On Sunday June 3, Syria Solidarity activists mobilized to protest at the Left Forum’s closing plenary session at John Jay College in New York, where the Green Party’s 2016 candidate for Vice President, Ajamu Baraka, was an invited speaker. LRP supporters were proud to participate.
The Left Forum is an annual event in New York with hundreds of panels and three plenary sessions. Anyone vaguely “left” can organize a panel except outright racists and sexists. The plenaries, however, are planned by the Left Forum’s official organizers to showcase speakers of their choosing, and their choice of Baraka was appalling.
As we explained in our leaflet “Say NO to Left Forum's Promotion of Ajamu Baraka – Apologist for Assad's Genocidal Regime in Syria,” Baraka styles himself a human rights activist, but his human rights record is monstrously deformed. With remarkable consistency, from Syria to Ukraine to the rise to power of arch-racist Donald Trump, Baraka’s politics coincide with the imperialist foreign policies of Russia’s Putin regime at every turn.
Hundreds of copies of the leaflet were distributed over the weekend to Forum attendees, including to everyone entering the plenary hall for the closing session, by Syria activists as well as LRPers. And when Baraka rose to speak, 15 or so Syria Solidarity supporters walked out silently, holding flags and placards denouncing the Assad regime. As we left, a number of members of the audience thanked us for providing them with information that they weren’t aware of, and some even chose to join the walkout. The Forum’s video of the plenary shows the walkout. 
Baraka is not alone on the left in making excuses for Assad. Several prominent journalists do so, as well as several socialist-named organizations. Their most common claim is that the chief task of the left today is to fight against US imperialism. That task can’t be denied, it is essential; but the left-Assadists overlook that the US has consistently preferred the continuation of Assad’s rule over any possibility that the democratic and revolutionary opposition might defeat him and take power themselves. The “anti-war” coalitions that they dominate proclaim “US Hands Off Syria” – but they organize protests only when Trump has pinprick-bombed an Assad military base or two, not when the US carpet-bombed Raqqa and other civilian areas in the name of fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda. The real meaning of their slogan is “Hands Off Assad.”
Those like Baraka, who promote Assad and think that Trump is not so bad, find themselves in an unholy alliance with the alt-right, people who favor reactionary regimes like Putin’s in Russia, Duterte’s in the Philippines, Orban’s in Hungary and Erdogan’s in Turkey; some of them are open fascists and the rest are fellow-travelers of the fascists.  The Left Forum’s ecumenical admissions policy means that such “left” traitors to democracy and revolution will not be prevented from sponsoring and organizing panels. But it is quite another matter to honor them as invited speakers alongside genuine class-struggle and anti-imperialist champions.
The United National AntiWar Coalition, one of the Assad-apologist organizations that Baraka is affiliated with, issued a statement denouncing the walkout.  It reads in part:
“Two organizations used Ajamu Baraka’s presence at the recent Left Forum in order to attack anti-imperialism itself. They falsely accuse him of being a defender of genocide and a Donald Trump supporter as a ruse to hide their support of imperialism as carried out not just in Syria but around the world.”
This short paragraph, like the UNAC leaflet as a whole, is a compilation of lies and evasions:
A Left worthy of the name must stand in solidarity with victims of exploitation and oppression everywhere. But the organizers of the Left Forum this year have chosen to honor as a featured plenary speaker Ajamu Baraka, whose solidarity with the oppressed is selective. He stands with victims of U.S. imperialism, but when it comes to the victims of Russian imperialism and its allies, he stands with the oppressor. Similar views all too commonly pass as leftism today.
Baraka does backflips in order to justify the carnage of the Assad government. Well before the chemical weapons attacks, he rejected any report of government atrocities out of hand. He claimed that Assad attempted to “address the first protests demanding democratic reforms through peaceful means,” despite hundreds of videos of demonstrators being massacred in the first days and weeks of protest, and despite the repeated insistence of top officials that there will be no compromise.
According to Baraka, simply the fact that atrocities were reported in the West was proof that they were “propaganda efforts geared to generate support for intervention.” For example, when the BBC aired interviews with witnesses of one of the Assad regime’s earliest atrocities, the 2012 massacre in the village of Houla, Baraka insisted that it was preposterous that there were Syrians who could speak English and that the BBC refused to reveal the names of women who had witnessed government death squads execute scores of civilian and even slit the throats of babies – an atrocity that has been confirmed by journalists on the ground as well as by human rights organization like Amnesty International. 
In 2014 Baraka celebrated the re-election of Assad, who claimed over 92% of valid votes, after 21 of 23 would-be opponents were arbitrarily disqualified, leaving only two loyalists running ‘against’ him. At the time only a fraction of the country was under government control, hundreds of thousands had been killed and millions driven into exile. Amnesty International, the organization whose board of directors Baraka once sat on, assessed the situation: “tens of thousands of men, women and children across Syria are struggling to survive in inhumane conditions… under constant threat of deadly attacks and lacking access to basic necessities such as food, water and medicines.”  Baraka’s view was different: “tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians went to the polls to cast a vote that was more about Syrian dignity and self-determination than any of the candidates on the ballot.” 
Not even Assad denies that his forces have killed hundreds of thousands of people over the last seven years. Yet he insists the victims are not genuine Syrians but terrorists (presumably the infants as well) sent by foreign governments intent on overthrowing his rule. Baraka shares this view, claiming to have found the proof in an absolutely nonsensical conspiracy theory. He wrote in July 2016 that President Obama’s goal in Syria was “to bolster Islamic jihadist forces” “leading to the establishment of a ‘Salafist principality’.”  This absurdity Baraka took whole-hog from the then-head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn, whose anti-Muslim conspiracy theories got him removed from his position by the Obama administration, only to briefly return to power with Trump before his lies and links to Russia forced the latter to accept his resignation.
In 2016 Baraka made it clear that he preferred to see Trump in power compared to either Barack Obama or the neo-liberal Hillary Clinton. According to Baraka, Obama was a “smiling neo-fascist,” so his successor could hardly be worse; “expecting people of color to fear Donald Trump…is absurd”; “I’m more concerned about another 8 years of neoliberal policies than I am with Trump.” 
It’s one thing to abhor Clinton because of her neo-liberalism and war-mongering. But it’s another to be complacent towards Trump’s racism and his encouragement of white supremacists – as if Trump was not a grave threat to people of color. These dangers were obvious well before and throughout the campaign, so the indifference toward Trump on the part of supposed human rights and racial justice activist is as absurd as it is criminal.
Baraka’s toleration of Trump fits with his enthusiasm for Assad, since Assad’s main backer, Vladimir Putin, has been shown to have assisted Trump’s campaign. Baraka even opposed the Green Party’s Jill Stein when she called for a recount of swing-state votes that gave Trump the election. And despite massive Republican gerrymandering and racist voter suppression that were essential to Trump’s capture of power, and regardless of reports that Russia went so far as to hack voting technology and databases, Baraka insisted that no defense of democracy in the U.S. is necessary since none exists! 
The fact that Baraka is a consistent advocate of Putin’s foreign policies the world over can be seen with his promotion of the conspiracy theory that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, now proven to have been shot down over Ukraine by pro-Russian forces in 2014,  was actually a false flag operation.  From the genocidal slaughter in Syria to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military adventures elsewhere in Ukraine – and even to Russia’s support for Trump in the last elections – Baraka aids and abets Putin’s crimes.
The Left’s opposition to genocide, to imperialism, and to attacks on democratic rights must rely on principle, not on crackpot conspiracy theories or geopolitical allegiances. Every failure to oppose the horrors of the decaying global capitalist system, and to stand in solidarity with working-class and oppressed people all over the world, is a weapon that the Right will not fail to use. We call on attendees at this year’s Left Forum to repudiate and protest the selection of Ajamu Baraka as a featured speaker.
Issued by the League for the Revolutionary Party (www.lrp-cofi.org) in support of the protest organized by Syria Solidarity NYC (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1843404682541736/)
Stand with Syria @the Left Forum
John Jay College, 899 10th Ave (59 St)
Sunday, June 3, 2018, 3:30 - 6:00 pm
June 1, 2018
1. Ajamu Baraka, The Story of Charlottesville Was Written in Blood in the Ukraine, August 17, 2017
2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCnO6OYj140&feature=youtu.be; the walkout is at the 28-minute time indicator.
3. For info on this wider “Red-Brown” alliance, see Ravings Of A Radical Vagabond, ‘An Investigation Into Red-Brown Alliances: Third Positionism, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, And The Western Left’.
1. Ajamu Baraka, Human rights and humanitarian imperialism in Syria, Pambazuka News, September 27, 2012;
Christopher Reuter and Abd al-Khader Adhun, A Syrian Bloodbath Revisited: Searching for the Truth Behind the Houla Massacre, Speigel Online, July 23, 2012;
Amnesty International, Deadly Reprisals, June 13, 2012.
2. Amnesty International, Bombs and a lack of food, water and medicine: Life under siege in Syria, June 12, 2014
3. Ajamu Baraka, The Syrian Elections Counterpunch, June 4, 2014
4. Ajamu Baraka, Paris, Orlando and Turkey: Displacing the Narrative of Western Innocence, Common Dreams, July 1, 2016
5. Ajamu Baraka tweets: https://twitter.com/ajamubaraka/status/818241920690520064?lang=en;
6. Eli Watkins, Jill Stein’s running mate: ‘I’m not in favor of the recount, CNN, November 29, 2016
7. Various posts on MH17
8. Sander Hicks, Jim Fetzer, Ajamu Baraka – on Kevin Barrett’s Truth Jihad Radio, July 19, 2014