This is a survey of various groups around the world considered to the left of democratic socialism regarding their stances on the Syrian civil war. I have searched the websites of just over 50 left-wing and far left parties, networks, and international tendencies for any articles, blurbs, statements, etc. regarding Syria since 2011. You’ll notice that I tend to focus on American leftist groups, with which I have the most familiarity. Also note that some of the international organizations overlap with each other.
I have found that leftists have incredibly diverse attitudes toward Syria, even within ideological tendencies. All the groups profiled below support secularism and socialism (or, in the case of some anarchists, socialist-like systems) and oppose intervention by Western powers, but their attitudes towards the Assad regime, the Kurdish PYD/YPG-led Rojava, the vast and multi-colored opposition, and the so-called Islamic State vary greatly.
I will eventually follow up this article with a list of leftist groups in Syria.
The organizations are grouped by ideology. A couple of notes regarding ideological nuances:
- I use “Leninists” to refer to communists who are pro-Lenin but neither pro-Stalin nor pro-Trotsky. “Leninists” usually call themselves Marxist-Leninists, but that same label is also used by those who support Stalin (“anti-revisionists”), so I find use of the term “Marxist-Leninist” problematic.
- “Stalinists” seldomly use this term to describe themselves; as said above, they prefer “Marxist-Leninist”. Nevertheless, I call them “Stalinists” to distinguish them from Maoists, who branched off into their own ideology, and Hoxhaists, who support Stalinism as specifically applied under Albania’s communist leader Enver Hoxha.
- Trotskyists are somewhat notorious for splitting and quarreling with each other over relatively small things. You’ll see that I’ve split the multitude of Trotskyist groups into three tendencies: “post-Pablo”, “anti-Pablo”, and “other”. This refers to the most prominent split in the Trotskyist movement: in 1953, the Fourth International (the original Trotskyist political international) split over the policies of its leader Michel Pablo. Many of the groups that split away, including the Socialist Workers Party in the US, eventually rejoined in 1963 after Pablo had become marginalized and expelled from the FI; the resulting “re-unified” Fourth International is sometimes known as the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, or USFI. I refer to Trotskyists who support this reconciliation as “post-Pablo”. Some of the dissidents continued to see the FI as “Pabloite”; I refer to these as “anti-Pablo” (often they will refer to themselves as “orthodox Trotskyists”). Although there is very little ideological substance to the current divide between post-Pablo and anti-Pablo, relations between the two tendencies are often hostile, so I find it helpful to retain the distinction. The third major Trotskyist tendency is the Third Camp, which had split from the mainstream Trotskyist movement in 1940, having become dissatisfied with the latter’s allegedly too-sympathetic view of the USSR under Stalin. Third Camp Trotskyists, as well as mainstream Trotskyists who do not fall into either category regarding the Pablo split, are grouped under “other Trotskyists”.
V. I. Lenin expanded on the work of Marx and Engels, arguing that an elite vanguard party would be needed to lead the working class to overthrow the capitalist order and establish a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat in order to lead to the achievement of communism. The vanguard party was to be organized along democratic centralist lines: debate within the party was encouraged, but once a majority decision had been reached, party members were expected to comply. This highly centralized mode of organization was opposed by the Mensheviks, the rivals of Lenin’s Bolsheviks. Both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks held that Russia, as a relatively underdeveloped country, would need to undergo a bourgeois democratic revolution before a socialist revolution could succeed. But whereas the Mensheviks were relatively supportive of the provisional government that came to power in the February Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks called for the overthrow of this government and the immediate transition to socialist rule. In the October Revolution later that year, the Bolsheviks seized power and spent the next few years consolidating their rule during the chaotic Russian civil war.
- Communist Party USA (CPUSA)
Background information: founded in 1919. The “official” (e.g., pro-Moscow) American communist party during the Cold War. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has promoted a softer, more liberal democratic-friendly version of communism while still maintaining its official Leninist doctrine and structure – similar to the Western European Eurocommunist movements of the 70s and 80s. Although this trend has made it the target of much criticism from traditional, hardline communists, it retains links with the “official” communist parties of the world as a participant in the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties, which is listed further down.
- Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Stance on Syria: supports opposition and YPG. Says original protests were led by working class; attributes failure to lack of working class leadership, harsh government response, and capitalist/Islamist opportunism. Sources:
Background information: formed in 1938. Originally the major Trotskyist party in the US, it drifted away from Trotskyism in the 80s towards a more Cuba-friendly Leninist position. It leads an informal international grouping of pro-Cuban ex-Trotskyists called the Pathfinder tendency. It remains one of the largest far left parties in the US.
- Workers World Party (WWP)
Stance on Syria: supports government. Supports “bourgeois nationalist” governments against imperialism. Calls Syria “sole remaining independent secular state in the Arab world”, praises its support of Hamas and Hezbollah. Calls Syria-Iran relationship “strategic progressive alliance.” Says US fomented rebellion to serve own interests, exaggerated harsh government response, exaggerated support for opposition. “By all accounts, the major rebel forces are all sectarian reactionaries — ISIS and Al Nusra being the largest organizations.” “The Russian strategy to support and add to the military strength of the Syrian government and its armed forces is a realistic strategy that can defeat ISIS and the other jihadi groups.” Sources:
Background information: split from the SWP in 1958-1959 under the leadership of Sam Marcy. Marcy had supported the controversial 1956 Warsaw Pact invasion of Hungary and admired many aspects of Mao’s China. The WWP maintains a positive – though not completely uncritical – attitude towards all Communist regimes, from the USSR under Stalin to the USSR under Khruschev, from China under Mao to China under Deng Xiaoping, to Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea. It has loose links with the International Communist Seminar, which is listed further down.
Stance on Syria: supports government. Acknowledges mass scale of 2011 protests, but implies there were just as many calls for sectarian Islamism as for democratic reforms. Supports government’s reforms in 2011-2012. Very supportive of Russia’s military intervention and efforts at negotiation. Says US intervention is the main source of chaos. “The dominant ideology of the various rebel groups in Syria is that of reactionary sectarian Islamists, the two main poles being the Islamic State and the Nusra Front.” “Under the current balance of forces in Syria, it is obvious that the only real alternative to ISIS and Al Qaeda is the Syrian state in Damascus.” “If the U.S. priority were to fight ISIS, it would throw its support behind Syria’s government, by far the most significant force fighting against ISIS on the ground.” Sources:
Background Information: split from the Workers World Party in 2004 for reasons that are still unclear. Like the WWP, it is largely supportive of the various different Communist regimes of past and present. Along with the Socialist Workers Party, it is one of the more visible far left groups in the US, regularly running candidates for election. Like the WWP, it also maintains loose links with the International Communist Seminar.
- Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Leninist faction) (FRSO-L)
Stance on Syria: – supported initial protests, but now only supports YPG. Says Assad is brutal, but that opposition is fractious and dominated by sectarian Islamists. Supportive of PKK/PYD ideology, though somewhat critical of practices. Sources:
Background information: The original FRSO was formed as a Maoist party in 1985. In 1999, it split into two rival groups, each claiming the name and legacy. This faction, using the domain freedomroad.org, has largely abandoned Maoism, arguing that a more open-minded Leninist approach (e.g., less focused on fighting revisionism) was necessary. Black Liberation and self-determination for other oppressed “nations” continue to play a prominent role in both factions’ platforms.
- Workers Party, USA (WPUSA)
Stance on Syria: supports government. Says “US-vetted militia” began operating in 2011. “U.S.-sponsored ‘dissident organizations’ devoted to overthrowing the constitutional government of Syria have been launching attacks on Syrian security forces since March .” “The Syrian foreign ministry continues to demand that all States guilty of supporting terrorism inside of Syria withdraw their support immediately. So too, the people of Syria continue to organize demonstrations and other mass actions to demand the liberation of the areas occupied by the insurgents.” “In Syria the struggle against foreign aggression and interference is uniting the overwhelming majority of people.” Opposed Geneva talks as “imposed” on Syria by US. Sources:
Background information: an ex-Hoxhaist party formed in 1992. Opposition to alleged American imperialism and defense of alleged US targets (e.g., North Korea) are its most prominent themes.
Stance on Syria: vaguely supports government. “Regarding Syria it should be clear by now that ‘ISIS’ has been funded and set in motion by the U.S., and that U.S., British and French special forces have been on the ground in Syria from the beginning.” Sources:
Background information: formed in 1993, though its roots lie in a 1958 anti-revisionist split from the Communist Party USA. Its predecessor organizations were Maoist and Black Liberationist.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Stresses positive role of democratic revolutions even if they are not socialist. “One excuse given for non-support [of the rebels] is that the Syrian fighters accepted weapons from the US and were somehow pawns of the CIA. But an oppressed people has a right to get its weapons from anywhere.” Opposes idea of transitional government, calls for full overthrow of Assad. Says Russia and Assad don’t distinguish between legitimate opposition and jihadis. Accuses Gulf monarchies of funding fundamentalism at expense of democracy advocates; accuses US of ignoring Assad and only focusing on IS. Sources:
Background information: founded in 1995 from remnants of the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA, which was Hoxhaist. CVO describes itself as “anti-revisionist”, but unlike the actual anti-revisionist movement, it considers Stalinism and its ideological descendants – Maoism and Hoxhaism – as revisionist as well as Trotskyism. Instead, it advocates a “return to Lenin”.
Stance on Syria: supports government. Supports international negotiations. Sources:
Background information: split in 1981 from the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA (see Communist Voice Organization above) after the MLP-USA broke with the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). The USMLO remains closely linked to the CPC-ML, which abandoned Hoxhaism in the late 80s in favor of a more Cuba- and North Korea-friendly stance.
Hoxhaists and Stalinists
Joseph Stalin took over from Lenin during a long intra-party struggle in the 1920s and put forth the idea of socialism in one country, the idea that socialism could be achieved in the USSR despite the failure of other communist revolutions around the world. He was most infamous, of course, for his extremely brutal suppression of dissent and extensive cult of personality. When Nikita Khrushchev secured control of the USSR in 1953 following Stalin’s death, he repudiated what he saw as Stalin’s excesses, leading those who supported Stalin to deem Khruschev “revisionist”. Mao’s China and Hoxha’s Albania led the subsequent anti-revisionist movement but split during the 70s over Mao’s alleged deviations from Stalin’s policies and the increasing détente between China and the US. Hoxhaist ideology is extremely similar to Stalinism; as said above, the difference is that Hoxhaists support Stalinism as specifically applied in Hoxha’s Albania.
- International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations (Unity & Struggle) (ICMLPO-US)
Stance on Syria: supported initial opposition, but now only supports YPG. “The popular movement of protest has been transformed into a destructive civil war. The bloodthirsty repression is striking the people, and since the beginning, the Assad regime has rejected any democratic reform that would satisfy the aspirations of the Syrian people. This situation is the consequence of the foreign reactionary, imperialist and Zionist intervention, through Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia…” “…there is a battle and polarization between the imperialists and reactionaries in the region on one hand, and the power and actions of the Kurds on the other hand. The Kurdish nation… has progressed towards cementing its identity, to place itself as the alternative of self-determination despite the pressure of the imperialists and their reactionary allies.” Sources:
Background information: a Hoxhaist international founded in 1994; it is referred to with the name of its publication in parentheses to distinguish it from the Maoist international of the exact same name which publishes International Newsletter (see Revolutionary Organization of Labor below). Leading parties include the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador and the Workers’ Party in Tunisia. The American Party of Labor appears to be the unofficial US section of the ICMLPO-US.
- Progressive Labor Party (PLP)
Stance on Syria: neutral. Rejects all sides as imperialist and/or reactionary. “[The Syrian Communist Party] offer[s] little criticism of Assad’s anti-worker, neoliberal economic policies, or of the corruption and cruelty of a regime that has impoverished millions of Syrians.” “None of the leading rebel forces represent the working class in Syria.” Sources:
Background information: founded as a Maoist split from the CPUSA in 1962. It controlled nearly half of the well-known Vietnam-era Students for a Democratic Society activist group. It moved away from Maoism in 1971 and is now Stalinist, though as noted in my introduction, they would dispute this label. Not affiliated with any international tendencies, but they claim to have several supporters across the globe.
Stance on Syria: supports YPG. Says US uses threat of ISIS to continue intervention in Iraq and launch one in Syria. Sources:
Background information: split from the CPUSA in 1961. Formerly known as the Ray O. Light Group. Very little online presence. Traditionally it has been considered Maoist, and it participates in the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations (International Newsletter), a Maoist international, but it is also critical of many key aspects of Maoism, particularly the Cultural Revolution. It is also a member of the International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organizations and is a regular attendant of the International Communist Seminar, both of which are listed further down.
Mao Zedong further developed Stalinism. Whereas most Marxists up to that point focused on the industrial proletariat, Mao focused on the peasantry. He emphasized rural guerrilla warfare and anti-imperialism in “Third World” countries. He also encouraged a “Cultural Revolution” to rid China of treacherous “capitalist-roaders”, “feudal” cultural practices, and other vestiges of capitalism and imperialism. This tumultuous period of Chinese history lasted from 1966 to 1976, when Deng Xiaoping secured power and instituted a number of reforms, including reducing much of the cult of personality around the now-dead Mao, allowing (limited) criticism of the party, and opening the country to market reforms and privatization. Deng called his reforms “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The ideology of the Chinese Communist Party today is still officially referred to as “Mao Zedong Thought”, but “Maoists” today view the Chinese regime as revisionist.
- Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCPUSA)
Stance on Syria: neutral. Says US is chiefly responsible for Syrian bloodbath. “It is an unfortunate fact that among the forces ‘in the field’ in Syria, none of them represent the interests of the people—including the regime and its allies and the motley collection of jihadists and more pro-U.S. forces.” Sources:
Background information: formed in 1975. The main Maoist party in the US. Led by the charismatic Bob Avakian, it controlled the other half of the Students for a Democratic Society and battled bitterly with the Progressive Labor Party for control. It was a member of the now-defunct Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. The RIM advanced a specific type of Maoism called Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, which placed special emphasis on guerrilla-style “protracted people’s wars” and included such infamous militant groups as the Communist Party of the Philippines, the Communist Party of Peru (“Shining Path”), and one of many Nepalese Maoist factions that overthrew the monarchy in that country in following the 1996-2006 civil war.
- Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Maoist faction) (FRSO-M)
Stance on Syria: supports government. “Syria plays a positive role in the Middle East. Its people and government are supportive of the struggle to free Palestine and assist the patriotic forces in Lebanon. Syria opposes Zionism and imperialism. The point here is not that the government of Syria is perfect or without fault. The point is this: It would be a sad setback for the collective efforts of the Arab peoples to achieve national liberation if Syria was pushed into a civil war, or delivered into the hands of those who have sold their soul’s to Washington and the West.” “One can debate the nature of the demonstrations against the Syrian government several years ago and what led up to them, but today, right now, the opposition is bought, paid for, and acting on behalf of the U.S. and the most reactionary of Arab regimes.” Sources:
Background information: the other half of the 1999 split in the FRSO (see Leninist section). This faction continued the original FRSO’s Maoist line. It is affiliated to the International Communist Seminar and is arguably the most pro-North Korean of any US party.
Leon Trotsky was Stalin’s chief rival to succeed Lenin. Trotsky criticized Stalin’s bureaucracy as well as the concept of socialism in one country, instead arguing that the only way for socialism to succeed in Russia was if other revolutions occurred around the world at the same time; otherwise, the world’s capitalist forces would overwhelm the isolated Russia and reverse the revolution. Trotsky defined Stalin’s USSR as a “degenerated workers’ state” – that is, a state which had originally been truly socialist but had degraded over time through the lack of world revolution and the poisonous Stalinist bureaucracy, though it was still better than a capitalist state. Workers owned the means of production, but not political power. Trotsky was assassinated in 1940, and when Soviet satellite states began popping up in Eastern Europe following World War II, his followers called these satellites “deformed workers’ states”: similar to degenerated workers’ state, but unlike the USSR, they had been stunted from birth. See the introduction for details on the major splits within Trotskyism.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition, critically supports YPG. Linked to the Revolutionary Left Current, a Syrian leftist group which operated a tiny militia called the People’s Liberation Faction from 2014-2015. Asserts that opposition is still democratic. Criticizes indiscriminate shelling by rebels. “Despite the various truces the Assad regime and its allies have indeed continued military offensives in various parts of the country. This is actually the main reason why the ‘peace’ negotiations are stalled.” Critical of PKK and PYD. “The survival of Rojava against attacks from Islamic State is undoubtedly a victory for the left. The Kurdish movement deserves concrete solidarity in its struggle for self-determination, the more so because in Rojava people are trying to construct a progressive alternative.” “However, it was the uprising against the Syrian state that gave the Kurdish movement the chance to form Rojava as the Assad regime decided to focus on fighting the rebels.” Sources:
Background information: the result of the reunification of the original Fourth International in 1963. Calls itself simply the Fourth International, but it’s often called the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (referring to the name of the leadership council from 1963-2003) to distinguish it from other claimants of the “Fourth International” name.
Stance on Syria: originally supported uprising, but now critically supports Russians. Said in 2012 that “the economic exploitation of Syria’s workers and peasants by its ruling class, a class subservient to global capital, and the horrific oppression and murderous policies of the Syrian regime to enforce that exploitation, mean that we stand with the Syrian masses in their uprising against the regime.” Later says US took advantage of Assad’s brutality to try to set up new regime. “… in the absence of anything resembling a revolutionary leadership, the democratic and popular thrust of the anti-Assad mobilizations rapidly dissipated.” Alleges US and Gulf monarchies support IS. Critical of Assad, but says “the removal of Assad’s oppressive capitalist Syrian regime is the sole responsibility of the Syrian people, not U.S. imperialism and its reactionary allied forces.” “Syria’s right to self-determination necessarily includes the right of the Syrian government to seek and accept the support of the militia fighters that are today defending Syria against imperialist intervention in several of its manifestations.” Sees Russia as counterbalance to US imperialism. Criticizes YPG for accepting US aid. Sources:
Background information: split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1983 as the SWP abandoned Trotskyism. One of the five major US Trotskyist parties today. Semi-affiliated with the USFI, but it disagrees with most other USFI sections on Syria.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Defends opposition as revolutionary, “mass popular uprising”. “… the main aim of direct U.S. intervention in Syria is to prevent the grassroots popular movement from coming to power.” Sources:
Background information: founded in 1988. Partly exists as a faction within Solidarity (see below). Considered very close to the USFI, though not officially affiliated.
Stance on Syria: critically supports opposition. “If initially there was a popular uprising, by the end of 2011 it had transformed itself into an armed conflict along sectarian lines.” “The role of Marxists is to support the creation of independent organizations of the working class and poor, their self-control and defence, fight against Assad’s brutal dictatorship, but without having any illusions in the bourgeois and imperialist military or in the jihadists, who have nothing to offer to the working class, except more death and misery.” Critical of PKK/PYD ideology and of PYD’s ambiguous relationship with regime and support from the West – says they’re trying to balance between two brutal capitalist powers. Highly critical of Russian intervention and motivations behind it. Sources:
Background information: another major Trotskyist international. Leading party is the Socialist Party in England and Wales. Strong emphasis on the role of trade unions. Historically, it pursued the tactic of entryism (joining another party in the hopes of swaying that party to your position), but that was abandoned in 1991-1992. American section is Socialist Alternative, one of the five major Trotskyist parties in the US.
Stance on Syria: supported initial protests, but now neutral. Attributes failure of protests to regime violence and weak, unorganized state of working class. Sources:
Background information: split from the CWI in 1992 after upholding the tactic of entryism. Formerly known as the Committee for a Marxist International. Leading party is Socialist Appeal in the UK. US section is Workers International League.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Has reposted other parties’ pro-opposition articles on Syria. Sources:
Background information: split from Socialist Action in 1999-2001. Like the Socialist Workers Party, it views Cuba very positively. Also known as Socialist Viewpoint after their magazine.
Stance on Syria: critically supports opposition and YPG. Critical of political solutions that would retain Assad. Sources:
Background information: split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1964 over a number of differences. Places a special emphasis on radical feminism. One of the five major Trotskyist parties in the US.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Opposed to internationally-sponsored negotiations. “There is no way out to this impasse the Arabic [sic] country is in, as long as Assad remains in power. And the only way to defeat him is supporting the groups affiliated to the Free Syrian Army, who hold a democratic, independent position; the ones who have not sold, directly or indirectly, to the different forces acting in the conflict, followed by the interest on how to increase their own influence around the region. We must provide weapons to the rebels fighting against the regime and against the self-denominated Islamist groups, with no previous conditioning.” Sources:
http://litci.org/en/category/world/middle-east/syria/ (various articles)
Background information: split from the United Secretariat of the Fourth International in 1982 under the leadership of Nahuel Moreno after disagreeing with the USFI’s decision to endorse guerrilla warfare in Latin America. Leading party is the United Socialist Workers Party in Brazil. American section is Workers’ Voice.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Criticizes 2016 Russian-American-sponsored truce as a sham. Sources:
Background information: formed in 1995, partially as a split from the International Workers League – Fourth International. Leading party is the Socialist Workers’ Movement in Argentina. American section is Socialist Core.
Stance on Syria: supported initial protests, but now neutral. “… Assad’s regime is neither progressive nor anti-imperialist: it is a despotic dictatorship that has, for decades, been implementing neoliberal policies… The Syrian people rose up against these conditions. However, militarization stifled the popular uprising and gave rise to a civil war, in which imperialist countries and regional powers, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Gulf States, that support the Sunni militias, in order to further their reactionary interests, are intervening, through the different factions in struggle.” “The aim [of US support to the rebels] was to let both sides wear themselves out and then attempt a negotiated solution between Assad’s regime and the opposition, with support from Russia.” Sources:
Background information: split from the International Workers League – Fourth International in 1993. Formerly known as the Trotskyist Fraction – International Strategy. Leading party is the Socialist Workers’ Party in Argentina. No US section.
Stance on Syria: vaguely supports government. Characterizes war as “CIA-backed regime change operation” in pursuit of US political-economic goals. “From the outset, the US proxy war for regime-change was launched with the aim of depriving Moscow and Tehran of their principal ally in the Arab world in preparation for direct confrontation with both countries.” Sources:
Background information: split from the original Fourth International in 1953 (see introduction). Leading party is the Socialist Equality Party in the US, one of the country’s five major Trotskyist parties, which emerged from a 1964 split from the Socialist Workers Party after the SWP joined the re-unified FI.
Stance on Syria: supports YPG. “We have supported the uprising of the poor and dispossessed of Syria and will side with the revolution against the Assad regime in the future as well. But the war that is being prepared now has nothing in common with either the progressive goals or the forces of that insurrection.” Sources:
Background information: a minor Trotskyist international formed in 2004. It generally holds similar positions to the International Committee of the Fourth International. Leading party is the Workers’ Party in Argentina. American section is Refoundation and Revolution, a faction within the multi-tendency group Solidarity (listed further down), though R&R may be defunct.
Stance on Syria: unclear. Opposes opposition. Blames NATO and Gulf monarchies for war. Sources:
Background information: a Trotskyist international founded in 1993. The last in a series of internationals formed around the leadership of French Trotskyist Pierre Lambert. Leading party is the International Communist Current in France, though that organization’s current status in unclear. American section is Socialist Organizer, which puts a special emphasis on Latino activism.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Opposes YPG and SDF, seeing them as imperialist tools and allied with Assad. Accuses both radical Islamists and pro-western high-ranking military defectors of hijacking the revolution. Opposes internationally-sponsored negotiations. Connected to the Leon Sedov Brigade, an Aleppo-based rebel brigade which is currently part of the Levant Front.
Background information: I can’t find much in the way of this international’s history. The leading section seems to be the Workers Internationalist League in Argentina, which was the leader of a now-defunct international called the Organizing Committee of Principalist Trotskyism (Fourth International).
Stance on Syria: neutral. Views YPG as US puppet, ISIS as anti-imperialist. “The setting up of the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] was prepared by a year of joint operations in which the YPG served as proxies for the U.S. military. During that time, as Kurdish forces overran ISIS-controlled villages, they repeatedly carried out communalist expulsions, driving Arabs and Turkmen from their homes.” “We have no side in Syria’s squalid civil war between the butcher Assad and various rebel forces dominated by different kinds of Islamists. But we do have a side against the U.S. and other imperialist powers. Thus, while implacable opponents of everything the reactionary cutthroats of ISIS stand for, we take a military side with ISIS when it aims its fire against the imperialist armed forces and their proxies in the region, including the Kurdish nationalist forces in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, while our main opposition is to the imperialists, we also oppose the other capitalist powers, such as Russia and Turkey, involved in Syria and are for all of them to get out.” Sources:
Background information: split from the International Committee of the Fourth International in 1966. Formerly known as the International Spartacist Tendency. Leading party is the Spartacist League in the US, which had split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1964 after the SWP joined the re-unified FI.
Stance on Syria: neutral. “In Syria’s civil war, revolutionaries do not support either the brutal Baathist dictatorship or its reactionary Islamist opponents. At the same time, it is necessary to side militarily with any indigenous forces (including Islamists) when they are attacked by the U.S. and other imperialists.” Sources:
Background information: split from the International Communist League – Fourth International in 1982, accusing the Spartacist League’s leader James Robertson of ruthlessly harassing anyone who posed a threat to his leadership. Leading party is the Bolshevik Tendency in the US.
Stance on Syria: neutral. Opposes government, but would support it if West invaded. Sources:
Background information: split from the International Bolshevik Tendency in 2008, accusing its leaders of the same abuse of power that led the IBT to split from the ICL-FI. Unclear if it is just a US group or if it has an international following.
Stance on Syria: neutral. “… any blows against imperialist intervention and domination, even by ultra-reactionary forces such as the I.S., [are] in the interests of the working class and oppressed peoples of the world.” Does not consider Russia imperialist. Sources:
Background information: a minor Trotskyist international formed in 1998. Leading party is the Internationalist Group in the US, which had split from the Spartacist League in 1996. The L4I sees the Spartacists’ ICL-FI as insufficiently devoted to three central principles: maintaining an active and distinctly Trotskyist international, remaining active in the labor movement, and defending the Soviet Union and its satellite states as the lesser evils in the face of capitalism.
Stance on Syria: unclear. Supported initial protests. Attributes failure of protests to regime brutality, dependence of minorities on Assad. Criticizes opposition as fractious, and sectarian and/or pro-imperialist. Sources:
Background information: I can’t find information about the origins of this Trotskyist international. It places special emphasis on union activity. Its leading party is the Lutte Ouvrière in France. American section is The Spark, which was formed in 1971 a few years after its members split from the Spartacist League for developing sympathies with the Lutte Ouvrière.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. “The Syrian Revolution is in a tragic situation. It is attacked on all sides – by the forces of the Assad regime and its regional and international allies, by the open allies of Western imperialism, and by sectarian jihadi groups. Despite their antagonisms, these different forces have a common interest in crushing the original democratic revolutionary movement, which united Syrians of all religious and ethnic backgrounds in the struggle to overthrow the regime.” Sources:
Background information: a Third Camp Trotskyist international formed over a long period of time between the 60s and 90s. Its (now deceased) leader, Tony Cliff, championed the theory that the Stalinist states were not deformed or degenerated workers states, but rather “state capitalist”, or capitalist economies controlled by state bureaucracies with socialist trappings. Leading party is the Socialist Workers Party in the UK (not to be confused with the SWP in the US). American section used to be the International Socialist Organization (see below).
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Very critical of Iran and Russia. Opposed to US-Russian-backed negotiations. Critical of YPG cooperation with government. “Overwhelmingly, these people [those killed in the war] have been slaughtered by the Assad-Iran-Russia Triple Alliance.” “True, Saudi Arabia has funded jihadis, among other militias, but the Saudis and the U.S. are only the number-three culprit in creating the Syrian disaster. Assad is clearly number one, and his allies are number two.” Sources:
Background information: formed in 1977. One of the five major US Trotskyist parties. It was the American section of the International Socialist Tendency until 2001, when it was expelled over disagreements on how to view the end of the Cold War.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Critical of YPG cooperation with government. “Certainly, the choice between an IS caliphate or a restored totalitarian Baathist dictatorship is a choice between the plague and cholera.” “The fact that, despite four and a half years of struggle, Syrian revolutionaries are still fighting Bashar al-Assad is as much a testament to their resolve, and to their popular support, as it is to the utter absence of any forces assisting them for much of that time.” Sources:
Background information: a Trotskyist international formed in 1984. It argues that the original Fourth International broke with true Trotskyism in 1951 when it declared that the Stalinist parties in Eastern Europe were still capable of being reformed. Leading party is the Red Flag Platform (formerly known as Workers’ Power) in the UK, which in 2015 joined the Labour Party. Workers’ Power had split from the same group that later became the Socialist Workers Party (UK, not US; see International Socialist Tendency above) in 1974. American section is also known as Workers’ Power.
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Calls PKK/PYD “pro-imperalist” and “petty-bourgeois.” “Inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the multinational masses of workers and peasants in Syria started to stand up against the injustices imposed on them by the Assad dictatorship and the world economic crisis. We characterize this uprising as a justified attempt to foment a democratic revolution and at the same time to fight for important social demands.” Sources:
Background information: split from the League for the Fifth International in 2011. The leading section is in the UK (they simply go by the name RCIT Britain). No US section.
Stance on Syria: critically supports opposition. “But the Western imperialists have feared Syria’s popular revolutionary uprising far more [than the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah alliance], because of its potential to advance the struggle against dictatorship and imperialism throughout the region. Thus they have stood by while Assad, armed by Russian imperialism and Iran, slaughtered hundreds of thousands in his counterrevolutionary war, far more than the IS has killed; they have refused to arm even secular democratic rebel forces because they could not trust them to serve their interests; and they have until now refused to clamp down on support for jihadists as long as they were acting primarily to divide and weaken revolutionary forces.” “Our opposition to U.S. imperialism in Syria means absolutely no support for Assad’s rule and no call to defer the struggle against his regime.” “… when it comes to sending arms to rebel forces, we promote the arming only of those that: 1) are independent of foreign powers and committed to defending Syria and all the region’s peoples against imperialism; and 2) are opposed to religious sectarianism and to attacks on civilians.” Sources:
Background information: a small Trotskyist international formed in 1992. Known for its theory that the USSR was “statified capitalist”, with some characteristics of capitalism but not as much as Tony Cliff thought. Leading party is the League for the Revolutionary Party in the US, which is descended from the same group from which the International Socialist Organization split.
Stance on Syria: supported initial protests, but now neutral. Criticizes opposition for sectarianism. Criticizes PYD for opportunism, authoritarianism and pro-imperialism. Sources:
Background information: a Third Camp Trotskyist party in the UK. It originally formed in 1966 as a split from the group that later became the Militant Tendency, which founded the Committee for a Workers’ International (listed earlier); after several mergers and defections, it emerged in its modern form in 1992. AWL holds that the USSR and its satellite states were “bureaucratic collectivist”, the same conclusion that the American Max Shachtman came to after he split from the original Fourth International in 1940, creating the Third Camp. Due to this particularly negative view of the USSR and its satellite states, as well as its allegedly “soft” view of Western imperialism and Zionism, AWL has a poor reputation among other leftist groups.
Left communists emerged as critics of both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. They promoted a highly decentralized socialist government. Rosa Luxemburg was an important influence on left communism.
Stance on Syria: – neutral. Supported initial protests. Particularly critical of government and foreign intervention on both sides. Regards war as “imperialist stalemate”. Sources:
Background information: a left communist international formed in 1975. Leading party is International Revolution in France. American section is known as Internationalism.
Stance on Syria: neutral. “In this situation the proletariat in Syria can do or say nothing. It has already been ideologically and materially dismembered by either falling into line to defend one of the competing forces or it has simply become victim of the conflict.” “Opposing these wars without giving support to brutal regimes like that of Assad is the start of opposing the system that survives by them.” Critical of the PKK/PYD; compares YPG to Irish Republican Army – seen by many as “progressive” and “revolutionary” but still a sectarian nationalist militia. “It is this threat of ethnic/sectarian war, which heralds the danger for the future. Ultimately despite the differences between the PKK and the Da’esh, the similarities between the two are what links them. A socialist veneer does not stop an ethnic militia from playing its part in the escalation of the cycle of ethnic conflict, and ethnic cleansing. It is clear in this struggle that the Da’esh is the aggressor, and that the PKK is merely defending its turf. It is also clear that compared to the Da’esh, the PKK looks positively progressive. None of this stops either of them playing their roles in the intensification of ethnic conflict.” Sources:
Background information: a left communist international formed in 1983; formerly known as the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party. Leading party is the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) in Italy, which had split from Amadeo Bordiga’s International Communist Party (see below) in 1952. American section is the Internationalist Workers Group.
Stance on Syria: neutral. “The rival bourgeois factions fighting for power in Syria today, whether led by Assad or the opposition forces managed and manoeuvred mainly from abroad, are indisputably enemies of the Syrian, Middle Eastern and international proletariat.” “But the working class in Syria will be equally oppressed either by the current government or the new government to support US; change hands only business with oil and gas.” (This second quote is translated from the original Italian by Google Translate) Sources:
Background information: founded in 1943 in Italy; became an international in the 60s. A leading figure was Amadeo Bordiga; Bordigist left communism has similar views of the “vanguard party” to those of Lenin, although Bordiga heavily criticized the authoritarian state that developed as the Bolsheviks emerged from the Russian civil war. In the late 60s and 70s, the ICP began to split into several different organizations, all claiming the original name. The faction linked above is known as “International Communist Party (Il Partito Comunista)” after their newspaper. No American section.
“Left anarchism” encompasses all anarchist schools of thought supporting collectivist economic models, such as Mikhail Bakunin-style collectivism, socialism, or syndicalism (essentially, rule by trade unions). Some also identify as communists (though not Marxists) and are thus called anarcho-communists. Left anarchists themselves typically regard the term “left anarchism” as redundant since they believe all true anarchists are economically left-wing and that laissez-faire anarchists or right anarchists are not true anarchists.
Stance on Syria: supported early FSA. Critically supports YPG; critical of PKK/PYD ideology and alleged authoritarianism. Critical of negotiations. “Since the Syrian revolution degenerated into a civil war , when the revolting masses or its co-ordinating committees and its local decentralized militias firstly known as free Syrian army were substituted by warlords-led semi-regular groups backed by regional despots ; Syrian revolutionaries became in a very difficult situation : cannot accept the victory of the dictator, at the same time they knew very well that his defeat doesn’t mean liberating the masses from dictatorship but substituting a dictator with another…” Sources:
Background information: a left anarchist international. Leading affiliate is the Anarchist Federation in France. No American section.
Stance on Syria: supported early FSA. Did not see Islamists as allies. I can’t find much writing on Syria later than 2012, so their current position is unclear. Sources:
Background information: an anarcho-syndicalist international. Leading affiliate is the National Confederation of Labor in Spain (CNT in Spanish), which was one half of the CNT-FAI anarchist alliance that played a prominent role in the Spanish Civil War (the FAI, or Iberian Anarchist Federation, is the Spanish affiliate of the International of Anarchist Federations today). Its American section used to be the Workers Solidarity Alliance (see below).
Stance on Syria: critically supports YPG. Critical of PKK/PYD ideology. Sources:
Background information: an anarcho-syndicalist group in the US. It left the International Workers Association for unknown reasons, though it essentially has the same ideology.
Stance on Syria: there doesn’t seem to be a single, unified stance on Syria. Most articles are generally critically supportive of the YPG and (to a lesser degree) the opposition. Sources:
Background information: a loose platformist network based around a website created in 2005. “Platformism” is a trend within anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism that promotes the organizational philosophies of Nestor Makhno and other Ukrainian and Russian anarchists who led the ultimately-defeated Free Territory in Ukraine during the Russian civil war. Many of Anarkismo’s unofficial “affiliates” were part of the now-defunct International Libertarian Solidarity. Leading “affiliate” is the General Confederation of Labour in Spain, which split from the CNT (see International Workers Association) in 1979 over how to approach the Spanish transition to democracy. Two American “affiliates”: Black Rose Anarchist Federation and Humboldt Grassroots.
Stance on Syria: critically to strongly supportive of government, depending on individual member party. All or nearly all describe the war as a Western imperialist intervention. Sources:
http://www.solidnet.org/search?ordering=&searchphrase=all&searchword=syria (various articles)
Background information: an international based around an annual conference first established by the Communist Party of Greece in 1998. Its members are the “official” Communist Parties – usually, but not always, those which were pro-Soviet. Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists, and Hoxhaists are all represented. Leading parties include the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Communist Parties ruling China, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba, the Workers’ Party of Korea (which has officially abandoned Marxism and Leninism but retains ties to the world’s communist parties), and countless others. Among these are the Syrian Communist Party (Bakdash), which is Stalinist, and the Syrian Communist Party (Unified), which is Leninist; both are members of the Ba’ath-led National Progressive Front. American section is the CPUSA, listed earlier.
Stance on Syria: vaguely supports government. Calls opposition “terrorists” funded by reactionary imperialists. Apparently, one of the more strongly pro-Assad parties, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), tried unsuccessfully to include an explicit mention of “the Baathist regime led by Bashar al-Assad” in a 2013 declaration on Syria. Sources:
Background information: a loose international based around an annual conference hosted by the Workers’ Party of Belgium, first organized in 1996. Members are mostly anti-revisionist (e.g., Stalinist, Maoist, and Hoxhaist), with some sympathetic Leninists, including some of the “official” Communist Parties, meaning that the ICS overlaps with the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties. The ICS’ current status is unclear: their website is offline, and as far as I can tell, the last meeting was in 2014. Furthermore, the Workers’ Party of Belgium seems to have abandoned anti-revisionism in favor of Eurocommunism (see CPUSA entry). The Syrian Communist Party (Bakdash) was a regular attendant. American parties that regularly attended include the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Maoist faction) and Revolutionary Organization of Labor. The Workers World Party and the Party for Socialism and Liberation attended occasionally or were invited but did not attend.
Stance on Syria: supports YPG. Very critical of both government and opposition. “We declare ourselves against the two imperialist blocks: if there’s an [American] intervention in Syria we will be opposed to it, but we will not support the wave that eulogizes Russia just because of mere folklore, because they are just as imperialist as the Americans.” Dismisses reports of the Rojava government oppressing or expelling non-Kurds. Sources:
Background information: an anti-revisionist international founded in 2010. Mostly made up of Maoist parties, with some Stalinists, Hoxhaists, and Leninists. Leading parties include the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party in Turkey, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany, and the Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist). American section is the Revolutionary Organization of Labor.
Stance on Syria: critically supports opposition. “[The war can only end] if there’s a major change in the position of the Syrian regime. The minimum that might be seen by the opposition as the basis of agreement would be a transitional government, with Bashar al-Assad stepping down — any transitional set-up that would be presided over by Assad would be a non-starter.” “Russia’s deadly raids and the intervention of Iran, Hezbollah, and sectarian Iraqi militias champion this profoundly reactionary, anti-democratic project [the Assad regime].” Sources:
Background information: a multi-tendency leftist group in the US. It was the result of a merger of three Trotskyist groups in 1986, one of which was the same group from which the International Socialist Organization had split. It maintains loose links with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.
- World Socialist Movement (WSM)
Stance on Syria: neutral. Says 2011 protests arose mainly the economic inequality of “crony capitalism.” “For the Syrian working class the best likely outcome in present circumstances from an ending of the civil war is a bourgeois capitalist liberal democracy and at worst an Islamic fundamentalist reactionary theocracy. Any group replacing the Assad regime will have to continue to run Syrian capitalism for the benefit of the Syrian capitalist class.” Sources:
Background information: an “Impossibilist” Marxist international founded in 1904. Impossibilism is particularly critical of the value of social and economic reforms, arguing that such reforms actually strengthen capitalism and should therefore be avoided. It also rejects Lenin’s concept of the vanguard party and democratic centralism. Leading party is the Socialist Party of Great Britain. American section is the World Socialist Party of the United States.
- News & Letters Committees (N&LC)
Stance on Syria: supports opposition. Supports establishing a no-fly zone. Critical of PYD/YPG’s ambiguous relations with Assad and “unprincipled attacks” on FSA. Sources:
Background information: a Marxist Humanist organization in the US founded in 1955. Originally Trotskyists, its members, led by Raya Dunayevskaya, combined a focus on Marx’s philosophical works with the ethics- and rationalist-focused philosophy of humanism. Dunayevskaya had sided with Shachtman in the 1940 split in the Trotskyist movement and ended up agreeing with Tony Cliff (see International Socialist Tendency) that the USSR was state capitalist.
Stance on Syria: critically supports opposition and YPG. Says West is content with handing “a victory to the murderous Assad regime over its internal opponents, more than 200,000 of whom it has slaughtered, and some of whom remain true to the emancipatory ideals of the 2011 uprising.” Sources:
Background information: a small Marxist Humanist international. It was founded in 2010 by the US Marxist Humanists, which was one half of a 2007-2008 split from News & Letters over alleged cliquish leadership and degenerating activity.
Stance on Syria: supports government. Says “Syria is being ravaged by a civil war deliberately promoted by Western powers to destabilize the country and prepare it for regime change. The rebels do not speak for the majority of the population.” Sources:
Background information: a loose network of Latin American leftist parties founded in 1990. Member parties range from center-left social democrats to the far-left Communist Party of Cuba. Besides the CPC, leading members include the Workers’ Party of Brazil, the Movement for Socialism in Bolivia, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front in El Salvador, and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (the party of the late Hugo Chavez). Three American affiliates, all in Puerto Rico: the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, the Socialist Front, and the Hostosian National Independence Movement.