Socialist Action and Syrian Revolution Solidarity
On November 4 Socialist Action is sponsoring a conference at Central Connecticut State University entitled “The Solution is Socialism.” This conference comes at a time in American history when reception to radical and socialist ideas are at an all time high. The location of this conference, away from one of the centers of American metropolis is also of note because it gives those interested in socialist ideas, who do not have a large spectrum of the left in which to participate, an opportunity to meet with like minded leftists and exchange ideas.
In the spirit of this exchange of ideas the undersigned individuals issue this statement to show our solidarity with the people of Syria in their struggle against the Assad regime, US & Russian imperialism as well as the local and regional actors who seek to derail their struggle for a better world. We hope that this statement will resonate with members of SA and seek to use this piece to reopen a debate within SA.
While the undersigned come from a variety of schools of socialism, one thing that unites us is the outrage we share for the sectors of the US left that have looked askance at the struggles of the Syrian people or worst have provided political cover for the Assad regime’s slaughter of the Syrian people in concert with Russian bombs.
Some members of Socialist Action may privately share views of solidarity with the Syrian revolution, however, what ultimately counts in politics is public activity and, Socialist Action publishes articles that justify and cover for the atrocities being carried out by the Assadist dictatorship in Syria. Importantly, it is not merely a fringe of Socialist Action that justifies atrocities against the Syrian people but its current national secretary and 2016 presidential candidate, Jeff Mackler.
Covering for Assad
Mackler, as the leading voice of Socialist Action, has put forward these views and has remained unchallenged so far within the press of Socialist Action. For those at the conference new to socialism and those within Socialist Action who have yet to give formal voice to their opposition to Mackler’s views on Syria, it is incumbent that we point out the more egregious aspects of the pro-Assad statements made by Mackler insofar as they violate the spirit of internationalism.
One strategy that Assad has used in his war against the Syrian people, for example, has been the denial of food to areas held by forces opposed to him leading to famine like conditions. Yet in July of 2016 Mackler wrote,
“To fuel the drive to increase U.S. and allied imperialist intervention in Syria, we are once again witness to a demonization campaign, this time directed at President Assad, who is charged by the “51,” and a host of other imperialist warmongers, of violating all the so-called cease-fire agreements negotiated in February, including denying food shipments to “starving people” in Darya — a suburb outside of Damascus — and of bombing U.S.-backed rebels who are supposedly fighting ISIS.”
Contrary to Mackler, we begin our investigation not from the statements of the imperialists, but from what Syrians on the ground report. We furthermore doubt that Mackler has read what the imperialists have said about Syria, seeing as all of they seem to accept that the Assad regime is their preferred manager of the Syrian proletariat.
Mackler goes as far as to suggest that Assad was not withholding food by putting “starving people” in scare quotes in the context of referring to it as a “demonization campaign” against Assad. Assad’s strategy of starving whole populations is very well documented. While the centrist left pushes the narrative that the Syrian situation is too complicated to unravel, there is no denying that starvation is a tactic used by the Syrian state. “Kneel or starve” is even a slogan used by his supporters in Syria as documented by 60 minutes.
Further evidence of Assad’s starvation campaign comes from the reporter Janine di Giovanni who has visited Daraya and kept in touch with people there. She wrote that she asked them what they had eaten for the day some would say: “Grape leaves, some salt.” While di Giovanni provided her report in September of 2016, just one year ago, Reuters documented approximately 4 years ago the Assad regime’s starvation tactics with one very vivid example of an Assad soldier denying a child the right to transport food:
“I‘m telling you, not a single morsel is allowed in there. I don’t make the rules. There are those bigger than me and you who make the rules and they’re watching us right now. So go back home.”
Testimonies from Syrians gathered by Amnesty International also speak to the starvation being forced upon the Syrian masses. In a piece with a telling partial title, “In Madaya you see walking skeletons” Mohammad, a resident of Madaya recalled in January, 2016,
“The adjacent towns of Madaya and Boukein, west of Damascus, have been besieged since July 2015 by Syrian government forces. … Families do not have basic food supplies.”
Even the United Nations, a tool of imperialism masquerading behind the veil of human rights, has acknowledged that starvation is a real problem in Syria. True to their imperialist orientation, however, the UN has let the Assad regime to dictate the terms of aid,
“Data shows that around 96 percent of aid goes to regime areas while only 4 percent goes to opposition areas. As a result, all deaths from starvation in Syria have happened in opposition-held areas.”
These are a few of many examples of the starvation tactic employed by the Syrian regime. It is particularly appalling that inside Syria Assad and his supporters openly threaten people with starvation, but what does it signify that a leader of an ostensibly revolutionary socialist organization like Mackler denies that it is happening?
It is well documented that Assad’s dominant military strategy has been the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. The weapon most associated with Assad’s war has been barrel bombs, which
“are so imprecise that the Syrian military does not usually drop them near the front lines, for fear of hitting its own troops. They are useful mainly for pummeling civilian neighborhoods.” and “That is one reason residents of opposition-held parts of Aleppo told me that, unlike in almost any other war, some civilians have — astonishingly — moved closer to the front lines, preferring to brave the more predictable artillery and snipers than the barrel bombs’ random death from the sky.”
When Mackler only mentions civilian deaths that are the result of US bombs and when he calls for defeating the rebels and does not mention the systematic attack on civilians and civilian infrastructure by the pro-Assad forces, no one involved in politics committed to human liberation should be fooled — this amounts to support for the Syrian state under Assad. It is de facto war propaganda that whitewashes and enables atrocities. Moreover, this blindness to the real plight of the Syrian people has led these “anti-imperialists” into a corner where they are organizationally unable to respond to ongoing US bombings in Syria. By embracing an Islamophobic War on Terror rhetoric against the Syrian rebels, Mackler and company have contributed to the demobilization of the anti-war movement.
Assad’s Use of Chemical Weapons
Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians is well-documented yet in 2014 Mackler asserted the 2013 Sarin attack was a “false flag” to justify US-driven “regime change”. The absurdity of his thesis is shown not just by the facts known about the crime, but by the fact that the Obama administration did everything possible to let Assad continue to kill civilians, shown most forcefully by seeking to extend their August 2016 deal with Putin even after the Russians flagrantly attacked an aid convoy.
Seymour Hersh’s pieces — Mackler’s only “evidence” — have been extensively debunked. Furthermore the extent of Hersh’s intellectual and political corruption was recently further exposed by his role in enabling the conspiratorial narrative that the Democrats had Seth Rich killed — a narrative that was constructed to distract from Trump’s ties to Putin. Hersh backed up claim in the same way he did his stories on Syria, with a single anonymous source with no other kind of corroboration.
On Palestinian Self-Determination and Syria
While many on the left are divided over the question of solidarity with the Syrian revolution, no such difference or ambivalence is present on the socialist left regard the struggle of the Palestinian people. The just cause of the Palestinian people is not being used here as a debating point but because it contains a deep connection to Syria. The fate of the Palestinian people is directly and deeply intertwined with what is happening in Syria. Whatever Assad is doing to the majority of the people of Syria, he has done to the Palestinians there; sieges, torture, imprisonment, starvation, barrel bombs and depopulation.
Socialist Action and Mackler both claim to stand in solidarity with the struggle of the people of Palestine, but similar to how Israel has besieged the civilians of Gaza and subjected them to mass bombings, so has Assad besieged and bombed Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Palestinian in the Yarmouk refugee camp in a suburb of Damascus, which was sieged by Assad, report being starved out by the regime on one hand and targeted by ISIS reactionaries on the other,
“The situation inside the camp is catastrophic,” said Ahmad. “There is no food or electricity or water, Daesh [Arabic acronym for Isis] is killing and looting the camp, there are clashes, there is shelling. Everyone is shelling the camp. “As soon as Daesh entered the camp they burned the Palestinian flag and beheaded civilians.”
This is the result of endorsing the imperialist War on Terror logic which the Assad regime has used to justify the intervention of foreign governments in their assaults on the Syrian people and Palestinian refugees. Mackler claims that in supporting the self determination of Syria, he does not call for Russian or other foreign non-US backers of Assad regime to exit Syria because they are there at the behest of Assad. Yet we see that using the smokescreen of fighting ISIS, the Assad regime has laid waste to an entire refugee population of Palestinians whose self determination Mackler and Socialist Action also claim to support.
Mackler: Defeat Them All
There are those who would argue that the Syrian revolution has devolved into nothing more than sectarian warfare. Surely the comrades in Socialist Action aspire to a higher level of understanding, one which provides a consistent analysis because as it stands their position, as elucidated by Mackler, is both indefensible objectively racist and chauvinist, based on treating the lives of Syrians with imperial contempt and silencing their voices.
Given this point of view, one cannot be surprised that Mackler goes one step further than pronouncing sectarian warfare between the Assadist state and the rebels by claiming that Socialist Action is for the defeat of all rebel forces,
“Tragically, in Syria today, we know of no “rebel” force that has not been aligned with the U.S. war machine or its allies. There are no “rebels” with any progressive credentials, whether they are of the ISIS variety or those backed directly or indirectly by U.S. imperialism — such as the so-called Free Syrian Army. We are for the defeat of them all.
This perspective erases the origins of the Syrian revolution, which is that it was the Syrian people who sought to overturn the Assad regime in 2011. By siding with the Syrian state and providing a far left veneer for its worst actions such as starvation, bombings and chemical warfare, Mackler is siding against the Syrian masses. By declaring his support for the defeat of all anti-Assad forces Mackler is able to look askance at the actual devastation wreaked by the Syrian military as well as their imperialist and regional allies.
Regime Preservation & United StatesAmerican Intervention
All well-meaning people, but most especially revolutionary socialists, should oppose the role of the US, and all other imperialist forces in Syria. But we must be clear that the US is not seeking to ‘intervene’ to depose Assad, quite the opposite.
Moreover, to judge what is happening in Syria based solely on what the US government is or is not doing blinds one to the full picture of the Syrian revolution. With only a partial view of the the Syrian revolution, based primarily on the role of US imperialism, Mackler erases the agency of sectors of the Syrian masses who have had to fight not just imperialist backed rebels but the Assad regime as well. However, even within the narrow framework of US intervention alone, Mackler misunderstands the role American forces and proxies have played in Syria.
US intervention in Syria has been about strengthening their hand to bring about an end to the Syrian revolution. This is best illustrated by the Obama administration’s decision in October 2015 to stop training rebels:
“Senior officials at the White House and the Pentagon admitted that the strategy to pull fighters out of Syria, teach them advanced combat skills and return them to face the Islamic State had simply not worked, in part because many of the rebel groups were more focused on fighting the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.”
If the US’ overarching goal was to bring down the Syrian government and Assad, why would it abandon training rebels whose intent was to do just that? The answer is that preserving the Assad regime benefits all wings of imperialism, including US, Russian and Israeli, because the regime serves as a barrier to the victory of the Syrian and regional revolutions which threaten the imperialist stability of the Middle East.
When the US imperialists saw that their attempts to reign in Assad by training rebels to fight ISIS had the opposite effect of emboldening those rebels to fight Assad’s regime, they scrapped that plan but continued to provide arms to rebel groups. Seeing that the provision of arms failed to bring Assad to the negotiation table, especially with the open intervention of Russia on the side of Assad, the US even scrapped the arms provision plan as well:
“At its height, the [weapons] program was run through operations rooms in Jordan and Turkey, supporting rebel groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army who were deemed not to be extremists. But the pressure on Mr. Assad was not great enough to force him to enter negotiations to end the civil war.”
The lesson here is that the goal of the US imperialists has been regime preservation, not regime change as alleged by Mackler & Co. It is absurd to think that US policy at this juncture is to bring down the Syrian regime either directly or through other forces, and this letter cannot be read to call for such actions (an all too familiar misdirection).
Beginning a Dialogue
The Syrian Revolution began as part of the Arab Spring, which swept through the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. The Syrian people rose up in a mass movement to demand greater democratic freedoms in a peaceful protest movement. The Assad government responded in the manner of all petty-bourgeois nationalist governments whose existence is premised upon the denial of democratic rights by viciously attacking the protesters with armed state forces. The continuation of a democratic revolution for six years against a united imperialist opposition and total war waged by Assad should be an inspiration and it should be the job of Marxists to learn from it.
Comrades new to the ideas of socialism, revolution and the left may find the argument presented here overwhelming which is why the authors have gone to great lengths to provide links to articles and quotes from them to source our claims. The aim of this letter, in addition to registering our outrage at Mackler’s siding with a criminal state over a revolution — a position we must condemn from the standpoint of socialist morality — is to open a discussion on Syria with those who question Mackler’s defense of Assad from Syrians who resist his regime.
Towards this end we invite anyone reading this statement to join us for a reading group on the Syrian revolution beginning with Robin Yassin Kassab and Leila Al Shamis book “Burning Country Syrians In Revolution And War.” Comrades are also encouraged to sign the following petitions demanding freedom for detainees of the Assad regime and to stop the ongoing siege of the prison in Homs, Syria where the detainees resisting transfer to the Damascus prison reputed as a torture chamber.
Robert Cuffy — Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana
Kate G. — Red Bloom Collective
Jack Rusk — Mid Atlantic Revolutionary Socialists
Joe LaMonte — Mid Atlantic Revolutionary Socialists
Jason Schulman — Democratic Socialists of America
***Organizations are listed for identification purposes only and does not indicate endorsement.***
Endorsements from other individuals and organizations can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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