Zach Medeiros, Socialist Party of the USA
Comments presented at the July 14 launch of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice at a public meeting at the Westside Peace Center, Culver City
How can we support revolutionary Syrians and the Syrian people as a whole? This is not an easy question to answer. Yassin al-Haj Saleh, one of Syria’s greatest intellectuals and a former political prisoner jailed for nearly two decades for speaking out against his government, once wrote that “Syria is the world, and the world is Syria.” In other words, Syria has not only become a global issue, but the world has become a Syrian issue. When Syrians first took to the streets in 2011 to protest the brutality, corruption, poverty and discrimination that defined life for most living under the Assad regime, who could have foreseen that they would become the world? In those heady days, where dictators who had ruled for decades were falling like cards before the might of the people, who could have imagined that over six years later, Bashar al-Assad would still be on his butcher’s throne, propped up to one degree or another by most of the regional and global powers?
With each passing year, the chances for a free, peaceful, and just Syria shrink under the pressures of war. Since Syrians first revolted against their dictatorship, over 500,000 people have been killed and half of the pre-war population has been displaced, mostly by Assad and his allies. Poverty and unemployment has skyrocketed, life expectancy has plummeted by nearly 20 years, and the material cost of the war is measured in the hundreds of billions. These shocking numbers cannot fully transmit the individual stories of suffering and loss—what it is like to see your neighbors and loved ones shot, ripped apart, crushed, gassed, or burned alive in front of your eyes; to watch your home, shop, or community flattened into rubble, to be forced to flee from your land, to not be able to go to school, a doctor, or to the market without worrying about regime, Russian, or Western pilots dropping death on you from above. Syria is now host to an entire galaxy of unquantifiable crimes and tragedies, innumerable stories of murder and massacre, deprivation and desperation, trauma and torture, rape and loss. Communities like Daraya, Homs, Darraa, Aleppo, and so many others have been reduced to bombed-out, besieged shells of their former selves. Sectarianism and ethnic chauvinism have infected the hearts and minds of many Syrians, dividing them so they can be more easily conquered. As Frieda noted, this has weakened the revolutionary movement immensely, and the blame here should fall not only on the Assad regime and religious extremists, but on the leadership of the nationalist, bourgeois opposition and the PYD, the main Kurdish party in Syria. Though greatly weakened, ISIS still rules parts of Syria, and less bloody but still dangerous groups like the former al-Nusra Front have grown more powerful as the war has dragged on, fed by the brutal conditions.
The beating hearts of the revolution—the Local Coordinating Committees, the democratically elected local councils, the White Helmets and other nonviolent activists—are under constant attack, not just from armed actors within Syria, but from those who demonize them abroad as tools of Western imperialism. With a handful of exceptions, the so-called international community has abandoned Syrians, content to wring its hands when it isn’t sabotaging the revolutionary struggle or actively aiding the counterrevolution. They have their tactical differences, but they are united in their desire to see the Syrian problem-that is, the problem of an enslaved people who know what freedom tastes like- stamped out once and for all. Foreign powers and foreign fighters treat Syria as the proxy site for their geopolitical maneuvers, a laboratory for their arsenals of death, and a stage for their personal redemption plays. The United Nations, for the most part, talks and talks, but still cooperates with the mass-murdering regime.
Much of the global Left—which is so quick to hurry to the side of justice when the U.S. and its allies are the primary villains—has either kept silent or openly sided with Damascus, Russia, and Iran, trading in critical analysis for propaganda and internationalist solidarity for knee-jerk political contrarianism. Yes, the list of Syria’s enemies is lengthy indeed, and their cowardice and their crimes will not be forgotten.
But all is not lost. I don’t harbor any illusions about my own influence regarding Syria. Far more authoritative figures than I have called for the world to support Syrians in their time of greatest need, only to find that the slaughter keeps on keeping on. This speech will not defeat fascism in Syria, whether that is the little fascism of ISIS or the greater fascism of the Assad regime, from which all other evils in Syria flow. It will not stop imperialist meddling and interventions in Syria, whether Western or Eastern.
That said, I implore everyone here, everyone who cares about the lives of Syrians and still hopes for a just and free Syria, to act. Arm yourself with the truth: not just about the daily atrocities inflicted upon the Syrian people but about their heroism in the face of it all, and the real nature of their revolution.
Do not lose sight of the fact that this conflict began as a popular, democratic uprising against a clique of thieves and butchers, and that this essential core remains beneath all the bloodshed. Listen to the countless Syrians who know what it means to struggle against tyranny, injustice, and death, even when victory only means living to see another morning, or to save the life of one other human being. Talk with them. Learn from them.This is their country. No matter our racist presumptions, we don’t know it better than they do. Promote Syrian voices and actions whenever and wherever possible. Counter those who spread lies and ridiculous conspiracy theories to give cover to the butchers of the Syrian masses. Assad is not the lesser evil, the regime has used chemical weapons on civilians, and the United States is not trying to overthrow it, especially not with an army of jihadists. Help organize solidarity work centered on the democratic and human interests of the Syrian people. Support groups like the White Helmets, the Syrian American Medical Society, Doctors Without Borders, and other organizations doing vital humanitarian work. Support Syrian revolutionary society, and particularly the many female revolutionaries. Spread the word about their grassroots initiatives, like the council movement inspired by Omar Aziz, or the Local Coordinating Committees that Razan Zaitouneh and her comrades helped build. Speak out for the rights of all the peoples of Syria, whether they are Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, or Druze, Sunni, Shiite, Christian or Alawite.
Echo demands Syrians have issued, such as an end to all sieges, the immediate release of all political prisoners, a massive increase in direct humanitarian aid, the removal of all foreign armies and militias from Syrian soil, accountability for war criminals, and the creation of real safe zones, designed by Syrians for Syrians. Even in the age of Trump, we cannot give up the fight for the rights of refugees.
As a Marxist, I believe that every revolutionary struggle in the world is connected in a great chain, just as the forces of capitalism and imperialism are. When one link in that chain is forged and strengthened, all the oppressed people of the world advance. When one is destroyed, all are weakened. That’s the spirit and material truth of proletarian internationalism. Although our first duty, especially in the belly of the beast that is the United States, must be to make revolution at home, that’s a truth we need to embrace, I think. After all, the evils Syrians are fighting are not so different than what we are fighting here in the US, California, and Los Angeles. Syrians understand what it’s like to live in fear of the police and a repressive, vicious State. Syrians understand what it’s like to be persecuted because of their class, their religion, their ethnicity, their gender and sexuality. Syrians know the violence of poverty, the heartbreak of homelessness, the slow burn of hunger and sickness. They know the lengths to which the rich and powerful are willing to go to protect or enhance their wealth and power, how many of us they’re willing to sacrifice in the process. While the names and places that feature in their lives may be unfamiliar to us, the experiences of Syrians are not so foreign. Their thoughts, their feelings, their demands are not so alien. Like all of us, like most human beings, they want peace, freedom, and dignity.
When you get right down to it, that’s the essence, I think, of this coalition. We are here today because we believe that a better world is possible, if we don’t blow ourselves up with nukes or cook the planet to a crisp first. For that vision to become more than a dream, however, we must fight for it, and we must do so together. To quote Yassin al-Haj Saleh again, “what we need to do is change the world that prevented change in Syria.” Let us stand with Syrians and all the people fighting for that change and do what we can for peace, revolution, and social justice at home and in the rest of the world.