Syria and Great Power Rivalry: The Failure of the „Left“ (Part 1)

Syria and Great Power Rivalry: The Failure of the „Left“ (Part 1)

Note of the Editorial Board: This chapter contains figures and one map which can only be viewed in the pdf version (download here).


Karl Marx, whose 200th birthday we have just commemorated, emphasized in the second thesis of his famous Theses on Feuerbach that the truth of theory must be sought in practice, i.e. in the objective reality.

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.” [1]

And indeed, Marxists have always insisted that historical events are the decisive test for the analysis and strategies of revolutionaries. The Syrian Revolution, the imperialist aggression against the Syrian people and the rivalry between the Great Powers in recent years constitute, beyond any doubt, such a decisive test for the theories and programs of all forces claiming to defend the banner of Marxism.

The most recent developments in Syria are an excellent example for this basic truth. [2] We have seen, once more, the barbaric nature of Assad’s war of annihilation against his own people and the just war of the liberation forces – despite the fact that they are led mostly by petty-bourgeois Islamist forces – which are defending the people.

Furthermore, the recent events demonstrated again the massive acceleration of the rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers. For the first time since the high point of the Cold War between Western imperialism and the USSR several decades ago, politicians and media are discussing, to quote the title of a BBC report: “Trump, Syria, North Korea: Are we heading for a third world war?” [3]

The liberation struggle of the Syrian people against Assad retains its just character

We consider the recent developments in Syria as a powerful confirmation of the RCIT’s analysis of the main lines of development of the world situation. [4] Briefly summarizing our view, we insist that, contrary to the cynics and defeatists of the so-called “left”, the resistance struggle of the Syrian people against Assad’s war of oppression has not lost its just character. [5]

The recent events are a tragedy. Up to 150,000 people were forced to flee the enclave in Al-Ghouta after the Assadist forces, with the help of the Russian air force, finally succeeded in crushing the rebel defenders. In the north of Syria – in Idlib, North Hama and Western Aleppo – about 2.5 million people are still living in liberated territories. However, it is only a question of time until their enemies will try to conquer and subjugate this area. The Assadist and Russian air forces have already started to systematically bomb these areas. (See Map 1)

Map 1. Syria: Areas of Control and Foreign Military Bases (April 2018) [6]

The RCIT has always insisted that the Syrian Revolution – as well as the whole Arab Revolution – began in 2011 as a spontaneous popular uprising against the dictatorship. [7] As a result of the regime’s terrorist response the uprising soon transformed into a civil war. Despite all the setbacks and defeats this legitimate liberation struggle is going on albeit the regime as well as various Great Powers and regional powers are doing everything possible to liquidate it.

In consequence, the RCIT continues to side with the liberation struggle of the Syrian people against the Assad regime and its Iranian and Russian masters. We defended Ghouta and we continue to defend Idlib against the reactionary barbarians.

The fact that the Syrian Revolution is in mortal danger and close to annihilation by the Assad regime as well as the reactionary powers behind the so-called “Astana process” (Russia, Iran, Turkey) is no reason to desert the liberation struggle but rather to intensify our solidarity.

This is the very concrete and very practical abyss which separates revolutionaries from the treacherous Stalinists and centrists who either openly side with the reactionary Assad regime and Russian imperialism or who take a neutral, abstentionist position.

Against All Imperialist Aggressors

As Marxists and anti-imperialists we have always opposed all forms of aggressions of Great Powers. [8] We have confirmed this approach again in our above mentioned statements on the latest US missiles attack against Syria.

Hence we denounce the imperialist war-mongering of the Trump Administration and oppose its missiles strike. Likewise we call for the expulsion of all US troops and military bases from Syria.

Furthermore, contrary to the Stalinists, we do not only oppose US strikes when they are directed against Assad. We also condemn them when they are directed against Islamist rebels or against Daesh.

However, again contrary to the pro-Russian “left”, we do not only oppose the imperialist aggression of Trump but also that of Putin! It is a sickening hypocrisy of these Muscovite social-imperialists, that they are only alarmed when the US fires some missiles against some empty houses but don’t raise their voice when Russia bombs and kills Syrians every day!

The RCIT therefore calls not only for the expulsion of the US forces but also for the expulsion of the Russian troops, air force and military bases.

We combine this opposition to all imperialist powers – the U.S. as well as Russia – with support for the military resistance of the forces which are fighting against these aggressors.

Finally, we do not only oppose the foreign occupation of imperialist powers but also those of regional powers. Iran is a particularly important state intervening in Syria as a key ally of the Assad regime. It controls militias with up to 125,000 troops. Together with the Lebanese Hezbollah militia they constitute a major force without which Assad would have already lost the war.

Turkey is another important foreign power intervening in the north of Syria. On one hand it attempts to suppress the Kurdish people’s desire for national self-determination, on the other hand it works to expand its sphere of influence and – as an ally of Russian imperialism – to liquidate the liberation struggle. The RCIT opposes the incursion of all foreign powers and calls for the expulsion of Iranian and Turkish troops from Syria. [9]

Old and new Great Powers

The latest events also confirmed the RCIT’s analysis of the decline of absolute hegemony of US imperialism and the rise of the new imperialist powers China and Russia. Again, at this point we will only briefly summarize our view as we have elaborated it in detail in a number of books, pamphlets and essays. [10]

Understanding the decline of US (and Western) imperialism and the corresponding rise of new imperialist powers – China and Russia – is, in our firm opinion, fundamental to arrive at a correct assessment of the basic trends of the world situation since the beginning of the new historic period which opened in 2008.

As we have demonstrated repeatedly, this development can be observed on various levels of the world economy and politics. When we look at the basis of capitalist value production – global industrial production – we see that the US’s share decreased from 25.1% (2000) to 17.7% (2015), Western Europe’s share also declined from 12.1% to 9.2%, while China’s share grew from 6.5% (2000) to 23.6% (2015). (See Figure 1) Likewise, while the U.S.’s share in world trade declined from 15.1 (2001) to 11.4% (2016), China’s share rose in this period from 4.0% to 11.5%. (See Figure 2)

Figure 1. Global Industrial Production, US, Western Europe and China 1970-2015 (in Current Prices) [11]


Figure 2. Share of the US and China in World Trade, 2001-2016 [12]


A similar development can be observed when we analyze the national composition of the leading capitalist monopolies. Comparing the Forbes Global 2000 list – a list the world’s 2000 largest corporations – of the year 2003 with the year 2017, we see that while the US remains the strongest power, its share has declined substantially from 776 corporations (38.8%) to 565 (28.2%). A similar development took place in other old imperialist countries like Japan, Britain, France and Germany. On the other hand, China, hardly represented at all in the list for 2003 (0.6%), has now 263 corporations on this list and has become the second ranking power (13.1%) by 2017. (See Table 1)

Table 1. National Composition of the World’s 2000 Largest Corporations, 2003 and 2017 (Forbes Global 2000 List) [13]

2003                                                                       2017

Number                 Share                                     Number                 Share

USA                                                       776                         38.8%                                    565                         28.2%

China                                                    13                           0.6%                                       263                         13.1%

Japan                                                     331                         16.5%                                    229                         11.4%

United Kingdom                               132                         6.6%                                       91                           4.5%

France                                                   67                           3.3%                                       59                           2.9%

Canada                                                 50                           2.5%                                       58                           2.9%

Germany                                              64                           3.2%                                       51                           2.5%

South Korea                                        55                           2.7%                                       64                           3.2%

India                                                      20                           1.0%                                       58                           2.9%

The same dynamic, as we have demonstrated in our studies, can be observed when we look at the changes in the national composition of the global list of billionaires or the dynamics of capital export.

These fundamental economic changes resulted inevitable in political upheavals. China’s rising role as a global power is a crucial result of this and finds its expression, among others, in the well-known Belt and Road Initiative or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership for Asia. [14]

While Russia is economically weaker than China – it has e.g. only 27 monopolies in the Forbes 2000 List mentioned above, half as many as Germany or France – it nevertheless has become a Great Power. This has been caused by several factors like e.g. the massive process of monopolization in Russia’s economy or its traditional access to the Eurasian “hinterland”. Another important factor is Russia’s huge military-industrial complex making it the second largest military power behind the U.S. and ahead of all other imperialist states. (See Table 2 and 3) In addition, Russia rise as a Global Power has to be seen in the context of China’s rise which substantially undermined the U.S.’s hegemony and, as a result, opened more space for Moscow. [15]

Table 2. World Nuclear Forces, 2016 [16]

Country                             Deployed Warheads         Other Warheads               Total Inventory

USA                                       1,800                                      5,000                                      6,800

Russia                                   1,950                                      5,050                                      7,000

UK                                          120                                         95                                           215

France                                   280                                         20                                           300

China                                    –                                              270                                         270

Table 3. The World’s 10 Top Exporters of Weapons, 2016 [17]

Exporter                            Global Share (%)

1 USA                                    33

2 Russia                               23

3 China                                 6.2

4 France                                6.0

5 Germany                          5.6

6 UK                                      4.6

7 Spain                                 2.8

8 Italy                                    2.7

9 Ukraine                             2.6

10 Israel                                2.3

The recent developments in Syria demonstrate that Russia has become an imperialist power able to expand its sphere of influence even in the Middle East – the traditional sphere of influence of U.S. imperialism. This can be observed not only in Syria itself which has become now more or less a Russian-occupied country (with Iran as an important junior partner). [18] Russia’s political rise is also visible in it growing influence in Turkey, Egypt, Libya, and Qatar as well as the fact that Saudi Arabia – a staunch U.S. ally – is increasingly cooperating with Russia at least on the economic field. [19]

The decline of the U.S. and the rise of China and Russia are one of the most important features of the world situation in the past decade. Marxists emphasize that it is impossible to understand the dynamics of the global economic, political and military developments and to develop an appropriate revolutionary strategy without recognizing the nature of China and Russia as new imperialist powers.

[1] Karl Marx: Theses on Feuerbach (1845), in: Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW) Vol. 5, p. 5

[2] For our analysis of Assad‘s massacre in Douma, the US missiles strike in Syria and the escalation of the conflict between Great Powers we refer to the following articles and statements of the RCIT: Down with Imperialist Warmongering of All Great Powers! Syria attack, Protectionist Tariffs and Salisbury poisoning: Against all imperialist diplomatic, economic and military aggression! In U.S., EU, Russia and China: The Main Enemy is at Home! Support democratic and national liberation struggles of oppressed people! Joint Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency and the Marxist Group ‘Class Politics’ (Russia), 13.04.2018,; ISL: On Trump’s attack on Syria, 15.04.2018,; Michael Pröbsting: Video Statement on the Chemical Attack in Douma! 11 April 2018,

[3] BBC: Trump, Syria, North Korea: Are we heading for a third world war? 11 April 2018,

[4] Our latest analysis of the world situation is summarized in Michael Pröbsting’s recently published book: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, February 2018,

[5] The RCIT has elaborated its analysis and programmatic conclusions for the Syrian Revolution in numerous documents. They are all collected in a special sub-section on our website: In particular, we refer readers to our pamphlet: Michael Pröbsting: Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? An essay on the organs of popular power in the liberated area of Syria, on the character of the different sectors of the Syrian rebels, and on the failure of those leftists who deserted the Syrian Revolution, 5 April 2017, See also the sub-chapter “The Syrian Revolution: In danger of annihilation” in chapter V of our book: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings

Naturally, there exists a vast literature on the Syrian Revolution by now and it is impossible to list it here in its totality. However, we would like to draw attention to some books, written partly from a bourgeois and partly from a progressive point of view, which we consider as useful and insightful into the subject:

Jules Alford and Andy Wilson (Editors): Khiyana. Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution, Unkant Publishers, London 2016, Sabr Darwish: Syrians Under Siege: The Role of Local Councils, Arab Reform Initiative, October 2016; Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami: Burning Country. Syrians in Revolution and War, Pluto Press, London 2016; Rania Abouzeid: No Turning Back. Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria, W. W. Norton & Company, New York 2018; Fabrice Balanche: Sectarianism in Syria’s Civil War, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington 2018; Charles R. Lister: The Syrian Jihad. Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency, Oxford University Press, New York 2015

[6] Madawi Al-Rasheed: Bombing Syria is a Saudi-sponsored adventure that will achieve nothing, Middle East Eye, 17 April 2018,

[7] Since its beginning in 2011, we have published numerous documents on the Arab Revolution. They can be viewed in a sub-section of the RCIT’s website: The latest comprehensive analysis of the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary process in the Middle East is entailed in chapter V of the above mentioned book on the World Perspectives 2018.

[8] An overview of our positions on various imperialist aggressions in the past decades can be read in chapter 12 and 13 of our book Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, Vienna 2013,

[9] See on this e.g. the numerous RCIT statements and articles on the Astana process. See also RCIT: Syria: No to Turkey’s Attack on Afrin! Defend the Syrian Revolution against Annihilation! The Syrian Revolution must reject sectarianism and strive to create multinational unity among Arabs, Turks and Kurds! Rally all forces against the Assadist-Iranian-Russian Aggression in Idlib! 22.01.2018,

[10] We have collected our vast literature on the accelerating rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers in a special sub-section on our website: Our most updated analysis can be read in chapter IV (“Accelerating Rivalry Between the Imperialist Great Powers”) of our book on the World Perspectives 2018:

[11] Hong Kong Trade Development Council: Changing Global Production Landscape and Asia’s Flourishing Supply Chain, 3 October 2017, p.1

[12] Hong Kong Trade Development Council: Changing Global Production Landscape and Asia’s Flourishing Supply Chain, 3 October 2017, p.4

[13] Forbes Global 2000 List (2017),

[14] On the RCIT’s analysis of China as an emerging imperialist power see the literature mentioned in the special sub-section on our website: In particular we refer readers to Michael Pröbsting: The China-India Conflict: Its Causes and Consequences. What are the background and the nature of the tensions between China and India in the Sikkim border region? What should be the tactical conclusions for Socialists and Activists of the Liberation Movements? 18 August 2017, Revolutionary Communism No. 71,; Michael Pröbsting: The China Question and the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, December 2014,; Michael Pröbsting: China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4,

[15] On the RCIT’s analysis of Russia as an imperialist power see the literature mentioned in the special sub-section on our website: In particular we refer readers toMichael Pröbsting: Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and the Rise of Russia as a Great Power. On the Understanding and Misunderstanding of Today’s Inter-Imperialist Rivalry in the Light of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism, August 2014,; Michael Pröbsting: Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014, Special Issue of Revolutionary Communism No. 21 (March 2014),

[16] SIPRI Yearbook 2017 (Summary), p. 16

[17] SIPRI Yearbook 2017 (Summary), p. 15

[18] It is true that parts of Syria are also occupied by other power like the U.S. and Turkey. But most of Syria’s population live in the Russian sphere of influence.

[19] See on this e.g. Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to weaken OPEC’s role, 19 April, 2018

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