Syria: A Litmus Test for the Left
Within Syria, developments are so fast-paced that any attempt to write about them quickly becomes obsolete. Here, we use the name Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS). However, it is noted that this may change to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) or the Self-Administration of North and East Syria (SANES).
A general familiarity with the Syrian conflict and the forces in play are assumed. When able, we have provided links to Wikipedia and other sources to help those less familiar.
Like many urgent problems of the 21st century, the war in Syria is complex, multi-sided, and highly dynamic. As such, it demands the best of our analysis, capable of a historical understanding of forces and able to navigate the nuance and complexity of unfolding events.
Elsewhere we have spoken of analyses that reflect a unity-in-diversity within revolutionary ecosocialism, and ways in which social ecology can be reopened and broadened within this umbrella. Whether informed by Marxism, anarchist-communism, other libertarian socialisms, or a mixture therein, the theoretical agreement of those engaged in dialectical, ecological, social analysis is much greater than the difference.
From this perspective we turn to Syria, where the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is explicitly committed to feminism, gender equality, ecology, and ecosocialism. They present an exciting, non-state revolutionary praxis based on decentralization and federation, as well as a unique political alternative for the Middle East and elsewhere.
Better Worlds, Brighter Futures contends that the attitudes of left groups toward the Democratic Confederation of Northern Syria (DFNS) (adminstered by the PYD, Peoples’ Protection Units, and others) serve as a litmus test distinguishing those seriously committed to revolutionary social change from those whose analysis is occupied with more abstract or “pragmatic” concerns.
While Marxist-Leninists, anarchist-communists, and other libertarian socialists represent a spectrum of radical left views, groups rooted in each of these are finding common cause with the forces of the DFNS. Such groups focus on their commonalities while respecting differences of perspective. This creates a larger unity wherein the specificity of each are retained. This is solidarity and mutual aid in the truest senses.
Revolutionary left struggle is foremost ethical. Recognizing this transcends ideology (though overwhelmingly falls on the left rather than right), orienting us always firmly toward the liberation and betterment of the working, poor, and oppressed classes of which we are a part.
- * the point of revolutionary struggle is to secure the means of life for all and the freedom of each to develop themselves in the ways that suit them;
- * within this, those most burdened and with least–the working, poor, and oppressed classes (the majority)–should be the focus;
- * further within this struggle, we seek to identify and support the most progressive forces;
- * additionally, the means and ends of struggle must always be aligned so as to be internally coherent and not further immiserate the working, poor, and oppressed.
A Revolutionary Agent
The People’s and Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) militias, the Democratic Union Party, and now the combined Democratic Federation of Northern Syria have consistently been the most progressive forces throughout the present conflict. To support them is to support an organic, grassroots, popular, non-state, revolutionary actor.
Though dynamics and forces change, and history shows that parties and movements can be coopted, corrupted, or lag behind the vision and demands of those they seek to liberate, Better Worlds, Brighter Futures takes inspiration from the DFNS and the Democratic Union Party’s aims.
In addition to their inclusive, highly effective anti-fascist struggle against the Islamic State and other jihadist groups, the accomplishments of the DFNS include the structures, processes, and values brought into existence. These serve the material needs of the people and movement (food, infastructure, etc), as well as provide lessons and inspiration to radicals around the world.
The theoretical orientation of the PYD is termed “democratic confederalism” based on the work of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party of Turkey (PKK). Originally founded as a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla organization, its analysis has evolved to draw from Marxism, as well as anarchist-communism, social ecology, and the work of Murray Bookchin, among others. Such a synthesis of revolutionary philosophies, the efficacy of which is being proven through lived praxis, also holds the potential to unite a diversity of left perspectives around secularism, feminism, ecology, and radical direct democracy.
Parties and groups drawing in some way on Öcalan’s democratic confederalism constitute a regional, international movement in their own right, with several federated under the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).
- These include the:
The democratic confederalist model poses a non-state alternative for the Middle East and elsewhere, with important ramifications. Certainly, it is a superior model to the authoritarian, theocratic nation-states currently dominating the region.
Through their commitment to anti-fascism and opposition to fascistic forces including the Islamic State, the Turkish government, and other jihadist groups, as well as their commitment to progressive, revolutionary, feminist, ecosocialist alternatives, they deserve support from every corner of the international left. However, because of the effectiveness of these parties, many states classify some or all as “terrorist” organizations, making direct communication and solidarity difficult and possibly illegal.
Rebuttal to Left Criticism
Better Worlds, Brighter Futures notes some left criticism of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, particularly on social media. This section aims to address some of the main criticisms in order to clarify for our open-minded, non-dogmatic friends. We also emphasize that it is always best to establish strong communication between generally like-minded groups, rather than being dragged into unproductive arguments with others on the left. Save these resources and time for building comradely relations and moving forward practically and politically!
It is important to remember that support of the PYD/YPG and DFNS is independent of the United States’ support or non-support of these forces. Our concern rests principally on whether U.S. support has served to corrupt the path and principles espoused by the PYD, served to turn the PYD against the people either practically or politically, or served to perpetuate exclusive U.S. interests at the expense of others. Further, support of the PYD and DFNS does not temper or negate any critique of American foreign policy, intervention, or the U.S.’ existence as an imperialist power.
- The U.S. interests in Syria have principally been to:
- * control the threat of the Islamic State, a destabilizing force not controlled by the U.S. and therefore a threat to U.S. interests in the wider region;
- * support the ouster of Bashar al-Assad, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and others, on the basis of alleged war crimes by the Syrian government (use of chemical weapons, crimes against civilians);
- * curb influence of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, forces all on the ground and looking to exert regional influence.
Like the United States, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and possibly others see their own interests in Syria. The intentions of these state actors toward the PYD/YPG range from the pragmatic and ambivalent (United States, Russia) to openly hostile (Turkey, Iran).
One thing on which all major forces in Syria can agree, with the exception of Turkey, is that the elimination of the Islamic State is to their benefit (there is much evidence, of course, that Erdogan’s Turkey has been aiding the Islamic State and other jihadist groups).
While a timeline is difficult to establish, the YPG were not the first or only group to receive U.S. backing within Syria, nor were they the preferred group. Indeed, the United States, in coordination with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, and the UK were arming anti-Assad rebels as early as 2012. It is unclear whether the YPG were among these early groups supported, but it is unlikely. At the time, the U.S. was trying to arm anti-Assad, pro-Western, pro-Saudi groups. These proved ineffective in combat and unpopular among the Syrian people, necessitating a change in U.S. strategy.
What is clear is that the PYD, YPG, and allied groups were never the anti-Assad force the U.S.-Saudi coalition had hoped for. The main reason given by the United States for supporting PYD/YPG forces was precisely their effectiveness against the Islamic State–an interest already shared by all in the region.
As a non-state actor, the PYD insist on their Syrian citizenship, calling for autonomy within a politically federated and decentralized Syria. Since July 2018, the PYD have been in discussions with Assad’s government, mediated by Russia, on post-war integration.
While the relationship between the DFNS and the Syrian government has been fragile, the two have seldom engaged each other in open combat, at times even cooperating against the Islamic State and Turkish operations within the country. In addition, Russia has been more diplomatic in its attitude toward the DFNS, helping to temper the outlook of its Syrian proxy.
A Broad, International, Revolutionary Movement
Within the forces on the ground, non-state fighting forces in support of the DFNS appear to come primarily from the International Freedom Battalion (IFB), the YPG International (YPG-I) battalion, and the United Freedom Forces (BÖG). Taken together, these volunteers come from at least 15 countries and represent at least nine parties.
Apart from the ongoing, attempted, living implementation of social ecology/ecosocialist principles, the most exciting development is the diversity of revolutionary left groups extending their support and solidarity. While their analyses are diverse (including Marxism-Leninism, Hoxhaism, Maoism, anarchist-communism/Platformism, communalism, and social ecology, among others) each one arrived at the need to support this revolutionary cause. Together, they are paving the way for a broad, revolutionary movement of international solidarity and federation, united on principles of anti-capitalism, ecosocialism, feminism, and equality.
Known parties and organizations on the ground in support of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, via the three battalions above, include:
|Marxist-Leninist Communist Party||MLKP||Turkey||Hoxhaist|
|Communist Party of Turkey/|
|Communist Labour Party of Turkey/|
|Revolutionary Union for Internationalist|
|Bob Crow Brigade||BCB||UK/|
|Henri Krasucki Brigade||—||France||Anarchist,|
|Revolutionary Communard Party||DKP||Turkey||Socialist|
|People Liberation Party-Front|
Armed Propaganda Unit
|Social Insurrection (Sosyal İsyan)||Sİ||Turkey||Platformist|
That a range of groups from many backgrounds, nations, and radical left perspectives can unite behind the potential of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria is itself an exciting development.
The case of Syria today is a litmus test for the left: progressive forces standing unwaveringly on the side of the working, poor, and oppressed, seriously committed to the work of building a broad, international, revolutionary movement rooted in local struggle on the one hand; and dogmatic forces simply concerned with abstract nation-building and blanket anti-Americanism on the other.
The DFNS, with its anti-capitalist, feminist, ecological, egalitarian principles and attempted, living praxis (under war-time conditions) is one of the most promising and inspiring current world events, having a dual effect: It exposes the differences between progressive and conservative forces within the left. Simultaneously, it provides a point of intersection for many tendencies to create a broad, international, revolutionary movement of “unity-in-diversity,” capable of action proportionate to the scale of ecological, capitalistic destruction.