World in View: Revolution and genocide in Idlib, Syria

January 21, 2020

From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Gerry Emmett

If there are any two realities that absolutely compel human solidarity, it is the two that are manifest in Syria today—revolution, the human struggle for freedom against oppression—and genocide, the absolute negation of humanity.

Yet for nine years the world has largely remained silent, if not insensate, to these realities that have been the basic matters of life and death for millions of Syrians. This unacceptable silence, in a world of mass communication and social media that boasts a “United Nations,” is arguably one of the most nihilistic moments in all history.


Even in 2012 the people of Kafranbel, Syria, knew that President Bashar al-Assad was perpetrating a genocide. How many more have been murdered since then?

The great Syrian anarchist, Omar Aziz, who died in the fascist Bashar al-Assad regime’s prison system in 2013, once said: “We are no less than the Paris Commune workers; they resisted for 70 days and we are still going on for a year and a half.”

Resistance still continues. On Jan. 17, beneath the flag of the Revolution, hundreds of people in Idlib city called for the overthrow of the Assad regime and demanded an end to Russian and regime bombing. Despite one more “ceasefire,” dozens of civilians—mainly women and children—have been killed in attacks on markets and shops.

In the last month, 350,000 civilians in Idlib province have been displaced by bombings and ground assaults by Russian and Iran-allied troops. Families have had to seek shelter in fields, or crowded refugee camps, without adequate food or shelter. Around four million are at risk. Only 40% of refugees are able to receive aid from humanitarian organizations.

The U.S. isn’t innocent here, either. U.S. allies have cut fuel supplies, putting prices beyond the reach of most people.

In the face of this genocide, the cry continues to ring out: “The people want the overthrow of the regime.” Here is the human spirit at its most powerful.

This resistance isn’t based in illusion. As journalist Merna al-Hasan wrote, “Idlib’s inhabitants have lost all hope that their lot will improve, not even a glimmer remains. No outside country wants to intervene on their behalf to end the bloodshed.”


Syrian activist Dani al-Qappani has documented other Idlib residents’ thoughts in an important article in The New Arab (Jan. 16, 2020). One student said, “No sane human can see the tears streaming down people’s cheeks, the body parts all over the place, the children in camps, and stay silent for no reason. Humanity is dying.”

Another resident said, “Either humanity will prevail, starting in this land, Syria, or it will be a black hole devouring everything that remains—and what will remain when there’s no humanity left?”

“Humanity” is the key word. In Idlib, in the now destroyed towns of Kafranbel and Maarat al-Numan, revolutionaries made a point of communicating and identifying with humanity and with all freedom struggles.

This is exactly in accord with the young Karl Marx’s point that social revolution, even if it only occurs in one area, seeks to unite itself with “the true community, the human community.”


Marx’s philosophy of revolutionary humanism developed from that insight. Marx contrasted this humanism to “the state and power.” Thus we can see humanity’s silence in the face of genocide in Idlib as a self-reduction to the current level of state-capitalist bureaucracy.

Like the Paris Commune, the Syrian Revolution has become a category of thought necessary for grasping and changing human reality. Let us also recall the enslaved human being, a few hundred years ago, who said “No!” Perhaps he or she grabbed hold of an overseer’s whip and spit into his evil face. Did an immediate victory follow?

Yet without that act the human spirit would not be the infinitely worthy thing that it is.

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