Down With U.S. Imperialism!
On April 25, President Barack Obama announced that the number of U.S. Special Operations troops in Syria would be officially increased from 50 to 300. Washington’s latest strategy for fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) is for U.S. commandos to support an armed force consisting mainly of Kurds from northern Syria and backed up by U.S. airstrikes. That armed force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is providing the ground troops for U.S. imperialist intervention in the country. These latest developments can only serve to escalate the unspeakable suffering that has been inflicted on the Syrian people by the U.S. imperialists and various lesser powers.
The SDF was formally announced last October, the day after the U.S. officially abandoned its fruitless effort—which had cost $500 million—to raise an army of “moderate,” Sunni Arab insurgents. The SDF is basically a subsidiary of the People’s Protection Committees (YPG) and includes several smaller non-Kurdish groups. The YPG is the military wing of the Syrian-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is allied to the nationalist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) based in Turkey. The setting up of the SDF was prepared by a year of joint operations in which the YPG served as proxies for the U.S. military. During that time, as Kurdish forces overran ISIS-controlled villages, they repeatedly carried out communalist expulsions, driving Arabs and Turkmen from their homes.
The formation of the SDF marks an adjustment in Washington’s military strategy for fighting ISIS. Dubbed “Iraq First” by administration officials, that strategy had focused on providing bombing support to Washington’s proxies in Iraq, namely, the Baghdad government, the Shia militias and the Kurdish pesh merga in the north of the country. U.S. airpower and special forces continue to support those Iraqi proxies as they push toward Mosul, the biggest city in that country controlled by ISIS. Imperialist airstrikes are currently being carried out in support of Iraqi government forces as they assault Falluja. In May, the imperialists and their lackeys also opened a new front in Syria as the SDF began attacking Arab-majority villages on the outskirts of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in Syria. U.S. officials have declared that the eventual aim is to seize Raqqa, clearly auguring a major escalation in the U.S.-led war against ISIS.
Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced in March that he would be significantly scaling back Russia’s military intervention in Syria. The purpose of that intervention was to bolster the regime of Russia’s ally, Syrian president and Alawite Bashar al-Assad, whose forces recaptured the historic city of Palmyra from ISIS at the end of March. Even as it declares war on ISIS, the Obama administration—or at least significant components of it—are still banking on the fall of the Assad regime. As noted by Jonathan Steele in the London Review of Books (21 April), U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS (also known as IS) are “highly selective. They helped the Syrian Kurdish ground forces, the YPG, to liberate the towns of Kobani and Tal Abyad, both on the border with Turkey, from IS last year, but did nothing to protect the Syrian army when it came under threat from IS. When IS forces laid siege to Palmyra last May and drove Assad’s army out after a week-long battle, not a single American plane was seen.”
The intensification of the U.S. intervention in Syria should be welcome news to the likely Democratic Party presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. A consistent hawk both within the Obama administration and without, she has called for establishing a no-fly zone in northern Syria (which would pose a conflict with Russia), expanding the deployment of Special Operations troops and beefing up the bombing campaign. Meanwhile, her rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, while opposing the idea of a no-fly zone, is a firm supporter of the administration’s bellicose policy in Syria. Sanders simply proposes a different policy to advance U.S. imperialism’s interests in the Near East, essentially calling for the Saudi Arabian monarchy and other reactionary Arab regimes to provide the ground troops in Syria. As for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, he has ranted about stepping up bombing ISIS, carrying out more intense torture and killing families of accused terrorists.
After coming to office on a promise to end the war in Afghanistan and withdraw virtually all troops from Iraq, Barack Obama has kept some 9,800 troops in Afghanistan and over 6,400 soldiers and support personnel in Iraq. The escalation of the U.S. intervention in the Near East underscores the need for class-conscious workers everywhere, particularly in the U.S., to oppose all wars, occupations and depredations carried out by the imperialists, centrally the Americans.
It is not ISIS or some other Islamist force that has taken income inequality in the U.S. to virtually unprecedented heights. The same U.S. capitalist ruling class that wreaks death and destruction abroad gorges itself on profits while the workers it exploits have their jobs axed and their health and pension benefits torn up. This same ruling class unleashes its cops to kill black youth on the streets, holds nearly one-quarter of the world’s prison population in its dungeons and rounds up desperate immigrants for deportation.
We have no side in Syria’s squalid civil war between the butcher Assad and various rebel forces dominated by different kinds of Islamists. But we do have a side against the U.S. and other imperialist powers. Thus, while implacable opponents of everything the reactionary cutthroats of ISIS stand for, we take a military side with ISIS when it aims its fire against the imperialist armed forces and their proxies in the region, including the Kurdish nationalist forces in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, while our main opposition is to the imperialists, we also oppose the other capitalist powers, such as Russia and Turkey, involved in Syria and are for all of them to get out.
Our political position is framed by the Marxist understanding that the U.S., the foremost imperialist power, is the greatest enemy of the world’s workers and oppressed. In standing for the defense of ISIS against the blows of the imperialists, we recognize that any setback for Washington could also stimulate domestic opposition to U.S. imperialism among a populace that has been ground down by years of seeing its wages and jobs slashed. We aim to turn the disillusionment and anger of working people in the U.S. into class struggle against the capitalist rulers at home. It is through such struggle that the proletariat can be won to the struggle to build a revolutionary workers party that will lead the fight for socialist revolution to destroy the imperialist beast from within.
Imperialism and Kurdish Self-Determination
As part of our fight for a socialist federation of the Near East, we have long raised the call for a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan. However, we have also coupled this correct call with the argument that Kurdish self-determination could only be realized by the revolutionary overthrow of the four capitalist regimes among which the Kurdish people are divided: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. This argument, which we have raised since 1984, actually weakens the centrality we have always placed on the fight for Kurdish national rights.
The proletariat of Turkey, for example, could never sweep away capitalist rule in that country without taking up the just national struggle of the Kurdish masses, whose oppression is a key prop to Turkish nationalism and its rule. On the other hand, Iraqi Kurdistan has secured significant autonomy from the Baghdad regime, albeit under the aegis of U.S. imperialism. This virtual independence could very well come under attack if and when the U.S. imperialists withdraw their forces.
Thus, after a clarifying internal discussion, we now call for a united independent Kurdistan, without having as a precondition the overthrow of capitalist property relations in the region. At the same time, our goal remains the establishment of a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan, as part of a socialist federation of the Near East. The Kurds have clearly demonstrated their desire for independence. By championing Kurdish self-determination, the working classes of the Near East would undercut U.S. imperialism’s capacity to manipulate the Kurds’ grievances in order to further dominate the region.
We also support independence for Kurds from the individual capitalist states (e.g., the right of Kurds in Turkey to secede). However, in Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish nationalists have currently subordinated the just fight for self-determination to their alliance with U.S. imperialism. These nationalists, by aiding the predatory designs of the imperialists, have committed a crime for which the long-oppressed Kurdish people will pay the price when their imperialist patrons turn against them, as has happened repeatedly in the past.
Leftist Water Boys for Imperialist Intervention in Syria
It should be obvious for leftists that a victory for the U.S. and its underlings in the Near East would further embolden the imperialists in their drive for domination and would set back the struggles of all the oppressed, including the Kurds. Yet that understanding, which is elementary for Marxist opponents of imperialism, is trampled on by numerous reformists.
A case in point is Socialist Alternative (SAlt), which claims to oppose U.S. intervention in Iraq and Syria while simultaneously backing Washington’s Kurdish proxies. Following the defeat of ISIS in Kobani, SAlt praised the “heroic resistance” of the YPG and buried the widely reported fact that YPG officers were directly coordinating battlefield operations with U.S. commanders. SAlt hailed the YPG for “relying a great deal on women fighters and on secular and multi-ethnic solidarity” which “reaffirms the idea that if the masses have a socially progressive goal worth fighting and dying for, they will achieve wonders” (socialistalternative.org, 9 February 2015).
Providing a pseudo-Marxist cover to such abject support to the imperialists’ foot soldiers is the Internationalist Group (IG). These centrists have long prided themselves on raising empty, bombastic slogans to “drive out” the imperialists. However, to read their several (painfully long) articles on the Syrian civil war and U.S. intervention in the region is to read a hodgepodge of confusionism designed to alibi a consistent line: the IG’s refusal to take a military side with ISIS against U.S. imperialism and its local proxies.
In an October 2015 article on internationalist.org, the IG wrote, “Every blow struck against the NATO marauders, even by the atavistic jihadis (holy warriors) of the I.S., is in the interests of the exploited and oppressed” (“Flashpoint Syria: Russian Intervention and Imperialist Aggression”). But the IG in effect denies that any such blows are being struck by ISIS. An April 2015 article denounces our simple statement that we take a “military side with ISIS against the U.S.-led coalition and its local adjuncts” by claiming that we “invent an anti-imperialist struggle where it doesn’t exist.”
The reality is that, in Iraq and Syria, the reactionary forces of ISIS are today engaged in combat with the military forces of American imperialism and its on-the-ground proxies. To refuse to stand for their military defense under such circumstances, as the IG does, is nothing short of an abject capitulation to U.S. imperialism. The IG even ludicrously complains that ISIS is “not seeking to unite the oppressed masses of Iraq and Syria to throw off the imperialist yoke” (Internationalist, October-November 2014). No kidding! Only revolutionary internationalist workers parties could unite the masses of Iraq and Syria to throw off the imperialist yoke.
But the IG has a long history of investing various supposedly progressive Third World nationalist forces with such a capacity. Thus, it alibis the YPG/PYD Kurdish nationalists. In its April 2015 article, the IG attacks our statement that Syrian Kurds are the imperialists’ proxies by claiming that the PYD had only concluded a “temporary military alliance” with U.S. imperialism (as opposed to an eternal one?!). By October 2015, the IG was forced to acknowledge that the YPG was “coordinating with U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State” and declared them to be a “semi-ally” of U.S. imperialism.
In fact, both the YPG/PYD and Washington openly boast of their military alliance. As a YPG spokesman, Polat Can, frankly acknowledged: “We have a direct and strong relationship with the United States, and we have worked together to coordinate in targeting terrorists” (dckurd.org, 24 July 2015). As for the U.S., shortly after General Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, visited Kurdish forces in Syria in May, images emerged of U.S. special forces in Syrian Kurdistan wearing YPG insignia. In March, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Kurds “have proven to be excellent partners of ours on the ground in fighting ISIL,” another moniker for ISIS.
Notwithstanding the IG’s apologias for the Kurdish nationalists, this is hardly the first time that the imperialists have used the military forces of oppressed peoples as their proxies. An example was in 1999 when the U.S./NATO imperialists, under the rallying cry of “poor little Kosovo,” sought to justify their terror bombing of Serbia in the name of defending Kosovar Albanians. From early in the U.S./NATO intervention, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) functioned as a detachment of the imperialist forces, serving as spotters for imperialist bombing of Serbian positions. While we had long championed self-determination for the Kosovar Albanians, we insisted that to support the KLA in that context could only mean providing support to the imperialist attack against Serbia. We Marxists stood for the military defense of Serbia and for the defeat of the imperialists and their KLA auxiliaries.
Defeat U.S. Imperialism Through Socialist Revolution!
As is clear from the squabbles among the Republican and Democratic candidates in this election cycle regarding the U.S. intervention in the Near East, the two capitalist parties share a common interest in maintaining U.S. supremacy in that strategic and oil-rich region. As always, imperialist depredations abroad are combined with a concerted campaign at home against unions and the wage and benefit gains workers have won through struggle. Such evils are endemic to the system of capitalism in its decay.
The U.S. working class must be won to the understanding that its enemy is its “own” ruling class and that it needs to oppose imperialist aggression abroad. Many working people are understandably repelled by the medieval brutality of groups like ISIS. But the gruesome crimes of ISIS pale in comparison to those of U.S. imperialism, which is responsible for the slaughter of tens of millions around the world.
The only way to overcome capitalist oppression is the one blazed by the workers revolution of October 1917 led by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party. The International Communist League is dedicated to reforging the Fourth International—world party of socialist revolution—by fighting to infuse the international proletariat with an understanding of its historic task: to overturn the imperialist order and reorganize society worldwide on an egalitarian socialist basis.