Over a thousand Kurdish people gathered in Trafalgar Square, London, on Saturday 1 November, taking part in a day of international solidarity for the Kurds fighting ISIS (Daesh, "Islamic State") in Kobane.
Among the small number of people at the protest who were not Kurdish were a handful of representatives of the Socialist Party and SWP. Both these groups have a problem.
Both campaign to stop the US bombing which is currently helping the Kurds resist IS. They do not just do as Solidarity does - express no confidence in the US, refuse to endorse its campaign. They specifically campaign to stop the bombing, and often say that they do so because they oppose war (as if there would be no war with ISIS if the US abstained).
How did they explain their position to the Kurds in Trafalgar Square? They didn’t attempt to. The SWP had placards calling for "Tories Out"; the SP gave out a leaflet of 600 words which failed to say clearly that they call for a stop to US bombing, or justify that.
One organisation, two lines. One for the pro-US Kurds in Trafalgar Square; one for radical students and others dominated by knee-jerk anti-Americanism which they hope to recruit in Newcastle, Reading or Portsmouth.
SPers argued the AWL supports imperialism; and that imperialist bombing in 2011 has made things worse for Libya, not better. Therefore the left should oppose western bombing in support of the Kurds in Kobane (which, by implication, will make matters worse for the Kurds in the long run).
We refused to raise the slogan “Stop the bombing” over Libya in 2011. Does that make us “pro-imperialist”? We refused to call for something which would strengthen our enemies and wipe out our courageous allies. We made no endorsement of US or British policy.
In Libya, the first effects of the overthrow of the bizarre and brutal Gaddafi dictatorship was an explosion of democracy and relatively free elections in 2012 in which liberals won and Islamists were marginal.
Right now we have no guarantee that a victory against ISIS in Kobane will make life better for the Kurds one or five or ten years in the future. The choice now is between a massacre of our allies verses the victory of Islamist-fascists.
There is something silly about the SP’s method here. It is a game anyone can play. How about this: what happened to the Labour Party in the 1990s under Blair invalidates activity inside the Labour Party in the 1970s? Or this: what happened to Derek Hatton in the 1990s invalidates Militant’s recruitment of Hatton in the 1970s?
There’s nothing certain about the future. All we can do is make choices in the present.
The SP do not argue in any specific way that bombing ISIS will make the future worse for the Kurds. Their leaflet only suggested vaguely: "Further intervention of the US, UK and UN in the region could lead to more division and even strengthen IS."
In contrast, it is certain that a defeat for IS and a victory for the Kurds in Kobane would immediately be highly positive from a working class, humanitarian and democratic standpoint. Who can tell about five years hence? All we can do to make a positive outcome more likely in the future is to help our side win now.
Moreover it is not true that every Western intervention has broadly negative consequences. In 1999 NATO bombing did prevent mass murder of Kosovars by Milosevic’s racist Serb imperialism.
That statement is not pro-imperialist, just fact. Our justified estimate that the 1999 NATO bombing would help Kosova did not make us politically endorse or support the bombing. We maintained our irreconcilable class hostility to NATO.
The SP may respond that the big powers intervene only for their own reasons. That is true, but when the soldiers of a capitalist army come to put out a fire, revolutionaries don’t get in their way.
And finally, the Kurds do not have to look as far as West Africa and the Balkans for an example where democrats have been glad of Western help. In 1991, following the first Gulf War, the US-led coalition imposed a no-fly zone in northern Iraq which protected the Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s revenge. The Kurds used the US’s help and what emerged was a proto-state and a democracy.
That was true despite the US’s overall policy and despite other crimes the US committed at the time (for example encouraging the Shia to rise across southern Iraq and then standing by as Saddam massacred them).
The slogan "stop the US bombing" equates to "let the Kurds die". So let’s not say it.