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An Anarchist Communist Reply to ‘Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective’
mashriq / arabia / iraq | imperialism / war | feature Saturday November 01, 2014 21:37 by Anarkismo Editors Group - Anarkismo.net
This text is a response to the article Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective by K. B., recently published on the Ideas and Action website of the North America-based Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA). In the article, there is an attack on the Rojava revolution in the Middle East, an event in which the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has played a key role.This response is not published in bad faith or with ill intentions towards the writer or their organisation but, rather, in order to clarify and share our thinking regards the question of anarchist support both for national liberation movements and what is, for us, a very important and inspiring struggle playing out in the Middle East. The aim is to have a frank, and comradely, debate that takes us all forward.
Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective, K.B.
An Anarchist Communist Reply to ‘Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective’
This text is a response to the article Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective by K. B., recently published on the Ideas and Action website of the North America-based Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA). In the article, there is an attack on the Rojava revolution in the Middle East, an event in which the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has played a key role. This response is not published in bad faith or with ill intentions towards the writer or their organisation but, rather, in order to clarify and share our thinking regards the question of anarchist support both for national liberation movements and what is, for us, a very important and inspiring struggle playing out in the Middle East. The aim is to have a frank, and comradely, debate that takes us all forward.
CONTEXT FOR CRITICAL SUPPORT
The PKK and its projects have attracted attention not just for the Rojava revolution – where a substantial part of the PKK programme is being implemented. The PKK has also attracted world attention for its heroic battle against the murderous ultra-rightwing forces of the “Islamic State”/ISIS, particularly in battles in Syria.
The PKK originally stood for an independent Marxist state for the Kurdish people, to be created through means like armed struggle. Over the last 10 years, however, the PKK has significantly shifted from this project, explicitly adopting core elements of “democratic confederalism” – an approach derived from the late, anarchist-influenced, writer Murray Bookchin. In 2005, the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan said:
The democratic confederalism of Kurdistan is not a State system, it is the democratic system of a people without a State... It takes its power from the people and adopts to reach self sufficiency in every field including economy.
The issue of the relation of anarchists and syndicalists to movements like the PKK – movements that are not explicitly, or even thoroughly, anarchist – is a matter of controversy. A substantial section of the anarchist movement, particularly the large platformist and especifista network around Anarkismo.net, has supported the PKK, although not uncritically.
LOGIC OF SUPPORT
In summary of our general orientation, we support struggles against oppression in principle, and this includes struggles against national and racial oppression.
Concretely, this means taking a side with people in struggle against oppression, and defending their right to choose approaches we might not agree with. In the case of national liberation struggles, this means we defend the right of colonised peoples to resist and overcome imperialist repression of projects of liberation by means of political-economic forms, such as independent liberal democratic or state-socialist statehood, that we see will ultimately fail to fully emancipate proletarians and peasants. This is an issue of principle: opposing oppression, and taking sides with the oppressed. Therefore we do not take a “purist” position that seems to be neutral, but that in practice equates oppressed and oppressor as equal evils.
This should not, however, be misunderstood to mean a blanket endorsement of every position or action or current taken in such struggles; we do not accept the position that refuses to make any criticisms, or take any independent position, on the basis that only “the oppressed” can decide, or on the grounds that “solidarity” demands silence. Obviously only the oppressed can decide, but the oppressed are not politically or socially homogenous, and all struggles are internally contested and imperfect. Solidarity is about comradely assistance; it is not about closing dialogue or excusing errors.
In concrete terms, we do not support every organised current in struggles against oppression. The closer an organised current is to our positions, the more we support them and show solidarity; and at the same time, there are some political positions that are simply unacceptable. In terms of strategy and tactics, there is a sliding scale, and this means we prioritise, in practice, relations with some groups over others, and deliberately do not establish any relations at all with others.
Further, while showing solidarity, and providing concrete assistance, we do not “liquidate” our politics or our project, becoming uncritical supporters, or donor organisations. Our aim is, simply, to align with struggles against oppression, while also aiming to influence those struggles. Only anarchist-communism offers the conditions for a reconstruction of human societies that will enable a complete resolution of various social evils, including various types of oppression.
Therefore, in our solidarity, we also engage in politics as an independent force that seeks some influence. Engagement is an issue of strategy; its precise forms depend on context and are therefore issues of tactics. But centrally, in our engagement, we retain our political independence and critique, and do not abandon our principle (strategy and tactics). Concretely, there are some practical issues around which we can cooperate directly with specific organised currents and offer solidarity (even if only at the level of raising awareness); then there are various struggles within the struggles of the oppressed, in which we can take sides; but we aim at all times to propose, and win influence for, our methods, aims and projects.
We will summarise the concrete applications of this approach to the specific case of Rojava in the conclusion, but for now, briefly: in the fight against the Islamic State/ ISIS, and against the national oppression of the Kurds, the Anarkismo.net network aligns itself with fighters against these forces. Secondly, the PKK’s partial embrace of anarchism lends additional grounds for support: for all its limitations, the PKK project is one that in some respects aligns with anarchist ideals. It is far from a top-down authoritarian regime in the making, in the mould of, for example, Mao’s Red Army. In this respect, critical support for the PKK is similar to the critical support many anarchists have for the Zapatistas (EZLN) in Mexico. The issue is not whether the PKK is 100% anarchist – it is certainly not – but rather, whether the PKK is fighting on the right side, and secondly, whether there are elements of the PKK programme that anarchists can gladly support.
In short, this approach to support and solidarity – and even alliances – does not proceed from the position that anarchists can only ever engage with forces that are purely, unambiguously anarchist. Rather, the logic is that anarchists stand with the oppressed against the oppressors – without renouncing their differences with other currents. And the logic is also that anarchists should engage with movements that are, if not completely anarchist, at least in some ways closer to our goals.
Politics is a messy situation, based on debate, conflict and compromise. It is not about waiting for perfect movements and perfect moments, but about trying to navigate – again, without liquidating our politics – a more complicated reality, marked by partial gains and messy struggles.
THE ARGUMENT REPUDIATING SUPPORT
By contrast the article in Ideas and Action takes another stance. It portrays the PKK in the worst possible light, as “authoritarian,” “patriarchal” and “ethno-nationalist,” and goes to the extent of raising several serious charges against Öcalan. The political conclusions drawn by the author “K.B.” are clear: anarchists should distance themselves from the Rojava revolution and the PKK.
So, this is partly a judgement that the PKK and its project is neither against oppression, nor in any sense compatible with anarchist goals. But it tends to follow a larger line of reasoning in a sector of the anarchist movement that routinely dismisses everything that is not purely anarchist – and in practice, confines itself only to engaging with other anarchists. If this approach is correct in pointing to the dangers of uncritically supporting non-anarchist movements, it responds in such a manner that it cuts itself from engaging any movement, and taking any really concrete position on most immediate struggles – in favour of general slogans and appeals that have not much concrete application.
USE OF EVIDENCE
Regrettably, many of the claims made by “K.B.” do not derive from a balanced engagement with the evidence. While the author is extremely sceptical of the credentials of the PKK, he or she is far more credulous whenever the evidence paints the PKK in a poor light. The most notable example is the assertion that Öcalan is a “rapist.” A closer examination of the sources used reveals only links to a Turkish ultra-nationalist website hostile to the PKK – and a book attacking Öcalan. Yet even the author of this book provides no evidence except what he admits are “rumours” without confirmation.
This is a fairly unfortunate way of arguing – scouring the internet for unfounded and defamatory claims by dubious sources, and accepting these uncritically. On other points, too, the writer “K.B.” makes statements that have no factual basis. The PKK and its allied structures are presented as narrowly “ethno-nationalist.” Nationalism is an ideology aiming at multi-class unity and class society: in its Marxist and now its democratic confederalist phases, the PKK never really fitted this mould.
If “ethno-nationalist” is taken to mean the PKK is narrowly, exclusively, Kurdish, this too will not wash with what is taking place in Rojava. Rojava is not only about the liberation of Kurds: “K.B.” even quotes a statement by the Kurdish Anarchist Forum (KAF), in the article itself, which points to a more complex picture. The KAF states clearly that the Movement of the Democratic Society (Tev-Dem) in Rojava has the involvement of many people “from different backgrounds, including Kurdish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, Assyrian and Yazidis”.
So, this is by no means the narrow, even xenophobic, PKK that “K.B.” wishes to expose – but in fact misrepresents. On the contrary, however, Öcalan and other PKK militants  present democratic confederalism as part of the liberation of all peoples of the Middle East – not just the Kurds – and have come to reject nationalism itself strongly.
SIDESTEPPING SOME FACTS
The author “K.B.” also wishes to present the PKK as somehow a “patriarchal” (that is, male-dominated) movement. The main evidence given is the prominent role of men in leadership positions. But there is more to a movement’s position on women’s liberation than a head count. Despite operating in a context in which the subordination of women is actively promoted by many forces – not least the Islamic State/ISIS – the PKK has nonetheless actively promoted equality for women in its armed forces, structure and ideology. Invoking the demand for women’s liberation in Rojava to be carried out by some sort of “autonomous” women’s movement is abstract, since such a movement does not exist; it is also misleading, in that to the extent that any force is fighting for women’s liberation in Rojava, it is the PKK.
The PKK pioneered the movement for women’s liberation in Kurdistan, and it is a fact that those areas where the PKK does not have a major presence are very patriarchal, whereas those where the PKK has a presence are not. This is not a coincidence. It is because the PKK sees the domination of women as closely linked to other forms of exploitation and oppression and believes that the struggle against women’s oppression, therefore, must be at the heart of any progressive struggle – in this case for the liberation of the Kurds and, ultimately, of the popular classes of the Middle East.
“K.B.” then stresses that the PKK were originally Marxist-Leninist, or at least influenced by this approach in the 1970s and 1980s. That may indeed be the case, but one question to be asked is whether that is currently the case. The Zapatistas, too, came from a Maoist approach; Mikhail Bakunin himself was originally a Slavic nationalist. The past is not always a good guide to the present, especially when other aspects of the past are ignored.
People and organisations change politically and it is irrelevant what they were: it is what they say now and what they do now that matters. The PKK has also changed in many ways; this too is part of its past. The PKK has critiqued its past, trying to change its politics, and in these critiques  they are sometimes brutally honest about their own past flaws. This is very promising and shows political maturity.
How many movements – including anarchist ones – honestly reflect on what is or has been wrong with them and use this to improve? So, while the PKK were not perfect, and still are not, they have reflected and changed – it will not do to show they were Marxist-Leninist thirty years ago, as if nothing has changed.
DIFFERENCES IN METHOD BETWEEN THE TWO LINES
It is in invoking a demand for a new, autonomous, women’s movement in Rojava that “K.B.” reveals an important part of her or his methodology. Situations are not engaged as they are; they are engaged by what the militant would like them to be, which usually means a fairly abstract schema of demands and programmes. Thus, regardless of the actual PKK record, regardless of the context, regardless even of what the women in the PKK and in Rojava do, there is an answer ready-made: form movement type X. This does not deal with the complex realities, and makes it very hard to grapple with this reality, when all answers exist before any grappling takes place.
At another level, the methodology also reveals itself: if something is not purely anarchist, it is deemed beyond support. The problem is that most major movements today are not anarchist, or purely anarchist. To say anarchists can never work with other currents – nationalists, Marxist-Leninists, liberals etc. – simply means saying that anarchists will not engage with anyone at all, besides other anarchists.
But since most people are not – whether we wish it or not – anarchists, this means the anarchists will isolate themselves, and do so proudly. This does not solve, but instead, compounds, the isolation of the anarchists. It cuts off audiences and potential anarchist influence.
ALIGNMENTS IN CONCRETE BATTLES
A third problem is that of taking sides in key battles. Not every battle requires anarchists to take sides, but some do.
Whatever the limitations of the forces that led the anti-apartheid struggle, for example, they were progressive compared to the apartheid regime; they were movements fighting against a monstrously oppressive system and, for all their limits, were in this sense infinitely preferable to that system. In such fights, anarchists surely cannot remain neutral, as if there was no difference at all between oppositional popular forces, like trade unions and community movements, and the apartheid regime. To have suggested otherwise would betray a serious loss of perspective.
Likewise, consider the situation of the PKK and allied structures: from the start, in all of its incarnations, the PKK has fought against the severe national oppression of the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Kurds from the popular classes are oppressed as workers and peasants, but as Kurds they face additional oppression. The fight against that oppression is progressive, and is surely an important fight that any anarchist can support.
This does not mean blank cheque endorsement of the PKK; it simply means that even if the PKK etc. were ethno-nationalist, but were fighting for an end to national oppression, anarchists should and could still support that fight – critically, of course – simply because the Kurds are oppressed as a people, and anarchists oppose all forms of oppression. To the extent the PKK has come closer to anarchism, the grounds for critically supporting it are further expanded.
In fact, while we do not think that anarchists should set conditions for their support for popular struggles for national liberation, it should also be noted that the PKK have, in addition to their rejection of nationalism, also rejected the state – clearly stating that “the nation-state can never be a solution”  – and see women’s liberation as being irrevocably tied to the abolition of the state.
These dimensions completely disappear in “K.B.’s” article: the PKK emerges as villains as sinister as any other regime; it is almost as if Kurdish “ethno-nationalism” is an invention, rather than a response – problematic as it is – to Kurdish oppression. And to make the case further, the author then discovers in the PKK only ills, and nothing worthy of support.
CRITICAL (NOT BLIND) SUPPORT
None of this means blindly supporting the PKK. We disagree with the purism of the “K.B.” article, but we do not go to the opposite extreme, liquidating our politics. We would agree that anarchists should not liquidate our politics behind any non-anarchist force – becoming cheerleaders and blind supporters, or silencing our criticisms or closing down our independent activities. However, whereas “K.B.” seeks to do this by isolating the anarchists from other forces, we seek to do this by engaging, as an independent current, with other forces.
This does mean making our own views clear, pushing our own project, and seeking our own influence. Such influence cannot come from purist isolation, nor can it come from liquidationist cheerleading. It entails critical engagement: we are with the PKK and the Rojava revolution against the forces of the Islamic State/ISIS, of Turkey and of Western imperialism, but we are also not a PKK auxiliary.
Therefore, despite our disagreements with “K.B’s” position, we in fact agree that there are points he or she raises that are worth soberly engaging.
“K.B.” notes that there are parallel – and potentially rival – structures and projects in Rojava and contestation around these. By some accounts – including a document that basically forms the Constitution of Rojava  – there are two types of systems/structures in place based on what seem to be diverging ideas that are running concurrently. One structure is a type of representative parliament with something akin to a cabinet; the other being democratic confederalism of a sort based on assemblies, councils and communes. There does also appear to be the possibility of tension arising between these two types of systems going forward too, if Rojava survives.
So there is a faction in Rojava politics, including in the leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), that want what amounts to a state structure – rather than the more radical PKK vision. In practice they are trying to implement representative democracy based on a parliament, with basic human rights, where an executive will have quite a lot of power, but tactically they can’t call it a state as it appears the idea of democratic confederalism is widely held as an ideal amongst many Kurds.
But it is also still possible that Rojava could become a system based on democratic confederalism because assemblies, councils and communes do exist (and because clearly there are also people that want this). So it doesn’t seem to us that we should close our eyes to the fact that such tensions and possibly conflicting outcomes do exist and will exist as part of any revolution. Which one will gain the upper hand if Rojava survives, though, is open to question and depends on which forces gain the upper hand in the process, if they are not all wiped out by ISIS or the pashmerga (the armed units of the KRG).
The best outcome in any world would be global anarchist revolution. But the mighty forces required do not currently exist; nor will they come to exist if anarchists insist on keeping their hands too clean, failing to engage real world moments and movements.
Realistically, the best outcome in the real world Rojava would be the victory of democratic confederalism, opening up space for further changes, and inspiring rebels elsewhere. The second best would be a PYD-led state, and the third best would be a victory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is to the right of both the PKK and PYD. The KRG is a fully-fledged state (although not internationally recognised) that is corrupt and overtly authoritarian. At the worst end of the spectrum would be the victory of the Syrian dictator, Assad, and the worst outcome would be the victory of the Islamic State/ ISIS.
There is no real anarchist contender in this battle, and no prospects for an anarchist pole of attraction while anarchists do not engage with forces like the PKK. Kurdish and Turkish anarchists have involved themselves, and so too, in a more modest way, have groups linked to Anarkismo.net.
“K.B.’s” article suffers from the fact that it is written in a kind of vacuum. It is written as if some sort of pure anarchism is the only thing that can be supported which – considering that any anarchist society is a very distant prospect at best and will have to be forged and shaped in the reality of struggle, and may differ in some ways from the ideal vision – is a view divorced from reality. So the article is written based on what exists in the writers head and not what is happening in reality – which is what we as anarchists and social revolutionaries have to deal with if we and our ideas are to have any relevance in progressive popular struggles.
Under the current circumstances of ISIS invading Kobane, even if democratic confederalism is defeated in Rojava internally by PYD elements and they implement a state, that state (from what we have read of the PYD) would be better than the other options that are real possibilities, being ISIS, Assad, or the KRG.
If applied, for example, to South Africa and apartheid the position on Rojava presented by this article, therefore, would amount to saying something like “we don’t support the UDF, FOSATU or COSATU and definitely not the ANC because they are not anarchists”, and that would have amounted to saying, “who really cares if the apartheid state wins because there is no struggle for anarchism”.
The position presented in the article is thus flawed and divorced from reality. While it might sound radical in writing, its weakness is that it presupposes the existence of a perfectly libertarian and revolutionary subject and premises any support for popular movements on this non-entity instead of acknowledging that the actually existing working class – and its movements – is full of contradictions and that anarchists need to meet it where it is if our ideas and practices are to have any relevance.
The struggle for the national liberation of the Kurds should be supported as a matter of principle as they are an oppressed people and, even if they don’t achieve democratic conferderalism, a PYD-led state would still be some gain (like 1994 was in South Africa) because the other possible outcomes are horrendous.
Naturally, the struggle for Kurdish liberation, if not accompanied by a massive reconstruction of the economy and of social life along the lines of workers’ self-management and community control, will lead to a situation of incomplete national and gender liberation for the Kurdish masses if economic and social inequalities are not resolved at the same time as those of political power.
Such a strictly political solution (i.e. if parliamentary models triumphed over democratic confederalism) could give rise to a new Kurdish elite. Something which could be compared to the democratic transition that occurred in South Africa in 1994 and, while not ideal, would certainly constitute a massive advance for the Kurdish working class – just as it was for the South African working class.
We agree with “K.B.” that it is precisely in the self-activity of the grassroots masses and women of the PKK and allied structures that the most promising prospects for struggle in the direction of complete liberation lie. However, it would be a mistake to reject or refuse support to organisations like the PKK on the grounds that they are flawed. Of course they are. That is not the issue, the issue is whether anarchists align with – and try to influence – actual real world movements and struggles, as a matter of principle (because these struggles are just), as a matter of practical politics (because without engagement, anarchists will remain isolated) and as a mode of analysis (which grapples with situations, rather than hammering them into pre-set schemas).
That is ultimately where the deep difference in the two lines – ours and that of “K.B.” – lies. We reject notions that insist anarchists must never support national liberation struggles – or that they only do so under certain conditions – while we also make it clear that we simultaneously reject nationalism. What is needed, therefore, to ensure the full national and class liberation of the Kurdish masses and to guard against the ascendency of an oppressive Kurdish elite, which would oppose the full liberation of the Kurdish working class under the guise of narrow nationalist interests, is a Kurdish working class-centred struggle – on a working class programme – against national oppression, capitalism, the state and women’s oppression simultaneously. The PKK’s programme of democratic confederalism, to us, represents steps towards such a programme. It is not enough, but it is a start we can engage.
In summary, applying our general approach, we can say of the battle for Rojava: we support the struggle for the national liberation of the Kurds, including the right of the national liberation movement to exist; second, we oppose the repression and threats meted out by forces ranging from the Islamic State, to Iraq, Syria, Turkey and their Western and Eastern allies; our support moves on a sliding scale, with Kurdish anarchists and syndicalists at the top, followed by the PKK, then the PYD, and we draw the line at the KRG; in practical terms, we cooperate around, and offer solidarity (even if only verbal) on a range of concrete issues, the most immediate of which is the battle to halt the ultra-right Islamic State and defend the Rojava revolution; within that revolution, we align ourselves with the PKK model of democratic confederalism against the more statist approach of the PYD models, and, even when doing so, aim at all times to propose and win influence for our methods, aims and projects: we are with the PKK against the KRG, but we are for the anarchist revolution before all else.
. http://www.pkkonline.com/en/index.php?sys=articles See especially the articles on “Democratic Modernity: Era of Woman’s Revolution”; “Killing the dominant male”; “Capitalism and Women”; “Women’s situation in the Kurdish society”; “The Nation-State Can Never Be a Solution”; “Briefly On Socialism”; ‘The Kurdistan Woman’s Liberation Movement’; and of course “Democratic Confereralism”
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90% of this article consists of stating and re-stating in the abstract a strategy of critical-support for non-anarchist progressive forces. While the details of that approach itself can be debated, so far so good.
The sole basis of the position taken up by the author is in this part:
" “K.B.” notes that there are parallel – and potentially rival – structures and projects in Rojava and contestation around these. By some accounts – including a document that basically forms the Constitution of Rojava  – there are two types of systems/structures in place based on what seem to be diverging ideas that are running concurrently. One structure is a type of representative parliament with something akin to a cabinet; the other being democratic confederalism of a sort based on assemblies, councils and communes. There does also appear to be the possibility of tension arising between these two types of systems going forward too, if Rojava survives.
So there is a faction in Rojava politics, including in the leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), that want what amounts to a state structure – rather than the more radical PKK vision. In practice they are trying to implement representative democracy based on a parliament, with basic human rights, where an executive will have quite a lot of power, but tactically they can’t call it a state as it appears the idea of democratic confederalism is widely held as an ideal amongst many Kurds. "
This picture is COMPLETELY ILLUSIONARY, for several reasons. First of all, it imagines a conflict where there is none, between the PKK and PYD. The PYD is the younger little-sister organization of the PKK, and their ideologies are identical. The PYD line is merely the application of the PKK line to Syrian conditions.
The self-management structures (local "communes" etc.) are best understood as the local government counterpart to the parliamentary structure advocated by the PKK/PYD. Just like there is this dual governmental structure between central and local government in every democratic state in existence. It is hardly a radical departure. The only novelty seems to be a bit of self-management thrown in at the very local level of municipal government. The exact nature of this self-management is unclear. Is it a genuine ideological commitment to "stateless democracy" or a pragmatic solution to the poverty that prevails in the region (the local government cannot provide services, so "outsources" the provision of such to the local population themselves).
Just look at the Rojava Social Contract document at http://civiroglu.net/the-constitution-of-the-rojava-can...tons/. The same constitution lays out the principles of both the parliamentary central government structure and the local municipal structure that is to be implemented. Keep in mind that for the time being, not even this bourgeois-democratic form is in operation, but rather the PYD-led popular-front style administration is in charge, where the PYD has monopoly over the armed forces (If you want, the Spain '36 parallel here is to the CPE dominated Republican Government, not the CNT-FAI / POUM).
There are no "rival factions" that have emerged, one democratic-confederalist vs. one statist etc. This is pure illusion. Both are part of the unitary vision of the PYD, a progressive bourgeois-democratic vision to be implemented in the future by an authoritarian party administration that has transitioned to some degree from Marxist-Leninism / National Liberationist to Bourgeois Democratic / Regional National Autonomist. "Democratic Confederalism" is mostly radical windows dressing, intended to substitute for the softening of the earlier project of classical national independence in favor of regional autonomy.
This article is filled with one strawman fallacy after another. Nowhere in the article does K.B. say that a movement must be anarchist or syndicalist for us to support it. Moreover, the piece completely overlooks the positive aspects of the mass resistance which were highlighted in the article, such as the base "communes" (groups of 50 families) and the radical Kurdish women's movement.
The authors here seem to be incapable of understanding the class line. A state is going to represent the interests of an alien class. The Democratic Union Party, which is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK (your piece is confused about that), has suggested that its decentralized parliamentary government in Rojava creates "facts on the ground" for a future negotiation for the new state regime in Syria after the civil war.
You also ignore the fact that one aspect of Bookchin's ideas that Ocalan particularly liked was his abandonment of worker struggle in the workplace.
So, what we want to see in the struggle are mass organizations that are a means of struggle for the mass of immediate producers at the base of society, the exploited classes. The article says:
"If applied, for example, to South Africa and apartheid the position on Rojava presented by this article, therefore, would amount to saying something like “we don’t support the UDF, FOSATU or COSATU and definitely not the ANC because they are not anarchists”, and that would have amounted to saying, “who really cares if the apartheid state wins because there is no struggle for anarchism”.
This is a strawman since nowhere in K.B.'s article does he say or imply any such thing. As you may recall WSA was in fact a suporter of FOSATU & COSATU in the anti-Apartheid struggle...precisely because they were mass worker organizations, created from below, roughly democratic.
Similarly, in the case of the Sandinista revolution in late '70s, we supported the Sandinista mass organizations, which advocated worker control, and were critical of the comandantes & the FSLN party, despite also supporting the mass resistance against the Contras.
It is not clear from what cde Tom says whether the piece in "Ideas and Action" is an official WSA position -- or why Tom is bringing up some earlier WSA positions from the 1980s in engaging the Anarkismo.net editors' statement.
Let it first be quite clear: the Anarkismo.net editors are not advocating a vulgar anti-imperialism, or national liberation approach where everything that is anti-imperialist or for national liberation is praised; it is arguing for a clear orientation to some existing currents in such struggles.
Now, what said, the comrade's reply does not really address the core issues being raised about how anarchists should orientate to *actual* mass formations, in actual mass struggles, including *national liberation struggles*. While the specific case under discussion is Rojava and the PKK, there are larger principles and approaches at play here.
The issue is not *whether* the "Ideas and Action" article has anything positive to say about events in Rojava, but with its general orientation and its very abstract approach, its vague slogans – these sound fine, but evade many tough issues.
This orientation and approach means that while solidarity is expressed, and while certain developments are praised, this is done in a very vague way that – in practical terms – is almost meaningless.
Cde Tom states "Nowhere in the article does K.B. say that a movement must be anarchist or syndicalist for us to support it. Moreover, the piece completely overlooks the positive aspects of the mass resistance which were highlighted in the article, such as the base "communes" (groups of 50 families) and the radical Kurdish women's movement."
But what about the elephant in the room, the PKK, and the Rojava revolution? What about the system of confederalism? What about the militias? Supporting these? This major issue is skipped over in favour supporting abstractions like "mass resistance." Who doesn't? But “mass resistance” does not exist in abstraction from formations like the PKK, so if “Ideas and Action” can support the “mass resistance,” why not the PKK project?
Also left vague is the issue of “mass resistance” to WHAT? Let us be clear, there is a deeper issue here, the question of national liberation struggles, and their place in our class-based revolution. Passed over uncritically by cde Tom is the opening statement from SolFed, quoted boldly at the start of the "Ideas and Action" article that "“The principal problem of national liberation struggle for the anti-statist anarcho-syndicalist form of organisation is that it is inherently statist."
Well, national oppression – such as the Kurds face – is met with struggles. Those are national liberation struggles. But since such struggles are deemed “inherently statist,” it is very hard for “K.B.” in “Ideas and Action” to address the issue: if the resistance is against national oppression, then it must be justified and valuable; but since national liberation struggles are “inherently statist,” then they must be hard to support.
So, here, again, the abstractions and the platitudes: the "Ideas and Action" article states that it favours "everyday masses and their own organizations of struggle." But what are these, much of the time, these "everyday masses" and "their own organizations" but the structures of the PKK and its armed forces, as well as the structure of other national liberation struggle and nationalist formations?
But since these *actual* movements do not meet the preconceived criteria, then a “movement X” must be found. It can be the “resistance” of the “everyday masses,” or even (in the “Ideas and Action” article) some "autonomous" women's movement.
Again, here the tensions in the “Ideas and Action” piece come to the fore: the “radical Kurdish women's movement” (Tom’s words), the “autonomous” women’s movement (“Ideas and Action”) is first, not criticised in the slightest (unlike the terrible PKK), and second, is clearly and definitely not the PKK’s active role in fighting for women’s liberation, nor is it the women in and of PKK.
And really? All national liberation struggle is "inherently statist"? Many are, many have been “statist” – although no more and less, it must be added, than women’s movements and labour movements. But anarchists and syndicalists have also played a major role in national liberation struggles, and in certain cases (let us say, Ukraine 1917-1921, Korea 1928-1931 ...) even pushed them in a completely revolutionary direction. These involved national liberation *and* social revolution. Right now, we have a national liberation struggle movement that demonstrably influenced by anarchism, in Rojava....
But since this proposition (national liberation struggle is "inherently statist") is accepted, what is more natural for "Ideas and Action" than to make every effort to show that PKK confederalism is "really" statist -- a core excerise in the "Ideas and Action" article?
Comment from Huseyin Civan
Time: October 19, 2014, 7:18 am
Nice text about the critics about the Kurdish Movement but defficient in perspective and knowledge about the movement.
Firstly, naming Kurdish Movement as nationalist is not correct with every meaning. We are not talking a popular movement in first world countries. I am not stressing this anti-imperialist stuff. But even capitalist do not take the popular movements in 3rd world as nationalist. So critics related with Kurdish Movement’s nationalism doesn’t seem as correct. (Ok I am not professor in this matter but I am talking about this political theory stuff).
Comrades, when Zapatista Movement in Chaiapas appeared, we as DAF did not condemn them as a nationalist movement. Not just for the arguments that they are using as this revolution is an international revolution. But also, it has relation with the history of anarchist movement.
We have to accept that social anarchism has links with the people’s freedom struggles. Like Indonesian people struggle which was directly attracted by spanish anarchism. Or what about Bakunin’s effort for mobilizing the oppressed people who live under three big empire, Ottoman, Prusia, Russia… Is it possible for us to unlink the freedom struggles of Balkan people, like Bulgarian or Greeks against Ottoman. Was it chance that the leading organisations of this freedom struggles were anarchist. What about Armenian Struggle against Ottoman? Atabekyan, the leading figure was left hand of Kropotkin in Asia.
Social Anarchism has relation with the freedom fights of oppressed ones.
Today, Kurdish Movement is not just referencing Bookchin, they are referencing Kropotkin and Bakunin. Ok we have to accaept that these reference do not make the moevement anarchist. But to accept a popular movement if they are anarchist is something like that related with arrogance.
At the end of 90’s, the movement try to understand the way of Zapatistas. They tried to use their methods but in their own way. We have to criticize Zapatistas before Kurdish Movement.
We, as DAF, are giving struggle for oppressed ones and with oppressed ones. Do not think that oppressed ones are equal just to proletariat. Today, we have to keep in mind the politics of Turkish State while talking about the movement. The massacres and assimilation practises of the state has not been finished.
Comrades from West part of the world are ready to judge the movement with their politic tradition that they do not defend anymore.
We are witnessing the practics of Direct Democracy efforts, decentralisation in their poltics. This is a good step.
Rojava Revolution is a social revolution. As comrade Durruti criticised french anarcho-syndicalists in 1936 about not taking part in the social movement at that year in france, their answer was they did not see the conditions are ready for social revolution. We think like what Durruti said to these comrades, anarchism is not just to make theory and critise the revolution, if you do not take part then you can’t make theory to criticise.
Comrades, I don’t want to say that there is nothing to criticise in Kurdish Movement. But it is time to raise the revolution in Rojava and raise the resistance in Kobanê.
To answer the question from Red & Black Action, the article by K.B. was his own opinion, not necessarily the opinion of WSA. We have not had a collective discussion about the Kurdish movement & have no collective position on it, although we've been trying to dig up information & follow what is happening.
I think also that the position of "critical support" for the PKK, which you re-assert, is also merely abstract. What in practice does that mean? I know there are revolutionary socialists in Syria who support the mass resistance in Kobane without backing the Democratic Union Party, which they say has no internal democratic processes. Moreover, the resistance in Kobane is not simply the Democratic Union Party but involves other political organizations & seems to have taken on a mass character, not reducible to the "project" of one party, even if that party is influential. It would seem more reasonable to me to support the militia & the communal organization than the party. Given the Democratic Union Party's support for a parliamentary (even if decentralized) new state in Syria, I think we have to view that party with a certain skepticism, as a means for a leadership to obtain a form of state power. I think we also need to insist on the importance of democratic mass self-organization of the working class. These may come later, as the revolutionary process develops there, but nonetheless it would be a mistake to overlook the importance of this.
I will also refer you again, since you once again ignore it, to the position we took at the time of the Sandinista revolution & the struggle against the U.S.-supported Contras, which was a kind of "national liberation" struggle. In that context we supported the Sandinista mass organizations, which were also supportive of that "national liberation" struggle. If there had been significant libertarian socialist elements in those organizations, the process there need not have gone in a statist or social-democratic direction. An alternative might have been opened up.
We do actually have a position on this subject as an organization, which is as follows (from our Where We Stand statement):
In situations where a “national liberation movement” aims to oust a pro-imperialist leadership in a country or fight an occupation, we support mass movements of workers and peasants in their struggle but not the state-building project of a “national liberation” political party. Real self-determination of working people requires the development of self-managed unions and popular organizations that exercise independence in relation to boss groups.
From an anarcho-syndicalist point of view, what is critical is the emergence of the self-organized mass, democratic organizations of the subordinate, exploited class. I don't see an adequate appreciation of the importance of this in the reply to K.B.
Please take a look at a different take on the issue from an individual in my collective:
Let us be clear that criticism does not mean inaction or even neutrality.
To me solidarity with Rojava includes these concrete forms regardless of the nature of the PYD administration:
1. Condemn Turkish involvment and demand an end to semi-covert support for ISIS, the trade blockade from the north, the militarization of the border, murderous repression of pro-Rojava and Kurdish protests.
2. Participation in pro-Rojava and pro-Kurdish rights actions with own slogans and ideas.
3. Arguing for fully open border for all refugees and provision of all their needs. We draw attention to conditions in the refugee camps, and conditions of all Syrian refugees working or begging or entangled in petty criminal activities in miserable conditions all around Turkish cities.
4. Humanitarian aid to Rojava.
5. The arms/supplies blockade is illegitimate and the corridor/airdrop demands are legitimate. However, we criticise and point to the poisonous nature of the aid that will come from US imperialists or Barzani or FSA or Turkish forces. This is similar to the poisonous nature of the help the USSR gave to Republican administration in Spain during the revolution. It will always come with strings attached, which is political subservience to the givers of such aid.
Where I draw the line and criticise:
1. I oppose revolutionaries further to the left of PYD enlisting to fight under YPG command. Active military engagement can only be if independent militias are allowed to operate in Rojava on voluntary basis. The PYD monopoly on armed forces and its conscription policy precludes this.
2. We must dispel the illusions that are rapidly and globally manufactured by the PKK/HDP line about the anarchistic / social revolutionary nature of the PYD administration in Rojava.
3. The non-transparent nature of the "solution process" between Turkey and PKK is alarming. Hedging hopes on this completely enigmatic "process" that is handled by the supreme leader Ocalan and the supreme leader Erdogan is suicidal. The process has produced pretty much zero reforms and doesn't even stop the Turkish police, military or paramilitary right wing forces (Turkish Hizbullah) from murdering Kurdish civilians, and has only resulted in a partial cesattion of armed conflict between Turkish and PKK armed forces.
4. The Duhok agreement has already half-destroyed the independence of Rojava. If this is an inevitable compromise, it must be presented and discussed as such, rather than being swept under the rug.
Patrick Cockburn, perhaps the most well informed journalist in the Middle East, has written that: 'Whatever happens at Kobane, ISIS is not going to implode. Foreign intervention will only increase the level of violence and the Sunni-Shia civil war will gather force, with no end in sight.' ('London Review of Books' 6/11/14)
In these circumstances it is tempting to look to the Kurdish guerrilla group, the PKK, as a bulwark against this horror. But if the experience of the wars of the 20th Century is anything to go by, then it will be impossible for any guerrilla group to survive without becoming dependent on one or other of the capitalist powers presently devastating Syria and Iraq. Some individuals may need to join militia groups just in order to stay alive. But their best bet is probably to get out of the war zone if they possibly can.
The fact that for 20 years the PKK could only survive by allying with Syria's murderous dictatorship, is further evidence of the impossibility of any militia group remaining independent of one or other capitalist power.
The PKK could also only survive by becoming a semi-religious cult that both eulogised its dictatorial leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and murdered many of its left-wing opponents and dissidents.
Some say that the PKK has changed and Ocalan's views certainly have changed. But these changes have always had one purpose, that is to maintain Ocalan's personality cult in a rapidly changing world. Having at first modelled himself on Stalin, and even on Jesus, in the 1990s Ocalan suggested that Kurdistan could become 'the cradle of international Islam'. He then changed his mind again, saying that 'the war on behalf of borders and classes has come to an end' and that the PKK should become Turkey's 'most powerful ally'. When that approach failed, he then, even more bizarrely, began recommending that the 'anarchist' author 'Bookchin must be read and his ideas ... practised'. (A.Marcus, 'Blood and Belief' ch.5-7; M.Gunter, 'The Kurds and the Future of Turkey' p30-7, 141-2, and 'Kurdish Spring' p176; A.Ozcan, 'Turkey's Kurds' p204-6; H.Tahiri, 'The Structure of Kurdish Society' p223-4, 241-4.)
If it is unclear what is going on in Ocalan's mind, it is even more unclear what is going on in Rojava, the Kurdish area of Syria. There seems to be a level of local democracy in the region. But the PKK faction that controls Rojava, the PYD, also seems to be making all the important decisions, including those concerning compulsory conscription. The PYD leader, Salih Muslim, has been reported as saying that 'those Arabs who have been brought to Kurdish areas will have to be expelled'. And, there are numerous accusations that the PYD is violently repressing those Syrian Kurds who oppose its rule. (See: 'kurdwatch.org, reports human-rights violations against Kurds in Syria', especially 'Report no.9'; 'PYD Rounds up Conscripts', rudaw.net 12/10/14; 'Kurdish News Weekly Bulletin' 3-29/11/13; D.Romano, 'Conflict, Democratisation and the Kurds' ch.4 and 11; M.Gunter, 'Out of Nowhere' p90-128.)
If these reports are true than this probably means that the only genuine revolution in Rojava would have to be a revolution against the PKK/PYD, not one controlled by them.
The only real hope for the region is a revival of the Arab Spring and an eruption of mass uprisings across the world - but especially in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. This is the only way to stop the Saudi and Gulf ruling classes from continuing to fund fundamentalist Islam and ISIS.
Such a prospect may seem remote. But the Arab Spring and the international occupy movement also seemed remote prospects before they happened and the capitalist crisis that created both movements is bound to create more opportunities for revolt.
Counter-revolutionary periods, like the present period, are always challenging. But the last thing we need to do is to repeat the mistakes of the left in the 20th Century by becoming recruiting sergeants for yet more futile wars.
For the record, the article was written by a WSA member, not the organization. That said, there is general agreement with much of what the author has written.
On "national liberation movements", WSA's believes: "In situations where a “national liberation movement” aims to oust a pro-imperialist leadership in a country or fight an occupation, we support mass movements of workers and peasants in their struggle but not the state-building project of a “national liberation” political party. Real self-determination of working people requires the development of self-managed unions and popular organizations that exercise independence in relation to boss groups." WSA "Where We Stand". "Anti-Imperialism" section - http://workersolidarity.org/about-wsa/where-we-stand/
With all fluid situations, these sorts of articles are open to revision based on the flow of newer reliable information available in english or other languages the author or the organization can read and access. Not being an expert in this area, what I read I generally found to be balanced.
Thanks to Tom for a thoughtful and comradely reply.
Four quick points
1) since the article is NOT (Tom states) an official WSA one, he can hardly expect the Anarkismo.net critique to deal with positions WSA may have taken three decades ago, surely, or what the WSA may or may not think in some document somewhere;
2) sorry, but Anarkismo.net aims at concrete relations with real movements, not abstractions like the "everyday masses." In this sense, the approach laid out here is vastly more practical than general slogans and wishes for "unions" and the "masses" in "struggle." Second, the ANALYSIS provided operates from a different logic -- as explained in the earlier reply;
3) if the WSA position is actually one of critical support for NLS, then the article does a pretty poor job of explaining this -- esp. since it opens with a SolFed attack on all NLS as "inherently statist"... Indeed, since WSA has historically been clsoely allied to SolFed and the
IWA/AIT, which do take positions generally antagonistic to NLS in general;
4) in terms of "strawmen": it would be interesting to see WSA comment on the various attacks the paper made on PKK, Ocalan as "rapist," PKK as "patriarchal" and the rest...
FUNDAMENTALLY, the difference seems to be that Anarkismo.net and its affiliates aim at IMMERSION within EXISTING mass movements, AS THEY ARE, in order to CHANGE them, whereas the "Ideas and Action" article follows another logic: calling for NEW and MORE PERFECT movements in an abstract future, with NO real mechanism for building them or working with them. Most groups from the IWA/AIT tradition since the 1980s follow this position, which usually translates into trying to set up red unions.
To respond to the four points of Red & Black Action:
1. "since the article is NOT (Tom states) an official WSA one, he can hardly expect the Anarkismo.net critique to deal with positions WSA may have taken three decades ago, surely, or what the WSA may or may not think in some document somewhere."
I think we CAN legitimately expect you to at least take a look at our current political statement, Where We Stand, which all members of WSA agree to, including K.B. This includes the position on national liberation struggles that I pointed out.
2. "sorry, but Anarkismo.net aims at concrete relations with real movements, not abstractions like the "everyday masses." In this sense, the approach laid out here is vastly more practical than general slogans and wishes for "unions" and the "masses" in "struggle.""
"Real movements" like the PKK-Democratic Union Party? A top down organization that lacks any internal democracy, and aims at putting its leadership into governmental power, even if in a more decentralized type of state, in the manner of some more progressive current social democratic groups -- such as groups that advocate "participatory budgeting". It's not necessary to support that party to support the actual resistance by the people in Rojava, which could mean things like protesting at Turkish consulates against their blockade of the border.
3. "Indeed, since WSA has historically been clsoely allied to SolFed and the IWA/AIT, which do take positions generally antagonistic to NLS in general."
You do realize that WSA was expelled by the IWA at its Congress in 2004? And SolFed voted for that expulsion. Since then we've been trying to patch things up with SolFed & IWA while also retaining relationships with syndicalists outside the IWA. But we are not a clone of SolFed. For example we are dual organizational & they are not.
4. "FUNDAMENTALLY, the difference seems to be that Anarkismo.net and its affiliates aim at IMMERSION within EXISTING mass movements, AS THEY ARE, in order to CHANGE them, whereas the "Ideas and Action" article follows another logic: calling for NEW and MORE PERFECT movements in an abstract future, with NO real mechanism for building them or working with them. Most groups from the IWA/AIT tradition since the 1980s follow this position, which usually translates into trying to set up red unions."
This is where you show, again, your ignorance of the positions held by WSA. Unlike SolFed & some of the other IWA groups, WSA is dual organizational. We do not profess to be a "union" nor do we advocate some highly ideological "anarcho-syndicalist" union in USA. We never have. I believe that revolutionary unionism as a larger formation is likely to emerge from the coming together of various groups in a period of rising radicalization, such as breakaways from the AFL-CIO unions, new independent self-managed unions, worker committees.
WSA's membership over the years has gone up and down. Currently we're a small network or propaganda group. At various points we've helped to build rank & file committees on the shopfloor in context of the AFL-CIO unions (which have a legal union monopoly in places where they are recognized) but without pursuing a "boring from within" strategy of becoming part of the apparatus (as a minority of platformists in USA have done, taking positions as staff organizers). We have organized grassroots independent unions, worked with the Coalition of Immocalee Workers on its successful Taco Bell boycott in early 2000s in the early grassroots days of CIW, and worked in the IWW (where about half of WSA members have been members). In this path we actually find that a majority of platformists/especifists in USA do not disagree with us. So you seem to be drawing some ideological line that doesn't actually exist here.
"Immersion" can mean different things to different people. To Leninists in the USA it means "boring from within" which they interpret as going for power in the bureaucratic apparatus of the trade unions. That's because they identify the revolution with the party, the ideological minority. Perhaps you agree with them on that point. If "the emancipation of the working class is the work of the workers themselves" then the working class need to build their own organizations which they control. That's why we look for the emergence of mass organizations, even if they do not have the same ideology as we do.
As member of the editorial collective I agreed that a response to the article published on Ideas and Actions was necessary.
But I dislike the turn is taking the discussion. "A" has a better position than "B" on this point, etc is not a discussion which gonna leads us somewhere.
Remeber also we all from different part of the world with different militant realities which can perhaps explain some of our differences and readings.
I think it will be more interesting to look why we read things differently (and I'm sure it's not only an ideological matter).
I don't really want to enter more in this discussions on internet, but just one thing. yes the PKK is a vertical organization, but it's an organization in tension. we can see it in western europe where militants and sympathizers of local PKK's sections make clear libertarian (not anarchist) discourse, etc. we can't deny the changes that affect this organization (which is the fact of their militants). and the PKK is not the only organization, you have other organizations, they may be some satelites but some of them have sufficient internal independance with the party that they can challenge the usual organization's structures. To see that of course, you need to have organized kurds in your area (which is my case)
To be completely clear: the positions of WSA, its links to Solfed, its history are important and interesting, commendable and impressive ... but really completely irrelevant to this discussion. The Anarkismo.net statement says zero about WSA and its positions: it deals with the "four corners of the page" of the "Ideas and Action" article, which also says zero about WSA -- and which, says comrade Tom, is not even an official WSA article. Really, the Anarkismo.net statement is not treatise on, study of, or critique of, WSA.
So, why this issue keeps coming up is interesting -- but the fact that it does, is problematic. It simply means that the actual substantive issues raised in the Anarkismo.net piece get put to one side -- yet these are the issues that need actual debate:
-- the analysis of the PKK (including the way in which evidence gets used, and some fairly dubious claims in the "Ideas and Action" piece - and in some responses on this page);
-- the question of orientation to actually-existing organisations and NLSs -- and for that matter, non-revolutionary groups like social democrats, progressive or otherwise (this is an issue really larger than the issue of labour unions, and is a completely separate issue from that of uncritically "supporting" such formations);
-- dealing with complex and evolving formations (ideally in a way that spreads anarchist influence in those formations -- which is something very different than a few protests at embassies etc).
A bit of reflection and engagement on this would be useful.
Personally, after the last couple of postings, I agree with Johnny here:
I understand where Tom is coming from. It seemed as if the other comrade was trying to draw out a different debate, even tho they said they weren't.
I will kick back and wait and see what sort of reply KB develops to the criticisms raised on the substance of his article.
To call my critique of the PKK an attack on the Rojava Revolution is misleading. My article tried to emphasize support for what I saw as “organizing from below” by the Tev Dem and the women’s factions of the PKK. I appreciate the Anarkismo editorial group and the DAF replies to my perspectives shared on Rojava from my “anarcho-syndicalist” view, for the spirit they wish to hold debate on developments there.
Like the Anarkismo editorial group I believe in sharing honest critique but not liquidation of anarchist political positions. My article did not say we can only show support if an organization is adequately anarchist or internationalist enough, like some purists do. While Anarkismo and DAF comrades say “No one claims Kurdish Freedom Movement is an anarchist movement” many Western anarchists have not been so clear, comparing the entire situation to being a second coming of Spain 1936, just because Bookchin used to be a green anarchist who rejected class struggle for libertarian municipalism. I think recognizing this shows that we are sensible about developments on the ground compared to the uncritical cheerleading of anarcho-liberals and other leftist activists.
First I would like to make some things clear. I support nationally oppressed people’s fight against national oppression. What I do not support is national liberation movements, fronts, parties but the historically existing class fronts within such struggles that anarchists have supported, like workers and popular resistance in their organizations from below. Based on the reports from the KAF of the “directly democratic” Tev Dem and awareness campaign of the “anti-statist” Kurdish women’s organizations (that are autonomous relatively within the rest of the PKK) I saw these manifestations as worthy of highlighting as a hope for the region:
“If these developments are true the Tev-Dem was quite the achievement.”
“As Dilar Dirik an activist close to YJA Star describes in her talk on forming a “Stateless State” as seen in a widely circulated video, the Kurdish women’s movement through the experience of patriarchy in the Kurdish national liberation movement and Kurdish society at large has come to the conclusion that forming a new nation state should no longer be part of the Kurdish liberation project, as the nation state is an inherently patriarchal institution.”
I made clear that it is not critique but our duty as anarcho-syndicalists to not liquidate our politics along with our solidarity and share our perspectives in whatever ways we can. I chose to highlight these organizations like the Tev-Dem and women’s groups/militias as real manifestations on the ground that seemed to be formed on a class basis as well as being non-statist and anti-patriarchal as compared to the mainstream of the PKK.
In regards the PKK and it’s mainstream I would like to clear up a few things as put forward by my critics. I will admit humbly that I did not do enough research into the allegations of assault, and a comrade from Turkey pointed out to me that if these admissions are from Öcalan and not just anti-Kurdish propaganda they are in regards intra-party romantic relationships that were banned in the party’s Marxist-Leninist phase. However I maintain if this is Öcalan speaking he still comes off with loads of machismo in regards his relations with women, and it is not disconnected from reality to point out that the PKK was historically a very patriarchal organization, otherwise why are there autonomously organizing women’s factions within it?
“We agree with “K.B.” that it is precisely in the self-activity of the grassroots masses and women of the PKK and allied structures that the most promising prospects for struggle in the direction of complete liberation lie.” - Anarkismo editorial group
If this is what the Anarkismo editorial group believes then I hardly see why they should try to say I support some abstract pure groupings that don’t exist. My article highlighted what I saw as the grassroots masses (Tev-Dem) and the autonomous women’s structures within the PKK. What I do reject from an anarcho-syndicalist standpoint is the leftover nationalism of hierarchical political parties, especially when there is the chance for grassroots popular and anti-national anti-patriarchal resistance from below in such national struggles. I believe as anarchists there are class lines we do not cross, and critical support for nationalist parties is crossing them.
“To perceive the classes in a shallow vision and trying to interpret social struggles just with economical struggles is to create a hierarchy between the struggles of the oppressed. An anarchist point of view that limits the oppressed to workers and disregards other relations of power contradicts the history of anarchist movement. Revolutionary history of anarchism is full of economical, political and social struggles of the oppressed.” -Hüseyin Civan, DAF
I think this is a great point put forward by our DAF comrade. I disagree with them on my article seeing the Rojava situation only through the lines of the economic. I mostly made a political analysis, since reports are few on the economic makeup and class composition of society there. I did however think that the Tev Dem seemed more connected at least in origin to a real movement of daily working/popular class life (though now there are reports that Tev-Dem has been transformed more into local municipal government of the social democratic administration.) I also saw the social and cultural situation of Kurdish women leading them to favorable non-statist positions. This reminder is an important one to take heed of in the light of left-wing Marxists who tend to bend the stick too far in favor of class reductionist approaches. However it is very much apparent that the nationalist and social democratic program as it is developing is in no way favorable to libertarian communist outcomes, its economic program being cooperativist and seeking a space to integrate relatively autonomously within capitalism, instead of smashing it.
Going forward I hope comrades from Anarkismo and DAF can see my writings as informed by this reply, and can refrain from strawman arguments and friendly fire assertions that my perspective was an “ultra-left” position statement on these issues.
Long live the struggle of the toiling masses and free women!
With the oppressed against the oppressors, always!
Looks like the argument is moving forward a bit -- and thanks to KB and others for constructive interventions, and KB especially for a very thoughtful response to the Response.
Hopefully what I say below will contribute to that same new and constructive direction. I am writing as an individual.
Let me start by saying this response is all preliminary and exploratory -- and is meant in the most constructive way. So, I am happy to be corrected or clarified.
Let me also add that a major problem with online debates is that tone and nuance also gets lost a bit, so let us bear this in mind before any of us, myself included, assume motives and intents that might not be there. So, I hope comrades will look gently on any formulations of mine that might be a bit weak -- or even completely flawed.
I do think there is an important difference that seems to be emerging, and it is to some extent on the issue of the formulation of "class fronts" versus "national fronts." Comrade KB put this distinction fairly clearly in his / her reply, and I do think it is germane: "I do not support is national liberation movements, fronts, parties but the historically existing class fronts within such struggles that anarchists have supported, like workers and popular resistance in their organizations from below. " Further that "there are class lines we do not cross, and critical support for nationalist parties is crossing them."
I would suggest that the Anartkismo.net statement indicates a willingness to show critical support for nationalist and other political parties in certain cases (with all the caveats listed in that article). Yes, of course it wants class-based movements and a class-struggle solution.
But there are not always clear distinctions between "national liberation movements, fronts, parties" and "historically existing class fronts within such struggles" -- and this can concretely mean that favouring the latter over the former can be a bit misleading.
That is, unless KB is distinguishing directly between the formal "movements, fronts, parties" and their constituents?
The problem then, though, is that some "national liberation movements, fronts, parties" do become "class" fronts" -- here I suppose we could debate, but I think we could reasonably see the historic Makhnovists as an example of the two being pretty much the same (and more tangentially the 1910s Zapatistas as another example of where the distinction seems difficult to draw).
When KB says he or she supports the "women's organization" (I am not sure quite sure what this is) "within the rest of the PKK," the distinction between "national" and "class" fronts, for example, a distinction between "national" and "class" practice seems to break down a bit.
First, it’s not quite clear why a "women's organization" is a "class" front (unless we establish that the women's group has some sort of class orientation -- not just a popular class composition, as this not be that unique in PKK). And second, we are after all talking about a women's section of the PKK, not something all that distinct from PKK (which is an example of a "national liberation movements, fronts, parties"). And third, it’s not clear (to me, at least) that the "women’s organization” is really saying anything terribly different to (say) Ocalan in calling for a stateless solution.
On another issue, there is the issue of the political yardstick to be used in assessments. I agree with most comments made, in that the (shall I call it "liquidationist"? not sure) approach that sees Rojava as the second coming of Spain 1936 is misleading.
But here, I think, we need to distinguish between three sets of issues:
-- is what is happening in Rojava at least partly influenced by anarchist ideas? I would suggest it is, albeit it in a limited way, and that this does mean a somewhat more sympathetic -- not uncritical -- approach should be made than when discussing, say, a classic Marxist regime in the making;
-- second, is there a degree of fluidity in the situation? I would suggest there is, and that the question then becomes how to orientate towards this: here issues of framing the issues do matter a lot, and the KB statement can (I am not saying should, just "can") be read as perhaps a bit too off-putting to more libertarian trends on the ground there (as DAF responses do indicate);
-- last, let us say that there is no prospect of libertarian communism emerging: well, fine. And let us say we end up with a "nationalist and social democratic program" that is "cooperativist" and "seeking a space to integrate relatively autonomously within capitalism, instead of smashing it." Would that outcome ITSELF -- while falling short of libertarian communism -- not be relatively progressive, for now, compared to what exists -- overt national oppression?
And would such an outcome, imperfect as it is, not open some more space in future for an anarchist project? Of course it would pose challenges, but of a substantively different order.
So, in closing, I think there may be some difference -- or perhaps some misunderstanding? -- when both KB and Anarkismo.net speak of the need (in KB's words) to "support nationally oppressed people’s fight against national oppression."
And some of this difference comes down to what we might "support" -- what if the full programme is not possible? There are, I think again, some real differences here that might be under the surface of the two papers.
Anyway, hope this was constructive...
Lucien thanks for your reflections...
In regards the various collective women's groups within the PKK...my original article could be seen as giving them critical support because even though they have a cult of personality around Ocalan, they seemed to genuinely take up more of the non-statist positions. Part of this might be clouded by the video talks tho I've seen by German/UK academic activist Dilar Dirik who seems to be from the activist milieu in Europe that is disconnected from the on the ground struggle (as I hear from some Kurdish revolutionaries from Turkey). Nevertheless I thought even though they might not be founded on a class basis that they were more anti-national, anti-patriarchal, non-statist and that they could potentially through dialogue with DAF and the rest of the revolutionary anti-state movement be convinced to go further. All that is highly dubious speculation though. Wishful thinking maybe.
In regards formal vs informal national struggle. Yes I make a distinction between movements, fronts, parties with nationalist program vs the participants/constituencies that find themselves fighting in such struggles. I've probably even taken this position oddly enough from Wayne Price. It isn't always guaranteed but within struggles against national oppression sometimes class movements, fronts, political organizations do pop up that end up critiquing the nationalist programs of such formal organizations, and it is these that I think are worth supporting if they are genuinely from below and founded on a class struggle basis. Unfortunately in the case of Rojava as we know it is very unclear how large of a working class exists and if the situation is too far gone for there to be a class struggle, though there does appear to still be an oil industry and rural farming. I'm curious as others to know if there is still a local bourgeoisie, or if because of Syrian land rights, the land and much of industry was already public property. Who is running these now, if not local ruling class or small proprietors, is it the PYD and Barzani's forces via the Kurdish Supreme Council, the DSA, or even the Tev-Dem? My article though basically saw that there could be a possibility that the Tev Dem was a genuine class formation from below made up of local committees/communes...but it is unclear with the encouragement of the PYD if the Tev Dem was originally pluralistic only to civil society groups, and their party members, if Barzani's and other opposition forces were not allowed in, or chose not to be part of the Tev Dem and DSA until recently via the Duhok Agreement, and so now the situation has changed. But at least the KAF report said the Tev Dem originally started on its own, and then got encouragement as the situation developed by the PYD. Devrim from ICT though points out I think convincingly that though these started to pop up was it out of a real class / workers' movement basis or out of the need to replace the old syrian municipal administrations/local governance structures and that the PYD being the organization with a monopoly on force (proto-state) gave these their libertarian municipalist blessing.
This is why my original article highlights these things as potential hopes for the region, because it was unclear their real character. As we get more reports though I think things become clearer and clearer.
Gray remarks, " I've probably even taken this position oddly enough from Wayne Price." Being cited, even in this backhanded fashion, leads me to make a comment.
I know little to nothing about the events being discussed, compared to the writers, so I will only remark on background matters of principle. The problem for me lies in the original article's statement: "That shouldn’t hold anarcho-syndicalists back from defending the self defense of the everyday masses and their own organizations of struggle in Rojava against ISIS, local states and western imperialism...." The author distinguishes between the struggling people and their nationalist misleadership (the position I, among others, have raised). So far so good. But what is he supporting (in-solidarity-with)? Is it only the struggle of the workers and peasants against exploiters, plus, apparently, women versus male oppression? Or is he also supporting the struggle of "the everyday masses" as Kurds against the oppression of the Kurdish people? If the latter, then he is supporting a national liberation struggle! Of course this has a cross-class character: the Turks or ISIS do not only drop bombs on workers and peasants, nor does the Turkish government only outlaw the Kurdish language for Kurdish workers and peasants. They bomb, and outlaw, also the small shopkeepers, the merchants, and even the big businesspeople. Of course, we want the working class to learn to lead the whole Kurdish nation, to refuse to follow bourgeois nationalist leadership, to advocate international working class revolution, etc. But we support the rights of ALL Kurds not to be bombed, denied their language, etc. The same goes for the rights of ALL Kurdish women not to be oppressed as women.
He begins the article with a quotation from SolFed: "The principal problem of national liberation struggle for the anti-statist anarcho-syndicalist form of organisation is that it is inherently statist." This is true of "nationalism" (which is a program or an ideology) but not necessarily true of all "national liberation struggle," not if we anarchists have anything to say about it. It is the contrary of true. In fact, an oppressed nation can only be free under a world anarchist society!
How this applies to the specifics of the Kurdish struggle, is a concrete question, however, and I appreciate the discussion.
To Mülayim Sert: please note that we have made and published an Italian translation of the article you linked by Zafer Onat. It is at
A response to the article "Rojava: An anarcho-syndicalist perspective"
This article was emailed to me (boomerang) by the author, Hüseyin Civan, a member of the DAF (Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet), an anarchist group in Turkey. He'd previously requested that I share it on Libcom. It is a response to the article "Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective" by a member of the WSA (Workers Solidarity Alliance) which can be found here: http://libcom.org/blog/rojava-anarcho-syndicalist-persp...02014 -- and more generally it is a response to criticisms of DAF participating in Rojava.
The effects of social revolutions are not limited by the effect of struggle against political and economical powers in the geographical region where the revolution happens. It's important to see their effect on other different regions along with the intellectual and practical changes this effect brings. Being talked about with Kobanê Resistance ,Rojava Revolution gets more important now to see this effect more clearly.
The reaction and attack of the state and capitalism against what's happening in Rojava, is expected at this point. However, we need to turn our face to the internal debates in social opposition at the same time. It's necessary to emphasize that such debates are an important resort for understanding what the effect of Rojava is.
Since the start of this process, anarchist comrades' behaviors towards understanding Rojava and taking up with the resistance has been quite important for remembering the international solidarity, which we aren't familiar to see in such an organized manner. Again we have experienced that solidarity is our greatest weapon.
This manner of solidarity that was created between anarchists inevitably made the resistance in Kobanê a headline especially among anarchists all around the world.
The paper "Rojava: An anarcho-syndicalist point of view" which was published on several different sites is one of the reflections of this headline. This evaluation of the paper especially aims to correct information about Rojava Revolution and Kobanê Resistance, instead of pointing out positive and negative sides of the paper and making a simple criticism.
Considering different comments may form with the different perspectives of anarchist organizations in different geographical regions; I focused the criticism of paper on the matter of incomplete evaluation of Kurdish freedom struggle and Rojava Revolution. Political criticism against a community which is in a life or death struggle under war conditions can't be made ignoring this condition. Even so if said criticism has certain prejudices and was formed with sharp generalization. And of course, if a huge people's movement is evaluated with a degrading manner...
First of all it's necessary to state that forming a solidarity relationship with Rojava Revolution and Kobanê Resistance is not an emotional relation, unlike comrades with an "anarcho-syndicalist perspective" emphasize. Because anarchist organizations don't base their solidarity relationships on "sympathy". These relationships mostly form considering a political perspective and strategies planned to realize this perspective. Thereby, solidarity and taking up with a struggle aren't far from objectivity.
In different parts of the paper, PKK criticism is tried to be based on party's political history - and with criticism such as short-coming implementation of "libertarian municipality", incomplete state of political transformation and having nationalistic roots; current condition and perspective of Kurdish Movement is being left under prejudice. While doing all these, prejudice is being based on incomplete information, consciously or unconsciously. No one claims Kurdish Freedom Movement is an anarchist movement. Thereby, the practices which are claimed to be short-coming or flawed should be evaluated considering this fact. On the other hand, a people’s movement that value "criticism of the state and the capitalism" so much can't be overlooked by anarchists. This matter can't only be tied to Bookchinist "libertarian municipalism". Movement has referenced many different comrades from Bakunin to Kropotkin on its theoretical relations with anarchism, and could interpret the state problem with a wide perspective. On the other hand, realizing this idea led to a practice which is quite libertarian and non-central. I think this part is very important. This information is based not on quotations from articles and books, but on mutual observation of political organizations that share common ground for struggle.
The condition of Rojava is not as such because of Assad leaving the region or his claimed agreements with global powers. Great social transformation that happened in Rojava two and a half years ago, happened in a conjuncture where political activity forced Middle-East to choose governance of one of two opposing sides (coup-supporting seculars - conservative democrats). Rojava, when "springs" turned into winter in Middle-East region, is people not fitting into these two sides and creating their own solution.
While life is being re-built in Rojava, the non-central structure of social mechanisms being created, insistent emphasis on statelessness, organization of the production-consumption-distribution relations in a way as far from capitalism as possible, self-organization being the warrantor of social process, communes in three different cantons shaping the operation of communes with independent decision processes are undeniably important in this age. Especially, how could an anarchist deny the fact that this process is a promising experience for multiplying with similar examples in different geographical regions?
Let's repeat for comrades that insist on not comprehending. This is not an effort to claim it is an anarchist process. However, the anarchist characteristics of the process in Rojava would make anarchists who struggle for a social revolution happy. This happiness is far from the romanticism that's criticized in the paper, it's about understanding that our political goals and strategies are applicable in such a system, in such an age.
No one can claim that practices of stateless people are negative for anarchists who struggle for a social revolution. Such practices in different geographical regions may develop under their genuine conditions. Claiming these genuine struggles are not adequate with anarchist principles and reducing their importance is exhibiting an understanding of anarchism that rely on theoretical arrogance lacking practice. Another thing in the paper that's worth pointing at is the authenticity of references. It's interesting to reference the expressions of an online group just because they have Kurdistan and anarchist in their name. It's not about the expressions of comrades being right or wrong. It's a problematic question that what political fact the group bases their expressions on, not showing any political activity in Kurdistan region while theoretically criticizing the Kurdish Freedom Movement on a practical level.
While the women's movement in Kurdistan is directly related with the freedom movement, comments that claim the women's movement is apart from this integrity or even against it, are twisting of information. It's a logical flaw to criticize movement as patriarchic while emphasizing on the importance of women's movement in the struggle. Moreover, the logical flaw continues when the claim of Ocalan being a rapist is confirmed through quotes from state's anti-propaganda websites. Another example of references is about "Kurds wanting war to expel Arabs". When you cherry pick a speech disregarding its context, you can use it to support any context of your own. It's clear that the topic of the referred news is about settlers moved by Assad to change the demographic structure of region towards his assimilative goals. Just like Israeli settlers.
Causes can be invented when one tries to be over suspicious. However, it's important to question the relation of these causes with actual facts. It's a mistake to try to define Kurdish Freedom Movement as a nationalist movement. This definition and the likes overlook the transformation of the movement and claim that it continues its old political structure. A perspective that has no knowledge of the practices of process, and has only criticizing articles as a source of information, is extremely problematic. Because a massive part of these critics are worded by statist mindset and its extensions. A healthy criticism can be made by observing and experiencing the political practices. Every criticism that lacks a vision of geographical region and practicality, carry the danger of falling into orientalism.
We spoke before about the process in Rojava and the movement not being anarchist. Another lacking thing is evaluation of Kurdish people's freedom struggle apart from the historical fact that they have been struggling for centuries in Mesopotamian region. Those who draw away from the truth for ideological correctness and devaluate people's centuries long struggle, are betraying their revolutionary responsibilities and should pay attention to whose front they are placing themselves at.
To perceive the classes in a shallow vision and trying to interpret social struggles just with economical struggles is to create a hierarchy between the struggles of the oppressed. An anarchist point of view that limits the oppressed to workers and disregards other relations of power contradicts the history of anarchist movement. Revolutionary history of anarchism is full of economical, political and social struggles of the oppressed. To overlook the effect of movement on people's freedom movements from Europe to Far East Asia in different centuries, to exclude the practical feeding of this effect to class struggles in South America, is to ignore the integrated structure of anarchist movement.
We are not fortunetellers, we can't possibly know what will happen in Rojava a month or a year from now. We can't know that this social transformation which not only gives us hope as revolutionaries that struggle in a geographically close region, but also feeds our struggle in the regions that we struggle in, would move towards a positive or negative future. But we are revolutionary anarchists. We can't just sit aside, watch what's happening and comment; we take part in social struggles and take action for an anarchist revolution.
Long live the Rojava Revolution!
Long live the Kobanê Resistance!
Long live the Revolutionary Anarchism!
Hüseyin Civan (from DAF)
I dunno, the above piece seems like a rehash of what was already printed here. I'm not sure it adds anything new to the conversation.
This is a good article.
Unfortunately, "scouring the internet for unfounded and defamatory claims by dubious sources, and accepting these uncritically" precisely describes some material that Anarkismo has posted before about other anarchist groups, such as that execrable screed against CrimethInc., who have proven themselves earnest and reliable enough at this point. Goodness know why that garbage is still on this site.
We now have links to Greek, Italian and Spanish translations of our text carried out by fellows around the world, in addition to our Turkish and English originals.
Laurel, ca can you indicate which Crimethinc piece, and what your specific factual objections to it are?
It's taken a while to get around to it, but in the spirit of comradely debate, I've got around to writing a reply to the Anarkismo reply. I'm not KB, or affiliated to the WSA in any way, but this is broadly intended as a defence of the "purist anarchist" or anarcho-syndicalist perspective. As with your article, it's not published with bad faith or ill intentions, but with the hope of contributing something to a serious debate: https://nothingiseverlost.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/prac...tion/
The Anarchist Federation's statement on Rojava is on libcom, and gives a much more critical perspective on what's happening: http://libcom.org/news/anarchist-federation-statement-r...22014
due to the comment above "... much more critical perspective...", I'd like to repeat the comment I already made earlier, "[...]I dislike the turn is taking the discussion. "A" has a better position than "B" on this point, etc is not a discussion which gonna leads us somewhere[...]", and I hope that despite what "AnarchistCommunist" wrotte, we'll not see that happen again ;)
it would be sad that after the efforts made by everyone to bring the discussion to a higher level, that it fall down just for that.
enjoy the discussion
I am currently writing a book focussing on Imperialism, Nationalism, and Islamism in the Middle East - with a focus on the alternative that the Rojava Revolution offers the region. I found this article incredibly useful, agree very much with the stance taken, and think there were some excellent quotes within.
In particular, I agree that the libertarian left must heed the words about a "global anarchist revolution" never being possible if "anarchists insist on keeping their hands too clean, failing to engage real world moments and movements".
Hi folks, we translated into French the text "Rojava: Fantasies and Realities" ---> http://www.anarkismo.net/article/27759
Czech version will come asap...
My reply on anarkismo to the ICT linked in a previous comment (http://www.anarkismo.net/article/27731?author_name=Luci...15684)
"Without doubting the sincerity of the comrades who have made this statement, I think it has a serious lack of perspective.
There is not much here about concrete tasks and real -- that is, concrete, solid -- internationalism with the struggles against ISIS and the steps forward -- however limited -- in Rojava. ISIS is almost absent in this analysis, which is mainly about denouncing the PKK (as if anyone claims PKK is perfect) and of various anarchists/ syndicalists who align themselves with the developments at Rojava.
Yet it would make a serious difference to be within the (obviously limited and contradictory) experiments at Rojava (linked to PKK), and the militias, as opposed to under the ultra-reactionary rule of ISIS and its religious fundamentalism, complete with caliphs.
The choice is not always a simple one between a pure "communist" alternative, and "capital" -- and posing this as the only choice that matters is very abstract. Classes exist in real historical situations, where issues like nationality, gender, left traditions and so on all have a real impact on strategy, consciousness and tasks. Further, neither of these contending forces (Rojava/ PKK or ISIS) can be neatly reduced to categories like capitalists, bourgeois etc., unless vast amounts of the content of the politics and actions of each is ignored.
There is also almost nothing here about ISIS itself, about the larger clash between progressive -- however limited, even sometimes only social democratic in the form of modest reformism -- forces, around PKK etc., and the ultra-reactionary forces of ISIS and similar movements, that is at play. Which wins will make a huge difference to the Kurdish and Middle Eastern working class; there is no way that ISIS rule would be indistinguishable from PKK confederalism, or that proletarians will be experiencing only a meaningless continuity in capitalist relations.
There is also almost nothing here about what is to be done in situations of severe national oppression; there is instead the invocation of a vague "proletarian" force. But if those proletarians are also Kurds? And, as Kurds, suffer severe extra (national) oppression? That is not addressed. Instead there is a misleading contrast set up between national liberation struggles (which are marked by an internal class struggle; that is, their ultimate aims as well as their forms and content, are contested, and by no means preset on a statist, nationalist route) and working class struggles (which often are part of national liberation struggles, simply because working classes are affected by national oppression)."
Just curious, since all of this was a written, what has time told us about events?
In reply to the last comment: events have shown Rojava to be far more than "just" a nationalist movement, to be kept at arms length. It has shown something that is probably in advance of the EZLN model, and that has simply failed to fit the neat categories the WSA comrade, the UK AFed, and others have tried to impose. It has shown the anarkismo line to be generally correct, and has brought anarkismo closer to formations like DAF that have concrete links to the Rojava events.
Wtf, really, WSA tried to impose a line? I thought you guys were better that this
Lucien apparently has ignored Gray's comments above. Gray's aritcle was exploratory, not "trying to impose a line." Cross-class fronts have a bad record and the idea has been to try to obtain more concrete information, which has been hard. Currently the Kurdish movement is pursuing its "solidarity economy" strategy (as some would call it) of creating cooperatives. Due to the embargo this is forced in them to some extent. But fears about potential bureaucratic consolidation of power are always going to come up in a revolutionary situation, and in this context support for Tev-Dem and its cooperative and communal organizational thrust doesn't require support to any political party.