DSA Must Reject Imperial Rhetoric on Syria

RL Stephens has posted his position on how the DSA should respond to the war in Syria, http://www.dsausa.org/npc_debate

The use of the word “debate”, I suppose, is meant to convey the fact that this is an individual member’s opinion. But considering the amount of text at the top and bottom of the post I co-authored with Jason Schulman, http://www.dsausa.org/the_case_for_solidarity_with_the_syrian_revolution_dl, it hardly does the job of making this point clear.

I’ll be focusing on what I find wrong with Stephens’ post, for a history of the revolution, the class character of the Arab Spring countries, the barbarity of the regime and how the left, and the West as a whole, betrayed the people of Syria, see:

Stephens’ says the question before us is:

[W]hether or not socialists should take sides in conflicts between imperial powers.

Nothing productive can come from a discussion on Syria when it is framed this way. Replacing the revolutionaries and activists of Syria with an “imperial power” erases their agency and struggle. Syria is not a conflict between imperial powers, it is a conflict between those who want a free Syria and those who would rather see the country burn than lose their place of privilege.

We are not “lining up with the ruling classes” by siding with the revolution. This is not an uncommon misrepresentation on the left. A disturbingly large part of the left prefers to center empire and states instead of the class struggle.

The rationales for particular interventions may shift from “fighting terrorism” to “establishing democracy” to responding to “humanitarian crises” but the real objective of the United States remains constant, the maintenance of its own position of dominance within an increasingly unstable global capitalist order.

While it is true the US does not act for humantiarian reasons, the way “fighting terrorism” and stabilizing the global capitalist order with the US at the top is brought up here and in many other “leftist” takes on Syria says a lot about how they misrepresent the war.

Not only has “fighting terrorism” been the argument put forward by the Assad regime and Russia for their war on civilians, but the US has been conducting airstrikes in support of this fight, not against the Assad regime, for years, causing thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, https://airwars.org/reports/. The “2000 US military personnel” Stephens mentions are embedded with mostly Kurdish forces fighting the same forces we are told Assad and Russia must defeat.

When the facts of US airstrikes and involvement of US troops are mentioned without context it is clearly an attempt to give the impression these are operations on the side of the rebels and against the regime. This can only be in order to give false support to the claim of a “US lead regime change plot”, moving the debate from one of solidarity with the oppressed to one of a conflict between imperial powers.

This is a call for regime change. It is not the responsibility of socialists in the United States to set as their goal the removal of a foreign head of state from power. That is a decision, in this case, for the Syrian people to make.

Revolution is regime change. It is our responsibility as international socialists to show solidarity with those who fight oppression. If we don’t consider this a responsibility then we are neither internationalists nor truly anti-war. And the Syrian people did make this decision. When their protests for reforms were met with bullets, tanks and torture, while Assad portrayed them as foreign jihadists they declared, ‘the people want the downfall of the regime’!

The major principal actors in the Syrian war have all committed war crimes.

This false equivalency would never be acceptable when discussing Palestine or when demanding an end to the US ‘war on terror’, and the left should reject it when discussing Syria. Positioning the sides as equals, downplaying the regimes role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and displacement of millions, like the smearing of all opposition as ‘headchopping jihadis’, is used by reactionary forces to demand that refugees be sent back. The regime is uniquely responsible for the war, the deaths, the destruction and millions are not safe until it has fallen.

Socialist solidarity should be with all the oppressed, not only the ones who we find convinent. When we focus our analysis and support on states we are using their language, not ours, and we end up with leftists defending dictators, capitalists and reactionary forces.

We need to evaulate whether we are standing for internationalism or the anti-imperialism of fools.