Class and Revolution: Syria and 1848 Compared

marx

Not everyone sporting a beard is a salafi.

Although the Syrian revolution is a bourgeois-democratic revolution, it does not conform to the 1848 pattern that Marx and Engels were most familiar with and experienced first-hand: bourgeois liberals, fearing the nascent but still immature proletarian movement, become irresolute and half-hearted in the struggle against counter-revolution and pave the way for the revolution’s defeat.

The Syrian revolution follows a very different pattern. There is no room for half-heartedness, for piecemeal reforms (such as a constitutional monarchy) as in 1848; any class or class fraction that moves into opposition to the regime automatically becomes revolutionary and is forced to fight for total victory, for the complete destruction of the regime, on pain of death and phyiscal extermination.

This difference speaks to the fascist nature of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and carries with it definite strategic implications for the class struggle that is the Syrian revolution:

  • Antagonisms between classes remain muted and hidden, overridden by the antagonism between the regime and the people, or more specifically, any/all oppositional activity by any/all sectors of the people. Union organizing is just as likely to be smashed by arrests, torture, rape, and murder as ‘respectable’ liberal opposition activism or ‘tame’ human rights advocacy. Regime scud missiles do not discriminate between a meetings of either the Local Coordinating Committees or the Islamic Front just as regime shells do not differentiate between Christian filmmaker Bassel Shehadeh or Liwa al-Tawhid’s military leader Abdel Qader Saleh. The fascist state forcibly and murderously prevents classes from assembling to even discuss their interests much less form combinations or struggle against one another.
  • Bourgeois opposition forces — particularly the exile organizations, the Syrian National Council and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces — do not exhibit the miserable half-hearted, compromising character of their 1848 equivalents. If anything, this layer is too intransigent: the exiles continually demand that Assad step down as a precondition for negotiations while the businessmen on the ground who finance the armed brigades never countenance a political strategy to split and divide the Assad family from the Alawite community because combat demands all of their resources and attention. Without such a strategy, the path to victory for the people’s  war will be exclusively military and therefore exceedingly protracted, bloody, bitter, and sectarian in effect even without sectarian intention. Thus, bourgeois-led opposition forces exhibit ineptitude — driven by egotism on the part of the exiles and desperation by their counterparts on the ground — rather than treachery driven by class interests as in 1848.
  • To expect a wage laborers’ movement to develop in conditions that prevailed in Syria prior to the revolution and even more so today is lunacy: 50% unemployment, 8.5 million displaced people, almost one-half of the population dependent on U.N. food aid, fascist repression in both regime and ISIScontrolled areas of the country. In these circumstances, the proletariat is the weakest of all social classes and struggles just to exist, just to avoid dissolution into a refugee lumpenproletariat that is forced to rely on charity, petty commerce, odd jobs, organ trafficking, or prostitution for income.

All of the above serves to reinforce the all-class character of the Syrian revolution (meaning that sections of all classes have turned against the regime, not that all classes in their entirety [or majority] are actively fighting to oust it).

Does this mean that progressives, supporters of working-class interests, of the laboring, exploited, and oppressed classes have nothing to say or do with regards to Syria’s unfolding revolution as it slowly and painfully approaches military victory? Not at all.

Here, it is worth remembering the words of the Communist Manifesto where Marx declared that communists:

  • “[H]ave no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”
  • “[D]o not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.”
  • And that we “fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, [we] also represent and take care of the future.”

This blog has sought to accomplish this by:

  1. Defending and advancing the revolutionary movement and the people’s struggle as a whole, across the secularIslamist spectrum of living, fighting forces rather than subject its component forces to some sort of ‘Marxist’ ideological litmus test and thereby replace unconditional solidarity with unacceptable sectarianism.
  2. Infusing the latter with the politics of social class, specifically the wage-laboring class, but not in an exclusive or dogmatic manner. Other classes may not be able to create a democratically and humanely planned economy, but they too deserve better than the tyranny of unfettered capitalism (as Pope Francis termed it).
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10 comments
  1. Earl said:

    ” …the businessmen on the ground who finance the armed brigades never countenance a political strategy to split and divide the Assad family from the Alawi community because combat demands all their resources and attention. Without such a strategy, the path to victory for the people’s war will be exclusively military and therefore exceedingly protracted, bloody, bitter, and sectarian in effect even without sectarian intention. Thus, bourgeois-led opposition forces exhibit ineptitude — driven by egotism on the part of the exiles and desperation by their counterparts on the ground — rather than treachery driven by class interests as in 1848.”

    1. Why consider it “treachery” for bourgeios forces, in Syria as in 1848 Germany, to defend their class interests in maintaining bourgeois relations and limiting popular revolutions to changing forms of class domination, as in getting rid of Assad, as their key goal?

    2. Why conclude that businessmen who finance the combat forces vs. the regime are driven by desperation, not class interests? After all, a political strategy that isolates the Assad family from their key base of support would weaken the regime and hasten our victory, wouldn’t it? Surely that’s obvious and these are not stupid people. They, like others, risk everything, so why wouldn’t they embrace such a strategy?

    One reason that comes to mind: they see a potential threat to their existence as a class and see the need to limit the goals of the struggle.

    Like

    • Not George Sabra said:

      1. The objective and subjective conditions for overthrowing bourgeois class relations in Syria do not exist and are becoming worse with each passing day.

      2. It is not in the bourgeois opposition’s class interests to strengthen the regime or delay the revolution’s victory — they, like the Syrian proletariat, are being ruined economically and de-classed with each passing day of the war.

      Capitalist social relations will prevail no matter which side wins in Syria — the struggle is over which form of bourgeois rule, bourgeois democracy or fascism? It is not a struggle of capitalism versus socialism, unless you think socialism can somehow be created by a proletariat without a single party, union, mutual aid society, or sewing circle of its own.

      You don’t seem to understand that we cannot jump out of the bourgeois-democratic limits of the Syrian revolution but we can (and must) vastly extend those boundaries (to paraphrase Lenin).

      Like

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