A critique of two articles published by the International Marxist Humanist Organisation by Fredo Corvo.
Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?
The Turkish invasion of Northern Syria, with the declared goal of expelling the Kurdish YPG from the Turkish border, has caused various reactions from organizations that rely on anarchism, socialism or communism. In general, the Turkish invasion is condemned and "the Kurds" are defended. The well-known left-wing bourgeois groups have responded according to the patterns used for decades to decide on which side of the war front they will take part in the imperialist massacres. This is nothing new. But in this case we see that groups and individuals who orient themselves at the Communist Left (1) are influenced by left bourgeois positions. Even groups whose ancestors defended proletarian internationalism in the Second World War now find it difficult to put forward the workers' struggle against imperialist war. As we shall see, this has partly to do with a microscopic view of Rojava, the microcosm of a supposed "socialism in one province".
Most groups of the Communist Left have long done with the myth of Rojava.(2) Unhindered by this, some groups who rely wholly or in part on Marxism and the Communist Left believe, still enthusiastically or doubtfully - with many 'yes, but' – in the ideal of Rojava. In Germany, this concerns the “Council communist Workers’ League” RKAB and the "Friends of the Classless Society".(3) Some Marxist humanists in the United States arrive at a similar defense of Rojava in a different way.
The International Marxist-Humanist and the Rojava Myth
Two articles about the Turkish invasion of Syria have been published on the website "The International Marxist-Humanist". This is the website of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization (IMHO), which was founded in 2013. Marxist-Humanism is an American internationalist movement based on the work of Raya Dunayevskaya.(4) Other Marxist-humanist organizations are News & Letters Committees (NLC) and its split-off, Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI). Of these three groups, only IMHO has so far reported on the Turkish invasion of Syria, although enthusiastic personal reports of Rojava can be found in News & Letters. The two articles on the Afrin conflict are published on behalf of the CPRSJ, the Coalition for Peace, Revolution and Social Justice, a platform of local branches of various organizations (in Los Angeles or California), including IHMO. The quotations from a speech and an article published on this platform, taken from "The International Marxist-Humanist", should therefore not simply be attributed to IHMO, let alone to other Marxist-humanistic organizations. But they did not contradict the position taken either.
A call by the CPRSJ from January 21., 2018 ends as follows:
Though the Rojava Revolution has its contradictions, as seen in these very ties between the Kurds and U.S. and Russian imperialists—bonds that now appear to be breaking down — we must defend Afrin! The gains and hopes of the Rojava Revolution, including democratic self-administration, feminism, and communalism, depend upon it! We must resist Erdoğan, a neoliberal authoritarian who fantasizes about resurrecting the Ottoman Empire through genocide of the Kurds!
We call on all people of conscience to support actions in protest of this murderous military campaign being organized by diasporic Kurdish communities and/or emergency demonstrations at Turkish consulates and embassies globally, as well as in Turkey itself. In Los Angeles, the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ) endorses today’s 1:00pm emergency action outside the Federal Building in Westwood. (5)
At this rally, Ali Kiani gives a speech from which CPRSJ and IHMO have published a summary, of which I quote the following regarding the Rojava myth:
(…) a multi-ethnic and democratic movement of liberation-oriented women from a grassroots organization, which happened to take root in Rojava (…).
(…) the democratic feminist alternative form of self-governance in the Middle East (…)
(…) the least we can do is to offer solidarity with the progressive, multi-ethnic people of northern Syria for the future possibility of a democratic alternative in the Middle East based on justice and freedom, something that could evolve into an anti-capitalist humanist alternative. The Kurdish people of Afrin can depend only on International solidarity and the comradeship of progressive forces who stand for an anti-capitalist alternative. (6)
In the name of the same "ideals" that anarchists see as the angle of their 'analysis', justice, freedom, women's liberation, democracy (note, not proletarian democracy), humanism and progress a stand is taken for the defense of a people on the basis of same uncritically accepted ideological disguise of the rule of the YPG-PYD-PKK over the Kurdish "people", communalism. The difference with anarchism and its followers is that Marxist-Humanists turn to a "dialectic" that would emanate from movements of oppressed peoples and minorities such as African Americans and women. In addition it is of significance that this current, despite its worship of Rosa Luxemburg, has adopted Lenin’s right of the nations to self-determination. I will not reiterate my criticism of these principles of Marxism-Humanism.(7) Instead, we move from the Rojava myth to some classic justifications of involvement in the imperialist war, which can also be found in the "defense of Afrin" by some Marxist-Humanists.
The protection of the oppressed peoples is undisputed within the workers' movement, the support of national liberation however is not. For instance, before the First World War, Luxemburg and Lenin did not agree on the attitude that Social Democracy should take up with regards to the independence of Poland (then part of the Tsarist Empire). Lenin was in favor, Luxemburg against. During the First World War Lenin expressed himself in the Draft resolution of the left Social Democrats for the first international socialist conference 13th July 1915 (5-8 September 1915 in Zimmerwald) extremely cautious about the support of oppressed peoples. With the historic era of imperialism, the bourgeoisie had become reactionary, according to the generally accepted opinion of the revolutionaries, and only the social revolution could pave the way for peace and freedom for the nations.(8) Luxemburg, however, said unequivocally:
The world war serves neither the national defense nor the economic or political interests of the masses of the people whatever they may be. It is but the product of the imperialistic rivalries between the capitalist classes of the different countries for world hegemony and for the monopoly in the exploitation and oppression of areas still not under the heel of capital. In the era of the unleashing of this imperialism, national wars are no longer possible. National interests serve only as the pretext for putting the laboring masses of the people under the domination of their mortal enemy, imperialism.
The policy of the imperialist states and the imperialist war cannot give to a single oppressed nation its liberty and its independence. The small nations, the ruling classes of which are the accomplices of their partners in the big states, constitute only the pawns on the imperialist chessboard of the great powers, and are used by them, just like their own working masses, in wartime, as instruments, to be sacrificed to capitalist interests after the war.(9)
The reality of the struggle for the independence of Kurdistan has confirmed the views of Luxemburg when seen from the standpoint of the class struggle. The ruling classes of Kurdistan are indeed just an appendage to their bourgeois comrades of the great powers, in whose service they put themselves, and whom they sell their proletariat as cannon fodder - but eventually things have turned out different from what was expected, they were betrayed. The trend towards changing imperialist alliances of several states (10) is no reason for the proletariat to adopt this same tactic, on the contrary. Ali Kiani describes the fate of this partner exchange in the case of the YPG-PYD as follows:
The Kurds earned the world’s respect for defeating ISIS with their courageous freedom fighters.
Erdoğan’s attack could not have been launched without the approval of Russia, which controls the airspace over Afrin. In fact, Russia moved its troops out of Afrin as Turkish warplanes bombed the Syrian Kurdish militia group YPG and also its parent organization, the PYD.
"According to officials in Afrin, Russia proposed to protect Afrin in return for handing over control to the Assad regime. But as the offer was rejected, Russia gave green light to Turkey’s invasion. The United States, meanwhile, which conveniently used the Kurds as ‘reliable boots on the ground’ in Syria for the last years in the international anti-ISIS coalition, stays quiet over their NATO ally’s ambitions to sacrifice the heroes of the ISIS war, merely warning Turkey to ‘avoid civilian casualties‘.”
This fragment is revealing if we do not read it as written, from the point of view of nations, but from the point of view of the working class, as Luxemburg put it above. In an attempt to present himself as opposing both superpowers, Kiani stresses that Russia and the USA both abandon the Kurds. As a result, he misses the diametrically opposed imperialist interests of both powers hidden behind the invasion of Afrin: Russia wants that the Turks drive the USA out of Syria.(11) Compliments to the "courageous freedom fighters" and "heroes" hide that the Kurdish proletarians are deployed as foot soldiers in the imperialist interests of the USA, Russia and several regional powers against the emergence of a new imperialism in the region, ‘Islamic State’, in which the capitalist interests of the Saddam clique rallied after the latter’s liquidation.
Marxist-Humanists might know how the Stalinists, under the pretext of supporting oppressed peoples, tried to subjugate the workers of these peoples to their own bourgeoisie. After Lithuania, Turkey and China, it was the turn of the United States during the Second World War. At the beginning of the war, they tried to cover up the Hitler-Stalin Pact and prevent American interference behind the ultra-right principle of “America First”. Germany’s invasion of Russia changed everything: the imperialist war had become a war of national liberation, according to the Stalinists. Dunayevskaya did not accept that, but what about her followers when calling for the defense of Afrin?
Even after the implosion of the Soviet Union, Stalinists and Trotskyists have continued to defend ‘national liberation’ and to support ‘oppressed people’. The Trotskyists do this in a more “clever” way than the Stalinists, by laying claim to the workers' struggle and concealing the interests of the great imperialisms in minor conflicts ('Hear, hear', Mr Kiani) (12) In their support of the "Kurdish struggle" this is reflected by their demand that the PKK should involve Turkish workers in their struggle. The question this poses is clearly: In what interests does it lie when workers take sides for one camp in a war between imperialist powers? Criticizing the YPG-PYD for its dependence on American support is part of the classical Trotskyist arsenal. Kiani also criticizes Rojava's dependency on Russia, in order to appear as taking an independent stance with regards to both major powers. But this sort of ambiguity is dropped massively by the Trotskyists in a major imperialist conflict, as has already been demonstrated by their support of the "degenerate workers’ state" in World War II.
The Social Democratic parties sided with their ruling class in the First World War under the pretext that this would be a 'defensive war', as Marx and Engels had supported in their time. The revolutionary Social Democrats, the later Communists including Lenin, all argued that World War I opened a different era, that of imperialism and social revolution. After the imperialist conquest of the world's most important regions by the capitalist countries, an inter-imperialist struggle for the redistribution of the world began. In this new period, the distinction between "attack" and "defense" served no other interest than an ideological deception of the population. All countries claimed that they were defending themselves against an attack, because in everyday consciousness this implies the right of self-defense. To justify future wars, the right of self-defense is part of international and martial law agreed between imperialist sharks. In the continuity of "attack" and "defense" the broad exploitation of the number of victims and atrocities by... the enemy has become part of any imperialist war propaganda.
The defense of 'oppressed nations' and the Russian 'workers’ state' by the Comintern, later by the former People's Commissar for Nationalities, Stalin, led to a return to the previously condemned pretext of the ‘defensive war’ and has become part of the ideological arsenal of the bourgeois left ever since.
The frequent use of terms such as "Turkish attack" makes it unnecessary to annoy the reader with quotes from the aforementioned texts, that show them accepting the idea of attack and defense without alternative. By contrast, it suffices to remind that the Trump administration announced that it would use Kurdish fighters as border guards in an area where several US military bases are located. It was therefore on purpose that, after having used the YPG against ISIS, to have the Kurdish "freedom fighters" defend US presence in this important region. Russia, by contrast, is interested in the USA leaving the area, allegedly for the "territorial integrity" of Syria, but in reality... to defend its own military presence in the Middle East and its access to Mediterranean ports. On its part, not without justification in view of the past, Turkey feared that Kurdish border guards would use their military positions along the Turkish border for attacks on Turkish territory, and chose to attack Kurdish territory as its "best defense". In this way, Turkey hopes to lay its hands on a part of Syria, should this fall apart, allegedly for "receiving refugees". Of course, Turkey found Russia's aid and some understanding with Germany, that wants to continue the refugee agreement with Turkey, and traditionally pursues its own imperialist interests through Turkey and Iran. At the end of January, Turkish threats were made to its NATO-ally USA, holding out an "Ottoman slap", should they continue to support the YPG. The battles between Turkey and the YPG are therefore part of a much broader and potentially more dangerous conflict between imperialist superpowers. We can not lose sight of this broader context, just as the imperialist antagonisms between Germany, Russia, France and England behind the "Serbian-Austrian affair” of the assassination at Sarajevo in July 1914, which provided the diplomatic pretext for the outbreak of World War I.
The struggle against imperialist war
Marxist-Humanism, in contrast to the bourgeois left, emerged from an internationalist standpoint of the workers’ struggle against both camps during World War II. This explains Kiani's apparent independence from both Russia and the United States in the Afrin conflict, while losing sight of the real contradictions between the major powers. The urgency of Kiani's calls raises the question how he believes a repetition of the genocide of the Armenian people can be prevented in the case of the Kurds. How can we prevent an end to the "progressive movements" (in which he equates Rojava and the uprising in Iran without any class analysis), and how could an anti-capitalist humanist alternative be derived from it? According to the CPRSJ this can be achieved by participating in solidarity demonstrations of the Kurdish exile community at Turkish diplomatic representations. If such actions are widely reported in the mainstream media, and the US government uses them as an opportunity for bombing – as for example was the case when Kobane was threatened by ISIS – this can still be ironed out by criticizing the YPG and the SDF for their dependence on the USA.
Under the guise of solidarity, the proletariat gets used to wrong decisions in imperialist conflicts. It is kept from a struggle on the basis of its class interests, and it is thereby prepared for its ideological and physical integration into imperialist war efforts. The left-wing bourgeois groups cooperating with this thereby prove to be part of the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie. Those internationalist groups who do the same, will slide more and more away from the positions of the working class, until they too are part of the bourgeois state.
The bitter truth is that the working class is unlikely to be able to stop the imperialist wars in the short term. Even the movement of the oil strike in the Iraqi Kurdish region and then into Iran, and the subsequent protests by mostly young unemployed proletarians, could not stop Iran's participation in the imperialist wars in the Near East. After a rapid development into a movement against all ruling groups of Iranian capitalism and against Iran's participation in the regional wars, the movement stagnated due to a lack of organization "In Real Life”.(13) Since then, hidden from the eyes of the "democratic" allies, repression reigns by anonymous gangs that do not make prisoners but let” militant proletarians “disappear".
The wars in the Near East will not stop until this movement of workers attains the same level as in Iran at the turn of the year, and develops further in order to create the self-organization of working and unemployed workers in general assemblies. There the discussion can be conducted on how the movement can best be expanded. In particular, the extension beyond the boundaries of sectors, religion, language, culture, and notably across national borders, is of paramount importance. The movement will therefore not only target its own ruling classes, but at the same time all political groups of the ruling classes of all countries.
The road to an inevitable proletarian world revolution is long and runs everywhere through the rise and fall of the workers' actions against the consequences of the capitalist crisis and the imperialist war. But it is the only road for the working class to develop the class consciousness and self-organization needed to defeat capitalism worldwide.
(Research until February 20, 2018)
Proofreading by: H.C., March 4, 2018
1) The Communist Left consists of the left-wing currents that have opposed the reformist tactics imposed on the other parties by the Bolshevik Party within the Communist International. Council communism, to which Arbeidersstemmen relates, was one of those left-wing currents.
2) Among others: ICT In Rojava: People’s War is not Class War, Mouvement Communiste Rojava: the fraud of a non-existent social revolution masks a Kurdish nationalism perfectly compatible with Assad’s murderous regime.
3) Fragments on these groups in the original Dutch and German versions of this article have been left out in this abridged version.
4) F.C. The Communist Left and Marxist Humanism - Part 1 On Trump and Neo-Fascism and Part 2/2 The ‘Unfinished American Revolution’.
5) Afrin Under Attack by Neo-Ottoman Erdogan: We Must Defend Afrin!
6) Ali Kiani Behind Turkey’s Attack on the Afrin Kurds: Imperialist Machinations in the Middle East.
7) See note 4.
8) See Lenin’s Draft Resolution.
9) Rosa Luxemburg Theses on the Tasks of International Social-Democracy (Late 1915).
10) The transformation of alliances is repeating itself ever more. This leads to confusion not only among the bourgeois left but also among left communist groups.
11) Nuevo Curso ¿Está iniciando Turquía una guerra mundial?
12) Gruppe Internationaler Kommunisten Der Klassenkampf im Kriege. No English translation available.
13) Nuevo Corso Movilizaciones de trabajadores en Oriente Medio and ¿Por qué se desinfla el movimiento en Irán?