Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? (Part 4)

Imagining Two Different Scenarios: The Revolution Succeeds/Fails in Overthrowing the Assad Regime




By taking a neutral stance in the Syrian Revolution, the abstentionists implicitly maintain that both possible outcomes of the civil war are equally negative for the interests of the working class and the oppressed in the country, as well as internationally. Thinking about such a supposition should make it clear to anyone that it is completely wrong.


Let’s imagine the possible scenarios for the different outcomes. Imagine that the Assad regime wins the civil war and liquidates the popular uprising: The practical outcome will be that most of the refugees will be unable to return to their homes, as the regime will be forced to retain the ethnic cleansing it undertook so that the population hostile to it decreases in numbers. For the same reason, it will have to retain the dictatorship which the Assad clan has already been running for four and a half decades – only, more likely, it will have to intensify its repression in light of all the popular hatred that has amassed against it after years of a most brutal genocidal war.


Furthermore, a victory for the Assad regime will have devastating consequences for the entire region. It will chalk up yet another victory for the old ruling class – after the military coup of General al-Sisi in Egypt and the return of the Ben Ali clique in Tunisia. Thus, it will in fact strengthen the reactionary regime in Tunis and Cairo. In other words, a victory for Assad will help to stabilize the imperialist order in the region – which is why all Great Powers now support the Assad regime, either actively or as the lesser of two evils.


On the other hand, imagine that the Syrian Revolution actually succeeds in overthrowing the regime. Such a victory would not only open the possibility for the war’s 11 million refugees to return to their homes. It would also destroy the old state apparatus which has killed so many people. It would destabilize the entire imperialist order in the region. It would create panic not only in Washington, Brussels and Moscow but also in Tel Aviv. Let’s not forget: the Syrian regime always served as a stabilizing factor for the imperialist order in the region. It has not fired a single bullet against Israeli territory since 1973. Syria invaded Lebanon in 1976, and fought against Palestinian militias. In 1991, Assad the father supported the US war against Iraq and even sent 14,500 troops to participate in the imperialist aggression. A victory of the popular uprising would have an electrifying effect for the workers and oppressed throughout the whole region!


The abstentionists might retort that, given the absence of a revolutionary party, it is possible that Syrian might deteriorate into another Libya, i.e., a country ridden by chaos and civil war and various Islamist movements. To this we reply that, indeed, such a development cannot be dismissed.


However, first Marxists develop a tactic in order to advance the current possibilities of the liberation struggle and to increase the influence of revolutionaries. To succeed in this, they must take they side of the struggle of the oppressed and not stand on the sidelines. If they would join the camp of abstentionism, they would curtail if not entirely eliminate their ability to link up with the tens of thousands of fighters who are waging an armed struggle for the victory of the Syrian Revolution. So even if a victory of the revolution were to end in a Libya-like scenario, revolutionaries would be in a better position to build a party in the future, as they could relate to a heritage of honor, not one of abstentionist betrayal.


Secondly, all the panic-mongers tearing out their hair over the fall of the Gaddafi dictatorship only repeat the reactionary nonsense spread by the Putin and Trump supporters and their reformist lackeys. Libya under Gaddafi served the Great Powers as a reliable oil-exporter. Libya under Gaddafi served the imperialist EU as a reliable guardian against African migrants. All this is gone, for now; should revolutionaries mourn this?!


Instead of retaining a reliable local guardian, the Great Powers have suffered various setbacks in Libya. The US got their ambassador killed by Islamists in 2012 and all Great Powers were forced to close their embassies there. Furthermore, there are still 150,000-200,000 persons in Libya under arms. It is ironically amusing that there are still many Stalinists and Castro-Chavistas who maintain that the outcome of the Libyan Revolution was a victory for NATO imperialism and a setback for the revolutionary struggle!


Naturally, revolutionaries cannot ignore all the setbacks and challenges in Libya. The eastern part of the country is under control of General Haftar – an utterly reactionary local Bonaparte who first served in Gaddafi's repressive apparatus and later worked for the CIA. He is currently trying to conquer the entire country in the service of the Great Powers. Other parts of the country are under control of Islamist militias. In other words, the unfinished democratic revolution of 2011 resulted not in the working class and the oppressed taking power, but neither could the ruling class stabilize the political situation and create a strong state apparatus. [1] Therefore, the country remains unstable in the extreme with an ongoing civil war.


As Marxists, we are all too aware that the liberation struggle in Libya is impeded by the lack of a revolutionary party. It is precisely for this reason that, after the fall of the Gaddafi dictatorship, the country is characterized by civil war, the spread of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois Islamist forces and simple banditry. However, a revolutionary has to ask him or herself: would a stable dictatorship which arrests, tortures and kills every opponent improve the conditions for revolutionaries to build a party?! Which conditions are more favorable for the class struggle: stable dictatorships and regional control by the Great Powers or instability, collapsing regimes and a weakened grip by the Great Powers? Authentic revolutionaries should know the answer. No, more than five years after the downfall of Gaddafi, revolutionaries have no reason to wish his tyranny back!




A Period of Defeats and Retreats: What Are the Reasons?




Let’s finally elaborate some thoughts on the future prospects of the Arab Revolution. As we have already stated, we reject the assertion of those who claim that the Arab Revolution is dead and buried, that a "counter-revolutionary period" has begun instead, and that revolutionaries should no longer support the struggle of the freedom fighters. However, as early 2013 we acknowledged that the Arab Revolution has entered a period of setbacks and retreats. In fact, this development does not come as a surprise to Marxists. The RCIT has repeatedly warned about the dangers and limitations of the Arab Revolution. On the second anniversary of the Syrian Revolution, in March 2013, we wrote:


"The ability of the Bashar al-Assad regime to survive so far is largely due to the lack of working class independent mobilization at the head of the opposition. There are many local committees that could become Soviets and which are continuing to provide services. But they lack coordination and a revolutionary strategy. Equally, the resistance is still made up of countless formations of loosely connected armed militants, with no credible unified revolutionary command. The fractured character of this armed resistance is a result not only of the social segmentation and isolation policies enforced for decades by Damascus but also because of the class nature of the opposition at the moment. The opposition's failure to mobilize the masses against the regime has given El Assad a breathing space. The extent to which the opposition is fragmented we can learn from the number of groups that act within the opposition: (…) The middle class leaders of the uprising are blaming each other for the failure. The seculars blame the Islamists while the Islamist are blaming the secularists. The simple truth is that the middle class organizations – whether they are secularists or Islamists – do not have the program, strategy or tactics to mobilize the masses workers and peasants to overthrow the bloody regime. If the leaders of the opposition hate Assad they are at the same time afraid of working class revolution. If there is a clear lesson to learn it is that without the working class, women and men leading the masses including the lower middle class and without a revolutionary leadership of the working class the stalemate can continue for a longer period." [2]


And in a comprehensive document on the state and perspectives of the Arab Revolution which we adopted in May 2015 we stated:


"While the workers and poor succeeded in some countries – at least temporary – to bring down the old dictatorships and achieving certain democratic rights, nowhere did they succeed in completing the democratic revolution, let alone to get rid of poverty and super-exploitation by the imperialist monopolies and Great Powers. This would only have been possible by making the revolution permanent, as Leon Trotsky – co-leader of the October Revolution together with V.I. Lenin – already explained nearly a century ago. Such a permanent revolution must bear the character of a successful social revolution – combining the struggle for democratic rights with the expropriation of the imperialist monopolies and the domestic bourgeoisie and the destruction of the old, capitalist state apparatus. Hence, it must open the road to the creation of workers’ and fallahin republics and the formation of a socialist federation of Maghreb and Mashreq.


Instead, the spontaneous popular uprisings of the Arab Revolution were soon hijacked by various types of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaderships. Some fostered the illusion that mass struggles can be victorious via peaceful mobilizations and organizing via social networks. Others propagated the orientation to parliamentary democracy and liberalism. Another trend was the orientation towards a combination of bourgeois democracy and a religious agenda (al-Ikhwan, Ennahda). What all these trends had in common was:


i. The refusal to smash the old state apparatus – usually dominated by the bureaucracy of the repression forces and closely aligned with the big domestic capitalists, as well as the imperialist powers.


ii. The acceptance of the ownership of the key sectors of the economy by private corporations.


The domination of the popular democratic movements by such bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces ensured that they would fail to carry forward the revolutionary process. As a result, the initial revolutionary advances of the workers and poor – leading to the overthrow of Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Saleh in 2011 – were derailed. In several cases they were contained by new bourgeois regimes. These regimes, while being forced to permit more democratic rights – reflecting the strength of the fighting people – prepared new attacks on the workers and poor on behalf of imperialism (Libya after Gaddafi, Morsi in Egypt, Ennahda in Tunisia, al-Hadi in Yemen). In Bahrain the popular uprising was smashed by the Saudi kingdom on behalf of imperialism in March 2011." [3]


Today, more than six years after the beginning of the Arab Revolution, we can summarize the reasons for its defeats and setbacks as follows. First, the uprising of the workers and peasants met a determined campaign of annihilation waged by much stronger enemies: the traditional ruling classes in the region which possess an oversized repressive apparatus, trained for decades, which was not successfully smashed in the first attempt. In addition, the Arab Revolution faces the opposition of literally all imperialist Great Powers – in particular the US, Russia, the EU and China. They all support the reactionary dictatorships like that of General al-Sisi in Egypt and the Gulf monarchies. And, in the case of Assad, Washington has already reconciled itself with his staying in power as the only realistic option to “restore law and order” in Syria. Today there is a looming Great Power conspiracy – in cooperation with regional powers like Iran and Turkey – against the Syrian Revolution, as we see a combined and coordinated attempt by the US administration, Putin, Assad, Erdoğan, the Teheran regime and others to pacify the revolutionary process by a combination of buying off one sector of the rebels' leadership and by annihilating the uncompromising sector of the rebels.


Furthermore, the Assad regime enjoys massive military and financial support. It can only continue the war because of assistance from Russian imperialism, the Iranian regime and Hezbollah. In fact, it can only survive because of this huge intervention. Iran officially announced in late November, 2016 that more than 1,000 of its soldiers have already died in Syria. [4] From this, one can conclude that there must be tens of thousands of soldiers fighting in Iranian militias in Syria. Iranian sources themselves have admitted that 20,000 Shia fighters alone from Afghanistan are engaged in Syria on behalf of Assad. [5] The fact is that regular Syrian soldiers constitute only a minority of Assad’s forces, and they are extremely demoralized. According to Mikhail Khodarenok, a retired Russian general, it is the foreign troops and private militias who are doing most of the fighting, while Assad’s official army mans checkpoints to extort bribes from the population. The general comments on "It would be easier to disband the Syrian army and recruit a new one." [6]


Second, the workers and oppressed started a revolutionary process but lacked a leadership which could drive the struggle forward to victory. The petty-bourgeois liberal forces remained isolated from the downtrodden masses and soon sought to become servants of the imperialist powers and assume the guise of slightly “reformed” versions of the old ruling class (like the old Ben Ali clique in Tunisia led by the current President Beji Caid el-Sebsi). Bourgeois Islamists, like Ennahda in Tunisia or Morsi’s al-Ikhwan in Egypt, also saved the rule of the capitalist class in the midst of the Arab Revolution by demobilizing the popular masses. And the petty-bourgeois populist Islamists usually led the popular struggles into a sectarian and guerrilla-elitist dead-end (e.g., Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham in Syria).


And, third, the international workers’ movement has completely failed to deliver any meaningful support to the revolutionary masses in Syria. Most social democratic, Stalinist or centrist organizations either openly or covertly sympathize with the counterrevolution, or they take a neutral position towards this ongoing revolution. Characteristic of this is the call by a significant sector of the centrists for weapons for Rojava, i.e., the YPG-led Kurdish struggle. But they never called for weapons for the Syrian rebels! Ironically, it is the YPG which is the main collaborator for US (and Russian) imperialism, and not the Syrian rebels!




Some Thoughts on the Future Prospects of the Arab Revolution




The Arab Revolution is in a process of retreat, but it has not been completely defeated. The revolutionary process is not over, as the Syrian workers and oppressed are continuing their struggle against the dictatorship, as the Yemeni people continue to resist the Saudi invaders, as in Libya the ruling class has still not been able to disarm the militias and end the civil war.


Lenin once said that revolutionaries are those who leave the barricade as late and not as early as possible, so as to give as little credence as possible to its inevitable defeat. "But a Marxist, while utilising every field, even a reactionary one, for the fight for the revolution, does not stoop to glorifying reaction, does not forget to fight for the best possible field of activity. Therefore, the Marxist is the first to foresee the approach of a revolutionary period, and already begins to rouse the people and to sound the tocsin while the philistines are still wrapt in the slavish slumber of loyal subjects. The Marxist is therefore the first to take the path of direct revolutionary struggle, marching straight to battle and exposing the illusions of conciliation cherished by all kinds of social and political vacillators. Therefore, the Marxist is the last to leave the path of directly revolutionary struggle, he leaves it only when all possibilities have been exhausted, when there is not a shadow of hope for a shorter way, when the basis for an appeal to prepare for mass strikes, an uprising, etc., is obviously disappearing. Therefore, a Marxist treats with contempt the innumerable renegades of the revolution who shout to him: We are more “progressive” than you, we were the first to renounce the revolution! We were the first to “submit” to the monarchist constitution!" [7]


However, as we have said above, our revolutionary determination does not lead us to the opposite but equally wrong conclusion, i.e., denying the huge setbacks and dangers for the Arab Revolution in general and the Syrian Revolution in particular. In fact, the danger of a counter-revolutionary settlement in Syria – under the instructions of Washington and Moscow – has not decreased since we published our warning. Currently, the main obstacles for such a counter-revolutionary solution are (i) the ongoing determination of the Syrian people and their militias to continue the war of liberation against the tyrant; (ii) the fact that the Trump Administration is confused and lacks a clear strategy for the region; and (iii) the current focus of the Great Powers on defeating Daesh before they deal with the rebels.


However, it would be naïve to imagine that these conditions could not change in the next period. Quite the contrary, such changes are even likely. It is already a miracle that the Syrian people were able to hold out for so long. It would not be surprising if larger and larger sectors of the workers and oppressed become exhausted and are ready to accept any "solution." Sooner or later the Great Powers will probably conquer the territories which are currently controlled by Daesh. And then, they might intensify their efforts to bring the revolutionary process to an end. The imperialists are already bribing the leaderships of various militias in order to betray the Syrian Revolution and to attack the most determined elements of the resistance. The Arab newspaper Al Hayat recently reported that the US has already won the agreement of a number of such militias totaling some 30,000 fighters to attack the Tahrir al-Sham forces in the province of Idlib. [8] Such a stab in the back would be a terrible and demoralizing betrayal, and could have devastating effects on the Syrian Revolution. In such a situation, revolutionaries would have to defend the Tahrir al-Sham forces against the traitors.


In the end, the lack of a strong revolutionary party means that the leadership remains in the hand of petty-bourgeois forces which either aspire to take a place at the top of the bourgeois state apparatus (and hence are always looking for a compromise with the ruling class and imperialism), or which follow a religious sectarian agenda that is guaranteed to repel large sectors of the working class and the oppressed, and which strives to create a regime which would subjugate the popular masses to the rule of a small military and theocratic elite.


Does this mean that the Syrian Revolution – or even the entire revolutionary process in the Arab world – will soon come to an end? Such a negative turn in the political situation cannot be dismissed. But neither is such a development inevitable. In fact, the process of civil war, revolutionary struggle, rivalry between great and regional powers, etc. is so complex, that it would be politically disastrous from a Marxist point of view to draw any premature conclusions.


First and foremost, the Syrian people have proven their heroic steadfastness during more than six years of revolutionary resistance against an enemy far superior to it militarily, backed by Russia – the world's second largest Great Power (in military terms). There is no political law that dictates that such steadfastness will inevitably end now.


Second, there are numerous factors which can provoke new dynamics in the regional equilibrium. One of them is the outbreak of new popular insurrections. We already saw some important protests in Morocco at the end of 2016. Algeria with its half-dead president Bouteflika is another important country where such an insurrection could take place. And then, let us not forget, that a new Intifada in Palestine has been looming for some time. Furthermore, the political situation among all regional powers – Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia – is highly unstable and could be transformed into a domestic crisis.


Third, an intensification of the imperialist aggression in the Middle East – which is currently taking place in Syria and Iraq – could trigger renewed mass protests. This would particularly be so if it leads to a significant deployment of troops on the ground or the military attack against another country. Here we have in mind, for example, an imperialist invasion in Libya – there are already smaller contingents of US, French, British and Russian troops on the ground. Another possibility is a new Israeli war against the Palestinian people in Gaza.


Fourth, these developments could be accelerated by the inevitable intensification of the rivalry between the Great Powers – first and foremost the US and Russia, as well as between the regional powers. Such an acceleration of the rivalry will inevitably influence domestic conflicts and struggles as it weakens each regime and encourages all oppressed people and oppositional forces to intensify their insurrectional activities.


In summary: the Arab world remains a highly fertile ground for wars and revolutions!




The Urgent Need for a Revolutionary Party




The crucial factor which will finally decide if the Arab Revolution will be crushed or not is the question whether the politically most advanced working class activists will learn the lessons of the revolutionary struggle and succeed in building a revolutionary party in time.


As long as the working class and the oppressed do not possess a revolutionary combat party – nationally as well as worldwide – they cannot succeed in their struggle for liberation. In order to succeed against its powerful enemies, the working class must have a party with a clear program – outlining the way from the present situation to the conquest of power. It needs a party which concretizes such a program in a series of strategies and tactics related to the changing conditions of the class struggle. And it must have a party which accompanies such a program with a combat organization of steeled cadres which act in a centralized, coordinated fashion as a single clenched fist for the proletarian class struggle. [9]


Such a party has to be based on a revolutionary program focused on the present situation. All those who want to support the Syrian Revolution – in Syria as well as internationally – should unite today on basis of several fundamental principles without which it is impossible to find a correct orientation.


* Smash the Assad tyranny! Victory to the Syrian Revolution! Continue the support for the popular struggle against the dictatorship!


* No trust in and no collaboration with any imperialist Great Power (like Russia, US, EU, China) nor with the governments of any of the regional powers (like Iran, Turkey, Saudi-Arabia)! Fight against all imperialist interventions!


* Down with all dictatorships and reactionary regimes in the Middle East! Solidarity with the popular resistance fighting for freedom!


* No to sectarianism! We want a society which respects the opinion of everyone on religion as his or her personal issue!


* Down with the counter-revolutionary Daesh!


* For multi-religious and multi-national unity in the struggle against the Assad dictatorship! For full national self-determination for all national and ethnic minorities!


* No trust in the official rebel leaderships – neither the pro-Western FSA nor the various types of Islamists! However, despite our sharp criticism of these leaderships, we unconditionally support the ongoing struggle against the Assad regime led by these forces!


* For the formation of popular councils and popular militias!


* For a Workers’ and Peasant Republic in Syria! Spread the revolution to the entire Arab world and the Middle East!


* The international workers movement must rally to support the Syrian Revolution! For a workers’ aid campaign for the Syrian people – as was done in solidarity with the Bosnian people in 1992-95!


* The international workers’ movement must organize a campaign to boycott the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his capitalist business cronies! For workers’ actions against the imperialist forces attacking the Syrian people!


* Open the borders for the Syrian refugees! Down with racism and Islamophobia in Europe!


* Most of all: For the building of a revolutionary party in Syria as part of a new revolutionary International!


However, a revolutionary party cannot be built in national isolation. Each country depends on others and each national class struggle is determined by international factors. This is particularly true in the case of Syria and the entire Arab world. There is no national road to build a world party, but only an international one. Hence, a true revolutionary party, as well as pre-party organization, must exist as an international formation from the beginning. Without an international organization, national centeredness and finally nationalist deviations are unavoidable – as there is no consciousness without matter and no spirit without a body.


For this, activists must break with all those political currents which have led the Arab Revolution into the present cul-de-sacs. They must build a revolutionary party independent of all variations of Stalinism, Arab (or Kurdish) nationalism, Islamism or bourgeois liberalism. At the same time, it can not and must not be built outside of the concrete mass struggle which is currently taking place under the leadership of such forces. Hence, revolutionaries have to apply the United Front tactic based on the principle: "March separately, strike together". As the RCIT stated in it Urgent Call: "Revolutionaries oppose all forms of sectarianism which refuses participation in mass struggles under the pretext of their non-revolutionary leaderships. Instead they apply the united front tactic in the struggles of the workers and peasants led by reformist or populist forces against austerity program (e.g., trade unions, mass organizations of the peasants and the urban poor, but also political parties like MORENA in Mexico, SYRIZA in Greece before 2015, PODEMOS in Spain) or against anti-democratic coups and dictatorships (PT, CUT, MST in Brazil; Islamists in Egypt; rebels in Syria). Such an orientation must be combined with a consistent struggle against all forms of popular-frontism and petty-bourgeois populism, and for the breaking of workers and peasants away from these non-revolutionary leaderships and to advance the formation of an independent and revolutionary Workers’ Party."


True, a new a revolutionary party in Syria as well as a revolutionary world party cannot be established in a single stroke. It must be politically tested in the struggles of the workers and oppressed. However, the organizing of a nucleus – irrespective of its current size – to build such a party can and must start immediately. Hence we repeat our call to all authentic revolutionaries to immediately start coming together and discuss a concrete platform for the class struggle and for advancing the building of a party.


[1] See, e.g., RCIT: Stop the US Bombing of Libya! Mobilize against the Expansion of the Imperialist War! Defeat the Imperialist Aggressors and Their Lackeys in Libya! 23.2.2016,; RCIT: General Sisi, Hollande, Obama: Hands Off Libya! Defeat General Haftars’ Imperialist Lackeys! Down with the Daash-Gang of Killers! For a Workers’ and Popular Government! 26.2.2015,

[2] Yossi Schwartz: Victory to the Revolution in Syria! The second anniversary of the uprising in Syria, 15.3.2013,

[3] RCIT: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World: An Acid Test for Revolutionaries (Theses 3-5), 31 May 2015,

[4] Iran: More than 1,000 soldiers die in Syria since 2011, 22 November 2016,

[6] Ruslan Leviev: Here’s why Assad’s army can’t win the war in Syria, 09.09.2016,

[7] V.I.Lenin: The Crisis of Menshevism (1906), in: LCW Vol.11, p. 351

[8] "Acc. to .@alhayatdaily, 30,000+ vetted rebels have agreed to direct joint attacks on HTS in N Syria in return for a full resumption of outside backing (wages that were stopped after Trump took office; weapons, including TOWs). Ahrar is being urged by the US to join in. The report also claims a new Raqqa Op will start after the Turkish referendum with the YPG-held Tel Abyad as an opening point." (

[9] See on this e.g. RCIT: Urgent Call for Unity and a Joint Struggle on a Revolutionary Platform. An Open Letter to All Authentic Revolutionaries for an International Conference on the 100th Anniversary of the October Revolution to Advance the Building of a Revolutionary World Party, 09.01.2017,; RCIT: Manifesto for Revolutionary Liberation. The Tasks of the Liberation Struggle against Decaying Capitalism (adopted by the 1st Congress of the RCIT in October 2016,; Michael Pröbsting: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice. Looking Back and Ahead after 25 Years of Organized Struggle for Bolshevism (2014),