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Cengiz Baysoy, The Revolutionary Intervention in the Crisis of Modernism: Democratic Autonomy

The Revolutionary Intervention in the Crisis of Modernism:
Democratic Autonomy, Turkey, and the Kurdish Movement
Cengiz Baysoy, Otonom

Both the Turkish state and the left have been in deadlock in terms of understanding the point the Kurdish political movement has come up to. The state and the modernist left both have difficulty making sense of a national political movement which criticizes and refuses the paradigm of “nation state.”

The traditional point of view of the modernist left on the issue is as follows: “The right of nations to self-determination is the right to political borders and independence against imperialism, i.e. the right to a nation state. Furthermore, unless this right has an anti-imperialist character, it is impossible to be progressive.”

The left considers the Kurdish political movement from this political point of view, and tries to take this movement under the political dominion of this paradigm. It seems that the modernist left is incapable of making sense of the Kurdish political movement other than this way, whereas the Kurdish political movement thinks and speaks very differently from this political paradigm.

Historical discourses and political paradigms are determinative of power relations of centuries. Such discourses traversing the class struggles of centuries are constitutive of the grammar of civilization. However the power to revolutionize the notion of revolution consists in creating and grasping the discursive ruptures that would intervene in the crisis of the current civilization and constitute the political grammar of future centuries.

The French Revolution of 1789 was determinative of the discourse of civilization and constitutive of the power relations of 19th and 20th centuries. The language of leftist or rightist, all political paradigms were constituted by the grammar of French Revolution. Now this grammar is incapable of constituting a language, while the French Revolution is losing its revolutionary character. 1789 is in crisis, which is the crisis of capitalism.

The Nation state is the form of sovereignty through which capital takes labor under its political ownership. Bio-political language works through bio-power. The bio-political language of modernism working through concepts like “individual”, “citizen”, “people”, “private property”, “social contract”, “equality before the law”, “representative subject”, “representative democracy” and “nation state”, all serving the functioning of bio-power. Modernism, with concealing and ignoring inequalities, exploitation and oppression, is in crisis. Modernism is in a crisis of civilization.

“Democratic autonomy” is a discursive rupture which signifies revolutionizing the very notion of revolution, and a revolutionary intervention in the civilization crisis of modernism from Mesopotamia. It speaks a language which cannot be understood with the grammar of either the French Revolution of 1789 or the Soviet October Revolution. “Democratic autonomy” is a revolutionary political “mother language” which everyone will have difficulty with understanding, but will have to learn, and which will be decisive for the coming centuries.

Today political philosophy, political theory and political discourse are being reconstituted. Political philosophy as revolutionary thinking has broken with the philosophy of transcendence to reproduce itself on the basis of the philosophy of immanence. The Kurdish political movement constitutes a plane of immanence. That former kind of philosophy, which bases itself on the transcendence of “the universal” of idealism which was born with Plato, secularized by Hobbes and modernized by Kant and Hegel, is in crisis, and its reign has come to an end. It is the time to establish the philosophy of resistance on the basis of immanence, of “the singular,” starting with the Sophists, continuing with Spinoza, Foucault and Deleuze. Politics has broken away from the transcendent illusions of “reason” which disregards the body and which now invests itself with immanence of dignity, body and affects.

In modernism, the relation between “sovereignty” and “power” is established through the mediation of representation. The individual, the citizen, people or nation as the sovereign power transfer the right and power to self-government to the state through the social contract. Hence the sovereign citizen is only a subject before the power of the state. Here the key notion is “power.” The notion of power signifies the transfer of sovereignty through representation. In modernism, the domain of “the subject” is this domain of representation. The most powerful representative subject of modernism is “the State”. Once the sovereign's use of right is no more mediated, i.e. the sovereign is not represented, the notion of “power” is abolished.

The Kurdish political movement has abolished mediation and representation in its use of the right to sovereignty. Within the Kurdish social movement, it is not representative subjects but social subjects themselves that are speaking. Social democracy does not speak on behalf of people, but makes people speak points to a different political paradigm. The Kurdish political movement does not need a political paradigm of “power” and “state.” This is why the Kurds do not pursue a line of political independence based on representation and state, but argue for social democracy, social freedom and social independence. Democratic autonomy points to the political power of the multitude that constitutes political independence not in the representative sphere but on the plane of social democracy, and liberates all differences, making social subjects speak on their behalf.

For the modernist left, the sphere of political struggle is the sphere of crisis caused by the system. "Capitalism leads to crisis, therefore one should wait for the crisis of capitalism or intervene in the spheres of crisis." It is this paradigm which has come to its end. What is important is the crisis of the system caused by the revolutionary movement. The politics of democratic autonomy is not such a way of politics, waiting for the crisis to come, but a constitutive and revolutionary politics that puts the system into crisis, determines the sphere of struggle itself, and refuses any politics of demand. 

June 2011