“* You went to Rojava to see whether the self-government functions along libertarian principles. What did you find? To what extent are the principles of Murray Bookchin present?
Rojava’s system is similar to Bookchin’s ideas in the most crucial way: power flows from the bottom up. The base of Bookchin’s system is the citizens’ assembly. The base of Rojava’s is the commune. One of my questions before arriving was whether Rojava’s communes were assemblies of all citizens or rather meetings of their delegates or representatives in a council. But I found out that the communes are made of up a neighborhood’s households, and that anyone from those households may attend and participate in a meeting. That’s an assembly.
Another similarity is that in both systems power flows upward through various levels. Citizens’ assemblies can’t exist in isolation—they have to have a mechanism by which they interconnect with their peers, yet one that remains democratic. Rojava’s solution is the people’s council system that rises through several tiers: the neighborhood, the district, the city, and the canton. Bookchin, by contrast, spoke of towns and neighborhoods confederating. Murray called the broader levels “confederal councils,” where as in Rojava they are called people’s councils at every level, or even “house of the people.” In both cases they are made up of mandated delegates, not representatives as in a legislature. Rojava’s delegates—called co-presidents—convey the wishes of the people the next level up–they don’t act on their own initiative. So that’s another similarity. In Rojava, the people’s councils aren’t made up only of co-presidents from the lower levels; they also comprise people elected to enter at that level. The councils seem to be quite large. I think that’s a good idea.
In addition to the council system, Rojava has a transitional government in place as well, a built-in dual power. The council system is separate from it but also carries the wishes of the people into it, through various mechanisms.
* You have also spoken about the revolutionary process there.
Bookchin wrote extensively about the revolutionary process, in his histories of revolutionary movements. You can’t make a revolution just any day, he would point out; history has to be on your side; only at times does a “revolutionary situation” develop, when it’s possible to change the system. He lamented that all too often, when a revolutionary situation came around, the revolutionaries weren’t ready for it. They longed for an opportunity to make change, but they did not organize in advance, and so when the revolutionary situation developed, they missed their chance.
Rojavans did not make the common mistake. They prepared for decades before the revolutionary situation happened,building counterinstitutions, creating a structured counterpower. The Qamislo massacre of 2004 taught them that they had not prepared sufficiently, so they intensified their preparations. So when the revolutionary situation came in 2012, they were ready. When the regime collapsed, leaving a power vacuum, the counterinstitutions were in place to take the power, and they did.
Rojavans understand something else Murray argued too, about power. The issue is not to abolish power—that can’t be done. The issue, is rather, to define who has the power: will it be a regime, or will it be the people? Rojavans understood when the moment arrived that the power was theirs for the taking, and they took it. He would have applauded heartily.
And finally, I think he would have commended the work of Tev-Dem, a movement of civil society organizations established in order to create the council system—communes and other institutions of democratic self-rule. I think he would have commended Rojavans’ imagination in inventing a movement whose purpose is to creat democratic self-government.
* You speak of creativity that Bookchin would have praised, but the creativity is essentially Abdullah Öcalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who was inspired by some writings of your partner, as was the Syrian branch of the PKK, the PYD. The PKK as originally based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Did you observe any signs of this in Rojava?
In the past decades Öcalan and the PKK have renounced Marxism-Leninism. Their goal is now to create a base democratic, ecological, cooperative, and gender-equal society. I saw no gulags there, not even close. I saw a place that seemed genuinely committed to creating that society, even if it’s still al work in progress.
* The equality between men and women is an important issue for you. In the Middle East women have a difficult role. Has that changed in Rojava?
Misogyny is deeply rooted in the Middle East. Women have fewer rights there than almost anywhere else in the world. Their intelligence end value are denigrated. They may be married while still girls. Their husbands can beat them with impunity, and husbands can have plural wives. And when a woman is sexually abused, her male relatives blame her and may commit an honor killing or even coerce her into committing an honor suicide. She is often excluded from education and from working outside the home, and she is certainly forbidden to participate in public life.
In Rojava this grim condition is undone, as the whole society is committed to creating equality for the sexes. Girls are educated along with boys. They can choose any profession. Violence against women is forbidden. A woman who experience domestic violence can bring the problem to a public meeting, where it is discussed and investigated. Above all they may participate in public life. In Rojava’s democratic self-government, a meeting must consist of 40 percent women. The institutions have no individual heads—they must always have two co-presidents, one man and one woman. An elaborate series of women’s councils exists alongside the general councils. Women’s councils have veto power over decisions that affect women. Rojava’s defense forces consist of units for men and units for women.
* Do women play a large and more important role in the revolution, without which these structures would not be possible?
Yes. In many places we were told that Rojava’s revolution is a women’s revolution; that a revolution that does not alter the status of women really isn’t a revolution at all; that transforming the status of women transforms the whole society; that freedom for women is inseparable from freedom of society; and even that women are “the main actors in economy, society, and history.” Such ideas are taught not only in the women’s academies and the Mesopotamian Academy but also in, for example, the academies that train the defense and security forces. At the Asayis academy in Rimelan, we were told that half the educational time is dedicated to equality of the sexes.
* One cause of conflict in the Middle East is the oppression of ethnic groups. In Rojava many cultures and religions exist alongside each other. How freed o you think the minorities are in the self-government? Did you have an opportunity to speak to any of the remaining Christians?
It seems to me that Rojava’s Kurds understand very well the importance of this question, since they very well know the experience of being an oppressed minority. Today as the majority in Rojava they know that it would be unacceptable for them to impose on others the kinds of exclusions that they experienced in Syria and that they still experience elsewhere.
Moreover, they consider diversity to be a positive good. Rojava’s social contract affirms the inclusion of all minorities, by name. When we met with Nilüfer Koc, co-president of the KNK, she defined Democratic Autonomy not in terms of democracy but expressly as “unity in diversity.”