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The UN resolution on Syria: A counter-revolutionary device

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“A huge victory for the international community.” That is what Barack Obama called the UN Resolution of 27 September on chemical weapons in Syria. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, also praised the document to the skies. Even the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, characterised the resolution as “overcoming years of paralysis of the UN Security Council”. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, went so far as to call the text “historic”.

It was so historic that Bashar al-Assad promised to cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN. He welcomed both the resolution and the “peace talks” being prepared by Russia and the US, which will open next month in Geneva. When all the thieves in the UN kitchen agree so heartily, you can be sure that some really poisonous dish is being cooked up.

The victims are the people of Syria who, two and a half years ago, rose up in rebellion against the totalitarian regime that has oppressed them for decades. It is no surprise that the Syrian opposition refused to join in this hypocritical chorus of praise. Although the resolution requires the Syrian government to cooperate with the OPCW and the UN Security council, and even envisages further measures if it fails to do this, it does not specify any measures to be taken to enforce it; rather, it makes it clear that the Security Council would first have to pass a further resolution. Here, of course, Assad’s Russian and Chinese sponsors and their vetoes will protect him, as ever.

This “historic” resolution means that all the major imperialist powers, both the West, the USA, France, Germany and Britain, and Assad’s sponsors, Russia and China, have agreed on a common approach to the “pacification” of Syria. In essence, this represents a complete triumph for the Russian line.

This is embodied in the UN resolution that clearly says that “the only solution to the current crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process based on the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012”, emphasising “the need to convene the international conference on Syria as soon as possible”.

So, after more than 100,000 dead, at least 2 million refugees and a civil war it has waged against its own people’s struggle for democracy, the tyrant’s brutal state apparatus is to remain. At best there might be some sort of “transitional solution” that will enable the “reasonable” elements of the opposition, that is, the most easily corruptible, to participate in government.

Russia wins out

Only weeks before the UN Resolution, at the end of August, the world was awaiting a very different outcome. The French and the British governments were loudly demanding air strikes on Syria in response to the 21 August poison gas attack on the rebel-held Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, in which hundreds perished, including many children. Eventually, Obama grudgingly threatened a “limited military action” to punish Assad for crossing the “red line” he had declared a year previously.

But these threats of limited action brought all the chickens home to roost for the lies churned out by George Bush and Tony Blair and their “war on terror” over the past 12 years. It soon became plain that an overwhelming majority of the populations in Britain and the United States were opposed to another military intervention in the Middle East. First to fall flat on his face was the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who suffered a devastating rebuff in a vote in the House of Commons, after which he had to state unequivocally that there would be no British participation in any bombing of Syria.

Although President Obama could simply have used his powers as Commander-in-Chief to authorise strikes, he now felt obliged to consult Congress. Of course he must have been aware of how unpopular another war would be in the context of the ongoing Afghan morass and the daily terrorist outrages in a supposedly “pacified” Iraq. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, he passed the buck to Congress, seeking a mandate from both Houses for intervention. It soon became clear that Congress would pass the buck straight back to him.

After this pitiful display of “leadership”, Obama trooped off to the G20 summit in St Petersburg, still publicly determined to proceed with a “punitive mission” against the criminal regime in Syria, while in reality looking for help from his fellow world leaders to get him out of his hole.

A “hard line” statement from Western participants at the G8 Summit was somehow cobbled together, though only France could promise actual military support. But, in addition to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) South Africa made absolutely clear its opposition to any US military strike against Syria. Germany oscillated uneasily between signing the statement and trying to mediate between the two sides. After some delay, Germany opted to sign but, of course, would not be involved in any action.

Back in the USA, Obama could not ignore the likelihood that a majority in Congress for an attack had receded even further. Even the President’s own advisers and other top US military figures revealed their deep reservations. There was widespread and open criticism of the Administration’s lack of any clear, broader strategic objective. Any US plan for installing a “new order” in Syria, if such a plan ever existed, was clearly out of the question. In fact, this was never Obama’s serious intention, whatever US conspiracy theorists, both right and left, might think.

That was also the reason why, from the outset, weaker imperialist powers like France and Britain, and regional powers like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the tiny but rich and proactive Emirate of Qatar, each with their own objectives, set an aggressive tone. They demanded intervention or, in the case of the latter group, actually intervened, far more openly than the US.

Events have shown how badly a section of the left in Western Europe and North America, the so-called “anti-imperialists”, misunderstand the situation. Following the hand-me-down “two camps” theory of Stalinism, they still imagine that the US is the only serious imperialist power, and that it is always hell-bent on attacking states like Syria. In fact, not only in Syria, where it is plainly very unwilling to intervene at all, and even in Libya, where Britain and France pressured it for intervention, the US is now very cautious about throwing matches into the Middle East powder keg, as well it might be.

Obama was eager to avoid another defeat in Congress on a question of foreign policy, which is constitutionally the President’s prerogative. He clearly wanted to share political responsibility for a possible attack with long time Republican warmongers like Senator John McCain. With even more of a lame duck president, the Democrats’ hopes for victory in November 2016 could be written off.

Here, Putin and Lavrov proved that “a friend in need is a friend indeed”. They must have enormously enjoyed witnessing the distressed president of the strongest world power begging for a climb-down deal.

The price of Putin’s signature

The United States at last has to recognise what the last decade, and especially the years since the 2008 crisis, have shown again and again: the weakening of its position as the sole imperialist super power, as the “world hegemon”.

Although the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and White House spokespersons have claimed that Assad (and by implication Putin) would never have agreed to the UN resolution without US threats of unilateral military action, these are empty words. They can scarcely hide the fact that it was Russia that dictated to the transatlantic colossus what it had to do. The colossus now has feet of clay.

Prestige aside, although for the world policeman that is no small matter, as far as Syria is concerned, the US administration is probably happy to have an understanding on a common approach with Russia for the year ahead. Whatever the leftist “anti-imperialists” in the USA and Europe might think, the US did not actually want regime change in Syria, if that meant the triumph of a popular revolution. Washington feared what a democratic or, for that matter, an Islamist, regime might mean for itself and its Israeli regional attack dog.

The highly unstable result of the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the possibility of a changing relationship with Iran, the increasingly chaotic situation in Iraq, the difficulties of extricating itself from the Af-Pak imbroglio and the fact that the problems caused by the Arab revolutions are very far from over, all combined to force the US to seek Russia’s cooperation, rather than the confrontation that Obama stumbled into only a few months ago.

Obama’s remarks about Putin, that he behaved like “the sulky kid at the back of the class” at international gatherings, suffered an ironic reversal when Obama had to play the weak teacher, appealing to the sulky kid to help him restore order.

The problem is that there is a growing mismatch between the US’s role as world policeman, and its own economic and strategic interests and capacities. The demands from its own allies to intervene against their rivals or enemies, clash with the need for a scaled down policy in its own interests.

For the Obama administration, any solution for Syria must include the preservation of the existing state apparatus, in order to avoid a repetition of the experience in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, where the destruction of the Ba’ath party and its repressive apparatus rapidly led to chaos. The fact that Israel looks with dismay at any popular revolutionary overthrow of Assad confirms that the Syrian revolution is no “colour revolution” dreamed up in Washington, as some on the left have claimed.

A blow to the Syrian Revolution

For Assad and his murderous regime, the UN resolution and the Geneva conference scheduled for November are something of a relief. They now have a free hand on key issues. The war against their own people can proceed and even be stepped up, as long as they stick to conventional weapons of mass destruction and, thanks to Russia, they have limitless supplies of them.

They have armed forces ten times the size of the rebels and, even if many are unreliable in combat, they also have battle-hardened auxiliaries from Iran and Hezbollah, for the time being. Indeed, their successes on the battlefield since the spring are undoubtedly due in no small measure to these auxiliaries.

In the worst case for Assad and company, the Geneva conference will lead to a compromise where Assad “shares power” with the least militant and least democratic part of the opposition, allowing him to keep the repressive Ba’athist regime intact. In the best case, the “peace conference” will split the opposition and win Assad time to mop up resistance and re-conquer more areas lost to him in the civil war.

Deliveries of weapons to the Free Syrian Army and the democratic and popular forces, whether from the Western powers or their regional surrogates, are needed to combat the regime’s airpower or reply to its heavy artillery, tanks and rockets, but are a long way off. The “upgrading” of the FSA, talked about in the summer, was, in reality, little more than a rhetorical exercise by the West. To date, the bulk of their weapons are captured, brought over by deserters, or purchased from corrupt members of the regime.

Is the Syrian Revolution over?

Many voices in the Western media (as well as many on the left) are now describing the situation as an arch-reactionary, counter-revolutionary struggle by “jihadists” on the one side and a brutal but at least “secular” and “modern” regime on the other. They say that Assad, at least, does not want to destabilise the region. But this is just a grotesque smear against the Syrian revolution.

By contrast, the contributions of organisations like the “Syrian Revolutionary Left Current” show that we are dealing with a legitimate revolution of the masses. Contrary to the claims of Assad’s apologists on the German left, there are impressive forms of self-organisation of the masses in the local councils and the Local Coordinating Committees in the “liberated areas”.

Among the armed opposition, the FSA has the largest number of fighters, estimated at 100,000. However, their loose associations have relatively poor quality weapons. Politically, they range from bourgeois-democratic and left wing forces to adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood. The members of these brigades are mostly Sunni Muslims, hardly surprising given that they are a majority of Syria’s population. But members of national and religious minorities such as Kurds, Alawites and Christians can also be found amongst them, as also can some women’s organisations.

The exiled National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is trying to exercise a monopoly on the representation of the revolution on the international arena. This is the force that is most closely seeking an alliance with the Western imperialists and thus nourishes fatal and illusory hopes of their rescuing the revolution from military defeat.

It is true that, over the past period, reactionary Islamist brigades, in particular Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have grown in power and influence. This is due to the much stronger financial and military support they receive from abroad. They have many highly trained foreign fighters amongst their 10,000 men under arms, operating mainly in the north and on the border with Iraq.

Their goal is to impose a theocracy, and they use brutal, fascist-style terror against the civilian population, methods similar to those of the regime. In the resistance, they play a directly counterrevolutionary role, including attacks on the Kurdish areas, and their militias have been involved in clashes with the FSA, as well as in trying to intimidate the masses in the opposition-controlled areas through their implementation of a puritanical Shari’a law.

These groups pose an extremely serious threat to Syrian revolutionaries but the appearance of demonstrations and actions against their spread, makes it clear that, among the masses, they are a minority who are recognised as a threat to the revolution who only injure the fight against Assad. They are, in short, a counterrevolutionary force.

Finally, it must not be forgotten that the Kurdish population is an important component of the opposition against the regime. In the majority Kurdish areas, their militias and the PYD (Kurdistan Democratic Party, which has political ties to the PKK) control a large part of the resistance. As part of the Syrian revolution, the Kurdish people have been able to achieve more freedom and self-determination. Rightly, they have fought back against al-Nusra and ISIS, whose victory would mean a deadly threat to the hard-won democratic rights and autonomy of the Kurdish people. Indeed, the self-determination of the Kurdish people can be secured only by a victory of the Syrian revolution.

A victory of the revolution will certainly never come through the Geneva negotiations with Bashar al-Assad at the negotiating table. Commanders of the FSA have rightly criticised the 27 September UN resolution as an agreement that benefits him and not the movement against the regime.

It also shows how futile were the hopes of the exiled opposition leadership in the Syrian National Coalition that the Western imperialists would prove to be friends of the Syrian revolution. The UN resolution demonstrates that the two gangs of imperialist thieves wish to restore an order in the Middle East that preserves their assets, economic military and political. The fate of the Syrian revolution is at best merely a pawn, to be sacrificed if need be, at the table in Geneva.

Continued Solidarity with the Revolution

The only real assistance the Syrian revolution can look to is from the revolutionaries in the region and the workers’ movements across the world. The left in the West has a special responsibility, since it is “our” governments that have promised so much and delivered so little in terms of support for democratic struggles in the Arab world. Unfortunately, a large part of this left, especially in Germany and the USA, are still influenced by the remnants of Stalinism, or prone to believing that the height of strategic wisdom means simply putting a plus wherever our rulers put a minus. They are sedulously playing the part of “useful idiots” for Assad’s bloody regime and Putin’s Russia.

While they rightly oppose any Western imperialist intervention, they hush up Russia’s equally imperialist and indeed more deadly and practical intervention, and the counterrevolutionary role of Iran and Hezbollah.

Above all, most of the left have declined to give any solidarity to the mass movement, especially after the fight against Assad took the form of a civil war. For them, the real forms of struggle against a brutal reactionary dictatorship, one that has the deaths of more than 100,000 people on its conscience and that is responsible for millions of refugees, were a “side issue”, and those fighting were mere puppets in an alleged proxy war waged by the West.

The UN resolution shows that all the imperialist powers are quite willing to work together to resist and abort the mass movement of the Syrian people. While the US and Russia settle their conflicts and are, for the time being, pulling together, the revolution and civil war continue unabated.

Joseph Daher, a Syrian revolutionary activist and member of the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current, presently exiled in Switzerland, has reported on the popular movements in his country:

“From the outset of the revolution, the main forms of organisation have been the popular committees at the village, city and regional levels. The popular committees were the true spearheads of the movement that mobilised the people for the protests. Then, the regions liberated from the regime developed forms of self-direction based on the organisations of the masses. Elected popular councils emerged to manage those liberated regions, proving that it was the regime that provoked anarchy, not the people. [...]

“A prominent example of self-management of the masses is the city of Raqqa, the only provincial capital that has been liberated from the regime (since March 2013). Still under regime shelling, Raqqa is completely autonomous and it is the local population that manages all the civil services for the collectivity. Another equally important element in the popular dynamic of the revolution is the proliferation of independent newspapers produced by popular organisations. The number of newspapers went from three before the revolution, all in the hands of the regime, to more than sixty written by popular groups.

“In Raqqa, the popular organisations are most often led by the youth. They have multiplied, to the extent that more than 42 social movements were officially registered at the end of May.” (

This testimony graphically shows that there is a progressive side that can and must be supported in the civil war. There is a side that needs our material support, including the provision of weapons, in order to successfully fight back against Assad’s army and its allies. There is a side that needs our political support and solidarity against its enemies, including those on the left who have taken up a position on the counterrevolutionary side of the barricades.