The War for Quadrant Two

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Archive for December, 2014

► CVO article on Solidarity with Kobane (criticism and accountability) – [WQ2.14.12.08]

Posted by Ben Seattle on December 8, 2014

CVO article on Solidarity with Kobane (criticism and accountability)


This post is for the purpose of discussing a recent article written by Joseph Green, of the Communist Voice Organization.  I believe the article is good–it is fairly solid and reliable in most ways–but I also have a criticism of it in the context of the tasks of building an anti-imperialist movement here in the U.S.  My criticism, in a single sentence, is as follows:

Some (or many) readers in the U.S. (and elsewhere) may read and understand the CVO article in such a way that their consciousness of the need to oppose U.S. imperialist war and intervention in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere—would be weakened—rather than strengthened.

This principle (ie: that we must oppose U.S. imperialist war and intervention) is the living heart of our anti-imperialist movement and must be at the center of our anti-imperialist work.

Unfortunately, the CVO does not have the philosophy of being accountable to the movement or to activists.  They sometimes, on occasion, post criticisms of their articles on their website or journal–but generally only if the criticism is not too good or too effective.

I am making use of this blog so that activists have a public forum to discuss the CVO article and related political questions related to the Syrian civil war.  I have posted the CVO article (green text below) and have included some additional comments (below that).

And I also want to make clear that I believe in being accountable to activists and to the movement.  If any activist has political questions for me (about this article or any other political topic) I am committed to making a reasonable effort to be responsive–even if, as in some cases, my answer to a question will simply be “I am not sure” or “I don’t know”.

Also, my comrade Art Francisco discussed this article on facebook on October 20.  Comments by Art and a few other activists can be found here.

— Ben Seattle

Solidarity with the defenders of Kobane!

It’s the people, not the dictators and imperialists,
who are the defenders of democracy!

October 14, 2014 — posted at:

For a month, the Kurdish city of Kobane in northern Syria has been resisting the advance of the murderous ISIS. Should Kobane fall to ISIS, ISIS would impose the same fundamentalist hell as it has done elsewhere, and it would kill all those who oppose it. If Kobane falls, it threatens the entire Kurdish autonomous regime of Rojava which has been set up in northern Syria during the fighting of the last few years, and it would be a blow against the struggle against Assad. The struggle at Kobane is very difficult, with the defenders outgunned, short of supplies, and blockaded by the Turkish and US governments. It is a very dangerous situation: ISIS has penetrated into Kobane, but still has not overcome the resistance.

The resistance of the defenders of Kobane against ISIS has inspired respect around the world. While the heavily-armed Iraqi army suffered huge losses to ISIS, the lightly-armed defenders of Kobane have held their own steadfastly against the tanks and artillery of ISIS, giving up ground only slowly. The main defenders of Kobane are a Kurdish militia, the YPG (People’s Protection Units), which are associated with the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party). There are many women among the YPG’s fighters, something which demoralizes the anti-women fundamentalists in ISIS. Many Kurds in Turkey, including refugees from Syria, are seeking to rejoin the struggle in Kobane. Also involved in the struggle are units from the FSA (Free Syrian Army), who are part of the general uprising against the Assad dictatorship.

While the Iraqi army collapsed before the onslaught of ISIS, the people of Kobane, and the main anti-Assad forces in Syria generally, are resisting. While the US government talks of taking years to deal with ISIS, the people of Syria have another idea, and they are fighting to push back ISIS now. They don’t want the fundamentalists; they don’t want Assad; they don’t want US boots on the ground; they don’t want to be part of the political deals hatched up by Washington or the UN; and they are suspicious of the US bombing, which strikes ISIS but has also struck the anti-ISIS, anti-Assad forces; and they simply want — from wherever they can get them — the anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns and supplies that would let them deal with ISIS and the Assad dictatorship. It is not the lack of people, but the lack of weapons, that has hamstrung the mass uprising in Syria.

The Baath party dictatorship in Syria, first headed by Hafez al-Assad and then his son, Bashar al-Assad, has lasted for decades and continually denied democratic rights to the Syrian people. Previous to that, Syria had been a place with a lively political life. But two generations have grown up without real elections and without the right to form independent trade unions or other mass organizations, except those linked to the Baath party. Towns in the Kurdish region of Rojava, and various other towns liberated in the uprising against Assad, have elected their own administrations for the first time many people could remember, and the Kurds have built up their own autonomous area. The people are trying to rise to their feet; and this is why they fight under trying conditions and against better-armed troops.

Obama has repeatedly derided the Syrian uprising as composed of ordinary people, like farmers and dentists. Shouldn’t ordinary people going up against a dictatorship be firmly supported? Not according to Obama. He thinks that “farmers, dentists and folks who have never fought before going up against a ruthless opposition in Assad” can’t win (statement to CBS on June 22, To make sure that they can’t win on their own, the Obama administration has obstructed the flow of outside arms to the Syrian uprising, not just giving few if any weapons but blocking weapons from other sources as well. The Obama administration has insisted that a precondition for the FSA obtaining weapons from outside Syria be acceptance of the latest American plans, but the democratic anti-Assad forces won’t agree to that. Obama and the American generals and strategists prefer to see thousands upon thousands of Syrians slaughtered day after day, than to see the Syrian people have their own say on what goes on in Syria.

The Obama’s administration is opposing ISIS, but its plans for fighting ISIS have little to do with helping the Syrian people themselves fight back against ISIS. Instead, they aim at creating a long-term US presence in the region. There is talk of training some Syrian fighters, starting next year, if these fighters agree to accept US plans, whatever they may be. US Secretary of State Kerry downplayed the importance of the battle at Kobane, saying preventing its fall to ISIS wasn’t a “strategic goal” of the US. Instead US officials talk of long-term intervention that will last for years.

This disdain for the working people fighting at Kobane and throughout Syria is not an accident. It’s because the US government, whether headed by Republicans or Democrats, is an imperialist government, which aims not at serving the interests of mere “farmers and dentists”, but of bankers, financiers, and multinational corporations. It is not a government “of the people”, but a government that mocks and distrusts people all over the world. This is why, while Syrian fighters will take weapons from anywhere they can get them, they are suspicious, and rightly so, of US government plans. This is why the US government will bomb in Syria — sometimes ISIS, but not always — but still won’t let the Syrian fighters get the weapons to fight for themselves.

Meanwhile the Turkish government is actively blockading Kobane. It complains of all the refugees from Kobane who, fearing an ISIS takeover, fled into Turkey, but it’s doing its best to stop Kurds who want to go back and fight ISIS in Kobane. Turkish tanks stand on one side of the border, visible from Kobane, and just let ISIS continue to bombard the hell out of the city. Turkish Kurds are outraged at what the Turkish government is doing, and demonstrations have taken place in many cities all over Turkey, with about 20 protesters killed.

The area of Kurdish majority is spread across parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The Turkish government, whether secular as in the past or Islamist now, has oppressed the Kurdish minority for a long time. Although the present moderate Islamist AKP government had relaxed some of the vicious anti-Kurdish measures of the past, it doesn’t want to see a Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria, because it fears the example will inspire Turkish Kurds. So it demands, as the price of opposing an ISIS attack on Kobane, that everyone agree to set up a “buffer zone” in Syria, which will replace the Rojava autonomous region. It wants outside powers to guarantee the suppression of Kurdish rights in Syria, in order to ensure the continued denial of Kurdish rights in Turkey.

Some outside powers even directly support the Assad dictatorship. The Russian government, for example, has sent arms. The Iranian government has gone all out to supply troops, supplies and money to prop up the Syrian dictatorship. From their point of view, Assad may be brutal, but there’s nothing that Assad does that they wouldn’t do to their own people, and they also have strategic alliances with the Assad dictatorship against other countries. Their hands drip with Syrian blood. The Obama administration is seeking some sort of agreement with them to fight ISIS, but the price of such accommodation will be surrendering any serious opposition to Assad.

The mass uprising against Assad began in 2011, and it would have overthrown him long ago if it weren’t for the obstruction and opposition from so many hostile outside forces, both those mentioned above and other Middle Eastern governments. Syria has become a focal point where many of the backward forces in the world have sought to misdirect or oppose the mass struggle, to back Assad or to promote fundamentalist groups of one sort or the other or to subordinate the anti-Assad struggle to international agreements. The result has been 200,000 dead, tens of thousands languishing in Assad’s dungeons, three million refugees, and millions more people displaced from their homes but still living within Syria. All this makes solidarity with the mass uprising more important, and it means that the overthrow of Assad would not just benefit the Syrian people, but weaken many reactionary forces elsewhere.

There have been differences within the main opposition to Assad. Simply because a people rises for freedom doesn’t mean that they have put behind them all their problems such as national chauvinism. One problem has been that the Free Syrian Army and many other opponents of Assad were not ready to grant national rights to the Kurdish minority in Syria. As a result, armed conflicts had broken out between units of the FSA and some Kurdish villages and armed groups. But in the struggle against the common enemy of ISIS, some progress has been made. The FSA and the Kurdish PYD have made agreements on coordinating their fight against ISIS, and this reportedly includes some recognition of the desirability of autonomy for the Kurds. As a result, some FSA fighters are alongside the YPG in Kobane. This is a hopeful development.

If the outside capitalist powers have helped tear Syria apart, it is all the more important that progressive people around the world support the Syrian uprising and the Kurdish people. All real communists or socialists should be in the forefront of supporting these struggles for democratic and national rights. But most of the groups calling themselves communist or anti-imperialist have either opposed this struggle or been silent. Their excuse has been that the struggle against the Assad dictatorship is supposedly an imperialist plot of the US government to overthrow the Syrian government. But it was the Syrian people who rose against Assad, upsetting the years of cooperation between Assad and the US government. And we see that today, in the name of fighting ISIS, the US government is again searching for deals with the Syrian government and its supporters, such as Russia and Iran. We see that Obama has scorned the Syrian democrats as just farmers, dentists, and ordinary folks. We see that those groups who have called for preventing arms getting to the Syrian democrats have, in part, been playing the same game as the dominant political faction of US imperialism.

The shameful attitude of much of the left towards the Syrian struggle is an example of what we in the Communist Voice Organization call “non-class anti-imperialism”. Real anti-imperialism means supporting the masses of working people, such as those rising up against Assad or standing for Kurdish national rights. But non-class anti-imperialism ignores the working masses and instead supports one imperialism against another, one murderous regime against another. It is a fake anti-imperialism, a would-be anti-imperialism without any faith in the people or the oppressed classes. In the case of Syria, the non-class anti-imperialists support a most bloody and sick dictatorship, that of Assad. They think his current differences with US imperialism mean that he is anti-imperialist. They know that the Assad government worked hand-in-hand with US imperialism for years, even cooperating in the torture of the Canadian citizen Maher Arar and many other people, but they cynically shrug that off because the Assad dictatorship had even closer ties to Russian imperialism than US imperialism. We instead support the mass struggle. We know that, if dictatorship falls in Syria — not just bringing down Assad personally but the whole machinery of dictatorship by the Baath Party — this ultimately strengthens anti-imperialism. And this will be true even if the democratic anti-Assad forces managed to obtain some weapons from this or that reactionary outside force such as the US government.

Solidarity is an important force. Solidarity not only supports the current struggles, such as those against Assad, but unites people for future struggles. Let’s end the shameful policy that has predominated in the American left of taking a hands-off attitude to the just struggles of millions upon millions of people around the world, such as the struggle against Assad, the past struggle against Qaddafi, and the struggle in Ukraine against Russian intervention and local economic oligarchs. Let’s end the shameful policy of supporting one imperialism against another. Instead, let the working people of the world unite, in struggle against the imperialists and dictators, whether of the east or the west.

Solidarity against the fundamentalist onslaught!
Support the national rights of the Kurdish people!
Support the democratic uprising against the Assad dictatorship!
Support the democratic struggles of working people around the world!

Comments by Ben Seattle

Note for readers:  These comments grew out of a private email thread with supporters of the CVO (and activists in contact with that organization) who challenged me to give my views on some of the questions related to the CVO article on Kobane and, more generally, the Syrian civil war.

Unlike the supporters of the CVO, I believe that real organization, of the kind that our movement desperately needs, will grow out of the principle of accountability to the movement and political transparency.

This comment assumes that readers have been following events in the region closely enough to know where Kobane is and what Rojava is.

Question: Is the Syrian uprising against the dictatorship of Assad deserving of support?


Certainly. This uprising (in the main) represents the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and, as such, is deserving of the support of progressive people everywhere.

Some important clarifications, however, are also necessary:

(1) The forces in opposition to Assad include some extremely reactionary, anti-democratic forces (including, but not limited to, the so-called “Islamic State” or ISIS) and these forces are not deserving of the least amount of support.

(2) In any democratic movement that emerges in opposition to tyranny, there will be a spectrum of political trends, ranging from right to left. Generally speaking, the trends most deserving of support will be small and probably unknown to most people (like me) who are attempting to understand events on the basis of articles in the mainstream and even the left press. In addition, in the tumultous circumstances of this kind of uprising, everything is in flux: groups change, people change, ideologies win and lose support as many thousands of activists gain the most bitter experience. So we should be cautious about judging groups and activists solely on the basis of their current beliefs and ideology. As Marx once said of periods like this: “all that is solid melts into air”.

(3) We must be extremely cautious, in particular, concerning the idea that anything good can come from military or political intervention by U.S. imperialism.

In some cases, such as the recent U.S. bombing of ISIS targets in cooperation with a Kurdish organization defending Kobane, U.S. military intervention appears to be have been, on balance, a good thing, in terms of defending Rojava and avoiding the massacre of progressive Kurdish nationalist forces at the hands of the reactionary ISIS. But, as anti-imperialist activists, we must keep in mind that these kinds of things tend to be the exceptions that prove the rule.

For example: one reason that the Kurds in Kobane were in such a difficult situation in the first place–was because ISIS had a history of support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia (reactionary allies of U.S. imperialism) and was well-armed with weapons from the U.S. that they had captured from the notoriously corrupt U.S.-backed regime in Iraq.

We should also keep in mind that U.S. imperialism, together with its reactionary allies, is working overtime to shore up reactionary forces within the Kurdish movement, and undermine and eliminate progressive Kurdish trends.

We must also keep in mind that U.S. imperialism, as it maneuvers in Syria, Kurdistan and other countries of the region, is working to manufacture “public opinion”, within the U.S. and worldwide, in favor of the idea that military intervention will help maintain peace and save lives. Generally speaking, this is a monstrous lie. U.S. imperialist war, intervention and sanctions has cost millions of lives in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan in the recent past, and may well cost millions of more lives in the future.

In contrast to these kinds of lies, a somewhat more accurate, if imperfect, perspective is given by this well-known graphic from 2012, by the celebrated cartoonist Latuff.


Question # 2:

Does the CVO have a history of making errors of this kind in their articles?


In my view there have been some errors, although not all the errors are necessarily major and some were more significant than others. Some activists have criticised CVO articles on Kosovo, Haiti, Libya, Ukraine and now Syria. Some of these criticisms were made privately and I cannot comment on them.

I did criticize the CVO for an article they wrote about Kosovo in 1999 in which they refused to condemn Clinton’s bombing campaign, although they did condemn the diplomatic maneuvers of U.S. imperialism. I am unable to find the email which I wrote (Yahoo, unfortunately, deleted the public archives of the email discussion lists I managed) but I believe that my main argument concerning why it was wrong for the CVO to refuse to condemn the bombing was that the so-called “humanitarian” bombing campaign in the Balkans would inevitably be used to condition public opinion in the U.S. and internationally in such a way as to make it easier for U.S. imperialism to wage war in the Middle East. At least that is what I remember from what I wrote 15 years ago.

Other public threads related to the CVO’s article on Kobane:



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