Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Happy, Happy Birthday Karl Marx, On The 200th Anniversary Of His Birth-Some Thoughts mbered (both from long ago and the recent re-readings) about how he had all his life, all his early life looking for something, some movement to move him, to move us who grew up with him poor as church mice, maybe poorer to a more just world. Had made me laugh, since on some of the stuff I have been right alongside him, when he mentioned the old Student Union for World Goals which a bunch of us had put together in high school. A grouping with a program that was inundated with all the anti-communist, red scare, Cold War platitudes we could find. We basically were a little to the left of Ike, Grandpa Ike, Dwight D. Eisenhower who was President of the United States (POTUS in twitter-speak) in our youth filled with bauble about the virtues of capitalism, although I think we would have been hard pressed to make that word connection and probably said something like prosperity which we had garnered very little of in the now remembered golden age of the 1950s. Then as the thaw came, or as people, young people mostly broke the spell of the red scare Cold War night, after we have sown our oats out in the Summer of Love, 1967 and saw some writing on the wall that we were ‘raw meat” for the draft come college graduation day getting hopped up about Robert Kennedy’s ill-fated, ill-starred bid for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination in 1968. I already mentioned the Army experiences which did both of us in for a while but which frankly drove Frank outside bourgeois politics (he had expected that he would tie his wagon to Robert Kennedy and when that idea fell apart with Kennedy’s assassination offering Hubert H. Humphrey his services against the main villain of the ear Richard M. Nixon in the expectation that he would ride that train out of the draft and/or begin the road to a nice sinecure via Democratic Party politics). I am not sure if he began serious reading on Marx in the Army or not but when he got out in 1971 he certainly was doing the “read until the early morning” routine. I grabbed some of his tidbits, associated with some of the radical circles in Cambridge he started to frequent, went down the line with him in Washington on May Day, 1971 where we both got busted but soon after withdrew a bit from both him and serious leftwing politics. I was crazy, still am, for films, for seeking some kind of career as a film critic and so spent more of my time in the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square than protesting on Boston Common. He can address sometime his own withdrawal from left-wing organizational politics and moving on to journalism, political commentary on his own dime. That is enough of the political justification for Frank’s fighting me on this assignment. Frank, however, took the unusual step, for him anyway, of mentioning his being pissed off about losing the Marx assignment and mentioned it to site manager Greg Green. The guy who gives out the assignment and who has had more than one person, me included, scratching their heads both in the assignments they have gotten of late or like Frank not have gotten. Whatever Frank laid out for Greg he had both of us come in to his office to discuss the issue. You know as much as you need to about Franks’ “cred.” My frame of reference and what amounted to the winning argument was that I had been Peter Paul Markin’s closest friend in high school. Markin, forever known as Scribe for the obvious reason that he always carried a notebook and pen or pencil in his shirt pocket AND always, always had two thousand facts ready to throw at anybody who would listen, mainly girls, which drove more that one of our corner boy crowd to threaten grievous bodily is the real primary source for whatever we knew about Karl Marx before we went crazy later and started to seriously read the stuff. So I knew the details of how Frank, Frankie Riley, Jimmy Jenkins, Si Lannon and maybe a couple of others first heard about the name and ideas of one Karl Marx and who would later act on them a little. This is where I was a little ahead of Frank knowing that Greg, after taking over as site manager when Allan Jackson was purged from that position, was interested much more in “”human interest” stories than the “tiresome” (his words) esoteric left-wing jargon that he knew Frank would meandering into, no, would get in knee deep. (For the record some of the other guys who hung around with Scribe and the rest of us like Ricky Rizzo and Dave Whiting, both who would lay their heads down in hellhole Vietnam and wound up on the town monument and Washington black granite, Red Riley and even Frank Jackman when he was hopped up on that Student Union thing almost lynched him when he started talking favorably about Karl Marx and the idea of red revolution in those dead ass red scare Cold War nights. All they wanted to hear about was whatever intelligence Scribe had on some girl they were interested in of which he somehow almost incongruously had been plenty of information about or what his next plan was for the “midnight creep” which I assume needs no further explanation except he planned the capers but no way would Frankie Riley or the rest of us let him lead the expeditions-hell we would still be in jail.) Others, including Frank Jackman, have now seemingly endlessly gone over the effect Scribe had on them a little later when the turbulent 1960s we all got caught up in, blew a gasket, in the Summer of Love, 1967 as the culmination of what he also had been talking about for years on those lonely forlorn weekend nights when we hung around good guy Tonio’s Pizza Parlor “up the Downs” in the growing up Acre section of North Adamsville. What most of the guys did not know, or did not want to know, was that a little of what Scribe was thinking at the time, was that maybe Karl Marx might be proven to be right, might have been onto something when he spoke about the working classes, us, getting a big jump ahead in the world once things turned upside down. He held those views pretty closely then, especially when he was practically red-baited into silence by those guys who were even more hung up, as was Scribe in many ways, on the new normal American negative propaganda about Russia, Communism, and Karl Marx. Nobody, this from later Scribe once he flamed red, was born a radical, a revolutionary, and certainly not a Marxist but certain conditions, among them being as poor as church mice, gave a clue to where some people might go. The intellectuals, although Scribe did not call them that, would come to their Marxism more through books and rational thought than as prime victims of the usually one-sided class struggle of the rich against the poor. That was about as far as Scribe would go, wanted to go, because in many ways, although maybe a little less fulsomely, he wanted to go the same bourgeois politics path as Frank in politics. Like I say Scribe described to some of us a glimmer, a faux Marxist primer, then in high school, not at all thought out like it would be by him or us later in the late 1960s and early 1970s when we got back respectively from our tours to the “real” world from ‘Nam and knew we had been fucked over by our government. That the “reds” in Vietnam were poor folk, peasants, with whom we had no quarrel. But that was later. Here is a better example of the glimmer Scribe shined on us back in the day. I remember one night, it had to be one high school night given the teacher and class he was descripting, Scribe had told me that he had had to stay after school one day for Mr. Donovan, the World History teacher and football coach which tells you what he was about, when Scribe had given a surly answer about some question Mr. Donovan had asked. That surliness coming from two sources, one Donovan having members of the class endlessly reading aloud the freaking book boring everybody within a mile of the room and that he really believed he already knew more about history than Donovan and so was personally bored as well. The question had not been about Marxism but something else and during that afternoon detention Donovan had asked him if he was a “Bolshevik.” Scribe recoiled in horror he said knowing that to say yes would get him in some trouble (probably more after school time at least) and for the simple fact that he could not say truthfully whatever teen angst and alienation he was feeling was driven by that kind of understanding of the world-then. What this history teacher confrontation did do was get Scribe looking again, and this tells as much about him as any other anecdote, at his dog-eared copy of Karl Marx’s (and his co-thinker and financial “angel” Friedrich Engels) classic statement of his views The Communist Manifesto to confirm whether he was a “Marxist,” “Communist,” whatever and he came away from that re-reading knowing that he was not one of those guys, a red. That was the kind of guy Scribe was when he was confronted with something he didn’t understand. The rest of us would have said “fuck it” and let it go at that or have challenged old Donovan with a spurious “yeah, what about it.” Maybe some silly remark like “better red than dead” or “my mommy is a commie,” expressions making the rounds in that dead air time. So this little sketch really is a “human interest” story and not all that much about Marx in any political sense and that is also why I think that Greg bought my argument over Frank’s. Whatever Marx, Marxism, hell, just general radical non-parliamentary socialism held for the 19th devotees (and bloodthirsty enemies too) extending into the greater part of the 20th century fell down, went to ground, with the demise of the Soviet Union back in 1991-92, and whatever intellectual curiosity Marx and Marxism held fell down too so other than as an exotic utopian scheme today there is no reason to go chapter and verse on the details of what Marx was programmatically projecting. To finish up on this sketch though I should like to mention the way Scribe, which again will tell something about the mad monk when he was in his flower, got his copy of the Manifesto back when he was fourteen or fifteen. He had heard for some source, maybe some “beat” over in Harvard Square when he used to go there after a particularly bad day in the mother wars, it was a cool document or something, who knows with Scribe was kind of strange. He couldn’t find the book in either the school or town libraries for the simple fact that neither had the document nor did when he inquired they want to have it in circulation. Yeah it was that kind of time. A friendly young librarian suggested that he try the Government Printing Office which might have a copy if somebody in Congress (like the red-baiter par excellence Senator Joseph McCarthy) or some governmental agency had ordered it printed for whatever reason as part of an investigation or just to put it in the record for some reason. He got the address in Washington and the GPO sent back a brochure with their publications for sale. And there it was. He ordered a copy and a few weeks alter it came in the mail. Here’s the funnier part, funnier that the government providing copies on the cheap (or maybe free I forget what he said on that point) of such a notorious document the document had been placed on the publication list because it was part of the record for the raucous House Un-American Activities Committee meeting in San Francisco in 1960 when they were practically run out of town by protestors as the Cold War began to thaw in certain places. Of course that was a recollection by Scribe later when we were deep into the Summer of Love out in that very town and he had asked some older people what that protest was all about. Yeah, Scribe was a piece of work and he would eventually drag some of us along with him in his good days like the Summer of Love and later after Vietnam time running around with radical students in Cambridge when checking out Mark and Marxism was all the rage. Like I said old Marx has had his up and downs, has taken his beatings but some things Scribe said he said and which we later read about like the poor getting a better shake because they provided the value provided by their cheap labor were spot on. Worse, in a way when I looked, re-read, for this assignment some of the stuff reads like it could have been written today. How about that. From The Archive Pages Of The Socialist Alternative Press-The Syrian cauldron

Happy, Happy Birthday Karl Marx, On The 200th Anniversary Of His Birth-Some Thoughts 



A link to NPR’s Christopher Lydon’s Open Source  2018 program on the meaning of Karl Marx in the 21st century on the 200th anniversary of his birth:

http://radioopensource.org/marx-at-200/


By Seth Garth

Normally Frank Jackman would be the natural person to do his take on the name, the role, the legacy of one German revolutionary exiled to London after the revolutions of 1848 faded away, Karl Marx, on the 200th anniversary of his birth in 1818. And Frank at first fought me a little, said he had grabbed a bunch of Marx’s books and pamphlets like the Communist Manifesto and the abridged Das Capital abetted by his friend and colleague Engels’ The Peasant Wars In Germany and Scientific Socialism. No question heavy lifting, heavy reading which our respective youths would have been read until early in the morning page turners but now would seemingly act as a sedative, a sleep aid, at least for me since Frank said it had made him more alert although agreeing that the works were not “read until early in the morning page turners.” Frank’s argument to me at least for his grabbing the assignment was that he had of the two of us been more influenced by Marx’s works and programs and had actually been a supporter of the old time Trotskyist organization the Socialist Workers Party for a while back in the early 1970s after he got out of the Vietnam blood bath American army and was ready to “storm heaven” (his words) to right the wrongs of this wicked old world (my words grabbed via Sam Lowell take) and as well had been doing leftwing commentary since Hector was a pup (somebody unknown’s expression).

Frank then went chapter and verse at me with what he remembered (both from long ago and the recent re-readings) about how he had all his life, all his early life looking for something, some movement to move him, to move us who grew up with him poor as church mice, maybe poorer to a more just world. Had made me laugh, since on some of the stuff I have been right alongside him, when he mentioned the old Student Union for World Goals which a bunch of us had put together in high school. A grouping with a program that was inundated with all the anti-communist, red scare, Cold War platitudes we could find. We basically were a little to the left of Ike, Grandpa Ike, Dwight D. Eisenhower who was President of the United States (POTUS in twitter-speak) in our youth filled with bauble about the virtues of capitalism, although I think we would have been hard pressed to make that word connection and probably said something like prosperity which we had garnered very little of in the now remembered golden age of the 1950s.     
Then as the thaw came, or as people, young people mostly broke the spell of the red scare Cold War night, after we have sown our oats out in the Summer of Love, 1967 and saw some writing on the wall that we were ‘raw meat” for the draft come college graduation day getting hopped up about Robert Kennedy’s ill-fated, ill-starred bid for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination in 1968. I already mentioned the Army experiences which did both of us in for a while but which frankly drove Frank outside bourgeois politics (he had expected that he would tie his wagon to Robert Kennedy and when that idea fell apart with Kennedy’s assassination offering Hubert H. Humphrey his services against the main villain of the ear Richard M. Nixon in the expectation that he would ride that train out of the draft and/or begin the road to a nice sinecure via Democratic Party politics). I am not sure if he began serious reading on Marx in the Army or not but when he got out in 1971 he certainly was doing the “read until the early morning” routine. I grabbed some of his tidbits, associated with some of the radical circles in Cambridge he started to frequent, went down the line with him in Washington on May Day, 1971 where we both got busted but soon after withdrew a bit from both him and serious leftwing politics. I was crazy, still am, for films, for seeking some kind of career as a film critic and so spent more of my time in the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square than protesting on Boston Common. He can address sometime his own withdrawal from left-wing organizational politics and moving on to journalism, political commentary on his own dime.

That is enough of the political justification for Frank’s fighting me on this assignment. Frank, however, took the unusual step, for him anyway, of mentioning his being pissed off about losing the Marx assignment and mentioned it to site manager Greg Green. The guy who gives out the assignment and who has had more than one person, me included, scratching their heads both in the assignments they have gotten of late or like Frank not have gotten. Whatever Frank laid out for Greg he had both of us come in to his office to discuss the issue. You know as much as you need to about Franks’ “cred.”

My frame of reference and what amounted to the winning argument was that I had been Peter Paul Markin’s closest friend in high school. Markin, forever known as Scribe for the obvious reason that he always carried a notebook and pen or pencil in his shirt pocket AND always, always had two thousand facts ready to throw at anybody who would listen, mainly girls, which drove more that one of our corner boy crowd to threaten grievous bodily is the real primary source for whatever we knew about Karl Marx before we went crazy later and started to seriously read the stuff. So I knew the details of how Frank, Frankie Riley, Jimmy Jenkins, Si Lannon and maybe a couple of others first heard about the name and ideas of one Karl Marx and who would later act on them a little. This is where I was a little ahead of Frank knowing that Greg, after taking over as site manager when Allan Jackson was purged from that position, was interested much more in “”human interest” stories than the “tiresome” (his words) esoteric left-wing jargon that he knew Frank would meandering into, no, would get in knee deep.     

(For the record some of the other guys who hung around with Scribe and the rest of us like Ricky Rizzo and Dave Whiting, both who would lay their heads down in hellhole Vietnam and wound up on the town monument and Washington black granite, Red Riley and even Frank Jackman when he was hopped up on that Student Union thing almost lynched him when he started talking favorably about Karl Marx and the idea of red revolution in those dead ass red scare Cold War nights. All they wanted to hear about was whatever intelligence Scribe had on some girl they were interested in of which he somehow almost incongruously had been plenty of information about or what his next plan was for the “midnight creep” which I assume needs no further explanation except he planned the capers but no way would Frankie Riley or the rest of us let him lead the expeditions-hell we would still be in jail.)

Others, including Frank Jackman, have now seemingly endlessly gone over the effect Scribe had on them a little later when the turbulent 1960s we all got caught up in, blew a gasket, in the Summer of Love, 1967 as the culmination of what he also had been talking about for years on those lonely forlorn weekend nights when we hung around good guy Tonio’s Pizza Parlor “up the Downs” in the growing up Acre section of North Adamsville. What most of the guys did not know, or did not want to know, was that a little of what Scribe was thinking at the time, was that maybe Karl Marx might be proven to be right, might have been onto something when he spoke about the working classes, us, getting a big jump ahead in the world once things turned upside down. He held those views  pretty closely then, especially when he was practically red-baited into silence by those guys who were even more hung up, as was Scribe in many ways, on the new normal American negative propaganda about Russia, Communism, and Karl Marx. Nobody, this from later Scribe once he flamed red, was born a radical, a revolutionary, and certainly not a Marxist but certain conditions, among them being as poor as church mice, gave a clue to where some people might go. The intellectuals, although Scribe did not call them that, would come to their Marxism more through books and rational thought than as prime victims of the usually one-sided class struggle of the rich against the poor. That was about as far as Scribe would go, wanted to go, because in many ways, although maybe a little less fulsomely, he wanted to go the same bourgeois politics path as Frank in politics.        

Like I say Scribe described to some of us a glimmer, a faux Marxist primer, then in high school, not at all thought out like it would be by him or us later in the late 1960s and early 1970s when we got back respectively from our tours to the “real” world from ‘Nam and knew we had been fucked over by our government. That the “reds” in Vietnam were poor folk, peasants, with whom we had no quarrel. But that was later.

Here is a better example of the glimmer Scribe shined on us back in the day. I remember one night, it had to be one high school night given the teacher and class he was descripting, Scribe had told me that he had had to stay after school one day for Mr. Donovan, the World History teacher and football coach which tells you what he was about, when Scribe had given a surly answer about some question Mr. Donovan had asked. That surliness coming from two sources, one Donovan having members of the class endlessly reading aloud the freaking book boring everybody within a mile of the room and that he really believed he already knew more about history than Donovan and so was personally bored as well. The question had not been about Marxism but something else and during that afternoon detention Donovan had asked him if he was a “Bolshevik.” Scribe recoiled in horror he said knowing that to say yes would get him in some trouble (probably more after school time at least) and for the simple fact that he could not say truthfully whatever teen angst and alienation he was feeling was driven by that kind of understanding of the world-then.         

What this history teacher confrontation did do was get Scribe looking again, and this tells as much about him as any other anecdote, at his dog-eared copy of Karl Marx’s (and his co-thinker and financial “angel” Friedrich Engels) classic statement of his views The Communist Manifesto to confirm whether he was a “Marxist,” “Communist,” whatever and he came away from that re-reading knowing that he was not one of those guys, a red. That was the kind of guy Scribe was when he was confronted with something he didn’t understand. The rest of us would have said “fuck it” and let it go at that or have challenged old Donovan with a spurious “yeah, what about it.” Maybe some silly remark like “better red than dead” or “my mommy is a commie,” expressions making the rounds in that dead air time.

So this little sketch really is a “human interest” story and not all that much about Marx in any political sense and that is also why I think that Greg bought my argument over Frank’s. Whatever Marx, Marxism, hell, just general radical non-parliamentary socialism held for the 19th devotees (and bloodthirsty enemies too) extending into the greater part of the 20th century fell down, went to ground, with the demise of the Soviet Union back in 1991-92, and whatever intellectual curiosity Marx and Marxism held fell down too so other than as an exotic utopian scheme today there is no reason to go chapter and verse on the details of what Marx was programmatically projecting.

To finish up on this sketch though I should like to mention the way Scribe, which again will tell something about the mad monk when he was in his flower, got his copy of the Manifesto back when he was fourteen or fifteen. He had heard for some source, maybe some “beat” over in Harvard Square when he used to go there after a particularly bad day in the mother wars, it was a cool document or something, who knows with Scribe was kind of strange. He couldn’t find the book in either the school or town libraries for the simple fact that neither had the document nor did when he inquired they want to have it in circulation. Yeah it was that kind of time. A friendly young librarian suggested that he try the Government Printing Office which might have a copy if somebody in Congress (like the red-baiter par excellence Senator Joseph McCarthy) or some governmental agency had ordered it printed for whatever reason as part of an investigation or just to put it in the record for some reason. He got the address in Washington and the GPO sent back a brochure with their publications for sale. And there it was. He ordered a copy and a few weeks alter it came in the mail. Here’s the funnier part, funnier that the government providing copies on the cheap (or maybe free I forget what he said on that point) of such a notorious document the document had been placed on the publication list because it was part of the record for the raucous House Un-American Activities Committee meeting in San Francisco in 1960 when they were practically run out of town by protestors as the Cold War began to thaw in certain places. Of course that was a recollection by Scribe later when we were deep into the Summer of Love out in that very town and he had asked some older people what that protest was all about.

Yeah, Scribe was a piece of work and he would eventually drag some of us along with him in his good days like the Summer of Love and later after Vietnam time running around with radical students in Cambridge when checking out Mark and Marxism was all the rage. Like I said old Marx has had his up and downs, has taken his beatings but some things Scribe said he said and which we later read about like the poor getting a better shake because they provided the value provided by their cheap labor were spot on. Worse, in a way when I looked, re-read, for this assignment some of the stuff reads like it could have been written today. How about that.             


Click on the headline to link to the Socialist Alternative (CWI) website.


Markin comment:

I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts.
**********
The Syrian cauldron

Aug 25, 2012

By Niall Mulholland, CWI, first published in Socialism Today (magazine of the Socialist Party, CWI in England & Wales)

What began 18 months ago as a popular uprising against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad is on its way to becoming a full-blown civil war that could spread around the region.

Below, we publish a lengthened and updated version of the article by Niall Mulholland written at the beginning of August and published on socialistworld.net for the monthly magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales).





July was the bloodiest month so far in the Syrian conflict, with an estimated 100 deaths a day. Across Syria there are indiscriminate attacks by the Assad regime forces and their militias, bloody sectarian reprisals by the armed opposition, refugee floods and humanitarian disasters. The second city, Aleppo, is the latest focus of fighting between armed opposition forces and the Syrian army. Since the rebels entered Aleppo on 20 July, many residents have fled for Damascus and Turkey.


The battle for Aleppo is important for both sides. Larger than the capital, Damascus, it is the main economic centre, with an important manufacturing sector. Like the rest of Syria, Aleppo is made up of a patchwork of religious and ethnic groups. The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) advanced on the city trying to capitalise on momentum they believed they made during an assault on Damascus and the bombing of a government intelligence meeting, which killed four generals. The Syrian army is stepping up its offensive on Aleppo. Tragically, workers and the poor are the main victims of the conflict in Aleppo and the other battlegrounds raging across the country.


The March 2011 uprising began as a genuine, popular movement against Bashar al-Assad’s police state, the erosion of social welfare, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and the rule of the rich, corrupt elite. Assad’s dictatorship responded to the wave of mass protests against 40 years of dictatorial rule – widely seen as part of the Arab spring – with vicious repression.


Brutal suppression of demonstrators led some activists to take up arms. The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI, the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) advocated democratically run workers’ self-defence committees that could protect communities and cut across sectarian lines. At the same time, the CWI called for this to be linked to a programme demanding the end of the Assad dictatorship and for fundamental democratic, social and economic change.


But, crucially, the mass protests lacked an independent working-class leadership. This is hardly surprising, given that the Syrian working class suffered vicious repression under decades of dictatorship that outlawed genuine workers’ self-organisation. Workers do not yet have strong independent trade unions, let alone a revolutionary party advocating far-reaching democratic, social and economic change. Inspiring and courageous as the mass protests that erupted in March 2011 were, they did not develop the same revolutionary sweep and appeal as the mass movements in Tunisia and Egypt.


Significantly, in both Tunisia and Egypt there was a tradition of workers’ organising themselves in unions and other social organisations prior to the revolutions. A sharp rise in industrial struggles took place in Egypt in the years prior to 2011. Strikes or the threat of general strikes in Tunisia and Egypt left the regimes suspended in mid-air and played a decisive role in overthrowing both Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak.


A united working class cutting across all religious, sectarian and ethnic lines is important in every country in the region. This is especially the case in Syria with its various religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities. Assad has cynically used divide-and-rule policies to stay in power. His army and Shabiha militias carry out heinous massacres to create big divisions between Alawites and Sunnis.


The backbone of the regime is based on the Alawite religious minority but it also draws support from Christians, Druze, and ‘moderate’ Sunni Muslims. Assad has mercilessly exploited the genuine fear of the minorities that victory for the armed, mainly Sunni opposition would see them become persecuted and discriminated against.


Cynically deploying anti-western and anti-imperialist rhetoric, the Assad regime warns that the fate of Iraq – terrible sectarian bloodletting, the destruction of infrastructure and the territorial fracturing of the country – awaits the Syrian people should the armed opposition, with the support of western powers and local reactionary regimes, prevail. Even though the Syrian regime is sorely battered and bruised and probably living on borrowed time, Assad remains in power, unleashing his deadly military arsenal against the armed opposition and innocent civilians of Syria.


Big-power interests


THE LACK OF a united working-class alternative meant that religious, sectarian and pro-capitalist oppositionist figures were able to partially fill the political space. Many youth and workers came under the broad umbrella of the FSA but reactionary elements were also involved from the start. As the mass street protests fell back, the FSA grew and armed struggle became the dominant form of resistance, further sidelining the mass movement. Reactionary Gulf regimes, along with Turkey, and with western imperialist backing, intervened with guns and money for the opposition, political strings attached, of course.


The FSA leaders’ aim is to overthrow Assad’s regime but not to replace it with real democracy and prosperity for all. They intend to establish a more pro-western, pro-capitalist regime, which would rule on the basis of a Sunni sectarian-based appeal. For their part, the US, Britain and France have long regarded Assad’s regime as a troublesome obstacle to their imperialist interests in the region. Crucial to their plans is to fundamentally weaken their main foe in the region, Iran.


Tehran is an ally of the Syrian regime. The fall of Assad could also strengthen pro-US Sunni Gulf regimes, while weakening Shia-based Hezbollah in Lebanon and Russian imperialism’s position in the region.


Syria is increasingly the arena for a regional and international proxy war. On the one side is the brutal Assad regime, with its Iranian and Russian backers. On the other, an array of anti-Assad armed opposition forces many of which are bankrolled and aided militarily by Arab states (led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and Turkey, with broad western support.


What began as a popular uprising in Syria descended into a civil war, with increasing religious, ethnic and sectarian characteristics. Working people and the poor are paying the greatest price for the failure of the revolt to develop into a powerful, independent movement based on a united working class. The estimated death toll now stands at 20,000. The United Nations (UN) believes that 150,000 people have fled the country, with many more internally displaced.


But the words of concern for the people of Syria from the mouths of western politicians are just so much hypocritical cant. Only a few years ago, George W Bush’s administration sent ‘terrorist suspects’ to Damascus to be tortured by Assad’s thugs. Now, president Barack Obama claims he wants to see the dictatorship replaced with ‘democracy’.


Yet two of the US’s closest allies in the region, the reactionary autocracies of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are busily arming and financing the Syrian rebels. They are not interested in bringing democratic rights to Syria any more than the US or Britain. The Saudi regime represses its own Shia minority, while backing reactionary sectarian Salafists in Syria.


The Turkish government, a member of Nato (the US-dominated military alliance), loudly denounces oppression in Syria. At home, it is suppressing the media and the country’s 20 million Kurds, who are pressing their own demands in both Turkey and Syria. Turkey’s ‘mild’ Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has also turned up his verbal attacks against the country’s minority Alevis, an historically persecuted off-shoot of Shia Islam, whose number include the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party.


Assad and the opposition


THE ROLES PLAYED by western powers and reactionary Gulf regimes are no reasons, however, to support the Assad regime. It is not some sort of ‘bulwark’ against imperialism, as some on the left in the region and beyond portray.


A Ba’athist coup in the 1960s saw the majority of the Syrian economy being nationalised, which for a period allowed the regime to take measures that saw a rise in living standards. Nonetheless, this was nothing at all like genuine democratic socialism, or a move towards it, as the brutal, undemocratic character of Assad’s family-dominated regime testified. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Syrian regime opened up the economy to global capitalism. This led to privatisations, welfare and subsidy cuts, mass joblessness and big inequalities, fuelling mass unrest and the March 2011 revolt.


The road to a real alternative to imperialism and Arab despots was displayed during last year’s revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the early promise of the 2011 Syrian revolt. They showed that it is the mass united movement of working people and youth that can remove despots and their regimes, resist imperialism and fight for real social and political change.


While it may only be a matter of time before Assad falls, the conflict shows no sign of a quick ending. “With or without Bashar al-Assad as its leader, Syria now has all the makings of a grim and drawn out civil war”, warns Vali Nasr, an academic and former advisor to Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. (New York Times, 28 July) While Assad has lost control of parts of Syria and the opposition is buoyed up, claiming the regime’s power is seriously eroding, the conflict is likely to become protracted. The high-profile defection of some military and diplomatic figures, including Riad Hijab, the recently appointed prime minister, has given the impression of a regime in slow-motion collapse. Yet Assad shows no sign of standing down.


To date, Assad has shown he has the military power and enough support in Syria, including from many Sunni business people, to keep fighting. But, although it appears unlikely at the moment, the possibility that Assad could be ousted by a palace coup cannot be ruled out. While the opposition has made some ground and is now reportedly using heavy weaponry, it is divided “among some 100 groups without clear political leadership”, according to Vali Nasr.


Moreover, the reactionary character of the largely Sunni-based, pro-big business Syrian National Council, which is linked to the FSA and its Sunni-elite Gulf backers, means that many of Syria’s Alawite, Christian and Kurdish minorities, as well as some Sunnis, fear what would follow Assad’s overthrow. The summary execution of unarmed pro-regime fighters by opposition militias in Aleppo, widely viewed on YouTube, will only deepen the fears of Syria’s minorities.


Jihadist organisations are establishing a foothold in the east of the country, including the al-Qaida group, Jabhat a Nusra (Solidarity Front). Foreign jihadists have entered Syria from Turkey, the Caucasus, Bangladesh and the Gulf Arab states, which is helping to stir up divisions within the opposition leadership.


Many of these fighters are battle-hardened veterans of the conflict in Iraq during US occupation. The jihadists in Iraq are, in turn, emboldened by events in neighbouring Syria. The al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq killed hundreds in July alone.


Sectarian conflagration


EVEN IF ASSAD decided to leave office or was removed by his own ruling clique, his military machine, dominated by the Alawite minority, and its allied Shabiha militias, could fight on. These forces could hold out in the Alawite heartland, forming a breakaway ‘Alawite state’ along the Syrian coast. If a new Alawite state was declared it could see other minorities “land grabbing”, warns Jordan’s King Abdullah. This could have a catastrophic copy-cat effect in the region. Syria’s oppressed Kurds have already claimed ‘liberated’ towns in the north, near the Turkish and Iraqi borders.


Syria could face the terrible prospect of breaking up into ethnic enclaves, like the former Yugoslavia, bitterly fighting over territory for years. This would resemble a re-run of Lebanon’s civil war (which lasted from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, costing up to 200,000 lives) but on a greater scale. An added horror would be the current regime’s chemical and biological weapons being deployed.


A sectarian conflagration would most likely embroil other countries in the region. Turkey, Iran, Israel and the Gulf states could be drawn into the maelstrom. The Syrian army has already shelled Lebanese villages. Fighting between Sunni and pro-Assad Alawites in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli and other areas has left scores dead. While the main political forces in Lebanon want to avoid an escalation of Sunni and Shia clashes, regular shootings and kidnappings in Beirut have raised fears of a slide towards sectarian conflict. The situation is becoming dangerously polarised along sectarian lines. A recent poll showed that 94% of Lebanon’s Sunni’s are hostile to Hezbollah, while 94% of Shias support it.


The Shia-based Hezbollah, an ally of the Assad regime, is the main force in the Lebanese ‘power-sharing’ government. But the largely Sunni opposition, based around the ‘March 14’ coalition, is encouraged by the Sunni-dominated revolt in Syria. They hope that Assad’s fall will deal a serious blow to Hezbollah, changing the balance of power in Lebanon. This could lead to the collapse of the power-sharing government, triggering wider conflict.


The turmoil in Syria is making the situation in Lebanon and across the region so combustible that any number of factors or events could trigger wider conflict: a Turkish military incursion into Syria’s north eastern areas controlled by Kurdish groups, for instance, or even a serious escalation of US and Israeli aggression towards Irans over its alleged nuclear arms programme.


As war rages in Syria and threatens to spread over the region, the so-called ‘international community’ stands completely exposed as impotent. The UN is incapable of acting as an ‘honest broker’ in the crisis. It cannot prevent atrocities against civilians or resolve armed conflicts in the interests of working people. The organisation is beholden to the world’s major powers, particularly the UN Security Council members, which are deeply divided over Syria.


The UN’s impotence was underlined with the resignation of Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League special envoy, on 2 August. Russia and China have voted against US, British and French-sponsored anti-Assad resolutions. Despite the rhetoric, the US and Russia positions have nothing to do with the plight of the Syrian people. It is all to do with the interests of their respective ruling classes and those of their closest allies.


Russia regards Assad’s regime as a crucial ally in the region. The Kremlin and Beijing are resolutely opposed to any western military intervention, particularly after the bitter experience of last year’s Libyan conflict. While some US, British and French politicians have mooted the idea of western military action against Assad’s regime or enforcing a no-fly zone – as recently posed by US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton – last year’s Nato attacks in Libya cannot be simply repeated in this context.


Syria has a much larger population than Libya and the regime has at its disposal a much more powerful and better trained and equipped military. A Nato bombing campaign would have to overcome Syria’s extensive air defence system, while a land invasion would require large-scale military forces. Western troops would face being intractably bogged down in hostile urban areas.


These steps would risk an internationalisation of the conflict, particularly as such western action would be widely seen in the Arab world as strengthening the regional position of Israel.


Western intervention


WHILE THE US is reportedly concerned about the Syrian opposition – the White House remains ‘haunted’ by memories of the catastrophic fallout from its backing of the Mujahadeen during the 1980s war in Afghanistan – the western powers are concentrating on supporting and aiding the FSA and other armed oppositionists. They do this primarily by enforcing sanctions against Damascus and by giving Gulf states the green light to arm and fund the opposition and for Turkey to provide logistical support.


The White House is also taking direct, covert action to support Assad’s armed opponents. According to press reports, Obama signed a secret order earlier this year authorising US support for the armed opposition, including the deployment of the CIA and other US agencies. Tory foreign secretary William Hague recently confirmed that Britain is also giving covert support to anti-Assad forces.


But as well as the considerable political embarrassment felt by Washington, London and Paris over their association with jihadist and al-Qaida elements among the Syrian opposition, the western powers are also scrambling to keep their influence with the various armed rebels.


The western powers have concluded that attempts to form a unified opposition around the exile-led Syrian National Council, which has little influence on events inside Syria, has failed. Clinton’s recent visit to Turkey was intended to increase US and Turkish co-operation to bring the internal Syrian opposition more under their control. The US and other western powers hope such actions will eventually see the downfall of Assad. However, some pro-western commentators warn that Assad’s fall would be a Pyrrhic victory. It would just be the beginning of even greater conflict in Syria and the region.


They counsel the White House to work towards a ‘transitional plan’, to create a post-Assad power-sharing arrangement that ‘all sides’ can agree on. This would entail a UN ‘peace-keeping’ force. To reach such an agreement would mean involving Russia and Iran, Vali Nasr believes, who may come to see the writing on the wall for Assad.


Even if such a scenario was eventually cobbled together after much more bloodshed and destruction, it would not bring democracy, stability or prosperity for Syria. It would see the imposition of a western military-dominated regime, involving reactionary pro-capitalist and sectarian-based forces. It would be no answer to the needs of the Syrian masses and working class.


Revolutionary processes


THE WORKING PEOPLE and poor in Syria face a desperate situation and the real danger of being engulfed in ethnic and sectarian warfare. Socialists everywhere must do all they can to help the workers of Syria to build class unity to resist and overcome these divisions.


In the current situation, these are herculean tasks. Yet there is no other way to successfully unite the masses to overthrow the brutal Assad regime, to oppose the meddling of local reactionary states and imperialism, and to win real democratic rights and fundamental social and economic change.


Despite their terrible plight, the Syrian masses are not alone. Their fate is inextricably linked to the ongoing revolutionary movements in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere throughout North Africa and the Middle East. There have been 18 months of revolution and counter-revolution and the process is far from over.


In Tunisia and Egypt, the conservative Islamist, pro-market parties, Ennahda (Resistance) and the Muslim Brotherhood, were able to come to power, exploiting the lack of revolutionary parties to fulfil the demands and aspirations of the masses. This was despite the fact that neither party played a key role in their countries’ revolutionary movements that overthrew Ben Ali and Mubarak.


But already both the Ennahda regime in Tunisia and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Mursi, are confronted with growing class opposition. After weeks of strikes, protests and workplace occupations, a general strike was called by Tunisia’s trade union federation, the UGTT, on 14 August. This was in protest against joblessness and poor water and electricity resources and also for democratic rights. Furthermore, it was used to show mass opposition to the Ennahda party’s proposed attacks on the rights of women.


While Egypt’s new president moved quickly to replace top generals and strengthen his powers, Mursi also faces a wave of protests across the country over electricity and water shortages. This follows weeks of strikes and workplace occupations, as workers struggle to improve pay and conditions. Egyptian workers are not waiting for the new government to improve their lives. They are building their own organisations and taking independent action. This is the model to follow!


By practically and politically linking up the class interests of workers in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and throughout the region, workers’ mass organisations, such as independent trade unions and new mass parties, can be built.


By basing itself on a united workers’ programme with socialist policies for fundamental change – democratic workers’ control and management of the economy to transform living conditions, creating jobs with a living wage, free quality education, health and housing and so on – such a movement would inspire workers and youth across the region to unite to kick out the tyrants and imperialism. This would lead to a struggle for a voluntary and equal socialist confederation of the Middle East, in which the rights of all minorities would be guaranteed.


Socialist Alternative, P.O. Box 45343, Seattle WA 98145
Phone: (206)526-7185
Comments? Suggestions for improving our web page? Please email info@SocialistAlternative.org

No comments: