In the seventh month of its life, the Syrian revolution has passed through many stages, experienced ebbs and flows, and reached new layers of the masses while others have passed into inactivity or suffered brutal oppression. However, the youth and the oppressed are determined to carry the torch of the revolution to the end, to "victory or martyrdom". The revolt has spread like wildfire, and all the efforts of a decaying regime to extinguish the fire have resulted in no more than a temporary relief. The masses have awakened from their slumber to come onto the stage of history, and a nation is being reborn baptised in blood and fire.
Revolution reaches deep into the masses
What started as a movement of angry, frustrated and oppressed youth has spread to capture the imagination of millions striving for freedom and justice. From Dar'aa in the South, passing through Damascus, Homs and Hama in the centre and reaching Idleb in the North, and from Latakia in the west to Der Al-Zour and Qamishli in the East, the revolution has spread to engulf the whole country. Just as the revolution has spread horizontally it has equally spread vertically with the revolutionary fever reaching deep into all classes of society: farmers, workers, small shop owners, professionals, intellectuals, and even artists and celebrities. Even those sections of society supportive of the regime have been pushed onto the stage of politics by the movement. Everyone is talking about politics and many are involved in political activity, and that can only be a sign of a society in revolutionary ferment.
Mass demonstrations reach their peak
To the politically fresh, untutored masses, lessons are learnt the hard way, often at a very costly price. Initially the Syrian masses may have had the illusion that mass demonstrations and square occupations were all that was required to overthrow their oppressor. However, they are coming to realize that a slogan alone cannot stand in the face of a machine gun. The mass demonstrations reached their peak in the period prior to and during the month of Ramadan with around half a million demonstrators in each of Hama and Der Al-Zor and many tens of thousands in Damascus, Homs, Latakia, Idleb and their surrounding towns and villages.
Demonstrators were not limited to unemployed youth or farmers and small shop keepers, but they included elements from all layers of society. This was evident from the various demonstrations of engineers and doctors in Der Al-Zor, Da'raa and other cities, the demonstration of artists and celebrities in the heart of Damascus, and the many arrests among university professors and intellectuals. Workers and public sector employees also participated which was confirmed by the harassment or firing of suspected employees from their workplaces.
The regime took a decision to use the utmost force to stop the mass movement from growing further. Cities were invaded with tanks and neighbourhoods were bombed. Mass arrests, brutal torture, executions, rape, siege and deprivation of food, water and medicine, plunder and destruction of property and sources of income, burning of crops and killing of livestock, are all methods that the regimes has resorted to. This overwhelming oppression succeeded in preventing mass demonstrations after extensive deployment of the armed forces all over the country. The movement has ebbed since, and demonstrations have continued but with lesser intensity. The masses are thinking and reflecting; they have come to realize that the revolution cannot be won this way alone. The regime has taken this opportunity to step up repression, and conducting more mass arrests among the youth activists.
The revolutionary committees and the free Syrian army
The extreme brutality of the regime has brought with it a price. Many previous supporters or confused elements have passed to the camp of the revolution after seeing the blatant oppression and brutalities of the regime. A regime that has to employ this much oppression to stay in power is obviously one that has lost its legitimacy among wide sections of the population, and with it its stabilizing base and support among the masses.
The regime has paid dearly when it comes to its armed forces. The Syrian army, and even the security forces, have been falling apart; many soldiers and officers have defected, slowly, but constantly. Now this chaotic and scattered process of defection has accumulated slowly and reached a point where it has acquired a quality. The defecting soldiers have re-organized themselves into revolutionary militias, calling themselves the Free Syrian army and organizing themselves into brigades concentrated mostly in the regions of Homs, Idleb, and Der Al-Zor.
The free officers’ movement seems to have linked up with the mass movement through the revolutionary committees that formed in the neighbourhoods, and it can only do so under these revolutionary conditions. This process has been very slow due to the absence of leadership but it is happening. It is also believed that many of the revolutionary youth who have come to realize the need for armed struggle have been forming militias and linking up their activity with the soldiers and officers of the Free Syrian Army. The leadership of the Free Army say that they have more than 10,000 soldiers and have claimed responsibility for many limited and small scale operations against the intelligence forces and armed thugs and mercenaries of the regime.
Just last week, a full scale confrontation between the forces of the regime and the Free Syrian Army broke out in the city of Rastan, near Homs, which was under the control of the defected officers. The invading forces managed to eventually enter the city after a few days of fighting, however the free officers claim to have destroyed more than 40 armed vehicles and killed up to a 1000 of the enemy soldiers while suffering only minor losses. If these numbers are accurate, this would be very impressive, given how lightly armed these revolutionary officers are and the difficult conditions they are operating in.
Where is the Syrian labour movement and political parties?
Up to now, the Syrian working class has not made its appearance on the stage of the revolution in its traditional means of struggle, strikes and occupations. This is no surprise. The Syrian working class has been totally atomized and virtually no labour movement has existed in Syria for decades. The trade unions are controlled by government intelligent services, and leaders of the unions and political parties are nothing but tools in the hand of the regime doing their best to hold the workers back from entering into the struggle.
The Syrian working class has been caught unprepared. Unlike the Egyptian working class which had been on the move for several years due to Egypt's particular conditions, the Syrian working class has not had the luxury of this revolutionary "warm up" period. This has created a particularly difficult situation for the revolution. It has meant that confusion, scepticism, fear, distrust, and division on sectarian and religious lines have ruled supreme among workers completely paralyzing any organized movement of the working class. This situation, however, cannot last forever and will eventually turn into its opposite. The working class can only unite under the banner of its own class interests, as countless examples in history show us. However, in the short and immediate term, things are likely to remain as they are, to the extreme disadvantage of the revolution which desperately needs the working class to come to its rescue.
The political parties and so called opposition figures are in no better shape. Whether left or right, “communist”, nationalist or Islamist, all political forces in Syria have been reduced to a handful of intellectuals who are not even remotely linked to the masses. This is an extreme weakness of the revolution and a further reason for its grief. Some of the opposition figures abroad have formed a national council, after much discussion and internal conflict, and managed to get some representation of the revolutionary and co-ordination committees and opposition leaders inside the country. This is a positive development and has been much welcomed by the masses, but it is unclear where it may go and what effect it may have on the revolution. The regime has already assassinated one of the council members, the very respected Kurdish opposition figure Mish'al Tammo.
Most of the political opposition figures are very desperate and feel powerless. Some have succumbed to the call of the regime for "national dialogue", which is an absolute joke under the current conditions, while others have thrown themselves into the arms of the UN Security Council and the imperialist forces, some going as far as openly calling for foreign intervention in Syria like in Libya. If anything this shows the bankruptcy and absence of perspective of those calling themselves the opposition. Instead of talking directly to the masses, offering them a lead and ideas and trying to organize the revolutionary struggle, these men in suits are more comfortable talking to ambassadors of other countries and representatives of imperialist powers!
The position of the imperialist powers
Some of the youth activists have also asked for the help of the imperialist powers. This is understandable. The masses, oppressed and longing for their freedom, will naturally have illusions in what they see as the “democratic forces”. However, the masses are quickly learning that the bombastic phrases of the political leaders of the USA, Britain and France are mere words. The failure of the Security Council to even condemn the Syrian regime, with two vetoes by Russia and China, is causing much indignation and anger. The masses feel betrayed and feel that the real conspiracy is not against the regime, as the western powers would like everyone to believe, but against the Syrian people!
The USA, Britain and France do not match their words with deeds. They say Assad has to go but their action suggest that they want him to stay. Russia and China are openly supporting Assad, and Turkey, the supposed friend of the Syrian people, has done nothing but secretly support Assad – they just handed over to the Syrian intelligence forces one of the founders of the Free Officers movement who was hiding in Turkey, officer Hussain Harmosh.
So where are these so-called “democratic forces” that are supposed to come the rescue of the Syrian people? The revolutionary youth of Syria and the protesting masses must understand that what determines the policy of the imperialist powers is not any pious concern for the people of Syria. Their policy is determined but their own interests in terms of defending their own power, privileges, spheres of influence and economic interests. For years these powers actively supported Mubarak and Ben Ali, and continue to support the brutal regimes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and in the past were perfectly prepared to make lucrative deals with Gaddafi and Assad. The workers and youth of Syria can only trust in their own forces and in the genuine solidarity of the revolutionary people of the Arab countries and beyond.
The future of the revolution
The future of the Syrian revolution is full of dangers, but also of hope. The revolution has reached a critical point and can go in several directions: victory, defeat or degeneration. For a moment, after the army crackdown, the situation looked desperate, and it seemed as if we were heading towards a defeat after all that energy spent by the masses. However, the emergence of the armed youth and soldiers’ militias has given much hope to the revolutionary movement. These free officers are looked upon with much respect and are coming to embody the will and desires of the masses.
A danger of degeneration along sectarian and religious lines is also a real possibility. The regime bases its armed and civil forces to a great degree on a small sect called the Alawites. All top army and intelligent officers are Alawites, as are many civil servants and public employees. Since Assad the father came to power in 1970, he deliberately resorted to privileging this sect – which he belonged to – which had been historically oppressed and marginalized. Since the beginning of the uprising back in March, the regime has deliberately tried to set the Alawites against the Sunnis, sending his thugs and security forces to Sunni areas to commit atrocities that instigate religious hatred such as storming mosques, destroying them, and tearing up the Quran. At the same time the regime is constantly bombarding the Alawites and Christian minorities, and even sections of the Sunni Muslims, with propaganda that aims at portraying the revolution as a movement of extremist Muslims.
There is a clear class line separating those who are with from those who are against the regime, however, it is also true that the regime has managed to whip a certain degree of sectarian hatred which could cut across the revolution and cause its degeneration into a sectarian civil war. There have already been individual cases of sectarian violence. However, they have not gone beyond that, as the masses have shown a good level of restraint and awareness of what is going on, despite the constant instigations of the regime. If they see that Assad’s overthrow is becoming unavoidable, the derailing of the revolution along sectarian religious lines is something that the imperialists and regional powers would use, as this would provide them with the opportunity of intervening in one way or another in order to carve up the country. The truth is that they would rather Assad stay in power than see a revolutionary government in Syria. This is particularly the case of the Zionist ruling class in Israel, which had managed to come to a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Assad, in spite of its continued occupation of the Golan Heights!
Despite all the dangers surrounding the revolution, and its inner weaknesses, it is far from being on its way to defeat or degeneration. It has penetrated deep into the masses, as one activist from Dar'aa describes it: "my six year old relative goes to the protests, my grandmother does too!" The revolution still has massive reserves of support that remain untouched. Up to now, the centers of the two biggest and most important cities, Aleppo and Damascus, have not moved in a major way. The huge public sector has not moved in any significant way yet either, and the major splits in the army are yet to happen. Immense possibilities are still ahead for the revolution. The regime has been extremely weakened, lost its legitimacy among large sections of the population, and also among a large section of its armed forces. The question is, can the revolution get organized enough to deal a final blow to a decaying and senile regime soon, or are we going to enter a long period of protracted struggle with all the dangers and loss of lives associated with it?
Whatever the answer is, we, the revolutionary Marxists, have no other choice but to gather our forces and intervene in the movement with our ideas, and with our actions. To raise our voices with the militant youth and the oppressed in their heroic slogan, "we would rather die than be humiliated."
[Note: The extent of the brutality of this regime can be seen in the following figures:
Casualties up to October 6th, 2011: Total Civilians killed: +3,761; Children killed: 231; Females killed: 161; Missing: +3,059; Protestors killed under torture: 90; Protestors currently detained: +45,000; Refugees since March: 14,227; Refugees in Turkey: 10,227; Refugees in Lebanon: 4,000]