October readings

Source: ROAR Magazine


Once a month, we put together a list of stories we’ve been reading: things you might’ve missed or crucial conversations going on around the web. We focus on environmental and social justice, cities, science fiction, current events, and political theory. 

We try to include articles that have been published recently but will last, that are relatively light and inspiring, and are from corners of the web that don’t always get the light of day. This will also be a space to keep you up to date with news about what’s happening at Uneven Earth. 

So much has happened around the world this month, it’s hard to keep up. From massive protests around the world that toppled whole governments and won people’s demands against austerity, to Turkey’s attack on Rojava, to massive wildfires in California (again). But that’s exactly why we put together this newsletter for you! This month, we feature some excellent analysis on what links these global protests against austerity, and on-the-ground analysis of protests in each country. We offer many stories that can help inform you about what’s going on in Rojava, and how we can respond to Turkey’s invasion and the US role. After Extinction Rebellion protesters tried to block commuters in London, a debate ensued about appropriate forms of direct action, which we feature here. Now that California is up in flames again, we offer some timely analyses on the economic system and built environment that have led to its current ecological crisis. We also highlight a few analyses from inside the movement for local democracy in North America, with several reflections on the Symbiosis Congress of Municipal Movements this September. There was also a lot of analysis about the role of corporations in the climate crisis, including Silicon Valley’s funding of climate change denial. 

On the whole, a thread running through this month’s events was the perceived conflict between working class demands and environmental policy. Reminding us of France’s Yellow Vest protests, in Ecuador, social movements rose up against rising gas prices; in London, Extinction Rebellion was mocked for blocking a commuter train in a working class area. In California, austerity has led to the failure of its energy companies to provide energy for millions of people, targeting the poor. What are the opportunities for environmental policies to meet people’s needs, and at the same time reconstruct the world system ecologically? How can environmentalists, especially those in the Global North, appeal to the global working class? These are some key questions going forward. 



Uneven Earth updates

Shrink the military, shrink injustice | Link | The US Green New Deal must be anti-imperialist

A Green New Deal for an ecological economy | Link | Introducing a series of proposals for a truly transformative GND

Designing for a world after climate catastrophe | Link | While architects are often told they will change the world, a new book fails to imagine what a world after capitalism could look like

Degrowth should be a core part of the just transition | Link | A review of Degrowth by Giorgos Kallis

Utopia, not futurism: Why doing the impossible is the most rational thing we can do | Link | This 1978 speech by Murray Bookchin is strikingly relevant today


Top 5 articles to read

The US city preparing itself for the collapse of capitalism

New bubbles, mounting debt: preparing for the coming crisis

Post-capitalists must understand the role of migration in global capitalism. “When reading and hearing of ambitious programmes for social transformation, it is our task to consider whether or not such programmes have a sense of the ‘real’ determinants of economic development that Marx recognised: international relations of production, the international division of labour in a world market, exploitation of resources and emigration of displaced people, and at the forefront of these processes, the inner structures of middle and working classes and relations between them.”

The stories we need: pan-African social ecology

Why mental health is a political issue, by Mark Fisher. “Depression is the shadow side of entrepreneurial culture, what happens when magical voluntarism confronts limited opportunities.”



News you might’ve missed

Unprecedented’ murder charges for loggers in deaths of indigenous activists. Two timber executives and three loggers charged in shooting deaths of activists who battled illegal logging in Peruvian Amazon.

Fishery collapse ‘confirms Silent Spring pesticide prophecy’ 

Indonesia finds one-fifth of palm oil plantations are illegal

Maquiladoras and the exploitation of migrants on the border 

Understanding extinction: humanity has destroyed half the life on Earth

Dutch development bank is financing land theft, intimidation and Landless: How the Dutch development bank marginalises farmers.

‘Consumers are not aware we are slaves inside the greenhouses’

Higher temperatures driving ‘alarming’ levels of hunger – report

Indigenous Mapuche pay high price for Argentina’s fracking dream

Cambodia’s Bunong reel from deforestation

History threatened as Turkey prepares to flood ancient city

Harvard and TIAA’s farmland grab in Brazil goes up in smoke 




Worldwide uprisings against austerity

Analysis of the common threads in global uprisings: 

The revolution isn’t being televised

Prole Wave: climate change, circulation struggles and the communist horizon

Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon: Global protests are fueled by deeper discontent

Revolts against the neoliberal world order

The Interpreter: The global protest wave, explained

Why democracy is crumbling in the West

And analyses of protests in each country:

Massive protests in Chile force repeal of fare hikes and Chile doesn’t need to rebuild, it needs to be restructured. Also: Debt and neoliberalism: The global roots of Chile’s crisis

The Algerian Hirak: Young people and the non-violent revolution

Lebanon’s ‘October Revolution’ must go on!

As protests grow, Lebanese are ‘reclaiming’ public spaces

Lebanon is experiencing a social revolution

Update from Catalonia and “Be water”: Catalonia protesters learn from Hong Kong 

Social and political earthquake in Ecuador and a piece by Diana Vela Almeida, contributing editor at Uneven Earth: The fight against the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies in Ecuador: Lessons for environmental and social justice




Extinction Rebellion: Critique and defense

Resources on colonialism, racism, and climate justice for Extinction Rebels

The flawed social science behind Extinction Rebellion’s change strategy

How seven thousand Quebec workers went on strike against climate change

It is not just a bunch of flowers

Don’t use XR tube action to attack the climate rebels

Extinction Rebellion has a politics problem




Revolution in Rojava

Trump’s betrayal of Rojava

This Vermonter’s theories laid the groundwork for revolution in Rojava

The Kurds—a history of agony

PKK letter to the American people and President Trump

The Rojava revolution in peril

What the world loses if Turkey destroys the Syrian Kurds

New education system was central to the Kurds’ Rojava Revolution in northern Syria – now it’s under attack

Turkish attack on Syria endangers a remarkable democratic experiment by the Kurds

Not just ethnicity: Turkey v. Kurds and the great divide over political Islam v. the secular Left

This isn’t the first time the US has abandoned the Kurds

The annihilation of Rojava




Reflections on the Symbiosis Congress

Grassroots democracies form North American coalition

Symbiosis: federating municipalist movements in North America for real democracy and en français: L’émergence d’un municipalisme nord-américain

Of egg and chicken: A report back from the Symbiosis Federation Congress

Report back from the Symbiosis Congress of Municipal Movements

We do it badly, or not at all: reflections on the Congress of Municipal Movements




California’s wildfires and ecological crisis in the United States

It’s the end of California as we know it. “Our whole way of life is built on a series of myths — the myth of endless space, endless fuel, endless water, endless optimism, endless outward reach and endless free parking.” 

Ordinary life has vanished in fire-ravaged California

‘I’m standing right here in the middle of climate change’: How USDA is failing farmers

California’s power shutdown was primed by climate change




Corporations and climate injustice

Global climate laws threatened by rise in investor-state disputes

Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions

Fossil fuel firms’ social media fightback against climate action

Money to burn: How iconic banks and investors fund the destruction of the world’s largest rainforests

Revealed: Google made large contributions to climate change deniers

In its insatiable pursuit of power, Silicon Valley is fuelling the climate crisis

How to pay for climate justice? Tax the rich, say the rich

Free Trade Agreements are fueling and shaping the oppression and injustice against women




Just think about it…

The act of giving and the chance of life on a finite planet

Has capitalism become our religion?

Being busy is eliminating the joys of shared free time

The past is still present: why colonialism deserves better coverage

Digital dystopia: how algorithms punish the poor

Humans will not ‘migrate’ to other planets, Nobel winner says

The real reason scientists downplay the risks of climate change

Mining is destroying the planet

Ancient farmers irreversibly altered Earth’s face by 3000 years ago

Climate is missing the point. We have an ecosystem emergency

How capitalism ‘solved’ the nitrogen crisis




Where we’re at: analysis

‘Racism dictates who gets dumped on’: how environmental injustice divides the world. The Guardian launched a year-long series, Our Unequal Earth, investigating environmental injustices: how ecological hazards and climate disasters have the harshest impacts on people of color, native tribes and those on low incomes.

As sea levels rise, so do ghost forests

‘Like a sunburn on your lungs’: how does the climate crisis impact health? 

Against ‘consumption’ . We must shift our perspective from reducing consumption to radically reorganising society.

Professional-managerial chasm and On the origins of the professional-managerial class: An interview with Barbara Ehrenreich

Connecting trade and climate chaos

Reflections on Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, by Peter Linebaugh

Depoliticization is a deadly weapon of neoliberal fascism  




New politics

A growing anti-racist network takes on the rise of far-right politics in Germany

Uganda’s eco-feminists are taking on mining and plantation industries

Saving Aru: The epic battle to save the islands that inspired the theory of evolution

Burial ground acknowledgements. Land acknowledgments as acts of institutional inclusion obscure the antagonism that follows from genocide.

Farewell to the World Social Forum? And an oldie but goodie: Mzonke Poni on the World Social Forum

Germany’s big green mood lacks radicalism

For the sake of life on Earth, we must put a limit on wealth

The other Marx. Why the Communist Manifesto is obsolete

“Every time a civilization is in crisis, there is a return of the commons” – Interview with Michel Bauwens

‘One of the biggest, baddest things we did’: Black Panthers’ free breakfasts, 50 years on 

What living well means for the Tseltal and Tsotsil Maya of the Chiapas




Cities and radical municipalism

Property owners can do basically whatever they want to homeless people now. In San Francisco, they’re even getting the government’s help.

A new kind of housing co-op emerges in San Francisco

Can our ‘global city’ offer transnational solidarity?

‘Van homes’ aren’t romantic – they are proof of our horrifying housing crisis

India builds homes to resist climate-linked floods

An Athenian remedy: the rise, fall and possible rebirth of democracy

The urban shepherd of Paris – photo essay




Degrowth!

Techno-fix futures will only accelerate climate chaos – don’t believe the hype 

A Green New Deal between whom and for what?

Degrowth and the Green New Deal

Why degrowth is essential: A rejection of Left ecomodernists Phillips, Sharzer, Bastani, and Parenti

Climate futures: Renewable energy vs. technologies of degrowth




Sci-fi and the near future

Angela Davis, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Nikita Dhawan: Planetary utopias

Reclaiming sci-fi’s lost history

We need more imagination in the face of climate catastrophe

Comrades in deep future

The rise of Indigenous horror: How a fictional genre is confronting a monstrous reality




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Social ecology, Kurdistan, and the origins of freedom

Göbekli Tepe (Urfa, Kurdistan) site of one of the earliest known human structures. Kobane lies beyond the horizon.
Göbekli Tepe (Urfa, Kurdistan) site of one of the earliest known human structures. Kobane lies beyond the horizon.

by Eleanor Finley

I recently had the opportunity to visit Turkey and North Kurdistan. In that short time, Istanbul celebrated the third year anniversary of Gezi Park, the Democratic Union Party (HDP) won unprecedented political representation in the Turkish parliament, and the cantons of Cizire and Kobane were joined.

Throughout these dramatic events, I was often sitting cross-legged on living room floors, drinking tea and listening to the stories of journalists, activists, and families who had participated in the Rojava Revolution. Such conversations were made possible through many comrades, most of all through Jihad Hemmi, who acted as a guide, translator, and intellectual companion.

Through my travels, I was given a glimpse of the relation between the Kurdish freedom movement and the philosophy of social ecology. By the same token, I gained a much clearer sense of the extraordinary scope and meaning of this particular revolutionary struggle.

 

Reviving Politics

Social ecology is a coherent Leftist vision that underscores the potential for human beings to play a mutualistic and creative role in natural evolution. We can fulfill this potential, social ecology argues, by uprooting the irrational, hierarchical, and ecologically-destructive society we currently live under, and by replacing it with a socially-enlightened and ecological society.

An essential feature of such a society would be the Aristotelian notion of politics, that is, the direct management of towns, cities, and villages by the people who live there. In other words, social ecology maintains that we can supplant capitalism and the state with a global federation of directly-democratic municipalities.

Left-libertarian thinker Murray Bookchin invented and elaborated on social ecology from the 1960s until his death in 2006. However, many other education projects, publishing ventures, political organizations, and writers also constitute this intellectual movement. Social ecology groups exist in many countries- including Turkey, Norway, Spain, Greece, Columbia, the United States and others. Although marginal on the Left as well as the mainstream, social ecology has had 40 years of steady influence on social and political movements throughout the world.

PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan started reading Bookchin at the beginning of his prison exile in the early 2000’s, bringing Bookchin’s works to his lawyers as recommended reading for the rest of the PKK. In 2004, Ocalan recognized himself in a letter to Bookchin as his “student”, and was in the process of establishing his own theories modeled on Bookchin’s ideas.

In 2006, the PKK began organizing Democratic Autonomy, an administrative system of civic councils to statelessly govern North Kurdistan. Democratic Autonomy would become an important antecedent for the cantons in Rojava, as well as for the confederal projects currently being set up within the Turkish state by the HDP (Democratic Union Party).

Democratic Autonomy is one of the first revolutionary Left projects to exercise power under an explicitly confederalist agenda. Although it did not practice direct democracy, it did mark the 21st century’s first serious attempt to approach the municipality—not the nation or the state—as the authentic unit of governance.

Unlike traditional Marxism, which reduced politics to economics and thus failed to offer democratic solutions, this approach brings economic decisions under the umbrella of communal decision-making. And unlike traditional anarchism, which avoided the question of institutional power altogether, this approach seeks to popularize power and render it transparent. Democratic Autonomy, the Rojava cantons, and other projects under democratic confederalism are steps toward creating (however imperfectly) a new realm of human activity characterized by free deliberation, debate, and the exercise of reason.

Freedom and Organic Society                                                                                                       

“The PKK never regarded the Kurdish question as a mere problem of ethnicity or nationhood. Rather, we believed, it was the project of liberating society and democratizing it.” – Abdullah Ocalan, 2011.

Intellectual commentators of the Kurdish revolutionary movement often focus on the juncture of principles and practice, looking no farther back in history than the establishment of the PKK in the 1970’s. But in order to understand how (or rather why) these principles came to emerge, one must use a deeply historical and dialectical lens. Social ecology offers one crucial piece of that puzzle. Through Ocalan’s interpretations, it has offered Kurds a radical new framework for asserting their role in the history of human liberation.

In The Ecology of Freedom, Bookchin accounts for the historical development of the concept of freedom. He identifies the beginning of this development in the earliest human settlements of Mesopotamia, what is now modern-day Kurdistan. Nearly 12,000 years ago, human beings initiated a decisive step in social development, undertaking the project of living together with more than they could carry on their backs.

This project presented vast new challenges for organizing and making sense of the world. Thus Mesopotamia is where we find the earliest instances of written language, mathematics, architecture, and agriculture. It is also, Bookchin recognized, where we find the beginnings of the struggle between ideologies of freedom and domination.

Bookchin points to the cuneiform word amargi (“return to the mother”), which first appears nearly 5,000 years ago in juxtaposition to the newly oppressive conditions under the Sumerian state. Organic society, he argues, had no previous word for the concept of ‘freedom’, just as fish might have no word for ‘water’. This conflict between freedom and unfreedom has stayed with society to the present day. Indeed, the revolutionary challenge we face today is that of pushing the development of freedom forward, making freedom, rather than hierarchy, the dominant social principle.

Just a few short days within a Kurdish household reveal that the organic society upon which the earliest states imposed themselves never fully vanished. From oral traditions of epic song to meaningful practices of naming children (I spent time with a little girl named Amargi, for instance), Kurds have retained ancient forms of egalitarian and organic social life since the Neolithic.

Like many organic or so-called indigenous peoples, traditional Kurdish kinship networks are vast and intricate. Once, while explaining the role of tribal groups in the Kobane defense, Jihad turned to me and asked, “How many cousins do you have?” “About 20,” I replied, “I have a big Catholic family on my father’s side,” to which he responded, “Counting both sides, I have over 200.”

Many of the Ocalanist revolutionaries I spoke to described their struggle as one of organic society against authoritarian society. They articulated a clear sense that not only capitalism and statist forces produced ISIS, but also the mentality of hierarchical society itself.

Many of the Ocalanist revolutionaries I spoke to described their struggle as one of organic society against authoritarian society. They articulated a clear sense that not only capitalism and statist forces produced ISIS, but also the mentality of hierarchical society itself. However, it was also emphasized that the purpose of democratic modernity is not simply to revive organic society. Rather, it is to revive the social and ethical aspects of organic society and weave them with the ethical principles gained by Western enlightenment. At the same time, it advocates the use of reason to work out the unethical aspects of traditional Kurdish society (tribal rivalries, for example), while also refusing the cold scientism and positivism of the West. Such a synthesis moves us into a new stage in the development of freedom, one which Ocalan calls “democratic civilization” and which Bookchin referred to simply as a free society.

Kurdistan2-284x300
An Ocalanist and the author share tattoos. Tattoos are prohibited under Islam, but are a retained aspect of Zoroastrianism in Kurdish culture.

The Power of a Coherent Narrative

By focusing on hierarchy instead of class, Bookchin became the first Leftist thinker to offer a coherent, meaningful framework to understand the liberation struggles in the Middle East. His narrative implies that a revolutionary movement in Kurdistan is a struggle at the material origin of institutional hierarchy itself.

Although such a localized struggle cannot automatically release hierarchy’s tight grip over rest of the world, it does powerfully illustrate the full scope of the revolutionary task at hand. In this way, the Kurdish freedom movement is not only influenced by social ecology, it also enriches that perspective and articulates it further.

The human beings who live at the material origins of institutional hierarchy, and who have maintained organic ways of life there for millennia, are now answering the call to establish the positive conditions of a free society.

Many Westerners are baffled by the determination of PYD and YPJ fighters, their ability to simultaneously withstand multiple attacks of genocidal violence and maintain a commitment to the praxis of anti-authoritarianism.

Many Westerners are baffled by the determination of PYD and YPJ fighters, their ability to simultaneously withstand multiple attacks of genocidal violence and maintain a commitment to the praxis of anti-authoritarianism. In Kurdistan I found myself humbled by the seriousness with which revolutionaries went about their project. Yet from a social ecological perspective I was also able to grasp that the Kurdish movement is infused with a deep sense of purpose, a knowledge that they have a catalytic role to play in world history. I was reminded of one of the passages in Bookchin’s essay, “The Communalist Project”,

“[Communalists] do not delude themselves that the state will view with equanimity their attempts to replace professionalized power with popular power…That the new popular-assemblyist municipal confederations will embody a dual power against the state that becomes a source of growing political tension is obvious. Either a Communalist movement will be radicalized by this tension and will resolutely face all its consequences, or it will surely sink into a morass of compromises that absorb it back into the social order it once sought to change.”

Clearly Kurds have selected the former path. What remains to be answered is how will we respond? Will we resolutely face the consequences of a coherent, historicized revolutionary vision, or will we continue to slowly fade into a morass of ever-diminishing compromises? Kurds have found—indeed, have chosen—their place in the development of human freedom. What is ours?

Eleanor Finley is a board member of the Institute for Social Ecology. She has a background in feminist activism and was a participant in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Eleanor is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where her research focuses on social movements, environment, and energy in Europe. She is currently conducting action-research within the Spanish anti-fracking movement, and interns with Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

This article was originally posted on The Kurdish Question and has been revised from its original version.