Sunday, May 25, 2014

Socialist Action Jumps The Shark

Admittedly, there is a difference between political opinions with intellectual rigor and those that appeal to sentiment. A political party ideally hits both those buttons, at least partially. For example, when I was a Trotskyist, the intellectual argument against the Vietnam war was opposition to imperialism, while sentiment was rooted in the horror of the war. The two matched up more or less, and the result was a growing Party.

Today, both Socialist Action and The Militant have lost their way. The former strives for intellectual rigor (such as it is), while the latter appeals to sentiment. Neither is successful.

A recent article by Jeff Mackler in Socialist Action touts the thesis of the aging muckraker, Seymour Hersh. He's the fellow who exposed the My Lai massacre some forty six years ago, and now he claims that the Syrian rebels are responsible for the sarin gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. That is the red line supposedly crossed by the Assad government that nearly led to US retaliation.

The consensus view is that crime was committed by the government, not by the rebels. I acknowledge there is some disagreement, and I certainly don't know enough about the mechanics of gas attacks to resolve the issue. But I find Mr. Hersh's claim, and by extension Socialist Action's position, untenable.

The Leftist expert on Syria is Louis Proyect, who has devoted a lengthy article on Seymour Hersh here. Mr. Proyect pretty convincingly debunks the Hersh thesis. Unfortunately, his argument is too ad hominem for my taste: Mr. Hersh is wrong because he agrees with right-wing news sites, such as World Net Daily. But of course there's no reason why Right and Left couldn't agree on a factual matter (were it factual). I'm a Right-winger and on this I agree with Mr. Proyect. Does that make Mr. Proyect wrong?

I think believing in a rebel sarin attack on their own position is a conspiracy theory. It requires that the rebels would use one of their few artillery shells to attack their own, very strategic position, and this apparently just to prod the US into retaliating against the government. Surely, if the rebels really did have access to artillery-deliverable sarin gas, they would have employed it against the enemy, rather than betting on the fanciest billiard ball bounce ever.

Socialist Action advances this theory in part to demonstrate that the rebels are really evil people. Therefore, just as a matter of basic human morality, you should support the government. This is an appeal to sentiment. The effort is belied somewhat by the caption to the photo: "Assad is guilty of many atrocities, as this photograph taken after a government airstrike on the town of Maarat al-Noaman shows. But did his regime use sarin gas?"

More, Socialist Action tries to show that the US is really siding with the rebels. In particular, they assert that we are trying to provide the rebels with shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADS), capable of shooting down civilian aircraft. For whatever reason we're trying to keep this effort a secret--to this day the mainstream media is completely bamboozled. It's not clear why we'd be trying to keep it a secret, nor could we were it true. The Israelis would have a conniption fit if they really believed we were trying to so arm the rebels, and would shout to the heavens.

The whole theory is just malarkey. As Mr. Proyect demonstrates, the US policy is to let the two sides fight it out and exhaust each other.

In a similarly perverse position, Socialist Action has come down on the side of the Russians in Ukraine.
The conflict in Ukraine has greatly escalated in recent days, as open revolt against the right-wing government in Kiev sweeps through the eastern and southern sections of the country. Protesters state that they are trying to protect the Russian-speaking population from discrimination and fascist attacks. Many call for autonomy for their region, while others say they are seeking to secede from Ukraine and to join Russia—as Crimea did following its March 16 referendum.
This thesis loosely agrees with Pat Buchanan's, who argues that Putin is defending Christendom. Buchanan's piece is better argued, and indeed, who one sides with here is a matter of taste. But Socialist Action is going against sentiment, which belongs to the freedom-fighting rebels in Kiev. Both The Militant and Mr. Proyect are on the side of the Maidan Square demonstrators.

So for both Syria and Ukraine Socialist Action goes against sentiment and instead argues for "principle." The principle is to oppose anything the American government supports. If the US supports the Maidan square crowd, then of course it's only because they're a bunch of fascists. If America opposes Assad, it can only be because the Baathist regime represents some residue of Marxism, and is in any event less vile than the evil Jihadis.

But since sentiment and principle have to sort-of align, it is necessary to come up with completely bogus crimes, such as the rebel's sarin gas attack. In the cause of sentiment, Socialist Action finds a fascist under every bed. It won't work--it's really hard to distinguish the Black Hats from the White Hats in either Syria or Ukraine. None of the hats are Red, either.

The Militant, in siding with sentiment on both Syria and Ukraine, has lost sight of principle. It's program has become increasingly incoherent, as I've documented elsewhere (most recently here). They're flailing around trying to find a thread on which to hang a position. To use the old Trotskyist lingo, The Militant is opportunist, while Socialist Action is sectarian. My 18-year-old self would still have joined with The Militant. I'd have nothing to do with Socialist Action.

Zoltan Grossman, writing in Socialist Viewpoint in one of the best articles about Ukraine I've read anywhere, puts it best: "The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend." Words to live by.

Further Reading:


  1. The Grossman piece is horrible. Jobbik is allied with Putin, not with the Ukrainian right. There's lots more just wrong with this piece, but I don't have time to waste on it.
    BTW, it comes from Information Clearing house, which is an "anti-imperialist" disinformation site which has slimed pretty much every revolution against anti-Western dictatorships.

    Look before you leap.

    1. I'll have to look into this. Thanks for the heads up.