In defence of the Syrian Revolution (Part one & Part two) — Farshad Azadian and Basel Sulaiman (16 & 19 March 2012) |Fightback: The Marxist Voice of Labour and Youth



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[Norm’s note: I’m posting this not merely because it deserves to be read in its own right, but also because some ( or many?) have claimed — in the vein of Stephen Gowans, Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley, and others — that there never was any popular unrest in Syria in the 2011 lead up to the ‘civil war,’ and furthermore, that the current ruling establishment in Syria is both ‘socialist’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ in character.  The ‘facts’ of the matter appear to be otherwise, as attested by a growing host of sources and articles either being linked to or re-published at this blog.]

In defence of the Syrian Revolution — Part one

By Farshad Azadian and Basel Sulaiman (16 March 2012)

It is a year since the Syrian masses rose up against the Assad regime. Since March 2011, the Syrian people have faced the open brutality of the state in wave after wave of mass demonstrations, strikes and civil disobedience. These movements arose in response to the stifling dictatorship, and against the massive inequality, unemployment and poverty in Syrian society.

Estimates put the total number of civilians killed by the regime at anything between 7,500 and 9,000, according to various sources, with the death toll increasing every day. In addition, there are reports that many soldiers refusing to carry out orders to kill civilians have been executed. Summary executions, torture and mass imprisonment have been the methods used by the Assad regime to curb the revolutionary movement in Syria.

State brutality has only served to re-double the efforts of the revolutionaries. The Syrian revolution, once limited in its ability to reach into Damascus and Aleppo, has shifted over the past months. Aleppo, the industrial and commercial hub of Syria, saw a mass campaign of civil disobedience in response to a call for a general strike in December 2011. Most important has been the spread of the movement to Damascus, the country’s capital, which is seen as a regime stronghold. Over the past period massive funeral processions have been held in Damascus, which turned into demonstrations. This indicates a shift in the political situation in favour of the revolution among some layers.

Thousands of soldiers and military officers have defected from the regime and have established the Syrian Free Army (FSA). This revolutionary army has been used to fight the old state apparatus and protect demonstrators. In the face of the massacres, many civilian protesters have decided to join this revolutionary army, with the ranks swelling to upwards of 10,000 to 20,000 according to some estimates.

In certain areas, and for short periods, the old regime lost control and there has been the tendency to set up People’s Councils that carry out all manner of activity, including security, healthcare, holding people’s tribunals, distributing food and protecting refugees fleeing repression. We had the short-lived example in the town of Zabadani, which is just 50km away from Damascus, where the old state apparatus was replaced by the Free Local Council of Zabadani, where every thousand residents elected a representative to the council. The council also had representatives from religious minorities and military defectors. The town was under popular administration for several weeks before, unfortunately, finally being crushed by the army.

In this article, we outline what we believe should be the Marxist position in relation to the Syrian revolution, the imperialists and the tasks that lie ahead. It is the task of Marxists to support the revolutionary Syrian people in overthrowing the brutal Assad regime, and to patiently explain the way forward.

We have to look at reality and understand that the Syrian revolution has many obstacles ahead of it, not least of which is the role of the so-called “leadership” of the movement itself. This leadership has a political programme that does not meet the real needs of the Syrian masses. The result has been limited working class action against the regime, in the form of industrial strikes, which could easily paralyze the regime.

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Thomas Pierret on the Syrian Revolution


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[Norm’s note: who is Thomas Pierret? He is an expert on Syria.  Unless you yourself conduct specialized research on the Middle East, and on Syria in particular, he knows more than you ever will about Syria, yes, and that goes for you, too, Gowans, Beeley, Bartlett, Anderson and whoever else subscribes to your narrative or operates on your level of so-called journalistic ‘expertise.’

The short preamble to the post that will follow was written by Robin Yassin-Kassab.

Source of what follows: P U L S E.  Robin himself pilfered the interview from The Angry Arab News Service]

Related: [PDF]Salafis at War in Syria. Logics of Fragmentation and Realignment — by Thomas Pierret (2017)

Thomas Pierret on the Syrian Revolution


I hate to link to the Angry Arab for various reasons. This is the man who, on the one hand, was only able to mention Juliano Mer Khamis, the martyred Palestinian founder of Balata refugee camp’s Freedom Theatre, in the context of slandering his mother’s ethnicity (yes, she was an Israeli Jew, but one who chose to marry a Palestinian – and Juliano was a man who could have used his mother’s identity to live between the bars and beaches of Tel Aviv, but chose to live and work in occupied Nablus instead). On the other hand he slanders serious scholars like Mearsheimer and Walt, men who have done such important work on exposing the machinations of the Israel Lobby in the US, by accusing them of anti-semitism. (I wonder why he, an American-based academic, has had so much less trouble with people like Campus Watch than real intellectuals like Edward Said and Norman Finkelstein, who made much less dramatic anti-Israel statements). His coverage of the Syrian Revolution has been appalling. He has relied on informants such as ‘an American friend’ to inform his readership that the revolutionary suburbs of Damascus are ‘like Kandahar’ (usually he is overquick to accuse Western commentators of Islamophobia). He has consistently exaggerated the barbarism and sectarianism of elements of the Syrian resistance while consistently underestimating or ignoring the sectarianism and barbarism of the Syrian regime. The questions he poses in this interview with Syria expert Thomas Pierret expose his sectarian bias, but Pierret’s responses are so clear and well-informed that the post deserves reposting here.


1) You and I have disagreed on Syria, do you think that Syria experts have been wrong in the last years especially with the regular and constant predictions of the imminent fall of the regime?

The generalisation is problematic. Such predictions were rather made by journalists, who have the good excuse of not being Syria experts, and Western officials, who often did so for a bad reason, i.e. in order to justify their inaction: if Asad is about to fall, then there is no need to do anything to stop him.

“Experts” did not collectively agree upon the imminent fall of the regime. In early April 2011, I published an op-ed in the French newspaper Le Monde. The last sentence said this: “Nothing guarantees the success of the Syrian revolution, and if it happens at all, it will certainly be long, and painful” . I was not the only one to think that way. I clearly remember a conversation I had at the same time with Steven Heydemann, who was even more pessimistic than I was: he predicted that the regime would use its full military might against the opposition, and that none would act to stop it.

I must admit that later developments made me over-optimistic at times, but overall, I do not think I have seriously under-estimated the solidity of the regime.


2) What accounts for the resilience of the admittedly repressive regime? Has it been difficult for the supporters of the opposition to acknowledge this resilience?

I do not speak in the name of the “supporters of the opposition”. As far as I am concerned, it has not been difficult for me to acknowledge something I had anticipated from day one.

The only independent variable you need to understand the resilience of the Syrian regime is the kin-based and sectarian (Alawite) nature of its military. All other purported factors are in fact dependent variables.

The kin-based/sectarian nature of the military is what allows the regime to be not merely “repressive”, but to be able to wage a full-fledged war against its own population. Not against a neighboring state, an occupied people or a separatist minority, but against the majority of the population, including the inhabitants of the metropolitan area (i.e. Damascus and its suburbs). There are very few of such cases in modern history. Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi are the closest examples in the region, but the West proved much less tolerant with them.

The regime’s resilience is in no way a reflection of its legitimacy: on the contrary, the legitimacy of this regime is inversely proportional to the level of violence it needs to use to ensure its survival; in other words, this is a highly illegitimate regime in the eyes of most Syrians.

Kinship has been key to securing the loyalty of the upper echelons of the military in order to avoid the fate of Ben Ali and Mubarak. The latter did not have the chance to have a large number of relatives among the top military/security hierarchy, contrary to Bashar al-Asad, whose own brother Maher is the actual no. 1 in the military (other relatives in top military/security positions include Hafez Makhluf, Dhu al-Himma Shalish, Atef Najib and Asef Shawkat, among many others). In such a situation, generals cannot seriously think about sacrificing the president in order to save the system: contrary to their Egyptian or Tunisian counterparts, they are not in a position to claim that they are in fact good guys who have nothing to do with the awful incumbent dictator. They stay with Asad, or they fall with him. Beyond kin ties, the loyalty of the military hierarchy has been secured through sectarianism, since it is likely that a majority of the officers belong to the Alawite community.

Sectarianism is a powerful instrument to make sure that you can use the army’s full military might against the population. No military that is reasonably representative of the population could do what the Syrian army did over the last two years, i.e. destroying most of the country’s major cities, including large parts of the capital. You need a sectarian or ethnic divide that separates the core of the military from the target population. Algeria went through a nasty civil war in the 1990s, and Algerian generals are ruthless people, but I do not think that the Algerian military ever used heavy artillery against one of the country’s large cities. The fact that the best units in the Syrian military are largely manned with Alawite soldiers (in addition to members of some loyal Bedouin clans) has been key to explaining the level of violence we have seen over the last two years. Of course, the majority of Syrian soldiers are Sunnis, but it is striking that Asad did only use a minority of the army’s available units: according to some observers, only one third of the army was entrusted with combat missions since the start uprising. Seen from that angle, the purported “cohesion” of the Syrian army becomes much less puzzling: the risk of defections significantly decreases when two-third of the soldiers are in fact locked up in their barracks, or at least kept away from the battlefield.

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