The Internationalist Communist Group and class struggle in Iraq around 1991. We do not agree with the ICG on many issues but reproduce this article for reference.
About class struggle in Iraq - ICG
We have published several articles describing the insurrections of March 1991 in Iraq, which were written as and when information was able to reach us. Shortly after the end of the Gulf War, we also published in French the text "Proletariat contre nationalisme" (Communisme No.36) in which, from a distance of just over a year, we tried to draw the lessons from these struggles.
From an even greater distance, we are now returning to this question with some supplementary notes centred on the lessons of the insurrection and articulated principally around three axes: the contradictory development of workers' associationism in the appearance of the shoras, the strengths and limits of the insurrectionary actions of the proletariat, new inter-bourgeois wars in the region and the tasks of the proletariat. These notes have been taken from our central review in Spanish (Comunismo No.35) which appeared in October 1994. Since then, other information has reached us about the development of nationalism and Islamism as means put in place by the local bourgeoisie to dissolve the proletariat and to lead even those who fought side by side in the insurrection to turn their guns against each other. This information has been assembled in a text which follows "Additional Notes..." that we have entitled "Nationalism and Islam against the Proletariat".
We want to draw our readers' attention in particular to the lessons arising from the insurrection in Sulaymaniyah. What was at stake - as in all insurrections of our class throughout history - was how to develop the revolution in alll aspects of social life once the insurrection had been accomplished and how to avoid the confiscation of the social revolution by its transformation into a simple political "revolution", a simple change of government.
What happened in Iraq does not only show the reality of the contradiction capitalism/communism, but also its future. Capitalist inhumanity is developing everywhere. Everywhere war presents itself as an alternative to the real capitalist crisis. And everywhere the outline of a communist response to this and to all capital's barbarism is beginning to appear. This point is aimed at all those who think that "civilised" Europe will be forever spared the barbarism of war which swept across this part of the world only fifty years ago. It is useful to point out that the alternative "war or revolution" is the same everywhere and that the threat of Europe being transformed into a huge battlefield is just as real as that hanging over other parts of the world so far spared by military conflicts. "Here" too, the war waged by capital on the proletariat must develop to the destructive intensity with which it was conducted "over there" in Iraq. "Here" too, the only possible way to break the chains of this deathly system, which drags us ineluctably to war, remains the struggle for revolution.
Discussion of the lessons from the insurrection in Iraq are situated within this urgency. We appeal to our readers to share their opinions and critiques with us on this particular question, to enable us to develop together a community of struggle against war, the prefiguration of a real human community where Capital, the State, classes and social relations based on exchange and money have finally disappeared.
Additional notes on the insurrection of March 1991 in Iraq
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Some notes on the shoras: proletarian associationism and bourgeois recuperation
The shoras in Iraq, like all types of elementary regroupment of the proletariat, are a necessary form of the process of centralisation of the proletariat's force. They suffer from all the contradictions that our class contains within itself as a class and as a force antagonistic to capital yet dominated ideologically by the bourgeoisie. Take, for example, the Soviets in Russia. In 1905 as in 1917, they constituted structures of proletarian struggle contributing to the insurrection without making, either in 1905 or twelve years later, the necessary ruptures from the terrain of bourgeois democratic socialism and without making themselves independent of the political organisations which led them. This assured that, in the end, they were completely recuperated by the capitalist and democratic organisation of the State, under the reign of leninism and post-leninism. Apologists for the Soviets always forget, as if by magic, that the Congress of Soviets approved and implemented every level of Stalin's policies. The same thing happened in Germany with the workers' councils between 1918 and 1921. Having effectively emerged as structures of struggle outside and against the unions, the councils ended up no less dominated by bourgeois democracy, incarnated in various social democratic forces and transformed themselves into structures for the organisation of the bourgeois State against the proletariat.
In Iraq as well (just as in Iran between 1979 and 1982) the shoras, rising out of the flames of the struggle, contained enormous contradictions, the class oppositions between revolution and counter-revolution being defined within them. This is why, contrary to the councilists and the sovietists who make an uncritical apology of the shoras, we have tried, in this process, to seize upon the strengths and weaknesses of the proletariat by supporting and acting openly to assert the revolutionary pole.
As we can see from their slogans and flags, the shoras concentrated the same type of strengths and weaknesses as the councils, the soviets and other proletarian organisations characteristic of insurrectionary moments. Side by side with democratic, nationalist and even openly conservative demands, are slogans expressing the combativity, strength and class determination of workers in struggle.
The shoras were structured within and for the struggle. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean that they appeared in a spontaneous manner, as is always claimed by the adherents of spontaneism and councilism. Historic spontaneous necessity, as in the case of the Russian soviets or the councils in other countries, always concretises itself in the real flesh and blood men and women who organise these structures in a conscious and deliberate way. As we will show later, the appearance of the shoras was preceded by a "league" or committee formed from a insurrectionist minority organised to prepare for insurrection.
Some elements of the revolutionary conspiracy and the insurrection in Sulaymaniyah
While proletarians prepared themselves, armed themselves, in the various districts of Sulaymaniyah, a collection of militants who had regrouped prior to the open struggle in a "League for an Insurrectionary Uprising" called for the creation of shoras in neighbourhoods and factories. A real committee of insurrection was thus constituted, thanks to which a unified decision was able to be made to unleash the insurrection at a precise moment. The committee was composed of a collection of existing political organisations as well as independent militants. It planned the outbreak of the insurrection simultaneously in 53 nerve centres of the town (key crossroads, buildings and central points of neighbourhoods) which afterwards became the basis of the shoras. At that time, the nationalists did not participate as such in the committee and did not flaunt themselves in any of the centres of the insurrectionary neighbourhoods.
Only a minority of proletarians was armed and organised, and that is why the committee launched a set of appeals and directives to seize arms where they could be found. At the same time, a collection of revolutionary organisations assumed the indispensable role of arming themselves and arming the proletariat. "Communist Perspective", for example, gave themselves the task of distributing grenades, guns and ammunition at key points as well as arming some members of the committee. Other groups, such as the "Communist Action Group" (CAG), who participated in the committee as well as in various local structures and in the shoras, gave themselves the task of expropriating the clan chiefs of their houses and their armed centres so as to seize arms and to arm the proletariat. Without this preliminary conspiratorial action of the organised avant-garde, it would not have been possible to win the insurrectional battle of March 1991 in Sulaymaniyah.
This is what a comrade told us:
"The proletariat searched desperately for arms but only the communist, marxist forces armed the proletariat and decided on insurrection. The nationalists did not participate. As for us, we organised ourselves into groups to attack the houses of the clan chiefs. In general each detachment only had one bazooka and some light weapons. The attack began with the bazooka and we tried to seize the stockpiles of arms as quickly as possible. We had made an inventory quite a long time beforehand and that's how we knew where to look for arms. Another important aspect of the preparation carried out by revolutionary groups had been to make a collection of field 'hospitals' available to the insurrection for tending to the wounded."
Despite all that, the organisation and arming remained insufficient, which, in certain cases, was paid for on the part of the proletariat by deaths and injuries and by partial defeats.
Another comrade gave us his version:
"I only realised that preparations were being made for insurrectional action two days beforehand, when a revolutionary comrade gave me various precise instructions: I had to go to a particular place between 7 and 8 am, armed as best I could be. When I arrived at the gathering there were only seven of us. At that moment I told myself that we could not win. Later on, I heard that the majority of the committee had launched the insurrection also thinking that it would not be able to triumph but that in any case it would be an important step forward in the struggle and the autonomy of the proletariat. A moment later, two comrades from 'Rawti' ('Communist Perspective') appeared, calling on us to gather together for the insurrection. They distributed some grenades. Together we went around the nearby streets calling for struggle and in an instant we had gathered together some 50 or 60 people. It was at that time that two well-armed peshmergas arrived. The insurgents appealed to them and shouted out to them to join us in the movement but they didn't (1). Despite being a small group and completely inferior from the point of view of weapons, we attacked the local barracks, but it was too well protected. We fled, were repulsed and then pursued. Our comrade Bakery Kassab, a militant of Communist Perspective, died during this attack. We dispersed in a completely disorderly manner and ran as fast as we could. The enemy, better armed, chased us and we were surrounded until we arrived on the main street. As soon as we got there, a great surprise awaited us: the insurrection had gained ground and now it was the Ba'athists who were retreating."
These facts, along with so many others that various comrades and organisations of struggle have reported, enable us to assert that despite the existence of this insurrectional committee, initially the driving force behind, then centraliser, of the shora structures, real centralisation remained very relative. There were enormously chaotic aspects to it and many proletarian fighters went out into the streets with whatever they had to hand, without any structure of centralisation apart from what they "spontaneously" encountered in the street, without any instructions apart from that a friend had told them to go to such and such a place. Detachments of armed proletarians formed themselves very rapidly to carry out some action then dispersed again: often comrades on the same side of the barricades who had not known each other previously forged strong links and, after the insurrection, went on to a structure of political organisation. It is precisely the existence of all those heterogenous action groups participating in different actions which prevents a global understanding of the movement: there are no two protagonists who have experienced the same situation and even less who have perceived it politically in the same way. Thus for example, certain versions strongly stress the operational autonomy of little groups centralised by different combative structures (Communist Perspective, GAC...) as a decisive element of the insurrection, and others insist more on the strength of some 30,000 proletarians (only a few of whom had a weapon) who responded to a call from a shora and gathered in their "headquarters", the Awat school. According to the latter, the assembly was to prove decisive in dynamising the whole process because they went on from there to win important battles. To give an idea of the consciousness which drove these proletarians (as much in its strength as in its weakness) here are a few of the slogans which predominated in the assemblies:
"Class consciousness is the weapon of freedom!"
"Here are our headquarters, the rank and file of the workers' councils"
"Make the shoras your base for long term struggle!"
"Form your own councils!"
"Bring expropriated food and goods, we will distribute them here!"
"Exploited people, revolutionaries, lets give our blood for the success of the revolution! Carry on! Don't squander it!"
Despite the contradictions, the insurrection went on to impose itself, the repressive forces suffering numerous losses in several confrontations. Often they were liquidated in their own homes. In an attempt to save their own skins, the enemy concentrated themselves in the famous "red building" and the surrounding barracks, and it was there that an immense battle raged with numerous losses on both sides. The insurgents attacked without any unified plan, firing in all directions, wounding and killing numerous fighters in their own ranks (ours!).
The security forces were well aware that to surrender would mean death. They also had everything to play for, knowing perfectly well that, despite being armed to the teeth, their task would be difficult. Up until the last moment they remained in permanent communication with Baghdad which promised the imminent arrival of reinforcements. Profiting from the terrible lack of weapons on the side of the insurgent proletariat, the soldiers threw guns from the windows of the red building. Hundreds and hundreds of proletarians threw themselves forward to grab them, thus making themselves easy targets for the shots of well-armed and well-positioned troops. This increased the number of victims on the side of the insurrection even further (2).
However, the rage and determination of the proletariat was so great that finally resistance was crushed and it took over the whole town. Step by step, the "red building", all the barracks and the houses in the military quarter were conquered. On the facades of buildings the marks and holes left by bullets bear testimony to the class war. Soldiers surviving the attack were taken out one by one and judged. Today some comrades estimate a figure of 600 soldiers shot, others say 2,000, but without doubt they are including executions which took place over those days across the whole of the town.
It is important to understand that it is at the heart of the action, in these very moments when proletarians are carrying out exemplary acts, that the struggle for the autonomy of the movement is played out. In effect, despite the fact that during all this time the nationalists did not participate in the process in an organised manner, the insurgents could not do without them, even less confront them openly as demanded by the revolutionary internationalist nuclei of the region. Thus, the fact that certain proletarian fighters went and consulted the bosses of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the mountains about what they should do with captured soldiers and torturers, clearly reflects and expresses the contradictions of the movement and the ambivalence of the shoras. Noshirwan, the military chief of the PUK, insisted that the enemy should not be executed, arguing that "we can use them later" (!?!). Similar events took place subsequently, illustrating the ambivalence of some of the shoras. The proletariat's lack of confidence in itself incited it to ask its worst enemies to take decisions and to direct operations. Several sectors of the proletariat, unaware of their own strength, looked to the official opposition because to them it seemed serious and effective. Other members of the shoras adopted the exact opposite position: they wanted to kill the soldiers and drag their bodies through the streets so that everyone will know "the kind of torture that these bloodthirsty monsters are capable of inflicting on proletarians". Finally, except for certain torturers famous for their cruelty who were torn to pieces by the insurgents, pure and simple liquidation imposed itself, but not without problems and stormy discussions on the subject of who deserved to die. In effect, as in many other towns in Kurdistan, the Ba'athist repressive forces had lived concentrated in their districts: they had tortured there, killed there... and, just a few yards away, the torturers' families slept, ate and lived. They were so hated that they couldn't live elsewhere. What's more, the majority of families of the torturers (particularly the women) participated in the tortures. The buildings (the central block, the interrogation rooms, the family houses, the torture centres) were laid out in such a way that it is difficult to imagine that anyone could live there without participating in some way or another in the torture and murder of prisoners. When proletarians took over these places, they didn't waste time discussing or judging, the class hatred was such that some groups executed all those that they found inside without any criteria apart from the physical barrier. But, in the majority of cases, more class criteria were imposed. Thus, in Sulaymaniyah, children and some women who had not participated in tortures and executions of prisoners were spared. They were allowed to leave the building before the massive execution of military torturers and their family accomplices.
The insurrection spread itself like a lighted gunpowder trail, with similar uprisings breaking out in other towns being equally successful. In Irbil, 42 shoras were created and, in only three hours of fighting, armed proletarians became masters of the situation. Then came Kalar, Koya, Shaqlawa, Akra, Duhok, Zakho... The barracks close to the towns, like the enormous military installations of Sulaymaniyah, strategic centre of the whole region, were surrounded by deserters and other armed proletarians. The central forces succeeded in saving a few army officers by taking them away in helicopters. The rest, the mass of soldiers, surrendered without a fight and the majority passed over to the side of the insurrection.
The limits of proletarian activity and the counter-revolutionary activity of the nationalists
If the level of consciousness, organisation and centralisation of the proletariat was sufficient to bring about the triumph of the insurrection, the same was not the case when it came to assuming the essence of revolution, knowing how to organise everyday life and to impose itself dictatorially against capital in places where it had triumphed. As in other historic circumstances in which the constitution of the proletariat into a party is insufficient and not well centralised in a communist direction, in Kurdistan, bourgeois forces took over the leadership of the action, liquidating the autonomy of the proletariat and ended up by expropriating the revolution so as to transform it into a bourgeois "revolution" (an exclusively political "revolution"), or rather, into an anti-revolution, a face-lift for the State facade, a changing of the fractions in power in order to preserve the essence of the system of exploitation.
The nationalists only began to participate actively in the direct action with an effective presence on the streets two or three days after the victory of the insurrection. Their first acts consisted of taking money from the banks and seizing military vehicles, occupying buildings and other properties abandoned by the government, which proletarians had taken and then also abandoned (3). This abandonment of premises, of heavy artillery, of vehicles... showed that, although capable of fighting against an enemy, the proletariat did still not have the strength to fight for itself, to take over the direction of the revolution which it had started. To put it another way, our class expressed its conception of revolution: a purely negative negation of today's world, a simple rejection, a simple negation, without asserting that the revolutionary negation of this world contains a positive negation. The proletariat has the force to expropriate but not the force to reappropriate what it has expropriated nor to transform it in a revolutionary way towards its universal revolutionary objectives. As in Russia in 1917, politicism constitutes a dominant ideology even amongst the most committed proletarians. They know what to do against the Ba'athists but when it is a question of socially confronting capital, they are lost. This general limitation results from a confusion (widespread in our class) which systematically amalgamates the State and the Ba'athists, the struggle against capital and the struggle against the government. This generalised confusion that communist and internationalist fractions did not have the force to liquidate was preciously maintained and developed by the nationalists. It is still very useful to them today.
Once the nerve centres of the town had been occupied, the heavy artillery and the military vehicles controlled by the nationalists, the rest was just a matter of time. Over a few days (between the 7 and 20 March) the nationalists, who up until then had hardly been present and had "followed" the masses, progressively took control of the situation. The revolutionary groups and the most active proletarians were incapable of giving and taking-on clear military directives. They did not know what to do with the barracks, tanks and military vehicles. They made do with arming themselves with ammunition and light weapons and, at the best, burning vehicles to prevent the nationalists from taking them. Not only did they fail to give themselves the means of controlling the production and distribution of the necessities of life, but they didn't even stock up with the indispensable minimum of food, medicines, means of propaganda etc.
On their arrival in the town the nationalists appealed for the dissolution of the shoras, but did not obtain any result. Later, from a position of strength, after taking the strategic points, they made use of the much more effective method of negotiation and wearing down the proletariat. Although, as we saw earlier, there were shoras dominated or strongly influenced by democratic and nationalist positions, the Central organ of the shoras, despite the participation of bourgeois parties and organisations, defined itself as being "for communism", for "the abolition of wage labour" and came out openly against the nationalists.
Little by little, as they structured their effective power over the town with the support and blessing of the intervention forces of the world bourgeoisie, the nationalists, who had still not succeeded in destroying the shoras, attempted to take them over by integrating their militants in them and imposing their own bourgeois leadership. It was at that time that a collection of shoras which were nationalist, social-democratic, populist and partisans of the great popular front against Saddam Hussein appeared for the first time.
At the same time, the nationalists, wanting to shatter the force expressed by the Central shora, proposed negotiations which were to lead it to the tragedy of all assemblist-democratic functioning and place it in the position of being incapable of adopting a single revolutionary direction. The Central was divided: on one side, there were those who considered the nationalists as enemies and who were opposed to all negotiation; on the other, those who accepted negotiation and who concentrated a collection of confusion and inconsistencies on the question of nationalism, embracing the ideology of a great anti-Ba'athist popular front.
It is clear that the problem is not whether to negotiate or not. However, the acceptance of negotiation with the nationalists against the Ba'athists in such circumstances contains, as an implicit and undeniable presupposition, the ideology of the lesser evil and, ultimately, frontism. In fact "realism" triumphed, leading to the bulk of the movement renouncing its own interests. From the moment when negotiation was accepted, two decisive elements in the liquidation of the autonomy and interests of the proletariat imposed themselves. Firstly, the fact of considering Saddam as the main enemy and Kirkuk as an essential objective and, secondly, the necessity for order against chaos.
As the proletariat had been unable to impose its law, proletarian resistance and even expropriations necessary for survival came to be considered as a form of chaos, such that the nationalists were able to present themselves (and were perceived) as the only guarantee of the maintenance of order. Immediately the peshmergas began to enforce respect for capitalist order and bourgeois property. They arrested proletarians who "stole" a sack of rice to eat, and, discreetly, disarmed isolated proletarians (at that time the peshmergas had neither the strength nor the courage to interfere with internationalist groups).
Here we must make an important digression on the subject of the war to take Kirkuk. From the start of the insurrection in Sulaymaniyah, the nationalists penetrated in force the Central shora, not merely submitting to it, but formally taking over its leadership, obviously using the proletarians who placed themselves under their orders as cannon fodder. Working on the basis that, for proletarians, the extension of the revolt and solidarity with the recently formed shoras in Kirkuk was a logical objective, the nationalists pursued a completely different aim. It was a question partly of submitting the proletariat to a structured war, attacking the Ba'athist positions in a town where they were the best prepared military force, and partly a question of taking a strategic role in imperialist war, by occupying this petroleum centre of prime importance, something which would augment their power of negotiation nationally and internationally. For us this constituted a key moment in the transformation of the class war into imperialist war. From the taking of Kirkuk the nationalists negotiated openly with the Ba'athists under the benevolent eye of the Coalition forces. For the first time they were recognised as a credible force, not just because they territorially controlled a capitalist centre as important as Kirkuk, but also because, for the first time, they appeared capable of contesting the proletariat's control of the situation in the insurgent towns, thus to be an effective fraction of international bourgeois order, capable of controlling the proletariat, the central preoccupation of the Coalition at the end of the war.
Of course, some shoras, like those of "Communist Perspective" and others in which the presence of internationalist militants was important, tried to participate in the action in a autonomous way, but the nationalists rapidly gained the upper hand. Taking over everything, it was they who held the money, the meeting halls, the indispensable heavy weapons, the medicines and other equipment for treating the wounded, and therefore the material force to impose their orders. Many internationalist comrades reproached "Communist Perspective" and other groups for not having completely broken with the shoras at that moment and for having continued to participate in the committee. It was a key moment in which the programmatical weaknesses of the avant-garde groups of the region were borne out. As some of them were to recognise subsequently, it was not enough to define Kurdish nationalism and the Shi'ite muslim movement as bourgeois social movements, it was also necessary to correctly evaluate the possibility of these forces imposing themselves. It was as indispensable to confront them in daily practical activity as it was the Ba'athists.
We cannot help making a historical parallel between the situation in Iraq in 1991 and what happened in Spain in 1936 after the triumph of 19 July. In both cases the proletarian insurrection triumphed over part of the territory of a country, starting in a key town (Barcelona-Sulaymaniyah), leaving the rest of the country in the hands of the "fascist" fraction (Franco-Saddam). In both cases the proletariat armed itself and confronted this "fascist" enemy by acting outside and against the populist and democratic organisations ("Communist" republicans, social democrats... and in general the whole parliamentary spectrum of the bourgeoisie) without managing to impose its own class dictatorship. In both cases the proletariat triumphed militarily, creating its own unitary class organisations (committees of workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors - shoras), and its victory was prepared byy conspiratorial and avant-garde military action by revolutionary groups that had been constituted a long time before ("Solidarios", "Nosotros"... "Communist Perspective", CAG, SSFA...). Nevertheless, equally in both cases, the proletariat, incapable of assuming its dictatorship socially, found itself paralysed at the moment of its triumph by the absence of revolutionary direction in the most programmatical and practical sense of the word: it did not know which direction to take. Situating itself clearly against the counter-revolution in its most open forms in order to crush it, it was incapable (despite all the talk and the flags) of acting practically for social revolution. In both cases the "fascist" enemy continued the war and the republican enemy, profiting from the lack of social initiative by the proletariat, stroked it gently (as you might stroke a pig to calm it down before slitting its throat) and invited it to negotiations to form an alliance in a war against "the main enemy". Support for this popular war in which republicans and democrats were recognised as allies (that is to say imperialist war) encountered enormous proletarian resistance. But in both cases there was another element. This element enabled a significant fraction of the majority of the proletarian forces to become engaged in a struggle against "fascists", which immediately took on the form of a war with a front (adapted to imperialist war and totally inappropriate for the development of social revolution). It also enabled the republicans to present themselves as indispensable in winning the battle, at the very moment when they were strengthening their positions in the rest of the country against the autonomy of the proletariat. This element was, in both cases, a town (highly symbolic for historical reasons). A town in which the revolutionary proletariat waged a desperate battle against an enemy superior in arms. In Spain in 1936 this was Saragossa. It was for Saragossa, in the interminable battle for its reconquest, that the struggle at the rear against the bourgeois republic was sacrificed and that a large part of the best forces - in the sense of class autonomy - of the proletariat was wasted. In Iraq iin 1991 that town was Kirkuk. Not only did the proletarian shoras give their best forces to win this battle, but it was also thanks to this battle that the nationalists marked an important step (at the front as at the rear) in the consolidation of the anti-Saddam front.
The present situation and perspectives: New inter-bourgeois wars in the region and the tasks of the internationalist proletariat
All the information which has come out of Iraq in 1995/1996/1997/... indicates that the material, social and political situation of the proletariat continues to worsen. Growing poverty, isolation, repression, permanent military mobilisation, armed struggle between bourgeois fractions, forced recruitment and all the rest. Survival is a matter of chance and everyone is subjected to permanent danger. Every day proletarians are killed by stray bullets or in confrontations between bourgeois fractions. To survive you sell your furniture, your crockery, everything you have. The problem is that there are no buyers. What's more, it is not unusual for the peshmergas responsible for maintaining order to want one of the objects on sale and to have the seller thrown in prison so as to confiscate it legally.
In Kurdistan the situation is hellish: lack of food, shortage of water, a violent deterioration in the level of hygiene. The fear of looting has unleashed open warfare between bourgeois fractions, between nationalists and between some fractions of the PUK and the islamists.
The conflicts between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are at such an explosive point that Kurdistan is actually divided into two regions which are on a war footing. For the first time in history the two regions have become an arena of political rivalry. The development of regionalism, as everywhere, constitutes a force for the disorganisation of proletarian struggle. So today, on one side there is Soran with Sulaymaniyah as its "capital", controlled by the PUK (Talabani) and on the other, Badinan (region of origin of Barzani's family) where Zakho and Duhok are under the control of the KDP. Arbil is the only town which is under the simultaneous and contradictory control of the two bourgeois forces, also constituting a border between the two regions.
The inter-bourgeois struggle takes on very violent forms. The two fractions of capital try to mobilise the proletariat into their service and to channel all class contradictions, which would normally develop against private property and the State, in its direction. One example: after the war, many inhabitants of Sulaymaniyah and other towns in the region departed for the countryside where they settled to build farms and cultivate the soil. This land belonged to big bourgeois families (in this case to Barzani's KDP (4)) who now want to take back the land and expel the occupants. But some decided to refuse to be expelled, organising and defending themselves, with guns at the ready. The fighting led to many deaths on both sides. The PUK, profiting from this situation, presented itself as the spokesman of the struggle against the KDP's intended expulsions and, on this basis, contained (and/or tried to contain) this elementary struggle for survival by attempting to lead it onto the terrain of interfractional warfare. Nevertheless, the conflict created contradictions on both sides. For example, during the armed conflict, Talabani, who was in Holland at the time, did not dare to return to Kurdistan from fear of being done in, including by his own troops.
The route to Soran was blocked by the KDP for two months on the pretext of war. The direct consequence of this was that supplies stopped coming into the region, the shops emptied and people died of hunger. Movement between the two zones was difficult and dangerous because, despite the fact that the frontier had been officially opened a short while before, the situation remained so explosive that people from Soran no longer risked venturing into the Badinan region and vice versa. There were dozens of ceasefires and peace treaties but the confrontations didn't stop. Officially, the number of deaths in these battles is estimated at 2,500. The various headquarters of the KDP in the Soran region were attacked and pillaged by the PUK and vice versa in Badinan.
Daily life turned into a nightmare: while skirmishes increased between the KDP and the PUK, prices tripled every three months. This hell pushed many people to enrol with the peshmergas so that they would be assured of food and money three or four times a month, as well as the authorisation to keep the arms in their possession, arms which, if they were not used against their own officers, enabled these peshmergas to defend their own lives.
For quite a while now, neither the KDP nor the PUK have been able to control their troops. They have become autonomous and are imposing the law of the jungle to survive: they have invented new taxes and indulge in all sorts of extortion in the name of their organisation without informing it. Thus, in Arbil, the peshmergas plundered the shops in broad daylight, which had nothing to do with the official policies of the KDP or the PUK. It has been a common practice and people have to defend their homes with guns at the ready.
Nevertheless, when elections were announced for March 1995, the two main bourgeois fractions in Kurdistan tried to reorganise their troops in the face of the enemy. At the same time, they tried to improve their relations with the Western bourgeoisie and competed for the support of the American State Department as well as various parts of the Western military apparatus. The two parties oscillated between aggressive and peaceful policies, depending on their respective capacity to control the proletariat and on the state of their relations with the forces of the world imperialist order. Thus, at one point, Barzani declared himself in favour of peace, of reuniting families, of respect for trade and of arriving at a compromise which would allow elections to be held and thus appeared to stand for Kurdish national reconciliation. Talabani, although even less able to control his own troops, undoubtedly appreciated the bourgeoisie's incapacity of offering a viable alternative to proletarian struggle more clearly (a bourgeoisie who only saw the possibility for social peace in the repolarisation of the bourgeoisie and in war) and presented himself more as a partisan of a military solution, as much against Barzani as against the Ba'athists. He talked openly about a military offensive and of the occupation of Kirkuk. But, as we have said several times before, it is absurd to talk of one fraction of the bourgeoisie being more aggressive, more militarist or more imperialist than another. It is Capital that is militarist and aggressive and, generally, the fraction which is strongest on the military plain, obtains the best results on that terrain and makes the other fraction appear to be the most militarist (as happened in the "Second" World War). It is no great surprise that the fraction which made a qualitative leap in the hostilities found itself relatively isolated on the international plane (5) and strategically rather weak in controlling its own forces and imposing its interests. (Despite various rumours that circulate to the effect that someone or other "is supported by the CIA", it is difficult to know what the alliances and engagements actually are because they are shrouded in the greatest secrecy).
Local wars, blockades, hunger and state terrorism are the main perspectives that capitalism continues to offer in the region. All fractions of the bourgeoisie, be they Islamists, Nationalists, Ba'athists or whatever, implored the population to respect the lorries filled with supplies coming from Turkey and crossing Kurdistan every day in the direction of Baghdad. There is nothing more logical than their getting together to deprive the proletariat of all property, including what is necessary for survival. But fortunately, there are always proletarians who stick two fingers up at such orders and confront sacrosanct Private Property. The following is a real and exemplary story which dates back to 1993. Not far from Sulaymaniyah, on a road which passes close to a remote district, several supply lorries had been attacked and pillaged. In an attempt to put a stop to these attacks, the authorities sent a number of delegations charged with renewing dialogue to stop the looting. One after the other, each attempt failed. Later the organised sectors who had carried out these expropriations took things a step further and declared that, from that day on, they would, for their subsistence, systematically seize one out of every three lorries. The nationalists from Sulaymaniyah sent one of their most popular leaders, who had distinguished himself in the struggle against the Ba'athists, his mission being to find a solution with the people of the district. When he presented himself there, surrounded by bodyguards, he was shot at. One of his guards lost his life, two others were wounded and the district continued to pillage one lorry in three to ensure its subsistence.
Attacks on lorries, taking supplies from depots, expropriations from shops and other forms of pillage, along with social explosions, attacks on local officials, the expropriation of humanitarian organisations, strikes and violent demos are still common currency today. There are also small armed bands all over the place who attack the property of the bourgeoisie in the region.
For groups of militants defined by internationalism, a period of splits, of the drawing up of balance sheets, of new convergences, of clarification etc, began quite a while ago, resulting in a permanent change which is impossible to summarise. The fusions which gave birth to the Workers' Communist Party, for example, were made on the basis of important programmatical rejections by structures or fractions of organisations which, up until then, had converged and had been incapable of offering a revolutionary alternative to the imperialist war which was developing between the Kurdish nationalist fractions: their meeting places emptied and the militants of these groups dispersed.
Added to the ever greater difficulty of acting publicly, the permanent insecurity of travel, the breakdown of communications, is the need to draw a balance sheet and a self-critique of numerous errors. The most interesting revolutionary nuclei with the most internationalist perspectives have, in this phase, dedicated the best part of their strength to the formation and realisation of a balance sheet of struggle, theoretical discussion, as well assuming the difficult task of maintaining international contacts. It is clear that this process also conceals dispersion, isolation, discouragement and disorganisation. Many comrades are trying to leave the region (which is very difficult because those who have escaped the repressive forces of the nationalists in Kurdistan are not able to "disappear" in neighbouring countries: in Turkey and Iran being a "Kurd" is enough to be considered suspect and subversive by the police) but this has not prevented a handful of comrades from remaining in contact and ensuring that the ever important tasks of publishing manifestos and revolutionary tracts against war continue (especially the group "Proletarian Struggle", ex-"Communist Action Group" as well as our ICG comrades on the spot). They have managed to make the theses and positions of our group known in the region, in Kurdish as well as Arabic, despite all the falsifications and provocations of which we have been the target (6).
Finally, it is indispensable to insist on the critical situation of internationalist comrades in the region. Critical because of poverty, the difficulty in doing any activity, of communicating, of resisting disarmament, but also because of the difficulty in expressing, counter-current to the polarisations based on new inter-bourgeois wars, a revolutionary and internationalist solution.
It is these comrades themselves who call on us to act. We must take up internationalist action against our own bourgeoisie wherever we find ourselves. We must put the best of our effort into diffusing this extraordinary example of the proletariat in Kurdistan, disintegrating an army, killing soldiers, assassins and torturers. They are so determined to hide what happened in Iraq in March 1991, because the bourgeoisie of the whole world trembles with fright at the idea that it could happen somewhere else.
Our task is to make the revolution develop everywhere so as to prevent the bourgeoisie from isolating the struggle to one country as they have in the past, so that quantitatively as well as qualitatively we will go further, and the proletariat of all countries will fight against its own bourgeoisie and destroy its strongholds, blow up police stations, open up the prisons, destroy the army and the police, execute the torturers and, above all, take the communist revolution in hand, seizing all power in society, all the means of production to destroy wage labour, commodities, social classes, the State... and finally, to wipe out this prison world of poverty, of misery, of war... to constitute a real WORLD HUMAN COMMUNITY.
1. As we have already made clear on other occasions, "peshmerga" means fighter, guerilla. Here it is clearly a question of two proletarians enroled by the nationalist forces who, like a great majority of the peshmergas, took advantage of the disorganisation of the Ba'athists to come down from the nearby mountains where they were staying to visit their families.
2. We are once again taking the opportunity to spit in the faces of all the anti-terrorists and "anti-substitutionists" who are opposed to the prior arming and indispensable clandestine preparation of the insurrection. It is they who are to blame for this kind of massacre in our ranks. The less firepower the insurrection has, the less centralised its direction, and the more dead, wounded and maimed there will be in its ranks.
3. Only the "red building", doubtless because of the memories it carried, was not occupied at the time. In the following months it was transformed into housing for homeless families.
4. This was the wrong way round in our Spanish text. What should have been attributed to the PUK was attributed to the KDP and vice versa. This has been corrected in the French translation and in this one.
5. This continues to be the case with Saddam and the Ba'athists.
6. Tracts have been distributed and positions expressed on the radio and on television in the name of the Internationalist Communist Group, pretending that we support some party in the elections or some position in favour of national self-determination. All these positions are in complete antagonism with our programmatical theses, leaving no doubt that these accusations aim to spread doubt and confusion. Our comrades have information indicating that, in some cases, important nationalist figures, direct enemies (programmatic and personal) of internationalist militants, were directly involved in spreading these falsifications.