Building Democratic Confederalism in Europe

This is a recording of a conversation with Riza Altun (founding member of the PKK). This recording was taken by the Kurdish Students Union – YXK and first published in YXK’s basic reader on Democratic Confederalism. (Text in german)

Question: What analyses are fundamental to create a successful political organization in Europe – and Germany in particular?

Riza Altun: First of all, it is necessary to become aware of Germany’s extraordinary role. To understand what political culture prevails there and where it has its origins. Germany is one of the last European countries to have become a nation state, and there is a very dynamic, constant development of the spirit of capitalism there. With Hegel’s ideological legitimation for the nation state and Kant’s argumentation for the rule of law, fundamental contributions to the ideology of capitalism are rooted in the German-speaking world. What underlies the political culture there is the belief in the state as sovereign, legitimized by the rule of law. This follows an ideological pattern in which the state functions as a god whose prophet is law. Germany’s role in capitalism has steadily become more important since Bismarck, leading to two world wars and fascism. The historical process of development is very important to understand the ideology behind German politics. It is there that it is least possible to live as free people. What we see in the Kurdish freedom movement is that since the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan, Germany has been at the forefront of criminalization of the movement.

Question: What modern developments can be observed in the political culture?

Riza Altun: The end of real socialism paved the way for radical new thinking. There are currents that promote new thinking and reflect the Eurocentric view, such as anarchist approaches, postmodernism (deconstructivism) and postcolonialism. These currents need to be thought together so that a productive synthesis can emerge. It is very important to reflect that the existing political movements are born in wealthy societies and have to overcome a number of issues. Every political activist must analyse the current socio-political conditions, understand their historical classification and rethink their own political practice accordingly. When looking at the political culture in Germany, it becomes clear that the existing frameworks offer no motivation, no incentives to get involved. The entrenchment of political organization does not provide the impulse for one’s own initiative. And what has to be emphasized especially for the organization of the youth: Where do the existing frameworks offer an alternative life perspective? This is where the awareness of one’s own social role begins. The own social role in the development of a personal future perspective is recognized and acknowledged. In this society, a political youth can not only react to external factors and attacks, but has to develop its own goals and its own impulsiveness. These should not be implemented in a non-binding and changeable way, but in a new determination.

Question: How should the political culture in Europe and Germany be viewed in relation to the new paradigm?

Riza Altun: The political organizing according to the new paradigm is transferable to every society. In this way, the principles of democratic confederalism can also be thought of for Europe.The political tradition of a party that enforces unity has to be overcome in principle. In the new paradigm, everyone organises himself. Each social group constitutes a self-organized political body, which manages itself according to its self-determined ideological, political, cultural and economic affiliation. There are many centres; the differences are organised in a decentralised way. Therefore, no political organizing process should be concentrated on the centers. For example, a political force that wants to advance the new paradigm should see itself as the initiator of a broad self-organization of social groups; for example, a student organization should see itself as the initiator of the broad self-organization of students. The point is to guide them to autonomous self-organization and not to bind them to oneself under any circumstances. That is the confederal paradigm. And through my experience of recent years in implementing this form of social self-government, I only ask myself today: How else is this supposed to work? In this context, it is important to note that, when an initiator acts as a guide, the self-organization of others cannot be planned in advance; self-organization and self-structuring must be shaped from the outset according to the needs of the members of the social group. Fundamental to a democratic confederal understanding is that differences are recognised as a social reality. Organizing in a uniform way contradicts the dynamics of society and especially the impulsiveness of youth. Here a rethinking must take place; the demarcating emphasis on the differences of social groups must be overcome. Instead, a collectivising organisation according to common interests has to be developed. A common philosophy organises social diversity; consequently, a roof can be formed under which the differences are organised: The exchange platform of social groups, where commonalities can be used productively. Social dynamics are restricted by narrow frameworks, everyone has to find themselves under the roof, this structure must never be imposed. The basis of democratic politics is to be able to really vote for oneself and to develop understanding for the elections of others and to learn to understand them. In social organization it is important to develop a modern mentality, which strives for networks appropriate to the times, whereby I also want to refer explicitly to the Internet. I would also like to mention the basis of the autonomous initiative for a democratic confederal organization. We should think in a free and undogmatic way, developing autonomous initiative. The identity of a group should not be imposed on anyone, as is the case with the ideology of the nation state and its assimilationist character. Personalities do not integrate themselves into a party, they constitute and create it. A common world view, a common set of values and goals unite personalities. I would like to stress the importance of self-education. The development of self-initiative is necessary. A sympathisant without own initiative is only a taskmaster of the movement. Revolutionary personalities should develop out of self-organization. It is important to set personal impulses. An intensive self-education must take place in order to develop self-confidence in thinking and acting. Self-organization lives from the individuals who are self-confidently proactive and courageously take on responsibility. Only in this way can an organisation grow healthily and organically and develop its own productivity. Nobody should “join” an existing movement to escape the challenges of self-organization, because the movement should be an encouragement to self-organization for each individual. A revolutionary personality should act self-confidently beyond borders.

Everyone should analyze his or her democratic consciousness and develop it further in his or her own life. Antipathy arises when theory and practice slide apart. Therefore the analysis must be honest and unsparing and the practice must be developed self-critically. The external image and the external impact such as name, flag and “program” cannot speak for themselves: they must always be actively filled with content. It depends on the self-education of the personalities of a movement. Political self-confidence is decisive; without self-confidence, political consciousness is abstract and inconsistent, because one’s own role is not recognized. This is the difference between a potentially revolutionary political personality and a supposed political identity.

The dynamics of youth contradict the classical party organization, we must break with this framework and thought patterns. The intellectual potential of a searching youth is crucial in the development of a democratic modernity. We must analyse the potential of a society in depth. Young people are searching and in many ways rebel against the existing and its future prospects. Intellectuals question the existing and explore its systematics. Intellectual and militant, these are the potentials with which a new society can be fought for, as has been the case since the beginnings of the PKK. A crucial factor in the development of youth self-confidence is an awareness of youth history. With the history of the youth we recognize the potential of the dynamics of youth, as is the case, for example, in 1929, 1968 and today in the United Kingdom, Chile, Greece and the North African countries, among others.