To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
August 27, 2016
RE: Terry Burke, UNAC, and the apologists for Assad

Terry Burke exposes the apologists
for the Assad dictatorship

by Joseph Green

"U.S. Peace Activists Should Start Listening to Progressive Syrian Voices" by Terry Burke is an important article. It can be found at

Burke exposes the horrendous support for the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad by a large section of the left, such as "UNAC, ANSWER Coalition, Anti-War Committee Chicago, Minnesota Anti-War Committee, Veterans for Peace, Women Against Military Madness, Workers World Party, Freedom Road Socialist Organization and others". She shows how they abuse the idea of "anti-imperialism" by turning it into defense of the atrocities of the Ba'ath regime of the dictator al-Assad.

The devastation of Syria is not a minor event, but a Syrian nakba or catastrophe. One can no more wash one’s hands of what is being done to the Syrian people than one can ignore what has been done to the Palestinian people. The massacre in Syria is on an astonishing scale. Whatever the outcome of the Syrian civil war, it will leave scars on the Syrian people that will last for years, and it will effect not just the Middle East, but the world, for years to come.

Burke refers to the imperialist attitude of those who justify the al-Assad  regime. She talks about the importance of listening to the Syrian activists, and she refers people to their writings on what has been going on in Syria. For example, there is the book Burning Country by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. The book documents how a people who have been silenced for decades by the Ba’ath dictatorship began to take matters into their own hands, demonstrate, argue, organize committees, and resist -- defying the torture, repression, and mass murder by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

However, the support by a large section of the American left for the murderous regime of al-Assad is not just because they don’t listen to the Syrian people. UNAC, Workers’ World, the Party of Socialism and Liberation and others listen to certain people from other countries, but they often give credence to notorious dictators, rather than the democratic movement or the workers who have been silenced or the youth who have been repressed. This is a sign that something is very wrong with the orientation of much of the left. Something rotten has grown and grown over the years.

For example, this rot has been seen for years in the the Trotskyist groups who have given "military but not political support" to dictator after dictator, from Saddam Hussen to Muammar Qaddafi and who called repressive regimes deformed or degenerated "workers' states". It led the Workers’ World to see something anti-imperialist in the Taliban. It has been seen in the failure of much of the left -- whether Stalinist, Trotskyist, or one-time anti-imperialist -- to show any shame over allying with certain liberal imperialists who denigrate the struggle of oppressed peoples; the liberal imperialists do this in order to promote cooperation among the big powers, while UNAC and company do this out of the love for the particular dictatorships. It has come up with respect to mass movements in Syria, Libya, Hong Kong, the countries of the former USSR, and so on.

Burke sidesteps some things such as whether it is possible for the oppressed Syrian people to gain needed weapons other than by utilizing contradictions among the outside powers. Nevertheless, this article is an important contribution by Burke to the discussion of the situation in Syria, and it deserves a wide readership. It has already struck a sore point among the apologists of the Bashar dictatorship.

Stung by the exposure of their support for tyranny, the leadership of the United National Antiwar Coalition has tried to reply to Burke’s article: see Proper leaders in the left movement would take seriously Burke’s remarks and seriously reconsider their stands. But that’s not UNAC’s way. Following the example of various repressive regimes around the world, the UNAC leadership wants critics to be isolated and denounced.

UNAC’s reply consists of a zealous defence of the Assad regime, and of one lie after another in order to discredit for the democratic movement. According to them, Burke’s opposition to the Assad regime is an “attack on the anti-war movement” and would logically have led “to support[ing] the US backed Contra forces in Nicaragua as “democratic and progressive forces.” Geez, Burke was involved in the struggle against the contras, yet the UNAC leadership has no shame and says that her ideological position is pro-contra. At the same time, UNAC defends the promotion of pictures of Assad at demonstrations.

For some years now, there have been democratic movements around the world, and many old dictatorships have fallen. Such struggles are only one step on the road to freedom, but they’re important. It’s notable that the UNAC statement doesn’t mention a single one of them. Well, in its usual slimy fashion, UNAC implies in veiled language that some of them have been US plots for regime change. It’s not that UNAC opposes every democratic struggle. The UNAC leaders probably don’t mind certain struggles. Various of the organizations backing UNAC would support those struggles that aren’t inconvenient to Russia and China or other favorite regimes. But UNAC wants to get a lot of signatures on its denunciation of Burke, so it doesn’t take a chance of mentioning any of the democratic struggles. Or maybe it’s just that support for any democratic struggle anywhere would expose the nonsense of backing Assad. In any case, UNAC leaves reference to the world democratic movement out of its statement altogether.

For the UNAC leadership, the people are nothing. Its statement says nothing about the massive movement of the Syrian people, and about how the struggle has persisted under difficult conditions. It doesn’t try to refute the history of the Syrian movement as related in such accounts as Burning Country. It just repeats lies over and over. For example, it claims that the movement is really a US plot to have regime change. It would be more correct to say that UNAC and a section of US imperialism are cooperating to enforce an embargo on the Syrian uprising: UNAC would like to see the uprising decisively defeated, while US imperialism wants to bleed the movement so that, no matter what the outcome, the people will be cowed and discouraged.

Meanwhile the UNAC leadership proudly supports Russian intervention in Syria. As is well-known, the Syrian dictatorship has only survived because of huge financial and military support from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. And now Russia has stepped up the bombing of Syria way beyond what the the Syrian air force could accomplish on its own. The UNAC statement boasts about this bombing: yes, UNAC is an "anti-war" movement whose leadership boasts about the mass bombing of Syria. UNAC proudly says that Russian bombing is much more effective than US bombing. The UNAC statement says: "Though the US has claimed it is there to attack the extremists, there had not been much damage to them until Russia entered the fighting--and then, in a matter of weeks, the tide turned." So, for UNAC, it’s bombing that is the key against ISIS, while it’s bombing that’s also the key for turning the tide against the democratic uprising against Assad.

This is an example of the deception practiced by the UNAC leadership. Most people don’t want to see more barrel bombing by Assad of the people who have risen up against tyranny or the more efficient bombing by the Russian air force. But the UNAC leadership does. So the UNAC leadership speaks in a somewhat veiled way. Indeed, it goes on to claim to be among those who "agree on non-intervention and self-determination." But is Russian bombing really an example of "non-intervention"? Does anti-imperialism, non-intervention, and self-determination really require siding with notorious dictators against the people? If the UNAC leadership thinks that Russian bombing is the epitome of non-intervention, it should say so openly in its slogans. Instead, it tries to mobilize people on a deceptive basis, and then ostracize those who, like Terry Burke, point out the imperialist nature of UNAC’s real stand.

There needs to be true solidarity with the Syrian people. The UNAC leadership supports one imperialism against another, and won’t even recognize the existence of the Syrian movement nor of the crimes by the Assad dictatorship against the Syrian people. The forces who form the UNAC leadership lost faith in the working people a long time ago, and instead they have become apologists for various reactionary regimes. This is an abandonment of internationalism; and it amounts to apologizing for the class enemy as it wades through the blood of the Syrian people and other peoples. There should be a solidarity movement with the struggle against Assad. Instead UNAC and many other sections of the left have become experts in how to discredit democratic movements among the masses.

It’s good that there’s a discussion on what’s going on in the solidarity movement in the US. Let’s make sure that the UNAC statement doesn’t put a wet blanket over it. <>

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Posted on August 28, 2016.