Dear cheerleaders, we need to have a chat about imperialism

Wearing the flag of Ocalan

On the process of change in Northern Syria often called the Rojava revolution, the PYD as proponent of the process, and its alliance with Western imperialist powers.

In Rojava, in the North of Syria, Kurdish fighters are struggling against IS, Islamic State. That struggle deserves out interest, because it is not just a fight between armeed groups fighting for territory. The fight in Rojava is at the same time a struggle for a different social and political order, called Democratic Confederalism. Direct democracy, a central rol of women in the fight and in the running of society, space for people of different ethnic backgound to express themselves and co-determine their own fate, libertarian socialist inspiration and a clear break with the Marxist-Leninist and nationalist orthodoxies of the Kurdish movements involved , the PYD in Syria, the PKK in Turkey with which the PYD is connected ... all this gives many people reason to cheer the events as an important revolution – the Rojava Revolution. Others, however, are less convinced, some – myself not excluded – have serious reservations. Exchanges of opinions, sometimes furious ones, have been going on for months now.. What follows is is a contribution to this polemic.

Those of us expressing reservations on the Rojava process of change are often promptly accused of sectarianism or worse. A rather shocking example of this put-down attitude appeared in ROAR Magazine, in general a very useful publication that sheds lights on many encouraging struggles against neoliberal capitalism the world over, but also a publication that, in its boundless enthusiasm, sometimes veers into the direction of cheerleading for a particular fight: that of Rojava. ROAR has published valuable pieces on that struggle, but its general attitude seems a bit over the top to me. And when other radicals express their doubt on Rojava, such doubt is met with scorn. In this case, that scorn is expressed by Petar Stanchev.

Target of his article is Gilles Dauvé, who wrote a piece on Rojava in which he tries to show that the movement in Rojava, however courageous, can best be seen as a radical form of liberal democracy, not a form of proletarian, anticapitalist revolution. I think many of his arguments have a lot of merit, but what I am more interested in here, is Stanchev 's ferocious reaction. For him, Dauve's attitude is an example of the “short-sighted, poorly informed, dogmatic and sectarian manner” in which “the struggles of the peoples in the Global South” are criticized – criticism which “(is) wittingly or unwittingly reproducing the logic of colonialism in h the process.” Further on in the article, he warns us about the danger of “the colonial mentality and profound dogmatism of certain gropups and individuals in Western anarchist circles.” Hence, his warning, and the title of his piece: “Mr. Anarchist, we need to have a chat about colonialism”. The warning fails on at least three points, a minor one, and two rather more serious ones.

First failure: mr Anarchist is no anarchist

The first failure is polemicizing against Dauve as “Mr. Anarchist”. Gilles Dauve does not speak or write as an anarchist. He does not claim to be an anarchist. Rather, he stands in the tradition of Left Communism: those basing themselves on Marx' revolutionary critique, while rejecting both Social Democracy and Leninist orthodoxy. The fact that Left Communists reject the state and either reject any form of party, or understand by 'party' something totally different from the power-grabbing organizations usually meant by that name, brings them quite close to anarchist positions. But that does not give anybody the right to either claim them for anarchism or dismiss them as anarchist. I agree that “Mr Left Communist or “Mr Communization Theorist” would make for a less attractive title. But that does not justify addressing someone you criticize by a name that is not hers or his.

Second failure: relying on vidence from on high

The second failure is the evidence that Stanchev puts forward. He counters the scepticism of Dauve and others by pointing us to two kinds of sources. One is: the Worksd of Comrade Öcalan! Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader who was captured in 1999 by the Turkish state and was in jail ever since – was the one who developed the concepts of Democratic Confederalism after reading texts by libertarian socialist theoretician Murray Bookchin. He still is the guiding light of both the PKK and the PYD. Ocalans portrets are to be seen in abundance in the Rojava area where Democratic Confederalism holds sway. And quotes by this Ultimate Leader now are to be found in a text defending the Rojava experience from criticism. And they are being used to show how wrong this criticism is. Imagine how we would react of someone countgered criticism of Mao by quoting that Chairman himself. What's so 'anti-colonial' in basing or defending your point of view on a Supreme Leader?

The other form of evidence Stanchev points to, is the content of eyewitness accounts. Of course, that is much better than quoting The Leadership. However, the accounts often originate from a visit by an academic delegation that travveld through parts of the area ain a kind of semi-official visit. Participants, among which Janet Biehl and David Graeber were prominent, were led around by officials, received by at least one minister of the regional authorities.

Reading, for instance, “Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution” , the account of Janet Biehl, also on ROAR, I was struck by the way she presents a more or less official view by the movement. For instance, on the Öcalan portrets that even she will not deny: “Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination.” Only to Western eyes?! However, be not afraid, ye faithful. “But to interpret those images that way would bem to miss the situation entirely.” How do we know? “ 'No one will gove you your rights', someone quoted Öcalan to us, “you will have to struggle to obtain them.'” We need not fear Öcalans overwhelming presence, because that same Öcalan Himself says we should trust our own powers. … Here, we come full circle: even the evidence on the ground that Stanchev bases himself on points to Öcalan as a point of reference. It is a classic belief system where truth comes from on high. What is 'colonial' about pointing out and criticizing that top-down-dynamic?

All this does not mean that there is nothing encouraging going on in Rojava. Reports of serious efforts to build directly democratic strtuctures, and on the role of women in the struggle, are credible. But so are the reports on its limitations; the adulation for Öcalan, the repressive practices of the PYD against opponents. And then, there is the economy. Dauve claims that you cannot seriously argue that workers in Rojava are in control. Duh, replies Stanchev, “the 'proletariat' in ist Western sense does not exist in Rojava”. Be that as it may, Dauve 's point stands.

But if proletarians are not in control of producing and distributing goods and services, who is? Well, there is a “cooperative economy”, which sounds good, and probably is. “It is based on communal ownership and self-management and often operates outside then monetary economy.” Excellent! “Some of the lands were collectivized after the big land-owners left the area after the PYD takeover”. That indeed points towards a bit of social revolution. Maybe there are some proletarians active after all in this process, proletarians in the sense of propertyless people who have to sell their labour power to make a living. The idea that only factory workers in blue overalls are proletarians, may be 'Western”. But the whole concept of proletarians as working class people in the broadest sense, may be less alien for Rojavan realities than Stanchiev admits. I fail to see what ś so 'colonial'about asking some critical questions about its presence and role.

Unfortunately, the cooperative sector is not the only one. There is the “private economy” bound by the “social principles of the revolution”, and obliged to cooperate with local administrative organs. And then there is the “open economy”. That means: “foreign investment, which unfortunately remains necessary for the development of the region 's infrastructure”, in, for instance, refineries. “The idea is to attract foreign investment – but only at the price of respecting the social nature of the cantons. The local economy will be developed on the terms set by the inhabitants of Rojava and their assemblies, not by Western capitalists.” And what if local desires clash with capitalist demands, in a situation where foreign investment is considered essential? Who will win out, the assembly of a Rojava village, or Shell 's board of directors, possibly backed by military threats? There is a word for this kind of relationship between big capitalist firms based in powerful Western countries on the one hand, and the population in impoverished regions in the Global South. That word is 'colonial'. Okay, let 's have a chat on colonialism then, Mr. Stanchev, shan 't we?

Let me make one thing clear at this stage. my anger is not directed at the PYD, even though I criticize their position. They do their thing, in extremely unenviable circumstances. They make choices, right ones and wrong ones, under duress. They express a political goal that is only partly mine, but that is their right. My annoyance is directed at those radicals – some fellow anarchists, some quite close to my own views – who present the process of change as an anticapitalist revolution, which it is clearly not.

Yes, there is the claim, again expressed by Stanchev, that “(t)he industry that will be developed in Rojava should be under direct workers control, or at least this is the expressed intention of the PYD officials.” Note, first, how it is the view of officials, not of the people at the grass roots, whose desire is here presented as central. And note, second, how this is presented as something far into the future. Note, third, how this ambition necessarily clashes with the desire to encourage Western capitalists to do business in Rojava. You can have workers controlling and running the factories. You can have capitalist running factories and exploiting workers and local natural resources. You cannot have both things at the very same time. The PYD trying to balance these things off in a tricky game, is bad enough. Cheerleaders finding excuses for this balancing act and refusing to side with one side of the equation is inexcusable.

Third Failure: imperialism left out of the picture

The third failure may be the most devastating of all three. It is the failure to see imperialism's role for what it is: a deadly threat to any autonomous revolutionary effort. Rojava 's existence as a zone of autonomous cantons, more or less run on democratic confederalist lines, has come to depend on American military force. Complaining about colonial prejudice amongst the PYD 's critics, while ignoring imperialism 's almost open colonial role, that is what we have in Stanchev 's case.

The PYD is now in open military alliance with the US empire. And Petar Stanchev is silent about that alliance and what it may imply. Janet Biehl does not give it a mention either in her report. Neither does David Graeber. This is a disastrous distortion: presenting a process of social change as much more self-reliant and independent than it really is. But how can you talk about 'autonomy' – a word frequently and glowingly used by radical fans of Rojava democratic confederalist change – when your sheer survival has come to depend on US bombing raids?

Before I present some of the evidence, let me state this: proving that the PYD is part of an imperial alliance is not the same as denying that there is a serious process of social and political change going on in the area. The Rojava revolution and the PYD organization are not exactly the same thing, even if I find the epithet 'revolution' a bit much for the process. Criticizing the PYD – but more importantly, criticizing its Western fans! -is not the same as dismissing the process.

The fact of alliance and dependency can be easily established, even if Graeber, Biehl and now Stanchev prefer not to. We have provided coalition forces with the coordinates of IS targets on the ground and are willing to continue providing any help they will request”, Asya Abdullah, part of the PYD leadership said, according to the BBC on 9 October 2014 . On 14 October an interview appeared with Polat Can, spokesperson of the YPG, the fighting force connected to the PYD. Some information from that interview: “For the last few days, the air strikes have been numerous and effective. We can clearly state that, had these attacks started a couple weeks ago, ISIS would not have been able to enter Kobane at all. ISI would have been defeated 10-15 kilometer away from the city, and the city would not have turned into a war zone.” Turkey did not cooperate at first, and there were logistical issues, but after that was solved, the attacks began to work. Contacts with the US were going on earlier, but after the attack on Kobane, things begin to move forward.

To the question, “Can we say there is an official relation between the YPG and the coalition?” his answer was affirmative. “Yes, we are acting in concert with the international coalition forces. We are in direct contact with them, in terms of intelligence, on a military level, and in terms of air strikes.” The contact is rather direct. “YPG representative is physically ready in the joint operation command center and transmits the coordinates.” That is again about the locations that the US subsequently bombs. For clarity's sake: ISIS is what is also known as IS, Islamic State. “Coalition forces” refers to the US-led military alliance, with the YPG as de facto ground forces.

Not yet convinced that the PYD and its armed wing is part of the US-led coalition? A piece on the website Rudaw.net (1) on 5 November 2014 had the following : “Muslim, who traveled from Kobane to Erbil for a conference, said the People's Protection Units (PYD), the Syrian Kurdish militia, now considered itself part of the international coalition battling ISIS.” Muslim refers to Anwar Muslim, head of the Kobane administration, the one in charge (apart from Öcalan, of course).

This is much more than coincidentally fighting the same enemy at the same time. This is active collaboration. And in such collaboration, between a local guerrilla force and the bigges military empire on earth, who will call the shots? And what was Muslim doing in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where US oil companies abound, and where a US consulate is located? By the way, YPG and the Peshmerga s– part of conservative Kurdish movements in Iraq – are fighting quite nicely together. “We are more acting like a single army than as two forces in coordinated way. The Peshmergas are endeavouring to carry out what is asked from them in a self-sacrificing way”, says Mahmud Berxwedan, commander of YPG forces. There may be diplomatic friendly exaggeration at work here. Still, the enthusiasm for this kind of cooperation with the US and with pro-US Kurdish forces, is clear. This is cooperation with ruthless enemies of any kind of serious revolution, even if they are willing to tolerate bits of democratic confederalism for the moment..

One of the most dangerous of these enemies has made an appearance in the unfolding tragedy. His name is Zalmay Khalizad, former (?) US diplomat and one of the neoconservative functionaries in the Bush administration. Andrew Cockburn tells the story in "The Long Shadow of a neocon”, a 12 June 2014 article on the website of Harper's Magazine. The story has some relevance for the matter at hand.: US imperialism and the PYD.

Khalilzad once was presidential envoy and then US ambassador to Afghanistan, after US intervention overthrew the Taliban in 2001 he promoted Karzai to the presidency. Later on, after the US invasion of that country, he was ambassador to Iraq, where he promoted Maliki to become prime minister of that country. It was Maliki 's policy of of Shia sectarian rule that pushed Sunni communities to protest, and even to grudgingly support ISIS against the onslaught of Maliki 's Iraqi army in 2013-2014. However, corruption was all around., alarge part of the Iraqi army mainly consisted on paper, a large part of the rest ran away as fast as possible when ISIS came close. Maliki 's military onslaught collapsed. ISIS rose to power in Mosul and other Iraqi cities, Maliki was pushed aside in political intrigue in Bagdad.

These disasters are part of the heritage for which this Khalilzad is co-responsible. He is “now an obscure businessman seeking crumbs from the table as an 'international consultant' in Cockburn's 2014 description. But what is this? The co-leader of Syrian Kurds met with former US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Kalilzad, reportedly to discuss further military coordination to push out the Islamic State (ISIS) from the embattled city of Kobane”, according to an news article on Rudaw.net on 9 December 2014.

The “co-leader of Syrian Kurds” happens to be Salih Musliim, from the PYD leadership. And you can besure that Kalilzad is not there on purely private consultancy business. If Kalilzad sees fit to meet somebody from the PYD leadership, you can be sure that evil is afoot, with that leadership either being trapped or becoming partners-in-crime, or something in between. Khalizad, in his times in office in Afghanistan and Iraq, operated as a kind of colonial governor. The PYD apparently,is now prepared, willingly or grudgingly, to operate as part of that neocolonial order. Is it really the ones who are not buying Graeber 's, Biehl 's and now Stanchev 's admiring attitude towards that PYD that need chats on colonialism? Or is the noble threesome itself in need of some anti-colonial enlightenment?

As if working together with the US empire is not bad enough, Great Britain is in the picture as well. On 25 March, pydrojava.net, a PYD-related webside, announced: British foreign minister receives Saleh Muslim and tomorrow will deliver a speech to the British parliament”. Reading further, we see that Muslim actually met, not the minister himself but Gerrit Baily, apparently some lower functionary of the department.. “Also yesterday on 24-3-2015 Saleh Muslim had a speach (sic) in a closed session at the Royal institute of research services”. Whatever that is exactly, it does not sound as an initiative to introduce democratic confederalism to the British Isles. These talks and similar others are all about “recent developments in the region and Rojava and cooperate to eliminate then terrorist Desh from the region.” Daesh is another word voor ISIS or IS. PYD is a junior partner in this latest episode of the War on Terror, and seems mighty proud as well to be taken serious by the bigwigs in that war.

US imperialism's role around Rojava is clear for all to see, that is, for all who are willing to look. Of course, this does not make the US and the PYD friends. They share a common enemy, and not much else. But that is how empire often uses all kinds of forces. Carter did not need to 'like' the Afghan Mujaheedin in order to use them against a pro-Russian Afghan government. Reagan did not need to 'like' them in order to use them against Russian invading forces, there to support the government that felt threatened by the Mujaheedin armed struggle. Obama did not need to 'like' the Libyan militias NATO used to get rid of Khadafi. Obama does not need to like the PYD either. Pentagon and White House probably distrust the left-wing politics of that organization, just like they distrusted Islamism among their auxiliaries in Afghanistan, Lybia, Syria.

Right now, however, the PYD plays a useful role for the US. They are rather good at something that other military forces are rather bad in: killing ISIS fighters, and helping the US kill more. And the US sees ISIS as a threat to their oil protectorate in Iraqi Kurdistan and other allied and pro-US regimes. Just bombing them may not be enough to defeat them, sending ground forces is politically risky for any US president. So why not use PYD fighters willing to play that role? You can always discard them as soon as they get in the way, as the US did with Kurdish guerrilla fighters against the regime of Saddam Hussein in 1975-76 and again in 1991.

This is how empires work. Cortez and his 508 Spanish conquistadores probably would not so easily have conquered the Aztec empire if he hadn't allied with tens of thousands of Taxlacans, another Mexican nation with plenty of reasons to hate the oppressive Aztec rulers, and willing to let themselves be used by the Spanish invaders. Not much remains of the Aztec empire. Not much remains of Taxlacan independence either. Substitute 'ISIS' for 'Aztecs' ,'PYD' for 'Taxlacans', 'USA' for 'Spain' and 'oil' for 'gold' , and allow for some differences because history never plays out exactly the same way (2). Still, the logic is clear.

What about social radicalism in Rojava? I do not believe the US leadership cares very much if there are a few mountainous areas where people experiment in direct democracy, as long as they do not expand these efforts towards Istanbul, Baghdad or Cairo. The fact that the PYD, the main force in the area, is willing to open the area to multinational capital will ease Obama 's mind even further. Things are not half as radical as they look. Villages and towns with a leadership that cooperates with the US may as well govern themselves as they see fit. That saves the cost of direct colonial rule.

And now that Kobane is saved from IS, in large part by US air attacks. And the war goes on. Rudaw reports on 2 February: “In their advance against ISIS, the YPG fighters are supported by Peshmerga artillery and coalition air strikes.” The PYD can be grateful: if not for US bombs, Kobane might have fallen to ISIS. That creates dependency. You might argue that this dependency cuts both ways: PYD owes its survival to imperialist intervention, just like the US owes some of its success to the assistance PYD fighters have given US forces. But things are not in balance. A small force allied with the biggest capitalist power is not an alliance of equals. The result of such an alliance for the weaker partner usually is not enhanced autonomy, but enhanced dependency.

PYD, to put it bluntly, is being used. They are not in control of their destiny, and we should not operate under the presumption that they are. Heroic their fight certainly is. But is the PYD waging an autonomous social revolutionary struggle? As part of an big power alliance led by the USA? Something is not right here. Dear Cheerleaders, we need a chat about imperialism.

Notes:

(1) Rudaw.net, which I quote several times, is in its own words “a Kurdish media network”, which “aims to impart news and information about Kurdistan and the Middle East in a professional manner”. It is based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. How close it is to the authorities there – no friends of the PYD, though now in alliance with them – I cannot say. They seem well-informed on what happens behind the scenes, though obviously care is needed in using their information.

(2) For instance, the Taxlacans – 150.000 tot 200.000 thousands of them – were relatively stronger compared with the few hundred Spaniards. Even so, it was Spain, not Taxlaca, which came out on top. The US is much much stronger compared to the PYD than Spain compared to Taxlaca. Another difference: Cortez fought with hardly any direct back-up from Spain itself. He was basically freelancing. The same cannot be said about the US bombers.

Posted By

rooieravotr
Apr 4 2015 21:25

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kurekmurek
Apr 9 2015 21:43

Red M.

Here is what I said:

Quote:
No it does not say that: it says as Ocalan is in the prison Ocalan's open and undefined writing are filled by activists and guerrillas themselves.This free space is not a bad thing according to me..

Here is the concluding two pharagraphs of the text (giving the current and overall message):

Quote:
Even more then when he was the leader of the movement in a direct sense, and in contact with his followers on a daily sense, Öcalan has become a prophet-like figure. And, like with the statements of other prophets, his words are open to interpretation. Activists on the ground have considerable space to maneuver, and to interpret his directives in ways that suit their circumstances. The incompleteness of the new ideology and the relative vagueness of Öcalan’s texts make it possible to adapt it pragmatically to the local situation, while activists can still claim fidelity to ’the ideology of Öcalan’.

Decisive for the evolution of the movement is how activists interpret and shape this ideology. The less centralized approach towards building social organizations opens the possibility for a more open and progressive praxis than was possible in the ’old’ PKK. The Kurdish movement has not only maintained itself against the Turkish state but also won concessions from it. A few decades ago, the Turkish state denied there existed something like a ’Kurdish minority’, today it is forced to take the Kurdish movement into account as a political force. This was made possible by immense sacrifices of Kurdish fighters, guerrilla’s and activists. It is them who will decide the future of the movement.

On the other thing:
you say:

Quote:
I said a Kurdish state position was dropped

I agree with it. I am against what you said in a previous post:

Quote:
the PKK ‘anti-statism’ seems (since Ocalan went to jail) limited to dropping the demand for a separate Kurdish state.

This implies they were already anti-statist before he was arrested. Well he was searching for something new but he did not have converted to Bookchin and at that time there were no anti-statism in his thinking (except usual -eventual stateless society or primitive stateless societies.) After his arrest he actually make the anti-statist turn (in prefigurative and ideological way). so things did not happened in the chronological order you think they did.

And now as have previously linked anti-statist ideology is very high again in doctrines and media of Kurdish movement. ı mean they are hanging out with Graeber for god's sake. However this is of course no "I see no states" or "state is a statist" term kind of linguistic anti-statism, but based on(whether you like it or not) one based on Bookchin (however used for a very different social context and used as a sort of alternative modernization project.

And why do you quote so long text based on unreleated stuff? I did not say he does not like democracy in his post-prison ideology. He sees it different from state. Well of course this can be debateable but we are discussing here his ideology. For him self-government is the only truly democratic organisation and it is not a state (see Bookchin) so your quotes on these are meaningless. I would quote them but they are just too long to repeat.. You clearly do not know what you are saying on this issue, please stop.

Flint
Apr 9 2015 21:42

Connor,

This may seem shocking to you as a new visitor to the site, but this has been one of the better debates about Rojava. I think kurremkarmerruk would agree with me about that.

And a few years ago, debates on libcom were terrible. The forum was so filled with insults, folks either left or joined in the shitfest.

Connor Owens
Apr 9 2015 21:51
Quote:
I note your reference to Nitzan and Bichler (sp?) earlier in the thread. Which chimes in with the above and many other folk (from the "Kyriarchy", through most intersectionalists to, whisper it, Toni Negri). You have what I would call a "flat ontology". That is, there is only a single immanent plane on which all forms of domination operate, and exploitation and "classism" is simply another form of domination.

No.

That's the simple response.

That description isn't at all representative of my position. Despite Anarchist Federation UK producing that utterly stupid article on Rojava which drew my ire in the first place, they also published this pamphlet on Intersectionality which is (mostly) expressive of where I stand with regard to class exploitation and other forms of hierarchy and domination which aren't strictly tied to economics:

http://www.afed.org.uk/blog/state/327-a-class-struggle-anarchist-analysi...

And this is coming from a class struggle perspective!

I may come to different conclusions about how to deal with these interlocking forms of domination, but I think the basic analysis is sound: class is the all-encompassing hierarchy - cutting across and affecting all other forms of domination from race to gender to ecology - but that doesn't mean it should be considered the primary form of hierarchy.

Why? Because hierarchy and domination are contextual and have different relevancies depending on the persons and situations. Class may be the main way in which someone is dominated in one context, but colonial or racial domination may take precedence in another context.

The goal, as I see it, is not to dissolve struggles against trans-class hierarchies under the common struggle against class exploitation, but to integrate both into a wider social movement oriented around democratising communities. This includes class struggle within it, as well as the other struggles I mentioned, but with the primary sense of transformative subjectivity being people organising as the people, instead of just "the working class" alone.

This is what Marxists and most anarchists get wrong about Bookchin's theories - he saw his work as an expansion of class struggle and historical materialism, not a replacement for them.

Your description is also inaccurate with regard to Nitzan and Bitchler's work. If you think they don't regard the capitalist class as having a unique position with regard to other agents of domination (a "flat ontology") the youve clearly not come across their work on plutonomy. See also Tim DiMuzio's latest book.

In fact, their conception of the power of capital being dependent on the power of the state (having a symbiotic relationship) is remarkably similar to the economic views of Peter Kropotkin. He rejected the labour theory of value (or at least it's Marxian form), claimed economists had not taken account of how the various power relations in society shape value, and argued that exploitation came less from the fact that capitalists were extracting surplus value from workers, and more from the fact that the state protected their private property through their monopoly on violence, leaving workers with no effective choice but to rent their labour for a wage.

kurekmurek
Apr 9 2015 21:51

Yeah I agree totally, also -I will neglect your discussions with rooieravotr now- I assure you the article above was the best article written from a critical side in my opinion.

Chilli Sauce
Apr 9 2015 21:55
Quote:
So, I express my scepticism at his sudden retreat to "good old fashion notions of class". Just saying...

"Retreat" is an interesting choice of words there...

In any case, there are some basic notions of what constitutes class for an anarchist: a material, as opposed to cultural, conception of what it means; an understanding of a basic antagonism between classes; a belief that class struggle is what can bring about new society.

Owen's been on this thread challenging these basic assumptions - a term I'll happily continue using.

ocelot
Apr 9 2015 22:06

(I find it frustrating that there don't seem to be comment numbers you can reference in blog comments - can be useful)

This is in response to Red's post and Kurrem's response.

While I don't disagree with what Red is pointing to in the evolution on the state position, relative to Ocalan's arrest. And above all the very real splits and internal struggles within the PKK over the resulting ideological shifts, I would like to come back to the feminist strand of the evolution which started in 1994, with the formation of the separate women's military command and parallel political structures. And also not to forget the leading role amongst the latter of Sakine Cansiz, sidelined and exiled to Europe in 1992, but still a major point of reference for the women cadre who spent time with her in Diyarbakir prison in the 80s. The feminist strand, and through them the reference to the EZLN's contemporary revolutionary law of women of 1994, in relation to the problems of tribalist patriarchy, forced marriage, etc. etc.

Clearly Ocalan's arrest and disconnection from day to day executive command created a power struggle within the PKK. Here I am surprised that no one has yet raised the example of Mao's cultural revolution - his tactic, when out of executive power, to reach out to the middle layers of the party and youth, and raise them into radical fervour against the "bureacracy" and executive.

I think the de Jong article, especially the bit that Kurrem quotes, points to this. In the face of the 2004 split between the "liquidationist" split around Ocalan's brother and the militarists, led by Karayilam and Hussein, Ocalan, we could speculate, decided to back the feminist wing as a way of undermining the power of the executive council. By legitimising their radicalism, he undercuts Karayilam and gains the undying loyalty of a powerful section of the middle cadre.

At least that's how I interpret the 1999 - 2004 and to date dynamics, in terms of internal power struggles,

It should be noted that the old guard of Karayilam, Hussein and Civan retain the executive (read, Army Council, in Irish parlance) control and there's more than a suspicion that Hussein approved the 2013 assasination of Sakine Cansiz. But I have to say that at Newroz in Diyarbakir this year, there were as many of the purple KJK (the women's wing) flags as the yellow YPG ones, and far more of both than the old PKK flag. Whether the executive can execute the maneuver of deposing Ocalan, crushing the KJK (and KCK) without leaving themselves weak enough to be crushed by the Turkish state, seems unlikely at this conjuncture

Red Marriott
Apr 9 2015 22:45
kurremkarmerruk wrote:
Red Marriott wrote:

But the document reads overall to me like a social-democratic plan for Kurdish regional autonomy within the umbrella of the larger Syrian statehood. As described elsewhere; http://libcom.org/history/stalinist-caterpillar-libertarian-butterfly-ev... - the PKK ‘anti-statism’ seems (since Ocalan went to jail) the PKK ‘anti-statism’ seems (since Ocalan went to jail) limited to dropping the demand for a separate Kurdish state.

No it does not say that: it says as Ocalan is in the prison Ocalan's open and undefined writing are filled by activists and guerrillas themselves.This free space is not a bad thing according to me.

The article shows there were conflicts, splits, threats etc to maintain Ocalan’s control of the party from jail. It suggests the possibility of wider discussion emerging – but only if ideas remain dressed in the cloak of Ocalanist dogma – the “Prophet” still reigns supreme. So the possibility of a very limited and relative “freedom”. So not quite as you described the article. The article also says;

Quote:
It is not unusual for activists in this movement to describe their political convictions as ’the ideology of Öcalan’ ... The focus is on the movement’s ’official’ ideology as written down in statements of Öcalan and documents of the PKK. How this ideology is translated into actual politics on the ground and how grass-roots activists interpret it are questions that are beyond the reach of the article. The influence of Abdullah Öcalan in the PKK can hardly be overestimated. As one former member put it ; ’the PKK is in a certain sense identical with its founder, Abdullah Öcalan’.

So rather than your claim about the article;

Quote:
: it says as Ocalan is in the prison Ocalan's open and undefined writing are filled by activists and guerrillas themselves.This free space is not a bad thing according to me.

... it actually clearly states;

Quote:
How this ideology is translated into actual politics on the ground and how grass-roots activists interpret it are questions that are beyond the reach of the article.

Red wrote:
the PKK ‘anti-statism’ seems (since Ocalan went to jail) limited to dropping the demand for a separate Kurdish state.

kurre wrote:
This implies they were already anti-statist before he was arrested

I can see you could, if you wanted to, interpret it like that. But what I meant was – as is obvious from the article and many other sources - it really began in jail.

You clearly do not know how - or choose not to - interpret correctly either me or the article.

Connor Owens
Apr 9 2015 22:47
Quote:
there are some basic notions of what constitutes class for an anarchist: a material, as opposed to cultural, conception of what it means; an understanding of a basic antagonism between classes; a belief that class struggle is what can bring about new society.

Owen's been on this thread challenging these basic assumptions - a term I'll happily continue using.

Actually I don't challenge any of those basic assumptions. I just find that the last assumption, "belief that class struggle is what can bring about new society", is incomplete. Not untrue, but incomplete.

Despite your "ALL CAPS" statements to the contrary - combined with the obnoxious aura of condescension in your comments which I've being trying to avoid - I'm fully aware that the mainstream class struggle anarchist position doesn't ignore those trans-class forms of hierarchy and domination I mentioned. But what it does do is relegate them to secondary importance.

So no, it doesn't regard issues of race, gender, sexuality, nationality (well, maybe that one), ecology etc. as distractions from class struggle like most forms of Marxism do, but it puts class issues, economic concerns, and workplace organising front-and-centre.

A better strategy would instead be to see both class struggle and trans-class struggles as integrated components of a broad social struggle where what's front-and-centre is the creation of democratised autonomous communities - which includes workplace organising and building self-managed workplaces.

Because people are able to express more of a general interest through directly democratic assemblies and geographical confederations (taking account of their particular trans-class forms of oppression) as opposed to the more particular interests that are served through workplaces and unions. Doing it this way enables fights against domination to take account of how contextual oppression is, instead of seeing trans-class concerns as disparate fights existing off to the side of class organising.

For example, people of a discriminated against ethnic group may be more oppressed as a race than as members of the economic working class (and be discriminated against by white members of their same class) but each can be unified in a joint fight for a democratised community which has inherent to it the goals of both economic and social egalitarianism and civil libertarianism - and ecological stewardship while we're at it.

Also, taking control of the means of production, distribution, and investment by municipalising them, locks those productive resources down to a rooted locality, giving the residents of that locality democratic control over them, creating a shared sense of communal ownership. Freeing them from both private capital and centralised state control.

And for the last time, this does not mean support for cross-class collaboration. No ruling elites form part of these democratic communities. All their private property other than personal possessions are to be expropriated and made municipal property - owned by the community, allocated by the popular assemblies, and turned into self-managed enterprises.

Let me do an all caps now: I AM NOT AGAINST CLASS STRUGGLE, ONLY CLASS STRUGGLE REDUCTIONISM AND THE IDEA THAT ALL OTHER FORMS OF DOMINATION ARE SECONDARY TO ECONOMIC DOMINATION.

That includes the national domination the Kurds now suffer under.

Red Marriott
Apr 9 2015 23:24
ocelot wrote:
(I find it frustrating that there don't seem to be comment numbers you can reference in blog comments - can be useful)

Seems that only forum threads have them.

rooieravotr
Apr 10 2015 04:51

Owen Connors:

Quote:
You don't oppose them accepting the bombings because you think it'll jeopardise the potential for libertarian socialism

That is exactly what I am opposing them for. There is no marxist purity involved. All the things about ideologhcal purity coming first and consequentialist considerations coming second are not about what I said and not about what I meant. I happen to believe that military cooperation of an guerrilla movement with the US military distorts any radical dynamics that the movement may have, that in your words in "jeopardises the potential for libertarian socialism". I have explained why I think so. You are not convinced. That can be, but that is no reason to pretend that I think something else than I actually think.

Quote:
In an earlier comment you attempted to twist my words into claiming a "strategic alliance" and a "military alliance" must be the same thing. Um, no. A strategic alliance means that you share a common enemy and stay out of each other's way in trying to take that enemy down.

A military alliance would mean that the Rojava and U.S. military actively collaborate - share Intel, weaponry, have soldiers working together

At least that makes clear how you use these terms. I genuinely read the two words as almost synonymous (with 'strategic alliance' sounding even stronger than just 'military alliance'). That is how I read it, and I doubt if I was the only one. There was no attempt at word-twisting, there was a different understanding of your words than what you say you meant by them.

But there IS a military alliance, even in your sense of the term. US and PYD do "actively cooperate" as I showed in my piece. There is even one YPG functionary in a kind of common headquarters, if Polat Can, spokesperson for the YPG, can be believed: "YPG representative is physically ready in the joint operational command center and transmits the coordinates". More generally, "we are in direct contact with them, in terms of intelligence, on a military level, and in terms of air strikes". Source That is active military cooperation, not just accepting bombs on a common enemy. It implies military alliance in your sense of the word.

rooieravotr
Apr 10 2015 05:07
Quote:
As the latest one in the series was: "Dear Mr. Anarchist, You Aren’t Listening" maybe the next one can be " I am all ears, cheerleader". grin Maybe I should message this to rooieravotr grin

Grin smile

kurekmurek
Apr 10 2015 07:47

Red M.
Here is what you said:

Quote:
The article shows there were conflicts, splits, threats etc to maintain Ocalan’s control of the party from jail. It suggests the possibility of wider discussion emerging – but only if ideas remain dressed in the cloak of Ocalanist dogma – the “Prophet” still reigns supreme. So the possibility of a very limited and relative “freedom”. So not quite as you described the article. The article also says;

And here is what I wrote down and quoted:

Quote:
Red M.
Here is what I said:

Quote:
it says as Ocalan is in the prison Ocalan's open and undefined writing are filled by activists and guerrillas themselves.This free space is not a bad thing according to me..

Here is the concluding two pharagraphs of the text (giving the current and overall message):

Quote:
Even more then when he was the leader of the movement in a direct sense, and in contact with his followers on a daily sense, Öcalan has become a prophet-like figure. And, like with the statements of other prophets, his words are open to interpretation. Activists on the ground have considerable space to maneuver, and to interpret his directives in ways that suit their circumstances. The incompleteness of the new ideology and the relative vagueness of Öcalan’s texts make it possible to adapt it pragmatically to the local situation, while activists can still claim fidelity to ’the ideology of Öcalan’.
Decisive for the evolution of the movement is how activists interpret and shape this ideology. The less centralized approach towards building social organizations opens the possibility for a more open and progressive praxis than was possible in the ’old’ PKK. The Kurdish movement has not only maintained itself against the Turkish state but also won concessions from it. A few decades ago, the Turkish state denied there existed something like a ’Kurdish minority’, today it is forced to take the Kurdish movement into account as a political force. This was made possible by immense sacrifices of Kurdish fighters, guerrilla’s and activists. It is them who will decide the future of the movement.

This is the the article, if anybody is lost.

Chilli Sauce
Apr 10 2015 06:52
Quote:
I AM NOT AGAINST CLASS STRUGGLE, ONLY CLASS STRUGGLE REDUCTIONISM AND THE IDEA THAT ALL OTHER FORMS OF DOMINATION ARE SECONDARY TO ECONOMIC DOMINATION.

THAT'S STILL A STRAWMAN.

kurekmurek
Apr 10 2015 07:57

Owen, Oceolot

I really liked the discussion you have related to say what is the nature of social systems of oppresion from a critical perspective. I see some new theories I previously did not know. I would like to participate in it, but I suggest we move it to another forum thread if you are willing to. In that context I would argue for based on ideas represented in these texts: Richard Day, and Eugene W. Holland I think these offer another social ontology that might be interesting to discuss with you.

Spikymike
Apr 10 2015 10:15

Despite Owen's rebuttal I think ocelot got at least close to a correct understanding of Owen's differences with and misunderstanding of the communist class struggle analysis some of us from both anarchist and marxist tendencies have been argueing in Owen's continued inabillity to distinguish 'exploitation' and 'oppression' when dealing with the relationship between class and oppression within the working class or proletariate, quite apart from the more fundamental issue of how capitalism as a system of 'value' production invades and moulds various oppressions inherited from earlier class societies.

Connor Owens
Apr 10 2015 11:23

Spikeymike

Quote:
Despite Owen's rebuttal I think ocelot got at least close to a correct understanding of Owen's differences

In other words, you think he understands my own position better than I do. How interesting that you can divine that.

I'm fully aware of the Marxian distinction between oppression and (specifically economic) exploitation. I just don't agree with it. Marxian economic categories and the Marxian version of the LTV in particular are outmoded and fail to explain how capitalism works adequately, despite being a leap forward in economic thinking for their time. A major flaw in Marxian economics has always been its own pretensions to be merely descriptive when it is in fact normative.

This seems to be a recurring thing with many of you here. You think my disagreements with your beliefs are all due to not understanding them. It never occurs to you that I might understand but still disagree, because after all, "MY beliefs are the objective scientific truth as distinct from mere "ideological" beliefs. Why would anyone disagree with them unless they didn't understand them?"

Connor Owens
Apr 10 2015 11:46

Peter Storm

Quote:
But there IS a military alliance, even in your sense of the term

First you argue that a strategic alliance and military alliance are the same thing, now you're stretching my definition of the latter so far as to make it practically synonymous with the former.

When there are American soldiers on the ground, US weapons in Rojavan militias' hands, and face-to-face negotiations with PYD members over military directions, then you'll see me eat my words over a military alliance. As the above would in fact jeapordise the democratic project, unlike dropping bombs on the people about to kill them.

Quote:
I happen to believe that military cooperation of an guerrilla movement with the US military distorts any radical dynamics that the movement may have, that in your words in "jeopardises the potential for libertarian socialism. I have explained why I think so

No you haven't. You just keep saying that it does as though it were self-evident.

I pointed out that a full military alliance with the U.S. would jeopardise the libertarian socialist experiment because the United States would almost certainly impose conditionalities upon Rojava which would force them to set up a liberal state and open the economy up to neoliberal privatisation, so as to maintain Global North dominance in the region and to prevent economic self-reliance from being achieved.

None of that has come as a result of agreeing to have bombs dropped on ISIS. You have no good explanation as to why doing so would somehow advance American "imperialism".

All you really seem to be saying is, doing anything in cooperation with America for any reason and to any end is bad and will destroy anything good because ... because imperialism.

This is a really kind of immature and ill-informed anti-imperialism that takes no account of contexts or consequences and just assumes as a dogma that anything an imperial country ever does is by definition bad. Just as right-libertarianism is foolish anti-statism, anti-Americanism is foolish anti-imperialism.

Connor Owens
Apr 10 2015 12:06

kurremkarmerruk

Yeah, maybe. Though I'm personally not all that into poststructuralist ideas. Though I did enjoy Richard JF Day's book Gramsci is Dead, which introduced me to a great many of them and gave me an understanding I previously lacked. Before that book I had naively written off all (as opposed to just most) poststructuralism as pretentious, hollow, gobbledegook.

Foucault and Deleuze in particular had a lot of ideas which were quite anarchistic, though I still can't stand their horrific prose. Writing in such an obscurantist manner really does a disservice to the thoughts themselves.

But check out Brian Morris's essay Reflections on the New Anarchism - published both in his own recent anthology, and in The Best of Social Anarchism - which points out that there's actually precious little in poststructuralist philosophy of anti-authoritarian value that wasn't said decades earlier (and far more clearly) by the classical anarchists.

Chilli Sauce
Apr 10 2015 12:12

Owens, are you suggesting that within international affairs, the US ever acts without an eye to furthering it's imperialist ambitions?

Connor Owens
Apr 10 2015 12:43

Chilli Sauce

Of course not. But it's naive and simplistic to assume that regardless of context every single thing the United States ever does is automatically bad, and by definition only ever motivated by desires for imperial expansion.

As I said, taking this view is akin to the naive and simplistic right-libertarian view of the state - that every thing it does is to be opposed simply because it's the state that's doing it.

rooieravotr
Apr 10 2015 13:40

Owen Connors

Quote:
a full military alliance with the U.S.

Ah, now "military alliance" has shifted to "full military alliance", after I - again showed that there was a military alliance of sorts in operation.

Quote:
Quote:
I happen to believe that military cooperation of an guerrilla movement with the US military distorts any radical dynamics that the movement may have, that in your words in "jeopardises the potential for libertarian socialism. I have explained why I think so
No you haven't.

Huh?? I happen to believe this. "No you haven't" is no reply to what I happen to believe, for I know what I happen to believe and you don't. I may not have proven my point to your satisfaction. But this happens top be what I think is the case... In another comment you complain about contributers here who seem to know better what you think than you yourself. Here, you do the very same thing that you accuse others of. It is tiresome to dispell these kind of things again and again.

rooieravotr
Apr 10 2015 13:46

Connor Owens:

Quote:
When there are American soldiers on the ground, US weapons in Rojavan militias' hands, and face-to-face negotiations with PYD members over military directions, then you'll see me eat my words over a military alliance.

There is at least face to face contact between an YPG representative and US military involved in the bombing, as the quote I gave shows. Do we now have a one-third-military alliance, because the other two conditions are not fulfilled? And besides, why is "face to face" that important? As if you cannot have close military ties by mobile phones/ internet technology these days.

For the rest, you apparently cannot stop the misreading of what I actually say and which you don t agree to. That disagreement is fine, but the misreading is not.

rat
Apr 10 2015 13:50

Last year there were a couple of websites that mentioned the U.S. military making drops of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies around Kobanê . Maybe the weapons weren't made in the U.S. and I have no idea about the credibility of the sites that I link to here.

http://vjews.com/en/news/6999/us-military-says-airdrops-weapons-for-kurd...

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=148_1413892401

Spikymike
Apr 10 2015 13:52

Come on Owen's I mean Bookchin goes back to Athenian 'democracy' but Marx is out of date?!

Flint
Apr 10 2015 13:57
Spikymike wrote:
Come on Owen's I mean Bookchin goes back to Athenian 'democracy' but Marx is out of date?!

Marx also goes back to Athenian democracy.
Ethnological notebooks of Karl Marx
Engels: The Greek Gens

Spikymike
Apr 10 2015 14:19

Ok Flint got me there but Bookchin actually saw that as one of his inspirations for his strategy of opposing today's modern capitalism. I suppose I should avoid these one-liner comments but Owen's sometimes brings out the worst in me!

Flint
Apr 10 2015 15:05
Spikymike wrote:
Ok Flint got me there but Bookchin actually saw that as one of his inspirations for his strategy of opposing today's modern capitalism. I suppose I should avoid these one-liner comments but Owen's sometimes brings out the worst in me!

Just as Marx and Engels drew inspiration in opposing capitalism from "primitive communism" of the Iroquois, etc...

ocelot
Apr 10 2015 15:41
Flint wrote:
If folks are libcom were interested, I think it would be great to compile a list of questions we would actually like to ask workers in Rojava about "relations of exploitation: over the distribution of land, over assignment to different kinds of work, over prices and wages, over imports and exports" and conditions of work, safety, hours, etc...

Can we get back to this? People were asking what does "support" even mean? One of the things it can mean is finding out more information and then disseminating them to anybody interested. Myself and a few others from these rainy parts are currently making semi-regular trips to Turkey and the Kurdistan region of Turkey. And we are in contact both with DAF comrades (some of whom will be at the Dublin Anarchist Bookfair week after next - again paying travel for comrades from the region to attend events like @ bookfairs is more practical support) and also with actvists journalist friends (ROAR mag, etc) who are living in the area and have been back and forth to Kobane itself to see how the economy and political process is actually happening on the ground. Plus various other Kurdish anarchists and a Kurdish-American bloke who's currently finishing a film he made in the middle of all that, that's heading for release in the next months. There's quite a lot in the pipeline in terms of more information becoming available.

But if we draw up a list of questions (the more verifiable/falsifiable/measurable/factual the better, I expect) then I have contact with people who can get answers.

Connor Owens
Apr 10 2015 17:18
Quote:
Huh?? I happen to believe this. "No you haven't" is no reply to what I happen to believe, for I know what I happen to believe and you don't

You claimed in your comment that you "believed" that cooperating in any way, shape, or form with the U.S. would jeopardise any potential for libertarian socialism. You then ended the paragraph I quoted with "I have explained why I think so".

Forgive me for thinking you were saying that you had provided something in the way of evidence or a coherent argument for why cooperating with America in any way automatically harms said potential, rather than just a statement of blind faith back up by baseless assertions.

I described a theoretical scenario (which could, if worst came to worst, occur) in which the democratic project would be threatened - by having to succumb to conditions imposed by the U.S. in exchange for aid. No such conditions exist in exchange for the bombings.

So thus far you have been unable to explain how precisely accepting the bombings makes the Rojavans "pawns of imperialism". You just keep saying it does over and and over as though it were a mathematical axiom.

Agent of the In...
Apr 10 2015 17:35

I'm just gonna add one last thing here.

I do assert that there are indeed real, clear differences in the level of theoretical content, regardless of how it is expressed, in this thread. I do not think its just a matter of "differences in terminology being mistaken for differences in beliefs".

BUT ASIDE FROM THAT, I also take issue with the Owens and the like, who clearly have not seriously considered what such theory that they hold so dearly would mean in practice. Like really, what would a "trans-class movement", a "libertarian municipalism", a "social ecology" mean in practice over here (in the US, UK, or whatever) OR even over there, in the 'Rojava Revolution'? That is something that has been raised by a good number of posters, and its definitely a central issue (perhaps overlooked, or maybe misunderstood?).

I'm not asking for a direct response to that question (although this post might provoke one), for it is pretty clear once you take a step back and look at the "critical" commentary that they (Owens, kurrem) have made on the 'Rojava Revolution' throughout the eight pages of this thread, and elsewhere, what it clearly means for such "anarchists". I can provide numerous quotations demonstrating so (which I won't, as I said, you can look back over this thread your selves), some of which is probably even worthy of making it on the 'Funniest thing you read today' thread.

This is just food for thought. This is how I see this thread, where the disagreements really lies. If its too " disingenuous", "offensive", "insulting", maybe you can respond with a post with further insults, maybe throw in the usual "Marxo-Anarchist" one liner, more straw mans. Just go ahead. I don't mind.

Proceed.