Exploding the myth of Syria being ‘anti-imperialist’ – the working class needs to mobilise independently to seize power
Syria has a population of 21 million, of which about 54% are urbanised. This means that the working class has a much greater weight in the Syrian revolution today than 50 years ago. From the 15th March 2011 up to the current date, much of the urban working class have not participated in the uprising against the Assad Baathist regime. The main reason for this is that the regime has managed to posture as ‘anti-imperialist’. Further, in March the regime gave a 20-30% wage increase to public sector staff and workers to attempt to curb the current revolt. But the central reason why the Assad military dictatorship has managed to sustain
itself is that within the Syrian and the world working class movement the leadership directly and indirectly paint the regime as ‘anti-imperialist’. [A party or regime can be said to be anti-imperialist if they oppose the great imperialist regimes of the United States, France, Germany, Britain and Japan and their violent, brutal subjugation and domination of the masses of the world; as Israel is artificially sustained by world imperialism as its major policeman of the masses in the Middle East, being anti-Israel is also being anti-imperialist; The regimes of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Holland, Belgium, are minor imperialists].
The role of Stalinism
Before 1989 the Stalinist ‘left’ (of the ‘Communist’ parties and some groups who pose as Trotskyist but who adapt to Stalinist policies) and imperialism consciously built the myth that there was a ‘cold war’ between the Communist and capitalist forces. The reality was that the Stalinist (communist) parties were acting as an agency to behead the workers revolutions from within so that world imperialism could continue its domination of the world. The case of Syria illustrates this very well.
In Africa the stalinists promoted ‘African socialism’, which was nothing else but promoting the African middle class to become the local rulers on behalf of imperialism- in other words a new form of control by imperialism through co-option of the local middle class, in the place of workers organizing independently and seizing power through revolutionary means. In Africa the Stalinists either directly supported the African nationalist movements or where workers were already organising independently, they formed communist parties that tied the working class to support the national ‘socialist’ movements.
In the Middle East the Stalinists supported the Arab nationalist movements and the Arab national ‘socialist’ parties. In 1924 the Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon was formed. [in centuries gone by, predating the existence of Palestine and even Judea, several of the countries such as historic Palestine (including the entire ‘Israel’), Jordan, and Lebanon were part of Syria]. When imperialism carved up the region, dividing up Syria and Lebanon, the Stalinists obeyed their imperialist masters and dutifully split the Communist party between Lebanon and Syria. From 1941, when Syria supposedly declared its independence from imperialist France, there were a series of military coups aimed at pre-empting the masses overthrowing the regime. In 1958 Egypt and Syria unified into the United Arab Republic, UAR. The Syrian Communist Party opposed this unification. The UAR split again in 1961. A pro-unification coup took place in 1963, followed by a coup in 1966 led by a group of army officers and then Minister of Defence, Hafez Assad. By 1970 Hafez Assad became President, having consolidated the coup. Soon afterwards the Baathist socialist party of Hafez Assad formed a front, the National Progressive Front, which co-opted the middle class leaders of the popular committees. Both Communist Parties of Syria formed part of this front which accepts that the Baathist rule and are the only ones who can operate among students and in the army.
Both Communist parties (in reality fractions that had split from the same Stalinist Syrian Communist party) supported the bloody Baathist regime from 1970 up until the current period when the regime is violently suppressing the uprising by the masses.
This what the Syrian Communist Party wrote to all the world’s Communist and Workers parties as recently as 17th September 2011.
“ …Armed gangs were formed, attacking public and private properties, and setting up barriers inside some cities in which they had had the upper hand.”…
“Further, we would like to add that the party has asserted, in all the documents adopted during the last period that it supported the national stance of Syria.”…
“Political solution and the continuity of a real and radical reform constitute the only way out of the crisis”…
“we call upon these parties to solidify with Syria because it is the most important Arab country resisting the imperialist plans to dominate the Middle East, and firmly opposing the American-Israeli plan to fragment the area in several sectarian entities whose control would be easy. Syria also supports the national resistance in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. Besides it supports the right of the Palestinian people to liberate its territories and establish a national state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
In summary then, the Syrian Communist Party supports the Assad regime, also labelling the resistance against the regime as ‘armed gangs’ and thus they also support the massacres by the regime over the past period. They oppose a workers revolution in Syria, claiming that a negotiated settlement with this bloody dictatorship is the way forward. Their justification is that the regime is ‘anti-imperialist’ and supports the masses in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. The opposite is true as we show below. The Syrian Communist party help to contain the industrial proletariat in Syria also through their support of the Baathist regime in the trade unions- the trade unions are also affiliated to the Stalinist WFTU (World Federation of Trade Unions). [There is only one union federation allowed in Syria, which allows only the Baathist party to lead it]. The Syrian CP supports the division of historic Palestine, accept the existence of Israel and thus has the same line as the CP of the Soviet Union under Stalin, which was the first state to recognize Israel, showing its role as a lackey of world imperialism.
We explode the myth that the Assad Baathist regime is ‘anti-imperialist’
While the Assad regime may have ‘nationalised’ the oil and gas sectors of the economy, these are partnerships with imperialist companies and not under workers control. For example the Loon Lattakia oil company is a partnership with Mena which is a Canadian oil company; Gulfsands Petroleum operates extensively in Syria- Gulfsands is in part controlled by the infamous Blackrock Investments, Schroder Investments, Goldman Sachs and Cheriot Norges bank. The bank of America, Barclays, AIG and Merrill Lynch, as shareholders in Blackrock are thus also participants in the imperialist operations in Syria. Earlier this year, imperialist magazine, World Finance, awarded Rami Makhlouf an award as visionary business leader. Makhlouf is part of the Assad family that through Cham Investment Group, Mada Transport (a motor assembly operation) and Real Estate Bank, control over 60% of the Syrian economy on behalf of imperialism. Makhlouf and other Syrian capitalists have opened their warehouses as prisons as the official prisons are overflowing with the regime’s captives. Yet the Syrian CP insists that the regime is ‘anti-imperialist’!
The Communist Action Party in Syria confirms that when the Assad coup took place the local capitalist class was not expropriated and continued to operate. Thus when the oil and gas sector were nationalised, it was a state capitalist regime that made this raw material available for imperialist exploitation- the state using part of the revenue to create perks such as free education and health care to create capitalist stability. [Free education and free health care are not in themselves indicators of a ‘socialist’ regime. Saudi Arabia and some other capitalist countries also have free education and health care but are brutal anti-worker regimes. Even if education may be offered free, under capitalism it is still a tool to brainwash the working class and produce tame and obedient wage slaves for capitalist needs.]
In 2002 Canadian Syrian, Maher Arar, was kidnapped by the CIA in New York, while in transit to Canada. He was sent by the CIA to Syria to be tortured for months as a ‘terror’ suspect. He was kept in the ground in a coffin-like narrow hole, 2 metres deep. After he was released because his name was cleared, the Canadian government tried to buy his silence through a payment of $10 million. Aher and others have confirmed that Syria is one of the places where the CIA has rendition prisons. It is reported that Syrian-born Pakistanis are sent to Syria by the CIA to be tortured. Other regimes which also have rendition prisons of the CIA are Egypt, Jordan, Libya. Rendition prisons are outsourced torture centres of imperialism where their captives are kept under harsh conditions which would not be allowed in the imperialist countries because they would expose the true, violent anti-worker nature of the regime. How can Syria be regarded as ‘anti-imperialist’ when they are one of the main subcontracted agencies of torture for US imperialism? Yet the Syrian CP and some of the world’s left that pose as Trotskyist like the Qina Msebenzi group, insist that Syria is ‘anti-imperialist’.
In 1975-6 the Syrian army invaded Lebanon to support the Maronite-Falangists against the Palestinian resistance. It was the Syrian military support of the Israeli-backed Falangists that allowed the Sabra and Shatilla massacres to take place. [The UN oversaw the disarming of the Palestinian masses, promising them safe passes out of Lebanon. When the Palestinians disarmed, the Falangist forces massacred them in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps]. The Syrian army stayed in Lebanon from 1976 until 2005, assisting imperialism to suppress the Lebanese masses.
In 1990 the Syrian regime sent troops as part of the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. US imperialism was so impressed with Assad that they gave them military funding and equipment. Such military funding and equipment is now being used to slaughter the Syrian masses.
In 1983 Israel annexed the Golan Heights. Such is the cosy relations of the Assad regime with the fascist Israeli regime that the remaining masses in the Golan Heights have Israeli citizenship but trade with Syria, having access the Syrian free schooling and free health care. There are 300 000 refugees from the Golan Heights internally displaced within Syria.
The role of imperialism
Having shown that the Syrian regime is a lackey of imperialism, the actions of the regime can now be seen for what it is. The Egyptian regime shooting down protestors, the use of live ammunition to shoot down anti-regime protestors in Yemen, in Libya (under Gaddafi) and Bahrain, the use of tanks, the killing of soldiers who break with the regime in Syria are all part of the same strategy of imperialism to drown the attempted revolutions in blood. Where the masses have gone over to armed uprising, as happened in Libya, as is now starting to happen in Syria, imperialism deliberately caused a section of the political ruling elite to break with the local regime, to join up with the masses in revolt, in order to betray it from within. In Libya, imperialism deliberately set up the Transitional National Council as a counter-revolutionary entity to gain control over the insurgent masses in order to ensure that, in the event that the regime was overthrown, it could be reconstituted, on a capitalist basis, that is, as the same regime but with some new faces. Imperialism depended and still depends on the middle class leaders of the Libyan resistance who were part of the leadership of the popular committees that had been the base of the Gaddafi regime, to be the base of their TNC. The base of the TNC is the Libyan middle class.
In Syria, as soon as imperialism realized that the masses proved far more resilient than they thought they would be, they started setting up a Syrian Transitional Council, STC, made up of some defectors from the Assad regime and from deliberately placed counter-revolutionaries. The Syrian Transitional Council, STC, was formed in Turkey as a reserve puppet agency of imperialism to sidetrack the Syrian revolution. From the Libyan experience, the Syrian masses are correctly suspicious of this Syrian Transitional Council. Through repeated attempts for its counter-revolutionary agency to gain legitimacy, imperialism has used the Syrian Transitional Council set up a broader Syrian National Council which is trying to co-opt the leadership of the uprising, especially the leaders of the local co-ordinating councils. Imperialism is trying to set up the Syrian National Council made up of 60% internal and 40% external representatives. [Thus the ‘new’ Syrian National Council would include the Syrian Transitional Council- really just an expanded version of it where imperialism still has absolute control]. In other words, imperialism is trying to set up a counter-revolutionary council to strangle the Syrian revolution from within, attempting to generalise their use of the TNC in Libya to contain and ultimately destroy the wave of revolutionary uprisings. Meanwhile imperialism still supports the Assad regime to kill off as many of the leadership of the resistance as possible.
In Libya, the imperialists used funding and all manner of political instruments to prop up its TNC to gain control so that it can now begin to disarm the masses and re-establish a capitalist regime. A few arms were given to the masses, and only to the extent to boost the TNC’s profile as combating the Gaddafi regime. The TNC called for a bombing campaign by the imperialist Nato. The TNC hosted imperialist military ‘advisors’ on the ground. Imperialism bombed the anti-Gaddafi militias from time to time and prevented the really weaponry from getting into the hands of the masses; imperialism also prevented the masses from flying the planes they had against the Gaddafi army. Thus the fighting was deliberately dragged out so that the masses would be tired out and weakened. The TNC sent the militia lightly armed and in some cases unarmed to face the heavy weaponry of Gaddafi’s army. Hundreds, if not thousands of the militia members were killed off by the Gaddafi armed forces and mercenaries during this period of deliberate delay. Despite this, a section of the petti bourgeois ‘left’, still called for a united front with the TNC under the guise of a ‘defence of democracy’, while refusing to call for a single cell to be set up of revolutionary socialists within the militia, nor did they even call to organise a council of delegates of the workers and militias to co-ordinate the fight against the Gaddafi regime. This council could have spearheaded the fight against the TNC as well. As it is, the only structure that was ‘co-ordinating’ the fight against the Gaddafi regime, was the TNC! This petti bourgeois ‘left’ broke from the fundamentals of the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International, which under the section on the fight against fascism state the following: ‘…A merciless exposure of the theory and practice of the People’s Front is therefore the first condition for a revolutionary struggle against fascism’. In other words a consistent, merciless campaign to expose the TNC, its capitalist- anti-worker- anti-immigrant nature, from the time it was created and had little base among the masses, up to the current period, had to be conducted. Lean on the ‘democratic’ TNC and ‘democratic’ imperialist Nato forces against the fascist Gaddafi, the workers and militia were advised by the petti bourgeois ‘left’- we will deal with them later, they said. The Libyan masses captured and killed Gaddafi despite Nato and its TNC. Nato and its TNC are now trying to disarm the militia and the masses to re-establish the Gaddafi regime without Gaddafi. The masses are currently resisting.
The existence of Rendition prisons of the CIA in Libya showed that the Gaddafi regime was an agency for imperialism. Thus imperialism had 2 agencies to crush the masses- the Gaddafi army on the one hand and the TNC and the Nato forces, on the other. Socialist Fight and the Qina Msebenzi group called for a military bloc with the imperialist agent Gaddafi against the masses, the identical position of world Stalinist ‘communist’ parties.
A correct position on the TNC is crucial for the Syrian masses and the world proletariat, as imperialism is trying to generalize the use of a transitional council in areas where they need to betray an uprising from within. In Syria, the Syrian National Council is already distancing itself from armed revolt and is also calling for Nato ‘intervention’. What is needed is a merciless all-sided exposure and combat against any Popular Front/ Transitional Council that imperialism wants to plant from within the insurgent masses.
There is also a trend across North Africa and the Middle East that imperialism relies in part on the Muslim Brotherhood, in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya, in Syria, in Lebanon (with Hezbollah), in Gaza (Hamas) and the West Bank, to act within the mass uprisings as a force to maintain and sustain a capitalist regime. This means that the Muslim Brotherhood acts to ensure that a regime emerges from the uprisings, that is still tied hand and foot to imperialism. The trade off for this is a stake within the political ruling elite of the respective countries and areas.
Towards a programme for the Syrian revolution
We also have to demonstrate our programmatic differences with the 2 main branches of those groups who each claim to be the Fourth International: We deal first with the International Committee of the Fourth International, ICFI (who produce the World Socialist WebSite wsws). The ICFI is largely silent on Syria and the massacres that happen almost daily- this is no accident as the ICFI produces a daily international bulletin. On Libya they oppose the Nato invasion and the NTC but offer no programme for the masses in their fight against the Gaddafi regime. Similarly while they criticize the military preparation that imperialism is apparently making against the Syrian regime, they offer no programme and do not even call for the Syrian masses to set up a section of the ICFI there. They do hint that the Syrian regime is under indirect control of imperialism as they expose that Total and other French companies have partnerships with the Assad regime for years now. The ICFI thus capitulates to the Stalinist notion that the Assad regime is progressive and somehow ‘anti-imperialist’.
The United Secretariat of the Fourth International (who produce International Viewpoint and who are the main party in the French NPA) is more bold in their position: in their 21st August 2011 statement, after Tripoli had fallen, claimed that now a period of Freedom, democracy and the use of the wealth of Libya for the fundamental needs of the masses, is now on the agenda. They claim to oppose Nato but say nothing against the imperialist organ, the NTC, which is now taking every step to ensure that there will be no freedom for the masses and that the wealth of Libya is mainly for exploitation by imperialism. They claim that the next dictator to go should be Assad. Thus, while claiming to support the revolutionary ‘processes’ on the ground and to oppose imperialism, they actually land up supporting the agencies of imperialism such as the TNC in Libya and the Syrian National Council.
The USFI and ICFI do not link the fights of the masses in Syria, in Libya, with the necessary fight to overthrow the regimes in the imperialist centres; they have nothing in common with the programme of the Fourth International.
The Communist Action Party, although to the left of the Communist parties of Syria, has not completely broken with Stalinism as they call for a democratic front to defeat the regime- in other words, replacing the Assad regime with a regime dominated by the middle class, raising yet again the prospect of a new regime that is capitalist and a new agency for imperialism.
A draft programme for the Syrian revolution
1. for workers delegates, whether local or immigrant, local or refugee, from every workplace to join the local co-ordinating councils and to set up co-ordinating councils where none exist based on a programme to expropriate all imperialist asset and the local bourgeoisie (including Assad and Makhlouf the thief), without compensation, and under workers control; that rank and file soldiers and the rural workers , rural poor peasant and unemployed youth be invited to send delegates to the local co-ordinating councils;
2. for the nationalization of all the land, expropriating all capitalists and all large commercial farms without compensation, placing these under workers control; for model collective farms to be set up and the poor peasants invited to be part of them; for allocation of land for use by any peasant farmer with full support such as cheap credit and assistance with implements;
3. Free all political prisoners; close all the rendition prisons; expel all the imperialist troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the entire region;
4. disbanding the army, police and the bureaucracy and for the general arming of the masses;
5.Down with the Assad regime, all power to these co-ordinating councils, no to a parliamentary republic but a workers government based on delegates from these co-ordination councils; break with the capitalist Syrian Transitional Council and the Syrian National Council, break with the Stalinist communist parties. For the formation of Bolshevik Leninist parties in Syria and every country in the region as sections of a new International- which can only be the refounded Fourth International
6. No to any Nato or capitalist intervention in Syria
7. for the clarion call: expropriate the 1% in Syria and every country without compensation, under workers control, to be taken across North Africa , the Middle East, into ‘Israel’, into Greece, into the entire Europe and North America, and indeed the entire world. In the semi-colonies we are enslaved by the agents of the 1%; in the imperialist centres the 1% enslave the working class and lower middle class;
8. For the Palestinian, Syrian and Jewish masses to unite to expel the Israeli army from the Golan Heights;
9. for the Palestinian and Jewish masses to unite against the Israeli bourgeoisie and Arab bourgeoisie, agents of the 1%; Free all Palestinian prisoners from the Zionist jails and that of Hamas and the PA. For a workers’ and poor peasants’ government in historic Palestine
10. For the refounding of the Fourth International, with sections in each country; for a federation of Socialist workers states of North Africa and the Middle east; for groundwork preparations toward the working class to take power in the imperialist centres.