The bloodbath in Syria: class war or ethnic war?

Anarchists join Kurdish fighters in Syria

As the Syrian conflict drags on, Devrim Valerian looks at the fighting, in particular in Syrian Kurdistan which many on the left have hailed as a "social revolution" and asks whether any side deserves workers' support.

The Arab Winter

How long three years seems. In early 2011 it seemed that a fresh wind of revolt was stirring from the East and spreading throughout the Arab world1. Massive protests and workers’ strikes in Tunisia and Egypt had terrified the ruling class to the point where they felt the need to depose their own heads of state. The embers of revolt were being fanned across the Arab world, and eventually even seemed to spread sparks across the world as a whole in the form of the occupy and indignados movements. All of this on the back of mass movements in Iran and Greece just a couple of years previously gave millions across the world the illusion that there was a massive return to struggle within the working class, that once again ordinary people were seizing the possibility of radically transforming their lives.

And yet coming towards the end of 2014, the situation is not looking nearly so optimistic. In the Middle East the conflicts in Syrian and Iraq seem to have merged into one joint ethno-sectarian war, which even today is threatening to spill over into neighbouring countries, Lebanon and Jordan seem to be the most vulnerable. In Eastern Ukraine a low level civil war is continuing despite an initial ceasefire. We have travelled in these three short years from a situation where there seemed to be a return to class struggle to a situation where the working class instead of grasping its chance to struggle in its own interests has plunged headfirst into deeper and deeper ethnic-sectarian struggles.

The Arab winter seemed to have set in almost as soon as the first shoots of spring had emerged. While it may have been difficult for some to see as they were swept along with the enthusiasm of the movement without at all noticing the direction that it was going in, the signs were there from March at the very latest. In Tunisia, and Egypt the working class was mobilised in defence of its own interests. In both countries it was strikes of masses of workers that shook the state. However, in other countries this was not the case. The conflict in Libya never possessed these characteristics even at its very beginning. In Libya, the Arab spring took on the characteristics of a fratricidal tribal war. The intervention of the Western powers on the side of the rebels did nothing but push the conflict further in that direction. Further to the East, however, potentially much more dangerous events were brewing.

While the conflict in Libya was essentially a struggle between rival tribes, the struggle in the Levant and Mesopotamia took on a much deeper sectarian character, which had the potential to spread far beyond the borders of a single state, and engulf the entire region. The struggles in both Syria and Bahrain took on these characteristics. Syria, a country where the majority of the population are Sunni Arab Muslims, is ruled by members of a minority Shia offshoot, who have a tendency to rely upon the country’s other minorities for support. Conversely in tiny Bahrain, a Sunni monarchy rules over a majority Shia population. Worried about the Shia minority in their own countries the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an organisation of the Gulf oil monarchies led by Saudi Arabia sent in tanks to crush this Shia uprising in mid-March. At this point it became absolutely clear that the conflict had ceased to be a series of 'national' events and was now becoming a sectarian struggle across the entire region, the main protagonists being Saudi Arabia, and the GCC along with Turkey on the Sunni side, and Iran, Syria, and factions in both Iraq and Lebanon on the other.

Of course there were many on the left, who just as they had in Libya, saw a genuine workers’ revolution in Syria. Others, aware of the reactionary sectarian nature of much of the protest movement, defended the Syrian state in the name of secularism, anti-imperialism or whatever ideology they could use in an attempt to cover up the gore of a murderous bloody state. Anarchists in particular, but not alone, were particularly vulnerable to talk of democratic committees and self organisation of the revolt. Many insisted on these characteristics even as it became increasingly obvious that the war was turning into a multi-sided bloodbath where different ethnic/sectarian gangs controlled the populations that they controlled by force. Of course, as communists we too agree that there can be no genuine working class movement without workers' self organisation. However, we also insist that their can be no workers councils without workers' struggle. Local democracy in itself is not a revolutionary thing. In many countries workers can vote for their local representatives who are responsible for running municipal services, and in many countries few of them bother to.

What invests workers' councils with their revolutionary content is not their democratic forms, but the fact that they are representative of workers in struggle. The war in Syria saw an initial burst of enthusiasm in the struggle against the regime. People created various committees and councils, but this was not a workers' struggle. Ultimately as armed gangs took control of what rapidly became a war, enthusiasm and popular involvement died down. Of course some committees remained, but it was armed men giving the orders. Much, but not all of the left, seemed to realise its mistake. As internationalists had stated from the start there was no progressive side in this war. It seemed like some sort of lesson had been learned.

And then came Kobanê...

The Protagonists -The Da'esh, and the PKK

Since the middle of September the small city of Kobane on the Turkish-Syrian border has become the centre of world attention when the Da'esh began a siege aimed at capturing the city. Once again the left has renewed its cheer-leading of what is essentially just another phase of the larger sectarian struggle being waged across the region. This moment, within the larger struggle, is almost being portrayed as a struggle between light and darkness by much of the left. In the corner of good and light we have the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and in the corner of darkness and evil we have the Da'esh, now newly renamed as simply the Islamic State.

The Da'esh's origins lie in Iraq in at the end of the 1990s. It underwent various mergers, and name changes including being known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and eventually settled on the name Islamic State of Iraq in late 2006. The thing that really built the Da'esh during these years was the development of the situation in Iraq into open civil war in 2006. Although presented in the West as a struggle against the US occupation, the Iraqi civil war had more of the characteristic of a sectarian struggle between Sunni, and Shia Muslims.

Iraq had traditionally been a state run by members of its Sunni minority ruling over a Shia majority. After the last Iraq war the newly promised American democracy, gave the Shia majority more representation and control of the Iraqi government. Now the boot is on the other foot. The Shia majority is using its power against the Sunni minority. Acts of ethnic cleansing similar to those being committed by the Da'esh are also being committed against the Sunni population further south in Iraq. The Da'esh managed to place itself as a leading Sunni force in the sectarian civil war in Iraq. During this time, they reduced the number of foreign fighters, and professionalised their military structure by bringing in former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers. It was during this time also that they gained the mastership of tribal politics, which has served them so well in the years since.

With the beginning of the war in Syria, one faction within the Da'esh began to infiltrate militants across the border. Again positioning itself as the defender of Sunni Muslims against atrocities perpetuated this time by the Syrian state, and slowly through its use of tribal alliances and divergences,and its struggles and mergers that have been constant within the Syrian opposition, it has manoeuvred itself to the top. Of course, the support, in political financial, and manpower terms came from Saudi Arabia, and certain of its allies in the GCC, not to mention the support received from Turkey. For the Gulf states in particular, the Da'esh was a weapon that could be used in the wider struggle, pointed at the Shia government in Baghdad, and the Alawite government in Damascus, two of the three main allies of their ultimate enemy, Iran.

The Da'esh now seems to have lost the support of its backers in the Gulf2. Turkey though seems to still see them as having some use, as a tool in the struggle to overthrow the Syrian state, and as a hammer to strike a blow against its enemy of thirty years, the PKK.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has been fighting a war in the South-East of Turkey for the last three decades. Like the Da'esh it is essentially an ethnic militia. Its origins lie not in Syria, but in Turkey. However, during its long war, it has established sections in neighbouring countries with Kurdish populations. Like the Da'esh the PKK has also received support from various foreign states, primarily Syria, but also Iran (until the PKK's Iranian section began to bother the Iranian state), and Russia. It is also suggested that its Iranian section, PJAK, has received aid from the US, and it has certainly tried to deepen whatever contacts it has with America, with PJAK spokesperson Ihsan Warya going as far to declare that “PJAK really does wish it were an agent of the United States”.

The Syria section of the PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) stood apart from the majority of factions at the start of the Syrian war, standing apart from the Kurdish National Council backed by the PKK's rival, Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Syrian National Council, which it saw as too closely connected to Turkey. In July 2012, the Syrian state made an operational decision to withdraw the majority of its troops from the Kurdish areas of the country in order to enable them to redeploy against an opposition offensive against Aleppo. Shortly after the PYD took control of the vast majority of the Kurdish region. This take-over was accomplished with very little violence, and it has been suggested by many that a deal was done between the PKK/PYD, and the Syrian state. What the PYD has done in Syrian Kurdistan since then, has been seen by many as a social revolution.

Revolution in Rojava

The PKK has been running a massive propaganda offensive in the West. Articles talking about the struggle in Syrian Kurdistan are appearing all over the Western media, from leftist magazines to women's magazine, Marie Claire. What was once seen in the Western mainstream media as an authoritarian Stalinist nationalist group has now repositioned itself as an democratic, ecological, feminist movement, moved by a philosophy called 'democratic confederalism' adapted from that of the anarchist Murray Bookchin. To many in the region, who are familiar with the PKK's mode of operations, this seems very difficult to believe. The PKK is an organisation with a dark past. Even their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan talks about periods of “gangs within our organization and open banditry, arrang[ing] needless, haphazard operations, sending young people to their death in droves”. The history of the PKK is something that has been well documented by internationalist critics3. It is not what we want to engage with here.

For us the problem is not that the PKK has a bloody history of crimes against both its own members and the working class. It does have this history of course. This is no surprise though. Virtually all nationalist gangs have a similar sort of history, and while many on the left who back these gangs may wish that they didn't, it does go with the territory. Even if there were some pristine nationalist movement unstained with the blood of the working class, and its own members, the nationalist logic would still propel it in the same direction, so here we intend not to concentrate on the PKK's bloody past, but to concentrate on its position today.

A lot has been made in the Western media of the female only militia units with pictures of young women in combat fatigues with guns gracing the pages of magazines, and websites. To be cynical it sells. Here we have these brave young women fighting off these 'Islamic barbarians'. The PKK marketing department certainly knows its audience. When you stop to think about it now, it’s not really exactly that radical. The Da'esh also have women only groups of combat troops. You can't imagine them having mixed groups in an ultra-Islamic group, but then neither does the PKK, and nor does the Iranian state, which also has female combat troops. In fact the PKK, has a long history of separating the sexes and sexual relationship between the sexes have long been punished, just like in any other bourgeois army.

However, it is a big propaganda selling point for them. The aim of this campaign in the West is twofold. One aim is to have the PKK removed from lists of terrorist organisations in various states. With the emergence of the Da'esh devil, the PKK line for the mainstream is that these young women are the ones fighting against the terrorists. The line they sell to the left is that this is some kind of social revolution, where relations between the sexes are being overturned. Anarchists have been making comparisons to the Spanish revolution, which we discuss in the accompanying article4. The second goal of this campaign is to get US and European practical support for the fighters in Kobanê, which has so far been successful with the Americans dropping weapons and ammunition to the besieged troops, and providing air support.

To return though, to the question of revolution; for us as communists, a revolution is a creation of the working class in struggle for its own interests. Within the course of this struggle the working class not only transforms society, but also transforms itself. In Syrian Kurdistan, there was no movement of the working class. Control of the towns in Syrian Kurdistan was taken by an armed group filling the power vacuum left after the withdrawal of the Syrian Arab Army. That's not to say that there was no support for the PYD, as everywhere today nationalism in the Kurdish regions is strong. Local committees were thrown up which took control of the necessary tasks usually undertaking by the municipal level of the state. The Da'esh too, has in many cases left local people in charge of local issues, and like the Da'esh, the armed men have maintained power at the top. The supreme ruling body of Rojava, the Kurdish Supreme Committee is a body, not composed of delegates from lower level committees, but an alliance between two political groups, the PYD, and the Barzani backed KDP. Despite all of the democratic pretence, ultimate control is wielded by nationalist gangs with guns.

And a nationalist gang is what the PKK is. As we mentioned before the PKK despite a somewhat patchy history with minority groups in Turkey has now set itself up as the defender of the minorities of Kurdistan. This, however, does not apply, and can not apply to Arabs. On more than one occasion, Salih Muslim, co-leader of the PYD, has talked about 'expelling Arabs', and the possibility of 'war between Kurds and Arabs'. Just to be clear, Muslim is not talking about expelling all Arabs, “One day those Arabs who have been brought to the Kurdish areas will have to be expelled”. The Arabs that he is talking about here are those who were transplanted to the region in the states 1973 Arabisation campaign. Given the demographics of Middle Eastern countries though (Syrian has a median age of just over 22), the majority of “those Arabs who have been brought to the Kurdish areas” will actually have been born there. Muslim himself admits that these Arabs are 'victims' in all of this. This doesn't stop him though from proclaiming that “All the villages where they live now belong to the Kurds”.

Of course these Arabs can no longer be separated from Arabs who were previously there. There are many of them who were born in Kurdistan, who have married with local Arabs, and had children and even grandchildren. How will the PYD discriminate between them, and more importantly how will other Arabs react to this talk of ethnic cleansing? This is the path to ethnic conflict that we have seen across the Middle East, particularly in neighbouring Lebanon, and in places such as ex-Yugoslavia, and Northern Ireland in Europe, all too many times before. Whatever the left talk of some of the protagonists in these struggles, they follow an ever deepening spiral into more and more vicious ethnic/sectarian conflict. At first the worst atrocities might be 'mistakes', shootings of civilians undertaken without direction or permission of the leadership of the various nationalist militias. However, to the families and friends of the victims, this is of secondary importance. They strike back, and murder is followed by atrocity and massacre.

In the midst of a civil war between a Kurdish militia, and what is essentially a Sunni Arab militia, these events will happen. It matters not how progressive the PKK portrays itself. The logic of the situation dictates what will happen. A good example would be the Kingsmill massacre in County Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1976. The IRA, like the PKK, was viewed as a 'progressive, socialist' organisation, but the day after Protestant paramilitaries shot dead five Catholic civilians, Irish Republicans went out and stopped a bus of building workers, and took off the eleven protestants on it, and shot them, killing ten of them. The IRA denied involvement in the attack. However, that didn't stop the Protestant paramilitaries from enacting their revenge, and the tit for tat killings continued.

For communists a revolution cannot be enacted by armed ethnic/sectarian militias and fighting between the militias of different ethnic/sectarian groups will only lead to the working class being divided and being used to massacre itself.

Class War or Sectarian War?

It is this threat of ethnic/sectarian war, which heralds the danger for the future. Ultimately despite the differences between the PKK and the Da'esh, the similarities between the two are what links them. A socialist veneer does not stop an ethnic militia from playing its part in the escalation of the cycle of ethnic conflict, and ethnic cleansing. It is clear in this struggle that the Da'esh is the aggressor, and that the PKK is merely defending its turf. It is also clear that compared to the Da'esh, the PKK looks positively progressive. None of this stops either of them playing their roles in the intensification of ethnic conflict.

Of course we have sympathy for Kurds being massacred by the Da'esh. However, unlike others on the left, internationalists recognise that those dying on the side of the Da'esh, also come in the main from the working class and the peasantry. Like amongst the Kurds, there will be many fighting with the Da'esh who have lost loved ones in sectarian massacre performed by Shia militias in Iraq, and by the Alawite run state in Syria. Also on the side of the Da'esh, as with the Kurds, there will be many young workers and peasants who have been conscripted into these gangs.

In a struggle like this where workers and peasants are butchering each other in the name of nationalism and religion, communists do not take sides. Those who take sides in this war will not contribute in the long term to any progressive victory, but merely to the further ethnic division, and increased militarisation of the region, neither of which will be of benefit to the working class. It also seems ironic that many on the left, especially those aligned to the PKK in Turkey, who for so long sided with whichever local imperialist power, or proxy, opposed America is now cheering the US on. Of course, they must know that American intervention in this war is certainly not for the benefit of the people of the Middle East, but they seem to have forgotten it very quickly.

The working class, neither in the Middle East nor in the rest of the world, is not strong enough to stop this war just as in 1914 it was not strong enough to stop World War One or the Armenian genocide a year later. To pretend otherwise is to be prey to illusions. However, that does not mean that revolutionaries should dive headfirst into taking sides in it, and acting in a way which will almost certainly lead to the prolonging and intensification of ethnic/sectarian conflict. It is important to remember that the siege of Kobanê is but a moment in a larger struggle across the entire region being fought out by the proxies of various local imperialist powers. Turkey along with Saudi, and the GCC, will continue to try to overthrow the Syrian state, and Turkey will continue its terrorist war against not only the PKK, but also the civilian population in Turkish Kurdistan. It is almost inevitable that in return other powers opposed to Turkish policy will begin to channel arms to the PKK to continue its fight against Turkey. Recent demonstrations in Turkey in support of the fighters in Kobanê left over thirty people dead, the majority of them murdered by the Turkish state, and some of them by Turkish nationalist gangs, and saw the state using tanks against demonstrators for the first time since the 1980 coup. The Turkish armed forces have also, after a period of ceasefire, renewed their attacks upon the PKK in Turkey. Of course, Turkey is the aggressor here, but when the PKK replies in kind, and kills some Turkish conscripts that won't be the first thing in the minds of grieving mothers, relatives, and friends...and so the spiral of ethnic hatred, which in turn leads, to violence, murder, and massacre will go on.

The alternative that internationalists pose to this is that of class struggle. It may seem far away now, but it is only four years ago that the TEKEL strike in Turkey really seemed to be breaking down barriers between Kurdish, and Turkish workers, and led to a much wider strike wave. 2013 saw massive demonstrations across Turkey sparked by police brutality against protestors in Istanbul's Gezi park. The three years since the Arab spring may seem like a long time now, but in times like these changes can occur very, very quickly. Although the working class seems weak today struggles where the working class is fighting for its own interests will return in the future, and they are the only solution to overcoming the ethnic and sectarian divide by uniting workers as workers, not as Kurds, Turks, Arabs, and Persians, or Sunni, Shia, Christian or Yazidi.

D. Valerian 28/10/14

Glossary: Who’s Who in Kurdistan – A Brief Summary

  • PKK Kurdistan Workers’ Party. A Turkish Kurdish political and military organisation, originally Marxist-Leninist (ie. Stalinist) founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan (in prison in Turkey since 1998). At war with the Turkish state since 1984.
  • PYD Democratic Union Party. Syrian branch of the PKK founded in 2003.
  • YPG People’s Protection Units. Military wing of the PYD.
  • KNCS Kurdish National Council in Syria. A heterogenous grouping of Kurdish political organisations opposed to the PYD and under the patronage of the KDP.
  • KDP Kurdish Democratic Party. Founded in 1946 by Mustafa Barzani and now led by his son, Massoud. It is the ruling power in the KRG.
  • KRG Kurdistan Regional Government formed after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq under Massoud’s KDP it is a staunch ally of the USA.
  • PUK Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Founded in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1975 after a split within the KDP. It is dominant in the southern part of Iraqi Kurdistan and its leader Jalal Talabani was President of Iraq 2005-14


Posted By

Nov 3 2014 12:54


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Serge Forward
Nov 9 2014 14:20

Indeed. On the Entente side, one reason used for taking sides by socialists and anarchists was "the rape of Belgium" by the German army.

Nov 9 2014 14:54
jura wrote:
Tyrion wrote:
As both Marx and Engels described the Paris Commune as a dictatorship of the proletariat, I see very little similarity between that and an Islamic dictatorship.

Correct me by pointing to a source if you can, but I don't think Marx ever described the PC as a dictatorship of the proletariat. This comes from a foreword to the Civil War in France written by Engels years after Marx's death. Generally I think Marx's alleged enthusiasm about the PC is overstated. I mean a DoP that did nothing substantial on the economic plane to hurt the bourgeoisie... that's really an overstatment.

Correction: it was actually the 1891 postscript, not the foreword.

From this piece by Hal Draper:

Hal Draper wrote:
Locus 5. The first post-Commune meeting of the International was the London Conference of September 1871. At its end there was an anniversary celebration of the International’s founding, bringing the participants together in a social occasion – a banquet plus “toasts” (short speeches). Marx was voted into the chair and forced to make a short speech.

A correspondent of the New York World sent in a longish dispatch about the banquet (“The Reds in Session”) with a considerable summary of Marx’s talk. About the Commune, Marx reiterated his view that “the Commune was the conquest of the political power of the working classes.” Its aim was to remove any “base for class rule and oppression”: “But before such a change could be effected a proletarian dictature would become necessary.” (The verbs are those of the reporter’s paraphrase.)

Nov 9 2014 17:07

Tyrion, thanks, that's very interesting! I stand corrected. So perhaps both Marx and Engels were overly optimistic about the Commune.

Edit: I looked into Draper's three volume Marx-Engels Cyclopaedia. It's interesting that he briefly mentions Marx's letter to Nieuwenhuis, but does not discuss the much less enthusiastic appraisal of the Commune it contains:

Marx to Nieuwenhuis wrote:
Perhaps you will point to the Paris Commune; but apart from the fact that this was merely the rising of a town under exceptional conditions, the majority of the Commune was in no sense socialist, nor could it be. With a small amount of sound common sense, however, they could have reached a compromise with Versailles useful to the whole mass of the people -- the only thing that could be reached at the time.

Nov 9 2014 16:25

Actually I opened another thread for exactly like this type of discussions. It might be better to discuss it there perhaps. Jura I don't know if it is your interpretation but what you wrote is very different from what I read on commune and its relation to revolutionaries at the time. Maybe we can find more on it in the speeches given in International. (and thanks Tyrion).

Nov 9 2014 16:27

Yeah, sorry. Feel free to respond in the other history thread.

Nov 10 2014 22:47


I have been following this site for a while and I am really shocked about the ideas of people who identify themselves as anarchistes/communistes. It seems like nearly all the people in this site are petite burgeoise, due to their unrealistic ideas. Do you really know the political, social structure of Middle East? If you know, you sohuld be admired by what have PKK done in past 30 years. A community with strong religional and feudal supression has now becomin a gender-free (even LGBT movement is included in the Kurdish political movement) community. It is said in the article that PKK is indeed not a gender free organisation since it prohibits the relationships between them. This is the thought what I told as''unrealistic'. Gender relationships (of course only sexual relaitionships) are prohibted for only guerillas or other gunned militants. I tink it is very undestandable for war conditions. ISIS have of course women militants but in hijabs and always inferior to male members. In PKK women have their seperated organizations and most importantly all these rights are achieved by women's self struggle.
PKK is also a national movement, so do not expect it to stuck into only class struggle. Besides, only little, romantic, secure movements are stuck into only class struggle and revolution will be made by not those romantics but by well organized, contentious organisations like PKK.

All in all, even if PKK was only a ethnic movement, ISIS was still incomparable with PKK.I think this comparison is just ulterior motive of the author.

Nov 10 2014 22:55

Ohhhooo. I have read the last parts of the article new. I think the author is not even a moderate leftist. This article can be easily published in Turkish state-backed papers like 'Yeni Şafak'. It is like a cheap black propaganda against Rojava Revolution.

Nov 10 2014 23:11

"The Turkish armed forces have also, after a period of ceasefire, renewed their attacks upon the PKK in Turkey. Of course, Turkey is the aggressor here, but when the PKK replies in kind, and kills some Turkish conscripts that won't be the first thing in the minds of grieving mothers, relatives, and friends...and so the spiral of ethnic hatred, which in turn leads, to violence, murder, and massacre will go on."

This quote has nothing with anarchism, communism or socialism. This is the mainstream (so wrong and adherent to state-power) idea of Turkish so-called liberals. PKK does not kill those conscripts because of their being Turkish. Hence, if it leads to a ethnic hatred it is not the faulr of PKK but those who reflect it as an ethnic struggle.

Nov 11 2014 10:07

Do we have to put up with these PKK trolls slandering comrades here??
I would say that Koray, in his own words "has nothing with anarchism, communism or socialism."

Nov 11 2014 10:50

Could we cool it a tad with the 'slandering comrades' objection, at least save it for when it's actually flaming.

Koray, national struggle without class consciousness is effectively meaningless and by definition not revolutionary. The word consciousness is more than incidental, because it always exists and you can either be aware of it, or oblivious. It is not something you can fancifully opt to leave out of your national revolutionary struggle.

Serge Forward
Nov 11 2014 11:01
Kureigo-San wrote:
Could we cool it a tad with the 'slandering comrades' objection, at least save it for when it's actually flaming.

It's actually libel, but who cares, the object is the same:

Koray wrote:
...nearly all the people in this site are petite burgeoise... I think the author is not even a moderate leftist. This article can be easily published in Turkish state-backed papers like 'Yeni Şafak'. It is like a cheap black propaganda against Rojava Revolution....

Fuck Turkey, fuck ISIS and fuck the PKK.

Nov 11 2014 11:18

Battlescarred, I think that we do have to put up with the swamping of this and other related threads by open supporters of nationalism because that is what's happening. It's not only these overt expressions though because they are tacitly supported by "on the one hand and the other" type arguments as well as the pious wish to "do something" against Isis or to find some pathetic element in the situation that corresponds to some sort of imagined municipal socialism. It's these latter expressions that also contribute to the nationalist trumpets and the drum beats of war.

For me the weakness of Devrim's text above is that, while giving an excellent analysis of the forces on the ground, it avoids the international situation and the role of the major powers - which, in my opinion, is integral to the situation. Today the French left, the French CP, the Greens (always ready for a war) and the New Anti Capitalist Party - all no doubt supported by some "anarchists", have thrown their support behind the PKK saying that its demands should be met in Syria and Turkey.

Nov 11 2014 11:23

No fucking allowed in ISIS or PKK.

Is there anything constructive anarchists can do? Or is it one of those where the muddy puddle is best cleared by leaving it alone.

Nov 11 2014 12:53
Do we have to put up with these PKK trolls slandering comrades here??
I would say that Koray, in his own words "has nothing with anarchism, communism or socialism."

I agree, this shit has been going on for too long.

Nov 11 2014 13:07

I admire people's determination to solve their disagrements in libcom with rigorious logical argumentation and in light of empirical data.

Caiman del Barrio
Nov 11 2014 13:51
Kureigo-San wrote:
No fucking allowed in ISIS or PKK.

Apart from if you're one of the leaders. ISIS commanders have sex slaves (I think?) and apparently Ocalan considers most female PKK members sexually available.

Is there anything constructive anarchists can do? Or is it one of those where the muddy puddle is best cleared by leaving it alone.

Deal with the ripples of the huge humanitarian crisis when it comes to our shores. Last year, Syrian refugees blockaded Calais ferryport demanding that the UK gives them asylum. According to the most recent Novara, only around 50 Syrians have received refugee status in the UK so far.

Or, y'know, you can wave PKK banners around in public and share 'hype' Facebook updates from PKK mouthpieces. wink

Nov 11 2014 13:57

Caiman del Barrio

Ocalan considers most female PKK members sexually available.

Ocalan is in prison for 15 years now you are aware of it, right?

Nov 11 2014 16:36

No thanks Caiman. grin

Nov 11 2014 17:49

Other elements to those I mentioned above that anarchism has helped allow overt nationalism to flourish on these threads are as follows:

- the characterisation of Isis as "fascist", thus imposing a Holy duty on some anarchist elements to support the nationalist and imperialist factions of the "resistance" in the name of "anti-fascism", just as they did during and at the end of the second world war behind the forces of democracy and nationalism;

- the idea of the anti-Isis forces somehow being a "lesser evil" - a purely moral concept that ignores the fact that all the belligerent forces involved in this war come from the same heap of capitalist decay;

- the "feminist" card has also been played, another aspect which is entirely compatible with capitalist and imperialist relations. The lines here are not very clear (nor can they be) but the idea seems to be that women in uniform fighting for nationalist gangs against the rapists and fascists of a worthy factor of support; The fundamentally oppressive nature of the PKK towards women has been amply demonstrated elsewhere on here but even if the PKK was an "equal opportunity employer" it would make no difference at all to its capitalist and imperialist role;

- further on this question, the Russian/Iranian backed group Hezbollah deals swiftly and terminally with all instances of battlefield rape among its own ranks but that doesn't make it a "lesser evil" from a communist point of view;

- and further on the "feminist" question, the bare-headed, AK-toting Israeli women soldiers patrolling on top of Jerusalem's al-Asqa mosque are neither striking a blow for the liberation of women, nor for secularism;

- returning to Hezbollah, it's worth remembering that the entry of this group onto this imperialist battlefield, tipped the balance of military strength in favour the Assad regime and opened up a line from Tehran to the Israeli border. And this fact reinforced the support of the US secret services to the jihadist anti-Assad forces. The so-called "moderate" anti-Assad forces have always been a fiction, generated in good part by the CIA.

mikail firtinaci
Jul 23 2020 16:25


Nov 11 2014 19:21

Again, the main point of contention here is:

1. Some people feel that speaking favorably of the socio-economic-political developments in Rojava and within the greater leftist segments of Kurdish political developments is well within the realm of solidarity. These regions, areas, groups, and developments can be considered as aspects of PKK, YPG/YPJ, The Cantons, and what ever else falls within the democratic autonomous realm (which does not include the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, etc... Some even feel strongly enough and have enough knowledge about on-the-ground political developments and as anarchists/communists, libertarian-socialists, or autonomists fully support these political developments and the fighting to defend said political developments. Critical support nonetheless (as if that is even having to be said).

And then we have the second group,

2. Some people who neither agree with speaking favorably or supporting what is happening within Rojava, etc...

I think the 1st group is significantly larger than the second group. The international show of solidarity from the autonomous-leftists around from all over the world suggests a popular support for Rojava. This support is varied and comes in many different forms and for many different reasons. Good! I comfortably fall within the 1st group and feel very comfortable why the company I keep.

The reason why I and some others do not taken the 2nd group's view very serious is because it lacks convincing and actual empirical evidence to back up its ideological claims. The 2nd group appears to be merely arguing for the sake of arguing. This discussion has somehow become some kind of debate competition. I am not very interested in this at all. The weakness of the 2nd groups position is very obvious and the constant conscious refusal to address point-counter-point suggests a lack of general knowledge. This lack of general knowledge is attempted to be made up for by political accusations and ideological slogans.

When it comes to attacking what is happening in Rojava based on some, as far as I can tell, baseless accusations of sexual deviance perpetrated by Ocalan the debate/discussion is no longer about what is happening but instead now the conversation is only about winning the debate and smearing Ocalan. Here is the thing, the sexual critique/smear is just that a smearing of one person to damn the entire region. I am sorry but that is petty (come on, even Marx was attacked for that line in the Manifesto about communal women and sure taken completely out of context and to its logical extreme, yes all communists are for communal women. But now, do I really need to address that and discuss further what that means? I hope not for your sake).

Again, even if the accusations against Ocalan are real, I do not care because that has nothing to do with the autonomous developments within Rojava and the progressive & leftist (class conscious) fighting force that is has engaged ISIS/ISIL/IS.

As for the staunch non-support for what is happening in Rojava being based on ideological lines, I find this argument and position completely irrelevant. I think it comes from a strange political conclusion that I am not interested in exploring any further. Here I find that the group that holds this position is relatively small and therefore I am not all that worried about it. Nonetheless, this position is frustrating when it comes to reading posts about anything on any forum. At the end of the day it is such a safe position that is in itself self-affirming.

I get it, don't support Rojava because the PKK and YPG/J because they are doing backed by Western interests (unfounded and already discussed); don't support because Ocalan is a sexual deviant (not all the interesting because it lacks credible sources, already discussed, and whatever problematic with this has already been discussed and points have been made); and don't support because they are not class conscious (I for one do not see the relevance of this critique here specifically and I strongly believe that class consciousness cannot be measured on rhetoric alone).

What is interesting and what would be interesting to discuss would be the social dynamics within Rojava and the groups that are actively defending it. But here is the thing, we are unable to have an intelligent conversation about these things because people want to continue to argue this topic at its most basic level without any rationale behind the arguments.

So once again, someone write a critique that is worthwhile and addresses your great concerns with actual evidence other than referencing your own articles, seemingly Turkish misinformation, and absolutist ideological arguments. I am sorry but from what people have been writing about concerning history has been so generalized that it is not even relevant to the greater discussion.

Again, I suggest you dig deeper and do not attempt to make up for lacking factual conclusions with ideology.

Finally, as has been said I do not think that anyone from group 1 has suggested that this is some anarchist revolution that is ongoing in Rojava. To be clear, I do think people have said and seen social developments in Rojava that are very interesting and favorable. And that these interesting and favorable developments are worth support and critical research and to dig deeper into.

To take such a non-compromising position on some other group while justifying your own failures and slow progress towards total revolution smells of something...

Nov 11 2014 19:29


Though I will not make such dramatic conclusions as you, I see what you are saying and obviously in dealing with other groups in the region can have its effects on politics and the inter-workings of things. However, these points have been raised before and have happened and it does not seem that the politic(ing) between various forces and militias has had a detrimental effect on Rojava.

This is reality and things are happening on the ground, the recipe for failure is not as simple as, oh no they are taking to this group and that group and they are shooting against the same enemies which the has to mean complete subversion of the things happening in Rojava.

That is pretty much the same as suggesting that any project or organization is failing because they are forced to deal with groups and activities around them. I am to be completely honest, when is this scenario not playing itself out in all our struggles on varying degrees of intensity?

Nov 11 2014 20:13

What's with all the vitriol on this forum? I'm quite impressed how kurremkarmerruk has been able to withstand this onesided discussion so long.

Or, y'know, you can wave PKK banners around in public and share 'hype' Facebook updates from PKK mouthpieces.

-who's doing this exactly?

Even if it is an ethnic war, which it is of course (I don't see why that would be controversial enough to demand a whole article on it), surely the participant are still political actors. Its not an apolitical war and I faill to see anything "internationalist" in zealous call to neutrality. I would think anyone even mildy progressive would see development in Rojava worth supporting, in thought at least, compared to the prospet of being conquered by IS. The constant focus on the PKK and its leadership denies any agency to the areas inhabitants in Devrims analysis, the Crisis Group report is a bit similar in this reqard.

It would be nice if threre was an analysis to what extent the PKK is truly in control, rather than just using what political resouces it has in a changing situation. Articles romanticising the emancipatory developments in Rojava at least bother to give some agency for the people, even if it might be romanticised. To me that's a better start for a political position than just focusing on the leaders. From what I get from Roarmag and Crisis Group Middle East Report, PYDs trying to build a sort of a dual structure between itself and the canton system. An opportunistic nation building project at heart, but that alone doesn't mean its detrimental to the population in the long term. To equalise PKK and IS (lunacy in my opinion) is one thing, but threat this as equally bad compared to the rise of islamic state that's willing to war with any country near by, doesn't seem much of a communist position to me.

Nov 11 2014 20:40

Dunno how many times I've tried to write this; in truth I have nothing to add as I'm just learning as it goes - as I guess we all must be to varying degrees, so I'll keep it brief. I'm breaking silence in order to say something I've been meaning to since the start - Devrim's article has been enough for me to change my own opinions about the situation; It might be the best thing I've read on the situation so far. I disagreed with various points when I first read it, and still have issues and still find it lacking - but none of these issues outweigh the strength of the arguments for a class struggle approach to the horrifying situation in Rojava. There's very few articles I've re-read as many times, or taken to work and tried understand as well as I can; even less make an impact that I can actually notice. Thanks.

Nov 11 2014 20:57
Sharkfinn wrote:
To equalise PKK and IS (lunacy in my opinion) is one thing, but threat this as equally bad compared to the rise of islamic state that's willing to war with any country near by, doesn't seem much of a communist position to me.

No, it's not equally bad and I don't think anybody is saying this. So what?

mikail firtinaci
Jul 23 2020 16:25


Nov 11 2014 21:18

Marx Trek, I find the whole "critical support" line laughable. Like anyone reasonable would ever want to support anything uncritically. But then again, leftists have a long history of dogmatism, so it kind of makes sense for them.

Nov 12 2014 02:50


What you said is kind of my point. If you have followed this conversation from thread to thread, the accusation of uncritical support has been levied against people who are more supportive than those who are not. What is laughable are people's inability to read and engage.

But yeah, dogmatism is always a problem.

Nov 12 2014 09:11

I want to speak something very brief on "mikail firtinaci" quotes and comments (both of which are just above in this page)

First one is this:

The whole argument about feminism and "women's liberation" appears as a sham now anyway. PKK is dealing very fraternally with all the reactionary forces in the region from Barzani the feudal lord and his patriarchal party to the Free Syrian Army factions fighting alongside PKK which are anti-women to the core. Even for the most naive people it must be clear that PKKs claim to "liberate women" by arming them is only a PR work and to be taken seriously.

Second one is this:

A Kurdish father could block his daughter from working, from walking to the store alone, from going to high school, or even from wearing pants, but it was not easy to criticize her decision to fight for Kurdish freedom. Doing so could raise questions about a family’s real loyalties, which in turn could put the family at odds with the PKK. There also was the chance that such comments could raise questions inside the PKK about the loyalties of the girl who had joined, possibly endangering her life. Besides, the PKK was said to protect a girl’s virginity with the same zeal as her family, something that helped shore up support for the PKK even among the most conservative Kurdish families.

Eliza Markus, "Blood and Belief" p.174

I need to remind you that this book is a historical book the last 15 years of PKK was just jumped over in 15 pages or so at the last part of the book. And it is written from a point of view not appropriate for a communist, anyway (it has no class analysis, progressive agenda etc...)

Please I invite everyone to compare this two quotes. and decide on how bizarrely different in their implications for understanding what PKK is! On the fist comment mikail argues that PKK is in alliance with reactionary powers. Here let's take especially the feudal lords he mentions as these are definitely patriarchal families. The message of this comment is clear PKK is on the same line with their patriarchy and does not challenge them in anyway. OK let's now look at the quote from the book where it is obvious that PKK has power over patriarchal families who do not want to educate their girls. Although the writer takes it from the side of nationalism (which is yeah OK, part of it) but it also shows us something much more important: PKK politicizes a society. Kurdish society is political to its core. What this politicization signifies? It signifies the resolution of old relations by emergence of a new platform of (at least relatively) equal political relations. PKK effectively empowers the girls to get away from their patriarchal families. This is why also many Kurdish women from universities, go and join PKK. They want to help their fellow sisters to be free from patriarchal feudal bounds. PKK is modernizing the Kurdish population that was never done as powerfully as Turkish state. And if you listen to Dirik today the power of women in Kurdish organizations is huge and they enjoy equal participation in most of the political life and this is thanks to their own subjectification. (Here :

Here let me say this again I am not speaking about the pure intentions of PKK or I am not saying this is the case because of just good will or I am not saying Ocalan is just a lovely person etc... The issue is beyond such naive stuff. Of course PKK possibly started it thanks to the its political and military advantage. However it now effectively evolved to a level that PKK is possibly the most gender equal mixed social force in the whole middle east. PKK is very strong in demanding (or implying at the local level) for women's reforms. Its co-leadership in all (civil) ranks (one male, one female) is very important. (By the way this co-leadership issue, I always wondered if it is a novel invention of PKK, or who invented, proposed it originally?) It has 40 or 50 quota for women's participation in all councils. I know many people just want to see PKK as a bad wolf, but it is really not that. We must account for the increase of agency (and autonomy) of Kurdish women in the PKK and also in Rojava now.

Moreover ideologically speaking PKK says they will not stop here and they will establish not capitalist modernity but a democratic modernity. So PKK has at least intentions to go beyond liberal gender-equalness. However I do not know if they will or could do it. I personally myself don't know how to do it (though I have my ideas they are nowhere a political let alone a social force). I am also perfectly aware that it is possible only the actions of PKK will not solve neither the gender inequality nor the global capitalism on one stroke! However this still does not make what they achieve and try to move forward meaningless at all (for the people whose lives would be affected by this of course).

I mean you can of course just criticize "the illusionary nature of modern political equality", or just come up with some examples from PKK's history that show "how PKK wished to use women as genderless militants" etc. (which are true). And just say "These are only just superficial transformations compared to what we communists want to achieve in the upcoming world revolution." However they are nevertheless important issues to care for that effect the very lives of woman (and subsequently society as a whole) And I think this is why Dirik speaks about Kurdish Women's Movement so strongly.

Nov 12 2014 10:06


Sharkfinn wrote:
To equalise PKK and IS (lunacy in my opinion) is one thing, but threat this as equally bad compared to the rise of islamic state that's willing to war with any country near by, doesn't seem much of a communist position to me.
No, it's not equally bad and I don't think anybody is saying this. So what?

This is from the above article by Devrim:

Ultimately despite the differences between the PKK and the Da'esh, the similarities between the two are what links them. A socialist veneer does not stop an ethnic militia from playing its part in the escalation of the cycle of ethnic conflict, and ethnic cleansing. It is clear in this struggle that the Da'esh is the aggressor, and that the PKK is merely defending its turf. It is also clear that compared to the Da'esh, the PKK looks positively progressive. None of this stops either of them playing their roles in the intensification of ethnic conflict.

What I understand here is this: Although there is differences they are "ultimately" linked (same). PKK just "looks" positive (so not positive at all at its essence). And lastly PKK is responsible for "intensification of ethnic conflict" as much as IS. (Despite: PKK is in defense, and does not have plans to engage in an active war in any of the forces in region and also is the only force in region that argues for recognition of every ethnicity in the constitution of Syria) I don't know you but it appears as equalization to me.

Except here, I discussed in various threats just arguing PKK can not be compared IS. And there were people who argued against me. If you want to you can find them (or ask me) I will not quote them here again.

EDIT: I also just found this quote from mikail: "This is what PKK is hiding and it is critical that anarchists/left communists in Western Europe/US to criticize this organization as strongly as they condemn ISIS." Not that it was necessary but I add it here anyway.