The explosion point of ideology in Kurdistan – VP & GEH

The explosion point of ideology in Kurdistan – VP & GEH

Refusing the police interpretation of history as well as a bartering style of geopolitics, this text proposes to study the reasons for the unanimous enthusiasm for “the Kurds” (that is to say, prosaically the PYD, and its armed wing, the YPG) within the French left.
[TRANSLATION TO BE CONTINUED]

Source in French:

http://solitudesintangibles.fr/le-point-dexplosion-de-lideologie-au-kurdistan-vp-geh/

 

Refusing the police interpretation of history as well as a bartering style of geopolitics, this text proposes to study the reasons for the unanimous enthusiasm for “the Kurds” (that is to say, prosaically the PYD, and its armed wing, the YPG) within the French left. It does not address as such the “Kurdish cause” or the Syrian insurgency precisely (it would be much too vast) but how they have served to reveal the bankruptcy of the world of leftist militants, revolutionary and reformist as well. We discuss the ease of the left to be dragged by antiterrorism and State ideologies. Remaining aloof from the caricatured “anti-imperialist” postures (“campism” favorable to the Syrian regime) or the neo-conservative ones, it is about restoring some painful truths.

 

Whether we think of Stalinism or its innumerable variations, the history of the workers’ movement is littered with mystifications and falsifications. From the moment when, in the 1920s, the Communist International became the driving belt for the interests of the young “Soviet” State[1], large sections of the workers’ movement were employed in the service of systematic propaganda. The latter had to present the policy of forced industrialization led by an authoritarian State as the horizon and the rear base of the world revolution. The very words of revolution and communism have for a long time been spoilt by this experience, no longer designating an existence free from work and the State, but, for the greatest number, a sordid and brutal reality unrelated to the promises of emancipation, nor with any form of truth.

 

If it would be possible to discuss at length the historical circumstances which led to this state of affairs, we would readily agree that this had lasting harmful effects on the revolutionary cause. And if we have thought since some decades to be far from this embarrassing legacy, the last years have seen the emergence of a similar process progressively extending to all spheres of the left, including those defining themselves as “revolutionary”. It is this phenomenon, and what it reveals, that we will try to analyze.

 

Yesterday as today, the revolution is not a party affair.

 

In the midst of “radical” or “revolutionary” left-wing circles, from “La France Insoumise” to libertarians and some “autonomists”, to the NPA, what remains of Maoists in France and certain sectors of “struggle syndicalism”, the latest fashion seems to be, not without certain essentialism, “the Kurds”.

 

While it is astonishing to note the lack of prudence in assimilating an entire people to a party, even if it is a mass party (the PYD, Syrian offshoot of the PKK), what strikes us more is the absolutely sudden, totally fantasized and inconsistent character of the interest shown by the majority of the French left for the “Kurdish cause”.

 

This ecstatic support could be explained by the “revolutionary experience” unleashed in 2011/2012 in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), which should be compared to Spain in 1936. Many activists talk about it of self-management, ecology and gender equality, when it is not of communes or communism. Most often, even if nothing is said about what is happening in Rojava, the supposedly utopian character of this experiment is aimed at discrediting the organization of life in the cities of the Syrian insurgency. A platform signed by all the upper crust of the French far-left and published by “Ballast” quotes for example the incredible Noam Chomsky to assert with him that Rojavian utopia is “very different from all that is in Syria”. In another platform, signed by trade unionists and published by “L’Humanité”, one can read: “Today it is a progressive, egalitarian, feminist and secular genuine alternative in this region. It can draw a future liberated from all obscurantisms and all barbarities.

 

Danielle Simonet, representative of “La France Insoumise”, decrees that this “socialist, ecologist and feminist” experiment is “original in this region”, before adding “a political message to the feminists: come here, you are for gender equality, there is in this region an unprecedented political experience that promotes gender equality”. In the documentary Rojava, une utopie au cœur du chaos syrien [Rojava, an utopia at the heart of the Syrian chaos] directed by Mireille Court, whose title sums up the will to produce an opposition between Rojava and the Syrian situation, the voice-over invites us to “discover another place for women in the Middle East”.

 

Rather than trying to grasp the ongoing dynamics in Rojava, or to understand the self-organization that really existed in the Syrian rebel cities at the beginning of the insurgency (communal councils, self-management of hospitals, teachers who write their own programs, etc.), the far-left identifies with “the Kurds”, who are perceived as an incarnation of the Light in a “region” where “the Dark Ages” would reign supreme. In many speeches, the radical left goes so far as to oppose “the Kurds” to “the Muslims” and even to “the Sunnis”, forgetting that they are often themselves. And as it would be a shame to give up as things are going so well, it has become even systematic for a part of the left to assimilate the totality of the Syrian opposition forces to “Islamism”, calling it “jihadist”, when it is not “barbaric”. As summarized by Kendal Nezan, president of the Kurdish Institute of Paris during a broadcast of France Culture, “there is unanimous consent of public opinion, from the libertarian left to the far-right”.

 

Yet talking of revolution in Rojava seems at least exaggerated, if not utterly false[2]. Whether we listen the long speeches during rallies held by the “pro-Kurdish” far-left or the official communication of the PYD, whether we read the statements of the leader Abdullah Öcalan – whom his followers vow a genuine personality cult to – or stories to the glory of this so-called utopia, we find at best only elements of language and hollow slogans, very probably masking the absence of concrete achievements.

 

What is known, however, is that the relative autonomy of Rojava is not the result of an insurrection or an expropriating general strike, but of a negotiation with the Syrian regime, which at first consisted in a quasi-neutrality of the YPG (armed wing of the PYD), vis-à-vis the Syrian revolution.

 

To speak of neutrality here is in fact to be complacent inasmuch as the PYD has been muzzling anti-Assad elements (at least they were marginalized), in exchange for the loyalist troops to leave the region. Since then, in Rojava, the salaries of civil servants continue to be paid by the regime. And Assad, rid of the politico-military management of this territory entrusted (at least temporarily) to the PYD, was able to focus its counterinsurgency efforts on the “Useful Syria” (the urbanized area from Aleppo to Damascus).

 

Our goal is not to demonize what the French far-left idealizes outrageously but to contextualize. It does not seem excessive to say that Syrian society is extremely segmented, whether politically, ethnically or religiously. […]

 

In short, to understand what is happening in Rojava, we seem to have no choice but to leave the pseudo-revolutionary illusions to plunge into the icy water of realpolitik in wartime. If it is obvious that the interests of the PYD and the Syrian regime are not identical, let us remind some episodes where they converged:

 

– Many anti-Assad activists have been threatened (and sometimes arrested) in PYD-controlled areas since 2012. Anti-Assad demonstrations have been suppressed, and YPG have sometimes fired on unarmed crowds, as for a demonstration in Amuda in July 2013.

 

– When the regime and its allies regained Aleppo, the YPG fought rebel groups, contributing to the city’s downfall and the crushing of its population. Prior to that, the YPG had attacked and retook Menagh and Tal Rifaat, which had long been controlled by the FSA.

 

– The PYD and the PKK relay Assad’s propaganda, turning ISIS into “the main enemy”, and they do not hesitate to mix it together with some of the Syrian rebels (while the latter sometimes confront it in the front line).

 

It is furthermore not surprising that, as with all other opposing camps, YPG’s war crimes are revealed, although they are in no way comparable to those of the Syrian regime or the Islamic State. However, most often, these revelations meet only the voluntary blindness of the French left. When Human Rights Watch, which carried out an investigation in Rojava in February 2015, and Amnesty International, who visited in October 2015, accuse the YPG of “ethnic cleansing” because of the destruction of several Arab villages in Rojava and the displacement of populations on an ethnic basis, many activists yet see only hostile and malevolent propaganda, even forgetting that the President of Amnesty International is imprisoned and charged in Turkey for “belonging to an armed terrorist organization”, for having denounced the war waged on the Kurds. As for the forcible recruitment of combatants by the YPG and the imprisonment of refractories, or the use of child soldiers, they are justified by many supporters of the YPG as related to the need for war… If it seems difficult to judge such practices without taking into account the context of war, it should be asked however how and why the war led by the YPG has been disguised into a libertarian revolution. It is also surprising that the recruitment of child is seen as a contingency linked to the lack of combatants, but that the presence of women on the front lines (which the YPG propaganda heavily insists on) is necessarily a proof of feminism for the organization, or even of gender equality in Kurdistan…

 

If it is doubtful to talk about revolution in the communist sense of the word while confining it to a small locality impervious to what is outside, it is absolutely grotesque to postulate the establishment of a libertarian utopia by a military organization, in the midst of a war of such intensity, where global and regional actors confront each other. Furthermore, if we talk about a “revolution”, we should say where and when the people of Rojava have risen up to abolish existing forms of power. Moreover, there is no indication throughout the PYD’s history of sympathy for self-management or even for revolt movements that are not its own initiative or controlled by it. From the Kurdish youth intifada in 2004, during which the leadership of the PYD appealed for calm, to the beginning of the Syrian insurgency in 2011, which many Kurdish parties called to join with the notable exception of the PYD, the organization was indeed not exactly a shining example of self-organization and democracy “from below”.

 

In addition, it should be remembered that if municipal assemblies have been set up within the so-called self-management utopia of Rojava, they have no decision-making or even advisory power over what concerns strategic, political and military decisions, which are centralized by the party. As for the social revolution, the constitution of Syrian Kurdistan (called “social contract”) consecrates the private property, which means that social classes are not questioned, far from it. In addition to having invented democratic confederalism, Abdullah Ocalan seems to have invented the revolution that does not arise from a struggle but from an agreement with a dictatorship, that does not question the established military power, and does not affect exploitation.

 

It is therefore quite embarrassing to see activists claiming “libertarian communism” to applaud a “revolution” in which the relations of production have not been touched. While the self-management of a single factory in Rojava would make all the leftist media headlines, and since we now know that the “cooperatives” in Afrin were set up by the Assad family, many activists end up (for lack of anything better and in the absence of any concrete example to quote) exalting the identity of a totally fetishized people, rebellious by nature and living in harmony. The same is true for the question of feminism when, in addition to being limited to images of propaganda representing young female fighters with hair flowing in the wind, many French speeches talk about a “primeval matriarchy” among the Kurds…

 

Kurds, Arabs and us.

 

In parallel with the essentialization of a people, annexed in its entirety to a military organization, and whose culture would be, according to some leftist speeches, essentially democratic and feminist, the support of the French left and far-left for the YPG is imbued with the most grotesque ethnocentrism, and tinged with the filthiest opportunism. […] we see that it is rarely [the suspicions of many Kurds towards the Syrian insurgency that overall took them not sufficiently into account] which [guide] the unanimous support for the “Kurds” (that is, to the YPG) in political speeches in France.

 

Indeed, if the rumor of a revolution in Rojava ran in the French left as from 2012, it is in 2015, after the attack of January [against the “Charlie Hebdo” cartoonists, translator’s note] and even more after that of November [against the “Bataclan” and terraces, translator’s note], that the French left had a particular passion for the fight of “the Kurds” against the Islamic State. And while the vast majority of this same left did not take anything in the Syrian uprising of 2011, and has, […], never tried to provide any support, not even humanitarian.

 

And so in France, in 2015, in a context of national unity against “Islamist barbarity”, the slogan “Fuck ISIS, support PKK” began to appear among leftists along with the proliferation of myths about the “self-management experience in Rojava”. Disturbing parallels, these speeches have spread at the very moment when French diplomacy broke with its (moderate) pressure policy towards Assad, and now considered the Islamic State (or “Islamism”) as the single enemy; Assad was no longer an enemy, so Putin and the PYD were even partners in this struggle.

 

It is one thing the French State to take the position “all against ISIS and only against ISIS” while the Islamic State will never do as much damage in Syria as Assad and Putin nor as many deaths in the world as France or the United States, but it is another thing, a disgusting thing to say the least, that the far-left, self-proclaimed “revolutionary” and “antiimperialist”, has the same reaction, while continuing to ignore the Syrian insurgency and its repression on the one hand, and the politics of Western States in the world on the other hand. In reality, “the Kurds” seem to be for leftist activists what “Middle Eastern Christians” are to those of the “Catholic Right”: the justification of their fears and cowardice.

 

Beyond the disturbing parallels between the diplomatic positions of the French State or the Western States on the one hand, and those of international “revolutionaries” joining the YPG (or the French left supporting them) on the other hand, there are sometimes convergences up to the arguments used to justify these positions. In various television reports broadcasted in 2016, French volunteers, who would never have been interested in Syria if French people were not killed in a newsroom, on the terrace or in a concert hall, say they decided to join the YPG after [the attacks of] November 13th, 2015. In a “Russia Today” documentary about the takeover of Raqqa, a Swedish volunteer is outraged by the supposed weakness of the repression in his country against ISIS, then he says that the Islamic State is “the incarnation of wickedness”, since “the whole world is against them”. In the same report, a Swedish volunteer of the YPJ (YPG’s female branch), in a speech that is reminiscent of the arguments put forward to justify all NATO’s wars for almost twenty years, says she wants to “fight for women’s rights here in the Middle East”. And the prize for ethnocentrism and ignominy goes undoubtedly to the anarchists who in Raqqa, in a city devastated and emptied of its inhabitants by the international bombings, decided to pose for a picture in the ruins with the LGBT flag and the banner “This fagot kills fascists”.

 

After properly ignoring the Syrian insurgency and its crushing by Assad and his allies, much of the left is now hiding behind “the Kurds” to take up the language of the Syrian regime, or that of Kurdish representatives in France, sized to please the French left. Thus, during the Paris meeting of March 24th in solidarity with the struggle of the YPG in Afrin, the fighters of the Free Syrian Army were systematically designated as “Al Qaida” and “ISIS’ former fighters”. Whereas we are in a tragic and complex situation where Erdogan has managed to buy the loyalty of a part of the FSA to lead an open fight against the PYD, in a context where the Kurdish party is more and more perceived as an “occupier” by certain Arab populations, the French left unanimously decided to describe only a part of the drama. […]

 

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[1] A big topic that we mention here simply as an analogy. On the “Bolshevization” of the Communist parties, the development of State capitalism, and the Stalinist counter-revolution, (re)read the Communist Left:

·       Pannekoek Anton, “On the Communist Party”, International Council Correspondence, Vol. 2, no. 7, June 1936, marxists.org, https://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1936/06/communist-party.htm.

·       Rubel Maximilien, « Formation et développement du capital en URSS », Economie appliquée, 1957, marxists.org, https://www.marxists.org/francais/rubel/works/1957/rubel_19570900.htm [in French].

·       Bilan, « Seizième anniversaire de la révolution russe », Bilan, n°1, 1933, archivesautonomies.org, 2016,
http://archivesautonomies.org/spip.php?article2275 [in French].

[2] T.K.G.V., “A Letter to ‘Rojavist’ Friends”, thesinisterquarter.wordpress.com, 2016, https://thesinisterquarter.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/a-letter-to-rojavist-friends/.