AntiNote: The long-simmering divide on the Western left between (speaking crudely) anti-imperialists and internationalists has reached new depths recently with a relatively high-profile skirmish involving activist journalists writing for publications of considerable influence on the left. If you enjoy inflicting such things on yourself, here is the article that sparked it, a couple of the salvos that followed, and the author’s parting shot. But we don’t recommend prolonged exposure—Hippocratic Oath.
Naturally, all this bickering is occurring at a safe distance from the conflicts it typically concerns itself with (Ukraine and Syria among the main ones), and as such we would be better advised to keep an equally safe distance from it. But unfortunately its tentacles have reached us all: the divide is beginning to do material damage to grassroots organizing, with the formation of cliques and the refusal of some to associate with groups or individuals of the “wrong” persuasion, even at the expense of common campaigns.
This kind of splintering is obviously a time-honored tradition on the left—what seems to be new is this particular line of demarcation, and the sometimes very imaginative accusations being hurled across it in both directions. And it’s happening at just the wrong time, as the issue of refugees is finally gaining in public attention and action in Europe, and countless opportunities for exchange, organizing, and effective intervention will be missed.
That being the case, this deepening—and frankly idiotic—divide has been a frequent topic of conversation within the Antidote Writers Collective, especially as it relates to the issue of Syria. And just as we are arriving at our fancy conclusions, we are reminded that they had already been made. Probably a thousand times over and earlier than this, but this enraged post on a sparsely maintained blog called Palestinian Reflections captured the thing with particular energy…just over a year ago.
With the ground shifting vertiginously at all times in Syria, it is rare to come across an article on the topic that “keeps.” That these arguments maintain their relevance and consistency after (even only) one year gives them a weight, however slight, that similar ones being made today seem to lack. Agree or disagree, but please consider seriously first.
We have lightly edited this text for clarity, and have not reproduced all link citations.
The Anti-Imperialism of Fools
by Mahmoud E. for Palestinian Reflections
26 August 2014
As we all witnessed yesterday, Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem said that Syria will offer to help the US fight the Islamic State (IS) militant group. This, of course, has left the so called “antiwar” camp and “anti-imperialist” left in the West and even Arab assadists either confused or silent on the matter. It’s important to note these are the same leftists (or, as some call them, ‘tankies’) that support Russian imperialism and Iranian mini-imperialism in the Middle East and don’t even care whether Russia is a capitalist oligarchy or if Iran has communist political prisoners in its jails or has killed them outright because of their ideas.
This shows how unprincipled they can be—becoming reactionary by supporting bourgeois nationalism and fascism. This article will focus on the many ways to break the narrative about the regime’s “resistance” and “rejection of US/Western imperialism” and offer a way to think critically about Syria and the people’s mobilization against the regime.
Understanding the Assad regime and Syria
In order to understand what led to the masses in Syria rising up against the regime, we must look into the social, economic, and material conditions in Syria. From a short introduction by comrade Yasmeen Mobayed [from the blog Qawem.]:
the ba’ath party staged its first military coup in Syria in 1963. in 1966, hafez al-assad participated in the second military coup, which brought salah jadid to power. from 1950-1970, hafez al-assad was a lieutenant in the syrian air force, the head commander of the syrian air force, and the minister of defense. then in 1970, hafez al-assad led the third military coup to topple salah jadid, finally forcing himself into power. hafez al-assad actively used sectarianism as a method of consolidating and maintaining his power – he greatly increased alawite dominance in the regime’s security and intelligence branches, though his elite class was of all sects. the core of the assad regime, however, consisted (and still consists) of assad family members/relatives who control everything from the army to the economy (for example, rami makhlouf, bashar al-assad’s cousin, controls 60% of syria’s economy).
Beginning in the 1980s, Hafez Al-Assad began implementing neoliberal policies—especially in 2005, when the “social-market economy” was introduced (which, as professor Omar S. Dahi put it, was “more market than social”). This type of authoritarian neoliberalism caused a crisis of mass poverty and unemployment under which peasants in the countryside and the proletariat in the city suburbs and working class neighborhoods suffered.
This could be observed in the rise of “informal housing,” the slums people were forced into as the rent and housing prices and gentrification skyrocketed in Syrian cities. The people were left in despair, and it’s not surprising that when the protests broke out in Tunisia and then Egypt, the Syrian people saw that they had nothing to lose and rose up against the regime.
The Assad regime has always been a servant of imperialism and Zionism
According to the Syrian regime narrative, it has always been a “resistance and obstacle to Zionism and US/Western imperialism.” But we know from its history that it is far from that. To begin with, the Golan Heights is Syrian territory occupied by Israel. Hafez-Al Assad never bothered to fight for its return, leaving it under occupation and Zionist settler colonization.
Further, during the Lebanese civil war Hafez-Al Assad and the Syrian Army waged a war of their own on Palestinian refugee camps which resulted in the deaths of many Palestinian civilians and was condemned by Palestinian revolutionaries like George Habash, the founder of the PFLP who was critical of the regime. More recently, Hafez’s son Bashar Al-Assad launched his own war on the camps in Syria with the siege and shelling of Yarmouk refugee camp—as well as other camps like Ramel in Latakia and Dara’a in southern Syria, the Al-Aiddeen camp in Homs and the Handarat camp in Aleppo—where many of the inhabitants were killed, starved and made refugees again.
The Assad regime has always served US/Western imperialism, even setting aside the recent offer to aid in US strikes on IS. It collaborated with the US in the Gulf War, and, under Bashar, has looked to re-establish ties with Israel. We also can’t forget that the Syrian regime and its mukhabarat (intelligence services) worked with the CIA to torture people under “extraordinary rendition.” Most famously, Syrian-Canadian citizen Maher Arar was kidnapped, deported and sent off to be tortured by the Syrian mukhabarat.
The Assad regime is anticommunist
It bears constant repetition that the Assad regime is a bourgeois-nationalist, capitalist and social-chauvinist state that has always repressed any dissent against it with the use of its mukhabarat, especially the air force intelligence, army and shabiha (regime-sponsored death squads). Yes, the Assad regime is anticommunist—which is not surprising, since the 1970 coup by Hafez Al-Assad was a right-opportunist and reactionary takeover against the Marxist and leftist Salah Jadid.
The regime has cracked down on many communist groups, especially the Syrian Communist Action Party, which has a Maoist tendency and was heavily repressed in the seventies and eighties by the Syrian regime. Many of its cadres were militants involved in the student radicalism of the seventies, especially at Aleppo University, then a center of revolutionary organization.
The regime also heavily repressed Palestinian groups like the Palestinian Popular Committee, which was established in the eighties and supported the Syrian Communist Action Party and other leftist and communist militants. The group had many of its cadres killed, arrested, and tortured in Syrian regime prisons. These militants were from all sects, especially the Alawite, Sunni, Ismaili, Druze, Shi’a and Christian sects.
Regarding the Kurdish people, Syrian regime prisons have always been filled with Kurdish political prisoners, and the regime denied Kurds citizenship and cultural and linguistic rights. Syrian communists in jail include Abdel Aziz Al Khayyer, and Jihad Asa’ad Muhammad, and the Palestinian filmmaker from Yarmouk camp Hassan Hassan was tortured to death by the regime.
The Assad regime is no different from the Somoza, Pinochet, Suharto and Kuomintang regimes. It should be condemned by every Marxist-Leninist, anti-imperialist, leftist and socialist.
There are progressive forces in Syria
The Syrian Communist Action Party is part of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, a front of left-wing parties and organizations who oppose the regime and seek to overthrow it. There is also the YPG (People’s Protection Units, the military wing of the Kurdish leftist Democratic Unity Party, PYD), which has declared people’s war on the regime and taken control of Kurdish neighborhoods in Aleppo and northern Syria (or West Kurdistan/Rojava), has built an autonomous self-governed region, and has been fighting both the Assad regime and ISIS.
Regarding non-Kurdish leftist groups who have taken up armed struggle, the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current established the People’s Liberation Faction to commemorate the third anniversary of the Syrian revolution. There are also the LCCs (local coordination committees), and leftwing and communist organizations like the Syrian Leftist Coalition and Syrian Communists.
All these parties and organizations are anti-imperialist, opposing both US/Western imperialism and Iranian/Russian imperialism as well as that of the Arab Gulf states and struggling against them. Usually an assadist “leftist” will tell you that there is a communist party in the Syrian parliament, yet fails to understand that the official Syrian Communist Party, Bakdash, is a reactionary tool of the regime and the ruling class in Syria.
An end of the Anti-Imperialism of Fools
Comrades and friends, let’s put an end to this Anti-Imperialism of Fools, be principled in our ideals and not fall into supporting those who blindly back the fascist, social-chauvinist, and bourgeois-nationalist Assad regime that is oppressing the Syrian masses. We have to unite and support the Syrian people’s struggle, the struggle of progressive forces in Syria, against both the Assad regime and imperialism—whether it is US/Western imperialism, Russian imperialism, or the intervention of Iran and the Gulf countries in Syria.
– Mahmoud E.
Featured image: photograph by Fuad Basbous. Source: Dawlaty.org (Facebook)