The Kurds, part II: From Marxists to Center-Left Liberals

The CIA in its wisdom knew that defeating Communism on the cultural front would require a delicate touch. A subset of American and European intellectuals of the middle twentieth century were, if not Stalinists, at least sympathetic toward the utopian, Marxist goals of the Soviet Union. Responding to them with reactionary rambling would be met only with disdain.

Thus was born the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a CIA front group that consisted primarily of center-left artists and intellectuals, a “Democratic Left” gathering of the political forebears of today’s neo-cons and neo-liberals. Even as told by the radical socialist James Petras, the story of the Congress for Cultural Freedom is largely a story of center-leftists and ex-radicals fighting against the far left, as embodied in the Communist Party.

Similarly, though with a different political bent, the liberal hawk Paul Berman writes, “I find it surprising that anyone still objects to the CCF. Isn’t it obvious that the cause of anti-communism, in its liberal and social-democratic versions, was a very good cause?” And discussing the 1950s era of the CFF and its CIA-backed literary magazines, Joel Whitney at Salon writes: 

In this period, anti-communist writers will increasingly find their way into the editorial letters, as well as into the Paris Review’s pages. And, as in issue 18, Hungarian author Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon,” a critique of Soviet policy and life, was also subsidized by officialdom; 50,000 copies were bought up by Britain’s Foreign Office. Touring with his book, Koestler traveled to the U.S., where he enjoined American radicals to “grow up,” and thus sparked an idea at the CIA that would define its propaganda funding: “Who better to fight communists than former communists?”

Thus we discover that the preferred state policy for dealing with the far left is not to fight from the right but to fight from left of center. (The same principle is at play in the Republican establishment, which fights the far right and nationalist elements in its ranks not from the left but from a little bit right of center.)

The implication is that if you want to find out how America and Europe might deal with vulgar Marxists today, don’t look for the running dogs of reaction, look for the darlings of the center left—third wave feminism, LGBT rights, open borders, climate concerns, and so on.


In the last post, I described the Kurds as old-school Marxists who don’t know what century it is—warriors of a class-based leftism that still values blood and soil and would have given George Orwell an erection.

However, the epilogue to the Kurdish story (which is now becoming prologue), is that the Marxist elements in the PKK and other Kurdish groups seem to be giving way to a new “social democratic” impulse. The center-left is emergent.

From “Are Leftist, Feminist Kurds About to Deliver the Coup de Grâce to ISIL in Syria?”:

The PKK says it has given up its Marxism and separatism and now just wants a federal system in Turkey with a Kurdish province. A few thousand fighters are now holed up on the Iraqi side of the border in Qandil, occasionally launching attacks on Turkey. As for the YPG, it does not have a command line to the PKK but is rather autonomous in Syria, and has announced an ideology of direct democracy for all ethnic and religious groups in its territory, equality of the sexes, and environmentalism.

On liberal Kurdish politics in Turkey, from “Meet The HDP, The Pro-Gay, Pro-Women Kurdish Party Shaking Up Turkey’s Politics”:

While the HDP has its base of constituents in Turkey’s minority Kurdish population, which makes up about 20 percent of the country, Demirtas has broadened the party’s appeal. Under his lead, the HDP has reached out to a variety of minority groups excluded by the socially conservative AKP, such as environmentalists, LGBT rights activists and secular Turks.

And from the Alliance for Kurdish Rights: “FROM A KURD TO KURDS: WE MUST STAND FIRM ON LGBT RIGHTS”:

“It was like in the 80’s, when PKK, whose ideology I agree with, had meetings: the local women did not attend those meetings, as the male members of their family did not allow them because there was no room for them.”

“This is the same [with regards to putting LGBT rights on the agenda]. We must create the room. We have seen during the local elections that there are mayors from pro-Kurdish parties who give posts to people from the LGBT community.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that any of this center-left liberalism is being implanted in Kurdish culture by the CIA. On the whole, the Kurds still seem to support a loose confederation of local power structures rather than integration with the global order.

Altan tells me the HDP believes these ideas have been made flesh in northern Syria, where the country’s Kurds, organized around the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, have taken advantage of the hellish war to build a de-facto autonomous zone and oasis of democracy amid the chaos.
“They created a new system over there,” he said. “This is what we call a democratic autonomous region. . . . It is exactly the model we are talking [about], because there are a lot of different identities, nationalities, religious groups, and they are living together.”
“They have peoples’ assemblies coming from different sets of the people and society,” he added. “Every group of people, if they are Armenian, Assyrian, Arabs, Kurdish, Turkmens, they have the right to educate their children in their own mother tongue—this is what we call a democracy, from within, created by the people.”

In other words, “living together” for the Kurds still means organic, consensual segregation, a patchwork of ethnic and religious groups that tolerate one another as long as no single group attempts to exert too much political or social control over the others.

Sounds nice. However, if the young upstart social democrats have their way, such a situation won’t last for long. Back to the Alliance for Kurdish Rights:

As soon as the Kurdish people realise and accept that this is something you are born as, just as they are born heterosexual, and accept the person as an equal human being, then we will not have a problem.

I do not think that there is a need for a separate movement within the Kurdish movement but it [LGBT] must be given more space.

As the Kurds may soon find out, along with center-left liberalism comes the fetishization of Voice, the exchange of negative for positive rights, and with this exchange comes the inevitable disintegration of a tolerant patchwork society. Imagine there’s no heaven, no religion, too. And imagine the Alliance for Kurdish Rights telling everyone else how to educate their own children.

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