Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 24, 2012

Lenin’s Tomb: The Syrian revolt enters a new phase

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:44 pm

The Syrian revolt enters a new phase

As Bashar al-Assad flees the capital, the armed segments of the revolution appear to be inflicting blows on sections of the security apparatus and taking over major cities: the revolution is turning a corner.  Robert Fisk reports that a crucial dynamic now is the fracturing of an alliance between the Sunni middle class and the Alawite regime, signalled by the spread of the revolt to Aleppo.  And defections from the state-capitalist power bloc continue.  Indeed, Juan Cole has suggested that such divisions must run deep in the Syrian state for the opposition to be capable of planting a bomb that can kill a senior minister

The course of this uprising, from the immolation of Hasan Ali Akleh in January 2011, redolent of Mohamed Bouazizi’s death in Tunisia, to the suicide attack on the defence minister, has been brutal. In the early stages, the Syrian government had a monopoly on violence. It was police violence and the decades-long rule by the Ba’athist dictatorship, undergirded by repressive ’emergency law’, which provoked the ‘days of rage’; it was the police beating of a shopkeeper that provoked a spontaneous protest on 17th February 2011 in the capital, which was duly suppressed; it was the imprisonment of Kurdish and other political prisoners that led to the spread of hunger strikes against the regime by March 2011. And it was the security forces who started to murder protesters in large numbers that same month. It was they also who repeatedly opened fire on large and growing demonstrations in April 2011. In the ensuing months until today, they have used used everything from tear gas to live bullets to tank shells.

And the main organisations of the Syrian opposition pointedly refused the strategy of armed uprising, noting what had happened in Libya, and arguing that the terrain of armed conflict was the ground on which Assad was strongest. Nonetheless, the scale of the repression eventually produced an armed wing of the revolt. The Free Syrian Army became the main vector for armed insurgency, expanded by defections from the army and the security apparatus. Now it is making serious advances.

In response to the insurgency, the argument among a significant section of the antiwar left has been that this revolution has already been hijacked, that those who initially rose up have been sidelined and marginalised by forces allied with external powers, intelligence forces and so on. Thus, the arms, money and international support for the armed rebellion is said to be coming from Washington, and Riyadh, and Tel Aviv. The likely outcome is the decapitation of a regime that is problematic for the US, and its replacement with a regime that is more amenable to the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, they argue, the political forces likely to hegemonise the emerging situation are essentially reactionary and sectarian. The left, democratic and anti-imperialist forces are, they say, too weak to lead the fight against Assad’s regime. And so, as Sami Ramadani puts it in the latest Labour Left Briefing, “the sacrifices of the Syrian people have been hijacked by NATO and the Saudi-Qatari dictators”.

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  1. it would pay all to keep current with robert fisk’s on-the-ground reporting on syria, eg http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-sectarianism-bites-into-syrias-rebels-7964251.html

    very bloody mess.

    “…It was a true civil war story. There were bad guys among the good guys and good guys among the bad. But sectarianism is biting into the Syrian revolution. At the end of last week, one Syrian told me that “they are bayoneting people in the villages around Damascus”. Women, they say, have been raped outside the city of Homs – one estimate puts the number of victims as high as 200 – and the rapists are on both sides…”

    Comment by jp — July 24, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

  2. Like Juan Cole is supposed to know where assad is. Down with state capitalism, horay for neo-liberal capitalism.

    Comment by mir — July 25, 2012 @ 3:30 am

  3. Richard Seymour’s latest piece criticises the positions of Syria put forward by Tariq Ali (on Russia Today) and Sami Ramadani (in Labour Briefing)


    He argues that:-
    ” the scale of the repression eventually produced an armed wing of the revolt. The Free Syrian Army became the main vector for armed insurgency, expanded by defections from the army and the security apparatus. Now it is making serious advances.|”
    Callinicos makes much the same point in “Socialist Worker”

    The trouble is that it’s not.
    Seymour’s has jumped the gun and I think he’s totally wrong about this, as events will show.

    From a position of scepticism about the politics of the FSA, he’s now promoting them as a popular mass movement. This proposition is eroding by the minute, like a sandcastle on the beach.

    The simultaneous attacks by the FSA in the past week were carried out by no more than a few hundred insurgents at a time.
    Most of them infiltrated across the border from Lebanon and Turkey, where the FSA leadership is hosted.
    This was an adventurist stunt, orchestrated to create the impression that the regime could be toppled.
    But the generals who planned it all have betrayed their zealous supporters.

    If there was real mass support for an uprising, the army would be fracturing, with whole regiments declaring against the government.
    (not the same thing at all as a Syrian general going to Qatar and appearing on TV to denounce Assad’s regime -possibly with a large cash inducement)
    A mass insurrection would immediately recruit hundreds of thousands of new supporters from the civilian population.

    This isn’t what’s happened;
    The FSA have failed to hold on to the areas they occupied.
    Their units are being crushed and rounded up one by one.
    In Aleppo last year, over a million demonstrated for the government, so this isn’t all that surprising.

    The FSA’s popular appeal is limited because they’re widely seen a sectarian force, cultivated by the Saudis, Qataris and Turkey.
    Jumping on bandwagons is not the basis for characterising the politics of a movement.
    Particularly when they’re as deceptive as this one’s are.

    Serious commentators in the West know that the game’s up.
    Plan A – the “uprising”, has failed.
    So now, they’re now seriously talking about Plan B – outside military intervention.
    The Royal United Services Institute are arguing for this, on the basis of Syria’s chemical weapons.
    This morning on Radio 4, Rosemary Hollis, Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at City University argued for a military coup to topple Assad, “but maintain the regime”.
    When people switch their political arguments as often as they change their underwear, you just know there’s something wrong with them.

    Comment by prianikoff — July 25, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  4. Prianakoff, one of the things I learned a long time ago was never to use the passive voice since it is a way of shirking responsibility for who said or believes something. You wrote, “The FSA’s popular appeal is limited because they’re widely seen a sectarian force, cultivated by the Saudis, Qataris and Turkey. Jumping on bandwagons is not the basis for characterising the politics of a movement.”

    “Widely seen”? By whom? Michel Chossudovsky? Yoshie Furuhashi? Who the hell knows?

    Comment by louisproyect — July 25, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

  5. Seymour seems to have at least a partial grasp of the fractious nature of the syrian opposition, therefore, i’m surprized he didn’t quote the excellent paper of Aron Lund of the Olof Palme International Center’s “Divided they Stand” ( http://www.palmecenter.se/Documents/Kunskapsbanken/Rapporter/Syrian%20opposition%20paper%20-%20PALME%20FINAL.pdf ), a must read for who is attempting to understand the syrian civil war.

    This paper brings serious nuances to Seymour’s position, the most important being :

    – The constant refusal of violence of the NCB (which he calls the NCC). Seymour seems to favor them (as expressed throughout his article), yet he’s defending armed struggle (i quote : “My own sense is that the regime has made it impossible to do anything but launch an armed insurgency”).

    – The fact that the LCC and the NCB do not agree against the SNC as Seymour seems to imply (i quote : “the LCCs and NCC maintained resistance to the SNC approach”), quite the opposite, the LCC, while staying a mostly independent, grassroot (hence its appeal for a leftist) alliance, has loosely aligned with the SNC, recognizing it as the most likely winner (if there is to be one) of the struggle for the opposition’s leading role.

    There are more nuances to be brought (the fact that not all leftist forces are members of the NCB is one, but it’s more anecdotal)

    That being said, there is obvious evidence that a part of the syrian opposition, namely the SNC, is US-GCC-NATO funded (they acknowledge it openly). The SNC is an imperialist spearhead, pawns in a global ploy to get the control of the ‘Arab spring’ back, mostly in the interest of the gulf petromonarchies (dicatures, terrified by the idea of true democracy and very cleverly outwitted by the US, which encouraged their paranoid delusion of a global Shia-iranian led alliance) and, to a lesser extent, of the zionist regime (the ‘arab street’ hates the zionist regime so much that true democracy in the neighbouring lands is simply unthinkable).

    There is a genuine opposition in Syria, but it has already lost the media battle, the SNC becomes more and more the only organization recognized by the western ‘international community’. If there is a power transition, the NCB will be sidelined, maybe even treated as regime loyalists.

    There is also a more larger picture:

    There is one (and only one now) giant imperialist bully in the world, it’s the USA, it has a lot of allies (the spineless EU and the apartheid zionist regime being the most prominent ones), few second rate rivals (Russia and China) and even fewer enemies (Iran).

    Every success of this bully is a global failure of anti imperialism, every success of the resistance (however flawed it can be – i’m not a big fan of the mullahcracy or Hizbullah, and i know they only resist because they have no other choice) is a success for anti imperialism.

    Western-Zionist imperialism has to be slowed, it cannot be stopped yet, not until some real counter-power emerges, if it is to emerge one day, but it has to be slowed.

    So, no foreign intervention in Syria, no foreign funding of armed militia, no special forces operations, the only good way is an internal political solution (as advocated by Russia AND the NCB, and constantly torpedoed by the SNC)

    On an unrelated side note, i liked the paper you wrote on Alexander Cockburn, i’ll miss him a lot, hell, i already do. As a continental, non english native european, until i was 20, i more or less thought everybody in the US was either right-wing, or extreme right-wing, Cockburn was the first who showed me it wasn’t true, that there was still hope there (even if he was british). I didn’t know the man outside of what he wrote, but i shared most of his views (even on global warming) and when i learned of his dead this week-end, i felt tears mounting as if i had lost a friend. I’m still sad, and i will be for a long time.

    Comment by Cheradenine — July 25, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

  6. @ Prianikoff “Their units are being crushed and rounded up one by one.” If you believe the Syrian regime, they have been doing this every week for the last year: but somehow the FSA is still there. Come back in a week and see just how much” crushing” has been accomplished.
    The FSA is not a regular army but a loosely coordinated force with limited weaponry, largely waging local battles. They concentrate forces for particular operations and then disperse and move when out-gunned by opposing forces:Of course its not a “mass insurrection” – but it is classical semi-guerilla warfare.
    The RUSI briefing doesn’t argue for outside military intervention – if anything it does the opposite.One of its five authors argues that military planners should be considering various options, but concludes that direct military intervention is unlikely until after the collapse of the regime; another tries to calculate what military intervention would entail and concludes that 500 000 ground troops would be needed (can’t quite see that in an election year); a third reviews the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons, and comes to the conclusion that action by outside forces would present very big problems.

    Comment by Brian. S — July 25, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

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