Bitcoin Drives Revolution and ‘Startup Government’ for Syrian Kurds

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Amir Taaki, the developer of DarkMarket/OpenBazaar and Dark Wallet, seemed to disappear from the Internet in early 2015. Why? Speculation on the Bitcointalk forum ranged from suicide to fighting with or against ISIS.

“Rojava’s [Syrian Kurdistan] under embargo, so there’s no way to move money in or out. So we have to actually create our own Bitcoin economies. Now we have a technological tool for people to freely organise outside state system. Because it is a currency not controlled by central banks.” — Amir Taaki

A recent interview (March 29, 2017) with the BBC revealed that the British-Iranian Taaki had journeyed to Syria to fight against ISIS. Or, rather, he fought for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Rojava in Northern Syria for a few months. Then, Taaki turned his hand to the blockchain. The BBC offered a tantalizing hint at how it is being used to create a society that is independent despite being surrounded by hostile states. (It is not clear how far along the societal e-plans are.)

Upon returning to England in 2016, Taaki was detained by the police and, for the past 12 months, he has been free but on bail. And quiet.

Not Your Usual Starbucks Anarchist

In 2014, Forbes listed Amir Taaki in its “top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs”. He has also been called the “enfant terrible” of Bitcoin because of his aggressive left-anarchism and privacy absolutism. In an October 7, 2014, interview with Bitcoin Magazine, Taaki explained:

Anonymity is important because the current financial system is rigged against us. Right now the state steals from people through taxes and inflation, which not only contributes massively to state power and war, but it enables them to control who gets to accumulate capital. Anonymity will help us to avoid paying taxes, enable us to launder money, and facilitate us to evade restrictions by the state on how to manage our resources. It will protect the small guy.

Bitcoin Drives Revolution and 'Startup Government' for Syrian Kurds
Cody Wilson

His confrontational attitude is exemplified by one product. Together with free-market anarchist Cody Wilson, Taaki developed the Dark Wallet which promised the ultimate in financial and personal privacy. Wilson described the project: “This is a way of using Bitcoin that mocks every attempt to sprinkle it with regulation. It’s a way to say to the government ‘You’ve set yourself up to regulate Bitcoin. Regulate this.’”

Then Taaki disappeared. In June 2016, Jamie Redman commented: “Recently it has been suggested that Taaki is running with an Anarcho-socialist group called ‘Rojava The Plan’. The organization’s mission is to create a self-sufficient socialist coop with a 1-year goal to finish ’26 projects and advance Rojava’s decentralized economy’.” The projects include internet and phone systems, organic fertilizer production and 3D printers.

Bitcoin Drives Revolution and 'Startup Government' for Syrian Kurds
The organization’s crowdfunding page

The organization’s crowdfunding page declares: “We like Bitcoin!…. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are the future of finance and decentralized economy. We are strong supporters of them, and accept them for this project. We hope to big future Bitcoin projects [sic] in Rojava. One of our goals is to heavily promote Bitcoin in Rojava.”

The situation in Rojava was foreshadowed by Taaki’s concept of a Startup Government. This is a self-governing community that uses crypto-technology as its foundation.

A July 14, 2014, article in Motherboard entitled “Dark Wallet’s Developer Envisions ‘Startup Governments’ Run on Bitcoin” stated: “He [Taaki] gave the example of the Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC), which he described as a ‘start-up government’ that wants to provide basic services to its citizens and manage resources in a more efficient, democratic way than the state.” The CIC website declares: “Bitcoin, cryptography, 3d printers, fabLab, free software, GNU-Linux, GPL, hacking, liquid democracy… More and more people are using technology to create models that subvert the financial, productive and social order in the world in which we live…”

Taaki’s approach to building communities seems to be based on digital currencies, with smart contracts that replace most of the ‘valid’ functions of government, such as a civil court system.

[T]he technology by itself is worth nothing. What is important is the narrative, or the ideal that is being constructed through that narrative. Bitcoin is a decentralized and uncensored money with privacy features. As such, it has opened up a new front in the ongoing struggle for freedom….Contract law is the foundation on which civilizations are built. And it is the basis for how we – no, they – have been able to create corporate society. Through contract law, you get access to a set of legal tools in order to incorporate and scale upwards. With Bitcoin, we now have a new set of tools, that are not based on the law of the state, but based on the laws of mathematics. This enables us to create decentralized law, digital governance, and a wide scope of means for trade and business.

Reservations About Rojava

The Rojava experiment is very likely to fail. This is not merely because of powerful enemies such as ISIS and the Turkish government but also because its ideology is deeply flawed and tends to blur into authoritarianism.

Bitcoin Drives Revolution and 'Startup Government' for Syrian Kurds
Abdullah Öcalan, Kurdistan Workers’ Party

Rojava embraces “Democratic Confederalism”, a form of democratic socialism originated by Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It includes the goals of local autonomy, gender equality and sustainability. But the economic principles are themselves unsustainable as socialist nations have discovered through history.

The politics may be unsustainable as well. Rojava contains approximately 4 million people and the problem of the dissenter is inevitable. The problem: short of violence, how do you make a dissenting individual “get with the program?” Foreign journalists with feet on the ground have pointedly commented on “a long string of violations committed against dissidents and journalists.” An Al Jazeera contributor wrote, “I witnessed the…worst crackdown on Syrian dissidents so far on June 28, 2013, in Amuda, after the party’s armed forces had killed six protesters the night before.”

Other aspects are equally disturbing. For example, a strong streak of authoritarianism is evidenced by conscription. At what point does democratic socialism become statism by another name. Yet another objectionable aspect is captured by the 2016 headline, “Hacking Team hacker steals €10K in Bitcoin, sends it to Kurdish anticapitalists in Rojava.” Idealism financed by theft is difficult to parse.

If Rojava does survive the current conflict, it probably will not survive its own ideology and will drift toward statism. If Rojava fails, critics may well view it as the failure of digital currency to construct a viable society, when it will actually have been the failure of socialism to do so. Bitcoin deserves better.

Conclusion

Putting Rojava aside, Bitcoin needs Taaki. It needs Unsystem – a group of coders and designers who constitute an anarchist counter-movement in which he is key. They are the antithesis of the ‘Banks Love Bitcoin’ crowd who march toward state partnerships, licensing and regulation. Taaki cautioned:

[A] lot of people within the Bitcoin-community care about mass adoption way too much….It doesn’t matter to them how much compromise we need to make, because they think Bitcoin will hit some critical point where – BAM – everything is revolutionized. This kind of quick fix mentality is very easy for people to grasp, but is not based around real social change. It’s an illusion.

Taaki has been quiet of late. The recent articles in the BBC and Wired are encouraging, but the man is unlikely to speak out provocatively until the police investigation is closed.

Do you think Bitcoin will ever find its own land? Let us know in the comments section below.


Images courtesy of Shutterstock, BBC, Wikipedia, Ccoopfunding, and Verelq.am