In Rojava: people's war is not class war

Barcelona 1936 / Kobane 2014

“In Rojava: People’s War is not Class War”, which you can read below, represents a contribution of “Internationalist Communist Tendency” (ICT) to a debate that has been taking place in certain circles claiming “anti-capitalist struggle” since several weeks. The central points of this discussion are current events in Western Kurdistan, Rojava.


Even if we generally don’t agree with the ideological corpus of ICT (despite some programmatic positions and references in common), we nevertheless decided to publish here this text and to translate it in Czech and in French from the original English version because we share the defence of internationalist positions expressed in it. State is not merely a structure of government, police, army and administrative apparatus, State, as the communist movement grasps it, is a social relation, materialization of capitalist world order, no matter whether its legitimacy is based on parliament or community assemblies. If therefore PKK and its PYD’s henchmen claim that they do not seek to create a State, it is just because in reality they already – due to their role, practical and ideological, they play in Rojava – represent the State. This is what some of PKK’s partisans call quite rightly “a State without a State”, i.e. a State that doesn’t necessarily territorialize as a Nation-State, but which ultimately really constitutes a State in the sense that capitalist social relations, private property, are not fundamentally challenged.


Unlike all kinds of euro-centrists and other worshippers of the world division into “central countries” (which are the only ones the spark of revolution could come from) on one hand and the “periphery” of capitalism on the other hand, we do not doubt that there is a proletarian movement in Rojava (as in the whole region of Middle-East, and that’s quite a fundamental disagreement we have with ICT positions in general), a movement that in spite of its weaknesses aim, however only partially, to emancipate the working class, and that in this sense is an integral part of worldwide proletarian movement heading towards abolition of capitalism and creating of a real human community – communism. Neither PKK nor PYD however represent this movement and this despite their seemingly pro-socialist proclamations and declarations in favour of this fashionable fetish of direct democracy (through the so-called “political turn” of PKK which would adopt “democratic confederalism”, “communalism” and “municipalism” dear to a whole a stream of Proudhonian libertarians all over the world). And if some would-be revolutionaries will continue to support them without any critique (or even while adopting a “critical support” à la Trotsky), they will become the gravediggers of this fragile movement in the same way as it happened with supporting the Popular Front in Spain 1936.


The main players in the current developing international support campaign for Rojava, acting as spokesmen of such organizations as PKK or PYD and its armed groups (YPJ and YPG), do nothing but confuse the existing social movement with organized and formal political forces that claim to be the representatives and leaders of the current struggles. The fact that Marxist-Leninist organizations (Bolshevik, Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyite, etc.), which were historically nothing but the capitalist left whose task has been and will be to supervise and quell in blood the struggles of our class, support statist sister organizations such as PKK or PYD, is quite normal. The fact that “anarchists”, “libertarians”, “libertarian communists”, “communist anarchists” who always claimed to fight against the State, against any form of State, do the same and take part in this campaign (in a “critical” way or not), doesn’t surprise us either but nevertheless urges us to raise the issue and develop some comments.


First, the campaign of “solidarity with Rojava” that is a distortion of an obvious need for solidarity with proletarians in struggle throughout the region, as all over the world, this campaign supporting the struggle for national liberation (here the Kurdish one) is not the prerogative of one family but it goes right through both big ideological families that talk in the name of the proletariat, and even causes divisions within them as they are torn between the supporters of the “Kurdish issue” and “oppressed peoples” on one hand and those who defend internationalist positions on the other hand. Indeed, in the “Marxist” ideological family as well as in the family of “ideological anarchism”, there are pros and contras. Therefore it is very clear that demarcation lines are not located (about this issue as well as more generally about the question of war and the tasks of revolutionary militants), between “Marxists” and “anarchists” but between the supporters of national liberation and therefore of bourgeois State and capitalism (even repainted in red) on one hand and the militants who develop genuine internationalism on the other hand, in short between the defenders of the bourgeois party for the proletariat (Social-Democracy under any political colours it is able to adorn itself with) and the fighters of the only “party” freeing all humanity, the party of the revolutionary proletariat, the World Communist Party, “the Party of Anarchy” (Karl Marx).


Then, whereas almost all sectors of anarchism historically and vehemently refuse any reference to “the dictatorship of the proletariat” they wrongly put into the same category as the real dictatorship of the value imposed to the proletariat for decades on behalf of communism in countries that proclaimed themselves to be “communist” and were named as such by Western bourgeois propaganda, now we see these “anarchists” forgetting all their “principles” and raising the flag of PKK and its State as a “lesser evil” as it was recently revealed by a stand taken and published by the Anarkismo network: “The issue of the relation of anarchists and syndicalists to movements like the PKK – movements that are not explicitly, or even thoroughly, anarchist – is a matter of controversy. A substantial section of the anarchist movement, particularly the large platformist and especifista network around, has supported the PKK, although not uncritically. […] Under the current circumstances of ISIS invading Kobane, even if democratic confederalism is defeated in Rojava internally by PYD elements and they implement a state, that state (from what we have read of the PYD) would be better than the other options that are real possibilities, being ISIS, Assad, or the KRG. […] In summary, applying our general approach, we can say of the battle for Rojava: we support the struggle for the national liberation of the Kurds, including the right of the national liberation movement to exist; […]; our support moves on a sliding scale, with Kurdish anarchists and syndicalists at the top, followed by the PKK, then the PYD, and we draw the line at the KRG; in practical terms, we cooperate around, and offer solidarity (even if only verbal) on a range of concrete issues, the most immediate of which is the battle to halt the ultra-right Islamic State and defend the Rojava revolution; within that revolution, we align ourselves with the PKK model of democratic confederalism against the more statist approach of the PYD models, and, even when doing so, aim at all times to propose and win influence for our methods, aims and projects: we are with the PKK against the KRG, but we are for the anarchist revolution before all else.” [] [our emphasis]


As we can see in this quote, nothing has changed since at least 1936 and “ideological anarchism” continues as much as then to justify a “lesser evil” (which in practice always proves to be the worse!) and sacrifices thus social revolution on the altar of political profitability, pragmatism and opportunism, or any other expression of the bourgeois politics rainbow. While yesterday in Spain, these “anarchists” (CNT-FAI) led astray the struggles of our class, they refused what they called “the dictatorship of anarchy” (i.e. the development of elementary and drastic measures to be imposed on the bourgeoisie, the struggle against private property, in order to satisfy the needs of the revolution), while they channelled the social movement on the rails of republican legality, these ladies and gentlemen had dealings with the forces of the Popular Front, with the “socialists” as well as the Stalinists, they entered the bourgeois governments and assumed thus their role in the State repression against our class. Today again, certain “anarchists” rub shoulders with the same political forces that bear no proletarian program, no revolutionary perspective, going as far as to overtly claim their militant support not to some of the revolutionary expressions emerging with difficulty from the quagmire of social peace but rather more prosaically to “progressive popular struggles” (cf. Anarkismo’s text already quoted), and this all the more easily since it is difficult to detect with force and certainty the programmatic and effective autonomy of our class on the ground in Rojava. No proletarian and communist expression emerges with force (at least given the few militant information coming from there) as it existed for example in the 1991 uprisings in Iraq where significant expressions of proletarian associationism have arisen.

These are only some comments in relation to this important debate which significance goes beyond the “Kurdish issue” and the support or not (and how) to “the resistance in Rojava”. This is also about the question of war as well as the question of class struggle, class war, and the affirmation of the proletariat as an organized force imposing the satisfaction of its needs. We would like to finish this little introduction, while suggesting some other critical texts that inspire us, even if we have strong reservations about some of their weaknesses and limitations. Debate and discussion are far from being over…

“Rojava: an anarcho-syndicalist perspective” by WSA []
“Anarchist Federation statement on Rojava: December 2014” []
“Rojava: Fantasies and Realities” by Zafer Onat []


PS: We would like to say a last thing to all those who, after these not very popular critics, would doubt about our solidarity with proletarians in struggle in the Middle-East and everywhere else: since the emergence of the so-called “Arabian spring”, we did publish no less than five texts and/or leaflets directly dedicated to this issue which are clear-cut affirmations in favour of struggles against misery and exploitation (without counting the various texts of other groups that we translated in Czech, which we made a presentation of, and we distributed through our internationalist militant network). Not only we produced our own texts in the three languages of our group (Czech, English, French) but they were also translated and distributed by various militant expressions all over the world, in German, Arabic, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish…


Class War # December 2014

# # #

In Rojava: People’s War is not Class War

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce (…)
The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living (…)
The social revolution (…) cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution (…) must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content.”


Spain in Historical Context

David Graeber’s article, “Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria?”, has been widely syndicated in the anarchist and liberal press. In it he talks of the “scandal” of how the social revolution in Western Kurdistan (Rojava) is being ignored by everyone including an undefined “revolutionary left”. He chooses to start on a deliberately subjective note by announcing that his father volunteered to fight for the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. He goes on

“A would-be fascist coup had been temporarily halted by a worker’s uprising, spearheaded by anarchists and socialists, and in much of Spain a genuine social revolution ensued, leading to whole cities under directly democratic management, industries under worker control, and the radical empowerment of women.

Spanish revolutionaries hoped to create a vision of a free society that the entire world might follow. Instead, world powers declared a policy of “non-intervention” and maintained a rigorous blockade on the republic, even after Hitler and Mussolini, ostensible signatories, began pouring in troops and weapons to reinforce the fascist side. The result was years of civil war that ended with the suppression of the revolution and some of a bloody century’s bloodiest massacres.
I never thought I would, in my own lifetime, see the same thing happen again.”


Our professor of anthropology […] clearly needs to study history more carefully. The military coup of July 18 1936 against the Second Spanish Republic came after years of class struggle. The Popular Front government of socialists and liberals did not know how to respond but the workers did. When the liberal ministers refused to arm the workers they attacked the barracks of the regime and armed themselves. This unleashed a social revolution which in various parts of Spain was almost as Graeber describes it. However it did not touch the political power of the bourgeois Spanish Republic. The state was not destroyed. The leading anarchists of the CNT-FAI first decided to support the Catalan regional government of the bourgeois Luis Companys and then, only 5 months later, entered the Madrid government with liberals and Stalinists. They decided to put the fight against “fascism” before the social revolution. In so doing they abandoned any working class agenda and delivered the revolution over to the bourgeoisie. It is the most shameful episode in anarchist history and most anarchist historians will agree with that verdict […].


Graeber, though invoking history, turns it upon its head. For him it was the fact that Hitler and Mussolini armed Franco that led to the defeat of the revolution. Not so. It was the abandonment of the social revolution for the military needs of “anti-fascism” that was really to blame. It was the social revolution of July 1936 which had galvanised the mass of the population to begin to fight for themselves and a new society. We are not saying this would have won, given its isolation at the time, but it would have left a more inspiring legacy for us today. In fact the history of the Spanish working class was so different to the rest of Europe (the Spanish bourgeoisie did not enter the First World War, for example) that the Spanish workers found themselves fighting alone. The rest of the European working class had not recovered from the defeat of the revolutionary wave that put an end to the First World War. This defeat had already allowed fascism to be victorious in Italy and Germany.


Imperialist Manipulations

And this had also defined the imperialist context in which the Spanish Civil War came about. Graeber is also not accurate when he says that all the great powers signed up to “non-intervention”. This was the hypocritical policy of the French and British ruling classes who hoped to persuade the Axis powers to attack the USSR (thus leaving them free to pick up the pieces later). They dragged Mussolini in to it in an attempt to split the Axis, but it failed.

In the lead up to the Second World War Stalin’s USSR also had to find a way to try to win allies. It had already made “antifascism” its slogan in November 1935. And on this basis it helped to form of Popular Front governments in Spain and France. The idea was to persuade the Western democracies that they could trust the Soviet “pariah” state. As it was the USSR secretly armed the Spanish Republic from the beginning (apart from Mexico, the only state to do so). And he who pays the piper calls the tune. Although the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) had only 6,000 members in 1936 it was immediately swollen by the defection of the Socialist Party youth led by Santiago Carillo. And it grew significantly bigger by opposing the very social revolution which had started the resistance. The petty bourgeois in Republican Spain flocked to them for defence against the anarchists. And soon Communist ministers appeared in Madrid and the security apparatus (the SIM) was taken over by the PCE. Stalinist stooges like Palmiro Togliatti (“Comrade Ercoli”) and Ernö Gerö were sent to Spain to conduct witchhunts of real revolutionaries. These mainly took place after the debacle of May 1937 in Barcelona where fighting broke out between the CNT and the POUM on one side and the Stalinists on the other. It ended with a truce but with the Stalinists in the driving seat (as the “anti-fascist struggle" was paramount) and more massacres of their opponents on the Republican side. At every stage the Stalinists justified their takeover of the state apparatus by the need to make “the fight against fascism” more effective. All it did was demoralise and destroy the initiative of the masses and pave the way for Franco’s final victory and yet further massacres. Graeber is right that the revolution was suppressed, not by Franco but by the “anti-fascists” he now seeks to emulate.


This is what so many on the left from the Graeber-type anarchos to the traditional Marxist left of Trotskyists and Stalinists cannot fathom. Anti-fascism was the ideology of one side of the 1930s imperialist equation to mobilise the population for imperialist war. It worked. Graeber’s father was not the only one to volunteer for the International Brigades. So did my steelworker Dad in 1938. He was then a 16 year old butcher’s delivery boy and had no strong political views. He was (thankfully!) turned down on grounds of his age but his reaction was precisely what the Allied bloc in the Second World War were counting on to mobilise the working class for yet another slaughter after the “war to end all wars” had ended in 1918. No-one would fight for “King and Country” anymore but plenty thought it worthwhile to risk their lives fighting the evil in fascism.


And once again history partially repeats itself, the tragedy first, the farce to follow. The Graebers, as well as the Stalinists and Trotskyists are dressing themselves upon in the clothes of the past to call for support for the Kurdish nationalists against the “fascist” or “crypto-fascist” Da’esh or IS in Rojava. Now the Da’esh are a monstrous reactionary force perpetrating acts worthy of Genghiz Khan and the Mongols but fighting for or against them is not for an autonomous working class. We should be aware of the imperialist context of what is going on in Syria, Turkey and Iraq before urging anyone to go running off to fight for the PYD […]. The PYD is dominated by the PKK although for diplomatic reasons it says it is not (the PKK is condemned internationally as “terrorist” whilst the PYD is not). The “democratic” or “mutualist” turn of the PKK is largely to try to win support in the West just as “anti-fascism” and the “Popular Front” functioned for Soviet imperialism in the 1930s.


The Da’esh are a creation of the very imperialist coalition that now bombs it […]. Without the US-led dismemberment of the Iraqi state after 2003 there would be no space for the IS to work in. Without the initial arms supply of the Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar the IS would be nothing. And the Kurdish regime in Northern Iraq has been the biggest beneficiary of US policy. Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party regime there is a close ally of both the US and Turkey and is exporting its oil to Turkey via a new pipeline recently completed. The IS, having gained its own sources of cash, has broken free of its original imperialist masters and is pursuing its own agenda. Again there are parallels with the 1930s but not the ones our anti-fascists like to think about. In 1939 Stalin abandoned “antifascism” to sign the Hitler-Stalin Pact […] with the very fascists the workers in Spain had supposedly died fighting. Then as now, imperialist imperatives can dictate what the name of the cause is. Whatever Graeber et al. assert, the fight in Syria today is a fight for imperialist control of the territory.


Rojava’s “Social Experiment”

And what is going on in Rojava is not as wonderful as Graeber says. He is merely relaying the propaganda of the PYD. In fact you get the impression (given the relative weight of words devoted to it) that he is more impressed by the “conversion” of the Stalinist Ocalan to the ideas of “libertarian municipalism” of the late Murray Bookchin, an ideology close to Graeber’s heart.

“The PKK has declared that it no longer even seeks to create a Kurdish state. Instead, inspired in part by the vision of social ecologist and anarchist Murray Bookchin, it has adopted the vision of “libertarian municipalism”, calling for Kurds to create free, self-governing communities, based on principles of direct democracy, that would then come together across national borders – that it is hoped would over time become increasingly meaningless. In this way, they proposed, the Kurdish struggle could become a model for a worldwide movement towards genuine democracy, co-operative economy, and the gradual dissolution of the bureaucratic nation-state.”

Oh that this were true! The PKK have reviewed their strategy, withdrawn their fighters over the Turkish border into Iraq and toned down the Stalinism in an attempt to present themselves as “democratic”. But even Graeber recognises that some “authoritarian elements” remain although he does not elaborate. Let’s help him out. According to the PYD themselves there is a form of dual power with the now famous self-governing communities existing alongside a parliamentary type set-up entirely controlled by the PYD. No surprises for guessing who has the real clout. The PYD have got a virtual monopoly of weapons.1 They are the state. And in each country (Iraq, Iran and Syria) the local Kurdish bourgeoisie has set up its own national entity in the same vein. These might not be recognised by international imperialism but they are states in all but name. In some ways they impinge more on people’s lives than the state in the UK. For example, if you are over 18 you are subject to conscription.2 And as for the supposed internationalism of the PYD, its leader Salih Muslim has threatened to expel all Arabs from “Kurdish” territory in Syria despite the fact that most of them were born there.3 Women may be freer in Kurdistan in general than in the surrounding territories but it’s all relative. There have been many accusations of a rapist/sexist culture in the peshmerga and Ocalan himself seems not only to condone it but to admit to it personally. None of this is discussed in Graeber’s all too brief account of the wonders of Rojava.

The one word missing from Graeber’s account is class. For him Rojava is a “people’s movement” just as the Occupy movement was. The Second World War was on the Allied side touted as a “People’s War”. But “the people” are the nation. The rallying cry of the capitalist class was that they were the representatives of “the people” against the feudal order. But we recognise that the people is an all-class idea. It includes exploiters and exploited. This is why we pose the question of class in opposition to all ideas of the people or “the nation”. Nationalism is the enemy of a working class which owns no private property nor exploits anyone. As Marx put it “Workers have no country”. The class war is not a “people’s war”.


We do recognise that there is a need for many workers to look for inspiring examples of social organisation. This is why we look to the Paris Commune of 1871 or Russia in 1905. It’s also why we look to Spain in the summer of 1936 or Russia in the winter of 1917-18. Neither were perfect but both gave some indication of what the working class was capable of doing. Both were ultimately drowned by imperialist intervention. But they were a lot further down the road to real proletarian autonomy than what is being sold to us today in Rojava or anywhere else in Kurdistan. We are used to the capitalist Left (Trotskyists, Stalinists, Maoists) rushing to support this or that “lesser evil” or lauding this or that model as “really existing socialism” (Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Vietnam etc., etc.) but all they are inviting us to do is enter into the imperialist propaganda games of our rulers. A real social revolution cannot take place inside one country as the history of the 1920s and 1930s shows. If we want to see an autonomous class movement capable of creating a society without classes, exploitation, without states and murderous wars we have to fight for it where we live and work. In the long run we have to create our own class wide organisations […] or whatever is appropriate to the struggle, but we also have to make this part of a conscious fight against capitalism in all its forms. This means that the creation of an international and internationalist political movement, opposed to all national projects today, is an indispensable part of that struggle. This has to be capable of inspiring and uniting the revolutionary consciousness of wider swathes of workers. It’s not as easy or instantly gratifying as sloganising about this or that supposed workers paradise but it is the only road for the emancipation of humanity. […]


Thursday, October 30, 2014