[Marxism] Fwd: Syria’s “Voice of Conscience” Has a Message for the West

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 26 11:29:58 MDT 2016

(Interview with Yassin Al-Haj Saleh in Glenn Greewald's Intercept, a 
magazine that some Syrian solidarity activists have mistakenly 
identified as an Assadist outlet.)

Q: Please tell us briefly about your own background in Syria.

A: As a university student in the late 1970s, I was a member of one of 
two Communist Party organizations actively opposing the regime. At that 
time, there was an uprising in Syria that involved students, trade 
unionists, lawyers, and members of other professions who were fighting 
against the Assad government, as well as a separate conflict between the 
regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. There were regular worker strikes in 
Aleppo, where I was living, and I saw with my own eyes security forces 
breaking down the doors of homes and businesses.

To be arrested in Assad’s Syria, you didn’t need reasons. But in 1980, 
hundreds of my comrades and I were detained as part of a campaign by the 
government to break Syrian society.

I was young, and the early years in jail were very difficult. We 
suffered harsh treatment. In later years, our conditions were not so bad 
and we were allowed books and dictionaries. I learned English inside 
prison, and for 13 years, I read maybe 100 books or more per year. In 
the last year of my imprisonment, I was transferred to Tadmor prison, 
which is one of the most vicious places on the planet — a concentration 
camp for torture, humiliation, hunger, and fear. I was then released in 

The experience of prison transformed me and my ideas about the world. In 
many ways, it was an emancipatory experience. I developed the belief 
that to protect our fundamental values of justice, freedom, human 
dignity, and equality, we had to change our concepts and theories. The 
Soviet Union had fallen and many changes were occurring in the world. My 
comrades who refused to change, those who adhered to their old methods 
and tools, found themselves in a position of leaving their values 
behind. This is one reason why many leftists today are against the 
Syrian revolution — because they adhere to the dead letter of their 
beliefs, rather than the living struggle of the people for justice.

Q: What did you expect from the left in its response to the Syrian 

A: It came to me as a shock, actually, that most of them have sided with 
Bashar al-Assad. I don’t expect much out of the international left, but 
I thought they would understand our situation and see us as a people who 
were struggling against a very despotic, very corrupt, and very 
sectarian regime. I thought they would see us and side with us. What I 
found, unfortunately, is that most people on the left know absolutely 
nothing about Syria. They know nothing of its history, political 
economy, or contemporary circumstances, and they don’t see us.

In America, the leftists are against the establishment in their own 
country. In a way, they thought that the U.S. establishment was siding 
with the Syrian revolution — something that is completely false and an 
utter lie — and for this reason they have stood against us. And this 
applies to leftists almost everywhere in the world. They are obsessed 
with the White House and the establishment powers of their own 
countries. The majority are also still obsessed with the old Cold 
War-era struggles against imperialism and capitalism.

Recently, an event in Rome that displayed images of those tortured and 
killed by Assad was attacked by fascists. Just days before, it had also 
been attacked in a local communist newspaper for promoting 
“imperialism.” There is a growing convergence between the views of 
fascists and the far-left about Syria and other issues. The reason for 
this is that perspectives on the left are outdated. They are interested 
in high-politics, not grassroots struggles. They are dealing with grand 
ideologies and historical narratives, but they don’t see people — the 
Syrian people aren’t represented. They are holding on to depopulated 
discourses that don’t represent human struggle, life, and death.


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