Vanguards of Anti-Statism: Hope and Tension in the Ideological Project of Rojava

By Huseyin Rasit, Alexander Kolokotronis,
Submitted to Session P4890 (Syrian Kurds: Contesting Boundaries, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Kurdistan;
Kurdish; Kurdish Studies; Theory;
In recent years, Rojava’s Democratic Autonomy has garnered much interest and excitement from leftists all around the world. The revolutionaries’ experiment with nonhierarchical democratic structures, radical gender equality, democratization of violence, and cooperative economic initiatives has understandably resembled an anarchist project for many. At the same time, however, a Leninist strand is still alive and functioning as the PYD approximates a hegemonic vanguard party and Abdullah Ocalan a charismatic leader. Several questions follow this ambiguity: What convergences between anarchism and Leninism can be found in Rojava? How have these convergences transformed existing concepts within these distinct ideological traditions? What new concepts have been generated by this convergence? What tensions have arisen and how are they handled? In this paper, we look at the programmatic repertoire of anti-state actors in Rojava (Western Kurdistan) and Bakur (Northern Kurdistan) to identify and delineate the above-mentioned transformations and creations of concepts. We argue that Rojava is indeed developing new blends of anarchism and Leninism. The former comes from revolutionaries’ desire to move away from nation-state as an oppressive entity, while the latter is an answer to the lack of bottom-up organizational and political infrastructure after decades of oppression. We claim that revolutionaries are utilizing three dynamics to prevent “vanguard” party overcoming bottom-up ideals: commitment to radical gender equality and strong women’s movement; system of peoples’ councils; and establishing armed forces on tenets of internal democracy, leftist and feminist education, and responsibility to councils. At the same time, there are tensions and problems arising out of this novel project such as increasing centrality of a government entity. We argue, however, that these tensions cannot be resolved solely on theoretical grounds as geopolitical dynamics exert tremendous effects.