Democratic Confederalism

Democratic Confederalism, also known as Apoism, is centered around three pillars: democracy, ecology and female emancipation. Today, the ideology is spearheaded by the Kurdish People and their fittingly named project “The Kurdish Project”. The ideology is largely based on Bookchin’s theories on social ecology with a greater weight given to feminism, as such Bookchin’s influences are evident throughout. Abdullah Öcalan, the primary philosopher of the ideology, hopes that these principles would counteract the limitations of the ‘communal economy’ within democratic autonomy. Councils, communes, and cooperatives are generally separated by Rojava’s current “cantons.” These various regions are currently building this social economy without any real state or government controlling the people. Öcalan has said about this social economy that “the use value must be greater than the exchange value.” This is a promise that a social economy is one in which the needs of the people are secured away from any monopoly of the means of production. Social economy has four main characteristics: a lack of centralization, industrial and ecological integration, openness to all ecological activities, and a basis of what Ocalan believes are moral values.

Apoism is about making people self-organized and self-governed, and that every individual has a voice in how goods are produced, consumed, and distributed. This is achieved through the use of councils at every level: neighborhood, village, district, city and regional; however, organizations for women, youth, and other specific groups also have a say in the decision-making process. This movement asserts that the minds and hands of women are necessary to reorganize the economy. The movement claims along with this that an economy directed by women will also be the economy that prioritizes basic needs and utilities. The Kurdish Movement also says that an economy in which utilities and basic needs are prioritized would not directly seek profit and therefore be the most ecological.

The levels of the aforementioned councils are (ordered from most to least localized): neighborhood assembly, city assembly, province assembly, and finally the Democratic Society Congress. These councils are designed to create democratic autonomy in which people govern themselves and organizing themselves with communes and assemblies at the lowest level. Democratic Confederalism is used to describe these assemblies and communes joining together in a confederation. Communes can include whole villages or large areas of a city. One level above these communesare the Neighborhood Councils, which are typically comprised of 7-30 communes. Another level up are the District Councils, which are made up of representatives from a collection of neighborhoods, the board of which is TEV-DEM. Political parties come into play at this level and most of the work is done through committees. These committees are: Defence, Economics, Free Society, Justice, Political, Civil Society, Ideology and Women’s Council. The final level is called the People’s Council of West Kurdistan and is made up of all the district councils and 11 people from each canton (TEV-DEM also exists at this level). All organizations formed by communes or councils, like a coop, have two hev-seroks, who are act as co-leaders, and it is encouraged that one is female and the other is male but not enforced.

Öcalan places ecology and environment as one of the most important issues facing the Kurdish people. He says that the social economy and community must pay attention to the impact of production on the environment and health, as well as justice for the workers. Along with other materialist and post-colonial places, Rojava’s place of importance for ecology is a consequence from anti-capitalism, which is seen as a liberatory tool to free resources from exploitation. As previously mentioned, Öcalan took many of Bookchin’s ideas on social ecology and applied them to the Middle East’s socio-economic context. Based on that, Democratic Confederalism is centered around having mutual respect for all aspects of life and prevents ecological problems by fixing and changing the social issues which Bookchin claimed to be causes of ecological problems. One such social issue is social hierarchy, and Democratic Confederalism intends to squash hierarchy with its co-leadership system, communes, and direct democracy.

Female emancipation is ensured in this system by protecting the rights of women and viewing them as equals with men. One example of this being how women are given various councils on the same subject matters as men. The popular council took this declaration of women’s will and incorporated it into a convention with the municipal government. So now, for example, in cases of domestic violence, the council imposes sanctions on the violent husband. This convention exists because of the women’s councils and is valid in every Kurdish city and town where the BDP holds power. As in this example, the struggle for the liberation of gender is bringing about tangible changes in people’s lives. Because of these councils and co-ops, women’s work and activism is respected and fights alongside the Kurdish movement for independence. One member of the Amed Women’s Academy said that “the state reproduces its hierarchal structure in the family”, and so within Democratic Confederalism the hierarchy in both state and family is removed. Women, youths, and people supporting female emancipation are spearheading the Kurdish struggle, because the ideology of Apoism is about liberation from hierarchy, and a key aspect in this is the emancipation of women.