PKK, Democratic Confederalism, and Nonsense – Juraj Katalenac

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We publish here a critical text about PKK and the “Democratic Confederalism” (which we have translated into French and Czech) from militants who mainly express themselves in Croatian and gave to their structure the name SvjetskaRevolucija (“World Revolution”). We don’t know much about this group and it is linguistically difficult for us to further deepen our knowledge of their programmatic positions.

However, in a basic document of theirs, published in Croatian, developing a series of interesting affirmations, there is one in particular that we want to briefly criticize here. It’s their position on “terrorism” when those comrades say: “Terrorism is not a method of struggle of the working class. It advocates secret action of a small clique in total contradiction with the defence of class violence, which derives from the class-conscious and organized mass action of the proletariat.” []

We don’t agree at all with this position which leaves the door wide open to pacifism in the name of the “Great Night”, the revolution to come under the pretext that here and now “the masses are not ready”, as social democrats of all kinds have eructated since decades to better disarm our struggle. There is no “terrorism” in itself! Every action, every thought is essentially determined by its class content and the dominant social relations; there is therefore indeed a class terrorism which appears in a variety of forms (and essences) according to the nature of the program it contains and that carries it.

There is therefore on one hand a bourgeois, employers’, capitalist, counterrevolutionary terrorism: it’s the permanent terror of everyday nature in our forced labour, it’s the police and military (and the union one) repression to crush our strikes, our struggles, our hopes, and it’s also the terror of the murderous slaughter on fields of horror of the bourgeois wars, etc.

But, and in radical opposition to this counterrevolutionary terrorism, there is also a proletarian, revolutionary, human terrorism: it’s the permanent sabotage by our class of the tools of exploitation, alienation, oppression and domination, it’s the organization even minority one of direct action, that is to say, without intermediaries, without mediation, it’s the destruction of what destroys us for the final abolition, the total eradication of the very causes of our misery.

To conclude this short presentation and fraternal critique, we want to reaffirm the lifelong positions of the communist movement (some good old programmatic “jewels”) vis-à-vis the necessary revolutionary violence to put an end once and for all with this old world:

The purposeless massacres [], the very cannibalism of the counterrevolution will convince the nations that there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.
(Karl Marx, “The Victory of the Counter-Revolution in Vienna”, NeueRheinischeZeitung No. 136, November 6th, 1848)

Far from opposing the so-called excesses – instances of popular vengeance against hated individuals or against public buildings with which hateful memories are associated – the workers’ party must not only tolerate these actions but must even give them direction.
(Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League”, London, March 1850)

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PKK, Democratic Confederalism, and Nonsense – Juraj Katalenac

We hear about the threat of Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) every day. The media ceaselessly informs us about their brutal executions of western journalists and humanitarians, crimes against the population who do not accept their religious fundamentalism and their military victories. American President, Barack Obama, vowed on the 11th of September this year — on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre — to eradicate ISIL, but at the same time, western leaders are reluctant to engage in military intervention in Iraq — at least, in any form like that launched against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Many military analysts have been warning us of how it is in in the interest of the USA to not engage in full intervention against ISIL but only to force ISIL out of Iraq and into Syria where they are fighting Assad’s regime.

But the fight against ISIL is not the topic of this article; instead, it is the seemingly unlikely alliance that has come out of the current situation: one between the western powers and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — until recently, considered a terrorist organisation.

One of the ways in which the West has intervened against ISIL — with the exception of airstrikes — is through the arming of Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. This is done by equipping the combatants and by using shipments of Croatian weapons which we had to get rid of when we entered NATO. The increasing involvement of the Kurds in the fighting in the region has gained an increasing support which they have not experienced since the fall of the Soviet Union. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has endorsed the creation of an independent Kurdistan as a condition for an alliance of “moderate states” of the Middle East, and Turkey also agrees on establishing a Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. Besides the opposition of Iran, there is not much getting in the way of the realisation of a Kurdish state.

This article was prompted by the perverse interest that the Western Left has had for the PKK: it is perverse because the PKK is an organisation with a great history of abuse, harassment and racketeering of the local (Kurdish) population, sectarian violence and murder, heroin trafficking, extortion and forced recruitment of local people in its military wing, and it is idealised by Western Leftists as “revolutionary”, “proletarian”, “feminist”… while it is just the opposite. Also, it is necessary to mention that what has awakened the interest of Western Leftists to the PKK is their alleged “communalist” or even “anarchist” politics, a turn which is reflected in their replacement of their former Marxism-Leninism (i.e. Stalinism) with “democratic confederalism”. That is what we can read about in many articles such as “The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan” by Rafael Taylor [1] or “Kurdish spring: what are the PKK fighting for?” by Brian Whelan [2].

So, in this article I will deal with just three myths about the PKK: that it is “revolutionary”, that it is “proletarian” and that it is “feminist”. It is important to clearly explain why the support of such organisations is harmful and ridiculous.


The PKK was founded on 27th of November, 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan, Mazlum Doğan and twenty followers. The aim of the PKK was to fight “Turkish colonialism” in Turkish Kurdistan and to establish an independent and united Kurdish state. When it was founded, the PKK was inspired by the ideas of Marxism-Leninism, like many similar organisations in the region which enjoyed Soviet support, and in fact, was an exponent of the Soviet Cold War foreign policy. Therefore, the PKK thought that they could win power through combat operations of their national guerrilla army and that it could find allies among Eastern Bloc countries, as well as among the Kurdish landowners to fight against its Kurdish rivals.

On 15 August 1984, the PKK attacked police stations in the villages of Eruh and Şemdinli, starting an uprising. In these actions, it killed two Turkish police officers. As a countermeasure, Turkey has recruited thousands of Kurds as village guards against the PKK. The PKK has been unkind to these guards, as well as to all other Kurds who showed sympathy towards the Turkish government, and rivals who have attacked certain landowners who sided with the PKK. Because of that, the PKK lost sympathy of the part of the Kurdish people who found themselves wedged between the PKK and the Turkish army. In addition, the PKK had strained relations with the Kurds outside of Turkey, like Masoud Barzani in northern Iraq.

Although it was initially established as a Marxist-Leninist organisation, as a result of the fall of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, the PKK has lost a significant number of foreign allies. The Gulf War of 1991 drew a new map of the region, where the Marxist-Leninist “defence of socialism” was replaced by Kurdish nationalism as an ideology for recruiting new fighters. Because the various imperialist countries have always wanted to own a piece of the pie of the Middle East, the PKK has proven itself to be an important strategic partner, enjoying the support of the governments of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Greece and Russia. It is important here to emphasise the role of the EU countries that intervened when, on 15 February 1999, Turkey arrested Öcalan. The EU’s intervention changed the original death sentence to life imprisonment.

Since I have already mentioned the jailing of Öcalan, it is necessary to draw attention to the repression suffered by the Kurds at the hands of the Turkish state. In fact, the PKK was established for material reasons because the modern Turkish state, just like her mentor, France, does not recognise minorities and uses repressive measures that stifle any resistance. For example, all parliamentary organisations that fought for the interest of the Kurdish people have been banned or declared as terrorist organisations.


In the past few years, the PKK has become extremely popular among Western anarchists and leftists, for the alleged “libertarian turn” of the PKK, of which they have been writing, including such authors as the above-mentioned Rafael Taylor and Brian Whelan. They claim that Öcalan experienced a purification in prison and replaced Stalinism with libertarian socialism, specifically Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism. Öcalan has developed libertarian municipalism in the form of democratic confederalism through the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), the PKK’s territorial experiment in “free and directly democratic society”. Democratic confederalism to them means “democratic, ecological, gender-liberated society” or “democracy without the state”. But it is necessary to put an end to such nonsense and explain the real background to the PKK’s ideological shift.

At the Eighth Congress of the PKK, held on 16 April 2002 the “democratic transformation” was voted, this meant that the PKK would reject violent means to achieve “liberation”, by seeking political rights of Kurds within Turkey. From that congress, the PKK has been transformed by creating a new political organisation, Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK), whose task was to struggle through exclusively democratic means. Despite the political turn of the spokesman for the PKK/KADEK, it is clear that the People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the military wing of the PKK, in order to maintain self-defence, will not disband. Over time, KADEK transformed into a more moderate Kurdistan People’s Congress (Kongra-Gel), otherwise it would not have been possible to take part in negotiations with the Turkish authorities and to facilitate the participation in parliamentary politics. KCK, known as the main organ of “democratic confederalism” is, in its essence, a proto-state for the Kurdish people under the administration of the PKK, and gathers many other Kurdish forces that recognise the supremacy of the PKK.

In 1999, Kurdish nationalists participated in local elections for the first time and won a large majority in Turkish Kurdistan which they have held since that time. Since 2005, Kurdish nationalists renewed their attempts to enter the Turkish parliament and to pursue a legal struggle through it. This began with the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which was established to replace the recently the forbidden Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP). But this party was banned by the Turkish state for its ties with the PKK, just like before, and it was replaced by the newly founded Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in 2009. While it is connected with the PKK, the BDP is a recognised member of the social democratic Socialist International.

The “communalist turn” of the Kurdish nationalists answered the repressive strategy of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) against the Kurdish population. It is essentially a plan for democratic autonomy of the region in the framework of the Turkish state and the Turkish constitution. So, the original separatism and the creation of an independent state have been abandoned. Under the plan, the Kurdish language in addition to Turkish and local dialects, will become the official languages of Kurdistan, there would be representatives of an autonomous Kurdistan in the Turkish parliament that would guarantee the implementation of the law and equal rights for Kurds, and autonomous Kurdistan would have its own flag which would be based on the national symbols of the Kurdish people. Over time, the idea evolved towards a confederation of Kurdish provinces in the region. However, the PKK is not an alternative to the AKP — they are two sides of the same coin. Both sides are increasingly progressing towards a common agreement which the mainstream media has been writing about.

We can better understand this if we read a public statement in the PKK’s press:

“The model of democratic self-government is the most reasonable solution, because it corresponds to the history and political circumstances in which Turkey finds itself. In fact, the Kurds enjoyed an autonomous status within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. Hence this proposal is not based on separatism. Instead, our people will determine their reciprocal relationship based on free will and voluntary union in a common homeland. The model does not envisage the abolition of the state, nor a change of borders. Democratic Turkey and democratic autonomous Kurdistan are a concrete formula for our peoples to govern themselves with their own culture and identity and their right to live freely.” [3]

But what lies behind this turnaround? Is this a change in consciousness or something else? Certainly, one important reason is that since Öcalan’s arrest, he has promised to serve the Turkish state. Other reasons can be found in the geopolitical changes after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of Syrian support, the PKK was forced to look for new “sponsors”. It was therefore necessary to reject the former Marxism-Leninism and replace it with “democratic confederalism”, which fit perfectly because, as opposed to Marxism-Leninism, one “no one is upset and no one minds it”, making it easy to find external allies. Also, the PKK is trying to make a deal with the Turkish state, while at the same time, they need an ideology that emphasises the “uniqueness” of Kurdistan. This new foreign policy strategy of the PKK is based on three premises. The first is that the PKK is trying to raise as many donations from the Kurdish Diaspora worldwide. Also, they are trying to get support and be presented as the only true representative of the interests of the Kurdish people, which has succeeded, to a large extent. The second is the removal of the PKK from the list of terrorist organisations, for which they have received very helpful assistance from the Western Left, which constantly puts pressure on their governments and draws attention to the political situation and repression in Turkey. As a result, PKK activists are extremely active in presenting this mythology of “democratic confederalism” among the Western Left. And the third premise is getting the support of “Western allies”, in particular the USA.

And what is the interest of the USA in the PKK? The USA is primarily interested in having fighters on the ground, whose power interests coincide with the interests of the USA, so that the USA, due to dissatisfaction of the American population, does not need to send its own troops. Kurdish nationalists want to create a state in northern Iraq, something that Western powers openly support, which will be a state that will fight against the Islamists of ISIL. Furthermore, their nationalism is opposed to Islamism precisely in order to gain the support of the West. Of course, the USA has done all of this in consultation with its ally, Turkey, which benefits from the crossing of Kurdish militias to Iraq from Turkey because it grants Turkey internal peace but also makes it easier to establish control over the local Kurdish population.


In addition to the attack on the already mentioned village guards, the PKK has for years undertaken a campaign of killing Turkish teachers who are attacked as “agents of the Turkish state” because they taught the Turkish language. To make matters worse, in Turkey after graduation, the country sends young teachers wherever they are needed especially in the villages and in the eastern parts of Turkey, so this means that teachers do not have a choice or a chance. Under attack by the PKK were also local leftists, but also Kurdish nationalists who disagreed with the policies of the PKK.

Also, it should be noted that the PKK is advocating ethnic cleansing of the Arab population in Syria that inhabit the Kurdish region. Thus, the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian Kurdish party associated with the PKK, said on television that “One day those Arabs who have been brought to the Kurdish areas will have to be expelled (…) if it continues the same way, there will be war between Kurds and Arabs.” [4] The interview was published on the website of supporters of the PKK, with which it was cited. The PKK has in the past had extremely bad policies toward minority populations in the territories in which the Kurds were in the majority. Currently, it is changing and the PKK is often presented as the defender of all the people in Kurdistan. But where the PKK can operate with many national minorities, for very obvious reasons it cannot work with Arabs, Turks and Persians. And when conflicts break out with them, everyone is clearly aware that the PKK is primarily an ethnic party.


In the West, the PKK has a reputation of an organisation that treats men and women equally. There are many records that talk about how women are escaping to the PKK from their families, arranged marriages, blood feuds and other patriarchal customs of Kurdish and Turkish society. But contrary to the picture which is built on the PKK itself, they have not found salvation in the organisation but they were victims of abuse in the PKK’s camps.

The source for this claim does not come from the Turkish state’s “propaganda machine” but from the PKK’s dissidents. So Mehmet Cahit Şener — one of the founders of the PKK who led the short-lived PKK-Vejin (an organisation which split from the PKK because of disagreements with the leadership) — wrote in 1991, before he was killed in a joint action by the PKK and Syrian secret services:

“Apo [Öcalan] has forced dozens of our female comrades to immoral relations with him, defiled most and declared the ones who insisted on refusing to be people ‘who haven’t understood the party, who haven’t understood us’ and has heavily repressed them, and even order the murder of some claiming they are agents. Some of our female comrades who are in this situation are still under arrest and under torture, being forced to make confessions appropriate to the scenarios that they are agents (…) The relations between men and women within the party have turned into a harem in Apo’s palace and many female comrades were treated as concubines by this individual.” [5]

Selim Çürükkaya, one of the founders of the PKK, who fled to Europe because of Apo, also wrote of similar incidents. In his memoirs, Çürükkaya wrote that sexual relations are banned for the entire membership, and those caught in the act, regardless of whether they are men or women, are strictly punished — tortured, imprisoned and branded traitors which would lead to their execution. Quite contrary to these rules, Öcalan had a right to every woman in the organisation, and the rest of the leadership was awarded according to their merit. These testimonies have been confirmed by other leaders of the PKK who have since left the organisation.


Regardless of ISIL’s crimes, it is impossible to take sides in this conflict. I think that for everyone who monitors the situation clearly there are only two choices: ISIL and Western imperialism. The Kurds and the PKK are on the side of Western imperialism.

While we can be appalled over ISIL’s crimes against the Kurdish population in Syria, we should be clear that supporting the PKK does not achieve anything. Furthermore, support for the PKK is support for one horrible ethno-nationalist policy which we have already experienced in the 1990s. [6] Similarly, support for the PKK only strengthens their foreign policy objectives, feeding the Western left’s mythology of a libertarian society, while at the same time strengthening its position among Western powers and facilitating the implementation of their ethnic nationalist politics in the field.

Certainly, it is necessary to condemn the current policy of Turkey against the Kurds, but the PKK is not a movement that will solve this issue. The PKK is a movement of chicken thieves, who intimidate the locals more (such as the recent attacks on the village schools) than they fight against the system and discrimination. Because their ultimate goal is to hold power in Kurdistan, if they can achieve separatist policies they will achieve this within Turkey or through participating in the war in Iraq on the side of the USA.

The author would like to thank the comrades from Turkey (Dunya Devrim) for their translation efforts and the information without which this article would not be completed.

Juraj Katalenac, Zarez.

Original source in Croatian:
Source in English:

[1] The article was published in ROAR Magazine on 17 August 2014; link:

[2] Analysis by Brian Whelan published on the website of the British Channel 4; link:

[3] Translator’s note: “Press Release of the KCK and the Kongra Gel”, Kongra-Gel Presidential Board, KCK Presidency of the Executive Council, 13th of August, 2010; link:

[4] Translator’ note: Quote obtained from:

[5] Translator’s note: This quote was an English translation material that appeared in this article:

[6] Translator’s note: The author here referred to the Yugoslav wars which occurred in the 1990s.

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