RCG statement on the 14 April 2018 attack on Syria

The Revolutionary Communist Group condemns the 14 April 2018 British, US and French missile attack on Syria. This action was intended to reassert imperialist control over the Middle East at a time when it is being undermined. British Prime Minister Theresa May said that British participation in the assault was ‘to deter chemical weapons attacks in Syria and the UK’. This invocation of the poisonings in Salisbury was targeted at Russia. May continued: ‘This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.’ May attempted to legitimise a war crime and to subdue growing alarm at the prospect of a global conflagration.

Syria was accused of mounting a poison gas attack on the city of Douma, in the region of Ghouta, close to Damascus, on 7 April, which reportedly killed more than 40 people. The Syrian government denied using poison gas and the Russian government claimed the event was faked, and that it involved the British state. British media replayed images of children and other civilians in pain, hosed with water. This repetition was intended to prepare the audience to accept a military assault on Syria. Following reports of a previous chemical weapons attack on the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017, which killed around 80 people, we said: ‘It is not the job of anti-imperialists to decide who launched this chemical attack, but to oppose its use as the pretext for a new imperialist war in the Middle East.’

On 13 March 2018, Russian Chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said that Russia had intelligence that a fake chemical attack was planned against civilians in Eastern Ghouta as a pretext for US bombing of Damascus. Gerasimov warned that ‘Russia’s armed forces will take retaliatory measures against the missiles and launches used.’ The threat of retaliation will have restricted the targets selected for the missiles.

With the Royal Air Force attack on Syria, the British military has now conducted over 50 separate military interventions in the Middle East and North Africa since the end of the Second World War. This region has been critical for British and French, and later US, imperialist power for a century. The Middle East contains 60% of the world’s known oil reserves and 41% of natural gas reserves. 60% of Britain’s arms exports go to the Middle East.  Control over this region, and these reserves, is essential for British, US and European ruling class power and to constrain the development of potential rivals, for example in Russia and China. No challenge will be tolerated; witness the devastation of Iraq, Libya, Yemen and now Syria. The scale of the devastation is horrendous: over one million people killed in Iraq, four million Iraqis made refugees, five million Iraqi children orphaned; over 30,000 Libyans killed and the country driven into ruin in 2011; some 10,000 people killed in Yemen since Saudi Arabia started bombing in March 2015 and many thousands more dead through starvation, cholera and other diseases. In Syria, the US and Britain, along with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf state allies, have funded, armed and trained jihadist groups to fight the Syrian state. The result is an estimated almost half a million people killed, and out of a pre-2011 population of 22 million, the United Nations identifies 13.5 million people as needing humanitarian assistance, of which more than six million are internally displaced within Syria and around five million people are refugees outside of Syria. This is the reality behind Theresa May’s pretence of humanitarian concern: utter ruthlessness and barbarism.

Russia and Iran are also targets of the attack on Syria. The Syrian jihadi-led armed opposition to the Syrian government began in 2011. By 2014, the Islamic State (IS) controlled large areas of Syria. The Syrian government invited Russia to provide military aid against the jihadists. Russian airstrikes began in September 2015. By February 2016, Russian airstrikes, military advisers and supplies of advanced weapons allowed the Syrian army to move from defence to offence.  Syria was decisively winning the war against the armed groups and the rebels were due to be transported out of Eastern Ghouta just as the 7 April alleged chemical weapon attack took place.

At the end of December 2017 Russia said its troops would be permanently stationed in Syria. In January 2018 the Syrian government gave Russia exclusive rights to produce oil and gas in Syria. Russian intervention in Syria makes the Syrian government dependent on Russia and Russia’s power and credibility internationally are tied to the fate of the Syrian state. Russia, with Iran, present a challenge to US, British and European imperialist domination of the Middle East.

We have seen the US and NATO renege on pledges not to install ‘permanent’ and ‘significant’ military forces on former Soviet bloc nations and not to station troops on Russia’s border. The poisoning in Salisbury in March was used to demonise Russian President Putin and target Russia. In February 2018, some 300 men working for a private Russian military firm were killed or injured near the Syrian city of Deir Al Zor when they were attacked by US-led coalition forces. Mike Pompeo, CIA chief and proposed new US Secretary of State, commented, ‘In Syria, a handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match. A couple [of] hundred Russians were killed.’ Pompeo added, ‘Vladimir Putin has not received the message sufficiently and we need to continue to work on that…This administration announced a nuclear posture review.’ The antagonism towards Russia threatens us all.     

Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the European Union all supported the missile attack on Syria. Before the attack, the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the British government of waiting for ‘instructions’ from US President Trump. This is misleading: from the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury onwards, the British government has taken the lead against Russia. Corbyn called for the British parliament to be allowed a vote before any action was taken against Syria. Many Labour MPs support the attack on Syria. On 2 December 2015 the House of Commons voted by 397 to 223 to support air strikes on Syria, in the name of fighting IS. 66 Labour MPs joined the Tories to call for air strikes.  This time, Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor MP said of the 14 April 2018 attack: ‘intervention must take place’ if the UN concludes the Syrian government was behind the alleged atrocity. She backed the British imperialism’s right to remove leaders it does not approve of, saying: ‘If a leader is killing their own they need to be removed. We don’t keep them there. They need to go. He needs to be removed.’ Osamor then retracted her statement. Labour MP and Zionist John Woodcock, chair of the Labour Party’s backbench foreign affairs committee, said that ‘Britain has a moral imperative to [make] itself part of the forthcoming action in response to Bashar al-Assad’s latest chemical weapons atrocity…’   The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, told the BBC: ‘It is clear that at this point Russia, its role in Syria, what we believe beyond reasonable doubt its role in the poison gas attack in Salisbury, is a greater threat to world peace than the United States.’

After three hours of debate on the attack on Syria in the House of Commons on 16 April, Prime Minister Theresa May said that she ‘welcomes the many statements of support that have come from the Labour benches… Many in the Labour Party recognise that it has a long fine and proud tradition of being willing to take action not only in our national interest, but to ensure the alleviation of human suffering around the world.’ Jeremy Corbyn said that he believed the action in Syria to be ‘legally questionable’. Given the humanitarian disaster inflicted on Yemen he called on ‘the Prime Minister to commit to ending support to the Saudi bombing campaign and arms sales to Saudi Arabia’. This received no response whatsoever from Labour MPs. They want to show that they are suitable candidates to lead both the Labour Party and the country. Convincing the ruling class of this is a key to a Labour electoral victory: Corbyn must be replaced to secure their ambitions of ruling Britain on behalf of imperialism.

Labour MP Mike Gapes, former chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, listed RAF airstrikes in Iraq in 1998 and British military interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo all conducted ‘without a UN resolution…there is a long-standing and noble tradition on these Benches of supporting humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect’. Labour MP Stephen Kinnock boasted: ‘it was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was the driving force behind establishing NATO. I am truly proud of the Labour Party’s role…If the only intervention that we contemplate is that with UN Security Council approval, we will be allowing the Kremlin to dictate our foreign policy. I refuse to allow my country or my party to be held hostage by Vladimir Putin’.        

The Labour Party was and is an imperialist party. Jeremy Corbyn will not change that. An anti-imperialist movement must be built in Britain which opposes all western interventions in the Middle East and which sides with the Palestinian and Kurdish peoples struggles for self-determination.

Hands off Syria!

All British forces out of the Middle East!


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