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A Certain Discomfort: Of Anarchist Solidarity and Syria

from Anarchist News

Even as Rojava captures the imaginations of anarchists, with many groups and individuals around the world engaged in active support of the Kurdish-lead libertarian experiment, there remains a profound ambivalence among anarchists towards the struggles in the rest of the country formerly known as Syria. On the one hand, some radicals seek to identify and support grassroots initiatives, popular armed formations, or resistance movements in exile that have a liberatory character; on the other, some see the Syrian Revolution as nothing more than yet another imperialist coup being lead by armed religious fascists with nothing worth supporting. Between those two poles, the huge majority of anarchists (and others who care about international revolutions) consider the conflict too complex and murky to come to any conclusions.

To be clear, I’m writing as one of those who sees a lot of liberatory potential in the Syrian Revolution, who has tried to follow it and hear the voices of organizers on the ground even as their work has been overshadowed by authoritarian armed groups, and who has tried to do some minor acts of solidarity by translating and writing articles. It’s quite striking that many who support the Rojavan revolution so fervently are unwilling to extend their interest to the rest of Syria, where the huge majority of the country’s 20+ million inhabitants live(d). Some have explained this by the absence of a cohesive political project under the dictatorship – unlike in the Kurdish regions, where the PKK was able to organize during its transition to libertarian municipalism, the repression was such that there were no organized parties and only a few clandestine networks of dissenters.

As activists in the film “Echos of Rupture” (Ecos del Desgarro in the original spanish) explained, once the revolution broke out, this absence of existing organizations meant the uprising had a very decentralized and egalitarian character. This also contributed to its resilience – many of the most experienced organizers were already known to the regime and were quickly rounded up or forced to flee the country. This was always part of the Assad regime’s strategy, targetting for shelling or bombing those areas liberated by their own residents and pulling back from conflict with groups like the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra . Its narrative has always been that the conflict is between armed salafist groups and a socialist government and it set out to viciously abolish anything that didn’t fit that story. This meant there were few groups who could issue position statements or put forward cohesive ideologies.

It unfortunately seems that statements of ideology are very important in determining whether anarchists will support a struggle. This is not such a different approach to solidarity than is used by authoritarian leftists who continue to support the Assad regime in spite of its unbelievable brutality because of the rhetoric and ideology it produces. But as the Syria Solidarity Collective emphasizes, we need to base our support on the level of practices and relationships, not the level of ideology.

On the level of practice, we continue to find many groups throughout Syria as well as in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, who pursue an anarchistic revolution, acting against the control of the Syrian government as well as against the various authoritarian armed groups who are increasingly carving up the territory. What it means to look on the level of practice is not straight forward, but at the very least, we can begin by dropping our expectation of ideological purity, looking closely at grassroots segments of the conflict rather than at the level of states and armies, opposing all escalation of the armed conflict (which has tended to favour authoritarian formations) including through foreign intervention, and sharing and debating texts and perspectives that share these goals.

However, the amount of discussion among anarchists about supporting revolutionary currents outside of Rojava in Syria has been slight for the past several years. On A-News, Infoshop, and Libcom collectively, there have been about three articles posted about the Syrian Revolution in the past two years, while there have been almost a hundred dealing with Rojava (score one Syrian Rev article each for Anarkismo and Contrainfo). This is surprising, considering there continues to be anarchist and anti-authoritarian analysis of revolutionary currents throughout Syria produced in English, it just isn’t making it onto the most popular news sites among English-speaking anarchists.

In the forums on A-News, I made a post wondering why anarchist analysis on Syria was not being posted on the news feed. The article turned into an argument about whether the Syrian revolution exists and whether the Syrian anarchists I was referencing weren’t actually just pro-western imperialists. This thread is an interesting microcosm of the paralysis in the anarchist milieu on this issue: the majority of anarchists don’t see the debate or consider it too complicated or controversial to be worth digging into, while polarized minorities attack each other.

I believe many of the people who find the Syrian conflict confusing or overwhelming would like to understand it and find ways to support its genuinely liberatory segments. To move from ambivalence and confusion towards solidarity, we need to discuss this conflict, refine our understandings of solidarity, and begin finding simple ways to take action.

In my own city, film screenings, speaking events, and discussions over the past two years have produced a broad consensus about how to think about the Syrian conflict and how to engage with local politics that are in reference to it. This has allowed us to draw a clear distinction from segments of the authoritarian left who have either overtly supported the Assad regime or who do so implictly by helping to conceal the grassroots, liberatory elements of the opposition. This has already allowed us to begin building relationships, and hopefully these will continue to spread and deepen so that as the civil war (hopefully) winds down, we can meaningfully support those on the ground who share our values.

Basically, this is a call to talk about these issues, to go beyond the ideological clarity that the Rojava revolution seems to offer and look at the broader struggle against the Syrian state with the same intention to build solidarity.

Resources in English:

Syria Solidarity Collective:
Leila’s Blog
Darth Nader:
The Hamilton Institute:
Echos of Rupture/Ecos Del Desgarro:
An Anti-Authoritarian Analysis of Syria’s Civil War (not a bad overview):