Saturday, April 21, 2018

REGARDING THE CONFLICT IN SYRIA, THERE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ANY GOOD GUYS


A few days back, Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” interviewed Syrian-American activist Ramah Kudaimi (member of the National Committee of the War Resisters League) on the recent U.S.,  
 British and French airstrikes against targets in Syria. Kudaimi emphasized more the atrocities committed by the Assad regime than the military intervention on the part of the host of governments that support rebel groups. Underlying her observations was the assertion that the Syrian people rose up against the Assad regime in 2011 and their will is being ignored by all sides in the conflict. At one point, it almost seemed as if her argument was a cover for support for greater U.S. intervention in order to topple the reviled Assad regime. Her basic point was that one-shot airstrikes are not enough. That is also the implication of the criticism of many Democratic Party congress people who accuse Trump of not having a viable plan for resolving the Syrian crisis. Furthermore, Washington – both Obama and Trump – is criticized for directing the fight in Syria exclusively against the ISIS enemy, while leaving the Assad regime intact.   

Kudaimi and others on the left who favor regime change in Syria always stress the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, but the fact of the matter is that the major actors who are now fighting against Assad are almost all surrogates of one foreign government or another. The commercial media, and much of the alternative media as well, fail to provide information about the rebel groups, who they represent, and what their goals are. Since the bad guys are the Assad regime and the ISIS terrorists, it almost seems that, ipso facto, the good guys are the non-ISIS rebels. Very little mention is made of the fact that these rebel groups are so divided among themselves that they have engaged in deadly infighting; that they have committed war crimes against their enemies and the civilian population; that the foreign powers who support them are no more democratic than Iran or Russia (ie, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the Emirates, etc.), and that some of the rebel groups receiving support from outside powers have been themselves allied with terrorists, specifically the Al-Qaeda local affiliate. Indeed, when fighting centered on Aleppo in the north a few months back, the media made little mention that a major force among the rebels was Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front. 


An example is the recent fighting in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The main rebel group whose base of support is located in the Ghouta region is the Islamic Front, backed and armed by Saudi Arabia. Typical of the disarray of the anti-Assad forces, the Islamic Front has spurned ties with other rebel organizations grouped in the Syrian National Coalition. Furthermore, the trajectory of the Islamic Front is characterized by extreme factionalism. In addition, Islamic Front leaders have articulated Sunni extremism and abhorrence for Shiites (who they call “Zoroastrians”!) and opposition to democracy. The commercial media tends to gloss over these details.  


In my opinion, solidarity in favor of the Syrian people cannot take the form of demands, slogans and banners for regime change. The call for regime change just exacerbates the conflict and deepens and extends the civil war. Furthermore, a distinction has to be made between Russian support for an established government, as repressive as it may be, and military involvement on the part of the U.S., France, Great Britain, Israel, and Turkey in favor of rebel groups that have no chance at all of reaching power and putting an end to the violence and instability.    

I don’t doubt at all the nefariousness of the actions of the Assad government both in terms of internal repression and military atrocities. The international movement of solidarity obviously should not demonstrate support for the Assad government in any way, or for Russian military involvement. Its position needs to be diametrically opposed to that of much of the anti-war movement in the 60s which considered Ho Chi Minh somewhat of a hero.  

Given the reprehensible actions of the Assad government, recognizing it as the established government may seem like the abandonment of the moral high ground. But the alternative is to contribute to the continuation of the civil war with no end in sight. Realism must prevail because the alternative is ongoing violence and chaos. 

Furthermore, the demand for withdrawal of all foreign powers from Syria (even though its achievement would be a major step in favor of peace), actually encourages those nations that are aiding the rebels. After all, Washington’s position is: as long as the Russians are in Syria, we have the right to do the same. But the fact of the matter is that the only hope for some sort of stability at this point is government consolidation. One may ask, what is the difference between Russian military support for Assad and U.S. military involvement in Vietnam in the 60s? But there are important differences:  

1. The Viet Minh was a unified force and ended up taking power once the U.S. withdrew. The situation in Syria is dissimilar because if the Russians were to withdraw today, the rebels would most likely continue fighting against Assad and among themselves.

2. The Viet Minh had a legitimate goal which was the unification of Vietnam. The rebels do not have any all-encompassing demand other than getting rid of Assad.

3. The Assad regime is fighting the major terrorist groups including ISIS and the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front. The South Vietnam government had no such redeeming feature.    

I am in agreement with two propositions defended by those on the left who are calling for regime change in Syria. First, the international solidarity movement has to raise the banner of the goal of democracy in Syria, which at least indirectly represents a criticism of Assad. And second, in the long run the solution to Syria’s problems will come from the mass popular movement in that nation, and not super-power agreements at the negotiation table. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

THE MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN DIMENSIONS


Gun violence is not only a problem in U.S. schools, and the NRA is not the only culprit. It's also the Pentagon with its advocacy of permanent war and its view of the world as one big battlefield. For the commercial media, the military budget and U.S. military bases scattered throughout the world are non-issues, while for the Republicans supported by Blue Dog Democrats the issue is the need to increase military spending not reducing it. The courageous young students who are protesting gun violence will sooner or later (if they haven't already) see the connection between endless, senseless wars and violence at home. They are interrelated but the media and the politicians will do everything possible to disconnect them.

Indeed, the military-industrial complex of today is on steroids compared to the one that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell speech as president in 1961. At the time, the military buildup was justified as a necessity to face the Soviet threat. Then after the fall of the Soviet Union, the justification was the war on terrorism.

With Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor, U.S. militarism is bound to reach a new threshold. Bolton calls for not a “proportionate” but a “disproportionate” reaction to Russia’s alleged interventionism, which would include cyber warfare. Claiming that China and Russia work in coordination and are ganging up on the U.S., Bolton argues for a hardened response to both nations. Bolton’s appointment will likely be a watershed event, in which the war on terrorism will be downplayed and replaced with a much more dangerous type of confrontation, in some ways even more so than in the days of the Cold War. If there ever was a time for a full-fledged campaign against militarism in all its dimensions and manifestations, it’s now.


I’m not the only one who claims there is a connection between U.S. involvement in wars and domestic violence. Martin Luther King said the same. And what better moment to remember King’s legacy than today, April 4, 2018. Fifty years have gone by and King’s words about violence at home and abroad have proved to be prophetic.  




Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hannah Arendt's "The Banality of Evil": Things Haven't Changed in 50 Years


Much debate in the U.S. boils down to whether domestic matters such as health care or social security should be prioritized or whether international issues are more important. Most people opt for the former. I place myself in the latter category. There are various reasons for this, among them the fact that military spending blocks the effort to improve the lives of people in the U.S. But there’s another reason which is ethical. Some may have already seen this video of the Baghdad airstrikes which Chelsea Manning turned over to Wikileaks. One thing is to read about what happened, another thing is to watch it on your screen and hear the voices and see the images. I just came across it as a link in a NY Times article (about the hacker Adrian Lamo) I was reading. Here it is:  

Watching it what comes to my mind is what Hannah Arendt (as a journalist working out of Jerusalem) said about Eichmann (which the Israeli establishment didn’t like at all). Evil people are not only madmen like Hitler. They’re also “normal” people (bureaucrats among others) who sit behind desks and talk a normal language with a normal voice pitch. Arendt called it the “banality of evil.” This is an example of that.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

MARXISM AND UTOPIANISM IS HARDLY ONE AND THE SAME, KARL POPPER NOT WITHSTANDING


I am surprised and a bit disappointed that the podcast “Best of the Left” which I frequently listen to broadcasted an interview with academic Timothy Snyder (Council on Foreign Relations member) in their program titled “Understanding the Rise of the Right.” Snyder lumps Lenin and the left in general in the same bag with the right saying that the modus operandi of both ‘extremes’ is to focus on a utopian vision while ignoring the real issues. Snyder says: “Lenin said look, it’s not so much the actual facts that matter what really matters is the deeper truth that in the future there’s going to be a socialist utopia and if we have to bend the truth or even completely destroy the truth to get there that’s worth it…  because there’s a better world out there and that’s the deep truth.” (Lenin as a precursor of post-truth, anyone?)

That is to say, according to Snyder (and Karl Popper) the alleged deceptiveness of leftists (Lenin and before him Marx) stems from their imposition of a preconceived notion of change, if not dreams, and with no regard for reality. The narrative is reminiscent of Karl Popper’s condemnation of historicism and the association of Marx with Hegel, as if there were no difference between the two. The narrative is completely fallacious. It not only ignores Marx’s polemics with the Utopian Socialists (a movement which he never belonged to) but also the fact that he broke with the Young Hegelians, who he had been closely associated with (particularly Bruno Bauer). Although the young Hegelians rejected Hegel’s idealism and considered themselves materialists, nevertheless they failed to ground their thinking in the real structural basis of society – economy and class and not religious ideas which concerned Bauer and Feuerbach (in an attempt to undermine Prussian rule). Snyder would do well to read “The Holy Family” in which Marx and Engels critique the young Hegelians who (inspired by the early Hegel) felt that utopia was yet to be achieved. For those who are interested in the topic, I would highly recommend the fascinating movie on the young Marx (in German with English subtitles) (see photo above) which can be watched on YouTube at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtJnbJ_TfGk&feature=youtu.be 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

THE NEW YORK TIMES’ UNCANNY COMPARISON OF LEOPOLDO LOPEZ WITH MARTIN LUTHER KING


The corporate media reached an all-time low this week in its one-sided reporting on Venezuela.  Wil H. Hylton in a lengthy article in New York Times' magazine section compared jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López with Martin Luther King. Throughout the article, Hylton weaves together the topic of King's employment of civil disobedience in the struggle to achieve equality for African-Americans and the protests promoted by López in 2014 known as the "guarimba." The comparison has to be seen as part of an ongoing effort promoted by international actors including the Trump administration to demonstrate that the Maduro government is a dictatorship, or a dictatorship in the making. The comparison falls short for a number of reasons. 
In the first place, the four-month "guarimba" in 2014 and again in 2017 had as its principal objective the achievement of regime change. This goal was embraced by the protesters in spite of the fact that the opposition parties (including López's Voluntad Popular party), which would have assumed power had the guarimba been successful, are highly unpopular – they are certainly not any more popular than the Chavista movement. Unlike King's civil rights movement with its well-defined concrete objectives, Lopez's guarimba protest was an insurrectional movement. López publicly declared that the guarimba would continue until the Maduro government was ousted. 
In the second place, the tactics employed by the “guarimberos” stood in sharp contrast with King's commitment to pacifism. Most important, there was no clear, well-defined separation between the "peaceful" guarimberos who built barricades consisting of boulders, trees and fires and placed oily substances on sidewalks resulting in numerous casualties of motorcyclists, on the one hand, and the violent guarimberos responsible for the death of six National Guardsmen in 2014 and the guarimberos of 2017 with their para-military appearance, on the other hand. 
In the third place, opposition leaders supported the violent guarimberos in concrete ways. One of the opposition's main slogans "freedom for the political prisoners" made no distinction between those who had engaged in violence and those who didn't. In 2017, Freddy Guevara, Voluntad Popular’s maximum leader in the National Assembly, met with and gave counseling to the hooded guarimberos who engaged in confrontational and at times violent tactics. By conveniently passing over these facts, Hylton is able to deny any tie-in between the “peaceful” and non-peaceful protests.
In the fourth place, the expressions of intolerance and even hatred also contrasts with everything that King stood for. Just one example was the incidents of the capturing of Chavistas and policemen to humiliate or inflict harm on them. Gurimberos in 2017 set fire to Chavista Oscar Figueroa resulting in his death. Hylton makes no mention of these incidents in his cherry-picking article.
Hylton’s article is replete with other deceptive statements and omissions. Just one will suffice. Hylton discusses López’s family lineage dating back to Simón Bolívar and Cristóbal Mendoza, the nation’s first president. But no mention is made of the fact that his grandfather was the brother and close business associate of Eugenio Mendoza, the Rockefeller of Venezuela for many decades. While Hylton recognizes López’s wealthy background, the fact that he was born into the richest family in the nation would detract from the author’s narrative of López as a champion of the poor. Are these omissions coincidental or are they part of an attempt to paint a glorified image of López even at the expense of basic journalistic principles?
By publishing the article the Times is not only sacrificing journalistic principles. It is helping to place on center stage an opposition radical who is well positioned to lead any movement that succeeds in removing Maduro from office. Opposition radicalism in the Venezuelan context is synonymous with the playbook that ousted Chávez on April 11, 2002, dissolved the nation’s main democratic institutions, delayed presidential elections for up to one year, hunted down Chavista leaders, and initiated bloody repressive actions against the popular movement. López, as mayor of Chacao (one of Caracas’ municipalities), played an active role in these events, a fact completely ignored by Hylton. The April 2002 strategy of effectuating a radical break with the Chavista past implied the implementation of neoliberal formulas, shock-treatment style. 
Hylton makes the dubious claim that in the U.S. political setting López “would probably land in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.” In fact, the radical brand that López is identified with once in power will translate itself into witch-hunts of Chavistas at all levels under the slogan of "no to impunity," as well as purges of the armed forces, the state oil company and the state in general. The repression of the Chavistas will open the way for tough, unpopular neoliberal measures. The electoral road to power precludes such sweeping changes, thus explaining the policy of electoral abstention favored by the radicals on the right including López. The New York Times, by glorifying leaders of the ilk of López, is demonstrating that the support of the U.S. liberal establishment for popular pro- working class reforms on the nation's domestic front does not extend to third-world countries. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

STOCKS PLUNGE: HOW FRAGILE IS THE U.S. AND WORLD CAPITALIST ECONOMY!


The U.S. minimum wage in real terms is at the same level as in the1960s and 1970s in spite of the takeoff in productivity as a result of computer technology and artificial intelligence over the last half a century. Unions have been virtually rooted out of the private sector and consequently wages in real terms of workers in heavy industry have stagnated for several decades. And yet the first sign that wages are beginning to improve throws Wall Street stocks into a tailspin which in turn affects other stock exchanges throughout the world.  What’s curious is that establishment economists with exclusive access to the corporate media attribute the stock plunge of the last several days to the increase in wages and thus conclude that the world economy is basically healthy and that there is nothing to fear. Critical economists, both Marxists and non-Marxists, who ascribe stock volatility to systemic factors, are not given a word in the corporate media. But common sense tells you that a slight increase in wages for those at the lower rung of the economic ladder cannot be the root cause of such violent stock behavior and that the reaction to what is happening should not be one of complacency as has been the case with establishment economists. But then, of course, Herbert Hoover, reacted in similar fashion.



Sunday, February 4, 2018

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON’S LATIN AMERICAN TOUR MAY BE WITHOUT PRECEDENT IN U.S. DIPLOMATIC HISTORY: But it is perfectly compatible with Washington’s larger strategy

Never before has a top official in the U.S. government traveled throughout Latin America in such a well-publicized trip to gain support for measures against a nation in the region. Tillerson’s Latin American tour may be well received by reactionary and conservative heads of state (Chile, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Brazil) but it is particularly objectionable for Latin Americans for various reasons:
First, because it follows on the heels of an obviously rigged presidential election in Honduras. The Trump government refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process in Venezuela at the same time that it validates the elections in Honduras. Tillerson said in Colombia that there is no comparison between the elections in Honduras and the to-be held ones in Venezuela, without explaining why. Making no attempt to explain why the elections in Honduras were legitimate, in spite of the fact that even the OAS does not recognize the results, demonstrates a glaring aspect of the Trump administration: its complete contempt for the truth. 
Second, Latinos fully agree that Trump’s blatantly racist remarks about Mexicans are not just insulting to the people of that nationality, but to all Latin Americans. 
Third, because Latinos particularly object to members of the U.S. capitalist class telling them what to do. When Nelson Rockefeller undertook his 20-nation “Presidential Mission” in 1969 organized by the government of Richard Nixon, the trip turned into what a speech writer at the time called “Rocky Horror Road Show.” Anti-U.S. protests including violent confrontations with security forces followed Rockefeller throughout the continent. In Argentina 14 Rockefeller-owned supermarkets were bombed and in Venezuela, President Rafael Caldera told Rockefeller to cancel his stay in that nation. Tillerson is also a member of the capitalist class, not just a representative of it. For over 3 decades Tillerson worked for Exxon which was formerly the Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil of New Jersey. For 10 years of those 3 decades, he was Exxon's CEO.

Fourth, neither Tillerson nor Trump has made any effort to prove that the 2018 Venezuelan presidential elections are illegitimate. Washington’s position (as well as that of the conservative government’s of Spain and Great Britain) undermines the efforts at negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition. Many believe that an agreement between the opposition and the government is Venezuela’s best hope, as both sides lack the popular support necessary to ensure stability. Trump’s position also pressures the parties of the opposition to pull out of the presidential race, even though many, if not most, of the opposition parties are intent on participating in them.
Critics can point to aspects of the Venezuelan elections that do not accord to the spirit of democracy, such as the decision to hold them anticipatively. But there is a fundamental difference between objectionable electoral practices and rigged elections, such as those held in Honduras and the 2000 U.S. presidential elections (with regard to the decisive state of Florida). One can point to objectionable practices in many other nations as well, beginning with the U.S. In the U.S. over 6 million felons (that is, ex-prisoners who have served their prison time) are denied the right to vote; “voter suppression” affecting minority groups has been well documented: widespread gerrymandering is a well known fact; and two of the three presidents in the twenty-first century have been elected while receiving less votes than their rival for the office.  
Washington’s position on Venezuela is comparable to the Trump administrations rejection of negotiations between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban in spite of the fact that the protracted civil war in that nation is at a deadlock with no end in sight. Both sides lack popular support and so it’s hard to imagine a best-case scenario of peace and stability. It would seem that Washington is not interested in peaceful resolutions of conflict anywhere in the world. Could it be that the arms industry which is a large part of the bedrock of the U.S.’s unhealthy economy has something to do with Washington’s tendency to block peaceful agreements throughout the world? In short, Venezuela is just one example of Washington’s efforts to foment discord and confrontation including armed confrontations. Just look at Syria, Afghanistan and Korea.