Both the European and Western Left, as well as their Arab counterparts, have received their share of criticism regarding their policies on the Syrian war. While some intellectual debates among the different factions of the Left indicate differences in policy outlooks, a majority of these groups remain united in their embrace of Syria’s Assad and his Russian enabler, Vladimir Putin. Hussam Itani’s essay “Imperialism First!: European Leftists Abandon Anti-Fascist Legacy to Embrace Putin and Assad,” which appears in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, centers on how the European Left abandoned the struggle against fascism, and instead turned its energies to fighting U.S. imperialism.
Faced with the current European Leftist Policies of condemning NATO and American intervention on the one hand, while praising Assad and Putin's actions in Syria on the other side, progressives who have adopted a just and humane position toward the Syrian conflict often feel disoriented and attacked by the pro-Assad and Iranian “axis of resistance.” By taking pro-Assad and Russian positions, Itani claims European Leftists had abandoned the humanist legacies they established in the first half of the 20th century, mainly when they fought alongside the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and with the Popular Front in France during the interwar period.
Turning from the positions adopted during the interwar period, today’s Leftists base their modern policies upon a criterion of hostility toward the U.S. This hostility, which began with the “cold war” between the Soviet Union and the U.S. and has continued to the present day as a global struggle between Russia and the U.S., has resulted in many historically inconsistent Leftist policies. These policies, for example, have led Leftists to support Iran against the United States, Hezbollah against Israel, the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, and the Kurdish Workers Party against Turkey.
After reading Western Leftist literature on Syria, and watching the frequent visits and the warm welcome of European politicians to Damascus, one cannot help but wonder about the lost legacies of those who fought against fascism and Nazism. Itani analyzes this change concerning the altering positions, with the conflict shifting from the fight against fascism to the fight against imperialism. In other words, modern Leftists will tolerate fascism and genocidal war in Syria as long as this strategy challenges and weakens the U.S., which they see as the bastion of evil and imperialism. This anti-democratic strategy traces back to the end of WWII, and the subsequent rise of the Soviet Union as a major world power. Then the act of defending the "Soviet Comrades" and their policies eventually required supporters to turn a blind eye to the Soviet Union’s interventionist actions toward the East German Uprising in 1953 and the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. It seems that nothing has changed in Leftist positions nowadays.
In an attempt to support such acts of Leftist hypocrisy, today’s successors have adopted “theoretical” justifications for oppressive regimes. One French scholar, Emmanuel Todd, coined the concept of “authoritarian democracy,” while another French Leftist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, adopted an identical position on Syria with the French right-wing politician Marine Le Pen. This concept allowed the Left and the Right to move towards each other ideologically, adopting very similar, and thus problematic positions while still maintaining a perception of legitimacy within their support bases.
Western Leftists still naively cling to the theories of imperialism and orientalism when explaining the Syrian conflict, viewing it through geopolitical lenses, while forgetting that the causes of the conflict remain mostly domestic, the result of half a century of tyranny by the Assad family. This renders Leftist theoretical analysis of the Syrian conflict as a function of world politics irrelevant.
Hussam Itani’s “Imperialism First!: European Leftists Abandon Anti-Fascist Legacy to Embrace Putin and Assad” is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 22, No. 75, 2018.