Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 16, 2014

Why calling for “diplomatic solutions” stabs the Syrian Revolution in the back

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:34 am

A guest post by Andrew Pollack

Why calling for “diplomatic solutions” stabs the Syrian Revolution in the back

January 15, 2014 at 4:58pm

On January 14th came reports of the conclusion of a two-day UN-sponsored conference attended by a self-selected group of women discussing how to increase female participation at the proposed Geneva II conference and its aftermath. Nowhere in the statements coming out of the event was there any indication that those seeking to achieve greater gender balance in Geneva have any problem with its core mission: to let imperialist powers dictate “peace” terms to Syrian revolutionaries.

This “women’s” event comes amid a welter of proposals for negotiations, diplomatic solutions, ceasefires, etc., etc. by various liberal and pseudoradical forces. Many of those involved have been around the block and know what brand of snake oil they’re peddling. Newer forces less aware of the long history of such sell-outs may sincerely think that by demanding negotiations or diplomatic solutions they are aiding the Syrian Revolution. But in fact these calls for “talks” and “peace” are helping the imperialists, whether in Washington or Moscow, to stab it in the back. They deny the self-determination of the Syrian people – the only ones who have a legitimate right to say what a just resolution of the Revolution should be, the only ones with the right to define what liberation means for them. And they insult the steadfastness of the Syrian people, who despite horrific casualties, starvation, torture and genocidal murder, show no signs of abandoning their Revolution.

None of the politicians, whether in Moscow or Washington, Beijing or Tehran, Riyadh or Beirut have any business dictating terms to the Syrian people, or even demanding they come to the table. In any case the overwhelming majority of grassroots forces in the Revolution have made clear that they see Geneva for the farce it is. They have expressed in no uncertain terms that not only will they not talk to Assad, but that they resent and reject the imperialists’ likely attempt to impose a Yemen-style solution, i.e. to maintain he current regime minus Assad.

Calling for talks or “peace” is calling for maintenance of that regime, for an end to the Syrian people’s just struggle for bread, freedom, dignity and social justice.

Below I’ll look at some statements by those pushing Geneva (or an “improved” Geneva). Then I cite briefly some parallel debates from the movement against the US war in Vietnam, and from discussions among Bolsheviks heading the new Soviet Republic who had to grapple with similar issues when under attack after the revolution’s success.

A November 28, 2013 article (“Opposition Activists in Damascus Give Views on Peaceful Solution,” https://www.adoptrevolution.org/en/opposition-activists-on-peaceful-solution/ ) quotes Kifah Ali Deeb, a member of the executive office of the National Coordination Board for Democratic Change, saying she “is confident about a peaceful solution to end the crisis. “[This can be achieved through] an end to the violence, releasing prisoners, and negotiations in Geneva on a peaceful transfer of power to a transitional government with full powers.”

Geneva I, she said “didn’t fail. It produced a set of recommendations that we can build on for Geneva II in order to reach a political solution that will lead to a transfer of power. This will achieve the demands of the people for freedom, dignity, and democracy,” she said.”

Deeb’s group, the NCBDC, has been roundly criticized by revolutionaries from the beginning of the Revolution for attempting to cut deals with the regime and advocating direct talks with it. The groups making up the Coordination Board seem to be left-over pro-Moscow or pro-Beijing Stalinist parties, whose stock in trade has for decades been class collaboration, i.e. deals for “peace” whether in the international or domestic spheres.

Deeb is clearly operating in this framework. She hails the fact that all permanent members of the UN Security Council attended Geneva I, and praises their 12 point plan, “the most important elements of which were the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers which would include officials from the current Syrian government, reform of the constitution, ensuring the continuity of public services and agencies, including the army and security services, and stopping the bloodshed.”

Officials from the current government? Continuity of the army and security services? Clearly Deeb has no interest in advocating for what the Syrian grassroots is actually fighting for.

The same article quotes “political activist and lawyer Faeq Howeija, a member of the Syrian Secular Democratic Coalition,” as saying that Geneva II can succeed and a “political solution” be found “once the two sides genuinely feel that they cannot continue with a military confrontation.” So while those who face the bullets of Assad and the Islamists call for greater military and other aid to complete the revolution against all counterrevolutionary forces, Howeija and his ilk call for “peace.”

Some Palestine solidarity activists are also calling for “diplomatic solutions,” this despite their longstanding and correct rejection of similar efforts by imperialists to force the “peace process” with Israel down their throats. (Although perhaps this hypocrisy tells us something about their rejection of that “peace process”: for some of them, it may just be a question of wanting “better” parties at the table, i.e. a hope that a “left” faction of the PLO, after achieving hegemony in the mass movement, could push aside Fateh as lead negotiator and come up with a “more just” peace.)

Meanwhile the “Anti-imperialist Camp,” a gaggle of groups which seem to come from the same neo-Stalinist milieu as the NCBDC, is pushing a shadow conference in Vienna to happen during Geneva II – while still supporting the latter. They do so because they – unlike the masses in Syria – have given up hope in the Revolution (one would certainly want to check statements of this Camp and its constituent groups to see if they ever supported the Revolution).

The Camp launched an “International Peace Initiative for Syria” months ago, seeking signatures of left celebrities on behalf of peace and love in Syria. Now they are organizing an “all sides’ civil society conference in Vienna.” (www.antiimperialista.org/all_sides_syrian_conference )

“Every day,” they warn us, “it becomes clearer that the Syrian war cannot be won by anybody with a positive outcome for the Syrian people. With its internal divisions on every side the civil war has reached the state of an unprecedented bloodshed increased by external interventions. Its continuation will only wreak havoc and spread destruction on all levels of society.

“Among its main victims there are the democratic rights of the Syrian people, who originally tried to claim these rights by launching a peaceful popular mass protest movement. However their efforts have gradually been thwarted by an increasing influence of sectarian tendencies as well as a growing regional and global involvement.”

So their counsel to the Syrian masses – who show no sign of sharing their defeatism, and who are in fact turning the tide against one pole of the counterrevolution, i.e. ISIS and its ilk – is surrender:

“Together with many people inside Syria and across the world our initiative for Peace in Syria continues to insist (see initial call http://www.peaceinsyria.org/mission.html ) that the only viable solution is a political settlement with a ceasefire paving the way to a transitional government, based on a power sharing agreement between the socio-political, confessional and ethnical blocs maintaining a common State. We are conscious that this is not the ideal solution for any side, and therefore it will be difficult for all sides to accept. Yet a political solution is the only way out, because the continuation of the war will be even worse.”

And they praise imperialist powers for sharing their crocodile tears and proposing a way out: “Internationally, most of the involved players have now come to the conclusion that a political settlement is necessary to stop the number of victims from growing. This is being shown also by the recent agreement between the USA and Iran which provides a framework for the upcoming Geneva II talks.”

But so as not to be completely confused with their imperialist inspirers, they propose a parallel confab in Vienna: “… most of the Syrian people, who – while starving – continue to strive for their democratic and social rights, have lost their voice within the diplomatic efforts which are being made on the level of States. There is an urgent need to let them speak and allow their voices to be heard while important parts of the international community engage in power brokering ignoring the interest of the people on the ground.

“As an International Initiative of civil society, we are proposing to hold a conference in Vienna, Austria, with renowned figures of the Syrian civil society from all walks of life and associated with all sides of the conflict, in order to explore possible and realistic ways for achieving a democratic transition acceptable to the vast majority of Syrians. For this proposal, we have received positive signals from across the whole political spectrum of Syria.”

And just so no-one is misled into thinking that they’re trying to replace Geneva, they stress that “Whilst we hope that Geneva II will get off the ground, we strongly believe that the Vienna conference is a necessary complement to it. There is a real need to lend a voice to those who will have no say at the negotiation table, because they are not State-actors or representatives of political organisations. Furthermore any ceasefire agreement will need strong popular support from below. [That is, they want to help the imperialists force an agreement on the revolting masses.] This is needed whether Geneva will yield results or not.”

The UN-sponsored women’s conference mentioned at the start took a similar approach to trying  to “improve” Geneva II, declaring that “The voice of Syrian women must be heard in all efforts to resolve the civil war that is tearing their country apart.” ) http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46916&Cr=Syria&Cr1=#.UtbSObSpfdU )

Needless to say the conference took no position on who was responsible for the bloodshed and violence, the oppression and exploitation, which sparked the Revolution. Instead, the 50 gathered women (the statement doesn’t say who picked them and how), called for a solution that would urge greater women’s participation in the country’s political and social life (something Assad would assure them he had already achieved). They were motivated by the same horror of suffering – again, without attributing responsibility or blame – as expressed by those quoted above: “We have come together to prepare this set of demands and priorities based on our first-hand experience of the suffering of the Syrian people, which has become intolerable.” And on this basis they too recommended surrender, “calling for an immediate cessation of armed violence.”

They go on to list specific proposals for women’s participation in various negotiating, transition, constitutional and other processes. Not a word about the Revolution’s demands. In fact they characterize the fighting as a “conflict [which] erupted almost three years ago between the Government and various groups seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad,” as if they didn’t know – or dare not voice – what revolutionaries are fighting for.

Of course this is about what one would expect from a body whose Secretary-General just got done heaping praise on deceased mass murderer Ariel Sharon, and whose main purpose has always been as a pacifist cover for imperialism.

Finally by way of examples we cite Code Pink, which weighed in long ago along exactly the same lines. The presumption, the violation of self-determination, the denial of the existence of the Revolution are too self-evident in its statement to need dissection here:

http://codepink.salsalabs.com/o/424/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=7155

In contrast to the above approaches we must stress that our task now is greater support for the revolution, not efforts to force it into submission or surrender.

It’s not our business to pressure revolutionaries to go to the table; our job is to support them materially and politically against all forms of counterrevolution domestic or foreign.

That was the approach of revolutionaries in the US and other imperialist countries during the US war against Vietnam. While the Communist Party in the US and their co-thinkers were pushing for a negotiated “solution,” for support for peace talks, Trotskyists and radical pacifists said we in the US had no right to add to the pressure on the Vietnamese to submit, that our job was to get our government to stop committing and aiding genocide, to pull out completely and immediately.

These genuine radicals added that if the Vietnamese felt compelled to go to the table, whether out of weakness or for tactical propagandistic purposes, that was their business and their right. But by letting up for one second in the slightest degree the call for “Out Now!”, we would in fact be weakening the Vietnamese efforts to navigate their way through those thickets, and more fundamentally would be violating their right to self-determination.

As Nat Weinstein wrote: ( http://www.socialistviewpoint.org/may_04/may_04_01.html )

“From the very first, however, there was a small section of the Vietnam antiwar movement that rejected the slogan, ‘Negotiations Now!’ simply because it implied that the United States had the right to set limits on the Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination. What proved to be the most effective section of the Vietnam antiwar movement had rejected the ‘Negotiate Now!’ slogan from the outset because it gave credence to the ‘right’ of American imperialism to send the world’s most powerful military behemoth into Vietnam to suppress the struggle of the Vietnamese workers and poor farmers for self-determination. And as the war dragged on and tens of thousands of body bags had already been shipped home, the ‘Bring The Troops Home Now!’ demand began winning the support of millions…”

A 1969 resolution of the then still healthy US Socialist Workers Party explained why the imperialists wanted talks in the first place: “The central problem facing U.S. imperialism in attempting to win the kind of settlement it wants is control of the state power in Vietnam, which depends in the last analysis on force of arms. Without the massive military might of U.S. imperialism, the Saigon regime would rapidly collapse. This fact shows the fraudulent nature of all the well-publicized Washington schemes for a settlement: the scheme of turning the war over to Saigon; the scheme of a coalition government; the scheme of elections under the Saigon administration. So long as the Vietnamese revolutionaries refuse to give up their arms and continue to carry on the fight a U.S. withdrawal will lead to rapid victory over the Saigon regime. Under these conditions, a ‘compromise’ formula that does not settle the question of state power will remain illusory. The war can end only when one side is defeated; and until that happens, either on the battlefield or at the negotiating table, the war will go on…” (http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/swp-us/education/anti-war/part6.htm )

The same can be said of Syria: the imperialists want talks above all because they want to ensure that the question of state power is settled in favor of the existing regime or some armed body like it, and not in favor of the Syrian masses.

Finally, some quotes from the parallel Soviet debate. After the Revolution, the new power was faced with invasion from imperialist powers on both sides of World War I. The Bolshevik government sent representatives to talks with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk, and had to encounter dissent within Party ranks about whether such talks were an impermissible compromise.

Lenin’s answer (not heeded at first, by the way, in what was then an incredibly democratic party used to stormy, vibrant debate), was that the new Republic had no choice but to negotiate, especially as to survive until aid could come from successful revolutions elsewhere – BUT that while the Soviets were under the gun, that made it MORE urgent for revolutionaries in other countries to oppose efforts by their own governments to dictate terms or even to presume there was anything to talk about. To use the same terms as in the Vietnam debate, the Bolsheviks could justify going to the table, but communists in Germany, England, France, etc. had no business calling for talks: their duty was to tell their own governments to simply get the hell out of the Soviet Union — and while doing so, to try to make their own revolution at home.

Lenin wrote (http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch04.htm  ):

“Imagine that your car is held up by armed bandits. You hand them over your money, passport, revolver and car. In return you are rid of the pleasant company of the bandits. That is unquestionably a compromise. ‘Do ut des’ (I ‘give’ you money, fire-arms and a car ‘so that you give’ me the opportunity to get away from you with a whole skin). It would, however, be difficult to find a sane man who would declare such a compromise to be ‘inadmissible on principle,’ or who would call the compromiser an accomplice of the bandits (even though the bandits might use the car and the firearms for further robberies). Our compromise with the bandits of German imperialism was just that kind of compromise.

“But when, in 1914-18 and then in 1918-20, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia, the Scheidemannites (and to a large extent the Kautskyites) in Germany, Otto Bauer and Friedrich Adler (to say nothing of the Renners and Co.) in Austria, the Renaudels and Longuets and Co. in France, the Fabians, the Independents and the Labourites in Britain entered into compromises with the bandits of their own bourgeoisie, and sometimes of the ‘Allied’ bourgeoisie, and against the revolutionary proletariat of their own countries, all these gentlemen were actually acting as accomplices in banditry.”

Again, Lenin explains why those under attack might feel pressured to seek a deal (http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/jan/07.htm ):

“Workers who lose a strike and sign terms for the resumption of work which are unfavourable to them and favourable to the capitalists, do not betray socialism. The only people who betray socialism are those who secure advantages for a section of the workers in exchange for profit to the capitalists; only such agreements are impermissible in principle…

“He does not in the least betray socialism who, without concealing anything from the people, and without concluding any secret treaties with the imperialists, agrees to sign terms of peace which are unfavourable to the weak nation and favourable to the imperialists of one group, if at that moment there is no strength to continue the war.”

That, however, is not what is happening around Geneva. Here supposed “friends” of the Syrian people are trying to drag supposed opponents of the regime to the table when the real revolutionaries have NOT yet declared the strike over (to use Lenin’s trade union example), are not yet ready to resume work under their exploiters.

What’s more, the Bolsheviks used to the fullest the opportunity of talks to state their case, and that of the global revolution, to all listening around the world – something which we can be sure won’t be the case with whatever craven “opposition” ends up at Geneva. Thus Leon Trotsky, in a public declaration issued to the peoples of the whole world, declared (http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/02/peace.htm ):

“We must open negotiations with those governments which at present exist. However, we are conducting these negotiations in a way affording the public the fullest possibility of controlling the crimes of their governments, and so as to accelerate the rising of the working masses against the imperialist cliques. We are ready to support this uprising with all the forces at our command.” In other words, as had Lenin, Trotsky was telling fellow revolutionaries elsewhere: “Don’t worry about what we may have to do at the negotiating table. The best aid you can give us is to make your own revolution, to rise up against your own government.”

That is certainly advice well-worth heeding in every country, including the US, which is suffering the same ravages of a capitalist system in decline and the resulting attempts by its masters to use whatever draconian measures are needed to pile the costs of that decline onto the backs of the world’s workers. That, after all, was exactly why the Syrian people revolted in the first place, and why they are determined to see their Revolution through to the end.

Postscript: While looking for the above quotes I came across the passage below, which sheds additional light on the debate within the ranks of those who support the Syrian Revolution about from whom and under what conditions it is acceptable to accept aid from imperialist bandits. In his biography of Lenin, Tony Cliff writes (http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1978/lenin3/ch04.html ):

“On 22 February Trotsky reported to the Central Committee an offer by France and Britain to give military aid to Russia in a war against Germany. The majority of the ‘Left Communists’ were opposed in principle to accepting: aid from such imperialist quarters. Trotsky came out clearly in favour of accepting aid, from whatever source. ‘The “Left Communists” arguments do not stand up to criticism. The state is forced to do what the party would not do. Of course the imperialists want to take advantage of us and if we are weak, they will do so; if we are strong, we will not allow it.’

‘As the party of the socialist proletariat which is in power and conducting a war against Germany, we mobilize every means to arm and supply our revolutionary army in the best way possible with all necessary resources and, for that purpose, we obtain them where we can, including therefore from capitalist governments. In doing this, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party retains full independence in its external policy, gives no political undertakings to capitalist governments and examines their proposals in each separate case according to what is expedient.’

Cliff continues: “Lenin, who had not been present at the meeting of the Central Committee, added the following statement to the minutes of the session: ‘Please add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers.’

“To explain his readiness to use the conflict between the imperialist powers in the interests of the proletariat in power, Lenin wrote, on 22 February, an article entitled “The Itch”:

“’Let us suppose Kaliaev, in order to kill a tyrant and monster, acquires a revolver from an absolute villain, a scoundrel and robber, by promising him bread, money and vodka for the service rendered.

‘Can one condemn Kaliaev for ‘dealing with a robber’ for the sake of obtaining a deadly weapon? Every sensible person will answer ‘no’. If there is nowhere else for Kaliaev to get a revolver, and if his intention is really an honourable one (the killing of a tyrant, not killing for plunder), then he should not be reproached but commended for acquiring a revolver in this way. But if a robber, in order to commit murder for the sake of plunder, acquires a revolver from another robber in return for money, vodka or bread, can one compare (not to speak of identifying) such a ‘deal with a robber’ with the deal made by Kaliaev?’

“In a postscript to the article, Lenin added:

‘The North Americans in their war of liberation against England at the end of the eighteenth century got help from Spain and France, who were her competitors and just as much colonial robbers as England. It is said that there were ‘Left Bolsheviks’ to be found who contemplated writing a ‘learned work’ on the ‘dirty deal’ of these Americans.’

“In the end, however, nothing came of the offer of aid from Britain and France.”

Andrew Pollack, 1/15/2014

 

10 Comments »

  1. Great stuff Andrew. The Left should have been in unconditional support for the Arab Spring and all its individual national manifestations from day one but the neo-Stalinist left wanted to pick and choose and used pseudo anti-imperialism to back the most murderous, butchering tyranny in the whole of the ME because he is an ally of their friend Putin himself the head of Russian imperialism.

    Behind all this, as I doubt much money comes to the neo-Stalinist Left from Russia anymore, though I would not be surprised, is the thoroughly Stalinist anti-revolutionary perspective that the best thing to replace US-backed capitalist globalisation as it collapses is not the world socialist revolution but a return to multi-polar power balancing between five or six major imperialist states. It is actually Obama and the US ruling classes’ perspective too. Having been bankrupted (politically and financially) by the crusading idealism of George W as he tried to uphold America’s position as the hegemonic uni-polar super power the US elite now wants to manage the return to multi-polarity in the hope that the burden of world policing will be shared, their rivals will weaken each other and they can remain if not hegemonic at least the first amongst equals. So we see that our anti-imperialists actually share the perspectives of the most arch of all imperialisms and they have once again allied with forces from the far right to trash a revolution and dismember a country. Far from the end of history it has gone in reverse and the so-called left, who vomit at the very notion of revolution, are aiding and abetting this most unedifying spectacle as Syrians are mercilessly brutalised by their friend.

    Comment by David Ellis — January 16, 2014 @ 11:45 am

  2. `Opposition to all imperialist wars and interventions.’

    Here is a good example of neo-Stalinism from the CPGB which is behind Weekly Worker here in the UK. They believe that getting the above sentence included in the Socialist Platform document for presentation at Left Unity was a triumph for principles. But they do not ask why it was the only one of their proposed amendments that passed. It was accepted because it conforms to the neo-Stalinist dictat that it is the duty of socialists first and foremost not to support revolution, oh no that will never do, but to oppose their own imperialism. The above formulation makes it ok to stand on picket lines shoulder to shoulder with allies of Gadaffi and Assad so that they can unhindered bomb flat entire cities in the name of anti-imperialism. These `pickets’ far from being principled anti-imperialists are simply scum.

    The task for revolutionaries in for instance the Libya scenario was not to ostentatiously oppose the NATO imposition of a no-fly zone and its keeping away of Gadaffi’s artillery from range of Benghazi but to warn the revolution that these were false friends whose intervention was entirely self-serving and the fact that it coincided with the interests of the revolution were entirely contingent and to urge it to take advantage and press home its rebellion which in the end is what it did. Imperialism did not want to see the Libyan oil it had only just gained access to disappear behind years of sanctions. In Syria it couldn’t and never could care less.

    But revolutionary socialist supporters of the Arab Spring should be confident that they are on the right track because our neo-Stalinist anti-imperialist chums are not just allying with far right fascists and nazis in their support for Assad but the likes of the British AWL which is a notoriously pro-imperialist pseudo Marxist sect. They support Assad and have opposed imperialist intervention in support of the revolution because they see him as a bulwark against the thing they hate most: Islamism. The real reason they support this lie is because they are as anti-revolution as the rest of the scumbags.

    Comment by David Ellis — January 16, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

  3. A thug sticks a gun in your face and says “Give me your wallet,” and because you hesitate more than the bandit thought appropriate, he slaps you across your head with the barrel of the gun.

    When the case finally comes to trial, you are told that you are responsible for the beat-down because you should have known better than to try to resist a man pointing a gun at you.

    This seems the be the attitude of many an “anti-imperialist” going into Vienna & Geneva too.

    Clay Claiborne, Director Vietnam: American Holocaust Linux Beach Productions Venice, CA 90291 (310) 581-1536

    Read my blogs at the Linux Beach

    Comment by Clay Claiborne — January 16, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

  4. Excellent summary, Andy. Could you comment on the tendency in the US, which has had some play here at North Star, calling not for US aid to the revolution but for active US intervention. Part of the rationale for this is that some elements in the Syrian Revolution have called for this.

    Comment by David Berger — January 16, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

  5. calling for active intervention by imperialism in support of a revolution is like pissing into the wind. opposing it is like shitting in your pants.

    Comment by David Ellis — January 16, 2014 @ 11:06 pm

  6. Two points to Andrew for spotting the NCB influence in the UN Women’s group. And I appreciate his round-up of the liberal negotiationist groups. He’s also right to say that the Women’s Group reflects a narrow range of opinion within the Syrian opposition – although one of its spokespersons, Rafif Jouejati, is connected with the local Coordination Committees, and I am reliably informed that an invitation was extended to one of the key figures of the grassroots movement (who declined).
    While I agree with the general thrust of Andrew’s argument, it is marred by a sectarian and ultra-left analysis which takes no account of the current conjuncture of the Syrian struggle. Andrew says that “the [Women’s] Conference took no position on who was responsible for the bloodshed and violence, the oppression and exploitation, which sparked the Revolution”. He either hasn’t viewed the video of their presentation or he has looked at it through highly sectarian-tinted lenses. The Women are perfectly clear about where the responsibility for the violence and oppression lies. Keefah Ali Deeb is an Alawite oppositionist who has had spent time in the custody of Syrian Air Force intelligence – so needs little instruction on that point. http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/syrias-youth-found-peaceful-protest-became-irrelevant
    Andrew seems to hold a version of the “theory of the offensive” which ignores the uneven rhythm of revolutionary struggles, the need for tactical shifts and pauses, and the role that diplomatic manoeuvres can play in those processes. The UN Syrian Women are wrong about the possibility of negotiations producing a democratic transformation of the regime but in the current context their highlighting of issues like the sieges, mass detentions, and use of rape and torture by the regime are exactly what needs to be done. The regime and its allies want to come out of the (perhaps abortive) Geneva II process smelling of roses. Opponents of the regime need to make sure that it comes out smelling of the dung-heap of repression. The Syrian Women’s initiative is the best instrument we have seen so far for working towards that.

    Comment by Brian S. — January 18, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

  7. Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for an interesting post. I agree with your valuing the self-determination of the Syrian people. However, is there a way we can know whether they on average support the fighting against Assad, or instead are just neutral and want the war to be over?

    I am glad to hear that the rebels have made headway against the counterevolution- ie the ISIS. How moderate are the rebels fighting the ISIS?
    Isn’t Assad, although dictatorial, more secular?

    I can understand how you did not want the US to be negotiating in Vietnam, but rather to leave the country. There you had the US fighting against a popular insurrection, and it had no business being there. If Syria is really a popular insurrection gaining ground against a dictatorship, I can see that you would not want negotiations. But if Syria is generally a proxy war where the Syrian working class is divided, or if the revolutionaries are democratic and losing, then perhaps negotiations would be good to stop needless mass bloodshed and to consolidate any gains made by the rebels before they are conquered, respectively?

    Of course I understand the need to support the real revolutionaries. In the case of Syria, perhaps some of them feel that their democratic movement has become hijacked? Is it possible for a democratic revolt to become hijacked by a worse force, and if so, does that change things?

    Thanks again.

    Comment by H. Smith — January 19, 2014 @ 6:09 am

  8. Can someone please help me through the analysis?

    1. If a country is in a brutal dictatorship, then it makes sense to protest and revolt if possible. But if practically no one is revolting, then it does not make sense to demand this, because they would get slaughtered.

    2. If a secular dictatorship is racked by an insurgency of strict theocrats, then we do not support either side.

    3. If an empire wants to have a proxy war to dominate a third world country and bring it under its sphere of influence, then we oppose that.

    Do I understand that correctly?

    Back in 1939, Trotsky wrote that he did not support Soviet Ukraine revolting and getting independence from the USSR, or Finland fighting the USSR, because the general context at the international level was the invasion of the USSR. Does that mean that #3 is the most important thing to look at?

    How democratic and secular are each main portion of the rebels in comparison with the government?

    Are Syrians who want a socialist, secular democracy divided on which side they would prefer to win?

    Comment by H. Smith — January 19, 2014 @ 6:38 am

  9. @ H Smith: Your questions seem to imply some misunderstandings of the Syrian situation. Its true that the revolution has got much more complex since the mass civil resistance of 2011, with all sorts of forces getting in on the act (like ISIS). But the prime responsibility for that lies with the regime, which repressed peaceful demands for reform – and responded at every stage with heightened militarisation leading to mass destruction of whole cities and tens of thousands of civilian deaths.. The armed resistance – the Free Syrian Army – was initially democratic in politics and moderate in religious values. But jihadist groups gained leverage because they had the capacity to combat Asad’s armour and heavy weaponry when no one in the outside world was prepared to provide the FSA with weapons that could do this. A war like this brutalises people and drives them into more extreme positions, but extreme Islamist groups are still in the minority and there is a large and active civil opposition across the country which can play an important role. While there are many forces pursuing their interests in this situation (competing imperialisms, regional powers, reactionary ideological groups) it remains overall a popular struggle against a brutal and corrupt dictatorship. I don’t think anyone who is seriously and honestly committed to socialist values could support such a regime.

    Comment by Brian S. — January 19, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

  10. Brian,

    Thanks for writing. My main point was to ask what factors we should consider in the first place. Wouldn’t you say that those are primary factors to consider?

    Certainly I do not have a thorough idea of the details of how those factors are playing out in Syria.

    I do understand that the regime can be blamed for the situation, however for me this does not necessarily mean that an opposition force must therefore be right. Certainly the western victors of WWI can be blamed for the situation in Germany and for the developments that followed, but of course this would not justify support for the German forces that rose to counter those victors later.

    I am very interested, Brian, in finding out well how liberal, nonreligious, and democratic the serious factions are that you mentioned, and how relatively strong in numbers and relative power those democratic, nonreligious forces are? Is there someplace I can look to for a more definite answer?

    In many struggles and civil wars in the world a range of factions can be found on each side of a conflict. Would you say that how much of a force each faction composes should be a major consideration?

    Personally I tend to see some civil wars in terms that are not necessarily black and white, as if one must root for one of two teams in a match. Take the colonization and conquest of Africa or the Americas. For Marx, the colonization was a step forward of societal progression onto a higher level, from primitive societies to a modern industrial or capitalist society. I admit that this is true, but I also have a hard time “rooting” for the establishment, “Long live parliament”, etc. even if this is the “right” analysis. For me, this is too absolutist and there are several factors at work that must be each given strong consideration without generalizing.

    General Wesley Clark reported back in the early 2000’s that Syria was planned to fall and receive regime change. Even earlier we see the Clean Break Document of 1996, when Bush officials planned to take out Syria with proxy forces, even before they entered office. I would say, Brian, that one can then take an internationalist, anti-imperialist view and recognize that this proxy war of planned semi-democratic conquest is exactly what is happening across the Middle East, from Iraq to Libya to Syria. At the same time, to deny that there is any democratic or parliamentary movement at all would be to miss the Arab Spring’s positive elements. To say that the events are only imperialist interventions would be to miss the democratic element. This is why, for me, one must weigh and consider each of the factors to see there are several layers of reality. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Comment by H. Smith — January 19, 2014 @ 9:44 pm


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