Workers Vanguard No. 978

15 April 2011


German Reformists Tail Kurdish Nationalists’ Appeals to Imperialism

For a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan!

(Young Spartacus pages)

The defense of the Kurdish people, an oppressed population in the Near East, must take as its starting point opposition to the imperialist powers. At a meeting in Berlin, Germany, last fall social-democratic journalist Nick Brauns and the Revolutionary Internationalist Organization (RIO) attempted to give a socialist veneer to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), effectively promoting its perspective of relying on the imperialists and their junior lackeys, the bourgeoisies of the region.

While we defend the PKK against state repression, including organizing international demonstrations in its defense, we give it no political support. The PKK is a petty-bourgeois nationalist organization based in Turkey with broad support in the émigré population in West Europe and elsewhere and has a shameful history of abject appeals to the Western imperialists and the Turkish state. Shortly after the U.S. imperialist invasion of Iraq, one PKK leader was quoted in the Financial Times explaining that “the movement” “wants to establish a dialogue with Washington on joining its campaign of democratisation in the Middle East” (15 April 2003). Some Kurdish nationalist organizations in Iraq have subordinated themselves to the U.S. imperialists’ occupation forces.

RIO originated as a split from the youth organization of the ostensibly socialist Gruppe Arbeitermacht (Workers Power Group) and stands in that organization’s tradition of promoting and apologizing for forces that are hostile to the interests of the international working class—something very much on display at this meeting. Against RIO and Brauns’ class-collaborationist perspective, our comrades in the Spartakist-Jugend put forward the perspective that the liberation of the Kurdish people can only be accomplished through international proletarian revolution to establish a socialist republic of united Kurdistan within a socialist federation of the Near East. (See “Kurdish Struggle: Near East Flashpoint,” WV No. 527, 24 May 1991.)

The following article was translated from the youth pages of Spartakist No. 186 (January 2011), the newspaper of the International Communist League’s German section, the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands.

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On 6 October 2010 Nick Brauns and RIO organized a discussion in Berlin “on the political crisis in Turkey, the workers movement, the Kurdish question and revolutionary perspectives.” Capitalist Turkey, with its oil pipelines and where Europe’s biggest NATO forces are deployed, is both a lackey and prized booty of the imperialists. Militarily subordinate to the U.S. and economically dependent on German imperialism, Turkey acts in their interests in the Near East. Since the mid ’80s, the Turkish army, supported and armed by the U.S. and Germany, has waged war against the Kurdish minority, killing roughly 37,000 Kurds and burning thousands of villages to the ground. German imperialism has played a key role in the persecution of the Kurds—many of them workers in Europe—with its 1993 ban on the PKK and over 35 Kurdish organizations. Kurds are still ruthlessly repressed in Germany today (see “Stop the Deportation of Leyla!”).

Comrades from the Spartakist-Jugend intervened at this meeting and put forward our perspective of fighting for workers revolution from Diyarbakir [Turkey] to Duisburg [Germany]. The Kurdish nation is divided among four capitalist countries—Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Therefore Kurdish national independence is possible only as part of the struggle for a socialist federation of the Near East. Nick Brauns looks at things differently and set the tone for the conference with his presentation. He started with the repression of Kurds in the 1920s, when hundreds of thousands were dispersed and forcibly relocated in Turkey. However, he prettified the current petty-bourgeois nationalist Kurdish leadership, the PKK. He argued along the lines of his new book, PKK—Perspectives on the Kurdish Fight for Freedom: Between Self-Determination, the EU and Islam. He writes:

“As important as it is to have a critical debate on the PKK program and its leaders’ declarations, nevertheless this movement must not be judged solely on this basis. ‘Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.’ This observation by Marx in 1875 applies all the more to an organization like the PKK, which operates in a political environment where written theory means little and a movement is judged by its actual impact and practical work.”

Countless reformists have ripped this quote by Marx out of context and falsified it for their purposes. In fact, Marx was arguing against the Social Democracy’s 1875 Gotha Program, which put forward a perspective of purely “legal means” and omitted any mention of the class character of the bourgeois state. The “movement” Marx spoke about was a proletarian movement, built in opposition to such constraints! As for the PKK, its “movement” and program are a dead end for Kurdish militants.

Since 1984, the PKK has waged a quite heroic military struggle against the heavily equipped Turkish army, acquiring mass support among the Kurdish population in Kurdistan and urban centers in Turkey and West Europe. However, the PKK is hostile to a class-struggle perspective, i.e., to breaking Turkish workers from Turkish nationalism and winning them over to the support of Kurdish independence. Turkish and Kurdish workers should fight side by side against their common class enemies, the Turkish bourgeoisie and its imperialist godfathers—Germany and the U.S.—and for workers revolution. The PKK’s strategy, on the other hand, consists of using guerrilla struggle in order to get a seat at the negotiating table with the Turkish bourgeoisie and obtain whatever concessions they can within the framework of capitalism, which they explicitly accept. Their perspective is not connected to any fight for proletarian revolution in the developed capitalist countries, which is why the PKK has repeatedly tried to put pressure on the “democratic” imperialists to compel their Turkish NATO co-member to grant concessions.

With the counterrevolution in the Soviet degenerated workers state and the deformed workers states of East Europe, the attacks on workers and all oppressed peoples have greatly intensified. After capitalist reunification [of Germany], Turkey was given tanks from the former East German deformed workers state by German imperialism, which were used to destroy thousands of Kurdish villages. When the Soviet Union was destroyed, the PKK lost its powerful military ally. Giving up the fight for independence, they turned to promoting a “Kurdish intifada” for “self-determination” within a “democratic Turkey,” which Brauns in his presentation found “logical.” Against Brauns’ strategy of reconciliation with capitalism, a comrade from the Spartakist-Jugend put forward our Leninist-Trotskyist perspective:

“We defend the PKK against the bourgeois state, of course, that’s a precondition of any criticism—but we give them no political support. Nick Brauns, on the other hand, throws sand in the eyes of Kurdish militants. The PKK no longer even espouses ‘socialism in a fourth of a country’ and openly appeals to the imperialist EU and the Turkish bourgeoisie. The only solution is a socialist republic of united Kurdistan—and that requires socialist revolution in four countries.”

With regard to Turkey and other economically backward countries, we stand for Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution—“that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses” (Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, 1930). This requires that revolutionary Trotskyist-Leninist workers parties be built in the Near East as part of a reforged Fourth International. As our comrade explained further:

“The key is winning Turkish workers over to the defense of the Kurds and Kurdish independence. Therein also lies the connection to Germany: Kurdish and Turkish workers in Germany are a strategic component of the working class and can be a bridge to the struggles in Turkey. It is essential to fight for a revolutionary party to lead a political struggle against social democracy, including against Nick Brauns’ employer, the Left Party group in the Bundestag [parliament]. The Left Party feeds illusions in a ‘bourgeois-democratic’ solution by looking to the EU. Meanwhile, the SPD [Social Democratic Party]/Left Party Senat [Berlin Senate] deports immigrants and its cops terrorize Kurdish activists. One must not forget that [Thilo] Sarrazin [longtime SPD member, infamous for anti-Muslim attacks against immigrants] was a rabble-rouser in the Senat for seven years. What’s needed is a break with reformism, whether of the SPD or Left Party—for a revolutionary multiethnic workers party.”

Simply a social-democratic follower of Realpolitik, Nick Brauns justified the politics of “collaboration across classes”: it’s “dictated by circumstances,” since parties close to the PKK in Turkey, like the Peace and Democracy Party, are often the “major employers” because they run local bourgeois governments—against whom one does not strike. While posturing as an adviser to the Kurdish liberation movement, Brauns, a longtime collaborator of the Left Party Bundestag group, helps to chain Kurdish immigrants in Germany to the reformism of the Left Party. The Left Party and the SPD are bourgeois workers parties: they have a proletarian base but put forward a bourgeois program to help administer capitalism. Especially because the Left Party occasionally appears to oppose certain “excesses” of capitalism, it is often more effective than the SPD or bourgeois parties at pushing through capitalist attacks against the workers they lead and chaining them to the reactionary EU or German imperialism.

In his book, Brauns refers positively to a 2008 Left Party Bundestag proposition, which, according to him, demanded that “the peaceful solution of the Kurdish question should be put firmly in the center of the EU’s treaty negotiations with Turkey”! That’s an appeal to German imperialism, which plays a leading role in the persecution of the Kurds. Brauns only criticized the proposition’s withdrawal—on the basis that it included a provision for the decriminalization of the PKK and other Kurdish organizations—when the Left Party cravenly capitulated before an anti-PKK campaign.

Aside from isolated grumbling, RIO counterposed nothing to Brauns’ presentation. On paper they call for “dissociation from all bourgeois forces [in Turkey], whether AKP [the ruling Justice and Development Party] or CHP [Republican People’s Party]”; they emphasize the significance of the working class; they criticize the trade-union bureaucracy; they argue against the subordination of workers as “junior partners in a bourgeois anti-imperialist front” and they note that a “revolutionary party” is lacking. However, the emptiness of RIO’s call for a “common revolutionary organization of the workers of all nationalities” was clear from its joint statement with Nick Brauns, which called on the PKK (vaguely described as “the Kurdish movement”) to implement the following demand: “The Kurdish movement, as the only left-wing mass movement in the region, only has the option—if they do not want to resign to another 25 years of oppression and minimum concessions—to launch an international movement of the exploited” (“For a Socialist Kurdistan,” 1 December 2009).

Like Nick Brauns, RIO is merely a left appendage of the Left Party. While RIO’s predecessor gave “critical support” to the PDS/Left Party for years—even as these parties helped run capitalism in Berlin and [the northern state of] Mecklenburg-West Pomerania—RIO prefers an indirect approach for now. RIO builds platforms for the Left Party while subordinating its criticisms in the service of “unity” with its bloc partners, the Sozialistische Alternative [German section of the Committee for a Workers’ International], the Left Party youth group Solid, and Nick Brauns himself, who all want to pressure the Left Party “to the left.” Against this strategy, we Spartakists wage a political struggle to break workers and youth from the SPD and Left Party and win them to the fight to build a revolutionary multiethnic workers party.

RIO’s performance on permanent revolution is no better:

“Only the working class in Turkey and Northern Kurdistan is in a position to break with imperialism, the feudal structures and the autocratic state apparatus. But the workers can not separate the bourgeois-democratic program from the socialist tasks. Only a program of permanent revolution can significantly change Turkey.”

—“Class Struggle Under the Crescent Moon,” Revolution, September 2010

But in the end, RIO itself falls short of the socialist tasks and offers instead only democratic demands (“For the unconditional right of self-determination of the Kurdish people!”) and trade-unionist ones (“For elected strike committees!”). Even with their demands “For the occupation and nationalization of all enterprises that threaten layoffs or closure, under workers’ control!” and “For a program of public works to end unemployment and underdevelopment, under the control of workers’ organizations!” theirs is a reformist caricature of the Transitional Program, because what’s missing is exactly what constitutes the core of permanent revolution: the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the seizure of power by the working class supported by the peasantry.

This is not surprising. Along with its ideological forebears, the Gruppe Arbeitermacht, which stood on [Boris] Yeltsin’s barricades for capitalist counterrevolution in Moscow in 1991, RIO is pleased by the reconstruction of capitalist rule in the former Soviet Union: “Today, after the collapse of the Stalinist Soviet Union and the advancing crisis of capitalism, the conditions for us revolutionaries have gotten better” (Revolution, 24 April 2006). In their own way, RIO confirms Trotsky’s basic point: whoever doesn’t defend old gains can never achieve new ones. As Trotskyists, unlike RIO and Nick Brauns, we defended the Soviet Union against capitalist counterrevolution and today stand for the military defense of the remaining deformed workers states of China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam against imperialism and counterrevolution. We fight for the overthrow of the parasitic bureaucracies in those countries through political revolution and for building workers and peasants councils. This is an integral component of our fight for new October Revolutions worldwide. The fight against the national oppression of Kurdish people will be a crucial driving force for socialist revolution throughout the Near East and in Germany.