Interview with Janet Biehl about the PKK and YPJ

14022_10152538632252832_1807544771061730617_nWashington, DC (TFC) – Janet Biehl grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attended Wesleyan University (class of 1974) and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (1987). She was Bookchin’s collaborator and companion from 1987 until his death in 2006. Biehl makes her living as a freelance book copy editor. She is also a painter, a print maker, and a graphic artist, living in Burlington, Vermont. – From her website.

1. How did you meet Murray Bookchin?

I attended the Institute for Social ecology session in the summer of 1986, where he was teaching. In January 1987 I moved from New York to Burlington, Vermont, to study with him, as he was teaching philosophy and history in his living room. I describe these events in my book Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin (Oxford, 2015).

2. Could you give a summation of how libertarian municipalism was formed, and it’s basic remnants?

Libertarian municipalism evolved out of Bookchin’s conviction that anarchism, the ideology he championed after about 1960, was lacking a political program for creating lasting liberatory institutions. In his estimation face-to-face self-government, in which citizens in towns and neighborhoods make decisions, in democratic assemblies, then confederate at broader levels like the city and the region, was that institution. The confederations would eventually form a dual power to the nation-state and replace its top-down authoritarianism with bottom-up self-empowerment. Economic assets would be municipalized, and wealth distributed according to need. He began using the term libertarian municipalism around 1980. Anarchists rejected the idea, so around 2000 he started calling himself a communalist instead.

3. How did the PKK leader transfer from Marxism to anarchism? Which books were given to him and by whom?

Abdullah Öcalan had been rethinking Marxism-Leninism in the 1990s and instead thinking in terms of democracy. While in prison after 1999, under solitary confinement, he read books by numerous authors. These books had been recommended by comrades and were brought to him in prison by his lawyers. His program and ideology of democratic confederalism rejects the nation state and replaces it with a system of democratic self-government much like Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism. As far as I know, he does not use the term anarchism.

4. How did you get into social justice?

I demonstrated against the Vietnam War in 1968.

5. How do we fight secterianism within our movements?

The philosopher Hegel once said, if you have a concept or ideology and you find that some facts contradict it, “so much the worse for the facts.” He got it backwards. Keep referring to the facts. If the facts don’t agree with an ideology, something’s wrong with the ideology. We are entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.

6. No two historical scenarios are analogous but would you compare and contrast Catalonia and Rojava?

A people in arms, creating a libertarian revolution, empowering women, while the rest of the world turns away.

7. In similar fashion could you compare the YPG and the Los Mujeres Libres?

Mujeres Libres was a women’s organization in the Spanish revolution involved in much more than fighting, whereas the YPJ is a military force. The proper analogy for Rojava would be not YPJ but the women’s organization Yekitiya Star. Like Mujeres Liberes, Yekitiya Star struggles both for gender liberation and for general social and political liberation at the same time. Like Mujeres Libres, Yekitiya Star creates autonomous women’s institutions side by side with mixed institutions. They educate women with skills for employment and basic health care and work to raise women’s consciousness in women’s centers.

8. What are the most inspiring and the most tragic stories you’ve heard come out of The Kurdish resistance efforts?

The victory at Kobane, after months of battle against ISIS, while the rest of the world predicted failure, was truly inspiring.

9. What can international comrades do to help support a free Kurdistan?

This article has good current information on how to help the Rojava Revolution (scroll down to the end).

10. Would the EZLN be the most similar modern movement to YPG/J PKK? Are there others?

Probably the EZLN is the most similar. I don’t know of any others.

11. I hear Peshmerga is more capitalist? Is this the case?

​The peshmerga ​is an armed force, not a society. ​The word refers to the defense force of the Kurdish Regional Government; it is controlled by the KDP and the PUK, the two ruling parties of the KRG. The KRG is a society far more capitalist than Rojava.

12. Does the YPG/J work closely with them?

​When the KRG stands to benefit from it.​

13. Would it be possible to implement an autonomous zone practicing libertarian municipalism in a capitalist empire like the united states?

​Bookchin’s program is intended not to create autonomous zones outside capitalism but to take on capitalism by constituting the democratic assemblies/confederations into a dual power strong enough to do so. He thought the success of this conflict would depend on the military crossing over to the side of the people. ​