Syrian Civil War, the Islamic State and the battle of Kobanî

Defend Syria against imperialism! For a position of class independence in the civil war!

By Icaro Kaleb

[This article was originally written between June and July 2015. Because of internal difficulties, it could not be published then and became partially outdated due to the speed of events in the Syrian civil war. Nevertheless, it still addresses a number of political issues that remain central in this complex conflict and also deals with the opportunist positions of ostensibly Trotskyist organizations. Thus, we decided to publish it in January 2016 adding some comments between brackets. Later additions and small corrections were made in August 2016.]

Over the last 4 years, the Syrian population has been engulfed in a civil war between a decades-long dictatorship, on one side, and a combination of bourgeois forces which want to form a new regime, on the other. Later, new elements were added to this already complex situation: the territorial advance of the fundamentalist organization Islamic State; the air strikes, bombings and overall imperialist intervention in the country, mainly by the United States military. We dedicate this text to deepen the debate on a few questions addressed some time ago, in our September 2012 article (The Syrian Conflict and the Tasks for Revolutionists, available in Portuguese) and update on certain aspects, taking into account these new developments.

We once again want to highlight a factor that most of the left, including many groups that claim to be Trotskyists, have left aside when dealing with the situation in Syria: the need for a position of class independence regarding the various bourgeois forces that currently struggle for power. Marxists do not buy the myth that Syria is going through a “revolution” supposedly led by “rebel” armies which fight the government, because these forces are submitted to the interests of various bourgeois fractions. The course of this civil war, though not resolved after four years, points to the need of an independent pole of the working class, opposed to both the Assad dictatorship and the reactionary forces that want to bring it down for their own reactionary interests. The same dilemma and the need for working class indenpendence is central to the political situation in Kobanî.

The character of the main contending forces in Syria

The Assad regime is a two-decade-long one-party capitalist regime, which rules over a poor nation, confined to the world imperialist order. The majority of the human rights violations that have occurred since the beginning of the civil war were committed by the Syrian government. It has Russia as its main international ally, with which it has relevant trade agreements. From the pov of the working class, however, this dictatorial regime deserves no political support.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is the organized body trying to coalesce the different units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is a split of the Syrian armed forces. Since 2011, the FSA has gained important positions in the country, but many were lost back to Assad or taken by the Islamic State. In our 2012 article, we explained the political and military composition of the SNC/FSA: the links of its main components with the imperialists and its bourgeois program. Since then, the FSA was gradually dominated by religiously-oriented forces (mainly Sunni leaders dissatisfied with the secular aspects of Assad’s Alawite regime). The FSA also started operating in alliance with other forces, such that the “Islamic Front”, which arose in 2014.

Despite the illusions of a big part of the international left that the FSA’s struggle against Assad’s regime is part of a “Syrian revolution”, we made it clear on such article that these “rebels” are not a political force capable of (or interested in) achieving gains neither for the Syrian workers nor to the country’s oppressed national minorities.

The United States failed to achieve a lasting alliance with most of the rebels, who were not considered enough “moderate”. Washington has been more careful in choosing its allies since the disastrous experience in Libya, where many of the weapons sent to the country ended falling into the hands of anti-American extremists. Some especific FSA units, however, received significant military aid from the United States and Obama has already begun to train his own “rebel group”, which must as well be denounced as a ground troop of imperialism. As reported:

The U.S. has decided to provide pickup trucks equipped with machine guns and radios for calling in U.S. airstrikes to some moderate Syrian rebels, defense officials said. But the scope of any bombing hasn’t been worked out – a reflection of the complexities of the battlefield in Syria.

The plan comes as the US prepares to begin training moderate rebels, who are waging a fight on two fronts against the extremists and the Syrian regime. Defense officials said that the training will start in mid-March, in Jordan, with a second camp scheduled to open soon after in Turkey.”

The United States will give some Syrian rebels the ability to call strikes, February 17, 2015. Available at

[January 2016: Russia’s entry into the conflict in October 2015, with air strikes and also by sending large amounts of ground forces – initially favoring Assad and later also extending logistical and military support to certain “rebel” forces against the Islamic State – complicated even more the scenario. Currently, everything points to a “solution” in a transitional government that contemplates the economic interests of both Russia and the U.S. – which, it must be said, are quite different from the interests of Syrian workers and the oppressed nationalities of the country.]

Another reactionary competitor in the Syrian civil war is the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIS, over the previous name “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”), which recently has gained strength. It was previously part of a same fundamentalist military operation with the Syrian Al-Qaeda (Al-Nusra Front). It was the Al-Nusra Front which broke relations with ISIS in early 2014, stating that they were “too intransigent”.

By then, ISIS had already taken over important areas of Iraq. Largely funded by Muslim oil barons from countries which are also supporting certain rebel groups – the so-called “Friends of Syria” (Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) – ISIS used its links with the Syrian opposition to obtain heavy weapons and recruit fighters. It came into power in important Iraqi cities as the spearhead of a Sunni revolt against the Shi’ite-led government backed by the United States. From then on, ISIS had under its control more territories than Al-Qaeda was ever capable of. Many of the towns and villages in its power have large oil production, which ISIS exports in order to finance its expansionist effort. ISIS is at war against the Iraqi government (which is helped by the United States’ troops on the ground) and plan to build a “Caliphate” under its strict control. Around the same time, ISIS strengthened their positions in Syria and took over provinces in the deserted East of the country, as well as the entire border region between Iraq and Syria. It has fought both Assad and opposition forces, especially FSA units.

ISIS seems to be the best trained and equipped of the oppositional forces. About 8 million people live in towns under its controls in both countries and the group was able to establish a kind of “war economy”, in which the population is dependent on the extremist group for food and other necessities. That has so far secured a passive collaboration with their occupation. They have persecuted several non-Muslim minorities (and even some Muslim groups) and frequently boast about their practices of enslaving and trading women of other religions, as well as the massacre of groups of non-Muslim villagers. ISIS currently controls about a third of the Syrian territory, where the Islamic law (Sharia) was imposed.

We consider the Islamic State a form of fundamentalist reaction that seeks to eliminate even the most basic political, social and secular rights. If ISIS achieves complete victory over the Syrian territory it would mean the fall of many ethnic and religious minorities into a state of slavery or their simple execution. A revolutionary workers’ party in Syria would seek to defend the oppressed people and organize the working masses of the cities and the countryside against these vicious thugs. Their defeat is essential for workers. But our call to defeat ISIS does not change our opposition and denunciation of U.S.-led air interventions in the country, even if they are said to be aimed at eliminating ISIS.

The imperialists cannot present a serious alternative to the Syrian people, and have already perpetrated actions tens of times more violent and vicious than those of ISIS. Ultimately, ISIS growth and development itself is a byproduct of the imperialists’ disastrous occupation of Iraq, just to give an example. While the U.S. mainstream media exposes the cruelty of the Islamic State, it hides the acts of terror committed by their own allies in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, which also include many atrocities (not to mention the high number of casualties and injuries caused by death falling from the sky in the form of bombs).

We have no pity for the defeats that the imperialists may suffer in Iraq and Syria (even from the hands of the Islamic State). We do not forget the crimes committed by the imperialists in Iraq (including the deaths of about 200,000 Iraqi civilians) and consider their expulsion from the Middle East, as well as the defeat of any of their “boots on the ground”, as the main priority. But despite the fact that ISIS has been the current target of imperialist bombings, its conquest of Iraqi and Syrian cities in order to establish terror regimes is no form of “anti-imperialist struggle”, but instead reactionary actions.

Obama’s “good intentions” in bombing ISIS to supposedly save minorities in Syria are nothing but lies. The U.S. intervention has the sole purpose of ensuring its grip on the country. Anyone who has doubts about the intentions of the U.S. (and other imperialist powers) in Syria should look at the “big experiments of democracy” that Libya and Iraq have become. The American bombings are intended to gain time and contain ISIS (while at the same time it also weakens Assad’s regime), as Washington tries to better organize the forces loyal to it on the ground.

[January 2016: Currently, this paragraph appears to have become outdated due to the apparent U.S., France and Britain decision to destroy ISIS, in part as a result of pressure put on them by Russian bombings in defense of Assad and partly because of the hue and cry over the fundamentalists’ expansion. However, at the time this text was written, it appeared that the U.S. strategy revolved around “managing the situation”, it is, let ISIS weaken Assad, while trying to strengthen the positions of the “moderate” rebels loyal to them.]

Besides taking into account the imperialist threat on one hand and the Islamic State on another, one cannot forget that a proletarian revolution in Syria can only triumph over the dead body of Assad’s brutal dictatorship. The dictator and his party imposed the capitalist order for decades, with the most brutal methods. The main priority would be organizing working-class defenses, especially among the persecuted national minorities, in order to fight the various armies struggling for power, thus ensuring the creation of a working class force, politically independent from the reactionary bourgeois competitors.

[August 2016: All the main players are enemies of working class’ interests, but we recognize they do not have the same caliber. Syria is in a quagmire of intertwined confrontations and ever-changing combinations of forces in which it is not always easy to take a tactical military position at each given moment. Revolutionaries who are far from the ground face extra difficulty in following all the events. It would be counterproductive to issue a general tactical position for all the different scenarios and disputes that occur in the war. There are, however, some general political principles that Marxists should follow. The most important is that we oppose the imperialists’ intervention and their “boots on the ground” as a priority. This means we would, in principle, militarily side with Assad’s regime or rebel jihadist groups on certain occasions in which they confront imperialist forces. Second, we oppose the advances of the Islamic State and would seek to defend the working class and the national and religious minorities under its attack. Third, we’d oppose both sides in the war between Assad’s regime and the rebels that are not subordinate to the imperialist powers.]

USec and the Morenoites: class collaboration on the battlefield

The groups on the left which claim to defend the victory of a non-existent “Syrian revolution” against Assad use this excuse as a cover to support the efforts of the Free Syrian Army. The main argument is that many of the units participating in it are not subordinate to the Syrian National Coalition. Instead, the FSA is seen by them as a coalition of popular forces emerging from the streets and the protests of the Arab Spring. That is the position, for example, of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec). They published on their website an interview with a member of one of these FSA groups, who claims to be a Marxist. When asked about cooperation with other units of the FSA, this fighter said:

There is cooperation and coordination, but in a limited way, on the one hand because of divergent views and objectives, or disparities between positions due to the geographic location where comrades are fighting and the nature of other organizations. On the other hand, these organizations do not generally accept anyone else…”

–– “Our lack of weapons puts us in a position of weakness”, 18 January 2015. Available at:

Such difficulty of coordination with other FSA units should be no surprise, since many of those are led by officials who are loyal and subordinate to the SNC and their reactionary friends. We shall not forget the various Islamic groups that are also under the FSA umbrella, not to mention those “rebel units” which received training and weapons directly from the imperialists and are their loyal allies on the ground.

The FSA is certainly a heterogeneous army. But the question that the USec’s website failed to ask these “Marxist” fighters, and that should have been the first question to be made, is: why this organization (which the USec considers to be “revolutionary Marxist”) is working side by side with those types? Since they claim to represent the Syrian working class, why don’t they, instead, organize a politically independent militia separated from the reactionary and pro-imperialist elements?

In a certain way, the dilemma of those fighters is the same dilemma of the USec and other groups which support the “rebels” against Assad. They do not want to defend an independent proletarian position, separated from the SNC and the FSA, as they only see immediate possibility of overthrowing Assad’s regime by holding hands with those bourgeois forces. They therefore abandon class independence and support the FSA, sugarcoating its nature and program, albeit criticizing its leadership.

A very similar conclusion is shared by other groups which also claim Trotskyism, as the Morenoite International Workers League (LIT-CI, led by the Brazilian PSTU) or the International Workers Unity (UIT-CI, led by the Argentinian Izquierda Socialista). See our previous polemic with the UIT in an October 2012 article available in Portuguese (Morenoism and the UIT’s Position in Syria).

Despite the existence of elements deluded by allegedly “democratic” politics in the FSA ranks, it is for most part controlled by SNC officials and other bourgeois forces. The victory of this army would result in no gain for the working class. It is as if the USec, LIT/IWL and UIT believed in some kind of magical “dynamic” that would put the working class in power, or at least in a better position, if Assad was overthrown by the SNC rebels. We have seen this movie in Libya, Ukraine and many other occasions, when such groups supported “mass movements” that had reactionary leaderships and purposes.

The Kurdish question and the battle for Kobanî

In the already complex scenario that is the Syrian civil war, things get even denser when taking into consideration the Kurdish element. Kurdistan is the largest stateless nation in the world. We’re talking about 30 million people split around Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Armenia and a small region in Northern Syria (Rojava). This is a legacy of British imperialism’s “divide and rule” politics after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Marxists must defend the Kurds’ national rights, including the right to self-determination, the use of their language in schools, public administration etc. and must be against any and all forms of segregation. But that does not mean that we consider a territorial separation of the Kurdish regions (or the creation of a Kurdish state) as a “solution” to the problems of the workers of that nationality. We certainly would take the Kurdish side in a war for independence or regional autonomy (including military support) if that is the expressed desire of this people.

But national separation is, for Marxists, an interest subordinated to the proletarian struggle. There are political issues of highest priority, such as the working class political independence and the defense of the oppressed nations under imperialist attack. Here is an illustrative example. In 2003, when the US attacked Iraq, the bourgeois nationalist leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan supported the imperialist invasion against the regime of Saddam Hussein, over promises of greater regional autonomy.

We would defend any autonomy obtained for the Kurdish population. But when the Peshmerga (the army of the Iraqi Kurds) was fighting under the U.S. command, it was not a force struggling for Kurdish independence against Baghdad, but an arm of the imperialist project to subjugate the entire region. Thus, we would oppose the efforts of Kurdish capitalists to support the imperialist invasion, while we would continue to defend the Kurds’ national rights.

Today, a similar situation emerges in Iraq, in face of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. The main Kurdish political parties in Iraq, KPD (Kurdish Democratic Party) and PUK (Kurdistan Patriotic Union), despite their alledged rivalry, are using their position at the head of the regional government in Northern Iraq to support the imperialists.

But while in Iraqi Kurdistan the scene is dominated by the imperialist stooges, in Syria the most influential political force among the Kurdish population is currently the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the Syrian associate of the once-Maoist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which operates in Turkey. In 2012, Assad’s troops withdrew completely from the Kurdish regions, the territory known as Rojava. It is unclear whether this was due to military conditions or a demagogic attempt to gain the support of the Kurds, or a combination of both factors. Rojava has since come under control of the PYD. Through its military organization, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the PYD clashed with both the Assad regime and the bourgeois opposition on different occasions. Since the Islamic State began advancing on Northern Syria, though, the YPG has focused their efforts in defeating the fundamentalists.

ISIS operations in Syria first clashed with the Kurds in July 2014, in Kobanî – one of the three cantons under the PYD government, near the border with Turkey. This drew worldwide attention and the Kurdish resistance has won wide sympathy, getting known as the “revolutionaries fighting the Islamic State”. ISIS was finally defeated in the region in early 2015, through a combination of the relentless struggle of the Kurds (who have always been in technical inferiority) and imperialist bombings against ISIS in the region. Kobanî was besieged for months, during which many groups on the left (especially some anarchists) spoke of a “revolutionary character” of the Kurdish resistance.

The PYD is a party founded in 2003 by PKK sympathizers in Syria. It was considered by the Syrian government as a factor of instability, due to its popular support and underground operations in the Kurdish regions. Its main source of ideological orientation is the PKK, which was established in 1978 as a Maoist group dedicated to armed resistance against the oppression of the Kurdish population in Turkey, and has a long history of resistance against the Turkish government.

But it seems that the PKK is no longer an adherent of Maoism and its Stalinist practice of persecution against internal oppositionists and a program of “people’s war” that wobbles between a bourgeois democratic program of “New Democracy” and the prospect of reproducing a bureaucratic state-economy regime like Mao’s China. According to many reports, since the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan (its historical leader) in 1999, the PKK has undergone a programmatic transformation towards what is described by Ocalan himself as “democratic confederalism” – which is inspired by libertarian authors and seeks to build stateless “popular self-governments” in small scale.

The PKK is still considered by NATO and the Turkish government as a “terrorist organization”, and Marxists around the world have the imperative duty to defend the group against all attacks from Erdogan’s brutal regime. Except for a few brief periods of truce (the latter of which dates from 2013), the PKK has continuously fought against the Turkish regime for autonomy for the Kurdish regions. But while it is hard to precisely say how consolidated is this programmatic shift (the PKK continues to be an underground organization), its seems to have definitely changed the group’s outlook.

Trotskyists believe that workers and peasants need a form of political power based on their own organizations in order to crush the bourgeoisie’s military, political and economic domination and prevent the capitalists’ attempts to return to power after a victorious uprising. This authentic “workers government” should cover the whole territory and be based on representatives democratically elected by the workers and peasants (and removable by the same assemblies that elected them). This is the only formula able to balance the local nature of direct democratic management with large-scale working class’ interests in all areas.

Last but not least, such government should give internationalist material and political aid to workers fighting in other countries to defeat “their” own bourgeoisie. Socialism cannot be achieved on a national scale and, ultimately, no workers government can survive isolated in a world dominated by imperialism. The political program of the PKK/PYD seems to ignore the necessity of building this “proletarian dictatorship” based on a collectivized economy and workers centralized military power.

As mentioned, the PYD has control of the Rojava region. In early 2014 it adopted a “Charter of Rojava’s Social Contract, and this constitutional document makes no mention of socialism, collective control of the means of production or workers’ democracy. Instead, it is a confusing combination of community participation and private property maintenance. Article 41 provides that “Everyone has the right to own property and personal ownership is guaranteed,” while Article 42 says that the economic system aims to “ensure participatory economy while promoting competition in accordance with the principle of democratic management ‘To each according to one’s work’.”

[January 2016: Following the defeat of ISIS, the PYD consolidated its power in a region where all bourgeois parties and governments were defeated or withdrew. The PYD is not a bourgeois party, but an organization based on the mobilization of workers and peasants of that region. The conditions are the most favorable for the establishment of a proletarian government, with workers and peasants’ democratic control over the means of production, the political system and the army. However, the PYD has no clarity about the nature of the regime it wants to build. Despite the PYD’s democratic preaching, the maintenance of capitalist property puts clear limits for further development, due to social inequality and lack of workers’ direct democracy. Given what has happened until now, it seems that the PYD will not break from the bourgeoisie in a definite way. Its ranks, as well as other workers and peasants fighters of the Rojava region, should strive for a revolutionary leadership and reject the PYD’s current vacillations and illusions of a “third way” between capitalism and workers’ power.]

During and after the battle against the Islamic State in Kobanî, the PYD also spread dangerous illusions in the Peshmerga units of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq (from which it received weapons) and in the U.S. air intervention. It released a public statement “thanking” them for their fight against ISIS, during which the PYD gave military tactical advice to the U.S. (like where to bomb). A PYD leader, Saleh Muslim, expressed this attitude in various statements to the press:

According to Muslim, the international coalition ‘has saved the lives of many civilians’ in its war against IS. […] He also thanked the international coalition led by the U.S. for supporting the Kurds in their misery and for helping the YPG forces to resist the IS radical group: ‘Such operations reinforce the relationship between Kurds and states that defend democracy and peace’, Muslim concluded.”

–– Syrian Kurds urge U.S.-led coalition to intensify anti-IS strikes in Kobanî, October 13, 2014. Available in:

We believe that Marxists should have defended Kobanî against the advance of ISIS’s fundamentalist reactionaries. What Rojava’s workers and activists with revolutionary intentions urgently need, though, is a political orientation that their current leaders cannot offer. It is necessary to prevent the development of expectations and illusions in the character of the bourgeois government of Iraqi Kurdistan and the imperialist bombings.

The U.S. intended to contain ISIS’s advance in Kobanî for their own reactionary purposes, and not “help” the Kurdish people. The U.S. government is definetely not among the advocates of “democracy and peace” in the world. It should not be forgotten that Washington is a great ally of the Turkish regime of Erdogan, which did everything to prevent the PYD from receiving any help from the PKK bases in Turkey. We do not condemn the PYD for getting arms from any source that was offering them (provided that it did not mean making political concessions). And it certainly had the right to tactically benefit from the fact that ISIS was being targeted by the imperialists, provided it had clarity about the nature of the bombings.

[August 2016: Since January 2016, when we originally published this article, this course of the PYD has deepened. In the beginning of the year it cooperated with U.S. air forces with the aim of expanding into the non-Kurdish Raqqa region, one of ISIS’ main strongholds. Now it is cooperating with Assad in the siege of Aleppo and with imperialist forces in Manbiji, cities which are being completely destroyed, with high number of civil casualties. Besides that, in order to push ISIS away from Rojava, the PYD joined forces with several other parties and organizations when they formed the “Democratic Syrian Forces”, a military coalition in which the YPG was the main unit, as well as the “Syrian Democratic Council”, an entity that claims to be for a “federated, democratic and secular Syria” – a clearly class collaborationist move. If it wasn’t for the imperialists’ distrust in the PYD, the DSF/SDC would probably be a very suitable ally for them on the ground.]

Spartacist League: sectarianism on Kobanî

Pointing to the opportunistic positions of the PYD leadership, some groups on the left took the side of the Islamic State in Kobanî (!). This is the case of the degenerated sect (barely) disguised as Trotskyist organization that is the Spartacist League (SL) of the United States and its International Communist League (ICL). They explained their reasons for such an absurd position as follows:

[…] Iraqi government forces and Kurdish peshmerga in Iraq are again conducting joint military operations with the U.S., as they did for years under the occupation. More recently, Syrian Kurdish nationalists have also sealed a treacherous alliance with the U.S. in the battle over Kobani in northern Syria, acting as the imperialists’ bomb spotters and otherwise coordinating military movements. The fact that all these forces are ‘boots on the ground’ for imperialist intervention means that revolutionary Marxists have a military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists and their proxies, including the Syrian Kurdish nationalists, the pesh merga, the Baghdad government and its Shi’ite militias.”

–– Down With U.S. War Against ISIS!, October 31, 2014. Available in:

In its drive to conquer Kobanî, the Islamic State was not fighting an imperialist stronghold, since there were no U.S. troops on the ground, but to expand its power in the Kurdish areas. The YPG was the only force fighting the fundamentalists with weapons in their hands in Kobanî and, despite the vacillating position of its leadership, it could not be seriously considered as a U.S. “proxy”. The YPG resisted the siege of ISIS in Kobanî for several months even before the imperialists got involved.

Revolutionaries must criticize the illusions propagated by the PYD and its “thank you” full of illusions to the international imperialist coalition. But what was central to determine which side to take on Kobanî was whether these positions and the military tactical collaboration with the imperialists made the PYD a force subordinated to the United States in their efforts to subjugate Syria.

We believe that the U.S. military took advantage of the conflict in Kobanî to bomb and weaken ISIS. But it could not use the PYD, which it still considers a terrorist organization, as a tool to control Northern Syria. After the battle, the U.S. was not able to have any real control over Rojava. The PYD was benefiting from the imperialist bombardments, but was not integrated and subordinated to the military efforts of the imperialists in the region.

[August 2016: reinforcing that statement, at the recent third round of peace meetings sponsored by imperialists in Geneva, no PYD-Rojava representative was invited, due to the U.S. distrust in them, what led the Syrian Democratic Council representatives to withdraw the invitations they received.]

Therefore, the battle for Kobanî did not consist of U.S. agents fighting the Islamic State (as the Spartacist League pictures it), but of a Kurdish resistance force fighting the fundamentalist reactionaries, coordinated with (but not subordinated to) U.S. bombarments. In such a struggle, revolutionaries had a side: with the PYD/YPG against ISIS, while at the same time it was important to warn the Syrian and Kurdish workers and activists not to consider, even momentarily, that the U.S. or the Peshmerga could be their “allies”.

What this position demonstrates is that the Spartacist League has completely lost its sense of proportion (if it had any to begin with). The victory of the YPG in Rojava is not the same as the victory of the rebels in Libya in 2011. It was not a coup d’etat and military revolt orchestrated and coordinated by the imperialists to put a puppet regime in power. The result was the maintenance of a Kurdish party with plebeian roots, which had risen to power as a result of the complex civil war dynamics. The victorious resistance against ISIS was an important move to prevent the advance of fundamentalist reaction.

For proletarian defenses in the midst of the civil war and a workers revolutionary party!

In face of the religious sectarianism present in the ongoing civil wars in Iraq and Syria (involving Sunni / Shiite rivalry) and the bloodshed on both sides, there is room for the emergence of a non-sectarian resistance of the working class against these crimes. If accompanied by the revolutionary impulse to expel the imperialists from Middle East, prevent the victory of the fundamentalist reaction and defend the Kurds and other ethnic minorities, this position has the potential to develop rapidly among workers who see no alternative among the current forces competing for power.

Currently there is no mass party of the working class in Syria (not even a reformist one), due to Assad’s regime decade-long oppression. The only legalized union federation is entirely subject to the state structure and controlled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party (the regime party). A position contrasting with those currently expressed in the civil war would immediately gain sympathy from the working class, even if initially represented only by a small group of politically solid and dedicated cadres. On the other hand, embellishing any of the major forces in this dispute can only lead to opportunist disaster.

Workers’ internationalist solidarity actions are a touchstone of Trotskyism and would be essential to prepare the Syrian, Iraqi, Turkish and Kurdish workers and peasants against “their” respective ruling classes and the vicious imperialist machinations. The only way to ensure long-term peace in the region is through victorious socialist revolutions that end with the reactionary capitalist competitors, clan rivalries and their constant dependence on treacherous alliances with the imperialists. The positive result would be the creation of a socialist federation of the Middle East.

Therefore, the construction of a revolutionary workers party in Syria is an urgent matter. With a full socialist program of workers’ control of major industries and agrarian revolution, a Trotskyist organization in Syria would also defend a set of democratic demands against the regime and its reactionary adversaries. This would demonstrate the uncompromising desire of revolutionaries to build a proletarian democracy, as opposed to the false promises of the “democratic” imperialists.