Can any capitalist regime help the masses of Syrian people?
That is the question of the hour.
Some, incredibly including some socialists, believe so. They base this belief on the view that the one and only problem the Syrian masses face is the Islamic fundamentalists. On that basis, they are supporting Assad and his allies. Let’s consider who these forces are:
The Assad regime has a long history of using torture against its opponents. So experienced was his regime in those methods, that he allied himself with George Bush as a favored participant in the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program. (So much for
Assad’s “anti-imperialist” credentials!) For years, Assad carried out a neoliberal economic program as mandated by the World Bank. In fact, like with the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes, it was exactly his neoliberal economic attacks that led to the revolution against him in the “Arab Spring” of 2011. Assad based himself on religious/ethnic sectarianism, specifically the support of the Alawi minority. One of Assad’s biggest supporters in Aleppo, Fares Shehabi, is a top Syrian capitalist. This basis of Assad’s rule – capitalist neoliberal policies, sectarianism, and torture – mean that he has nothing to offer the great masses of the Syrian people.
In assessing Assad’s main ally – Putin – we should keep in mind the fact that “foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy”. Putin has pushed the same type of economic policy as is followed by Assad, including privatization of medical insurance, etc. Russian workers’ union rights are extremely limited if they exist at all. In order to maintain a popular base, Putin pushes chauvinism and nationalism. Putin, himself, is close to the founder of the
fascist Russian motorcycle gang, the Night Wolves. As “Rolling Stone” magazine explains: “Under Putin’s tenure, the Kremlin has jailed journalists and opposition figures, banned “gay propaganda” and crafted ersatz political parties that provide a veneer of self-governance. It has deployed its vast propaganda apparatus — state-controlled radio and newspapers, but above all, television — to fan patriotic fervor.”
Putin also supports many of the far right chauvinist and racist groups and individuals throughout Europe, including Jobbik, the neo Nazi Hungarian group, Ataka, a similar group in Bulgaria, the Austrian “Freedom(!) Party,” and Le Penne’s National Front in France. (Note: A google search using the words “Putin European right wing groups” will turn up numerous articles documenting this.)
In 1999, the Putin regime invaded Chechnya and carried out a scorched earth policy that reduced Grozny, the principle Chechen city, to rubble, leaving it looking like Gaza after Israel got finished with it.
The interest of the Putin regime in intervening in Syria is to protect its military base in Tartus, and to defend the interests of Russian capitalism in relation to its rivals, the main one being US capitalism. It also has an interest in opposing Islamic fundamentalism, which has arisen in parts of Russia like Chechnya as a result of Russian imperialist slaughter there. It has no interest whatsoever in defending or empowering the Syrian working class. Just the opposite.
Rouhani & Hezbollah
Then there is Putin’s ally, Rouhani, in Iran, and their representative in Lebanon, Hezbollah. The Iranian regime routinely arrests union leaders. Among other issues, they
base themselves on extreme oppression of women. As for Hezbollah, they represent the Shia capitalist class. Both forces rest on Shia sectarianism, just as IS and al Qaeda rest on Sunni sectarianism. In Iraq, the same forces that are supporting Assad in Syria, are accused of reprisal killings of Sunnis. They will carry out the same policies in Syria, if they are not doing so already.
It is ridiculous to think that these forces, which base themselves on economic exploitation, religious sectarianism, chauvinism and oppression of women, would have anything to offer the Syrian masses.
The forces opposed to Assad & Co. and the United States
On the one hand, there are the Islamic fundamentalist forces, some of which are outright fascist. None of them advocate US intervention, obviously.
But some of the other forces opposed to Assad & Co. do support the idea of US military intervention in Syria. Some, but not all, of those forces are simply the representatives of US capitalism/imperialism. There are, however, many sincere people who are not such representatives. They see the devastation that the Assad and Putin regimes have wrought, such as on the people of East Aleppo. They see the deadly role of Shia fundamentalists, such as Hezbollah and the Iranian “Revolutionary Guard”. Failing to see any popular force that can stand up to these criminals, they turn to the hope that the US regime will come to their rescue. They should consider:
In 2011, the Syrian masses joined their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia and rose up against their oppressor, the torturer and World Bank stooge Assad. Unfortunately, the
revolution became militarized, and it appears that it got out of control of the masses. One force that intervened was the Saudi and similar capitalists, through their support for the fascist Islamic fundamentalists, including Daesh (or the Islamic State) and al Qaeda (known in Syria as al Nusra). Some claim that the US regime was the one behind the building of the Islamic State. That is ridiculous. The IS arose in opposition to US occupation of Iraq. It is a vicious, bigoted and sectarian force that opposes the role of all non-Sunni Muslims throughout the region. In fact, it’s no accident that at this time, incoming US president Trump is close to Putin and according to the New York Times, he is saying “that the United States should focus on defeating the Islamic State, and find common ground with the Syrians and their Russian backers.”
Even if the US regime were to intervene against Assad, Putin & Co., what would they do? There is not the slightest chance that they would support the opponents of the neoliberal economic attacks on the workers and peasants in Syria. Given that capitalism has proven that it cannot provide any real future in that entire region, there is no chance that US capitalism would support any truly popular mass force. They never have anywhere else and will not in the future. Given the long, long history of US capitalist support for the
racist State of Israel, its long history of intervention on the side of capitalist oppressors around the world, its pushing neoliberal economic policies at home, how can US capitalism possibly have anything positive to offer the Syrian masses?
And while the idea that the US intentionally helped the Islamic State to organize is false, there is a certain history here: The US capitalist class did help al Qaeda when they were fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They did that because they saw the greater threat of an anti-capitalist force (even though the Soviet Union was not truly socialist). This stands as a warning: If a mass working class movement were to develop again in Syria and elsewhere in the Muslim world, US capitalism would not hesitate to once again directly back Islamic fundamentalists like the Islamic State in order to counter such a movement.
The “Left” and Syria
Much of the left is in a near total state of confusion regarding Syria. Some, such as the longstanding socialist Jeff Mackler, are outright supporters of Assad, Putin & Co. In part,
they have been taken in by that paid mouthpiece of Assad and Putin and proven liar, Eva Bartlett. The same is true for much of the Palestinian rights movement. Others, like left journalist Glenn Greenwald, limit themselves to opposing British (and by extension, US) intervention into Syria. Famed independent journalist Robert Fisk, by his own accounting has actually been operating as an embedded journalist with the Assad military. In both cases, they seem to focus entirely on the different military forces at work and tend to ignore the masses of Syrian people themselves. Incredibly, even the usually very thoughtful Black Agenda Report is giving a forum to Syrian capitalist Fares Shehabi as a legitimate representative of the Syrian masses.
Then there is the issue of Donald Trump, who is close to Putin. This, too, has utterly confused much of the left. Julian Assange has expressed mixed feelings about Trump, and “Counterpunch” has published an article that comes close to outright support for Trump.
On the other side, many who oppose Putin/Assad & Co. see some hope for a US or British military intervention. They think this would be a step forward.
Cause of Confusion
The cause for this confusion is that none of these elements see an alternative force to one or the other of the capitalist powers. Specifically, they don’t see the potential for the working class to be an independent force, for the working class to be the subject not the object of history.
How could the working class play an independent role?
Especially with the regime’s victory in Aleppo, it’s possible that in Syria today the working class has suffered such a set back that it is very demoralized. But no working class lives in a vacuum. What is the situation for the Egyptian workers, for the Turkish working class? Then there is the European working class. Through supporting the rights and interests of Syrian and other refugees, the European working class could establish direct links with their brothers and sisters in Syria. Through this, direct aid could be given. Equally important, a discussion could be initiated about the situation for workers in Europe, Syria and elsewhere and what lessons can be learned from recent and not-so-recent experiences. This could revive the working class movement throughout the world.
These are a few ideas for how to start. It might seem pitifully little, given the scope of the disaster under way in Syria. But what is the alternative?
Note: We got several notes that were simply a compilation of swearing and bald accusations with nothing to back them up as well as implied physical threats. We encourage vigorous debate, but such comments simply bring down the political level and we will not print them here.