By Yossi Schwartz (Member of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency as well as of the Central-Israel Branch of Balad), 21 August 2016, www.thecommunists.net
On August 8 Al Jazeera reported : "A Syrian rebel alliance has announced the start of a battle to recapture the whole of Aleppo, a day after it broke a government siege on the rebel-held half of the city. 'The Army of Conquest ' said in a statement on Sunday that it would "double the number of fighters for this next battle". "We announce the start of a new phase to liberate all of Aleppo," the group said. "We will not rest until we raise the flag of the conquest over Aleppo's citadel." (1)
Aleppo is Syria's second largest city and the country's industrial and financial center. It is located 45 km from the border of Turkey. While in the first year of the civil war the city remained outside the civil war, from July 2012 when the rebels fighters gained control over Northern Syria it became a city divided between Assad's army controlling the West side while the rebels controlled the East side. From the end of 2013 the government intensified the aerial bombardment of rebel-held parts of the city, causing thousands of casualties.
According to the same report the rebels managed to break the siege imposed by Assad's army on the rebels held areas and the rebel Army of Conquest has been pushing for taking control of the city.
The Army of Conquest is a coalition of rebel groups including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (known before as al-Nusra Front) that cut its ties with al-Qaeda. Footage obtained by Al Jazeera showed rebel fighters at government checkpoints on Saturday after breaking the month-long siege on the eastern neighborhoods of the city in a major setback for the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. The rebels were finally able to send in trucks with food to the 300,000 residents who were trapped for one month in the east parts of the city.
With the break of the siege the masses came out to the streets to celebrate the end of strangled the city for a long month. (2) This is an important tactical victory for the Syrian rebels. Yet the battle for this important city is not over.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 2,000 pro-regime fighters from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah had arrived in Aleppo since 7 August.
The 8 August edition of Al-Watan, a Syrian daily close to the government, reported that the army had received “the necessary military reinforcements to launch the battle to retake the areas from which it withdrew.”
On the other side in a statement Sunday the Army of Conquest announced “the start of a new phase to liberate all of Aleppo,” pledging to “double the number of fighters for this next battle”.
Washington’s U.N. envoy, Samantha Power, told the Security Council: “Despite the overwhelming force of the Assad regime, Russian, Iran and Hezbollah on one side, neither side will be able to win a swift or decisive victory in the battle for Aleppo.” (3)
It is important to notice that the rebels who broke the siege on Aleppo are not ISIS but forces that battle ISIS. In April this year we learned that "subsequent to fierce battles with rebel groups, militant fighters of the Islamic State (ISIS) were able to control several key areas in Syria’s northern province of Aleppo, local sources reported on Saturday”.
Local activists confirmed that ISIS jihadis have advanced in the region despite the Turkish bombardment on the group’s locations near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Speaking to ARA News in Aleppo, rebel spokesman Saleh Zein said “that ISIS insurgents launched a major offensive on rebels’ positions in Aleppo’s northern suburbs and were able to recapture Kafr Ghan, Tel Hussein and Biraghida villages near the Syrian-Turkish border after heavy battles with the rebel fighters of al-Sham Corps and al-Hamza Brigade". (4)
The Syrian Revolution to win this struggle among other things must break ISIS which is an obstacle for the advance of the revolution. However in a fight with one of the imperialist states involved in Syria we would like to see the defeat of the imperialist side, which is the more dangerous enemy of the revolution and the international working class.
The RCIT welcomes the recent developments in Aleppo which are a blow to Assad's regime and to the Russian imperialists who back him and a tactical victory for the revolution. But how can we call the victory of Islamic forces that want to establish a Sharia state a tactical victory for the Syrian revolution?
Imperialism, Colonialism and Muslim People
A similar question was asked by British colonial officers who were defeated in Sudan in the 1880s by the Mahdi whom they saw as fuzzy-wuzzy and dervish. For these officers like General Garnet Wolseley who fought in Manitoba Canada against Louis Riel and the rebellious Metis, or for General Charles George Gordon who put down the Taiping rebellion in China the victories of the Mahdi's army considered by the British officers as “uncivilized fanatic mob” were beyond imagination.
What they did not grasp was that Mohammed Ahmed-Ibn-el-Sayed-Abdullah, the Mahdi (guide), was not simply a religious fanatic. He and his followers were fighting for the liberation of Sudan from colonialism. The same colonialists who condemned the Sudanese society that was based to some degree on slavery came to Sudan to subjugate it the British empire not to free the slaves.
When General Gordon was defeated and killed with all his soldiers the British press adored him.
"From late January 1884 through the spring of 1885, the British public consumed a prodigious output of news about the actions and the fate of General Charles "Chinese" Gordon in the Sudan (Brown 133). Gordon's death at the hands of Sudanese rebels enraged an adoring British public, who viewed the general as an archetype of missionary imperialism, of the Englishman willing to sacrifice all for the betterment of the primitive Other. Jan Morris places Gordon among "a diverse succession of visionaries [who] gave [the British empire] a metaphysical dimension" in the late Victorian period. The press was full of stories of imperial adventure and conflict, and the spectacle of a virtuous Englishman confronting despotism, fanaticism, and especially the slave trade reassured many members of the British public of the righteousness of the imperial mission. In this context, Gordon was "everything a legend-maker could require," possessed of a "hypnotic ... [and] grand" personality, and whose modesty, ideas about Christian duty, and service to Britain made him an embodiment of the imperial ideal." (5)
The Role of Religion in Liberation Struggles
The most important thing for us is to come to terms with the nature of the revolt in Syria which, while cloaked to large degree in Islamic puritan theology, is directed against oppression and imperialist exploitation. Those who fail to see the class line that separate between the imperialists and their servants and the "terrorist" enemies of imperialism, many of them having the same kinds of flaws as the Mahdists, are useless as fighters for the liberation of humanity from decaying capitalism.
If they see themselves as socialists they better realize that they are closer to Eduard Bernstein who in an article written in 1898 titled "The Struggle of Social Democracy and the Social Revolution," argued in favor of European colonialist rule:
"There is a great deal of sound evidence to support the view that, in the present state of public opinion in Europe, the subjection of natives to the authority of European administration does not always entail a worsening of their condition, but often means the opposite. Even before the arrival of Europeans in Africa, brutal wars, robbery, and slavery were not unknown. Indeed, they were the regular order of the day. What was unknown was the degree of peace and legal protection made possible by European institutions and the consequent sharp rise in food resources." (6)
In contrast, ironically even the US army’s Major Robert N. Rossi understood that "[t]he birth of Sudanese anti colonialism and resentment with foreign domination was greatly assisted by a concurrent rise in Egyptian nationalism and resentment of foreign domination. As the Mahdist forces shifted to offensive operations, their task was greatly facilitated by an Egyptian revolt which would prohibit substantial aid from being sent to the Sudan to fight the Mahdist revolution." (7)
Most likely the same "socialists" who turn their backs on the Syrian revolution because of the Islamic fighters do not doubt that in the American war of independence against the British their sympathy is with the Americans. Yet the Americans were protestant puritans and the framers of the American constitution believed in "natural law", namely the laws of God.
In a 1794 letter to the Massachusetts Legislature, Samuel Adams wrote, "In the supposed state of nature, all men are equally bound by the laws of nature, or to speak more properly, the laws of the Creator." This is precisely why "Congress shall make no law … initiates the First Amendment. Freedom of speech, of press, of religion had been given by God and no government can legitimately remove it." (8)
Second, of all the American colonialists’ upper class were slave owners at the time of the war of Independence. Yet the British Empire was the greater enemy.
So how can these leftist have sympathy for the American colonialists and not for the Muslims? Is it perhaps a question of color of the skin?
Unlike the revisionists, Trotsky and the early French Communist Party did not hesitate to defend the Rif Republic that was a rebellion of religious Muslims against French and Spanish Colonialism. "We do not and never have put all wars on the same plane. Marx and Engels supported the revolutionary struggle of the Irish against Great Britain, of the Poles against the Tsar, even though in these two nationalist wars the leaders were, for the most part, members of the bourgeoisie and even at times of the feudal aristocracy...at all events, Catholic reactionaries. When Abd-el-Krim rose up against France, the democrats and Social Democrats spoke with hate of the struggle of a "savage tyrant" against the "democracy." The party of Léon Blum supported this point of view. But we, Marxists and Bolsheviks, considered the struggle of the Riffians against imperialist domination as a progressive war. Lenin wrote hundreds of pages demonstrating the primary necessity of distinguishing between imperialist nations and the colonial and semi-colonial nations which comprise the great majority of humanity. To speak of "revolutionary defeatism" in general, without distinguishing between exploiter and exploited countries, is to make a miserable caricature of Bolshevism and to put that caricature at the service of the imperialists.” (9)
How the Syrian Revolution Began
More than five years ago the Syrian people came out to the streets demanding their democratic rights. It was part of the Arab Spring. It was a revolutionary democratic tide that shook all the regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. For this magnificent mass movement to win it was necessary for the working class to be led by a revolutionary working class party but such a party was missing.
Those who claim to be revolutionaries like the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt tailed first Mursi in the presidential elections in 2012 and later entered a form of a popular front with the liberal bourgeois and at the end even supported the military coup in July 2013. The Communist Party as well supported the military coup. This enabled the imperialists and their local servants to defeat for now the revolution in most countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet the bleeding Syrian revolution is suffering but still alive.
In Syria in 2011 the masses were inspired by the toppling of Ben Ali in Tunisia and of Mubarak in Egypt. Many of them believed the revolution in Syria will be a copy of the events in these countries. It all began when in March the Syrian regime's security forces in Daraa arrested young students who wrote a graffiti on the wall. For this they were tortured. This led to large demonstrations and the army used live ammunition against them. This led to the civil war. We should not forget how it began as the supporters of Assad's regime try to change the historical account and blame the revolution for this bloody civil war that cost the life of close to half a million people and to more than five million refugees. It is Assad the butcher and those who back him who are responsible for the massacres, the destruction of cities and towns, for the siege of cities and the starvation of the population.
About the so-called US-Support for the Syrian Revolution
Some liberal Syrians believed that the Western imperialists will assist them. In reality the U.S provided some of the rebels that it considers “moderates" with a few weapons and ammunition. Some of these weapons end in the hands of the Islamists opposition. How did the Islamists receive these American weapons? "On the international arms market or from ‘moderate’ rebels who were given American weapons and then sold them to the highest bidder.” (10)
For those who characterize the Muslim rebels as “US agents” the fact that they get hold of American weapons is sufficient proof that the revolution ended. But this lacks any understanding of imperialisms’ contradictions, as Trotsky already explained in his article "Lean to Think":
"Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists." (11)
Thus the question is not whether a group receives weapons from an imperialist state but whether it is controlled by the imperialists.
Russian imperialism sent Assad warplanes to attack the population. While Saudi Arabia has backed some rebel groups, Iran and Hezbollah sent soldiers to assist Assad's. Turkey has intervened in the civil war in order to crash the Kurds. More Syrians were killed by the US led coalition under the cover of fighting ISIS than Syrians killed by the reactionary ISIS. Many more people were killed by Russian air strikes.
"On June 20, Russian and American warplanes confronted one another in the skies above Syria after Moscow bombed an elite force of US-trained rebels, the New Syrian Army forces that fight Isis. The Pentagon on Friday scrambled F/A-18 fighters to fend off an attack by Moscow's most advanced bombers on moderate opposition fighters it is supporting. When the F/A-18s approached the Russians moved out of the area, but when the US fighters paused to refuel they returned and struck the base again, in what appeared to be a deliberately provocative move. The Russians had been ordered to back off by the US pilots directly using a special communications channel setup to prevent air accidents, but were ignored.” (12)
According to a report dealing with the so-called “New Syrian Army” "unlike the Northern Aleppo FSA, the US provides close air support to the New Syrian Army. In a situation similar to the support given to the SDF/YPG in northeastern Syria, embedded special forces likely direct close air support for the NSyA. The US has also stationed M142 rocket artillery in Jordan to support the NSYA, these rocket strikes are likely directed by on the ground special forces embedded with the NSYA. There are unconfirmed reports that the US provided helicopter gunship support for a New Syrian Army raid on an ISIS held oil field near al-Bukama.” (13)
Another report states that the rebels groups are suspecting the NSA for two reasons. One reason is that they do not mention fighting Assad but only ISIS and that they are too close to the USA. (14) Assuming this information is correct this unit of a few hundred warriors should be suspected as an arm of US imperialism but certainly not the broad mass of Syrian rebels both secular and Islamists.
US and Russian Imperialism may Clash in Syria
In any case there is a danger of American-Russian armed conflict over Syria and the interest of the Syrian revolution and the International working class is to kick out all the imperialists.
Now that Turkey and Russia form a new alliance after the failure of the attempted coup that the US most likely was involved in some way or another, it is possible that Russia, Turkey and Iran will form a new alliance in Syria that is very dangerous to the Syrian revolution and to the oppressed Kurds. While the RCIT fully supports the Kurds’ right of self- determination, we warn that the leadership of the Democratic Union Party is playing a very dangerous game by allying itself with the US.
US and Assad
When the Arab Spring began the US announced that Assad must go. Today not only the Russian imperialists but also the American imperialists insist that Assad must stay.
"Phil Gordon, a former senior White House adviser who is now part of the Clinton campaign’s foreign policy brain trust, argued in May that it’s time to stop calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s departure, saying the demand is part of a U.S. strategy that has failed to end the conflict. The willingness of such a prominent Middle East observer to make that call, on the record at a media briefing at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, signals a greater openness now in bluntly stating what U.S. officials have accepted for months, if not years: Assad isn’t leaving. While it’s still taboo to say it aloud, Assad’s departure hasn’t been a U.S. priority in a long time, and the Obama administration’s old mantra of “Assad must go” is now mostly hollow." (15)
Thus if they Syrian people will hear in the future about a new peace plan and some scheme of phony election it will have the same value as of Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians – an agreement that has allowed Israel to steal more lands. In the case of Syria it will be a plan to cheat the Syrians after they lost half a million people to accept the butcher as the benevolent democratic milkman. The only possible solution is the victory of the revolution.
Last April Saudi King Salman offered Sisi $20 billion dollars on condition that Egypt would be transferring sovereignty of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. This led to the largest demonstrations since Sisi took power in a military coup, with thousands once again calling to topple the regime. Under Sisi the economic situation has markedly deteriorated, result of declining tourism and Suez Canal revenues. With foreign reserves dwindling and a staggering 9% annual inflation rate, over 13% official unemployment and an annual budget deficit of about 12%. But even if Sisi will get the $20 billion Dollars they will disappear into the same black hole. In 2013 Kuwait gave Sisi $20 billion that went to the pockets of Sisi and his close friends. (16)
Syria and the Permanent Revolution
The Syrian revolution in its peculiar form proves Trotsky's Theory of the Permanent revolution. The Syrian working class does not act as a class for itself, because it does neither have independent trade unions nor a revolutionary party to unite the workers whether religious or secular, a party that will fight for the Kurds right to self- determination, and a party that will unite the masses. The existing leadership in Syria is not able to overcome the sectarian divisions that exist in Syria nor can the revolution in Syria by itself defeat its very powerful enemies. Because of it the civil war can go on for some time without a resolution.
To win this struggle the Syrian revolution must be part of the Arab revolution of the region that today is still blocked by the counter-revolution imposed by reactionary dictators and imperialist Great Powers. Sisi’s rule is not stable as he cannot solve the serious economic problem of Egyptian capitalism. It is only a question of time before he will be toppled by new wave of mass protest.
However, the RCIT warns that there are a number of lessons to learn from the previous round of revolutions. First, the middle class cannot lead the revolution. Secondly, that a new revolutionary wave of the workers and the Fallahins (peasants) is not sufficient, for the revolution to win it must be led by a revolutionary leadership of the working class. Only the revolutionary working class will be able to win the democratic struggle and defeat the imperialists and their servants. Needless to say when the workers will come to power they will not stop at the bourgeois democratic tasks but will continue in the direction of building a socialist society that its tempo will be determined by the world revolution. A society that will work to provide the needs of the workers and the Fallahins and not of the parasitic capitalists.
(3) The Japan Times, August 9 2016, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/08/09/world/crucial-battle-aleppo-poised-commence/#.V6xVfZgrLIU
(4) ARA NEWS: ISIS advances against Syrian rebels in Aleppo, loses ground to Kurds in Hasakah, April 24, 2016
(5) Brook Miller: Our Abdiel: The British Press and the Lionization of 'Chinese' Gordon, in: Nineteenth-Century Prose, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Fall 2005), https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-208109718/our-abdiel-the-british-press-and-the-lionization
(6) Quoted in Louis Proyect: The Bernstein-Bax debate, May 17, 2008, https://louisproyect.org/2008/05/17/the-bernstein-bax-debate/
(7) Robert N. Rossi: The Mahdist Revolution, 1980, www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a284465.pdf
(8) Bill Lockwood: Just where does the Constitution mention God? Time Record News, Aug. 04, 2012, http://www.timesrecordnews.com/lifestyle/just-where-does-the-constitution-mention-god-ep-427107906-332674781.html
(9) Leon Trotsky: On the Sino-Japanese War (September 1937), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/10/sino.htm
(11) Leon Trotsky: Learn To Think. A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists (May 1938), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/05/think.htm
(14) Sam Heller: Syria's Newest Rebel Army Has Its Sights on the Islamic State, November 30, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/syrias-newest-rebel-army-has-its-sights-on-the-islamic-state
(15) Hannah Allam: ‘Assad must go’ demand should go, ex-White House official says, May 12, 2016, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/national-security/article77313747.html
(16) David Schenker: Will Sisi Squander His Chance to Fix Egypt's Economy? The National Interest May 17, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/will-sisi-squander-his-chance-fix-egypts-economy-16237
We refer readers to the RCIT’s fundamental document:
Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World: An Acid Test for Revolutionaries, Resolution of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 31 May 2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-arab-revolution/