From Communism #7
On August 1st 1991 there was a loud bang during the night in Tehran and we heard that a food storage warehouse had been blown up in protest at delays in distribution of welfare food allowances. People had been waiting two months for their social security food supplies. Apparently, nighttime explosions are quite common, public buses being the most frequent targets.
Tehran has 11 million inhabitants and the traffic and activity in the city at night is busier than most European cities during the day. Nearly every Iranian we met asked incredulously "why did you come here?," saying they hate the system and describing how hard life is in Iran. However, it was difficult to find any written expression of the class struggle. Comrades living there confirmed that this is the case and explained that there are Pasdaran ("Revolutionary Guards" - government soldiers) specially employed to whitewash anti-government and anti-religious graffiti. We were unable to find any political leaflets or publications either.
The Pasdaran's most visible concern was with the Islamic dress code for women. Any man in Iran, whether an official Pasdaran or not, can make himself a self-appointed guardian of Islamic moral values and can reproach any woman he considers to be flaunting too much of herself. They are on the street, in the shops, in hotels... always watching to see whose scarf has slipped too far back or who is not wearing the mandatory socks or tights under her overcoat. Women "unsuitably dressed" are barred from offices, museums, will not be served in shops or restaurants.
The only advantage for women in this male-female apartheid is that they rarely get asked for their identity cards and rarely get searched. The examples given here actually represent a major relaxation in the dress code. Previously, women were stoned for showing a strand of hair and black chardors were obligatory. Now people have gradually pushed back the limits imposed on them and wear "Western" clothes covered by European-style raincoats instead of a chardor. They can show their fringe under the headscarf and men are now allowed to wear short-sleeved shirts. This change is also reflected in the distinct decrease in public Islamic fervor. Up until 1987, Friday prayers were held in a major, very long and wide street called Revolution Street. Thousands and thousands of people would go and the street was closed to traffic. We went back there one Friday, to find a Mullah preaching himself hoarse to only eight people, whilst cars and buses drove up and down. The government knows it can only reverse this trend at its peril.
The atmosphere in Tehran is very tense. Many people have told us that "Iran is pregnant with revolution," and this is certainly the way it feels. People are impatient, tempers easily frayed, and they smile and laugh only rarely. Homelessness, unemployment, food prices, the number of drug-addicts and, very visibly, the anger of proletarians are on an upward spiral. Almost everybody we spoke to told us "Life is very difficult here... Everything is expensive... Our revolution wasn't to bring these bastards to power..." As one taxi driver said: "Sometimes I am forced to take on so many jobs that I don't see my wife and children for a whole week and this is certainly the case for most of my colleagues."
In July 1991 there was a demonstration in which people demanded more food. They used a slogan "We have become beggars, the Mullahs millionaires." The demo spread over Tehran, Asfahan and Hamadan. Seven women were killed in Tehran when they discarded their headscarves. Further demos occurred on August 18th 1991, and spread over Tuysarkan, Hamadan, Zinjan, Tehran, and Asfahan. The same slogan was used and there were clashes resulting in 2000 arrests and 5 deaths in Zinjan, 5 arrests in Asfahan, and a further 50 deaths in Hamadan. In Tehran a demonstrator set fire to the City Hall and killed the mayor.
As a result of increasing class struggle, the government has become roughly divided into two main factions - something totally contrary to the philosophy of the supposedly united "Party of God." Rafsanjani realizes that liberalization and increased tolerance is necessary to avert another revolution. Khameini and his followers still favor the hardline approach.
After spending days enquiring about the relative safety of various routes, we went to Sulaimania.
The border between Iran and Iraq is not marked, with often only a single Pasdar sitting at an apparently arbitrary place. He is not so much interested in preventing people crossing or scrutinizing travel documents as he is in assessing their "bribing potential," searching for hidden dollars and goods obviously intended for sale in Iraq. He then frightens smugglers into bribing him to let them pass. This is a further example of the changing social climate, whereby previous "guardians of Islamic morals," prepared to kill anyone threatening to corrupt the Muslim State, are now more interested in personal financial gain. We were not bodysearched - fortunately, as we had leaflets hidden in our underpants and dollars in our shoes.
The first town we entered, Nizarah, is a devastated area, now full of refugees from Sulaimania, Kirkuk, and Arbil provinces. There are several Red Cross and U.N. camps but people overflow in their thousands to the mountainsides. Their only shelter are lean-tos that they have built out of branches and leaves.
Between the border and Nizarah, there are two checkpoints manned by Peshmerga from the Kurdish Front. They levy taxes on smuggled goods and search for Arabs travelling in the area, most of whom are deserters and anti-government militants. In their attempts to keep "Arab" and "Kurdish" communist militants divided, the Peshmerga want to force Arabs out of Kurdistan (except those they can make use of). It is dangerous for Arabs travelling around Kurdistan and to gain any degree of protection they have to be able to prove that they are Peshmerga for the Kurdish Front (KF). The only Party in the Front that will accept them is the Iraqi CP. Any Arab found by Nationalist Peshmerga without KF documents is taken prisoner and then handed over to the Iraqi authorities, most likely to be shot. However, despite the risks involved, some Arab comrades working with the Shuras do manage to travel to and from Kurdistan, holding meetings with Kurdish comrades and taking information back to militants in Baghdad.
When Talabani was in Iran one day in his car he passed many of the refugees fleeing into Iran. At first nobody realized it was him, but when he stopped nearby one old woman recognizing him bent down, scooped up a handful of the mud she was walking barefoot in, and asked him to lean out of the car window so that she might throw the mud in his face. He remained composed. "Of course," he replied. "I will do whatever the Mothers of Kurdistan request of me." The woman dropped the mud and cried limply, "What have we done to deserve this? Why are you doing this to us?"
Since government-Kurdish Front negotiations, the checkpoints around Sulaimania are manned by Iraqi soldiers and Peshmerga of the Kurdish Front (mainly KDP and PUK) working together. The soldiers sent to man checkpoints and to go on patrols in the Sulaimania district are young conscripts and are terrified of the Kurdish Front. Firstly, they realize that a breakdown in negotiations may result in them all being killed in new fighting. Secondly, they know that if they try to desert, the Kurdish Front will round them up and send them back to their army units - to a certain death. Thirdly, and most importantly, the lack of a centralized and well-organized proletarian group in Kurdistan means that there are very few places to which the soldiers can turn for solidarity and mutual support.
At the end of July there was further fighting and Kirkuk came back under the control of the Shuras and other insurgents. Militants found government documents marked "Confidential - Top Secret, June 1991" (when KF-Baathist negotiations were still in progress) in one of the secret police stations. These give orders to shoot "troublemakers from Shuras, Iraqi Communist Party, and Islamic organizations, and to kill, on the spot, any soldier who appears to have deserted or who cannot account for his gun...."
On arrival in Sulaimania, we went straight to see some Shura contacts. We were waiting for a comrade, who was to take us to one of the Shura bases. Suddenly, he rushed into the house, grabbed his gun, cocked it, acknowledged our presence with a hurried "Hi" and rushed out. We all followed, thinking that fighting had started up again. Out on the street we saw a man pointing a rifle at a group of women crouched on the ground. The comrade ran up behind him and shouted "Drop it or I'll shoot." People started running out of their houses, armed with pistols, and surrounded the man. He was forced to give up his rifle - but in the scuffle a few shots were fired and overheard by Kurdish Front Peshmerga out on patrol of the city.
They got out of their jeep and asked A. to show them his license for the rifle. Our comrade replied with derision, "You can wait all year and I wouldn't even show you a license for a bullet." He turned to the crowd and said: "The Kurdish Front want to take our rifles off us and hand them back to the Baathists, just as they returned our commandeered tanks to them." The Peshmerga were livid but they could sense the animosity of the crowd. After a short discussion amongst themselves, they climbed back into the jeep and drove off. Our comrade then took us to see one of the Shuras. They told us that we had arrived at a bad time and that the length of our stay would be determined by the danger of the ever-changing situation in Sulaimania. They had heard that 250,000 soldiers were going to advance on Sulaimania, so it was vital for them to constantly keep up to date with events. They warned us that long discussions may not be possible, as they would have to leave to assess the situation at regular intervals, especially during the day.
There were 56 Shuras in the beginning, each one set up largely according to district. Existing Shuras would call for people to set up further ones in their own areas. However, many of them had widely conflicting viewpoints and so people would tend to join the Shura most closely representing their own ideas.
All leaflets and publications produced by the Shuras and other organizations have, to a greater or lesser extent, democratic tendencies. The movement, as far as "practical activities" are concerned, has been overridingly anti-democratic. However, this dictatorship of the proletariat has gone largely unmentioned, even in publications written by comrades who were amongst the most radically active during the uprising. For example, when secret policemen were taken prisoner by the Shuras the organizers of one Shura consulted the PUK on how they should deal with them, as some members wanted to put them on trial, and convict them accordingly. While they were deciding how best to organize this, radical Shura members took matters into their own hands, breaking into the building and killing all the secret policemen themselves.
During the uprising insurgents had taken control of all government buildings except for the main secret police station. The secret police were shelling the city at random, killing many people, but it was clear that they could not defend the headquarters for much longer. A major mistake was made by the Shuras, mainly due to lack of centralization of information. The pro-nationalist Shuras sent for the Nationalist peshmerga who were in the mountains near Sulaimania, asking for their help in toppling the last Baathist stronghold. These Shuras hailed the Peshmerga as heroes who had saved the day. But the proletarian Shuras, for example Communist Perspective Organization, had been unaware of plans to involve the Nationalists, and were furious.
There is still a major problem with lack of centralization of activities and information today. Some members of proletarian Shuras, who had not heard about very strong anti-nationalist activities had been carried out by other Shuras and had therefore not been able to coordinate with them. In some parts of the city Shuras were welcoming Nationalist Peshmerga as "our brothers," whilst in other areas, Shura people shouted "Down with the Baath regime, Nationalism, and the Kurdish bourgeoisie!"
However, the movement was generally "spontaneous" and pro-working class, with slogans about the poor and exploited of Iraq, etc. Nationalism was initially very weak. The things that enabled the Nationalists to hi-jack the movement were:
1. The Shuras did not have a clear political direction. For example, instead of writing "working class" or "proletariat" in their leaflets and slogans, they used terms such as "the people" of Kurdistan, etc. They did not understand that "People power" - as opposed to "Proletarian power" - is the rule of people as citizens particcipating in capitalist society. It thus signifies the rule of money and profit, contributing to the health of Capital.
2. The Shuras did not have organized and centralized strategies during the uprising and did not take enough precautions against the Nationalists. For example, it did not occur to them to take over the banks and it was only when the Nationalist Peshmergas did so that they realized their mistake. As a result of occupying the banks, the peshmerga strengthened their position enormously, having the means to buy and distribute food and other goods, thus increasing people's dependence on them.
3. All Shuras and organizations had democratic tendencies. Even proletarian Shuras were demanding the right to freedom of expression, demonstrations, publications, etc. It can be seen in all their activities that they did not have a practical grasp of the State as a social relationship, attacking concrete manifestations of the State in the form of Baathist party offices, etc., but neglecting to target anti-communist movements, such as Nationalism, as well. This represented counter-revolution within the Shura movement itself.
4. The western media and western aid agencies built up the Nationalist movement with propaganda and practical help. The Nationalists were able to use the local media to denounce the Shuras as "immature troublemakers and looters."
A dangerous consequence of the militants' open participation in the uprising is that most of them are now well-known as communist militants and, in their present defeat, are at great risk. We reminded them of the massacre of the militants of Sanandaj in Iran in 1980. We warned them to be very much on the defensive, if offensive action against Kurdish Front bases is no longer possible. Because of the geography of the Sulaimania province, winter makes it practically impossible to flee from attack. The only way to flee Sulaimania is into the mountains, and the city itself is surrounded by a 60 mile wide ring-road. This was built as a military strategy for greater control of the city, in response to mass desertion and strong militancy in the region.
During discussions two main areas in which comrades in Europe could be of help were highlighted:
1. Financial. They are planning to send some comrades to live abroad, within easy access of Iraq but where they would be able to form a point of contact. We were very happy to hear this and agreed that we need to support such moves toward centralizing and developing communist activity.
2. Written material - they said that the political climate in Iraq is such that the demand for proletarian publications is very high. They clearly have a lot of practical obstacles in their way with regards to writing leaflets, etc. and want us to send them leaflets so that they can photocopy and distribute them. They also asked for books documenting proletarian history that still remain banned in Iran and Iraq, their working class-oriented reading matter being restricted to Marx and Engels.
We told them that the reason we came was (besides giving financial help and obtaining information) to make a step towards centralizing our activities, to build a basis for continued contact, to develop communist activity through shared experiences and to give direction to the movement. They agreed with all of these points. In discussions, the Shuras members and us agreed on most main points. However, on the whole, they had not thought out clear political principles and our discussions were largely one-sided, with us talking and them listening. They often contradicted themselves which made things quite confusing. They explained how it had been practically impossible to be actively organized for years, up until 6 months before the invasion. They had had to deliberately avoid meeting up with comrades for discussion to prevent the secret police from knowing he had contact with them. Any gathering of more than 3 people was highly suspect in the eyes of the police. Possession of a pot of "TIPEX" (white-out), let alone a typewriter was punishable by hanging, if you had no license for it. Even secretaries had to hand in their typewriters to a private police office every day after work... It was therefore logistically very difficult to produce leaflets, etc. However, 6 months before the invasion, the state appeared to lose its grip and it became comparatively easy to contact comrades, etc. Discussions were then about practical issues of how to arm themselves, how to organize physical attacks and later, how to set up Shuras. Clearly, they have not had much chance to develop opinions on "political theory."
This is one of the reasons why they are so desperate for written material. They kept interrupting, asking us to send them communist literature on our return. "Before the war, which was obviously planned to crush and manipulate the expected uprising, the working class was beginning to start and lead activities to destabilize the State. Events, particularly because of the war, are developing at a much faster pace than the proletariat is prepared for," said a comrade.
The main discussions
Here, in summary, are the main points of discussion.
1. Since the existence of capitalism the world has consisted of two opposing classes, and despite competition amongst themselves, all states are united in a common interest - exploitation of the proletariat.
2. Communism cannot be built in one country. The Iraqi state cannot be abolished by armed uprising confined to Iraq. Uprisings like the one in Iraq are products of the historical experience of the working class, revolution being a continuous - and not isolated - process.
3. We do not advocate guerilla warfare alone as a means of bringing about communist revolution. However, we are under direct armed attack by capitalist forces and on occasion our class needs to retaliate and if possible, go on the offensive. Obviously, sometimes it is against the interests of the struggle to take up arms and expose ourselves further to capitalist attack. We are an historical class fighting the capitalist class in the form of a social movement, not as one machine against another.
4. Nationalism is a capitalist policy to crush the communist movement, its aim being to hide the true nature of the class struggle. Neither workers nor capitalists are national, they both belong to international opposing classes. "Nationalist" workers have been brainwashed.
We disagreed that nationalism is a planned capitalist policy. The nation exists as a result of the capitalist mode of production. Nation and Nationalism, the differentiation made between Black and White, Men and Women, Queer and Straight, Arab and Kurd, etc, reflect the needs of capitalist society and are not cynical policies. Patriotism is a real characteristic of the bourgeoisie. In this regard, international capitalists seem to be opposing each other, but this only constitutes the competition they need. It is their nationalism which unites them as an international class against the proletariat. Nationalism is not something imposed forcibly by the state on society. It is an integral part of the capitalist social relationship and is not confined to the ruling class. Millions of workers have died and are still dying in defense of the Nation. We cannot say that they have been brainwashed and are sacrificing themselves out of a robotic subjugation to the state. Their sincere patriotism results from the capitalist social relationship and class contradictions.
They contradicted themselves many times, but still insisted that nationalism is a planned capitalist policy rather than a movement evident in human beings subjected to capitalist social relationships.
5. A large proportion of our time was taken up with stories of events in Sulaimania.
6. Party and Class.
Party: All communist struggle and activity aiming to destroy the capitalist way of life since its emergence represents activity by the party of the proletariat... so that your participation in the uprising, our journeys, etc, represent, whether we like it or not, activity by the party, albeit only very weakly centralized. The ICG, for instance, is a centralizing force of existing class struggle. The reason why past revolutionaries were defeated is not because of the absence of the Party, but because of the balance of class power between proletariat and capital.
Class: For us, being "proletarian" is not synonymous with being a "worker." The proletariat as an international class is determined by its struggle against capitalist society and has a deep meaning which cannot be defined solely on the basis of income, degree of exploitation, etc. In short, the communist movement consists of the anti-capitalist activity of the proletariat. They agreed that, although it is an international class, globally the proletariat is very weak and does not centralize itself internationally as a "class" and a "party." We discussed how the power of the proletariat in any one country is dependent on the our power throughout the world. The same interdependence is true for capitalism - if Bush catches a cold, Saddam sneezes.
7. We had a discussion about Marxism and Marx. A comrade said he considered Marx's work to be a product of class struggle and Marx to be a fallible militant. We all agreed that capitalism had portrayed Marx's work as the be-all and end-all of communist theory and Marx as the God of the working class. Communism is a dialectical and social movement and did not start from, nor does it stop at, Marx. It is a movement that digs a grave for idol worship. To illustrate these points, we talked about class struggle before Marx, e.g., the Qaramita and Mazdaq revolutions, and how individuals and organizations existed in Marx's lifetime, who were not members of the 1st International, did not know Marx and yet had very similar programs to him, e.g., El Productor in Cuba.
8. Peace and War. They totally agreed with the statement used by the ICG in our leaflet: "They drag us to work as they drag us to war." They agreed that the existence of capitalism signifies war in itself, and "peace-time" can never exist for the proletariat. However, they criticized us for saying "Neither peace nor war," which we explained was a reaction to the very strong peace movement in Europe, which sees war only as military conflict, not as illnesses, accidents, isolation, work, etc.
9. We strongly criticized and rejected the contents of their publications (and some comrades totally agreed). They by no means reflect the nature of the movement in Iraq, nor even the eyewitness accounts they related to us. They tried to justify the weaknesses of their articles by explaining that they wanted to write them in a language that people would understand and that the situation appeared to demand. Our reply was that we wouldn't be surprised to hear such excuses in Western Europe, where "social peace" reigns and "getting the communist message to the masses" has assumed a disproportionate degree of importance. However, to hear this in Iraq, where the issue of the class struggle forms part of everyday conversation, was disappointing. The bourgeoisie does not only try to crush us by the use of prisons, massacres, torture, isolation... but also makes us feel we have to modify the language of communism, so that "people will understand." However, the result is to distort our history and our positions. We pointed out all the leaflets in which they had made demands for the "the right of free political discussion, the right to hold political meetings." Some comrades told us that it is impossible to find an ideologically sound, or in the communist point of view, a good leaflet produced in Sulaimania.
We asked them where and when they have seen a State grant communists "the right to destroy all States" (!), which can be the only historical program of our movement. In many places they have written "people" instead of "proletariat," which is not a mere word, but reflects ideology and we pointed out the danger of this. They explained that as far as they were concerned, "people" means proletariat and that the bourgeoisie are not "people!!" The most striking thing is the contradiction between what they say and what they do. In practice they are against democracy, the nation, free rights... As we mentioned earlier, the past political climate prohibited them from reading communist literature, active discussion, etc. Another reason was that they underestimated the movement, thinking that the "people" would never understand concepts such as the "proletariat."
Leading up to the invasion of Kuwait
* About 8 months prior to the invasion of Kuwait, the government announced that those entitled to welfare benefits would be allocated 250 grams oil, 250 grams sugar, 500 grams rice, 1 bar of soap, and 5 kilogram of flour per month per person. Before, the daily wages of government employees (teachers, bank employees, etc) were enough to buy 2 kg of rice and the daily wage of the average worker was enough to buy 14 pieces of bread. Before the Iran-Iraq war, monthly social security food tokens had provided far greater amounts than this per person. Benefits had stopped during the war and this recommencement, albeit at a much lower level, was desperately needed. However, tokens were only distributed for 2 months and now people do not receive any of their allowance. People, desperate for food, started selling their TV, fridge, radio, etc. 80 kg of flour used to cost only 6 dinars, but rose to 400 D. in the North and 800 D in the South. Most of the rotten, rusty factories that had been closed for years were reopened. The cheapest food, potatoes, became a meal for the rich. 1 Kuwaiti Dinar (1000 Fils) was worth 950 Iraqi Fils in 1980, but in 1991 the Iraqi Dinar had been so devalued that 1 Kuwaiti Dinar was worth 10 Iraqi Dinars.
* Shortly before the invasion the government stopped the conscription of farmers and their sons and announced an amnesty for many prisoners, on the proviso that they return to and start working their land for agricultural production.
* Conscription (from the age of 17 to 45) was reinstituted as soon as Kuwait was invaded. However, vast numbers of soldiers deserted, especially in Sulaimania and in the Marshlands. Many of them couldn't desert, because they didn't have any money and had been sent there without their official papers. In general, most people, in the hope of getting rid of the Baath regime, did not want the government to withdraw from Kuwait. (Another sign of the hopelessness and desperation of the movement.)
* At the beginning of February the Clan Army leaders in Kurdistan tried to calm the populace, spreading rumors that a Republican Guard Unit had been set up in Sulaimania. They warned that any popular uprising would result in the decimation of the area in which it arose by the Republican Guard.
* On the 5th of March 1991 (just before the uprising) there was a meeting between the Clan Army leaders and a representative of the Baath Party in Sulaimania. The Shuras have the documents recording the minutes of this meeting, in which the Government gave the Clan Armies free reign to kill all those involved in any uprising.
* The night before the uprising, militants (who were to go on to form Shuras) paid a visit to the Jash (Clan Army soldiers) and asked them to help them by giving them weapons. They were given 2 pistols and a Kalashnikov going on to use them to attack houses belonging to the Jash and disarm them. Some of the Jash immediately and willingly came over to fight on their side.
* One organization, Communist Perspective Organization, was set up about 6 months before the uprising. Shortly before the uprising, another one was formed, called "Uprising Group." This was based purely on direct action and did not publish any leaflets, etc.
Communist Perspective Organization had developed their political positions and organization before the uprising. They had coordinated their activities with other militants and had clear political objectives. Some of them had already been arrested for militant activity before the uprising.
The militants who took weapons from the Jash had been in contact with Communist Perspective Organization and had asked to work with them in practical anti-State activities. Communist Perspective Organization wanted, above all, to avoid becoming a populist organization only serving to coordinate anti-government attacks, regardless of individual insurgents' positions. They only wanted to work with proletarians dedicated to the same aim.
* The allied bombing was in progress and the uprising had not yet started in Sulaimania. Deserters came back to Kurdistan from the South and told people that an uprising had started in Kut, Ammarah, Naseriyah, Samawah, and Hellah.
* On 2/29/91 deserters reported that Basra had been taken over by insurgents and that army units, complete with weapons and tanks, had come over to their side. There was also an insurrection in the Al-Thawra area of Baghdad. The comrades and people we saw also assured us that the movement in the South is far from being lead by the Shiites. In a rare moment of honesty - and against the best interests of capitaalism - the media divulged that:
"All the damage was the result of anarchists and saboteurs... They were anarchists, criminals. They drank whisky inside the shrines, and made love to women..."
(London Independent, July 1991)
* On the 5th of March insurgents took control in Raniyah. Their main slogans called for people to set up Shuras.
* 3/6/91 - City of Chwar Korna joined the uprising.
* 3/7/91 - Militant groups and individuals made preparations to attack government offices and installations in Sulaimania. Some insurgents who were unaware that militants had been planning an uprising for months and that much of the points of attack had already been organized, tried to inspire others to join the rebellion. They did so by spreading a rumor that the police headquarters had been occupied by the Peshmerga, thus inadvertently spreading very useful propaganda for the Nationalists (which was very successful!).
* There were armed insurgents in every area of Sulaimania. Some had been given weapons by Jash sympathizers, others had forced the Jash to hand over weapons if they refused to fight with them. 2-3 hours after the fighting started on the 7th, some insurgents "decided" to form Shuras, which actually came about as a result of communist militant activity, past and present, and the influence of the 1979-80 Shura movement in Iran.
Particular motivating factors to form Shuras were:
1. A need for more organization and practical direction of the movement by militants, to prevent nationalist peshmerga appropriating the struggle to their own cause. however, at the same time, another group of rebels were, also in the name of Shuras, calling for the peshmerga to return to fight in the uprising. They thought that they could follow the Leninist idea of using the local nationalist bourgeoisie to fight "the greater evil" of the Iraqi state. Most of these insurgents now work with the Kurdish Front.
2. A need to prevent massive looting. Opportunistic sharks were clearing the city of, for example, hospital beds and electrical equipment and taking them to Iran to sell. As hospitals came under the control of the insurgents and increasing numbers of rebels were wounded, such items became vital to the struggle.
3. They saw a need to organize militant action - where their main targets should be and how they should attack them. For example, 48 conscript soldiers were picked up and then hidden by one of the Shuras, to protect them from indiscriminate killing by the Nationalists. They were later released in a safer area. They also aimed to develop their activity and spread it to other parts.
* The same day nearly 30,000 people, some armed and some not, converged on the Shura headquarters at Awat School, where Shura members talked to the crowds through loudspeakers. "These are our headquarters, a base for councils of the exploited. Set up your workers' councils. Make the Shura your base for long-term struggle. Bring looted goods and food here and we will distribute them. Class consciousness is the arm of freedom. Revolutionary people, revolutionary exploited, the achievements of the revolution have cost us our own blood! Keep it going! Don't waste it!"
Shura supporters captured six hundred secret policemen and brought them to the headquarters. Some Shura members went to consult PUK leaders in the mountains regarding the 600 prisoners. Noshirwan, a military commander, said that they should not be killed: "they could be useful later." The Shura members themselves wanted to parade the policemen, listing their catalogues of torture in front of the crowds before killing them. However, the crowds were livid at Noshirwan's suggestion and even prevented the Shura from parading the men, pouring into the building and killing them all themselves.
* By the time the city came under control, there were 56 Shuras in existence, including the Refuse Collectors, Cement, Cloth, Cigarette, and Sugar factory workers' Shuras.
* Communist Perspective's Shura (CPS), which included some of their members and many sympathizers, were in close contact with the above 5 workers' Shuras. They held meetings in which they discussed how the workers had taken over the factories, killing Baathist managers and employees, etc. Communist Perspective Shura stressed that factory machines should be protected and not destroyed in the heat of the uprising. They anticipated a time when the uprising would be cut off from any external supplies and would have to support itself for food, clothes, etc.
* 3/10/91 - Shuras were set up in Arbil and took control of the city in 3 hours; there were 42 Shuras.
* 3/12/91 - Shura's representatives from Sulaimania went to Arbil and held meetings regarding the centralization of work. The Awat Shura told all the other Shuras that a central committee should be formed. This was set up and they started to produce Shura membership cards, to be able to identify those attending their meetings and armed Shura militants. However, there was some conflict and unity broke down as a result of three different viewpoints:
1. Members of the central committee must be politically pro-working class.
2. The Shuras represent "the people" and anyone should be allowed to sit on the central committee, not only communist militants.
3. The members should be democratically elected and anyone opposed to the Baath regime should be allowed to vote.
* The peshmerga arrived in the city shortly before it came under the complete control of the insurgents. They occupied all the commandeered government vehicles, the bank, and took over government properties, thus influencing people to concentrate on looting rather than the struggle.
* 3/16/91 - The anniversary of the Halabja Massacre. A memorial was organized by the Shuras, Kurdish Front, religious parties, Iraqi Communist Party, RF, and some small leftist groups. There were more than 10,000 Shura sympathizers, and the first speeches were made by various Shura groups. The CPS spoke about working class struggles in Turkey, Brazil, etc, how the proletariat and communism are against all nationalist movements, and the conflict in Kurdistan is the same as all others, between labor and capital, bourgeoisie and proletariat. The main slogans used were:
"Bread, Work, Freedom"
"Bombs, tanks, planes will not chase us from this city."
"Only workers can bring about a different life."
The Kurdish Front, nationalist Shuras and the religious people shouted them down, mocking and ridiculing their political positions.
* 3/17/91 - The Kurdish Front had not been paid the respect they felt they deserved at the memorial day and realized that the Shuras had widespread mass support. They started to broadcast lies on the radio about the Shuras, saying that many of them were ex-Baathists, looters, troublemakers and emphasizing how the Shuras despise religion, in an attempt to alienate any Muslims from supporting them. They tried to spread rumors that the Shuras had collapsed because of their inability to lead the people and run the city and they announced the establishment of a Kurdish Peace Force.
* 3/18/91 - On hearing this, the Shuras arranged a meeting and decided to send 5 representatives to see the Kurdish Front, to discuss the rumors and solve the problem. However, many Shuras did not agree with this and organized demonstrations, using loudspeakers denouncing the reactionary and dangerous policies of the Kurdish Front.
CPS made it clear that they are not only against the Kurdish Front, but also against the Kurdish Nation and, along with the members of Hasta and Militant Front (Shura), disrupted the meeting...
This dispute clarified the positions of various Shuras and their individual members and they divided into three main factions:
1. Communist Perspective Shura
2. Radical Leftist Organizations
3. PUK and KDP, or Kurdish Front
* 3/18/91 - Fighting began in Kirkuk. CPS and Leftist Shuras went to support the struggle. Many peshmerga went and returned with looted expensive cars, etc.
* 3/20/91 - Kirkuk was taken over and six Shuras were set up.
At this time the radio reported that Jalal Talabani was in Sulaimania and called for all inhabitants to go to the Peshmerga headquarters to hear "what good news he has to give you." The only people that went were their supporters and when they realized that support for the Shuras had increased and spread to other cities, they started rumors that government and Mujahadeen Khalq army units had arrived in Chamchamal. They frightened people into leaving en masse; first, because there was a great fear of the Mujahadeen Khalq and secondly, because they heard that that evening Jalal Talabani had been at Sheikh Salari Havids' house and had told him to advise all peshmerga families to leave as soon as possible. That same day the peshmerga and their families left the city and told people "The Army is coming.." as they went. Thirdly, the Shuras' propaganda against the Kurdish Front and the Nationalists had been grossly inadequate and insufficient to convince people of the Kurdish Front's lies and quell their fear, particularly in the light of past massacres.
On the same day the Shuras organized a demo, telling people through loudspeakers, "We will stay and fight... those who are leaving are cowards and the gravediggers of this city..."
70% of the city left. 5000 soldiers and 60 tanks arrived the following day. Sulaimania was taken over after a fight, but there were no subsequent "gratuitous" killings carried out by the Peshmerga against the population. However, in Kirkuk and Chamchamal, revenge was wreaked on insurgents, including old people, children and even hospital in-patients...
* The cities of Kirkuk, Sulaimania, Chamchamal, etc, were recaptured soon. This was done mainly by the Iraqi Communist Party, CPS, and other Shura militants. Tanks and military vans were burned down. Nevertheless, the end result was the same, as the State (Kurdish Front, Nationalists) returned and took over remaining property, "to keep it in a safer place," i.e., to give it back to the government. Some Shura members got "very angry" (in an entirely ineffectual way) and argued with the Kurdish Front, telling them that issues of life and death were at stake and should not be played like a game of chess.
* 5 days after the start of the uprising in Sulaimania, Shuras were holding daily meetings in Amin Zaki Bak School, attended by about 1000 people. Representatives from all the different Shuras came and raised various points for discussion. There were many arguments and some representatives stormed out of the assembly. The main points put forward were:
1. The need for solidarity with Shuras in the South.
2. Religion should be separated from the State.
3. The need for political freedom (Democracy).
4. Rule by the Shuras or by Parliamentary Democracy?
5. Self-determination for the Kurdish nation.
6. Equal rights for men and women.
7. The Allied Forces must pull out.
8. Class struggle or Nationalist struggle?
* 3/21/91 - one of the Shuras was keeping 9 secret policemen hostage but killed them without consulting the Kurdish Front.
* 3/23/91 - The Shura in Kirkuk took over the radio station and broadcast to the city. They also distributed all the food they had found in government supermarkets, and divided the houses of secret policemen up amongst the homeless.
* During the second uprising in Kirkuk, the insurgents went to take over the oil and gasoline plants outside the city. We were told that there was a battle lasting about 2 hours around one factory. The insurgents were being shot at as they approached, but they outnumbered the factory's defenders. After a while, the shooting stopped and people were surprised to see nationalist Peshmerga coming out of the building, signalling for the people to hold their fire, which they did. The Peshmerga explained that the factories must not be looted as they are needed by the Kurdish state. (There you have it!)
* 4/3/91 - A demonstration was organized by CPS, SWE and proletarian Shuras. They counteracted rumors spread by scaremongers about the imminently advancing Iraqi forces and the collapse of the Basra uprising, attempting to curb the tide of people fleeing Sulaimania. Slogans used were "We will stay and fight!," information was broadcast about the strength of the Shuras, not only in Sulaimania, but throughout Iraq and people were encouraged to stay and support the movement.
That afternoon fighting started up again in Sulaimania. The army only held out against the rebels for a very short time, being rapidly disarmed following a fierce attack. Yet again, the Kurdish Front returned captured heavy artillery to the army.
* 6/29/91 - At the same time as the Nationalists were holding demonstrations in Duhok and Panjwin against the withdrawal of the Allied presence in Kurdistan (in contrast to Shura-led demos demanding that they get out) offices, shops, and police stations continued to be attacked in Arbil, Sulaimania, and Dehok, the insurgents commandeering further food and weapons whilst under fire by the Peshmerga. Similar struggles were also taking place in the Al-Thawra district of Baghdad.
* July '91 - the Iraqi Communist Party Peshmerga, Shuras and other radical leftist group members went to Kalar (a town on the main route to Sulaimania) as they had received information that the Mujahadeen Khalq, who had massacred the whole population of the town of Tchiman shortly before, was advancing on Sulaimania. Kalar is very small and is split down the center by a dual carriageway. The insurgents hid themselves on the roofs of the houses and told everybody to be quiet until the unit entered the town. But when a woman saw that the soldiers were dressed in Kurdish clothes and had hung a portrait of Jalal Talabani on the tanks, she happily (stupidly) rushed out towards them. They then realized that the houses were inhabited and turned the tank guns on them and fired, first aiming at and killing the woman... the insurgents then started shooting, managing to blow up the tanks and kill all the Mujahadeen. Some of them didn't believe that they were Mujahadeen until they searched the bodies and found their papers.
* 7/13/91 - Food Aid had been given to the Kurdish Front to distribute to the "needy." Naturally, the Peshmerga had shared it out amongst their closest friends and were living well while the poor waited, for over a month, for food and medical supplies.
By the 13th people could not be fobbed off any longer... They attacked the Kurdish Front headquarters in Zakho, injured and disarmed many Peshmerga and distributed the food supplies, going on to burn down the headquarters and the food warehouses. Some of the Peshmerga fled to Raniyah to get help and on their return searched houses for suspected "ringleaders," imprisoning them, making them pay fines, and releasing them after shaving their heads as an extra humiliating touch.
* 7/17/91 - There was a violent demo in Arbil which the Peshmerga again tried to bring under control, extolling the virtues of peaceful demonstration, suggesting people wait for the outcome of negotiations with the government. However, they were ignored and the Shura led attacks on government buildings under a slogan "Bread, Work, Freedom."
* 7/18/91 - Some of the Shuras held a meeting in Sulaimania and decided to support the struggle in Arbil by carrying out similar activities. They tried to keep their plans secret but Kurdish Front spies had infiltrated the Shuras, and knew that continued uprisings were inevitable but were determined to avoid a repeat of Arbil, where the movement left them behind. They thought of ways in which the struggle could be given the direction they desired:
1. By preventing the Shuras from organizing themselves.
2. By manipulating the movement into a purely violent struggle (guerrilla warfare, guns against guns, instead of class against class) a very successful policy, diverting people's attention from the true nature of the struggle.
3. By broadcasting propaganda denying that they had supported the Iraqi Army, preventing looting and aided police in Arbil thus denouncing Shura members as liars, as they had published accounts of such Peshmerga action in Arbil.
The Peshmerga changed tack, shooting soldiers and burning their vehicles, but soon realized that they had nowhere near as much support as the Shuras, whose influence was increasing daily. They tried yet another tactic, calling for a stop to the bloodshed, parading the streets as if on a victory march and then announced "The agreement has been signed. We have autonomy for Kurdistan, democracy for Iraq!"
* 7/20/91 - CPS, SWC and other leftist organizations organized another demo in Sulaimania. Their principal banner was again "Bread, Work, Freedom." Shura members heard that Barzani had given the Kurdish secret police permission to infiltrate the demos. The demo remained a peaceful march through the city, with the Shura members taking a back seat, only talking quietly to individuals, denouncing the Kurdish Front as the enemy, calling for formation of anti-nationalist Shuras, but this time from the sidelines only. The Shuras made the mistake of underestimating the degree of mass support for them, largely as a result of insufficient contact with Shura militants in central and southern Iraq. The Kurdish Front attacked them during the demo, destroying their banners, beating them up and imprisoning some of them. The Shura missed their chance of rallying massive public aggression against the Kurdish Front, which could have been sparked by a few militants turning their weapons on the Peshmerga. Instead the Shura members turned and ran - and they still cannot find words strong enough to express their regret for such a gross error.
* In the beginning of September Communist Perspective Organization received a letter purportedly from the Shuras, asking to arrange a meeting with them in Halabja. On the day of the meeting, CPO members were waiting in their headquarters for them. However, when a comrade saw approximately 400 armed Peshmerga advancing toward the area, the comrades realized they had been set up. They positioned themselves on the roof to defend themselves and many Shura and CPO sympathizers joined them.
The PUK had intended to disarm them and had written the bogus letter in order to be sure that active CPO members would be in the building at the time... The Peshmerga realized that they were ready to retaliate and told them that they just wanted to talk, but CPO replied that there can be no point of common discussion between them and the Peshmerga. When the Peshmerga realized that the crowd were on the CPO's side, they turned back, telling people that nobody can to them, they are very aggressive...
Slogans that were used by the Shuras
1. Bread, Work, Freedom. Shura's Government.
2. Long live rule by the Shuras'.
3. All power to the Shuras.
4. The only alternative to the Baathist regime is the Shuras.
5. Freedom of speech, opinion, and organization.
6. Unconditional political freedom.
7. We should be armed to safeguard the Shuras' rule.
8. Equal rights for men and women.
9. We demand Workers' Councils, not parliamentary democracy.
10. Halabja, Budenan are the Hiroshimas of Kurdistan.
11. For a 35 hour working week.
12. Revolutionary people! Set up and join Shuras.
13. The right of dispossessed villagers to return home.
14. Rise up and fight! Break the institutions of fear!
15. The occupying forces must get out of Kurdistan.
16. Long live self-determination for the Kurdish Nation.
17. Long live solidarity with all workers' Shuras.
18. No rebuilding police stations, Jash, and public militias.
19. The Shuras will heal the wounds of Kurdistan's exploited.
20. All administrative organs should be democratically elected.
Translation of leaflets distributed by various Shuras
"Do the Kurdish Front and Nationalists share common interests with the Baathists? If not, how can it be explained why, when we attacked the secret police headquarters, the Kurdish Front seemed to share their pain and called for us to 'Calm down... you have got them surrounded in any case...' Why should it be that the KF shot soldiers, but spared the lives of secret policemen? And how is it that the day after the attack on the headquarters, the policemen were in position on the roof of the building fully armed? We saw how Peshmerga handed back commandeered tanks and artillery to government forces. Does this not mean that the KF is in fact protecting the State and its Baathist Regime? The answer is yes and we must recognize them as the enemy of the people."
(NEW LIFE - SSFA)
"The proletariat must distinguish itself from nationalism and the Parties of God and proletarian socialism cannot survive if it does not realize this separation. Nor can it remain standing without a powerful autonomous organization that can effectively take on the tasks of the proletariat and the exploited in general. In their daily struggles, proletarians and the exploited masses must express their autonomy, must show everybody that they have a social movement of their own, a different social perspective and that they are not followers of capital and its free market. They are not linked up with any American strategy (the New World Order), nor with any Arabic or Kurdish nationalism or any other Parties of God.
On the contrary, they must show that they oppose all of these and that they have a completely different aim - dictatorship of the proletariat and universal liberation. This is why it is essential for proletarians in their daily activities, in assemblies, in strikes, in their claims and watchwords... to put forward their political interests. In this process socialist proletarians, radical factions, and the avant-guards of the movement have the practical task of assuring the formation, propaganda and organization of proletarians within a different framework. We have to confront the miserable conditions of life, the economic blockade... If we are told that our unity and protests are inappropriate and serve the interests of the Baathist power, then the socialist proletariat's answer is clear:
We do not want to sacrifice ourselves to inter-bourgeois antagonisms, and whilst against the economic blockade, proletarians are demanding wage rises for those contributing to production... Proletarians must fight against the pressure of the imperialist United Nations police force in Kurdistan and in the South, because these forces are not only not helping people, but on the contrary, put into practice capitalist policies to destroy revolutionary forces.
There is no doubt about the fact that current working class struggle throughout the world, and particularly in Iraq, has shown that the proletariat cannot achieve anything whilst divided. This is the reason why we must stick together and fight to set up general assemblies, to organize a centralized movement that can give strength to proletarians to "mount the world stage" and become truly active, representing the needs of their struggle... Only as a centralized and united movement will the proletariat be able to confront the bourgeoisie and get their message across to proles throughout the rest of the world. It is only in this way that, in the face of other tendencies existing within the movement, socialist proles and socialist groups will be able to develop and realize the communist content of proletarian struggle..."
(WORKERS' VIEW #1, CAG)
"The contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the working class, the development of proletarian perspectives and social change were all at the heart of the March uprising. Since then, struggle by the exploited in Iraq against the capitalist way of life has been apparent in repeated agitation against the state.
Widespread reinforcement of self-organization and the creation of workers' shuras signifies an important qualitative step in the revolutionary development of proletarian political activity.
Workers were fully involved in setting up shuras in many liberated towns. In Arbil, cigarette factory workers, weavers and chicken farmers set up shuras and subsequently a center for workers' shuras was established. The aim was to have a headquarters through which the activity of various shuras could be coordinated. Similarly, in Sulaimania, cigarette, electricity, clothes and municipal workers including "Tahir" and "Hmurabi" factory workers formed shuras at "Nassir" camp. Chicken farmers and the unemployed in Sulaimania set up a joint shura with petrol workers in Kirkuk.
The main point of discussion during the first workers assembly was the need for self-organization and its importance in class struggle. Speeches were made about the Shuras and their formation.
In subsequent meetings, workers, who were thrilled to take part, elected representatives in free and direct voting. Economic and political suggestions were made and basic aims and principles agreed. Municipal workers from Sulaimania read out a report, which was later published about links between workers and political parties.
These meetings showed workers what strength can be found in unity and they began to feel that Big Brother was no longer watching them. From time to time, from every corner, workers would stand up and describe the poverty and misery of life imposed by capitalism and the repression and intimidation they suffered under bosses and capitalists. They gave accounts of barbaric and inhuman behavior and the unbearable life of workers. Following on from previous world-wide historical experience, the bell of liberty, equality, and workers' government rang throughout Iraq... The creation of shuras is not only expressed in workers' power against the bourgeoisie by way of determined self-organization, but also gave them a useful and necessary instrument with which to acquire the unity of political and social demands and establish widespread political organization.
The sight of a liberated town gives an idea of the scale of battles fought by workers for freedom and true equality. As a socio-political force, workers emerged from the depths of society to a serious social and political role. As large militant organizations and workers' power bases, shuras have become a reality, setting a precedent in the history of the Iraqi working class. However, they result from the experiences of more than 10 years social change within Iraq, as well as from the history of workers' shuras throughout the world.
As the despotic Baathist regime weakened, workers were able to breath more easily and began to carry out more large scale class activities...
The shura movement spread like gospel amongst the workers... The movement developed in spite of the weaknesses of our movement. However, it was weakness of organization, the isolation and separation of radical socialist avant-guard militants and a lack of communist vision and socialist perspective that allowed reformists to take over. As a result of this, the brutality of the state's counter-offensive, the reinvasion of the towns and the short duration of the uprising, the workers did not have enough time to overcome their weaknesses with regard to the shuras.
The "exploited" had organized themselves into shuras in most camps, villages, and towns in liberated areas of Kurdistan, but the weakness of workers' shuras had a bad influence on the creation and running of such "poor people's" shuras.
The bourgeois opposition parties tried desperately to put their policies into practice, for fear of the class demands and economic, social and political program of the shuras enabling the workers to take power. The opposition parties made use of the institutions and organs of repression of the former regime.
In the south of Iraq, the reactionary "Shiite" movement set up its own "Islamic shuras" in order to discredit and manipulate the only radical workers' shuras. In Kurdistan, the Nationalists didn't hesitate to use all necessary force against workers' associations. They shot at striking workers, threatened their leaders, protected and armed the bosses and broadcast workers' demands as originating from "anarchists" and "troublemakers." This antagonism between Nationalist forces and workers' shuras determined the political climate in Kurdistan.
Now, following the reinvasion of towns by the Barbaric Baathist regime, social and political perspectives are as before with famine, misery, poverty, unemployment threatening the lives of workers more than ever. However, the dissatisfaction that sprung up well before the uprising will continue to spur on a battle against this world, carrying the memories of the uprising with it.
The military counter-offensive on the regime, the alliance between Kurdish Nationalists and central government can not be erased from workers' memories and activities..."
(PROLETARIAT #6, CPO)
The situation of the Shura members is now fairly precarious. They have to keep up to date, hour by hour, on the activities of the Nationalists and the Baathist Army. The Shuras now have information networks from city to city, which largely involve individuals travelling at short notice around the area. They are worried that the Kurdish Front might secretly allow army divisions into Sulaimania or that they may have inside information about the movements of government troops.
A few members of the Shuras know from experiences in the Sandaj revolution that when the Nationalists scatter and desert a city without warning the inhabitants, a massacre is imminent. They are therefore on the lookout for mass movements of Kurdish Front forces.
One day a man in Kurdish clothes was shot dead, who was known to be a secret policeman. The documents he had on him showed that he had permission from Masoud Barzani to pose as a peshmerga. It is unclear who killed him, but it was definitely not the Nationalists.
On our way back, one of the interesting things we were told was that the agreement between the Baathists and the Kurdish Front was signed ages ago. It was kept secret because the issues of "compromise" and "autonomy" have become a farce and the PUK and KDP are aware of the mass support for the Shura movement. Proletarians are fed up with compromises and want to continue the fight instead.
* August 1991 *