Crimethinc’s recent feature, Why the Turkish Invasion Matters: Addressing the Hard Questions about Imperialism and Solidarity, is a welcome one. In the past, I’ve been very critical of the ways that some anarchists, including Crimethinc, have tended to skip over any consideration of the more difficult questions about Rojava, so this feature was a welcome corrective. And yet, for all that, I’m still not satisfied by some of their answers.
A lot of their points – for instance, “if we want to live in a world in which people in places like Rojava will not welcome the support of the US government, we will have to offer credible alternatives via social movements and international solidarity campaigns” and “we don’t have to endorse [particular movements or structures] to oppose the Turkish invasion” are important and true. But the difficulty for me comes with their answer to the question “Did the Kurds betray the Syrian Revolution?”
“The fact that the uprising in Syria ended in an ugly civil war is not the fault of those who dared everything to resist the Assad regime. Rather, once again, it shows that we were not courageous or organized enough to support them properly. The unfortunate outcome of the Syrian uprising illustrates the disastrous consequences of relying on state governments like the US to support those who stand up for themselves against oppressors and aggressors. The current Turkish invasion confirms the same thing.
Some people outside Syria also blame the Kurds for this failure. It strikes us as hypocritical that anyone who did not go to Syria to participate in the struggle would accuse the Kurds of sitting out the first phase of fighting. The only people from whom this charge carries any weight are the ones who participated in the first phase of the Syrian uprising themselves.”
First of all, this isn’t even quite an accurate description of what the charge is. It’s one thing to accuse the Kurdish forces of not taking part in the fighting against Assad’s forces; it’s quite another to point out that the SDF actively collaborated with the Syrian state to crush Aleppo. Perhaps it’s hypocritical for people who haven’t fought against Assad to criticise others for not doing the same; but I’ve certainly never co-ordinated a military operation alongside Assad’s army and the Russian air force, so I don’t think I’m in too much of a glass house there.
Beyond that, the idea that only those who’ve taken part in the Syrian uprising can criticise the decisions of the Kurdish movement’s leadership seems like a bit of a crude manipulation, and I’d expect better from Crimethinc – the logic isn’t too dissimilar to those who’ll accept that black people can criticise black politicians, or that people from Muslim backgrounds can criticise Islamic reactionaries, but denounce white/non-Muslim people making the same criticisms as outside agitators or worse. If people who took part in the Syrian uprising can make such criticisms, are the rest of us allowed to listen to them? And what if we find what they’re saying persuasive, can we do anything to amplify their voices?
They go on to repeat their skimmed-down, diet version of what the criticisms of the PYD on this score consist of, saying “it is not easy to judge the decisions of the members of an oppressed minority in Syria, far from most of the fighting at the onset of the revolt, that has historically been betrayed again and again by other groups in the region. Perhaps, had Kurds and others in Rojava immediately risked everything in the struggle against Assad, it could have turned out differently” – which, just to repeat, is a different thing from saying “Perhaps, had Kurds and others in Rojava not committed to actively helping Assad’s war effort in Aleppo, it could have turned out differently.” That difference matters.
On a similar note, I have some real reservations about their new poster design:
“Stop Erdogan, Trump and ISIS” certainly isn’t wrong as far as it goes, but it’s noticeable how one major bad guy, someone who has a lot more to do with the situation in Syria than Trump does, goes unnamed and unmentioned. This isn’t the first time that Crimethinc have seemed to forget about Assad; but what makes it particularly frustrating is that this time it accompanies a text that pays lip service to the anti-Assad struggle, one where they write “We are sympathetic to this frustration we have heard from Syrian refugees. We have learned a great deal from Syrians who took courageous risks in the revolution only to be forced to flee along the Balkan Route, ending up trapped in places like Greece and Slovenia. Many Syrian refugees have contributed admirably to social struggles in these countries—despite not being there by choice, despite the daily xenophobia and oppression they have confronted. Many of them have since been incarcerated or deported by racist border regimes.”
Of course a poster is only a poster, and so it could only ever be a gesture, but a willingness to name Assad as an enemy would at least be a gesture of solidarity and of wanting to build bridges and include these people. But, of course, such a gesture would also annoy and offend those within the Kurdish (solidarity) movement who’re pinning their hopes on an alliance with Assad and don’t want to rock the boat. It won’t be possible to hang on to relationships with both of those groups, so I suppose it all comes down to what you want to prioritise.
And for what it’s worth, I think they’re totally right when they say: “But even if the people in Rojava today were somehow responsible for the failure of the Syrian uprising, would they deserve to be slaughtered for this? No, they would not.” So, given that’s the case – given that it’s totally possible to admit the flaws in the PYD’s record while still opposing the invasion – why this continued reluctance to really deal with the difficult bits?