The Myth of Assad’s Syria as an Anti-Imperialist Regime

by Yossi Schwartz, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT-Section in Israel/Occupied Palestine), November 2013, and

Western imperialists and some Arab states — the so-called “Friends of Syria,” which include the US, France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates — would like to impose a transitional government composed of the pro-Western groups in the opposition as well as participation of the Baathist regime (with or without Assad himself); the Islamists oppose the entire idea of the Geneva conference aimed at achieving such a transitional government.

On October 27 this year, we read in Al Jazeera:
“Members of the Syrian National Coalition maintain sitting down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would make them traitors to the revolution. Their leader, Ahmad al-Jarba laid down tough demands if his group is even to consider attending the Geneva II talks.” (1)

Najib Ghadban, the representative of the Syrian National Coalition at the UN, adds: “We are in favor of Geneva II. But we want clarity on the framework and the basis of these negotiations. The base of this is to implement the Geneva communiqué, which in fact impels the creation of a national transitional government with full executive authorities including those security and military powers that in fact entrusted with the Assad regime. In that kind of understanding we really don’t see any role for Assad. From our point the other side hasn’t accepted that basis nor in fact some of its friends. So unless we have that clarity through an invitation letter from Mr Ibrahimi [UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria] I don’t see any prospect of Geneva II.” (2)

At the same time, according to CNN (October 27):
“Nineteen Syrian rebel groups have spurned participation in peace talks and rattled a saber toward those who decide to engage with Bashar al-Assad’s regime. ‘We consider participation in Geneva II and negotiating with the regime is trading the blood of martyrs and treason, and those will be held accountable in our courts,’ the coalition said in a video statement Sunday.” (3)

Are the Syrian Rebels “CIA-Agents”?

As we have read, it would be a mistake to assume that Saudi Arabia is simply an agent of the US. Saudi Arabia has its own agenda that, to some degree, is in conflict with that of the US.

“Upset at President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years. Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief is vowing that the kingdom will make a ‘major shift’ in relations with the United States to protest perceived American inaction over Syria’s civil war as well as recent U.S. overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.” (4)

Clearly, at this time, the 19 groups that are close to Saudi Arabia cannot be considered an arm of the US. Still, there are left-wing parties and groups that claim this is the case. Worse, they also claim that the Assad regime is fighting an anti-imperialist war and that the rebels fighting the butcher are an arm of the imperialists. This is based on evidence that the US and Turkey provide the Free Syrian Army light weapons and Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supplying the Islamic opposition with light weapons.

Some of these left wing forces that support Assad rely on Russian and Chinese official sources. For example the new British Communist party, which is really an old Stalinist formation writes:

“This week Russian Chief of Staff, Nikolai Makarov, told the Russian media that the Nato-backed rebels are now being supplied with state-of the art equipment. General Makarov said he had “reliable” information that the rebels have obtained shoulder-launched missiles including US-made Stingers. “The Americans are in denial, saying they have not supplied anything to the rebels,” General Makarov told reporters on Wednesday… “But we have reliable information that the militias fighting against the Syrian government forces have portable anti-aircraft missile systems from several states, including Stingers made in the United States. We still need to find out who has delivered them,” he said adding that it was possible that these and other weapons could have been delivered to the rebels from abroad by several means of transport, ‘including passenger planes’.” (5)

Quoting a Russian chief of the army in order to prove that the rebels are CIA agents is really grotesque for two reasons:
1. Russia is itself an imperialist state.
2. Russia is supplying the Assad regime with weapons.
The information that Russia provides Assad with heavy weapon can be easily confirmed. For example:

“Russia’s massive arms trade with Syria was thrust into the spotlight this week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to its longtime ally, which has recently stepped up its use of such weapons in attacks that have claimed civilian lives. Russia angrily denied the claims, saying its existing arms contracts with Syria “relate exclusively to air defense.

“If true, the helicopter transfer illustrates why the United States and other Western countries have blamed Russia for contributing to the violence in Syria. Russia has repeatedly blocked efforts to impose an arms embargo on Syria and reports have surfaced linking Russia to arms shipments arriving in Syrian ports. According to one recent study, Russia has provided the Assad regime with over three quarters of its major weapons over the past five years.” (6)

Furthermore the US is very reluctant to supply weapons to the pro-imperialist elements because of its fear that these weapons will find their way to the hands of the Islamists:

“The U.S. government has long been concerned about extremists in the ranks of the opposition movement, a concern that factored into the decision not to provide more direct assistance to the rebels. Advocates for a more robust intervention say the U.S. decision to hold back has weakened moderates and strengthened radicals. Assad has long charged that the insurgency aiming to oust his government masks an effort by Islamic militants to seize control. The latest setback for U.S. interests came Sept. 24 when 11 of the largest armed factions in Syria distanced themselves from the U.S.-backed coalition and formed an alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state.” (7)

According to Reuters (Sept 10, 2013):
The United States has begun distributing some weapons to the Syrian rebels, a spokesman for the Syrian Coalition of groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday, after months of reported delays. White House officials suggested in June that President Barack Obama had decided to provide military aid to the Syrian rebels, but in the months since, rebel leaders and U.S. lawmakers have said no lethal assistance has arrived. The U.S. is distributing non-lethal aid and … some lethal assistance as well to the SMC (Supreme Military Counci).” Saleh told a news conference, referring to the council that oversees operations of rebels loyal to General Salim Idriss. The United States is providing lethal assistance “because they are sure that the mechanisms that the SMC has established are well tested and they will be sure that the weapons are not falling into the wrong hands,” Saleh said. He apparently referred to Washington’s concerns that U.S. arms could end up benefiting radical Islamist groups, such as the al Nusra Front, active in northern Syria.” (8)

This does not prevent Stalinists but also some centrists (who happen to mistakenly call themselves Trotskyists), in particular from the Gerry Healy school, like the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), from arguing that the opposition to Assad is an arm of the CIA. In their Web site, WSWS they wrote:

“As Kerry was extolling the democratic virtues of the “rebels” on Wednesday, jihadist militias were laying siege to the Christian village of Maalula, north of Damascus, seizing high ground and shelling defenseless civilian neighborhoods and churches and threatening to unleash a sectarian bloodbath. This is but the latest of countless atrocities carried out by the US-backed Islamist militias, which were funneled into Syria along with arms and funding from Washington and its allies with the aim of toppling the Assad regime and redrawing the political map of the Middle East. The main reason for the rush to direct US military intervention is the disintegration of this effort in the face of defeats on the battlefield as well as mounting popular hostility and revulsion on the part of the Syrian people.” (9)

Any one who can read English understands that Kerry is praising the smaller pro-Western fraction among the rebels, not the Islamist majority organizations. The line of the WSWS is no more than perverting simple facts.
Unfortunately, it is not only the WSWS which is spreading such nonsense, but, as we shall see later, also politically more honest organization like Socialist Fight and its Liaison Committee for the Fourth International whose leaders were politically educated in the same school of the ICFI. (The ICFI was led for many years by the political bandit, Gerry Healy).

At this point, we just want to ask these brilliant thinkers, “How do you explain the fact that US imperialism killed Osama bin Laden if Al-Qaeda is an arm of the US today?”

Another group, the Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism (USA) refuses to take a side in the Syrian Revolution. In a recently published polemic against us it claims: “The RCIT is the most important centrist organization leading the opportunist chorus that argues for support of the rebels. (…) It spouts a lot of good revolutionary rhetoric, but it tends to capitulate to imperialism when it comes to concrete acid tests.” (10)

Clearly those of us who live in the imperialist states and oppose imperialism must do everything we can to prevent them from military intervention in Syria as our main enemy is at home. This however is not only true for the Western imperialist states but also for imperialist China and Russia.

Concerning the claims that the Western imperialist are intervening in Syria, one has to say clearly, that military intervention is sending the imperialist planes, warships, and troops, not a few weapons.

The fact is that unlike in Libya, Western imperialists do not intervene militarily in Syria, but push for a political accord similar to the Oslo agreement that serves their interests in controlling the region.

“The United States hopes to bring moderate elements of the Syrian opposition together with the government at a peace conference tentatively expected next month in Geneva to try to end a two-and-a-half year civil war in which more than 100,000 people have died.” (11)

Revolutionary Marxists do not oppose sending weapons, even from imperialist states, to the rebels as long as the rebels do not politically subordinate themselves to the imperialists. Needless to say, we do not oppose non-imperialists states sending weapons This point should be clear at least to those who claim to be Trotskyists.

In his article “Learn to Think,” Trotsky wrote in 1938:
Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists.

At the same time, the French maritime workers, even though not faced with any strike whatsoever, would be compelled to exert every effort to block the shipment of ammunition intended for use against the rebels. Only such a policy on the part of the Italian and French workers constitutes the policy of revolutionary internationalism.

Does this not signify, however, that the Italian workers moderate their struggle in this case against the fascist regime? Not in the slightest. Fascism renders “aid” to the Algerians only in order to weaken its enemy, France, and to lay its rapacious hand on her colonies. The revolutionary Italian workers do not forget this for a single moment. They call upon the Algerians not to trust their treacherous “ally” and at the same time continue their own irreconcilable struggle against fascism, “the main enemy in their own country”. Only in this way can they gain the confidence of the rebels, help the rebellion and strengthen their own revolutionary position.” (12)

Sometimes Israel, which is accused by these great minds of also being behind the Islamists, speaks with two voices. One of them is that Israel prefers Assad, rather than the Islamists.

The Times of London reports:
“According to Israeli intelligence officer quoted in report, weakened but intact Syria under President Bashar Assad is better for Israel and region than takeover by Islamist rebels.” (13)

This was denied the next day by the Israeli PM. (14) However, this denial contradicts Israel actual position in the last two years. According to the Israeli paper Globs, Israel prefers Assad in power:

“Israel’s quiet support of Assad has no partners in the US and the EU, who are hesitantly seeking ways to weaken him, and brings Israel into tacit alliance with Hezbollah.” (15)

As we will demonstrate, Israel indeed has reasons to prefer the victory of Assad rather than the Islamists, for the same reason it prefers the Palestinian authority over Hamas. But to do this we have to review the relations of the Assad regime (the father) and Israel. We will begin by reviewing Israel politics in Lebanon.

Israel, Lebanon, and Syria

Laura Zittrain Eisenberg wrote in a book on the history of Zionism: “Until the end of the First World Imperialist War, Lebanon Palestine and Syria were not separate states. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, led to the partition of the Levant into zones, and it marked a Palestine-Lebanon border. British imperialism got Palestine while the French got Syria and Lebanon. A few Zionist colonies in Lebanon found themselves under French rule, as did the entire Litani river. The Zionists appealed to the British, saying that the existence of the Galilee depended on the water resources of the Litani and that the 1918 line of demarcation deprived Palestine of water. The Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn, who was an agronomist, surveyed the northern part of Palestine and concluded that the Litani River was essential for the irrigation and cultivation of the Galilee. The independent engineering firm of Fox and Partners, commissioned by the Zionist Organization to survey the economic potential of Palestine, confirmed his claim.” (16)

Awyn R. Rouyer explained in an article on the Water policy of Israel: ” In the proposals submitted to the Paris “Peace conference” of 1919 the Zionist Organization stated that control over the region’s rivers (Litani and Jordan) was the primary goal of any boundary agreement and an absolute necessity for the survival of a Jewish national home in Palestine”. (17)

Israel’s interest in Lebanon continued. As Laura Zittrain Eisenberg reports: “Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, occasionally expressed a passing interest in Lebanon’s Maronites and the hope that one day Israel would enjoy an alliance with a strong Christian state in Lebanon.” (18)

The diaries of Moshe Sharett, an Israeli prime minister during the mid-1950s, reveal that Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, chief of staff and defense minister, were strong advocates of Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon to the Litani River. (19)

Israel eventually did establish close relations with the right-wing Maronites of Lebanon: “The patriarchs of Lebanon’s Christian community, particularly Pierre Jumayyil and Camille Shamun, were tempted by Israeli offers of assistance, but they nevertheless resisted entrusting the security of the Maronites to Israel and abjured close contact with Israel. But in 1976, threatened by the escalating Civil War, a new generation of Lebanese Christian leaders turned to Israel for military support against the ascendant PLO and the Muslim left. After a series of clandestine meetings between Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency, and militia leaders Bashir Jumayyil and Dani Shamun, Israel began supplying US$50 million per year to arm and equip the Christian fighters.” (20)

Palestinian refugees settled in Lebanon after the Nakba of 1948, when around 900,000 Palestinians were removed from their land and homes. However the PLO fighters arrived to Lebanon after King Hussian of Jordan expelled the PLO from Jordan in 1970, an event that entered history as “Black September.”
The PLO was an ally of the Lebanese left during the 1976 civil war, and formed a state within a state in Lebanon. The pro-imperialist government of Lebanon was more than happy to see the invasion of the country by Israel.

On October 14, 1976, Lebanese Ambassador Edward Ghorra told the UN General Assembly the PLO was bringing ruin upon his country. Palestinian elements belonging to various splinter organizations resorted to kidnapping Lebanese and sometimes foreigners, holding them prisoner, questioning them, and even sometimes killing them. This line was promoted by the Western propaganda.

Columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak declared after touring south Lebanon and Beirut that the facts “tend to support Israel’s claim that the PLO has become permeated by thugs and adventurers.” (21) Countless Lebanese told harrowing tales of rape, mutilation and murders committed by PLO forces.

Anyone who is familiar with the Western propaganda knows that this is a standard line of imperialism to justify imperialist military intervention. Recently we saw it in Mali and now we hear the same line about the Islamist opposition in Syria.

On June 6, the Israeli state invaded Lebanon in what is known in Israel as “Operation Peace for Galilee” and throughout the rest of the world as the “First Lebanese War.”

Israel was backed by American imperialism. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger defended the Israeli operation: “No sovereign state can tolerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction and implementing its objectives by periodic shellings and raids.” (22)

While initially Israel claimed that the war was launched to create a security zone of 40 km, the real objective was to expel the PLO from Lebanon and force Lebanese leaders to sign a surrender treaty. In 1983 Lebanon’s President, Amin Gemayel, signed such a treaty with Israel.

When the Zionist army captured Beirut, it inflicted real suffering on the civilian population of Beirut which was justified by Israel on the grounds that the PLO refused to surrender and was hiding behind the civilian population. “The Israelis bombed buildings, innocent looking on the outside, where their intelligence told them that PLO offices were hidden,” wrote Middle East analyst Joshua Muravchik. (23)

Israel has, time and again, used the same excuse in Lebanon and in Gaza. By mid-June, an American diplomat, Ambassador Philip Habib, mediated the PLO withdrawal from Lebanon.

In numerous instances, the media around the world reported that Israel was hitting civilian areas where there were no military targets nearby. On one night in July, Israeli shells hit seven embassies in Beirut. NBC aired a report that appeared to lend credence to PLO claims that it had no military positions in the area. “Israel,” Muravchik noted, “soon released reconnaissance photos showing the embassy area honeycombed with tanks, mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft positions.”

The Lebanon war provoked large demonstrations in Israel itself. Prime Minister Menachem Begin eventually resigned as demands for an end to the fighting grew daily. However, Israel remained in Lebanon until the year 2000 when it was forced to flee under Hezbollah attacks. In that year, Israel pulled all its troops out of southern Lebanon on May 24, 2000, ending a 22-year military presence there.

The barbarism of Israel and its Christian allies was exposed in the massacre of Sabra and Shatila. The following is taken from an accurate description of the event as reported last year by the International Middle East Media Center.
“On September 16 1982, after the Israeli occupation army, led by Ariel Sharon, surrounded the refugee camp after invading Beirut, and granted access to the Phalanges to enter the camp to slaughter its refugees. The massacre lasted for three days (16, 17 and 18 of September 1982), approximately 3500-8000 persons, including children, infants, women and elderly were slaughtered and murdered in this horrific and gruesome massacre perpetrated by the Israeli army and its allied criminal militia.

Israeli soldiers, led by Sharon and Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan, made sure their forces are surrounding the refugee camp, isolated it from its surrounding, and allowed the Phalanges to invade it and murder thousands of innocent refugees using white weapons.

Following the massacre, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the circumstances that led to this ugly crime against thousands of helpless refugees.

In 1983, the Cahan Commission announced the results of what it called an “investigation” of the massacre, and decided that Sharon is “indirectly responsible” as he ignored the possibility of it taking place, ignored the danger of bloodshed and revenge.

Sharon continued his political career, to become Prime Minister and held various important positions until he suffered stroke on January 4 2006, and has been in a permanent vegetative state since then.

The massacre was not the first, nor the last, as Israeli soldiers carried out numerous massacres against the Palestinian people in different places including Deir Yassin, Qibya, Tantour, Jenin, Jerusalem, Hebron and so many areas.

Not a single Israeli official, commander or soldier was ever held accountable for the ugly crimes, and massacres, against the Palestinian people.” (24)

The Role of Syria in Jordan and Lebanon

While Assad the father always claimed that he was pro-Palestinian, in reality, in 1970, as the Syrian Minister of Defense, he allowed King Hussein to carry out “Black September.”

“In September 1970—the “Black September” of Arab in retrospect—Salah Jadid sent more than a hundred Syrian tanks into Jordan in support of Palestinian forces then under attack by the Jordanian forces. Assad, then minister of defense, grounded the Syrian Air Force, allowing the Syrian tanks to be mauled by the Jordanian Air Force. “Badly defeated by the Jordanian forces, the Syrian tanks began to withdraw from Jordan on September 23–24 leaving a large number of vehicles destroyed or captured by Jordanian forces.” (25)
In 1975, during the civil war between the right-wing Phalangists and the left-leaning Moslem forces, Assad the father backed the right-wing. According to the Council of Foreign Affairs:

“Full-scale civil war broke out in April 1975 between the Maronite Christian groups of the Lebanese Front and the Lebanese National Movement, which was made up of left-leaning Muslims who wanted a greater share of political power. Fighting was intense, and in June 1976 the Maronite-dominated government asked for support from Syria.

Syria had previously mounted several failed diplomatic efforts to stop the war. For then-Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad — the current president’s father — the Lebanese conflict presented a range of possibilities, all of them unappealing: sectarian strife spilling over into Syria, which had its own Christian-Muslim tensions; an Israeli invasion of Lebanon; or the establishment of a radical, left-wing Muslim state, if the Lebanese National Movement won. Assad sent in troops to strengthen the Maronite government, which he calculated he could manipulate, many Mideast analysts say. Assad’s move earned the wrath of the Muslim world, because he backed the Christian side. Still, small contingents of troops from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Sudan later joined the Syrian-dominated Arab Deterrent Force. The war lasted 15 years.” (26)

The tacit agreements of red lines between Israel and Syria (and Egypt( helped Israel to carry out its invasion of Lebanon. According to Michael Eisenstad and David Schenker of the Washington Institute:

“Since the 1973 war, Syria and Israel have established ‘well-understood rules of the game’ consisting of a series of unwritten agreements that have limited the scope and duration of the clashes that have sometimes occurred between the two parties and prevented a full-scale war.

The Golan understanding. For more than three decades, Syrian-Israeli relations in the Golan have been governed by the May 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, which provides for an indefinite ceasefire and a separation and thinning out of forces on both sides of the disengagement line. Israel’s ratification of the agreement was predicated on an unwritten, unacknowledged commitment by Syria not to permit terrorist infiltration through the Golan, which Damascus largely observed.

Lebanon “red lines. Syria’s military intervention in Lebanon led to a new set of tacit arrangements between Syria and Israel. From March 1976 until the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005, Syrian-Israeli relations in Lebanon were governed by a series of tacit understandings, loosely defined “red lines” demarcating Israeli and Syrian spheres of influence, deployments, and activities.” (27)

Hafez Al-Assad in Support of an Imperialist War

In the 1991 Gulf war Syria joined the coalition led by US imperialism:
“Despite the lack of consensus, the Egyptians and Saudis mustered a majority of 12 states behind Arab League Resolution 195. Its operative parts denounced Iraq’s ‘threats’ to the GCC states and its concentration of troops on the Saudi border and then expressed support for the steps taken on behalf of Saudi Arabia’s‘right of legitimate defense,’ namely, the request for foreign forces to be stationed in Saudi Arabia. This right was anchored in the Arab League’s Joint Defense Pact of 1950, Article 51 of the UN Charter, and Security Council Resolution 661 adopted four days earlier. In addition, clause six of the resolution declared the summit members’ intent to comply with the request from Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states to dispatch Arab forces to help them defend their territories “against any foreign aggression. The 12 states favoring resolution 195 were: Egypt, the six GCC states, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, and Djibouti. Three participants voted against – Iraq, Libya and the PLO (which on the following day changed its vote to one of abstention); Algeria and Yemen abstained, and Jordan, Sudan and Mauritania expressed reservations. Tunisia had already expressed its position by not attending.“ (28)

Another article reports:
“The United States and Syria found common ground when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait in August of 1990. Syria was included in the American-led coalition that liberated Kuwait. After the war, Syrian and American officials met in various negotiations with Israel and other Arab countries in hopes of resolving the Golan Heights issue but with no positive result.” (29)

Bashar Al-Assad and Privatization

If during Hafez al-Assad’s rule Syria was a regime of state capitalism which the nationalist Baath party called “socialism,” when Bashar al-Assad came to power, he entirely opened Syria’s economy to the imperialists:

“The gradual increase of neo-liberal policies and privatization exaggerated the inequality between the poor and the rich, which was especially felt in middle-class areas, and mid-sized and large cities. While a small portion of the crony capitalists and loyalists to Assad were able to benefit from these policies, the vast majority of the population was disenfranchised. The uprising in the Arab world (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya) in 2011 also sparked the revolution against Bashar, who was still perceived as an inept leader.” (30)

Even the Syrian Communist Party, a strong supporter of Assad against the revolution, has to admit: “When we evaluate the 10-year period before the aggression toward Syria, we see that the Syrian government made grave mistakes in the economic area. By choosing neoliberal economic policies, it opened the Syrian market to foreign imports, especially Turkish and Qatari products. As a result, hundreds of factories and workshops shut down and millions of workers lost their jobs.

In fact, there was not a substantial change in these neoliberal policies when the imperialist intervention started. As the Syrian CP, we think that the adoption of these neoliberal economic policies was a fatal mistake. We believe that the solution needs to start by putting an end to these policies.

In addition, a war is going on in Syria. We are facing multifaceted and serious problems. It is important to realize that it is not only the Syrian army that is resisting against the imperialist-backed foreign forces. Ordinary Syrians are also fighting. It would not have been possible for the army to resist for two years against such an assault otherwise.

With this in mind, it is critical that the government support the people through economic policies in order for the popular resistance to be able to survive. But, unfortunately, it is difficult to say that the government realizes this fact even now. They more or less continue with the neoliberal policies. As the Syrian CP, we believe the biggest risk factor for the Syrian resistance is the economy.” (31)

Yet the Syrian Communist Party’s position, as well many of the so called Communist parties throughout the world, support Assad the butcher on the ground that the civil war in Syria is under an imperialist attack on Syria:

”You know that our country- Syria- has been being exposed for more than twenty months, to a war lunched against it by scores of imperialist states, besides other countries that move round them as satellites. Their aim is to destroy the Syrian state that stands as an obstacle on the road of those trying to impose the plan of a “greater Middle East”, after breaking down the states in the region and replacing them with small entities fighting one another, to impose absolute domination on the oil and gas resources; to eliminate the Palestinian problem in a way extremely opposite to the interests of the Palestinian people.” (32)

Similarly Britain’s Communist Party writes:

“”Britain’s Communist Party has declared that the war currently taking place in Syria is not one for democracy or for the rights of the Syrian people. Instead, the party declares in a statement today (September 20) the conflict is about the ‘strategic interests of US imperialism’ and those of Britain, France and the European Union.

“‘The removal of the Syrian government has been part of the long-term strategy of imperialism from the time of President Reagan onwards’, accuses the Communist Party of Britain’s political committee, noting that the Damascus regime was one of three added by senior US officials to the original ‘axis of evil’ countries (Iraq, Iran and North Korea). The other two were Libya and Cuba.

“In all six cases, their governments were to be removed, by force if necessary, in order to further US global strategic interests.’

“‘Syria, strategically positioned in the region, is an obstacle to the strategic interests of imperialism, whereas toppling the Bashar al-Assad government will tip the balance in favour of US and Western interests,’ according to Britain’s communists…

“The CPB political committee argues that the Damascus regime is an obstacle not only to imperialism’s strategic plans but also to those of Israel and reactionary Arab states.

“‘The brutal autocracies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have no scruples about using the most backward, mediaevalist Islamic forces, including Al-Qa’ida, to undermine the al-Assad administration, even at the cost of fanning anti-Muslim prejudice and hatred in Europe and the United States,’ Mr Foster pointed out.

“In the Communist Party’s view, Turkey is now also fully compliant with the interests of imperialism in the region, as demonstrated by its central role in arming and sustaining the foreign Islamist jihadists who are playing a pivotal role in the struggle to overthrow the Syrian government.” (33)

The same Argument as in 1948

This position on the part of the Stalinist counter-revolutionary parties is not a great surprise. These parties already crossed the Rubicon into the camp of the counter-revolution in the mid-1930s, with their commitment to the popular front governments – supporting the subordination of the working class to the capitalist class. Among the results of this policy was their support to the creation of Israel in 1948 with very similar argument they use in Syria. The Zionist struggle, aimed at expelling the Palestinians in order to create a Zionist state with a Jewish majority, was portrayed as an anti imperialist struggle. As Avi Schlam has written:

“The birth of the State of Israel in 1948 coincided with the onset of the Cold War between East and West. In 1947, as the struggle for Palestine entered its critical phase, the United States and the Soviet Union came out in support of the establishment of an independent Jewish state. Both superpowers voted in favour of the UN resolution for the partition of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state in what was one of the rare occasions of agreement between them during the Cold War. This was followed up with political support, diplomatic recognition, and, in the case of the Soviet Union, the supply of vital military aid to the fledgling state. Israel thus came into the world under uniquely propitious international circumstances: it enjoyed the support of both East and West in its struggle for independence.” (34)

An article published in the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram in 2008 detailed the Soviet diplomatic strategy: “Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko was instructed to present the new line. For the first time the USSR advocated the creation of a Jewish state. The new line was duly presented to the General Assembly on 29 November 1947 in the historic vote to partition Palestine. A two-thirds majority was needed and here the role of the USSR was again decisive when it pressured Byelorussia, Ukraine, Poland and Czechoslovakia to also vote ‘Yes’. Therefore, it needs to be stressed that if the USSR had adhered to its earlier position of opposing the partition of Palestine, it is highly improbable that Israel would have been created in May 1948. Indeed, the likely outcome would have been a unified Palestine under UN trusteeship.

“However, after the expected opposition of Arab states and with violence in Palestine itself, the US began to have doubts. On 19 March 1948, the US ambassador to the UN argued for a provisional trusteeship that had been the USSR’s original plan. Gromyko countered this in an uncompromising, de facto Zionist, speech at the 30 March meeting of the UN Security Council that secured partition: ‘… the only way to reduce bloodshed is the prompt and effective creation of two states in Palestine. If the United States and some other states block the implementation of the partition and regard Palestine as an element in their economic and military- strategic considerations, then any decision on the future of Palestine, including the establishment of a trusteeship regime, will mean the transformation of Palestine into a field of strife and dissension between the Arabs and the Jews and will only increase the number of victims.”

“Moreover, despite a UN weapons embargo on Palestine, Czech weapons were sold, with Soviet knowledge, to Zionists in Palestine that facilitated the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from their land. The rest, as they say, is history. As Rucker summarizes in his insightful paper, ‘Moscow provided political, military, and demographic support to Israel” for the absurd reason that the only means of weakening Britain’s power in the Middle East was by supporting the Zionist movement. It didn’t take long for this policy to unravel. The various communist parties in Arab states immediately suffered a hemorrhage of members as the USSR’s reputation and influence in the Arab world was severely damaged; whilst the new state of Israel unequivocally joined the Western camp. Britain’s influence did decline but rather than divisions arising, Britain remained firmly wedded to the US, helped by Marshall Aid reconstruction funds. Moreover, without demurring, it settled into its new role as the US’s junior partner. The net effect of the USSR’s policy turn was, therefore, precisely the opposite of what had been intended. The Zionists had played a brilliant hand as they cleverly finessed Stalin and his cohorts.

“The truly shocking fact in this version of the ‘Great Game’ is that the victims were contemptuously ignored, as if they were mere cattle. It is my contention that the Soviet Union’s role in the creation of Israel and the Nakba should be accorded greater significance than the Balfour Declaration of 1917; yet it is the latter that attracts far more attention.” (35)

Norman Berdichevsky has described the CP-USA’s about-face regarding Palestine following the new Soviet strategy: “A 1947 CP-USA resolution entitled ‘Work Among the Jewish Masses’ berated the Party’s previous stand and proclaimed that ‘Jewish Marxists have not always displayed a positive attitude to the rights and interests of the Jewish People, to the special needs and problems of our own American Jewish national group and to the interests and rights of the Jewish Community in Palestine.’ The new reality that had been created in Palestine was a ‘Hebrew nation’ that deserved the right to self-determination. Remarkably, the Soviet propaganda machine even praised the far right underground groups of the Irgun and ‘Stern Gang’ for their campaign of violence against the British authorities. Today’s media never attempt to explain how it was Soviet and East Block aid and not American support that was the crucial factor in newborn Israeli state.” (36)

Today Socialist Fight and the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International led by Gerry Downing are echoing the Stalinist line on Syria, a position which is based on the nonsensical belief that the forces fighting against Assad are simply tools of the imperialists.

A website close to the SF/LCFI, VOAG (Voice of Anti-Capitalism in Guildford), published an interview with Gerry Downing and asked “What is the correct position to take on the Syria question?”

VOAG: “…for the defeat of the rebels and Imperialism whilst giving no political support to Assad against the Syrian working class…” what does this mean in practice?”

GD: “It means that you are for the victory of the Syrian National Army over the rebels and Imperialism and you would work for that politically and in whatever practical way you could. But you would not seek to hide the crimes of Assad against the working class and his and his father’s previous history of collaborating with Zionism and the US against the Palestinians, for instance. You would prepare for his overthrown at a later stage by the organized working class. But right now the main enemy is Imperialism and its allies and proxies in Syria…

“Of course Assad is an enemy of the Syrian and global working class, but right now he is a secondary enemy and the Anti-Imperialist United Front means a temporary alliance with him today against Imperialism and its proxies, the main and immediately threatening enemy, in order to prepare for his overthrow by the revolutionary working class after the defeat of Imperialism. Such revolutionaries as exist in Syria must have that as their goal, maintaining their political independence in this way.” (37)

The problem with this position is not only that it is wrong with regard to the specific situation, but that, even if it were true that Assad is fighting imperialism, it is dangerous close to the line maintained by the Stalinists in Spain during the Spanish revolution. Consistent with the reformist two-stage theory, the Stalinists position was that in the first stage we must fight Franco’s fascism and then, after the victory, we will carry out a socialist revolution. The problem with this position was that, in order to win the civil war against Franco, whose forces were backed by Hitler and Mussolini, a working class revolution was needed.

Revolutionary workers must understand how the Bolsheviks defeated the right wing rebellion led by Kornilov and against Kerensky. In August 1917, Kornilov announced that he was bringing troops into Petrograd to protect the provisional government and overthrow the Petrograd Soviet. The Bolsheviks called the workers to mobilize for the defeat of the Kornilov coup and thus forming a military united front with Kerensky. Kerensky was forced to give weapons to all those who would defend the city. He released and armed all Bolsheviks from prison. A total of 25,000 Bolsheviks formed a militia to defend Petrograd. Railway workers refused to transport Kornilov’s troops into the city. The cavalry refused to attack the city’s defenders. The soldiers refused to obey Kornilov’s commands.

Thus, in 1917, when Kornilov tried to overthrow Kerensky government the Bolsheviks formed a military united front with Kerensky army but prepared the overthrow of Kerensky. The Bolsheviks led workers militias and revolutionary agitation and propaganda to split and disarm the Kornilov forces and as soon as Kornilov was defeated the Bolsheviks that became the leaders of the revolution took power. The Bolsheviks under Lenin did not call for first the victory of Kerensky and only then they would fight against the Kerensky regime.

Those who are in doubt as to the Leninist position should read Lenin himself who wrote: “It is my conviction that those who become unprincipled are people who (like Volodarsky) slide into defencism or (like other Bolsheviks) into a bloc with the S.R.s, into supporting the Provisional Government. Their attitude is absolutely wrong and unprincipled. We shall become defencists only after the transfer of power to the proletariat, after a peace offer, after the secret treaties and ties with the banks have been broken—only afterwards. Neither the capture of Riga nor the capture of Petrograd will make us defencists. (I should very much like Volodarsky to read this.) Until then we stand for a proletarian revolution, we are against the war, and we are no defencists.

“Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing Line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise and allow themselves to be carried away by the course of events.

“We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference. It is rather a subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten.

“What, then, constitutes our change of tactics after the Kornilov revolt?

“We are changing the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without in the least relaxing our hostility towards him, without taking back a single word said against him, without renouncing the task of overthrowing him, we say that we must take into account the present situation. We shall not overthrow Kerensky right now. We shall approach the task of fighting against him in a different way, namely, we shall point out to the people (who are fighting against Kornilov) “Kerensky’s weakness and vacillation. That has been done in the past as well. Now, however, it has become the all-important thing and this constitutes the change.

“The change, further, is that the all-important thing now has become the intensification of our campaign for some kind of “partial demands” to be presented to Kerensky: arrest Milyukov, arm the Petrograd workers, summon the Kronstadt, Vyborg and Helsingfors troops to Petrograd, dissolve the Duma, arrest Rodzyanko, legalise the transfer of the landed estates to the peasants, introduce workers’ control over grain and factories, etc., etc. We must present these demands not only to Kerensky, and not so much to Kerensky, as to the workers, soldiers and peasants who have been carried away by the course of the struggle against Kornilov. We must keep up their enthusiasm, encourage them to deal with the generals and officers who have declared for Kornilov, urge them to demand the immediate transfer of land to the peasants, suggest to them that it is necessary to arrest Rodzyanko and Milyukov, dissolve the Duma, close down Rech and other bourgeois papers, and institute investigations against them. The “Left” S.R.s must be especially urged on in this direction.” (38)

The result of the Stalinist policy in Spain was, naturally enough, the defeat of the Spanish Revolution and the victory of Franco.

If it were true that Syria is under attack of imperialism and that Assad is fighting against imperialism, revolutionaries would form a military united front with the Assad army, while preparing to overthrow the regime and the capitalist state as soon as possible. However, we cannot trust the Assad regime’s wining a war against imperialism, because what it fears most is a socialist revolution… Furthermore, were Assad fighting against imperialism, we as revolutionaries would have to demand the arming of workers’ militias, the taking over of lands by the peasants, the occupation of the factories; by no means trust “Kerensky” to defeat the right wing rebellion and then…

But this is entirely moot speculation as in reality Assad is not fighting against imperialism but against the Syrian revolution. And he is launching the civil war against the popular masses with the full support of Russian and Chinese imperialism and with Western imperialism vacillating between tactical, limited support for a minority sector of the rebels and tacit approval for the continuation of the Baath party regime.

Since we have already written extensively about the Syrian revolution, here we will only point out the main problems with the position of those who support Assad. (39)

1. It is not true that the imperialists really support the opposition. In September of this year, Assad was accused of using chemical weapons against the civilian population. Ostensibly, this could have been used by the US and European imperialists as a pretext to intervene militarily in Syria. Yet they have chosen not to intervene militarily.

2. Secondly, there is clear evidence that the US provides very little military aid to the rebels, and only to a small section of them.

3. The US currently supports an agreement between a section of the opposition and Assad’s regime that will not involve toppling the regime.

4. It is clear that the Gulf States, which are not imperialist states, do provide weapons to the rebels

5. Russia and China, which both provide Assad with weapons and political support, are imperialist states.

To conclude, the revolutionary position is to establish a military united front with those forces that not only oppose Assad but also who themselves are not subordinate to the imperialists, whether American, European or Russian and Chinese. This opposition to the imperialists must be to any such manifestation of their involvement: be it military intervention, or a so-called political solution like the Geneva conference, which is not likely to get off the ground in any case.

At the same time, we do not give the opposition to Assad, whether secular or Islamist, any political support and point out to the working class the revolutionary position: a socialist revolution lead by the working class, poor peasants and urban poor. For this to happen, it is necessary to begin forming the nucleus of a revolutionary working class party.

(1) UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria “I don’t see any prospect of Geneva II — The scramble for Geneva II” Al Jazzera October 27, 2013,
(2) ibid
(3) Steve Almasy and Nick Paton Walsh “Syrian rebels warn against talks with regime” CNN, October 27, 2013,
(4) Daily Mail online, 23 October 2013,
(5) “Syrian ceasefire but imperialism continues to arm rebel fighters,” The New Worker, Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain, Week commencing 26th October 2012,
(6) Kirat Radia: ”Attack Helicopter Dispute Spotlights Russia’s Huge Arms Trade with Syria,” ABC NEWS, June 14, 2012,
(7) Ken Dilanian and Raja Abdulrahim: U.S. fears radical Islamists could take root in Syria, Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2013,,0,5605017.story#axzz2mEJcTQYi
(8) Susan Cornwell: U.S. providing some lethal aid to Syrian rebels: opposition spokesman, September 10, 2013, Reuters,
(9) Bill Van Auken: The US-Al Qaeda alliance in Syria and the fraud of the war on terror,” WSWS, September 6, 2013,
(10) Dave Winter: Left Opportunism and Syria. What Is Behind the Opportunism of the Left Groups that Support the Rebels in Syria, HWRS(USA), October 24, 2013,
(11) Arshad Mohammed: “U.S. sees Syria’s Assad strengthened by rise of Islamist groups,” Reuters, October 22, 2013,
(12) Leon Trotsky: Learn to Think, in: New International, Vol.4, No.7, July 1938, pp. 206-207.
(13) Sheera Frenkel and Roger Boyes: “Islamist fear drives Israel to support Assad survival,” The Times, May 17 2013,
(14) Netanyahu: “Not true that Israel prefers Assad to rebels” (…/netanyahu-not-true-that-israel-prefers-assad-to-rebels)
(15) Jacky Hougy: Israel prefers Assad in power, Globs, May 30, 2013,
(16) Laura Zittrain Eisenberg: Early Zionist Interest In Lebanon, A Chapter from “My Enemy’s Enemy”,
(17) Rouyer, Awyn R.: Zionism and water: Influences on Israel’s future water policy during the pre-state period, in: Arab Studies Quarterly, Fall 96, Vol. 18 Issue 4. (The full text of the World Zionist Organization memorandum to the Paris Peace Conference can be found in J. C. Hurewitz, ed., Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East, pp. 45-9).
(18) Laura Zittrain Eisenberg, “Israel’s South Lebanon Imbroglio,” Middle East Quarterly, June 1997, pp. 60-69,
(19) Rabinovich, I. in Rouyer, Awyn R., The war for Lebanon, 1970-1985, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y. 1985.
(20) Lebanon. The Interwar Years, Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook,
(21) Washington Post, June 25, 1982; quoted in: First Lebanon War: Background & Overview (1982 – 1985),
(22) Washington Post, June 16, 1982; quoted in: First Lebanon War: Background & Overview (1982 – 1985),
(23) “Misreporting Lebanon,” Policy Review, Winter 1983; quoted in: First Lebanon War: Background & Overview (1982 – 1985),
(24) For the full report see: Remembering Sabra And Shatila Massacre, International Middle East Media Center, September 16, 2013,
(25) Quandt, Jabber, and Lesch, The Politics of Palestinian Nationalism, University of California Press, 1973, pp. 126–128; quoted in: Conor Cruise O’Brien: Asad and Black September, reply by Shaul Bakhash, The New York Review of Books, November 22, 1990,
(26) Esther Pan: Middle East: Syria and Lebanon, February 18, 2005, Council on Foreign Relations,
(27) Michael Eisenstadt and David Schenker : Syria’s Role in the War in Lebanon, August 8, 2006, Washington Institute Policy #1139,
(28) Bruce Maddy-Weitzman: The Inter-Arab System and the Gulf War: Continuity and Change, The Carter Center, November 1991, p. 9
(29) Keith Porter: “The US-Syrian relationship”,
(30) Majid Rafizadehapr: “How Bashar al-Assad Became So Hated,” The Atlantic April 17, 2013,
(31) “Adel Omar, Syrian Communist, explains responsibility to defend the homeland. Calls for resistance front against the imperialist attack,” Liberation ,May 31, 2013,
(32) “A Message from the Syrian Communist Party” September, 2013,
(33) Communist Party: Speak out on Syria;
(34) Avi Shlaim: Israel between East and West, 1948-1956, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 36, No. 4, November 2004,
(35) Rumy Hasan, “The Soviet hand in Israel”, Al-Aharam, May 21, 2008
(36) Norman Berdichevsky: “Israel’s Allies in 1948: The USSR, Czechoslovakia, American Mainline Churches and the Left,” September 20, 2010,
(37) Syria, the labour movement and the global working class: The VOAG speaks to Gerry Downing of Socialist Fight, September 9, 2013,
(38) V.I. Lenin: To the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., written on August 30 (September 12), 1917,
(39) See e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Syria: The Butcher in his own Words. Assad: A Friend of Israel and an Enemy of the Arab Popular Masses, 21.10.2013,;
RCIT: The Arab Revolution is a central touchstone for socialists! Open Letter to All Revolutionary Organizations and Activists, 4.10.2013,
RCIT: Syria: Down with the Imperialist Geneva Accord! Stop US and Russian imperialist interference in Syria! No imperialist-controlled “peace” negotiations which can only result in a defeat for the Revolution! International Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution against the murderous Assad Dictatorship!, 15.9.2013,;
Michael Pröbsting: US Administration: “Rebels fighting the Assad regime wouldn’t support American interests if they were to seize power”, 22.8.2013,;
Yossi Schwartz: Class struggle and religious sectarianism in Syria, 12.6.2013,;
Yossi Schwartz: Syria: After the defeat in Qusayr and ahead of the Battle for Aleppo, 11.6.2013,;
ISL-Leaflet: Victory to the Revolution in Syria!

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