Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Whither Syria - Part 3 of 3

The current trajectory holds out nothing good for the Syrian workers. When the Arab Spring erupted last year there was much rash and loose talk about a Pan-Arab revolution. I warned in relation to Egypt that there were only two powerful organised forces at that time – the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army. There was the potential for the Egyptian workers to form a third, and more powerful organised force, but it was only a potential. To achieve that the workers would have to concentrate on building their own organisations, focussing on their own interests and demands, and not subordinating themselves to the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois revolutionary forces. In the absence of that I argued there were only two likely outcomes. Either the events would follow the path of the Revolutions of 1848, and of Russia in 1905, or else they would follow the path of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which established the reactionary, clerical-fascist regime. When many were proclaiming the victory of the revolution in bringing down Mubarak, I warned it was no such thing, and that what had happened had been a military coup, by which the Bonapartist Military regime had ditched its figurehead in order to rule more effectively in its own name. It is now clear, as the military has grasped all political power in its own hands, closed down the parliament and neutered the power of the Presidency, that that is exactly what has transpired.

The Muslim Brotherhood have largely been isolated from the other revolutionary forces, who now see the Brotherhood, and not the regime, as their main enemy. If the Brotherhood now seek to turn the Presidency into any kind of meaningful position, they will be confronted directly by the Military. The likelihood is that the Brotherhood would not withstand such a confrontation, though the possibility exists that it could result in Civil War, similar to that raging next door in Syria, or that in Libya.

Tunisia has many similarities with Egypt, but it is quite clear that quite different dynamics are in play in relation to Libya, and Syria, as well as to the Gulf States. Already in Tunisia, the liberal forces of the revolution are saying that the new regime is acting much the same as the old regime. The natural reaction when these rebellions broke out was to see them as progressive revolutions. I made the same mistake myself, even though I warned from the experience of Iran in 1979, that the danger was that unless the workers quickly became organised and took the lead, other reactionary forces would seize the day. In all the furore and excitement that attended the rash of uprisings, I was led myself to see the uprising in Benghazi in the same light. Yet, it soon became clear that the events in Libya were not at all the same as those in Egypt or in Tunisia, and that what we were looking at in Libya, was at best a Civil War being fought out by contending factions divided along ethnic and tribal lines, and at worst an attempt to mobilise and utilise sections of Libyan society, by external powers for their own ends. What is now clear is that the rebel forces amounted to only around 13,000 fighters (approximately 0.3% of the Libyan population), many of whom were Libyan fighters who had returned solely to fight, many of them attached to the Islamic Fighting Group that is connected to Al Qaeda, and whose forces had gained experience as part of the insurgency in Iraq.

It also seems to be the case that they were able to link up with other groups which had their own axes to grind and own agendas. By no means even all of the population of Benghazi, which had been the centre of opposition to Tripoli, supported the rebels. As a State Capitalist society, the majority of workers in Libya, which in any case has a very small working-class, the majority being petit-bourgeois traders of one form or another, were employed by the State. Of these the majority lived in Tripoli, as does the majority of the population. The Libyan working-class, therefore, had every material reason to at least not oppose the regime upon whom its livelihood depended. That was particularly the case given that the liberal bourgeois leaders of the TNC were proposing a radical privatisation of state industries, and the clerical-fascists have everywhere proven themselves the enemies of the Labour Movement.

It is little wonder then that Tripoli did not rise up against Gaddafi, and even when the rebels and their imperialist allies were able to march into Tripoli, having spent months subjecting it to intense bombing, there was no mass jubilation by its residents, but only a muted silence, as they pondered their fate. The months since Gaddaffi's fall must have confirmed their worst fears. Libya has turned into a sectarian hell-hole. Many state workers, particularly black workers have found themselves rounded up by the clerical fascist gangs, and at best incarcerated in concentration camps with appalling conditions. Many have simply been executed, often having been tortured. Medicins Sans Frontieres, pulled out of Misrata because it was finding itself patching up people who had clearly been tortured, only to find that their patients were whisked off by the clerical-fascists to be tortured some more!

The oil rich East of the country around Benghazi is seeking to separate itself from the rest of the country in order that it can keep the oil wealth to itself. The historic divisions between the tribes, which were largely suppressed by Gaddafi's Bonapartist regime, have once again been unleashed to add to the mix of cross-cutting cleavages that have riven the country, and threaten to break it apart as it descends into sectarian civil war. In addition, that has already spread across the border, with masses of weapons now in the hands of Clerical-Fascist forces in Mali, who have declared their own independent state, and began its history by systematically destroying a world heritage site in Timbuktu, because it did not conform with its own religious prejudices. Clearly, not all mass rebellions are revolutionary or progressive.

The masses of Bahrain also have considerable grounds for opposing their regime as did the masses in Libya, in Egypt and in Tunisia. But, in Bahrain an added feature is the fact that the regime is dominated by the Sunni feudal ruling family, whereas the majority of the people are Shia. Here the dynamics are reversed. The US and Imperialism backs the ruling tyrants, even giving the go ahead for the Formula 1 to take place their. Cameron's main concern in his visits there has been not the atrocities committed against its people, but to sell more weapons to the regime in order that they can conduct those atrocities more efficiently. Instead here, it is the influence of Iran that exercises an external force to stimulate the rebellion. That Bahrain has been the centre of rebellion is not surprising. Of all the Gulf states it is the only one where Shia make up the majority. In the other Gulf states Sunni constitute around 80% of the population. However, it has to be born in mind that the populations of the Gulf States are tiny compared with say Egypt, or Iran, Iraq and Syria. The population of Saudi Arabia is only 27 million with actual Saudi nationals making up only around 16 million, the other 11 million being foreign workers. Of all the Gulf States Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest, the other have population in the low single digits of millions. By comparison, Iran's population is 79 million. Iraq's population is 31 million.

In any ground war, the ability to mobilise large numbers of troops is crucial, and size of population is fundamental to that, as was demonstrated in the USSR's ability to mobilise a huge army against the Nazis. Despite the fact that the Gulf States have the latest weapons provided by Imperialism, in any ground war, they would be likely to be quickly over run by the forces of Iran and Iraq were they to be combined. That would rapidly threaten the strategic interests of Imperialism, which is why it has stood so solidly behind the Gulf tyrannies, and seeks to neuter Iran, and its Shia allies. Any victory for Iran would also mean a victory for Russia, and to an extent China, which has historically stood behind these regimes, and would thereby create a seismic shift in global strategic dynamics. The desire of Imperialism to remove Assad has to be viewed with this in mind rather than any concern that the West might have in regard to the needs of the Syrian people. Syria is now the gateway to Iran, along with the US's military bases left behind in Iraq, and the string of their bases established in the “stans” of Central Asia.

It is clear that part of the reason for the ferocity of the fighting in Syria, is due to the fact that the Gulf tyrannies are providing significant numbers of fighters, along with the latest weapons that are being fed in via Jordan and Turkey under the tutelage of the CIA. As I pointed out a month or so ago - The First Casualty Of War – one former British Intelligence Officer said that the Houla Massacre had all the hallmarks of having been committed not by Assad's supporters. Alistair Crooke commented,

“This type of killing, beheadings, slitting of throats (of children too), and of this mutilation of bodies, has been a characteristic not of Levantine Islam, not of Syria, not of Lebanon, but what happened in the Anbar province of Iraq. And so it seems to point very much in the direction of groups that have been associated with the war in Iraq against the United States who have perhaps returned to Syria, or perhaps Iraqis who have come up from Anbar to take part in it,” he says.

Crooke believes the Al-Qaeda connection is misleading, as the massacre has its tactical and ideological roots in the Iraq war.

“I think the attack is more close to Musab al-Zarqawi [who declared an all out war on Shia in Iraq], than Al-Qaeda as we know it, in the sense that Zarqawi and Iraq gave birth to this very strong, bigoted, anti-Shia, anti-Iranian rhetoric. Much of that came into Syria when fighters from Anbar returned to their homes around Homs and Hama.

“So yes, we’re talking about Al-Qaeda like groups that are at the very end of the spectrum of the opposition. They may be a minority in terms of the numbers of the overall opposition, but they are defining the war,” Crooke maintains.”

Now, his analysis has been confirmed by Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The World Socialist Website reports that Rainer Hermann of the paper had confirmed his earlier report that the Houla Massacre was carried out by Sunni rebels not by Assad supporters. Hermann writes

The Houla plains region “is burdened by a long history of sectarian tensions. ... Of the names of the civilians killed, 84 are known. These are the fathers, mothers and 49 children of the Al Sayyid family and two branches of the Abdarrazzaq family. … Additionally killed in Taldou were relatives of the … member of parliament Abdalmuti Mashlab.”

WSW also write,

The nun Agnès-Maryam had already described the escalation of sectarian violence around Homs in an open letter toward the end of April. She warned of a step-by-step liquidation of all minorities by the Sunni “rebels” and described the displacement of Christians and Alawites from their homes and the rape of young girls who had been given to the “rebels” as spoils of war.”

Yet, western media exclusively portray atrocities in Syria as being the responsibility of the regime or its supporters. The BBC even displayed on its website graphic pictures purporting to be from Syria, but which were in fact ten year old pictures of dead children in Iraq!!!

But, none of that changes the brutal, vile nature of Assad's regime. There seem a number of potential outcomes.

Firstly, Assad, as his father did, could succeed in suppressing the opposition to him. Given, the fact that even the Red Cross now describe the situation in Syria as a Civil War, its unlikely that will be achieved without considerably more bloodshed than has already been seen, if at all. Given the level of opposition, given the extent of external involvement in Syria, given the financing and provision of the latest weapons, and the undoubted involvement of external Special Forces, its unlikely it can be achieved at all. The more the latter develops to meet additional suppression by Assad, the more it will become obvious, and the greater the danger that Iran and Iraq will be drawn in more openly to support Assad, including in themselves more openly encouraging rebellion in Bahrain and other Gulf States, if not to openly threaten those states themselves.

Any such escalation threatens to spark a regional war across MENA. Already, Lebanon has been drawn in, and the possibility for Turkey being drawn in is also obvious, which could spread the conflict into Europe itself. That possibility can be seen by simply looking at the way the Civil War in Libya has spread to Mali and other parts of North Africa. Such Civil Wars are inherently damaging to the interests of the working class in these countries themselves let alone in relation to the relations between workers of different countries.  One commentator, yesterday spoke of Syria breaking into separate states, and particularly of a separate Kurdish state, which would feed into the existing conflict between Turkey and its Kurdish minority.

If Assad's regime survives, it will be on the basis of massive bloodshed, and the intensification of existing cleavages within the country that will create considerable difficulties for building working class unity within the country.

Secondly, Assad could be defeated. But, it is clear that the only forces in Syria capable of defeating him are the clerical-fascists, and the Gulf tyrannies, and western Imperialism standing behind them. But, any such victory for these forces will be on the basis of the above intensification of fighting also. All of the negative outcomes of that apply in this scenario too. It is likely to lead to a genocide against Syrian Allawites, and despite prompting to say otherwise by western journalists some of the rebels have openly said so. That is even more likely to draw in Lebanon, and Turkey, especially if that extends to attacks on Christians who are increasingly concerned at the possibility of a clerical-fascist regime. This scenario would be similar to the way in which Imperialism used jihadists in Afghanistan to overthrow Soviet occupation. It would be likely to spiral out of control, resurrecting sectarian conflict in Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq just to start with.

Thirdly, Assad could be ousted as a result of overt military action by Imperialism, as with Iraq. That seems unlikely. Imperialism has found that a more efficient method is to use high powered bombing to destroy infrastructure and thereby generate demoralisation of domestic populations and militaries, and to rely on domestic insurgencies and mercenaries/ideologically driven forces, supplemented by extensive use of Special Forces. Again, that was the lesson it learned in opposing the USSR in Afghanistan, and which it has adopted in Kosovo – though ultimately there it had to actually send in ground forces – and which it has used in Libya. The main concern of Imperialism is not necessarily in these instances to put in place its own stooge, and certainly not nation building. These are not major areas of Capitalist investment in industrial production, nor are they particularly dependent on them for the supply of raw materials e.g. oil. There main concern here is politico-strategic. It will be happy even with chaos, if it results in the increasing isolation and undermining of Iran, because the main aim is to prevent the development of a significant, and potentially hostile regional power. It is certainly concerned to prevent such a power, being oriented towards Russia and China.

Even were such an outcome to arise, it would offer nothing good for Syrian workers because the resultant regime would be necessarily repressive and hostile to workers interests. A look at Iraq, or Libya demonstrates that.

The final solution would be for some other external force to intervene such as Russia, perhaps under cover of some Arab League intervention. That seem even more unlikely. The Arab League would not move without Imperialist agreement, and its unlikely that will be forthcoming, and thereby enhance the role of Russia within the region.

The only progressive solution in Syria is one that the workers themselves bring about. But, as in most parts of the world at the moment it is not the Labour Movement that is the most organised, the most homogeneous, the most conscious force driving forward history. We have to recognise that fact, before we can change it. Before attempting to provide solutions for all the world's problems, which we do not have the resources to achieve, we should focus our attention on dealing with that more serious problem. We have to concentrate on resolving the problem of rebuilding an organised, more homogeneous, more class conscious Labour Movement. The starting point of that is also to focus on trying to build workers unity, rather than subordinating ourselves through a false unity with our class enemies, purely for the achievement of limited bourgeois democratic goals.

Back To Part 2

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