One of the most common statements I hear from people who spend time at Bentley Urban Farm, the anarchist-led ‘upcycled market garden’ project just north of Doncaster, is: “I wish I could live like this every day.”
My answer has always been the same: “You can! You just can’t live like this and live a ‘normal’ capitalist lifestyle at the same time.”
And yet that is exactly what I had continued to try and do in my own life. I’m not saying that it is easy — or even completely possible — to escape from the tentacles of neoliberal capitalism. It draws its power, in part, from the fact that we are conditioned to internalise the pernicious values of neoliberalism to the extent that we become complicit in our own oppression. This is painfully evident when you talk to revolutionaries from the Global South, who remind us that the nation states of Western Europe may have colonised their lands, but it is now Westerners who have the most colonised minds on the planet.
We cannot build a new world without first dismantling the worldview that capitalism has constructed in our heads. As the famous quote from the American poet, professor, philosopher, intersectional feminist, and activist Audre Lorde states: “[T]he master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
This sentiment is reflected in the books of Abdullah Öcalan, founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and one of the key philosophers of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement. The first volume of his Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization is especially clear that to truly escape capitalism, we must first create a new philosophical and political methodology. As Öcalan says:
“Successfully addressing the question of method requires a proper investigation into the relevant era and civilisation. Without a radical critique of the methodology and scientific disciplines that have shaped capitalism, all efforts to reconstruct a science that will foster a meaningful life are in vain.”
Öcalan proposes that the failure of ‘real socialism’ [the somewhat confusing Kurdish term for state communism] was linked to the fact that Marxist theorists were using capitalism’s methodology (and often the institutions) to try and build an alternative to it. Thus, where Marxism should have been “the most scathing and most scientific critique of capitalism”, it instead became “the most useful tool in knowledge and power for the system”, unable to escape becoming “liberalism’s left wing.”
If trying to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house didn’t work on an international level, why would it work for anarchist groups and individuals working at a community level?
I had already been thinking about this while helping to build A Commune in the North (ACitN). Last summer, we ran the catering and stewarding for the Mother Fhungus Festival at Bentley Urban Farreview for Freedomm, which allowed us to invite Jenni and Natalia, the authors of Worth Fighting For: Bringing the Rojava Revolution Home, to run a workshop during the event. As I explain more fully in my review for Freedom, the book describes their time in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the extended area of Kurdish administration that previously contained just Rojava, and their experience of the living revolution, which is providing for the needs of nearly 5 million people using the political philosophy developed by Abdullah Öcalan.
Worth Fighting For is one of the most honest and hopeful books I have had the pleasure of reading in recent years. It was also a major factor in one of the biggest decisions I have made in my lifetime.
Last September, ACitN purchased an old farmhouse just a few streets away from Bentley Urban Farm. We received the keys for the property a short while before one of our quarterly commune gatherings, weekend events where people come from all over the country to learn more about what we do. The gathering proved so successful that we attracted three new prospective members, meaning potential room at the house was becoming scarce. Although I was a core member of the team developing ACitN, I had not yet fully committed to the full income-sharing, house-sharing, cooperative and egalitarian way of life I was trying to build.
I have craved radical social change all my life. I have been involved with political activism since I was a teenager and have been on and off the frontline of ecological resistance since my twenties (which, giving nothing away about my age, is a bloody long time). I have written in dozens of different anarchist journals under dozens of different pseudonyms. But I had long ago given up describing myself as a ‘revolutionary’. The hopeful honesty of Worth Fighting For helped me to reevaluate my relationship with the word revolution, but it was the following passage which led me to reevaluate my life:
“During my time in Rojava, I was pushed by revolutionaries within the movement to ask myself lots of questions that I wasn’t sure I knew — or wanted to know — the answers to. Deep down, do I believe that a state is an inevitability? Do I think that what I’m fighting for is possible? Has the idea of a state become so entrenched in my mind that however militant the tactics I use, I am simply lobbying the state in more confrontational ways than a petition? If I truly believed that our communities and social movements, and not the state, are the key to social change, what political work would I be doing? If I really believed that we could win, how would I be living my life differently? Do I moderate my resistance to forms that still allow me to successfully navigate life under capitalism?”
Here were the questions that I, and any self-described anarchist, should have been asking oneself as a matter of routine. And our answers, if honest, should reveal the level of commitment we have to our anarchist ideals.
I became involved with ACitN because it wanted to create a new way of living in the heart of an existing working class community so it could act as proof that another world is not only possible but is also fully accessible to anyone. On reading Worth Fighting For, I decided that the moment had finally come to go all-in for the revolution and commit the rest of my life to building — and living — revolutionary social change.
The transition was not easy. My actions inevitably hurt people in my old life despite the fact that I had been open about my political desires for years. But why would they have believed I was about to make such a radical change when I could barely believe it myself? The fact that eight of us moved in at the same time and went through one of the most stressful life events together (moving house) also had its fair share of ups and downs (but that’s another story). But in the end, we managed to get the ball rolling on the next phase of the commune.
So here I am, a full and committed member of A Commune in the North. From attending internationalist revolutionary conventions to daily experiments in communal living, political education and self-reflection — I finally feel a part of something much bigger. A non-state, anti-hierarchical, feminist, ecological, internationalist revolution which draws its power from the base, firmly fixing it in the local and the global.
There is so much to tell — and so much to learn — that I have decided to document the journey ACitN is taking in this irregular column for Freedom. We are just one among many existing and emerging attempts to build a better, braver, brighter, fairer future for all. Some will shine, and some will fail, but I have already found that the commitment to revolution alone changes the individual’s life for the better.
~ Warren Draper