Right now there is a revolution happening that challenges every element of capitalist modernity.
While our supposed “democracy” is dominated by the 1%, this alternative uses local participative councils to direct society from the bottom up. While across the world regimes are building walls against people of color, as women remain oppressed, this liberated place is undergoing a radical process of female empowerment and has set in law the principle that every refugee is welcome. And while modern capitalism is driving the world toward ecological meltdown, this society is gearing toward a new ecological harmony.
Almost unbelievably, all this is happening in the same communities that are leading the strongest fight against the fascist forces of Islamic State. This new society could even point the way beyond Syria and a Middle East that continues to tear itself apart. It is the story of Rojava, the autonomous, predominantly Kurdish non-state that has arisen out of the ashes of northern Syria, and defiantly shown that another world is not only possible, but that it is happening.
The book Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan is the first full-length account of this remarkable recent history that began July 19, 2012, with the liberation of Rojava from the oppressive Syrian Ba’ath regime. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in what’s coming next in the Middle East, as it precisely details Rojava’s transformation, the new political horizon it presents, and its prospects for the future.
Written by Anja Flach, Ercan Ayboğa and Michel Knapp, Revolution in Rojava blends eye-witness accounts of those living the revolution, and fighting on its frontlines against ISIS and other Jihadists. It mixes these insights with the authors’ own observations and extensive research, moving thematically through the region’s background, history and geography before diving into Rojava’s evolving new political systems. The authors’ focus shifts smoothly from inspirational examples of social cohesion, to describing a society with humanitarian rights at its core, to explaining the absolute brutality of ISIS and the successful resistance of the women and men soldiers against this Jihadist fascism.
Flach, from Germany, visited Northern Kurdistan (in the southern Turkish state) and fought in the women’s PKK army in the mid-1990s. Ayboğa, from North Kurdistan, is an ecology activist involved in councils in the Turkish state that, while severely repressed, mirror the council system flourishing in Rojava. Knapp, also from Germany, is a radical historian who specializes in democratic confederalism. The book is based on the authors’ prior knowledge of the region in addition to research trips they have taken since Rojava became an autonomous zone.
The co-authors make it clear that they strongly advocate for Rojava’s new society, and their connections to the region reflect in the wide access they have gained. Nevertheless the book is also written critically, both in an academic sense – each point is thoroughly cited, rich examples and deep context are provided – and in the great deal of constructive criticism it offers for the new society model. The critique emerges as a central part of the Democratic Confederalism philosophy, and helps this revolution stand out compared with other revolutions that are less willing to self-criticize.
An example of this self-reflection is the Asayîş, the Kurdish word for security police. These are like police, but rather than being controlled by the state, the Asayîş are under the authority of local assemblies. The commanders of the Asayîş are elected, and subject to regular criticism from their juniors.
Another key element of this revolution, which is threaded through the book, is the fact that Rojava has taken a “third way.” The Revolution in Rojava explains this concept, often using the phrase “capitalist modernity” to describe the state of most of the world, whether in capitalist or communist states. In contrast, the authors describe Rojava in the process of what they call democratic modernity. The anti-state position is an anti-colonial view diverging from the “progress,” or Western idea of “development,” that shows our move from feudal societies into an industrial age and then to capitalism. Both progress and development thinking are clear from the left-wing of Western thought (ie. Karl Marx), all the way across the political-spectrum to the hard-right (ie. neoliberal Francis Fukuyama). Democratic modernity and Rojava, as concepts, shatter underlying white supremacy myths.
How has the revolution in Rojava managed this? The short answer: it smashed the state. How did it do that? By deconstructing patriarchy. Of course, much richer and detailed explanations are contained in the book. What stands out here is that the revolution in Rojava is, in fact, ongoing, as the region faces hostile forces in every direction and is under an embargo. To the north of Rojava, Turkey has been complicit with ISIS in that both share a desire to smash the democratic experiment. Right now, the border is closed between Rojava and Kurdish Iraq – itself is a corrupt, oil-rich client state of Turkey and the West. The embargo increases the challenge of the global public to discover the new people-led society in Rojava. And that’s what makes this first full account so vital: Revolution in Rojava is, above all, a testament to humanity’s political potential.