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Left in the lurch: How so-called anti-imperialists failed Syria

The Syrian revolution is rich. It contains as much heroism as there is brutality exercised by the oppressor. It is a true revolution in every sense of the word, witnessing a fierce clash between those in power and the courageous individuals who stood up against an oligarchic, kin-based and mafia-controlling elite. The Syrian revolution prompts us to delve into various aspects - local, global, theoretical, and practical. It raises questions that offer profound insights. It represents an experience from which we can gain valuable insights and a mirror through which people can critically assess their belief systems.


The Syrian revolution unified most leftist currents that emerged during the 20th century. It revealed an already existing perspective which views imperialism as solely associated with the United States. It considers that any state or group that opposes the U.S. is worthy of support and that their ideological outlook or war crimes can be dismissed as Western propaganda. A not-so-insignificant part of the left that subscribes to this belief system has inaccurately portrayed the Syrian revolution as a "jihadist conflict against an anti-imperialist government." This misconception has become prevalent, particularly as the regime aligned with Russia, China, Iran, Hezbollah, and the so-called “axis of resistance”, as well as other emerging anti-American players. This alignment has led many leftist groups to side with the regime based on its anti-American stance.


The leftist understanding of the Syrian revolution not only involves misunderstandings from its inception but also contributes to strengthening a criminal regime and legitimising its actions. This is despite the regime's perpetration of murder and displacement against the Syrian people. Thus, the entire political scene is reduced, from their perspective, to a war against a state that has consistently claimed to be a vanguard force against imperialism.

A notable portion of the Arab left has also never stood with the Syrian people's revolution, not when it was peaceful, not when the people were besieged by the regime's armies and militias, not when half the population was displaced, and not when tens of thousands of activists were imprisoned. These so-called resistance leftists have consistently sided with the regime, regardless of its actions. At best, they remained silent about its crimes, including chemical attacks that the whole world condemned.


The stance towards the Syrian revolution has been influenced by the left's perspective on the Muslim Brotherhood and regional Salafists. As these religious forces gained prominence within the Syrian revolution, tensions escalated between Arab regimes and Islamist political parties, as exemplified by Egypt and Tunisia. Consequently, many leftist factions shifted from supporting the revolution to siding with the regime. It also led to a binary view: pro-Islamists or anti-Islamists. The Syrian regime, often laughably regarded as a secular counterpoint to fundamentalism, throughout its history, nurtured, accommodated, and facilitated the rise of Islamists who subsequently assumed leadership roles within powerful fundamentalist organizations such as Al-Nusra Front, ISIS, and Jaish al-Islam. These elements were harnessed against the revolutionary movement, as evidenced over time, with the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists prioritising their own affiliations over the broader goals and ideals of the revolution. Throughout this complex landscape, the Syrian population and armed factions found themselves contending with not only fundamentalist forces but also the imposition of an Islamic narrative onto the revolution, driven by regional influences. Hence, the left's alignment should have naturally favoured the revolution against both these factions and the regime itself.


Another factor that has shaped the Arab left’s stance towards the Syrian revolution was the Palestinian cause.


Despite the Syrian regime's efforts to limit and control Palestinian resistance and its continuous relationship with the Israeli state, the left's focus remained on the idea that the Syrian regime supports Palestinian resistance and Palestinian liberation.


Certainly, the regime's conflicts with the United States after 2005 led to a rise in its anti-Western rhetoric, but it nonetheless gravitated towards Israel to mediate with the U.S. as a result of sanctions that followed Rafik Hariri's assassination. An illuminating statement in this regard comes from Rami Makhlouf, Bashar al-Assad's cousin and one of Syria's major economic players in recent decades, who said at the start of the revolution: "The security of Israel is the security of Syria."

Over time, it became apparent that both the Palestinian Authority and certain factions within the Palestine Liberation Organization chose to align themselves with the regime's position. Remarkably, this support endured even as the regime conducted military actions in Yarmouk and Khan al-Sheih camps and caused similar destruction in Daraa and southern Homs. The retraction by Hamas of its initial support for the uprising played a pivotal role in influencing the Palestinian Authority and specific factions to rally behind the regime and defend its actions. Of course, the impact of the Palestinian left on the broader international left cannot be overlooked, owing to the global significance of the Palestinian cause. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) holds particular sway, with its positions often embraced by segments of the global left without any real scrutiny. Leaders within this movement are perfectly aware of the intricacies of the revolution and the criminality of the regime. However, they still choose to echo the regime's narrative. The sanctity of the Palestinian cause has been abused in such ways to legitimise and whitewash an authoritarian regime, and the Palestinian left assumes a great deal of responsibility in this regard. Even though their stated goal is "the liberation of Palestine," the regime itself is a hindrance to the development of a genuine struggle against the Zionist state. The regime seeks understanding and reconciliation. It concluded the conflict with the Zionist state long ago, opting for peace as a strategic choice, and has maintained stability in the Golan Heights over the past four decades. It is worth highlighting that the arguments adopted by both Arab and other international leftists revolve around the political conflict between states and its implications. Through this reductive approach, they overlook the intricate interactions of economics, social classes, and the dynamics of class struggle. By disregarding the pivotal Marxist concept that "politics is the concentrated expression of economics", these stances fail to recognize that economics and the foundational social structures hold the reins over politics and ideological perspectives. Grasping the intricacies of imperialism necessitates an understanding of the economic underpinnings that have shaped it.


During the decade following Bashar al-Assad's rise to power in 2000, the Syrian regime embarked on a rapid adoption of neoliberal policies. This process primarily involved extensive privatization, market liberalization, and reduction of subsidies on various goods and services.


Unlike his father, Bashar al-Assad allowed the intervention of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in pursuing market liberalization. The ruling Ba'ath Party, in its 10th regional conference in 2005, adopted the strategy of a "social market economy," emphasising the private sector's role in economic development and job creation instead of relying on the state. The aim was to encourage private sector wealth accumulation by shifting economic control away from the state, resulting in the withdrawal of state support from essential social services. This worsened the pre-existing economic and social problems.


The Syrian economy no longer operates as a productive economy. Instead, it has become a rentier, mafia-like economy controlled by a class comprised of the ruling family (the Makhloufs, the Assads, and the Shalishs). It is characterized by a vast chasm between the wealthiest and the poorest, high unemployment rates, a widening gap between classes, and a cost of living catastrophe.


In light of these circumstances, as Syrians, we have no choice but to declare our opposition to any supporters of the Assad regime, regardless of their reasons or justifications. Standing against the regime does not require economic analysis, political comprehension, or extensive contemplation. It simply requires a basic sense of humanity.



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