To: Detroit Workers' Voice
Date: October 21, 2015
RE: Against the stepped-up intervention of Russian imperialism in the Syrian civil war
In the last month the Russian government has dramatically stepped up its involvement in Syria. Russia is reinforcing the long-time Russian naval base in Tartus, the second-largest port city in Syria; and it is setting up an air base near Latakia in western Syria. Russian planes have carried out air strikes, while Russian ships have fired cruise missiles into Syria. Russia has also stepped up its supply of heavy equipment and troops to the Assad dictatorship, with Russian tanks, helicopter gunships, and “volunteers” playing an increasing part in the war.
The Russian government says it is targeting only the murderous ISIS fundamentalists. But Vladimir Putin regards just about all the opposition to the Assad dictatorship as terrorists and fundamentalists. Most of Russian air strikes are aimed at the forces which are opposed to both Assad and ISIS. Indeed, the stepped-up Russian intervention in Syria has allowed the Assad regime to go on the offensive against the anti-dictatorship forces.
Syria has lived under the dictatorship of first Hafez al-Assad and then his son Bashar al-Assad for nearly half a century. Independent political activity was squashed; unions and other associations had to be directed by the Ba’ath Party; and opposition was brutally suppressed. But for five years now the Syrian people have been involved in a determined struggle against the Assad dictatorship. They began this struggle with peaceful demonstrations in 2011, but were forced into civil war by the bloody retaliation of the Assad regime against any form of protest. The rebellion spread rapidly throughout both cities and countryside, and some liberated villages held the first democratic elections that people could remember. But Bashar al-Assad has managed to cling to power with the help of heavy weaponry and the slaughter of civilians in rebel areas. The regime has used “barrel bombs”, poison gas, the targeting of medical facilities, and the torture of opponents to terrorize the Syrian masses. This has resulted in over a quarter of a million dead in a country of under 23 million, and in half the population of Syria being forced to abandon their homes, either being displaced within Syria or seeking safety in neighboring countries or even Europe.
Nevertheless the civil war would have ended long ago with the collapse of the Assad regime except for massive support for Assad from outside. Money, military equipment, and troops have reinforced Assad from Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, and elsewhere.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and various other Arab regimes have provided some aid to some of the forces against Assad. But they have sought to undermine the democratic opposition and promote fundamentalist forces. For its part, the US government has tried to ensure that whatever military aid it sends is only used to fight ISIS, and isn’t used against the Assad regime. Moreover, at this point, the US government is tacitly coordinating air strikes with the Assad regime, and seeking to settle Syrian affairs with an international agreement for a transitional government that would preserve the basic structure of the Assad regime intact. Meanwhile the extreme reactionaries of ISIS have sought to conquer everyone else and set up their own fundamentalist hell.
All this has created a complicated and difficult situation, with many different forces intervening, including fundamentalists fighting both for and against Assad, and with the democratic movement in Syria facing a struggle against both Assad's Ba'ath regime and ISIS.
Despite this, the mass opposition to dictatorship continues. The stepped-up Russian intervention has seriously threatened the Syrian masses. But having obtained a number of anti-tank missiles, the opposition has inflicted heavy casualties on the Assad forces in several recent battles. It has accomplished this despite its lack of anti-aircraft weapons to defend itself against Assad’s air force and the Russian planes. In the Syrian civil war, most of the people are on one side, while most of the heavy weapons are on the other.
It has been claimed over and over again that the democratic forces opposed to Assad have been reduced to insignificance. President Obama, the man with ties to Wall Street, famously denigrated the Syrian resistance as ineffective because they were just “former farmers or teachers or pharmacists”. (News conference of June 19, 2014) Yet the common people of Syria have continued the struggle against the Syrian dictatorship for year after year; they have held out against tanks and aircraft. And Russia’s stepped-up intervention seems to have been prompted by fear of an imminent fall of its long-time friend, the Assad government.
It is important for workers’ movements and progressive activists around the world to support the democratic struggle in Syria. All the outside countries intervening in Syria are capitalist and imperialist powers: none of them are friends of the masses, even if some outside powers for their own purposes provide some weapons to the anti-Assad forces. None of them — neither Russian imperialism nor Western imperialism — has real sympathy for the farmers, teachers, pharmacists, and workers of Syria. It is up to the left-wing and progressive movements to support the common people of Syria, fighting dictatorship and fundamentalism.
But we find a disastrous situation on the left. Most of the American left, including many figures who have gained respect for past accomplishments, do not support the Syrian people. This is a infamous betrayal of internationalism and working class solidarity. Some of the left supports the bloody, dictatorial Assad regime as the best alternative in Syria, while others think that the Syrian civil war is only a proxy war between the outside powers, such as the US and Russia. In this way, much of the left has become apologists for the Assad regime, some enthusiastically, others inadvertently.
The apologists of dictatorship seek to prove that opposition to the Assad
dictatorship serves US imperialist interests. The irony is that US
imperialism has the same contemptuous attitude to the mass struggle
against Assad as do these would-be anti-imperialists. Obama wants to
see, not the overthrow of Assad, but a transitional government. And
just a few days ago, on Oct. 16, an article by one of the high priests
of US imperialism, Henry Kissinger, appeared in the Wall Street
Journal in which he looks towards a future Syria where “a context will
exist for the role of Mr. Assad”. For that matter, Kissinger’s
statement is nothing new. The US government no doubt fondly remembers
how cooperative the Assad regime was in the “extraordinary rendition”
and torture of the Canadian citizen Maher Arar and other victims.
This is not the first time that much of the left has sought to wash its hands of the democratic struggle. There are groups on the left that have been doing this for years. They have sought to prove that the movements against dictatorial or corrupt governments in country after country are really plots directed by US imperialism: it’s reminiscent of the segregationists in the American South claiming that the civil rights movement was a creation of outsiders, or UAW President Williams claiming that auto workers opposed to two-tier wage systems and inhuman work schedules are just victims of “outside agitators” (”UAW's Williams calls out outside agitators, says more info coming on FCA talks”, October 5, 2015, ”Automotive News”)
The failure to support the struggle against the Syrian dictatorship shows the deep and serious nature of the crisis in the left. It is an example of why we have devoted so much time and effort to dealing with this ideological and theoretical crisis; it’s an example of why it’s important to distinguish real Marxism from the corrupted Marxism and fake anti-imperialism that is so widespread. The problem isn’t just that the left-wing movements don’t have sufficient strength. But instead we see that most of the present leadership of the American left has illusions in reactionary regimes such as imperialist Russia or theocratic Iran. We also see that many left organizations don’t have the faintest idea of what US imperialist policy in Syria really is. To provide solidarity with the Syrian masses and truly oppose imperialism, we need to see what’s really going on in Syria. And we also need to repudiate the backward theories that have led so much of the American left to refuse this solidarity.
In further articles in the coming weeks I hope to deal with some of the following issues:
- what is US imperialist policy in Syria;
- which forces in the Syrian crisis are coordinating with the apartheid government of Israel;
- what the Syrian struggle and the fate of the Arab Spring tell us about the nature of democratic struggles at the present time;
- what is real anti-imperialism, and what is non-class anti-imperialism (anti-imperialism without or even against the people);
- what is the nature of the Russian and Iranian regimes;
- and what is the relation of the Kurdish struggle to the struggle against Assad.
-- Joseph Green, editor, Communist Voice <>
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Posted on January 30, 2016