The following is reprinted from our comrades of the Communist Workers’ Group of New Zealand/Aotearoa (CWG-A/NZ):
The Syrian counter-revolution rallies in Sochi, Russia. The Russian troika with Iran and Turkey meets in Sochi to make the next move in the Great Game. How to prop- up Assad, kill off ISIS and al Nusra (HTS) and remove all ‘terrorist’ threats to the division of the oil spoils. The Syrian bourgeois ‘democratic’ opposition compromises with the counter-revolution in the hope of taking its share of the spoils from Assad. The Kurds in the US controlled SDF want to join the Syrian national army in exchange for an ‘autonomous’ Rojava. The revolution is being slowly strangled as Assad, backed by his hordes of foreign mercenaries and their military hardware, tightens his grip on the rebel-held towns to force them into retreat. The relief of East Ghouta in Damascus has become a rallying point for the survival of the revolution, and a litmus test of revolutionaries everywhere. It proves at least two things. First, that capitalism in its terminal crisis is resisted by popular movements. Second, we need an internationalist revolutionary party with a program that draws the lessons of history and guides the world’s workers towards a world socialist revolution.
A half-way revolution is lost
We warned at the outset of the uprising Syria in 2011 that it was the leading edge of the Arab Revolution, and that its failure would be major setback for not only that revolution but the world revolution. The re-opening of the Arab Revolution was the direct result of the global crisis of falling profits being unloaded onto the shoulders of the semi-colonies. The widespread extent of the resistance from Tunisia to Bahrain, and the form it took, armed or not, became the touchstone of the revolution.
As the popular insurgencies moved from Tunisia to Egypt and to the Levant, the Syria Revolution became the leader of the Arab Revolution. It had the support of the Palestinian masses but not the sellout leadership of the PLO and Hamas whose bourgeois nationalist politics betrays the Palestinian revolution for a ‘dual-state’ shared with the Zionist state. It shared the basic democratic demands of the Palestinian struggle, against dictatorship and occupation, against outside interference, a right to peaceful resistance, and no sectarianism. It quickly overtook the leadership of the Arab Revolution from the Palestinians when the extreme reaction of Assad to protest forced it to arm itself to defend its survival.
We welcomed the popular uprising in Tunisia following on the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, and defended the rebels in Libya against Gaddafi. We defended Gaddafi against the NATO bombardment. But we also said that Gaddafi’s war against imperialism is fake when he was busy killing rebels to prove his usefulness to imperialism. That is why we gave military support to the rebels. True, the rebels were compromised by the intervention of NATO, but in reality, the rebels stood for the most basic bourgeois ‘democracy’ suppressed by both imperialism and Gaddafi. Most of the Western left by contrast defended Gaddafi against NATO and claimed the ‘rebels’ were really Islamic fascists and/or CIA assets.
Today the outcome of the civil war against Gaddafi is unresolved because it was isolated by the failure of revolutions in other MENA states and trapped by infighting between rival bourgeois fractions maneuvering between two big imperialist blocs – US/NATO, and Russia/China. The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were also trapped in the half-way houses of bourgeois democracy. The ‘democratic transition’ in Tunisia leaves the situation that saw Mohamed Bouazizi kill himself unchanged. In Egypt General Al Sisi has kept the military bourgeois faction in power.
In Egypt, the survival of the military regime was predictable given that the popular protests never turned the occupation of Tahrir Square into workers united fronts by building councils and militias. Nor did they attempt to split the ranks of the army from the officer high command, or prepare for a revolutionary general strike. The International Socialists gave a critical vote to Morsi. And when Sisi overthrew Morsi, most ‘Trotskyist’ groups called for retreat to a bourgeois Constituent Assembly against the military regime as the way forward.
The situation was different in Syria
In March 2011, Assad began to violently repress peaceful demonstrations and the movement was forced to arm itself to survive. The sheer fact that the peaceful mass protests could not be suppressed spurred Assad to even more ruthless repression. This led to many of his officers and ranks spontaneously mutinying and joining the revolution. Of course, it was still a ‘democratic’ (i.e. bourgeois democratic, revolution) but now it had escalated into armed civil war. By ‘civil war’ we mean the war between the two main classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, and their various allies, inside and outside the country, not merely a war fought among different fractions of the national bourgeoisie.
The fate of the Syrian Revolution is therefore a critical test of Marxism and its leadership of the world revolution against all the forces of counter-revolution. The lessons of history, in particular that of 1917, prove:
(1) First: that the bourgeois democratic revolution cannot be completed by the bourgeoisie. The crisis-ridden imperialist system must suppress workers basic rights when workers fight back against capitalism’s crisis of falling profits. Hence, the class interests of the national bourgeoisie are tied to imperialism as its agent in guaranteeing the super-exploitation the masses
(2) Second: we can prove that from 1917 onwards, workers and oppressed people are willing and able to spontaneously fight oppression. We can prove that even to defend basic democratic rights workers and oppressed must fight as a class independently against imperialism and its agents. The workers, leading the other oppressed, must carry that fight through to the victorious socialist revolution, or suffer fascist counter-revolution, i.e. the defeat and destruction of the only historic class capable of overthrowing the capitalist class and saving humanity and the planet.
(3) Third: we can prove the crises and spontaneous resistance to them are necessary pre-conditions for revolution, but they are not sufficient. Both necessary and sufficient is the revolutionary vanguard party with a program that embodies the historic lessons of revolution and applies them practically in the struggle. This will to prove to workers that socialist revolution is the only way out of the impasse of a dying capitalism, and so convince them to join the revolution.
How does the Syrian revolution demonstrate these historic lessons yet again? On the first point, the Assad national bourgeois regime will stop at nothing to destroy the revolution. He created the armed opposition and was losing the civil war until he was forced to call on massive direct intervention by Russia, Iran and Turkey during 2016. Today, Assad’s militias consist mainly of foreign mercenaries organized by Iran while Russia provides the air support. These invasions and occupations have pushed back the revolution into besieged enclaves such as Idlib and Ghouta so that the survival of the revolution is in danger.
Second, as already noted, the Syrian revolution is a popular uprising. We know this because of its worker/peasant/small trader composition, and the success of the armed militias in the years from 2011 until December 2016 when the fall of Aleppo marked a major defeat for the revolution.
This defeat was made easier by many of the petty bourgeois elements who broke with the revolution to sell their services to any of a number of imperialist and regional powers whose influence over Assad opened up opportunities for other scavenging bourgeois fractions to squabble over dividing up the spoils of Syria and MENA as a whole.
As the FSA has split into many factions, some making their peace with Assad or Erdogan, the militias that remain staunchly fighting Assad are facing almost insuperable odds fighting on at least 3 fronts.
First front: against both rival imperialist blocs in Syria – the US/NATO/Israel, and the Russia/China bloc, that now includes the two main regional powers, Turkey and Iran.
Second front: against the Islamic bourgeois factions the IS and AQ, and the Kurdish bourgeois factions, when they bloc with Assad against the revolution. To do this, revolutionaries have to call for an end to sectarianism, the recognition of the Syrian right to national self-determination, and for religious freedoms.
Third front: within the militias that are still fighting Assad refusing to do deals at Geneva and Sochi to carve- up Syria into ‘protectorates’, revolutionaries must form military blocs where they can fight as one armed united front against Assad, while at the same time building workers councils and militias to be organized democratically so that the program for permanent revolution is raised and debated.
How to break the Siege of Ghouta
Ghouta is a test which separates the best from the and worst of the self-proclaimed revolutionary left. We argue that the worst of the left has failed the test dismally. It demonstrates how not to break the siege of Ghouta. We have written at length about the failure of the Western ‘left’ to support the Arab Revolution except as a bourgeois democratic revolution. The situation hasn’t changed in broad terms because the revolution is undefeated. But the situation is critical and the revolution will be defeated unless it has international support necessary to win the civil war.
(1) Imperialist socialists
The worst of the left operate on auto-pilot and fly by numbers. They are Jacobins because they think the last serious revolution was the French revolution. For them the Arab Revolution is trying to catch up with the French Revolution. Assad is a Jacobin because he fights to defend the ‘democratic’ republic of Syria from “Islamic fascism”, “feudal terrorism”, or from the CIA. The estimated 400,000 killed by Assad since 2011 and the 400,000 civilians trapped in Ghouta are ‘hostages’ used by the Islamic rebels, and so are justifiable fallout from the civil war. For their service to the imperialists who are killing civilians by the score every day in Syria, we call these fakers imperialist socialists.
(2) Bourgeois socialists
Bourgeois socialists do not support Assad as a ‘progressive’ but see him correctly as a dictator serving imperialism. The Syrian revolution is progressive but only if led by workers and peasants who replace the bourgeoisie in completing the bourgeois revolution. This means support for a ‘democratic’ opposition only, and when this does not exist or is dominated by the Islamic ‘fascists’, the only revolutionaries that qualify as democratic are already secular democrats (Workers Voice). In other words, the revolution does not exist and cannot be supported unless it fulfills an idealist blueprint imposed by the ‘petty bourgeois democrats’ in the oppressor states. The end of the siege of Ghouta is something that must fall from socialist heaven (or the UNO) because the Western left doesn’t have a clue what to do beyond preaching ‘bourgeois democracy’ against ‘Islamic fascism’.
(3) Bolshevik Leninists (revolutionary communists)
Bolshevik-Leninists condemn the fake Western left sellout of the Syrian Revolution. Ours is the tradition which tries to keep the Russian Revolution alive today. We insist on the three preconditions for revolution stated above: first, objectively the bourgeoisie has no way out other than destruction of civilization; second, objectively the proletariat and its allies are ready and willing to fight for bourgeois democracy; and third, what is missing is the necessary and sufficient ‘subjective’ factor – an international vanguard party and program that is able to advance the struggle directly to the socialist revolution.
The Bolshevik-Leninist party is founded on the theory/program of Permanent Revolution which underlies Trotsky’s Transitional Program. In the Arab Revolution, and in Ghouta today, the anti-imperialist united front calls on all anti-imperialist forces to fight imperialism and its agents. This is a military bloc which means that we must fight alongside those who do not share our politics including IS and HTS in Syria when they are fighting imperialism and/or Assad and not the revolution itself. In doing so, we raise the program of permanent revolution to explain why the anti-imperialist struggle must necessarily lead to a break with the national bourgeoisie and all those who give it left cover such as the imperialist and bourgeois socialists – ‘Permanent Revolution!