The Syrian Civil War: Inter-Imperialist Rivalry

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[Principal Contradiction] [Syria] [Middle East] [U.S. Imperialism] [ULK Issue 47]
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The Syrian Civil War: Inter-Imperialist Rivalry

The Syrian civil war, the biggest conflict in the Middle East if not the world, has many wondering what the outcome will be. The United $tates has backed a group in the Kurdish area that has called for the expulsion of Arabs (1) and has armed fundamentalist religious forces that threaten the Syrian government, headed by Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, the government-controlled capital of Syria, Damascus, has been a place where Muslims, Christians, and Jews are allowed to co-exist, united by the same desire to save their nation from the forces that be. The Syrian Constitution is based in the mission of Pan-Arabism and specifically prevents the formation of political parties "on the basis of religious, sectarian, tribal, regional, class-based, professional, or on discrimination based on gender, origin, race or color."(2)

The Assad government opposes becoming a puppet to U.$. imperialism and was never for the creation of I$rael and its occupation of Palestine. As history has shown, with a policy like that comes economic, if not military, aggression. The East and the West are in a tug-of-war over influence in the Middle East and it's only going to get worse. The so-called U.$.-type of "democracy" has proven again and again that it does not work; imperialist pseudo-democracy will not work in Syria just like it hasn't worked in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The pro-West bourgeois media claims Assad rules with an iron fist, but the West has backed the destruction of secularism and political pluralism in the region. Syria is more democratic than Saudi Arabia, a U.$. ally and the biggest dictatorship in the region. If the United $tates is really so concerned about iron fists, maybe the capitalists should look past the petroleum barrels and look at Saudi Arabia, the anti-democratic Sunni dictatorship that is nominally leading a repressive war in Yemen and was involved in the brutal repression of recent revolts in Bahrain.

For centuries Sunni influence has dominated the sectarian Muslim world, but now the table has turned and the Shia militias have taken up more territory than they've had in centuries, which has the Saudis in an ideological war with Iran. Assad is blamed for all the casualties in the war but even the foreign aggressors can't deny that it's their coalition planes dropping the barrel bombs on innocent civilians, threatening the Syrian government with war if they intervene.

The United $tates has spent $5 million on a Pentagon-sponsored training program to arm the Syrian opposition forces, but four years later there is still no success in their campaign. The Pentagon has admitted that the program was a failure. From the beginning of the war the U.$. State Department's policy towards Syria was "Assad must go now." But since it's looking like this is not going to happen any time soon Obama said Assad doesn't have to leave right away, there can be a transition of power. What bureaucratic bullshit.

All this has to do with Russia and Iran's strong presence in Syria and their strong stance on supporting Assad. The Iran-backed Shia militias are doing most of the fighting on Iraq's border with Syria, and they have made it clear that as soon as they've dealt with the Islamic State they're prepared to fight the real enemy: U.$. imperialism. Russia has recently opened up an airbase in western Syria, the biggest Russian base ever built outside the old Soviet territory. Just recently they've started conducting their own airstrikes against the Syrian opposition forces in eastern Syria, far from Islamic State-held territory.(5) Now the United $tates sees how determined Russia and Iran are in making sure the Syrian government doesn't collapse. Both sides are willing to sit down for talks on how to avoid each other on the battlefield but can't decide how the war should end. One thing is for sure: if Assad leaves, the war still won't end.

The real victims of this ideological, semi-colonial war are the innocent people of Syria. Since the beginning of the war, 250,000 people have died and more than 9 million people have left their homes. According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 3,000 to 6,000 people leave Syria every day. So now because of the war the biggest refugee crisis since WWII is happening with no end in sight.

Other major casualties are happening among the Kurdish people, who have been fighting for freedom since before the war and have suffered much death and destruction because of the war. I'm not talking about the comprador landlord class that sold out to imperialism. I'm talking about the exploited who were suffering way before the war, and do not have interests aligned with imperialism, despite their misleaders.

As anti-imperialists we oppose U.$. aggression in Syria as well as anywhere in the world. Chairman Mao said "political power comes out of the barrel of a gun." So as long as there is exploitation there will always be war. As materialists we must use scientific theory to educate one another on the importance of solidarity with the Third World and opposition to the bourgeois warmongers.


MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is correct that our principal contribution here should be in making it hard for the United $tates to stay involved in Syria and elsewhere. And while we cannot determine the forces on the ground elsewhere, we can see who is in the anti-imperialist united front and who is with the imperialists. In that light, we have a couple comments related to some popular narratives on this conflict.

First, there is a myth promoted in the Western media that violence in the Middle East is due to centuries-old religious conflict. This myth paints the current war(s) in an ahistorical way; they have always existed, and may continue to exist unless the imperialists can somehow tame and modernize these backwards peoples.

The reality is that these are some of the most religiously diverse countries because they are close to the birthplaces of so many of the world's most popular religions. Countries like Iraq and Syria not only were quite diverse and harmonious, but were relatively well-developed; not the bombed-out desert caves we see in the media.

The narrative that focuses on religion does so to hide the real politics and economics behind the conflict. In particular, hiding imperialist meddling. It also attempts to convince the West, from atheist to Christian, of the barbarity of these "foreign" cultures. It is important to remember that the principal contradiction on the international scale is imperialism vs. the oppressed nations, and not between religions or genders.

Many have used the role of wimmin in the Islamic State in contrast to the Kurdish regions to justify support for the Kurds. As Frantz Fanon noted in his study of the Algerian revolution, the conditions of armed struggle forced the involvement of wimmin in military operations, regardless of cultural beliefs to the contrary. In other words, the national struggle, if genuinely aimed at liberation from imperialism, will force the gender contradiction forward with it. The converse is not true, which is how we know which contradiction should be prioritized. It is true that more wimmin holding guns can be a good sign of the progressiveness of the organization, but even in the Third World this is not always the case.

This leads us to another myth that we want to clarify for our readers, which is that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is a Marxist, or even a Maoist organization. While having Marxist-Leninist roots, the PKK fully capitulated to the Turkish state after the capture of their leader Abdullah Ocalan in a joint U.$.-Turkish operation in 1999. He officially changed the leading ideology of the PKK to a libertarian “Democratic Confederalism” in 2005. But as early as 1998 Ocalan was denouncing communism, and promoting the route of U.$. development for the oppressed nations.(6)

The PKK has its roots in Turkey, which has a long history of Maoist activity that continues to this day. Yet none of the Kurdish-controlled areas are currently run by anti-imperialist organizations. The U.$.-backed Erdogan regime in Turkey does have a complex relationship to the PKK and other Kurdish forces. While they have provided support to Kurds fighting the Islamic State, in recent months, they resumed violent attacks on the PKK within Turkey. For this reason and many others, the current alliance of Kurdish forces with the U.$. empire is not an optimistic choice for the Kurdish people.

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