The first time as tragedy, the second as farce – that’s what Karl Marx had to say about the woof and warp of history as it repeats sheer folly in different forms. And that certainly describes the attraction of many American leftists to the cause of Kurdish nationalism: it’s the latest lefty fad. A recent article in the Village Voice – where else? – depicts the journey of two “anarcho-communists” as they travel to “Rojava,” the northernmost Syrian enclave where a curious blend of Murray Bookchin-style anarchism and the neo-Marxist blatherings of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the terrorist Kurdish Workers Party, holds sway.
Hristo and Guy – the former an academic, the latter a working class Irish dude – are in their twenties: their politics are “anarcho-communist,” that is they are living walking contradictions who, on the one hand, advocate the abolition of all government, and on the other hand uphold the economic theories of Karl Marx, who wanted to establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” This duo is traveling to “Rojava,” where the Kurdish Workers Party – in cooperation with the US government – has set up what many American leftists imagine to be a “workers” paradise.” Government is supposedly operative only at the local level, and all decisions are made by an assembly evenly divided between the sexes: private property is outlawed. It’s “Occupy Wall Street” transported to the Middle East.
The Village Voice journalist follows them on their hegira, which has all the earmarks of a cloak-and-dagger drama: they take elaborate security precautions, such as taking the SIM cards out of their phones so US government agents (who probably aren’t watching them) can’t turn their devices into microphones. Indeed, the US government is the least of their problems: Washington is sending millions of dollars in “aid” to the Kurdish commies, and US Marines – who are fighting alongside the Kurdish “peshmerga” – have been photographed wearing the red star patches of the “Kurdish Protection Units” (YPG), much to Turkey’s consternation.
Yet none of this bothers these “leftists,” who liken their adventure to that undertaken by the International Brigades, the pro-Communist militia of Western leftists who fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The rationale for this ideological self-hypnotism is Ocalan’s sudden conversion to the doctrines of Bookchin, whose “ecological” variety of “anarcho-communism” enjoyed a brief vogue during the 1960s. The hippie movement took up Bookchin, enamored of his support for radical environmentalism, “sustainability,” and all the rest of the “green” malarkey that has today empowered the bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency and turned much of the western United States into federally occupied territory.
Bookchin was a former Stalinist who went through all the phases of disillusionment with “the god that failed.” As a CIO organizer during the 1930s, he was a Communist Party militant who eventually turned to Trotskyism, but unlike other leftists who later became neoconservatives he didn’t give up his egalitarian ideal: instead, he developed a theory that rejected the working class as the agent of human liberation, and along with it the Marxist emphasis on purely economic exploitation, and developed the idea that hierarchy in all its forms was the real enemy. He became an anarchist, or, rather an “anarcho-communist,” and gathered around him a small following that never amounted to much outside a certain sector of the counterculture.
However, one day Abdullah Ocalan, sitting in jail in Turkey – where he remains at this moment – got his hands on Bookchin’s works, and was (supposedly) converted to anarcho-communism. And he sent out word to his followers in the Kurdish Workers Party, which up until that time had been planting bombs in Turkish cities, killing civilians willy-nilly, and describing itself as a typical Marxist-Leninist sect with vaguely Maoist overtones. The word was this: abandon terrorism, abandon the Leninist model, and learn from Bookchin!
Now this was a very odd situation, because Ocalan was and still is a prisoner of the Turkish authorities, and yet here he was handing down edicts from his prison cell and directing a movement whose ostensible goal was to create an independent Kurdistan – including a very large part of Turkey.
Of course, the new turn in Ocalan’s thinking was and is a boon to the Turks, who had been trying to stamp out Kurdish nationalism with an iron fist, even banning the Kurdish language and arresting every Kurdish activist they could get their hands on. Now, suddenly, Ocalan was calling off the revolution, and telling them that their real enemy wasn’t the Turks, it was ‘hierarchy”!
In tandem with this change in course came US intervention in Syria, where Washington faced two obstacles to its plans for the Middle East: 1) ISIS, which had metastasized out of the Iraqi quagmire, and 2) The regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Ba’athist strongman who was fighting for his life against ISIS but also battling US-supported Islamists and their allies in the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. The Syrian Kurds, who inhabit the northern part of the country, taking their cues from Ocalan in his prison cell, rose up. Forget “liberating” the Kurds of Turkey – it was time to establish Kurdish independence in Syria.
At the same time, the Syrian civil war took a new turn. While Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus, then head of the CIA, wanted to fund and arm the Islamists, the Obama administration was wary: the links of Syria’s “opposition” to al-Qaeda and other radical jihadists was too obvious to ignore. And so they settled on the secular Kurds of “Rojava,” who had by this time carved out an enclave in Syria and set up “communes” vaguely emulating the Bookchinite model: women were given a prominent role in leadership positions, with their own armed force, all decisions were made “collectively,” Occupy Wall Street-style, private property was confiscated, and everybody wore red stars on their uniforms.
However, the touch-feely hippie-ish spirit of Bookchinism lost something in the Kurdish translation. Instead of the nonviolent egalitarianism that is the hallmark of this brand of “anarcho-communism,” the political arm of the Rojava movement, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), ruthlessly suppresses its Kurdish rivals: rival party offices are raided, their members kidnapped and arrested, while the YPG, the “protection units,” forcibly conscript Kurds as young as 16 years old so that they can better “serve the people.”
And the ideology of this movement, far from reflecting the pacific views of Bookchin, was and is necessarily militaristic: they are, after all, engaged in a life-and-death struggle with virtually every other faction in Syria. Not only that, but – like all Kurdish political formations, including those in power in Kurdistan proper – they are committed to the loony idea of creating a “Greater Kurdistan,” which, if you look at the maps, extends all the way north as far as Armenia, to the south including a big chunk of Iraq, to the west absorbing nearly half of Turkey, and to the east gobbling up a huge swathe of Iran.
Toward this goal, the Rojava-ists so beloved by American “anarcho-communists” have systematically uprooted native Syrian Arabs from their villages, leveling whole areas to the ground and driving off the longtime inhabitants, all in the interests of creating an ethnically pure Kurdish enclave. Bookchin must be rolling in his grave.
Looking at the broader picture, this is a very useful development as far as Washington is concerned: here, at last, is a “secular” movement in Syria that can be supported without indirectly aiding the jihadists. And it’s tailor-made for Brooklyn hipsters who might otherwise be harassing Hillary Clinton from the left as militant Bernie Bros. Instead, like Guy and Hristo, they’re shipping off to Syria to fight alongside Ocalan’s commie zombies – and US Special Forces – waging the “war on terrorism.”
Rojava chic has all the elements that make it a natural for the Brooklyn hipster crowd:
- Feminism – the leadership and the YPG fighting force is supposedly half female, and to appeal to the Bernie Bros there are attractive women toting Kalashnikovs featured in their online propaganda.
- “Anti-fascism” – they’re trying to overthrow Assad.
- Radical egalitarianism and economic collectivism – no private property allowed, and they get to wear those cool red stars.
- And last but not least they get to vaunt their rrrrr-revolutionary pretensions – all in the service of what is, after all, just another regime-change operation conceived in Washington.
If a public relations firm had come up with this scheme to recruit “leftists” into the interventionist coalition, alongside neoconservatives, they couldn’t have come up with a better formula. And, who knows, perhaps that’s precisely what happened.
The fact of the matter is that US intervention in Syria is a recipe for disaster, no matter which faction we’re supporting. Funding and arming the “moderate” Islamist rebels was bad enough, but canoodling with Kurdish ultra-nationalists and empowering them with funding and arms is rapidly creating the conditions for a war of all against all in the region. The reason for this is that there is no such thing as “moderate” Kurdish nationalism: all Kurdish nationalists are ultra-nationalists. It’s the nature of the beast for the simple reason that to achieve “Greater Kurdistan” would necessitate a war against Turkey, Iran, Armenia, Iraq, and all the minority nationalities in the area, including the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Yazidis, etc. etc. In short, it would have to mean a campaign of ethnic cleansing that would make previous examples of this phenomenon look like a Sunday school picnic.
As usual, Washington is placing its bets on short-term solutions to intractable problems, without regard for the mid-to- long-term consequences. The same thing happened in Afghanistan, when we armed and funded the mujahideen against the Soviets, and in Iraq when we supported Ahmed Chalabi and his gang of “heroes in error” against Saddam Hussein. The former led to the genesis of al-Qaeda, and the latter led to the current chaos in what used to be Iraq.
Washington has been meddling in Syria, overtly and covertly, since the Bush administration: the neoconservatives targeted it for regime change early on due to Assad’s support for the Palestinians. This is the real reason for Washington’s interest in getting rid of Assad. The Israelis have been training and funding the pershmergas for years, and ties between Tel Aviv and the Kurdistan regional government (in Iraq) are very close.
Syria is so far removed from a vital interest that the distance can only be measured in light-years. We have no business there, and no legitimate means of affecting the outcome of their vicious civil war. We surely should not be trying to topple the Ba’athist regime, which, for all its brutality, is the only obstacle to a jihadist takeover of most the country.
Let the Kurdish commies fight their own battles: why US Special Forces are helping to impose communism on Syria is a mystery the Obama administration should be forced to reveal. Let the Israelis fund and train the Kurds, with whom they seem to have a natural affinity: that’s their affair. The US should have no part of it. The only proper policy in regard to the whole sorry mess can be summed up in five words: Get out and stay out.
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NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.