March 2013 issue of Socialist Voice
For the past year and a half, the class struggle in Syria has been translated into the language of the gun, the roars of cannons, and fierce house by house combat in a forceful struggle against enemy positions. This is an overt and complete civil war. We are witnessing the greatest confrontation between revolution and counterrevolution that exists in the world today and its result will have a huge influence on the international situation, particularly on the way revolutions develop in the Middle East and North Africa.
As months go by, the situation tends to become more dramatic and gory. The dictatorial Bashar Assad regime that had promised to “live and die in Syria” is committing genocide against its people, who had risen in arms to defeat him. Day in day out we are witnessing atrocious methods of mass extermination against the armed rebels and population in general; the methods are clearly of a Nazi-fascist character, ranging from air raids and the use of heavy gunfire, reducing cities to rubble, to the selective bombing of bakeries or petrol stations terrifying and killing desperate civilians. There is also the systematic use of gangs of thugs who are armed and paid by the dictatorship, known as Shabiha, who tear into neighbourhoods that are under dispute or are controlled by rebels, to torture, murder and rape women and children.
The numbers of crimes committed by Assad are bloodcurdling. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), more than 38,000 people have died (3,220 of them children) since 15 March 2011, when the revolution began up to late October 2012.
Syrian economy has been devastated
Before analysing the course of the civil war and its dynamics, it is important to point out the current economic situation in Syria, 20 months after the beginning of the revolution.
On the 4 August 2012, the Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, reported that, according to the International Finances Institute, Syria’s GDP would fall 14 per cent in 2012 after a 6 per cent contraction in 2011. They also warned that the decrease may be as bad as 20 per cent by the end of year, if the civil war continued.
The main economic indicators are falling. Revenue from tourism has diminished from 11 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 4 per cent in 2011; by 2012 it will represent not more than 0.6 per cent of the Syrian economy. Direct foreign investment will drop from $1.5 billion in 2010 to $100 million in 2012. The total drainage of capital between March 2011 and July 2012 represents 21 per cent of GDP. Due to the paralysis of the economy, international sanctions, and a drastic fall in farming production, the population is running out of every kind of food and consumer goods. Average inflation in 2012 is 17 per cent compared to 5.3 per cent in 2011.
The newspaper Syria Today reports that, according to data provided by the government, unemployment has reached 25 per cent. Other sources say 30 per cent is more accurate, without taking underemployment into account. This is the economic framework in which the war is set.
Armed conflict fuels social contradictions and misery of the toiling masses fighting to topple Assad and to win democratic liberties. It is clear that the dictatorship is losing economic oxygen to maintain their war against the Syrian masses.
Assad’s situation is dramatic. Production is plunging and most markets are closed, fiscal revenue has reach rock bottom and there are practically no financial reserves. His political and social base is unstable with sectors of bourgeoisie beginning to abandon him.
Were it not for the economic and military aid given to him by his few allies: Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba – the Syrian regime would not survive and be able to maintain its genocidal attacks.
The course of the civil war
Before the rebel camp can achieve a military victory it has to overcome its problem of armaments and its problem of political and military leadership.
In spite of all the headway achieved by the rebel militias and the Free Syrian Army, Assad still has greater fire power. Assad has an army that is riddled with desertions, but its chain of command remains as does the heavy artillery and air force. It is important to know that the Syrian army has always been one of the strongest in the Middle East which was armed directly by Iran and Russia.
In order to make desertions more difficult, Assad is using elite units – such as the terrible IV Mechanised Division commanded by his younger brother Maher Assad and, of course, the mercenary and criminal Shabisha. On top of this his military actions are being strongly supported by air raids. This has caused a high number of casualties among civilians and makes the rebels’ progress more difficult. The rebels have been forced to abandon some positions due to a lack of anti-aircraft or anti-tank guns.
As in every civil war, armaments is an extremely important political issue. The numbers of rebel is growing but they do not have enough weapons to maintain positions and make decisive headway, according to commanding officer Ahmed Abu Ali, who leads a katiba (battalion) of a hundred militiamen fighting in the neighbourhood of Saladino, Aleppo. He says, “The most difficult thing we have to cope with is the T-82 armoured fighting vehicles against which our RPG are of little use…as well as their fighter planes…we have snipers but no precision rifles…We cannot control Aleppo unless we get heavy weapons…Without more weapons we cannot even imagine our future.” (El País 11, August, 2012)
So far no government sent heavy weapon to the rebels. Western imperialist powers and governments in the region such as that of Egypt or Libya have been adverse to this alternative. Barack Obama expressed his motive very clearly, “It would be very risky to use American military means in Syria. We cannot put weapons into the hands of people who may then use them against us” (El País). Imperialism is very much aware that arming the rebels would mean arming those who are carrying out a revolution. The best “material support” the FSA has received from imperialist powers so far consists of light weapons or intelligence services for some rebel operations, which normally happens through Qatar or Turkey. Weapons, however, reach the rebels through dribs and drabs and only for groups or sectors yielding to the interests of imperialism or those who may, in the opinion of the USA, divert the revolution from inside, such as the Jihadists. In the meantime, the Assad regime continues to receive shipments of weapons from Russia and Iran. In 2011 alone, Russia, who have a naval b
ase in Syria and important commercial interests, sold US$1b worth of weapons to the Syrian government. Russian Foreign Affairs minister, Sergei Lavrov admitted this overtly when he cynically said that this happens “Within the framework of technical and military cooperation between Russia and Syria in order to support the defensive capacity of Syria against those who do not support Bashat Assad”. (Reuter, 5/11)
Another favourable element for the Syrian regime is the political and military support from Hezbollah, which is an important part of the Lebanonese government, a country where the Syrian civil war is exerting influence and has led to serious confrontations between the sympathisers and detractors of Assad. We must bear in mind that Hezbollah controls entire regions of the Syrian-Lebanese frontier and that it is the best trained armed organisation with great political prestige and military power in the Middle East, especially since they defeated Israel in 2006.
Furthermore, there is another serious problem: the activity of Islamist Salafist groups or Jihadists groups (fundamentalist groups of Islam) such as the militia known as Al Nushra, which are not part of the FSA, carry out isolated actions in
order to give the civil war a sectarian, religious character. They preach that the conflict is between the Sunni and Alawite-Shia (the branch of Islam to which the Assad family belongs). Hence they dedicate their efforts to terrorist actions without any connection with the military activity of the FSA and often aimed at the civilian population or against other religions.
Despite activity contributing towards the military effort to topple the dictatorship, the fundamentalist groups of Islam deepen divisions and weaken the rebel camp by their sectarian activities. That only helps to exclude whole sectors of the population (the Alawites, Christians, etc) from the struggle to defeat the regime and support the revolution.
There are problems in the rebel camp, because the political and military leadership of the Syrian National Council, and the top leadership of the FSA are pro-bourgeois and pro-imperialist. They have repeatedly said that they would support an imperialist military intervention. They are also willing to discuss a “transitional administr
ation” without Assad but that could include his vice president or some other character of his regime.
The Assad regime still has greater military power, but after mid-June there was an offensive of the armed rebels and they made important military headway. That was against the background of a deepening civil war that for about three months saw very powerful struggles in two of the main cities: Damascus and Aleppo.
In Damascus, the capital city, battles are being fought mainly in the peripheral neighbourhoods and more intense battles are being fought downtown. The regime has so far failed to annihilate the rebel resistance in Damascus to the point that they had to use air raids in several neighbourhoods.
In Aleppo combat is over every inch of the territory. The FSA assert that they control 60% of the city even if they have not yet been able to seize downtown. In the midst of the rubble of a city all but turned into ruins by endless bombardments, rebels defend their positions. The conquest of Aleppo is of strategic importance because of its geopolitical and economic position as it would open a path which is directly connected to the Turkish frontier.
In early Nove
mber rebels conquered Maaret Al-Numan and Saraqe, two other strategic positions. The cities are in the province of Idlib, where the government has lost all their control posts, except three. The cities are of vital importance for both sides due to the control of the road from Damascus to Aleppo and from Aleppo to the coastal town of Latakia in the north. This road is used by the regime to transport troops to attack Aleppo.
Attacks have also broken out again at the military base of Taftanaz, where the regime launched its attacks against the entire province of Idlib. In Deir Ezzor in the eastern zone of the country, rebels have announced that they had seized th
e Al Ward oilfield. On the 5 November, in Hama, 50 soldiers and politicians linked to Assad were killed in an attack by a car filled with explosives. Attacks and indiscriminate bombardments by the regime are taking place in Daraa, Homs and Latakia.
FSA militias are delivering important blows against the Syrian regime but they still lack sufficient power to carry out a sweeping and decisive offensive. However, the depth of the revolution is such that a clear situation of dual power has been established in the country which is most clearly expressed in the territories liberated by the militias
A serious crisis is shaking the English SWP, one of the largest parties of the Left in England, which claims to be Trotskyist. It is a moral crisis and the IWL cannot remain on the sidelines because firstly, the serious events that occur in this Left party are used by the bourgeoisie to destroy the image of the Left as a whole, as if all parties were a single organisation. Secondly, because it is through the actions of all organisations that claim to be revolutionary that the Left builds its place among the world’s proletariat.
Synthesis of what happened
A member of the party accused a member of the central committee of raping her. The Dispute Committee (called the Moral Commission in the IWL) investigated the case for four days and concluded that there was insufficient evidence against the accused.
A report of this investigation and its conclusion was presented to the conference in January. Delegates protested that the member who accused the leader had not been invited to the conference. Meanwhile, another member of the party made allegations that the same leader had sexually molested her.
In this climate of discontent the discussion was led in a bureaucratic way by strictly limiting the time for contributions, which prevented a broad discussion.
All these facts cast suspicion on the committee’s work and report, so that the conference was split almost in half, with231 votes in favour of the report, 209 against and 18 abstentions.
An unprecedented crisis followed with members breaking from the party and even intellectuals who had always worked with the SWP refused further cooperation with them.
Why no full freedom of discussion?
In our opinion, these are serious issues and require deep reflection. A complaint of rape from within the ranks of a party that claims to be revolutionary must be regarded with the utmost seriousness by all members, particularly by the leadership.
Rape is a type of violence against women that leaves scars for life. A woman who has suffered rape feels permanently threatened and afraid that this will happen again. It is a physical and psychological aggression that is difficult to overcome.
Therefore a complaint should be investigated thoroughly, and the leadership of the party has to be the most determined to ensure this; to prevent this from being repeated within the party. They should be the first to ensure complete freedom of discussion, encouraging all members to speak, especially the very member who made the complaint, without any embarrassment.
But that is not what happened. The member who made the complaint was not invited to the conference.
This is extremely serious because if the SWP leadership were sincerely interested in clarifying the complaint and establishing the truth, they would have given her presence fundamental importance. Moreover, the report of the conference shows that instead of ensuring the broadest possible freedom of discussion of the report, the Disputes Committee sought at all costs to avoid clarification of all the facts adding to the climate of distrust among the delegates.
An important question put by the delegates was why had the Disputes Committee not taken into account the second complaint by another member, in order to review their decision to acquit the leader or, at least, to raise doubts about the initial decision.
Thereafter, the Disputes Committee itself was questioned on suspicion of having acted to protect the leader. This is because two of DC members were appointed by the CC and another three were former members of the CC. It is much more democratic if all DC members are appointed by the Congress delegates, not just some, otherwise the composition favours the ruling group in the party.
A question of revolutionary morality
In the Transitional Program, Trotsky says that, “In a society based upon exploitation, the highest moral is that of the social revolution. All methods are good which raise the class consciousness of the workers, their trust in their own forces, their readiness for self-sacrifice in the struggle. The impermissible methods are those which implant fear and submissiveness in the oppressed before their oppressors in a society based on exploitation, the supreme moral is the moral of the socialist revolution. Good are the methods that raise the class consciousness of the workers…”
Trotsky is saying that the struggle against the oppression of women is part of the defence of revolutionary morality in our organisations and these issues cannot be treated solely in a formal way.
What happened in the SWP was just the opposite. They used methods that undermined the confidence of militants and created uncertainty and fear before the oppressors.
No political organisation is exempt from the possibility of moral revolutionary deviations. The question that arises is how these deviations are treated within the organisation.
The IWL (International Workers League – Fourth International) has also suffered such problems. Some of them were so severe that they came to threaten the very existence of the IWL.
What was the approach of the IWL? Firstly, we did not hide the facts, but clearly investigated them and punished those involved by expulsion from our ranks.
We even reached the point of losing an entire section of our International.
A companion of the main leader of the Bolivian section of the IWL accused him of beating her violently and repeatedly. The case was thoroughly investigated by our Moral Commission, which eventually proved the charges.
This leader had been in the IWL for many years but he was expelled from our ranks, which led to the remainder of the members of the Bolivian section to abandon the ranks of the IWL in solidarity with him. Thus, the IWL preferred to lose an entire section rather than keep in their ranks a militant who was proven to have serious moral problems.
The question of revolutionary morality is widely discussed among all the members, and the IX World Congress (2008) of the IWL agreed a document “In Defence of Revolutionary Morals”, which shows that our daily activity is an essential part of our construction.
What this showed us is that the question of revolutionary morality is not just an issue, but a key question for a leftist organisation that wants to build in order to destroy capitalism and bourgeois society.
It was a tough battle, but we are sure that the IWL has been strengthened by it. However we are aware that the threat remains, because the bourgeoisie will always seek to impose its morals on us and we are under constant pressure from bourgeois society and its moral degeneracy. We must stand firmly against this and not allow it to penetrate our ranks and destroy our organisations.
The IWL position is based on the teachings of Trotsky. We opened this discussion in our ranks to confront the problems by battling for a communist morality in our sections, in order to prevent the growing pressures that could eventually destroy us.
That is why we are concerned about what is happening in the SWP. We want our experience to help all revolutionary militants in different countries to understand its importance, with an awareness that this is a constant battle if we want to build a real organisation to serve for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.
With each passing day we are more and more convinced that there will not be a solid construction of a national revolutionary party, nor an International, if we do not maintain with courage our determination to fight anyone who damages revolutionary morality in our ranks.
The working class needs its own morals in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, which involves specific questions for the labour movement for the mutual protection of persecuted workers; never abandoning a worker who is fighting an employer or the police and always maintaining fair and honest relations between labour organisations.
But the revolutionary party has a specific morality.
The reason is that the more advanced fight is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat. For that revolutionaries must have an iron discipline and morals that are superior even to proletarian morality, from which it comes.
It is essential that there is a high level of trust between everyone, a “brotherhood of the persecuted” as it is historically called in Latin America, because those who want to overthrow capitalism are persecuted and may pay the price with their lives. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a higher moral strength in this organisation in order to withstand the pressures that the bourgeoisie impose.
For the party, collective organisation is everything, as opposed to the outlook of capitalist ideaology where individualism and selfishness prevail.
We need to strengthen the confidence of each comrade in their own strength, and develop trust between all militants, because in the most serious moments of our struggle we must trust our comrades.
To develop this, we want and we help each other to develop politically. Our party must be an organisation against the state and that requires complete trust between comrades whether men or women.
Confidence in women
There is a gap in society between men and women – it is harder for women to become militants. They are less able to be active, they experience a lesser position, historically have been slower to enter political life, and they continue to carry the burden of double oppression – so women have to make more effort.
At home, at work, at school, in all spheres of society, the woman is at a disadvantage and suffers all kinds of oppression, prejudice and sexual abuse.
The party has to be the opposite. In it women should find an environment of respect and interest in their political development. There is revolutionary respect for a woman who enters the party and is willing to give her life for the revolution because upon entering the party she will have to overcome greater obstacles than those faced by a man.
Within the party, if a party leader sexually oppresses a comrade, then he is committing a grave error because this is not what you would expect from any militant willing to dedicate their life to the socialist revolution.
Socialism is incompatible with such an attitude. Within the party, a conscious woman and militant revolutionary, does not expect to find the same that they find every day in society. Within the party they rely on their comrades, they lower their guard against them, and expect in return trust and a relationship of respect and camaraderie.
The denunciation of what happened in the SWP has not been made only to draw attention to the gravity of what happened. A revolutionary party that does not incorporate into its daily activity a struggle against the oppression of the oppressed sections, in this case women, can not be victorious in the struggle for liberation of the class.
You must fight all moral deviations, and along with it, be consistent with the program of liberation for the whole class, men and women.
We who fight against the oppression of women, know how important it is for a woman to become politically conscious and above all, to enter the party. So if incidents of sexism in society as a whole are serious, they are doubly pernicious within our ranks, because they will be destroying a militant and also our ultimate goal that is, the construction of the party – the instrument that we are building daily to win a socialist society, and with it, the total emancipation of women.
A constant battle
Inserted in bourgeois society there is a need for the party to fight to educate their members in revolutionary morality – theoretically and programmatically. This has to be a daily task. If when moral deviations occur and it is clear that this task has not been taken seriously, or, is addressed only in a formal way.,then the party remains more exposed to attacks by the bourgeois press and conservative forces, who will take advantage of these deviations to make attacks on all leftist organisations.
Why is it so important make every possible effort to establish the facts? It is to show to the working class and society as a whole that our parties are distinct from the bourgeois parties, where corruption, slander and deception reigns. To show that revolutionary politicians are different from the bourgeois politicians, who use politics to promote themselves and rob from the public coffers. To show that we have distinct morals and that our struggle against the oppression of women is a sincere struggle, not just something to mention in our documents, but is part of our everyday life. Only in this way can we win working men and women to our ranks.
The comrades of the SWP have an example in Britain of the kind of moral deviation that can destroy an organisation however strong it may be. The Healyite WRP was an organisation that had a long history in the English Left, but in the 1985 the catalyst for its destruction were the moral deviations of the leadership.
The leader of the party, Healy betrayed the trust of activists, especially women. Several of the women were sexually abused by him, and when they found the courage to report it, most of the leadership tried to smother it and dismiss the charges in order to protect the leader. The result of this approach was quickly followed by the total destruction of the organisation.
We need to learn from those mistakes to avoid repetition and destruction. The oppression of women and sexist deviations within our organizations must be fought relentlessly. Revolutionary morality requires us to exercise constant vigilance, which implies not only frequent discussion with our members through debates, lectures and courses, and with a thorough investigation and verification of any deviations.
Coming from our daily experience, which is often painful, the biggest lesson for all members is that men and women who today are part of revolutionary organisations throughout the world have to combat bourgeois morality, which is grounded in selfishness and privilege over others and in the hateful oppression of women.
For further reading on the IWL’s struggle see the congress documents and documents from our history Morals ; including a document by Nahuel Moreno from 1957 and In Defence of Revolutionary Morals from IWL IX Congress 2008.
For further information and documents please write to ISL, c/o News From Nowhere, 96 Bold Street, Liverpool L14HY or firstname.lastname@example.org
1) When was Stand up in Bootle formed and why?
Stand up in Bootle was formed about four weeks ago, I have been campaigning in Southampton and Portsmouth and was aware of my father’s frustration at the very little help in highlighting the attacks on the welfare reforms with a very small number of others. I knew there wasn’t much of a union structure within the Bootle area such as a trades council for help, so I offered to help in the initial set up as my father is not from a trade union background. I felt my input was vital, and as a Bootle lad I know quite a few people. So the Facebook group was set up….the rest is history.
2) How is the support developing in Bootle?
Locally and within the north west it’s developing at a rapid pace, it’s great to see trade unions becoming involved and people developing politically who never bothered before.
3) Do you think it is important for unions to support this campaign?
The unions are key to this group because at the moment we have no structure as such, everybody has an equal ownership within the group, and unions offer direction, resources and knowledge in a political sense. We need to build this movement within the community together and remind ourselves that this is an attack on the working class, with a strong community spirit. For unions to engage in a fight back will encourage workers caught up in a dispute that the public are in support of and will be there to offer much needed support.
4) Do you think it is important to link all areas in this fight and why?
I think it’s important to fight locally and be confident in the knowledge that others are mobilising in the very same way, for the very same reason, to send out a powerful message that communities in all of the UK have had enough. I think it also gives people hope when they know they are not alone because people in a town at the opposite end of the country are sending messages of hope and solidarity.
5) Why are you standing as Trade Union Socialist Coalition in a by-election for parliament?
Because no other political party offers opposition to the political dribble carried out by career politicians more interested in becoming an MP than representing the people of their constituency.
The attacks on the working class at the moment are hard and fast and as a working class lad I am not willing to stand by and watch as the three political parties represent the bosses whilst our employment rights are attacked. The thirst for privatisation of our services in the name of greed is disastrous, broken promises are a weekly occurrence and the welfare reforms seek to send our communities into a state of poverty. I believe in standing up for your own, always have and always will and would not let the opportunity to represent people pass me by, not because I want to be an MP, but because I want to represent people to make a difference for the better with a voice of opposition to greed. Also, by standing as a candidate it will highlight to others not only in Eastleigh but further afield that there is an alternative, to the Etonian elite ,who actually believe in representing the working class and opposing the cuts.
Protests are beginning to increase as the government’s attacks deepen against the sick, the disabled, the unemployed and pensioners. Basic amenities are disappearing in the third year of cuts, and the NHS is being decimated into a privatised and tiered service. Spineless councils across the country are closing libraries, swimming pools, youth services and children’s Sure Start services to save money.
Millions of the unemployed and low paid are being hit with a triple whammy: bedroom tax, which will force some households to pay £600 a year for those with a so-called extra bedroom which will effect 660,000 social housing tenants; council tax benefits will be reduced by up to 30 per cent; and benefits kept at below inflation rates for at least another three years. On top of this many on benefit are facing sanctions and ATOS tests which are forcing thousands off benefits and into destitution, and into twenty-first century soup kitchens – ‘food banks’.
Despite government reassurances that pensioners would be exempt, 67,000 could be affected. The national council tax benefit scheme is to be scrapped from April so local authorities will be making their own arrangements with just 90 per cent of this year’s funding to cover needs. They are attacking people from all angles and in Liverpool 52,000 families will be told to pay bedroom tax with many more of the poorest also facing cuts in council tax benefit.
Parents of seven year old Becky Bell, a cancer victim in Hartlepool, were told they will be charged a bedroom tax for their daughter’s room. Becky’s ashes have been kept in her bedroom, which has been left exactly as it was when she died of brain cancer last January. The government define this as a “spare room” which means that they will be charged £56 a month from April.
Nationally 1.77 million households were on local authority waiting lists in April 2008. In April 2012 that had risen to 1.85 million. This shortage is being used to justify the bedroom tax but the reality is that this crisis can only be resolved with a building programme for at least two million social houses, which will also provide some much needed jobs.
In 2012 to 2013 the country’s highest earners received a £3bn a year tax cut and the UK’s top 100 wealthiest saw their fortunes rise to a record high. Robbery from the public purse is going straight into the pockets of the rich.
The working class is the target for this government, as pointed out by the Audit Commission, “councils in the most deprived areas have seen substantially greater reductions in government funding as a share of revenue expenditure than councils in less deprived areas.” So Hackney, Hastings, Newham, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle have taken a huge hit, but Elmsbridge, Winchester and Richmond-upon-Thames are protected.
Nationally twenty five Labour councillors from Hull, Southampton, Dagenham, Todmorden and other places have opposed the cuts. This group of anti-cuts Labour councillors say, “We are a new network of local councillors formed to support the fight against cuts. We believe that instead of implementing the coalition’s cuts, councils and councillors should refuse to do so and help workers and communities organise in resistance.”
Unions, communities and labour councillors must begin to demand the setting up of local authority needs budget and plan to spend the ‘reserves’ on the people who need it most. The problem is that unfortunately Labour councils do not want to mobilise a local, regional or national struggle against the devastation of the communities they represent. Their feeble argument is that the government would only send in their own people to impose the cuts. So what is their answer? Do the job for them, cut and destroy services, and devastate lives and communities.
This is a social war on behalf of the millionaires, the City of London and bankers against workers and the poor.
Who can help build a national movement? Who can bring back outsourced council services into public ownership? Who will set a needs budget? We cannot rely on any council to achieve this, trade unions, anti-cuts campaigns and community groups need to work together to fight this and expand services, create jobs, and advance our communities by establishing a massive national social housing building programme. We have to build the fight, join us.