These remarks are excerpted from a June 3 livestream event, “Eyewitness Syria,” featuring speakers from the International Delegation to the 2021 Syrian Presidential Election. Speakers Johnny Achi, Kobi Guillory, and Wyatt Miller and Ted Kelly were all signatories to the delegation’s statement, found at bit.ly/syria2021. A full video of this event can be found at youtu.be/SVPYMUR5sKs.
National self-determination — the national question — is central to our analysis. It is central to an understanding of the global class war that Sam Marcy laid out going back to 1950. (See workers.org/marcy for Marcy’s writings on the subject.)
As the Communist Manifesto says, “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.” We know that, in our society, national oppression is not secondary to this history but is a central component of it.
The 20th century taught us that socialist revolutions tied to national liberation struggles are the most successful.
Our role is to bring a revolutionary class consciousness to the working class, to national movements, to movements of identity and oppression. But our role is also to understand and emphasize the interconnectedness of capitalist oppression with national oppression and gender oppression.
We need to make sure movements of revolutionary socialists don’t lose their sensitivity to these questions, and, indeed, that the movement of revolutionary socialism is led by the most oppressed.
Confronting disinformation about Syria
We have to be dialectical about this. We have to investigate a system, study its internal contradictions, the forces working on the system.
An understanding of the Syrian state can lead you to understand that the multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious character of Syria is central to its functioning.
There is a lot of effort being put into diverting attention or confusing this understanding of self-determination. Carving up Syria into segregated ethnographic enclaves and then backing separatist efforts is an imperialist tactic; we saw this in Iraq. I’m glad someone in the chat asked about the so-called area of Rojava in Syria; that’s become a very big meme for people on the online Western left.
But ask those who are calling for the overthrow of a sovereign government because they read something online about the Kurds, ask them if they know about Syria’s protection of the right of self-determination for the Assyrians. Or the Armenians. Or the Yazidis. Ask them about the protection of religious/ethnic groups in Syria like the Druze, Alawi, Jews and Greek Orthodox followers.
Why don’t they know that the current Syrian state protects these rights and identities? And considers the mosaic of Syrian multiethnic, multireligious society an asset?
Ask them if they know that today, June 3, in Al-Malikiyah (Derik in Kurdish) an Assyrian activist named Husam Alkass was abducted by the YPG, an anti-government, ethno-nationalist Kurdish militia armed and funded by the Pentagon. This kidnapping could only have taken place with the cooperation of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, the anti-government militia also armed and funded by the Pentagon.
Ask them if they know that in Derik, where this kidnapping took place, in Al-Hasakah, over a million people are experiencing water scarcity because of the combined catastrophe of U.S. sanctions and U.S./Turkish military occupation.
Problems of Western left on Syria
But even beyond the lack of knowledge of what the Syrian state does do right, there is something deeply racist and deeply self-centered about this “leftist” attitude towards Syria. This is a problem on the left in the U.S. right now. Groups that are extremely hostile to Syria’s sovereign state range from anarchists to pacifists to “socialists” who compromise with capitalism.
Lt. Colonel Alfred Dreyfus was a right-wing artillery officer and commander in the imperial France army. Does that mean that the socialists and anti-racists should have said nothing when in 1894, he was falsely convicted of treason as part of a festering explosion of anti-Jewish paranoia? Should other French Jews have said, “we don’t agree with his politics, so I guess we don’t have any stake in this racist frame-up?”
Are you going to tell me that you have nothing to protest about the kidnapping of Alex Saab because he is a businessman? As if, well, I only protest the false arrest and kidnapping of revolutionary socialists. Or anarchists. Or whatever.
Who are these Westerners that are setting parameters on anti-imperialist solidarity? Since when were we only supposed to get out of bed when socialist countries are under attack? When the monstrous armies of empire are directed towards colonized or developing countries who don’t share our particular political analysis, do we say, “not my problem?”
There are 39 sovereign countries under U.S. sanctions — 40 including the nation of Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony. There are at least 1,000 US military bases around the world — that we know of! — including in countries the U.S. is currently blockading, like Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. One-third of the population of the planet, one in three human beings, is sanctioned by the U.S. Before you decide whether these people are worthy of your solidarity, are you going to go scan through the Wikipedia page of each of these 40 countries to see if you agree with the results of their most recent election?
That would be chauvinism, imperialist chauvinism of the worst kind: the deluded kind, the kind that doesn’t even know it’s chauvinism or pretends it doesn’t know.
Instead, it’s much easier to be a revolutionary for someone else’s country. Where you aren’t the one risking your life, where your family isn’t at risk of being displaced or hurt or killed. Where it isn’t your water infrastructure, your roads, your schools and hospitals being destroyed. You can feel like a revolutionary and overthrow a government without any of the hard work of building a new workers state in its place.
You get the picture? It’s chauvinism. It’s liberalism. Nothing made this more clear to me than visiting Syria and speaking to Syrians. I am so grateful to Johnny Achi, E.E., co-founder, Arab Americans for Syria, for making that possible. These are things I knew in my head before, but now I also know them in my heart. I know them in my soul.
Lenin on the national question
V.I. Lenin said: “The Socialist of another country cannot expose the government and bourgeoisie of a country at war with ‘his own’ nation, and not only because he does not know that country’s language, history, specific features, etc., but also because such exposure is part of imperialist intrigue, and not an internationalist duty.
“[One] is not an internationalist who vows and swears by internationalism. One is an internationalist who in a really internationalist way combats ‘his own’ bourgeoisie, ‘his own’ social-chauvinists.
“Socialists in every country must now unfailingly and more vigorously than usual expose their own government and their own bourgeoisie. They must expose the secret agreements they have concluded, and are concluding, with their imperialist allies for the division of colonies, spheres of influence, joint financial undertakings in other countries, buying up of shares, monopoly arrangements, concessions, etc.”
The rise of right-wing political Islam and the funding, training and arming of these reactionary right-wing groups, like Johnny said, is all being done in order to install puppet regimes in these countries. To understand first of all that this is not a civil war, but rather an imperialist attack by foreign capitalists, is to begin to understand what the Syrian people have been resisting. And what the Axis of Resistance, the allied forces in the region, are up against.
Ask yourself: what are you doing to fight back against the suffocating sanctions imposed on Syria? Which government do you have the ability to hold accountable? If you truly care about the Syrian people, let’s start with the root of the problem. That’s what being a radical is: addressing things at the root. The root of the problem, the root of all this evil, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “is my own government.”