Libya and Syria: When anti-imperialism goes wrong | Pham Binh

Below is Pham Binh’s article on anti-interventionists’ unethical and imperious stances towards the Libyan and Syrian revolutions. I share here his comments with regards to Syria:

The Main Enemy In Syria

The anti-interventionists are repeating their mistakes over the Libyan revolution blunder-for-blunder over the Syria revolution. In place of their attacks on the Libyan NTC, they denounce the Syrian Nation Council (SNC); they dwell on the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) U.S. backing, just as they painted Libya’s rebels as tools of the CIA; instead of “hands off Libya,” they put forward the slogan “hands off Syria,” as if Syria’s death squads were Uncle Sam’s handiwork and not Assad’s.

Hyperbolic condemnations of the FSA, SNC, or the coordinating committees do nothing for Syrians whose lives do not depend on the anti-imperialist credentials of these groups but on whatever assistance they can provide. Similarly, criticisms that the Syrian revolution should rely less on armed struggle and more on strikes by workers have a questionable relationship to reality at best. Since when has a strike ever stopped a death squad from breaking down a door and murdering a sleeping family or prevented a civilian neighborhood from being shelled by artillery? Does anyone seriously believe that the Syrian struggle is being led astray by trigger-happy gunmen (most of whom are working for Assad, not against him)?

Our first duty in the West is to do whatever we can to aid, abet, and provide material support for our Syrian brothers’ and sisters’ fight against the Assad regime. Our main enemy is at home in the West, but theirs is not. Washington, D.C. is not sending death squads door-to-door to execute women and children, the regime in Damascus is; the Pentagon is not shelling civilian targets and killing journalists in Homs, the regime in Damascus is. Their main enemy is at home, just as ours is.

Banner from Daraa reads: Breaking: World’s humanity fails at the Syrian test.

This grim reality must be our starting point in any discussion about Syria, not a hypothetical U.S. military action down the road, the contours of which cannot be known in advance. We cannot have the same attitude towards U.S. airstrikes on Assad’s forces and a full-scale ground invasion of Syria because their impact on and implications for the revolution would be completely different. The contours of imperialist intervention must shape our attitude towards it. Sending the FSA small arms and anti-tank missiles or video cameras is not the same as sending American marines into the streets of Damascus, although they are all forms of U.S. intervention.

Syrian revolutionaries know damn well what atrocities Uncle Sam is capable of – Iraq is right next door – and the Arab world knows better than we in the West ever will what the colonial boot feels like. To lecture them of perils and pitfalls they know better than we do is to insult their intelligence. To pretend that we know the dangers of dealing with imperialist devils better than Third World revolutionaries do is a kind of white anti-imperialist’s burden, and its arrogant paternalism is just as misguided as its colonialist antipode.

We have no business criticizing the SNC, FSA, or the coordinating committees unless and until we have fulfilled our first duty by matching our words of solidarity with deeds and acts that can make a difference in the revolution’s outcome, however small they might seem.

Self-Determination and Intervention

The biggest obstacle to Syrian self-determination today is the Assad regime which increasingly rests on Russian bayonets drenched in Syrian blood. He is determined to stay in power by any means necessary and will not rest until their struggle for self-determination (which is what a democratic revolution is) is buried, in mass graves if need be. Respect for Syrian self-determination means respecting how Syrian revolutionaries organize their struggle and their choices even when they conflict with our own preferences and choices.

If Syrian revolutionaries ask for Western airstrikes because they lack an air force to counter the Assad regime militarily, who are we to oppose those airstrikes? Who are we to tell them that all-out defeat is better than the triumph of a revolution “tainted” by an unavoidable compromise with imperialists powers? Who are we to tell them they must face Russian helicopter gunships without imperialist aid because “the revolution will be won by Syrians themselves or it won’t be won at all”? Do we really want our Syrian brothers and sisters to confront tanks with rocks and slingshots as so many Palestinians have?

Banner from Idleb reads: to the Syrian opposition in Egypt: before splitting the cake, help us first to bake it!

While the Western left is raising a hue and cry over the minimal aid Syria’s rebels receive from the CIA and reactionary Gulf states, Russia is overtly ramping up its military aid to Assad. Whether we like it or not, the struggle between the Syrian revolution and Assad’s counter-revolution has been internationalized just as the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 was. The Western left in those days demanded foreign intervention in the form of arms, military aid, and volunteers for the Spanish Republic. The anti-interventionists (mostly fascists or fascist sympathizers) were more than happy to see the Republic starved in the name of “non-intervention” while Hitler bombed Guernica and did everything possible to ensure Franco’s victory.

Those who oppose Western military action today against Assad in the context of a revolution that has developed into a full-blown civil war where segments of the revolution and the people are begging for foreign arms, aid, and airstrikes while the counter-revolution imports arms to slaughter them follow in the anti-interventionist footsteps of the Spanish Republic’s opponents whether they are aware of it or not.

“Hands off Syria” should be the slogan raised at demonstrations in front of Russian embassies and consulates around the world, not the one directed at foreign powers aiding the rebels lest we become little better than Assad’s unwitting executioners in the eyes of revolutionary Syrians. Instead of focusing our fire on the shortcomings of the SNC, FSA, and the coordinating committees, we should be organizing events and fund-raisers for humanitarian relief, fact-finding missions, and video and communications equipment with the aim of smuggling it into Syria. These activities are already taking place but not with the participation of the Western left since we are more worried about our precious anti-imperialist principles and hypothetical Libya-style airstrikes (as if the outcome there was a step backward and not a step forward) than tackling the ugly realities of the Syrian revolution whose straits become more desperate with each passing hour.

We fiddle furiously while Syria burns and Syrians bleed.

The most important thing for the Western left to do is to forge close and enduring relationships with revolutionary Syrians living abroad by demonstrating our unequivocal support for their revolution through deeds, through joint work with their communities. Only in that context and on that basis can criticisms we have about deals with U.S. imperialism or mistakes made by the SNC, FSA, and the coordinating committees gain a hearing among the people who count: revolutionary Syrians.

One way to begin building these relationships would be to organize forums and debates over the question of intervention with revolutionary Syrians of various shades of opinion. The single most embarrassing aspect of the Western left’s opposition to NATO’s Libya operation was the way revolutionary Libyans were barred from Libya forums organized by anti-interventionists.

This outrage was the absurd but logical outcome of the white anti-imperialist’s burden, a burden we must cast aside if we hope to act in concert with the Arab Spring.

Conclusion

The Western left should reject knee-jerk anti-imperialism because its unthinking, blind, reflexive, nature put us at odds with the interests and explicit demands of first the Libyan and now the Syrian revolutionary peoples and in line with the interests of their mortal enemies.

Knee-jerk anti-imperialism leads to our enemies doing our thinking for us: whatever Uncle Sam wants, we oppose; whatever Uncle Sam opposes, we want. This method plays right into U.S. imperialism’s hands because the last thing Uncle Sam wants is a thinking enemy.

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