"And finally, without doubt,these charges target a combative approach to anarchism that takes the individual, affinity, and informality as its starting points."

This translation of The Formation of Local Councils was published along with a detailed introduction to offer help contextualize it and to situate its ideas within ongoing conversations in the anglophone anarchist world. That introduction can be found here: To Live in Revolutionary Time. As well, we have also laid  out the translation and introduction as a pamphlet for easier reading and distribution, and the PDF is available here.

Introduction from October 2011: Authority’s time and revolutionary time

A revolution is an exceptional event that alters the history of a society while also transforming each human being. It is a rupture in time and space, during which humans live two experiences of time simultaneously: authority’s time and revolutionary time. For a revolution to succeed, revolutionary time must become independent, so that people can collectively move into a new period. The Syrian Revolution has entered its eighth month and still has days of struggle ahead to topple the regime and open up new spaces for life.

Throughout the preceding phase, continuous demonstrations were able to break the absolute control of authority over space. Its control over the territory now varies, shifting from place to place, day to day, or even hour by hour. The continuous demonstrations also produced a National Council, which included participation from the popular movements, formal organizations, and political parties. It was tasked with being a legitimate alternative authority among Arab states and internationally that could incite the necessary action to protect the Syrian people from the brutality of this murderous regime.

However, the revolutionary movement has remained separate from day-to-day activities and so has been unable to enter into everyday life, which continues as it had in the past. It’s as though there exists a “daily division of work” between the tasks necessary to live in this world and revolutionary activities. This means that self-organizing in Syria is happening in two overlapping times: authority’s time, which continues to structure everyday activities, and revolutionary time, in which people take action to overthrow the regime. The danger doesn’t lie in the overlap of these two times, which is part of the nature of revolution, but rather in the separation between the progress of daily life and that of the revolution, for everyone involved. In the coming period, the movement will face two different threats : that human beings will get tired of the revolution and its impact on their material needs and family life, or that an increasing use of weapons will make the revolution a hostage of the gun.

Accordingly, the more self-organizing is able to spread as a force through the efforts of human beings to live in revolutionary time rather than in authority’s, the more the revolution will have laid the groundwork for victory. Let’s not forget that these past months were rich in all sorts of initiatives, especially ones focused on emergency medical care and legal support, and now we must urgently deepen these projects in order to take in broader spheres of life. Merging life and revolution is the key element for continuing the revolution and winning. This involves organizing for flexibility within social groupings by developing processes to co-ordinate revolution and everyday human life, which we will call here “local councils”.

Introduction from February 2012: Linking collective self-defense and continuing the revolution

The revolution has made it through its first year and still has many days of struggle ahead to bring down the regime and open up new spaces for life. During this past phase, continuous demonstrations succeeded in breaking the absolute control of power over space. Its control of the territory now varies, changing from place to place, day to day, and even hour by hour.

During this period, Syrians changed the course of their society while also transforming themselves. Drawing on an unprecedented courage and close cooperation, the sacrifices they have made show their desire for freedom and their commitment to collectively restructuring their lives.

Against the murder and atrocities of the regime and against its systematic destruction of community, the Syrian people’s spirit of resistance rises up with incredible skill and creativity, in an epic act of love that allows life to continue. Providing emergency medicine, turning houses into field hospitals, preparing food baskets, and finding creative ways to spread information : these are all actions that oppose tyrannical power and contribute to rich human relations based on cooperation and mutual aid.

Engaged people in Syria started forming coordinating committees in the early days of the revolution to organize media coverage, ensure the spread of information, and document both the accomplishments of the revolution, as well as the regime’s reprisals. These revolutionaries then broadened their activities to include relief work and medical care. It’s clear that these self-organized formations are collaborating and are contributing to a revolutionary strategy that would allow for resistance over the long term. This collaboration made new relationships possible that could break with the regime’s control over time and space, as part of the ceaseless effort to allow people to take autonomous control over their own lives, as they know this autonomy is what freedom is made of.

The past months have been rich with many projects to develop self-organizing, in a colourful diversity of initiatives and expressions that spans different regions and social groups. In the beginning, the revolutionary movement was separate from basic human activity and didn’t enter into daily life, as though there was a “daily division of labour” between the tasks necessary to live in this world and revolutionary activity. But popular solidarity developed, as people began choosing to share food and housing and to help one another in whatever way was needed. These practices spread throughout the areas where revolutionary activity was most intense, which made the link between revolution and life evident.

It’s clear then that the more self-organizing grows in power, the more able these deep social bonds will be to defend themselves and others against the repressive violence of the authorities, against moral slippage, and against the risk that the use of arms will slowly make the revolution and society as a whole hostages of the gun. Blending life and revolution is the necessary condition for the revolution to continue until the regime is destroyed. This in turn requires adaptable forms of social organization that enable a co-ordination between the revolution and daily human life. These efforts have been referred to in different ways, but here we will call these new social formations “local councils”.

The Formation of Local Councils: Main text from February 2012

This introduction and what follows are an invitation to form local councils composed of people from different cultures and from different segments of society that will work to achieve the following goals:

  • To support human beings in managing their lives autonomously, without state institutions or structures (even if this autonomy is not complete)
  • To create space for collective expression that can reinforce cooperation among individuals and that can encompass more necessary tasks as political engagement grows.
  • Incite social revolutionary activities on a regional level while unifying supporting structures

As well, the following issues are important and need to be addressed by the local councils:

1) Human interdependence and civil solidarity

Objectives

  • Relieve the physical and emotional suffering of families displaced by the barbarous violence of the authorities
  • Provide emotional and practical solidarity to families impacted by death, injuries, arrests, or disappearances or who have suffered other physical or psychological harm
  • Improve living conditions for families
  • Create the best possible conditions for medical practitioners
  • Ensure that educational services continue

Role of the local councils
At a minimum, local councils should :

  • Provide support and assistance to those arriving in a specific area or departing from it: the role of the local council here is to step in to alleviate the misery created by the authorities through actions arising solely from popular initiatives
  • Find safe housing and supplies for displaced individuals and their families in the area where the council operates and in co-ordination with its counterpart in the area they left
  • Organize the collection of information about arrestees and ensure its distribution to the appropriate groups involved in the revolution. Set up lines of communication with people with legal expertise and support families in following-up about the situation of arrestees
  • Keep track of the needs of affected families and work to meet those needs by creating solidarity funds and through regional revolutionary funds
  • Provide physical, emotional, and logistical support to affected families, make sure they have the supplies and funds they need. This war by the authorities against people has transformed the time they would have spent living into time spent looking for safer shelter for themselves and their families. It has transformed their daily work into an endless search for information about their loved ones who have dissapeared, to figure out where they are being held, with only the support of their families or the people they happen to know in the area where they took refuge. It is therefore necessary to:
    • Support and collaborate with revolutionary individuals and groups with legal expertise to document abuses carried out by the army, by the intelligence agencies, and by the shabbiha [informal enforcers], such as murder, rape, arrest, property destruction, and theft.
    • Provide a caring environment that allows for less psychological and material stress for displaced families, especially for women and children. Coordinate with skilled providers to ensure support for physical and psychological health, especially for those who need the most attention.
  • Civil administration: Because of the ferocious regime attacks, it falls to the local councils to create administrative records for those who struggle against the regime, especially those who have gone underground. And in those areas where the revolution has gained some independence, they could even begin registering births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and so on.
  • Co-ordinate with relief organizations to provide humanitarian and financial aid, in particular:
    • Identify food and medical needs, as well as any other necessities of life
    • Organize to receive and distribute aid
    • Compile and spread statistical data
  • Co-ordinate with medical committees
    • Identify homes suitable to be turned into field hospitals and organize their defense alongside their owners
    • Prepare the field hospitals in coordination with the medical committees
    • With medical and aid groups, identify the needed medical supplies and training, and work to receive and store those supplies
    • Follow-up on responses to emergencies, especially those coming from outside the area
  • Support and help coordinate educational initiatives
    • Identify the educational requirements at all levels
    • Co-ordinate with educational institutions in the area and with anyone who is able and willing to teach
    • Organize and administrate educational activities
  • Support and co-ordinate outreach initiatives

Note: Such work requires organization and knowledge of the arts of administration, but these above tasks are not impossible, whatever the environment may be. This revolution has produced many people skilled at the organization of demonstrations, strikes, and sit-ins, and so it can also push to create experts in the fields in which people have already engaged spontaneously. But let’s also remember that projects like these are not meant to replace family and friendship bonds (at least not at first) and under no circumstances should there be any coercion to participate. Humans who have begun learning to live without services provided by the state and who have found temporary replacements for them through family relationships will need time and practice to integrate themselves into a broader social sphere that’s more effective and elaborate.

2) On relationships between individuals: Creating new common interests

Objectives

  • Increase the capacity for action and initiative by individuals in the social body
  • Create spaces for discussion of human concerns and of solutions to problems of daily life
  • Build horizontal relationships of interdependence between local councils in a given region and broaden these to include other geographic areas

Role of the local councils: What should be, at a minimum, the local council’s work

The revolution has transformed individual humans by opening up new horizons in their lives, particularly once they were sure that confrontation was the way to gain their freedom and that by continuing on this path they would find new possibilities for tomorrow. By developing new ways of defining themselves rich with innovative, inventive power, they were able to overcome the smothering individualism of a half-century of authoritarian rule. They discovered that mutual aid pushes open the doors to exciting and colourful social richness.

The challenge facing the local councils consists of making people comfortable with this social environment, by creating open space for free dialogue. This is necessary for achieving ongoing, friendly relations while also securing the future of the revolution as a collective project. Towards this end, the local councils will pursue these goals:

  • Form “social spaces” that allow people to discuss the difficulties in their daily lives, debate what is needed, and develop appropriate solutions. To keep the delicate balance between the continuation of the revolution and the protection of those around them, these solutions will have to consider the following points:
    • Local concerns
    • Infrastructural concerns
    • Social harmony
    • Regional fundraising
    • Delve into all issues relating to people’s livelihoods and their expectations for life and work and find collective solutions wherever possible
  • Analyze questions that demand solutions beyond the local context, such as funding or support for other regions
  • Defend the land in the region from being expropriated by the state, because such expropriations of land in Syria’s cities and countryside and the consequent displacement of their inhabitants are one of the core pillars of the politic of domination and social exclusion on which the regime relies. This policy was adopted to create residential areas for government employees and soldiers and officers of the army, or in the name of business, to create shopping centres for the rich. In rural and suburban areas, the revolutionary movement formed partly as a rejection of this policy of expropriation and exclusion that cuts human beings off from their subsistence base. The work of the local committees is then’:
    • Inventory the lands affected by expropriation
    • In the event of expropriation of land for security purposes: support the local residents in defending the land and property in their region
    • In the event of expropriations of land for residential purposes or other development projects: do what you can to preserve good relationships with the local residents and seek a solution that meets the needs of all parties

Note: Clearly, these kinds of actions are only possible in areas that are secure or nearly “liberated” from the authorities. But its possible to carry out plans specific to an area that take into account what’s possible there.

3) On the relationship with the Free Syrian Army: The need to protect communities while continuing the revolution

Objectives

  • Make the people around us safer and protect demonstration so that they can expand to new areas
  • Ensure lines of communication between regions by protecting the movement of people and providing logistical support

Role of the local councils: What should be, at a minimum, the local council’s work

  • Provide safe housing and supplies to members of the Free Syrian Army
  • Coordinate and build consensus with the Free Syrian Army on strategies for the defence of the region
  • Work with the Free Syrian Army to empower people in the area to take charge of security and administration

4) On the formation of local councils and their organizational structure

The process of forming local councils faces many obstacles, not the least of which are the deadly violence of the regime, how areas are cut off from each other, the frequent raids cities and villages. Each of these factors greatly limit the ability of people to move around and shut them into closed circles. Confronted with this, the revolution has demonstrated in every region that mechanisms to resist these killings give rise to adaptability and creativity. They also contribute to new practices aimed at overcoming the limits put on peoples collective dreams for freedom and that are able to react appropriately to the shifting balance of power on the ground. Therefore, the formation of local councils is influenced by the following factors:

  • The formation of local councils is a dynamic process that responds to the needs of the situation and how people engage with it
  • Every success achieved by one council will contribute to the efforts of the others and will increase the determination of all their members
  • The formation of local councils will vary based on the intensity of the movement in a given region, meaning it will be more difficult in those areas subjected to a heavy presence of security forces and easier in areas where the revolutionary movement has more capacity
  • This important process of creating local councils will not be easy, but it’s critical if the revolution is to continue. It’s hard not only because of the security deployment and the sieges targeting communities and areas, but also because it involves trying new and unconventional ways of living and relating to one another. This requires becoming independent while breaking with authority, so the role of the councils is to support and develop economic and social activities in their area, based on administrative experience in different domains.
  • In light of the difficulties involved in organizing elections under current circumstances, the local councils will consist of those whose social engagement has earned them wide respect, on the basis of their social and technical skills and their organizing experience. They should have the capacity and desire to work as volunteers, as well as the adaptability necessary to engage with the family structures or political groupings present in an area
  • The activities of the local councils develop in stages according to local priorities. From the beginning, the following people will be involved:
    • Members of the local council
    • Engaged people from the region
    • Willing people participating outside the region with expertise in the questions at hand

Taken together, this all lets us imagine an organizational structure that could take on the tasks of the local council. Ideally, the council should organize on a practical basis, starting small and developing further according to the needs of the community. This organizing will also change in accordance with the transformations brought about by the revolution to the balance of power with the regime in specific areas and what this entails for relationships with neighbouring areas.

5) The role of the National Council

The Council plays a pivotal role in the following matters:

  • The legitimacy of the initiative: By adopting the idea of local councils, the National Council helps give them the legitimacy they need to develop and it contributes to their acceptance by other people engaged on the ground
  • Funding: The National Council has agreed to take on the administration of “the revolutionary funds”, a necessary role that allows for greater flexibility in launching local councils by covering initial costs as well as later expenses that could not be covered locally
  • The National Council can facilitate organizing between areas and increase the level of organization on the provincial level, while each region and locality continues to engage in projects in line with their idea of the movement. This independence has clearly given the movement its tremendous adaptability, even though it was often affected by the lack of supportive spaces to protect it. The role of the National Council here is important for finding common ground and strengthening collaboration between different areas

The above translation includes the introduction to the version of Omar’s text published in October 2011 and the full text of the version he released in February 2012. These works were not published online until after his death at the hands of the regime in February 2013. It is based on the Arabic text found here: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=143690742461532&

This translation drew on a rough English translation of the first version of Omar’s text by Yasmeen Mobayed found on muqawameh.wordpress.com and on the French translation published by Éditions Antisociales in 2013: http://editionsantisociales.com/AbouKamel.php