An opinion piece by Phil Bevin
Why is the Anglo-American left targeting Turkey?
As Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections loomed, the Anglo-American liberal left was mobilising against President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. Progressive International, an NGO that is sending a delegation to scrutinise the elections which took place on 14 May 2023, claims that it is doing so “to defend democracy in Turkey”. This article scrutinises this claim by examining the links between the Anglo-American left, including Progressive International and associated people and organisations, and the US backed Kurdish nationalists currently occupying north-eastern Syria, a presence opposed by the Turkish Government.
From the UK to Syria
Last year, there was an interesting article published in the Daily Mail of all places, which set me on a trail leading from influential figures of the Anglo-American left to the United States-backed occupation of north-eastern Syria’s oil deposits.
The article about the anonymous “activist group” Don’t Pay UK, is titled “Fuel bills rebellion group Don’t Pay UK is organised by middle-class Corbynista rabble determined to ‘break the system’”.
The piece profiles an activist named Alessio Lunghi, who it describes as “a veteran of the anarchist scene and known to police across Europe for helping organise anti-capitalist riots.”
Quoting an anonymous source, the article links Lunghi’s efforts, which also loop in climate activist groups Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, to another anonymous anarchist movement called Plan C. This makes sense, as Plan C was an early advocate for Don’t Pay UK and its Twitter account was sharing their tweets before Don’t Pay UK had even established its website. That Lunghi is connected to Plan C is seemingly confirmed by the Fall 2017 issue of Transnational Social Strike Platform, for which he wrote an article on Plan C’s behalf.
Plan C’s self-described purpose is “to organise in, beyond, and against capital.” However, its support for groups that are participating in the sale of north-eastern Syria’s oil to the United States would appear to run counter to this assertion.
Just Sell Oil
In 2015, the United States backed the creation of Syrian Democratic Forces, which, according to Al Jazeera, is “largely made up of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia”. As the CIA reports,
“the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are an anti-ASAD regime coalition of forces composed primarily of Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Syriac Christian fighters; it is dominated and led by Kurdish forces, particularly the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia; the SDF began to receive US support in 2015 and as of 2022 was the main local US partner in its counter-ISIS campaign; the SDF has internal security, anti-terror, and commando units; Turkey views the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a US-designated terrorist organization”
I will come back to Turkey’s views on the SDF later, as it is relevant to Progressive International’s interventions regarding the upcoming elections in Turkey. For now, though, it’s worth noting that, following the defeat of ISIS, the SDF took control of north-eastern Syria’s significant oil reserves and struck a deal with a US company, Delta Crescent Energy LLC to “modernise the oil fields in northeastern Syria”.
According to the news site, Politico, the company’s partners “include former U.S. ambassador to Denmark James Cain; James Reese, a former officer in the Army’s elite Delta Force; and John P. Dorrier Jr., a former executive at GulfSands Petroleum, a U.K.-based oil company with offices and drilling experience in Syria.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Syrian government regards the occupation of its country’s territory and the extraction of its resources by a US corporation as illegal.
It is also a strange project for a self-declared anti-imperialist group like Plan C to support but they have nevertheless been clear in backing the YPG’s role in Syria. An article supporting the YPG’s actions was published on the Plan C website in 2019, which makes reference to Plan C’s Kurdistan “cluster”, explains:
“Of course the YPG/YPJ and SDF, and the PYD and SDC, are crucial to the revolution […] As radicals and revolutionaries in the Global North, we have a constitutive role in assuring the revolution’s future through building common struggle. Carrying out this role requires firmly focusing on the people of North-East Syria’s own resistance, and our own abilities: we rise up for Rojava, the resistance belongs only to its people and us.”
The SDF has been supported by “hundreds” of United States Marines and, by 2017, was viewing Turkey as “a main enemy”.
Don’t Pay, don’t say
A known associate of Alessio Lunghi is former Corbyn advisor James Schneider, who is connected to Just Stop Oil and Don’t Pay UK, and now works as the Communications Director for Progressive International — an umbrella leftist group closely associated with Bernie Sanders, a supporter of foreign policy hawk President Joe Biden — which claims:
“Our mission is to build a planetary front of progressive forces. We define progressive as the aspiration to a world that is: democratic, decolonised, just, egalitarian, liberated, feminist, ecological, peaceful, post-capitalist, prosperous, plural, and bound by radical love.”
Lunghi’s connection to Schneider was revealed by Schneider himself, as a result of an investigation into Don’t Pay UK by independent Journalist Ben Timberley for the popular socialist Youtube Broadcast NotPMQs.
Timberley began investigating the anonymous group after becoming concerned over its modus operandi and had already managed to identify Lunghi as a key organiser before the story was broken by the Daily Mail. I understand that he was planning to disclose the information live on NotPMQs, when he received a communication from James Schneider, which caused him to pause for consideration. In his correspondence, Schneider urged Timberley not to publish Lunghi’s name and personally vouched for people involved in the Don’t Pay UK campaign. Eventually, Timberley decided to broadcast both Lunghi’s identity and the wording of Schneider’s intervention:
I hope you’re doing well. I’m getting in touch as I just saw your video on the Don’t Pay campaign for Crispin’s show.
I think I can shed some light and hopefully calm some nerves about the campaign. While I’m not directly involved, I know a couple of the people who are. I don’t know everyone involved, but those that I do know are longstanding and committed activists whose sincerity I would be happy to vouch for. My understanding is that they wish to remain anonymous to avoid difficulties at work and retaliation from the media, the companies and the state. As I say, these are longstanding activists with experience of the victimisation that can accompany radical organising.
I recognise the person in the screenshot you took of a zoom meeting. My comradely advice – or even request – would be to take down that screenshot as it could be used to identify him by reactionary forces. Are you able to do that? […]
Anyway, sorry for the longish email but I thought I’d share what I know with you to hopefully allay your concerns. Do let me know if you could remove that photo of that activist to avoid them being put at any risk.
Schneider’s association with Lunghi is important because it demonstrates the collaboration between people involved in Progressive International and Plan C; Progressive International has taken supportive positions with regards to political parties that advocate for the YPG, such as Turkey’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), while members of Plan C are actively involved in the US backed YPG/SDF occupation of north-eastern Syria.
A big cause of tensions between NATO member Turkey and the United States has been President Erdogan’s position on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Although Turkey condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States was not entirely happy with their response, particularly its initial decision to veto the accession of Russia’s close neighbours Sweden and Finland to NATO. The admittance of these two countries to NATO was designed to add further pressure on Russia and its Government by demonstrating that its invasion of Ukraine had increased rather than decreased the expansion of NATO towards its borders, thereby precipitating the very outcome the invasion sought to prevent.
According to the NATO aligned think tank, the Atlantic Council:
“When Turkey announced its position on the Nordic countries’ NATO accession last year, it took the allies by surprise. Confidence in Turkey sunk to new lows, and its interests and legitimate security concerns were lost in rhetoric. In the highly emotive environment following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, this was completely understandable. While allied governments and NATO’s leadership publicly emphasize their understanding for Turkey’s position and the need for dialogue, there is a sense of growing impatience. In Washington, the issue comes up in every conversation on Turkey. It’s commonly expressed that Turkey doesn’t appreciate how important the issue is in Washington.”
On the Turkish side, are concerns that Sweden and Finland have not committed to explicitly designate Kurdish nationalist groups PYD/YPG and FETÖ as terrorist organisations.
As the Atlantic Council reports, “Erdogan has blamed the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), for the November 2022 bombing in Istanbul” and has therefore cracked down on political groups the Turkish Government perceives to be linked to the paramilitaries. The bombing killed six people and injured 81. Among YPG supporters that Erdogan’s Government clamped down upon is the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which has been extremely critical of Erdogan’s Government over its attitude towards US allies in Syria. According to a statement on their website:
“We view Turkey’s recent attack on the SDF as unacceptable and vehemently protest it. We call upon the international community to do the same and take immediate action to stop Erdogan’s irrational anti-Kurdish and anti-SDF policies in Syria.”
As a result of the impasse over the Nordic states’ accession to NATO, the United States has been applying increasing pressure on the Turkish Government. Articles published by the Atlantic Council, NATO’s intellectual and Media outrider, have explicitly advocated new initiatives to strengthen the SDF’s position in Northern Syria as Turkey’s 14 May elections approach.
Some of this pressure appears to have had an effect. Again, according to the Atlantic Council:
“Possibly in a nod to the growing pressure but also in recognition of support from NATO and its aspirant partners following the devastating earthquakes in Turkey in February, Turkey went on a charm offensive in Washington in March, dispatching presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kal?n.
Turkey’s ratification of Finland’s accession should help ease the concerns of US and European leaders who doubted Turkey’s intentions, but Sweden’s membership can be more challenging and requires compromise.”
At the same time as the United States government is applying pressure on Turkey over its reticence regarding NATO expansion, and NATO’s outriders are urging action to support the Kurdish militias in Northern Syria against Turkish interests, leftist NGO Progressive International is also highlighting the issue of Kurdish nationalism, while applying pressure to the Turkish Government over the upcoming May elections. As stated on their website:
“[…] Turkey’s progressive forces are resisting the government’s anti-democratic crackdown. They have reorganised in a new party, the Green Left Party (YSP), to contest the 14 May elections. The party, like the HDP before it, brings together a broad progressive coalition of Kurdish and other minority groups, as well as trade union, feminist and ecological forces.”
Interestingly, Progressive International claims that HDP itself “invited” the NGO to:
“observe presidential and parliamentary elections on the ground, with a particular focus on Kurdish provinces, where electoral irregularities and fraud are systematic and rampant, and the ten provinces hit by the earthquake that are under emergency rule.”
Putting Putin in his place?
Is it a coincidence that Turkey is being targeted by an Anglo-American left, at the same time as the empire seeks to pressure the Turkish Government into concessions over its response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the US-backed SDF occupation of north-eastern Syria? Unfortunately, I can’t give a definitive answer to that question.
However, a possible clue is the position taken by Progressive International’s General Coordinator on Putin and Russia, which aligns with US President Biden’s regime change rhetoric. In a 2018 Guardian article co-authored by Progressive International’s General Coordinator David Adler, and James Schneider’s long-term friend, Atlantic Council Senior Fellow and Russia expert, Ben Judah:
“Progressives cannot afford to be naive in their approach to Putin. His efforts to consolidate a sphere of influence are unlikely to abate [..] it is only by undermining [Putin’s kleptocratic] system, not competing with it, that the US can truly weaken Putin’s authoritarian grip, and make way for a new democratic movement to flourish in Russia.”
Certainly, one way to disrupt Russia’s attempts to consolidate its “sphere of influence” is to drive a wedge between it and NATO allies which, like Turkey, have some compatible geopolitical interests.
Plan C has also positioned itself as in opposition to Putin’s government. In 2022, it convened an online meeting with the pro-Ukraine Trotskyite sect Workers’ Liberty and Operation Solidarity (Ukraine) to discuss the Russian invasion. In the video, Lunghi, introduced as “our comrade from Plan C in London” and a “founder member of Plan C”. Plan C has also been tweeting about the conflict, retweeting an article containing an image of Workers’ Liberty members holding up signs urging “arm Ukraine!” on June 12, 2022.
Even if this is not their intentions, it’s hard to deny that Plan C and Progressive International are serving the foreign policy agenda of the Anglo-American Empire.
Progressive International, Plan C and Don’tPay UK were contacted for comment. They did not respond.