Syria’s raging civil war: Historic conflict of the haves vs. have-nots

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For the first time in history, most of the peoples of the Middle East are immersed in a revolutionary process, one that burst out about two and half years ago. It is undying and contagious, and it uniformly pits peasants, workers, and the urban poor against their ruling classes.

The civil war in Syria is a searing expression of these historic insurrections. Crucial political, organizational, and military lessons are being rapidly absorbed by the rebels as they hammer out principles and goals, establish bottom-up structures to cope with the needs of millions of displaced and beleaguered people, and conduct a determined guerilla war.

Grass-roots driving force. Hundreds of local coordinating committees, revolutionary councils, and Free Syrian Army (FSA) militias power the revolution. They are not pawns or proxies of the U.S., as many commentators claim. And they are not represented by the suited, right-wing, pro-U.S. expatriates who live and attend conferences safely outside Syria.

The Local Coordinating Committees (LCCs), which include many women, have been part of the opposition leadership since the early days of the uprising. Their job is not in combat, although they support the armed struggle. They initiated a militia code of conduct observed by most Syria-based battalions. LCCs promulgate political positions, such as “No intervention by imperialist powers!” They also organize protests and civil disobedience campaigns, publicize the most accurate news and casualty figures to outside media, and distribute humanitarian aid across the besieged country.

The local revolutionary councils are also non-combat organizations. They are democratically elected — and can be quickly recalled. They are tasked with administering liberated cities, towns, and villages bombarded and abandoned by the government. They provide medical aid and other relief, keep schools open, install electric generators, conduct bottom-up elections for various local bodies, and cooperate with the FSA militias to protect civilian protests.

As journalist Anand Gopal reported on his return from Syria in April 2013, Syrian rebels are “remarkably organized,” something he hadn’t seen in Egypt or Libya. And they are inventive. Demonstrations are sometimes made up of flash mobs that Assad’s soldiers can’t catch, or take place in narrow alleys where cops can’t corner protesters. In one town, the men grow beards to appear devout so that they can get arms from Islamist sources that have more weapons.

The job of the Free Syrian Army is armed self-defense of cities, towns and villages. Despite accounts of wide-spread foreign involvement, the majority of soldiers are Syrian civilians turned fighters or deserters from the regime’s army. They are fighting a guerrilla war against vastly superior air power.

Increasingly, however, the opposition forces include mercenary jihadists, some of them from outside Syria. They are paid by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, countries friendly to the United States. Clashes between native Syrians in the FSA and the jihadists have intensified, partly because the Syrian fighters and their families are repulsed by fundamentalist Muslim practices.

With the goal of paralyzing revolution in the Middle East, the U.S. calls for an “end to the violence” and tries to maneuver peace talks among competing imperialist powers — without visible success. Most recently, a peace conference initiated by the U.S. and Russia for June 2013 in Geneva failed to materialize.

Civil war is armed self-defense. Socialists condemn war between nations as barbaric and vicious because they resolve none of the miseries of the suppressed. But war between classes within a country is very different. As V.I. Lenin wrote in 1915:

“Our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from bourgeois pacifists. … We fully regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary. …

“In history there have been numerous wars which, in spite of all the horrors, atrocities, distress and suffering … were progressive, i.e., benefited the development of mankind by helping to destroy the exceptionally harmful and reactionary institutions.”

Assad’s murderous offensive gave dissidents no alternative but armed struggle, and the freedom fight has every right to get weapons, money and aid from anywhere it can.

Left debate. It’s not only pacifists who oppose Syria’s civil war — some socialists do too. Many of these opponents come from the Stalinist tradition, which originated with the counterrevolutionary rise of the bureaucracy in the USSR.

As an example, in June 2013 the Syrian Communist Party stated flatly, “First and foremost, we believe that the course of events in Syria is neither a revolution nor a civil war.” The Communist Party USA calls for an end to what it terms a hopeless fight via peace negotiations, coordinated by the U.S.-dominated United Nations.

Even some leftists who consider themselves Trotskyist oppose the uprising. Take the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), whose English-language national sections go by the name Socialist Equality Party.

The ICFI wrongly claims that foreign imperialists instigated Syria’s civil war, that al-Qaida terrorists are the main leaders and fighters of the Free Syrian Army, and that the Assad dictatorship is “anti-imperialist.” The Party for Socialism and Liberation agrees with the Communist Party that Syrian rebels are “pawns” of the U.S.

All these naysayers underestimate the power of the working class and the oppressed to move history, overestimate the omnipotence of the USA, and exaggerate the extent of religious hostilities in Syria.

What’s missing, and needed, is a disciplined and internationalist revolutionary party capable of bringing people together, strategizing on the basis of the lessons of history, and coordinating actions nationally.

It would be unreasonable to expect such a group to spring up overnight. Revolution, after all, is not an event; it is a process of rapidly changing consciousness, military defeats and victories, and giant social changes. With this in mind, the international Left owes Syria’s continuation of the Arab Spring its unreserved respect and solidarity.

Contact Monica Hill at

See the related story: A political critique of the Party for Socialism and Liberation

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