Democratic Confederalism (excerpts) Abdullah Öcalan25 October, 2015
This kind of rule or administration can be called a non-state political administration or a democracy without a state. Democratic decision-making processes must not be confused with the processes known from public administration. States only administrate while democracies govern. States are founded on power; democracies are based on collective consensus. Office in the state is determined by decree, even though it may be in part legitimized by elections. Democracies use direct elections. The state uses coercion as a legitimate means. Democracies rest on voluntary participation.Democratic confederalism is open towards other political groups and factions. It is flexible, multicultural, anti-monopolistic, and consensus-oriented. Ecology and feminism are central pillars. In the frame of this kind of self-administration, an alternative economy will become necessary, one that increases the resources of the society instead of exploiting them and thus does justice to the manifold needs of the society.
Participation and the Diversity of the Political landscape
The contradictory composition of the society necessitates political groups with both vertical and horizontal formations. Central, regional, and local groups need to be balanced in this way. Only they, each for itself, are able to deal with its special concrete situation and develop appropriate solutions for far-reaching social problems. It is a natural right to express one’s cultural, ethnic, or national identity with the help of political associations. However, this right needs an ethical and political society. Whether nation-state, republic, or democracy — democratic confederalism is open for compromises concerning state or governmental traditions. It allows for equal coexistence.
The Heritage of the Society and the Accumulation of Historical Knowledge
Democratic confederalism rests on the historical experience of the society and its collective heritage. It is not an arbitrary modern political system but, rather, accumulates history and experience. It is the offspring of the life of the society.The state continuously orientates itself towards centralism in order to pursue the interests of the power monopolies. Just the opposite is true for confederalism. Not the monopolies but the society is at the center of political focus. The heterogeneous structure of the society is in contradiction to all forms of centralism. Distinct central-ism only results in social eruptions.Within living memory people have always formed loose groups of clans, tribes, or other communities with federal qualities. In this way they were able to preserve their internal autonomy. Even the internal government of empires employed diverse methods of self-administration for their different parts, which included religious authorities, tribal councils, kingdoms, and even republics. Hence it is important to understand that even centralist seeming empires follow a confederate organizational structure. The centralist model is not an administrative model wanted by the society. Instead, it has its source in the preservation of power of the monopolies.
Ethics and Political Awareness
The classification of the society in categories and terms after a certain pattern is produced artificially by the capitalist monopolies. What counts in a society like that is not what you are but what you appear to be. The putative alienation of the society from its own existence encourages the withdrawal from active participation, a reaction that is often called disenchantment with politics. However, societies are essentially political and value-oriented. Economic, political, ideological, and military monopolies are constructions that contradict the nature of society by merely striving for the accumulation of surplus. They do not create values. Nor can a revolution create a new society. It can only influence the ethical and political web of a society. Anything else is at the discretion of the ethics-based political society.Capitalist modernity enforces the centralization of the state. The political and military power centers within the society have been deprived of their influence. The nation-state as a modern substitute of monarchy left a weakened and defenseless society behind. In this respect, legal order and public peace only imply the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Power constitutes itself in the central state and becomes one of the fundamental administrative paradigms of modernity. This puts the nation-state in contrast to democracy and republicanism.Our project of “democratic modernity” is meant as an alternative draft to modernity as we know it. It builds on democratic confederalism as a fundamental political paradigm. Democratic modernity is the roof of an ethics-based political society. 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.The crisis of the financial system is an inherent consequence of the capitalist nation-state. However, all efforts of the neoliberals to change the nation-state have remained unsuccessful. The Middle East provides instructive examples.
Democratic Confederalism and a Democratic Political System
In contrast to a centralist and bureaucratic understanding of administration and exercise of power, confederalism poses a type of political self-administration where all groups of the society and all cultural identities can express themselves in local meetings, general conventions, and councils. This understanding of democracy opens the political space to all strata of the society and allows for the formation of different and diverse political groups. In this way, it also advances the political integration of society as a whole. Politics becomes a part of everyday life. Without politics the crisis of the state cannot be solved, since the crisis is fuelled by a lack of representation of political society. Terms like federalism or self-administration as they can be found in liberal democracies need to be conceived anew. Essentially, they should not be conceived as hierarchical levels of the administration of the nation-state but rather as central tools of social expression and participation. This, in turn, will advance the politicization of society. We do not need big theories here; what we need is the will to lend expression to the social needs by strengthening the autonomy of the social actors structurally and by creating the conditions for the organization of society as a whole. The creation of this on an operational level, where all kinds of social and political groups, religious communities, or intellectual tendencies can express themselves directly in all local decision-making processes, can also be called participatory democracy. The stronger the participation, the more powerful this kind of democracy is. While the nation-state stands in contrast to democracy, and even denies it, democratic confederalism constitutes a continuous democratic process.Social actors, each comprising in themselves federative units, are the germ cells of participatory democracy. They can combine and associate into new groups and confederations according to a given situation. Each of the political units involved in participatory democracy is essentially democratic. In this way, what we call democracy is the application of democratic processes of decision-making from the local level to the global level in the framework of a continuous political process. This process will affect the structure of the social web of the society in contrast to the striving for homogeneity of the nation-state, a construct that can only be realized by force and thus brings about the very loss of freedom.I have already addressed the point that the local level is the level where decisions are made. However, the thinking leading to these decisions needs to be in line with global issues. We need to become aware of the fact that even villages and urban neighborhoods require confederate structures. All areas of society need to be given to self-administration, all levels of it need to be free to participate.
Democratic Confederalism and Self-Defense
Essentially, the nation-state is a militarily structured entity. Nation-states are eventually the products of all kinds of internal and external warfare. None of the existing nation-states has come into existence all by itself. Invariably, they have a record of wars. This process is not limited to their founding phase but, rather, it builds on the militarization of the entire society. The civil leadership of the state is only
Democratic Confederalism Versus Strife for Hegemony
In democratic confederalism there is no room for any kind of hegemony striving. This is particularly true in the field of ideology. Hegemony is a principle that is usually followed by the classic type of civilization. Democratic civilizations reject hegemonic powers and ideologies. Any ways of expression that cut across the boundaries of democratic self administration would carry self-administration and freedom of expression ad absurdum. The collective handling of matters of the society needs understanding, respect of dissenting opinions and democratic ways of decision-making. This is in contrast to the understanding of leadership in the capitalist modernity where arbitrary bureaucratic decisions of nation-state character are diametrically opposed to the democratic-confederate leadership in line with ethic foundations. In democratic confederalism leadership institutions do not need ideological legitimization. Hence, they need not strive for hegemony.
Democratic Confederate Structures at a Global Scale
Although in democratic confederalism the focus is on the local level, organizing confederalism globally is not excluded. Contrariwise, we need to put up a platform of national civil societies in terms of a confederate assembly to oppose the United Nations as an association of nation-states under the leadership of the superpowers. In this way we might get better decisions with a view to peace, ecology, justice, and productivity in the world.Democratic confederalism can be described as a kind of self-administration in contrast to the administration by an accessory of the military apparatus. Liberal democracies even outdo this by painting their militaristic structures in democratic and liberal colors. However, this does not keep them from seeking authoritarian solutions at the highpoint of a crisis caused by the system itself. Fascist exercise of power is the nature of the nation-state. Fascism is the purest form of the nation-state.This militarization can only be pushed back with the help of self-defense. Societies without any mechanism of self-defense lose their identities, their capability of democratic decision-making, and their political nature. Therefore, the self-defense of a society is not limited to the military dimension alone. It also presupposes the preservation of its identity, its own political awareness, and a process of democratization. Only then can we talk about self-defense.Against this background democratic confederalism can be called a system of self-defense of the society. Only with the help of confederate networks can there be a basis to oppose the global domination of the monopolies and nation-state militarism. Against the network of monopolies we must build up an equally strong network of social confederacies.This means in particular that the social paradigm of confederalism does not involve a military monopoly for the armed forces, which do only have the task of ensuring the internal and external security. They are under direct control of the democratic institutions. The society itself must be able to determine their duties. One of their tasks will be the defense of the free will of the society from internal and external interventions. The composition of the military leadership needs to be determined in equal terms and parts by both the political institutions and the confederate groupings.the nation-state. However, under certain circumstances peaceful coexistence is possible as long as the nation-state does not interfere with central matters of self-administration. All such interventions would call for the self-defense of civil society.Democratic confederalism is not at war with any nation-state, but it will not stand idly by at assimilation efforts. Revolutionary overthrow or the foundation of a new state does not create sustainable change. In the long run, freedom and justice can only be accomplished within the dynamic of a democratic-confederate process.Neither total rejection nor complete recognition of the state is useful for the democratic efforts of civil society. The overcoming of the state, particularly the nation-state, is a long-term process.the state will be overcome when democratic confederalism has proved its problem-solving capacities with a view to social issues. This does not mean, however, that attacks by nation-states have to be accepted. Democratic confederations will sustain self-defense forces at all times. Democratic confederations will not be limited to organizing themselves within a single particular territory. They will become cross-border confederations when the societies concerned so desire.
Principles of Democratic Confederalism
1.The right to self-determination of the peoples includes the right to a state of their own. However, the foundation of a state does not increase the freedom of a people. The system of the United Nations, which is based on nation-states, has remained inefficient. Meanwhile, nation-states have become serious obstacles for any social development. Democratic confederalism is the contrasting paradigm of oppressed peoples.
2.Democratic confederalism is a non-state social paradigm. It is not controlled by a state. At the same time, democratic confederalism is the cultural organizational blueprint of a democratic nation.
3.Democratic confederalism is based on grassroots participation. Its decision-making processes lie with the communities. Higher levels only serve the coordination and implementation of the will of the communities that send their delegates to the general assemblies. For a limited space of time, they are both mouthpiece and executive institutions. However, the basic power of decision rests with the local grassroots institutions.
4.In the Middle East, democracy cannot be imposed by the capitalist system and its imperial powers, as these only damage democracy. The propagation of grassroots democracy is fundamental. It is the only approach that can cope with diverse ethnical groups, religions, and class differences. It also goes well together with the traditional confederate structure of society.
5.Democratic confederalism in Kurdistan is an anti-nationalist movement as well. It aims at realizing the right of self-defense of the peoples by the advancement of democracy in all parts of Kurdistan without questioning the existing political borders. Its goal is not the foundation of a Kurdish nation-state. The movement intends to establish federal structures in Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq that are open for all Kurds and, at the same time, form an umbrella confederation for all four parts of Kurdistan.
Abdullah Öcalan is founding member and leader of the Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK).