From the November-December 2015 issue of News & Letters
At the moment when the genocidal Assad regime seems near collapse, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has begun targeting the Syrian revolutionaries with intense air and land attacks.
Using rhetoric of “war against ISIS,” these attacks have overwhelmingly targeted the rebel groups that are fighting both Bashar Al-Assad and ISIS, as well as massacring civilians in the liberated areas, killing hundreds of men, women and children. They have created up to 100,000 new refugees and joined Assad and ISIS in destroying irreplaceable historic sites.
As we go to press, the Assad forces—abetted by Iranian troops, Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and European fascists, among others—have made minimal gains. ISIS has been the main beneficiary, as Russian air strikes have allowed them to capture a number of villages near Aleppo. The U.S. and other world powers have had little to say.
Putin has found a formula: to participate in genocide while claiming to be fighting “terrorism.” This says everything about the nature of his retrogressive rule, and about the hypocrisy of the U.S. and Europe. Putin’s regime is rooted in that hypocrisy.
The collapse of Communism following the 1989 revolts was an opening to create new human relations with the oppressed peoples of the former USSR. (The same opening some here saw as a domestic “peace dividend.”) Rather than offering aid to the “liberated” Russians, the bourgeoisie offered vicious Chicago School economics. Strikes were crushed, and life expectancies plummeted in one more brutal episode of what Marx termed so-called primitive accumulation. At the same time, first Boris Yeltsin, then Putin, were given free rein to destroy Chechnya, killing at least 150,000 people.
The new Nobel Prize winner for literature, Svetlana Alexievich, described the mood in today’s Russia this way: “People are disappointed at the 20 years that have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was we, the ‘elite,’ who wanted perestroika, but people stayed silent. It turns out now, when Putin began to speak their language, that people chose the past instead of the future. It is the most terrible discovery of the latest years. Of course, Russian television perverts people. Journalists of Russian media should be tried for what they are saying.”
THE PULL OF RETROGRESSION
Putin made his retrogressive aims clear in Ukraine. The seizing of Crimea led to the suppression of the Tatars, who suffered genocide under Stalin. Their non-violent resistance is slandered as ISIS-inspired. The occupation of industrial areas of eastern Ukraine has suppressed workers’ self-activity. Today the occupied parts of Ukraine are plastered with images of Stalin and czarist symbols, while attacks on Jews, Roma, and LGBTQ people are encouraged by the Russians.
The suppression of workers, the crushing of revolution—these aims are hardly alien to bourgeois society, including bourgeois liberals. But they are a particular inspiration for the growing European neo-fascist movement, from the French National Front to Hungary, in which the far-Right Fidesz party contends for power with the neo-Nazi Jobbik party. All praise Putin’s “defense of traditional values.”
The U.S. right wing, from Patrick Buchanan to Donald Trump, has very kind words for Putin as well. They appreciate his opposition to “multiculturalism,” secularism and internationalism. (As for the part of the “Left” that tailends this horror show, they are beneath contempt.) Despite temporary alignments, the seeds of world imperialist war continue to proliferate in this reactionary soil.
THE IDEA OF FREEDOM
Putin knows that the U.S. and other powers are in no hurry to see the overthrow of Assad if they can’t be the ones to manage the transition. He knows the depth of their hypocrisy. We are seeing the day of the naked emperors.
Syrian revolutionaries understand this. The Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) state: “Russian troops are now openly fighting alongside the army of the dictator. Despite international consensus that the attacks have not targeted ISIS positions, we have yet to see any forceful condemnations regarding the killing of civilians, and this leads us to believe that the international community is tacitly approving of these attacks…
“The LCC calls upon all revolutionary forces and factions to unite by any means and respond to the Russian aggression. We further call upon the international community to uphold its moral and legal responsibilities regarding the strategic direction of current events in Syria” (Oct. 2, 2015).
The people are not going to turn back. What Putin wants to kill is the very idea of a free, multiethnic, revolutionary Syria—but that idea of freedom, the essence of humanity, will persist.