On at least a few issues, political clarity should come easily to the left. To paraphrase George Orwell only slightly, when we see a government murdering thousands of its own citizens, we shouldn’t have to ask whose side we are on.
Yet as Syria crosses the undefined threshold between mass unrest and de facto civil war, automatic solidarity has somehow failed to kick in, a tendency that I suspect is down more to confusion than actual malevolence.
I am not aware of any organisations that have actively declared in support of the state. Then again, Gaddafi enjoyed a handful of endorsements from some of the loonier minor sects, so it would not surprise me if Bashar al Assad had his backers too.
What I have in mind is the praise seen in some quarters for the Russian and Chinese move last Saturday to block a United Nations security council resolution which restricted itself to criticism of the crackdown and reiteration of the Arab League call for Assad to go.
One leading leftwing blogger reproduced without comment wire reports from China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency, under the headline ‘Russia/China veto designed to promote peaceful outcome’. It was not exactly a disinterested assessment.
Irrespective of what the veto was ‘designed’ to do, its impact on the ground was immediate and brutal, with the Syrian armed forces rapidly seizing the pretext to step up bombardment of Homs. Hundreds of people have died in the aftermath.
The Morning Star goes one step further, arguing that the veto provides evidence that neither Moscow nor Beijing is willing to be duped into authorising another imperialist war.
This, to put it politely, is nonsense. First, the resolution did not call for armed intervention. Second, unless the Arab League is dismissed as a Washington sock puppet, it is difficult to paint the wording as a simple imperialist wish list.
I also suspect that the newspaper overestimates the ideological purity of the two formerly communist countries. Assad is a major purchaser of Russian weapons, from rifles to fighter-bombers, while Chinese oil companies – including Sinopec, CNPC and Sinochem – have extensive interests in Syria.
Ask yourself this; if Lockheed and BAE were selling the aircraft and Exxon and Chevron pumping the crude, would the comrades find it quite so difficult to grasp Orwell’s guideline? Almost certainly not.