The Weakness of the Syrian Revolution

In recent weeks, the fighting in Syria has spread into the two main Syrian cities of Damascus and Aleppo. Generally speaking, the mass movement in has ebbed significantly in the last few months, giving way to a guerrilla-like armed struggle led by the militias of the Free Syrian Army. Where is Syria going? What is the revolution, or what remains of the revolution, going to produce?

The Syrian revolution, initially mainly a movement of the youth, erupted under the influence of the wider Arab revolution. However, a significant section of Syrian society, especially in the urban centers, was taken by surprise by the revolutionary movement. Had Syria not been influenced by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, it would most likely have taken a few more years for the revolutionary movement to erupt on its own.

The Syrian working class has been crushed and atomized for decades. Most importantly, the Syrian working class did not, and still does not, have independent organizations of its own that it can use to express its class interests and play a leading role in the struggles that are taking place. This is of decisive importance. The mass strike action taken by the Egyptian and Tunisian working classes paralyzed the state and tipped the balance in favor of the masses. This did not happen in Syria. For the most part, while mass demonstrations took place in many parts of the country, the factories, power stations, railways, telecommunications, airports, sea ports, government offices, etc., all remained functioning normally, giving the regime a prolonged degree of stability and reliable access to the resources it needed to brutally put down the masses in revolt.

Syria is a very diverse country with big religious and ethnic minorities and a very heterogeneous social structure. The core of the Syrian regime is mainly based on the Alawite minority. The regime has secured the support of the majority of Alawites, Christians, Druze, and liberal Sunni Muslims by successfully exploiting their fears that the ascendance of an Islamic fundamentalist regime would oppress them, marginalize them, or put limits on their social freedoms and lifestyle. It should be noted that many elements among those fighting the regime have been raising religious slogans and demands, using a religious language which has very conveniently played into the hands of the propaganda machine of the regime.

Syria is located in a very politically sensitive region and borders Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey. It has become the focal point in which opposing interests in the region are being played out, with Sunni Arab monarchies on one side, pitted against the Iranian-backed Shiia, which in turn reflect the opposing interests of Russia, China and the U.S. in the region, with Turkey and France also seeking to promote their own interests. Also, after the experience of the U.S. occupation and devastation of Iraq in 2003, many Syrians are quite fearful of imperialist meddling in the affairs of their country and the catastrophic results this would bring. The regime successfully played on these fears to draw support from among a wide layer of the population from all religious and social backgrounds.

All of the previously mentioned factors could have been cut across, and the Syrian masses from all religious and ethnic backgrounds could have been united behind the banner of the revolution, had there existed a genuine revolutionary leadership with a clear economic, social, and political program, i.e., a clear socialist class program, that could have appealed to all working people in Syria.

The official Syrian opposition represented by the Syrian National Council is far from being that leadership. It is precisely the opposite. The SNC is linked to rich businessmen who aspire to replace the Assad regime and have absolutely no interest in common with the struggling masses. In fact, their interests are directly opposed to those of the poor masses. The SNC is in reality a direct tool of U.S. imperialism, based abroad and funded by imperialism, with no real links to the opposition on the ground. Most harmful has been the continuous appeal of the SNC for imperialist intervention in Syria, which has only damaged the image of the revolution and served to turn away many layers of Syrian society, pushing them into the arms of the Assad regime. Many Syrians could have been otherwise won over to the revolution with a different and correct leadership, slogans and demands.

It is very hard to predict how a very complicated situation like Syria is going to end. It is clear that the Assad regime is going to eventually collapse. It is rotting from within, as the latest defection to the “revolution” by Assad’s prime minister reveals. As in Libya, as it becomes ever clearer that although the regime is well armed its days are numbered, more and more elements from within the regime are looking to their own future. The fact that such elements can go over to the so-called “revolution” shows how reactionary the situation has become on both sides of the divide. These elements are not jumping ship to support the revolution, but precisely for the opposite reason.

This is why a collapse of the regime would not necessarily mean a victory for the revolution. On the contrary, it seems that the revolutionary mass movement is already on its way to being defeated, as it has been losing ground to forces it cannot control. This is not to say that this process could not be reversed, but in the recent period, this has been the tendency. This needs to be stated clearly to the genuine Syrian revolutionaries and the youth.

In the final analysis, a revolutionary war cannot be reduced to the question of weapons; it is first and foremost a question of the political program of the revolution. Many times throughout history, revolutionary forces with inferior technical and material means have defeated stronger and better-armed armies and state apparatuses, when they have been armed with a program that was able to split those armies and state apparatuses along class lines.

It is therefore not enough to say that we are for the overthrow of the Assad regime; to large sections of the population it is not a matter of indifference what replaces it, particularly if that means a religious-based dictatorship. The perspective of replacing the Assad family with Muslim Brotherhood-aligned businessmen will not be appealing to workers and revolutionary youth, particularly those who consider themselves secular or who are not Sunni. The idea that the Assad regime will be replaced by one which is a U.S. protectorate like in Iraq or Afghanistan, or one which is backed by Turkey or Saudi Arabia, also rightly repels many Syrians who are fiercely proud of their national independence and anti-imperialist traditions.

The task of Marxists is to patiently explain the need for a socialist program, the only one which can link the genuine democratic aspirations of the people with their social and economic demands. Genuine revolutionaries must organize themselves as an independent faction and put forward their ideas forcefully and collectively.

We invite our readers to read the International Marxist Tendency’s full analysis of the Syrian Revolution by visiting the website of the IMT.

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