The situation in Syria today is breaking many hearts. It’s also deeply distressing to those of us whose faith in the future relies on humanity’s ability to learn from its past mistakes.

There are people on the Left who are openly supporting Assad, Putin, and even Trump – and frankly, cackling over what appears to be the death throes – often quite literal ones – of all organized resistance to the murderous regime of Assad, ranging from resistance groups most of us would be horrified at, to those we might consider critically supporting.

I am confused as to why some on the left, who are very well-educated and often have decades of experiences on which to reflect, continue to pretend that the horrors of authoritarian left regimes are illusory, exaggerated, or acceptable in the face of US Imperialism.

I’ve met folks holding positions like these before. It’s not company you want to keep, or be classified among:

DSC00818 Erik and Nuon Chea

This is where history seems important. You’d think people who talk about historical materialism would agree. That’s a picture of a sullen-looking, much younger looking me, and Nuon Chea. Nuon Chea was “Brother Number Two” after Pol Pot, and the man considered most responsible for the estimated 1.7 million deaths of the period of Democratic Kampuchea (“Khmer Rouge”). People supported the Khmer Rouge for the same reason that many authoritarian leftists today are supporting Assad.

I think that the reason the ‘marxist-leninsts’ (Stalinists, mostly), maoists, and some trostkyist groups, find themselves supporting genocidal and mass-murderous regimes, is that  give is that they see these people acting against the imperialist actions of the United States. So, by the traditional binary logic that identifies one’s friends among the enemies of one’s enemies, authoritarian anti-imperial leftists around the world have thrown their support to this bizarre and bloodthirsty set of leaders, who now stand in for the Syrian people themselves.

When this strategy of substituting political leaders for actual human beings at the level of political discussion succeeds, perhaps it becomes hard to see that one is justifying horror.

I won’t tell you what should happen in Syria. I’m not so arrogant as to expect that my opinions are worth basing an entire country’s population’s lives on them. I also won’t keep my mouth shut about the horrors that are happening.

I am on the anti-authoritarian left, so perhaps my appeal will still come off as predictable and unserious to those on the left who are applauding the destruction of Eastern Aleppo and hailing the new alliance between Assad, Putin, and Trump, as a victory for Anti-Imperialism.

I do not mean to be predictable. I do mean to be consistent. So I respectfully ask that if you are one of those people who honestly embraces the idea that a victory for Assad is a defeat for United States imperialism, that you consider these thoughts on your own time.
One can oppose US Imperialism without supporting mass murder.

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A Cambodianist’s Note on Syria

A brief note from a student of Cambodia on the authoritarian left, and why people might want to be more careful about the company they keep, and support.

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