Anarchist Struggle (Kurdish: Tekoşîna Anarşîst) is the organized structure of libertarian revolutionaries who actively participate in ongoing revolution in Rojava. We took a chance to make an interview with the comrades. In first part of our conversations we discussed relations of A.S. with Marxist-Leninist organizations and contradictions in Rojava social development from Anarchist perspective. We didn’t try to avoid complicated questions and uncomfortable topics and received very meaningful answers from Tekoşîna Anarşîst participants. We hope that this sincere dialogue will be important for libertarian readers worldwide.
Hevale: You participate in International Freedom Batallion (IFB). As far as we know this structure is managed by Marxist-Leninist parties such as MLKP, TKP-ML and others. How you manage to arrange your relations with this organizations in libertarian way taking into account military hierarchy and their non-libertarian ideology? Which benefits you see in collaboration with Marxist-Leninist organizations?
Tekoşîna Anarşîst: IFB was formed as a coalition of revolutionary organizations primarily from Turkey, mostly Marxist-Leninist formations, in order to support revolution in Rojava. The participation of international fighters and volunteers, in particular anarchists, was always a point of complexity. We do collaborate with these organizations to a certain degree due to our principle of non-sectarianism, with sort of a coalition of various forces that are doing solidarity work in Rojava. It is a part of our lesson that we learned here as anarchists – making enemies needlessly is a bad idea. However, these kinds of relationships are of course rather strategical and we always keep in mind that we have our own aspirations, our own path to walk as anarchists.
In fact, during the participation of anarchists and some other internationals in IFB, they have been continuously challenging political decisions made by these parties, often the decision making process was excluding the participation of international comrades.
As for military hierarchy, us being a military structure, we recognize a vital need of forming an effective fighting force and for that some form of a command structure is necessary. For example, we as a structure have multiple positions and responsibilities which are delegated and rotated inside of the organization, for instance, a member of a collective who takes the responsibilities of military commander does carry a certain authority in combat situations, being responsible for military decisions. However, a military commander does not have any authority in our daily life and any other matters than those of a military. Furthermore, in daily life we attempt to maintain mechanisms that allow us to counter-act emergence of informal hierarchies and managing the group dynamics.
IFB has always been a frontline fighting unit. We would respect the decisions made by the commander of the battalion, as long as the commander is chosen based on experience and abilities, as well as the military decisions being made without interference with political agenda. If commander is proven to be incompetent, we would bring the matter to the “uni-team” which is a sort of the management committee of the battalion, consisting of all participating organizations. For example, in Raqqa, IRPGF, an anarchist organization in the battalion was a part of that committee. Speaking very generally and comparing with state and paramilitary state formations, a structure like IFB is much more democratic in some ways, respectively including particular democratic mechanisms and somehow more “free”.
Here, unlike some of our anarchist comrades, we don’t use the term “democratic” in a libertarian sense, but rather in a neutral way, to underline a bottom-top system which allows participants to make appeals in direction to the top, and make mutual criticisms, but does not include inner mechanisms of preventing authoritarian tendencies, regulating and balancing the power potential which such structure always embodies. We don’t consider democratic tools as something we use in our organizational and political tools as anarchists; we have a different understanding of what “democratic” means, and what “libertarian” or “anarchist” mean. That is due to the fact that we have serious criticisms to the term of democracy and it’s use in political movements as well as deeper analysis of democracy itself. It is coming from anarchist experiences with democracy from all around the world. It is quite different meaning than the one which the democratic confederalism stands for, and there are reasons for that – the way how the word “democracy” is used here is very different. Ideology of the so-called new paradigm tries to re-invent that word and use it for the description of the free civilization that it strives for. However, that difference does not prevent us from listening to different comrades here in Rojava, opening up for various discussions and seeing where they come from politically and historically and learn from it. It is a very unique context and looking at it with the Western political approach and criticizing it from this point of view, would be a mistake. We should look and listen carefully, and not shut down our hearts from embracing challenging ideas and making ourselves stronger with that.
Overall, the armed struggle and political organizing both in Rojava and back in our home contexts is and will always be essentially full of contradictions and it is a lesson that we as anarchists have opportunity to learn from and find out our stance in it. To conclude for this question, however we are different from all the Maoist and Marxist-Leninist groups that are located here in Rojava, we disagree with many things and have our point of view on everything, but nevertheless we have a lot to learn from them in some things.
Hevale: Ideology of Rojava Revolution, i.e. Democratic Confederalism, promotes direct self-government and society-oriented economy. However we can see that still is unclear which institutions actually govern Rojava. In parallel with councils there exist some para-State structures such as ministries. The structure of mandate and elections in councils is also unclear. Certain continous PKK party-control over society exists as well. In a sphere of economy we also see still widespread pretty capitalist relations, party-control over key economy sectors (oil extraction) and unclarity about if the situation is tending to change. What is your analysis and expectations about further social development in Rojava under these circumstances?
Tekoşîna Anarşîst: Here are two views we have on that matter.
First, one can easily come across some cadres of the Party and have discussions with them about these same topics, and some of them would honestly tell you that the situation here is rather a failure, and their ideology of Democratic confederalism and the reality in practice are very different. However, recognizing that they reached only small piece of what revolution was striving for, they would rather take it as the strongest motivation to question themselves and fully commit to make that reality different.
And we as anarchists also recognize that very often our ideas, the life that we all live and the world around us are so far from each other. So how do we approach this? Either we admit that this is the reality, that this is where we stand, and that we have a long way to go, or we hide these questions and challenges behind blind narrow-minded, sometimes even hurray attitude. Both are present here and our analysis is coming from a point of critical comradeship.
Here in Rojava, we and many other comrades we cooperate with, are working in solidarity with people of Northern-Eastern Syria and fought by their side against the Islamic State as well as the turkish army and it’s proxies. Thus it is one of the ways how we are practicing solidarity with the movement here.
But understanding of “the Movement” is also something that influences our positions. Who is “the Movement”? Is it the Party and its cadres? Is it all the institutions and ministries that exist here? Or is “the Movement” presented by all the “welatparez” families and martyrs that gave their lives to make the current, however not perfect reality in Rojava possible in these incredibly hard conditions? Or is “the Movement” also embodied by all people who want to live better lives, struggling every day against hardships of economy in condition of war, losses of the loved ones yet still standing by our side on the barricades simply because Assad’s regime, Turkey and Islamic state are just way worse scenarios for majority of population? Different people here see that definition differently.
Obviously the real implementation of democratic confederalism here is known for radical social changes that represent most libertarian tendencies among neighboring regions. Everyone heard of gender quotas and woman/man co-presidency in councils and communes. In Mala gel (People’s house or House of people) and Mala jin (Women’s house or House of women) as well as the communes, there are educations so the ideas of societal changes can be shared and discussed. Overall education is very accessible to people and without cost.
There are also conflict resolution processes so that conflicts can be managed locally instead of taking it to court, but there is of course a particular judicial system as well as prisons, which are a reality here still as is progressing bureaucracy and control including centralized decision making. Here, the question of social change and for example prison abolition (as a big and serious topic and area of organizing in places beyond Rojava) faces challenges of IS insurgency and overall economical and geopolitical situation.
One way or another, situation here is so complex, that being too picky about who you work with or not, is a choice between life and death. It may sound like we are clearly pragmatic about the reality here, but where we really come from, is a desire to learn from this place and events here rather thanks to these contradictions, than in spite of them.
Secondly, everything that we see right now in Rojava displays very challenging situation which can offer us tips about how it will look like in the near future.
The fact that after the military defeat of the Caliphate in March 2019, the struggle against IS is far from being over. Fighting jihadists and their ideology in the desert is a very difficult task that seems to be accomplishable rather through social struggle besides an armed one, especially strong organizing of the youth and women. Sleeping cells of the IS increased their activity and at the moment it is a full-on guerrilla warfare, which targets key people in the society structures as well as military formations within SDF (which stands for the umbrella of Syrian Democratic Forces). Alongside burning crops in large scale and other everyday challenges, any attack of IS hits twice as hard and IS ideology is not something which can be eliminated in any close future.
Rojava is facing a difficult economic situation. Being sometimes labeled as a “war communism” but still being far away from bolshevik/stalinist economical and political scenarios, Rojava is under a sort of embargo and has to rely on smuggling and diplomacy, while not all the economics are completely under control of the administration of Rojava and there is a mix of areas with authorities of Assad’s regime.
However, it is not possible to smuggle everything and such things of a level of for example gas turbines for power plants is something that is highly needed, the ones that are now in use are very old and need to be changed; but how to bring a gas turbine for the power plant to Rojava? The whole geopolitical situation is extremely complex and not only in the economical matter. It constantly leaves the choice between lesser and bigger evils and cooperation with clear enemies, which is also given by the reality of the question of survival being a dominant one.
The system of cooperatives is inspiring, but it rather remains marginal and not providing answers for very complicated economical questions connected to capitalism. There are also still areas of land ownership by the regime of Assad or Syrian feudal businessmen on the territory of Rojava. And however there are attempts of developing ecological perspectives in Rojava, the climate crisis is visible here in very explicit forms which may be even bigger problem than everything mentioned so far, especially in the long run.
All that doesn’t leave much space for a radical move towards different forms of economy in nearest future. Which doesn’t mean that people will stop struggling and stop working on getting the best out of the local conditions. But how about people who are not necessarily part of the movement, people who are absolutely sick of war, and/or deciding about which side of the barricade to choose according to their material conditions? That all together is a challenge that we all are facing now here.
In that current picture we see the women’s movement and autonomous women’s structures as very important for anything to happen in the future. Out of all parts of the struggle and movement in Rojava and beyond, we see women’s structures as something that stands in forefront of social change and represents most radical and progressive tendencies in both the society and the movement. Women’s units of self-defense, autonomous space for development of women-oriented science, historical knowledge and conflict resolution led by women is an incredible change for this region which has to be maintained.
In the end of the day, many questions and problems are part of the matters of diplomacy. That is increasingly hard to manage with threat from Turkey, and dealing with Assad’s regime, not so directly Iran and other political figures. Geopolitics remain a big topic of research and constantly field of tricky political game.
As anarchists, we rather find ourselves in a situation where we can’ t influence a lot but we can learn from that situation, this place and ideology here, because wherever other place in the world we would be, any idealistic views and blueprints of how social struggle has to happen in our contexts, will be confronted toughly and we one way or another will be walking very contradictionary path. It is necessary to develop an approach which would allow us to be flexible, open, understandable, and stand our anarchist ground, and our anarchist ideas and practices strongly, and to be very well organized.
Hevale: All tasks in Rojava are distributed in a way of strict limits. For example, people from military structures usually have almost zero opportunity to intervene into social issues. Also in every institution you operate in Rojava there are responsible people who can easily limit your ability to operate and to implement any initiative. What you think are your realistic tools to influence society and movement there?
Tekoşîna Anarşîst: The existing division between the military and civil society is sometimes not so strict. We can also speak about the youth movement which is itself a civil structure and is completely based in civil society. It does intervene into social issues and plays an active role in society. But at the same time they are very close to a military mentality and military type of organizing. Also, they do have military academies. Some structures, particularly youth structures are regarded as part of vanguard and are tasked with influencing the society, in order to develop a militant mindset and spread the ideology of democratic confederalism.
Another good example is Hêzên Parastina Civakî (HPC), a armed civil self-defense militia consisting of autonomous male and women structures. These structures are organized differently than the military, they are working with the concept of self-defense and they are primarily based in social self-organizing. Yes, they do have their own cadres, but they still are much closer to whatever you may understand under the term of people’s self-defense than YPG/YPJ and overall SDF, which organization is much closer to the professional military structures.
There are various limitations and specifics in functioning within the revolutionary structures here in Rojava, whether that be civil or military. There is a reality of more or less strict controlling dynamics especially with the international volunteers and limitations existing to their initiative. Sometimes the dynamics between the “responsibles” (cadres) and people under their responsibility can be quite toxically hierarchical.
Some structures organize with internationals in being responsible for a specific structure and also with several people included. Movement here invites internationals in hope of fulfilling certain goals, specific purposes. Those not necessarily align with what internationals want or can contribute with themselves. In other words, there is often a difference between what internationals want to do and what the party will tell them to do. However, not all doors are closed for all the initiatives, even though a real influencing and working with the society is still very complicated question.
It is important to understand how things work here, how work is being done, how communication within an organization and externally is being done. It is very different from the home countries of volunteers coming to join events on the ground in Rojava. There is always a chance of achieving one’s ambition. Yet very often it requires to put tremendous amount of work, pre-planning and pre-thinking about what you will do and how you will do it. It takes to be prepared to take a lot of initiative in networking and meeting new people yourself. To present and insist on the work you wish to do continuously and how it will be relating to the work of the movement here and it’s perspectives and ideology. On top of that, understanding of people’s relation and it’s social code, is very important. For example, often work-related discussions and meetings are taking place alongside social events, and there is hardly any division between social interaction or event and a work meeting or discussion. Last, but most important, the absence of language skills will fundamentally limit one’s ability to do basically anything at all. Good knowledge of all that is something that can be a tool for being part of what is happening.
In words of our fallen member, comrade and dear friend şehîd Şevger Makhno who was killed while defending Afrin from Turkish invasion, we ourselves might not be a huge change in what’s happening, but what’s happening will definitely make a tremendous change in and for us. This is where we stand between being part of what is happening in Rojava and learning from it
Read the second part: The Challenges for Libertarians
Specially for Hevale: Revolution in Kurdistan