This article will appear in the forthcoming issue of Internationalist Perspective
Over the past several years Rojava or Western Kurdistan, legally a part of Syria, has been seen by many anarchists, libertarians, and even Marxists as the locus of a social revolution, one that demands solidarity on the part of revolutionaries, all the more so as it has been the object of brutal military assaults, first from Daesch (the Islamic State), and now from Erdogan’s Turkey. Inasmuch as the Middle-East today is literally on fire, the scene of vicious ethnic and religious cleansing, and bloody battles between rival imperialist states and armies, it is important to determine whether we are seeing a mortal threat to capital, an anti-capitalist commune OR an inter-imperialist bloodbath in which the population has been mobilized to serve the interests of capitalism.
For the past several years, as Syria has collapsed into civil war fueled by the intervention of imperialist states (Iran, Turkey, Russia and the US), Rojava has been under the control of the PYD and its fighters (the YPG), the Syrian offshoot of the PKK (The Kurdish Workers Party (sic.)), led by Abdullah Öcalan. Originally a Maoist, now in Turkish incarceration, Öcalan has had a prison conversion, and under the influence of the writings of the American libertarian, Murray Bookchin, has reinvented himself as a partisan of “communalism” and “Democratic Confederalism.” Suffice it to say that whether paying obeisance to Chairman Mao or to “libertarian municipalism” Öcalan, and Öcalan alone (his photograph is on virtually every “public” space in Rojava) rules; his word is law, and in Rojava, as secretly in much of the Kurdish regions of Turkey itself (at least by night), the Kurdish Workers Party rules. In Rojava the PYD has built a one-party state. The nature of the “democracy” to which the partisans of the PYD, both in the West and in Rojava, point, is no different – slogans aside – from that of the “people’s democracies” in the Stalinist bloc during the cold war. Indeed even the feminism to which its partisans also point, with its women “warriors,” hair flowing in the wind, gun in hand, bears an uncanny resemblance to those photos of La Pasiónaria on the front page of the Stalinist press in 1936, which Russian imperialism used so well to mobilize public support. The fact that Rojava itself has been brutally attacked by both IS and by The Turkish AK regime of Erdogan, cannot be the basis for any kind of revolutionary defencism, as so many in the libertarian “world” are calling for. The class line in an inter-imperialist war is not based on which side fired the first shot; on whose troops crossed the border first or started the war, or even the particular brutality of one or the other of the combatant armies. On such a basis, revolutionaries will always have to choose one capitalist state, one imperialist bloc, or the other, thereby guaranteeing the victory and consolidation of capitalism; and thereby precluding any possibility of either resistance to its power, or to articulating a political position that might become a basis for actual resistance to imperialism on both sides of the front line.
Is the Kurdish nationalism of the PKK/PYD, different from the Kurdish nationalism of Iraqi Kurdistan and Masoud Barzani? Certainly the ideology is different. In Iraqi Kurdistan capitalism has become a mantra in what is now a de facto American protectorate, and military base, where it is politically difficult to distinguish between the Kurdish Peschmerga, armed and equipped by the US, and the American special ops and troops based in Erbil. Yet apart from the Western “tourists” who in the recent past came to Rojava to see a “libertarian commune” in practice, Rojava too is full of CIA agents and American special ops. Indeed, when IS threatened to capture the Kurdish stronghold of Kobane, it was American air power that saved the town for the PYD. Neither in its Kurdish nationalism nor in its mobilization for inter-imperialist war at the side of the US can one make a distinction in class nature between Rojava and Erbil!
Today, the clash between imperialist states and their local allies has turned the Middle East into a veritable charnel house, in which the acclaim for Rojava can no longer be seen as naïve or politically innocent, but rather as a descent into the ideological vortex of imperialism itself, for which excuses are no longer possible. So, let us take a look at the rapidly deepening clash between rival imperialisms in the Middle East, where allies can become enemies on the turn of a dime, starting with the clash between Russian and American imperialism in the region. Putin’s Russia has a foothold in Middle East by way of its naval bases and air fields in Assad’s Syria, dominated by the Alawite minority, whose defense is essential to the retention of Russian influence and power in the region, and to its close relationship with Shiite Iran. The US has now come to see IS as a serious threat to its own power in the region, even at the “cost” of propping up the Shia government in Iraq. Indeed, though it is too early to tell, the possibility exists that the Iran nuclear deal could at some point in the not too distant future begin a process of détente with Teheran, particularly if Washington’s traditional Sunni allies (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Jordan) remain unwilling to take the lead and provide the ground forces to crush IS. The growing disenchantment of America with its Sunni allies, applies to Sunni Turkey, and the Erdogan government too, which sees Assad’s Syrian regime as an enemy to be destroyed, along with the Kurdish nationalism that threatens the very territorial integrity of Turkey in its Eastern provinces, the same Kurdish nationalism that is a lynchpin of American strategy in Iraq and Syria. Into that tangled skein Erdogan has now sent his troops across the border into Rojava to perhaps crush the PYD and YPG there, and at the same time both challenge Syrian claims to sovereignty, as well as Ankara’s traditional enemy Russia, the protector of Assad. And, at the same time Russia and the US are seeking a “ceasefire” in Syria, which it hopes would permit Russia to attack IS, even as Assad, with Russian aid, seems to be reclaiming Aleppo, and now perhaps Idlib too, thereby turning the tide in that protracted civil war through the mass killing of their civilian populations by relentless Russian bombing. History is replete with dramatic turns in inter-imperialist conflicts, and we just might be on the cusp of one now.
Whatever turns there might be, however, one thing is clear: those who insist on seeing Rojava through the lens of social revolution are blinding themselves to the ongoing inter-imperialist slaughter which quite literally shapes events there on the ground. When you’re supporting the same side as the CIA, do you really need Google map to tell you that you’ve crossed the class line?