Öcalan’s ideas are methods, not dogma

Originally published in German.

Interview by Nick Brauns, from German Newspaper Junge Welt:

New academy aims to make concepts of the Kurdish movement accessible to those on the European left. A conversation with Anselm Schindler.


This Friday marks the announcement of the founding of the Academy of Democratic Modernity (ADM). What is behind this name?

The academy has emerged as an association of people concerned with the ideas of the Kurdish freedom movement. In this country, too, as a result of solidarity with the struggle for freedom in Kurdistan and northeastern Syria, there is a lot of interest in the theoretical and practical concepts behind the movement. ADM is an attempt to make these ideas accessible to a wider audience. However, this is not an end in itself for us: we see from the multiple crises we are in that humanity very urgently needs to change. Millions of people around the world are already fighting for this. We want to show how the ideas of the Kurdish movement can play a part in changing the world.

What was the impetus for founding the academy?

For many years, leftists in Europe have been working with the concepts of the Kurdish movement, which have been discussed in numerous books, and at events and conferences. The impetus for founding ADM was that this work often lacked a common space for expression and collaboration, which we now want to create, among other things, with a website. ADM is not a place, not a building, but a conviction that unites us: the conviction that this world can and must become different. We see ourselves, in the words of Abdullah Öcalan, confronted with an interval of chaos, that is, with an episode in which the existing system is in crisis and new social dynamics are emerging. We believe that the historical analysis of Öcalan can help us to orient ourselves in the chaos.

To what extent can Öcalan’s reflections, developed with the societies of the Near and Middle East in mind, help leftists in the imperialist metropolises?

Revolutionary movements all over the world have to adapt to their respective situation. There is no one concept that will be equally successful everywhere. On the contrary, we have seen time and again how the overly rigid application of theory has become a millstone around the necks of revolutionaries. In this context, the ideas developed by Öcalan and the Kurdish movement should be understood less as a doctrine than as a tool. Concepts such as that of democratic confederalism or the democratic nation are not building instructions for societies, but rather methods with which societies can solve their problems. The methods can be used universally in this sense, precisely because they are methods and not dogma.

How does the concept of democratic modernity relate to Marxism and anarchism?

The concept of democratic modernity has in common with Marxism and anarchism that a clear class standpoint is taken, on the side of the exploited and oppressed. We are in the tradition of both Marxist and anarchist movements because we see them as part of the history of democratic civilization. We do not see the contradictions that exist between libertarian and state socialist approaches as insurmountable — again, it is worth looking at the methodology used in Rojava. There, it is not denied that a revolutionary process requires a revolutionary vanguard. But it is also working towards a society in which communes and councils are built, that function without this vanguard.

March 18 is the 151st anniversary of the Paris Commune. It’s probably no coincidence that you chose this date as the founding day of the Academy?

No, the date was chosen deliberately. The Paris Commune was one of the central moments of the last two centuries when we look at our history, that is, the history of democratic forces. The Commune was physically crushed, but its ideas were not. They live on in our struggles today.


Anselm Schindler is active in the climate justice movement and writes for the Academy of Democratic Modernity.

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