The “anti-imperialist” left and Marxists in particular have made fools of themselves over Syria and the question of U.S. military action on two counts:
- Failing to properly evaluate what is going on in Syria itself and
- Clinging stubbornly to the radically false notion that all imperialist wars are created equal; that all of them are equally reactionary in intent and objective outcome, and concluding from this that the oppressed and exploited never have a dog in fights between their oppressors and exploiters.
This is not to imply that imperialist powers or their wars are by nature progressive, but just as it is possible for evil people to do good things, so too there are cases where working people do have an interest or a stake in the outcome of military conflicts between ruling classes and their states.
The most obvious example of this is World War Two, the world’s bloodiest and most devastating conflict to date. There were powerful imperialist powers and coalitions of their clients on both sides of the war and yet the consequences of one side’s victory could not be more dramatically different than the victory of the other’s.
Only a fool could assert that it made no difference to millions of people whether the Allied or Axis powers won the war and yet that is what one current within the international socialist movement, the Trotskyists, claimed at the time. James Cannon, a leader of the American Socialist Workers’ Party, put it thus after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: “No imperialist regime can conduct a just war. We cannot support it for one moment.”
Instead of analyzing the war as it was, as a global struggle between two camps headed by imperialist powers, Trotskyists tried to pick and choose sides in the smaller conflicts within the overall war, specifically the USSR’s war against the Nazis and China’s war for national liberation against Japan, as if British imperialism headed by Churchill and American imperialism led by FDR were not sending Stalin war material and aiding bourgeois nationalist and even communist forces in the Far East and Yugoslavia as part of the broader effort to defeat the fascist Axis powers. This is doubly ironic given Trotskyism’s claim that it developed the “best” analysis of fascism as a uniquely reactionary force.
What does all this have to do with Syria?
Today’s anti-interventionists would have claimed back then that American military action could “only make things worse” for people in Europe and Asia, would have voted in Congress or in Parliament against taking military action against the Axis, and blocked weapons and aid from reaching Stalin, Hồ Chí Minh, and Tito (all of whom the Trotskyists claimed they supported; starving forces you support of weapons is probably one of the more bizarre implications of their political method).
The world was much better off without this brand of “leftism” back then and the Syrians would be much better off without it now.