The Syrian revolution betrayed: lessons for the left


By Dan Jeffery

The last few weeks have highlighted, as if it was needed, the genocidal and horrendous nature of the Assad regime, in the use of chemical weapons. No it hasn’t been proven, but only the most bizarre of conspiracy theorists can think that it was anyone but Assad. The use of chemical weapons is just one more tactic of Assad, the occupying powers of Iran and Hezbollah, and Russian imperialism to spread terror across Syria while attempting to crush any resistance.

There is no doubt that under the pressure of the ruthless onslaught of Assad, Iranian occupation and Russian imperialism that the Free Syrian Army, who once controlled around two thirds of Syria, have degenerated both politically and in strength. However I would encourage people to read this article in regards to the fact that even now the Free Syrian Army has a serious presence in Syria:

The Free Syrian Army was founded on democratic and non-sectarian politics and the basis of this can be found here:

Despite this the Labour Party leadership, and sadly most of the left, have been ready to smear the FSA as “jihadists” or irrelevant. Indeed after the chemical attack on Ghouta the Labour Party leadership stated that the militias who “occupied” the area, should be able to leave. The occupation in Syria isn’t the FSA, made up of Syrian people, but the Iranian and Hezbollah militias and Russia military forces, without which Assad would have fallen many years ago. Some of the left talk about those forces having been invited by the “sovereign government of Syria”, as if socialists should see the idea of sovereignty through such a formulaic process that they go along with the recognition of brutal, unelected, fascistic dictators as the representative of Syria.

This same logic led Jeremy Corbyn, to tell the Observer that he supports Russian troops being in Syria, if they are there for “peacekeeping purposes”. Russia is the very same force that has been used to cement Assad’s power and carpet bomb the areas of any opposition!

It is also true that the US and UK have bombed cities across Iraq and Syria for their own cynical reasons, and I oppose airstrikes due to the fact that there will never be a humanitarian reason for the bombing from imperialist countries. Given there is nothing “in it” for western imperialism to carry out strikes, or implement a No Fly Zone, then calling for this merely cements illusions that they will act for progressive reasons. Indeed the tokenistic missile strikes just carried out, which pose no threat to Assad, show that the Western powers have no issue with Assad staying in power, and their interest in Syria, as with Russian imperialism, is just for their own cynical reasons. Having said this it is incredible that the Stop the War movement, labour movement and the left in the UK has remained almost silent with the genocide being carried out by Russian imperialism and Assad and Iran, yet reacts with indignation when a few tokenistic missiles are fired at Assad military bases. The idea that the left should only act in relation to its own government’s actions is absurd. By the same logic the left should not have built for the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations or the demonstrations in support of Palestine. Others use a slightly more nuanced argument and say that we should only concentrate on our government’s actions or the actions of its allies. Again I would say that by that logic it would have meant that the left would not have mobilised in support of the Republican government in Spain. The twisted logic of this crude form of campism has meant that while nothing has been done to demonstrate against the actions of Assad, Russia and Iran, people have felt emboldened to turn up to Stop the War demonstrations with Russian flags and photos of Assad. No wonder when Stop the War have even had an Assad apologist on their platform and tried to drown out the voice of a Syrian from the Syrian Solidarity Campaign by chanting over them!

There has also been a total double standard from the UK left applied to the YPG (Kurdish militias) in comparison to the FSA. There has been an almost fetishisation of the YPG, where it’s huge backing in arms and airstrikes from US imperialism has been brushed under the carpet, but the tiny amount of arms and aid received by the FSA has seen them portrayed as lap dogs of imperialism! The YPG alliance with Assad, including a crucial role in the crushing of the resistance in Aleppo, has similarly been largely ignored. The degeneration of the FSA through the pressures of the civil war has led to serious mistakes such as the alliance with Turkish forces in attacking the YPG, but the context of the role of the YPG in Syria also needs to be looked at.

The Syrian revolution, in my view, has been the Vietnam or Spanish Civil War of our time, and the response of the anti-war, left and labour movement in the UK has been both depressing and politically awful. The Syrian revolution was an inspiration to anyone living under dictatorship and if it was not for the intervention of Russian imperialism and Iranian occupation would have succeeded. The crushing of the revolution has not just meant the death, rape and torture of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and the displacement of millions of others. It will also mean a huge blow to progressive forces around the world.

Assad will probably not be able to keep control of Syria in the long run as the occupation from Russia and Iran cannot last forever, although it should not be discounted that he could step up ethnic cleansing to such an extent to make this possible. However this is now probably a long way off, and this is one of the last nails in the coffin of the Arab Spring.

This didn’t need to be the case. My trade union branch, Lambeth Unison, in the early days of the revolution helped to raise thousands of pounds for aid to be sent to areas controlled by the FSA, but this was a total exception to the rule. There could have been mass demonstrations to build international pressure on Assad, Russia and Iran from a progressive basis, instead there were tiny demonstrations ignored by the left and labour movement and the Labour Party leadership. There could have been calls to back the FSA with material aid and arms, but instead they were smeared by most on the left or we were told that it was just “all too complicated”. As if any uprising against a dictatorship followed by civil war through the attempt to crush that wouldn’t have complications.

Most of the left in the UK should hang their heads in shame, that at best they stood by to let this happen, and in many cases actively encouraged it in subtle or not so subtle ways. There are huge lessons to be learnt. Sadly for millions of Syrians these lessons, if they are learnt from at all, will be learnt far too late.

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