The voice of Ocalan resonates in Latin America

by Raul Zibechi    


It has become a commonplace to say that the struggle of the Kurds of Northern Syria has resonances with the Zapatista movement. However, the thought of Abdullah Ocalan, as well as what has happened in the region of Rojava in recent years, is in line with what many Latin American social movements are doing.

At least three resonances can be found between these movements.

The first one refers to the nation-state. Different peoples, such as the Mapuche of Chile and Argentina, the Nasa of southern Colombia, the Aymaras of Bolivia, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and the lowlands, do not identify themselves with their states, nor seek to obtain positions in state institutions. The new black movements in Colombia and Brazil are following similar processes, which makes them stay away from the game of political chess of the nation-state.
It is not an ideological issue. For most of them, nation-states are not part of their histories and experiences as peoples, they understand nation-states as an imposition of colonialism and Creole elites.

The Kurds of Rojava do not intend to build any State. Ocalan considers the nation-state as the form of power proper to the "capitalist civilization." For the Kurds who share his ideas, the anti-state struggle is even more important than the class struggle, which is considered a heresy by the Latin American leftists who still look towards the 19th century. These leftists continue to consider the State as a shield to protect workers.

In the book "Capitalism. The age of Unmasked Gods and Naked Kings", the second volume of the “Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization”, the Kurdish leader holds a thesis which is very close to the Zapatista practice. Storming the State, writes Ocalan, "perverts the most faithful revolutionary." To conclude with a reflection that sounds appropriate to remember the centenary of the Russian Revolution: "One hundred and fifty years of heroic struggle was suffocated and volatilized in a whirlwind of power".

The second resonance is in the economy. Zapatistas tend to mock the "laws" of the economy and do not place that discipline at the center of their thinking, as it seems evident in the communications collection from Subcomandante Marcos. Ocalan, on the other hand, stresses that "capitalism is power, not economy". The capitalists use the economy, but the core of the system is the force, armed and not armed, to confiscate the surpluses produced by society.

Zapatismo defines the current extractive model (monocultures such as soybean, open pit mining and mega infrastructure works) as the "fourth world war" against the peoples, because of the use and abuse of force to delineate societies.

In both movements, there is a frontal critique of economism. Ocalan remembers that "in the colonial wars, where the original accumulation started, there were no economic rules". Indigenous and black movements in Latin America consider, for their part, that they face a colonial power, or "coloniality of power", a term used by the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano to describe the nucleus of domination in this continent.

In effect, economism is a plague that contaminates critical movements, which goes hand in hand with evolutionism. A legion of leftists consider that the end of capitalism will be achieved by the succession of stronger or softer deep economic crisis. Ocalan opposes this perspective and rejects the proposal of those who believe that capitalism was born "as a natural result of economic development". Zapatistas and Kurds seem to agree with Walter Benjamin's thesis that considers progress as a destructive hurricane.

Third, Latin American movements defend the Buen Vivir/Buena Vida (Good Living / Good Life) which is counter to capitalist productivism. The Constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia (approved in 2008 and 2009), highlighted nature as a "subject of rights", instead of continuing to consider it as an object to gain wealth. Amongst the movements, the idea is appearing that we are facing something more than a crisis of capitalism, a crisis of civilization.

The Kurdish movement holds that capitalism leads to the crisis of modern capitalist Western civilization. This analysis allows us to overcome the ideology of progress and development, integrates the various oppressions linked to patriarchy and racism, the environmental and health crisis, and assumes a deeper and wider view of the ongoing crisis.

A civilization goes into crisis when it no longer has the resources (material and symbolic) to solve the problems that it has itself created. That is why movements which seem geographically and culturally distant from each other feel that humanity is on the threshold of a new world.

Above these three resonances, we find a major confluence: Women occupy the centre of Latin American movements and form the nucleus of Ocalan’s thought. Hundreds of thousands of women who feel empathy and complicity with their Rojava counterparts have been placed on the streets of Argentina by Ni Una Menos.

"The strong and cunning man", Ocalan points out, is at the origin of the State, a deeply patriarchal institution designed by oppression and for oppression, that cannot be transmuted into a tool for liberation.