Learning from democratic autonomy to build communal autonomy

In recent years the debate on the options for political organization beyond the State organization have been rekindled. This has been due to experimentation with democratic confederalism in Rojava, and to what they are calling democratic autonomy.  

In the context of a non-state control of the territory, during a war situation, under the protection of Kurdish militias and their allies, this new society is being built without having to unseat state structures, which are evident in their absence.  







This process of democratic autonomy is possible in this exceptional situation lived in the middle of the Syrian war. This could make us believe that this alternative construction can only occur in similarly exceptional circumstances. This is why I find important to analyze its theoretical basis and take note of some elements that can help visualise how many of those experiences are within our reach, in spaces controlled by Western States, and that it really depends on us to make them happen.

Thus, in several western experiences we have seen situations in which social support for legitimate but illegal action allows it to prosper in the long-term. The great resilience of the squatters’ movement in relation to the various repressive state strategies in recent history, demonstrate how it is possible, through civil disobedience, to create communal spaces, without support of any economic or state power.

Reconstrucció autónoma de Can Vies





Logically, even if we want to build greater alternatives, we cannot squat a city, or even a whole neighbourhood. We can´t escape the ethical and political duty to live together in diversity, with people of any ideology and way of life as neighbors. 

And therefore, while through diverse experiences, physical or not, we create communal spaces with no State, it is not the territory that unites them but the social, economic, political relations they share. In fact it happens this way with adverse governments, but it is so also in the context of governments supposedly supporting grassroot initiatives. For example this longside living among  antagonists has continued in Caracas neighborhoods through all these years of the  so called “XXI century’s socialism”, and if it hasn’t   gone any further  in social change, I dare to outline that it is due to  the fact that in  Caracas the communal spaces and  projects didn’t grow more  than what they did in Barcelona.

Perhaps Rojava’s democratic autonomy does add a remarkable strengthening to communal spaces in every aspect of the day-to-day, because it is from local communal spaces that political self-government is constructed.

Democratic autonomy and territory

Controlling  a territory is a way of granting that communal initiatives are not  repressed by a State, but it has no direct relation on reconstructing the  commons. And controlling a territory requires that, either by elections, or by military force, hegemony is at disposal. But that is no  condition to construct the communal. The communal can be created now  everywhere although we don’t have that hegemonic control. We can find  other ways of protecting ourselves from repression which do not imply a  dependence on so unreachable situations in most of the world.

Zona a defendre (ZAD) in the south of France





But   if this is a model;  if  we know that legitimacy sustained by community   protects the  common, what  prevents us from building it in any context   in which we can count on a  sufficient participation?

Nowadays  in most of the  world -except, in a very significant way, in near and middle east-  the primordial power struggle field is mass media. One  who has the  more media support is stronger in the day-to-day and  probably  in  the  frame of elections has way far the winning chance, and  mostly  the opposite: with no mediatic presence there’s no chance of  victory.

Nevertheless   the same  great  alliances from below that have been seen   to create  great  parties haven’t been seen for cooperative media  creation.  These are  still today small initiatives of  cohesive groups on a  local scale.  So when we think of strategies  protecting  communal initiatives, one of  them is clear: great cooperative   communication  alliances should be made.

Building other society here and now from the communal.

Communication is important as an alternative to military force to defend an autonomy   process. Also is very important the determination to desobey. But, we need many more things to create it. Creativity, imagination, dedication, lots of effort, teamwork, openness, inclusiveness, dialog capability are needed.

Nothing    that as human beings we can’t achieve. Actually it is much more difficult to dominate a territory with the common goods values, isn’t it?

I’m convinced that the principal reason why we haven’t reached to big quotes of autonomy in the grassroots initiatives, which are given in western countries, is because we haven’t imagined it enough yet. In other words, we havent succeeded in achieving enough consensus   around a  fundamental force idea: we can move forward in a significant way  in  making real the society we wish, even before bringing down  capitalism and the State.

It is clear that by living in a different society we won’t bring to an end the enemies of the people, but it is a powerful truth the one that shows that precisely that experimental and open practice of the communal, working in a generalized way, can be such a source of  opposition and resistance as to reduce the real hegemony of the capitalist system in our societies.





It’s  important to have in the center of the imaginary that plan of  constructing ecosystems of spaces and social relations which cover the integrality of basic needs and that they are open to free  participation of anybody, taking care of everyone with equality. Thus, I  propose to call this experimental practice of building a new society  besides the State without the need of having hegemony over a given  territory, Communal Autonomy.

Naming communal autonomy

This communal autonomy we have to mention with as much insistence as needed  so it is extended to many people’s imaginary, in order to make it possible.

Communal is that which, not being private, is autonomous and, not being statist, is for everyone. In other words, communal practice is that one which can defend by the strength of facts the necessities of every participant and the resources they need to live a dignified life.

As Bookchin said, communal is a process that is expressed in the collective self-organization ability that radiates directly from the individuals’ own freedom.

Different from him, I don’t think that standing for municipal elections can help as shortcut towards the construction of a system based in direct democracy and assemblies, but i rather think that so leads only to integration of ex-activists cadres  in institutionality.

Since the counterpower option from local was left in second layer in his proposals, perhaps it didn’t have enough attention or ulterior development. That’s why it seems to me especially important to outline and stand out that the commune of communes should be constructed from pure action and outside from the State.

Thus, communes don’t need to take power to allow the “creation of an organic and decentralized society ruled by exchange and mutual support through confederation, forming a “Commune of communes” (quoting Bookchin’s vision). In fact, not entering in that institutional power comes to me as a necessary condition for success in a long term communal process.

Even beyond a confederal vision, in current scene where internet and its use for mutual support is an indisputable reality, those communes can be born not only in the local scene but also through groups of interests and subjectivities that, disregarding their place of residence, choose to generate affinity links and common action.

In fact I find important and proved to point that are flexible and open structures the ones that more aggregation capacity have before a communal autonomy can be consolidated.

So in this process the network and confederation forms must coexist to facilitate the extension of autonomy practices and communal spaces. We can call this process of aggregating spaces of social relations free from market, the State and any other hierarchical and uneven pattern, communalization.

Autonomy beyond the territory

Communal autonomy differentiates from democratic autonomy in that in the first case there is no territory control for it to be practiced; and this important distinction leads to the fact that its practice can be sensitively independent from the necessity of counting with a territorial control situation (which usually comes together with an army, etc..)

Constructing autonomy -democratic or communal- in different contexts in the world, as much in failed States as in strong States, as much in local as in global networks, can and must become the best tool for the imaginary renewal on what can be an alternative to the Capitalist States system, and being therefore a necessary path for a feasible integral revolution in the present century.

This post is also available in: Catalan, Spanish

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