Altun: Socialism cannot be built with the tools of capitalism

KCK’s Altun pointed out that most of the anti-system movements are turning a blind eye on the fact that they are living capitalism and imperialism in every aspect and are deceiving themselves with their ideologies and dogmas.

Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Executive Council member Rıza Altun spoke to ANF English service about the delusions with regards to having a true stance against the system, imperialism and capitalism, PKK’s approach to real socialism and socialism, change of paradigm after the capture of Abdullah Öcalan.

Below is the second part of our detailed interview with Altun.

In some western countries, especially in Latin America, the Syrian and Iranian regimes are considered as anti-imperialist because of their stance against ISIS. Recently Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also started using anti-American rhetoric. What lays beneath the anti-Americanism of these states? Are they really anti-American or can we say that this is a result of an inner struggle of colonialist powers?

There are several movements in the west that we can say are against the system. Historically there are movements and powers that indeed give a freedom struggle. Now these are very immense powers against the system. And Latin America is an important centre. When we look at what happened since the discovery of America, especially the guerrilla warfare and socialist movements in 1960s, it’s an important field of revolutionary struggle. But both have their problems. For example in the west, the anti-system movements look detached and marginal. There are serious issues with how they handle ideological, political and organizational problems. They have problems with converting themselves to an anti-system and libertarian movements, and also there are problems of determining the real ideological, political and military anti-system movements, so they can’t show the foresight to develop identity. It’s problematical in that regard. There is a serious obscurantism and dogmatism although they are against the system.

Take a random movement in the West and we can accurately criticize it. For example when we evaluate the 150 year history of Marxism, we see that it mainly resulted in real socialism. The reality of real socialism can be discussed in various dimensions. Of course, Marxism is an expression of an anti-system stand. It’s a turning point against the hegemony and it reflects a hundred or a hundred and fifty years of background. No one can deny this. But in the end, we have to question a freedom path transforming into real socialism and getting to a position feeding the system like fresh blood.

Now, with the real socialist perspective it’s not possible to get to the level of libertarian line, nor to evaluate an existing line of victory correctly and support it. Similarly, when we look at anarchism, the differences between wings of anarchism are mainly quantitative. There is no fundamental difference between them. Philosophically, its approach to freedom, equality and its stance against hegemony created a valuable accumulation. But because they don’t manifest this accumulation in ideology, struggle, resistance and organizational aspect, they can’t get a foothold in society and expose the power to represent the line of victory. And because they can’t do this, they treat a struggle developed somewhere else in the world from their own equation, approach and sense.

Despite all the radical discourse, it cannot free itself from the capitalist system’s lifestyle and way of relations. This is a very important problem for the freedom front. You can add feminist and ecologist fractions to this front.

When we look at their stance, although they look like they are against the system, there is serious dogmatism. There is a serious political autism and self-abstraction. If it isolates itself from everything, this will mean self-destruction. 

The same thing goes for Latin America. Latin America has been through critical periods in the history. It carried out struggle against Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, US imperialism. It gave a struggle for socialism, to which it later contributed with guerrilla warfare. We have to give them their due. But now there is a serious problem about how they handle the problem.

For example we can directly say that those who act on behalf of socialism can’t go beyond real socialism. If they base mainly on a nation-statist and pro-ruling approach, it’s impossible for them to reach a true line of socialism. The problem of the anti-system movements in Europe and Latin America originates from here.

Their approach is this: “who is against the system is anti-capitalist”. But anti-capitalism has its own criteria. There are countries that represent capitalism and imperialism and these are enemies. They are in a delusion that breaking with those countries is the basic approach and define freedom on this basis. But when we look at their lives they are living the capitalism or imperialism itself. They are living in their cities, under their power, with their identity and within their market. They are living with it up to their chins and yet in a delusion of being libertarian. There is something wrong here. We know that real socialism’s problem is this. They think it’s possible to build socialism with the basic tools of capitalism.

Most of the anti-system movements are turning a blind eye on the fact that they are living capitalism and imperialism in every aspect and are deceiving themselves with their ideologies and dogmas. These movements are taking stances without thinking about what’s going on in the Middle East, what historical and sociologic factors there are, or what the relationship between them and global powers is. This is actually a great peril.

In fact, they should think about global imperialist system with its sub-units, the nation states. They should understand that the contradictions among them result from exploitation and hegemony not from equality, freedom or justice. Those powers cannot be positioned against one another in ideological aspect. Only people and revolutionary socialist movements and social segments can be positioned against them.

Now when we look at Latin American reality, I will not discuss if it’s anti-imperialistic or not. We have no objection against a line which gives a democracy struggle against imperialism. But there is a point they have reached. We need to see that.

There is a great delusion here. We need to question how anti-imperialist the real socialism in Latin America is. It is anti-American for sure. But anti-Americanism doesn’t mean anti-imperialism. America is imperialist. It is possible to develop a stance against American imperialism. But being anti-imperialist is another thing. Being anti-imperialist means being against the capitalist world order, against the hegemony of imperialism in the world and against the sub hegemonic centres of imperialism. Saying “I am against the US” does not mean anything. This is the point where Latin America stands. They are against the US and made huge gains in this struggle, but they also have relations with sub-hegemonic countries which are associated with imperialism. This caused a very undesirable situation. The Western European capitalism is also an expression of imperialism. The revolutionismof Latin American should take the anti-American stance to a level that will include the Western imperialism. They are facing a very serious problem because of this. It’s not logical to say the imperialism which doesn’t attack me is good.

Imperialism is a main stream which organizes itself in different centres. Without standing against each of them it’s impossible to defeat it. Because of this approach the anti-Americanism has never been able to achieve a victory in Latin America. This is because they can’t change themselves into anti-imperialism. This is why, although they made gains against the Portuguese and the Spanish, they couldn’t break their dependent relationship.

The guerrilla wars on behalf of socialism didn’t achieve the desired results. Why? We need to question this. The main reason is the inadequacy of attitude. 

Let’s look at the reality of Kurdistan. Kurdistan is divided into four parts. This happened during the World War I. Turkey, Iran, Arab states didn’t do this themselves. The worlds capitalist system divided Kurdistan and shared it between Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Latin American movements can’t see this reality. They don’t treat the imperialist system and its local collaborators as a whole. When Turkey, Iran, Syria or Iraq contradicts with the US, some think that they are anti-imperialist. Therefore they don’t see the genocide perpetrated by these countries in Kurdistan. This approach should be changed. The system of the states is a capitalist, imperialist and colonialist system as a whole. Their contradictions cannot possibly be evaluated as anti-imperialistic.

For example the current government in Turkey, although it’s a colonialist, fascist and fundamentalist government, has been supported because of its contradictions with the US for it was seen as anti-imperialist. But its colonialist character and its relations with imperialism was not seen.

Turkey is a centre of capitalism in nationalism, as well as fundamentalism, nation-statism aspects. Turkey is the strategic ally of the US. So how can we evaluate it as an anti-imperialist power only because of its contradictions with the US? This is a capitalist-liberal approach that defines itself within the system.

The same thing is also valid for Ba’ath parties that once were the favourite of the revolutionary movements in Latin America. Everybody knows that the Ba’ath parties are the most rotten and most imperialist form of Arab nationalism and Arab nation-statism. It’s a disgrace that they are evaluated as anti-imperialist just because they had close ties with the Soviet Bloc and they sometimes contradict with the US. Ba’ath regimes are known for their cruel regimes over the peoples of Middle East.

And also Iran is a fundamentalist regime which is grounded on a sect of Islam. Its current structure is not separate from the capitalist world order. It has close ties with imperialism. The relations based on the view that Iran is an anti-imperialist power because of its contradictions with the US, show the problematic condition of Latin America’s anti-imperialist powers. Look at Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin American countries where there is a leftist government, they are praising the sub-hegemonic powers of imperialism in the Middle East and Asia only because of their anti-American stance. This is a serious delusion.

I want to say it again: being anti-American does not automatically means anti-imperialism. Anti-Americanism is to be against a centre of imperialism. Staying only as anti-American is to legitimize other colonialist and imperialist powers. Therefore we need to have a strong, rooted paradigm for our vision of world’s capitalist system and its imperialistic hegemony.

After Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999, there was a change of paradigm on the Kurdish side. Does this have an influence on the relations you have developed with the US and Russia? If you hadn’t changed your paradigm, would it still be possible for you to develop relations with the US and Russia? A lot of groups think that the PKK gave up socialist struggle? Did PKK do so with its change of paradigm?

The PKK is a socialist movement from the first day it was found. But when you look at that time and the historical conditions, it was under an intense influence of real socialism. There were also effects of national salvation movements, especially the struggles in Vietnam, guerrilla warfare in Latin America, the Chinese revolution and national movements in Africa. Therefore its origin is both socialist and national liberatarian.

But when you look at the situation of the world and ideological dominance of the time, PKK was formed under the influence of real socialism. PKK carried out a long national liberation struggle with these characteristics. But after the fall of the eastern bloc and the integration of national liberation movements into the capitalist system, we had to question this situation. We questioned both real socialism and national liberation. If we look closely, the collapse of real socialism and integration of national liberation struggles resulted with the collapse of various libertarian movements. That was a total defeat. PKK suffered from the consequences of this process. And during this process, PKK faced an attack unlike other socialist and national liberation movements. The imperialist system targeted the PKK as the first step of its intervention in the Middle East. They tried to leave the PKK without a head and ideology by capturing our leader through an international plot.

Of course, this was an important case for the PKK. If PKK didn’t fall apart, it is because PKK has a distinctness from the real socialist and national liberation movements. Although PKK bears the effects of real socialism, it has a unique characteristic. And this is not only ideological, but also organizational case. The thought and organizational model which is unique to Middle East’s historic conscious societies was the main reason PKK was not dissolved. PKK was indeed formed in this manner by our leader. Our leader’s captivity revealed new circumstances for the PKK. There already existed a search for a new ideological and politic concept before the captivity of the leader. The insistence on women’s freedom and efforts of a democratic resolution through ceasefires are an expression of this search. The captivity conduced toward a new concept in all aspects. The change of paradigm began here.

Renewed quests cannot be criticised if they are socialist or if real socialism is taken as a reference. And no new quests can be established with that attitude.

The new PKK’s change of paradigm is not based on denial of real socialism. I want to especially underline this. This is a new situation based on a criticism of real socialism’s ideological, philosophical and political approaches. There is an effort to redefine socialism with a more libertarian, equalitarian and democratic approach. Therefore PKK didn’t give up on socialism. On the contrary we are constructing a new socialism based on the criticism of real socialism, especially a criticism of anti-system movements. All the terms that we use are developed after a criticism of real socialism. We must see these as the libertarian, equalitarian and democratic terms of the new socialism. The war in the Middle East and relations developed on this basis cannot be explained with the ideological situation. It is more of necessity out of political situations. If PKK was in its former line of real socialism it would have carried its struggle that way. And it was doing so anyway. But after its change of paradigm, the power and self-confidence this has created gave PKK an advantage to face the new Middle East crisis. If it hadn’t changed its paradigm for sure it would have continued to resist but it wouldn’t have a chance to win.

The terminology you use mentions the terms of democracy, democratic nation, freedom of women, environment and ecology more than socialism. Do you give new meanings to these terms apart from their traditional meanings? Do you replace socialism with these terms?

These are not things that exist in spite of socialism. Socialism stands there as a general term. You can say that these terms add to the content of socialism. For example there is a distortion of democracy when you look at it from liberal capitalistic and reel socialist point of view. They are distorting the democracy term. How do they express democracy? They are expressing it as a method of government. Looking at democracy this way is a great delusion, deception. Putting state and democracy side by side is never possible. Democracy can be expressed as the self-governing model of the societies before the state. How did the society was ruled before the civilization emerged and when people didn’t need a state? They had their self-governance. But these governments were not based on exploitation, oppression and invasion. This a democratic government. Democracy should better be defined with this. The liberal view of history denies this governance model by the societies at that time. It served democracy as an invention of the civilization to the society. They used democracy as barrier to mask their exploitation.

We cannot talk about a democratic state, or a democratic government of a class. This is a deception. If we take socialism as a reference we have to define a term for the socialist governance approach. There are terms for real socialism’s governance model. For example Marxists use the term “proletarian dictatorship”. Also they use the state a basic element of the socialist literature. They see the hegemony of a class as a governance model. They define democracy as an administration method of a state. This way they turn democracy to a passive term for an administrative method, although it was used by human societies for a significant period of time in history. This is a problematic situation. If we say that we are socialists, first the socialist governance approach should be expressed and conceptualised in the most libertarian manner. It’s not difficult to find this in the human history and apply it to the actual situation. This can be derived from the equalitarian and libertarian life that societies keep alive even under the circumstances of capitalism and imperialism.

The most modern meanings that are attributed to democracy were present in the natural society and they are the characteristics of communal life. Therefore, democracy can be an actual term for an equalitarian and libertarian administration model. We are using this term with this meaning.

To express it more clearly, we are using the term democracy as an administration model of our socialist understanding. This is not a democracy term that is based on the state. We are using it to define the self-governance of the society. This is not different from socialism or a disengagement from socialism. On the contrary it aims to bring a new meaning to socialism or bringing a system of socialism. The same can be said for all the other terms. Without a criticism of socialism we couldn’t have brought socialism to a point where it can be put into practice in life in real terms.

Ecology is also important. From the point of capitalist world order or socialist approach, the relationship between the nature and society is problematic. The capitalism made the world an intolerable place with its industrialism and profit approach. Humanity is on the verge of annihilation. When we are facing such a threat, taking socialism as an utopia based on artificial freedom and equality does not mean anything. Then socialism should have an approach to save the world and humanity. In that regard, it should have an ideological approach against the damages caused by capitalism to the world. But there is no such thing in real socialism which generally says that capitalism exploits the nature and environment. But it can’t save itself from being a part of ecological destruction with its industrialist approach and defence of nation state. In addition to that, it cannot define the relationship between ecology and society from an ideological stance. This is a very serious situation.

Is the approach of real socialism problematic? Yes. Its defence of an unlimited industrialism, its view that puts industry and development on the same page and defines human as the hegemonic power against nature are serious ideological problems. You cannot think of socialism without ecology. You cannot think of life without ecology. If you relate socialism with life you can understand its relationship with ecology.

This also goes for the line of women’s freedom. Capitalism turned women into a meta and an object. Capitalism imposes the ugliest things on women. The male dominant mindset is experiencing its most intense form in the capitalist system. Now without thinking about the freedom, salvation and position of women in the society and without defining this in context of socialism, it’s not possible to save the world or to achieve equality, freedom and democracy. The freedom issue of women is too deep, it’s not possible to resolve it with the real socialist approach that says: “when the revolution comes the problem of the women will be resolved”. It is more than that. It should be evaluated as the basic problem of socialism or even as the primary problem of life in broader terms. Those who do not develop a unique approach for the freedom problem of women have a weakness in their socialist senses.

What comes out when we think all of these a whole? There emerge rough and ineffective approaches on the problems of real socialism and construction of socialism. Philosophical, ideological and political gaps emerge which lead to the destruction of socialism. With its change of paradigm, PKK addresses these problems, it finds solutions and reconstructs socialism basing on a new and real social science.

This is not a disengagement from socialism. This is bringing a true meaning to the socialism after revaluating the collapse and defeat of real socialism. There is no room for development for anti-imperialist, socialist, libertarian and anti-system movements if they don’t question themselves in this regard. We need to see that the collapse of those who collapsed alongside real socialism, the consequences of confining your fate to such a failure. PKK managed to regenerate itself after assessing the situation correctly and criticising real socialism. It didn’t create its entity and power by disengaging from socialism, on the contrary it made this possible with socialist philosophy, ideology and life. Only with this PKK managed to become an ideological and political power in the Middle East.

I want to talk about the democratic nation concept. We know that imperialism envisions a new world order which will go beyond the current national identity and nation-state. A new world government or a new world state, which will exceed nations, is being talked of. Is democratic nation an alternative to this?

Capitalism’s social formation is based on the nation-state form. When we talk about nation state it recalls capitalist form. This means building a hegemonic system over the nation category which is a social form and turning this form to a violence and exploitation area of capitalist monopoly. Here the main problem is the creation of the nation category through the state. This nation category is very elastic and transitive. The efforts to homogenise the society during this creation will mean a genocide of all different social and cultural qualities. Therefore creating a nation and converting it to a sovereignty zone creates a social problem. Now the most basic problem of the real socialism appears here. Its greatest mistake is to think that it can move forward and reach freedom with the most basic elements and arguments of capitalism.

The major problem of the real socialism is to not develop a deep analysis of state and nation during the formulation of socialist paradigm against capitalism. It evaluated nation as an ethnic fact rather that a cultural one and considered state as an irreplaceable home for the nations. It couldn’t think of the relation between capitalism and constructing a state based on the exploitation wheels of capitalism.

This situation emerged more clearly after the collapse of real socialism. Defining freedom with state and trying to overcome this through the nation state model by coalescing with the social form, was a very big mistake.  The real socialist model tried this for about 70-80 years. It couldn’t help but become a part of capitalist system in the end.

If we concentrate and look at this issue, we can see that nation state and freedom won’t co-exist. The state system is a political system which is against freedoms. States will never produce freedom.

On the other hand, nation is a formation which has well defined borders and carries various social, ethnic and religious identities. As the nation term contains all of these it cannot be singular. In nation state system, the state is a tool of exploitation and sovereignty while the nation completes it as a system singularised basing on a single ethnic, religious or ideological structure. In other words, it bases on the assimilation and destruction of social diversities.  This model must exist for an all-out exploitation to continue. Capitalism lives on this. It creates a regime of genocide over the sovereignty of the state and singularity of the nation.

When real socialism emerged as an alternative to capitalist system, it couldn’t go beyond the paradigm of nation state and its system. It’s approach on these terms was almost copied from capitalism.

Now we know that this term is a problematic one. You can’t define a socialist identity without reassessing the nation state term and putting forward an alternative to it.  When we say that we don’t want a state everybody finds it odd, including those from nationalist or socialist circles.

Ethnic nationalists get angry with us because we are against the state, which is a tool that will carry their own ethnic identity to power and help it dominate over others. On the other hand, real socialists think that they can solve the issues of freedom and equality by becoming a state. Refusing to be a state is perceived as denying socialism and nation.  However, the state is a fundamental institution that massacres both of these. No socialist libertarian can politically express himself with a state. The state equals to enmity towards freedom and equality. Freedom and state can never co-exist. Therefore we need to put the state aside in the first place.

We must separate the concepts of nation and state from one another. The nation can be accepted as a social format. I mean it can be accepted without being a part of a nation state. But we need to define nation very carefully. We must understand what nation is.

Nation is a social form. But we are talking about a society with different cultures, faith groups and opinions. Society is made up of diversities and their unity.

We can’t make a definition of nation that denies diversities and relies on one single ethnic identity, belief and ideology. This will result in a genocide of all diversities. This is not freedom. Democratic nation is a form of the society built on a democratic basis. Democratic nation is the real formation of nation. Every undemocratic social formation and construction is problematic and foes against the nature of society, which eventually results in continuous violence and conflict. The societal entities that make up the nation can only be held together through a democratic administration system based on democratic politics.