The second anniversary of the uprising in Syria
by Yossi Schwartz, Internationalist Socialist League
(Israel/Occupied Palestine), 15.3.2013
The wave of the Arab revolution that began in Tunisia reached Syria on March 15, 2011, when a group of schoolchildren used a can of spray paint to write on the school wall, the popular slogan of protesters in North Africa: “Down with the regime”. Syria’s Ba’ath administration reacted with cruel panics. The boys were arrested and disappeared. The residents of Deraa took to the streets to protest the torture of students who had put up the anti-government graffiti.
The government responded with force, and demonstrations quickly spread across much of the country. Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a 13 year old, was arrested at a protest in April. Days later his family received his corpse. Khateeb’s body was bruised, battered, and butchered – literally. His skin was torn, twisted, and shorn in a manner which would cause obvious suffering but not death. Cavities from bullet wounds replaced his kneecaps, offering a makeshift ashtray for Assad’s apparatchiks. Khateeb’s penis had been cut off. His father was then detained by state security and hours later appeared on state television wearing a forced smile. He was forced to thank Bashar al-Assad for retrieving his son’s corpse after ‘terrorists’ had kidnapped him.
Bashar al-Assad, at first wavered between force and hints of reform. But in April 2011, just days after lifting the country’s decades-old state of emergency, he sent tanks into the cities and the security forces opened fire on demonstrators. Thus began the civil war between on one side an army using tanks and airplanes, on the other side the protesters who had very few weapons, mostly rifles. A civil war where 70,000 people were killed and one million people have become refugees so far.
Lack of independent working class leadership of the rebel movement
The ability of the Bashar al-Assad regime to survive so far is largely due to the lack of working class independent mobilization at the head of the opposition. There are many local committees that could become Soviets and which are continuing to provide services. But they lack coordination and a revolutionary strategy. Equally, the resistance is still made up of countless formations of loosely connected armed militants, with no credible unified revolutionary command. The fractured character of this armed resistance is a result not only of the social segmentation and isolation policies enforced for decades by Damascus but also because of the class nature of the opposition at the moment.
The opposition’s failure to mobilize the masses against the regime has given El Assad a breathing space. The extent to which the opposition is fragmented we can learn from the number of groups that act within the opposition: The National Union of Free Syria Students, led by Hassan Darwish; the Levant Ulema League; the Independent Islamic Democratic Current, led by Ghassan Najjar; the Syrian Ulema League, led by Mohammed Farouq Battal; the Civil Society Organizations’ Union, a bloc of 40 Brotherhood-affiliated groups; the Syrian Arab Tribal Council, led by Salem Al Moslet and Abdulilah Mulhim; the Revolution Council for Aleppo and Its Countryside, led by Ahmed Ramadan; the Body for Protection of Civilians, led by Natheer Hakim; the National Work Front, led by Ramadan and Obeida Nahas; the Kurdish Work Front, led by Hussain Abdulhadi; the Syrian Revolution face book; the Hama Revolution Gathering; the National Coalition for Civilian Protection, led by Haitham Rahma; and the Syrian Society for Humanitarian Relief, founded by Hamdi Othman.
The middle class leaders of the uprising are blaming each other for the failure. The seculars blame the Islamists while the Islamist are blaming the secularists. The simple truth is that the middle class organizations – whether they are secularists or Islamists – do not have the program, strategy or tactics to mobilize the masses workers and peasants to overthrow the bloody regime. If the leaders of the opposition hate Assad they are at the same time afraid of working class revolution. If there is a clear lesson to learn it is that without the working class, women and men leading the masses including the lower middle class and without a revolutionary leadership of the working class the stalemate can continue for a longer period.
Stalinist and fake-Trotskyist slander against the Syrian Revolution
To justify its brutal repression Assad’s propaganda is that the US and Israel are behind the Syrian “criminal terrorists”, as Assad call the Syrian masses. This propaganda brings to mind the Russian Stalinists propaganda during the repression of the 1956 Hungarians revolution slandered by the Stalinists and their servants as a fascist counter revolution. Some left groups are assisting Assad’s repression by claiming that somehow the regime in Damascus is an “anti-imperialist”. For example John Catalinotto of the “Workers World Party”, founded by Sam Marcy, who split from the Socialist Workers Party in the US in 1958, wrote on August 8, 2012:
“The fighting in Syria is shaping up as a military showdown between the Syrian army on one side and “rebel” fighters openly backed by the U.S.-NATO imperialist powers, along with Israel, on the other. These “rebels” are being armed directly through NATO-member Turkey and the Qatari and Saudi Arabian monarchies. Syria defends itself against imperialist onslaught.
U.S. imperialism and the other NATO powers — that is, the former colonialist powers that still dominate the world — are on one side of the battle for Syria. At this point, the only contending force is the Syrian national army directed by the Assad government. For anti-imperialist and working-class forces, the only choice is to defend the Syrian government against imperialism.”
British MP George Galloway, Maoists and even “Trotskyist” groups like “Socialist Fight” led by Gerry Downing really believe that the opposition to Assad are paid agents of Israel and the USA. The Communist Party of Great Britain (M-L) declared: “This congress salutes the people and leaders of Syria in their continuing resistance to the murderous Islamist rebellion fomented by the West … Victory to Syria! Victory to President Assad! Death to imperialism.”
The statement of the “Liaison Committee” around Downings “Socialist Fight” describes the mass movement in Libya and Syria as a plot by the imperialists:
In Libya, Syria and Iran, Imperialism seeks to accomplish coups camouflaged as “democratic”, by taking advantage of the “popular uprising” in neighbouring countries. In Iran, the U.S. and Israel seek to revive the reactionary “green revolution”. In Syria U.S. Imperialism and its Zionist enclave strive to create the same scenario of civil war to justify another military intervention. In Libya, Imperialism made a qualitative leap in its intervention. Not only by what it did after starting the “rebellion”, but they had also prepared beforehand. A “revolt” in Libya is not any kind of revolution, but a counterrevolution, directed by Imperialism and supported and sponsored by the CIA. It is the continuation of a series of attempts to restore the monarchy and tribal privileges in favour of U.S. and European Union, which began shortly after Gaddafi took power in 1969 and continued sporadically since then. Not coincidentally, the flag of the “rebels” is the flag of the monarchy imposed by Imperialism, the flag of the puppet King Idris (1951-1969).” (Statement on Libya by Socialist Fight – Britain, Revolutionary Marxist Group – South Africa, Liga Comunista – Brazil, 21.4.2011)
Is Assad’s regime an anti imperialist?
These organizations have a small problem to overcome, it is called reality. If Assad regime is an anti-imperialist, how do they explain Assad killing of the Palestinian refugees? In November last year, Arab Center for Research and Policy Study reported that 851 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the uprising. Among other crimes the Syrian warplanes committed was to attack the al-Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, killing scores of Palestinians. While Stalinist Palestinian groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command is fighting alongside Assad’s forces, Hamas is opposed to the Syrian regime (Tariq Hammoud)
If the opposition in Syria is a creature of the US and Israel as these left leaning groups claim is Hamas than an agent of Israel that Israel enjoy killing?
Another variant of left leaning groups that cannot deal with reality are those that cannot bring themselves to side with the mass movement in Syria because it is dominated by the Islamists. Among them “Stop the War” Coalition in Britain (dominated by Counterfire, a split from the Cliffite SWP, and the Communist Party of Britain), that has avoided dealing with the nature of the opposition in Syria; or groups like the LRP in the US that for two years has not been able to come with a position on Syria.
Let us examine the record of the Syrian regime. In 1976 during the civil war in Lebanon, Assad the father sent the Syrian army to support the right wing Maronites close allies of Israel against the more left forces including at that time the PLO. (See Fred H Lawson: Syria’s intervention in the Lebanese civil war, 1976 a domestic conflict explanation, International Organization, Summer 1984, Vol. 38 Issue 3)
The Syrian army intervened in the civil war with the agreement of Israel. Assad also agreed to Israel’s demand that Syrian and Lebanese government troops not venture south of Tyre, into what became known as the Red Line zone. In the ensuing months a Christian militia trained and armed by Israel, operated in the zone with Israel to oppose PLO infiltration into the Galilee.
Some may say but this was the father, the son is really anti-imperialist. The WikiLeaks documents on Assad the son however reveal the true class nature of Assad’s regime.
In late 2003, Bashar al-Assad met with former US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy in Damascus, and spent some time brainstorming with him about how to improve the US-Syrian relationship. Even during this tense period following the invasion of Iraq, the Syrian government was cooperating with the US on a range of issues such as border security and freezing Iraqi assets in Syrian banks. At one point in the conversation, a classified diplomatic cable tells us, Murphy asked Assad about Hezbollah’s intentions vis-à-vis a peace settlement:
“Hassan Nasrallah, Assad replied, dresses like a religious man, but he is really an excellent politician whose basic interest is building an effective political party in Lebanon. Their interest is in liberating Lebanon, not in attacking Israel… Murphy noted the statements by Hezbollah leaders calling for the liberation of Jerusalem. Assad asserted that such statements were rhetorical only and ought not to be taken seriously. Hadn’t the Blue Line remained quiet?”
During this tense period following the invasion of Iraq, the Syrian government was cooperating with the US on a range of issues such as border security and freezing Iraqi assets in Syrian banks. The cache of US government cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010 represents one of the most significant documentary sources on Syria’s recent diplomatic history. While the details of Asma al-Assad’s shopping habits and the saccharine emails between firstname.lastname@example.org and his fawning coterie provide a tantalizing glance inside Syria’s secluded elite, the original corpus of leaked cables is a far more valuable goldmine of information on the country’s foreign policy objectives and its strategic orientation.
Assad’s assurance to Murphy about Hezbollah’s pragmatism is a leitmotif that is repeated in several other cables. It is regularly accompanied by Syrian earnestness about resuming peace negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights. In 2002, Assad told Congressman David Price: “Off the record, I can say I want peace. But I can’t tell that to the media, because no one wants to hear it.” A couple years later, Assad took a further step by confiding to Spanish officials that he was willing to relinquish all water and navigation rights of Lake Tiberias, as long as Syria retained the symbolic significance of having recovered all of its territory.
By 2008, Assad had lost his squeamishness about publicly voicing a desire for peace, because his government was deep in negotiations with Israel. Lasting approximately eight months before they were interrupted by the Gaza War, Assad admitted to a US congressional delegation that “these talks had achieved more than several years of direct negotiations with Israel in the 1990s.” A flurry of cables speculated about the strategic re-orientation that a peace agreement might bring about. An advisor to Walid al-Muallim suggested that Assad was trying to a walk a tight-rope between Iran and Turkey, assessing the possibilities that Syria could slowly wean itself off Iran in exchange for stronger relations with the West and the Arab world. This, too, was the Israeli hope for the talks, and also that of high-ranking “moderate” elements within the Syrian regime itself. (See Qifa Nabki: What WikiLeaks Tells Us About Assad’s Foreign Policy Record, July 17, 2012)
Excurse: Syria state capitalism
In the past there has been massive confusion on the nature of Syria’s state. Soviet Stalinists claimed that Syria is a form of socialism. Centrist tendencies like the IMT led by Alan Woods and the CWI led by Peter Taaffe claimed that Syria was a deformed workers state.
It is therefore important to understand the difference between state capitalism with a bonapartist regime as Syria still is, and a deformed workers state as Cuba or North Korea still are. State capitalism is an economy where the ruling class is the capitalist class and the nationalization of the economy serves the interests of this class. In Cuba the capitalist class was eliminated as a class and escaped to Miami. However the Stalinist state apparatus blocks the road to socialism and unless this block is removed by a political revolution the capitalist class growing out the Stalinist bureaucracy will take over the economy and the state and turn Cuba once again to a capitalist state. We saw such a process already in China that by now is an imperialist state.
Assad’s state capitalism is very beneficial to some local capitalists who at the same time serve the interests of the real masters –the imperialists. The US business journal Forbes reported about the close relationship of the Assad regime and the local bourgeoisie:
“Too many benefited from the status quo, not least a powerful and wealthy clique of businessmen that had grown rich under his father’s patronage in this poor country. They now control huge swaths of Syria’s economy. Rami Makhlouf, Assad’s maternal cousin has interests in many sectors, including oil and gas, and telecommunications. During the last year of Hafez al-Assad’s reign, Forbes visited Syria where it met several of those businessmen, most of them Alawite like Assad. Many were “five-percenters,” because they got a 5% commission on deals they brokered. One of them was known as “Mr. Versace,” because of his flashy Versace outfits. He had amassed a fortune estimated at $300 million by representing bidders on government oil projects. One was the son of the former defense minister, who had become Syria’s sugar king. He had the inside track when the government privatized that business. Another became a near-billionaire, when he had a law especially crafted for him to create a major chain of hotels in Syria. One hotel stands in Hama on the site of homes demolished by the government, when it crushed a rebellion in 1982.”(Forbes: President Assad And The Syrian Business Elite, 3/30/2011).
Three main groups have been at the core of the support of the regime: the high military and security establishment, the bourgeoisie and the high religious establishments of all sects.
An article of the “Revolutionary Left Current” in Syria, published in “International Viewpoint” – the journal of the centrist Mandelite “Fourth International” – explains the background to the revolutionary struggle in Syria “
The High military establishment has accumulated profits since the arrival to power of Hafez Al Assad in 1970 that encouraged massive corruption of the military and government officials in exchange for total loyalty to his person. The states through this generalised corruption became a real cash machine for the inner circle of the dictator, his family and his most loyal lieutenants.
This new “class” organically linked to the state needed to invest its wealth in the various sectors of the economy. Decree No. 10 of 1991 was the springboard by which this class could “launder” their wealth. It allowed investment in the private sector and has opened up import-export opportunities but is still under state control, enriching each of them and continuing the system of generalized corruption. The 1990s saw the emergence of this “new class” or nouveau riche/bourgeois class hybrid resulting from a merger of the bureaucracy and the survivors of the old bourgeoisie, the “private bourgeoisie.”
The regime bourgeois credentials were accelerated with the implementation of neoliberal economic policies with Bashar Al Assad’s arrival to power in 2000. These policies especially benefited a small oligarchy and a few of its clients. Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Bashar al-Assad, represented the mafia-style process of privatization led by the regime.
A process of privatization created new monopolies in the hands of relatives of Bashar al-Assad, while the quality of goods and services declined. These neoliberal economic reforms allowed the appropriation of economic power for the benefit of the rich and powerful. The process of privatization of public companies has been made for the benefit of few individuals close to the regime. At the same time the financial sector has developed inside the establishment of private banks, insurance firms, the Damascus stock exchange and money exchange bureaus.
Neoliberal policies undertaken by the regime have satisfied the upper class and foreign investors, especially from the Arab Gulf, by liberalizing the Syrian economy for their benefits and at the expense of the far majority of Syrians hit by inflation and the rising cost of living. In addition to that, Syria’s agricultural and public sector were also declining and no effective strategy to strengthen them have been suggested yet, which could jeopardize the country’s alimentary autonomy and harm the population by the constant rise in prices of food and non-food basic needs.
The last important base of support for the Syrian regime is the high religious establishment of all sects, which has benefited the regime for the past twenty years and supported it since the beginning of the revolution. The Syrian regime and its security services established political and economic links with the religious establishment, especially from the Sunni community following the repression of the 1980s. The high religious establishments of all the sects have increasingly been presented by the regime as actors of the “Syrian civil society” in the past as soon as a foreign delegation would visit the country”. (Khalil Habash: Syria: Understanding the regime and the revolutionary process, 19 June 2012)
Do the imperialists arm the rebel movement?
Since the argument of those who supports Assad’s repressive regime, is that the mass movement fighting the Syrian army is the creature of the imperialists we should answer them by asking them to examine this claim in light of the following information. According to the New York Times: “Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats. That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States. (New York Times, Oct 14, 2012)
Should we believe that the NYT is distorting the truth we can still examine what the other reporters say about the arming of the rebels. The CNN on March 15 says:
“With the carnage in Syria mounting out of control, there’s only one thing left to do, France says: Lift a European Union embargo and start arming rebels.
“We must convince our partners, particularly in Europe, that we have no other choice but lift the arms embargo in favor of the (opposition) Syrian Coalition,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius wrote in an op-ed for the French newspaper Liberation.
“We must go ahead and allow the Syrian people to defend themselves against this bloodthirsty regime. It’s our responsibility to help the Syrian National Coalition, its leaders and the (rebel) Free Syrian Army by all the possible means.
“If not,” Fabius warned, “the slaughter will continue, and there will not be any other possible outcome but to strengthen the most extreme groups and the collapse of Syria with devastating consequences for the country itself and the region.”
France isn’t alone. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has hinted that he wants to arm Syrian rebels who are demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster.
This week, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK could make its own foreign policy on supplying rebels.
“We might have to do things in our own way,” he told lawmakers Tuesday.
But Cameron stressed that the UK has not yet decided to circumvent the EU’s arms embargo.”I hope that we do not have to break from a collaborative approach across the European Union,” he said. However, “if we thought it was the right thing to do, we would do it.”In February, the European Union renewed its arms embargo on Syria for three months but amended it to allow greater nonlethal support and technical assistance to help protect civilians. The embargo is set to expire in May. Member countries could renew it, add amendments or veto it. (CNN March 15, 2013)
May be the entire Western mass media is lying? We can examine what the Russian imperialists are saying:
“Russia has said that any attempt by the British government to arm the Syria opposition will be a violation of international law. During a press conference following a meeting with his British counterpart, Mr Lavrov said: “In our point of view it [arming the Syrian opposition] is a violation of international law. (…) The situation in Syria makes arming Assad’s opposition difficult. While no one doubts the atrocities being carried out by Assad’s forces the fact remains that many of the Syrian rebels have been accused of horrific crimes and have jihadist sympathies. It would be difficult to arm vetted rebel groups without being able to guarantee that weapons would not end up in the hands of the unpleasant elements of Assad’s opposition. However, it is concerns regarding international law that is worrying the Russian government about Syrian rebels receiving weapons, not potential human rights abuses by Assad’s opposition”. (Matthew Feeney: Russia Warns the UK Not to Arm Syrian Rebels, Mar. 13 2013)
Thus it is clear that at least until now the Western imperialists have not armed the rebels and the reason they have not armed the rebels is because they do not trust them as many of them are Islamists. The problem the imperialists have in Syria is the relative strength of the Islamists in the mass movement. At this conjuncture of history in Afghanistan, in Palestine, in Mali the imperialists are on one side and the Islamists on the other. This of course can be changed and this would not be the first time in the history of the last 100 years that he Islamists would serve the imperialists. But today the Islamists are fighting against the imperialists and today Revolutionary Marxists are on the same side as the Islamists in the conflict against Assad’s tyranny without giving the petit bourgeois or bourgeois secular or religious forces any political support. Those left groups that support Assad are simply living in a world of fantasy detached from reality.
The imperialists would love to remove Assad and install their own trusted servants. On this point we can learn from the German foreign policy electronic magazine that reports:
“For years, Berlin has been promoting the privatization of the Syrian economy, now being conferred to the “Working Group” – for an extended period in close cooperation with Assad’s regime. In 2006, the German development organization GTZ (today GIZ) had initiated a special program entitled “Supporting economic reform in Syria.” According to its description, “in 2000, the Syrian Government decided to switch to a social market economy,” but “the institutions involved do not have sufficient knowledge,” which is why the GTZ has to aid the government. The reform’s “expected impact on income and employment will improve the lives of the Syrian population,” continues the GTZ – an prognosis that simply did not materialize. Quite to the contrary: the liberalization of the Syrian economy had “harmful effects” on the local manufacturing trade, as the International Crisis Group confirmed last year. For example in Duma, a suburb of Damascus, the residence or numerous artisans, who, facing ruin by the liberalization, renounced their loyalty to the regime. In fact, today Duma is considered a hotbed of protest. Last January, the insurgents briefly took complete control of the town”. (German Foreign Policy: Market Economy for Syria, 2012/05/30)
Of course the imperialist interest in rubbing the Syrian workers and peasants is behind some of the pro imperialist elements in the opposition that want to subordinate the masses to the imperialists. This we can learn from the same report of the German foreign policy magazine:
“Berlin is preparing for Syria’s transformation to a liberal market economy. Under German leadership, a multinational “Working Group” began its work late last week. Immediately following the overthrow of the Assad regime, this “Working Group” is planning to launch urgent economic measures, including the coordination of aid projects and the implementation of economic reforms. Together with the United Arab Emirates, the German government is establishing a “secretariat,” under the leadership of a German with Afghanistan experience. In cooperation with the Assad regime, Berlin had already promoted the Syrian economy’s privatization. However, the nascent liberalization drove sectors of the population into bankruptcy, thereby contributing to insurgence against the regime. Berlin has already received first drafts for Syria’s new economic order. They were written by an activist of the Syrian National Council (SNC), which is under strong criticism by a large part of the opposition because of the pre-eminence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Washington-based Syrian exile politicians hold leading positions in the SNC. They are demanding a Kosovo-style western intervention and consider Kosovo’s KLA to be a model for the Syrian opposition.”
In Foreign Affairs, Michael Bröning argues for directly arming the Syrian rebels. He acknowledges the fact that aid and weapons from Arab Gulf states have “primarily reached the Islamist groups,” but he claims that the new National Coalition Opposition, which President Obama and more than 90 countries have officially recognized, “changes the conflict’s parameters.” He argues that “Arming and financing the National Coalition could strengthen the more “moderate” opposition forces in Syria.”
“Critics of a more active support for the opposition have long bemoaned the lack of a coherent opposition body that could bring together the various political and military opponents of the regime. But now, the newly established Syrian National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which was founded with U.S. assistance in Qatar in November, has done just that”. (Michael Bröning: Time to Back the Syrian National Coalition, December 17, 2012)
This argument by the pro imperialist intellectual may explain the change of policy. However whether it is true that the SNC is in position of control of the movement is doubtful.
The SNC is largely another exile group without strong roots inside the country. There is little evidence the Syrian people accept it. But there is strong evidence that it has been rejected by the armed rebel groups fighting the Assad regime. And the fact that it was formed as a US initiative grants it even less legitimacy. Bröning readily admits that US imperialism fears losing any influence in a future post-Assad Syria if it does not try to build relations with sectors of the opposition in Syria: “Thus, Western support could draw fighters to the National Coalition and, in turn, significantly increase Western influence over their decisions. Without it, though, radical groups are well poised to determine the development of a post-Assad Syria — to the detriment of Syrian and Western interests.”
Bröning acknowledges the aid and weapons already being sent to Syria’s rebels by Arab Gulf states have reached the Islamists. What he doesn’t say is that this occurred despite the CIA’s efforts to facilitate the delivery of these arms towards the pro imperialist.
Thus the struggle against Assad is continuing, and in the case the imperialists will intervene militarily the masses will have to fight in two fronts. One against Assad army and the other one against the imperialist forces. If Assad army will fight the imperialists and not the masses the masses will shoot in the same direction against the imperialists without stopping the struggle against the regime.
The Role of the Islamist Opposition
The Islamist movement is a populist movement that its head is a bourgeois while its feet are the poor peasants. It was massacred out of existence in the 1980s after the Baathist regime put down a Brotherhood-led uprising in Hama. But since the uprising began on March 15, 2011, it has grown again. At the beginning of the uprising the Brotherhood hesitated to join the secular anti-Assad forces. The Islamists suspended their opposition to the Baathist regime in the wake of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza in 2009, and it pulled out of an alliance with Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president who defected in 2005. However it did not take long and the Brotherhood joined the struggle against Assad regime and formed armed groups especially in Homs, Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo. The Islamists fight within the opposition for the leadership with the goal of forming an Islamic regime. However, the Islamists are divided among themselves not less than the secularists.
The Islamists were present in opposition bodies that later formed the core of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group that ostensibly represented all anti-Assad forces. The council set aside seats for both the Brotherhood and members of the Damascus Declaration, a group of Syrian bourgeois’ reformists established in 2005 where the Brotherhood already had a significant presence within this group. The Islamists have a presence in most of the groups that are active within the fragmented movement. Islamists have joined the SNC as “independents.” These include Nahas, the London-based director of the Levant Center; Louay Safi, a Syrian-American teaching at Georgetown University in the US and former chairman of the Syrian American Council (SAC); since September last year and Najib Ghadbian, a political science professor who also works at the SAC. Since September last year the Islamists that have shown better organizational skills dominate the movement against Assad even in groups like the SNC. The Brotherhood is using their base in Turkey to train fighters and Islamist political activists. When the trainees returned to Syria, they formed coordinating committees in dozens of small towns and cities to support the movement.
They have a presence even in groups that are not officially part of the armed opposition like the Arab Orient Center, for Strategic and Civilization Studies, headed by Brotherhood spokesman Zoheir Salem, and the Syrian Human rights Committee, led by Brotherhood representative and the opposition’s ambassador to Britain Walid Saffour. A group representing women and children is also led by a daughter of Mohammed Farouk Tayfour, the deputy leader of Syria’s Brotherhood.
Brotherhood members are also trying to recruit defectors from the regime’s army and promise them a buffer zone in Turkey along its border with Syria. The won the loyalty of Col. Riad al-Asaad, who formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), replacing the secular-leaning Free Officers Movement.
After the formation of the FSA, new brigades began to take religious names, instead of names of national figures or areas. The Brotherhood’s influence within the FSA was known to military defectors at the time — that was why the first Druze officer to defect from the army, Lt. Khaldoun Sami Zaineddin, joined the Free Officers Movement in October 2011, rather than the FSA.
The fighting factions backed by the Brotherhood include the Tawhid Brigade, supported in Aleppo, mainly Bayanouni and Ramadan; some elements in the powerful Farouq Brigades; the Body for Protection of Civilians, considered the military wing of the Brotherhood, led by Hakim; and Ansar al-Islam, based in Damascus and the surrounding countryside. The Brotherhood has brigades across the country whose names typically include the word “shield,” such as the Euphrates Shield, the Capital Shield, and the Aqsa Mosque Shield. It also coordinates in some areas groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham.
The Brotherhood has successfully opposed attempts to outline how the transitional period will be managed after Assad’s fall. In June 2012, in the meeting in Istanbul organized by the Arab League to restructure the SNC, the U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the opposition that the council must subject itself to an independent committee that would lay out internal reforms if it hoped to win greater American support. In other words he said that the opposition must submit itself to American imperialism. The committee met in Cairo in July 2011 and presented a draft resolution that outlined the transitional period, laying out the duties of opposition forces and detailing the fate of armed factions. The document, which was signed by the leaders of opposition forces, dealt a blow to the Brotherhood’s monopoly on power. The Islamist group moved quickly to prevent any restrictions on its ability to shape the post-Assad political order. According to members who attended the meeting, the SNC did not sanction a follow-up committee to ensure the document was incorporated into the opposition’s vision. Despite pressure from the imperialists and their servants in the Arab League the Brotherhood dealt a final blow to the plan when it succeeded in having the plan excluded from the founding statement of the Syrian National Coalition, established in Doha in November 2012.(Hassan Hassan: How the Muslim Brotherhood Hijacked Syria’s Revolution, March 13, 2013)
The Syrian Communist Party – A History of Stalinist Betrayal
The Syrian working class has been crushed and atomized for decades. The Syrian working class has no independent organizations of its own that it can use to fight for its own interests. In Tunisia and in Egypt the working class used mass strike actions that tipped the balance against Mubarak. This has not happen so far in Syria. Workers participate in the struggle against Assad but not as an organized class. The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) is the sole national trade union center in Syria, it was founded in 1948. By a 1968 decree establishing a single-trade-union system, all trade unions in the country are required to be affiliated to the GFTU, and the GFTU has the power to dissolve the executive committee of any union The union is closely linked with the Baath Party, and the president of the GFTU, Shaaban Azzouz, is a member of the party.
The last time the union went on strike was on January 22, 2003 because the Syrian Petroleum and Natural Gas Company didn’t equip the workers with safety tools.
The Syrian Communist Party (Al-Hizb Al-Shuyū’ī Al-Sūrīy) is a reformist party that contributed to the lack of the independence of the working class in Syria. The original Communist party that was founded in 1924 as a revolutionary party went through the process of degeneration and by 1935 when it supported the policy of class collaboration known as the popular front it became a reformist party. The existing party was founded in 1944. During the WW II it struggled for the independence of French imperialism and was part of the nationalist Anti-Vichy underground. As a token for its service to the French imperialists it was legalized at the end of the war. Many of those who participated in the underground later led the French colonial wars in Vietnam and in Algeria. During the union of Syria and Egypt (UAR) the Communist party was critical of this union and was outlawed by the Syrian regime. Then in 1972 instead of struggling for the independence of the working class it became a member of the National Progressive Front controlled by the Baath Party led by Assad the father.
As mentioned above, in 1976 with the Syrian intervention in the civil war in Lebanon – on the side of rightist Maronites Falange – against the nationalist bloc and its allies like the PLO. This was too much for the more radical wing of the Communist Party and Riyad al-Turk formed the Syrian Communist Party (Political Bureau). In the 1980s in spite of the political support of the main communist party gave the regime, Assad the father repressed the Communist Party.
The party split in two in 1986 with two separate parties claiming to represent the original Syrian Communist Party; the Syrian Communist Party (Unified) and the Syrian Communist Party (Bakdash).
Bakdash, with historical Stalinist leader and deputy secretary Yusuf Faisal at its top, rejected the policies of perestroika and glasnost adopted by Soviet Communist Party – in contrast to the party’s general secretary Faisal. This led to another split in the party, with many of the party’s intellectuals leaving with Faisal while much of its Kurdish base remained supportive of Bakdash. Both factions retained the name “Syrian Communist Party” and continued to participate in the NPF.
Unless the working class will lead the struggle, the struggle to overthrow the Assad dictatorship will take many more victims and it will most likely lead to a replacement of the old regime by another bourgeois government. The working class, in alliance with the poor peasantry, can only take power itself, if it is led by a revolutionary party.
Thus to win the struggle the first step is to form the nuclei of such a workers revolutionary party with a revolutionary working class program, strategy and tactics. Its program should begin with the fight for the independence of the working class, form independent democratic trade unions, support the Kurds right to self determination, and oppose the sectarian poison that only helps the regime. Fight against the oppression of women and youth, and fight for land to the peasants.
To win the struggle it is necessary to win over the majority of the workers, peasants, lower middle class people from the Alawite minority. Bashar al-Assad and his regime remain committed to pursuing the destructive sectarian survival strategy, one enjoying an echo among some radicalized but politically directionless sectors of the Alawites. Assad the father controlled the Syrian Alawites (which make up 12 percent of the population) to survive. Alawite domination of the military was rooted in the practices of the French mandate and nurtured by the Baath party.
The regime used the Shabiha auxiliaries (largely poor Alawite youth supplemented by active duty military personnel), by sending these gangs into Sunni Arab villages to murder, loot, and rape, the regime consciously sought to terrorize its opponents into submission. The working class must fight against any expression of sectarianism among Sunni, Alawite, Christian, Kurd, Ismaili, Turkman, and Druze.
A revolutionary party has to fight for the democratic rights of the oppressed Kurds. The Kurdish national question in Syria has a long history. It is not a sectarian problem, as the Kurds are not a sect of Arabs or a special Islamic group. They belong to a people that are forty million strong and are distributed over a number of countries, and they are the largest national group in both the region and the world that is deprived of an independent state. The Kurds who are integrated into Syrian society (in Damascus, Hama, and Aleppo) have participated extensively in politics and have held high positions in the army and government, but only as Syrians, and only before the Ba’ath’s seizure of power and the exclusion of Kurds from all top positions, especially in the army and the diplomatic and political corps. On the other hand, the Kurdish nationalist sentiments that have sprung up in the period of nationalist enthusiasm have found other channels for expressing themselves: namely, the symbolic and political interaction with the political movement and struggle of the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey.
While Marxists recognize the right of self determination of the Kurds who are divided today among Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, this right of the unification of the Kurds cannot be achieved within the existing capitalist states. We support the establishment of an independent united Workers and Peasants Republic of Kurdistan. It should be part of a socialist federation of the region.
A revolutionary party will open its door to women and young workers suffering from special forms of oppression. The mass media is transmitting images of young men with AK47s. The preconceived notions about subservient Middle Eastern women could give the impression that there have been no women active on the ground in Syria. This is simply not true: Among the fighters in the FSA there are women using the same AK47s. The women who joined the FSA initially were all those who’d lost a male family member, a husband or a son. However their numbers is small because the FSA leaders “do not find the time” to train new fighters men or women. If women can fight in the FSA, women workers and peasants can certainly fight in workers and peasant militias!
YouTube popularized what has now become the anthem of the Syrian revolution, “Irhal ya Bashar” [“Bashar, get out”]. The song by Ibrahim Kashoush encourages the Syrian president to leave office, replete with provocative lyrics and a catchy dabke beat. The government first tried to stop it by silencing the singer: In a symbolic and macabre response to Kashoush’s chanting, the singer was found dead on 5 July 2011, his throat cut and his vocal cords ripped out — a clear message to young people willing to speak up.
Although Kashoush may have been killed, his voice was not silenced. The song became even more popular, among young people singing it in the demonstrators in Syria and abroad.
Other key demands – which the RCIT has already raised and which the ISL fully supports – are:
For expropriation without compensation of the main factories and the banks under workers control!
Organization of workers armed units to defend the workers and the masses!
Land to the peasants!
For the right of self determination of the Kurds!
Oppose the sectarian poison!
Total opposition to the imperialist political intervention in Syria!
For a general strike to bring down the bloody regime!
For Soviets of workers, peasants and solders!
All Power to the Workers and Peasants! For the Socialist Revolution in Maghreb and Mashreq!
Down with the dictatorship of the dog Assad and the rich elite!
For the formation of action councils and armed militias of the workers and peasants which should coordinate nation-wide!
For a workers government allied with the peasants and urban poor and based on local councils and militias!
No trust in the bourgeois leaders of the official opposition! They are connected with the governments of the USA, EU, Saudi-Arabia, Turkey and Qatar and have many former members of the Assad regime in their ranks!
Workers and Peasants: Trust only in your own strength, your own organizations and your own militias!
No to any imperialist intervention in Syria! NATO troops – Out of Afghanistan and Mali! Solidarity with the anti-imperialist resistance!
For joint struggle of the Workers, Peasants and Poor in Maghreb and Mashreq! Spread the Revolution! For a Socialist Federation of Workers- and Peasants-Republics in Maghreb and Mashreq!
International Solidarity with the Struggle of the Syrian masses! For an international solidarity campaign by the workers movement!
Build a revolutionary combat party of the workers! For a new Communist International!
Box: No Political Support for the pro imperialist Ghassan Hitto!
Syria’s official opposition abroad has elected Ghassan Hitto, a pro-imperialist Syrian-American capitalist who has been resident in the United States for decades, as prime minister for rebel-held areas of Syria. This is nothing but an attempt of the leaders of the bourgeois Syrian National Coalition to politically highjack the revolution in co-operation with US imperialism.
The new “Provisional Government”, led by Ghassan Hitto, was not elected by popular vote in Syria and does not represent the interests of the workers, the peasants and the owners of the small businesses of Syria who are struggling against Assad’s tyranny. This “Provisional Government” represents the interests of the small minority of pro imperialist capitalists that want to replace Assad and his state capitalism with a capitalist government serving even more openly the imperialists. Such a government – if it will come to power – will attack the workers, the peasants and the small business. It will demand of the masses to pay for the crisis of the world capitalist system and the cost of the civil war.
The ISL stand with the masses fighting against Assad bloody regime without giving any political support to the secular or the religious petit bourgeois and bourgeois leaders. We say it as clear as we can: The only road that will lead to a solution is the struggle for a workers revolution at the head of the oppressed masses. The masses should not allow the local capitalists and their imperialist masters to build their fortune on the bodies of the 70,000 Syrian who died to remove the tyranny. It is against their most basic interests to replace one form of a capitalist tyranny with another one.