[Marxism] Monthly Review editor's note on the Middle East

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 22 05:35:35 MST 2015

"In 2011 the United States (and NATO as a whole) took advantage of the 
Arab Spring protests to attack Libya, destroying the regime there under 
Qaddafi, while fostering a civil war in Syria with the goal of toppling 
the Assad government."

full: http://monthlyreview.org/2015/11/01/mr-067-06-2015-10_0/

The editor's note makes an amalgam of everyone who has picked up a gun 
against the Baathist dictatorship under the rubric of "political Islam" 
as if the current editorial board (minus Michael Yates) has no idea that 
there's little difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia when it comes to 
religious authoritarianism.

This is really sad. The idea that the USA "fostered" a war in Syria is 
asserted with zero evidence. I understand that the editor's note is not 
meant for analysis but rather this sort of back of the envelope 
thumb-sucking reductionism. It is remarkable in fact that in the entire 
4 years Syria has been the scene of profound social conflict involving a 
myriad of forces, not a single article has appeared in the magazine. 
Instead John Bellamy Foster has allowed Yoshie's tweets and 
crosspostings on her blog (aka MRZine) to substitute for serious analysis.

There was a time when Monthly Review had a much clearer class 
understanding of Baathism when Paul Sweezey and Harry Magdoff were the 
editors. There's an article titled “The Coups in Iraq and Syria”, 
written by Tabitha Petran, that appeared in the May 1963 Monthly Review.

Petran minces no words, beginning her article as follows:

	The recent coups in Iraq and Syria realize the six-year-old Eisenhower 
Doctrine’s goal of anti-Communist “Arab unity” under United States 
protection. The coups’ authors are the international oil interests, the 
U.S., and their local placemen—the Baath and Arab Nationalist 
(Nasserist) parties, assorted militarists and feudal left over from 
Hashemite rule in Iraq, and in Syria elements from the right-wing of the 
Moslem Brotherhood.

She dubs Baathism as an amalgam of demagogy and petty-bourgeois social 
reforms that is “widely regarded as an instrument of American 
imperialism”. It is so interesting to see the final dregs of this system 
being hoisted on the shoulders of John Bellamy Foster, John Mage and 
Yoshie Furuhashi.

Petran’s article decries the wholesale slaughter of Communists in Iraq, 
a crime that no longer tends to bother the MR group based on Furuhashi’s 
grotesque attempts to provide ex post facto excuses for the slaughter of 
radicals in Khomeini’s Iran in the early 1980s. These “divisive” 
elements obviously stood in the way of creating strong states that might 
become part of counter-hegemonic blocs. Back in the early 60s 
apparently, MR magazine viewed class criteria as having priority over 
that kind of leftist realpolitik.

It’s not much different with Iran, a country whose government rises 
beyond the level of “lesser evil” and achieves the kind of hallowed 
status that once brought tears to the eyes of a Communist when watching 
a newsreel of Stalin receiving a bouquet of flowers from a Red Scout. 
Much of MRZine’s propaganda on behalf of Syria is most certainly related 
to what it feels are the geopolitical interests of Iran, as if the 
Middle East was a chessboard. Questions of the class struggle are of no 
consequence for these leftist versions of Metternich.

If you go back through the MR archives, you won’t find any such malarkey 
about Iran. Typical is a March 2001 article titled Clerical Oligarchy 
and the Question of “Democracy” in Iran. Co-authored by Saeed Rahnema 
and Haideh Moghissi, it starts with a sentence that amounts to a stake 
that can be driven through MR’s heart today:

	For more than twenty years the Islamic regime in Iran, along with its 
extensive repressive apparatuses, has created an impressive array of 
ideological and economic mechanisms of control to construct an 
Islamified civil society and build consensus for the establishment of a 
theocratic state.

The article calls attention to the “thugs” who attacked students, women, 
and newspapers that differed with the government even if only within the 
framework of clerical rule. These are the same kinds of thugs who broke 
up street protests after the last election, being cheered on by MRZine.

The concluding paragraphs of the article call for a strengthening of the 
secular opposition in Iran and other initiatives that would break the 
power of the Guardian Council and other fixtures of permanent clerical 
rule. In referring to this goal, the article seems to foretell the 
objectives of every mass movement in the Arab world today:

	Such developments will create real possibilities for the century-old 
movements for democracy, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, 
freedom of the press, respect for minority rights, women’s rights, 
economic development, and social justice to succeed. Such objective 
circumstances favoring action by the secular left will almost inevitably 
arise, if the existing equilibrium, or “the balance of fear”–a popular 
term used to define the hesitation of various factions within the ruling 
bloc to strike the final blow–continues. This impasse within the Islamic 
reform movement will undoubtedly intensify the push for radical change 
and will give the secular opposition a chance to actively participate in 
the struggle for establishing–as a first step–a secular democratic state 
in place of the existing clerical oligarchy.

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