The wave of criticism of the Leftist camp over its stance on the Syrian revolution barely subsides, before it shoots up again. Most probably, it is not the weight and size of the Left that motivates this, but rather the surprise vis-a-vis the fact many in this ‘revolutionary faction’ have stood against the revolution in Syria, while others expressed reservations about it, while only a small segment of leftists have supported it.
This ostensibly unusual phenomenon can be traced back to the transformation that the meaning of what a revolution is has undergone.
The mentality that expected a discourse of pure class struggle that contains no other elements except a nationalist call for combating Zionism and colonialism, was surprised to see that the revolution, in its present and only feasible form, has focused on freedom and human dignity. Indeed, these values are the primary and necessary condition and criterion for dealing with other values, whether to accept or reject them.
This has also been taking place in conjunction with a major shift embodied by giving precedence to the nation states and their domestic concerns, which have hitherto been exiled into the jungles of cross-border geopolitics.
A shift such as this one chips away at what the Left became since the Cold War era, where the absolute priority was given to the battle with “imperialism”, first the British-French version, then American imperialism, more or less exclusively.
The placing of foreign and geopolitical affairs, in the Soviet style, ahead of domestic, cultural and societal ones, has its roots in the moment when the Russian October Revolution triumphed back in 1917. This is because that victory, as much as it was a defeat for the Tsars’ regime, was also a defeat for orthodox Marxism as expressed by figures such as Bernstein, and then Kautsky and the Russian Mensheviks.
Then when Lenin came up with the monikers of ‘Backward Europe’ and ‘Advanced Asia’, just because the latter now witnessed revolutions that were no longer popular in the former, he was giving precedence to “movement” over production and the economy, which the original Marxism had adopted as the criteria for determining backwardness or advancement.
During the Cold War, this “movement” took on one specific meaning, namely siding with Moscow and its interests against the West. When the Soviet Union and its satellites collapsed, in conjunction with the massive growth of third-world populism, which was often of a religious nature, this populism swallowed most of what was left of the leftist camp, which was reeling from the bitter loss of “the bastion of progress and socialism”.
In turn, the Syrian revolution has proven to be the biggest test for the amalgamation of myths that has since come to define what the Left is. For one thing, this revolution has with rare eloquence done away with the precedence given to foreign and geopolitical affairs, which were used by the tyrants under many slogans, most notably mumanaa, [the so-called pro-resistance policies championed by the Syrian regime].
Beyond this, the Syrian revolution, through its demands for freedom and dignity, has managed to raise pressing issues that are indeed the prerequisite for any kind of “enlightenment”, even if the paths to them were thorny and fraught with difficulty. But if those demands are to be impossible to meet, then any “higher” cause, be it socialism or otherwise, is pure deception.
In this vein, it is no coincidence that all the regimes that have claimed to champion Leninist socialism ended up coupling this with military oppression that paid no respect to human dignity, and by extension, no respect to socialism itself by affronting freedom.
Here, it becomes clear, albeit indirectly so, how the leftist stance on the Syrian revolution exposes the left’s disconnection from Western enlightenment which began with the Bolshevik Revolution, after Marxism, as Karl Marx intended it, was one product of this enlightenment.
In general, such stances only engender further political worthlessness, compared to the real forces that emerge on the ground. This is what we have seen in the positions of the leftists, who previously said, “No to Saddam and no to the Americans,” and then “No to Karzai and no to the Taliban,” while waiting for the heavens to rain down a gift on them that deserves their approval.
This article was published in Dar al-Hayat on Oct. 27, 2012.