Unless an independent and powerful initiative of Syrian toilers develops we are faced with a great danger of devastation in Syria which will last many years even if the Ba'th regime is overthrown.
The general picture gives the impression that the course of events has arrived at the gates of a Lebanon-like bloody civil war and chaos that will last many years.
The revolt started in March 2011 and reached a climax at the end of summer, and after that point we have seen a general decline though with fluctuations. There was another peak in the beginning of 2012 in mass demonstrations but that did not last long.
The relatively capable Syrian state apparatus surely played a role in this, but there is substantial section of people that support the regime in fear of Islamist rule.
Alawites, Christians, Druzes, Armenians and also many moderate Sunni Muslims side with the regime for fear of an oppressive Islamist regime. Islamists come increasingly to the fore among the rebel forces and use a religious rhetoric of hatred.
In the first period of the revolt slogans that stressed the unity and fraternity of Syrian people against the regime were on the forefront, but now divisive slogans tend to prevail. Those who put forward these slogans describe the struggle as “jihad against infidels”, and can target Alawism, for instance.
Thus the revolt that started with mass demonstrations with a democratic content gained a new course where military struggle quickly dominated as a result of both the heavy repression of the regime and the pressure of the Islamist forces and foreign powers.
And this led, on the one hand, to the mass movement experiencing a serious retreat, and, on the other hand, passing to a passive position to watch the military conflict. This acted as a harmful factor for the democratic content of the revolt against the repressive and reactionary Ba'th regime.
That we make this warning surely does not at all mean that the present Ba'th regime is the lesser evil or that it must be supported. Nor is it a call for sympathy for it.
We know that there is such a mood on a rather wide section of the left, although it is not overtly stated. One should not fall into this trap. The correct attitude is to defend an independent line of struggle against both reactionary Ba'th regime and other reactionary bourgeois forces that may replace it. There can be no favour for the toiling masses from either the Ba'th regime or the bourgeois forces that have been fostered by imperialists and other reactionary powers of the region.
Western imperialists and Israel are concerned about the fact that the struggle against Ba'th regime in Syria shows symptoms of degeneration along radical Islamist lines and that the Ba'th regime proved stronger than expected. Clinton’s recent visit to Turkey should be considered mainly in this context.
The increasing influence of Islamist militants and that they are not fully under control, as it appears, is a source of problems for the imperialists.
The statements of Clinton in her visit to Turkey clearly show the goal of increasing the control over local and scattered forces. There was also the message that they would set out to work to increase the possibilities of more direct intervention. “There has always been coordination between us [Turkey and the USA] since the beginning of the conflict. But now we have to go into the details of operational planning. Our intelligence services and armies have great responsibility and to accomplish that we started a study group”, says Clinton.
Turkey plays a critical role in all this process. Portraying itself as the protector of the Syrian people, Turkey plays on one hand the role of a merciful country embracing the refugees, and on the other hand provides all-round support for the armed rebel forces together with the USA, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The AKP government has embarked on a risky gamble about Syria and apparently it is anxious to play it through. Turkey has now become a sub-imperialist country and has ambitions to become a regional power.
Turkey tried to achieve this goal through economic, commercial and diplomatic means and also utilising its position in the Western camp (NATO and OECD membership, EU candidate membership etc.) until the start of the revolt of the Arab peoples, which caught Turkey quite unprepared.
They were busy developing close relationships and common interests with the existing regimes when the mass revolt erupted against these regimes. In Libya this led Turkish diplomacy to scandalous zigzags. First it came against imperialist intervention, but then made a complete turn to take part in the intervention when it became clear that Qaddafi’s overthrow was imminent, in order to limit the damage and get part of the loot.
When the wave of revolt reached Syria, the Turkish ruling class made the zigzag much more quickly, also because of the danger of the revolt spreading over to Turkey through the Kurdish question.
AKP has been put into trouble by the fact that Assad’s overthrow proved not to be as easy as it was thought in the beginning and that the Kurdish movement has gained new positions in Syria. Another risk that appeared is that the hostile position it puts itself in relation to Syria, Iran, and Russia may cause operations of these countries to destabilise Turkey.
On the other hand AKP has not been yet able to create a sufficient level of justification for a military intervention against Syria, which is a positive factor in relation to the possibilities of mounting an anti-war movement.
Turkey and the USA are in close collaboration to raise the issue of refugees on international level in order to lay the ground for a buffer zone. There is a special effort to raise the number of refugees above 100,000. They will use this as a psychological limit and then push for a buffer zone within Syrian territory on the pretext of “I cannot host this amount of people in my country”.
On the other hand the refugees who are settled in the provinces in the southern border of Turkey are becoming also an internal problem.
While it is clear that the Ba'th regime in Syria has little chance to survive in the long term, it is unclear what will happen in the short term. The conflict gradually tends to turn from being one between simply the state and the people to a conflict among various ethnic, religious and sectarian groups.
Also the Kurdish movement, although it does not side with the Ba'th regime in the conflict, does not take part in the ranks of the rebel side. Moreover, it considers the rebel forces a serious threat.
There are more than 100 different groups waging armed struggle under FSA umbrella, acting largely autonomously and with very loose links among them. It is quite possible that a period of chaos will be opened, where these warring groups and radical Islamist militants will be riding up and down the country.
Therefore in the context of Syria there has to be a clear attitude against both the reactionary Ba'th regime and equally reactionary elements among the opposition groups, and an effort to create a structure that will satisfy the democratic and social aspirations of Syrian toilers has to be made. This structure must absolutely satisfy the righteous, legitimate, democratic demands of ethnic and religious minorities living in Syria.
This approach must also include the question of borders. It cannot be the business of Marxists to sanctify the borders drawn a hundred years ago by the will of imperialists which in many cases do not fit with the real living peoples. From the standpoint of revolutionary struggle, borders can only be considered legitimate insofar as they are drawn by the democratic will of peoples.
Therefore, for instance, should the Kurdish people in Syria demand self-determination and their own state, nobody has the right to object to this on revolutionary grounds.
• This is an abridged version of an article from the Turkish socialist journal Marksist Tutum