The West has an obligation to protect Rojava

8 months ago I wrote an article on Trump’s plan to withdraw support for the northern region of Syria known as Rojava but a last minute resignation within the US armed forces swayed Trump to reverse his decision. Sadly, trump announced via tweet that support for N.Syria, including Rojava, will be withdrawn, with the absurd assertion they don’t deserve support because they weren’t there at the battle of Normandy. By Wednesday, Turkey had already began to ramp up plans for a ground ‘offensive’, citing a need to protect Turkey from terror threats in the region.

As I write this piece, bombs rain down on the people of northern Syria and Rojava, a people who have been continually at war for the best part of the last decade. Trump has claimed he is withdrawing troops on the basis that the US needs to remove itself from the Middle East entirely. However, he is only moving 50 troops from the north of Syria to protect them from the subsequent Turkish invasion, green-lighting the invasion and inevitable destruction of Rojava and its people. This is nothing less than a betrayal – if not an unsurprising one – of the Kurdish people who have been allies to the US in defeating ISIS. As a consequence, the precariousness of the 90,000 ISIS prisoners that the Syrian Democratic Forces now hold, pose a serious threat to the resurgence of ISIS as a regional power. As well as this, Turkey is using the idea of the resulting Syrian refugees as a political pawn to gain European approval for their invasion, threatening to let 3.6 million refugees into Europe if the EU recognises the offensive for what it is – an invasion. Some, like Spain, have shown their colours and expressed support for the invasion.

What we must not also forget here is that Turkey is a NATO power (the second largest in numbers) and hence is supported and armed by other states like the UK and Spain. In fact, the UK has almost doubled its supply of arms to states on its own human rights watch list, including Turkey. Therefore, the British state is also complicit in this invasion: the ever turning wheel of profits from war spins on.

As discussed in my original article, the area known as Rojava was created out of the ongoing Syrian civil war, underpinned by the ideas of radical feminism, social ecology and democratic confederalism. It was originally conceived of by Murray Bookchin and later developed by the imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Since those beginnings the region has developed dramatically. However, we must take into account that although advances have been made on many fronts, there still remain many contradictions and issues that have not be solved, we must be pragmatic and try not to meet this revolution with the starry-eyed enthusiasm some of us previously held; it is not a perfect democracy, free of oppression and suffering, it is a revolution in progress with clear goals and should be viewed as such, supported and encouraged.

Nonetheless, it has been proven as a beacon of hope for a different kind of democracy, a different kind of life, for many around the world. It has inspired many from the globe to its cause under the banner of internationalism, through initiatives such as the Make Rojava Green Again Project, addressing the war of attrition Turkey and Assad have waged on the ecology of Rojava; the very soil and land the people inhabit.

Unsurprisingly this burgeoning society has caused reactionary responses in the so called west, such as the banning and confiscation of the Make Rojava Green Again book in Germany and the removal of passports of internationalists planning to aid the civil society projects.

With the invasion of Rojava by Turkey and the west’s implicit backing, clearly a war of ideas is at play. A war between a proto-fascistic NATO nation with an agenda to wipe out the Syrian Kurdish population and a hopeful political project.

It’s clear that what is really at stake is the lives of many Syrians. With Turkey’s invasion many will die and many more will be displaced (The international rescue committee predict that the offensive could displace 300,000 people living in the area), causing more misery and suffering to a community that has already suffered enough at the hands of autocratic regimes.

There is hope, because as mentioned in the original article, by an international volunteering effort. The Kurdish people and the wider population of Northern Syria have been resisting effectively for years and will not roll over now.

The US should reconsider their decision to dump the people of Rojava and instead use diplomatic pressure along with other NATO allies to prevent the invasion (reinstating the no fly zone on the North Syria border) and most importantly recognise, with support, the autonomy and freedom the people of Rojava deserve. As the citizens of these states we should provide our own forms of opposition and resistance to this injustice because if Rojava falls, we all fall.

If you believe in democracy, read below:

Rise up for Rojava

Information on the ideas behind Rojava

The internationalist commune

A land value tax won’t save the amazon rainforest: Instead we should look to indigenous communities to lead the way

Recently, an article published on this site by one of my colleagues attempted to revive the concept of a land value tax (or Georgism) as the answer to environmental degradation, specifically the tragic and rapid destruction of the amazon rainforest.

This tax is supposedly an excellent counter to the “demonstrations and other forms of virtue signalling from the left”. Although I agree that demonstrations in the UK will do very little, I wholeheartedly disagree that free market reform policies, like a land value tax, will be either implementable or have any effect in combating what is essentially a market driven process. It’s neither pragmatic nor possible. Instead there is a far more practical and proven method to protect the rain-forest already at play and it lies in the inherent power of indigenous communities.

To address the proposal of a land value tax, which i will preface, is not an idea without merit in specific contexts, such as urban and suburban plots of land but in this context it has significant barriers to its implementation.

Firstly, the concepts of a land value tax and the eco-tax mentioned in the article are two fundamentally different financial tools and in order to implement them in concert you have to radically alter the idea of a land value tax from a 100% (or near 100% tax) to one that is adjustable depending on the land that is being taxed. The reason for this is that the tax relies on the market determining the “highest and best use which can be obtained” for the land itself, which contradicts the need to value land in the rainforest as inherently useful in it’s current “undeveloped” state, to prevent further deforestation. Deforestation which is done to clear land to meet market demand from developed, so called ‘western nations’, for meat, soy and other practices like mining. The system of a land value tax ultimately pushes for the development of open land and has the potential for the premature release of farmland for development.

Secondly, there have only been a few instances of land value taxes being implemented with varying degrees of success and often not in the true (Georgian) sense of the idea. Furthermore, these reforms in ‘developing’ nations have led to an “exacerbation of the concentration of wealth”. In addition to this, the method of using international sanctions to enforce this tax has the potential to harm those very communities who’s land has been taken in the first place.

It’s within these communities that a practical and implementable way in which to improve the situation in the amazon can be found. It revolves around recognising the inherent power held by the many diverse indigenous communities of the amazon rain-forest. These individuals have been resisting colonial and then imperialist forces for many generations. Instead of using a theoretical concept of a global common ownership of land which can then be used to levy taxes, instead the international community should directly demand and support indigenous claims to the right over the land they live on.

By listening to the leaders from the amazon itself, those individuals and communities who are and have always been at the front line of a battle with state-backed corporate land grabs, we can formulate the best way, as an international bloc, to support, bolster, and work with them in saving the rainforest.

Many lands that are mandated by the government for indigenous use are still legally owned by the government itself. This is where many of the illegal activities associated with agribusiness are occurring. Bolsonaro, the Brazilian President, has been targeting these very indigenous groups, freezing the demarcation of new indigenous land and stripping the national indigenous foundation, known as Funai, of its powers. This is exactly what must be stopped and soon. It’s widely held that supporting indigenous land rights is a key process in preventing deforestation and destruction. It has been show that in some cases it can reduce forest fire incidents by 16% compared to areas that are simply ‘protected’ without land rights. This makes sense because these communities have been successfully and actively managing the rain-forest for countless generations. Initial reports from the world bank state that: “it will cost far less to save carbon by recognising forest community rights rather than relying on the future money markets”. Furthermore, one report outlined that it would cost £2 per hectare to recognise indigenous land rights.

Compared to a cut and paste tax requiring hoards of land valuers, this is a method that is both steeped in history and has already been implemented and measured. It’s ethical, anti-imperialist, and efficient. The World Resource Institute showed in their research that: “securing community forest tenure is a low-cost, high-benefit investment that benefits communities, countries, and global society”. However, this will not be the only way we can quickly and decisively stop the destruction of the rain forest. Perhaps an Eco-tax in some form and other international methods of pressure will be key in this collective endeavour, but this should always be fronted and led by those communities who live and resist within the amazon rain-forest itself.

For virtue signalling flag wavers, here are some ways you can help below:

Support the rainforest action network working directly with indigenous communities

Follow and support resistance on the ground and indigenous groups

Choose alternatives and pressure your own government

Fighting for the future: Youth climate strikes and the opportunity for change

On the 15th of March more than 1.4 million young people, according to environmental campaigners, took part in the international school strikes for climate change. The protests were inspired by the now famous 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who refused to attend school in order to camp outside the Swedish parliament until they met her demands. Riding on this wave of solo protest, school children and young people across an estimated 128 countries have taken to the streets as part of the Fridays for future movement.

Some, like the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison have expressed annoyance, stating that “What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools“, a sentiment later echoed by Theresa May. But should we expect anything less from the prime ministers that govern countries which rank among the top ten for emissions per capita? No, of course not, these politicians are wedded to the industries and practices that cause climate breakdown. The youth realise this and they are trying to speak truth to power.

Despite the top news stories frequently published in major newspapers and on major news sites, Brexit will not cause the end of the human race, what will do that is climate breakdown but climate breakdown isn’t just global warming and it isn’t simply about reducing fossil fuel emissions it is a war on multiple fronts. It’s armies include: mass extinction, soil degradation, desertification, global warming, more and stronger hurricanes, sea level rise, an ice-free arctic and huge migrations of climate refugees.

Perhaps, we should take the demands of the school strikers more seriously because they are not the only movement challenging the inactive governments of the world. Multiple indigenous activist groups have exposed the hypocrisy of supposedly liberal politicians like Justin Trudeau and their vested interested (Transcanada pipeline protests).

But climate breakdown isn’t an isolated case, it sits comfortably in a world where fascism seems to be raising its ugly head, privatisation is unrelenting and loneliness plagues many. We have a system that is failing us, a system that needs overhauling. But do we start with the individual, as many have been led to believe? Use less plastic, take less flights, eat less meat? Actually, yes, but that alone won’t solve the existential crisis, when just 90 companies have contributed to 50% of emissions since the industrial revolution, and the world’s richest 1% own 82% of global wealth, the issue is with the system and it is precisely there we should aim our straightest arrow, at capitalism. A system that relies on unlimited growth in a world of finite resources, boom and bust cycles and disproportionate distribution of wealth. The youth that strike are the very same youth that are now discovering and backing socialism over capitalism and no wonder, when productivity has increased rapidly but wages have stagnated and millennials now face worse job prospects than their parents, despite being better trained. It seems that at some point somebody was sold a false dream.

If we have identified the cause as capitalism, the arbiters as inactive and vested politicians, wedded to climate destroying corporations, what then is the cure? Is it socialism, as the youth now seem to favour? or is something new, something more adaptive and relevant to our modern afflictions?

There have been those like Murray Bookchin, who have attempted to build on socialist and anarchist principles , outlining a more democratic, collaborative system, based on ecological concepts, something being enacted now in northern Syria. Others have taken the principles and cultures of their indigenous ancestors and forcibly reclaimed their common land for the people who till it, like las zapatistas. Even one issue movements like the extinction rebellion have a community based ethic and are promoting large democratic citizens assemblies.

However, as the school strike protests have shown, whatever system emerges to combat climate breakdown and emancipate the people from the cage of capitalism, it must be: youth-led (because they will be the ones who inherit the earth), international (because capitalism and climate breakdown recognise no borders), democratic (because all people must participate), and most of all hopeful. It must claim a vision for the planet and the human race, a way to solve the crisis, but also a means by which we, as people, can exist together and achieve a better, greater destiny for humanity

Climate breakdown is a threat and an attack but it is also an opportunity for change, an opportunity to construct a new world. Rosa Luxemburg once gave the choice of socialism or barbarism, today we face the choice of hope or despair, make your choice.

Lancaster becomes latest city to declare climate emergency

This Wednesday the Lancaster and Morecambe city council unanimously declared a state of climate emergency. The motion was submitted by labour councillor Kevin Frea and crucially supported by schoolgirl Rosie Mills’ petition (signed by 1500 local young people).

The declaration follows those already made by city councils across the country, including Scarborough, Brighton, and Oxford.

Lancaster, Brighton, and Scarborough are areas located close to the sea, clearly well placed to be the first to witness the effects of rising sea levels. Perhaps, expediting the process of climate emergency declaration. However, these petitions and motions are a global act of cooperation, in fact, 28 cities have now announced such a declaration, reminding us that climate change has no borders and as a result solutions must be extranational.

These declarations seem to be riding the wave of the explosive Extinction Rebellion protests of 2018, fuelled by collective shock at the lack of will and political inertia displayed by the Westminster establishment. Similar to the protests by the extinction rebellion group these declarations fit a wide net of collective and direct action that, instead of appealing to often inaccessible politicians, targets locally at city and town councils. With a call for a citizen assembly, they fit into the vein of direct democracy, which seeks to include all strata of society when finding local solutions to the global problem of climate change.

The addition of Lancaster and Morecambe to the list of cities declaring climate emergency shows the power of cooperative, grass-roots movements in effecting change outside the slowing moving machine of parliamentary politics. However, this is only the beginning and if we are to avert the crisis facing us in the next 12 years we need more declarations, protests and particularly the strong voices of the youth, like Rosie Mills. As the 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg demanded at the world economic forum this week “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act”.

When 71% of emissions are caused by just 100 companies, we must remember that change will not be made by those in power or those who have something to gain from the world as it is, but instead it will be made by the people, particularly the people who will be affected the most, the youth.

We should be thankful for the activists of Lancaster for making this bold step and for the wider movement for supporting them but most of all, we must act!

Fears of a coup in Venezuela as Donald Trump recognises Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó

The news came forward yesterday that the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president with the backing of the white house. Protests have erupted, with six deaths. In response the current president, Nicolas Maduro, has declared that diplomatic ties will be cut with ‘imperialist’ North America, giving diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.

This supposed coup attempt follows the 2018 May election which placed Maduro back in office amidst international claims of vote buying and electoral fraud.

Maduro has denied claims of electoral rigging and has made clear his belief that this is an imperialist intervention by the USA in an attempt to destabilise Venezuelan, declaring “They intend to govern Venezuela from Washington”.

With the possible secondary backing of the Canadian government this latest development in Venezuela appears, to some, to fit into the trend of American interventionism in Latin America. Which includes a chequered history of repression and brutal overthrows by regimes like that of Chilean General Pinochet and the failed Venezuelan coup of 2002.

Some have claimed that despite the questionable circumstances surrounding the 2018 elections, American enabled coups are not the way forward, including the rapper Boots Riley who pointed out

“If you’ve been worried about Russian bots influencing elections here [North America], I’d hope you express outrage about this”.

Others point to the fact that Venezuela currently has the largest proven crude oil reserves in the world, a resource the United States government has expressed keen interest in before, leading to the question of their humanitarian stance.

Whether the sham election of 2018 is leading to a cuba-style dictatorship or not, is the intervention of North America in yet another Latin American coup really the answer to the failures of the Madura government? Needless to say, these are complicated and fraught times for the people of Venezuela.

Protester arrests at TransCanada pipeline show violence of Neo-Liberalism

On Monday the 7th of January 2019 the Canadian armed police force (RCMP tactical forces) broke the peaceful blockades formed in British Columbia and arrested 14 Wet’suwet’en people, escalating already high tensions over the proposed TransCanada oil pipeline.

The struggle against the proposed oil pipeline has been ongoing since 2010 when the first blockade was set up as the Unist’ot’en camp by members of the Wet’suwet’en nation. The Wet’suwet’en, a First Nations people who live on the Bulkley River, are opposed to the pipeline on the grounds of potential damage to the watershed and wildlife. However, their arguments go beyond damage to the environment and emphasise the rights of the people to the land, their right to self-determination, and the right to protect it for future generations. But their desire to protect the land comes from a deeper desire to preserve it not only for themselves but for the whole of Canada. In one of the videos of the siege, a protester tearfully pleads with the police that this is for “your families too” so they “can enjoy this beautiful land”.

The RCMP were acting on an injunction granted on December 14th, allowing them access to the road where the barricades have been erected in order to begin constructing the pipeline. The pipeline itself will cost $6.2 and is being built by CoastalGasLink, a subsidiary of TransCanada Corp. They received environmental certification in 2014 and have agreements from 20 First Nations groups whose land the pipe will lie but they have not had approval from the hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en’s five clans, who are actively resisting the construction by erecting barricades and camps at the only bridge that can be crossed.

The pipeline has not just faced resistance from the Wet’suwet’en people but from people across Canada, who have taken to the streets in protest at the pipeline and the treatment of the first nations people struggling against it. Many protesters have highlighted the hypocrisy of the prime minister Justin Trudeau’s administration, in breaking their promises to respect and rekindle a relationship with the first nation peoples across Canada, after years of historic oppression and maltreatment.

The siege undertaken by the RCMP tactical force is part of a trend of international government-sanctioned, corporate take-over of indigenous lands. We have already witnessed both the Dakota access pipeline at standing rock and the Keystone pipeline leak (another TransCanada-owned pipeline), among others. But the violation of local people’s rights to determine the use of their land isn’t confined to America and Canada, the people of Preston new road in the north-west of the UK have been battling the construction of fracking sites since the government overturned a council decision to stop prevent their construction. So intertwined are these seemingly different struggles, that members of clans at standing rock have visited the local protesters at Preston new road to express solidarity and the protesters of Preston new road have returned the favour.

Whether it is North Lancashire or Dakota, across the world we are seeing a battle being fought between the wedded power of neoliberal governments and corporations against the environment and the people. Places like Standing Rock and now the Wet’suwet’en lands are the front-lines of this fightback and the tragedy of the unfolding siege in British Columbia begs the question, who benefits from all of this?

Syria’s radical Socialist region is a blueprint for Middle Eastern democracy.

As we greet the new year with choruses of auld lang syne, the news of the white house’s surprise decision to withdraw support from Syria jolts us back to the reality of the new year as it dawns before us, leaving the ugly realisation that Rojava may be the first pillar of 2019 to fall.

I was first introduced to the democratic federation of northern Syria (formerly and more commonly known as Rojava) by the ex-British diplomat Carne Ross in his autobiographical film “the accidental anarchist”. The film charted the ex-diplomat’s journey from the establishment to a self-confessed anarchist, culminating in his journey to Syria to interview the soldiers of the YPJ, an all-female fighting force. At the time a large proportion of people had heard of the YPJ, through western media images of airbrushed, overly-idealised Syrian women carrying ak-47s and fighting ISIS. But very few people had heard of Kurdistan and even fewer had heard of Rojava. However, the triumph of the YPJ and the YPG (the all gender Kurdish fighting force) in defeating ISIS, was part of a larger movement that had been growing across borders and between people for many years.

Rojava sits within northern Syria and is part of an area known as Kurdistan which spans Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. It declared independence in 2012 during the Syrian civil war but is not officially recognised by any governments despite being aided by the united states in its war against ISIS. It’s a polyethnic confederation but consists mostly of the long persecuted Kurdish people. What makes Rojava fascinating to people all over the world is its political structures and underlying philosophy.

The ideas that underpin Rojava took a meandering road to reach Syria, borrowing ideas from Murray Bookchin (the communist turned anarchist turned libertarian municipalist) to the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan worker’s party Abdullah Öcalan. These ideas centre around the concept of social ecology, a theory outlined by Murray Bookchin, which describes how the roots of ecological destruction are based in human domination and hierarchy. This was taken and adapted by Abdullah Öcalan into the radical feminist and communalist society seen today in northern Syria. As is inevitable in the case of the history of radical politics and our veneration of leaders, we forget the normal, everyday people who carry change on their shoulders. This does a disservice to the many people of Rojava who took these ideas and made them real, and who built these ideas and put them into being. It is a testament to the people of Rojava that not only do they stand today but that they built a radically different society to the rest of Syria whilst defeating ISIS in Raqqa.

What has been built in Rojava is a system of multiple small communes, made up of already existing towns and villages. The people of these communes meet regularly to discuss the local needs, ranging from agriculture and food, to health and education. In each commune it is important that all people have a say (rules dictate that those belonging to the less represented ethnicities speak first before others). Two representatives are then voted for and sent to the higher councils, which must be one man and one woman. The higher councils then coordinate projects and implement changes at a larger scale, forming a confederation. Each commune also has its own security force and other councils, for example all female councils to represent and discuss the specific issues facing women. The structure of this society encourages direct democracy and the participation of all members of the community, including those previously marginalised such as women and minorities. Of course, not all communes are arranged in this way and there have been issues with traditional cultural attitudes conflicting with the new ideas of the revolution. However, what is striking is that it seems to work, and has been the main structural basis of politics in Rojava since its creation in 2012.

This beacon of democratic hope in northern Syria has sparked the interest of many people across the globe, so much so that there are those that have taken the perilous journey to Syria to fight and contribute to the revolution. Leading to suggestions that Rojava is our generation’s civil war Spain. Although, while the parallels are striking, this is not civil war Spain. For one, Rojava has already lasted longer than the anarchist communes of Spain ever did, and its international base is not just centred around fighting and resistance but now also incorporates the political and cultural education of those who travel to live in the internationalist commune of Rojava. A bold and hopeful project that has both the intention of supporting the democratic efforts of the people of Rojava through their campaigns, like the make Rojava green again project, and spreading the message of social ecology and the triumphs of Rojava internationally through books and YouTube videos centred around the life of internationalists living in Syria. Rojava is also different to civil war Spain in that it is inspired by, and exists in parallel with other similar movements, like the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico and the municipalist council members of Barcelona. These Movements are built on the cooperation and effort of all types of people, particularly those of indigenous origin, in the case of Syria and Mexico.

This brings us to the current situation facing Rojava, a three-pronged offensive with devastating implications. The terror of a possible re-emergence of ISIS in the east, the inhumanity of the Assad regime in the south, and the brutality of the bordering Turkish government. These threats make the prospects of the united states withdrawing support for the people of Rojava disturbing.

Although, many would argue that western interventions in the middle east has been proven to destructive and negative, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the issue here is that Donald trump’s decision to withdraw support is accompanied by a lack of any official recognition of the confederation or promises of additional aid. To initially support and arm the YPJ and YPG then pull the rug from under them with no ongoing support is simple exploitation and opportunism, something the Kurdish people and Rojava have experienced before.  Furthermore, trump has the wholehearted support of the Turkish authorities and Putin, which is questionable but disturbing. What reasons must Russia and turkey have to support this move? It may be obvious when the recent taking of Afrin (one of the major enclaves of Rojava) by turkey is considered. Rojava and northern Syria is a powerful place to control with borders to the rest of Syria, turkey and Iraq. As such, the withdrawal of American support provides a thinly veiled green light for interested parties, who are making threats to invade, to claim land and power. Not only that but it allows for the continuation of the historic persecution of the Kurdish people by the Turkish government.

Therefore, with the decision to withdraw American aid, Rojava is open to renewed attacks from Isis, the prospect of encroaching Turkish land grabs, and the ever-present Assad regime. Without this support, whether through arms, intelligence, or aid, Rojava will be left in a vulnerable position. However, that is not to say that the society of Rojava will not continue.  Internationalist Matt Broomfield points out in his recent interview addressing the withdrawal of support, “The Kurdish people have known nothing but betrayal for centuries”. In other words, the people of Rojava have seen this before and they have survived. So, as a new year dawns on the democratic federation of northern Syria and existential threat looms, should those of us who believe in progression and democracy question the intentions of the United States decision to withdraw support. At the very least should we not express our solidarity with the spark of change that has been lit in northern Syria?

Edit: since this article was written the US National Security Adviser John Bolton has stated that America will not withdraw troops unless certain conditions are met, such as the assured safety of the Kurdish people. This is a welcome statement but does not guarantee a commitment to or recognition of Rojava.