Polemics with the ICL:

Kurdistan & the Struggle for National Liberation




Document 5

BT Doth Whine Too Much

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 806, 4 July 2003.

[WV introduction] We reprint below excerpts of a letter to us that can be found in full on the “Bolshevik Tendency” Web site.

Toronto, Canada

12 June 2003

To the Editor:

The 6 June issue of Workers Vanguard (WV) features two polemics against the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT), both based on gross misrepresentations of our politics. In the account of your 10 May debate with the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), you quote Jon Brule’s claim that in the late 1980s: “The BT retrospectively dumped our slogan of Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!’ in order to be at one with the anti-Communist left in this country.” As Comrade Brule is well aware, we proposed instead “Military Victory to the Soviet Army!,” a slogan the reformists found no less objectionable. We recall that in the 1960s, the then-revolutionary Spartacist League (SL) called for “military victory” to the Viet Cong. In the early 1980s the SL also called for “military victory” to the leftist insurgents in El Salvador....

The second polemic is contained in a speech on the Kurdish question by Comrade Bruce André who claimed to have been left almost “speechless” by our observation that:

“In the present circumstances an independent Kurdish state would find itself in very great difficulty. The situation would be even worse if such a state were limited to a fragment of Kurdish territory—for example Turkish Kurdistan. Not only would such a mini-state be entirely landlocked and surrounded by its historic oppressors, but it would be a society characterized by backward, pre-capitalist social structures. Because of its underdevelopment, an independent Kurdistan would find itself at the mercy of the regional as well as imperialist powers.”
1917 No. 12, 1993

While not disputing our analysis, André asserts that this amounts to “pos[ing] preconditions” and “demanding that, before the Kurds can be independent they must be free of ‘backward’ social structures and not be at the ‘mercy’ of imperialist powers.” We have never and would never raise such absurd preconditions. To do so would be to reject the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. There is no question that the Kurdish people have an inalienable right to self-determination; the question is how it can be achieved. After pointing out the difficulties involved in any attempt to create an independent capitalist state, our article concluded that the road to national liberation for Kurdistan lies through revolutionary struggle against the neo-colonial regimes of the region:

“The Kurdish bourgeoisie is so weak that it does not even pretend to be leading a struggle for Kurdish freedom. This task falls to the Kurdish working class, at the head of the peasants and other oppressed layers. Those militants who are committed to winning equal national rights for Kurds must embrace a strategy of common struggle with the working class of the nations that oppress them. In Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq the struggle against the oppression of the Kurds is closely connected with the overthrow of the bourgeois dictatorships. It is extremely unlikely that the dismembered Kurdish nation can be reunited on any road other than that of the struggle for a socialist federation of the Near East.”

...We never opposed independence for Kurdistan. We simply pointed out that Kurdish national liberation will require revolutionary struggle, a conclusion André echoes....

Bolshevik Greetings,

Tom Riley
for the International Bolshevik Tendency

WV Replies:

Riley and his cohorts defected from our organization in the early 1980s because they could not stomach our hard Soviet-defensist line in the context of Cold War II. Their explicit repudiation of our “Hail Red Army” slogan in 1988 came as no surprise. As we replied the first time they kvetched about our supposed misrepresentation of their line: “What does it mean to call for ‘military victory’ now, precisely when [Soviet president] Gorbachev & Co. are pulling the Soviet troops out? It’s an empty statement to try to cover the fact that you’re openly renouncing the Spartacist slogan, ‘Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!’” (“BT Protests Too Much,” WV No. 453, 20 May 1988). We explained, “They’re paying the admission price to crawl into the all-Canada popular front: no ‘soft-on-Russia’ pinkos allowed.”

As for the Kurdish question, the difference between us is not over how—but whether—the Kurds should achieve national self-determination. Nowhere in its 1993 article, including the passage cited by Riley, does the IBT raise the call for an independent Kurdish state, even under proletarian rule. In fact, as we asserted, the IBT is against the call for an independent Kurdistan, as they make very clear in a 1999 article on the arrest of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan headlined “Permanent Revolution and Kurdistan: Free Öcalan! Defend the PKK!” There they say:

“We unconditionally defend the right of the Kurdish nation to self-determination, that is, to establish a separate state, but we do not currently advocate that the Kurds attempt to exercise this right.”

This statement is immediately followed by the quote from their 1993 article quoted by Riley above and cited by our comrade. So by their own terms this isn’t just a factual “observation” but an argument against the establishment of a separate Kurdish state.

To defend the Kurdish right to self-determination while opposing an “attempt to exercise this right” simply means acceptance of the existing state boundaries. In the context of a polemic against the PKK, the IBT writes in its 1993 article:

“As Leninists, we of course support the right of national self-determination. We are not opposed in principle [!] to raising this as a demand. But pushing for an independent capitalist Kurdistan against the wishes of the feeble Kurdish bourgeoisie, and with the bulk of the Kurdish people indifferent, makes no sense at all. Moreover, such a perspective could turn Kurdish revolutionaries away from the necessity to participate in, and, if possible, initiate struggles of the workers and peasants against the existing oppressor states.”

In “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (1914), Lenin explained that recognition “of the right of nations to secede in no way precludes agitation against secession by Marxists of a particular oppressed nation, just as the recognition of the right to divorce does not preclude agitation against divorce in a particular case” (emphasis in original). For Leninists, assessing whether or not to advocate independence for a subjugated nation does indeed require concrete analysis. But there could hardly be a clearer case than that of the Kurds, who have struggled for national liberation against overwhelming odds for nearly a century. Calls for “joint struggle” without unambiguous support for the national aspirations of the oppressed are worse than empty. They can only be a cover for the chauvinist status quo, as is the case as well with the IBT’s opposition to our call for independence for Quebec. There will be no joint revolutionary struggle in the Near East if the Arab, Persian and Turkish working masses are not won to the cause of Kurdish independence.

Our starting point and programmatic conclusion are very different from theirs. As comrade André stated: “To win independence for the entire Kurdish nation would require the revolutionary destruction of at least four capitalist regimes—and accompanying imperialist domination—right across this strategically important region. That’s what we mean by the slogan of a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan.” That is the revolutionary perspective we fight for, and what Riley & Co. “do not currently advocate.”