Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Syria: Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste Calls to Supply Weapons to Free Syrian Army, A Critical Response.

with 11 comments


Sectarian anti-Shiite Demonstration.

“The Syrian conflict is expected to dominate talks among leaders of the G8 nations meeting in Northern Ireland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet US President Barack Obama during the two-day annual summit for what could be prickly talks, as both leaders now offer military support to opposing sides in the war.” Reports Al-Jazeera.

“UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned there is no “palatable option” for dealing with the crisis in Syria.

He told the BBC there were “extremists” supporting both President Assad’s government and rebel forces, but said help would go towards “moderates”.”

Says the BBC.

The French Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA) has joined calls for arming the Free Syrian Army. As the governments of the US, Britain and France, will put this into practice it is worth examining the NPA’s  views. We will  place them within debates on the British left.

The NPA  begins by outlining the present developments in Syria, and the desperate state of the population. They note the self-organisation of the Syrian people, opposed to Assad regime, and assert that they largely do not recognise the authority of the opposition in exile. They then criticise the limited help given by the French, Socialist-led, government, to the resistance to the Baathist state.

Solidarité du mouvement ouvrier et démocratique

15th of June.

Alongside other European governments, the French state always finds  good reasons not to deliver weapons, especially the air defence and anti-tank  rockets demanded by the Syrian people who are bombarded daily. The French government’s response way to shake this off, and, without giving any specific response, to favour  “serious negotiations for peace” in Geneva. This leaves Assad strengthened by its Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies and ready to accelerate its criminal offensive against his own people.

In this twisted game the fundamentalist Gulf monarchies are supplying weapons – by drips . They thus give  arguments to the Western powers (to whom they are allied against the “terrorist threat”), and Bashar al-Assad is making the civil war into a sectarian religious – confessional –  struggle.

To top it all, while Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon welcome over a million and a half refugees the French government has restored the need for a transit visa  for Syrians. This helps prevent their escape from death.

Faced with this situation, the responsibility of the international workers’ and democratic movement to demand that our governments immediately provide weapons to the Free Syrian Army, which should be obliged to defend  the Syrian revolution.

Justified mistrust of any direct imperialist intervention should not lead to the abandonment of the Syrian people, but to the demand for the democratic control of supplies and aid, including a greatly increased level of humanitarian assistance.

Our responsibility is to immediately provide all possible assistance to the insurgents,  from our civil society to their civil society,  and to defend Syrian refugees who manage to get into ‘fortress’  Europe.

Jacques Babel

(Rendered into idiomatic English)

The NPA’s position begins from (we summarise) the premise that the war in Syria started as (and remains) a  “massive popular uprising against a  fascist regime that has launched a modern armoured army with all its firepower against the  people.”

One would add that a sense of urgency is propelled by accusations about the use of poison gas (sarin) and the most recent battles.

These are nevertheless some points that arise from the NPA statement.

Before making them I note that one can criticise anybody not deeply familiar with the position on the ground. Yet, when you say what somebody  agrees with this kind of remark is normally immediately  forgotten.

  • However the uprising began the NPA fails to consider in detail the growing international importance of the “confessional” element in the war. In Britain former violent critics of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood equally downplay the idea that a battle is raging  between their politicised strand of Islam and the Shiite-Alawite, forces lined up behind Assad. This has led, according to many many reports, to vicious religious inspired murders, on both sides.
  • Let us be precise, Al-Qaeda’s direct involvement in Syria  exists. Al-Qaeda affiliated networks are operating in the country, including elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jabhat al-Nusra, Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Fatah al-Islam and Jordanian Salafi-jihadists. They are said to be “small” but they are gaining strength. This means that  that the armed opposition to the Syrian regime contains a strong Sunni reactionary sectarian element determined to impose its agenda on any future state. They are already supplied, with the other opponents, from Saudi Arabia and Qutar, not to mention less open help from the US, Turkey, Libya and other sources.
  • This political-religious fracture has spread to the heart of Arab world. Egypt’s President Morsi has now taken sides, “Last Saturday Morsi attended a rally by hard-line clerics who have called for jihad and spoke before a cheering crowd at a Cairo stadium, mainly Islamists. Waving a flag of Egypt and the Syrian opposition, he ripped into the Syrian regime, announced Egypt was cutting ties with Damascus and denounced Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas for fighting alongside Assad’s forces.” Associated Press .
  • The Free Syrian Army’s political allies may have a democratic programme. There are (we are reminded in Le Monde and elsewhere) that there remain powerful democratic elements in Syrian civil society. They have protested against sectarian killings. Some of them are on the left. The  National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change is one umbrella grouping. It is not recognised by the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) and has no ties to the  Syrian National Council. It is, in other words, like the rest of the Syrian left, marginal.
  • The British left is largely opposed to any form of intervention in Syria. A section of it  is morally and politically soiled. That the same left has had close relations with the same Muslim Brotherhood in undeniable. The SWP even endorsed voting, in the second round of the country’s elections,  for the Brothers’ President Morsi in Egypt. Socialist Action backed  Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s visit to Ken Livingstone – the same man now calling for “holy war” against Shiites. George Galloway, the vociferous pro-Syrian regime MP,  only recently supported the Bangladeshi extreme right Islamists,Hefazat-e-Islami,  whose views on Muslim heretics are as bigoted as you can get. The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) is led by members of Counterfire who appear to think that anything, absolutely anything, that comes from America and the West has to be opposed.
  • There remains the suspicion that opposition to Assad from those backing intervention is motivated by his reliance on Iran and Hezbollah.

Going further into the reasons that lie behind people’s positions on Syria is important.

We could expand them to consider the motives for US, British, French and European government stands, not to mention Russia and Iran.

One can speak for a long time, a very long time, about the very good reasons to fight against Assad, (Anand Gopal discussing  here), but this analysis from North Star indicates a useful initial way of looking at things,

To start with, this revolution was rooted in the countryside where the regime’s abandonment of support for the peasantry created mass hatred for the system. But unlike the cities, where an organized working class could mount mass protests even up to and including a general strike in order to put pressure on the regime, the relatively atomized peasantry had to resort to arms almost immediately since this was the only tenable defense.

Very rapidly, those who had access to guns and the money necessary to defend the masses were propelled into the leadership. This meant for the Free Syrian Army that the owner of a cement factory became a top commander —  his access to funds was critical. In a very real sense, Syria was experiencing a kind of bourgeois-democratic revolution. It also explains the rise of the Islamist militias. With money pouring in from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it gave the jihadists’ clout.

Yet, he argues,

Even though the Islamists have become a major factor in the Syrian struggle, Gopal pointed to the more secular and more democratic-minded mass movement’s willingness to take them on. He referred to the conflicts taking place in Raqqa, the first provincial capital under rebel rule. Even though the Islamists are trying to impose Sharia law and codes that make women second-class citizens, the secular and democratic-minded residents are not intimidated.

But the main issue remains the one posed by the NPA: should we back the arming of the Free Syrian Army?

What possible help will this bring to the cause of the Syrian people’s freedom?

Seamus Milne, the Guardian commentator, has himself has an ambiguous relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. He has said of  its right-wing Tunisian branch (he used to call them “progressive” now he labels them ‘centrist’ ), the governing  Ennahda “its newly elected Islamist leaders pluralist enough to lead a successful democratisation and offer a progressive model for the rest of the region” (Here).

But is he wrong to say this?

The reality is that what began in Syria more than two years ago as a brutally repressed popular uprising has long since morphed into a vicious sectarian war, manipulated by outside forces to change the regional balance of power and already dangerously spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.

The consequences for Syria have been multiple massacres, ethnic cleansing, torture, a humanitarian crisis and the risk of the country’s breakup. The longer the war, the greater the danger of a Yugoslavian-style fragmentation into sectarian and ethnic enclaves.

The Assad regime bears responsibility for that, of course. But so do those who have funded and fuelled the war, bleeding Syria and weakening the Arab world in the process. The demand by Cameron and other western politicians to increase the flow of arms is reckless and cynical.

In summary these are further reasons why we are deeply sceptical about Louis Proyect’s call  for “solidarity with the Syrian revolution.

That should be enough: don’t take an active part in that war.


Comment, ” je l’espère n’est pas la position officielle du NPA”

I hope this is not the official position of the NPA.

Is it, or isn’t it?

11 Responses

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  1. So progressives should stop the imperialist powers from aiding/arming the progressive side in the Syrian war because the war has ugly, brutal, and sectarian characteristics brought on by the reactionary side?

    “Don’t take an active part in that war” is a nice option for people like me sitting behind their keyboards in the West but is impossible for anyone in/around Syria (Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Israel/Palestine); it’s also unclear who that statement is directed at — the imperialists? Progressives like the NPA?


    June 17, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    • Who is the progressive side in the Syrian civil war?

      There is little evidence that the Free Syrian Army, closely aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar, is progressive politically.

      The MB in Egypt has already demonstrated its contempt for human rights. Its belief in democracy is conditional on it getting its own way.

      Unless the conditions of civil war have produced a fraternal MB party/tendency in Syria until now unknown to history there is no reason to think that the Syrian opposition will create a democratic state, let alone a left-inclined one.

      Since the British government is now considering arming the Syrian opposition we have a specific very good reason to comment on the Syrian issue – excluding the right we have to write about any political event.

      That kind of moralistic shouting is not going to work with Tendance Coatesy.

      Though as I said, I’ve noticed in the past that people don’t say these things when you back what they support.

      Andrew Coates

      June 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm

  2. I can recall when quite a few of these same people condemning al-Qaeda ties to the Syrian opposition were cheering on al-Qaeda post-9/11.

    That said, the ties are there and certainly nothing good can come of Uncle Sam getting involved.


    June 17, 2013 at 7:38 pm

  3. Governance in liberated areas is already fairly democratic (given war time conditions), as I’ve documented here: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=8118

    There’s nothing moralistic and there’s no shouting involved when I ask you to clarify who you direct your concluding statement towards. I have yet to hear an answer.


    June 17, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    • Binh I am aware of this, but it does not change the direction the war is going in.

      The AWL is aid to have the view, which I consider largely true, that what is happening now has turned the Syrian revolution in a military struggle with various forms of undemocratic Islamism at the forefront.

      The position I take is not to take an active military side.

      That is surely fairly clear, though nothing is of crystal clarity in Syria today.

      Note: I added the Louis Project link to make more apparent what I was arguing against.

      Andrew Coates

      June 18, 2013 at 11:38 am

      • This was the position of Socialist Resistance (the NPA’s allies in the UK), January 2013.

        “The left outside of Syria needs to give its solidarity to the opposition and campaign against all foreign intervention. This of course should not prevent us from being critical when sections of the opposition call for western intervention or commits abuses. But anyone concerned about human rights, should welcome the victory of the opposition and the downfall of Bashar al-Assad. We must oppose all foreign intervention, not just that of the USA, Britain and France, but also that of Russia, Iran and the Gulf states – countries not known for their respect of human rights. That is the only way to ensure that it is the people of Syria themselves who should determine independently and freely their own future. The toppling of the Assad regime by the democracy movement would bring about a much deeper change in the state and society in Syria than it did in Egypt or Tunisia, as it would also be a defeat for the army and the corrupt elites. It would give confidence to the democracy movement in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries to continue their fight for deeper changes. A victory for the Syrian uprising will open a new front of popular resistance against the imperialist powers in the Middle East.”


        Andrew Coates

        June 18, 2013 at 12:48 pm

  4. This morning I was reflecting on how difficult the situation is for the FSA and the likelihood that they will soon be defeated militarily largely because of the asymmetrical warfare I discussed in my article. And then it dawned on me that this was exactly how the FMLN was described as the war in El Salvador was winding down. They could do nothing right, especially when they began executing Mayors. People have no idea how difficult it is for insurgents to operate in a one-sided terrain, especially when the rank-and-file soldier has not been indoctrinated in the way that, for example, the NLF was. The closest analogy in fact might not be with the FMLN but with the FLN of Algeria. I have a lot of respect for Andrew Coates, who is generally very careful, but his distaste for the FSA reminds me quite a bit of Camus’s journalism.


    June 18, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    • The FLN were fighting a colonial power, and certainly used great brutality.

      Their cause was just, and clear to all.

      Though not to Camus – I have a copy of the journalism in a fairly recent livre de poche.

      Regardless of that the consequences of that brutality (not to mention their own civil war with the MNA, Hadj’s Mouvement national algérien) and the militarism that meant power became concentrated in the Armée de libération nationale (ALN) are with us today.

      Le Pouvoir, as they call the undemocratic and corrupt power-structure in Algeria, is one of them.

      This is just one of the reasons this is not a happy reference Louis.

      I also have a lot of respect for your writings, and an interest in them.

      But I can’t see this fight in revolutionary terms any longer.

      Not even – as some have done – summoning the spirit of the French Revolution, the American war of independence, and the English Civil War (the latter has never meant much, or indeed anything, for me anyway) would help.

      Andrew Coates

      June 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm

  5. “Binh I am aware of this, but it does not change the direction the war is going in.”

    So, we’re only in solidarity with revolutions when they’re winning?

    The only reason women in Islamist-dominated Raqqa have the freedom to lead protests against Jabhat al-Nusrah is because the right side defeated the regime there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9hOsyH7zasw

    As the side you don’t support continues to lose to the regime, democratic outpourings will lose the space they have as Assad’s fascism triumphs.


    June 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    • I did not say that Binh.

      I said that the Algerian war of national liberation shows what lasting effects there are when a struggle becomes militarised.

      Andrew Coates

      June 20, 2013 at 11:51 am

  6. […] the French left some in the Novueau Parti Anticapitaliste has even launched an appeal this year  to arm the […]

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