To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
September 13, 2018
RE: Oppose the crushing of the Syrian democrats by imperialism and Assad with the collusion  of much of the left

(1) Solidarity with the people of Syria fighting dictatorship
and Islamic extremism

by Joseph Green, Detroit Workers' Voice

This issue of the D/SWV list contains material about the present situation in Idlib, and the collusion of much of the left with the Assad dictatorship and outside imperialism in crushing the democratic movement in Syria. There are so many different factions in Syria, and so many outside powers intervening in Syria, that the situation becomes hard to follow. But the overall situation is clear: the Syrian revolt that began in 2011 would have swept away the Assad dictatorship except for the intervention of the outside powers. Just as the victory of the fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39 helped usher in World War II, so the crushing of the Syrian people will have consequences for the rest of the world. The difference is that the left-wing opposed fascism in the Spanish Civil War, but much of the left today has backed the crushing of the Syrian people in the name of "anti-imperialism" and "international law".

The articles by Leila Al-Shami have much information about what is going on in Idlib that doesn't make it into either the establishment press or most of the left press. They give a valuable description of the struggles of the people of Idlib, and how these struggles -- and not imperialist or Assadist bombs -- are the real force against Islamic extremism. The article by "Oakland Socialist" also gives a brief summary of the situation on the eve of the offensive against Idlib. We think these articles deserve attention, although we are of a different political trend than either Al-Shami or Oakland Socialist, and we do not agree with some of their political views. For example, both point to the neo-Stalinist or Stalinist influence in the left, but leave out that the Trotskyist movement has also stumbled over Syria.  <>

(2) What next for Idlib?

Excerpts from an article on Leila Al-Shami's blog for September 5:

The Syrian regime is determined to reconquer all of the territory it has lost. Aided by Russian bombers and Iranian troops, and emboldened by its success in terrorizing the populations of Ghouta and Daraa into submission, President Bashar al-Assad's government is now preparing to attack Idlib, the last remaining province outside of his control. Idlib is home to some three million people, about half of them displaced, or forcibly evacuated, to the province from elsewhere. Many are crowded into unsanitary camps or sleeping in the open.

In recent days, regime troops have massed on Idlib's border and leaflets have been dropped on residential areas calling on Syrians to accept "reconciliation" or face the consequences. Meanwhile, Russia has been sending reinforcements to its naval base in Tartus. ....

The Syrian regime and its allies justify their coming attack on Idlib by saying that they want to root out jihadists. Hay'at Tahrir Al Sham, which is led by the Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, dominates some 60 percent of the province and has an estimated 10,000 fighters, according to the United Nations special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. The repeated descriptions of Idlib as a "terrorist hotbed" support the regime's narrative that all opposition to its rule consists of terrorist groups; it also absolves the international community of any responsibility to protect civilians.

But this characterization of the province is inaccurate. The people of Idlib have been at the forefront of the struggle against Hay'at Tahrir Al Sham, or H.T.S. Since Idlib's liberation from the regime — partially in 2012 and then fully in 2015 — many of its citizens worked to build a free society that reflected the values of the revolution. According to researchers, more than 150 local councils have been established to administer basic services in the province; many held the first free elections in decades. Long-repressed civil society witnessed a rebirth. Independent news media, like the popular Radio Fresh, were set up to challenge the regime's monopoly on information. Women's centers grew, empowering women to participate in politics and the economy.

H.T.S. has threatened these hard-won achievements. The group has tried to embed itself within the local population. Since the fall of Aleppo in 2016, it has intensified its attempts to impose its ideology by taking over local institutions and establishing Shariah courts. It's been ruthless with its perceived opponents. In December, it arrested four prominent activists displaced to Idlib from Madaya, ostensibly on charges of "media work against H.T.S." Raed Fares, one of the founders of Radio Fresh, survived an assassination attempt, as did Ghalya Rahal, who established the Mazaya Organization, which runs eight women's centers. Fighting between H.T.S. and other rebel groups has left many civilians dead, and a spate of assassinations and kidnappings for ransom has left the local population fearful and angry.

Syrians did not risk their lives and rise up against Mr. Assad's dictatorship to replace it with another. Many local councils issued statements rejecting H.T.S.'s authority in local governance or declaring their neutrality in fighting between rebel groups. Hundreds of local activists coordinated opposition to H.T.S.'s control and called for demilitarization of their communities through media campaigns and public demonstrations. Courageously, they replaced the black jihadist flag with the flag of the revolution. In April, medical workers held protests against infighting and kidnapping. Women organized against H.T.S.'s discriminatory edicts, such as the imposition of strict dress codes and requiring widows to live with a close male relative. ...

Worst of all, there is a growing international consensus that the regime is the best solution for the devastation it has wrought. The international community is now shifting its focus toward reconstruction, rehabilitating the regime through rewarding those responsible for the country's devastation, and pressuring refugees to return to a country where their safety is far from assured.

The people of Idlib are aware that they will probably be abandoned to a fate similar to their countrymen in Daraa and Ghouta. Anger at their betrayal by the supposed democratic powers, already deeply rooted, is growing. The residents understand that those who favor "stability" at any price perceive their continued resistance as an inconvenience. But the resumption of the regime's control in Idlib will not lead to peace, and still less to stability. It will eradicate the democratic alternative to tyranny, leaving the jihadists — who thrive on violence, oppression and foreign occupation — as the last men standing, to constitute a long-term threat to the region and the world.

(The full text is at ). <>

(3) Leila Al-Shami says the attitude of the left to Idlib is indefensible

Below is the full text of Leila Al-Shami's article "Indefensible: Idlib and the left" (September 12), including the introduction to it by the anarchist website "Freedom" in which it appeared (

This text was contributed to "Freedom" by Leila Al-Shami: British Syrian activist and writer, co-author (with Robin Yassin-Kassab) of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War [1]. Leila's blog on popular struggles, human rights and social justice from an anti-authoritarian perspective can be found here [2].

On Saturday regime and Russian airstrikes intensified on Idlib in what appears to be a prelude to the long anticipated campaign to regain control of the province.

Only a day before, thousands of Syrian men, women and children took the streets in over 120 cities towns and villages across the remaining liberated areas under the slogan 'resistance is our choice' [3].

They were demonstrating for their lives. Idlib is now home to three million people, a third of whom are children. Of the current population, over half have been displaced, or forcibly evacuated, to the province from elsewhere. Their options for fleeing the assault are limited. Borders are closed and there are no safe-zones left. They don't want to be forcibly displaced from their homes. At the protests many held signs rejecting recent calls by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to evacuate civilians to regime-controlled areas, where they could disappear into torture chambers or face forced conscription, as has happened to others before them [4]. 'Reconciliation' in the Syrian context means a return to subjugation, humiliation and tyranny.

Through signs and chants, the aim of the protests was clear: to prevent an assault by the regime and its backers, to show the world that there are civilians in Idlib whose lives are now under threat, and to affirm that they continue to refuse Assad's rule. As-shaab yurid isqat al nizam (the people want the downfall of the regime) rang through the crowds, reminiscent of the early days of the uprising. They were not only protesting domestic fascism, but foreign imperialisms too – those of Russia and Iran – which have backed the dictator in his campaign to wipe out domestic opposition.

Yet once again the calls of Syrian anti-war protesters were largely ignored by the western 'anti-war left'. Instead of calling for an end to the bombing or supporting the victims of war, many have instead chosen to buy into the regime's 'War on Terror' narrative that the aim of the assault is to wipe out militant jihadists. Such illusions should have been shattered on Saturday. Sham hospital in Has village, southern Idlib, was targeted by barrel bombs and missiles, taking it out of service. The hospital had been located underground, in a cave, in an ultimately futile attempt to protect it from aerial bombardment. According to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, three hospitals, two Civil Defence Centers and an ambulance system were attacked on 6 and 7 September in Idlib and northern Hama, leaving thousands without access to medical care [5].

Extremist groups have a presence in Idlib – some have been sent by the regime itself following evacuation from elsewhere. Hayaat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS) with former links to Al Qaeda dominates much of the province with its 10,000 fighters. Yet far from being an 'Al Qaeda stronghold' HTS has failed to win support from much of the population which has continually resisted the group's presence and hard-line ideology [6]. At last Friday's protests in Idlib city, HTS fired live ammunition to break up the demonstration. The crowd quickly turned on the militants calling them shabiha (an insult once reserved for regime thugs) and chanting "Jolani get out" – in reference to the group's leader.

Many on the 'left' claim that out of a population of three million individuals there are 'no good guys left' to support. Or believe the presence of a few thousand extremists is justification enough for razing Idlib to the ground and collectively punishing its residents. The invisible majority of Syrians who don't use guns to wield power are dismissed as irrelevant. They choose to ignore those who have been resisting all forms of authoritarianism [7] and are committed to creating a better future for their families, communities and society at large. They present a grotesquely simplified binary in which the choice is between Assad and Al Qaeda, as if the conflict and deep-rooted social struggle were a football match between two sides. The side they back is a fascist regime – because at least it is 'secular' – a regime which gasses children to death in their sleep, operates death camps in which dissidents are tortured to death and which has been accused by the UN of 'the crime of extermination'. Anyone who resists a return to regime control is presented as an enemy and a legitimate target for attack. Freedom, democracy, social justice, dignity – they are goals to which only westerners should aspire. The rest should just shut up and make do.

In this sinister and racist world view, everyone is either an Al Qaeda member or sympathizer. The fact that there are women in these conservative, rural communities that don't dress like them, or have to courageously overcome numerous obstacles and threats to their safety in order to participate in the public sphere (as they did at last Friday's protests) is presented as evidence of terrorist leanings, justification in itself for their annihilation. Instead of standing in solidarity with the courageous women in Idlib [8] who are resisting both the regime and other extremist armed groups and fighting to overcome deeply entrenched traditional and patriarchal social mores, they would rather support a state which sent militia to carry out mass-rape campaigns in dissident communities, which inserts rats into the vaginas of female detainees. The dehumanization of Syrians has been so thorough that many struggle to believe that amongst the chaos and war-lords there may actually be ordinary human beings worthy of support – people like 'us'.

It is hard to understand how devastating bombing campaigns carried out by the Syrian state and Russia on densely populated residential areas, which have killed hundreds of thousands, can be ignored by anyone who claims to be 'anti-war'. It seems Syrian lives are only meaningful if they're destroyed by western bombs. Today's 'anti-imperialism' is often used as a cover in support of totalitarian regimes, by people privileged enough to never have experienced what it's like to live under them. Not content to ignore war crimes and other mass atrocities, attempts are also made to absolve the perpetrators from blame and deny that atrocities have occurred. Conspiracy theories, often originating in Russian state or far-right media, are circulated about chemical attack 'false flags' to white-wash regime crimes and justify the targeting of civilians and humanitarian workers. Syria has become a talking point to score political points without a second thought given to the real-life danger such false accusations place people in, or the deep pain and offence caused to the victims.

In her recent book, Indefensible: Democracy, Counter-Revolution and the Rhetoric of Anti-imperialism [9], Rohini Hensman asks; 'How has the rhetoric of anti-imperialism come to be used in support of anti-democratic counterrevolutions around the world?' She argues that there are three kinds of 'pseudo-anti-imperialists'. The first are those who believe that "'the West' has to be the only oppressor in all situations", a "Western-centrism which makes them oblivious to the fact that people in other parts of the world have agency too, and that they can exercise it both to oppress others and to fight against oppression". The second category consists of "neo-Stalinists" who "will support any regime that is supported by Russia, no matter how right wing it may be". The third "consists of tyrants and imperialists, perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and aggression, who, as soon as they face a hint of criticism from the West, immediately claim that they are being criticised because they are anti-imperialists."

In support of her argument, Hensman gives a detailed overview of genuine anti-imperialism as opposed to 'pseudo-anti-imperialism' through case studies from Russia and Ukraine, Bosnia and Kosovo, Iran, Iraq and Syria. She shows how self-declared 'leftists' have repeatedly supported authoritarian regimes over people's democratic struggles, spread anti-Muslim bigotry, built tactical alliances with fascists, spread conspiracy theories and Kremlin/state propaganda, and engaged in genocide/atrocity denial and victim blaming. Her book is a timely reminder that the narratives propagated around Syria, in which the far-left echoes the talking points of the far-right and places geo-politics over people's struggles and lives, are emblematic of a much broader malaise.

As bombs rain down on Idlib, few Syrians expect to see mass protests around the world in support of their cause or in defence of their lives. Those who claim a politics of 'internationalism' have abandoned them and retreated into isolationism or, worse, into apologia for fascism. Without addressing these issues the prospect of building an international movement against authoritarianism, imperialism, war and capitalism seems unlikely. In the meantime, we can expect the horrors which led the world to declare 'never again' to happen again, and again and again. <>

(4) Notes to "Indefensible: Idlib and the left"

[1] See Pluto Press, .

[2] See .

[3] "Evidence and gains of the return of demonstrations demanding the overthrow of Assad to the north of Syria", .

[4] "Eastern Ghouta under the Duress or Recruitment and Arrest Raids,"

[5] Press Release by the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations: "For Immediate Release/September 8, 2018: Six Medical and Civil Facilities Attacked in Past Two Days,"

[6] "What next for Idlib?", from Leila's blog, September 5, 2018, . This was originally published in the "New York Times" under the title "The Death Blow is Coming for Syrian Democracy".

[7] Julia Taleb, May 23, 2017, "Syrians roll back extremism in Idlib without military intervention", .

[8] "Women are at the forefront of challenging extremism in Idlib," from Leila's blog, July 5, 2018, . An excerpt from this article: "The existence of extremist militant groups in Idlib province is the justification given by the regime and its Russian ally for continuing aerial assault. Yet these airstrikes, which usually target residential areas and vital civilian infrastructure, and which maim and kill men, women and children, create the chaos and despair in which extremist groups thrive. The presence of such groups also provides the rationale for withdrawal of donor funding to civil society organizations over fears it may end up in the wrong hands. Yet the resistance to extremism comes most successfully from local communities which have strong civil society networks and, critically, where women whose rights are most under threat actively participate. A serious anti-extremism policy would require an end to the bombing of civilians, and the continuation of funds and support for women's civil society groups."

[9] See Haymarket books, . <>

(5) Oakland Socialist on the "coming bloodbath in Idlib, Syria"

From Oakland Socialist for September 12, 2018 (see ).

Resting on the support of Rouhani and Putin, Bashar Assad is planning a bloodbath in the last remaining province not under his control – Idlib in northwest Syria. With the help of Putin, he has kettled the opposition forces into Idlib. They are using the excuse that the province is under the control of terrorists such as HTS. However, recent videos show protests against the war in several cities in Idlib, and in some cases these protests are actually being attacked by HTS. There are other reports of the population of several towns organizing and driving the fundamentalist forces out of town.

In the opening shot, the air forces of Assad and Putin have attacked hospitals. This is in preparation to a general attack on the population as a whole.

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime has called for a "purge" of the Syrian population. Iranian forces have already engaged in ethnic cleansing in parts of Syria, but if Idlib falls, they will do so to an even greater extent. Nor will a military victory of the counter revolution mean the end. As we reported elsewhere, Syrian general Jamil al-Hassan has said that imprisoning or executing 3 million Syrians would not be a problem.

Meanwhile, the Western socialist left in general is as quiet as a church mouse. They are claiming that the whole counter-revolution (and that's what it is) is really just opposition to a US inspired attempt at "regime change". But if that were so, then how explain that US policy is to prevent anti-aircraft weapons from reaching any rebel forces?

Nor is this a little detail. If the socialist left were to organize mass protests throughout Europe and the US, it would have an impact as far as staying the hand of these mass murderers – Putin, Assad and Rouhani. Truly, the silence of the socialist left on what is becoming the greatest crime of this new century shows how far the socialist movement has degenerated. Is it really any less of a disaster than the domination of Stalinist ideas and methods in the 1930s? <>

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Posted on September 20, 2018
Some typos - including SWV # - have been corrected.