Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 21, 2015

Random notes on “anti-imperialism”

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

Garikai Chengu: Goldman-Sachs alumnus and gold mine-owning anti-imperialist

Let’s start with Garikai Chengu’s article that appeared on CounterPunch yesterday, which is a defense of a seemingly indefensible proposition, namely that Gaddafi’s Libya was the most democratic country in Africa. Chengu, a Zimbabwean, has a most interesting profile for an “anti-imperialist”. On his blog he describes himself as a researcher on Africa for Columbia University and Harvard and hopes to utilize “his intellectual and financial capacity” to develop Zimbabwe. One must assume that on the financial plane he will be benefiting from this background: “He has worked for Goldman Sachs and is the Founder and Chairman of Chengu Gold Mining Pvt. Ltd. one of Zimbabwe’s fastest growing indigenous private gold companies.”

It would appear that Comrade Chengu is one of those people who are in the vanguard of the BRICS revolution. In an article titled Mugabe Re-election Heralds ‘New’ Economic Model For Africa, Dana Sanchez quotes my fellow Goldman-Sachs alumnus:

Chengu cites a recent U.N. Africa Progress Report that Africa loses $63 billion dollars each year through foreign multinational corporations’ illegal tax evasion and exploitative practices. This figure surpasses all the money coming into the continent through Western aid and investment, Chengu says.

“It is for this reason that Zimbabwe’s new indigenization model emphasizes local ownership and foreign partnership with emerging nations, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China,” the editorial says, omitting South Africa from the list.

Unless China is truly communist as some of our anti-imperialist comrades allege, I doubt that it will be treating Zimbabwe any differently from other nations in Africa, namely as a place to extract minerals and agricultural commodities in exchange for the export of manufactured goods. In a July 31, 2015 article from the Zimbabwe Independent, we learn that China has directed Zimbabwe to pay up the $1.5 billion dollars it owes or else it would no longer do business there. I guess profits trump ideology.

While undoubtedly Zimbabwean entrepreneurs such as comrade Chengu will benefit from business deals with China, there are signs that the working class will function much more as impediments to the dowry that will surely await all of Zimbabwe once the economic marriage with China is consummated. Atlantic Monthly reports on the files in the ointment:

So far, the Zimbabweans who are most feeling China’s influence in their country are the workers. As Chinese firms take over business and Chinese managers come to run everything from billion-dollar mining companies to the downtown restaurants in capital Harare, Zimbabwean workers and labor unions are complaining of mistreatment and exploitation. Earlier this month, construction workers went on strike over low pay — $4 per day — and what they said were regular beatings by their managers Chinese managers with the Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company. The case is just one of many that has labor groups — one of the few segments of Zimbabwean politics that enjoys latitude from the ruling party — up in arms.

Reports of beatings by Chinese managers are so common that even a cook at Harare’s popular China Garden restaurant complained of them, telling the Zimbabwe Mail & Guardian, “Working for these men from the East is hell on earth.”

“Workers continue to endure various forms of physical torture at the hands of these Chinese employers right under the noses of the authorities,” a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trade Workers’ Union told the same newspaper. “One of the most disturbing developments is that most of the Chinese employers openly boast that they have government protection and so nothing can be done to them. This clearly indicates that the issue has more serious political connotations than we can imagine.”

With this as background, it is not too hard to understand why Chengu would describe Libya as a virtual paradise. In case the reader has a skeptical streak, he reminds us that even the NY Times was wowed by the grass roots democracy:

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nation’s direct democracy. The New York Times, that has traditionally been highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi’s democratic experiment, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that “everyone is involved in every decision…Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.”

The brazenness of comrade Chengu’s defense of Colonel Gaddafi left me quite breathless. Does he think that CounterPunch readers will not take the trouble to look up the article that this seemingly positive sentence is extracted from? It is true that most people would not take out a subscription to the NY Times, the only way its archives can be searched, but yours truly is an exception to the rule mainly because he is addicted to the Sunday crossword puzzles and to Melissa Clarke’s recipes.

You’ll note that Chengu’s article lops off the beginning of the sentence in which this Libyan version of a New England town meeting takes place. Let me fill it in for you: “In Libya, the theory goes…” So how does the theory match up to the practice? Not so good:

Authoritarian leaders all over the world take steps to create a veneer of democracy. In Egypt, for example, there are elections, though there is never any doubt that the governing party will win.

Libya outdoes almost all of them.

Here, tens of thousands of people take part in meetings to discuss issues that are decided by a small group at the top, with all direction coming from the Brother Leader.

“He makes the decisions,” said a high-ranking diplomat in Tripoli, the capital, who is not being identified to avoid compromising his ability to work here. “He is the only one who knows.”

Reporters from The Times watched as committees around Tripoli discussed Colonel Qaddafi’s plan to abolish the government. After the perfunctory poetic genuflecting to the leader, more than half the speakers said they did not want money, they wanted a functioning government. They were angry and heartbroken that such a resource-rich nation, a member of OPEC, could be performing so poorly.

Oh well. Who could believe such lies from the bourgeois media? That is unless you want to quote it out of context to twist the truth into a pretzel.

Turning now to Robert Fisk, the Independent newspaper’s resident amen corner pundit who shares such duties with fellow Independent reporter Patrick Cockburn, we read an article that is all aflutter over the Russian intervention in Syria titled “Everyone wrote off the Syrian army. Take another look now”. It rather has the aura of a sports writer impressed with the turn of fortune of perpetual losers like the NY Mets or the Chicago Cubs.

The less said about this idiotic article, the better. But this sticks out like a sore thumb: “The Syrians have found that the Russians do not want to fire at targets in built-up areas; they intend to leave burning hospitals and dead wedding parties to the Americans in Afghanistan.”

Perhaps Mr. Fisk does not read his own newspaper–how unfortunate:

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.39.24 AM

To wind up this sorry survey, let us turn to Noam Chomsky who evokes the words “How the mighty have fallen” given his analysis of Russian intervention, while not as bad as Fisk’s comes close.

In the Youtube clip below, you can find Chomsky’s reply to a question about Russian intervention at 58 minutes. It is mixture of confusion and bad politics.

To start with, Chomsky rejects the label “imperialist” to describe Russian bombing. One supposes that this is his concession to the virtually hegemonic view on the left that it is only the USA and its European allies that deserve such a label. As a diehard Marxist, I hew toward the Leninist perspective in which the term imperialism can be applied to states that are below the USA on the totem pole such as Czarist Russia and Japan—two countries that went to war over control over strategic resources in a manner anticipating 1914.

Chomsky has a habit of thought that is prevalent on the left, no doubt a result of his prestige. When the subject of Russian intervention comes up, his tendency is not so much to evaluate the merits of the case being made for or against the Kremlin but to put its enemies on the defense by claiming that they are only doing the same thing as us. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. For example, he says that the USA has no right to criticize the annexation of Crimea since we annexed Guantanamo more than a century ago. If you follow his logic consistently, peace might be achieved if Russia’s imperial outreach was respected. This, of course, is the same realpolitik found in Stephen F. Cohen and Walt/Mearsheimer. With all due respect to Chomsky, I think the obligation of the left is to put the heat on the USA for refusing to let its claws loose of Guantanamo and the Kremlin for annexing Crimea. That was the general outlook of revolutionary socialism in the post-WWI period and one worth reinvigorating.

He also tells the audience that his analysis of Syria is very much influenced by Patrick Cockburn even as he believes that no good can come out of military intervention. Perhaps Chomsky has not been apprised of the fact that Cockburn is quite all right with Russian bombing. That contradiction is one for Chomsky to resolve, not me.

Finally, he believes that peace can come to Syria as long as we accept that Bashar al-Assad will be part of the negotiations. One has the sinking feeling that Chomsky agrees with many liberals that a Yemen type solution is worth supporting, namely Assadism without Assad. That is virtually excluded by the dictatorship whose followers raised the slogan, “Either Assad or the country burns”.

Like so many, Chomsky seems to believe that such a peace was in hand after a Finnish diplomat recently reported that a Russian diplomat was agreeable to a Yemen solution but it was aborted by the USA that demanded Assad’s removal as a precondition. Not withstanding the dubious merits of a Yemen type solution, there was never such a deal in the offing as I point out here: http://louisproyect.org/2015/09/19/baathist-truthers/


  1. “One supposes that this is his concession to the virtually hegemonic view on the left that it is only the USA and its European allies that deserve such a label.”

    When will you understand you cretin that imperialism isn’t a country but a system.

    “namely Assadism without Assad”

    This sums up Proyect’s position perfectly. Though judging by the situation in Libya, which Proyect supports, I think he may be an anarchist, to the spoils the axe wielders, all power to the militia’s, machete carriers of the world unite!

    Otherwise, this article is complete garbage.

    Also, are you a Russophobe?

    Comment by Simon Provertier — October 21, 2015 @ 5:05 pm

  2. Louis, you said, “I hew to the perspective that” (the label of) “imperialism can be applied to states that are lower than the USA on the totem pole.
    Can be is not the same as must be. As a die hard feral scholar I can say in the world that we live in to compare the imperialistic potential of Russia with the USA is a complete joke.

    On one hand you have Russian a land with 150 million people of which 100 million are ovet the age of 45 and another 100 are dependent on alcohol or other drugs to make it through the day. The Russians can not even exploit the soil under their own feet let alone exploit a society beyond their borders.

    On the other hand you have the USA a country a masachistic militaristic history going back hundreds of years, and a population of 330 million at an average age of 30. More importantly the USA is a country far away from the problems that it creates. This distance between it and its targets makes it expensive for the USA to wage war far from its own borders. Yet this distance and the US nuclear umbrella and the US satalites.(in outerspace of course) make it impossible for any potential target of US aggression tp counter attack the USA. What this means for the world since I need to spell it out clearly for American readers is that from the perspective of America’s leaders what belongs to them is theirs and what belongs to others is theirs too.

    That makes any criticism of Russian or Iranian attempts to defend themselves from continual American aggression completely hollow. A Russian air attack on a hospital in Syria is a tradgedy. An American air attack on a hospital in Afghanistan is on the other hand is a crime so horrible that those who perpetuate it should be roasted over an open pit fire WITHOUT being basted in barbeque sauce. I DO after all know a tad bit about the law of land warfare.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — October 21, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

  3. A Russian air attack on a hospital in Syria is a tradgedy.

    Curt, your comments are always laced with misspelling. It is tragedy, not tradgedy. Could you take the trouble to fix words that are underlined in red? WordPress gives you such an option.

    On the politics, you are wrong. Dropping bombs on hospitals is a crime whoever does it.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 21, 2015 @ 8:07 pm

  4. You must understand that the computer I usually use has its spell checking set for a langauage other than english. Anyways I say tradgedy not tragedy That means the correct spelling is in fact tradgedy. You must know that the spelling of the english language is not uniform. Spellings are different depending on whether one lives in London, Ottowa or Minneapolis. Tradgedy is the correct spelling in Minneapolis.

    Now my unruley child let me explain something that you stubbornly refuse to accept. That is since Russia and Iran have been continual targets of American aggression they get to be judged by a different standard than the UKSA (United Konfederate States of America)
    By your standard Hasan Akbar the geniuine American soldier of the 101st Airborne Div. who killed several confederate soldiers dressed in the uniform of American soldiers in an attempt to enforce international law and therby uphold the US constitution is a murderer. In my book he is a hero who should be let out of prison, given the Medal of Honor, given a battle field promotion to LTC and be given back pay at that grade for the the entire time that he spent in prison.
    But sadly all of this is just talk. Expressing my standards here on your website does not get a genuine American hero out of prison or get those who have supported the American confederacy put in to prison. Which brings up another criticism of your whole line of thinking.

    That is there are really no leftists in the USA or Europe who support Assad or the Iranian Mullahs. To say that this is the case one would have to say that supporting the right of the Iranian government to develope nuclear power is not supporting Iranian society but only the Mullahs. One would have to say that opposing sanctions against Iran was not supporting Iranian society but only the Mullahs. One would have to say that opposing a UKSA attack on Iran was a support of the Iranian Mullahs and not a defence of Iranian society.
    Furthermore I doubt that there is a single leftist in the USA or Europe who has given a cent to the Baath party in Syria or to the Iranian government. I have never heard of any that have vollunteered to go and fight in syria for the Baath Party in Syria. I know of only one American who has gone to work directly for the Iranian government and that is a man who was a retired FBI agent who defected to Iran close to 10 years ago. A jewish FBI agent no less. The only help if it could be called that at all since it does not place even one bullet on target let alone one bomb in Syria on target is that most leftists in the west correctly refuse to hold Russia and Iran and Hezbollah and Hammas to the same standard as the UKSA because they are the ones who have been unjustly attacked.

    Fortunatly for you I am the one who determines who is left in the west and who is not. You might be unware of that. You might consider that unfair. But it is fair. I am an unparralled comedian and an even better scientist and that makes me more qualified than anyone to decide who is a geniuine leftist and who is not. The important thing is that I will not excommunicate you for insisting on judging those under attack by the same standard as those waging aggression. In addition my definition of what will be left is still evolving.

    Yes I have been told that arrogance is not an endearing quality. Fortunately for me that is not in the job discription of a social psycologist

    Comment by Curt Kastens — October 21, 2015 @ 9:32 pm

  5. Thank God, NATO heeded the advice of the left humanitarian interventionists, like Gilbert Achcar and Clay Claiborne, because Libya certainly wouldn’t be the model of progress that it is today.

    Comment by Georges — October 21, 2015 @ 9:43 pm

  6. Tradgedy is the correct spelling in Minneapolis.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they’re the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

    Comment by louisproyect — October 21, 2015 @ 10:04 pm

  7. I say, Georges, old stick. Weren’t you going to get back to me on why Stalin was right to execute two million Russians?

    Comment by louisproyect — October 21, 2015 @ 10:05 pm

  8. > because Libya certainly wouldn’t be the model of progress that it is today.

    Some things that can certainly be learned from the current civil war in Libya.

    a) The Libyan people want a secular democracy as multiple elections have shown.
    b) The Islamicists won’t respect election results when they lose.


    Comment by Lev Lafayette — October 21, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

  9. Lou, that’s two million Soviets.

    Comment by Georges — October 21, 2015 @ 10:34 pm

  10. Fine. Whatever it is, I am still waiting for you to explain why they had to be executed.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 21, 2015 @ 10:39 pm

  11. Chomsky is not interested in prestige; it always comes down to historical facts and of course “his” interpretations of those facts. Not prone to investing himself in “prestige”, I think it’s obvious that he is relying more on rigorous analysis than political dogma. The “prestige of Noam Chomsky” would be a very short book indeed. What you have to do is pose a question to Noam Chomsky and press him but if his decades of writing is any testament to his “views”; the prestige vs. “checkable” historical facts ratio surely favors the latter.

    He often generalize over boundaries, so If you ask Chomsky about reparations to the ancestors of the exploited black generation(s) he will (and has indeed done so) go further and raise the subject of reparations for the Vietnamese people etc. He will also continue with analogue present day examples. This is neither “overgeneralization” nor blind “tit for tat”. In the case of Crimea annexation versus the Guantanamo military installation and key strategic harbor, it is an appropriate comparison. But his main point – I think – is not to draw “similar” conclusions but to highlight the historical facts surrounding these events standing on their “own feet” as well as noting similarities, doings so while providing historical insight and analysis (with sources), while not falling in the anachronistic trap. This is how he portrays imperialism in a long reaching historical context, while pushing its timelessness.

    He also views Israel as “modern day” settler colonial society, comparing it to how the USA was established with and spread out with “in house” imperialism. That is in fact a very appropriate comparison. He also points out in his writing about the false notion about the only existing imperialism as “overseas imperialism” when he does talk about Guantanamo and U.S historical “relationship” with Cuba.

    “”With all due respect to Chomsky, I think the obligation of the left is to put the heat on the USA for refusing to let its claws loose of Guantanamo and the Kremlin for annexing Crimea. That was the general outlook of revolutionary socialism in the post-WWI period and one worth reinvigorating.”

    I think Chomsky would agree with that but as he says in regards to [Russia] “supporting a [brutal vicious] government is not imperialism”. He goes on to say that: “it is completely wrong but not imperialism”. I agree with that.

    Syria is however a landmass that has served as Russian influenced Middle Eastern foothold and military listening post, as well as a “harbor” for Russian naval Forces in the Mediterranean Sea But no one would call it a Russian vassal state in an existing or indeed “up and coming” Russian Empire. Syria is hardly a Russian franchise, despite that Russia has been arming the country -not providing aid but selling them military hardware and building compatible military systems with Syria as well as providing the framework and giving out the “blueprint” or influencing the political groundwork or backing for the Baathist state. Are these the machinations of a (pseudo) empire? Bombing ISIS or whatever insurrection against the Assad “regime” is just one piece of that imperial puzzle? Or do we play chess? Poker or what exactly is the “hegemonic view of the left”?

    Comment by Syntagma squared — October 22, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

  12. Syria is however a landmass that has served as Russian influenced Middle Eastern foothold and military listening post, as well as a “harbor” for Russian naval Forces in the Mediterranean Sea But no one would call it a Russian vassal state in an existing or indeed “up and coming” Russian Empire.

    That is because the Syrian dictatorship has common interests with Russia. President Batista never raised any objections over Guantanamo for that matter.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 22, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

  13. If Chomsky were so interested in “historical facts” he should be ashamed of the fact that at the outset of the 1st Gulf War he was on the side that split the Peace Movement advocating “giving sanctions a chance” before Desert Storm — which failed to acknowledge that sanctions against a Nation of brown people can often be more inhumane that bombing since at least bombs would kill indiscriminately (inevitably knocking off some deserved scoundrels) whereas sanctions almost always affects the most vulnerable, namely children and the elderly.

    That crucial pro-sanctions movement split thanks to the likes of Chomsky and a bunch of ex-CPers & others forming the Committees of Correspondence, wound up with Iraq getting both bombs and 10 years of sanctions which wound up killing almost a million Iraqis, mostly the very old & very young due to lack of medicines & clean water, truly one of the 20th century’s greatest holocausts.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 24, 2015 @ 6:55 pm

  14. Chomsky is about as right on this as he was when he defended the Khmer Rouge. That his criminal defense of those criminal actors didn’t ruin his “prestige” says a lot about the American left.

    The idea of some big imperialist countries verses all the rest (which is the foundation of today’s leftists who see the world as a big chess board with black against white) is one of the pillars of Leninism. It’s what first separated Lenin from Marxism actually.

    Leading Marxists and Marx himself saw imperialism as a world epoch not a bloc of countries. Rosa Luxemburg tried to preserve this Marxist line against Lenins detour.

    Rosa argued that capitalism had become imperialist. That bourgeois revolutions were over (now proven to be true). And that the task of communists was to wage the class war on class terrain and keep workers out of capitalist wars that had nothing to offer them anymore.


    Comment by bunchin — October 25, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

  15. If you think that Chomsky defended the “Khmer Rouge” you can’t be helped. You have to be very daft to accuse Chomsky of “splitting the peace movement”, even if he admits to being a bad tactician. He was firmly against the sanctions against Iraq, and the invasion. “which failed to acknowledge that sanctions against a Nation of brown people can often be more inhumane that bombing since at least bombs would kill indiscriminately (inevitably knocking off some deserved scoundrels) whereas sanctions almost always affects the most vulnerable, namely children and the elderly.”. You must be insane writing a sentence like that. The notion of humanitarian “bombing” is an imperialist narrative device, both the murderous sanctions and the bombings were inhumane. Also good luck with “framing” Chomsky et al for both the murderous sanctions and the murderous bombings..

    Comment by Syntagma squared — October 26, 2015 @ 11:27 am

  16. Fact is during Desert Shield the Peace Movement Coalition was aiming for Hands Off Iraq with a date set for a giant march on Washington. But a certain wing (the Left that always votes for Democrats as the lesser evil) began to balk when they saw how influential the WWP had become with their Ramsey Clark connection so they made a plea to why not give sanctions a chance instead of bombing and set a date for a separate march one week later, which turned out to be a much smaller march but it achieved the desired result of sewing confusion and splitting the movement. That was clearly Chomsky’s position, “give sanctions a chance”, since he told me that to my face when I met him after a brilliant speech wherein he argued that the Cold War was not an East/West conflict but rather a North/South conflict with the Soviets being the leader of the South during a 500 Year Reich in which the North would typically crush any defiance from the South. Therefore the demise of the USSR was a bad thing for the majority of the planet (the 3rd World) since their 2nd World economy was precisely the model that 3rd World toilers aspired to.

    Point is Iraq wound up with both bombs and sanctions and the sanctions killed far more than the bombs and somebody like Chomsky should have known that giving sanctions a chance was a terrible political line to adopt.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 26, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

  17. […] atrocities. Most recently, critics of dissimilar political hues claim to have identified a range of follies in his statements on […]

    Pingback by Noam Chomsky: My Hopes for the Future | limitless life — November 29, 2015 @ 5:43 am

  18. […] atrocities. Most recently, critics of dissimilar political hues claim to have identified a range of follies in his statements on […]

    Pingback by Chomsky and His Critics – Jacobin Dev — December 22, 2016 @ 2:38 pm

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