The United States, the bloodiest imperialist power on the planet today, pretends to be defending the world against terrorism by punishing Syria for its regime’s use of chemical weapons that killed many hundreds of civilians in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21. But in reality, as Secretary of State Kerry said yesterday, the concern of the White House is “our role in the world and our interests in the world” – to maintain domination over the Middle East and to assert imperialist authority to intervene wherever and whenever it wants.
One thing the U.S. is certainly not concerned about is the plight of the Syrian people. For 2½ years, it has stood by and watched Bashar al-Assad wage an all-out war against the popular revolution that has threatened its rule. Assad’s “conventional weapons” – tanks, bombs and missiles – have reduced whole cities and towns to rubble and left more than 100,000 dead and 6 million people refugees displaced inside their country’s borders or gathered in refugee camps in neighboring states. The U.S. has denied the pleas of democratic revolutionaries on the ground for the weapons they need to defend themselves against the murderous regime. [See Addendum below.]
The Obama administration understands that even though the Assad dictatorship is a client of rival imperialist Russia, it plays a crucial regional role in keeping the masses down and neighboring states safe – especially Israel. The U.S. would prefer that Assad be replaced by a more compliant ruler, but it does not want to allow the victory of either wing of the Syrian rebellion, the democratic revolutionaries or the Al Qaeda-type Islamists.
The “red line” that Obama drew a year ago was in effect a green light for Assad to continue his war as usual without fear of Western imperialist intervention. And Assad may well have figured he could get away with a massacre, seeing that the U.S.’s ally in Egypt, General al-Sisi, had just done likewise against Muslim Brotherhood supporters to consolidate the military coup in that country.
The U.S. response is doubly hypocritical. When it comes to horrific weaponry, the U.S. is the world’s greatest terrorist. Its military used white phosphorus in its assault on Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, as did its ally Israel against Gaza, without any U.S. complaint. Earlier administrations aided Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s poison gas attack in the war on Iran in 1988. President Obama himself continues to authorize drone strikes that kill civilians in several countries. And only the U.S. has used atomic bombs, against urban civilian populations in Japan in 1945. When it comes to horrifying weapons, the U.S. government has no right to claim any moral high ground.
Assad resorts to multiple atrocities in order to quell a mass struggle that originated as part of the “Arab Spring” in 2011, a widely popular revolt against his dictatorship and his imposition of the imperialists’ global austerity drive. Assad responded with live ammunition, mass arrests and torture. No wonder the rebels turned to armed resistance, and Assad embarked on an all-out war in which his army, supplied by Russia and Iran, had a monopoly of heavy weaponry.
The revolutionary struggle against Assad drew mass support from all sectors of Syrian society. It created local councils and numerous independent militias. Those who say there is no popular revolution defame this extraordinary revolutionary struggle. But the military character of the struggle has given Islamist and other bourgeois forces extra leverage, distorting and seeking to hijack the popular insurgency. Assad helped by releasing hundreds of Islamist terrorists from his jails, and by massacring Sunni villages to try to turn the struggle into a sectarian war. But wherever armed rebels have sought to impose their own brand of oppressive rule on the people, the masses have risen up in protest against them too.
The Islamists are armed by several reactionary Gulf States. Turkey has also aided Islamist forces, those fighting Syrian Kurds who it fears will link up with Turkish Kurds demanding their democratic rights. Even so, the rebels’ weaponry is no match for what Assad gets from imperialist Russia and Iran. Since the U.S. denies anti-aircraft weapons to all rebels, it guarantees Assad’s unfettered use of bombs and missiles.
Despite the regime’s overwhelmingly superior weaponry, it has not been able to halt the struggle. Lately it has gained some ground by importing Hezbollah troops from Lebanon and other fighters from its allies in Iraq and Iran. Now, against the popular insurgency, its only hope is mass terror.
Until now the U.S. has been reluctant to intervene militarily, since its goal has been not to overthrow the Assad regime. Throughout the Middle East, it has relied on its friendly kings and military dictatorships to defend its interests, a policy that has become a growing embarrassment. It has also seen Assad as a force for stability, despite his Russian alliance – whatever his anti-imperialist rhetoric, his regime maintains peace with Israel and has joined in the suppression of Palestinians. The U.S. goal has been a “Yemen” solution – maintaining the repressive state while replacing the dictator and imposing a government of Assad supporters and safely pro-imperialist rebel “leaders,” all of whom are in exile without any base of support in the country, and many of whom were aides to Assad only recently.
That is why the U.S. has blocked serious military aid from reaching the rebels – it does not see any force in Syria other than Assad’s regime that can keep order. Above all it fears an Islamist or a popular victory, which could undermine imperialist interests in the Middle East – control of oil resources, defense of Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestine.
The Assad regime is confident that the imperialists will not try to carry out a “regime change” as in Iraq. Indeed, Obama and his team have been loudly signaling that they intend nothing of the sort. But Assad’s defiance in turn undermines the credibility of U.S. authority. So Obama is obliged to demonstrate his willingness to use force, and therefore some sort of military intervention looms.
Assad’s regime is indeed horrific, but the imperialists have proved for over a century that they are the greatest enemy of humanity. Since any defeat suffered by the imperialists improves the balance of forces for the masses around the world, we stand in defense of the Syrian people against all imperialist attacks, including from the U.S., other NATO powers and Israel, as well as from Russia via its agent Assad. Obama has already suffered a blow from the defeat in Parliament of the British government’s plan to attack Syria alongside the U.S.
The imperialist intervention in no way changes the immediate danger from the Assad regime, which will ceaselessly continue to butcher its own people. Our opposition to U.S. imperialism in Syria means absolutely no support for Assad’s rule and no call to defer the struggle against his regime.
Therefore, in the civil war we are on the side of rebels who defend the Syrian masses, against both Assad’s forces and those “rebels” fighting for their own counterrevolutionary aims. In the course of the struggle we campaign for the masses led by the working class to take power based on councils of workers, peasants and poor people. We side with Syria’s Kurdish population against both the regime and the oppressive Islamist forces, and we stand for the right of self-determination for the whole Kurdish people, whose territory overlaps Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
As proletarian internationalists, we in the LRP advocate workers’ socialist revolution in Syria and elsewhere as the only way to resolve the quest for democracy and justice; the capitalist system and the imperialism it generates are inherently based on exploitation and oppression. The popular democratic revolution must be transformed into a working-class-led socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism. As advocates of Trotsky’s strategy of permanent revolution, we point to the need for socialist revolution internationally: only through a new world of cooperation between workers’ states can socialism and a classless society be achieved.
Since this statement was published and distributed, several readers have expressed concern about a sentence in the second paragraph: “The U.S. has denied the pleas of democratic revolutionaries on the ground for the weapons they need to defend themselves against the murderous regime.” They worry that this sentence could encourage people to think that the League for the Revolutionary Party calls on the U.S. to arm Syrian revolutionaries. In fact, the sentence was intended only to expose the lie that the armed rebels in Syria are supported by Western imperialism. We do not call on the U.S. to arm the rebels – raising such a demand would raise illusions in the possible benevolence of U.S. imperialism and provide it with left-wing cover for arming only pro-imperialist factions.
We add that we do believe revolutionaries should defend the right of oppressed people to take arms from any source, but only so long as they do not compromise their opposition to all imperialist powers. This was the position of Lenin and Trotsky when they supported the Irish revolutionaries who were planning their “Easter Rebellion” against British colonialism in 1916. The Irish rebels tried to take advantage of imperialist rivalries by obtaining weapons from Britain’s colonialist adversary Germany, without agreeing to provide Germany with any services in return.
The Leninist and Trotskyist tradition of defending the right of oppressed people to receive arms from any source is best explained in Trotsky’s essay on the tactics of the anti-imperialist struggle, “Learn to Think”. In that essay, Trotsky argues that if the Algerian people struggling against French colonialism were to receive arms from the fascist Italian government, for example, revolutionaries would not oppose this because it was in the practical interests of the struggle of oppressed people for their liberation.
Although we advocate the right of the oppressed to obtain weapons from wherever they can, we warn that the imperialists will almost always demand that they promise to serve the imperialists’ interests. There are many examples of socialists betraying their principles and agreeing to act in the interests of imperialism in exchange for such support, and we condemn them completely.
The Western imperialists have talked about arming anti-Assad rebels. So far they have not only refused to do this but have actively worked to stop rebel forces from obtaining weapons that could allow them to topple Assad from power. According to the Sunday Times of London, for example, “the CIA has been quietly working along [Syria’s] northern border with Turkey to limit the supplies of weapons and ammunition reaching rebel forces” (August 12, 2012). And for some time the European Union enforced an arms embargo against Syria’s rebel groups. We oppose the Western imperialists’ efforts to deny Syrian rebels the weapons they need.
In the military struggle on the ground in Syria, we believe that when the masses are under attack from Assad’s forces, revolutionaries should be prepared to temporarily cooperate with any force that is prepared to act in defense of the masses. However, when it comes to sending arms to rebel forces, we promote the arming only of those that:
1) are independent of foreign powers and committed to defending Syria and all the region’s peoples against imperialism; and
2) are opposed to religious sectarianism and to attacks on civilians.
At the same time, revolutionaries should always promote the independent organization of the working-class and other poor people for self-defense and revolutionary struggle, and seek to convince the masses that the only solution to their problems is the seizure of state power by the working class and the spreading of workers’ socialist revolution throughout the region and around the world.
September 7, 2013