Answering Syria’s dictator

January 15, 2013

Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad gave a speech on January 6--his first public address in half a year--in which he vowed to continue his regime's savage war on the now almost two-year-old revolution. Though claiming to propose a "peace plan," Assad denounced his opponents as terrorists, extremists and puppets of Western governments.

Though the government's bloody repression has taken a terrible toll, Assad is more isolated than ever today, with large parts of the country under the political and military control of opponents of the regime, and rebel fighters even controlling parts of greater Damascus, the capital. Meanwhile, Western governments, including the U.S., are maneuvering to back sections of the opposition, in the hopes of promoting a "transition" to a post-Assad Syria that defends Western interests and contains the mass discontent.

Joseph Daher is a member of the Revolutionary Left Current in Syria. He wrote this article responding to Assad's speech for his blog Syria Freedom Forever.

THE SPEECH by the dictator Bashar al-Assad on January 6 at the opera house in the capital of Damascus was not different to his last official speeches, and was in many ways a mere repetition. He once again appealed for the "total mobilization of the nation" to fight against the insurgents, who he described as al-Qaeda terrorists. He also called for a reconciliation conference with "those who have not betrayed Syria," which would be followed by the formation of a new government and a new amnesty.

Bashar al-Assad's solution to the crisis is not a solution, but, on the contrary, a clear message to the Syrian people: the regime will continue its war against the popular movement, both peaceful and armed.

This speech does not open any new possibilities other than to continue the Syrian people's nearly two-year-old revolution to overthrow the criminal and corrupt regime of the dictator Assad. The number of martyrs has now exceeded 60,000.

Nor is the so-called "peace plan for Syria" proposed by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi a solution for the Syrian people, as we argued in a previous article. This plan calls for the formation of a transitional government which would have full executive powers to govern Syria until presidential and legislative elections in 2014, held under the auspices of the UN. During this period, the dictator Assad would stay in power at the top of the state.

Bashar al-Assad delivers his speech at the Damascus opera house
Bashar al-Assad delivers his speech at the Damascus opera house

The following statement by the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in his book The Revolution Betrayed, directed at the UN's ancestor, the League of Nations, applies perfectly to the United Nations today: "The League in its defense of the status quo is not an organization of "peace," but an organization of the violence of the imperialist minority over the overwhelming majority of mankind."

The UN, like its late predecessor, the League of Nations, is indeed an instrument of the imperialist powers of the world to guarantee their interests, as the Syrian or Palestinian cases show, among other examples.

THE PROPOSALS put forward by Assad and by Brahimi are not solutions, but represent the continuation of the suffering of the Syrian people and their denial of freedom and dignity, which they have been fighting for since the beginning of the revolution.

Assad repeatedly described parts of the opposition as agents of foreign powers who could not be included in any negotiations. "We will not have dialogue with a puppet made by the West," he says. The Syrian people actually agree with this sentiment--they refuse any negotiations with a regime that has not hesitated for the past 30 years to serve imperialist powers on many occasions.

The great powers don't have any interest in the collapse of the regime. This regime has helped stabilize the borders with Israel and worked with the Western powers repeatedly in the "war on terror" launched by George W. Bush, and in the U.S. wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003. The regime has also participated in the "interrogation" of prisoners for the Western powers. And this is not to mention its military intervention in Lebanon with the support of the Western powers and Israel to crush the Palestinian resistance and the Lebanese left in 1976.

The regime's neoliberal policy has accelerated at an extraordinary pace since Bashar al-Assad's rise to power in 2000--the regime had opened Syria to many Western and Gulf investors before the beginning of the revolution. These policies have plunged more than half of the population into misery and poverty.

This is why, until today, the imperialist powers have seen no advantage in the collapse of the Assad regime--both for the above reasons and for the security of Israel, whose border with Syria has been quiet since 1973.

Yes, the Syrian people refuse to negotiate with a regime that served imperialists. They refuse to negotiate with a dictator who was called a "reformer" by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the first six months of the revolution, and who was known to have lunch at the Élysée Palace with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Syrian people will not negotiate--they will fight until you are overthrown.

At the same time, the Syrian people will refuse any attempt to submit Syria to Western control. As one banner put it last September, we will oppose anyone "who wants loyalty in exchange for support."

We will also oppose the section of the opposition, backed by the Arab Gulf states, that is trying to transform this popular revolution into a sectarian war in order to prevent the deepening and spread of the revolution. The evil of sectarianism, characterized by many in the popular movement as the death of the revolution, was spread by the regime for decades. It can only be defeated by struggling for democracy, social justice, secularism and real independence.

IN HIS speech, Assad said, "This is not a revolution. A revolution needs intellectuals--where are the intellectuals of this revolution? A revolution needs leaders--who are the leaders of this revolution?"

This statement symbolizes the regime's lack of understanding, common with all dictatorships, of the popular movement and its dynamics. The popular movement's self-organization through popular committees, at the level of villages, neighborhoods, cities and regions, has been the rule since the beginning of the revolution.

Revolutionary councils have been formed across Syria, as well as coordinating committees for political and armed actions. These popular committees are the real backbone of the movement. In addition to mobilizing the people for demonstrations, they have also developed forms of self-management based on organizing the masses in areas liberated from the yoke of the regime.

Popular elected councils have emerged to deal with and manage liberated areas, proving that it is the regime that causes anarchy, and not the people. At the same time, the armed resistance of the Syrian people is the expression of its right to defend itself against repression. This has made possible the continuation of popular resistance in many regions in the face of the regime's attacks.

The leaders of this revolution are every woman and man involved in the struggle and participating in the popular committees. The leaders of Syria are the people of Syria themselves.

As for the intellectuals, they are everyone who brandishes their message on placards demanding freedom, dignity and a democratic, social and secular state, denouncing sectarianism, and repeating that the Syrian people are one and united, and that Assad's speech deserves only a shoe in his face.

The intellectuals, as the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci argued, can no longer rely on their eloquence or stay in the ivory tower, but have to join actively in practical life, as builders, organizers and permanently active persuaders among the masses. The intellectuals are therefore every woman and man involved in this revolution. The intellectuals of this revolution are the Syrian people.

Without any doubt, this is truly a revolution and has been since the beginning. Despite the harsh and criminal repression, the Syrian people have always had the same answer to the question of what comes next: a permanent revolution until victory! Viva the Syrian Revolution--and peace for all the martyrs of the revolution!

First published at Syria Freedom Forever.

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