Syrian revolutionaries defy Assad, jihadists, and imperialists

Share with your friends


With the eruption of the Arab Spring in 2011, all revolutionary hell broke out in the Middle East. In Syria, unwavering rebels are fighting a civil war — militarily and politically — in self-defense against assaults by their dictator Bashar Assad, and for the profound economic and social changes that took them into the streets in the first place.

With U.S. military strikes postponed but still looming, the corporate media and politicians are pummeling the air waves with twisted lies and confusing history. Who’s who in this monumental revolt? Is the civil war based on religious and ethnic strife? Syrian leftists and non-sectarian rebels have appealed to the alternative press and honest journalists to set the record straight.

Revolutionary civil war. On one side of this conflict is the Assad dictatorship, supported by Syrian capitalists, international investors and big landlords. Islamic or secular, they care most about the bottom line.

Behind this ruling class is the urban petty bourgeoisie, who dislike the regime but won’t support the rebels unless they are winning.

Then there are various Syrian exile politicians and businessmen who are eager to collaborate with the global players seeking “peaceful transition” to the next despot. They are essentially pro-America, and claim to be on the side of the rebels. They have no credibility with rebels on the ground.

On the side of the revolution is the mass of impoverished workers and displaced peasants, along with rural workers, university students, youth and small vendors. They are diverse politically, ethnically, culturally, and religiously. Although hardly free of backward ideas and behavior, most want a secular society and they all despise the Assad tyranny.

Years of fighting and organizing together against the same enemy have decisively radicalized many. And they are staunchly supported by longtime activists and leftists and former political prisoners. They have dedicated their lives to fighting for civil liberties, workers, and Palestinian and Kurdish rights to self-determination.

This immense social base is largely coordinated by the noncombat Local Coordinating Committees and Revolutionary Councils. Says Joseph Daher, member of the Revolutionary Left Current in Syria, “The popular committees and the organizations play a crucial role in the pursuit of the revolutionary process. The armed resistance depends on the popular movement. … Without it, we would not stand a chance.”

Daher also reports that the number of independent newspapers has jumped from three before the revolution to more than 60 now.

A great many women have been integral to the rebellion from the beginning and are leaders in these local committees and revolutionary councils. Syrian human rights groups report that more than 6,500 women have been jailed by the Assad regime, 1,000 of them university student activists. Female relatives and neighbors of rebel activists and fighters are also persecuted. Hundreds of women have been subjected to rape and other torture in Assad’s infamous prisons.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is the primary armed wing of the opposition forces, made up of local self-defense militias and military deserters from Assad’s army. FSA’s roots are in the countryside and poor, small-farm areas just outside the cities, where civilians support the revolution and bear the brunt of Assad’s bombing raids and nerve gas attacks.

In the main, FSA battalions are committed to the revolution’s politics of nonsectarianism and social justice, and its code of military conduct, which denounces atrocities. A September 2013 UN report on war crimes confirmed nine massacres over the last year and a half — eight by Assad’s government and one by rebel forces.

FSA also includes Kurdish independence militias, which are fiercely hostile both to the Assad regime and to fundamentalist Islam. In an Aug. 28 article, Foreign Policy quotes a warrior: “‘These al Qaida guys go crazy when they hear that we are women fighters,’ says Roshna Akeed, the commander who leads a female battalion of Kurds on the front lines of Ras al-Ayn city. ‘But they are lousy fighters. They are unorganized. It is easy for us to kill them.’”

To prevent more army desertions to the rebel cause, Assad confined most of his regular army troops to their barracks and banned contact with their families.

Taking on jihadists. Claims by the Western press that Islamist reactionary militias dominate the FSA are steadfastly denied by every news source in Syria, except Assad’s press.

Al Qaida-connected militias like Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are not connected to the FSA. They consist mostly of non-Syrian mercenaries hired by wealthy Gulf states, including U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They started showing up when the rebels were winning and liberating many towns and cities. Though better armed than FSA battalions, the jihadists don’t rush to the front lines. They concentrate instead on already liberated areas and start imposing sharia (Islamic religious law) on residents.

A chilling example of this is the city of Raqqa, one of the first and most important areas liberated by FSA militias. In June, ISIS forces wrested control from the FSA forces by shooting and jailing them and arresting outraged civilians. From the Syria Deeply website: “The overwhelming proportion of civilians are opposed to the Islamic State, and more than half of those are more than against it: they are outraged,” said activist Jimmy Shahinian, 25. “But there is nothing people can do now. The ISIS has the guns.”

Civilian rebels organizing against the fundamentalist bullies are a thrilling counterpoint to the jihadists. Angry protests were organized in Aleppo against the jihadist execution of a 14-year-old boy in June for “insulting Mohammed.” Protests against jihadist conduct have also taken place in Mayadin, al-Qusayr and Kafranbel. Popular committees paint revolutionary flags all over a neighborhood to counteract the black Islamist flags. Weekly Friday demonstrations against both the regime and jihadists are common in numerous locations.

Flesh and blood misery. Except for the coverage of the August chemical attack, the immense human toll of Assad’s barbaric assaults has been largely ignored by U.S. politicians and pundits.

Two million refugees barely subsist in refugee camps outside Syria, and another 4.5 million people have been displaced within the country. Behind these figures are millions of orphans, widows, elders and youth who have lost their legs or arms, who have been beaten and gang-raped by Assad thugs, who are starving and ill and without shelter and medical care, who languish in nightmarish prisons.

This is the story told by brave people risking frequent travel to refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. The Freedom Socialist spoke with one of them, a haunted and eloquent Syrian voice for independent humanitarian help and journalistic truth. He and other people organize most of the aid independent of government control. To help, visit the website of the Salaam Cultural Museum, one such organization in Seattle.

The U.S. and the major powers bear direct responsibility for the intense suffering. Australian journalist Michael Karadjis reports in International Journal of Socialist Renewal that the CIA has systematically blocked critical anti-aircraft weapons from getting to the FSA. Smuggled from Palestinian, Libyan and other supporters of the Syrian revolution, stockpiles of such weapons can’t get through. Foreign Policy revealed that even requests for gas masks a year ago were rejected by the U.S.

No intervention, no way! It is abundantly clear that none of the major or minor predatory powers competing for control in Syria want this courageous revolution to succeed. The United States, Russia, Europe, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, etc., move solely in their own economic interests. And those interests are permanent profit, not the needs of any ordinary people in any country, including Syria.

Whatever “surgical” military strikes and “political solutions” they come up with are designed not to end the civil war but to prevent revolution. History has proved time and again that no humanitarian or military “aid” controlled by capitalists will bring victory or relief to a revolution in progress.

Send feedback to author Monica Hill at

To listen to this article and others from this issue, click here.

Share with your friends