National Sections of the L5I:

Syria: Victory to the revolution! No to any imperialist intervention!

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As the civil war moves towards its climax, the question of the future “new order" in Syria inevitably comes to the fore.

As in all the other Arab countries, both the imperialists and the regional powers are grappling with the problem of how to gain control of a revolutionary mass movement. The nearer the old regime comes to collapse, the more it is forced into a corner politically, economically and militarily, the more active they become. Only the Russian and Chinese imperialists, and Iran, are, more or less desperately, still hanging on to Assad, desperately because Moscow, Beijing and Teheran are also asking themselves whether they have backed the wrong horse, whether it might not make more sense to go along with a “negotiated settlement" in order to still have some influence after the fall of Assad.

The Doha round

However, what is more important politically is the attempt by the US, the EU states, the Arab League, in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Turkey, to form a “unified" political alternative to Assad. Before the meeting, the USA, through Hillary Clinton, had made it clear to the squabbling representatives of the Islamic and liberal exile opposition that they had to pull themselves together if they were to have any prospect of being recognised as legitimate representatives of Syria in the future.

That was achieved at the beginning of November in Doha. The so-called “Syrian National Council" transformed itself into the “National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Oppositionist Forces". How much influence these heroes and leaders of the opposition actually have over the insurrection in Syria is questionable. Even if, like the SNC, the National Coalition includes some representatives of the “local coordination committees" of the revolution, which include various autonomous local committees in the liberated areas of Syria and individual sections of the “free Syrian army", it is still essentially a puppet group of pro-imperialist and Islamic forces. Its real base is to be found not so much within Syria as in its relations to individual western states or, as in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, in Turkey and Qatar.

Some sections of the movement in Syria, including many local committees but also the arch-reactionary Al Nusra Front, a militarily strong group in Aleppo which supports the project of an Islamic state, have denounced the Doha meeting as a “treacherous project".

The “National Coalition", like its predecessor the SNC, is a means to behead the Syrian revolution politically so that, after the fall of Assad, a new bourgeois and pro-Western regime can be established. If the revolution is to be victorious it will have to break with the “leadership" of the National Coalition and all the other reactionary bourgeois forces. Every influence of imperialism must be fought and overcome.

A Western conspiracy?

The Syrian regime, like all the Assad supporters in Russia and China but also in the West, see in the founding of this “opposition bloc" evidence that the Syrian revolution is being controlled from abroad, if it was not actually initiated there. However, recognising the real basis of the SMC and the “National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution and Oppositionist Forces" makes it clear that these are in no way the leadership of the insurrectionary movement actually fighting in Syria. In fact, within the country, their influence has diminished in recent months because of their corruption and submissive relationships with foreign powers.

Alongside their reactionary position favouring an imperialist intervention, the SNC in the past has also made political concessions on other important questions, for example, on the question of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel, which are no longer to be liberated but to be the subject of “negotiations with the international community".

In recent months, there have also been important splits between the SNC (and now the “National Coalition") and the so-called “local coordination committees". These are more of an umbrella group of different local organisations rather than a unified group and have taken a twin track attitude to the official opposition. On one hand they have been very critical and have sabotaged a series of meetings but on the other hand they have not actually broken from it.

No to any imperialist intervention!

It is in this context that the threats of an open intervention by the USA and NATO have to be understood. As usual in such cases, so-called “red lines“ are drawn which can then be used as excuses for military intervention. In the case of Syria, the issue is chemical weapons and their use against the population. Obviously, no-one should trust the Syrian regime not to do this – but that is not the real point.

The real purpose of all such scenarios is not the protection of the civilian population but to provide “humanitarian grounds“ to justify even a military intervention. The combination of moving Turkish troops up to the border and, at the same time, stationing German and US “Patriot“ missiles, is intended to allow agreement on such an option and its rapid implementation.

For the Syrian Revolution, far from being a step forward, that would be a catastrophe. Any influence from imperialism must be fought and rejected.

Weak leadership and the crisis of the Syrian revolution

This makes clear the general weakness of the leadership of the Syrian Revolution. Although, in the liberated territories, numerous local committees have sprung up to organise the necessities of daily life, their political perspectives have generally been very unclear and vague.

What is true for these local structures is also true for those fighting the civil war. Despite several attempts to bring it under a single united command, the “Free Syrian Army" remains a very divided block of local fighters, deserters, youth and ideologically motivated militia.

That reflects the lack of major political parties with roots in the country and, above all, the lack of a workers' party which could give the revolution against Assad a social perspective. This lack of big left and working-class organisations is, in turn, the real basis of the strengths of the “exile politicians" in the opposition. They are not an expression of an established and well rooted political movement in the country but are exploiting the political vacuum which itself is the consequence of decades of Assad's dictatorship.

Naturally, the imperialists, Islamists, the regional powers and their various supporters are trying to fill this vacuum. This does not only apply at the political level because each is also trying to ensure that “their" military structures are better armed than others. While the greater part of the militia of the Free Syrian Army is still fighting with light weapons stolen from the Syrian army or bought on the black market in Lebanon or Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups are trying to ensure that only their fighters get hold of better weaponry and munitions. This means that they not only concentrate more fire power in their hands but also raise their prestige as the “best fighters".

In this situation, the task of left, progressive forces from the working class movement is to build their own political force that can drive the revolution forward and fight for leadership of the movement. Although the Syrian left is weak, there certainly are structures in which they can intervene with such a perspective. Examples of these are the “National Assembly of Forces and Coordination of the Revolution" which includes activists from Hama, Deraa and Dir Ezzor, the Watan Coalition, which brings together several militant left groups as well as groups such as the “Coordination of Syrian Communists", which has attracted youthful support, and the group “Left Perspective".

Origins and character of the Syrian revolution

In order to understand the tasks and possibilities of genuine revolutionaries in Syria it is necessary to grasp the character of the Syrian revolution itself.

There are many on the left who believe that the Revolution is a struggle by “Islamists" and/or the West against an anti-western regime. In extreme cases, Assad is even presented as a bulwark against imperialism and neoliberalism whilst other Leftists, who have more contact with reality, see it as a struggle between two equally reactionary alternatives in which the Left should remain neutral.

The idea that the Assad regime is “anti-imperialist" is simply a myth that can be easily dismissed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Syria rapidly reoriented towards the USA. It supported the war against Iraq and Assad joined in the “Coalition of the Willing" under US leadership. This collaboration was in no way just a “gesture" as was shown, for example, by the close collaboration between the CIA and the Syrian secret services in the illegal transport and torture of supposed “terrorists".

The Golan Heights, occupied by Israel, are the “most peaceful" frontier of the Zionist state. Assad's “anti-Zionism" was long ago revealed for what it really was, an empty mask to bolster his own legitimacy. The Palestinians in the refugee camps in Syria have seen through that, which is why they have solidarised with the revolution against Assad. The Kurdish people were also oppressed for decades by the Syrian regime and not recognised as a national minority. With the revolution, the Kurds “suddenly" were given this recognition and more autonomy than before. However, only an idiot could believe that this would prove permanent should Assad remain in power.

Before the rise of the mass movement, Syria was a close ally of Turkey, which explains why Turkey remained relatively supportive of the regime in the first few months of the protest movement. However, like other allies, Ankara began to back away from Assad as it became clear that his regime could no longer be saved. For them, this was the only way to secure their geopolitical interests and, at the same time, ensure that the situation did not become “uncontrollable" after the fall of Assad.

Conversely, Assad's conflict with the Western powers does not automatically make him an “anti-imperialist". First of all, he is closely allied with other imperialists, indeed his survival now hangs on his alliance with Russia and China. Secondly, the real content of his “anti-imperialism" is not a struggle against imperialist occupation (as in Afghanistan and Iraq) but is really only about securing the class rule of the Syrian bourgeoisie and its clientilist state. The real content of his struggle is to maintain his rule over the working class, the peasants, the urban poor and even a large part of the petty bourgeoisie.

That is why Assad's regime has used repressive measures which are scarcely rivalled for their barbarity. Between 40,000 and 50,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the mass movement against the regime in 2011. Some half a million have been forced to flee as refugees and this number is probably going to increase dramatically.

Against this regime it was not only legitimate but simply unavoidable for the movement to take up arms. Anything else would have been an empty gesture. From very early in the movement, Assad's troops not only used live ammunition against mass demonstrations but even against funeral corteges. Without the formation of the Free Syrian Army, without the deserters who brought their weapons with them, the movement would simply be dead, it would have been forced to capitulate without a struggle.

The social question

That Assad reacted so extremely brutally was, of course, not simply an expression of his own unscrupulous character. The fall of Mubarak and Ben Ali had made it clear to him and his leading bodies that any “process of reform" could be the end of them. Unlike some of his friends, perhaps, it was always clear to Assad that the great mass of the population had to be held down brutally by an enormous State apparatus consisting of the Army, paramilitary forces and Secret Service, altogether some half million strong in a country with a population of 20 million. He was all too aware of how the social situation in Syria had been made worse by a decade of neoliberalism. Between 2000 and 2010, in other words before the beginning of the Revolution, the proportion of the population living below the poverty line rose from 11% to 33%, that is, some 7 million people! The unemployment rate lay between 20 and 25% and, for people under 25 years old, as high as 55%.

Already, in 2007, 2 million people, approximately 10% of the population, were regarded as “particularly poor” meaning that they did not have enough income to buy sufficient food. The rural population, 62%, were especially hard hit.

That was the “social" side of the neoliberal policies from which the supporters of the regime, the state bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie in the capital, profited massively. From May 2006 on, there were repeated protests from workers, youth and slum dwellers. That the revolution has strong roots in the Sunni Muslim population, therefore, is explained not so much by religious as by social conditions, even if the regime is trying to pervert the Civil War into a religious war.

This is where the real roots of the Syrian revolution are to be found, and also its solution. What began as a democratic revolution, as a struggle for freedom and democratic rights, had its origins not only in despotic oppression but also in the exploitation and impoverishment of the working class, the peasants and, indeed, even sections of the urban petty bourgeoisie.

That is why the Syrian revolution can only achieve its real goals if it grows into a socialist revolution and the working class becomes the leading force in the struggle against Assad. Only the building of a workers' and peasants' government, which can completely destroy the Syrian state and repressive apparatus, on which the regime is based, and replace it by workers', peasants' and soldiers' councils and an armed militia, subordinate to these councils, can create the political preconditions for a reorganisation of the country. Under such a regime, not only would the masses be liberated from political oppression but also the national minorities, above all the Kurds, could achieve their right to self-determination up to secession and the formation of an independent state.

Only a workers' and peasants' government can lay the basis for an improvement in the social position of the masses through the expropriation without compensation of the capitalists, imperialist investors and the big landlords, a revolutionary land reform programme and the building of a democratically planned economy to reorganise the Syrian economy. Such a government would at the same time support all struggles for power against imperialism and the reactionary regimes of the region, Zionism and thus take forward the struggle for the building of the United Socialist States of the Middle East.