Translated from a 24 February 1999 supplement to Bolschewik, journal of Gruppe Spartakus, German section of the IBT
The flight of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan ended on 15 February in the bloody hands of the Turkish secret service with the cynical words, "Welcome home, you are now our guest." In short, Turkey's Enemy Number 1 is a prisoner of war in the hands of the military and can be certain of deadly hostility on the part of his "hosts." There is no attempt to even create the facade of a "fair trial." Immediately after Öcalan was snatched from Kenya, his Turkish lawyer was arrested and his international lawyers were turned away at the border. Meanwhile hundreds of members of the only remaining legal pro-Kurdish party, Hadep, were imprisoned. It is the task of the international left and workers movement, particularly in Germany and Turkey, to defend the lives and freedom of Öcalan and all other Kurdish activists. In this context we support the call by the PKK that "demonstrations, rallies and occupations must take place with the aim of saving the life of the chairman of the PKK" (MED TV News, 16 February 1999).
Successful defense of Öcalan and the PKK as a whole against the class-based justice of Turkey and Germany requires, above all, the kind of working-class action which hits the ruling class where it hurts--property relations. All leftists and conscious workers in Germany must actively defend the Kurdish resistance. In the case of Öcalan and numerous fighters who are now threatened with arrest and deportation it still holds true: An injury to one is an injury to all!
The justified protests of the Kurds against the Turkish oppressors and their German collaborators are utilized by an alliance of government and opposition politicians and the bourgeois media in a ruthless hate campaign against dual citizenship and for strengthening of anti-democratic laws. Fundamental democratic rights are being suspended in an instant, for example in the ban on demonstrations throughout Berlin after the bloody massacre of Kurds at the Israeli embassy. According to chancellor Schröder and home secretary Schily, "we" Germans must not allow conflicts to take place on "our" streets which are not "ours" and should respond to the Kurdish protests with rigorous action, including the possibility of fast-track deportations. This is cynical nationalist propaganda and a threat to the welfare and lives of Kurdish activists.
The German state has made the conflicts in Turkey its own for several years, supporting its NATO partner in acts of oppression--arms exports to Turkey, a travel ban on the international Musa Anter peace march to Diyarbakir in 1997, the suppression of the paper Kurtulus, which is critical of the regime, and the brutal raid of the Anadolu publishing company in Cologne. German imperialism is a part of this conflict and an enemy in the struggle for the liberation of Kurdish and Turkish workers and peasants! It is sheer hypocrisy to only protest when the fight is being waged on the streets of Germany against German police, distinguishing between "their" and "our" conflicts. As if the state would tolerate internal German class struggle instead! The ruling class respond to any resistance against oppression "with adequate force." When students protesting against cuts in education in 1997 trespassed the inviolable precincts of parliament they were attacked by mounted police; when miners angry about mass redundancies occupied the motorway they were threatened with charges of breaching the peace; on almost every anti-fascist demonstration there are countless arrests. This is not about "their" (Kurdish/Turkish) and "our" (German) conflicts, but about their (exploiters and oppressors) and our (the exploited and oppressed) conflicting interests. Those who do not understand that the terror against the PKK is also directed against the whole of the left and the workers movement, in Germany as in Turkey, understand nothing!
Kurds do not, however, have the same rights as German leftists and are under threat of deportation to the Turkish torture state. This threat, made by the German government and leading politicians, is not an empty one. In 1994 "the SPD minister of the interior of Baden-Württemberg, despite all the hypocritical 'legal concerns'" declared in the face of similar Kurdish protests that he "had already started deportations" (Bolschewik No. 5). We therefore demand: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants--now! An immediate stop to all deportations!
Revolutionary politics or imperialist diplomacy?
The International Bolshevik Tendency and its German section, the Gruppe Spartakus, stand for the defense of the Kurdish resistance, particularly the PKK, against the Turkish state and against imperialism. We have demanded repeatedly "Down with the ban on the PKK." In the face of the outrageous proceedings against Öcalan by the Turkish terror regime we need broad joint action and mass mobilizations around an appropriate slogan: Immediate and unconditional release of Abdullah Öcalan! Instead, Nizametin Tas of the PKK central committee appeals to the "progressive public" and "all democratic progressive groups" to send "observer delegations to Turkey" (MED TV News, 16 February 1999). Impotent means like these will not be able to tame the blood hounds of the military dictatorship and imperialism, they are useless for achieving the "aim of safeguarding the life of chairman Apo" (Ibid.)--this can only be achieved by determined international mass mobilizations of immigrants and workers.
Not for the first time, the PKK relies on imperialist "diplomacy" rather than on revolutionary mass mobilization. Tas appeals to the governments of the EU and the USA to "put pressure on the fascist Turkish state" and Kurdish demonstrators demand that the German government should advocate a "fair" trial. We cannot support demands for a "fair" trial and, even less, for diplomatic pressure by German/European imperialism on Turkey.
Although Turkey is not fascist, the regime is dominated by the military. If the foxes are putting the hare on trial, the hare will end up as their dinner, whatever the formal outcome. From the point of view of the Kemalist jurisdiction in Turkey, Öcalan meets all criteria of high treason--even a "fair" trial would jeopardize his life. Above all, the bloody bourgeoisie of Turkey has no right to put Öcalan on trial--no matter in what form. Since the foundation of modern Turkey it has been part of the Kemalist raison d'etre to discriminate against and oppress the Kurds. They are not allowed to speak their own language, their culture is denied, and Turkish Kurdistan is kept in deep economic underdevelopment and poverty. The Turkish response to justified resistance against this nationalist oppression, even if only verbally advanced, has been censorship, arrest, torture, massacres and finally the destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages. Political responsibility for the thousands killed in this dirty war waged by the Turkish military against the Kurdish nation does not lie with the PKK nor with Öcalan--it lies solely with the Turkish bourgeoisie, their state and their imperialist protectors. Revolutionary overthrow is the only justice they deserve, and the only means to stop their barbarism.
The PKK's appeals to the imperialists are reactionary, utopian and counterposed to the liberation of oppressed toilers in Kurdistan and around the world. Imperialism, the oppressor of millions, cannot change its nature and suddenly become the liberator of Kurdistan. The economic and political underdevelopment of Kurdistan and the Middle East is a product of the imperialist world system. The capitalists of the economically advanced imperialist countries use competition in the global market, capital investments and credits, together with their military strength, to exploit underdeveloped countries.
The Kurds were divided into four oppressive states under the imperialist Lausanne Agreement of 1923, which determined the carving up of the Middle East under the hegemony of Britain and France. Appeals to the EU, combined with the idea of a "serious" offer of EU membership provided Turkey respects "human rights", are utterly utopian. It is inconceivable that the EU will take on the burden of the "poorhouse" Turkey in the near future. All of these so-called European human rights concerns are simply an excuse to keep Turkey off their backs; they will not, and are not designed to, improve the situation of the Kurds in Turkey. If dependent Turkey joined the EU it would essentially mean giving up sovereignty rights (for example, in agriculture) in favor of the European imperialists--inflicting even more harm on the oppressed and exploited. The US imperialist "protection" of the Kurds in Northern Iraq keeps them in refugee camps and holds back their liberation from feudal exploitation and oppression. It secures for the USA the possibility of permanent attacks on Iraq and gives the Turkish military ongoing opportunities to invade Northern Iraq and attack PKK positions. In opposition to this, we stand for the right of all oppressed nations to self-determination: Imperialists out of the Middle East! Immediate withdrawal of the Turkish army from Kurdistan!
Öcalan's exit from Syria was far from a diplomatic coup for finding a "political solution" to the war in Kurdistan, as some in Kurdistan Solidarity would have it. Öcalan's long flight only goes to show, in concentrated form, how illusionary the PKK's diplomatic hopes were and still are. Clearly, no state on this earth is willing to stand with the Kurdish liberation struggle or to grant asylum to Öcalan. Even Italy kindly asked him to leave and in Greece the heads of pro-Kurdish cabinet ministers are rolling. Essentially, Öcalan is a "hot potato" that no government in the world wants except his persecutors. He shares the same fate as the Kurdish nation--a pawn on the chess board of international diplomacy.
The orientation of the PKK towards the ultra-right Lummer [politician notorious for sending riot police into squatted houses in Berlin in the 1980s] instead of to the left, and towards imperialist powers rather than the international workers movement has failed! But this is no accidental political mistake, it springs entirely from the political character of the PKK as a petty-bourgeois nationalist guerilla movement--and so the policy continues today.
Socialism or barbarism--permanent revolution or stageist theory?
Like most of the Turkish Stalinists and Maoists, the PKK believes that due to the backwardness of Kurdistan there can and must only be a bourgeois nationalist, cross-class people's revolution, which should aim to develop capitalism with help from the state. Leaving aside their nice-sounding but meaningless phrases, that is the essence of the PKK program. From this follows the subordination of Kurdish workers and peasants to the interests of the weak Kurdish bourgeoisie and its (future) development--justified with the nationalist phrase, the "patriotic bourgeoisie." The weak bourgeoisies of all underdeveloped countries are, however, tied to imperialism and the reactionary feudal aristocracy through countless economic, political and personal links. It is therefore only consistent that the PKK attempt, desperately and unsuccessfully, to establish a diplomatic united front with the imperialists and that they have for a long time been proud of their collaboration with the "patriotic" rural landlords. No ruling class has ever allied themselves with the masses unless they cease to struggle; in this case, to accept feudal oppression in the name of the Kurdish nation. This way does not lead towards liberation and a better life for the exploited classes of Kurdistan. It leads directly to the anti-Semitic articles written by Öcalan (under his pen names Ayden Safer and A. Inanc, e.g. in Ozgur Ulke, 28/29 August 1994), openness to Islamic tendencies and support for imperialist racism:
"Unfortunately, the developed Germany is being somewhat stained by the backwardness of our people. This makes me sad. Germany should not have been made to suffer this evil. ... Therefore, racism is spreading again. Quite justified, by the way! I also think that the right is right. I want to say quite openly that on this issue I do not think like a social democrat. The right-wingers are right" (Öcalan in an interview with Günther Wallraff).
While the PKK considers the Kurdish liberation struggle primarily as a isolated national task (with Kurdistan Solidarity as a pseudo diplomatic support group), we communists view the revolution in Kurdistan as one component of the proletarian revolution in the Middle East. Isolated national economic development and progress under capitalist leadership is not possible in the era of imperialism and the global market with its international division of labor. This has to be the starting point for all revolutionary considerations and actions, and has been vindicated by experience. Even the dreams of the "tiger economies" about catching up with capitalist development have been buried by the wreckage of the latest imperialist financial crisis. Considering the economic backwardness of these countries and the pressure of competition on the global market, the capital of these countries can only develop, i.e. make profits, if it exploits people and nature twice and thrice over. The daydream of a "national democratic stage" prior to proletarian revolution has for this reason always ended in a nightmare of barbarian oppression in the interests of the nascent national bourgeoisie (China 1927, Spain 1936--39, Indonesia 1965--66, Chile 1972--73). The capitalists know this. However, formations such as the PKK, petty bourgeois with a bourgeois program, preach to the masses the stageist model of national capitalist development which has failed over and over again.
Counterposed to this is the strategy of permanent revolution, which was vindicated in practice by the October revolution. This is based on the two premises that: a) even the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution (democratic rights, agrarian revolution, national question) cannot be accomplished by the reactionary bourgeoisie but only through proletarian revolution with the support of the impoverished masses of peasants; and b) only an international socialist revolution can clear the way for the economic, political and cultural emancipation of the masses. The bureaucratic degeneration of the world's first workers' state through Stalin's policy of "socialism in one country" has demonstrated in practice the impossibility of national socialism .
Kurdistan--link in the Middle Eastern revolution
We unconditionally defend the right of the Kurdish nation to self-determination, that is, to establish a separate state, but we do not currently advocate its implementation. "Given the present circumstances an independent Kurdish state would find itself in very great difficulty.... surrounded by its historic oppressors, it would be a society characterized by backward, pre-capitalist social structures. Because of its underdevelopment, an independent Kurdistan would find itself at the mercy of the regional as well as imperialist powers." (Bolschewik No. 2).
Real liberation in these circumstances would be impossible because Kurdistan lacks the primary prerequisite for revolution: an existing and organized proletariat. "Kurdistan is not a classical case of colonial revolution as, for example, China or Vietnam were earlier this century. In both these cases, the proletariat was small, but with sufficient economic and political power to lead the peasantry in a successful assault on both the imperialist masters and their indigenous bourgeois allies." (Ibid.) In these cases, only despotic, bureaucratically deformed workers states were created due to the victories of the Stalinist guerilla leaders, who deny the revolutionary leadership role of the proletariat.
"One of the peculiarities of the Kurdish national question is that it is intertwined with the social question in the states with Kurdish minorities and, through them, in all the states of the Middle East. The fight for the freedom of the Kurds requires a common struggle with the Turkish, Persian and Arab working masses. Any serious threat to capitalist rule in Turkey, for example, must inevitably pose the question of the Kurds. The Kurdish struggle for national liberation, on the other hand, could easily spark a wave of upheavals that would shatter the brittle regimes of the region" and replace them with "a socialist federation of the Middle East, within which the Kurds can decide on their own future." (Ibid.)
A struggle like this would be an important impulse for the class struggle in Germany and the rest of Europe with its millions of immigrant workers from the Middle East.
Proletarian internationalism versus petty-bourgeois nationalism
Contrary to this, the PKK's fight for an independent Kurdistan, disconnected from class struggle and without any socialist content, has led to a dead end. Victory in the guerilla war seems to have disappeared from the agenda. The nationally orientated course of the PKK is absolutely incompatible with essential unified international class struggle. Bombings of Turkish tourist centers, shops and cafes are attacks against internationalist unity. Unlike specific attacks against the Turkish and German state or fascists, these are clearly not the legitimate right of the PKK. If there are attacks on newsagents, tea houses or takeaways simply because they are Turkish, we internationalists stand for the defense of these places and civilians against blind nationalist fury. We have the same attitude towards possible attacks which do not directly hit the Turkish state or big business but tourist centers instead--these are futile and ruthless nationalist attempts to hurt the Turkish state "indirectly" by killing Turkish, Kurdish and West European workers. Even if these attacks significantly decreased tourism, this could not reduce profits enough in order to break Turkey's firm resolution to defend imperialist social relations. This can only be achieved by revolutionary attacks on capitalist property and social relations.
When fighting the Vietcong, the USA let the whole global currency system of Bretton Woods collapse in order to finance their dirty war against the Vietnamese revolution. In Kurdistan the imperialists will also be prepared to put up some cash for the struggle against the Kurdish resistance, and decreased income in tourism will be offset by military aid to Turkey. Germany alone has already pumped billions into Turkey. Attacks on shops and tourist resorts, like the past crimes of Öcalan and the PKK against the Kurdish left, will not prevent us from identifying the main culprits of terror and oppression as the Turkish and imperialist governments and defending the PKK against them. We forcefully reject, however, the logic under which only patriotic Kurds count. This only serves to establish cross-class, reactionary national alliances. It is useless for achieving democratic and social liberation--this is only possible through international class unity, the polarization of each nation through class struggle. Ironically and tragically, this logic is even counterposed to the liberation of the Kurds from oppression and feudal exploitation. We advocate international workers' action against German/imperialist and Turkish collaboration.
A fine example of this was the longshore boycott in the mid-1980s in the USA, led by comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency. This political strike in the Bay Area, which lasted for almost two weeks, was directed against unloading South African cargo. It cost the apartheid regime dearly while promoting class struggle and international unity of the working-class--the essential prerequisite for an international revolution to liberate humanity. Such an internationalist revolutionary perspective is completely realistic. In the 1991 Gulf War, when the Turkish government wanted to mobilize against Iraq, spontaneous protests erupted in Turkish Kurdistan, and these demands in turn were taken up by Turkish and Kurdish workers in mass strikes and demonstrations. This political awakening of the Turkish working class in solidarity with the Kurdish liberation struggle posed a serious threat to the Turkish regime.
In Germany and the other European states, native-born revolutionary workers must stand for open and active solidarity with immigrants and the struggles of the Kurdish resistance against national oppression. It is also necessary to connect with the radical potential of the proletarianized immigrants of the Middle East and direct this towards revolutionary attacks on reformist bureaucrats, especially in the trade unions. The politics of the PKK, in organizing immigrant Kurds as Kurdish patriots rather than as workers without a fatherland, yet again stand in sharp contrast to the needs of proletarian internationalism. A careful Marxist analysis of the Kurdish question can only lead to one conclusion: Important as it is to defend the PKK, it is equally as important to criticize them sharply. Kurdish fighters need to break with the PKK, and the numerous Maoist and Stalinist revisers of Leninism, and participate in the building of a Leninist-Trotskyist world party based on the program of permanent revolution, with multi-national sections, particularly in Turkey and Germany. This is the best contribution such fighters can make towards the revolutionary liberation of the Kurds and all the oppressed of this world.