Ending Isolationism

The perfect battle can’t be picked. However flawed politically, the confrontation inspired by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle this past December had enough going for it to be worthy of progressives’ support. The growing hegemony of business, the rising power of Wall Street, and the disregard for democratic decision making by international bodies like the WTO, all made Seattle fair ground for a fight. Now, however, socialists have to refine the terms on which they oppose and support globalism. Some of the tendencies represented in Seattle were progressive while others were patently reactionary.

Seattle wasn’t the perfect battle because issues were not drawn neatly along class lines. Globalism may have become monolithic, but the interests of the same class tended to differ depending on the country—low income, high income, and middle income (“emerging economies”).

The low-income countries were possibly the most disappointed by the failure of the WTO to advance the cause of free trade. Without a manufacturing sector to fear foreign competition, these countries have everything to gain from open markets for their agricultural exports, which continue to meet protectionist barriers in the advanced countries, whether Japan, the European Union (EU) or the United States.

The middle-income countries, ranging from Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico; Turkey, India, and China; and Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan, have experienced an industrial revolution since the 1950s based on protectionism, government interventions disciplined by performance standards, and exporting. While real manufacturing earnings in some countries have stagnated (between 1969 and 1990 they fell by -0.1 percent in Argentina and -0.8 percent in Mexico), in other countries wages have soared at annual rates unprecedented in world history: for example, 5.1 percent in Indonesia, 5.6 percent in Brazil, 7.8 percent in Korea and 8.5 percent in Taiwan. The emerging economies now produce not only a large share of the world‘s labor-intensive manufactures, such as textiles (36 percent) and shoes (44 percent), but also a large and rapidly growing share of its more technologically advanced and capital-intensive products, such as semiconductors (market share depends on the type of chip) and steel (around 30 percent). These more sophisticated products are made in the world’s newest, most efficient factories, many of them owned by nationals of emerging economies. Nationally owned firms have staged the first serious competitive challenge to entrenched multinational companies.

The American government’s knee-jerk response to “The Rise of the Rest” was to force open their markets and buttress trade barriers at home. Threatened with real foreign competition in textiles, steel, automobiles, machine tools, and semiconductors, the U.S. government imposed “voluntary” export restraints on trading partners. If insufficient, a threatened indust...

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.