Mark Osborn’s rejoinder to my critique of Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s (AWL) national committee resolution on Syria repeats many of the mistakes of that resolution and makes new errors such that it is unclear if AWL would support any revolution, any where, under any circumstances.
Osborne charges that “Have Islamists Hijacked Syria’s Democratic Revolution?” has:
“…serious problems in two main respects. First, because [Binh] is complacent about Islamism (and ethnic sectarianism) in Syria. Second because he ignores a big part of our case which has nothing to do with Islamists (directly), but which concerns the Marxist attitude to the state and relates directly to what we’ve said in the past about the use of slogans… ‘victory for the Syrian opposition’ as a general slogan now has a real meaning that would take the struggle for freedom backwards, not forwards. … The point here is not that Islamists have control of the opposition movement (although their influence is very worrying, substantial, and increasing), but that no one has control of the movement. There is no oppositional force, good or bad, currently capable of replacing the existing state and keeping the country – more or less – together. In fact, Binh doesn’t attempt to argue how the current opposition could get from where it is now to form a democratic state. … If the struggle develops in this way – and it is not clear what will stop it – Syrian society will collapse. And it will collapse in many different ways – certainly economically and socially.”
The second charge is a curious one coming from a Marxist because of its decidedly anti-revolutionary implications.
Firstly, it opens the door to giving critical or backhanded support to Syria’s tyrannical fascist state on the grounds that it is a lesser evil for the working class compared to bloody sectarian or communal partition and social calamity.
Secondly, to repudiate revolutions that lead to uncertainty, chaos, hardship, economic dislocation, bloodshed, and increased criminality because the state is smashed is to repudiate revolution as such. While Marx saw revolutions as the locomotive of history, AWL seems to see them as little more than trainwrecks.
In the space of two years, the Russian revolution of 1917 saw the working class nearly destroyed by famine, disease, and economic collapse; the soviet government cut rations for workers to 300 calories per day in 1918; 14 foreign armies invaded and three White armies formed to fight the new government. Economic collapse in the form of de-industrialization was one of the practical consequences of putting all power into the hands of worker and peasant soviets. In material terms, the masses were worse off under soviet rule than under both the Provisional Government and the Tsar.
Would AWL have opposed “all power to the soviets” as a slogan in 1917 on the same basis as it opposes “victory to the Syrian opposition” in 2013? If so, AWL is consistently anti-revolutionary; if not, AWL is anti-revolutionary on an arbitrary, case-by-case basis.
Confronted with overwhelming evidence that opposition-controlled areas are not the chaotic lawless sectarian Islamist nightmare AWL is certain all of Syria will turn into once the regime is finished, Osborn is forced to buttress AWL’s position with half-truths and flagrant falsehoods.
For example, Osborn mentions conflicts between Kurdish militias and Islamist and Free Syrian Army (FSA) units but omits their cooperation. Readers of his piece would be stunned to learn that the People’s Protection Committees (YPG), the armed component of Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), is collaborating with elements of the FSA to defeat the regime. Such collaboration is the basis for the post-Assad democratic order AWL criticizes me for not pontificating on, as if the matter were up to me to decide and not the forces fighting and organizing on the ground.
“Binh assures us there have been no massacres carried out by the opposition. Which is not quite true and not equivalent to saying the opposition is not sectarian.”
He then provides seven examples, as if individual incidents disprove the opposition’s generally anti-sectarian character. Unfortunately, every example he uses is flawed.
Christian FSA unit in Hama
Example 1 regarding summary executions concerns human rights abuses, not sectarianism. Examples 2, 3, and 4 concern Islamism, not sectarianism. Example 5 is an individual Alawi’s attitude towards the opposition. Example 6 of a door-to-door campaign by Islamists to drive out 80,000 Christians from Homs is almost certainly a lie. Example 7 is a U.N. report lamenting car bombings in Shia and Allawi neighborhoods. The U.N. evidently thinks the opposition sectarian because its military operations are not confined exclusively to Sunni areas. That Osborn repeats this uncritically instead of investigating whether minority neighborhoods are being targeted disproportionately indicates that AWL (like CWI) is forcing the facts to fit the party line rather than deriving the party line from the facts, although a blatant falsehood was used in example 3 for good measure (the claim that a Syrian cleric ruled it legitimate to rape non-Muslim women was exposed as a lie months ago).
Osborne rejects the notion that the makeshift Islamist courts in opposition areas have not acted in a sectarian manner thus far. Based on what? Nothing. He presents not a shred of evidence to contest my claim and simply proclaims this reality to be “unlikely.”
Subjective suppositions with no factual basis are the stock and trade of bourgeois pundits and partisan hacks, not revolutionaries.
Osborne’s first charge concerning my complacency towards Islamism and sectarianism is demonstrably false. In my initial article, I argued that “sectarianism is an ongoing problem for and a constant danger to the revolution.”
How could anyone misconstrue this as complacency?
Furthermore, I argued that progressives abroad should strive might and main to aid secular-democratic forces in Syria to help counterbalance the Islamists and that within Syria these forces should divide the Islamist camp by allying with the moderates who support free elections to fight the extremists who oppose them.
A call to action and a strategy to combat Islamism are hardly signs of complacency.
If anyone is guilty of complacency over Islamism in Syria, it is AWL which limits itself to doom-and-gloom prognostications that can only breed despair, cynicism, and inaction among Syria’s secular democrats when their task is to fight the Islamists for hegemony over the direction and outcome of the fight to destroy the regime as if their lives depend on it – because they do. These forces would do well to adapt Marx’s 1850 strategic line of march to deal with the Islamist forces they find themselves fighting next to today: “The relationship of the revolutionary workers’ party to the petty-bourgeois democrats is this: it cooperates with them against the party which they aim to overthrow; it opposes them wherever they wish to secure their own position.”
Instead of summoning revolutionaries to struggle, AWL summons them to resignation while charging advocates of an activist, Marxist policy of complacency.
The contradictions of AWL’s “revolutionary” defeatism become apparent when we compare Osborne’s rejection of the Marxist stages approach to understanding revolutions with what side AWL says it supports in Syria. As he puts it:
“[W]hen Binh writes that there are two phases of the Syrian revolution, one where we side with all the opposition to Assad, and a second where the opposition will divide over women, minorities and democracy, he’s wrong in several respects. Firstly, because the battle over democratic rights is going on now – it is something for us to take sides on now, not in the future. Secondly, because he says the division will put us on the same side as the Muslim Brothers (who favour elections) against the more extreme jihadis and salafists.”
The battle over democratic rights is going on now in opposition-held areas (as I stated) and yes, we must take a side. What side does AWL take? Their national committee resolution says, “We specifically back democratic and working-class elements.” Who or what are these elements?
“There may be small groups within the opposition of a democratic and working-class character. They are the people with the key to the future. … If those democratic and working-class groups exist, we don’t know about them.”
So AWL backs a side that in their view does not exist or that exists only in the realm of their imagination rather than in the real, material world. This highlights the fatal flaw of so-called “third camp” politics: between revolution and counter-revolution there is no third way. Insisting otherwise leads inevitably to mysticism and idealism.
Syria’s wage laborers have nothing to lose from the end of the regime but their chains; their interests demand the opposition win.