Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 24, 2018

The Rojava Illusion

Filed under: Kurd,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:17 pm

Yesterday I was appalled to read a NY Times article titled “Syrian Militias Enter Afrin, Dealing a Setback to Turkey” that began:

Militias loyal to the Syrian government swept into the northwestern enclave of Afrin on Thursday in support of Kurdish militias, reclaiming the territory and stealing a march on Turkish forces that have been battling toward the city for nearly a month.

Television broadcasts and social media postings showed crowds celebrating in the main square of the city of Afrin, waving flags and holding posters of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges.

The photo accompanying the article said it all:

While I have become inured to Syrian Kurds making realpolitik type alliances for the past six years, I was still stunned to see them holding aloft a photo of man who systematically bombs hospitals. Does a non-aggression pact with Syria’s blood-soaked family dynast entail holding up his portrait? I certainly understood the need for the USSR to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939 but would that require the Communist press to curtail its attacks on the Nazi persecution of Jews? Um, come to think of it, that did happen…

I suppose that this is not totally unexpected. Until September 2017, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) was led by Salih Muslim who is on record as believing that unless Assad was part of Syria’s solution, 2 million Alawites would die. Evidently he was unaware of how the hard-core supporters of Assad had painted graffiti “Either Assad or the Country Burns” all across the country. Just two weeks after Assad had launched a Sarin gas attack in East Ghouta that cost the lives of up to 1,729 people, Salih Muslim told Reuters that it was a false flag aimed at framing Assad and provoking an international reaction. In other words, there was nothing to distinguish him from the Vanessa Beeleys of the world.

For some on the left, this is just a peccadillo. The Greenleft Weekly that is edited and written by long-time members of the Trotskyist movement in Australia is utterly devoted to the Rojava cause as reflected by the appearance of well over 200 articles that are breathlessly enthusiastic while the fight to overthrow Assad is largely dismissed as jihadist in nature. Even the FSA, which has been largely eliminated because of a genocidal-like air war, gets reduced to a militia made up of warlords and brigands.

On the very day that the NY Times article about Assadist militias rescuing the anarchist paradise appeared, a Greenleft supporter posted an article by Tony Iltis to Marxmail. Titled “As Syria’s conflict intensifies, where do democratic hopes lie?”, it echoes Greenleft’s hatred of Islamic-based militias, referring to “the degeneration of much of the FSA into right-wing Islamist militias”, including those that are being bombed to hell in East Ghouta. By contrast, the Rojava experiment was capable of “uniting all nationalities in Syria, even gaining increasing adherence from the Arab majority.” Unlike the areas under control of women-hating jihadists, Rojava was feminist, democratic and committed to a cooperative-based economy.

Leaving aside the unlikelihood of Rojava becoming a model for the rest of Syria instead of the Gaza-like protectorates of the FSA or the plebian Islamist militias that were united on a class basis against an oligarchy that had destroyed agrarian society, there is little hard analysis of the anarchist dream represented by Rojava. It is understandable why Graeber and anarchists in general look to it as living model of their dreams. But for the people at Greenleft, isn’t there any interest in taking up the question of what amounts to an age-old debate on the left about whether such locally-based co-operatives can ever lead to socialism? Apparently not.

For all practical purposes, Greenleft’s line on Rojava is identical to that of David Graeber, a high-profile anarchist and number one defender of the Kurdish application of Murray Bookchin’s theories.

If Graeber and his friends at Greenleft never bothered to consider the possibility that co-operatives were a dead end except for small-scale enterprises in Park Slope, Brooklyn or within a post-capitalist society like Cuba, where they could complement the main engines of publicly owned firms, there was ample evidence that Bookchin himself was growing doubtful. In an article by Janet Biehl, his long-time collaborator, there’s a critique that has apparently not been reflected in all of the Rojava rhapsodizing. She writes:

In the 1970s, many American radicals formed cooperatives, which they hoped could constitute an alternative to large corporations and ultimately replace them. Bookchin welcomed this development, but as the decade wore on, he noticed that more and more those once-radical economic units were absorbed into the capitalist economy. While cooperatives’ internal structures remained admirable, he thought that in the marketplace they could become simply another kind of small enterprise with their own particularistic interests, competing with other enterprises, even with other cooperatives.

You can find an interview with Graeber on Co-Operative Economy, a website that describes itself as follows:

The co-operative movement in North Syria, known colloquially as Rojava (meaning “West” in Kurdish) is thriving.

In Rojava, a revolution is taking place, based on the political model of Democratic Confederalism, and within this system, co-operatives play an integral part in reshaping the economy. People here are taking collective control of their lives and workplaces.

In Bakur, (the predominantly Kurdish region which lies within Turkey’s border) co-operatives have been set up within a similar model of democratic autonomy, despite the ongoing military repression by the state of Turkey.

I invite the Greenleft people and anybody else on the left who can’t tell the difference between anarchism and Marxism to read the interview since Graeber clearly does.

It seems that Graeber’s father fought in the Spanish Civil War and that one of the things he learned from him is that anybody who doesn’t work with his or her hands is superfluous. “And in fact, my father was in Barcelona when it was run by an anarchist principle. They just got rid of white collar workers, and sure enough they discovered these were basically bullshit jobs, that they didn’t make any difference if they weren’t there.” Well, I was in Nicaragua in the late 80s—a country trying to implement socialist policies under very difficult conditions—and can assure you that engineers, programmers, economists and other white-collar professionals were desperately needed. If they were doing “bullshit jobs”, that was not what we heard from Daniel Ortega. One supposes that Nicaragua would have been better off it had tried to implement libertarian municipalism rather than state ownership and planning but then again Somoza would have thrown the practitioners out of helicopters before they got very far.

Graeber has a rather quaint way of expressing the difference between Marxism and anarchism. People like Somoza or Assad don’t mind if Marxists say things like “I hate you, I want to overthrow you” nearly as much as what the anarchists say: “You guys are ridiculous and unnecessary.” Gosh, where did I go wrong? Instead of joining the SWP in the (vain) hope of making a revolution in the USA, I should have gone up to Vermont and started a maple syrup co-operative. That would have saved me the trouble of reading all that stuff about revolutionary struggles in Cuba or Vietnam and eventually figuring out that the SWP was right in its ultimate goal but totally fucked-up in the way it went about it.

Showing that he has read his Bakunin, Graeber puts it this way: “When those Marxists come, the police will still be there. There are probably going to be more of them, right? Anarchists come, the whole structure will be changed. People will be told that it’s completely unnecessary.” Oh, I see. With Rojava chugging along, the police will disappear. What a relief to everybody except the families of the 13,000 men who were secretly hanged in Syrian prisons without even a trial.

Here’s Graeber summing up the Rojava experiment:

They run the cities. It’s a country of a real economy; it’s a poor one and they’re under embargo. But there are people driving cars, there is traffic rules, there’s workshops and factories producing things, there’s farms. It does all the things you have in a normal society. Roads have to be maintained.

But essentially, what they have done is created … it’s very interesting. I’ve said, I’ve described it as a dual power situation, but this is the first time in human history, I think, where you have a dual power situation where the same guy set up both sides. So they have a thing that looks like a government; it’s got a parliament, it’s got ministers. They pass legislation.

For me, “dual power” refers to what takes place under revolutionary conditions. For example, in the country Graeber’s father fought in, there really was a dual-power situation. Vast portions of the country were producing food and manufactured goods on farms and factories after ousting the bosses. Were those bosses the white-collar people Graeber was referring to? If so, he needs to familiarize himself with Marxist theories of social class, if I can be so presumptuous. A computer programmer working for Michael Bloomberg are not members of the same class. Been there, done that.

In order to regain control of the country, Franco used his air force and powerful military to destroy the militias and regular troops who defended worker and farmer owned and controlled property. Any resemblance between what took place in Spain and now in Rojava is purely coincidental.

I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write this article unless the news of Assadist militias coming to the aid of Rojova as East Ghouta was being pounded into oblivion had not appeared on the same day in the NY Times. The contrast was enough to make me scream. Before concluding with some thoughts on the Kurdish question, let me recommend some critiques of Rojava written by people not in any way affiliated with the Turkish state. I understand that people like Graeber and the Greenleft tend to think that anybody critical of Rojava is an Erdogan stooge but there’s nothing much I can do about that.

Andrea Glioti is a Arabic-speaking, freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Open Democracy and other reputable publications about the region since 2010. In a piece for Al-Jazeera titled “Rojava: A libertarian myth under scrutiny”, he argues that the equal political representation of all ethno-religious components–Arabs, Kurds and Christians—is not really that much different than what obtains in Lebanon. He is particularly concerned about how the Arab representation since it relies on tribal leaders such as Shaykh Humaydi Daham al-Jarba, who was a supporter of the dictatorship. Al-Jabra was the head of Jaysh al-Karama, a pro-government Arab militia that insisted that Bashar al-Assad was the only legitimate Syrian president.

Libcom.org, an anarchist website, has been following the Rojava experiment but with a lot more circumspection than Graeber or Greenleft. For example, on May 17, 2016 Gilles Dauvé and T.L. posted an article titled “Rojava: reality and rhetoric” that blasts Abdullah Ocalan for being an opportunist: “In the days when it claimed to be part of world socialism, it [the PKK] had no time for heretics like Pannekoek or Mattick, and went for successful Marxism-Leninism. When it espouses libertarianism, it does not take after Makhno, and prefers an acceptable version, probably the most moderate of all today, the Bookchin doctrine, that spices 19th century municipal socialism with self-administration and ecology.”

The authors have a particular quarrel with Graeber who wrote that “the Rojavans have it quite easy in class terms because the real bourgeoisie, such as it was in a mostly very agricultural region, took off with the collapse of the Baath regime.” They remind him:

Graeber mistakes a class for the persons it is composed of. Of course class is flesh and blood, but it is a lot more, it is made of social relations. The bourgeoisie does not vanish from an area which bourgeois individuals have fled. At the time of the Paris Commune, the ruling class left the city but its power structure was perpetuated during those two months: in the vaults of the Banque de France and their millions of francs the communards made no attempt to confiscate, and fundamentally in the continuation of the money economy and of wage-labour. In Rojava, there is no sign that the lower classes have done away with the market economy and the wage system.

If that is true of the Paris Commune, it will be a thousand times truer of Rojava. If after Assad finishes off the Sunni rebels, he will be free to turn his attention to the Kurds. While they do not pose the same kind of threat to his dictatorship, he will want to be sure to bring every square inch of his country under Baathist control. Not only will Rojova be subject to economic strangulation, it will be at the mercy of the Syrian air force that will be as vicious as Erdogan’s. Unlike the Kurds in Iraq, the economic foundations of Rojova are quite weak. Sooner or later, the strains being put on it will sharpen class differences among the Kurds. When an economy is being throttled, it tends to divide people along class lines. While the Kurdish elite has little in common with Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, it has its own interests to preserve.

But I identify most closely with Alex de Jong has written for Jacobin. De Jong is the is editor of Grenzeloos, the journal of the Dutch section of the Fourth International, and quite a capable Marxist thinker. His article is titled “The Rojava Project” and structured around a review of Meredith Tax’s “A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State”.

De Jong has made some points about Kurdish politics in Syria that have largely gone unnoticed:

Tax writes that, in 2004, the “PYD was involved in organizing the first major uprising of Syrian Kurds,” the Qamishli uprising. Here, she overstates the party’s role: it would be more correct to say that no party organized this spontaneous protest against anti-Kurdish violence and oppression. Granted, the PYD played an important role supporting the protests after they started, as did some of the other more militant Syrian-Kurdish groups such as the Yekîtî (Unity) party. But after the uprising was put down, new groups, critical of both the PYD and the Syrian state, formed.

One, the Kurdish Youth Movement, which largely consisted of teenagers, tried to launch the first armed resistance against the Baath regime. They accused the PYD of working with the state.

The Kurdish Future Movement, also founded after Qamishli, likewise rejects the PYD for its alleged collaboration. This group crossed one of the regime’s red lines by working with Arab opposition forces. From the beginning of the revolution, it has called for nothing less than the government’s fall. In July 2011, the movement’s figurehead Mashaal Tammo declared dialogue impossible: “You simply cannot speak with a regime that kills its own population.”

A Road Unforeseen unfortunately downplays Tammo, describing him as “an activist who wanted the Kurds to stay in the Syrian National Council.” This leaves out Tammo’s important role in Kurdish politics. After his murder in October 2011, fifty thousand people in Qamishli attended his funeral; other large demonstrations took place in Aleppo, Latakia, and Hasaka.

Tax writes that accusations that the PYD was involved in Tammo’s assassination have been proven false, citing documents published by Saudi news channel Al-Arabiya that show the Assad regime ordered the hit.

Unfortunately, things are not so clear. Shortly before his death, Tammo claimed that the regime and the PYD jointly planned an attempt on his life, seeing him as a common enemy. The PYD first blamed Tammo’s death on the Turkish government, then later on the Assad regime. The Kurdish Future Movement, greatly weakened by its leader’s death, still holds PYD responsible.

Tax describes these accusations as part of an “anti-Rojava narrative” circulating among “Western governments and NGOs.” But the PKK’s history of connivance with the Baathist state, as sketched above, has made many people — Arabs, as well as Kurds — distrustful. Further, recent instances of PYD-sanctioned political repression are not so easily waved aside. There have been multiple protests against the party in Rojava. To its credit, the Rojava administration has apologized for these abuses and tried to make amends.

It is understandable why so much of the left, including the Marxists who write for Greenleft, would admire the PYD and Rojova. Against a backdrop of sectarian slaughter with Assad on one side and jihadist militias on the other, Rojova is a breath of fresh air, a kind of oasis. It is a place where Yazidis and others fleeing terrorism and bombing can find refuge. It is also a place where generally it is possible to speak freely and to enjoy a modest and secure existence.

But in making a pact with the devil, the Kurdish leadership will eventually have to reckon with him. In the best of all possible worlds, the national question in Syria would have been addressed in the same fashion as it was in Czarist Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Kurds would have won the right to full autonomy and its language and other forms of national identity fully respected. Baathism, largely modeled on Stalinist practices, was hostile to such rights using the bastardized formulations of the CPs.

When the Arab Spring broke out in Syria, an experienced revolutionary socialist leadership would have prioritized Kurdish demands and made absolutely sure that it earned the trust of an oppressed nationality on a continuous basis.

Instead, the Kurds were confronted by a Syrian National Coalition that was dominated by Muslim Brotherhood figures that shared the prejudices of the Baathist dictatorship. The Kurds were represented on the SNC by members of the Kurdish National Council that was loyal to the tribal leaders in Iraq and hardly representative of the more radical leaders of the PYD. Eventually, the PYD decided that the SNC was a waste of time and carved out a deal with Assad.

Ideally, the Kurds, the educated middle-class of Damascus, the rural poor, the enlightened Alawites would have come together around a democratic and economically progressive program and demolished the Baathist dictatorship through sheer force of numbers. Assad, however, calculated that by militarizing the conflict he would be able to draw in backward Sunni states and local reactionaries into an armed struggle that he could exploit through “secularist” demagogy and brute force.

Since 2011, one of my main interests has been to answer the lies of the Assadist left. But it has also been to maintain contact with the Syrian left, including a FB friend who is in Idlib now working for material aid to a struggling population. He was a law student in East Aleppo who was driven from the city in the same that he facing being expelled from Idlib now. He is a leftist and a person of uncommon decency. It is my hope that such people all across the Middle East and North Africa will come out of this human disaster and constitute the vanguard of the region’s rebirth on a more humane and rational basis. This means confronting the state and its repressive forces and defeating it. If it was choice between maintaining my ties to such people and forsaking those with a left that defended Assad or even waffled on that question, I’ll stick with that one Syrian. In his hands and those of others who think and act like him that the future rests.



  1. The Green Left Weekly article “As Syria’s conflict intensifies, where do democratic hopes lie?” was written by Tony Iltis, not David Graeber.

    Comment by Alan B — February 24, 2018 @ 11:57 pm

  2. Thanks, I also responded to another article by Graeber elsewhere so I lost track of which one was his.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 25, 2018 @ 12:11 am

  3. And after your one genuinely leftist Syrian in Idlib, together with the multitudes of like-minded Syrians, undoubtedly financed, armed and trained by their Western and Gulf sponsors, rise up, confront and topple the Assad government, won’t they have to reckon with the devils that aided them? And how might that go if, say, the new supposedly progressive leadership comes out strongly for justice for the Palestinian leadership? Of course they could waffle on this question (rather than risk being themselves toppled by another western/gulf sponsored insurgency) but then how progressive would they be? Not to mention the question as to how popular they’d be, considering the fact that polls (for what they’re worth) taken both before and after the 2011 uprising indicate that at least in Syria a majority still prefer the present government over its western/gulf supported challengers.

    Comment by jacobo — February 25, 2018 @ 3:01 am

  4. Make that …..justice for the Palestinian people

    Comment by jacobo — February 25, 2018 @ 3:03 am

  5. Not to mention the question as to how popular they’d be, considering the fact that polls (for what they’re worth) taken both before and after the 2011 uprising indicate that at least in Syria a majority still prefer the present government over its western/gulf supported challengers.


    Very true. The 98 percent vote for Bashar al-Assad indicated that he was the most popular president who ever lived.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 25, 2018 @ 3:19 am

  6. Opinion polls (not elections, such as a recent NATO survey that found that 70% of Syrians support the Assad government, 20% are neutral with 10% supporting the rebels. Don’t trust polls in war ravaged countries? Then how about the observations of Eva Bartlett, a writer with considerable experience chronicling Israel’s destruction of Gaza. Based on her experiences during her 2014-15 visits to Damascus, Homs and Latakia writes (sott.net/article/323862-Syria-Dispatch-Most-Syrians-Support-Assad-Reject-Phony-Foreign-Revolution) that “Wherever I’ve gone in Syria (as well as many months in various parts of Lebanon, where I met Syrians from all over Syria) I’ve seen wide evidence of broad support for President al-Assad.

    Check it out, Louis. Meanwhile, it seems to me your thought about your friend and his like-minded friends in “Syria and throughout the Middle East and North Africa constituting the vanguard of the region’s rebirth on a more rational and humane basis” is nothing but a pipedream. A pleasant one but surely unattainable at a time when the Syrian people not only want the war to end, but for Assad to continue to lead them. Right now first order of business is for all uninvited foreign jihadists and troops to go home..

    Comment by jacobo — February 25, 2018 @ 6:59 am

  7. Very good article. I’d like to comment on some sweeping points in one paragraph, I realise your article was not focused on these issues from 6-7 years ago, but I’m actually building up a challenge to a number of alleged certainties that have dominated our thinking on this, even those of us who are not uncritical romanticisers of the PYD. First, “Instead, the Kurds were confronted by a Syrian National Coalition that was dominated by Muslim Brotherhood figures that shared the prejudices of the Baathist dictatorship.” You mean Syrian National Council (same acronym) in 2011-12 (the much broader Coalition was formed Dec 2012, in which the SNCouncil was but one component). It is true that the refusal of the Syrian opposition political leadership to come fully round to recognising autonomy and self-determination was a negative point that began the process of alienating sections of the Kurds.

    However, in Dec 2011 the SNC released a declaration in Tunis, which was formalised in June 2012 as its ‘National Charter on the Kurdish Issue’, which reads in part: 1.The SNC and signatories confirm their commitment to *constitutional recognition of the national identity of Kurdish people*, and consider the Kurdish issue part and parcel of the national discourse, and recognize the *national rights of the Kurdish people* within the framework of the unity of Syria’s land and people. 2. Signatories will work toward the abolition of all discriminatory policies, decrees, and measures applied against citizens, addressing their effects and implications and compensating those affected. 7. The SNC and signatories shall hold events and activities to work towards the recognition of the Kurdish issue in Syria, and acknowledging the suffering that Kurdish citizens have endured through decades of deprivation and marginalization, in order to build a new Syrian culture based on equality and mutual respect.” Now, this may not be “the full program” and does not specifically advocate the right to self-determination, but given that this was a process, it is difficult to see such a statement offering “constitutional recognition of the *national* identity of the Kurdish people” and recognising the their *national* rights – rather than just their equal rights as citizens – as a re-statement of Arab nationalist prejudices on the Kurdish issue or a capitulation to Turkish interests.

    Next, “The Kurds were represented on the SNC by members of the Kurdish National Council that was loyal to the tribal leaders in Iraq and hardly representative of the more radical leaders of the PYD.” The SNC and the KNC were both formed in October 2011. At that time, three Kurdish parties were in the SNC: The Kurdish Future Movement [ie the party of Mashaal Tammo, who was assassinated in late 2011, who de Jong says was one of the “more militant” Kurdish groups formed after 2004, which saw the PYD as collaborationist, and which took a powerful anti-Assad stance and strongly advocated working with the Arab opposition], the Kurdish Yekti Party [another “more militant” party de Jong says played a role in the 2004 uprising but was critical of the PYD] and the Kurdish Azadi Party. The KNC consisted of 11 Kurdish parties, not only the KDP (S), the one considered to be Barzanist, but also parties such as the Kurdish Youth Movement, which de Jong says “tried to launch the first armed resistance against the Baath regime. They accused the PYD of working with the state.” The KNC was not in the SNC, but did its best to cooperate with it in the anti-Assad uprising while trying to push the SNC to take a better position. In January 2011, despite the SNC’s Tunis declaration, the KNC decided it was still not good enough and called on all Kurdish parties to quit bot the SNC and the smaller, lame-duck, regime-tolerated, National Coordination Body (NCB). The Yekti and Azadi parties did so and joined the KNC, leaving only Tammo’s Future Movement in the SNC, and the YPG which refused to quit the NCB, despite the NCB having an almost identical position to the SNC (not quite as good, actually).

    It is hard to see how the PYD was “more radical” except in looking after its own interests in the more narrow sense. The main difference was that the KNC was fully in support of the anti-Assad uprising whereas the PYD was ambivalent form the start. It is also difficult to argue that the PYD’s withdrawal from the revolution in mid-2012 (well, unclear if it was ever “in” it, but its withdrawal of the Kurdish regions which it had under its armed control) reflected a widespread Kurdish mood of “alienation” from the opposition given that al across the north in 2011 and 2012 there were joint Arab-Kurdish demonstrations against the Assad regime, waving Kurdistan flags and Syrian revolution flags together (eg, this one in Afrin: https://twitter.com/ThomasVLinge/status/955907527451074560). Note this is the flag used by the KNC, not the PYD, which later even tried to ban it.

    What happened to this mass anti-Assad Arab-Kurdish unity? Well, one thing that happened to demonstrations like the one I just linked to was described in Burning Country, where Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami interview a Kurdish teacher in Afrin, Noor Bakeer, about how these early shows of Arab-Kurdish unity in the anti-Assad uprising were handled by the PYD in Afrin:

    “It was splendid when Afrin came out en masse chanting for freedom and for the KNC; I can’t describe my feelings; I felt strong and enthusiastic; I felt our life was finally beginning. But the following Friday when people gathered to demonstrate, masked thugs from the PYD dispersed them by force. Lots of young people were wounded” (pp. 74-75). Bakeer goes on to claim that after the PYD took control, “the terror and repression continued as the PYD imposed themselves by force. They stopped other political parties from operating and tried to rule alone.”

    Similar examples of PYD goons physically attacking anti-Assad Kurdish rallies were reported all over Syria in 2012. Could say much more, but later.

    Comment by mkaradjis — February 25, 2018 @ 1:26 pm

  8. Salih Muslim arrested in Prague:-

    Comment by prianikoff — February 25, 2018 @ 1:44 pm

  9. Don’t trust polls in war ravaged countries?


    Comment by louisproyect — February 25, 2018 @ 1:57 pm

  10. Opinion polls (not elections, such as a recent NATO survey that found that 70% of Syrians support the Assad government, 20% are neutral with 10% supporting the rebels.

    What NATO survey are you talking about, you pathetic troll? Go find the report on the NATO website. This Assadist talking point originated in a World Tribune article dated 05/31/2013 (http://www.worldtribune.com/2013/05/31/nato-data-assad-winning-the-war-for-syrians-hearts-and-minds/) but when you click the link, you’ll discover that the article has been taken down. You call a nearly 5 year old article “recent”? What gave you such a stupid idea? You probably just copied and pasted a reference to the article without paying attention to the date. I really wonder how people like you can become such imbeciles when it comes to Syria. What kind of “NATO survey” can this possibly be? People with NATO id’s going door to door in Damascus? I mean, really, if you are going to write bullshit for Assad, at least spend 5 minutes fact-checking your troll-bait beforehand.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 25, 2018 @ 2:55 pm

  11. Here’s more on the World Tribune that was the source of the “NATO Poll” report:

    Aficionados of the Drudge Report may have noticed several striking headlines recently linking to stories from the World Tribune, an enterprise with a title as grand and ambitious as it is unfamiliar. One such story last week began, “U.S. intelligence suspects Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have finally been located.” The apparent scoop—of stop-the-presses significance—was unsigned, and billed as a “special to World Tribune.com.” The Times, the Journal, and the Washington Post, meanwhile, not only got beat but failed even to acknowledge the news in the days that followed. What gives?

    Not everyone ignored it: Rush Limbaugh, for instance. “There’s a piece in the World Tribune today—one of the papers in the United Kingdom—exactly as theorized on this program early on,” he said on his radio show. “It’s unconfirmed, but it’s a story that many of the weapons of mass destruction are at present buried in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.” Fox News, catering to a similar demographic, enlisted a military analyst that evening to discuss potential ramifications—military intervention in Lebanon?—on “The O’Reilly Factor.” According to the story, the weapons were probably delivered to the Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold, in a caravan of tractor-trailers that was spotted leaving Iraq in January, two months before the war began, as part of a multimillion- dollar storage deal between Saddam Hussein and the Syrian government.

    In fact, the World Tribune is not published in the United Kingdom, nor is it, to be precise, a newspaper. It is a Web site produced, more or less as a hobby, in Falls Church, Virginia, and is dedicated to the notion, as its mission statement explains, that “there is a market for news of the world and not just news of the weird.” (Nonetheless, the site includes a prominent feature, Cosmic Tribune, with an extraterrestrial focus, and it links to a Mafia journal called Gang Land News.) Its editor and publisher, Robert Morton, is an assistant managing editor at the Washington Times and a former “corporate editor” for News World Communications, the Times’ owner and the publishing arm of the Unification Church, led by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. (Morton and his wife, Choon Boon, are themselves followers of the Reverend Moon.) Among the World Tribune’s other recent half-ignored scoops are that Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for last month’s blackout and that a North Korean defector stressed, during a meeting in July with White House officials, the need for a preëmptive military strike against Kim Jong Il.

    Morton said last week via e-mail that he founded the site as an experiment, back in 1998, while serving as a media fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank. “I didn’t expect World Tribune.com to last for more than a few months,” Morton wrote, but now, despite having no dedicated staff (“Everyone involved with World Tribune.com has a day job”), the site receives more than a million page views per month. And, unlike the Washington Times, which has lost at least a billion dollars in its twenty-one-year existence, World Tribune.com, in concert with the subscription-driven weekly intelligence briefing Geostrategy-Direct.com (a partner site), has paid for itself.


    Comment by louisproyect — February 25, 2018 @ 3:50 pm

  12. Apologies, my error, as the NATO survey reported by Mehrunisa Qayyum in her Huffington Post article “Is Assad Winning Hearts and Minds is indeed from 2013.” While she provides a link for the supposed survey, I should have realized that something was wrong because when I clicked on the link she provided, “no such page” came up. But since Qayyum does concede that NATO’s website did not list this survey, I went ahead anyways, not realizing that the googled article I was quoting was from 2013, not yesterday. What confused me was alongside the googled article a column of “trending articles’ were listed that actually were from yesterday’s Huffpost.

    Comment by jacobo — February 25, 2018 @ 5:53 pm

  13. > “dual power” refers to what takes place under revolutionary conditions. For example, in the country Graeber’s father fought in, there really was a dual-power situation. Vast portions of the country were producing food and manufactured goods on farms and factories after ousting the bosses.

    Actually what happened is the anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, workers etc. “produced food and manufactured goods on farms and factories after ousting the bosses”. The Russian-aligned communists in Spain were like the Russian-aligned communists in China in 1948, definitely not supportive of a worker’s revolution in Spain at that time, in fact, fighting against it. Like in Barcelona in May 1937. Just like Trotsky put down worker’s revolution in Kronstadt in 1921.

    What was necessary in that historical moment can be debated, but the communists were not for worker’s control of production in 1936-1937 Spain. In fact the communists were barely there at all in 1936 Spain.

    Comment by Adelson — February 25, 2018 @ 11:09 pm

  14. A South African comrade sent me L.P.’s article with this remark:

    “This article will not appeal to your campsite politics.

    I now decided to comment by publishing my answer to him:

    “I’m still considering commenting on Louis’ article, I did some comments on articles of different issues on his website during the last years. But not about Rojava or the war in Syria, I think wrt these issues he has totally separated himself from reality. He would be the first to be beheaded if he would go to his beloved rebel comrades in Ghouta East.

    I don’t think I’m in a campsite wrt my Rojava policy, i rather think people like him are still very much enclosed in their 100 years of Trotzkyte cage. He doesn’t really know much about Kronstadt and Barcelona – The spanish war if he still not coming to terms with the main stream anarchists and policies of that time, he is always relying on what Trotzky wrote.

    And the Rojava people (not only the Kurds there) face very similar problems like the spanish people of the 30ies. The Kurds have a hundred years of bad experiences now with imperialist, sub-imperialist and feudal structures and powers and how they have been cheated:

    – after WW1 with the Locarno etc. treaties denying them their own statehood

    – after WW2 the destruction of the Republic of Mahabad in Iran 1946, by combined action of central Iran gov and western allies, the USSR preparing the way to it, like in Greece at the same time

    – then after the fall of the Shah 1979 and the iraqui – iranian war they were left alone by their US – allies and others after the gas attac by Saddam on their people in Halabsha, killing 5000

    – so they know what they are doing, be it aligning themselves with the US fighting ISIS, aligning with Assads syrian army to fight the invading turkish army or trying to build up better relations with Russia – they know they are surrounded by powers that would just like them to be suppressed like in the decades before.

    On PYD / YPK / PKK websites you’ll find articles admitting the wrong policies by kurdish org. and institutions during the turkish genozide against the Armenians, the Kurds supporting the turkish army and elite in committing this. Self critic is not something on paper only, I can say that because I have been with turkish, kurdish and iranian comrades as long as with african, nearly 45 years now

    I think this is the Graeber article Louis mentioned but couldn’t find:

    But there are much more important issues for me than commenting on his website: at the moment the german gov e.g. is trying to suppress any resistance against the turkish aggression against Afrin, there were 31 weapon delivery contracts to Turkey within the last 4 months only, by home affairs regulations they ban PYD and YPK banners and flags and storming appartments and houses in the cities if you display these, banning rallies in support of PYD / YPK because of the old PKK ban of the 90ies. So these issues are much higher on our agenda than to fight with Louis


    Thomas Siepelmeyer

    Comment by Thomas Siepelmeyer — February 28, 2018 @ 10:21 am

  15. Thomas, I am not defending Trotzky. I am defending Marx. Rojava is based on the writings of Murray Bookchin who hated Marxism. Here’s what he wrote in 1969 when I was a young socialist.

    From “Listen, Marxist!”:

    All the old crap of the thirties is coming back again—the shit about the “class line,” the “role of the working class,” the “trained cadres,” the “vanguard party,” and the “proletarian dictatorship.” It’s all back again, and in a more vulgarized form than ever. The Progressive Labor Party is not the only example, it is merely the worst. One smells the same shit in various offshoots of SDS, and in the Marxist and Socialist clubs on campuses, not to speak of the Trotskyist groups, the International Socialist Clubs, and Youth Against War and Fascism.


    Comment by louisproyect — February 28, 2018 @ 12:59 pm

  16. Thomas, regarding your breathtakingly ignorant comment that Louis “would be the first to be beheaded if he would go to his beloved rebel comrades in Ghouta East”, since you apparently believe you know something, can you please provide a single instance of a rebel beheading in East Ghouta, ever.

    Comment by mkaradjis — February 28, 2018 @ 2:19 pm

  17. mkaradijs, do you wanna take the shit out of me? how can I take you serious any longer? I’m not going to discuss with you on such a basis. Ghouta is full of all these al quaida and other headchopping organisations. I’m not going to be dragged into a corner to accept them for the sake of getting rid of Assad, another mass murder

    Comment by Thomas Siepelmeyer — February 28, 2018 @ 7:47 pm

  18. Rojava is not based on Murray Bookchin or Marx or Trotzky or Öcalan. It is based on the will and efforts of its people to defend the only place worth of living in todays Syria, Iraq, Turkish Kurdistan and a lot of other places in the middle east. Louis, your characterisation of M.B.’s 1969 brochure is squalid. You think you can finish him off by citing his first sentence in the Prologue when he tries to take the best out of Marx’ and Engels’ thinking and writing – like immediately after this first sentence he lays down the purpose of this small booklet:

    “Marx, to his lasting credit, tried to do that in his own day; he tried to evoke a futuristic spirit in the revolutionary movement of the 1840s and 1850s. “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living,” he wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

    “And just when they seem to be engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something entirely new, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther donned the mask of the Apostle Paul, the revolution of 1789 to 1814 draped itself alternately as the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the revolution of 1848 knew nothing better than to parody, in turn, 1789 and the tradition of 1793 to 1795. … The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past. … In order to arrive at its content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead. There the phrase went beyond the content; here the content goes beyond the phrase.”

    The thoughts in his brochure are quite advanced compared with what was the talk of the day in the 60s and 70s in the radical left on both sides of the Atlantic and it is still very wise to study him these days – so I appreciate the discussion in Rojava and other regions in the ME about – not only – M.B.

    Comment by Thomas Siepelmeyer — February 28, 2018 @ 8:12 pm

  19. “Rojava is not based on Murray Bookchin or Marx or Trotzky or Öcalan.”

    Certainly not Marx or Trotzky but certainly Bookchin/Ocalan. You are aware that Ocalan is revered in Rojava and that he credits Bookchin as having helping him to formulate the principles that Rojava is based on.

    “The thoughts in his brochure are quite advanced compared with what was the talk of the day in the 60s and 70s in the radical left on both sides of the Atlantic”. Who gives a shit? I am the unrepentant Marxist, not some anarchist. If you are as hostile to Marxism as Bookchin was, then piss off.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 28, 2018 @ 8:43 pm

  20. “mkaradijs, do you wanna take the shit out of me? how can I take you serious any longer?” Just to be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that I was taking you even the remotest bit seriously, I just responded for the sake of other readers. “Ghouta is full of all these al quaida and other headchopping organisations.” What an extraordinarily ignorant and racist statement. I asked you to provide even a single example of a “head-chopping” in Ghouta, and of course you cannot. All you can do is essentialise the hundreds of thousands of people there as “al qaida” and “headchoppers.” You know zero, and you are showing it.

    Comment by mkaradjis — March 1, 2018 @ 12:42 am

  21. Somebody like M.B. is much closer to Marx than unrepentant grimly old men defending old party concepts:

    “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

    “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Or, speaking with Nelson Mandela: “No one is free until the last one is free”

    “In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.

    In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.

    Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.”

    ” Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”

    Have a look here at M.B. daughter Debbie’s piece: Radical Municipalism: The Future We Deserve by Debbie Bookchin | ROAR Magazine | July 2017

    reproduced by AIDC Cape Town (www.aidc.org.za) – people with a deep background in marxism and even trotzkysm, but always committed to the real movement of change in society

    Personally: I was thinking all the years reading your blog that “unrepentant” would be a rather humoristic self description of yours to defend marxist thinking against the main stream trying to bury it. But obviously you understand it in it’s worst sense: “verstockt, verbohrt sein” in german

    Do you have any humor at all?

    Comment by Thomas Siepelmeyer — March 1, 2018 @ 7:50 am

  22. Thomas S.: Having read your entirely humorless posts in this thread, one has to ask re humor: what’s so funny about the agony of Syria? and how does an anarchist, presumably free to be as identitarian or even intersectionalist as she wishes, find it appropriate to denigrate an antagonist for being old?

    The left is full of lonely rogue males who live to pick fights, Grasping their lapels and shaking their forefingers like Stalinist images of Lenin, they mansplain their personal homespun versions of the dialectic to anyone who will listen and to the empty air when nobody is listening, Back in the seventies, around universities, the less socially crippled of these one-man vanguards used their party lines to pick up women at wine and cheese parties.

    Apparently this disease is not confined to people calling themselves Marxists.

    There’s a lot to be said for Graeber, et al. (and if you are being fair, you have to give Louis full credit for acknowledging this within the framework of Marxism), but anyone who sees a revolutionary future in cooperatives per se (Mondragon anyone?) ignores the inherent limitations of such structures.

    Not to see that the original virtues of Rojava are certain to be doomed by the alliances to which they are resorting at present is to ignore the sinister reality of the imperialist world system that condemned Syria to the Assads and Ba’athism in the first place.

    Flying into hysterics over Islamism does not solve this, This reminds me of the self-indulgent, Braying jackass “antifa” nonsense, which cannot see past the wrong idea that fascism is the most important–indeed the only important–reality that can ever exist on the political scene.

    “Headchopping” my arse in any case, What a smug, stupid, phony, affected, self-righteous, disingenuous bullshit word. It’s nothing but code for rank islamophobia combined with anti-Arab racism. (God love the Kurds for speaking an indoeuropean language, hey lads?)

    Graeber and Bookchin deserve better.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 1, 2018 @ 12:58 pm

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