The explosion point of ideology in Kurdistan – VP & GEH

The explosion point of ideology in Kurdistan – VP & GEH

Refusing the police interpretation of history as well as a bartering style of geopolitics, this text proposes to study the reasons for the unanimous enthusiasm for “the Kurds” (that is to say, prosaically the PYD, and its armed wing, the YPG) within the French left.

The explosion point
of ideology in Kurdistan – VP & GEH

Source in French:


Refusing the police
interpretation of history as well as a bartering style of geopolitics, this
text proposes to study the reasons for the unanimous enthusiasm for “the Kurds”
(that is to say, prosaically the PYD, and its armed wing, the YPG) within the
French left. It does not address as such the “Kurdish cause” or the Syrian
insurgency precisely (it would be much too vast) but how they have served to
reveal the bankruptcy of the world of leftist militants, revolutionary and
reformist as well. We discuss the ease of the left to be dragged by
antiterrorism and State ideologies. Remaining aloof from the caricatured
“anti-imperialist” postures (“campism” favorable to the Syrian regime) or the
neo-conservative ones, it is about restoring some painful truths.


Whether we think of
Stalinism or its innumerable variations, the history of the workers’ movement
is littered with mystifications and falsifications. From the moment when, in
the 1920s, the Communist International became the driving belt for the interests
of the young “Soviet” State[1],
large sections of the workers’ movement were employed in the service of
systematic propaganda. The latter had to present the policy of forced
industrialization led by an authoritarian State as the horizon and the rear base
of the world revolution. The very words of revolution and communism have for a
long time been spoilt by this experience, no longer designating an existence
free from work and the State, but, for the greatest number, a sordid and brutal
reality unrelated to the promises of emancipation, nor with any form of truth.


If it would be
possible to discuss at length the historical circumstances which led to this
state of affairs, we would readily agree that this had lasting harmful effects
on the revolutionary cause. And if we have thought since some decades to be far
from this embarrassing legacy, the last years have seen the emergence of a
similar process progressively extending to all spheres of the left, including
those defining themselves as “revolutionary”. It is this phenomenon, and what
it reveals, that we will try to analyze.


Yesterday as today,
the revolution is not a party affair.


In the midst of
“radical” or “revolutionary” left-wing circles, from “La France Insoumise” to
libertarians and some “autonomists”, to the NPA, what remains of Maoists in
France and certain sectors of “struggle syndicalism”, the latest fashion seems
to be, not without certain essentialism, “the Kurds”.


While it is
astonishing to note the lack of prudence in assimilating an entire people to a
party, even if it is a mass party (the PYD, Syrian offshoot of the PKK), what
strikes us more is the absolutely sudden, totally fantasized and inconsistent
character of the interest shown by the majority of the French left for the
“Kurdish cause”.


This ecstatic
support could be explained by the “revolutionary experience” unleashed in
2011/2012 in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), which should be compared to Spain in
1936. Many activists talk about it of self-management, ecology and gender
equality, when it is not of communes or communism. Most often, even if nothing
is said about what is happening in Rojava, the supposedly utopian character of
this experiment is aimed at discrediting the organization of life in the cities
of the Syrian insurgency. A platform signed by all the upper crust of the
French far-left and published by “Ballast” quotes
for example the incredible Noam Chomsky to assert with him that Rojavian utopia
is “very different from all that is in Syria”. In another platform,
signed by trade unionists and published by “L’Humanité”, one
can read: “Today it is a progressive, egalitarian, feminist and secular
genuine alternative in this region. It can draw a future liberated from all
obscurantisms and all barbarities.”


Danielle Simonet,
representative of “La France Insoumise”, decrees that this “socialist,
ecologist and feminist” experiment is “original in this region”,
before adding “a political message to the feminists: come here, you are for
gender equality, there is in this region an unprecedented political experience
that promotes gender equality”. In the documentary Rojava, une utopie au cœur du chaos
[Rojava, an utopia at the heart of the
Syrian chaos] directed by Mireille Court, whose title sums up the will to
produce an opposition between Rojava and the Syrian situation, the voice-over
invites us to “discover another place for women in the Middle East”.


Rather than trying
to grasp the ongoing dynamics in Rojava, or to understand the self-organization
that really existed in the Syrian rebel cities at the beginning of the
insurgency (communal councils,
self-management of hospitals, teachers who write their own programs, etc.
), the
far-left identifies with “the Kurds”, who are perceived as an incarnation of
the Light in a “region” where “the Dark Ages” would reign supreme. In many
speeches, the radical left goes so far as to oppose “the Kurds” to “the
Muslims” and even to “the Sunnis”, forgetting that they are often themselves.
And as it would be a shame to give up as things are going so well, it has
become even systematic for a part of the left to assimilate the totality of the
Syrian opposition forces to “Islamism”, calling it “jihadist”, when it is not
“barbaric”. As summarized by Kendal Nezan, president of the Kurdish Institute
of Paris during a broadcast of France Culture, “there
is unanimous consent of public opinion, from the libertarian left to the


Yet talking of
revolution in Rojava seems at least exaggerated, if not utterly false[2]. Whether we listen the
long speeches during rallies held by the “pro-Kurdish” far-left or the official
communication of the PYD, whether we read the statements of the leader Abdullah
Öcalan – whom his followers vow a genuine personality cult to – or stories to
the glory of this so-called utopia, we find at best only elements of language and
hollow slogans, very probably masking the absence of concrete achievements.


What is known,
however, is that the relative autonomy of Rojava is not the result of an
insurrection or an expropriating general strike, but of a negotiation with
the Syrian regime
, which at first consisted in a
quasi-neutrality of the YPG (armed wing of the PYD), vis-à-vis the Syrian


To speak of
neutrality here is in fact to be complacent inasmuch as the PYD has been
muzzling anti-Assad elements (at least they were marginalized), in exchange for
the loyalist troops to leave the region. Since then, in Rojava, the salaries of
civil servants continue to be paid by the regime. And Assad, rid of the
politico-military management of this territory

entrusted (at least temporarily) to the PYD, was able to focus its
counterinsurgency efforts on the “Useful Syria” (the urbanized area from Aleppo
to Damascus).


Our goal is not to
demonize what the French far-left idealizes outrageously but to contextualize.
It does not seem excessive to say that Syrian society is extremely segmented,
whether politically, ethnically or religiously. […]


In short, to
understand what is happening in Rojava, we seem to have no choice but to leave
the pseudo-revolutionary illusions to plunge into the icy water of realpolitik
in wartime. If it is obvious that the interests of the PYD and the Syrian
regime are not identical, let us remind some episodes where they converged:


– Many anti-Assad
activists have been threatened (and sometimes arrested) in PYD-controlled areas
since 2012. Anti-Assad demonstrations have been suppressed, and YPG have
sometimes fired on unarmed crowds, as for a demonstration in Amuda in July


– When the regime
and its allies regained Aleppo, the YPG fought
rebel groups
, contributing to the city’s downfall and
the crushing of its population12. Prior to that, the YPG had attacked and
retook Menagh and Tal Rifaat, which had long been controlled by the FSA.


– The PYD and the
PKK relay Assad’s propaganda, turning ISIS into “the main enemy”, and they do
not hesitate to mix it together with some of the Syrian rebels (while the
latter sometimes confront it in the front line).


It is furthermore
not surprising that, as with all other opposing camps, YPG’s war crimes are
revealed, although they are in no way comparable to those of the Syrian regime
or the Islamic State. However, most often, these revelations meet only the voluntary
blindness of the French left. When Human Rights Watch, which carried out an
investigation in Rojava in February 2015, and Amnesty International, who
visited in October 2015, accuse the YPG of “ethnic cleansing” because of the
destruction of several Arab villages in Rojava and the displacement of
populations on an ethnic basis, many activists yet see only hostile and
malevolent propaganda, even forgetting that the President of Amnesty
International is imprisoned and charged in Turkey for “belonging to an armed
terrorist organization”, for having denounced the war waged on the Kurds. As
for the forcible recruitment of combatants by the YPG and the imprisonment of
refractories, or the use of child soldiers, they are justified by many
supporters of the YPG as related to the need for war… If it seems difficult to
judge such practices without taking into account the context of war, it should
be asked however how and why the war led by the YPG has been disguised into a
libertarian revolution. It is also surprising that the recruitment of child is
seen as a contingency linked to the lack of combatants, but that the presence
of women on the front lines (which the YPG propaganda heavily insists on) is
necessarily a proof of feminism for the organization, or even of gender
equality in Kurdistan…


If it is doubtful
to talk about revolution in the communist sense of the word while confining it
to a small locality impervious to what is outside, it is absolutely grotesque
to postulate the establishment of a libertarian utopia by a military
organization, in the midst of a war of such intensity, where global and
regional actors confront each other. Furthermore, if we talk about a
“revolution”, we should say where and when the people of Rojava have risen up
to abolish existing forms of power. Moreover, there is no indication throughout
the PYD’s history of sympathy for self-management or even for revolt movements
that are not its own initiative or controlled by it. From the Kurdish youth
intifada in 2004, during which the leadership of the PYD appealed for calm, to
the beginning of the Syrian insurgency in 2011, which many Kurdish parties
called to join with the notable exception of the PYD, the organization was
indeed not exactly a shining example of self-organization and democracy “from


In addition, it
should be remembered that if municipal assemblies have been set up within the
so-called self-management utopia of Rojava, they have no decision-making or
even advisory power over what concerns strategic, political and military
decisions, which are centralized
by the party
. As for the social revolution, the constitution of Syrian
Kurdistan (called “social contract”) consecrates the private property, which
means that social classes are not questioned, far from it. In addition to
having invented democratic confederalism, Abdullah Ocalan seems to have
invented the revolution that does not arise from a struggle but from an
agreement with a dictatorship, that does not question the established military
power, and does not affect exploitation.


It is therefore quite
embarrassing to see activists claiming “libertarian communism” to applaud a
“revolution” in which the relations of production have not been touched. While
the self-management of a single factory in Rojava would make all the leftist
media headlines, and since we now know that the “cooperatives” in Afrin were set up by the
Assad family
, many activists end up (for lack of anything better and in the
absence of any concrete example to quote) exalting the identity of a totally
fetishized people, rebellious by nature and living in harmony. The same is true
for the question of feminism when, in addition to being limited to images of
propaganda representing young female fighters with hair flowing in the wind,
many French speeches talk about a “primeval matriarchy” among the Kurds…


Kurds, Arabs and


In parallel with
the essentialization of a people, annexed in its entirety to a military
organization, and whose culture would be, according to some leftist speeches,
essentially democratic and feminist, the support of the French left and
far-left for the YPG is imbued with the most grotesque ethnocentrism, and
tinged with the filthiest opportunism. […] we see that it is rarely [the
suspicions of many Kurds towards the Syrian insurgency that overall took them
not sufficiently into account] which [guide] the unanimous support for the
“Kurds” (that is, to the YPG) in political speeches in France.


Indeed, if the
rumor of a revolution in Rojava ran in the French left as from 2012, it is in
2015, after the attack of January [against the “Charlie Hebdo” cartoonists,
translator’s note] and even more after that of November [against the “Bataclan”
and terraces, translator’s note], that the French left had a particular passion
for the fight of “the Kurds” against the Islamic State. And while the vast
majority of this same left did not take anything in the Syrian uprising of
2011, and has, […], never tried to provide any support, not even humanitarian.


And so in France,
in 2015, in a context of national unity against “Islamist barbarity”, the
slogan “Fuck ISIS, support PKK” began to appear among leftists along
with the proliferation of myths about the “self-management experience in
Rojava”. Disturbing parallels, these speeches have spread at the very moment
when French diplomacy broke with its (moderate) pressure policy towards Assad,
and now considered the Islamic State (or “Islamism”) as the single enemy; Assad
was no longer an enemy, so Putin and the PYD were even partners in this


It is one thing the
French State to take the position “all against ISIS and only against ISIS”
while the Islamic State will never do as much damage in Syria as Assad and
Putin nor as many deaths in the world as France or the United States, but it is
another thing, a disgusting thing to say the least, that the far-left,
self-proclaimed “revolutionary” and “antiimperialist”, has the same reaction,
while continuing to ignore the Syrian insurgency and its repression on the one
hand, and the politics of Western States in the world on the other hand. In
reality, “the Kurds” seem to be for leftist activists what “Middle Eastern
Christians” are to those of the “Catholic Right”: the justification of their
fears and cowardice.


Beyond the
disturbing parallels between the diplomatic positions of the French State or
the Western States on the one hand, and those of international
“revolutionaries” joining the YPG (or the French left supporting them) on the
other hand, there are sometimes convergences up to the arguments used to
justify these positions. In various television reports broadcasted in 2016,
French volunteers, who would never have been interested in Syria if French
people were not killed in a newsroom, on the terrace or in a concert hall, say
they decided to join the YPG after [the attacks of] November 13th,
2015. In a “Russia Today
documentary about the takeover of Raqqa, a Swedish volunteer is outraged by the
supposed weakness of the repression in his country against ISIS, then he says
that the Islamic State is “the incarnation of wickedness”, since “the
whole world is against them”. In the same report, a Swedish volunteer of
the YPJ (YPG’s female branch), in a speech that is reminiscent of the arguments
put forward to justify all NATO’s wars for almost twenty years, says she wants
to “fight for women’s rights here in the Middle East”. And the prize for
ethnocentrism and ignominy goes undoubtedly to the anarchists who in Raqqa, in
a city devastated and emptied of its inhabitants by the international bombings,
decided to pose for a picture in the ruins with the LGBT flag and the banner “This
fagot kills fascists”.


After properly
ignoring the Syrian insurgency and its crushing by Assad and his allies, much
of the left is now hiding behind “the Kurds” to take up the language of the
Syrian regime, or that of Kurdish representatives in France, sized to please
the French left. Thus, during the Paris meeting of March 24th in
solidarity with the struggle of the YPG in Afrin, the fighters of the Free
Syrian Army were systematically designated as “Al Qaida” and “ISIS’ former
fighters”. Whereas we are in a tragic and complex situation where Erdogan
has managed to buy the loyalty of a part of the FSA
to lead an open fight
against the PYD, in a context where the Kurdish party is more and more
perceived as an “occupier
by certain Arab populations, the French left unanimously decided to describe
only a part of the drama. […]



[1] A big
topic that we mention here simply as an analogy. On the “Bolshevization” of the
Communist parties, the development of State capitalism, and the Stalinist
counter-revolution, (re)read the Communist Left:

Pannekoek Anton, “On the Communist Party”, International
Council Correspondence, Vol. 2, no. 7, June 1936,,

Rubel Maximilien, « Formation et
développement du capital en URSS », Economie appliquée, 1957,, [in

Bilan, « Seizième anniversaire de la
révolution russe », Bilan, n°1, 1933,,
2016, [in

T.K.G.V., “A Letter to ‘Rojavist’ Friends”,,