The Guilty Bystanders

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil
is that Good Men Do Nothing…”2

This quotation, in popular knowledge attributed to Edmund Burke3, sounds so banal, that these days almost no one really thinks how true it is. And how often we, supposedly good people4, find a good reasons to stay passive; to keep distance; to wait until we know for sure what is going to happen, until we take no risk, reacting. And I am not even talking of these, who believe they have no real influence at all. I do not even think of those, whose metaphorical plates are already more than full. No, this story is different. And, as it is usually with my stories, it is about Rojava Revolution.

Better safe than sorry?

Thanks to a common friend, I had a very nice and inspiring5 meeting today. It is always good to meet somebody whose political views are at least close to mine. Bookchin’s communalism isn’t really popular around here, and I would be surprised finding more than maybe 5 people in Thessaloniki, actually considering themselves Bookchinists. So, in such an exclusive company, I did what I normally do to innocent victims around me: started my Rojava pitch. The gentleman I met agreed with the fact that it is pretty interesting issue and mentioned that his millieu is already discussing it. However, if it comes to practical involvement, he was a bit cautious. We would like to know – he said – who are we dealing with. Those people – he continued – were Stalinists few years ago. Then they were ordered to become Bookchinists. So they are Bookchinists now. How can we know – he asked – who will they be next year? So we rather keep our distance – he concludeduntil we are convinced.

And when I asked what actually could convince him that it is a good idea to get involved in support for Rojava, I could only admire the radical honesty of his answer – I do not know.

Well, of course I was frustrated. But there was no maliciousness in his attitude. Just honest-to-the-boone belief that one should not get involved until one is absolutely sure what is going to happen. And – on the brighter side – enough openness to make him promise me to discuss the issue with his comrades and perhaps to give me a chance to discuss it as well (2016.06.22: which never happened).

Walking back home I realised that this is pretty much a standard pattern of many conversations recently. Almost everywhere, during my talks – public or private – this kind of doubt was risen this way or another. And it wasn’t an attack on the idea of Rojava– people were really concerned about this issue and wanted somebody to provide a viable answer to their concerns. So – I was thinking, heading home – it is a serious thing and should not be dismissed by way of funny story. Let’s face it, then.

Reality Check

In his great article, “Rojava – Revolution Between a Rock and a Hard Place6”, Andrew Flood writes:

…the revolution on the ground in Rojava is of a sort that would be worth defending anywhere. In what are the worst of circumstances the defenders are claiming to be pushing through a profound social revolution that aims at the development of a democratic, ecological and gender liberated society. If there are any reasonable grounds for believing this is really the intention then there should be no question about defending the revolution itself.

But yes, this is the real revolution, stained with blood and dirt. Distorted with people’s passions, delusions and sometimes bestiality. Trying to deny it would be foolish and suicidal. Flood pictures it clearly:

The PKK is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which fought an often brutal armed struggle against the Turkish state from 1984 to 2013. (…) Its armed struggle which included many bombings and armed conflict with other Kurdish forces as well as the Turkish state inevitably has left many of the Turkish left in particular deeply suspicious of it. (…)

Prolonged military conflicts brutalise even the most political of activists and unchecked tend to see ‘hard men’ rise to positions of control. Those who strongly dislike Rojava because of the PKK influence have proven hard to debate as for the most part all they do is cite the history of bad things that were done in order to insist both that change is impossible and that any change reported has to therefore be a trick.

From an anarchist perspective the additional fact that the PKK has been led since its inception by Abdullah Öcalan and that a personality cult surrounds him raises problems.  Anarchists have not been immune to the tendency to raise particular fighters to cult status, the Spanish anarchist Durruti being one example. But Öcalan whose face dominates most mobilisations is still alive and presented as directing at least the ideological development that influences Rojava from his prison cell in Turkey.”

And yes, both my personal observations and various indirect sources clearly show that the emotional atmosphere around Ocalan is really hot. In my perception, however, he is more considered an icon, than a real acting power. As far as I could learn, he is also very prudent in his words and deeds, not trying to micromanage the movement from Imrali.

At the same time, the most wise – and practically irreversible – decision of Ocalan was to get women involved as the leading revolutionary force. Both in Bakur and in Rojava, women started creating parallel power structures, including armed forces, to advance the revolution and preserve its values from all hostile attempts – external or internal. And they are quite unlikely to back off – they have nothing to loose and everything to gain.

As Dilar Dirik phrased it in her dramatic text7 “What Kind of Kurdistan for Women?”:

The situation of women is not a “women’s issue” and therefore must not be dismissed as a specific, private issue that interests women only. The question of gender equality is in fact a matter of democracy and freedom of all of society; it is one (though not the only) standard by which the ethics of a community should be measured. Since capitalism, statism, and patriachy are interconnected, the struggle for freedom must be radical and revolutionary — it must regard women’s liberation as a central aim, not as a side issue. (…)

The PKK and parties that share the same ideology managed to create mechanisms that guarantee women’s participation in the political sphere and further challenge the patriarchal culture itself. The PKK ideology is explicitly feminist and makes no compromise when it comes to women’s liberation. Different from other Kurdish political parties, the PKK did not appeal to feudal, tribal landlords to achieve its aims, but mobilised the rural areas, the working class, youth and women.

The strength of the resulting women’s movement illustrates that the point in establishing structures such as co-presidency (one woman and one man sharing the chair) and 50-50 gender shares in committees on all administrative levels is no mere tokenism to make women more visible. The officialisation of women’s participation gives women an organisational back-up to make sure that their voice will not be compromised and it has actually challenged and transformed Kurdish society in many ways. (…)

Influenced by this stance on women’s liberation, the dominant parties in West Kurdistan, Rojava, have adopted the PKK ideology and also enforce co-presidency as well as a 50-50 split in their political bodies. By enshrining women’s liberation in all legal, organisational and ideological mechanisms of their governance structures from the very start, including the defence forces, they make sure that women’s rights will not be compromised.

Men with a history of domestic violence or polygamy are excluded from organiations. Violence against women and child marriage are outlawed and criminalised. International observers who visit West Kurdistan express that they are deeply impressed by the woman’s revolution that emerged in spite of the terrible Syrian civil war.

So, let us consider the fact that democratic confederalism is being actively implemented in Bakur (Turkey) since 20078 and have massive and already long-term support there9, with women’s movement as its core.

Let us consider the fact that, since 2012, the very same democratic confederalism is being implemented under the most adversary conditions in Rojava, with women’s orgnisations, councils and separate armed forces being prominent power driving and defending the revolution.

In this context, any “top-down order” to reverse the course of revolutionary process is extremely unlikely to be given and beyond all doubt futile. Any entity trying to challenge women in this respect would probably face very unpleasant and possibly lethal consequences. I canot be sure Ocalan was aware that his decision to make feminism the core of the revolution would have such effect. If that was the case, I can only salute his determination and integrity.

Down with the revolution

We should keep in mind that the political concept for Rojava: stateless autonomy, based on feminism, ecology and local, direct democracy, is highly dangerous to the official political doctrine – not just in the Middle East. So, despite all our dreams, despite of the ideological and moral resilience of men and women of Rojava, there is no guarantee of success. Never was, never will be. And there is an impressive list of entities, wanting Rojava (as we know it now) simply vanish. I do not even need to put Daesh (ISIS) there.

Turkey is deeply afraid that Rojava may become a stronghold of PKK-related autonomists, providing human, material and psychological support to the Kurdish movement in Turkey. At the same time Turkey sees it as an obstacle for their plans to expand into the Syrian territory. Exactly the same applies to Iran and Iraq.

The list goes further, including major actors of the Middle Eastern scene – USA, UK, Israel and Arab countries. Since the infamous Picot-Sykes agreement their whole game is founded upon ancient “divide and impera” rule, where elusive lure of “your own state” is used to convert frustrated communities into terrorist proxy wars cannon fodder – exactly as it happened with ISIL. If Rojava succeeds, it would disarm the whole Middle East minefield, effectively forcing major change of global geopolitics.

Unfortunately, one of actors here is also KRG – the government of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is as much the matter of internal Kurdish political competition as the more or less tactical cooperation between KRG and Turkey.

All these forces, whether their goal is to remove Rojava physically, or simply to absorb it, have one in common: they do want Rojava to abandon the revolutionary ideals and praxis as they were intended. The ways to achieve it are many: political and diplomatic isolation, physical and economic embargo, direct and indirect armed attacks, criminalization and repressions of supporters, media black-out. All international financial, material and political support goes to the entities which co-opt Rojava achievments, especially military ones, and at the same time label Rojava Revolution as traitory, separatist and damaging sacrosanct Kurdish national unity.

Without material and political support, without help in post war recovery, how can Rojava feed their people? How can they stand agaist draught, epidemies, hunger and all kinds of aggression? What can – even the most politically aware and committed – female armed forces do, in front of starving children and dying elders?

It seems, whatever happens, Rojava will probably go down like all such rebellions before it.

But wait…

Except, it’s not true.

Just recently, in 2014, a 20th anniversary passed of another rebellion, profoudly similar to that of Rojava10. Indigenous people challenged the state power and put self-organized “Juntas de Buen Gobierno” in action. Neither anarchist nor marxist, rejecting all traditional political affiliations. Fighting against the state and corporations in perhaps a bit less geopolitically critical area – Mexican Chiapas. NeoZapastistas. EZLN11. It is not about the similarities12 (they even brought as much controversies within radical circles as Rojava did), but about the way they managed to survive and stay integral over 20 years of struggle against the state and capitalism: their worldwide social support. By the wide popular involvement, by creative and intense use of new media, they gained upper hand in the “social net war” and made themselves safe against most brutal assaults. There is still a covert war going against them, but no open attack goes unnoticed. And, in the Americas, NeoZapatistas became a benchmark, a “center of competence” for non-state radical left projects. Not by force, but by swift inteligence and world-wide supporting movement they won. In the beginning, they were just a bit suspicious, tribal-nationalist movement of uncertain political provenience. Now, after 20 years supporting EZLN is a risk-free investment. How come?

We are the game-changers

It is about us. No anti-state political project may expect long-term political support from the states. It would be suicidal for them. The best Rojava may expect is a position of a U.S. backed gladiator in one of many Middle-East proxy wars. If it is to become something more, a political blueprint for peaceful and inclusive communities there, it needs us. And yes, there is a risk on us. While Rojava people risk their lives, living their ideals and fighting for them, our risk is to spend time and effort in safety of European Union. Our risk is that we may be mocked by our political peers, that we may suffer damage to our reputation. Our risk is that we may get frustrated, if Rojavans do something stupid – like getting wiped out by ISIS or by some state army – or even worse, being forced to abandon Revolution just to survive.

But if we decide to take this kind of risk, the power gathers in our hands. The power to participate in the revolution. In successful revolution. The power to create. The power to fight. And surely, when the time comes to make our revolution, this power will not go away. And others will join us, as we joined before. Meanwhile, as it happened with EZLN we are able to change the course of history. No kidding. No propaganda. We see it with our own eyes.

The revolution will not be guaranteed. This is the nature of revolution. But the choice to join, even if the outcome is uncertain, chages us already. And this is the change for good.

There are doubts about Rojava. Some of them, hopefully addressed just above. There are also reasons to support them. Moral reasons, pragmatic reasons, even aesthetic ones. Many of them are known, some of them not widely. But there is one more thing. It is not that we CAN influence the way history goes. We DO it – whether we choose to support Rojava, to oppose it or just do nothing, we INFLUENCE the way it goes. In revolutionary times there is no neutral position. There are no innocent bystanders. Not anymore.

I made my choice already, as you may have guessed. I respect different choices of others. And I hope there will be no one in denial, pretending s/he made no choice at all. We all make our choices and live with their outcome. May we live long and happily.

2…and they are really good in finding reason to stay this way.

4Of course, we are way past the patriarchal language of the original…

5Among other things it inspired me to write this piece.

6If you want to go further with my text, you are kindly requested to read THIS first: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/28181