I very much respect the Anti Imperialist Camp. At the days of the mass movement against the imperialist invasion of Iraq, they came out of the peace loving mass with a brave principled position of defense and support of the right of the Iraqi people for armed resistance against the occupation. When Hamas was democratically elected to rule the Palestinian Authority in 2006, they held firm against all the anti-Islamic propaganda and led a campaign against the siege of Gaza.
So it is with some sorrow that I follow how my Anti Imperialist friends are taking a hesitant stand in their declared support for the Syrian revolution. In the spirit of revolutionary solidarity and the frank discussion between comrades, I would like to try to clear some of the mess of the position paper, “Democratic revolution against Assad AND the Gulf-backed forces“, published by my good friend Wilhelm Langthaler on August 4, 2012.
What is Revolutionary Solidarity?
Back in May 31, 2012, under the title “International Solidarity Initiative with the Syrian People“, we read (on the Anti Imperialist site) that “When the Arab popular revolt toppled the western-backed tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt, electrified the oppressed masses across the Arab world and eventually reached Syria, we all hoped for a quick victory of the democratic movement.”
For me this is simple enough and should stay this way. As we support the Syrian people, support their right for freedom from tyranny and terror, we should continue to support the Syrian revolution and wish for its quick victory. One consequence is that we should support the unity of all the forces of the revolution and call for progressive and democratic people outside Syria to support the revolutionaries in all possible ways.
Somehow the Anti Imperialist camp is obsessed with dividing the Syrian revolutionary forces between good and bad guys. It also devotes an unproportional share of its writing to teach the Syrian revolutionaries what is the best tactics for their struggle. It is a far reminiscent of the old days when revolutions were led from the center of a centralized international… It didn’t work even then. The Anti Imperialist camp used to be our symbol of real revolutionary solidarity – acknowledging that the leadership should stay with the people that are fighting on the ground.
Mass struggle and armed insurrection
The development of the Syrian revolution from peaceful demonstrations to armed struggle is natural and legitimate. On May 31, we read that “Unfortunately the Assad clique was frontally against the massive democratic mass movement… The only answer they had was bloody repression targeting any dissent. So armed self-defense increasingly became a more than legitimate necessity and, as many soldiers defected, developed organically from within the popular movement.”
In fact, in the face of deadly oppression, the armed struggle is not an alternative to the mass movement but a new form of it, the only practically possible form. You can’t expect people to put their lives in constant danger and not do everything that they can to defend themselves, their families and their communities.
Still there is an unexplained suspicion on the side of the Anti Imperialists of the justified Syrian armed revolt. In May they wrote that “the movement in the streets continued to peacefully face the guns of the regime for many months despite the utmost imbalance of force… no to violence and civil war”. In August, in response to the insurrection in Aleppo, they asked whether “the increasingly militarist strategy… prompt the closing of the regime’s ranks and alienate parts of the population?”
The plain truth is that the Syrian peaceful masses called for the organization of the Free Syrian Army to defend themselves and that only the military victories of the FSA will allow all the Syrians that support the revolution to break the chains of fear and terror – as well as will let the regime supporters to change their evaluation of their own self interests.
Reading developments on the ground
In the spirit of distrust of the forces waging the armed revolution, comrade Langthaler writes: “… the armed insurgents in Damascus were put down by the regime with relative ease. There seem to have been a kind of withdrawal without decisive battle. But in spite of drawing a political conclusion from this partial defeat – namely that the situation was politically not ripe for an armed uprising in the capital – an important section of the armed opposition, the FSA Salafi combine, rushed towards a much bigger endeavor under much worse political conditions: the attack on Aleppo.”
When Guerrilla forces fight regular army they don’t push for head-on military victory but for attrition of the army. The uprising in Damascus and Aleppo did very much to change the psychological balance of forces – showing that there are no safe havens for the regime. (In the words of one revolutionary on Al-Jazeera, “we proved that there is no regime rooting out pockets of terrorists, but mass resistance rooting out pockets of the regime”.) In the face of military superior forces and ruthless bombardment of the civilian population the guerrilla force retreat and reorganize.
The uprising in Aleppo forced the Syrian army to withdraw its forces from most of the north of Syria (in order to attack Aleppo), creating for the first time big chunks of territory under rebel control. It is a big victory for the revolution, even if Aleppo will fall to the government again.
In Aleppo, unlike Damascus, the rebels have direct access to military supplies from Turkey – so they have the “strategic depth” that is essential for military victory – and they can still get it.
The Islamic Monster
As we were used to the brave and principled defense by the Anti Imperialist camp of the legitimacy of Islamic resistance, it is with special pain that I read the repeated reference to the “danger” of Islamic forces in the Syrian revolution, like in the following sentence: “Also leftist forces from within the opposition report that for the first time there is a Salafi/Islamist hegemony – which actually corresponds to the militarist concept and also to the superior armament secured by foreign funding.”
It should be clear for all, for some time now, if not from the beginning, that the main organized political forces in the Arab revolution are Islamic parties and movements. This doesn’t change the character of the Arab Spring as a great democratic revolution. Like the Russian masses in their revolution in 1917, the Arab masses in 2011 rose up to throw away their Tsars. Like the Russian Social Democrats that prepared for the revolution through their newspapers and trade union grassroots struggle, the Moslem Brothers prepared for the Arab spring through their mosques, social welfare networks and Al-Jazeera.
For many years tramping up the “Islamic danger” was the ultimate justification for Western “progressive democratic” Imperialism to support the most corrupt, repressive and backward dictatorships in the Middle East.
The brave and highly politicized Syrian people, who are fighting for their freedom in the harshest of conditions, will consider any political force according to its real contribution for their victory.
Of course, there are many dangers to the revolution, and the Syrian people are the best to know them. Sectarian revenge, for one, is directly playing into the hands of the regime. But it can come out of ignorance, as well as out of religious extremism, and should be denounced and prevented in any specific case when it happens, without throwing general accusations and raising suspicions between the partners to the revolution.
The Syrian revolution is an insurrection of the popular Syrian masses against the corrupt bourgeois military dictatorship. After all the talk of foreign intervention, the astonishing thing is how little help the Syrian people receive. This is no surprise. Libya has a lot of oil and few people – so it was a lucrative revolution. The same imperialist politicians that were rubbing with Qaddafi in luxurious parties were quick to offer military help for his overthrow.
The Syrian people that demonstrated week after week for “no fly zone” over Syria are not un-patriotic. They just don’t like to be bombed. They noticed that the Syrian air force was not flying to fight Israel but to bomb Syrian cities and villages. Till now even this most simple request for foreign intervention was not met.
When people fight for their lives, they will welcome any help they can get. Even from the enemy, which they plan to fight over the next days. Don’t forget that Lenin in 1917 coordinated his return from Switzerland with German government agents. Ben-Laden was on the American government’s pay while fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, before turning his sights on the other front. On another level, most Human Rights organizations in the Middle East, Palestine included, get some funding from Western governments or semi-official sources.
So speaking today in Syria on “revolution against Gulf-backed forces” is empty words that confuse the political map. First the revolution should win. For this it needs unity and help. Then what will be left on the ground is the brave Syrian people that fought for the revolution and sacrified so much to get their freedom. All we can wish for them is that they will be strong enough to establish democracy and let the people decide the composition of their post-revolutionary government by elections and not by another period of violent struggle between the revolutionary forces.
Who wants Coup D’Etat?
Maybe the most surprising element in the article is the obsession with coup d’etat as the preferred solution to the current Syrian uprising.
As was written in “the economist” (3/8/2012) it is the imperialist forces that are afraid of an all out victory for the Syrian revolution and try to do whatever they can to inspire a military coup d’etat that will leave some of the ruling elite at the helms of power. They regard the ruling elite as more reliable in guarding the important interests of imperialism, not least the security of the Zionist state.
It is a shame if some people on the left are so suspicious of the Islamic tendencies of their brothers in the revolution to the extent that they prefer half victory and limited democracy to full revolutionary victory. (It is not new: In Turkey I met many leftists that wanted the army to keep some powers to hold back the democratically elected Islamic government; In Egypt some leftist were not fully supporting the Islamic-majority elected parliament against the army’s intervention.)
It is part of the imperialist strategy of delaying a revolutionary victory that is behind preventing the FSA the weapons that can save lives and decide the battle like anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
Saying that, of course, any move of the army top command to stop obeying the orders of the Assad gang to massacre the Syrian people will be most welcomed, today, any day. So I’m also for a coup d’etat. Even if it will slow the revolution for some time – you can rely on the Syrian people that it will not be for long. But this is wishful thinking and not a revolutionary strategy.
Anti Imperialism and the Revolution
To the best of my knowledge, we are Anti Imperialists because we are Pro People, not the other way round. So we don’t seek to impose a program on the Syrian people. Nor do we look what imperialism is saying and doing its reverse. We strive to find the best way for the people to defend themselves and build a society, economy and state that will serve their interests.
Qaddafi’s Libya, or Socialist, Salafist, Capitalist or Anarchist Libya, will still sell oil to the imperialist countries. There may be some difference in the price, in environmental safeguards, and more difference how much of the money is stolen and how much is spent for local development. There is a lot of difference who will benefit from the local development. Democratically elected government, freedom of organization, transparency, conscious and involved public, all will go a long way in the right direction – and they are the fruits of the Arab Spring as a great democratic revolution.
The big regional issues will also come back, not least the issue of Palestine. This is the most important issue where imperialism is standing unequivocally against democracy and against the aspirations of the Arab people. Decades of decay under corrupt dictatorships kept the Arab people out of any influence of the region’s development. The Arab Spring brings the Arab People to the center of the local political stage. It is the only force to rely on for the restoration of the Palestinian national rights.