My dear friend and colleague, Zaher Baher (ZB), just recently published an article Our attitude towards Rojava must be Critical Solidarity and generously invited me to provide my perspective on the topics covered there.
The Author is much more involved and much better informed in the field of developments in Rojava and Bakur than I can ever dream to be. He is also much more mature and established in his political stance than I can be — as I still consider myself a soul-searcher. Trying to best him on his own turf would be much above my normal level of chutzpah.
However, turning my weakness into an opportunity, I will try to provide my perspective, perspective of an outsider European. Perspective of a self-styled researcher and theorist. Perspective of a storyteller.
Systems do not exist. Or maybe they do. Irrelevant. The key is that by seeing systems, as described in the realm of cybernetics1, we see the world in a quite consistent way and we are able to jump fences between seemingly different areas. Human body, army, a business company and a steam engine – they are all ‘describable’ as systems of various (but not many) kinds, sharing a lot in terms of factors, defining their behavior.
Among the systems, one category is prominent: autonomous systems not only react to the changes of environment, not only seek to reach the goal, but also actively protect their autonomy and even change their goals to keep it. Enter humans.
Now, the real problem happens when several (human) autonomous systems create one bigger system of their2, and mega-problem emerges when it becomes considered an autonomous one on its own right3. Unfortunately, that fascinating matter goes long way beyond the framework of this article, so I will only skim the surface, to shed a bit different light on familiar problems.
One of the most fundamental aspects of the systems is so called „feedback loop”. It is the way information (in a sense of various impulses passed through a chain of relationships) travels „back” to the source. A simple example is the wood stove: the fire starts small, as the stove, chimney are cold and the airflow (feeding the fire) is slow. As the chimney gets hotter, the airflow increase, also increasing the fire, until some other limits are reached. So, the feedback amplifies the initial impulse, creating „positive feedback loop”.
On the other hand, if we imagine a population of rabbits in a natural ecosystem, they will be breeding and their number will grow beyond certain level of equilibrium. They either have less food per capita, making them weaker and prone to diseases or start traveling beyond their normal turf. Both signals will soon attract more predators, feasting upon weakened or careless individuals. This, in turn decreases rabbits’ population below initial level, creating „negative feedback loop”.
These two mechanisms, and controlled or uncontrolled combinations of them, constitute the core tool set of any researcher, trying to get a basic grasp on the political systems.
On duality, duplicity and dialectics
Human mind tends to classify pieces of reality mostly by distinction. And the basic distinction is dualistic – two aspects, mutually exclusive, in effect covering the whole reality4. Which is of course not true, but a useful tool nevertheless. There is relatively little harm in it as long as we remember that is is just a convenient convention, not a real difference. On one hand it is a simplification, necessary for our minds to deal with the complexity of Universe. On the other – it is a statement, an expression of choice we make, taking sides.
Reasonable person will always remember that the picture of reality will never be reality itself. As ZB says,
Anyone who demands a ‘pure movement’ is either unrealistic or simply wants the movement to produce whatever is in his/her mind and to conform to his/her wishes. We should understand that life is neither a one-way street nor a straightforward road. The movement is a people’s movement, and people consist of individuals, and these individuals are tied to, and tied down by, all the bad things that the system has produced and continues to produce. Even if we want to reject the superfluous things in society, the system limits our agency and our wishes. However strongly one wishes to be ‘a pure person’ or ‘a 100% anarchist’ in rejecting undesirable things, the system one lives in throws up big barriers and obstacles.
The understanding of this fact and attempts to deal with it, makes people operate on many levels throughout the continuum between orthodox, unidimensional black-and-white view and totally blurred „realpolitik” where even goals and criteria are cloudy and unstable. Again, I claim it to be a personal choice; a choice coming from previous choices we made and from external influences we normally are not aware of. In the effect, people, seemingly supporting the same goal, may in fact work to quite opposite effects. The opposite way, people who cannot stand each other, due to radically different number of „levels of gray” in their views, can in fact play in the same team, at least temporarily. What one perceives as duplicity, or „talking politics” as ZB writes, another one may consider legitimate tools to get things done. Drawing the line, again, is an individual act and can hardly be normatively described.
Which is the case in any given situation, we will always have to decide individually. In our case, there is also another problem, as the theoretical normative measure is given by Abdullah Ocalan in his writings. And this set of ideas is not really anarchist. It is more a system of checks and balances, founded on direct democracy.
If we keep in mind that anarchism is – in a systemic sense – more about how things should be done, not exactly which things, it makes it sort of hard to assess Democratic Confederalism (and possible deviations from its line) for the anarchist standpoint.
ZB approaches this problem very sensibly. His landmark is of course the corpus of Ocalan’s thought. Closer to the ground, whatever supports Tev-Dem and self governed administration, having clearly anarchist streak, is better than anything reinforcing classic, party-based politics. An unspoken assumption is that, while Democratic Confederalism is not an Anarchy Heaven, it is probably the best approximation we can count on, during our lifetime. As a possible launchpad for more anarchist formations in the future, it is by all means worth solidarity and support (conditions apply).
Now, why do we accept such duality at all? Why – even in the realm of war – do we accept that continuous power play between the assemblies and the party, between popular movement and centralised institutions? Enter dialectics.
Both Ocalan and Bookchin are familiar with dialectical nature of political processes. Dialectic struggle between two tendencies, under constant „reality check” and with the feedback providing correction to the initial link of chain makes development possible. And it is not just a mechanical extrapolation of starting assumptions, but self-adjusting system, seeking its goal and protecting its autonomy.
On the feedback loop, and a hangman’s noose
We have a small problem, however, with the war.
Rojava (and, to some extent, Bakur) were born in the context of war. Reality of war makes the goal of survival first priority, short term effectiveness major need and puts operational agility over consensus and democracy. In a prolonged war situation, the feedback loop, helping to adjust system’s behaviour to improve the outcome, becomes dangerously similar to a hangman’s noose, slowly choking these elements of the society, that do not contribute to military successes. ZB shows it clearly, as he pictures „field decisions” taken both in Bakur and Rojava:
… PKK, instead of working to expand its social revolution to other parts of Turkey, announced “resistant but in the form of announcing self-rule administration”. How can you set up a “self-rule administration” in a climate of war and terror? If “self-rule” is the people’s self-rule, the people themselves must decide and do it by using direct democracy, not by a decision made by the Guerrillas or by a tiny minority of people!!! Obviously, announcing self-rule in this situation was not a choice of the people, and has also given an excuse to the state to kill more people and use more terror. (…)
Worse still, on December 24 and 25, in the town of Nosubin, Butane, a few people announced the formation of the “Civil Party” in Cizre. Soon after the announcement, the establishment of the“Town Protection Unit” was announced, too – by showing pictures of a few young people in social media flashing their guns and grenades as happy and very good news. In my opinion, this was a very big mistake, and I have no doubt that the state of Turkey would have been happy to buy it for millions of pounds.
On the other side, someone else was going to make a decision, alone, for a whole town, without thinking of the consequences of her decision and without going back to her people who elected her. On December 30 Rojnews reported that Gültan Kisanek declared, “If the state arrests our co-mayor of our municipalities, then I will announce self-rule.”
It is not that the system goes bad by itself. It is the toxic situation that forces it to ditch (hopefully for a while only) more peaceful and democratic aspects in favour of simple „war governance”.
A big silent question is: when the war ends, will Rojava (and Bakur) find their way back to their initial ideals and founding values?
On language and its pitfalls
Some time ago I wrote an article analysing information war on Rojava5. ZB shows us now, how several language pitfalls, briefly mentioned there, became now serious traps.
Nation-state narrative (ZB calls it racist, but I am reluctant to use this term here):
If one reads Rojnews, listens to Sterk TV and follows social media, especially Facebook most of the time, one repeatedly comes across racist language, in words such as ’Turkish police’, ‘Turkish force, Turkish forces’, ‘Turkish Gendarme’, ‘Turkish government’, ‘Turkish state’. These words are repeated daily.
I am aware that those who use this sort of language are not racist. Rather, they are not educated enough to match their language with the current direction of the movement in Bakur, or else they are not professional enough in the way they perform their jobs. Whatever the reason, these terms are still racist and are against Ojalan’s messages and statements, and do not serve aims of the movement. How do we know that the member of police who was killed, or the killer, is Turkish, not Kurdish? Let’s suppose it is Turkish, but why not say ‘a member of police of the government of Turkey’ or of ‘the force/s of the state of Turkey’?
The government and the state in Turkey are not a Turkish state or Turkish government only. They also have a Kurdish element, despite the fact those Kurds do not speak Kurdish or admit they are Kurdish. There are 20 million Kurdish people in Turkey, several million of whom probably support the government. Many Kurdish tribes and clans also still support the government of Turkey, as do some Kurdish political parties there.
But not just about the enemy, also:
The phrases ‘unity of the Kurdish people’ and ‘unity of nation’ are nothing more than myths– they refer to other leaders’ national political parties in Kurdistan. Anyone who is aware of the history of the Kurdish people can easily see that this nation never had and never will achieve unity. All nations consist of classes, each of which represents its own interests. Because of the disputes between them, they cannot achieve unity. In addition, forming different political parties with different leaders and their greed for power not only hampers attempts at unification, it breaks the nation down further. (…) On December 30, 2015, in his interview with Rojnews, Karayilan reassured us about what he had said in September. He said, “The struggle in Bakur is a national struggle and all the forces in Kurdistan must support it because this struggle is for all Kurds. We are hoping the politicians in Bashur (Iraqi Kurdistan) will support Bakur better.”
Religious references (although here I tend to turn the blind eye – but that’s a cultural difference)
Another inappropriate word is one that is used for people who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of the movement: ‘martyr’. How do you use the word ‘martyr’ for an atheist person or for someone who belongs to a secular organisation? The word ‘martyr’ is a religious word and is inappropriate to use for YPG and YPJ fighters.
Even – I was not aware of it – an ancient trade of robbery bears some damage.
They also use other inappropriate words, like the word ‘bandits’ to refer to Isis. I do not know where they got this word for Isis, but it is very common among the vast majority of Kurdish writers and journalists. But using this word for Isis is unfair to bandits. When did ’bandits’ commonly rape, kill and sell women? When and where were ’bandits’ a brutal enemy of humanity, animals and nature? When and where did ‘bandits’ launch war on a few billion people, even on people who are Sunni but who do not practice their religion in the same way as they? Those who use the word ’bandits’ for Isis either do not know the meaning of the word in Kurdish, or do not have an accurate assessment of the brutality of Isis.
The struggle of Rojava and is as much symbolic as military. Language – for good or bad – is both sword and shield. And has to be carefully chosen and maintained, says ZB. From my experience with numerous political movements, since before Polish Solidarity, I cannot agree more.
On anarchy, hope and never-ending revolution.
The history is in the making. We are in the middle of it. Nobody here has really a clear view of what is going on in Turkey, Syria. Iraq or Iran; in Kurdistan, a mythical, yet real enough beast, overlapping them all; in Rojava and Bakur, born out of rebellious ideas built upon other rebellious ideas. I only skimmed the rich content of Zaher’s text, showing how complex – and complicated – is the matter of it. I recommend that everyone, who wants to learn about Rojava in a more direct way, goes through it in detail.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybernetics We owe this cornerstone of rational world view to one W. Ross Ashby M.A., M.D.(Cantab.), D.P.M., an investigative mind in the body of a British psychiatrist. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Ross_Ashby
2 This is what we call „politics”.
3 And that is an ideology and a real mess. (in this part I refer to almost unknown approach of the so-called „Polish School of Sociocybernetics”, created almost singlehandedly by Marian Mazur and sadly deteriorating since his death. See: https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybernetyka_spo%C5%82eczna
4 Good vs. evil. Us vs. them. Right vs. wrong (or left). Left vs. right (or wrong) and so on.