Tony Cliff on Referendum

Kurds should decide if they want one separated Kurdistan, and they should be supported in their decision


A discussion between Aso Kamal and Tony Cliff on Referendum


Aso Kamal: I want to start with a general question, in this time the national conflict has spread worldwide, for example in Europe, and in the Middle East. Some theories believe that nationalism is the product of Bourgeoisie, and the notion of nation has been created by nationalism. What is your view about nationalism and national questions?


Tony Cliff: First of all I start by the fact the British press, British TV speaks a lot about Kosovo, the persecution of Albanians in Kosovo. They don’t know about persecution of Kurds in south-east Turkey. They don’t reference what happens to Palestinians. It is true that it is estimated 800,000 Albanians are refugees from Kosovo, but at the same time 3 million Kurds are refugees. It is true that Serbs have killed a lot of people, but also it is true that Turkish Government has killed thousands of Kurds. I don’t like to have generalisation without starting with the real world. When I left Palestine in 1946 at that time Palestinians made Palestine, and they owned 40% of the land. Now 2.5 million Palestinians are refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.


Now Palestinians only own 5% of land. Why don’t people mention the Kurds and Palestinians? The answer is because Turkey and Israel are allies of the USA. Therefore, you can’t look at any aspects of the real world without looking at the totality of the picture. You can’t start with Kosovo; you can’t start with Kurdistan; you should look at the total picture. And the total picture is a very simple one, we live in a world where competition is the key theme. In this competition the big sharks eat the small sharks. Nato is USA’s organisation. The USA’s military budget is 8 times bigger than the military budget of Britain and 8 times bigger than the military budget of Germany and 7 times bigger than the military budget of France. The USA’s military budget is 100 times bigger than that of Yugoslavia and Serbia. It makes me laugh when they say Molosovich is Hitler, Hitler was head of the second biggest industrial country of the world, and the biggest industrial machine in Europe. Therefore, you can’t put American imperialism on the same level as Serbian nationalism. You can’t put Kurdish nationalism on the same level as American imperialism.


Because there is nationalism of oppressed and nationalism of the oppressor. As a revolutionary I agree with Lenin that you have to identify always with the most oppressed people in society. For me at the moment the most important thing is what happened to Stephen Lawrence, they tell me you are not black why do you care about him. But because it happened to Stephen Lawrence, a young boy of 17 or 18, it is terribly important for me to identify with him. To understand the oppressed is the only way to understand society. If you want to understand the British society look at the eyes of a black person, if a black person said British society was a fair society, I’d accept it. To speak of Nationalism and say it is exactly the same it is absolutely madness. There is nationalism of oppressed and nationalism of the oppressor. The big majority of humans at the present belong to the oppressed. I looked at a figure a few days ago, 3 people in the world have income equal to 600 million people in the world. They have wealth equal to 43 poorest countries in the world. I ask how people in the world manage to control this; the problem is we are not united. Capitalism creates the divided role. For me if Nationalism is against the bosses it is against the oppressor, so in this definition this nationalism is all right.


Aso Kamal: In the beginning of the 20th century this theory of Lenin was true that there was nationalism of the oppressor and nationalism of the oppressed. Because the October Revolution supported the independence of colonised countries. But today the situation is different, nationalism of oppression and nationalism of the oppressed do not have the same meaning as it used to have. The local nationalism or smaller nationalism contains the same role of bigger nationalism. They fight for more resources and analyse today with the same theories as we used to analyse it. The important thing for us as communists is to define the world in terms of globalisation. Nationalism is always oppressing workers and workers’ movements. Should we oppose the nationalism movement?


Tony Cliff: Rising bourgeoisie created France and a lot of states. There was no France in 19 century, there was no French nation. French nation was created by development of trade, by the fact that even the language became a standard language. Now they did it in France, they did it in Germany; they did it in India ; they did not do it in the Middle East. If you look at Kurdistan, Kurdistan is a simple example. The USA promised a Kurdistan state, they made all these problems for the Kurds in the first place, and British imperialism and French imperialism looked at the map and divided Kurdistan. They gave Iraq one big part with lots of oil. At that time Iraq was under British protection, and other people got their other parts. Marx laughed when in a meeting of the first international a French said who cares about national questions, Marx said it is funny why do you speak French. If somebody speaks French because he is French. I am not gay, I am not homosexual, it will be stupid for me to say who cares if you are gay or not. You cannot say national question is not important; the socialist revolution is for emancipation of humanity which means that it deals with all the oppressions of history. It’s the question of the working class in Britain; it should solve all the questions of national, sexual and religious oppression and the rest of it. And the only people who do not understand it are the people that had never had the imagination to identify themselves with the oppressed. The socialist revolution will solve the national question.


Aso Kamal: In the Middle East after Palestinian issue the Kurdish question is very important, what is your answer to the Kurdish question?


Tony Cliff: To answer this question you need the Kurds to decide what they want. Therefore we got borders that were created by imperialism. Kurds should decide if they want one separated Kurdistan that is their business. Kurds should decide about their future, and they should be supported in their decision. When it comes to Palestinians it is the same principle, the Palestinians should decide if they want to continue to live in Lebanon, Syria or Jordan. It is there Palestinians do not want to go back to their homes, because they were kicked out of their homes in the first place. I think they want to go back. The state of Israel says any Jewish in the world has the right to go and live in Israel. But Palestinians have no right to go back to their homes. That is the racist immigration control. In Israel Jews can build houses without any problems, but for Arabs they need special permissions to build a room? The equality means that Palestinians should have the same rights as the Jews, the Kurds should have the same rights as Turks. If the Kurds want to stay in Turkey give them the right, if they want to separate let them separate.


Aso Kamal: This question is about Iraqi Kurdistan. After 1991 at the end of the Gulf War, the northern part of Iraq was divided, since Kurdistan is not part of Iraq and it is not separated either. Kurds have no identity; they live in a massive refugee camp. My party is advocating the separation and establishment of Independent Kurdistan. What is your view on this?


Tony Cliff: I absolutely agree with it, because of a very simple reason that Kurds should decide what they want. This is a very democratic demand. We only talk about big targets, we also speak about small targets and small democratic demands. The socialist revolution is not the end for democratic demands; it is the realization democratic demands. Some people say we are not at the period of the democratic revolution we are at the period of socialist revolution. Therefore for them who cares about democratic demands? I say exactly the opposite. Socialism should be in the interest of the majority of the people; we should take steps for democratic demands. We socialists are not against democratic demands instead of this democracy we want real democracy. We want equality, economic equality, cultural equality and electoral equality. We are not denying French revolution, we want to go beyond the French revolution. We do not deny national interest; we want to go beyond national interest of the Kurds.


Aso Kamal: We proposed this solution for Kurdistan, that Iraqi Kurdistan should be independent. But people are telling us there is Turkey, Arab nations and Iran world will be against you. In your view what sort of support are we going to have internationally?


Tony Cliff: If somebody comes and says to me that you can have freedom for Kurds in Iraq, without freedom for Kurds in Iran or the Kurds in Syria, it does not work and it is not practical. I thought that the solution of Kurds in  Iraq is independent from Kurds in Turkey I say take it. Because against you it is Saddam Hussein, it is American imperialism. If you believe American imperialism will allow you to have a Kurdistan state you must think twice. Because if there is a Kurdistan state in Northern Iraq, the Kurds in Turkey want the same. It is not practical to have a solution in the framework of Iraq. Borders have been created by Imperialism; you have to overcome imperialism to get rid of borders.


Aso Kamal: There is no Saddam Hussein in Northern Iraq Kurds are self-ruling in Northern Iraq?


Tony Cliff: My picture of PUK and PDK is these two parties are corrupted. Why? Because Power corrupts. The most racist people are the unemployed people who suffer from the System. If you are powerless you like to take revenge on somebody. If in Northern Iraq life was marvellous, economy flourishing, culture flourishing, corruption would not be very big. But because life is terrible corruption is high. You are very impatient; you want freedom. I am not questioning that whatsoever. But really there is more than 100 years since Marx died; in history it is like 5 minutes. You Kurds have a long process to fight, it is a very long process for one simple reason, because Marx says rulers are rulers not only by name, they are rulers because they own the means of production, the press, the TV, etc. To overcome this is to get rid of capitalism ideas. It is a long process of struggle.


Aso Kamal: What is not practical about the creation of Independent Kurdistan in Northern Iraq? What is the solution in your view?


Tony Cliff: You need a revolution in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, if so long people will fight and fight without having a result.





Originally Published: April 2000


Rewritten on: April 2020


Rewritten by: Joupin A.




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