An Introduction to Democratic Confederalism
Understanding Your “Personal Rights”
and “Collective Entitlements”
Slavery, Colonization and Globalization have resulted in a nearly 500 year period of sustained Maldevelopment. Over the last three hundred years many brilliant and powerful people have made revolutions or undertaken vast societal change and development in highly difficult conditions.
But, virtually all attempts to produce an alternative political and economic order, a replacement and improvement to Capitalism have been bloody, authoritarian regressive failures.
In short progress has been unequal, change has been tempered with vast bloodshed, and some of the best minds and devout leaders have been unable to bring about the changes deemed necessary to redeem the human condition.
Most of the 19th century revolts imperfectly implemented enlightenment values. Women were excluded from power, slavery was only partially abolished. The colonies were placed under localized management.
In the 20th century the Socialist and Communist revolutions all took place largely in nations that were too poorly economically developed to meet Marx’s general criteria. The attempts all resulted in major top down industrialization programs; most of which resulted in major loss of human life. None of the Retrograde Socialist regimes were democratic, though some set up better systems for internal one party governance.
Most of the 19th century revolts transferred power from Kings, Aristocracy and Clergy to the Bourgeoisie, the most substantial ones were Colonial revolts in the New World.
Most of the 20th century revolts toppled flailing corrupt regimes during war time; Russian and China, or were also post-Colonial revolts in the developing world; Cuba, Vietnam and Angola. All of them had to invent existentialist criteria on Socialism without Marxist criteria. In many ways holding state power made a large swath of the world wary of socialism. Between 1917 and 1989 a wide range of actors on all continents sought to implement a Communist idea in a wide range of places incapable of manifesting it.
At the World Social Forum, the international forum for leftist and third world populist liberation coordination and discourse; all sorts of apologies and explanations have occurred for the so-called Socialism of the 20th century and many factions turned to Political Islam and Anarchism as paths ahead. In many ways Democratic Confederalism is a Syncretic Ideology. It incorporates a variety of revolutionary ideas about change and power; it attempts to place the wide range of failures of the 20th century into a solution oriented methodology.
Explicitly “Democratic Confederalism” critiques and condemns the Nation State. It critiques and condemns the retrograde socialist experiments for their violence and totalitarian tendencies. Of course it also overtly brings attention to the vile inequality and wanton planetary destruction occurring in Capitalist Modernity.
Is an ideology for Non-state Governance that emerged as a theoretical fusion between Murray Bookchin’s Municipal Confederalism, Social Ecology and libertarian socialist thinking and the practical application of such ideology by Abdullah Ocalan and the Kurdistan Workers Party in Rojava, beginning in 2004.
The specific ideological elements of this program include non-state democratic autonomy, confederations using levels of council democracy, gender equality, protection of minority populations, environmental sustainability and robust development of non state infrastructure.
Rojava is region of Northern Syria that has had semi-autonomy from Syria since 2014. It was deeply reliant on USA military aid until 2019. After defeating the Islamic State it was abandoned and is now under the protection of Russian Federation. It was always had ties with the Assad Regime throughout the war.
In conclusion, most people are not politically conscious and the media in every country seeks to polarize the population further. Most ideologies are then best judged on substance of policy, not rhetoric. Many parties are adopting ideological terms without backing them up with social policy. Many institutions are simply corrupted by money and power.
Without a logical Dialectic, an evolution in development and consciousness a group of people or nation cannot arbitrarily progress to one stage of economic development without engaging in the previous one.
The Marxist theory of Dialectical Materialism emphasizes the importance of real world conditions, in terms of class, labor and socioeconomic interactions.
Material conditions in each society present Contradictions that seek resolution in new forms of social organization. Marx and Engels claimed that Alienation from economic and political autonomy, coupled with exploitation and poverty was the culprit that over history pushed humans into confrontation with governing authorities, seeking to establish more egalitarian means to engage in labor and life.
Thus ideology establishes “the Paradigm” that takes the chaos of history and seeks to present a scientific basis for social, political and economic development.
Brazilian Social Theorist Oberto Ungar advanced the “False Necessitarian” approach to social policy and theory. According to this theory it is not necessary to whole scale adopt an entire ideological paradigm to governance. You can be flexible, you do not have set up wholly capitalist or socialist social polices. You can have a Socialist Health Service along side Small and Medium Enterprises where workers are compensated adequately. You do not need to be liberal or conservative in all areas of governance. A state can pick between ideologies when implementing goals. However, some of these ideological frameworks offer very mutually exclusive paradigms.
Many theorists have made lengthy critiques of both capitalist and socialist states, as well as the Westphalian State System. Many of those specific critiques will be analyzed in the upcoming lessons. Ideology is meant to be liberating, not dogmatic.
It is meant to help form the social policies best suited to the stage of development a given nation is actually in.
The reason we make a revolution, the reason we engage in human development is to win personal rights and collective entitlements.
All other reasons are purely selfish or reactionary.
A personal right is “right to”, “or a right from”. A positive or negative right is established in a constitution; codifying a legal basis for rights. The specific obligation society has to uphold of the individual and things society must grant us have to evaluated as substantiate. Are the rights “Adequate, Accessible, Available and of good Quality? Are the rights distributed without discrimination to a group? Does the populace know their rights?
Personal Rights, such as those in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 39 various Human Rights instruments; have to be codified into Constitutions and enforced with Courts. A personal right can only be guaranteed by securing a Collective Entitlement; I.e. no one has rights in a vacuum, no one can have rights respected if they have no structures in place to address violations or have their entitlements enforced. Thus when the state which is the historic guarantor of such civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, is most often the leading violator; then to actually secure our rights we need a fundamental shift to a new mechanism.
The overall social policy goals of global Resistance are articulated within in two broad classifications:
- Pursuit of a Free life
- Pursuit of a Communal Existence
What then is Free Life?
“Free Life” is a concept that involves actualization of the human rights entitlements enshrined in the United Nations. Extrapolating individual rights to and rights from, so-called negative and positive rights, all human rights can also be divided into Civil Political Rights and Economic, Social Cultural Rights. These rights are not legally binding in any nation on earth currently. These are not rights granted by deities or governments. They are are intrinsic rights by virtue of being born human, to be be enshrined and attained by good governance.
A Free Life is a life where a human being can live out their existence actualizing all these rights entitlements, which are not an end in themselves. They are a framework to set all humans up for the most equitable existence possible, where by needs are fully met and wants a re possible because of enhanced capability. The presumption is that if full rights are enshrined in local governance, a life of security, dignity and emancipation are the result. Not all people are genetically, socially and culturally the same, nor can the free will to compete and strive be suppressed, nor should it. Free life then is built on a foundation of equal rights and opportunity, a social support infrastructure cultivating and equal starting place among people and the ability of all women and men to achieve their needs, wants and aspirations. Living lives of material and social security with the possible attainment of happiness and fulfillment. Though emotions and feelings cannot be legislated.
This Free Life is not a political or ideological ideal. It is the way humans live when not acted upon by poverty, war, crime, malice and terrible social policy.
What then is a Communal Existence?
A “Communal Existence” is founded in that we are actually by genetics (nature) and upbringing (nurture) empathetic social creatures that generally seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, but are still generally good. That we are divided by arbitrary false identities, state nationalism and imposed creeds. But, that we are more good than, evil. We are more social than individualistic. That the ultimate norm of human evolution, not acted upon by hateful ideology, false consciousnesses, poverty and violence; is a tendency to be collective and coexist.
Thus, pursuit of communal existence is an alignment of social policy which firsts grants an full and total upholdment of human rights, assuring an equality before the law. After this is period where economic modals are brought in service of these rights, the economy beholden to the social and environmental sphere as opposed to today where social and environmental policy is in service of Capitalist economic needs. In this order the rights and equality secured humanity moves to place of equilibrium where individual want, individual wealth, individual need is a secondary thought to collective want, collective rights and communistic responsibility.
Human nature is not individualistically oriented and wholly greedy, selfish and self interested. These are values that arise in an environment of competition, exploitative policy and scarcity.
WHO IS SEROK APO?
Abdullah Öcalan, also known as Apo (short for both Abdullah and “uncle” in Kurdish), is a Kurdish leftist political theoretician, political prisoner and one of the founding members of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.).
Öcalan helped found the P.K.K. in 1978, and led it into the Kurdish-Turkish conflict in 1984. His leadership style was often ruthless, and many of his opponents in the PKK were killed on his orders. For most of his leadership, he was based in Syria, which provided sanctuary to the P.K.K. until the late 1990s.
After being forced to leave Syria, Öcalan was abducted in Nairobi in 1999 by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (M.I.T.) (with the support of the CIA) and taken to Turkey, where he was sentenced to death under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code, which concerns the formation of armed organizations.
Öcalan now argues that the period of armed warfare is past and a political solution to the Kurdish question should be developed. Öcalan’s prison regime has oscillated between long periods of isolation during which he is allowed no contact with the outside world, and periods when he is permitted visits.
In 2012, he was involved in negotiations with the Turkish government that led to the Kurdish–Turkish peace process.
From prison, Öcalan has published several books. Jineology, also known as the “Science of Women”, is a form of feminism advocated by Öcalan and subsequently a fundamental tenet of the Kurdistan Communities Union.
What then is Democratic Confederalism
Since his incarceration, Abdullah Öcalan has significantly changed his ideology through exposure to Western social theorists such as Murray Bookchin, Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Drawing heavily on Murray Bookchin’s Libertarian Socialist idea of Communalism, Öcalan fashioned his ideal society called “Democratic Confederalism“.
Democratic confederalism is:
“A system of popularly elected administrative councils, allowing local communities to exercise autonomous control over their assets, while linking to other communities via a network of Confederal councils.Decisions are made by communes in each neighborhood, village, or city. All are welcome to partake in the communal councils, but political participation is not mandated. There is no private property, but rather “ownership by use, which grants individuals usage rights to the buildings, land, and infrastructure, but not the right to sell and buy on the market or convert them to private enterprises.” The economy is in the hands of the communal councils, and is thus (in the words of Bookchin) ‘neither collectivized nor privatized – it is common.”
Feminism, Ecology, Protection and Empowerment of Minority Groups and Direct Democracy are essential elements in Democratic Confederalism. The substitution of monolithic identity based nation states with a Confederation of autonomous communities is the political objective.
With his 2005 “Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan”, Öcalan advocated for a Kurdish implementation of Bookchin’s The Ecology of Freedom via municipal assemblies as a democratic confederation of Kurdish communities beyond the state borders of Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Öcalan promoted a platform of shared values: environmentalism, self-defense, gender equality, and a pluralistic tolerance for religion, politics, and culture. While some of his followers questioned Öcalan’s conversion from Marxism-Leninism, the P.K.K. adopted Öcalan’s proposal and began to form assemblies.
In early 2004, Öcalan attempted to arrange a meeting with Murray Bookchin through Öcalan’s lawyers, describing himself as Bookchin’s “student” eager to adapt Bookchin’s thought to Middle Eastern society. Bookchin was too ill to meet with Öcalan.
In May 2004 Bookchin conveyed this message “My hope is that the Kurdish people will one day be able to establish a free, rational society that will allow their brilliance once again to flourish. They are fortunate indeed to have a leader of Mr. Öcalan’s talents to guide them”. When Bookchin died in 2006, the P.K.K. hailed the American thinker as “one of the greatest social scientists of the 20th century” and vowed to put his theories into practice.
On Libertarian Municipalism
“The overriding problem is to change the structure of society so that people gain power. The best arena to do that is the municipality — the city, town, and village — where we have an opportunity to create a face-to-face democracy.”
In 1980, Bookchin used the term “Libertarian Municipalism“, to describe a system in which libertarian institutions of directly democratic assemblies would oppose and replace the state with a confederation of free municipalities. Libertarian Municipalism intends to create a situation in which the two powers, i.e. the municipal confederations and the nation-state, cannot coexist. Communalists hold that this is a method to achieve a liberated society.
Libertarian Municipalism is not seen merely as an effort to “take over” city and municipal councils to construct a more “environmentally friendly” government, but also an effort to transform and democratize these structures, to root them in popular assemblies, and to knit them together along Confederal lines to appropriate a regional economy. Bookchin summarized this process in the saying “democratize the republic, then radicalize the democracy“.
It is a dual power that contests the legitimacy of the existing state power. Communalists hold that such a movement should be expected to begin slowly, perhaps sporadically, in communities here and there that initially may demand only the ability to alter the structuring of society before enough interlinked confederations exist to demand the outright institutional power to replace the centralized state. The growing tension created by the emergence of municipal confederations would represent a confrontation between the state and the political realms. It is believed this confrontation can be resolved only after Communalism forms the new politics of a popular movement and ultimately captures the imagination of society at large.
Communalists see as equally important the need for Confederation – the interlining of communities with one another through recallable delegates mandated by municipal citizens’ assemblies and whose sole functions are coordinative and administrative. This is similar to the system of “nested councils” found in participatory politics.
According to Bookchin, “Confederation has a long history of its own that dates back to antiquity and that surfaced as a major alternative to the nation-state. From the American Revolution through the French Revolution and the Spanish Revolution of 1936, confederalism constituted a major challenge to state centralism”. Communalism is seen to add a radically democratic dimension to the contemporary discussions of confederation (e.g. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia) by calling for confederations not of nation-states but of municipalities and of the neighborhoods of large cities as well as towns and villages.
On Policy and Administration
Communalists make a clear distinction between the concepts of Policy and Administration. This distinction is seen as fundamental to Communalist principles.
Policy is defined by being made by a community or neighborhood assembly of free citizens; administration on the other hand, is performed by Confederal Councils a level up from the local assemblies which are composed of mandated, recallable delegates of wards, towns, and villages. If particular communities or neighborhoods –or a minority grouping of them– choose to go their own way to a point where human rights are violated or where ecological destruction is permitted, the majority in a local or regional confederation would have the right to prevent such practices through its Confederal council. This is explained not as a denial of democracy but the assertion of a shared agreement by all to recognize civil rights and maintain the ecological integrity of a region.
Policy-making remains local, but its administration is vested in the Confederal network as a whole. The confederation is intended to be a community of communities based on distinct human rights and ecological imperatives. These ideas have inspired indigenous leaders such as Tomas Cruz Lorenzo, who was assassinated in 1989 in Oaxaca, Mexico.
On Participation in currently existing political systems
One of the core distinctions between ”Anarchism” and “Communalism” is that Communalists are not opposed in principle to taking part in currently existing political institutions until such a time as it is deemed unnecessary.
For Anarchists this is ideologically incompatible, for Anarchists in general cannot abide by any form of bureaucratic government or hierarchy.
Communalists on the other hand see no issues with supporting candidates or political parties in local electoral politics—especially municipal elections—as long as prospective candidates are libertarian socialist and anti-statist in general policy. The particular goal of this process is to elevate Communalists (or those sympathetic to Communalism) to a position of power so as to construct face-to-face municipal assemblies to maximize direct democracy and make existing forms of representative democracy increasingly irrelevant.
There are obvious contradictions to this model where anti-statists participate in elected office, or transitional or provisional government. Democratic Confederalism, a political administration faces these Contradictions in Rojava today; where they are:
- Democratic Pluralism vs. Leninist Style Vanguard? An autonomous non-state governance confederation of three Cantons and several large territories providing for nearly 4 million people, is managed by a coalition of political parties through TEVDEM, though in reality dominated by only one Party the Party of Democratic Unity, the Syrian Branch of the P.K.K. and no dissent has been tolerated in the ongoing war time environment.
- Agents of Imperialism vs. Realism Under Fire? Throughout the Civil War the Party fought ISIS and other Islamist rebels armed and supported by the air power of the United States. It rarely ever fought Assad’s regime, and when the US abandoned Rojava in 2019 the Party quickly secured itself against Turkey by allying overtly with Assad, Russian and Hezbollah.
- Agents of Assad or Ocalan? The Party is also the implementing arm of services funded by the Assad lead Syrian government, who has throughout the war paid the civil servants in the Autonomous Zone in Northern and Eastern Syria. It has sold oil to the Assad government throughout the war.
- Real Change or Propaganda? Rojava has explicit policies to elevate Women and protect minorities; Rojava has large Kurdish and Arab demographics, as wells as Christian Assyrian, Turkmen, Yazidis, Chechens and Circassians. However, it is a political project completely dominated by Kurds. The role of women in most of the territory it governs is heavily Sunni Muslim, traditional and deeply patriarchal. Environmentally, the territory is complete disaster. There is trash everywhere. There are large constantly burning fields of oil, producing Masood, a deeply polluting alternative. There is not one sustainable element to the entire project in place.
These are some of the major contradictions you will find in the world of the real; Democratic Confederalism is very different from Marxism/Leninism in its view of economic or historical determinism. It breaks from it in several crucial ways, while at the same time remaining anti-state, anti-capitalist. Let us look at the contradictions.
Rojava was born our of total state collapse, in a war zone. A war zone that to date has claimed over 700,000 lives. It is quite literally surrounded by enemies.
In 2011, a civil uprising erupted in Syria, prompting hasty government reforms. One of the issues addressed during this time was the status of Syria’s stateless Kurds, as President Bashar al-Assad granted about 220,000 Kurds citizenship. In course of the next months, the crisis in Syria escalated into a civil war. The armed Syrian opposition seized control of several regions, while security forces were overstretched. In mid-2012 the government responded to this development by withdrawing its military from three mainly Kurdish areas and leaving control to local militias. This has been described as an attempt by the Assad regime to keep the Kurdish population out of the initial civil uprising and civil war.
Existing underground Kurdish political parties, namely the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council (KNC), joined to form the Kurdish Supreme Committee (KSC) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia was reestablished to defend Kurdish-inhabited areas in northern Syria. In July 2012, the YPG established control in the towns of Kobanî, Amuda and Afrin, and the Kurdish Supreme Committee established a joint leadership council to administer the towns. Soon YPG also gained control of the cities of Al-Malikiyah, Ras al-Ayn, al-Darbasiyah, and al-Muabbada and parts of Hasakah and Qamishli. Doing so, the YPG and its female wing, the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), mostly battled factions of the Free Syrian Army, and Islamist militias like the al-Nusra Front and Jabhat Ghuraba al-Sham. It also eclipsed rival Kurdish militias, and absorbed some government loyalist groups. The government’s withdrawal and concurrent rise of the PYD “raised many eyebrows”, as the relationship between the two entities was “highly contentious” at the time. The PYD was known to oppose certain government policies, but had also strongly criticized the Syrian opposition.
The Kurdish Supreme Committee was dissolved in 2013, when the PYD abandoned the alliance with the KNC and established the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) coalition with other political parties.
On 19 July 2013, the PYD announced that it had written a constitution for an “autonomous Syrian Kurdish region”, and planned to hold referendum to approve the constitution in October 2013. Qamishli served as first de facto capital of the PYD-led governing body, which was official called the “Interim Transitional Administration“.
The announcement was widely denounced by both moderate as well as Islamist factions of the Syrian opposition.
In January 2014, three areas under TEV-DEM rule declared their autonomy as cantons (now Afrin Region, Jazira Region and Euphrates Region) and an interim constitution was approved. The Syrian opposition and even the Kurdish parties belonging to the KNC condemned this move, regarding the canton system as illegal, authoritarian, and supportive of the Syrian government.
The PYD countered that the constitution was open to review and amendment, and that the KNC had been consulted on its drafting beforehand. From September 2014 to spring 2015, the YPG forces in Kobanî Canton, supported by some Free Syrian Army militias and leftist international and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) volunteers, fought and finally repelled an assault by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during the Siege of Kobanî, and in the YPG’s Tell Abyad offensive of summer of 2015, the regions of Jazira and Kobanî were connected.
After the YPG victory over ISIL in Kobanî in March 2015, an alliance between YPG and the United States was formed, which greatly worried Turkey, because Turkey stated the YPG was a clone of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which Turkey (and the U.S. and the E.U.) designate as terrorists.
In December 2015, the Syrian Democratic Council was created. On 17 March 2016, at a TEV-DEM-organized conference in Rmelan the establishment the Democratic Federation of Rojava – Northern Syria was declared in the areas they controlled in Northern Syria. The declaration was quickly denounced by both the Syrian government and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
Yousef said the decision to set up a federal government was in large part driven by the expansion of territories captured from Islamic State:
“Now, after the liberation of many areas, it requires us to go to a wider and more comprehensive system that can embrace all the developments in the area, that will also give rights to all the groups to represent themselves and to form their own administrations.”
In July 2016, a draft for the new constitution was presented, based on the principles of the 2014 constitution, mentioning all ethnic groups living in Northern Syria and addressing their cultural, political and linguistic rights. The main political opposition to the constitution have been Kurdish nationalists, in particular the KNC, who have different ideological aspirations than the TEV-DEM coalition.
On 28 December 2016, after a meeting of the 151-member Syrian Democratic Council in Rmelan, a new constitution was resolved; despite objections by 12 Kurdish parties, the region was renamed the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, removing the name “Rojava“.
Turkey, the second largest NATO army to the north, is nothing short of devoted to destroying the P.K.K./P.Y.D. led project in Rojava. A conglomeration of Al-Qaeda and Islamist affiliates to the South west in Idlib. The neutral, leaning toward hostile Syrian Army south of the Euphrates, a Turkish backed Kurdish Regional Government (K.R.G.) in North Iraq and of course from 2014-2019, an existential threat from the Jihadists of the Islamic State in the Levant and Syria. Which has been largely neutralized. By 2014, Y.P.G./Y.P.J. forces had been surrounded in Kobane, where most expected them to be massacred. Following massive Coalition air strikes, the Y.P.G./Y.P.J./P.K.K. an their allies drove ISIS back city by city, town by town. In 2017 Raqqah, the capital of ISIS was surrounded and after a protracted siege liberated. Just shortly before the Iraqi Army and Shiite Hashidashabi, Popular Mobilization Militias liberated Mosul.
For a wide range of reasons the United States and NATO coalition forces were not willing to commit ground troops after the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq, so they heavily utilized the militia forces available. Which ideologically in both Iraq; the Hashidashabi and Syria; the YPG/YPJ were both ideologically hostile to the U.S., but for several years defeating ISIS was a unifying priority for everyone.
The Hashidashabi militias (over 120,000 light infantry fighters) were the direct proteges of the Iranian revolutionary Guard Corps, the Pasdaran. As is Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Militia defended the Assad regime.
The largely Kurdish People’s Protection Units/ Womens’ Protection Units (over 65,000 light infantry fighters), the military arm of the Democratic Union Party are the direct proteges, if not the direct military asset of the Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.)
When the Syrian Civil War began, the Syrian army evacuated the historically Kurdish, re-settled heavily by Arabs region. The armed defense forces of the Y.P.G./Y.P.J.; People’s Protection Units/ Womens’ Protection units secured the major villages, towns and cities. Rojava is mostly a dirt hill desert, nine months of the year. It has both agricultural value and oil wealth for Syria. Outside a few small cities; Qamishly, Kobane, Mambij, Raqqah and Al-Hasake it is largely small villages and towns. Al-Hasake is the largest city of around 600,000, Qamishly, Kobane and Afrin (until it fell to the Turkish proxy forces in 2018) are the Canton administration centers. Raqqah and Mambij are large, majority Arab cities whose populations have questionable loyalty to the Revolution, both major centers of ISIS rule.
Amid this chaos; Y.P.G./Y.P.J. re-branded the Syrian Democratic Forces, in a shallow subterfuge enabling the United States to fund an obvious branch of the P.K.K. (who it declares a terrorist group) pandering to Turkey the second largest armed forces in NATO and with U.S. led coalition Special Forces and air support routed ISIS in Syria between 2014-2018. In 2018, the US abandoned it’s ally, the Turkish military captured the western most Canton, Afrin. In 2019 the Turkish forces captured a large swat of central territory.
Turkish and Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces captured 68 settlements, including Ras al-Ayn,Tell Abyad, Suluk, Mabrouka and Manajir during the 9-day operation before a 120-hour ceasefire was announced. A formal agreement between the PYD (Democratic Union Party), Assad and the Russian Federation has temporarily frozen the Turkish invasion of Rojava.
In 2020 the Turkish Military began its fourth large scale operation and attack on the P.K.K. began in Northern Iraq.
Since 2012, when the first YPG pockets appeared, Turkey had been alarmed by the presence of P.K.K.-related forces at its southern border and grew concerned when the YPG entered into an alliance with the US to oppose ISIS forces in the region.
Turkey allowed tens of thousands of Islamist foreign fighters to cross into Syria and Iraq to support ISIS. The Turkish MIT was supporting ISIS throughout their insurgency.
The Turkish government subsequently refused to allow aid to be sent to the YPG during the Siege of Kobanî. This led to the Kurdish riots, the breakdown of the 2013–2015 peace process in July 2015 and the renewal of armed conflict between the P.K.K. and Turkish forces. According to Turkey there is absolutely no difference between the KCK aligned Kurdish organizations, YPG’s parent organization, the PYD, provided the PKK with militants, explosives, arms and ammunition. It is accurate to confirm that there is very little fiscal or operational separation amid these regional branches. Commanders regularly simply switch patches and uniforms, all are indoctrinated/ educated with P.K.K. approved texts and methods.
In August 2016, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield to prevent the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from linking Afrin Canton (now Afrin Region) with the rest of Rojava and to capture Manbij from the SDF. Such a successful push would have provided a linkage of the three cantons by land. The Hatay Province of Turkey was part of Syria during the Ottoman Period. Capture of Hatay would have provided a contiguous Kurdish corridor to the Sea.
Turkish and Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces prevented the linking of Rojava’s cantons and captured all settlements in Jarabulus previously under SDF control. The SDF handed over part of the region to the Syrian government to act as a buffer zone against Turkey. Manbij remained under SDF control.
In early 2018, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch alongside Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army to capture the Kurdish-majority Afrin and oust the YPG/SDF from region. Afrin Canton, a subdivision of the region, was occupied and over 100,000 civilians were displaced and relocated to Afrin Region’s Shahba Canton which remained under SDF, then joint SDF-Syrian Arab Army (SAA) control. The remaining SDF forces later launched an ongoing insurgency against the Turkish and Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces.
In 2019, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring against the SDF. On 9 October, the Turkish Air Force launched airstrikes on border towns. On 6 October President Donald Trump had ordered United States troops to withdraw from northeastern Syria where they had been providing support to the SDF. Journalists called the withdrawal “a serious betrayal to the Kurds” and “a catastrophic blow to US credibility as an ally and Washington’s standing on the world stage”; one journalist stated that “this was one of the worst U.S. foreign policy disasters since the Iraq War“.
Turkish and Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces captured 68 settlements, including Ras al-Ayn, TellAbyad, Suluk, Mabrouka and Manajir during the 9-day operation before a 120-hour ceasefire was announced. The operation was condemned by the international community, and human rights violations by Turkish forces were reported. Media outlets labeled the attack “no surprise” because Turkish president Erdoğan had for months warned that the presence of the YPG on the Turkish-Syrian border despite the Northern Syria Buffer Zone was unacceptable.
An unintended consequence of the attack was that it raised the worldwide popularity and legitimacy of the northeastern Syrian administration, and several PYD and YPG representatives became internationally known to an unprecedented degree. However, these events caused tensions within the KCK, as differences emerged between the PKK and PYD leadership. The PYD was determined to maintain the regional autonomy and hoped for a continued alliance with the United States. In contrast, the PKK central command was now willing to restart negotiations with Turkey, distrusted the United States, and emphasized the international success of its leftist ideology over the survival of Rojava as administrative entity.
Democratic Pluralism vs. Vanguard Party
The Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.) founded branches of the group in Iraq, Iran and Syria as well as throughout Europe. These branches are united in a Confederal framework called the K.C.K., around the principles of Democratic Confederalism. They maintain separate structures, but are for all intents and purposes branches of the same party, coordinated from Northern Iraq in Qandil, loyal to Abdullah Ocalan.
The Syrian Branch is the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
As the Arab Spring reached Syria in early 2011, protests spread to the Kurdish areas in the north. The PYD, which had a large presence among Syrian Kurds, was actively competing with the Kurdish National Council. One of the main points of divergence related to the PYD’s stance of urging regime change, yet rejecting foreign intervention and alignment with the Syrian opposition. It claimed to offer a third way within the Syrian conflict, centered around self-defence and the primacy of non-violent solutions which did not support either the regime or the opposition, based on the organization of society and the formation of cultural, social, economic and political institutions in order to achieve “self-administration for the people”.
Despite this competition, the KNC and PYD agreed to work together within the Kurdish Supreme Committee (DBK), established in 2012 in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. However, as local popular support tilted towards the PYD, the KNC eventually withdrew its participation. It accused the PYD of monopolizing decision-making and harassing its activists. The PYD responded by accusing the KNC of trying to establish a competing parallel force and divide the region into competing zones of influence, risking Kurdish infighting. In November 2013 the PYD, under the “TEV-DEM” umbrella, unilaterally announced the creation of an interim administration for the region.
The Movement for a Democratic Society (Kurdish: Tevgera Civaka Demokratîk, TEV-DEM, is a left-wing umbrella organization in northern Syria founded on 16 January 2011 with the goal of organizing Syrian society under a democratic confederalist system. It is a mobilization strategy dominated by the PYD to establish Democratic Confderalist structures throughout society.
By December 2013, TEV-DEM switched to a new governance model, dubbed the “democratic self-administration project“, with stronger ties to the PYD’s democratic confederalist ideology. This came to replace the “interim administration project” previously agreed upon with the KNC.
The Social Contract of July 2016 emphasizes multi-ethnic recognition in line with democratic confederalist ideology and dedicates articles 8–53 to basic principles of rights, representation and personal freedoms that match the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also contains a number of other principles so far never applied in Syria or neighboring countries, such as the inadmissibility of civilians being tried by military courts and the abolition of the death penalty. In addition, the PYD adopts a progressive gender equality standard in its governance structures, with equal gender representation in all administrations and the establishment of a Ministry for Women’s Liberation – a standard that has been largely adhered to, including within the military.
Despite the radical leftist roots of the PYD in the decades-long connection to the ideology of Öcalan and the P.K.K., these multi-ethnic and secular components of the constitution met some fundamental requirements of Western international backers opposing the Syrian regime. The model of local administration in the region has fostered a number of positive developments, such as a focus on individual personal freedoms, and the local administration has helped to reduce the repercussions of the civil war on the population in Northern Syria by filling the vacuum left by the withdrawal of Assad’s forces from northern Syria; its nuanced position vis-à-vis the Syrian government allowed a continuation of the basic services previously rendered by the state.
Some differences have surfaced between the P.K.K. and the P.Y.D., in regards to ongoing negotiation and long term alliances. The PYD, directly threatened by ISIS, then Turkey is believed to have favored a long term alliance with the United States, while the PKK saw the alliance as temporary and sought a compromise with Turkey.
The PKK is very much a Vanguard Party, along with the Barzani family lead KDP and Talabani family lead PUK, these 3 parties have done the most by far to advance the Kurdish national issue and fight for Kurdish independence. In Syria, it is clear that during the ongoing war the PYD has used TEV DEM, the Movement for Democratic Society to dominate the war time political policy making. It has suppressed other parties, especially those affiliated with Barzani’s KDP, but in recent months of 2020 has allowed greater power sharing.
The PKK, from 1978 to 2004 was Maoist/Stalinist style vanguard party and shedding that mode of thinking will not happen over night. Rojava has been under attack, is still under attack and allowing complete free speech and press an Party in fighting is not useful in scenario. There is great ideological difference between PYD and KDP-Syria/ KDP-Iraq. There are very different visions each party holds for a Kurdish future.
The contradiction of vanguard vs. Pluralism is probably only possible to experiment with after the war is over, unfortunate for all, the Syrian Civil War is an international proxy war. There might not peace anytime soon. Thus a question is asked, can Democratic Confederalism only occur in a war zone? Can a Democratic Union Party (PYD) emerge and form policy in a democratic nation, if such ideology is anti state? And what is the difference between government and administration? Is Rojava an unrecognized state, like Kurdish North Iraq?
The answer is that in regards to Rojava, Democratic Confederalism is very much a product of state failure. The structures associated with it are the forces that defeated ISIS and secured the lives of 2 to 4 million people. But this is not the only way Democratic Confederalism can be introduced.
The PYD/ PKK/ KCK are Democratic Confederalist structures. They are parties that seek to implement this ideology on the ground in highly imperfect conditions. That is not a state or a government; it is administration of military and social services in a power vacuum. The most obvious contradiction is not power sharing of parties in war time, it is receiving support from opposing power blocks.
Agent of Imperialism vs. Realism Under Heavy Fire
When ISIS surrounded Kobane, everyone was sure a massacre would follow, as it had in the past with the Yazidis. Tenacious street fighting, support troops form PKK and Peshmerga aided. But above all else it was the air power of the coalition, target air strikes that leveled the fighting fields between ISIS and its opposition.
Over the next four years the US Coalition heavily armed the YPG/YPJ which made up over 60% of the Syrian Democratic Forces. It committed several thousand special forces for training, targeting and logistical support. Most importantly, from 2014 to 2018, the full force of U.S. hegemony protected Rojava. But when ISIS was finished off in Hajin, President Trump ordered the U.S. forces out and Turkey immediately attacked, 3 times.
To much of the Anarchist and Socialist left, Rojava was of course an imperfect utopia, but was clearly a utopia in progress or at the very least an ideological project that spoke to their desperation. Which is to say by 2014 there were very few left wing projects left. Cuba, the Zapatista Zone, Naxalite India, but not that many. Perhaps only 800 foreign leftists came to defend Rojava over the course of the war. The largest contributor were Turkish communist parties. Their contribution was negligible, a far smaller number stayed on after their 6 month tours to contribute on the civilian side.
A much greater number of leftists did nothing at all. In their minds Rojava was not a Utopian project or a leftist project. The PYD was taking Assad regime money, had an office in Moscow and was assisting a U.S. imperial ambition. Probably the majority of the leftists stayed away because they didn’t wish to die, Kurmanji is essential to participation and the contradictions are many.
Agents of Assad or Ocalan
Abdullah Ocalan has not been heard from for several years. He has been badly tortured several times, he might be even be dead. The ideological shift that occurred in the P.K.K. from Communist Kurdish Nationalism to Internationalist Democratic Confederalism occurred between 1999 and 2004. During this time Ocalan and the Turkish State were in negotiations. There was long period of ceasefire and a massive exodus of P.K.K. military forces from Turkey to North Iraq. There was on again off again electoral victory and repression of popular Kurdish parties in Turkey. The PKK/PYD/KCK is operating in a war zone, amid 4 separate counties; Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. All of which have proven genocidal to Kurds. Nations have long used the Kurds to achieve their political and military projects.
Iran backs the PUK, and off again on again the PKK, but the KCK affiliate PJAK, takes CIA and Mossad weapons and money to fight Iran. Turkey backs the KDP-I, and will stop at nothing to defeat the PKK in a civil war that has killed over 50,000 since 1984. The KDP-I and the PUK Peshmerga cannot stand up to the Iraqi army, and lost 10-15% of the KRG zone including oil rich Kirkuk City, in 2018 right after the referendum on independence. Turkey has invaded Rojava twice and occupies Afrin and swathe of the central canton. Turkey has invaded and bombarded north Iraq to strike at the PKK bases in the mountains. The PYD and PKK have begun to publicly differ a great deal over the right next move. In the mean time, with Russian urging, Rojava has allowed the Syrian army back into all its major population centers and clearly sided with the Assad regime, perhaps worse than ISIS in its conduct of the war by all accounts.
This is not an easy place to win a revolution in. Nor should we look to Rojava for every answer about Democratic Confederalist thinking. But is is Democratic Confederalism in the real, beyond the theory of a Jew in the hills of Vermont or an imprisoned revolutionary leader who may never see freedom in his life again.
Ocalan is the main mind, or one of only a couple of minds that in the modern era have achieved any level of redemption and self determination for Kurds, one of the world’s oldest stateless people. Certainly the largest. What the Party, and working class parties of the future do is shaped but not dictated by him and the Kurds, but they are the first to attempt adaptation.
Serving Assad, is simply serving modern Oligarchy as the Assad family is the predominant Oligarchy in Syria and Syria is to Russia, what Israel is to the United States; the premier regional client. It is not useful to moralize the atrocious conduct of any side during the Syrian Civil War, as all sides were brutal though the Kurds far less inclined to it. War is war, violence begets violence. But by all accounts the Syrian Army backed by Russia and Hezbollah were more ruthless and rent less than ISIS. ISIS just seemed to want to video tape everything.
The largest contradiction to date is how can a pro-democratic, pro-human rights administration rely on the protection of an anti-democratic, ruthless Oligarchy, backed by Russia. In the end, this is the largest contradiction. If not resolved it will result in the end of Rojava as an autonomous administration. But that is perhaps preferable to a democide at the hands of the Turkish State.
Real Change or Pure Propaganda
There is without a doubt a great deal of real change happening, although you would need to know Arabic or Kurmanji to participate in it meaningfully. There is co-gendered mandatory structures on all levels; head of Party, military posts, armed forces, every position has man and a woman. That is far more radical than any leftist group has ever gone.
Democratically speaking, there are multiple parties but really only two that matter. In power the PYD in opposition the KDP-S, the Kurdish left and right. To what degree were and are Arabs marginalized in Rojava. It was probably worse during the four years of active conflict with ISIS, but certainly the Arabs resent Kurdish rule. There have been efforts to role our democratic councils, structures and assemblies and compares to Assad autocracy, that too is a progress. But this is still a one party state, allowing highly limited questioning of the official line. It still appears that the Assad regime is keeping the lights on and paying all the civil servants.
Environmentally speaking, the place is one of the ugliest places on earth, mud and dirt hills and desert, grass land and farms between the mountains in Afrin to the west, North of the Euphrates and east of the Tigris. There has been almost no ability to do anything sustainable, trees are being planted. It is green three months of the year. Largely it is indefensible. There are oil reserves all over Deir Ez-Zor province, there is a lot of farm land. There has been no clear attempts to recycle, the streets are littered in trash everywhere you go. Water is being diverted away from Rojava by damming projects in Turkey.
Imports are nearly impossible over the Turkish norther border where a wall and mine field run the whole perimeter. There is on again off again traffic into and out of Iraq depending on political factors. There is trade with the Assad regime, but it is not so much trade as oil and civil servant salaries for goods.
Communalists are heavily critical of the market economy and capitalism. Believing that these systems destroy the environment by creating a ‘grow or die’ mentality and creating a large population of alienated citizens. They propose abolition of the market economy and money and replaces it with a decentralised planned economy controlled by local municipalities and cooperatives.
In such a municipal economy – Confederal, interdependent, and rational by ecological, not only technological, standards – Communalists hold that the special interests that divide people today into workers, professionals, managers, capitalist owners and so on would be melded into a general interest (a social interest) in which people see themselves as citizens guided strictly by the needs of their community and region rather than by personal proclivities and vocational concerns.
In Rojava there have been several efforts to from cooperatives and establish some balance between Utopian values and needs of the war.
The Jazira Region (former Jazira Canton) is a major wheat and cotton producer and has a considerable oil industry. The Euphrates Region (formerly Kobane Canton) suffered most destruction of the three regions and has huge challenges in reconstruction, and has recently seen some greenhouse agriculture construction. The Afrin Region (former Afrin Canton) has had a traditional specialization on olive oil including Aleppo soap made from it, and had drawn much industrial production from the nearby city of Aleppo due to the fighting in Aleppo city from 2012–2016.
Price controls are managed by local committees, which can set the price of basic goods such as food and medical goods.
It has been theorized that the Assad government had deliberately underdeveloped parts of Northern Syria in order to Arabize the region and make secession attempts less likely. During the Syrian Civil War, the infrastructure of the region on average experienced less destruction than other parts of Syria. In May 2016, Ahmed Yousef, head of the Economic Body and chairman of Afrin University, stated that at the time, the economic output of the region (including agriculture, industry and oil) accounted for about 55% of Syria’s gross domestic product.
In 2014, the Syrian government was still paying some state employees, but fewer than before. However, the administration of the region stated that “none of our projects are financed by the regime”. But that is simply untrue.
However, in July 2017, it was reported that the administration in the Jazira Region had started to collect income tax to provide for public services in the region.
The main sources of revenue for the autonomous region have been presented as: 1. Public properties such as grain silos and oil and gas in the Jazira Region, 2. Local taxation and customs fees taken at the border crossings, 3. Service delivery, 4. Remittances from Iraq and Turkey, and 5. Local donations.
The black market/ informal economy of a war zone continues to thrive and the Kurds have a long history of smuggling and trade. But the trends from Rojava, will not be the trends from everywhere this method plays out, but it is is the first set of lessons.
- Expropriating and capitalization of/on public assets and property by the Party will always occur. To what level inner Party access translates into post-conflict ownership, like Russia and China’s revolutions is something to guard against. In Rojava, the oil and wheat that were once state owned now pay for local administration.
- Taxation will always be reinstated in some form as will border duty fees. There is no alternative proposal to taxation in some form. But the diversion of Taxes from state to Party has occurred.
- Service delivery has not been altered much from pre-revolution methods, suggesting small medium enterprise capitalism will not be regulated initially.
- Remittances are a usual pattern of Diaspora support, it can be regularly assumed that all Workers Parties require a capital base in the Norther Diaspora.
- Local Donations seems like an ambiguous coloring of a bribe. As in a person with an interest pays off the Party to allow it its special interest, by donation.
Oil and food production is substantial, so they are important exports. Agricultural products include sheep, grain and cotton. Important imports are consumer goods and auto parts. Trade with Turkey and access to humanitarian and military aid is difficult due to a blockade by Turkey. Turkey does not allow business people or goods to cross its border. The blockade from adjacent territories held by Turkey and ISIL, and partially also the KRG, temporarily caused heavy distortions of relative prices in Jazira Region and Euphrates Region (while separate, Afrin Region borders government-controlled territory since February 2016); for example in Jazira Region and Euphrates Region, through 2016 petrol cost only half as much as bottled water.
The Semalka Border Crossing with Iraqi Kurdistan had been intermittently closed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), but has been open permanently since June 2016, and along with the establishment of a corridor to Syrian government controlled territory in April 2017, economic exchange has increasingly normalized. Further, in May 2017 in northern Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Forces fighting ISIL cleared a corridor connecting the autonomous region and Iraqi government-controlled territory.
The autonomous region is ruled by a coalition which bases its policy ambitions to a large extent on the libertarian socialist ideology of Abdullah Öcalan and have been described as pursuing a model of economy that blends co-operative and private enterprise.
In 2012, the PYD launched what it called the “Social Economy Plan”, later renamed the “People’s Economy Plan” (PEP).
Private property and entrepreneurship are protected under the principle of “ownership by use“. Dr. Dara Kurdaxi, a regional official, has stated:
“The method in Rojava is not so much against private property, but rather has the goal of putting private property in the service of all the peoples who live in Rojava.”
Communes and co-operatives have been established to provide essentials.
Co-operatives account for a large proportion of agricultural production and are active in construction, factories, energy production, livestock, pistachio and roasted seeds, and public markets.
Several hundred instances of collective farming occurred across towns and villages in the region, with communes consisting of approximately 20–35 people.
According to the region’s “Ministry of Economics”, approximately three-quarters of all property has been placed under community ownership and a third of production has been transferred to direct management by workers’ councils.
Views on Cities
Communalists are heavily critical of modern cities, citing urban sprawl, suburbanisation, car culture, traffic congestion, noise pollution and other negative externalities as having severe effects on the local environment and society as a whole. Communalists propose to run cities democratically and Confederally.
Views on Concurance with Nation States
Currently, the relations of the region to the Damascus government are determined by the context of the Syrian civil war. The Constitution of Syria and the Constitution of North and East Syria are legally incompatible with respect to legislative and executive authority. In the military realm, combat between the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian government forces has been rare, in the most instances some of the territory still controlled by the Syrian government in Qamishli and al-Hasakah has been lost to the YPG. In some military campaigns, in particular in northern Aleppo Governate and in al-Hasakah, YPG and Syrian government forces have tacitly cooperated against Islamist forces, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and others.
The region does not state to pursue full independence but rather autonomy within a federal and democratic Syria. In July 2016, Constituent Assembly co-chair Hediya Yousef formulated the region’s approach towards Syria as follows:
“We believe that a federal system is ideal form of governance for Syria. We see that in many parts of the world, a federal framework enables people to live peacefully and freely within territorial borders. The people of Syria can also live freely in Syria. We will not allow for Syria to be divided; all we want is the democratization of Syria; its citizens must live in peace, and enjoy and cherish the ethnic diversity of the national groups inhabiting the country.
In March 2015, the Syrian Information Minister announced that his government considered recognizing the Kurdish autonomy “within the law and constitution”. While the region’s administration is not invited to the Geneva III peace talks on Syria, or any of the earlier talks, Russia in particular calls for the region’s inclusion and does to some degree carry the region’s positions into the talks, as documented in Russia’s May 2016 draft for a new constitution for Syria. In October 2016, there were reports of a Russian initiative for federalization with a focus on northern Syria, which at its core called to turn the existing institutions of the region into legitimate institutions of Syria; also reported was its rejection for the time being by the Syrian government.
The Damascus ruling elite is split over the question whether the new model in the region can work in parallel and converge with the Syrian government, for the benefit of both, or if the agenda should be to centralize again all power at the end of the civil war, necessitating preparation for ultimate confrontation with the region’s institutions.
An analysis released in June 2017 described the region’s “relationship with the regime fraught but functional” and a “semi-cooperative dynamic”. In late September 2017, Syria’s Foreign Minister said that Damascus would consider granting Kurds more autonomy in the region once ISIL is defeated.
On 13 October 2019, the SDF announced that it had reached an agreement with the Syrian Army which allowed the latter to enter the SDF-held cities of Manbij and Kobani in order to dissuade a Turkish attack on those cities as part of the cross-border offensive by Turkish and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels. The Syrian Army also deployed in the north of Syria together with the SDF along the Syrian-Turkish border and entered into several SDF-held cities such as Ayn Issa and Tell Tamer. Following the creation of the Second Northern Syria Buffer Zone the SDF stated that it was ready to merge with the Syrian Army if when a political settlement between the Syrian government and the SDF is achieved.
Syrian civil laws are valid in the region if they do not conflict with the Constitution of the autonomous region. One example for amendment is personal status law, which in Syria is based on Sharia and applied by Sharia Courts, while the secular autonomous region proclaims absolute equality of women under the law, allowing civil marriage and banning forced marriage, polygamy and underage marriage.
A new criminal justice approach was implemented that emphasizes restoration over retribution. The death penalty was abolished.
Prisons house mostly people charged with terrorist activity related to ISIL and other extremist groups.
A September 2015 report of Amnesty International stated that 400 people were incarcerated by the region’s authorities and criticized deficiencies in due process of the judicial system of the region. It is likely a higher number.
The justice system in the region is influenced by Abdullah Öcalan’s libertarian socialist ideology. At the local level, citizens create Peace and Consensus Committees, which make group decisions on minor criminal cases and disputes as well as in separate committees resolve issues of specific concern to womens’ rights like domestic violence and marriage.
At the regional level, citizens (who need not be trained jurists) are elected by the regional People’s Councils to serve on seven-member People’s Courts. At the next level are four Appeals Courts, composed of trained jurists. The court of last resort is the Regional Court, which serves the region as a whole. Separate from this system, the Constitutional Court renders decisions on compatibility of acts of government and legal proceedings with the constitution of the region (called the Social Contract).