Between 17th and 19th November 2023, the Academy of Democratic Modernity held a conference titled “The Art of Freedom: strategies for organising and collective resistance“. It had speakers from four continents and around two hundred participants. It represented a piece of the revitalisation of revolutionary politics in the 21st century:
- Self-determination without nation-state
- Implementation of democratic organisation across economy and culture
- Defence against the assimilationist methods of capitalist modernity
- The terrains of the sacred in lived politics
The first panel discussion on Friday was titled “Perspectives of (national) Self-determination and Autonomy in the 21st Century“. Mahmut Şakar, one of Abdullah Ocalan’s lawyers, opened the session with a historical trajectory of policy that shaped Kurdistan, from the period of Ottoman-Persian treaties in the 16th century, periods where religion formed dominant power structures through the modernisation of the Ottoman Empire, and the progression of national identity formation in the 19th century – including the liquidation of Assyrian and Armenian peoples and the prevention of Kurdish national unity. Then, in the last hundred years, the Turkish regime, the early tribal uprisings against it, the Marxist-Leninist formation of the Kurdistan freedom movement and the shift towards localised democratic autonomy, as expressed through the neighbourhood commune system, which was “places of confrontation, encounter, self-repair, mutual education, and deepening with other members of society”.
Two people from Askapena, based in Euskal Herria (Basque Country), spoke about the national construction process within the nation states of Spain and France and how these processes differed between military repression and fascist dictatorship and assimilationist policies, respectively. They noted that the latter policy of administrative territory in the French state, with intensive assimilation policies, was far more effective at wiping out the possibilities for insurgency and resistance of the Euskal Herria people. They resisted militarily with ETA and other organisations, formed cultural and civil society resistance such as school strikes, and in response faced a considerable amount of state repression, with thousands of arrested and imprisoned people and European counter-terror policies.
The delegate from Walaboomuu spoke about people-centred pan-Africanism and the Oromo struggle. The Oromo are around 40-50 million people based in the nation-states of Ethiopia and Kenya. She described the Oromo people as a democratic confederal nation of clans and moieties. National identity formation happened during colonisation by the Abyssinian regime, which homogenised all peoples within a Christian Ethiopian nation-state that demanded, like other colonising nation-states, only one language be spoken and one religion be followed.
The Oromo have the Gadaa system of social relations and at least a 3,500-year-old way of relating, which includes safuu – a world view that expresses the aliveness of all things and their interconnectedness, either in an ongoing way – or a broken way which needs repair. All social relations are seen through this lens. Colonisation breaks the distance and respect necessitated between all beings; it breaks safuu.
The delegate from Walaboomuu also said that Western powers were interested in keeping the Abyssinian Christian empire ongoing, while Britain and Italy formed different spheres of power bordering Ethiopia. She said that pluralism and complexity made the region hard to understand and conquer. In the last century, the struggle grew and split into various formations, including Marxist-Leninist parties, parts of the ruling power in the nation-state, and later a civil disobedience movement against state violence.
A deadlock exists between various political factions, and politics has stagnated, especially since 2018. “We need to follow examples like Rojava in Kurdistan, where there is a continuation of organisation despite the level of violence.”
She said that there is a need to resist traditional Pan-Africanism. One of its main issues is that identity is being tied to nation-states. Identity needs to be constructed not in a pseudo-historic way but in an authentic way that corresponds with life now. Even Oromo political elites are now inflicting violence because they are striving for power in a nation-state framework that does not upend the oppressive power structures. A people-centred Pan-Africanism is necessary.
In response to a comrade from South Sudan who asked what can be done to connect struggles, she responded that people often don’t see the need to connect struggles–they often ask, “Why?” They don’t see the value in it and don’t understand the benefits. “We need to revitalise the need for our struggles to be connected. People can look to common struggles in other places as a site of cultivation and knowledge.”
Traditional Pan-Africanism says that land needs to be nationalised: “We say we need to analyse how the capture and extraction of the land is linked to this same process that happened to women. We need to see the land as having its own will and spirit, the same as women.”
A representative of Endavant from Països Catalans spoke about the history of the national liberation struggle, the resistance to strong assimilation policies of the Spanish state, the processes of building autonomous institutions and the difficulty with fragmentation and mobilisation in the current era. “It is important that any organisation or institution, union, and so on, aims to build the national liberation movement”. In both Països Catalans and Euskal Herria, there is a need for common points of unity going forward – something which has partially formed in response to Israel’s aggressive attacks in Palestine since October.
Later in the day, the panel “Between Peoples Power and Liberal Democracy – Traps and Necessities in the Struggle for Liberation” occurred.
Delegates from Potere al Popolo from Italy, Red Nacional del Comuneras from Venezuela, Sudanese Communist Party from South Sudan, and an online participation by a delegate of Abahlali baseMjondolo from South Africa gave input.
A representative from Potere al Popolo presented three tactics on organisation in society: Peoples houses of communal living that develops alternative social relations, mutual aid in response to the fragmentation of the working class, and people’s power – politicising the construction of working class institutions that replace those of the bourgeoisie.
The vision of the Sudanese Community Party in its revolutionary charter for people power and radical change, in a few words, demands justice, peace and freedom, and an end to the exploitation by the state and its co-optation to international powers of capitalism.
Thandekile Tiny Thusini sent a video message from South Africa after being denied a visa to attend. In the statement, Abahlali baseMjondolo stated their beginning as a movement of shack-dwelling people that organised around poverty, sanitation, health, and other immediate issues, and how this grew into a wider ideological socialist organisation.
The delegate from Red Nacional del Comuneras said, “Our communes are not created in a process where they are all friends or know each other, and then get the idea to create something – it’s that people from all politics and contexts come together to create something because it’s needed. […] We reached a point in our political work where we decided to build a communal society without a state”. Around five hundred communes were organised. She spoke of the contradictions between the people’s self-governance and the Communist Party (and the state more broadly), including the state’s attempts to control the commune system through a dedicated ministry of communes.
On Saturday, workshops were held “for deepening different aspects toward a theoretical and practical renewal of system opposition.” The entire conference split into five groups:
- History and Resistance – Resistance and History Initiative
- Women’s liberation and democratic socialism from the perspective of Jineoloji – Jineoloji Committee Europe
- Transnational class struggle in the 21st century – Transnational Social Strike Platform
- Democratic youth confederalism: the youth in the struggle against capitalist modernity
- Local Democracy and more-than-human Governance by Vikalp Sangam, India
Across these workshops, ways of relating that embody the values of democratic socialism were discussed, as well as examples of practice in different geographies. This ranged from epistemology and decolonising truth and history, displacing the dominant patriarchal way of knowing and seeing, to the everyday practice of confederations of self-governed villages and indigenous workers and youth struggle. Urgent points of definition and contradictions between the many expressions of democratic organisation were made, such as how we see “transnationalism” or “internationalism” when looking at how capital moves across borders and how our resistance connects us.
In one workshop, we discussed the responsibility to the other-than-self and the inclusion of non-human beings in cosmovisions. A participant from Colombia said, “The intensive process of individualism and secularisation/alienation from nature that is inherent in capitalist modernity has created a break in the natural order of the universe.”
In the afternoon, a presentation on the building of democratic autonomy in northern Kurdistan was given by Bedia Özgökçe, a former mayor of Van municipality, and Tuncay Ok, a Kurdish activist. They spoke about the origin of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement and the implementation of the democratic confederalist project in Bakûr, which preceded the Rojava revolution. They described how the ‘trustee system’ forced out all elected representatives of HDP, the mass imprisonment of politicians, and their replacement with state-appointed political actors. Political, military and cultural attacks destroyed much of the process of commune building and autonomous institutions across northern Kurdistan and the movement’s attempts for co-operatisation of the economy.
In the evening, we shifted into songs and dance, with poems and music from multiple regions and languages, and a mystical and anti-colonial performance, ‘No Borders, ‘ by a Kurdish artist about the earth and soil of the country.
On Sunday, the session was titled “The Idea of Socialism: towards a Renewal”. The organisations Women Weaving Future and Academy of Democratic Modernity spoke about how we need to implement a new form of socialism in line with Abdullah Ocalan’s articulation of freedom and the methods to achieve it. “The ruling system’s deepest and most structural contradiction concerns women”.
In this session, the speakers said that analysing capitalism and socialism is inadequate if modernity is not properly addressed. Industrialism and the nation-state are two of capitalist modernity’s pillars and are fundamental to the current crises. State-based internationalism created hegemony; that’s why it failed. “Socialism is a way of life; the values are something we can live today. […] Revolution isn’t a moment where we take power, but a mental and ideological change and process.”
Afterwards, the session titled “The Question of Bottom-up Organisation and Internationalism” had the following panellists:
- Experience in weaving alternatives from Global Tapestry of Alternatives, a delegate from India
- Building People’s Power in Colombia, Congreso de los Pueblos
- Perspectives of revolutionary organisation in the Philippines, National Democratic Front of the Philippines
- Achievements, challenges and perspectives from the Kurdistan Liberation Struggle
The representative from the Philippines shared that, after 300 years of colonisation and brutal repression of revolutionary movements, armed resistance is ongoing. A considerable percentage of villages currently have organised committees, which aim to build alliances between workers and peasants.
In 2015, Congreso de los Pueblos began sharing its practices of building people’s power in Colombia, where there are over 800 indigenous peoples, including Afro-descendant communities. Following the path of indigenous struggle, “We have learned to emphasise cosmogeny and the multiplicity of worlds in our resistance.”
In practice, the people’s congresses work on self-governed economies, i.e. cooperative food and water production, digital sovereignty, popular and/or alternative communication networks (i.e. community radio stations), artistic-cultural networks, and political education (i.e. popular universities); “schools and universities must be considered as collective property”, and ancestral knowledge must also be passed on, such as about medicinal plants, and in practice via seed banks. “Self-determination at the smallest level is essential.”
Across every session, the description of a stateless organisation was illuminated worldwide. The scale in the Global South regions was described as large and often growing despite highly repressive conditions. The obstacles in Europe and the countries where capitalist modernity was very powerful were highlighted.
Throughout the weekend, the Kurdish community centre hosted hundreds of participants. Food was eaten communally, and thousands of conversations ignited and passed. In the conditions of necessity that birthed each movement from each locality, millions of painful stories are entwined with the impetus to organise. It was a time for analysis and for presence; both thinking and feeling were prioritised, expressed through learning from the breadth of knowledge of the represented movements, and the way people were next to each other, their enquiries and conversation, of interpersonal solidarity and connection that flourished between each session. Stateless democracy is not only possible but is already being built.
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