From the March-April 2016 issue of News & Letters
It is too early to tell what will come of the partial ceasefire that was supposed to begin in Syria as of this writing. We have already seen hundreds of violations by Assad-allied forces. The depravity of that genocidal regime—including its Iranian and Russian imperialist allies—gives little reason to hope for lasting results.
When Bashar al-Assad was threatened with defeat in 2014, Iran stepped up its military intervention. It wasn’t enough. As Assad again faced defeat in 2015, Russia began its bombing campaign, which escalated this year into targeting hospitals, schools, markets and mosques to depopulate liberated areas. No decency can be expected from such war criminals.
It marks a moment for taking stock. That a ceasefire had to be proposed is testimony to one fact: the unrelenting, courageous, creative opposition that has since 2011 been the essence of the Syrian Revolution. On March 4, demonstrations around the country declared: “The Revolution Continues!” The interventions by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia in particular have obviously been interventions in defense of their own despised and fragile reactionary regimes.
LIMITS OF ARMED STRUGGLE
Armed struggle became a necessity in Syria because a non-violent freedom movement that lasted far longer than anyone could have expected faced the brutal attacks of a heavily armed fascist state.
Five years of war taught some important lessons about the limitations of armed struggle. First is the question of who provides the arms and what they ask or demand in return. In too many cases, this has led to a separation between the original ideas of the Revolution and the armed fighters. At worst it went some way toward enabling ISIS to enter Syria. Revolutionaries have had to fight ISIS as well as the regime, while knowing that Jabhat al-Nusra will also be a problem to be dealt with.
Likewise, the unity between Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that was so significant during the heroic defense of Kobane against ISIS has been undermined as the U.S. and Russia became patrons of the YPG. This has led the YPG leaders into unprincipled attacks on the FSA, abetted by Russian airstrikes. This will have negative consequences for Kurdish self-determination, and these “leaders” will ultimately have to answer to the Kurdish people.
Second, there is the problem of imperialism’s fundamental hostility to freedom and revolution and a situation like the present, with U.S. and Russian imperialism playing good cop and bad cop. The U.S. may also be compared to William Burroughs’ description of the heroin dealer: he can control you through the supply or control you by cutting off the supply.
Civilian demonstrations have long called on the armed groups fighting to free Syria to put aside their differences—often a result of their patrons’ demands—and focus on fighting Assad and ISIS. There have been indications of this happening, under the impact of the carpet bombing. The war of ideas could become clearer and more powerful if the armed struggle comes more firmly under the influence of civilian opinion. Only in the continuing creation of new human relations can the Revolution develop to its full potential.
REVOLUTION DEEP AND BROAD
Despite the world’s seeming indifference, and in the face of the failure of the supposedly “internationalist” Left, Syrian revolutionaries have demonstrated a profound humanism by keeping open lines of communication. The people of Kafranbel, for example, week after week demonstrate with slogans and cartoons despite regime bombardments, ISIS assassination attempts against Raed Fares, the main slogan writer, and attempts by Jabhat al-Nusra to intimidate them.
In many Syrian neighborhoods and villages, despite sieges and barrel bombs, local councils have continued to function democratically. Elections are held, services the state has long abandoned are delivered when possible. The civil defenders of the White Helmets day after day risk their lives to dig victims of bombings out of collapsed buildings, knowing that the regime is likely to bomb the same spot again.
Organizations like the Syrian American Medical Society and Karam Foundation aren’t just “NGOs,” but extensions of the new human relationships that began on the streets in 2011. Where the world looked away, these Syrian-run projects took upon themselves the medical care, education, feeding, and the effort to keep the coming generations alive in the face of genocide. Syrian women have been central. “Never again!” lives in their dedication and heroic efforts.
REVOLUTIONARIES CHALLENGE THE LEFT
Despite world imperialism, despite much of the Left’s failure of solidarity, all this revolutionary activity and principle have had an impact. More and more, revolutionaries are beginning to challenge the Left. In the U.S., grassroots efforts like the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (Minneapolis) and the Antiwar Committee in Solidarity with the Struggle for Self-determination (Indiana and Illinois) are relating to the Syrian Revolution with the kind of thought, passion and perspective that marks a possible new beginning for internationalism.
The Syrian Revolution has been the test of world politics. As Marxist-Humanists, it has deepened our understanding of the philosophy of revolution in permanence, and we offer our philosophic as well as material solidarity.