Farewell, Rojava: The Philosophical Case for Strategic Thinking as a Democratic Necessity
17 December 2022
Source: https://twitter.com/cmoc_sdf/status/1392479402169147392; Image Credit: SDF
Not enough attention is paid to Rojava’s regression to authoritarianism, and even less attention is paid to the conceptual deficits in Rojava’s anarcho-communist practice that misguide its strategists toward such an outcome. Despite the emphasis of Rojava’s theorists on ‘imagination,’ and the stress Rojava’s revolutionaries put on ‘action,’ proper strategist thought and imagination are absent from their repertoires. Betraying the teachings of Abdullah Öcalan, they have reverted to playing strategy on the terrain of the state and capital and, thus, ceding strategic mediation and creativity to the rules and powers of this undemocratic terrain. There is a dire need in Rojava and other leftist fronts to fuse strategic thinking and democratic practice. Contrary to the thought of philosophers such as Jacques Rancière, who have us believe in a necessary correlation between strategic and authoritarian politics, strategic thinking is a democratic necessity. Its absence is to blame not only for the authoritarian relapse in Rojava but also for the uncanny regressions of the ‘multitudinous,’ ‘post-organizational,’ and ‘non-hierarchical’ variety of contemporary praxis to dictatorial formations.
Sympathetic and serious critique is essential to writing about an event of Rojava’s magnitude; it is necessary for intellectual treatments of Rojava’s achievements and shortcomings. Otherwise, we risk treating the event in Rojava as a miraculous effort that is above serious criticism and not as a people’s humble leap in strategic imagination that was in the making for decades. In this spirit, the following criticism of the emerging Stalinism in Rojava is in sincere accord with how the event in Rojava has transformed my attitude (and that of many others) toward what is possible in the Middle East region. I push back against the reactionary narrative of deeming the current administration in Rojava ‘better’ than the others in the Middle East and thus in constant need of indulgence against fair and unfair criticism.
In my journalistic work, I have written extensively on the concrete dynamics that have encouraged the re-emergence of the state and capital in Rojava. In this essay, I focus on the undemocratic consequences of a certain strategic deficit in our philosophical takes on radical events such as the one in Rojava. I wager that this trendy disregard for what Lenin deemed the “strategic culture” (1) of building counterpower results, almost always, in the emergence or resurgence of authoritarian tendencies in such projects. I contend that the revolutionaries in Rojava are embracing an authoritarian social and political culture not because of a lack of emphasis on the ‘strategic’ but because their very imaginary of strategy is pre-leftist and post-democratic. Contrary to the convictions of philosophers who have us believe in a necessary correlation between strategic and authoritarian politics, I argue that strategic thought is a democratic necessity.
Strategy and Dissensus
Without further ado, I get to the conceptual crux of my argument before hashing out its implications for Abdullah Öcalan’s thought, on which the praxis in Rojava was by and large based. I retrace continental theory’s ‘anti-strategic reaction’ to the post-May 1968 philosophical response to the conjuncture’s authoritarian currents. This periodization does not exhaust the philosophical origins of such an attitude, of course, as it is possible to find its premodern lineage in scholasticism and its modern paragon in Hegel’s concept of logic. Nevertheless, the lessons that the likes of Jacques Rancière claim to have learned from Althusser’s mistakes in 1968 serve to delimit the precision of the anti-strategic tendency’s commentary on democracy.
Rancière is correct to denounce the tyrannical agreement between discourses that presume that “the dominated are dominated because they are ignorant of the laws of domination” and “the exalted task” of the masters of such discourses, as in those who bring “their science” of the laws of domination “to the blind masses” to free them of their chains. (2) After all, as Machiavelli remarks in The Prince, there is just “such a gap” between “what is” politics and what it “ought to be”; a gap often occupied by a prince (e.g., Lenin) or master discourse (e.g., the historical materialist philosophy of history), and in the name of which the strategists of radical transformations assign the surrogates to ‘their place’ in a hierarchy of necessary knowledge, piety, or decisiveness. Rancière argues that in such “strategic models” of politics and aesthetics, the master-strategist subjugates the student-surrogate by laying claim to some “necessary agreement” between “reality and its sense,” (3) one that renders strategic “verisimilitude and necessity identical” and enforces a hierarchical “consensus” among the wise ‘adults’ who agree to the assigned identity between political reality and practical sensibility and the immature ‘idealists’ who do not. Rancière reminds us that this master discourse on strategic necessities is at the root of all disagreements between strategists and surrogates, leaders and masses, and intellectuals and the poor, regarding the ‘ideal,’ ‘transformative,’ and ‘practical.’
strategy, like democracy, does not belong to a single (individual or collective) subject; rather, it is always the relationship between two or more subjectivities, one of which can be undemocratic, violent, or unprincipled in strategy and thus a proactive hindrance to democratic, non-violent, or ethical strategizing. Strategy is externally oriented by necessity––a constant refrain in Rojava’s battles against the Islamic State, the Syrian regime, and patriarchy––and thus irreducible to autonomous exercises in democratic aspiration and organization.
As a former ally of the revolution in Rojava, I am well acquainted with such necessary disagreements. For not only Rojava’s decision-makers lacked in the mastery of the ‘necessary’ across crucial conjunctures, but often enough, their pedantic claims to such mastery amounted to no more than a feigned or forced harmony between the necessary interests of the revolution, the Kurds, Syrians, Middle Eastern women, autochthonous anti-capitalism, American foreign policy…and the internal contradictions of late-stage imperialism.
All the same, we must ask if the thought of strategy––a specific form and concept of knowledge in its own right––is carefully examined by the likes of Rancière. The reader is familiar with that ‘other’ legacy of the lessons learned from May 1968, which obliges such questions. I am speaking of the uncanny tendency in the ‘non-hierarchical,’ ‘post-organizational,’ and ‘multitudinous’ variety of praxis for regressing to dictatorial units, as well as the eerie perspective that the “failure of May ‘68 and the disillusionment with the old communist parties,” “African decolonization,” and “Third Worldism” have led to “a quasi-paranoid fear of any form of political or social organization.” (4) An understandable fear behind and through which the same strategic means and imaginaries of domination, which capital and its state never cease to produce and reproduce abundantly and attractively, exert themselves, amid the strategic gaps in contemporary radical thought and practice, with the same old force and lure.
This is why we must ask: are the likes of Rancière condemning the rest of us, and even the coming course of radical histories, to the fate of their own failures in strategic thought? Is it so futile to rethink the impasse between the strategic and democratic, or is our understanding of strategy itself archaic, undemocratic, and in need of transformation?
We can arrive at answers to such questions in a variety of ways. For our purposes, it is useful to highlight that democracy is not the proper form of equalitarian strategy, i.e., while ‘democratizing’ can be a strategic orientation toward realizing equalitarian politics, it is never equal to the task of strategizing democratic formations and transformations. This is because strategy, like democracy, does not belong to a single (individual or collective) subject; rather, it is always the relationship between two or more subjectivities, one of which can be undemocratic, violent, or unprincipled in strategy and thus a proactive hindrance to democratic, non-violent, or ethical strategizing. Strategy is externally oriented by necessity––a constant refrain in Rojava’s battles against the Islamic State, the Syrian regime, and patriarchy––and thus irreducible to autonomous exercises in democratic aspiration and organization. This relational qualification also entails that thinking about strategic antagonisms amounts to the very dialectic via which democratic praxis comes to terms with its necessary tasks and limitations in imagination. Strategy mediates the relationship between “reality and its sense” and amounts, in the final analysis, to the political aesthetic of remediating the tyrannical consensus on the necessary. It is strategic thought and practice that guide the formations and transformations of democratic politics, and not the other way around.
I believe that Rancière’s concept of “dissensus” (5) accounts for such nuances and contradictions, as it prescribes a dissenting postponement of all agreements on political organizing until all feigned or forced consensus on ‘what is politics’ and ‘strategy’ is contested by the organization’s included and excluded members. Then again, Rancière’s dissensus is avowedly anti-strategic, treats strategy as a monoculture immune to reimagination and metamorphosis, and thus dissents against strategic verisimilitudes by avoiding the temptations of strategic mediation altogether. Ergo, in effect, the politics of dissensus only cedes the field of strategy to the statist, capitalist… and archaic verisimilitudes that refuse to vacate mediation.
Equalitarian strategy is irreducible to one-way exercises in autonomy, abolitionism, or democracy. Otherwise, we underrate the adversary’s singularity, reduce our grasp on democracy to a purely organizational process, and risk blaming our comrades and organizational forms for failing to safeguard democratization against anti-democratic counterstrategies and radical verisimilitudes––as Rancière’s generation has done since May 1968.
The anti-strategic varieties of equalitarian politics are often tyrannical in practice for this very reason: Not only are their very strategies of vacating undemocratic mediations charged with unexamined strategic verisimilitudes burrowed from the state, capital, and other archaic actors and imaginaries, but the state and capital, among others, actively confront anti-strategic varieties of politics with unprincipled strategies, necessitate counterstrategies in response, and thereby aggravate and enforce the unexamined relationship between the strategically verisimilar and necessary in such politics. This regression was evident in the Western left’s critical attitude toward Rojava’s coalition with the United States: If they were correct to challenge the continued necessity of this coalition, their radical solutions fetishized ‘anti-imperialist,’ ‘anti-colonialist,’ or ‘sovereigntist’ alternatives that belonged to the strategic imaginary of a bygone era of international relations and historical capitalism. In the meantime, the US-led counterrevolution milked the contradictions of this strategic ignorance to fan the flames of the Western’s left critical consensus and isolate Rojava further.
We can also follow the consequence of the anti-strategic tendency to Étienne Balibar’s wager that the prospect of “continuous progress” toward “more intensive articulations of the autonomy of the individual and the importance of solidarity” is “prevented not only because of the interests it confronts” but also due to their “intrinsic contradictions.” (6) Internal antinomies that he considers “more dialectical than the idea of a conspiracy of nasty capitalists” and “also more political,” as they “allows us to imagine practical possibilities.” Balibar does not seem to recognize that the average “nasty conspiracy” is strategized to make a leftist bloc’s intrinsic contradictions weigh more contentiously on the political process within the bloc. It is just not “practical” to theorize the possibilities of ameliorating the left’s internal contradictions without grasping how outside interventions can aggravate such rifts. Antonio Gramsci was adamant that “to understand and to evaluate realistically one’s adversary’s position and his reasons” amounts to the only “point of view that is critical.” (7) In thinking about adversities to democracy, it is one thing to refuse to totalize the fact of adversity and another to refuse the facts of the adversary’s strategy. Equalitarian strategy is irreducible to one-way exercises in autonomy, abolitionism, or democracy. Otherwise, we underrate the adversary’s singularity, reduce our grasp on democracy to a purely organizational process, and risk blaming our comrades and organizational forms for failing to safeguard democratization against anti-democratic counterstrategies and radical verisimilitudes––as Rancière’s generation has done since May 1968.
In view of such deficits, our democratic concepts require a strategic supplement that accounts for opposing strategies and reinvents what it means and takes to strategize and democratize amid the ubiquity and onslaught of statist, capitalist… and archaic mediations and alternatives. I cannot get into the specifics of such a transformative concept of political strategy in this essay, but I will describe how Öcalan’s political thought addresses this strategic necessity and why it ultimately fell short of this radical undertaking.
Rojava after Rojava
It is safe to say that the event in Rojava and its revolutionary phase are long over. Now, in a Rojava after ‘Rojava,’ in the traditionally Kurdish areas in north and east Syria that are not concurred or colonized by the Turks and Islamist proxies, the administration in power toes the ‘Apoist’ line for the sake of appearances. In discourse and practice, it wages the US ‘war on terror’ as a disguise for intercepting the ground routes of China’s Belt and Road Initiative from Iran and East Asia to the Mediterranean and North Africa. This is the same “New Silk Road” that the likes of the NATO and the Pentagon identify as the biggest strategic challenge to global American hegemony over the next century.
I do not intend to blame the Rojavans for their strategic failures, and I will not recount the legitimate reasons for similar failures throughout the long history of the Kurdish resistance movement across the four international colonies that add up to ‘Kurdistan.’ However, it is necessary to question the hegemonic consensus that the decision-makers in Rojava ‘had no other recourse’ but to do as they did. We must pose the possibility that the road to where Rojava is here and now––after a decade of revolutionary resistance––was paved by several poor strategic choices that could have been different or avoided altogether. We must make room for the possibility of strategic thought and mediation. After all, if we claim to celebrate Rojava’s peoples and decision-makers for their revolutionary imagination, we cannot also declare, in the same breath, that their poor strategic choices were impervious to the powers of imagination and only ‘necessary’ given the circumstances.
Strategy is the art, philosophy, and science of creating agency in difficult situations, and if we are to understand how democracy and survival in Rojava have proved incompatible and why authoritarian tendencies are re-emerging in Rojava, we must measure the strategic imagination of Öcalan’s dual framework of Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism against the unsavoury trials of surviving IS, the Turkish Armed Forces, and the US-led counterrevolution. I speak of the same authoritarianism in Rojava that enforces civilian recruitment for the US ‘war on terror’ and suppresses the local revolts against such measures. I speak of the same undemocratic spirit that does not tolerate dissenting voices in Rojava’s media and universities. When I speak of the emerging Stalinism in Rojava, I speak of all who are quiet about the destruction of the Middle Euphrates River Valley’s environment by the administration’s oil refineries. Those who, in or outside Rojava, celebrate the revolution’s image to boost their radical image but never speak of the creeping counterrevolution in public. I could go on, but that is beside the point.
It is also easy to blame the ‘return’ of the Kurdistan Workers Party’s ‘repressed’ culture of Marxist-Leninism for the erosion of Öcalan’s influence on Rojava’s strategic imagination. But neither are PKK’s rank and file entirely on board with what is happening in Rojava, nor is their old-school vanguardism completely to blame for the Stalinist regression. The culprit cannot be sought in some simplistic discrepancy between theory and practice, either. Instead, we should note how the discourse on the practical articulates itself in Rojava in survival situations and denote why this strategic articulation is incompatible with Öcalan’s theories on democratic counterpower.
Öcalan’s dual framework was the product of his reflections on his strategic mistakes in over four decades of resisting Turkish colonialism and militarism. It came with the realization that as an anti-colonial movement in a so-called postcolonial region, Kurdish resistance movements can no longer struggle for international recognition against the military-industrial complexes of the Turkish Armed Forces and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Öcalan realized that the cultural battlefields are just as lopsided. After all, the ideological state apparatus of the region disguises such genocidal armies (and the petit-colonial nation-states behind them) as ‘anti-imperialist’ actors and feeds this image to the gullible Western left as radical and academic fodder. I am speaking of the same nation-states that recognize their lines of sovereignty along the neocolonial borderlines of modern Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, state lines that were drawn with strategic malice in several post-WWI treaties and carved with imperialist intentions out of the ancient Mesopotamian soup of cultures and peoples that had lived for millennia in and around the lands crossed by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The region’s geostrategic jugulars were sliced so that mismatched minorities and majorities––boxed into incongruous nation-states––would have every reason to war over the domestic and regional control of power for generations. Hereafter, with the Kurds alone divided into four colonies, a Kurdish resistance movement in one colony would be treated as an existential enemy by all of the region’s four state entities.
This structural deficit was exacerbated by a lack of solidarity between Kurdish resistance movements and the haughty international left from the East to the West, who sympathized with the region’s so-called sovereign and postcolonial nation-states. Öcalan realized that in this lopsided strategic and ideological battlefield, a radical transformation in the Kurdish and Middle Eastern politics of assigning meaning to land and identity had become a matter of strategic necessity. This is why in his prologue to Democratic Nation, he sets a new strategic agenda for the Kurdish resistance movements to come. Here, “Democratic Confederalism” proffers non-hierarchical tools for self-determination and self-defence in the Kurdish colonies. At the same time, “Democratic Autonomy” offers a roadmap for deterritorializing the Middle East by withering away the region’s nation-state borders. Though, at first glance, little that is ‘new’ about this dual framework. The soviets were pioneers on such fronts, the EZLN has managed a similar feat in Chiapas for decades, and the continental theory on socialist transitions is replete with imaginaries of this kind.
the US strategy of waging a careful counterrevolution in Rojava and coopting its radical potential for the ‘war on terror’ has proved successful between 2016 and the present because its strategists recognized and countered the strategic gist of Öcalan’s theoretical intervention: the Pentagon planners and Washington think tanks worked carefully to reterritorialize Rojava’s strategic imaginary and return it to the same old terrain of nation-statist politics.
Upon closer consideration, however, it becomes evident that the apparent lack of novelty is beside the strategic point and that Öcalan’s prescription should not be construed as an anarchist scheme of ‘voiding’ the archaic apparatus and conceptions of state and nationhood in the Middle East region. What requires theoretical explication, rather, is how Öcalan’s dual framework worked strategic wonders for the Rojavans during a civil war that was (and remains) a proxy world war and why Öcalan’s radical prescription was also a possible and sensible strategic alternative for Rojava’s people in a highly violent scene of survival. It is one thing to uphold ‘pluralism’ and ‘post-statism’ as radical ideals and entirely another to articulate their strategic necessity, specificity, and utility in dire situations of realpolitik.
After all, it was because the Syrian Kurds had incorporated the stateless framework of Democratic Autonomy into their revolutionary practice that they were not strategically or ideologically mandated to seek independence from Bashar al-Assad’s ‘Syrian Arab Republic’ as ‘Kurds.’ Thereby, they saved themselves from Assad’s butcheries throughout the war. Here, Öcalan and Rojava’s ‘anti-statism’ had Arab nation-statism disarmed from the get-go. Any celebration or criticism of Öcalan’s intervention must foreground this sensible strategic supplement. Meanwhile, the Democratic Confederalist approach to sharing power made Rojava’s administration attractive to the region’s other minorities, such as the Syriacs and Armenians, and to that other colony, women. The power-sharing scheme saved these minorities from the ‘sponsorships’ schemes of the region’s sectarian state actors, such as Iran, Saudi, and tribal, religious, and regional patriarchy. Here, if the contradictions of sectarian war could not be avoided in the Middle East, Öcalan’s ‘pluralism’ redeployed the force of such contradictions against sectarianism. Once more, it is not democratization that guides Öcalan’s theory and Rojava’s practice; rather, Öcalan’s strategy anticipates adversity and reorganizes its coordinates to civilize and democratize a theatre of war that could not be avoided by the Rojavans and their revolution.
Critically, Öcalan’s intervention is remarkable for deterritorializing the Kurdish imaginary of strategy and freeing it from the nationalist and statist verisimilitudes of archaic liberation ideologies. For nearly a century, à la Fanonism, forming a ‘Kurdish nation-state’ had been the predominant strategic ideology of all hitherto Kurdish liberation movements, and to the extent that this ideal was denied to the Kurds as a stateless population, the nation-state (or the lack thereof) had become a melancholic image of the failures of Kurdish sociality, identity, and even subjectivity. Here, Öcalan’s intervention consisted in recognizing the limitations of this obsolete strategic imaginary and reinvesting its strategic composition in transformational possibilities that were not geared to ‘recognition’ of the ‘Kurdish-other’ by the international state system, the colonizer, and the like.
In the final analysis, democratization in Rojava was made possible by the strategic supplements of Öcalan’s intervention and not the other way around. Öcalan’s intervention transformed the very imagination of emancipatory strategy in the Middle East and civilized the Syrian civil war (or the parts that took place in Rojava) in the process. This is why the reader will hear in my analysis echoes of Balibar’s call for the “civilization of war” as opposed to waging “civil war,” (8) but treated strategically and not as literally as Balibar himself does in his project on the “New Commons.” The reader should also recognize in Öcalan’s intervention a deep intuition for Rancière’s concept of the “distribution of the sensible,” (9) but made into a workable strategy of redistributing the strategically sensible in Kurdistan and the Middle East region.
Indeed, the US strategy of waging a careful counterrevolution in Rojava and coopting its radical potential for the ‘war on terror’ has proved successful between 2016 and the present because its strategists recognized and countered the strategic gist of Öcalan’s theoretical intervention: The Pentagon planners and Washington think tanks worked carefully to reterritorialize Rojava’s strategic imaginary and return it to the same old terrain of nation-statist politics. (10) Hence, they limited the strategic scope of Rojava’s project, once more, to exploiting the international state system’s internal contradictions and reduced the project’s pluralist imaginary, once again, to forming an all-Kurdish alliance against other state actors, majorities, and minorities.
Öcalan’s hybrid framework was designed, to be sure, to gradually transform life and politics in Kurdistan and the Middle East. The Americans were aware of the limitations of such a long-term vision amid a dire war situation and worked to make the prospect of shoring up Rojava’s capacity for resistance attractive to Rojava’s decision-makers. The rest was simply a matter of replaying the same counterrevolutionary strategy that the US had executed countless times before against other radical enclaves: they made life and war difficult on Rojava by enabling the TAF’s campaigns of occupation and genocide; modernized Rojava’s capacity for resistance via America’s military-industrial complex; sponsored the diplomatic and military organs in Rojava that benefited from links to the US military, state, and capital; and then, convinced a demoralized and divided populace and cadre in Rojava of the strategic merits of dancing to the tune of American foreign policy forever and ever. Indeed, once the People’s Defence Units (YPG) in Rojava retooled and rebranded themselves under American auspices as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to wage war against IS, the rise of the SDF military-industrial complex to dominance coincided with the reproduction of the state and capital inside Rojava. The creeping Stalinism reared its authoritarian head with the same organ’s rise to politico-strategic dominance.
once the People’s Defence Units (YPG) in Rojava retooled and rebranded themselves under American auspices as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to wage war against IS, the rise of the SDF military-industrial complex to dominance coincided with the reproduction of the state and capital inside Rojava. The creeping Stalinism reared its authoritarian head with the same organ’s rise to politico-strategic dominance.
Of course, the counterrevolutionary project did not unfold in this sequential manner, and many contingencies accelerated and derailed the project on many occasions. I recount the counterrevolutionary process to highlight a certain ignorance (or optimism) in Öcalan’s dual framework and its regard for the virtues of democratic organizations and disregard for the cunning of counterrevolutionary stratagems. Despite theorizing a democratic imaginary with a strategic supplement, Öcalan’s theoretical oeuvre remained vulnerable to the entrenched nation-statist mediations of the Kurdish strategic imaginary and the American attempts at rejuvenating and recharging this archaic strategic sensibility. (11) Importantly, recounting the counterrevolutionary process allows me to highlight how Rojava’s Stalinist administrators, academics, and media milk this resurgent common sense as a means to deviate from Öcalan’s paradigm-shifting intervention and shore up their hierarchical status as the masters of grassroots strategy, holders of organic intellectual capital, and the beneficiaries of the organs, businesses, and institutions affiliated with the Stalinist master discourse.
As aforementioned, there is no shortage of emphasis on the ‘strategic,’ practical,’ and ‘realpolitikal’ in the master discourse of the average SDF loyalist. They would be the first to tell you that anyone with a halfway decent grasp on the Realist school of international relations knows that the SDF’s moves have been ‘strategic’ if not outright ‘necessary’ and ‘inevitable.’ And yet, as I have demonstrated in Öcalan’s case, the problem should not be posed in terms of an irremediable dichotomy between the strategic and democratic. What the average SDF apologist speaks of––when he or she refers to ‘realism’ or ‘realpolitik’––bespeaks only an archaic grasp on the strategy, one that treats strategy as the realm of ‘difficult,’ ‘decisive,’ or ‘inevitable’ decisions and democracy as the register of the ‘ideal’ but not altogether ‘workable’ ideas and aspirations. “The accusation of dogmatism” is most applicable to “those who cannot grasp” the import of strategic thinking as “a guide to action.” (12) The real practical challenge against lies, therefore, in theorizing a transformative conception of strategy, realism, and realpolitik, as Öcalan did. Otherwise, we risk exposing our projects and comrades, over the long durée of our radical struggles, to some seemingly ‘impossible’ obstacles and some seemingly ‘inevitable’ compromises. From there, it takes but a gentle push by the counterrevolution to encourage paranoiac fears of any and all strategic endeavours or, conversely, justify Stalinist regressions with a straight face.
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Postscript: The above essay was written some nine months ago and well in advance of the recent developments that threaten the total extinction of the Rojava project by Turkey’s “Claw-Sword” operation. In this essay, I did not pursue the geopolitical reasons for Rojava’s total abandonment by the United States, a fate I had anticipated long ago and sketched out elsewhere on many occasions. Rather, here I was interested in the philosophical origins of an attitude toward strategic thought and action in Rojava that monopolized strategic decision-making on matters concerning Rojava’s alliances and realpolitik––and thus forced its real allies at home and abroad, and the people in Rojava and their revolution, toward such a fate. Regarding the recent developments, it suffices to say that their inevitability was conveyed in a September 2019 meeting in Washington, DC, between the Rojavan delegation led by Elham Ahmad and Joel Rayburn, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs. During this tense meeting, it was conveyed that the Turkish Armed Forces would eventually displace Rojava’s Kurdish population to the south of Syria’s M4 highway and that Rojava’s Syrian Democratic Forces would have to wage their “anti-terror” campaign from the majority-Arab city of Al Hassakah. Today, though the SDF chief, Mazlum Abdi, claims that “we are planning to defend our lands against Turkey,” we will have to wait and see if he follows through with the promise. He made a similar claim prior to the invasion of Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî in 2019, and so far, he has not redeployed the SDF forces employed in the US “war on terror” toward Rojava’s borders with Turkey. It also remains to be seen if, in the event of a Turkish attack, Abdi will continue to wage this war from Hassakah and as a tidy excuse for preventing the passage of the Chinese “Silk Road” through Syria, an alternative commercial route that can circumvent the Turkish ports earmarked as this road’s sole gateway to European markets.
1. Gerratana, Valentino. “Stalin, Lenin and ‘Leninism’.” New Left Review I. 103 (1977): 59–71.
2. Rancière, Jacques. Althusser’s Lesson. New York: Continuum, 2011, xvi.
3. Rancière, Jacques. The Lost Thread: the Democracy of Modern Fiction. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, 67.
4. Jameson, Fred. An American Utopia. London: Verso, 2016, 2
5. Rancière, Jacques. Dissensus. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016
6. Balibar, Étienne. “The ‘Impossible’ Community of the Citizens: Past and Present Problems.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 30. 3 (2012): 437–449
7. Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from The Prison Notebooks, New York: International Publishers, 1971, 344
8. Balibar, Étienne. “On the Aporias of Marxian Politics.” Diacritics 39. 2 (2002): 59–73
9. Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics: the Distribution of the Sensible. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004.
10. Clawson, Patrick, David Pollock, and Soner Cagaptay. “Syrian Kurds as a U.S. Ally: Cooperation and Complications.” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2018.
11. Though, I am not blaming Rojava’s failures on a man who writes to us from a solitary prison cell on an island guarded by the TAF.
12. Shandro, Alan. Lenin and the Logic of Hegemony. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014, 160.