In recent weeks there has been a real upsurge of activity on the part of the anti-war movement in the U.S. Protests have been held in scores of cities - more that 50 on Sept. 7 alone - including substantial demonstrations in cities like New York and Chicago. An article published in the Socialist Worker on Sept. 10, entitled “Standing against both war and dictatorship,” goes a long way toward explaining why the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has been by and large irrelevant, or worse yet, an obstacle to this growing movement against another U.S. war.
Penned by ISO member Eric Ruder, the article takes to task three socialist organizations: Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), Workers World Party (WWP) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) for supporting Syria in its fight to defeat a vicious onslaught from U.S. and Western imperialism, reactionary Arab states and the Israelis.
We in FRSO have constantly stated our views on this matter and we will always be on the side of those who resist imperialism.
Sectarianism directed at Syrian Americans
The anti-war movement is a united front, which brings together diverse viewpoints and forces. The level of political understanding about what’s happening in Syria is uneven and we need to unite people who have a wide range of perspectives. To oppose a U.S. attack on Syria, it is important that we have broad slogans that unite all who can be united, such as “Hands off Syria,” or “No U.S. war on Syria.” That’s a given.
It should also be a given that we build unity with Syrian Americans who are concerned about their loved ones at home and support their country in its battle with imperialism. Sadly this is not the case for the ISO.
In many cities, Syrian Americans have one of the most constant, dynamic, and in some cases, the largest force in the current anti-war movement. Most people would say that is a good thing, but not the ISO. Instead they complain about the flags, signs, and portraits that Syrian Americans bring to protests.
For example in Chicago, Syrian Americans have been extremely active in anti-war demonstrations. How does the ISO evaluate this? Ruder’s article says, “The ugly consequences of ‘antiwar’ support for the Syrian regime were easy to see in Chicago, where organizers of ‘Hands off Syria’ protests repeatedly turned over the platform to representatives of the Syrian American Forum…” Imagine that. Syrian Americans help organize demonstrations, turn out in large numbers and often speak from the platform.
The ISO, which has never been big on opposing U.S. intervention in Syria, was apparently “caught off guard” when they finally did make their way to the anti-war protests and found Syrian Americans expressing their views. It seemed “ugly” to them. Perhaps it is more a case of ISO playing the Ugly American.
ISO and the demonization of Syria
At the very moment when Washington and those who echo the master’s voice are trying to demonize the government of Syria, ISO is trying to do the same thing among left and progressive forces. So they criticize the Syrian government for being “inconsistent” opponents of imperialism and praise the “rebels.”
Let’s take a look at this. The government of Syria has done more to oppose imperialism than ISO will ever do. They help the Palestinians in a big way. Same goes for the patriotic and national democratic forces of Lebanon. Syria, Iran and the movements for national liberation in Lebanon and Palestine are central to the camp of resistance to imperialism and Zionism in the Middle East.
So what does the ISO article have to say about this? According to them not only is Syria an “inconsistent” opponent of imperialism, the article says “the West considers the Syrian regime a precious asset that can assist in maintaining the current hegemonic structure of power in the region, though their preference may be for it to be weakened and thus more subservient.”
The Bush administration used to say that Syria could be considered a part of his ‘Axis of Evil.’ Over the last couple of years Washington has spent over $1 billion to destroy the Syrian government and right now the U.S. is threatening a military attack. Yet in the world that ISO sees, Syria is a “precious asset” of the West. It is hard for serious people to take this kind of analysis seriously.
The point here is not to say that Syria is perfect or socialist or always does the right thing. What is being said is that we should not be joining our rulers in demonizing the Syrian government.
As for the ‘rebels,’ history’s verdict is in. One can debate the nature of the demonstrations against the Syrian government several years ago and what led up to them, but today, right now, the opposition is bought, paid for, and acting on behalf of the U.S. and the most reactionary of Arab regimes.
Anti-imperialism is a good thing
The U.S. has built an empire and that extends into Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and some other places too. It exists to rip off the land, labor and natural resources of others while enriching the elite who run this country. This empire is a grim place, held together by U.S. military power, death squads and puppet governments.
It is positive that there are national liberation movements in places like Colombia and Palestine that are leading powerful movements to break free of imperialism. It is a step forward for the peoples subjugated by U.S. imperialism and they land blows on our common oppressor.
It is also a good thing that there are countries in this world that have left the orbit of imperialism. This includes Syria. It is good for the people of Syria, good for the struggle in the Middle East, and for all of us who want a world without imperialism.
ISO considers it strange that a socialist would take this view. In fact it is ISO that is the odd one out.
We recently reprinted a statement from the Syrian Communist Party, which reads in part, “The defense of Syria’s national regime, which faces, head held high, all methods of aggression, refusing humiliation and submission, means defending the country and its sovereignty and independence.” Frankly this is what the vast majority of revolutionaries around the world think. Check out what Cuba says about Syria or the government of Venezuela. One could go on and on like this but the point is clear enough.
Revolutionaries and socialists need to make a concrete analysis of concrete conditions; this is what Marxism is all about: understanding reality in order to change it. Everything in this world is the product of actual historical processes that we can know about, if we bother to study them. This includes Syria.
The ISO uses the opposite approach, which claims the world is what they would like it to be and what they say it is. In their world, the brutal foreign-backed Syrian opposition becomes the Arab revolution. They find progressive forces where they are not, and when forces resisting imperialism have shortcomings - they say that those resisting are the same as the imperialists.
The world never has and never will conform to a bunch of preconceived notions. The anti-war movement deserves something better than the ISO’s armchair critiques.
The people of Syria, the peoples of the world and the people of the U.S. face a vicious enemy that will go to any length to maintain its power and privilege. Building an anti-war movement under slogans like “Hands off Syria” and “No war with Syria” is the best way that people in this country can help to defeat U.S. imperialism’s attempt to dominate the Middle East. Washington is isolated right now. People don’t want another U.S. war. Together we can win.