[Marxism] The End of Taking the Syrian Revolution at Face Value

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 1 07:05:17 MST 2012


The End of Taking the Syrian Revolution at Face Value

Feb 29 2012 by Bassam Haddad

Those interested in a revolution that would be considered a 
significant step forward from the existing Syrian regime, might 
want to take pause as they steadfastly support some of its main 
anchors. In particular, months after its establishment, the Syrian 
National Council (SNC) has failed in providing the leadership, 
autonomy, and consensus necessary to battle the Syrian regime. 
This much is no longer a controversial remark, even among some of 
the ranks of the SNC. But there is more that can and should be 
systematically discussed, not just to point out the divisiveness 
and counterproductive alliances associated with the SNC, but 
precisely to understand how might a robust opposition lead this 
overdue uprising against decades of tyranny.

The fact that the SNC still has a strong constituency domestically 
is less a function of its representative nature and political 
efficacy and much more a function of a constellation of factors 
that leaves little choice for an embattled and isolated protest 
movement. More critically, some of the expressed strategies of the 
SNC—e.g., regional/international alliances, intervention, and 
future plans--converge with a growing conservative and sectarian 
trend within the internal opposition, a trend that is growing in 
number and in terms of regional ties. Whether that trend is itself 
a desperate response to regime brutality and the shabbiha’s 
sectarianism or an expression of something more cynical, or both, 
is not the issue.The SNC has so far failed as an anti-dictatorial 
leadership in asserting the kind of values and strategies that 
build consensus and attract further support locally, regionally, 
and internationally. As a result, to simply assume that this 
uprising will triumph simply because the regime is authoritarian 
and is killing its own people, is no longer to be taken for 
granted. The internal opposition is now armed, and we are looking 
at a different kind of confrontation, even if the upper-hand 
militarily is on the regime’s side.

By the same token, those who consider the uprising to be going 
astray on various levels should not abandon the goal of fighting 
and overthrowing dictatorship unless, of course, the question of 
dictatorship for them is completely trumped by other regional 
considerations. In that case, this camp—whatever one calls it—is 
the mirror image of the SNC from the other side. (I have engaged 
that camp elsewhere, and will be completing Part III soon).

Tough Sell in an Explosive Environment

In this atmosphere of continuous killing (overwhelmingly by the 
regime), pushing for reflexivity and nuance will be a tough task, 
and a yet tougher sell. But unless cooler and sober minds prevail, 
the very impetus of rising up against tyranny and social injustice 
will be compromised considerably. Worse, a catastrophe of much 
larger proportion will be lurking right around the corner in the 
event of an all out civil war or foreign military intervention.

This calls for a serious and frank discussion, but only among 
those who see the importance and absolute necessity of ending 
decades of dictatorship. A discussion cannot proceed from an 
emphasis on the status-quo ante. Going back to the pre-March 2011 
formula is no longer possible or imaginable. The Syrian regime has 
lost its ability to govern Syria. It can only enforce its will in 
certain areas, and in ways that will continue to undermine 
whatever authority it left for itself as a result of its brutal 
and, in any case, routine handling of the initial Der`a incident, 
as well as its aftermath.

Notwithstanding the caveats, the starting point is the seemingly 
irreconcilable polarization one witnesses among audiences and 
participants in relation to the Syrian uprising. Getting a word 
in/out without being called a plethora of names by short-sighed or 
dogmatic individuals on any "other" side is impossible. Even among 
those who oppose the regime on principle, a discussion is hardly 
devoid of a slew of insults related to who is a real Marxist, a 
radical democrat, a genuine supporter of the people, a real regime 
detractor, a humanist, a better agent of resistance, or what have 

Indeed, the discursive situation is frightening and tragic, 
especially when compared to the other cases of uprisings in the 
region. At some level, it is partly understandable: so much is at 
stake for so many parties as well as causes. And what id at stake 
relates to more than the triumph of dictatorship or the 
opposition: it is the whole grammar of politics in the region and 
beyond. It is a war of priorities and big wins verses big losses, 
a winner-takes-all battle in which the lives of thousands of 
people lost is routinely compared to the loss of tens of 
thousands, by way of making a point. I am personally guilty of 
such comparisons too, but I do admit it and I do consider this a 
cold-hearted though unavoidable discussion for those who are 
concerned about Syria and Syrians, today and in the future. Though 
the urgency of today must take precedence, the constellation of 
factors stacked against an independent and genuine uprising 
ultimately makes this calculation less intuitive than it appears 
at first glance. More specifically, we cannot content ourselves 
with a narrow humanitarian lens, and discount the future as a 
result. Given the trajectory of the external opposition, we no 
longer have this luxury.

But how do you get beyond the moment without losing a part of your 
humanity, the same humanity that causes some to privilege the big 
picture and the long haul? One way to do it is to never abandon 
the fight against the existing dictatorship, despite one's 
critique of the opposition, its problematic relations, and its own 
use as a tool for ends that are neither solely defined by the 
Syrian people nor desirable in any case. Opposing the regime is 
more than opposing the Asad rule: it is also opposing any similar 
formula that might replace it, and the time to begin doing so is now.

When deep polarization is at hand, a counter-productive zero-sum 
game develops. Arguments and positions for or against the 
opposition or the question of intervention become fierce and often 
existential ones. Those who disagree with you are not detractors, 
they are “traitors,” either against the revolution or 
pro-imperialists. What is needed is a leadership that can subdue 
this state of affairs to something far more collective and 
dignified: one that can melt this rigidity and allow the 
opposition to match the regime’s guns with a true revolutionary 
strategy. The SNC has strayed far, and perhaps irreversibly, from 
this conception.

Rigid Camps Require Serious Shaking

We have two rigid camps. The first considers the revolution to 
have lost all legitimacy because of concerns that the uprising is, 
partly or wholly, manipulated. The other camp does not see any 
significant flaws in the revolution, or discounts the flaws as 
byproducts of any revolution. Neither is likely to advance the 
legitimate cause of the uprising in practice. And, given that the 
brutality of the Syrian regime is not to be excused (now and in 
the past), the most sober course of action is to stop taking the 
Syrian revolution at face value and engage in a serious critique 
and discussion of the various facets of the opposition, their 
relations, stances, and strategies. From afar, at least, that is 
one thing one can do.

It is difficult to address all aspects of such endeavor without a 
concerted effort by those who are strategically positioned to do 
so. Pontificating like others or I might be doing from afar can be 
productive only if it engages players on the ground. The problem 
is that many in such a pool have commitments that make them less 
free/available to consider such analysis. Or they may have 
foreclosed such critical inquiry in favor of pushing ahead against 
the regime regardless of exactly how. And though most of those on 
the ground cannot be blamed because of their circumstances, we 
must no longer assume that those circumstances should continue to 
foreclose what is possible. The stakes are becoming too high, and 
the opposition is becoming too diluted for us to take for granted 
that the “revolution” against dictatorship will triumph 
eventually. That era, in my view, is now behind us. The 
“revolution” that pits a dictatorship against wholly pro-freedom 
and pro-democracy protesters can no longer be taken at face value. 
Triumph, however conceived, must be far more deliberated, and that 
requires a whole other approach. Even if the regime falls 
tomorrow, the revolution must continue to achieve the always 
deeper objectives of revolution, unless the Egyptian model is the aim.

Lest one strays too far from reality, especially for those among 
the supporters of the big picture, it is undeniable that the 
Syrian regime is responsible for the state of affairs where 
genuine and independent (and usually secular) members of the 
opposition see little else other than the necessity of ending the 
bloodshed by seeking to remove the regime. I will not rehearse the 
arguments I made earlier in reference to this point--where I 
firmly disagreed with and warned against the call for 
international intervention by many members of the opposition, but 
submitted that I cannot impose my position on them. Rather, I 
shall proceed to invite productive and courageous assessment of 
the current opposition both inside and outside Syria.

How to Critique an Opposition from a Revolutionary Perspective

This is not a simple task, but it is not thoroughly complicated 
either. Its merits are monumental, as everyone besides die-hard 
regime supporters has an interest in a robust and effective 
opposition that is able to build consensus in an independent and 
autonomous manner. What we have today outside Syria is a weak, 
fragmented, and largely dependent opposition that is not likely to 
carry the day now or in the future. Instead, it is likely to 
oversee the reproduction of many of the existing state of affairs, 
domestically or regionally. Even those who believe that the above 
claims are excessive should countenance the argument based on a 
simple comparison between how they felt about parts of the 
opposition, namely the SNC, earlier on, and how they regard it 
today. Most, including SNC members, were far more enthusiastic 
about its prospects. This is no longer the case. However, 
unfortunately, the brutality of the Syrian regime pushes people to 
the lesser evil, so to speak.

Not taking the revolution at face value does not only mean we 
should be skeptical about some of it's elements. More practically, 
it means that a more robust opposition is necessary. The failure 
of the SNC in particular to leverage the regional and 
international fronts on position of principle left it with 
alliances that hold little promise, or legitimacy. It’s inability 
to bring more Syrians to its side by explicitly and 
comprehensively denouncing sectarian behavior no matter against 
whom it was directed reduced its ability to create unity. Its rush 
to reverse its decision and support military intervention of all 
sorts ultimately compromised its nationalist credentials and 
placed it in camps that have long been hostile to Syria and the 
Syrian people. Most importantly, its increasingly narrow approach 
has prevented it from serving as an umbrella to smaller opposition 
groups like the National Body for the Coordinating Committees.

The lynchpin for these deficiencies is the loss of its autonomy 
from external actors that it may deem necessary politically and/or 
financially. This “any price” instrumentalism may work when one is 
receiving support from principled players that believe the cause 
of revolution and when one believes that it will indeed work. 
History will be kinder to such instrumentalism. But after the 
Libyan model that produced death and destruction by the very 
forces that the SNC clings to, and after the solid veto against 
condemning the regime at the UN, opposition strategies should have 
shifted in the direction of more internal solidarity. Instead, we 
witness more exclusion, lack of transparency, and further 
dependence on external factors by the SNC. Worst of all, we 
observe sectarian, obscurantist, and politically suspect voices 
rise from within the internal and external opposition without any 
sort of firm reprisal from the putatively dominant opposition 
force, the SNC. The tragedy is that the SNC will continue to 
survive because its bloodline is the blood that is being spilled 
by the regime. But it will remain increasingly incapable of 
achieving the aims of those whose blood is being spilled on Syrian 

Significantly, many among the opposition undermine their cause by 
excluding their potential allies. It is not only 
counter-productive, but also wrong, to dismiss the concerns of 
those who are skeptical about the uprising but from a 
pro-revolutionary perspective. Such orthodox stances will 
reproduce the atmosphere of intolerance and repression that most 
are fighting to end in the first place. This latter concern 
relates to opposition members who are excommunicating their 
potential allies who simply have a different take on how to 
confront and battle the regime. Ironically, this type of thinking 
among parts of the opposition is similar to that of the rigid left 
that condemn their natural allies unless they produce precisely 
the same discourse and, indeed, level of animosity towards various 
actors and processes. Both are pitiful because they reproduce 
their ineffectiveness and, in case of the left, isolation and 

The Syrian opposition must be systematically critiqued and, 
if/when possible, engaged and confronted for the sake of 
revolution itself. To do this right is to hold it to standards 
higher than those many of us have initially accepted simply 
because it was small, isolated, and brutally crushed by the Syrian 
regime. Otherwise, little will come of it and of the uprising 
beyond the fall of one brutal dictatorship. The Syrian people 
suffered for decades. They deserve much more than what the SNC has 
in store.

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