Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Arms and the Means: the Left and Arming the Syrian Opposition.

with 17 comments

Is this as clear as it seems?

Does part of the left back arming the Syrian opposition to the murderous Assad regime?

A few months ago the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste site carried an article making  this call by Jacques Babel.

the responsibility of the international workers’ and democratic movementto 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.

15th of June.

The NPA’s most recent statement condemns the projected Western intervention in Syria.

In fact it is titled,

Against any military intervention.

They add, Total support for the Syrian revolution.

What does this mean?

It adds,

…we reaffirm that the great Western powers, by refusing to deliver the weapons demanded for so many months by the collective structures of struggle set up by the people, also bear a heavy responsibility for the perpetuation of the murderous regime, while contributing to the development of religious obscurantist currents which constitute a second mortal enemy for the Syrian people.

On the Fourth International’s site, there is a statement from some small Arab left groups (Revolutionary Socialists (Egypt) – Revolutionary Left Current (Syria) – Union of Communists (Iraq) – Al-Mounadil-a (Morocco) – Socialist Forum (Lebanon) – League of the Workers’ Left (Tunisia) paints a sombre picture of the horrific events unfolding in Syria.

We Stand Behind the Syrian People’s Revolution – No to Foreign Intervention

Despite the enormous losses mentioned above, befalling all Syrians, and the calamity inflicted on them, no international organization or major country – or a lesser one – felt the need to provide practical solidarity or support the Syrians in their struggle for their most basic rights, human dignity, and social justice.

The only exception was some Gulf countries, more specifically Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, their aim was to control the nature of the conflict and steer it in a sectarian direction, distorting the Syrian revolution and aiming to abort it, as a reflection of their deepest fear that the revolutionary flame will reach their shores. So they backed obscurantist takfiri groups, coming, for the most part, from the four corners of the world, to impose a grotesque vision for rule based on Islamic sharia. These groups were engaged, time and time again, in terrifying massacres against Syrian citizens who opposed their repressive measures and aggressions inside areas under their control or under attack, such as the recent example of villages in the Latakia countryside.

A large block of hostile forces, from around the world, is conspiring against the Syrian people’s revolution, which erupted in tandem with the uprisings spreading through a large section of the Arab region and the Maghreb for the past three years. The people’s uprisings aimed to put an end to a history of brutality, injustice, and exploitation and attain the rights to freedom, dignity, and social justice.

Do they back arming anybody?

This declaration ends with a call, “Break open the arms depots for the Syrian people to struggle for freedom, dignity, and social justice.

A statement by the British Socialist Resistance (British section of the Fourth International) and the International Socialist Network (29th of August) further complicates the position,

For over two years, Britain, the USA and France have stood by, refusing to deliver defensive anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to the progressive and democratic components of the opposition, for fear that the toppling of the Assad regime may extend and deepen the revolution which started in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011.

Gilbert Achcar from the Fourth International yesterday makes this extraordinary claim (displaying what can only be called a mind-reading ability through the complexities of US policy-making),

 Washington does not want the Syrian people to topple the dictatorship: it wants to force on the Syrian opposition a deal with the bulk of the regime, minus Assad. This is the so-called Yemen solution that President Barack Obama has been actively pursuing since last year, and that Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to promote by cozing up to his Russian counterpart.

He ends with this observation

…it is the duty of all those who claim to support the right of peoples to self-determination to help the Syrian people get the means of defending themselves.

Not surprisingly this call to arm the “Syrian people” (en bloc) has created a massive rumpus and splits in Left Unity (in which Socialist Resistance and the International Socialist Network Participate).

It may well be the case that (as these two groups say) that,

We reject the notion that this rebellion has been co-opted by imperialism. This remains a popular revolution by a people struggling to free itself from oppression. It is a key component of the Arab spring which has inspired the masses of the region and beyond.

We oppose both the “humanitarian intervention” of Britain, France and the USA, and the pro-Assad intervention by Iran and Russia. Instead, we choose to be on the side of the revolutionary masses struggling for their emancipation, and extend our solidarity in particular to the democratic and progressive components of the revolution.

But how exactly are they going to sift through the complex political forces at play, from traditional Islamists, nationalists, Sunni groups, democrats, nationalists, social democrats, socialists, to jihadists, to get arms to those the Fourth International (and the NPA) considers to be the authentic  “revolutionary masses”?



17 Responses

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  1. Personally I agree with As’ad AbuKhalil, who blogs at http://angryarab.blogspot.co.uk/

    ‘I am not only in favor of the overthrow of the Bashshar Asad regime: I am fully in favor of an armed insurrection against the regime but not by Islamist tools of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and the rest of Western Enemies of Syria.  Show me a secular progressive battalion fighting against the Syrian regime, and not getting Saudi-Qatari-Israeli help, and I will send them money–if it is legal because I think under US laws you can only send money to either Israeli terrorists or to the terrorists in Syria who are on the pay of Saudi Arabia and Qatar’.

    stephen marks

    September 3, 2013 at 1:01 pm

  2. Has Gilbert Achcar not got some shame from what’s happened in Libya?

    David Hillman

    September 3, 2013 at 2:48 pm

  3. Murky and Byzantine the situation may well be. You could do worse than reread Homage to Catalonia for a relatively recent and vaguely analogous conflict.


    September 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm

  4. Reblogged this on digger666.


    September 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm

  5. As far as I can tell Stephen (I managed to dig out a reference to the Syrian Revolutionary Left current in Le Monde Diplomatique – it seems to have more Net presence under its French name, “courant de gauche révolutionnaire en Syrie”) the group the USFI is aligned to in Syria is – unfortunately or not – minuscule.

    This all seems to be prolonged case of wishful thinking by the NPA and its mates, and a need to find some group that can identify with.

    I do not know of other groups, though Glyn’s comment(Facebook) about the PYD/PKK refers at least to a group that has some real presence.

    Andrew Coates

    September 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm

  6. I have just noticed that the arms statement is backed by Workers Power as well as the IS Network and Socialist Resistance.


    Andrew Coates

    September 3, 2013 at 4:38 pm

  7. Mr Hillman: why should Gilbert Achcar -or anyone else – feel “shame” over the Libyan revolution?

    Of course, there’ve been some problems in the aftermath of the overthrow of a murderous dictator. But that’s simply an argument against *any* revolution, *anywhere*.

    Despite everything, the prospects for the working class and for socialism are immeasurably better in Libya now than they were under Gadaffi.

    Jim Denham

    September 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm

  8. Jean-Luc Mélenchon backed the no-fly Zone over Libya in the European Parliament, as did many of us.

    Analysing the problems here are not helped by reference to this.

    Essentially I feel the USFI is making some extremely overblown claims about arming the revolution.

    That Workers Power backs their statement is not a good sign of their judgement.

    Andrew Coates

    September 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm

  9. Nothing wrong with being miniscule. The question is, how rooted are they in actual struggles and organizations in Syria? Do they command any influence in the local coordinating committees or governing councils or are they a Facebook/proclamations group who get republished abroad because they pass the litmus tests of this or that left tendency in the West?

    More crucially, are any of the signers of this declaration aware that many if not most of their Western comrades republishing this statement are marching side-by-side with Assad supporters at demonstrations organized by the Stop the War Coalition and International Action Center (Workers’ World Party front) and ANSWER (Party for Socialism and Liberation front) and not with the Syrian exile pro-revolution counter-protestors?

    G. Sabra Jr.

    September 3, 2013 at 5:44 pm

  10. None of this has anything much to do with Syria, Whatever oh-so-principled positions left groupuscules in Britain or France take, whatever stentorian statements they issue into thin air, nobody who matters is listening. They can make themselves feel important by declaring their boundless (but non-material) ‘solidarity’ with the ‘revolutionary masses’. They can pretend to cheerlead for the regime by proclaiming their support for ‘the Syrian people’s struggle against imperialism’. None of it will make one iota of difference. The Assad regime will continue to fight for its survival, the various rebel groups will continue to fight for their largely Sunni-Islamist causes, the regional and global powers will try to interfere in their own best interests, and the outcome on the ground will be decided by men with guns. Whichever side ‘wins’, there will be streams of refugees, millions displaced, and massive oppression against any groups of the population perceived to have backed the losing side. As for the Syrian ‘left’, just like now, it will be either in thrall to the (new?) masters, in prison, or in exile.


    September 4, 2013 at 8:32 am

  11. On Sabra’s point: it’s been a very long time since I’ve been on a StWC demo.

    The principal reason is this kind of alliance, though before it tended to be with right-wing Islamists (now out of fashion, for reasons too obvious to mention).

    Francis, I do not doubt the genuine good will of these people (many of whom share the reservations I’ve just made about the StWC).

    I do agree about their irrelevance, not because of their size (or the size of the Syrian groups they refer to) but because they seem to go in for wishful thinking about the Syrian democratic opposition on a grand scale.

    And also because they want to drag the British left (however small we may be) into their line of thinking.

    Digger mentioned the Spanish Civil War (and leftists often do in these situations).

    In that war the pure Trotskyists (who followed Trotksy’s every position) were resolutely hostile to the (large) group some of us would have backed – the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista)

    They had their own ‘Bolshevik- Leninist’ faction (said to be 14 people).

    You can’t help remembering this.

    Andrew Coates

    September 4, 2013 at 11:30 am

  12. Jim D: ‘Despite everything, the prospects for the working class and for socialism are immeasurably better in Libya now than they were under Gadaffi.’ Have a look here and especially here for the grim reality of post-Gaddafi Libya and the lovely guys now running it, including, of course, hard-line Islamists whom, were they elsewhere, Jim would be quick to call ‘Islamo-fascists’. And of course the regime is threatening military action against striking oil workers. But, as I’m sure we’ll be reminded, we have the example of Kronstadt to justify that.

    Dr Paul

    September 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm

  13. Paul’s comment above is false. Hard-line Islamists do not run Libya: http://world.time.com/2012/07/10/why-the-islamists-are-not-winning-in-libya/

    Furthermore, the threat of violence against striking oil workers (in Ghadafi’s Libya, there were no strikes, no labor-management negotiations, or unions, so undoubtedly these problems are a step forward compared to before the 2011 revolution) is really a conflict between the democratically elected government in Tripoli and federalists/secessionists: http://transitions.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/09/03/why_libya_s_oil_crisis_is_spilling_over_into_politics

    G. Sabra Jr.

    September 6, 2013 at 3:13 pm

  14. To add to this, since there has been discussion about the overthrow of Gaddafi more widely and the rightness of backing a no-fly zone, was this a matter of taking the US ‘side’? Did ‘imperialism’ have a ‘plan’

    Some of the negotiating amongst policy-makers, the internal Libyan power-play, the evolution of the economy and the Libyan society is described in this interesting book,

    Exit Gaddafi : the hidden history of the Libyan revolution. Ethan Chorin, gives an account of the complex strategies engaged in by the US during the uprising.

    For once this puff is right,

    “In Exit the Colonel (Note: US title of same book), Ethan Chorin, a longtime Middle East scholar and one of the first American diplomats posted to Libya after the lifting of international sanctions, goes well beyond recent reporting on the Arab Spring to link the Libyan uprising to a flawed reform process, egregious human rights abuses, regional disparities, and inconsistent stories spun by Libya and the West to justify the Gaddafi regime’s “rehabilitation.” Exit the Colonel is based upon extensive interviews with senior US, EU, and Libyan officials, and with rebels and loyalists; a deep reading of local and international media; and significant on-the-ground experience pre- and post-revolution.”

    It’s worth noting this review of the book “Even the highest political officials in the land cannot seem to decide if the United States
    adopted the right policy in engaging in Libya.”


    Andrew Coates

    September 6, 2013 at 4:44 pm

  15. This more recent article on the NPA site is worth reading,


    par KUDAIMI Ramah

    After expressing solidarity with the Syrian people, against a very very long list of enemies, predominately Assad’s regime, then imperialism, then the Islamists, the piece ends with this,

    “Je n’ai pas de solutions réelles à vous proposer..”

    I have no real solutions to offer you.



    Andrew Coates

    September 6, 2013 at 4:59 pm

  16. Last night I ran across mention of ,”Yusseff Mohammad al-Arjentiny, a Member of LOI-CI in the Revolutionary vanguard of Syria, Fighter in the Brigade Sevian al-Leith. (Brigade Leon Sedov) ” .http://www.democraciaobrera.org/pag_ingles/boletin_4/adhesiones_siria.html , http://www.democraciaobrera.org/pag_ingles/la_revolucion_siria_al_dia/balancefesti0111.html . Found when perusing the webpgs. of the Communist Workers Group (CWG-USA) , which has posted this statement, http://cwgusa.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/usnato-hands-off-syria-victory-to-the-syrian-revolution/ . Doing a Google search on Brigade Sevian al-Leith., the only mention I see is from the publications of the http://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/ Fracción Leninista Trotskista Internacional (Leninist Trotskyist International Fraction) . I assume al-Arjentiny’s Brigade is miniscule.

    Michael Pugliese

    September 6, 2013 at 6:49 pm

  17. Further call to arm opposition from the NPA,

    “Nous devons obtenir la livraison de l’aide indispensable (vivres, soins, équipements, armes) aux représentants des collectifs syriens qui se battent pour la démocratie, la justice sociale et la dignité nationale dans le respect de toutes les composantes du pays. ”

    We must ensure that indispensable aid – food, medicine, necessary equipment, arms – is delivered to representatives of the Syrian collectives battling for democracy, social justice and national dignity and who respect the diversity of the country.

    September the 5th.

    Jacques Babel


    Andrew Coates

    September 7, 2013 at 10:49 am

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