Syria, the labour movement and the global working class:  The VOAG speaks to Gerry Downing

Opposition forces battling Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria now number around 100,000 fighters, but after more than two years of fighting they are fragmented into as many as 1,000 bands. According to Russia Today, a new study by IHS Jane’s, a defence consultancy, estimates there are around 10,000 foreign jihadists fighting for powerful factions linked to al-Qaeda. Another 30,000 to 35,000 hard-line Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists, but are focused purely on the Syrian war rather than a wider international struggle, and there are at least a further 30,000 islamists belonging to other groups. Only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely nationalist groups.

The VOAG spoke to Jerry Downing of Socialist Fight and asked: “What is the correct position to take on the Syria question”

GD: “Within the labour movement internationally – that is amongst the various groupings that purport to represent the interests of the working class, stretching from mass reformist bourgeois workers parties to the centrist groups of the far left – there are five basic positions on the war in Syria, with some crossover between categories, i.e. some groups straddle two positions. 1. Arm the rebels and bomb Assad. This is the straightforward Imperialist position which seeks to defend and advance the war plans of Western Imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa. These are the right wing Labour leaders and Social Democracy internationally with their associated right wing trade union leaders, from Miliband in Britain to Françoise Holland in France. 2. Arm the rebels but don’t bomb Assad. This grouping includes many leftists in the Labour Party and Social Democracy internationally, some Communist/Stalinist groups and the SWP/IST, the ISO (US), Workers Power, the RCIT, the LCC, the LIT and many others. 3. Don’t arm the rebels and don’t bomb Assad – the third campist position. This grouping contains the Socialist Party/CWI, Socialist Appeal/IMT, the ICL/IBT/IG(LFI) (the ‘Spart’ family) and the AWL and others. The AWL manages to be both in group 1 and group 3 at the same time because of the obvious implication of the “Assad is the main enemy” position. It depends on who’s writing the article. 4. Uncritical or mildly critical support for Assad against Imperialist attacks and against the rebels. This group includes the majority of the Maoists, Marxist Leninists and bourgeois nationalists internationally, together with some other communist parties and the Workers Revolutionary Party of Britain and its ICFI. It also includes the RCG/FRFI. 5. The Anti Imperialist United Front, for the defeat of the rebels and Imperialism whilst giving no political support to Assad against the Syrian working class. The genuine Trotskyist position as developed by Lenin and Trotsky. Defended by the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International and other groups and individuals internationally”.

VOAG: “for the defeat of the rebels and Imperialism whilst giving no political support to Assad against the Syrian working class” what does this mean in practice?”

GD: “It means that you are for the victory of the Syrian National Army over the rebels and Imperialism and you would work for that politically and in whatever practical way you could. But you would not seek to hide the crimes of Assad against the working class and his and his father’s previous history of collaborating with Zionism and the US against the Palestinians, for instance. You would prepare for his overthrown at a later stage by the organised working class. But right now the main enemy is Imperialism and its allies and proxies in Syria”.

VOAG: “So what is the Anti-Imperialist united Front?”

GD: “It was the name of the tactic developed by the revolutionary Comintern in 1920. It is true that Stalinism has degraded it to a two stage theory of uncritical support for bourgeois nationalists fakers over the years. But the original theses is still applicable and revolutionary. US Imperialism is the enemy of every person on the planet, even the capitalists who back it unequivocally”.

“The great majority of Syrians support Assad because the reactionary character of the rebels is clear and the fate that will befall secular Syria in regards women’s rights, trade unions and workers rights etc if the rebels win. You must be unequivocally for the defeat of Imperialism and its proxies. This is what will both strengthen the working class in Syria and the working class in the Imperialist countries and what we must work for right now. And concession to third campism or seeking to make Assad the equal enemy is reactionary and very wrong.

Of course Assad is an enemy of the Syrian and global working class, but right now he is a secondary enemy and the Anti-Imperialist United Front means a temporary alliance with him today against Imperialism and its proxies, the main and immediately threatening enemy, in order to prepare for his overthrow by the revolutionary working class after the defeat of Imperialism. Such revolutionaries as exist in Syria must have that as their goal, maintaining their political independence in this way”.

VOAG: “Can you elaborate on the Third Campist attitudes?”

GD: “The IBT has a third campist Shachtmanite position on Syria with their slogan: ‘Syrian workers have no side in civil war between Baathists and Islamists’.”

“The Sparts also take a clearly Shachtmanite position, “Neither Damascus nor Washington but the socialist revolution!” It is a “sectarian-communal war they say”. ‘The dire situation in Syria today, and throughout North Africa and the Middle East, emerged from the collapse of Stalinism and Arab nationalism, which opened the way for religious fundamentalism and sectarian/communal conflicts, often exploited by imperialism’ they wrote on their website”.

“All the Spart family propaganda is in the Effilite tradition, as Trotsky lampooned: ‘The only salvation of the workers and peasants of China is to struggle independently against the two armies, against the Chinese army in the same manner as against the Japanese army. These four lines, taken from an Eiffelite document of September 10, 1937, suffice entirely for us to say: we are concerned here with either real traitors or complete imbeciles. But imbecility, raised to this degree, is equal to treason’.”

“The truth of the matter is there is no revolution, there was a brief spring where legitimate protests began against Assad but the Saudi, Qatar and jihadist gunmen intervened within hours. Assad was Imperialism’s ally in the region, until they realised they had better allies in prospect and a chance of seizing control of the whole country so Obama, Cameron and Holland called it a “revolution” more in hope than in strong expectation that they would fool anyone and, to their absolute astonishment, not only their pliant mass media began parroting the lie but some who call themselves far left and even Trotskyists also began parroting the Imperialist lie. You would have thought that only a complete fool would think that the three strongest Imperialist powers in the planet would fund and organise via the CIA a genuine revolution, but up steps Workers, Power, the USFI, the RCIT, the LIT to name but a few, who swallowed it whole and regurgitate this vomit for their gullible members and supporters”.

The VOAG would like to thank Gerry Downing and the Socialist Fight group, British section of the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International. http://socialistfight.com/The Voag

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