Syria: John Rees and Divisions on the Left.
John Ress observes of Syria that the major issue is, “whether imperial intervention has any significance in determining the course of the Syrian revolution and, by extension, the Arab revolutions as a whole.”
Rees continues, “the Marxist writer and activist Tariq Ali, Guardian columnist Seumus Milne, MP George Galloway, Iraqi exiles and analysts Sami Ramadani and Sabah Jawad, the Deputy President of the Stop the War Coalition Andrew Murray, the convenor of Stop the War Lindsey German and supporters of Counterfire are in broad agreement.”
That is, imperialism matters.
It is the central thing that ‘matters’ in the Syrian crisis.
After some observations about “dialectical interaction” and “the global ordering of power” we get an idea of what this implies.
The USA, and allies, are “imperialism”, their politics are, by definition, “imperialist”, anything they touch is caught up in an “imperialist” web.
The central issue in the Syrian civil war is not the class, ideological and political make-up of the sides. It is not democracy. It is not human rights..
It is “imperialism” and its tentacles.
Rees’ former comrades in the Socialist Workers Party, like Alex Callinicos and Richard Seymour back the Revolution, the anti-Baathist side, in Syria. But even with their reservations, they miss, he alleges, this axial issue.
But the more the US and its allies have been prevented from direct military intervention the more they have relied on indirect intervention, and the more they have sought to buy a stake in the government of a post-Assad Syria. Some of the critics of the anti-war movement talk as if all this is simply the imaginings of conspiracy theorists or as if indirect intervention has no real effect. Many in the Middle East know different. Syrians will recall the CIA coup that ended the country’s brief post war democratic experiment in 1949. Iranians recall the CIA backed coup that deposed elected nationalist leader Mossedegh in 1953. We all now know how much effort the US spent on backing the Afghan Muhajadhin against the Russians. Further afield covert operations from the early days of Vietnam, to the overthrow of Allende, to Iran-Contra come readily to the mind of many.
These are not fantasies. They are one way in which imperial power is exercised. It is being exercised this way in Syria now with the help, as it nearly always is, of some domestic forces.
Imperial ‘power’ is therefore the problem. Or, as a ‘dialectician’ would put it, the “principal contradiction”.
Libya was the turning point. It was
a critical watershed in the history of the Arab revolutions because it marks the full-blown reappearance of the imperial forces in the history of the revolt. After this, the combination of the Gulf States and Turkey as the forward operating units of US, French and UK imperial strategy is a fact of life.
‘Revolt’ is tainted if it gets ‘imperialist’ aid.
Indeed any help that, say, the European Union gave to those trying to get rid of Gaddafi, was “imperialist” and, as a result, bound to be harmful.
It would be easy to cite the example of the Irish Nationalists who appealed to German aid in the First World War, to the Bolshevik (ambiguous) relation with germany in getting Lenin to Russia, or indeed any national liberation movement that has appealed for help from ‘imperial’ powers (let’s begin with the ANC’s calls to change British government policy towards the Apartheid regime). Or indeed any attempt to influence Western state policy – for if they do anything it is surely ‘imperialist’.
The best service we in the West can render Syrian revolutionaries is to keep our governments off their back. It is our government that is part of the most powerful imperial bloc on the globe and it is our main political responsibility to deal with it. Some argue that we should be equally critical of the Russian state for arming the Assad regime.
Proud of his ‘service’ phrase he repeats it,
The best service we can do Syrians is to keep them from being realised by directing our fire at our own rulers – and by extension those who are playing into their hands among the Syrian opposition.
The Arab left looks Syria though sometimes similar, sometimes very different eyes,
Nicolas Dot-Pouillard in the just published August issue of le Monde Diplomatique notes a crisis that has shaken the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar on how to respond to the Syrian crisis.
n June an article by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb provoked dissension within the paper’s English online version. The Lebanese commentator placed herself firmly behind the Damascus regime, and criticised supporters of a “third way” — those who denounce the regime while warning against western military intervention on the Libyan model. The same month another Al-Akhbar English journalist, Max Blumenthal, announced he was leaving in an article criticising “Assad apologists” within the editorial staff.
He notes there is a debate,
dividing the Arab left, ideologically and strategically. Some continue to support the Syrian regime in the name of the struggle against Israel and resistance to imperialism. Others stand staunchly with the opposition, in the name of revolution and the defence of democratic rights. Still others support a middle way between showing solidarity (from a distance) with the protestors’ demands for freedom, and rejecting foreign interference: they advocate some kind of national reconciliation. The Syrian crisis is making the Arab left — whether strictly Communist, tending towards Marxist, leftwing nationalist, radical or moderate — seem in disarray.
The position that much of the Arab left takes on Syria reflects its own clash with political Islam. That is why parties that normally claim to be “revolutionary” and “progressive”, even if they are not necessarily Marxist, are, paradoxically, hoping for a negotiated solution and gradual transition in Syria, for fear of disillusionment in the future.
This raises the issue which Rees fails to even look at: the democratic and social credentials (not ‘Western’ funding or arms) of the Opposition. If we oppose the Assad regime who can we support?
This is the real issue.
Richard Seymour goes in the right direction by beginning from this. He says,
The evidence is that despite attempts at co-optation, this is still very much a popular revolution, and the initiative lies with the citizens organized in the committees and militias. And their victory would be a defeat for everyone who thinks Arabs are incapable of freeing themselves from oppression.
We reserve the right to be sceptical and evidence is mounting that the “outstanding worry is that sectarian forces will come to the fore, and attack minorities” is more than justified.
But this basis is where the left should start from.
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