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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, excerpted from The Arab Spring: revolution and counter-revolution:

[…]

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 Homs were 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.

The traditions of Stalinism weigh heavily on the left, especially in the Middle East where questions of imperialist domination have been key to politics for over a century. The early Third International (Comintern) argued that there needs to be a clear distinction between the politics of socialism – with a vision of a free, classless society won by revolution led by the working class – and nationalism, where the goal is simply the democratic right to have an independent state. Such states exist within the imperialist system, and the national leaders seek to find a niche in that system, not to overthrow it. Lenin was explicit on this point in the theses on the national question which he prepared for the Second Congress of the Comintern in June 1920. He wrote that there was “the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries.”[46] But with the Stalinisation of the Comintern that accompanied the counter-revolution of the late 1920s inside Russia, the theses became a dead letter. Increasingly, as Stalin and his successors became conscious of themselves as a bureaucratic ruling group, they attempted to find bourgeois allies around the world. Communist parties fell in behind nationalist figures, promoting statised economies, even militarised, dictatorial states, as socialism or at least some kind of workers’ state. After all, this fitted with the lie that Stalin’s Russia was communist. And so a confused tradition – particularly strong in the Middle East, but not confined to there – still blights the left to this day.

Even some on the far left have accepted dictators as socialist leaders, for decades supporting figures like Gaddafi and Assad, who maintained their rhetorical hostility towards the US and Israel.[47] But their posturing was never the same as genuinely anti-imperialist politics. They are nationalist leaders who desire a strong state which can carve out a place in the world system. Ending the system of imperialism was never on their agenda. Until the 1990s this was often a way to play off the Eastern and Western blocs against each other, hoping to win increased aid from one or the other. But being a client and supporter of Russia did not indicate they were socialists, simply that they sided with the Stalinist ruling class against the West. Their secular stance was also mistaken by their supporters as a sign of leftism. At home, hostility to the US, seen as the main enemy in the Middle East, fitted with the desires of their populations and became a means to cohere national unity, downplaying class divisions. But in spite of the fact that both Gaddafi and Assad ruled over their populations just as brutally as any other dictator in the region, for decades their left wing supporters deluded themselves that they were socialist leaders who should be defended against imperialism. In fact, they had been drawn back into the Western fold in the last decade.

This mistaken support for such odious figures, held by small numbers in most countries, may be of little consequence. But in Lebanon, where the left is in a position to build solidarity, provide material support for the Syrian revolution, and help clarify the politics, tactics and strategies needed to win, the left are divided over what attitude to take to the Syrian Spring. As Hala Abdullah, the Syrian filmmaker, wrote as part of a film screening event in support of the Syrian revolution:

At the start of the Lebanese civil war when the Lebanese right asked the Syrian regime to interfere…the regime responded and intervened militarily because it was worried that a democratic and liberal leftist regime would develop and take root. We were still young and determined then and we acted against the Syrian intervention by protests that were suppressed, and we were put in prison… The fear then is not different from the fear today.[48]

Abir Saksouk, a Lebanese activist who is “pro-resistance” replied in the same forum to the constant refrain warning that Syria will descend into sectarian strife if it is “destabilised”. She pointed out that questions of stability are irrelevant when a people are calling for change:

A fear of what’s going to happen [exists] in every context. I’m fearful of people in Egypt hijacking the revolution…and I’m totally scared of what’s happening in Bahrain. But we have to be hopeful and we can’t ask people not to revolt because we’re scared about the future. This is exactly what these regimes want us to think.[49]

Precisely – but not only the Arab regimes. The West want us to fear the change that can only come through revolution. The outcome of any revolution is uncertain. The masses have to learn how to defeat their enemies, even to recognise who is a genuine ally and who is part of the counter-revolution. The left can only hope to help shape the struggle to the advantage of the masses if they stand with them when they rise up. Ignoring these features of all revolutions, there is a constant refrain from some leftists that the Syrian (and Libyan) resistance is fractured into competing social groups as if there is something sinister about this. It is telling that many on the the left do not raise the disparate array of organisations and political currents involved in the Egyptian revolution as a reason to withhold support. Even the more brazen assertion of their program by the Muslim Brotherhood and their role in the counter-revolution has not led to the same degree of hand-wringing and doubt about the Egyptian revolution.

In any case, in the marches of the hundreds of thousands in the streets of Syria’s cities, banners are regularly held on high bearing the symbols of the cross and the crescent, representing the efforts being made to emphasise Muslim-Christian unity. Druze areas have been part of the uprising, declaring their solidarity, and there is no evidence that Sunni-Shia rivalry fractures the movement. The need for solidarity against Assad’s murderous crackdown can help solidify the unity between different communities. The role of the left must be to put forward arguments for this solidarity, not keep raising the threat of sectarianism as if it’s inevitable.

Tragically, it’s not clear that there is a left of any size in Syria or Lebanon that can play this role. It might be expected that radical intellectuals and nationalists cannot be trusted in revolutionary circumstances; but the Lebanese Communist Party has little chance of playing a role in pulling a layer of activists to a consistently revolutionary stance, or of leading the movement in a revolution. A memorandum from the Party in April reminded the Syrian people that they have the right to “mobilise through all peaceful and democratic means for the sake of social, political, and economic reforms”. But as Khalil Issa pointed out, there was no mention of the many martyrs, murdered by the regime in the preceding weeks. The memorandum expressed the hope that the Assad regime would implement promised reforms quickly – promises the mass movement clearly understood were lies from the start. But if this statement may be ambiguous, one of the Party leaders made it clear in a speech which talked about “Syria confronting internal strife, which imperialist America and Israel strike towards in cooperation with some of the collaborating forces…which are steeped in reactionary politics.” Issa asked, “Have the national opposition members in Syria like Michel Kilo, Aref Dalila and Yasin al-Hajj Salih, who are all ‘comrades’ by the way, suddenly become agents of the imperialist ‘circles’?”[50] The Lebanese CP, as well as accepting arguments which deny the presence of a genuine uprising against dictatorship and brutality in favour of conspiracies about Western manipulation, recycles all the paranoia peddled by the Western imperialists. They warn that Islamism hovers in the wings delegitimising any struggle of the masses; and they echo Israel and Iran’s worry that Syrian “instability” will destabilise the area.

Activists who previously have cooperated to fight sectarianism and to support the Palestinians are now seriously divided over their response to the Syrian rebellion. The Sunflower Theatre in southern Beirut was the only venue which would stage the film showing mentioned above. Bilal al-Amine, a writer and activist who describes himself as “on the left” and is well known at left wing protests, is not prepared to support those demonstrating against Assad’s Baathist regime. He admits there is a legitimate uprising happening in Syria, but then argues there is a “counter current” which is led by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other pro-Western Arab groups. There is an attempt to bring down the regime because it’s part of the “resistance axis” he argues, and he invokes Assad’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas as the explanation.[51]

But despite Assad’s occasional anti-US rhetoric, in recent years he had begun a process of accommodation which led to the US re-installing an ambassador in Damascus in early 2011 – something his apologists ignore. Unlike Mubarak and other dictators in the Arab world, Assad maintained his rhetorical hostility towards Israel; but he did nothing about Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, nor did he insist on the right of return of the tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees stranded in his country. So contrary to all the accusations that the resistance is nothing more than the puppet of the US and Israel, the truth is the imperialists did not initially support the overthrow of Assad. It was five months into the rebellion before Hillary Clinton stopped calling Assad a “reformer” and began to say he should step down. Previously she and other Western leaders had simply called for Assad to exercise restraint. Steven A. Cook wrote in The Atlantic in May:

[T]here remains a coalition of nations that appear to be acting under the belief that the Assad regime is better than what might come next. It’s an odd group in the rather strange new world of the Middle East: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. For the Israelis, already reeling from the loss of a regional strategic asset – Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt – the predictability of Assad’s Syria was some consolation. Israel and Syria may be in a technical state of war, but the Syrians have scrupulously kept the armistice on the Golan Heights and it has been a long time since Syria’s military posed any significant security threat to Israel.[52]

Israel sees Assad’s regime as an important bulwark against genuine militant opposition to them. The strategic think tank, Stratfor spelled out the actual role Assad plays: “a known and manageable devil from the Israeli point of view.”[53] Perhaps a more reliable assessment comes from Rami Makhlouf, who controls about 60 per cent of Syrian wealth through his network of business interests, and as cousin to Bashar al-Assad, is part of the regime’s inner circle. He is said to have “stated that the security and stability of Israel is tied to the stability of Syria’s current regime”.[54] But left wing apologists for Assad prefer to paint a picture of Assad’s regime as a defender of Palestinians against Israel, justifying their lack of sympathy for the uprising. El-Amine has argued:

If an Arab revolt doesn’t address the issue of Palestine, especially if it’s a country that borders Israel, then your revolution is only half complete. You can’t have liberty when you have a state like Israel causing so much of the region’s injustice.[55]

The truism that the Middle East will not be completely free until the expansionist, apartheid state of Israel is overthrown and its genocide of the Palestinians ceases tells us nothing about how to respond to the Arab revolutions. And in fact, because the left was not soft on Mubarak, who ever raised concerns that Palestinian rights were not foremost in the mass protests in Egypt? There, where Mubarak was known to have openly collaborated with the West and Israel in the oppression of the Palestinians, the issue did not become prominent in the revolution until after the overthrow of Mubarak. It is completely utopian to imagine that in the first round of resistance to dictators and poverty wider issues of the rights of others will be at the fore. Whether the masses making the revolutions consciously commit to defending the Palestinians as soon as they move into action cannot be our litmus test for support. Bringing down dictators, fighting for democracy and better lives for the mass of workers and the poor are supportable. It is the responsibility of the left to raise the political level of the movements as they grow and develop. However, there is a logic to the process of revolution which will raise issues of the wider region and how the masses should respond to them. The history of the past decades strongly suggests that it is unlikely that when called upon to support the Palestinian struggle, successful revolutionary movements would not spring to their defence. Now that it is being raised in Egypt, thousands have demonstrated their support for the Palestinians against Israeli attacks.

Echoing arguments by bourgeois commentators about the need for stability, raising the danger of sectarian civil war, these arguments, aimed at causing doubt and undermining confidence in the Syrian revolution, have been given a hearing even by some socialists in the West. Camille Otrakji, the initiator of One Mideast.org, a site devoted to discussing why Syria should establish peace with Israel, was granted a long, friendly interview by the US website MRZine.[56] Otrakji had previously told the New York Times that the Syrian opposition was not a legitimate resistance, but was being manipulated by the West. He dismissed the significance of the hundreds of thousands protesting, claiming they represented very little compared with the millions in Egypt, ignoring the enormous disparity in population size between Syria, with around 22 million and Egypt with nearly 83 million. Taking up the familiar refrain, Otrakji peddled all the scare-mongering about the likelihood of sectarian strife, and the danger of destabilising the region. But he went further. He claimed that accusations of regime brutality are fabricated, and that Assad was about to implement promised reforms. This was followed up by MRZine promoting a statement by Venezuela’s foreign minister giving unequivocal support to Assad and condemning the opposition. It is difficult not to agree with the moderator of Marxmail.org, Louis Proyect:

All of it [the statement] is garbage but this is particularly offensive: “President Hugo Chavez received from President Bashar al-Assad a complete picture of the real situation in this brother Arab nation, where a fascist conspiracy is seeking to sow chaos and disorder, with the goal of subjecting the nation to the dictates of the Western power.”[57]

Counterpunch, another left wing US website, also weighed in to discredit the Syrian opposition, running an article in April by Peter Lee, a businessman. He asserted – referring to Syrian state-run TV for evidence! – that “the people of the cities of Daraa and Homs, following Saudi incitement and using popular demands as an excuse, began to resort to violence.”[58] This and other articles on left wing sites seem to think it automatically discredits an opposition if they have “used violence”, and especially if they take up arms. Since when did the left disown those fighting for justice because they tried to defend themselves in the face of horrendous state violence? When to resort to violence is a tactical question. Even if we disagree with how a movement responds to provocation from the state, this is not a reason to withdraw support.

Lee seriously expects us to believe that the whole resistance to Assad is being manipulated and orchestrated by a “joint operation headquarters in the Saudi Embassy in Belgium” put together by “the United States, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia”. Of course the West tries to meddle in the opposition movements in the Middle East; they have tried to do so in the Egyptian revolution. There is nothing new in this. Conspiracy theories about the supposed control the West can exercise over protest movements are nothing new. This was the refrain used against the democratic revolutions against the Stalinist states of Eastern Europe by those on the left who had backed them as “Communist” or at least some kind of deformed “workers’ states”. It does Counterpunch no credit to have run such drivel. Why hundreds of thousands continue to come into the street risking death, injury and jail in their thousands does not seem to need explanation for such conspiracy theorists. It’s not as if Counterpunchand MRZine are relentlessly anti-revolution. Counterpunch ran a useful article in August, rebutting many of the very same arguments Lee put forward. Ramzy Baroud summed up what should be ABC for anyone who is anti-capitalist and for human freedom: the regime’s rationale for its crackdown on pro-democracy protests “is challenged by a history of regime hypocrisy, doublespeak, brutality and real, albeit understated willingness to accommodate Western pressures and diktats.”[59] But if the left’s alternative media is to play a positive role, it needs to carry a consistent line in support of struggles against all aspects of capitalism, not give credence to arguments which simply re-package the counter-revolutionary propaganda of the mainstream press.

In spite of the vacillations of some on the left, a revolution which deserves our support is unfolding in Syria. Ghadi Francis has travelled across Syria, talking to people everywhere. “Francis thinks that the protests have already made irreversible change in Syria: ‘What’s happening [in Syria] is great in the sense that there is a black era of fear broken forever … [the protests have already] broken too many walls’.”[60] It is to their undying shame that anyone on the left cannot recognise a fight against tyranny and for freedom when it happens.

Politics, spontaneity and revolution

Any political vacuum created by the left apologising for the oppressors creates an opportunity for those forces in the resistance who are prepared to deal with the US and weakens those who clearly do not want US intervention in their struggle. And this raises the question of political organisation and leadership. There are those who claim the Arab revolutions are purely spontaneous, that their strength is that they are leaderless. Michael Hardt and Toni Negri even go so far as to query whether they should be called “revolutions” because this misleads us to think that they will follow the same process witnessed in revolutions such as 1789 or 1917. They argue that these are a new kind of revolt, following the example of the anti-capitalist protests of a decade ago. The features of these new movements are:

a horizontal network that has no single, central leader. Traditional opposition bodies can participate in the network but cannot direct it… [T]he multitude is able to organise itself without a centre…the imposition of a leader or being co-opted by a traditional organisation would undermine its power.[61]

But this is to misrepresent the revolutions. All revolutions involve an element of spontaneity, or an elemental change in what people are prepared to do. But, as Gramsci said, “In the ‘most spontaneous’ movement it is simply the case that the elements of ‘conscious leadership’ cannot be checked, have left no reliable record.”[62] While the Arab revolutions have their own unique features, there are similarities in all revolutions which enable us to formulate ideas about the strategies and tactics which are most likely to ensure victory. And one of the recurring themes of revolutions is the “spontaneous” nature of their beginnings. The February revolution of 1917 in Russia is often raised as an example of a purely spontaneous revolution. However, if we look carefully, we find that working class women had been preparing for the “manifestation” on International Women’s Day.

At least some women were preparing for months before, weighing up the odds, assessing their actions and options. Since 1915 there had been “bread riots” or “food pogroms” by working class women… This time they sent a circular to the soldiers asking them for protection rather than bullets.[63]

A few days before IWD, women trolley-car workers had visited the soldiers’ barracks to ask if the soldiers would shoot at them. The soldiers’ assurance that they would not do so ensured that the trolley-car workers joined the demonstration. And on the day, the women textile workers went from one factory to the next, calling everyone out, including the more powerful and better organised metal workers. The revolution had an element of spontaneity, in that hundreds of thousands overcame their fear of the state and responded to the call to come out.[64] The Arab revolutions clearly involve both these elements. In fact political leadership played a key role in both Tunisia and Egypt, the two most successful revolutions so far. In Tunisia rank and file workers had to organise against their union leaders, corrupted by years of working in tandem with the state, in order to mobilise union members to join the struggle. Egypt is even clearer. There has been a decade of struggle in which political organisations have crystallised. These groups, many very small, played a key role in organising the first protest on 25 January. They included human rights campaigners, liberals, radical students, leftist Nasserists and revolutionary socialists.

And now that the first phase of the revolution has passed, those activists have to face the issue of how to defeat the counter-revolution. They have to find ways to cohere the most determined, the most class conscious, in order to win wider layers away from the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, they have to be able to explain why some of those who joined in the Tahrir Square protests are now demanding that workers go home and wait for an “orderly transition”. They have to be capable of providing the political confidence to wide layers of workers to continue to fight for their own demands and to build their own independent organisation. None of this happens by chance. As Alex Callinicos has pointed out:

The dynamics of the Egyptian upheaval reveal, not the lyrical insurgency of the centre-less multitude, but rather what Gramsci called “a dialectical process, in which the spontaneous movement of the revolutionary masses and the organised and directing will of the centre converge”.[65]

When you consider the threat to the revolution looming in both Tunisia and Egypt if the masses cannot find a way to continue to resist and develop the social revolution, and the extremely serious dangers confronting the Libyan revolution, then glorification of a lack of a centre, of a lack of a political program is useless at best, irresponsible at worst. It does not serve the interests of the mass of workers and the poor. If revolutionaries ignore their responsibility to offer a way forward, other political forces will fill the resulting vacuum.

Conclusion

Hala Abdullah’s concluding remarks to the Sunflower Theatre forum are a clarion call to all those who support the masses’ fight for democracy and a better world. And it is a rebuke to those who hesitate to give their support to a resistance movement that has shown itself capable of incredible courage and persistence in the face of a merciless assault from the Baathist regime:

Whoever says that the shaking of the Syrian regime will result in the shaking of the whole region and that any change will be dangerous for the whole region is right. A change in Syria will change the region, the decomposed, corrupted and oppressive region.

A change in Syria will allow freedom to go on a promenade like a beautiful young woman. On a promenade, naked, and with no fear on the shore of the Mediterranean sea.[66]

Genuine revolutionaries look forward to that day. However there is still the need for ongoing struggle, not just in Syria, but across the Arab world. Pictures of a massive, joyful, demonstration in Tripoli on Friday 2 September offer a sign of hope. Tens of thousands of women came out to show their support for the rebels, while the guns were kept at a distance from the well-guarded Martyrs’ Square. There are reports of small protests even in Bahrain, despite the vicious repression; while the revolution edges forward in Egypt in spite of the counter-revolutionary forces.

These developments are of immense importance for world capitalism. The world’s ruling classes will find it difficult to ever go back to how things were before. And it is not just the Arab Spring which causes nightmares for the capitalist parasites.

The world crisis continues to unfold. Austerity measures in Europe, Britain, Ireland and the US threaten to reverse all the improvements in living standards workers had won over decades of struggle. The riots that swept across Britain in August are a hint of things to come. They illuminated the anger and bitterness below the surface which can erupt unexpectedly. This time it was the murder of a black man by police. Who knows what provocation by authorities might provoke the next upheaval. The role of socialists must be to stand with the oppressed whenever they try to make their voices heard, to articulate the theories and argue for the actions needed to develop mass working class confidence and organisation. While all manifestations of struggle are better than passive and apathetic acceptance of capitalism’s many crimes against humanity, if we are to win the new world we so desperately need, it will take mass revolutions. And these must be led not by disparate elements, some of whom turn to counter-revolution once they witness the determination of the mass of workers, but by the working class, the only force that can lead the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed and give voice to their needs and desires. Such a movement can create new, collective, democratic organisations on which that new society can build. We have seen tiny embryos of the kind of organisations the exploited and oppressed are capable of in Egypt. For the first time in decades, revolution is on the agenda, and workers are shaking their chains. Developing an understanding of the revolutionary process unfolding in the Arab Spring is the responsibility of revolutionary socialists. It is a breathtaking challenge as well as an opportunity to build a revolutionary socialist organisation wherever we are and to prepare for the battles to come.

 


Notes

[. . .]

[44] Hamid Dabashi, “Arab spring exposes Nasrallah’s hypocrisy”, Al Jazeera, 22 June 2011, http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/06/ 2011618103354910596.html.

[45] “Hizbullah on edge in face of Syria revolt”, 26 July 2011, Naharnet Newsdesk, http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/11210-analysts-hizbullah-on-edge-in-face-of-syria-revolt; the flag burning was said to have occurred in Saqba, Reuters, 24 June 2011.

[46] Lenin, “Theses of the Second Congress of the Comintern”, June 1920, http://www.marxists.org.

[47] For a critique of the left’s attitude to Gaddafi see Corey Oakley, “Confronting the Stalinist legacy”, Marxist Left Review 2, Autumn 2011.

[48] Cassel, “Lebanon’s left splits over Syria”.

[49] Quoted in Cassel, “Lebanon’s left splits over Syria”.

[50] Issa, “The Lebanese left fails in Syria”.

[51] Cassel, “Lebanon’s left splits over Syria”.

[52] Steven A. Cook, “Unholy alliance: how Syria is bringing Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia together”,The Atlantic, 9 May 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/ international/archive/2011/05/unholy-alliance-how-syria-is-bringing-israel-iran-and-saudi-arabia-together/238084/.

[53] George Friedman, “Re-examining the Arab Spring”, Stratfor, 15 August 2011, http://www.stratfor.com.

[54] Ibtisam Azem, “The Syrian people will determine the fate of Syria: An interview with Burhan Ghalyoun”, Jadaliyya, 26 July 2011, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/ index/2203/the-syrian-people-will-determine-the-fate-of-syria.

[55] Cassel, “Lebanon’s left splits over Syria”.

[56] Elias Muhanna, “No revolution in Syria: an interview with Camille Otrakji”, MRZine, 3 May 2011, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/otrakji030511.html.

[57] Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist, “Hugo Chavez, Monthly Review and the Syrian torture state”, 26 May 2011, http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/ 2011/05/26/hugo-chavez-monthly-review-and-the-syrian-torture-state/.

[58] Peter Lee, “Syria and the delusions of the Western press”, Counterpunch, 15-17 April, http://counterpunch.org/lee04152011.html.

[59] Ramzy Baroud, “Competing storylines in Syria”, Counterpunch, 5-7 August 2011, http://counterpunch.org/baroud08052011.html.

[60] Cassel, “Lebanon’s left splits over Syria”.

[61] Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, “Arabs are democracy’s new pioneers”, The Guardian, 24 February 2011.

[62] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Lawrence and Wishart, 1971, p.196.

[63] Sandra Bloodworth, How Workers Took Power: The 1917 Russian Revolution, Socialist Alternative, Melbourne, 2008, p.16.

[64] Bloodworth, How Workers Took Power, pp.11-18.

[65] Callinicos, “The return of the Arab revolution”, p.20.

[66] Cassel, “Lebanon’s left splits over Syria”.