Is Rojava Anarchist?

In a previous article we looked at the background to Rojava, a budding anarchist state in Syria. Now we are going to explore the question ‘Is Rojava Anarchist?’

As we wrote, “Anarchy, in its simplest form, is the idea that there should exist no hierarchies and that the state should be dissolved.” To take that a step further though, Noam Chomsky explains that the basic principle of anarchism is that “any form of authority and domination has a burden of proof to bear; it has to demonstrate that it is legitimate…If it shows that it’s legitimate, OK; if not, it ought to be dismantled.”

The Illegitimacy of the Syrian State

Therefore, the Rojavans can certainly say that the Syrian state is not legitimate. It is hardly necessary to go into the details here, but we could highlight certain aspects.

Firstly, since the 1970 coup which brought the al-Ashad family to power, the country was basically run by decree by the president, which after the death of Hafez al-Assad passed on to his son, Bashar. Since the start of the Syrian Civil War this has transformed somewhat, so presidential decrees have to be passed by the legislature, which is heavily populated by Ba’ath Party representatives, the party of al-Ashad.

Secondly, in terms of gender it is illegitimate, Syria is basically a conservative, Islamic country where Sharia courts oversee family and other spheres. If a women gets married in Syria, the marriage “contract” is between the groom and father-in-law.

Thirdly, the regime has failed the Kurds, whose language, and right to education and set up businesses in the Kurdish language, is not supported. Of course, there has been a variety of other groups persecuted for religious or political reasons. Indeed, the country is officially called the Syrian Arab Republic.

Finally, as a postscript, we will mention the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilian populations in Syrian towns, notably in Ghouta.

What does this have to do with whether Rojava is Anarchist?

The main point here is to show that firstly anarchism is a reaction to an illegitimate authority, in this case the state of the Syrian Arab Republic. So the Rojavans shouldn’t be judged solely on what they have constructed, but this initial point should be kept in mind.

But, Rojavan politics and society certainly can be judged as to whether it is a legitimate, using Chomsky’s reading, state in and of itself.

As we mentioned in the previous article, Rojavan politics features a dual structure whereby for every position of authority there are two positions, held by a woman and a man. What’s more, representation for ethnic and religious groups is equal and guaranteed.

There is a mixed economy, where private enterprise exist alongside worker cooperatives and autonomous administrations working in general toward the goal of self-sufficiency.

In culture and society, education programs mirror the politics and the aim is for equality of access for both men and women and all ethnic groups.

David Graeber, having visited Rojava, is certainly a good start if you want knowledge on what is happening there.

Criticisms of Rojava

Firstly, many have criticised Rojava for allowing the continued influence of tribal leaders, generally considered as “inhibitors of change”. What’s more, playing ‘ethnic quote’ politics is hard to square with the anarchist ideal of a stateless society – instead ethnic groups become entrenched sources of power in their own right with access to central power.

Surprisingly too, the right to private property is enshrined in the Rojava Constitution in Article 41, even though historically held wealth in certain families and individuals could be entirely illegitimate. Indeed, it is a far cry from the fully equal economy anarchists aim for.

Rojava is largely run by the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, formerly Stalinist in their organisation, and although they claim to have moved to anarchism you can still see portraits of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, with the quote “there’s no life without a leader” underneath, a remarkably un-anarchist thing to do.

Lastly, the main contradiction for anarchists is how to build and develop a state when the legitimacy of any authority is so easily challenged. How do you build a state in the direction of a stateless society?

Anarchy in Rojava?

Undoubtedly that is the main point. While Rojava has certainly a brave leap into new forms of social organisation with a variety of forward-thinking programs, not least in terms of gender in a traditionally patriarchal society, how can it be sustained and how can power truly remain legitimate?

The main anarchist bugbear is the success of Communists in building a long-lasting state in countries such as the USSR and then China under Mao amongst others. Mao himself even tried to grapple with the problem of retaining revolutionary legitimacy by launching the Cultural Revolution.

Historically speaking, anarchist experiments have been just that, short-term experiments, and the example usually used is the Spanish Civil War.

When you set up a state, the practical questions of how to defend yourself from external attack, how to develop the economy, and how to maintain a balance between a central power and local cooperative representation are difficult questions to grapple with.

And ultimately, as we know, ‘political power grows from the barrel of a gun’.

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