January 15, 2014
republished by permission
On January 14th came reports of the conclusion of a two-day UN-sponsored conference attended by a self-selected group of women discussing how to increase female participation at the proposed Geneva II conference and its aftermath. Nowhere in the statements coming out of the event was there any indication that those seeking to achieve greater gender balance in Geneva have any problem with its core mission: to let imperialist powers dictate “peace” terms to Syrian revolutionaries.
This “women’s” event comes amid a welter of proposals for negotiations, diplomatic solutions, ceasefires, etc., etc. by various liberal and pseudo-radical forces. Many of those involved have been around the block and know what brand of snake oil they’re peddling. Newer forces less aware of the long history of such sell-outs may sincerely think that by demanding negotiations or diplomatic solutions they are aiding the Syrian Revolution. But in fact these calls for “talks” and “peace” are helping the imperialists, whether in Washington or Moscow, to stab it in the back. They deny the self-determination of the Syrian people – the only ones who have a legitimate right to say what a just resolution of the Revolution should be, the only ones with the right to define what liberation means for them. And they insult the steadfastness of the Syrian people, who despite horrific casualties, starvation, torture and genocidal murder, show no signs of abandoning their Revolution.
None of the politicians, whether in Moscow or Washington, Beijing or Tehran, Riyadh or Beirut have any business dictating terms to the Syrian people, or even demanding they come to the table. In any case the overwhelming majority of grass-roots forces in the Revolution have made clear that they see Geneva for the farce it is. They have expressed in no uncertain terms that not only will they not talk to Assad, but that they resent and reject the imperialists’ likely attempt to impose a Yemen-style solution, i.e. to maintain he current regime minus Assad.
Calling for talks or “peace” is calling for maintenance of that regime, for an end to the Syrian people’s just struggle for bread, freedom, dignity and social justice.
Below I’ll look at some statements by those pushing Geneva (or an “improved” Geneva). Then I cite briefly some parallel debates from the movement against the US war in Vietnam, and from discussions among Bolsheviks heading the new Soviet Republic who had to grapple with similar issues when under attack after the revolution’s success.
A November 28, 2013 article (“Opposition Activists in Damascus Give Views on Peaceful Solution,”) quotes Kifah Ali Deeb, a member of the executive office of the National Coordination Board for Democratic Change, saying she “is confident about a peaceful solution to end the crisis. “[This can be achieved through] an end to the violence, releasing prisoners, and negotiations in Geneva on a peaceful transfer of power to a transitional government with full powers.”
Geneva I, she said “didn’t fail. It produced a set of recommendations that we can build on for Geneva II in order to reach a political solution that will lead to a transfer of power. This will achieve the demands of the people for freedom, dignity, and democracy,” she said.”
Deeb’s group, the NCBDC, has been roundly criticized by revolutionaries from the beginning of the Revolution for attempting to cut deals with the regime and advocating direct talks with it. The groups making up the Coordination Board seem to be left-over pro-Moscow or pro-Beijing Stalinist parties, whose stock in trade has for decades been class collaboration, i.e. deals for “peace” whether in the international or domestic spheres.
Deeb is clearly operating in this framework. She hails the fact that all permanent members of the UN Security Council attended Geneva I, and praises their 12 point plan, “the most important elements of which were the formation of a transitional government with full executive powers which would include officials from the current Syrian government, reform of the constitution, ensuring the continuity of public services and agencies, including the army and security services, and stopping the bloodshed.”
Officials from the current government? Continuity of the army and security services? Clearly Deeb has no interest in advocating for what the Syrian grassroots is actually fighting for.
The same article quotes “political activist and lawyer Faeq Howeija, a member of the Syrian Secular Democratic Coalition,” as saying that Geneva II can succeed and a “political solution” be found “once the two sides genuinely feel that they cannot continue with a military confrontation.” So while those who face the bullets of Assad and the Islamists call for greater military and other aid to complete the revolution against all counter-revolutionary forces, Howeija and his ilk call for “peace.”
Some Palestine solidarity activists are also calling for “diplomatic solutions,” this despite their long standing and correct rejection of similar efforts by imperialists to force the “peace process” with Israel down their throats. (Although perhaps this hypocrisy tells us something about their rejection of that “peace process”: for some of them, it may just be a question of wanting “better” parties at the table, i.e. a hope that a “left” faction of the PLO, after achieving hegemony in the mass movement, could push aside Fateh as lead negotiator and come up with a “more just” peace.)
Meanwhile the “Anti-imperialist Camp,” a gaggle of groups which seem to come from the same neo-Stalinist milieu as the NCBDC, is pushing a shadow conference in Vienna to happen during Geneva II – while still supporting the latter. They do so because they – unlike the masses in Syria – have given up hope in the Revolution (one would certainly want to check statements of this Camp and its constituent groups to see if they ever supported the Revolution).
The Camp launched an “International Peace Initiative for Syria” months ago, seeking signatures of left celebrities on behalf of peace and love in Syria. Now they are organizing an “all sides’ civil society conference in Vienna.”
“Every day,” they warn us, “it becomes clearer that the Syrian war cannot be won by anybody with a positive outcome for the Syrian people. With its internal divisions on every side the civil war has reached the state of an unprecedented bloodshed increased by external interventions. Its continuation will only wreak havoc and spread destruction on all levels of society.
“Among its main victims there are the democratic rights of the Syrian people, who originally tried to claim these rights by launching a peaceful popular mass protest movement. However their efforts have gradually been thwarted by an increasing influence of sectarian tendencies as well as a growing regional and global involvement.”
So their counsel to the Syrian masses – who show no sign of sharing their defeatism, and who are in fact turning the tide against one pole of the counter-revolution, i.e. ISIS and its ilk – is surrender:
“Together with many people inside Syria and across the world our initiative for Peace in Syria continues to insist that the only viable solution is a political settlement with a ceasefire paving the way to a transitional government, based on a power sharing agreement between the socio-political, confessional and ethical blocs maintaining a common State. We are conscious that this is not the ideal solution for any side, and therefore it will be difficult for all sides to accept. Yet a political solution is the only way out, because the continuation of the war will be even worse.”But so as not to be completely confused with their imperialist inspirers, they propose a parallel confab in Vienna:
And they praise imperialist powers for sharing their crocodile tears and proposing a way out: “Internationally, most of the involved players have now come to the conclusion that a political settlement is necessary to stop the number of victims from growing. This is being shown also by the recent agreement between the USA and Iran which provides a framework for the upcoming Geneva II talks.”
“… most of the Syrian people, who - while starving - continue to strive for their democratic and social rights, have lost their voice within the diplomatic efforts which are being made on the level of States. There is an urgent need to let them speak and allow their voices to be heard while important parts of the international community engage in power brokering ignoring the interest of the people on the ground.And just so no-one is misled into thinking that they’re trying to replace Geneva, they stress that
“As an International Initiative of civil society, we are proposing to hold a conference in Vienna, Austria, with renowned figures of the Syrian civil society from all walks of life and associated with all sides of the conflict, in order to explore possible and realistic ways for achieving a democratic transition acceptable to the vast majority of Syrians. For this proposal, we have received positive signals from across the whole political spectrum of Syria.”
“Whilst we hope that Geneva II will get off the ground, we strongly believe that the Vienna conference is a necessary complement to it. There is a real need to lend a voice to those who will have no say at the negotiation table, because they are not State-actors or representatives of political organisations. Furthermore any ceasefire agreement will need strong popular support from below. [That is, they want to help the imperialists force an agreement on the revolting masses.] This is needed whether Geneva will yield results or not.”The UN-sponsored women’s conference mentioned at the start took a similar approach to trying to “improve” Geneva II, declaring that “The voice of Syrian women must be heard in all efforts to resolve the civil war that is tearing their country apart.”
Needless to say the conference took no position on who was responsible for the bloodshed and violence, the oppression and exploitation, which sparked the Revolution. Instead, the 50 gathered women (the statement doesn’t say who picked them and how), called for a solution that would urge greater women’s participation in the country’s political and social life (something Assad would assure them he had already achieved). They were motivated by the same horror of suffering – again, without attributing responsibility or blame – as expressed by those quoted above: “We have come together to prepare this set of demands and priorities based on our first-hand experience of the suffering of the Syrian people, which has become intolerable.” And on this basis they too recommended surrender, “calling for an immediate cessation of armed violence.”
They go on to list specific proposals for women’s participation in various negotiating, transition, constitutional and other processes. Not a word about the Revolution’s demands. In fact they characterize the fighting as a “conflict [which] erupted almost three years ago between the Government and various groups seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad,” as if they didn’t know – or dare not voice – what revolutionaries are fighting for.
Of course this is about what one would expect from a body whose Secretary-General just got done heaping praise on deceased mass murderer Ariel Sharon, and whose main purpose has always been as a pacifist cover for imperialism.
Finally by way of examples we cite Code Pink, which weighed in long ago along exactly the same lines. The presumption, the violation of self-determination, the denial of the existence of the Revolution are too self-evident in its statement to need dissection here: Tell Obama, Peace Not War in Syria!
In contrast to the above approaches we must stress that our task now is greater support for the revolution, not efforts to force it into submission or surrender.
It’s not our business to pressure revolutionaries to go to the table; our job is to support them materially and politically against all forms of counter-revolution domestic or foreign.
That was the approach of revolutionaries in the US and other imperialist countries during the US war against Vietnam. While the Communist Party in the US and their co-thinkers were pushing for a negotiated “solution,” for support for peace talks, Trotskyists and radical pacifists said we in the US had no right to add to the pressure on the Vietnamese to submit, that our job was to get our government to stop committing and aiding genocide, to pull out completely and immediately.
These genuine radicals added that if the Vietnamese felt compelled to go to the table, whether out of weakness or for tactical propagandistic purposes, that was their business and their right. But by letting up for one second in the slightest degree the call for “Out Now!”, we would in fact be weakening the Vietnamese efforts to navigate their way through those thickets, and more fundamentally would be violating their right to self-determination.
As Nat Weinstein wrote:
“From the very first, however, there was a small section of the Vietnam antiwar movement that rejected the slogan, ‘Negotiations Now!’ simply because it implied that the United States had the right to set limits on the Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination. What proved to be the most effective section of the Vietnam antiwar movement had rejected the ‘Negotiate Now!’ slogan from the outset because it gave credence to the ‘right’ of American imperialism to send the world’s most powerful military behemoth into Vietnam to suppress the struggle of the Vietnamese workers and poor farmers for self-determination. And as the war dragged on and tens of thousands of body bags had already been shipped home, the ‘Bring The Troops Home Now!’ demand began winning the support of millions…”A 1969 resolution of the then still healthy US Socialist Workers Party explained why the imperialists wanted talks in the first place:
“The central problem facing U.S. imperialism in attempting to win the kind of settlement it wants is control of the state power in Vietnam, which depends in the last analysis on force of arms. Without the massive military might of U.S. imperialism, the Saigon regime would rapidly collapse. This fact shows the fraudulent nature of all the well-publicized Washington schemes for a settlement: the scheme of turning the war over to Saigon; the scheme of a coalition government; the scheme of elections under the Saigon administration. So long as the Vietnamese revolutionaries refuse to give up their arms and continue to carry on the fight a U.S. withdrawal will lead to rapid victory over the Saigon regime. Under these conditions, a ‘compromise’ formula that does not settle the question of state power will remain illusory. The war can end only when one side is defeated; and until that happens, either on the battlefield or at the negotiating table, the war will go on…”The same can be said of Syria: the imperialists want talks above all because they want to ensure that the question of state power is settled in favor of the existing regime or some armed body like it, and not in favor of the Syrian masses.
Finally, some quotes from the parallel Soviet debate. After the Revolution, the new power was faced with invasion from imperialist powers on both sides of World War I. The Bolshevik government sent representatives to talks with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk, and had to encounter dissent within Party ranks about whether such talks were an impermissible compromise.
Lenin’s answer (not heeded at first, by the way, in what was then an incredibly democratic party used to stormy, vibrant debate), was that the new Republic had no choice but to negotiate, especially as to survive until aid could come from successful revolutions elsewhere – BUT that while the Soviets were under the gun, that made it MORE urgent for revolutionaries in other countries to oppose efforts by their own governments to dictate terms or even to presume there was anything to talk about. To use the same terms as in the Vietnam debate, the Bolsheviks could justify going to the table, but communists in Germany, England, France, etc. had no business calling for talks: their duty was to tell their own governments to simply get the hell out of the Soviet Union -- and while doing so, to try to make their own revolution at home.
“Imagine that your car is held up by armed bandits. You hand them over your money, passport, revolver and car. In return you are rid of the pleasant company of the bandits. That is unquestionably a compromise. ‘Do ut des’ (I ‘give’ you money, fire-arms and a car ‘so that you give’ me the opportunity to get away from you with a whole skin). It would, however, be difficult to find a sane man who would declare such a compromise to be ‘inadmissible on principle,’ or who would call the compromiser an accomplice of the bandits (even though the bandits might use the car and the firearms for further robberies). Our compromise with the bandits of German imperialism was just that kind of compromise.Again, Lenin explains why those under attack might feel pressured to seek a deal:
“But when, in 1914-18 and then in 1918-20, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia, the Scheidemannites (and to a large extent the Kautskyites) in Germany, Otto Bauer and Friedrich Adler (to say nothing of the Renners and Co.) in Austria, the Renaudels and Longuets and Co. in France, the Fabians, the Independents and the Labourites in Britain entered into compromises with the bandits of their own bourgeoisie, and sometimes of the ‘Allied’ bourgeoisie, and against the revolutionary proletariat of their own countries, all these gentlemen were actually acting as accomplices in banditry.”
“Workers who lose a strike and sign terms for the resumption of work which are unfavourable to them and favourable to the capitalists, do not betray socialism. The only people who betray socialism are those who secure advantages for a section of the workers in exchange for profit to the capitalists; only such agreements are impermissible in principle…That, however, is not what is happening around Geneva. Here supposed “friends” of the Syrian people are trying to drag supposed opponents of the regime to the table when the real revolutionaries have NOT yet declared the strike over (to use Lenin’s trade union example), are not yet ready to resume work under their exploiters.
“He does not in the least betray socialism who, without concealing anything from the people, and without concluding any secret treaties with the imperialists, agrees to sign terms of peace which are unfavourable to the weak nation and favourable to the imperialists of one group, if at that moment there is no strength to continue the war.”
What’s more, the Bolsheviks used to the fullest the opportunity of talks to state their case, and that of the global revolution, to all listening around the world – something which we can be sure won’t be the case with whatever craven “opposition” ends up at Geneva. Thus Leon Trotsky, in a public declaration issued to the peoples of the whole world, declared:
“We must open negotiations with those governments which at present exist. However, we are conducting these negotiations in a way affording the public the fullest possibility of controlling the crimes of their governments, and so as to accelerate the rising of the working masses against the imperialist cliques. We are ready to support this uprising with all the forces at our command.”In other words, as had Lenin, Trotsky was telling fellow revolutionaries elsewhere:
“Don’t worry about what we may have to do at the negotiating table. The best aid you can give us is to make your own revolution, to rise up against your own government.”That is certainly advice well-worth heeding in every country, including the US, which is suffering the same ravages of a capitalist system in decline and the resulting attempts by its masters to use whatever draconian measures are needed to pile the costs of that decline onto the backs of the world’s workers. That, after all, was exactly why the Syrian people revolted in the first place, and why they are determined to see their Revolution through to the end.
Postscript: While looking for the above quotes I came across the passage below, which sheds additional light on the debate within the ranks of those who support the Syrian Revolution about from whom and under what conditions it is acceptable to accept aid from imperialist bandits. In his biography of Lenin, Tony Cliff writes:
“On 22 February Trotsky reported to the Central Committee an offer by France and Britain to give military aid to Russia in a war against Germany. The majority of the ‘Left Communists’ were opposed in principle to accepting: aid from such imperialist quarters. Trotsky came out clearly in favour of accepting aid, from whatever source. ‘The “Left Communists” arguments do not stand up to criticism. The state is forced to do what the party would not do. Of course the imperialists want to take advantage of us and if we are weak, they will do so; if we are strong, we will not allow it.’Cliff continues: “Lenin, who had not been present at the meeting of the Central Committee, added the following statement to the minutes of the session: ‘Please add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers.’
‘As the party of the socialist proletariat which is in power and conducting a war against Germany, we mobilize every means to arm and supply our revolutionary army in the best way possible with all necessary resources and, for that purpose, we obtain them where we can, including therefore from capitalist governments. In doing this, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party retains full independence in its external policy, gives no political undertakings to capitalist governments and examines their proposals in each separate case according to what is expedient.’
“To explain his readiness to use the conflict between the imperialist powers in the interests of the proletariat in power, Lenin wrote, on 22 February, an article entitled “The Itch”:
“’Let us suppose Kaliaev, in order to kill a tyrant and monster, acquires a revolver from an absolute villain, a scoundrel and robber, by promising him bread, money and vodka for the service rendered.
‘Can one condemn Kaliaev for ‘dealing with a robber’ for the sake of obtaining a deadly weapon? Every sensible person will answer ‘no’. If there is nowhere else for Kaliaev to get a revolver, and if his intention is really an honourable one (the killing of a tyrant, not killing for plunder), then he should not be reproached but commended for acquiring a revolver in this way. But if a robber, in order to commit murder for the sake of plunder, acquires a revolver from another robber in return for money, vodka or bread, can one compare (not to speak of identifying) such a ‘deal with a robber’ with the deal made by Kaliaev?’
“In a postscript to the article, Lenin added:
‘The North Americans in their war of liberation against England at the end of the eighteenth century got help from Spain and France, who were her competitors and just as much colonial robbers as England. It is said that there were ‘Left Bolsheviks’ to be found who contemplated writing a ‘learned work’ on the ‘dirty deal’ of these Americans.’“In the end, however, nothing came of the offer of aid from Britain and France.”