Proletarian internationalism and the war in Syria

An anti-criticism by Fredo Corvo

Submitted by Fredo Corvo on April 17, 2018

Version 2, 18-4-2018, several corrections of mistakes in translation into English.

I. The battle for "Rojava" as part of the inter-imperialist massacres
II. How can we put an end to the imperialist conflicts in the Middle East?

I. The battle for "Rojava" as part of the inter-imperialist massacres
On television almost every day, we see heartbreaking images of the horrors of the civilian population as a result of clashes between various imperialist powers in Syria. As in the two world wars and during the Cold War, in the numerous conflicts in which the United States and the Soviet Union indirectly opposed each other through terrorist regimes and national ‘liberation’ movements supported by them, the civilian population is the defenseless victim. Following the example of massive bloodsheds that colonialism waged among the native populations, these massacres of defenseless civilians are a popular weapon in the more than 100 years of inter-imperialist warfare between the imperialist robbers themselves.

The images of devastated cities, of refugees, of injured and dead children remind the working class all over the world of the history of the imperialist wars that they themselves experienced or that they know of, as in Europe, from their parents or grandparents. It is also clear to many that not only refugees seek refuge in areas where relative peace and prosperity prevail. They see that the local inter-imperialist wars, contrary to all promises of peace and reconstruction, not only continue, but even expand and threaten the rest of the world. This insight that we are not just looking at others who are victims, but that we can become the next victims ourselves, is the starting point for actual solidarity.

The ruling class is now aware of the cause of these wars. The top managers of multinational companies, the leading military and the heads of the secret services, which pull the strings around the world, the personalities in the political puppet theater, politicians across the political spectrum, from the extreme right to the extreme left bourgeois currents, they all know the why of these wars. The cause is the continuation of the economic crisis. This crisis can not be hidden indefinitely beyond the current growth that has been laboriously achieved through an explosion of debt that can never be repaid. Capital increasingly understands that it has no other solution to the economic crisis than further and larger wars. At the moment Trump tries to make credible the idea of the inevitability of a major imperialist war in the population with open trade wars.

Unemployment is permanent for ever larger parts of the world's population, including in developed countries such as the United States. The vast masses of peasants, artisans and traders who were made proletarians by competition with capitalist goods, if not by direct robbery of their means of production, for the most part, do not find jobs in the capitalist production process. Unemployment can no longer hide behind temporary small jobs and the resulting distortion of unemployment figures. Mechanization, automation and robotization are increasingly producing more in less labor time. The remaining work is more intense and drives a depletion of workers' physical and mental health. With increasing exploitation, wealth is sinking for ever larger sections of the working class. While the world is ripe for socialism, in larger sections of the working class the insight is missing that it's capitalism that leads to crisis, that crisis leads to war and that crisis and war can only be eradicated if the international working class overthrows capitalism. Powerlessness is the result.

The ruling class manipulates these feelings of powerlessness and anger through their control of the mass media. The blame for the growing misery is being shifted to the most visible victims themselves, the refugees. "It is their own fault, it is the fault of Islam". The victims are presented as inferior in moral and human respect. In the same way, the ideology of capital represents the rivals of "our own" national capital in the wars of commerce and the military adversaries in present and future imperialist conflicts as barbaric aggressors. The war effort is justified by defense of values such as the nation, the people, peace, civilization, democracy, humanity. In this way, every national capital falls back on its own specific deceptions to receive support from the people, especially from the working class, confronted with the hardships that will come in the coming great wars. Necessary for these wars is a production uninterrupted by labor unrest, and an enthusiastic commitment at the front to prevent greater desertions, or even worse for national capital, soldiers and sailors direct their weapons against "the enemy in their own country" (Karl Liebknecht), "our own" exploiters and oppressors.

On the side of powerful imperialisms, such as the US and Russia, the current fronts show the deployment of highly specialized soldiers as personnel for their technologically advanced and sophisticated weapons of destruction: bombers, jet fighters, submarines and aircraft carriers, missile systems, nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons - which are becoming ever more murderous - drones, spy satellites, hacking techniques to spy on and paralyze the enemy's infrastructure. Even less powerful imperialisms such as China, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, and India are becoming less dependent on foreign supplies of cutting-edge military technology. These weapons are usually operated by professional soldiers who are technically engaged in the same work as the high-skilled workers in high-tech industries. These soldiers are indeed workers in uniform, although they are not yet aware of it. The soldiers and sailors, the "workers (and peasants) in uniform" played an important role alongside the industrial workers in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and in the German revolutionary turmoil of 1918-1923.

For the use of dirty murder work on the battlefield, one relies on professional soldiers drilled in cadaver discipline, like the traditional marines and special forces. Russia uses a.o. so-called mercenaries to hide the use of its own army outside its borders. Countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the US are using temporary "warriors" as foot soldiers recruited on the basis of religion - in particular, various shades of Islam - and / or the nation. In the Islam-controlled part of these combat groups, we see the use of terrorist "poor man's weapons," primarily bombing.(1) Quite apart from other differences, the entire group of fighters engage in imperialist warfare as infantry and cannon fodder. This applies both to the international rabble fighting for Islamic State (in fact to the faction of Saddam Hussein of Iraqi capital), as to the Kurdish fighters of Barzani serving the US, for example, the Al Nusra Front, a Syrian al Qaida franchise supported by Turkey, and for the Kurdish YPG in USA service. These fighters are workers in uniform, largely unqualified, often forced into military service by permanent unemployment, sometimes with a gun pointed at their backs, always ideologically dominated by religious characteristics of the country or region. In the Middle East and Africa, the specific ideologies for dominating the foot soldiers of imperialism are tied to one of the many ethnic and religious groups in which these already poorly connected populations of mostly artificial nations are divided by numerous civil wars. The regimentation of Kurdish proletarians by the YPG as fighters for the United States is, in my opinion, no exception.

This position was represented in the article "Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?". This has led to very negative reactions. (2) In my opinion, this rejection can generally be traced back to the specific anarchist and feminist ideology and the specific communalist form adopted by the state in Syrian Kurdistan, also called Rojava. There have been discussions over the years that I will not repeat here. My position is that Rojava is a class society, complete with labor, capital and other classes, that the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) is a bourgeois state, ruled by the bourgeois party PYD and its YPG army. Kurdish fighters, mostly proletarians in uniform, are used by the DFNS as cannon fodder (3) in the clashes between various imperialist interests in the region. Again, if the soldiers and workers understand that the enemy is in their own country, an end to the imperialist war is near.

In the remainder of this text, I will comment on the most interesting reviews my article has received, namely the two articles published by the CPRSJ (Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice), later incorporated on the IHMO website (International Marxist-Humanist Organization).

II. How can we put an end to the imperialist conflicts in the Middle East?

In the previous part, I have addressed the feeling of powerlessness that overwhelms most of the workers at the sight of the heartbreaking images of inter-imperialist clashes in Syria. Many also see that the wars are widening and that they can be the next victims themselves. This is an important starting point for an actual solidarity, namely the struggle of the workers, including the workers in uniform, against the "enemy in their own country" (Liebknecht), possibilities we examine here.

At one important point, I agree with the CPRSJ and IHMO criticisms. (4) Sethness notes in the last paragraph of his critique that he agrees "ironically enough" with my remark that wars in the Middle East will not end until the workers’ struggles are above the level of strikes and demonstrations in Iran around the turn of 2017-2018. He agrees with my commentary "in abstracto" and thinks that he can complement my position by saying that not only the Kurdish workers should fight, but all the workers in the entire region and even around the world in the face of the global nature of imperialism. Anyone who takes the trouble to read my article can see that this has already been mentioned there. However, we agree on the crucial importance of workers' struggles to end imperialism. I have also pointed out that this struggle evolves from a struggle against the consequences of the crisis and war, overcoming the division of the working class and extending beyond the boundaries of different nations, languages, religions, and especially national borders. By expanding their struggle, workers are able to set goals on a higher level and declare themselves against the war. All this we have seen in the making in Iran as strikes of economic demands in Kurdish Iraq have widened to companies in Iran, and finally unemployed workers in numerous cities took to the streets with slogans against all factions of the regime, and finally against the wars Iran participates in.

For a further development of comparable workers' struggles, whether it starts from working or unemployed workers or 'workers in uniform', organization and consciousness are needed. According to the council communist view, the mass of workers can only develop their organization in struggle, as mass meetings in the streets and companies, with elected and revocable committees, and finally coordination of them in councils. The development of power and consciousness expressed in the mass movement as a higher aim, prepares itself in the working class by massive reflection as a suppressed and exploited class ('dialectically', if you will) about the crisis, war preparations and ideological distortions with which the ruling classes and the bourgeois state are trying to bring the workers into line with their plans.

There are several aspects to this reflection. Minority organizations, based on what they see as the historical lessons of the development of society and class struggles, play a modest but important role in exposing ideologies that justify the participation of the oppressed and exploited in the imperialist war. In the article Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism? I pointed to two important imperialist war ideologies that I see in the article posted by CPRSJ and IHMO: that of the 'defensive' war’ (5) and that of the 'oppressed peoples'. Both deceptions are currently playing a crucial role in the domination of the 'Kurdish' proletariat in the Middle East. It should also be noted that this is how the PKK, PYD and related bourgeois organizations encapsulate Kurdish migrant workers (eg in the USA, massively in Germany and the Netherlands). Finally, the idea of "attack" and "defense" plays a role in accepting participation in the imperialist war around the world.

The critical articles on my position show that the actions of the CPRSJ in California to defend Afrin do not imply unconditional support of the PYD, and that they are critical of some aspects of the so-called Rojava Revolution. Sethness mentions many examples of this critical attitude that I can agree with. For the CPRSJ, rejection of the demand to establish a "no-fly zone" is likely to be of great importance, since this demand can be used as a reason for US intervention. But when I wrote my article, I knew of this critical or conditional YPG support. Partly for this reason, I have pointed to the parallels between this position and the 'critical support' to certain nations or states of both today's Trotskyists, as well as the Trotskyists in the pre-World War II era, generally the Communist International. In contrast, the praise of Lenin's 'self-determination of the peoples', to which Kiani abundantly quotes Professor Anderson, makes little impression, because it is silent on the catastrophic consequences of this policy (even before Stalin!) for workers in Lithuania, Turkey and China. Not to mention Germany and the USA.

By contrast, I reject any support for the YPG and call on the proletarians to fight against the effects of the crisis and war, to expand the fight across borders. I call on the “workers in the uniform” of all armies and militant groups to fraternize, ultimately overthrowing all states including the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, also known as Rojava. It seems to me that this is a better contribution to ending the imperialist wars. On the other hand, I see nothing in manifesting together with bourgeois groups before the embassies of one of the war faring imperialisms, or to march behind PYD flags, as the comrades of the RKAB in Germany, or to offer total or critical support to belligerent bourgeois factions. History has also shown that this is the only way: the October Revolution against the 'democratic' government of a Russia attacked by Germany, the November Revolution in Germany, which was attacked by France, England and the United States. Lenin's statement on the self-determination of the peoples, however, has always been catastrophic in its practical application for the working class because it tied it to its own rulers and exploiters.

Fredo Corvo, 09-04-2018.

The above translation from Dutch probably contains several US-English language mistakes. I apologize to the reader. Please send your corrections to [email protected]. Other comments please below.


(1) Terrorist fighters can also be deployed in their own country, as Erdogan apparently did in Turkey, to present himself as a "strong man" to the chaos that was delivered to order. Even the most powerful imperialism does not shy away from such scenarios; 9/11 performed the same function for Bush.

(2) Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?, a translation from the Dutch original published on Libcom appeared is a shortened version of the original article in Dutch and German. In the English version the criticism of the two German-speaking groups Kosmoprolet and Rätekommunistischer ArbeiterInnenbund (RKAB) was not included, while the criticism of the individual positions within the Marxist-humanist IHMO was maintained. Kosmoprolet sent a rectification and IHMO published two articles as an answer See the German version for these reactions. For reactions to Libcom see my article there. No response has yet been received from the RKAB and there are no indications that its position has changed.

(3) I regard the use of Kurdish women as cannon fodder for imperialism as an extremely bitter merit of bourgeois feminism, in the tradition of the war effort of the bourgeois women's movement since the First World War. By the way, Sweden and the Netherlands have now extended conscription to women.

(4) Ali Kiani In Defense of Freedom and Humanity in Afrin!

, and Javier Sethness Internationalists for Afrin and Ghouta

. Both articles contain quite a number of false representations of my views, even suspicions and completely false accusations that might prevent the unsuspecting reader from familiarizing myself with my article. One thing I would like to correct here: Contrary to what Kiani writes, I have not attacked the IHMO, but explicitly said that I assume that his article has appeared as a personal contribution. I assume that these false representations are not made with malicious intent. What I see is a lack of knowledge of left Communist positions. As I said earlier, there is also a lack of knowledge about the Marxist-Humanist movement on my side. And enlightening discussion between Marxist-humanists and left-communists is important because both movements had a proletarian-internationalist position in World War II, that is to promote the struggle of the workers against all camps in the war, in contrast to the Stalinists and the majority of Trotskyists. In the USA, this meant support for strikes of for instance miners and actions against discrimination against African-American proletarians. Sure, both movements are also very different, especially because the Communist Left broke with the Bolshevik ideology in the 1920s when it started to spread throughout the Comintern, all at the service of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. By contrast, Marxist-humanism contains many 'Leninist' and 'Trotskyist' views, because it was not until shortly before and during the Second World War that it broke with the defense of the Soviet Union. It is deeply regrettable that both reviews of my article did not address the common history shared by Marxist humanism and the Communist Left, nor the Trotskyist tendencies within Marxism-humanism. Not only, therefore, many historical and theoretical misunderstandings and veritable incomprehension continue, especially the question of defense of Afrin remains therefore unclear. In this text, I will take a different approach, starting with common positions in the current situation of conflicts in the Middle East.

(5) I have the impression that Kiani and Sethness are unaware of the revolutionary Marxists' struggle against the "defensive" war. Recommended is the second article of “From the 2nd to the 3rd Internationale - Three articles by Anton Pannekoek" The New Review, New York, 1914-1916.