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Thoughts about democratic autonomy vs. nation state

by Duran Kalkan, member of the executive council of KCK in an interview with Kurdistan Report.

How can we understand democratic autonomy or democratic confederalism? Is it a system that is regionally specific, only suitable to address the situation of the Kurds?

I can explain democratic autonomy by giving a historical overview, as follows: the earlier concept of non-state society later became known as civil society, and stood for democratic achievements. Certain sections of society have won certain economic and democratic rights by various forms of self-organising. Some time ago the workers' unions were very strong, particularly in Western Europe. Within their societies they succeeded in ensuring a certain standard of living for their members. Democratic autonomy actually means the reinforcing of this kind of organising structure, and the expansion of it to various other areas of life.

This means to transform democratic achievements into a non-state democratic social organisation.

The system (in Western Europe) was based mainly on class struggle. The workers, with their unions and parties, try to gain and consolidate their rights through strikes and wage negotiations. Democratic autonomy means that this approach is extended to all segments of society. Not only the workers and their union organisations, but the youth, the women, all sectors of society can organise themselves in a similar way, voixe their own democratic and economic plans, and implement them in their daily lives. We can do this without smashing the state, but also without giving up our rights to the state. In this way it is a new agreement with the state, a new social contract that is created. Democratic autonomy or democratic confederalism has this agreement as its aim. In this sense, democratic autonomy is not a system that is intended solely for the Kurds. All the oppressed and exploited sectors of any society can use this system under the given conditions in their regions of the world to achieve their own cultural, political and economic rights. On this basis, one can also resolve the issue of gender and the problems of the labour force. The self-determination of the youth can also be made possible. The same also applies to the ecological question. Finally, if people from different parts of society organise themselves, they can solve their own issues better, and at the same time more local forms of self-organisation and self-management will emerge. At the moment, though, governments have established an extreme centralisation through the formation of the nation state combined with a move towards fascism. It wants to determine everything. However, a move towards organising along the lines of democratic autonomy could form the basis for people to be able to rule themselves. Following such an example, any village, any town, any district or city could govern themselves.

The formula is: “State vs democracy” with the aim of reducing the state and expanding the democratic society.

This was initially a model for a solution to the Kurdish question. National issues can be resolved in this way. Even religious issues can be solved this way. This is particularly true when different religious and ethnic groups live together. More importantly perhaps, economic issues can also be solved in this way. Oppression and exploitation can be fought. Because if a centralised, exploitation-based economy were to be replaced by an economy that is geared to the needs of the people at the grassroots, solutions for existing issues could be created through the basis of this model. That is the goal of democratic confederalism. For sections of society which suffer from a lack of democracy, this system offers an alternative, and this is also the case, as I said, for the liberation of women. Therefore, in my view, this system presents a concept which is a solution for the capitalist metropolis in the West as well as for the less capitalised regions of the East. If we look at Europe, there are already the beginnings of such a form of organising. I have already spoken of the unionisation of workers. In some villages, the residents have organised autonomously. There was also such a form of organising in the tradition of the Paris Commune. Democratic autonomy is an organising form directed against the hegemony of capitalist modernity and its attempt to take hold of society. Economic, health, education, culture and other areas are organised in this system itself. So capitalist exploitation can be surrounded and limited. This also allows the state system which upholds capitalist exploitation to be limited, and the democratic social organisation to be strengthened.

The Paris Commune and the socialist-democratic revolutions must be considered as an inheritance.

Starting from this foundation, the organisation has to be transferred into every part of society, so that a level democratic autonomy within that society is created. This is possible. Such a struggle is able to involve large parts of society. It is a struggle that tries to isolate the ruling system – and it is capable of doing so.

This concept takes a different approach to that of the October Revolution, which abolished the ruling government and built a new one in its place that could supposedly solve all the problems of society. Why? Firstly, this approach hasn’t worked out anyway. Replacing the old state with a new one is not a solution. The state itself is a means of exploitation. With it one cannot bring democracy, it does not create freedom or equality. At the end it turns into oppression and exploitation. The state remains the state, no matter in whose hand it is. In the end it will lead us back to the same point. That is why this paradigm is no solution. Secondly, it is not possible to implement such an idea under the present circumstances anyway – even if it was wanted. It is simply unrealistic to believe that the ruling state system could be smashed so that democracy and socialism could be established. But let’s say that the revolution would be successful, even then this approach would not lead to a sustainable solution. So-called "real existing socialism" has demonstrated this. That means the establishment of democratic confederalism or democratic autonomy, under the conditions in which we live, for everybody, the women, the youth, the workers, is the implementation of a democratic and socialist revolution. Not to create a new state, but to form a democratic society; not to smash the current state, but to provide against it an organized democratic society that constricts the state – that is the goal. In this way people can create what we call the formula of “State vs democracy”. Thus, in democratic confederalism the functions which have so far been only connected to the state, may each be snatched and carried back into society. And society can self-exercise these functions through its democratic organising. This is how we can understand democratic confederalism. This approach can be carried out anywhere. So, this is not a concept that is limited to one geographical area. We see it as a way to solve all social questions, not a model that is intended solely for the solution of ethnic or religious problems.

All issues of freedom and democracy can be solved with this system.

If every social group organises itself and advocates for their own interests, then democratic autonomy can also find solutions for the problems they have experienced in the capitalist system. It is a system that can offer solutions for national, religious and ethnic questions, especially in the east. But it can be implemented even in the centres of capitalism, because the problem of centralisation also exists there. There too, large segments of society are always excluded from the system or brutally exploited and suppressed by it.

There too, the system increasingly threatens the minds, the hearts, the entire lives of the people. The system tries to direct these people as it wants. We can see then, that there is a serious contradiction between those parts of society and the state created by capitalist modernity. This offers the possibility that when there are issues of oppression and exploitation, of freedom and equality, solutions can be found on the basis of democratic autonomy. When the ideas and thoughts of democratic autonomy and democratic confederalism are spread, we believe that even against capitalist modernity new strategies and forms of organisation to overcome such problems will be found.

Is this system also a contemporary answer to proletarian internationalism?

First of all I want to say that the model of democratic confederalism represents the solution for the social problems that created capitalist modernity in the era of imperialist global finance capital. These problems exist both in the countries that capitalism calls "developed", and in those countries the "developed" ones exploit. It is clear these problems exist everywhere. They range from unemployment, to ethnic and cultural problems. An even greater problem is that people are deprived of their minds. They cannot understand their own reality any more. They cannot organise their own consciousness. There is the problem of militarism. There are state problems. There is talk of a third world war. At any moment another new war could break out, so there is the question of war and peace. These are issues that affect the whole of mankind. In some places, these problems are more acute, and elsewhere there are still other problems.

These are all problems created by mankind, and their cause is a 5,000- year ongoing state system. At the present time they are raised to unprecedented levels; they appear virtually insurmountable. Capitalist modernity is responsible for this; the 500-year old capitalism.

The system of democratic confederalism is the expression of a path that provides a solution to these problems. And this applies to all parts of society. No matter in which area these problems occur, they can be met with a democratic organisation of society. If we follow on we can, even if different problems prevail in different places, remedy them with the model of democratic modernity. Under the current conditions the ruling forces, the bourgeoisie, the representatives of capitalist modernity have established an organisation that dictates to the rest of society that we must live according to their views, according to the ideas of the rulers. They impose their system on society. In contrast, the system of democratic autonomy says: “No, you must not be like them! You are a part of society! You have your own culture, your own understanding of morality, your own life system. You can solve your own problems yourselves. Therefore, you have to develop and implement your own modernity, your own organisation, and your own life understanding.” Leader Apo has called this "Democratic Modernity" , and in his legal defense writings made this appeal to societal groups, no matter where in the world:

“Organise your own democratic modernity. You are not forced to live capitalism. You can also live democracy.”

That’s why you can set up a free system based on pluralism, justice and solidarity. You can all independently organise and, without being a state, build your lives together. In this way you can overcome the problems of oppression and exploitation created by capitalism. If people are ready to take this model as a solution for themselves, then it can be implemented anywhere in the world. With the "real-socialist" understanding of revolution it was said that the revolution would first erupt in Europe. Then it was said, no, not in Europe but in Asia. Or no, first in the colonies or the less developed countries. Understanding democratic modernity overcomes such a view. Democratic modernity means organising, to give democratic socialism new life. Our chairman has formulated this as a theory, saying that democratic modernity represents the system for democratic socialism. All over the world there are urgent problems. At the same time, everywhere in the world revolutionary resistance can be lived and a revolutionary democratic organisation can be created, and thus social problems can be overcome. This is true from America to Europe, from Asia to Africa. But each will have to tackle this according to their own problems.

In this situation, of course internationalism will gain a new meaning.

It used to be considered that if a revolutionary force somewhere emerged and managed to establish a state, this force would take over the leading role of internationalism, and then this force would spread internationalism everywhere. Over time, however, it lost this internationalist function, and transformed into a form of hegemony. Take the example of the Soviet Union, which was criticised on this basis by other socialists even before its decay. It did not, they pointed out, produce a "new internationalism" as it claimed, but instead created a form of hegemony using socialist imagery. With this approach, internationalism has been unable to develop.

But with the approach of democratic modernity, the way towards internationalism is reopened. Wherever a system of democratic autonomy develops, and democratic social organisations emerge in opposition to the state, relationships of solidarity can be established between such organisations anywhere in the world. Thus, international solidarity develops. For a free, pluralist, and just life for all of the oppressed, every worker, in fact all members of society who live by their own labour, must relate to each other in such a way as to establish mutual solidarity. This, at its furthest logical extent, would of course lead to a new form of international solidarity.

Such a solidarity does not aim to make others dependent on them or expand their own hegemony, but exists as international solidarity in the true sense. Because the system itself is a democratic one, based on mutual solidarity. That is why it does not matter where in the world we find ourselves, this solidarity is based on the values of freedom and justice. No one will get the chance to bring anyone else under their influence to control them or assimilate them. In this sense, the question is correct. The old paradigm of socialism, which was bound to the idea of state, or rather the attempt at socialism, has not managed to build internationalism. It has instead spawned new hegemonies. In contrast, Democratic Modernity, through the structure of democratic confederalism, prevents the formation of new hegemonies.

In this system only relationships, alliances, and networks of solidarity based on justice and freedom should arise. This is our new form of internationalism.



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