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Emerging Kurdistan: socialist or capitalist?

"The latest developments in the Middle East have had Western specialists-strategists-analysts playing with their pencils, rulers and compasses, doodling all over their maps of the Middle East."

By Giran Ozcan

October 2014 -- Kurdish Question, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The last decade has seen many maps published by "think tanks" and/or "intelligence organisations" in which the Middle East gives birth to "new nations/states". The latest developments in the Middle East have had Western specialists-strategists-analysts playing with their pencils, rulers and compasses, doodling all over their maps of the Middle East; once again hoping to carve up the region to best fit the interests of their imperial masters.

In most prophecies Iraq is divided into at least three parts, Syria is hurtling towards dissection and, well, it seems no country in the Middle East will remain unscathed by the rearrangement of what were already pretty horrendously drawn borders. Who is behind this? Who is supporting who? Who does not want this to happen? Although all of these are legitimate questions, they are already heavily speculated on by the media and therefore do not require any additions; in fact, no addition will be original, so there is no point.

However, there is one new country — that most pseudo-strategists have been predicting since the second Gulf War — that became a dead certainty when a few days ago Israel's foreign minister told his US counterpart it was a "foregone conclusion" and that is the emergence of an independent Kurdish homeland: Kurdistan.

With a population of more than 40 million spread across four countries in the region, the Kurds have been referred to as "the largest nation in the World without a state". A reference which has led to the creation of a deep inferiority complex among a people credited with being the ancient people of a land (Mesopotamia) that has been referred to as "the cradle of civilisation". However, the Kurds — the revolutionaries of the Neolithic Era — have been largely deprived of taking their place in the "World System" ever since.

The latest surge from sectarian extremists, among other things (of which most are not even in line with human decency), has de facto marked out the borders of South/Southwest Kurdistan. The successful defence of Rojava (west) Kurdistan by the Kurds against al-Qaeda and its offshoots, in the minds of most, has already established Rojava as Kurdistan's first 'fully liberated" territory and the previously "disputed territories" in South Kurdistan are now seemingly undisputed and under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

What kind of Kurdistan?

However, it is still not straight sailing from here for the all but rubber-stamped newest country in the World. The burning question now — and according to some it has always been — is what kind of Kurdistan? The answer to this — though maybe not as much of a turbulent ride as it has been to actually get the existence of Kurdistan acknowledged — is where the new internal and external struggle lies for the Kurds.

Some may say that it is not helpful for the Kurdish national cause that the two most popular political institutions in Kurdistan (the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] and the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP]) each have their own different answers to the question posed above. However, although the PKK and KDP have in the past even engaged in military battles against each other, it is widely accepted that in the foreseeable future the political and ideological differences between the two organisations will be fought out politically rather than militarily. This fight has long kicked off.

The backgrounds and profiles of both organisations are full of clues as to what their answers are to the question of what kind of Kurdistan they would like to see constructed:

The PKK is a socialist organisation; the KDP is not.

The KDP is pro-corporation; the PKK is not.

The KDP's strategic partners: USA, Israel, EU, Turkey.

The PKK's strategic partners: Trans-national civil society organisations, socialist/ecologist/feminist organisations, Latin American social movements.

The KDP's vision for Kurdistan: A Kurdish nation state, capitalist-free market economy, representative parliamentary democracy.

The PKK's vision for Kurdistan: A stateless multi-national Kurdistan, communal-ecological economy, confederal-localised direct democracy.

As we can see above, the KDP's vision for Kurdistan is one that will easily fit into the current globalised capitalist system, whereas the PKK's vision for Kurdistan will stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe this was one of the reasons that led Kevin McKiernan to call his brilliantly shot documentary Good Kurds, Bad Kurds all the way back in 2000 (the "Good Kurds" being the KDP-led Kurdish uprising in the South and the "Bad Kurds" being the PKK-led Kurdish uprising in the North).

While both the PKK and the KDP took up arms to struggle for Kurdistan, it is the PKK that takes its place on terrorist organisation lists in the USA, European Union, UK [and Austrlai]; whereas the KDP takes its place in official state visits to the very same countries, not to mention regularly playing host to the visits of their secretaries of state. Is it really a far stretch to think that the ideological differences between these two organisations is what really determines the approaches of these Western states?

So, we can see that the long-running ideological-political-military confrontations between the PKK and the KDP cannot be solely explained by a power struggle between the two as to who will dominate Kurdistan. This is a systemic confrontation; and the PKK and the KDP are not the sole players. The global capitalist powers are actively trying to suffocate the socialist countries of Latin America on a daily basis; and here, they are actively working on preventing a Kurdistan that will be a threat to the capitalist system (PKK's vision for Kurdistan), but pushing for one that will fit like a glove (KDP's vision for Kurdistan).

This would also explain the West's silence and reluctance to acknowledge Kurdish efforts in Rojava. Whereas the KRG-administrated South Kurdistan is a prototype for KDP's vision for an independent (by independent I mean West leaning) Kurdistan; Rojava Kurdistan is a prototype for PKK's vision for a socialist, ecologist and confederal Kurdistan. Both of these comparative societal constructs are formed by Kurds; however, one is promoted by the West as a beacon for the Middle East, the other is being isolated and left to face its own destiny in the face of attacks from sectarian extremists.

The formula seems extremely clear:

PKK for a socialist Kurdistan.

KDP for a capitalist Kurdistan.

It would seem preferential for the Kurdish national cause if this ideological junction could be dealt with after Kurdistan addressed its immediate adversaries. However, the likelihood is that we will see more bloodshed before we get an answer to what kind of Kurdistan will emerge ...


Difficult to argue that PKK is a socialist organization

It is very difficult to argue that PKK is a socialist organization. True, it was once a socialist organization heavily influenced by Stalinism. But as of now, it turned out to be an organization which did not hesitate to negotiate with neo-liberal government of Turkey which is AKP and shaped its political discourse accordingly. (More emphasis on "tolerance" over rising political Islam, less concern about poor peasents and working class, for instance) Furthermore, the political representative of PKK which is HDP, are now cooperating with Kurdish businessman, aiming to create a unified Kurdish market. One should also not forget that Kurdish people are a stateless nation whose first priority is to gain their national rights rather than offering an alternative to capitalist system. Kurdish movement is no more than a libertarian social democrat movement which does not have any problem with parliamentarism and reformism. Finally, Abdullah Öcalan has recently said, the leader of PKK, the age of revolutionary violence ended, and dialogue and negotiation is needed for transition to "radical democracy." I suppose the last sentence is alone sufficient to reflect the current stance of PKK.

PKK/PYD is a libertarian socialist organization

PKK is a libertarian socialist organization and fighting for communal Kurdistan.Democratic confederalism ,the ideology that Ocalan created was a system of communal life.To be a socialist we do not need to be a stalinist or supportive of real socialism.So PKK created a ideology that is a real solution for Middle East.İt is against capitalist modernity.And they are trying to create an communal economy in North Kurdistan too.PKK's communal economic theory based on cooperatives and communes.They are all against Capitalist Monopolies.They want tıo create an communal economy with communes and cooperatives.But there will be private sector if they will be not monopolies and hegemonic.

HDP legal party in Turkey against cvapitalist modernity too.İn the firs comment he says,they meet with Kurdish bussinessman.Yeah they do it but they meet with state too.If you want to create an alternative modernity you must meet your oppositon and argue with them.It is a strategy that Kurdish movement do

Sticking to Principles

It is correct that the PKK has adopted libertarian socialist principles. Abdullah Öcalan became a follower of Murray Bookchin's ideas after he was jailed by the Turkish authorities. The peculiar characteristic of Bookchin's ideas is that, though they set out a genuine libertarian socialist vision of society and advocate libertarian principles in the struggle to get there, they do not posit the working class as the agent of social change.

By an amazing stroke of fortune, Bashir al-Assad presented the PYD (Syrian co-thinkers of the PKK) with the opportunity to implement their ideas. This is because he withdrew his forces from most of West Kurdistan in order to deal with more pressing threats closer to home - and because he calculates that, after he beats off his opposition amongst the Arabs, subduing the Kurds will be easy.

The problem faced by the PYD and the PKK is that their libertarian socialist vision cannot spread through the sort of peaceful osmosis that Abdullah Öcalan imagines that it can. If there is a concerted attempt to do so, it will run into the concentrated economic power of capital and, in the absence of class struggle, there will be a structural tendency to compromise and water down the objective. In particular, the spreading of the democratic confederalism in the political field, without the establishment of socialism on the economic field, will lead to competition between localities for capital investment and thus to a reverse auction of ever-cheaper and more favourable investment conditions.

The problem, therefore, is that the strategy of the PKK is not conducive to the achievement of its objectives. This is the case with the vast majority of ostensible socialist organisations, but the unique perspective of the PKK creates unique contradictions. All socialist organisations, if they compromise on their principles, display the vices of opportunism. The opportunism that tempts the PKK is, because of their unique perspective, different from that of other socialists. I hope that the PKK & PYD are able to resist that temptation.

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