Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising ten years ago, and especially since Russia intervened in Syria on behalf of Bashar al-Assad, there has been a curious and malign development: the emergence of pro-Assad allegiances in the name of “anti-imperialism” among some who otherwise generally identify as progressive or “left,” and the consequent spread of manipulative disinformation that routinely deflects attention away from the well-documented abuses of Assad and his allies. Portraying themselves as “opponents” of imperialism, they routinely exhibit a highly selective attention to matters of “intervention” and human rights violations that often aligns with the governments of Russia and China; those who disagree with their highly-policed views are frequently (and falsely) branded as “regime change enthusiasts” or dupes of western political interests.
The divisive and sectarianizing role played by this group is unmistakable: in their simplistic view, all pro-democracy and pro-dignity movements that go against Russian or Chinese state interests are routinely portrayed as the top-down work of Western interference: none are autochthonous, none are of a piece with decades of independent domestic struggle against brutal dictatorship (as in Syria), and none truly represent the desires of people demanding the right to lives of dignity rather than oppression and abuse. What unites them is a refusal to contend with the crimes of the Assad regime, or even to acknowledge that a brutally repressed popular uprising against Assad took place.
These writers and outlets have mushroomed in recent years, and have often positioned Syria at the forefront of their criticisms of imperialism and interventionism, which they characteristically restrict to the west; Russian and Iranian involvement is generally ignored. In doing so, they have sought to align themselves with a long and venerable tradition of internal domestic opposition to the abuses of imperial power abroad, not only but quite often issuing from the left.
But they do not rightfully belong in that company. No one who explicitly or implicitly aligns themselves with the malignant Assad government does. No one who selectively and opportunistically deploys charges of “imperialism” for reasons of their particular version of “left” politics rather than opposing it consistently in principle across the globe — thereby acknowledging the imperialist interventionism of Russia, Iran, and China — does. [Continue reading…]