The following slightly edited commentary was posted on Facebook by WW contributor Mattie Starrdust on Dec. 14 after the liberation of East Aleppo. Starrdust, a young white trans worker in the U.S., explains why activists should not be fooled by the U.S. propaganda machine.
Syria is a democratic republic, meaning they elect their political representatives by a popular vote. The last presidential election was in June 2014. Bashar al-Assad won 88.7 percent of the votes; his next closest contender won 4.3 percent. Some 73.42 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced by the U.S.-sponsored insurgency who voted in Syrian embassies. Election observers from more than 30 countries, including the United States, Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, South Africa and India called the elections “free, fair and transparent.”
Assad is a capitalist, meaning he exploits Syrian workers. He’s also a nationalist, meaning he opposes Western intervention and invasion and supports Arab control of Arab lands. The Assad administration supports Palestine and Hezbollah, is allied with Iran, and is secular and opposed to the far-right monarchies or theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. For these policies, the Assad administration enjoys broad popular support, far more popular support than any U.S. president is able to drum up in the U.S.
There are communist parties in Syria. They want to overthrow the capitalists and build socialism. But the majority of Syrian workers and masses do not identify with the communists. They have grievances with their leaders and with life under capitalism, but in general they don’t believe that overthrowing the government will fix their grievances. The same is true of most workers in the U.S.
Also like the United States, the Syrian masses don’t want to see their country invaded and taken over by foreign forces. They’re willing to fight against foreign invaders to defend the sovereignty of their country, even though they still have grievances with capitalism and their ruling class. We refer to this willingness as a component of nationalism, which, as Marxists, we believe is progressive among oppressed nationalities. Palestinian nationalism and Black Liberation are considered by many to be examples of progressive nationalisms.
Imperialism must expand or die
The U.S., the chief purveyor of white supremacy worldwide, does not like to see Arab peoples stand up for themselves. They’re very concerned by growing partnerships among Syria, Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and others because these countries have been able to carve out a piece of the global economy away from U.S. control. These are all peoples and countries that U.S. imperialism is either unable to exploit or is very limited in its ability to exploit.
The U.S. doesn’t only hate this; it’s threatened to its core by it. It’ll suffocate if it can’t constantly expand. U.S. imperialism isn’t only willing to commit atrocities to break up the nonaligned movement; it’s obliged to. It can’t avoid it, and no presidents can stop it regardless of what campaign promises they make.
So in the case of Syria, the U.S. has to take out the Assad government and weaken the Syrian people’s Arab nationalism in order to pry it away from the nonaligned countries and into U.S. domination. (And if there’s any question about whether life for Syrians might be better under U.S. domination, just look to Libya before and after the U.S. got involved.)
In order to attack the Assad government, the U.S. seized upon a relatively small group of protesters in Syria in 2010-11. These protesters, some of them, probably did have legitimate grievances against their government. They may have been workers exploited by capitalists, or they may have been petty bourgeois, protesting aspects of capitalism they find unfavorable. And the Assad government likely did respond with overt force to suppress them. This was unfortunate.
But the U.S. used this movement to peddle its own agenda. All activists in the U.S. know that when the government expresses an interest in your movement, it is never a good thing. It’s no different when the U.S. government took an interest in a movement of some Syrian people.
The enormous war propaganda machine was redeployed in the service of war against Arab nationalism in Syria. Stories about Assad dropping barrel bombs on his own people were churned out by the dozens.
The quality of the stories didn’t matter. They could even openly say their reports were unconfirmed. It didn’t matter, because the U.S. masses are so steeped in white supremacy that the slightest white chauvinist spark is enough to trigger a racist wildfire. Hence the image of Assad as the evil, mindlessly brutal dictator who bombs “his own” people just for the hell of it.
U.S. funds and trains ‘rebels’
In reality, the U.S. was funneling millions of dollars in training and weaponry, not to mention air support, to what it called “moderate rebels,” but who are in fact composed of groups like the Islamic State group, Al-Nusra and al-Qaida. Their stated ideology is Salafism, which is a reactionary interpretation of Islam. But their actual existence is due to their usefulness to U.S. imperialism.
So the Salafists, under the banner of “moderate(!) rebellion,” were armed with sophisticated weaponry and allowed to wreak havoc in Syria, to destroy its infrastructure and weaken its ability to fight to keep its own independence. These groups were found to have blocked off civilian access to safe zones created by the Syrian and Russian governments in order to inflate the body count so that the U.S. could more effectively sell intervention to the U.S. people and the United Nations: “Look at how bad it is over there! We have to get this guy Assad out of power!” The corporate-run media know that most U.S. residents don’t need much convincing when the target is a person of color or oppressed people’s nationalism.
The Syrian government, still with broad support from its people, called on its ally Russia to help get rid of the terrorists wreaking havoc on Syria. They had a right to do this, under both international law and common moral standards. And if the U.S. actually wanted to “rid the world of terrorism,” they’d have been delighted to see Russian involvement. But they raised such an outcry because (a) it signaled increased cooperation within the nonaligned movement and (b) the Russians were killing the U.S.-sponsored terrorists.
Cause for celebration
We fast forward to now, when the Syrian Arab Army, still with the broad support of the Syrian people, has retaken East Aleppo from the U.S.-backed ultraconservative terrorists. In response to the defeat, the U.S. has kicked its propaganda machine into full gear, churning out stories designed to make people in the U.S. agree to even more drastic military action against Syrian nationalism.
The displacement and loss of life as part of this conflict have taken place on an unimaginable scale. Good people who are interested in peace and justice, liberation and socialism have been stirred to speak out against the carnage. But many of these people have been fooled by the U.S. propaganda machine — the largest, most well-funded and farthest-reaching ever to exist — into believing that another people who are fighting to be free from U.S. domination are the enemy and the source of the bloodshed.
The Syrian people and the government they elected are not our enemies. They’re not monsters who are either killers or victims by their nature. They’re not slaughtering their own people for no reason. They’re human beings who’ve mounted an incredible struggle against the biggest Goliath ever. They’ve acted in defense of their country and their sovereignty throughout this entire conflict. And they’ve just liberated East Aleppo.
This IS cause for celebration. But our celebration absolutely cannot give anybody a reason to believe we’re rejoicing in death and suffering. We’re rejoicing in a small but meaningful win by the oppressed, who’ve been brutalized, deprived and slandered to no end by a power exponentially bigger than they are.