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An American In Syria: The Anti-Fascist Struggle For Communal Society In The Ruins

The young United States florist headed to Raqqa, Syria, as a volunteer with the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, is known to most on Twitter as PissPigGranddad. He’s a part of ‘weird Twitter’—what’s been described as a sort of Dadaist subculture that most often experiments with elements of irony.

For nearly two months, and when he’s had cell or internet service, he’s taken to Twitter and updated his timeline with candid shots of himself holding puppies, sheepishly grinning while armed with an AK-47, and joking with his followers about his looks. I spoke to him through a series of texts about why he’s in fighting with the YPG, how he got to Syria, and how his family is dealing with his absence. His name is redacted for obvious safety reasons.

***
“I’m here for a few reasons. First of all, I believe in the struggle, as cornball as that is to say (for dipshits like me being sincere at all takes tremendous effort). The struggle is, for those who don’t know, many-sided and an uphill battle, but if the Kurds are good at one thing it’s fighting people on fucking hills.”

“It’s actually wrong to say this is a Kurdish struggle, but I’ll get to that later. Anyways, our enemies are as follows: ISIS, Islamists in the FSA and all a certain lunatic jacking off to Ataturk-Islamist fan fiction in Ankara. The struggle is more than just violence against fascists; it’s to implement Democratic Confederalism in Northern Syria.”

“That is specifically our struggle, if other armed groups with extremely similar ideologies and great pants wish to do the same in the immediate regions then of course that is merely coincidence. I can talk more about Democratic Confederalism later as well, but in short it is a left-wing ideology that I, as a Communist, not only find palatable but am willing to help to implement.”

“War is the crucible for revolution, and as all of Syria is in turmoil we will create a new and just society from the rubble. [Buenaventura] Durruti said something like, “We have always lived in slums and holes in the wall…we are not least afraid of ruins; we are going to inherit the Earth,” and anyways, that’s why I’m here, to struggle with comrades for a communal society in the ruins.”

Photo by PissPigGranddad

Photo by PissPigGranddad

“I got here by repeatedly emailing an organization that brought me over. If anyone wants to contact that organization, I can of course put you in contact, but I think legally I’m restrained from advocating it. However, I’m here, and I’m glad of it, and one can draw their own conclusions from that.”

“Unfortunately there’s not that many Americans here, and the majority of those here aren’t political. There’s a few vets here, many who had positive experiences with the Party and with Kurds/Yezidis during their deployments in Iraq. All of them I’ve met were anti-Iraq War and usually rather bitter towards a government that fucked them every way they could be fucked. They were here and not in the Peshmerga, which says something.”

“Of course, you have glory seekers, dogs that come over here and slobber all over the country taking pictures of themselves near dead bodies and such. They’re universally hated, by politicals and veterans alike.”

“The main source of volunteers has been Europe; at the Academy where I was trained, we had a lot of rambunctious Italian anarchists, all covered in scars from street fighting with fascists. There are a lot, and I mean a goddam u-boats worth of Germans. Anarchists and Apoists mostly.”

“Met a French Communist, and the good men of the Bob Crow Brigade are holding the red flag high here as well. Lots and lots of Socialists, which the Kurds like very much. I haven’t killed anyone in ISIS or anyone at all yet. Of course I’m fully prepared to do so, my god who wouldn’t be! But fighting is only part of a revolutionary’s duty.”

“We will of course smash ISIS, and I will of course be a part of that (if you notice I’m being vague here it’s because I’m a bit leery of arrest). I am attached to a mobile heavy weapons unit right now, but I will be transferring out of here soon. It’s a mistake to think that all we do is fight; in fact, most of what we do is ideological.”

“The Party functions differently than the rest of society, we’re modeled on Democratic Centralism (in fact I’ve heard good old [Vladimir] Lenin quoted a few times re: our organization). There are meetings, self-criticism sessions, regular criticism sessions, lectures about how we must kill the man within ourselves…the point is to change, it’s to create revolution everywhere, internally and externally, in the heart and in the mind as well as on the street.”

“There are many of us, who have no possessions, just their uniform. We share in all duties. There are no salutes, no titles yet this is organized, we are not living in some free-for-all.”

“Listen, the fight at home is hard. I live in San Francisco so I’m at the bottom, licking a drain in circles, and god it’s awful but we still struggle for housing and for tenants’ rights and against the police.”

“I had this opportunity to come, an opportunity everyone has, really, so I took it. I want to see what Revolution is like, what the possibilities are, how we can make new worlds. This is a new synthesis being made here, ‘new realities’ to quote that famous leftist Dick Cheney. I have to be a part of it! I mean it was like my gut was drawing me here, I can’t explain it or I sound crazy. I’ve tried to! Believe me, I’ve tried, to my friends and my family and the woman I love. It was hard to explain it to her, but we share the same principles so of course in many ways she understands.”

Husband and wife, plus goats, flee ISIS towards YPG lines (Photo by PissPigGranddad)

Husband and wife, plus goats, flee ISIS towards YPG lines (Photo by PissPigGranddad)

“They all support me but think I’m out of my mind for coming here, that surely I’ll end up in some awful beheading video or something like that. I mean maybe I will, but if I do it’ll be in the name of revolution, my blood will water the tree of liberty to borrow another phrase from my reprehensible ancestors. I don’t think so, though, and I’m a natural snake so I can get through things alright usually.”

“But, to be clear, I booked a flight over, I came over because I was desperate to participate in what inshallah will be the first of a hundred, a thousand revolutions that will shake this world.”

“Who knows, maybe this is all bullshit, but it doesn’t seem like it. It seems real, like we have tangible victories and that is very rare for the ‘far left,’ which is fucked up because we’re going to inherit this goddamn planet.”

“Anyways, I always knew I needed to come. The fighters want a lot of different things. Some want to die, I guess. Lots of PTSD, and I’d wager some of the boys want a double dose or a permanent cure. Others want revolution; not only here, but in Italy, Spain, America. We’ve got a Chinese comrade here, a Marxist, who wants it.”

Photo by PissPigGranddad

Photo by PissPigGranddad

“Of course, we’re optimistic, sometimes cynical, but a Leftist has to be optimistic! We’re demanding the entire world—what could be more optimistic than that? I’m 27 years old, a true idiot’s age.”

“My name is classified, of course, but it’s initials BB. I worked at a boxing gym in California, but I’ve been a male florist for almost ten years and besides holding a pistol in the name of progress that is my main calling.”

“On the other hand, the Kurds and Arabs here have been incredibly receptive. They have comrades throughout the world, of all nationalities, and though there have been nationalist currents in the Party history, they see themselves as part of an internationalist left.”

“They’ve been more than receptive, and they honor the foreign dead as they do their own. It’s not just propaganda, they really are more than glad to have foreigners helping them. Especially as they see themselves as having been isolated politically and geographically for so long.”

“There’s been no animosity, just a common understanding that we must struggle for a better world and of course must smash or convince all those who would stand in the way of a just society.”

“It’s allowed because they invite it, essentially. I don’t want to impose, in fact, I refuse to, but they’d be overjoyed if ten, a hundred, a thousand Western socialists of any stripe came here to oppose the many fascist enemies we face.”

“Also, women don’t have to follow military orders from men, which is both amazing and terrifying.”

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear - National Mall - Washington, DC. Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.
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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.