PERMISSIONLESS

ZERO KNOWLEDGE TECHNOLOGY
https://blog.zencash.io/releasing-the-zen-white-paper/
https://ethereumclassic.github.io/blog/2016-12-28-zero-knowledge/
https://decentralize.today/five-reasons-zcash-is-the-most-corporate-cryptocoin-youve-ever-seen-a77ac430b0e8
https://bittrex.com/Market/Index?MarketName=BTC-ZCL
https://zencash.io/assets/Zen%20White%20Paper.pdf
Zen White Paper
by Robert Viglione, Rolf Versluis, Joshua Yabut, and Jane Lippencott /  May 2017

CONTACT
rob[at]zencash.io, rolf[at]zencash.io, josh[at]zencash.io, & jane[at]zencash.io

ABSTRACT
Zen is an end to-end-encrypted system with zero-knowledge technology over which communications, data, or value can be securely transmitted and stored. It is an integration of revolutionary technologies that create a system over which innovation can accelerate by combining three functions that are traditionally done separately: 1) transactions 2) communication, and 3) competitive governance. This is done in a secure and anonymous manner, using a worldwide distributed blockchain and computing infrastructure. The system integrates multiple best-in-class technologies to form an open platform for permissionless innovation that can evolve with user preferences.

PURPOSE
We live in a hyper-regulated and surveilled world where billions of individuals are deprived of basic human rights, such as property ownership, privacy, free association, and access to information. The technology now exists to solve some of these problems, and Zen’s early implementation will do exactly that. Zen is a collection of products, services, and businesses built around an enabling technology stack employing zero-knowledge proofs and a core set of beliefs. As a distributed blockchain system leveraging the latest censorship-evading techniques, fully encrypted communications, and a social and governance model designed for long term viability, Zen will contribute to the human right to privacy and provide the necessary networking infrastructure for people to securely collaborate and build value within a borderless ecosystem. Our mission is to integrate the latest technologies available post-Satoshi with a decentralized, voluntary, and peaceful set of social structures to improve life for anyone who wants to participate. We believe that this is an idea whose time has come. Zen’s framework is a secure, privacy-oriented infrastructure with a governance system structured to enable participants to collaboratively extend functionality in many dimensions. Opportunities include hosting of individual identification data, selective proof of title for property, decentralized banking services, privacy-preserving p2p/b2b asset exchange, mutual aid societies, p2p insurance, decentralized humanitarian aid mechanisms, or use purely as an anonymous token of value. These functions can be utilized to serve disenfranchised populations currently excluded from vital services such as banking and healthcare due to lack of identification, capital, and secure channels. They can also be leveraged by individuals who desire to take ownership over and monetize their private data, or, for example, by enterprising communities that wish to develop a competitive bidding system on internally generated solar energy. The unique implementations are unbounded, the common link being the belief that decentralization is the engine of moral progress, and that voluntary solutions are the most creative and enduring.

HISTORY
Zen builds on the heritage of the best cryptocurrencies, network architecture, and distributed file sharing systems in existence by incorporating both existing as well as new features to yield a solid foundation designed for long term viability. Just as important as our technology stack, we’re building on the latest ideas in distributed consensus and competitive governance. Some of the foundations of our project come from Bitcoin, Dash, Decred, and Seasteading. Zcash extended Bitcoin with fully anonymous shielded transactions, so that users could choose between normal Bitcoin-like addresses (t-addresses) or shielded addresses resistant to traffic correlation analysis (z-addresses). Then we created Zclassic, a Zcash clone that changed some key parameters our community felt were important: we removed both the 20% Founders’ Reward and the slow start to the money supply. Since launching Zclassic, we’ve formed a vibrant open-source community eager to move the technology forward in a unique direction. Some early accomplishments include developing an open source mining pool application for both Zcash and Zclassic, as well as Windows and Mac wallets. Our team realized that Zclassic could be further extended as a fully encrypted network with an innovative economic and governance model that better aligns with Satoshi’s original vision for a decentralized global community. We view Zclassic as a fundamentally pure open-source, all-volunteer cryptocurrency project, while Zen extends into a platform with internal funding to facilitate a broader set of communications, file-sharing, and economic activities.

ZEN TALK
The Z transactions in ZenCash have the ability to incorporate text-based messages, which are encrypted and included in the blockchain. There is a 1024 character limit for these messages, and they enhance the ability for users to conduct secure commerce. Instead of discussing the transaction in other less-secure channels that may not have the same level of privacy enhancements as Zen, users can communicate via the ZenTalk messages with the other party or parties before and after the shielded transfer takes place with very small z transaction spends. These messages can be sent directly from one z address to another, and they can also be sent to a channel. By generating a z address from the hash of a channel name, users can subscribe to the channel and read anything published by anyone to the channel. For example, the channel #ZenCash announcements would hash to zXXXXXXXXXXXX, allowing any user to send an anonymous message to the channel. Each message would cost a finite amount of ZenCash to send, since it is contained in a z transactions, therefore reducing the amount of non-useful messages on common channels. Official announcements would be signed by private key and would only be displayed if deemed valid. Furthermore, essentially private group messages can be published using z transactions by first creating a complex channel name,and then encrypting the contents of the message with keys only the desired recipients have. ZenTalk messages would be encrypted with algorithms such as AES-256 with Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS), matching current standards of encryption for secure communication.

ZEN PUB
Zen has the ability to publish documents to the IPFS or GNUnet. This is done by publishing a IPFS or GNUnet address in the text field of a z address. The preferred document publishing system at this time is GNUnet, because it provides the required infrastructure for anonymous publishing and maintains an active database of documents. The system is similarly extensible to IPFS or any other future distributing archival system. By creating an anonymous messaging layer in conjunction with an anonymous publishing layer, ZenPub allows for the creation of truly anonymous publications which can be rapidly distributed to interested readers.

ZEN HIDE
It is possible for regulators in countries hostile to crypto-commerce to block traditional crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and even Zcash. Zen uses Domain Fronting to extend the ability to complete transactions in adversarial network environments, as explained in Blocking-resistant communication through domain fronting abstract: “We describe “domain fronting,” a versatile censorship circumvention technique that hides the remote endpoint of a communication. Domain fronting works at the application layer, using HTTPS, to communicate with a forbidden host while appearing to communicate with some other host, permitted by the censor. The key idea is the use of different domain names at different layers of communication. One domain appears on the “outside” of an HTTPS request–in the DNS request and TLS Server Name Indication, while another domain appears on the “inside”–in the HTTP Host header, invisible to the censor under HTTPS encryption. A censor, unable to distinguish fronted and non-fronted traffic to a domain, must choose between allowing circumvention traffic and blocking the domain entirely, which results in expensive collateral damage. Domain fronting is easy to deploy and use and does not require special cooperation by network intermediaries. We identify a number of hard-to-block web services, such as content delivery networks, that support domain-fronted connections and are useful for censorship circumvention.” The specific implementation of Domain Fronting used by Zen at launch is with a Commercial Content Distribution Network, but as with every aspect of our architecture, flexibility is designed in from the start and the system can extend in many directions as the technology evolves.

APPLICATIONS
Zen is what we consider to be an optimally decentralized open source project, and so we expect applications to be built and contributed to the ecosystem by many parties. Many of these contributions will likely come in voluntary open source fashion, but we expect a robust business community to grow around the platform as well.

GOVERNANCE
Zen is designed with a decentralized governance model incorporating multi-stakeholder empowerment and the flexibility to evolve to optimally suit our community. Fundamentally, our philosophy on governance is that we do not know a priori the best approach, but we have some ideas for how to initialize the system and enable it to evolve with the needs of the community. We believe in governance as a service (GaaS) and aim to efficiently provide value to our direct stakeholders, the broader community, and the world. ”Any industry that delivers poor service for a high price deserves to be disrupted” (Quirk, 2017), governance being a consummate example. In solidarity with other projects and ideas taking root around the world, we reject forced centralization and embrace voluntaryism. Rather than entrusting a minority of the people with power, we believe that all people have the right to be trusted with freedom. The core philosophy of our governance model is that decentralization of power maximizes inclusion and creativity. Practical implementations must recognize that pooling resources and effort provides synergies that should be optimally balanced against full decentralization; optimal points being state and time-varying, best determined through voluntary participation and secession. Importantly, we are implementing a system where competing DAOs can emerge to share resources or even completely subsume less efficient or unpopular versions. There should be no one-size-fits-all structure invariant across environment, function, culture, or time; rather, structures should be fluid, suited to specific problems, and flexible to scale when working and fade when failing relative to alternatives. Such a system of systems would dynamically evolve in such a way that it is antifragile to competitive feedback. Our objective governance state will balance decentralization, implementation efficiency, separation of powers, broad stakeholder empowerment, and evolutionary flexibility. This initial state will be the result of at least a 12- to 18-month R&D effort into game theoretic, political science, and economics research into optimal voting mechanisms coupled with feedback from multiple testnet implementations. The project will be one of our first funded efforts with final deliverables including a comprehensive research report and operational code integrated into the Zen network. Within 6 months of governance implementation we expect to have leadership teams in operation from our first full and open election.

OPTIMAL DECENTRALIZATION
By decentralization we mean that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate, that we are fully inclusive, and that decision-making authority is maximally diffuse such that the system is resistant to capture. Theoretical maximum decentralization means that every individual retains authority to equally influence decision-making; this is difficult to implement in practice when pooling resources to collaborate on a common system. Even if implemented in such a pure fashion, individual decisions naturally pool for collaboration efficiency and resources accumulate to certain stakeholders at unequal rates. We cannot stop these natural forces, nor is there reason to categorically deem them harmful in every instance. What we can do is to design the system such that all participation is voluntary, that decision-making power over resource allocation is balanced across a broad cross-section of stakeholder types, and that a credible mechanism exists to evolve with feedback. A structure infused with flexibility is more important than initially designing the best system to suit all circumstances, especially since we are creating a movement so expansive that predicting all developments is essentially impossible. Implementation efficiency is also a big concern for decentralized organizations. Pure decentralization could suffer decision-making paralysis, voter apathy, or delusions of the herd at the extrema. This is why we initially shy away from a system of pure democracy for all decision-making, and are taking the time to research competing models and test them under varying conditions of stress. Our proposed system of free and open competition for DAOs is designed to encourage groups of high-performing functional area experts and professionals to propose their leadership in specialized domains so that our system-wide efficiency in converting resources to higher-value end products or services is continually evolving to suit user needs and demands.

CHECKS & BALANCES
A key lesson learned from human history is that powers are best separated and competing power clusters should provide some equilibrium state of checks and balances. The balancing should be resilient to unchecked growth in any single power cluster such that the entire system succumbs to capture. To initially prevent this condition, Zen is launching with a Core Team in control of 3.5% of block reward funding, and an initial DAO comprised of industry leaders controlling 5% of resources. In addition, our objective state to be implemented after the 12- to 18-month R&D and test phase will include a hybrid type of multi-stakeholder voting so that a wide cross-section of the community retains power to influence decisions and resource allocations. Every aspect of our governance structure will ultimately be subject to competitive feedback and change. We are taking an evolutionary approach that starts with a simple model that will grow with the community.

DAO : INFRASTRUCTURE, PROPOSALS, and VOTING
The Zen system will have at least one DAO funded by a portion of the mining rewards, and governed by a voting system that brings stakeholders together. This system of governance helps ensure that implementation of changes, improvements, and integrations minimizes contention and reduces the chance that a disagreement leads to a fork in the project. As we unroll our broader governance plan derived from rigorous R&D and testing, the goal is to open the governance landscape to full competition; this means that we could see multiple competing DAOs emerge with different teams working on different problems. Each DAO would emerge with its own proposed structure, processes, and goals, which ensures these attributes are evolving through competition and the wrong initial organizational decisions do not perpetuate. Our DAOs will be responsible for building, maintaining, and improving the infrastructure that keeps the system going. It is also responsible for implementing changes to the Zen software applications, and is flexible enough to accommodate other community priorities,such as community outreach, marketing, training, etc.

As the Zen system grows in popularity, the support structures for users, miners, Secure Node operators, and ecosystem partners will need to grow and scale as well. The DAO structures will have funds, allocated through projects and proposals, with which to assist in the growth and support. The community is encouraged to participate in contributing to Zen in all different ways. The DAOs are responsible for coordinating the community contributions, and have funds to assist in offsetting expenses incurred by the community. One of the purposes of proposals is to repay community members for their expenses in supporting the system. At launch, Zen will have one DAO staffed with respected professionals that span relevant industries. When the governance plan is ready for implementation, this DAO will be one proposed grouping subject to market competition for others who might wish to stand up their own governance structures; the broad community will make that decision.

COMPETITION
Our unique innovation to the cryptocurrency community is our fully competitive and evolutionary governance model to empower a broad cross-section of stakeholders in an environment of optimal decentralization. Bitcoin created the original breakthrough in distributed consensus, but other projects have since taken that further with various voting mechanisms. These projects range from Dash with its simple proposal submission and community voting model all the way to Decred with its embedded community governance; each has contributed positively to the evolution of decentralized consensus, but Zen takes this to the next level by relaxing additional constraints such that our system is set to evolve over time through perpetual competition between providers of governance services within the ecosystem. We are implementing an autonomous system that will change with feedback and trial-and-error innovations in how decentralized systems organize to solve specific problems. In this sense, we believe Zen is groundbreaking in social technology, pioneering a system that has never been attempted at scale. From a broader perspective, Zen competes with incumbent currencies and banking systems, as well as emergent FinTech startups with particular advantage in providing services to the disenfranchised. We choose to make our contribution to this innovative, social welfare oriented space by providing enhanced privacy and security. As a secure messaging and distributed data archival system, we compete with other services, such as Signal, Telegram, and the Tor Project. There are also an infinite number of potential projects that can be built on the Zen platform, increasing our competitiveness exponentially. We view competition as an enabler of healthy processes of growth and therefore welcome maximum competition. We’d rather live in a world with fierce competitors forcing us to accelerate our own innovations than a static world devoid of progress. We hope that Zen adds positively to human welfare by integrating great technologies and communities, morphing governance into a competitive service, and enabling anyone in the world to participate in our system of permissionless, collaborative, and decentralized innovation. We also view incumbents and future startups in this space as potential partners and allies instead of winner-takes-all competitors.

FUTURE
Forecasting is a challenging exercise, but we see a bright future for Zen and the peaceful and productive ecosystem we’re building. We believe that the decentralized, fully inclusive, voluntary, and flexible organization we’re creating will be seen as obviously superior in the future compared to the static, centralized, one-size-fits all versions perpetuated in the 20th century. The advent of cryptography, voluntaryist philosophy, and blockchain technology make such a thing possible, and we believe many people already do, and will, share our vision for a better world; especially when they see how we can accelerate innovation and improve human welfare by empowering everyone to express their values. The next one to two years will see this vision come to fruition in our early organization by executing our Roadmap. There will certainly be challenges along the way, but flexibility and peaceful cooperation consistently overcomes seemingly insurmountable issues.”

BACKDOOR SECURITY COUNCIL

PRIVACY by DESIGN (cont.)
http://www.chaum.com/publications/Security_Wthout_Identification.html
http://www.metafilter.com/156164/Neither-private-nor-tegrity
http://www.wired.com/2016/01/david-chaum-father-of-online-anonymity-plan-to-end-the-crypto-wars/
by   /  01.06.16

“It’s been more than 30 years since David Chaum launched the ideas that would serve as much of the groundwork for anonymity online. In doing so, he also helped spark the debate that’s endured ever since, over the anarchic freedoms that digital secrecy enables—the conflict between privacy advocates and governments known today as the “crypto wars.” Now Chaum has returned with his first online privacy invention in more than a decade. And with it, he wants to bring those crypto wars to an end. At the Real World Crypto conference at Stanford University today, Chaum plans to present for the first time a new encryption scheme he calls PrivaTegrity. Like other tools Chaum has spent his long career developing, PrivaTegrity is designed to allow fully secret, anonymous communications that no eavesdropper can crack, whether a hacker or an intelligence agency. But PrivaTegrity, which Chaum’s been developing as a side project for the last two years along with a team of academic partners at Purdue, Radboud University in the Netherlands, Birmingham University and other schools, is meant to be both more secure than existing online anonymity systems like Tor or I2P and also more efficient; he claims it will be fast enough to work as a smartphone app with no perceptible delay.

Chaum wouldn’t comment on whether the project, which has yet to be fully coded and tested, would be commercialized or run as a non-profit, but he says an alpha version for Android is in development that functions as an instant-messaging app. In future versions, Chaum and his collaborators plan to add features like larger file sharing for photos and video, the ability to follow Twitter-like feeds, and even financial transactions, all under the cover of strong anonymity with untraceable pseudonyms. “It’s a way to create a separate online reality,” says Chaum, “One in which all the various things we now know people like to do online can be done in a lightweight manner under a completely different and new and very attractive privacy and security model.”

That ambitious privacy toolset aside, Chaum is also building into PrivaTegrity another feature that’s sure to be far more controversial: a carefully controlled backdoor that allows anyone doing something “generally recognized as evil” to have their anonymity and privacy stripped altogether. Whoever controls that backdoor within PrivaTegrity would have the power to decide who counts as “evil”—too much power, Chaum recognizes, for any single company or government. So he’s given the task to a sort of council system. When PrivaTegrity’s setup is complete, nine server administrators in nine different countries would all need to cooperate to trace criminals within the network and decrypt their communications. The result, Chaum argues, is a new approach that “breaks the crypto wars,” satisfying both the law enforcement agencies who argue that encryption offers a haven for criminals, and also those who argue that it’s necessary to hobble mass spying. “If you want a way to solve this apparent logjam, here it is,” says Chaum. “We don’t have to give up on privacy. We don’t have to allow terrorists and drug dealers to use it. We can have a civil society electronically without the possibility of covert mass surveillance.”

Inventing Anonymity
Chaum’s quest for a shield against Internet surveillance began before most of the world was even aware of the Internet at all. His inventions include the first-ever cryptocurrency, a 1990s venture known as DigiCash, and DC Nets, a scheme he invented in the early ’80s to allow theoretically perfect anonymity within a group of computers. But perhaps the most influential of Chaum’s privacy ideas was an earlier, simpler scheme he called a “mix network,” a term he coined in 1979.

Mix networks anonymize messages by encrypting them in layers and routing them through a series of computers that serve as intermediaries. Each of those middlemen machines collects messages in batches, shuffles them, strips off one layer of their encryption that only that computer can decrypt, and then passes them on to the next computer in the chain. The result is that no one, not even the individual intermediary computers themselves, can trace the messages from origin to destination. Today, anonymity tools inspired by mix networks are used by everyone from the nearly 2 million inhabitants of the Tor anonymity network—whose messages are routed through a sort of mutated mix network of thousands of volunteer machines—to Bitcoin spenders hiding drug transactions on the Dark Web.

With PrivaTegrity, Chaum is introducing a new kind of mix network he calls cMix, designed to be far more efficient than the layered encryption scheme he created decades ago. In his cMix setup, a smartphone communicates with PrivaTegrity’s nine servers when the app is installed to establish a series of keys that it shares with each server. When the phone sends a message, it encrypts the message’s data by multiplying it by that series of unique keys. Then the message is passed around all nine servers, with each one dividing out its secret key and multiplying the data with a random number. On a second pass through the nine servers, the message is put into a batch with other messages, and each server shuffles the batch’s order using a randomized pattern only that server knows, then multiplies the messages with another random number. Finally, the process is reversed, and as the message passes through the servers one last time, all of those random numbers are divided out and replaced with keys unique to the message’s intended recipient, who can then decrypt and read it.

Chaum argues that PrivaTegrity’s setup is more secure than Tor, for instance, which passes messages through three volunteer computers which may or may not be trusted. Unlike PrivaTegrity, Tor also doesn’t deliver its messages in batches, a decision designed to allow fast Web browsing. But that tradeoff means a spy who watches both ends of Tor’s network of intermediary computers might be able to identify the same message going in one at one place and coming out at another, a problem PrivaTegrity batch system is designed to solve. PrivaTegrity’s protocol will be speedier than past attempts at implementing mix networks, Chaum claims. That supposed efficiency comes from the fact that the collections of random numbers it uses, both before and after the messages are shuffled, can be precomputed and passed between the servers during moments when the servers are idle, instead of being created in real-time and slowing down conversations. And because the entire cMix process is a series of simple multiplications and divisions, it’s far faster than the public key computations necessary in older mix networks, says Aggelos Kiayas, a computer science professor at the University of Connecticut who’s reviewed Chaum’s system. “It is well known that mix nets can be better than Tor in terms of privacy…The real question is latency,” Kiayas writes in an email, cautioning that he can’t fully judge the scheme’s efficiency without seeing the final app. “PrivaTegrity appears to be a decisive step forward in this direction.”

A Backdoor Security Council
On top of those security and efficiency tricks, PrivaTegrity’s nine-server architecture—with a tenth that works as a kind of “manager” without access to any secret keys—also makes possible its unique backdoor decryption feature. No single server, or even eight of the nine servers working together, can trace or decrypt a message. But when all nine cooperate, they can combine their data to reconstruct a message’s entire path and divide out the random numbers they used to encrypt it. “It’s like a backdoor with nine different padlocks on it,” Chaum says.

For now, Chaum admits the prototype of PrivaTegrity that he plans to distribute to alpha testers will have all its servers running in Amazon’s cloud, leaving them open to the usual threats of American government surveillance, from subpoenas to National Security Letters. But in the app’s final version, Chaum says he plans to move all but one of those servers abroad, so that they’re spread out to nine different countries, and require each server to publish its law enforcement cooperation policy. Chaum won’t yet detail his suggested privacy policies for those servers, but suggests that decryption and tracing could be reserved for “serious abuse, something that leads to death and real harm to people or major economic malfeasance.” Or perhaps the system could limit the frequency of covert traces to some number, such as 100 decryptions per year. Or, Chaum suggests, the privacy policy could be written to prevent the servers from performing any voluntary tracing or decryption, though they’d still be subject to legal threats from governments. Chaum argues that he doesn’t himself advocate any one of those approaches. “It’s one thing to advocate an opinion, and another thing to create something and say ‘this could be the solution,’” Chaum says.3

Chaum has yet to reveal the full list of the countries where PrivaTegrity would place its servers. But he suggests they’ll be in the jurisdiction of democratic governments, and names Switzerland, Canada and Iceland as examples. “It’s like the UN,” says Chaum. “I don’t think a single jurisdiction should be able to covertly surveil the planet…In this system, there’s an agreement on the rules, and then we can enforce them.” The mere mention of a “backdoor”—no matter how many padlocks, checks, and balances restrict it—is enough to send shivers down the spines of most of the crypto community. But Chaum’s approach represents a bold attempt to end the stalemate between staunch privacy advocates and officials like FBI director James Comey, CIA deputy director Michael Morrell and British Prime Minister David Cameron who have all opposed tech companies’ use of strong, end-to-end encryption. Comey, Cameron, and Morell have lashed out at firms like Apple and Whatsapp, for instance, for using systems in which even the company itself doesn’t possess the key to decrypt communications or stored data, and thus can’t cooperate with law enforcement. (Those same privacy features have earned the companies praise from privacy groups.) The debate between encryption fans and surveillance hawks has only intensified in the wake of ISIS’s attacks in Paris, and in last month’s Democratic presidential debate Hillary Clinton called for a “Manhattan-like Project” to develop a system that “would bring the government and the tech communities together.”2

Most encryption experts insist, however, that any backdoor would lead to abuse by hackers, if not by the very law enforcement or national security agencies it was created for. Chaum counters that spreading the keys to decrypt communications among nine servers would solve both of those problems, preventing abusive government surveillance and making his backdoor far harder to hack. He suggests that the servers’ administrator will eventually develop their own security protections and even distinct code to implement PrivaTegrity’s protocol, avoiding any single bug that could be common to all nine nodes. “These systems would be far more hardened than even corporate systems, and to abuse the backdoor you’d have to break all of them,” he says. Whether PrivaTegrity lives up to its efficiency and security promises will only become clear when the finished app is released, and Chaum himself, despite spending two years perfecting its crypto system, hasn’t even tried the final demo of the app’s private alpha. He remains cagey about naming a date for releasing the public beta and publishing its code so that it can be scoured for flaws, but he says there’s “no technical reason why it couldn’t be ready for the first quarter of 2016.” If PrivaTegrity’s reality matches Chaum’s descriptions of its potential, he hopes it could serve as a model for how other encryption systems can protect innocent people from spying without offering impunity to criminals. “You have to perfect the traceability of the evil people and the untraceability of the honest people,” says Chaum. “That’s how you break the apparent tradeoff, this standoff called the encryption wars.” For more technical information on the cMix idea that PrivaTegrity will use, here’s Chaum’s and his co-authors’ still-unpublished paper on the system:1

cMix: Anonymization by High-Performance Scalable Mixing

1Updated 1/6/2016 9:30am EST to embed the technical paper describing Privategrity’s cMix system.

2Correction 1/6/2016 3:30pm EST: An earlier version of the story misspelled the name of FBI director James Comey.

3Updated 1/7/2016 12:30 EST to clarify Chaum’s point that the privacy policy for PrivaTegrity’s servers could also be written to allow no voluntary decryption or tracing, as well as his claim to not be advocating any particular privacy policy.”


The cMix communication model

MIX NETWORKS
http://dblp.uni-trier.de/pers/hd/c/Chaum:David
http://www.chaum.com/projects/privategrity/privategrity.html
http://www.techworm.net/2016/01/david-chaum-the-father-of-many-encryption-protocols-anounces.html
Anonymous Communications Network Called PrivaTegrity launched
by Vijay Prabhu  /  January 10, 2016

“His paper, called “cMix: Anonymization by High-Performance Scalable Mixing,” presents an evolution of the Mix Network concept, called cMix. The paper addresses several issues that governments and regular users had with the Mix Network. According to Chaum, now researchers plan to use this new cryptography protocol to build their own, more secure PrivaTegrity network, as an alternative to Tor. According to their research paper (page 1 – Section I, and page 4 – Chapter III-D), for each communications path established in a cMix network, the message sender creates connections with a series of trusted servers, with which it shares a series of keys. When the sender sends out a message, its data is multiplied with all the keys. As the message passes through each server, it is divided with each server’s corresponding key, but also multiplied again by a random number. Messages are then stored randomized in each server’s buffer. When the data needs to be retrieved and sent to the receiver, each server will retrieve the message from its random position, divide out the random numbers, and then multiply it with the recipient’s keys. When the data arrives on the recipient’s computer, their keys are used to divide the data and decrypt the message.

Chaum says that by moving most of the computational operations to the server, instead of the client, cMix achieves the same transfer speeds as Tor, but unlike its predecessor, it is not vulnerable to a series of “tagging” attacks. Tagging attacks rely on compromising Tor nodes, which on their own allow attackers to tag input slots with their output location. By using cMix’s setup, the protocol is not vulnerable to these type of attacks, unless the malicious actor compromises all the elements of the protocol, which is very rare. Additionally, researchers said that, in PrivaTegrity, tagging attacks are also blocked by how users set up keys with network nodes. “PrivaTegrity aims to provide privacy at a technical level that is not penetrable by nation states,” the researchers claim. “PrivaTegrity implements a new approach to user identification requiring each user to provide a small but different type of identifying information to each mix node.”

VULNERABILITY BAKED IN
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Eyes

http://cryptome.org/0001/nsa-meyer.htm
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160106/09090233253/pioneer-internet-anonymity-hands-fbi-huge-gift-building-dangerous-backdoored-encryption-system.shtml#c170
Pioneer In Internet Anonymity Hands FBI A Huge Gift In Building Dangerous Backdoored Encryption System
by Mike Masnick  /  Jan 6th 2016

“I first came across cryptography pioneer David Chaum about a decade ago, during the debates about online voting. Many in the technology world were insisting that such things were impossible to do safely, but Chaum insisted he had come up with a way to do online voting safely (he’d also tried to do electronic money, DigiCash… unsuccessfully). Many people disagreed with Chaum and it led to some fairly epic discussions. It appears that Chaum is again making moves that are making many of his colleagues angry: specifically creating a backdoored encryption system.

Few doubt Chaum’s cryptography skills or pedigree. He was instrumental in the early days of computer cryptography and what anonymity we have online today owes a lot to Chaum. But his latest plan is… troublingUnfortunately, Chaum is both totally missing the point and playing right into the FBI’s hands. The argument of basically every other cryptographer is that building any encryption system is incredibly difficult — and introducing any sort of backdoor opens up massive and dangerous vulnerabilities — whether the original creators recognize it or not. The second you introduce a backdoor — even using Chaum’s weird “nine people in nine countries” system — you have introduced a vulnerability. A vulnerability that can and will be abused by others. You are introducing a security flaw. And that’s a massive security problem. Chaum’s bragging about this system totally misses this point: “If you want a way to solve this apparent logjam, here it is,” says Chaum. “We don’t have to give up on privacy. We don’t have to allow terrorists and drug dealers to use it. We can have a civil society electronically without the possibility of covert mass surveillance.”

That assumes that his system can’t be hacked. That’s a dangerous claim. Yes, the “key” is split into 9 pieces, but it’s still introducing a vulnerability and undermining the integrity of the system. And, worst of all, as ACLU security expert Chris Soghoian points out, this is little more than a huge political gift to the FBI, who can go back to their stupid claims that if technologists just work harder they can come up with a “solution” to the false problem of “going dark.” Similarly, you have politicians like Hillary Clinton insisting that if only techies come together with government they can “solve” the encryption/”going dark” issue.  And now you can bet, without a doubt, that law enforcement and clueless politicians will start pointing to Chaum’s offering as an example of a “solution.”

But, as Soghoian points out, that misses the point. Chaum is creating a technology that is, by default, less secure and comes with vulnerabilities built in. It’s no secret that it’s possible to build backdoored encryption. Hell, just about anyone could do that. The “impossible” part that people are warning about is building such a system that is actually secure. Chaum’s is not. By default, it has vulnerabilities built in, and they will get exploited. And, even before the technology is exploited, the existence of this will be exploited by politicians and law enforcement to undermine arguments for strong encryption. And, of course, none of PrivaTegrity’s security claims have been checked or audited publicly at this point. Chaum admits that while the eventual plan will involve routing messages (multiple times) though nine servers in nine different countries, the prototype runs entirely on Amazon’s cloud computing infrastructure. Either way, at the very least, the system makes it clear that decrypting all such traffic requires attacking and compromising just nine servers. If you don’t think the NSA can do that, you haven’t been paying attention.”

PREVIOUSLY on #SPECTRE

RUBBER HOSE CRYPTO
http://spectrevision.net/2010/12/23/crypto-blast-shack-finally-goes-off/

DEMOCRATIC AUTONOMY

FEMINIST LIBERTARIAN MUNICIPALISM
https://libcom.org/library/rojava-revolution-reading-guide
http://roarmag.org/2015/02/bookchin-interview-social-ecology/
http://roarmag.org/2015/01/statement-academic-delegation-rojava/
http://roarmag.org/2015/04/zapatistas-rojava-anarchist-revolution/
http://www.kjk-online.org/category/jineoloji/?lang=en
http://kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/democratic-confederalism-and-collectivist-economics.html
http://kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/west-kurdistan/interview-ypj-medics-on-the-front-line-in-rojava.html
http://www.kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/west-kurdistan/why-kobani-did-not-fall/570-why-kobani-did-not-fall.html
http://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/2014/12/22/a-revolution-in-daily-life/
http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Revolution-Behind-the-Headlines-Autonomy-in-Northern-Syria-20150222-0011.html
https://libcom.org/news/experiment-west-kurdistan-syrian-kurdistan-has-proved-people-can-make-changes-zaher-baher-2
http://endnotes.org.uk/en/il-lato-cattivo-the-kurdish-question-isis-usa-etc
http://rojwomen.org/2015/02/13/revolution-in-rojava-transformed-the-perception-of-women-in-the-society/
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/10/western-fascination-with-badas-2014102112410527736.html
https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/linah-alsaafin/objectifying-female-fighters

CONFEDERATED COMMMUNALISM
http://new-compass.net/article/kurdish-communalism
http://www.biehlonbookchin.com/revolutionary-education/
http://new-compass.net/publications/democratic-autonomy-north-kurdistan
http://new-compass.net/article/kurdish-communalism
http://new-compass.net/articles/bookchin-%C3%B6calan-and-dialectics-democracy
http://roarmag.org/2014/12/janet-biehl-report-rojava/
Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution
by Janet Biehl  /  December 16, 2014

From December 1 to 9, I had the privilege of visiting Rojava as part of a delegation of academics from Austria, Germany, Norway, Turkey, the UK, and the US. We assembled in Erbil, Iraq, on November 29 and spent the next day learning about the petrostate known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), with its oil politics, patronage politics, feuding parties (KDP and PUK), and apparent aspirations to emulate Dubai. We soon had enough and on Monday morning were relieved to drive to the Tigris, where we crossed the border into Syria and entered Rojava, the majority-Kurdish autonomous region of northern Syria. The Tigris river channel was narrow, but the society we encountered on the far shore could not have been more different from the KRG: the spirit of a social and political revolution was in the air.

As we disembarked, we were greeted by the Asayis, or civilian security forces of the revolution. The Asayis reject the label police, since police serve the state whereas they serve society. Over the next nine days, we would explore Rojava’s revolutionary self-government in an old-fashioned state of total immersion (we had no internet access to distract us). Our delegation’s two organizers — Dilar Dirik (a talented PhD student at Cambridge University) and Devriş Çimen (head of Civaka Azad, the Kurdish Center for Public Information in Germany) — took us on an intensive tour of the various revolutionary institutions. Rojava consists of three geographically non-contiguous cantons; we would see only the easternmost one, Cezire (or Jazira), due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State, which rages to the west, especially in Kobani. But everywhere we were welcomed warmly.


“Free Kurds do not recognize borders”

Rojava’s Third Way
At the outset, the deputy foreign minister, Amine Ossi, introduced us to the history of the revolution. The Syrian Ba’ath regime, a system of one-party rule, had long insisted that all Syrians were Arabs and attempted to “Arabize” the country’s four million Kurds, suppressing their identity and stripping those who objected of their citizenship. After Tunisian and Egyptian opposition groups mounted insurgencies during the Arab Spring in 2011, rebellious Syrians rose up too, initiating the civil war. In the summer of 2012, the regime’s authority collapsed in Rojava, where the Kurds had little trouble persuading its officials to depart nonviolently. Rojavans (I’ll call them by that name because while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups. Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought the Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism.

Initially, under his leadership, Kurds had fought for a state, but several decades ago, again under his leadership, their goal began to change: they now reject the state as a source of oppression and instead strive for self-government, for popular democracy. Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Öcalan proposed ‘Democratic Confederalism’ as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. The implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.

A Women’s Revolution
Under their Third Way, Rojava’s three cantons declared Democratic Autonomy and formally established it in a “social contract” (the non-statist term it uses instead of “constitution”). Under that program, they created a system of popular self-government, based in neighborhood commune assemblies (comprising several hundred households each), which anyone may attend, and with power rising from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels. When our delegation visited a Qamishlo neighborhood (Qamishlo being the largest city in the Cezire canton), we attended a meeting of a local people’s council, where the electricity and matters relating to women, conflict resolution and families of martyrs were discussed. Men and women sat and participated together. Elsewhere in Qamishlo, we witnessed an assembly of women addressing problems particular to their gender.

Gender is of special importance to this project in human emancipation. We quickly realized that the Rojava Revolution is fundamentally a women’s revolution. This part of the world is traditionally home to extreme patriarchal oppression: to be born female is to be at risk for violent abuse, childhood marriage, honor killings, polygamy, and more. But today the women of Rojava have shaken off that tradition and participate fully in public life: at every level of politics and society. Institutional leadership consists not of one position but two, one male and one female official — for the sake of gender equality and also to keep power from concentrating into one person’s hands. Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are essential to democracy — they even defined the antagonist of women’s freedom, strikingly, not as patriarchy but as the nation-state and capitalist modernity. The women’s revolution aims to free everyone. Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the past century. It has profoundly transformed not only women’s status but every aspect of society.

Even the traditionally male-dominated strands of society, like the military, have been profoundly transformed. The people’s protection units (YPG) have been joined by the YPJ — or women’s protection units — whose images by now have become world famous. Together, the YPG and the YPJ are defending society against the jihadist forces of ISIS and Al-Nusra with Kalashnikovs and, perhaps equally formidably, a fierce intellectual and emotional commitment not only to their community’s survival but to its political ideas and aspirations too. When we visited a meeting of the YPJ, we were told that the fighters’ education consists not only of training in practical matters like weapons but also in Democratic Autonomy. “We are fighting for our ideas,” they emphasized at every turn. Two of the women who met with us had been injured in battle. One sat with an IV bag, another with a metal crutch — both were wincing in pain but had the fortitude and self-discipline to participate in our session.


a sewing cooperative, Derik

Cooperation and Education
Rojavans fight for the survival of their community but above all, as the YPJ told us, for their ideas. They even put the successful implementation of democracy above ethnicity. Their social agreement affirms the inclusion of ethnic minorities (Arabs, Chechens, Assyrians) and religions (Muslims, Christians, Yezidis), and Democratic Autonomy in practice seems to bend over backwards to include minorities, without imposing it on others against their will, leaving the door open to all. When our delegation asked a group of Assyrians to tell us their challenges with Democratic Autonomy, they said they had none. In nine days we could not possibly have scoured Rojava for all problems, and our interlocutors candidly admitted that Rojava is hardly above criticism, but as far as I could see, Rojava at the very least aspires to model tolerance and pluralism in a part of the world that has seen far too much fanaticism and repression — and to whatever extent it succeeds, it deserves commendation.

Post image for Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution

Rojava’s economic model “is the same as its political model,” an economics adviser in Derik told us: to create a “community economy,” building cooperatives in all sectors and educating the people in the idea. The adviser expressed satisfaction that even though 70 percent of Rojava’s resources must go to the war effort, the economy still manages to meet everyone’s basic needs. They strive for self-sufficiency, because they must: the crucial fact is that Rojava exists under an embargo. It can neither export to nor import from its immediate neighbor to the north, Turkey, which would like to see the whole Kurdish project disappear. Even the KRG, under control of their ethnic kin but economically beholden to Turkey, observes the embargo, although more cross-border KRG-Rojava trade is occurring now in the wake of political developments. But the country still lacks resources. That does not dampen their spirit: “If there is only bread, then we all have a share,” the adviser told us.

We visited an economics academy and economic cooperatives: a sewing cooperative in Derik, making uniforms for the defense forces; a cooperative greenhouse, growing cucumbers and tomatoes; a dairy cooperative in Rimelan, where a new shed was under construction. The Kurdish areas are the most fertile parts of Syria, home to its abundant wheat supply, but the Ba’ath regime had deliberately refrained from industrializing the area, a source of raw materials. Hence wheat was cultivated but could not be milled into flour. We visited a mill, newly constructed since the revolution, improvised from local materials. It now provides flour for the bread consumed in Cezire, whose residents get three loaves a day. Similarly, Cezire was Syria’s major source of petroleum, with several thousand oil rigs, mostly in the Rimelan area. But the Ba’ath regime ensured that Rojava had no refineries, forcing the oil to be transported to refineries elsewhere in Syria. But since the revolution, Rojavans have improvised two new oil refineries, which are used mainly to provide diesel for the generators that power the canton. The local oil industry, if such it can be called, produces only enough for local needs, nothing more.

A DIY Revolution
The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand. But it was not until we visited the various academies — the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo — that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole. The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.


“A note on the image… Some of the imagery coming from the revolution and its supporters deliberately references revolutionary Spain. I saw this particular image posted yesterday, an appeal to a supposed common anti-facism expressed in the defences of Madrid, Stalingrad and Kobane.”

Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination, knee-jerk belief. But to interpret those images that way would be to miss the situation entirely. “No one will give you your rights,” someone quoted Öcalan to us, “you will have to struggle to obtain them.” And to carry out that struggle, Rojavans know they must educate both themselves and society. Öcalan taught them Democratic Confederalism as a set of principles. Their role has been to figure out how to implement it, in Democratic Autonomy, and thereby to empower themselves. The Kurds have historically had few friends. They were ignored by the Treaty of Lausanne that divided up the Middle East after World War I. For most of the past century, they suffered as minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their language and culture have been suppressed, their identities denied, their human rights overruled. They are on the wrong side of NATO, where Turkey is permitted to call the shots on Kurdish matters. They have long been outsiders. That experience has been brutal, involving torture, exile and war. But it has also given them strength and independence of mind. Öcalan taught them how to reset the terms of their existence in a way that gave them dignity and self-respect.


The official party line carried across all media that “ISIS is the main threat” covers over the reality that ISIS is the baby of America’s “partners in the region“, Saudia Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the UAE.

This do-it-yourself revolution by an educated populace is embargoed by their neighbors and gets along by the skin of its teeth. It is nonetheless an endeavor that pushes the human prospect forward. In the wake of the twentieth century, many people have come to the worst conclusions about human nature, but in the twenty-first, Rojavans are setting a new standard for what human beings are capable of. In a world fast losing hope, they shine as a beacon. Anyone with a bit of faith in humanity should wish the Rojavans well with their revolution and do what they can to help it succeed. They should demand that their governments stop allowing Turkey to define a rejectionist international policy toward the Kurds and toward Democratic Autonomy. They should demand an end to the embargo against Rojava.

The members of the delegation in which I participated (even though I am not an academic) did their work well. Sympathetic to the revolution, they nonetheless asked challenging questions, about Rojava’s economic outlook, about the handling of ethnicity and nationalism, and more. The Rojavans we met, accustomed to grappling with hard questions, responded thoughtfully and even welcomed critique. Readers interested in learning more about the Rojava Revolution may look forward to forthcoming writings by the other delegation members: Welat (Oktay) Ay, Rebecca Coles, Antonia Davidovic, Eirik Eiglad, David Graeber, Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Johanna Riha, Nazan Üstündag, and Christian Zimmer. As for me, I have much more to say than this short article allows and plan to write a further work, one that incorporates drawings I made during the trip.

Janet Biehl edited The Murray Bookchin Reader and is the author of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.


Anarchist Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution 

COMMUNITY ECONOMY
http://www.biehlonbookchin.com/visit-with-ypj/
http://www.biehlonbookchin.com/poor-in-means/
by Janet Biehl  /   December 30, 2014

(After my visit to Rojava in early December 2014, I published an article with my impressions here and hereMeanwhile, journalist Cesur Milusoy interviewed me on December 23. The interview is published in German, here. This English version contains some amplifications on the German version.)

Janet, you just returned from a journey to Rojava that lasted more than a week. How did you and the group enter Rojava? The Turkish border is closed, and ISIS controls much of the territory in Iraq.
We started out from Erbil, Iraq, and crossed the border at Semalka. The organizers had arranged for the crossing in advance. Once we arrived, we had to wait a few hours until someone made a telephone call. Then we crossed the Tigris and entered Cizire.

Cizire is a small canton in Syrian Kurdistan that is at war and at the same time is daring to build something new. To ask a banal question, what were your impressions?
Rojava seemed to me to be poor in means but rich in spirit. The people are brave, educated and dedicated to defending their revolution and their society. Their revolution is grassroots-democratic, gender equal, and cooperative. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The people of Rojava are showing the world what humanity is capable of.

a female Asayis

You went to Rojava to see whether the self-government functions along libertarian principles. What did you find? To what extent are the principles of Murray Bookchin present?
Rojava’s system is similar to Bookchin’s ideas in the most crucial way: power flows from the bottom up. The base of Bookchin’s system is the citizens’ assembly. The base of Rojava’s is the commune. One of my questions before arriving was whether Rojava’s communes were assemblies of all citizens or rather meetings of their delegates or representatives in a council. But I found out that the communes are made of up a neighborhood’s households, and that anyone from those households may attend and participate in a meeting. That’s an assembly. Another similarity is that in both systems power flows upward through various levels. Citizens’ assemblies can’t exist in isolation—they have to have a mechanism by which they interconnect with their peers, yet one that remains democratic. Rojava’s solution is the people’s council system that rises through several tiers: the neighborhood, the district, the city, and the canton. Bookchin, by contrast, spoke of towns and neighborhoods confederating. Murray called the broader levels “confederal councils,” where as in Rojava they are called people’s councils at every level, or even “house of the people.”

In both cases they are made up of mandated delegates, not representatives as in a legislature. Rojava’s delegates—called co-presidents—convey the wishes of the people the next level up–they don’t act on their own initiative. So that’s another similarity. In Rojava, the people’s councils aren’t made up only of co-presidents from the lower levels; they also comprise people elected to enter at that level. The councils seem to be quite large. I think that’s a good idea. In addition to the council system, Rojava has a transitional government in place as well, a built-in dual power. The council system is separate from it but also carries the wishes of the people into it, through various mechanisms.


The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy

You have also spoken about the revolutionary process there.
Bookchin wrote extensively about the revolutionary process, in his histories of revolutionary movements. You can’t make a revolution just any day, he would point out; history has to be on your side; only at times does a “revolutionary situation” develop, when it’s possible to change the system. He lamented that all too often, when a revolutionary situation came around, the revolutionaries weren’t ready for it. They longed for an opportunity to make change, but they did not organize in advance, and so when the revolutionary situation developed, they missed their chance. Rojavans did not make the common mistake. They prepared for decades before the revolutionary situation happened, building counterinstitutions, creating a structured counterpower. The Qamislo massacre of 2004 taught them that they had not prepared sufficiently, so they intensified their preparations. So when the revolutionary situation came in 2012, they were ready. When the regime collapsed, leaving a power vacuum, the counterinstitutions were in place to take the power, and they did. Rojavans understand something else Murray argued too, about power. The issue is not to abolish power—that can’t be done. The issue, is rather, to define who has the power: will it be a regime, or will it be the people? Rojavans understood when the moment arrived that the power was theirs for the taking, and they took it. He would have applauded heartily. And finally, I think he would have commended the work of Tev-Dem, a movement of civil society organizations established in order to create the council system—communes and other institutions of democratic self-rule. I think he would have commended Rojavans’ imagination in inventing a movement whose purpose is to creat democratic self-government.

You speak of creativity that Bookchin would have praised, but the creativity is essentially Abdullah Öcalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who was inspired by some writings of your partner, as was the Syrian branch of the PKK, the PYD. The PKK as originally based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Did you observe any signs of this in Rojava?
In the past decades Öcalan and the PKK have renounced Marxism-Leninism. Their goal is now to create a base democratic, ecological, cooperative, and gender-equal society. I saw no gulags there, not even close. I saw a place that seemed genuinely committed to creating that society, even if it’s still a work in progress.

IMG_2117

The equality between men and women is an important issue for you. In the Middle East women have a difficult role. Has that changed in Rojava?
Misogyny is deeply rooted in the Middle East. Women have fewer rights there than almost anywhere else in the world. Their intelligence end value are denigrated. They may be married while still girls. Their husbands can beat them with impunity, and husbands can have plural wives. And when a woman is sexually abused, her male relatives blame her and may commit an honor killing or even coerce her into committing an honor suicide. She is often excluded from education and from working outside the home, and she is certainly forbidden to participate in public life. In Rojava this grim condition is undone, as the whole society is committed to creating equality for the sexes. Girls are educated along with boys. They can choose any profession. Violence against women is forbidden. A woman who experience domestic violence can bring the problem to a public meeting, where it is discussed and investigated. Above all they may participate in public life. In Rojava’s democratic self-government, a meeting must consist of 40 percent women. The institutions have no individual heads—they must always have two co-presidents, one man and one woman. An elaborate series of women’s councils exists alongside the general councils. Women’s councils have veto power over decisions that affect women. Rojava’s defense forces consist of units for men and units for women.


Commander of YPG/J in Kobane, Nassrin Abdalla waiting to meet the President of France in the Elysee Palace

Do women play a large and more important role in the revolution, without which these structures would not be possible?
Yes. In many places we were told that Rojava’s revolution is a women’s revolution; that a revolution that does not alter the status of women really isn’t a revolution at all; that transforming the status of women transforms the whole society; that freedom for women is inseparable from freedom of society; and even that women are “the main actors in economy, society, and history.” Such ideas are taught not only in the women’s academies and the Mesopotamian Academy but also in, for example, the academies that train the defense and security forces. At the Asayis academy in Rimelan, we were told that half the educational time is dedicated to equality of the sexes.

One cause of conflict in the Middle East is the oppression of ethnic groups. In Rojava many cultures and religions exist alongside each other. How freed o you think the minorities are in the self-government? Did you have an opportunity to speak to any of the remaining Christians?
It seems to me that Rojava’s Kurds understand very well the importance of this question, since they very well know the experience of being an oppressed minority. Today as the majority in Rojava they know that it would be unacceptable for them to impose on others the kinds of exclusions that they experienced in Syria and that they still experience elsewhere. Moreover, they consider diversity to be a positive good. Rojava’s social contract affirms the inclusion of all minorities, by name. When we met with Nilüfer Koc, co-president of the KNK, she defined Democratic Autonomy not in terms of democracy but expressly as “unity in diversity.”

One aspect of Rojava’s diversity is the Assyrian Christian community. What is the situation for them in Qamislo?
We met a group of Assyrians in Qamislo, who explained to us that the Baath regime had recognized only Arabs as the sole ethnicity in Syria. Like Kurds, Assyrians had no cultural rights and were barred from organizing a political party. But in the summer of 2012 the revolution founded the self-government, and since then the Assyrians have experienced both improvements in their condition. The revolution established three official languages; Kurdish, Arabic, and Soryani (the Assyrians’ language). Assyrians even have their own defense unit, the Sutoro. Of course, our delegation couldn’t examine the whole society under a microscope. But we asked the group of Assyrians what difficulties they experienced with the self-government. They responded that they have no difficulties. They participate in the people’s councils at all levels. We learned that in the transitional government each minority must have 10 percent of the seats in parliament, even when they don’t have 10 percent of the population. That’s positive discrimination. Most important, the Assyrian women have organized themselves. They believe that women are essential to democracy, and that democracy is essential to women. “Self-government means,” said one Assyrian woman, “that women are more effective and can participate and can learn to become leaders. … We have in common with Kurdish women the wish to defend the society. … We have relations with Kurdish and Arab women … The Assyrian Women’s Organization also includes Arab women. We want to improve the condition of all women in this area, not only Assyrian women. It is one further splendid aspect of this “women’s revolution”: women of all ethnicities share the same problems from traditional society. In Rojava the equality of the sexes ties women together across ethnic lines, bringing everyone closer together.

Municipalization: Community Ownership of the Economy

What is daily life like? Are schools, doctors, electricity, and water all supplied for free? 
Rojava has been fighting a long, grueling war of self-defense against ISIS, and to that end the self-government maintains defense forces (YPG, YPJ) and security forces (Asayis). Arming these men and women, providing them with food and uniforms, and meeting other military needs consumes 70 percent of the budget. The remaining 30 percent goes to public services. Rojava considers health and education to be basic human needs, and on that slim budget, it finances public systems for both. The main economic activity in Cizire is agriculture. With its fertile soil and good growing conditions, the canton is rich in wheat and barley. Before the revolution it was the breadbasket of Syria. Notably, the Baath regime declined to build processing facilities in Rojava, even flour mills. The self-government built one only recently, at Tirbespiye, and now provides flour for the whole canton. Bread remains the staff of life—each household gets three loaves of bread a day, which the self-government provides at 40 percent below cost. For the last two years the self-government has supplied seeds to the farmers, and diesel for their machinery, so they can continue to cultivate their lands. The self-government has also created local companies to develop infrastructure and to build roads. And it finances the refugee camps in the Kurdish areas. Humanitarian institutions are present there too, but only symbolically—they don’t finance electricity, water, or education, because Rojava is not internationally recognized; the agencies have to work through the KRG and Damascus, which doesn’t allow it. So Rojava must provide for them. The result is an economy of survival. Electricity and clean water are in limited supply.

the flour mill in Tirbespiye

How are people paid?
Some Rojavans earn wages, but many work on a voluntary basis; still others just make their living, say, from a cow. “We consume bread together,” Hemo said, “and if there is no bread, we do not get bread.” Still, at the top of the economic development agenda is the creation of cooperatives, in Rojava’s “community economy.” “Our political project and our economic project are the same,” said Abdurrahman Hemo, an adviser for economic development in Cizire canton. For two years Cizire has been promoting cooperativism through academies, seminars, and community discussions, and is building them in different sectors. Most of the cooperatives are agricultural, but others are springing up in trades and construction.

What is Rojava’s income? Do people pay taxes?
Rojava collects no taxes from its people, and receives a small income from the border crossing at Semalka. But most of Rojava’s income by far comes form Cizire’s oil. The canton has thousands of oilfields, but at the moment only 200 of them are active. Once again, the Baath regime exploited Cizire’s raw materials but refused to construct processing plants. So while Cizire has petroleum, it had no refineries. Only since the revolution has the self-government improvised a large refinery to produce diesel and benzene, which are sold cheaply in the local economy. Diesel is now cheaper than water—it goes fuels the small generators that provide power in much of Cizire. But the canton exploits petroleum only for its own use.

Why can’t Rojava just sell its oil abroad and gain income from exports?
The reason is the embargo. Rojava shares a long border with Turkey, and several border crossings exist. But they are officially closed now, since Turkey embargoes Rojava both politically and economically. The KRG observes Turkey’s embargo, although it has relaxed in recent months to allow trade through the Semalka crossing. But because of the virtually complete embargo, Rojava must build everything itself, from local materials. It gets no investment from outside–all production and all consumption are domestic. Self-sufficiency is not ideology—it’s an economic reality.

Is the self-government sustainable? Can it survive? Or does it depend on the outside, that is on the political power game of Turkey, the United Stats, and so on? Or is there an opportunity that one could call historic?
The principles of democratic autonomy are anticapitalist, but Rojava has in any case no economic surplus that can be used to develop the economy. The economic development adviser, Hemo, is seeking outside investment. “We want to be self-sufficient,” he told us, “but to develop quality of life, we need some kind of industry.” Rojava needs a power plant and a fertilizer factory. But the cooperative economy can’t finance industry at that level, he told us. “We need help from outside, private or public, so we can build our social economy together.” In what is called the “open economy,” outside investment is welcomed as long as it conforms to the social nature of the Rojava’s “community economy.” Without outside investment, Hemo believes, Rojava can survive maybe only another year or two. But although Rojava must industrialize, it must not create a state economy, or a centralized economy. Even with outside investment, it should remain locally organized: “We need a common economy, and factories should be communally owned.” But outside investment is lacking, because Rojava’s existence is not internationally recognized. Potential investors have no legal access—they have to they have to go through the KRG and Damascus. And they have no physical access—the absence of border crossings with Turkey. To survive, Rojava needs openings to the outside world. It seems clear that Turkey must open its borders and allow this noble and high-minded project to continue.

CIVILIAN SECURITY FORCES
http://www.anarkismo.net/article/27895
http://www.biehlonbookchin.com/revolutionary-days-july-2012/
https://rojavareport.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/efrin-economy-minister-rojava-challenging-norms-of-class-gender-and-power/ 
https://libcom.org/library/%E2%80%98i-have-seen-future-it-works%E2%80%99-%E2%80%93-critical-questions-supporters-rojava-revolution
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/08/why-world-ignoring-revolutionary-kurds-syria-isis
https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/no-this-is-a-genuine-revolution/
No This is a Genuine Revolution
by and Pinar Öğünç   /  December 26, 2014

Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, activist, anarchist David Graeber had written an article for the Guardian in October, in the first weeks of the ISIS attacks to Kobane (North Syria), and asked why the world was ignoring the revolutionary Syrian Kurds. Mentioning his father who volunteered to fight in the International Brigades in defence of the Spanish Republic in 1937, he asked: “If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but ISIS? If there is a parallel to the Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world -and this time most scandalously of all, the international left- really going to be complicit in letting history repeat itself?” According to Graeber, the autonomous region of Rojava declared with a “social contract” in 2011 as three anti-state, anti-capitalist cantons, was also a remarkable democratic experiment of this era. In early December, with a group of eight people, students, activists, academics from different parts of Europe and the US, he spent ten days in Cizire -one of the three cantons of Rojava. He had the chance to observe the practice of “democratic autonomy” on the spot, and to ask dozens of questions. Now he tells his impressions of this trip with bigger questions and answers why this “experiment” of the Syrian Kurds is ignored by the whole world.


“In her speech Merve Demir said women can only get free in a new world if they can organize relationships without power.”

In your article for the Guardian you had asked why the whole world was ignoring the “democratic experiment” of the Syrian Kurds. After experiencing it for ten days, do you have a new question or maybe an answer to this?
Well, if anyone had any doubt in their minds about whether this was really a revolution, or just some kind of window-dressing, I’d say the visit put that permanently to rest. There are still people talking like that: This is just a PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) front, they’re really a Stalinist authoritarian organization that’s just pretending to have adopted radical democracy. No. They’re totally for real. This is a genuine revolution. But in a way that’s exactly the problem. The major powers have committed themselves to an ideology that say real revolutions can no longer happen. Meanwhile, many on the left, even the radical left, seem to have tacitly adopted a politics which assumes the same, even though they still make superficially revolutionary noises. They take a kind of puritanical “anti-imperialist” framework that assumes the significant players are governments and capitalists and that’s the only game worth talking about. The game where you wage war, create mythical villains, seize oil and other resources, set up patronage networks; that’s the only game in town. The people in Rojava are saying: We don’t want to play that game. We want to create a new game. A lot of people find that confusing and disturbing so they choose to believe it isn’t really happening, or such people are deluded or dishonest or naive.

Since October we see a rising solidarity from different political movements from all over the world. There has been a huge and some quite enthusiastic coverage of Kobane resistance by the mainstream medias of the world. Political stance regarding Rojava has changed in the West to some degree. These are all significant signs but still do you think democratic autonomy and what’s been experimented in the cantons of Rojava are discussed enough? How much does the general perception of “Some brave people fighting against the evil of this era, ISIS” dominate this approval and the fascination?

I find it remarkable how so many people in West see these armed feminist cadres, for example, and don’t even think on the ideas that must lie behind them. They just figured it happened somehow. “I guess it’s a Kurdish tradition.” To some degree it’s orientalism of course, or to put simple racism. It never occurs to them that people in Kurdistan might be reading Judith Butler too. At best they think “Oh, they’re trying to come up to Western standards of democracy and women’s rights. I wonder if it’s for real or just for foreign consumption.” It just doesn’t seem to occur to them they might be taking these things way further than “Western standards” ever have; that they might genuinely believe in the principles that Western states only profess.

You mentioned the approach of the left towards Rojava. How is it received in the international anarchist communities?
The reaction in the international anarchist communities has been decidedly mixed. I find it somewhat difficult to understand. There’s a very substantial group of anarchists -usually the more sectarian elements- who insist that the PKK is still a “Stalinist” authoritarian nationalist group which has adopted Bookchin and other left libertarian ideas to court the anti-authoritarian left in Europe and America. It’s always struck me that this is one of the silliest and most narcissistic ideas I’ve ever heard. Even if the premise were correct, and a Marxist-Leninist group decided to fake an ideology to win foreign support, why on earth would they choose anarchist ideas developed by Murray Bookchin? That would be the stupidest gambit ever. Obviously they’d pretend to be Islamists or Liberals, those are the guys who get the guns and material support. Anyway I think a lot of people on the international left, and the anarchist left included, basically don’t really want to win. They can’t imagine a revolution would really happen and secretly they don’t even want it, since it would mean sharing their cool club with ordinary people; they wouldn’t be special any more. So in that way it’s rather useful in culling the real revolutionaries from the poseurs. But the real revolutionaries have been solid.


Syrian Kurdish female fighter at the front-lines (photo James Harkin)

What was the most impressing thing you witnessed in Rojava in terms of this democratic autonomy practice?
There were so many impressive things. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anywhere else in the world where there’s been a dual power situation where the same political forces created both sides. There’s the “democratic self-administration,” which has all the form and trappings of a state -Parliament, Ministries, and so on- but it was created to be carefully separated from the means of coercive power. Then you have the TEV-DEM (The Democratic Society Movement), driven bottom up directly democratic institutions. Ultimately -and this is key- the security forces are answerable to the bottom-up structures and not to the top-down ones. One of the first places we visited was a police academy (Asayiş). Everyone had to take courses in non-violent conflict resolution and feminist theory before they were allowed to touch a gun. The co-directors explained to us their ultimate aim was to give everyone in the country six weeks of police training, so that ultimately, they could eliminate police.

What would you say to various criticisms regarding Rojava? For example: “They wouldn’t have done this in peace. It is because of the state of war”…
Well, I think most movements, faced with dire war conditions, would not nonetheless immediately abolish capital punishment, dissolve the secret police and democratize the army. Military units for instance elect their officers.

And there is another criticism, which is quite popular in pro-government circles here in Turkey: “The model the Kurds -in the line of PKK and PYD (The Kurdish Democratic Union Party)- are trying to promote is not actually embraced by all the peoples living there. That multi-… structure is only on the surface as symbols”…
Well, the President of Cizire canton is an Arab, head of a major local tribe in fact. I suppose you could argue he was just a figurehead. In a sense the entire government is. But even if you look at the bottom-up structures, it’s certainly not just the Kurds who are participating. I was told the only real problem is with some of the “Arab belt” settlements, people who were brought in by the Baathists in the ‘50s and ‘60s from other parts of Syria as part of an intentional policy of marginalizing and assimilating Kurds. Some of those communities they said are pretty unfriendly to the revolution. But Arabs whose families had been there for generations, or the Assyrians, Khirgizians, Armenians, Chechens, and so on, are quite enthusiastic. The Assyrians we talked to said, after a long difficult relation with the regime, they felt they finally were being allowed free religious and cultural autonomy. Probably the most intractible problem might be women’s liberation. The PYD and TEV-DEM see it as absolutely central to their idea of revolution, but they also have the problem of dealing larger alliances with Arab communities who feel this violates basic religious principles. For instance, while the Syriac-speakers have their own women’s union, the Arabs don’t, and Arab girls interested in organizing around gender issues or even taking feminist seminars have to hitch on with the Assyrians or even the Kurds.

amara.jpg
Women attending a Young Women Conference, in a small village Amara in Urfa (Kurdistan)

It doesn’t have to be trapped in that “puritanical ‘anti-imperialist’ framework” you mentioned before, but what would you say to the comment that the West/ imperialism will one day ask Syrian Kurds to pay for their support. What does the West think exactly about this anti-state, anti-capitalist model? Is it just an experiment that can be ignored during the state of war while the Kurds voluntarily accept to fight an enemy that is by the way actually created by the West?
Oh it is absolutely true that the US and European powers will do what they can to subvert the revolution. That goes without saying. The people I talked to were all well aware of it. But they didn’t make a strong differentiation between the leadership of regional powers like Turkey or Iran or Saudi Arabia, and Euro-American powers like, say, France or the US. They assumed they were all capitalist and statist and thus anti-revolutionary, who might at best be convinced to put up with them but were not ultimately on their side. Then there’s the even more complicated question of the structure of what’s called “the international community,” the global system of institutions like the UN or IMF, corporations, NGOs, human rights organisations for that matter, which all presume a statist organisation, a government that can pass laws and has a monopoly of coercive enforcement over those laws. There’s only one airport in Cizire and it’s still under Syrian government control. They could take it over easily, any time, they say. One reason they don’t is because: How would a non-state run an airport anyway? Everything you do in an airport is subject to international regulations which presume a state.

Do you have an answer to why ISIS is so obsessed with Kobane?
Well, they can’t be seen to lose. Their entire recruiting strategy is based on the idea that they are an unstoppable juggernaut, and their continual victory is proof that they represent the will of God. To be defeated by a bunch of feminists would be the ultimate humiliation. As long as they’re still fighting in Kobane, they can claim that media claims are lies and they are really advancing. Who can prove otherwise? If they pull out they will have admitted defeat.

Well, do you have an answer to what Tayyip Erdogan and his party is trying to do in Syria and the Middle East generally?
I can only guess. It seems he has shifted from an anti-Kurdish, anti-Assad policy to an almost purely anti-Kurdish strategy. Again and again he has been willing to ally with pseudo-religious fascists to attack any PKK-inspired experiments in radical democracy. Clearly, like Daesh (ISIS) themselves, he sees what they are doing as an ideological threat, perhaps the only real viable ideological alternative to right-wing Islamism on the horizon, and he will do anything to stamp it out.

On the one hand there is Iraqi Kurdistan standing on quite a different ideological ground in terms of capitalism and the notion of independence. On the other hand, there is this alternative example of Rojava. And there are the Kurds of Turkey who try to sustain a peace process with the government… How do you personally see the future of Kurdistans in short and long terms?
Who can say? At the moment things look surprisingly good for the revolutionary forces. The KDG even gave up the giant ditch they were building across the Rojava border after the PKK intervened to effectively save Erbil and other cities from IS back in August. One KNK person told me it had a major effect on popular consciousness there; that one month had done 20 years worth of consciousness raising. Young people were particularly struck by the way their own Peshmerga fled the field but PKK women soldiers didn’t. But it’s hard to imagine how the KRG territory however will be revolutionized any time soon. Neither would the international powers allow it.

Although democratic autonomy doesn’t seem to be clearly on the table of negotiation in Turkey, The Kurdish Political Movement has been working on it, especially on the social level. They try to find solutions in legal and economic terms for possible models. When we compare let’s say the class structure and the level of capitalism in West Kurdistan (Rojava) and North Kurdistan (Turkey), what would you think about the differences of these two struggles for an anti-capitalist society -or for a minimised capitalism as they describe?
I think the Kurdish struggle is quite explicitly anti-capitalist in both countries. It’s their starting point. They’re managed to come up with a kind of formula: One can’t get rid of capitalism without eliminating the state, one can’t get rid of the state without getting rid of patriarchy. However, the Rojavans have it quite easy in class terms because the real bourgeoisie, such as it was in a mostly very agricultural region, took off with the collapse of the Baath regime. They will have a long-term problem if they don’t work on the educational system to ensure a developmentalist technocrat stratum doesn’t eventually try to take power, but in the meantime, it’s understandable they are focusing more immediately on gender issues. In Turkey, well, I don’t know nearly as much, but I do have the sense things are much more complicated.

A hospital corridor ransacked by the Islamic State in Serê Kaniyê.

During the days that the peoples of the world can’t breathe for obvious reasons, did your trip to Rojava inspired you about the future? What do you think is the “medicine” for the people to breathe?
It was remarkable. I’ve spent my life thinking about how we might be able to do things like this in some remote time in the future and most people think I’m crazy to imagine it will ever be. These people are doing it now. If they prove that it can be done, that a genuinely egalitarian and democratic society is possible, it will completely transform people’s sense of human possibility. Myself, I feel ten years younger just having spent 10 days there.

With which scene are you going to remember your trip to Cizire?
There were so many striking images, so many ideas. I really liked the disparity between the way people looked, often, and the things they said. You meet some guy, a doctor, he looks like a slightly scary Syrian military type in a leather jacket and stern austere expression. Then you talk to him and he explains: “Well, we feel the best approach to public health is preventative, most disease is made possible by stress. We feel if we reduce stress, levels of heart disease, diabetes, even cancer will decline. So our ultimate plan is to reorganize the cities to be 70% green space…” There are all these mad, brilliant schemes. But then you go to the next doctor and they explain how because of the Turkish embargo, they can’t even get basic medicine or equipment, all the dialysis patients they couldn’t smuggle out have died… That disjuncture between their ambitions and their incredibly straightened circumstances. And… The woman who was effectively our guide was a deputy foreign minister named Amina. At one point, we apologize we weren’t able to bring better gifts and help to the Rojavans, who were suffering so under the embargo. And she said: “In the end, that isn’t very important. We have the one thing no one can ever give you. We have our freedom. You don’t. We only wish there was some way we could give that to you.”


Freedom Square in the eastern part of the city (Photo Yvo Fitzherbert)

You are sometimes criticized for being too optimistic and enthusiastic about what’s happening in Rojava. Are you? Or do they miss something?
I am by temperament an optimist, I seek out situations which bear some promise. I don’t think there’s any guarantee this one will work out in the end, that it won’t be crushed, but it certainly won’t if everyone decides in advance that no revolution is possible and refuse to give active support, or even, devote their efforts to attacking it or increasing its isolation, which many do. If there’s something I’m aware of, that others aren’t, perhaps it’s the fact that history isn’t over. Capitalists have made a mighty effort these past 30 or 40 years to convince people that current economic arrangements – not even capitalism, but the peculiar, financialized, semi-feudal form of capitalism we happen to have today- is the only possible economic system. They’ve put for more effort into that than they have into actually creating a viable global capitalist system. As a result the system is breaking down all around us at just the moment everyone has lost the ability to imagine anything else. Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that in 50 years, capitalism in any form we’d recognise, and probably in any form at all, will be gone. Something else will have replaced it. That something might not be better. It might be even worse. It seems to me for that very reason it’s our responsibility, as intellectuals, or just as thoughtful human beings, to try to at least think about what something better might look like. And if there are people actually trying to create that better thing, it’s our responsibility to help them out.

DEMOCRATIC CONFEDERALISM
http://kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/west-kurdistan/rojava-s-communes-and-councils.html
http://roarmag.org/2015/02/chiapas-rojava-zapatista-kurds/
http://motherboard.vice.com/read/ursula-le-guin-future-of-the-left
http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2014/171/13-privateigentum-im-dienste-aller
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/5a7b18b5-0ec3-3d3e-a307-54820a7c6a59
HAPPIDROME – pt 1
by Adam Curtis  /  22 October 2014

In the battle for Kobane on the Syrian border everyone talks about the enemy – IS – and the frightening ideas that drive them. No-one talks about the Kurdish defenders and what inspires them. But the moment you look into what the Kurds are fighting for – what you discover is absolutely fascinating. They have a vision of creating a completely new kind of society that is based on the ideas of a forgotten American revolutionary thinker. He wanted to create a future world in which there would be no hierarchies, no systems that exercise power and control individuals. And the Kurds in Kobane are trying to build a model of that world.

It means that the battle we are watching night after night is not just between good and evil. It is also a struggle of an optimistic vision of the future against a dark conservative idea drawn from the past. It is a struggle that may also have great relevance to us in the west. Because the revolutionary ideas that have inspired the Kurds also shine a powerful light on the system of power in Britain today. They argue that we in the west are controlled by a new kind of hierarchical power that we don’t fully see or understand.

There are two men at the heart of this story. One is the American revolutionary thinker. He is called Murray Bookchin. Here is a picture of Bookchin looking revolutionary.

The other man is called Abdullah Ocalan. He is the leader of the Kurdish revolutionary group in Turkey – the PKK. Here he is in 1999 after he had been captured by Turkish security forces and was on his way to a jail on a tiny island in the Sea of Marmara where he would be the only prisoner. In his solitude he would start to read the theories of Murray Bookchin and decide they were the template for a future world.

Both men began as hardline marxists. Murray Bookchin was born in New York in 1921. In the 1930s he joined the American Communist Party. But after the second world war he began to question the whole theory that underpinned revolutionary marxism. What changed everything for him was the experience of working in a factory. Bookchin had gone to work for General Motors – and he realized as he watched his fellow workers that Marx, Lenin and all the other theorists were wrong about the working class.

The Marxist theory said that once working men and women came together in factories the scales would fall from their eyes – and they would see clearly how they were being oppressed. They would also see how they could bond together to become a powerful force that would overthrow the capitalists. Bookchin saw that the very opposite was happening. This was because the factory was organised as a hierarchy – a system of organisation and control that the workers lived with and experienced every second of the day. As they did so, that hierarchical system became firmly embedded in their minds – and made them more passive and more accepting of their oppression.

But Bookchin didn’t do what most disillusioned American Marxists in the 1950s did – either run away to academia, or become a cynical neo-conservative. Instead he remained an optimist and decided to completely rework revolutionary theory. Here is Bookchin in 1983 talking about how his thinking became transformed – and how his factory experiences led him towards anarchism. It’s part of a fantastic film called Anarchism in America – as well as Bookchin it’s got a great bit with Jello Biafra, and it’s really worth watching in full.

Abdullah Ocalan was born in 1948 in south-eastern Turkey. In the early 70s he went off to Ankara and became a student – and like many students then he became fascinated by revolutionary Marxism. But Ocalan also believed in Kurdish nationalism. His family were Kurds – and like millions of other people in the south east of Turkey they considered themselves part of an invisible nation that stretched across the border into Northern Syria, Iraq and parts of Iran. The Kurds had always had a bad time. They were oppressed by the Ottoman empire. Then – at the end of the first world war they were promised a homeland, but the new Turkish state refused to give them any land. While the British went and created the new state of Iraq and sent aircraft to bomb the Kurds there into submission. Winston Churchill – who was the Secretary of War at the time – said they should be gassed. He said: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” But the British government thought it wasn’t a good idea. The Kurds would have to wait for Saddam Hussein – who was also strongly in favour of using poisoned gas.

In 1978 Ocalan, along with a group of other student revolutionaries formed The Kurdistan Workers’ Party – the PKK. Its aim was to create an independent Kurdistan that would also be a marxist state. Then, in 1980 there was a military coup in Turkey – and Ocalan decided that the PKK party should use violence to achieve its aim. He went off to the Bekaa valley in the Lebanon and set up a training camp to create his army of liberation. Here is some footage of them training – along with Ocalan explaining what they are trying to achieve. It’s slightly ghostly – because over ten years years before, all the Palestinian marxists and the European student radicals had also set up training camps in the middle east. They were now either all dead or defeated – and Ocalan and his followers were like latecomers to a party that was almost over. But that didn’t stop their growing popularity in Kurdish areas in Turkey. I’ve included some film from inside Turkey at that time – where weddings turn into celebrations of PKK attacks.

At the very time that Ocalan was training in the Bekaa – Murray Bookchin was in the US writing a grand theory of how to create a new revolutionary kind of world. The problem – he had decided – were the hierarchies throughout society that controlled people. In many cases they had become so deeply embedded in peoples minds that they were almost invisible – people just accepted them as a natural part of life. To begin with Bookchin turned to anarchism. But he didn’t stop there – he started mixing anarchist theories with all sorts of other radical ideas drawn from libertarian individualism, scientific theories of nature, Trotskyism and experimental psychology. One of the most important influences on him was a writer called Lewis Mumford who in the1960s argued that new and unseen hierarchies were emerging out of human beings relationship to computers. The trouble was that all the anarchists and the marxists and the ecologists didn’t like their theories being mixed up together. Bookchin also had a habit of telling these other revolutionaries off for being limited in their ideas – writing pamphlets with titles like “Listen Marxists!”, and another which accused American anarchists of being “narcissistic lifestyle anarchists” As a result Bookchin’s ideas remained out on the fringes.

1969 Bookchin Pamphlet

Meanwhile Abdullah Ocalan was helping to create horror on a vast scale in Turkey. The war he had started had become a nightmare. By the mid 1990s nearly 40,000 people had been killed – the majority of them Kurdish civilians. The very people the PKK were fighting to liberate. The Turkish security forces had responded with extraordinary brutality. They destroyed over 3000 villages – sometimes bombing and shelling them to destruction. At the same time they paid Kurdish villagers to set up local defence forces called “Village Guards” – to stop the PKK. If they didn’t agree their villages would be destroyed. What resulted was a large part of South-eastern Turkey being transformed into a strange half-life zone. Millions of people lived in a state of constant fear and suspicion. The mood was captured by a film made by the writer Michael Ignatieff. Here are a couple of extracts. It starts with him going to a PKK camp over the border in Northern Iraq where the fighters are still devoted revolutionary marxists. There is a really good section showing the “self-criticism” session for the women PKK fighters being held in a tent. He also takes part in target practice with the fighters. But then Ignatieff goes into the heart of the Turkish-Kurd disputed area – to the town of Dyarbakir – and you get a real sense of the frightening world the war of national liberation had created.

Then – in 1999 – Abdullah Ocalan was captured by the Turkish security forces. He had been forced out of his base in Syria and had become a stateless person on the run. Everywhere he went – Russia, Italy, Greece – forced him on, until he ended up in Nairobi where the Turks kidnapped him when he was en route to the airport. Allegedly they were helped by the CIA. Ocalan was then taken to Turkey where he was put on trial. There were massive protests by Kurds around the world. Here are some of the news reports of what happened. Plus some of the strange footage the Turks released showing Ocalan gagged and bound on the private jet taking him back to Turkey – and then on the boat out to the island prison.

Ocalan was taken to a maximum security prison on the island of Imrali. He was the only prisoner – surrounded, it is said, by a thousand military guards. In his solitary confinement Ocalan began to read. And in 2002 he found a book by Murray Bookchin called The Ecology of Freedom – The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Despite the title, Ocalan was inspired by Bookchin’s arguments – and it changed the way he saw the world. It made him realise – Ocalan said – that all systems of power create ‘submissive persons’, and that the only way to really create a true revolutionary world was to build one without any hierarchies. He turned his back on Marxism and nationalism and proposed instead a completely decentralised system of government – run by local committees.

It was modelled on Bookchin’s ideas – and Ocalan sent out instructions to all militants that they should read The Ecology of Freedom. He even sent a letter to Bookchin asking to meet him – but Bookchin was too ill. Two years later in 2006, when Bookchin died, the PKK saluted him from their mountain hideouts as – “one of the greatest social scientists of the twentieth century.” Then came the Syrian civil war – and the Kurds in the north of Syria used the chaos to create a series of free enclaves – one of which is the city of Kobane. The Kurdish group who did this is allied with the PKK – and it seems that they have set up free self-governing communities in these areas that are inspired by Bookchin’s ideas. It is a fascinating story – but in our cynical age such ideas seem unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky experiments. But I have found a film in the archives that suggests that maybe these kinds of ideas may have more relevance to the modern world than we think. It’s a film made in the mid-1960s called Towards Tomorrow – and it tries to envisage what utopias might emerge in the next century. It asks how society, in an age of the masses and the decline of old forms of authority, will be organised. It describes two possible and contrasting visions of the future. One is put forward by the American thinker who inspired Murray Bookchin – the writer and techno-theorist Lewis Mumford, and is very similar to the very ideas that the Kurds are now experimenting with.

The other is a vision of a world managed by an elite group of technocrats who see people as passive beings who need to be constantly monitored and managed in order to keep them happy. The section of the film that outlines this possible future is very odd – because as you watch it you get an eerie sense of familiarity. That what is being described is the very world in which we all now live. Here – for example is one of the exponents of this future world. He is called Herman Kahn and was one of the first think-tank futurologists. The other man with him is his assistant. Listening to them talking in 1966 and describing what they think might come in the future is quite strange.

The film then goes to another promoter of this utopian future – an experimental psychologist called B.F. Skinner. He outlines a new way of controlling and ordering people. It is no longer possible, he says, to tell people what to do. In an age of individualism and mass democracy people won’t accept that any longer. Instead you reward them for behaving in the ways you want them to. You make them happy, and they feel that they are in control – because by doing something they get the reward. Skinner had started doing this with pigeons – and the film shows how he trained them to peck at a particular button because if they did they got a pellet of food, whereas if they pecked another button they got nothing. For Skinner though, that was just the start – and the film shows how his ideas were also being applied to human beings. Here is that section – along with Skinner explaining his ideas. The film records an experiment in a mental hospital in San Bernadino – California. The patients are given rewards in the form of plastic fake money if they do what the doctors consider the right social behaviour. They can then use that money at meal-times to buy their way onto a “nice” table – with tablecloth and flowers. Those without the rewards have to eat – as one of the nurses puts it, “in less elegant conditions”. What emerges in the hospital is a new, ordered hierarchy created by a system of reward – but one where the patients don’t feel controlled – instead they feel “empowered” because it was through their actions that they received the reward. Skinner makes clear in the film that he sees this as a model for how to run a future kind of society.

Watching these sections of the film does make you think that what is being described is spookily close to the system we live in today. And that maybe we have misunderstood what really has emerged to run society since the 1980s. The accepted version is that the neo-liberal right and the free market triumphed. But maybe the truth is that what we have today is far closer to a system managed by a technocratic elite who have no real interest in politics – but rather in creating a system of rewards that both keeps us passive and happy – and also makes that elite a lot of money.

That in the mid 1980s the new networks of computers which allowed everyone to borrow money came together with lifestyle consumerism to create a system of social management very close to Skinner’s vision. Just like in the mental hospital we are all given fake money in the form of credit – that we can then use to get rewards, which keep us happy and passive. Those same technologies that feed us the fake money can also be used to monitor us in extraordinary detail. And that information is then used used to nudge us gently towards the right rewards and the right behaviours – and in extremis we can be cut off from the rewards.

The only problem with that system is that the pigeons may be getting restless. That not only has the system not worked properly since the financial crash of 2008, but that the growing inequalities it creates are also becoming a bit too obvious. The elite is overdoing it and – passive or not – the masses are starting to notice. Which makes the alternative – the vision put forward by Lewis Mumford in the film, and which inspired Murray Bookchin – and the Kurds, seem more interesting as an alternative. Here is Mumford from the film. He starts by criticising the managed utopia – how it turns people into sleepwalkers. He has a great quote: “You reward them. You make people do exactly what you want with some form of sugar-coated drug or candy which will make them think they are actually enjoying every moment of it. This is the most dangerous of all systems of compulsion. That’s why I regard Skinner’s utopia as another name for Hell. And it would be a worse hell because we wouldn’t realise we were there. We would imagine we were still in Heaven.” Mumford then goes on to describe eloquently the alternative, a system of direct democracy where we would all awake and become genuinely empowered – able to take part properly in deciding our destiny. It is a powerful and optimistic vision of a new kind of progressive politics. But it has one very serious problem. It means we would have to spend a lot of time going to meetings.

STATELESS DEMOCRACY
http://civiroglu.net/the-constitution-of-the-rojava-cantons/
http://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/resources/rojava/charter-of-the-social-contract/
https://peaceinkurdistancampaign.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/ocalan-liberating-life-woman_s-revolution.pdf
http://www.academia.edu/3983109/Democratic_Confederalism_as_a_Kurdish_Spring_the_PKK_and_the_quest_for_radical_democracy
http://newpol.org/content/no-state-solution-institutionalizing-libertarian-socialism-kurdistan
The No State Solution: Institutionalizing Libertarian Socialism in Kurdistan
by Alexander Kolokotronis   /  November 2, 2014

In what many outside of the territory are referring to as the Rojava Revolution, a major shift in political philosophy and political programmatics has taken place in Kurdistan. Yet, this shift is not limited to the region of Rojava, or what many call Syrian or Western Kurdistan – a region where the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has taken an active part in this change. In “Turkish,” or rather Northern Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been the foremost leader. In Eastern Kurdistan (lying within Iranian borders) the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) has taken to the change in ideological orientation as well. It is an expanding movement towards what is internally being described as a “democratic, ecological, gender-liberated society” – a collection of ideas, institutions, and practices that compose the political, economic and social outlook of Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism.

As stated in Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan – a book written by a group from TATORT Kurdistan (a human rights advocacy organization based in Germany; “TATORT” translates to “crime scene”) who ventured from Germany into Kurdistan for their research – the paradigmatic shift to Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism has meant renouncing the establishment of “a socialist nation-state and instead” seeking the creation of “a society where people can live together without instrumentalism, patriarchy, or racism – an ‘ethical and political society’ with a base-democratic, self-managing institutional structure” (TATORT Kurdistan, Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, Porsgrunn, New Compass Press, 2013, 20). In short, “democracy without a state“.

Contrary to what many might believe, the ideological shift did not take place in the last few months or even the last year. Rather, approximately a decade ago it forthrightly appeared when Abdullah Öcalan, long-time leader of the once Marxist-Leninist PKK, issued The Declaration of Democratic Confederalism. In it Öcalan disavowed the nation-state, deeming it an organizational entity that serves as an obstacle to self-determination instead of as an expression of it. Öcalan states, “Within Kurdistan democratic confederalism will establish village, towns and city assemblies and their delegates will be entrusted with the real decision-making.” For Öcalan this means “democratic confederalism of Kurdistan is not a state system, but a democratic system of the people without a state.”

This system of Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism is composed of overlapping networks of workers’ self-managed enterprises, entities of communal self-governance, as well as federations and associations of groups operation according to principles of self-organization. Most, these assemblages function according to direct participatory democracy as well as with close-to-home delegate structures that are accorded through a council system. The year 2005 wasn’t only a period of theoretical or ideological shifts. It also marked the beginning of the construction of councils. In urban settings, this took place on concentric levels of the neighborhood, district and city. In 2008 and 2009 these councils were reorganized so as to include the input and power of various “civil society organizations, women’s and environmental associations, political parties, and occupation groups like those of journalists and lawyers” (TATORT Kurdistan, Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, Porsgrunn, New Compass Press, 2013, 26). Yet, before venturing any further it is important to look discuss the ideological roots of Democratic Confederalism.

Theoretical Roots of Democratic Confederalism
Much has been said about the influence of the American eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin’s influence on Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned since his arrest in 1999. In fact, through his lawyers, Öcalan contacted Bookchin. Unfortunately, Bookchin was too sick to enter into serious dialogue with Öcalan, but, Bookchin did send his wishes that the Kurds would be able to successfully move towards a free society. Yet, Bookchin’s influence on the wider Democratic Confederalist movement can’t be overlooked. Bookchin is unheard of to many outside-–and even inside-–anarchist circles. Yet, the scale of his political involvement and writing was immense. As Janet Biehl denotes in her article “Bookchin, Öcalan, and the Dialectics of Democracy,” upon Bookchin’s death in 2006 the PKK went as far to call Bookchin “one of the greatest social scientists of the 20th century.”

Bookchin upheld what he called Social Ecology. Bookchin’s view, as stated in his book Remaking Society, was that “the basic problems which pit society against nature emerge from within social development itself” (Bookchin, Remaking Society, Black Rose Books, 1998, 32) and that placing society and nature into an oppositional binary was both descriptively erroneous and prescriptively destructive. More elaborately and succinctly put, “the domination of human by human preceded the notion of dominating nature. Indeed, human domination of human gave rise to the very idea of dominating nature.” With Social Ecology Bookchin sought to broaden the scope, nuance, and depth in the ways we look at systems of oppression and the ways in which they are intertwined with and often serve as a production of social hierarchy. Bookchin looked both at the roots of hierarchy and its various mutually supporting manifestations and institutionalizations, as well as at the conditions for its abolition and the founding of institutions based on non-hierarchical relations.

Like many anarchists, Bookchin saw the State as the highest manifestation of hierarchical organization. Why the opposition to the State? In Bookchin’s own words from his book Remaking Society: Minimally, the State is a professional system of social coercion – not merely a system of social administration as it is still naively regarded by the public and by many political theorists. The word ‘professional’ should be emphasized as much as the word ‘coercion.’ Coercion exists in nature, in personal relationships, in stateless, non-hierarchical communities. If coercion alone were used to define a State, we would despairingly have to reduce it to a natural phenomenon –which it surely is not. It is only when coercion is institutionalized into a professional, systematic, and organized form of social control – that is, when people are plucked out of their everyday lives in a community and expected not only to ‘administer’ it but to do so with the backing of a monopoly of violence – that we can speak properly of the State (Bookchin, Remaking Society, Black Rose Books, 1998, 66).


The so-called Turkish model has fascinated reformists from Rabat to Sanaa to Riyadh at a time of popular revolts against repressive autocrats known as the “Arab Spring”.

In terms of identity, such coercion is utilized by the State for the purposes of molding a given manifold of cultures and ethnicities into what Joost Jongerden and Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya refer to in their article “Democratic Confederalism as a Kurdish Spring: The PKK and the Quest for Radical Democracy,” from the book The Kurdish Spring, as the attempt to craft “a single identity population” (Mohammed M.A. Ahmed and Michael Gunter, The Kurdish Spring, Costa Mesa, Mazda Publishers, 2013, 170.). More often than not, such ventures are violent ones. The Turkish State has been no exception to this. Turkey does not allow the Turkish language to be spoken or taught within State-run institutions, including public schools, and raids are frequently carried out on an array of municipalities and civil society organizations. The treatment of Abdullah Demirbas is exemplary of Turkey’s treatment of the entire Kurdish population. He was elected in 2004 as mayor of Sûr, a district in Amed. One of his promises was to conduct affairs in Kurdish, however, according to TATORT Kurdistan “three years later the Council of State removed him for using Kurdish, Assyrian, and English in providing municipal services.” He was reelected in March 2009 by an even wider margin, but in May he was arrested again for supposed ties to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK) as well as for “language crimes.’” For this he was sentenced to two years in prison.

While there are differences between Bookchin and the Kurdish people whom Bookchin has influenced, what has been most strongly imparted from the former to the latter are goals of building “dual power” and implementing a system of governance that is composed of varying forms of stateless, equalitarian, assembly-democracy. With a strategy of building dual power one finds the goal of building, according to Janet Biehl in her aforementioned article, “a counterpower…against the nation state.” This means building a parallel societal structure. Or rather, building a set of and network of alternative and counter institutions that are decidedly different from, and run in contradiction and opposition to, the dominant system. In this case, the nation-state and capitalism. This notion is not original to Bookchin, as one can find its explicit articulation in Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, and even earlier in the writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Öcalan himself embraces this outlook of building dual power with his exhortation that “‘regional associations of municipal administration’ are needed, so these local organizations and institutions would form a network” and as such a “non-statist political administration.”

Building a Solidarity Network
As a Democratic Society Congress (DTK) member denotes it is “not just about autonomy – it’s about democratic autonomy.” As such, this has meant organizing institutions outside of the State that are based and operation according to self-organization and self-management. The knitting together of a solidarity network is, in part, a macro-political production of a relationship between such institutions. These institutions are being built in numerous, and concentric, local levels. In their article “Jongerden and Akkaya quote a chair of a neighborhood council in one of the poorer areas of the city of Amed asserting, “Our aim is to face the problems in our lives, in our neighborhood, and solve them by ourselves without being dependent on or in need of the state” (Mohammed M.A. Ahmed and Michael Gunter, The Kurdish Spring, Costa Mesa, Mazda Publishers, 2013, 183-184.). This best expresses the meaning of Kurdish communities seeking to establish Democratic Autonomy. As such, Jongerden and Akkaya define Democratic Autonomy as the “practices in which people produce and reproduce the necessary and desire conditions for living through direct engagement and collaboration with one another” (Mohammed M.A. Ahmed and Michael Gunter, The Kurdish Spring, Costa Mesa, Mazda Publishers, 2013, 171). Yet, it is the combination of Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism that constitutes “for or going beyond those of the nation state” (Mohammed M.A. Ahmed and Michael Gunter, The Kurdish Spring, Costa Mesa, Mazda Publishers, 2013,  178.). This manifests “as a network model of localized small-scale self-organization and self-administration.” With the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) such a network is given institutional shape and form. In 2005 the DTK was founded, with the intention of bringing together a diversity of groups.

The DTK contains a gender quota: the continuation of its operations contingent on meeting the requirement of at least 40% of attendees and positions being filled by women. The organizational structure of the DTK largely consists of the General Assembly, which meets at least twice per year, and the Standing Committee. The General Assembly holds at least 1,000 delegates, 60% of which come from the grassroots level, and 40% of which are elected officials such as representatives or mayors. The General Assembly elects a Standing Committee of 101 people. There is also a Coordinating Council, which consists of 15 people, and works in the areas of ideology, social affairs and politics. On all levels though, committees are frequently organized based on these three areas. The DTK itself holds numerous committees and commissions, which range from areas of ecology, women, youth, economy, diplomacy, culture and a whole of others. The building of such a model is closely aligned to Bookchin’s conception of confederalism which he defines as “a network of administrative councils whose members are elected from popular face-to-face democratic alliances, in the various villages, towns and even neighborhoods of large cities” (Mohammed M.A. Ahmed and Michael Gunter, The Kurdish Spring, Costa Mesa, Mazda Publishers, 2013,177.). Such administrative councils do not make policy, but rather are “strictly mandated, recallable, and responsible to the assemblies that choose them for the purpose of coordinating and administering the policies formulated by the assemblies themselves.” Administrative councils are just that: they administrate and do not constitute a system of representation which accords high levels of decision-making and policy-making power to representatives. Thus, as Jongerden and Akkaya remark, “Democratic Confederalism can be characterized as a bottom-up system of self-government” (Mohammed M.A. Ahmed and Michael Gunter, The Kurdish Spring, Costa Mesa, Mazda Publishers, 2013,172.).

Vigil at Rojava border

The City of Amed – North Kurdistan
Amed, one of the largest cities in region and by official estimates containing over 1.5 million residents, is part of the DTK. Similar to other cities in Kurdistan, Amed is composed of councils and assemblies on all levels. This includes street councils, neighborhood councils, 13 district councils, and a city council. The city council is comprised of 500 people, containing the mayor, elected officials, delegates from women’s and youth organizations, NGOs political parties, and others. The city council is organized along five different areas: social, political, ideological, economic and ecological. Within these five areas committees are formed, which all hold the aforementioned 40% gender quota as well. The political area holds a Coordinating Committee, which includes women’s councils (there are strictly women’s councils, which are self-organized, and mixed gender councils) youth councils, political parties, and others. The economic area concentrates on forming cooperatives. The social area concentrates on things such as education and health. For juridical matters, committees handle conflicts and disputes. Their goal is to engage in conflict resolution so that the disputing parties can come to a consensus. This applies to issues ranging across a whole range of potential conflicts. In other areas of North Kurdistan, such as Gewer, legal committees do not purely hold lawyers, but also contain feminist and political activists.

The Town of Heseke – Western Kurdistan
Heseke in Rojava holds a similar institutional layout to Amed. Like Amed and the DTK carries a 40% gender quota. It contains a city council, however, it is comprised of 101 people, as well as five representatives each from five other organizations including the PYD, and the Revolutionary Youth. There is also a coordinating council, which is made up of 21 people. Heseke holds 16 district councils. District councils hold anywhere from 15-30 people, which meet every two months. Anywhere from 10-30 communes comprise a given district, with 20 communes approximating to 1,000 people. This means that there is often 1 delegate for every 100 people in a district, which is far more direct than many other institutional structures across the world. It should be kept in mind though that what is most frequent is the convening of peoples’ assemblies, a phenomenon that also spans across Kurdistan and serves as the base for Democratic Autonomy; many areas in Kurdistan have weekly peoples’ assemblies. In Heseke “communes have commissions that address all social questions, everything from the organization of defense to justice to infrastructure to youth to the economy and the construction of individual cooperatives.” The commissions for ecology concern things such as sanitation and specific ecological problems. There are also “committees for women’s economy to help women develop economic independence” (TATORT Kurdistan, Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, Porsgrunn, New Compass Press, 2013.) This structure also sends delegates to the general council of Rojava. Similar to many other areas in Kurdistan, resolutions and decisions are preferred to be made by consensus instead of simple majoritarian vote.

Embrace of Heterogeneity
In the Charter of Social Contract, a constitution formed by cantons in Rojava, begins its document with an embrace of pluralism: We the people’s of the democratic self-determination areas; Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians (Assyrian Chaldeans, Arameans), Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens, by our free will, announce this to ensure justice, freedom, democracy, and the rights of women and children in accordance with the principles of ecological balance, freedom of religions and beliefs and equality without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, doctrine or gender, to achieve the political and moral fabric of a democratic society in order to function with mutual understanding and coexistence with diversity and respect for the principle of self-determination and self-defense of the peoples. This alone in the preface to the Charter contradicts the often oversimplified depictions of theMiddle East by Western media. According to the translation of Zaher Baher of the Kurdistan Anarchist Forum (KAF) from his eyewitness account titled “The Experiment of west Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) has Proved that People Can Make Changes” (Zaher Baher, “The experiment of West Kurdistan…, Libcom, August 26, 2014, www.libcom.org/news/experiment-west-kurdistan-syrian-kurdistan-has-proved-people-can-make-changes-zaher-baher-2), The Charter goes onto state in its first page that “the areas of self-management democracy do not accept the concepts of state nationalism, military or religion or of centralized management and central rule but are open to forms compatible with the tradition of democracy and pluralism, to be open to all social groups and cultural identities and Athenian democracy and national expression through their organization.” Yet, if one is to truly talk about an embrace of heterogeneity, this must involve the nonhuman just as much as it involves the human. This means going beyond the multilingualism and cultural diversity that many in Northern and Western Kurdistan have embraced – even institutionally – to looking at the ways in which the question of ecology is being tackled.

Ecology
For Aysel Dogan, an ecology activist and president of the Alevi Academy for Belief and Culture in Dersim, “the best way to create and ecological system is to build cooperatives” (TATORT Kurdistan, Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, Porsgrunn, New Compass Press, 2013, 165.). Other eco-minded activities include the development of seed banks, protesting the simple notion of nuclear power plan development, and the disallowing the entrance of mining companies. All of these are seen as a means to foster an ecologically geared social consciousness. Much of this also includes education, and as such is ecological schooling is part of the explosion of academies and other learning institutions that inhabit the region. The increase in academy and cooperative development has interlocked with other emancipatory efforts as well.

“She says now that ISIS has “money from America and weapons of America,” they want to murder”

Education
A number of academies have opened across Kurdistan. This includes the founding of the Mesopotamian Social Sciences Academy in late August in Qamislo in the Cizîrê canton of Rojava, which operates according to “an alternative education model.” According to Rojava Report, in Cizîrê alone 670 schools with 3,000 teachers are offering Kurdish language courses to 49,000 students (Rojava Report, August 31, 2014, http://rojavareport.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/first-new-university-to-open-in-rojava/). Language, cultural and historical academies oriented towards preserving and building identity aren’t limited to Rojava. They have taken off in North Kurdistan as well. As of July 2012 there are “thirteen of them, with various foci, including nine general academies, two women’s academies and two religious academies, one for Alevis and one for Islamic beliefs.” TATORT Kurdistan reports Kurdish youth public school students staging week-long strikes in response to the constraints placed on their language within those spaces and other assimilation policies.

Commenting on a number of schools run outside of the auspices of the Turkish State a representative of the Amed General Political Academy states, “These schools want to work out the essence of Islam and connect to the oppositional Islamic movements, which reject rulers and an Islamic state but nonetheless are connected to Islam.” (TATORT Kurdistan, Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, Porsgrunn, New Compass Press, 2013.) As indicated by the Amed General Political Academy, much of the politicized Kurdish population carries an anti-capitalist, anti-State outlook, including and especially at the grassroots level. TATORT Kurdistan reports in the academy’s three-month course, “All participants reflect on what they have learned and formulate a critique of state and ruling class.” These political academies also teach things outside of class analysis, such as histories of women and the development of patriarchy, of which a critique of the latter is raised as well. Also, in Amed lies a center that offers courses to women ranging from technical and practical skills, to those teaching the Kurdish language and literacy, as well courses in law and women’s rights. Other centers offer health and sexuality courses. There are also seminars offered on Democratic Autonomy.

Empowerment of Women
In multiple ways women are empowering themselves in Kurdistan, and as a result serving as the main thrust of the movement. In a few ways this has already been indicated, such as through the gender quota that is institutionalized on nearly all levels of society, and through learning sites and academies. Another great example of the latter is the Amed Women’s Academy. TATORT Kurdistan quotes leaders of this academy, “the liberation of women, and of gender, is as significant as the liberation of men in society.” They work on projects, such as transcription of oral histories and engaging in “female writing of history.” They offer courses through a participatory discussion-based model. Many from these academies and the Free Democratic Women’s Movement (DOKH) also engage women by simply striving to empower many to step outside of their home. Some women within this movement take on a particularly radical perspective towards the State consigning to having a role in producing a hierarchical logic within the family unit.

Along with women’s councils, academies and centers, there are women’s cooperatives wherein the goal is to “help women create their own relations of production, where they can work and participate,” as TATORT Kurdistan quotes those involved in women’s cooperative development. Through women’s cooperative development the altering of gender relations takes place on a number of levels: women’s relation to the workplace (previously have very little of such, if at all), in relation to their husbands and male relatives (breaking culturally embedded taboos and gender roles), and in relation to the whole of society (inserting evermore in and through the program of Democratic Autonomy). Through these cooperatives many women have become economically independent, have engaged in individual capacity development as well, and through both are breaking female internalizations of patriarchy. As Baher of the KAF specifically reports for the latter region, throughout Northern and Western Kurdistan there is “a system called Joint Leaders and Organizers” meaning “the head of any office, administration, or military section must include women.” Such organizational layouts are manifest in a number of the councils and committees mentioned throughout this article. In addition, to this the women have their own armed forces. “Thus, within People’s Protection Units (YPG), there has been the formation of Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). The YPJ, a 7,000 strong military group have been on the frontlines against ISIS. As might be expected, the emergence of the YPJ has significantly punctured many conceptions of preordained gender roles, particularly ones that have filtered into notions and systems of male domination.

The embargo against Rojava – Delegation report of TATORT Kurdistan, from Rojava, 20/05/2014

Empowerment of Youth, and Workers’ Self-Management
With Democratic Autonomy, youth councils, both under-18 and over-18, have emerged. Like the other councils, the youth councils have say and power in the carrying out of initiatives and projects, e.g., in the building and modifying of recreational sites and spaces. Besides this though, some of the most radical perspectives have, with clear articulation and vision, come from the Kurdish youth. To TATORT Kurdistan one Kurdish youth, between 16 to 26, remarked, “We don’t consider ourselves nationalists. We’re socialist internationalists.” There was also the statement by the same Kurdish youth that: “At the moment we’re moving into a new phase of the revolution through the construction of communes, collectives and cooperatives. Popular self-organization of the economy has the goal of laying the groundwork for comprehensive change in prevailing social relations… the movement is building village, youth and women’s cooperatives… The different levels of self-management let us enter into the process of organizing more easily.” There are varying results with the federating of cooperatives and communes. According to a member of a women’s cooperative in Baglar, anarchists in twenty-two communes in Gewer have gone as far as to abolish money as a means of exchange.

The Fight Against ISIS
The largely lackluster support given by the United States government to the Kurdish line of defense against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) should come as no surprise, especially when considering the close ties between the United States and Turkey.

Given Turkey’s extensive history of repressing the over 20 million Kurds that reside within its borders, and given that presently the Kurds are on the frontlines fighting against ISIS, the deficient response by Turkey to ISIS should not be a shock. From 2009 to July 2012 over 8,000 people were arrested “for alleged membership in the Union of Kurdistan Societies, KCK, under the Anti-Terror Law” (TATORT Kurdistan, Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, Porsgrunn, New Compass Press, 2013.) More recent reports, as noted by TATORT Kurdistan, have asserted that as many as 10,000 people have been arrested in anti-KCK operations. The incarceration of Kurds is at such scales that one finds examples of thirty-five people thrust together in a single cell , with people being forced to sleep atop one another. The overcrowding of prisons has come to the point that Turkish built F-type cells, originally intended for solitary confinement, often hold four people at a given time.

Turkey’s policy to expand its hydropower base through the building of dams has doubly served as a means to destroy Kurdish culture. As Aysel Dogan, the head of the Alevi Academy for Belief and Culture, states, “Since the holy places are endangered by the dams, the state sent [a] so-called scientist here who’s supposed to provide expert opinion. He says that there are only stones here and no indication that it is a holy place. But these stones are sacred for us.” Yet, many in the mainstream trumpet their shock at Turkey’s and the Obama administration’s hitherto low level response to ISIS. On September 22, the BBC reported that Turkey closed a number of border crossings upon of tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees. This is consistent with Turkey’s existing relationship with the Kurds, and so is the U.S. government’s caution in carrying out a policy of bolstering Kurdish defense. Only of late has the U.S. government supplied arms to Kurdish forces in Kobane. Recent reports from Workers Solidarity Movement even show the Kurds gaining on ISIS. Yet, one wonders how far the U.S. government is willing to go in supporting Kurdish forces that carry strong anti-state, anti-capitalist tendencies.


“189 village freed” – “Güçlerimiz şu ana kadar 189 köyü özgürleştirdi. İlerleyişimiz devam ediyor.”

Simultaneous to all of this, Turkey allowed the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga passage to Kobane in Rojava to take part in the fight against ISIS. At first this may appear to be a strong policy reversal on the part of Turkey, but amongst the four regions of Kurdistan it has by-far held the best relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, or what is otherwise known as South Kurdistan. The KRG, led by Massoud Barzani, has historically been in violent tension with the PKK, with Turkey naturally welcoming episodes of violence between the two camps. The KRG has also indicated a level of distrust and disavowal of the activities in Rojava, particularly with the PYD, which holds a cordial relationship with the PKK.

Why Kobanî Did Not Fall – by Dilar Dirik

Conclusions
To any libertarian socialist the developments in Kurdistan over the last decade are strongly encouraging. Many of the Kurdish people assert that Democratic Confederalism can be positioned as a body with transnational capacity potential. Many within Kurdistan, including Öcalan himself, find Democratic Confederalism to be a means to bringing peace and emancipation in the Middle East. Proponents of Democratic Confederalism, as indicated by their apparent openness to cultural diversity, do not simply consider this a solution for the Kurdish population, but for the multiplicity of the groups and ethnicities that constitute the wider region. Öcalan has gone as far as to assert that dual power must be built on a global scale, and that with such, a transnational body competing with the United Nations must be formed.

Not only does Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism constitute an ideological and institutional push away from the State and capitalism, but it is a system that is keen on increasingly moving away from representative political structures to those of autonomous and performative practices. Yet, if the institutions and practices that constitute Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Conferederalism are to deepen inwardly and scale outwardly then a critique of all hierarchical social frameworks must be maintained, and the concretization of an anti-hierarchical and non-hierarchical societal outlook and vision must continue to be applied and actualized.

PREVIOUSLY on #SPECTRE : MATRILINEAL SOCIETIES
http://spectrevision.net/2014/09/12/women-led/

GREAT SEX STRIKES thru HISTORY
http://spectrevision.net/2009/03/20/great-sex-strikes-thru-history/

the ‘LIPSTICK REVOLUTION’ : IRANIAN ELECTION FAKED OUTRIGHT
http://spectrevision.net/2009/06/19/what-tipped-you-off/

SYNCO : FUNCTIONAL NON-HIERARCHY
http://spectrevision.net/2010/03/26/synco/