Perspectives for Revolution in the Middle East – P art Two
Perspectives for Revolution in the Middle East � Part
Written by International Marxist Tendency Thursday, 21 February 2013
As we explained in Part
the Arab Revolution brought down several despotic regimes, but due to the
lack of a clear revolutionary workers� alternative, the vacuum was filled
by Islamist parties. But once in power, these forces soon began to expose
their true reactionary nature, and thus prepared the ground for a second
wave of mobilisations. How did all this affect Syria and other countries in
We have to look at the particular developments of the Syrian revolution. We
have to ask ourselves what was at the base of the revolution. The spark of
course came from Egypt and Tunisia and it affected the youth in particular.
They mobilized massively � but there was also a certain naivety. Looking at
the experiences of Tunisia and Egypt, they thought that mass rallies and
occupations of squares would be enough to bring down the Assad regime. They
were very courageous movements, but they proved insufficient to topple the
regime, which has proved to be far more resilient than the protestors had
To understand what is happening in Syria we need to look at the
transformations that have taken place in the Syrian economy in the recent
period. The country has undergone a process of privatization of former
state assets, which has radically changed the nature of the economy.
Most industrial and commercial assets had been nationalized after the coup
in the 1960s. With this a series of welfare reforms were also introduced,
such as in educational and healthcare. The regime that came into being
through the coups in the 1960s was a proletarian Bonapartist regime, i.e.
one where the bulk of the economy was state-owned and centrally planned,
but where there was no workers� democracy. It was fundamentally modelled on
Soviet Russia under Stalin.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Syrian regime began a process
similar in many ways to what we have seen in China. Industries have been
privatised, but the new owners are figures that come from within the regime
itself. The process started after 1991, but accelerated over the last
If we compare the years 2001-05 (the 9th 5-year plan) to 2006-10
(10th5-yar plan) we get the following picture. In the first half of
the public sector continued to dominate, but there was a change in the way
the state owned enterprises functioned. They were transformed into state
capitalist enterprises, functioning according to the laws of the market and
not of a planned economy. In the second half of the decade the private
sector really took off. And by 2007 already 70% of the Syrian economy was
in private hands.
This process had a dramatic impact on the living conditions of the masses.
We saw increasing social polarization, with the emergence of an extremely
wealthy elite linked to the Alawite regime and growing poverty at the other
end of the social spectrum. In 2005, for example, 30% of the population was
living below the poverty line (5.3 million people) and of these two million
were "food insecure."
Inflation took off in the early 2000s, going from 1.3% in 2003 to 18% in
2007. Basic consumer goods increased by up to 60%. Illiteracy had been
virtually eliminated in the past, but was now growing again.
Many on the left cannot understand what is happening: they see things in
terms of either black or white, revolution or counterrevolution,
imperialist or anti-imperialist. Some talk of the "Arab Spring followed by
the Islamist Winter." They see the masses as being backwards and
reactionary! They cannot understand how a revolutionary process can be
derailed and move in a reactionary direction. We must truly understand and
study dialectical materialism if we are to understand these contradictory
processes. It is not a linear process! Things can turn into their opposites.
Again, the lack of revolutionary leadership is the key to explaining the
mess. Due to the brutality of the regime in Syria, the building of any
viable revolutionary party was a much more difficult task than in Egypt,
In these conditions a revolution erupted in Syria, which the Marxists
supported. What we have to understand is that although revolutions erupt
when the masses ready to move, there is no guarantee that they will
succeed. If certain conditions are not met � above all, the existence of a
revolutionary leadership � then a revolution can turn into
We have the historical example of the Spanish Revolution in the 1930s for
example. The counter-revolution strangled the revolution in two forms:
Franco's open fascist revolt, and the "democratic"/Stalinist
counterrevolution in the Republican camp. In spite of this in Spain in the
1930s what took place was a revolution. But revolution is not a
straightforward process. We cannot expect to see simple, linear, black and
white solutions in the absence of the subjective factor, of the mass
The situation in Syria is now far more complicated. There are many
revolutionary youth in Syria still fighting to get rid of Assad. But they
do not determine the nature of the opposition to Assad as a whole. We must
say what is and explain honestly what has happened. The naive illusions of
the early stages of the revolution have been smashed by the reality of the
situation. It has now been transformed into a brutal civil war.
Into this situation have stepped Islamist groups, backed and financed by
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other reactionary regimes in the region. These
elements have been responsible for slaughtering people simply for being
Alawites or Christians, etc. These are not revolutionary forces at all.
Their aim is precisely to foment ethnic/religious based conflict. This has
pushed many into the arms of Assad. We are for the downfall of Assad, but
we cannot give an ounce of support to these reactionary forces. We are
against imperialism intervention but also against the reactionary
opposition � neither offer anything to the working class, the youth, the
There is a lot of talk in the West about intervening in Syria or arming the
anti-Assad forces. But they can see it would not be so easy. They worry
about where the weapons would go � as in the Libya/Mali situation. And
after the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan, they understand that going in
is one thing, but holding the situation and preparing an exit strategy is
another question altogether.
In this situation the Kurdish question is being raised again. The Kurds
have gained de facto autonomy in northern Iraq and in Syria Assad is also
trying to exploit the Kurdish question by making some concession to the
Syrian Kurds and thereby splitting them from the forces fighting the
regime. In this context the Kurdish movement is reviving, and this could
spread to Turkey which has a large Kurdish population. It is Assad�s way of
hitting back at Turkey. In reality the Kurds are being used and
manipulated. The only way the Kurds can achieve genuine nationhood is
through a socialist revolution in all the countries they live in, and
within a wider Socialist Federation they could achieve self-determination.
Under capitalism they suffer the same fate as many peoples in the past,
whereby one day they are promised autonomy and even independence but only
in order to promote the agenda of this or that imperialist power, only to
be later betrayed.
The fact that the Assad regime has played the ethnic card in an attempt to
hold on to some base within the country, and that the reactionary regimes
in the Gulf have also been fomenting ethnic/religious conflict, poses the
real possibility of the breakup of Syria, with all the destabilising
effects this would have across the whole region, spilling over into the
Civil war in Syria
There is also the concrete possibility of a civil war after the fall of
Assad. Sections of the Free Syrian Army have clashed with Jihadist elements
that they see as having hijacked their revolution. Because of the lack of a
clear revolutionary leadership the situation has become a mess. Had the
working class been united around a revolutionary party the situation would
have been very different. Purely on a military basis, the opposition forces
have found it far more difficult to bring down the Assad regime than they
had anticipated. Because of the emergence of reactionary, Islamic
fundamentalist forces within the opposition, and with their tactics of
provoking ethnic conflict, rather than class struggle, this has meant that
the appeal of the opposition within the urban population has been weakened.
What would finally bring down the regime would be a Syria-wide general
strike that could paralyse the country. To achieve this would require the
presence of a party capable of uniting all the workers and poor around it.
This could only be achieved if such a party had a programme that could
offer solutions to all the burning economic and social problems that
afflict large layers of the population. But because the opposition forces
do not have such a programme, then the conflict has inevitably broken down
along ethnic/religious lines. At best, the programme of the opposition is
for some form of bourgeois democracy and the �free market� which can offer
no solution to the workers and poor. This explains why Syria is now bogged
down in a sectarian civil war, which could be prolonged and could continue
even after the eventual fall of Assad.
We supported the Syrian revolution when it broke out, but we have to
explain that things have changed. There is now counter-revolution in the
saddle on both sides. We recognise that there are still some revolutionary
elements � especially among the youth � in the opposition, but they are
overwhelmed by the reactionary elements. We cannot expect things to be
black and white, either revolution or counter-revolution. As we have said,
revolution and counter-revolution march together, but at some point one
must come out dominant, as such a situation cannot last forever. In Syria
within a relatively short period of time, the counter-revolutionary
elements came out on top. The objective situation does not stand still, but
changes over time. Conditions have changed, and therefore so must our
analysis. We must state what is. We cannot have a sentimental, romantic
approach to the question of revolution and counter-revolution.
Unfortunately, some on the left, including some who claim to be Marxists,
always seek which side to support in a conflict. It reminds us of the
breakup of the former Yugoslavia, where some left groups supported the
Serbs and others the Croats. The truth was that there was nothing
progressive about the breakup of Yugoslavia and none of those involved in
the fighting had anything progressive about them. It was reaction on all
sides, as imperialism � particularly German imperialism � manipulated the
various peoples that made up the Yugoslav federation to further the
interests of capitalism.
Adding to the confusion in Syria was the temporary victory of the Islamists
in Egypt and Tunisia. At the height of the Tunisian and Egyptian
revolutions we saw the working masses coming out in strength and sweeping
away the hated dictators, but, as we have already explained, in the ensuing
political vacuum the Islamists stepped in and won the elections. This in
turn strengthened the Islamists in Syria.
The fact is that the solution to the crisis in Syria is to be found in
Egypt and Tunisia � and perhaps even more so, Iran. No solution can be
found within the narrow borders of Syria. Even with a healthy, mass
revolutionary socialist party in Syria, the final solution would not be
found within Syria itself. Even if there were to be a successful socialist
revolution in Syria today, in order for such a revolution to survive it
would have to spread beyond its borders, into Turkey, into Iran and beyond.
And most importantly, it would require a socialist victory in Egypt, which
is the biggest Arab country, with the largest working class, that can give
a lead to the workers and youth in the whole of the Middle East.
We must explain all this to the best elements within the Syrian youth. We
need to develop a clear Marxist analysis and look at the long-term,
explaining the reality of the situation. The Assad regime will eventually
collapse, but how it collapses and who brings the regime down is as
important as the downfall of the regime itself. In Libya we see the
consequences of regime change achieved with the aid of the imperialists �
chaos and confusion and the imperialists still manipulating from outside.
The problems of the Libyan working people have not been solved; on the
contrary they are getting worse. The same will apply to Syria if Assad is
overthrown by militias that are aided and backed by the reactionary Gulf
States and by the western imperialists.
Nonetheless, eventually the situation will be stabilised and the workers
will find their feet. They will begin to organise; trade union
organisations will be created by the workers as they move to defend their
interests. Eventually the labour movement will emerge as a force as it
dawns on the masses that the downfall of the Assad in and of itself will
not have solved anything fundamental. Therefore what the most advanced
workers and youth must do is prepare for the future in creating a Syrian
Marxist opposition. Such an opposition would have a big role to play in the
The Arab revolution will be a long drawn out process, with periods of mass
mobilisations and surges to the left, followed by periods of temporary
lull, when reaction will seem stronger. But the revolution will move
forward in one way or another. The reason for that is that there is no
solution under capitalism to the fundamental problems such as unemployment,
low wages, etc.
The revolution is already moving onto a higher plane in Tunisia and Egypt
and it will inevitably spread to other countries. Iraq will be affected;
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States will also be affected. All the countries
in the region will be affected at some point. The policy of divide and rule
applied by western imperialists, by Iran, the Gulf States, etc., dividing
society along religious and ethnic sectarian lines throughout the region is
an attempt to cut across the class issues. For a period this can work, but
eventually the underlying class issues will come to the surface.
Kuwait and Bahrain
Look at Kuwait, where we have seen the biggest demonstrations in history,
the 150,000 on the march in October, a march �for dignity�. This was
enormous if we consider that Kuwait only has 1.5 million citizens (plus
three million immigrants). The movement began as a mild reformist,
democratic movement. But it was repressed by the state brutally; activists
were rounded up, etc. Thus they are rapidly having to come to terms with
the real character of the state.
We see how even a movement which starts out with democratic demands,
inevitably leads to class conflict and the need for socialist revolution.
We have seen various efforts to buy off the movement, but they cannot bury
the revolution. Brutality will only unleash even more anger of the masses.
No state can rely solely on its armed security apparatus to survive; they
must also provide a minimum of decent living conditions. The Mubarak regime
was a clear example of this.
The revolutionary movement in Bahrain is also significant. We saw 100,000
marching in November. In Oman also we have seen a movement. The response of
the regime was harsh repression combined with some important concessions.
After Egypt, Iran is another key country in the region, both in terms of
overall size and in the strength of its proletariat. We have analyzed the
Iranian revolution in the past, following its ebbs and flows. At the moment
it is clearly at an ebb, although we have the signs of another wave of
The economic situation in the country has worsened in the last period and
new explosions being prepared. Inflation stands at 26% officially.
Industrial production is collapsing. The middle class is bankrupt. Millions
of workers are not being paid their wages and class struggle is back on the
The people at the top of the regime are very worried. The chief of police
in Tehran last year even went so far as to ask the media not to show
chicken on TV! The reason for this is that chicken has become a luxury
good, as it is so expensive, and that for ordinary people to see it on TV
could inflame the masses to "take their knives and take their due from the
rich." He explained that it could so inflame people that it could lead to
The Revolutionary Guards have gone weeks at a time without pay - not a good
situation for the regime. We have already seen spontaneous uprisings
against the high price of chicken, and of food generally. Factory workers
have been organizing campaigns against high prices and low wages,
demonstrating in front of, and even entering, parliament to complain.
There is an open conflict at the top of the regime. Khamenei blames
Ahmedinajad and calls for the end of printing money to curb inflation.
Ahmedinajad blames Khamenei for "creating trouble with the West" and wants
to print more money as the solution.
In fact, the money supply has risen 7 times in the last 6 years! This is
"Quantitative easing" on a grand scale! But he uses it in a populist
manner. While he cuts subsidies at the same time he hands out to every
Iranian the equivalent of $40 a month. In Tehran that doesn�t amount to
much, but in the small villages in the rural areas, it amounts to quite a
lot. It is a measure he is using to broaden his base of support in
preparation for the forthcoming elections.
The rift between these two camps within the regime is widening by the day.
There is constant news about cases of corruption, with arrests at the top.
Revolutionary developments are being prepared in Iran. This could, however,
be temporarily cut across by a war if there were an attack on Iran, either
by Israel or US imperialism. However, such a move would only serve to
further destabilise the whole region, as an open military attack on Iran
would mean the closing of the Strait of Hormuz (through which 40% of world
oil passes) and this would have worldwide consequences for the economy.
All this explains why although there has been much talk of bombing Iran the
western imperialists are holding back for fear of the consequences. The
same applies to Israel, which has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, but
so far has been held back from doing so. But the situation is so unstable
and full of contradictions, with growing social, political and economic
turmoil, that an attack cannot be ruled out.
Israel and Palestine
The Palestinians are further away from achieving self-determination than 50
years ago. The "two state solution" has been an abject failure. The
so-called "armed struggle" � in reality individual terrorism � has also
proven to be a dead end for the Palestinian masses. There is no solution
possible within the limits of the present capitalist system or the present
narrow borders. That may not be what people want to hear, but it is the
However, this area is also affected by the Arab revolution. We have seen
big movements in Gaza, in the West Bank, and within Israel itself. We saw
the mass movement in Israel in August 201, with hundreds of thousands
protesting for social demands, a tenth of the population on the streets. It
was a magnificent movement, which saw banners of Che Guevara and slogans
like "walk like an Egyptian." People carried posters of Mubarak, Netanyahu,
and Ben Ali together. It clearly showed the class character and
contradictions of Israeli society, with workers against the capitalists and
imperialists. The movement of 2011 also found a political expression in the
recent Israeli elections, with some left parties significantly increasing
their vote. There was in fact a weakening of Netanyahu and a polarisation
both to the left and the right. This highlights the growing class divide in
Israel and is an indication of the class struggle which will inevitably
erupt at some stage in the future.
Within the Palestinian population we see a parallel movement to that in the
rest of the Arab world. As Fatah collaborated in administering, and de
facto policing, the Palestinian population for the imperialists and in
particular for Israel, the political vacuum was filled by Hamas. When Hamas
emerged as a force and eventually took over the running of Gaza, there was
much talk about the Islamist influence among the Palestinian population.
Some on the left even saw it as a step forward!
Let us not forget that it was the Mossad itself (the Israeli secret
services) that originally funded, fomented, and propped up Hamas, the
Islamic Jihad, etc. in Palestine in order to cut across the rise of left
currents. This was when the main enemy was seen as the PLO and Fatah. It is
the same everywhere. Islamic fundamentalists were promoted in Afghanistan
as a counterweight to the Soviet Union�s influence.
The idea that the fundamentalists are somehow "anti-imperialist" is absurd.
The Islamic fundamentalists are utterly reactionary and play no progressive
role whatsoever. This is now also being confirmed in Gaza, where Hamas is
now policing the Palestinians for the Israelis, in the same way that Fatah
did in the past. The U.S. are also in collusion with the fundamentalists.
Islamic fundamentalism and imperialism are two sides of the same coin.
As in the case of Syria, we cannot have a sentimental approach to the
Israeli-Palestinian question. For 50 years, our position that the solution
to the Palestinian question lies in class struggle and the building of a
Socialist Federation of the Middle East has been attacked and mocked by so
many reformist and Stalinist pragmatists, but we have held firm.
We understand that the Israeli Jews fear being literally killed and
destroyed by the hostile neighbouring Arab states. This is what drives them
into the arms of Netanyahu and co. And so long as groups such as Hamas
until recently and the PLO in the past raise the idea of driving out the
Jews, rather than weakening the Zionist state, the bulk of the Jewish
population is pushed into rallying around the Israeli ruling class, thus
strengthening and not weakening Zionism.
Marxists are opposed to the Zionist state. It is a capitalist and
imperialist exploitative state like all bourgeois states. But how does one
go about bringing an end to this state? For this to be achieved Israel
society must be broken down along class lines. This means winning the
confidence of the Israeli working class. One of the keys to the situation
is the Israeli working class.
This is why we call for one socialist Jewish-Palestinian federal state with
autonomy for each group (with the right to have their own schools, use
their own language, observe whichever religion they wish, etc.), with
Jerusalem as the capital, and with one federal government. Within such a
state there would be the free movement of people between the different
areas. All this would be part of a voluntary socialist federation of the
Middle East, with full rights and autonomy, the right to self-determination
for all the peoples of the region based on a socialist economy. By using
all the resources available within the region, within a relatively short
period of time it would be possible to give jobs, decent wages, food,
housing, healthcare, education, to all, regardless of their religion,
ethnicity, language, etc. In the process of the revolution itself, the
national issues would be clarified. Over time, on the basis of solving the
basic economic and social problems, the age-old animosities and
recriminations would subside.
On a capitalist basis there is no solution. Even if it were possible to
achieve some form of Palestinian state under capitalism, it would not be
viable economically, politically or militarily, as it would remain under
the domination of Israel. Nothing would be solved within such a state for
the ordinary Palestinians.
Marxists take a much broader view of questions and do not limit themselves
to finding a solution within the narrow borders of single countries. As we
have explained for decades, the revolutions in Egypt and Iran, two key
countries in the region, will clarify issues both for the Jews in Israel
and the Palestinians. Class struggle will be seen as the answer to their
In this situation we see the criminal and hypocritical role of the
Palestinian leaders, of both Hamas and Fatah, the Arab mullahs, sheiks,
sultans, monarchs, the Arab League, etc. All of them defend capitalism; all
of them foment national conflict, for they see in this a means of defending
their own privileged positions.
Unity of the Arab and Israeli working class (including Israeli Arabs) is,
therefore, the only way forward, in the struggle against the common enemy.
The Israeli ruling class has also been working to cut across class issues
in Gaza, where we see the Israeli government and Hamas leaning on each
other and in fact helping each other out. When Hamas fires rockets into
Israel, as it has done in the recent period, it helps the Israeli
government cut across the class issues within Israel, by creating an
atmosphere of a besieged country that needs to unite to defend itself.
Likewise, when Israel responds to the rocket launches by heavily bombing
Gaza it cuts across the radicalisation developing against Hamas among the
Palestinians. In this we see how, in spite of all the rhetoric, the leaders
of Hamas (and Fatah) have something in common with the Israeli bourgeoisie,
fear of class struggle developing in the region.
In the Middle East we see scandalous levels of wealth among the ruling
classes of this region. The super-rich live opulent lifestyles in the midst
of widespread poverty and want. The ruling elites of these countries are
the crudest and most disgusting of ruling elites. They will defend their
material interests with everything they have at their disposal. We are
seeing this in Syria and other countries, where they are using their
immense wealth to promote the most reactionary and backward forces, to
divert genuine revolutions down the road of bloody ethnic conflict. These
people believe they are a superior breed and that they have a God-given
right to rule and that the people at the bottom, the workers, the poor, the
unemployed youth, are where they should be. But they are sitting on a
powder keg, which is ready to explode. It is precisely the huge contrast
between the lives of the super-rich and those of the mass of ordinary
working people that renders the situation so explosive.
We are implacably opposed to capitalism and imperialism, and to all the
local reactionary regimes in the region. We must also look at the big
picture of the class forces in the region and understand that the
revolution is far from over, and in countries like Egypt it is in fact
reaching a higher stage.
It is a complex situation, with revolution and counterrevolution often
marching together. We need a skilful application of the Marxist method to
understand what is really happening, to untangle the web of confusion, to
separate out the revolutionary elements from the counter-revolutionary.
In general, the perspective is an optimistic one, with growing
radicalization and with the masses learning from each experience. This
creates favourable conditions for the spreading of Marxist ideas and for
the building of the forces of Marxism in the region. There is no easy road
to revolution - but revolution is the only road.
The Arab Revolution is one of the most important events in human history.
Millions of people that were in effect slaves are moving into action. But
as we explained in advance, a revolution is not a single act drama. It will
and must pass through several stages. And the Egyptian proletariat is the
key to the Arab Revolution.
In the first stages the masses come out onto the streets, they get a feel
of their power; they feel they cannot be stopped, and that the movement
they have created will always go forward. There is a feeling of �national
unity�, of euphoria, in an almost carnival-like atmosphere.
However, once the dust has settled after the dictators have gone, the
masses begin to realise that it's not so easy as they initially thought and
that nothing fundamental has been solved. The more advanced layers realize
this first, but different layers learn at different speeds.
The elections in Egypt represented the triumph of the more backward masses
(rural, peasants, etc.) over the advanced layers (urban, workers, etc.).
But these layers too are now learning that the Muslim Brotherhood are a
fraud, as they see no improvement in their living conditions. They see that
the MB are defending the same basic class interests as the Mubarak regime.
The revolution is in fact now moving to a new stage with a sharp class
polarisation taking place. A reaction against the Muslim Brotherhood and
the Salafists is beginning. The Islamic parties are being unmasked by their
actions. The masses are learning from experience.
Who can doubt that if a party like the Bolshevik Party were present in the
situation, the Egyptian workers would be on the verge of taking power? The
tragedy is that no such party exists. Therefore the process will take drawn
out over a period of years.
In the past, in the period following the Second World War, the colonial
revolution produced all kinds of monstrous aberrations. This was because of
the delay of the revolution in Europe and North America. But now things are
very different, as we see unfolding before us a process of world revolution.
We stand firmly for Trotsky's theory of the Permanent Revolution. Under
conditions of imperialism, it is impossible for backward countries to solve
the problems of the bourgeois democratic revolution. This has been shown to
be entirely correct over the last 70 years. Formal �independence� has
solved nothing. They have remained chained to imperialism through economic
Now, however, the Arab Revolution is taking place in the context of a
worldwide crisis of capitalism. Revolution has reached the very heart of
Europe, with mass mobilisations in many countries. Revolution is on the
agenda in the advanced capitalist countries. We see how the Arab Revolution
has inspired the masses in the advanced capitalist countries and in turn
how revolutionary developments in the advanced capitalist countries give
strength to the masses in the former colonial countries.
What we are seeing is a coming together of all the threads of world
revolution into one, with the crisis affecting all countries and pushing
them in the same direction, towards socialist revolution.
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