, the slaughter of Syrians by Syrians reached a new daily high of 440 souls. A great many of them were children and most of the adults were also victims and still no international force is intervening and even trying to save innocence Syrian lives. In Syrian the non-interventions can claim a complete political victory. No one is lifting a finger to help these poor people.
Overwhelmingly, this killing is coming from the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad which has been using tanks, long range artillery, rockets from helicopters, snipers, jet planes dropping cluster bombs and 500lb bombs on civilian targets in opposition areas regardless of whether there is armed opposition in those areas. His targets have included, people in breadlines ( four times), hospitals, mosques, civilian housing, rescue operations and funerals.
A growing number of reports are making it clear that with regards to the military assault by the Syrian government on its people, we can not talk of "collateral damage," the slaughter of non-combatants is intentional. Bashar al-Assad is using his well financed death machinery to massacre whole communities for their political opposition to him and except for some jihadists and Libya revolutionaries, nobody is trying to help them.
For the non-interventionists, this may be their masterpiece.
The rate at which the Assad regime has been slaughtering Syrians has increased sharply since 20 August when US President Barack Obama told Bashar al-Assad that it would take nothing less than the use of chemical weapons and not just a small amount but "a whole bunch," to shake his non-interventionist stance.
Even so, yesterday's total represents a new one-day record. I wonder how many Syrians a day he can slaughter without having to use a whole bunch of chemical weapons? Shall we all just watch and see?
Syria: Neither Riyadh nor Tehran but Popular Revolution
Just as the Assad regime in Syria approaches what appears to be its terminal decomposition, prominent figures on the Anglophone left are hurrying to defend it—or at least to oppose its opponents. The anti-anti-dictatorship crowd includes not only sub-Ickean conspiracists such as Michael Chossudovsky but also people one would have expected to know better, such as Tariq Ali, George Galloway and John Rees. Some of the arguments are expressed in more inflammatory style than others—such as Galloway’s claim that the Syrian uprising is a ‘massive international conspiracy’—but they follow a similar line. This is that: the Syrian revolution, whether it has popular roots or not, has now become a purely military endeavour of Sunni supremacists acting as the catspaws of a Saudi-Qatari-U.S. (perhaps also Franco-Zionist) effort to topple Assad, the last redoubt of the anti-imperialist forces in the region. This externally funded rebellion represents an extension of the U.S. imperial project launched after the 9/11 attacks, embracing the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Stories of Syrian government atrocities in the Western media are the counterparts of the lies circulated in 2002-3 about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and therefore must be discredited. The only solution to be hoped for is a negotiated peace (a prospect also raised by parts of the Syrian opposition) leaving some remnant of the Ba’ath regime in place, thereby denying the U.S. and its co-conspirators the prize of a pliant regime on Israel’s front-line and a significant weakening of the Iranian position. These arguments are not made solely by Anglophone commentators: outside of Egypt’s revolutionary currents, they are extremely common on the Arab left. One need only glance at the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar to find the Arab revolutions damned tout court as examples of “Political Sunnism”.
Is any of this true? The situation in Syria is both extremely violent and extremely complicated and difficult for even those within the country to grasp, let alone those outside of it. Nonetheless, information is available if one is ready to consult people within Syria or those who have reported from there recently—a step rarely taken by those proposing the anti-anti-Assad argument. Let us take the claims in turn.
'Massive international conspiracy'?
The charges laid by, amongst others, Charles Glass and Patrick Seale, are that the Free Syrian Army is trained, funded and armed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia (leading to an increase in Islamist influence within its ranks) as the co-conspirators of the USA and Turkey. These arms and funds, it is claimed, are flowing largely through the contact points established between FSA-held territory and the Turkish border in the north. It is this weaponry that accounts for the recent boldness of the rebels, and the likely demise of the current regime will be a victory for the suppliers of this ordinance and not the Syrian people.
There are elements of truth to this story. It is no secret that the U.S., and its more vociferous junior imperial partner, wants rid of Assad and in this aim they are joined by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the GCC more generally. The Saudis and Qataris are providing money, and in some cases materiel, to those bits of the FSA of which they approve. Nor is it any revelation that Western (and Turkish) agencies are attempting to broker the flow of these resources into the country and thereby exercise influence over the revolutionary situation. In any revolution, anywhere, now or in the future, outside powers will try to do this. Where this line of argument goes very wrong is in claiming that the Syrian revolution, as a result of these attempts, now consists of ‘sundry’ elements working for Western intelligence agencies and abetting the recolonisation of the country.
First, the weaponry and funding in question is not very much, and not for everyone. One can spot images of FSA anti-aircraft guns or cannon but very rarely. These are also most likely to have been taken with defectors of the defeat of a regime garrison. The regime’s advantage in airpower and ground armour is overwhelming: the FSA’s resources bear no comparison. One would expect a massive international conspiracy worth its salt to furnish its fifth column with some serious anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry. Such munitions are not evident. Most of the FSA’s light arms seem to come from the Syrian army itself, through defection or purchase with money from Syrian exile businessmen in the Gulf. Here is an example of FSA members having taken Rastan in July, disabling at least two armoured vehicles visible in the video:
The regime armour appears to have been hit with improvised bombs, as described in other reports. The fighters have kalashnikovs and body armour but no heavy weaponry and certainly no mortars or rocket batteries. An example of the motivations and desires of FSA fighters is given in this video:
Defecting out of horror at the regime’s repression, these men seem desperate for weaponry and support from outside. The provision of such support, especially were it to entail Western air superiority, would indeed endanger the autonomy of the revolution—but the fact they are asking for it indicates that the conspiracy is perhaps not so massive or effective after all. If you were comprehensively funding and arming a rebel force to topple your well-armed enemy, would you leave its fighters to rely on the goodwill of local villagers for food?
Belief in a massive international conspiracy, rather than a popular revolution, also forestalls understanding of why Assad’s forces are doing so badly. The Syrian army numbers about 300,000 and it is an actual army, not a group of men in the woods. Yet it cannot be used, because most of the soldiers are unreliable. The core shock troops—their loyalty solidified by sectarian or clan identity—can be sent to dispatch the FSA forces, but governing the subdued areas is almost impossible, as the regular troops are likely either to defect or simply not to do their duty. This form of rebellion should also be counted part of a revolutionary process that has been going on since March 2011. The defection of Manaf Tlass and Riad Hijab and the bomb attack killing several high-ranking security officers indicates that the rot has set in even at the core of the regime.
Morphed into civil war?
Yet, are these not simply manoeuvres in a civil war, the form into which the Syrian revolution has now ‘morphed’ ? Denunciations of the ‘militarization’ of the Syrian revolution, and calls simply to stop the violence, come long and hard from certain quarters of the Western left. And indeed, the economic power of the working class (at best only scantily visible in the Syrian revolution) provides a firmer basis for revolutionary strategy than solely armed contest with the state. There is no doubt that what Syria is now undergoing is a civil war, albeit one in which the dynamics of a revolutionary process are still present. Nor is the military strategy of the FSA uncontested within the ranks of the opposition themselves. However, absent in the jeremiads against the Syrian revolutionaries for their resort to arms is any understanding of the origins of this development.
The revolution was inspired by and followed the model of Tunisia and Egypt. Even the initial slogan of ‘the people demand the fall of the regime’, daubed on a wall in Dera’a, consciously emulated Tunisia. Every such unarmed protest was suppressed with the uttermost violence. The Free Syrian Army was formed out of armed detachments protecting demonstrations, only really beginning in earnest last summer. The Syrian regime has been ‘militarized’ for decades. If it persists in some form, the solution favoured by some on the left, the Syrian people will continue to suffer its violence. They are not to be condemned for fighting back.
Nor is the revolution over in the form of demonstrations, strikes, and popular self-management. This is a crucial factor in considering the role of foreign intervention: arms and funds are entering Syria from outside but this remains within a context of surprisingly robust popular mobilizations. One must remember that tens of thousands have been killed by the regime, many more arrested and tortured, demonstrations are attacked with live fire, residential districts shelled, and all this for a year and a half. It would be no surprise if Syrian revolutionists disappeared completely from the streets. They have not: indeed, the increased military victories over the regime go in tandem with the appearance of mass opposition in Aleppo and Damascus. To take a few examples from the recent offensives in those cities...
A demonstration in Rukn Al-Din, Damascus, on 19 July:
And on the 20th, also in Damascus. You will note the ‘militarization’ of the situation at 4:36 when regime snipers open fire:
Here are demonstrations from Aleppo, from a Kurdish district a few days later—when watching the scenes of fighting from that city, it is worth remembering that this is what the Assad forces are fighting to destroy:
Here is a round-up of the demonstrations in Aleppo on 29 June:
The armed attacks on the infrastructure of the security state are also being carried out with popular participation, as shown in this recording of the storming of a Political Security office in the village of Al-Tal:
There have been several attempts at igniting general strikes against the Assad regime, in the hope of repeating the contribution of the Egyptian and Tunisian labour movements to dispatching the dictators in those countries. So far, these attempts have not succeeded, partially because of the deep imbrication of the Communist parties and official union organisation and partially because of the extent of repression. However, strike days have been observed in several cities on several occasions—here is film of a strike of mini bus drivers in the outskirts of Damascus on 8 June:
The Turkish-based Syrian National Council is rightly considered by the anti-anti-Assad campists to be a pro-intervention outfit greatly influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and its Qatari sponsors. However, this body seems neither representative nor respected on the ground. Illuminating dispatches from the towns of Saraqeb and Taftanaz reveal elements of popular power in areas liberated from the Assad regime. The Local Co-ordinating Committees, composed of activists directing demonstrations, have in some cases merged with local committees formed to take over state functions. Thus in Taftanaz, Anand Gopal writes of how
'To fill the vacuum, citizens came together to elect councils—farmers formed their own, as did merchants, laborers, teachers, students, health-care workers, judges, engineers, and the unemployed. In some cases, the councils merged with pre-existing activist networks called local coordinating committees. They in turn chose delegates to sit on a citywide council, which in Taftanaz and surrounding towns was the only form of government the citizenry recognized.'
'the committee’s nine members are each tasked with a different role – there’s a media liaison, finance officer, military liaison, political officer, revolutionary courts representative, services coordinator, medical services, donations officer, and demonstrations coordinator. They are rotating, elected posts of three months’ duration. “There is no leader in the group,” said “al-Sayed,” one of the nine representatives who requested anonymity. “We want to get rid of this idea.”'
These are not isolated organisations – the committees elect delegates to regional bodies, which then constitute the Syrian Revolutionary General Command.
The committees are not to be mistaken for Soviets. Like their (now largely defunct) counterparts in the earlier phases of the Tunisia and Egyptian revolutions, they reflect local hierarchies, connections, jealousies and rivalries.
However, in a society in the throes of revolutionary upheaval (to which the anti-anti-Assadites blind themselves) class conflict is laid bare and questions of the reconstitution of social order are invariably raised. Thus, in the town of Binnish near Taftanaz, Gopal reports how farmers and consumers agreed food prices through the mechanism of their council on the grounds that “we have to give to each as he needs.” The account continues:
'It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade. '
Similar dynamics seem to have emerged in Aleppo, where according to a report in the Guardian:
'the wealthy…[view]the rebels as a sort of unwelcome peasant army. “If I were to generalise I would say the middle class and upper class don’t want the rebels. They want everything to be how it was so they can trade and go to coffee shops,” one English-speaking resident, who lives in a regime area, said via Skype'.
Certain of the local committees, it seems, have even taken up Gramsci’s strictures on the role of the revolutionary press, printing their own newspaper (Revolutionary Words) featuring reports from the literal front-lines, and articles on revolutionary history—in the words of one of its editors: “This is not an intellectual’s revolution… This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”
A “sectarian gang”?
The presence of these local committees, and their character, should not be taken as an argument that the Syrian workers’ republic is nigh. Rather they indicate that the dynamics in Syria are those—complicated, bloody, messy—of an actual revolutionary process and not simply an extrusion of armed gangs operating at the behest of external enemies. One of the commonest arguments being put about is precisely that claim, accompanied by the assertion that to the extent that the uprising enjoys any support, this is on the basis of a violent sectarianism that renders the revolutionaries as bad as (if not worse than) the regime. This fact, it is alleged, is being concealed by a complicit and war-hungry Western media.
The uprising, exactly because it is a popular one, carries with it many of the prejudices and discursive ticks of the provincial, most often Sunni, centres in which it has found its base. Arabic-speaking readers will have noticed the prevalence of religious slogans (“God is great”, ‘We obey you o God”, “the Friday of Confidence in the Victory of God” and so forth) in the videos I have posted above. Some of these may reflect ideological commitment: more likely, as Anand Gopal writes , these slogans are “typically part performance vocabulary, part unifying norm in a riven society, part symbolic invocation of guerrilla struggle in a post-Iraq War world, and part expression of pure faith.” It seems very odd that people who accepted, for example, the legitimacy of Hizbullah’s struggle against Israel now demand that the Syrian revolutionaries abjure such language. George Galloway’s statement that a “jihadist, extremist, Islamist” current is waiting to take over in Syria seems an especially quick turnaround and a very sloppy use of language. There are, it seems, groups operating under the al Qaeda franchise in Eastern Syria where the border with Iraq allows for a reverse version of the guerrilla smuggling practiced against the U.S. occupation. However, evidence that these are a predominant force within the variegated groups fighting under the banner of the FSA has yet to be presented.