Interview with Micheal Löwy; Rojava, an Exceptional Phenomenon

Kaveh Ghoreishi

After Kobane’s victory over Islamic State (IS), Rojava became a significant word in international politics. The local people’s’ resistance before an armed and vicious force received much global attention, particularly from the international left. Some of the well-known contemporary intellectuals and philosophers raved about Rojava and spoke about the lessons that can be learned. However, the international solidarity dramatically declined when Turkey waged an occupation war against the Kurds in Afrin, one of the first cantons of Rojava. The message was clear: Public opinion supported Kurds only when they resisted an unestablished terrorist entity such as the IS but not when they resisted a nation-state like Turkey. There are only a few intellectuals left who are still eager to talk about Rojava’s resistance. The French- Brazilian philosopher Micheal Löwy is one of them. During a long conversation on politics and philosophy with Mansur Teifuri, he answered Nawext’s questions about resistance and new experiences and ideas in Rojava from Kaveh Ghoreishi.

What you read here is only a short part of that interview.

 

The Rojava’s resistance is based on the idea of Democratic Confederalism which is against the classic concept of nation-state. Do you think this idea has the potential to become a global alternative to nation-state buildings?

M. Löwy: Look, I’m not sure if it is a general recipe for every country and every place. It is not a universal solution. But it is an interesting attempt to go beyond the nation-state, and I think it is particularly relevant to the areas of the world – and they are many of those– where you have multiple-nations living together. And you have this in the Middle East, in Asia, in Latin America, even in Europe. In the past, there were multi-national Empires. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire for example, there were the Germans, the Austro-German, the Hungarian, the Czechs, the Jews, the Poles, the Romanians, the Serbs... And they lasted for a century but of course, there was one dominant nation, which was the German, the nation with the Kaiser (emperor). Thus, the situation was really not democratic. But one could imagine such a confederation, of Central Europe, on a democratic basis, with a multi-national character. So it could be an interesting alternative. And, England for example, has merged as the English nation, the Welsh nation, the Scottish nation, the Irish nation…all kinds of nations, without speaking of the migrants, the minorities, the Pakistani, and so on. So instead of the tradition of imperialist nation-state of United Kingdom, we could imagine a democratic federative republic. Same thing in Spain. So, I think there are many countries, in Europe also, which could follow Rojava or be inspired by Rojava. However, it’s an experience that they cannot (blindly) imitate. I think it is a highly unique experience that resembles no previous phenomenon. It is an exceptional experience. At the same time, it is a highly fragile situation and we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. The unpredictability of the situation, however, doesn’t make it any less intriguing. I believe that several countries in Europe and in the world can learn a lot from this experience. But again, it is not a universal formula. For France, for example, I don’t see how it could work, but for other countries, I think it could be intriguing and inspiring.

(…)

Yes, from the inception of Rojava the universality of its experience has been debated. Moreover, even though Kurds readily defended the non-Kurdish regions of northern Syria, leftists and conservatives alike accused them of pursuing identity politics. Let’s talk about the historical relationship between “particular” and “universal” in Rojava. How is it possible to be simultaneously particular and universal?

M. Löwy: There is an old concept to deal with it, and I don’t find any other one: it is dialectics.  That means, you need a dialectical relation between the universal and the particular. That means that you need a concept of the universal which is able to integrate all the legitimate particular demands; and all the particular demands are legitimate if they have a relation to the universal, if they are based on universal basis, right? So, in Rojava, let’s take the Rojava example, if you want to have a universal proposal, let’s say, democratic confederalism, you cannot deny the particular demands of women, of the Kurds, of the Arabs, of the Christians, of the Yezidis… of all communities that have been oppressed and now demand their rights, such as their language and religion, the democratic rights to elect a leader, etc. These are legitimate demands and are based on universal values of freedom, democracy, equal rights, etc. So the universal project of, let’s say, democratic confederalism has to take into account these identities and these legitimate demands. But when one particular demand wants to impose itself against the others, by dominating the others, or by excluding the others, then, it cannot be accepted, then, it is in opposition to universal values. So, I think, this is the dialectic in theory. Of course in practice, it is much more difficult to create such a situation. But I think this is the way. So, when people say that women are separating the labor movement – it is the traditional critique of the left against feminism: “You are separating men from women…”  – if you want to have unity between men and women, the labor movement, the socialist movement, has to take in its banner the rights of women, the equality of women, the demands of the feminists. This is the condition for the unity. And the same idea applies to Rojava. And I think they understood that if you want to have the women to participate, you have to give them equal rights, autonomy, etc. So that is the way of building a universal experience, which Hegel would call a “concrete universal”. The concrete universal is capable of embracing all the particulars, all the legitimated particular demands. I think that is the idea. But again, it is easier said than done.

 

You have expressed your views on politics and philosophy in general and you have studied and written about political resistance in Latin America. In your opinion, what can Rojava and Latin America learn from each other?

M. Löwy: We have an experience in Latin America which has much in common with Rojava: the Zapatista network of autonomous communities in Chiapas, Mexico. This is also a non-state political organization, with a strong anti-capitalist orientation, based on forms of direct self-organization and self-management. The Maya indigenous communities of Chiapas share a common history, centuries of common struggle for their rights against Spanish colonialism first,  and the bourgeois Mexican state afterwards. However, like the Kurdish movement in Rojava, they do not fight for a separate indigenous state, but for a transformation of the Mexican society. Their inspiration comes from the struggle of Emiliano Zapata, the most radical leader of the Mexican Revolution, who fought for “Land and Freedom” for the (mainly indigenous) peasants, and was murdered by the state in 1919.

Of course there are many differences between both experiences: for instance, the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army) has kept its weapons, but after the uprising of 1994, has  renounced armed struggle as a strategy. But still there is much in common between these two very innovative and radical attempts to build an alternative to state and capitalist domination.  

04 Jun, 2019