Adam Curtis writes: In the battle for Kobane on the Syrian border everyone talks about the enemy – IS – and the frightening ideas that drive them. No-one talks about the Kurdish defenders and what inspires them.
But the moment you look into what the Kurds are fighting for – what you discover is absolutely fascinating. They have a vision of creating a completely new kind of society that is based on the ideas of a forgotten American revolutionary thinker.
He wanted to create a future world in which there would be no hierarchies, no systems that exercise power and control individuals. And the Kurds in Kobane are trying to build a model of that world.
It means that the battle we are watching night after night is not just between good and evil. It is also a struggle of an optimistic vision of the future against a dark conservative idea drawn from the past.
It is a struggle that may also have great relevance to us in the west. Because the revolutionary ideas that have inspired the Kurds also shine a powerful light on the system of power in Britain today. They argue that we in the west are controlled by a new kind of hierarchical power that we don’t fully see or understand.
There are two men at the heart of this story.
One is the American revolutionary thinker. He is called Murray Bookchin. Here is a picture of Bookchin looking revolutionary.
The other man is called Abdullah Ocalan. He is the leader of the Kurdish revolutionary group in Turkey – the PKK
Here he is in 1999 after he had been captured by Turkish security forces and was on his way to a jail on a tiny island in the Sea of Marmara where he would be the only prisoner.
In his solitude he would start to read the theories of Murray Bookchin and decide they were the template for a future world.
Both men began as hardline marxists.
Murray Bookchin was born in New York in 1921. In the 1930s he joined the American Communist Party. But after the second world war he began to question the whole theory that underpinned revolutionary marxism.
What changed everything for him was the experience of working in a factory. Bookchin had gone to work for General Motors – and he realized as he watched his fellow workers that Marx, Lenin and all the other theorists were wrong about the working class.
The Marxist theory said that once working men and women came together in factories the scales would fall from their eyes – and they would see clearly how they were being oppressed. They would also see how they could bond together to become a powerful force that would overthrow the capitalists.
Bookchin saw that the very opposite was happening. This was because the factory was organised as a hierarchy – a system of organisation and control that the workers lived with and experienced every second of the day. As they did so, that hierarchical system became firmly embedded in their minds – and made them more passive and more accepting of their oppression.
But Bookchin didn’t do what most disillusioned American Marxists in the 1950s did – either run away to academia, or become a cynical neo-conservative. Instead he remained an optimist and decided to completely rework revolutionary theory. [Continue reading…]