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Decentralist vanguards: women’s autonomous power and left convergence in Rojava

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Abstract

Since 2012, the Rojava Revolution in Northern Syria has attracted the attention of the global Left. Although this project has been subjected to many analyses from different political perspectives, there has not been a systematic analysis of the way it brings together anarchism and Marxism. By focusing on the question of how a revolutionary movement should be organized, we arrive at the argument that Rojava features a specific hybrid of anarchist and Marxist-Leninist revolutionary methods in the form of ‘decentralist vanguardism’. The most advanced form of this hybrid method in Rojava is represented by women. By virtue of being theorized as a revolutionary agent, having autonomous organizations, and carrying a leading role in educating the general public, women in Rojava become what we call ‘a revolutionary middle stratum’: a distinct revolutionary group with autonomous power that can push forward the revolutionary process while dispersing the authority of the vanguard movement.

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... The first is the ideological sphere, where women are seen "as a primary historical revolutionary agent that will contribute to emancipation of all" (Rasit and Kolokotronis 2020). The second is the organizational sphere, in which women's autonomous structures are considered as "the most central tenet of revolutionary struggle" (Rasit and Kolokotronis 2020). This claim refers to the huge process of women's self-defense which took place since the beginning of the revolution, not only at the military level (Tank 2017; Ferreira and Santiago 2018), but also through the construction of a women's autonomous administration (Kongra Star). ...
... Thanks to this autonomous structure, women have created their own grassroots assemblies (the communes), Mala Jin (Houses of Women), economic cooperatives, justice committees, Asayish-Jin (Women's Gard) and many other institutions, which have given them autonomous political agency, and the ability to answer women's needs and express their will, free from men's control (Pavičić-Ivelja 2017; Şimşek and Jongerden 2018). However, these organizational achievements have been made, and are still made possible, thanks to the third sphere mentioned by Rasit and Kolokotronis (2020), which is that of "recruitment", "education" or "mobilization" led by women within society: a process performed in "a vanguardist manner" but able to avoid hierarchy, monopolization, and centralization. ...
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... small daily administrative decisions and the supply of the population; " that the councils provide important "feedback loops and local organizers; " that they "also provide propaganda for and the dissemination of the social model the PYD is striving for; " and finally, that, [p]articularly with regard to the role of the women in Kurdish society, the councils play an important role in reforming an extremely patriarchal society" (2018, p.135). The last point, about the role of women in the council system, is one about which Allsopp and van Wilgenburg also reported many of their interviewees had mentioned, in a positive vein (see Dirik, 2018;Rasit and Kolokotronis, 2020). ...
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... This has produced a variety of comprehensive overviews (Cemgil and Hoffmann 2016;Colsanti et al. 2018;Jain 2016;Knapp, Flach, and Ayboga 2015;Schmidinger 2018;Sunca 2021;Yegen 2016) as well as more focussed studies dealing with specific dimensions of the revolution and their wider significance for global social struggles. This includes the cooperative economy (Sullivan 2018), social ecology (Hunt 2017), (eco)feminism (Piccardi 2021;Tank 2017), anarchism (Rasit and Kolokotronis 2020), and the republican philosophical underpinnings (Cemgil 2016). While revealing important aspects of the transformation in Northern Syria, few of these have included a systematic reflection on the wider geopolitical conditions within which these political experiments take place and even fewer have done so through a critical lens (Galvan-Alvarez 2020; Küçük and Özselçuk 2016;Leezenberg 2016). ...
... On every administrative and institutional level, the decisions taken by the women's body are binding for all structures, with an additional veto right reserved for women's structures for decisions taken in the mixed bodies. Further, all institutional bodies, from collectives, communes to political parties have a co-chair system, where one seat is reserved for the man, who is elected by the mixed bodies and one seat is reserved for a woman, who is elected only by the women-only body, thus rendering equal representation an inherent feature of the political system (Kongreya Star 2018; Knapp and Flach 2016;Rasit and Kolokotronis 2020;Şimşek and Jongerden 2018). ...
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The Kurdish-led autonomous entity called Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES)-also known as Rojava-considers women's liberation an imperative condition for shaping a democratic society. The practice of autonomy in NES shares strong resemblances with Non-Territorial Autonomy (NTA) models; however, it introduces a novelty in the role of women as active agents in building a plurinational democracy. This paper examines (1) the intellectual and political origins of the political role ascribed to women in autonomous administrations and (2) how the practice of autonomy in Rojava has advanced women's rights by shedding light on both institutional implementation of women's rights, as well as the creation of (non)-territorial spaces of women's emancipation within the autonomous model. The argument made is that the conceptual framework of the Rojava model goes beyond the Kurdish question and can be considered an attempt to resolve a democratic deficit of liberal democratic nation-states through bringing together solutions that address the intertwined subordination of minorities and women. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 License
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