Why are Anarchists and Libertarians divided over Rojava?

By Zaher Baher from Haringey Solidarity Group and Kurdistan Anarchists Forum.
14/07/2015

Like leftists and communists, anarchists and libertarians have been divided over Rojava. Some of them are very supportive and optimistic about the future of this experiment and the others are skeptical and suspicious.

There are many factors contributing to this. Some of these factors apply not just to anarchists, libertarians and others, but to the Kurdish people too. So this article may also be the answer to those Kurdish people who frequently ask why they do not receive support from political groups and ordinary people, not just about Rojava, but about any event in any part of Kurdistan.

The main factors are:

First: the attitude of individuals in Kurdish communities who live in Europe and other countries. Although many of us were born or have lived in these countries for a long time, we have not played a big role in introducing Kurdish issues including Rojava to the ordinary people in the countries where we reside, let alone to the anarchists and libertarians.

Of course, I am not talking about those Kurdish who are already members or supportive of the Kurdish political parties who do not like PKK and PYD, but about the supporters of Rojava. A large number of us (Kurdish) have been spread over all Europe and the US. If we want support for Rojava or any other part of Kurdistan, we need to get closer to the people in these countries and consider ourselves a part of this society.

It is a bitter fact that not many of us (Kurdish) think the country we live in is our country, its society our society. We do not think any changes in its politics, economy, education, housing, welfare rights, law & order and many more, directly affect us. We do not believe we are affected by immigration laws, though we are like many more black people and people from different ethnic minorities facing racism and discrimination from police and employers. Regardless of what happens, the majority of us are still silent and do nothing to get together with others to fight back.

While we share all the above issues with the vast majority of the people in any country we live in – and while some of these problems hit us harder – still we remain ignorant. We therefore do not participate in independent local groups, not going to demos, protests, not supporting the workers while they are on strike and on picket lines. We do not take a part in other campaigns to improve communities, whether the campaigns are local or national. So how can we expect non-Kurdish people to know us and support our causes including Rojava?

Second: The way we do our demos and protests. We do not know how to introduce our cause to passers-by or local people. The actual cause that we organize demos or protests for is usually lost among so many irrelevant placards, banners, Kurdish flags and pictures of leaders. We chant some useless and expired nationalist anthems. Because of this our demos and protests fail to deliver our purpose and just remain attractive to ourselves. While this is our way and our manner to introduce our causes to people, how can we expect them to know the exact situation, let’s say in Rojava?

Third: The historical bitter experiences that the anarchist/libertarian movements have had since the first International Workingmen’s Association in 19th century. They were involved heavily and supported by the Association, but were later kicked out and accused. This was followed in 20th century by bloody experiences with Bolsheviks, and then by the Spanish civil war in 1936/37. This history has repeated itself in different countries throughout the last century. Because of these terrible and bloody experiences many individual anarchists and anarchist groups remain very cautious in approaching Rojava.

In Rojava and Bakur (Northern Kurdistan-Turkey Kurdistan) we see a couple of powerful political parties, PKK and PYD, who have been heavily involved with both movements. This makes some anarchists struggle to understand or see the big steps that both movements are taking towards social revolution. They still look at PKK and its movement through the glasses of the end of the last century and beginning of this century. There is no doubt PKK did terrible things at that time: even Ocalan himself acknowledged that there was involvement in terrorist acts toward its own people and people outside of the party.

However, many anarchists do not see there is an internal struggle inside PKK over ideas and principles of anarchism: between the minority who tend towards anarchism and the majority who would prefer to keep the party’s structure as it has always been. I am sure the outcome of this struggle will be positive. It is not realistic to expect that PKK and PYD as a party will give up hierarchical organization. They cannot be transformed into an anarchist organization as a whole. However, a quick look at PKK’s history shows that it has changed and made many positive steps. For example, they do not believe in a nation state and the notion of United Kurdistan; to a certain extent they, or a proportion of them, are anti power, anti authority. They transferred their weight to the towns to keep the struggles among the workers and poor people; they are in the process of abandoning the guerrilla war and are involved in peace processes. They also believe in freedom: in people living together in peace and harmony regardless of their differences in ethnicity, religion, and gender. They are very serious about the environment and ecology issues and also believe in social revolution. They support forming radical local groups, believing in direct democracy and direct action. Not acknowledging the above comes either from arrogance or from simple ignorance and an inability to read the situation properly.

In my opinion the best attitude towards Rojava is “supportive and being critical” at the same time. Criticizing it alone and keeping distance from it does not benefit our current anarchist movement. This attitude again shows incapability of recognizing the reality of the movement, and would bring the blame of history over us. Meanwhile supporting it without criticizing its negative sides again shows that we do not see this movement realistically. Having this attitude, once the movement fails to meet our demands, we will be very disappointed and keep ourselves a far distance from any movement in the future.

Four: Ideological attitude and looking for purity and perfection in the movement. I believe this approach is at best naivety and at worst irresponsible. It is important to recognize this movement as a mass movement; how do we expect perfection in Rojava and Bakur unless we have perfect people? If we had pure, responsible and conscious people we would not need revolution. We need to look into Rojava with its all positive and negative elements. We should support the positive parts and we should be hard on its negative sides, not just to draw the attention of people to what is wrong, but also to support fixing it.

We have not seen a movement like Rojava since the Zapatista’s movement of 1994. What happened in Rojava with all its faults so far is the best we have, especially when we see the outcome of the Arab Spring, and that Rojava took exactly the opposite direction. Up to this point the movement has been stepping in the right direction although facing numerous attacks and threats: war with Isis and other terrorist organizations; the possibility that Assad’s forces will return and invade the region; the possibility of invasion by the Turkish government; the possibility of war with the Syrian Free Army; the reconciliation of neighbouring countries at Rojava’s expense; and the rebuilding of Kobane and the rest of Rojava by the US, Western Countries and their companies and financial institutions. Rojava faces all these threats and many more, so what is the attitude of anarchists and libertarians here? Solidarity and support to take the right direction or keeping distance and ignoring it until it loses whatever has been achieved so far? Which one is the right approach?

Five: Many anarchists and Libertarians come from Marxist or Marxist-Leninist backgrounds. Although these comrades have adopted some anarchist principles, some of their views, approaches and analyses remain Marxist. Therefore, they find it extremely difficult to believe the social revolution can happen in developing countries, especially somewhere like Rojava. This approach is ideological and borderline religious: they believe that if anything is not written in the old books it will not happen. Many of us know the Marxists’ books have confused people and distorted historical struggles about achieving socialism/anarchism. These comrades still use the same Marxist, Marxist-Leninist definition for the working class and the history of development in reaching socialism/anarchism. For this, they have posited five stages societies must go through before our aims are achieved. The five stages are the Primitive society, Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism then Socialism; and, after these stages, Communism (they even separate socialism from communism). In somewhere like Rojava companies and factories are seldom found; therefore, in the view of the Marxist, there is no working class or proletariat. Rojava has not reached capitalism; how could the revolution start from there? How can dictatorship of the proletariat be set up while there is no proletariat? So any thought or any talk about starting a revolution in Rojava for these comrades is unacceptable.

It is a great pity our comrades cannot consider the exploitation of people throughout history has been the main issue. There have always been class divisions, a tiny minority of elites and the vast majority of people beneath them. So regardless of the many stages mentioned above, one question has always existed, one struggle raised; and this will remain the same until we achieve a classless society.

There has always been an alternative, there have always been grounds of replacing society as we have known it by forming and building a socialist/anarchist society. There is no doubt that societies have developed and progressed throughout history, but the social revolution has nothing to do with this division or to do with the condition that societies should reach capitalism before socialism. The need for revolution lies in exploitation, having people on the top of society with all the privileges and the rest on the bottom with nothing or very little. The basis of revolution lies in people’s consciousness, and their readiness to rise up. In other words, the social revolution can happen in any society, anywhere, regardless of the stage the society is in; but the total victory of any social revolution depends on many factors, whether this revolution happens in Rojava or in any advanced country like the UK or US.

History shows that human beings so far have only seen a couple of stages: societies which are Primitive, and the class society which continues until the present. There is no doubt that the division of human history to reach socialist/anarchist society damaged the social revolution badly. How the leftists and communists throughout the last century and earlier damaged the class struggles and principle of socialism as much as the right wing politicians and their parties is a separate subject. I will write about this soon.

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