21 Theses for the People’s Ecology in the Twenty-first Century

by the Social Ecology Cooperative (Paris)

The “21 Theses,” dated July 2014 and published in November 2015, marked the birth of the Social Ecology Cooperative in Paris. In May 2016 I had the opportunity to ask Patrick Farbiaz, one of its founders, what the cooperative meant by social ecology. He explained that it views ecology through the eyes of the poor in the global South. It advances an “ecology of liberation” inspired by the “theology of liberation,” a formulation of Christian doctrine seen through the eyes of the poor, especially in Latin America. This form of political ecology has strong overtones with the environmental justice movement that emerged in the United States in the 1970s, which sought to organize those most affected by environmental disasters—the poor, ethnic minorities, women—and with the more recent climate justice movement. These “21 Theses” advance the concept of a people’s ecology (écologie populaire), advanced by movement of the “popular classes,” those dispossessed by capitalist modernity on a global scale.

The affinities with Bookchin’s social ecology are clear, notably the social origins of the ecological crises; the distinction between environmentalism (inherently reformist) and ecology (which in political terms is socially revolutionary); the orientation toward the downtrodden; the concern for localization; and the bitter opposition to green capitalism.

logo-c3a9cologie-socialeThe three founding members of the Cooperative Ecologie Sociale have been associated with the various evolving French Green parties (Les Verts, Ecology Europe, Ecology Europe-Les Verts, or EELV) since the early 1990s. Francine Bavay was elected in 2004 to the regional council for Ile-de-France and became second vice president in charge of social development, the social economy, and solidarity, health, and disability. She has since quit elective office and now organizes around local currency. Patrick Farbiaz works in the office of Noël Mamère, a deputy in the French National Assembly. Serge Coronado, an EELV officeholder, represents French nationals in Latin America and the Caribbean in the assembly.

I am publishing its English translation here out of respect for the cooperative’s effort to bring social ecology into the twenty-first century by casting it in global terms and for its emphasis on environmental justice. For more information about the cooperative, to see its other documents, and to consult the original French for this one, see its website at Ecolgiesociale.org.

21 Theses for the People’s Ecology in the Twenty-first Century

The People’s Ecology is the political response of ecologists who refuse to resign themselves to the domination, exploitation, and alienation of the capitalist system. It renovates ecological thinking by proposing a new narrative of ecology based on a vision of the history of ecology and humanity outside the mainstream. Far from being an abstract model, it offers a concrete alternative in the face of the environmental crisis that threatens humanity. Building the people’s ecology will recast the ecology project by conjoining the historic force of the poor with the defense of the planet and the commons.

This manifesto starts with the simple idea that there are two ecologies, one from above and one from below. The from-above ecology advocates developing an economy based on green growth. It seeks to be, in effect, the spare tire in the globalized capitalist system. The other ecology is the from-below struggle of the popular classes for survival, and for meeting their needs in terms of access to ecological resources. Between these two ecologies, the gap is widening every day, and it is necessary to choose. And considering the shock that is coming, the alternative must be a political ecology.

1) The global crisis that we are experiencing is multidimensional: it is financial, economic, social, cultural, identitarian—and ecological. This last feature is the radically new element that is driving the world toward an existential choice: the barbarism engendered by market fundamentalism or a politics of civilization in the lands of “living well.” The capitalist system, engaged in a logic of destruction, cannot be reformed, even if the green economy is making a final attempt to salvage a solution to its crisis. The “civilizing mission of capitalism,” based on the development of productive forces and defended by liberal thinkers as well as by socialists, has led to disruptions of major balances in the earth system that are poised to render human life impossible.

Capitalism is incompatible with respect for natural limits. The ever more rapid destruction of ecosystems, the disruption of the climate, chemical pollution and diseases it causes, the rapid decline of biodiversity, the degradation of soil, the destruction of the rainforests, global social apartheid produced by the brutal development of inequality, and the rise of identitarian and religious violence are the main symptoms. These crises stem from the mode of production that became dominant over two centuries —capitalism—and the resulting patterns of consumption and mobility. This ecologically and socially unsustainable mode of development is leading the biosphere to collapse.

2) The only force that has anticipated this crisis is political ecology. Political ecology has several currents, but alone among all political families, ecology considers it necessary to change the model of development by reducing our ecological footprint, by defending the ecosystems of the planet against predators, and by protecting the commons while meeting fundamental social needs. Ecology founded on the principles of autonomy, responsibility, and equilibrium calls for embracing universal values of protecting the land and human and non-human rights. The ecology movement became political in the 1980s in Europe and in other wealthy countries when the defense of daily culture converged with the question of the survival of the human species and the inclusion of specific methods of implementing democracy. It was organized by the Green parties, whose social base corresponded to the post-1968 student generation that had grown up during the affluent postwar decades. This social base can be referred to as the middle class, which has high cultural capital at its disposal and lives in the urban centers of large cities; it has configured political ecology in its own image and functions in its own interests. It advocates a politics of greening that sets standards from above and that regards adaptation to capitalism by means of a green economy as the horizon of political ecology.

3) Another ecology, issuing from the historical force of the poor, the ecology from below, arose in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This plebeian ecology, emerging from the large majority of the planet, animates everywhere struggles for the survival of humanity and of biodiversity. Native to the social periphery, it mobilizes millions of women and men against the financial and industrial oligarchy that is destroying the planet and threatening the survival of humanity and the conditions for life among the dispossessed throughout the world: against the destruction of forests, against large dams, against the extraction of oil and mineral resources, and for the survival of their languages and their cultural diversity, against industrial disasters, against environmental racism. … The ecology from below currently has not been translated into a formal politics. When it appears within the green parties, it is most often a minority.

It is expressed in organized social movements (MST in Brazil, Via Campesina, indigenous movements) and in the popular uprisings (the Water War in Bolivia, riots in China, anti-dam movements in India). It is still seeking its references, but already it has become indispensable, especially during such major meetings of political ecology as RIO + 20 or when tens of thousands of ecologists demonstrate against the green economy and its consequences and express through the Climate Justice network the requirements of social ecological movements … Gradually, the people’s ecology is spreading in Western countries, in peasant communities fighting industrial agriculture and the chemical industry, in popular neighborhoods where pollution is invisibly concentrated, and diseases related to the environment, the consumption of junk food and the resulting obesity. Faced with the accumulating social and ecological injustices, a new political ecology is both necessary and possible.

4) These two poles of political ecology have their roots in an earlier story that has been divided since its inception. Since the nineteenth century, a gap has widened between the scientific ecology from above, formed into large part by colonial science, hygienism, conservationism, and social Darwinism. Driven by the positivist ideology and the religion of unlimited progress, ecology from above influenced the first ecologists, often naturalists and environmentalists, in the twentieth century. On the other side, ecology from below is an ecology of transformation, of the people’s ecology, emerging from the struggles of workers, peasants, and anticolonial peoples for survival. Struggles for survival are foundational to the people’s ecology. The popular classes will defend not only their material conditions of life but also their natural environment, as capitalist modernity destroys their civilization.

Capital has destroyed the conditions of life and work of communities of peasants and artisans in the name of Progress, Science, and Reason. In this sense the Right as well as the Left have achieved a historic compromise based on liberal individualism. If we want to stop this process, the first task of the people’s ecology is to decolonize the collective imaginary of the left and of ecology in fighting this religion of Progress and Scientism, which is the basis of middle-class domination over the popular classes. The Terra Nova Foundation calls leftists unconcerned about the future “bobos,” since they have de facto abandoned the popular classes in favor of abstention or the National Front; in so doing, they are following the logic of socialism and scientific ecology in despising the socialism of their origins, of workers, indigenous peoples, and peasant movements, claiming they are now archaic. The decolonization of the imaginary thus contributes to the rediscovery of the values and history of the disinherited, who are the exact opposite of the market society based on profit and competition exacerbated among individuals: they represent consociation, concern for others, the common ownership of land, the gift, mutual aid, cooperation, and civility.

Patrick Farbiaz and Francine Bavay of the Cooperative Ecologie-Sociale in Paris

Patrick Farbiaz and Francine Bavay of the Cooperative Ecologie-Sociale in Paris

5) The people’s ecology was born in the nineteenth-century ecology of workers’ associationism, agrarian populism, Luddism, civil disobedience, and libertarian geography. Workers’ associationism is the taproot of the social and solidaristic economy; Luddism is the root of the critique of industrialism and mechanization; agrarian populism emerged from struggles and wars of rural communities to defend their lifeways and existence against the development of another relation to earth and to commodification; civil disobedience originated in methods of noncooperation in struggles used from Thoreau to Gandhi and passing through the Landless of Brazil; the libertarian geography of Reclus and Kropotkin, countering sociobiology, developed the concept of mutual aid and cooperation.

The official history of ecology recounts its emergence as a passing of the baton from scientific ecologists to environmentalist and naturalist movements with bourgeois sensibilities toward nature. After 1968, a set of currents, born in the 1970s, from a cultural and generational movement nourished by various influences (feminism, Third World, pacifism and nonviolence, libertarian, socialist self-management) came together and gave birth to political ecology and the green parties. This story is false because it deliberately omits the ecology of the poor, which in the 19th and 20th centuries never ceased to fight capitalist modernity and the damage wrought by Progress.

6) The people’s ecology, from its premises, is a rupture with the capitalist system with its limitless exploitation of resources, globalized trade, and capital accumulation. Four key types of globalization underlie the ecological crisis.

The first globalization was the triangular Atlantic trade system, based on human slavery, which resulted in the destruction of indigenous peoples and put in place extractivism, the grabbing of natural resources and raw materials.

The second globalization, based on coal and steam energy, generated wage labor, forced labor, and productivism, that is, the religion of production based on the profits reaped by colonial empires. Meanwhile enclosures put an end to the common ownership of land and transformed millions of peasants into extensions of machines. The destruction of the peasant community coincided with the birth of the industrial proletariat.

The third globalization, generated by oil exploitation, was that of Fordism and electricity, of consumerism and alienation.

The fourth globalization, using nuclear power, peak oil and renewable energy, is contemporary with the planned obsolescence of products and of humanity itself. This era will lead either to barbarism and chaos or to a humanist Renaissance based on global citizenship and empathy. The current globalization threatens the very existence of humanity.

Reading these four globalizations through an ecological prism shows that capitalist modernity has always been based on the exploitation of the working classes and the destruction of their ecosystems. Those who are dominated have never ceased to contest the domination of human and of nature, as evidenced by Indian resistance, runaway slaves, slave revolts, riots and peasant wars, struggles for the rights and the health of workers, and nowadays the resistance to extractivism, huge dams, deforestation, and large unnecessary projects.

What Is the People’s Ecology?

7) The people’s ecology is neither mainstream nor neutral. Ecology is intimately involved with social relations and confrontations from local to global. It places at the center of its thinking the conflict between the popular classes and the political and economic oligarchy, for the simple reason that all parts of humanity do not experience the ecological crisis in the same way. Inequalities in income, power, and cultural fluency, which lie at the root of ecological crises, ensure that some of us lack the capacity to protect ourselves from its effects. The aim of the people’s ecology is to eradicate social inequalities, starting by decommodifying water, air, earth and in general all public goods (health, education, culture).

The financialization of the world is the highest stage of the fetishism of commodities, where the only standard is King Money and the level of material wealth is the index of calculating happiness. The people’s ecology, against the dictatorship of the economic, has taken sides, and its preference for the poor finds strength in defending the living conditions of the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed, the outcasts, and the unseen, to better fight ecological disaster. The crisis in climate, energy, and ecology will not be resolved within the mainstream but in the confrontation between the forces of the global economy and the people who are directly threatened by the crisis.

8) The people’s ecology is a political and ideological current of the Green and international ecology movements. It radically distinguishes itself from other tendencies:

Environmentalism. This tendency reduces political ecology to nothing more than protection of the environment. But political ecology is a comprehensive and systemic approach to the relations among people, society, and nature. An environmentalism that only defends wildlife limits itself to one aspect of ecology and becomes NIMBY-type corporatism when it enters the political field.

Deep ecology. This form of antihumanism emerged from conservationism, which has always excluded human beings from the ecosystem. Founded by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, this school of thought is based on biocentrism, which reduces to antihumanism. Although the people’s ecology criticizes anthropocentrism, it is not to be confused with an ecology that sets human beings outside nature

Liberal ecology, sustainable development, green economics, and in general all those who want to place ecology in the service of greening capitalism. Liberal ecology, which reveres efficiency, is based on the commodification of ecology. It believes that Nature has a price and that its economy can be regulated to preserve Nature for future generations. Supporting a historic compromise with the capitalist system, which it considers invincible, and develops suitable mechanisms like carbon markets ….

The people’s ecology. Pursuing the ecology of transformation, this radical ecology includes supporters of de-growth, social ecology, and eco-socialism. The ecology of transformation believes that capitalism cannot be reformed, and it sets about creating the conditions for overcoming it, through social practices, concrete struggles, and the elaboration of a political project that takes recourse neither to the laws of the market nor to the state as the supreme savior.

9) The people’s ecology is not eco-socialism. It is not a copy-and-paste of the theses of scientific socialism and ecology. It is not a successor of productivist socialism but exists as an alternative to it. So-called “scientific” socialism is based on belief that the development of productive forces desired and supported by the bourgeoisie has created the conditions for its own overthrow by the very class it helped form, the modern industrial proletariat.

This concept was reinforced by the ideology of Progress, the deification of science and technology, the development of technology at all costs regardless of its consequences, the disproportionate importance given to the role of the nation-state, and the negation of community identities. But capitalism went on to destroy peasant communities, the lifeways of artisans and tradespeople, and it enlisted millions of workers in an industrial army with no reference beyond the industrial and productivist revolution itself. In the colonies, it attacked ancestral civilizations based on the lands of the people it claimed to assimilate and civilize. . . .

The critique of technology is another difference between eco-socialism and the people’s ecology. Marxism believes that technology is a neutral instrument that can and must be put at the service of the working class, that technology is a decisive factor for social transformation and progress. By contrast, the people’s ecology considers that technology is becoming ever more autonomous and is endangering the earth and humankind. Nonetheless, eco-socialism is the intellectual tendency closest to the people’s ecology. The overlaps are numerous, and they can work together as part of the same international network.

10) The people’s ecology is not the same as de-growth. Even if the principles of de-growth are applied to the entire world system, the people’s ecology still finds it necessary to guarantee food, education, and health for the popular classes. Fair cultivation in these areas requires a model of eco-development based on social and ecological justice. In the South, in the poorest countries, but also in emerging and Western countries, this can translate into a policy of reparation (such as compensation for financial or ecological debt). The popular classes who have been excluded from the system may then get a boost through the growth of consumption and production in some areas. If decline in the ecological footprint is to be an absolute rule, it must not come at the expense of the popular classes. De-growth cannot mean recession. On the contrary, it must replace the quantitative growth of capitalism and its logic of accumulation with the logic of qualitative growth, which implies significant quantitative de-growth primarily in the dominant capitalist countries.

11) The people’s ecology is an ecology of liberation. It is an ecology of the poor in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Its founding figures are Chico Mendes, Vandana Shiva, and Ken Saro-Wiwa. It holds that the connections between Mother Earth and the poor prohibit the commodification of water, air, and earth. By liberating themselves, the poor liberate all of humanity and preserve the planet and all its components. The ecology of liberation has as a foundational principle that the earth is not to be owned.

The ecology of liberation is an ecology of survival. It demands access to rights as defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the rights to housing, health, and food.

The ecology of liberation has a spiritual dimension characterized by a rapprochement between Christian liberation theology and the idea of Mother Earth that is found in the peasant communities in the Andean highlands and elsewhere.

12) The people’s ecology is an ecology of environmental justice. This movement, born in the United States in the 1980s, struggles against ecological racism. The ecological crisis does not have the same impact in poor neighborhoods as it does in wealthier ones. Environmental inequalities merge with social and ethnic inequalities to structure a territorial and ethnic-social discrimination. The people’s ecology is anti-discriminatory. In this sense it has a very strong relationship with the social ecology theorized by the libertarian ecological activist Murray Bookchin.

13) The people’s ecology is an ecology of the commons. The commons originated as an achievement of the farming community especially in the fight against “enclosures,” and it is at stake in social and ecological struggles today. Whether it opposes the patenting of life, land grabs, the appropriation of cyberspace, the privatization of culture, or control over natural resources and raw materials, the struggle for the commons is basic to the new ecological struggle of the peoples. The commons is reclaiming common goods, collective intelligence, and ancestral skills such as practical information that resists privatization.

14) The people’s ecology is a transnational and alter-globalizing ecology. It rests on organized social forces such as the peasant movement (La Via Campesina), movements against deforestation and large dams, the movement for Climate Justice, the movement against the imposition of useless large projects, the movements of indigenous peoples for survival, the movement for free software, and eco-unionism. It participates in the alter-globalization movement at social forums.

15) The people’s ecology has affinities with eco-unionism. Workers’ struggles against against social and environmental injustices are part of the people’s ecology. Struggles for occupational health against asbestos, lead poisoning, and toxic products are an essential dimension. The people’s ecology, like eco-unionism, advocates self-management. It advocates the direct management of companies on a federalist and decentralized model but also user-citizen control over production and the environment.

16) The people’s ecology is eco-feminist. The patriarchal capitalist system has oppressed and exploited women as it has land. Eco-feminism holds that protecting of the integrity of life in all its forms against patriarchal domination is a unified fight. Industrialism has turned not only nature but the female body into merchandise. The domination of nature by humans is intrinsically linked to the domination of women by men. Humans cannot establish a new relation with nature without changing human relationships between women and men. Eco-feminism advocates principles such as reciprocity, mutual aid, solidarity, sharing, trust, care for others, respect for the individual, and responsibility with respect to all ecosystems.

17) The people’s ecology is cosmopolitan. The preservation of human diversity is an essential element in the struggle for the defense of the planet. Six thousand peoples compose the planet, and the preservation of their languages, cultures, and identities is a key feature of the ecological struggle. Financial globalization tries to standardize culture by imposing a standardized language and cultural production. The war of civilizations advocated by the American neoconservatives in the 1990s gave rise to a globalized racism against people who reject the new world order. There is no national ecology. The people’s ecology is borderless and fights for global citizenship. Cosmopolitanism is the humanism of the twenty-first century.

The Strategy of the People’s Ecology

18) The people’s ecology fights for the creation of a new historic bloc: the coalition for the commons. The struggle cannot depend on the cultured urban middle classes but must bring together those who represent the modern proletariat: intellectual workers, the precariat, parts of the industrial working class, petty officials, and peasant-workers. The people’s ecology’s allies in this new historical bloc are all the movements that fight for access to rights for everyone and for ecological democracy. This bloc is a coalition for the commons, among those who are fighting for physical common goods (water, earth, air) and so for the survival of humanity and those who fight for intangible common goods (information, culture, cyberspace) against the new enclosures. This bloc is a numerical majority. The great mass of working people share this desire for a revolution for the commons and for access.

19) The people’s ecology seeks an ecological transition based on an alternative model of development that takes into account human needs and the limitations of the planet. It rethinks the social utility of production, ways of consuming, the purpose of our products, and how they are produced. It advocates the relocalization of economic activity and the conversion of useless or predatory activities, and the redistribution of wealth and work. In the fight against productivist agriculture, it highlights agro-ecology and respects the peasantry’s ancestral knowledge. The transitional program includes:

– an energy and industrial policy with a notable tightening of energy conservation, an end to nuclear power, the nonexploitation of unconventional sources of fossil fuels, and the use of local renewable energy

– the relocalization of the economy to avoid forced displacements and to restore control and fair resource sharing at the local level. It supports an informal popular economy and a new post-capitalist economy solidarity economy. . . .

To develop society’s resilience to the ecological crisis, we must collectively prepare to anticipate the impact of peak oil and climate change on energy. … [We must develop] global, continental, national, and regional public policies enabling democratic ecological planning; support struggles for the recovery of natural resources, common goods, and food sovereignty; and construct spaces for economic cooperation by developing a plural economy encompassing the private sector, a social and solidaristic economy, and public services. …

20) The people’s ecology rejects the professionalization of politics and its separation from struggles for social and ecological emancipation. The popular classes do not need specialists in politics. They want to decide on the conditions of their lives, their work, and their environment from local to global. Politics is everyone’s business. It is strong where social and environmental movements exist and express their force for transformation. It is weak where they do not. The people’s ecology cannot be absorbed into a party, although it can become a component of various movements, parties, or fronts. The people’s ecology is based on popular initiatives, self-managed struggles, the construction of democracy from below, and communal relations. So it returns to the origins of utopian and libertarian socialism, which initially wanted a collective, dynamic, and solidaristic response to liberal individualism, to the destruction of trades and rural communities, the dispossession of the popular classes by the industrial revolution, and their enslavement to the capitalist system.

The people’s ecology finds the Charter of Amiens [of 1906] to be outdated. The formal separation between labor unions, associations, and parties was imposed by the industrial revolution. Similarly, the centralized organization of political parties dates to that time. Today social change movements must co-develop a political project and set it in motion. Doing politics differently presupposes practicing democracy thoroughly, abandoning internal competition for paid positions in favor of cooperation. However, faced with this historic task, the people’s ecology movement cannot develop without a forum for political and theoretical elaboration, a capability to combine social forces engaged in the struggle, and the ability to articulate general perspectives and offer them as public policy. The movement that assumes this role must reject the outdated organizational pattern of a vanguard, with a program developed in isolation as a pre-determined model. It must therefore organize itself as an autonomous tendency within the ecology movement.

Our attempt to construct a political cooperative . . . was an advance over the party form, which has become obsolete in the 21st century. The separation between those who are said to be competent and those who are not, between political actors and union militants, belongs to the politics of the industrial revolution, where the popular classes were reduced to carrying out tasks. In fact, for the collective intelligence of the entire party and the society, it substituted the domination of one small group that imposed itself vertically on the rest. The conditions for that type of organization have collapsed. Inventing a party form suitable for the age of the network, of horizontality, is the task of the people’s ecology.

21) The people’s ecology supports the construction of communal democracy. The people’s ecology cannot build an alternative on the basis of elections alone. Without deep involvement of the population at all levels, democracy cannot exist today; otherwise it becomes a de facto census. The oligarchy has a stranglehold on the media, advertising, and polling, and it organizes democratic debate on its own terms. Citizens who want to reclaim politics must do it from the bottom, starting by federating transitional initiatives made by local communities engaging in social transformation and adopting values of the people’s ecology: autonomy, equality, dignity, and mutual aid.

Political ecology seeks not to take power but to change society from below while simultaneously using the path of institutions, protest, and social experimentation. This strategy implies the exercise of power issuing from below, controlled by citizens mobilized in line with the federalist and self-management movement. It continues today in the social movements that want to liberate spaces rather than frontally attack state power. It does not exclude the question of the state from its thinking, but it considers that the transition will give rise to a system of self-government where citizens establish their own power in municipalities, regions, and companies. The political organization must help implement these self-government practices and without replacing them.

Communal democracy presupposes the construction of a federative republic at all levels. The federalist principle will not be applicable to the European continent or to the world system if it does not apply at the national, regional, and local levels.

Regarding political alliances, the people’s ecology holds that the participation of majority coalitions for social transformation is the way for ecologists to become the cultural and political majority, but in countries where social liberalism has destroyed the basis for social democracy, leading to antisocial and anti ecological policies, participation in social liberal governments marginalizes political ecology and makes it an agent for green capitalism. We must participate in the construction of a social and ecological opposition, strengthening the presence of ecologists in all local, regional and European elections where autonomy can be built, and negotiate majority contracts in parliament, but refuse to participate in social-liberal governments that are the most effective instruments of capitalist modernity.

Written (in French) July 2014; issued November 9, 2015. Translated into English by Janet Biehl.

Report on the Lyons Social Ecology Gathering, May 2016

The French « Rencontres internationales d’écologie sociale » recently discussed ways to overcome capitalism. At the center of the discussions: libertarian municipalism as an alternative to the nation-state and the need to renew militancy.Affiche_A3_ecologie_sociale_2016_basse_def

by Les Incontrôlé-e-s

On May 27-29, 2016, radical ecologists, supporters of degrowth, and anarchists gathered in Lyons for the first Rencontres internationales d’écologie sociale (International Social Ecology Gathering). Organized by an international board, it brought together nearly 120 activists, mostly from France, Belgium, Spain, and Switzerland but also from the United States, Guatemala, and Quebec. The official aim was to propose and discuss alternatives to the existing economic and social order. The participants reflected a will to rethink the Left in terms of a radical and resolutely anticapitalist ecology, at a time when the leftist end of the political spectrum has been devastated and deserted and when conservative and far-right thinking is on the rise. In a country marked today by a social turmoil, as labor unions strike against the Loi travail (Work Law) and as the Nuit Debout movement protests a range of issues, these theses couldn’t be more current and accurate.

The alternatives proposed were inspired by libertarian municipalism, a theory developed some years ago by the American political ecologist Murray Bookchin (1921-2006). His last companion and now biographer Janet Biehl spoke about the implementation of those political principles in Rojava, in northern Syria. This mostly Kurdish region has declared political autonomy amid the civil war in Syria. During the gathering’s first evening this theme was developed by two Kurdish militants, after a showing of the documentary Kurdistan: La Guerre des filles (The girls’ war), in presence of its director, Mylène Sauvoy. The film showed the struggles and the political project of the women’s movement in Kurdistan.

The conflicts in Middle East have made evident the failure of the nation-state, showing it to be incapable of integrating cultural, ethnic and religious minorities as well as women. In Rojava, a radical critique of nation-state has brought about a real autonomy of the base units of democracy. The Kurdish freedom movement has abandoned the aim of creating a homogeneous Kurdish nation-state in favor of establishing a federal system that includes all the ethnic and religious minorities of the area—a prodigious political and social achievement. Lacking innovative political and social ideas, the West will soon fall behind an East that is in the process of reinventing itself, a young Kurdish militant from Paris warned us.

In the new political system inspired by libertarian municipalism and known to the Kurds as democratic confederalism, minorities are systematically represented at all institutional levels. The system is as decentralized as possible: Biehl, who went twice to Rojava, explained that decisions are made first in communes at the level of the residential street and then in councils at the neighborhood, district, and canton levels, with each level sending a delegate to the next one up, charged with relaying the positions taken by the base. It aspires to be a direct democracy, with power flowing from the bottom up, not from the top down, reactualizing the ideals of the Parisian sections of 1793 and of the Paris Commune of 1871. Such a political system is also being attempted in several communes in France, Italy, and elsewhere, so tired are citizens of false political debates and the technocratic administration of the State.

Get Inspired by Rojava

During the discussions, everyone agreed that the Rojava system couldn’t be implemented in Europe in the same way, because the context differs greatly. Here too a war is under way, although it remains latent. It’s an ecological and social war that doesn’t bear that name and is attenuated by the existing political system’s numerous safeguards. Social tensions here tend to be easily co-opted or pacified or overwhelmed by the system and by the mass media. Mobilizing its victims will require using other strategies.

Nevertheless, the municipalist and confederal political system that is being constructed in Rojava can be a pertinent alternative in Europe. As a counterpower in the form of a dual political structure, it can take root on the margins of official institutions and develop without trying to initiate an armed revolution. In Turkey as in Syria, Kurdish people didn’t wait to change the constitution before empowering their communes. They put it into practice, and they transformed mayors and their assistants in simple spokespersons for the community.

Libertarian municipalism took center stage at the Lyons meeting because today the Left – and all citizens who fight for greater social equality and more ecological, humanistic and libertarian values in society – must do more than protest. We must create the system that we desire here and now. Political change must accompany social and economic change – and even lead it.

To Create Our Desire

The participants shared a felt need to renew militancy by federating diverse forms of resistance. At this moment movements of workers (labor union struggles) should converge with social movements (neighborhood struggles, site occupations, alternative lifestyles). The links that once united them have been lost as places of residence no longer coincide with the workplaces, isolating people and neighborhoods, making them more vulnerable to an ever more centralized power. It is crucial today to federate our struggles, to explain how they can build on and with one another. To this end we must mobilize ourselves, to share our critiques and our expectations, to recover what we have in common and combine our forces.

But renewing militancy means renewing not only its project but its form. Many participants shared experiences that pointed to the urgent need to go to the people first, to start from them and their needs. A broad and lasting political movement can emerge only from local demands, ones that bring people together around a project that speaks for them, that has touched them in the first place – its spectrum can be enlarged afterward. Rebuilding local groups for struggle means recreating agoras and places of formation that express something besides neoliberal discourse and consumerism. We know from Castoriadis and others that change can be effective only when our own thinking is freed from the lies and the illusions of happiness imposed by the market economy. If humanity is to reassert control over its own destiny, the hypnotic hold of economic myths must be loosened.

Many initiators of alternative experiences insisted that their main role is to speak with people, to explain their ideas and proposals, to present them other possible political and economical systems. The aim of the alternatives, be they food cooperatives, reinvented lifestyles, or self-governing politics, is certainly not to oppose frontally the existing dominating system. The system knows very well how to adapt, how to co-opt experiences that annoy or contradict it and how to create conditions to destroy them. The true aim is to create a counterculture that models that what is proposed to us today is not inevitable but is changeable. What can we do with a system that threatens to ruin us yet to which we contribute anyway, despite ourselves? Capitalism is the end of history only if we believe it to be. To sow doubt, to show that another world is possible – and profitable – means breaking the illusions to which masses of right-thinking people submit, even if today’s world repels them deep inside, and starting to alter the balance of forces.

The workshop on “concrete alternatives” contributed to the discussion by reminding us that capitalism was born in tandem with the modern State and that they grew in perfect synergy, defending each other in order to entrench themselves. In the end, capitalism cannot exist without the State, nor the State without capitalism, and both entities should be confronted together.

The origins of capitalism in the sixteenth century were mentioned during the discussion of the commons. The expropriation of the commons – which started with the enclosure phenomenon – coincided with a war against women, whose resistance was a key component of the resistance of farming communities. That war culminated in witch-hunting. Expropriations and the subjection of women were characteristic of the beginning of primitive accumulation of capital, which continues today in new territories. The specific discrimination of women was invoked many times in Lyons, as was the need for gender parity within the movement itself. This led to heated debates, as some argued that feminism has to be integrated into every viable alternative, while others insisted that categorizing a specific discrimination tends to divide a movement.

Reports on the workshops and discussions will be published on the event’s website, on the website Ecologie sociale, and in a forthcoming book.

The next social ecology meeting will take place in Barcelona in 2017. In the meantime discussions will continue all around us, about how to infuse real democracy where it exists only in name, and how to leave to our progeny something besides a world dominated by a deadly, unjust, and destructive system. The prospects are slight, but offering hope is an important factor in reinventing ourselves and in daring to change.

Mesopotamian Ecology Movement

 The Mesopotamian Ecology Movement recently issued a declaration of social-ecological aims. 

Final Declaration of the First Conference of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, April 23-24, 2016, in Wan (Van), North Kurdistan

On April 23 and 24, 2016, the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (MEM) held its first conference in the city of Wan (Van). One hundred delegates participated, coming from the provinces Amed (Diyarbakir), Dîlok (Gaziantep), Riha (Sanliurfa), Merdîn, Muş, Wan, Elih (Batman), Siirt, Dersîm, and Bedlîs (Bitlis) in Turkey.MEH_1.Konf_Foto_2

Activists from the following movements and groups also participated: Gaya magazine, Anti Nuclear Platform, Green Resistance, Green Newspaper, Green and Left Party, Black Sea in Rebellion, Defense of North Forests, Water Rights Campaign, and Dersîm-Ovacik Municipality; and from the German group International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organizations (ICOR) and the East Kurdistan group Green Chiya.

In addition, representatives of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Free Women of Kurdistan (KJA), Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were present. Taken together, a total of 170 people joined the first large gathering of the MEM assembled since its founding.

The conference was organized during a period of intensive political struggle on the part of people in Kurdistan for freedom and self-governance, a struggle that may significantly change the future of the region but that also demands many victims.

Based on the trinity of city, class, and state and using the method of domination–capital accumulation, capitalist modernity creates a suffocating and unproductive society even as it presents nature with every kind of destruction. On behalf of the existing hegemonic system, the nation-state und its governments disperse the solidaristic character of society and instead impose unemployment, poverty, unhealthy nourishment via industrial agriculture and GMOs, and the cultural-social devastation on the people. Huge destructive projects like the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), the Ilisu Dam, the Munzur dams, Green Way, and Cerattepe Mining and Kanal Istanbul have been developed with the aim of clearing forests for construction, commercializing the waters, commodifying the land, controlling nature and people, and promoting the consumption of fossil fuels, all of which alienates people from original nature and from social life.

Currently, the ruling regime in Turkey is carrying out a campaign of brutality in Kurdistan that is incomparable in the recent history of the Middle East. In a new, perfidious dimension, it has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Sur, Nusaybin, Hezex, Kerboran, Farqin, Şırnak, Gever, Silopi, and Cizre, cities that are systematically being destroyed. Yet the international public remains silent on the destruction of nature and cities and on all the massacres of people.

The nation-state’s monist and denialist mentality and capitalist modernity’s unlimited profit-, competition-, and domination-seeking character have brought the world to its current grave state. Social disasters become ecological disasters, and vice versa. Society and humanity must put a stop to this development, for if it continues, we will reach the point where a turnaround is no longer possible. Therefore the mobilization of an ecological resistance is crucially important.

Despite the mentality and practices of destruction, a turnaround is possible. To achive it, we must mobilize the ecological struggle against wars and against the numerous dams, coal plants, and mines that are poised to eliminate our life-areas and our cultural and social values. We have to spread the ecological struggle using the maxim “Communalize our land, waters, and energy and set up a free, democratic life.” We must defend the democratic nation against the nation-state; the communal economy against capitalism, with its quick-profit-seeking logic and monopolism and large industries; organic agriculture, ecological villages and cities, ecological industry, and alternative energy and technology against the agricultural and energy policies imposed by capitalist modernity.

Since the ecological struggle is the touchstone for the liberation of all humanity, every action may bring us closer to a free individual and a free society. Our struggle to reach our natural and societal truth, the fundamental justification of our existence, is an important contribution to the liberation of people and nature on our planet. With great excitement, which we feel deeply, we assume our role in this struggle.

Our paradigm, which heralds a bright age in the twenty-first century and coming millennia, is a radical democratic, communal, ecological, women-liberated society. The ecological struggle goes beyond any single struggle to encompass the vital essence of the free life paradigm. Without ecology, society cannot exist, and without humanity and nature, ecology cannot exist. Ecology, as the essence and self of the millennia-old universal dialectic of formation, interweaves all interconnected natural processes as like the rings of a chain.

The struggle against capitalist modernity is the struggle to develop a democratic, social, and liberatory mindset, and the struggle against state-sovereignty is the struggle to become a social subject. This can develop only through a social movement, through a struggle for freedom that takes a stand against the system that jeopardizes nature, society, and the individual in the interests of capitalist profit and state hegemony.

In the Middle East, the history of ecology has not yet been written. To achieve the liberation of women, it has been necessary to learn the history of woman; just so, to achieve an ecological society, it is necessary to know the history of ecology. By opening up ecology academies, we can bring ecological consciousness as an essential component to programs of study in all social spheres and all academic curricula. Bringing ecological consciousness and sensibility to the organized social sphere and to educational institutions is as vital as organizing our own assemblies.

In relation to the construction of a democratic and ecological society, our conference passed several important resolutions that we hope will constitute an intellectual, organizational, and operational contribution for the global ecological movements. Some of the resolutions are:

– To establish a strategic intellectual, organizational, and operational coordination with national and international ecology movements in order to enhance common discussions and actions against ecological destruction and exploitation.

– To struggle against the mental, physical, and ideological destruction of energy, water, forests, soil, cities, agriculture seeds, and technology; and based on the approved policies of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, to mobilize a struggle for the construction of a new life.

– To fight the system that demolishes urban settlements and burns forests in Kurdistan; to publicize the ecological devastation experienced in Kurdistan and to map the devastations occurring within the war.

– To plan actions, in coordination with other ecology movements, against the destruction of cities in Kurdistan; to ensure our active participation in solidarity platforms that have been established in these cities.

– To continue struggles to preserve cultural and natural sites in Kurdistan that face extinction—such as Hasankeyf, Diyarbakır-Sur, the Munzur Valley, and “Gele Goderne”—due to the energy and security policies.

– To develop an ecological model suitable for Kurdistan.

– To build a greater and more regular presence in print and digital media and to establish ecology academies.

– To carry out legal struggles parallel to ongoing actions and campaigns.

-To expand the own organizational structures throughout Kurdistan and Middle East.

Lightly edited by Janet Biehl. If your group would like to connect with the MEM, please write to mehdiplo@riseup.net.

 

 

Act Like a Friend

by Janet Biehl

The United States excels at sustaining friendly relations with dictatorial regimes, especially those that control oilfields and other resources. Such exploitative ties are useful for enhancing the profits of wealthy elites but contradict the country’s stated values of democracy and secularism. Normally the contradiction can be smoothly overlooked by our governing professionals, as US policy accommodates powers that are inimical to those values.

But now a situation has arisen in which a people friendly to the United States not only shares those values but actually attempts to put them into practice. Where the US says it favors democracy, Kurds in Syria have created an innovative and progressive form of democracy. Where the US favors separation of church and state, the Kurdish system emphasizes ethnic and religious toleration and inclusiveness in way that embodies it in practical terms.

The Kurdish defense forces YPG and YPJ are certainly the US-led coalition’s most valued allies in the war against ISIS, having amply demonstrated a unique military prowess against the jihadists.

And ever since the battle for Kobani in 2014-15, the US-led coalition has provided weapons and air support for them and, more recently, for the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), of which the YPG and YPJ are the chief components. Despite the insistent objections of its NATO ally Turkey, the US has deployed 50 Special Forces on the ground to assist the SDF, and recently it added another 250. Such aid is crucial for the SDF’s continued military success against ISIS and an in broad terms an act of friendliness.

The US military cooperation with the SDF is “very good,” PYD co-chair Salih Muslim told a gathering at the National Press Club in Washington on April 29.

But US support for Kurds stops there, and indeed in other respects accommodates the interests of enemies not only of Kurdish aspirations but also of Kurdish identity as such. This restraint raises alarms that the friendliness is based on Kurdish military usefulness to the coalition, and that once it has passed, the US will abandon them. Salih Muslim, for example, had to speak to the gathering via Skype since he is not permitted to enter the US.

To have a friend, one must behave like a friend. How would the US–and indeed the international community as a whole–behave if it were to choose to be a friend to Kurds?

Kurds in Syria

A US that acted like a friend would, for one thing, provide the Syrian Kurds with political and diplomatic support as well as military aid. The fact that it does not is “wrong,” said Salih Muslim.

A US that acted like a friend would not obstruct the participation of the Syrian Kurds in the Geneva talks on the future of Syria. This exclusion is an error on many counts, not least because the democratic system that they have been creating in northern Syria since 2012 is highly relevant to the future of the rest of the country.

That system, known as democratic autonomy or democratic confederalism, is a social and political framework that formally decentralizes power to localities so that diverse ethnic and religious groups—Kurds, Arabs, Chechens, Syriacs, and Turkmens—have autonomy, enabling them to coexist in. Women enjoy full political and social rights. It’s “not top-down democracy,” Muslim pointed out, “but democracy coming from the people themselves” in assemblies and councils.

Indeed, Muslim attributed the YPG and YPJ’s military success precisely to the democratic system. At Kobani and elsewhere, “we defeated IS because we have a democracy.” he says. How? Because “everyone feels the threat is his or her problem. They feel they have to do something against it.”

Not only is democratic autonomy progressive, but in geopolitical terms the power-sharing inherent to decentralization, as analyst David Phillips pointed out to the same gathering, is essential to stability. The Kurds have recently formed the North Syrian Federation to advance this system in the rest of Syria. “We want all of Syria to be democratic,” says Muslim.

Yet the US advocates the resuscitation of a unitary state in Syria. Were it to act like a friend, the US would drop the illusion that the erstwhile dictatorial, ethnically homogeneous system of Baath Syria can be revived and instead recognize the legitimacy of the North Syrian Federation, support the expansion of the democratic autonomy system into the rest of Syria, and admit the Syrian Kurds to the Geneva process.

Lamentably, it has failed to date to do any of this, because it yields to the irrational demands of the state lying immediately to Syria’s north.

Kurds in Turkey

The Turkish state legally denies the existence of ethnic minorities within its borders; the Kurds, the largest minority, have resisted such denial for four generations, demanding at minimum basic linguistic and cultural rights. Since the 1980s the Turkish state has waged war on the Kurdish resistance Decades of fighting have proved only that a military solution to the conflict is impossible: the Kurds can never defeat the far stronger Turkish armed forces, yet Turkey cannot suppress the wishes of a 20-million-strong minority, not even by demonizing the PKK and, increasingly, anyone who regards it positively, as “terrorist.”

Yet the US, as a NATO ally of Turkey, affirms Turkey’s right to try to suppress the “terrorists” within by using brute force.

The Turkish state’s war against the Kurds is increasingly cruel, having escalated to a level that surpasses basic human rights standards. Starting in the summer of 2015, Turkish forces imposed sieges and 24-hour shoot-to-kill curfews on cities and neighborhoods in the southeast, such as Cizre, Silopi, Sur neighborhood of Diyarbakir, and many others. It used and continues to use heavy weapons against civilian areas, killing even children, and in the process displacing almost half a million people.

The US, if it were a friend to Kurds and to human rights as such, would by now have grown hoarse with protest at this appalling human-rights criminality. It would at the very least insist that Turkey investigate the security forces that committed these crimes, or failing that, insist that an international fact-finding commission be permitted to do so.

Moreover the Turkish state is increasingly authoritarian and Islamist, cracking down on newspapers, shutting down TV channels, and persecuting academics and journalists. On May 2 it decided strip the pro-Kurdish, peace-advocating Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of diplomatic immunity and prosecute its members as supporters of “terrorism.” The US and the rest of the international community must raise their voices in vigorous objection.

Behind the scenes, journalist Amberin Zaman told the National Press Club meeting, the US has been pressuring the PKK to lay down its arms, but it is pressuring the wrong party. If the US were a friend to Kurds, it would instead pressure the Turkish state to resume peace talks with the PKK as the legitimate representative of the Kurdish people in Turkey; to free the Kurds’ spokesperson, Abdullah Öcalan, from 17 years of solitary imprisonment; and to negotiate with him for peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.

The US cooperates with Turkey by placing the PKK on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. If the US were a friend to Kurds, it would grasp that given the Turkish state’s failure to accommodate their will, the Kurds have every reason to object to their treatment, and it would discard the notion that the PKK is terrorist and remove it from this list.

That solution, when it comes, will no longer be a matter of achieving Kurdish linguistic or cultural rights alone. The longer the war grinds fruitlessly on, and the longer the Turkish state persists in ignoring the will of 20 million citizens, the more obvious it becomes that the Turkish state has forfeited its legitimacy to govern the mostly Kurdish southeast. The US, were it a friend to Kurds, would recognize this fact and press for Kurdish autonomy.

Indeed, the very nature of the Turkish system of government should be in play. Two contrasting proposals for a new system have been floated. The AKP proposes to create a presidential dictatorship, a neo-Ottoman caliphate, featuring authoritarian structures, ethnic homogeneity, the suppression of dissent, and traditional roles for women. The Kurdish proposal, by contrast, calls for the democratization and decentralization of Turkey, along the lines of democratic autonomy, with acknowledgment of ethnic diversity, freedom of expression, and gender equality. The US, if it were a friend to Kurds and true to its stated ideals, would raise its voice in support the Kurdish proposal.

The US, if it were truly a friend of human rights, let alone the Kurds, would rethink its entire alliance with Turkey as a member of NATO. “If NATO were established today,” said David Phillips, “Turkey would not meet criteria of membership.”

Kurds in Iraq

The United States and much of the international community still harbors the notion that Iraq is a unitary state. President Obama insists that the Kurds of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have to work with Baghdad. But Iraq, like Syria, is fragmenting, and the unitary state centered in Baghdad increasingly belongs to history. If the US were a friend to Kurds, it would accept this reality and adjust its policy.

Iraq’s 2005 constitution promised decentralization and autonomy for the KRG, but those promises remain unfulfilled, as both the Al-Maliki and Al-Abadi governments have failed to implement provisions for regional control of new oilfields as well as devolution of certain powers to the regions. Al-Maliki even cut the KRG’s proceeds from oil sales.

KRG president Massoud Barzani has called for a referendum on independence in September or October. The US, as a friend to Kurds, should support independence for Iraqi Kurdistan and, further, a devolution of powers for local autonomy along the lines of democratic autonomy.

One group of Kurds in northern Iraq, the Ezidis of SInjar, require special attention. If the US were a friend to Kurds, it would acknowledge that in August 2014 ISIS committed genocide against them, massacring thousands, some by beheading, and selling women into sexual slavery. The KRG’s peshmerga, the force that was supposed to protect them, failed to do so, forcing the PKK to come and rescue those who survived. The US and the international community, as friends to Kurds, must acknowledge the genocide and intervene to protect their rights according to international laws. They should open an investigation into the genocide through international institutions and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The US as a friend to Kurds should aid Ezidi resistance forces, tasked with protecting the people against further attacks from ISIS. The US as a friend to Kurds would work to create democratic autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan, a confederal system in which Ezidis could continue to live in Sinjar as they have for millennia.

* * *

During the week of April 23, a delegation from the HDP visited Washington. afterward co-chair Selahattin Demirtas was asked about his expectations on this visit.

“We don’t ask anything of anyone,” he replied. “Rather we have proposals for a solution, and that’s what we focus on. We just explain our views, so that people know what they are firsthand, directly, so that they can avoid misconceptions when formulating policy. Our position doesn’t change in different circumstances.”

He urged people in every country where the government has influence over Turkey—the United States, Europe, and Russia—to pressure that government on behalf of democratic autonomy for Kurds and their allies. And where information about the Turkish conflict is shut out of the mainstream media, alternative media can step in and provide “mass education” so that people “can pressure the government to change policy.”

“Organized people can do everything,” co-chair Muslim told the gathering. He was referring to the creation and defense of democratic autonomy in North Syria, but the same principle applies to international solidarity work. And friendships, however inadequate at present, can be developed. US policy toward the Kurds, says David Phillips, “is evolving,” and “to the extent we raise our voices we have an opportunity to shape it.” Continued organizing, he believes, can pressure the US government to finally act like the friend that the long-neglected Kurdish people deserve.

May 2, 2015 2016

 

 

 

Joint Statement of the International Peace Delegation, February 2016

Judge Essa Moosa

Judge Essa Moosa

 

Joint Statement of the International Peace Delegation

 Istanbul, February 15-16, 2016

 

INTRODUCTION

The situation in Turkey today is critical. The recent escalation of conflict surrounding the Kurdish question is most dangerous. The war in Syria has already spilled over into widespread hostilities across the Southeast of Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP government is committing human rights’ atrocities in Cizre and other towns and cities, and there is a very real threat of a further spiraling of violence throughout the country. The state’s repression and intimidation of Turkish academics and journalists who have spoken out against its war-mongering reveals the intimate connection between the struggle for a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question and the struggle for democracy in Turkey more generally.

ISOLATION OF ABDULLAH ÖCALAN

The escalation of conflict has coincided with the total isolation of the leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan, who from his lonely prison cell on the island of Imrali has been a crucial role-player and a consistent voice calling for peace.

Yet the very fact that Öcalan is in prison was a problem even during the talks that occurred for two years starting in March 2013. His condition of imprisonment forces him to negotiate with his captors – an inherent disadvantage. Moreover, in prison he cannot consult with his constituency. Before substantive negotiations can start, the state must first release him, as Nelson Mandela was released before – not after or during – the South African negotiations. Until Öcalan is freed, only talks about talks, and not actual negotiations, can take place. Mandela emphasized that only free persons and not prisoners can negotiate, on behalf his people, for a political solution.

THE TEN-MEMBER INTERNATIONAL PEACE DELEGATION

On February 14 a ten-member international delegation assembled in Istanbul to try to help restart the Kurdish-Turkish peace process, which has been suspended since the spring of 2015. The leader of the delegation, Judge Essa Moosa of the High Court of South Africa, on behalf of the delegation, wrote a letter to the Turkish Ministry of Justice on February 3 to request two meetings: one with the Ministry, to discuss ways and means to resume the peace process between the Turkish government and Ocalan; and one with Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali to discuss the same issue. We requested that the meetings take place on February 15, which coincided with the seventeenth anniversary of Öcalan’s capture and detention. Judge Moosa formerly acted for Nelson Mandela, while imprisoned on Robben Island and elsewhere and was involved in the negotiation process in South Africa.

THE ONLY VIABLE SOLUTION

Convinced that neither the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) nor the Turkish military could ever decisively prevail in a war that would only exacerbate the severe humanitarian crises in the country, we believe that the peace process offers the only solution and that Öcalan, as the chief spokesperson for the Kurdish movement, is essential to that process. No progress toward a solution can be achieved, we believe, without Öcalan’s participation.

REQUEST FOR AUDIENCE

Unfortunately our delegation was granted neither of the two meetings that we requested. On February 15, the ministry acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not bother to formally accept or reject our request. Beyond that mere acknowledgment, it gave no response at all by the time we left Turkey. We are extremely disappointed that we were not afforded an opportunity to engage the Minister of Justice and Öcalan on the question of the resumption of the peace process.

MEETINGS

The delegation meanwhile met with representatives from a variety of political and social organizations who briefed us on the country’s most disturbing situation. We also met with lawyers and lawyer’s organizations, who have been deeply involved in the defense of members of the Kurdish freedom movement against criminal charges, and who have themselves been the subject of much intimidation and persecution by the state.

FROM PEACE TO WAR

All these representatives recounted to us that during the current period of Öcalan’s isolation, from April 2015, the Erdoğan government has shifted from a peace footing to a war footing. The shift from peace-making to war-making has coincided with the total isolation of Öcalan. As he enters the eighteenth year of his detention, he leads a solitary life. Two other prisoners of the five who were formerly present on Imrali have now been transferred to other high-security prisons. Öcalan’s only human contact is with his guards or, if so permitted, with the remaining three prisoners. Not even his family can visit him. His lawyers, who have not been able to visit him since 2011, apply to visit at least once a week, but they have applied 600 times now and are repeatedly turned down, given absurd excuses that the boat is broken. No one at all has been permitted to visit since the last HDP delegates left on April 5, 2015. No communication from him has been received since then. He is suffering from poor health and his access to medical care is limited.

Meanwhile the situation in the country deteriorated rapidly after the elections and the peace process decisively came to an end. We are informed that cities are becoming war zones, pounded with heavy artillery and tank fire. Children are being killed. People’s parents and grandparents are shot dead in streets, but because of the curfew, their bodies cannot be retrieved for extended periods. We are told that certain police forces are licensed to shoot anyone with full impunity, with no fear of consequences. These Special Forces are not commanded by local governors but are directly linked to the government.

In Cizre, people, many of them civilians who took refuge in three different basements have been killed, even burned alive, and now the state is destroying the buildings to eliminate the evidence. Violence against women is on the rise. Women are killed, then stripped and humiliated. These constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It violates the Third Geneva Convention, to which Turkey is committed and it meet United Nations criteria for genocide.

ANGER

On the Kurdish side, anger against the government is rising, and many are moving away from Turkish society altogether. The Kurds sense that the war on the cities is linked to the election outcome. Even as war crimes and atrocities are being committed, however, the EU and the US are averting their eyes. Internationally, the AKP controls the flow of refugees into Europe, and it uses that leverage to intimidate European powers. European governing parties fearing what increased immigration might do to their electoral prospects, stay silent as massacres are under way in Turkey. As for the United States, it repeatedly affirms its military alliance with Turkey in the war against IS, despite the fact that Turkey’s prime enemies in the conflict are not IS (which it even supports) but the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, as well as Bashar al-Assad.

TURKISH EXTENDING WAR-ZONE INTO SYRIA

The Erdoğan government continues to bombard the Kurdish forces in Syria, the very forces who have proven to be the US-led coalition’s only effective ally in the struggle against IS. There is even talk of a ground invasion by Turkey into the Kurdish region of Syria, which could well trigger war with Russia, with unfathomable consequences for the region and the world. The fate of the Kurds depends in large part, then, on people in the rest of the world calling on governments and international institutions to change their policies toward Turkey and stand up for the beleaguered Kurds.

THE ATTITUDE TO THE PEACE TALKS

Our last meeting was a round table with around fifty Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals, journalists, human rights leaders, and academics. Some emphasized the urgent necessity to resume the peace talks, while others despaired that talks are no longer relevant when people are being burned alive.

THE RESOLUTION

In the light of circumstances, we, the undersigned, the members of the International Peace Delegation, unanimously resolve as follows:

  • We call upon the Turkish Government and Abdullah Öcalan to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency. In December 2012, the Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as the Chair of the Elders, which was founded by Nelson Mandela, in a personal note to the then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “Peace is better than War” and appealed to the Prime Minister to resume the peace process with Abdullah Öcalan.
  • In order for genuine Peace negotiations to take place to resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey that Abdullah Öcalan, who is a crucial role-player, be released unconditionally from prison, to enable him to take his rightful place at the negotiating table for the lasting resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey and for the democratization of Turkey.
  • We call upon the Turkish Government to level the playing field by, amongst other, legitimizing PKK and other banned organizations, releasing of all political prisoners and permitting exiles to return to the Turkey to participate in the peace process.
  • We resolve to lobby our respective governments and non-governmental organizations to put pressure on the Turkish government to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency and in those countries where PKK is listed as a terrorist organization and Abdullah Öcalan is listed as a terrorist that pressure is put on such government to remove them from such list as they are a liberation movement and a freedom fighter in terms of the International Human Rights Instruments.
  • We call upon the international human rights organizations to investigate, as a matter of urgency, the human rights abuse perpetrated by the Turkish authorities against the civilian population in the areas of conflict and to assess and determine whether such abuses constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and/or contravention of the Geneva Convention.
  • We call upon the Committee for the Protection against Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT), as a matter of extreme urgency, to visit Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali Island Prison in order   investigate the violation of his rights, in terms of the European Convention for the Protection Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as a political prisoner in that (i) his right to have access to his lawyers have been violated for the last 5 years; (ii) his right to have access to members of his family have been violated for the last 14 months; (iii) his right not to be completely isolated from social contact which has been violated for an unknown period; and (iv) his right to have access to medical doctors and/or treatment. The CPT is called upon to report urgently on their findings after its visit, to the Council of Europe, to the Turkish government and to Abdullah Öcalan and his lawyers.
  • We call upon the international academic fraternity to come out in support of the dissident academics in Turkey in the interest of academic freedom and give them moral, material, physical and academic assistance.
  • We call upon members of our delegation to distribute this Report as widely as possible to heads of state, foreign ministers, ambassadors, officials, the media, both electronic and print, human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations in our respective countries.

 

Signed:

Andrej Hunko, MP of Left Party, Aachen, Germany

Dimitri Roussopoulos, co-founder of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, Montreal, Quebec, Canada;

Eirik Eiglad, writer and publisher, New Compass Press, Norway

Dr. Elly Van Reusel, medical doctor, Belgium

Judge Essa Moosa (head of delegation), International Peace and Reconciliation     Initiative, South Africa

Federico Venturini, School of Geography, University of Leeds; advisory board member of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, UK

Francisco Velasco, former Minister of Culture, Ecuador

Janet Biehl, independent author; advisory board member of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, US

Joe Ryan, chair of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, UK

Dr. Thomas Jeffrey Miley, lecturer in political sociology, Cambridge University, UK

 

For more information on the delegation please contact:

Kariane Westrheim of the EUTCC (EU Turkey Civic Commission):

E-mail: Kariane.westrheim@gmail.com

Essa Moosa (Head of the International Delegation)

E-mail: Essa.moosa1@gmail.com

Estella Schmid
E-mail: estella24@tiscali.co.uk

 

Coordinator Elly van Reusel: imralivisit2016@gmail.com, +32-3-487-285075

 

This edition of the statement, published February 25, has been slightly modified since the version published a few days earlier.

 

 

 

The DTK’s Updated Democratic Autonomy Proposal

On February 14-17 I traveled in Istanbul to participate in the International Peace Delegation, to try to restart the Turkish-Kurdish peace process even as the Turkish state pursues a horrific military campaign against the Kurdish population of the southeast. While in Istanbul, far from the violence, our group met with Hatip Dicle, a co-leader of the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK.

Hatip Dicle, DTK co-leader

Hatip Dicle, DTK co-leader

The DTK is an umbrella group in the southeast, bringing together some 300 delegates elected by the public in local councils and another 200 from unions and other civil society organizations as well as deputies of the pro-Kurdish parties HDP and DBP. “Every three months,” he said, “we convene as a general assembly” that works like a parliament, “with committees to deal with health, education, and the like.” At the assembly the delegates “discuss drafts coming from the committees and reach common decisions.”

In December 2015 the DTK assembly met in Diyarbakir (Amed), where it discussed the following “Declaration of the Political Solution,” an update of the Democratic Autonomy proposal that the DTK issued in 2011, based on the thinking of Abdullah Öcalan. The document summarizes ideas proposed for the democratization of Turkey since 2005. The document we received is a draft but tracks closely with press coverage of the version that was adopted.

Turkey is to be divided into some 20 to 25 regions, Dicle explained, including the western part—all of Turkey. The regions are based on geography, not ethnicity. In regions where Kurds constitute the majority, other groups would be represented as well. Each region has an autonomous assembly, as in Spain today, he said. Some functions—economy, judiciary, defense—would remain at center, but the rest– like education, agriculture, tourism–are to be devolved to the autonomous regions.

The DTK’s Democratic Autonomy proposals outline structures that have been built, under onerous circumstances, since 2011. It complements the descriptions in Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan (New Compass, 2013). It presupposes the adoption of a new democratic constitution for Turkey.

The document was endorsed by the HDP, the HDK, and the DBP.  The two illegal organizations, the PKK and the KCK, also endorsed it, which caused a “big storm” in Turkey, Dicle said.

The Turkish state, which is becoming ever more authoritarian, adamantly rejects the proposal, apparently unable or unwilling to distinguish democracy from the breakup of Turkey itself.

“This proposal,” Hatip Dicle told us, “is an answer to what the Kurds want.”

I have edited it for clarity.

Janet Biehl

 

Declaration of the Political Solution

Extraordinary General Assembly of the DTK

December 25-27, 2015

Today in a crucial and historic period, global capitalism is experiencing deep chaos, and since that chaos profoundly affects the Middle East, the world’s major powers are making serious calculations about their interest in the region. In our chaos, economic, social, cultural, political and military developments have prevented us from resolving issues of national identity, freedom, and democracy. New alternative democratic models have emerged, even as old ones are beginning to dissolve.

At Newroz [March 21,] 2013, the Kurdish national leader Abdullah Öcalan issued a historic call to all Kurdish communities and to the world. He proposed solutions to the problems of our country based on in-depth negotiations and on trust; they undoubtedly would have to be achieved with the approval of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. After that declaration, a dialogue process began, to achieve this objective. Arms were to be laid down, so that ideas could begin to speak. Ideas, and democratic politics, would be the new method of struggle.

On February 28, 2015, at the Dolmabahçe Palace, members of the peace process presented an agreed-upon framework to the public in the presence of government officials. But later the president rejected it, and the state inflicted severe isolation and solitary confinement upon Öcalan. The ruling AKP party put the peace process into a deep freeze, revealing that it in fact has no policy at all for resolving the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Instead it attempts to suppress the Kurdish freedom struggle by military force.

In the June 7, 2015, general elections, Kurdish and other people expressed their strong preference that Turkey become democratic and that the Kurdish conflict be resolved peacefully. Unfortunately the AKP government refused to accept this election result and thereby forfeited a historic opportunity. Erdoğan and the AKP’s senior management carried out a coup, setting aside the June 7 election results through a war policy.

As the AKP government abrogated the Dolmabahçe agreement, terminated the Imrali negotiations, initiated military air and land operations, and tried to violently suppress the legitimate democratic demands, people’s councils in some provincial capitals and districts of the southeast decided to declare self-governance. The state proceeded to arrest and execute elected officials, politicians, and civilians in those areas. Kurdish youth mounted a defense by digging trenches and building barricades.

Today the government portrays the conflict as an issue of trenches to legitimize its own policy of fighting “terrorism,” but the Kurdish people are undertaking a legitimate resistance, demanding democratic self-government at the local level. Because the their longstanding demand for legal and political status has not been recognized, they have started a struggle relying on their own resources.

In Turkey’s current governing model, centralized state power, dominated by men, strives to maintain its own control, even as it generates social problems. The alternative model is based on democratic politics, tolerating diversity and coexistence. Demands for Democratic Modernity and freedom are, at their core, demands for political status. This democratic solution should be grounded in political negotiations. Hence to overcome the problems the Kurdish people are facing, the channels of dialogue and negotiation must be reopened. We consider the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan to be the essential prerequisite to a constructive and consistent peace process.

To this end, we hereby present to the public the declaration of Democratic Autonomy that the DTK previously introduced [in 2011] and that was included in the peace process by the DBP and the HDP. In so doing, we hope to help the public better understand our people’s objective in declaring self-government.

The governing model that should be dominant in the world today is indisputably democracy. No government that centrally administers every street, neighborhood, city and town can be legitimate; democracy requires the autonomy of local units. Every democracy in the world today recognizes the autonomy of its diverse communities, and the further development of democracy is impossible without recognition of local autonomies.

Considering Turkey’s history, its multicultural and pluralistic society, and its large population and geography, anyone who thinks rationally must accept Democratic Autonomy as its most appropriate governing model. Within the framework of coexistence, Democratic Autonomy constitutes the basis of the democratic solution for the Kurdish conflict.

For months now, in areas where people declared self-rule, thousands of soldiers and police have been carrying out brutal attacks with tanks and artillery, for the purpose of intimidating and massacring people. Many have been killed or injured; the historical and cultural heritage of our cities and our places of worship is being razed. But in areas where self-government has been declared as well as in all predominantly Kurdish areas, the people’s current resistance has not only spread but grown stronger. Based as it is on fundamental rights and on legitimate demands, this resistance will surely prevail. Those who attack this legitimate resistance today will one day be condemned by the democratic Turkey of the future as well as by history and humanity.

As the DTK, we declare our support for the self-governing councils, and we declare our solidarity with the legitimate resistance that the Kurdish people are carrying out. In our view, the struggle for democracy and freedom requires the participation not only of the Kurdish people but of all the peoples of Turkey. What is currently happening on the ground is not simply a matter of trenches and barricades, as the AKP government would have the world think. Rather, the AKP’s aggressive policy rejects the people’s will for local democracy, aiming to strangle the demand for a free and democratic life. The existing conflict can be ended only through the spirit of democracy and a democratic approach to a resolution. As long as the Kurdish conflict remains unresolved, it will fuel the deepening resistance.

After extensive discussion and evaluations, the extraordinary general board of the DTK decided to declare self-government and affirm the legitimacy of the individual and the society’s right to define themselves against the state’s policies of war and violence, and to simultaneously put into practice the construction of society and its administration.

Democratic Autonomy as the solution to the Kurdish problem cannot be separated from the democratization of Turkey as a whole. The declarations of Democratic Autonomy are thus steps toward democratizing Turkey. We consider them legal and necessary and proper for all the peoples of Turkey. Undoubtedly local democracies would take different forms according to the conditions and needs of their area, region, and community. Under the local autonomy of diverse identities, each area can adapt democratization into its own circumstances.

We wish to end the speculative discussions surrounding Democratic Autonomy, and we wish to remove the European Council’s reservations and conditions concerning autonomous local governance. We believe that this framework will open a door for solving not only the Kurdish problem but also many other political, social, and administrative problems that arise in the process of democratic self-governance.

In this framework:

  1. Democratic Autonomous regions will be formed throughout the country, in consideration of cultural, economic, and geographic affinities and in proxmity to one or more cities.
  1. The Democratic Autonomous regions will be governed by councils elected by the self-government according to the basic principles of Turkey’s new democratic constitution. Every autonomous region will be represented in the parliament [Grand National Assembly of Turkey] and the central government on the basis of democratic principles.
  1. The Democratic Autonomous regions and other local and regional administrative units terminate all tutelage from the central government over elected officials and abolishes its ability to discharge them—except when auditing a locality’s compliance with the principles of the new democratic constitution.
  1. Neighborhood, village, town, women’s, and youth assemblies as well as assemblies of various peoples and faith communities must be able to participate directly in decision making in the Democratic Autonomous regions and cities, and in the process of auditing civil society organizations.
  1. Women will have equal representation in decision making at all levels of self-governance, in order to advance democracy comprehensively and ensure a free and democratic life. Women may form assemblies, communes, and social institutions as needed. Women’s assemblies have the right to approve decisions by other bodies concerning women. Women’s right to free and autonomous organization is recognized in all areas.
  1. Youth must be able to participate in the decision making of self-governing bodies. Identifying as youth, they are to be empowered to organize in every field to ensure their participation in decision making by the governing bodies.
  1. Education is to be administered by the autonomous governing body at each level. Education and training is to be provided in all native languages. The local language must be recognized as official along with Turkish. The general education curriculum will teach universal values and human rights; local history, culture, and social specificities will be added to the curriculum according to the region’s needs.
  1. The Democratic Autonomous government must permit all projects in language, history, and culture. Institutions offering faith and worship services are also to be organized as autonomous entities.
  1. The autonomous governments at all levels are to offer health and human services.
  1. The judiciary and legal services must be reorganized according to the autonomous region model.
  1. The autonomous regions are authorized to manage and monitor soil, water, and energy sources for the benefit of society within an ecological framework. They control production sharing as well. The autonomous governments are to be empowered to establish agricultural, livestock, industrial, and commercial operations, and create production and business units of all kind, according to the general democratic constitutional principles. They are to authorize and support both individual and collective initiatives.
  1. The autonomous regions, including the cities, must offer, administer, and oversee transportation services on land, air and sea. Their oversight of traffic services must comply with the related central agencies.
  1. The autonomous regions, in order to provide the above-mentioned services, must take over local budgeting, which will be carried out according to women-centered budgeting. Local governments are to collect some taxes, in consensual agreement with the central government and the other autonomous regions. The central government must appropriately share tax revenues collected from the local autonomous areas. The central government must take measures necessary to address regional disparities.
  1. The autonomous regions establish and supervise official local security units to administer local law enforcement. These units are to be empowered to protect the state borders and defend them against external threats within the framework of the constitution, in coordination with the army and other central security units.

In conclusion:

Democratic governance should be achieved on the basis of Turkey’s democratic unity and the common future of its peoples. A democratic constitution must be established that would guarantee such democracy and freedom. Such a constitution is indispensable for achieving a free and democratic life for all social groups, ethnicities, and faith communities. A constitution that guarantees a free and democratic political system for only one community, while denying it for others, is unimaginable. Our struggle for Democratic Autonomy is a struggle for democracy and freedom not only for Kurds but also for Turks and all the other ethnicities and faith communities, as well as those who are excluded, oppressed, and neglected.

Our Democratic Autonomy model, based on self-governance, would also create an important precedent for overcoming the environment of confusion and chaos in the Middle East today. It will lead to a peaceful and democratic solution for national and regional problems of our nations, who have shared a common fate for a thousand years.

This declaration is a search for a dynamic discussion and reconciliation. It is open to suggestion and criticism.

To end the current clashes, to further the democratization of Turkey, and to pave the way for a political solutions, we call upon all of Turkey’s democratic forces, civil society organizations, political parties, esteemed personalities, opinion leaders, faith communities, and other institutions for solidarity in supporting the legitimate demands of Kurdish people’s struggle. We call upon all social classes and political parties in Kurdistan to support the resistance of our people in the spirit of national unity; we call upon the peoples of the world and on international institutions for solidarity with the legitimate demands of our people for freedom and justice.

December 26-27, 2015

Thoughts on Rojava

Once an assembly and council democracy is in place, in which power flows from the bottom up through confederal councils, the possibility lurks that the councils can become vehicles for top-down rule. How can people in a democracy keep that from happening? This question was on my mind in Rojava last October, so when Zanyar Omrani asked me about it, I explained my ideas and others’ in “Thoughts on Rojava” In ROAR Magazine.

“The places are hermetically sealed”

For the past few weeks, special forces of Turkish police and military have been cracking down on rebels in the country’s southeast. Journalists are being kept out of the closed-off towns and cities.  Ercan Ayboga, on the scene in Diyarbakir (Amed), was interviewed by Marcus Staiger for Junge Welt, December 30, 2015. Translated by Janet Biehl.

Q. For weeks we’ve been hearing about fighting in Turkey’s southeast and about numerous fatalities. Who is dying in the streets of Cizre, Silopi, Dargecit, and Sur?

A. On one side, Turkish security forces—police, soldiers and special forces. On the other, mainly civilians. It depends on who’s making the statement. The Turkish government says that from the beginning of the operation till now, it has killed more than 200 terrorists. But the Youth Organization YDG-H, which participates in the fighting, says most of those killed have been civilians, and that they themselves have lost no more than ten fighters. I think the YDG-H number is closer to the truth, because otherwise we would have had more public funerals. What I can confirm is that civilians are dying. In Cizre, a woman was shot and lay in the street for several days, severely wounded, and her family couldn’t come and get her because they too would have been shot. The woman finally died, in sight of her family. Such things happen here every day.

Q. The media report that curfews are being imposed on the besieged cities. What does that actually mean?

A. The curfews are in effect indefinitely, until the governor announces something else. No one is allowed to go into the streets, and there are also no times when people can go outside and get supplies. In Sur this curfew has been going on for twenty-eight days. In Cizre and Silopi, for sixteen. After the military coup, in the 1980s, there were also curfews, but only during nighttime. Now the towns and villages are hermetically sealed by the police and the army, so no one from outside can enter.

Q. How are the inhabitants reacting to such a long blockade?

A. People probably stockpiled provisions in advance, expecting something like this to happen. After all, these aren’t the first such curfews. In Cizre and Silopi, they’re on the fourth one this year. Here in the old city of Amed it’s the sixth. Most of the residents here say, We’ll stay here in our neighborhood and resist alongside with the armed units. The officials always say that the fighters are PKK cadres, coming in from outside. That could be true in some cases, but mainly they are people from the affected neighborhoods. So the inhabitants stand with the fighters and support them. The fighters have set up barricades all over and have dug ditches so that the security forces’ armored vehicles can’t enter the quarter. Up to now it all seems to be succeeding in preventing the politic and military from significantly penetrating these neighborhoods—and as a result, the shooting from the government side has become wilder and more indiscriminate.

Q. What are the rebels’ goals?

A. The goals of the Kurdish freedom movement are a democratic Turkey, with autonomous institutions, and a new constitution, and gender equality. It’s trying to achieve those goals legally and politically through organizations like the HDP. The YDG-H, on the other hand, wants the same thing but says that in the cities and neighborhoods where it’s strong, it will create free spaces and defend them, keeping the police out. In the cities, which are now so embattled, people have built grassroots-democratic institutions that are stronger and have now called for self-government and autonomy. All these developments have coincided, and you have to realize that now people themselves decide what to do in these legal and democratic institutions They have their own dynamic—and that begins a whole different discussion.

Q. What chance do they have of achieving these goals?

A. I’d say fifty-fifty. It’s very hard to estimate, but people are willing to fight for them, and if the Turkish state wants to block them, then there will surely be a very large massacre.

 

 

“Ecology or Catastrophe” recent events

BIO book cover

Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin is available from Oxford University Press or your favorite bookstore.

December 18: Akbar Shahid Ahmed’s “America’s Best Allies Against ISIS Are Inspired by a Bronx-Born Libertarian Socialist,” Huffington Post.  The article publishes, for the first time, PDFs of Bookchin’s correspondence with the intermediaries of Abdullah Öcalan in 2004.

December 7: The journal Nature lists Ecology or Catastrophe as a book for the COP negotiator!  In 1965, Barbara Kiser notes, Bookchin presciently foresaw not only climate change but the solution, stepping down from fossil fuels. “Bookchin’s solutions to the crisis were as prescient, not least in integrating social with environmental elements. Working from a vision of urban ecotopias, he inspired and championed community-centred, solar-powered, closed-loop food production as early as the 1970s.”

November 28: “A Dream of a Secular Utopia in ISIS’s Backyard” by Wes Enzinna in The New York Times Magazine. An eloquent article that places the Rojava revolution in the U.S. newspaper of record.

November 28: Interview by Berna Ozgencil for ANF News

November 27: David B. blogged about Bookchin’s influence on the new ideology of the Kurdish freedom movement on Daily Kos.

November 23: Chuck Morse reviews Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin for Perspectives

November 19: “The Flowers of Rojava”: I gave a multimedia presentation at Friends Meeting House, in Burlington, Vt., with a trailer for the forthcoming film “The Flowers of Rojava,” and a slideshow, based on my visits to Rojava in December 2014 and October 2015. Sponsored by the magazine Toward Freedom.

November 17: Interview by Preeti Kaur for ZNet.

November 12: The journal Nature, in reviewing Ecology or Catastrophe, says Bookchin was “incisive, inventive, and pragmatic, a refreshing contrast to today’s environment doom-mongers and technical utopians alike.”

November 10-12: I did three days of book launches in Montreal, Quebec, including one at the Urban Ecology Centre.  Another was at McGill University–Jon Milton wrote about it for a student newspaperThe Link, on November 23.

October 15: “Bookchin a été marginalisé,” an interview for Ballast magazine by Adeline Baldacchino (French).

October 12: “Bookchin: écologie radicale et municipalisme libertaire,” an article in Ballast magazine by Adeline Baldacchino (French).

Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin is available from Oxford University Press or your favorite bookstore.

Democratic Assemblies from Bookchin to Öcalan

Janet Biehl gave this presentation to the New World Summit in Derik, Rojava, on October 16, 2015.

The American social theorist Murray Bookchin was a profoundly original thinker, fertilizing the left with ideas about assembly democracy, ecology, and opposition to hierarchy, long before those ideas were popular, and providing it with new bases for opposing capitalism and the nation-state. He grew up as a young Communist in New York in the radical 1930s, but in the late 1940s he rejected Marxism-Leninism as not only authoritarian but fallacious—the proletariat was not revolutionary after all. But rather than abandon radical politics, as many of his friends did, Bookchin stayed on and chose to rethink the revolutionary project for a new era.

By the 1950s he realized that a new left would have to be democratic and ecological. His study of ancient Athens taught him people are capable of governing themselves in democratic face-to-face citizen assemblies. Inspired, he concluded that the present nation-state could be eliminated and its powers devolved to citizens in such assemblies. If people had governed themselves that way in the past, they could do so again.

He also realized early on that that capitalism’s fatal flaw was its conflict with the natural environment, which would ultimately result in a crisis; he wrote the first manifestos of radical ecology, advocating that cities be decentralized, so people could live at a smaller scale and grow food locally and use renewable energy and manage their own affairs. Over the next decades Bookchin would elaborate these ideas into a program for an ecological, democratic, nonhierarchical society called “social ecology.”

In the 1960s he tried to persuade the New Left—the revolutionary student and black and antiwar movements—to call for citizens’ assemblies. But the movements were more interested creating an international proletarian revolution, in solidarity with Castro, Guevara, Ho, and Mao.

The 1970s saw the flowering of an ecology-minded counterculture that created cooperatives and organic farms, stood for peace, and protested nuclear power. Anarchism was newly popular, largely thanks to Bookchin himself, and he tried to persuade anarchists that citizens’ assemblies were their natural political institution. But anarchists didn’t like democracy because it involved voting and accepting the will of the majority.

In the 1980s, despite these setbacks, Bookchin elaborated his democracy program, now called libertarian municipalism. The urban neighborhood and the town, he said, could become a revolutionary arena. He advocated democratizing municipalities into citizen assemblies and then mounting a municipalist revolt against the nation-state and capitalism. The city’s physical form could be decentralized as well. By rescaling cities into neighborhood communities and rescaling technological resources along ecological lines, libertarian municipalism proposes to bring town and country into a creative balance.

Over broader areas, Bookchin recommended that the assemblies confederate, at the municipal and regional levels and beyond. They would send delegates to confederal councils to coordinate and administer the policies. Power would flow from the bottom up. The confederations would expropriate major economic assets and “municipalize” the economy—place it under community ownership. Economic life would be part of the public business of the confederated assemblies, which would distribute the material means of life for the benefit of all.

As more municipalities democratized and confederated, they would become powerful enough to constitute a dual power to the state and to the capitalist system. Expressing the people’s will, the confederations would become levers for the transfer of power.

In the 1980s as Green movements emerged in North America and Europe, Bookchin tried to persuade them to accept this program. But they turned out to be more interested in forming conventional top-down political parties.

Finally, late in life in the 1990s, he appealed once again to anarchists, arguing that the ideal of collectively self-managed communes, joined together in confederations, was part of their history. But once again they rejected the idea, saying that municipal governments were nothing more than nation-states writ small, and there was nothing potentially liberatory about them. Bookchin didn’t belong in their movement, he was told–he was a “square peg in a round hole.”

Feeling his powers failing, Bookchin retired from political life, hoping that sometime in the future a movement would emerge that would take seriously the idea of citizens’ assemblies. If it ever did, his writings would be ready and waiting.

It was at that moment that Abdullah Öcalan wrote to him from his solitary prison on Imrali island.

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Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Öcalan had been concluding that the Kurdish people had to respond to the historical moment and reassess their hitherto Marxist program. In 1999, at his trial, he called for the democratization of the Turkish republic, ensuring every citizen the right to participate equally in Turkish political life, regardless of ethnicity. His call was ignored, and he was convicted of treason.

In solitary confinement, he was permitted visits only by his lawyers for an hour a week. During those visits in the early 2000s Öcalan would often ask the lawyers to ask friends for recommendations on books to read. The lawyers brought him books on social theory and much else, and Öcalan was soon generating manuscripts based on his studies.

One of the lawyer’s associates in Istanbul, Oliver Kontny, translated some of the new manuscripts and “discussed some of the philosophical and political implications.” They tried to think of more books to recommend to Öcalan, such as Foucault. “Then somebody came up with a book by Murray Bookchin that had been translated into Turkish,” Kontny recalled. It’s unclear which one it was.

The lawyers brought the book to Imrali, and reading it, Öcalan seems to have recognized in its author a kindred spirit. In 2002, in his prison notes, he wrote, “I recommend this book for the municipalities.” Thereafter Öcalan asked for more books by Bookchin, and got them. Soon it became clear that he was working on “a paradigm change” based on social ecology and libertarian municipalism. He initiated a discussion within the PKK, and the new ideas were not initially accepted.

In 2004 Kontny and his then-colleague Reimar Heider wrote an email to Bookchin, expressing Öcalan’s interest in his work and soliciting an exchange of ideas. Bookchin was surprised to be approached by the convicted PKK leader. But responding a few days later, he expressed pleasure at hearing from Öcalan and recommended his books that had been translated into Turkish, not realizing that Öcalan had already read them.

The two intermediaries transmitted this letter to Öcalan. About a month later, in May 2004, Kontny and Heider wrote a second letter to Bookchin, saying that Öcalan “emphasized that he thought he had acquired a good understanding of your ideas” and “spoke of himself as ‘a good student’ of yours.” He “elaborates on the concept of an eco-democratic society and the practical implementation of libertarian municipalism in Kurdistan.” And he said that “the Kurdish freedom movement was determined to successfully implement your ideas.”

A few days later, Bookchin responded, telling the intermediaries: “I am pleased that he finds my ideas on libertarian municipalism to be helpful in thinking about a future Kurdish body politic. . . . I am not in a position to carry on an extensive theoretical dialogue with Mr. Ocalan, as much as I would like to. . . . My hope is that the Kurdish people will one day be able to establish a free, rational society that will allow their brilliance once again to flourish. They are fortunate indeed to have a leader of Mr. Ocalan’s talents to guide them.”

We sent the email to Kontny and Heider. When Kontny got it, he told me, he was in a hotel in Jordan, en route to the Kurdistan People’s Congress in the Qandil Mountains. While awaiting his flight to Baghdad, he printed out Bookchin’s letter. When he reached the mountains, he showed it to the congress’s steering committee, suggesting that the letter be read aloud to the delegates. A heated discussion ensued. One man objected, saying, “We have much more powerful potential allies in the US. Who cares about some marginal anarchist with 50 followers?“ Kontny responded that Öcalan himself had asked Kurdish activists to read Bookchin, so why not read Bookchin’s message to the congress?

Then a women’s movement delegate took the initiative to translate Bookchin’s message into Kurdish and Turkish. She happened to be chairing the opening session, and so when the moment came, she read the letter aloud. The delegates’ applause was warm and enthusiastic.

A few months later, on October 27, Öcalan wrote again in his prison notes, “For the municipalities, I suggested that Bookchin must be read and his ideas are practiced.” On December 1, he wrote, “The world view for which I stand is close to that of Bookchin,” and recommended that his adherents read Urbanization and Remaking Society.

Öcalan went on to develop a base-democratic program for the Kurdish movement. In March 2005, he issued the “Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan” that called for “a grass-roots democracy … based on the democratic communal structure of natural society.” It was to “establish village, towns and city assemblies, and their delegates will be entrusted with the real decision-making, which in effect means that the people and the community will decide.” These democratic institutions would spread, he proposed, so that all of Turkey would undergo democratization. The assemblies would then cross national borders, bringing democratic civilization to the region and producing not only freedom for the Kurds but a democratic confederal union throughout the Middle East.

When Bookchin died in July 2006, the PKK assembly saluted “one of the greatest social scientists of the 20th century,” saying that Bookchin “showed how to make a new democratic system into a reality.” The resolved to “put this promise into practice this as the first society that establishes a tangible democratic confederalism.”

In 2007,in Syria, the PYD issued its “Project of Democratic Self-Governance in Western Kurdistan,” and began to organize clandestinely to put democratic confederalism into practice. In July 2011 an extraordinary congress at Diyarbakir declared “democratic autonomy.” Soon in Kurdish towns and cities democratic institutions and civil society organizations were emerging: assemblies, councils, committees, and cooperatives. It amounted to emergent self-government on the local level, an incipient dual power to the Turkish state.

Four years later, in March 2011, the Syrian uprising began, and the Kurdish movement plunged ahead, creating councils in neighborhoods, villages, districts, and regions. By the time the Assad regime evacuated in July 2012, a system of assemblies and confederal councils was in place and had gained popular support.

I think Bookchin would have been gratified to see these developments in both parts of Kurdistan, as I was when I visited Rojava in December 2014. Be it in the Middle East or anywhere else, the assembly, for Bookchin, was an ethical process. As he wrote in Urbanization Without Cities in the mid-1980s, “Our freedom as individuals depends heavily on community support systems and solidarity. . . . What distinguishes us as social beings, hopefully with rational institutions . . . are our capacities for solidarity with each other, for mutually enhancing our self-development . . . and attaining freedom within a socially creative and institutionally rich collectivity.”

 

For more information: 

For a full account of Bookchin’s life, see Janet Biehl, Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

For more on the overlapping ideas in Bookchin’s and Öcalan’s writings, see “Bookchin, Öcalan, and the Dialectics of Democracy,” New Compass, Feb. 2012.

Bookchin’s books translated into Turkish in the mid- to late 1990s include:

  • Toward an Ecological Society (1980), translated as Ekolojik bir topluma doğru (Istanbul: Ayrinti, 1996);
  • The Ecology of Freedom (1982), translated as Özgürlüğün Ekolojisi (Istanbul: Ayrinti, n.d.);
  • The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship (1987), translated as Kentsiz Kentleşme (Istanbul: Ayrinti, 1999);
  • Remaking Society (1989), translated as Toplumu Yeniden Kurmak (Istanbul: Metis, n.d.); and
  • The Philosophy of Social Ecology (1990, 1994), translated as Toplumsal Ekolojinin Felsefesi (Istanbul: Kabalci, 1996).