31 Theses on the Syrian War.

May 16, 2018
  1. The Syrian war arose out of the “Arab Spring”, which was an attempt by the United States government to remodel the Middle East in its own interests through destabilisation and other kinds of political pressure rather than pure aggression as in the earlier Iraqi war.
  2. The agenda of the “Arab Spring” was to bring all Arab countries under a Sunni-corporate regime, discourage democracy, and ultimately mobilise Arab governments into an anti-Iranian front headed by Saudi Arabia and (implicitly) Israel.
  3. The need to focus Qatari, Saudi and NATO aggression against Libya in order to prevent the Libyan government from defeating the Qatari/Saudi/NATO-funded Wahhabi insurgents meant that the attack on Syria had to be delayed.
  4. The delay meant that the Syrian government was able to see what the Qatari/Saudi/NATO coalition intended for the countries which they overthrew in the bloody chaos which followed the Wahhabi takeover in Libya.
  5. Since the Syrian government understood that this chaos was what the American and Gulf fomentors of the “Arab Spring” sought for them, and since as nationalists and secularists they were opposed both to imperialist control and to Islamic fundamentalism, especially of the Wahhabi sort, they suppressed all signs of a nascent uprising extremely brutally.
  6. The Syrian spy services were extremely incompetent in failing to identify the impending Wahhabi guerrilla war, and may have compounded their blunder by attempting to promote Islamic fundamentalism as a supposed counterweight to the American-sponsored “liberal” movement supposedly inspired by the “Arab Spring”; meanwhile, the Syrian armed forces were notably incompetent in resisting the initial incursions of guerrillas.
  7. In the initial stages of the war at least, there was substantial (if not overwhelming) support for the insurgents among the population (at least certain segments of a very divided population).
  8. Given that the Ba’ath Party espoused a one-party state led by a family of dictators surrounded by a narrow cabal of supporters, and strictly censored all political debate and suppressed all opposition by violence, it is natural that some people would feel that anything would be better than this.
  9. In a dictatorial context, people tend to be quite ignorant of what is going on around them and are easily convinced that if the Party said something, then the opposite of that had to be true; it is thus the responsibility of the opposition to the dictatorship to provide reliable and relevant information.
  10. The uprising in Syria was clearly endorsed by the United States for its own purposes (meaning that supporting the uprising meant supporting U.S. imperialism) and was sponsored by the Wahhabi regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar (meaning that supporting the uprising entailed supporting the Wahhabi Sunni movement).
  11. Therefore, although the popular support for the Syrian uprising was understandable, the leaders of the uprising knew that they were serving the interests, not of Syrians, but of the American government and the dictators of the Gulf states, and deliberately deceived their people into believing that the uprising had any merit for Syrians themselves.
  12. The deception carried out by the ostensible leaders of the Syrian “revolution” and the “Free Syrian Army” must have been because they hoped for preferment in any future government even though few of them were Wahhabi, or because they had been bought off by American or Gulf agents.
  13. Although the ostensible leaders of the Syrian uprising, many of whom had once been trusted by the Syrian people, were traitors to Syria and were culpable in the crimes committed against Syria in the name of the insurgency, the most culpable people of all are the Western liberals and leftists who promoted the Syrian uprising as if it were indigenous to Syria, and provided cover for the American and Gulf agents and the odious forces which they supported in Syria.
  14. The Turkish and American involvement in the Syrian war, while substantial, was committed to more limited goals than the Saudi and Qatari involvement, because in the end the Turks and Americans were not ideologically committed, but were fundamentally concerned with their national interests as they perceived them.
  15. The failure of the Syrian uprising to overthrow the government by 2013 seems to have made the Obama administration doubt that the Saudi and Qatari methods would bring a successful result, and therefore the attempt was made to legitimate a US bombing campaign against Syria — which was presumably intended to so degrade the Syrian armed forces as to make the insurgents win — through claims that the Syrian government was using chemical warfare.
  16. The Russian concern about the ultimate destruction of its minor naval base in Syria, but also the Russian desire for a diplomatic coup, encouraged Russia to involve itself diplomatically and militarily in support of the prevention of a US bombing campaign by enlisting the UN to support the destruction of the Syrian chemical warfare capacity, which provided the US with the appearance of a diplomatic “victory” and thus compensated for the failure of the attempt to justify aggression.
  17. The Russian diplomatic success in Syria encouraged closer ties between Russia and Syria, but also, because the Russians encouraged the Chinese to involve themselves in diplomatic activity in the anti-chemical-warfare project, encouraged closer ties between China and Syria and between Russia and China, which also further encouraged Iranian engagement with Syria.
  18. The US encouragement of a coup against the Ukrainian government in order to install an anti-Russian regime had been in progress for several years, but it is possible that the Russian diplomatic success in Syria encouraged the US to advance the timetable of the coup and thus make it more chaotic, possibly also promoting the Russian fears which led to the seizure of the Crimea, and thus the provocation of the secession of the Donbass, which in turn promoted the direct US attack on Russia.
  19. It is also possible that the Saudi/Qatari support for a Wahhabi movement in Iraq to overthrow the Shi’ite Iraqi government or at least seize control of a large part of Iraqi territory, and thus open yet another front in the Syrian war into the bargain, was in part a US response to the Russo-Chinese intervention which had stymied direct aggression against Syria.
  20. The establishment of the “Islamic State” movement in Syria and Iraq provided a fresh source of recruits for the insurgency and severely overextended the Syrian armed forces, bringing them, after almost five years of fighting, to the verge of breakdown, but its genocidal brutality and cultural destructiveness also made it clear, yet again, what the real agenda of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States was.
  21. The behaviour of the “Islamic State” was intended to legitimate the US intervention supposedly (but not actually) in opposition to it, but this also provided justifications for the Russian government to intervene.
  22. The Russian intervention, associated as it was with an expanded Lebanese intervention and a substantial Iranian intervention, was not only legal in terms of international law and custom (unlike the US intervention, which amounted to invasion) but it was also much better planned and executed and had far greater prospect of success since it relied on enhancing the competence, equipment and morale.of the Syrian armed forces.
  23. The American ground invasion of Syria which followed the Russian intervention was tardy, inept and largely pointless given that it depended for its survival on sympathy from Turkey and Iraq which could not be guaranteed, especially not after Iraq had largely defeated the “Islamic State” and crushed the Kurdish attempt to take advantage of its temporary weakness.
  24. The Turkish shooting down of a Russian combat aircraft attacking Wahhabi insurgents on Syrian soil was almost certainly approved by the US.
  25. The Russian response to the Turkish attack on their armed forces was extraordinarily measured and suggests that Russian intelligence had realised that Turkey was the weakest link in the US-Turkish-Israeli-Jordanian-Saudi-Qatari coalition against Syria, and that a combination of coercion and diplomacy might shift Turkish support away from the Wahhabi insurgents who had little in common with Turkish Islamism.
  26. The failed coup against the Turkish government which followed an apparent warming of relations between Russia and Turkey was organised on US soil and was probably carried out with the approval of the US government; in any case the Turkish government believed that this was the case and would have been foolish to believe otherwise, so this was a major factor in the shift of Turkish allegiance away from support from the Wahhabi insurgents in Syria.
  27. The Syrian victories against Wahhabi insurgents in Homs, Aleppo and Palmyra was met with an ineffectual series of bombings of Syrian and allied forces undertaken by the Israelis and the US which suggested that the US support for the insurgents had become incoherent, a notion buttressed by the election of Donald Trump as US President which flew in the face of US ruling-class support for Wahhabi-sponsored regime change in Damascus.
  28. Despite the much improved military situation for the Syrian government after its string of victories and despite the expanded contribution of Russian armed forces, intelligence agencies and diplomats in the region, the Syrian government did not show the overstretch and hubris which might have been expected from the past, but instead continued a methodical process of systematic expansion of territorial control without any dramatic actions against the insurgents.
  29. The US increasing reliance on Kurdish insurgents to protect their forces occupying Eastern Syria, naturally generated conflict with Turkey, which eventually led to the Turkish invasion of north-eastern Syria and the collapse of the Kurdish forces in the region — making it possible for an ultimate negotiated Syrian recovery of the region to take place should Turkey be willing to allow this.
  30. The success of the Syrian Ba’ath Party in resisting this level of aggression when virtually all other attempts at self-defence in the region have failed, is a strong suggestion that the Ba’ath Party is a legitimate organisation in Syria, and must form part of any future government.
  31. Given all the above points, not only does the initiative lie with the Syrians, but it does so justly, and all possible support should be offered to any initiative aimed at restoring the territorial integrity of Syria and expelling all foreign invaders from that country, before any discussion of any constitutional changes takes place — and nobody involved in the Syrian insurgency should be viewed as an appropriate participant in any such discussion.




Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution.

January 1, 2014

David Graeber, author of Debt: The First Five Thousand Years, is one of the most articulate and substantial anarchists to have appeared in the West for many decades. He is also, however, a vainglorious and preposterous prat. The combination of these qualities emerges in a complicated fashion from his recent book, The Democracy Project.

The centerpiece of the book is the Occupy Wall Street movement, which Graeber easily compares with the Tahrir Square protests. There are certainly valid points of comparison, since both movements achieved essentially nothing of substance. Graeber also notes that the kind of decentered movement which OWS was striving towards was copied extensively by the CIA and implemented for destabilization purposes – of which Tahrir Square was surely a major part. Notwithstanding, OWS was a comparatively idealistic affair which was not heavily influenced by the ideology of Western imperialism, neocolonialism and plutocracy, in the way that Tahrir Square was. (Of course, the book was written while Tahrir Square still appeared to have successfully installed an Islamic regime in Egypt, and before the Islamists were massacred and driven out by American military puppets.)

Graeber, being an anarchist, was excited to see an anarchist movement arising in the United States. This is not, however, as surprising as it might seem. Anarchism is extremely popular in a self-centred, narcissistic culture (it is much admired on the American extreme right) and it is therefore not surprising that any broad-based middle-class anti-establishment movement would be anarchic. The real problem was, and is, whether it was effectual or sustainable.

Because it was anarchist, the OWS movement was officially leaderless (although Graeber gives the names of numerous people, including himself, who actually did the leading), had no actual principles, ideology or strategy. It also had no recruiting system other than word of mouth, and of course did not have a technique for appealing to established media or political organizations. These are not seen as a problem by Graeber; instead, the problem is that organizations get involved, or try to get involved, in projects like OWS, a fact which Graeber sees as unfair because such organizations try to further their own agendas (instead of Graeber’s agenda).

Having sketched out what OWS was, or what Graeber wanted it to be, he then devotes a 100-page chapter to discussing its accomplishments. The chapter is called “Why Did It Work?”, a title which ignores the obvious point that by any serious standard it did not work at all. However, Graeber evidently set other standards.

He notes, for instance, that OWS initially received more sympathetic media coverage than other left-wing movements. He offers a few idle speculations about reasons, none of which amounts to anything substantial, then notes that after a few weeks media coverage was solidly hostile and remained so until the end of the movement. He also notes that OWS spread across the country (but acknowledges that much of the spread was extremely small-scale and temporary in nature) and attributes this to the widespread immiseration of the intellectual aspiring middle class on which OWS depended.

However, he also says that this middle class movement attracted working class support. He provides a lot of evidence showing the immiseration of the American working class and the way in which the financialisation of the American economy was damaging working-class interests. However, he doesn’t provide any evidence of substantive working class support for OWS (as opposed to the kind of sympathy which everybody feels for anyone who bucks the repressive system). There doesn’t actually seem to be any (indeed, Graeber later complains that OWS was betrayed by the unions, although there is no real sign that the unions ever committed anything to OWS). This would seem to be a key failure of the movement.

He then raises two points.One is, “Why did the movement refuse to . . . engage with the existing political system?”. The answer seems to be that it was controlled by anarchists like Graeber who had raised such disengagement to the status of a principle. (Of course, “engage” might often mean “collaborate”, and obviously OWS did not collude and should not have colluded with the Democratic Party’s attempts to hijack the movement to serve the narrow interests of the elite which that Party serves.) The key problem with this disengagement is that it meant that there were no coherent attainable demands and there was no attempt to develop such demands or link the demands with any OWS action. Instead, OWS simply tried to tap into the anti-politics discourse which the Tea Party also exploited. Hostility to the system, however, is not something which can lead to any kind of coherent alternative to the system – and Graeber and his friends were also extremely hostile to any such alternative being posed, because that would have limited the individualist libertarianism of their movement.

Nevertheless, he claims that this was an “explicitly revolutionary movement”. A revolution, that is, without any goals, without any capacity to change anything or indeed desire to change anything, and without the support of the working class or the armed forces. This is, apparently, the anarchist vision of a revolution. Graeber notes what is wrong with America quite accurately (although very superficially) but offers no alternative and no notion of what force is going to right these wrings – apart from the rhetorical gesture of the “99%”, which Graeber unfortunately confuses with an actual constituency. When he says that challenging the role of money in politics is a revolutionary act, this shows that Graeber, like so many South African Trotskyites, is confusing rhetoric with the concrete world; simply talking about the role of money is not going to remove money from the equation. Ultimately the plutocrats have to be erased or blocked, which is not going to be accomplished by repeating dull slogans over a “people’s mic” which seems exactly like what Graeber denounced the Workers World Party for doing (the WWP were the people who actually began the occupation movement; Graeber and his friends shouldered them aside and hijacked it, supposedly in order to protect the movement against the WWP).

Then, he asks the key question: why did the movement appear to collapse so quickly after the camps were evicted in November 2011? He argues first that this was due to police repression, but compared with the repression which South Africans faced in the 1980s or the Bolsheviks faced in 1917 or in fact which pretty much every successful or partially successful revolutionary movement, this was quite tame. (Graeber tries to coneal this fact with massively florid rhetoric about the evils of the police and their tactics, all of which were entirely predictable.) One must assume from this that OWS was just as fragile as a revolutionary from an earlier period would have assumed that an entity without organizational cohesion, ideological integrity or substantive goals ought to be. What Graeber insists, however, is that although the movement appeared to collapse, it did not actually collapse. He provides little or no evidence for this claim, which appears to be essentially false; there is no public movement pursuing the goals of OWS insofar as it had any, and none appears likely to arise, nor is there anything else making a difference in this regard.

The rest of the book is a passionate but very questionable and meandering argument in favour of direct democracy rather than representative democracy (the book is actually replete with evidence that direct democracy is an ineffectual way of confronting a repressive system) and a long claim about how change is coming despite the obvious absence of any solid force capable of bringing change about. At the end Graeber admits that a radical alternative is needed, but nowhere in the book is any such alternative presented – either because Graeber doesn’t have the imagination to provide it or because he doesn’t really have the courage to take on the critics who would attack him for providing it. Certainly no sign of any such radical alternative, backed by any effective political force, is available anywhere in the United States (or anywhere else in the West).

So basically, Graeber’s book depends on false claims and misrepresentations of what is going on, couched in exaggerated rhetoric about the wonderful courage of the participants in a failed movement which is represented as not having failed though the failure is all too obvious and was predicted by almost everyone who wasn’t an anarchist from the beginning. This is depressing, because it prevents Graeber from identifying what he did wrong, just as it prevented Graeber from understanding why the very similar anti-globalisation movement failed in 2001-2. (Graeber claims that it was killed by 9/11, which is simply question-begging; had that movement been healthy and strong 9/11 ought to have invigorated it.)

In other words, this is a potentially interesting book which tells a pack of lies and leads nowhere. We need a revolution. Mikhail Bakunin thought, quite wrongly, that he knew how to make revolutions, and always supported them. Graeber, like Bakunin, does the same (though more lethargically and less bravely). It was once said that Bakunin was needed in a revolution, but that the moment it ended, he ought to be shot. In contrast, however, Bakunin’s heirs — like Graeber — are not needed in any revolution, and this book, unfortunately, explains why.