Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Barriers to Internationalism: Views of a Syrian Youth

Freedom cannot be treated as a commodity that is the right of some people and  not others.  Oppression is international.   For struggles against it to be successful,  they too have to be international and relate to each other.

Internationalism and the Question of Identity
by Ahmad
August 27, 2017

“Workers of all lands unite” is the last sentence in the “communist manifesto” written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and the only sentence on Marx’s grave. The only sentence that appears on Marx’s grave should have a very powerful message behind it.  It is probably a summary of Marx’s goal and theory. Why is unity very important in the struggle of the working class? Despite the fact that unity against the enemy is a rational decision, we still witness other forms of powers overruling the concept of unity and solidarity. What are these powers? Are they external or internal?

In this short article I will try to answer these questions based on what I understand  from readings and discussions on the concept of unity and its significant role in the resistance against the system.

I.The struggle of the oppressed is international
Many desires under the current system are artificially created to stimulate consumerism. The fulfillment of these kinds of desires will infinitely stimulate new ones. For example: purchasing a game console is not fulfilling by itself because a new desire emerges:  the desire of buying CD’s for that console. A year later, that console would be of no value because it would be old and not fulfilling anymore. Supplying an infinite desire will lead to the perfect-consumerist behavior.  However, that requires an infinite amount of resources which no country can afford by itself. Imperialism can be explained as a way of gaining control over more resources (natural, human or land) by the use of force to maximize production in order to supply the infinite demand. Therefore, the imperialist forces can be seen as an octopus that has multiple legs one on each continent or country.

Internationalism and exportation of revolution are very important. It is very difficult to fight an imperialist power in one country only because it will use other countries over which it has influence to supply its war against the rebellion. The key to defeating an imperialist power is a massive and international movement against it that threatens the imperialist power’s interests and economy. One might argue that in the current times,  an international movement has more chances of expanding and exporting the ideas of workers’ unions because of the accessibility of  the internet to many people in the  middle and lower classes.  However, counter-revolutionary forces,  whether  imperialism or fundamentalism,  are ready to do anything not to let that happen. They use different strategies to prevent that from happening.   The worst is what I call the abuse of identities,  used by some fundamentalists.

II.Barriers to Internationalism

A.The illusion of choice based on a pre-existing identity
Humans possess many different identities coming from nature and nurture. A person can be a basketball fan, Christian, anti-racist shop owner or any combination of identities that one can imagine. In this way, a Latin-American worker can have a lot of identities in common with an Arab-Muslim worker.  They differ in religion and country but might share a lot (way of thinking, cause of oppression etc.).   Identity is the feeling of goosebumps that a person gets when she/he/they hear the name of their country in a movie.  It is what  increases one’s attention when one hears one’s  last name mentioned or sits next to a person who speaks the same language in a bar.  It is not necessarily bad.  Indeed, humans need to associate with one another to survive. The problem occurs when an external authority eliminates an individual’s identities and activates only the one that serves its interests.

Nowadays, a real example  is the abuse of the Muslim identity to convince Muslims  to fight for Islam (pre-existing identity) because it is the only right thing that counts. Governments at  times of war stimulate nationalism as an identity to gain the support of the people and to make them believe that it is their duty to fight  people in another country.  Some political parties take that very far and  consider  nationalism as one of the important pillars of being a good citizen.   Fundamentalism and narrow nationalism are  irrational identities.    A rational identity that would make sense for people to associate with,  is economic identity. The  international realization of that  among the working class would constitute a threat to the oppressors and their system.

In many cases  such as in Syria, the oppressor regime and the counter-revolutionary-fundamentalist forces coexist.   Assad, as much as ISIS, will try by any means possible to prevent a genuine intellectual movement among the oppressed, ideally speaking,  a movement based on the leadership of logic and realism not authority and artificial needs.  Emptiness partly makes it easier to accept  extreme-irrational identities. When there is nothing much to lose anyway,  it becomes possible for the individual to go to the extreme. In Syria for example, it is  not that the people are more likely to become religious fundamentalists than anything else.  Rather,  war created an emptiness in them,  and Jihadists reached them first to fill this emptiness with their ideas. Figuratively speaking,  the deeper a boat sinks,  the more panic you realize among humans who are desperate to hold on to  the first thing they see  in order not to sink.

B.Failure of the Left

Another factor that contributed to this situation in Syria is the failure of the left. Some defend Bashar al-Assad as an “anti-imperialist.”   Others failed to appeal to the Syrian people with their ideas at the beginning of the crisis.  While the leftists were arguing, the other Syria was being destroyed and its people were becoming open to extremist solutions.  That is when fundamentalists like al-Qaeda or ISIS know that they have a  high chance of  getting support. The religious fundamentalist extremists  strengthened their position and started abusing the concept of identity. Secularist-left-wing ideas vanished in Syria and the support was for who paid and armed well.

A quality that the left should have is being critical. Among many activists it is not the case anymore. Supporting a certain group or militia implies with it the incapability of being critical about it because it is too idealized.  This turns to an irrational identity again and sometimes to left-wing fundamentalism.


Millions of people sacrificed their lives in World War I for the sake of the royal families who gave them nothing back in return but nationalism and hatred towards foreigners. People in most of the countries involved in the war were oppressed and treated badly by their own government and the church or mosque.  Those were the real enemies that tried as much as possible to divert the attention of the people by stimulating certain identities among working people in order to create a new enemy:  the oppressed working people of other countries.

Freedom cannot be treated as a commodity that is the right of some people and  not others.  Oppression is international.   For struggles against it to be successful,  they too have to be international and relate to each other.

Ahmad,  A Syrian Youth
August 27, 2017

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