“Rojava Revolution”? “Anti-State”? “Anti-Capitalist”? Or a new mystification?
The essential question we should ask ourselves about Rojava is the following one: Is what some call the “Rojava Revolution” really a social revolution or better said is it a part of the dynamics of destruction of the present social order (that is to say capitalist order)? Or, on the contrary, wouldn’t it be rather about a process of instrumentalization and containment by social-democrat institutions (and therefore bourgeois ones), under the pretext of “social liberation”, of an authentic movement of revolt against misery and State repression, in order to better justify their “struggles of national liberation?
The revolutionary movement naturally sought the answer to this question in discussions and confrontations of often conflicting, vague and complex views, testimonies and analyzes. As “Class War” we took part in this debate too, and we published a selection of contributions to the debate on our blog.
And we can say that this debate has led to a single conclusion: that the famous “Rojava revolution” is by no means part of the revolutionary “anti-capitalist” and “anti-state” dynamics. After all, it is nothing more than a local variant of the “Bolivarian Revolution” or “21st century socialism” controlled and limited by a powerful propaganda machine combining “libertarian municipalism”, Marxism-Leninism and “national liberation”.
Those who deny this conclusion today are not slow to understand or poorly informed. They are simply followers of reform of Capital, its repainting on “red”, adherents of the strategy of changing everything so that the essential remains the same. And today if we hear mostly the voices of Rojava’s supporters at the international level (though less than before), it is because for the revolutionaries this issue has already been resolved and their critical attitude towards Rojava remains unchanged (which does not rule out that the proletarian movement in the region in the future takes a second breath and opposes the social-democratic recuperation of his struggle, which we, as communists, support, of course).
Important sectors of “anarchism” (the official and even the less official ones) declare themselves to be the staunch partisans of the “Rojava Revolution”, that would be a “genuine revolution” according to the “eminent” intellectual David Graeber. This “revolution” is prompted and controlled by a set of institutions as for example “popular assemblies”, “cantons”, “communes”, “municipalities” that globally and fundamentally don’t prevent (and historically in themselves never prevented) the reproduction of the same social relations than those dominating on a planet scale.
Were we naïve or stupid to believe “the anarchists” when they declare they merrily hate work, justice and the army?
Indeed, exploitation at work is effectively achieved in Rojava by means of “social economy” and its “cooperatives” where the proletarian is always so deeply tied to “his” (“her”) work tool, to “his” (“her”) machine, to “his” (“her”) workplace, to profitability requirements of “his” (“her”) local, cantonal and “libertarian” economy, in short to “his” (“her”) exploitation that through the magic of words would succeed in becoming more “humane”. It’s always in the name of “realism” and the refusal of critics, which are caricatured as being “ultra-leftist”, that work rules supreme over the region; salaried work obviously, even though the supplying in paper money, in monetary excrements or in coins of the realm is not always fully assured because of war.
“The anarchists” always declared their hatred for the State and the Nation… And yet the Rojava has all of the features of the State… Although some people call Rojava a “proto-State”, that is to say, one that “has a certain number of characteristics of modern States without having all of them”, for our part, our critical conception of the State determines us to see in these entities nothing else than a materialization of the State of the capitalists. Beyond the concept of Nation-State, the State is a social relation, composed of various apparatuses: government, parliament, police, army, employers, unions, political parties, school, and family… combined with various ideologies that give it strength: parliamentarianism, religion, positivism, authoritarianism… At the present level of development of class societies of which capitalism is the ultimate outcome as a synthesis of previous modes of production, the State can only be the State of the capitalists, capitalism organized as a State, as a social force imposing the dictatorship of value over humanity. It is thus for us an absurdity to speak about “proto-State”… As for the nation, is it really necessary to recall the nationalistic foundation of the “Kurdish liberation movement”?
“The anarchists” always expressed their contempt towards the government, parliamentarianism and elections… But the Rojava is led by an infinite number of parliaments, whether they are called “popular assemblies”, “councils”, “communes” or “municipalities” is not important if their practical content always consists in managing (with a “human face” or rather with a grimace of humanity) the social relation dominating world widely (i.e. capitalism, even though it is repainted in red or in red and black). All these structures get organized at a local level of a street, a district, a village, a town or a city, a region and partake all of them of the electoral principle. Finally, at the decision-making superior level, the “cantons” have their own governments as well as their ministries and related ministers. In opposition to what we claim as territorial organizations: “Unionen” in Germany in 1919/20, “Shuras” in Iraq in 1991, etc., what matters is the content of subversion of this world in order to “not make things profitable for the capitalists” (as the KAPD said)…
“The anarchists” pretend to be allergic to all concept of “party” that they reduce to the bourgeois political parties, whether they stand in the elections or not, or even to Bolshevik and Leninist parties. But suddenly, there are political parties that fill these same “anarchists” with joy: it’s about the PKK (“Kurdistan Workers Party”) in Turkey and the PYD (“Democratic Union Party”) in Syria. These parties, and even more the PYD than the PKK, develop a diplomatic politics that couldn’t be more classically bourgeois, going so far as to open “offices” (embassies in a way) in Moscow and Prague. The PYD even went, during a big European tour, so far as “to be on the game” at the Elysée Palace in February 2015, where some of its most famous representatives have been received by “Mr. President” (at the time) François Hollande himself.
For important sectors of “anarchism”, for libertarians, the events in Rojava would be essentially libertarian-inspired, anti-State and anti-capitalist in nature. Or at least, the “Rojava Revolution” would no longer meet the traditional criteria of “national liberation struggles” but its ideological structuring would directly ensue from the writings of the American libertarian academic Murray Bookchin and his principles of “communalism”, “municipalism”. There are even some who venture to compare Rojava with Spain of the 1930s.
For the other political family (competing but yet complementary to the other one), for this ideological family which claims more or less “Marxism”, there is nothing surprising about the fact that it puts forward precisely “the right of peoples to self-determination”, dear to Lenin, Bolsheviks, Third International, and their Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyite heirs. We even read in an article published in the French newspaper “L’Humanité” saying that the “Rojava Revolution” would express a new form of “socialism with a human face”…
The concept of “democratic confederalism”, which was theoretically developed a few years ago by PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, a concept popular and fashionable especially in libertarian circles (but not only there), claims to criticize the Nation-State and the creation of a new Kurdish Nation-State is therefore no longer its political goal (according to the PKK’s “new paradigm”). In addition to “direct democracy”, the immediate declared goal of “democratic confederalism” is “libertarian municipalism”, in which “people’s assemblies” play a key role; as well as the regional autonomy of each “Kurdish entity” through cantonal and municipal organizations within each Nation-State. As can be seen here, the revised ideology of national liberation (in its version of “democratic confederalism”) claims that, of course, after a facelift and some minor reforms, it wants to keep the current existing Nation-States. In the conception of the PKK, “decentralization” and “autonomy” stand against the “centralism” of the Nation-State, against its chauvinism, and they are presented as tools for weakening the State. A representative of the KCK (one of the countless organizations close to the PKK) in Diyarbakir, Kurdistan, Turkey, spoke in an interview about “shrinking the State”…
The PKK therefore sails in the same waters as the Zapatistas, so appreciated by the Kurdish National Liberation Movement. According to us, communists, anarchists, internationalists, it is on the contrary clear (unlike all these reformers of Capital) that the State cannot be “shrunk”, we cannot built something “beyond the State”, but it must be abolished from the ground up and all its material foundations which give it life must be subverted, eradicated…
Some libertarians also openly and unhesitatingly support the “Rojava Revolution” because it brings, in their own words, “anti-Statist forms of national liberation”. Let us therefore recall for the umpteenth time that all nationalism, whether it is a “small” or a “large” nation, is historically chauvinist, expansionist, imperialist… and therefore Statist! It is enough to see today how the three cantons initially forming Rojava in 2014 exponentially developed (Rojava is nowadays made up of seven cantons) to form an area under politico-military control of the PYD and its YPG/SDF militias representing a quarter of the territory of the Syrian Nation-State, extending even beyond the former capital of the self-proclaimed Caliphate of the Islamic State (the city of Raqqa, taken over in October 2017 after months of intensive fighting and shelling that left behind only ruins and thousands of corpses), extending to the outskirts of the desert of the province of Deir-ez-Zor, very far from Rojava. This new administrative entity, supported more or less by its arms suppliers, the USA, momentarily abandoned the name of Rojava (which sounds “too” Kurdish) for the very bureaucratic name of “Democratic Federation of North Syria” (since 2018 “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria”), which conceals much less “romantic” aspects but which is much more “serious” on the international diplomatic scene.
The “new” ideological paradigm called “democratic confederalism” is finally nothing but just a vulgar imposture wearing somehow the clothes of “revolution”, smelling the vague taste of “revolution” but having absolutely nothing in common with a minimum of beginning of dynamics pushing towards the overthrowing of ruling capitalist social relations.
Let’s have a look for a while also on one of the pillars of this “new” progressivism widely distilled to justify the revolutionary nature of the social movement in Rojava: the “multi-ethnicity” and “multiculturalism” so much praised by all the propaganda channels of the ideological apparatuses holding sway in Rojava as well as acting elsewhere in its favor.
What matters to us, we as revolutionary proletarians, communist militants, or anarchist ones (beyond labels), it’s not what “differentiates” us, it’s not our “singularity”, the fact that we are “Czech” or “French” or “British” or “American” while others are “Kurdish” or “Assyrian” or “Chaldean” or “Sunni” or “Shia”, etc. What is important on the contrary is what unifies us as a human and militant community against the global and universal dictatorship of Capital which materializes for all of us through exploitation, alienation, commoditization of our bodies and our lives, misery, war, death… What matters for us is to display very clearly our contempt for all national community, community of citizens, people’s community, for all democratic community in the deep sense of what democracy is, i.e. not a simple form (parliamentary democracy, “workers’” democracy or direct democracy, cantonal or municipal democracy, etc.) but rather the essence of capitalism and therefore the negation of class antagonism and the dilution of the proletariat (revolutionary class) into this bourgeois entity that is the People, the Nation and ultimately the State. What matters above all is the fact that we are, or become, brothers and sisters of misery and exploitation, brothers and sisters of revolution; and that we recognize it consciously.
Humanity has been separated from itself, from the nature, from its activity and its production, to be turned into slaves, serfs and modern proletarians. Mankind is separated from their genuine human community and they are linked as a multi-“something” false community: multiethnic, multicultural, multinational… Internationalism is not the addition of various or even different nationalisms or all nationalisms, but on the contrary its complete and accomplished negation…
Proxy militaries? We would like to add one more important element to the critique of “Rojava Revolution” developed in different contributions on our blog – the help of the international capital that Rojava has received. The help of NATO, EU, different national States and other capitalist institutions, help that only further confirms the bourgeois character of those organisations that pretend to represent the social movement of subversion of this world in Rojava.
In this sense, in the sense of classic bourgeois politics, there is nothing to be amazed or offended at seeing the PKK/PYD meeting its partners (in Washington as in Paris or Moscow…) in order to strengthen their relationship and to discuss their military cooperation as well as the business of reconstruction in Rojava and Kobanê… For France, it was also necessary, especially in the light of attacks against “Charlie Hebdo” in January 2015, to promote in the media an image of official rapprochement and alliance with the forces fighting on the ground Jihadism, “radicalism”, “Islam fascism”…
Let’s point out in passing these “particular friendship” that emphasize the obvious complicity of these “revolutionary” organizations from Rojava with our class enemies at the very time when the capitalist State (in France, Belgium, Germany, Spain,…) initiated, developed, strengthened so-called “antiterrorist” new measures and campaigns, which advocated “national unity”, “sacred union”, “the defence of republican values”, “living together” and ultimately the reunification of the people around the “Democracy in danger”, i.e. the capitalist dictatorship so much hated by the exploited. These terrorist campaigns of the State aimed first and officially to fight against Islamism but in fact were in a second time (and this is their original and essential goal) much more powerful new tools in the fight against subversion, against the re-emergence of class warfare, against the global social revolution to come. For us definitively and contrary to leftist circles, there is no “lesser evil” that is worth to be supported…
Really, what an interesting “revolution”, “anticapitalistic” and “anti-statist”, which has all the characteristics of a State with a government led by the “single party” PYD, ministries, a multitude of mini parliaments, courts of justice, a “Constitution” (called “Social Contract”), an army (the YPG/YPJ militias increasingly militarized), a police force (the Asayish) which imposes internal social order (also with its “antiterrorist special units” whose Rambo have no cause to be jealous of their murderous colleagues of equivalent corps as the “SWAT” in the United States of America, the “Spetsnaz” in Russia, the “GIPN” and “GIGN” in France, etc.).
“Revolution” all the more interesting because it “cashes in on all sides”: the YPG/YPJ is nothing but proxy militaries of the capitalist powers, their auxiliaries on the ground, facing a “common enemy” (Islamic State). We’ve lost count of the offensives carried out jointly by the YPG/YPJ and other SDF:
- with the US Air Force,
- with the “Green Berets” (these fucking torturers of US special forces),
- with the Russian air force,
- with Bashar Syrian Army (with whom the PYD is co-managing the city of Qamishli, among others) and its air force which is bombing the rebel areas (and not necessarily Al-Nusra and other jihadists!!!),
- with the Lebanese Hezbollah,
- the Iranian “Guardians of the Revolution” (slaughterers of our class brothers and sisters),
- and so on, ad nauseam!
So we can congratulate the Rojava which allowed the murderers of the US Air Force to make up for the difficulties of using their Turkish ally Incirlik airbase. Rojava is not yet a member of the Atlantic Alliance (NATO), but just a little more effort “comrades”… All the bullshit on “democracy without a State”, anti-capitalism, and revolution is nothing but just for show intended for leftist (libertarian and Marxist-Leninist) milieus who are always ready to satisfy themselves with a “lesser evil” and a reform of capitalism.
There’s no need to wonder or to take offense at the fact that the PKK/PYD, the YPG/YPJ overtly announced their collaboration (either simultaneously or in turn) with the USA, Russia or Syria. Yesterday they already collaborated with the Hezbollah, the Syrian regime of Assad father: Ocalan and all the PKK leadership had their headquarters in Damascus before alliances were reversed around 1998!!! The same way the PKK signed peace agreements with Turkey in 2013, agreements that held until 2015, not because they would finally have been denounced by the PKK (supposed to be anti-statist) but because these didn’t correspond anymore to the Turkish imperialist necessities…
Whereas the Assad regime forces again and again heavily bombed the rebel-held region of al-Gutta, East of Damascus, this same regime sent some paramilitary troops (Shia militias close to Iran) in order to defend Afrin canton, which had just been invaded in February 2018 by the Turkish army and its Islamist auxiliaries. The intervention of Syrian forces will be carried out at the request of PKK/PYD, YPG/SDF militias, with a concrete politico-military deal between both sides – “Rojava Revolution” and Baath regime.
And in the ranks of the Rojavists there isn’t absolutely any problem with this and it is quite normal for them that these butchers are coming to help to save “democratic confederalism” from the Turkish aggression. Rojava Administration also called Damascus forces to protect national borders and integrity of Syria. What the hell does it mean to pretend refusing the concept of Nation-State (according to the “new paradigm” of PKK) when in the same time (maybe for “tactical and temporary” reasons, as justified by Rojavists) they make alliances with the Syrian Nation-State, they call for the defense of the latter, “a sovereign state”?
How can the partisans of “Revolution in Rojava” close their eyes to these facts?
Turkey, Syria, the USA, the EU, Gulf monarchies, Russia, Iran, and even “proto”-States like Rojava and Islamic State… all these States, all States are great buddies with varying degrees of good fortune according to geostrategic circumstances and the defense of their particular national and nationalistic interests; they get along with each other at rank and file’s expense, i.e. us all, the exploited, the proletarians.
And the same partisans of “Rojava Revolution” justify this collaboration arguing that: “In the 1930s Spanish anarchists accepted weapons from the Soviet Union even though they were fully aware that conditions attached to these weapons were intended to undermine the revolution.” If counterrevolutionary powers (yesterday the USSR, today the USA, Russia, EU, etc.) provide any armament, any logistical supplies, it’s of course while having their own interests to defend, with their own agenda as powers. And at the time many of our fellow comrades in Spain thought and today fighters in Rojava think that it’s not them who will be used by these capitalist, imperialist powers but they will use them in a kind of “tactical and temporary” alliances. Reality showed and still shows the evidence that it’s completely false. After having fought against fascism, for the defense of the bourgeois republic and refused to put forward the real needs of social revolution (e.g. through the self-proclaimed “dictatorship of anarchy”), the proletariat in Spain had been obliged to accept the dissolution of the workers’ militias and therefore the militarization of these latter, abandoning thus their “revolutionary spirit” on the altar of a “lesser evil” to fight for, of a “revolution” to be done “after” the victory over fascism that never happened…
If indeed the revolution will need weapons, guns, canons, missiles and surely much more, what social revolution needs more than anything else it’s a clear perspective about what is to be done and with whom. The same goes when workers take “their” factories in their hands and manage them; and remember Leon Blum’s cynical but nevertheless somehow acute comments about factories occupation in France in 1936: “workers occupy factories but in fact it’s factories that occupy them”, giving them something to do (in others words: divert them from their tasks to destroy the capitalist social relations)… The problem is not as such to occupy factories and to take in hands the means of production, but from then on what is to be done with them, what is to be produced, and for which purposes…
The “military question”, the use of guns, is not separated from the totality of the revolutionary militant tasks to assume, to take on, it’s not a question apart. It’s not the military question that leads the social movement but the contrary. This issue is very acute regarding what happens in Rojava: we were literally overwhelmed with such a flood of war communiqués about the military situation in Afrin (and before it was in Manbij, Raqqa, Deir-Ezzor, etc. all regions swallowed by Rojava “Self-Administration”). There is no way out nor any explanation to be given on how a “revolutionary” struggle could so easily collaborate directly with US Air Force, US Special Forces (Green Berets), with the fact that the US Army Headquarters was located in Manbij (territory under YPG/SDF control), that there were more than 2,000 of US soldiers in Rojava, the USA had at its disposal ten military bases in Rojava (including two airbases), they had deals with Russian Air Force and Russian Army generally and Damascus government’s bloody slaughterers as well (through “operation rooms” to coordinate military activities between the three armies)…
The proletariat as a revolutionary class has no interest to frontally confront the State and its central repressive apparatuses. What we have to develop on the contrary is the revolutionary defeatism, that is to push dissolving the bourgeois armies (especially while weakening its discipline and coherence), through violence of course, through direct action, sabotage, generalized and insurrectional strike… in the armies, factories, mines, offices, schools… anywhere we suffer exploitation from this world of death and misery… but also through the force and energy of the movement developing its class perspectives. Don’t forget one thing folks, it’s that where there are warplanes and warships, machineguns and missiles and poison gas to repress our class movement, behind them there are always and ever men and women who have to produce them, to transport them to their destination, to fuel them… It’s the duty of struggling proletarians to prevent the war machine to kill our fellow brothers and sisters, to stop the production system to work and function…
Let’s recall also that historically, after any proletarian defeat, Capital gives itself the material means to transform into contrary energy, into energy aimed at strengthening its social relation, the initial proletarian energy if not of destruction of this social relation, at least of questioning the latter. Capital feeds on our revolts, our defeats, it adopts the vocabulary of the proletariat, its flags, its mottos (taking care to empty them of their genuine subversive content) to bring to its side the proletarians who are disoriented by defeat but still vindictive. The red flag thus deployed by “red” bourgeois attracts the proletarians who are still struggling but who are thus called to be satisfied with only a few bits of tinsel, a few ersatz of revolution…
This “democracy without a State” (Abdullah Öcalan, 2010), this “State without a State”, this “democratic autonomy”, this “democratic confederalism” is still and always a State, in the sense that the communist criticism gives to this concept. That is to say the existing social relation, the present state of things, and therefore the organization in acts of this relation. Organisation that aims to enlarge and perpetuate this relation. And without the revolution sweeping away the old order, this social relation, this state of things can only be and remain that of the capitalists, regardless of the reforms that make it looking like a different, improved form. Capitalism is constantly reforming… It even sometimes “revolutionizes” itself, but this “revolution”, with its jolts (resulting in tens of millions of deaths) which are extremely violent for the exploited of course but also sometimes for certain competing and/or obsolete fractions of the capitalist class, it is never anything more than a “revolution” within the very social relation that needs to be strengthened and broaden.
It would be fatal to confuse a social movement and process with its bourgeois leadership, a proletarian revolution with the counterrevolution, social liberation with national liberation (“national-social liberationism”), a militant dynamics against the dictatorship of the present state of things with a series of reformist measures to consolidate this state of things, which appears obviously under a renewed disguise, with new labels and with face-lifted institutions and ideologies like “popular assemblies”, “cooperatives”, “democratic confederalism”, “social economy”, “women’s liberation”, etc. and finally makes it more acceptable oppressed participating to their own oppression, alienated to their own alienation, exploited to their own exploitation…
There are some who will say that we are ad hoc “anti-Rojava” or that we deny the existence of the “Rojava Revolution”. Far from it, we are not more “anti-Rojava” than we are effectively anti-Britain or anti-USA or anti-any-other-Nation-State.
The position of communists and anarchists is clear: May all capitalist States die, may the Turkish State die with its ferocious repression against populations revolted in the southeast of the country and elsewhere, may the Syrian State and its massacres die, may the States of USA, EU, Gulf monarchies, Russia and Iran die, and may also all “progressive” and leftist States die: Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia as well as the “proto”-States like Rojava and Islamic State…
As for the real revolution in Rojava, we are of course eminent supporters of it as well as for the revolution in the Middle East and all over the world. We are standing for a world social revolution, and therefore an anti-capitalist one, that will abolish private property, the State, social classes, religions, etc.
Class War – Summer 2021
As follows we would like here to present a contribution that we received some times ago: “A View of Rojava or Criticism as an Opportunity for Growth and Development”, which addresses mainly the anarchist movement in the Czech Republic. We translated it in English (and in French as well) and finally publish it below, with a great delay, but also with the conviction that even today it is not too late.
The text touches on the questions that revolutionaries around the world have asked and continue to ask in relation to Rojava, and which, of course, can be applied to other “autonomous territories”, either historically (Spain 1936) or currently (Zapatistas).
We fully share the criticism of the Rojava that the text develops. What we do not agree with, however, is its subtext – the effort to “balance” Rojava’s unilateral adoration with a critical voice in an effort to create an “opportunity” for discussion.
However, in our opinion, the attitude of the anarchist movement and the far left in the Czech Republic to the events in Rojava (and the same is happening elsewhere in the world) is not based on any misunderstanding of the state of things, little information available or lack of opportunities for discussion, as the text assumes, but it is a much deeper problem – the problem of what content the followers of Rojava attribute to the social revolution. What should the revolution change and how? Those who think that the aim of the revolution is to democratize society or liberate women are, in essence, only striving for a kind of improvement of today’s society, for the completion of the bourgeois revolution, that is, the one that has definitively asserted the domination of Capital. The real revolutionaries, on the other hand, seek to destroy this society based on classes and exploitation, to totally transform it.
The text “View of Rojava…” doesn’t represent for us a call for discussion within the “anarchist movement”, which is able to label “revolutionary” even clearly reactionary events (as we developed it above) just because they are accompanied by red and black PR propaganda. Such a discussion is not possible for us.
On the contrary, we consider it a critique of the attitude described above, an attempt to clarify the concept of social revolution in the context of events in Rojava. And as such we also publish it in connection with our own remarks, which are based on the international discussion on Rojava, as it has been led by various groups and militants in recent years.
And last but not least as the events of Spain 1936 are very often evoked by the partisans of Rojava, we publish at the end of this bulletin a contribution of the Internationalist Communist Group about the revolution and counterrevolution in Spain, false polarization fascism vs. antifascism at that time…
We received, we translate and publish
A View of Rojava or Criticism as an Opportunity for Growth and Development
Events in Rojava are a current topic that many people, groups and initiatives are engaged in. The positives of the Rojava reality could be certainly described in detail, and many have already done so elsewhere. References to some of these contributions are given below this text (1). However, there are many more of these articles in comparison with texts that would describe in more detail the weaknesses and contradictions of the Rojava events. This material tries to balance this disparity. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the positive areas of Rojava are unimportant or negligible.
Sometimes it is said that “Rojava is not a paradise, but a hope” and we can agree with that. And precisely because Rojava has also its shortcomings, we also need to talk about them so that we can reflect on them and approach the fulfillment of hopes for the future, where they will no longer play a significant role. If we pinpoint only the strengths and keep quiet about the weaknesses, we will succumb to one-sided propaganda similar to those that had destroyed many promising hopes in the past. This text was written as a sincere contribution to the fulfillment of Rojava’s hopes.
A specific revolution?
Rojava is often referred as a revolutionary event. More precisely, as a revolution that goes beyond the European or American concept of revolution. This specificity is said to need to be respected and accepted. Those who do not accept it are often described as exalted paternalists. However, Rojava’s partisans rarely ask themselves the question whether a truly social revolution can mean significantly different things in different regions and yet still be attractive to those who want to finish with capitalism.
Although the realities of life are different in different parts of the world, as well as are different cultural and geopolitical contexts, it is wrong to think of the social revolution as if it would mean something different in a different territory. Of course, different contexts tied to specific regions can generate differences in the revolutionary process, in how people get organized, what terminology and symbols they choose, but the content of the revolution is identical everywhere in the world. There are no different social revolutions in different places; there is only the world revolution and the world counter-revolution.
The criticisms contained in this text therefore does not relate at all to formal differences. For example, the text doesn’t criticize that Rojava is talking about democratic confederalism, and not about anarchy and communism. What is criticized instead is the non-revolutionary content, incorrectly defended by some, as if it was revolutionary. Even if revolutionary content was portrayed with the least enticing words, there would be plenty of reasons to stand up for it, just as the non-revolutionary content is worthy of critique even if it is shrouded in the revolutionary terminology as in the case of Rojava. The color of the flag and the names are not significant. We do not criticize the words primarily. It’s not so much about how someone talks about himself; it’s about how he acts. And it is the substantive essence of an action that is being criticized here.
Certainly, the revolution cannot proceed according to predetermined plans and definitions. In many ways, it is unpredictable. Therefore, in order to avoid accusations of dogmatism and expressions of clinging to ideological purity, we would like to put forward that the motivation for our criticism is not the belief that events deviated from some universal schemes of how the revolution should proceed in terms of organizational forms or terminology. It is a mistake to cling to such a “revolutionary scheme” and it was necessary to criticize it. The revolution has no universal scenarios that can be written at the table and then adhered to without deviations. The formal side of the revolution is created in motion, and thus with a certain amount of unpredictability, improvisation and reconsideration. In addition, every revolution suffers from its contradictions and limits. However, it is necessary to start to act even when they manifest themselves. The task of the revolutionary forces is then to reveal them and act in order to overcome them, and not to ignore them and remain silent about them, as is often the case in the case of Rojava.
In its text on the “Kurdish question”, the Italian collective Il Lato Cattivo states:
“A vast cloud of “movements” — armed and unarmed, and oscillating between social banditry and organized guerrilla activity — act in the most wretched zones of the global capitalist junkyard (…). Though the discourses and forms of struggle adopted by these movements are not mere epiphenomena, it is essential to grasp the content they have in common: self-defense. A self-defense that may also be considered vital, but which does not differ in its nature from what is expressed in any industrial action aimed at protecting the wages or working conditions of those who animate it. Just as it would be a sleight of hand to pass off a wage struggle, even if extremely fierce and broad-based, as a “revolutionary movement”, it is equally fallacious to overload this type of self-defense practiced by exhausted populations with an inherently revolutionary meaning.” (2)
The quoted part is interesting because it is a comparison that fits well with the events in Rojava and its frequent interpretation as revolutionary events. There is no doubt at all that there are many sincere revolutionaries in Rojava. However, this does not yet make out of the Kurdish National Liberation Movement a revolutionary movement. The local people, with strong international support, are organizing a fierce struggle, which is primarily a self-defense against the genocide of the Kurdish ethnic group. However, the social revolution is a matter of content – the attack on capitalist relations. But this does not happen in Rojava. Only the relations of political, administrative and economic governance are affected, but private property continues to exist. Together with the private property there are also social classes that are the basis of capitalist construction. Rojava is undergoing a democratic transformation, not a social revolution. This means in particular the following:
- Democratically and horizontally managed cooperatives or communes in Rojava operate on a market basis, a wage relationship and a money exchange, i.e. on the basis that is not different from any enterprise in other areas that proudly espouses the ideology of capitalist economics. (3) Capitalism in which workers, alone and without bosses, manage their misery, is still capitalism, because the question is not just about who manages and how, but above all what is managed. In the case of Rojava cooperatives, the capitalist enterprises are only under the self-management of the workers. (4) Capitalist content is organized in a democratic way.
- Democratic confederalism in Rojava is not a classless community (nor does it head towards), but a form of governance in which members of different classes meet “at one table” in order to plan joint and/or conflicting actions on “common ethnic/national issues”. It is just another variation of what we know from parliamentary politics. The fact that this administration allows more direct participation of citizens does not change the fact that the core of the content is identical. This fact is hidden by the constant repeating of phrases about the “Kurdish people”, as if it was not clear that the “people” is not a homogeneous totality, but a class society whose dynamics are determined by a conflict of antagonistic interests (class conflict). Just like in other parts of the world. A constitution called the Social Contract was developed in Rojava. It proclaims “mutual and peaceful coexistence and understanding between all strands of society.” Not the demolition of the class hierarchical construction, but the collaboration between different classes from different levels of the hierarchy. Let’s face it, the Rojava region is inhabited by a class society, and significant forces hiding behind revolutionary terminology do not want to change it yet.
Attentive readers have certainly noticed that most of the world calls for support for Rojava speak precisely of the support for the Kurdish movement, the Kurdish people, the Kurdish social experiment, Kurdish autonomy, etc. However, we rarely hear something about classes, let alone class analysis. For example, at all public events held so far in support of Rojava in Prague since the beginning of the Turkish invasion, the word class has not been pronounced even once. This is quite shocking given that these people are talking about a social revolution. But they speak of a revolution in the context of a community that, while experimenting with democratic governance, does not question private property and thus leaves the social classes intact. It is astonishing how often the term “popular” is used in the names of Rojava organizations of local resistance (5) and how much the term class and class struggle is missing. As if we forgot that the people (similar to the “Kurdish”) are a supra-class category [over the classes] that includes both the exploited and the exploiters.
But let’s go back to the quote from Il Lato Cattivo. We could sum it up by the fact that in order for the events in Rojava to become truly revolutionary, it is necessary to move beyond the existing content, which represents self-defense of lives, culture, language, ethnicity, territory, local economy, jobs, civic and religious rights. Events would have to move on. To the content that represents the offensive phase. It will not be about civic activism and mere democratic administration, but about proletarian class struggle. In practice, this presupposes expressions of struggle subverting the pillars of Capital, such as classes, property, exchange, labor, money, the market, the State – and at the same time the creation of not only different organizational forms, but above all of a different social content. This is not yet happening in Rojava. This, of course, should not lead to a denial of support for the fighting revolutionaries in Rojava. On the contrary, it is a call to support the class brothers and sisters who act there and who are trying to understand why no revolutionary events have taken place in Rojava yet, and what needs to be changed in order that revolutionary action takes place there and elsewhere in the world. The point is not to turn away from Rojava, but also not to accept the uncritical support of everything that is happening there. Neither rejection nor romanticism. Just keep a sober, non-propaganda view.
Just as we cannot speak of a revolution or a non-capitalist community in Rojava, we cannot say that it is a stateless organisation. The administration itself, with the help of federations of decentralized communes, does not yet mean the extinction of the State. If we stick to the fact that the State is an expression and an instrument of class domination, it is apparent that its existence cannot be seen only as a set of certain structures, institutions and authorities, i.e. police, army, parliament, etc. These are although an important part of the State, but we cannot reduce it to them. The State is also – mainly – the result of specific social relations. This means that it is based on the dynamics of the relation between social classes and their relation to property. Thus, where classes and private property are preserved, there is a State. This, as already indicated above, is the case of Rojava. In the case of some areas of Rojava, the State only uses the people’s assemblies instead of parliament, and the State policy agenda is implemented in a more decentralized, less bureaucratic way.
“The revolution is not certain and Rojava needs the strong spirit of foreign revolutionaries giving their support here in the ground. It’s not enough to make some token gesture. If you are a revolutionary, then enough with your joke excuses, you have work to do,” wrote one of the actors from Rojava. (6)
One cannot help feeling that this appeal actually says that being a revolutionary means giving up the vision of a social revolution as a global process and clinging to the idea of the revolution in one country. That is to say, to cling to the idea that the revolution is a locally isolated event taking place in one region, where all the revolutionaries must move in order to successfully complete it.
Revolutionary internationalism is quite the opposite of such a concept, i.e. the effort not to concentrate revolutionary forces in one place, but to spread them all over the world, because capitalism is a global system that cannot be defeated at the local level, but only by an attack of the global community of struggle. A coordinated attack from many places at the same time, not first “there” and then “somewhere else”.
“So where are all the skilled people? We don’t need your show of solidarity or outside help. We need people here on the ground. We need people that can teach, start and manage projects and provide real solutions”, an anarchist from Rojava urges us. And to emphasize the concept of revolution as a spatially isolated, local event, he adds: “You cannot do anything from outside that is actually effectual.”
So it means that only in Rojava one can be a revolutionary participating in a revolutionary activity? There he is “inside” a revolutionary activity, everywhere else he is “outside” and his activity is insignificant, ineffective and non-revolutionary? It is quite shocking to hear such elitism and alienation from an internationalist perspective from an anarchist. Fortunately, not all anarchists are like that. It is worth recalling what the recently deceased Stuart Christie wrote about the Spanish Civil War in the text “Brothers in Arms”:
“In contrast to the Comintern, the anarchist international, the AIT, did not mount a central recruitment campaign. The CNT-FAI […] disapproved of recruiting foreigners into its militias – except, of course, for stateless refugee volunteers such as the Italians and Germans – preferring instead for comrades to show their solidarity and defend the revolutionary nature of the Spanish Civil War by actions and applying political and industrial pressure at home.” (7)
This anarchist attitude is much more sympathetic. Translated to today and the situation means that if the revolutionary tendencies in Rojava are to be strengthened and the counter-revolutionary ones are to be rolled over, it is necessary for the struggle of revolutionary forces to intensify not only there but also in other parts of the world. Strikes, riots, occupations, blockades, sabotages, seizures of resources, education and building combat infrastructure. All this takes place in different parts of the world. Viewed from the perspective of the revolutionary internationalism, these are all activities that cannot be separated from the manifesting militant tendencies in Rojava. Likewise, the activities of the Rojava revolutionaries cannot be perceived as something that takes place separately and without connection with the proletarian struggles elsewhere in the world. In this sense, the opposite of “inside versus outside” does not actually exist. It’s a fake division that complicates the things.
The terrain of the class struggle is global, as well as capitalism. The offensive fight against it in one region is at the same time a support for the fight that is taking place in other regions. The effectiveness is not determined by whether it is fought “inside” or “from outside” a particular region, but what forms and contents the fight takes. In this sense, for example, a struggle affecting the sphere of production in Czech armories or services at airports (or other companies supporting the Turkish army and economy) may be more effective and have a more positive impact on Rojava than when proletarians fraternize with the Kurdish bourgeoisie in an assembly of communes in order to organize trade between cooperatives and private entrepreneurs.
Tekoşîna Anarşîst lamented in an interview in July 2020 that “A large number of internationalists who come to Rojava participate in defending the revolution for a few months and then return home to their previous lives. Is that what we want? Is this our idea of internationalist solidarity? No, we want something else.”
According to these militants therefore revolutionary activity means giving up one’s own home and life in favor of a common cause? Does returning home necessarily mean the end of the revolutionary initiative? This complain about people returning to their lives is then an open admission that the events in Rojava require their own life to be completely abandoned? If so, apparently some revolutionaries have a lot in common with religious fundamentalists.
There are many cases of how leaving for Rojava really changed people’s lives. However, not only positively, e.g. by gaining valuable experience and inspiration, but also negatively, e.g. by crippling relationships with his loved ones in the places from which they went to Rojava. Behind the pleasing words about the fellowship, community spirit and solidarity embodied in Rojava, there is also an alienation strengthened outside this region. This too is a sad reality that needs to be reflected.
Possibilities of criticism
The positive part of Rojava reality also includes Tekmîl. A ritual that constructively works with criticism, self-criticism and reflection. Mutual criticism is understood as an improvement of collective practice. However, even this ritualized process has its pitfalls. Sometimes it seems as if it is intended only for those who integrate into Kurdish communities. When friendly criticism is expressed by people outside of them, it is not considered to be a constructive contribution to the discussion, but automatically as a manifestation of arrogance. The communist theorist Gilles Dauvé together with another author wrote an interesting critical reflection (8), which can be considered a factual analysis, not a hostile attack. Yet a great deal of anger and accusations of arrogance and paternalistic superiority fell on their heads. Why? Can only those who eat their breakfast together with Kurdish militants every morning and then embark on joint community projects, criticize? Do the others have to either uncritically accept everything or express their critique and accept the label of disrespectful exalted ones? The things are not black and white. There is not just considerate respect on the one hand and ruthless criticism on the other. There are also positions somewhere in between. It is possible to express criticism of certain mistakes and contradictions, but to do so in a considerate way that respects the different self-determination of the criticized persons. This is exactly what both Gilles Dauvé and this text are trying to do.
The reactions that often follow the criticism of some parts of the Rojava reality resemble a lot to the situation in the Czech Republic, where certain activist circles use the same argumentation when they are confronted with the critique of attitude of proletarians of Roma origin in the framework of struggles against oppression. We mean for instance the critique of their patriarchal expressions, hierarchy and obedience to Roma bosses, or even such things as throwing away one-day old food. All these patterns are defended by the cultural customs of the Roma, which must be respected. And those who do not respect them are described as arrogant exalted persons who do not respect Roma self-determination and want to impose a dominant model of the majority on the Roma people.
If respect is to mean the boundless tolerance of everything marked as a cultural tradition or local self-determination, we could go as far as to respect cannibalistic practices and executions by stoning in some communities or national chauvinistic traditions that manifest themselves in the Czech majority. Respect for different cultural customs is appropriate, but it must have certain limits, otherwise the reference to cultural traditions can easily become a tool of manipulation in the defense of the indefensible.
If this text expresses a critique of the specifics of the events of Rojava, it is done with respect for many cultural traditions of the community in Rojava, which are certainly very different from what we practice on a cultural level in the local context. Criticism does not have to mean ruthlessness, just as respect does not mean accepting everything that the other person says and does.
Just as this text brings critical remarks about some of the steps of revolutionaries in Rojava, it would be great to receive the same critical responses from Rojava here in the territory of the so-called Czech Republic. The revolutionary movement is internationalist, so comrade criticism must flow in all directions in order to be a constructive part of the process of creating a common theory and practice. If we grasp the social revolution as a global process, everyone who strives for it has something to say about it, which sometimes, of course, means to criticize comrades operating in another part of the world.
The international brigade Tekoşîna Anarşîst in an interview said: “After some years working here we saw good sides and also bad sides of the revolution, and our commitment with it is based in a frame of internationalism and critical solidarity.” If this is indeed the case, it might not hurt to see in the flood of calls for support for Rojava also more critical voices. When it is about a critical support, not about an unconditional, uncritical, unlimited one.
“The practice of Tekmîl, platform, criticism and self-criticism, guide us in our growth and development as revolutionaries,” says Tekoşîna Anarşîst. If these words are sincere and if people in solidarity with the fight in Rojava identify with them, they will certainly accept this text with enthusiasm as an opportunity for development and growth. Failure to do so will mean that words and actions are not always in harmony and that we have to continue to search for this harmony.
Note on authorship: It is our great desire not to waste energy on speculation about who wrote this text, but rather to use this energy to analyze the content of the text, to discuss about it and to draw practical conclusions. Feedback is welcome at email@example.com
Links and notes:
(1) Listing these texts does not imply agreement with every part of them!
(2) The “Kurdish Question” ISIS, USA, etc.: https://endnotes.org.uk/other_texts/en/il-lato-cattivo-the-kurdish-question
(3) We draw this conclusion for example from the stories of two journalism students who visited Rojava in 2019 and lectured on it in Prague. https://www.afed.cz/text/7035/navsteva-rojavy [in Czech]
In the lecture, they described how the Rojava cooperatives work and their collaborative relationship with private capitalist companies.
(4) Cooperatives operate in a capitalist way and in some cases those who work in them do not even want to change their position as wage workers subject to the orders of others. This was described, for example, by one of the anarchists living in Rojava stating in his text that: “one difficulty in Rojava is that the economic groups are trying to organise worker cooperatives that serve the needs of people’s lives. However people are often saying just tell us what to do and pay us a salary. They just want to work and be given a salary. They don’t want to take charge of their lives…” https://amargipl.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/rojava-reality/
This is confirmed by an interview with Tekoşîna Anarşîst (Anarchist Struggle), which states: “In Rojava there are communal initiatives and incentives for collective ownership, but private property is still the norm in society, without much effort to change this reality. Within revolutionary movements, property is largely collective, and the communal life has a clear socialist orientation, but it is sometimes difficult for these ideas to reach the majority of the population.” https://tekosinaanarsist.noblogs.org/interview-with-tekosina-anarsist-by-fau-federacion-anarquista-uruguaya/
(5) Even the anarchist ones, such as the IRPGF (International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces) brigades.
(6) The grim reality of the Rojava Revolution – from an anarchist eyewitness – text originally published at https://libcom.org/library/grim-reality-rojava-revolution-anarchist-eyewitness and also available at https://www.autistici.org/tridnivalka/the-grim-reality-of-the-rojava-revolution/
(7) The whole text is to be read at https://libcom.org/history/brothers-arms.
(8) Translated in English by Sinister Quarter and available at https://thesinisterquarter.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/kurdistan/ – also available at https://www.autistici.org/tridnivalka/kurdistan-en/