A delegation of old crackpot commies associated with the Workers World Party, for whom every despotic government is either “U.S.-backed and bad” or “not U.S.-backed, so actually good and even communist,” recently travelled to Syria to commend dictator Bashar Assad for killing tens of thousands of poor Syrians in his fight against imperialism and “a mercenary invasion of more than 20,000 fighters,” by which they don’t mean the more than 20,000 mercenaries and militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan being paid to fight for a regime running out of actual Syrians willing to take up arms on its behalf.
The trip is grotesque enough: Dialogue is one thing, lending “left” cover to a man whose family has grown extremely wealthy by exploiting the working class is quite another. What’s especially galling is that, in an article recounting their fantastic journey, these “anti-imperialist” authoritarians allow a regime official to say the following:
“Syria was formerly one of the fastest developing countries in the world,” [Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban] continued, “and one of the safest. We have free education and health care. We did not know poverty; we grew our food and produced our own clothing. At universities, 55 percent of the students were women. In whose interest is it to destroy this heritage? Who is the beneficiary of this?”
One adequate response to this might be: “LMAO, what?” But seeing as this is a blog on the Internet and I have all the space in the world, allow me to quote another article, this one from the World Socialist Web Site.
“But aren’t they Assad apologists too?” an earnest reader asks. And I’m glad they did because yes, the folks at WSWS kinda actually are — but this article is from 2010, back before some leftists decided that “anti-imperialism” requires dismissing the efforts of tens of thousands of regular people to overthrow their neoliberal oppressors, U.S. aligned (Libya) or not (Syria), and reducing said uprisings to Zionist/American/Saudi imperialism. Back in 2010, some socialists were reporting on the actual factors that would cause the residents of rich, tranquil Syria to later rise up against their benevolent leader:
Poverty in Syria has increased significantly in the past five years. The United Nations Human Development’s study of Poverty in Syria 1996-2004 is the most comprehensive statistical report currently available. It found that the wealth gap widened and 11.4 percent of people, or 2.2 million of Syria’s 21 million population, lived in extreme poverty, defined as unable to obtain their basic food and non-food needs, a sum equal to SYP92 or US$2 per capita per day. Syria Today reports that a new United Nations Development Programme report due out shortly states that this figure rose to 12.7 percent in 2007.
A 2007 Central Bureau of Statistics report shows that the number of people living in poverty—those only able to cover a “reasonable amount” of their basic needs—rose from 30.1 percent to 33 percent between 2004 and 2007. But since 2007, the situation has deteriorated sharply. The property real estate boom and the removal of some of the subsidies have increased the cost of living.
The turn to the market and inward investment has led to few new decent-paying jobs, while the lifting of trade restrictions has increased imports and led to a fall in exports to Turkey and other countries, forcing small traders and services out of business. Unemployment is officially about 8 percent, but unofficial estimates put it at about 20 percent, with many more under-employed.
Real wage growth has fallen, according to official data, from 9.9 percent in 2005 to 3.2 percent in 2007, implying a fall in living standards as prices have risen, with little left over for education, culture or leisure activities.
On top of all this, Syria suffered a severe drought in the years leading up to the 2011 uprising, with 1.5 million people leaving their arid lands for the city, which “had a catalytic effect” in a country, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While foreign meddling of the Russian, Iranian, Saudi, Qatari, Turkish and American variety has no doubt had a negative impact on Syria, leftists would do well to remember that outside agitators are historically ineffective at getting tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in a totalitarian state where chanting “down with the dictator” might very well earn one a bullet in the head. Imperial powers will always attempt to shape events in their favor, with varying degrees of success, but the masses are not as easily manipulated as the likes of Ramsey Clark and Cynthia McKinney; when poor people rise up, it’s generally because they have nothing left to lose. That some of these superficially “left” Assad apologists would present a neoliberal dictator’s denial of the existence of poverty in Syria as truth in the service of an easier to digest “anti-imperial” narrative speaks pretty loudly to the intellectual and moral poverty of the authoritarian left.
(h/t Ben Norton)