The British far left on Syria

Submitted by cathy n on 3 September, 2013 - 10:19

After the government's defeat on a motion endorsing immediate military intervention was defeated in Parliament, the Socialist Party wanted to drive home how great an opportunity this was for the left.

In an article in The Socialist, they wrote: “Cameron and Clegg could over the coming days and weeks be forced out. The government itself could be brought down. The trade union movement - particularly the TUC which meets in early September - should finish off this floundering cuts coalition by calling a national day of strike action - a 24-hour general strike - against cuts and austerity.”

That the government has been substantially weakened is highly debatable. That the TUC can bring it down by calling a 24-hour general strike is utter fantasy. But in the SP's universe all political roads do lead to the 24 hour general strike.
We have to get beyond the half-way point in the SP's article to find out what they think about the actual issues at hand - the political events and forces which will decide the fate of the Syrian people. In a short passage the SP say they are opposed to the Assad regime and reactionary sectarian forces which dominate the opposition and want a non-sectarian mass movement.

Okay, but what do they think about the chemical weapons, the prospect of the Assad regime getting stronger, the likely bad effects of a US military intervention?
Not important comrades, we now need to get back to the UK and bang on about Miliband's prospects in the (presumably imminent) general election and how socialists like themselves can provide a coherent alternative!


Cameron's defeat and great opportunities for the left is pretty much the only theme of Counterfire's response.

Substitute the Socialist Party's “trade union movement” for “the anti-war movement” for the who the victory belongs to and you get the picture.

More precisely (and grandiosely) Counterfire claim a victory for the “long-term strategic aim of the STWC – to break British foreign policy from slavish allegiance to the US”.

At the same time Parliament is “reflecting public opinion” (that is perhaps the bedrock of progressive anti-US, solidly British public opinion?)

Actually, as anyone who cares to pay attention to the news will know the vote in Parliament reflects the fears from of a section of the bourgeoisie that a military intervention will make the Syrian and regional situation more unstable. And some political opportunism from Labour who were not opposed in principle to this or any other military intervention of the last ten years.

The only other concern of Counterfire was to call into question (not flatly deny because that would be too honest) the Assad regime's culpability over the use of chemical weapon: “This is not to say that the regime could not be responsible, but rather to argue against the use of speculative claims as the pretext for a military attack. In the meantime, the absence of proof of culpability has not prevented such claims forming an accepted wisdom in most of the subsequent reporting.”

Stop the War Campaign

It wants a “foreign policy which is based on equality and justice and the rights of national sovereignty.”

Apple pie and mother love and avoiding asking or attempting to answer any difficult questions.

Socialist Workers' Party

The SWP were at least trying to be thoughtful in a series of short articles on their website.

In the main article there were the usual SWP ordering of concerns. They began with western hypocrisy on freedom and democracy. Making the not at all unreasonable point that the west have “stood by while Assad's regime has killed 100,000”.

In place of the usual knee-jerk anti-imperialism the SWP focus on how imperialist intervention will make the situation worse, strengthen Assad etc.

The recasting of SWP anti-imperialism is linked to the “cause of the Arab revolution” which, to them, the Syrian opposition represents. Elsewhere on the SWP's website they acknowledge but consistently underestimate the threat of the Islamist forces in the
Syrian opposition. (For example Joseph Daher, of the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current is quoted “These jihadist groups are reactionary and sectarian — and the Syrian revolution wants to break down sectarian and ethnic division — but they cannot be compared to the Syrian regime.”

But if the jihadist groups did come to power of course they could be compared to the Syrian regime!

Another article on the site has the more typically SWP stance of hailing the weakness of the government etc. but in much less exaggerated terms than either the SP or Counterfire.

International Socialist Network/Workers Power/Socialist Resistance

Have issued a joint statement which is altogether more balanced on most of the issue: government defeat, complexity of imperialist ambitions (these are not limited to the west but include e.g. Saudi Arabia, Russian and Iran).

As with the SWP the concern here is with victory of the Arab revolution, as well as a genuine concern with the victims of Assad's attacks. The west's concern is to stop the spread of the Syrian revolution.

But is the Syrian opposition the agency of that revolution? While the picture the statement paints of the Syrian opposition – as a popular rebellion - is more nuanced about the influence of the Islamists it is factually off beam (see our article here here).

On precisely this point however the article has prompted an interesting debate. And that is progress.


Submitted by AWL on Tue, 03/09/2013 - 10:41

The Socialist Party also says:

"Given the significant funding and growth of Al-Qa'ida in Syria there are also serious dangers of a 'blowback' of increased terrorism, in the region and inside Britain and its allies in this adventure."

I may have missed the point, but this seems to me pretty silly: if it bombs, the US will be intervening physically against Al Qaeda's enemy in Syria and - despite its desires - in favour of Al Qaeda's local supporters.

But there is another element here which is the SP's semi-demi-nationalist focus on the consequences of imperialism for Britain rather than or regardless of what is happening to people in the actual conflict zone - muted here, but stronger elsewhere.

In the motion he drafted for NUS executive (not in the end submitted), Socialist Party member Edmund Schluessel talked extensively about how money should be spent on education and public services, not foreign wars - clearly a nationalist position and one that needs to be opposed.

Sacha Ismail

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