In general, the Western left has taken a shameful attitude toward the Syrian conflict. Instead of supporting the Syrian people’s struggle against dictatorship, many leftists have promoted an anachronistic view of Russia and its allies, and accused Syrian revolutionaries of being Western proxies. The approach to Syria taken by the U.S. Green Party, which is largely representative of the left in the United States, largely reflects these tendencies.
Louis Proyect, a well-respected radical that for eighteen years has run MarxMail, an email list-serve of over 1500 Marxists activists and scholars, has, until recently, been a strong supporter of the Syrian revolution. He, like me, went against the tide of non-interventionist sentiment and supported Libyans and Syrians fighting against Russian-backed dictators to bring democracy to their countries.
Anyone who has taken this path knows it can be a hard and lonely road. As it turns out, supporting the “wrong” revolutions can lose you friends fast on the American left. But, this year Proyect decided to come in from the cold and support the Green Party’s presidential candidate, Jill Stein – an American politician who actively favors the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Proyect’s support for the Stein campaign raises questions about how he can square this decision with his opposition to the Assad regime. He attempted to address this divergence in The Green Party and Syria, which was published on Muftah, on October 4, 2016. In his article, Proyect excuses Stein’s terrible position on Syria, in the service of building a third-party in American politics. It is a position that is both naïve and dangerous.
Jill Stein and Syria
As far as Jill Stein is concerned, the U.S. government must work with Syria, Russia, and Iran to restore all of Syria to Assad’s control. Stein posted a statement to this effect on her campaign website, Jill2016.org, on November 2, 2015. I call it “Putin Approved,” because it is hard to imagine what Assad or Russian President Vladimir Putin would not like about the policy position.
In her statement, Stein supports the legitimacy of the forty-five-year-old Assad dictatorship, and by implication, certifies as legitimate Assad’s June 2014 88.7% election victory, in the midst of a raging civil war. She defines all rebels as “jihadi terrorists,” mimicking Assad’s own position on the opposition. Stein goes on to insist that no liberated areas of Syria should remain outside of Assad’s control, not even Rojava, a leftist Kurdish region that has managed to win a degree of autonomy. At no point does she present a plan for shared governance or a transition from Assad’s rule.
On October 5, 2016 the Stein campaign deleted the statement and quietly replaced it with a shorter, less transparently pro-Assad policy. The revision was not mentioned on the campaign website, but was called out in a number of tweets.
Despite this attempted face saving, it cannot be forgotten that Jill Stein has, in effect, demanded that every gain made by suffering and martyrdom since the Syrian revolution began in 2011 be abandoned and that “all of Syria” be returned to conditions of police state terror.
While in Stein’s conspiracy fantasy world there are many theories about how U.S. President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton “orchestrated regime change” in Syria, the reality is that the Syrian people just got fed up. If Stein did not so easily fall for dictators willing to mouth off about Israel, and appreciated the everyday struggles of those living under Muammar Gaddafi in Libya or Bashar al-Assad in Syria, she would see that the impetus for revolution or “regime change” in those countries came from the people themselves.
While Stein is free to believe Damascus’s denials about using sarin gas and barrel bombs, numerous reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations make it clear that the Assad government is a criminal regime with no regard for the right of it citizens. But, since the people either do not exist or are not that important for her, Stein can disregard their struggles, and, instead, take a self-important view that puts her country at the center of every important global event.
Proyect on Stein
In his Muftah, article, Proyect explains his own efforts to change leftist perspectives on the Syrian conflict: “Over the past five years, I have written 204 articles about Syria in the hopes that I might convince the left to support the Syrian rebels.”
Most leftists already have more access to information than many other people on the planet. It is not a lack of information that keeps them from supporting the Syrian revolution. It is a lack of heart. It is corruption on the left.
What we call “the left” is a really a tiny segment of the U.S. population that has dominated key leftist institutions in a way that keeps them small, white, and ineffective. Trying to convince this group to support the Syrian rebels is like trying to influence them to give up an all expenses paid week in Moscow.
Nevertheless, and despite all that has happened in Syria since the last time Stein ran in 2012, including its increased importance to the current presidential race, Proyect thinks Stein should be given a pass on the issue because she “likely never gave much thought to Syrian realities.”
In Proyect’s view, Stein’s position on Syria is essentially a result of her blind acquiescence to the leftist herd.
In addition to the ethical problems with this excuse, Proyect’s position contradicts his opinion that Hillary Clinton’s vote for the 2002 Iraq War, which she supported as a junior senator with less than two years in office, forever branded her as a warmonger. If Proyect is to be consistent, then no one running for president should be forgiven for just doing what everyone else did.
Proyect also argues that the Green Party’s position on Syria can be overlooked because “it does not prioritize the issue.” What Proyect does not seem to understand, however, is that Assad and company like it when no one in the West is talking about what they are doing. A Green Party that keeps quiet about Assad’s crimes is just what the doctor ordered.
Proyect goes on to insist that to “understand support for Assad on the left” it helps to think “in terms of concentric circles.” He uses this construction to argue that Stein is somehow in the outer circle of Assad supporters. But, given her November 2015 statement, which Proyect quotes, it is hard to see why she is, in fact, not in the inner circle of Assad enthusiasts.
Proyect thinks the Green Party takes a reasonably good stand on most things, so he is willing to live with a bad stand on Syria. But, he is wrong to think a party’s politics can be compartmentalized. Stein’s views on Syria are not just about Syria.
Accepting Assad’s 2014 election as legitimate, is first and foremost, a clue as to how Stein defines democracy. The same could be said about her support for a police state that, according to a UN report, has engaged in “inhuman crimes” and “gruesome torture, death.” These are not excusable foreign policy positions; they are, instead, chilling examples of what Jill Stein is willing to deem acceptable government behavior.
To provide further, affirmative justification for his support of the Green Party, Proyect points to “a long, historic need for an alternative to the two-party system.” In his article, Proyect discusses two past attempts to create a progressive third-way in American politics: The Populists of 1892 and the Progressives of 1948. Chronicling their rise and fall, Proyect muses, “they have been flawed in the same way the Green Party is flawed,” while still insisting on the importance of building a third-party platform. He fails, however, to understand the key flaw of these parties, as well as the implication for the Green Party itself.
In brief, the Populists and Progressives failed to gain traction because they did not understand the central role white supremacy plays in sabotaging popular resistant to capitalism, which depends on this supremacy.
Regarding the Populists’ failures, author Richard Wormser writes: “With the defeat of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and with the Democrats successfully launching white unity campaigns in the South, the Populists gradually disappeared as a political force.”
As for the Progressive Party, Harry Haywood, a black communist, provides a similar diagnosis for its ultimate downfall. Writing in his autobiography, Black Bolshevik, Haywood notes that: “In 1947, two years after the Party was reconstituted in the South, membership was up to 2000–higher than it ever had been.” Party members were involved in the fight for equal rights, the anti-lynching campaigns, trade union organizing, and two important strikes in North Carolina that brought some 17,000 tobacco workers into unions.” But, it all started to fall apart when the black/white coalition that was key to Progressive success began to unravel: “I found the rightist tendency to lump the special oppression of Black sharecroppers and tenants in the South into the more general farm question was still prevalent.” Haywood also connects the Progressive’s downfall with changes to the party program that “clearly cut away at the revolutionary heart of the right of self-determination and puts it in the context of a program of electoral reform.”
In short, white chauvinism in the progressive and left movements has long been their Achilles heel. Louis and the Greens seem not to understand this, as they casually downplay the white nationalist danger the Trump campaign represents, and criticize people of color for voting to stop this Alt Right assault.
The Danger of the Stein Campaign
Because Jill Stein is running in fourth place, and has slipped from 4% to 2% in the polls as she has gained more exposure, there in no danger she will be elected the next U.S. president. There is, however, a very real possibility she will help to elect the next president.
With its “Jill Not Hill” campaign slogan, the Green Party has made it clear it is trying to get Hillary Clinton voters to switch to Stein. If the Green Party candidate can swing enough Clinton votes her way, she may be decisive in putting Donald Trump in the White House.
Unlike every other U.S. election in living memory, this is not a contest between a somewhat more liberal Democrat and a somewhat more conservative Republican. Donald Trump has hijacked the Republican party and is attempting to use it to capture state power for a white nationalist, Alt-Right movement. This is part of a worldwide white nationalist trend. His campaign, which he calls a movement, and which is developing its own paramilitary force, must be viewed in the context of the Brexit vote in Britain, the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, and the AfD, “Alternative for Germany”, win in Germany.
U.S. minorities take Trump’s threats to build a wall along the border with Mexico, deport millions of undocumented workers, investigate the American Muslim community, and institute national “stop and frisk” in black communities, very seriously. Some are already experiencing the effects of this rising white nationalist tide, and they know there will be hell to pay if its proponents win the White House. This is the reality, and a Green Party that tells them to vote for Stein because Clinton may be worse than Trump is not winning any support.
Like it or not, we have a two-party political system in the United States. There are many good reasons for breaking this up, but it will require creating a strong third party with a popular base. We are a long way from this, and the Green Party is going nowhere fast. To make real progress, it must step up its involvement with grassroots movements in the United States and unite with freedom struggles worldwide – struggles like the Syrian revolution.
Louis Proyect has been a strong supporter of the Syrian people. He does the Green Party no favors, nor does he hasten the American revolution by accepting the way it has turned its back on that population.