Category Archives: English

Turkey’s delusion in the great game of Syria

Ankara is deluding itself that the current US involvement in the war against the IS might serve its interests.

Since the US-led intervention against the Islamic State group, Turkey has entertained the illusion that Washington would allow Ankara to play a crucial role.

Turkey’s delusions produce, in turn, delusions among parties in the Syrian opposition, who believe Turkish intervention will lead to the overthrow of the Syrian regime.

When the Action Group for Syria laid out the principles of the peace talks known as “Geneva 1” in 2013, Turkey sensed the US had reached a deal with Russia, and subsequently, Turkey had lost out on its interests in Syria.

As a result, Turkey was prompted to comply with Saudi Arabian pressure to allow violent jihadis into Syria, something it had previously rejected as it wanted to overthrow the Assad regime in favour of its own alternative, the National Council, an exile group based in Istanbul.
Turkey helped the passage of fundamentalist groups from around the world into Syria, and stepped up coordination with Saudi Arabia to “sabotage” the US-Russian accord.
Turkey versus the ‘jihadis’

Erdogan is waiting for the US to become bogged down in a way that would require ground forces to break the impasse.

Turkey came to believe that it could control the violent jihadis. It was now a common sight to see fighters from the IS and the Nusra Front on Turkish soil without being arrested or otherwise harassed.
When the US declared war on the IS, Turkey thought it could impose its point of view. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president, having lost hope Bashar al-Assad would reform the regime and introduce real democracy, declared that Turkey was entitled to intervene.
In other words, Erdogan was saying that Syria was “his”, and no one else’s.

Because the US is no longer in a position to deploy ground forces, something the war on the IS group requires, Erdogan thought the US would need Turkey. Hence, when US action against the IS group became a certainty, he declared his conditions – the overthrow of the Syrian regime as well as the IS, and the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria (ie a no-fly zone).
Currently, Erdogan is waiting for the US to become bogged down in a way that would require ground forces to break the impasse, and is preparing for this eventuality. This is the Turkish delusion, which assumes all that remains is for the US to come to terms with the necessity of a Turkish intervention after it agrees to Ankara’s conditions.
No doubt the IS has been infiltrated by many intelligence agencies, and world powers are seeking to use the example of its menace to further their own policies.

It can be argued that the US is using the group’s threat to regain a foothold in Iraq and influence the course of events in Syria, or use the course of events in Syria as a bargaining chip the dialogue with Iran and Russia.
Erdogan’s Turkey holds the belief that its intervention will allow it to put its preferred people in power in Damascus.

These people in turn believe this will happen, which is why they have rejected anything less than the end of Assad.

Turkey versus US interests

The US will not accept Turkey’s conditions, however. To begin with, the US does not want Turkey to dominate Syria.
But in the great political game being played over Syria, the IS is almost a sideshow. The US continues to negotiate with Iran and Russia over the country’s future, meaning and Turkey’s focus on the IS group is misguided.

The US believes Turkey must not be allowed to have a regional role bigger than Israel.

Even if the IS group was the only concern, the US believes Turkey must not be allowed to have a regional role bigger than Israel.
The US does not need Turkey in Syria. Washington will not agree a no-fly zone or safe zones, to Turkish intervention in the war on the IS, or to any policy that would let the regime in Syria be overthrown with Turkish help.
The US specifically wants an accord with Iran. For this reason, it will not allow Turkey in.
The Syrian crisis is moving toward a painful level of intractability. It is imperative to understand the conflict cannot end except through a political settlement. This has been clear from the outset.
Of course, the revolution and the battle cannot stop until a solution is reached, on the basis of Geneva 1, which requires Assad and his henchmen to step aside

 

Source: al-Araby al-Jade3ed

Syria needs more than just a new regime

The rise of extremism and sectarianism means that the fall of Assad is now not enough to build a better Syria – revolutionaries need to reject hateful ideologies to realise their original goals of freedom and democracy.
The people who started the Syrian revolution no longer control it. The regime targeted the coordination committees established by activists to ensure they lost educated members with vision and organisation. Many were arrested or killed, and many others fled Syria.

Those who remained decided to take up arms against the regime’s barbarity, setting in motion a spiral of violence. The regime began destroying areas of active opposition, resulting in the decline of the peaceful demonstration movement and the rise of the armed opposition.

With the increased militarisation of the revolution, armed factions began to seek weapons and money from regional states to confront a professional force. Assad’s regional enemies gladly contributed to further their own policies.

At this time, former prisoners of the Syrian regime, many of whom believed in violent jihad, flocked to groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, the Nusra Front and later the Islamic State group.

Foreign funding strengthened these groups as the ostensibly secular forces of the Free Syrian Army were in decline, pushing some Syrians into the arms of the better equipped jihadist groups.

A fate worse than Assad: read the first part of Salameh Kaileh’s series on the Syrian revolution

The youth had originally responded to regime accusations that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis ran the revolution by chanting: “no Salafis or Brotherhood, the revolution is by the youth”. But as foreign money began to influence the opposition, that chant was consigned to history.

One can also not ignore the role played by the media, with western outlets focusing on the sectarian nature of the conflict – a Shia Iranian-backed Alawite Assad suppressing a Sunni-majority revolution. The regime itself depicted the revolution as Salafi.

This portrayal facilitated the infiltration of extremist groups in the revolution who were not in Syria to topple the regime, but to establish an Islamic state. That goal would destroy the original demands of the revolution.

Not all revolutionaries have sided with the Salafis, however. Large segments of the population became refugees and many activists left the country. It is these people who need to rebuild the revolution and turn it away from the sectarianism that has derailed it.

The original revolutionaries were united by grievances over poverty, lack of democracy and oppression. The revolution should be about more than toppling Assad – it should seek to improve the economy, representation and freedom.

This requires an ideological battle against fundamentalism. We have to expose how the visions of fundamentalists contradict the demands of the population and the interests of impoverished segments of society.

 
The original revolutionaries were united by grievances over poverty, lack of democracy and oppression.

We have to demonstrate the error of joining groups that work against the aspirations and demands of their Syrian members and against the interests of the areas in which they have taken refuge.

Here we should clearly distinguish between religion and the ideology of these fundamentalists groups, and demonstrate how these groups use religion as a tool to further their interests, which stand opposed to the interests of the people.

We also have to expose the vision of liberalism that wants to limit the revolution’s goals to political freedom, ignoring the fact the economic liberalism – the belief that the “market” is king – causes its own problems of inequality and misery.

The struggle against the regime is for an alternative that meets the demands of the population. The regime needs to be replaced with a system that resolves the problems of unemployment, poverty and marginalisation as well as other social problems.

Nusra Front’s quest for heaven makes hell on earth

The Syrian opposition must not mistake the Nusra Front for an ally. Nusra, like all those who fight to impose shariah law and establish a caliphate, are not interested in opposing tyranny or freedom and democracy.

For weeks, opposition fighters in the south of Syria had been notching up a series of victories against regime forces, reaching the border of the governorate of Rif Dimashq.

From there, it was hoped that they would be able to lift the siege of the eastern and western countryside of Damascus imposed by Syrian government forces. However, a few

Al-Nusra fights for heaven. Not freedom and democracy

weeks ago the advance stopped. There was no clear reason.

Then a few days ago, the Nusra Front attacked al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, a part of the Free Syrian Army that operates in the south of Syria. Opposition forces now fought opposition forces.

Why? Previously, the Nusra front had attempted to impose its own version of a caliphate on the southern city of Nawa, in Daraa governorate, causing frictions with Free Syrian Army fighters in the city.

In other words, al-Nusra seems to be trying to replicate what it has done in the north of Syria – imposing its authority and its “laws” or sharia, and then launching attacks on other armed factions.

Its own war

Since Nusra’s appearance in Hauran, southwestern Syria, the group has been linked with the kidnapping of a number of Druze residents who live in the area. When opposition factions advanced to take Quneitra, Nusra fighters kidnapped UN peacekeeper forces.

In both cases, other opposition fighters did not properly analyze the reason behind Nusra’s actions. Cooperation with the group continued despite the fact that thegroup had detained and killed a number of armed opposition leaders.

Perhaps the armed opposition factions thought they would be able to rein in Nusra. They failed to see that the all-Qaeda outfit wanted to create a sectarian crisis in the area by targeting Druze, and wanted the international powers to support the Syrian regime when it kidnapped the UN peacekeepers.

Although it appears that neither goal was achieved , it should be clear to the opposition by now that Nusra has its own agenda. It will betray the opposition just as it did in the north, before the Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS) arrived on the scene.

The armed opposition groups do not seem to understand the nature of Nusra, or, for that matter, the IS group and Jaish al-Islam . Nusra is treated as an organisation from within the Syrian revolution that is prone to error.

It is more serious than that. These groups do not understand politics. They instead follow Islamic law of the Wahhabi variety. They do not believe they should engage in a political struggle against the regime. They consider their duty to be the establishment of a caliphate.

Here, Nusra is just like the Islamic State group. Nusra established a caliphate in Aleppo before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organisation managed to impose its. Their battle is not against tyranny or for liberation from a dictatorial regime. Those terms do not exist in the legal lexicon they follow.

Sharia above all

Nusra wants to impose the Wahabi interpretation of sharia, which relies on the strict and literal interpretations of religion, believing that its historic duty is to impose these laws.

I believe that Nusra, like the IS group, is deeply compromised and is infiltrated by security agencies, specifically the Syrian regime. After all, Damascus released many of its current members from prison a year into the revolution.

But I also see that the group is working towards the establishment of an Islamic emirate due to the ideological indoctrination of its members and the imposition of their strict intepretatiion of Islamic law on everyone.

For Nusra, this is a higher priority than fighting the regime. Al-Qaeda’s priority during the Iraq war, for instance, was to fight the Shia in Iraq instead of the occupation forces.

Duped by friends

What does this mean? It means that Nusra is a ticking time bomb wherever it may be.

The group will turn its guns against the opposition factions in order to impose its caliphate, because that is the price of heaven. This is exactly why they can be easily manipulated by security agencies and utilised to benefit the regime or imperialism.

The tragedy of the opposition is that it is ignorant. The problem of the young fighters is that they have not learned from previous experiences in Afghanistan, then Iraq, then the north of Syria.

There cannot be a real struggle against the regime in any area where al-Nusra exists, and the same goes for the IS group or any other outfit that wants to implement sharia.

Those people fight for “heaven”. Not freedom and democracy.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Source: al-Araby al-Jadeed

Syria : The worst Opposition for the biggest Revolution

Syria’s revolution began as an example of “people power”, but once politicians got involved, the movement against the regime became tainted by sectarianism, greed and foreign ideas.

Since the beginning of the revolution in Syria, it was clear that there was a huge disconnect between the opposition and the revolution. As the protests grew, Syrians felt empowered as they were drawn together to overthrow the regime.

But official opposition forces were weak and fragile. Instead of joining the people’s revolution they became dependent on foreign powers and saw the moment as an opportunity to take revenge for the oppressive rule they had experienced.

They focused on the imperialists’ mission to replace the regime, while some opposition figures drowned in financial support – turning them into beneficiaries and profiteers from the death and destruction around them. Their “policy” – metaphorically speaking, of course, these people have never had a policy idea in their lives – was based on a strategy of encouraging imperialist intervention and resulted in the group moving from one capital to another.

As I pointed out several times, their discourse comprised of three main elements. First, insulting the regime and repeating a worn-out discourse about oppressive rule. Second, lamenting the martyrs and turning the revolution into a spectacle of mourning. Third, many opposition figures begged for imperialist intervention.

By doing this, the opposition powers harmed the revolution, scared away prospective participants, and confused activists. They have had their conflicts and disputes, but they have never disagreed on this.

Therefore, leading Syrian opposition figures became dependent on the policies of regional and international powers, and inevitably the regime as well. The founders of the Syrian National Council depended on the intervention of Turkey, Qatar and France before the US and Saudi Arabia joined them.

Meanwhile, it appeared that the Muslim Brotherhood sought dominance of the opposition and that they were supported by Turkey who had found no other substitute for Assad’s rule than the Islamist party. The dictator had often served the interests of Turkey in the past.

The US tried to prevent the Brotherhood from achieving the dominance it sought. This led to the formation of the opposition coalition once it became clear that the US wanted to facilitate the “Russian solution”.

Talking Turkey

When Ankara believed that the US had backed its demands to bring down Assad’s government and implement a buffer zone, Turkish officials began to push for Brotherhood control over the coalition and interim “government” once again.

Turkey’s influence has harmed the revolution ever since the formation of the Syrian National Council – although Turkey is a secular state, the Brotherhood is working towards establishing an Islamic state.

The Brotherhood were thus able to take control of areas where Syrian refugees fled. Thus, they imposed their own “fundamentalist state” with help of the host countries. When it came to education, they used the distribution of aid to introduce their teachings and rationale.

But unfortunately, they never introduced any actual, real education in the classrooms. In politics they resorted to outdated Islamic law; it could only bring back the past, not the first four eras of Islam, but only the era following the collapse of the empire and its civilisation.

Their policies might not be as revolting as al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State group, or the Islamic Army, but they are all working on establishing the same kind of “state”.

Meanwhile, we are left to retrace the path of the revolution and reunite the people instead of dividing them by religion and sect. The sabotage of the revolution has brought the Islamisation of the revolution and sectarian discourse. Syria’s revolution is about freedom and a dignified life.

Tunisia’s Popular Front has eaten itself

Once Tunisia’s main opposition, the left-wing Popular Front has allowed the re-emergence of the old regime in its attempts to curtail Ennhadha – so much so that it now backs former Ben Ali stooge Beji Caid Essebsi for president.

They oppose corruption and tyranny but do not want Moncef Marzouki to win the presidential election. So what does the Popular Front, once Tunisia’s main opposition force, actually stand for anymore?

One would believe the left-wing party’s anti-corruption platform would lead it to oppose the election of Marzouki’s rival, Beji Caid Essebsi, a figure from the old regime. But a statement issued last week actually indicated its support.

This position appears to be part of a long-running campaign to curtail the power of the Islamist Ennahdha movement. But it strengthens the hand of Essebsi’s party, Nidaa Tounes, which the Front openly admits is stuffed with old regime figures.

The left-wing tragedy

One must ask: has the struggle against Islamists reached such an extreme that we would allow the return of the old regime?

This is perhaps one of the tragedies of the left wing of Tunisian politics, and can be seen throughout recent history: The Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties, known by its French acronym, FDTL, strived to form an alliance with Ennahdha years before the revolution against dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

This accord was doomed from the start – seeking to topple Ben Ali was not enough reason to form an alliance with Islamists. No matter how much they talk about democracy, Islamists do not seriously believe in it.

And in modern times, the Popular Front has fallen by the wayside because of its attempts to topple Ennhadha. The forming of the National Salvation Front with Nidaa Tounes before the last election gave Essebsi’s party the springboard to reach power ahead of the Islamists.

As a result, the Popular Front now accepts it plays a supporting role to Nidaa Tounes.

Rising anger

But even this tactic will not secure the Popular Front’s aims. The ruling mafia, represented by Ennahdha and Nidaa Tounes, are forced by their circumstances to form an alliance in the face of an increasingly disgruntled population.

The ruling mafia is more aware than the Popular Front that the population will revolt once more – therefore it is imperative that they unite.

The main elements missing from the calculations of the FDTL and the Popular Front are the people who are being grinded down by continuous market-liberal policies. That is why the voter turnout in recent parliamentary elections was so weak, especially among the youth of Tunisia – the effective majority in the political struggle.

The anger among the youth is building, and it will explode in another revolution, and not through the ballot boxes.

The left wing does not pay attention to anything other than political formations. Revolutions are started by the people, and the left has not used them at all.

Source: al Arabi al Jadeed

Is the Syrian regime sectarian?

The term is heard whenever the Middle East or Syria are discussed, yet a talking head would be pressed to define what they mean by sectarianism. Mohammad Dibo speaks to two prominent Arab thinkers willing to assist our understanding by going back to the basics.

 

Mohammad Dibo: Can we have an opening definition?

Salameh Kaileh: The sect is a community that subscribes to certain religious beliefs from the past. These beliefs, at the time of their formation, were the expression of the ideological and class conceptualisation of a certain social group. This conceptualisation is transformed into a religious belief when there is a societal collapse and social groups become closed, whereupon these conceptualisations are reformulated as “mythological” beliefs. The sect is a group of people who were born to certain beliefs. Their beliefs often survive only cosmetically: people practice some celebratory or funerary rituals, or marry into the same sect for reasons of continuity. But these inherited beliefs do not serve as a basis for relations with the larger society where more common traditions and customs, both in urban and rural societies, are more prevalent. These beliefs generally recede against modernist ideas allowing for more societal integration.

Sectarianism is any religious or sectarian barrier that is based on inherited beliefs against the ‘other’. That is to say: sectarianism is turning diversity to conflict. Without doubt this diversity is a result of an ancient conflict, however, the conflict at that time had economic and ideological bases for a political and ideological class conflict. Whereas before they represented intellectual currents rooted in material social classes and conditions, this language of an old struggle is used today in an essentialist way that has no relation to ideologies or classes.

There is a subheading which we could call, sectarian instrumentalisation. A certain class could utilise these inherited beliefs to advance its own interests, without necessarily believing in them. This can be seen in the context of a class’s defence of its own privileges and existence against other classes, or against other sectors from the same class.

Sectarianism is the tendency to undermine social cohesion by pushing for the reproduction of ancient beliefs and separations. This process is not exclusive to religious minorities, but can also be observed in the majority as well.

Victorious Shams: The sectarian question emerged in Lebanon initially. Its main theorist was Michel Chiha (1891-1954) who is considered one of the fathers of the Lebanese constitution (1926). Chiha viewed Lebanon as a unique country that is “only similar to itself” because of its confessional diversity. Lebanon, according to Chiha, was a country of “partnership between sectarian minorities.” The sect was considered a “stand-alone social entity, held together by its internal cohesion, and with deep historical roots.” Thus, the sect becomes the main, and elementary, social unit, rather than the individual. Indeed, it becomes the necessary gateway between the individual and the state–i.e. the individual’s relationship with the state rests upon his sectarian affiliation, rather than his claim to citizenship.

Citizenship is replaced by a sectarian understanding of sectarian authority, as in a “partnership between sectarian minorities.” Mahdi Amel formulated a scientific rebuttal of this understanding. He defined the sect as a “specific political relationship that is defined by the history of class struggle”; that is to say, a sect only achieves presence and political cohesion through its relationship with other sects, its position within the state, and its proximity to authority in the network of interests that covers all the other sectarian components in the political system.

Sectarianism, according to this definition, is the system that best preserves the classist hierarchy and the dominance of the colonial bourgeois class (this is in communities with diverse confessional backgrounds, where tribalism might prevail in other types of community).

MD: When is a regime “sectarian” and when can we say that it is “instrumentalising sectarianism”? Is there a difference ?

Salameh Kaileh: Most of our sects are the product of the Middle Ages after the collapse of the Arab Islamic empire. This is the era that witnessed the formation of the majority—Sunnis–and religious minorities. Prior to that, Islam was the religion of the authorities, and thus class opposition would usually take a religious shape, but as a politicised class opposition.

There are four types of state sectarianism. When a sectarian power obtains authority over a state–i.e. it transforms these inherited beliefs into an ideological and political project–this becomes a sectarian state, with the power to enforce its beliefs upon the entire community. This is an extreme example that rarely materialises, because the kind of sectarian fervor needed for its success is usually only felt by small parts of the imagined community, who rarely have the necessary force to control a state. More often than not, this scenario ends with the disintegration and collapse of the sectarian state.

Now, take the examples of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) in Iran. Here we find that the ruling power is another type of sectarian power–i.e. it believes that it represents the majority, but it enforces the views of a minority. Here we can indeed say that the state is governed by a sectarian power. To ensure its control, these powers implement different control mechanisms, replacing the class hitherto dominant in the control of the state, while at the same time representing their interests.

When the Muslim Brotherhood won power in Egypt, as before that in Sudan and Tunisia, they represented what remained of a traditional capitalist sub-class (city merchants), a group who could only ascend to power by dint of their adherence to a fundamentalist ideology. The ruling class in Iran is the capitalist class linked to a denomination of Shia who believe in Velayat-e Faqih (a relatively weak current in the Shia spectrum).

A third form of sectarianism is the institutionally sectarian. This brand is mostly created by colonial forces. The institutions of the state are filled on the basis of power-sharing between different sects. The obvious example, of course, is Lebanon (which was replicated in Iraq by the US occupation): the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of the parliament a Shia (in Iraq: the president is Kurdish, prime minister Shia, while the speaker of the parliament is Sunni).

This is a system that reproduces societal groupings and identities on the basis of sect, regardless of whether the ruler is sectarian or not. It is a superficial sectioning that keeps society divided, and contributes to sectarian intolerance, and eventually sectarian upheaval. In this case, we can label the political structure sectarian. And even if the ruler is not sectarian, his position is inevitably determined by his sect.

In the institutional sectarian cases, we find that even potentially non-sectarian bourgeois political parties tend to flatter sects and use sectarian discourses (for example, Michel Aoun, a prominent Lebanese politician, who, despite his nominally secular ideology, often uses sectarian discourse in the service of his bid for presidency). This privileges sectarian identities in the struggle of conflicting groups within the same class for ultimate control. In the example of the Lebanese civil war, we find that most of the struggles were aimed at revising the balance of power vis-a-vis the sects and their relationship with the state, as well as their relationships within the capitalist class.

A regime that is not essentially sectarian but in fact represents a different class (usually the dominant capitalist class) can still instrumentalise sectarianism in its quest to remain in power. This is a very common tactic for colonial regimes, but it is also used by capitalist nations and regimes run by organised crime. In the Lebanese example we can see that the Christian capitalist class utilises the confessional structure to protect its control of the state as well as other parts of the capitalist class. In short, most ruling classes are not sectarian, nor even religious in any sense, but use these antiquated beliefs to assert control over the state. These beliefs are mined for their religious, sectarian, tribal or even regional prejudices.

Victorious Shams: Your question needs some revision. The phrasing objectifies sectarianism, as if it were a choice. Like a cloak that can be worn or discarded at will. This is a simplification of the issue that might suggest that the regime under discussion, the one that “instrumentalised” sectarianism, could arguably equally formulate itself in many other ways, if it so wishes. This is not the case. The nature of any political regime (be it democratic, dictatorial, tribal, etc.) is not born out of choice, but rather governed by the complex interests of the ruling class and by whichever part of the system is best suited to preserving its hegemony in a specific social setting, regardless of the personal convictions or wishes of individuals within that class.

In retort to that question, we might pose another one: could the Libyan regime, at the height of its crisis, resort to sectarianism to preserve its authority? I think the answer is that this was glaringly impossible, for Libyan society is homogeneous from a sectarian point of view. That means, the regime would have had to resort to another type of Asabiyyah (as elaborated by Ibn Khaldun) such as tribalism.

The Syrian regime has long rested its control upon a blend of nationalist and socialist maxims that have preserved its hegemony and allowed it to survive. The revolution however marked the collapse of these maxims, which have long been drained of any substance. They were replaced, under pressure of the fight for survival, with different ones that ushered the conflict in a different direction: sectarian mobilisation and escalation. This was not a matter of choice, but rather a necessity in the context in which the regime found itself. This begs another question: regardless of the current framing of the conflict, could the Syrian regime return to its nationalist and socialist maxims with any credibility? The answer again is a glaring no.

To my mind, instrumentalising sectarianism is simply sectarianism: there is no difference between the two concepts. One cannot analyse the matter on the basis of the wishes and intentions of those in the driving seat of the conflicting camps (the regime, and its opposition). Indeed, one must proceed in one’s analysis from the effects of the conflict on the ground, and the ability of each party to preserve its control. This is especially true in the absence of alternative ideologies, like Arab nationalism or Marxism.

The difference between sectarian and religious regimes is that in the case of a religious regime, one is subjected to an absolutist religious hegemony that allows no sharing of power with any other religious groups, as is the case in Iran and Saudi Arabia. A sectarian regime, on the other hand, presupposes power-sharing between different religious minorities on the basis of quota, even if the system is overwhelmingly dominated by one of them.

MD. (to Salameh Kaileh): You have said that, “when we want to characterise a political system, it is necessary to proceed from a materialist analysis to understand its structure and the interests it represents. Only then can we study the ideological form it uses to impose its hegemony over society.” Can we consider the Abbasid Caliphate or the Iranian state under the jurisdiction of Velayat-e Faqih as a sectarian regime using this definition? 

Salameh Kaileh: We cannot make a valid comparison between the Abbasid Caliphate and the modern regimes of the Muslim Brotherhood or Iran. At the time of the Abbasids, religion was the ideology of the state that was used to coerce society, and class and political struggles took place through religious forms. Religious majorities and minorities took their shape as sects only after the collapse of the Abbasid Caliphate (especially in the 12th and 13th centuries). Before that they represented intellectual currents rooted in material social classes and conditions.

This transformation happened outside the state; that is, these sects were stateless and in conflict. When the Sunni ideology rose to take control it considered other sects to be of a lower level, and in some cases actively worked to enslave or eradicate them (as has happened in the Seljuk and Mamluk empires, and even more so in some periods of Ottoman rule).

Today in Iran, the state is ruled by a Twelver Shia denomination that ascribes to the concept of Velayat-e Faqih, but it also co-exists with other sects (Iran is home to a significant Sunni minority). The Iranian state considers itself a representative of the majority Shia population, despite the fact that it does not represent all Shias (neither all denominations, nor all the people). Thus, while it rules in the name of Shia, it actually serves the interests of a specific capitalist class. Sectarianism in this context is discrimination between people in their access to power. This is based on an inherited model that conceptualizes the citizenry, not as citizens, but as delineated sects. This is indeed a sectarian perspective. A parallel example can be seen in the Wahhabist ideology of the Saudi regime.

Having said that, the concept of sectarianism, as I have tried to explain goes deeper. It stokes conflict with the ‘other’ on the basis of antiquated conflicts and inherited beliefs. That is, it is an infra-political struggle.

There is no doubt that the Iranian regime aspires to enforce its hegemony over the region in the context of international struggles and its own aspirations to become a major power. This is why it has supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, strengthened its relationship with the Syrian regime, coordinated its strategy with the US in Iraq, and supported the Palestinians. To this end, the Iranian regime will use any tool at its disposal, including sect. By positing itself as the representative of Shias, it attempts to mobilize them in areas where it needs to create pressure, and supports Shia groups for political gain, like in Bahrain and Yemen.

But it has also nurtured very close relationships with groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt and the Erdogan government in Turkey (all Sunni forces). That is to say that the Iranian regime operates pragmatically with concern to its regional interests, despite its Shia character and its commitment to the ideology of Velayat-e Faqih. It is a very intelligent strategy, whereby Shia ideology is only a cover, and does not represent a serious obstacle when more pragmatic alliances are needed.

As for its “policy of Shiaization”, I believe this is exaggerated, and mostly perpetuated in the discourse that considers the region through a ‘Sunni-Shia struggle’ framework.

 

 

In the second part of our conversation on the state and sect in Syria with prominent Marxist thinkers from the region, we explore how sectarianism and class intersect in the dark realms of the Syrian elite. See part one.

Mohammad Dibo: Salameh, should we consider Assad’s regime, or the Alawites as a group, sectarian?

Salameh Kaileh: Any investigation into the reasons of how a dictatorship chooses the groups that support its hegemony must be approached through a sociological lens, rather than a sectarian one. The difference here is that a sectarian, or religious approach to the subject focuses on superficial markers in determining the nature of the regime; e.g. the sectarian background of the president and the surrounding ruling class. The real question should be what is the logic that lies behind the dictator’s choice of collaborators? Why might he surround himself with members of the same background?

Let’s be frank. Hafez al-Assad was part of a nationalist party, and that was the underlying consciousness that predated his ascendance to rule. In that sense, one cannot accuse him of being sectarian–unless one subscribes to Islamist notions of the esotericism of Alawites, which I believe is bigoted nonsense. The main struggle inside the Baath party was actually between two Alawites–Salah Jadid and Hafez al-Assad. Thirdly, this struggle completely divided the ruling class at the time between the two factions, including the Alawites, whereby many Alawite officers from Tartous supported Jadid, while the officers from Jableh supported Assad. Moreover, the power vested in [Sunni] figures like Mustafa Tlass, and Abdulhalim Khaddam, under Assad, was well on a par with that of Alawites like Ali Duba or Ali Haydar.

Viewed from a sociological perspective, we notice that such dictators depend on individuals from the same environment they themselves grew up in. The rural environment they were brought up in first and foremost establishes linkages that are regionally-based. This is “rural consciousness”, it attaches confidence to regional linkage, which is natural at a time when the countryside is so isolated. As Engels remarked, a peasant believes that his village is the world, the whole world. This isolation breeds fear of the outside world and strengthens the importance of regional links. Wherever the peasant goes, it is only his neighbours, or those connected to his village that he considers trustworthy and dependable. That is, in a nutshell, why a dictator surrounds himself with those who share his own regional background.

Most of the power struggles in the Syrian army before Assad’s ascent were based on such ‘regional factions’. Many of the urban officers were purged after the March 8 coup d’etat in 1963 (that brought the Baath party to power); many other urban officers, as well as those from Rif Dimashq and Hama, were sidelined in the purge of Nasserist loyalists in June 1963; many Druze officers (from the south of Syria) were also removed following Salim Hatoum’s failed coup in 1967; Alawite officers were also divided, as previously mentioned, along regional lines (between Tartous and Jableh) during the power struggle between Assad and Jadid.

In that light we can see that the regime’s dependence on a core of Alawi officers is based on regional linkages and confidence rather than on sect. The sectarian insurrection led by the Muslim Brotherhood and its military wing (the Vanguard Force) in the late 1970s and early 1980s did reinforce a sectarian tendency, crystallizing in Rifaat al-Assad’s Defense Companies. But even this tendency within the elite was suppressed following the power struggle between the two brothers in 1984. Another attempt at sectarianising community at the time, the al-Murtada association founded by Jamil al-Assad, was also shut down. There is no doubt that a certain sectarian feeling seeped into the structure of the ruling class, but it did not gain any overall hegemony. It was only later taken advantage of by that same ruling class.

As for ordinary citizens who are Alawites, considered as a group, I do not consider them sectarian despite their significant support for the current regime. This is mainly because there are few beliefs that unify them. Ordinary Alawites were not behind the regime before the revolution: on the contrary, they suffered a great deal at the hands of regime thugs, from poverty, marginalisation, land expropriation, and an overall lack of services in their areas. It is no secret that the Syrian coast was one of the most impoverished regions in the country. The brutality of the Hama massacre of 1982 was, nevertheless, attributed to them as a whole societal component, and the regime played its part in spreading the belief that ‘the other’ will always seek revenge on all Alawites for that.

This has created a state of fear in the collective conciousness, that any political change will bring Islamists to power who will then proceed to take their revenge on Alawites. Generally speaking, most of the other religious and confessional minorities shared the fear that Islamists are the only alternative to Assad. This has led to many of them standing by the regime, including the majority of Christians. Without a doubt, this process was encouraged by the regime from the early days of the uprising, but it was also buttressed by some factions of the opposition, like the Muslim Brotherhood, and by some regional powers, like Saudi Arabia, as well as by the mainstream media.

Most Alawites have very little knowledge of their own religious teachings. There is a hardly a specific ‘religious doctrine’ for Alawites to impose on society. It is their debilitating poverty that has led them to join the army in large numbers since the days of the French mandate. And the regime offered very little by way of enhancing their overall quality of life for them to try and hold on to it. However, a general consensus has developed in the country that has identified Alawites with the Assad regime, and with the Hama massacre, despite the fact that a large proportion of political prisoners in Syria were Alawites.

That is the reason why Alawites ended up as staunch supporters of the regime, fear from their perceived connection in the mind of ‘the other’ between them as a community and the regime, and the fear of the consequences of any political change. Thus, their support is not sectarian in nature so much as simply born out of fear.

The wave of Islamic fundamentalism, the assertion of the Islamists’ right to power and the sectarian war that wrecked Iraq, entrenched this aforementioned fear in large sectors of society, in both the minorities and parts of the ‘majority’ as well. This very effective fear is the main reason why the Syrian regime has focused all its energy on promoting and augmenting the Islamist “bogeyman” and presenting the revolution as a fundamentalist movement with the sole aim of usurping power and taking revenge on Alawites. That this has proved a successful strategy, is not due to sectarian feelings amongst Alawites, but rather thanks to the Salafist and fundamentalist sectors of the opposition who were promoted by the mainstream media in the Gulf and even in the west. These elements confounded Alawites from the beginning and made them hesitant in joining the revolution. Over time, as these elements gained more influence within the revolution, Alawites were pushed into blind support of the regime.

MD: Victorios, you seem to have a quite different position on this. You consider the Syrian regime deeply sectarian. So, what is the distinction between a sectarian and an authoritarian regime?

Victorious Shams: As a matter of principle, all regimes are authoritarian. The capitalist regime is one whereby the wealthy elite has power and subjugates lesser classes to its authority; and the opposite is true in socialist regimes. Authoritarianism is a prerequisite of authority. Theoretically, it is impossible to be a sectarian regime without being authoritarian as well, because sectarianism is the system through which the ruling classes guarantees its control within a colonial mode of production. To negate the sectarian label is to negate the control of the ruling class in colonial multi-confessional states. But it is impossible, within the colonial mode of production, to separate sectarianism and authoritarianism; the former is a prerequisite for the latter and vice versa.

When it comes to the Syrian regime, it is important to differentiate between sectarian practices exercised by an authority that is controlled by a minority sect, as in the Syrian case, and an institutionally sectarian state, of the type that is Lebanon.

In the Syrian case, sectarian practices form part of a long and complex process that will necessarily lead to the sectarianisation of society at large, which we can see clearly now in the current conflict. In the latter, however, no one sectarian group can monopolise authority completely as it is based on “partnerships” and institutionalised quotas.

This is to say, sectarianism in Syria is not yet articulated in constitutional forms. The practices of the Syrian regime, including its monopolisation of authority as well as the financial and security apparatuses in the country, are driving that process very rapidly. It is worth here quoting Azmi Bishara, the Palestinian thinker, when he says:

“ The phrase, ‘sectarian sedition’, while it has significant societal relevance, forms a part of a political discourse invoked by the regime when faced by crises. The Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, had no qualms, in his 30 March 2011 speech, about characterising the protest movement as a ‘sectarian sedition’ that aims to destroy stability and spread chaos. It was clear in his speech that the regime is very interested in spreading fear about sectarian strife, even to the point of provocation, as proof that the authoritarian state is the only form capable of preserving social and political unity in Syria, and that any concessions to democratic aspirations will lead to sedition and division. However, we cannot exclude the possibility that the regime, conscious of those of its policies that absorbed Alawites into its hard core, felt that the revolution is a reaction to the centralisation of power and wealth, and that it must be charged with sectarian feelings against him, and the Alawi sect.”

If we look at the struggle from the point of view that the regime tries to consolidate, one shared between Sunnis and Alawites, we must clarify an important issue. Even though there are Alawites who support the revolution, and there are Sunnis who stand by the regime, nevertheless, the percentage of each on their respective sides is minimal, and cannot be used to generalise about a community, nor as evidence that the regime is not sectarian.

In short, the regime, during its time in power has differentiated between normal citizens and privileged ones from a specific sect, and this is one of the reasons for the popular frustration that brought the country to where it is today. Mreover, these events are still ongoing and escalating and have not taken their final shape.

MD: Victorios, in previous writings you described forced demographic changes as proof of the sectarian nature of the regime. This is quite a strong claim, how do you defend it against the reality that a large number of refugees (more than 500,000) relocated to the coastal provinces?  And how would you explain the substantial Sunni communities that have stayed loyal to the regime?

VS: The forced displacements happening in places like Homs and along the Lebanese borders, seem to be a precaution for a regional scenario where the state is partitioned along sectarian lines. Thus, the regime is working on changing the demographic distribution of some areas, and there are plenty of rumors about nationalisation and settling activity favouring certain sectarian groups migrating from outside Syria or from other areas from the country. This means that the regime is working towards political hegemony over these areas by establishing a sectarian majority in it. This hegemony is political at its base, thus there is no need for a 100% purified area, nor is this possible (Israel, despite its many wars against the Palestinians has been unable to completely unroot them from their land).

We must differentiate clearly between the refugees who only seek to save their lives after their areas have been completely destroyed, and therefore do not aim for political control over the areas they are internally displaced to, and the areas occupied by the regime in the hope that it would become part of a future sectarian canton. Other than that, and as the regime is still responsible for the state, the question remains, what has the state offered to those who took refuge in the coastal areas [Alawite regions]?

As for the second part of your question regarding Sunnis standing with the regime, I believe that is mainly due to class interests. Every strand of Islam is different, and thus the Islamic doctrines of the Muslim Brotherhood are completely different from those of the regime, and the doctrines of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or al-Nusra Front bear no similarity to those of Sufism. Hamas used to be very close to the Syrian regime, but it distanced itself after the revolution and after it was asked to help quell the protests. The Qubaisiyat movement has many schools and educational facilities that are supported and facilitated by the regime, and thus they have shared interests. The regime, despite its official line of secularism, is in need of multiple religious covers, as proof of its non-sectarianism, and the Qubaisiyat were ready to play that role along with other official religious institutions like the Mufti and the religious schools.

The Damascene Sunni class is a predominantly bourgeois class that benefits greatly from the regime in an alliance of money and officers. It is still a minority, but a very wealthy one, and they are part of the process of siphoning the country’s wealth into private pockets. Nevertheless, we should note here that many have already moved their wealth from Damascus to other countries, even before the revolution, because of attempts to force them to share their business with the security establishment.

The class interest of the beourgeouisie has no bearing on the sectarian nature of the regime. Sectarianism itself is another form of class authoritarianism, and the “Damascene and Aleppan bourgeoisie” are not too bothered about the form this authoritarianism takes, so long as their wealth increases.

 

Source: Open Democracy

What is sectarianism in the Middle East

The term is heard whenever the Middle East or Syria are discussed, yet a talking head would be pressed to define what they mean by sectarianism. Mohammad Dibo speaks to two prominent Arab thinkers willing to assist our understanding by going back to the basics.

 

MD: Can we have an opening definition?

Salameh Kaileh: The sect is a community that subscribes to certain religious beliefs from the past. These beliefs, at the time of their formation, were the expression of the ideological and class conceptualisation of a certain social group. This conceptualisation is transformed into a religious belief when there is a societal collapse and social groups become closed, whereupon these conceptualisations are reformulated as “mythological” beliefs. The sect is a group of people who were born to certain beliefs. Their beliefs often survive only cosmetically: people practice some celebratory or funerary rituals, or marry into the same sect for reasons of continuity. But these inherited beliefs do not serve as a basis for relations with the larger society where more common traditions and customs, both in urban and rural societies, are more prevalent. These beliefs generally recede against modernist ideas allowing for more societal integration.

Sectarianism is any religious or sectarian barrier that is based on inherited beliefs against the ‘other’. That is to say: sectarianism is turning diversity to conflict. Without doubt this diversity is a result of an ancient conflict, however, the conflict at that time had economic and ideological bases for a political and ideological class conflict. Whereas before they represented intellectual currents rooted in material social classes and conditions, this language of an old struggle is used today in an essentialist way that has no relation to ideologies or classes.

There is a subheading which we could call, sectarian instrumentalisation. A certain class could utilise these inherited beliefs to advance its own interests, without necessarily believing in them. This can be seen in the context of a class’s defence of its own privileges and existence against other classes, or against other sectors from the same class.

Sectarianism is the tendency to undermine social cohesion by pushing for the reproduction of ancient beliefs and separations. This process is not exclusive to religious minorities, but can also be observed in the majority as well.

Victorious Shams: The sectarian question emerged in Lebanon initially. Its main theorist was Michel Chiha (1891-1954) who is considered one of the fathers of the Lebanese constitution (1926). Chiha viewed Lebanon as a unique country that is “only similar to itself” because of its confessional diversity. Lebanon, according to Chiha, was a country of “partnership between sectarian minorities.” The sect was considered a “stand-alone social entity, held together by its internal cohesion, and with deep historical roots.” Thus, the sect becomes the main, and elementary, social unit, rather than the individual. Indeed, it becomes the necessary gateway between the individual and the state–i.e. the individual’s relationship with the state rests upon his sectarian affiliation, rather than his claim to citizenship.

Citizenship is replaced by a sectarian understanding of sectarian authority, as in a “partnership between sectarian minorities.” Mahdi Amel formulated a scientific rebuttal of this understanding. He defined the sect as a “specific political relationship that is defined by the history of class struggle”; that is to say, a sect only achieves presence and political cohesion through its relationship with other sects, its position within the state, and its proximity to authority in the network of interests that covers all the other sectarian components in the political system.

Sectarianism, according to this definition, is the system that best preserves the classist hierarchy and the dominance of the colonial bourgeois class (this is in communities with diverse confessional backgrounds, where tribalism might prevail in other types of community).

MD: When is a regime “sectarian” and when can we say that it is “instrumentalising sectarianism”? Is there a difference ?

Salameh Kaileh: Most of our sects are the product of the Middle Ages after the collapse of the Arab Islamic empire. This is the era that witnessed the formation of the majority—Sunnis–and religious minorities. Prior to that, Islam was the religion of the authorities, and thus class opposition would usually take a religious shape, but as a politicised class opposition.

There are four types of state sectarianism. When a sectarian power obtains authority over a state–i.e. it transforms these inherited beliefs into an ideological and political project–this becomes a sectarian state, with the power to enforce its beliefs upon the entire community. This is an extreme example that rarely materialises, because the kind of sectarian fervor needed for its success is usually only felt by small parts of the imagined community, who rarely have the necessary force to control a state. More often than not, this scenario ends with the disintegration and collapse of the sectarian state.

Now, take the examples of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) in Iran. Here we find that the ruling power is another type of sectarian power–i.e. it believes that it represents the majority, but it enforces the views of a minority. Here we can indeed say that the state is governed by a sectarian power. To ensure its control, these powers implement different control mechanisms, replacing the class hitherto dominant in the control of the state, while at the same time representing their interests.

When the Muslim Brotherhood won power in Egypt, as before that in Sudan and Tunisia, they represented what remained of a traditional capitalist sub-class (city merchants), a group who could only ascend to power by dint of their adherence to a fundamentalist ideology. The ruling class in Iran is the capitalist class linked to a denomination of Shia who believe in Velayat-e Faqih (a relatively weak current in the Shia spectrum).

A third form of sectarianism is the institutionally sectarian. This brand is mostly created by colonial forces. The institutions of the state are filled on the basis of power-sharing between different sects. The obvious example, of course, is Lebanon (which was replicated in Iraq by the US occupation): the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of the parliament a Shia (in Iraq: the president is Kurdish, prime minister Shia, while the speaker of the parliament is Sunni).

This is a system that reproduces societal groupings and identities on the basis of sect, regardless of whether the ruler is sectarian or not. It is a superficial sectioning that keeps society divided, and contributes to sectarian intolerance, and eventually sectarian upheaval. In this case, we can label the political structure sectarian. And even if the ruler is not sectarian, his position is inevitably determined by his sect.

In the institutional sectarian cases, we find that even potentially non-sectarian bourgeois political parties tend to flatter sects and use sectarian discourses (for example, Michel Aoun, a prominent Lebanese politician, who, despite his nominally secular ideology, often uses sectarian discourse in the service of his bid for presidency). This privileges sectarian identities in the struggle of conflicting groups within the same class for ultimate control. In the example of the Lebanese civil war, we find that most of the struggles were aimed at revising the balance of power vis-a-vis the sects and their relationship with the state, as well as their relationships within the capitalist class.

A regime that is not essentially sectarian but in fact represents a different class (usually the dominant capitalist class) can still instrumentalise sectarianism in its quest to remain in power. This is a very common tactic for colonial regimes, but it is also used by capitalist nations and regimes run by organised crime. In the Lebanese example we can see that the Christian capitalist class utilises the confessional structure to protect its control of the state as well as other parts of the capitalist class. In short, most ruling classes are not sectarian, nor even religious in any sense, but use these antiquated beliefs to assert control over the state. These beliefs are mined for their religious, sectarian, tribal or even regional prejudices.

Victorious Shams: Your question needs some revision. The phrasing objectifies sectarianism, as if it were a choice. Like a cloak that can be worn or discarded at will. This is a simplification of the issue that might suggest that the regime under discussion, the one that “instrumentalised” sectarianism, could arguably equally formulate itself in many other ways, if it so wishes. This is not the case. The nature of any political regime (be it democratic, dictatorial, tribal, etc.) is not born out of choice, but rather governed by the complex interests of the ruling class and by whichever part of the system is best suited to preserving its hegemony in a specific social setting, regardless of the personal convictions or wishes of individuals within that class.

In retort to that question, we might pose another one: could the Libyan regime, at the height of its crisis, resort to sectarianism to preserve its authority? I think the answer is that this was glaringly impossible, for Libyan society is homogeneous from a sectarian point of view. That means, the regime would have had to resort to another type of Asabiyyah (as elaborated by Ibn Khaldun) such as tribalism.

The Syrian regime has long rested its control upon a blend of nationalist and socialist maxims that have preserved its hegemony and allowed it to survive. The revolution however marked the collapse of these maxims, which have long been drained of any substance. They were replaced, under pressure of the fight for survival, with different ones that ushered the conflict in a different direction: sectarian mobilisation and escalation. This was not a matter of choice, but rather a necessity in the context in which the regime found itself. This begs another question: regardless of the current framing of the conflict, could the Syrian regime return to its nationalist and socialist maxims with any credibility? The answer again is a glaring no.

To my mind, instrumentalising sectarianism is simply sectarianism: there is no difference between the two concepts. One cannot analyse the matter on the basis of the wishes and intentions of those in the driving seat of the conflicting camps (the regime, and its opposition). Indeed, one must proceed in one’s analysis from the effects of the conflict on the ground, and the ability of each party to preserve its control. This is especially true in the absence of alternative ideologies, like Arab nationalism or Marxism.

The difference between sectarian and religious regimes is that in the case of a religious regime, one is subjected to an absolutist religious hegemony that allows no sharing of power with any other religious groups, as is the case in Iran and Saudi Arabia. A sectarian regime, on the other hand, presupposes power-sharing between different religious minorities on the basis of quota, even if the system is overwhelmingly dominated by one of them.

MD. (to Salameh Kaileh): You have said that, “when we want to characterise a political system, it is necessary to proceed from a materialist analysis to understand its structure and the interests it represents. Only then can we study the ideological form it uses to impose its hegemony over society.” Can we consider the Abbasid Caliphate or the Iranian state under the jurisdiction of Velayat-e Faqih as a sectarian regime using this definition? 

Salameh Kaileh: We cannot make a valid comparison between the Abbasid Caliphate and the modern regimes of the Muslim Brotherhood or Iran. At the time of the Abbasids, religion was the ideology of the state that was used to coerce society, and class and political struggles took place through religious forms. Religious majorities and minorities took their shape as sects only after the collapse of the Abbasid Caliphate (especially in the 12th and 13th centuries). Before that they represented intellectual currents rooted in material social classes and conditions.

This transformation happened outside the state; that is, these sects were stateless and in conflict. When the Sunni ideology rose to take control it considered other sects to be of a lower level, and in some cases actively worked to enslave or eradicate them (as has happened in the Seljuk and Mamluk empires, and even more so in some periods of Ottoman rule).

Today in Iran, the state is ruled by a Twelver Shia denomination that ascribes to the concept of Velayat-e Faqih, but it also co-exists with other sects (Iran is home to a significant Sunni minority). The Iranian state considers itself a representative of the majority Shia population, despite the fact that it does not represent all Shias (neither all denominations, nor all the people). Thus, while it rules in the name of Shia, it actually serves the interests of a specific capitalist class. Sectarianism in this context is discrimination between people in their access to power. This is based on an inherited model that conceptualizes the citizenry, not as citizens, but as delineated sects. This is indeed a sectarian perspective. A parallel example can be seen in the Wahhabist ideology of the Saudi regime.

Having said that, the concept of sectarianism, as I have tried to explain goes deeper. It stokes conflict with the ‘other’ on the basis of antiquated conflicts and inherited beliefs. That is, it is an infra-political struggle.

There is no doubt that the Iranian regime aspires to enforce its hegemony over the region in the context of international struggles and its own aspirations to become a major power. This is why it has supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, strengthened its relationship with the Syrian regime, coordinated its strategy with the US in Iraq, and supported the Palestinians. To this end, the Iranian regime will use any tool at its disposal, including sect. By positing itself as the representative of Shias, it attempts to mobilize them in areas where it needs to create pressure, and supports Shia groups for political gain, like in Bahrain and Yemen.

But it has also nurtured very close relationships with groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt and the Erdogan government in Turkey (all Sunni forces). That is to say that the Iranian regime operates pragmatically with concern to its regional interests, despite its Shia character and its commitment to the ideology of Velayat-e Faqih. It is a very intelligent strategy, whereby Shia ideology is only a cover, and does not represent a serious obstacle when more pragmatic alliances are needed.

As for its “policy of Shiaization”, I believe this is exaggerated, and mostly perpetuated in the discourse that considers the region through a ‘Sunni-Shia struggle’ framework.

Translated by: Yazan Badran

 

Source : Open Democracy

Subjects about Socialism and Revolution in the Imperialist Era

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Subjects about Socialism and Revolution in the Imperialist Era

Marxism and other Marxisms

Translation by:  Bassil Othman

First :

About Cyclic Tendencies and Dispersion in Marxism

It is continuously referred to different “Marxisms” whenever one studies the history of Marxism itself.There is no doubt that Marxism has branched (or divided ) into “Marxisms”. In various nations where Marxism was spread, Marxists came into conflicts. And each of these took a special perspective that is in contrast or even in contradiction with others. The essence of the dispute was related to the project posed by each of them, on the basis of Marxism; although the result was a victory of a trend on the other, in countries where they came into conflict.

For this, we will notice the presence of Kautsky and Bernstein, Lenin and Plekhanov, Trotsky and Stalin. Each of these duets grappled, in defense of “Marxism”, and for a community project. We can even touch the existence of this conflict through the fissures in the Marxist movement. For example, the split in the Second International and establishment of the Third International and the Socialist International, the split of the Third International and the emergence of the Fourth International.

But we can see that the branches, which originated in the first half of the twentieth century, are still the existing division nowadays. “Soviet Marxism”, that possessed its legitimacy from the Soviet state and power, was spread in different regions of the world. But it didn’t seek a real change, thus it didn’t obtain victory. Trotskyism was formed in contradiction with this “Soviet Marxism”, and worked on the criticism of socialist experiment on one hand, and on the achievement of the socialist revolution globally, on the other hand without achieving something practical, despite the rich theoretical contributions it has made.Also, Maoism appeared as a Stalinism, but with a special, different and opposite taste. That’s why it kept defending Stalin, when seeking to achieve the national democratic revolution, which was against the view of Stalin presented by the “Soviet Marxism”.

Thus we can recognize three major Marxist currents in the twentieth century. Perhaps there were other currents that did not dominate, despite their important roles, such as the Vietnamese Marxism, or the Cuban Marxism of Castro, and other marginal currents, such as the Marxism represented by “Anouar Khojja”, and the Marxism represented by Tito. But all of them were cracked also into other branches, due to the internal contradictions that were at the same level as the contradictions among these currents. And therefore we are about a wide spectrum of contradicting currents.

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, Soviet Marxism is still present in the consciousness of many communists, and in many parties. It is even controls the consciousness of many of those who have switched from it. Despite the fact that China is turning quietly to capitalism, Maoism did not fall yet, and some of its parties are obtaining victory in countries of dominant rural towns, such as Nepal, Peru, and some regions of India.

This branching turns into “independent” Marxisms. In the sense that each of them claims to be the “Marxist” while claiming that others distort Marxism, and that they converted out of Marxism. Therefore we are now standing towards more than one “Marx” and more than one “Marxism”.

But which one is the “Right” one? What is the difference between these currents?

First, what is the relationship between these divisions of Marxism, and “Marxism”? Are they Marxist? And thus, what is Marxism?

 The situation experienced by the Marxist movement in the Arab world raise these questions. It seems that the communist movement that was based on “Soviet Marxism” is fading, cracking, crumbling, and getting lost behind politics that just help it fading away. Despite the attempts made to rebuild the Marxist movement again, those are being related again to the aforementioned currents, with same contradictions and divisions. This keeps it weak and disabled, grappling about the same issues of their “origins” and around problems of the past time.

Is the Arab reality producing these contradictions, or is the “transfer” or “projection” bringing originally conflicting “Marxist sects” or conflicting “Marxisms” due to problems that are not really related to our present time and conditions?

We can see many attempts of Trotskyists, from different Trotskyist currents, to build parties. In addition, there are many Maoist attempts to build Maoist parties, and some remnants of currents that are still following the “Soviet Marxism” or Stalinism, and perhaps the “Guevarian”currents. Moreover, some concepts of the “Bolivarian Revolution”, Hikmatism (referring to the Iranian communist Mansur Hikmat), Gramscism (referring to Antonio Gramsci) and Anarchism, are spreading. Thus, the spectrum of “Marxist Parties” that are contradicting from the beginning, has been formed, conflicting about problems of the past, and accusing others of betraying Marxism.

Are the conditions of the Arab World now  enforcing these divisions? Perhaps yes, but only in one sense, which is the disintegration of the petty bourgeois. This tendency of the petty bourgeois to grab dreams and ideas is the expression of the real disintegration that it is living. “Marxism” is therefore subjected to the effects of petty bourgeois disintegration and did not become “the ideology of the working class “. This is because the “Marxists” have not analyzed the actual conditions of the reality before taking positions and before touching the differences between them.

What did these currents establish, in the context of the historical development in the countries where they originated? Was their formation due to a methodological disagreement in Marxism?

Basically, what is their difference with the original Marxism, the Marxism of Marx / Engels and perhaps Lenin?

The change of a branch into an origin is supposed to be the product of an evolution that allows a “cut off” with the stem. Did these currents cut off with Marx?

All of them refer to Marx, and to Marxism-Leninism, but each of them considers itself a new higher “category” that includes all the previous fundamental elements. Then, why did it become Trotskyist, Maoist, and Guevarian ….etc.? Perhaps it is due to a tendency to attach with a charismatic personality?

 These currents have been formed as a result of profound differences in understanding the circumstances in the nations they emerged in, in a specific time. But why are these differences transferred into another reality before studying its conditions, and before these “Marxist” currents engage in dialogue, and thus before they come into conflict?

If we start from the question about their relationship with Marxism, we will find that they consider Marxism and Leninism as their reference. So, differences arose from each seeing the side of reality that was experienced in its country. But is their approach to the situations there the same one that should be dealt with in the Arab world?

Trotsky didn’t agree with Stalin about the process of achieving socialism. Before that, he also disagreed with Lenin about the nature of the revolution, whether it should be democratic or socialist, or more accurately, whether we should raise the slogan of the democratic revolutionary dictatorship of workers and peasants, or the dictatorship of the proletariat? And Mao Zedong didn’t agree with the “Stalinists” of his party about the role of the communists in the Democratic Revolution. The question was that whether we should integrate with the bourgeois to achieve this revolution (of bourgeois character), or we should achieve it by ourselves. And, on the basis of Lenin’s view, he didn’t agree with Trotsky who directly wanted to achieve the socialist revolution. The raising Stalinism dedicated a role of the communists attached to the bourgeois that were assumed to achieve the democratic revolution. These are the differences that affected the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in its early years. The presence of communists in retarded communities imposed the existence of the argument about the nature of their role, and the program that governs it.

These differences have arisen in other nations. Did we analyze our conditions and our reality before discussing whether the revolution is a bourgeois democratic one, or a democratic revolution achieved by the Communists, or a socialist revolution? Maybe we get into one of these choices. Communists must specify their correct goal and struggle to achieve it. But it is really problematic to transfer and project a view before analyzing the reality, because this indicates that the faith in Marxism is not based on awareness and logic, but rather based on the desirability of a position or a slogan of this trend or that, or an attraction to a certain Marxist thinker or another. This transfer of texts and ideas is their basis, without any need for them to understand the reality, and identify the way to deal with it. We are here facing the question whether we should establish our  Marxist concepts and logic before we study the reality  to build our view that we must base our work on, or we should take the logic produced by a different reality with different conditions. That is, should we produce our own awareness of our reality before we get to conclusions, or take ready answers and conclusions from one thinker or another, to establish a superficial “Formal Logic” based on products of others?

Thus each current tends to form its “group” based on the general ideas that it poses, considering that it matches the existing reality. This prevents the formation of a united Marxist practice. Antagonism seems to be the basis of the relationship, and with pre-determined dissensions, because the view posed by each current is in prior contradiction with the view of other currents. This is stored in a huge charge of conflict that existed all over the twentieth century, and this shifts the study of the reality that aims to interpret and understand it, into a repetition of global conflicts of the past that has been already expired. And thus it repeats the dispute in the form of a sharp opposition. This does not offer any benefit in terms of thought, because it repeats the same ideas in a fixed way, and shows what is already shown, and makes our conflicts as conflicts of Trench wars, and therefore results in hassling only. Isn’t this a feature of the petty bourgeois? The worse is that it turns into “tribal” conflicts that make the possibilities of dialogue and compatibility fail; where each side tries to impose its perspective, including the terms and words used. This makes any agreement between those who agree about the fundamentals something impossible. Thus, the conflict becomes a “literal” one, which is a feature of the petty bourgeois, a tribal conflict of the medieval ages. It appears that the link to these ideas in each of these currents is a personal link.

What is the difference between each of these currents, and Marxism?

As we said, each current believes that it represents Marxism and that other trends are distortions of Marxism. And therefore each current confirms its affiliation to Marxism, and Marxism-Leninism. This raises the question about the cause that makes it a branch, a “special” Marxism with “followers”, and makes a “cut off” with the original Marxism or a qualitative shift in it?

In this situation we must point to all what was added by the founders of these trends establishing a branch, or a qualitative shift. But the problem here is that each formulates Marxism according to his perspective, and emphasizes that others distort Marxism. Therefore we should start from the essence of Marxism, which is the “Materialistic Dialectical Logic” that went beyond the “Formal Logic” which prevailed for centuries before. It is the basis on which Marx formulated his thought, and led him to discover the general laws of historical and economic development and reflected the tendency to formulate the perspective of the working class, and the struggle to achieve socialism.

Do these currents differ in answering these questions? Absolutely no.

Did their thinkers add something to these answers? No, despite their additions in other aspects. So why did these become more than one “Marxism”? We conclude that the dispute is due to  different perspectives in seeing reality; which don’t allow them to become special “Marxisms”, separate from the original Marxism, but  only a diverseness related to a specific time and place. Who studies the nature of conflicts between these currents notices this. We know that Lenin’s dispute with Trotsky before the revolution in February 1917 was about the nature of the revolution in Russia, and the class nature of leadership of this revolution, and its objective. The conflict between Trotsky and Mao was about the same issue. The disagreement between Mao and Stalin was similar to that between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks previously, which was about the role of the Communist Party of the Democratic Revolution. Did the analysis of those Marxists change into laws that can be added to Marxism, to add names of “leaders” to the list, Marx, Engels, Lenin, … And so on? Did they develop the way of thinking established by Marx, producing “post-Marxisms”, called Trotskyist or Maoist?

Perhaps they had important analysis and perceptions and ideas, some of which became in the core of Marxism, but all this should not divide Marxists into “sects” (or branches). Marxism is a way of thinking, which is the materialist dialectic that we need in order to understand our reality, and to identify perceptions to change it. And thus our basis is actually included in the materialist dialectic itself. Through it, we seek to understand our reality, and approach thinkers from these currents, and we can reach new conclusions. We can benefit from an idea of Trotsky or Mao, or even of Kautsky or Plekhanov, and of many Marxists who came after this generation, but we must start from the way of thinking first, the materialist dialectic, in an attempt to understand the reality.

Thus we should note that ideas posed by these currents express an understanding of a certain reality in a specific time, and represent an ideological perspective of a specific working class in a particular country. So, Marxism is an ideological theory expressing the working class interests in struggling to change, in a certain reality and a specific time. This imposes it to be relative, to be specific expression, which makes it impossible to become a general law. When we make these specific expressions general laws, then we will be inverting “Marx” upside-down, after he had made Hegel standing on his feet. Because in this case we are starting from previously formed ideas to be applied into a reality that we didn’t study before, and did not understand its contradictions. In this case, we start from thought and ideas, not from reality and facts. This inversion of Marxism makes it an idealistic philosophy which is says that ideas are prior to reality.

The problem in these currents (Soviet and Trotskyist and Maoist, etc.), is that they do not distinguish between the way of thinking and the conclusions that were reached in a particular circumstance in a specific time and country. By this, conclusions reached by Mao in China and on which he built his strategy, was projected into our reality and Maoists based their strategy on it. Although Mao Zedong had presented methodically important works in his book “Four Philosophical Articles ” (especially in the pamphlet about contradiction), but Maoists disregarded this important methodical aspect, and considered conclusions as laws, and built on it, in the light of China’s conditions in the first half of the twentieth century. Thus, these conclusions by Mao were considered the “law” that governs the “revolutionary process” in the Arab world. Despite this, there are fundamental aspects in Maoism that we can benefit from, especially the methodical way through which Mao dealt with reality to reach valid conclusions.

Also, Trotskyism was summarized in three essential “Laws”: The dictatorship of proletariat and the socialist revolution, the permanent revolution, and internationalist party. These laws are considered country-specific and general as well. Can we summarize Trotsky himself in these “laws”? Of course not, he is much wider and more important than this. There is no doubt that his criticism of the socialist experiment since its beginning is his most important works. Trotsky is much more important than embalming him in the three icons, that opened the doors on antagonism and conflicts which disintegrated the fourth international into many Trotskyist groups, and that did not prove any practical effectiveness all over the twentieth century. What is the difference between these groups? Their position concerning real issues. So we must look to the reality, only by using the materialist dialectic.

Stalinism, during its peak of realization, was a repetition of the Menshevik Heritage (specifically Plekhanov’s perspective). That is why it leads the working class into illusions. Their belief that the bourgeois are the revolutionary elements in retarded countries and that the passage through Capitalism there is inevitable and necessary (according to the Formal logic perspective regarding evolution of societies).Thus Stalinist parties there did not really seek power eagerly. Even though they were important political power in many countries, they “betrayed the revolution” in these countries. The twentieth century did not prove that the bourgeois are interested in the realization of capitalism (in retarded countries ) before Communists take power . But also it is not possible to neglect Stalin and consider him a demon, despite all what he had committed. Russia has become a modern industrial state. Despite his shallow thought, one can benefit from many of the issues that he presented.

Thus, we can benefit from all these efforts and works through a methodical way, but then we are just going back to Marx. This is what we need, because all other scenarios are analysis of a specific reality, and policies related to its facts on the basis of Marx’s methodology. Nevertheless, our analysis may intersect with a perception or another of these perceptions, because different realities still have many common things.

Perhaps Soviet Marxism is the most obvious in its superficiality, and in converting Marxism into “a journal report” or into sacred text written by “Comrade Stalin,” or by the “Soviet scientists”. But also with an ideological shape, since the modification of dialectical materialism, made by Stalin, when he removed the law of “negation of negation”, and framed the philosophical level in Marxism (which is dialectical material) outside any analytical act, keeping it away from being a way of thinking. But this superficiality is found also in all currents of Marxism, because transferring concepts is just adopting ideas far from the reality, while considering it to belong to this reality. Because the methodology of Marxism was not essential to all these currents, it is no longer the basis of its analytical act. Thus “formal logic” prevailed in all these.

From all that, we can get to the basic problem in all these currents, which is that it brought a complete picture from outside the reality, and did not establish its view according to an analysis of this reality. It brought an ideology formulated in a different situation, to make it the “theory of revolution” in the Arab world. While it is not possible to formulate an ideology representing the working class without a profound analysis of the concrete reality, and determining its goals from the perspective of the working class, and thus draw a strategy according to the possibilities of change in this reality. All this needs, surely, and necessarily, a deep knowledge of materialist dialectic first. Here we can benefit from all the Marxist works of these Marxists.

(Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and Gramsci and Lukacs and others, after Marx and Engels) regarding materialist dialectic, not just for understanding it, but also to ingest and assimilate it, so that it becomes our mechanism of thinking that we follow and approach the reality by. We may benefit from them in other issues. One can “love” this Marxist leader or that, tending to “mimic” him, but we must always start from the beginning, which is the knowledge of dialectical materialism as the motivator of our mind that allows us to know the reality and know the appropriate mechanisms to change it.

In this case, we are Marxists, and only Marxists. An expression that does not only go back to Marx, as what the name tells us, but also goes back to all the Marxist heritage with its variety and its various thinkers and leaders, but before anything, restricting Marxism primarily in its methodology, the way of thinking, the materialist dialectic, and after that all the laws and ideas that were formulated on this basis. Thus the term Marxist is not similar, in use, to the expression Maoist or Trotskyist, because it is the wider and the original term, representing a complete ideology. This term should be the term used continuously because other terms had been “contaminated” by their users. This contamination of “names” imposed Marx and Engels previously to name the manifesto, the Communist Manifesto, and not the socialist manifesto (they didn’t use the term “socialist”), although the essence of their idea was: socialism. Despite that the term “Socialism” was popular after that as an expression of Marxism, and thereafter the word “Communist” was the general term used.

Thus, Marxism refers to the methodology, the way of thinking: essentially the materialist dialectic and here we will find only Marxism.

This poses the following question: to what extent do Marxists, and especially those who are forming branches in Marxism, represent the Marxist methodology?

Who follows up the writings of Lenin can notice the importance of evaluating others on the basis of this issue, because it is the basis of our correct knowledge of the reality, and our correct awareness of mechanisms of change. Thus if these have assimilated the Marxist methodology, the basic benefit from them will be determined in some laws and perceptions they found through their analysis of their reality, which can be elevated to the rank of law or perspective.

But here we stay within the framework of Marxism without the need for branching into sects and the formation of other “Marxisms”. Where we can benefit from an idea of Mao or a perception of Trotsky without this being a base for a split and without the need for pre-formed divisions, although that later dialogues, but this time on the basis of analysis of reality, and in the light of determining policies.

So, there is one “Marxism” and there are quantitative additions by many Marxists. There is one “Marxism” which is the materialist dialectic, and there is a Marxist heritage, which is the product of all the Marxists, regardless of its current value.

Conflicts

Does this mean that we ignore the historical conflicts between these currents, and that they still exist in fact?

What I wanted first to refer to, is that the formation of Marxist currents in the Arab world is based on the adoption of ideas and previously formed systems in different conditions and in the past time, and therefore the transfer of a system of ideas considering it corresponding to our reality. This is opposite to materialistic dialectic, and it is a sign of prevalence of the “Formal Logic”, and perhaps a “Theological Logic” that starts from the sacred texts before it actually touches the reality by analysis, considering it the logic representing the working class. Here, the materialistic dialectic was replaced by “formal logic”, and thus, these currents were formed in closed structures (sects), because formal logic is a product of closed structures.

Thus, in this logic, the reality is absent, or at most it is “passive”. The methodology is formal, not Marxist. And therefore all the conflicts between these Marxist currents will be external conflicts because they have no basis in the reality, but are brought with the adopted pre-formed perceptions. These differences revolve around a number of issues, which are in essence the same issues of conflict in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party.

The base of this argument was the determination of the nature of the revolution: Is it a bourgeois democratic revolution or a democratic revolution led by the working class or a socialist revolution? And the division here is clear, between Soviet Marxism which poses that the revolution is of bourgeois democratic nature, and must be achieved by the bourgeois. And Maoism, which poses that it is a democratic revolution but by the leadership of the working class, and Trotskyism which is still considering that the revolution is a socialist revolution. But the dispute involved also the national question, which was ignored by Soviet Marxism, and adopted by the Maoist. The position of Trotskyists regarding this varied between those who adopted it and those who rejected it on the basis of a loyalty to “internationalism” similar to cosmopolitan (as in the case of Soviet Marxism). Also, the dispute involves the position and the role of the Communist Party in alliances: following the Bourgeois and its leadership, or refusing alliance. And also between non-revolution (Soviet Marxism) and revolution (Maoist) and the permanent revolution (Trotskyism). Or determining the progressive classes focusing on the bourgeoisie (Soviet Marxism) or the peasants (Maoist) or the working class (Trotskyism). As well as between the struggle for democracy (Soviet Marxism) and the armed revolution and people’s war (Maoist) and the people’s uprising (Trotskyist).Many other variations can be noticed.

But the main question is: What is the relationship between this argument and our reality? There is no doubt that it is necessary to determine the nature of the revolution and the role of classes in it, and the role that should be played by the Communist Party, and how to reach power. Also, a position must be taken regarding the national question because it is already a posed question, in fact, and cannot be ignored. Therefore, we must determine the status of classes. These are preliminary issues in forming the view that expresses the Marxists.

And also one can understand the focusing on “socialism” in a situation

 Where the communist movement, which was a dominant force, was defending the victory of the bourgeois, and employing all its efforts for this victory. Also, one can understand the focusing on peasants in agriculture societies where the communist movement and Trotskyists were focusing on the working class. And therefore one can understand also the focusing on the role of the party in a situation where the communist movement was dissolved in alliances that it was affiliated in.

But the problem is much further than this. It seems that all this conflict is “external” that can be discussed by anyone and anywhere, in the sense that it is not specific to the conditions and the reality being studied. But this will not lead to an agreement, and it is not the possible way to abolish the formation of “enclosed circles” of Marxist currents. This has no benefit in the evolution of the theory because it does not add anything important to what was written from decades. Testing the validity of any of these ideas is the reality itself, which may dominate a point of view over another through analysis that is based on the materialist dialectic in specific, and not in returning to the ideas of Trotsky or Lenin or Mao or even Marx. For example, these are the three options for achieving development, but which one of these should be taken in the Arab world, in the light of the situation and balance of forces between classes and the goals we seek to achieve development? Which goals are posed by the reality as a step in the path of evolution? This requires a “concrete analysis of the concrete reality” as Lenin points clearly. We will not benefit here from any perceptions reached by Marx, which was focusing on achieving the socialist revolution, and that Lenin overpassed in order to achieve victory. Likewise, neither the perceptions of Lenin, nor these of Trotsky or Mao, can be the solution, by themselves. These perceptions were based on specific situations that are no longer valid. We can just benefit from points in all these perceptions, only through the analysis of reality, using the materialist dialectic.

So, in Marxism the beginning is from the Marxism itself, and not from any other political-intellectual formation. This means to begin from the knowledge of Marxism as a methodology which is the materialist dialectic, and therefore the analysis of reality on this basis, to reach correct conclusions and perceptions and programs and views. These may agree with one current or another, or even adopt the perception of one Marxist thinker or another, or be entirely new as a result of differing circumstances of the reality, or can be compatible with any of them and new at the same time.

This beginning does not distinguish between a Leninist, Trotskyist or Maosit or Stalinist and Gramcist … etc… Because it is based on the core of Marxism. The one who does not capture this fact will not be able to be a Marxist. Thus through analysis of the reality, currents may be formed, and contradictions may be shown, but only through this analysis.

Trotskyists had many attempts to frame their program and their views, for many decades, but they remained on the margins of the communist movement, criticizing it through the general ideas that were discussed by Trotsky. Maoism also attempted this since the sixties of the twentieth century, but it didn’t come into being except in some countries, and between scholars mostly, despite the great interest in Mao and Trotsky in the Arab world. Why? Were the reasons of this failure studied? A “ready” formula cannot establish a realistic movement. The grace of communists was that they raised the issues of the working class demands, and fought for these issues (prior to becoming a part of many systems!). But Trotskyists and Maoists have focused also on issues that have no value in the present reality (i.e., regarding the present time and not regarding its historical importance). The Worse was that they did not produce thought, and all Arab Marxist thinkers were out of all these currents, and even in disagreement with them. The essential point of contention with them was how to deal with Marxism: Is it previously ready texts, or a methodology that we must assimilate to analyze our reality? Perhaps most of them, like Yassin Al-Hafith, Elias Morqus, Mahdi Amel, Ibrahim Kobbi, and others           ( Except Samir Amin who was a Maoist in a certain stage ), were only Marxists.Also, in the Communist movement we have Salim Khayata, Raif Khoury, Fahd and Abdel-Khaleq Mahjub who were only Marxists.

And therefore Trotskyism and Maoism were only forms of objection on the essential movement, which is the “communist” ( Soviet ) movement, without being able to be its alternative, as did Mao in the twenties, or Castro in the fifties.

Although anyone of us may “love” a Marxist leader or another, the basic issue here is to be Marxists, and only Marxists. And we must begin from the knowledge of our reality, to form our perceptions, policies and mechanisms that are based on the possibilities of the reality. But this launch will not exempt us from the debate about many issues that were raised in the history of the Marxist movement, and define our position regarding these issues, and maybe disagree about these. But the most important is the dialogue about important issues related to our reality, which can be determined by a number of problems, including, the position regarding the national question in the Arab world, and whether we should care about the national issue or not. The dominant nationality and minor nationalities? The nature of the revolution that we should pass through? And on what bases should we define this? The Marxist party and its relationship with the working class and poor peasants? Should this party struggle alone, or through alliances to develop the movement of this class? Is the conflict a superficial “political” one or a class conflict? The Palestinian question and its position in this conflict? The position that we should take regarding the ruling classes? The question of alliances? Our position from the fundamentalist movements? And many other issues, but perhaps these are the essential ones, and the questions that define our view, and not only the goals/program.

But first, we have to start from the question: What is the Marxism? How do we form the materialist dialectic, and how can we assimilate it, in order to analyze the reality through it?

This is the necessary shift in the logic for a person to become Marxist, and for a dialogue on all the above-mentioned issues to become possible, and useful, so that it leads to either an agreement or a divergence, or both at the same time, and establish a Marxist work that can become a real force. The “import” of ready intellectual systems does not allow it to become a real force. We must start from the “concrete analysis of the concrete reality” by the materialist dialectic. “Importing” is an expression of a static, “Formal Logic”, and therefore is opposite to Marxism  and in antagonism with its “spirit” and its methodology, although it may adopt some concepts and perceptions raised by a Marxist thinker or another, or Marx himself, even if those who have this “Formal Logic” claim to be Marxists. The basic cut off made by Marx was the “cognitive cut off” that allowed access to all his perceptions and conclusions, laws and systems.

The omission of this fundamental issue keeps the “Marxist” under control of the “Formal Logic”, and thus keeps him outside the Marxism itself, even if he struggles for socialism, or defends the working class, or sacrifices his life for revolution. All these are necessary, but only on the basis of achieving the cognitive cut off with formal logic, and the assimilation of materialist dialectical logic only.

And because this cut off was not acquired, their analysis was far from studying the reality and its possibilities. Petty bourgeois tendencies dominated here, the enclosed circles, formal groups, wrangling. This necessitates the fact that the Marxist movement was really far from the class that it claims to defend: The working class. Thus, this movement was limited to a group of scholars and students and “intellectuals” and professionals. Despite that the existence of this group is necessary as a “core”, for achieving awareness of both, Marxism and reality, and thus transferring knowledge to the working class in order to activate its movement, and determine its slogans, and acquire knowledge of correct tactics and organization and mechanisms necessary to achieve change, and not to turn into circles for “gossip” and empty discussions and wrangling that raise extremist slogans which are very far from the possibilities of the reality. Thus, these trends become “closed communities”, “sects”, and “families”, inevitably taking a marginal position with respect to the working class, restricting its activity in a shallow political level.

In conclusion, we must start from the knowledge of Marxism by assimilating its methodology: the materialistic dialectic, in order to have a correct knowledge of the reality and identify the mechanisms to change it. This should open complex theoretical- philosophical, socio-economic, and practical-political dialogues. A dialogue  for the awareness of both, Marxism and reality together, and thus the awareness of mechanisms to change the reality by identifying the role, the activity, and the power of the working class and poor peasants, and all the popular classes.

We should begin from the class perspective that Marxism defined for itself, the  working class and the poor peasants. The mission of Marxism (and thus Marxists) is to form a view that expresses this class, the view of its conditions and the conditions of the reality in general, and to determine its interests and the way to achieve them, and the mechanisms to reach these goals. We must see the reality from the perspective of the working class and poor peasants, and select our program on this basis. Here, the conflicts between Marxists are not anymore a product of enclosed cyclic tendencies, but rather a result of differences in views about problems related to reality, and this enriches the dialogue and establishes a deeper awareness of reality. A Marxist is able to look at the reality from the perspective of Marxism and the working class together, and not from any other perspective.

Can we start from here, away from all various “Marxisms”, which were not more than ideological formations at specific times and places? Can we begin to study the present reality in order to understand it, and understand the appropriate mechanisms to change it?

Second : 

Against Marxism-Leninism, With Marx and With Lenin

Adopting the ideas of Marx and Engels was facing the name that was given to this current that was established for changing the world. Engels suggested naming it : Scientific Socialism. The term that was generalized – maybe spontaneously – was the term “Marxism”, although that Marx said, according to Engels, that he is not “Marxist”, because the ideas that were discussed by those who called themselves Marxists were out of his intention, and “distort” what he had aimed. They used to understand his thought as corny superficial economical ideas.

Despite this “Objection”, the term “Marxism” became the common term used. Social parties tended to adopt the ideas of Marx, when these ideas became the dominant thought in the general socialist current. This specification characterized it from the general current, and was an appreciation of the man who opened this broad horizon.

Lenin was from those who had conviction in Marxism. This term, that became a coherent term especially after the death of Marx, was what he pointed to, and what he used to believe in. Just like Marx, he rejected the use of the term “Leninism” and rejected the linking of this term with Marxism, because Marx built the basics, and others will just add to his works quantitatively. This is because he understood Marxism as the methodology of Marx, which was the “Materialist Dialectic”, and many other laws that he discovered, or integrated it in his theory. Thus, Lenin used to see that the following accumulation is a quantitative accumulation in the intellectual structure, on the basis of this methodology. That is to say that Marx reached the “qualitative change” that led to the formation of Marxism, but we can now accumulate quantitatively, and build on the background that was established by Marx, without that causing a quantitative shift (maybe this could happen after a long period). Thus we cannot talk here about a “higher phase in Marxism”, or consider that the following additions are wider ideas that include the previous works.

The problem in the “Marxism” before Lenin was that a broad current of Marxists believed that Marxism is the laws and ideas of Marx and Engels, and did not see the method itself, that formed the core of Marxism. Thus, this current started from the belief that “Marx’s Theory” was a completely formulated and absolutely correct “theory”. So, it started to “summarize” the ideas of Marx and Engels, and to simplify it, and to frame it in an integrated intellectual system. By this, it turned the whole ideas of Marx and Engels into laws and basics and principles, and it took the responsibility of practice in the light of this intellectual system. From this perspective, there would be no necessity to understand the present reality, and its changes, but the necessity was to practice these principles and laws in that reality. So, the mechanism that characterizes this current was the projection of these ideas into the reality, and taking a position according to this projection, and summarizing the reality into separated events, and political work and positions of political forces and classes. This reconstitutes the old formal methodology in the place of materialist dialectic. This current dealt with Marxism as “sacred texts” that the “Marxist” should seek for its application in his reality that he understands through these “laws” (i.e. neglecting that laws are the product of specific moments and conditions).

For example one can see how this formal logic dealt with the text saying that the transition to socialism is supposed to happen when capitalism could not anymore interpret its existence.

It was understood that Capitalism must reach the level of exhaustion and ruin, for the Socialism to obtain victory. This idea means that the negation of Capitalism will not be achieved through conflict, but through the “death” of Capitalism. Because reality has not reached this level (without accurately defining what is meant by exhaustion), this logic opened the doors to accommodate with the presence of capitalism in the industrialized nations, waiting it to rot. This causes the prevalence of spontaneity, and a tactic based on pressure, protest and demand only.

Another example is when this “Formal Logic” approaches retarded countries in a superficial mechanical way. It considers Capitalism as a necessary condition for achieving socialism in these countries, while the previously developed Capitalism in Europe imposed the continuous re-production of retardation in there, and the maintenance of the traditional feudal structures, which are compatible with the predominance of the European Capital. On the basis of this superficial logic, “communists” in these underdeveloped countries work to “achieve Capitalism” by supporting a class that does not actually exist in reality, or that is weak in these countries, which is the class that carries the project of building a modern industrial society. In the light of this analysis, “signs” from Marx’s writings were enough for them to say that the rising of Capitalism in these countries is inevitable, before the communists discuss the possibility of socialist project there. This is the cause of spontaneity, and the tendency to rely only on political pressure and protests, and to adapt with this situation and accept it.

This policy was built on Marx’s hints about the evolution of human societies on the basis of his perception about the mode of production, and to which he pointed in many texts. He pointed to the evolution of human societies from the communal society, to slavery, to Feudalism, then to Capitalism, and finally to the realization of the Socialist system. So, this hint that was not based on a profound study of the global history was considered a law that all nations should obey. There are many other issues that were considered as strict laws even though they were not based on a methodological study of the reality, but only because Marx pointed to them in his texts.

By this, we see how Marxism became without its “spirit”, how Marxism lost its “spirit” that is represented in its dialectical materialistic methodology, and where the materiality means “concrete analysis of the concrete reality” (according to Lenin) on the basis of the laws of dialectic. This actually imposes the study of the continuously changing reality (in its change) regardless of the positions of Marx, Engels or Lenin, in order to reach specific conclusions for each moment, without relying on previous conclusions, although that we may reach the same result (or a different one as well).

And Marxism was considered to be a system of ideas and laws that Marx believed to be correct. This puts it in a methodological framework earlier to Marx and Marxism, and prior to Hegel, which is precisely the formal logic. In this context, researches in economy expanded quantitatively as a field separated from the Marxist methodology, or through bound mechanically with this theory, and imposing it to previous conclusions that were considered as “laws”.

Lenin broke this Logic, by going back to the Dialectic. He referred to Hegel and Marx, and studied their dialectical methodology. Thus, he differentiated between laws that interpret the reality ( which are laws of dialectic ), and the results that we may reach, and also between results that may become laws and principles, and others that the changing reality overpassed and are now considered as conditional analysis of  certain situations that are not existing anymore.

Lenin’s understanding of Marxism allowed him to overpass a group of “classical” principles in Marxism, and put him in dispute with all “classical” Marxists. He didn’t see that the evolution in a retarded country like Russia will inevitably lead to the rise of Capitalism there. On the contrary, he saw that the growing Capitalism, was in harmony and a firm relationship with Feudalism and with the Cesarean regime, and was not concerned in the achievement of the “Democratic Revolution” that was adopted in Europe. That’s why the question “Who will achieve the Democratic Revolution?” was asked. Lenin, through the “concrete analysis of the concrete reality” concluded that worker’s and poor peasants are those on who Marxism should base its project and act, and that Marxism, specifically by its “party”, should lead the class struggle for this aim.

From this perspective, Lenin opened the wide horizon of Marxism. Maybe he was not touching all its details, but later events proved his right analysis, imposing a new spectrum of perceptions and laws and new principles, different from those that Marx concluded. One of these new principles is the concept “Imperialism”, the concept of Marxist party, the role of Marxism itself, and many other profound and important ideas. The recession of the role of Marxism in Capitalist nations (especially in Europe) was accompanied by the spread of it in the retarded nations. This indicated that the Marxist movement was related with the different levels of class conflict globally. Class struggle was recessing in Europe, but was exacerbating in the retarded nations. Perhaps Lenin’s analysis helps us to understand this subject that became clearer thereafter. This analysis “cancelled” Marx’s and Engels’ conception about the Socialist Revolution, and established a new understanding that is based on the “final” positioning of Capitalism in the end of the nineteenth century (after the death of Marx).

From this point of view, Lenin had a crucial position in the process of structuring Marxism. But we have to notice that all his additions were based on referring back to the materialistic dialectic, and relying upon it in understanding the new reality. Then it was the “spirit” of Marx that was analyzing the new reality, through Lenin. This is what I call the quantitative accumulation on the ground of Marx’s works, which had previously made a quantitative leap when he structured the materialistic dialectic, and re-established the knowledge of reality on it.

Now, what is Marxism-Leninism?

This term did not appear during Lenin’s life. Perhaps it was posed in a shy way in some mediums; this is because Lenin refused this “personalization”. This term appeared mainly during the conflict in the Bolshevik Party after Lenin’s death, as a term that came from the contradictions of this party. Although all parties appreciated Lenin, it is not possible to separate the formation of this term, and its publication, from these conflicts that followed the death of Lenin.

It seemed that the heritage of Lenin became a way to devote the legitimacy of one party or another, or to devote the belief that one party as the closest to this heritage, and it is the most careful about this heritage. This imposed the appearance and spread of the term Marxism-Leninism. Both Stalin and Trotsky, the essential parties of the conflict, strived to launch the use of this term, each in order to enhance its legitimacy and ensure the support of the majority of the party. This is the situation that has arisen the term “Marxism-Leninism” that prevailed on the original term “Marxism”, and that was clearly indicating to the current established by Marx, which is the materialistic dialectic.

Then, the idea that Marxism is a theory or an ideology, formulated and framed in “complete laws”, and “clear” simplified bases and principles, was published.

So, we must relate the term “Marxism-Leninism” with this process that established two contradictory currents that were generalized globally. Both Stalin (in his book “Foundations of Leninism”, and especially in “The principles of Leninism” ), and Trotsky (in his book “The Permanent Revolution” in particular) referred to Lenin each in his own way , tried to configure Lenin each according to his way, and held the term “Marxism-Leninism”. Therefore, the way of each of them, that was carrying just some ideas of Lenin, which have been twisted to make it compatible with each of them. So, the Marxism-Leninism is actually: either Stalinist or Trotskyist, and carrying either the “logic” of Stalin or the “logic” of Trotsky. They are therefore not “faithful” to Lenin in both cases.

The most important here is that the basis for the formulation of Stalin’s or Trotsky’s perception was “summarizing” Marxism in an “integrated theory”, or in a system of laws and bases and principles, just similar to what the Marxism passed through after the death of Marx. It is not surprising to see that the methodological basis that governed them was the same basis that governed the “classical Marxism” after Marx. And we will see that this link was more obvious in the case of Stalin, who seems to be assimilating Plekhanov more than Lenin (whether in the methodology he had in the context of evolution, or the economistic methodology, or in the “law” of “progress” of communities …) … in a sense that the “spirit” of Marxism was sacrificed again, and “Marxism” became an integrated theory that “governs” the reality.

From this moment on, we must deal with Marxism-Leninism, as ideas of Stalin or Trotsky, and each of the two currents, that were formed on the basis of their ideas.

Thus Marxism-Leninism became Stalinism or Trotskyism, in their contradiction, and their ongoing conflict, and in the accumulation that each of them passed in. Despite the relationship with Marx and Lenin in many ideas, the important issue is that each of them formulated a “theory”, which became the basis of its study of the reality, and the basis of its activity. That is to mean that they formed laws and tactics controlling the “Marxist activity”, despite their reference to dialectic, which they deprived it from its role, because the “theory” has already answered questions of the reality, and they just have to do the process that imposes specific measures that we may notice (structurally) on the reality. Neither Stalin nor Trotsky formulated a new dialectical method, but a “theory”  characterized its fixed texts, ignoring the materialistic dialectical methodology. Thus, Marxism-Leninism became, for both, sacred texts, mummificated ideas considered as laws that governs the reality, like the “imperative passage through Capitalism” (for Stalinism, and with Plekhanov previously), and the “Permanent Revolution”, and the “Socialist Revolution” (for Trotskyism), and many other issues that could be criticized.

Stalin neglected Lenin’s understanding of the role of Marxism in retarded nations and re-produced the “classical” perception that dominated in the second international, which was only the perception of Plekhanov and Mensheviks. This perception has previously decided the inevitable passing from Feudalism to Capitalism, before reaching the Socialist society, which was considered by the “Classical Marxism” to be in the core of Marxism. We will see that all communists that obtained victory in their countries, were in contradiction with Stalin about this perception, and were referring to Lenin, like the Chinese Communist Party, the Vietnamese Communist Party, Castro … etc.

 and all those who adhered to it failed and were smashed, and this is the situation that dominated in the Arab communist movement, but also the Communist Party of Cuba before the victory of the Cuban revolution, and in Indonesia, and in many retarded nations which were affiliated to Moscow. In the sense that Stalin here had referred to “pre-Lenin” perception, to the perception of the Second International, at the same time that he was raising Lenin’s name and establishing the Marxism-Leninism. This perception was accompanied by a methodological change that neglected the materialistic dialectic, and re-dedicated the formal logic. This made the dialectic closer to be an evolutionary logic as formulated by Plekhanov, where it was based mainly on the law of quantitative accumulation and qualitative change, and where contradiction is considered again as antagonism according to the formal logic, and materialism became economism. By this, as well, there was a fall back from Lenin to Plekhanov and to the mechanical evolutionary logic.

On the other side, we will see that Trotsky repeated the perception that he previously formulated in 1905 about the revolution, and especially his concept about the Socialist Revolution and the Permanent Revolution, about which he was in dispute with Lenin since that time. But he re-formulated them later on the basis of Lenin himself. Perhaps these two concepts characterized Trotskyism, and remained the core of its activity.

Thus, Marxism-Leninism, as formulated by the two contradicting sides, was based on neglecting the materialistic dialectic in the interest of a formal logic, based on texts, and an “integrated theory” that governs the vision of reality. This is most important, and most serious, because it actually means neglecting the basis of the findings of Marx, and neglecting what was the basis for the establishment of Marxism. It was constructed as an idealistic formal theory, and formulated perceptions that either re-produced the heritage of the Second International and the Mensheviks (in a worn-out form), or posed the opposite out most extravagant side, which was “abstract” and irrational. This analysis of the Marxism-Leninism does not mean that it did not present many ideas that we can benefit from, and cannot refuse that it touched some problems of the reality in a correct way sometimes, but it does mean that the basis it was built on suffered from a real defect that made it neglect not only Leninism, but the basis of Marxism initially..

 

 

Maoism as Marxism-Leninism

Against Maoism and with Mao

We can notice two stages of Maoism. The first is that stage which led to the victory of the Chinese revolution, where Mao Zedong proceeded with the logic of Lenin, reaching the same conclusion, namely, that the role of Marxism is the leadership of the Democratic Revolution. Despite his alliance with Stalin, there was a disagreement with him about this issue, and has rejected the call to merge with the Comintern with the excuse of refusing the bourgeois leadership of the Democratic Revolution. Maoism, that adopted the term Marxism-Leninism from the beginning, but referring to Lenin, and not to the version formulated in the Soviet Union after him (and also in contrast with Trotskyism, compatible with Stalin). This “Marxism-Leninism” succeeded, precisely because it started from the Marxist methodology (Mao’s writings on Practice and Contradiction reflect a profound understanding of this issue.)

The second stage was different. Again, an “integrated theory” was formulated, under the name of Marxism-Leninism, which later was known as Maoism. The perceptions of Mao about the Chinese situation, and the nature of revolution (being a national democratic revolution), the concept of the united front, the revolutionary war, and the role of peasants, were considered a part of a theory that “governs” the reality. And thus, the importance of materialistic dialectic, including the philosophical heritage of Mao, faded again. Ideas were considered as “laws” that governs the movement of history, despite the different conditions and time. By this, it reconstructed Marxism-Leninism, in the same way that Stalinism and Trotskyism did, despite the big difference between these, according to a formal logic that was going far in its “idealism”, and was summarized in some “laws” that identifies the course of the changing reality.

Therefore, standing against Marxism-Leninism means standing against the different formulations of Marxisms (Stalinist, Trotskyist, and Maoist) projected to our reality, because these are not Marxist anymore. These formulations have lost the “essence” of Marxism, and became theories that are considered to “govern” the reality, and this is an extreme form of idealism.

Isn’t this in antagonism with Marxism?!

Source: Bassil Osman

Confusion About the Syrian Uprising

Translated by Bassel Othman

        The uprising in Syria was the uprising that sparked a lot of skepticism and confusion. The political position of the Syrian regime in the Arab region is the reason for this, where the regime seems to be in an alliance  “conflicting” with U.S. policies, and supports the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine, and seems to be the last “resistance” facing the imperialist dominance in the “Broader Middle East”!

Marxist Perspective : Political economy Analysis or “strategic”political Analysis?

        From the aforementioned perspective, it seems that our position should be closer to the Syrian regime. But what is the perspective which is essential for a Marxist to approach the situation and to start from ? The Political economy Analysis or “strategic”political Analysis ?

        The view was always based on political analysis. The approach to this issue from a “strategic” perspective was based on the recognition of “international relations” and the resulting position, especially the (consensual / conflictual) relationship with imperialism, taking into consideration the fact that the latter is the “center” which governs the consideration of all other issues for a large sect of the Marxists, and it is  ” the central ring” to which the contradictions are bound. And therefore it determines the position: with or against.

         In Marxism (and this is a methodical basis, not a political position) we must then start from the economic analysis in order to understand the situation scientifically, otherwise the idealistic logic, which starts from the “political element”, the state, and ideas, controls us. We must start from the economic field in order to  approach scientifically the field of politics.

          Then, when studying the Syrian situation it must be dealt with the economic configuration that has been formed and that has become dominant. And then with the contradictions resulting from it, both internally ( i.e. in internal class frame), and globally ( i.e. global positioning frame).There we will see that the last ten years have led to the re-arrangement of the economy in order to become a completely liberal economy. That is, by the collapse of the economic role of the state, and the imposition of privatization, and then the destruction of the  “public sector”, and the dominance of the private sector which has become 70% of national income. And then the transformation of the economy from a productive economy to rentier economy, through the focusing of employment in the sectors of rents, such as real estate, services, tourism, banking and trade.

This process is related to the transformation which made the private sector the largest sector. It means that the employment of the private sector went to this rentier sector. This lead to a major collapse of agriculture and industry. This process has lead also to severe class polarization, through which the wealth accumulated in the hands of a small minority.The new form of economic configuration provided somehow the well-being of less than 20%, but crushed more than 80% ,  as a result of unemployment (which reached 30% approximately), or the result of very low incomes, where the minimum income became less than 30% of the minimum necessary income to live a “natural” normal life.

          This situation had lead to exacerbation of the extent of class contradiction. And this is an “ideal” situation for a class conflict to exist. The prolonged severe oppression, the absolute control of the trade unions by the regime, the prevention of all forms of protests and rejection, all these prevented the manifestation of class conflict previously, except that it was limited to some verbal objections and shy critics in the conference of trade unions, or what was pointed to by the “communist” parties participating in the regime, or in some points in the native press. But this has not prevented the increasing tension in all exploited poor classes, that was alone capable of causing a social explosion, despite the forms that it may take. The uprising is the expression of this escalating tension.

          Therefore, starting our analysis from the economic element connects us to the class element. As it is well known in Marxism, the contradiction is in the structure (class stratification), which establishes direct exploitation (ie, positioning in the class-based society). Thus, our position must be determined from this point, not from any other point, i.e. not from the “global field”, in which the phenomenon of imperialism is based. Here becomes the contradiction a “political”one, moving it from a class conflict to conflict between countries, despite the economic base that governs this conflict, that I will refer to, next.

         What is happening with some of the Left is what we have just said, so that the political situation is the factor that determines their situation, not the class conflict. The political element does not necessarily express clearly the class factor. There may be even a conflict between “pre-capitalist” forces and imperialist capitalism. The “pre-capitalist” forces are fighting here from a reactionary perspective. Therefore they do not become revolutionary forces that we should be in an alliance with. But when the popular classes rise up against a regime that has certain “conflicts” with imperialism, it is necessary first to identify the reasons for these conflicts, and then insist on the development of the class struggle because it represents the main contradiction.

Are these conflicts of economic bases , or due to class contradictions?

         Here we must understand imperialism as an economic structure before it becomes global politics. But also we understand that the situation of class contradictions is what defines the political situation and not the opposite. The conflict between the imperialist countries, despite their common capitalist nature, is a result of competition, and there is a deeper contradiction with the countries that want to be free building industry and the developing agriculture and to achieve economic and political independence. Now there is a contradiction between the American-European imperialism on one hand, and the Russian-Chinese imperialism on the other hand. These contradictions do not affect the situation of the lower classes or the prevailing economic pattern. Thus these are just contradictions between Imperialist countries.

         And the nature of the economy imposed by this pattern now, is the rentier economy, through the imposition of a market economy and liberalization, which was applied in response to the conditions of the IMF, that enforces abandonment of the economic role of the state (ie, the imposition of privatization, and ending the role of economical protection previously established in order to prevent the escape of surplus value to the outside). Rentier economy was spread during the last two decades, through focusing of the economic activity on real estate and services, import and banks and commercial activity, and the destruction of the productive forces in agriculture and industry. This is the economic configuration that allows the achievement of the imperialist plunder of money through the activity of which is active in mortgage speculation, and banks and all these sectors, and also in exporting to these countries.

         On the other side we can see the accommodation of the Syrian economy with this configuration, despite the existing”contradiction” . We have talked about the transformation in economic structure over the last decade,that was going with a “plan” that seems to implement the terms of the International Monetary Fund despite the absence of an agreement with the Fund about that, which had also even worse consequences on the economy (where the Fund provides advantages, which were not provided in Syria ). In this sense, economic transformation in Syria was going towards binding its economy with the imperialism.

        There was usually a distinction between the economy and politics by the Communist Parties in Syria, on the basis of the idea put forward by Comrade Khalid Bakdash (probably in 1980), in which he referred that if he looks at the internal situation he would have been in the opposition, but if he refers to the “national position” of Syrian regime, then he will be a supporter of the regime . This separation between class and national level, mainly between the economic and political (in the interest of the political), is at the heart of “misunderstanding” what is happening in Syria. Or is the basis of the taking the wrong position about what is happening in Syria.

Is it possible to separate the economical and political, and national or class factors?

          The Idealistic logic makes this, but Marxism considers this issue in a scientific way. The political position is in general, and in specific,the national position especially is inseparable from the interests of classes, but it is the result of these. When the interest of the capitalist is importing goods, and employing of money plundered from the “national” market in the global market , smuggling these huge quantities of money to the global market, and the restructuring of the local economy on the basis of its ( the global market ) interests as previously noted, making it rentier economy interested to link with imperialist groups, and access to market capitalism. Here, the national issue falls down, or becomes subjected to bargains that serve the economic interests. Growing Capitalism in Syria see that its natural situation is in binding itself to  imperialism and not in opposing it. That is because opposition to imperialism was based on  building industry, agriculture and development.

         This interprets the “contradiction” between the Syrian government and “imperialism.” It is not a class contradiction as long as the capitalist class has adapted to the pattern of economic imperialism, and not in adherence to the “ideology” or “national love”, because these have collapsed  since a long time ,and “Baath Ideas and slogans ” became “wiper” used in cases of “political confusion and problems”.  There has been a financial entanglement between the “new businessmen” and capitalists of Arabian gulf, Turkey, eastern Europe mafia, and Russia . That means that the “new class” that was founded on the basis of plundering the state and the public sector, adjusted  the local economy according to the “general nature” of the peripheral form of capitalism .

This interprets the conflict with America, and Europe, but does not eliminate the fact that the dominant class is a rentier mafia class that is connected with the imperialist capital(even if it is  Gulf or Russian or Turkish). In the sense that its the political conflict with the United States does not negate its nature, and that it adapted the economy according to the “global nature” of the current imperialism. Based on this, it forms  “alliances” and relationships, and insist on their “resistance”, and name “reluctance”. This conflict is not a class conflict, not economic, but political, where the U.S. strategy after September 2001 does not accommodate the continuation of those in power, and was seeking to establish sectarian systems.

            So, the ruling capitalist class established the economic configuration that is adapted to be merged with imperialism, but the political demands of the American imperialism had prevented the harmony, and pressured to make change in Syria.Then – after Obama’s success – there were attempts to make agreement with Syria, but perhaps due to the complexity of the new relations with Iran, Russia and Turkey, delaying this agreement. Here, we point that this contradiction with the American imperialism is a secondary contradiction as long as it based on the ground of peripheral capitalism. And it has entered the framework of inter-imperialist contradiction (between the American / European Imperialist Axis and  Russian and Chinese Imperialist Axis). As well as in the context of regional conflict

            In this situation the conflict is not essential, but only due to a partial difference in interests.  The local economy became capitalist and accommodated with the general character of imperialism, and this is what enforced the occurrence of the social explosion.

            So, we should not look at the uprising from the  common political point of view but exactly from the nature of the class conflict , and we should understand the nature of conflict between the imperialists and its limits, so that it doesn’t become the criterion that indicates our position from the uprising. Especially in the idealistic methodical analysis, where the political position directs the analysis instead of relying on analyzing the reality, as it is, as the primary base of any attitude.

            The common Left starts from the political factor, and this is the basis of  misunderstanding the reality, since a long time. This left could not differentiate between class interests and the speech that is constantly produced by the ruling class, so it makes the speech in place of interests, where the speech in many times is a sham to camouflage the interests, and not to express it. And this is the basis of the wrong position of many leftists towards the Syrian uprising.

            What can be said here is that the uprising is in its heart an uprising of the masses that became unable to live under these conditions, and that aim to overthrow the regime to achieve their demands on their status of living, and the political conditions that allow it. But also that have not found parties that express this after blowing the spontaneous uprising. These masses were then controlled by their “traditional” senses, and thus the slogans and logos were the product of that. Here we see the complete absence of Marxist forces, despite the participation of many Marxists.

              This raises the question about how to form a clear Marxist position about the uprising ? And how to arrange and direct the Marxists participating in the uprising in order to form a real force first, and in order to influence the slogans of the uprising and its context, making it with clear objectives (in addition to overthrowing the regime), and developing its effectiveness, after the conscious element became an important role in its victory? 

About the international situation: fear from the “imperialist conspiracy”?

            From a logical perspective,  giving priority to the “strategic”element at the expense of the real sensibe element was a part of the “problem in understanding” that was experienced by the Marxist elite, a perspective that can be called as Yassin Al-Hafiz named it “superficial political”perspective. Where it appears that the “global relationships” control the perspective in our position towards what is happening in Syria. The position of the regime in Syria in conflict with “old” imperialist countries, and in good relations or alliance with forces conflicting with these countries, is what leads to a rapid conclusion that what is happening is the “imperialist conspiracy”

There is no doubt that American imperialism has worked since the occupation of Iraq on changing the regime in Syria, from the perspective of the project aiming to control the region, which I call the broader Middle East Project. And thus from the political perspective it was clear that the U.S. imperialist tendency to dominate the world aimed to control the Syrian regime.The assassination of Rafik Hariri was in the context of applying pressure to change the regime. These are facts that must be clear, which indicate that the status of the Syrian regime had not adapted to imperialist globalization, and was not controlled by it according to the principles that have evolved after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that is based on forming sectarian systems like the case in Iraq.

As the Authority facilitated the control of the “new businessmen” (plunderers of the public sector previously), and allowed the liberalization controlling the economy according to the economic rules imposed by the institutions of globalization (the IMF and the World Trade Organization and the European Partnership), that goes along with the interest of a familial minority in particular, it ignored the shift of “the global financial crisis” (which is the crisis of capitalism itself) in 2008, so it kept on the same analysis, and lead to a lot of talk about imperialism and conspiracy, and “inevitably”lead to consider that everything  happening in Syria is “an imperialist plot.

The superficial political perspective have not allowed  the deeper understanding of this problem, and does not see the new global repositioning. Despite that some dramatized the extent of American  collapse, and the victory of ” reluctance “, these now forget all their dramatized analysis. Thus, what we have to understand now are the global conditions, and whether the imperialist policies are still as they were before 2008, or have been changed ?

It has been focused after 2007 on the “defeat of America in Iraq” when the U.S. decided to sign an agreement of “withdrawal” from Iraq. And it was focused on the transformation of regional balance of power in favor of opposition forces after the defeat of the Zionist state ( Israel ) in July 2006 in Lebanon. But the approach of the uprising in Syria was dealing with it as if it is the same as the situation since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. And thus remembering the  “New Middle East Project”, and dealing with it as if the U.S. is still in the “Almighty” strength. And that the global situation is still imposed to its power, despite their amplification of the role of Russia.This approach is still dealing with Russia as an ally, as it was in the time of the Soviet Union, despite the fact that it is now a real imperialist country.

              This is one of the changes that have taken place after the crisis of 2008. The crisis led to a blow in America’s economic situation, and a risk of collapse after the mortgage bubble burst,  on September 15, 2008. The result of the solution for the accumulating debt crisis, for the benefit of banks that are in danger of collapse was the accumulation of U.S. debt that reached the level of that threats the state to collapse. This crisis reached Europe through the crisis of its banks that also imposed its countries to pay the debt of these banks, which caused the accumulation of a huge debt on these countries. This caused them to follow severe austerity plans that increased the pressure over people. All this made the world look without a dominant force as it was after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it appeared to be divided into axes, and established “multi-polarity” .

Despite the continued attack of Barack Obama administration in the  years 2009 and 2010, it showed capability to progress more, after the accumulation of state debt , that was higher than the national income. The result was that the U.S. found that the “magic solution” to its problems, based on the wars, is no longer feasible, because the crisis itself is not a conventional crisis that a war is the best way to get out of . And it resulted from the dominance of money on real capital which appeared in the crucial role of financial speculation (in the stock markets, and speculations on food commodities and oil, etc.) and the control of employment in monetary branches. A situation which made the capitalism necessarily in regression .

                   This has been reflected in a change in the military strategy of the United States, by recession of its strategy of  arrogant fighting in two major wars and numerous small wars at the same time (Strategy of Ramsfield, the Secretary of Defense under Bush Jr.), and the emphasis on not fighting  in more than one war at the same time. And then focusing on the Pacific area, and limiting its control over the Middle East by the special air forces, and by stationing of military troops in some Gulf countries. And essentially reducing the number of troops and reducing the “defense” budget. There is no doubt that the fear of an explosion of a “new bubble” is controlling all the politicians and strategists in America. The economic crisis can no longer be solved by war, and America’s economy has become a burden on Capitalism as a result of centralization of monetary blocks that are active in speculation there, and the decline in industry to a large extent, and reliance more and more on importing, and printing huge quantities of dollars more than the world can really bear.

                  Although Russia was also affected by the financial crisis but still did not become its “victim” as America and Europe. China have benefited from this crisis to extend its dominance over Europe and other areas. Some other countries that had previously made some progress, such as India, Brazil and South Africa (and even Turkey) tend to impose their power in international relations, each of which becomes a new pole.

Under these circumstances, and global repositioning, came the Arab uprisings. America rushed to contain it after the moments of terror that controlled it, and that was easy for it in both Tunisia and Egypt, where the leaders of the army are in “close relationship” with the U.S. administration. The U.S. worked to prolong the conflict in Libya and Yemen,and to benefit from the disintegration of the basic structures in the community in order to weaken the states and control their tracks. But when the uprising started in Syria, the global transformations were much more difficult for U.S. to impact there. America’s economic situation was more difficult, as it has not overcome the crisis, after two and a half years of its beginning.Russia, on the other hand has begun an offensive policy after the attack of ” west ” in Libya.

                    This situation has changed all policies, and thus the “new Middle East project” is no longer an option, and it is not applicable anymore. The probability of intervention or war or seek to change the power became impossible. As long as an internal coup is no longer possible (after the failed attempt of Ghazi Kanaan / Abdul-Halim Khaddam), the alternative which is a military intervention, is even more difficult, not only because of the U.S. withdrawal, but also because any intervention here means a shift into a regional war which is beyond the capability of the U.S., especially that Syria would be  supported by Russia, imposing that Syria becomes its share in the new global partition.

                     Because of this, the officials of the imperialist countries continuously emphasize that the choice of intervention is not available at all. Because of this situation as well, the United States didn’t take a clear position about the Syrian regime for several months. And allowed the Iraqi government to support this regime taking into consideration that Iraq was, and still under occupation

Therefore any perspective that does not consider all these variables will not understand what is going on, neither in Syria nor in the Arab World. The boring repetition of the word “imperialism” ,without a real understanding of the term, would not have a single benefit, nor the parrot-repetition of the word conspiracy. Imperialism is related to the structure of society through the economic system that matches its interests, and that what has been achieved in Syria, but this time with the support of Russian imperialism. It is imperative that we fight all imperialisms especially that the imperialist intervention in Syria is the role played by Russia to support the regime, and to justify all its crimes.

              The era of exclusive U.S. dominance is finished, and the capitalist system became weak and suffers from the absence of a dominant center, and thus Capitalisms are re-positioning to achieve more power in a world passing towards multi-polarity, although it now appears to be divided into two poles: America / Europe, and Russia / China. By the end of American exclusive dominance the “New Middle East Project” reached its end, and it became difficult for the old capitalism forces to strongly influence the path that the Arab world will pass in..

In this situation is there a possibility for military intervention, or a military support for the opposition?

               This is the only possible way for the conspiracy, the path for intervention in Syrian affair. Based on this, some argue to prove that what is happening in Syria is “an imperialist conspiracy” .But an imperialism taking position about what is happening is in the deep nature of imperialism, and an imperialism trying to pressure or influence events as well is “natural”. How can an imperialism be silent !

                However, we pointed at the U.S. hesitation in taking a clear position about departure of the regime until recently, and how the U.S. did not take a solid position about what is happening in Syria. There is no doubt that its global situation is the basis of this attitude.It is not capable of performing a military intervention (perhaps if the present situation in the arab world grew up in 2005 or 2006 there could have been a military intervention), especially because an intervention in Syria could lead to a regional war that needs more than a limited intervention but an extended war, and this is beyond the capability of America and the Atlantic Alliance.

                The armament will not be more than a marginal support, if it is decided. This is because it requires a base that is not present, not in Turkey nor in Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. Because a real support through any of which can lead to war, which does not seem to be possible.

Do we count the statements issued by officials of these countries, or see the reality and touch the facts ?

                All those who base their analysis and position on the “conspiracy theory” rely on statements launched by the opposition or some of the leaks without touching the reality and the possibility of any practical role. This is a chronic problem of the “elites”, but is repeated like a caricature in the Syrian situation. Positions are based on statements and leaks and speculation and intentions and not on a real study of the facts, and understanding the possibilities of the reality. This causes their attitudes seem to be outside the context of the reality, and in contradiction with it, as a farce. The International situation is not pointing to any possibility of military intervention or even arming the opposition, and the “elites” base their position as if the military intervention is already present, and the armament is at its highest stages.

              And these keep silent regarding the bloody massacres and the criminal acts of the regime. They see the uprising as an act of armed gangs, on the basis of the image that the regime propagates, since they are in the same “reluctant” position.

              So, formal logic is the basis for this “crime” practiced by some elites, where imperialism remains as “something” with fixed identity, and the global situation stays divided, as it previously was, to a level as if Russia had not abandoned being a “socialist” country and had not become an imperialism. And thus the analysis was not based on the global economic conditions, nor did it take into consideration the relationship between global imperialist forces, nor the shift in global situation since September 2008, with the outburst of the economic crisis of capitalism, that was much more deeper than limiting it to its monetary character, but it is a crisis of the imperialism that is rot in reality. And on this context we should recognize the attempts to impose a new “global system”.

Is there a position scruffier than this? Perhaps the Arab uprisings will not only drop systems off, but also these elites as well. Perhaps these elites may have touched that these uprisings are revolutions on their logic as well, for this they are now defending the last strongholds of their old logic. Congestion has increased in depth, in layers that were crushed to the level of “starvation”, but were not seen by these elites because it was necessary to remove piles of “mental garbage” that were an obstacle to see this depth, which was impossible. Thus, this rising wave coming from the depth will remove all what is above it, the dominant classes, and ideas, and elite.

Last : The Fear from changes in the region

Therefore, the “Imperialism” is in a “condition of fear and horror”.

              All signs suggesting a position against it will be correct and revolutionary?!

      This is a product of a “mind” living the extremes of generalizations and superficial shallow logic. Thus a supposed image of the reality is produced by this mind. Here, the “virtual world” is considered to be the reality, and it retreats the reality in the jungles of “history.” Therefore it does not consider the presence of humans and economy, plundering, corruption and exploitation. As if these are excess that do not exist in the logic of “resisting imperialism”. People are considered ignorant rabble and tools, and all the existence is the presence of the “idea of imperialism,” which turn out to a Totem.

            After all, this “mind” is the one who was able, barely, to see the equation of the system / imperialism, and is supposed to be against imperialism, therefore, is with the system. What is the status of the system? Its class character? The economic configuration which it established? And the relationship of this configuration with the global capitalism? These are not questions that this mind considers, but answers are already present in a virtual perception based on its “anti-imperialist” character. Hence, answers are previously ready, and it is in Syria, as in anywhere in the world “against imperialism.” For this there will be no need to look at people, classes, and the configuration of the regime, and its practices, and to the class nature of this regime.

What is then the impact of the Syrian uprising on the regional situation?

            Opponents of this uprising base their position on their fear of the resistance to collapse, i.e. Hezbollah and Hamas (which quickly jumped to the other side). Perhaps also on the fear from the collapse of states that are in “conflict” with imperialism. Where Syria looks to be the last Arab country outside the “American herd”. Although we have our skeptism regarding this resistance, and regarding the limits of the Syrian conflict with the American Imperialism, these fears are legitimate. At the very least, there must be forces that say “No” to American Imperialism, regardless of cause. It is nice if something remains from that beautiful past, the past when the arabs and the third world raised their voice against the capitalism, and the arab nationalistic movement was wide, and acquired great changes, that caused a shift in the local situation and the global conflicts, and gave the hope in a world that overcomes Imperialism.

              Syria was the pale remnant of this past. Maybe this caused some Marxists and nationalistic elites to support the regime. But these are living in the past, maybe they are binding themselves to a nice dream!

But actually, the global repositioning does not allow anymore anything of that past, even as a dream. The regime in Syria today is not even a remnant of that dream, where nothing from the hope of liberty and progress and “socialism” remained.

               Its conflict with the American Imperialism is not based on a tendency to liberty and progress and “socialism”, but a result of its possible positioning between the new imperialist forces. Thus it belonged to the axis of Russian imperialism, and not the American Imperialism. The regime in Syria and Iran ( and previously Turkey ) are bound to a certain limit by the Russian-Chinese axis that is forming. This new axis that is forming is also an imperialist capitalist axis that seeks economic dominance and plundering also.

               No doubt that all the hostile charge formed against the old imperialism will make the regime justify its relationship with the new imperialism. But this relationship remains related to the economic configuration internally, which will be necessarily a mortgage economy. Even in its relationship with Russia and China, the most important concern of these imperialists is the export of goods (including weapons from Russia), and financial recruitment.

From this perspective, that a Marxist must look from, there will be no change in the global position of Syria. The global conflict had put it in the Russian Axis, and there is no possibility to shift into the American Axis (despite the “love” of the new businessmen and regime elite, towards U.S.) and thus there is no possibility to change its alliance with Iran. Even the relationship with Turkey will return to be just as it was before the uprising.

          The internal conflict will not change the regional and global Syrian alliances, and will be limited to the internal situation. This is due to internal and global balances also.

           Despite the fact that the Syrian regime provided protection of the borders with the Zionist state, and disregarded the liberation of Julan, and also started negotiation about it, its position in alliance with Iran and its support to Hezbollah display it as the regime that plays a basic role in “resistance “. But it is essential to notice the great change of Hezbollah strategy. Hizbollah adopted the defense strategy after the liberation of South and  participated in the Lebanese government. And this situation is similar to that in Syria, which is based on a defense strategy.

           The Arab uprising, and the track that it will impose at last, will establish a different Arab situation in relation to the Zionist state and the imperialist dominance, based on conflict and fight, and not submission. We are in the context of a stage that will inevitably lead to a conflict with imperialism due to the tendency to destroy the economic structure that the imperialism previously imposed for continuous plundering of the country, and that is based on mortgage economy. In this context, the conflict with the Zionist state will be a part of the new stage. The uprisings aim is to achieve a radical change in the Arab world, and that would not be possible without a complete independence from the Imperialism ( old and new).

           The revolution in Syria comes in the context of this deep change in the Arab situation, and will lead to a conflict with imperialist, despite the present situation of the opposition. This opposition, even if it could play a certain role now, would not be capable of that in the next stage soon. This is because most of this opposition does not recognize the great changes globally, and also internally. Such opposition is “living” in the past, especially that youths in the region over-passed all the political structures and do not find intersection with the present parties.

            The misunderstanding of the internal Syrian situation, and of the global conditions, imposed the fear of change that is controlling elites. Thus the fixation to the past becomes a substitute of approaching the future. These elites attach themselves with the last straw to save themselves from sinking; the flood will sweep them just as it will sweep the systems. No doubt that the change will overpass every sectarian resistance in the interest of a popular mass resistance, and the Arab positioning will not be in belonging to a global axis ( U.S. or Russia), but it will be in belonging to themselves in the context of a rise in the global conflict to overcome Capitalism. The Arab uprising will be a part of the global class struggle to overcome Capitalism.

           “Marxists” who do not recognize that they will be inevitably swept with the regimes, because their date would be expired. And because they are hanged to the eyelashes of regimes or the “resistance “, and is outside any activity, except what is passive. The horizon of the occurring changes reaches a radical change of all the equation established by the imperialism during the last 40 years in the context of the revolutionary rise for an independent united and developed nation.

Source: Bassil Othman