Friday, July 27, 2012

Turning point in Aleppo

The last time Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, suffered aerial bombardment and heavy guns firing into civilian areas, was in 1925, as the French government set out to crush a rebellion against colonial rule.

Now Assad government troops stationed on the outskirts of the city, Syria’s commercial capital and its biggest urban centre, have unleashed barrages of mortar on the western neighbourhoods of Saladin, al-Sukkari and al-Fardos. Meanwhile, Russian-built MI-25 helicopter gunships struck al-Sakhour in the east with rockets.

Until now Aleppo has remained largely outside of the revolt against the government of Bashir Al Assad.  “Where are you Aleppo?” was a frequent chant on demonstrations.

Aleppo is Syrian’s economic centre, and was one of the cities where support for the Assad father and son dynasty remained strongest. They gave relative independence to the mercantile and capitalist elite in return for their support.

The deepening economic crisis gripping the whole of Syria has brought the largely Sunni working class of Aleppo into the opposition marking an important step forward in the anti-regime movement.

Expecting it to fall sooner rather than later, jockeying for position has already begun amongst the ruling class, some getting ahead of the game by escaping from Syria. Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, formerly one of Assad’s closest friends and aides, is putting himself about round the Arab capitals and western embassies as a figurehead for a transition. 

There are plenty more of the same, including those in the Assad regime who are conspiring with Russian and Chinese diplomacy. But the masses are wise to this tactic. Mohamed El Baradei was being groomed by the US to take over in Egypt and Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq, but their bulging coffers of bribe money got them nowhere.

But framing a radical alternative to such figures – this is the problem facing the Syrian masses, whatever their racial or religious background, just as it was in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Driven to revolt by the absence of any say in how their own country is governed, and by growing unemployment, poverty and rising food prices, they are capable of courageously overthrowing regimes – in fact in this era they seem to be unstoppable!

A greater challenge remains: how to replace the repressive regime with a genuine popular democracy rather than with sham parliaments and fake presidents, where the strong men of the state ensure that the wealth, the land, and natural resources remain where they have always been – in the hands of the rich.

Toppling Assad, but leaving control in the hands of the existing apparatus or the Syrian National Council will lead to counter-revolution and defeat. In 1925, every sector of Syrian society united against French rule – Syrian, Druze, Allawi, Christian, Sunni and Shiites fought together for independence. Such a united front is emerging today amongst the poorest Syrians, but it is not going to be enough unless it is united in a struggle for state power itself.

The Syrian people can only achieve their right to bread, peace and land by dismantling the existing state and replacing it with the rule of the people organised in their local, regional and national assemblies, controlling the common wealth. This is the lesson of Egypt, of Tunisia and of Libya, which needs to be learned in Spain and Greece, and acutely relevant all of us in these tumultuous times.

Relying on either the West or Russia or UN resolutions offers no way out for the Syrian people.  They will need to find a way to determine their own democratic future independent of the plans and strategies of the major powers. The challenge for revolutionary forces is to create a secular Pan-Arab leadership that can unite the  Syrian masses with others throughout the region and build for the next stage of the Arab Revolution, whose aim has to be social revolution.

Penny Cole

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