Their Revolution, Our Revolution

Michael Knapp, Anja Flach and Ercan Ayboga – Revolution in Rojava (Pluto)

The complexities of the current middle eastern conflicts don’t make it easy to see what is assembled there. The stories that get out are fed into the global news sausage machine, then out they pop, a neat pinched off bit of ideology, that lands with a brief whiff of truth.

All we see is smoke rising from above, interminable maze-like streets and another explosion, as equally mystifying three-letter acronyms scroll beneath. It seems like a non-starter to suggest that among the high-pitched screaming over no-fly zones, Assad and the Russians, something progressive might be happening.

But Rojava in Syrian Kurdistan is a real world-historical Asterix village, not only holding out against ISIS, but installing ‘one of the most progressive societies in the world today’ and this book is coming straight from Syrian activists.

This is the first single authoritative volume on the Revolution. It is the counterpoint to Patrick Cockburn’s book on ISIS, which barely registers the Rojava struggles. Cockburn essentially believes in Assad as ‘a solution’. This book is the antidote to his argument.

This new Rojava society is being constructed via a polity named ‘democratic confederalism’, which is a ‘communally organised democracy’ that is ‘fiercely anti-capitalist’ and ‘committed to female equality.’

At the same time, it rejects ‘reactionary nationalist ideologies.’ Leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan, pronounced ‘oh-ja-lan’, says that a ‘nation state is not the solution but rather the problem’, although Öcalan is described as ‘a Kurdish nationalist’ almost by default.

The federalist system is apparently built on ‘effective gender quotas’, a ‘bottom-up’ democracy, ecological policy and ‘a powerful militancy that has allowed the region to keep ISIS at bay.’

This book works very clearly through the origins of the conflicts in the region. The different groups with their abbreviations that often cause acronym-blindness.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for instance, and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are affiliated but separate, and rivalry is more than detectable. These are the two main bodies, but surrounding them are a myriad more.

The writers then exhaustively detail the working parts of the Revolution, co-ops, portraits of tough women soldiers, organisational strategies and layers.

These portraits and discussions with participants are particularly strong. They really cut through the CNN view from above. The everyday banalities, sacrifices and heroism are all of a piece here.

I also admire this book from a fairly traditional Orwellian standpoint: The women’s autonomous collectives and ecological cooperatives in Rojava are protected by ‘multiethnic peoples’ self-defense’.

There is no sense of the naive peacenik here, how could there be? This idea that washes around the left in the west, that ‘if we all just say no to conflict’ is refreshingly absent.

Rojava’s Revolution means picking up and using the gun for the collective, and that means all the genders and ethnicities within it. Conscription for short periods of time is in effect, but the right to conscientious objection has also been upheld in the region this year.

This is all the more astonishing considering what Rojava is facing. The Revolution is fragile and surrounded by powerful and persistent forces that want to destroy it. Not only the ISIS fanatics funded by the super-rich Gulf States and Turkey, but the whole madhouse capitalist globe beyond the Revolution. NATO are supporting Turkey in its fight against both ISIS and the PKK.

The middle east is not just a crucible for those who live in the region, it is the world stage of global power. But this is where this book moves beyond the sum of its detailed and well-oiled parts into something like a manifesto for the rest of the world. As Servet Dusmani explained elsewhere:

‘In this situation, we must neither be surprised by, nor blame the PYD if they are forced to abandon even their current position, in order to found an alliance with regional and global powers to break the ISIS siege. We cannot expect persons struggling in Kobane to abolish the world scale hegemony of capitalism or to resist this hegemony for long. This task can only be realised by a strong worldwide class movement and Revolutionary alternative.’

Revolution in Rojava, like the Spanish War in the 1930s, already involves all of us, but it will only succeed if we all get involved. For our local readers, there are Syrian Kurd support groups and fundraisers in Manchester, but we all need to think about how we live and organise through this book.

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