Bill Weinberg to speak on left-fascist convergence

CounterVortex editor and chief blogger Bill Weinberg will speak at the Left Forum in Brooklyn, New York, on Sunday, June 30, at the panel “Confronting the Resurgence of Authoritarianism, Right and ‘Left.'” Weinberg’s talk will be entitled “The Consensus Position of the American ‘Left’ is Now Pro-Fascist: What Do We Do About It?” Other panelists include Anne Jaclard and Andrew Kliman of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, and Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.

Sunday, June 30, 12:30 PM
Long Island University
1 University Plaza, Brooklyn, NY
Room H301

Attendees must register with the Left Forum.

  1. Against the Left-Fascist Convergence

    Bill Weinberg’s presentation for the Marxist-Humanist Initiative panel, “Confronting Right & ‘Left’ Authoritarianism“:

    Well, my talk today is on the intentionally provocative but nonetheless entirely accurate thesis that the consensus position of the contemporary “left” is now pro-fascist.

    This is not something I am saying lightly. I am not one of these people who uses the word “fascism” as a baseball bat to beat up on my enemies. I am using it with an exacting respect for its actual definition.

    This left (or more accurately pseudo-left) embrace of fascism is most obvious where Syria is concerned. The regime of Bashar Assad is a fascist regime. A leader-worshipping one-man autocracy of the far right, in its ideological roots explicitly inspired by Nazi Germany, if you go back to the origins of Assad’s Baath Party.

    When Tulsi Gabbard, now the supposedly anti-war presidential candidate, notoriously met with Assad in 2017 it was as part of a delegation filled with regime sycophants, including adherents of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which, as its name implies, is a neo-fascist formation. The SSNP was briefly in power in Syria in the 1950s, and brought ex-Nazis to help run the security apparatus, in the manner of Bolivia under the right-wing generals. Today the SSNP is a “satellite party” of Assad’s equally fascistic Baath Party, which continued to avail itself of Nazi talent after coming to power way back in 1970.

    And this is a regime has over the course of the war in Syria these past eight years escalated to genocide against perceived sectarian enemies and disloyal elements of the populace. Apart from massively bombing civilian populations, reducing cities to rubble, and serially using chemical weapons, the regime has for the past four years been systematically killing thousands of detainees, amounting to a campaign of “extermination,” according to a 2016 study by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report found that crimes against humanity committed by the Assad regime far outnumber those of ISIS and other jihadist groups.

    And the consensus position of the American left is now one in support of this regime.

    First let us dispense with the requisite and kneejerk disavowal that we inevitably hear: “Oh no, we don’t support the regime, we just oppose US intervention in Syria.” Because that is quite simply a lie. When you parrot regime propaganda, when you depict the Syrian opposition as monolithically jihadist, when you cast doubt on Bashar Assad being behind the serial chemical attacks, when you portray genuinely heroic unarmed volunteer civil defense groups like the White Helmets as an arm of al-Qaeda—you are loaning support to the regime and implicitly justifying its massive attacks on civilian populations. This is objectively support of the Assad regime

    And if you do not recognize that the pro-Assad position, which in effect means a pro-genocide and pro-fascist position, has become the consensus position of the left in the United States and in the West…. it is because you don’t want to. The evidence is obvious and overwhelming, if one chooses to look at it.

    For over a year now, the group I work with, Syria Solidarity NYC, has been holding a weekly Syria Peace Vigil in Union Square every Friday evening, standing, most recently, against the bombardment of Idlib province, and in solidarity with the civil resistance forces that are besieged there. The civil resistance forces around groups such as Radio Fresh and the Local Coordination Committees, the secular, pro-democratic, unarmed opposition that first mobilized against the regime in 2011 and has managed to survive in spite of everything.

    One evening back in April, we had the most depressing (if not the most physically dangerous) exchange yet in the many months we’ve been doing the peace vigil. Almost every week, as we stand with the Free Syrian flag and signs against the bombardment of civilian populations, we got push-back from “leftists.” On one occasion, it actually came to violence, where a guy wearing a button with the North Korean flag got in my face and took a swing at me, knocking off my cap. But what happened this particular day was more revealing. Some (forgive me) indoctrinated fool who thinks of himself as a progressive and an anti-war type came along and said, “Why are you doing this? The Free Syrian Army uses poison gas on children.”

    Now, there are so many things wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin. For starters our signs didn’t say anything about the FSA; we support first and foremost the civil resistance in Syria. And secondly, the notion that the rebels themselves used poisonous gas on rebel-held territory is utterly baseless. It is sheer empty propaganda with nothing to back it up. Any bona fide human rights group will tell you that all of the evidence supports the obvious reality that it is the Assad regime that has serially now used poisonous gas against rebel-held territories. which is the logic of the dynamic of insurgency and counterinsurgency. Rebel forces almost never commit those kinds of atrocities against the civil populace whose hearts and minds they are trying to win in order to be fish swimming in the sea of the people, in the dictum of Mao Zedong. And it is counterinsurgent forces, such as most obviously the US using chemical warfare like Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam, which resort to those kinds of ghastly extremist tactics against civilian populations.

    So when I questioned this individual where he had picked up this bit of egregious disinformation, he said, “I read it in the newspaper.” When I asked which newspaper, he said: “Democracy Now.”

    Which is not a newspaper, but that’s beside the point. The point is that Amy Goodman and Democracy Now have repeatedly put figures like Noam Chomsky on the air to abet this ubiquitous “false flag” theory. Every time that the US carries out or threatens to carry out air-strikes against Assad regime targets in response to a chemical attack (as has now actually happened twice), Chomsky or somesuch Leftist Talking Head appears on Democracy Now to irresponsibly conjecture that the attack was actually a provocation by the rebels. And they’ll be very careful to say (and I paraphrase) “Well, we don’t like Assad, he’s not a nice guy, and yeah, he could have done the attack—but who know, maybe it was the rebels.” Completely irresponsible speculation that then allows listeners like our heckler to take away from the conversation what they want to take away from it, and go away with the impression that the chemical attack was a provocation by the rebels against their own people. And for an example of exactly what I’m talking about, see Amy Goodman’s interview with Chomsky on the episode of Democracy Now that aired April 26, 2017 in the aftermath of the Assad regime’s deadly chemical attack at Khan Shiekhoun. You can read it for yourself and see that Chomsky engages in precisely the cynical, disingenuous and sinister propaganda that I just described

    This outrage over two sets of US air-strikes on Assad regime targets in response to chemical attacks is vividly contrasted with utter silence from the anti-war left over the virtual destruction of the cities of Raqqa and Mosul by US air power in the campaign against ISIS over the past two years, taking an horrific toll in hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilian casualties—to not a peep of protest from the so-called “anti-war” left. But a few regime warplanes get taken out—the same which were recently used in chemical attacks—and few or no actual lives claimed, much less civilian lives… then the “anti-war” hypocrites recover their sense of outrage, and take to the streets and decry the air-strikes on Democracy Now. Clearly what matters are regime warplanes—not Syrian lives. These people not anti-war; they are pro-war. And there is nothing more repugnant than pro-war propaganda disguised as anti-war propaganda.

    But it gets worse. Seymour Hersh has now become an open supporter of this genocidal regime. In a Dec. 9, 2013 interview with Democracy Now—after that year’s Ghouta chemical attack—he said, “Inside the [intelligence] community, for the last year, it’s been known that the only game in town, whether you like it or don’t like it, was Bashar… because…the opposition…were being overrun by jihadists… [T]he only solution for stability was Bashar. You have to just like it or don’t like it.”

    The Nation magazine engaged in active support for the destruction of Aleppo by Assad’s and Putin’s warplanes in 2016. Stephen Cohen, one of the magazine’s stars and a contributing editor, was featured in an online audio interview on Aug. 17 of that year, once again dutifully parroting the Moscow line on Syria and Ukraine. But the Syria discussion reached a unprecedented nadir, even for him: echoing the standard Russian propaganda trick of conflating all rebel forces with ISIS—even as the Syrian rebels were actually fighting ISIS. Read the introductory text for the interview: “Putin needs a decision by Obama now as the crucial battle for Aleppo intensifies… Putin seems resolved to end the Islamic State’s occupation of Syria, Aleppo being a strategic site, without or with US cooperation, which he would prefer to have.” What did the Putin-Assad bombing of Aleppo have to do with the fight against ISIS? Absolutely nothing. ISIS was not in Aleppo. Its attempts to establish an stronghold in the city were, in fact, repulsed by the very rebel forces that Moscow and Damascus were then savagely bombing.

    So these figures which are by any definition the leading lights of the contemporary left, have much to answer for in creating a consensus position in favor of a genocidal dictatorship.

    And these are just the ones who at least have enough sophistication to be dishonest and ritually disavow Assad while spreading his propaganda. In contrast are the blatantly pro-Assad factions. those who are not merely objectively but subjectively on the side the dictatorship. I’m talking principally here about the ANSWER Coalition, the poorly-named Party for Socialism & Liberation (more aptly dubbed the Party for Fascism & Dictatorship), the International Action Center, Peoples Power Assemblies, and others. These are all entities which emerged one way or another—as offshoots or front groups—from the Workers World Party, whose origins go back to elements of the Trotskyist movement who supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, and subsequently started moving back in a pro-Stalinist direction. Today, these groups actually march with portraits of the genocidal dictator Bashar Assad at their hypocritical “anti-war” rallies.

    Now, whenever I bring these groups up, I am told “Oh, don’t worry about them, they are just fringe factions with no real influence.” Yet, we continue to show up at their rallies and carry their mass-produced placards with the names and phone numbers of their organizations. In fact, with United for Peace & Justice now effectively moribund, the ANSWER Coalition is the last mass anti-war organization still standing in the US—and it is the one that most aggressively and blatantly promotes Bashar Assad as an icon of anti-imperialism. Incidentally, if you go to the 9-11 Museum, there is actually one anti-war leaflet on display from the outburst of war fever following the disaster—and it is from ANSWER. So please stop telling us that these sectarian factions don’t represent the anti-war movement. Here, in a place where it really matters, displayed for the masses and preserved for posterity, they manifestly do exactly that.

    Now, 25 years ago, when the wars in Bosnia and Kosova were underway, Workers World and its most significant front group of the day, the International Action Center, were similarly supporting Slobodan Milosevic—and then, it really was a somewhat fringe position; not a lot of the left followed them into that error. More than should have, certainly, but it never became the consensus position. Today, in contrast, the position in support of the even bloodier Bashar Assad is hegemonic.

    Further examples. The 2016 US Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein (disgracefully a featured speaker here at the Left Forum) toes the reactionary consensus line on Syria, and her running mate Ajamu Baraka is an open Assad supporter. After the dictator’s thoroughly controlled pseudo-elections that confirmed his rule in 2014, Baraka hailed this as a repudiation of the West, crowing about Assad’s “support” among the Syrian people, and how the opposition was “fomented” by the “gangster states of NATO.” Stein herself, in an interview later scrubbed from the Internet (but retrieved by my expert technician), referred to the Ghouta chemical attack (with no evidence) as a “false flag.”

    FAIR, or the increasingly ironically named “Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting,” has repeatedly dismissed the Syrian opposition as jihadist and/or a CIA creation. After the release of the Mueller report, FAIR issued a statement berating the media for having hyped the Russian collusion (never revising this position after Mueller made clear that, contrary to Attorney General Barr’s interpretations, his report did not absolve Trump). The statement promoted certain journalists as a positive alternative—including the Assad-regime flack Rania Khalek and her Kremlin-front platform “In the Now,” which is directly funded by RT, the Russian state propaganda organ.

    The holiday fund-raising statement issued at the end of last year by Veterans for Peace (another now ironic name), hailed the genocidal Assad regime as the “secular, multi-religious Syrian state,” and again portrayed the opposition as al-Qaeda and US-created astroturf.

    The current golden boy of Verso Books (who, by the way, published my last book) is Max Blumenthal, another frequent RT contributor, whose new title The Management of Savagery seems to be an exercise in defaming the Syrian opposition in the same terms. He recently said on RT: “Ever since I came out in 2016…forcefully against regime change in Syria. I have been targeted by a small collection of neoconservative and centrist operatives.” Meaning the people who have protested at his book promotion events—as I have. Now needless to say, I am not a neocon and I am not a centrist, so that’s a calumny right there. But if you are against regime change in Syria, you support the regime in Syria. It is one of the tragedies of the whole experience of the Iraq war and the grave damage to political discourse that was done by the damn neoconservatives that the term “regime change” has now become synonymous with foreign imperialist meddling in the Middle East. Because Bush and the neocons took up the term and applied it to their Iraq adventure, which was an arbitrary and unprovoked imperialist invasion, there is still this unwarranted stigma that attaches to the term “regime change.”

    Now, if you look at the term’s meaning merely objectively, regime change is not only something we should all support, under every dictatorial regime on the planet (of which there are many), regardless of which imperial camp it is in—but it is also something that the people of Syria and the rest of the Arab world have been fighting and dying for ever since 2011, under the slogan, if I am pronouncing it correctly, Ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam. The people demand the downfall of the regime. That was the slogan that was taken up by the Arab masses in 2011, and is still the slogan that animates the struggles that are continuing today, in Syria, in Sudan, in Algeria, and elsewhere around the Arab world. The people demand the downfall of the regime—meaning the regimes that were the allies and clients of US imperialism, such as those in Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Jordan and Bahrain, and also the regimes that made a pretense, I would say, of opposing US imperialism, such as that of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya and Bashar Assad in Syria. All of these regimes were equally dictatorships, and the Arab Revolution, which swept like a wave from country to country in 2011 and really is still going on today, opposed dictatorship because it was dictatorship—not because it was a dictatorship backed up by one world power or another. And making it all about the United States is, perversely, a form of nationalism. It is completely US-centric, you are still placing the US at the heart of the moral universe. Whether you view it as uniquely good like the neocons or you view it as uniquely evil, it is equally an imperial point of view, which some have termed imperial narcissism. Now, as leftists (if indeed we remain leftists), we should be supporting revolutionaries. If you do not support revolution you are counter-revolutionary and a reactionary. So I find it very ironic that Max Blumenthal accuses me and my friends of being neocons and centrists. I would argue, as long as we are so interested in name-calling, Mr Blumenthal, that you are the counter-revolutionary and reactionary.

    And the aligning with the oppressor in Syria is by no means an isolated error, but is indicative of a deeper malady. Max Blumenthal recently plugged on twitter the work of another veteran of Russian state media, Alex Rubenstein, who bashed the Hong Kong protesters as coopted because some money from the National Endowment for Democracy may have found its way to some of them. But the irony and hypocrisy of this criticism is a secondary point. What these guys really appear to be motivated by is a visceral fear and hatred of revolution and popular movements, and a longing for rule by strongmen.

    A final personal experience to relate concerns the War Resisters League, the venerated anti-war organization that emerged out of efforts to oppose military conscription in World War I. I was never formally a member, but I worked intermittently with WRL for something like 30 years—supporting the anti-militarist and pro-coexistence forces in all of the ex-Yugoslav republics back in the ‘90s, the autonomous “peace communities” in Colombia, the leftist civil resistance in Iraq after the US invasion. I represented WRL at two anti-war conferences in Japan aimed at building solidarity with the Iraqi civil resistance. And throughout this period I’d been dissenting rom their willingness to sign as co-sponsors in so-called “anti-war” demos with Workers World and its front groups and splinter organizations. I argued that by doing so, WRL is betraying everything that it stands for. Finally last year, after I continued to issue such protests, my old comrades at WRL blocked me on Facebook. And I continue to get no response from my longtime friends and comrades in the organization when I ask them when they are going to have the discussion that needs to be had about this contradiction. So after all these years of working with WRL to support nonviolent opposition movements in ex-Yugoslavia, in Colombia and Iraq, I seem to have come to a parting of the ways with them because of my support for a truly heroic nonviolent opposition movement in Syria. Rather than forthrightly taking that side in Syria, they’ve largely remained silent. They’ve put out a couple of good statements over the years, which are basically saying the right thing about Syria—but not once, despite my repeated invitations, have they sent anyone to stand with us in our Syria peace vigil in union square, and they continue to betray what they supposedly stand for by allying with groups that support the war criminal Bashar Assad.

    And on the subject of the deeper malady at work here—this embrace of fascism overseas has very disturbing implications for our ability to resist it here at home. Now, the US is not—yet—a fascist state. The rudiments of bourgeois democracy are under attack here, but they are still in place. Donald Trump, however, is a fascist. If we go down the checklist of the essential characteristics of a fascist leader, they are all there: ugly ultra-nationalism that seeks to correct perceived humiliation, xenophobia and demonization of the Other, exaltation of the great leader, fetishization of violence, contempt for democracy, enthusiasm for military aggression, populism tinged with anti-Semitism, and rank anti-intellectualism.

    And among those who have portrayed the fascistic Trump as the lesser evil to the neoliberal Hillary Clinton are Jill Stein, John Pilger and Slavoj Žižek. Glen Greenwald leads the pack of “leftist” voices that seek to exonerate Trump of collusion with Putin. And, not incidentally, he’s one of the biggest boosters of Julian Assange, whose “accredited” agent in Belarus was Israel Shamir, an open and undisguised anti-Semite and supporter of the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko. This dictator in his wave of repression in 2010, in which hundreds were arrested for peaceful protest, claimed that Wikileaks gave him intelligence on who to detain.

    Initially there was a “resistance” mobilizing in response to Trumpism, but it has been pretty quiet now that an actual concentration camp system is being consolidated in the United States. Contrary to the pervasive “worse-is-better” logic, it is Trump who is getting away with far more than Obama and Clinton did, to virtually zero protest from the left. Civilian casualties of US air-strikes in Syria and Iraq have jumped dramatically since Trump took over. And all the people who relentlessly baited Hillary as a “war-monger” are utterly silent—because Trump is openly on the same side as Putin and Assad, backing up the dictator instead of backing the revolutionaries as Obama did in Libya (with far lesser civilian casualties). The conventional wisdom that lefties only protest Republican war-mongers is now a perfect reversal of reality.

    So, what do we do about all this? Well, for starters, there are generally younger and newer formations on the left that are not coopted by fascism, and we should be vigorously supporting them. Rise & Resist is going to be protesting the ICE gulag tomorrow at 5.30 PM at Grand Central Station, and I am going to try to be there. Syria Solidarity NYC is pushing the issue at our ongoing Union Square vigils every Friday, and we coordinate with a national network called the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria, or CISPOS. In Palestine solidarity efforts, I support Jewish Voice for Peace and Adalah NY. I do not support Al-Awda. which is in the Workers World orbit. And there are groups, such as WRL and Democratic Socialists of America, that are basically going along with the pro-fascist consensus, but can perhaps still be saved from being fully co-opted by fascism if a conscious struggle is waged in these organizations. But it has to be a conscious struggle, and pushing the issue aside in the supposed interest of “unity” is part of the problem.