Syria: The masses awaken

Bloody repression fails to stop protests

At the end of January, Syrian President, Bashir al-Assad, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, confidently asserted that Syria was “immune” against the revolutionary wave which is currently sweeping through the Arab world. Since the 18th March, the Syrian masses proved Al-Assad to be wrong.

Contrary to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan, the revolutionary wave took longer to hit Syria. This is mainly because at the beginning of the revolutionary uprisings in other countries, the Syrian regime started mass arrests. Hundreds of activists were arrested before a movement could develop in Syria at the beginning of this year. As their relatives tried to march in support for them, demanding their release, even these very small demonstrations were immediately and brutally crushed by the police and the secret service, as seen in Damascus in the beginning of March. At the same time as the regime tried to block any movement on the streets, it also increased subsidies for goods of daily need, to contain the population. Both methods helped to delay the uprising for some weeks, but were obviously unable to prevent an explosion of the masses’ anger.

The government seems to be aware that the revolutionary uprisings in the whole Middle East are a threat to the Syrian regime. It even gave support to the bloody Gadaffi regime in its fight against the revolutionary movement in Libya.

Bloody repression

Around 15 March, an open mass revolt broke out. The regime responded with brutal repression. At the main square in front of Damascus’ Umayyad mosque street battles were fought against the security forces. On the same day in Der’a, a southern city close to the border to Jordan, several people were shot by security forces The movement spread continuingly. The regime is attempting to physically break the movement by opening fire on demonstrations and using snipers on rooftops to execute those seen to play leading roles. But the protests seem not to have been stopped by the state violence. There are unconfirmed reports of military units siding with the protesters and policemen refusing to open fire on peaceful demonstrators.

Connecting political and social demands

Although the regime is trying to present the protesters as ‚sectarians’, ‚criminals’ and ‚Islamists’, the basis for the uprising is not religion but the desperate social situation of the Syrian masses and their demands for social justice. The demand for social rights is strongly connected with political demands.

In the past, the giant bureaucracy and the state sector in industry provided safe jobs and incomes for over 50% of the population. These workers’ wages have begun to stagnate or drop. This was combined with massive rise of prices in all areas of the economy and of essential goods. This meant a drop in living standards for the workers. For example, in December 2008, the price for diesel was raised by 375% (!).

Unemployment is estimated at 20% and is a lot higher among youths. And the situation is getting worse. Half of the population is younger than 25 years old. The Syrian regime has nothing to offer young people.

Regime tries to divde and rule

Syrian society is made up of different ethnic and religious groups. The regime tried to play the various groups against each in the past and is trying again, playing on the fear of political Islam. Especially the protesters in Der’a are portrayed as Sunni fundamentalists in order to isolate them from other parts of the population. But at the same time as the regime is portraying the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, it is trying to strengthen political Islam in the movement. This seems to be in order to control the movement and to isolate it from the mainly secular masses, fighting for social justice and against the dictatorship. A decisive question for the coming development is, whether the movement is able to unite Kurdish and Arab masses in struggle against the regime. The Kurds in Syria are one of the most brutally oppressed national minorities. It is decisive to unite workers, unemployed, peasants and youth independently of their ethnic or religious background to struggle against the regime.

Which way forward?

On 27 March, snipers opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in the northwestern port town of Lattakia. Twelve people were killed. The massacre could lead to an even determination of the masses to openly confront the barbaric regime. It is also obvious to the government that violence and mass killings alone will not stop the protesters. Only a few hours after the Lattakia massacre became public, the regime confirmed its previous announcement to lift the “emergency law” – a concession to try to bring the movement to a halt. But as seen in other Arab countries in the past months, concessions of this kind will not necessarily end revolutionary movements. In fact the opposite can be true. It is necessary to see the lifting of the emergency law as a sign of weakness of the regime, and seize the momentum to develop the revolutionary movement.

Since 26 March, various opposition groups have been calling for a general strike. This could be a decisive step on the revolutionary road. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions proved that the crucial point was reached, when the organised labor movement stepped onto the scene with mass strike action. The latest statement of the official Syrian trade-union leadership is a slap into the face of the struggling masses. The statement names “foreign powers” as standing behind the protests which “threaten the country’s national unity”. The people should trust the “wisdom of the leadership” rather than fight for their rights. It is necessary to fight the bureaucracy and to fight for independent unions. Workers in the oil and gas industry potentially have an immense power. In the past, the oil-workers were already able to force their union into action, as seen in the massive 2003 oil-workers-strike.

The formation of a mass revolutionary socialist party is also sorely needed. The Communist Party of Syria has not even commented on the revolutionary events up (as of 27 March). The Stalinist Communist Party is a member of the Baath-party-run “National Progressive Front” and thus openly a part of the regime. For the development of the movement, the creation of a mass, multi-ethnic, socialist revolutionary party of working people and youth is crucial.

The dictatorship in Syria has nothing to offer to the masses, but poverty and oppression. A real change in the living situation of the masses cannot be reached by small reforms or more subsidies. As long as the Baath-party-dictatorship exists, and the nation’s wealth is concentrated in the few hands of Syrian and foreign capitalists, real freedom and social justice are unreachable for the mass of the population. A break with capitalism and the construction of a genuine, free and democratic socialist society is the only solution the masses can give to the horrors of poverty, exploitation and oppression.

  • No to sectarianism! Unity of all working and poor people and youth, leaving aside all religious and ethnic differences
  • Nationalisation of the oil and gas industries and all the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of working people
  • Build democratically elected committees of struggle in the workplaces and communities to defend the movement against the regimes’ attacks and to develop the opposition struggle
  • For a revolutionary constituent peoples‘assembly! For a majority workers’ and small farmers’ government, carrying out socialist policies
  • Building a mass party of working people and youth, with a revolutionary socialist programme!
  • Break with capitalism! For a democratic, socialist society

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