“A calamitous defeat”: Is “Kurdistan” a nation at all?

A map reprinted from an alternative website, which links to an article in Global Research saying that Washington sponsored the idea of a “Great Kurdistan.”

Note:  This article was written in late October 2017, so it is a bit dated. This article is the fourth of a four-part series, which never got published on Dissident Voice.

The previous article focused how Western imperialists have granted support to “Kurdistan” over the years. This article poses the question: is “Kurdistan” is a nation at all? This differs from previous analyses of the “Kurdish national question,” but I pursued my own course of analysis in writing this article and others in this series.

As was argued on /r/communism by one user, “from a Marxist-Leninist perspective they are not a nation, they are an ethnicity. To speak of “self determination” for them can only mean “ethnic self determination”, which is a Nazi belief, not a Marxist one.” This in line with users on the same forum agreeing that Kurds are co-operating with U$ imperialism while, at other times, there seemed to be disagreement on the subject.

It is not worth considering whether the referendum was “constitutional” or not, with the former argued by the KRG. Instead, let us consider the views of PRI’s interviewees on the referendum. Most, as is typical of bourgeois media, voiced support, speaking of the “will” for independence, saying that the Kurds “deserve” independence, that people should fight for “our rights,” and hoped for a stronger government. However, one interviewee said that “they [the KRG] pretend democracy, but they are more like dictators.” This in line with the idea that Kurdistan as Qatar’s Al Jazeera declared, that “Kurdistan” is basically a “kind of dream…buoyed by memories of a glorious past” with one person evening saying that “if countries in the region became more democratic and more welcoming of their Kurdish populations, the cries for an independent Kurdistan would quiet down” and the realization that “the country many dream of may not end up as the hoped-for Kurdish utopia.” This is a concern since the Kurds are described as “the largest ethnic group [in that region] without self-determination” and Westerners are coaxed into helping built “stable, democratic institutions,” for the Kurds. [1]

Let us consider that the Barzani family “governs the Iraqi Kurdistan with an iron fist” and is “historically connected to Israel.” Additionally, let us consider the words of the Qatari-backed and pro-terrorist outlet Middle East Eye, only because they even admit that “Kurdistan” in Northern Iraq is a complete and utter mess:

“…following several years of financial crisis and economic mismanagement, Erbil has racked up $30bn of debt, and the meagre salaries of public sector workers are routinely paid late. But the crunch has not been felt by all – cronyism is rife in the fiefdom, and the Barzani family have used their monopoly on power to amass a fortune while ruling over the ..KRG…Following several years of financial crisis and economic mismanagement, Erbil has racked up $30bn of debt, and the meagre salaries of public sector workers are routinely paid late…cronyism is rife in the fiefdom, and the Barzani family have used their monopoly on power to amass a fortune while ruling over the..KRG…That the upcoming referendum is more about President Barzani and the KRG’s elites ensuring their hold on power undermines the aspirations of some of the world’s most discriminated against people”

The same is the case for the neo-con magazine, Commentary, which says that “…the region was never democratic—the freest and fairest election it had was in 1992—and then the leaders simply massaged the process in order to maintain their hold.” They added that Barzani is “officially limited to two terms by the constitution, but got around the problem by extending his second term extra-legally” meaning that the region is “a dictatorship…[since] two ruling families dominate politics and society…Masud Barzani is a dictator.” Beyond this, there are also reports that “Barzani family members alone took 600 billion dollars from the Kurdish people’s oil income and…[the] Talabani side shared 50 % of that oil money, too, which means they made 600 billion dollars to be divided among Talabani sides.” Then there is the words of the alternative site, Moon of Alabama, which sometimes goes off the rails (but not this time), arguing that the recent referendum was more “to do with the beleaguered situation of the illegitimate regional president Barzani than with a genuine opportunity to achieve independence.” They added that “Arabs, Turks, and Persians see the Kurds as a recalcitrant nomadic mountain tribe and stooge of Israeli interests” and that basically “Kurdish independence…would be the start of another decade of war – either between the Kurdish entities and the nations around them, or within the ever disunited Kurdish tribes themselves.” Finally there are the words of Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Iranian Parliament’s General Director for International Affairs, who said that “Barzani’s call for independence means further strengthening of ISIL and Tel Aviv, a new anarchy in the region and instability.” This is fundamentally the case.

Still, these realities or the data collected by the Rand Corp, an appendage of the imperial war machine, do not answer the question on whether “Kurdistan” is a nation or not. Sarah Abed, in a series of articles in Mint Press News seems to raise doubts as to whether the Kurds are a nation. In her first article on the subject, she writes that

“Kurdistan—Land of the Kurds—exists only in two spheres. One is on maps sold in bazaars wherever the Kurdish language is spoken. The other is on yellow-red-and-green flags Kurds sometimes wave in the countries where they actually reside (according to maps sold everywhere else in the world).Yet in one of those countries, the Kurds have built themselves a state in all but name”

In the second, she argues that Kurds are even more devious, not even having their own culture, stealing it from others, with the same being the case with their land, with “much if not all of the land in Eastern Turkey that the Kurds claim as their own once belonged to the Armenians.” She goes on to say that Kurds assisted in the 1915 genocide of Armenians and of Assyrians, along with dwelling in cities which were only recently established as theirs “as a means of drawing their eyes away from the oil-rich lands in and around the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.” As a result, large migrations of Kurds into the area often displaced “Assyrians who had far greater legal and historical claims to these lands.” Add to this, she argues, that Kurdistan will be defined by where “Kurds happen to dwell at any given point” and were easily used as a “pawn of U.S. interests” while Kurds began, in July 2014, “systematic disarmament of Assyrians and several other ethnic groups so that it could use their weapons in its own struggle” which left these groups at the mercy of Daesh. She argues that this is a “deliberate ploy by the Kurdish leadership to allow foreign forces to violently cleanse these areas of all non-Kurdish residents and then…retake and “liberate their lands.” She later argues that

“…the Kurds would have a vested interest in claiming Arab, Assyrian or Armenian history as their own…they often resort to destroying any relevant history altogether…Kurds claim that their “Kurdistan” is “multicultural and multireligious,” which is disingenuous when you consider that those additional cultures consist of people now dwelling amongst a Kurdish majority in lands the Kurds took by force. These people will be faced with the prospect of casting meaningless votes on Kurdish independence since, even if they all voted “no,” they would nonetheless be outvoted by the Kurdish “yes” majority…Kurdish history in the 20th century is marked by a rising sense of Kurdish nationhood focused on the goal of establishing an independent Kurdistan in accordance with the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920…The state of Kurdistan has simply never existed…The Kurds have a centuries-long history of persecuting minority groups, having committed genocide against them with alarming frequency…It is important to reiterate that there are many Kurds to whom some of the characterizations presented in this analysis cannot and should not be applied. There are Kurds who have assimilated into their current cultural societies and reject the ideals of the separatist Kurds. Their concerns are mostly political in nature and specific to the nations in which they reside. They are not interested in establishing a united Kurdish country…In fact, these Kurds have faced discrimination from the Kurdish community as a result of their unwillingness to support the establishment of a Kurdish state…The Kurds have gained popularity through effectively marketing themselves to Western audiences as revolutionary, feminist, Marxist “freedom fighters”…Up until recently, Kurds with separatist ambitions were seen in a positive light. But their hidden agenda has now been exposed and their true intentions revealed…To support the Kurds’ demands for autonomy, and the establishment of a federation at the expense of others in the region, is illegal, profoundly illogical, and a violation of human rights”

If what Sarah Abed says has any validity then the Kurds cannot claim they are a nation and hence their claim for independence as a “nation” and a “nation-state” is fundamentally flawed. The Syrians recognize the danger of this, even discussing with the Russians and a PKK leader a number of issues: “the future of the YPG, the future of US bases…in the YPG-occupied areas, and a political solution to the Kurdish question in Syria.” Whether the Syrian state does the same as Iraq in creating an autonomous area within their country for the Kurds is possible. However, considering the fact that they have been under imperialist assault since the 1960s, especially more intense since 2013, it is likely that Kurds will be granted additional rights but not an autonomous area, a concept which could be exploited by power-hungry Western imperialists.

This discussion is nothing new. In 1973, the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party in Iraq wrote a political report titled “Revolutionary Iraq 1968-1973.” They noted, in one chapter about the Iraqi revolution, as they called it, talking about the Kurds:

“The Kurdish national movement in Iraq, despite some historical circumstantial errors and reactionary isolationist trends some of which were on openly good terms with imperialism and reactionary circles, is essentially a legitimate national movement so long as it works within the framework of national rights for the Kurdish people within the Republic of Iraq. Autonomous Kurdish rule is realistic and justified…the problem has become very complicated because of foreign interventions, the chauvinistic and dictatorial attitudes of the former reactionary regimes towards the Kurd’s legitimate rights….The Party had to find a solution, theoretical and practical, that would satisfy the national aspirations of our Kurdish masses while protecting the territorial unity of the land and the unity of the national progressive movement without conflicting with the aims of the Arab struggle…the leadership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party often did not behave in the spirit of national unity and sincere alliance with the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party…in spite of all the errors and negative aspects, the peaceful democratic method of the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party in tackling the Kurdish Question has proved to be correct and has yielded significant positive results…After four years of persistent struggle to solve the Kurdish Question peacefully and democratically, the general political, psychological and economic trends of the Kurdish masses are no longer as they used to be before the March announcement. Large sections of our Kurdish people are now finding their lives more secure and peaceful than ever before…The peaceful solution of the Kurdish Question is also another sign of democracy, In addition to its significant aspect in consolidating national unity, political independence and social progress in the country, it has provided the opportunity for the first time to create a democratic climate for our Kurdish people to practice their national rights, political, social and cultural activities on a very large scale.”

This statement does draw into question the story told by the Kurds who want their own nation and fundamentally a new nation-state, showing that the Iraqi government understood, at least at one point, that the Kurds were justified in their push for self-determination. Even Kim Il Sung, in 1971, congratulated the Iraqi people and government on the “successful solution of the Kurd national problem in Iraq,” further saying that “the peaceful, democratic solution of the Kurd national problem is a telling blow to the imperialists and an important measure which makes it possible to strengthen the anti-imperialist people’s front and further intensify the anti-U.S., anti-Israeli struggle in Iraq.”

However, if the Kurds were not a nation, fundamentally and just an ethnicity, then the Iraqi approach at the time would be even more justified. One Marxist writer even pointed out, in 1979, that two important ayatollahs in Iran called Kurdish leaders “agents of Savak, Zionists and corrupt sources,” while Saddam Hussein reportedly was “arming some Kurds to start a revolt within Iran.” Kurds seem to be pawns, now and throughout their history, of Western imperialists. Still, we cannot paint all of them with the same brush. There are Kurds, as I’ve written in the past, who support federalism in Syria, and also support federalism in Iraq. Not all are separatist, wanting to form an “independent” nation.

Whether the Kurds are an “oppressed nationality” is up to the reader. But this writer thinks that is drawn into question considering that certain Kurds have been used for pawns. They gotta serve somebody, and those somebodies are in the West, not in the Mideast. Clearly US imperialism has re-positioned itself to support certain Kurds in Syria, but there is another reality. A new state in the region would be the paradise of capitalists, getting to the level of Cuba before the revolution’s success in 1959. Additionally, they want a nation-state conceived in a bourgeois way, following what Rosa Luxembourg pointed out in 1909, that ““Nation-states” are today the very same tools and forms of class rule of the bourgeoisie as the earlier, non-national states, and like them they are bent on conquest. The nation-states have the same tendencies toward conquest, war, and oppression – in other words, the tendencies to become “not-national.”” Fundamentally, this is a bourgeois concept.

As the Marxist Internet Archive defines it, a nation-state is when a nation combines with a state, with “the state being an instrument of force which is able to dominate the people of a nation, representing the social interests of the dominant class with that nation.” This is not something that should be cheered or supported. Instead, those with sense should support those Kurds who push for the maintenance of federalist systems in their respective countries, Syria or Iraq, oppose the creation of “Kurdistan,” strongly oppose outside interference by the West, and ally with the proletariat in those countries, along with Communist parties in those countries (i.e. Iraqi Communist Party and Syrian Communist Party (Bakdash)) at minimum. [2] This would all be within the right of any ethnicity, but especially those in countries under imperialist attack. While some may argue, rightly, that Syria and Iraq are not socialist states, it is not the job of those in the West to determine how peoples in those countries engage in revolution but it should be up to the people n those respective countries, with those outside offering international solidarity and support if they deem it necessary. In the case of “Kurdistan,” this should not be supported by any thinking comrade, as it will assist Zionist expansionism, Saudi expansionism, and Western imperialism in dividing up the region. This is not beneficial for the well-being of those who live in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, or those living in any other area. In the end, what happens next, whether they see the Kurds as a nation or they don’t, is up to any comrade who reads the articles in this series.


Notes

[1] Aliza Marcus and Andrew Apostolou, “Why It’s Time for a Free Kurdistan,” The Daily Beast, Nov. 25, 2015.

[2] The same would also be the case in Iran except that the country does not have a strong and established Left, so that would need to be built from the ground up. The existing communist party, Tudeh, is in exile and seems to, unfortunately, mesh with the criticisms of the country’s government by Western imperialists. If this turns out to be incorrect, then perhaps Tudeh can be useful as a force that can challenge the existing political system in Iran.

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“A calamitous defeat”: The Western imperialists and “Kurdistan”

A map of “Kurdistan” from a pro-Kurdish website, showing how its creation would assist Western imperialism due to its tentacles reaching into Syria, Iraq, and Iran, along with Turkey of course.

Note:  This article was written in late October, so it is a bit dated. This article is the third of a four-part series, which never got published on Dissident Voice. Some words were changed.

Continuing from the last article, this article focuses on the support Western imperialists have granted “Kurdistan” over the years.

The Turkish government, predictably anti-Kurdish, is opposed to an independent Kurdistan, along with the U$ officially (under Obama and now under the orange menace), the Iraqi, Iranian, and Syrian governments, all feeling it will threaten regional stability at a time that the Syrian war seems to be coming to a close. [1] The only government that seems to fully support independence is the Zionist state (and reportedly the Saudis), seeming to hint that Ali Akbar Velayati, senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may be onto something when he recently said that “Barzani is a middleman for Zionists [whose goal is] to disintegrate Islamic countries” and called Kurdistan a “second Israel.” Of course, Russophobic imperialist Chuck Schumer supports an independent Kurdistan, as does a political party in the Western puppet state of Kosovo, the chieftain of the Arab al-Jobouri grouping in Kirkuk, the pseudo “nationalistic” PKK, the Syriac Assyrian Popular Council, and Assyrian Party. Additionally, the traitorous Greek government, which surrendered before the altar of the European Troika, Catalonia, and the Swedish government, which serves the Western imperialists with glee, also voiced their support.

Radicals, even on seem to be divided on the question of an “independent Kurdistan.” Perhaps this is because the Iraqi Communist Party endorsed the referendum, saying that they “recognize the right of self-determination for all peoples, small and large, and their right to express their free will, including the formation of a national state” but that the “restructuring of the federal state…cannot be decided unilaterally by a particular party” and hoping that “hostility between the Arab and Kurdish peoples” is not increased, instead pushing for the unity of the country with no alternative to dialogue.” This measured response, as you could call it, does not necessarily take into account all of the factors at play here, as will be discussed in this article. There has been the use of force by the Iraqi government to maintain control of the “Kurdistan” region. [2] As Andre Vletchek, who is revisionist but often well-spoken, said recently,

“…the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq…is clearly a ‘client’ state of the West, of Turkey and to some extent, Israel. It is shamelessly capitalist, taking land from its own people, cheating them, just in order to pump and refine huge quantities of oil. It treats Syrian refugees like animals, forcing them to make anti-Assad statements. It is turning ancient Erbil into some bizarre shopping mall with nothing public in sight. Its military top brass is mainly US/UK-trained and indoctrinated. And it provokes Baghdad, day and night…If Iraqi Kurds were allowed to have their ‘independence’, the impact on the region would be huge and certainly negative. Baghdad should not allow it, even at the cost of an armed confrontation.”

Adding to this, Kirkuk was transformed from “a majority Turkmen community to a Kurdish one starting in 1991” with the marginalization of the Turkmen winning “little sympathy outside” as their “identity and ethnic rights are completely overshadowed by Kurdish separatists and their foreign partners and lackeys.” Furthermore, it is worth noting that “Kirkuk is no more a part of Kurdish Iraq than nearby Mosul is, and Kurdish rights to Kirkuk has never been part of the semi-autonomous understanding between Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad.” Let us also take into account what James Petras said about the Kurds in the 1990s and more recently:

“In the case of Iraq in the 1990’s, Kurds were sponsored, armed, funded and defended by the US and Israel in order to weaken and divide the secular-nationalist Iraqi republic. Kurds, again with US support, have organized regional conflicts in Turkey and more recently in Syria, in order to defeat the independent government of Bashar Assad. Leftist Kurds cynically describe their imperial allies, including the Israelis, as ‘progressive colonialists’. In brief, the Kurds act as surrogates for the US and Israel: They provide mercenaries, access to military bases, listening and spy posts and resources in their newly ‘liberated (and ethnically cleansed) country’, to bolster US imperialism, which ‘their warlord leaders’ have chosen as the dominant ‘partner’. Is their struggle one of national liberation or mercenary puppetry in the service of empire against sovereign nations resisting imperial and Zionist control?…The Kurdish ‘freedom fighters’, followed ethnic warlords who were funded by the US and Israel, and took over town, cities, oil resources and territory to serve as imperial military bases against the sovereign governments of Iraq, Iran and Syria. In this context, the Kurdish warlords and oligarchs are loyal vassals and an integral component of the long-standing US-Israeli policy aimed at dividing and weakening independent allies of Palestine, Yemen and genuine liberation movements…Kurds, Tibetans, fascist Ukrainian nationalists, Uighurs and other so-called freedom fighters turn out to be military Sepoys for aggressive US incursion against independent China, Iran and Russia. Leftist backers of these dubious ‘liberation movements’ tag along behind the empire.”

There is more beyond what he is saying. The general narrative within the bourgeois media is that the West is annoyed by the “Kurdistan” referendum and that Israel (and the Saudis as is talked about very little) is the only ally an “independent” state in that region has. The reality as noted in part 1 and part 2 of this series, and alluded above, is very different. For one, these Kurds aim to exploit ethnic strains and reinforce the “legitimacy of the Kurdish leadership before a drive for outright independence and any negotiations that might involve.” This is despite the fact that the Turkish government seems ready to “impose further sanctions on northern Iraq over the referendum,” the Iraqi government has put in place an “international flights ban on Kurdish airports” and stopped all “foreign currency transfers to the region” while Barzani hangs onto power beyond his second term which was supposed to end in 2013. As their push for independence seems aimed to “capitalize on their contribution to the war on Islamic State,” Western imperialists are smiling in glee. [3]

An “independent” state in “Kurdistan” would open the door to directly attacking Iran even more than in the past. Considering that Iran is mutually obligated to defend Syria, supports forces such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, is militarily supported by revisionist China and Russia, while it is a “crucial link in the North South Transportation Corridor (NTSC)” and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), this could destabilize the region to say the least. Even if a “direct American attack on Iran is even more unthinkable than in the past,” covert action is not “unthinkable.” Recently Mike Pompeo, the newly crowned CIA director declared that the CIA will need to “become a much more vicious agency” in fighting enemies, which will inevitably mean, from his own career, supporting Saudi expansionism, undermining Russia, Syria, Juche Korea, and Iran covertly, along with any other entity (or person) that threatens the murderous empire. This is the face of U$ imperialism, manifested by the arrogance of orange menace himself (who some falsely claimed would be “non-interventionist” based on misreading his campaign rhetoric), which seems even more blatant than Obama. The murderous Zionist state is undoubtedly pleased by the number of Zionists currently in the U$ Administration.

It goes beyond Iran. While publicly oil man and U$ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declares that “the vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq…We urge calm and an end to vocal recrimination and threats of reciprocal actions,” the underlying reality is different. Western imperialism would benefit from “further instability in the entire Middle East,” as more ethnic tensions between “Arabs, Kurds or Iranians,” caused by this “divisive scheme,” as Hezbollah’s Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called it, will favor “Israel and the US, helping their weapons-manufacturing factories make a fortune.” Even more so, a new state in “Kurdistan” would hurt Syria, which has seemingly been victorious in the war against Western (and Gulf-backed) terrorist forces, a time when the county begins to rebuild, increase production, research, and investment across the economy, as SANA recently described. The West wants the division of “Iraq into Kurdish and Arab regions, launching a first stage in the process of partition and disintegration,” as the Kurds can easily be used, especially by the US, “against regimes it does not like.” Even more so, considering the seemingly “soft” approach of the Russians to the Kurds as has been evidenced in recent years (which is a bit complicated), an independent state in the “Kurdistan” region could create a wedge between Iran, Syria, and Russia at a time that the latter two countries are working to boost “bilateral relations between the two countries in the field of investment,” including having investment “partnerships with the Russian side in the field of exploring oil and gas.” The latter action benefits the Russian bourgeoisie even as it moves Syria even further out of the Western capitalist orbit.

The “powder keg” of an “independent” state in “Kurdistan,” is relished by Western imperialists who see it as a “romance of a free Kurdistan,” which is opposed strongly by Turkmen and Arab groups. Biden even declared, two years ago that dividing Iraq into three “semi-autonomous regions” (Sunni, Shia, and Kurd) “would have worked” if has been done back in 2006, and idea supported by elements within the US intelligence establishment. This declaration was based in an op-ed in the NY Times he had written in 2006 with Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus of the elitist Council on Foreign Relations, declaring that this was a good idea:

“…The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests. We could drive this in place with irresistible sweeteners for the Sunnis to join in…As long as American troops are in Iraq in significant numbers, the insurgents can’t win and we can’t lose…The alternative path out of this terrible trap has five elements. The first is to establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues. Baghdad would become a federal zone, while densely populated areas of mixed populations would receive both multisectarian and international police protection…things are already heading toward partition…a breakup is already under way” [4]

This op-ed had four other elements but are not of importance here except that are part of an imperialistic, genocidal plan that would have caused chaos in the Middle East some still think is a good idea! Its mind-boggling.

A new state in “Kurdistan” would create “important political and economic problems for the neighboring nations of Turkey and Iran, as well as for the Iraqi central government” as Rand Corp declared some time ago. As some declare that the Kurds “deserve to be allowed to try” to create an “independent” state, which be a client of the imperialist powers, U$ representatives came together in a bipartisan effort to support it, saying that it could serve as a beacon to further U.S. interests in the Middle East,” while the U$ likely still has the five military bases in the region that it set up in July of last year. These imperialists don’t seem to worry that “a free Kurdish state…will cause dissolution of a free Iraq” with that millions of people voting in the referendum that lived in disputed areas, throwing into question if the referendum is legal at all or even valid in the slightest. [5] Lest us forget, as the CIA even admits, there were U$ special forces and CIA peoples in “Iraqi Kurdistan in advance of the opening of the Iraq War in 2003,” with a CIA-trained “Kurdish sabotage team [which] infiltrated regime territory to destroy a railway and 90-car train that supplied the Iraqi V Corps,” and that in 1991, the US and its allies imposed “a no-fly zone in the north that allowed Kurds to enjoy self-rule” while the two Kurdish political parties (KDP and PUK) “co-operated with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.” [6] This makes no surprise that in recent days these Kurds have met with the Brits, the US envoy, the Germans, the Italians, and the Dutch. Michael Springmann, a former US diplomat, is undoubtedly right that the U$ specifically “encourages the Kurds to rebel against the government of Iraq,” with the US and the murderous Zionist state “doing their best for quite some time now to divide Iraq.” Add to this that Netanyahu has been trying to convince the Western imperialists to openly support the Kurds against the Iraqi army, specifically “lobbying” the Germans, the Russians, the French, and the U$, seeing them as “a deeply pro-Western people who deserve support.” [7] But of course this news obscures that the US and UK support an “independent Kurdistan” with a clause “in the US-framed Iraqi constitution granting Kurds a degree of autonomy” while ethnic cleansing of Turkmen people is undoubtedly occurring.

The bourgeois media and their lackeys seem to peddle the idea that “Kurdistan” as it currently exists is a paragon of “good governance” and an “island of relative peace in a war-torn country since the US-led invasion in 2003” or even openly saying that having the region be independent would be “a significant check on both Iranian and Turkish power.” [8] The reality, especially of the former claim, is different. The NY Times admitted this much in their front-page article on “Kurdistan” on October 1:

“With its troubled economy and dearth of democratic institutions…Kurds…may have set back their national aspirations…[the KRG] lacks…rule of law, free and fair elections, civil society and a legislature with real power to challenge a dynastic executive leadership…Barzani…remains in power two years after his term has expired…the government is a Barzani family enterprise…the Kurdish economy is in dire straits [with low oil prices]…for the Kurdish leadership there is no going back” [9]

Add to this the view of a former Saudi official, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud who argued that “the constitution that they put in place after the American invasion allows for communities in Iraq to call for referenda on whether they are Iraqi or not.” Even Vijay Pershad, who admits he is “a little sympathetic to the fact that the Kurds of this region have a very longstanding claim to some kind of national home,” says that there has been “some [vote] rigging, of course,” and that “Mr. Barzani, in a way to consolidate his own personal power has really put the Kurdish question on the wrong plate.” Another supporter of Kurdish “independence,” a Zionist writing in Haaretz, admitted himself that the idea that “Kurdistan” is a “progressive, democratic and prosperous country” is fundamentally an “illusion” since the region is a mess:

“Masoud Barzani’s term as the elected president ended in 2013, his parliament-appointed term expired in 2015, and two years later he is still in power and shows no signs of quitting. Even if he does eventually step down, the Barzani family controls key institutions and jobs in and out of government,..Iraqi Kurdistan’s Parliament was suspended two years ago and since then has met only once – this month, to approve the referendum that was held on Monday…the Kurdish economy…depends on oil…Seventy percent of the Kurdish workforce is employed by the state…in 2014, the economy tanked. Unemployment is probably in the double digits, construction has ground to a halt, and the government has run up debts…Kurdistan has…none of the tools an ordinary government has at its disposal, such as a currency it can devalue or access to international funding…Kurdistan is, in fact, looking more like many of the other “stans”…repressive, corrupt regimes presiding over economies based on oil, gas and crony capitalism” [10]

While the idea of “crony capitalism” is one that is false in that it doesn’t recognize the reality of capitalism (just like the idea of “regulated capitalism” solving the dictatorship of the capitalist class), his observations are valid ones. The Western conception that “Kurdistan” is basically “an island of peace and stability surrounded by sectarian strife and civil wars” is an utter myth with the “Good” Kurds (by Western standards) abandoning “their dream of independence in lieu of establishing Iraq as a federal, democratic republic” in 2005, recognizing that “the United States has no friends in Iraq or Syria except the Kurds,” as one put it. The additional idea as declared by the milquetoast (and bourgeois) “peace” organization, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in 2014, that “the map of the Middle East is on the verge of changing much to the benefit of the Kurds” is more laughable now than ever. Even if Turkey’s ruling party was “ready to accept an independent Kurdish state in what is currently northern Iraq” the same year, doesn’t mean that they will now.

There is one aspect that many are not admitting: the interconnection of the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. In 2013, as chaos spread across Syria thanks to Western and Gulf-backed terrorists, 20,000 Kurds from Syria streamed into “the Kurdish north of Iraq” with Barzani even saying he would “intervene to protect Syrian Kurds in their fight against jihadists.” [11] As a result, it could be said that support for Kurdish “independence” in the Mideast is meant to fracture the region. Already, as noted in my article on the illegal entity of Rojava, Iranians and Syrians opposed this, but also that Kurds in northern Iraq benefit from black gold undoubtedly:

“…ExxonMobil, along with Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Total SA, and BP, showed interest in Iraqi Kurdistan, with a registered branch office in the region, and signed, in 2011, six production sharing contracts “covering more than 848,000 acres” in the region, with Rex Tillerson, the current US Secretary of State, having a role in, as one article put it, “placing the company’s financial interests above the American goal of creating a stable, cohesive Iraq”…The agreements that ExxonMobil made were strongly opposed by the Iraqi government. Even though ExxonMobil pulled out of half its holdings in 2016, like other companies had years before…it would be no surprise that they want to exploit the oil in Syria”

The Kurds realize this and curry favor with Western capitalists. In 2012 alone they had already engaged 49 illegal foreign oil contracts (Production Sharing Agreements) especially in the Zagros Fold Belt region which is rich in black gold, which forced “Baghdad’s hand in finalising the oil law that has been pending for years” reportedly. Add to this that the Turks have many business ties in the region, with “about 1,300 Turkish companies having business ties with the autonomous region” as do the Russians, with the KRG signing a “20-year-long deal with Russia’s Rosneft to cooperate on the exploration and production of hydrocarbons” with the Russian company Gazprom Neft also “currently engaged in three oil projects in the region.”

With all these business ties and instability, there is one question worth asking and ending with, considering something that most will not even consider, as argued in the last article in this series: are the Kurds a nation, envisioned in “Kurdistan,” at all?


Notes

[1] BBC News, “Iraq Kurdistan independence referendum planned,” Jul 1, 2014; Roy Gutman, “Kurds agree to postpone independence referendum,” The Star, Sept. 5, 2014; RFE/RL, “Iraqi Kurdish Leader Calls For Nonbinding Vote On Independence,” Feb. 3, 2016; Mewan Dolarmi, “PM Barzani: Mosul could be liberated within three months,” Kurdistan24, Oct. 31, 2016; The Iran Project, “Iraqi Kurdistan’s ‘Unilateral’ referendum plan only to cause new problems: Iran,” Jun 10, 2017; Rudaw, “Iraqi delegation under Allawi to visit Erbil about Kurdish referendum plan,” Jun 11, 2017. Khamenei said that “Iran opposes holding talks of a referendum to partition #Iraq and considers those who fuel the idea as opponents of Iraq’s independence.” Even the governments of Australia, Germany, Spain, and the UK are wary of an independent Kurdistan. Also Iraq’s Christians are wary of this move for independence, as is the PLO, the Iraqi Turkmen Front. The referendum was temporarily delayed because the Kurds were willing to work with the Iraqi forces to fight Daesh.

[2] David Zucchino and Margaret Coker, “Iraq Escalates Dispute With Kurds, Threatening Military Action,” New York Times, Sept. 27, 2017; David Zucchino, “Iraq Orders Kurdistan to Surrender Its Airports,” New York Times, Sept. 26, 2017.

[3] Maher Chmaytelli, “Iraqi Kurds face more sanctions after calling elections,” Reuters, Oct 3, 2017.

[4] Joe Biden and Leslie H. Gelb, “Unity Through Autonomy in Iraq,” New York Times, op-ed, May 1, 2006.

[5] Nabih Bulos and Tracy Wilkinson, “Iraqi Kurds vote on creating an independent Kurdistan — but big obstacles stand in the way,” LA Times, Sept 25, 2017; Eli Lake, “The Kurdish People Lost a Revolutionary and a Statesman,” Bloomberg View, Oct. 3, 2017.

[6] BBC, “Who are the Kurds?,” BBC News, Mar 14, 2016.

[7] Dan Williams, “Netanyahu lobbies world powers to stem Iraqi Kurd setbacks,” Reuters, Oct. 20, 2017.

[8] Caroline B. Glick, “The strategic case for Kurdistan,” Jerusalem Post, Aug. 31, 2017.

[9] David Zucchino, “Kurds Vote for Independence Only Adds to Their Obstacles,” NY Times, Oct 1, 2017.

[10] David Rosenberg, “Independent Kurdistan Looks Like a Zimbabwe in the Making,” Haaretz opinion, Sept. 28, 2017.

[11] Martin Chulov, “Syrian Kurds continue to flee to Iraq in their thousands,” The Guardian, Aug. 18, 2013.

“A calamitous defeat”: Lenin’s words on self-determination and Zionist imperialism

Lenin speaking before Russian workers.

Note:  This article was written in late October 2017, so it is a bit dated. This article is the second of a four-part series, which never got published on Dissident Voice. I wrote this before I had defined the Zionist state fully as a murderous Zionist apartheid state, but what I say here is still valid.

Continuing from the previous article of this series, which focused on Stalin’s words about self-determination and supporting national struggles, especially in regards to the “Kurdistan” referendum, comes the words of another revolutionary: Vladimir Lenin.

Lenin’s words on self-determination

Lenin, like Stalin, also strongly supported the right of self-determination, in the waning days of the Russian revolutionary fervor which would eventually blossom into the Great October Socialist Revolution, called the “Russian Revolution” in the West, creating the world’s first socialist state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) by 1922 after many years of a Soviet/Bolshevik government. In 1913 he said that that the expediency of self-determination is something different from the right itself, saying that this right is important in the “fight against the abscess of nationalism in all its forms.” This is different from the broadly “accepted” definition of self-determination in current political discourse, especially in bourgeois politics in the West. [1] Basically, Lenin was saying that nations had the right to secede and form an “independent national state.” While Stalin, seemed to imply that when a state is “tied up with certain imperialist groups, and…cannot escape the great play of forces that is going on outside,” using Yugoslavia as an example, that it should not be supported, saying that the right to self-determination is not an obligation or duty but rather something that a nation may take advantage of or not, Lenin took a clearer stand.

In 1914, Lenin wrote that “the period of the final victory of capitalism over feudalism has been linked up with national movements” and that there is a tendency of every national movement towards “the formation of national states.” He further made the conclusion that “self-determination of nations means the political separation of these nations from alien national bodies, and the formation of an independent national state,” noted that all sorts of states are “entirely dependent, economically, on the power of the imperialist finance capital of the “rich” bourgeois countries” with such countries beginning to “oppress other nations and to enslave colonies.” In the following chapter of this book, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, he noted that the “categorical requirement of Marxist theory in investigating any social question is that it be examined within definite historical limits” and having an account taken distinguishing the country from others “in the same historical epoch,” taking into account “historical and concrete state conditions.” In the case of “Kurdistan” in northern Iraq, no state currently exists, and is not technically a nation as the whole nation of Kurds would, if we are to accept the claims of bourgeois scholars, cover the borders of varying countries in the region. Historical context and distinguishing it from other nations is important going forward.

Before getting to that point it worth recalling that the bourgeoisie often assumes “leadership at the start of every national movement,” even while the proletariat has different goals, with absurdity coming into the picture with a “demand for a “yes” or “no” reply to the question of secession” as it leads to “subordinating the proletariat to the bourgeoisie’s policy.” In terms of the current referendum, this subordination has undoubtedly happened, as only two choices were afforded them: Hiyat (no) and Evet (Yes). No other choices were floated. This seems to imply, using Lenin’s wording, that the referendum itself was tailored in such a way to benefit the up-and-coming Kurdish bourgeoisie and not the proletariat. No other choices were offered if one views the ballot, in Assyrian, Kurdish, Arabic, and Turkish, itself. Translating the Turkish wording, the question for the referendum is almost a leading question, imposing, almost hard to say “no” to:

Do you want the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, including the Kurdistan Regional Administration and the contested areas?

This makes it no surprise that by a sweeping margin, the Kurds of northern Iraq voted for independence. Due to that, President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) declared that the non-binding referendum was “a normal, legal right of our people,” and is about the “about the destiny of a whole people,” which was originally voted on in 2005 in a non-binding measure, one year after the US and UK-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority ended its governance of Iraq. [2] Barzani also bellowed that anyone who opposes the referendum is against the “the peaceful, democratic right of people to express their own decisions about their destiny” and ultimately “against democracy.”

Lenin goes on to say, that in some cases, the masses “resort to secession only when national oppression and national friction make joint life absolutely intolerable and hinder any and all economic intercourse” meaning that, as a result, “the interests of capitalist development and of the freedom of the class struggle will be best served by secession.” He adds that self-determination of a nation is connected to the “self-determination of the proletariat within a given nation,” fighting for equal rights of nations, and a “close, unbreakable alliance in the class struggle of the proletarians of all nations in a given state…irrespective of any reshaping of the frontiers of the individual states by the bourgeoisie.” He even says that to “brush aside the mass national movements once they have started, and to refuse to support what is progressive in them means, in effect, pandering to nationalistic prejudices,” and that there will predictably be “hopeless confusion on the national question” disseminated by “a group of nationalist philistines” who want to split the proletariat. It is an open question if the whole conception of Kurdish independence is meant to create confusion and split the proletariat in the region. This is not beyond question. There will continue to be “bourgeois strivings for national exclusiveness” without a doubt.

As thoughtful individuals and committed comrades, we should also demand freedom of self-determination for oppressed nations, but also want the “fusion of nations…on a truly democratic, truly internationalist basis.” At the same time, Lenin argued that while the “real eradication of national oppression leads to the fusion of nations,” the freedom to secede is “the best and the only political means against the idiotic system of petty states and national isolation.” In the case of “Kurdistan,” it could be argued that the current federalist system, based in Islamic democracy, is “truly democratic,” a fusion of nations. The constitution itself seems to indicate this reality to an extent:

“[Article 1:] The Republic of Iraq if a single federal, independent and fully sovereign state in which the system of government is republican, representative, parliamentary, and democratic…[Article 3:] Iraq is a country of multiple nationalities, religions, and sects…[Article 4:] The Arabic language and the Kurdish language are the two official languages of Iraq…[Article 5:] The law is sovereign. The people are the source of authority and legitimacy, which they shall exercise in direct, general, secret ballot and through their constitutional institutions…[Article 10:] The holy shrines and religious sites of Iraq are religious and civilizational entities…[Article 13:] This constitution is the preeminent and supreme law in Iraq and shall be binding in all parts of Iraq without exception…[Article 14:] Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic or social status…[Article 18:] Iraqi citizenship is a right for every Iraqi and is the basis of his nationality…[Article 20:] Iraqi citizens…shall have the right to participate in public affairs…[Article 22:] Work is a right for all Iraqis…[Article 109:] The federal authorities shall preserve the unity, integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Iraq and its federal democratic system…[Article 117:] This Constitution, upon coming into force, shall recognize the region of Kurdistan…as a federal region”

However, it is not, by reading through the constitution “truly democratic” or even “truly internationalist,” only a little bit of both, so this isn’t the “fusion of nations” that Lenin was writing about one bit.

In 1916, Lenin wrote about self-determination again in two more pieces. In the first, he noted that part of “victorious socialism” was not only achieving complete democracy and bringing about “the complete equality of nations,” but supporting the “right of oppressed nations to self-determination, i.e., the right to free political secession,” freeing such “enslaved nations” and establishing religions with them “on the basis of a free union.” He further adds that self-determination of nations is feasible with “the domination of finance capital” not possible with simple reforms, with the “fundamental demands of political democracy” actionable under imperialism but only in an “incomplete, in a mutilated form and as a rare exception.” He later adds that “freedom to settle the [national] question of secession by means of a referendum” is not the same with a “demand for secession, for partition, for the formation of small states.” In the case of “Kurdistan,” in Northern Iraq, it falls more under a demand for partition and follows the rhetoric of Lenin on incomplete results of political democracy under imperialism, even though making federation of nations a principle is part of Lenin’s thinking. It is worth remembering that bourgeoisie in oppressed nations always convert the “slogan of national liberation into a means for deceiving the workers” and democratic demands become an “an instrument of the bourgeoisie” for the same goal. In the case of this referendum, it is possible is has become an instrument to deceive the proletariat in this Kurdish region.

In the second piece, Lenin defined annexation. He argued that annexation, which violates a nation’s self-determination, involves the “conception of force…conception of oppression by another nation…and sometimes the concept of violation of the status quo” with the establishment of state frontiers which are “contrary to the will of the population.” After all, it is clear that “that no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.” It is worth this that the Zionists enter the picture.

The Zionists enter the picture

While Lenin and Stalin seem to put support of oppressed people on solid ground, in terms of “Kurdistan” in this instance, Zionist Israel, called the murderous Zionist state in the rest of this article, throws this into question. Undoubtedly, this state and nation, as could call it, has engaged in annexation and national oppression as defined previously by Stalin and Lenin. Most recently reported is that the murderous Zionist state, is planning to annex almost “19 Palestinian settlements and uproot some 125,000 to 150,000 Palestinian people.” This is fundamentally a form of violence. Even Stalin recognized this in 1913, in Marxism and the National Question, 35 years before the illegal creation of the murderous Zionist state, naming Zionism as one of the forms of “crude chauvinism” which swept forward, “threatening to engulf the mass of the workers” with such nationalism only countered with “the tried weapon of internationalism…the unity and indivisibility of the class struggle.” In a footnote, he defined Zionism as a “reactionary nationalist trend of the Jewish bourgeoisie, which had followers along the intellectuals and the more backward sections of the Jewish workers.” He further argued that Zionists aimed to “isolate the Jewish working-class masses from the general struggle of the proletariat.” Some would further argue that the murderous Zionist state is settler-colonialist like the United States and Canada. Regardless, there is no doubt that the murderous Zionist state is “the only country in the world with Judaism as its official state religion” as it abuses its “hold” on Judiasm to demand that all Jews be Zionist although they are under no obligation to hold that position. [3]

The Zionists are strong supporters of an independent “Kurdistan.” With war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu supporting the effort openly, Zionist sympathizer, David Patrikarakos, followed suit, saying gleefully that many in “Kurdistan” see the murderous Zionist state as a model for their “new state,” and that this new state could “check Iran’s growing influence across the Middle East.” He ends his article by declaring that

“an independent or even more autonomous Kurdistan – secular, oil-rich, battle-hardened and pro-Israel – is the perfect ally for Jerusalem in a Middle East…For Israel as a Jewish nation, support for Kurdish independence is a moral imperative; for it as a Middle Eastern state it is a strategic necessity…Israel must hold fast…it must not let the Kurds down.”

Others in the region recognized this reality. MP Mowaffak al-Rubaie of the Shiite National Alliance, In Iraq, argued that the referendum was a step “taken by some racists in Kurdistan will bring instability to the entire region for years to come.”He further added that the Iraqi government “should take decisive, forceful, strong, and practical steps against those who made adventures with the destiny of the people of Kurdistan.” In Iran, Mohsen Rezaei, Secretary of the Expediency Council, added that Kurdish independence is in the “interest of Israel and those who want to expand insecurity in the region,” further adding that countries in the Mideast need to “preserve the territorial integrity of countries and prevent the change of geographical boundaries.”

The ties between the murderous Zionist state and these Kurds is nothing new. While Zionist Daniel Pipes’ think tank, Middle East Forum, declares that the father of Masoud Barzani, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, allied himself “more closely with the United States, Iran, and Israel” by the 1970s, after reportedly getting support from the Soviets, the connection with the murderous Zionist state goes back even farther than that. They date all the way back to 1950-1951, with ties first “facilitated by Iraqi Kurdish Jews, who left Iraq for Israel” but was strengthened when Mossad officers went to northern Iraq so they could aide Barzani. By the 1960s, secret ties grew with Mustafa Barzani leading a war against the Iraqi government as part of a “series of uprisings headed by the Barzani family since the establishment of the modern Iraqi state.” It was during this time that the murderous Zionist state provided “intermittent security assistance and military training to the Kurds” as an “anti-Saddam play” in order to keep Saddam Hussein “distracted as Israel fought two wars against coordinated Arab neighbors.” Recently, Yair Golan, a major general in the IDF who compared the murderous Zionist state to 1930s Nazi Germany, approved of the idea of an “independent Kurdistan” declaring recently to the Zionist and jingoist Washington Institute of Near East Policy that “…looking at Iran in the east, looking at the instability (in) the region, a solid, stable, cohesive Kurdish entity in the midst of this quagmire — it’s not a bad idea,” and recalled, of course, the murderous Zionist State’s “good cooperation with the Kurd people since the early 1960s.” [4] While some say that by the 1970s, the relationship between the Kurds and Zionists “was scaled back” but reports of “Israeli security, medical, and economic aid continue[d] to circulate,” other Zionist applications question this assertion. In a 2013 article in the Zionist rag, Tablet Magazine, it quoted Eliezer Tsafrir, “a former Mossad operative…[who] head[ed] of covert Israeli operations in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1975,” the same year that Saddam fought a “Kurdish rebellion led by Mustafa Barzani.” Tsafrir was quoted approvingly in an article which supported the idea of a Kurdish “dream of independence” because the county could “emerge as an unexpected new ally for Israel in Iran’s backyard.” He declared that

“Under the Barzanis, Jews in Kurdistan did not suffer. On the contrary, they were their friends. Ties with Israel ran deep and began when Mustafa Barzani sent emissaries to Israel through Europe and told us Kurds, like Jews, were ignored by everybody and needed help [including running training camps for Kurdish soldiers]…We decided against it [sending in Centurion tanks] because we thought the Kurds were better off fighting an asymmetrical war…We were in a big hurry to burn papers [before the Iraqis reached the headquarters of the “rebel” Kurds]. I had to get out of there before the Iraqi army turned me into a kebab…I want to be Israel’s first consul general in Erbil”

While his supportive, disgusting Zionist viewpoint is laughable and distorts the reality undoubtedly, what he says makes it clear that the murderous Zionist state sees the Kurds as a reliable ally to achieve their geopolitical aims. Some of the Kurds have clearly reciprocated this. In September 2016, “Kurdish activists” held a memorial service for Shimon Peres, the former prime minister of the murderous Zionist state, who met with Mullah Mustafa Barzani in the Shah’s Iran. The organizer of the event declared that “we want to give a message to Israeli media and foundations, that I am 100% sure we will have independence and relations with Israel. [Peres] previously supported Kurds and was continually defending and supporting our rights. In the 1960s, we had relations with Israel.” As the Zionists also recall, in their own publications, the Kurds reportedly “helped Jewish families…escape to Israel from Kurdistan through the mountains” and Mossad gave assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga “against Baghdad” with the murderous Zionist state keeping “military advisers at the headquarters of Mulla Mustafa Barzani,” training and supplying “Kurdish units with firearms and field and anti-aircraft artillery in until the 80’s.” [5] Simply put, in the 1960s and 1970s, Israel cooperated with the Shah’s Iran to “fight against its Arab enemies – Iraq, Syria and Egypt,” sending Lt. Colonel Tzuri Sagi to “build up a Kurdish army to fight Iraqi troops in northern Iraq,” which became the Peshmerga, with this general responsible for the “Israeli assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein.” The New York Times even admitted this in their front-page article on the topic last month:

“In the modern era, Kurdish Jews departed en masse for Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948, leaving Kurdish civil society so bereft that some recall its leaders still lamenting the Jewish exodus decades later. Ties between the two have only grown warmer and more vital since the 1960s, as Israel and the Kurds…have repeatedly come to each other’s aid. The Kurds have long patterned their lobbying efforts in Washington on those of Israel’s supporters…83-year-old Tzuri Sagi, a retired brigadier general, has more reason than most Israelis to root for Kurdish independence…In the winter of 1966, Mr. Sagi’s commanders sent him on a secret mission, via Israel’s then-ally, Iran, to aid Mullah Mustafa Barzani and his peshmerga rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan [and they won]” [6]

If that wasn’t enough, cooperation matured with meetings “between Israeli and Kurdish officials” including Mustafa Barzani’s visits to the murderous Zionist state in 1968 and in 1973, with Israel appealing repeatedly to the United States for “additional support for the Kurds” while Henry Kissinger was US Secretary of State (1973-1977). Since that time, as the Jerusalem Post casually admits, “reports surface about Israeli special ops training Kurdish forces and Mossad agents using the northern mountainous area to launch operations in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.” All signs point to continuing cooperation between the Kurds and Zionists. As Sarah Abed notes, the Kurds are not only “allied with Syria’s fiercest enemy,” but almost all of the major Kurdish political groups in the region have “longstanding ties to Israel” and have engaged in “major ethnic violence against Arabs, Turkmens and Assyrians” by varied accounts. Not only has the murderous Zionist state given the KRG weapons and training prior to its encounters with Daesh but it has floated the idea of using “Kurds and ethnic minorities to topple the Iranian government.” More directly, while Benjamin Netanyahu’s open support for an independent “Kurdistan” is at “odds with nearly every other major player in the Middle East,” he sees this as a strategic decision: a “breakaway Kurdistan could prove valuable to Israel against Iran, which has oppressed its own Kurdish population” as the New York Times notes. Additionally, flags of the murderous Zionist state can be “routinely be seen at Kurdish rallies in Erbil and across Europe” and some 200,000 Kurdish Jews are clearly allies of such a state as well. [7]

One commentator, Urooba Jamal, wrote in Telesur English about this very issue. While original support of “Kurdistan” was the idea of a “second Israel” in the Mideast which was meant to “undermine the idea of a united pan-Arab socialist state” by solidifying ties “with non-Arab Muslim actors,” it could also apparently give the murderous Zionist state “cover” for its oppression of Palestinians. Additionally, it would also allow the latter state to increase its ties with this new state in “the areas of agriculture, technology, education and sports.” Jonathan Cook gave even more context. He noted that while “many ordinary Palestinians were delighted” by the Kurdish referendum since they, like the Kurds, in his estimation, “Palestinians have found themselves trapped in different territories, oppressed by their overlords,” the Zionists felt differently. They feel that an independent “Kurdistan” would be a “bulwark against Iran transferring its weapons, intelligence and know-how to Shia allies in Syria and Lebanon.” Also, they would gain because “the Kurds sit on plentiful oil…[and] are keen to sell to Israel,” and such an independent state makes the Oden Yinon’s plan proposed years ago come to fruition with the ‘implosion of the Middle East, breaking apart the region’s key states…by fueling sectarian and ethnic discord.” Once again, it worth noting that “Tehran is…the target of efforts by Israel and its allies” and the unraveling of the map of the region originally drawn by the British and French would likely “lead to chaos of the kind that a strong, nuclear-armed Israel, with backing from Washington, could richly exploit,” furthering pushing the “Palestinian cause” from the list of priorities of the international community.

There is further context worth mentioning. For one, in 2006, Massoud Barzani, declared that “It is not a crime to establish ties with Israel. If Baghdad sets up diplomatic ties with Israel, we will have them open a consulate in Erbil” while the PYD was then, at “against relations with the Zionist state” but is not the same way anymore. This raises the question as the libertarian Antiwar.com argues, what will happen after the referendum since “the logistics of a landlocked independent at least somewhat problematic.” This is important to recognize since Iran fears “Israel’s potentially close relations with Kurdistan,” seeing it clearly as a proxy state, aligning with the declarations by the Washington Institute of Near East Policy that “a Kurdish state in northern Iraq would be a win for Turkey, the United States, and Israel, all regional and international rivals of Tehran” with the Iranian government’s “hardliners” seeing a future “alliance between an independent Kurdistan and Israel against the Islamic Republic.” This would also seem to indicate that the US is in support of an “independent” Kurdistan but perhaps covertly rather than openly. With an independent “Kurdistan,” violence by the Zionists will expand. As Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah argued that these Zionists do not have “correct picture” of the war, declaring that such Zionists “will have no secure place in occupied Palestine.” [8] Still, it worth recalling that if “the West continues to prioritize Iraqi and Turkish interests over those of the Kurds,” then Kurdistan will not stay an ally of the West, leaning toward Iran perhaps, even as “a Western-oriented Kurdistan could present a difficult challenge to Iranian ambitions in the region.” In the end, perhaps Erdogan is right one one regard: “this administration (in northern Iraq) has a history with Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together…Only Israel supports you…An independent state is not being founded in northern Iraq…[instead] a continuously bleeding wound is being opened.”

Notes

[1] Self-determination is a word that is thrown around a lot these days. Online dictionaries define this as the “determination by the people of a territorial unit of their own future political status” (Merriam-Webster), “freedom of the people of a given area to determine their own political status” (American Heritage Dictionary), “the right of a nation or people to determine its own form of government without influence from outside” (Collins English Dictionary), and “the determining by the people of the form their government shall have, without reference to the wishes of any other nation, especially by people of a territory or former colony” (Dictionary.com), to name a few. The UN’s Millennium Declaration in 2000 declares that UN member states should support “the right to self-determination of peoples which remain under colonial domination and foreign occupation.” Some even say that the concept itself is “confusing,” question if state sovereignty should override a desire for self-determination, with a case involving the USSR on this issue as noted in an article published 11 years ago or in other conflicts. One could also take into account the dissenting views on the case in which the International Court of Justice at the Hague voted in favor of Kosovo. The dissenters varied. Some said that the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo was “unlawful and invalid” and provides an open door for all groups, apart from decolonization efforts, to break apart from states, that the court does not have jurisdiction with a lack of response on the issue from the UN General Assembly. Clearly, there are different “shades of meaning,” as one bourgeois scholar puts it, to the term “self-determination” even as it is widely recognized as a “fundamental principle of international law.” As was declared by the UN General Assembly in December 1960, “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” This idea has involved from the time of Wilsonian imperialism to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which says that “all peoples have the right of self-determination…All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation…The States Parties to the present Covenant…shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right.”

[2] Campbell MacDiarmid, “Masoud Barzani: Why It’s Time for Kurdish Independence,” Foreign Policy, Jun 15, 2017.

[3] The same Pew Research survey notes that funding is skewed toward official religion of Islam in Iraq, that the official state religion of Iraq and Iran is Islam, with Islam only a preferred religion in Turkey. This survey also adds that “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance, all laws and regulations must be based on “Islamic criteria” and the official interpretation of sharia” and that only “three countries – Sudan, Syria and Turkey – favor Islam but do not declare it as the state religion.”

[4] Jonah Mendel, “Israel sees benefits in independent Kurdistan: experts,” AFP, Sept 19, 2017.

[5] United With Israel, “Understanding Kurdistan – The Friends of Israel,” Nov. 27, 2014.

[6] David M. Halbfinger, “Israel Endorsed Kurdish Independence. Saladin Would Have Been Proud,” New York Times, Sept. 22, 2017.

[7] Some reported that the purported movement of “200,000 Israelis of Kurdish origin” to Kurdistan from Israel after independence, with previous motives being the attack of Egypt and Syria, would support the new state. There were some immigration in the past, thanks to the “goodwill” of US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, as well.

[8] Reuters Staff, “Hezbollah says Israel pushing region to war,” Oct 1, 2017. It is also worth recounting a 2003 article in the Jewish Telegraph Agency saying that “the war in Iraq has ended, and the Kurds in the country’s north emerge as one of the war’s great victors, liberating themselves from Saddam Hussein’s oppressive rule and declaring an independent state” with the top leaders of the Kurds “actually Jewish” with possible indications that “the nascent Kurdish country will forge a close alliance with Israel, giving the Jewish state another toehold in the Middle East and access to the oil riches of the Iraqi north.” One Kurdish website also adds that Israel is trying to take advantage of the Kurds by “colonizing Kurdistan,” with the Barzani family taking an “authoritarian” turn, abusing and stealing people’s wealth.

“A calamitous defeat”: Using Stalin to interpret the “Kurdistan” referendum

Some of the past borders of “Kurdistan” posed by bourgeois Kurdish nationalists, as noted in this map reprinted from “The Automatic Earth.”

Note:  This article was written in late October 2017, so it is a bit dated, as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced on October 24 that they would “freeze the results of referendum conducted in the Iraqi Kurdistan” and Massoud Barzani stepped down on October 29. The abandonment of the referendum is evident because the KRG has clearly accepted the federal constitution of Iraq as the reality, rather than their failed “independence,” saying that the Kurdistan Region “wants to resolve its problems within the framework of the Iraqi constitution” especially after the Supreme Federal Court of Iraq ruled that no province or region of Iraq can secede. Saying all of this, this article, the first of a four-part series, never got published on Dissident Voice, partially because they had a lot of articles coming in and partially because I forgot about it, busy with other tasks. Rather than waiting on them once again, I think it is best to post it here. Enjoy!

In a recent article by Patrick Cockburn, a well-respected journalist for The Independent, he wrote about the Iraqi military’s effort to keep control of their borders and resist efforts for “Kurdish independence.” As Cockburn notes, as Iraqi military forces retook control of the oil-rich Kirkuk province, they faced “little resistance so far from the Peshmerga fighters,” with the dream of real independence slipping away as the Kirkuk oil wealth became under Iraqi control, as he further wrote. Adding to this, “Baghdad’s highly-trained and experienced Counter-Terrorism Force…drove unopposed to the quarter of Kirkuk occupied by…administration buildings” while the streets of the city were deserted, the Peshmerga abandoned their positions, and ethnic Turkmen reportedly celebrated takeover by the Iraqis. All in all, the success and speed of this victory against almost no Kurdish resistance is a “blow to President Masoud Barzani who ignited the present crisis” who held the referendum on “Kurdish independence” on September 25 and is seen as a “disastrous miscalculation” for him. This is because there are fundamentally, as Cockburn points out, “deep divisions between the Kurdish leaders and their parties” with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led for decades by Jalal Talabani, recently deceased. Part of the later group “opposed the independence referendum as a manoeuvre by Mr Barzani to present himself as the great Kurdish nationalist leader” while the US, officially, “strongly opposed the independence referendum” seeing it as divisive, along with regional powers like Iran and Turkey. More simply, the Kurdish leadership was clearly more “divided than expected” while Iraqi armed forces were stronger. At the same time, “Mr Barzani had alienated his traditional allies.”

The Kurdish national dream is over. As Reuters put it, the loss of territory such as Kirkuk is a “severe blow,” leading some to say that the referendum was premature since without control of that region, “independence is problematic, since they would be financially worse off than inside Iraq,” while the New York Times declared that “the Kurds themselves were divided…the Kurds may now have to defer their independence dreams.” Already the Kurdish leadership has proposed to engage in unconditional talks with Baghdad as some sources report.

How can we interpret this development? After all, as James M. Dorsey wrote in September, “if Myanmar’s Rohingya are the 21st century’s rallying cry of the Muslim world, the Kurds could be one of its major fault lines.” Taking that into consideration, it is worth using the words of Joseph Stalin on the principle of self-determination, within an appropriately Marxist context, in order to understand the conundrum of “independent Kurdistan,” and this referendum.

One declaration or the other by bourgeois scholars will not help anyone of sense interpret the dilemma of “Kurdistan.” Josef (or Joseph) Stalin wrote on varying topics to promote communism and advocate for a better world. One of those topics was self-determination and nations. Stalin gave a concrete definition of a nation. [1] In this section I aim to use the writings (and speeches) of Stalin to give a more radical analysis of “Kurdistan” as it currently stands.

One can examine at the Kurds as a prospective “nation.” Bourgeois authorities definite “Kurdistan” as a “geographic region” which is mainly inhabited by the Kurds, with an “extensive plateau and mountain area” across northern Iraq, western Iran, eastern Turkey, parts of northern Syria, and northern Armenia, covering a total of 74,000 square kilometers. Along with that, Jeffrey B. White of the “Defense” Intelligence Agency (DIA) declared that “Kurdistan” was a “political-geographic microclimate,” among others in the world, where there is a “continuous struggle” among the Kurdish population itself “based on tribal and family allegiances” but also an “ethnically based struggle against the Governments of Iraq and Turkey.”

Furthermore, the anti-communist entry in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, written in 1996, adds that “…Kurds staunchly retain a national self-consciousness” and focuses on certain Kurds, the Yezidis, who are “adherents of the syncretistic religion known as Yezidism” but also says that most Kurds are Muslim since Islam “spread among the Kurds in the seventh and eighth centuries.” The entry adds that “the Kurdish nation is justifiably proud of its extremely rich oral literature…many of which have achieved popularity among other peoples.” BBC News, in one of their many online “profiles” to “explain” the world, through their imperialistic lens, to their English-speaking audience, says that 25-25 million Kurds currently live in a “mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia,” consisting the “fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East.” [2] The description adds that the Kurds are “indigenous people” of the highlands of the region and Mesopotamian basin, forming a “distinctive community, united trough race, culture and language” but have no “standard dialect,” adhering to a number of “different religions and creeds” although most are Sunni Muslims. Business Insider further claims the Kurds are currently “the largest stateless national group in the world” and says that while “Iraqi Kurdistan” is currently fully autonomous. [3] Additionally, they have expanded territory since Daesh “took over Mosul” with fears fueled in Iraq that “Kurdistan” would declare “itself a fully independent state” even though it currently “runs itself in much the same way an independent nation would.” Finally, one Kurdish site claims that Kurdish history has no “beginnings” because the Kurds are “native inhabitants,” the products of “thousands of years of continuous internal evolution and assimilation” while another claims that some time in the past Kurdistan was a “recognized geographical entity.”

Now, for such a wide region to be a considered a nation, it would need to meet the simple definition proposed by Stalin in his seven-chapter work, Marxism and the National Question, published in 1913. He defined a nation as the following:

“…A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture…a nation, like every historical phenomenon, is subject to the law of change, has its history, its beginning and end…none of the above characteristics taken separately is sufficient to define a nation”

Accepting what the bourgeois scholars say, as noted previously, the Kurdish people would seem to be “historically constituted,” have a language, culture, and territory that was common. However, it is hard to say how “stable” this community was over time, or what its economic life constituted as the years past, using the sources above. Perhaps the Kurds have a “common language,” hold a common territory from people living together in the same place “generation after generation,” but their “internal economic bond,” which ties together the parts of the nation is questionable. Furthermore, continuing to use Stalin’s words, he adds in his book that a nation must be a community of people which is not racial or “tribal” (ethnically comprised) but is rather “historically constituted” and is stable to an extent but not “casual or ephemeral.” It is within question of whether the Kurds are racial or ethnically comprised. While they seem to have a “specific spiritual complexion” or a “common psychological make-up,” which forms a common culture, if the Kurdish people are a community which constitutes a race or ethnicity, then they are not a nation as it currently exists.

However, there is an exception as Stalin outlines. If the bourgeois scholars are right, the Kurds seem to possess a common “national character” but are “economically disunited, inhibit different territories, [and] speak different languages.” Hence, people can have a common territory and common economic life but are not considered a nation because they do not have a common language or “national character.” At the same time, a union of people who think similarly and speak similarly, even if disconnected, can constitute a nation, with a “national character” based on a “common destiny.” The latter seems to apply to the Kurds. As Stalin wrote in 1904, in a piece outlining the view of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, “we want to demolish national barriers…Language is an instrument of development and struggle. Different nations have different languages…it is precisely in anticipation of such possible circumstances that the nationalities are accorded a right which will prompt them to strive to arrange their national affairs in accordance with their own wishes.”

Accepting what the bourgeois scholars said, for the time being, and using Stalin’s characteristics, seems to indicate that the Kurds are a nation. If we accept this as the reality, what action should be taken? Later in Marxism and the National Question, Stalin defines the “right of self-determination,” which is very logical, saying that it means

“…that only the nation itself has the right to determine its destiny, that no one has the right forcibly to interfere in the life of the nation, to destroy its schools and other institutions, to violate its habits and customs, to repress its language, or curtail its rights…the right of the nation itself to determine its own destiny…The right of self-determination means that a nation may arrange its life in the way it wishes. It has the right to arrange its life on the basis of autonomy. It has the right to enter into federal relations with other nations. It has the right to complete secession. Nations are sovereign, and all nations have equal rights…Nations have a right to arrange their affairs as they please; they have a right to preserve any of their national institutions, whether beneficial or harmful – nobody can…forcibly interfere in the life of a nation.”

Taking this as it may, Stalin adds that regional autonomy, which deals with “a definite population inhabiting a definite territory,” breaks down barriers, unites the population, and makes it possible to utilize a region’s national wealth. Hence, he says that regional autonomy serves as an “essential element” in the solution to the “national question” as is equal rights for all nations, the idea that workers are member of one class, part of a “united army of socialism” and the principle of “international solidarity of the workers.” While the above quote and description by Stalin seems to apply to the Kurds, and ultimately to “Kurdistan,” the reality is a bit more complicated.

Let’s give a little history first before moving into the current referendum. In their description quoted earlier, BBC claims that “after World War One and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the victorious Western allies made provision for a Kurdish state in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres.” The treaty does have a section titled “Kurdistan.” This would seem, at one glance, to be the endorsement by Western imperialists of a Kurdish state:

“A Commission sitting at Constantinople and composed of three members appointed by the British, French and Italian Governments respectively shall draft within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty a scheme of local autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish areas lying east of the Euphrates, south of the southern boundary of Armenia as it may be hereafter determined, and north of the frontier of Turkey with Syria and Mesopotamia…If within one year from the coming into force of the present Treaty the Kurdish peoples…shall address themselves to the Council of the League of Nations in such a manner as to show that a majority of the population of these areas desires independence from Turkey, and if the Council then considers that these peoples are capable of such independence and recommends that it should be granted to them, Turkey hereby agrees to execute such a recommendation, and to renounce all rights and title over these areas…If and when such renunciation takes place…an independent Kurdish State of the Kurds inhabiting that part of Kurdistan [will be created]”

However, these provisions, in articles 62, 63, and 64 of the Treaty of Sevres, basically puts Kurdish “independence” at the mercy of the Western imperialists, going against any idea of self-determination. Even if this “independence” had been accepted, they would have been a vassal state of the global capitalist class, with each bourgeoisie working to get a piece in the “Kurdish” pie. For this to be touted as some official recognition of “Kurdistan” is short-sighted to say the least.

BBC then claims that the “hopes” for a “Kurdish state” were dashed when “the Treaty of Lausanne…made no provision for a Kurdish state and left Kurds with minority status in their respective countries.” The fact is, that this treaty does not mention the Kurds at all, not in Article 29 which talks about certain oppressed peoples in Turkey or within the section on nationality within Turkey, only saying later on that: “the Turkish Government undertakes to assure full and complete protection of life and liberty to all inhabitants of Turkey without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion…All the inhabitants of Turkey, without distinction of religion, shall be equal before the law.” However, to say that “over the next 80 years, any move by Kurds to set up an independent state was brutally quashed” as BBC says next is not accurate in the sense that the Kurds did have allies in this effort and were not completely alone. They had allies among the Western capitalists and later among the Zionists, as will be mentioned later in this series.

While Stalin clearly lays out the definition of a nation and the concept of self-determination in Marxism and the National Question, he also says that certain forms of self-determination are not always the right thing for a nation based on certain conditions. This is despite the fact that he does not provide many exceptions to support for self-determination or writes about international solidarity as way to support self-determination, although he does so in other works. Stalin describes how the urban petty bourgeoisie in oppressed nations battle the big bourgeoisie in dominant nations, seeing the market as a place to learn their nationalism, appealing to the masses to rally behind their cause although workers continue to “combat the policy of national oppression in all its forms.” [4] He adds that the fate of a “national movement” in such circumstances is bound up in the fate of such bourgeoisie, saying that as a result national struggle can be reduced and undermined, rendered “as harmless as possible to the proletariat.” Even so, he says that “social democracy,” or what can be broadened to include all of those fighting imperialism and capitalism, do not have to support “every demand of a nation,” especially not the “trampling on the rights of all other nations.” He further adds that autonomy or separation in all circumstances should be “everywhere and always be advantageous for a nation” and the masses who toiling, nations arranged in a way that “will best correspond to the interests of the proletariat.” [5]

For the Kurds, the question remains if their “nation” would correspond with the interests of the proletariat in the region. This question is hard to answer on one hand because the Kurds are not currently asserting the creation of a state that covers Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq, to name a few regions. Instead, the Kurds in Syria are asserting an illegal state in Rojava, the Kurds in Turkey have given up nationalistic aspirations, and the Kurds in northern Iraq voted for their own state of “Kurdistan”. In order to continue this analysis, let us suppose that the “Kurdistan” by itself, not including the Kurds in other parts of the Mideast is a nation and a state.

The biggest clue of the future trajectory of a possible “Kurdistan” in northern Iraq is the KRG’s 66-page-document titled “Kurdistan Region of Iraq 2020: A Vision for the Future.” This document declares there will be more social services, making liberals smile with glee at the “progressivism,” but it also says that companies should have more ability to exploit the resource riches in oil and natural gas (and even mineral resources) in the region. Interestingly, in citing past “struggles of the past” for “self-determination against hostile neighbors and…a hostile world” it notes how the UN gave sanction to the KRG in 1992, and that helped them overcome the Iraqis.[6] The document then begins to read like what would be said in a corporate boardroom:

“to capitalize on these [development] opportunities [in Kurdistan], young residents of Kurdistan will need to learn languages and information technology skills and become work and service oriented…to make part of their lives…a strong work ethic…[while] the government must relieve regulatory and legal barriers to the private sector”

The Western capitalists would definitely be cheering! While the vision says that the infant mortality and other health problems in Kurdistan can be addressed by having a “package of basic health services to be covered by public financing” but making people “pay for all other services” with and expanding “network of private sector hospitals.” This takes away the idea there will be any progressiveness in this plan at all. The following are the case in this plan:

    • a “social insurance system” but pushing for the creation of private insurance companies, developing the “private” health sector, and putting in place a system that benefits those who exploit people’s health for profit

    • embracing universal education, but supporting public-private partnerships to build schools, coordinate with the “private sector” on education, and limits on “bureaucracy”

    • supporting the development of NGOs, which only benefit imperialistic liberals in the West,

    • having a “flexible labor market” (benefiting employers), pushing for a more skilled workforce, “reforming” pensions and benefits, having unemployment insurance only for those in the non-public sector, and incorporating women more into the capitalist market

    • having efficient infrastructure in order to expand the “private sector,” economic development near airports in “free zones” for capitalistic exploitation, and more mass transit after working with big capitalists

    • having a robust water (and sewage) system, but only supporting alternative energy when it makes sense “financially” and expanding the electricity industry

    • spurring capitalistic investment in communication

    • having “concessions to real estate developers” in certain instances

    • allowing the creation of large farms

    • supporting access to land for petty bourgeoisie

    • pushing for openness to the international capitalist economy

    • creating “special development zones” to attract capitalists

    • completing privatization in the Kurdish economy

    • wanting to be open and transparent, but supporting the idea of bureaucratic “efficiency,” making sure “mobile capital” doesn’t leave the region

    • helping civil servants leave government jobs and enter capitalistic enterprises

Even if there are some positive policies put forward by the KRG which would impress progressives or “benefit” oppressed peoples, they are couched in capitalist logic. There are more aspects of the plan than what is listed above but from the ideas noted above it is clear that the plan itself has an underlying capitalistic basis. This should worry anyone and makes you think: how progressive would an “independent” “Kurdistan” really be? This seems to indicate it would be a capitalistic paradise in more ways than one. This means that “Kurdistan” in northern Iraq would certainly not correspond to the “interests of the proletariat” instead currying the favor of up-and-coming Kurdish bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie of Western capitalist states. This does not make “Kurdistan” a socialist nation by any stretch, which Stalin defined as ones which pushed for elimination of capitalistic, nationalistic, and national oppressive elements, with “a united front with all oppressed and unequal nations in the struggle against the policy of annexation and wars of annexation,” led by the working class and an internationalist party. Instead, “Kurdistan” sounds more like a bourgeois nation in the making, not at the level of France, Britain, Italy, and the US, which Stalin put in this category, which fosters “national distrust, national isolation, national enmity and national conflicts,” with the bourgeoisie and nationalistic parties pushing for territorial expansion, hatred of other nations, a “suppression of national minorities [and a clear]….united front with imperialism.”

In 1917, at the Seventh Conference of the Bolsheviks, Stalin expanded on what he wrote in Marxism and the National Question. He defined the term “national oppression” and said that this conception, as manifested in capitalist states, should be opposed by his fellow comrades:

“National oppression is the system of exploitation and robbery of oppressed peoples, the measures of forcible restriction of the rights of oppressed nationalities, resorted to by imperialist circles…national oppression is maintained not only by the landed aristocracy…[but by] the imperialist groups”

Now, those in northern Iraq’s “Kurdistan” are arguing that they are being oppressed, basically, by the Iraqi state, and by extension the Iranian state, Syrian state, and Turkish state, all of which strongly oppose an independent “Kurdistan.” This is thrown into question considering that none of these states is imperialistic. Each of them has justified reasons for opposing an independent “Kurdistan,” other than the Turkish state. The latter is inherently anti-Kurd, has their own bourgeoisie, and wants to overthrow the duly elected government of the socially democratic state, the Arab Republic of Syria. As for the Iraqi, Syrian, and Iranian states, they rightly see the U.S. and other Western imperialists exploiting the situation to establish a firmer foothold and “balkanize” the region, leading to chaos of the highest order. It does not seem right to say that the states in the region are engaging in “national oppression” against the Kurds, except perhaps the Turks.

As for “Kurdistan” in northern Iraq, it could be said that while the Kurds have the right to self-determination and can secede freely, this does not mean they should “necessarily secede at any given moment,” with the decision on whether or not to secede up to “the party of the proletariat in each particular case.” Furthermore, Stalin is right when he says that imperialism should be the common enemy of all since, after all, imperialists use brutal methods with “enslaved nationalities.” Still, he does say when “particular nations” secede, to decide their “political destiny,” this should be generally supported while recognizing that this right of succession is not an obligation, only done in “accordance with the interests of the proletariat, of the proletarian revolution.” Hence, he argues that the question of whether to secede or not should be determined on a case-by-case basis, with the “the right of secession…not be confused with the expediency of secession in any given circumstances.” Taking this into account, it means that not every nationalist movement or every declaration of self-determination should be supported, especially if the effort is not the result of a “proletarian revolution” or would not favor the working class at large. [7]

There is further context worth considering here. In 1924, in his book, The Foundations of Leninism, Stalin talked about self-determination once again. In Chapter 6 of this book, he wrote specifically about “the national question.” After talking about how Leninism expands the conception of self-determination to become the “right of the oppressed peoples of the dependent countries and colonies to complete secession,” he said that annexations is not a form of self-determination, meaning that this principle can become an instrument for “exposing all imperialist aspirations and chauvinist machinations…an instrument for the political education of the masses in the spirit of internationalism.” He further added that this principle leads to “real and continuous” support to oppressed nations with “in their struggle against imperialism for real equality of nations, for their independent existence as states.” This was foreshadowing the support of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist movements throughout Africa and Asia, against White imperialists, in years to come. [8]

Notes

[1] He also says that every nation has the right of secession or autonomy, with national autonomy’s starting point is the “conception of a nation as a union of individuals without regard to a definite territory,” while self-determination gives a state “complete rights.” Even so, he says that national autonomy is against the “whole course of development of nations,” may be unsuitable in the future, and leads to nationalism.

[2] BBC, “Who are the Kurds?,” BBC News, Mar 14, 2016.

[3] Jeremy Bender, “Here’s The New Kurdish Country That Could Emerge Out Of The Iraq Crisis,” Business Insider, Jun 19, 2014.

[4] Stalin specifically describes how nations are a “historical category” within the “epoch of rising capitalism.” Hence, conditions change on what path is right for a nation, with the “solution of the national question” relating to historical, “economic, political and cultural conditions” of the nation at that’s time. For further analysis, a dialectical approach is necessary, as he notes.

[5] He also argues that the “harmful institutions of nations and against the inexpedient demands of nations” should be combated and agitated against. Specifically, he says that “national oppression” needs to be fought as part of liberation of humankind from the oppressive system of capitalism.

[6] They also cite the 1920 treaty of Sevres as a Kurdish “victory” (it really wasn’t), along with the 1958 Constitution of Iraq which stated, in article 3, that “Arabs and Kurds are considered partners” in Iraq, as another “victory,” an agreement on autonomy in 1970, and Iraq government attacks from 1974 to 1991 as a “dark time.”

[7] This connects with a speech Stalin gave to the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies the following year. He said that the Soviet government supported the “right of all nations of self-determination” and that this principle should be interpreted as a right which applies to the “labouring masses of the given nation” and not a bourgeoisie. He adds that this principle should be a “means in the struggle for socialism and should be subordinated to the principles of socialism.” Once again, this is an important point when it comes to supporting (or not) efforts of self-determination around the world.

[8] He also argued that “…the road to victory of the revolution in the West lies through the revolutionary alliance with the liberation movement of the colonies and dependent countries against imperialism…the necessity for the proletariat of the “dominant” nations to support-resolutely and actively to support-the national liberation movement of the oppressed and dependent peoples [is evident]…the revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement…the national movement of the oppressed countries should be appraised…from the point of view of the actual results…of the struggle against imperialism…Without such a struggle it is inconceivable that the proletariat of the oppressed nations can maintain an independent policy and its class solidarity with the proletariat of the ruling countries in the fight for the overthrow of the common enemy, in the fight for the overthrow of imperialism.”