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Class War 03/2016: IRAQ 1991 – Class war and bourgeois containment
It was a quarter of a century ago, on March 7th, 1991, when the proletarian uprising in Iraq against war showed to the world proletariat the only way forward to eliminate wars forever. As always, on the other side of the social barricade, all the global forces of Capital acted as one body to liquidate the autonomy of our class.
It was a quarter of a century ago, on March 7th, 1991, when the proletarian uprising in Iraq against war showed to the world proletariat the only way forward to eliminate wars forever. As always, on the other side of the social barricade, all the global forces of Capital acted as one body to liquidate the autonomy of our class. Today, twenty-five years later, the war continues to rage in the region (Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan, etc.), and more than ever all the bourgeois and state forces which are allied to a greater or lesser degree (Turkey, Iran, Gulf monarchies , USA, Russia, European Union, Islamic state, nationalist organizations…) are mobilized to crush our class, either directly and very prosaically under a shower of bombs, or more indirectly while reducing its struggle against misery and exploitation to an umpteenth reform of the capitalist social relations.
On the occasion of this anniversary we republish two texts which look back to the extraordinary struggles that set Iraq on fire and put an end to the so-called “Gulf War”. The text “Ten days that shook Iraq” has been published in 1991 and represented then one of the first sources of information in English on the uprisings in southern Iraq and Kurdistan. It was later published in the magazine of the defunct group Wildcat. The second text “Additional notes on the insurrection of March 1991 in Iraq”, published by the Internationalist Communist Group (ICG), tries to draw some lessons from these struggles. By the way we recommend the reading of the countless texts published by the ICG before, as well as during and after the “Gulf War”, texts which contain and reveal the whole richness of the class struggles in the region.
We especially insist on the lessons drawn from the insurrection in Sulaymaniyah. What was at stake, as always, was how to develop the revolution in all aspects of social life once this insurrection had been accomplished, and how to avoid the confiscation of the social revolution by its transformation into a simple political “revolution”, a simple change of government. What happened in Iraq does not only show the reality of the contradiction capitalism vs. communism, but also its future. Capitalist inhumanity is developing everywhere. Everywhere war presents itself as an alternative to the current capitalist crisis. And everywhere a communist response to the permanent dictatorship of capitalist social relations will inevitably emerge and develop.
Let’s point out that these struggles in Iraq in 1991, in the north as well as in the south, have immedi-ately been referred to by all means of propaganda of the capitalist state, including its important Social Democratic sector, as nationalist struggles (Kurdish) and religious ones (Shiites). There is nothing new in this process of negation… Indeed many of the struggles of the exploited were historically, still are nowadays and will continue to be easily labelled as being “national liberation struggles” or struggle “for reforms” not on basis of the deep breeding ground that nourishes them (the struggle against misery and exploitation, against repression), but rather on basis of capacity of certain bourgeois factions to exploit them for their own ends, to contain the weaknesses and the lack of perspective of these struggles, as well as their isolation, in order to bring them back in the framework of a reform of the mode of production and exploitation, through here for example “the liberation of the people and the nation”.
Yesterday in Iraq as in the current struggle in Syria or in Rojava, once again, we want to emphasize the denunciation of idolaters who mistake social revolution, destruction of private property and economy, anti-capitalist and anti-state struggle (even at a minority and embryonic level) on one hand, and on the other the bunch of Social Democrats, reformers of the old world who repaint red (and black) the vile and revolting exploitation of our class and who pretend thus to act as revolutionaries whereas they are only emptying our struggle of its subversive substance in order to better take over leadership of it.
For our part, we continue to denounce the unconditional support given by the international leftism (including important sectors of “anarchism” as well as all the Marxist-Leninist chapels that stand on the same line) to reformist groups, organizations, structures they brazenly and falsely present as being revolutionary, anti-state and anti-capitalist. We can only display our deep contempt to all these charlatans of class struggle and their countless impostures. But we also address all our militant solidarity to proletarians in struggle against the current, in Rojava particularly, in Kurdistan and in Middle East generally, and everywhere else in this disgusting world of exploitation. We wish also to develop the communist critique together with them. Because we know that behind sociological analyses and political labels our enemies are sticking on our struggles, it’s still and ever class struggle, class war that is materializing.
# Class War – March 2016 #
# # #
Ten days that shook Iraq
(Wildcat – 1991)
The Gulf war was not ended by the military victory of America and the Allies. It was ended by the mass desertion of thousands of Iraqi soldiers. So overwhelming was the refusal to fight for the Iraqi state on the part of its conscripted army that, contrary to all predictions, not one Allied soldier was killed by hostile fire in the final ground offensive to recapture Kuwait. Indeed the sheer scale of this mutiny is perhaps unprecedented in modern military history.
But these mutinous troops did not simply flee back to Iraq. On their return many of them turned their guns against the Iraqi state, sparking a simultaneous uprising in both Southern Iraq and in Kur-distan to the North. Only the central region of Iraq surrounding Baghdad remained firmly in the state’s hands in the weeks following the end of the war.
From the very start the Western media has grossly misrepresented these uprisings. The uprising in the South, centred on Basra, was portrayed as a Shia Muslim revolt. Whereas the insurrection in the North was reported as an exclusively Kurdish Nationalist uprising which demanded little more than an autonomous Kurdish region within Iraq.
The truth is that the uprisings in both the North and South of Iraq were proletarian insurrections.
Basra is one of the most secular areas in the Middle East. Almost no one goes to the mosques in Basra. The radical traditions in this area are not those of Islamic fundamentalism but rather those of Arab Nationalism and Stalinism. The Iraqi Communist Party is the only bourgeois party with any sig-nificant influence in this region. The cities of Basra, Nasriah and Hilah have long been known as the region of the Communist Party and have a long history of open rebellion against both religion and the state. The “Iraqi” working class has always been one of the most troublesome in a volatile region.
In the North, there is little sympathy for the Nationalist parties – the KDP and the PUK – and their peshmergas (guerrilla movements) due to the repeated failure of their compromises with the Iraqi state. This is particularly true in the Sulaimania area. The inhabitants of the area have been especially hostile to the Nationalists since the Halabja massacre. Following the chemical attack by the Iraqi air force against deserters and civilians in the city of Halabja in 1988, the peshmergas initially prevented people from fleeing and then went on to pillage and rape those who survived the massacre. As a result, many villagers have long since refused to feed or shelter nationalist peshmergas. As in the South, the Communist Party and its peshmergas are more popular.
The uprising in the North was not nationalist. In the early stages Ba’athist officials and secret police were executed, police files were destroyed and the prisons stormed. People were openly hostile to the bourgeois policies of the Kurdish Nationalists. In Sulaimania the Nationalist peshmergas were excluded from the city and the exiled leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, was prevented from returning to his home town. When the Kurdish Democratic Party leader, Massoud Barzani, went to Chamcharnal, near to Sulaimania, he was attacked and two of his bodyguards were killed. When the Nationalists broadcast the slogan: “Now’s the time to kill the Ba’athists!” the people of Sulaimania replied with the slogan: “Now’s the time for the Nationalists to loot Porsches!”, meaning that the Nationalists were only interested in looting.
A revolutionary group, “Communist Perspective”, played a major role in the insurrection. In their publication, “Proletariat”, they advocated the setting up of workers’ councils. This provoked fear and anger among the Nationalists, as well as the Communist Party and its splinter groups.
Faced with these proletarian uprisings the various bourgeois interests in the region had to suspend hostilities and unite to suppress them. It is well known that the West, led by the USA, have long backed Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. They supported him in the war against Iran.
In supporting Saddam the Western ruling class also recognised that the Ba’athist Party, as a mass based fascist party, was the only force in Iraq capable and ruthless enough to repress the oil producing proletariat.
However, Saddam’s ultimate strategy for maintaining social peace in Iraq was for a permanent war drive and militarisation of society. But such a strategy could only lead to further economic ruin and the intensification of class antagonisms. In the Spring of 1990 this contradiction was becoming bla-tant. The Iraqi economy was shattered after eight years of war with Iran. Oil production, the main source of hard currency, was restricted while oil prices were relatively low. The only options for redeeming wartime promises of prosperity in peace were a rise in the price of oil or more war. The former choice was blocked by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Saddam’s bold leap to resolve this impasse was to annex Kuwait and its rich oil fields.
This gave America the opportunity to reassert its political hegemony, not only in the Middle East, but also in the world as a whole. With the hope of exorcising the specter of Vietnam, the Bush regime prepared for all-out war. The Bush administration hoped for a quick and decisive victory that would evict Iraq from Kuwait but at the same time leave the Iraqi regime intact. However, to mobilise the home front for war, Bush had to equate Saddam with Hitler and so became increasingly committed publicly to toppling the Iraqi leader.
With this commitment the American government now sought to impose such a military defeat on the Ba’athist Party would be obliged to replace Saddam with someone else. Indeed the Bush regime openly invited the ruling circles in Iraq to replace Saddam Hussein with the approach of the ground war in March. However, the mass desertion of Iraqi conscripts and the subsequent uprisings in Iraq robbed the American government of such a convenient victory. Instead they faced the prospect of the uprising turning into a full scale proletarian revolution, with all the dire consequences this would have for the accumulation of capital in the Middle East.
The last thing the American government wanted was to be drawn into a prolonged military occupa-tion of Iraq in order to suppress the uprisings. It was far more efficient to back the existing state. But there was no time to insist on the removal of Saddam Hussein. They could ill afford the disruption this would cause. Hence, almost overnight, Bush’s hostility to the butcher of Baghdad evaporated. The two rival butchers went into partnership.
Their first task was to crush the uprising in the South which was being swelled by the huge columns of deserters streaming north from Kuwait. Even though these fleeing Iraqi conscripts posed no military threat to Allied troops, or to the objective of “liberating” Kuwait, the war was prolonged long enough for them to be carpet bombed on the road to Basra by the RAF and the USAF. This cold blooded massacre served no other purpose than to preserve the Iraqi state from mutinous armed deserters.
Following this massacre the Allied ground forces, having swept through southern Iraq to encircle Kuwait, stopped short of Basra and gave free rein to the Republican Guards – the elite troops loyal to the Iraqi regime – to crush the insurgents. All proposals to inflict a decisive defeat on the Republican Guards or to proceed towards Baghdad to topple Saddam were quickly forgotten. In the ceasefire negotiations the Allied forces insisted on the grounding of all fixed wing aircraft but the use of helicopters vital for counter-insurgency was permitted for “administrative purposes”. This “concession” proved important once the uprising in the South was put down and the Iraqi state’s attention turned to the advancing insurrection in the North.
Whereas the uprising in the Basra region was crushed almost as it began, the Northern uprising had more time to develop. It began in Raniah and spread to Sulaimania and Kut and at its height threat-ened to spread beyond Kurdistan to the capital. The original aim of the uprising was expressed in the slogan: “We will celebrate our New Year with the Arabs in Baghdad!” The defeat of this rebellion owed as much to the Kurdish Nationalists as to the Western powers and the Iraqi state.
Like all nationalist movements the Kurdish Nationalists defend the interests of the propertied classes against the working class. Most Kurdish Nationalist leaders come from very rich families. For example, Talabani comes from a dynasty originally set up by the British and his parents own luxury hotels in England. The KDP was set up by rich exiles driven out of Kurdistan by the mass working class uprisings of 1958 when hundreds of landowners and capitalist were strung up. As a result of these disturbing events a meeting of exiled bourgeois in Razaeia, Iran, organised nationalist death squads to kill class struggle militants in Iraqi Kurdistan. Later they carried out racist murders of Arabs. During the Iraq-Iran war very few deserters joined the nationalists and the PUK received an amnesty from the Iraqi state in return for repressing deserters.
These Kurdish Nationalists, like the international bourgeoisie, recognised the importance of a strong Iraqi state in order to maintain capital accumulation against a militant working class. So much so, in fact, that they merely demanded that Iraqi Kurdistan be granted the status of an autonomous region within a united Iraq.
In the uprising they did their best to defend the Iraqi state. They actively intervened to prevent the destruction of police files and state property, including military bases. The Nationalists stopped Arab deserters from joining the “Kurdish” uprising, disarmed them, and sent them back to Baghdad to be arrested. They did all they could to prevent the uprising from spreading beyond the “borders” of Kurdistan which was its only hope of success. When the Iraqi state began to turn its attention to the uprising in Kurdistan the Kurdish Nationalists’ radio broadcasts did not encourage or co-ordinate resistance but instead exaggerated the threat posed by the demoralised Iraqi troops still loyal to the government and advised people to flee to the mountains. Which they eventually did. None of this is any surprise if we examine their history.
Although, as we have seen, there was much hostility towards the Kurdish Nationalists, they were able to gain control and bring to a halt the insurrection in Kurdistan because of their organisation and greater material resources. Having been long backed by the West – the KDP by the USA and the PUK by Britain – it was the Kurdish Nationalist parties that were able to control the supply of food and information. This was vital, since after years of deprivation, exacerbated by the war, the search for food was an overriding concern. Many individuals were mainly content with looting food, rather than with maintaining revolutionary organisation and the development of the insurrection. This weakness allowed the Nationalist organisations to step in with their ample supplies of food and well established radio stations.
The War in the Gulf was brought to an end by the refusal of the Iraqi working class to fight and by the subsequent uprisings in Iraq. But such proletarian actions were crushed by the combined efforts of the various international and national bourgeois forces. Once again, nationalism has served as the stumbling block for proletarian insurrection. While it is important to stress that Middle East politics is not dominated by Islamic fundamentalism and Arab Nationalism, as it is usually portrayed in the bourgeois press, but rests on class conflict, it must be said that the immediate prospects for the development of working class struggle in Iraq are now bleak.
The war not only resulted in the defeat of the Iraqi working class but also revealed the state of defeat of the working class in the USA, and, to a lesser degree, Europe. The western anti-war movement never developed into a mass working class opposition to the war. It remained dominated by a pacifist orientation that “opposed” the war in terms of an alternative national interest: “Peace is Patriotic”. While it expressed abhorrence of the Allies’ holocaust it opposed doing anything to stop it that might bring it into confrontation with the state. Instead it concentrated on futile symbolic protest that simply fostered the sense of helplessness in the face of the state’s war machine.
Following the defeat of the insurrection, the Western media’s misrepresentation continued. The proletariat was represented as helpless victims, ripe for patronising by the charities, grateful for the spectacles of pop stars flogging the Live Aid horse once more. For those that remembered the uprising a “Let It Be… Kurdistan” t-shirt was the obvious answer. Whilst the uprising was defeated we cannot allow its aims and the manner of its defeat to be distorted without challenge hence this text.
The failure of the working class to recognise its own class interests as distinct from the “national interest” and sabotage the war effort can only serve to deepen the divisions amongst our international class along national lines. Our rulers will now be that much more confident of conducting murderous wars unopposed elsewhere in the world, a confidence they have lacked since the working class ended the Vietnam war by mutinies, desertion, strikes and riots.
Opposition to the war in Iraq
There has been a long tradition of class struggle in Iraq, particularly since the revolution in 1958. With Saddam’s strategy of a permanent war drive to maintain social peace this struggle has often taken the form of mass desertion from the army. During the Iraq-Iran war tens of thousands of soldiers deserted the army. This swelled the mass working class opposition to the war. With the unreliability of the army it became increasingly difficult for the Iraqi state to put down such working class rebellions. It was for this reason that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the town of Halabja in 1988.
Following the invasion of Kuwait there were many demonstrations against its continued occupation. Even the ruling Ba’athist Party was obliged to organise such demonstrations under the slogan: “No to Kuwait: We only want Saddam and Iraq!” in order to head off anti-war feeling. With the dramatic rise in the price of necessities – food prices alone rising to twenty times their pre-invasion levels – there was little enthusiasm for war. The common attitude throughout Iraq was one of defeatism.
Despite a 200% pay rise desertion from the army became common. In the city of Sulaimania alone there were an estimated 30,000 deserters. In Kut there were 20,000. So overwhelming was the desertion that it became relatively easy for soldiers to bribe their way out of the army by giving money to their officers. But these working class conscripts did not merely desert, they organised. In Kut thousands marched on the local police station and forced the police to concede an end to the harassment of deserters.
Two days after the beginning of the war anti-war riots broke out in Raniah and later in Sulaimania.
# # #
Additional notes on the insurrection of March 1991 in Iraq
(Internationalist Communist Group – 1996)
Some notes on the shoras: proletarian associationism and bourgeois recuperation
The shoras in Iraq, like all types of elementary regroupment of the proletariat, are a necessary form of the process of centralisation of the proletariat’s force. They suffer from all the contradictions that our class contains within itself as a class and as a force antagonistic to capital yet dominated ideologically by the bourgeoisie. Take, for example, the Soviets in Russia. In 1905 as in 1917, they constituted structures of proletarian struggle contributing to the insurrection without making, either in 1905 or twelve years later, the necessary ruptures from the terrain of bourgeois democratic socialism and without making themselves independent of the political organisations which led them. This assured that, in the end, they were completely recuperated by the capitalist and democratic organisation of the State, under the reign of Leninism and post-Leninism. Apologists for the Soviets always forget, as if by magic, that the Congress of Soviets approved and implemented every level of Stalin’s policies. The same thing happened in Germany with the workers’ councils between 1918 and 1921. Having effectively emerged as structures of struggle outside and against the unions, the councils ended up no less dominated by bourgeois democracy, incarnated in various social democratic forces and transformed themselves into structures for the organisation of the bourgeois State against the proletariat.
In Iraq as well (just as in Iran between 1979 and 1982) the shoras, rising out of the flames of the struggle, contained enormous contradictions, the class oppositions between revolution and counter-revolution being defined within them. This is why, contrary to the councilists and the sovietists who make an uncritical apology of the shoras, we have tried, in this process, to seize upon the strengths and weaknesses of the proletariat by supporting and acting openly to assert the revolutionary pole.
As we can see from their slogans and flags, the shoras concentrated the same type of strengths and weaknesses as the councils, the soviets and other proletarian organisations characteristic of insurrectionary moments. Side by side with democratic, nationalist and even openly conservative demands, are slogans expressing the combativity, strength and class determination of workers in struggle.
The shoras were structured within and for the struggle. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that they appeared in a spontaneous manner, as is always claimed by the adherents of spontaneism and councilism. Historic spontaneous necessity, as in the case of the Russian soviets or the councils in other countries, always concretises itself in the real flesh and blood men and women who organise these structures in a conscious and deliberate way. As we will show later, the appearance of the shoras was preceded by a “league” or committee formed from a insurrectionist minority organised to prepare for insurrection.
Some elements of the revolutionary conspiracy and the insurrection in Sulaymaniyah
While proletarians prepared themselves, armed themselves, in the various districts of Sulaymaniyah, a collection of militants who had regrouped prior to the open struggle in a “League for an Insurrectionary Uprising” called for the creation of shoras in neighbourhoods and factories. A real committee of insurrection was thus constituted, thanks to which a unified decision was able to be made to unleash the insurrection at a precise moment. The committee was composed of a collection of existing political organisations as well as independent militants. It planned the outbreak of the insurrection simultaneously in 53 nerve centres of the town (key crossroads, buildings and central points of neighbourhoods) which afterwards became the basis of the shoras. At that time, the nationalists did not participate as such in the committee and did not flaunt themselves in any of the centres of the insurrectionary neighbourhoods.
Only a minority of proletarians was armed and organised, and that is why the committee launched a set of appeals and directives to seize arms where they could be found. At the same time, a collection of revolutionary organisations assumed the indispensable role of arming themselves and arming the proletariat. “Communist Perspective”, for example, gave themselves the task of distributing grenades, guns and ammunition at key points as well as arming some members of the committee. Other groups, such as the “Communist Action Group” (CAG), who participated in the committee as well as in various local structures and in the shoras, gave themselves the task of expropriating the clan chiefs of their houses and their armed centres so as to seize arms and to arm the proletariat. Without this preliminary conspiratorial action of the organised avant-garde, it would not have been possible to win the insurrectional battle of March 1991 in Sulaymaniyah.
This is what a comrade told us:
“The proletariat searched desperately for arms but only the communist, Marxist forces armed the proletariat and decided on insurrection. The nationalists did not participate. As for us, we organised ourselves into groups to attack the houses of the clan chiefs. In general each detachment only had one bazooka and some light weapons. The attack began with the bazooka and we tried to seize the stockpiles of arms as quickly as possible. We had made an inventory quite a long time beforehand and that’s how we knew where to look for arms. Another important aspect of the preparation carried out by revolutionary groups had been to make a collection of field ‘hospitals’ available to the insurrection for tending to the wounded.”
Despite all that, the organisation and arming remained insufficient, which, in certain cases, was paid for on the part of the proletariat by deaths and injuries and by partial defeats.
Another comrade gave us his version:
“I only realised that preparations were being made for insurrectional action two days beforehand, when a revolutionary comrade gave me various precise instructions: I had to go to a particular place between 7 and 8 am, armed as best I could be. When I arrived at the gathering there were only seven of us. At that moment I told myself that we could not win. Later on, I heard that the majority of the committee had launched the insurrection also thinking that it would not be able to triumph but that in any case it would be an important step forward in the struggle and the autonomy of the proletariat. A moment later, two comrades from ‘Rawti’ (‘Communist Perspective’) appeared, calling on us to gather together for the insurrection. They distributed some grenades. Together we went around the nearby streets calling for struggle and in an instant we had gathered together some 50 or 60 people. It was at that time that two well-armed peshmergas arrived. The insurgents appealed to them and shouted out to them to join us in the movement but they didn’t . Despite being a small group and completely inferior from the point of view of weapons, we attacked the local barracks, but it was too well protected. We fled, were repulsed and then pursued. Our comrade Bakery Kassab, a militant of Communist Perspective, died during this attack. We dispersed in a completely disorderly manner and ran as fast as we could. The enemy, better armed, chased us and we were surrounded until we arrived on the main street. As soon as we got there, a great surprise awaited us: the insurrection had gained ground and now it was the Ba’athists who were retreating.”
These facts, along with so many others that various comrades and organisations of struggle have reported, enable us to assert that despite the existence of this insurrectional committee, initially the driving force behind, then centraliser, of the shora structures, real centralisation remained very relative. There were enormously chaotic aspects to it and many proletarian fighters went out into the streets with whatever they had to hand, without any structure of centralisation apart from what they “spontaneously” encountered in the street, without any instructions apart from that a friend had told them to go to such and such a place. Detachments of armed proletarians formed themselves very rapidly to carry out some action then dispersed again: often comrades on the same side of the barricades who had not known each other previously forged strong links and, after the insurrection, went on to a structure of political organisation. It is precisely the existence of all those heterogeneous action groups participating in different actions which prevents a global understanding of the movement: there are no two protagonists who have experienced the same situation and even less who have perceived it politically in the same way. Thus for example, certain versions strongly stress the operational autonomy of little groups centralised by different combative structures (Communist Perspective, GAC…) as a decisive element of the insurrection, and others insist more on the strength of some 30,000 proletarians (only a few of whom had a weapon) who responded to a call from a shora and gathered in their “headquarters”, the Awat school. According to the latter, the assembly was to prove decisive in dynamising the whole process because they went on from there to win important battles. To give an idea of the consciousness which drove these proletarians (as much in its strength as in its weakness) here are a few of the slogans which predominated in the assemblies:
“Class consciousness is the weapon of freedom!”
“Here are our headquarters, the rank and file of the workers’ councils!”
“Make the shoras your base for long term struggle!”
“Form your own councils!”
“Bring expropriated food and goods, we will distribute them here!”
“Exploited people, revolutionaries, let’s give our blood for the success of the revolution! Carry on! Don’t squander it!”
Despite the contradictions, the insurrection went on to impose itself, the repressive forces suffering numerous losses in several confrontations. Often they were liquidated in their own homes. In an attempt to save their own skins, the enemy concentrated themselves in the famous “red building” and the surrounding barracks, and it was there that an immense battle raged with numerous losses on both sides. The insurgents attacked without any unified plan, firing in all directions, wounding and killing numerous fighters in their own ranks (ours!).
The security forces were well aware that to surrender would mean death. They also had everything to play for, knowing perfectly well that, despite being armed to the teeth, their task would be diffi-cult. Up until the last moment they remained in permanent communication with Baghdad which promised the imminent arrival of reinforcements. Profiting from the terrible lack of weapons on the side of the insurgent proletariat, the soldiers threw guns from the windows of the red building. Hundreds and hundreds of proletarians threw themselves forward to grab them, thus making themselves easy targets for the shots of well-armed and well-positioned troops. This increased the number of victims on the side of the insurrection even further .
However, the rage and determination of the proletariat was so great that finally resistance was crushed and it took over the whole town. Step by step, the “red building”, all the barracks and the houses in the military quarter were conquered. On the facades of buildings the marks and holes left by bullets bear testimony to the class war. Soldiers surviving the attack were taken out one by one and judged. Today some comrades estimate a figure of 600 soldiers shot, others say 2,000, but without doubt they are including executions which took place over those days across the whole of the town.
It is important to understand that it is at the heart of the action, in these very moments when proletarians are carrying out exemplary acts, that the struggle for the autonomy of the movement is played out. In effect, despite the fact that during all this time the nationalists did not participate in the process in an organised manner, the insurgents could not do without them, even less confront them openly as demanded by the revolutionary internationalist nuclei of the region. Thus, the fact that certain proletarian fighters went and consulted the bosses of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the mountains about what they should do with captured soldiers and torturers, clearly reflects and expresses the contradictions of the movement and the ambivalence of the shoras. Noshirwan, the military chief of the PUK, insisted that the enemy should not be executed, arguing that “we can use them later” (!?!). Similar events took place subsequently, illustrating the ambivalence of some of the shoras. The proletariat’s lack of confidence in itself incited it to ask its worst enemies to take decisions and to direct operations. Several sectors of the proletariat, unaware of their own strength, looked to the official opposition because to them it seemed serious and effective. Other members of the shoras adopted the exact opposite position: they wanted to kill the soldiers and drag their bodies through the streets so that everyone will know “the kind of torture that these bloodthirsty monsters are capable of inflicting on proletarians”. Finally, except for certain torturers famous for their cruelty who were torn to pieces by the insurgents, pure and simple liquidation imposed itself, but not without problems and stormy discussions on the subject of who deserved to die. In effect, as in many other towns in Kurdistan, the Ba’athist repressive forces had lived concentrated in their districts: they had tortured there, killed there… and, just a few yards away, the torturers’ families slept, ate and lived. They were so hated that they couldn’t live elsewhere. What’s more, the majority of families of the torturers (particularly the women) participated in the tortures. The buildings (the central block, the interrogation rooms, the family houses, the torture centres) were laid out in such a way that it is difficult to imagine that anyone could live there without participating in some way or another in the torture and murder of prisoners. When proletarians took over these places, they didn’t waste time discussing or judging, the class hatred was such that some groups executed all those that they found inside without any criteria apart from the physical barrier. But, in the majority of cases, more class criteria were imposed. Thus, in Sulaymaniyah, children and some women who had not participated in tortures and executions of prisoners were spared. They were allowed to leave the building before the massive execution of military torturers and their family accomplices.
The insurrection spread itself like a lighted gunpowder trail, with similar uprisings breaking out in other towns being equally successful. In Irbil, 42 shoras were created and, in only three hours of fighting, armed proletarians became masters of the situation. Then came Kalar, Koya, Shaqlawa, Akra, Duhok, Zakho… The barracks close to the towns, like the enormous military installations of Sulaymaniyah, strategic centre of the whole region, were surrounded by deserters and other armed proletarians. The central forces succeeded in saving a few army officers by taking them away in helicopters. The rest, the mass of soldiers, surrendered without a fight and the majority passed over to the side of the insurrection.
The limits of proletarian activity and the counter-revolutionary activity of the nationalists
If the level of consciousness, organisation and centralisation of the proletariat was sufficient to bring about the triumph of the insurrection, the same was not the case when it came to assuming the essence of revolution, knowing how to organise everyday life and to impose itself dictatorially against capital in places where it had triumphed. As in other historic circumstances in which the constitution of the proletariat into a party is insufficient and not well centralised in a communist direction, in Kurdistan, bourgeois forces took over the leadership of the action, liquidating the autonomy of the proletariat and ended up by expropriating the revolution so as to transform it into a bourgeois “revolution” (an exclusively political “revolution”), or rather, into an anti-revolution, a face-lift for the State facade, a changing of the fractions in power in order to preserve the essence of the system of exploitation.
The nationalists only began to participate actively in the direct action with an effective presence on the streets two or three days after the victory of the insurrection. Their first acts consisted of taking money from the banks and seizing military vehicles, occupying buildings and other properties aban-doned by the government, which proletarians had taken and then also abandoned . This abandon-ment of premises, of heavy artillery, of vehicles… showed that, although capable of fighting against an enemy, the proletariat did still not have the strength to fight for itself, to take over the direction of the revolution which it had started. To put it another way, our class expressed its conception of revolution: a purely negative negation of today’s world, a simple rejection, a simple negation, with-out asserting that the revolutionary negation of this world contains a positive negation. The proletariat has the force to expropriate but not the force to reappropriate what it has expropriated nor to transform it in a revolutionary way towards its universal revolutionary objectives. As in Russia in 1917, politicism constitutes a dominant ideology even amongst the most committed proletarians. They know what to do against the Ba’athists but when it is a question of socially confronting capital, they are lost. This general limitation results from a confusion (widespread in our class) which systematically amalgamates the State and the Ba’athists, the struggle against capital and the struggle against the government. This generalised confusion that communist and internationalist fractions did not have the force to liquidate was preciously maintained and developed by the nationalists. It is still very useful to them today.
Once the nerve centres of the town had been occupied, the heavy artillery and the military vehicles controlled by the nationalists, the rest was just a matter of time. Over a few days (between the 7 and 20 March) the nationalists, who up until then had hardly been present and had “followed” the masses, progressively took control of the situation. The revolutionary groups and the most active proletarians were incapable of giving and taking-on clear military directives. They did not know what to do with the barracks, tanks and military vehicles. They made do with arming themselves with ammunition and light weapons and, at the best, burning vehicles to prevent the nationalists from taking them. Not only did they fail to give themselves the means of controlling the production and distribution of the necessities of life, but they didn’t even stock up with the indispensable minimum of food, medicines, means of propaganda etc.
On their arrival in the town the nationalists appealed for the dissolution of the shoras, but did not obtain any result. Later, from a position of strength, after taking the strategic points, they made use of the much more effective method of negotiation and wearing down the proletariat. Although, as we saw earlier, there were shoras dominated or strongly influenced by democratic and nationalist positions, the Central organ of the shoras, despite the participation of bourgeois parties and organi-sations, defined itself as being “for communism”, for “the abolition of wage labour” and came out openly against the nationalists.
Little by little, as they structured their effective power over the town with the support and blessing of the intervention forces of the world bourgeoisie, the nationalists, who had still not succeeded in destroying the shoras, attempted to take them over by integrating their militants in them and imposing their own bourgeois leadership. It was at that time that a collection of shoras which were nationalist, social-democratic, populist and partisans of the great popular front against Saddam Hussein appeared for the first time.
At the same time, the nationalists, wanting to shatter the force expressed by the Central shora, proposed negotiations which were to lead it to the tragedy of all assemblist-democratic functioning and place it in the position of being incapable of adopting a single revolutionary direction. The Central was divided: on one side, there were those who considered the nationalists as enemies and who were opposed to all negotiation; on the other, those who accepted negotiation and who concentrated a collection of confusion and inconsistencies on the question of nationalism, embracing the ideology of a great anti-Ba’athist popular front.
It is clear that the problem is not whether to negotiate or not. However, the acceptance of negotia-tion with the nationalists against the Ba’athists in such circumstances contains, as an implicit and undeniable presupposition, the ideology of the lesser evil and, ultimately, frontism. In fact “realism” triumphed, leading to the bulk of the movement renouncing its own interests. From the moment when negotiation was accepted, two decisive elements in the liquidation of the autonomy and interests of the proletariat imposed themselves. Firstly, the fact of considering Saddam as the main enemy and Kirkuk as an essential objective and, secondly, the necessity for order against chaos.
As the proletariat had been unable to impose its law, proletarian resistance and even expropriations necessary for survival came to be considered as a form of chaos, such that the nationalists were able to present themselves (and were perceived) as the only guarantee of the maintenance of order. Immediately the peshmergas began to enforce respect for capitalist order and bourgeois property. They arrested proletarians who “stole” a sack of rice to eat, and, discreetly, disarmed isolated proletarians (at that time the peshmergas had neither the strength nor the courage to interfere with internationalist groups).
Here we must make an important digression on the subject of the war to take Kirkuk. From the start of the insurrection in Sulaymaniyah, the nationalists penetrated in force the Central shora, not merely submitting to it, but formally taking over its leadership, obviously using the proletarians who placed themselves under their orders as cannon fodder. Working on the basis that, for proletarians, the extension of the revolt and solidarity with the recently formed shoras in Kirkuk was a logical objective, the nationalists pursued a completely different aim. It was a question partly of submitting the proletariat to a structured war, attacking the Ba’athist positions in a town where they were the best prepared military force, and partly a question of taking a strategic role in imperialist war, by occupying this petroleum centre of prime importance, something which would augment their power of negotiation nationally and internationally. For us this constituted a key moment in the transformation of the class war into imperialist war. From the taking of Kirkuk the nationalists negotiated openly with the Ba’athists under the benevolent eye of the Coalition forces. For the first time they were recognised as a credible force, not just because they territorially controlled a capitalist centre as important as Kirkuk, but also because, for the first time, they appeared capable of contesting the proletariat’s control of the situation in the insurgent towns, thus to be an effective fraction of international bourgeois order, capable of controlling the proletariat, the central preoccupation of the Coalition at the end of the war.
Of course, some shoras, like those of “Communist Perspective” and others in which the presence of internationalist militants was important, tried to participate in the action in a autonomous way, but the nationalists rapidly gained the upper hand. Taking over everything, it was they who held the money, the meeting halls, the indispensable heavy weapons, the medicines and other equipment for treating the wounded, and therefore the material force to impose their orders. Many internationalist comrades reproached “Communist Perspective” and other groups for not having completely broken with the shoras at that moment and for having continued to participate in the committee. It was a key moment in which the programmatical weaknesses of the avant-garde groups of the region were borne out. As some of them were to recognise subsequently, it was not enough to define Kurdish nationalism and the Shi’ite muslim movement as bourgeois social movements, it was also necessary to correctly evaluate the possibility of these forces imposing themselves. It was as indispensable to confront them in daily practical activity as it was the Ba’athists.
The present situation and perspectives: New inter-bourgeois wars in the region and the tasks of the internationalist proletariat
All the information which has come out of Iraq in 1995/1996/1997/… indicates that the material, social and political situation of the proletariat continues to worsen. Growing poverty, isolation, re-pression, permanent military mobilisation, armed struggle between bourgeois fractions, forced recruitment and all the rest. Survival is a matter of chance and everyone is subjected to permanent danger. Every day proletarians are killed by stray bullets or in confrontations between bourgeois fractions. To survive you sell your furniture, your crockery, everything you have. The problem is that there are no buyers. What’s more, it is not unusual for the peshmergas responsible for maintaining order to want one of the objects on sale and to have the seller thrown in prison so as to confiscate it legally.
In Kurdistan the situation is hellish: lack of food, shortage of water, a violent deterioration in the level of hygiene. The fear of looting has unleashed open warfare between bourgeois fractions, between nationalists and between some fractions of the PUK and the islamists.
The conflicts between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are at such an explosive point that Kurdistan is actually divided into two regions which are on a war footing. For the first time in history the two regions have become an arena of political rivalry. The development of regionalism, as everywhere, constitutes a force for the disorganisation of proletarian struggle. So today, on one side there is Soran with Sulaymaniyah as its “capital”, controlled by the PUK (Talabani) and on the other, Badinan (region of origin of Barzani’s family) where Zakho and Duhok are under the control of the KDP. Arbil is the only town which is under the simultaneous and contradictory control of the two bourgeois forces, also constituting a border between the two regions.
The inter-bourgeois struggle takes on very violent forms. The two fractions of capital try to mobilise the proletariat into their service and to channel all class contradictions, which would normally de-velop against private property and the State, in its direction. One example: after the war, many inhabitants of Sulaymaniyah and other towns in the region departed for the countryside where they settled to build farms and cultivate the soil. This land belonged to big bourgeois families (in this case to Barzani’s KDP) who now want to take back the land and expel the occupants. But some decided to refuse to be expelled, organising and defending themselves, with guns at the ready. The fighting led to many deaths on both sides. The PUK, profiting from this situation, presented itself as the spokesman of the struggle against the KDP’s intended expulsions and, on this basis, contained (and/or tried to contain) this elementary struggle for survival by attempting to lead it onto the terrain of interfractional warfare. Nevertheless, the conflict created contradictions on both sides. For example, during the armed conflict, Talabani, who was in Holland at the time, did not dare to return to Kurdistan from fear of being done in, including by his own troops.
The route to Soran was blocked by the KDP for two months on the pretext of war. The direct consequence of this was that supplies stopped coming into the region, the shops emptied and people died of hunger. Movement between the two zones was difficult and dangerous because, despite the fact that the frontier had been officially opened a short while before, the situation remained so explosive that people from Soran no longer risked venturing into the Badinan region and vice versa. There were dozens of ceasefires and peace treaties but the confrontations didn’t stop. Officially, the number of deaths in these battles is estimated at 2,500. The various headquarters of the KDP in the Soran region were attacked and pillaged by the PUK and vice versa in Badinan.
Daily life turned into a nightmare: while skirmishes increased between the KDP and the PUK, prices tripled every three months. This hell pushed many people to enrol with the peshmergas so that they would be assured of food and money three or four times a month, as well as the authorisation to keep the arms in their possession, arms which, if they were not used against their own officers, enabled these peshmergas to defend their own lives.
For quite a while now, neither the KDP nor the PUK have been able to control their troops. They have become autonomous and are imposing the law of the jungle to survive: they have invented new taxes and indulge in all sorts of extortion in the name of their organisation without informing it. Thus, in Arbil, the peshmergas plundered the shops in broad daylight, which had nothing to do with the official policies of the KDP or the PUK. It has been a common practice and people have to defend their homes with guns at the ready.
Nevertheless, when elections were announced for March 1995, the two main bourgeois fractions in Kurdistan tried to reorganise their troops in the face of the enemy. At the same time, they tried to improve their relations with the Western bourgeoisie and competed for the support of the American State Department as well as various parts of the Western military apparatus. The two parties oscillated between aggressive and peaceful policies, depending on their respective capacity to control the proletariat and on the state of their relations with the forces of the world imperialist order. Thus, at one point, Barzani declared himself in favour of peace, of reuniting families, of respect for trade and of arriving at a compromise which would allow elections to be held and thus appeared to stand for Kurdish national reconciliation. Talabani, although even less able to control his own troops, undoubtedly appreciated the bourgeoisie’s incapacity of offering a viable alternative to proletarian struggle more clearly (a bourgeoisie who only saw the possibility for social peace in the repolarisation of the bourgeoisie and in war) and presented himself more as a partisan of a military solution, as much against Barzani as against the Ba’athists. He talked openly about a military offensive and of the occupation of Kirkuk. But, as we have said several times before, it is absurd to talk of one fraction of the bourgeoisie being more aggressive, more militarist or more imperialist than another. It is Capital that is militarist and aggressive and, generally, the fraction which is strongest on the military plain, obtains the best results on that terrain and makes the other fraction appear to be the most militarist (as happened in the “Second” World War). It is no great surprise that the fraction which made a qualitative leap in the hostilities found itself relatively isolated on the international plane and strategically rather weak in controlling its own forces and imposing its interests. (Despite various rumours that circulate to the effect that someone or other “is supported by the CIA”, it is difficult to know what the alliances and engagements actually are because they are shrouded in the greatest secrecy).
Local wars, blockades, hunger and state terrorism are the main perspectives that capitalism contin-ues to offer in the region. All fractions of the bourgeoisie, be they Islamists, Nationalists, Ba’athists or whatever, implored the population to respect the lorries filled with supplies coming from Turkey and crossing Kurdistan every day in the direction of Baghdad. There is nothing more logical than their getting together to deprive the proletariat of all property, including what is necessary for survival. But fortunately, there are always proletarians who stick two fingers up at such orders and confront sacrosanct Private Property. The following is a real and exemplary story which dates back to 1993. Not far from Sulaymaniyah, on a road which passes close to a remote district, several supply lorries had been attacked and pillaged. In an attempt to put a stop to these attacks, the authorities sent a number of delegations charged with renewing dialogue to stop the looting. One after the other, each attempt failed. Later the organised sectors who had carried out these expropriations took things a step further and declared that, from that day on, they would, for their subsistence, systematically seize one out of every three lorries. The nationalists from Sulaymaniyah sent one of their most popular leaders, who had distinguished himself in the struggle against the Ba’athists, his mission being to find a solution with the people of the district. When he presented himself there, surrounded by bodyguards, he was shot at. One of his guards lost his life, two others were wounded and the district continued to pillage one lorry in three to ensure its subsistence.
Attacks on lorries, taking supplies from depots, expropriations from shops and other forms of pillage, along with social explosions, attacks on local officials, the expropriation of humanitarian organisations, strikes and violent demos are still common currency today. There are also small armed bands all over the place who attack the property of the bourgeoisie in the region.
For groups of militants defined by internationalism, a period of splits, of the drawing up of balance sheets, of new convergences, of clarification etc, began quite a while ago, resulting in a permanent change which is impossible to summarise. The fusions which gave birth to the Workers’ Communist Party, for example, were made on the basis of important programmatical rejections by structures or fractions of organisations which, up until then, had converged and had been incapable of offering a revolutionary alternative to the imperialist war which was developing between the Kurdish nationalist fractions: their meeting places emptied and the militants of these groups dispersed.
Added to the ever greater difficulty of acting publicly, the permanent insecurity of travel, the breakdown of communications, is the need to draw a balance sheet and a self-critique of numerous errors. The most interesting revolutionary nuclei with the most internationalist perspectives have, in this phase, dedicated the best part of their strength to the formation and realisation of a balance sheet of struggle, theoretical discussion, as well assuming the difficult task of maintaining international contacts. It is clear that this process also conceals dispersion, isolation, discouragement and disorganisation. Many comrades are trying to leave the region (which is very difficult because those who have escaped the repressive forces of the nationalists in Kurdistan are not able to “disappear” in neighbouring countries: in Turkey and Iran being a “Kurd” is enough to be considered suspect and subversive by the police) but this has not prevented a handful of comrades from remaining in contact and ensuring that the ever important tasks of publishing manifestos and revolutionary tracts against war continue (especially the group “Proletarian Struggle”, ex-“Communist Action Group” as well as our ICG comrades on the spot). They have managed to make the theses and positions of our group known in the region, in Kurdish as well as Arabic, despite all the falsifications and provocations of which we have been the target .
Finally, it is indispensable to insist on the critical situation of internationalist comrades in the region. Critical because of poverty, the difficulty in doing any activity, of communicating, of resisting disar-mament, but also because of the difficulty in expressing, counter-current to the polarisations based on new inter-bourgeois wars, a revolutionary and internationalist solution.
It is these comrades themselves who call on us to act. We must take up internationalist action against our own bourgeoisie wherever we find ourselves. We must put the best of our effort into diffusing this extraordinary example of the proletariat in Kurdistan, disintegrating an army, killing soldiers, assassins and torturers. They are so determined to hide what happened in Iraq in March 1991, because the bourgeoisie of the whole world trembles with fright at the idea that it could hap-pen somewhere else.
Our task is to make the revolution develop everywhere so as to prevent the bourgeoisie from isolating the struggle to one country as they have in the past, so that quantitatively as well as qualitatively we will go further, and the proletariat of all countries will fight against its own bourgeoisie and destroy its strongholds, blow up police stations, open up the prisons, destroy the army and the police, execute the torturers and, above all, take the communist revolution in hand, seizing all power in society, all the means of production to destroy wage labour, commodities, social classes, the State… and finally, to wipe out this prison world of poverty, of misery, of war… to constitute a real WORLD HUMAN COMMUNITY.