Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Syria and the Left, Different Assesments.

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London anti-war protest

Is this Enough?

An important interview with  Joseph Daher, a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current,  in International Viewpoint today makes the following point,

What is your response to some on the left who assert that the Syrian opposition are proxies for Western imperialism and the oil rich Gulf states?

The problem with some of the Western left, especially the Stalinists, is that they have been analysing the Syrian revolutionary process from a geo-political perspective, ignoring completely the socio-economic and political dynamism on the ground in Syria. Many of them also consider Iran, Russia, or Syria to be anti-imperialist states struggling against the USA, which is wrong on every aspect. Our choice should not be to choose between on one side the USA and Saudi Arabia and on the other side Iran and Russia, our choice is revolutionary masses struggling for their emancipation.

The background to this is the assessment that the democratic and social revolution against Assad, through local coordinating committees, continues.

We have to understand more generally the crucial role played by the popular committees and organisations in the continuation of the revolutionary process, they are the ultimate actors that allow the popular movement to resist. This is not to undermine the role played by the armed resistance, but even they are dependent on the popular movement to continue the battle, otherwise without it we would not stand a chance.

In this respect the role of the Islamists has been challenged,

The Syrian revolutionary masses have increasingly opposed the authoritarian and reactionary policies of these groups. In the city of Raqqa, which has been liberated from the forces of the regime since March 2013, many popular demonstrations occurred against the authoritarian actions of Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS in the city. Similar demonstrations took place with masses challenging this kind of behavior in Aleppo and other cities.

It should be said as well that Jabhat al Nusra has not hesitated to strike deals with the Assad regime, for example the regime is paying more than $150 million Syrian lire [AU $2.4 million] monthly to them to guarantee oil is kept pumping through two major pipelines in Banias and Latakia. Jabhat al Nusra fighters have also been involved in other businesses.

The Syrian National Council, instead of defending the principles of the revolution and doing everything possible to develop the democratic components of the FSA, have let these groups, which are and were part of the counter-revolution since their establishment, to develop without condemning them and actually providing them with cover. These groups, just like the Syrian regime want to divide the Syrian people into sectarian and ethnic entities. The Syrian revolution wants to break the sectarian and ethnic division.

Daher states,

Different leftist forces have been involved in the Syrian revolutionary process since the revolutionary process began. We can find numerous smaller leftist groups and youth in Syria participating in the revolutionary process, in popular committees on the ground, organisation of demonstrations and of the provision of services to the population. The left has mostly been engaged in the civil work, in opposition to the armed work.

From the very beginning, despite our modest capacities, we, the Current of the Revolutionary Left has not once faltered in our engagement with the revolution, calling for democracy and socialism. We have struggled alongside the people and all democratic forces for the victory of this great popular revolution, just as we struggle for the formation of a socialist workers’ party.

The Labour Representation Committee makes  this, very different,  assessment of the forces opposed to Assad.

The tragedy for the Syrian people is that what began as a mass movement for democracy, as part of the wider Arab spring, has been largely hijacked by western-backed and Gulf-funded anti-secular and anti-democratic groups, some linked to Al Qaeda and extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism, as Owen Jones recently pointed out (Independent – Owen Jones). The success of such forces could lead to a wholesale sectarian bloodbath.

This analysis is based on the following,

As Sami Ramadani pointed out in the July edition of Labour Briefing: ‘During the past two years, an assortment of terrorists flooded in from Libya, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Europe. Some are flown to Turkey to receive their arms and funds, an effort coordinated by a specially set up CIA HQ in Turkey. Saudi rulers generally back the Wahhabi Salafis and pro-Saudi secular forces associated with the Lebanese right wing, while Qatar backs the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Qatari and Saudi funds were given freely, especially during the 18 months of the fighting, to anyone who wanted to fight in Syria or defect from the regime. Qatar’s dictatorial rulers alone have spent $3 billion within two years in its efforts to topple Assad’s regime.’ (Labour Briefing – Battleground Syria).

We note, with great interest, that the Novueau Parti Anticapitaliste, (part of the Fourth International that Publishes International Viewpoint) has this to say about what should have been done to avert these developments.

Mais nous réaffirmons que les grandes puissances occidentales, en refusant de livrer les armes que réclament depuis tant de mois les structures collectives de lutte dont s’est doté ce peuple, portent aussi une lourde responsabilité dans la perpétuation du régime assassin, tout en contribuant au développement de courants obscurantistes religieux qui constituent un second ennemi mortel pour le peuple syrien.

But, we reaffirm that the principal  Western Powers, by refusing the supply arms – demanded for months by the  Syrian people’s collective structures of struggle – bear a heavy responsibility in sustaining the murdering regime. This has equally contributed to the development of religious obscurantist currents, who are mortal enemies of the Syrian people.

This call for arming the Syrian opposition has not unnaturally caused waves inside the NPA – see here,

All the evidence points to the Labour’s Representation Committee being right and the NPA/International Viewpoint having wildly exaggerated the strength of democratic and left forces in the Syrian opposition as it is presently fighting.

Behind this are wider differences inside the Arab left.

Nicolas Dot-Pouillard in le Monde Diplomatique noted last year that

“..unlike Egypt and Tunisia, the Syrian revolt has not had unanimous support from the Arab left. There is a split between those who sympathise with the protestors’ demands and those who fear foreign interference, both political and military”

He continued,

….unconditional supporters of the revolution do not seem to be in the majority either. Most of them are on the far left of the political spectrum, usually Trotskyist (the Socialist Forum in Lebanon, the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt) or Maoist (the Democratic Way in Morocco). They have links with sections of the opposition, such as Ghayath Naisse’s Syrian Revolutionary Left. Since spring 2011 they have taken part in occasional demonstrations in front of Syrian embassies and consulates in their own countries. There are also some independent leftwing intellectuals who support insurrection, like the Lebanese historian Fawwaz Traboulsi. They demand the fall of the regime, and rule out dialogue. Even though they champion peaceful popular protest, they believe the rebels have the right to resort to force of arms. Far left supporters of revolution distance themselves from the Syrian National Council (SNC) (5), one of the main opposition coalitions, because they believe its links with countries such as Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia could compromise the independence of the popular movement.


..the majority of the Arab left are maintaining a prudent distance from the Syrian uprising. They condemn its militarisation, which they say only benefits radical Islamist groups and the foreign fighters flocking to Syria. They criticise the sectarianism of the conflict, pitting first Alawite then Christian minorities against a Sunni majority radicalised by repression, which they fear will lead to unending civil war. And they worry about the regional and international balance of power. With Iran and Syria set against the Gulf monarchies, and Russia and China against the US, Syria has been put on the front line of a great international war game. The left tends to favour Iran and Syria, and Russia and China, rather than those they oppose.

For all their courage one gets the impression that the leftist forces in the Syrian opposition, not to mention any armed activity, are small in number. Has the “prudence” of those who did not joint them been proved wrong? The LCC’s judgement would indicate that it has not.

Dot-Pouillard’s conclusion remains valuable,

the position that much of the Arab left takes on Syria reflects its own clash with political Islam. That is why parties that normally claim to be “revolutionary” and “progressive”, even if they are not necessarily Marxist, are, paradoxically, hoping for a negotiated solution and gradual transition in Syria, for fear of disillusionment in the future.

One could add that those forces – from Counterfire to the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) – on the European left that once saw progressive aspects in political Islam are particularly in disarray.

Their allies in the Muslim Initiative are now engaged in protesting for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood – here the ally of a key player (the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood)  in the anti-Assad alliance.

More openly the Muslim Association of Britain – which jointly organised with the StWC the big demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq – has this to say,

We call on all activists and workers to support the revolution in every field and arena, everywhere; and to pressurise the political establishments to take firm action against the tyrannical Assad regime.

Dr Omer El-Hamdoon – MAB President said, “Out thoughts continue to be with the Syrian people, who have faced more than two and a half years of oppression; and more recently this chemical attack.”

“It is about time the international community takes firm action to put an end to the killing and destruction that it taking place in front of our eyes.”

As a group closely aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood we await with interest an protest from the MAB  against a Western armed response.

Or perhaps its ‘anti-imperialism’ was always a matter of variable geometry.

2 Responses

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  1. You write very fluently, it’s somewhat refreshing. In addition to something I posted a while back, you may be interested in this:

    Riley Frost

    August 29, 2013 at 1:50 pm

  2. That sad little picture at the top really does tell a thousand words.

    Compare and contrast with any image of the 1968 Grosvenor Square demo and remember that several of those protesting for Assad actually do look as they are old enough to have been Ho Ho Ho Chi Minhing away back then.


    Admittedly the 1968 marchers were no less middle class but at least they were young and attractive and looked as if they might have history on their side….

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