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Imperialists agree to preserve Syria’s dictatorship

By Martin Suchanek, Gruppe Arbeitermacht

“A huge victory for the international community” – that is what US President Barack Obama called the 27 September United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 on chemical weapons in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also praised the document to the skies, while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that it had overcome years of paralysis. Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon went so far as to call the text “historic”.

It was so historic, in fact, that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad promised to cooperate with the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, welcoming both the resolution and the US and Russian brokered “peace talks” scheduled for November in Geneva. When all the thieves in the UN kitchen agree so heartily, you can be sure that some really poisonous dish is being cooked up.

The victims are the Syrian people, who two and a half years ago rose up against a totalitarian regime that oppressed them for decades. It is therefore no surprise that the Syrian opposition did not join in this hypocritical chorus. Although the resolution requires the Assad regime’s cooperation, and even envisages further measures without it, it does not specify any measures to be taken to enforce this. Rather, it requires the Security Council to pass a further resolution first. Here of course Assad’s Russian and Chinese sponsors will protect him with their vetoes, as ever.

This “historic” resolution means that all the major imperialist powers, both in the West and also Russia and China, have agreed a common approach for the pacification of Syria. In essence, this represents a complete triumph for Russia.

This triumph is embodied in the resolution, which states that “the only solution to the current crisis” is through “an inclusive and Syrian-led political process based on the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012”, emphasising “the need to convene the international conference on Syria as soon as possible”.

Thus after more than 100,000 dead and at least 2 million refugees, after the civil war that the Assad regime has waged against its own people, the tyrant’s state apparatus is to remain. At best there might be some “transitional solution” that could enable the “reasonable” elements of the opposition – that is, the most easily corrupted – to participate in a future government.

Russia wins out

Only a few weeks before the resolution, the world was awaiting a very different outcome. The French and British governments loudly demanded air strikes on Syria in response to the Assad regime’s 21 August poison gas attack on the rebel-held Ghouta region, in which hundreds including many children were killed. Obama grudgingly threatened “limited military action” to punish Assad for crossing the “red line” he had declared a year previously.

But this brought all the lies churned out by George W Bush and Tony Blair to justify their invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan back into the spotlight. It became clear that an overwhelming majority of the population in Britain and the United States were opposed to another war in the Middle East. First to fall flat on his face was David Cameron, who suffered a devastating rebuff in the House of Commons, following which he had to state unequivocally that Britain would not participate in any bombing of Syria.

Barack Obama also felt obliged to consult Congress, despite being able to use his powers as commander-in-chief to authorise a strike. He could hardly have been unaware how unpopular another war would be in the context of the on-going Afghan morass that US troops are still mired in, alongside the daily terrorist outrages in a supposedly “pacified” Iraq. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, he passed the buck to Congress, seeking a mandate from both Houses for intervention. It became clear that Congress would in all probability pass the buck straight back to him.

After this pitiful display of “leadership”, Obama trooped off to the G20 summit in St Petersburg, still publicly determined to proceed with a “punitive mission”, while in reality looking for help from his fellow world leaders to get him out of the hole he had dug for himself.

A “hard line” statement from Western participants was cobbled together, though only France could promise actual military support. But, in addition to Brazil, Russia, India and China, South Africa made clear its opposition to any US military strike. Germany vacillated uneasily between signing the statement and trying to mediate between the two sides. After some delay Germany took the former course, but in reality would not be involved in any action.

Back in the US, Obama could not ignore the likelihood that a Congress majority in favour of a strike had receded even further. Top military figures and even the President’s own advisers revealed deep reservations. There was widespread criticism of Obama’s lack of any clear strategic objective. Any plan to install a “new order” in Syria – if it ever existed – was clearly out of the question. In fact this was never Obama’s serious intention, whatever conspiracy theorists right and left might think.

That was also why, from the outset, it was the weaker imperialist powers like France and Britain that set an aggressive tone, alongside regional powers like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the tiny but rich and proactive Qatar. Each with their own objectives, they either demanded intervention or, in the case of the latter group, actually intervened, far more openly than the US.

Two camps theory

Events have shown how badly a section of the so-called “anti-imperialist” left in Western Europe and North America misread the situation. Following the hand-me-down “two camps” theory of Stalinism, they still imagine that the United States is the only serious imperialist power, and that it is always hell-bent on war. In fact not only in Syria, where it is plainly quite unwilling to intervene at all, or even Libya, where Britain and France pressed for intervention, the US is now very cautious about throwing matches into the Middle East powder keg, as well it might.

Obama was eager to avoid another defeat in Congress on a question of foreign policy, which is constitutionally the President’s prerogative. He wanted to throw a share of the political responsibility for any strike onto Republican warhorses, like Senator John McCain.

Here Putin and Lavrov proved that “a friend in need is a friend indeed”. They must have enormously enjoyed seeing the distressed president of the strongest world power acting as a supplicant for a climb-down deal.

The price of Putin’s signature

The US at last has had to recognise what the last decade, and especially the years since the 2008 global financial crisis have shown time and again: the weakening of its position as sole imperialist superpower, as the “world hegemon”.

Although US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that Assad (and by implication Putin) would never have agreed to the resolution without the threat of unilateral action, they can scarcely hide the fact that it was Russia that dictated to the American colossus what it has to do.

Prestige aside, and for the world policeman that is no small matter, the US is not entirely unhappy to have an understanding with Russia on Syria. Whatever one-dimensional “anti-imperialists” might think, the US did not actually wish to see regime change in Syria, if this meant the triumph of a popular revolution with all the uncertainty of what a democratic (or for that matter Islamist) regime might mean for itself and its Israeli attack dog.

The highly unstable result of the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the possibility of a changing relationship with Iran, the increasingly chaotic situation in Iraq, its difficulties in extricating itself from the Afghan and Pakistani imbroglio and the fact that the Arab revolutions are very far from over, are forcing the US to seek Russia’s cooperation, rather than the confrontation that Obama stumbled into only a few months ago.

Obama’s problem is that there is a growing mismatch between the USA’s role as world policeman, and its own economic and strategic interests. Its own allies’ demands for US intervention against their rivals or enemies clash with its own need for a scaled down policy.

Obama’s strategy – his real “red line” – is that any settlement must preserve Syria’s existing state apparatus, in order to avoid a repetition of Iraq’s experience after the fall of Saddam Hussein. There, the destruction of the Ba’ath regime, without any effective or reliable allies to reorganise the country already in place, rapidly led to chaos. Israel’s dismay at any popular revolutionary overthrow of Assad confirms that the Syrian revolution is no “colour revolution” dreamed up in Washington, as some on the left have claimed.

Blow to the revolution

For Assad’s murderous regime, the resolution and the Geneva conference are a relief. It can continue and even step up the war against its own people, so long as it sticks to conventional methods of mass slaughter; and thanks to Russia they have limitless supplies of them.

They have armed forces ten times the size of the rebels’, even if most are unreliable in combat; they also have battle-hardened auxiliaries from Iran and Hezbollah. Indeed their battlefield successes since the spring are undoubtedly due in no small measure to these “foreign fighters”.

In the regime’s worst-case scenario, the Geneva conference will lead to a compromise where Assad “shares power” with the least militant and least popular part of the opposition, allowing him to preserve the repressive Ba’athist state. In the best case, the talks will split the opposition and win Assad time to mop up resistance and re-conquer some of the areas lost to him in the war.

Weapons deliveries to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are a long way off, whether from the Western powers or their regional allies. They are badly needed to combat the regime’s airpower and reply to its heavy artillery, tanks and rockets. The “upgrading” of the FSA, talked about in the summer, was in reality little more than a rhetorical exercise by the West. To date, the bulk of their weapons are captured, brought over by deserters or purchased from corrupt members of the regime.

Is the Syrian Revolution over?

Many voices in the Western media (as well as on the left) now describe the situation as an arch-reactionary struggle by “jihadists” on one side and a brutal but at least “secular” and “modern” regime on the other. They say that Assad, at least, did not want to destabilise the region. But this is just a grotesque smear against the Syrian revolution.

By contrast, the work of organisations like the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current shows us that we are dealing with a legitimate revolution of the masses. Contrary to the claims of Assad’s apologists on the European left, there are indeed impressive forms of self-organisation of the masses in the “liberated areas” by the local councils and the Local Coordinating Committees.

Among the armed opposition, the FSA has the largest number of fighters, estimated at 100,000. However, their loose associations have relatively poor quality weapons. Politically, they range from bourgeois-democratic and leftist forces to the Muslim Brotherhood. Their fighters are indeed mostly Sunni Muslims, hardly surprising given that they constitute a majority of Syria’s population. But members of national and religious minorities such as Kurds, Alawites and Christians can also be found among them, as also can some women’s organisations.

The exiled National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is trying to exercise a monopoly on the revolution’s international representation. It is this force that has most earnestly sought an alliance with Western imperialism, feeding fatal and illusory hopes of their rescuing the revolution from military defeat.

It is also true that reactionary Islamist formations, in particular Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have grown in power and influence. This is due to the much stronger financial and military support that they receive from abroad. They have trained foreign fighters among their 10,000-strong armed units, operating mainly in the north and near the border with Iraq.

Their goal is an Islamic theocracy, and they use terror to impose it on the civilian population, methods similar to those of the regime. In the resistance they play a directly counter-revolutionary role, including through attacks on the Kurdish areas. Their militias have also clashed with the FSA.

Although they pose an extremely serious threat, the appearance of demonstrations and actions against their spread makes it clear that they are in a minority among the masses, albeit one that poses a danger to the revolution and harms the fight against the Assad regime.

Moreover, the Kurdish population is an important component of the opposition to the regime. In the majority Kurdish areas, their militias and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has political ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), control a large part of the resistance. As part of the revolution, Syria’s Kurds have been able to achieve a degree of freedom and autonomy. Rightly, they have fought back against al-Nusra and the ISIS, which pose a deadly threat to the hard-won rights of the Kurdish people, whose self-determination can only be secured by the revolution’s victory.

This victory will certainly never come from the Geneva talks with Bashar al-Assad at the negotiating table. FSA commanders have rightly criticised the UN Resolution as an agreement that benefits Assad, and not the movement against the regime.

But it also shows how futile were the hopes of the exiled opposition leadership in the National Coalition that the Western imperialists would prove to be friends of the Syrian revolution. The two gangs of imperialist thieves wish to restore an order in the Middle East that preserves their assets: economic, military and political. The fate of Syria’s revolution is at best merely a pawn, to be sacrificed at the table in Geneva if need be.

Solidarity with the Revolution

The only real assistance the Syrian revolution can look to is from the other revolutions in the region and from the workers’ movements across the world. The left in the West has a special responsibility, since it is “our” governments that have promised so much and delivered so little. Unfortunately a large part of this left is still influenced by the legacy of Stalinism, or prone to believing that the height of strategic wisdom involves simply putting a plus wherever our rulers put a minus. They are playing the part of “useful idiots” for Putin’s Russia and Assad’s bloodstained regime.

While they rightly oppose any Western imperialist intervention, they industriously hush up Russia’s equally imperialist and indeed more practical and deadly intervention, and the counter-revolutionary role of Iran and Hezbollah.

Above all, they have failed to show any solidarity with the mass movement, especially after the struggle against Assad took the form of an armed conflict. A popular revolution against a brutal dictatorship that has killed more than 100,000 people and created millions of refugees was a “side issue” for them, or even mere puppets in an proxy war being waged by the West.

Joseph Daher, a Syrian revolutionary activist and a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current, presently exiled in Switzerland, has reported on the popular movements in his country:

“From the outset of the revolution, the main forms of organisation have been the popular committees at the village, city and regional levels. The popular committees were the true spearheads of the movement that mobilised the people for the protests. Then, the regions liberated from the regime developed forms of autogestion [workers’ control] based on the organisation of the masses. Elected popular councils emerged to manage those liberated regions, proving that it was the regime that provoked anarchy, not the people…

“A prominent example of self-management of the masses is the city of Raqqa, the only provincial capital that has been liberated from the regime (since March 2013). Still under regime shelling, Raqqa is completely autonomous and it is the local population that manages all the civil services for the collectivity. Another equally important element in the popular dynamic of the revolution is the proliferation of independent newspapers produced by popular organisations. The number of newspapers went from three before the revolution – that were in the hands of the regime – to more than 60 written by popular groups.

 “In Raqqa, the popular organisations are most often led by the youth. They have multiplied, to the extent that more that 42 social movements were officially registered at the end of May.” (From syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com)

This testimony graphically shows that there is a progressive side that can and must be supported. This is a side that needs our material support, including the provision of weapons, to successfully fight back against Assad’s army and its allies. And it is a side that needs our vehement political support and solidarity against its enemies, including those on the left, who have up to now taken up a position on the counter-revolutionary side of the barricades.

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