In October 2016 Peter Loo travelled to Rojava* to volunteer as an English teacher and participate in work within civil society – the outcome of over 14 months of organising within the Plan C Rojava solidarity cluster. He is currently working for the SYPG campaign in Qamishlo. As well as directly offering his skills Peter has been able to visit places in Rojava and speak to many people as the future of Rojava, and Syria in general, continues to hang in the air. This interview took place late in December 2016.
Note: This is only a small exert taken from a longer interview. Read the article in full here.
The Economy Question: One of the most important questions for many on the left is what kind of economy is being built?
Northern Syria was historically deliberately underdeveloped by the Syrian regime and treated like an internal colony. Arab settlers were encouraged to move into the region and alongside the exploitation of oil reserves found in the area, the other main sector, agricultural production, was strictly managed. What is now Efrin canton had its many forests replaced with olive plantations whilst in the 1970s the regime spread the rumour that a particularly vicious tomato blight was spreading from Turkey in order to encourage the conversion of agricultural production in Cizire canton completely to wheat. In winter, driving through the endless empty fields which make up the countryside in Cizire canton is quite a bleak experience. Efforts are now underway to diversify agricultural production for both ecological and economic reasons.
So the revolution did not inherit much in the way of large scale means of production. The few large productive sites that exist have been socialised. I think these are a concrete factory, the oil wells, and, since the Manbij campaign, the Tishrin dam. Here in Qamishlo there are about 60 ‘factories’ with a maximum size of 20 employees. Some of these are private initiatives, some run as co-operatives. The commercial and logistical side of life in Rojava is also on the small scale. When the regime was evicted there was little in the way of large scale logistics systems – transport systems, or the integrated logistics systems large supermarket chains possess – which could be socialised. The tiny rail system is out of commission and the regime holds the airport in Qamishlo, which only hosts an infrequent internal route to Damascus.
In a great interview by Janet Biehl, the adviser for economic development in Cizire canton discusses the ‘three economies’ functioning in parallel in Rojava. You can read about it yourself but in short these are the ‘war economy’, the ‘open economy’ (i.e. the private economy) and the ‘social economy’. At the moment the war economy – subsidised bread and oil for example – dominates with the social economy of co-operatives being pointed out as a future hope. Obviously the danger is if/when the embargo is lifted and private investment is allowed in – especially for expensive infrastructure like oil refineries and heavy industry – that the social economy is completely outcompeted.
I wouldn’t want to venture a prediction about the future of the economy here, though the future challenges seem quite clear, but I can say it’s disappointing that some on the left aren’t supporting what is happening here because of the persistence of private property, commodity production and the wage relation. This is a kind of ‘all or nothing’ purism which often comes from such an abstract place, seemingly removed from an acknowledgement of the difficulties of actual social change. No revolution so far has managed to abolish capitalist relations – let alone in the space of a few years, during an international proxy war, whilst also under embargo! Whilst the Apoist critique of capitalist modernity is certainly not a Marxist one, here in Rojava its economic strategy is broadly a progressive one – albeit with question marks over the future – which deserves our solidarity.
To withhold support because capitalism will still function in some form for the foreseeable future seems short-sighted. It’s interesting that we often support non-communist social struggles right up to the point that they attain the ability to significantly change the world, at which point many of us withdraw our support. We need to take a longer term view of social change which recognises it as a contradictory and complicated process. Just because the revolution here isn’t immediately implementing communism doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support it.