Listen to the Episode — 91 min
Alanis: The Ex Worker;
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: A twice monthly (more or less!) podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Hello everyone! Welcome back at long last to the Ex-Worker. It’s been a long time, and there’s a lot to say. So let’s not waste a moment.
Clara: First off - we want to apologize for the extended break from putting out episodes. It’s a long story, but suffice to say it’s been a difficult time in the lives of many of your Clara and Alanises.
Alanis: We have interviews completed and edited on a variety of different themes, and plenty of different episodes in the works, so rest assured that at least for the foreseeable future there will be more episodes rolling out. So thanks for your patience as we worked some things out. We hope to be back on track soon.
Clara: In this episode, we’ll be focusing on the social revolution unfolding in the predominantly Kurdish autonomous territories of Rojava, where on the borderlands of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq a coalition of self-organized militias stunned the world by defeating the Islamic State in the war-torn city of Kobane.
Alanis: We’ll hear from a variety of different supporters of the revolution in Rojava, and on the Chopping Block we’ll review a new English-language book that collects texts about the struggle. Plus we’ve got tons of listener feedback, some news and upcoming events, and plenty more. I’m Alanis…
Clara: And I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hosts. For links, references, and more info about all the topics we cover on the show, visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: And please get in touch with us via email with your comments, questions, and suggestions to podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Clara: Here we go!
THE HOT WIRE
Alanis: We’ll kick things off with the Hot Wire, news of revolt, rebellion, repression and resistance around the world. Obviously a lot has been happening out there since our last episode, and we couldn’t hope to encapsulate it all. We’ll get back to a more thorough round-up of recent news events in our upcoming episodes. But for now, here are a few recent happenings of particular relevance to anarchists that we wanted to highlight.
After the funeral of Freddie Gray, a young black man killed by police, the city of Baltimore erupted in its most intense riots in decades, with residents taking the streets in droves, burning cars and buildings, fighting racist baseball fans, liberating police horses, and injuring 20 police officers. Over 200 were arrested, schools were closed, a week-long curfew was imposed, and the governor of Maryland promised to occupy the city with some 2,000 troops. Solidarity demonstrations have spread across the country and beyond. The six cops involved in Gray’s death are facing criminal charges, but rage continues to simmer.
The 5E3, Carlos, Amelie, and Fallon, anarchists imprisoned in Mexico on charges of an incendiary attack against government and corporate targets, have been released! Congratulations to all three of them, and welcome home!
Anarchist Emma Sheppard was sentenced to two years in prison in Bristol, UK for damaging the tires on some police cars. It’s a pretty extreme punishment, but it comes in the context of the embarrassment and anti-anarchist resentment of Bristol authorities after dozens of militant actions in recent years against a wide range of state and capitalist targets that have largely gone unpunished.1
On the first weekend in April, anarchists in Ljubljana, Slovenia hosted an anarchist radio gathering, which brought together participants in several different radio projects across Europe to share skills and coordinate their efforts. You can listen to a joint production made during the gathering on the website of Crna Luknja, the Slovenian anarchist radio show; we’ve got the link posted on our website.
The anarchist publishing company AK Press suffered a serious fire at their warehouse, which killed two people in the neighboring building and destroyed a devastating amount of their merchandise. They’re raising money to get back on their feet; if you want to show them some support, you can visit gofundme.com/AKPressfire.
Quite a lot of the books we’ve reviewed on the Chopping Block, as well as dozens and dozens more that have shaped our anarchist ideas, have come from AK Press. They’re a working model of an economic collective run on anarchist principles, and their space has hosted countless inspiring readings and talks and events. We love y’all and we send our sympathy and support.
Anarchists in Bogota, Columbia staged a militant march to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the murder of 15 year old anarchist Nicolas Neira by police at a demonstration.
We received word from the Anarchist Black Cross in the Czech Republic about anti-anarchist repression just prior to May Day. Here’s the report:
On Tuesday, April 28th Police of Czech Republic started a wave of repression against so-called “suspects of crime connected to ultra-left extremism.” 13 people have been arrested so far. The police won’t give any more information, because their action is still ongoing all over the country.
At Ateneo, a cultural and social center in city of Most, a group of unwelcome guests came all the way from Prague - the criminal police from Unit for Detection of Organized Crime. They wore balaclavas and had dogs as well.
Several police raids took a place at a number of different locations. Some people were released after few hours, while the rest have been kept in detention and interrogated.
One major server was confiscated by police, so a majority of Czech anarchist web pages have been down."
Since receiving this message, we’ve seen updates that after another round of arrests, some comrades are facing terrorism charges, accused of planning an attack on a train transporting Hyundai cars as part of the Conspiracy Cells of Fire; they have been under state surveillance since last fall. Subsequently a massive police raid evicted the only squat in Prague, with 12 arrests and at least four injuries. We’ll try to keep you posted on developments and how we can show solidarity.
And of course there was our favorite holiday of the year - May Day! Since 1886, anarchists have been turning out to protest, march, riot and rabble-rouse on the first of May, and 2015 was no exception. In case you haven’t heard it, our very first episode included a historical account of the origins of May Day and the Haymarket Affair, so take a few minutes to check that out if you’re interested. We’ll now continue our annual tradition of a yearly reportback on the day’s events with our May Day correspondent Bill Tayne. Bill, give us a round-up of this year’s events.
MAY DAY REPORTBACK
Bill Tayne: Thanks, Alanis. This year, most May Day demonstrations addressed anti-austerity themes, as states around the world attempt to squeeze their populations with unprecedented cruelty as capitalist crisis escalates. However, here in the US, many marches and demonstrations focused on racist police violence, as we might expect given the murderous and rebellious last year. Solidarity with the anti-police rebellion in Baltimore was expressed across the country. Some highlights include Oakland, where hundreds of longshore workers struck and joined protests, and rebels broke into a car dealership and smashed dozens of new cars; in Seattle, where rebels clashed with police, injuring several, and attacked cars; in Minneapolis, where high school students walked out of class to join a Black Lives Matter protest. We got an email from a listener in New York City who participated in a “Shut Down NYPD” action; labor activists also briefly occupied the Guggenheim Museum. In Canada, spiky marches and decentralized actions took place in Montreal, where the Anti-Capitalist Convergence and many other groups had called for strikes and demos; anti-capitalist events also took place in Vancouver, Toronto, and elsewhere. Looking south, hundreds clashed with police at a large march in Bogota, Colombia, whose themes included solidarity with a massive teacher’s strike. Teachers also led a march in Oaxaca, Mexico, during which anarchists set fire to the offices of the PRI, Mexico’s ruling political party. Thousands of Costa Rican workers participated in an annual march in San Jose, including a group of masked anarchists with a banner reading “A docile public makes for good slaves.” In Santiago, Chile two separate marches stepped off from Plaza Los Heroes. The CUT, Chile’s largest trade union, led a peaceful march to the right—geographically speaking—while another march under the slogan “for a combative and classist may day,” headed, well, left. This second march left a trail of graffiti, trashed churches, and fires in its wake. It ended with a revolutionary cumbia band playing from the stage while masked encapuchados fought riot police and water cannons. At least one encapuchado was seen holding a sign in solidarity with the revolt in Baltimore. As usual, socialist-friendly governments staged massive official rallies; Venezuelan president Maduro flew to Havana, Cuba to attend their rally before flying back to Caracas to attend the one in his own country. Across the Atlantic, punks snarled traffic and drunkenly tangled with cops at Class War’s acid-techno fueled, ahem, “fuck parade” in London, while in Middlesborough members of the Teesside Anarchist Network occupied the Unemployed Workers Centre, demanding it be brought “back to life… in the aftermath of the bankers’ crisis and austerity.” Chuckles were had across the chunnel when rebels in Nantes, France gave the courthouse a dramatic new red paint job. Anti-fascist and anarchist demos took place across Germany, including a number of smaller towns - hundreds marched in Wuppertal, Dortmund, Weimar, and of course Berlin, though police labeled the notorious Walpurgis Night demos there “calmer” than usual. One of the larger convergences in Europe took place in Milan, Italy, as part of the NO EXPO 2015 convergence; in defiance of a massive corporate death spectacle called Expo 2015, basically a World’s Fair on steroids, several days of assemblies, celebrations, and anti-capitalist and anti-fascist protests took place, and on May Day, black blocs smashed banks and burned police cars. One militant was quoted as saying, “Our generation does not want this corporate bullshit.” Barcelona saw militant protests despite the recent success of the pacifying left-wing “Podemos” party, with numerous banks and businesses attacked. Likewise, in Athens, Greece, while respectable unions attended a respectable demonstration that included plenty of the newly elected left party Syriza’s representatives, anarchists did their thing, lighting dumpsters on fire and chucking molotovs and so forth. In Istanbul, demonstrators clashed with a mass of 20,000 police determined to prevent them from reaching Taksim Square, with flaming barricades and running street battles across the city. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russian nationalism dovetailed with Soviet nostalgia to thoroughly appropriate the large May Day rallies, with so-called Communists calling for support to separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. One of the most massive demonstrations took place in Seoul, South Korea, where some hundred thousand protestors converged, outraged at government austerity measures and the cover-up of a ferry disaster , (which we discussed briefly in Episode 24). Militant trade unionists attacked police buses that attempted to pen in the demonstration. Protestors also: threw colored smoke grenades in Taipei, Taiwan; burned a massive effigy of the president in Manila, Philippines, protested militarism and nuclear power in Tokyo, Japan, gathered garment workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and came together in Baghdad, Dhaka, Jakarta, and beyond. Anarchists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia rocked the capital city with graffiti that read “fuck kapitalism,” and stormed various symbols of capitalist wealth, like a McDonalds. The pictures are pretty cool, look them up. In Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, demonstrators shut down city centers in solidarity with rural Aboriginal people facing closure of their communities; similar demos took place in over 100 cities across the country. If you’d like to see a May Day reportback with great visuals and their typically irreverent sense of humor, don’t miss the Stimulator’s latest episode, available at submedia.tv. Until next year, this is Bill Tayne. Back to you, Clara and Alanis!
Clara: And now we’re gonna take on some listener feedback. And good GRIEF do we have a lot of it! Again, we apologize to everyone for such a long delay. It’s gonna take us a while to get caught up with all of the correspondence, both via email and here in the episodes. But we’ll do our best to get to everything we can.
Alanis: First off, I want to sincerely thank everyone who wrote in to say that they missed the show, asking when the next episode would be, and offering encouragement to us. That really meant the world to us, and helped us get through the difficult times and back on track with the podcast. Even if we didn’t reply directly to you, thanks a million for helping us keep up our morale to keep making the Ex-Worker happen!
Clara: That said, we’ve got a number of odds and ends to cover. Where do we start?
Alanis: First of all, back in Episode 33, we left out the links to the “Accomplices Not Allies” essay as well as the 2015 convergence against colonialism and genocide in Saint Augustine, Florida. We’ve got both of those posted in our show notes for this episode, in case you haven’t gotten to see them.
Clara: Just as a reminder, the essay “Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex” offers critical suggestions for non-indigenous radicals around how to connect to indigenous liberation struggles outside of the increasingly suspect identity politics discourse of the ally; while the Saint Augustine convergence, which is taking place September 5th through 9th, opposes the city’s celebrations commemorating the anniversary of Spanish conquest and colonization of Florida.
Alanis: Next, listener Monk got in touch to ask about perspectives on anarchist parenting. Monk writes:
Clara: Hello Ex-Worker. First let me say that I thoroughly enjoy your podcast. It has done a lot towards making me rethink my positions, challenge my own privilege and inspire me to act instead of sit idle. However, something that I have not heard a lot about in Anarchist media is topics around raising an anarchist family. I have two young daughters who are just getting to school age, and I find that I am unsure how to teach them anarchist philosophies and ideas. I encourage them to think for themselves, question everything, and I have tons of anarchist books for them to read when they get a little bit older. However they are still very young so I struggle with exposing them to too much too soon. They already have subconsciously picked up on my aversion to cops and my 6 y/o already tries to hide her face from CCTV cameras, when she is thinking about it.
Maybe a segment on what anarchist parents are doing with their kids? I live in an area with little to no active anarchist communities and have found few other anarchists, let alone anarchist parents. Just some food for thought.
Alanis: Thanks for the suggestion, Monk! Although neither of us are parents, we definitely value the anarchists among us who are raising kids. We could do some reading and pull some things together, but really it might be best to just put the word out to our listeners and see who wants to share their experiences.
Clara: So: are any of y’all out there helping to co-parent or raise kids? Or are you a kid of radical parents with something to say? Write us at podcast at crimethinc dot com and let us know. If you’d like to contribute your thoughts on anti-authoritarian parenting, or share a story about how you’ve dealt with particular challenges, drop us a line and we’ll share them on a future show.
Alanis: In the mean time, we’ve got a few links posted on our website that share some perspectives on raising children to disrespect authority.
Clara: Well, what’s next, Alanis?
Alanis: Listener Peter C wrote in to say,
Hello, I have a proposal for you. It has to with investing in your Company. kindly get back to me with a reconfirmation of your company name, area of specialization, address and your position in the Company. Upon your response, I shall forward you comprehensive details. Best Regard, Peter C
Well, Peter, I think that…
Clara: Um, Alanis?
Clara: I, uh…
Clara: I’m pretty sure that was spam.
Alanis: Oh. Huh. Yeah, I guess you’re right.
Alanis: Clara, do you think all of our listener feedback emails are spam?
Clara: No, don’t worry. Some of them are trolls!
Clara: J/K. I’m almost positive that we have actual real live listeners, in addition to the internet-based life forms.
Alanis: But even the spambots are impacted by revolutionary struggles. One of the most weirdly poignant spam emails I’ve gotten in recent years was one that supposedly came from Suzanne Mubarak.
Clara: Wait, the wife of the deposed Egyptian dictator?
Alanis: Exactly! Read this:
Spambot Dear Sir/Madam,
I am Mrs. Suzanne the wife of the former Egyptian leader, who is currently in prison with my two sons Alaa and Gamal resulting from political turmoil during the 2011 uprising which was fabricated without evidence. All our travelling documents and Money has been seized to prevent us from travelling out of the country.
As a result of this uncertainty, I need somebody outside my country to represent my interest, manage our reserved funds value $50,000,000:00 USD in long-term business venture especially in private real estate or Mega Hotel in your country in the name of my son but it shall be under your custody. I am willing to negotiate management sharing percentage with you after your acceptance. … yadda yadda…
Yours Faithfully, Mrs. Suzanne Hosni Mubarak
Alanis: Can you believe my luck? Thanks to the rebels of the Arab Spring, I’m getting rich! Time to invest in some real estate and Mega Hotels!
Clara: How bizarre.
Alanis: I’m fantasizing about a world in which our inboxes get so swamped with emails from Michelle Obama and Mrs. Putin and so forth, pleading with us to send our bank account numbers since they’ve all been deposed, that we all just stop checking our email and hang out at the general assembly all day.
Clara: Umm, whatever floats your boat, Alanis.
Alanis: Speaking of revolution and the internet, listener Jon wrote in to ask why we weren’t talking about Ross Ulbricht.
Clara: Ross who?
Alanis: Ross Ulbricht - that’s the guy who was accused of running the infamous Silk Road website, the internet black market where you could buy literally anything - drugs, guns, whatever - without regard to state regulations or taxes, with the help of digital anonymity tools like Tor and so-called “crypto-currencies” like Bitcoin. In February, Ulbricht was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering, and five other offenses, and will be sentenced next month; he faces between twenty years and life in prison.
Clara: So why does Jon want us to be talking about him?
Alanis: Well, I don’t know for sure, but I do know that when we start talking about efforts to use the internet and crypto-currencies to conduct economic exchange outside of state control, we’re veering into some very interesting and controversial territory for anarchists. We touched on it to a limited extent in Episode 18 on anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism. If you recall our discussion there, it’s no surprise that folks who see market forces as the basis for social relations and simply want the state out of the way will see cases like this as crucially important. It’ll be interesting to see whether he gets framed as a political prisoner…
Clara: Ross Ulbricht: the Mumia Abu-Jamal of the an-caps!
Alanis: Seriously though! Every movement needs its martyrs, and it’s very possible that all the media attention around his case could lead folks interested in crypto-currencies and online anti-state economics to get engaged in challenging state repression. I guess the best case scenario would be if large numbers of people who were interested in Silk Road or Bitcoin or whatever started making connections between Ulbricht’s case and other forms of state repression and connecting with other radicals. We can already see this to a certain extent in the overlap between folks critical of the drug war and thus mass incarceration who followed Ulbricht’s case because of that angle, and folks from a libertarian or market anarchist persuasion.
Clara: In any case, there doesn’t seem to have been a whole lot of visible interest on the part of anarchists in the case, despite the mainstream media attention given to it. We don’t have time to go into depth in this episode, but it would be interesting to have a more extensive discussion in a future episode of the potentials and limitations of things like Silk Road and crypto-currencies from an anarchist perspective.
Alanis: The rationale articulated behind Silk Road sounds like it has some elements of interest to anarchists. On an online profile, Ulbricht had written:
Ross Ulbricht: I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind… The most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments, so this is my current point of effort. The best way to change a government is to change the minds of the governed, however. To that end, I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.
Clara: So he sees free exchange of goods outside of the mechanisms of state coercion as a pathway towards freedom from domination.
Alanis: Yeah, sounds like it. That’s about as close to an activist articulation of anarcho-capitalist ideals as I’ve ever encountered.
Clara: Still, though, where my affinity with these ideas gets stuck is on the notion of individualism.
Alanis: What do you mean?
Clara: This framework seems to understand society as nothing more than a collection of isolated sovereign rational individuals establishing contractual relations with one another with greater or lesser freedom, depending on the coercive control exerted by outside institutions like states. I certainly want to live in a world without the systemic use of force. But in the world we actually live in, individuals are bound up in a matrix of numerous overlapping relations of hierarchy, and are also profoundly interdependent. Like we discussed in Episode 33 on Ferguson and the roots of white supremacy: police murders of young black men are merely the most spectacular tip of the iceberg of how white supremacy structures life in the US. To think that white supremacy would end if only the state and its agents would stop enforcing it fails to recognize all the ways that it is coded into the economy, patterns of migration and settlement, language, and soooo many other facets of life. Liberation has to be more than subtraction of external constraint; it has to include extending our individual and collective capacities to flourish and realize our potential. Anarchism, as the rejection of all forms of hierarchy and domination, could be capable of waging a struggle that thoroughly transforms our lives; if we truly want to live in a world free of coercion, aggression and the systemic use of force, that’s what it would take, far more than simply removing state control over economic exchange.
Alanis: That’s not to say that people like Ulbricht who are taking steps in that direction aren’t doing something interesting. But we shouldn’t mistake online crypto-exchange for anarchism in action. These so-called individual economic decisions have entire sets of social relations built into them, and can reflect or reinforce coercion or domination even without a state behind the wheel. If you could buy, for example, depleted uranium on a unregulated online market outside of state control rather than having to navigate taxes and institutional regulations, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’d be living in a better world! If “market forces” dictate that someone wants to spend their Bitcoin on it, we still all have to deal with the consequences from the pollution and potential cataclysmic destruction and so forth. This myopic idea that an invisible hand will somehow guide free economic activity such that it magically ends up being to the benefit of all is just flat out wrong. And that wrongness is one of the reasons why people put their faith in state coercion as one of the only barriers against the potentially disastrous consequences of “freedom” (quote unquote) in the economic sphere alongside various forms of hierarchy and domination in other spheres. The challenge for anarchists is to always remain firm in our anti-capitalist and anti-state convictions in both directions.
Clara: Meaning, on the one hand, challenging the libertarians to recognize how market forces themselves incarnate hierarchies that must be dismantled, while on the other hand reminding liberals that only autonomous self-organization, and not state coercion, can protect us from the suffering engendered by the capitalist market.
Alanis: Exactly. Think about the anarcho-capitalist market utopias imagined by Bitcoiners and Silk Roaders versus the economic experiments going on in Rojava, which we’ll touch on later. Neither one may be the ideal encapsulation of all our anarchist principles…
Clara: As formulated here in our armchairs…
Alanis: Sure. But compare and contrast the social relations that are coded into these divergent notions of economy and society. It makes sense that in a fiercely individualistic and consumerist society like the US, the notions of freedom like those of Ross Ulbricht or proponents of libertarian crypto-currencies would seem appealing to many. Whereas in a tightly knit village-based society that has undergone incredibly violent repression and material insecurity as in Rojava, it makes sense that more collectivist and interdependent notions would come to the forefront. Let’s pay attention to all of these and keep reflecting on them in the light of our anarchist and anti-capitalist convictions. Clara: And finally, one listener asked if we were planning to do an episode on the Islamic State, or ISIS. Well, in a word, no. If you want to know what we think about the Islamic State, we can sum it up pretty quickly: we’re against them. But this episode we’ll be focusing one of the dimensions of the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Turkey that is of great interest to anarchists - the revolutionary fervor in Rojava, which included the military defeat of ISIS forces by a coalition of Kurdish nationalists, anarchists, refugees, and independent locals in self-organized militias.
Alanis: Shall we get started?
FEATURE: THE ROJAVA REVOLUTION
So, where is Rojava? What has been happening there in the last few years? And why is this of interest to anarchists?
OK, let’s set the scene. It’s 2011, and the revolutions of the Arab Spring have swept from Tunisia into Egypt and are spreading across the world. In Syria, a brutal civil war breaks out, which continues to this day. As the embattled Assad regime focused on fighting against a variety of insurgents, from Islamic fundamentalists to the US-backed coalition known as the Free Syria Army, people of the Kurdish region of northern Syria asserted their autonomy and began carrying out experiments in horizontal organization. They organized their autonomous provinces, called “cantons,” under the name of Rojava, which in Kurdish means both “West” - as it is the western part of Kurdistan - as well as “sunset”. Rojava is surrounded on all sides by hostile forces: Assad’s beleaguered Syrian government, which lost control of the region a couple years ago; the Turkish government, known for oppressing its Kurdish minority; the Syrian opposition forces, including the Free Syrian Army and other groups; the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, a longtime rival of Syrian Kurdish organizations; and, most pressingly, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)—an unrecognized state entity that gained control of much of Iraq and Syria between 2013 and 2014 using captured weapons brought into the region during the US military occupation.
In September 2014, ISIS pressed north towards Kobanê, hoping to secure control of the entire border with Turkey. Hundreds of thousands crossed the border into Turkey as refugees, fleeing before the advance of the as of then undefeated and notoriously brutal fighters of the Islamic State. But a small handful of Kurdish militants remained in the city, determined to fight for it to the death. For over four months, they waged a street-by-street battle for Kobanê; for much of that time, they were pinned down in the center of the ruined city, with ISIS on three sides and the hostile Turkish government holding the border behind them. Yet in the end, these ill-equipped autonomous fighters from Rojava halted the seemingly unstoppable advance of the Islamic State across the Middle East, driving ISIS out of Kobanê in late January.
Suddenly, the world began to pay attention to Rojava, and the mass media’s curious gaze briefly focused on this spectacle of self-organized informal militias - some entirely staffed by women! - who had succeeded in defeating ISIS, who so many state forces had failed to stop or declined to risk to try. And it turns out that the militias formed only one part of a broad, ongoing social revolution that has been unfolding for years.
In summer 2013, we interviewed the Turkish group Revolutionary Anarchist Action (Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet, or DAF) about the uprising that began in Gezi Park, covered in the last issue of Rolling Thunder. At the end of summer 2014, we learned that DAF was supporting the fierce resistance of the residents of the town of Kobanê against the Islamic State. We’ll introduce our coverage about the Rojava revolution with excerpts from two interviews with members of DAF active in the resistance in Kobane. The first appeared originally in January 2015 on the Slovenian anarchist radio show Črna luknja, and discusses some of the major forces involved in Kobane, DAF’s role in solidarity with the Rojava revolution, and its significance for revolutionaries around the world. The second took place in correspondence between CrimethInc. and DAF between October and December 2014, and elaborates on the geopolitical context in more depth. You can read the full interviews on the CrimethInc. blog through the link on our website, and a revised edition will appear in the forthcoming issue of Rolling Thunder magazine.
A quick note before we begin: there are a lot of groups with a lot of acronyms in this story, and we’ll do our best to keep you oriented. In this first interview, you’ll hear reference to the “Pay kay kay”, or PKK: that’s the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, the international militant Kurdish organization. Historically the PKK was more of a traditional Marxist-Leninist national liberation guerrilla group, but more recently, under the influence of their leader Abdullah Ocalan [ABdeuLAH OEjalahn, the group is reported to have taken a more anti-authoritarian turn. The “Pay yay day”, or PYD refers to the “Kurdish party of democratic unity,”a Syrian political party affiliated with the PKK. The YPG and the YPG refer to the People’s Protective Units and the Women’s Protective Units, respectively; these are the militias founded by the PYD that have been active since 2012. The YPG includes some 45 to 50,000 fighters, male and female, while the all-female YPJ includes an additional 10,000 fighters.
So now, let’s begin our coverage of the revolution in Rojava with Crna Luknja’s interview with the Turkish group Revolutionary Anarchist Action, or DAF.
INTERVIEW 1: DAF (TURKEY) AND CRNA LUKNJA (SLOVENIA), JANUARY 2015
[Note: this is not a word for word transcription of the interview, but has been edited in order to be published as a written text.]
Crna Luknja: Can you give us an overview of the situation in the border region of Turkey and Syria, describing the militias and other key actors that are operating there?
DAF: The people living in the region are mostly Kurds, who have been living there for hundreds of years. This region has never been represented by a state. Because of that, the people of the region have been in struggle for a very long time. The people are very diverse in terms of ethnicity and religion: there are Kurdish people, Arabic people, Yazidi people, and more. One of the major Kurdish people’s organizations in Turkey and Iraq is the PKK, and the PYD in Syria is in the same line with the PKK. As for military organizations, there are the YPJ and YPG, the men’s and women’s organizations.
Against these organizations stand ISIS, the Islamic gangs, in which Al Nusra is involved. These are the radical Islamists. There is also the Free Syrian Army, a coalition of many different groups; they are supported by the capitalist system, but they are not as radical as ISIS. And there is the Turkish state, and Assad’s Syrian state, who are on the attack. In northern Iraq, there is also a Kurdish state, under the KDP of Barzani, which is ideologically the same as the Turkish state, but ethnically a bit different.
Crna Luknja: What is the role of the PKK in the region, and the meaning of their supposed libertarian turn?
DAF: The PKK has a bad reputation in the West because of their past. Twenty years ago, when it was founded, it was a Marxist-Leninist group. But a few years ago, it changed this completely and denounced these ideas, because the ideas of their leader changed and so did the people. They went towards a more libertarian ideology after reading the works of Murray Bookchin and on account of some other factors in the region. To understand the situation today, it is also important that in the beginning, the PKK was not so ideological. It did not grow up as an ideological movement, but as a people’s movement. This is another factor explaining how it has developed in this direction.
Crna Luknja: What do you mean when you say Rojava revolution? What kind of social experiment is it, and why is it relevant for anti-authoritarian social movements around the world?
DAF: The Rojava revolution was proclaimed two years ago. Three cantons declared their independence from the state, from Assad’s regime. They didn’t want any kind of involvement with any of the internationally supported capitalist powers. This successfully opened up a third front in the region. It was a moment when the states in the region lost power.
This began as a project of the Kurdish struggle. It involves directly democratic practices like people’s assemblies, and it is focused on ethnic diversity, power to the people, and women’s liberation, which is a big focus of the Kurdish movement in general, not just in Rojava. They formed their own defense units, which are voluntary organizations just made up of the people who are living there.
Crna Luknja: You are part of the anarchist group DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action) in Turkey. One of your main activities over the last years has been building solidarity and mutual aid with the people in Kurdistan. Tell us about your group and what your involvement is in the Rojava revolution?
DAF: DAF advocates a revolutionary perspective; we call ourselves revolutionary anarchists because we want anarchism to be socially understood in our region, because in this region anarchism doesn’t have any tradition or history. Our first aim is to spread the ideals of anarchism into the social fabric of our society, and for us the practice is more important than theory. Or rather, we build our theory on our practice as revolutionary anarchists.
We are against all forms of oppression. We focus on workers’ movements and people’s movements that are oppressed due to ethnicity, we stand in solidarity against women’s oppression, and we are active in all of those movements. In Rojava, we were in touch with participants in the revolution since it started; when the resistance began in Kobanê, we immediately went to the region; our comrades organized solidarity actions on both sides of the border. We still have people there on a rotating basis, and we are still organizing actions. For example, recently, our women’s group organized an action in which they called for conscientious objection in support of the Kobanê resistance.
Clara: You’re listening to an interview that took place in January 2015 between the Slovenian anarchist radio show Crna Luknja and a Turkish anarchist involved in solidarity with the struggles of the people of Rojava. If you’d like to learn more about the DAF anarchist organization in Turkey, check out the interview conducted with participants in the 2013 Gezi Park uprising, which appeared on the CrimethInc. blog in 2013. We’ve got the link posted on our website. Now, back to the interview.
Crna Luknja: DAF has organized on the Turkish-Syrian border, in a “human chain” intended to prevent fighters of the Islamic State from passing over the border from the Turkish side to join in fighting against the Kurdish resistance. Tell us about this form of direct action?
DAF: The Turkish state has been attacking Kobanê from the west. In their discourse, the Turkish state sounds like they are against ISIS, but in practice it permits material resources, arms, and people to pass through the border, and it has been attacking the villages on the border. These villages are not very separate from Kobanê; it’s the same families and a lot of people from Kobanê pass through there when they are injured or if they want to join the struggle from the Turkish side of the border. So our comrades are staying in the villages and participating in all the actions in the communes, doing logistical support for the refugees and for injured people.
Crna Luknja: Throughout the armed conflict, the mainstream media said that Kobanê would fall, despite the fact that the resistance on the ground never gave up. Why do you think they reported it that way?
DAF: This was a psychological war from the beginning. The media did not want the Kobanê resistance to be heard. The coverage was part of the psychological war, because there was a lot of international support for the resistance. And when it became evident that Kobanê would not fall, they changed tactics: all the international powers tried to give the impression that they were helping with air strikes, and the Kurdish states by sending fighters. This was done right before it was evident that Kobanê would not fall, only in order to give the impression that they are not against this struggle.
Crna Luknja: It is obvious that the people’s struggle in Kobanê is not in the interest of the prevailing world powers. What do you think the prospects are for the Rojava revolution? What is the situation on the ground now? How can people from other countries support the revolution there?
DAF: Lately, other parts of Rojava have been attacked. If you remember months ago when ISIS first attacked the Yazidi people, the Yazidis were forced to flee from their cities, and they were saved by the YPD fighters. Afterwards, ISIS was repelled. Last week, the Yazidi people have formed their own defense units, similar to those in Rojava. So the struggle is growing in the region, with self-defense and the idea of direct democracy gaining more support.
Also, on the Turkish side of the border, the war is getting harsher. The government is using more violence against the Kurdish resistance. Again, last week, the police attacked and murdered a 14-year-old kid. This shows that the struggle will continue in a more violent way. This matter is not just limited to this region; you can see from the recent attacks on the journalists in France that this has to be taken very seriously on the international level, especially by revolutionaries.
This also shows the importance of the Rojava revolution against ISIS and radical Islamism. I think that international support would mean taking more actions locally against the real powers that are supporting ISIS.
INTERVIEW 2: DAF (TURKEY) AND CRIMETHINC., OCTOBER-DECEMBER 2014
Alanis: We’ll continue our coverage of the struggle against ISIS in Kobane and the Rojava revolution with this interview with another member of the Turkish DAF, conducted by CrimethInc. operatives between October and December 2014. In it, they elaborate on the regional and global geopolitical context in which the struggle takes place and prospects for the future. You can read a version of this discussion on the CrimethInc. blog, while a revised edition will be released in the forthcoming issue of Rolling Thunder magazine.
CrimethInc.: How is the struggle in Kobanê changing the political context in Turkey, both for Erdogan and for social movements for liberation?
DAF: The Turkish state has had to take steps backward in relation to the resistance in Kobanê. It has stopped openly supporting ISIS, although it is still supporting ISIS behind the scenes. It had plans to occupy in the name of creating a “security region,” which included military intervention to weaken the Kurdish struggle and also attacking Assad’s forces, in alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria. These plans have failed.
The solidarity actions carried out by social movements for liberation spread around the world to an extent that was unseen in recent years. This international solidarity was an important factor in the success of the Kobanê resistance. Rojava is another example proving that people can make a revolution without a vanguard party or a group of the elite, even where there is no industry. And this can happen in a place like the Middle East, where struggling for freedom means fighting against all kinds of oppression, including patriarchy as well as massacres based on ethnicity and religion.
CrimethInc.: Speaking of revolution without a vanguard party, can you say anything on the relationship between armed struggle and vanguardism? Does armed warfare inevitably compromise anti-authoritarian struggles, or are there ways to engage in warfare that do not inevitably produce hierarchies and specialization?
DAF: When all the people (who are able) are armed, who is the vanguard? The people’s self-defense forces in Rojava include all ages, both men and women (who are already legendary fighters) from all ethnic and religious backgrounds in the region. The hierarchy created in the armed struggle of the guerrilla does not necessarily mean an exclusive authority in the social structures created by the revolution. This awareness is a part of the Rojava peoples’ struggle for freedom.
CrimethInc.: DAF texts have described the Islamic State as “the violent mob produced by global capitalism” and “the subcontractor of the States that pursue income strategies on the region.” Can you explain precisely what your analysis of the Islamic State is—why it appeared, and whose interests it serves?
DAF: It is obvious that the actions of the Islamic State benefit the powers (economic and political) that have goals in the region. These could be direct or indirect benefits that strengthen the hand of these powers. For example, a radical Islamist group is useful for Western economic or political powers to make propaganda about defending Western values. Islamic terror is one of the biggest issues that Western countries make propaganda about. Moreover, it is also a political reality that some countries, including the US, have agreements with these fundamentalists. This is the 50-year-running Middle East policy of Western countries.
The Turkish state expressed a negative view of the Islamic State in every speech of its bureaucrats. But we have witnessed real political cooperation of the Turkish state with the Islamic State in relation to the resistance in Kobanê. So in this situation, although they are claiming that they are not supporting ISIS, the Turkish state has been providing large amounts of arms, supplies, and recruits to them ever since the time when it was part of the globally supported Free Syrian Army. This support continues surreptitiously, since politically the Turkish state had to seem to be against ISIS after the resistance in Kobanê succeeded. Our comrades at the Turkish border with Syria are still reporting suspiciously large transports crossing it.
The Turkish state has strong relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, and their joint long-term goal is to gain more power in the region by eliminating Assad’s authority. ISIS is their ally in this respect also.
CrimethInc.: Arguably, the Islamic State could never have come to power without the weapons and instability that the United States imported to Iraq. At the same time, it appears that US airstrikes and coordination with fighters in Kobanê have played a significant role in preventing the Islamic State from gaining control of the city. Has this enabled the United States to legitimize itself among those defending Rojava? What challenges does this create there for anarchists who oppose state power?
DAF: This false impression is a product of the mainstream media. US airstrikes began very late, after it was evident that Kobanê would not fall, and they were not critical. The bombings also hit the areas in YPG control “by mistake.” And some ammunition landed in the hands of ISIS also “by mistake.”
The success of the Kobanê Resistance can only be attributed to the self-organized power of the people’s armed forces. Because of this strong resistance, as well as extensive international solidarity, the US and its allies had to take steps backward. The bombings and media coverage are part of the political maneuvers against the revolution that will try to destroy it by including it. However, the Rojava Revolution is part of a long history of Kurdish people’s struggle for freedom. Its insistence on being stateless, its gains in the liberation of women, etc. are not coincidences.
The challenge is to communicate the values created in the Rojava Revolution and the political reality of wartime conditions.
CrimethInc.: Some anarchists in the US have spoken of certain ethnic groups, such as the people of Chiapas, as if they are “culturally anarchist.” Now some people here are speaking about the Kurdish people the same way. To us, although we don’t want to render the struggles of oppressed and colonized peoples invisible, it also seems simplistic and dangerous to confuse ethnic identity with politics. Likewise, our comrades in former Yugoslavia have expressed concerns over struggles that are based in ethnic or religious identity, on account of their experience of the 1990s civil war.
How important is ethnic identity in the struggle in Rojava? Do you see this as a potential problem, or not?
DAF: The Rojava Revolution is made by peoples with at least four different ethnic and three different religious backgrounds, who are actively taking part equally on both military and social fronts. Also, the people of Rojava insist on being stateless, when there is already a neighboring Kurdish state in place. Kurdish ethnic identity has been subject to the denial and oppression policies of all the states in the region. Raising oppressed identities is strategically important in peoples’ struggle for freedom, but not to the extent that it is a device of discrimination and deception. This balance is of key importance and the Rojava Revolution has already proved itself in this respect.
DAF also finds that the values that the people of Chiapas have created in their struggle for freedom align with anarchism, although “culturally anarchist” would not be a term we would use.
CrimethInc.: Are there any other regions of the Middle East where social experiments like the one in Rojava are taking place, or where they might emerge? What would it take, internationally, for what is promising in Rojava to spread?
DAF: The Rojava Revolution has been developing in a time when many socio-economic crises appeared around the world: Greece, Egypt, Ukraine… During the first period of the Arab Spring, the social opposition supported this “spring wave.” After a while, these waves evolved into clashes between fundamentalists and secular militarist powers. So the revolution in Rojava appeared at a conjuncture when the social opposition had lost their hopes in the Middle East. Its own international character and international solidarity will spread this effort—first in the Middle East, then around the world.
REVOLUTION AGAINST PATRIARCHY IN ROJAVA
Alanis: One crucial part of the transformation taking place in Rojava today is a revolution against patriarchy and the oppression of women. The official ideology of the PKK and its affiliated organizations includes total gender equality as a central tenet.
Here’s an excerpt from a talk given by American anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber discussing his experience on a delegation visiting Rojava a few months ago. He discusses how the struggle against patriarchy fits within the revolutionary new forms of social organization being instituted in the autonomous territories.
David Graeber: I just got back from a trip to Rojava in northern Syria. The first place we went was a police academy; it was a place that the Syrian police used to use to torture people, had now been converted to a police academy. But their idea of a police academy was a place where they have six month trainings, and you have to take courses on feminist theory before you’re allowed to touch a weapon, for example. They said there, well, this is a police academy, and our basic ideas is we want to give everyone in the country six weeks of police trainings, and then we can abolish the police. Because if everybody knows how to do it, you don’t need specialists. Then everybody can just be part of their local peace and consensus committee, as they call their local justice things.
They set up directly democratic assemblies on all these different levels, and every assembly had to have fifty-fifty gender parity, but at the same time it was matched by an all-women’s council that had veto power. And this existed on every level, on from the neighborhood up from the districts to the cities.
And the most interesting things though is that they’d created a dual power system - and I’ve never heard of anything like this happening any time in history - these guys had gone and created a dual power situation where they’d created both sides. So essentially they had bottom up system of directly democratic groups that were armed and actually in control; they were the ones who could access the security forces and that they were ultimately answerable to; and then they created a government with ministries and a parliament which basically had no power for foreign consumption. So they created a dummy government; it looks exactly like a real government, except it lacks any access to mechanisms of coercive power (they can’t shoot anybody, like the army.) And the army elects its officers, it’s also bottom-up. The army and the police are not answerable to it, but rather to a bottom-up structure.
But everybody I talked to said, “This is amazing, we’re just totally reconstituting society, we’ve got a plan.” And they said, “We’re anti-capitalist, and if you wanna get rid of capitalism, you can’t do it without getting rid of the state. But if you wanna get rid of the state, you can’t do it without getting rid of patriarchy. So we’re gonna do that.”
Alanis: In practice, this takes shape through a variety of structural safeguards to women’s autonomy and protections against male domination. For example: nearly all municipalities have two co-mayors, one male and one female, and representative assemblies on all levels are required to include nearly equal proportions of men and women; the all-female YPJ militias exist to counter-balance the traditional predominance of men as armed fighters; an all-female security force responds to conflicts involving women, children, domestic violence, and hate crimes, and also operates all-female safe houses and support hotlines.
For some more perspective on the gender politics of the Rojava revolution, we’ll next turn to an excerpt from an interview with Kurdish refugee, activist and academic Dilar Dirik, speaking live from Kurdistan with Chuck Mertz the Chicago-based radio show “This Is Hell.” We strongly encourage you to check out the entire interview, which discusses the historical background to the current revolution, the Turkish state’s complicity with ISIS, analysis of the politics of the PKK’s listing as a terrorist organization by certain states (including the US), and lots more. But in this excerpt, Dirik critiques Western media portrayals of Kurdish women fighters, highlighting their political aspirations outside of the state-based framework of “women’s rights.” You can find the link on our website. You can read writings by Dilar Dirik on the revolutionary women of Rojava on her blog at dilar91.blogspot.ch. Also, many thanks to the folks at Antidote Magazine for sending the interview our way - you can read their transcript as well as a lot of terrific coverage of events in Rojava at antidotezine.com.
Chuck Mertz: At the Rojava Women’s Association website where you blog, there’s a story posted from the November 10th International Business Times headlined, “Syria-ISIS Crisis: Kurds grant women equal rights in defiance of ISIS laws. New decree also abolishes forced marriage and honor killing.” The story reports that the local government of an autonomous Kurdish area in Syria has “granted women equal rights to men.”
What do you mean by equal rights to men? Because this sounds great! There isn’t equal rights between men and women anywhere in the world!
Dilar Dirik: This news item is actually quite old, and very inadequate. And there was also a columnist on CNN who wrote something very problematic (though meaning to sound very nice or something—I don’t know what her intention was). Basically what she said is, “The Kurdish women who are fighting against ISIS are in fact trying to send us, the West, a message that they share our values.”
No! They simply don’t. They have much, much better things to do than worry about than what white women in America think about them. First of all, the people in Rojava actively oppose capitalism as an economic system. They oppose the premises on which the international order is built, such as the state, such as patriarchy and so on. And they do not believe that women are more liberated in the West.
“Giving them rights” is actually also not something that happened recently. Ever since the beginning, since 2012, in the foundations of these three cantons as well, they have gotten rid of polygamy, of child marriage; they criminalized honor killings and so on. This “equal rights” thing was there before.
But the important answer to this is that the women’s movement in Rojava does not think in terms of “rights.” Because there is no state to give you rights. They have learned that the hard way. Rights simply don’t exist. You have to struggle in order to create a society in which social justice and equality are internalized. Who cares about rights that exist on paper and don’t mean anything in reality?
This is a very feudal, patriarchal society, and only with real, meaningful struggle will the mentality of the society change. Turning it into terms of “Oh, look, there’s equal rights here, and on the other side ISIS is enslaving women!” is also very simplistic, and this is not what this revolution is about. This revolution is also criticizing the West. It is also criticizing the chauvinism with which many people are approaching what’s happening.
This is something that’s quite common, I think, in advanced capitalist countries, even among leftists: to look down on revolutions or changes in the Global South, and I think this is very problematic. And even though many of these people are trying to be in solidarity with the people in Rojava, they actually don’t do them a favor by pitting different communities against each other and making it about secularism versus religion or civilization versus barbarism.
Chuck Mertz: I want to mention one thing real quick, because we were mentioning stereotypes that the West has of the Middle East, of Arab people, of Muslim people, all the stereotypes that we have. You write about how much the glamorization of the Kurdish woman fighter is distracting the media from the message, from the politics of the Kurdish women fighters. But I think this is also based on stereotypes and sexism and racism towards people in the Middle East, because we believe, in the West, that the Middle East is the most patriarchal society, and that the women are—for whatever reason, even if it’s just the wearing of the veil—subjugated or subordinated and somehow that they like that position, they don’t mind being subjugated or subordinated. But in fact, that is not the case whatsoever.
Why is it not unique, to you, that Kurdish women are leading the fight against the Islamic State?
Dilar Dirik: First of all, we do have to keep in mind that this is a very patriarchal region. That is true. There are many different reasons for that, but it is true that in this region women have it really bad. It’s always important to keep that in mind.
But, well, I’m a nineties child, and I grew up seeing Kurdish guerrilla fighters who are women. And most Kurdish people in my generation have grown up with this reality. So actually, if Kurdish women had not been fighting against the Islamic State, we would have been surprised. Because this had been established as something quite natural in Kurdish politics.
And it doesn’t matter if you support these fighters or if you don’t; the truth is they are there. This, of course, changes your perception of women if you see women who are armed as fighters, fighting against different states. That does a lot with your perception.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the cause of women in places that are perceived as oppressive has often been used by imperialism. “We have to go and rescue the women!” For example Afghan women, Iraqi women. This has always been used to portray this region as a very patriarchal, backwards place, and the West has to intervene and rescue specifically the women.
(And many times, the voices of these women are not listened to. You can disagree or agree with it, but many women do not just measure their level of oppressed-ness by a veil that they are wearing or not wearing. It’s not simple like that.)
In order to justify these unjust wars in the Middle East, women have always been portrayed as these victims that need to be rescued. But then what happens? Why don’t US drone strikes, the airstrikes, the devastation caused in these wars, which have disproportionally affected women and killed women and displaced women—that’s not oppression, or what? The existing patriarchy in this region—justifying unjust wars by that is just absolutely insane.
From an orientalist perspective, seeing women taking up arms against the explicitly femicidal system of ISIS of course challenges very stereotypical prejudiced perceptions of women in the Middle East. But as I’ve said in my articles and as we’ve mentioned earlier, this is not something that just came out of nowhere, and it’s very disheartening to see that the politics of these women are taken out of the equation.
But the truth is, as we discussed earlier, the ideology of the PKK plays an explicit role in this. The PKK’s ideology is directly responsible for the fighters in Kobanê who are women. I was there, not in Kobanê but in another region of Rojava. I spoke to these women fighters, and I spoke about their media representation as well, and one of them, a commander, said, “We don’t want the world to know us only as ‘the women fighting ISIS.’ And we also don’t want people to know us for our weapons. We want them to know us for our ideas. And our ideas are based on the philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan,” who is the philosophical, ideological representative of the PKK.
This is something a commander of a brigade that is fighting against ISIS in Rojava told me. And you see Öcalan’s picture everywhere. You may or may not like the PKK, but that does not matter. What matters is the fact that these people are fighting with this philosophy. When Kobanê was liberated, they immediately chanted slogans praising Öcalan, for example. You can criticize many things, but at least acknowledge that this is these people’s loyalty. You don’t have to like it; you can criticize this ideology, but this is what it is. This ideology lies behind this resistance against the Islamic State. But nobody wants to know that, because the PKK is listed as a terrorist organization.
It’s important to keep in mind that it’s incredibly brave that these women are fighting against an ideology that is explicitly enslaving women as sex slaves, raping them, selling them, killing them and so on—these are two quite contrary worldviews, we could say. But on the other hand, why not support the politics of Rojava, the system that is being created there, that is explicitly centered around women’s liberation? Gender equality is being taught to the soldiers, to the internal security officers, to the teachers, to the health officers and so on. There is a new kind of alternative society that is being created there.
But that’s also something that people don’t want to see. Even leftists, even anarchists and so on, people who should be in solidarity with what is happening in Rojava, keep criticizing it for not being, I don’t know, “Ideology X” enough. Marxist enough, anarchist enough, feminist enough, whatever. But the truth is that these people are creating a new life there. They are establishing a revolution there. It should be everyone’s task to support this. At least give constructive critiques, rather than just ranting about why they’re not fitting into your dogmatic ideology or whatever.
Chuck Mertz: We have been speaking with Dilar Dirik; she is an activist of the Kurdish women’s movement and a PhD candidate in the sociology department at the University of Cambridge, where her research focuses on Kurdistan, the Kurdish women’s movement, and the PYD or Democratic Union Party, which has existed in the Rojava territories since 2004. One last question for you, Dilar: do you believe that the Islamic State, because of the way it so horribly treats, rapes, enslaves women—do you believe that the Islamic State can actually bolster feminism in the Middle East and around the world?
Dilar Dirik: Yes and no. Well, one terrible thing about this is that whenever a huge tragedy such as this one happens, the threshold of atrocity that people can handle changes. Things then start to be measured by the “worst.” For example, the enslavement of specifically the Yezidi women has traumatized and caused so much damage and suffering to the people in this region. One danger is that from now on violence against women will be measured by these standards, the worst standards. And the worse standards get, the more tolerant we get to it. That’s a horrible, horrible side effect.
But on the other hand, I think it’s not the Islamic State’s specific war on women but rather the resistance which women have shown, specifically in Kobanê, that has changed a lot. It’s changed the terms of what it means to be a woman in the Middle East, I think. Many people contact me just to say how inspired they are, and how this has inspired their own struggles.
I think it’s not the Islamic State’s terribleness but the resistance, the strength, the pride really, the real sense of pride with which these women have confronted the Islamic State and showed that a different world was possible, that women can do this and that, that women exist, that women are not slaves, that women have the power to change their status and change the patriarchy in the region…I think it’s the women’s resistance that will change perceptions.
But only if it is accompanied by a longer, endless struggle. Because just taking up arms in times of war and conflict is often in danger of just being forgotten afterwards. But if we look at the system in Rojava, we will see that all the policies of the people there, the activists of the women’s movement, and the critique of the fighters there, how they talk about the ways their lives have changed, how they’re seen as different now because they have taken part in this resistance—I think this is what will eventually change things. Not what the Islamic State has done.
From what I’ve observed, the women who have been fighting against ISIS have really been like a rising sun to many people, and I think this will be a much more powerful counterforce than what the Islamic State has done in terms of damage. ####THE CHOPPING BLOCK
This episode on the Chopping Block, we’re excited to review a new book release that documents and analyzes the unfolding revolution in Rojava. It’s titled A Small Key Can Open a Large Door: The Rojava Revolution. The book comes to us from Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness, an imprint of Combustion Books, which describes itself as “a collectively run publisher of dangerous fiction,” focusing on “genre stories that confront, subvert, or rudely ignore the dominant paradigm.” This time, though, they’ve given us a brilliant and timely encapsulation of a contemporary political crisis in this elegantly designed collection.
In just under 200 pages, this pocket-sized volume assembles some fifteen different short texts describing different aspects of the Rojava revolution and the struggle against ISIS in Kobane, along with an introduction providing background and several appendices. The texts include statements from Kurdish groups inside and outside of the region, voices of international solidarity, interviews with travelers, and others with direct experience of the situation. They discuss gender and the women’s movement, the political and economic philosophies underlying the social struggle, the war against ISIS and the complex international context, the crucial importance of international solidarity, and a variety of other themes. Several I had read before online, while many were new to me, having been culled from a variety of divergent sources. Each essay or excerpt begins with a short statement from the editors describing its source and some context, so we’re never left totally in the dark as to how to approach the material we’re reading.
Perhaps the most heart-rending and inspiring piece in the collection is a letter written by a 19-year old fighter from a Women’s Protection Unit militia in Kobane during the siege, describing to her mother what she has seen and what she hopes for herself, her comrades and her struggle.
One of the major assets of the collection is the thorough but concise introduction, which lays out a helpful history of Kurdish struggles in the region including how each of the bordering states and other global powers have alternately repressed or attempted to selectively support and appropriate Kurdish resistance. From within this historical and geopolitical context, it traces the evolution of the PKK from dogmatic guerrilla Marx-Lenin-Maoism to a more anti-authoritarian model. After explaining the core concepts of democratic confederalism, women’s liberation, radical pluralism, and the “people’s economy” along with examples of how they are playing out in practice, it concludes with a ringing appeal for anarchist solidarity with the revolution in Rojava. The introduction proved to be 40 of the most helpful pages I’ve read this year towards understanding current events in the Middle East. The only drawback is the total lack of citations for its sources, which leaves us wondering where the information came from and how to evaluate it. Nonetheless, in tandem with the short essays that follow and other external reading, it provides an indispensable orientation to a mind-bendingly complex situation.
Among its many helpful features are a glossary of terms, people, and acronyms for reference, a timeline of Kurdish resistance from the mid–19th century through today, a map of the autonomous districts and surrounding territories, and the Constitution of the Rojava Cantons, which outline the principles of social, economic and political organization in the territories.
One of the most encouraging impressions we got from reading A Small Key Can Open a Large Door is that of passionate enthusiasm tempered with realism. Despite their active support for the efforts of the people of Rojava, the editors and contributors don’t gloss over the ambiguities and imperfections of the events and projects there. For example, they acknowledge that aspects of how the economic programme of the revolutionaries is playing out in practice, or how it will shift as the geopolitical situation develops, remain unclear or vague. Likewise, they engage with the authoritarian legacy of the PKK and the ambiguous alliance of interests between the Rojava fighters and US military, convincingly arguing for the urgent importance of solidarity while not abandoning a critical perspective. The editors propose that North American anarchists mobilize to support the Rojava struggle while learning all that we can from it to inspire our struggles at home. As they conclude their introduction, “The people of Rojava have chosen to fight, and so must we.”
That said, there are critiques of this struggle to be made from an anarchist perspective, of course… and they have been made, at length, in various online articles and forums. The book clearly appears as a challenge to critics who would dismiss the struggle in Rojava out of hand, responding to some of the common critiques while arguing for the necessity of solidarity nonetheless. I empathize with the contempt for armchair theorists who cite other armchair theorists to explain why they needn’t leave their armchairs when a social revolution is unfolding; yet uncritical solidarity with anything that describes itself as anarchist or anti-authoritarian has not led us in wholesome directions, if history offers any lessons. If you approach this book as a skeptic dismissive of the revolutionary potential of events in Rojava, it may help cut through some of your skepticism and motivate more engagement. (Of course, it may not, but at minimum it will leave you better informed for whatever engagement you undertake.) If you approach it knowing little or already sympathetic, you’re likely to put it down fired up and eager to do what you can to show solidarity. The editors, and certainly we at the Ex-Worker, hope you get and stay fired up and translate your excitement into action. But also seek out some of the more thoughtful critiques (if you can filter them out of the sludge of trolls and navel-gazers) and let that temper your enthusiasm - not in the sense of dampening it, but in the sense of tempering steel: making it harder and sharper and increasing its efficacy. Let’s always remember that both education and information as well as criticism and critique exist first and foremost to catalyze action, not to inhibit it.
All that said: we can’t recommend this little book highly enough for an accessible, wide-ranging, and essential introduction to the social and political experiments unfolding in Rojava.
To read more or order copies, check out tangledwilderness.org or combustionbooks.org.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Alanis: So that just about wraps it up for this episode. There are plenty of interesting events and actions on the horizon in the coming weeks, but we’ll just mention a couple right now.
May 13th marks the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the MOVE house in west Philadelphia. As we discussed in Episode 34, the struggle of the MOVE organization against racial and ecological oppression continues, despite the incarceration of many of the MOVE family for decades. On May 13th, a massive demonstration and march has been called in Philadelphia to demand their freedom and to commemorate the bombing, with speakers from Ward Churchill to Alice Walker contributing their support. If you can make it, please come out; you can find out more info at onamove.com.
On May 16th, the Orange County Anarchist Book Fair will take place in Santa Ana, California.
From May 19th - 22nd, Polish activists are organizing an anti-border convergence in Warsaw. They write:
On May, 21st, 2015 the crème de la crème of European racism will gather in Warsaw, Poland, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the creation of one of the most influential meta-organisations that guards assets of the Fortress Europe. The organization, Frontex, is a hybrid of border police and intelligence service, as well as aggressive promoter of anti-migrant policy… When migrant circles in Europe come together in resistance and repression is on the rise, we can not remain passive. Unite against institutional state fascism – in the name of a real and practical transnational solidarity!
And as a part of the ongoing month long Festival of Anarchy those maniacs have up there, the Montreal Anarchist Book Fair will take place May 23rd and 24th, as well as an Art and Anarchy exhibition and an anarchist film festival - plus the International Anarchist Theatre Festival on the 19th and 20th. And something called the “Glamarchist Lookfair,” which I guess is a queer dance party? God, Montreal, why are you so cool?
Anyway, let’s finally wrap things up with some prisoner birthdays.
On May 12th, Alvaro Luna Hernandez, an anti-racist organizer serving 50 years for thwarting an attempt on his life by a police officer;
And on May 21st, Mondo we Langa, a former Black Panther and author targeted by COINTELPRO in Nebraska.
As usual, info about their cases and their current mailing addresses can be found on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Clara: That’s all for this episode of the Ex-Worker. Thanks to the comrades from Turkey and Rojava who contributed their words and voices, and to our friends at Crna Luknja for sharing the audio. And thanks to all of you patient listeners for tuning back in. Next time, we’re going to be releasing a special episode: an audio documentary on the Hambacher Forest occupation in western Germany. After that we’ll resume our usual episodes of news, reviews, analysis, and all the rest. Till next time…
DAF: Long live the revolution in Rojava and long live anarchist revolution; greetings to you all!
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
In this episode’s main feature, we included excerpts from several interviews about the social revolution in Rojava. The CrimethInc. feature “Turkish Anarchists on the Fight for Kobane” collects correspondence with members of Revolutionary Anarchist Action (DAF) from Istanbul, as well as an edited transcription of the Crna Luknja interview with a member of DAF. We also played a clip of an excellent Dilar Dirik interview with the Chicago-based radio show This is Hell, transcribed and brought to our attention by our friends at Antidote Zine, as well as a short clip from a talk by David Graeber. Also check out Dilar Dirik’s blog.
On the Chopping Block, we reviewed “A Small Key Can Open a Large Door”, a collection of texts about the revolution in Rojava, recently released by Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness and Combustion Books. You can also read the introduction online, which we highly recommend!
In our listener feedback section, we discussed the case of Ross Ulbricht, recently convicted of running the Silk Road website for unregulated internet commerce.
We also mentioned we would post the correct links to “Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex”, and the anti-colonial convergence coming up in St Augustine, Florida this September.
Those interested in anarchist parenting might want to check out The Rad Dad Book, based on a long-running zine; this zine on anarchist parenting, and a new anthology called Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities. If you want to share your stories of raising kids with anti-authoritarian values, drop us a line to podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Don’t miss the Stimulator’s latest episode, “May Day is Gray Day”, for a lively reportback from our favorite holiday.
On the first weekend in April, anarchists in Ljubljana, Slovenia hosted an anarchist radio gathering, which brought together participants in several different radio projects across Europe to share skills and coordinate their efforts. Listen to the joint production made during the gathering on the website of Crna Luknja, the Slovenian anarchist radio show.
The anarchist publishing company AK Press suffered a serious fire at their warehouse, which killed two people in the neighboring building and destroyed a devastating amount of their merchandise. They’re raising money to get back on their feet; if you want to show them some support, you can visit gofundme.com/AKPressfire.
Upcoming Prisoner Birthdays:
Alvaro Luna Hernandez #255735 [May 12]
James V Allred Unit
2101 FM 369 North
Iowa Park TX 76367
Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa (s/n David Rice) #27768
Nebraska State Penitentiary
Post Office Box 2500
Lincoln, Nebraska 68542–2500
[Address envelope to David Rice, address card to Mondo we Langa]