A Bright Spark Burning…

Written By: - Date published: 1:39 pm, March 11th, 2015 - 40 comments
Categories: activism, community democracy, democracy under attack, democratic participation, International, Left, patriarchy, political alternatives, political education, Politics, Revolution, Syria, vision, war - Tags: , , , , , ,

Yesterday ‘The Guardian’ reported on the death of Ivana Hoffmann who was fighting in the Rojava region of Syria. She was apparently a member of the MLPK. The MLPK is an organisation predicated on old school Marxist-Leninist ideology. In short then, they’re authoritarian.

From my perspective, the presence of such organisations fighting alongside people who are attempting to forge genuine democratic forms of governance is a very bad thing. I do not ascribe to the view that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Time and again such organisations have laid their own Marxist-Leninist blueprint over attempts to organise democratically. In summary, they elevate themselves to be the true guardians and gatekeepers of ‘the will of the people’ and exercise authority via the ‘The Party’ that they force upon people as an instrument of governance.

Anyway, putting the  threat of democratic centralism aside for a moment, what is happening in Rojava is a cause for celebration and hope. The excerpts that follow, coming as they do from a mainstream liberal news outlet, is something I find both heartening and surprising. I don’t expect to see too much more of it. Liberalism, in case you are unaware, is no more a friend to democracy than is Leninism.

But to Owen Jones’s piece in today’s Guardian (with the original links included)…

Consider what beacons Syria’s liberated Kurdish cantons are in the Middle East. The region is dominated by western-backed dictatorships, fundamentalist tyrannies and murderous reactionary terrorists. Israel boasts it is the Middle East’s sole liberal democracy, a claim fatally undermined by the country’s subjugation and occupation of Palestine.

In northern Syria, the struggle is led by the Democratic Union party, a radically democratic, feminist, leftwing force and an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ party. Once Stalinist, the PKK has evolved, now drawing inspiration from the libertarian socialism of the US theoretician Murray Bookchin. “This is a genuine revolution,” according to the anarchist thinker David Graeber, who has visited the cantons. He has spoken of how the eventual aim is to give all citizens six weeks of police training, with the idea of abolishing the police. In a Syria being shredded by a secular dictatorship and reactionary fundamentalists, is an anarchist enclave being forged?

Isis is notorious for its misogyny. Appropriate, then, that its archenemies are radical feminists. The Kurdish activist Mehmet Aksoy explains to me that this is, in part, a “woman’s revolution”. It is not driven simply by women’s oppression and exploitation in the Middle East, and by their lack of representation in politics and civil society, but by the PKK’s own reading of history.

“The first revolution, the agricultural revolution, was instituted by women,” he says, “and the first counter-revolution and the first negative hierarchies were created by men.” In one pamphlet the PKK’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan – now languishing in Turkish jail – writes: “Liberating life is impossible without a radical women’s revolution which would change mentality and life.” He coins the concept of “total divorce”, or “the ability to divorce from the five thousand years old culture of male domination”.

And then the bad news that should have democratically inclined leftists everywhere knocking down the doors of their respective national parliaments.

The PKK is still designated a terrorist organisation by powers such as the US. Turkey, a key Nato state, waged a dirty war in the 80s and 90s, wiping 3,000 villages off the map during the offensive, according to Human Rights Watch.

Turkey facilitated the rise of Isis, allowing its militants to flood across its porous border with Syria. With a de facto Kurdish state already existing in northern Iraq, Turkey fears another liberated enclave that could embolden its own Kurdish minority. Western allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have proved crucial in exporting fundamentalist ideology, as well as funds and arms for jihadi groups.

Isis is the bastard child of Assad’s repression of the Syrian people, catastrophic western intervention and the scandalous role of the Arab despots. That socialists and anarchists are helping to drive it back should be a source of immense pride for the international left.

Indeed.

Now, how do we get the terrorist designation of the PKK lifted? How do we get the travel bans to the region that have been imposed on us lifted? How do we get the economic and political embargo of Rojava lifted? What can we, both individually and collectively, do?

40 comments on “A Bright Spark Burning… ”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    What we can do.

    1. Listen. Have they requested our assistance, and in what forms?
    2. Ask them.

    Some answers to (1) can be found here:

    International pressure must be exerted on Turkey in particular to open its border crossings so that food, materials, medicine, and aid can get through…The international community must help channel aid into Rojava…

    Is it being too optimistic that our membership of the security council can help Turkey and the PKK come to terms, and lift the terrorist tag? That has to be a top priority, for obvious reasons: aiding “terrorists” being a crime etc.

    • Bill 1.1

      The parliamentary representatives who govern us have designated the PKK as terrorist. Therefore, their presence on the security council is, in this instance, irrelevant. The only way our government’s presence there could have relevance is if we first of all pressured them to lift their own designation of the PKK as terrorist.

      As for assistance, I take your point about listening and asking, but also acknowledge there are immense problems associated with communicating with a ‘terrorist organisation’ that’s sitting behind economic and political embargoes.

      And I can’t just go there with (say) medical training or engineering expertise, not just because I don’t have those particular skill sets, but because the whole area has been designated as ‘out of bounds’ for western travel. (Australia is imposing a mandatory 10 years in jail for any Australian citizen or resident who travels there).

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.1

        Have they designated? Or gone along with the designation?

        Either way I think if Turkey can be persuaded to drop their objections that will be a major step. I hope the recent ceasefire will help them make the right decision.

        And yes, communicating with them would be very risky for exactly the reasons you suggest.

        Perhaps the best we can do is lobbying. If so, that pretty much sucks, and it’s better than nothing.

      • dave brown 1.1.2

        So there you have the answer to your question, what can we do?

        Ignore appeals to Western governments led by the US warmonger, the UN and NGOs working for ‘human rights’ as these will always put their economic interests first, and hence call anything ‘terrorist’ that is fighting for liberation from Western domination.

        Those who want to advance the interests of revolutionaries in the Middle East or elsewhere have a duty to stop their own ruling class from being part of the “war on terror”. That includes refusing to be designated a ‘terrorist’ at home.

        We don’t do this because we have been invited to do so, but because it is our duty to stop imperialism and its lackeys like NZ from participating in all wars of oppression.

        Of course organising the working class to overthrow the ruling class in any country is a very Leninist thing to do (since nowhere has it succeeded outside Russia – except as a result of the prior success of the Russian Revolution).

        But as long as we do it ‘democratically’, as part of workers councils, train ourselves as part of a workers militia, and then discipline ourselves to act as a collective class force, then we can all be revolutionaries without distracting labels.

        • Tiger Mountain 1.1.2.1

          Yes the labelling is unhelpful. “Leninism” as used here is really anti communism or anti the seizing of class power by the workers, but expressed by another route. What became the degenerate workers states of Eastern Europe were a phenomenon of their time not something to hang around the necks of those prepared to fightback for evermore.

          In modern conditions what is wrong with workers organisations maintaining a core of committed people with security measures to defend against the myriad of ways the state forces undermine or directly intervene?

          • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.2.1.1

            what is wrong with workers organisations maintaining a core of committed people with security measures

            The only valuable security measures we have are our voices and solidarity, and they’re our culture, otherwise there are no organisations at all.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.2.2

          What we can do.

          That includes refusing to be designated a ‘terrorist’ at home.

          Well, I suspect the definition of a local “terrorist” group is governed by a legal process, rather than a gobshite Prime Minister running his mouth.

  2. One Anonymous Bloke 2

    With all the usual reservations about the medium, The Lions of Rojava have a Facebook page.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1

      PS: Apologies for not saying this before: it comes with a ‘pictures of dead people’ warning.

    • esoteric pineapples 2.2

      Thanks for the link – amazing!

      What other Middle Eastern fighting group would put out a statement marking International Women’s Day . I don’t even think New Zealand soldiers would do that.

      “YPJ (Women’s Defense Units) General Command has issued a statement to mark International Women’s Day, stressing that there can be no revolution and freedom without women.”

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.2.1

        I checked the NZ Army facebook page and you’re quite right.

        Hearts and minds, soldier!

        Edit: assuming it isn’t an ISIS honey trap or something.

  3. M Scott 3

    My sister is a maritime lawyer in London. Much of her work these days involves oil and gas supply. (In the past she represented Boris Bereshovsky’s (spelling?) company Ukos and got monstered by no lesser individual than Putin himself. Back to the point. She has clients who sell oil on behalf of the kurds who are still able to extract and export a bit in the areas they control and this of course helps their people and their fight against Daesh. Perhaps we should lobby those sweet little multinational oil companies to buy from them and not Saudi Arabia?

    • Colonial Rawshark 3.1

      Multinationals aren’t very interested in suppliers who can be shelled within the next week.

  4. Philip Ferguson 4

    The response of the US-trained Iraqi army when faced with ISIS has often been to run away. It is the Kurdish militias that have stopped ISIS and pushed it back.

    The fact that the PKK is on the terrorism list in this country is indicative of the lies of successive NZ governments about the region and their involvement in it.

    If the NZ government was primarily motivated by the desire to help defeat ISIS in order that the people of the region could improve their lives, they could just hand over a load of weapons, medical supplies and money to the Kurdish fighters, with no strings attached.

    Instead, they have made it illegal in this country to help one of the key Kurdish movements which stands for people’s liberation and that has thrown back the ultra-right forces of ISIS.

    Several things can be done here:
    1. Demand that the PKK be removed from the NZ government’s list of terrorist organisations
    2. Demand that people here be able to raise funds and other support for the Kurdish liberation movement; and people could raise support and funds for them anyway, regardless of what the government does
    3. Demand the government not send NZ forces but hand over to the Kurdish forces the equivalent in funds and/or equipment of what they would spend on having NZ armed forces there; this to be handed over with no strings attached. In other words, if the deployment of NZ forces to Iraq was going to cost X million dollars, then X million dollars should be handed over to the Kurds.

    The Kurds have been screwed over continuously by western powers – for instance, when France and Britain carved up the Ottoman Empire after WW1, the Kurds never got a country.

    Some pieces:
    The Kurds: treated as pawns by the western powers: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/the-kurds-treated-as-pawns-by-western-powers/
    The ‘other’ Kurds fighting the Islamic State: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/the-other-kurds-fighting-the-islamic-state/
    PFLP calls for international support for Kurds fighting ISIS at Kobane: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/pflp-calls-for-united-revolutionary-support-for-kurds-at-kobane/

    Phil

    • weka 4.1

      ” 1. Demand that the PKK be removed from the NZ government’s list of terrorist organisations”

      Does anyone have the list? Or know the processes by which the list is made and maintained? I don’t even know what govt department would have repsonsibility for that.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.1

        So far as I know we follow the UN’s lead.

        In turn, I’m pretty sure the UN is following Turkey’s lead.

        Correction: for UN substitute NATO: this looks like something decided locally.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.1.1

          Correction: wrong target for second link.

          This is the right one:

          Statement Of Case To Renew The Designation Of Partiya
          Karkeren Kurdistan [PKK] As A Terrorist Entity.

          Authored by the NZ Police.

          • Bill 4.1.1.1.1

            Many thanks for digging that out OAB!

            Busy at the moment, but I’ve downloaded the doc with the intention of going through the justifications (supposed PKK acts of terror) with a particular eye cast on the impartiality or otherwise of the sources used and any contrary reports of the incidents used in the report.

            • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.1.1.1.1

              If there’s any way I can share the load: eg: a list of sources that you’d like checking for bias etc, post it here and I’ll do likewise.

              I note that section 8. addresses the issue of credibility, then lists the Wall St. Journal as a source 🙄

              • Bill

                If you are okay with me sending you a direct email, I’ll send you through the links I’ve managed to isolate from that report.

                There are maybe three or four that I couldn’t locate.

                On first blush, the whole thing’s a crock of shit.

                They have relied on, sometimes, inconsistent and/or contradictory reports of ‘terrorist’ incidents and, it seems, given a lot of weight to Turkish Government claims that have nothing of obvious substance behind them.

                Oh yeah. And then there’s the cut and paste justifications from the Australian Security Service…

                Also discovered that the European Court of First Instance ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Court_%28European_Union%29 ) have found that it was illegal for European countries to have put the PKK on their terrorist list. Not surprisingly, the countries are ignoring the ruling.

                http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2008/4/turkeykurdistan1779.htm

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  I am ok with you sending me a direct email, and before you do, please consider whether it can simply be posted here. I’d like this discussion to be as open as possible, given the subject matter.

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    Why not crowd source it? I’m not going to email anything (on this subject) I wouldn’t post at The Standard.

                    • Bill

                      Yup…am thinking how to fashion a succinct post rather than throwing a pile of links into a thread. Will put it together either tomorrow or the next day….busy.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      The police have concentrated on the case for designation, and ignored the case against it. You cited the European Court of First Instance ruling. Wikipedia also mentions that “the government of Switzerland has explicitly rejected Turkish demands to blacklist the PKK” – citing this article (in German).

                      Then there are the recent actions of the Turkish government to consider.

                      an ongoing peace process, which aims to resolve the Kurdish–Turkish conflict.

                      The Police document cites the Crisis Group, who had this to say last November.

                      the two sides, having realised that neither can beat the other outright, say they want to end the armed conflict. The government has now matched the PKK’s ceasefire with a serious legal framework that makes real progress possible.

                      The PKK clearly enjoys widespread popular support in its area of influence. The “terrorist” designation is getting in the way of the real need for assistance to people threatened by the Daesh.

                    • Bill

                      From the link you provided …ie, recent actions of the Turkish Government… “On 25 April 2013, PKK announced that it withdraws all its forces within Turkey to Northern Iraq.[27] According to government[28] and to The Kurds[29] and to the most of the press,[30] this move marks the end of 30-year-old conflict. Second phase which includes constitutional and legal changes towards the recognition of human rights of the Kurds starts simultaneously with withdrawal.”

                      The references are worth looking at.

                      I’m sure there must be provisions within the ‘terrorist act’ or whatever it’s called for an immediate lifting of any given designation…

                      [Because of the limited nesting, further comments are at the bottom of this thread] – Bill

            • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.1.1.1.2

              Ok, as for the rest, the International Crisis Group has its critics, including The New Left Review – an admittedly partisan source.

              International Strategic Research Organisation (USAK) is “an independent think tank” based in Turkey.

              Silk Road Studies was established in 2007: another “think tank”.

              The others, Janes Terrorism and Security series, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, the BBC, Associated Foreign Press (AFP) and Reuters need no special introduction from me.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                PS: I’d like to make it clear that as Bill says, the PKK have been implicated in some heinous acts. The fact that Turkey was prepared to enter into a ceasefire agreement with them as late as last year indicates that they are not your average bunch of crazed wingnuts. Everyone needs to tread carefully: it’s not our fight; there are grievances beyond our ken.

  5. Murray Rawshark 5

    If the Kurds in general and the PKK in particular are happy to have volunteers from the MPLK fighting alongside them, far be it from me to criticise them. Their urgent task is to protect themselves from first the Kurds, then from Turkey, NATO, the US and the puppet regime in Syria. Apparently they follow the Enver Hoxha Albanian line, which I don’t like much at all. However, I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder in disputes and protests with comrades who also followed Hoxha. I found them trustworthy and they focussed on the issue at hand, rather than making criticisms from afar by someone who doesn’t like the idea of democratic centralism.

    • Bill 5.1

      The simple observation I intended to make was that authoritarianism is incompatible with notions of democracy.

      The presence of authoritarian elements in forces fighting the daesh and who-ever, whether they be liberals or marxist-Leninists etc, only becomes problematic in the aftermath and in the event they seek to influence or shape the make-up of the post-conflict Rojavian society.

      I guess I could have been clearer on that front.

  6. the pigman 6

    +1 to Murray above, and caution against deciding from afar which of these small initialized groups of freedom fighters/terrorists/micro-democracies/rogue states we like and those we don’t. It is well-documented that the PKK were pretty ruthless in their own right (as was the punishment and persecution meted out on them by the Turkish government)

    Adam Curtis did a good blog on this which I’m sure you (Bill) have read: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/5a7b18b5-0ec3-3d3e-a307-54820a7c6a59 – good archival footage of the PKK preparing for armed rebellion. But kinda blurs the line between what constitutes a “bright spark” and a “terrorist training camp”, doesn’t it?

    • Bill 6.1

      It’s the potential for democracy that animates me. Recognising that both liberal democratic thought, as well as any notions of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, run counter to the realisation of democracy (because of their respective authoritarian bents) really hasn’t anything to do with favouring one group or set of groups over others.

      That the PKK were absolute ruthless bastards is a given. But they have moved on, renounced state centric marxist-Leninist ideology and are now seeking to forge and secure a non-state, highly democratic future that is, in many respects, streets ahead of any western notions of democracy.

      That’s a massive shift in political thinking that offers, potentially, a huge opportunity for the international left to latch onto an example of what is possible, and haul itself from the quagmire of authoritarianism it’s been sunk in these past 100 years.

  7. Sable 7

    Ugh more quotes from the Guardian. In my opinion the only thing that rag is good for these days is wrapping fish and chips.

    Given Kerry and other’s in the US administration want Syria’s president Assad’s head on a pike its hard to know if so called insurgents or freedom fighters in the country are fighting ISIS or fighting for the overthrow of the nations government at the US’s behest. Maybe its two for the price of one.

    Whatever the case lets hope Syria’s leader does not go the same way as Gaddaffi (bayonet in the ass and bullet in the head) who had the temerity to want to develop an African banking system, telling the IMF to sod off. So much for Western democracy.

    • Bill 7.1

      I’m no great fan of The Guardian ( I still equate it with useless wooly jumper wearing English liberals) but Owen Jones does write some bloody good stuff…just like Fisk writes good stuff in The Independent.

      God knows, there are precious few good journalists able to get their stuff out through mainstream outlets…

  8. Bill 8

    [These comments are a carry on from here]

    On lifting the designation, it would seem that the mere public have no say in the matter!!!

    34 Revocation of designations

    (1) The Prime Minister may at any time revoke a designation made under section 20 or section 22, either on the Prime Minister’s own initiative or on an application in writing for the purpose—

    (a) by the entity who is the subject of the designation; or

    (b) by a third party with an interest in the designation that, in the Prime Minister’s opinion, is an interest apart from any interest in common with the public.

    (2) Without limiting subsection (1)(b), a party may have an interest in a designation apart from any interest in common with the public through—

    (a) possessing or controlling, or having an interest in, property to which section 9 applies as a result of the designation; or

    (b) making available property or services to which section 10 applies as a result of the designation; or

    (c) having an especially close association with the designated entity or its interests or objectives.

    So, unless you have a financial stake in the matter or are associated with the group in a manner that probably means that you are considered by the government as being a terrorist yourself…..

    So that’s good. Legal petitioning is a dead end. Public pressure then 😉

    • One Anonymous Bloke 8.1

      “So, unless you have a financial stake in the matter or are associated with the group…”

      Not quite: “Without limiting subsection (1)(b)…”

      That allows for other interests than financial – humanitarian for example – to be considered.

      Also: Section 33:

      Judicial review of designations
      Nothing in this Act prevents a person from bringing any judicial review (whether under Part 1 of the Judicature Amendment Act 1972 or otherwise) or other proceedings before a court arising out of, or relating to, the making of a designation under this Act.

      A good reason for a judicial review might be that the Police don’t seem to have considered any arguments against the designation.

  9. Bill 9

    So, this is what happens when you try to support democracy….

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/13/british-teenage-girl-charged-kurdish-forces-fighting-isis

    A teenager from London, who was allegedly trying to join a Kurdish military women’s unit fighting Isis in Syria, has been charged with a terrorist offence.

    Shilan Ozcelik, who is of Kurdish descent, was arrested earlier this year at Stansted airport. She is believed to be the first British citizen to be arrested for trying to join the campaign against the jihadis who control eastern Syria and western Iraq.

    She was arrested by on 16 January at as she returned from Brussels. Neither the YPJ nor the YPG, the main men’s Kurdish peshmerga militia in northern Syria, are banned organisations in the UK.

    The charges against Ozcelik are understood to relate to the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), which is outlawed in Britain and has spent decades fighting the Turkish army in a separatist conflict

    • One Anonymous Bloke 9.1

      This is what happens when a government allows its foreign policy ambitions to over-ride its commitment to human rights.

      So far as I’m concerned, terrorism is actually just murder. Or blackmail, extortion, etc.

      The reason for the designation is foreign policy, not policing.

      In any event, judicial review of the flawed case that the PKK is a terrorist organisation is a no brainer.

  10. One Anonymous Bloke 10

    Following from my observation that a good reason for judicial review might be that the Police don’t seem to have considered any arguments against the designation.

    What are the others?

    1. Humanity: the designation is a significant barrier to humanitarian aid to the regions and peoples affected.

    2. Turkey is negotiating a cease-fire with the PKK. Negotiating with ‘terrorists’ much?

    3. The whole notion of ‘terrorism’ diminishes the power of the judiciary to decide criminal cases.

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