In Syria in 2011 a popular uprising began against the Baathist regime headed by Bashar al-Assad. This was part of the wave of mass protests across the Arab world which came to be known as the “Arab Spring”. It was a genuine mass movement against the oppressive Baathist state and not a wicked conspiracy orchestrated by US imperialism and/or fundamentalist Islamicists. The Baathist regime responded to what were at first peaceful protests with vicious force; imprisoning, torturing and killing thousands of people.
The situation in Syria quickly became very complicated with the opposition to the Assad regime divided between liberal democratic elements and various Islamicist factions including al-Quaida affiliates and ISIS. Since 2011 there have been changing and shifting tactical alliances among the opposition forces.
The imperialist powers were quick to get in on the act with the US Government giving limited military supplies to the Free Syrian Army. The Baathist regime had been a client state of the Soviet Union which role was subsequently carried on by the Russian state. It has been backing Assad against the rebels. Regional hegemonists are involved with Iran supporting the Baathists and Turkey and Saudi Arabia favouring the rebels. It should not be overlooked that the political divisions within this region have a lot to do with adherence to different factions of Islam, Sunni or Shia. None of the foreign interventionists in the Syrian conflict are acting in the interests of the Syrian people but rather in support of the interests of their own ruling classes. This is true of the role of British imperialism in attacking ISIS.
The US imperialists are the biggest exploiters and oppressors in the world but are facing a challenge to their hegemony from weaker imperialists like Russia and want to prevent them gaining any military outposts which may threaten the US monopoly around the planet, especially in the Middle East. The US allies in this region, the ruling classes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel, all wish to dominate the region and their rule is strengthened by the US military presence. The struggle to remain the superpower of the imperialists means they will always engage in military operations against weaker nations. The other imperialists including Britain and Russia also are struggling to keep a presence in the Middle East.
The origins of the Baathist movement are to be found among Arabs who visited Nazi Germany in the nineteen thirties and decided to try to form a similar organisation to the German Nazi Party in the Middle East. Sometimes the Baathists call themselves “socialist”. Yes, “national socialist”! They are fascists with a complete contempt for any sort of popular democracy. The Assad regime has been heavily dependent for its survival on military support from the Russian armed forces. It has become a puppet state of Russian imperialism and otherwise would have been defeated. Russian generals now routinely appear on Syrian television to give military briefings.
The Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its opponents on a number of occasions. (So has ISIS). It is no good for Western leftists to deny this well-authenticated fact so as to try to whitewash the Baathist fascists. They are not anti-imperialists but the agents of Russian imperialism. Similarly, apologia should not be made for the actions of the Western imperialists in Syria and the surrounding areas. The American and British imperialists have given very little support to the opponents of the Baathist state. They fear the possible emergence of popular, genuinely anti-imperialist forces in the region. That is the last thing they want. But they are determined to reassert their hegemony over this region and have shown that they are prepared to do so by using military force.
Whether or not small, leftist groups in Western countries “support” this or that faction in Syria is of little, if any, practical consequence. What we should be doing is engaging in actions to undermine the participation of our own imperialist states in creating chaos in the Middle East. In Britain this means stirring up popular opposition to the involvement of the British armed forces and demanding their withdrawal.
BRITISH ARMED FORCES, GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE EAST!