Introduction: discussing the party model and mission – 1
Since the beginning of the Kobane siege by Daesh (ISIS) the Kurdish left, and specifically the Rojava model of social organisation has been studied and followed by several organisations, activists, networks and committed scholars. I decided to collaborate with KurdishQuestion.com to produce a series of short articles to expose (and prove) the similarities between the western (and not western too) anarchist tradition and democratic confederalism. While one of my concentrated areas of study is political theory (and radical political theory), I decided to help in drawing the parallels between both paths and familiarising them to one another. I hope this will help and all criticisms are welcome.
Kurdish female fighters and mujeres libres do have many coincidences in their forms of organization and strategic goals to be achieved.
The anarchist party model presented in this series is not an innovation in itself for political theory and radical political theory and not even for the leftist tradition. If the studies on this theme are quite unknown (or seem to be new or nonexistent), if this format of political organisation has not become an object of study (or recognised as the party model for self-management and direct democracy), this is due to the correlation of forces both inside the academic mainstream, the defeats suffered by the classist anarchists since 1939 and also because of the absence of debates within the left wing community, the academic spectrum and the mainstream media. This model approaches the militants within a political organisation specifically adherent to an ideological-doctrinaire corpus (also known as the cadre party). Because it is not a mass proposal, it has the format of having the membership composed by political cadres, without open affiliation and whose commitment degree increases as they enter further into the concentric circles (see Bakunin). Such modality acquired definitions in history such as: organicism, platformism, specifism; all of these are synonymous with the definition of the anarchist party (specific federation).
Party role introduction
The model of the left libertarian matrix and perspective presented in this series represents a possible application from a field of intentions, normative motivations, and strategic interests in Latin America in general and in Brazil in particular. But, we presume, that as long as we know each other better, the possibilities of political development will be reinforced from the real experience in Western Kurdistan and the inner debate among the thoughts under the PKK umbrella. It is very interesting to understand that this party mission is not to be part of a Nation-State institutional power but to help in building a society based on legitimate rights (both individual and collective), self-management, direct and radical democracy and as far away as possible from industrialism and a market-centred economy. The hypothesis formulated within the perspective of a real social democracy is the action of the political minority as a drive of force accumulation and long-term democratic radicalisation. If we compare this simple assumption and definition, we can observe many similarities between this perspective and the one written by comrade Abdullah Ocallan in 2011:
“Meanwhile, nation-states have become serious obstacles for any social development. Democratic confederalism is the contrasting paradigm of the oppressed people. Democratic confederalism is a non-state social paradigm. It is not controlled by a state.” (from PKK English website)
It is obvious that nobody should criticise this party model for not competing for institutional positions within a nation-state model when its mission is far away from that. I assume certain preconditions are always present. Every “party model” includes in its modelling the conditions and rules by which this party/political organisation is constrained and the path this (legal or illegal) institution is willing to take according to its medium- and long-term goals. In order to be theoretically consistent, it is necessary to present models that can be tested but, above all, these models should be applicable in accordance with the hypotheses suggested.
I am discussing the militant political organisation specifically adherent to an ideological and doctrinal corpus. On the other hand, because it is not a mass organisation it is structured within cadres, without open membership and whose level of commitment occurs within concentric circles, increasing the level of commitment according to the power to vote and be voted for key and assigned roles in the internal structure. This conception cannot be misunderstood into a misconception. Or, nobody should understand this as a kind of “good intentions only party”, but a strategic conception guaranteeing that party cadres and structures will be put in service and duty to help building new political institutions based on a horizontal and egalitarian society. The failure of the USSR party model or other variations based on authoritarian leadership, state-centred and industrialism prove that the whole leftist thought must make a big self-criticism and recognise that material conditions must grow ripe together with moral, ecological and fraternal conditions. Only a party-structure devoted to this cause can maintain a long term struggle, feeding social projects, like it did in the Latin American mass-union struggles in the early 20th century and like it is nowadays with the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) or specifically TEV-DEM in Rojava.
Denominations of this tradition among anarchism
I will finish this first short article remembering the definition of the anarchist party model. Although not exclusive, this type of organisation is usually considered to be typical of the anarchist ideology; a federal and non-mass model. As long as it is not a vanguard party model like classical Leninist parties, the party cadres must be the ones who reinforce the mass struggle which must be taken up by the whole communities, allowing people to lead their own destiny by and through the people’s assemblies. This party membership occurs by means of concentric circles and with the preparation of militants who hold multiple roles. This type of model has acquired definitions throughout its history, and all of them can also be identified as the definition of the anarchist party model. This model has acquired specific definitions throughout its history such as organicism, platformism, specifism.
I have been very glad to discover that these two seemingly distant traditions are actually so close to each other. This closeness can be easily detected in a simple reading of documents from both the PKK and anarchist traditions. The tradition and experiences in Kurdistan led by the PKK can feed anarchist traditions around the world and vice-versa. This exciting prospect is the main motivation behind the reason for this series of short articles.
11 March 2015
Introduction to this particular issue
In this part I will expose some basic historical information about the anarchist political organisation model and in the end, make a comparison between these experiences and the nowadays mission of the political organisation that intends to be the catalyst of a Democratic Confederalist social change.
The ancestry of the anarchist organisational model: three important experiences
International Alliance of Social Democracy: As I mentioned in the first part of the essay, the federalist organisational model is not new. In 1868, within the International Workers’ Association (IWA, also known in Latin languages as AIT) the so-called federalist wing included an organised political force called the International Alliance of Social Democracy (known as a Bakuninian type of Alliance), whose best known public reference was the Russian activist Mikhail Bakunin (1814/1876). The Alliance worked according to an organisation of cadres, of a “Carbonarian” type and with most of its militants acting in secrecy. Some public references were made to well-known leaders within the IWA and this association did not act only in a specific country or territory. It was usual to send delegates and operators (agents with militant commitment) to distant countries or regional divisions to promote social organisation, to form a cell of the Alliance or to support occasional episodes of rebellion. We can observe the role of experienced militants inside the Alliance, acting as social activists, political organisers and ideological propagandists. Also, sometimes, those who would be in the first line for a higher level of social struggle — like that which occurred during the Paris uprising and the Commune — Alliance militants were part of the political forces organising the first worker’s self-government in modern times (from March to May, 1871)
Socialist Revolutionary Anarchist Party:Another mentionable experience for this party model was founded in 1891, the Socialist Revolutionary Anarchist Party (SRAP, PRSA in Latin languages, known as Malatestian Party) and its most famous reference was the Neapolitan anarchist Errico Malatesta (1853/1932). Although the SRAP had a clandestine wing, it had a party structure most similar to the usual type of organisation. Its militants were references for the mass level (social) and intermediary level (political and social), as well as distributors and producers of political propaganda. The members were more of the multiple role type (multifunctional cadres), including types of direct action carried out in Italy at the time (from the foundation of the party until the fascist coup of 1922).
Ukrainian Insurgent Peasant’s Army: From the Russian Revolution, specifically in Ukraine, came the acquisition of experience in terms of mass political organisation during the civil war (1918-1921). The Ukrainian Insurgent Peasant’s Army (Black Army, also known as Makhnovichnian or Makhnovist), whose militant reference was Nestor Ivanovich Makhnó (1888/1934), had the political, military and administrative hegemony of large regions of Ukraine and developed a modus operandi based on collectivised production and its military section was an army based on mobile cavalry and whose command posts were all elected. Then there was the political/militia merger of the organisation, which promoted at the same time a higher level of conflict against the White Army (right-wing and tsarist) and also against the Red Army (the Bolshevik Party armed force). The military wing was the self-defence institution to guarantee a political federalist form of self-government and socioeconomic self-management. With the defeat to the Red Army in 1921, some survivors of the General Staff of the Black Army got together in Paris, France, and wrote a political manifesto, known as a piece of anarchist political theory called the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists. This document, which was widespread in the 1920s and 1930s, contained four basic theoretical guidelines for the model that is still valid today: Tactical Unity, Theoretical Unity, Collective Responsibility and Federalism.
Common aspects between the three experiences and similarities to the PKK’s actual mission
The exhibition of historical experiences and the accumulation among and from these organisations could result in an entire thesis solely discussing the concepts of the anarchist party. However, I want to emphasise in this series the common aspects between these organisational models: the selection of membership (party of cadres); non-participation in state elections (anti-electioneering); active minority action-type (against the conception of class vanguard); internal federative structure considered as a form of social organisation (political federalism); systematic use of force in collective and mass conflicts (direct action as a priority means of generating political events); projection of social structures organised as a priority (building a strong people), eliminating the professional intermediation (popular direct democracy); and existence of possible criticism and internal promotion, increasing the political responsibilities according to the militant’s degree of commitment (internal democracy and renewal).
The similarities between the anarchist organisation model and the role of the Kurdistan freedom movement’s political instrument is so impressive and clear that it is easily proved through a simple reading of this paragraph written by comrade Mustafa Karasu and published in the PKK’s English website:
“The PKK has restructured itself as a result of extensive self-criticism and a thorough criticism of classical socialism and its practiced forms. It sees classical socialist theory as insufficient. The PKK believes that classical socialism is not anti-capitalist enough and is too involved with the state; whereas the state is a tool of suppression. To topple a state in order to create a new one is not revolutionary practice, rather, to surpass, topple or minimize the hegemonic system and replace it with a socialist system by implicating socialism in the moment is the PKK’s adopted method. To topple a state is not the same as toppling the system. To liken these two things together is a sign of deviation from socialism.”
When we study socialist history and workers movements in several societies, Western or not, we can observe that this kind of criticism against state and state oriented so-called socialist parties were exactly the same criticism made by thousands of totally committed anarchist militants since, at least, 1864! After reading a sentence that starts by saying “PKK has structured itself through self-criticism” we can easily observe almost the exact same method of the anarchist political organisation, a constant inner struggle to avoid internally reproducing the political sphere and ideological thoughts that belong to authoritarians and capitalist (liberal or not) traditions. As I said in the first part of this essay, the PKK’s actual praxis can feed anarchists worldwide and vice-versa. The first step is a common recognition and approach between both traditions. To contribute to this common effort is the reason for this series.
1 May 2015
In this essay, I start to debate and contest the political theory produced to classify all parties, and in extension, all political organizations, inside an umbrella that models political participation inside indirect democracy in a liberal approach. Before going deeper into criticism, I will highlight some aspects. This article is not intended to enter the specific debate about the theories of political parties, but to contest the essential part of the hegemonic approach for political organizations definitions. We argued against the Marxist and Marxist-Leninist tradition in the two first essays. In this one and the next, we will argue against the theory produced to reinforce the powers that are political models in Western societies. Besides struggling against hegemonic definitions, I must recognize that political science has discussed this subject extensively, and that the object of analysis – the political party – is a unit of essential structural analysis for the area, and that there is a large (and boring) literature about it.
I recognize the validity of all these study approaches (the hegemonic ones), but I conduct a study that, from the ideological point of view, approaches the party in terms of the functioning of its structure; hence, there is a certain emphasis based on the terms and concepts used by classical theory. This approach of the organic functions intends to observe the types of role that this unit of analysis plays in the exercise of the process of Democratic Radicalization (and, obviously, in the Democratic Confederalism process), understanding the political front inside a liberal democracy as a permanent strategy including the popular action, forcing the State to be responsive, and being consistent with the expansion of rights and individual and collective freedom, given the multiplicity of subjects, demands, identities, and general issues.
I start with the premise that the substantial increase in social participation and organized protest creates the conditions for increasing social tension, passing through this route the form of projection and attempt of hegemony consolidation of the anarchist political organization or the anarchist party – based on the incidence and integration of the organized structures of lower classes.
Within this context, my fundamental analytical axis is the functioning of the political organization and the necessary training for its projection considering the strategic concept of radicalization of demands through the participative and protesting route. The aspect that changes with respect to the traditional method of political science production – is the explicit (not implied like a hidden premise) ideological point of view – and the location of the voluntary and integrative social organization (political party with cadres having internal democracy) being strategic for the accumulation of power from a labor and left libertarian point of view.
Before returning to the theme of modelling of this organization, it is interesting to analyze some of the current literature. I discuss in particular what concerns the characterization of the party, the type of participation, the macro-political environment (which democracy?), and the format of the long-term process where this organization operates. For the characterization of political parties, a definition is presented by Bobbio in his famous political dictionary. There, Norberto Bobbio and his associates describe the party as:
[…] the party encompasses very different social structures, from groups bound together by personal and particular ties to complex organizations of bureaucratic and impersonal style, whose characteristic is moving within the sphere of political power. […] the associations that we can consider to be actual parties were created when the political system reached a certain degree of structural autonomy, internal complexity and work division allowing, on the one hand, a process of political decision-making involving diverse parts of the system and, on the other hand, that among these parties include, in principle or in fact, representatives of those whom the policy decisions refer to […]
Bobbio and his associates characterize the parties as a kind of mass organization or mass electoral and this is seen as a phenomenon equivalent to an organizational setting and as a set of functions developed. I characterize these functions, among many, such as political representation, political mediation, political questioning, influence on key decisions of a society, cadre school for the elite, specific power niche, and promoter of various diffuse and specific interests. All of the definitions above are well fixed within the traditional and hegemonic way of doing politics. Not for our project.
As long as the strategic goal is different from oligarchic parties, a political organization devoted to social change is a recipient that stimulates and accumulates social power and experiences of social protest. The role of the strategic discussion centre is the nature of a social organization like a political party.
The similarities between the anarchist and democratic confederalism traditions and theory are evident again. If we compare my premises above to the following text it is easy to observe similarities. Reading the interview of Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Executive Council Co-President Bese Hozat (in PKK English website) there is an almost identical definition of what must be the party’s mission and crucial points. I thought it would be better to enumerate some of these crucial points:
“…it remains inadequate to define the PKK as an insurrection movement because of the fact that the party has presented the democratic nation paradigm, improved the democratic confederal system of peoples, built an alternative project of democratic peoples’ system against the five thousand year old statist government system and is leading the building of this project now. With the democratic, free and equal form of life and the democratic ecological system what the PKK has built is the only system that will liberate the peoples. The Kurdish people are today giving a struggle to build this system on the basis of their own will. In the current state of affairs, the PKK has gone beyond a movement and become a social living system.”
A political organization can be a social institution for educating a new ruling class elite as recognized inside liberal and hegemonic theory. On the other hand, it can be a place for developing a revolutionary mindset feeding real socialist projects into day by day life, without losing perspective on the strategic assets. A political organization that is not a self-proclaimed vanguard will never become a new elite, like the Nomenklatura in a soviet model, but will organize itself to operate as a motor for social change.
Bruno Lima Rocha has a PhD and MSc in Political Science and is a Professor of International Studies and Geopolitics teaching at 3 local universities in Southern Brazil.