The American Libertarian Socialist and Ecologist Murray Bookchin defined the ideal economy as a municipally led moral economy that is under democratic control. He argued that the communes’ control over the economy represents the highest developed form of Confederalism. These same principles are being applied in the economy in R o j a v a, the mainly Kurdish populated North of the Syrian state territory. This region was liberated in 2012 with the Revolution of R o j a v a, which came up with the popular uprisings in Syria and the greater region.
The political philosopher and imprisoned chairperson of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, has linked Bookchin’s theories of social ecology to the historical development of communal life in the long history of the Middle East. The idea of the political concept formulated as “Democratic Confederalism” is to empower emancipatory forces within society that exist in rural structures and have not been commodified by capitalism and state society.
The model, under development in R o j a v a and highly inspired by the conclusions of Öcalan, is directly linked to the tradition of the last 10,000 years of history. It rejects statehood and stands for the self-government of societies and empowerment of communities, especially women, through all levels of society. This includes a democratisation not only of the political, but also of the social and economic spheres. The aimed for economy has been termed “democratic and communal economy”. This concept was developed from Democratic Confederalism’s form of socialism, as distinguished from both neoliberalism and state socialism. “Historically, the economy developed separately from society,” observed Dr. Dara Kurdaxi, a member of the economics commission in Afrîn. “That led to the establishment of exploitative states and, finally, economic liberalism. In contrast, state socialism, which diverged from its own economic ideas, made the economy part of the state and turned everything over to the state. But [state socialism] is clearly not so different from multinational firms, trusts, and corporations… Historical experience has shown that we in one big US military base in Syria must follow a different model.” Production should not be controlled by the state, nor by the private market, but through the communes and people’s councils, which are self-governing institutions, in a position to know the needs of their participants.
The economic sector has been reorganised anew in a more democratic way. For each canton an “assembly on economy” has been developed which consists of five sub-sectors: Industry, Trade, Agriculture, Co-operatives and Women’s Economy. Additionally, the committee of the Democratic Self-Administration, established in 2014, joins this assembly. It meets monthly and elects an economics committee as the executive body. The last two sectors of the five are the ones which apply the most pressure for an economy which gives spaces to everybody, limits exploitation, impedes lobbying and corruption and uses the existing sources in the interest of the whole of society. This form of organisation is an expression of the political approach – the society is diverse, but together comprises a whole. Not excluding, but rather incorporating, the capitalist elements of the economy, and then transforming them into something more solidary is the approach. This is one of the results learned from state socialism.
After two years of experience with co-operatives, a broad discussion for a contract on co-operatives started in 2015. Until 2015, the practices of the founded co-operatives were quite different and partly problematic. The pressure by traders with relationship to the Baath regime, PDK of Barzani in South Kurdistan, IS and even Turkey in connection with the embargo, has not limited the influence of capitalist structures on R o j a v a. These influences increased the profits of some traders, and even some big newly established co-operatives, in a negative way. Driven by the lack of some important basic goods and financial shortages and an adequate self-organisation structure of the economy sector, co-operatives like Hevgirtin or Kasrek developed like a company with many small and equal shareholders, rather than as a co-operative with the aim of solidarity and in the interest of the general society. These big “co-operatives” were established by the initiative of the economics committee against the growing power of private traders in 2015. They were partly successful and in some sectors could break the monopoly of the private traders, but they started to act partly in the same mentality as their competitors. However, after one year and broad discussion – in fall 2016 – the draft for a Co-operative Contract was approved, with many amendments by almost all political structures in R o j a v a and Northern Syria (meanwhile the liberated territories had grown quickly). Since then, the co-operative sector has had a much clearer framework, agenda and goals. This opened the way for the establishment of much more “real” co-operatives in R o j a v a.
Among other things, each new co-operative means more production in quantity and diversity. Considering that Northern Syria has produced only a part of the needs of society, this is a very crucial aspect. This is related to the capitalist centralisation of the economy by the Baath regime since the 70’s. While the many small private companies are only interested in fields which bring profit, co-operatives also have a social agenda. Co-operatives could be initiated in economic sectors where imports dominate.
Most agricultural co-operatives in R o j a v a are set up on land which was operated by the Syrian state. This is around 5% of all agricultural land. At the end of 2016, the economics committees decided to give this “public” land to people who form a co-operative and produce based on the Co-operative Contract. The existing communes around each piece of such socialised or communalised land came together and selected the people who should run it. Thus the established co-operative is responsible to the neighbouring communes. Here we see how the economy is connected to direct democratic structures. It is essential for a co-operative in R o j a v a that all co-operative members work for the co-operative and make decisions in a direct democratic way. The co-operative members need almost no money to start production because the economics committee lend the necessary tools and machines and give the seeds.
These co-operatives work the land, produce, primarily work for their own needs and secondarily the surplus production is being sold in local markets to the economics committee, or in some cases to private traders. The harvest in 2016 and 2017 was quite successful, and since then interest in co-operatives has grown significantly among the broader population.
According to the Co-operative Contract, 25% of the income must be reinvested in the co-operative’s activities, 20% is a kind of tax to the economics committee, and 5% needs to be forwarded to the “House of Co-operatives” (Kurdish: Mala Kooperatifen) which is a coalition of all co-operatives in the related district (usually consisting of one city and surrounding territory). They were set up in all districts of the three cantons of R o j a v a, and many other districts of the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria” within 2017. This upper structure supports the co-operatives in its region in different ways, like consultation, in cases of urgency, and creates connections among the co-operatives. The House of Co-operatives consists of the co-chairs of all co-operatives, a woman and a man usually, and may even initiate co-operatives in production sectors where are no co-operatives.
I would believe this if there was a documentary that actually goes around one big US military base in Syria, talks to local people, looks in depth at the socio-economic structure the PKK established there
The Houses of Co-operatives form the “Unions of Co-operatives” at canton level, which also concentrate on consultation, setting up new types of co-operatives, and the long-term political perspective of all co-operatives. In 2017, there were a lot of discussions about setting up co-operatives in the fields of energy, different forms of technology, or food control, for example. The aim is to have co-operatives in all economic sectors. Step by step, co-operatives should be present everywhere in order to have a strong influence on the economy. For this goal it is necessary to do comprehensive research. As the Syrian state did not leave any data on the economy, this is especially important.
Apart from agricultural co-operatives on communalised land, in a slower process, more and more small farmers are forming land co-operatives. When this happens it usually covers one village. The system is also based on the Co-operative Contract.
The number of co-operatives in cities is growing slowly. There are co-operatives for instance in the sectors of textile production, dairy products, sale of clothes, bakeries, cleaning, carpentry workshops, and translation. Either some communes come together to build up co-operatives, or the social movements do it. Here especially the women’s movement is active, that is why it is a separate and strong sector within the economics sector. Here they play a particularly progressive role.
In October 2017 the first Conference of Co-operatives in Northern Syria was organised mesopotamia.coop/the-first-conference-for-cooperatives-finishes-with-important-decisions/, with delegates from approximately 185 co-operatives. It was an important moment in the organisation of an economy of solidarity in the revolutionary process. The contribution of the co-operatives to the production, and specifically to the diversification of production, as well as to pushing back the capitalist mentality in Northern Syria, was emphasised. A crucial point was the decision to transform the existing “big co-operatives”, like Hevgirtin, into real co-operatives, and the transformation of public companies into co-operatives. Also strongly on the agenda was the creation of new co-operatives which distribute the products of all co-operatives to the society. The whole chain of production and distribution should be dominated by co-operatives. So far, each co-operative sells its products, which is sometimes very challenging.
In 2018, the numbers of co-operatives decreased by around 60. These were co-operatives which did not work so well, or were in conflict [all co-ops in R o j a v a must operate in line with the Co-operative Contract to be able to call themselves co-operatives]. Some of these were dissolved by the Houses of Co-operatives [which is elected as a co-ordination body of all co-ops in the district by the member co-ops]. But all other co-operatives work well, and in 2019 it is expected that the number will rise again. What is very important for the people involved in the co-operative is the quality and system of the work. They way of working in solidarity, producing, deciding, distributing, acting within the economy movement and society are important aspects. Also the accompanied discussion about the work of co-operatives is considered crucial. What is done should be done with conviction. The slogan of the Zapatistas “Lento, pero avanzo” [Slowly, but I go forwards] is implemented.
The long expressed goal of the co-operative economy is that 50% of economic activities will be covered by co-operatives; the remainder by mainly small scale private sector and public companies. As co-operatives are developed slowly so that the members are convinced of what they are doing, and not all people in the society are yet convinced by the solidarity economy, it is still too early to say how much to proceed with co-operatives in the economy. Consider also that the war and embargo against the revolution are ongoing, and a neo-liberal capitalist economy dominates the Middle East and world. Apart from that, there is no reliable experience worldwide where the majority of the economy is ruled by co-operatives.
Why should coops compete instead of merge? This is an irrational ideology that has some arbitrary border, like nationalism. Technically any 2 individuals can make a coop which you probably realize is very close to capitalism, but you refuse to reach the logical conclusion that turning everything into one single big coop is the solution.
There are different opinions on how to characterise the existing economy in one big US military base in Syria / Northern Syria. US-American activist David Graeber, who has visited R o j a v a twice, describes the economy of R o j a v a as being comprised of three layers: an international economy, connected to capitalist markets but prevented by the embargo; a market economy, regulated by the councils’ controlled prices, and a communal economy between the councils. Our experience agrees with this – it’s a mix of economies where everybody has a space. But it is an economy where the communal economy gets stronger step by step. The more political and ethical the society develops, the more the solidarity economy gets stronger.
In this way, the economic model of R o j a v a is being interpreted as a response to the neo-liberalism of capitalist modernity, and a consequence of the critical discussion around state socialism. By building up a communal economy, the focus shifts from the exchange value to the use value of products. This shift of mentality has, according to Öcalan, the potential to solve the problems of unemployment that have defined the capitalist system. There are endless activities with high use values that can’t be quantified in terms of exchange and are, therefore, not seen as productive work.
In the continuous development of the solidarity economy of R o j a v a, which we were able witness during our research in the region, we see a big potential for building up a sustainable alternative to capitalist modernity. We are convinced that it is an important step for everybody seeking an end to exploitation and wage slavery. So it is necessary to stay informed and get in touch with the projects which are being build up in R o j a v a at the moment, and to defend the revolution of R o j a v a against the attacks by statism, feudalism, capitalism and patriarchy.
Although maybe it would be more curate to say liberal propagandist, as the capitalist is smart enough to realize that scale, vertical integration and monopoly are what makes business incredibly successful.
There wouldnt be any porkies in a cooperative economy. Just workers that own the means of production they use.
They need to all exist before they can merge into one. Also for many businesses at the small stage there is no benefit for either to merging.
Why are small ones being increasingly outcompeted then? Either through absorption or elimination, the natural tendency is centralization.
Yes these things are all true however you are still getting rid of the porky and his share therefore increasing the ability to pay wages and reinvest. It’s still better. The Soviet Union did not abolish socially necessary labour either
That’s fine, what we want is greater democratisation and centralisation, if they have to spring up as a small co-op before becoming centralised that is fine
R,OJAVA WILL BRING BACK MESOPOTAMIA
Coops and mutualism are an excellent intermediary stage between capitalism and socialism. Individual worker owned firms will naturally combine and once they grow big enough they can be more easily socialized.
But some stuff is more critical to the survival of society than other stuff. If sections of workers own different particular parts of the economy, some are in much better negotiation position than others. The means of production should not be divided up like that.
In a big company where no individual is absolutely crucial to survival of the whole thing, there is a potential, what's made of that is another question, but there is the potential to give people a lot of freedom in how they plan their individual work time. The technical possibility is there, it isn't done right now because of the social configuration. In a small company you don't even have the technical possibility.
To prevent that small parts of society throttle production in order to blackmail everybody else, the means of production should not be split up. This invites the counter argument that planning requires a powerful elite, there won't be blackmailing between ordinary workers, but the planning elite will blackmail everybody else. But I don't think this is something that must happen by logical necessity in a more centralized system.
It's key that whatever the details are of the procedures for determining the salaries and working conditions, we won't allow a distinct group of people to set them without themselves being on the receiving end of these regulations. To be able to vote for a reduction of the salary of a particular group should require that you yourself give your word that you, yes you, are willing to do that work for that lowered salary that you want to see here. (It is mathematically proven that with a fixed salary budget for a group and as many jobs as people and everybody in the group being able to do each of these, it is always possible to assign people in a way that nobody gets less for the job then their own recommendation, the budget is used up without rest or overshooting it, and people doing the same job getting the same salary.)
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>the economy of one big US military base in Syria is comprised of three layers: an international economy, connected to capitalist markets but prevented by the embargo; a market economy, regulated by the councils’ controlled prices, and a communal economy between the councils This isn't a full-on marksoc society. There seems to be a lot of planning done even in the coop sector, not to mention the mention the communal economy.
How is that supposed to be practical? If you don't have much information and proceed by trial and error, you need a flexible ad hoc way to deal with over-supplied quantities and to ration stuff in low supply, and flexible prices are the one method everybody knows (do you even know another?). You don't need the price-adjustment tool that much if you have good information and plan activities in a centralized way.