The Economy of Rojava

A very detailed and well-researched critical analyses of Rojava’s economy, by Maksim Lebsky, originally published in Russian on March 17, 2016.

Rojava, Syria, revolution, economy, Marxism
The Kurdish revolution relied on a powerful grassroots movement that sought not only political, but also socio-economic changes

The majority of analytical materials dedicated to Syrian Kurdistan concern politics or the war. The economic situation of the autonomous enclave Rojava stays in the background. If we take Lenin’s phrase, “Politics is the most concentrated expression of economics”, you could say that the majority of articles about the Kurdish question represent no more than a thin gruel of propaganda clichés and geopolitical obsession on what kind of superpower can make better use of the Kurds to their own advantage.

In our eyes, the Kurdish revolution in Syria is significant in its own right, and it deserves a detailed economic analysis. Only through economic analysis we can receive an answer to the question: what sort of future lies in store for Rojava?

An economic analysis must be based on statistics. However, there is very little of that available in the case of Syrian Kurdistan. Because of this, we will use statistics that were published concerning separate branches of the economy.

Syria, Rojava, war, map
Syria map on February 2, 2016

Rojava is a confederation of three cantons, Afrîn [Efrîn], Kobanî [Kobanê / Ayn al-Arab] and Cizîrê [Jazira], covering a total surface area of 18,300 square kilometres, located in the north of Syria. The cantons exist in the shape of three separate enclaves which are not on contiguous territory. The idea of a federal centre is absent. All cantons are equal and each enjoys a broad autonomy. The largest canton, Cizîrê, carries out coordination in matters of war and foreign policy.

Before the war, the number of Kurds in the north of Syria was estimated to be around 2.5 million. So far around 4 million Syrians have left the country since the start of the civil war and 7.6 million are internally displaced [1]. Many of those have found refuge in Rojava. The population there has grown to around 3.5 to 4 million (Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) Information File, published May 2014: Canton Based Democratic Autonomy of Rojava: A Transformation Process From Dictatorship to Democracy. P.14 ).

The ethnic composition of the population is made-up of Kurds (70%), Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians and Chechens [3].

The Arab spring and the Kurdish uprising in Syria has one source─the people’s dissatisfaction with the socio-economic and national-religious politics of the ruling regime. In spite of the common causes of rebellion, several movements with quite different goals emerged. If, in its overwhelming majority, the anti-Assad opposition slid towards religious fundamentalism, Rojava demonstrates an amazing example of a society based on very different principles. Despite the fact that it grapples with significant difficulties, it openly aspires to secularism, internationalism and social equality.

From the very beginning, the Kurdish revolution relied on a powerful grassroots movement, which strove not only to accomplish political changes, but also socio-economic ones. The leaders of the Arab spring traced all problems in Syria back to the figure of Bashar al-Assad. This was a simplistic conclusion and the central weakness of the bourgeois opposition.

The political system of Rojava consists of a network of councils which are organised from the bottom up. Councils at neighbourhood level send representatives to city councils who in turn send them to district councils, and so on up the chain. The principle underlying these governing structures is as much opposed to the way bourgeois democracies function with their parliamentary talking shops as it is to the way dictatorships give all power to their demi-god leaders at the top of a power pyramid.

It’s important to understand that the councils existed in Rojava before the Syrian revolution. Meetings took place at street level and in different neighbourhoods to address immediate problems. A long time before the civil war enabled Rojava to achieve de-facto autonomy, a slow supplanting of the official authorities was already taking place. People tried to solve their problems on their own, without resorting to the state as the supreme arbiter. While the authorities persecuted the members of the councils, they did not manage to eradicate the new institutes of self-governance themselves.

From the moment autonomy was announced, these pre-existing councils became the basis on which the Kurdish revolution developed. The principle of the political structures is written into the “Charter of the Social Contract”, which is something like the constitution of Rojava. It stipulates: “People are the source of authority and the sovereignty exercised through institutions and elected assemblies, and not to any contradiction of the social contract of the democratic self-management.” [4].

In the economic system of Syria, the northern territories, populated mostly by Kurds, traditionally appeared in the role of the subaltern purveyor of raw materials and agrarian products. The governing regime deliberately took steps to keep the local industry from developing. This policy was also a means by which the ethnic uniformity of the region was broken up. Unable to find work, Kurdish youth were forced to emigrate to other regions of Syria in search of employment [5]. In the big cities like Aleppo, Damascus and Homs, the Kurds provided black labour, often doing the lowliest, dirtiest type of work, because they were officially “stateless” [note: they were not given Syrian passports]. From the ’70s onwards, the Baath party initiated the policy of the so-called “Arab belt”, stimulating the settlement of Arabic tribes in the Kurdish region, and evicting Kurds by force from their land. This lay the basis for the inter-ethnic conflicts that exist now.

At the same time, Rojava provided the Syrian Arab Republic with more than 40% of its entire GDP [6] and 70% of its wheat production [7]. In 2011, Kobane and its surrounding villages alone supplied more than 40% of all wheat to Aleppo, one of Syria’s biggest cities [8]. The central authorities’ power even extended to prescribing what could be cultivated in Rojava and what not. As the Kurds of the Cizîrê canton remark: Assad’s regime deliberately limited the range of crops to wheat, lentils, cotton, clover and chickpeas. From the regime’s perspective, it wasn’t feasible to grow fruit and vegetables in these lands, due to “unfavourable conditions”. Fruit and vegetables were brought to the Kurdish region from the coastal areas of the country [9].

Exact data about the class divisions in Rojava don’t exist, but we can deduce some things from the Syrian national indicators. In 2008, the workforce of Syria was distributed as follows: 17% was engaged in agriculture, 16% in industry, 67% in the services sector. The unemployment rate was 8.3% (2010) [10]. In Syrian Kurdistan, with its agrarian economy, the percentage of industrial workers would have been even lower. The majority of the population were rural labourers living below the poverty line. There was also a thin layer of urban workers, employed in small and medium-sized businesses. According to local residents, many rich people fled at the beginning of the war, but some of them remained in Rojava. Apparently, those who stayed are now the active supporters of the parties in favour of Barzani [the neo-liberal leader of Iraqi Kurdistan].

Kobanê, Kobanî, Rojava, Syria, war, revolution, Kurdistan, democratic confederalism
Coat of Arms of the Kobanî Canton

Kobanî Canton

Along with the cities of Kobanî and Tell Abyad [Girê Spî], there are 450 villages in the Kobanî canton. Around 70% of the entire economy is related to agriculture; the rest with industry and trade. Around 60,000 people (40% of all workers in the canton) are involved in farming. Agriculture in the northeast of Syria is predominantly rain-fed. Farmers don’t use artificial irrigation, they use water from numerous tributaries of rivers.

Before the war, around 200,000 tons of rye were harvested every year in Kobanî. 250,000 hectares of land were used for the cultivation of fruit and vegetables, and around 1.6 million olive and pistachio trees existed. Olive oil was one of the main export goods, with around 72,000 litres produced each year. Today, rye production is at 50%, wheat 35% and vegetables 15% [11].

The civil war in Syria ravaged the economy of Kobanî to a significant level. In a lot of ways, the situation is getting worse because of a deliberate ISIS policy which entails destroying harvests, cattle and trees. A critical problem is the booby-traps left behind in houses by ISIS. Many Kurds are unable to return to their homes, fearing for their lives.

In peace time, cattle-breeding accounted for between 10 and 20% of the canton’s economy. In 2011, the head count amounted to 2,706 cows, 338,000 sheep and 37,275 chickens. After the liberation of Kobanî, livestock decreased by more than 50%. More than 800,000 trees were destroyed in four years.

Most agricultural technical equipment was annihilated in the war. In 2011 the canton disposed of 6,765 agricultural machines, 2,255 of which were harvesters. Today there are only 556 tractors and 350 harvesters left.

For several months, heavy fighting went on in Kobanî. 80 to 90% of the city was destroyed [12]. Around 200,000 people fled to Turkey from across the canton. There are now around 25,000 people in the city of Kobanî, whereas before the war the population was at least 45,000 (official data of the 2004 census) [13].

Enormous amounts of money are needed for the reconstruction of the city, amounts which the administration of Rojava cannot come up with. The canton has had big problems with electricity and drinking water. Only after the YPG took control of the strategically important Tishrin dam has the drinking water situation improved significantly [14]. Rojava has plans for the irrigation of agricultural land, and to distribute drinking water from the Euphrates in residential areas. Construction is also scheduled for a foundry to create metal infrastructure [15].

Afrîn, Afrin, Rojava, Syria, Kurdistan, economy
Coat of arms of the Canton of Afrîn

Afrîn Canton

Afrîn is the westernmost canton of Rojava. There are two cities: Afrîn (population 37,000 in 2004), and Jandairis [Cindarisa] with 14,000. The economic make-up is not very different from that of Kobanî. 70% of all production comes from agriculture or livestock. Wheat, barley, lentils, sunflower, corn, sugar beets, cotton and tobacco are cultivated in Afrîn [16]. Afrîn specialises in the production of olive oil and the canton has around 18 million olive trees. In the most fertile years, the canton can harvest up to 270,000 tons of olives, the usual average being 75,000 tons. The majority of the population finds work in this sector. The canton also specialises in harvesting grapes, but its main export products are oil, cereals and soap [17].

According to Afrîn’s Minister of Economics, Dr Ahmad Yousef, there are 50 soap factories, 20 olive oil factories, 250 olive processing plants, 70 factories making construction materials, 400 textile workshops, 8 shoe factories, 5 factories producing nylon and 15 factories processing marble in the canton. Two mills, two hotels and a dam have recently been built [18]. A new 84,000 square meter industrial park has been opened which is home to at least 800 workplaces [19].

It is worth noting that the economic blockade on Rojava has had a strong impact on the local market prices. The prices of essential goods initially rose, but then they soon fell again [20]. In the Cizîrê canton, for example, cooperatives produce bread at the cost of 100 Syrian lira a piece, but they sell the bread at 60 Lira [21]. This is due to a conscious policy of lowering prices by the Rojava administration, which is committed to fighting against the effects of rampant speculation. They are assuring the poor population have everything they need. Food problems in Rojava got more acute with the incoming stream of refugees. 450,000 people lived in Afrîn before the war [22]. In 2014, however, the size of the local population rose to 1 million. Rojava successfully solved one of its most important tasks, to avoid mass hunger [23]. Yet, the food problems in Afrîn are still very serious.

Cizîrê Canton

The canton Jazira [Cizîrê] is located between the rivers Tigris, locally called Dicle, and the Euphrates. The population size is officially at 1,377,000. The cities Al-Hasakeh [Hesekê] (189,000 inhabitants), Ras-al-Ain [Serê Kaniyê] (30,000), Amude [Amûdê] (27,000) and Al-Qamishli [Qamişlo] (184,000) are located here, the latter being the capital of the autonomous enclave Rojava.

In terms of ethnic composition and political affinities, Cizîrê is the most complicated part of Rojava. Because of the policy of the “Arab belt”, Cizîrê is ethnically very mixed: around 80% of locals are Kurdish, the rest of the population are Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians and Chechens. [24] The biggest cities Al-Qamishli and Al-Hasakeh are divided into different parts that are either held by the Kurds or by Assad’s army. Apparently, the Kurds’ share is the larger one [25]. Both sides prefer to keep the status-quo rather than to enter into conflict with each other.

The principle of political recognition of ethnic groups and confessions, along with according them social rights, lies at the root of the politics of Rojava. Every ethnic group has the right to participate in the bodies of the local self-government. A lot of Arabs who had to abandon their homes in war zones found shelter and work in the Kurdish cantons [26]. In the words of the Dutch academic J. Jongerden: “A major difference between the PYD and the Syrian allies of the KDP is their attitude towards the Arab population in Rojava. The KDP current says: “Those people have been brought here as part of an Arabization policy of the Baath-regime and they need to leave, even if they have been here for generations.” The PYD says that everybody who now lives in Rojava should be involved in building a new society.” [27]

Cizîrê acts as the economic engine of Rojava. It is blessed with very fertile soil, which allowed the region to be the breadbasket of the whole of Syria. The majority of the population is busy growing wheat, cotton, fruit, grapes and apples [28].

However, what really distinguishes Cizîrê from the other cantons is the presence of oil. There are several thousands of oil rigs, mostly around Rimelan [29]. The British-Dutch company Shell began to produce oil in the 1960’s. In 2010, 90,000 barrels were produced daily. There are also 25 gas wells in that area (Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) Information File, published May 2014: Canton Based Democratic Autonomy of Rojava: A Transformation Process From Dictatorship to Democracy. p.5). After the revolution, the oil in Rojava became the shared property of the people’s self-administration structures. Not least because of technical reasons and the economic embargo, Kurds don’t use more than 20% of its gas and oil.

The Syrian government built refineries only in the south of the country. When the Kurds took over, they had to start from scratch [31]. Two new oil-refineries exist now. They primarily make diesel for generators, the only way the cantons have electricity. It is interesting to note that diesel is cheaper than water. A litre of diesel costs 25 cents. That’s as much as half a litre water [32].

Akram Hesso, the Prime Minister of the canton, declared in an interview: “Cizîrê’s oil is a strategic resource of Syria; we believe in the unity of Syria and so we don’t have the right to export oil, to sell it outside Syria by ourselves. We will not export this oil before we have a new and democratic government in Syria. And it will be up to the new Syrian constitution to decide what we can do with this oil, because it is not only for us, the Cizîrê region, but for the wellbeing of all the Syrian people”[33].

The industrial development of the canton is very weak. Assad tried everything to keep its status down to that of an internal colony. Its only purpose was to be exploited for raw materials. In 2008, he forbade the construction of any large building in the canton, citing the remoteness of the region as a pretext [34].

Economic model

The most complicated topic is the conceptual development of Rojava’s economy. The Kurds don’t have an elaborate, detailed economic plan. There is a list of fundamental ideas on which, in their opinion, the economy of the region must develop. The ideological inspiration for the Kurdish revolution came from the political prisoner and revolutionary Abdullah Öcalan. It is with his ideas as a foundation that the Kurds strive to build a new society.

Öcalan writes: In a democratic nation, society must take control of the economics. Between nation states and the democratic nation there should be at least an agreement on economic self-government; any agreement or decision which is below this level means surrender.

The essence of economic autonomy is that it is not based on private capitalism, nor on state capitalism. Economic autonomy is a democratic form of economy. The bases are an ecologically-viable industry and a communal economy. The limits posed to industry, progress, technology, production and property – these are the limits within which an ecological and democratic society will prosper. In the economic autonomy, there is no place for industry, technology, progress, property, and neither for rural or urban populations who oppose themselves to an ecological and democratic society.

While the economy must not be the domain of accumulation of profit and capital, it does not need to deny the market, trade, a variety of products, competition and productivity. Yet, it must not let the accumulation of profits and capital lead in any of these fields. As for the financial system, it must be involved only in as far as it serves economic efficiency. (Öcalan, A. “Democratic life with woman as the basis of equality and freedom is the essence of life itself!”, Association of the women of Kurdistan, 2015, pg. 37-38)

Afrîn’s Minister of Economy Dr Ahmad Yousef characterised Öcalan’s concept as a “third way” in the economy, (the first way being neoliberalism, the second way Soviet socialism). Such a comparison immediately identifies Öcalan with the Social Democrats, who were the real pioneers of the Third Way. From the moment the Soviet Union broke down, big corporations did not need to make concessions to the working class anymore. The social-democrats’ program of forcing big capital to accord small benefits to others became ineffective [36].

The Kurds of Rojava have a fourth way: to build a “people’s economy”. The 42nd article of the Social Contract says: “The economical system in the provinces shall be directed at providing general welfare and in particular granting funding to science and technology. It shall be aimed at guaranteeing the daily needs of people and to ensure a dignified life. Monopoly is prohibited by law. Labour rights and sustainable development are guaranteed.” [37].

Dr Ahmad Yousef defines the core of the new economy with the following words: “Historical facts assure us that the economy becomes a science to meet the needs of communities, it isn’t a science to maximise wealth for specific groups. From this definition we must know that the economy would not be economical if it is not social, in other words, any economy that is not aimed at achieving the social welfare of all members of society cannot be defined as economy, but is a sophisticated mechanism for financial, intellectual and cultural looting. This definition of economics is the theoretical basis for the development of economic and social policies in Rojava.” [38].

He continues: “The market is a main part of social economy, but the use-value must be greater than the exchange-value, and there is no stock market” [39].

Dara Kurdaxi, economist and member of the Committee of Economic Revival and Development in Afrîn, says:

“We need new models for organisations and institutions. Those which are called collective, communal economic models, sometimes referred to as social economies. This is the method we are using as a foundation, so that the economy in Rojava can pick up and develop. The method in Rojava is not so much against private property, but rather has the goal of putting private property in the service of all the peoples who live in Rojava, for them to use. Naturally we’re only at the beginning. But nonetheless, even if only in small ways, we’re seeing some positive developments. We must be clear that we don’t need an economic revival and development which has no clear goal for the community […] It shouldn’t be a capitalist system, one without respect for the environment; nor should it be a system which continues class contradictions and in the end only serves capital. It should be a participatory model, based on natural resources and a strong infrastructure.

The democracy of a society must always be measured against the democratisation of its economy. For this end, the project in Rojava is an outstanding example. Some development can already be witnessed in Rojava. For instance, the oil industry is under the control of the councils and managed by the workers’ committee.

The refineries produce cheap benzine for the cooperatives and the staff of the autonomous government. A great deal of land which was previously nationalised under Assad as part of the anti-Kurdish policies is now managed by free Rojava through agricultural cooperatives. Doctors’ committees are working to form a free health system.

A people’s economy should thus be based on redistribution and oriented towards needs, rather than on being oriented exclusively towards accumulation and the theft of surplus value and surplus product.

The artificial creation of needs which ventures forth to find new markets, and the boundless desire for ever more gigantic profits makes the gap between rich and poor ever wider, and expands the camp of those who are living on poverty line, those who die of hunger. Such an economic policy is no longer acceptable to humanity. The greatest task of a socialist politics lies therefore with the implementation of an alternative economic policy, one based not on profit but on the fairer redistribution of wealth.” [40].

Abdurrahman Hemo, the Economic Development Adviser for the Cizîrê Canton, speaks of a “three-fold” economy in the case of Rojava: 1. Community economy 2. War economy 3. Open economy [41].

The concept of “community economy“ implies a popular economy based on cooperatives and communes. Rojava has given a new revolutionary impulse to the cooperative movement. Today, cooperatives are springing up and developing further in small industry, building and trade, although most cooperatives are in rural areas. This is one of the greatest strengths of the Kurdish revolution─because of the relative ethnic and social unity, the Kurdish cities are in good contact with the countryside and are able to carry their revolutionary message there. According to Afrîn’s Minister of Economy, 60% of the poor population were Syrian Kurds, living compactly in the agricultural north of the country. Wealthy Kurds lived in Aleppo and Damascus, building good relations with the regime [42]. This did not preclude different layers of class existing within Kurdish society, although such class division was minimal.

Cooperatives are either entirely made up of women or are mixed-gender. Membership is voluntary, management is collective. The main goal of cooperatives is to develop collective work. The property of the cooperative is collective. It takes the form of shares. Every participant has between one to five shares. The amount of shares a person has does not have an influence on their power to make decisions within the cooperative. There is one vote per person, it is not negotiable. A person without any financial means can also become a member of a cooperative, by taking a loan from it.

The profit is split into three: one part is spent on the planned production and future projects (30%), the second part (50%) is divided between the workers according to their needs and expended efforts, the third part (20%) is spent on the immediate needs of the cooperatives: health insurance, education, electricity, water, upkeep of roads, etc. [43]

The main objectives of Rojava’s economy consist of two major tasks: 1) providing the population with basic necessities 2) financing the armed forces.

Rojava is, above all, a society at war, and this leaves a big mark on the local economy. 70% of the budget goes towards the war effort. The bulk of weapons and ammunition is paid for by the budget of the Autonomous Administration. The YPG also obtains arms as booty in military campaigns, but this constitutes a smaller percentage. The Kurds don’t have heavy weapons except for some trophy tanks [44]. They are armed with light weapons (АK-47, М-16), heavier machine guns (DshK, KPV), anti-tank grenade launchers (RPG-7) and mortars. They also have a limited number of American Humvees [45]. ISIS constitutes a serious enemy for the YPG. The jihadists have equipped themselves abundantly with looted material from the Syrian and Iraqi armies. They have captured several dozens of T-55 tanks, Soviet-produced BRDM, and American armoured vehicles, M1117 and MRAP [46]. At the time of the siege of Kobane, the jihadists shot at the city with rocket launchers. Despite their superiority in terms of heavy armament, ISIS was defeated by the YPG forces. Thanks to the help of the PKK and the growth of the grassroots movement in Syria, they managed to liberate a territory the size of 18,000 square kilometres, while neutralising more than 5,000 jihadists. The YPG lost 680 people in one year of fighting [47].

The impact of the war on the economy is nothing surprising. The economic situation is extremely difficult now. The stream of refugees arriving is never ending, and this population growth makes things more complicated. On top of that, the embargo deals a heavy blow to trade. Syrian Kurdistan, 70% of whose economy is agrarian, does not have the resources to diversify its economy. In connection with this, the Kurds announced the need to create an open economy which attracts investments from international sources.

Abdulrahman Hemo, the Economic Development Advisor in Cizîrê, speaks about this in an interview:

“We don’t have the means to develop our economy. We are not able to create an environment where everyone is able to work and where professionals can get jobs, because we don’t have the means to create companies.There is revenue from the social economy, but costs are rising due to the war.

To raise the quality of life as a whole, we need some kind of industry, we need electricity. Our oil industry is very primitive–we can just barely produce diesel. We need to build a refinery, but we need $300 million for that. Unfortunately, the community cooperatives can’t pay for it.
We need electricity. To build ourselves a power plant would cost us $400 million, but we don’t have it. Community cooperatives can’t finance it. Yet we still need electricity. So we need help from outside, private or public. We don’t have any factories to produce fertiliser for the farmers. We have all the raw materials to produce fertiliser, but don’t have the factories. We have to buy fertiliser from Iraq now. We need $5 million to build a fertiliser factory. Community cooperatives can’t provide that kind of money.“ [48]

According to the book, A Small Key Can Open a Large Door [49], there are three types of property in the Kurdish economy: 1. Public 2. Private property based on direct use 3. Collective property in the hands of self-organised workers. The right to large private property was abolished in 2012. The social contract stipulates that natural resources, land, infrastructure and some businesses are public wealth [50]. Speaking of nationalisation would be misleading, since the Kurds of Rojava have adopted a clear anti-state position.

Two types of de-facto private property remain: personal property (cars, electronic goods and so on), and property based on direct use. The latter form of private property is especially interesting due to the fact that it is conditional. One person or a group of people can use a tract of land or structure, yet they cannot sell it on the market.

Dutch social researcher J. Jongerden remarks: “In Rojava, the distribution of energy and food is organised through the organs of democratic autonomy. In the social contract of Rojava, land was declared to be under common ownership — but the land of big landlords has not been expropriated because the movement ‘does not want to use force’. Still, if the social contradictions deepen, what is the alternative? At the moment the movement in Rojava has not really been confronted with this issue yet. Many of the landlords have fled and it is not clear what will happen when the war ends, and whether these landlords will return. I think it was a choice of the movement to remain cautious for the moment” [51].

Аhmed Yousef says that ¾ of property that was once private is now used by rural and urban councils. The rest is used by individuals. Around 1/3 of all industry is used by workers’ collectives, whose activity is coordinated by councils [52].

Despite the fact that the autonomous government denies engaging in any state planning, an “Institute for Economic Development” has been founded to coordinate economic life. Its main office is in Dêrik [Derik / Al-Malikiyah]. Xelîl Kobanê, a member of its executive council, explained that the institute operates in six main areas: trade, service, building, agriculture, industry and fuel. The main task of the establishment is the development of projects for the modernisation of agriculture and industry. The institute has the authority to regulate import and export trade, and it issues trading licences to individuals [53].

The question of money collecting in the enclave is one of the most intricate ones. It’s clear that Rojava is missing a centralised tax system. Beyond that there is contradictory information. For example, Abdulrahman Hemo, the Advisor for Economic Development of Cizîrê, announced that the administration of the canton does not have any income from tax [54]. However, Alexander Rybin, who visited the Cizîrê Canton, cites Elizabeth Gaurie, Vice President of the Executive Council of the canton: “We have taxes. For example, when someone buys a car, they need a licence plate for it, and to receive it, they pay a due amount. There are taxes that have to do with business and so on” [55]. In Afrîn, taxes have been introduced that respond to specific needs of the local administration [56]. The Economic Minister of Afrîn says, “We are looking into the tax system from the Autonomous Basque Region. Taxes are collected and these taxes are distributed to the ministries depending on the need. There is transparency around these questions. The citizens know where the taxes they pay are being spent. However we cannot say that this system is entirely in place yet” [57]. It is worth clarifying that in Spain three different tax collecting instances exist (federal, regional and local). The Basque country has autonomy. This allowed the local government to introduce its own tax system; a certain percentage of their taxes goes to the federal budget [58]. On average the Basque people pay €468 less into the treasury per year than other Spanish people [59].

The leaders of the Rojava administration have expressed themselves as opposed to a bank system and the issuing of their own currency. An important tenet for Rojava is the economically durable development of production. Given the fact that the level of industrial development of the region is very low, the problem of environmental pollution is not urgent [60].


If we summarise our findings, we can say this: Rojava is trying to build an agrarian form of socialism based on cooperatives. As a result of the revolutionary transformations, around 2/3 of the big private property has been “socialised”, put at the service of everyone. A broad system of councils and cooperatives was built, which enables ordinary people to be active participants in economic and political life. The autonomous administration deliberately lowers prices on essential products to make them accessible even to the poorest members of society. The Kurdish revolution improved the situation of women in society enormously, making them active participants in the Kurdish revolution. Janet Biehl may exaggerate only a little bit when she writes: “In this revolution, the women play the role that the proletariat played in the Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the last century” [61]. The Rojava administration introduced free primary and secondary education. Efforts are being made to create a new health insurance. Rojava has become a safe haven for countless refugees, who were welcomed by the Kurds. This is just a short list of the achievements of the Rojava revolution.

The main weaknesses of the Kurdish cantons is the agrarian character of their economy (70%) and the economic embargo.

Lenin once said that in order to make a stick straight, you need to bend it in the other direction. The economic policies of the Kurds came about as a reaction to the ultra-centralised economic model of Assad, under which Damascus dictated every detail of what could be planted and what not. Because of this, the Kurds wanted to build an economy from the bottom-up. This also explains naive misconceptions such as rejecting the sale of oil and central planning. Assad used these things─is that reason enough to refuse them categorically?

In our opinion, Rojava does not have very good future prospects in its current form. Not one single country in the world is interested in investing in Rojava and developing the three cantons. Again, as all throughout history, the Kurds can only rely on themselves.

The agrarian character of Rojava’s economy helps people avoid hunger, but this is only half a victory. Political independence is always built on the foundation of a strong, modern industry. However big the mistakes were that the communists committed in the past, they were right with one thing: without a strong industrial basis, socialism will be crushed.

The only economic chance Rojava has is the full diversification of its economy. One of the sources for this can be oil, which the Kurds so far cannot and do not want to sell. Generosity is a wonderful quality, but it is pointless to show respect to a predator who wants to eat you.

Rojava successfully defends itself as a third side in the conflict. What chances does it have if it comes to withstanding Assad or the jihadists on its own? We have to admit, they are quite small.

The economic embargo of the Kurdish cantons is carried out by Turkey and the Barzani clan of Iraqi Kurdistan acting in collusion. It’s naive to think that any kind of admonition from outsiders could make these two allies open the gates to let economic help through to Rojava. The only way out of this is a regional revolution. The Kurdish self-defence forces are already fighting de-facto against the Turkish army in the south-east of Turkey. The Kurds number several million in Turkey─this is a huge human resource pool for Rojava and Erdogan understands this perfectly. In order to crush the Kurdish autonomy project in Syria, he uses systematic terror to “clean the hinterland”. In Iraqi Kurdistan the masses are not politicised by the PKK, they look to the bourgeois-tribal system of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan instead. The example of Shengal shows that Rojava can receive help from Iraq. The Kurds of Rojava stress that democratic confederalism can be a model for the whole of Syrian society [62]. Self-isolation for Rojava will mean death; the expansion of the social revolution to include the rest of Syria and Turkish Kurdistan means life.

We commit a big mistake if we assume that the state borders of countries like Syria, Iraq and Turkey are inviolable. A century ago the European countries divided the Kurdish people into four states, taking any type of autonomy away from them. What happens now in the Middle East is not an evil accident, but a predictable process, the premises of which has ripened for many decades. Even if Assad destroys the open resistance of the jihadists, forcing them into the underground, this will only be a tactical victory. Nationalist, bourgeois regimes are a thing of the past in the Middle East.

Today, Rojava resembles an injured lion which is chased by a pack of hyenas. The lion has little chances to win, but it will fight to the last breath.