Democratic Economy Conference in Wan

By Azize Aslan. Translated from Turkish. Published by the Institute for Social, Political and Economic Studies

The Democratic Economy Conference convened in 8-9 November in Wan, with the slogan ‘Let us communalize our land, water and energy; let us build a democratic and free life’. In the conference, where preparations had been under way for nearly a year, the economy of Kurdistan was analysed with respect to agriculture, trade, finance and services; local governance and the level of social organization were evaluated; and the activity of women in the economy was discussed in 8 workshops.

Considering the colonial history of Kurdistan and the miserable living conditions of the majority of the Kurdish population, the economy appears to be a vital domain of struggle for the Kurdish movement. In this sense, the Democratic Economy Conference should be read as a part of the Kurdish struggle for freedom and the first serious step taken in the sphere of the economy.

The capitalist system entrenches itself deeper everyday in Northern Kurdistan, as it does around the world. The conflict-free period of nearly two years has intensified the expansion of capitalism while making this expansion visible. This is a common feature among geographies where, similar to Kurdistan, struggles for freedom and justice are waged, as the aggression of capitalist expansion increases during process of negotiation and resolution. For instance, the South African blacks who resisted apartheid for years were able to eliminate racial segregation laws, but what remained following the struggle for equality for over 40 years was capitalist system where the black ruling class exploit the poor black classes.[1] The Kurdish movement, following such experiences closely, and reading the similar policies of the system and the state with these experiences in mind, has shown its will for build a new life with the Democratic Economy Conference.

The conference’s conclusion statement expresses the need to build an economy focused on social benefit, the human, nature and female emancipation and to avoid profit-centered, individualist or statist paradigms. [2] This is needed in order to build a new life based on principles of democracy, communalism, ecologism, female emancipation, egalitarianism, and solidarity. This paradigm aims to socialise production, and will be organized in communes, councils, congresses and academies.
The question that was most widely discussed in workshops and in the conference was how to realize this paradigm. How will an economy that is an alternative to capitalism be built in Kurdistan? This question is hard to answer. No one is in possession of the magic bullet, nor is there a concrete alternative model. But of course, we can obtain certain clues from the 40 years of the Kurdish struggle for freedom, the experiences of Rojava [3], and the global history of resistance.
I can say as a participant in both the workshops and the conference that special care was taken to avoid creating a centralized and planned economic plan with predefined actors and trajectories. This is because this paradigm defends the idea that society needs to decide on its economic activities and efforts based on its needs, and the economy will be democratized through this process.

Within the framework of a paradigm where a top-down model is not imposed on society, and in this way state-centric mentalities of every sort is rejected, the topics of what are the needs of society, what will be produced and how much, and how to determine these needs, are among the fundamental topics of discussion. According to the democratic, communal, ecological, female emancipationist, egalitarian and solidaristic paradigm based on self-sufficiency and supported by the Kurdish popular leader Abdullah Ocalan, the councils will come into effect at the point of determining needs. The councils will convene in various scales such as the neighbourhoods, districts, cities and regions and decide on the people’s needs with their local representations and participation. For example, the question of whether the municipal budget for the neighbourhood will be used for roads, parks or gardens will be settled by the residents of the neighbourhood in question. Or, the councils will decide on whether to set up launderettes in place of individual washing machines as a measure for the socialization of domestic labour. In the neighborhoods, villages and towns where life is organized in the form of communes, production and consumption will be carried out by cooperatives, while regional councils will be actively involved in the distribution of needs between communes. All economic units, including the academies which carry out scientific research, training and inventory work regarding economic activities,will be institutionalized under one congress.

A communal economy where collective labour has taken the place of wage-labour, housework is socialized, ecological production that prioritizes the nature takes place, and trade without intermediaries is prevalent cannot be created overnight. However, the realization of this economy can be neither neglected nor postponed. This can be seen in the popular anger of the revolting masses, directed toward the most visible representations of capital, the banks and the shopping malls. A sharpening of class struggles, socioeconomic inequality on the rise, production at the point of diminishing particularly in the agricultural sector, increases in subcontracting and casual work along with unemployment and exploitation, imposes on Kurdistan, as elsewhere in the world, the need for anti-capitalist economic life.

The process of constructing the communal economy will also be the construction of autonomy. To understand this, one has to see that the democratic autonomy project is not solely a legal and political mode of government, and cannot be reduced to a negotiation of partitioned sovereignty with the state. The project of democratic autonomy reconstitutes society at the moral-political level, and it can be brought to fruition where production is carried out not for the market but to satisfy needs, therefore use-value is substituted for wage-value, property is socialized including the means of production, and land and water are seen as the common inheritance of humanity. This autonomous economy is founded on the power inherent in society and it is communal.

Considering the assaults against Rojava, where the construction of a communal economy has begun, it is not hard to see that various points of resistance and conflict will emerge in Northern Kurdistan. The most important field of struggle is within the capitalist class. The position of the recently emerging upper-middle classes in Kurdistan within this new economic order plays a determining role. I think this point should be addressed to elaborate an answer to the charges against the Kurdish movement that they favour the logic of capital and the bourgeoisie, even acting in unity with it.

Before posing the question of the position of upper-middle class Kurdish capital regarding the communal economy that is envisaged for Kurdistan, it is necessary to consider an observation that is relevant to a variety of arguments. The observation regarding the rules governing the movement of capital proposes that it does not have a nation. It would appear that there cannot be an objection to this, since international capital traverses geographies to increase profit margins. However, the fact that nation-states have stepped in to save the global capitalist monopolies in the 2008 crisis shows that this thesis is incorrect. Capital only acts as if it were nation-less when it can safely expand and deepen. On the other hand, the capital that is at the beginning of its accumulation and unable to integrate to global capital, thus in need of the protection of the nation state to operate, has a nation. In fact, it is this ‘national’ character that enables its accumulation.

Considering capital in Kurdistan within this context, it is possible to speak of two nations of capital. First of these is the ‘collaborationist’ capital: it is integral to the national capital in Turkey and international capital flows, functions as the local executive of the dominant national capital, crisscrossing the path from Ankara to Erbil, operates according to the political priorities of Ankara, and has a hostile attitude towards the Kurdish movement. The second is the ‘patriotic’ capital: it does not have to accumulation to integrate itself to national and international capital, is disadvantaged competitively against the first group, understands that the path to Erbil goes through Ankara rather than Diyarbakır, is effected by the past policies of economic genocide (as in the list of Kurdish businessman) and does not deny its Kurdish identity, and has a rhetoric and attitude favorable to the political priorities of the Kurdish movement.

The groups outlined are basically differentiated based on their proximity to Kurdish identity and the Kurdish movement. The first group contends that due to ‘PKK terror’ investors do not find the area safe and do not invest there, which is the reason behind the underdevelopment of ‘eastern and southeastern’ cities. Consequently they argue that the state should clean up the ‘terror’ and encourage investors. In fact, this call seems to have found an answer in the 4. Stimulus Package. The second group, in contrast, calls for an ceasefire and end to the war, and access for the Kurdish movement into democratic channels. Similarly to the other group, this group shares the observation that the area is underdeveloped and emphasizes regional development. They defend the need for the creation of a Kurdish bourgeoisie, and argue that this will eliminate unemployment, a major problem in the area, with the ensuing increase in investment.[4]

A look into the different rhetorics and political jargon shows that where ‘collaborationist’ or ‘patriotic’, these sides speak a class-based language and put forth liberal demands based on the logic of profit maximisation. In other words, neither sides proposes a socialised economy. In terms of their approach to communal economy, there can be no more than a mere nuance of ‘conscientiousness’ between the two groups. Nevertheless, judging from the participants of the Democratic Economy Conference, it can be said that patriotic capitalists stand out, and they have an interest in the conference results and decisions that goes beyond a simple nuance. This situation has nothing to do with the desire of patriotic businesspeople for a communal economy, nor does it have anything to do with the Kurdish movement’s affection for capital or a desire for a native bourgeoisie. In short, these groups of capital in question are in a panic to guarantee their future due to a recognition that the role of the Kurdish movement in Kurdistan will be felt more strongly in the coming years. Therefore, they are willing to carry out production and trade in line with the principles and approaches put forth in the Democratic Economy Conference.

The Kurdish movement finds it legitimate to carry out negotiations with various groups that are economically active in Kurdistance, on a revolutionary grounding, and in a way akin to union activity. This conciliatory approach can be understood as a way to alleviate the conditions of exploitation at a moment where the Kurdish movement is not powerful enough to completely eliminate mechanisms of capitalist exploitation. For this reason, alongside the creation and regulation of multiple economic structures around communes and cooperatives with an anti-capitalist character, the relationship the Kurdish movement establishes with capital is done with a view to also reorganize capitalist businesses from the side of labour, nature, and female emancipation. This is a strategy of increasing the fissures and cracks within capitalism in any way possible in order to expand and unify them, similar to John Holloway’s description in Crack Capitalism. As a matter of fact, young and poor masses, in flesh and blood, throng the streets of Kurdistan and shout out ever more loudly that we cannot continue to wait for the revolution and we must create new things right now. The energy that the Kurdish movement propagates with its will to create a new life will radically reshape production, consumption, and distribution relations in Kurdistan, Turkey and the Middle East. The paradigm that the Kurdish movement offers, of a democratic, communal, ecological, female emancipationist, egalitarian and solidaristic life based on equality, fairness and freedom for not only Kurdistan, but Turkey as a whole, should be discussed more widely and within larger circles.