Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution, *US* Socialist Worker Debates the Issues.

with 6 comments

Image result for syria

The US Socialist Worker (long divorced from its British parent, and the paper of the International Socialist Organization, ISO) has carried an important debate on Syria in the last week.

Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution. Ashley Smith

THE SYRIAN Revolution has tested the left internationally by posing a blunt question: Which side are you on? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?

Tragically, too many have failed this test.

From the very beginning of Syria’s revolution–even before the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front some years later–a whole section of the left opposed the popular uprising against the Assad dictatorship that began in early 2011, part of the Arab Spring wave of popular rebellions against dictatorship and repression.

Since then, they have turned a blind eye to Assad’s massacre of some 400,000 Syrians, and his regime’s use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons and barbaric sieges of cities like Aleppo. Today, 11 million people–half the country’s population–have been displaced, with the Assad regime responsible for the lion’s share of the death and destruction.

The author criticises the “campist” belief that, ” there is only one imperialist power in the world–the U.S.–and that it is an all-powerful manipulator of international events.”

The U.S. does remain the world’s dominant imperialist power, but as a result of its failed war in Iraq and other factors, it has suffered a relative decline in strength. Washington is now challenged internationally by imperialist rivals like China and Russia, as well as regional powers. In this new imperial order, the U.S. is less capable of controlling world events–it fears popular revolt all the more.

This is perhaps a more specifically US stand,

The campist misreadings, however, have led them to the conclusion that the U.S. government is pulling the strings in the rebellion in Syria. Some have gone so far as to argue–absurdly–that the U.S. backs ISIS against Assad. Ironically, this puts the campists in agreement with Donald Trump, who, in his latest ravings, claims that Obama and Clinton were “founders” of ISIS.

One of the most striking paragraphs is the following,

A genuine internationalist left must stand with Syria’s popular resistance to Assad, which began as a nonviolent uprising against the dictatorship–and against intervention by American and Russian imperialism, as well as by the region’s main powers.

This stands in clear contrast to the entire strategy of groups in the UK, notably the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) , which  claims not to “take sides”.

The STWC’s John Rees’ states,

The STWC has never supported the Assad regime. Just as we never supported the Taliban, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi. Only in the minds of ‘them or us’ pretend patriots does the opposition to our own government’s wars mean support for dictators or terrorists. Our case has always been that war will worsen the problem and not solve it. We were right in that analysis in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

There is no group, in other words, that they do stand with.

This is Smith’s conclusion,

No one committed to solidarity with the Syrian struggle can align themselves with either wing of the U.S. imperial establishment. Instead, the left must reject imperialism in any form, including Russia’s.

Rather than look to imperialist powers or dictatorial regimes in either camp, the left should stand for workers’ struggle across borders and in defense of oppressed nations and their fight for self-determination.

In Syria, the revolution has suffered a defeat for the time being. While civil society activists continue to seize every opportunity to assert their goals, their forces have been ravaged by counterrevolution–in the form of the Syria regime and its international allies on the one hand, and the Nusra Front and ISIS, which was particularly eager from the start to target the rebels than regime forces, on the other.

But as Gilbert Achcar argues in his book Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising, this setback, however devastating, comes amid a long period of revolutionary crisis in Syria and the whole region.

The task of the international left today is to oppose intervention by any of the imperialist and regional powers, reject the tyranny of the Assad regime itself, demand the opening of the borders to those fleeing the violence and chaos, collaborate with Syrian revolutionaries–and win people away from campism to the politics of international solidarity from below.

There is nothing specific about the Kurdish YPD and their alliances, nothing specific about the very special threat to progressives and democrats posed by Islamic State, – with all the international echoes that Jihadism poses.

Some will welcome (despite scepticism about how it will work out) US backing for the democratic Kurdish forces and be concerned about Turkish intervention.

Others will point to the specific threat created by the  Jihaist genociders of Daesh and the international volunteers for their death squads not least from Europe.

The debate that the article has caused has unfortunately focused on the role of the US rather than such issues. One reader commented, ” “Assad must go!” is the mantra not of the left, but of the Western imperialists.” Another states, “no to U.S. militarism being used to put in place a government that becomes a U.S. pawn.”

Perhaps the UK SWP reflects this debate by publishing the following today,

Turkish and Syrian socialists issue joint statement against intervention

The US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and all the others must keep their hands off Syria.

All support given to the Baas [Assad] regime must be stopped in order for the war to come to an end.

The Syrian people must decide their own future.

Turkey must immediately cease military operations in Syria, stop its enmity against the Kurds, and open its borders to Syrian refugees.

We call all the revolutionary Syrian forces to unify their struggle against: the dictatorship, the foreigners regional and imperialist interventions, and against the reactionary forces.

We believe that the victory of Syrian people on all these counter revolutionary forces, demand the unity of all the revolutionary forces of all the Syrians.

Long live peace, long live the revolution!

Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (Turkey)

Revolutionary Left Current (Syria)

Now the this Blog has serious disagreements with the ISO, not least on issues which cross over to this searing problem, such as  its refusal to back secularists, like the French ligue de droits de l’homme, in France, against both Islamist and Nationalist-racist bigotry.

Bbut this debate is highly welcome.

Details on quite how anybody is going to stop foreign intervention in Syria and help the Syrian democratic cause win is perhaps too much to ask.




Written by Andrew Coates

August 31, 2016 at 12:50 pm

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Instead of marching with the pro-revolution Syrian exiles, ISO marched with the forces they say “failed the test” of the Syrian revolution in fall of 2013 at anti-war rallies where the dominant flag was the flag of the Assad regime.

    Marching with counter-revolutionaries and not with revolutionaries = failing the test of revolution.

    There is also a significant and downright mendacious re-writing of history in Smith’s as well. The Syrian uprising did not begin as a “a nonviolent uprising against the dictatorship–and against intervention by American and Russian imperialism, as well as by the region’s main powers.” As the Assad regime escalated its use of military force throughout 2011 and 2012, the most popular chants, slogans, and demands of the popular movement called for outside intervention in some form — either by the Arab League, the United Nations, NATO, and/or the U.S. — to counter the regime’s enormous military advantage.

    It is a heck of a lot easier to revise the history of the Syrian uprising (and ignore the remarkable developments in Rojava entirely) so that it fits neatly with the party line than it is to reconcile one’s bankrupt ideology with actually-existing realities and the contradictions, nuances, and tensions inherent in those realities.


    August 31, 2016 at 3:07 pm

  2. Thanks for that RS.

    I am not very familiar with the US left, which appears to have an even larger (in relative terms) madder ‘anti-imperialist’ left than the UK’s or anywhere else in Europe, but have noticed that there is a lot of debate on Marxism List about Syria and these issues and perhaps they are affected by that.

    I can’t see that I feel, on the basis of the information I have, any enthusiasm for the actually existing armed forces of the Syrian opposition – as opposed to the principle of backing democrats against Assad.

    I noticed this signaled from the Marxism list,


    “..after five years of war, the regime’s force structure today is not entirely different from that of opposition militias. While much better supplied by the Syria Arab Army’s still-standing logistics skeleton, the government’s fighting force today consists of a dizzying array of hyper-local militias aligned with various factions, domestic and foreign sponsors, and local warlords. Aymenn al-Tamimi’s profiles of loyalist militias provide some insight into their diverse backgrounds. Among these groups, only a handful are still capable of anything close to offensive action. Much more so than sectarian or demographic limitations, this fragmentation is the direct result of the interaction between national and local economic and governance pressures. As the once totalitarian Syrian central state atrophies, its constituent parts — be they sectarian, rentierist, or simple brutes — have gained a stunning degree of political and economic independence from Damascus. Contrary to what others have claimed, Assad’s regime has not struck some grand bargain with a large section the Syria’s urban Sunni population. Instead, he has elevated to power the most brutish elements of the country and doubled down on the sectarian, tribal, and thuggish inclinations of its base.”


    The French, incidentally, blame Obama for stopping a French initiative to get rid of Assad – this was published (book extract) in Le Monde recently,

    “Le Monde” raconte comment Obama a lâché Hollande en Syrie.

    “En 2013, Hollande voulait faire tomber Bachar Al-Assad

    Vendredi 30 août 2013, François Hollande s’apprête à recevoir un coup de téléphone des plus cruciaux de son quinquennat. Celui de Barack Obama, avec qui il doit discuter d’une éventuelle décision de frapper conjointement la Syrie de Bachar Al-Assad.

    Le président français vient en effet d’obtenir la preuve, après un rapport de l’ONU que le président syrien a utilisé des armes chimiques contre sa propre population. Hollande prépare ses documents, attend l’ouverture de la ligne, tout en écoutant attentivement le briefing de ses conseillers militaires et diplomatiques qui lui soufflent bons mots et questions à ne pas oublier. Hollande veut frapper Bachar Al-Assad. Pour lui, il est temps que le régime tombe. Pour ce faire, il faut l’appui de Washington, sans qui rien n’est possible.

    Hésitations américaines

    Mais une fois la communication établie, Obama hésite. Il vient de réaliser que le Parlement britannique, traumatisé par sa propre décision d’envahir l’Irak en 2003 sur la base de faux documents, vient de refuser à David Cameron le droit d’intervenir en Syrie. Obama connaît le sort réservé à George Bush par l’opinion publique américaine après la catastrophique guerre d’Irak.”

    More: http://www.lesinrocks.com/2016/08/news/monde-raconte-obama-a-lache-hollande-syrie/

    Andrew Coates

    August 31, 2016 at 3:58 pm

  3. Thanks very much. Yours Yves Le 31 août 2016 à 13:50, Tendance Coatesy a écrit :

    > >


    August 31, 2016 at 7:30 pm

  4. “Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?”

    Or, if you want to stack the argument differently,

    “Do you support and al-Qaeda and the reactionary Gulf Arab monarchies aligned with American imperialism? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s government and its regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?”

    I’m against the genocidal Assad regime and despise its hypocritical backers. But I am so fed up with the little Trotty polemics with their intellectual dishonesty. Whenever I hear “which side are you on”, I reflexively brace myself for the old “two legs bad, four legs good” bad faith arguments to come. .

    What a relief RS & War On the Rocks were, by way of contrast. Knowledge is so much better than manipulative polemics!


    September 1, 2016 at 3:28 am

  5. Reblogged this on Redvince's Weblog.


    September 1, 2016 at 2:08 pm

  6. I don’t have any answers either.

    But it’s surely welcome that anybody who’s been so dogmatic in the past is now opening up, even if only a little.

    Andrew Coates

    September 1, 2016 at 5:48 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: