A Handbook for Revolution
A Handbook for Revolution
Practical Projects for Building the Autonomous Administration
Mazloum Abdi and Polat Jan (trans by Laylan Issa)
In 2011, following extensive discussion, the Kurdish Freedom Movement in northern Syria put together an executive plan for grasping the opportunities opened up by the emerging civil war, and turning their ideas of democratic autonomy into practical reality. To facilitate their endeavour, they set out their proposals in a short, easily understood, booklet. This has recently been translated into English, and is distributed, incongruously, through Amazon.
A brief introduction explains the genesis of the document, but the main text is as written nine years ago. Reading it today, in the knowledge of all that the movement has achieved, it becomes possible to appreciate the power in these basic instructions and the ideas behind them. We can also see how ideas and practices have developed from this foundation, especially in taking these developments beyond the ethnic Kurdish core
The booklet begins by explaining that it is not enough to beg for, or demand rights. The Kurds had ‘the strength and the organization’ to take the historic opportunity to impose solutions themselves, and to become a major factor in Syria’s future. And, crucially, it points out that:
“The revolution does not only mean armed struggle and bringing down regimes, but it means removing the obstacles that hinder the development of the moral and political society by developing a new society and finding effective solutions to the political and social issues. Whenever the issues of the society are solved, the revolution advances more effectively.”
Appropriately, then, it gives, as a first step, the building of the bottom-up democratic structures that have allowed people to become actively involved in addressing those issues and building a new way of engaging with each other.
Most detail is given about setting up the communes, the smallest unit of the system and its directly-democratic ‘hard core’. It is suggested that these can be started in places where at least half the population already support the liberation movement, before being spread to other areas. Organisation begins with a volunteer group, which spreads knowledge and information through training sessions, small meetings, and family visits, before moving onto public meetings and the election of a council and specialised committees.
At higher levels, care is taken to bring in a wide range of representatives from civil society, and also political parties, though it is not explained exactly how this should be done.
All these structures are designed to help the evolving society prioritise urgent social problems and work out solutions. The booklet sets out four headings: health, human rights, social reform, and education. The suggested approaches involve practical solutions to recognised societal problems, such as organising volunteer medical workers to provide free treatment to those who can’t otherwise afford it, and running health awareness campaigns.
Of course, the movement is clear that support for Kurdish cultural identity should not get lost in the struggle for freedom and democracy, and the programme includes the development of Kurdish schools and cultural centres, and Kurdish media.
Lastly, but vitally, it discusses the organisation of self-defence – against external threats such as Turkey, against threats from the emerging civil war and the Assad regime, and against dangers from opportunistic gangs.
Instead of joining the compulsory military service for the state, Kurdish youth must join in the self-protection units and the popular committees to protect their families, neighbourhoods, villages, cities and social institutions. Every Kurdish individual must be ready to defend his home and his family when it is needed, that is, at least one person from each family must be organized within the ranks of the popular committees and self-protection groups.
This wee book does not attempt to provide a complete roadmap for change. Much is very sketchy, raising as many questions as answers; and, anyway, the movement stresses that every situation is different and will need different solutions. But this bare-bones document, which is both historic and still vitally relevant, has provided the framework for the combination of idealism, commitment, and pragmatism that has brought about Rojava’s real and inspiring political and social revolution.