Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why has the American left failed the people of Syria?

I've wondered for a long time why American leftist groups have not come out strongly against the Assad regime and why they did not support the democratic revolutionaries at the beginning of the Syrian revolution. It has never made sense to me why our local leftists here in Ithaca, who are very eager to demonstrate against Israel, have never gone out to demonstrate in favor of the Syrian people against the vicious Assad regime, since the Assad regime has killed far more Syrians than Israel has ever killed Palestinians. I'm not saying that they shouldn't protest Israel, but that it seems hypocritical to me that it's only Israel they protest.

An article in a media source that I would never have consulted on this issue is actually quite illuminating - the Socialist Worker. I remember this newspaper from about 1970, when it was sold at anti-Vietnam War rallies, and after that from other leftist gatherings in the Boston area, where I grew up. My memory of it was as a totally ideologically-driven propaganda rag that was increasingly anti-Israel. Well, it's still anti-Israel, and anti-imperialist, but their analysis of the position of the American left on Syria (that is, left of the Democratic Party) seems quite accurate to me.

*Addendum - just to make it clear, I haven't suddenly become either a socialist or a Trotskyist, but their analysis of the situation has made the situation in Syria much clearer to me.

In an article called Anti-Imperialism and the Syrian Revolution, the author, Ashley Smith, writes, "THE SYRIAN Revolution has tested the left internationally by posing a blunt question: Which side are you on? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran's proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?"

According to the author, from the very beginning of the Syrian revolution, "a whole section of the left opposed the popular uprising against the Assad dictatorship that began in early 2011, part of the Arab Spring wave of popular rebellions against dictatorship and repression." This section of the left ignored Assad's massacres and his use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons, and siege of cities, like Aleppo.

What was this section of the left? Stalinist groups like the Workers World Party, Party of Socialis and Liberation, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization. They "never wavered in their support for the Assad regime." They always support opponents of the US government, regardless of how oppressive those opponents are.

As the article says, "Prominent figures on the broader left adopted a similar position," namely Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk, and Britain's Stop the War coalition. The American Communist Party's U.S. Peace Council (a fringe group indeed) sent a delegation to meet with Assad. "They justified their sympathy with Assad by claiming that he was resisting U.S. imperialism's backing of Islamic fundamentalist forces to carry out regime change in Syria."

The article then traces the historical support that groups like these gave to Stalinist Russia after WWII:
The answer starts with the Stalinist left's support of Stalin's Russia and Mao's China during the Cold War era. It supported those state capitalist dictatorships not only as opponents of U.S. imperialism, but as positive models of socialism.

Thus, some of the same currents that today support Assad yesterday defended murderous repression of workers' rebellions and even imperialist invasions in the past.

They stood with Russia's crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring in 1968 and Poland's Solidarity in 1981. They supported Mao's China when the regime wrecked workers and peasants' lives through the Great Leap Forward and oppressed Tibetans in a decades-long occupation. They defended regimes like Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe as anti-imperialist, despite his relentless crackdown on all dissent.

Even today, when all the world's states are obviously capitalist, these leftists support oppressive regimes as "anti-imperialist" so long as they oppose the U.S. in some form. Under the faulty logic that "my enemy's enemy is my friend," popular struggles for democracy are denounced as the work of American imperialism if they protest the wrong regime.

This attitude, referred to as "campism," has distorted much of the left's response to popular uprisings in the Middle East. For example, Iran's "green movement" was dismissed as a creation of the U.S. drive to overthrow former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As a consequence of this flawed underlying approach, the campist left reacted to the Arab Spring in a completely incoherent fashion.

Everyone on the left supported the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions of early 2011 because these countries were considered U.S. allies. But the campists opposed pro-democracy uprisings in Libya and Syria, even though these revolts were driven by the same economic and political grievances--and clearly inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

Why? Because the dictatorships that masses of people were rebelling against could be depicted as "anti-imperialist" opponents of the U.S.
These campists assume that there is only one imperialist power in the world, the US, when it is apparent that there are several other imperialist nations who aspire to the same status as the US - Russia and China.

So how does this relate to people outside minuscule Stalinist groups that no one in the US listens to anyway? The author of the article argues that campism has shaped the viewpoint of whole sections of the left outside of these Stalinist groups.
UNFORTUNATELY, CAMPISM has shaped the viewpoint of whole sections of the left--even parts that are far removed from the Stalinism of the Workers World Party. It has, for example, informed the attitudes of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and especially her vice presidential running mate Ajamu Baraka. 
Stein rightly opposes U.S. intervention in Syria, but has made little to no criticism of Assad and his war on the Syrian people. Even worse, Baraka openly supports the Assad regime. Both have appeared on Russia's state-sponsored, English-language RT television network to speak in opposition to U.S. war crimes, while remaining silent about Putin's and Assad's atrocities. 
Many Syrian revolutionaries and solidarity activists are rightly furious about this stance from the major left-wing alternative in Election 2016. Stein and Baraka each have proud records of standing against exploitation, oppression, racism and war, and their campaign is, in almost every other respect, a principled challenge to the two parties of capital and militarism--the Democrats and Republicans. But anti-imperialists must not stay silent about this awful exception.
This is the author's conclusion:
The task of the international left today is to oppose intervention by any of the imperialist and regional powers, reject the tyranny of the Assad regime itself, demand the opening of the borders to those fleeing the violence and chaos, collaborate with Syrian revolutionaries--and win people away from campism to the politics of international solidarity from below.
Update -

The same author's most recent article on the fall of Aleppo.


The concluding paragraph:
Internationally, the left must reckon with its failure to unanimously support the Syrian Revolution, and it needs to re-learn how to combine opposition to all forms of imperialism with solidarity with revolution from below
Whether that would work is unknown, but at least it has the virtue of calling to account not only the United States but also Russia (or China) for their interference around the world.
As part of that effort, we must oppose the tide of xenophobia and Islamophobia, and demand that our own governments admit any and all Syrian refugees who want to come to the U.S., and provide them with sanctuary and assistance to rebuild their lives.
I totally agree, although I don't think there's much chance of the incoming Trump administration welcoming more Syrian refugees (the Obama administration has admitted a grand total of 10,000 Syrians this year).


An interesting article by Gilbert Achcar, on Yemen and Syria: https://socialistworker.org/2016/10/27/standing-against-barbarism. Although he doesn't mention it in this article, the US backs Saudi Arabia in Yemen.


Another interesting article on a new left-wing coalition group that holds the US entirely responsible for the horror of Syria - illustrating the Stalinist point of view that Ashley Smith analyzes and denounces: https://socialistworker.org/2016/10/24/opposing-war-means-opposing-dictators. Among those belonging to this new coalition group, the U.S. Hands Off Syria Coalition -

  • Al-Awda — Palestine National Right to Return Coalition 
  • ANSWER Coalition 
  • Ecumenical Peace Institute Clergy and Laity Concerned 
  • International Action Center 
  • United National Antiwar Coalition — UNAC
More on these groups:

ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) proudly lists its major actions since 2001. In September of 2013 they held rallies across the country opposing any American intervention in Syria, under the title "Hands off Syria!" Now they're pushing a petition to Congress against a proposed House bill to create a no-fly zone in Syria. The article says, "The bill's name is tragically ironic given the large number of Syrian civilians killed in recent weeks by U.S. airstrikes, which are being conducted illegally without the permission of the Syrian government." Of course, there is no mention of the manifold atrocities the Syrian government has committed against its own people. An article lauding the Russian entrance into the war in 2015 says "It is critically important that progressive forces abandon the false language and political characterizations being spoon-fed to the public by the pro-imperialist media." I don't think anyone could accuse the Socialist Worker of being "pro-imperialist," and this article just reinforces the article by Ashley Smith discussed above.

So who is behind ANSWER? According to a 2002 article in the LA Weekly, the Workers World Party. 
This was no accident, for the demonstration was essentially organized by the Workers World Party, a small political sect that years ago split from the Socialist Workers Party to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The party advocates socialist revolution and abolishing private property. It is a fan of Fidel Castro‘s regime in Cuba, and it hails North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il for preserving his country’s "socialist system," which, according to the party‘s newspaper, has kept North Korea ”from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world.“ The WWP has campaigned against the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A recent Workers World editorial declared, "Iraq has done absolutely nothing wrong."
Officially, the organizer of the Washington demonstration was International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). But ANSWER is run by WWP activists, to such an extent that it seems fair to dub it a WWP front. Several key ANSWER officials -- including spokesperson Brian Becker -- are WWP members. Many local offices for ANSWER’s protest were housed in WWP offices. Earlier this year, when ANSWER conducted a press briefing, at least five of the 13 speakers were WWP activists. They were each identified, though, in other ways, including as members of the International Action Center. 
The IAC, another WWP offshoot, was a key partner with ANSWER in promoting the protest. It was founded by Ramsey Clark, attorney general for President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. For years, Clark has been on a bizarre political odyssey, much of the time in sync with the Workers World Party. As an attorney, he has represented Lyndon LaRouche, the leader of a political cult. He has defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, who was accused of participating in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Clark is also a member of the International Committee To Defend Slobodan Milosevic. The international war-crimes tribunal, he explains, ”is war by other means“ -- that is, a tool of the West to crush those who stand in the way of U.S. imperialism, like Milosevic. A critic of the ongoing sanctions against Iraq, Clark has appeared on talking-head shows and refused to concede any wrongdoing on Saddam‘s part. There is no reason to send weapons inspectors to Iraq, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: "After 12 years of brutalization with sanctions and bombing they‘d like to be a country again. They’d like to have sovereignty again. They‘d like to be left alone."


  1. Who are "the democratic revolutionaries" we should have been supporting (militarily, I assume you mean)? What group or groups or individuals, specifically?

  2. Those who were initially opposing the regime, who did not start out even using violence - peaceful civilian demonstrators.

  3. Gary, every time I post about supporting the rebels in Syria, you come out with the same tired old question. Do you have any other response? Perhaps a glimmer of compassion for the people who are being murdered? In 2014, you didn't like it when I objected to those who said that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza. This is really genocide - of the Syrian people, committed by their government and the Russians. But not a peep out of you.

  4. I also just noticed, Gary, that you completely ignored the main argument of this article to reiterate your old point. Why?