Democratic Confederalism as the Antidote to Homogenization

By Yavor Tarinski

“The homogenic national society is the most artificial society to have ever been created and is the result of the social engineering project.”

Abdullah Öcalan[1]

One of the defining characteristics of contemporary humanity is undoubtedly that of homogeneity. It is a phenomenon with global proportions that has affected, in varying degrees, almost all corners of the planet. This leads to the homogenization of cultures.[2] Increasingly, people, regardless of where they come from, have the same cultural references, adopt similar dress codes, and embrace one of several popular world languages.

The trend of homogenization is even more evident when it comes to geopolitics. There is one form above all—that of the nation-state—that plays a central role, resulting in the term ‘state-centered realism’ being used for international affairs.[3] Although world complexity has forced the recognition of other factors as well, it is the forces of statecraft that ultimately come to shape geopolitical relations.

All these levels of homogeneity lead to the disappearance of diversities of various kinds. Distinct languages and cultures are going extinct.[4] Research has also found a corollary link between the extinction of cultural diversity and biodiversity.[5] The proponents of capitalist modernity, the driving force behind this homogenization of global proportions, would argue that it is a small price to pay for bringing the world closer together. But while sameness reigns supreme all around the globe, we see ethnic conflicts, wars, xenophobia, and warring nationalisms once again on the rise. This is because it is not homogeneity that brings people together, but understanding and empowerment.

Instead, it can be argued that the ongoing homogenization is leading human civilization towards a decline. The effects may be more severe than we think. Complexity, be it social, environmental, or even biological, is what allows life to thrive. On the other hand, as philosopher Jean Baudrillard suggests, he who lives by the same will die by the same.[6]

The Domination of the Nation-State

This homogenizing effect did not come from nowhere or by accident. It is a result of the specific architecture of power, which is bureaucracy. Bureaucratization has been shaping societies left and right through its main form, that of the nation-state, which, as noted by the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, has consolidated as the hegemonic political structure since the French Revolution (1789).[7]

Statism, due to its bureaucratic nature, needs the homogenization of space and time to function. It requires that, within its borders, cultures and ways of life are melted into one singular artificial national ethnic identity, dependent on, ready to sacrifice itself for the state, and hijacked by the dynamics of bureaucracy. And it is exactly this process of nation-building that has turned our world, as Having Guneser suggests, into a graveyard of cultures.[8] According to her, the nation-state homogenizes everything, and with the pretext of creating a national culture, it makes the cultural norm of the dominant ethnicity and religion the general norm.[9]

The loss of cultural diversity impoverishes societies, distancing them from meaningful perspectives of decentralization and instead contributing to strengthening the logic of political centralization, which is at the core of all bureaucratic structures. As a result, the first line of defense against any attempt at resistance is ideological persuasion, which tries to persuade the subject. If this is ineffective, the next line of defense is physical force and repressive measures.

The premise “one language, one flag, one nation,” as the Internationalist Commune of Rojava suggests, became the cement that would homogenize the new nation-states, leading them to deny and repress any other identity that failed to comply.[10] This strive for homogeneity, as underlined by Abdullah Öcalan, can only be realized by force, thus bringing about the loss of freedom.[11]

In one such homogenous environment, what currently exists is being presented as the only possible option. In the long run, bureaucratic realism reproduces itself by omitting the plethora of potential presents and futures and replacing them with a continuous loop. Although global in its physical dimension, the current state-centered world order is actually shrinking the scope of social and individual imaginaries. Thus, although cities and villages throughout the planet seem more connected than ever before, they nonetheless seem to be getting smaller. Wherever you go, as noted above, you more often than not stumble upon the same pattern, be it on a societal, cultural, organizational, economic, or other level.

In effect, what has happened on a global scale is that humanity has embarked on a dangerous journey of purging itself of alternative visions or ways of life—something that greatly contributes to the rising tide of insignificancy advanced by capitalist economism and consumerism. As David Impellizzeri rightly points out, homogeneity and the conformity of a bureaucratized mass society hollow out the public sphere, forfeiting the heterogeneity of positions and plurality of perspectives in exchange for sameness and mass uniformity.[12]

The Symbiosis Between Capitalism and the Nation-State

But what has nation-states had to do with the age of neoliberalism, where the fiercest supporters of the status quo claim to be opposed to statism and even self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalists” have gotten themselves into running whole countries?[13]

While this narrative has come to dominate the public domain, it still remains mainly an ideological tool that seeks to hide the bureaucratic essence of the dominant political architecture worldwide. The form of the nation-state continues to serve as the basis of global capitalism. This does not mean that statecraft hasn’t undergone major changes—it most certainly has! If anything, in recent decades, nation-states have become increasingly authoritarian, greatly reducing their welfare functions through severe austerity measures while focusing mainly on the expansion of their repressive forces. This was particularly evident in countries like Greece, which, following the 2008 financial crash, has followed this pattern to the letter.

All of this is not a mere coincidence. There is a philosophical connection between statecraft and capitalism. Abdullah Öcalan underlines the tendency of power to be the most refined and historically accumulated form of capital.[14] Bureaucratic entities like the nation-state tend to do just that—their very existence revolves around stripping society from any meaningful decision-making power and self-action, striving instead to centralize all authority in the hands of narrow elites.

Capitalist economies couldn’t function without the existence of state forces that act as guarantees of the supremacy of private property and free markets. Because of that, Guneser insists that today, power, in fact, remains more important than capital.[15] It is what allows capitalist exploitation to function, reproduce, and intensify. And whenever a society or community decides to transgress the status quo and implement a radically different organizational model, it is the forces of statehood that step up to make sure that the deviant will be returned to the “only correct path.” This was the destiny of many popular uprisings that dared to imagine and strive for a new, more just society, like the 1871 Paris Commune, the 2006 Oaxaca uprising, the more recent ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, and many more grassroots efforts at social change that were fiercely suppressed.

The nation-state played a central role in the global expansion of capitalism and its enforcement over indigenous populations in different parts of the world, because of which Guneser terms it capitalism’s most fundamental tool for conquering and colonizing society.[16] It was the various forms of bureaucracy that enforced wage labor, the threat of individual starvation, privatization of land, etc. on organic communities, thus incorporating them into the sprawling capitalist globalization. Contrary to what the proponents of capitalism would like us to believe, free markets did not emerge spontaneously but, as Karl Polanyi suggests, have been the outcome of a conscious and often violent intervention on the part of government which imposed the market organization on society for noneconomic ends.[17]

As a counterpart to statecraft, capitalism complements and even intensifies the homogenization of everything within our lives. It promotes the abandonment of complexities in the name of simplicity, which is good for profits. Everything, regardless of local context, is reduced to profitability and manageability. And this commodification, through the mechanisms of economic growth, assimilates languages, social relationships, and even the very human existence (as exemplified by the business model of so-called “social medias”). The neoliberal lens, which has become the dominant mode of viewing things today, sees diversity as too expensive and/or economically unproductive—just think of the arguments against education in multiple languages.[18]

A Kurdish grandmother in Germany attends a protest adorned with various Democratic Confederalist KCK-related symbols from the Kurdistan Freedom Movement.

Direct Democracy, Confederalism, and Diversity

Although homogeneity has been advanced by a societal system that presents itself as the only one possible and a product of a determinist evolutionary process, it can still be reversed so that diversity can flourish once again. This requires a social change that will radically rearrange the political architecture so as to allow for pluralism of opinion to freely be expressed through collective decision-making. Ultimately, as social ecologist Murray Bookchin suggests, the effort to restore the ecological principle of unity in diversity has become a revolutionary effort in its own right.[19]

Direct democracy seems like the most suitable project for achieving this goal. The political architecture of a direct-democratic society will allow for the greatest possible conditions for diversification as it sustains power at the grassroots level, keeping it as decentralized as possible. In one such setting, there is no space for a central authority or bureaucratic class with distinct interests that strives at homogenizing society in order to make it more prone to exploitation and control. Instead, each community takes care of its own public affairs through collective deliberation, rather than waiting on the state bureaucracy to do that on its behalf. The basic institutions of one such democratic architecture will be those of the public assembly and the popular council, which will serve as public forums where pluralisms of opinions can meet and develop policies and strategies for the future of their common lives. Philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis suggests that within the framework of direct democracy, these organs of popular self-management deal with all aspects of social organization, being simultaneously the units of local self-administration and the only bases of power for the federal level that will link each and every self-governing community.[20]

By giving individuals a more direct and influential role in decision-making while revitalizing communities through the formation of genuine public space, the perspective of social and cultural diversity is advanced. This can also empower marginalized or minoritarian groups within a given area to have a stronger voice in shaping policies, promoting inclusivity, and ensuring a broader range of perspectives are considered.

Despite the fact that the status quo in all of its dominant forms is actively resisting the project of direct democracy, some places have been able to put it into practice. One such example is the alternative system developed by the communities of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (more widely known as Rojava). The political project being implemented there for years is known as Democratic Confederalism, and follows the emancipatory pattern described above. It has radically redistributed power so that local communities have sustained their autonomy while connecting with one another in a confederation, thus avoiding parochial isolationism. By avoiding the nation-state, this democratic alternative has omitted its homogenizing effect since, as Guneser underlines, Democratic Confederalism is not limited or restricted to any ethnic area or region.[21] As a result, tolerance and diversity were given a way to spread through mutual agreement.

It is of great importance that we have real-life examples of societies that are structured along direct-democratic lines, but the question remains as to how we can advance one such project in our own geographies. The first step is to recognize that there is no one single way of doing this, no blueprint or manifesto, as each locality has its own historic and imaginary context, which needs to be carefully examined.

The next step, however, that can be compatible with the previous one is striving to communicate the values of direct democracy (and the real-life efforts at its implementation) to the widest possible number of people, as we cannot move forward if we remain entrapped in the current dominant imaginary. As Öcalan suggests:

“As long as we make the mistake to believe that societies need to be homogeneous monolithic entities it will be difficult to understand confederalism. Modernity’s history is also a history of four centuries of cultural and physical genocide in the name of an imaginary unitary society. Democratic confederalism as a sociological category is the counterpart of this history and it rests on the will to fight if necessary as well as on ethnic, cultural, and political diversity.”[22]

References

  1. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/abdullah-ocalan-democratic-confederalism#toc7 
  2. https://countercurrents.org/2021/11/is-globalization-leading-to-a-homogenized-global-culture/ 
  3. https://www.e-ir.info/2018/02/27/introducing-realism-in-international-relations-theory/ 
  4. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/endangered-languages-high-risk-lost/ 
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/08/why-we-are-losing-a-world-of-languages 
  6. Jean Baudrillard. Screened Out (London: Verso, 2002), p2.
  7. https://internationalistcommune.com/democratic-modernity/ 
  8. Havin Guneser. The Art of Freedom: A Brief History of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2021), p91.
  9. Havin Guneser. The Art of Freedom: A Brief History of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2021), pp90-91.
  10. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/internationalist-commune-rok-brossa-from-capitalist-modernity-to-democratic-modernity 
  11. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/abdullah-ocalan-democratic-confederalism#toc7 
  12. David Impellizzeri. Bureaucratic Modernity and the Erosion of Practical Reason: A Rhetorical Education as an Antidote (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1843. p146.
  13. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/12/world/americas/argentina-javier-milei-cuts.html 
  14. Abdullah Öcalan. The Sociology of Freedom: Manifesto of the Democratic Civilization, vol. 3 (Oakland, PM Press, 2020), pp209–10.
  15. Havin Guneser. The Art of Freedom: A Brief History of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2021), p90.
  16. Havin Guneser. The Art of Freedom: A Brief History of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2021), p89.
  17. Karl Polanyi. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), p258.
  18. Havin Guneser. The Art of Freedom: A Brief History of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2021), p96.
  19. Murray Bookchin. The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Palo Alto: Cheshire Books, 1982), p8.
  20. https://www.marxists.org/archive/castoriadis/1972/workers-councils.htm 
  21. Havin Guneser. The Art of Freedom: A Brief History of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2021), p89.
  22. https://libcom.org/article/nation-state-not-solution-rather-problem-abdullah-ocalan 

Author

  • Yavor Tarinski

    Yavor Tarinski is an independent researcher, activist, and author. He participates in social movements around the Balkans, as well as in transnational organizations dedicated to the production of grassroots knowledge. He is an administrative board member of the Transnational Institute of Social Ecology, on the editorial board of the Greek digital journal Aftoleksi, and a bibliographer at Agora International. He has authored two books: ‘Concepts for Democratic and Ecological Society’ and ‘Reclaiming Cities: Revolutionary Dimensions of Political Participation’.

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