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Syria: when confusion trumps solidarity

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.


  1. JS says:

    I agree with this completely.

    The two-faced approach by some comrades on this issue is disgraceful and does nothing but help discredit the work done by left activists.

  2. Mick Hall says:

    During the lead into the recent crop of disastrous UK military adventures overseas, a small section of the left has responded to the media build up by asking, you want us to jump, tell us how high.

    One of the great things about the end of the cold war, we no longer have to be experts on all international conflicts. We can admit we do not understand enough about what is going on.

    In truth we have little idea of what is going on in Syria, this morning I heard a reporter on the Today programe give a graphic description on events on the ground in Homs and he signed off with his name and reporting from Beirut.

    The fact is looking back at the media lead into the Libyan civil war, (Iraq too) most of its coverage was designed to gain public support for military Western intervention.

    If there is one lesson from history, it is you cannot export social systems on the end of Bayonets. Libya today is no more democratic or torture free than in Gaddafi’s day. The jury is still out on that nasty little military adventure.

    This does not mean we sit on our arses, if we understand the subject and feel strongly about it by all means take sides, but if not, we should call for a pause in the fighting. What we should not do is become cheerleaders for western military intervention.

    Once of the most silly mainstream media stances is there ‘supposed’ belief that unless the UN intervenes Syria will descend into civil war, It is a criminal analyses as Syria is already in a state of civil war, with the west backing one side.

    It is not about being two faced, it is just that military intervention by the west or its quislings, is the worst bad option.

    Myself I have absolutely no doubt this wretched regime will fall, If I understand this correctly, the Russians and Chinese do too. These days they can gain little from propping up a bloody dictatorship which is hated by the majority of its own people.

    In all probability the Russians and Chinese will support a palace coup of the Romanian type whilst painting it as a revolutionary events. Not good for sure, but better than a long drawn out hot civil war.

    Once the Syrian army flips, given there year long struggle, I have confidence in the Syrian people to sort this mess out. Patience is a virtue in politics. We should draw back from wearing our goodness on our coat sleeves.

  3. modernity's ghost says:

    “Patience is a virtue in politics.”

    But not much use to the people of Homs whilst they are slaughtered day in, day out.

  4. Andy Newman says:

    Personally, I think that the Left futures project requires that contributors don’t use the website to criticise each other.

    It is a shame that Dave Osler doesn’t share that view.

    With regard to Syria, there is no doubt that the Assad government is brutal. However, what we don’t have any reliable infrmation upon is the complexion of the opposition, or what they are fighting for.

    Rumours are coming out of anti-Assad forces massacring their Alawite and Christian neighbours,a and there seems to be at least a strand of the opposition seeking to create a sectarian Sunni state – which might unleash the type of inter-communal violence we have seen in Iraq.

    Personally i am not prepared to cheer lead for people just on the basis that they are anti-Assad, if they might turn out to be even worse.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Andy: I think there’s also room for debate, especially where the Labour Left doesn’t have a clear consensus. I that’s undoubtedly true of Syria, although not to the extent that it was true of the Libya at the time of the UN resolution. He wasn’t slagging you off personally but criticising the use of wire reports from China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency uncritically (i.e. without comment) which I think is a reasonable comment, and I’m grateful for your comment which is helpful to the debate.

      In the absence of a greater level of agreement on the Labour Left, Left Futures doesn’t have a precise position. Personally, I currently float somewhere between Dave and Seumas Milne (to whose Guardian piece I provided a link under Recommended Reading. I was particularly horrified by the views of Paul Richards at Progress, to which I also linked but with a critical comment.

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