Anarchist Federation statement on Rojava: December 2014

Ocalan's face on flags

The Anarchist Federation looks at the so-called "revolution" in Syrian Kurdistan, and the role of the PKK and compares the reality with the rhetoric.

The following statement addresses the situation in which Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF), Revolutionary Anarchist Action, are involved on the Turkish/Syrian border in opposition to IS. This is a struggle which, if lost, will probably result in far greater repression and tyranny than workers in the region already face, in towns and on the land. It is also one in which class-consciousness and the class struggle must remain at the forefront of anarchist responses. Anarchists on the ground are fighting in a less-than-ideal situation, not least given that the state forces of Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and the US, also claim to combat IS. We continue to offer practical solidarity through the International of Anarchist Federations (IFA/IAF). We also offer our own evaluation of the situation.

The Anarchist Federation is only too aware of the support that many anarchists, including those who describe themselves as anarchist communists, anarcho-syndicalists and class struggle anarchists, are offering the “Rojava Revolution”. This includes lauding the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) as a party that has somehow morphed from being an authoritarian nationalist party into being a near-anarchist catalyst for social revolution in the region, and describing the situation in Rojava as similar to the revolutionary situation in Spain in 1936 (David Graeber, as well as Derek Wall of the Green Party left).

Those who wish to hold on to their principles and to keep a clear head, need to examine the facts. The PKK at its birth adopted a leftist nationalist stance. This leftism was very much of the Stalinist variety. In 1984 it began an armed struggle against the Turkish state. With the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, its leader, by the Turkish state, a new period in the evolution of the PKK began. In line with leaders of other parties of the same ilk, Ocalan was and is seen as a charismatic figure to which the leadership elements and the base of the party pay obedience. Ocalan is described as “the sun” around which the various political and military organisations revolve. This situation has not changed with his apparent adoption of Bookchinite confederal municipalism. Ocalan deliberately modelled himself on Stalin right down to the personality cult. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, Ocalan and the PKK began to manouevre, to change positions, no longer being able to look towards a discredited state capitalism.

When the PKK military forces were compelled to move over the border to Syria, they met problems with the Kurdish peasantry there, many of whom still held to Muslim religious beliefs at odds with PKK leftism. This impelled Ocalan to talk about Kurdistan as “the cradle of international Islam”. At the same time the PKK entered into a tacit alliance with Syria’s Assad regime, an enemy of the Turkish state.

Ocalan then completed another turn and talked about becoming Turkey’s “most powerful ally” and that “the war on behalf of borders and classes has come to an end”. When this failed to impress his captors, Ocalan then took another turn, recommending that Bookchin must be read and his ideas practised. This initiated an intensive marketing campaign by the PKK towards Western leftists and anarchists in order to look for support and allies.

Apart from the strange occurrence of the PKK, after decades of Stalinised nationalism, apparently turning overnight into some sort of organisation advocating Bookchinite libertarian municipalism, it should be pointed out that this came not from the grassroots of the PKK but was handed down by Ocalan through the PKK command structure. In fact, whilst Ocalan and the PKK might be posing as born again libertarians, it should be remembered that the PKK, whilst facing towards the West as advocates of direct democracy and of secularism, at the same time advocates the setting up of Democratic Islam Congresses to accommodate the Islamists and to religiously legitimise the PKK. This was also at the instigation of Ocalan. In a letter that Ocalan sent to the Democratic Islam Congress he referred to his “brother believers” and goes on to say that “we cannot be defined by western concepts such as communism and atheism". Further he then talks favourably about the Islamisation of Kurdistan. So much for secularism!

As to any change in the structure of the PKK from an extremely centralised structure with Ocalan at the tip of the pyramid into a libertarian federalist organisation controlled by the membership, there is no evidence whatsoever that this has happened. The PKK’s “Democratic Confederalism” is described by Ocalan as “a system which takes into consideration the religious, ethnic and class differences in society", in other words the class system is not being questioned at all. The Koma Civakên Kurdistan (KCK) (Group of Communities in Kurdistan) an organization founded by the PKK to implement the Democratic Confederalism programme, defends private property in its Contract (the key document in the aforesaid programme). This is under Article 8, “Personal, Political Rights and Freedoms". Section C of article 10, "Basic Responsibilities" defines the constitutional basis of mandatory military service:"In the case of a war of legitimate defense, as a requirement of patriotism, there is the responsibility to actively join the defense of the homeland and basic rights and freedoms”.

Zafer Onat, a libertarian communist in the region remarks “While the Contract states that the aim is not political power, we also understand that the destruction of the state apparatus is also not aimed [at], meaning the goal is autonomy within existing nation states. When the Contract is viewed in its entirety, the goal that is presented is not to be seen beyond a bourgeois democratic system that is called democratic confederalism”.

Anarchists can remember Gaddafi’s Green Book, which in rhetoric had far more radical language, where it says: “All that the masses need do now is to struggle to put an end to all forms of dictatorial rule in the world today, to all forms of what is falsely called democracy - from parliaments to the sect, the tribe, the class and to the one-party, the two-party and the multi-party systems.... No democracy without popular congresses and committees everywhere. ... Democracy is the supervision of the people by the people.” But did anyone seriously believe that this was actually being implemented under the repressive regime of Gaddafi?

The uprising against the Assad regime meant that in the course of events, that regime ceased hostilities against the Syrian branch of the PKK, the PYD (Democratic Union Party). This was in order to concentrate on fighting its other opponents, the Free Syrian Army, etc. How seriously should we take the claims about the Rojava Revolution in the Kurdish part of Syria?

We should be clear that the PYD has set up a parliament structure, the Auto-Administration, which it controls with allied parties. It passed a conscription law in July compelling families in the region to send one of their 18-30 year-old members to serve in the defence corps of the PYD, for a period of six months, either continuously or intermittently over a one year period. “Non-adherence” to this law was subject to punishment as stipulated in the law. This law was passed without consulting with other political formations in Rojava and explicitly drafts Kurds into armed groups completely under the control of the PYD. At the same time the PYD is treating other Kurdish political formations in Rojava in an authoritarian totalitarian way, backed up by its use of armed force. It marginalises them and refuses entry into any decision making.

The so-called cantonal assemblies and grassroots bodies are themselves under the sway of the PYD and the Auto-Administration can either approve or block any decisions by these bodies. There is no real direct democracy here, workers and peasants do not control these bodies. At the same time no genuine workers and peasants militias have developed, all of the armed groups are under the control of the PYD. Furthermore, there is no socialisation and collectivisation of the land and the workplaces, as happened, for example, in Spain in 1936. The PKK/PYD marketing campaign has presented the situation in Rojava as one of progressive revolution, but the working class and the peasantry have no autonomous organisation. Whilst there is a quota of 40% representation of women within these local councils/communes/committees, it can be seen from the above that the local structures are in fact not much different from municipal councils in the West, where they act in their role as the local state as support for and in connection with the central state and parliament. Indeed, while some compare the “Rojava Revolution” to Spain 1936 perhaps a better analogy would be the Bolsheviks in 1917 which many anarchists, both internationally and inside Russia, mistakenly supported initially as a truly revolutionary force.

As regards the women’s armed groups, whilst there are signs of feminist influences within them, it should be remembered that the women’s fighting groups are segregated from male units, with no mixed fighting groups. Gaddafi and Saddam both had women’s military brigades, but that did not mean that there was women’s liberation in Libya and Iraq. Similarly women’s military brigades exist in Iran with no sign of emancipation of women. For that matter, ISIS has all-female brigades called al-Khansaa and Umm al-Rayan.

As Zafer Onat remarks: ”First of all we must identify that the Rojava process has progressive features such as an important leap in the direction of women's liberation, that a secular, pro-social justice, pluralist democratic structure is attempting to be constructed and that other ethnic and religious groups are given a part in the administration. However, the fact that the newly emerging structure does not aim at the elimination of private property, that is the abolition of classes, that the tribal system remains and that tribal leaders partake in the administration shows that the aim is not the removal of feudal or capitalist relations of production but is instead in their own words 'the construction of a democratic nation''.”

As Syrian-Kurdish anarchist Shiar Neyo comments: “From the PYD’s point of view, this was a golden opportunity to impose its authority and expand its sphere of influence in the Kurdish areas in Syria. This political pragmatism and thirst for power are two important factors in understanding the party’s dealings with the regime, the revolution, the FSA, and even the Kurds themselves. They also help explain many phenomena that seem to bewilder some commentators and analysts, such as the suppression by PYD forces of independent activists and those critical of the party’s policies, in much the same vein as the Baathist regime did. By way of example, one can cite in this regard the Amuda massacre in July 2013, in which the People’s Protection Units (YPG) opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, or the closure of the new independent radio station Arta in February 2014, under the pretext that it was not ‘licensed’. The PYD’s forces have also assaulted members of other Kurdish political parties and arrested some of them under a variety of excuses; they have been controlling food and financial resources in the Kurdish areas and distributing them in an unjust manner on the basis of partisan favouritism, and so on and so forth. Such practices remind people, rightly, of the oppressive practices of the Assad regime.”

What we are saying might not be popular at the moment, but we feel that our analysis will be borne out by unfolding events.

Our proposed actions

1.Argue for fully open borders for refugees and aid to these refugees. Highlight the conditions in the refugee camps and of Syrian refugees in Turkish cities forced to beg or to turn to petty criminal activities in order to live.

2. Provide humanitarian aid to Rojava via IFA, which has direct contact with DAF.

3. Encourage and support any independent action of workers and peasants in the Rojava region. Argue against any nationalist agitation and for the unity of Kurdish, Arab, Muslim, Christian and Yezidi workers and peasants. Any such independent initiatives must free themselves from PKK/PYD control, and equally from aid by the Western allies, from their clients like the Free Syrian Army, Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Turkish state.

The Anarchist Federation, 1st December 2014.


For references, and statements & discussion elsewhere:


Servet Düşmanı (Enemy of Wealth) anarchist website, Turkey- Rojava: Fantasies and Realities [article by Zafer Onat, in several language translations]:

Tahrir-International Collective Network website: On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue – an interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist and journalist Shiar Nayo:


International of Anarchist Federations: [several statements by KAF (Kurdish Anarchist Forum, UK and Europe) and DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action, Turkey), including translations] (DAF website) (KAF related articles)

Further discussion:

Workers Solidarity Alliance, USA: [anarcho-syndicalist individual, critical of national liberation context]

Anarkismo, platformist network: [reply to the WSA position with many comments]


Dec 4 2014 12:33

I've no particular interest in supporting the various aspiring states in this conflict, but I do wonder about the state of the class struggle within the areas controlled by ISIS and the PKK. Like, is there anything interesting going on there? Workers refusing to pay rent maybe? Strike waves? Anything class struggle types should be aware of? If not then we seem to be discussing the relative merits of different forms of the state capital nexus. Which is worthwhile, but not a discussion about revolutionary potentials.

The form of these councils we hear so much about in PKK controlled areas is only one consideration (though the claims made about the form sometimes seem hard to believe). It's the membership and content that really concerns me. Are they engaged in socialising the means of life? Are they self conscious workers' organisations. Are they dismantling the commodity economy? Or are they engaged in institutionalising a left wing nationalism entirely consistent with class society and the rule of capital and the state? Could a genuinely socialist society even survive a year in the international situation Rojava is subject to?

I know those seem like leading questions, but I feel like that has a lot to do with the context in which they are asked. Any communist ought to be asking those about any situation they have hopes for, so if they seem leading in this context, maybe that tells us something.

I hope that this post does not sound callous about the horrific situation. Of course I hope that situation ends as soon as possible. But I also hope it ends due to class conflict ripping apart the ability of the states and proto-states to send people to kill and be killed rather than one of them establishing some sort of territorial hegemony, which seems likely to end in massacre, whoever wins. I'm not optimistic about it, but I still want to emphasise the communist position on the issue.

Dec 4 2014 12:55

Battlescarred I wasn't suggesting you should go out without a principled fight. Good luck.

Serge Forward
Dec 4 2014 12:40

Burgers, yes that is a shockingly shit article you have quoted, which frankly has no place in a revolutionary anarchist website or publication and would be more appropriate for a Maoist sect. I also take your point about left communist organisations and monolithism. On the AF's apparent lack of monolithickyness...

the problem arises with anarchist organisation is when different local/regional/national groups all take different positions on something that is so fundamental like imperialist war.

Yes that is somewhat problematic but I kind of look at it as a challenge that goes with the territory, because by and large, the AF benefits from being a member federation of IAF and the IAF reciprocally benefits from having us as a member organisation. I would much rather we were part of a wider class struggle anarchist movement with occasional shit that has to be sorted, than part of a narrower group that has very sorted politics but maybe has more limited opportunity for practical political engagement.

Serge Forward
Dec 4 2014 12:48
Battlescarred wrote:
As to the IAF/IFA we will argue this position at forthcoming international meetings hoping to convince rather than flounce at the drop of a hat. After that, we shall see...

Missed this point but it's bang on.

Dec 4 2014 13:17
Serge Forward wrote:

Yes that is somewhat problematic but I kind of look at it as a challenge that goes with the territory, because by and large, the AF benefits from being a member federation of IAF and the IAF reciprocally benefits from having us as a member organisation. I would much rather we were part of a wider class struggle anarchist movement with occasional shit that has to be sorted, than part of a narrower group that has very sorted politics but maybe has more limited opportunity for practical political engagement.

Serge this is where we disagree, for me it's not simply "occasional shit", this is about capitalism's war and which side of the class lines you stand on. Time and time again war divides up the revolutionaries from the leftist, be it the first, second world wars or the thousands of civil/local/regional wars. To stay within a organisation that was clearly crossing class lines and siding with a section of the ruling class in a imperialist war, once the argument had been had, would be at best opportunist.

Serge Forward
Dec 4 2014 13:25

I know we disagree but I still love you wink

Dec 4 2014 13:54

Huddersfield Anarchst League and Plan C should be added to libertarian groups cheerleading for Ocalan and the PKK with the latter organising an event Rojava: Stateless Democracy & Democratic Autonomy - a Plan C infoday on Dec 14th in London

Dec 4 2014 14:19

Yes I heard a rumour that Plan C are campaigning for the PKK to be unlisted.

Dec 4 2014 14:46

As an aside I understand not everyone in Plan C agrees with this approach but then there is little in the way of politicle consistency amongst the various Plan C groups. The otherwise good explanation by a Plan C speaker of 'Six myths about what is wrong with Capitalism' at the recent Manchester Anarchist bookfair seemed on the face of it to contradict their published statements on the Kurdish issue but I didn't get an opportunity to point that out.

Dec 4 2014 14:49

You may not be aware that the video recording of Dilar Dirik has previously be been posted a link on this site and has been commented on by myself and others on previous discussion threads here.

Dec 4 2014 14:58

I was surprised at a couple of remarks on Twitter by Plan C on the 'Rojava Revolution'.
Maybe they're going for a Plan N?

Dec 4 2014 15:09

Here's some blurb from the Plan C Facebook event for a bit more context:

"Rojava: Stateless Democracy & Democratic Autonomy - a Plan C infoday"

"The political revolution in Rojava is a vital social experiment in non-state revolutionary politics, all the more significant as it comes from forty years of Kurdish political evolution and militancy and in the midst of a civil war. The experiments in Rojava is a part of a flowering of anti-statist revolutionary politics in recent decades, all of which are part of our political tradition."

"The social revolution in Rojava involves a radical interpretation of participative democracy, one combined with anarchist and libertarian socialist perspectives. Priority has been placed on developing strong autonomous social institutions and bringing gender to the centre of analysis and daily practice. It is a living example of the kind of changes we think are necessary and that we wish to see."

Dec 4 2014 15:45

Well indeed what is Plan C's 'political tradition'? Unfortunately I suspect it is more aligned to the worst of the 'Autonomist Marxist' tradition of faith in 'the multitude' rather than it's best insignts on 'working class composition' and 'communism'. You don't have to rubbish everything people might be trying to do to survive in the difficult circumstances of this civil war but too many people are simply projecting their own desired but frustrated future onto a situation far away which in reality it cannot deliver.

Dec 5 2014 13:04

I think that the statement is fairly clear on the class nature of the PKK and its affiliates, and is also clear on the fact that what is happening in Rojava is not a "revolution" nor anything vaguely approaching it - on the contrary in my opinion. I don't know why the article leads with a photograph of nationalist women fighters in a sort of semi-heroic pose given the analysis, here and more generally, of the role of women in imperialist war and the particular way that the PKK has used the role of women in the war as arms of recruitment and support.

Serge above suggests that he agrees with what Leo says, but doesn't like his tone. The fact is that Serge's position is diametrically opposed to Leo's and this is shown in his response to Burgers. For Serge it's better to be in some sort of heterogeneous united front (why?) with "occasional shit", the "occasional shit" in this case being a profound political disagreements that you ignore rather than taking a clear class position on imperialist war. But, unless Serge has changed position, the posts expressed before show a tendency to see Isis as a "greater evil" and thus support other forms and expressions of imperialism "resisting" it. This is typical of united or popular front support for capitalism and its wars..

Serge Forward
Dec 5 2014 15:10

Always nice to see Baboon pull the Top Communist Trump Card grin

Yes, I do see ISIS as somewhat worse than the PKK, just as Hitler was worse than the Home Guard or Ronald Reagan was worse than the Sandinistas. So what? I never supported the Sandinistas either... although I admit I do have a fondness for re-runs of Dad's Army on telly.

As for the IAF, you make it sound as if it's in permanent state of conflict but, in truth, such profound political disagreement is rare. In this instance, we'll hammer the matter out between us without chucking dummies out of the pram. If it can't be resolved, then as Battlescarred says, we'll see.

On the 'semi-heroic pose' picture, you may well have a point, though I doubt that was the intention of whoever posted the statement on here.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 5 2014 15:27

Hello, what is the AF statement on EZLN everyone's talking about? Is it this one?

the button
Dec 5 2014 15:34
baboon wrote:
I don't know why the article leads with a photograph of nationalist women fighters in a sort of semi-heroic pose given the analysis

Me neither. I posted the article without a photograph of any kind. Presumably it was added by one of the admins.

the button
Dec 5 2014 15:52

Add this one, chief. I'm sure baboon will approve:

the button
Dec 5 2014 15:56

Or this incisive bit of political commentary, on a par with the Barcelona 1936 image someone posted earlier in the thread:

Flava O Flav
Dec 5 2014 21:07
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Hello, what is the AF statement on EZLN everyone's talking about? Is it this one?

No that's not it.

Serge Forward
Dec 5 2014 21:32

Organise! #34 I believe. Don't think there's an online version though.

Dec 7 2014 10:21

I found the article interesting and being new to much of what is going on in Syria etc. makes me want to find out more. I support the content of the article, as best as I understand the situation but have a couple of questions relating to the proposals.
I'm assuming, like every anarchist and communist, that this statement is a democratically agreed position from AFed? That it is the culmination of an internal discussion process where a consensus has been agreed. If so, then possibly these "proposed actions" are actions no longer "proposed" but ratified and the practical application is underway within AFed? Or are they proposals for the rest of the libertarian world to join together?
Also, I'm not trying to pour cold water on these proposals, but I've seen very similar emerging from every kind of liberal - the most obvious are members of TUC unions, Green Party and Labour Party, and just to show how similar they are, here's the first 2 ratified proposals from South Lanarkshire Unison branch:

1) the borders between Rojava, Turkey and Iraq remain open and secure in order for the free and safe passage of medical equipment, food and other essential aid, as well as of refugees and internally displaced people;

2) International aid organisations be granted safe route into Rojava to provide humanitarian aid to the thousands of refugees from other parts of Syria who have fled to Rojava seeing it as a safe haven from the chaos.

Change international aid organisations for the IFA and are these by and large the same proposals? There is also a very similar proposal from Labour Party members relating to the AFed's third proposal. If these are proposals for non-members of AFed to unite around, they aren't unique to anarchists.

Dec 6 2014 12:23
Leo, are you able to write a sentence that isn't full of sneer? It's a pity because much of what you say makes sense to me, but the way you say it is arse.

I'm not interested in looking cute, sorry.

If much of what I say indeed does make sense to you, you should know that it's not me who you should be angry at.

Flava O Flav
Dec 6 2014 13:01
Serge Forward wrote:
Organise! #34 I believe. Don't think there's an online version though.

Do you have it. And access to a scanner per chance?

Serge Forward
Dec 6 2014 13:16

No, Flava. I gave all my back issues, going right back to Virus #1, to the Sparrows Nest archive.

Leo, what makes you think I'm angry? angry angry angry

Dec 6 2014 17:36

There's some info at the link below about Anarchist Federation's Organise! magazine, issues 14 to 39. The list includes the "1910 VIVE ZAPATA First time tragedy - 1994 VIVE ZAPATA Second Time...?" article in Issue No. 34.

"Unfortunately these issues are not online apart from selected articles - one day we will scan them all in! In the meantime, if you are interested in a particular article we can photocopy it for you for a small donation to cover copying and postage."

So maybe if Flava O Flav stuffs a fat bundle of notes into the AF's war chest then a photocopy of the article could arranged.

Dec 7 2014 14:11

We are engaged in dialogue with self-professed libertarians in many places. We are contact with DAF through IFA even if we are critical as AF as we take the situation in Rojava seriously. IFA will continue to discuss its position on Rojava and be assured this includes practical solidarity we can support, and have done already. Our consensus on Rojava is consistent with our principles of opposition to marxist-leninist parties and a critique of anti-imperialism. Any meaningful collaboration with anarchist groups comes from mutual understanding of principles which will hopefully develop through closer contact. Being part of IFA helps this considerably.

As this has been raised the IFA is also in discussion about the recent La Sexta International initiative of the Zapatistas and we are also considering our collective response to that and we are certainly not ignoring or dismissing that struggle either. Through IFA, we are paying attention to the latest Zapatista statements which have taken a libertarian turn and we do that in discussion with our anarchist contacts in Mexico, since there are differences of opinion there. (no problem, a scanned copy of the historical article in Organise! 34 can be sorted out soonish, in next week or so).

Dec 7 2014 16:29

So the AFed statement is a consensus agreement involving all members of AFed through internal democratic mechanisms? Then if so, can someone state whether these proposals are for AFed members only and are they underway in any practical sense? Will other self-professed libertarians be asked to help AFed - through IFA - to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Rojava?

Dec 7 2014 17:02

Glad also that the question of the picture caption is cleared up and changed by the libcom admins and everyone likes the new one smile
It is true the statement is quite long and actually this is the main reason for not including lengthy paragraphs on Turkish & Syrian states, ISIS or western forces, opposition to which is taken as given. In fact we had a background section ready to go but we decided not to include it. Hope this will help to counteract the idea that because we chose mainly to critique marxist-leninist groups in the region we are somehow not adequately critical of the national states in the region or of ISIS itself!

It should be clear that the AF statement is very much aimed at furthering debate in the anarchist movement, and still alive is the question of anti-imperialism that arises whenever there are liberation movements (which are inevitably states in waiting in our analysis). So we have produced other similar critiques before notably about politics in S.Africa and N.Ireland, positions on which have played out in the long-term is disagreements between groups like ourselves and groups that have aligned to the Anarkismo statement. We also produced statements about Yugoslavia break-up including Kosovo/a, where the taking of sides on the latter went so far as to take some anarchists to supporting NATO intervention, but thankfully this does not happen so often so we generally don't need to spend too much time critiquing western forces in our statements.

In terms of activity we have not ignored struggles where there are bourgeous forces taking the lead and so the AF, and ACF before it, was active in the anti-Apartheid movement, Troops Out and present day demonstrations about Rojava. Being in IFA mean we are now in a position to engage even better with libertarian groups and movements in other countries who need supporting, and where face-to-face dialogue can only help increase mutual understanding and consensus.

Dec 7 2014 17:12
plasmatelly> So the AFed statement is a consensus agreement involving all members of AFed through internal democratic mechanisms? Then if so, can someone state whether these proposals are for AFed members only and are they underway in any practical sense? Will other self-professed libertarians be asked to help AFed - through IFA - to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Rojava?

Yes it is a consensus statement from one of our regular meetings produced after considerable internal discussion. Some IFA groups in particular have close regular contact with DAF and money has been raised through IFA. There was an open call at the end of this statement which is a bank account with one IFA group:
which is still open and so you are free to transfer funds to it.
Forgive us if we don't give more details on an open forum but you can get in touch with the IFA secretariat (or the AF) if you wish to talk further and say who you are affiliated to and how you want to help. The email address can be found on