Shawn Hattingh and Mandy Moussouris, 2018, “An Experiment for a Better Life is Under Way”

Shawn Hattingh and Mandy Moussouris, 2018, “An Experiment for a Better Life is Under Way,” Business Day, 5 March, Business Day, from here 

The Rojava Revolution lays down tracks to building a better, more democratic and more feminist society.

The world is facing an economic crisis on a scale last seen in the 1930s. It has resulted in living conditions and incomes of workers and poor people — and increasingly the middle class — being eroded by governments through austerity and by businesses through rationalisations and wage freezes.

Like the 1930s, this crisis is triggering the rise of extreme right-wing regimes and right-wing populism. It is also resulting in an increase in global conflict and threats of war, with Syria a key example.

But in the heart of the raging war that is Syria, there is a glimmer of hope.

In the north of Syria bordering Turkey and Iraq, the Kurdish and Arab people who live there have used the vacuum in power created by the war to try to build a better, more democratic and more feminist society. This experiment is known as the Rojava Revolution. It is the outcome of a struggle by the Kurdish people for national liberation but it has gone beyond this and become an experiment to create an alternative to a society that produces for profit.

It is made up of confederations of worker councils, community councils and communes whose explicit aim is to address inequalities inherent in capitalist economies and state systems through expanding democracy.

The Rojava Revolution seeks a new truly democratic way to run the world. The Kurdish liberation movement has chosen to adopt a form of libertarian socialism based on communalism, social ecology and feminism and in the north of Syria it has begun to put it into practice.

The aim is to make people central to how the society and the economy is run.

In Rojava, society is organised into communes of 120 families. The communes discuss women’s liberation, the economy, defence, education and justice.

Kurdish children are now being taught in their mother tongue, which was a decision made by the participants in thousands of communes in Rojava. This had been outlawed in Turkey and Syria.

Each commune has mandated and recallable delegates sent to federated structures such as neighbourhood, city, cantonal and regional assemblies or councils. Here issues that crosscut on broader levels are discussed and co-ordinated with the input of from the communes driving the process.

Women play a central role in this, and each community assembly, commune or council has to ensure gender equality among delegates.

People in Rojava have also begun rolling back aspects of inequality. Some sources estimate that 80% of the economy is now run through democratic worker co-operatives with the aim of meeting the needs of the people of Rojava — whether Kurdish or Arab — as a top priority.

To defend the revolution, Rojava has established a democratic militia, the People’s Protection Units — also known as the YPG. They have shunned the notions of a hierarchical standing army, which is associated with government.

People from other countries and thousands of local residents have joined the militia and have been engaged in struggle against groupings intent on destroying the Rojava Revolution, including Islamic State. Women play a central role in the militia and there are women-only militia which played a key role in the defeat of Islamic State.

The people of Rojava have been forced to enter into an alliance to try to maintain their new society. In the war against Islamic State they were backed by the US — not because the US has sympathy for their experiment but because the militia units were the only force on the ground that could defeat Islamic State. Such alliances may yet come back to haunt the people of Rojava as the US has a history of turning on allies when it suits them.

For now, the greatest threat comes from Turkey, which has a long history of oppressing Kurdish people and has the largest population of Kurds in the Middle East.

More importantly, Turkey does not want an experiment like Rojava spreading into its territory, even peacefully.

About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I have long been involved in union education, and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented or published 100s of papers conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 4 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and produced five books. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I currently teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m 10th generation South African. Also involved in union education, with a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health & Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I have given 120-plus paper presentations, edited four journal specials, and produced four books, around 40 academic articles and book chapters, 20 reference entries, 130-plus shorter articles, and six research reports. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 ‘International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest’ (Blackwell). I won the 2008 international ‘Labor History’ thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) award for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.