Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Socialist Worker: Assad and Russian Supporters Welcome in Stop the War Campaign.

with 15 comments

SWP: Assad and Putin Supporters Welcome.

Today Socialist Worker publishes an account of the complexities of the Syrian civil war.

Alex Callinicos notes,

The Syrian war is a complex, many-sided conflict, pitting against each other domestic forces that are increasingly defined in confessional and sectarian terms. These are backed by outside regional and global powers for their own interests. The secular democratic impulse of the original 2011 risings survives only weakly.

He then observes.

Moreover, various currents in the Western left have their sympathies with different sides in the war.

 In seeking ‘unity’ in the anti-war ‘movement’ (that is protests) he retreats into the 1st World War ‘revolutionary defeatist” bunker when it comes to his conclusion.

The moral of this is that the anti-war movement should stay out of all the different powers’ geopolitical schemes and the spurious arguments used to justify them.

Our task is to mobilise against the US-led military campaign in the Middle East and our own government’s participation. This broad stand can gain the support of Syrians opposed to the bombings.

This doesn’t mean that people who back Russia, or even Assad, have no place in the anti-war movement. Others on the British left have used their presence at anti-war rallies as a reason for not supporting the Stop the War Coalition.

This is a bad mistake. We should accept that we have different takes on the Syrian struggle, but still work together.

Socialist Worker stands strongly with the Syrian Revolution and its original promise. But we won’t forget that the main enemy is at home, and we’ll unite with all who want to mobilise against it.

How the inclusion in the anti-war movement of those opposed to what Callinicos describes as  the Syrian Revolution – that is backers of Assad – works out is beyond rational comprehension.

This reasoning could mean that anybody fighting for the defeat of the ‘main enemy’ – ‘at home’ – is welcome in the anti-war movement.

 Now in fact there is no real modern equivalent of this ‘defeatism’ since nobody is arguing the Patriotic case for defending the ‘Nation’ – the UK – against ‘its’ enemies.

There is, in other words, no parallel to the left patriotic ‘defencists’ of the Great War, or to those arguing (rightly) to defend their countries against Nazi occupation.

Trotsky, who is apparently an authority in these affairs, said in 1939,

“… Defeatism is the class policy of the proletariat, which even during a war sees the main enemy at home, within its particular imperialist country. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a policy which locates the main enemy outside one’s own country. The idea of defeatism signifies in reality the following: conducting an irreconcilable revolutionary struggle against one’s own bourgeoisie as the main enemy, without being deterred by the fact that this struggle may result in the defeat of one’s own government; given a revolutionary movement the defeat of one’s own government is a lesser evil. Lenin did not say nor did he wish to say anything else. There cannot even be talk of any other kind of ‘aid’ to defeat.”

Hal Draper.The Myth of Lenin’s “Revolutionary Defeatism”

There is no domestic British ‘revolutionary movement’.

A more rational left position today would be to start not from an abstract “Syrian Revolution”.

It is with the wishes of the democratic left forces on the ground such as the ‘Kurdish nationalist’ (Callinicos’s  expression)  PKK and its Syrian allies, not to mention Syrian democratic movements. It would be to support the cause of human rights expressed by the suffering peoples of Syria and Iraq.

How the ruin of Cameron, however much one would wish it for domestic reasons, can be compared to the aims of those battling the genociders of  Daesh to see them and the other Islamist killers eliminated, is a trick of which groups like the SWP alone have the secret.

It is hard to see how any ‘unity’ could come about between those in the UK who wish for support for these groups in their just struggle, yet oppose British intervention in its present shape,  can be made on the basis  of a wish to see ‘our’ UK government’ beaten.

The SWP have a morally bankrupt stand.

To say the least.


Written by Andrew Coates

December 9, 2015 at 6:50 pm

15 Responses

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  1. http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article32792
    “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.”

    Jim Monaghan

    December 9, 2015 at 7:03 pm

  2. No surprises here. The British hard and far left has always supported totalitarians from any part of the political spectrum against democrats from any part of the political spectrum. It’s only natural that Corbyn and his friends are apologists for Putin, Assad and Da’esh. Their political ancestors supported the Nazis during WW2 for as long as their Russian comrades instructed them to.

    This week it’s the mass murderer of his own people Enver Hoxha getting Corbyn’s admiration as ‘a tough leader’. Next week Diane Abbot will probably have a good word to say for Pol Pot.


    December 9, 2015 at 8:08 pm

  3. Any more bankrupt than those romantics hailing The Syrian Revolution without acknowledging the prevalence of jihadists within it?

    Dr Paul

    December 9, 2015 at 8:36 pm

  4. So the anti-war movement has lots of different political tendencies represented within it, united around opposition to British involvement in these Middle Eastern wars but often not very much else. And? That is the nature of broad campaigning. StWC may contain people with illusions in the Syrian opposition, or in Assad, or in the good intentions of Putin. It also contains people with none of these illusions. What it does not contain is moralising warmongers. That is the most important thing.


    December 9, 2015 at 9:46 pm

  5. Let us update Trotsky’s quote from above to apply to the present situation in Kurdistan –

    “Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the Turkish/Iraqi colony of Kurdistan under the banner of national independence and that the British government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the British workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a Middle Eastern imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a Western imperialism. Should the British workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Kurds? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the British workers and the rebellious Kurds, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in Western Imperialist Britain 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.”

    Not that I’m a Trotskyist, btw, but it shows that his present followers, by and by, would probably still be happier with a fascist (or, in Putin’s case, very authoritarian) imperialism supporting a local dictator (Assad) than supporting the Kurds.

    John R

    December 10, 2015 at 9:30 am

  6. An exceptionally good illustration John of why the StWC’s broad coalition is not broad enough to include those who support the revolutionary struggle of the YPG.

    The idea which I highlight is that it is imaginary as well as morally dubious to base a movement against ‘the war’ (note this is the name of the StWC campaign, a title which immediately raises the problem of in what sense does their activity help do that) on defeating Britain.

    What the Syrians themselves want, given that is a civil war with many sides, is impossible to put in one box, but if defeating British imperialism is a priority for any of them, we should have known by now. Although logically, if the SWP ever stooped to that, Daesh would be allies in this struggle against Britain and the West and allies in the cause to defeat them.

    Most people across the world, including the UK< have not the slightest idea of what revolutionary defeatism is, and I suspect that it has little meaning in the Syrian context. Most people would like to see the various Islamists crushed, and would like to see Assad go.

    I very much doubt if, outside a rarefied section of the left, they would care who does it

    Our job is to explain that the present intervention will not achieve the aim of bringing about a democratic solution, and the best way to do that is to co-operate with democratic and secular forces from the Kurdish (YPG) armed bodies onwards.

    It is obvious, given the complexities which everybody is well aware of, this is not a 'solution' but at least it's better than working with all those who want the defeat of 'British imperialism'.

    Andrew Coates

    December 10, 2015 at 11:55 am

  7. We write as previous strong supporters of the Stop the War Coalition and applaud its mobilisation against the disastrous UK and US attack on Iraq. Sadly, since then, on the issue of Syria, StWC has lost its moral compass and authority (Green MP Caroline Lucas steps down from Stop the War Coalition role, 8 December). Stop the War has failed to organise or support protests against the Assad dictatorship and the regime’s massacre of peaceful democracy protesters in 2011 – and since. Nor has it shown solidarity with the non-violent Syrian civil society movements for democracy and human rights and with the millions of innocent civilians killed, wounded and displaced by Assad’s barrel bombs and torture chambers. It portrays Isis as the main threat to Syrians, despite Assad killing at least six times more civilians.

    StWC has repeatedly refused to have anti-Assad Syrian democrats and leftwingers on its platforms at events where Syria is being discussed; whereas it has offered a platform to pro-Assad speakers such as Issa Chaer and Mother Agnes. Moreover, StWC intervened to stop a Syrian Solidarity UK speaker from addressing the Migrant Lives Matter rally in London in April. It has one-sidedly failed to support demonstrations against the escalating Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah military interventions in Syria.

    As well as systematically ignoring war crimes committed by the Assad regime, StWC often misrepresents the opposition to Assad as being largely composed of jihadi extremists and agents of imperialism; marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny. It also misrepresents the call by Syrian civil society organisations for civilian safe havens and humanitarian corridors; claiming they are calls for western bombing, when they are actually bids to stop Assad’s bombs and save lives. We urge StWC to take on board these constructive criticisms and change its stance to support the Syrian people’s struggle against the war being inflicted on them by both Isis and Assad.
    Abdulaziz Almashi Syria Solidarity UK
    Peter Tatchell human rights campaigner
    Yasmine Nahlawi Rethink Rebuild
    Dr Rupert Read University of East Anglia
    Dr Amer Masri Scotland4Syria
    Darren Johnson Green party London assembly member
    Zaki Kaf Al-Ghazal Syrian Association of Yorkshire
    Dr M. Alhadj Ali Syrian Welsh Society
    Andy Wilson Founder, Reservists Against The War
    Muzna Al-Naib Syria Solidarity UK
    Dr Odai Al-Zoubi Syrian exile and journalist
    Shamira A Meghani scholar
    Mark Boothroyd Syria Solidarity UK
    Ayob Rahmani & Sattar Rahmani International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran
    Javaad Alipoor Iranian socialist activist
    Sam Charles Hamad writer
    John Game independent researcher


    Andrew Coates

    December 10, 2015 at 12:23 pm

  8. Andrew – who in the anti-war movement is actually arguing for “defeating” Britain? I can’t imagine what that would even mean in the context of the sorts of asymmetrical war Britain has been fighting or fuelling in the Middle East. Arguably, Britain already has been “defeated”, if we measure the lofty war aims proclaimed by Blair and his cronies in 2003 against the grim reality of present-day Iraq. And now, Cameron has declared that one of the UK’s aims in Syria is to make us in the West more secure. We will surely suffer “defeat” with regard to that war aim as well. I’m not looking forward to that “defeat” with any relish.


    December 10, 2015 at 12:39 pm

  9. “Our job is to defeat imperialism, not Isis” Alex Callinicos. SW 17th November.


    Andrew Coates

    December 10, 2015 at 12:53 pm

  10. “Socialists want the defeat of imperialism and the victory of the Iraqi working class. We oppose our own imperialist governments, hoping for their defeat. If defeat had come at Saddam’s hands we would still have welcomed it. But we hoped for it at the hands of Iraqi workers who could have both crushed Saddam and proved far better opponents of imperialism.” – John Rees


    Back to pro-Assad groupings within STWC. The most obvious one, imo, is George Galloway. Now, recently we’ve had Boris Johnson putting forward a case for NATO to work with Putinand Assad to defeat Isis. I’ve even seen this put forward in “Conservative Home” by some commentators on the basis that Assad is not a threat to National Security in the same way that Isis is.

    The analogy being used by these Tories is, if Churchill could cut a deal with Stalin to defeat Hitler, why not Cameron with Putin and Assad? After all, this would answer the thorny question of “boots on the ground” to defeat Isis and NATO certainly doesn’t want war with Russia there, proxy or otherwise.

    Galloway has already compared the battle of Assad against his opponents (of all complexions) as similar to “Stalingrad”. So, will he welcome Cameron as a new Churchill if a deal is done with Assad to beat Isis? Will he and others (Morning Star, Socialist Unity) hail this modern “People’s War against Fascism”?

    Now that some of the Greens moving away from the Stoppers, it’s not difficult to see the pro-Assad faction doing the same at some point but for the opposite reason.

    John R

    December 10, 2015 at 1:55 pm

  11. The Morning Star (to all intents and purposes the mouthpiece of the CPB and their stooges/useful idiots in the TU bureaucracy and Labour Party) supports the StWC, Putin’s airstrikes (regardless of civilian casualties) and Assad:


    Jim Denham

    December 10, 2015 at 3:07 pm

  12. Thanks for finding the relevant Rees quote John.

    It is clear to anybody who cares to look that a lot of the thinking of the leading figrues of the StWC continues to be influenced by revolutionary defeatism and its extension to block-headed ‘anti-imperialism’ which makes the ‘defeat’ of ‘imperialism’ the main aim and bugger what happens to the people in the countries concerned.

    I am not speaking off the top of my head – I have been told of German and Rees’ antics in detail by those who worked with them in the years immediately after 9/11.

    According to one person who was centrally involved (no it’s not A but she knows who it was), Rees and the SWP did not even want to condemn 9/11 as such, only the US crimes that led to it, and the US response.

    They have no changed, only got better at disguising their beliefs, which the SWP continue to shout out loud.

    Their concept of ‘imperialism’ has little to do with the sophisticated analysis of imperialism (territorial and military) and globalisation and the expansion of capital, by people like David Harvey (The New Imperialism .2003).

    It simply means Western governments and their use of military forces – bolstered with a dose of the ‘shock doctrine’ to apparently impose neoliberalism in the wake of interventions.

    This singularly fails to deal with Syria which has already (as even the SWP note) gone from ‘state capitalism’ to neoliberalism without the need for the West to intervene.

    It is reduced as the AWL and lots of us have observed, to kind of chess board politics between the great powers and betting on the ‘right’ imperialist side.

    A hard task at the best of time, now pretty impossible.

    Which ends up in the kind of sordid play that we are now seeing – as both of you, John and Jim say.

    I liked the Labour MP who retorted, quick as a flash, last night on Channel Four News to Rees’ patronising comments on her position – against military intervention in Syria, but very very wary of the StWC – “I say what I mean, mate.”

    Which is exactly their weakest point: to try to win wider support they cannot say what they really mean.

    Andrew Coates

    December 10, 2015 at 5:35 pm

  13. “This doesn’t mean that people who back Russia, or even Assad, have no place in the anti-war movement”

    Can I take that to mean that the SWP and the STWC will be working hand in hand with the BNP in the near future, then?


    December 10, 2015 at 8:27 pm

  14. Rees tries to be a smart-arse but is put in his patronising middle class place by honest working class MP Jess Phillips:

    Jim Denham

    December 11, 2015 at 12:08 am

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