By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 22.8.2013,www.thecommunists.net
The renowned news agency The Associated Press reports about a document of the Obama administration which it has obtained. One of the highest U.S. officials, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated in a letter to a congressman the refusal of the US government to lent support to the Syrian rebels.
This is how The Associated Press summarizes the position of the U.S. government:
“The Obama administration is opposed to even limited U.S. military intervention in Syria because it believes rebels fighting the Assad regime wouldn't support American interests if they were to seize power right now, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote to a congressman in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
Effectively ruling out U.S. cruise missile attacks and other options that wouldn't require U.S. troops on the ground, Dempsey said the military is clearly capable of taking out Syrian President Bashar Assad's air force and shifting the balance of the Arab country's 2½-year war back toward the armed opposition. But he said such an approach would plunge the United States deep into another war in the Arab world and offer no strategy for peace in a nation plagued by ethnic rivalries.
"Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides," Dempsey said in the letter Aug. 19 to Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. "It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not." (…) Despite calling for Assad to leave power in 2011, President Barack Obama has steadfastly refused to allow the U.S. to be drawn directly into the conflict.“ (1)
The Syrian Revolution as part of the Arab Revolution
For revolutionaries this statement of a leading representative of US imperialism is hardly surprising. The RCIT has explained from the beginning that the Arab Revolution – which started in January 2011 in Tunisia and reached Syria in March of that year – is a historic event which shattered the political order that US imperialism and its allies imposed in North Africa and the Middle East in the past decades. Millions of workers, peasants and poor have entered the political arena and fight for bread and freedom. They have overthrown arch-reactionary bourgeois dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. They are fighting a bloody civil war in Syria with more than 100.000 people dead.
But given the lack of revolutionary parties they have suffered and still suffer setbacks. They face enemies in form of either by bourgeois semi-democratic governments which came out of parliamentary elections and who bloc the unfinished democratic revolution (Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen). Or they face open dictatorships which are determined to fully crush the revolutionary process as we see it in Syria, Egypt and Bahrain.
The imperialist powers were all shattered by the Arab Revolution. Since then they either try to crush it via allies or to contain it by trying to buy-off and succumb the forces that have come to power.
The RCIT supported the Syrian Revolution from the beginning, called for the formation of workers and peasants councils and militias to bring down the Assad dictatorship and form a workers’ and peasants’ government. We called for the support of the rebel movement despite its Islamist and secular petty-bourgeois and bourgeois leaderships without giving them any political support. (2)
It has been a slander of the mass rebellion in Syria to denounce it as an imperialist-inspired conspiracy. It started as peaceful mass mobilizations for democratic rights and – after the brutal suppression of Assad’s guards – turned into a civil war. Various leftists have terribly erred in supporting the Assad regime and claiming that US imperialism uses the Syrian rebels as tools.
They justified their support for Assad by referring to the verbal denunciations of the regime in Damascus by the Western imperialist powers and its collaboration with parts of the Syrian rebel’s leadership. Such collaborations certainly did and still do take place. But this is only a subordinated element in the Syrian rebels struggle. The last two and a half years proved that US imperialism has no interest to intervene seriously in Syria at all. Quite the opposite, it is blacklisting the Syrian Islamists forces and warns of the dangers of them coming to power. The document of US General Dempsey emphasizes this explicitly.
The rebels have not even received any significant modern weapons from the Western Powers until now. The situation is very different on the other side of the civil war: Russian imperialism fully supports the Assad regime and sends it huge amount of modern weapons.
Of course circumstances can change and this or that imperialist power might also want to intervene. But programs and tactics have to be based on the reality and not speculations about future possible events. Anything else is day-dreaming and phrase-mongering.
It is only natural for imperialist powers to try to utilize civil wars for their interests. In the case of Syria it is obviously that it is part of the sphere of influence of Russian imperialism (and China to a certain degree). Moscow wants to keep its hegemony in Syria and Washington would like to get a foothold there.
As we elaborated in another document, such imperialist interference has happened hundreds of times in the history of liberation wars in colonial and semi-colonial countries. German imperialism for example lent material and military support for the Irish national revolutionaries during the First World War. Similar things happened during the Second World War where for example Japanese imperialism supported the Indian bourgeois independence fighter Bose. And the US and UK imperialists on the other hand supported the Tito partisans in Yugoslavia. Only political analphabets could conclude from this that these liberation struggles were reactionary and only imperialist tools. (3)
Lenin on liberation wars and imperialist interference
For Marxists such contradictory struggles are nothing new. Already one hundred years ago the great Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin explained that in the epoch of imperialism the big powers will always try to interfere and utilize national and democratic conflicts. He insisted that this must not lead Marxists to automatically take a defeatist position in these conflicts. It depends on which factor becomes the dominant aspect – the national, democratic liberation struggle or the imperialist war of conquest.
„Britain and France fought the Seven Years’ War for the possession of colonies. In other words, they waged an imperialist war (which is possible on the basis of slavery and primitive capitalism as well as on the basis of modern highly developed capitalism). France suffered defeat and lost some of her colonies. Several years later there began the national liberation war of the North American States against Britain alone. France and Spain, then in possession of some parts of the present United States, concluded a friendship treaty with the States in rebellion against Britain. This they did out of hostility to Britain, i.e., in their own imperialist interests. French troops fought the British on the side of the American forces. What we have here is a national liberation war in which imperialist rivalry is an auxiliary element, one that has no serious importance. This is the very opposite to what we see in the war of 1914-16 (the national element in the Austro-Serbian War is of no serious importance compared with the all-determining element of imperialist rivalry). It would be absurd, therefore, to apply the concept imperialism indiscriminately and conclude that national wars are “impossible”. A national liberation war, waged, for example, by an alliance of Persia, India and China against one or more of the imperialist powers, is both possible and probable, for it would follow from the national liberation movements in these countries. The transformation of such a war into an imperialist war between the present-day imperialist powers would depend upon very many concrete factors, the emergence of which it would be ridiculous to guarantee.“ (4)
In another article Lenin compared the possibility of imperialist interference in national liberation struggles for their aims with the possible interference of sections of monopoly capital in democratic struggles in imperialist countries. In both cases, Lenin argued, it would be wrong to refuse support for theses struggles because of this interference:
„On the other hand, the socialists of the oppressed nations must, in particular, defend and implement the full and unconditional unity, including organisational unity, of the workers of the oppressed nation and those of the oppressor nation. Without this it is impossible to defend the independent policy of the proletariat and their class solidarity with the proletariat of other countries in face of all manner of intrigues, treachery and trickery on the part of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations persistently utilise the slogans of national liberation to deceive the workers; in their internal policy they use these slogans for reactionary agreements with the bourgeoisie of the dominant nation (for example, the Poles in Austria and Russia who come to terms with reactionaries for the oppression of the Jews and Ukrainians); in their foreign policy they strive to come to terms with one of the rival imperialist powers for the sake of implementing their predatory plans (the policy of the small Balkan states, etc.). The fact that the struggle for national liberation against one imperialist power may, under certain conditions, be utilised by another “great” power for its own, equally imperialist, aims, is just as unlikely to make the Social-Democrats refuse to recognise the right of nations to self-determination as the numerous cases of bourgeois utilisation of republican slogans for the purpose of political deception and financial plunder (as in the Romance countries, for example) are unlikely to make the Social-Democrats reject their republicanism.” (5)
Taking a revolutionary path today in Egypt and Syria
It is important that revolutionaries today who adhere to the tradition of Lenin and the Communist International apply such a concrete and dialectical approach to liberation struggles and refuse a mechanistic and economist approach which can only lead into the counterrevolutionary camp.
It is no accident that the Syrian regime immediately cheered the military coup d’état in Egypt. It understood much better than many so-called Marxists that the coup was a heavy blow against the Arab Revolution and therefore also against the Syrian Revolution.
It is a primary obligation of revolutionaries to support the popular masses’ struggle both against the military dictatorship in Egypt and against the Assad dictatorship-in Syria. The RCIT is dedicated to this task.
(1) Bradley Klapper: Dempsey: Syrian rebels wouldn't back US interests, Associated Press, August 21, 2013, http://cnsnews.com/news/article/dempsey-syrian-rebels-wouldnt-back-us-interests
(2) See Yossi Schwartz: Class struggle and religious sectarianism in Syria, 12.6.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/class-struggle-and-religious-sectarianism-in-syria/; Yossi Schwartz: Syria: After the defeat in Qusayr and ahead of the Battle for Aleppo, 11.6.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-after-defeat-in-qusayr; ISL-Leaflet: Victory to the Revolution in Syria! http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/victory-to-revolution-in-syria. see also Michael Pröbsting: The Coup d'État in Egypt and the Bankruptcy of the Left’s “Army Socialism”. A Balance Sheet of the coup and another Reply to our Critics (LCC, WIVP, SF/LCFI), Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 8.8.2013, www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/egypt-and-left-army-socialism.
(3) Michael Pröbsting: The Coup d'État in Egypt and the Bankruptcy of the Left’s “Army Socialism”. A Balance Sheet of the coup and another Reply to our Critics
(LCC, WIVP, SF/LCFI), Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 8.8.2013, www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/egypt-and-left-army-socialism
(4) V. I. Lenin: The Junius Pamphlet (1916); in: LCW 22, pp. 310-11
(5) V. I. Lenin: The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1916); in: LCW 22, p. 148