“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine,” the revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara famously said and this is a good reason why people around the world need to show solidarity with the Kurdish freedom struggle. But what is less discussed is the real interest that we have in the pioneering role of that struggle.
Let’s reflect on the great achievements of the Rojava revolution in north and east Syria in the face of great adversity: the unification of communities deliberately divided on the basis of religion and ethnicity by dictatorial states and the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist movements alike; the liberation and empowerment of women in the face of the reactionary rollbacks imposed by the later; the embryonic attempts to reorganise the economy on a cooperative and ecologically sustainable basis; and the establishment of inclusive grassroots democracy based on the democratic confederalist ideas developed by long-imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.
As the Kurdish revolutionaries readily admit, their struggle to refashion society is not an easy process but one that involves both experimentation and perseverance. There are steps forward and steps back but only to try and move forward once again.
“The revolution is made through human beings, but individuals must forge their revolutionary spirit day by day,” as Che also said.
Revolutions by their nature involve both radical transformations of social and economic structures, but also, inevitably, the transformation of individual consciousness, behaviour and habits.
“The people are the way they are because they are in the midst of a revolution,” Che once explained to international volunteer work brigades many decades ago.
Through their actions, people are forging different social relations and a different understanding of themselves and the world — thus becoming different individuals, creating a different “human nature” in the course of revolutionary struggle.
And so it is today in the Rojava revolution and therefore anyone around the world who understands that we need to radically change the way we live, and the grossly inequitable and exploitative way society is now predominantly organised if humanity is to survive with peace and dignity into even the next generation, has a real interest in learning from the revolutionary school that is that precious revolution.
But even to do that requires a struggle to break the barriers to the information flow about the Rojava revolution to the rest of the world.
North and east Syria is largely isolated from the rest of the world by economic embargoes and the closure of borders by hostile neighbouring states. Therefore, one of the first challenges for international solidarity is to break through these barriers.
If we break though this isolation there is so much we can learn from the revolution.
The people of the world can learn from the experiences of the 60 or so autonomous women’s cooperatives are now operating in NES. About half of the agricultural land is now farmed by women’s cooperatives, according to this report by Bêrîtan Sarya.
Half these cooperatives are agricultural. The women in these cooperatives are cultivating the land, building irrigation systems, etc. The other women’s cooperatives produce canned goods, run bakeries, raise livestock or work in the service sector.
Dicle Amed, a member of the coordination of the Women’s Economy Committee of Kongra Star, explained in that article:
“As a women’s movement, we are struggling to democratise the system in general, the relations between men and women in the system and in society. It is about bringing the relations between the sexes back to the basis of freedom and equality. However, and more importantly, we have the ideological approach of building an independent women’s system. Just as Kongra Star as a system organises itself autonomously and independently, all sectors should also be structured autonomously. This is what is really relevant to us as a women’s Economy Committee. Our ideological and organisational orientation aims at securing ourselves without relying too much on the general system, thus organising ourselves and guaranteeing our freedom in this way. We are trying to bring out women’s skills, to employ women, and to make them once again a productive force independent of the outside.”
This effort is radically transformative as it takes place against the backdrop of the Assad regime’s exclusion of women from the economic sector.
It took years to make an impact among women, Dicle explained:
“A job that should be done in one year can sometimes take three or four years. Both teaching and learning are organised by women, and the structure of this process is completely autonomous. One has to start from a structure in Rojava in which women were completely enclosed in their homes and used as labourers for domestic work. In this sense, the integration of women into economic life is a revolution. It is a real but invisible revolution. Before the revolution, women were not involved in economic life; at most, only a certain number of women worked in agriculture at low wages. With the revolution, tens of thousands of women began to work in economic life both in the public sector, in the service sector, in agriculture, and in the industrial sector.”
This is just one example of the rich experiences the world can learn from the Rojava revolution. We could also learn from the pioneering efforts of the “Green Braids” movement, Kesiyên Kesk, which is trying to re-green north and east Syria.
“Regional policies have damaged our environment and our ecological system,” explained Ziwar Shewo, a spokesperson and co-founder of this movement of young volunteers that was formed in October 2020. “At least five rivers in Rojava now run dry. The regime never bothered about ecology. It wanted to turn the region into a supply of wheat with no consideration for the inhabitants.”
“Twenty five years ago, there were rivers, a greater variety of plants. Now the Autonomous Administration is in charge, we have the opportunity of repairing our environment,” he explained in this must-read article in Cooperation In Mesopotamia.
“We must accept the fact it is in poor condition and that we must change this state of affairs. There are only 1.5% of green spaces in Rojava, while international recommendations are for 10% to 12%.
“The lack of a green cover means we suffer from the heat, the pollution and illnesses, that and much more. In Syria, 80% of the cancer patients come from the north and northeast. After we heard that, we decided we had to do something as members of the civilian society.
Since the Autonomous Administration and local authorities couldn’t handle it because of lack of funds, we decided to take on the project. We want all of our society to join in, by spreading the culture of tree plantings, something people don’t care about at the moment.”
This movement has mobilised young women and men to collect donated seeds and do tree planting and the results are already noticeable.
It has now spread beyond Qamishlo, where it was founded, to Heseke and Darbasiyeh. Other similar projects also exist in north and east Syria, notably the one at the Internationalist Commune, Make Rojava Green Again.
Another area we can learn from is the development of grassroots democracy at the local level. This is an area I am particularly interested in because far away here in Australia I am part of a movement that is fighting for community empowerment at the municipal level in the face of relentless efforts by the capitalist state to destroy local democracy and replace it with giant, corporatised local government institutions that serve the greedy interests of big corporations.
In a 29 March, 2022 article in ANF News, Bêrîvan Omer, the deputy co-chair of the ecological and municipal Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), described some of the progress and challenges of overcoming centralised state structures by building a system of ecological and communal autonomous local administration.
“Local self-government is a grassroots democratic model for representing all identities according to their needs,” she explained, however the transformation from a life characterised by dictatorship to an organisation characterised by participation and self-determination was a rocky process.
The ecological local self-government has 11,000 members and deals with the services in 142 local governments in AANES.
The scheme of the system was clear, but there were question marks about how it should be implemented, she explained.
“We struggled because people expected answers from us about how they should participate in this administration, how they would be represented and how they could communicate with us. It is slowly trying to achieve this system and establish it as a culture.”
The system of local administration has developed since 2012, but she admitted they still have a long way to go.
“We are still struggling to even meet our daily needs. It was not as easy to implement our system as we wished. One of the simplest examples is this: a tree is planted, a few days later it is uprooted or damaged. We have not yet created sufficient awareness and sufficient education among the population. Of course, compared to the past, the mechanisms of population education and protection have improved, but this is not enough.”
Such frankness is to be applauded, after all one of the biggest challenges in any revolution is the rebuilding of new systems of popular, grassroots democracy. History has taught us that if revolutions fail to do this they can be rolled back and defeated.
These are just some of the exciting developments and experiments in the Rojava revolution that the world can learn from. But it should be enough to convince those who not only tremble with indignation at oppression but also dream of the new world we need to build together, to commit to building solidarity with this revolution.
Peter Boyle is a well known journalist and political activist living in Sydney, Australia. He is also a correspondent of the Green Left Journal.