Workers Vanguard No. 1167

13 December 2019


On the Syrian Civil War


26 October 2019


I subscribe to Workers Vanguard and very much enjoy it. I was reading the article “US Imperialism Out Of Syria!” [WV No. 1163, 18 October] and had a question. You wrote that the Spartacus League does not take a side in the Syrian Civil War, and that it is “reactionary on all sides.” I was wondering what you mean by this, and if you could expand on your organization’s stance on this issue. I have read a lot about the Syrian Civil War but not from a communist perspective.

I hope it’s okay that I’m contacting you with this question.

Thanks, Jocelyn

WV replies:

We welcome such questions from WV readers. The starting point for our stance on the Syrian civil war is: What advances the cause of the working class in the fight to shatter capitalist rule? When we say we take no side in the war, which is reactionary all around, it does not mean that we are indifferent to the plight of the Syrian masses. Rather, our aim is for the proletariat to emerge as an independent force, leading the oppressed behind it, in a struggle for state power.

In Syria, what began as anti-government protests in 2011 spiraled into the civil war involving the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, dominated by the Alawite minority, and an array of Sunni fundamentalist factions. These warring sides have received support from foreign imperialist or regional powers. For example, Russia and Iran have backed Assad, while the Pentagon and CIA have armed and financed various Sunni forces fighting the regime. These include so-called “moderate rebels” in the Free Syrian Army (with ties to groups like Al Qaeda) as well as the White Helmets—Islamist outfits that Turkey also supports. (For more on the latter, see “Syrian ‘White Helmets’: Tools of U.S. Imperialism,” WV No. 1103, 13 January 2017.)

In this multisided communal war that pits different ethnic and religious groups against each other, the defeat of one combatant by another would do nothing to further the struggle of the workers and the oppressed. If, for instance, any of the fundamentalist forces came out victorious, it would mean vicious attacks against religious and ethnic minorities and the oppressed Kurdish people, as well as the suppression of working-class actions or movements. While the Assad government is more secularly based, its victory would mean the re-establishment of a bonapartist bourgeois regime that had alternately co-opted and repressed the workers movement while suppressing the Kurdish national struggle.

Though it has intervened in Syria, the U.S. has not decisively entered the civil war with its own armed forces to remove Assad. If Washington were to launch a direct attack or invasion of the country, Marxists would take a military side with Assad’s forces against imperialist assault while maintaining our political opposition to his rule. There is a distinction between military and political support: siding with Assad’s forces does not equal politically endorsing his capitalist government. On the contrary, it means we want the U.S. to be militarily defeated, which would benefit the working class in the Near East and also workers in the U.S. Our aim would be to combine the struggle against imperialist intervention in Syria with the struggle against local capitalist rule and for social revolution.

When it comes to Syria and other neocolonial countries, we have always emphasized that workers internationally have a side in opposing imperialism, whose crimes include carving up the Near East a century ago (see “Syrian Civil War: Legacy of Imperialist Divide-and-Rule,” WV No. 1009, 28 September 2012). We demand all U.S. troops and bases out of Syria and the Near East now, and call for the regional powers Turkey, Russia and Iran to get out as well. The U.S. imperialist rulers have slaughtered millions in their quest for profit and domination and are the greatest enemy of the workers and oppressed worldwide. So when Washington began its war on ISIS in the region in 2014, we stressed that any setback or defeat for the U.S. or its proxies, including by the ISIS arch-reactionary butchers, would correspond with the interests of the exploited and oppressed. These U.S. proxies were mainly Kurdish military forces, which had mostly stayed out of the war until they were attacked by ISIS.

The article referred to by Jocelyn underlined the criminality of the bourgeois-nationalist Kurdish leaders in Syria for entering into a military alliance with U.S. imperialism and acting as its foot soldiers in the war against ISIS (now largely defeated). Dismembered among Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, the Kurdish nation needs its own state. We call for a united independent Kurdish state, and would also support Kurdish independence from individual capitalist states. However, in Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish nationalists have subordinated the just fight for self-determination to their alliance with Washington, thus betraying the aspirations of the Kurdish masses, while strengthening the hand of U.S. imperialism.

There are historical examples of civil wars where Marxists had a side, such as the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War. In Spain, the working class rose up against General Francisco Franco’s attempt to overthrow the Republican government. That civil war pitted the capitalist popular-front government—a coalition made up of bourgeois and workers parties whose purpose was to put a lid on an insurgent proletariat and peasantry—against Franco’s forces, which aimed to crush all workers organizations and democratic rights. It was crucial for the working class, which had its own militias, to fight militarily alongside the Republican forces against Francoist reaction, but offer no political support to the popular-front regime. The road to defeating the bonapartist Franco lay in the seizure of state power by the armed proletariat. But the popular front disarmed the working class, opening the floodgates to Franco’s decades-long bloody reign of rightist reaction. (For more, see “Trotskyism vs. Popular Frontism in the Spanish Civil War,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 61, Spring 2009.)

Our approach to such questions was learned from the concrete struggles waged by Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin in the course of putting forward a revolutionary program that would lead to the 1917 October Revolution. In our fight for new October Revolutions, we seek to build Marxist workers parties throughout the region, part of a reforged Fourth International, that fight for the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East.