David Graeber is a very thought-provoking thinker. But his recent youtube talk is more striking for what is not said than for what is.
VICTORY IN KOBANE: WHAT NEXT IN THE ROJAVA REVOLUTION?
Graeber spoke alongside Havin Guneser of the ‘Freedom for Ocalan Initiative’ who had earlier praised Abdullah Ocalan and cited his slogan: "To kill the dominant man is the fundamental principle".
But, unfortunately, Graeber then never raised the obvious question of why the PKK don’t use this slogan to reject the personality cult around the PKK’s ‘dominant man’ - Ocalan himself. He also never raised the other obvious question of why anyone should respect the ideas of a man who has murdered so many of his left-wing opponents.
The other crucial question for any anarchist or communist is: Why should we uncritically support a revolutionary movement that has no unequivocal opposition to state power, private property, class society - or even to alliances with Western imperialism?
Graeber did relate an interesting story of how one PKK/PYD police chief told him that the Rojavan police intend eventually to abolish themselves. But, of course, modern policing emerged with the rise of private property and wage labour and cannot be abolished until both property and money are abolished.
Moreover, the police chief’s radical claim is rather contradicted by the fact that the PKK’s guru, Ocalan, has himself claimed that his theory ‘does not reject nor deny the state’ and that he advocates a state that ‘observes functions in the fields of internal and external security’. (For a rather disturbing alternative account of Rojavan policing and ‘internal security’ see: Kurdwatch.org.)
The PKK/PYD’s claim to economic radicalism is also contradicted by the Rojavan official who said that: ‘The method in Rojava is not so much against private property, but rather has the goal of putting private property in the service of all the peoples who live in Rojava.’ Another official has made clear that he wants any cooperatives to compete with private capital. And Ocalan himself has argued that the class war ‘has come to an end’.
In true Stalinist style, Graeber’s delegation to Rojava was shepherded around by its Deputy Foreign Minister. But some of the other delegates did observe things which contradicted the PKK/PYD’s official line that they are no longer nationalist. For example, the delegates noticed a 'push for a Kurdish-only language educational system'. They also noticed that maps of a greater Kurdistan were often on display and that ‘references beyond the Kurdish movement were strikingly absent.’ These delegates understandably concluded that this ‘ethno-nationalism’ was ‘likely to alienate non-Kurds’.
This state of affairs - combined with the deeply totalitarian personality cult around Ocalan - will make it very difficult for the Rojava revolution to spread beyond Kurdish areas and break the crippling economic embargo. Indeed, rather than spreading the revolution across Syria, the PYD has instead ended up trying to ally with US and French imperialism. Tragically this whole situation - combined with the PKK’s earlier 20 year de facto alliance with Assad’s murderous dictatorship - can only deepen Arab distrust of the Kurds and so risk pushing the region even further into an inter-imperialist bloodbath.
Perhaps all these problems are not as bad as they seem and we will need more reliable information before we can be certain of anything. But a genuine anarchist or communist approach to the Rojava revolution surely involves not only recognising its achievements in the areas of feminism and local democracy, but also facing up to its many limitations.
One example of this is the full version of Gilles Dauve’s ‘Rojava: Reality & Rhetoric’. There Dauve critiques Graeber and makes the crucial point that: ‘Nobody has ever seen a State dissolve in local direct democracy’.
(For more critique on Rojava, see:
‘‘I have seen the future and it works.’ – Critical questions for supporters of the Rojava revolution’.)
1. Havin Guneser also said that Ocalan is giving military advice to the PKK/PYD from his Turkish prison cell. But why would any rational political movement entrust military decision making to a long-term prisoner who can have no real idea what is happening on the ground? This puzzling behaviour is matched by the claims of an American PYD fighter in Kobane who said: 'It's extremely dangerous in that they're taking anyone with no military experience, no age requirements ... They are just taking people there, giving them a gun, saying hey good luck buddy.’ If these accounts are true then it seems that the PKK/PYD’s strength derives as much from fanaticism (combined with a semi-religious acceptance of martyrdom) as from any rational political strategy. This, of course, sounds very much like ISIS, despite all the obvious differences between the two types of cult.
PYD/PKK Martyrs of Kobane
2. Graeber seems to be advocating this way to abolish the police and he also seems to be advocating electoral politics combined with mass movements on the Bolivian model. But perhaps it’s unfair to judge him on one talk