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It's Going Down (A Rabbit Hole in Rojava)

category southern asia | imperialism / war | opinion / analysis author Tuesday October 22, 2019 07:44author by W.E.B. - The Utopian collective Report this post to the editors

Support the Kurds! Defend Rojava!

The Syrian Kurds of Rojava should be defended against the Turkish attack on the grounds of self-determination. Solidarity with the Kurds should not depend on illusions in their forms of organization.
kobanesolidarity.jpg

Revolutionary anarchists have a long history of standing for freedom as well as socialism, overturning the old order, and not siding with one or another capitalist force, no matter how ‘free’ and ‘revolutionary’ they temporarily might appear. They also have a history of defending the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination against all oppression and imperialism. But when revolutionary anarchists have not kept this political independence, the results have been disastrous both for them and for workers and oppressed peoples in general.

The Kurdish people for multiple decades has been oppressed by governments in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Turkey has refused even to acknowledge that they exist. The Assad regime in Syria took away the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Kurds, only recently partially giving it back under pressure from the Syrian Revolution. And Iraq under Saddam Hussein gassed tens of thousands.

During the Syrian Revolution the Kurds managed to carve out a territory in Syria called Rojava/ Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) as an expression of their self-identity. This was done under the leadership of the dominant party there, the PYD/PKK. The result, a mixture of communal and traditional forms, is more social-democratic than anarchist. One feature is that women for the first time have been placed in positions of leadership. Also, in the past few years the Rojava’s People’s Defense Forces have suffered thousands of casualties while allied with the U.S. to defeat the fanatically fascist ISIS. Despite this revolutionary anarcho-socialists have an obligation to defend Rojava in the name of defending oppressed people’s right to determine their own governance and alliances while not endorsing their forms.

But the It’s Going Down statement (https://itsgoingdown.org/call-to-action-solidarity-with-rojava-against-the-turkish-invasion/amp/?__twitter_impression=true@)presents something else. It alludes to defending the Kurds and others as oppressed minorities but at the same time is an example of political capitulation. While calling for actions which are absolutely necessary to stop the Turkish invasion of Rojava/DFNS, it also politically endorses the top-down PYD/PKK regime in Rojava/DFNS as an ‘inspiring multi-ethnic experiment’; and, by implication, sides with imperialism.

Why is the PYD/PKK administration in Rojava top-down? There are two angles from which to look at the question. First is the history of the PYD/PKK itself. The party began as a more-or-less traditional Third World/Stalinist vanguard with a Great Leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and a sometimes-lethal internal discipline. It conducted years of ultimately unsuccessful guerrilla warfare against the Turkish military using training camps in Syria with the consent of the Assad regime. As it was being defeated, Ocalan, began to formulate a new program, which continued after he was imprisoned and read Murray Bookchin. He later called it democratic confederalism and it appeared to be 180° away from guerilla vanguardism. And following its Great Leader, the party adopted it without a bloody faction fight. But its functioning remained the same. In effect the PYD/PKK put revolutionary libertarian, anarchist—and feminist—costume on a traditional vanguard party. Therefore, while the cantons, councils, women’s brigades and other institutions in Rojava appear to be autonomous and egalitarian, they are really controlled by the PYD/PKK in the same manner that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union managed the seemingly democratic institutions of its day. Rojava really is a state dressed as a non-state.

The second angle is to look at revolutions themselves and compare them to the movement in Rojava. First, real revolutions involve the mobilization of masses of people against kings, landlords, colonialists and capitalists, with the people creating their own institutions—real dual power—in the process. Frequently the authoritarian reactionaries put together an international coalition to crush them. A case in point occurred in neighboring Syria proper, where hundreds of thousands marched, struck, boycotted and took up arms for years against the Assad family dictatorship. Inspired In part by local anarchists, they organized grassroots Local Coordination Committees to advance the struggle and govern themselves, and the regime in turn brought in Russia, Iran and forces in Lebanon to put down the revolution. Whatever the outcome there, no such thing happened in Rojava. In fact, as the Syrian Revolution gained steam, the PYD/PKK opposed it as thousands of Kurds marched in support. Later the party made a deal with the Assad regime to stand aside so it could withdraw from Rojava and redeploy its forces. Only then did the ‘Rojava revolution’ take place. Thus, like Macbeth in the Second Prophecy, the ‘Rojava revolution’ has been cursed from the beginning.

Whatever ‘revolution’ has occurred in Rojava has been in opposition to and at the expense of the real Syrian Revolution next door. And despite whatever egalitarian features it may have, it has been more of a traditional first stage of a Stalinist/Maoist two-stage revolution than even an attempt to sweep away the old order. That is, the businesses, landlords and tribal leaders largely have been left intact. (Absentee landlords have the legal right to return and reclaim their lands).

Therefore, for anarchists to defend a top-down regime, no matter how critically, is to defend its essential authoritarianism. And it also leads down the rabbit hole of apologizing for its ‘mistakes’ and ‘contradictions’ like opposing the Syrian Revolution, collaborating with the U.S. and Assad, and failing to give real power to the people. (This does not mean that as oppressed people, those in Rojava don’t have the right to seek such alliances). Moreover, it legitimizes not defending other oppressed peoples against imperialism because of disagreements over their political systems; for example, Iran, Ukraine, the Baltic and Central Asian states, Venezuela and Assadist Syria against U.S. or Russian imperialism.

However, IGD leads down more rabbit holes, in this case by omission. It correctly calls for an end to the Turkish invasion, but it does not demand the withdrawal of all the imperialist forces that have been bloodily meddling in the area for years. It does not demand the departure of the U.S. (which is still there despite Trump’s order), Russia, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Moreover, it fails to call for the withdrawal of the Assad regime with its long history of oppressing the Kurds.

In particular, by not demanding U.S. withdrawal IGD puts itself on the side of the U.S. liberal interventionists who raise the twin specters of U.S. betrayal and ISIS reorganizing to push for sending more troops to the area.

By its silence IGD extends its capitulation to imperialism itself.

On the other hand, revolutionary anarcho-socialists should demand the departure of all imperialist powers from Rojava, not just Turkey; and defend Rojava in spite of its governance and collaboration with the Assad regime and U.S. imperialism, not because of it.

*written for The Utopian; A Journal of Anarchism and Libertarian Socialism

author by WEBpublication date Mon Nov 04, 2019 13:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It’s interesting that most of the anarchist apologists for the PYD/PKK acknowledge that the group is neither anarchist nor immune to criticism. Listen, above for example, writes that ‘Criticism of the PYD…is welcome’. Or Crimethinc 2 itself, posits that there ‘are many fair criticisms to be made of the PYD, SDF and other structures in Rojava…’ However, having stated their disclaimers, these same people never indicate what, if any, are their own differences with the PYD. Instead, they jump into a loud defense of it.
Crimethinc 2 is an example. It sets up a series of straw men and misrepresentations to cover for its own capitulation to the PYD, Assad and the U.S.
Beginning with the latter, let’s look at Crimethinc 2’s point of view. It repeatedly refers to a betrayal of Rojava by the U.S. But to charge ‘betrayal’ one has to have had illusions in the betrayer to begin with: in this case, that the U.S. was protecting the Kurds. And underlying that is an assumption that U.S. intervention is legitimate to begin with. This puts C2 on the same page as those ‘otherwise shameless US politicians’ who feel so ‘humiliated’.
Then there’s the rest of C2’s covering for the U.S.; for example, the straw man questions of ‘Are the Kurds just shills for the US?’ and, ‘Should we blame groups like the…(PYD) in Rojava for coordinating with the US?’ In my view, these questions simply miss the point, which is that the Kurds—and the PYD—have a right as oppressed peoples to coordinate with the U.S. or anyone else, for that matter. But as revolutionary anarcho-socialists we don’t have to make an endorsement. The Kurds’ alliances are their concern, and they do nothing to take away from our own defense of Rojava. As I’ve written before, it’s central that we as anarchists maintain our own political independence.
Going on, there’s the C2 numbers game. It begins with the question, ‘Shouldn’t anti-imperialists WANT the US to withdraw from Syria?’ and goes on to justify the U.S. intervention by contrasting the number of U.S. troops that were in Iraq with the number stationed in Rojava. Quantity is substituted for quality, and again, U.S. intervention is validated.
These aren’t the only straw questions that C2 sets up. There’s this one: ‘Did the Kurds betray the Syrian Revolution?’ This is a deliberate fogging of the issue, and the short answer is no, the Kurds did not betray the Syrian Revolution. However, the PYD at first and at best stood aside from it despite substantial non-PYD Kurdish support, and later made a deal with Assad to let him withdraw his troops from Rojava so they could be redeployed against Syrian revolutionaries in the South. And it’s in this section of its piece where C2 gets really defensive of its indefensible stance, outrightly dismissing anyone who was not in Syria as having no right to comment.
C2 writes, ‘As anarchists, we consider apologists for Assad beneath contempt’. However, that sentiment is missing elsewhere in the statement. For example, C2 writes, ‘Sadly, it is possible that even if the [Syrian] uprising HAD toppled Assad, Syria would be little better off today…’ So by implication, why should the Syrian people have revolted in the first place? Why not just accept Assad as a lesser evil? Or C2 attacks Trump for ‘intentionally [reigniting] a civil war’ that ‘was drawing to a close’, with the Syrian government winning. That is, contrary to its disclaimer, it appears that Crimethinc believes that an Assad victory is a desirable outcome.
Finally, after accusing me of making unwarranted assumptions, Listen, above, went on to assume my gender. Chris follows the same track, assuming that I have not been to Rojava. But how do they know whether I have or have not? And no matter, because I’m for listening to and evaluating the views of both those who have and have not been there rather than dismissing, as Chris and Crimethinc do, the opinions of those who have not.

author by Chris - (writing in personal capacity)publication date Fri Nov 01, 2019 04:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

But W.E.B., to repeat my question:

Have you been to Rojava? Why should we listen to you about this and not to, say, people who are there or have been there?

Please don't claim brevity for my sake—in such an insulting way, no less—and then dodge the questions I posed you.

Also, it seems to me that you are now the one making an "unprincipled dismissive attack." Care to elaborate the actual grounds of your objection to the aforementioned other CrimethInc. text?

Not to do so is sure an "omission," if not an outright "misrepresentation."

author by WEBpublication date Thu Oct 31, 2019 14:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'm sorry Chris feels berated by a 'wall of text', so to salve their feelings I'll keep this message short.
First, the problem is not that my statement is hard to understand, but that most of the people who have responded DON'T WANT to understand. My main point is clear: the Kurds and other groups in the Rojava region should be defended 'in the name of defending oppressed people's right to determine their own governance while not endorsing their forms'. Or, put another way, we need to keep our POLITICAL independence. Note: my principle, quoted above, doesn't mention the PYD/PKK, so to separate the PYD/PKK from IGD's 'inspiring multi-ethnic experiment' description is irrelevant.
Second, I'm well aware of the second Crimethinc piece. I think they should have stopped while they were only a little way down the rabbit hole. Crimethinc 2 is hardly 'mature and responsible', but full of omissions, misrepresentations and unprincipled dismissive attacks.

author by WEBpublication date Thu Oct 31, 2019 14:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'm sorry Chris feels berated by a 'wall of text', so to salve their feelings I'll keep this message short.
First, the problem is not that my statement is hard to understand, but that most of the people who have responded DON'T WANT to understand. My main point is clear: the Kurds and other groups in the Rojava region should be defended 'in the name of defending oppressed people's right to determine their own governance while not endorsing their forms'. Or, put another way, we need to keep our POLITICAL independence. Note: my principle, quoted above, doesn't mention the PYD/PKK, so to separate the PYD/PKK from IGD's 'inspiring multi-ethnic experiment' description is irrelevant.
Second, I'm well aware of the second Crimethinc piece. I think they should have stopped while they were only a little way down the rabbit hole. Crimethinc 2 is hardly 'mature and responsible', but full of omissions, misrepresentations and unprincipled dismissive attacks.

author by Steven - ----publication date Wed Oct 30, 2019 15:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If W.E.B. really wants to make a critique, instead of carping about a call to action like an armchair critic, they should engage with a longer analytical text like this one:

https://crimethinc.com/2019/10/12/why-the-turkish-invasion-matters-addressing-the-hard-questions-about-imperialism-and-solidarity

...that would be the mature and responsible thing to do. That text addresses many of W.E.B.'s concerns. I wonder if W.E.B. avoiding engaging with it for precisely that reason?

author by Chris - (writing in personal capacity)publication date Tue Oct 29, 2019 05:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

WEB, if it's been hard to make yourself understood here, it's because your initial critique was so poorly articulated. You're berating us with a wall of text because you yourself created a straw man and are now essentially attacking 150+ different organizations, alleging that all of them are "capitulators" for signing a statement that doesn't even mention the political organization you claim is responsible for EVERYTHING in Rojava (presumably just because you saw some photographs of Ocalan portraits on the news).

Or have you been to Rojava? Why should we listen to you about this and not to, say, people who are there or have been there? I guess they're ALL "capitulators" too?

author by W.E.B.publication date Sat Oct 26, 2019 14:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The purpose of my statement is to explain the necessity of anarchists keeping their political independence while defending oppressed peoples against their oppressors. Listen’s response creates a fog of misrepresentations, omissions and lies to cover for the political program of the PYD/PKK. This has been a classic method of apology for abhorrent regime rather a beacon for liberation.
The second paragraph is a case in point. ‘We don’t have to glorify any political structure to call for solidarity…’, they write. But that’s a misrepresentation. ‘Glorifying’ isn’t the issue. ENDORSING is, even with criticisms. Continuing, ‘Criticism of the PYD, etc., is welcome’. Good. I wrote my take on the PYD/PKK. Where is Listen’s? I fail to see it.
Next, Listen states that the IGD Call ‘does not require anyone to endorse any particular aspect of the existing political structures in Rojava’. Really? Then what is the ‘network of councils, communes, and cooperatives’? Are they not ‘existing political structures’? Further, contrary to what Listen writes, the Call doesn’t mention any political structures OTHER than the ones it specifies. It seems that it is Listen who is making a leap in logic.
Going on, Listen contends that ‘it’s absurd to claim that all of [the experiments in Rojava since 2012] are controlled from the top down by a party’. Well, what party has been in power in Rojava since 2012? And to what party did Assad essentially turn over the territory in 2012? And what party has advocated those 'experiments' in its program?
And where is the popular uprising that brought about ‘revolution’? Where are the masses of people fighting against dictators, landlords and bosses? Where are the popular institutions arising out of the struggle (as they did next door in Syria)? Moreover, a real revolution includes many different tendencies. Not everyone is on the same page. Rojava, however, appears different. It looks very top-down. Likenesses of Ocalan and PYD flags are everywhere, hardly a representation of diverse consciousness even if it’s revolutionary. The pictures out of the DFNS resemble more those from the DPRK (North Korea) than a real revolutionary democratic society.
One can argue that those cult of personality photos don’t represent the whole picture. However, if that’s true, then it’s the anarchists in the U.S. who are drinking the kool-aid offered by the PYD/PKK in Rojava.
Going on, Listen contends that I reduce ‘”the Kurds” to the PKK’ and that ‘opposing violence against this ethnic group is identical to supporting a political party’. This is precisely what I’m NOT doing. I defend the Kurds because they are an oppressed people regardless of their political institutions. I would defend them even if they had a king. READ THE STATEMENT.
The paragraph on imperialism sets up a straw man. My statement deals with specifics; namely, imperialist interventions by Turkey, Russia, the U.S., Iran, Israel, Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. No, it doesn’t mention Puerto Rico, Chechnya, the Uighurs or the European colonial takeover of Africa. When a house is on fire, the firefighters need to focus on the burning house and not all the other ones that are still standing or may have burned down previously.
Contrary to what it asserts, the last paragraph actually delegitimizes POLITICALLY INDEPENDENT defenses of oppressed peoples and their regimes. Apologists oppose this because political independence possibly could undermine their authoritarian structures as well as the apologists’ own possibly top-down appetites.
Final note: On the subject of leaps of logic, Listen makes their own leap to assume my gender.

author by W.E.B.publication date Sat Oct 26, 2019 14:04author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I’m well aware that IGD’s statement is word-for-word identical to that of Crimethinc with one exception: Crimethinc's first sentence, second paragraph refers to ‘women’s autonomy’ while IGD's uses ‘councils, communes and cooperatives’. Why are they different? I don’t know. That’s between Crimethinc and IGD.
More substantively, since the statements are virtually the same, I regard both IGD and Crimethinc as co-capitulators. Sorry I left out the latter.
Regarding all the other signatories, I urge them really to think, not look at surface appearances or programs. Observe what’s really going on. Actions. What is stated and done and what is NOT stated and NOT done.

author by Comprehensionpublication date Sat Oct 26, 2019 13:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Agreed that it is a poorly timed and irresponsible piece.

In addition to the salient critiques made by others, the author is plain wrong in pinning the statement on It's Going Down. It was published on IGD, as well as Crimethinc and other sites. Crimethinc's version helpfully notes it is "An Urgent Call from a Network of Organizations." The concept of a joint statement is not a difficult one to grasp or identify, making it curious as to why the author solely chose to target IGD as the capitulators to imperialism.

They may want to take the time to read to the end of the statement to encounter the list of endorsers and extend their fatuous critique to all of their doorsteps.

author by Steven - ----publication date Sat Oct 26, 2019 08:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wayne, if that were W.E.B.'s chief argument, it would be a legitimate point. But if it were, he wouldn't have written much of the above text, would he?

I second "Listen"'s concern, as well.

author by Listenpublication date Fri Oct 25, 2019 15:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If you want an example of slander, here:

https://www.anarkismo.net/article/3664&comment_limit=0&condense_comments=false

Is that an appropriate way to engage with a longtime anarchist project? Read that hit piece through again and tell me if you find it responsible.

I find your attempt to defend WEB's baseless critique lacking in substance. "That the policies of the PKK/PYD were being referred to in the IGD statement is obvious" is not an argument. I myself don't consider it obvious, for example. On the contrary. If you wish to argue that I am interpreting the text wrong, you have to provide evidence to back up your argument.

author by Wayne Pricepublication date Fri Oct 25, 2019 09:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors

None of these responses, so far, directly respond to the arguments of ty W.E.B, whose main point is that anarchists’ solidarity with the Kurd's struggle should not depend on agreement with their social forms or dominant political programs. (That the policies of the PKK/PYD were being referred to in the IGD statement is obvious.)

W.E.B. states, “revolutionary anarcho-socialists have an obligation to defend Rojava in the name of defending oppressed people’s right to determine their own governance and alliances while not endorsing their forms.” That is the point.

I don’t know what Listen means by referring to Anarkismo’s “history of publishing groundless attack pieces.” By itself, it is simply slander.

author by Chris - (writing in personal capacity)publication date Fri Oct 25, 2019 07:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yes, this text is an embarrassment. It's unfortunate to see it here.

author by Listenpublication date Thu Oct 24, 2019 23:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This criticism is irresponsible and poorly thought out. It would have been a much better use of energy for the author to have invested time in taking action against the invasion than to write this intellectually dishonest screed. Here's why.

Obviously, no party with a cadre should be above criticism. We don't have to glorify any political structure to call for solidarity with those on the receiving end of imperialist violence, whether that imperialism be from the US, Russia, Turkey, or Assad. Criticism of the PYD, etc. is welcome. Clearly, it is a mistake to build movements that depend on top-down leadership, or to trust capitalist, colonial powers like the USA—that should be patently clear to everyone at this point.

But the solidarity statement the author is critiquing does not mention the PYD, let alone the PKK. It does not require anyone to endorse any particular aspect of the existing political structures in Rojava. The author of that criticism is the one who makes the leap in logic to assume that by “multi-ethnic experiment” the call to action must mean specifically and only the political structures he criticizes. THE AUTHOR is the one reducing all the activity in Rojava to a top-down framework—which is not an anarchist approach to understanding human activity. There have been a lot of different experiments in Rojava since 2012, and it's absurd to claim that all of them are controlled from the top down by a party. At best, to do so would be the same sort of repellent conspiracy theory according to which all anarchist activity is judged to be the false flag operation of some world power.

Let's be clear: by reducing "the Kurds" to the PKK, the author is engaging in the same substitution of a political structure for an ethnic group that we oppose as anarchists and opponents of white supremacy. He is the one claiming that opposing violence against this ethnic group is identical with supporting a political party. This is extremely irresponsible. Not only this, but the call to action explicitly lists several other ethnic groups alongside Kurdish people as being comparably threatened by Turkey's invasion, which the author fails to acknowledge or account for.

As for the charge that, by omitting to detail other instances of imperialism, the signatories become complicit in all other instances thereof, that is absurd. Should we blame the author for all the instances of imperialism he himself does not mention in his critique? Should every call to action be a history book listing every instance of imperialist aggression, ever?

The real function of such baseless criticism is to delegitimize necessary mobilizations against imperialist aggression, and to distract those who participate in them. Criticism is an essential part of the anarchist project, but it should not be based on projection and intellectual dishonesty. We deserve better.

Anarkismo has a history of publishing groundless attack pieces and this simply continues that unfortunate legacy.

author by Dissapointed - Personal capacitypublication date Thu Oct 24, 2019 20:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The timing of this is really terrible and disappointing. Politics don't happen in a vaccuum, web.

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