[Excerpts of the report below were taken from the report of KD Tait which appeared in Workers Power, publication of the British section of the Trotskyist League for a Fifth International. Embedded video shot by Socialist Resistance and culled from here and here.]
We are now approaching the third anniversary of the Syrian people’s revolution for dignity and democratic rights, rights that every people in the world deserves.
“Syria in the Context of the Arab Spring,“ a conference held in London on 15 February, was therefore an event long overdue.
This conference drew a line of principle between two camps on the British and international left. On the one hand, there are those who support the revolution unequivocally. And on the other hand, there are the substantial parts of the left who either support the Assad regime because they judge it to be “anti-imperialist” “secular” or even “socialist”, or who initially supported the revolution but have since abandoned its defence, on account of the involvement of Islamist forces and the regime’s exploitation of of sectarianism.
The organisers deserve warm congratulations for their recognition of the urgent need to challenge these shameful attitudes and bring together those committed to establishing a real movement of political and material support for those fighting and suffering in Syria.
We heard stories of terrible sacrifices and heroic resistance, inspiring those present with a strong determination to work for the revolution’s victory, over a horrific dictatorship that indiscriminately bombs and starves its own people and murders doctors trying to save the lives of its victims.
The meeting resolved to build a nationwide movement in solidarity with the Syrian Revolution. It set an immediate target of building a massive demonstration on 15 March to mark the third anniversary of the uprising.
The event opened with Joseph Daher of the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current, presenting an unequivocal defence of the revolution and its aims. The brutal repression and the total absence of democracy – expressed by the arrest and torture of school students for writing anti-regime graffiti – was the initial catalyst for a popular rising. But its growing support sprang from a widely held desire to challenge the spiraling social injustices that resulted from Assad’s neoliberal policies, policies that, as Daher put it, provided “socialism” only for the Assad family, while inflicting poverty and capitalist exploitation on the people.
The shame of the Stop the War Coalition (and of most of the trade unions) was expressed succinctly by Dutch-Moroccan researcher Miriyam Aouragh, when she said that she “learned more about anti-imperialism from 16 year olds who graffiti walls than from StWC and Tariq Ali”, a statement that many could empathise with.
An important feature throughout the day was the attention paid to a comprehensive demolition of the myths that have persisted since the first days of the uprising, in particular the regime’s longstanding exploitation of the Palestinian cause, which Aouragh described as “filthy emotional blackmail”.
This was reinforced by Palestinian blogger Budour Hassan, who accused the traditional Palestinian left of being more concerned with opposing the Syrian revolution than with Palestine itself, and of imitating the hypocrisy of the Zionist peace camp in blaming the victims of the regime’s violence for their own plight.
Gilbert Achcar, professor at SOAS, and author of The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising exposed the thinking of those on the left who judge everything from what the United Sates is doing or rather what they think it is doing and then take the opposite side. They think Assad must be an “anti-imperialist” because the US criticises and threatens the Syrian dictator.
Achcar, exposed the falsity of these claims, and pointed out that now, in any case, there was more than one imperialist power intervening in the Arab revolutions. In fact, Russia – now a capitalist and imperialist power – was intervening far more directly and indeed militarily than the US, by arming the regime and by protecting it in the UN. The US policy was much more confused and hesitant and amounted to preventing either side from winning. He also showed how the conflicting roles of Saudi Arabia and Qatar explained the rise of rival jihadi Islamists, who certainly acted in a counterrevolutionary way within the forces fighting Assad – stirring up sectarianism which most Syrian resistance forces rejected.
Kurdish writer and activist Janroj Keles described the situation of the Kurds in Syria, as compared to their situation in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. He pointed out that none of Syria’s many Kurdish parties call for an independent Kurdish state, only for self-administration and for an end to the racist and chauvinist discrimination that has been in place since the early 1960s, even before the Ba’ath regime came to power.
British activist and academic Jamie Allinson summed up the feelings of many in the room when he argued against a negotiated settlement that would lead to a future that looks much like the present.
Although the day brought together those who are unequivocally opposed to the Assad regime, it was far from simply a gathering of the already converted. For example Janroj Keles, somewhat going against the consensus in the room, described the Syrian conflict in terms of a regional conflict between a “Shia” bloc including Iran and Iraq, and a “Sunni” bloc including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and expressed his concerns with the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on the official Syrian opposition in exile. Further controversies raged over the role played by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the course of the revolution, and on the role of armed struggle and nonviolence.
Clearly, outside powers are looking to advance their own interests in the region, just as they have tried to in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and with the Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain and the suppression of its uprising. This is particularly true of Russian, Chinese and Western imperialism, but also of regional powers like Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Nevertheless we stand in support of the Syrian people’s revolution and their just and legitimate struggle to determine for themselves the future of their country. We can do that only by supporting the fullest victory of the revolutionary people, who as Allinson pointed out demonstrated against the reactionaries of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) when they tried to take over the liberated zones just as much as they previously did against dictator Bashar al-Assad.
In the closing session Shahnawaz Khan, brother of Abbas Khan, the British doctor murdered in prison by Assad regime, gave a powerful and sober presentation of the appalling crisis of medical facilities for ordinary Syrians. He detailed how the Assad regime has criminalised giving medical assistance to people in the liberated areas, a reign of terror exacerbated by the flight of qualified medical personnel: for example in Aleppo, where just 15 doctors remain out of an original 2,000.
John McDonnell admitted that he and other Labour Lefts had not done enough to support people in Syria and pledged to help raise the profile of these issues by hosting a meeting in the House of Commons “for a discussion like this on Syria”, as part of his “People’s Parliament” initiative.
The day finished with the conference recording a video message of love and solidarity to the people of Syria, returning the Valentine’s Day messages sent to the international solidarity movement by several of the popular revolutionary forces in Syria.
The conference finished with a unanimous vote to found a Syria solidarity campaign to unite all those who have been campaigning tirelessly since day one to support the people of Syria. Its first meeting will be on 1 March, in preparation for a demonstration on 15 March.
We fully support this call, and urge all principled revolutionaries, every supporter of democracy and peace, and all those who sympathise with the revolutionary struggle of the Syrian people to join the campaign.
Other Speakers and Presentations
Ewa Jasiewicz is a Palestine solidarity activist, union organiser and on the editorial collective of Le Monde Diplomatique Polish Edition. In March 2013 she travelled to Turkey and Northern Syria with a solidarity delegation to visit liberated areas.
Razan Ghazzawi is a blogger from Syria against racism towards Syrian workers in Lebanon. She was detained twice during the revolution due to her work with the Syrian Center for Media Freedom.
Rouba Mhaissen is founder and Director of Sawa for Development and Aid, a grassroots initiative supporting Syrian refugees in Lebanon.