Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? (Part 1)
Without doubt, the Syrian Revolution is in a difficult state. It has suffered a series of defeats; the most serious one took place recently when the genocidal Assad regime and its foreign backers Russia, Iran and Hezbollah succeeded in conquering Aleppo in December 2016. This enabled them to drive out the liberation fighters and tens of thousands of civilians.
As a result of Assad's war of oppression against the Syrian people, half of the Syrian population – about 11 million people – have been displaced from their homes. About 5 million of them are currently living abroad.
In the last few years, various left-wing groups have dropped their support for the ongoing Syrian Revolution – some sooner and others more recently – and became abstentionists or Third Campists. This means that while they don’t support the Assad regime (in contrast to the Stalinists, Castro-Chavistas and various centrists) they prefer to abstain from the popular struggle against the dictatorship instead of supporting it, i.e., they support neither side but constitute a "neutral" third camp. These abstentionists justify their stance by arguing that workers and peasants wouldn’t play any active role in the struggle anymore, that the liberation struggle was hijacked by reactionary Islamist forces, or that the rebels have become agents of US imperialism or of other regional powers. 
The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) considers these arguments erroneous and that they completely distort the reality on the ground. As a result of their confusion, such socialists have failed to support one of the key hot spots of the current revolutionary struggle in the world!
In our opinion, the Arab Revolution in general and the Syrian Revolution in particular constitute a historic test for Marxists. This revolutionary process which began in 2011 was the most advanced regional development of class struggle for a very long time. In no other part of the world did the people rise up in such masses, overthrow a number of dictatorships, and arm themselves so extensively. How can groups come forward to support the cause of socialism, when they fail to orient themselves in the living process of revolutionary popular struggles, and prove themselves incapable of taking a stand on the correct side of the barricades?!
It is certainly no exaggeration to state that, since the process of political revolutions and social counter-revolutions related to the collapse of Stalinism in 1989-91, there has been no revolution which sows so much confusion amongst the ranks of reformism and centrism as the Arab Revolution in general and the Syrian Revolution in particular.
From 1989-91, no revolution has demonstrated so starkly the gulf between reformism and centrism on the one hand and Bolshevism on the other. While, in most other revolutions, the differences between centrism and Bolshevism manifested themselves "only" by the different strategies put forth for actually winning the revolution, the Syrian Revolution has placed most reformists and centrists either on the counter-revolutionary side of the barricades (i.e., supporting Assad/Putin) or has forced them to take an abstentionist position and stand off to the side. In this respect, the Syrian Revolution is highly revealing about the true nature of numerous pseudo-Marxist groups.
The RCIT has elaborated and updated its analysis of the Arab Revolution and the Syrian Revolution in numerous documents and articles. We have also published a number of articles in which we addressed the arguments of various opponents of the Syrian Revolution.  And in an article published a few months ago, the author of these lines discussed the state of the Syrian Revolution and the dangers by the increasing collaboration between the imperialist Great Powers directed at its liquidation. The following essay elaborates the current state of the revolutionary process and discusses in particular the nature of the local self-government structures, as well as the contradictory nature of the rebel factions.
For this purpose we will utilize – in addition to various articles and books dealing these issues – a number of facts which come directly from sources in Syria or from Syrian refugees with whom the RCIT is collaborating.  Furthermore, we will discuss and refute the arguments of those socialists who have deserted the liberation struggle of the Syrian workers and oppressed.
The Nature of the Local Coordination Councils in Syria
One of the most outstanding features of the Syrian Revolution has been the creation of the so-called Local Coordination Councils (LCC; they are also called Local Administration Councils) in the Syrian areas from which the terrorist Assad forces were expelled. Various documents and books have been published on these LCC’s – in Arabic, but also in English.  Therefore, here we will only summarize the nature of these LCC’s, adding some information which we have received from Syrian brothers and sisters.
The Local Coordination Councils initially emerged as committees of activists who coordinated the protests against the regime in their specific areas. Later, after the beginning of the civil war, these LCC’s were transformed into local committees in the liberated towns and villages, and administered the civil life of the people. Naturally, the specific character of these committees varies depending on concrete conditions. But, in general, such LCC’s are responsible for providing education, health care, justice, child support, etc.
Such committees existed nearly everywhere including, but not limited to, the occupied Golan, Dar'a, Al-Dumayr, As-Suwaida, Damascus, Darāyā, Al-Ruhaybah, Homs (City), Homs (Province), Bab Al-Siba', Dayr Baa'lbah, Al-bayyadah, Al-khalidiyah, Hama, Idlib, Kafruma, Jebel Al-zawiyah, Saraqeb, Tseel, Baniyas, Deir-ez-Zor, Ar-Raqqa, Al-Hasaka (City), Al-Hasaka (Province), Qamischli, etc. 
For a time, underground committees of activists continued to exist even in areas controlled by Assad forces. But over time, the extreme repression of the regime, which killed hundreds of thousands and threw many into prison, annihilated these underground structures.
As can be imagined, the work of the LCCs faces tremendous obstacles. An illustrative example is that of the LCCs in the province Aleppo, for which we have information from Muhamed Fadilah, the chairman of the Administration Council of the province of Aleppo, and from Jamal Jeneed, an engineer responsible for projects within the civil administration of the provincial department of Aleppo. They relate how, during the first years of the revolution and war, the councils’ work was financed by the opposition forces and supporters of the revolution among the Syrian diaspora. However, in the last two years, the regional administration of the LCCs has been forced to finance itself via small projects (bakeries, etc.), but even these methods hardly provide the necessary support. During the last six months, the staff of the provincial administration hasn’t received any wages. They all continue for work for the revolution without being paid.
The very existence of these councils is proof in itself of the deep, popular nature of the revolution. Naturally, we are not suggesting that these councils can be viewed as something like soviets in the Marxist sense of the word. Instead, they can be classified as rather primitive popular democratic organs.
They are not soviets for several reasons. First, the representative members of the councils are not elected by assemblies of the entire working population. Rather, membership tends to be dominated by representatives of various civil and popular organizations which, in practice, gives disproportionate influence to the local intelligentsia (teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers etc.).
Second, unlike soviets, specific representatives on the councils cannot be recalled at any time the electing assembly deems this appropriate. However, elections of representatives do take place annually (which is still much more regular than in the Western-type of parliamentary democracy).
Yet an additional dissimilarity between the LCCs and soviets is the sharing of power between them and the militias in the liberated areas. While the Local Coordination Councils provide the civil administration, the militias, among which the petty-bourgeois Islamist forces constitute a strong segment, wield executive power. Obviously, this represents a problem, as the militias are less under the direct control of the local population.
There have been numerous attempts to coordinate the collaboration of the Local Coordination Councils in the liberated areas. Naturally, past defeats and setbacks have also hampered this task. Nevertheless, there is still ongoing a regional coordination of the work of the LCCs. To take the example of the province of Aleppo once again, here representatives from all LCCs meet to elect a regional coordinating committee. About 350 delegates took part in the last regional meeting and elected a coordinating committee of 41 representatives, which in turn elected a smaller executive body of 12 people.
It is important to bear in mind that – contrary to the doomsayers who claim that the Syrian Revolution is over – these LCCs still exist and are organizing essential services to meet the daily needs of several million people who live in the liberated areas controlled by the Syrian revolutionaries.
As Marxists, we must not see things through rose-colored glasses. As we have already stated, the LCCs are not soviets – neither in structure and composition nor in authority. Furthermore, as we have alluded to above, they are characteristically dominated by the local petty-bourgeois intelligentsia who have the support of the popular masses. However, it is nonetheless clear that these organs are far more democratic than any Western-type of parliamentary democracy and that they reflect – albeit in a primitive and distorted way – the will of the popular masses. Therefore, despite all their limitations, activists can justifiably characterize the LCCs as an “underground parliament.” 
In other words, the LCCs (as well as the hundreds of local militias) reflect the plebian class base of the Syrian revolution which rests on the support of the workers, the poor peasants and the lower strata of the urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie.
 Among these socialist organizations are e.g., the comrades of the Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International. In an article published a few months ago, the comrades characterized the Syrian Revolution (as well as the liberation struggle in Yemen) as a "reactionary civil war" between "the despotic regime of Bashar al-Assad" and " the so-called “rebels" (Claudia Cinatti: The Geopolitics of the Civil War in Syria, September 14, 2016, http://www.leftvoice.org/The-Geopolitics-of-the-Civil-War-in-Syria). A similar position of abstentionism between the two camps has been adopted by the comrades of the Turkish Revolutionary Workers Party (DIP) which is part of the Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International together with the Greek EEK, the Italian PCL and the Argentinean PO.
Likewise, the right-wing centrist CWI characterizes the Syrian Revolution as "power struggles for influence taking place between various reactionary forces and regimes." (CWI: Theses on Middle East, December 2016, http://workerssocialistparty.co.za/committee-for-a-workers-international/cwi-international-executive-committee-2016/cwi-international-executive-committee-2016-doc-3/). This position is shared by the CWI`s economist twin, Lutte Ouvriere. (see e.g., Syria at war: between the militias, the imperialists and their local stooges, March 18, 2017, https://rdln.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/syria-at-war-between-the-militias-the-imperialists-and-their-local-stooges/)
Recently the comrades of the League for the Fifth International (L5I) also dropped their support for the Syrian Revolution and stated that "there is a need to recognise that the Syrian revolution has been defeated." They now declare the Arab Revolution as finally defeated and over. Hence it wrote in a recently published resolution: "Now, even if the brutal civil war in Syria resumes, with Idlib and other remaining liberated areas coming under renewed attacks, we have to recognise that the Syrian revolution, which began six years ago, has suffered a strategic defeat. Indeed, we can apply this judgment to the entire Arab Spring, given the reactionary nature of the civil wars in Libya and Yemen. It was defeated by a range of counterrevolutionary forces; military bonapartists, such as el-Sisi or Assad, monarchist, as in Bahrain, or salafist-jihadists who emerged out of the resistance. The task of revolutionaries in the Middle East and internationally is to face the truth, no matter how bitter, that they now face a counterrevolutionary period, whose duration cannot be known, before there will be a re-emergence of mass struggles." (L5I: Resolution on Syria, 02/03/2017, http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/resolution-syria)
 See e.g., Yossi Schwartz: Raqqa: Defeat the US Imperialist Offensive! An assessment of the US/SDF/YPG war against Daesh, April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/us-offensive-in-raqqa/; RCIT: Defeat the Imperialist Invasion in Syria – Victory to the Revolution! 13.03.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/imperialist-invasion-in-syria/; RCIT: The Revolutionary Struggle against Daesh and the Imperialist Aggression in the Middle East, 28.02.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/resolution-daesh/; RCIT: The Syrian Revolution and the Assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Joint Statement of the International Secretariat of the RCIT and Sınıf Savaşı (Section of the RCIT in Turkey), 21.12.2016; RCIT: World Perspectives 2017: The Struggle against the Reactionary Offensive in the Era of Trumpism, Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 18 December 2016, Chapter IV. The Middle East and the State of the Arab Revolution, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2017/part-4/; Michael Pröbsting: The Looming Kerry-Lavrov Agreement – A Great Power Conspiracy against the Syrian Revolution, 06.10.2016, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-kerry-lavrov/; Joint Statement: Solidarity with Aleppo! Hands off Syria! 4 October 2016, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/joint-statement-aleppo/; Syria: For an Independent Revolutionary Road! Down with the Bombing and Siege against Aleppo! Stop the Turkish Invasion and Occupation! No to the Imperialist Conspiracy against the Syrian Masses! Joint Statement of the RCIT and Sınıf Savaşı (Turkey), 25.09.2016, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/defend-aleppo/; Yossi Schwartz: The Revolution in Syria won a Tactical Victory! Down with Assad the Butcher! 21 August 2016, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/aleppo-victory/; RCIT: World Perspectives 2016: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 23 January 2016, Chapter IV.2. Counterrevolutionary Offensive: The Retreat of the Arab Revolution Continues Despite Heroic Popular Struggles, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2016/part6/; Yossi Schwartz: Why Revolutionary Marxists Oppose Daesh/ISIL, 15.12.2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/marxists-vs-daesh/; The Imperialist Counterrevolution Threatens the Syrian Revolution! Down with the Great Powers’ Wars! Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution against the Assad Dictatorship! For a Socialist Federation in the Maghreb and Mashreq! Joint Statement of the Agrupación de Lucha Socialista (ALS) and the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 07.12.2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/imperialist-counterrevolution-syria/; RCIT: Great Powers Aim to Liquidate the Syrian Revolution! Mobilize for International Solidarity with the Syrian Liberation Struggle against the Assad Dictatorship! Stop the US, Russian and French Air Strikes! No to Daesh/IS-Terrorism! 18.11.2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/great-powers-syria/; RCIT: Revolution against Russian Imperialism! Stop the US, UK and French Air Strikes! Smash the Assad Dictatorship! 9.10.2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/defend-syria-against-russia/; RCIT: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World: An Acid Test for Revolutionaries, 31 May 2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-arab-revolution/; RCIT: The Arab Revolution is a central touchstone for socialists! Open Letter to All Revolutionary Organizations and Activists, 4.10.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/open-letter-on-arab-revolution/. For many more RCIT documents on the Arab Revolution see on our website: http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/
 In particular, we wish to thank Dr. Haysam Hamoui from the Austrian Coordination Council for Support of the Syrian Revolution, as well as to our brothers Abdul and Ahmed. Comrade Stefan Haknic also provided useful information for this essay. A convenient English language source on the daily events in the civil war is the following website: http://syria.liveuamap.com. We also recommend that of the Australian Marxist academic Michael Karadjis: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/. Helpful information can also be found on the website The Eternal Spring https://eternispring.wordpress.com/.
 To name just a few: Asya El-Meehy: Governance from Below. Comparing Local Experiments in Egypt and Syria after the Uprisings, 7 February 2017, https://tcf.org/content/report/governance-from-below/; Jules Alford and Andy Wilson (Editors): Khiyana. Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution, Unkant Publishers, London 2016, Sabr Darwish: Syrians Under Siege: The Role of Local Councils, Arab Reform Initiative, October 2016; Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami: Burning Country. Syrians in Revolution and War, Pluto Press, London 2016; Daniel Moritz-Rabson: In wartime Syria, local councils and civil institutions fill a gap, July 31, 2016, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/civil-society-emerges-syria-war/ ; Joseph Daher: Understanding Syria’s Revolution: A Response to Mairead Maguire’s Article on Syria, http://peacenews.org/2016/01/26/33329/
 Assad an-Nar: Socialism and the Democratic Wager, in: Jules Alford and Andy Wilson (Editors): Khiyana. Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution, p. 39