Ecology of Economics: Why We Cannot Have A Perfectly Sustainable Economy In Today’s World

“I love that smell of the emissions!” Sarah Palin, 2011

When we talk about ecology and the condition of the planet, we must understand that it is all in the confines of the power structure of today. The planet is looked upon as a source of resource and something conquerable by humanity. Those who place too much importance on the life and wellbeing of the planet are considered backward or misguided. Societies that placed sufficient importance on the health of the planet as essential to their own survival have been called aboriginal, and this is really just a way of saying ‘savages.’ As humans in the modern age, we have all been taught that the planet is lower on the scale than we are, that it exists simply to serve us. We mold it to serve us in whatever way that we see fit. It is a hierarchical system that exists where natural environments exist to serve humanity for whatever it may desire for it to become. The very first revolutionary act is to understand and grasp the fact that this is not the case.

Exploitation of the planet, in fact, is just another form of the exploitation that is continuous in our modern society. Classism, sexism, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia are all instruments in this same system. Right now, many crises are being piled up on top of one another. Social crisis, environmental crisis, international crisis, the immigration crisis, terrorism crisis, and what is important to understand is that these all come from the same source. The economic order that the world currently lives by one within which the drive for profits overrides everything else like never before.

The current ecological crisis that the world faces, known as ‘Global Warming’, is directly linked to the way that our global economy functions.

The health of the planet and free-market fundamentalism are two concepts that run in contrast to one another. Both cannot succeed at the same time, one has to win and the other, lose. As of now, it is the market fundamentalism that is winning. State power is now subservient to the power of multinational corporations, and this means that even state laws don’t have the authority to enforce environmental legislation. In 1997, the Ethyl oil corporation filed a lawsuit against the government of Canada because Canadian environmental law violated their right, under NAFTA, to extract oil. Ethyl used a specific chemical, known as MMT, in the production of their gasoline that was proven to have negative effects on humans exposed to it. (NAFTA and Environmental Law. 1997.) The neoliberal economic system has given rise to weak states that simply exist to protect the flows of capital between businesses. One of the major holes in market universalization is that incentive for protection of the environment hardly exists.

“Global warming” and “climate change” have become shorthand terms that are used to describe the ecologic catastrophe now taking place. The problems with such terms are that they don’t grasp the danger and the threat posed by continuing the current track. Terms such as planet destruction or environmental plunder. But the critical question that needs to be asked is when we know so much about the environmental damage being done and what is causing it, why is it carrying on at such a tremendous pace? The answer lies in the economic structure the world has now transitioned into.

Economy rises, Earth falls.

One of the biggest issues that are presented by the current ecological crisis is that these problems are not limited by borders. This is demonstrated when we look at China’s coastal cities and the amount of smog from there that is then blown over the island Hong Kong. The smog is coming from Guangdong Province in China, directly to the north of Hong Kong, the capital of China’s manufacturing. The amount of pollution in Hong Kong’s air that is blowing from China makes up between 60 and 70% deadly chemicals in the air. 2016 saw 1,600 premature deaths in the city linked directly to the air problems. (Where the Wind Blows: How China’s Dirty Air Becomes Hong Kong’s Problem. 2017) This is not just using the worst city as the example, in fact, Hong Kong’s air quality doesn’t even fall into the 15 cities with the worst air quality. (About 80% of all cities have worse air quality than what’s considered healthy — here are the 15 with the worst air pollution. 2016.) 13 of these cities fall in countries that have rapidly developing economies, China, India, and Saudi Arabia.

What the cities with the highest rates of pollution all have in common is that they are centers of either production or transportation hubs for the movement of manufactured goods. Let us first look at the Hebei Province of northern China, which contains 6 of China’s 10 cities with the worst air quality. (Hebei has 6 of 10 most polluted Chinese cities in 2016. 2017.) Baoding, the largest city in Hebei, is right in the middle of the epicenter of the crisis and sees some of the thickest smog around the country. Residents of the city report that they can literally taste the smog and that it has a metallic flavor to it. (Welcome to Baoding, China’s most polluted city. 2015.) Hebei houses the nation’s biggest coal deposits which play a large role in the emissions that are being generated, but also this region houses outdated boiler systems within homes that burn coal and result in increased emissions. To put this in real figures, the World Health Organization (WTO) issues what is called an Air Quality Index (AQI), and they have deemed anything above a 300 to be unfit for human consumption, and yet cities in Hebei regularly surpass a rating of 500. (Air pollution in northern Chinese city surpasses WHO guideline by 100 times. 2016.)

The mining and use of these fossil fuels are not simply resulting in a change to the climate and surrounding environment but is greatly hurting a population. How can a company expect its workers to be productive when they are suffering from the effects of what they are producing and using to heat their homes? What is clear from this is that the modern world’s current addiction to petroleum is having a devastating effect on both the environment but also the population. Yet there has been no viable alternative that has ever been able to compete with these oil giants.

The response of the capitalist world to the growing crisis has been a futile attempt to merge environmental protections into the market system. This is generally known as ‘green capitalism, and it is aimed at giving incentive to private companies reducing their carbon footprint by making it more profitable. The problem with this kind of thinking is that these forces want to achieve change without really changing anything. They want to achieve radical change in the relationship between humans and nature but aren’t willing to make the systematic changes needed for this to happen. While the heart is in the right place on these theories, what is clear is how futile they are. The most prominent of these policies is the carbon credits trading schemes. This is intended to keep levels of emission at a baseline for companies, a government issues an allowance for this baseline number, but if exceeded the baseline is passed additional carbon credits are easily available for purchase. Since the launch of this scheme throughout the EU in 2005, results haven’t produced the type of change that intended. The biggest problem here is that lobbyists keep influencing nations to raise the emission caps to the point where producers haven’t had to make cuts yet, and the permits now are so plentiful that no change in practices will have to implement for quite a long time. (The EU Emissions Trading System: Failing to Deliver. 2007.)  As of 2013, the credits were being auctioned off to bidders who were willing to pay the most, with the money paid being used to invest in renewable energy. (Diversified Climate Action: The Top-Down Failure and the Rise of Emissions Trading. 2013.)

The trend of environmental consciousness has led to the rise of ‘Greenwashing’ and this is when a company attempts to draw in more customers by making claims of how it is environmentally friendly. This comes in the form of a product claiming that a soap bottle is made from recycled plastic, or a xerox machine that brags it’s made from recycled material and yet gives no information about the hazardous chemicals with which it prints. Another way in which we see this is with labels that read ‘chemical free’ or ‘eco-friendly’. In reality, nothing is chemical free. All living forms on the planet contain chemicals. A claim like ‘eco-friendly’ is so vague that it is impossible to be verified. There is no standard certification for such a claim. (The Six Sins of Greenwashing. 2007.)

In the case of Greenwashing, the practice is quite grim. Companies are using the idea of environmental conservation as a marketing ploy while continuing to pollute the earth. Nowhere have I found a bigger case of greenwashing than the oil giant, Chevron. A brief viewing of their website will offer you the option to read their self-declared ‘corporate responsibility’ reports. This will tell you about how they are committed to defending human rights, protecting natural resources, and responsibility removing their waste from oil wells. Then comes the tab about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and Chevron is absolutely dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint. They are so committed that they include almost zero solid numbers about their emission levels. Meanwhile, their plan for cutting future emissions by stopping random spurts from the wells. (Greenhouse Gas Management. 2015.) While Chevron does go about trying to cut emissions in their during the stages of production, and this should be accounted for, they neglect to mention they are producing the product that is the leading cause of emissions in the United States! (Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. 2015.) Chevron can claim that they are acting as part of the solution, but it is absolutely the case they are causing the problem.

In a perfect world, a capitalist market economy would be able to punish those who damaged the environment while rewarding those who advanced sustainable practices. This would then make it far more profitable to be environmentally friendly, but this is a total fantasy. Multinational corporations would only relocate their base of operations. Such a plan would only be feasible on an international level, and states have sacrificed much of their sovereignty en route to ensuring non-stop economic growth.

Neoliberalism: The Bottomless Pit of Consumption

Environmental destruction by no means started with the rise of neoliberalism, but it has increased the level of devastation. We can peg the start of the neoliberal system to between 1970 and 1980, the first rounds of deregulation can be found in the Jimmy Carter Presidency and then increased under Reagan. By the 1990s, the system was going global, and the consumerism that had been present in the western world was spreading to the third world. Within this period, as reported by the Center for Sustainable Systems at Michigan State University, between 1970 and 2010, the emissions of greenhouse gases annual average increased by 83%. (Greenhouse Gases. 2016.) The rise of worldwide consumerism has meant an increase in the use of fossil fuels, and now they account for 65% of emissions.

What is neoliberalism? It’s a government strategy in which market forces and private industry are the drivers of social advancements. State power is wielded to defend market mechanisms, and services once provided by the state are turned over to the private sector. Massive privatization is met with deregulation and a lowering of corporate taxes, and state expenditure is phased out. Nik Heynen lists the following traits as the definition of neoliberalism,

  •   -regressive reforms of state taxation and rollbacks in redistributive spending;
  • – privatization of services formerly provided by and through the state;
  • -reinforcement and extension of private, exclusive, and individuated property rights;
  • – liberalization of state regulations specifically governing trade and investment across international borders, though in uneven and contradictory ways that reflect not only the ideology of free trade, but also the political interests negotiating often highly selective and confusing blends of liberalization and protectionism;
  • – emphasis on state austerity and fiscal retrenchment with an associated defunding or outright cancellation of a wide array of social services, but again, in contradictory ways that are often combined with entrenchment of so-called supply side spending, e.g. development projects, programs to support economic innovation and competitiveness, and of course military investments;
  • -workfare, and other incentive-based schemes aimed at disciplining workers and civil servants (and at least nominally at increasing productivity and efficiency), accompanied by deregulation and reregulation of labor markets;
  • – the restructuring of state regulatory apparatuses in ways that tend to enhance private and corporate authority over economic, environmental, and social action;
  • – offloading and decentralization involving both the rescaling of governance up and down from nation-states, as well as the recruitment of volunteer, civil society-based organizations to undertake many functions formerly provided by states.
  • (False Promises. 2007.)

Neoliberalism is the state model, but when it is present in the international, it creates a system commonly known as globalization. As John Quiggin describes the relationship between these two concepts in the following way, “in a globalized world economy, governments have no alternative but to adopt neoliberal economic policies of privatization, deregulation and reductions in public expenditure.” (Interpreting Globalization. 2005.) What this means is that economic sovereignty that nation states once enjoyed has become a thing of the past, and borders have no effect on the flow capital. States are simply in place to keep business flowing.

Neoliberalism looks to privatize, and thus bring market value, to as much as possible. This has extended to natural resources and basic necessities for sustaining life such as water. The privatization of water is very dangerous policy to enact because it changes the object from providing water to all citizens to providing profits for stockholders. What this means is that people no longer have a basic right to live when even the most basic needs can only be met by paying a price. Privatization is sold to the public as a way to boost quality and lower costs through the competition on the free market, but when dealing with a resource such as water, competition is hard to come by. There aren’t very many massive water sources for sale for others to compete in this market. When it comes to a choice between improving quality or cutting service to raise profits, it is the profits that win out.

With the cutbacks in social spending, investment in infrastructure has to come from private entities, and the more environmentally friendly infrastructure is more expensive than the basic roads and bridges, yet offers no profit incentive for private investors to chose this over the basic infrastructure. On this point, the forces of big capital are right. There is a need to change and improve these green technologies to make them not only better for the earth but to also create a price incentive. Infrastructure such as wind farms may cut down on pollution, however, they are far from the end all final solution for clean energy. Wind farms, collectives of turbines in a small area have also contributed to climate destruction and soil degradation. This is nowhere as prevalent as in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Oaxaca is unique in its location in that the lay of the land allows for the trade winds stream to blow through the region. Right above the Panama Canal, at the very bottom of Mexico sits this isthmus of land known as Oaxaca. This has caused many private energy companies to flock here to get into the subsidized clean energy game. Some of the world’s largest wind farms have been constructed here on what was once used as farm lands. These for profit energy companies have left the local population in the dark, literally. Many of the region’s residents are living without any electricity. The energy that is being produced by these wind farms, in fact, are not even connected to Mexico’s energy grid. (WIND DEVELOPMENT OF OAXACA, MEXICO’S ISTHMUS OF TEHUANTEPEC: ENERGY EFFICIENT OR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFICIENT? 2010.) this is what neoliberalism looks like when it meets environmentalism. It exploits the population and indigenous people who were located in this region for hundreds of years. This may be saving a few emissions from the atmosphere, but it is still existing in this capitalist mode of exploitation for power.

One of the justifications for the winds of Oaxaca was that this projects would bring about increased wealth through more job opportunities for the local population. While this is true, the jobs that were meant were not the high paying engineering jobs but jobs that would serve those professionals in their relocation. Grocery markets, shopping malls, fast food, and chain restaurants would come to the region to serve the well to do engineers coming to help construct the turbines and perform maintenance. (Aeolian Politics. 2015.) While Mexico’s intentions were good, to limit the emissions they were producing, what happened was that the energy companies saw the profit incentive of this region and used the state’s excuse to damage the community.

Within this system, how can a state protect the environment when it has no authority over the corporations who operate within their borders. As pointed out with the example of Ethyl in Canada, corporate rights are of the highest priority now. No longer the safety of the people and the environment in which they live.

State power is now in the business of assisting corporations to succeed and provide the best environment for investment. The constant growth that the world currently thrives upon just isn’t sustainable in the long run. Right now what we have seen in the past decade is many environmental groups begin to join forces with many businesses that claim to be on the side of climate revival. The opposite is also very prevalent, dropping out of society and running off to live in a secluded communal space in some far off part of the country. This is so removed from the mainstream that you are, for all intents and purposes, no longer a factor. It is a sign of submission that social-ecological is not possible. The only true solution is between these two extremes, anti the current order while standing firmly within society.

Reclaiming the Struggle

One of the biggest problems that have hampered the ecological movement is that it has never been able to unify and assert itself into a specific role. It is plagued by internal splintering and this made it unable to produce a single message and action plan. All agree global warming is a massive issue that needs serious addressing and soon, but what the action plan should be, well… that’s another story. The way to unify is to understand that the current crisis is being fueled by the new economic order where the nation states and communities are subservient to the corporations.

Marxism in the 21st Century

In the past years, a new trend of Marxism has emerged under the name of Post-Marxism. The problem with this is that it largely throws out the basic principles, and instead focuses on cultural theory within the current world. It’s a line of thought that accepts that socialism is dead, yet is not ready to give a funeral. It wants to hold on to some aspects while saying the system is dead. For the overall program, it, as an ideology, doesn’t trust the left in power because it could lead to totalitarianism. Further, it accepts market capitalism as a system that will produce more abundance and a better quality of life than a planned economy. (A Marxist critique of post-Marxists. 1997.) Now, this is a defeatist ideology, if there has been one. One text that falls under this category is Jean Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, and it’s a text I rather enjoy. Baudrillard’s assessment is that the Gulf War, in the way that it played out on American television, never took place. The true conflict was much more savage, led by a bombing campaign that devastated the Iraqi population. Infrastructure was specifically targeted, cutting off supplies of clean water, hitting sewage lines, and bombing hospitals. All of this was going on, and yet what was being shown on CNN was US troops helping children, liberating Kuwait, and engaged in traditional combat against Iraqi forces. Thus Baudrillard contends that the Gulf War, as it happened and as it was portrayed, are actually two different events. The Gulf War, as it was shown on television, never happened. (The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. 1995.)

While this piece is very good, what it lacks is what Post-Marxism lacks in general, the understanding of class conflict and exploitation. Without this understanding, it cannot bring into focus what the reasons were behind the conflict and its portrayal. But what is the current influence of Marxism on the current world? If Post-Marxism is the only reminisce of the ideology that had such an effect on the 20th century, it is surely on its way out. Thankfully, that’s exactly the case, but Marxism is in an identity crisis. The experience of the 20th century has left many Marxists afraid of their own shadow, meaning the fear of being in power is greater than the fear of being out of power. On this same track, a conscious disconnection with the past has taken place in an attempt to reinvent itself. But what it has tried to reinvent itself as is, from an economic standpoint at least, much closer to Keynesianism than any Marxist program. State intervention to fuel development and induce a rise in aggregate demand will increase social equality, but this is not Marxism.

As an ideology, it must confront the mistakes of the past, otherwise, it is bound to repeat them in the future. The massive destruction of human life that was caused by Mao and Stalin need to be looked at from both an ideological and statistical standpoint to understand the motive and what was the desired effect. To look at Stalin, briefly, and his policy referred to as the five year plan, which caused the most deaths that occurred during his reign, we see bad economic planning on a massive scale. But beyond that, there is also a neglect for the welfare of those trying to reach the desired amount of production. Human beings are treated simply as resources to complete a job rather than as the Communards struggling to bring the USSR to modern production levels. Stalin’s goal was modernization, going from a mainly agriculture based economy to an industrialized economy by whatever means necessary. Millions of people died, but ultimately, his task was achieved. Was it all worth it? The answer is simply no. Even worse, he was judging the nation’s development in along the development of capitalist lines, and this is thinking that needs to be broken away from.

During the 1930s and 1940s, millions of socialists and communists around the world learned of the Stalinist atrocities, and yet still decided to stay on board with the project, as a whole. Why is this? Because the era they were living in was filled with death and destruction, repression and obstruction. It was simply the times in Europe. As the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who was a young Jew in the German communist party living in Berlin when Hitler came to power, has said, the Stalin atrocities wouldn’t have dissuaded him from being part of the movement, because the goal was creating the ‘glorious tomorrow’.  I think that this is really inspirational and proves that there is so much more to socialism than the USSR and Stalinism, there is the possibility of full on human liberation. It is not right to give up on the ultimate goal because a few maniacs used this as scripture to legalize the killing of millions. They were only misguided revisionists.

The ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which later branched off into the personal variants known as Stalinism and Maoism, which was what became the ideal method of rule by ‘communist’ states of the 20th century, has been discredited and should be left to the ashbin of history. This system, with its top down style of ruling, may have claimed to represent the people, but in practice became a method of repressing the people. Instead of a dictatorship of the proletariat, it became simply a dictatorship throughout the whole of Soviet history. The history of the USSR leaves no legacy for socialists to be proud of today. It not only failed to bring about the equal society Marx had written so much about, but it also failed in producing a system that succeeded in providing basic needs and freedoms to its citizens. This system, and all of its client states, should be left to a book entitled ‘how to fail at socialism 101’ because never was this a movement that represented the people, but just those in power. An elite class was replaced by party members who received the same types of privileges. This was not a progressive movement but simply posed as one to excuse its dictatorships and cult of personality.

Beyond the social failures of the communist nations, the ecological catastrophe that is becoming such a phenomena in the public mind, was greatly contributed to by these countries. The goal of the communist bloc was to catch up to the production levels of the capitalist nations, as fast as possible. They didn’t bother with such limitations as environmental protections, and the results were catastrophic. As reported in the CATO journal, an institution fundamentally attached to the ideas of radically free market capitalism, undoubtedly used to discredit the socialist ideology, “It is evident that the ecological disasters of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are mind-boggling. Philip P. Micklin, a geography professor at Western Michigan University and a leading authority on the Aral Sea said, “I doubt if there has ever been an environmental problem of this magnitude” (Environmental Problems Under Socialism. 1992.) Further, this crisis was seen as a growing public health crisis even in the era of the Soviet Republics, as stated in a 1987 New York Times article, “The developing environmental crisis is causing governments all over Eastern Europe for the first time to consider scaling back local industries, like steel and chemicals, in certain areas in light of their damaging environmental effects and poor economic prospects.” (Industrialized Eastern Bloc Faces Pollution Crisis. 1987.)  Such disasters were perpetrated by trying to compete with the capitalist nations, thus using their methods of development that is in complete contrast to co-existing with the natural state. It was humans versus ecology, rather than humans playing a role in the ecosystem as a whole.

The Brazilian scholar Michael Löwy is an individual who understands the need for a radical rethinking of the relationship between Marxism and the natural environment of the planet. Currently, it is capitalist forces that are doing the most destruction to the planet, and if Marxists really want to offer a radical alternative, then ecology and environmentalism need to be paramount to the movement. As Löwy explains in his book Ecosocialism, “It is true that during the first years after the October Revolution an ecological current was able to develop, and the Soviet authorities took certain limited environmental protection measures. But with the process of Stalinist bureaucratization, productivist methods both in industry and agriculture were imposed by totalitarian means while ecologists were marginalized or eliminated. The catastrophe of Chernobyl was the ultimate example of the disastrous consequences of this imitation of Western productive technologies.” (Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. 2015.) the traditional capitalist means of production that were adopted by the USSR need to be transcended. Löwy, and his work, must be acknowledged as a cornerstone in these new lines of thought because not only does it give a philosophical link between the writings of Marx and ecology, but it also lays out solutions on how to achieve these ends. In opposition to the traditional top down communist state rule where the economy is centrally planned by the national government, this work advocates for a democratically planned economy where people would decide the economic decisions. Lowy doesn’t leave us with a vague, broadly described idea of a society. This work contains a living, breathing, 4-dimensional society, “Socialist planning must be grounded on a democratic and pluralist debate at all the levels where decisions are to be made.” (Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. 2015.) Löwy’s insight cannot be overstated, especially because of how in depth his thinking is on the way the society would be organize and run. “ representative democracy must be completed, and corrected, by direct democracy, where people directly choose—at the local, national, and later global level—between major options. Should public transportation be free? Should the owners of private cars pay special taxes to subsidize public transportation? Should solar energy be subsidized, in order to compete with fossil energy? Should the work week be reduced to thirty or twenty hours, or fewer, even if this means reducing production? The democratic nature of planning is not incompatible with the existence of experts: their role is not to decide but to present their views—often different, if not opposite—to the democratic process of decision making.” (Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe. 2015.)

What are we then to make of the populist left in Europe? It is a mixed bag, and must be looked at on a case to case basis. The major problem they present is the populist nature, they are subject to the whims of popular opinion and looking only to the short term future. Our thinking must be long term for permanent solutions, and that is why such movements should be supported, but with reasonable skepticism. Syriza, Podemos, the Anti-Capitalistas in France, and the Anti-Austerity Alliance in Ireland all have the possibility of becoming revolutionary but are currently too influenced by popular opinion. Instead of being populist, now is the time for idealism. The party must act as a vanguard, and lead the people by showing an idealistic leadership. Populism can often lead to opportunism that manipulate the direction of the movement. A prime example of this could be the German Socialist workers party when Adolf Hitler became the leader. Under this maneuverable ideology of populism, the party was taken to simply represent the fascist views of its leader. It was directed by a single individual while everyone else simply fell in line. If we look at the Five Star Movement in Italy, we see a similar party of an individual where everyone else is lining up behind the leader. This is not to say, by any means, that Beppe Grillo, the five star movement’s leader, is a Hitler-esque figure. He’s not. Only that the party is simply the party of Grillo. Similar to the Republican Party’s top members in the United States, such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, shifting the Trump agenda on many issues. Populism develops into the party of the individual, and movements have to be based on the people as a whole, where one individual isn’t special but one part of the larger movement.  

How does socialism find its place in the current system, and germinate? This is one of the toughest questions we face in this era. The Brazilian Roberto Mangabeira Unger addresses this in his work The Left Alternative. He addresses this phenomenon that center-left has become occupied by elitist billionaires, and has alienated the working class base. Individuals such as George Soros have continuously preached this idea of globalization as kinder capitalism that produces more rights and more luxury consumption. But this system has done immense damage to the security and stability of working people in the first world. Unger talks about the need to reestablish the connection between the political left and the working class base, and bringing their interests together. While it is clear that Unger’s conclusion is wrong, he proposes to return to the system of social democracy and trying to make markets serve the people, what Unger does is address a fundamental flaw of the current mainstream left, a missing alternative. The center-left offers a version of what is offered by the right, but slightly toned down. Creating a new left means that we must be clearly driven and offer a radical alternative with specific ideas.

The time for armed revolutionary struggle has passed, such tactics can only work to discredit a movement. The level of inter connectivity in the world today means that the types of revolutions that have taken place in the past could have negative effects all over the world. The socialist revolution in the 21st century will be brought about through democratic means. These revolutionary gains won’t be made overnight, it is not that the communist party will win somewhere and lead a great transformation from the top. The change will have to be led from the bottom up, only through grassroots organization power forcing democratic leadership to listen to them. The idea of the glorious tomorrow that was so popular in the first half of the 20th century, where power was turned over to the communist party and utopia would follow needs to be dismissed. If there is such a thing a glorious tomorrow, it will not be won by putting all power into the hands of one leader. It will only be possible through mobilization of the people on a massive scale and democratic struggle. If we call it the glorious tomorrow, it is not something that we can all sit back and wait to come about through electing a single leader. It will be a harsh that must be struggled for on every level of national election processes.

Gains through democratic means are the way that the revolution will play out, and supporters will be gained when life is improved. This is how the people will be mobilized, when they see the quality of life of everyone rising and they see everyone being able to obtain a basic income that covers their needs. Such gains will show the people they are needed in politics to reap the rewards.

Philosophically, what should lend guidance to the movement on top of Marx and Engels, the radical democratic anarchists must be studied. Peter Kropotkin, Murray Bookchin, and works that came out of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War are the most important documents that champion this bottom up democracy. Another figure who has often been recklessly overlooked, even in communist and socialist circle, is Gracchus Babeuf. A figure from the French Revolution, after Robespierre but before Napoleon, he organized what was called the Conspiracy of Equals. The manifesto for this group was penned by Babeuf and advocates for radical equality and the collectivization of all private property. His contribution is immense when we understand that he was writing in 1796, Karl Marx wasn’t born until 1818. (Manifesto of the Equals. 1796.) Babeuf and his conspiracy was discovered shortly before his plans were set to go into action. He was sent to his death for trying to overthrow the government. Another event that should be examined is the Paris Commune of 1871. This is another example of a citizen self-managed society where the commons as a whole owned the means of production. It took the national army to destroy the commune, but from March to May 1971, it was completely worker operated. (A Short History of the Paris Commune. 1907.) What these three events all have in common, The Catalonian democracy, the Conspiracy of Equals, and the Paris Commune, they were all born out of unrest and conflict on a national scale. The people involved did not wait for the state to come and offer solutions, they organized themselves in a fully democratic fashion. Instead of looking to political figures on the national platform to make change, let us look at ourselves as political individuals who are essential to making real change.

This passivity is a plague that has been present through all democracies. Leaving the politics to the politicians, and seeing the only duty of a citizen as going to the polls to vote. In a way, this is another expression of the Stalinist idea where a people empower a leader to guide them into the ‘glorious tomorrow’. If we look at the case of Syriza and Greece, we see that victory celebrations were being held before they had even done anything. Then everyone was upset that they made a deal with the EU. The lesson from this experience is that just a leader isn’t enough to evoke real change. When the leader changes, but not the system, we see a symmetry through most policy. The most famous example of this is the experience in the United States between the Presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Real change doesn’t come from a leader at the top, it comes at the local level from individuals organizing democratic institutions. Ignore the top and organize the locals! That is where revolution begins!

Venezuela In Crisis: What Does The Future Hold?

What we are witnessing in Venezuela right now is the slow and agonizing death of Bolivarian socialism. This is a sad fact because it brings an end the great social progress that has been brought in the past 17 years. Nicolas Maduro has, in an attempt to strengthen his own power, begun to use repression on a massive scale. A social revolution cannot be made when there is a dictator trying to hold the grip of power. The time is now right for Maduro to step down and allow the people to move forward.

To understand the roots of this failure, we must return to the 20th of October, 2012. This is the date of Hugo Chavez’s last national speech. This wasn’t a self-praising speech, talking about how great he had run the country.

On the contrary, it was a public grilling of the ministers on why many of the more important social reforms had yet to come into being. What the prime subject was was the state of the communes. The national commune system was intended for the people to take power on the grassroots level. Democratic practices within these communes would determine production and development.

It was the hope that through this sort of development that it would be these democratic communes leading the way for future advancement. Achieving a grassroots democracy, and giving the power directly to the people was Chavez’s goal. Creating a localized, democratic socialism. Democratic planning would thus replace the centralized state, top down planning that has traditionally been the practice of socialist states. (Strike at the Helm. 2012.) In the speech, Chavez is recognizing his failure of providing this to his people and trying to give an explanation as to why.

But Chavez isn’t without blame in this catastrophe. Many of the current issues can be linked to his failures as a leader. In the years that followed him coming to power, the rising price of oil allowed him to increasingly provide large funding towards social programs. From 2004 onwards, the price sees drastic increases. 2004 the price was 36.05 (US Dollars), by the next year it has gone up to 50.59$ and continued to rise until 2008 when it topped out at 94.10$. Then it saw a one year drop, but following this, it kept climbing to new heights. Finally hitting a high point of 109.45$ in 2012. (OPEC Oil Prices. 2017.)

Now, it is not a stable market to base the economy on, and the best thing that Chavez could have done was to use the oil revenue to build more sustainable and profitable industries that would ensure a diversified economy in the future. This wasn’t done, and thus social welfare was only insured for the short term, as long as oil prices stayed high. Many of the problems now being faced in Venezuela could have been minimized or avoided had a different path been taken.

But let’s not overlook the incredible progress that Chavez brought about for the Venezuelan people. At the time that Chavez was elected President in 1999, the poverty rate stood at 50%, and by 2012 it had dropped to just 31.9%. In the same period, extreme poverty dropped from 20% to 8.6%. Enrollment in secondary education jumped from 44.8% of the eligible population, all the way to 73.3% in 2012. Between 1999 and 2012, the number of university graduates jumped from 750,000 to 2.3 million. Child malnutrition during this period dropped during this period from 7.7% to just 2.9%. (Venezuelan Economic and Social Performance Under Hugo Chavez. 2013.)

By the end of Chavez life, 96% of the country’s residents had access to clean water, and UNESCO has attested to the fact that illiteracy had been eliminated. (Achievements of Hugo Chavez. 2012.) As was pointed out by Al Jazeera in June of 2012, “The government also introduced universal healthcare in 1999, increasing the number of doctors twelvefold while constructing several thousand additional health centres. Infant mortality has dropped and life expectancy has increased.” (Are Venezuelans better off under Chavez? 2012.)

Chavez and Maduro with Bolivar looking on.

These great social advancements were made in an international environment hostile to Chavez’s plans. Prior to Chavez election, the neoliberal variety of global capitalism was wreaking havoc on the working classes of Latin America. An embrace of free-markets, privatizations, and severe cuts to social spending left the people without anything to fall back upon.

It was in response to these realities that Hugo Chavez was elected President. He was the champion of those who were hit the hardest by neoliberal reforms and promised to take steps to help them achieve economic security. The anti neoliberal policies he was putting into effect (social insurance, universal healthcare, etc) made him the scourge of the capitalist world. An attempted coup in 2002 intended to rid the country of Chavez was later proven to have involved western planners. (Venezuela Coup Linked to Bush Team. 2002.)

The threat was that the model Venezuela was putting into practice would spread throughout the region, and that the global markets would begin shrinking. Because Chavez was so threatening to the world economic order, he had to demonized as a dictator, a tyrant, a totalitarian, and a madman.

By the time that Chavez passed away, the oil price was dropping and foreign debt was mounting up. This should never be forgotten in thinking about the current state of the nation. However, the governance of Nicolas Maduro has not helped the situation. Currency printing has been one of the remedies that Maduro has employed but with little success. This has been happening since coming to the Presidency, but this year it has been accelerated.

The reason for increased currency is to get more economic activity flowing, but the drawback is that it leads to hyperinflation. Inflation can most easily be described as too much money and not enough goods to spend it on. Money devalues itself and goods rise in price. Between 2016 and 2017, the amount of currency increased by 200% and this is the biggest increase ever recorded. (Venezuela money supply up 200 percent in year, fastest rise on record. 2017.)

As was reported in Foreign Policy Magazine, “Venezuela already is dealing with massive shortages as a result of its controlled prices, because the government can no longer afford its own subsidies. But it will get worse from here. Maduro seems intent on printing money like crazy, so the next step will be hyperinflation. Inflation is already believed to have reached 700 percent a year, and it is heading toward official hyperinflation, that is, an inflation rate of at least 50 percent a month.” (Venezuela Is Heading for a Soviet-Style Collapse. 2017.) All of this has created an increasingly harder existence for the population of Venezuela, who are now finding store shelves empty and an increasingly brutal level of state repression.

Maduro’s response to these deep economic problems has been to grab more power for himself. He has become the dictator that the West once claimed Chavez was. Consolidation of power into his own hands has not helped stabilize the situation. But there is another side of this story, the elites have been engaging in both hoarding goods in factories and stores boycotting necessities to create shortages.

While this is an important angle of the story that seems to be left out of most accounts, (well highlighted in Pasqualina Curcio Curcio’s The Visible Hand of the Market: Economic Warfare in Venezuela) but regardless, the truth is that the country is in a dire economic situation and Maduro’s power grabs are not helping the people. The time has come to realize that he cannot last through this crisis, and the only possibility for the left at this point is handing it over to the masses. The longer that Maduro stays in power, the worst the situation for the Venezuelan left has of even staying legitimate. He is standing in the way of progress and thus must step aside. The sooner, the better.

Novel Politics: Hard Times for These Times Book Review

The novel Hard Times for These Times by Charles Dickens, usually just shortened to just Hard Times, was originally published in 1854. It is a story set around the same time that it was written, the industrial revolution was in full swing and the Victorian age was drawing to an end. The novel describes the quality of life, and inequality, for English social classes during the industrial revolution. It deals with the issues of classism, poverty, social responsibility, privilege, and sexism. What the book does effectively shows the destructive and cruel nature that market capitalism exhibited in this period. This is done through the lives of a select few individuals in a great number of different circumstances. The political and economic circumstances faced by individuals at this period in time are seen throughout the books progress.

   To think of liberalism, as written about by Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, and Frédéric Bastiat, it does seem like a progressive system that benefits all levels of the social structure. An individual is making a profit by creating a good that benefits society as a whole, and this is benefiting both parties involved. As a result of making a profit from this equation, that individual now has enough capital to hire workers and produce more. Workers sell their manual labor for a wage and thus have the ability to earn enough to produce new goods for the benefit of the society. This would then mean that eventually, they would be able to employ their own workers as well, and this cycle then brings benefits to the whole society. In such a description, it does sound like an equal and progressive society, however, it conceals the downside of such progress. For every individual who succeeds in producing a good that sells, there are those who fail and are left penniless. The rights that this form of liberalism promotes, individual rights and economic freedom, leave much of the population destined for a life of poverty and begging. Writing about this period of time in his introduction to the works of Friedrich Engels, Terrell Carver calls it a period of “Child labor, cramped rooms, overwork, consumption, terrible poverty, drunkenness, syphilis, lung disease, coal fumes, and a lack of oxygen” (Engels: A Very Short Introduction. 1981.)  For most of the population, these were all part of everyday life and the upper classes cared very little for improving their circumstances.

       A fictional city called Coketown is where the story is set. An industrial city inhabited by both the very rich and very poor. Cookie cutter apartment blocks house the workers in cramped conditions. The streets are lined with factories, puffing chimneys, and public houses where the workers occupy themselves in their off time. The air remains cloudy with a constant pollutant fog always hanging around. Dickens explains it in the following way: “Coketown lay shrouded in a haze of its own, which appeared impervious to the sun’s rays. You only knew the town was there because you knew there could have been no such sulky blotch upon the prospect without a town. A blur of soot and smoke, now confusedly tending this way, now that way, now aspiring to the vault of Heaven, now murkily creeping along the earth, as the wind rose and fell, or changed its quarter: a dense formless jumble, with sheets of cross light in it, that showed nothing but masses of darkness” (Hard Times. 1954.)

    The novel deals with the problems of class that is brought into being by the capitalist system. Thomas Gradgrind is the owner of a school that teaches the unfortunate children of the workers. He is a ruthless utilitarian who cares only for the hard facts, and nothing to do with emotion. This is the method in which he educates the pupils, training them not for advancement, but to continue on in the same position as their parents. Instead of training them to market their skills for career advancement, the skills being taught are to take orders and do as they are told. “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. In no way” (Hard Times. 1854.) are they trained to move up an internal ladder, but are trained merely to serve the masters already in place. This educational system reinforces the social structure of exploitation for large profits, as it simply creates an army of thoughtless workers. As explained in the book by Sissy Jupe, a student of the school, in this recollection, “He said, ‘this schoolroom is an immense town, and in it there are a million of inhabitants, and only five and twenty are starved to death in the streets in the course of a year. What is your remark on that proportion?’ and my remark was- for I couldn’t think of a better one- that I thought it must be just as hard upon those who were starving, whether the others were a million or a million million. And that was wrong too.” (Hard Times. 1854.) emotions do not enter into this form of education. It also stresses individual gain and continuous desire to achieve this as a means of making the subject ignore the poverty of others. As Elmo Raj points out in his essay, “Gradgrind’s school stresses regulation and control; it is interested in manufacturing the obedient and compliant workers the industrialists needed, and thus brings to light a crucial problem with utilitarianism. The factory owners approved the educator’s objective to produce children for the jobs in Coketown through which they can attain happiness in their lives.” (Hard Times as a Dickensian Dystopia. 2012.)

       The industrialist Josiah Bounderby is the novel’s antagonist, and probably the richest citizen of Coketown. He owns both factories and a bank, and loves to tell the stories of his life to anyone who will listen. Because of the fact that is he is a ‘self-made man’ Bounderby sees himself as a self-righteous moral superior of anyone he comes into contact with. He regularly dictates judgment upon the way that others live their lives, yet never holds himself to the same standard. What he represents is the positivist superiority capitalist forces possess in society over the common interests. Might makes right, and the money writes the rules. His moral superiority contradiction is clearly demonstrated throughout the book, firstly when one of his lowly laborers come to him for some personal advice. Stephen Blackpool is an uneducated hard-worker who slaves all day in the factory owned by Mr. Bounderby. He has a problem when his wife, whom he had not seen in many years, shows up out of nowhere. Theirs is a loveless marriage and his wife had taken to drink while selling her body to stay intoxicated. In the meantime, Stephen had met a co-worker in the factory named Rachel and they had developed a bond. What Stephen wanted to do was end his first marriage so he would be able to marry Rachel, and for advice, he goes to Mr. Bounderby. He explains his situation, and his boss tells him that a divorce would cost him more than his salary for a whole year and that he took the vows, so he must live with them. This is later contradicted by the fact that at the end of the novel, it is Josiah Bounderby gets a divorce from his wife.

The second example of his contradictory self-righteousness is found in his constant references to his hard upbringing that made him the man he had become. Bounderby proclaims “I hadn’t a shoe to my foot. As to a stocking, i didn’t know such a thing by name! I passed the day in a ditch, and the night in a pigsty. That’s the way I spent my tenth birthday. Not that a ditch was new to me, for I was born in a ditch!” (Hard Times. 1854.) He used this upbringing to excuse his harsh treatment of the poor with an ‘i made it, and so can they!’ attitude. He also used this tough youth he experienced to claim that he knew the poor, he knew how they thought, and knew what drove them. In the company of all, this story of his youth was accepted as fact. But at the end of the novel, Bounderby’s own mother shows up to set the record straight. Dickens writes:

‘Do you deny, then, madam, that you left your son to-to be brought up in the gutter?’

‘Josiah in the gutter!’ exclaimed Mrs. Pegler. ‘No such a thing, sir. Never! For shame on you! My dear boy knows, and will give -you- to know, that though he come of humble parents, he come of parents that loved him as dear as the best could, and never thought it hardship on themselves to pinch a bit that he might write and cipher beautiful, and I’ve his books at home to show it! Aye, have I!’ said Mrs. Pegler, with indignant pride. ‘And my dear boy knows, and will give -you- to know, sir, that after his beloved father died, when he was eight years old, his mother, too, could pinch a bit, as it was her duty and her pleasure and her pride to do it, to help him out in life, and put him ’prentice. And a steady lad he was, and a kind master he had to lend him a hand, and well he worked his own way forward to be rich and thriving. (Hard Times. 1854.)

So it turns out that Bounderby didn’t come from as humble roots as he had always claimed. But does this change anything? The answer is no. This is because Bounderby is the one who holds the authority, and in such a society authority means deciding what is the truth. Might makes right, and Bounderby is the mightiest. The social hierarchy bows to Bounderby.

The issue of sexism is exhibited throughout the novel. Women are presented as second-class citizens and property of the men they are associated with. To look at specific cases, Thomas Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa is treated like a perk in a business deal. When Bounderby decides that he would like to marry Louisa, he meets with her father and discusses her future in almost business terms. Ultimately, the choice does fall to Louisa but this is only after her future had been laid out by these two men. Following her wedding, she becomes almost a pet to her husband who criticizes her for not treating him properly as a man of his standing. Her life becomes miserable, married to a man that she doesn’t love, and only finding joy in her brother, who doesn’t appreciate her. Now obviously, this is an example of the times, but women live their lives specifically to care for the men inhabiting their household. This era was a time when women were gaining more freedom, and yet they were still prevented from taking legal action or owning property. The industrial revolution gave women more job opportunities to earn a wage, and it is from this that the lower classes were able to benefit earliest. While the elite class women were forced to be the ladies of the house, out of necessity working class women had begin earning a wage. However, the benefits of the working class were limited to this.

Class bias or class prejudice seen throughout the novel, most prevalently when Bounderby’s bank is robbed. It is clear as soon as it happens that it is wealthy but troubled Thomas Gradgrind Jr., who had amassed large gambling debts. Yet, the one who is accused and assumed guilty is the recently fired laborer Stephen Blackpool. It was assumed that it had to be someone from the lower classes because they would be the only ones capable of such an unthinkable act. It was as if the lower classes have a moral defect, and therefore they know not what they do. Like they are living with an animal impulse that cannot be tamed. The laborers who are literally building the immense capital the owners are acquiring are treated as simple servants for the ruling class. Blackpool describes the class differentiation and elite superiority in the following way “Look how we live, an’ wheer we live, an’ in what numbers, an’ by what chances, an’ wi’ what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a-goin’, and how they never works us no nigher to onny distant object-‘ceptin awlus Death. Look how you considers of us, and writes of us, and talks of us, and goes up wi’ your deputations to Secretaries o’ State ‘bout us, and how yo are awlus right, and how we are awlus wrong, and never had’n no reason in us sin ever we were born. Look how this ha’ growen an’ growen sir, bigger an’ bigger, broader an’ broader, harder an’ harder, fro year to year, fro generation unto generation. Who can look on’t sir, and fairly tell a man ‘tis not a muddle?” (Hard Times. 1854.)

What the novel Hard Times does is illustrate the fundamental inequality and privilege system that was brought about in this initial stage of capitalism. As Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, but could be inserted into this story, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”For those who had money, it was the best of times and for those without it, it was the worst. As according to Ligia Grabauskas, Dickens “managed, as no other novelist ever did, to do that in a form that captures the essence of an increasingly dehumanized society.” (The Question of Realism in Hard Times.) Great growth and development came at a great cost to the people and the society,

Revolutionary Rojava

The changes taking place in northern Syria right now are nothing short of a social revolution. The area known as Rojava, the Kurdish region of northern Syria, has become an autonomous confederacy and begun experimenting with radical forms of direct democracy. Kurdistan is a land that has been occupied for over 150 years and remains so today. The area of Kurdistan remains locked within the borders of four countries, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.

Many comparisons to the Palestinians and their struggle against occupation are made, however this is problematic when we view the geographical situation these two people’s face. The Palestinians have been, and are, the Arab world’s rallying point. Reclaiming the Palestinian land has been one of the core goals for almost all Middle Eastern movements since the 1940s. With the Kurds, we see almost the complete opposite. All four of these occupying countries, although in agreeance on almost nothing else, have all taken part in harsh repressions of this population.

From Saddam’s chemical weapons to Turkey’s military repression, they have learned that they do not have forces advocating on their behalf to world institutions. Part of their current success is coming from the long tradition that any gains to be made will only be made by themselves. This mentality has remained a strong part of their ideology to this day.

 

Rojava runs along the northern border of Syria.

In 1978, a group of Kurdish university students formed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in response to the growing repression the were facing within Turkey. It was in this era that ‘Kurd’, ‘Kurdistan’, and ‘Kurdish’ were all banned from use, as well as use of the Kurdish dialect. These students were largely led by Abdullah Öcalan, who remains the group’s leader today, and were focused on establishing a Kurdish state based on the Marxist-Leninist principles.

Early on, the PKK was very much so a by-the-book Stalinist organization that embraced an armed struggle against the Turkish state. The result was that the PKK has been labelled a terrorist organization across the world, and Öcalan was a fugitive on the run for a few years. While in Kenya in 1999, he was captured by the Turkish security services. He was originally sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to life in prison, and this is where he remains today. Though imprisoned, he remains a strong intellectual force that helps direct both the PKK and the Kurdish movement in general. During this period, the PKK has changed fundamentally, both in its philosophy and its organization.

 

Ocalan, after capture.

Instead of the centralized, top down approach of Marxist-Leninism, the PKK has evolved into a decentralized and grassroots organization. Öcalan’s theory of solution has never remained too long at a fixed, established plan. He began to see the power structures of the modern world as directly connected to the forces of hegemony and oppression. Therefore, the only way to really become a free people is by breaking all convention and radically forging a new path. A new path means a system outside of capitalism and class structure that have formed the basis of our world. He saw the capitalism, traditional women’s roles, and even the nation state as tools to oppress the people. In its place, he proposed autonomous, democratic communities. His theories have been greatly influenced by the Comrade Murray Bookchin, the libertarian socialist writer of Burlington, Vermont.

To look at Öcalan’s writings, we see a thinker who is looking for answers on a deeper level than the quick fix. He isn’t simply talking about a Kurdish revolution, but a world revolution. “development of the nation-state at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution more than two hundred years ago went hand in hand with the unregulated accumulation of capital on the one hand and the unhindered exploitation of the fast growing population on the other hand. The new bourgeoisie which rose from this revolution wanted to take part in the political decisions and state structures. Capitalism, their new economic system, thus became an inherent component of the new nation-state.

 

Murray Bookchin

The new nation-state needed the bourgeoisie and the power of the capital in order to replace the old feudal order and its ideology which rested on tribal structures and inherited rights by a new national ideology which united all tribes and clans under the roof of the nation.” He is able to explain the flaws of the current nation state, and how it is essential for freedom movements to be aware of this danger. Without this consciousness, it is very easy for the oppressed freedom movement to then become oppressor in the same structural system. “But above all the nation-state must be thought as the maximum form of power. None of the other types of state have such a capacity of power. One of the main reasons for this is that the upper part of the middle-class has been linked to the process of monopolization in an ever-more increasing manner. e nation- state itself is the most developed complete monopoly. It is the most developed unity of monopolies such as trade, industrial, – nance and power. One should also think of ideological monopoly as an indivisible part of the power monopoly.” (Democratic Confederalism. 2011.)

 

Not to get too caught up in ideology, but what is happening in Rojava is directly related to this batch of writing. This is especially true in the role of women in this society, here the view is not only that women are enslaved by institutions such as marriage and family, but the task of enslavement then also enslaves the men to this traditionalist role dictated upon them by society. The only way to break up such a system of enslavement is not by reform, but by total destruction. Not just for the individual, for the family, for the society, or for the nation state, but for the whole of human society. “The most important problem for freedom in a social context is thus family and marriage. When the woman marries, she is in fact enslaved. It is impossible to imagine another institution that enslaves like marriage. e most profound slaveries are established by the institution of marriage, slaveries that become more entrenched within the family.

Furthermore, it is not a general reference to sharing life or partner relationships that can be meaningful depending on one‘s perception of freedom and equality. What is under discussion is the ingrained, classical marriage and family. Absolute ownership of woman means her withdrawal from all political, intellectual, social and economic arenas; this cannot be easily recovered.” The catalyst being put forth for the great social change, then, is the evolving role of women within society. “Family is not a social institution that should be overthrown. But it should be transformed. e claim of ownership over women and children, handed down from the hierarchy, should be abandoned. Capital (in all its forms) and power relations should have no part in the relationship of couples. Breeding of children as motivation for sustaining this institution should be abolished. The ideal approach to male-female association is one that is based on the freedom philosophy, devoted to moral and political society.” (Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution. 2013.)

It is merely by chance that this new revolution has taken off in Syria, within the pretext of a revolutionary struggle/civil war. It is the PKK’s close affiliate in Syria, The Democratic Union Party (PYD) that have set up the government that rules over the Rojava region. Since 2005, it has been the PYDs strategy to base democracy on a small scale, and ignore the nation state concept as a form of governance. This is a political ideology that has become known as democratic confederalism. More simply, democracy without an overarching nation state. It was with the rise, and subsequent spread, of the Islamic State (IS) in 2014 that the PYD was able to demonstrate that they weren’t simply just a wing of PKK, and constituted power in their own right. In the beginning 2015, PYD, with its People’s Defense Units (YPG) and Women’s Defense Units (YPJ), shocked the world when they overtook the city of Kobani from IS forces. They did so acting independently, and it was only after their victory that outside support has begun rolling in.

Within the devastation of Syria, Rojava is one of the only regions that is functioning regularly and providing a stable life for its people. To understand the inner functions of the governing system within Rojava, we must look to the American Anarchist David Graeber and his articles about the revolutionary struggle taking place there. This form of radical democracy is firmly anti-consensus based because this form of democracy tends to lead to the tyrannical majority currently being popularized by populist movements. Instead, it embraces tri-leadership within council structures. This means that leadership is comprised of one Kurd, one Arab, and one Assyrian or Armenian Christian, and at least one must be a woman. Decisions must be in a unanimous manner. What they have also done is to take civil authority away from the structures of the state. They have gone about this by giving all citizens six weeks of police training, then effectively disbanded the police force. The responsibility of maintaining the civil order and peace now becomes the responsibility of the people.  YPG and YPJ are neither state institutions, but citizens initiatives to protect the land from those who wish to do it harm. (Why is the World Ignoring the Revolutionary Kurds in Syria. 2014)

When the Syrian war began, the elites and ruling class residing in Rojava quickly tucked their tale and ran. The property they left behind, office buildings, factories, government institutions, and all of these have gone under public control with the workers both organizing and benefiting from the work that they do. Personal property has been left alone, but the means of production have gone into the direct hands of the workers. Graeber has used the comparison of the Spanish Revolution, where the city of Barcelona fell under direct workers control and the workers also defended the city from military attacks. One of the issues that he looks at specifically that is going on in Rojava is the world’s human rights community being rather critical of the trial system. “I noticed that human rights wrote a fairly critical report.

One of the things they complained about was that people aren’t meeting the world standards of trials. I thought that was very telling because in fact they are trying to create a radically different bottom up type of justice system which is based on consensus principles, restorative justice, limited notion of revenge and retribution. It’s all very beautiful and incredibly important to start this experiment and again from world standards, that’s a human rights abuse because what human rights people are doing is trying to create safeguards against state power. But those safeguards against state power assume the existence of state power. So not having state power at all from their point of view, is just as much a human rights abuse as direct state power.” (From Occupy Wall St. to the The Revolution in Rojava. July, 2017.) Settlements are made between perpetrator and victim, and then negotiated by a citizens council. This revolution is increasing the commons and decreasing the possibility of state repression.

But this is not to say that Rojava is having an easy time within the confines in which it is existing, quite the opposite. Since the 1980s, Turkey has designated the PKK as a terrorist organization and blockaded the Kurdish regions within Turkey it controls. The powers in Rojava that are leading the revolution are considered to be offshoot organizations, and by some considered to be front organizations, and the blockade has been extended to them. As Anga Flatch explained in 2016, “The embargo’s effects on Rojava are severe. Most dramatically, Rojava with its wealth of wheat and oil can’t sell its products abroad. Farmers sit on their wheat and cotton. The transitional (Confederacy) government has no money to pay wages, let alone meet the needs of ordinary people and refugees.” (The Embargo On Rojava Must End Permanently. September, 2016.) Apart from trouble with Turkey, the Syrian Kurds also face pushback from the Iraqi Kurds, a reactionary force with close ties to the Turkish government.

The Kurds in Iraq are led by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and its military unit, the Peshmerga. This is not a group who embraces the idea of democratic confederalism, but rather the idea of a traditional Kurdish nation state. KDP has been the leading Kurdish organization, at least in western circles, for the past ten years. They went along with the blockade on the Syrian Kurds that was pushed for by Turkey. When IS was gaining territory in Iraq and forced the Peshmerga to retreat in the summer of 2014, both the PKK and YPG came into defend the Kurdish communities. This was less than appreciated by the Iraqi Kurds, who accused those who came in Syria as exploiting a political opportunity for their own gains. As was reported by War is Boring, this led to increasing tensions between the two strongest Kurdish powers.  To add to all this conflict and blockades Rojava has been subjected to, Turkey has begun randomly shelling the area as part of their new offensive against the PKK.

While the Rojava experience is still a work in progress and slowed because of the state of civil war it is surrounded by, the fact is this is one of the only existing alternatives to globalized exploitative capitalism. It is not perfect by any means, for one, their philosophy demotes any cult of personality as idol worship. Yet, the image of Abdullah Öcalan is in constant view. The struggle they must wage in the future is to work out these kinks and promote unity throughout the entire Kurdish region. While Rojava can exist as a singular unit during civil war, it will not be anywhere near as successful when dealing with the Syrian state.

The rebels are as equally opposed to the Kurds as they are to the Assad regime, and this comes as a result of the attempts to destruct their identity that the governments have conducted in the past. The need to organize bigger is essential if the revolution of Rojava is to survive the length of Syrian revolution/civil war.