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Syria and "Hitchensification"

After two years, the "Arab Spring" discourse has reached its nadir.  Empty of anything except for the recognition that rebellion is justified (which is correct), it was incapable of asking the deeper questions that anti-imperialists, and especially marxists, are required to ask whenever we are confronted with spontaneous uprisings: what is required for an uprising to pass from rebellion to revolution, what can transform a legitimate rebellion to one that is manipulated by the forces of reaction, and, above all, when and how are rebellions conditioned by the primary global contradiction of imperialism against the oppressed masses?

Following the mass uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, we were presented with rebellions in Libya and Syria and, because they fit with the general Arab Spring discourse they caused confusion for those who were not asking the difficult questions.  Hence, the moment a NATO no-fly zone on behalf of the rebels in Libya was enacted, some leftists committed to an uncritical understanding of revolution and anti-imperialism immediately endorsed what they never would have endorsed in the past because, enamoured by the Arab Spring, they refused to accept that a revolt's legitimacy could and would become delegitimized when it was embraced by imperialism.  Again, the global contradiction was ignored: to endorse imperialist intervention is to implicitly stand against the oppressed masses even if one believes that s/he is doing the opposite––imperialists also speak of humanitarian interventions, and aiding the world's poor and wretched, but history has taught us that this is a lie.

Now that the war in Syria has led to the possibility of direct imperialist intervention, however, much of the left that had originally refused to recognize the already existent imperialist involvement (i.e. the fact that the Free Syrian Army was being armed and influenced by the imperialist camp) thankfully reclaimed their anti-imperialism.  Many of those who once endorsed the FSA and argued vociferously that these para-military groups were legitimate revolutionaries who were either not in the pay of the CIA or, more cynically, should still be supported even if they were because they were just honestly taking whatever help they could get (and it doesn't matter if this help came from imperialists), have changed their tune now that imperialism has been made explicit.  And others who had simply ignored Syria because imperialist wars are not wars unless an imperialist power is sending drones and soldiers into a combat zone are now speaking of a war against Syria (as if this war hasn't been ongoing for a while now) that must be condemned.

Regardless of the failures of the mainstream left in general to condemn imperialist involvement in Syria until now, there is no point in complaining that people figured out the correct position too late, gloat, and remind them of their failure to take this position two years ago.  Better that something approaching the anti-war movement against the recent US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq is beginning to manifest than nothing at all.  Indeed, the explicit manifestation of imperialism has a way of simplifying the leftwing landscape where things fall apart into two camps: those who take the correct anti-imperialist position, and those who, regardless of their sophistic arguments, end up siding with the forces of reaction.

We had this problem after September 11, 2001 when Christopher Hitchens, along with some lesser lights who have been forgotten, betrayed the left and sided with the imperialist camp for reasons that they believed, according to the logic of their distorted reality, were esoterically anti-imperialist.  Now Hitchens and his ilk are known as traitors, and it was a good thing they were a minority.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the situation in Syria, innumerable "leftists" have been Hitchensifying, and were doing so right up to the announcement of possible explicit US intervention.  Some thankfully switched tack and moved back to the anti-imperialist camp when what they were used to treating as imperialism (direct imperialist military intervention) became a reality.  Some fled so that they would not have to answer for their pro-imperialism.  But many have continued arguing their pseudo anti-imperialism; Hitchensification is a significant problem in this imperialist intervention.

Again, perhaps it is due to the lack of critical content in the Arab Spring discourse that we now have hundreds of hitchenites unleashed upon the left and angrily declaiming the emergence of the next anti-war movement.  Combined with the inability to think through problems in a dialectical manner, so that the situation in Syria is transformed into a pro-Assad or pro-FSA narrative, we have an emergent anti-war movement hampered by traitors who justify their betrayal based on those leftists who want to pretend that a Ba'athist regime is socialist.  So for every crude "leftist" argument made to defend Assad as a quasi-socialist, an even more reprehensible "socialist" position that endorses imperialism can become more concrete due to the (justified) unwillingness to accept Assad's regime as pro-people.

Even so, to endorse imperialism based on the correct recognition that the Assad regime ought to be overthrown by the masses is to place oneself squarely on the side of the imperialists in that it ignores the primary contradiction that defines global capitalism, mentioned at the outset of this post.  And yet arguments that are designed to look and sound "anti-imperialist" and "leftist" have been tendered to defend this position, none of which are convincing but that might be worth examining, in brief detail, below.

Argument #1: the situation in Syria is too complex

We are meant to believe that the Syrian warzone is so complex that anyone outside of Syria should not protest the explicit entry of US or NATO military forces into this theatre.  Odd appeals to identity politics are levelled at critics: you aren't Syrian, you have never lived in Syria, so you have no right to speak on behalf of Syrians.  And, as is quite common with this kind of political approach, there is the embarrassing corollary: any Syrian who disagrees with my position isn't a "real" Syrian.

Obviously we should have little patience for identity politics, especially when this approach is used to justify imperialism, and recognize that the argument about Syrian identity is garbage.  One could have equally made the same argument against those who protested US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq––and some even did––because only true Iraqis and true Afghanis could understand what it meant to live under the respective regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.  There is a truth to this, but it is a rather banal truth; it has nothing to do with standing for or against imperialism: those Afghanis who argued for US intervention and occupation were wrong, even though it was also wrong that they suffered under the Taliban, and history has proved that they were wrong.  It is not "cultural imperialism" to be against actual imperialism because you do not live in the region that is being occupied, and all of the cynical tricks to convince anti-imperialists that they are secretly "othering" the land that is being attacked amount to the justification of literal imperialism.

Moreover, the overall argument regarding complexity is essentially an argument that appeals to bourgeois "common sense": reality is so complex that we cannot make ethical judgments.  All this means is that we end up endorsing the state of affairs as it is and whose ruling class would prefer that we things as disconnected, confusing, and lacking any meaning.  They will impose meaning for us, regardless of this supposed complexity.

Historical materialism, however, begins by accepting that the complexity of reality can be apprehended in a scientific manner: that there are patterns, that these patterns can be synthesized to produce judgments, that the procession of history is such that all particularities can be apprehended, though with some difficulty, through universal insights that have already been gleaned from the momentum of history––class struggle.  Part of what makes it a science is its ability to provide some level of predictability based on its truth process: when x happens then y will happen.  History has taught us the meaning of imperialism and it has been nearly a century since this meaning was first grasped in a properly historical materialist manner: a century of seeing imperialist intervention after imperialist intervention, a century of understanding what this means, a century wherein this historical conjuncture's global contradiction was gleaned.

The situation in Syria is no more complex than the most recent situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Granted it has gained a particular level of complexity in that it, along with Libya, was able to be placed, by the imperialists, within the Arab Spring discourse, but this is a cosmetic particularity that is important insofar as it generates more traitors.

Argument #2: Assad is scum

But Assad is no worse than Saddam Hussein or the Taliban.  In fact, I would tentatively argue that Hussein was worse and non-tentatively argue that the Taliban was far worse.  Indeed, the reason why the paradigmatic traitor, Hitchens, embraced the imperialist intervention against Afghanistan was because of the obviously reactionary nature of the Taliban: it made a very nice, though very simplistic, moral argument––look at how monstrous this ideology is, imperialism is being "humanitarian" since its enemy is so obviously "inhuman".

We also should not forget that there were resistant fighters in Iraq in the early 2000s that were valorized by the imperialists––the "good" Kurdish insurgents versus the "bad" Kurdish insurgents (who were fighting against Turkey)––and it was not as if they did have legitimate grievances with Iraq's Ba'athist regime.  (Interestingly enough, those who defend the FSA and imperialist intervention do not mention the Kurdish resistance in Syria that, despite being definitely anti-Assad, has also been vociferously opposed to the FSA.)  Being opposed to the war in Iraq in that instance was not a position that was anti-Kurdish and pro-Hussein: it was an anti-imperialist position that implicitly understood that this contradiction was over-determined by the imperialist contradiction.

Nor should we forget that some communists in Afghanistan, during the invasion of the revisionist Soviet Union, made the mistake of fighting on the side of the US-backed Islamist forces (primarily the Afghanistan Liberation Organization [ALO] which has now morphed into the Revolutionary Afghanistan Womens Association [RAWA]) for the same reason that today's traitors are demanding we support imperialism in Syria: this decision is remembered as a mistake by contemporary communist organizations in Afghanistan (i.e. the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan), especially since it resulted in tragedy.

Here the point is not to prove that anti-imperialism trumps the particularities of class struggle but just that most of those who are now making these pro-imperialist arguments are the same people who, in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, said the opposite.  I am willing to bet that some of these people did not even complain when Ba'athists and Khomeinists showed up at their rallies, arguing instead that they could not police rallies and, in any case, the imperialist interventions were far worse than the regimes that these people were protesting.

Argument #3: anti-imperialist protestors are "western narcissists"

This argument is a variant of the first in that it attempts to reduce anti-imperialist critique to the level of simplistic first world chauvinism.  According to this narrative, the only reason people are protesting the war in Syria is because they like to talk about US intervention and so are simply being US-centric.  Apparently to argue against those forces in Syrian who want US intervention is to be "Islamophobic" and to deny agency to the people of Syria.

But this is a callous and naive argument, born from a cynicism that would endorse all collaboration with the forces of reaction.  Again, those who make such an argument did not generally make the same argument about protests against the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan, although the circumstances of these imperialists interventions were such that they could be made and were made by those who defended a discourse of "humanitarian intervention".

It is entirely laughable that someone would argue that it is US-centric to talk about US imperialism.  By this logic, it is western-centric to complain about "western narcissists" because to talk about them is to legitimate their discourse and thus see the struggle in Syria refracted through this problem.  The point, of course, is that the situation in Syria, as with the situation in most of the world, is refracted through the global contradiction of imperialism––this is because imperialism, particularly US imperialism, is a global problem.  Psychologizing anti-imperialists is an asinine move, especially since it mimics precisely what imperialist ideologues do to dissenting individuals; moreover, it makes one an apologist of imperialism since it a priori forbids any critical rejection of the imperialist order.

Argument #4: the real problem is that Assad isn't stepping down

A very absurd argument, but one that is made nonetheless.  A more particular variant of the second argument, this one is a bid to retain one's anti-imperialist politics by blaming the imperialist intervention on the dictator of the nation that is being attacked by the forces of reaction.  It is a rather naive and dishonest argument; it attempts to pass as critical while legitimating collaboration.

Obviously, if Assad is the dictator that the pro-imperialist "lefties" pretend that he is, then there is no possible way that he will bow to political pressure and step down––and they know this.  The US military knows this and even counts on it; it makes their ability to openly intervene and proceed to a state of outright occupation rather than trying to deal with a complex FSA that, though taking their weapons and money, might not be that amenable after Assad's regime is toppled.

Moreover, and again, this kind of argument was never made by the same people in regards to the regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.  The anti-war coalitions in those days knew that the imperialist intervention had nothing to do with whether or not these reviled regimes surrendered, nor did they think it was appropriate to charge a regime that was suddenly faced with the possibility of imperialist occupation with the responsibility of this occupation.  We all knew, back in those days when the most obvious anti-imperialism was pretty clear, that imperialist intervention was the fault of the imperialists and that the crimes of these regimes were convenient excuses for intervention and occupation.

Indeed all four of these arguments dissolve when they are subjected to past moments of anti-imperialism that those who make them were once committed.  The particularity of Syria is a second-order problem in light of the universality of imperialism; to uphold this particularity and deny the analysis that demonstrates how the universal fact of imperialism, and thus anti-imperialism, manifests in this context is to place oneself firmly on the side of imperialism and betray the politics to which one was once committed.  One becomes lost in the desert of particularities and supposed "complexities" where no ethical judgment can be made, where the absoluteness of the imperialist order is justified through an appeal to complexity, and where one turns hir back on everything that s/he had once espoused.

In this context one might as well have been making the same retrograde arguments in regards to the past and most recent imperialist interventions––the fact that the obvious similarities cannot be drawn demonstrates, perhaps, the inability to have properly understood imperialism and anti-imperialism in the first place.  We must wonder, after all, if those leftists who were opposed to interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now say the opposite in regards to Syria, were really opposed to imperialism for anti-imperialist reasons in the first place: what are the particular difference between these two periods, which are not universally different, that permit betrayal?  Nothing but the level of appearance derived from the vacuous way in with the Arab Spring discourse manifested and, perhaps, a banal moralism that masqueraded as anti-imperialism.

So let me conclude by committing a cardinal error in informal "logic" and poisoning the well––for this is a well that needs to be poisoned, the complaints of all traitors strangled before they can be made: anyone who attempts to defend these arguments is incapable of reason, is only reasserting the position of imperialism, and has no counter-argument besides rhetorical complaint; anyone who maintains a pro-imperialist position despite reading this post hasn't bothered to read it thoroughly and absorb its arguments as has fallen back on the ideological instance; anyone who continues to call themselves a leftist in this context is guilty of betrayal, and traitors have been historically incapable of making arguments to defend their position––collaboration prevents critical thought.


  1. Assad is a thousand times better than the White Power First-World "Left" Labor Aristocracy. The White Power "Left" in AmeriKKKa are nothing more than crypto-Zionist neo-Nazis.

    Every "Leftist" in AmeriKKKa deserves to be shot, as the biggest traitors and hypocrites to have ever existed.

    1. Every leftist? Seems a bit of a stretch... Not every leftist in the US and Canada supported the FSA over the Assad regime, nor are these organizations reducible to "crypto-Zionist neo-Nazi" organizations, whatever their problems. Since this sounds like a third worldist analysis (and perhaps written by someone in the first world) wouldn't this also be a stretch since third worldist organizations have generally maintained an anti-imperialist line regarding Syria, despite being in the first world?

  2. In the US the leftists who support US military intervention in Syria appears limited to those who aren't members or sympathizers of any socialist or communist organization. For the most part, their "activism" is limited to submitting articles and making comments at the Marxmail, and North Star websites.

    Ironically, many of these keyboard warriors, when younger, opposed the US war in Vietnam. Some of the same people who opposed the Iraqis resisting the US occupation of Iraq, now support the Free Syrian Army, fighting against the Assad government. The only explanation, I can think of for this contradiction on their part is that the Iraqi resistance was against the US. The comparison of these type of people to the late and unlamented Christopher Hitchens is very apt.

  3. Even if they are just "keyboard warriors" (love that term), there's certainly more of them (that is, those claiming they are also socialists, lefties, etc.) than there were in past imperialist interventions. But I suspect there are more who are not simply internet cranks. In Canada, for example, I know people who used to do a lot of good on-the-ground anti-imperialist work who have taken this position on Syria and it is both infuriating and saddening.

  4. Excellent article. There's no reason we can't say No to Assad and No to Intervention at the same time.

  5. Great post and I agree with you. But it's important to remember that the United States and the West is not the only imperialist powers. Russia is also an imperialist state for example.

  6. The discussion at The North Star, seems limited to only 2 poles: either support US military intervention, or oppose such intervention while supporting Assad. JMP, your article "Hitchensification" would be useful. I would encourage you to submit to


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