[Marxism] The Belgian left and Assad
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Oct 3 18:13:23 MDT 2016
The Left in Times of Terror
The main force of Belgium’s radical left, the Workers’ Party of Belgium
— with ten thousand members and national and regional MPs — found itself
well-positioned after the attacks. It has implanted itself in many
working-class neighborhoods in Brussels and Antwerp, which have a large
Muslim-background population. It also has a strong presence in certain
trade unions, and a positive relationship with a number of social
movements like Hart Boven Hard and Tout Autre Chose.
Spokesman Raoul Hedebouw is well-liked in the south of the country,
particularly on account of his denunciation of austerity and tax
injustice, the seriousness of which was underlined by the Panama Papers.
Nonetheless, like other left forces in Europe, the PTB is ill-at-ease
when faced with the question of terrorism. Its MPs abstained on the July
2015 bill to strip people of their nationality, although they issued a
public apology six months later for their lack of direct opposition to
the measure. Their actions when the government devoted an extra €400
million to the anti-terrorism budget also sent mixed messages.
Similarly, its appeals to combat hatred and division have often turned
into a discourse of “national unity,” and its public narrative around
racism does not go beyond decrying the “division” it creates among workers.
The PTB claims to follow a pragmatic approach and has focused its
critiques on how ineffective the government’s anti-terrorism measures
are, instead calling for a so-called targeted approach. But social
movements and the forces of the radical left have every interest in
naming and specifically fighting the dangers that the strong state,
national unity, and rampant Islamophobia pose to all democratic and
The radical left uniformly rejects Belgium’s participation in the
coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and its multi-billion-euro
purchase of fighter planes. However, the PTB combines this with a
worldview that is too uncritical of the Assad regime and the role of
Iran and Russia in the region.
This is not without consequence: by supporting Assad as a lesser evil
fighting ISIS, the democratic parts of the Syrian opposition are erased.
As is the root of the Islamist counterrevolution, which is the product
of both imperialism and a brutal local dictatorship.
Above all, the PTB ignores the fact that pro-Assad forces are
responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Syria, deploying
an array of methods just as abominable as those that have made ISIS so
infamous. The mainstream narrative surrounding the Paris and Brussels
attacks proclaimed that the few hundred terrible deaths in Europe matter
more than those of hundreds of thousands of Syrian (and Iraqi) civilians
— most of them Sunni Arabs. By refusing to seriously account for the
forces behind those deaths, the Left has acted similarly.
Probably the global left’s worst mistake since the turn of the century
has been to refuse any consistent solidarity with the Syrian rebels.
During March’s partial truce, the Syrians resumed their daily
demonstrations attacking Assad as well as ISIS and Al Nusra. Now the
situation has deteriorated even further. Only popular resistance can
deny ISIS its popular base and territory in any lasting manner.
Here, just as over there, terrorist attacks serve the mutual interests
of the neoliberal police state and reactionary forces, and create the
possibility of paralysis that would deny all hope to social struggles.
Perhaps it is still not too late to radically change direction. If
popular movements and the forces of the radical left pick up the red
thread of internationalism, they can offer sense and perspective to the
anger and disorientation mounting in the degenerating capitalist world.
The Left must fight against the state’s repressive forces, take back the
streets in resistance to austerity and all forms of racism, and show
real solidarity with global popular movements. If we don’t, the combined
forces of neoliberalism and terrorism will continue to repress political
and social life, not just in Syria or Belgium, but all over the world.
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