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The Internationalist
October 2014

Drive U.S. / NATO Imperialists Out of the Middle East

For Workers Action to Defeat
 Barack Obama’s Iraq/Syria War

Barbarism? Beheadings? U.S. imperialists do it with drones. Below: Internationalist Group at August 9 demonstration protesting Israeli war on Gaza. (Internationalist photo)

On the eve of the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Barack Obama declared a new U.S. war, this time in Iraq (again) and Syria. The recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize announced his intention to bomb the Middle Eastern countries at will in order to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Sunni Islamist “holy warriors” calling themselves the Islamic State (I.S.). After 13 years of war and occupation, the imperialist superpower is still bogged down in Afghanistan. And having formally exited Iraq in 2011, eight years after invading, the Pentagon has now sent U.S. troops back while declaring Syria a free-fire zone. So much for the hopes of the millions who voted for Obama as an “antiwar” candidate. “Back to Iraq with Barack” isn’t exactly what they had in mind.

The new U.S. war actually began a month earlier, when Washington launched air strikes against I.S. forces in northern Iraq as they bore down on Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, described in the press as “home to a United States Consulate and thousands of Americans” (New York Times, 9 August). “Thousands”? Those would be the huge numbers of “contractors” (mercenaries), “advisers,” “support personnel” and oil company employees who stayed on after U.S. troops departed. By the time Obama let loose a torrent of cruise missiles in Syria on September 23, the U.S. military said that it had carried out at least 194 air strikes in Iraq. But this didn’t put a dent in Sunni Islamist control of more than a quarter of the country.

Obama says the bombing (now dubbed “Operation Inherent Resolve”) is being carried out to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing, the same claim made by Bill Clinton for his two wars on Yugoslavia in 1995 and 1998-99. This is standard procedure when Democrats launch wars. As air strikes began in August, Washington billed them as a rescue mission against the threat of imminent genocide by the I.S. of the Yazidi religious minority of Kurds trapped on Sinjar Mountain in Iraq. But when U.S. special forces arrived on the mountain, they declared no rescue mission was needed and that was the end of that. More recently, after a long siege, I.S. attackers had already entered the largely Kurdish city of Kobanê on the Syria-Turkey border threatening a slaughter before the U.S. started dropping bombs. A “humanitarian” war? No way.

Last year, the U.S. and British population didn’t go for bombing Syria over the supposed use of chemical weapons on its own people by the regime of Bashar Assad (a lie the warmongers keep repeating despite all evidence to the contrary). This time public opinion has been whipped into a pro-war frenzy by grisly videos of beheadings of American and British captives by the fanatical Islamists of the I.S. Yet a key U.S. ally is Saudi Arabia, the reactionary Islamist monarchy that beheads people all the time (79 in 2013, 22 this past August alone), particularly foreigners. Recall as well that Barack Obama personally signs off on every drone strike, including the one that killed the 16-year-old son of American imam Anwar al-Malaki, himself killed by a drone in Yemen. The Islamists use swords and knives, the U.S. uses drones.

Victims of December 2013 U.S. drone strike in Bayda province, Yemen that killed 15 members of wedding party. U.S. has slaughtered thousands of civilians in “targeted killings” (assassinations) by drones. (Photo: Al Jazeera)

A “war against terrorism”? The U.S. military machine is the biggest terrorist force in the world. It bombed Baghdad in 2003 in order to terrorize the Iraqi population into submission. The Islamists slaughter hundreds, the Pentagon murders millions (4 million in Korea, 3 million in Vietnam, 1 million plus in Iraq). Strip away the pretexts and Barack Obama’s Iraq/Syria attack is one more imperialist war for world hegemony. It is intended to demoralize Palestinian resistance to Zionist occupation, to reassert U.S. domination of the Middle East, to “send a message” to Russian strong man Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, to intimidate the leaders of the Chinese deformed workers state in Asia and opponents of Yankee imperialism in Latin America.

And U.S. terror war abroad is linked to racist repression and the war on working people “at home.” Many of the same tactics and weapons of urban counterinsurgency used by the Israelis on the West Bank are deployed against the black population of Ferguson, Missouri. Immigrants are treated as the “enemy within” as right-wing politicians fantasize about terrorists surging across the Mexican border and unleashing ebola in Manhattan. Education “reformers” label teachers unions “terrorists” and rip up job security as bosses seek to “degrade and destroy” the labor movement. From Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to the U.S., we must fight to defeat the capitalist/imperialist war that targets the poor, oppressed and workers of the world.

We wage this struggle with our own methods, of militant class struggle. As at the time of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and since then, the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International call for workers action against the war. Examples include the 2003 actions by Scottish and Italian railway workers to block weapons trains, the 2008 strike by the U.S. West Coast longshore union (ILWU) against the war on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the refusal by ILWU Local 10 to handle Zim Lines ships after Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2010 and this year. As supporters of the revolutionary program of Lenin and Trotsky, the leaders of the 1917 Russian October Revolution, we stand for class war against imperialist war.

Cranes idle, booms up: Transport Workers Solidarity Committee picket of Zim Lines ship in port of Oakland, California, in early morning of September 27, to protest Israeli war and blockade of Gaza. ILWU longshoremen refused to work the ship in act of international labor solidarity. For workers action against imperialist / Zionist war! (Photo: Labor Video Project)

I. A War for Imperialist Domination

Despite widespread illusions among liberals, when Obama campaigned for president in 2008 the Democratic candidate said he wasn’t opposed to all U.S. military intervention, just to “dumb wars” like the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Republican president George W. Bush. Obama meant wars that end up weakening U.S. imperialism and strengthening its foes, which the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and occupations have certainly done. But after three years of resisting calls by Republicans (and top officials in his own administration, including ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ex-CIA chief David Petraeus) to arm Syrian rebels, wary of getting drawn into the quagmire of that civil war, now Obama has done just that, with dire consequences. Why?

First of all for domestic political reasons. After months of being pummeled by Republicans and even liberal pundits as a “feckless” president, Obama worried that if he failed to attack, he would be labeled “soft on terrorism” and Democrats would take even bigger losses in the upcoming midterm elections, guaranteeing a solid Republican Congress and legislative paralysis for the rest of his administration. But bombs didn’t stop the “who lost Iraq and Syria” blame game. If Obama launched his reelection bid by “taking out” (assassinating) Osama bin Laden, now the administration is being faulted for being too focused on Al Qaeda and failing to anticipate the explosive growth of the Islamic State.

The grisly videos of executions of two American journalists and a British aid worker, played over and over on the Internet, are cited as justification for  the “new” U.S. war. At the United Nations Obama proclaimed that there can be “no negotiation” with “this brand of evil” (the Islamic State) and declared his intent to “dismantle this network of death.” (Recall George W. Bush inveighing against an “axis of evil” including Iran, Iraq and North Korea in order to escalate his invasion of Afghanistan into a “Global War on Terror,” or GWOT in Pentagonese.) Yet beginning on August 19, the beheadings came a week after and were explicitly in retaliation for the American air strikes in Iraq.

U.S. rulers and media always try to reduce any conflict to a dichotomy of good vs. evil. Partly they think Americans are too stupid to understand anything more, so they paint the current enemy, whether Saddam Hussein or Bashar Assad, as Satan incarnate. They also want to hide the fact that the “good guys” often are “our sons of bitches” (as Franklin D. Roosevelt described Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza). A commentator on CNN claimed to provide “moral clarity” about the Syrian civil war, saying, “Simply put: Syrian government, bad. Syrian people, good.” Today the Islamic State “barbarians” are contrasted to the “moderate” rebels of the “Free Syrian Army.” Yet all the Sunni rebel groups seek to impose an Islamic state, and an FSA leader was videotaped cutting out the heart of a Syrian soldier and eating it. Some “good guys”!

At bottom, the new Iraq/Syria war reflects the need of U.S. imperialism to assert its world domination. As the London Economist (17 September) wrote:

“The sense that America is locked in relative decline has been growing in recent years, as it has languished under the shadow of the financial crisis and two long, difficult wars. Why should a newly rich country like China take lectures about how to run its affairs from a president who struggles even to get his own budget through? America, meanwhile, seems swamped by the forces of disorder, either unable or unwilling to steady a world that is spinning out of control. IS embodies this frightening trend.”

The war makers in Washington figure that with U.S. economic strength in decline, how can they intimidate rivals and opponents anywhere if they don’t use their firepower in Iraq and Syria?

Obama has labored mightily to distinguish his Iraq war from his predecessor’s. Announcing it, he said he was assembling a “broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.” Although the U.S. claims that 40 countries have enlisted, it doesn’t look all that different from Bush’s 2003 “coalition of the willing”: the U.S. military for the heavy-duty action, plus assorted imperialists and Arab countries as window dressing. Sunni Arab emirates and monarchies were included so the U.S. wouldn’t look like the air force of Shia-ruled Iraq. But NATO ally Turkey under reputed “moderate Islamist” president Tayyip Erdogan was conspicuously absent, having for years aided the Islamists jihadis pouring into Syria and being determined to keep the Kurdish minority down.

U.S. president Obama vows not to send ground troops to Iraq speaking to troops at Central Command headquarters, McGill AFB, Tampa, FL, September 17. But Pentagon brass repeatedly contradicts him. (Photo: Reuters)

The White House has insisted that the operation “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil,” as Obama said on September 10. But testifying in Congress six days later, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he might well call for “the use of U.S. military ground forces.” The next day Obama vowed again to troops at U.S. Central Command HQ in Tampa, Florida: “I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.” That same day, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told journalists, “you’ve got to have ground forces.” And on September 25, Gen. Dempsey repeated to the press that he “might, at some point, recommend that we need a large ground force.”

Such a public contradiction by top officers of their commander-in-chief’s policy borders on insubordination. The fact that Dempsey provocatively repeated his statement instead of tendering a resignation (as Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the Afghanistan commander, did in 2011 after a Rolling Stone article quoted him bellyaching that Obama hadn’t sent more troops) suggests that the Pentagon brass are solidly opposed to Obama’s “no U.S. ground troops” line. In reality, U.S. “advisors” are in the field “embedded” with Iraqi units, and now a division HQ from the First Infantry has been deployed to organize U.S. and Iraqi forces at Joint Operations Centers in Baghdad and Erbil. In short, the boots are already on the ground.

Meanwhile, in Syria U.S. air strikes have not only hit I.S. targets in the east but also affiliates of the al-Nusra Front, the official Al Qaeda franchisee, from which the group now calling itself the Islamic State split earlier this year. A few days earlier, U.S. spy chiefs began talking about a hitherto unknown “Khorasan Group” linked to al-Nusra which was supposedly just as dangerous as the I.S. (While the U.S. considers al-Nusra a terrorist organization, the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels work closely with it.) So when air strikes targeting the “Khorasan Group” led to civilian casualties, there were protests in northern Syria by the rebels the U.S. says it is supporting together with al-Nusra and I.S. accusing Obama of aiding the Assad regime.

Dumb and dumber: if for liberals who want a less militaristic U.S. foreign policy, the new attack on Iraq and Syria is “Barack Obama’s dumb war,” the policy of Washington hard-liners is sure to blow up. Leading the war hawks is none other than Hillary Clinton. As early as mid-2012, a “plan that Mr. Petraeus developed and Mrs. Clinton supported called for vetting rebels and establishing and arming a group of fighters” in Syria (New York Times, 3 February 2013). Last month, burnishing her “tough guy” image as the virtual Democratic nominee for president in 2016, Clinton openly attacked Obama’s Syria policy (which she characterized as “don’t do stupid stuff”). Now Clinton’s supporters are pushing to send in thousands of U.S. ground troops.

We have noted the role of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, appointed by Hillary and a close associate since Bill Clinton’s administration, in pushing for confrontation with Putin’s Russia in Ukraine, including working with Ukrainian fascists. Nuland’s husband, Robert Kagan, also a former Clinton adviser, was co-founder of the “neo-conservative” Project for a New American Century which beat the war drums to attack Iraq. He has now co-authored A Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State (September 2014) with sister-in-law Kimberly Kagan, a former aide to Gen. McChrystal in Afghanistan, who is married to Frederick Kagan, author of the 2007 troop “surge” plan in Iraq, starring one David Petraeus.

It is obvious to one and all that the “moderate” Islamist Syrian rebels (no one even bothers to pretend now that they are secular) will never be a militarily credible force.1 Equally clear is the danger of Syria falling apart with feuding Islamist bands, as in Libya. So when Obama called, in his September 10 speech, to “strengthen the opposition” while “pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis,” hardliners worry that he is aiming at a “solution” that would integrate some “moderate” rebels into the present Syrian regime. To counter this, the Kagan “strategy” calls for “as many as 25,000 ground troops in Iraq and Syria” plus another 10,000+ “quick reaction” and combat aviation troops, and a whole lot of support personnel. If Obama hesitates to implement it, a president Hillary Clinton surely would.

In the same vein, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a neocon think thank, has issued a report titled “The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Need for an ‘Adequacy of Resources’” (17 October), arguing that the present air war is little more than a pinprick (“too little, too slowly”), totaling in two months less than one-fifth the number of air strikes on an average day of the 1990-91 Gulf War. He asks pointedly, “How does this war escalate?” And against lily-livered liberals wringing their hands over civilian casualties, Cordesman replies in Pentagon-speak: “Humanitarian reality requires looking at the total butcher’s bill from war, not focusing on one aspect of the fighting.”

So the armchair butchers, the same neocon gang that couldn’t shoot straight which a decade ago brought you the Afghanistan and Iraq invasion/occupations, now proposes to set the region aflame by pumping tens of thousands of ground troops into Iraq and Syria. And if they aren’t U.S. forces, where would they come from? Saudi troops in Iraq? The Shia militias would be up in arms. Turkish troops in Syria? Arabs would see the spectre of a new Ottoman Empire. Like those caveat emptor (buyer beware) lists of risk factors that mutual funds are required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to put on their prospectuses, the Kagans admit that “this strategy contains a high risk of failure” and go on to cite more than a dozen different and very plausible ways in which the whole thing could go up in smoke.

But this won’t stop the imperial strategists, who see their empire at risk. There is talk of the return of a “war party” in Washington, referring to the hawkish Cold Warriors back in vogue since the blow-up with Russia over Ukraine. But while there are sometimes important tactical differences, just as there is a bipartisan “property party,” all wings of both capitalist parties are part of the imperialist “war party.” In this epoch of decaying capitalism, there is no “peace-loving” sector of the U.S. ruling class, which is still desperate to climb out of economic depression since the 2008 financial crisis and stock market crash. Ultimately, the hardliners in the bourgeoisie will prevail unless they are checked on the battlefield or in the class struggle.

Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex is salivating at the thought of feasting at the Pentagon feeding trough. “The open-ended air war against the Islamic State group will mean billions in sales for bombs and missiles,” not to mention spare parts, fighter jets, spy planes, etc., reported AFP Pentagon correspondent Dan de Luce in Space Daily (9 October), an industry publication. De Luce quoted a top military consultant: “It’s the perfect war from a defense contracting standpoint and a defense spending standpoint.” Already shares for Lockheed Martin (which manufactures the Hellfire missile for the Reaper drones) are up 9.3% and Raytheon landed a $251 million contract for more Tomahawk cruise missiles. At $1.4 million apiece, with 47 Tomahawks fired on the first day of the air strikes in Syria, that makes…

A “perfect war” for military contractors. With occupation of Afghanistan winding down, there is shrinking market for equipment like mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) armored vehicles, such as the M-ATV model shown here on display outside the Pentagon. Surplus is being donated to police departments in U.S. for use against “civil disturbances,” like in Ferguson, Missouri. New, profitable product lines are being developed.(Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP)

All this is reported under a Space Daily rubric titled “Milplex” whose slogan is “big bucks, big bangs.” Daddy Warbucks, the caricature of a military profiteer, is rubbing his hands in glee. The merchants of death are out to make a killing. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (18 October) headlined its article: “Hopes for a Long, Profitable War.” Military contractors like Oshkosh Defense, which announced layoffs because of a shrinking market for their M-ATV mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, now being donated as surplus to police forces (like Ferguson, Mo.) around the U.S., are already developing new product lines for their “customers.” Marxists will recall Rosa Luxemburg’s famous aphorism about the slaughter of World War I: “Dividends rising, proletarians falling.”

Now Turkey is calling on the U.S. to decree a “buffer zone” in Syria while the generals and civilian war planners in D.C. are discussing imposing a “no-fly zone” in northern Syria, which as in Libya would involve massive attacks on the Syrian air force and air defense system and huge numbers of casualties. Whereupon all hell would break loose.

II. A Third U.S. War as Iraq Rips Apart

Mahdi Army rallies in its stronghold of Sadr City, Baghdad, on June 20. Shia militias have been terrorizing Sunni neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital.   (Photo: Tyler Hicks/New York Times)

This past June as Mosul fell to the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, now the I.S.) which then headed south toward Baghdad, we underscored that “this latest war in Iraq is made in the U.S.A.” Imperialist intervention from the Balkans to the Middle East has led to:

“a massive escalation of inter-communal and sectarian slaughter, as minority populations are driven out everywhere. The multi-ethnic states resulting from artificial boundaries are being homogenized with a vengeance, with the U.S. pushing the process in the name of ‘democracy.’
“The bloody U.S. policy of ‘democracy through ethnic cleansing’ has taken such a heavy toll on southeastern Europe and the Middle East because of the existence of all kinds of ethnic and religious enclaves and mixed populations, which was the heritage of the Ottoman Empire….
“So in the Balkans, Christian Serbs and Croatians and Bosnian Muslims lived side-by-side speaking essentially the same language (although with different alphabets) while in the Levant along with a Sunni Arab Muslim majority there were enclaves of Druzes, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds, Greek Catholics, Maronite Christians, Assyrians, and dozens of other minorities….
“While recognizing the right of national self-determination, Trotskyists insist that the only equitable solution to the myriad national, ethnic, religious and linguistic conflicts of the region is through a struggle for socialist revolution.”
–“From Ukraine to Middle East: U.S. Imperialism Strikes Out,” The Internationalist No. 37, May-June 2014

Instead, ethnic hostilities in Mesopotamia (the “land between the rivers”) have reached the point of civil war, as the country rips apart at the seams. Now it has escalated into the third U.S. war in Iraq in as many decades. However deadly the conflicts between Shia, Sunni and Kurd in the past, imperialist intervention has only exacerbated them. It is necessary to overcome the division and unite the working people to throw off all the exploiters and their imperial overlords.

Iraq today is ruled by a sectarian regime, installed under the U.S. occupation, dedicated to enforcing the supremacy of the Shia branch of Islam over the Sunni Arab Muslims, who were dominant under Saddam Hussein and prior Iraqi governments going back to the (Sunni) Ottoman Empire, as well as against (majority Sunni) Kurds. The several Shiite Islamist parties are united in insisting that this formerly persecuted majority of the Iraqi population monopolize power. Following  the collapse of the Iraqi army in June, the U.S. and its imperialist allies blamed then prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shiite chauvinist government for excluding and persecuting Sunnis, which he did throughout his eight years in office, as Washington looked on.

Maliki imprisoned thousands of Sunni men on trumped-up charges, holding them in jail for years where most still languish. Shiite militias controlled by Maliki act as veritable death squads, assassinating several thousand Sunnis and stepping up their slaughter in recent months. Now a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has been installed due to U.S. pressure, who is described as more “open” and “pragmatic” (because he is filthy rich) and less sectarian than his predecessor. But the same was said of Maliki when he succeeded Ibrahim al-Jaafari. All three are core leaders of the Shiite Islamist Dawa Party. In fact, Abadi’s new cabinet has more Dawa party members, and Maliki is hardly out of power, having been named vice president of the country.

Islamic State parades armor captured in seizure of Mosul, Iraq in its stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, June 30.   (Photo: Reuters)

What has happened in Iraq over the last year and a half is that the extreme salafist jihadi2Islamic State has managed to place itself at the head of a Sunni insurrection against the Shiite regime. The proclamation of a caliphate in June by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, with himself as caliph or supreme religious and political authority, irked other conservative Islamist regimes, notably the Saudi monarchy and Gulf emirates, as well as Islamic scholars. But all Islamists are committed to establishing a theocratic religious state based on Islamic law (the sharia), and the I.S.’ successes against the Shia regime in Iraq and both the Assad government and other Islamist rebels in Syria, as well as its defiance of the West, have won support among disaffected Sunnis.

The Iraqi government is shot through with corruption. An army of 350,000 soldiers, on which almost $42 billion was spent over the last three years, melted away before an attacking force of only 1,300. The fact is that the I.S. never would have been able to conquer Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with 1.5 million inhabitants where government troops outnumbered the attackers by at least 15 to 1, and certainly not in the space of a few hours, if it were not for the tacit and active support of the large percentage of the Sunni Muslim population. The I.S. has acted as “the shock troops of a general Sunni revolt,” as veteran British Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote in his recent book, The Jihadis Return (OR Books, 2014).

Now Shiite militias are terrorizing Sunnis in Baghdad and at checkpoints leading to I.S.-held regions. Even the imperialist “human rights” agencies are noting the slaughter, in order to back U.S. calls for a more “inclusive” regime. Human Rights Watch’s bulletin “Iraq: Pro-Government Militias’ Trail of Death” (31 July) reports scores of murders of Sunnis around the country. An Amnesty International report, Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq (October 2014), documents how Shiite militias, particularly the Badr Brigades and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, both linked to former prime minister Maliki, work directly with government military and security forces to kidnap, ransom, torture and execute Sunnis, as well as Christians and other minorities.

“Sectarian attacks have spiraled to a level not seen since 2006-2007, the worst period of civil strife in the country’s recent history,” reports AI. That was when under U.S. commander David Petraeus, masked Shiite commandos, advised by U.S. “contractor” ex-Col. James Steele who supervised death squads in El Salvador, unleashed a reign of terror in the Sunni population.3 Cockburn sums up: “The inability of the Baghdad government to field a national army and its reliance on militias means that Iraq is in the last stages of disintegration. The few mixed Sunni-Shia areas are disappearing…. The final break-up of Iraq has become a fact” (Independent [London], 14 October).

Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has been seizing areas it has long coveted, notably the oil capital of northern Iraq, Kirkuk. In the process, the KRG has been persecuting Sunni Arabs and Turkmen residents, using the Iran-backed Shia militias to do the dirty work. AI reports that “Shi’a militias are operating openly, and in cooperation with or at least with the tacit consent of Kurdish Peshmerga [militia] forces,” and the KRG has made it clear “that it does not intend to give up control of the city.” The conservative, tribalist Barzani clan have been tools of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency since the 1970s.

Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani (left), then president of Iraq "government," together with Massoud Barzani, head of Kurdish regional government, celebrate oil exports from Kurdistan, June 2009. Skimming off oil riches and U.S. aid have made them both billionaires. (Photo: KRG)

After the 1991 Gulf War, when Shiites rose up in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north, the U.S. and Britain established a “no-fly zone” turning Iraqi Kurdistan into a de facto American protectorate. Since the 2003 U.S. invasion, which they supported, the Kurdish parties have been part of the Baghdad government while maintaining a semi-autonomous region. Territory and spoils have been divided, Talabani getting southern Kurdistan and national posts (first president, then vice president) and Barzani getting the north and control of the KRG. The lifeblood of the Kurdish region is production of oil, which the KRG has sought to export independently of the Iraqi government. Without oil, no Iraqi Kurdistan – hence the importance of seizing Kirkuk.

In the fighting with the Islamic State forces following the fall of Mosul, the fabled Kurdish peshmerga (guerrilla army) had no more success than the Iraqi army, although they didn’t just run away. Because of that, as well as historical ties and the huge number of Western “contractors” already in the area, the Kurdish forces have received considerable aid from the imperialists. The CIA has sent arms since August, the Germans have sent arms and “instructors” since late September, and now British Special Forces are on the scene. In addition, Israel has longstanding ties to the Iraqi Kurds, having armed the peshmerga since the 1970s. It now supports independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.

As for the Islamic State, maps published in the press of areas under its control look like worms stretching along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This understates the extent of I.S. domination, since those are the only inhabited areas of the vast desert region. At present some 5 to 6 million people are ruled by these Sunni jihadis who took over Raqqa, Syria in March 2013, Falluja, Iraq in January 2014, Mosul in June, Tikrit in July and by late summer had almost all of the Sunni areas north and west of Baghdad in their hands. This territory is hundreds of times larger than anything bin Laden ever controlled. And they have continued to advance in Iraq despite the air strikes, taking the city of Hit and now being on the verge of seizing Ramadi.

The I.S. success on the battlefield is due to several factors: support (tacit or overt) of the Sunni population of Iraq fed up with the Shiiite regime; a core of experienced former Baathist4 military commanders from Saddam Hussein’s army; and an estimated 1,000 battle-hardened Chechen Islamists, veterans of years of fighting Putin’s Russia. Very few Sunni tribal militias are siding with the Iraqi government, in contrast to 2007 when the U.S. was able to put them on the payroll. Some of the former Baathists and other Sunni leaders may figure they are using the I.S. as a battering ram against the Shia regime, but they will find it hard to throw off the would-be caliphate that will stop at nothing to destroy anyone deemed an obstacle to its rule.

In the areas they control, the I.S. jihadis have massacred huge numbers of supposed apostates and infidels. They set off car bombs in Shia areas. Their videos show them mowing down hundreds of captured Iraqi soldiers lined up at the edge of a mass grave. They have enslaved thousands of Yazidis, mostly women and girls. The I.S. brags about distributing Yazidi women as concubines. The latest issue of its English-language magazine Dabiq has an article on “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” referring to the Yazidis as pagans and “devil-worshippers” and saying “their women could be enslaved unlike female apostates” such as Shia Muslims, who are given the option of “repent or face the sword.”5Male “apostates” are simply executed.

III. Syria: Defend the Kurds, Defeat U.S./NATO Imperialism!

We have written previously about how “Syria has been engulfed by an upheaval that began as protest demonstrations, quickly morphed into a sectarian insurgency and became a communal civil war that is now spilling over to neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.” While opposing all sides in this war pitting Islamist reactionaries against the authoritarian Assad regime, we noted that if Washington and its allies unleashed their military power as they did in Libya:

“That would change the character of the conflict from inter-communal fighting to a battle against U.S./NATO intervention…. And any genuinely revolutionary Marxist, while giving no political support to the Assad regime, would stand foursquare for the military defense of Syria against imperialist aggression.”
–“U.S./NATO Imperialists Get Your Bloody Claws Off Syria!” The Internationalist No. 35, Summer 2013

So now the U.S. is bombing in Syria, and while Washington claims that its target is the “Islamic State,” that could change in a flash. Liberal “doves” might tut-tut about “mission creep” while liberal “hawks” would cheer if Obama bombs Syrian forces. But the entire region would go up in flames, and it could become a “proxy war” against Russia and Iran, with untold consequences.

Islamists dominate entire armed opposition in Syria. Formation of the Islamic Front announced in November 2013 by the Tawahid Brigade, the largest rebel group in Aleppo. Front includes Ahrah al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Kurdish Islamic Front and other militias not connected to Islamic State. (Photo: Islamic Front)

Inside Syria, faced with the total domination of the armed opposition by Islamists, and particularly the growth of the Islamic State, the hard-fisted Assad government has consolidated support (grudging or active) not only among various religious and ethnic minorities (Alawites, Druzes, Imami and Ismaili Shiites, Christians) but also among secular Syrians who fear a Sunni Islamic dictatorship. The liberal-minded, secular, educated Internet generation of elite youth who started the protests against government repression in the “Arab Spring” of March 2011 were quickly sidelined by the religious fundamentalists who dominate the Sunni Arab majority, particularly in the rural areas and impoverished outskirts of the major cities.

This has now become a bitter “Arab Autumn,” as Islamist rebels shoot Roman Catholic priests dead (François Murad, by Jabhat al-Nusra in Gassanieh); Syriac and Greek Orthodox Catholic bishops are abducted (Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, in Aleppo); women activists are forced by Islamist rebels to wear the veil (Marcell Shehwaro, by the Jaish al-Mujahedin in Aleppo), to flee the country (Souad Nawfal, by ISIS in Raqqa) or are disappeared (Razan Zaitouneh and Samira Khalil along with male colleagues, by the Army of Islam in Douma); and a 15-year-old boy selling coffee is executed on orders of a sharia court for blasphemy for allegedly insulting the prophet (Mohammed Qatta, in Aleppo).

In this dismal panorama, the forlorn liberal/reformist “progressive” milieu which had become increasingly despondent, hailing a mythical “Syrian Revolution” as the supposedly “moderate” rebels were eclipsed by the hardline jihadists, suddenly discovered the Kurds. Now blogs, e-mail lists and social media are abuzz about a supposed revolutionary commune in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), on the border with Turkey. David Graeber, the anarchist sociologist of Occupy Wall Street fame, authored an article, “Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria?” in the London Guardian (8 October), declaring what’s happening in Rojava to be today’s equivalent of the Spanish Republic, with popular councils, militias and worker-managed co-ops. 

click on image to enlargeMap of Kurdish areas (click image to enlarge).

According to Graeber, a veritable “social revolution” is underway, led by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliate, the PYD. The PKK, whose leader Abdullah Öcalan languishes in a Turkish jail, is still labeled terrorist by Turkey and U.S., the European Union and NATO imperialists for fighting for Kurdish independence. But “the PKK itself is no longer anything remotely like the old top-down Leninist party it once was” and doesn’t even call for a Kurdish state, says Graeber. Instead, it is now inspired by the Mexican Zapatistas and the anarchist Murray Bookchin, adopting the vision of “libertarian municipalism” to create “self-governing communities” based on “direct democracy” which could become a “model for a worldwide movement towards genuine democracy.” Hallelujah!

Actually, the PKK was never Leninist but a Stalinist-inspired nationalist party that braved murderous repression by the Turkish government. It is true that the PKK, the PYD (Democratic Union Party) and the militia linked to it, the YPG (People’s Protection Units), are not Islamists. Women in Rojava (as well as Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish Kurdish regions) are not obliged to wear the veil. There is a women’s militia unit, the YPJ, and the media are full of photos of Kurdish women guerrillas in Syria. And unlike the U.S. which wrote off Yazidi refugees (even as Obama used their plight as a “humanitarian” justification for his war), the YPG intervened to save 10,000 Yazidis, and has tenaciously fought off militarily superior I.S. jihadis in Kobanê.

Unlike the so-called moderate Sunni militias in Syria, with which it has periodically clashed, the PYD had not been allied with salafist jihadis. It has largely stayed out of the fratricidal communal civil war and the YPG includes Syriac units as well as Kurds. Nor, in contrast with activist groups like the Local Coordination Committees, are they part of the imperialist-approved, Turkish-controlled Syrian National Coalition (SNC), which contemptuously dismissed calls for Kurdish regional autonomy. Proletarian revolutionaries would defend the Kurdish areas against attacks by the Assad regime or the Free Syrian Army and certainly against the Islamic State whose victory would mean wholesale slaughter of Kurds.

Women fighters of the YPJ training in September. Thousands of Kurdish women in militias will have significant impact, while liberation from traditional oppression will require a social revolution. (Photo: Reuters)

Various reports attest to some important social gains in the region. Women in Syrian Kurdistan are surely much freer than in FSA- or I.S.-controlled areas. In itself, the fact of a women’s militia does not equal “radical empowerment of women” (Graeber), much less equality. Women have been active in many guerrilla movements, and there are also women’s units of the imperialist-backed Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga. But in Rojava the YPJ has enrolled as many as 10,000 female fighters, and this will certainly have an impact: a woman who knows how to handle an AK or heavy machine gun is less likely to be physically abused. Nevertheless, historically, after victory (or defeat) of the armed struggle, unless there is a social revolution women are usually relegated to traditional roles dictated by capitalism and its central conservatizing institution, the family.

There is nothing “anti-capitalist” about the autonomous areas of northern Syria. The popular councils, co-ops and “workers control” are largely hypothetical under wartime conditions in a besieged region whose economy has been devastated. In fact, the “social contract” which serves as the region’s charter guarantees the right of private property, and the PYD has assiduously sought unity with various bourgeois parties, including the corrupt capitalist rulers of Iraqi Kurdistan rather than posing a revolutionary opposition to Barzani and Talabani, who have become billionaires by siphoning off U.S. aid and oil profits.

Rojava is not some democratic/libertarian utopia, an imaginary Occupy on the Syrian-Turkish border. Such fantasies can only disorient, and in this case they’re being used to build support for imperialist intervention. In the glowing reports about “revolutionary Rojava,” the fact that the PYD/YPG has lately been doing all it can to become acceptable to the imperialists is given short shrift. Since the U.S. demanded that it join with the Free Syrian Army, in September the YPG set up a joint command together with several FSA-linked factions, including the “Jihad in the Path of God Brigade” and some Islamists pushed out of Raqqa by the I.S.6 So far, such elements appear marginal, but that could change.

Today even hard-line Zionists are singing the praises of the PKK/PYD.7 And since it has shown its is willing to play ball, the U.S. has stepped up bombing of I.S. targets and air-dropped supplies to the Kurds in Kobanê, while Ankara says it will let Iraqi peshmerga (but not the PKK) into the besieged city. If Barzani’s militia shows up, it will only be in order to fight the YPG. In any case, the U.S. and European imperialists will never accept Kurdish independence, or even real autonomy in northern Syria. That would threaten the Ottoman ambitions of the Islamist Erdogan and the Turkish nationalism of the army. And NATO Turkey is a linchpin for Western imperialist domination of the Middle East.

PKK militia in Erbil, seat of Kurdish regional government in Iraq, fought off Islamic State attackers in August while peshmerga of Barzani’s KRG collapsed. Yet rather than revolutionary opposition, PKK seeks unity with corrupt capitalist leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan.  (Photo: AFP)

We call for revolutionary defeatism on all sides in the communal civil wars wracking  Iraq and Syria. A victory for any of the warring sectarian forces or the respective governments would lead to atrocities against the opposing side, including bloodbaths and/or mass expulsion of entire populations. Proletarian revolutionaries support the right of self-defense against the threat of communal-sectarian slaughter. At the same time we are mortal enemies of Islamism of any stripe, as well as of Zionism and Christian fundamentalism. And far from calling on the U.S. and NATO to aid “moderate” anti-Assad rebels like they did in Libya, we call to expel U.S. imperialism from Syria, Iraq and the entire region.

As Leninists and Trotskyists, we stand with the oppressed fighting to free their lands from colonial and imperial domination. This includes siding with the struggles even of reactionary-led forces fighting against imperialism such as Marx and Engels did in the 1857 Sepoy Revolt against British rule in India (see our article “Marx on the Sepoy Revolt,” The Internationalist No. 21, Summer 2005); as Marx’s follower William Morris did with the 1880s Mahdi revolt against the British in Sudan; and Lenin did with the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China (see “Lenin on the ‘Boxer Rebellion’,” The Internationalist No. 21). We have written about Afghanistan:

“Following the example of Lenin and Trotsky, we stand on the side of the semi-colonial peoples against imperialism, and with those resisting the occupiers – who are by no means limited to Taliban, Al Qaeda or other Islamists.”
–“Defeat U.S. War on Afghanistan and Iraq,” The Internationalist No. 30, November-December 2009

And concerning the current situation in Iraq and Syria, we wrote in our last issue:

“But while giving no political support to any of the feuding bourgeois bands, communists defend those fighting against the U.S. imperialists, who unleashed a horrific bloodbath in conquering and occupying Iraq that far exceeds the crimes of a small-time bourgeois strongman like Saddam Hussein (or the Assads).”
–“From the Ukraine to Middle East: U.S. Imperialism Strikes Out,” The Internationalist No. 37, May-June 2014

Any actual blow against imperialist intervention and domination is in the interest of the working class and oppressed peoples of the world in the fight to drive the U.S./NATO imperialists out of the Middle East. Yet the Islamic State, while posing as defenders of Islam against Western “crusaders,” is not seeking to unite the oppressed masses of Iraq and Syria to throw off the imperialist yoke. The immediate targets of the I.S. “holy war” are the Kurdish, Shiite, Yazidi, Syrian and Iraqi Christian populations, as these Sunni jihadis seek to impose the oppressive social norms of an 8th-century nomadic tribal society on modern urban secularized populations. They have no compunction about allying with U.S. imperialism, as the forerunners of al Qaeda did against the Soviet Army and a reform regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And they have been financed and armed by the imperialist surrogates of the Arabian oil monarchies, as well as by NATO member Turkey.

In calling for working-class struggle to defeat imperialism, authentic Trotskyists have long defended the PKK, as well as defending Iranian and Iraqi Kurds against repression by the shah, Khomeini and Saddam Husein. We call for a socialist republic of united Kurdistan, to overcome the national oppression of the 30+ million Kurds, the largest nation in the world without a state due to the 1916 Sykes-Picot treaty and 1923 Lausanne treaty that carved up the Ottoman Empire. While opposing nationalism, this is a program for internationalist class struggle against the rulers of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, all with oppressed Kurdish minorities; against the imperialists, and against the Kurdish bourgeois ruling clans.

IV. Turkish Proletariat Is Key

Turkish soldiers and tanks at Syrian border keep out refugees fleeing Islamic State attack on Kobanê in September.  (Photo: AP)

Meanwhile, the Islamist Erdogan government in Ankara is playing hardball with Obama in its drive to project Turkey as a regional power, crush the Kurds and overthrow Assad in order to establish a (Sunni Muslim) Syrian client state. Despite its vague talk of support for the U.S.-led “coalition,” Turkey has been and still is an ally of the Islamic State, continuing to allow supply columns and recruits for the I.S. to cross the border (while blocking Kurds). Erdogan wants to regain the glory of the last caliphate, abolished by Kemal Atatürk in 1924. The crowds subjected to bloody police attack at Istanbul’s Gezi Park in June 2013 were protesting Erdogan’s plan to rebuild the Ottoman-era Taksim military barracks as a museum (and shopping mall) on the spot.

The symbolism is part of Erdogan’s broader program to provoke U.S. intervention against Assad. Thus a recording of a secret meeting between the Turkish spy chief, the foreign minister and a top military official that was leaked on YouTube revealed a plan to stage a “false flag” attack on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in northern Syria as an excuse for Turkish troops to move in (New York Times, 28 March). And journalist Seymour Hersh has published an extensive article detailing evidence of Turkish aid to Islamists preparing chemical attacks in Syria, and quoting former U.S. intelligence officials saying that the August 2013 gas attack in the eastern suburbs of Damascus was a Turkish plot:

“‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’”
–“The Red Line and the Rat Line,” London Review of Books, 14 April

Presently there are Turkish tanks and troops lined up just across the border from Kobane, waiting. Turkey has over 10,000 battle-ready tanks and an army of 510,000 soldiers, plus another 100,000 in the paramilitary gendarmerie to keep internal order (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 13 October). On October 2, the Turkish parliament approved a motion authorizing use of Turkish forces to invade Syria and Iraq. On October 10, more than 30 died as Turkish police and military attacked Kurdish demonstrators. On October 13, Turkish warplanes bombed PKK positions in southeastern Turkey. Thus a crucial factor of a proletarian program to defeat imperialism in the region is the mobilization of the Turkish working class against its warmongering rulers.

Most left groups long ago gave up any pretense of fighting for proletarian revolution in the Middle East, instead tailing after assorted nationalist and even Islamist groups, from the Palestinian PFLP and DFLP to Hezbollah in Lebanon. For the few that make any reference at all to workers revolution it is mostly lip service, an abstract invocation of a purely theoretical goal. But how could an actual working-class socialist revolution overthrowing capitalism and all the Zionist, Islamist, monarchist and militarist regimes, as well as defeating imperialism, come about? The Syrian working class, after all, has been largely atomized and destroyed. Key to the answer are the two big concentrations of proletarian power in the region, Egypt and Turkey.

Turkey has a working class of over 10 million, with strong contingents in heavy industry including steel, shipbuilding and mining, transportation and consumer goods manufacturing. A little over 1 million are members of trade unions, which like labor around the capitalist world have taken a beating from the capitalist offensive over the last three decades. In Turkey both military and Islamist regimes have gone after unions with a vengeance, but they are hardly in “death throes,” as an article on the web site Al-Monitor (5 May) claimed. There are left-oriented union federations DISK (Confederation of Revolutionary Unions) and the allied public sector KESK, and yearly pitched battles with the police on May Day.

Turkish left-wing unions DISK and KESK called 17 June 2013 nationwide strike (above, march in the capital, Ankara) to protest repression of demonstrators in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square by Erdogan’s Islamist regime. Revolutionary mass mobilization of workers power is necessary to defeat capitalist state terror.  (Internationalist photo)

The potential for militant workers struggle is palpable, as shown by the huge protests that swept Turkey over the hundreds of deaths in the Soma mine disaster this past May. Erdogan had to take refuge in a supermarket to escape an angry crowd. During the mass mobilizations over Gezi Park in June 2013 the DISK and KESK twice staged one-day “general strikes.” But faced with implacable repression by the police and military, such actions had little effect. Despite the reference to “revolutionary unions,” the actual policies of the Turkish labor left are social-democratic reformism. To bring workers’ power to bear, what’s needed is a revolutionary-internationalist workers party. 

Such a party would not limit itself to economic struggles but act as a tribune of all the oppressed. It would defend women’s rights. It would intransigently defend the Kurdish right to self-determination (independence) and stand with the millions of Alevis who like the Kurds have been subject to murderous attacks. It would seek to build mass, labor-based workers self-defense against official repression, fascist squads and Islamist mobs. And it would mobilize working-class action, including strikes, against Turkish intervention in Syria, as well in defense of the Palestinian people under the Zionist boot. All this, and resisting the inevitable anti-communist attacks, requires a solid footing on the Bolshevik program of Lenin and Trotsky.

V. Leninist-Trotskyist Workers Party
Vital to Middle East Revolution

As Republican Bush was about to launch war on Iraq, half a million protested in New York on 15 February 2003 (right). When Democrat Obama launches war in Iraq and Syria, liberals support it and opportunist leftists stay home. (Photo: AP)

Such revolutionary leadership is decidedly not what one will get from the would-be socialist and even “communist” left in the West today. It is striking that in the face of a new U.S. war in Iraq and Syria there have been no significant antiwar protests in the U.S., not even when Obama came to the United Nations to sell his campaign to bomb “evil” into oblivion. When Republican Bush launched the 2003 Iraq war there were half a million protesters in the streets of New York. Now, with a Democrat in the White House, some 300,000 joined a “climate march” organized by pro-war lobbyists to complement Obama’s pitch at the UN Climate Summit.8 Since their usual liberal allies are in favor of this war, the reformist leftist antiwar coalitions did nothing.

Meanwhile, after being all atwitter in 2011 over the Arab Spring “revolutions” which weren’t (see the collection of articles in The Internationalist No. 33, Summer 2011), the opportunist left ever since has sought to explain away the disastrous outcome in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, with military regimes and feuding Islamic bands, as part of a “long revolutionary process.” First prize in this category for absurdity is a recent article in the paper of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) titled “Unstoppable revolt in the Middle East.” Unstoppable? Want to bet? After citing a history of “ignoble U.S. deeds,” under the subhead “Uneven course of revolution” we read:

“The Middle East today is not the hopeless shambles portrayed by corporate media. But the fight for radical change is inevitably arduous….
“As in any revolutionary course, agonizing lessons are being learned; organizers seasoned; class consciousness heightened…. Socialist understanding deepens. No matter the obstacles and set backs, such political advances cannot be underestimated in the long view of revolution-building. They justify hope and solidarity for a secular, socialist, egalitarian Middle East.”
Freedom Socialist, October-November 2014

This is, hands down, the most ridiculous thing we have read in the left press in many moons. Class consciousness heightened, socialist understanding deepening? What world are these pollyannas living in? With murderous salafist jihadis slaughtering ethnic minorities, Shiite Muslims, even other Sunni Islamists; with U.S. imperialism on a bombing spree; with secular leftists increasingly isolated everywhere in the region, we’re supposed to believe things are hopeful, the secular socialist revolution is unstoppable! Why would anyone write such drivel? In order to alibi their disastrous policy of allying with reactionary religious fundamentalists and calling this unholy alliance “revolutionary.”

While the FSP has gone off the deep end, almost the entire spectrum of what passes for a socialist left is facing the same dilemma: how to justify the unjustifiable opportunism of allying with the pro-imperialist Islamist armed opposition to Assad, just as they did earlier against Qaddafi in the name of a non-existent “Libyan Revolution.” And this is not new: it goes back to 1979 when the whole lot of these pseudo-socialists hailed Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution” in Iran, which then turned around and murdered tens of thousands of leftists who had capitulated to the mullahs’ hijacking of the struggle against the murderous, CIA-installed shah. At the time our policy, the policy of authentic Leninism and Trotskyism, was “Down with the Shah, No to Khomeini!”

So why do they do it, why do such “socialists” end up backing such retrograde elements? One explanation is inveterate tailism: they’re so used to chasing after any popular movement that they can’t tell the difference between bourgeois liberal “progressives” and arch-reactionaries. But there is another key reason: as social-democratic reformists who only want to tinker with the capitalist system, to make it more “people-friendly,” they show a particular predilection for supporting the very same Islamist forces that “their own” imperialist rulers do. In Afghanistan, they all vituperated against Soviet intervention, and some hailed the CIA-backed mujahedin. In contrast, the genuine Trotskyists proclaimed, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!”

So things have been going from bad to worse over the last three years for the Western leftist cheerleaders for the phantasmagorical “Syrian Revolution.” But after months of claiming, all evidence to the contrary, that the armed gangs roaming the countryside are really moderate and secular, or at least sort of, suddenly there appears in northern Syria a force that more or less matches what the liberal imagination thinks “freedom fighters” should be like: the Kurds of Rojava. So in the space of a few weeks, the leftists who didn’t lift a finger to protest Obama’s air war in Iraq and Syria are holding big demonstrations, particularly in Germany (see article) and elsewhere in Europe, to “Save Kobanê.”

One little problem: this campaign is using sympathy for the determination of the Kurdish fighters to line up the Western left with the imperialist warmongers, who are the deadliest mass murderers of them all.

U.S. air strike in Kobanê, Syria, October 23.  Imperialists will not tolerate genuine autonomy for Kurdish region, much less independence for Kurdistan, as that would weaken their Turkish NATO ally, key to domination of the Middle East. (Photo: Reuters)

The leftists promoting this campaign are quite devious about it. L’Humanité, the newspaper associated with the French Communist Party (PCF), had a special issue on Kobanê (22 October) which criticizes Obama for setting Iraq aflame, slams French president François Hollande for supporting Turkey’s demand for a “buffer zone,” calls for an end to the criminalization of the PKK, and then has PCF national secretary Pierre Laurent calling on France to prioritize “the defense of universal values, the rights of peoples and peace…. for which it is loved by the peoples of the world,” and therefore to “respond favorably to the request of the Kurds of Kobanê to have the indispensable arms to resist and avoid a massacre….”

Translated: French imperialism – the invaders of Mali, the occupiers of Afghanistan, the bombers of Libya, the protagonists of dirty colonial wars against Algeria and Indochina, and the former colonial masters of Syria – with 900 troops now on the ground in Iraq, should see to it that Kobanê gets arms. From where? From the NATO imperialists, where else?

Oriented to a somewhat more leftish milieu than the reformist PCF, with its nationalist praise of France as “the land of human rights,” the no less reformist New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) resorts to double-talk. Thus in its newspaper, L’Anticapitaliste (16 October), it feigns a certain “critical” distance from the imperialists, saying “it doesn’t seem to us that one should expect great results from these appeals” to the West to arm the Kurds. But in a call (9 October) for a mass demonstration together with Kurdish groups, the NPA urges “the U.S. as well as the European Union to respond to their call [of the PKK and YPG] for material aid, in particular arms…..”

The NPA grew out of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), the French affiliate of the International (formerly United) Secretariat  of the late Ernest Mandel, in the course of abandoning all pretense of Trotskyism. The Danish Mandelites are part of the Red-Green Alliance (RGA), whose members of parliament voted for sending a Danish military plane to “transport weapons and ammunition to the Kurdish militias fighting Islamic State” (International Viewpoint, 15 September). While praising the PKK and YPG, in fact it is sending arms to the pro-imperialist Iraqi peshmerga. And while pretending that “this decision does not allow any other Danish military activity in the region,” only a week earlier Denmark sent a squadron of jets and 250 military personnel in Iraq under the aegis of NATO, then headed by former Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The NPA, RGA and their cohorts around West Europe are nothing but vulgar NATO social democrats, who have enlisted in the imperialist war drive in the Middle East. So how do they square this dirty reality with their tattered leftist pretensions? They use three main arguments: First, that the Islamic State represents a “new fascism.” This is the line of Mandelite leaders François Sabado (Inprecor, 27 September) and Pierre Rousset (International Viewpoint, 19 October). We’ve seen that before. It’s the punch line of “Islamo-fascism” used by ex-leftists like Christopher Hitchens to support the U.S. invasion/occupation of Iraq in 2003. But the I.S. is not a bunch of enraged petty bourgeois mobilized by big capital to smash the workers movement.

The salafist-jihadists of the “Islamic State” are Sunni religious fanatics preaching a theocratic political doctrine. USec “theoreticians” talk of Islamic fascism to hide the fact that the I.S. is an extreme form of Islamism, which these pseudo-leftists have supported for decades (Iran 1979, Afghanistan in the 1980s). Not only is this counterposed to Trotskyism, the political argument behind it is that of the Stalinist Georgi Dimitrov, codified in 1935, to justify chaining the working class to bourgeois forces in the name of a “popular front against fascism.” Trotsky thundered against this class-collaborationist policy (embraced also by the anarchists) that blocked proletarian revolution and enabled the victory of Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

The second argument of the leftist supporters of imperialist war is that the I.S. represents “barbarism.” Sabado refers to the “barbaric monster,” to peoples who are “victims of barbarism,” and so on. Thus calling for imperialist intervention to “save Kobanê” is supposedly defending humanity. The same with the third argument: the need to stave off impending massacre. We do not criticize besieged Kurds for getting arms where they can. But for would-be socialists to call on the U.S. and NATO to supply them ignores the fact that the imperialists are the most barbaric mass murderers of all. If Washington furnishes a dribble of munitions, it will be in order to use that bait to control and ultimately crush any trace of Kurdish independence or autonomy.

The more “sophisticated” (and cynical) apologists of calling on U.S. imperialism to arm the Kurds in Kobanê cite Trotsky’s May 1938 article “Learn to Think: A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists.” We’ve seen this ploy before, too: it was the knock-’em-dead argument of the Spartacist League (SL/U.S.) and its International Communist League to justify its shameful support of the American invasion of Haiti in January 2010 under the guise of providing earthquake relief. After months of vociferously defending this social-imperialist betrayal in the face of our denunciation, the SL/ICL finally “repudiated” its position, among other things admitting that it “misused the authority” of Trotsky.9 (Doubtless there are still some SL/ICL members and supporters who would like real answers as to how their organization degenerated so far as to make such an “error.” But as ever new zigzags keep coming, one thing is clear: they won't get those from the leadership of this demoralized centrist outfit.)

This was also the supposedly clinching argument of the Brazilian PSTU (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado), reformist followers of the late Nahuel Moreno, in justifying their call on the imperialists to arm the pro-imperialist Islamist bands fighting the Assad regime in Syria.10

What position would proletarian revolutionists take, Trotsky had asked, if fascist Italy, for its own imperialist interests, had decided to ship arms to Algerians fighting for independence from France. “Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians?” He answered that every revolutionist, class-conscious worker or Algerian rebel would indignantly spurn such a policy. In another article, “Answers to Questions on the Spanish Situation” (September 1938), Trotsky asked what Spanish dock workers would do if faced with two ships bearing arms, one for Franco and one for the Republic. Obviously, he answered, the workers should block the ship with weapons for Franco and let the one for the Republic pass.

There are two key reasons why the opportunists’ reference to Trotsky is false. First, Trotsky was asking whether workers should block arms shipments, not urging workers to call on fascist Italy or the imperialist “democracies” to arm Algerian rebels or insurgent Spanish workers. It was the Stalinists and anarchists who called to pressure France to send arms to Spain, while Trotsky warned that “democratic” France was an enemy of Spanish workers. And second, the pro-imperialist Islamist armed bands in Syria are not at all equivalent to Algerian fighters for independence or workers militias in Spain. They are reactionary sectarian-communalist forces that should be defeated by workers action, along with the authoritarian Assad regime.

Trotskyists call for workers revolution and socialist federation of the Middle East. (Internationalist photo)

The pseudo-socialists call for a “popular revolution” in Syria, which are code words for collaboration with bourgeois forces. The program of revolutionary Marxists is to fight for mobilization of the working class and for international socialist revolution. The League for the Fourth International does not call on U.S. and NATO imperialists to arm the Kurds (much less the pro-imperialist Syrian Islamists), which in any case would be a poisoned chalice. Instead we call on Turkish workers rise up against the Erdogan government. Strikes shutting down transportation in Istanbul and Ankara and mass mobilization surrounding Turkish air bases in Incirlik and Diyarbakir would be the most effective aid to embattled defenders of Kobanê.

Likewise, revolutionaries in the imperialist countries should be fighting to mobilize workers action against the imperialist war. Above all, it is urgently necessary to begin building the nucleus of genuinely Bolshevik, Leninist-Trotskyist parties throughout the region, fighting for workers revolution from Istanbul to Cairo, Baghdad and Tel Aviv, in a socialist federation of the Middle East. That proletarian-internationalist program of permanent revolution is the road to defeating all the Islamist and Zionist forces and breaking the stranglehold of imperialist barbarism, in order to provide a true “age of happiness” of freedom and prosperity for the toilers in this cradle of civilization. ■

  1. 1. In fact, the Syrian Support Group, once the only U.S.-authorized channel to send aid to the rebels, recently shut down because growth of the Islamic State, the Nusra Front, the Islamic Front, Ahrar al Sham and other Islamist groups “have complicated our efforts to provide direct support” to “moderate” rebel groups like the moribund FSA (McClatchy, 24 September).
  2. 2. Salafism is a component of the Sunni branch of Islam which considers the practices of the first three generations after Muhammad to be the model of an Islamic society. This includes many reactionary aspects of 7th-8th century Arab society, particularly strictures on women, that are not found in the Koran itself. While some Salafists are merely extreme conservative pietists, others are prominent in Sunni Islamist political currents promoting jihad, in this case meaning holy war, against kafirs (infidels) and apostates, supposed ex-Muslims including Shiites. The Wahabi sect which dominates Saudi Arabia and from which Osama bin Laden stemmed is Salafist, as is the Islamic State, whose ideology is largely taken over from Wahabism. Many of the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels are also Wahabist.
  3. 3. See “The Bloody Trail of Col. James Steele and David ‘Death Squad’ Petraeus,” Revolution No. 10 (October 2013), published by the Internationalist Clubs of the City University of New York; and the documentary produced by the London Guardian (6 March).
  4. 4. Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al-Assad in Syria were leaders of the Arab nationalist Baath Party who took power in military coups.
  5. 5. See Matthew Barber, “Islamic State Officially Admits to Enslaving Yazidi Women,” Syria Comment, 12 October.
  6. 6. Check it out at http://rojavareport.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/ypg-and-fsa-form-joint-operations-command/
  7. 7. See “Has Obama Realized the PKK Can Be Allies?Commentary, 20 October.
  8. 8. See our leaflet, distributed at the march, “The Great ‘People’s Climate March’ Scam” (The Internationalist, September 2014).
  9. 9. See our “Open Letter from the Internationalist Group to the Spartacist League and ICL,” The Internationalist  No. 31, May-June 2010.
  10. 10. See “Brazil: Leftists in the Camp of Pro-Imperialist Syrian Islamists,” The Internationalist No. 36, January-February 2014.