An anti-imperialist, Marxist perspective
Why U.S. wants regime change in Syria
Published Oct 14, 2011 10:59 PM
Following are excerpts from a talk given by Joyce Chediac at a Workers World Party forum in Detroit on Oct. 1.
The U.S. government claims it supports the huge social explosion rocking the Arab world and northern Africa. A closer look shows that it is trying to take advantage of these struggles to consolidate its stranglehold there.
U.S. “support” of movements opposed to Arab governments is selective. The government of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen killed 100 people last week. It was a massacre, but no U.S. administration official called Saleh “a monster murdering his own people.” There was no move in the United Nations for a no-fly zone. In fact, U.S. drones regularly bomb Yemen, a U.S. client regime located on strategic waterways. Instead, in his U.N. speech on Sept. 21 Obama made the mildest of comments and called for “seeking a path that allows for a peaceful transition” in Yemen.
The White House, Congress and the Pentagon are going after the few Arab governments with some independence from imperialism: Libya, and now Syria.
In Syria there is a great deal at stake for the workers and rural poor as there is throughout the Middle East. Syria is in a strategic anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist alliance with Iran, with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and with Hamas in Gaza. This alliance is crucial in holding back the predatory Zionist state [of Israel] from taking over the whole area. Washington would like to break up this alliance and move against them all.
Yet some progressives in the Middle East are opposed to the Syrian government, much as some were opposed to Gadhafi. Why is this so?
Marxist political perspective needed
Governments like those in Syria are called “bourgeois nationalist” by Marxists. They are nationalist because they seek to develop their countries free from imperialist domination. They are bourgeois because they are ruled by an exploiting class — capitalists. Marxists support these governments against imperialism because they are manifestations of self-determination of the oppressed. This does not mean that Marxists support every policy of these governments.
Marxists also recognize that these regimes have a dual character. They are bourgeois nationalist because they seek to push out the imperialists so they can better exploit their workers. But they have common interest with their workers when imperialism threatens the country’s sovereignty. These governments cannot consistently fight imperialism, as the working class can.
For example, Syria is a “front line state” with a border with Israel. This fact affects every aspect of Syria’s history, has made it an object of constant imperialist and Zionist pressure, and links the fate of the Syrian people to the Palestinian struggle.
Syria’s nationalization of a U.S. oil pipeline precipitated the 1967 war, with Israel attacking and occupying Syria’s Golan Heights, the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The Golan Heights has since been annexed by Israel.
While Syria plays a regionally progressive role right now, this was not always the case. In 1976, the Syrian government intervened in Lebanon’s civil war on the side of Lebanon’s fascists, who were armed by Israel, against a revolutionary Palestinian-Lebanese alliance. The Syrian capitalists feared that a revolutionary Lebanon might lead to their overthrow by Syrians dominated by the Arab Socialist Baath Party. The current head of state in Syria is Bashir Assad.
Relentless pressure from the U.S. and Israel, and Israel’s refusal to return the Golan Heights, has Syria’s rulers back towards an anti-imperialist stance.
Syria, like other bourgeois nationalist governments, has neither broken with the capitalist world market, nor has the perspective to do so. Instead, it seeks a better deal in this market, which is completely dominated by Western banks.
During economic downturns, nationalist governments like Syria are forced by Wall Street to make economic concessions which attack the workers and establish a pro-imperialist elite, a comprador bourgeoisie, which undermines the government’s independence from imperialism and isolates it from the workers.
In 2006, Syria adopted an International Monetary Fund plan calling for austerity measures, a wage freeze, opening the economy to foreign banks, and privatizing government-run industries. For workers this has meant unemployment, inflation and deterioration in social conditions. These policies have benefited a group of elite businessmen close to the Assad family.
Nature of imperialist intervention
“The Syrian state once brought electricity to every town, but … can no longer afford the social contract of taking care of people’s needs.” (New York Times, April 30) The social contract among religious minorities has been “We will protect you but stay out of politics.” The government apparatus has been run by the same family, the Assad family, for 40 years. Those who disagreed suffered repression.
Many Syrians are fed up with the Assad government, and for good reason. But imperialism has not imposed sanctions on Syria because the government there has impoverished the workers and because few have a voice in the government.
U.S. imperialism hates Syria for hosting leaders of the Palestinian resistance; for refusing to give up its claims to the Golan Heights; for refusing to sign a peace treaty with Israel; for refusing to end its relationship with Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance movement and with Iran; and for refusing to be part of the attack on Iraq in 2003.
In short, imperialism is sanctioning the Syrian government and increasing pressure on it not for the bad things it has done, but for the good things.
Imperialism is a thoroughly reactionary and oppressive system. When the imperialists come to “help,” it is to help themselves. Imperialist intervention is always meant to benefit the imperialists, whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of workers.
Just look at what NATO’s “help” for the people of Libya has meant: The destruction of the civilian infrastructure and economy; cancer-causing radioactive residue from depleted uranium weapons; and using Libya to get its predatory Africom military command on African soil.
A U.S. and NATO intervention in Syria would be the worst thing for all the oppressed people in the Middle East and must be vehemently opposed. A win for imperialism abroad emboldens the capitalists in their attacks on workers at home.
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