Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

SYRIA AND THE SPOILS OF WAR

David Cameron has got his majority vote from Parliament to order British fighter jets to attack the Islamic State or Isis in Syria. Britain, already in military action in Iraq, will be joining France, US, Russia and other countries to degrade Isis and contain its influence. The ultimate end-game for Syria is to stop the civil war and for Britain to join the victors in the spoils of war. This is what war is all about; the opening of markets, the protection of trade routes, securing borders, getting access to raw resources and preventing other countries disrupting trade routes and spheres of influence.

Syria, where there has been a civil war for four years with the loss of over 200,000 lives, will now have even more death and destruction meted out by a foreign legion of air forces as though the hundreds of previous missiles fired on an almost daily basis were not enough. The civilian death toll will rise but it will be written off as “collateral damage”.

Cameron’s adventure, backed by many Labour MP’s is just small change for British capitalism in its attempt to gain a secure foot-hold in Syria and in any post-Islamic state settlement. And that is what Syrian intervention is all about. The terrorism in Paris is a convenient excuse for military action; the creation of a moral panic by Cameron and his media allies has been used to get his way in Parliament and allow him to order the air strikes. Post-Isis Britain will want to be at the negotiating table; they will want a cut of the action with the potential writing of new borders, ageing pipe lines through gulf-states, Iraq and Syria to convenient ports and the securing of lucrative trade deals.

The Civil War in Syria started in 2011 following the so-called Arab Spring which took place across the Middle East only to peter out and be replaced by the rise of dictators in in Egypt and Islamist movements elsewhere of which Isis is just one of several terrorist organisations in the region. Protests in Syria took place against the dictator, President Bashar- al–Assad. Assad responded with brutal beatings, torture, imprisonment and killing of his opponents. Those who escaped his brutality formed themselves into armed groups and fought back, each group linked to foreign backers from the US, Europe, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey while Assad received support and military supplies from Iran and Russia.

And the direct entry of Russia in the civil war in Syria is another reason why British capitalism wants to be there. What is at stake? Russia wants to protect the area of Syria controlled by Assad in order to ensure its navy can use the port in Tartus. Tartus hosts a Russian naval supply and maintenance facility including the Amur class floating workshop PM-138, capable of providing technical maintenance to Russian warships deployed in the Mediterranean. This strategic Port is one of the reasons why Putin supports the Syrian government and has troops and an operational airfield in Syria fighting opponents of Assad. Britain and the US would like their ships in Tartus not the Russians and if Assad goes and is replaced with a leader more amenable to the West they might get their way.

Learning from History

What unintended consequence could upset a future carve-up of Syria? Turkey and the Kurds is one dissent into the anarchy now seen in Libya which was of Cameron’s other military “triumphs”. How would Turkey, a member of NATO, respond to a further Kurdish advance into strategic areas of Syria? It is already alarmed by the rise of a Kurdish enclave on its southern frontier with Syria. It knows that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is essentially the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) against whom it has been fighting a guerrilla war since 1984. The US and British governments are supporting the PYD but not the PKK. Ironically the PKK is a proscribed political organisation in the UK. Rather than peace in the region the civil war in Syria will more likely create fresh conflict and war.

Is there not something familiar about the forthcoming post-Isis carve up of Syria? Think back to Yalta when Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill (a hero of Mr Cameron’s) met to carve up the world after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Churchill’s Diary for October 1944 describes how capitalist countries pursue their interests. In his diary, written while attending a conference in the Soviet Union, Churchill wrote:

The moment was apt for business, so I said “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?” While this was being translated I wrote out on a half a sheet of paper:

Rumania
Russia 90%, The others 10%
Greece
Great Britain 90% (in accord with USA), Russia 10%
Yugoslavia
50-50%
Hungary
50-50%
Bulgaria
Russia 75%, The others 25%

I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down... After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, “Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an off-hand manner? Let us burn the paper”. “No, you keep it” said Stalin
(from TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, quoted in Robert Black’s STALINISM IN BRITAIN).

The agreement between these three leaders extended not just to the countries named in Churchill’s note, but across the entire globe; the so-called post-wear settlement which deteriorated into the cold war. This is what capitalism is all about, competing countries pursuing their own interests at the expense of their competitors, deals done in the shadows and plans laid out for future conflict and war.

What about the Working Class?

The working class of the world do not share the same interests as the capitalist class and their governments. In war the working class bear the brunt of the pain and death as victims in terrorist attacks, in becoming displaced refugees, civilian casualties and armed combatants on the battle field.

If the capitalist class have interests in security, trade routes, sphere of influence, raw resources and markets then the working class do not. Workers have no interest because they do not own the means of production and distribution. They do not have oil and gas pipe lines to protect, ports to secure and unhindered trade routes. All the working class have is their ability to work which they are forced to sell as a commodity for a wage and salary. As an exploited class the working class have no country; they have no interest in supporting their employers’ wars and the have everything to gain by acting their own class interest and becoming socialists.

And it is only as socialists that a start can be made to stop terrorism, conflict and war by getting rid of its cause; capitalism. Capitalism causes war and while capitalism exists as global system of class exploitation wars will persist from one generation to the next.

Do you think for a minute that a post-Isis Syria will solve the questions of the two million refugees? Will it solve the problems facing the working class in Europe, Russia or the US? Will it stop future terrorism, conflict and war? No it will not.

The carve-up of Syria will only repeat the carve-up of the world after the meeting at Yalta, in the Crimea. The dominant countries will get what they want while the problems of poverty, hunger and unemployment will just persist in the Middle East as it will elsewhere in the world. From the working class interest wars solve nothing only the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with world socialism will end war.

Socialists have been telling workers ever since the outbreak of the First world War in 1914 that the working class has no interest in war. This is what the Socialist Party of Great Britain, for example, said in 1936:

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, like a voice crying in the wilderness, has always maintained that capitalism and war are inseparable. There can be no capitalism without conflicts of economic interest. From these arise the national rivalries and hatreds, the fears and armaments which may at any time provoke war on a terrifying scale

This argument, from the SPGB’s 1936 pamphlet, WAR AND THE WORKING CLASS, remains equally valid today.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain opposition to wars is on grounds of class and class might seem an old fashioned term. But it is a fact that most people live by selling their labour-power for wages or salaries.

Socialists argue that workers should not let themselves be dragged into wars caused by disputes between different sections of the capitalist class. As we stated in the 1936 pamphlet:

There is only one safe rule for the working class to follow when urged by the capitalists to support capitalist wars. No matter what form the appeal may take, they should examine the question in the light of working class interests. Ask yourself the question: 'Have the working class of one nation any interest in slaughtering (and being slaughtered by) the workers of another?'; 'Have they any interest in supporting one national section of the capitalist world against another?' ..."

The Socialist case to prevent terrorism and war

There is only one thing which has not been tried to end war. There has never been Socialism in the world.

With Socialism there will not be any more war; there will be no armed forces for the propertied class to protect its property; there would be no production for sale and profit; there would be no markets; there would be no need to protect raw resources, trade routes and spheres of influence; the world would not be divided into separate capitalist nations each fighting the other; there would not be government exploiting different languages and religions and there would be no conflict between capitalists and workers because there will be no profit system and no exploiting capitalist class.

Socialism will be organised world-wide on the basis of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society. Production would be solely and directly for use. The function of production would be to make goods available to all society. There would be free access.

To achieve Socialism requires foremost, the winning over of the working class to an understanding and acceptance of the Socialist case. It is a Socialist principle that you cannot contemplate socialism being run except by socialists. Socialism is not possible until a socialist majority democratically gain control of the machinery of government (including the armed forces) as well as the means of production and distribution. Until then there can only be capitalism, terrorism and war.

A socialist working class have got to take conscious political action within a principled Socialist party in order to get democratic control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces. To believe you can have Socialism – the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society - without political class struggle is naïve, idealistic and utopian.

A socialist majority has to gain control of parliament and Local Councils. This is the only way for the capitalist class to be disposed and for the working class to establish Socialism. And in ridding the world of war and conflict: “Socialism will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race and sex” (CLAUSE 4 DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES OF THE SOCIALIST of the Socialist Party of Great Britain 1904)

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: enquiries@socialiststudies.org.uk | www.socialiststudies.org.uk