Syria: Revolutionaries Caught Between ISIS and US Imperialism

The International Marxist-Humanist Organization

All eyes are on Kobane, Syria, where Kurdish forces, women as well as men, are under threat of extermination from the reactionary ISIS, even as they seek to defend their social gains. They are doing so in the face of several other forces of reaction, whether US imperialism, the genocidal Assad regime, or the virulently anti-Kurdish Turkish regime – Editors

The reactionary forces of ISIS, armed to the teeth with heavy weapons captured from the US-backed Iraqi regime, have surged again in Syria. There, they threaten with genocide the Kurdish community, which has been fighting back in a revolutionary manner, employing both women and men as leaders and as fighters, this against a movement that promises to reduce women to medieval servitude with all-too-modern technologies of domination. In so doing, the Kurds are writing a memorable chapter in the revolutionary history of the Middle East and the world. As the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobane desperately holds out against ISIS, the neighboring Turkish regime refuses to support the Kurdish forces, which are composed of leftists holding to a progressive social politics on class, ethnicity, and above all, gender. These forces are from the same Kurdish tendency that helped the Yazidis to escape from Mount Sanjar over the summer, as ISIS threatened them with the choice of conversion to their ultra-fundamentalist form of Islam, or death. For its part, US imperialism has carried out token airstrikes against the ISIS tanks surrounding Kobane, as it concentrates on the real prize in terms of geopolitics, Iraq. Meanwhile, the genocidal Assad regime in Syria is taking advantage of the situation to solidify and expand the territory it controls, which the U.S. is going out of its way not to prevent. We call upon revolutionary and emancipatory forces around the world to support the brave fighters of Kobane and other elements of the genuinely revolutionary Syrian forces, and to demand that they be allowed receive material aid, including military aid, from across the Turkish border.


— International Marxist-Humanist Organization, October 11, 2014

P.S. Excerpts from our earlier statement on ISIS, Iraq, and Syria are appended.



Tragedy in Iraq and Syria: Will It Swallow Up the Arab Revolutions?

The sudden collapse of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in the face of a well-organized transregional attack by extreme jihadists allied with Baathist nationalists, illustrated once again just how big a defeat the US experienced in Iraq. For the forces that took over Mosul and swept down toward Baghdad were the very ones, rooted in the Sunni Arab minority, which had fought the US for six years. So much for the “shock and awe” of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld invasion and the “surge” under the bemedalled General Petraeus! All of which cost the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and 4500 US troops.

But this latest humiliation of US imperialism should not cause any rejoicing on the left, for it has brought to the fore some of the most reactionary forces in the region. In Mosul and several other cities northwest of Baghdad, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) movement has already cracked down on women and murdered Shia and other “apostates.”

It is certainly true, as some astute commentators have suggested, that ISIS is only a minority among those who rose up in June in Mosul, and that more secular Baathist nationalist militants seem also to have played an important role. But this should not reassure us, for the Iraqi Baathists have themselves committed genocide against the Kurds and, like ISIS, hold an eliminationist attitude toward Iraq’s Shia Arab majority. Even though Sunni Arabs comprise only 20% of Iraq’s population, their most conservative ideologues, whether Islamist or nationalist, continue to espouse their “right” to rule over the Shia Arabs (60% of the population) and the Kurds (20%).

But it must also be said that the US-installed — and Iranian-backed — Maliki regime in Baghdad has adopted a Shia sectarian policy, according to which all Sunni Arab political actors are terrorists in need of prosecution. Maliki has also deprived predominantly Sunni regions of basic resources, a mirror image of the policies of the former Baathist dictatorship. Maliki also repressed efforts to bring the Arab uprisings of 2011 to Iraq, efforts that were marked by a spirit that sought to transcend Sunni-Shia-Kurd divisions.

It should not be forgotten, however, that the most immediate precipitating factor in the current Iraq crisis lies in Syria. There, the genocidal Assad regime, which is run by a rival wing of Baathist nationalism, has killed over 100,000 of its own people and driven millions into exile. The Syrian civil war began in 2011 as a mass democratic uprising marked by the same type of emancipatory aspirations as the rest of the Arab revolutions of 2011. Within months, however, the Syrian masses were forced into an armed struggle against a regime that met every protest with a massacre.

The Western powers cheered the Syrian uprising from the sidelines, but allowed no actual military aid to get through. At the same time, Russia and Iran armed the regime to the teeth and the latter intervened via its proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah. Here, the actions of the Western powers were reminiscent of Spain during the 1930s, when an international arms embargo denied the Spanish Republic the means to defend itself against well-armed fascists. The only aid came from Stalinist Russia, which made sure to strangle the truly emancipatory sectors of the Republic, like the anarchists and the left-wing Marxists. The situation in Syria was also similar to that faced by the Bosnians and the Kosovars during the 1990s, when the US and Europe prevented them from getting arms to resist the genocidal Serbian nationalists of the Milosevic regime, only to swoop in afterwards and impose ethnically based partitions upon them. During the 1990s, most of the global left disgraced itself by refusing to support Bosnia and Kosova, often adhering to the notion that Serbia was a locus of resistance against neoliberal capitalism. Many on the left have repeated the same error toward Syria’s Assad regime today.

As Marxist-Humanists, we condemn the machinations in Iraq of the jihadists, both Sunni and Shia, of the Baathists, and of imperialist powers like the US, as well as subimperialist ones like Iran and Saudi Arabia. We call upon our comrades around the world to adopt a clear stance against all forms of fundamentalism, reactionary nationalism, and imperialism, and to support genuinely emancipatory forces in the region and the world.

Our full statement of June 22 can be found here.


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  1. Mansoor

    I think the Kurdish leftist revolutionaries in Kobane are paying the price of collusion and collaboration of the Kuridish leaders that sided with the US imperialist invasion of Iraq. The horrific reactionary backlash in the form of ISIS, and meddling of anti-human regimes of Assad’s Syria, Ayatollah’s Iran, and Erdogan’s Turkey is what is facing the heroic people of Kobane.

  2. Paul R.

    The Kurdish revolutionaries fighting in Kobane (in Syria), with their Self-Defense Forces (YPG and YPJ) should not to be confused with the Peshmurga of the autonomous Kurdish regime in Northern Iraq.

    In Kobane, the Kurds and their local allies are defending their Democratic Confederalist project against the onslaught of the IS religious fanatics. This communalist project is in the process of progressively establishing grass-roots democratic pluralism, women’s equality, and ecological priorities in some of the Kurdish areas in Syrian and Turkey. The Democratic Confederalist program seeks recognition of Kurdish autonomy within Kurdish regions — but not statehood.

    This is in contrast to the oil-rich Kurdish regime in northern Iraq, which supports and is supported by US business and oil interests, and seeks to carve out an independent Kurdish nation-state.

  3. Interested Reader

    Interesting article, with lots of good analysis, however I think it ignores the primary concern of many humanists & human rights advocates inside Syria: ending as soon as possible what has become a bloody civil war between a secular foreign power backed brutal gassing, torturing dictatorship (that does albeit protect minorities), a increasingly mafia-like camp; foreign power backed FSA (that perhaps now only controls 5% of the country, according to academic Joshua Landis), and an array of sectarian killer jihadist groups (backed by wealthy donors in the gulf states and facilitated at one time or another by some states in the region such as Turkey). Yes, it is true that the kurds are one of the few inspiring actors in this war but they only have a hope of controlling a small section of the country and they themselves heavily rely upon foreign support, such as in Kobani. The Kurds furthermore have sought a complex strategy of working with the rebels against ISIS in areas where ISIS is the main threat, and working with the government in areas where ISIS threatens both kurds and government people such as in the north-east of the country. See map here:

    In my opinion a humanist position is one that would seek to save human lives and allow a future for humans to flourish and reach our potential. If everyone is dead, how can one even hope to do that? A negotiated peace between the non-jihadi rebels and the government, it is an ugly scenario (a Zimbabwe type solution- where that rebels and Baathi would split positions), but likely the only way to stop the rest of the country from being turned to ashes and more of the massive deaths that abound. I realize you want a clear ideologically sound position but you need to consider the objective situation on the ground- with the rebels having a valid reason to rise up but also with many on the ground seeing no other option but to work with the regime as fundamentalists seek to cut throats of minorities and any families who have members working in the government. The only western observer that has spent years and years recently in syria within government, rebel, and jihadi areas has been Nir Rosen. Please take a listen and I hope we can discuss this further below in these comments:

  4. Interested Reader

    PS. I also want to add: that we can see in the Kurds a possible approach of bridging divides (as they work with FSA camp; international community in Kobani against ISIS, while they work with Baathi government forces south of Qamishli against ISIS). Might this reflect a possible path toward peace? The problem I see is that #1 Bathi officials within Damascus will not want to give up power and as regime hardliners prefer the genocidal tactic of barrel bombing on rebel centers, and #2 those remaining FSA oriented rebels are thoroughly entwined with fundamentalist forces such as the Saudi backed Islamic Front and even worse the Al Nusra death cult, which makes peace negotiations hard to imagine. I hope we can have a fruitful discussion.