Polemic on Syria; Alan Woods : Defend the revolution or contribute to its defeat


The following is a polemical article written by comrades J.M Pau and Juan P of the International Worker’s League – Fourth International. The original text may be found here :

http://litci.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2342:alan-woods-defend-the-revolution-till-the-end-or-contribute-to-its-defeat&catid=41:world&Itemid=113

The following article is important not only because it exposes the reactionary politics of the IMT over Syria but also because it deals with the vital question of revolutionary leadership. We repost this article on our blog expressing full agreement with the positions expressed herein :

The positionof Alan Woods and his international political organization on the Syrian Revolution.

Alan Woods wrote last June an extensive article on Syria, to which we will respond with this text.

Many articles have been written on Syria on these years of revolution and civil war. Most of the left, starting with the Castro brothers and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, openly stood beside the dictator Bashar al Assad and his regime. Alan Woods (who supports Chavez and Chavists governments, and appeared as Chavez’ left adviser) – who runs the IMT on an international level -, changed hispositions, on the assumption that previously he had placed himself in favor of the Syrian Revolution. [1]

Below, we summarize the arguments used by Alan Woods to justify his position with quotationsfrom his own article:

1. The movement in Syria began as a popular revolution with mass support. If that movement had been armed with a genuinely revolutionary programme, it could have succeeded in winning over those sections of society that backed Assad for fear of the alternative. However, in the absence of clear leadership, the movement was hijacked by reactionary elements and pushed in a sectarian direction.

2. America’s regional allies, those bulwarks of reaction, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have been pouring in money, weapons and mercenaries into Syria from day one. Their objective was not at all to help the rebels who were fighting for change in Syria, but on the contrary, to crush the revolutionary elements and transform what began as a popular uprising into a civil war with sectarian connotations.

3. To the degree that the whole thing became militarised, the struggle was deprived of any revolutionary content. Those who controlled the money and arms were able to dictate terms. The counterrevolutionary Salafists and Jihadis, lavishly backed with money and arms from their billionaire paymasters in Riyadh and Doha, seized control. That determined the nature of the so-called opposition.

Based on these arguments, the conclusion drawn is: “The truth is that the Syrian Revolution has suffered defeat,”and everything now would sum up to an imperialist intervention against the country through its allies. In other words, according to Alan Woods, it does not matter which side wins the war: the immediate task of the revolutionaries in Syria would be only to wait for better days.

The truth is that after reading these paragraphs there is no more doubts that Alan Woods or his political current have never supported the Syrian Revolution. But for us, who know his trajectory, it is not surprising that they have gotten to this point, although on this occasion they have been forced to beat around the bush and to tailor some of their positions over time, hiding and changing others to finally have arguments to continue supportingthe ones they regard as their guides for the international revolution: Chavismo without Chavez.

Let us see, at first, Alan Woods’ arguments on the Syria situation.

The article begins by stating that the Western press (let’s say pro-imperialist) only mentions the government’s actions, concealing the Jihadists and Salafists’ brutality. This is not true, because we have all seen the pictures of a Salafist militiaman plucking and eating the heart of a dead soldier of the regime.

Alan Woods, however, does not say a single word about what the Western press did not publish on this macabre fact. On the internet it can be found statements of Abu Sakkar (the militiaman who ate the soldier’s heart) saying that he did it because when they (the rebels) captured that soldiers they watched the videos that were recorded on their cell phones where they (the regime soldiers) showed how they raped rebel women or murdered children.

According toWoods, the Western media only covers the government atrocities, when in fact, what happens is that the media works to amplify the Salafists and Jihadists’ actions, causing civil war looks like a sectarian war, in which the medicine can be worse than the disease itself. And every day, further and further pieces of news appear in this regard: on the financing of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, on the front Al Nusra which states to be linked to Al Qaeda. In other words, Western media does the same advertising job as Alan Woods.

The process of the Syrian Revolution and the Salafists

In March 2011, large demonstrations were held calling for the fall of al Assad’s regime. After eight months of brutal repression, the Revolution began to arm itself and ended up provoking a civil war that still lingers in the country which is now divided into zones controlled by the regime and liberated zones. Alan Woods says that because of its militarization, the revolution has suffered a defeat, after being dominated by the Salafists. This assessment, in our opinion, is flatly wrong.

Firstly, it is necessary to analyze who is actually fighting on the ground. The largest rebel military force in Syria is the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a group of militiamen and battalions relatively heterogeneous, but who keep a common standard. The estimated current soldiers of FSA areof 80,000 men. The largest Salafist group is JabhatAl Nusra, which has about 7,500 troops. As we can see, despite the Salafists progress in recent months (thanks to the international support they have, against the isolation of the FSA), the non-sectarian forces are largely dominant in the military rebel field.

Secondly, in the liberated areas with a major presence of Salafist forces there have been frequent confrontations of the population against them. Lately, even armed clashes have occurred in the city of al Dana or in the Kurdish areas. The Salafists murdered a FSA’s battalion chief and the Local Coordination Committees have spoken against them. In Raqqa, Aleppo and Idlib (the most important liberated zones), there have been streets demonstrations for the same reasons. The Syrian people are far from joyfully accepting the Salafist guardianship, and there is a vivid struggle in the rebel field against the enforcement of the fanatic precepts of these currents.

Third, every Friday demonstrations keep happening throughout Syria. Although they do not count on as many participants as at the beginning, due to the forcible exile, people continue to occupy the streets every week. For instance, on July 19, the Independent Syrian Center for Statistics recorded 73 Syrian demonstrations.

Finally, we want to highlight that organizations which were created by the Syrian masses as from their mobilization, still exist, just as at the beginning. For instance, the extensive network of the Local Committees – the organizations that began coordinating the demonstrations – also took the tasks of supplying the people’s needs (and even being the government in the liberated areas). There is also the Union of Free Students of Syria, dozens of newspapers, many initiatives of the press giving to the world insights of what goes on inside Syria, humanitarian assistance through professional doctors, nurses, psychologists and volunteers, cultural initiatives, etc…

Among the arguments used by Allan Woods, one is worth mentioning:

“To the degree that the whole thing became militarised, the struggle was deprived of any revolutionary content. Those who controlled the money and arms were able to dictate terms. The counterrevolutionary Salafists and Jihadis, lavishly backed with money and arms from their billionaire paymasters in Riyadh and Doha, seized control. That determined the nature of the so-called opposition.”

It is the first time that we read that when a revolution is militarized, it loses its revolutionary content. We revolutionaries believe that it is precisely the opposite: to destroy a regime it is necessary to destroy the key support of the Bourgeois State, which are itsArmed Forces. To achieve this feat, the masses arm themselves or manage to get the Army troops to come over to the revolution side and thus fight the regime with their arms. Therefore, a revolution that manages to destroy the regime’s Army challenges the very Capitalist State. On the other hand, a revolution which leaves intact the Army cannot be more than a “democratic revolution” which, if stalled at this point, will not be able to move to a social revolution.

With all of this, we want to conclude that the Syrian revolution is alive, and that the Salafists are a minority faction from all points of view. To say, as Alan Woods does, that the money and the weapons are in the hands of the Salafists and therefore the efforts of the revolutionaries have been in vain is the greatest contempt of someone who claim to be a Marxist could send to the poor masses and exploited people of the whole world. It is clear that without money and weapons it is more difficult, but if it was the decisive factor there would never have been any revolution in the world, for money and weapons have always been in the hands of the minority, the bourgeois.

Would Assad be”secular” or “progressive”?

AlanWoods acknowledges in his text that the Syrian government commits atrocities. In previous articles of his own organization, Assad was denounced as a capitalist government that implements neoliberal plans. However, in the latter article, when criticizing the Muslim rebels, Woods slips and unveils the characterization that the Syrian regime is “progressive”, and that “the victory of the Jihadis would represent reaction in its blackest and most vicious form. It would signify the liquidation of all the gains of the last 50 years, pushing what was a civilized and decent country back into barbarism. It would mean a savage bloodbath of ethnic cleansing of Alawites, Christians and secular people. The slogan “Alawites to the grave, Christians to Beirut!” gives us fair warning as to the character and intentions of the jihadis. Their aim is to provoke a Sunni/Shia war of extermination.”

We have already responded to one of the main arguments which is the base for those who argue that the Syrian revolution would be a reactionary process for being “under the control” of Salafists. Now we want to give the question back: What about the government side? Would it be “secular” or “progressive”?

Although apart of the left spread this regime’s image, the answer is categorically No. Assad and his regime are not progressive nor in the content, and they do not even worry about hiding it in the form. And the proof of that was the fatwa read by the Mufti [2] of the Republic on television, calling a jihad to defend the regime. Further proof can be seen in the way the Army generals call upon the Syrian youth to enlist to fight “on behalf of Hussein” (son of Ali, the central figure of Shiite Islam). We can also mention the fact that after the conquest of Qusayr, the first thing that the regime troops did was to unfurl an offensive flag on a Sunni mosque. And finally: the government’s bombardments had already destroyed at least 800 mosques in April, to sow fear, but above all sectarian hatred.

Someone could say that this occurs because of the war and as a reaction to the Salafists’ actions, but the Syrian regime could not be characterized as “secular” even before the war.

The Syrian regime is not a secular state where wouldn’tmatter the religion a particular person professes. Religious leaders play a major role in the Syrian regime. The regime has fostered the splitting and has leaned on one of the Muslim factions, the Alawites (10% of the population) in order to control the Army and State institutions. Civil marriage is prohibited and those who want to get married can do it only if they profess the same religion. Syrian Kurds were massacred and discriminated for decades, and only with the beginning of the revolution the citizenship was provided to them, in order to neutralize them.

If any doubt remained about al Assad’s regime, simply look at their allies to dismiss it completely. On the battlefield, the Hezbollah troops serve as the regime ground troops. And the word Hezbollah, literally translated, means “Party of God”.

On the international stage, al Assad’s main support is the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Ayatollah (which translated means “sign of God”) as “the supreme leader”.

It is ridiculous to try to justify the support to Bashar’s dictatorship for being a “secular” regime fighting against “reactionary Islamists”. In fact, it is the regime that makes more efforts to convert the Revolution in a sectarian fighting, in order to weaken it.

Nor does Bashar hesitate to promote massacres against the Palestinians in Syria (which stem from the 1948 refugees. All his speeches in support of Palestine were definitely thrown into the dustbin of history when it started the bombing on the Yarmuk neighborhood (originated from a refugee camp), where more than 150,000 people live, including Palestinians and Syrians. Palestinians in Syria are part of the revolution, because they suffer the same misery and lack of freedoms that affect the entire population.

50 years of accomplishments?

This is the second statement that stands out most in the arguments of Alan Woods: why is it that the Syrian people rose up massively against the regime, if the country had, according to Alan Woods, 50 years of accomplishments, being a ‘civilized’ country in which there were acceptable living conditions?

A few months earlier, on March 1st, 2013, Fred Weston, also of Alan Woods’ current, explained in an article the nature of Al Assad’sregime, showing the unemployment growth, especially among youth, the dominant role ofthe private industry and the fall in the purchasing power of the population, in other words, a situation similar to the rest of the countries in the region.

“The truth, however, is very concrete: there is not a single gram of anti-imperialism in al Assad regime. There is nothing of progressive in which he could somehow justify a possible support from the socialists, including the most critical of the ‘critical support’ “. [3]

If Alan Woods had a minimum of seriousness he would have, before beautifying the regime which his Bolivarian friends support, to say that his own comrade was mistaken, and demonstrate, if possible, where are the “50 years of accomplishments.” Let us remember that they are 50 years of military dictatorship, during which Bashar al Assad’s father held massacres in which thousands of people died. The current dictator “inherited” from his father the country presidency.

The lack of a revolutionary leadership in accordance with the standards required by Alan Woods

It is typical of the propagandists to criticize the masses for not doing whattheir schemes determine, beforehand. That’s exactly what Alan Woods does in his article, even though we have already seen this phenomenon in other texts by his current about the Syrian Revolution.

The above mentioned article starts as it follows:

“The movement in Syria began as a popular revolution with mass support. If that movement had been armed with a genuinely revolutionary programme, it could have succeeded in winning over those sections of society that backed Assad for fear of the alternative. However, in the absence of clear leadership, the movement was hijacked by reactionary elements and pushed in a sectarian direction.”

In at least one point we agree: there is not a revolutionary leadership in Syria whose program aims at the socialist revolution. However, for sure the Syrian masses have a revolutionary program: to overthrow the bloody regime of Bashar al Assad. It is lacking the program of the social revolution and it is lacking the building up a revolutionary party to defend this program, but this can only be built in the trenches of the revolution, as it happens in reality.

Indeed, a good part of the Syrian revolutionaries can be considered politically as “moderate Islamists”. How could we ask the masses to be on the “leftist” side if most of the worldwide “left” has been supporting the capitalist dictatorship which is promoting massacres against the masses? Much of the blame of the Salafists’ progress or the advance of political Islamism is of that very “left” who condemns the revolution just for this reason. How can Woods be so hypocritical to the point of accusing the Syrians of not following the direction he proposes, when his own current collaborated with the late President Chavez, the known friend and collaborator of the Syrian dictatorship?

Revolutions are as they are: they do not follow a predetermined pattern. It is necessary to look at them objectively, to see how they develop in practice in the real world. The Syrian masses rose up peacefully first, however, seeing themselves repressed and murdered, they took up arms to defend themselves and wipe out the regime. The Syrian people could not build a revolutionary leadership to the taste of some and others. This leadership has to be built in the midst of the government bombings and in a scenario in which there are many interests at stake. And amid all of this the Syrian people have been building their own bodies of power, with all its strengths and weaknesses: local committees, the Free Syrian Army, their Free Students organizations…. It is therefore a living process which should be known and supported by all the workers and peoples of the world.

The anti-imperialism of Alan Woods

We leave for the end what isthe justification of the text we criticize: Obama’s statements saying that U.S.would directly subsidize the Syrian opposition with weapons and resources. There are several statements that have not been fulfilled. However, for Alan Woods this is a scandal, because it would mean an imperialist intervention.

We denounce precisely the opposite. The imperialism has long been intervening in Syrian conflict and has done it mostly in favor of the regime. The arms embargo has benefited so far only the Syrian dictatorship, which continues to be armed by countries such as Russia and Iran, through subsidized fuel from Venezuela and the economic support from China, as well as a true foreign intervention, that of the Hezbollah. This is because the imperialism’s policy, which has not yet been changed, is of forcing a deal between the opposition and the regime, to make a transition that would leave intact the current regime foundations, but without the presence of Bashar al Assad. What worries the imperialism the most is the instability of the region. This stability, which Assad had been ensured for the past 40 years, along with the Egyptian regime, has been one of the mainstays of the State of Israel survival.

On the other hand, the imperialism most direct “allies” (as they are defined by Alan Woods) in the region, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been financing the Islamist factions with the clear objective of perverting the revolution and weakening the Syrian masses. Incidentally, neither Qatar nor Saudi Arabia have never sent heavy weapons to the militias they support, which demonstrates that their real intention is far from the prompt and effective overthrow of the regime.

And why wouldn’t the Syrian rebels have the right to receive weapons from the U.S. or Europe? The Syrian masses have the right to arm themselves, no matter where the weapons come from. Let us remember that during the Civil War or the Spanish Revolution, all the left demanded an end to the arms embargo that had been decreed by the “democracies” of Europe. The government of the Spanish Republic requested arms fromFrance and fromEngland. The Syrian people have the same right, otherwise the ones who will be armed to the teeth will be only the military dictatorship and, to a lesser extent, the Salafist militias – and that is what is actually happening.

That “left”ends up by playing the same role as the imperialism in order to isolate the revolution, echoing the U.S. propaganda when they (the U.S.) declare that they will arm the rebels, but disregarding the fact that these statements are never carried out.

A curious omission in all texts of Alan Woods and his current

In March, Fred Weston denounced the Communist parties for giving support to Bashar al Assad’s regime, when he quoted a statement by the Israeli Communist Party who said that Assad was preferable to a rebels’ triumph. As said above, Alan Woods’ collaborator explained that the regime of Bashar al Assad was at all, nor anti-imperialist nor progressive. Eventually he denounced the Communist parties, but never mentioned either the Castro brothers, of the Cuban regime, or the Venezuelan Chavez or his heir, Mr. Maduro.

However, supposing that Alan Woods is right and that the revolution is defeated, we should ask him what were the role of the left in this process, and especially the role of the government he so much defends. Why does Alan Woods say nothing about the role of Chavez and of the Castro regime in the Syrian Revolution?

Both governments have declared themselves friends of Bashar al Assad and Venezuela sends directly the fuel that moves the Syrian tanks and its air force. Both governments are the ones who led the toxic ideological campaign on the Syrian Revolution. These two governments have supported the thesis that the demonstrations and the revolution were an imperialism conspiracy. This is the “left” which declares Bashar as anti-imperialist, as a defender of the Palestinian people and as an enemy of Israel and even as “socialist” and “humanistic”. These are the figures of whom Alan Woods and his friends have forgotten, who helped the isolation of the Syrian revolution on an international basis, isolation that led to the lack of support by the workers and peoples of the world, as happened with Tunisia or Egypt. These two governments are also responsible for the fact that the Syrian people look suspiciously the left because they have seen the way large part of the “left” has supported and continues to support the dictatorship.

We do not condemn Allan Woods and his current for changing their position. Everyone has the right to do so, if convinced by the arguments, and especially if the reality proves that the point of view they previously advocated is wrong. What is not correct is to try to show up as a revolution supporter and then do everything possible to demoralize it, using precisely the arguments of the imperialism, and demoralize the revolutionary summoning them implicitly to accept the “defeat”.

Alan Woods has once again demonstrated that he has abandoned Marxism, which he claims to defend. We, who are Marxists, on the contrary, as it should be, we support the revolution, we are unconditionally with the Syrian people, for the defeat of the dictatorship and we will do whatever is possible, no matter how humble our own possibilities are, to surround them in internationalist solidarity.

__________________________________________

[1] For those who have not read Alan Woods’ article, the full text can be found at the link:

http://www.marxist.com/no-to-imperialist-intervention-in-syria.htm

[2] Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, referred to as”The Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab Republic.” “Mufti” is a state-religious or academic authority, responsible for interpreting the Islamic law (Sharia) and to issue official statements (fatwas) on controversial issues.

[3] Available at: http://www.luchadeclases.org/internacional/oriente-medio/1181-regimen-de-al-assad-que-se-ha-convertido.html

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