“The war in Syria only benefits the counter-revolutionary forces” | Interview with Joseph Daher

Interview-introduction: Lina Theodorou, Antonis Faras

The Syrian Civil War continues for 7th year, but it is still not clear when it will end. During the war, over half a million people died and about 10 million people, about half of the Syrian population, was displaced. On the occasion of the bombing of Syria, targeting the military bases of the Damascus regime, by US forces, the UK and France, the debate was renewed; anti-war strikes were organized and demonstrators even attempted to throw the statue of Harry S. Truman in Athens, Greece.

However, in the anti-war movement against the Syrian war, the hegemonic narrative within the Left has an approach to anti-imperialism, which, more or less, limits the position of imperialist exclusively to the United States. This view, which is an important analytical tool for interpreting the world outside of the West, takes one geopolitical character that neglects the social element as a factor of change, and on the other hand it implies a structural orientation in the way the Left treats politics, when talking about “others”.

Trying to shed more light on the debate, which is obscured rather than clarified by ad hoc confrontations, we asked Joseph Daher to answer a series of more comprehensive questions about the Syrian civil war. Daher is a Swiss-Syrian Marxist and scholar, whose books have been published in English, such as “Hezbollah: Political Economy of the Party of God (2016, Pluto Press).

We want to take a closer look at what have happened these seven years. Briefly: What led to the uprising specifically in Syria? What were Assad’s relations with the Syrian left and anarchist space before the uprising? What was his relationship with sectarian extremism?  Can you describe how the rebels organized during the first years of the uprising and what went wrong? How islamists prevailed, If they have, in the rebel’s groups?  

Syria is a despotic regime, ruled for the past 40 years by one family, and it is also a bourgeois patrimonial regime that went through a process of neoliberalization and privatization, accelerated considerably with Bashar al-Assad’s arrival to power. Sixty percent of the population was living under or just above the poverty line in 2011. Syria was subjected to the same form of crony capitalism that is prevalent in the region. For example, in Egypt it was the Mubarak family that benefitted mostly from the privatization and neoliberalization; in Tunis it was the Trabelsi family, of the wife of the dictator Ben Ali; and in Syria it is Makhlouf, the cousin of Assad. In the end what we have are neoliberal and authoritarian systems, and Syria is no different in this regard. Continue reading

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Oppose the Continuous and Deadly Repression of Palestinians in Gaza

These are not “confrontations” or “clashes” as the mainstream media and Western governments are saying. We are dealing with the deliberate crimes of an occupying, colonial and racist force against unarmed protesters.

April 26,  2018

To date,  there have been four mass rallies as part of the Great March of Return series of protests by Palestinians that began on  March 30, 2018.  Each protest has been met with deadly force by the Israeli military, which has murdered 40 Palestinians in Gaza since 30 March. Thirty-one of those killed, including four children and a journalist, were fatally wounded during protests. More than 1,600 other Palestinians have been shot with live ammunition that has caused what doctors are calling “horrific injuries” likely to leave many of them with permanent disabilities. At the same time, no death occurred on the side of the Israeli occupier. Continue reading

Syria is not exceptional: interview with Joseph Daher | Part 1

Last summer, in Rabat, a friend explained the Syrian families begging from the passing crowds, five minutes from Parliament, as a warning from al-Makhzan, the Moroccan state – ‘they leave them here, to show us’.

Piling rubble on rubble, the counter-revolutionary phase of the Arab Spring is approximately in its fifth year, being now long and deep enough that both the revolutions and indeed their counterings appear, at least, over. Even retrospectively, 1851 in France and 1907 in Russia seem, as ‘post-counter-revolutionary’ periods, quite hopeless (‘I have a feeling I have come here to buried’, Lenin wrote of his second exile, in the winter of 1907); and if ‘1871’ and ‘1917’ are ‘in’ those two dates, then so is 1933 ‘in’ Germany’s post-revolutionary 1920s.

Despite the failure of Europe-based radical groups to meaningfully affect the Arab Spring (at least, self-consciously), the same process has clearly affected many of us. To focus only on the more positive change, the fact of the Middle East and North Africa’s modernity – that the region is of classes and unions, states and parties, bound by accumulation and dispossession, as generative of tribes, sects, and faiths – has come to be better appreciated, albeit after decades of insistence from the region. Developing on this appreciation, through discussions with those same unions and parties, may be of some importance as – or rather, if – not only Rabati promenades, but the widening gyre of world politics, ‘Syrianize’.

Joseph Daher is a Syrian-Swiss socialist, who has written for New Socialist, Socialist  Worker (US), Jacobin, and several French- and Arabic-language publications. His 2016 book Hezbollah: The Political Economy of Lebanon’s Party of God was published by Pluto.

In the first part of the interview, Joseph and I discuss the histories of social class, sectarianism, and secularism in Syria; in the second part, published a week from now, we discuss Kurdish-Arab relations in the country today.

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Joe Hayes  In his essay The Class-Against-Class Basis of the Syrian Uprising, Michael Karadjis wrote that, in 2012, the Syrian revolution was ‘the sharpest class against class in the Arab Spring’, and, very recently, he’s written about relations between civil society groups, and the various armed rebel factions, in Ghuta.

Against this, there have been, I think, two evasions of social class as an explanatory concept in left analyses of Syria.

First is the understanding of Syria as a national unity, against which the US, or NATO, or ‘the West’, are aggressing – a Michael Moore-like geo-political view, in which, in some versions, the Russian Federation is, if not the USSR itself, then at least its ‘anti-imperialist’ epigone. If I remember, Ziad Majed has said there’s a ‘Pavlovian’ aspect to this anti-Americanism.

Second, there’s the view that the conflict is primarily one between ethnic-religious groups, a sub-type of which is to see conflict as between ‘jihadis’ – in its more vulgar rehearsals, a metonym for all Arab Sunnis – and Alawite or Kurdish secularists, as they’re perceived.

Could you give a sense of the Syrian state’s relation to working-class organising prior to  the revolutionary period?

JD: The despotic nature of al-Assad’s rule since 1970 prevented any political opposition. No immunity was granted to any sector of society – no popular organizations, professional associations, feminists associations, and so on. Nothing on university campuses, in any way, either from teachers or students. Security agencies arrested students inside lecture halls, and expelled many. Continue reading

No to Assad, No to all imperialism and solidarity with the Syrian popular classes!

The US government, in alliance with the United Kingdom and France, launched air strikes in Syria in mid April 2018, officially in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the population in the city of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, a few days earlier, killing about 70 civilians and wounding few hundreds. This attack on the chemical weapon led to the decision of the forced withdrawal of the fundamentalist Islamic militia Jaysh al-Islam in a few days to the north of Syria in an agreement with the regime of Damascus. As a reminder, following the conquest of Eastern Ghouta by regime’s forces, some 66,000 persons, in majority civilians, have been forcefully displaced to Idlib and Aleppo governorates. The UN estimates that some 100,000 – 140,000 individuals remain in east Ghouta, 50,000 – 700,000 of them are estimated to reside Douma. Continue reading

Non à Assad, Non à toutes les interventions et solidarité avec le peuple syrien!

Le gouvernement états-unien, en alliance avec la Royaume Unie et la France, a lancé des frappes aériennes en Syrie dans la nuit du 13 au 14 avril 2018 officiellement en réaction à l’utilisation par le régime Assad d’armes chimiques contre la population civile dans la ville de Douma, dans la Ghouta orientale, quelques jours auparavant, tuant environ 70 civils et en blessant quelques centaines. Cette attaque à l’arme chimique conduisit à la décision du retrait contraint de la milice islamique fondamentaliste Jaysh al-Islam en quelques jours vers le nord de la Syrie dans un accord avec le régime de Damas.

Les bombardements des trois puissances occidentales auraient visé trois sites à Damas et à Homs, où le régime de Damas est accusé d’avoir mis au point, fabriqué et stocké des armes chimiques.

Continue reading

Répression meurtrière à Gaza

Le bilan de la deuxième journée de mobilisation dans la bande de Gaza, vendredi 6 avril, est lourd: l’armée d’occupation israélienne a tué neuf manifestant·e·s. La semaine précédente, les soldats israéliens avaient tiré à balles réelles sur les manifestations populaires, tuant 19 Palestinien·ne·s et blessant des milliers de personnes. En incluant deux Palestiniens tués au cours de heurts distincts, le ministère de la Santé de Gaza compte 30 victimes depuis le 30 mars, date du début des manifestations visant à réclamer le «droit au retour» des Palestinien·ne·s. Et aucune du côté de l’occupant israélien. Continue reading

Syrie : Un cauchemar sans fin

Même si moins présent dans les médias, le cauchemar se poursuit en Syrie, tandis que les grandes puissances internationales et régionales décident du futur du pays.

Les forces du régime de Bachar el-Assad avaient reconquis 95% des zones dans la Ghouta orientale après d’une offensive meurtrière lancée le 18 février qui a tué plus de 1 600 civils à l’heure ou nous écrivions. Continue reading