Polemics with the ICL:
Kurdistan & the Struggle for National Liberation
The Kurds are the largest nation on earth without their own state. When the Ottoman Empire was carved up after World War I, the Kurdish people, who have existed on the same territory for some 3000 years, were divided between Turkey, Iraq and Iran with enclaves in Syria and the Soviet Union (today Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). The overlord of the Middle East today, the United States, opposes independence for the Kurds because it would destabilize the neo-colonial regimes through which imperial control is exercised in this strategically vital region. The only viable road to the realization of Kurdish national aspirations is through the struggle for proletarian revolution to break the grip of imperialism in the region, smash the existing states and establish a Socialist Federation of the Middle East.
* * *
The first item in this pamphlet originally appeared a decade ago in 1917, journal of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) an organization founded by former cadres of the international Spartacist tendency (today the International Communist League—ICL). The second document is from a subsequent issue of 1917. This is followed by the text of a recent speech on the Kurdish question by Bruce André of the ICL that originally appeared in Workers Vanguard (WV—newspaper of the Spartacist League [SL]).
While André’s analysis of the Kurds closely parallels our own on all the essential points, he nonetheless denounced us for having a “chauvinist” position on the question. In our reply to this bogus polemic (Document 4) we suggested that André could find a genuine example of “self-satisfied great-power chauvinism” in a 1978 speech by SL National Chairman James Robertson, in which he referred to Kurds as “Turds.” In the same speech, which was transcribed and reprinted in a Spartacist internal bulletin, Robertson addressed Jim Saunders (an Irish comrade who is credited with helping to write Appendix A in this compilation) as a “stupid Mick.”
The reference to Robertson’s chauvinist remark on the Kurds struck a nerve. The WV editorial board initially tried to sidestep the issue by printing a truncated version of our letter (Document 5). Our 4 July statement (Document 6) which pointed out that this amounted to a tacit repudiation of the SL lider maximo’s chauvinist vulgarity apparently brought the ed board’s subterfuge to Robertson’s attention. He was not pleased.
The next issue of WV featured an obsequious mea culpa from the editorial board (Document 7) as well as an expression of contrition for having engaged in a political discussion with us in the first place. To make amends, WV also produced a hysterical rehash of slanders against the IBT in general, and comrade Bill Logan in particular (Document 8). The WV article asserted that only “those genuinely inspired by chauvinism” could interpret Robertson’s comment as having anything to do with Kurds, yet, as we noted in our 8 August rejoinder (Document 9), it provided no alternative interpretation for their national chair’s remark. The 29 August issue of WV did finally advance an absurd alibi for Robertson (Document 10) to which we responded in an 8 September statement (Document 11).
* * *
As the central leader of the Spartacist tendency, James Robertson played a critically important role in preserving and developing the thread of authentic Bolshevism (i.e., Trotskyism) through the 1960s and 1970s. But the Spartacist tendency today is a pseudo-revolutionary centrist formation qualitatively similar to Gerry Healy’s unlamented Socialist Labour League of the late 1960s, as our recent exchange demonstrates. However, the contents of this bulletin are of interest not only because they document an aspect of the decline and fall of the Spartacist tendency, but also because they provide a Marxist analysis of the Kurdish national question and demonstrate the relevance of Leon Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution in the struggle for a Socialist Federation of the Middle East.
After printing the first edition of this pamphlet, we decided that several other items warranted inclusion. The first (Appendix C) is taken from Lenin’s “Testament” and addresses the question of “crudity” toward small nations. In Appendix D we reproduce James Robertson’s remarks on “Turds” and “Micks,” as well as a remark by George Foster, SL Deputy National Chairman, that sheds some light on the SL leader’s alibi.
International Bolshevik Tendency