisions to become more transparent. But we have to start with reality, not wishes—at least if we want to influence the course of historical events.


  1. Is “the dialectic”combined with Marx’s empirical work just a very useful way of looking at historical conflict decisively without naively picking sides? (“Hey, WTF!! I thought you guys hated capitalism; now you tell me it’s the most advanced system yet? “) Or is it truly a key to the “laws of thought,” able to unlock the universe without recourse to a laboratory. It seems to have served a lot of masters over the years.

    Comment by Ed Grimond — August 13, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

  2. The list of belligerents of each war on Africa during the cold war was also very confusing. But today there is no remotely socialist state materialing supporting anyone there. So, it makes things more complicated. Since you bring the ancient the concept of Good vs. Evil, and having a wife which has some much fundamentalist christian thoughts (though I and the psychologist could diminish them along the years), it seems that Satan works by bringing doubts, like walking in the dark. God brings light, to see what is Good and Evil.

    This kind of dual thinking is not exclusive to abrahamic thinking. It permeates everything, from Hooligans, rooting for the same team, fighting among each other to physicists fighting each other (not always very politely) over who has the best interpretation of data. So, since it’s not easy, or possible, to isolate pure and good elements, I’d choose to go against the one who can take multiple and antagonizing sides, that is confusion, to the whole thing, that is, the entity with most outgoing arrows going out and I’d abstain from the elements receiving more arrows. The others, I’d take the position which is on average pro or against the stronger entity.

    Comment by Daniel de França — August 13, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

  3. *obs: I am talking about my wife.

    Comment by Daniel de França — August 13, 2014 @ 9:06 pm

  4. Assad kills islamists so Proyect says he’s clearly an enemy, even though he’s against the US.

    Ho Chi Minh killed Trotskyists but Proyect said he’s clearly an ally, because he was against the US.

    Is this dialectics?

    Comment by Teddy Putra — August 13, 2014 @ 10:24 pm

  5. Assad kills islamists so Proyect says he’s clearly an enemy, even though he’s against the US.

    Ho Chi Minh killed Trotskyists but Proyect said he’s clearly an ally, because he was against the US.

    Is this dialectics?

    Look, asshole, if you want to get booted, just keep it up. I don’t need to be baited. If you want to bait someone, go somewhere else.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 13, 2014 @ 11:19 pm

  6. An understanding of the religious fissures in the region might help as well, something beyond the grasp of most US leftists. For a start, here is an excellent interview of Suleiman Mourad in the March-April 2014 New Left Review. “Riddles of the Book”. Scroll down to the questions in the last 1/3 which address the current sociological situation in the Middle East if necessary. Note also the marginality of Palestine to pan-Sunni and pan-Shia theorists. Hence, the absurdity of conflationg Hamas with ISIS.


    Comment by Richard Estes — August 13, 2014 @ 11:25 pm

  7. Teddy.@ #4

    Your twisting of words to mock dialectical thinking lacks integrity.

    The islamist component in the the Syrian Revolution is only a fairly recent development. Initially the FSA was a highly secular & majority working class. They formed local councils equivalent to embryonic Soviets. Assad’s aim was to smash these budding workers’ councils and he accomplished that, slaughtering over 100,000 — thanks in part to his defenders.

    Ho killed a handful of Trotskyists in Vietnam (there never were more than that) because Ho was a Stalinist. But since nobody ever claimed Stalinists couldn’t fight — Proyect supported Ho because the Pentagon’s defeat in SE Asia could only strengthen progressive forces at home — which was the case.

    So what does the victory of Assad strengthen?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 13, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

  8. OT: it’s going down in Ferguson again; #Ferguson @antoniofrench police shutting down protest in broad daylight, pointing guns at protesters

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 13, 2014 @ 11:40 pm

  9. “Assad kills islamists so Proyect says he’s clearly an enemy, even though he’s against the US”. Does “against the US” include being one of the most common destinations for US “terror” suspects to be sent by the US for torture in the last decade? Does it include sending an army to fight on the side of the US against Iraq in 1991? Does it include being the very spearhead of the US-Saudi-led counterrevolution in Lebanon in the 1970s leading the gruesome massacre of thousands of Palestinians: http://www.newjerseysolidarity.org/resources/roots/chapter18.html ?

    Comment by mkaradjis — August 14, 2014 @ 1:03 am

  10. By the way, here is a Businessweek attack on Qatar for its support for Hamas and the Brotherhood: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-11/qatar-backs-islamists-in-gaza-syria-egypt-in-a-risky-shift. Incidentally, the attempt to conflate Hamas with ISIS is not only rubbish on its own terms, but even on the terms of the alleged Qatari connection: there is no such connection. No-one will find any evidence of any Qatari backing of ISIS – actually the idea is absurd.

    Comment by mkaradjis — August 14, 2014 @ 1:06 am

  11. Thought provoking post. I’m not american but here’s what I think.

    Teddy seems to take the piss but has a point. Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist who wanted to develop his country. There was almost no communist content to his program whatsoever. He admittedly looked to Geirge Washington and the US constitution for inspiration, and even expected the French and Americans to help him set up a “free Vietnam” after the Japanese left. At the same time tens of thousands of Trotskyists organized in two main parties were organizing worker and peasant activities and arming the toilers. Ho Chi Minh broke up their press, arrested their leaders, and killed many members — all in order to throw a parade for the returning French (!) in peace. It was only after the French reasserted their control that Ho got disenchanted and organized a real independence fight. The only force backing those fights at the time was the USSR and China. Ho openly admitted that his interest in Leninism was based on Lenin’s support fit anti colonial struggles, nothing to do with class or communism as Marx would have understood it.

    It was odd then for communists to support the guy and his outfit. But by then most of the left around the world was Stalinized and/or no longer believed the working class could accomplish its tasks and thus looked to other forces to do it (which gave rise to the peculiar American variety of ‘anti imperialism’ and even more peculiar things like peasant based Maoism on campuses filled with middle class students in countries like the US, France, etc which had no peasantry, and Trotskyists demonstrating for the victory of Ho — the same guy who slaughtered their erstwhile comrades).

    Any communists who remain today, and I mean the term in the small c class based sense, really have no force to support in Syria. Sure things started with protests but those days are long gone. The FSA is insignificant and was never anything more than a local faction looking to replace the current ruling clique with another. See the results of that in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The only forces really challenging Assad are jihadis fanatics who would smash any secular communist activities under their rule so fast it would make the Ayatollah look soft in comparison.

    There is no workers state in the world today. Workers then must be anti state everywhere. The point as Marx said is not to seize the state either. It is to smash it and start fresh.

    Assad, Putin, Obama mass murderers all!

    Comment by hari raya — August 14, 2014 @ 2:41 am

  12. In my carefully researched opinion, Bertell Ollman gets Marx’s immersion in dialectical concepts right. He sees Marx as seizing upon the Hegelian philosophy of internal relations, abstraction process, and the several klunky but illuminating “laws” of dialectical process. This dialectic, materialized, then became Marx’s internalized, living understanding of the organic relations of the systemic processes of nature and society. Marx’s letter to his father at age 19 expressed the massive brainstorms that affected him as his Hegelian readings enabled him to see social systems as living processes.

    The book to read is Ollman’s Dance of the Dialectic (2003), in which he outlines Marx’s understanding of and use of the dialectic. And I have those “two or three printer’s sheets” Marx promised but lacked the science to produce that were to introduce the materialist dialectic in a popularly understandable, usable form.

    But what the hell, guys and gals, let’s remain completely stuck in capitalism’s place. Let’s continue to view the materialist dialectic (thus Marxism) as a 19th century museum piece and hunker down in old, failed politics. We can recycle the shit out of old failures and discuss everything but revolutionary organizing theory and bringing Marxism into the 21st century.

    These comments are not only charged but accurate: today’s “left” is almost impossibly conservative and passive. It reflects Engels’s bitter comment toward the end of his life that he and Marx had “sowed dragons but reaped fleas.”

    We can do better, but not without an understanding of the organizational relations of life, viable social systems, and capitalism, and this would require the development of a functional materialist dialectic. We who must consciously organize our lives must consciously understand life’s organization. No?

    Comment by Joe Barnwell — August 14, 2014 @ 6:29 pm

  13. As M Karadjis claims in an earlier comment, # 10, the idea that Qatar supports ISIS seems unlikely at least if not absurd They support Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood to some extent and Hamas. The quote used to support the allegation hardly does that at all:
    The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.
    All this shows is that various countries including Qatar provided support for the rebels and some of these weapons ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda linked groups but that does not show any policy of specifically arming ISIS or ISIL.

    Comment by ken — August 14, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

  14. Grimond, in those few times you’ve actually pulled your head out of your ass, have you ever actually, you know, read anything but a few lines of anything by Karl Marx?

    Comment by Todd — August 15, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

  15. Thank god for the Kurdish Workers Party, the Kurdish militias, and of course, the Kurdish people. If it weren’t for them, the one bright spot in the world today (along with the communist leadership of the Cuban revolution), I would, without a doubt, have to shoot myself.

    Comment by Dave — August 15, 2014 @ 11:14 pm

  16. Huh? Cuba’s taken the Chinese road to capitalism and the Kurdish Workers Party’s leader Öcalan “has abandoned Marxism and statism… While ceasing its official calls for the establishment of a fully independent country.”

    Some bright spots. More like wet spots.

    Comment by dan the captain — August 16, 2014 @ 3:08 am

  17. Captain Dan’s points ring true. How could it be otherwise under the current onslaught of global capitalism relentlessly pummeling such tiny pockets or resistance?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 16, 2014 @ 4:24 am

  18. I don’t think communists should be looking to wrinkled old bureaucrats like Raul Castro who went from admiring Stalin to admiring Deng and hasn’t supported a revolution anywhere in 40 years or nationalist bandits who cut a deal with Istanbul to withdraw to Syria.

    Class struggle is it comrades. Oaxaca, south Africa miners strikes, occupy/indignados/Greece mass protests have been bright spots in an otherwise dark world.

    Comment by dan the captain — August 16, 2014 @ 6:14 am

  19. Sigh…

    Comment by Dave — August 16, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

  20. Don’t get too upset, Dave. Do what you can.

    Comment by Todd — August 16, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

  21. Just to be clear, I am not “sighing” because I agree with Dan the Captain, but because I disagree with him. I guess I’m a lost soul in a lost land.

    Comment by Dave — August 16, 2014 @ 8:01 pm

  22. Yeah probably, since thinking people figured out how worthless stalinism was decades ago.

    Comment by dan the captain — August 17, 2014 @ 9:10 am

  23. Yes, Stalinism is poison. But what’s that have to do with the fighting militias of the Kurdish people or the African campaigns carried out by the Cuban communists that helped defeat apartheid in South Africa?

    Comment by Dave the First Mate — August 17, 2014 @ 10:09 pm

  24. “Because”, said the lowly Gilligan to the First Mate, “that was a long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away.”

    I remember back in ’79 as a late teen after devouring a bunch of Trotsky’s works I queried my Dad: “But Trotsky only died 40 years years ago pops? — that doesn’t seem so long for much to have changed?” — To which he replied: “40 years is a long fucking time, son — everything has changed.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 18, 2014 @ 2:52 am

  25. I really like the last paragraph of this article. Yes the middle east is to complex to figure out the major players are up to. If I could get the chance I could fix that is 72 minutes. First place a phone call to General Sissy, and say, “Hello General I hope that the weather is nice there today. Now that the small talk is over I want you to know that i have made a decsion and you will impliment this decision or else. Once I hang up the phone you are to call your subordinates and tell them to fuel up their tanks because they are going to Muscat. On the way to Muscat they will occupy the entire Saudi penisula and take control of every oil field on the peninsula. The US will resupply your armed forces with all the ammunition that it needs to overcome any resistance that might be offered by governments in that region. Once you have control of the nations east of Egypt up to the Persian Gulf your countries Tanks will head westward and take control of Arab speaking areas to the Atlantic Ocean. After you have done that you will pay the US back for the ammuntion that it supplied you with out of Egypts new oil revenues. After that Egypt will initiate a nuclear weapons program to make sure that the US or any other country can not boss the Egyptian rulers around ever again. The US will give all the technical support that you ask for to insure the rapid success of this nuclear weapons program. If you fail to do what I say I will bomb Alexandria on a hourly basis.
    Then make a conference call to the leaders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Sryia, Lebanon and Azerbijan. After a few seconds of small talk to break the ice, I would tell them that it is about time that they put their Islamic mouths where their money is. If they do not begin talks to merge thier nations economies and armed forces I am going to be pissed. If they need any help in creating a constitution or an instatutional frame work for this task they are free to ask my advice 18 hours a day 7 days a week. I will even give them a clue as to how to proceed. You start with an ad hoc committee. The committee shall have 3 Turks, 3 Iranians, 3 Kurds, 3 Arabs and 1 Azerbijani. This committee shall appoint people to additional (sub)committees with expertise in various areas of national policies for the purpose of drafting a National Constitution. Once a committee begins its work no member of the committee is allowed to sit down or lie down until the work that the committee has been assigned is finished. That should get their work off to a fast start.
    Once these phone calls are finished things in the middle east should quite down pretty damned fast. Sadly with planetary environmental collapse quickly closing in such quietness probably will not last for long.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — November 4, 2018 @ 12:59 am

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