Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 10, 2019

Gray Zone versus the deep state, regime change, Trotskyite devils

Filed under: conspiracism,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 7:03 pm

On their Gray Zone website, Max Blumenthal and his mini-me Ben Norton (aka Ned Borton) have just come out with a 5,600 word diatribe against the Socialism 2019 Conference in Chicago. Most people still tethered to the planet would understand that the main political questions raised by the DSA/ex-ISO conference was whether support for Democratic Party candidates is tactically permissible. Instead, the two geniuses were playing Vishinsky-like prosecuting attorneys making the case that “Socialism is now apparently brought to you by the US State Department”.

They dug up every connection that conference speakers had to inside-the-beltway NGOs and government agencies like the NED to read the DSA and ex-ISOers out of the radical movement. One would think that these two nitwits would put more energy into helping the left put together a conference that did not have such nefarious ties. I can recommend some left groups that are as unsullied as them: Workers World, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Socialist Equality Party, the Spartacist League and Socialist Action. These five groups have never been implicated in smoke-filled room deals with officials of the Deep State, to be sure. In fact, if all of them got together to stage a Communism 2019 Conference, they wouldn’t need to line up a Hyatt hotel. A church basement would do just fine.

To turn NED funding, or any kind of aid from other such bodies, into a litmus test as to a group’s leftist credentials is problematic since it turns the nation-state into the unit of analysis rather than the social class.

For example, they excoriate the China Labour Bulletin for taking money from the NED but do not say anything about what it stands for. If you go to their website, you’ll find articles, for example, on coal mine safety in China that contains such data:

The Daping coal mine in Zhengzhou, Henan province, where 148 people died in a gas explosion on 20 October 2004, had been inspected and approved for an annual production capacity of 900,000 tonnes. In 2003, the mine produced 1.32 million tonnes of coal, and from January to September 2004 it had already produced 960,000 tonnes. Similarly, the Sunjiawan coal mine in Liaoning province, where a gas explosion killed at least 214 miners on 14 February 2005, had been approved for a production capacity of 900,000 tonnes, but its actual output in 2004 was 1.48 million tonnes. The Shenlong coal mine in Fukang county, Xinjiang province, where 83 miners died in a gas explosion on 11 July 2005, had a safe production capacity of only 30,000 tonnes, but during the first half of 2005 alone it had already produced almost 180,000 tonnes of coal.

You will find absolutely nothing about “regime change” in the CLB. It is simply one of the few outlets Chinese workers have for making their case. If the NED provides funding for their work, there is no stigma as long as the money comes with no-strings-attached.

The truth is that the NED and similar bodies from George Soros’s Open Foundation to Human Rights Watch will always try to take advantage of protests in every corner of the world in order to influence them. Why would anybody expect anything different? To be consistent, you’d have to condemn the student movement in Egypt in 2011 in the same way you condemn CLB. In fact, Global Research—Gray Zone’s closest relative—did exactly that. Tony Cartalucci put it this way in an article titled “The US Engineered “Arab Spring”: The NGO Raids in Egypt”:

It is hardly a speculative theory then, that the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous organizations including NED, NDI, IRI, and Freedom House and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world. Preparations for the “Arab Spring” began not as unrest had already begun, but years before the first “fist” was raised, and within seminar rooms in D.C. and New York, US-funded training facilities in Serbia, and camps held in neighboring countries, not within the Arab World itself.

In 2008, Egyptian activists from the now infamous April 6 movement were in New York City for the inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) summit, also known as Movements.org. There, they received training, networking opportunities, and support from AYM’s various corporate and US governmental sponsors, including the US State Department itself. The AYM 2008 summit report states that the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James Glassman attended, as did Jared Cohen who sits on the policy planning staff of the Office of the Secretary of State. Six other State Department staff members and advisers would also attend the summit along with an immense list of corporate, media, and institutional representatives.

Can you tell the difference between Tony Cartalucci and the Gray Zone? I can’t.

Much venom is sprayed at Anand Gopal and Dan La Botz for the same kinds of reasons. Gopal is an acclaimed journalist who has made repeated trips to Syria from Turkey without Baathist approval. As with other reporters who refuse to write propaganda for the dictatorship, he had to find other ways to interview Syrians. He would crawl beneath a barbed wire fence on the border and follow painted rocks that were placed there by villagers, allowing him to avoid land mines. In a talk on Syria recently, Gopal argued that part of the explanation for the failure of the revolution was that the leadership were small proprietors in the local governments of rebel-controlled territory that insisted on preserving private property relations. If this book is nearly as good as his book on Afghanistan that was a Pulitzer prize runner up, it should gain widespread attention. Meanwhile, Blumenthal’s reporting on Syria is the same as Vanessa Beeley’s, just regime propaganda. At least Beeley went to Syria, even if was limited to 4-star hotels and tea parties with the dictator. Can you imagine Sidney Blumenthal’s golden boy crawling under barbed wire fences and walking through an obstacle course of land mines to get a story? I can’t.

The attacks on Dan La Botz are just as apolitical. I am opposed to La Botz’s special pleading for the reactionary student movement in Nicaragua but I wouldn’t dream of smearing him as a State Department tool. This kind of attack has roots in Stalin’s demonization of his opponents who were supposedly trying to overthrow socialism in the USSR because both they and the capitalist media described him as a ruthless dictator. Trotsky had a different motivation than Winston Churchill even if Stalin made an amalgam between the two. When Stalin bonded with Churchill, the symbol of British colonialism then became a paragon of democracy. Those twists and turns were studied by the two ex-opponents of Assad, to be sure.

In channeling Stalin, Norton and Blumenthal make sure to use the word “Trotskyite” throughout, a term that is a dead giveaway for politics that have largely died out after the collapse of the USSR and the transformation of the CPs into Eurocommunist type parties, except for the KKE in Greece that is cut from the same cloth as Gray Zone.

Looking back at the history of the radical movement, you will find many attempts to take advantage of imperialist rivalry. For Blumenthal and Norton, the only imperialist powers in the world are those in the West. They clearly see China and Russia as anti-imperialist states even though the subjugation of the Uyghurs and Syrians would have been denounced by Lenin as imperialist. I am not sure where Gray Zone gets most of its ideas nowadays but it sounds like they may have been plagiarizing Enver Hoxha.

If Uyghurs and Syrians have to pass their litmus test, it would mean suicide since the world is divided into two major geopolitical blocs. For all of their ranting against the White Helmets for receiving funding from the West, you would be hard-pressed to see how else they could have otherwise assembled a first responder team that has saved thousands of lives. The implication from Gray Zone is that rescuing people from bombed out buildings is the first step in invading Syria and that bombing hospitals is warranted in rebel-controlled territory to preempt sharia law.

Fortunately, people like Roger Casement and others trying to exploit the differences between Anglo-American and German imperialism didn’t take Gray Zone type advice, not that anybody would be that stupid to offer it it in the early 20th century..

Who could blame Irish freedom fighter Roger Casement for trying to strike deals with Kaiser Wilhelm to get weapons to liberate his people? During a period of inter-imperialist rivalries, it was not considered a betrayal of socialist principles to look for such opportunities. In MN Roy’s case,  an Indian Marxist who sought weapons from the Kaiser, there was the added dimension of his writing the theses on national liberation adopted by the Comintern. How could you cozy up with imperialists and then write such classic statements of Marxist policy? The answer: easy unless you are moralizing twits like Norton and Blumenthal.

This is not to speak of V.I. Lenin’s stance with respect to the same bogeymen. In “To the Finland Station”, Edmund Wilson describes the uneasy feelings that some of his comrades had that were by no means as disgusting as Gray Zone’s attack on Socialism 2019:

In the train that left the morning of April 8 there were thirty Russian exiles, including not a single Menshevik. They were accompanied by the Swiss socialist Platten, who made himself responsible for the trip, and the Polish socialist Radek. Some of the best of the comrades had been horrified by the indiscretion of Lenin in resorting to the aid of the Germans and making the trip through an enemy country. They came to the station and besieged the travelers, begging them not to go. Lenin got into the train without replying a word.

Even after Hitler took power, some nationalists continued in the same vein, the most notable among them Subhas Chandra Bose who relied on both German and Japanese support for an army that could liberate India. Despite this marriage of convenience, Bose was politically on the left and an admirer of the USSR. Indeed, Stalin’s nonaggression pact with Hitler served his policy aims well as indicated by his 1941 Kabul Thesis written just before he travelled to Germany to consult with the Nazis:

Thus we see pseudo-Leftists who through sheer cowardice avoid a conflict with Imperialism and argue in self-defence that Mr. Winston Churchill (whom we know to be the arch-Imperialist) is the greatest revolutionary going. It has become a fashion with these pseudo-Leftists to call the British Government a revolutionary force because it is fighting the Nazis and Fascists. But they conveniently forget the imperialist character of Britain’s war and also the fact that the greatest revolutionary force in the world, the Soviet Union, has entered into a solemn pact with the Nazi Government.

While some sought advantage by aligning with the axis, others found the allies more amenable to their broader goals. While he would eventually find himself locked in a deadly struggle with American imperialism, Ho Chi Minh had no problem connecting with the OSS during WWII as recounted by William Duiker in his 2000 biography “Ho Chi Minh: a Life”:

While Ho Chi Minh was in Paise attempting to revitalize the Dong Minh Hoi, a U.S. military intelligence officer arrived in Kunming to join the OSS unit there. Captain Archimedes “Al” Patti had served in the European Theater until January 1944, when he was transferred to Washington, D.C., and appointed to the Indochina desk at OSS headquarters. A man of considerable swagger and self-confidence, Patti brought to his task a strong sense of history and an abiding distrust of the French and their legacy in colonial areas. It was from the files in Washington, D.C. that he first became aware of the activities of the Vietminh Front and its mysterious leader, Ho Chi Minh.

The next day, Patti arrived at Debao airport, just north of Jingxi, and after consultation with local AGAS representatives, drove into Jingxi, where he met a Vietminh contact at a local restaurant and was driven to see Ho Chi Minh in a small village about six miles out of town. After delicately feeling out his visitor about his identity and political views, Ho described conditions inside Indochina and pointed out that his movement could provide much useful assistance and information to the Allies if it were in possession of modern weapons, ammunition, and means of communication. At the moment, Ho conceded that the movement was dependent upon a limited amount of equipment captured from the enemy. Patti avoided any commitment, but promised to explore the matter. By his own account, Patti was elated.

Right now, the biggest question facing the left is class independence, something clearly of little importance to Ben Norton who is a big Tulsi Gabbard fan. In this interview, he is positively glowing about her political growth even though she had “odious” views in the past.

Trying to stake out a position that will stand out in a crowded “anti-imperialist” left will be tough for Norton and Blumenthal. You can read the same sort of thing in Consortium News, Moon of Alabama, Mint Press, Off-Guardian, 21st Century Wire, DissidentVoice, Information Clearing House, et al. To separate themselves from the pack, my advice to the two careerists is to find some sugar daddy that can throw some money their way. Ron Unz of UNZ Review not only has deep pockets but lots of sympathy for their tilt toward Russia and Syria. That is, if you can put up with his neo-Nazism.


  1. NEW POLITICS will be issuing a statement on the smears again Dan very soon.

    Comment by jschulman — July 10, 2019 @ 7:26 pm

  2. If your target audience is locates in a state that happens to be a “enemy” of the US, accepting NED funding is probably not the smartest idea. In the US, it’s the same situation. If your goal is to just to get some funding for research, then these optics don’t really matter.

    For this sort of thing to be deemed acceptable on home turf, not only the national govt, but the nation state as such would have to lose all legitimacy. This seldom happens outside of a sectarian or dual power context. Even in a situation of total state and societal collapse, like in Russia 1917, it would have been a terrible idea for anti-war radicals to accept German money.

    Comment by joseph — July 10, 2019 @ 7:56 pm

  3. If your target audience is locates in a state that happens to be a “enemy” of the US, accepting NED funding is probably not the smartest idea.

    If the China Labour Bulletin uses NED money to create the infrastructure it needs to expose capitalist super-exploitation in China, more power to them. When I was involved with Tecnica in the 1980s, we tried to get money from the Ford Foundation but failed. If we received it, it would have helped keep a volunteer program going in Nicaragua that was essential to the country’s development. I only regret that we failed.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 10, 2019 @ 10:10 pm

  4. I was there. Not to throw in with the Gray Zoners, but the main speaker at the imperialism session was calling for regime change in Iran, though she was careful to stipulate that the workers should run the new regime, not U.S. clients. It sounded a lot like 1960s Trotskyism.

    Comment by Stuart Newman — July 11, 2019 @ 12:35 am

  5. It sounded a lot like 1960s Trotskyism.

    Stuart, 1960s Trotskyism was leading the Vietnam antiwar movement. I was there.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 11, 2019 @ 1:35 am

  6. I remember the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee and the Chicago Peace Council, both of which were organized by the CP. They seemed like the main events at the time to me. My SDS comrades in Chicago who belonged to SWP and IS were always telling us how the Soviet Union’s support of the NLF was bogus, or that the NLF was bogus, or that the Cuban revolution was Bonapartist, and other such things. I learned a lot from them, but the UE unionists in Chicago (and Lisa Fittko, Walter Benjamin’s rescuer) were the salt of the earth.

    Comment by Stuart Newman — July 11, 2019 @ 1:51 am

  7. Norton and Blumenthal have divided the world into a crude binary and have sanctified any regime that is opposed to the United States. They are troglodytes that should be taken seriously by no one

    Comment by EschatologicalHumour — July 11, 2019 @ 2:05 am

  8. I remember the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee and the Chicago Peace Council, both of which were organized by the CP.


    What are you talking about? The Vietnam antiwar movement was a 3-legged stool made up of the SWP, the CP and the pacifists.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 11, 2019 @ 2:22 am

  9. Stuart,

    I can tell you, millions of people in Iran would LOVE (as they should) to have a regime change. But, only by us. Not by invasion, not by Americans. If you lived under a theocracy, you’d would want regime change, too.

    Of course, if you are a supporter of patriarchal theocracy, then you’d just love it in Iran. Just don’t breathe while you’re out and about. They’ve done a real job on the air quality.

    Comment by Reza — July 11, 2019 @ 2:40 am

  10. The Unrepentant Narcissist is most understanding. He serves as a State Department asset on Syria without pay, yet he does not begrudge the other assets that get money for their service to U.S. imperialism.

    Comment by Simple Person — July 11, 2019 @ 2:59 am

  11. I have no doubt about this, and hope the Iranian people can accomplish it. That’s a different matter from American leftists agitating for the end of the Iranian regime while their government is trying to tear it down. You might not fully appreciate how this makes many U.S. liberals say the hell with both sides, including tolerating pro-war and pro-starvation policies.

    Comment by Stuart Newman — July 11, 2019 @ 2:59 am

  12. “I have no doubt about this, and hope the Iranian people can accomplish it. That’s a different matter from American leftists agitating for the end of the Iranian regime …”

    So, no need for internationalism any longer?

    If done correctly, support by the international left for a regime change in Iran is a much needed form of internationalism in support of a democratic change in Iran, and as such will be a very welcome development, away from all the stupid binary false dualism that most of the western left has been stuck in for the past couple of decades.

    Comment by Reza — July 11, 2019 @ 3:16 am

  13. The underlying flaw in Max Blumenthal’s view of world politics is that it entirely leaves out the class struggle, with all its complexities, from the analysis. When two million people go out into the streets in Hong Kong, defending themselves from brutal police violence to oppose the undemocratic policies of the reactionary capitalist regime in China we are told we have to choose between an allegedly “socialist” regime or pawns of the CIA. That is preposterous!
    Of course the CIA intervenes to divert, divide, and defeat every incipient, not to speak of massive, popular struggle that threatens its interests anywhere in the world. That is why the CIA was established. But there would be no incipient movements fighting for justice if there was not injustice in the first place!
    This applies to popular progressive governments, even those that call themselves socialist as well. Max’s polemic denies the possibility that they can be opposed from the left, that the idea that the fight against imperialism requires the deepening of revolutionary action. In the case of Venezuela, let’s say, all people need to unite in defense against the vicious war of the U.S. imperialists to bring down that government. We need to defend Venezuela’s self-determination and its right to use its resources to advance popular interests as opposed to lining the pockets of world-destroying US oil corporations.
    At the same time, would not the revolution in Venezuela be stronger in the face of imperialism’s maneuvers if the government had taken stronger measures against the capitalists still working to sabotage the process? If there was a deeper land reform that broke the power of the big land owners? If the rights of the women who are backbones of communal power in so many communities were more clearly defined (eg., abortion rights) and they were more deeply integrated into the leadership of the revolution?
    Do revolutionaries have no choice but to choose between “21st century socialism” and the CIA? Between the Assad dictatorship and the CIA? That is obviously ridiculous, but is the underlying logic of Max’s polemic.

    Comment by Peter Seidman — July 11, 2019 @ 4:32 am

  14. What a smear on Enver Hoxha. He may have been a ruthless bunker building mini Stalin who shot his own Prime Minister, but he was biting and caustic towards Russian as well as US imperialism. No, Blumenthal/Norton aren’t even Stalinists. They’re pure, crude power-worshippers. They’d support Trump himself if he made a formal alliance with Putin and Xi against the hated liberals.

    Comment by Daphne — July 11, 2019 @ 7:24 am

  15. “The Unrepentant Narcissist is most understanding. He serves as a State Department asset on Syria without pay, yet he does not begrudge the other assets that get money for their service to U.S. imperialism.”

    This is absolutely the most flaccid insult I have received among the 34,250 comments posted here. Congratulations! Mail me your address and I will send you a bottle of Courvoisier.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 11, 2019 @ 11:57 am

  16. I don’t understand the Norton-Blumenthal symbiosis. As I understand it, Norton is a purported Marxist who can sling a bit of dialectic and quote Marx etc. with the best of them. My impression of Blumenthal is that he has no systematic world outlook at all, and just thrives on stoking the fires of bourgeois moral indignation among the Maybe/Maybe Not left. Blumenthal is a bestselling author (or was at one time)–AFAIK Norton is comparatively second-string. So what’s driving the partnership?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 11, 2019 @ 1:23 pm

  17. The Norton-Blumenthal piece seems like a real hatchet job to me, too.

    Comment by Kurt Hill — July 11, 2019 @ 6:22 pm

  18. A “journalist” who attacks another journalist by threatening a lawsuit–instead of defending himself in print–is of course incapable of any kind of “hatchet job.”

    Why are these self-promoted tough guys so fucking thin-skinned? Of course you have no idea what I’m talking about.

    All hail the People;s Glorious Hero and champion of anti-imperialism, Putin–and the funds he distributes, while crossing his fingers behind his back, to to the champions of the American pop left. They come cheap.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 12, 2019 @ 12:14 pm

  19. Yes, Frans, a little coherence would be appreciated. What’s your beef..?

    Comment by Kurt Hill — July 12, 2019 @ 1:02 pm

  20. Sorry, I mean Farans, of course…

    Comment by Kurt Hill — July 12, 2019 @ 1:03 pm

  21. What I wrote is quite clear, you fucking moron. Too bad you can’t comprehend articulate language. If you were literate, you wouldn’t have this problem.

    Perhaps you should try dining on a more nutritious variety of shit instead of the crap provided by the bought-and-paid-for Norton and Blumenthal.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 12, 2019 @ 1:27 pm

  22. Really, Farans, it’s not a good idea to skip your meds…Too many clients that I see skip their meds to their detriment…

    Comment by Kurt Hill — July 12, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

  23. Very good polemic! The envelopment of fact, historical reference and analogy, and principle with sarcasm and wit and the well-placed hammer blow, are in keeping with the tradition of a lost art, that is Marxist polemics.

    Comment by Ike Nahem — July 13, 2019 @ 2:12 pm

  24. “Meds” indeed! Apart from the playground predictability of that hackneyed taunt, and in addition to being a person of no character or intellect as well a political fraud, you now confess to drug-pushing and invoke the army of helpless addicts (“clients” indeed, Mr. Bourgeois Professional!) you’ve created as justification for sitting judgment on your moral and intellectual superiors, i.e. me.

    What I wrote was perfectly clear to anyone who knows the history of Blumenthal and Norton, which you obviously do not. Your smug, idiotic response was offensive and not acceptable in a serious forum. It only reveals your profound stupidity and your insipid belief that your bourgeois profession entitles you to utter opinions which you are in no way actually qualified to give.

    I am not obliged tor trade insults with scum like you–you are neither morally not intellectually qualified to form or express any opinion about anything I say or do–not indeed, I dare say, about anything Proyect or Reza or anyone else here, though I do not purport to speak for anyone but myself.

    If we ever have a revolution in this country, many of your kind will perhaps wind up in front of legally constituted firing squads. One can only imagine the blessed silence that would ensue.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 13, 2019 @ 3:27 pm

  25. Correction:” not indeed Proyect or Reza [etc.”]=”Nor indeed about anything Proyect or Reza … may say

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 13, 2019 @ 3:32 pm

  26. A bit late to this thread, but I can’t resist it. Joseph above: ‘Even in a situation of total state and societal collapse, like in Russia 1917, it would have been a terrible idea for anti-war radicals to accept German money’…or railway tickets, for that matter.

    Comment by Martin — July 20, 2019 @ 6:05 pm

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