Wed Sep 27, 2023
September 27, 2023

Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) – Part 1: An atypical bourgeois state

In the early months of 2015, the Kurdish militia defending the city of Kobane defeated the forces of the reactionary Islamic State (IS). A victory that had a world impact because it was accomplished in conditions of military inferiority, a disadvantage they compensated with a high combatant morale. An important part of the Kurdish militia was composed by young and brave women, and many battalions were commanded by them. From the IWL-FI, we support this struggle and celebrate this triumph, and we stress the key role played in the fight by the women of Rojava.
By Alejandro Iturbe.
At the same time, in the middle of a region increasingly combusted (with countries like Syria and Iraq, territorially split in multiple military conflicts), this fact brought the reality of the Kurdish people and its historical struggle to get its own unified State to the front pages of the international press. In the article “On the Kurdish people struggle”[1] we analyze and develop our stand on it. We initiate now a series of articles updating it.
From that article, I want to emphasize two elements. The first is an informative one: the Kurdish people are the biggest nationality of the Middle East without a state, due to the Treaty of Lausanne (signed in 1923, to distribute the former domains of the Turkish-Ottoman Empire, defeated in WWI), which denied them this right. The Kurdish people were left divided into four countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria,) in which they are an oppressed nation.
The territory of the historical Kurdistan covers about 400.000 km2 (190.000 km2 in Turkey, 125.000 km2 in Iran, 65.000 km2 in Iraq and 15.000 km2 in Syria). In this territory, there is an important part of the oil reservoirs of Iran and Iraq, and most of the Syrian oil. Although there is no rigorous census, it is estimated that there are between 30 and 40 million Kurds: 16 million in Turkey (12 m in the Turkish Kurdistan and 4 m in other regions of the country), 8 million more in Iran, 7 million in Iraq, and 2 million in Syria. There is also a diaspora established in other countries, of nearly 2 million (mostly in Europe, of which 700.000 are in Germany).
The second element we highlight from our position on the Kurds’ struggle, which we separate from other oppressed nationalities, is:
As revolutionary Marxists, we are not in favor of the atomization of existing States. On the contrary, we struggle for the integration of plurinational and federative States, freely constructed, ever larger. But if an oppressed nation defines it wants its independence, we support and defend unconditionally this decision (…) The Kurdish case is a special one: it is evidently an oppressed nation, not in a single country but rather divided and oppressed in four countries. This is why the only way to exercise its self-determination is to break this division and reunify. So, as a starting point, we acknowledge and defend its right to split their historical territories from the States they are part of and construct its own independent State instead (and we fully support their struggle in this regard). We believe that, in such case, it would not be an atomization of existing states but rather a progressive reunification.
From this, we added:
The slogan of constructing a unified Kurdish State is not Socialist but a democratic-bourgeois one, but one that becomes a fabulous transitional mobilization proposal, because, on one hand, it is an aspiration deeply felt by millions of Kurds, and on the other, it can only be achieved with a harsh international struggle against the national bourgeoisies of the countries that oppress them, and against Imperialism itself, that since decades ago denies them such right. Regarding this slogan, it is a similar situation to the “Secular, Democratic and non-racist Palestine in all of its historical territory,” abandoned by most Palestine leaderships. The Kurdish leaderships (such as the PKK-PYD, the HDP, and PDK) also abandon the struggle for a unified Kurdish State. On the contrary, we must keep it, as a programmatic proposal and a call to struggle.
Our stand on Kurdish self-determination
It is with this setting that we analyze the fact that these people had reached control of two autonomous regions, one in Iraq (which they call Basur), and another in Syria (which the Kurds call Rojava): two states or embryos of “self-states” in fact.
Although the processes that led to each one of them were very different, “We consider that the autonomy achieved in Iraq and Rojava is a step forward in this direction, thus they must be defended, but not considered as the “final goal” but rather put at the service of the struggle to achieve a unified Kurdish State.
We completed our position pointing out that “We give no support and we do not put any faith in the current Kurdish leaderships, so much for its class character (bourgeois or petit-bourgeois) as for the policy they carry (the abandon of the struggle for a unified Kurdish State.) This means that being on the same field with the Kurdish people, we combat their leaderships politically, we call to fight against their policies (like the agreements with Imperialism and Putin) that go against a unitary fight of the Kurds, and we demand them to develop policies that drive this struggle forward”.
The debate on Rojava
The process of Rojava was the most known one and the one that generated the broadest international sympathies. Within it, sectors and intellectuals of the Left and Anarchism sustained that a there new Workers’ State in the way to Socialism was being built, or even the implementation of the anarchist principles of organizing a country without a centralized State and based on “base democracy” bodies.
In this article, we characterize both definitions as incorrect, and we debate with them. Regarding the anarchists, we stated that in Rojava, a State which had its centralizing institutions and, essentially, its own armed forces, the PYD militia, was indeed being constructed.[2]
We still needed to define the class nature and dynamics of this State. In debate with those who characterized this was a socialist State, or in transition towards socialism, we said that “behind the ‘eco-socialist’ ideology and rhetoric, and the ‘democratic confederalism’ [of the PYD], what is really going on is the construction of an ‘atypical’ bourgeois State, a little different to what we usually know, for the objective basis from which it emerged as much as for a partial expression of this particular ideology.
To understand this debate we retake the analysis made about the State emerged in 2012:
This State inherits the land and public services that were property of the Syrian State. So, it becomes the owner of the main economic resources, and at the same time, it relies on a backward economic structure with almost no bourgeoisie. […] During the Syrian domain, there was no Kurdish bourgeoisie in Rojava in the strictest sense of the term. To be precise, it was a really weak one: almost a proto-bourgeoisie, or an agrarian, commercial and hand-work petit-bourgeoisie”. If we add this to the fact that the territory was dominated by the YPG (Popular Protection Units) militia, we have, indeed, the appearance or external aspect of a non-capitalist State.
On this base, “We can characterize the PYD as a non-worker or petit-bourgeois leadership, who took the power and now controls a State. A fact of this characteristics is not new: it has occurred in the past in countries like the former Yugoslavia, China, Cuba and Nicaragua… In this situations, a deep contradiction occurred between the superstructure (regime and govern,) which was not controlled by the bourgeoisie, and the economic structure of the country (which remained capitalist). A contradiction that could solve itself in two ways. In the first, this leadership would surpass its original intentions, breaking with the bourgeoisie and Imperialism and expropriating them, beginning the construction of a Workers’ State (which occurred in former Yugoslavia, China and Cuba); in the second, this leadership did not break nor expropriate and, instead, it rebuilt a ‘regular’ bourgeois State (which occurred with Sandinism in Nicaragua). There is no middle ground. The situation on Rojava presents a difference with the countries we referred to: in them, it existed a certain level of capitalist development, and therefore, national and imperialist bourgeois to expropriate, while in Rojava, due to its historical development, the main strings of Economy were left in the hands of the new State, which plans the economic activity in a centralized way. But we have come to this situation without a leadership having to encourage expropriation.
How did reality unfold?
The PYD leadership had the conditions to move forward in any direction it chose. We believe it defined to build a “‘atypical’ capitalist State with a strong State intervention. […] This reality is explained for the petit-bourgeois nature of the PYD leadership as much as for its social base nature (also petit-bourgeois), without the pressure or action of a proletariat with its own goals and program. Neither was there a necessity of a ‘counter-offensive’ against a national bourgeoisie and Imperialism that dominated the national economy and attack the process (as defined by the Che Guevara in the Cuban process between 1959 and 1961).
At this point, it is indispensable to contrast the analysis and forecasts which were in discussion with what happened in reality. We believe our analysis in the mentioned article was verified in reality. To give a base to this conclusion, we will rely on two very different sources.
The first one is an article written for Al Jazeera by Andrea Glioti (an Italian journalist which resides in London, a sympathizer of the Rojavan process, who traveled to the region and remained several months there to know it and report the experience).[3] Upon returning to London, in this article Glioti (we repeat, a sympathizer of the process) makes several critics to the government of the PYD-PKK on its strong contradictions between their proposal “on paper” and what was really happening.
One of them is that “the private property is officially established in the Rojavan Constitution, a provision which safeguards the privileges of the landowners while it encourages them to invest in the agrarian projects sponsored by the authorities of Rojava.” In other words, the government of the PYD-PKK is driving the birth of a “land bourgeoisie”.
This fact is corroborated by the British magazine The Economist, which analyzes that the economy of Rojava was starting to be “viable”. Because, besides being self-sustainable, it already had surplus in the production of oil, ovine cattle, grain (they only consume 30% of what they produce), and cotton, which was already starting to be exported through the frontier with the Iraqi Kurdistan (Basur), opened since the early months of 2016.
The weak point is the production of energy and oil: the refinery of Jezira works only at 5% of its capacity due to the lack of the chemical products needed for refinement. This has been covered with the establishment of local refineries of low-quality diesel. As a final solution, the PYD government seeks foreign investment, to construct a power plant (and a fertilizer plant as well).[4]
To sum up, we believe both opposed visions (from the “left” and from the “right”, we can say) corroborate the analysis we made last year.
Translation: Guillermo Zuñiga.
[1] Only available in Spanish.
[2] The leadership of the Rojavan process is the PYD (Democratic Union Party), deeply bonded with the Turkish PKK (Kurdistan’s Workers Party). In the quoted material, we analyze the history and evolution of the ideology and policy of the former Party.

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