“Vulgar revolutionism fails to see that the word is also a deed; this proposition is indisputable when applied to history generally, or to those periods of history when no open political mass actions take place, and when they can not be replaced or artificially evoked by putsches of any sort. Khvostist (tailist) revolutionaries fail to understand that—when a revolutionary period has started, when the old ‘superstructure’ has cracked from top to bottom, when open political action on the part of the classes and masses who are creating a new superstructure for themselves has become a fact, when civil war has begun—then, to confine oneself to ‘words’ as of old, and fail to advance the direct slogan to pass to ‘deeds,’ still to try avoid deeds by pleading the need for ‘psychological conditions’ and ‘propaganda’ in general, is apathy, lifelessness, pedantry, or else betrayal of the revolution and treachery to it. The Frankfurt windbags of the democratic bourgeoisie are a memorable historical example of just such treachery, or of just such pedantic stupidity.” — V.I. Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution
I ran across the above words as I began asking myself: how can Western (or in my case, American) activists concretely aid and abet the Syrian revolution?
Not one critic of “When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong” even addressed this question which was the main counterpoint to the Western left’s thoroughly academic and entirely passive approach to the Syrian revolution:
Our first duty in the West is to do whatever we can to aid, abet, and provide material support for our Syrian brothers’ and sisters’ fight against the Assad regime. … The most important thing for the Western left to do is to forge close and enduring relationships with revolutionary Syrians living abroad by demonstrating our unequivocal support for their revolution through deeds, through joint work with their communities. Only in that context and on that basis can criticisms we have about deals with U.S. imperialism or mistakes made by the SNC, FSA, and the coordinating committees gain a hearing among the people who count: revolutionary Syrians.
Now that long-awaited revolutions have broken out, it seems that many Marxists are content to sit around writing fine critiques of them in a vain attempt to strike the perfect balance between criticism and support, as if words, statements, and interpretations would do a damn thing to shape their outcomes. A revolution occurs when the patience of the masses runs out and yet all some comrades know how to do is “patiently explain.”
So much more than that is demanded of us now (hence the lengthy Lenin quote at the beginning of this piece).
So, let’s cut to the chase…
Revolutionary Syrians will march and rally on September 2 from 9 a.m. to noon in Lafayette Park in front of the White House under the slogan: “World Silence is Killing Syria.” This is being organized by the Syrian American Council, an umbrella organization of Syrians living in the U.S. and co-sponsored by the Syrian Expatriates Organization, Syrian Emergency Task Force, United for a Free Syria, and Amnesty International.
On September 1, there will be a local rally in New York City under the slogan “The World Has Failed Us” on 40th Street and 7th Avenue in Times Square at 4 p.m. to help build for the national march the next day.
Internationalists: Think Global, Act Local
“Forging close and enduring relationships with revolutionary Syrians living abroad … through joint work with their communities” is a much more difficult task than showing up to a one-off rally. You have to do some research, make some phone calls, email people/groups, poke around a bit, and consistently walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. There are dozens of organizations and initiatives (even small ones) that have sprung up literally overnight to support the Syrian revolution, much as Occupy Wall Street rapidly spawned occupations, protests, sit-ins, and other initiatives all over the United States (and the world).
Thus far, the revolutionary wing of the Syrian community (and there is a counter-revolutionary wing too) has been extremely isolated in its activities in solidarity with the revolution. Many of their Web sites and Facebook updates are written only in Arabic even though their organizations are based in the West. After all, why bother writing and speaking English if no English-speakers take an interest in the revolution?
As you can see from the above protest in Times Square, New York City, the ostensibly pro-Palestinian left is completely absent with out leave. So are progressives, liberals, anarchists, socialists, and Marxists. So is everyone — except the Syrians.
The groundswell of support for the 2011 Egyptian revolution (see above) dried up when the Libyans needed it last year and the Syrians need it now due to the Western left’s simplistic brand of anti-imperialism.
This belies the claim by Paul D’amato of the ISO that:
There are, however, plenty of principled anti-imperialists who have managed to walk and chew gum at the same time–to support the revolutions in Libya and Syria against dictatorial regimes, while at the same time opposing intervention by the U.S. and its imperialist allies.
“Plenty of principled anti-imperialists” were nowhere to be found walking or chewing gum at any solidarity action organized by revolutionary Libyans and Syrians in the West in 2011-2012. The only chewing they did was to chew out whomever exposed these do-nothing “principled anti-imperialists” for making common cause with the enemies of the Libyan and Syrian Springs on the basis of their shared “anti-imperialism.”
In the New York City area, there are two organizations doing work around the Syrian revolution, Syria First and Syrian-Americans for Democracy. Both have organized protests at the United Nations and in Times Square as well as raised money to distribute badly needed humanitarian aid to Syria’s swelling internal and external refugee population.
Anyone who looks down on the humanitarian/relief aspect of Syrian solidarity work and claims to be a revolutionary is really anything but. Revolutions are not made primarily by guns and bullets but by people, and people can’t struggle effectively without something to eat (the Assad regime knows this; it’s why they shell bakeries). Occupy Wall Street succeeded in mobilizing people where the conventional left failed in part because it gave people a hot meal (and a place to sleep) instead of haranguing them to buy a newspaper, “join the revolution,” or stand in a rally cage to “demand” (read: beg) 1% politicians act in our interests instead of theirs.
The fact of the matter is that the Syrian people are not just being killed at a rate of 100-200 per day, they are being forced to flee their homes, forced to make due with what little they have (which wasn’t much to begin with), and forced to survive on the charity of strangers, often in strange lands. The groups that are providing humanitarian supplies and relief are doing essential work; all friends of the Syrian people should aid, assist, and organize those efforts where ever possible.
Give them bread and give them roses — bread for the living, roses for the martyrs.
When schools come back into session, people can organize teach-ins, speak-outs, and flash mobs on campus about the Syrian revolution in conjunction with Arab/Muslim student associations (who will probably be interested in relief work as well). It’s also worth inquiring at local mosques whether they are doing any activities for Syria since many Syrian-American organizations have held prayer days, fund-raisers, and other events through them.
All of the above can be done no matter where you live.
If you are not comfortable or able to organize these types of events and activities, you can donate money to Syria Assistance or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can send money through Paypal to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) through its American affiliate, the Syrian Support Group (SSG). (The old-fashioned among us can write checks to SSG; see their Web site for the address and details.) SSG obtained a license for fund-raising from the U.S. Treasury Department that exempts them from U.S. sanctions on Syria.
Those who profess to support the Syrian revolution now have the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are.
Winning the Information War
The Russian and Iranian governments (through their respective Fox News equivalents, Russia Today and PressTV) are hard at work spreading lies and misinformation about Syria 24/7 among the gullible and the cynical. The lie that the FSA was responsible for a massacre in Houla spread like wildfire on the Western left, but when the truth came out, few if any of them could be bothered for a thorough follow-up much less a retraction.
This is strikingly similar to the behavior of the neocons in the run up to the 2003 war on Iraq. They played up every hint (true or false) of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al-Qaeda while ignoring, dismissing, or downplaying all of the hard evidence to the contrary because it conflicted with their preconceived notion of reality and their fixed policy prescriptions.
Now the shoe is on the other foot.
The Western left’s dire predictions about post-NATO Libya turned to be just as wrong as neocon fantasies about post-invasion Iraq were. Both remain stuck in denial to this day and wonder why no one takes them seriously when it comes to understanding events in the Middle East.
There is a lot of first-hand reporting going on in Syria, almost exclusively by pro-revolution sources (although Robert Fisk has chosen to embed himself with Assad’s military a la Fox News in 2003). The Syrian Freedom tumblr posts photos, videos, and generally reliable information about moves on the battlefield and defections. Their livestream channel is the best English-language source that compiles live video of street protests/fighting in Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa, and other places with live tweets by the Local Coordinating Committees and other Syrian activists, breaking news items, regime atrocities, and the daily body count.
Brown Moses, a blog by Elliot Higgins, focuses on the military-technical challenges the FSA is grappling with as they fight a 21st century people’s war. Stephanie Lamy, a French photographer-turned-Libyan-revolutionary-(h)activist, compiled a very extensive listing of YouTube channels and Facebook pages correlated with a map of Syria so people can look into and investigate for themselves the demonstrations and all-out battles in various parts of the country.
Never in the history of revolutionary warfare has it been possible to see what is actually going on on the ground the way it is today. All you have to do is dig if you want to access the unfiltered, unembedded truth.
What to Read
For people who are still on the fence about what is going on in Syria, I recommend reading and thinking about the following articles:
- Nir Rosen — who hung out with the Sunni resistance in Iraq and told Joe Biden to his face that he would not help U.S. imperialism — traveled to Syria and wrote about what he saw of the revolution. He also did a five-part interview with Al-Jazeera that is worth reading in its entirety.
- Anand Gopal, an anti-imperialist reporter who spent time in Afghanistan and Libya, wrote what is probably the only on-the-ground class analysis of the revolution’s social forces, specifically the town councils that govern post-Assad areas of Syria. You can also listen to his interview on Democracy Now where he first discusses U.S. war crimes against Afghans before moving onto Assad’s war crimes against Syrians.
- “The Battle for Syria,” a Frontline documentary is a hard look at the FSA. The second part of it details the beginning of the revolution and the regime’s brutal reaction.
- Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma, wrote a good piece in 2006 about the class divide in Syria that underpins the revolution. He has a new blog that combines rigorous, factual analysis with historical perspective.
- An inside look into the Assad regime’s propaganda apparatus by McClatchy, a news outlet that distinguished itself during the Iraq war and occupation for its independent reporting. The first few sentences of this piece are the starting point for understanding of what is happening in Syria today.
- “Life With Syria’s Rebels in a Cold and Cunning War” is a New York Times report about FSA units fighting in Aleppo that discloses an incident where a prisoner of the FSA was used in a failed suicide bombing attempt (if the armed opposition in Syria was overflowing with Islamic extremist suicide bombers, these fighters would not have resorted to this tactic and gladly sacrificed themselves). The honest disclosure of the ugly reality of the FSA stands in stark contrast to the Syrian state’s propaganda which never discloses how the regime targets children for torture and mutilation and shells hospitals. The article gives a good sense of how Syria’s peaceful protests in early 2011 were forced to take up arms to survive the Assad regime’s murderous onslaught.
My other writings on the Arab Spring:
- “The Revolution Betrayed: Obama and the Syrian Uprising,” The North Star, September 16, 2012
- “Aiding the Syrian Revolution: a Guide to Action,” The North Star, August 26, 2012
- “Act Now, Save Syria,” Independent Voter Network, August 20, 2012
- “Assad’s Bloodhounds: the Party for Socialism and Liquidation,” Polizeros, August 20, 2012
- “’Hands Off Syria’ and Other Slogans of Assad’s Fans,” The Indypendent, August 16, 2012
- “Our Responsibility to the Arab Spring,” Kasama Project, August 4, 2012
- “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools,” Comment Middle East, July 21, 2012
- “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong,” Comment Middle East, July 5, 2012