The U.S. Left and Syria

Michael Pugliese

Past and present alignments of sectors of the anti-imperialist left impede effective analysis and solidarity with the Syrian people. Presented to the West Coast Chapter of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization – Editors

a-syrian-man-criesDivisions between and within the liberal, radical, socialist and communist left in the US over foreign policy questions especially those revolving around the threat and reality of the deployment of the instruments of US military power vs. states perceived as, “anti-imperialist,” and socialist (the former Yugoslavia, Gaddafi’s Libya, Ba’athist Iraq and Ba’athist Syria), have re-emerged as we are confronted with (a now postponed) campaign of Tomahawk missile strikes on Syrian regime military targets, in response to repeated CW attacks on Syrian civilians. The leading organization, here, as is the case in San Francisco, NYC, Washington, D.C. and numerous other locales, mobilizing protests against these impending missile strikes is the ANSWER Coalition, led by the PSL, the split from the WWP. In the pages of Workers World newspaper and publications of the PSL, such as, “Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends,” (see the threads on this book,,, sharp lines of demarcation are drawn against other socialist activists who expressed solidarity with the Libyan Revolution, and since 2011 with the Syrian Revolution.

The main targets of these polemics by the PSL, are Pham Binh, a former member of the ISO, and Clay Claiborne, a former member of SDS and the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), who have written extensively about Libya and Syria on the North Star blog and While I feel they can occasionally “bend the stick” in their analyses, they exhibit deep knowledge about the unfolding revolutionary processes in Libya and Syria, and I do recommend reading their texts, and the comment threads on their blogs at North Star, the only fora I’ve found on the US Left where Syria is regularly debated. Organizationally, the largest group here, presenting viewpoints which are anti-imperialist and in solidarity with the Syrian Revolution, is the ISO, in their paper,, which has drawn attention to the “Revolutionary Left Current” inside Syria. Their statements are regularly presented on this Syrian leftist website,, and analyses aligned with them are republished on the website of International Viewpoint, the magazine of the Fourth International, most recently @ “Inside the Syrian Revolution and what the Left must do,” .

It is difficult to gage how much popular support exists within Syria for this current; my sense is that it is a small circle within larger left-leaning tendencies. Also I think this would be the case for the fighting brigade in Aleppo, which has been named in honor of Leon Sedov, Trotsky’s eldest Son. The popular mobilizations in Syria against the Islamists, who have attempted to impose Sharia Law in various cities — see — are led by the Local Coordination Committees, some of which are influenced by anarchists, The Syrian Freedom Forever blog post just cited stated: “The city of Raqqa has for instance seen a continuous and unshaken resistance against the Islamist groups. Since the city was liberated from regime troops, in March 2013, many protests were organized rejecting the ideology and authoritarian practices of the Islamist groups.”

“There were solidarity gatherings to require the liberation of kidnapped activists held in Islamist-held prisons too.  The protests enabled the liberation of some activists, but numerous others remain in jail to this day, like the famous Father Paolo, and others including the son of the intellectual Yassin Haj Saleh, Firas.”

“Similar protests contesting the authoritarian and reactionary practices of the Islamists took place in Aleppo, in Mayadin, al-Qusayr and other cities like Kafranbel. Those fights are ongoing today.”

“In the neighborhood of Bustan Qasr, in Aleppo, the local population has protested numerous times to denounce the actions of the Sharia Council of Aleppo, which gathers many Islamist groups. On 23 August for instance, the protesters of Bustan Qasr, while condemning the massacre through chemical weapons committed by the regime against people in Eastern Ghouta, were also calling for the liberation of the famous activist Abu Maryam, once more jailed by the Sharia Council of Aleppo. They continue until today to demand his release. At the end of June 2013, in the same neighborhood, the activists hailed ‘go f*c* yourself Islamic council,’ protesting the repressive and authoritarian politics of the latter. Popular outrage was also expressed following the assassination by foreign jihadists belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group (ISIS) of a 14-year old boy, who allegedly made a blasphemous comment in a joke referring to the Prophet Mohammad. A protest was organized by the popular committee of Bustan Qasr against the Islamic council and the Islamist groups…”

Nader Atassi, aka, “Darth Nader,” a Syrian anarchist from Homs, is interviewed here,, I also recommend his twitter feed, and blog, In this interview Atassi discusses the emergence of Syrian student protests at Aleppo University during the Iraq War calling for the end of the Emergency Law, in effect since 1963. These protests were closely monitored by Syrian Intelligence. Within the same paragraph he also notes the release of hundreds of Islamists by the regime in 2011. Among those released was Abu Musab Al-Suri, who had been active with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the period of the uprising that was brutally crushed in Hama in the spring of 1982. (A chapter on this uprising, and his 1600 pg. analysis subsequently can be found in “Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al-Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri,” available @ the downtown branch of the LAPL.) The origins of one of the leading Islamist fighting formations, Jabhat al-Nusra lie in AQI, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which received support from Syrian Intelligence. In the back of my mind, as well as many others, exists a suspicion that the release of these Islamists in 2011 was designed to sabotage the more secular and potentially left-leaning civil and armed opposition. Returning to the interview with Atassi, after describing various opposition tendencies and organizations such as the quote, “Syrian Revolutionary Youth,” active in Damascus, he is asked: ” What can folks outside of Syria do to provide support?

“For people outside, it’s tough. In terms of material support, there’s very little that can be done. The only thing that I can think of that’s possible on a large scale is discursive/intellectual support. The left has been very hostile to the Syrian uprising, treating the worst elements of anti-regime activity as if they are the only elements of it, and accepting regime narratives at face value. What I’d ask people to do is to help set that record straight and show that there are elements of the Syrian uprising that are worth supporting. Help break that harmful binary that the decision is between Assad or Al Qaeda, or Assad and US imperialism. Be fair to the history and sacrifices of the Syrian people by giving an accurate account. Perhaps it’s too late, and the hegemonic narratives are too powerful in the present to overcome. But if people start now, maybe the history books can at least be fair.”

At the three anti-war demonstrations I have attended recently, I have seen an abundance of pro-Assad advocacy,, mostly from Syrian-Americans, but I am assuming this transpired with the agreement of the PSL and its coalition partners. Placards, especially in Hollywood last Sunday mirroring the War on Terror discourse rejected during the Iraq War by the US Left, were amplified by some rather extreme Islamophobia, also noted by Lou Proyect in a number of recent blog posts on the, “anti-imperialist left,” and Syria, here: In Hollywood, I did chat with two anarchists holding up placards against Assad, and in San Francisco, the Communist Workers Group (a split from the Humanist Workers for Socialist Revolution), held placards supporting the Revolution. Bay Area Intifada, a large activist network, recently held an anti-war rally in San Francisco., attended by several hundred, which expressed solidarity with the Revolution. In other cities with a large leftist activist presence, such as Chicago, there are others with anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist politics, who are contesting the hold of the ANSWER Coalition over anti-war mobilizations.
(Occupy ChicagoNoise Demo: For The People Of Syria, see the banner of the ISO, here, in Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution, )

Having been active in 2004 in S.F. with a loose coalition of leftists (from groups like the Direct Action Network, War Resisters League, AFSC and the ISO), which attempted to break the hegemony of the IAC/ANSWER Coalition over anti-war protest there, I know that it isn’t easy. Opposing sectors on the activist Left to the Stalinoids and their softer left progressive allies lack the staff and volunteer resources ANSWER is able to draw upon.

In closing, I will take a look at these articles on the dissemination of some rather dubious, conspiracy theory laden analysis, by a group aligned with Code Pink, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, derived from the recent article by a pro-Milosevic, pro-Assad think tank analyst in Global Research, Yossef Bodansky.
” Muhammad Idrees Ahmad reported, here: : “The sources for VIPS’ [a group led by Ray McGovern] most sensational claims, it turns out, are Canadian eccentric Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy site Global Research and far-right shock-jock Alex Jones’s Infowars. The specific article that Giraldi references carries the intriguing headline, “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” (His answer, in case you wondered, is yes.) The author is one Yossef Bodansky—an Israeli-American supporter of Assad’s uncle Rifaat, who led the 1982 massacre in Hama. Bodansky’s theory was widely circulated after an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. A whole paragraph from Bodansky’s article makes it into the VIPS letter intact, with only a flourish added at the end.”

“Giraldi references two more articles to substantiate his claim: one from Infowars and another from the Daily Kos. But both reference the same source, an obscure website called Mint Press which published an article claiming that Syrian rebels had accidentally set off a canister of Sarin supplied to them by the Saudis. The idea that an accident in one place would cause over a thousand deaths in 12 separate locations — with none affected in areas in between — somehow did not strike this intelligence veteran as implausible. But to its credit, Mint Press has since added a disclaimer: ‘Some information in this article could not be independently verified’.”

“What of VIPS’s ‘numerous sources in the Middle East,’ then? It turns out they’re the same as Bodansky’s ‘numerous sources in the Middle East’ — the sentence is plagiarized.”

The lack of discernment and credulity by these former CIA briefers to the POTUS (Ray McGovern) and State Dept., officials (Ann Wright) points to one of the problems I’ve seen on the post 9-11 US Left, an inability to think critically about sources, leading to the dissemination on anti-war websites, in this case, of material simultaneously broadcast far more widely, as were the allegations contained in Bodansky’s piece on Global Research, by Rush Limbaugh and Walid Shoebat, a popular speaker on the Christian Right, who hawks wild tales about his (non-existent) terrorist past.


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