Why is Russia still in Syria?

War and Capitalism

The socialist position on the cause of war and conflict under capitalism is unique to the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The socialist explanation for wars is that they are caused by capitalism and the division of the world into competing nation states.

Capitalism is a world- wide system of class exploitation in which the means of production and distribution, defended by the machinery of government including the armed forces, are owned by a minority capitalist class to the exclusion of the majority – the working class. The capitalist class are divided between themselves but they all exploit the working class by extracting what Marx called “surplus-value” from them which is the source of the employer’s unearned income of rent, interest and profit.

Wars in capitalism are not fought for civilising ideals or over differing political ideas and beliefs but over issues of importance to competing capitalists – such as raw materials like oil and gas, trade routes and spheres of strategic political control and influence. The profit system, them, drives nation states to war rather than what their political leaders might or might not say in order to gain popular support for their aggressive actions.

A current example suppoerting the socialist position for the reason why wars take place under capitalism is the on-going civil war in Syria which has seen the death of tens of thousands of people. According to the UN envoy to Syria, 400, 000 had been killed since the start of the civil war on 2011. Russia has played a large part in the civil war where there was a 34% increase in civilian deaths caused by Russian air strikes (INDEPENDENT 25 July 2018) – an example of state terrorism about which Putin’s supporters on the capitalist left remain silent.

Russia and Iran both support the Syrian regime under President al-Assad. These two countries’ contribution to the civil war has been the deaths of civilians through Russian air attacks on densely populated cities and ground assault against rebel positions by 70,000 troops made up of Iranian soldiers, Hezbollah and a large militia force drawn from Pakistan and Lebanon (Majid Rafizadeh, IRANIAN SOLDIERS IN SYRIA Gatestone Institute. November 24, 2016).

Russia and Iran have very good reasons for supporting the Syrian regime. These interests revolve around Syrian deposits of oil and gas, the trade routes by which to pipe oil and gas to other countries for sale and profit and the protection of these assets by military force.

These three factors support the socialist case about why war takes place under capitalism and why wars will continue to break-out until the profit system is replaced by socialism.

Raw Materials

Most wars within capitalism, particularly wars in the 20th century, have been over control of raw resources like gas and oil. If there was no oil and the need to protect oil supplies in the Middle East there would not have been the amount of conflict seen there over the last one hundred years. Foreign policy by governments is driven by the need to secure and protect raw resources to keep industrial production going. And in this respect, Syria’s oil and gas has been an important consideration in the intervention in the civil War by countries like Russia.

Syria has large deposits of oil and gas reserves. Syria is the only significant crude oil producing country in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Syria had 2,500,000,000 barrels (400,000,000 m3) of petroleum reserves as of 1 January 2010. Since that date estimates have been difficult to assess due to the civil war.

As for gas, an early United States Geological Survey (12 March 2010) estimate put Syria's potential offshore gas reserves at 24 trillion cubic feet, more than double the quantity of its onshore gas. https://www.google.com/search?q=syria+gas+reserves

In January 2018 Russia and Syria signed an energy cooperation framework giving Russia exclusive rights to produce oil and gas in Syria.

The post-war rebuilding of the Syrian oil industry will be very expensive and will take time. According to the IMF in 2015, it would cost some $27 billion but that figure would be greater given the infrastructure devastation of three further years of civil war.

However, for Russia to take control of gas production is more profitable than oil. As the journalist Viktor Katona wrote:

Taking control of gas fields seems a better (and more profitable) bet for Russia. If it manages to secure a fixed price, stable demand is guaranteed domestically, as gas will remain the dominant electricity generation input” (Oil Price.Dom Feb 14 2018).

And he concludes:

Russia has been keen on increasing its foothold in Iraqi Kurdistan (Rosneft), Gazprom (Neft), tapping into Lebanon’s offshore gas (NOVATEK), and having a bigger say in Eastern Mediterranean affairs in general. For that, taking over Syria’s oil and gas sector might be a very powerful, non-military tool.

” Running Syria’s oil and gas sectors is a far more convincing explanation for Russia’s continuing presence in Syria than the one given by Putin of merely degrading terrorists in the region on behalf of the Syrian regime. Of course, Syria is of vital strategic interest to Israel as it is to the US, plus Syria has for a long time been the ally of Iran which the US sees as its enemy. Israel wants to protect its border from Iran and Hezbollah while the US has secured a part of North Eastern Syria rich in oil, gas and water reserves; some 30 per cent of the country (MINT PRESS NEWS April 16th 2018)..

Gas Pipelines and Profit

The largest natural gas field in the world lies under the Persian Gulf and is shared by Iran and Qatar, recently and without irony, designated a terrorist state by Saudi-Arabia and its backer, the United States.

The supply from this natural gas field has been threatened by proposals, first put forward in 2009, for Qatar to build a pipeline from the Persian Gulf via Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Syria and Turkey reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. This idea was dropped after pressure from Russia.

At the same time Iran, which owns a smaller share of the Persian Gulf gas field, wanted to plan a $10 billion dollar pipeline via Iraq and Syria and then under the Mediterranean Sea to European buyers.. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey also would like to build a link, but it necessarily passes through Syria.

Much of Russia’s power comes from established pipelines used to transport gas to Europe cheaply. But other countries are now trying to get around Russia and provide new sources of gas to Europe.

Syria, Russia and Iran have other plans which will further their interests at the expense of their competitors in the region. These three countries have their own proposals for a competing pipeline route.

In an article for the Washington Institute, the journalist Nikita Sogoloff wrote:

[Russia] seeks “to actively participate in rebuilding and operating Syrian oil and gas infrastructure. By undertaking such a massive endeavor, Russian energy companies hope to control significant portions of pipelines, liquefaction facilities, refineries, and terminals, thus capitalizing on Syria’s potential as a transit hub for regional oil and gas heading to Europe. In doing so, Russia will not only expand its dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean, a dream since the Caucasian Wars of the nineteenth century, but also solidify its stranglehold on the European gas supply” (August 30 2018).

The conflict in Syria is not a local civil war, as such, but the geo-political machinations of several states who have an economic interest as to where geographically the gas lines are to be located, who is to control them and who is to reap the rewards.

Spheres of Strategic Control

Syria's geography matters to both Russia and Iran.

The naval installation in the port city of Tartus, first established in the Cold War, provides Russia's access to the Mediterranean, important for both commercial and military purposes.

On January 2017, President al-Assad struck a deal to confer territorial sovereignty of the base to the Kremlin, which has plans to expand capacity to host large warships, including aircraft carriers.

The Russian facility at Tartus has been used for delivering armaments and supplies by Russian dock landing ships and cargo ships that pass the Straits from the Russian Black Sea port in Novorossivsk to Syria for the purposes of Russia’s military operation that began on 30 September 2015 as well as for the Syrian Army.

There is also a Russian air-force base near the north-western Syrian city of Latakia; it was built essentially from scratch in 2015 and is home to more than 1,000 personnel.

Syria also provides the Iranian Navy's only direct Mediterranean access.

In studying events around questions of oil, gas, oil and gas supply and spheres of strategic importance like the location of navies in ports, a more realistic appraisal of capitalism and war can be given rather than the platitudes, evasions and lies of governments and politicians trying to get support from a non-socialist working class.

Socialism: ending war and conflict

Capitalism with its division into competing nation states is the cause of war. While capitalism continues to exist countries will continue to try to gain control over raw resources, protect trade routes and impose spheres of strategic influence upon other countries.

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

With the establishment of 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 governments exploiting divisions between 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, first and foremost, the winning over the working class to understand and accept the socialist case. Capitalism causes wars and conflict just as it exploits the working class, generates poverty, environmental degradation and passes trough periodic crises and trade depressions with high levels of unemployment. 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, conflict and war.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.