Syria: which side are you on? — an excerpt from Sandra Bloodworth’s, “The Arab Spring: revolution and counter-revolution” (Autumn 2011)



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Norm’s note: As a preamble to this excerpt from a piece written by Sandra Bloodworth, one well worth reading in its entirety if published in the autumn of 2011, a comment I recently made to something written by Philip Roddis, titled “Workers Power too, I’m afraid …:

Hey, Philip,

I suspect that the various competing interpretations of the situation in Syria that end up siding either ‘with’ or ‘against’ the existing Syrian government obscure more than they clarify.

At bottom, exactly as are the governments of all other power brokers competing for influence and control over the Syrian territory and its inhabitants, the Syrian government is comprised of ‘ruling factions’ — (i.e., of landed and commercial oligarchies alongside rising and very much embourgeoised middle class elements) — whose interests are at bottom reducible to that of ‘money making.’ Consequently, I’m a long way from being convinced that the ‘socialist’ tag can be meaningfully attributed, here as elsewhere.

Furthermore, I’m inclined to agree with Samir Amin’s thumbnail sketch of the overall situation (24 April 2012 ):

Quote begins:

Facing that in Syria we have objectively a situation similar to the one of Egypt: that is, a regime which a long, long time ago had legitimacy, for the same reasons, when it was a national-popular regime but lost it in the time of Hafez Assad already — it moved to align itself with neoliberalism, privatization, etc., leading to the same social disaster. So, there is an objective ground for a wide, popular, social-oriented uprising. But by preempting this movement, through the military intervention of armed groups, the Western imperialist powers have created a situation where the popular democratic movement is . . . hesitating. They don’t want to join the so-called “resistance” against Bashar Assad; but they don’t want to support the regime of Bashar Assad either. That has allowed Bashar Assad to successfully put an end, or limits, to external intervention, in Homs and on the boundary of Turkey in the north. But opposing state terror to the real terrorism of armed groups supported by foreign powers is not the answer to the question. The answer to the question is really changing the system to the benefit of, through negotiations with, the real popular democratic movement. This is the challenge. And this is the question which is raised. We don’t know, I don’t know, I think nobody knows how things will move on: whether the regime, or people within the regime, will understand that and move towards real reform by opening, more than negotiations, a re-distribution of the power system with the popular democratic movement, or will stick to the way of meeting explosions just brutally as they have done until today. If they continue in that direction, finally they will be defeated, but they will be defeated to the benefit of imperialist powers.

Quote ends.

Source: An Imperialist Springtime? Libya, Syria, and Beyond

If a broad-based revolt was indeed brewing in 2011 in Syria, then all narratives either defending or indicting the Syrian government somewhat miss the mark.

This doesn’t mean that an attempt was not made opportunistically by the Imperial West to co-opt or aggravate the moment of instability or upheaval in 2011, nor does it mean that the ‘revolt’ was in its tenor a ‘socialist revolt.’ But it would cast doubt on the nature of the military interventions by all of the militaries and foreign mercenaries implicated in Syria since 2011, on all sides and in whatever guises, including those of the Syrian military itself.

I don’t know if you have had a chance to read this piece by Raymond Hinnebusch: “Syria: from ‘authoritarian upgrading’ to revolution?” It is certainly worth the read, in my opinion.

Hinnebusch, I think, does a decent job of conveying the complexity of the situation, a complexity that tends to get eclipsed by arguments ‘for’ or ‘against’ the intervention of this or that capitalist camp, a camp, like all others, in fact competing to preserve or enlarge its ascendancy in both Syria and elsewhere.

Enjoy the trip!

Some have claimed, and not without supporting evidence, that a popular uprising never truly happened in Syria, that the ‘uprising’ had all along been a ruse engineered by the West to topple Assad & Co.  The more I read, however, the more obvious it becomes to me that that premise is false. There was a popular uprising if also an attempt by the West, through real terror, to quash or co-opt what Amin called the ‘popular democratic movement’ in Syria.

Another false premise is that if one dares to side with the thrust of the ‘popular revolt’ in Syria of Syrians against ‘their’ government, then one ipso facto supports the aggression that the Imperial West has indubitably unleashed against and visited upon the people of Syria. Not so and not necessarily.

All violence against the people of Syria, regardless of its provenance, is to be decried and that is what I decry.

Everything that follows is Sandra Bloodworth’s work:

Syria: which side are you on?

By late August at least 2,500, possibly many more, people were dead but the protests continued to grow against the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In early August the city of Daraa had been under virtual siege and in Latakia, where there had been huge protests, thousands – including Palestinians from a refugee camp of 10,000 – were herded into sports stadiums after having phones and ID confiscated. The cities of Hama and Homswere under constant attack by government forces. Nothing could be clearer: Assad has been a dictator continuing the tradition set by his father before him; and now that the fear which induced passivity has been broken, masses of the population are determined they won’t stop protesting until he is gone. But unlike the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, this heroic struggle has not won the enthusiastic support of many on the left.

Some fundamental issues are raised by the debates about what attitude to take to the Syrian rebellion. In Australia, there has been fairly broad agreement on the left that we need to support the revolution, helping organise demonstrations alongside Syrians and other Arabs. Unfortunately, this is not the case internationally. Political currents from radical Islamists and nationalists to some who call themselves socialists have been found profoundly wanting. Hezbollah, tied to Iran, which backs Assad, have revealed the fundamental weakness at the core of their politics as they continued their support for Assad in spite of his murderous crackdown. General Secretary of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah, who willingly backed the earlier uprisings across the Arab world “began stuttering”, as one critic put it, when the people of Syria rose up. “First, we should be committed to Syria’s stability, security and safety”, he declared, when over 1,000 had been gunned down and countless scores jailed and tortured. Whose security was he talking about? Assad’s or the masses demanding democracy? It became clear when he continued: “We call upon the Syrian people to maintain their regime of resistance [referring to Assad’s reputation for standing up against Israel and supporting Hezbollah] as well as to give way to the Syrian leadership to implement the required reforms and to choose the course of dialogue.” Hamid Dabashi rightly condemned Nasrallah for his betrayal:

You cannot wear a revolutionary garb one day and then a pathetically apologetic disguise another… Nasrallah is now outmanoeuvred, checkmated, made redundant by history, by, of all things, a magnificent Arab Spring, in which he has no role, no say, and no decision. Nothing… He has failed the test of history – of knowing when to abandon tyrants benevolent to him for their own reasons but abusive and criminal to their own people.

It is not accidental that Iran’s Ahmadinejad is on the same page with Hassan Nasrallah in defending the Syrian regime – for they are all made of the same cloth.…

[Nasrallah has been] voluminously loquacious in siding with tyranny [in both Iran and Syria], exposing his utter and pervasive hypocrisy.[44]

There have been reports of protesters in Syria tearing down pictures of Nasrallah and burning them, others of them burning Hezbollah and Iranian flags.[45] Revolutions test the theory and practice of organisations. Hezbollah’s failure to support a genuine mass revolution against their patron was to be expected – aid and succour from rulers is always corrupting. But even some on the left have failed to recognise which side should unquestionably get our support. Continue reading


In 2011-2013, was there a revolution to speak of in Syria? — A brief debate between Sam King and Corey Oakley (17 OCTOBER 2013)| REDFLAG


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Is there a revolution in Syria?

Sam King

In Red Flag issue 9, Omar Hassan writes, “There is a widespread belief that the US is desperate to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s brutal dictator. Some go as far as to deny the existence of the revolution taking place in that country, instead seeing the popular struggle there as a CIA plot.”

For Hassan, the popular struggle in Syria is either a revolution or a CIA plot. But what if we agree that the US is not desperate to overthrow Syria’s brutal dictatorship, and that there is a popular struggle that is not a CIA plot? Does that mean we must agree with Hassan that there is a revolution occurring? Like most writers who believe this, Hassan does not define “revolution”.

Traditionally Marxists have seen “social revolution” as the change of state power from one social class to another. In Russia in October 1917 power was transferred from the capitalists and landlords to the working class, while in the Chinese Revolution of 1949 from the capitalists to a peasant army. The term “political revolution” refers to transfer of power from one to another section of the same class by revolutionary means, for example the US civil war.

For Tariq Ali, the size of a popular struggle does not determine whether it is a revolution. “A crowd becomes a revolution”, he writes, “only when they have, in their majority, a clear set of social and political aims. If they do not, they will always be outflanked by those who do, or by the state that will recapture lost ground very rapidly.”

Gilbert Achcar, who, like Hassan, argues there is a revolution in Syria, believes “there is an ongoing process throughout the [Arab] region, which, like any revolutionary process in history, has ups and downs, periods of advances and periods of setbacks”. He claims the Arab uprising of 2011 represents a long term revolutionary process, “which would develop over many, many years if not decades”.

But this doesn’t help us to understand Syria today. In Achcar’s view, Russia would be in “revolution” just as much in 1907 as 1917 – yet one was a period of violent reaction following the failed 1905 revolution, the other a period of earth-shaking working class advance. So why classify them as the same thing?

Switzerland-based spokesperson for the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current, Joseph Daher, sheds the most light on this understanding of revolution.

Daher’s article “Self-organization of the popular struggles in Syria against the regime and Islamist groups? Yes, it exists!” explains the situation in the opposition controlled town of Raqqa. There, “the popular organizations are most often led by the youth. They have multiplied, to the extent that more than 42 social movements were officially registered at the end of May.”

These campaign by “painting the revolutionary flag in the neighbourhoods and the streets of the city, to oppose the islamists’ campaign to impose the black islamist flag”. In June, “a mass protest led by women was held in front of the islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra’s headquarters, where the protesters called for the liberation of the incarcerated prisoners”.

“In the city of Deir Ezzor in June, a campaign was launched by local activists that sought to encourage citizens to take part to the process of surveillance and the documentation of the practices of the popular local councils.”

More generally, Daher highlights “the emergence of newspapers produced by popular organizations … In the neighbourhood of Bustan Qasr, in Aleppo, the local population has protested numerous times to denounce the actions of the Sharia Council of Aleppo … in the same neighbourhood, the activists hailed ‘go fc yourself Islamic council’, protesting the repressive and authoritarian politics of the latter.”

Daher here highlights very important popular struggles. More precisely, these struggles are protest movements against the imposition of reactionary local state power by al-Qaeda affiliated militias. That al-Qaeda is able to kidnap is opponents and the popular movements can only demand their release presupposes that al-Qaeda has power.

The youth must restrict themselves to painting their flag on walls because they don’t have the power to raise it hegemonically. That Daher’s polemic is aimed at proving that a popular struggle even exists in the rebel zones of Syria concedes by omission that this struggle has not taken power.

Continue reading