by Javier Sethness
Response to Fredo Corvo, “Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?” (Libcom, 5 March 2018)
As a response to “Afrin Under Attack by Neo-Ottoman Erdogan: We Must Defend Afrin,” a statement published on the website of the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice on January 22, Fredo Corvo’s posing of the question, “Is the defense of Afrin proletarian internationalism?” (Libcom, 5 March), unfortunately presents several arguments based on straw-men. Though he ostensibly writes from a libertarian-communist perspective, he dedicates much effort to critiquing Marxist humanism, thus overlooking the fact that our Coalition represents a convergence of different revolutionary-left groupings and individuals. Plus, Corvo’s critique is only vaguely anti-capitalist, far from being concretely humanist or anti-imperialist. It is unclear whether Corvo’s critique can be considered anarchist.
Citing Rosa Luxemburg, Corvo argues that small nations such as the Syrian Kurds inevitably serve as “the pawns on the imperialist chessboard of the great powers,” adding that calls for solidarity with those besieged in and displaced from Afrin by Turkish imperialism and its Arab proxies inevitably recall Stalinist calls to defend the Soviet motherland and suffocate any consideration of an alternative to what exists. That is to say, Corvo holds our statement in solidarity with Afrin to by necessity be supportive of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), or the hegemonic proto-State of Rojava/Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) since 2012, and U.S. imperialism, with which the PYD and its armed forces, the YPG/YPJ and SDF, are allied. He accuses our position of advancing the “myth of Rojava” and of being “left bourgeois.”
Yet these insinuations and charges are untenable. It is unfortunate indeed that Corvo uses Luxemburg in an anti-humanistic manner, minimizing the destruction wrought by Turkey and its proxies in Afrin in the past two months and rendering-invisible the suffering of besieged working masses, internally displaced peoples, and refugees in and around Afrin. It is this principle of the defense of oppressed peoples, which Corvo acknowledges as being “undisputed within the workers’ movement,” to which we appeal in our statement in solidarity with the peoples of Afrin. It is not necessarily to endorse any project of national liberation that may be favored by Syrian Kurds and other oppressed minorities of Syria, though we do stress the importance of self-determination for oppressed peoples. In addition, it is certainly untrue that our Coalition presents an uncritical view of the Rojava Revolution, as in the idea of the “Rojava myth” to which Corvo alludes: even the statement on Afrin itself mentions the Revolution’s “contradictions, as seen in these very ties between the Kurds and U.S. and Russian imperialists.” We concede many of the criticisms Corvo raises against the Revolution, particularly with regard to relations between the PYD and the Assad Regime. For example, the Kurdish-majority forces of the YPG/YPJ appear to have collaborated with Russia and the regime in their reconquest of Eastern Aleppo during fall 2016, and it is known that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) arranged to transfer territory taken from Daesh (ISIL/ISIS) west of Manbij to Assad regime control in March 2017 to provide a buffer zone between itself and the Turkish-supported Free Syrian Army presence in Jarablus. Moreover, pro-regime militias arrived in Afrin on February 20, 2018, to reinforce the defense of the city, and Assad has allowed transfer of SDF troops and matériel to pass through State-controlled territory en route to Afrin. Furthermore, we are aware that the Rojava constitution of 2014 recognizes private property as a “right” (article 41). Yet these realities are not ones that are readily acknowledged by uncritically supportive Rojava-solidarity activists and organizers in the U.S., such as the North American Kurdish Alliance (NAKA). As a Coalition, we did not support NAKA’s calls for a no-fly zone over Afrin and MANPAD’s to be transferred to the YPG/YPJ as part of the demands set forth for the worldwide day of mobilizations for Afrin on March 24. Had we done so, and had we been reluctant to acknowledge some of the Revolution’s limitations, Corvo’s critique might be more apt.
We acknowledge that the Syrian Revolution which began in March 2011 was a necessary precondition for the Rojava Revolution of July 2012, and we seek to build solidarity for both ongoing processes, which are greatly threatened by the despotic forces of Assad and Putin as well as Erdoğan, respectively. We disagree that our statement in solidarity with besieged and displaced workers and peasants in Afrin equates to or implies an uncritical “defense of Rojava” on our part, and we reject the idea that such a statement aligns us with neo-Stalinism or imperialism against the working classes. We do not see our call for solidarity with Afrin as different from our support for the besieged population of Eastern Ghouta, who now must await capture by the very forces that have been bombarding them for nearly five years now, cross perilously into regime-controlled territory, or accept forcible transfer to the Idlib province, which will be the next major target of the militaristic imperialism of the Assad Regime, Russia, and Iran. Support for oppressed peoples means criticizing and organizing against those forces oppressing them; it does not mean uncritical support for those who claim to defend them by force of arms.
Ironically, then, we agree in the abstract with Corvo’s conclusion that an end to the various wars and genocides now gripping the Middle East will not come until the region’s working classes “attai[n] the same level as in Iran at the turn of the year,” with a few qualifications. First, this task is not only that of the Kurdish workers, as Corvo implies, but of all workers in the region—and not only the region, but also the world, given the global nature of imperialism. Second, both the Syrian and Rojava Revolutions have demonstrated impressive initiatives in terms of self-organization and class struggle that in fact may have anticipated and in some ways inspired the recent Iranian uprising, just as popular regional Palestine-solidarity movements and protests in Egypt against the U.S. invasion of Iraq served as precedents for the Arab Revolts which began with Mohammed Bouazizi immolating himself in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, in late 2011, emanating echoes that would resonate in Syria, as elsewhere, among Kurds and Arabs alike. So yes, in sum, the defense of Afrin and Ghouta against aggression is internationalist and humanist.