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Beyond and against homogenisation: Advancing diversity through Democratic Confederalism

The homogenic national society is the most artificial society to have ever been created and is the result of the “social engineering project.

~ Abdullah Öcalan

One of the defining characteristics of contemporary humanity is undoubtedly that of homogeneity. It is a phenomenon with global proportions that has affected, in varying degrees, almost all corners of the planet. This leads to the homogenisation of cultures. Increasingly, people, regardless of where they are coming from, have the same cultural references, adopt similar dress codes, and embrace one of several popular world languages.

The trend of homogenisation is even more evident when it comes to geopolitics. There is one form above all – that of the nation-state – that plays a central role, because of which the term state-centred realism has been used for international affairs.

Although world complexity has also forced the recognition of other factors, the forces of statecraft ultimately shape geopolitical relations. All these levels of homogeneity lead to the disappearance of various diversities. Distinct languages and cultures are going extinct. Researchers have also found a link between the extinction of cultural diversity and biodiversity. The proponents of capitalist modernity, the driving force behind this homogenisation of global proportions, would argue that it is a small price to pay for bringing the world closer together. But while sameness reigns supreme all around the globe, we see ethnic conflicts, wars, xenophobia, and warring nationalisms to be once again on the rise. This is so because it is not homogeneity that brings people together but understanding and empowerment.

Instead, it can be argued that the ongoing homogenisation is leading human civilisation towards a decline. The effects may be more severe than we think. Complexity, social, environmental, or even biological, allows life to thrive. On the other hand, as philosopher Jean Baudrillard1 suggests, he who lives by the same will die by the same.

The Domination of the Nation-State

This homogenising effect did not come from nowhere nor by accident. It results from the specific architecture of power, that is, bureaucracy. Bureaucratization has been shaping societies left and right through its main form – that of the nation-state, which, as noted by the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, has consolidated as the hegemonic political structure since the French Revolution.

Due to its bureaucratic nature, Statism needs the homogenisation of space and time to function. It requires that within its borders, cultures and ways of life are melted into one singular artificial national and ethnic identity, dependent on, ready to sacrifice itself for the state, and hijacked by the dynamics of bureaucracy. And it is exactly this process of nation building that has turned our world, as Having Guneser2 suggests, into a graveyard of cultures. According to her, the nation-state homogenises everything, and with the pretext of creating a national culture, it makes the cultural norm of the dominant ethnicity and religion the general norm.

The loss of cultural diversity impoverishes societies, distancing them from meaningful perspectives of decentralisation, contributing instead to strengthening the logic of political centralisation, which is at the core of all bureaucratic structures. Thus, any attempt at resistance is met first by ideological means, trying to convince the subject, and if this does not suffice, then comes physical force and the means of repression.

The premise “one language, one flag, one nation”, the Internationalist Commune of Rojava suggests, became the cement that would homogenise the new nation-states, leading them to deny and repress any other identity which failed to comply. This strive for homogeneity, as expressed by Abdullah Öcalan, can only be realised by force, thus bringing about the loss of freedom.

In one such homogenous environment, what currently exists is being presented as the only possible option. The multitude of potential presents and futures are omitted and replaced by a continuous loop through which bureaucratic realism reproduces itself in the long run. Although global in its physical dimension, the current state-centred world order is actually shrinking the scope of social and individual imaginaries. Thus, although cities and villages throughout the planet seem more connected than ever, they seem to be getting smaller. Wherever you go, as noted above, you, more often than not, stumble upon the same pattern, be it on societal, cultural, organisational, economic, or another level.

In effect, what has happened on a global scale is that humanity has embarked on a dangerous journey of purging itself of alternative visions or ways of life – something that greatly contributes to the rising tide of insignificancy advanced by capitalist economism and consumerism. As David Impellizzeri3 rightly points out, homogeneity and the conformity of a bureaucratised, mass society hollow out the public sphere and forfeit the heterogeneity of positions and plurality of perspectives in exchange for sameness and mass uniformity.

The Symbiosis between Capitalism and the Nation-State

But what have nation-states had to do with the age of neoliberalism, where the fiercest supporters of the status quo claim to be opposed to Statism and even self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalists” have gotten themselves into running whole countries?

While this narrative has come to dominate the public domain, it remains mainly an ideological tool that seeks to hide the bureaucratic essence of the dominant political architecture worldwide. The form of the nation-state continues to serve as the basis of global capitalism. This does not mean statecraft hasn’t undergone major changes – it most certainly did! If anything, in recent decades, nation-states have become increasingly authoritarian, greatly reducing their welfare functions through severe austerity measures while focusing mainly on the expansion of their repressive forces. This was particularly evident in countries like Greece, which, following the 2008 financial crash, has followed this pattern to the letter. All of this is not a mere coincidence. There is a philosophical connection between statecraft and capitalism. Abdullah Öcalan4 underlines the tendency of power being the most refined and historically accumulated form of capital.

Bureaucratic entities like the nation-state tend to do just that – their very existence revolves around stripping society of any meaningful decision-making power and self-action, striving instead to centralising all authority in the hands of narrow elites.

Capitalist economies couldn’t function without the existence of state forces that act as guarantors of the supremacy of private property and free markets. Because of that, Guneser insists that today, power, in fact, remains more important than capital.

It is what allows capitalist exploitation to function, reproduce, and intensify. Whenever a society or community decides to transgress the status quo and implement a radically different organisational model, the forces of statehood step up to ensure that the deviant will be returned to the “only correct path”. This was the destiny of many popular uprisings that dared to imagine and strive for a new, more just society like the 1871 Paris Commune, the 2006 Oaxaca uprising, the more recent ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, and many more grassroots efforts at social change that were fiercely suppressed.

The nation-state played a central role in the global expansion of capitalism and its enforcement over indigenous populations in different parts of the world, because of which Guneser terms it capitalism’s most fundamental tool for conquering and colonising society.

It was the various forms of bureaucracy that enforced wage labour, the threat of individual starvation, privatisation of land, etc., on organic communities, thus incorporating them into the sprawling capitalist globalisation. Contrary to what the proponents of capitalism would like us to believe, free markets did not emerge spontaneously but, as Karl Polanyi5 suggests, have been the outcome of a conscious and often violent intervention on the part of the government, which imposed the market organisation on society for noneconomic ends.

As a counterpart to statecraft, capitalism complements and even intensifies the homogenisation of everything within our lives. It promotes the abandonment of complexities in the name of simplicity, which is good for profits. Everything, regardless of local context, is reduced to profitability and manageability. And this commodification, through the mechanisms of economic growth, assimilates languages, social relationships, and even the very human existence (as exemplified by the business model of so-called “social media”). The neoliberal lens, which has become the dominant mode of viewing things today, sees diversity as too expensive and/or economically unproductive – just think of the arguments against education in multiple languages.

Direct Democracy, Confederalism, Diversity

Although homogeneity has been advanced by a societal system that presents itself as the only one possible and a product of a determinist evolutionary process, it can still be reversed so that diversity can flourish again. This requires a social change that will radically rearrange the political architecture to allow for pluralism of opinions to freely be expressed through collective decision-making. Ultimately, as social ecologist Murray Bookchin6 suggests, the effort to restore the ecological principle of unity in diversity has become a revolutionary effort in its own right.

Direct democracy seems to be the most suitable project for achieving this goal. The political architecture of a direct-democratic society will allow for the greatest possible conditions for diversification as it sustains power at the grassroots level, keeping it as decentralised as possible. In one such setting, there is no space for a central authority or bureaucratic class with distinct interests that strive to homogenise society to make it more prone to exploitation and control. Instead, each community takes care of its own public affairs through collective deliberation rather than waiting on state bureaucracy to do that on its behalf. The basic institutions of one such democratic architecture will be those of the public assembly and the popular council, which will serve as a public forum where pluralisms of opinions can meet and develop policies and strategies for the future of their common life.

Philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis suggests that within the framework of direct democracy, these organs of popular self-management deal with all aspects of social organisation, being simultaneously the units of local self-administration and the only bases of power for the federal level that will link each and one self-governing community.

Giving individuals a more direct and influential role in decision-making while revitalising communities through the formation of genuine public space advances the perspective of social and cultural diversity. This can also empower marginalised or minoritarian groups within a given area to have a stronger voice in shaping policies, promoting inclusivity, and ensuring a broader range of perspectives are considered.

Although the status quo is actively resisting the project of direct democracy in all its dominant forms, several places have nonetheless managed to implement it in practice. One such example is the alternative system developed by the communities of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (more widely known as Rojava). The political project being implemented there for years is known as Democratic Confederalism and follows the emancipatory pattern described above. It has radically redistributed power so that local communities have sustained their autonomy while connecting with one another in a confederation, thus avoiding parochial isolationism. By avoiding the nation-state, this democratic alternative has omitted its homogenising effect since, as Guneser underlines, Democratic Confederalism is not limited or restricted to any ethnic area or region. As a result, tolerance and diversity were given way to spread.

It is of great importance that we have real-life examples of societies structured along direct democratic lines, but the question remains of how we can advance one such project in our own geographies. The first step is to recognise that there is no single way of doing this, no blueprint or manifesto, as each locality has its own historical and imaginary context, which needs to be carefully examined.

The next step, however, that can be compatible with the previous one, is striving to communicate the values of direct democracy (and the real-life efforts at its implementation) to the widest possible amount of people, as we cannot move forward if we remain entrapped in the current dominant imaginary. As Öcalan suggests:

As long as we make the mistake of believing that societies need to be homogeneous monolithic entities, it will be difficult to understand confederalism. Modernity’s history is also a history of four centuries of cultural and physical genocide in the name of an imaginary unitary society. Democratic confederalism as a sociological category is the counterpart of this history, and it rests on the will to fight if necessary, as well as on ethnic, cultural, and political diversity.

~ Yavor Tarinski

Image: Michael Sullivan

  1. Jean Baudrillard. Screened Out (London: Verso, 2002), p2. ↩︎
  2. Havin Guneser. The Art of Freedom: A Brief History of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2021) ↩︎
  3. David Impellizzeri. Bureaucratic Modernity and the Erosion of Practical Reason: A Rhetorical Education as an Antidote (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from p146. ↩︎
  4. Abdullah Öcalan. The Sociology of Freedom: Manifesto of the Democratic Civilization, vol. 3 (Oakland, PM Press, 2020), pp209–10. ↩︎
  5. Karl Polanyi. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), p258. ↩︎
  6. Murray Bookchin. The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Palo Alto: Cheshire Books, 1982), p8. ↩︎

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