National Sections of the L5I:

A Critical Point for the Syrian Revolution

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The Syrian revolution has entered a critical stage. The overthrow of the hated regime of Bashar al Assad is now on the agenda, though exactly when it comes depends not only on the balance of forces between the lightly armed insurgents and much larger regime forces, who have an enormous superiority in terms of weaponry, but also on the morale of these troops.

Three key figures in the regime’s apparatus of torture and mass murder; Hassan Turkmani, Dawoud Rajha and Assef Shawkat (Assad’s brother-in- law) were killed in a bomb explosion at the national security headquarters in Damascus on 18 July. After a conflict in which upwards of 19,000 have died, at last the chickens are coming home to roost for the Ba’athist inner circle and the Assad family clique.

We are now witnessing a generalised armed uprising, a veritable civil war, with the regime massing tanks, heavy artillery, ground forces and bombers against the resistance takeover of important parts of Aleppo, the largest city in the country. The insurgents initially gained substantial ground in parts of the capital Damascus too, forcing Assad to leave his residence, but the regime counter-attacked and appears to have recovered much of its lost ground

We are witnessing not only an armed uprising but also continued mass demonstrations, whose courageous participants are willing to act as "human shields" for the fighting units. Such self-sacrifice occurs only when the majority of the population becomes aware of what is at stake; that freedom is there to be won through one more heroic effort. This mass upsurge is in turn leading to a further decomposition of the Syrian army, strengthening the insurgents from the ranks of its erstwhile opponents.

The armed uprising and the left Genuine revolutionary communists have welcomed the Syrian revolution from the outset, supporting it as much as they could. We have defended it as a genuine popular uprising, which developed from its inception as a mass peaceful protest movement into a justified civil war. This was made necessary and unavoidable by the viciousness of the regime and its willingness to play on sectarian divisions to maintain its hold on power.

In total contrast to a motley band of former and current Stalinists, plus populists from the Americas, who support Assad, we reject with contempt the role of becoming camp followers of the Russo-Chinese imperialist bloc. They are for sure the smaller and weaker powers at the moment but they are lean and hungry imperialists seeking a re-division of the resources of the world. At the same time our duty - especially those of us in Europe and North America - is to fight any imperialist military intervention or occupation of Syria - even under the pretext of a humanitarian mission, even if they can get UN approval for it.

This does not mean militants on the ground in Syria do not have the right to accept weapons and logistical support from anyone who will give them. Revolutionaries have always had to play off rival imperialist predators against one another. It means only that they have to be wary of any undertakings they give in return.

They should receive gifts from the “democratic” imperialists and their regional gendarmes, as the saying goes, “only on the points of their spears”. For all who really wish to ensure that the wealth and culture of their country is finally taken into the hands of ordinary Syrian people and is not siphoned off by the billionaires and bankers, defending the independence of their country and indeed the entire region is critically important. Here, the US and EU rulers are their biggest and most dangerous enemies and the workers and youth of these countries their true allies.

While the various imperialist powers, especially the United States and European powers, but also Russia and China, are trying to intervene in pursuit of their own geo-strategic interests and regional powers like Iran, Turkey and Saudi-Arabia/Qatar want to use the civil war to strengthen their positions, this does not the alter the fact that what we have in Syria is a legitimate mass uprising against an authoritarian and reactionary dictatorship. It is itself an integral and vital part of the revolution in the Middle East and North Africa.

A crisis of revolutionary leadership

We remain resolutely on the side of the Syrian masses, the working class as well as the petty bourgeois masses, who were denied their political rights for decades and are more and more impoverished as a result of the capitalist crisis and the neo-liberal policies of the Assad regime. That does not mean, however that we can ignore or downplay the depth of the crisis of leadership of the working class and the mass movement. Nor should we underestimate the external imperialist pressures and interference in Syria, on both sides of the conflict. But as Lenin said, whoever wants a pure revolution – i.e. one proletarian from its inception, free of these problems, will never live to see one.

Even though it is difficult to determine the exact balance of political forces within both the mass democratic opposition movement and in the Free Syrian Army, it is clear that petty bourgeois and bourgeois influences predominate, stretching from secular democratic and reformist to reactionary Islamist and openly pro-imperialist forces. That does not alter or obliterate the progressive nature of the mass movement itself. It simply means that, as in Libya and Egypt, any bourgeois democracy that emerges will be an arena of political and class struggle. Marxists expect no more of it in any case. The task of revolutionaries is to support and promote this fight and, at the same time, to fight for the leadership of the Syrian working class in the movement to make the revolution permanent.

The rival imperialist camps and their proxies

Western, Saudi and Turkish support, both verbal and material, to the forces of the insurgency cannot and should not hide the fact that the fall of Assad will be mainly the work of the masses themselves and their incredible heroism. Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution, more than 19,000 have lost their lives in the battle. Many more have been imprisoned, abused, tortured, and terrorised. The claim that these are only the manipulated, submissive followers of a Western or Saudi Islamist conspiracy is not only an outrageous slander of the masses, it's a sure sign that the slanderers have lost all sense of reality.

In reality, the Western imperialists, as well as their counterparts in Moscow or Beijing, live in mortal fear that the masses will accomplish their revolutionary work in an "uncontrolled" way and could "go too far" by disintegrating the repressive machinery of the capitalist state as the masses did in Libya, but as they have thus far failed to do in Egypt and Tunisia.

Russia, China and Iran fear a further loss of their influence in the region and continue to press for a negotiated settlement that will include Assad or parts of the Ba’athist regime. The U.S. and Germany, on the other hand, realise (correctly enough) that Assad is an insuperable obstacle for any negotiated settlement that would, as in Egypt, retain the basic state structures of a military-bonapartist regime and maintain Assad's peaceful co-existence with Israel. Both the US-EU and Russia-China want an "orderly transition" by which they mean avoiding the collapse of the Syrian army and what they call a "power vacuum". Assad, like Mubarak, has to go so that his regime can survive, taken over by other political and military cliques.

Therefore, everyone is now calling for a "transitional government" consisting of "untarnished" forces of the old regime on the one hand and opposition forces favoured by the imperialists and their Saudi and Turkish allies on the other. Perhaps they will include some “representatives of the streets” and the FSA fighters to ensure more stability. The farcical UN mission of Kofi Annan and numerous diplomatic manoeuvrings are all intended to serve this purpose.

Such a transitional government would amount to a political conspiracy against the masses; against the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie, the youth and the millions who fought against the reactionary regime. If this occurs, they will surely and certainly be cheated of the fruits of their struggle. Instead of dismantling the repressive apparatus and replacing it with a workers' and peasants' militia and soldiers' councils, the old army high command and officer corps will be purged only of its most brutal elements. The armed apparatus, the command structure of police and army will remain basically intact.

The recent developments in Egypt and Tunisia show where that leads. In Syria, a similar process would abort or distort all the urgent revolutionary-democratic tasks. Instead of a Constituent Assembly and the rapid convening of revolutionary committees under the control of the workers and masses, we could expect a period of "controlled preparation for elections" under the direction of a transitional government and its imperialist advisers.

It is no coincidence that the leaders of the opposition movement, in particular the Syrian National Council in exile, have been quite accommodating to such proposals and have closer and closer ties to their allies in the West and the Arabian peninsula. Recognising this fact does not mean arguing for abandoning the revolution, but rather for remorseless opposition to a reactionary leadership that is already all too willing to sacrifice basic democratic demands (not to mention the social needs of the masses). They are doing so not only because they are hirelings of the western imperialists, the Turks or the Saudis (though some of the exiled leaders certainly are), but also from their own class interests. They hope to become the ruling elite and to secure a share of the wealth of the country's resources for themselves.

The revolution transcends capitalist democracy and national borders

This shows that the democratic goals the Syrian revolution can only be fully achieved if the working class takes the lead and if it conquers power in alliance with the peasants, the urban petty bourgeoisie, the youth and the women striving for equal rights and liberation. This in turn means that, though the Syrian revolution faces the frontline task of implementing fundamental democratic rights, including those of the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, it is vital that the social and economic demands of the working class also come to the fore. These can help unite the workers of all faiths and ethnicities; Sunni and Shia, Alawis and Christians, Arabs and Kurds.

The entire existing state apparatus must be smashed and replaced by one based on councils of delegates elected by the workers, peasants and soldiers. In all cities and municipalities, such councils must be formed and will have to be centralised at the national level.

Not just the Assad family or Ba’athist party cliques, but the Syrian bourgeoisie and the agents of the foreign capitalists, must be dragged from their sources of enrichment; their property, factories, businesses and banks must be expropriated, without compensation and under workers' control. Thus, the basis for the reorganisation of the Syrian economy, based on a democratic plan, would be created.

This requires, of course, a fundamentally different government. We need a workers' government, a revolutionary government that emerges from the uprising of the masses, controlled by them and supported by armed militias. The units of the "Free Syrian army" like the soldiers who come over to the revolution, must be able elect their officers and NCOs and form their own delegate councils. They must fraternise with the insurgent forces, fusing and transforming themselves into a popular militia that can defend workers and the minority religious communities against any attempts at pogroms or ethnic cleansing, all anti-social criminal activity and against any and all attacks on women.

Such a workers’ government can only be built and implement a truly revolutionary programme if the Syrian working class and left become clear on the necessity of a socialist goal for the revolution and openly fight for this perspective. The Syrian labour movement and the Left are undoubtedly still heavily influenced by the Stalinist stages theory; by the idea that the Syrian revolution can only lead to a "bourgeois society" in the end, to a bourgeois-democratic regime. This is a utopia, leading to the political subordination of the working class to other classes who will be forced to accept the leadership of secular bourgeois liberal or Islamist forces.

The Syrian Revolution is the latest battle in the revolutions that spread from Tunisia, in January, and Egypt, in February, 2011. The dream of a non-violent “Arab Spring” has faded but in Libya, Yemen and Syria the masses fought on in the face of incredible repression. What is needed is not only the spirit of regional solidarity but common actions and common goals. The artificial state boundaries drawn by British and French diplomats divide the working class and popular forces who need to unite to win. To take control of the region's resources, and use them for the benefit of all, requires not only working class power in each and every country but a United Socialist Sates of the Middle East

These are the key political tasks facing revolutionaries in Syria, the Arab world and internationally, above all this means working to create revolutionary workers’ parties and a Fifth International as the indispensable tools for a victorious workers' revolution.