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Syria and the Problem of Left Solidarity


Writing for the website of Salvage magazine, anthropologist Donya Alinejad and social scientist Saskia Baas call on Western leftists wishing to show solidarity with civilians and revolutionary forces in Syria to understand the full political complexity of the conflict and its history. There are multiple forces and factions battling against Assad, and they are themselves divided along ethnic, religious, and regional lines. Sometimes they unite to fight Assad, and sometimes they fight each other. Alinejad and Baas argue that reflexively backing one opposition force at the expense of others, without grasping the full context of the conflict, may “indirectly bolsters [Assad’s] authoritarian divide-and-conquer tactics.” Read an excerpt from the text below, or the full piece here.

As the tragedy in Afrin develops, North American and European leftist platforms have been disseminating calls by Kurdish armed groups for solidarity with victims of military violence in Syria’s northern district of Afrin. Such solidarity is much needed and deserved, but so is international solidarity with civilians elsewhere in Syria. Instead, the Western Left has largely remained silent in the face of the unimpeded massacre in Eastern Ghouta. The striking hypocrisy forces us to re-examine how our concept of international solidarity applies to the unarmed victims of this war…

Our internationalism must cultivate a willingness to grasp the complexity of Syrian polity, society, and culture as it unfolds in everyday life under the current circumstances of extraordinary duress. Rather than a lapse into apolitical humanitarianism, defending the lives of those brutalized by violence is based on an international solidarity that registers survival in this context as struggle. Similarly, our welcoming and hospitality to those who fled Syria in recent years must not smother them into politically pacified victimhood. We must seek out and listen to what a variety of Leftist Syrian political activists and intellectuals have to say about Syria. Their migration experiences and diasporic self-organization are part of the story of the Syrian revolution, an inexhaustibly rich resource for understanding and learning from the realities of this important contemporary struggle. It is a struggle that lives on in many of them and contains intimate knowledge of the notions of racial and ethnic discrimination, prison state, political disenfranchisement, and neoliberal policies we also fight against. The vast contextual differences make articulating the common ground all the more profound.

Image via Salvage.


What would be really profound would be to start from a real understanding of world history and the class struggle against Western (and all) monopoly-capitalist imperialism.
Beware of “listening to” individual tragic stories about life and death in a complex civil war, which involves huge amounts of cynical Western intervention, and starting your “solidarity” from that.
Bleeding-heart “left” and “liberal” solidarity with tribal, feudal, Islamist, etc “people’s struggles” against regimes which the West hates and calls “rogue states” invariably puts such “solidarity” on the side of Western imperialism.
Instead the watchwords for all genuinely progressive people should be “Defeat for imperialism”.
The only way for the peoples of the Middle East to make revolutionary progress is through the overthrow of the bandit Western domination of the area and the defeat of the US Empire’s crisis-driven warmongering - which stems from the global “over-production” of surplus capital, which clogs up the capitalist system and puts it into deeper and deeper crisis (for example, look at Trump whipping up the international trade war in steel).
The Middle East is crippled by Western oppression and by the damage inflicted by the genocidal Zionist entity, implanted on to the land of the Palestinians by Western colonial terrorism backed by vast amounts of US money.
Defeat for imperialism can come in the form of military losses for Washington’s strategy; defeats for its proxy tribal forces; peace deals that go against US designs; political paralysis in Washington; etc.
None of that means support for the bourgeois-nationalist Assad regime or support for the oligarch-supporting Putin because of Russia’s military intervention for that country’s interests.
Not at all.
But the time to overthrow Assad is not when it plays into the US Empire’s warmongering hands.
One of the great hopes from Trump’s vicious recognition of Jerusalem as being the “Israeli” capital is that the peoples of the Middle East - especially the Palestinians, Lebanese and the Egyptians will be so incensed that the fiction of a “two-state” solution will be blown away and that the tragic sectarian hatreds between the various anti-imperialist groupings will be reduced or laid to rest. What should be their way of sorting out the rights and wrongs of the situation they find themselves in? Who did what to whom for sectarian religious reasons in the 16th century? Or who is fighting imperialism and who is fighting it best?
As Lenin says: “The only real solidarity is to fight for the socialist revolution in your own country and for the revolutionary line in all [capitalist] countries without exception.”
Lenin showed a mastery of tactics when he was leading the Bolsheviks to overthrow first Tsarism, then the Kerensky capitalist parliamentary regime in October 1917. When the greater danger of the proto-fascist Kornilov mutiny attacked Petrograd in summer (to try to wipe out the democratic revolution), the revolutionary forces had to first see off that danger before dealing with Kerensky.
The same apples to the bourgeois-nationalist Assad regime. First the anti-imperialist movement (as much as possible in alliance with Assad) needs to defeat the fascist US warmongering (which is arming all manner of tribal groups) and Zionist immediate danger - then the movement, now far more experienced and clear about who are the real anti-imperialists - can go on to overthrow Assad, with the ONLY THING that is better - the socialist revolution.
Any other strategy or tactics would be playing into the hands of the CIA, which says: “As much warmongering and mayhem as possible, and as much divisive bloodshed - because it suits US interests.”
For a biweekly Leninist analysis, see