by Ali Kiani
Response to Fredo Corvo, “Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?” (Libcom, 5 March 2018)
Over the past decade, the Kurdish people of Rojava and Afrin under the threat of internal war in Syria have surprised the world in their struggle for freedom by creating a democratic model of self-government that empowered women to rise to the top leadership of every aspect of society, including the Peshmerga militia, to a greater degree than all the authoritarian and reactionary regimes of the Middle East. Women holding key positions in self-government and army, reflecting the belief that women’s rights should be at the center of every important decision-making process in society, is one of the important breakthroughs in the struggle of people in the Middle East for freedom and democracy.
This is one of the important reasons for not only jihadist but also all ideological and religious authoritarian regimes that are united to destroy this liberty phenomena that is growing among the freedom movement in the Middle East, as we have seen in the example of a Yazidi women’s liberation militia that was shaped after this model.
Now Erdogan with the help Iran and Syria and Russia and the blessing of Trump try to do what jihadists could not do. As soon as the brutal bombing and invasion of Afrin started, brave people started defending their humanity against one of the largest armies of not the world but at least the Middle East, and this without air support. The destruction of city was unattainable. And then, Erdogan’s forces are headed by proxy militants, most of whom are Islamists, who are near the gates of the city of Afrin. The humanitarian situation is going to become much worse. The city is full of refugees who have no place to go. Each day the Turkish jets, which are provided by the Americans, bombard the city, and Turkey’s tanks, supplied by the German government, will soon appear on the hills around the city which with the help of the world remained silent on this atrocity. Meanwhile, the devastation and tragedy continue in Eastern Ghouta. Even the declaration of a cease-fire and no-fly zone did not stop Erdogan bombing defenseless people. We know that the Turkish people do not believe the lies of the regime of Erdogan, and that people who want peace do not support the campaign of mass murder, rape, and ethnic cleansing that Erdogan has set about implementing, and which Turkish journalists have exposed.
Now at this time I see “A critique of two article published by the International Marxist Humanist Organization by Fredo Corvo.” Corvo sarcastically chooses a title that denies the defense at least being Marxist—“Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?“—without clearing his ideological approach, whether as Marxist or non-Marxist, leading us to question the motive for his writing this article. Is it anti-Marxist (which he is), or is it anti-anarchist (which he also is)…? Or does he write in defense of Erdogan, Assad, or the Islamic Government of Iran?
In the first paragraph which should be considered introductory, FC (Fredo Corvo) explains the event: “The Turkish invasion of Northern Syria, with the declared goal of expelling the Kurdish YPG from the Turkish border.” This he comments on as being a reactionary imperialistic move to keep Erdogan in power, but he does not clarify his position on the right of self-determination of the Kurds. Instead, he focuses his critique on left radicalism (Marxist and anarchism), in particular Marxism, with its ordinary pattern of defending the Kurds and condemning the invasion of Turkey. This should be nothing new, except “in this case we see that groups and individuals who orient themselves at the Communist Left (1) are influenced by left bourgeois positions. Even groups whose ancestors defended proletarian internationalism in the Second World War now find it difficult to put forward the workers’ struggle against imperialist war. As we shall see, this has partly to do with a microscopic view of Rojava, the microcosm of a supposed ‘socialism in one province’.”
First of all, I have to say that what he refers to as our ancestors is not the Marx that Marxist Humanists link to, but a Stalinism that was dominated by a most post-Marx “Marxism” during and after the Second World War. In fact, no tendency within Marxist-Humanist organizations nor any of its founders ever believed in socialism in one country. And since I prepared this speech for a rally against the war which was later published as an article, the critique is now addressed towards me and my understanding of Marxist Humanism. This came about before I knew such a philosophy even existed within the Iranian Revolution, when I rejected Maoism, Stalinism, and “socialism in one country” and even Lenin’s ideology before its philosophical upheaval. This happened for me in the period from the beginning of the Iranian Revolution and before the takeover by the Islamic movement. I consider Khomeini reactionary based on my own personal experiences and his book Islamic Government, thus leading me to wonder how exactly I was influenced by “left-wing bourgeois positions”?
Then FC issues a sharp attack on the International Marxist Humanist Organization (IMHO) and Rojava based on two articles that were published on IMHO’s site. He calls Rojava a Myth. FC then continues with defining Marxist humanism and anarchism. He writes, “I will not reiterate my criticism of these principles of Marxism-Humanism. (7) Instead, we move from the Rojava myth to some classic justifications of involvement in the imperialist war, which can also be found in the ‘defense of Afrin’ by some Marxist-Humanists.” He does not explain how the “Rojava myth” means the “classic justifications of involvement in imperialist war.”
First, FC attacks Marxist Humanists; second, he attacks Marx on the national question; third, he pits Lenin against Luxemburg in an attempt to to dismiss Lenin; fourth, he opposes Trotsky to Stalin to try to dismiss Trotskyism; fifth, through a lengthy story of Marxism from World Wars I and II he tries dismiss any support for people’s struggle against imperialism and puts the PKK against Rojava based on abstract proletarianism—all because I wrote: “(…) the least we can do is to offer solidarity with the progressive, multi-ethnic people of northern Syria for the future possibility of a democratic alternative in the Middle East based on justice and freedom, something that could evolve into an anti-capitalist humanist alternative. The Kurdish people of Afrin can depend only on International solidarity and the comradeship of progressive forces who stand for an anti-capitalist alternative.”
FC has an abstract understanding of Marxism or class struggle, if he believes that in the age of imperialism and the globalization of capital and its financialization, the struggle of the Kurdish people in the Middle East—a place dominated by reactionary forces, being a war zone in a mostly rural area for self determination—is not defensible from a proletarian point of view just because their objective survival situation forces them to coexist with one imperialist against the other to resist the most immediate threat from reactionary forces. This is not defensible for the purposes of solidarity. If FC had any experience of organizing people for survival and armed struggle against the most brutal dictators, despotic religious fanatics, the principles of war or its physically and psychologically tormenting effects, he would think twice about analyzing things as being so black and white. If FC had any experience of being among the people of Rojava or other Kurdish populations, or if he had first-hand information about people that are there, and if he would observe the situation of what they teach about reactionary forces including US and Russia, he would not put himself to judge or deny simple solidarity with them. Neither I nor my Marxist-Humanist organization has ever supported these organizations or their policies unconditionally.
The dialectic of revolution is not just in thought but objective as it was for Lenin, especially his understanding of imperialism, which was a deeply dialectical concept. As Kevin Anderson wrote recently:
For just as imperialism transformed the nature of capitalist domination, helping to create a new stage based on finance capital, monopoly capitalism also changed the character of the opposition to capitalism. Imperialism not only impacted the working classes inside the industrialized capitalist societies. It also set in motion a whole series of events outside the core capitalist powers of Europe and North America, events that brought into being one of the great revolutionary forces of the whole twentieth century, anti-imperialist national movements, from Ireland to India and from China to the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. As Lenin saw it then, while imperialism immensely strengthened capitalism, at the same time, in dialectical fashion, it created these new contradictions that opened up revolutionary possibilities.
Lenin noted not only the oppression of people of the Global South under colonialism, but he also wrote presciently as early as 1916 of their subjectivity, their agency: “The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene” (LCW 22, p. 357) Unlike the complacent reform socialists of his day, who condescended to colonial subjects and who purported to see positive as well as negative sides to imperialism, Lenin is unequivocal in his opposition to imperialism and his support for anticolonial liberation movements […]. However, he added two caveats: (1) That the colonized cannot liberate themselves completely on a national basis, that as cited above, in order to do so they will need to ally with forces inside the industrialized imperialist nations, ‘the socialist proletariat.’ Thus, they might even win independence, but will not be able to create in full a new humanist society by themselves in a technologically underdeveloped nation. (2) That the national liberation movement needs to be actually liberatory in its content, not necessarily fully anticapitalist, but at least not retrogressive and backward looking. In this regard, he singles out “Pan-Islamism” as a non-liberatory form of opposition to imperialism in his 1920 “Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions” […].. On this score, Lenin met vociferous opposition from fellow revolutionary Marxists. Even Trotsky took a while to agree to Lenin’s position, while Luxemburg and Bukharin, both of them important revolutionary Marxist theorists, argued against Lenin’s position, claiming that in the era of imperialism, all nationalism is reactionary. Some today would say that Lenin’s position is either invalid or outdated, and that one just has to look at the outcome of anticolonial movements once they come to power. Look, they say, at Jacob Zuma or Robert Mugabe or Nicolas Maduro. But that’s like saying that the labor movement is invalid or outdated because once unions gained some power, their successful labor bureaucracy channeled the workers away from revolution and toward integration with capital.
So, it is not due to the limitations and setbacks of national movements in the age of state capitalism that create the need for solidarity among the left and working classes toward these movements, but it is due to the potential for its revolutionary aspects to increase as an important aspect of the anti-capitalist struggle. This is true for the outcome of their struggle for freedom, democracy, and political independence for a national federation, as long as they believe in a Humanist alternative to capitalism, based on the self-emancipatory revolutionary principles organized from below. In fact, I think—this my personal idea—that any form of centralized state opposing the decentralization of power is contradictory to communism, and the same is true for conceiving of a transformation toward a new humanist society and even the transformative period of socialism that would not allow the dissolution of either the state or class, as Engels claims.