Toward an anarchist policy on Syria - First of May Anarchist Alliance

Syrian banner, “I am truly free when all human beings, men and women, are equally free.” – Bakunin

Given the centrality of Syria to global politics, it is essential that anarchists understand what is going on there and develop a critical attitude toward the events that are unfolding. This is a position paper on the struggle in Syria by the First of May Anarchist Alliance. Libcom.org do not agree with it but we reproduce it here for reference and discussion.

I. Introduction

At the moment, the Middle East (taken broadly, that is, the area from North Africa to Pakistan) is the part of the world experiencing the greatest political instability and undergoing the most rapid change. At the center of the turmoil is Syria, now in its third year of civil war with no sign of any resolution in sight. Given the centrality of Syria to global politics, it is essential that anarchists understand what is going on there and develop a critical attitude toward the events that are unfolding. Unfortunately, we are not experts on the history and current dynamics of Syria and of the Middle East as a whole. The following theses are therefore presented with humility. We would greatly appreciate input from others, particularly those with greater background in the area, especially anarchists living in the region, in the development of our position.

II. International and Historic Context

It is impossible to understand what is going on in Syria today without some knowledge of the international and historical context in which the events are taking place. In very broad strokes, it is worth mentioning:

A. The ebbing of the power of US imperialism.

The United States became the hegemonic power in the Middle East during the 1950s, taking the place of British imperialism, whose weakness had been revealed by the events of World War II and the immediate post-war period. This hegemony (which included the colonial powers of Western Europe as junior partners) was occasionally challenged by the Russians (then in the form of the Soviet Union), who sought to intervene in the area by supporting nationalist, anti-imperialist forces.

These forces often took power through “national revolutions,” usually military coups led by junior officers, who, once in power, tilted toward, and received aid from, the Soviet Union. Such regimes included Nasser’s in Egypt, a similar one in Syria (which from 1958 to 1961 was united with Egypt in the so-called “United Arab Republic”), and one in Iraq. When Nasser died, he was replaced by Anwar al-Sadat, who eventually (in 1979) signed a peace treaty with Israel and aligned Egypt firmly with the United States. In Iraq and Syria, a series of military coups brought to power strongmen, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al-Assad in Syria, respectively, who sought to play off the USSR and the United States, while generally leaning toward the Russians. In Iran, a secular nationalist, Mossadeq, was overthrown by US-backed coup in 1953, which brought to power the very pro-West Shah. He was overthrown in 1979 and replaced by a Shiite theocratic government (still in power) which has generally opposed both the US and the Russians. Despite all this, the overall power of US imperialism, based firmly on Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and after 1979, Egypt, was never seriously threatened.

Today, however, US imperialism is in retreat, as the economic crisis of 2008 has exposed the underlying economic and social problems of US society. Meanwhile, there is no country which, at least as of yet, has the power to take its place. Although Chinese imperialism, the international extension of the state capitalist system in China, is increasing its penetration of many areas of the globe (including the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Africa, and Latin America), it is not yet capable of taking the United States’ place as the hegemonic power in any one region, and certainly not in the Middle East. This weakening of overall imperialist domination, combined with the effects of globalization on the countries in the area, has inspired political and social forces among the middle classes to seek political power for themselves. These groups, including militant Islamic organizations and pro-Western liberals, have managed to assume the leadership of much broader social layers who have been plagued by rampant unemployment (particularly among young people), decrepit housing and urban infrastructures, inflation, and the other results of uneven economic growth. The results of this complex social process have included the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the revolution, now taking the form of a civil war, in Syria.

B. The decline of the West.

The longer range historical context in which the events in Syria and the Middle East as a whole are taking place is the global decline of the West, that is, the waning of the international hegemony of the European nations and their offshoots. This hegemony was rooted in the explosive economic expansion that began in Western Europe in (roughly) 1500, based on the development, first, of mercantile capitalism, and then, 300 years later, of industrial capitalism. This dynamic growth was an international phenomenon, resulting in the emergence and spread of what became known as Western imperialism. While this imperialism met with comparatively little resistance from the indigenous populations of the Western hemisphere, who succumbed rather quickly to military conquest and, even more so, to diseases for which they had no immunity, it was not so fortunate elsewhere in the world. This was especially the case in the Middle East, where highly cultured, technologically advanced civilizations had existed for many centuries. Here, European penetration was only partial; entire countries, including Afghanistan, Persia/Iran, and Turkey, were never fully conquered by Europeans/European-Americans. The result, for several hundred years, was an unstable stalemate between the ruling (landlord and capitalist) classes of the West, on the one hand, and the ruling elites of the Middle East (however we might define them, e.g. semi-feudal, bureaucratic, Asiatic-despotic) on the other.

In fact, the conflict between the two regions goes back even further. Specifically:

1. The explosive growth of Islam and Islamic civilization throughout the Middle East, into south and southeast Asia, across north Africa, and into Europe (Spain and southern France) in the late 7th and early 8th centuries; and 2. The counter-attack by the Europeans, in the form of the Reconquista in Spain and, later, the Crusades.

When looked at from this long-term perspective, what we see is a trans-epochal conflict between two regions/cultures/civilizations, in which, at the moment, the European/Euro-American, after centuries of aggressive expansion, has moved onto the defensive. This “war of civilizations” remains, however vaguely, in the historic memories of the peoples of the Middle East to this day and fuels much of the nationalism and religious fanaticism that is now so prevalent throughout the region.

C. The problem of imperialist imposed national identities.

It is important to remember that one important outcome of this centuries-old conflict, and particularly its more recent developments, is that many of the existing nation-states of the Middle East are artificial constructions. When it became clear that the multi-ethnic (Turkish-dominated) Ottoman Empire would collapse after World War I, the British and the French, in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, drew largely arbitrary lines on the map to demarcate modern national states (where before there had been only historical/geographical regions or administrative divisions). They then parceled out these states to themselves, (e.g., Lebanon and Syria to the French; Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq to the British). The result was that, in contrast to Europe, where nation states (and corresponding nationalities) had centuries to take shape and be consolidated, in the Middle East (and in the Balkan Peninsula, which was under Turkish/Islamic rule for centuries), the process of nation-building had to take place very rapidly, in a haphazard fashion. It is largely because of this that, aside from the conflicts among the states in the area, many of the states comprise what should be seen as “imperialist imposed national identities.” In these countries (e.g., Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine), people define themselves as much, or even more, by sectarian considerations (e.g., whether a person is a member of a Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze, Christian, or Jewish community) than by nationalistic commitments to the nations of which they are a part.

III. The Syrian Revolution

A. The Syrian revolution broke out in March of 2011, as a largely spontaneous movement among the middle and lower classes of Syria, primarily young, and primarily, although not exclusively, urban. It began in Dar’a, in southern Syria, and for many months grew in militancy, size, and scope on a non-violent basis: sit-ins, mass demonstrations, and land occupations. Its main demands centered on the immediate needs of the people, primarily for jobs, and the need to set the stage for a transition to a more democratic political system after three decades of a brutal dictatorship under the Assads.

B. The Assad dynasty was established by Hafez al-Assad, who rose to power through the Syrian Air Force, the Syrian wing of the Arab Socialist Ba’athist Party, and the government. Involved in several coups, through which the Ba’ath party (in 1963) and he himself (in 1971) gained full power, Assad served as Minister of Defense, Prime Minister, and, ultimately, President. (Although, under the constitution promulgated by Assad in 1973, the president is elected by the Syrian population every seven years, there has usually been only one candidate on the ballot.) Upon the elder Assad’s death in 2000, his son, Bashar, stood for election, won, and was reelected in 2007.

Although the Syrian government is technically a republic, it is actually despotically ruled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, which heads an alliance of six other parties in the Progressive National Front and dominates the country’s rubberstamp unicameral legislature. (“Ba’ath” means “resurrection” or “renaissance” in Arabic.) The party, with branches in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, was founded in 1947 by secular members of the middle classes as an expression of Arab nationalism and was embraced by junior military officers, including the elder Assad, in the 50s and 60s. Among the central aspects of the Ba’athist program were/are: anti-Zionism/anti-imperialism, secularism, socialism (meaning state ownership of much of the economy, central planning, and [essentially] one-party rule), and a commitment to a vaguely-defined “pan-Arabism.” Despite this program, the Assad regime bases itself internally on the members of the Alawite sect of Islam (an offshoot of the Shi’a), to which the Assads belong. Most members of the government inner circle, as well as occupiers of leadership posts in the Ba’ath party and the economy, are members of this sect, which has thus been elevated into a privileged stratum that rules over a majority (76%) Sunni population.

C. Domestically, Assad sought to secularize and modernize the country by, for example, granting more rights to women, expanding education, and building Syria’s infrastructure through public works projects financed by the Russians, other Arab governments, and international lending agencies. He also ruthlessly suppressed opposition by imprisoning, torturing, and killing dissidents, and, in 1980, by crushing a Muslim Brotherhood-organized uprising and slaughtering up to 25,000 people.

D. Internationally, Assad, as mentioned above, aligned himself with the Russians and sought to present himself as anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian, and a leader of the Arab world. As defense minister under a civilian Ba’athist government, he presided over a war with Israel (the so-called “Six Day War”) in 1967, and after seizing full power in 1971, another conflict (known as the “Yom Kippur War” in Israel and the “Ramadan War” in the Arab world) in 1973. Both of these resulted in substantial victories for Israel and a significant expansion of Israeli-occupied territory, including the Golan Heights (which had previously been under Syrian control), the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula (which was eventually given back to the Egyptians). In the face of the Israelis’ overwhelming military superiority, Assad shifted his attention to Lebanon, intervening in that country to defend Palestinian guerrillas and non-combatant refugees from periodic Israeli invasions and to maintain Syrian hegemony over the sect-divided nation. Ultimately (in 1982), Syria occupied the entire country, an occupation that ended only in 2005. Assad’s involvement in Lebanon (both directly and through its sponsorship of the Shia-based Hezbollah militia) thus served as a kind of proxy war with Israel, while he accepted a de facto military truce with that country.

In fact, for Assad, Syrian national, and even narrowly Shi’a, interests always trumped pan-Arabism. Thus, when he perceived those interests to be threatened by the Iraqi regime of fellow-Ba’athist (but Sunni), Saddam Hussein, Assad supported (Shi-ite, non-Arab) Iran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-89), and in 1990, the US war against Iraq. Later, Bashar Assad opposed the US invasion of Iraq, which led to the imposition of sanctions by the United States and its allies. Domestically, Bashar attempted to continue the modernization of the country by, for example, loosening up government control and allowing private enterprise in banking and other sectors of the economy. More recently, he tried to achieve a rapprochement with US imperialism, by, among other things, withdrawing from Lebanon. Two results of these policies were a drastic increase in corruption and an intensification of the desire of the Syrian population for greater political freedom.

E. While the struggle in Syria began on a non-violent basis and eventually mobilized significant sectors of the Syrian people, the aggressive, extremely brutal response of the government forced the opposition to arm itself. One result of this has been the militarization of the struggle. This has forced the unarmed masses of people to the sidelines (and into refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) and turned what had been a popular revolution into a civil war between the Syrian government, backed by the Alawite minority, on the one hand, and opposition militias, supported by the Sunni majority, on the other. Despite great odds, including brutal aerial bombardment and the likely use of chemical weapons on the part of the regime, the rebel forces, eventually and for the most part organized under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, put the regime onto the defensive and forced it into ever-smaller pieces of territory.

F. Unfortunately, the militarization of the struggle and its protracted nature have increasingly internationalized the conflict. At first, this was largely a question of outside commando forces, such as the Sunni fundamentalist militia, Al Qaeda in Iraq, joining the fighting on the side of the rebels. Somewhat later, the conflict on the border with Turkey wound up drawing a response from the Turkish military. Meanwhile, as the Russians have stepped up their military aid to the Assad regime, the Israelis, concerned that missiles being sent to the government might wind up being used against itself, launched missile strikes into Syria. Most recently, Hezbollah, worried about the eventual defeat of its Syrian patron and a victory for the Sunni majority, has sent its own well-trained military forces into the fray. Their presence, it seems, was crucial to the recent government victory in retaking the border town of al-Qusayr from the rebels.

G. Although from early on, the United States has verbally and diplomatically indicated its support of the struggle against the Assad regime, it is not clear how much this policy has been motivated by a serious commitment to the rebels and how much by the need to protect its image as the promoter of bourgeois democracy, both in the region and internationally. The US ruling class has always been extremely wary of mass struggle, large numbers of lower class people mobilizing to fight for their needs. Such masses can easily “get out of control,” that is, fall under the influence of “irresponsible” forces, abandon non-violent struggle, and threaten political overturns that are inimical to the US’s imperialist interests. For this reason, the US almost always prefers to see very slow, very moderate, and very peaceful political change, preferably under the tutelage of one or more outside (read “imperialist”) country. This is the case even when, all other things being equal, the US imperialists would prefer to see a pro-Western, democratic regime in power in Syria in place of the unpredictable, and often anti-US, Assad dictatorship. Along with the war-weariness of the US population and the fiscal need to cut the US military budget, it is this that explains the tepid, vacillating nature of the United States’ response to the Syrian struggle. Probably most important in hindsight, the US, fearing the escalation of violence (and worried about weapons getting into the hands of fundamentalist militias), hesitated to supply arms to the rebels, let alone take stronger measures, such as establishing a no-fly zone to protect the rebel forces from Assad’s aerial bombardment. Meanwhile, the Russian, the Iranian, and the Chinese governments have had fewer scruples, using their diplomatic leverage to support the Assad regime and, at least in the case of the Russians and Iranians, supplying armed forces and weapons to the Syrian military. The result is that the United States now finds itself behind the 8-ball. As we write this, the Obama administration, citing the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons as its rationale, has decided to send some weapons (mostly small arms and perhaps some anti-tank guns) to the rebels. This is not likely to make much of a difference to the outcome of the struggle.

H. To make matters worse, the struggle in Syria now seems to be spilling over into Lebanon, as Shia militias there (perhaps under directive from Assad) have begun firing into Sunni communities, with Sunni militias returning fire. There have also been exchanges of gunfire across the Syrian-Israeli border. One possible result of all this is that the Syrian struggle, which began as a popular rebellion against a brutal dictatorship, may escalate into a region-wide conflict, a proxy war in which the major powers line up behind the opposing (sectarian) forces. Such an escalation, if left unchecked, could threaten an even bigger conflagration.

IV. Our Position

In light of this complex and rapidly developing situation, what position should anarchists take?

A. Our own view is that we should see the conflict in Syria as still being predominantly a popular revolution in which the majority of the Syrian people are fighting against an arbitrary dictatorship. The overthrow of that regime would be a victory for the Syrian people. It would also create a situation which, however temporary it might be, would give the Syrian workers and peasants, as well as consciously libertarian forces, the opportunity to pursue the struggle for real freedom. We advocate this position in spite of the fact that the United States and its allies in Western Europe and elsewhere have given diplomatic support, humanitarian aid, and now arms, to the rebels. While we never feel comfortable being on the same side as the United States, we do not see the rebels as mere proxies for the imperialists, under their control and dependent on them financially. Particularly because of the hesitancy of the US to get involved and despite the presence in their ranks of Syrian and foreign Islamic fundamentalist militias, the rebel armies still appear to be independent, popular forces and therefore worthy of support.

B. Yet, in supporting the Syrian rebels, it is important to clarify what kind of support we are talking about. As far as we can tell, the leadership of the struggle in Syria is made up of a combination of pro-Western liberals, moderate Islamic organizations, and fundamentalist Islamic militias. (And as the fighting continues, it is likely that the fundamentalists will increasingly dominate the rebel coalition. Some of these forces are fiercely authoritarian and would be even worse than the Assad regime in whatever area they could establish power) None of these forces in any serious sense represents the people. In other words, rather than aiming at a revolution that overturns hierarchical power relations and establishes the democratic, egalitarian rule of the lower classes, they aim simply to set up some kind of traditional, class-based government — a US-style bourgeois democracy, a moderate Islamic regime, or a fundamentalist theocracy — while maintaining the existing class structure of Syria intact. Thus, while we favor the overthrow of the Assad regime, we do not wish to spread illusions about what the opposition leaders’ goals are, what kind of societies they wish to establish, and whom they really represent. The tactics we advocate of independent intervention and tactical blocs enables us to do this.

If anarchists had a significant presence in Syria today we should simultaneously attempt to coordinate our activity (including military actions, if we had fighting forces) with the political organizations and armed forces of the other anti-Assad organizations, while carrying out our own independent propaganda and agitation among the lower classes. This propaganda and agitation would explain that, while they, too, should be fighting alongside the bourgeois forces that are currently leading the struggle, they should have no illusions in what those forces represent. Instead, they should utilize the struggle to organize to take power for themselves, that is, to set up popular councils and other mass democratic structures to run their communities, the enterprises in which they work, and Syrian society as a whole. Thus, assuming that the rebel forces are victorious against Assad, we and the popular classes would be in a strong position to continue the fight for a true social revolution under whatever transitional government is set up in the aftermath of the armed conflict.

C. In sum, what we are proposing amounts to seeking to establish a tactical bloc with the other forces involved in the struggle against the Assad regime while maintaining our own independent organizations and carrying out independent activity to foment anarchist revolution. This includes exposing the bourgeois, non-popular nature of the groups with whom we are in a temporary alliance.

If we do not advocate this approach, or something like it, we are left to choose (and perhaps to vacillate) between two other policies, neither of which is satisfactory. One would be to give full (military and political) support to the rebel forces, which runs the danger of spreading illusions about them, thus disorienting the popular classes in the aftermath of the military struggle. The other would be to adopt a “plague on both your houses” approach, which would mean attempting to remain neutral between the pro- and anti-Assad forces and allowing the military struggle to play out without anarchist intervention. At least at this juncture, we should prefer a policy that would enable us to intervene in the struggle on the side of the anti-Assad forces, while continuing to advocate and organize for an anarchist revolution.

D. For those of us far away from the frontlines, the same general approach applies.

First, we should attempt to alert our friends, family, co-workers, and comrades to the important struggle underway in Syria. We should promote and circulate anti-authoritarian news coverage, analysis, and requests for solidarity, especially from anarchists and anti-authoritarians in Syria and the Middle East. We should argue against those activists who uphold the Assad regime as some sort of principled anti-imperialist force or unselfish friend of the Palestinians.

Where possible (and feasible, given our small numbers and competing priorities) we should join protest movements and solidarity campaigns in support of the revolution in Syria. Anarchists should be constructive participants in these movements while also advocating our specific concerns and vision. While defending the rebels right to obtain weapons by any means necessary, we should expose the motives of, and argue against any reliance on the U.S., other Western powers, or the rich Gulf states. We should oppose authoritarian fundamentalism, particularly the reactionary sexist and sectarian politics, while also defending the rights of religious Muslims to organize themselves and participate in the movement.

As in all the movements we participate in we should advocate for grassroots democracy, direct action, and solidarity with other struggles and oppose hierarchal control, legalistic strategy, and protective isolation. In all our work we should seek to make anti-authoritarian revolution a pole of discussion, action and interest.

E. Increasingly, what is missing is the independent, self-organization of popular resistance. This is what made the Arab Spring and had an effect all over the world. Without an independent expression of this popular resistance, we fear the energy of the past 3 years will be channeled into military or fundamentalist approaches. Across the region, from Syria to Egypt, the radical and democratic currents from below have not been able to sustain themselves because of the inability to articulate and gain wide support organizationally and politically.

If the Syrian rebels become dominated by authoritarian fundamentalist forces or if the struggle does, in fact, turn into a region-wide conflict between forces backed by the United States, the European nations, and Israel, and those supported by Russia, China, and Iran, we might have to consider adopting an alternate position. But, for the moment, and based on the information we have, this is the position we should advocate.

F. At the moment we publish, there has been a dramatic urging for attack on the Assad government after recent chemical weapons use in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. All sides are in dispute over responsibility for the attack, with the Assad government blaming the rebels and the rebels and the US blaming Assad. With the limited information we have, we think it quite likely that Assad was responsible. Nonetheless, we think it is a mistake to call for or support military intervention–either limited or broad–by the US or its allies. Any air strike by the US or its allies will only serve to disorient the popular Syrian revolution, shifting the centrality of the uprising from domestic opposition to that of a Western imperial effort. The US/Western aim, obviously, is to control and limit the revolution, make sure any new government follows pro-Western policies, and that power will be in the hands of pro-Western elites and not the people. In place of calling for or relying on Western intervention, the rebels should be demanding arms with no strings attached, should militantly oppose intervention in Syria under whatever pretext, and should resolutely resist efforts by outside forces to exert any kind of control over their revolution.

This document was drafted, discussed and collectively approved by the members of First of May Anarchist Alliance. September 6th, 2013.

Posted By

Kdog
Sep 9 2013 04:10

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  • [i]The overthrow of that regime would be a victory for the Syrian people. It would also create a situation which, however temporary it might be, would give the Syrian workers and peasants, as well as consciously libertarian forces, the opportunity to pursue the struggle for real freedom.[/i]

    First of May Anarchist Alliance

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Comments

Steven.
Sep 9 2013 08:55

I think this is an interesting article. In particular I appreciate the efforts of the authors to research and summarise the roots of the conflict and background of the region.

But a couple of thoughts, which are meant in a constructive way. Firstly on the politico need to adopt "policy" on this matter.

There are lots of conflicts and issues going on in the world, personally I don't really get the need of some politicos to need to formulate a policy on all of it. Certainly it only seems worthwhile to have policy on anything you can have some sort of impact on.

So the thrust of this piece seems to be a hypothetical policy on "what should we do if we were anarchists in Syria", which the authors are not. The subsequent bit at the end about what position to take on Western military intervention - which is the only element which we (Western anarchists) can have any sort of impact on seems like almost an afterthought.

Which I think is unfortunate, especially as I agree with the latter bit, but very much disagree with the former.

Now, I think it's very unlikely that any anarchists in Syria would read this article and then decide to do what it suggests, thankfully.

Because to me what that would likely achieve would be to get themselves all killed, and have anarchism in Syria disappear as a result.

To the authors of this piece, if you lived in Syria would you really get involved in this fighting? If you did you would almost certainly die, and it would be for nothing I'm sure you realise. There is zero chance of proletarian revolution at this juncture, absolutely zero. Since the outbreak of the civil war, the working class as a class hasn't asserted itself at all, nor do their seem to be any significant independent organisational forms of workers which could assert themselves (on a related note, your article seems to conspicuously steer clear of talking about the working class, why is this?).

It seems like the civil war is going to be quite extended and drawn out. And whichever side wins eventually it won't benefit the majority of the population. As a result the most sensible position for working people (anarchists included) seems to be to try to stay alive and stay away from the fighting with - which seems to be what most people are doing, with 2 million so far even leaving the country.

Devrim
Sep 9 2013 09:42

I would agree with Steven in general. The stuff about anarchist militias is very similar to the arguments made on here by platformists around the Lebanon war, and are very wrong.

It is good to see that people have made an effort to understand the situation even though there are some things particularly concerning Syria's 'Shia identity', which are very confused.

Even worse, with taking up a position on the side of the rebels, it seems to be distorting the facts to fit in with that position;

Assad is pictured as some sort of sectarian fanatic:

1st of May Anarchist Alliance wrote:
In fact, for Assad, Syrian national, and even narrowly Shi’a, interests always trumped pan-Arabism.

This is really a strange thing to say. The Assad's have always tried to play down the fact that Alawites are different repeatedly insisting that they are normal Muslims. It is important though if we are going to place the blame for the sectarianism firmly and solely on Assad.

The Alawites are pictured as some ruling minority somewhat like the whites in South Africa:

1st of May Anarchist Alliance wrote:
Despite this program, the Assad regime bases itself internally on the members of the Alawite sect of Islam (an offshoot of the Shi’a), to which the Assads belong. Most members of the government inner circle, as well as occupiers of leadership posts in the Ba’ath party and the economy, are members of this sect, which has thus been elevated into a privileged stratum that rules over a majority (76%) Sunni population.

Yet in reality although Alawites do occupy significant positions in the regime, the majority of the Alawite population is still poor, and in many ways more disadvantaged than the majority.

Of course the bad guys appear as the aggressors:

1st of May Anarchist Alliance wrote:
H. To make matters worse, the struggle in Syria now seems to be spilling over into Lebanon, as Shia militias there (perhaps under directive from Assad) have begun firing into Sunni communities, with Sunni militias returning fire.

It is difficult to conclusively tell who started the fighting, but all of the evidence suggests it was actually Sunnis. The New York Times, for example, had this to say:

NYT wrote:
The latest conflict began after a number of Sunni fighters from northern Lebanon were killed in an ambush by pro-government forces as they tried to enter Syria to join opposition fighters. Sunnis in Tripoli, angry over videos that purported to show the men’s bodies being stabbed and kicked, attacked Alawites, starting days of clashes between militias wielding rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Lebanese news media put the death toll at 17.

This is not to say that Assad, and the Syrian State are any better. They are not. It is interesting though how facts seem to be interpreted to suit the argument.

Devrim

Ed
Sep 9 2013 10:41

Yeah, I think it's really important to understand that whatever popular aspect there was to the Syrian part of the Arab Spring has basically been completely drowned out in the war that followed. It's really hard to accept but as a recent article by Zizek put it in a recent article:

Quote:
As we used to say almost half a century ago, one doesn't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows in Syria: towards Afghanistan. Even if Assad somehow wins and stabilises the situation, his victory will probably breed an explosion similar to the Taliban revolution which will sweep over Syria in a couple of years. What can save us from this prospect is only the radicalisation of the struggle for freedom and democracy into a struggle for social and economic justice.

Like others have said though, it's good that people are trying to get their heads round this and I think it's difficult coz there doesn't seem to be much written on it. I'm still struggling to be honest. I've not seen much written on the nature of the Syrian protests or the nature of the Assad regime itself.. dunno if anyone's got any suggestions

ajjohnstone
Sep 9 2013 12:27

The SPGB blog has carried a number of posts on the Syria, from the optimistic early days of the street protests to the present depressing situation of the prospect of a regional sectarian war.
.
http://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/search?q=syria&max-results=20&by-date=true

As been said in the thread, the non-statist socialist movement has no influence on events. All we can do is disseminate the views of those we can sympathise with and challenge the prevailing views spread here that you have to be either Pro-rebel or Pro-government. We have to constantly re-iterate the third position - a plague on both houses - to those who seek to take sides.

The fight for democracy has been lost, there is no revolution within the "revolution" and all we can suggest to the Syrians wanting genuine social change is that they mitigate the cost and the pain, to keep themselves alive and sane and to lick their wounds and wait for another day. We should fully appreciate that simply supplying information is risk enough, something we most welcome, but for us in the safety of bourgeois democracies, we should not expect them to sacrifice themselves for a cause that is currently unwinnable. The forces of reaction on both sides are just too strong. If anyone here advocates dying for the cause, then you have my permission to go over to Syria and do so, but don't call for others to follow such a foolhardy suicidal strategy. In the class war, there will always be another day which may be more advantageous to us. For any libertarian in Syria, perhaps the best he or she can do is get involved in self-support, mutual aid networks simply just to survive and help one another to see that day.

Sounds defeatist and rather negative, i know, but we leave the martyrdom to the Islamists.

akai
Sep 9 2013 16:56

Yeah, basically I made similar comments to Steven elsewhere plus I think that there is little analysis of what can happen after such conflicts in places were there was no long tradition of self-organized political struggle beforehand.

rooieravotr
Sep 9 2013 22:52

I agree in general with Steven and Devrim. TThere is no side to take in the artmed struggle between the regime and the armed opposition. Anarchists should stay out of that. And a position of "military but no political support to the armed resistance" - which is what thwe article comes down to - is ridiculous and self-defeating.

But there is a complication, leading me to a question. There is the armed opposition, reactionary, mostly quite sectarian, with strong jihadi presence. But there is also grassroots resistance and organisation gong on. A rather long quote:

Quote:
Much of the organizing within the Syrian uprising has had an anarchistic approach, even if not explicit. There is the work that the martyr Omar Aziz contributed to the emergence of the local councils, which Tahrir-ICN and Budour Hassan have documented very well. Essentially these councils were conceived by Aziz as organizations where self-governance and mutual aid could flourish. I believe Omar’s vision did breathe life into the way local councils operate, although it is worth noting that the councils have stopped short of self-governance, opting instead for focusing on media and aid efforts. But they still operate based on principles of mutual aid, cooperation and consensus.

The city of Yabroud, halfway between Damascus and Homs, is the Syrian uprising’s commune. Also a model of sectarian coexistence, with a large Christian population living in the city, Yabroud has become a model of autonomy and self-governance in Syria. After the regime security forces withdrew from Yabroud in order for Assad to concentrate elsewhere, residents stepped in to fill the vacuum, declaring “we are now organizing all the aspects of the city life by ourselves [sic].” From decorating the city to renaming the school “Freedom School,” Yabroud is certainly what many Syrians, myself included, hope life after Assad will look like. Other areas controlled by reactionary jihadis paint a potentially grimmer picture of the future, but nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that there are alternatives. There’s also a hardcore network of activists located all over the country, but mainly in Damascus, called the “Syrian Revolutionary Youth.” They’re a secretive organization, and they hold extremely daring protests, oftentimes in the very center of regime-controlled Damascus, wearing masks and carrying signs and flags of the Syrian revolution – often accompanied with Kurdish flags (another taboo in Syria).

In the city of Darayya in the suburbs of Damascus, where the regime has waged a vicious battle ever since it fell to rebels in November 2012, some residents have decided to come together and create a newspaper in the midst of all the fighting, called Enab Baladi (meaning Local Grapes, as Darayya is famous for its grapes). Their paper focuses both on what is happening locally in Darayya and what is happening in the rest of Syria. It’s printed and distributed for free throughout the city. [The] principles [of] self-governance, autonomy, mutual aid and cooperation are present in a lot of the organizations within the uprising. The organizations that operate according to some of those principles obviously don’t comprise the totality of the uprising. There are reactionary elements, sectarian elements, imperialist elements. But we’ve heard about that a lot, haven’t we? There are people doing great work based on sound principles who deserve our support.

Source: https://tahriricn.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/syria-syrian-anarchist-challenges-the-rebelregime-binary-view-of-resistance/

Not, my question - complex of questions, really - is:how should we consider these kind of initiatives? Is this kind of organisation, with local councils and ciommittees, relevant? Are they a figment of the imagination? I think not by I wonder what others think. Are these initiatives there, but almost without influence, and so, not very relevant? Are they there, but totally dominated by right wing religious politics? Are they there, and can we consider them as a kind of third force, opposed as they seem toe be towards both the regime and d the jihadi armed opposition? My own feeling is that these kind of initiatives DO deserve support, while stressing the need tyoe keep independent from the mainstream/ rightwing armed opposition. If that is so, anarchists must indeed not take sides in the civil war. But they can do a bit more than juist staying alive to fight another day. Maybe these initiatives, and an anarchist role, come close to what ajjjohnstone describes, above, in "

Quote:
For any libertarian in Syria, perhaps the best he or she can do is get involved in self-support, mutual aid networks simply just to survive and help one another to see that day.

. Or is that wishful thinking?

Mark.
Sep 10 2013 10:14

Copy and paste (edited slightly) from the comments for this on Anarkismo:

blabiush from Tahrir ICN wrote:

It is good to start discussion about Syrian revolution from anarchists perspective, it's just a pity that this discussion after being neglected for more than 2 years and just the threat of US intervention push people to think a bit more about what's going on without any serious afford to obtain information from the ground. All discussion was/is until now under heavy influence of Syrian government's propaganda and the Western official narration. But maybe would be better, before publishing such a self-confident statement as above, to try to go through the official narration and really got some information. There is a lot of things to argue with that statement, but I will limit myself now to the most important aspects.

First. What is lacking, is not self-managed movement in Syria, but its recognition by the World.


Actually the very heart of revolution are local councils/committees and the great majority of them based on ideas of Syrian anarchist, Omar Aziz.

Second. About what leaders of the revolution are you speaking about. About SNC? SNC just call itself the government in exile and has almost no support on the ground. One of the main struggle of activists in Syria is not allowing to divide people and not taking any political decision by any self-claimed leader.

Third. Jihadist are not in opposition bloc and people are struggling to kick them out from areas taken by them. There are constant demos blaming them as contr-revolutionary and persuading their own political goals.

Fourth. Talking about international anarchists going to fight in Syria is ridiculous, and show a total lack of respect for people risking their lives in Syria. The truth is that anarchists just don't want to go there, and actually, until now, didn't do anything at all which far away for giving their lives. For more information you can follow the blog of Syrian anarchist Darth Nader http://darthnader.net/tag/syria/ , Syrian revolutionary opposition blog http://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/ , and the blog of Tahrir ICN https://tahriricn.wordpress.com , if, after the lecture someone would not believe in self-management of Syrian revolution, it's not my fault.

Kdog wrote:

blabiush,



I am a great admirer of Tahrir ICN. Thank you and all who work on that project, it has been an important contribution to the struggle. Also thank you for the response to our organization's statement "Toward an Anarchist Policy on Syria". 



A couple quick points to keep the discussion going:



- You are correct that we are still too ignorant of the actual horizontal self-organization and libertarian practice that is happening on the ground - we are trying to educate ourselves and have promoted the writings that we can find on our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/1MayAA and elsewhere. Still, the threats against it and the authoritarian competition is significant. We cannot assume that self-organized expressions of struggle will maintain their character in the face of repression, prolonged civil war and imperialist intervention. We also must not overstate the strength of explicitly anti/authoritarian and libertarian organization on the ground.



- We do not disrespect the Syrian anarchists (far from it), nor do we propose international brigades to Syria (we do not support or oppose that tactic on principal, its a matter of conditions, resources, and capabilities) that would be primarily the call of Syrian anarchists. Instead we talk explicitly about what anarchists in the US and elsewhere could do to advance the struggle.



Solidarity,



Kdog
(Personal Capacity)

First of May Anarchist Alliance

blabiush wrote:

Maybe my answer was too hard but I respect your effort.


It is truth the powers around the popular struggle are too strong for people to overwhelm them. Mainly in military terms. Independent battalions just do not have enough weapons to fight Assad supported by Russia and Hezbollah, and well equipped and trained jihadists supported by Gulf countries. First just few FSA battalions accepted the aid from Western countries, and this countries check well to whom their provide support and for sure not to battalions who are firmly for real revolution. It is important to underline that FSA is not a monolith organization and many battalions just took this name but are independent, apart of many local autonomous groups. But even though some battalions received the aid, it was just symbolical with light weapons who cannot change the situation on the ground. The lack of arms was the first reason why fighters lost a lot of areas for Assad.


Yes you are right, we have to be aware about the threat for revolution, but should be more concentrated on popular struggle and local councils. Focusing just on imperialists/islamists makes unbalanced image of situation were local struggles seem to not important. We should start from presenting this local struggles and other powers just as a threat which is faced by any revolution. Because finally, doesn't matter who will win the war, this revolutionaries will stay and continue their fight in any situation. So doesn't matter what will happen in Syria, this people will be ones who will conduct long-term ongoing struggle.


But there is also another thing. It is very important now to keep revolution popular, not political, not to allow to divide people which serve the most Assad, imperialists, jihadists. That is also why anarchists active in Syria do not push their agenda, focusing just on keeping self-management, not to be another ones who destroy solidarity of people. Not to be another sectarian factor. Of course political, class, religious differencies are and after Assad will start a political competitions of so-called leaders, but this will be after, and the tactic of anarchists/antiauthoritarians will be different, but for now, the most important is not to destroy of solidarity of the people.



Solidarity!

infektfm
Sep 11 2013 01:08

if Anyone is Interested (As Indicated Earlier, Not Much Has Been Written On The Topic From An Anarchist Position), I Wrote A Piece That Can Be Found Here: Http://Libprog.WordPress.Com (First Article). I Have To Admit, My Conclusion Was Kind Of Rushed, But Perhaps The Overall Analysis Would Be Of Some Use I Tend To Agree With The Sentiment Expressed By Steven And devrim.

(My Phone Seems To Be Capitalizing The First Letter Of Every Word Automatically And Its Extremely Tedious To Try Mitigate It)

Black Badger
Sep 11 2013 23:49

This is not my work, but I found it on the web. It's a direct response to the original essay here.

This is a response to the text “Towards an Anarchist Position” written by “First of May Anarchist Alliance" formerly published on Anarchismo, that deserved to be exposed as a blatant defense of the current US foreign policy, as well as a gross attempt at patronizing anarchists towards their support of a Syrian uprising -and eventual US military aggression in its support- based on assumptions that are mostly tainted by war propaganda, disinformation, poor historical perspective.

Before some of you are plunge into any more brain-warped support of the US wars of invasion, its global capitalist war profiteers, its military acting as the “global police” (as you know how we’re all supposed to *love* the police anyways!), and its prison system enforced both domestically and in the countries it invaded, I thought of showing you a darker side of the recent history of imperialism in the Middle-East...

1- Who are the real fascists

It all began roughly 100 years ago, when Britain was seeking to develop its oil exploitation in Iran, where vast oil resources had just been discovered. The Shah of Iran, Mozzafar Al-Din Qatar made an historical deal with British capitalist and imperial tradesmen William D’Arcy, What came out of this deal was the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, that became a dominant force in the whole region up until the ‘30s. For the most powerful global empire on the planet back then, in a time where the internal combustion engine was quickly becoming the war horse of its military, especially to fuel the ships of its almighty Royal Navy, Britain made a bid -which succeeded through the Arab uprisings against the Ottoman Empire later on (who hasn't heard of “Lawrence of Arabia”)- to take over most of the Middle-East oil reserves while making the Arabs into setting up their own Nation-States through the “discovery” of Western democracy. Actually not all of these States were democratic.

On the opposite side of the Persian Gulf, there was Arabia, now run by the Saudi regime, a theocratic monarchy that eventually that is probably the most brutal, violent, tyrannical regime on the planet, where people are regularly being killed or mutilated by a religious police for breaking rules as stupid as stealing an apple in a market, or a women not covering her face up to the eyes. Vastly supported by pro-Nazi US bankers, it became America’s darling when back in 1933 Standard Oil brokered an historical deal with the Prince, funneling billions of barrels not just to the US but more importantly to the developing Nazi regime in Germany, to fuel all its war industry, from ‘33 and all the way through World War Two. The crucial involvement of Standard Oil in Hitler’s Wermacht is a fact widely documented, just as the support by other Western capitalists, including Bush’s granddaddy Prescott and the Dulles brothers in the building up of the Nazis regime. The friendship of the Bush dynasty with the Saudi monarchy is also well-known and documented. So after the British takeover of the Middle-East, this was also the first significant progress of American oil giant Standard Oil of California, owned by Rockefeller, in the region. This is how the Saudi monarchy got ultra-rich, with all its accounts in Swiss and London banks, and why up until now, it is the biggest ally of the US in the region, even more than Israel.

The Saudi monarchy is the last regime on the planet to have a chance of being criticized by the US administration for its war crimes and regular human rights abuses. These people aren’t just capitalists. They are tyrans, who use an iron rule in the name of Allah, the Shariah law, to maintain their wealth and protect the flow of assets in and out of the country. For global bankers, they provide the most secure, seamless environment for “investments” and “trade”, where any dissent is instantly criminalized and brutally repressed, just as it was under the iron rule of the last Shah of Iran.

This is exactly the kind of dictatorship the CIA has been helping setting up at many places around the planet, just for the big bucks, and some other privileges. The CIA’s first official coup abroad was in fact the overthrow of the Mossadegh regime, a liberal socialist government who’s deadly mistake was to nationalize the oil production, previously parasited by the British capitalists then for a short time by the Arabian American Oil Company, that shared the oil resources of Iran at 50/50 between US and Saudi capitalists. At the end of WW2 the British empire was broke just as the US consolidated its hold over most of the global gold stock, with the Marshall Plan, the corporate takeover of all past European colonies and the building up of military bases around the globe to counter the new Enemy. At first a relative ally of the West, Mossadegh became far too socialistic for the director of the newly-created CIA, Dulles, as his nationalization of oil was compromising the funneling of Iran’s oil to his capitalist buddies (before the war, the Dulles brothers had become very influent in Wall Street due do their business law firm, and they may have been related to the fascist “Business Coup” attempt on the US government, earlier). So during CIA-led "Operation Ajax" in 1953, Mossadegh was overthrown then sent to solitary confinement, for the autocratic monarchy to be put back in his place. A few decades later, the a revolution happened in Iran and the old council of the Majiles replaced the monarchy with a modernist, single-party democratic regime (yes, democratic, even though) that stood against giving away the oil to the US (from where the whole Iran-Iraq war started, with Saddam as the henchmen of the US). Since 1979, an Iran that’s dealing with Russia instead of the US was a problem for US capitalists. This is where the Iran-Iraq came from. Saddam was fully financed and supported by the US in his war on Iran, on the condition that he would shut up about the oil resources being massively funneled to Kuwait (that basically is little more than an oil port). At some point, Saddam attempted to claim Kuwait, something the first Bush administration didn’t like at all. The whole proxy wars of the ‘70s-’80s were the result of George HW Bush’s leadership over the CIA then as Vice-President of the US, along with his cronies like Donald Rumsfeld, Alexander Haig, Henry Kissinger, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. After all, Bush senior was the son of a capitalist Nazi supporter, and heir to a Nazi supporter at the head of the CIA...

But what’s it all got to do with Syria? Why do the US and other forces of the allied bourgeois State (that we have ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to support) are still planning on attacking Syria, then have Iran as an ultimate target?

Because of big money. As simple as that. Because the US dollar is on the verge of completely losing its hold over the oil markets, especially its status as the International Reserve Currency, which means historical financial losses for the Wall Street and London banks, and the collapse of what’s left of the American economy in the process, for China and Russia to flip the balance of economic power on their side of the world. It’s in 2008 that the regime of Iran has created the Iranian Oil Bourse, to the irritation of the Bush clan, where for the first time since the end of WW2, oil was being traded into a currency other than the USD, about ten years after its abandon of the USD for the ruble. This led the OPEP into disarray. Before that happened, all the Middle-Eastern oil, by OPEP ruling, was to be traded in USD. OPEP is run by a cartel of ultra rich capitalist monarchs from mainly Saudi Arabia and UAE, especially since the downfall of the Shah in 1979 in Iran, who was then the central figure of the organization since its inception.

But now after an unsuccessful proxy war against Iran, after two or three unpopular wars of invasion in the Middle-East, and especially, with now the Russia/China bloc standing in the way, the US still can’t afford a direct war against Iran. Also with Syria standing as the last strong, closeby supporter of Iran in the region, and with a weak Lebabon full of pro-Iran Hizbullah insurgents in-between. They need -as they needed in the past- a “third actor” to mess up those non-aligned regimes, in a situation where they couldn’t invade those countries upfront. They needed Saudi Arabia’s undercover army.

The following is all heavily documented on the website historycommons.org... In the 1970‘s the Saudi monarchy developed 2-3 international banks who massively funded Islamic fascist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, and some other lesser-known jihadist groups, even beyond North Africa and the Middle-East. Those are organizations who all have in common their war rhetoric against the West (while being actually agents of the Westers powers), their push towards a Shariah law everywhere and the establishment of a Califate or a similar theocratic regime, they are being armed and trained by the secret services of the UK and US, and financed by the Saudi banks.

This policy from Saudi Arabia was instrumental in the overthrow of Anwar Saddat’s socialist republic of Egypt, in the fighting against USSR in Afghanistan through Pakistan (where the mujaheedin became famous), as well as, yes, against other socialist regimes like Gaddhafi’s and El-Assad’s, as well as in Tunisia and Algeria, using bloody psychopathic Sunni armed groups to destabilize those regimes. Regime destabilization and anti-communism is where they come from, this is their late Cold War background.

During the fall of Tripoli it was reported that over 600 Al Qaeda militants were released from prison by the “pro-democracy” forces, and the heavy presence of jihadists, mercenaries and their heavy artillery was widely mediatized. Now what have we got about a year after the Lybian revolution... a Muslim fascist regime that made the Shariah law as the constitution, and gave away all the oil to British and French capitalists, all under the protection of the guns of the “Lybian rebels” guarding the oil wells and refineries for them.

This stands as an example of the ideological and political failure of all those in the West who were lured into supporting -even if just through propaganda- a “revolution” that quickly and violently turned into a radical Islamic regime, all with the blessing of NATO bombings. Now there isn’t a world of difference between the past Libyan uprising and the actual Syrian uprising, as both rebellions are significantly -if not heavily- infiltrated by jihadist elements on Saudi and Qatari payroll, trained by foreign secret services, even supported by the French Legion and the British SAS, who in both cases have been proven to be active on the field for at least one year and a half.

As further historical evidence, those same jihadist forces were also present in ‘90s Yugoslavia, destabilizing the socialist republic by conducting massive onslaughts of killing and executions in about the same way as the exterminations of Jews, Orthodox and Roma during WW2 by Hitler’s Islamic puppets in the country. When NATO forces bombed Serbia to put an end to the Yugoslavian conflict, it was unheard of that actually Clinton had been supporting the war of Islamic jihadist, not of some “freedom fighters” of democracy. Socialist Yugoslavia was already a democratic regime, unaligned with the Soviet bloc as with anybody else, that made many concessions for liberalization since the ‘70s, perhaps too much actually... Of course there were the few activist idiots on the payroll of Gene Sharp and the CIA, but the violent Muslim extremist insurgents that the Milosevic government fought against, these were the people who first destabilized the country with a real ethnic massacre at the beginning of the ‘90s. Then Milosevic was presented by the entire Western media as some sort of Nazi war criminal, while actually the Yugoslav socialists were those who fought against the pro-Nazi Islamic fascists in the country. Yugoslavia was then broken and divided in the exact same manner as Hitler’s blitzkriegs did in the Balkans, resulting in the creation of the puppet state of Croatia. Ex-Nazis who lived in South America during the Cold War moved back to newly-created Slovenia and Croatia and even entered the governments of those countries. After Kosovo was “liberated” it became a heavily-militarized and ethnically-segregated hellhole used by NATO forces to funnel heroin from Afghanistan into the entire Europe, to Greece through Albania, and to Western EU through the puppet states of Croatia and Slovenia.

The Muslim Brotherhood insurgency of the early ‘80s was exactly within the same context of violent destabilization of socialist regimes deemed to be working with the USSR (as per “containment” foreign policy of the US). So was the Jihadist insurgency in Libya during the ‘90s led by the Lybian Islamist Fighting Group, tied to Al Qaeda. The civil war (not the single-sided crushing of opposition) of 1982 had been triggered by the Muslim Brotherhood, at the same time the Iraq-Iran war was going on. This is all related, and not about the spreading of democracy and liberation from tyrannical regimes. Actually their reinforcement.

2- Anarchist willing workers of the Anglo-American empire?

Going back to the text, we have here a rhetoric based on about the same disinformation that’s been massively pushed through the mainstream media in the West for 2-3 years by now. Capitalist war propaganda is all over the place in there, but here’s an instance:

"Along with the war-weariness of the US population and the fiscal need to cut the US military budget, it is this that explains the tepid, vacillating nature of the United States’ response to the Syrian struggle. Probably most important in hindsight, the US, fearing the escalation of violence (and worried about weapons getting into the hands of fundamentalist militias), hesitated to supply arms to the rebels, let alone take stronger measures, such as establishing a no-fly zone to protect the rebel forces from Assad’s aerial bombardment. Meanwhile, the Russian, the Iranian, and the Chinese governments have had fewer scruples, using their diplomatic leverage to support the Assad regime and, at least in the case of the Russians and Iranians, supplying armed forces and weapons to the Syrian military.”

Some rather generic manipulative bullshit, that reads just like a Presidential memo from anarchist leader Obama.

No. The United State’s “tepid, vacillating response” to the Syrian struggle is based on many years of expansive, deadly and hardly successful military aggressions in the Middle-East, as well as many influential people NOT BUYING IT, with very conflicting intel on the very nature of the Syrian uprising itself, as well as the character and agenda of those who carry it. It also has to do with the TANGIBLE EVENTUALITY OF A WW3 AND A NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST if the US would invade Syria, as there has been overt, clear warnings by Russia to this effect. Syria is an old political ally of Russia, so yes it has a case for counter-attacking if the US would go on the offensive. Furthermore, the US establishment is run by a caste of capitalist nihilists that no one would like to have dealing with a near-nuclear war scenario.

So, newsflash, Russian agents are on the scene too? They provided the Syrian regime with weapons!? Color me amazed. Russian troops have been there long before all this insanity happened, it even has a naval base that Putin obviously won’t let be taken over by the US. This is a clusterfuck proxy civil war that’s been going on there, with the Saudi/USA/UK side providing with mercenaries, jihadists, guns, training and money on the rebels. There’s been many images and videos of “Syrian rebels” armed with military-grade, Western-build firearms in the street, around at least since late 2011. We’re talking about insurgents using heavy artillery like .50 Barret sniper rifles and heat-seeking rocket launchers, nothing close to slings or molotovs, not even the AK-47s that conventional insurgents have in the region. While there are indeed pacifist protesters as well, and some interesting self-managed organizing, there’s been no solid proof to assert whether Assad’s bombings and shootings weren’t actually conflict with armed, violent mercenaries hellbent on destabilizing the country, or just some “Evil”, irrational bloody repression of peaceful dissenters (as the Obamanarchists so much want us to believe), as firstly reported by a SWISS-based NGO who had the privilege of making the formal outcry at the UN HQ in Geneva (a highly-guarded anf fortified building where you don’t stand much chance to get in for having an anarchist assembly or protest, btw...). And it also seems to highly dubious that it was Assad who used sarin gas against the Syrian people lately... well, outside of Obama’s little circle of buddies (and his anarchist benevolent, or paid, supporters) there’s many sources by now who proved that it was a jihadist rebel faction who did this, and that one phony piece evidence (a communication between officiers of the Syrian Army) was grossly twisted into a smoking gun to hold Assad responsible for it. if most members of the British Parliament voted against a military intervention, it’s probably, after all, because the British press is still one of the freest in the Western world, as we know how it’s been exposing many of the US’s corporate spying programs and war crimes, as opposed to the North American media, who like the FMAA and Anarchismo is just being the mouthpieces of whatever the Obama administration is saying. You can try accusing those “traitors” of being agents of Assad as you may like, it’ll just discredit you even more.

3- Questions left unasked

Above all this, who here or elsewhere has been asking the most fundamental question that nobody dares to ask... what is this whole Arab Spring all about? Where did it come from?

If it really is some liberatory uprising against those tyrannical post-colonial regimes, as the FMAA and other outlets suggest, then why hasn’t it still happened in Saudi Arabia in the first place? And why no one is talking about the past uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen, who were violently repressed by those regimes, yet without ANY word by the US on those humanitarian abuses?

As you may know, if your memory is not some vacuum hole, El-Assad regime was pretty much a liberal socialist regime before the whole Arab Spring thing started. or you can try finding big media and humanitarian reports of heavy State repression in the years before 2011, you won’t find much. The country’s was pretty much relax, there was a lot of tourism, it was easygoing for foreigners, and there were local elections already being held while Assad didn’t appear to have a problem with it.

So no, it’s very doubtful that a government goes on a full war spree against its population all of a sudden, out of reason, especially at the expense of causing such an international drama and potential US military intervention. What’s more intelligible is that the US and Saudi Arabia had a case for destabilizing the remaining allies of Iran, a regime they were already in a cold war with, and those destabilizations happened at about the same time than Stuxnet, and not long after war games of the Navy in the Persian Gulf.

This is not a defense of the regimes of Russia or Iran, who for sure are authoritarian States in their own ways. But the whole issue with the current crisis is that these are NOT the belligerent States, nor the ones seeking to invade other countries. Or perhaps you can show me when was the last time Russia, Syria or Iran has tried to invade your place and impose its violent military rule, its corporate capitalists having it their way as well, putting everyone it didn’t killed on the highways in prisons where they are raped and tortured, sometimes to death. Good luck for this. But of course, from the comfortable and safe perspective of some Western liberal posing as anarchist who probably never even seen somebody dying from an explosion of white phosphorus or a drone strike, it’s always so easy to diss all those “anti-imperialists” in the Middle-East...

4- An Arab Spring against Socialism? But what about anarcho-islamofascists... (the paradigm insanity won’t stop!)

Of course socialism is not a very anarchistic form of regime (not less than the despotic regime ruling over America right now), but the best alternative that the people of many countries have found to protect themselves and their land against hordes of bloodthirsty Contras and Muslim fanatics who would gladly burn them in their houses because of some Reds hiding somewhere in their region, all for the purpose of Western corporations taking over the natural resources. Not everywhere people had the reaction of rising up like the MEND did not long ago and some of the Mapuche still are, after decades of flamed villages and murdered activists, and the complete failures of the electoral reformist solutions. And if only these few self-managed struggles had the support of anarchoposers like Anarchismo and anarchist federations... but who really needs their written support and dubious flat propaganda, especially when you can smash the capitalist invaders all by yourselves?

A central problem in the context of the Arab Spring is that the Western critique and opposition of those modern socialist regimes doesn’t come from real anarchist organizations firsthand, but from very powerful and dangerous fascist/capitalist forces who’ve got all the reasons for invading more of the Middle-East, and have a long history of “wagging the dog” and manipulating the masses (the workers you’re referring to) with their war propaganda machine for it. Even if the US isn’t a collapsed empire yet, it is certain that it is on its way towards collapse, and the forces defending it aren’t to let it fall, rather they attempt some major power grabs to make it survive, and evolved into something else, something bigger, wider and more all-encompassing. Those forces, they already are at war. With the War on Terror, that is still on. Not against the “repressive, despotic regimes” of non-aligned countries, nor against the terrorist organizations that the US is actually found to be supporting, but against politically sovereign regimes, those that do not fall into line with the dictates of the IMF, of Goldman Sachs, and the rest of the banking clans. Because those regimes are on the contrary too free and have too little prisons for the tastes of Western authoritarians. According to them, they should be putting real dissenters in jail -including anarchists of course- as in the West, and not Muslim psychopathic misogynists who are very efficient secret service assets and defenders of foreign capital.

But why do people choose to support a Party and a Nation instead of organizing themselves against a foreign invader? It’s a always a good question that any anarchist would better ask beforehand. Often it’s a matter of where to get the guns and the food from. If there are no anarchist collectives or organization around to provide with defense, shelter and food (seems like the Syrian anarchists are at least providing with those last two), who else than a socialist armed organization should be trusted, in the face of a fascist armed chain of command who’s there for the rob and rape? But nowhere some coward and closet supporter of the capitalist forces have the right to moralize them on the way they should choose in the situations of emergency in which they struggle to even survive.

Is it our job as anarchists to blame socialist republics for their repression of murderous right-wing extremist forces destabilizing the country? I would say we can’t blame nor defend it. It’s a case of a smaller wrong crushing a much bigger wrong, or a lesser evil fighting an evil that’s straight from the sewers of Hell. Much like when anarchists were facing Islamic Nazis in Yugoslavia... you didn’t have much choice if you wanted to survive and especially get rid of those fuckers, other than organizing a resistance with survivors in the bushes, even if those were mostly communist Partisans (and forget about the Chetniks, they weren’t doing a shit... probably Anarchismo would have liked them!).

And while anarchists really do have a hard time living under socialist regimes, and that I myself deeply hate all the Western socialist types for just being a bunch of red fascist drones; there’s also the fact that anarchists simply won’t be allowed to even live under a regime like that of Saudi Arabia, where any expression of lack of faith towards Allah is threated like the highest reprehensible crime against order, in the same way than the medieval burning of witches and heretics. Going ten steps behind, rather than two, is surely not going one step ahead.

5- US imperialism nowhere to be seen!

The authors not only seem to be presenting the US as some liberal democracy now committed to peaceful diplomacy, but it boldly assumes that since 2008, for some unclear reason, US imperialism is into some kind of retreat...

"Today, however, US imperialism is in retreat, as the economic crisis of 2008 has exposed the underlying economic and social problems of US society.”

So all by magic, the 2008 crisis was the end of the US empire. Quite a botched way of “rounding corners” that reads like it was scripted by some government agency. Not so strangely, this was also Obama’s former view of the US hegemony, which actually did not follow up in the reality, as with every single one of the President’s claims and positions. Since 2008 the US has been militarily involved in two foreign countries who never represented any national security threat: Lybia and Mali. The air raids on Lybia were a military aggression by the book, with a large mobilization of the Navy and the Air Force through the Mediterranean, massive drone and fighter strikes that lasted for about two months. There’s been a much controversial regime change in Turkey, replacing a religiously neutral republic and a constitution that stood for gender equity and democracy, for an authoritarian, pro-West, Islamic regime that led to the current popular uprising of Taksim square. It is so pro-NATO actually that its police forces have been reported to shout orders in English during protests (!). Now the authoritarian regime of Turkey has been reported as providing Syrian jihadists with weapons as well. And the active presence of several intelligence assets in Syria over the past few years as well as its whole war taunting against the Assad regime, also stands as evidence that the US is not ready to let its empire slip away.

The “underlying economic and social problems of US society” are not a source of the downfall of the US empire, but rather a consequence and catalyst for a new level of globalization. There’s been no massive uprising happening in the US yet, so to say that the empire has been already weakened by a destabilization from within that actually did NOT occur is nonsense. The financial crisis of 2008 was an entirely engineered crisis, aimed at consolidating the power of a small group of Wall Street bankers tied to the Fed, while bringing down a large portion of the middle-class to pre-war conditions of poverty and dependency to the State. This is roughly the same scenario of the ‘30s America, with titanesques monopolization of financial and State power, in parallel with the drastic impoverishment of the working class following the Crash. The Wall Street rich pigs are still not lying on the sidewalk, even after the “financial crisis”, although if the US dollar loses its hold in the oil markets they will be. Because the unlimited liquidity insured by the Fed (that allowed astronomical bailouts to be distributed) is based on the oil backing of the USD.

US imperialism is about domination, power, through the MONEY -or financial policy- even more than the spectacle and the fear of the air bombings. No other nation, aside than its strongest NATO allies, has such pretense as to invade a business partner-country -or future partner- through the use of military force. No matter how Chinese capitalists are taking a foothold in many parts of the world and Russian capitalists have been getting rich, there is a wide difference between business, and imperialism, even if one serves as the basic footstep for the other. China has no pretense of building up a global empire. It’s the global empire that’s been into China, since the ‘70s, and the fact that chineses businessmen are active at many places in the world is only the result of the same globalization of Capital. Only a White supremacist, eurocentric fool would believe the US empire is threatened to be replaced by a Chinese empire. The future, and present, of global capitalism is into a global governance, of corporate, financial power, by an elite few rich dynasties. What did occur right after the 2008 crisis? NM Rothschild & sons (of the Rothschild banking clan) got 20% of its shares bought by a Chinese bank. The last Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a wealthy businessman in China. George Soros has been making shitloads of money in Russia since the ‘90s, and is supporting several liberal NGOs. inthe country. That is what the G20 is all about. Global, corporate governance, above the shitty repressive national governments we’re all still dealing with, with their cops and borders and CCTVs and prison system to keep the proles into line.

So no the US is not the drawn back, passive liberal democracy that the authors of this text seem to present it.

It’s a repressive, authoritarian, despotic Police State that holds more than 25% of the world’s prison population in its corporate or governmental prisons, where unarmed civilians are repeatedly getting shot in the streets in full impunity by the pigs. A military-financial empire that still is building new military bases abroad, with its nearly 200 already existing.

This prison State holds many of our friends and loved ones in jail, some for years, including three known anarchist activists who’ve been held for months, not over making murderous terrorist attacks on “infidels”, but only for refusing to talk to a Grand Jury.

The US has committed over a million reported deaths during its last invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition of the millions of mass deaths caused during past imperial wars and undercover operations abroad on the cover of anti-communism. This is a highly secretive and dogmatic State, with billions in black budgeting; where people are no longer allowed to file lawsuits on corporations destroying the DNA of people, many other animal or vegetal species; and that’s got the biggest, most expansive electronic spying network on the planet, preying on everyone’s privacy, not just in the US, but everywhere on the planet. So should anarchist support such a State, who pretends fight another humanitarian war against a foreign “despotic” regime?

The answer is NO. Nobody “should”.

That war-mongering should rot where it deserves, where it actually is rotting already. Because as long as our comrades are still in jail, that being are being spyed everywhere in their daily activities, or that friends and unknown proles here are being shot and killed in the street by its armies of fascist paramilitary pigs set up by NATO occifial policy, we have no fucking reason to shed our eyes to this tyranny for fighting whoever it points the finger at, in the hope that we go destroy our own lives and that of others for its survival.

The fight for liberation is right where you are, and mostly remains to be fought, not again soem foreign despotism that we actually know little about, but the domestic despotism that we already know too much about. I don’t care about “our enemy’s enemy”, and am not part of this Statist “our” or “us”. This is a war between cops, and cops killing each other off would be a dream scenario that I’d leave off to them, rather than dying or killing at their side, as another stupid hero of democracy. So no, anarchists shouldn’t feel any “revolutionary responsibility" to support a war of pigs -and the war pigs- as Anarchismo suggests, sa it it will turn out to be just a new level in a global fascist revolution. And by the time it is fully achieved, the proles, of they’re still around, are gonna be so neurologically and pharmaceutically controlled by the biopower that any dream of a global revolution against it will at best end up in a Hollywood or video game script.

And to anti-fascists out there who feel they should be supporting the Syrian rebels, think twice... as you may actually be supporting your own enemy, who would gladly decapitate and burn you alive on the public place for being “infidels”.

This text is the boldest, yet stupidest attempt at recuperation and instrumentalization of anarchist insurgents, and it’s not so surprising it was published at a time the whole Obama/Kerry war funding drive seems to be waning a bit too much, and that it lost a significant part of its mainstream political support, especially in the UK now. People have learned from the War on Terror, and from the “liberation of Lybia”, especially on how to read through the veil of manipulative lies aimed at twisting the paradigm.

We don’t walk along, because we don’t follow. Especially not the State agents, like those of the John Drury cult.

Last but not least, telling the anarchists what they SHOULD do in terms of positionning and war support is the worst among the less imaginable things I could expect to read from a pretentiously “libertarian” web site with a record of already dubious posturing and rhetoric.

Question ALL authority!

A.C.A.B.

Juan Conatz
Sep 12 2013 00:02

A simple link would have done.

Black Badger
Sep 12 2013 02:08

Not really, since it's on @news, and I know how much you like that site.

bastarx
Sep 12 2013 04:50
Quote:
As further historical evidence, those same jihadist forces were also present in ‘90s Yugoslavia, destabilizing the socialist republic by conducting massive onslaughts of killing and executions in about the same way as the exterminations of Jews, Orthodox and Roma during WW2 by Hitler’s Islamic puppets in the country. When NATO forces bombed Serbia to put an end to the Yugoslavian conflict, it was unheard of that actually Clinton had been supporting the war of Islamic jihadist, not of some “freedom fighters” of democracy. Socialist Yugoslavia was already a democratic regime, unaligned with the Soviet bloc as with anybody else, that made many concessions for liberalization since the ‘70s, perhaps too much actually... Of course there were the few activist idiots on the payroll of Gene Sharp and the CIA, but the violent Muslim extremist insurgents that the Milosevic government fought against, these were the people who first destabilized the country with a real ethnic massacre at the beginning of the ‘90s.

I only skimmed it but this paragraph stood out for its massive pile of fail. There were foreign jihadists involved in the wars of Yugoslav succession but they certainly didn't start those wars and whatever war crimes they did commit were on a much smaller scale than those perpetrated by the locals. And socialist Yugoslavia was hardly democratic.

Mark.
Sep 12 2013 09:55

Some more highlights in case you can't face reading it through:

Quote:

El-Assad regime was pretty much a liberal socialist regime before the whole Arab Spring thing started... The country’s was pretty much relax, there was a lot of tourism, it was easygoing for foreigners, and there were local elections already being held ...

...those regimes are on the contrary too free and have too little prisons for the tastes of Western authoritarians. According to them, they should be putting real dissenters in jail -including anarchists of course- as in the West, and not Muslim psychopathic misogynists who are very efficient secret service assets and defenders of foreign capital...

Is it our job as anarchists to blame socialist republics for their repression of murderous right-wing extremist forces destabilizing the country? I would say we can’t blame nor defend it. It’s a case of a smaller wrong crushing a much bigger wrong, or a lesser evil fighting an evil that’s straight from the sewers of Hell. Much like when anarchists were facing Islamic Nazis in Yugoslavia…

jonthom
Sep 12 2013 10:52

i do think the response piece overstates both the "liberal" and "socialist" nature if the Syrian govt etc, at least based on my limited knowledge of the situation. tho not much more than some pro-rebel analysis has the other way.

its analysis of the conflict and foreign involvement, however, seems leaps and bounds ahead of the original statement, as is its analysis of the statement itself.

frankly the original article seems somewhat delusional as to both the existence of a "Syrian Revolution" and the involvement of the US, the nature of the rebels et al.

Entdinglichung
Sep 12 2013 11:33

Assad-governed Syria was in cultural and religious terms indeed far more "liberal" than many other countries in the Middle East but especially during the 80ies probably only a slightly less ruthless in dealing with political oppositionists than Iraq under Saddam, regardless if they were Islamists (after an Islamist-led uprising in Hama, the army simply shelled the city centre killing between 20.000-35.000 civilians), Liberals, Kurdish Nationalists (300.000 Kurds have been stripped of citizenship and deprived of their arable land since the 1960ies) or Leftists (when the repression slowed down in the late 1990ies, the French LCR had to deal with over 100 deeply traumatized and physically ill Syrian comrades who where able to leave the country after (literally) rotting for 10-20 years in prison) ... the perception of political liberality of post-1970ies Syria is partly due to the fact, that the regime was able to integrate around a dozen smaller parties (some Stalinist, Nasserist, other pan-arabist parties, the fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party) but they had up to 2000 even less rights than e.g. the satellite parties in some East European countries before 1989 ... and the Assads were never reluctant to support Islamists outside Syria, when they were the enemy's enemies

Entdinglichung
Sep 12 2013 12:02
iexist
Sep 15 2013 04:24

Also apparently Mubarak was an anti imperialist leader for socialism. This article is complete bullshit.

shiar
Sep 17 2013 08:21

Response by a Syrian Anarchist to the First of May statement on Syria

I was delighted to see that, finally, an anarchist group in the global north has made a serious attempt to make sense of what's happening in Syria and clearly state its position on the Syrian revolution (http://www.anarkismo.net/article/26148). I really like, and mostly agree with, the statements expressed in the 'Our Position' section at the end, but I have quite a few issues with the preceding introduction and background sections. So here are a few comments in the spirit of your invitation for “input from others, particularly those with greater background in the area, especially anarchists living in the region”, and in the hope that this will contribute to a more informed discussion among anarchists and a better understanding, position and action on Syria.

Perspective and language

Before I start, I have to say I find the term “anarchist policy” rather weird. Since when do anarchists have policies or use this loaded, state-linked word? Wouldn't 'position' or 'perspective' be a better alternative?

The same goes for the use of “resolution” in “Syria, now in its third year of civil war with no sign of any resolution in sight.” I will come back to the issue of describing what's happening in Syria as a 'civil war' later. For now, I just want to point out that the use of such words as 'policy' and 'resolution' would put off many anarchists – certainly myself – even if they are meant as a 'neutral' description of events. This is because such words might (rightly) be interpreted as give-aways of buying into or internalising a statist, realpolitik perspective that does not obviously fit in well with anarchism.

To illustrate my point, here is an example from the statement: “It is impossible to understand what is going on in Syria today without some knowledge of the international and historical context”. I would have liked to see something like “local socio-political dynamics” listed among the factors, i.e. something that is related to people's agency, from a grassroots perspective, not just big geo-strategic considerations linked to foreign powers. I will have more to say on this thorny issue shortly.

The historical background(s)

I do not mean to be arrogant or dismissive, but I have to say I found your historical background rather poor and misinformed, brushing over complicated events and reducing them to simplistic, often mainstream versions, while omitting other important events or factors, and even getting some facts wrong. You do admit that “[you] are not experts on the history and current dynamics of Syria and of the Middle East as a whole.” But spending so many lines trying to give a certain version of history does inevitably shape readers' understanding of what follows.

For example, the Iranian Shah was not simply “overthrown in 1979 and replaced by a Shiite theocratic government.” For two years before then there had been a mass, diverse popular uprising that was eventually hijacked by Khomeini. Similarly, Hafez al-Assad did not become president of Syria through a normal “military coup” in 1971. It was an “internal coup” by the British-backed right-wing faction within the Ba'th party against the more left-wing faction backed by the French. And his son, Bashar, did not “stand for election, won, and was reelected in 2007.” He was brought back from abroad after his father fell ill and his elder brother died and was appointed as president by the ruling inner circle after the constitution was hastily changed so as to lower the minimum age for presidency candidates from 40 to 34, which was his age at the time.

On the history of the Syrian regime, Hafez al-Assad did not only “ruthlessly suppress” the Muslim Brothers in 1980. There were many other ruthless and bloody campaigns of repression against leftists as well, including the mass arrests, torture and killing of members of the Communist Labour League and other radical militant leftist groups – whose members, by the way, included many Alawites, Christians, Kurds, etc.

Finally, the 1973 “Yom Kippur War” between Syria, Egypt and other Arab countries on the one hand and Israel on the other, is known among Syrians and other Arabs as the October War and not the “Ramadan War”. This is a minor point but is one of those give-aways about knowledge and perspective.

Imperialism, nationalism and Orientalism

You argue that US imperialism is “in retreat” following the 2008 economic crisis. Many would argue against drawing such a linear causal relationship, but my main issue here is that you then go on to explain pretty much everything, including the North African and Middle Eastern uprisings and revolutions, through this global imperialism lens: “This weakening of overall imperialist domination, combined with the effects of globalization on the countries in the area, has inspired political and social forces among the middle classes to seek political power for themselves.”

As far as I understand, the North African and Middle Eastern uprisings and revolutions were – broadly speaking – triggered by varying combinations of political repression, economic deprivation and social disintegration, which made people in those countries feel more and more marginalised, powerless, humiliated and undignified. Even if they are linked to the wider processes of global politics and economics – like everything else – these are specific local dynamics that cannot be simply seen as a direct result of imperialism and globalisation.

To be fair, you do touch on the “complex social process”, though I would have liked to see more emphasis on the complexity of the socio-economic-political realities in each of those countries and the similarly complex agents and actors that participated in their recent uprisings and revolutions, not just the two loud, west-oriented voices that commentators in the west often focus on:

“These groups, including militant Islamic organizations and pro-Western liberals, have managed to assume the leadership of much broader social layers who have been plagued by rampant unemployment (particularly among young people), decrepit housing and urban infrastructures, inflation, and the other results of uneven economic growth. The results of this complex social process have included the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the revolution, now taking the form of a civil war, in Syria.”

I will come back later to lumping all the North African and Middle Eastern uprisings and revolutions together in one category and explaining them all using the same narrative or reasoning. For now, I just want to stress that this obsession with US and western imperialism is really redundant and unhelpful, especially when it edges on right-wing, west-centric theories of 'clash of civilisations':

“When looked at from this long-term perspective, what we see is a trans-epochal conflict between two regions/cultures/civilizations, in which, at the moment, the European/Euro-American, after centuries of aggressive expansion, has moved onto the defensive. This 'war of civilizations' remains, however vaguely, in the historic memories of the peoples of the Middle East to this day and fuels much of the nationalism and religious fanaticism that is now so prevalent throughout the region.”

Which civilisations and cultures are you talking about? Which historic memories? Would you identify with mainstream western culture? (whatever that is). If not, why should all the people of the Middle East identify with one static culture or civilisation that hasn't apparently changed for centuries? And who said this identity has always remained anti-Western? What about the pro-western liberals and the globalised youth and middle classes you've just talked about? What about all the leftists, communists, anarchists and so on and so forth?

You might have guessed where I'm going with this. Even though I'm sure this was not your intention, such simplistic culturalist views are typical Orientalism based on a typical double exceptionalism: the exceptionalism, uniqueness and uniformity of the western or European civilisation, and therefore values, which is then contrasted with the rest of the world, which is made to either fit this liberal-democratic paradigm (often as inspired followers) or seen as abnormal, backward people who hate these values and represent the 'opposite' (anti-democratic, fundamentalists, etc.).

This Orientalist world view is also where ascribing too much agency to the west comes from, and it has been dominant in much of the commentary originating in the west on the North African and Middle Eastern revolutions, albeit in various different ways, ranging from seeing the whole thing as a western imperial conspiracy to overemphasising the role of (western) social media and (westernised) youth and liberals or (anti-western) Islamist fundamentalists.

The same can be said of how you present the process of nation-state building: “It is important to remember that one important outcome of this centuries-old conflict, and particularly its more recent developments, is that many of the existing nation-states of the Middle East are artificial constructions.”

Weren't the European nation-states also “artificial constructions” forced on the people living on those lands? Can you see the Orientalist exceptionalism implied in this sentence? I can see it very clearly:

“The result was that, in contrast to Europe, where nation states (and corresponding nationalities) had centuries to take shape and be consolidated, in the Middle East (and in the Balkan Peninsula, which was under Turkish/Islamic rule for centuries), the process of nation-building had to take place very rapidly, in a haphazard fashion.”

While it might be true that European nation states have had longer to consolidate, they were no less “rapid and haphazard” at the time. Read the history of Europe and the US in the 17th and 18th centuries, or just ask locals in different regions of France or Italy, or the Irish and Scots in Britain. I could go on and on but my point is simple: nation-states have often been violent, top-down, haphazard projects imposed on people, no matter where they are, in Europe or the Middle East, and whether their borders are drawn by external or internal colonial powers. Besides, the current states of the Middle East (apart from Israel) also had long histories of nation-building (cultural, regional, Islamic, Arab, disintegration of empires, etc.) well before their current borders were drawn up by the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916. So they are not that arbitrary, at least from a nationalist point of view.

This is important because, based on these simplistic culturalist assumptions, you reach a similarly simplistic conclusion: “many of the states comprise what should be seen as 'imperialist imposed national identities'.”

On the Western obsession with Middle Eastern sectarianism

Another Orientalist view that is so prevalent in the majority of news and commentary we have been reading on what's happening in the Middle East at the moment is to explain everything through a simplistic, and often imaginary, conflict between religious sects. You seem to do the same, even though your intentions are obviously different:

“In these countries (e.g., Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine), people define themselves as much, or even more, by sectarian considerations (e.g., whether a person is a member of a Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze, Christian, or Jewish community) than by nationalistic commitments to the nations of which they are a part.”

There is no space here to discuss in detail the origins and development of sectarianism in the Middle East (starting with the French, British and Ottoman colonial powers' using the ethnic and religious minorities discourse and those minorities subscribing to, or using, that same discourse to appeal for protection). However, there are two important points to make here:

First, like anywhere else in the world, most people in the Middle East have multiple, co-existing identities – or identity markers, rather – that are invoked at different times in different contexts. For examples, nationalist identities and discourses were dominant in the 1930s and 40s, during and in the aftermath of independence from Britain and France; they were then extended to or replaced by pan-Arabist identities and discourses in the '50s and '60s; both sets of identities and discourses were challenged by Marxist and Islamist ones in the '70s and '80s and so on and so forth. All of these identity markers and discourses had, and still have, roots in social and ideological bases, and are today invoked by different social and political groups in the service of their political games and struggles.

Second, this western obsession with Middle Eastern sectarianism inevitably leads to a simplistic and reductionist understanding of complex regimes and societies like those of Syria:

“Despite this [pan-Arabist and ostensibly secular and socialist] program, the Assad regime bases itself internally on the members of the Alawite sect of Islam (an offshoot of the Shi’a), to which the Assads belong. Most members of the government inner circle, as well as occupiers of leadership posts in the Ba’ath party and the economy, are members of this sect, which has thus been elevated into a privileged stratum that rules over a majority (76%) Sunni population.”

Again, there is no space here to go into the differences between the Alawites and the Shi'ites (they are not the same and don't really approve of one another as religions) or into the sectarian composition of the Assad regime (it's not just Alawites; there were many Sunnis as well in the inner circle, and some of the poorest and most heavily repressed communities were non-Ba'thist Alawites). It is important, however, to remember the following, often-ignored fact:

Since 1970, Hafez al-Assad and his regime skilfully used religious and ethnic sects and sectarianism – in Syria as well as in Lebanon – to consolidate their rule, fuelling sectarian tensions but keeping them under sufficient control so as to justify the 'need' for this rule, otherwise “things would get out of control and the country would descend into a civil war,” as we were often warned. The term 'politics of sectarian tension' can probably describe this policy better than the cliché 'divide and rule'. To give you just a glimpse, Hafez al-Assad – and his son Bashar after him – always prayed in Sunni mosques, appeased Alawite religious and community leaders, while at the same time marketing itself as a 'secular' regime.

Here is another example from your statement of the western obsession with Middle Eastern sectarianism, to which everything else is reduced:

“In fact, for Assad, Syrian national, and even narrowly Shi’a, interests always trumped pan-Arabism. Thus, when he perceived those interests to be threatened by the Iraqi regime of fellow-Ba’athist (but Sunni), Saddam Hussein, Assad supported (Shi-ite, non-Arab) Iran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-89), and in 1990, the US war against Iraq.”

You see, this is exactly what I'm talking about. The conflict between the Syrian and the Iraqi regimes and al-Assad's support for and by Iran were, and still are, purely political (i.e. power and influence games) and have nothing to do with sects and religions. Why is it so difficult to see that when it comes to the Middle East? Don't you think it would be really absurd if someone reduced the modern conflict of interests between France and Britain to rivalries between Catholicism and Protestantism?

The Syrian revolution

You claim that the Syrian revolution “broke out in March of 2011, as a largely spontaneous movement among the middle and lower classes of Syria, primarily young, and primarily, although not exclusively, urban.”

I don't know where you got this from – I guess from (mis)representations by western media and west-oriented accounts on social media, etc. – but what actually happened in Syria, as far as I know, was exactly the opposite. And that's, in fact, what distinguishes the Syrian revolution from the (first) Egyptian revolution, for example.

The mass protests in Syria started and remained, for quite a few months into the revolution, largely confined to marginalised, neglected regions and rural areas such as Dar'a, Idlib, Deir al-Zor, al-Raqqa, the poor suburbs and slums of Damascus, etc. Apart from a few, relatively small solidarity demonstrations, big urban centres (Damascus and Aleppo) did not 'move' on a mass scale for a while. This was partly due to the reluctance of urban middle classes to side with the revolution because they still believed the regime could overcome this 'crisis', so it was safer for their interests to stay on the regime's side or keep silent. In contrast, the marginalisation, negligence, deprivation and humiliation in the rural regions had reached such an extent that people living there did not have much more to lose. This, coupled with strong regional identities that made it easier for these people to break away from the regime's discourse, meant the Syrian revolution was – at least in the beginning – an almost classic revolt by the marginalised rural poor.

To understand this, you have to understand how Bashar al-Assad's so-called 'modernisation' programme was implemented since 2000. Without going into too much detail, his economic liberalisation of the country, celebrated by the west as welcomed 'reforms', was carried out through a Mafia-like network of high ranking military and security officers partnering with big businessmen, which largely concentrated in and benefited the traditional bourgeois urban centres. Moreover, economic liberalisation was not accompanied by 'political liberalisation' that could have made these 'reforms' more acceptable by people – save for a brief period of political freedoms, known as the 'Damascus Spring' in 2000-1, which was soon heavily repressed as the regime feared too much freedom may destabilise its rule. So the picture is quite more complicated than the way you present it in your statement:

“Domestically, Bashar attempted to continue the modernization of the country by, for example, loosening up government control and allowing private enterprise in banking and other sectors of the economy. More recently, he tried to achieve a rapprochement with US imperialism, by, among other things, withdrawing from Lebanon. Two results of these policies were a drastic increase in corruption and an intensification of the desire of the Syrian population for greater political freedom.”

The same goes for what you say about the original demands of the Syrian revolution: “Its main demands centered on the immediate needs of the people, primarily for jobs, and the need to set the stage for a transition to a more democratic political system after three decades of a brutal dictatorship under the Assads.”

As far as I'm aware, the demands – or slogans, rather – were all about dignity, freedom and bread and against repression, which soon turned into demanding the fall of the regime altogether following heavy-handed repression and massacres against protesters. To understand this, you need to understand the nature of totalitarian regimes like the Syrian one, which so many commentators in the west seem to fail to really understand. When Syrians say 'down with the regime', they mean or imply political, economic and social injustices at the same time, because 'the regime' symbolises all these apparently different forms of injustice.

It is perhaps because of this failure to understand the nature of the Syrian regime that so many western commentators ascribe to the Syrian revolution 'demands' that reflect their own values and wishes rather than what Syrians themselves want and are struggling for – from traditional leftists claiming it's about jobs and workers' rights to liberals claiming it's about democracy. The same can be said of the (largely western) debate of violence vs. non-violence:

“While the struggle in Syria began on a non-violent basis and eventually mobilized significant sectors of the Syrian people, the aggressive, extremely brutal response of the government forced the opposition to arm itself. One result of this has been the militarization of the struggle. This has forced the unarmed masses of people to the sidelines (and into refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) and turned what had been a popular revolution into a civil war between the Syrian government, backed by the Alawite minority, on the one hand, and opposition militias, supported by the Sunni majority, on the other.”

It may be true that the regime's brutal response to the early protests pushed people to resort to arms to defend themselves, but this does not mean the Syrian revolution was ever peaceful or non-violent. When people say 'peaceful' in Arabic, they often mean 'unarmed' or 'non-militarised'. The word does not have the same loaded connotations it has in English and other European languages (pacifism and all that). Moreover, the militarisation of a popular revolution does not mean it has turned into a “civil war.” We're really tired of people describing the Syrian revolution as a 'civil war'. And again, the war is between a repressive regime and repressed people, some of whom are now armed and fighting back. It is not between “the Alawite minority and the Sunni majority.” There are many Syrian Alawites who support the revolution and many Syrian Sunnis who still support the regime. Please stop reducing everything to simplistic sectarian labels. Here is another example from your statement:

“Most recently, Hezbollah, worried about the eventual defeat of its Syrian patron and a victory for the Sunni majority, has sent its own well-trained military forces into the fray.”

Before its intervention in Syrian affairs (to support the regime and its forces that were losing ground), when it was still popular among many Syrians and Arabs as a resistance movement, Hizbullah was never worried about “the Sunni majority.” Quite the opposite. Nor was the Syrian regime's support for Hizbullah ever linked to the fact that it is a Shi'ite religious movement. How do you explain the regime's support for Hamas, then? (that is, before Hamas' leadership decided to abandon the losing regime and leave Syria). But anyway, I've said enough about this issue (the western obsession with Middle Eastern sectarianism), so I won't repeat myself.

On foreign intervention

I also disagree with your analysis of why the US has been reluctant to support the Syrian rebels. A lot has been written about this issue and I do not really have the will or energy to go into it again now, especially when it's become clear now, following the chemical weapons deal with Russia, that the US is not willing to intervene in any serious way so as to bring down the Syrian regime and put an end to the conflict. I would, however, still like to make a couple of quick remarks.

I very much disagree that the US “almost always prefers to see very slow, very moderate, and very peaceful political change.” The history of the US adventures and interventions in various different parts of the world testify to the very opposite: from Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala, though Cambodia and Chile, Korea and Vietnam, to Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor is exactly true that the US is so worried about weapons falling in the hands of Islamist fundamentalists:

“Probably most important in hindsight, the US, fearing the escalation of violence (and worried about weapons getting into the hands of fundamentalist militias), hesitated to supply arms to the rebels, let alone take stronger measures, such as establishing a no-fly zone to protect the rebel forces from Assad’s aerial bombardment.”

Read the history of al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brothers and other Islamist militant groups and how they started and who initially supported and armed them – you will come across the US in each and every case.

Like many Syrians, I share your suspicions and concerns about the intentions and consequences of foreign (state) intervention in a popular revolution. But please remember that Syrians have already experienced western colonialism and know what it means, and that they have grown up with strong anti-imperialist discourses (leftist, pan-Arab nationalist and Islamist), probably more than any other country in the region. And please remember that people in Syria are not just 'revolutionaries'; many of them are also exhausted, scared, desperate and they want to live. That doesn't necessarily mean they are pro-US.

Having said that, please let us be realistic when we talk about armed struggles. If there were other, less dodgy sources of arms and other material support available, I can assure you that many Syrians fighting today would not have had to seek help from the US and the Gulf countries and to forge alliances with 'Islamist fundamentalists' actually fighting on the ground.

Speaking of Islamist fundamentalists, no one denies that al-Qaeda-linked or inspired groups fighting in Syria, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, whose members include many non-Syrians, are becoming stronger and getting out of control. But claims that the Syrian revolution has been (completely) hijacked by them are massively exaggerated. The most accurate estimates I've seen say radical Islamists do not constitute more than 15-20% of the so-called Free Syrian Army. All these two groups have been doing recently is to wait for other factions of the Free Army to do the fighting, then go to the 'liberated zones' and try to impose their control. Both groups' initial popularity – mostly due to their charity work – is declining among many Syrians as more and more reports of their repressive and sectarian practices come to light, not to mention reports that both groups are infiltrated by the regime and are now turning against the Free Army. Indeed, there have mass demonstrations against Jabhat al-Nusra and the ISIS in the areas under there control, such as al-Raqqa, parts of Aleppo and so on.

Your position

As I said in the beginning, I do like, and mostly agree with, your position(s) expressed towards the end of the statement. I would advise all my anarchist and activist friends and comrades to read it in full before reading these comments (and I'm happy to translate it into Arabic if no one else has done so already). But here are, nonetheless, some quick remarks to stir some more, hopefully useful, discussion.

I'm glad that you consider what's happening in Syria as “still being predominantly a popular revolution in which the majority of the Syrian people are fighting against an arbitrary dictatorship” and that, “in spite of the fact that the United States and its allies in Western Europe and elsewhere have given diplomatic support, humanitarian aid, and now arms, to the rebels... [you] do not see the rebels as mere proxies for the imperialists, under their control and dependent on them financially.” This is much better, and more sensible, than the majority of what we've heard from the 'left' in Europe and the US.

I slightly disagree, however, that “the leadership of the struggle in Syria is made up of a combination of pro-Western liberals, moderate Islamic organizations, and fundamentalist Islamic militias.” This is because a crucial distinction has to be made between the opposition leadership abroad, mainly the National Coalition, on the one hand and the Local Coordination Committees and the various factions of the Free Syrian Army fighting on the ground on the other.

I also disagree that, “increasingly, what is missing is the independent, self-organization of popular resistance” and that, “across the region, from Syria to Egypt, the radical and democratic currents from below have not been able to sustain themselves because of the inability to articulate and gain wide support organizationally and politically.” There have been many inspiring examples of non-hierarchical self-organisation and solidarity in Syria, Egypt and other countries in the region in the past couple of years. They might not pass a strict (western) anarchist or activist test and might be based on traditional social networks and structures, but are nonetheless inspiring and promising, and are worth studying and learning from.

Finally, and as I said before, we have to be realistic and serious when talking about armed struggles. You cannot “defend the rebels right to obtain weapons by any means necessary,” then condemn them for their “reliance on the U.S., other Western powers, or the rich Gulf states” without identifying a realistic alternative (there is none at the moment, it seems). Asking the rebels to “demand arms with no strings attached” is not going to get us anywhere because there are no such arms (with no strings attached) in the real world. We all know that “the US/Western aim, obviously, is to control and limit the revolution.” But couldn't anarchists adopt the same “tactical” approach that you advocate regarding fighting alongside the “bourgeois and fundamentalist rebel forces” in relation to the US and its allies? I guess before we even get to this question, we have to establish who is willing to take up arms and fight and for what ends.

Steven.
Sep 17 2013 10:04

Hi shiar, did you write that response yourself? If not, do you know who wrote it? Because we would like to put it in our news section but would like to be able to credit the author.

shiar
Sep 17 2013 11:18

Yes, i wrote it.
Nice one.

Steven.
Sep 17 2013 11:50

Hey, thanks. I have posted it here:
http://libcom.org/news/response-syrian-anarchist-first-may-statement-syria-17092013

Shall I credit the author as "Shiar"? Or something else?

Thanks very much for writing it, your historical points are much appreciated, especially with regard to the (inadvertent) Orientalism of the OP, the comments on "clash of civilisations", sectarianism etc.

I have some questions, though.

Are you based in Syria itself? If so, does that mean you are involved in the fighting? Would you encourage others to join the fighting? If so in what capacity? To try to enrole in the Free Syrian Army, or just join a local militia or what?

Some posters have mentioned non-military elements of self-organisation and mutual aid - you also touch on it yourself. Do you have any more information about these sorts of initiatives? Are you involved in any?

Chilli Sauce
Sep 18 2013 21:06

Yeah, that was a hell of a post Shiar.

Shiar wrote:
Before I start, I have to say I find the term “anarchist policy” rather weird. Since when do anarchists have policies or use this loaded, state-linked word? Wouldn't 'position' or 'perspective' be a better alternative?

So that was my first thought as well and, given that this comes from a small anarchist group about a situation half the world away, I think perspective would be a far better word.

However, I think it's totally fine for anarchist groups to have "policy" regarding how they organise themselves, their rules, how they relate to other organisations and institutions, and their expectations of members.

For me, I thought it was strange that one anarchist group took it upon themselves to propose a policy for the entire movement outside or some sort of broad coalition or congress.

Black Badger
Sep 19 2013 00:18

But Chili, almost every declaration from the First of May Anarchist Alliance is similarly puffed up and self-important. Why wouldn't they have such a Policy? They have policies on just about everything.

klas batalo
Sep 19 2013 01:50

do they really tho? i haven't seen many...seems like just a general derogatory mark towards "organizationalists"