Since the civil war in Syria erupted, ordinary Syrians seemed to have been forced to choose between two alternatives--to either side with the Assad regime or an extremist Islamist group. The Kurds in the north of Syria rejected both of these to instead pave the way for a third option: democracy. Taking advantage of the power vacuum created after Assad's forces withdrew from the region to fight Islamic extremists, the Kurds in the north of Syria formed three autonomous cantons --Afrin, Cizire, and Kobane--in a geographic area they refer to as Rojava. The Kurds, mainly led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), have been pushing for a comprehensive social transformation to create a radically democratic, free and egalitarian society. All around Rojava, citizens assemble in communes, councils, committees, and neighbourhood assemblies to take decisions on social, economic, cultural, and ecological matters that affect their daily lives. What is most impressive is that they are trying to implement this unique political experiment in libertarian socialism in the midst of war. However, the Rojavan model, which bears similarities to the Zapatista experience, is under threat by the fascism of the so-called 'Islamic State' (IS) and other regional actors vehemently against Kurdish autonomy. This piece aims to demonstrate that now is not the time for the international Left to be disputing the Rojava revolution and whether it fits their theoretical framework, but to instead show communitarian solidarity with the Rojavans in what is arguably a fight for freedom and popular democracy against the forces of fascism.
Before giving examples of British-Rojavan solidarity, it is helpful to describe the fundamentals of the Rojava revolution, that is, its political ideology known as 'democratic confederalism'. Developed by the Kurdish political leader Abdullah Ocalan, it challenges state power by promoting popular democracy, an ecological society, and a co-operative economy. Ocalan sees social change as necessary to challenge the established undemocratic social order, but the principal agent leading this change must be a popular-based, trans-class movement. He argues that a peaceful environment could be achieved by relying on the tools of participatory democracy, supporting an evolving civil society and grassroots movements (2011, p11). In addition to democratic confederalism, Ocalan also developed the idea of 'democratic autonomy' as a way to guide municipalities and civil society on how to function autonomously at the local level.
In framing the models of democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy, Ocalan was inspired by many radical thinkers but perhaps to a greater extent by Murray Bookchin and his work on social ecology, libertarian municipalism and communalism. Bookchin's critique of the nation-state as a structurally oppressive...