Redline has run articles with different perspectives on Syria – from those who emphasise imperialist involvement to those that emphasise the awfulness of the Assad regime and the need to solidarise with its victims and those fighting it.  Below is the third perspective, presented by one of our Iranian readers (Redline is blocked in Iran, but we have readers there as well as Iranian readers around the world).  This third perspective is that the Assads are brutal and corrupt dictators but the alternative is even worse, as happened in Iran in 1979 – and, for that matter, more recently in Libya.  This perspective also suggests that western leftists who place emphasis on getting rid of Assad, at virtually any cost, are playing with fire but that it is not them who have suffered the consequences of the replacement of Gaddafi and it won’t be them who will suffer the consequences of the replacement of Assad by Islamic fundamentalists – it will be the working class, women, and national and religious minorities; the western left will just walk away unscathed (and unreflective).


As bad as the Assad regime is, the alternative is even worse

by Karim Pourhamzavi

The tragic and brutal chaos is getting close to completing its fifth year. Recently, the siege of Aleppo by the Syrian army and its allies, along with the Russian heavy bombardment, has attracted a large amount of media attention, particularly by the anti-Assad camp. The extensive advance of the troops loyal to the Syrian regime, at the time of writing, put an end to the controversial siege.

Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, did not witness a large-scale uprising in 2011, when the wider rebellion took place and steadily became a transnational armed struggle by the end of the same year. Various militant groups who fight in Syria, most prominent of which is the Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda branch in Syria, took over eastern Aleppo in 2012. The eastern part of the city includes approximately 300,000 residents and the western part, which has remained under the control of the Syrian regime to this day, is home for over one million residents, although you would not know this from ‘mainstream’ media coverage – you would think the whole of the city has been in ‘rebel’ hands and is being bombarded by the regime.


Any attempt of the Syrian regime to regain the eastern part of Aleppo was confronted by extensive propaganda in much of the western media. Not to mention the increase of multi-dimensional supports to the militants, including the Nusra Front, by the anti-Assad camp. The focus on civilian casualties whenever the Syrian army tries to regain Aleppo is, however, only one side of the story. The other side is that all of Syria has faced the same brutality over the last five years. Framing the ‘news’ in a way to indicate that Assad’s army is responsible for the so far 400,000 casualties in Syria is inaccurate.

We still do not know how many of these victims were murdered by the jihadist militants and how many fell because of the US-led coalition strikes. What we know is that the so-called ‘opposition’ did not hesitate to show their barbarism in every area they ‘conquered’ such as al-Reqa, Dayr al-Zoor, Jesr al-Shoqur, Aleppo and even in areas with an Alawaite majority such as Tartus, which remain under Assad’s control but are not safe from jihadist bombings. All of Syria is, therefore, like eastern Aleppo and using specific victims in a certain area, while ignoring the whole, in such manner to critique a specific rival- in this case the pro-Assad camp- is more like a kind of demonising propaganda.

Left reductionism

Amidst this violent chaos, a proportion of the left in Western countries started to raise their voices as a response to the ‘Assad-Russian brutality’ in eastern Aleppo. Few people would argue that Assad is not a brutal dictator who leads a corrupt regime. Now when so much of Syria is destroyed, mainly by global super powers and their regional allies, the authoritarian nature of Assad’s regime is not even an issue of contention.  As horrible as the Assad regime is, however, the alternative is worse.

Before I go into details regarding why there is no such a thing as ‘revolutionaries’ in Syria, I would like to comment on what I refer to as left-reductionists who are pushing hard to discover or even invent ‘revolutionaries’ in Syria. A similar trend previously supported the ‘revolution’ in Iran in 1979. The result of the latter was a brutal Islamic regime which rules Iran to this day and the same leftists who supported it in the 1970s seem have no satisfactory explanation to give to the victims of this reactionary regime or to the Iranian people in general as to why they got it wrong in downplaying the significance of the pro-capitalist ayatollahs and mullahs.

Any sort of armed struggle, for the left-reductionists, seems to be equivalent to the Marxist notion of Jacobinism. The way the Marxist perspective traces the root of social grievances to discover their sources within the system seems irrelevant to the reductionists. Altering the whole system, in the Marxist perspective, is not because people are bored or having nothing to excite them, so they decide to make a revolution. Rather, it is precisely because an existing system is not designed to address their grievances but, instead, is designed for the benefit and the interest of the few who control the modes of production in their societies and, today more than ever, at a global scale. Gramsci would add the control of people’s culture as well, in which the whole of the institutions in civil society function in a way to feed the masses with the ideology of the ruling class and govern them by their own passive consent.

Both Marx and Gramsci saw that super-structural change results out of a historically dialectical process. The two also emphasised that in Western developed countries both civil society and the capitalist system were mature enough for movements to engage in a revolutionary process. This is quite different from whenever the reductionists see a person with a Kalashnikov in hand in the Global South they see an embodiment of a revolutionary. When the revolution took place in Russia, instead of Germany or England, Lenin said that Tsarist Russia was “the weakest link in the imperialist chain”. I wonder where the previous Shah of Iran and the current Assad of Syria fit in the imperialist chain so the left can desperately support the conservative mullahs of Iran and the current ultra-conservative Jihadists in Syria against them?

Who/where are the ‘revolutionaries’?

Apart from the Kurdish fighters, known as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which can be viewed as secular forces on the ground, the term ‘secular’, or more ambiguously ‘moderates’, is not applicable to the rest of the groups fighting against Assad in Syria. Such terms are usually being used to serve political purposes and a cover likely to legitimise the weaponry, financial and logistical support of these groups by multiple states which are involved in the Syrian conflict.

The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) is taken to be a representation of the ‘moderates’ in Syria. This entity does not exist in the real world but it is a good-looking cover for multiple groups that have never hidden their aim to establish a ‘caliphate’ in Syria, to impose Shari’a law there and to view minorities as simple wrongdoers who deserve nothing but ‘purification’. One of the largest brigades of the FSA is lewa al tawhid (the Brigade of Monotheism). A simple understanding of Arabic language and Salafi terminology would enable the observer to know the Wahhabi title of this brigade and its puritanical ideology that assumes the Syrian Muslims as non-monotheists whom must be directed to the real monotheism, sponsored by Saudi Arabia, by groups such as lewa al tawhid.

Long before the Western media decided to shed light on the actual nature of the fighting groups in Syria, the FSA did not hesitate to release videos of their brutality on the internet – starting from late 2011 and early 2012- which included eating the hearts of victims, throwing slaughtered bodies into rivers and massacring all the employees of a governmental institution, all because they were ‘Alawites’ or ‘working for the government’. These sorts of barbarism, indeed, are not justifiable even if they were conducted by secular forces and given leftist justification, but fortunately this is not the case.

It is not difficult to realise that Syria is currently a stage for proxy wars which involve global super-powers and their regional allies. It is true that Assad is backed by Russia, Iran and a non-state actor such as Hizbullah. However, the list of regional and global powers that back the anti-Assad fighters include the US, some of the EU members, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and the UAE. Each of these parties, openly and secretly, separately and jointly, sponsor specific groups. The claim that groups such as ISIS and Nusra Front are excluded from such sponsorship is also a myth as once the logistic and weapon pipeline directed to Syria enters into this state, no one has complete control over the its final destination. A recent BBC report showed that the weapons supplied by the US for ‘moderate fighters’ in Syria have been recently used in Mosul against the Iraqis.

The YPGs are much more than Kurdish

Some of the leftist-reductionists are more specific in identifying whom they mean by revolutionaries in Syria and they point to the Kurdish YPG. The Syrian Kurds, similar to other minorities in the country, were generally fighting on the side of Assad, not against him. The term People’s Protection Units is a term that the Syrian regime uses to refer to the militant units who are less trained compared to the professional armies and fight the jihadists alongside the Syrian army. There are, therefore, other People’s Protections Units (PPU) such as the Christian PPU, the Druz PPU and other PPUs – which we do not hear about in the media- who volunteered to defend their communities against the puritanical trend which is coming to indiscriminately ‘purge’ them.

The huge emphasis on the female fighters of YPG in Kubani, as a sign of progressiveness, was also selective by media. These women, again, were incorporated in the PPU by the Assad regime well before the emergence of ISIS and its threat against Kubani in 2014-2015. Women have always been allowed to work in different sections under the Assads’ regime – both the father and the son – and the numbers of women working in the Syrian army who fight against the jihadists extensively exceed the numbers of women in the YPG. Therefore, if participation of women alongside men is a sign of progressiveness and equality – which it is – this must not be selectively reduced to whomever we consider as ‘revolutionaries’. The women who are fighting as part of the Syrian army, the Shi’a Iraqi women who bravely defend themselves against ISIS when it besieged their little town of Amerli, the brave Sunni Iraqi women who fought ISIS and died in Al-Alam, are equally progressive.

The YPG was also an effective force, alongside the Assad loyalists, in the recent re-taking of eastern Aleppo. The Assad regime supported them with weapons and men as did the US and the Iraqi Kurds. The only country that has a problem with the YPG and bombards them whenever it can is Turkey. Therefore, the reductionists are targeting the wrong people when they try to defend the Syrian ‘revolutionaries’.

No progressive side

In my view, there is not a leftist cause in the Syrian battle except for objecting to the burning of Syria by the global super-powers and their regional allies. Syria, in this sense, is even part of a larger picture that includes Iraq, Yemen and Libya. The involved parties in the whole destabilising situation are more-or-less the same.

We have to also note that the region which is burning in this post-colonial era is a region that for long suffered from colonisation, military interventions and provocation of one state against another by the super-powers in its modern history. Assad is a dictator but no more so than the US and Russians. Supporting a destruction which targets the whole of Syria in the name of supporting ‘revolutionaries’ against a dictator does not seem consistent with supporting a genuine, progressive people’s revolt, Jacobinism, as I know it in the Marxist-Gramscian sense.

Further reading
Libya after Gaddafi: the rule of the militias
Libya is for everyone?

  1. TONY says:

    The real shame is not actually the physical destruction of buildings, but the incursion into these districts by Western-backed terrorists, including the Free Syrian Army, the Nusra Front, and Da’esh, among others. Nearly six years into the needless bloodshed, their criminal and savage acts against Syrian civilians and soldiers are well-documented. And it’s common knowledge that they bunker down to avoid airstrikes.

    The Free Syrian Army’s nine suffocating, improvised metal solitary confinement cells and three rooms used as regular cells in the underground prison bunker in al-Layramoun were all intact despite the aerial bombings. Buildings are devastated above-ground because of the presence of militants deep underground, where airstrikes inflict considerably less damage.

    Aleppo’s doctors continue to treat the daily influx of injured and ill patients in spite of the dearth of ambulances and effects of Western sanctions which mean a lack of medical equipment, replacement parts, and medicine for critical illnesses like cancer.

    According to the hospital’s head forensic medicine, Dr. Hajo, in the last five years, 10,750 civilians have been killed in Aleppo, 40 percent of whom were women and children. In the past year alone, 328 children have been killed by terrorist shelling in Aleppo, and 45 children were killed by terrorist snipers.

    They have bombed over 20 historic buildings via tunnels If they were real Syrians, they would not bomb historical buildings.

    At least 7,500 shops in the Old City are gone, lost to burning, looting and utter destruction

  2. louisproyect says:

    “The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) is taken to be a representation of the ‘moderates’ in Syria. This entity does not exist in the real world but it is a good-looking cover for multiple groups that have never hidden their aim to establish a ‘caliphate’ in Syria, to impose Shari’a law there and to view minorities as simple wrongdoers who deserve nothing but ‘purification’.”

    What is this nonsense about the FSA being a cover for groups trying to establish a “caliphate”? Because a group affiliated with the FSA calls itself “the Brigade of Monotheism”, it means that it is the same as ISIS that chops off the heads of people caught with alcohol?

    There is a large body of literature on the Syrian rebels from people who have done serious research ranging from Aron Lund to Charles Lister. The author of this article has not done his homework. He is really not very rigorous.

  3. doug1943 says:

    It’s cruel to write articles like this. Mankind — certainly its leftist ideologue component — cannot bear very much reality. Let the Left continue to enthuse over anyone with a Kalashnikov in his hand in the Third World. It’s their substitute for religion, and it makes them happy. Where’s the harm?

  4. Ken Hiebert says:

    “Before I go into details regarding why there is no such a thing as ‘revolutionaries’ in Syria, I would like to comment on what I refer to as left-redutionists who are pushing hard to discover or even invent ‘revolutionaries’ in Syria. A similar trend previously spotted the ‘revolution’ in Iran in 1979. The result of the latter was a brutal Islamic regime which rules Iran to this day and the same leftists who supported it in the 1970s seem have no satisfactory explanation to give to the victims of this reactionary regime or to the Iranian people in general as to why they got it wrong in downplaying the significance of the pro-capitalist ayatollahs and mullahs.”

    Is the author suggesting that if the Western Left had arrived at a better understanding of the situation in Iran, then Iranians today would not be living under a brutal Islamic regime? That seems unlikely, but it leaves me wondering why he is so vehement in denouncing the Western Left. The current regime came into power at the head of a mass movement in Iran itself, including mass demonstrations and strikes. Some people would call this a revolution, even if the author does not. It is clear that millions of Iranians had a burning hatred of the Shah’s regime and a willingness to sacrifice in the struggle to overthrow it. If they were not dissuaded by the Shah’s machine guns (unarmed demonstrators marched directly into machine gun fire), I doubt they would have listened to words of caution from foreign leftists.

    Even so, I must agree that the foreign left had an obligation to understand, as best it could, the upheaval in Iran. We may not have had a mass audience in Iran, but we did have contact with various left forces and we had some small capacity to help them by looking at events from a distance.

    The foreign left was not homogenous. It would be helpful if the author directed his criticism at specific groups and cited specific articles and statements. For example, what does he think of the account offered by Barry Sheppard in the second volume of his party history, The Party: The Socialist Workers Party Volume 2
    I cannot speak for all the left, but I can speak of my own experience. I recall that early on (as early as 1979, if memory serves), far from supporting the “Islamic” regime, I was involved in a campaign to oppose the execution of some of our comrades in Iran. This repression did not come as a surprise to me, based on the reading I had done in The Militant and Intercontinental Press.

    The Iranian left was not homogenous, but they all confronted the same questions. What attitude should they take to the movement to oust the Shah?
    And now that the events are on behind us, I wonder what the author thinks of these questions.
    Should the left have participated in the anti-Shah protests? Should they have abstained? Should they have opposed this movement?

    Does the author think that the left in Iran would be stronger today if they had abstained from the anti-Shah movement, or opposed it?

    The author calls on the Western Left to be more reflective. Of course we should reflect on this experience. I also believe that the author needs to be more reflective. Has he asked himself why he and the Iranian government are supporting the same side in Syria? Why would a “brutal Islamic regime” be supporting a government which is, in the authors view, secular and progressive?