An Interview with Ammar Bagdash, Secretary of the Syrian Communist Party
This interview with the Secretary of the Syrian Communist Party, Ammar Bagdash, took place at the time of a public meeting in Rome and a group-discussion about the causes, the evolution and the consequences of the civil war in Syria—or, to put it another way, about the attempted destabilization of a country that refused to take part in the Imperialist domination of the Middle East.
The interview was conducted by Sergio Cararo, Marinella Correggia,
and Maruizio Musolino
Why this attack on Syria?
Syria is a bulwark against North American expansionism in the Middle East, especially after the occupation of Iraq. But the real ramrod behind this project is actually Israeli president [Shimon] Peres, who has pursued this objective since the 1980s. Syrian Communists have come to call this project ‘The Greater Zion’. Syria has rejected all diktats by the US and Israel in the Middle East, supported the Iraqi resistance, that of the Lebanese and the right of Statehood for the Palestinians.
But how did the revolt, the crisis and the civil war in Syria come into existence?
In the analysis of Syrian Communists, the conditions were as much as anything the results of the neo-liberal measures adopted in 2005. This policy had three negative effects: an increase in social inequality; social exclusion spread more and more throughout the suburbs of Damascus; and a decline in the quality of life for the general population. This played to the advantage of the reactionary forces, like the Muslim Brotherhood, who are supported by the lower levels of the working class, especially among the rural proletariat. When we denounced all this in the Parliament, we were accused of striking an ideological attitude, and of being idiots.
In Syria, they wanted to recreate what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. But then these were two pro-imperialist countries. In the case of Syria, things were different. It began with popular demonstrations in the rural areas of Daraa and Idleb. But in the cities, there were huge demonstrations in support of [President Bashir] Assad. Moreover, at the beginning, the police did not shoot, but certain elements among the demonstrators did initiate violent actions. In the first seven months, there were more killed among the police and the army than in the other camp. When the demonstrations were no longer effective, they turned to terrorism by killing those most visible (social leaders, public officials, journalists), attacking and sabotaging the civilian infrastructure. The government reacted by enacting certain reforms, like the adoption of multi-partyism and greater freedom of the press, reforms that we supported. But the reactionaries rejected these reforms. As Communists, we understood this formula: the debate and the actions had to be met with equal and opposite discussions and actions. But, to reestablish order. terrorism could only be dealt with by the sovereignty of the law.
Then we moved on to a third stage. A real armed revolt. Attacks and targeted assassinations signaled the beginning of the assault on Damascus. Next, the attacks were focused on Aleppo, with its geographical position making it easier to re-supply with smuggled arms and provisions from abroad. The government responded by imposing the hegemony of the law. It should be noted that the interventions by the army and the aerial bombardments took place in those areas where most of the civilian populations had already fled. The rebels reacted to the Syrian Army’s counter-offensive with barbarity, even in areas where there were no combatants. Then they laid siege to Aleppo.
Why did Syria resist? What does this show?
In the last ten years in the Middle East, Iraq has been occupied, Libya forced to capitulate, but Syria has not. Is this because of its greater internal cohesion, its more powerful armed forces, stronger international alliances, or because it has not yet suffered a direct military intervention by the Imperialist Powers?
In Syria, unlike with Iraq and Libya, there has always been a strong national alliance. The Communists have worked within the government since 1966, without interruption. Syria could not have resisted by depending solely on its military. It was able to resist because it had a strong popular base of support. And it was able to draw support from its allies like Iran, China and Russia. And if Syria is still standing, the Imperialist crowned heads are going to roll because it clearly shows that there are other ways to go. Ours is an internationalist struggle. A Russian expert told me, “The role of Syria is like that of Spain in the war against Fascism.”
What effect could the events in Egypt have on the current situation in Syria?
There is a dialectical relation between what happened in Egypt and what is happening in Syria. The common basis is popular discontent, but the Syrian resistance accelerated the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, and that greatly helped Syria because it showed how the Brotherhood was rejected by the people.
In a recent interview, Syrian President Assad said, “In Syria, we have checked the onslaught of political Islamism.” What do you think of that?
We, Syrian Communists, do not use the category of ‘Political Islam.’ There is a certain diversity within Islam. Some, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are pro-Imperialist reactionaries, and some are progressives, like Hezbollah and even Iran. I am not an fan of the Iranian model, but they are our allies in the struggle against Imperialism. Since our Fifth Congress, we have judged Iran on the basis of its position on Imperialism. Our watchword is: For an International Front Against Imperialism.
In Italy, a large part of the Left thinks the rebels are fighting a Fascist regime, the Assad government. What can you say to such a position?
If we’re talking about the definition of Fascism—a reactionary movement that employs violent means in the interests of monopolistic capitalism—in Syria, monopoly capitalism is not the dominant order. It is, rather, the rebels who represent the interests of Big Capital. As History teaches us, revolts are not always revolutions. Think about the Nicaraguan Contras, about Franco’s forces in Spain, and there are others.
But is the opposition to Assad all reactionaries? Or, as shown by the internal conflict between the Free Syrian Army and the militant Jihadists, or, in the last few days, between the Kurds and the Jihadists, are there progressive elements with whom we could initiate a dialogue?
Among the oppositionists, some have spent many years in Syrian prisons, and we have demanded and fought for their freedom. These who oppose Assad have, however, all been against foreign interference or intervention. Some of them live in Damascus and we work together for a national dialogue. Even Haytham Menaa of the Democratic Coordination condemns the use of violence by the opposition army along with any interference from abroad. Others like Michel Kilo come from the Left, but have betrayed these ideas, and, anyway, they cannot change the reactionary nature of this rebellion.
How do you explain the intensification of the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and how do these then effect the divisions within the rebel militias?
It’s true, the influence and the role played by Qatar has diminished, while Saudi Arabia’s influence has grown. The whole thing about the confrontation with the Kurds is another story. There were confrontations between the Kurds of the Kurdish Democratic Union and the militant Jihadists of al Nusra, but there were also conflicts between diverse Kurdish groups.
What’s happening with the Palestinians who are living in refugee camps in Syria?
I recently met an official of the PLO and he told me, “If Syria falls, adieu to Palestine.” Hamas sometimes acts in great haste, has made many errors and caused a lot of problems. We can say that this organization, which belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, is reverting to its origins and will continue under the wing of Qatar. But this is also dangerous for them. Now, after what has happened in Egypt, what will happen in Gaza? The majority of militants who are in the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria are not Palestinians. The majority of Palestinians are totally against all interference in Syrian domestic affairs.
In Yarmouk, 70% of the inhabitants are Syrians because the refugee camps in Syria are not ghettos like in other countries. There are still fighters in Yarmouk, but the Syrian population has left. The Executive Committee of the PLO has come twice to Syria to ask about the protection of the refugee camps. Yarmouk was overrun by al Nusra with help from Hamas in an attempt to provoke the Army, which had received orders not to react.
We don’t talk about it much, but what is the role of Jordan in the crisis and the civil war in Syria?
The Jordanian monarchy has always collaborated with the Imperialists, and the Muslim Brotherhood is intensely active there. Jordan accepted the presence of the US troops on its territory, and the fourth attack against Damascus actually came from Jordanian territory.
And what game is Israel playing in Syria?
Israel supports the armed rebels, but when they don’t hit their assigned targets, it’s the Israeli air force that picks up the slack. This happened in Damascus and also a few days ago in Latakia.
How is this tragedy going to play out?
We cannot hope to achieve any social progress, or with democracy, if we are under attack from external forces. The daily goal is to defend our national sovereignty and protect the living conditions of our people. As I said at the ANSA, the principal means for ending this Syrian massacre is first to stop all aid to the armed opposition from the reactionary and Imperialist countries. Once the foreign aid is stopped, we can put an end to all military operations, including those of the Syrian government. And resume a democratic process with legislative elections and political reforms, something obviously impossible at this stage of the armed struggle. The political future of Syria will be decided in elections, notably the presidential elections of 2014.
Original Syrian translated by the CPF.
Translation from the French by CM/P