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 23 2014 13:05

So it seems Ocelot (and I indirectly) have prompted this discussion to widen out well beyond it's starting point - so be it.

augusty... asks some valid questions but I would say that the failure of the 'Russian Revolution' must be seen in the context of both the objective development of capitalism (including it's class composition) in Russia and on a world scale at that point in history and the impact of that development on the (imature?) level of working class consciousness reflected in the different wings of working class political organisation.

There is more to Ocelot's post than the concluding paragraph but we should be careful not to get confused with the different uses of the word 'progressive'. I would say I think with jojo that there is no possibility of developing communism in one country or region of the world but as augusty.. suggests a social movement with the potential to develop a communist society on a world scale has to start somewhere and I would add in my opinion is unlikely in it's initial stages to be a fully formed and conscious mass organisation of the working class as perhaps perceived by many in the past as a mass socialist party or mass based anarcho-syndicalist union - times have changed. Quite apart from that organised communists have always understood and have tried to relate to different 'progressive' elements of working class struggle even if that has generally been as part of essentially defensive struggles.

There is also the question of what we mean when we describe global capitalism as the world dominant system. It is certainly true that compared with the day when Marx and Bakunin were around that much of the way capitalism operates can best be represented and understood in terms of a global shift from the 'formal to the real domination of capital/subsumption of labour' both economically and socially. But that doesn't impact to the same degree in a direct way on everyone around the world where many still live in traditional peasant or tribal relations dominanted only externally by world capitalism and forced to defend themselves as best they can from the ravagesof a capitalism that today can offer no 'progressive' way forward for such people (and surely with our support where we can?).

As far as any of this relates to the original differences over our assessment of the PKK and the so-called 'Rojava revolution' it is quite possible for communists to reject the mistaken claims that such represents any beginning of an attack on capitalism as such in the context of local and world imperialism without necessarily rejecting everything people there might decide to do simply to defend themselves in desperate circumstances. It is almost certainly true that communist minorities internationally are in no position to effect any postive change in this situation and that like others we are mostly left only with 'humanitarian' efforts and such is not to be condemned in my opinion.

Like other communists I do not believe that anything short of a world human community ie communism, can provide any permanent solution to the problems of humanity faced with the inbuilt tendency of capitalism to dehumanise and destroy our world, which means we will always be the critics (even when we are ourselves involved in them) of movements that either seek to stabilise or compromise with capitalism - that is our lot!

Perhaps more to say on this later.

Dec 23 2014 13:40

And just to add on my previous reference to the ICC's claim that the best anarchists are those ''...who have been able to integrate certain elements from the theoretical method of marxism.'' - I agree with this statement but that doesn't necessarily mean the particular version of marxism as expressed in the work of the ICC or even Left communism more generally as there are many other genuine communist contributions to a Marxism that is relevant to our understanding of modern global capitalism.

Dec 23 2014 15:54

Jojo #
I agreed with much of this post, though this is very strange history:
‘The proletarian revolution was successful in Russia in that it seized control of the country and took over political rule via the soviets. This was the dictatorship of the proletariat. But this dictatorship became marooned with the failure of the revolutionary wave in the rest of the world and particularly in Germany.’

The soviets after the Bolshevik coup is not my understanding of ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’. This is a Leninist fantasy. His party destroyed the soviets, unless of course you think a one party state equals ‘worker’s power’. My understanding is that there was never a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, after the downfall of the Tzar there was ‘dual power’ with the provisional government and the soviets, followed by a one party dictatorship – hello, Lenin, et al.

Dec 24 2014 08:28
Spikymike wrote:
augusty... asks some valid questions but I would say that the failure of the 'Russian Revolution' must be seen in the context of both the objective development of capitalism (including it's class composition) in Russia and on a world scale at that point in history and the impact of that development on the (imature?) level of working class consciousness reflected in the different wings of working class political organisation.

Revolution in Russia formally ended in December 1919 with Lenin's decree on Central Council which de facto abolished comitees as organs of workers' power with soviets disabled even earlier. In reality it lasted for some time after that but systematically destroyed by force.

Working class consciousness wasn't so much issue at the time as it was high enough to led bolsheviks including Lenin to imitate anarchists ("State and Revolution", some initial decrees etc.) to win support. But when their party (led not by workers nor peasants as one could think but bourgeoisie, Lenin and Trotsky included) established itself as ruling party all of this ended very quickly. I wouldn't call their party "working class political organisation".

Revolution in Russia never had the chance to develop to the point when "revolution in one country" vs global revolution would become an issue. It's mainly an excuse used by leninists to divert attention from bolscheviks' counter-revolution, so one should be careful when reading marxists texts on this. Leninism influenced some other marxists too.

So in my opinion no one know for sure if "revolution in one country" is possible or not even there are theoretical reasons for that, there no confirmation in facts. But still there must be revolution in one country first to discuss its possibility of survival, which leads to Rojava again...

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 24 2014 10:12

Cool story, bros. Well done for dragging this into the comfort zone of pedantic cockwaving over 100 year old events.

Dec 24 2014 12:29

augusty..., I think you will see from other of my contributions on this site that I am no fan of the Bolshevik leadership or leninist ideology though we might disagree on the naure of the bolshevik rank and file. Our point of agreement goes so far as the need to understand the significance of the fact that any future revolutionary movement with the potential to overthrow capitalist social relations must begin somewhere and will inevitably have some location, but in todays interconnected world I cannot forsee that being some kind of country by country, state by state addition of previously formed communist societies but a rather more rapid cross border world movement of the working class. As to the potential or otherwise of socialism/communism evolving from the working class insurrectionary movement in Russia in 1917 and the relationship practically and theoretically with the events in Germany and other parts of central and eastern europe at that time, that has been discussed more recently on a thread here about the German Revolution which is worth a look.

Guerre de Classe
Dec 25 2014 16:25

Here is our last contribution about this issue:

Dec 26 2014 07:56
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Cool story, bros. Well done for dragging this into the comfort zone of pedantic cockwaving over 100 year old events.

what for some is "pedantic cockwaving over 100 year old events" for others is historical knowledge which can reveal something about contemporary events too. For instance what PKK is doing in terms of propaganda is very similar to bolsheviks' propaganda. On the one hand abolition of the state, soviets, on the other hand communalism, state without the state etc. One can see many similarities like this.

Spikymike wrote:
Our point of agreement goes so far as the need to understand the significance of the fact that any future revolutionary movement with the potential to overthrow capitalist social relations must begin somewhere and will inevitably have some location, but in todays interconnected world I cannot forsee that being some kind of country by country, state by state addition of previously formed communist societies but a rather more rapid cross border world movement of the working class.

I agree with you but there is also possibility of ruling class making this interconnected world fragmented again in old nation-state fashion when situation will become more revolutionary (and there are signs it' s ongoing process in EU, see for instance talk about suspension of Schengen Agreement, more nationalist politics by mainstream parties not openly nationalist )

btw some people who identify themselves as "left communists" use this theory of "communism in one country" vs global communism as argument against some particular ongoing events in Rojava. It cannot be used like this even if it would be true that revolution in Russia failed because of this (which is not) It can be an explanation of past events only - no one knows what will happen in the future. It can trigger something else.

Dec 28 2014 13:52

A good antinationalist analysis. No to all hierarchical structures and turncoat Stalinists who want only money from "rich" West and become in the same time NATO allies! Salud Y Anarquia companeros

Jan 3 2015 11:33

Hi ocelot,
just wondering if you've had a time-box opportunity to expand on your assertions yet?

ocelot wrote:
The more problematic, "internal" contradiction of the above position, is the implicit dismissal of feminism as an issue of any social significance to "real revolutionaries", from an organisation that in another frame was one of the principle supporters of the AFem 2014 conference and considers itself an intersectional anarchist organisation. I'll expand on that assertion when I next get a time-box to post.

Serge Forward
Jan 3 2015 12:52
rat wrote:
Hi ocelot,
just wondering if you've had a time-box opportunity to expand on your assertions yet?

ocelot wrote:
The more problematic, "internal" contradiction of the above position, is the implicit dismissal of feminism as an issue of any social significance to "real revolutionaries", from an organisation that in another frame was one of the principle supporters of the AFem 2014 conference and considers itself an intersectional anarchist organisation. I'll expand on that assertion when I next get a time-box to post.

If you don't back the PKK, you is a misogynist innit grin

Jan 5 2015 10:32
rat wrote:
Hi ocelot,
just wondering if you've had a time-box opportunity to expand on your assertions yet?

ocelot wrote:
The more problematic, "internal" contradiction of the above position, is the implicit dismissal of feminism as an issue of any social significance to "real revolutionaries", from an organisation that in another frame was one of the principle supporters of the AFem 2014 conference and considers itself an intersectional anarchist organisation. I'll expand on that assertion when I next get a time-box to post.

Yeah, pretty busy before the holidays with daily local anti-Water meters actions (since resumed). I did write something, but as often happens with pieces written in fits and starts, rather than in one sitting, it kinda ballooned and meandered somewhat off the original point of departure and became more of a reflection on the questions raised by the situation, rather than a direct response to the above AF piece. On reviewing the material, I'm not sure how useful it is at this stage. I think I'd rather rewrite a piece specifically focusing on how class relations in Kurdish society are mediated by tribalist structures (and the need to distinguish between tribalism and feudalism) such that the advancement of class struggle/recomposition in Kurdish society needs a strategy for undermining tribalism. But anyway, I'll probably do that elsewhere.

Having added all those disclaimers, in case anybody still wants to read them, here are my notes.

From AF A&P’s (for benefit of non-members)

2 Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class. But inequality and exploitation are also expressed in terms of race, gender, sexuality, health, ability and age, and in these ways one section of the working class oppresses another. This divides us, causing a lack of class unity in struggle that benefits the ruling class. Oppressed groups are strengthened by autonomous action which challenges social and economic power relationships. To achieve our goal we must relinquish power over each other on a personal as well as a political level.

3 We believe that fighting systems of oppression that divide the working class, such as racism and sexism, is essential to class struggle. Anarchist-Communism cannot be achieved while these inequalities still exist. In order to be effective in our various struggles against oppression, both within society and within the working class, we at times need to organise independently as people who are oppressed according to gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. We do this as working class people, as cross-class movements hide real class differences and achieve little for us. Full emancipation cannot be achieved without the abolition of capitalism.

So, in summary, anarchist opposition to race, gender and other based oppressions, is not merely ethical or moral, but based on an understanding of the need to complement the operaist/autonomist concept of class recomposition with the anarchist concept of prefiguration. That is, that the project of recomposition is not just directed by the current technical composition of social production in an instrumental way (which would run the danger of being circular - i.e. whatever recomposition led to the effect of increased class conflict and antagonism, without any consideration of potential for rupture, i.e. going beyond increased conflict to something progressive, rather than fascist, for e.g.), but needs to be combined with the prefigurative aims of reducing the internal differentiations and divisions of the class. This clearly links the struggle for the recomposition of the class and that against gender oppression. The real class line is the line for the most effective recomposition of the class.

However, if all hitherto existing class societies, including capitalism, have been patriarchal to some extent, that doesn’t mean that they have been equally so. This is particularly in those cases where the forcible encounter between a prior system of pre-capitalist social relations and contemporary capitalism is recent, or even to some extent, ongoing.

In that light it is useful to distinguish between the political structures of domination (including various state forms), the relations (and forces) of social production, and the relations of collective reproduction, including cultural.

To take the paradigmatic case of the emergence of the English working class from the revolutionising of the relations of production effected by the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the destructive force of that process effectively created a rupture in the socio-cultural aspect of self-reproduction. As Marx noted in volume 1, the urban proletariat of the industrial areas, for e..g the Midlands and the Potteries, were so afflicted that life expectancy dropped below 30 years, and had there not been a constant inward migration, the urban industrial areas would have depopulated, as reproduction was insufficient to sustain life. In that crucible, the revolution of productive relations created a virtual socio-cultural tabula rasa upon which new, specifically urban industrial proletarian cultures emerged.

With the colonial expansion of formal capitalist subsumption to other corners of the globe, we need to invoke the effects of combined and uneven development. In certain marginalised areas, the revolution in relations of production occurred only partially, if at all. Other than in the negative sense of undermining the conditions of the direct producers of the pre-capitalist social formations subjected to colonial rule. In such conditions the disruptive force of the changes in the relations and forces of production was not sufficient to wipe away the cultural forms of the prior existing social formation. In areas like Afghanistan and the FATA areas of Pakistan, particularly the Pashtun and Baluchi areas, the pre-capitalist patriarchal “honour” culture remains as strong as the state remains weak, or notional.

The same applies, AFAICS, to the situation of the bulk of Kurds in the Kurdistan region. In both Turkey, Syria and Iran (and up until post “Desert Storm”, Iraq) the Kurdish regions have been deprioritised for industrial development by the different state governments. In the traditional Bolshevik/Stalinist unilinear view of history, this would be due to a blockage of the dominant political structure, which should be remedied by a national independence struggle, followed by building heavy industry, dams, and the ultimate symbol of Stalinist developmentalism - your very own national tractor factory.

But, on the feminist question, before starting in Rojava 2014 or 2012, let’s go back a bit to the main inspiration for the PKK’s turn from conventional Stalinism/Maoism to something else -

Back in 1 Jan 1994 when the Zapatistas announced their uprising, as well as the First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle they also announced a number of their “revolutionary laws” including the Women’s Revolutionary law.

* First, women have the right to participate in the revolutionary struggle in the place and at the level that their capacity and will dictates without any discrimination based on race, creed, color, or political affiliation.

* Second, women have the right to work and to receive a just salary.

* Third, women have the right to decide on the number of children they have and take care of.

* Fourth, women have the right to participate in community affairs and hold leadership positions if they are freely and democratically elected.

* Fifth, women have the right to primary care in terms of their health and nutrition.

* Sixth, women have the right to education.

* Seventh, women have the right to choose who they are with (i.e. choose their romantic/sexual partners) and should not be obligated to marry by force.

* Eighth, no woman should be beaten or physically mistreated by either family members or strangers. Rape and attempted rape should be severely punished.

* Ninth, women can hold leadership positions in the organization and hold military rank in the revolutionary armed forces.

* Ten, women have all the rights and obligations set out by the revolutionary laws and regulations

Now to the hardcore sectarian, the second point’s acceptance of the existence of wage labour may well mean that the entire law can be dismissed as “bourgeois”. But from a social transformation perspective, the law is clearly a declaration of intent to confront the patriarchal barriers to full participation in society, faced by indigenous women. The situation of women in the indigenous communities of the Lacandon jungle (and the Chiapas Highlands from which many had recently migrated) was atrocious. Married, usually against their will, at a very young age (13-14 or younger) denied education, the opportunity to learn spanish (and thus economic interaction with the wider world) and generally kept barefoot and illiterate in the role of child-bearing, cooking and housecleaning, subject to chronic domestic violence and rape, the idea that they could take part in the deliberative and decision making processes of their communities was out of the question. Until, that is, the Zapatistas saw an existential need to put it back into question. [...]

Revolution and historical materialism

To understand the relationship between liberalism and nationalism, we first need to understand what liberalism is. Abstractly, liberalism is freedom from collective social values or norms. Historically it was a reaction to the religious wars of Western Europe. Whereas protestantism aimed to free theology from the authority of the church, liberalism aimed to free thought from the authority of theology, religion and tradition. Of course there was a lot that was progressive in this process of freeing thought from religion, tradition and superstition and basing policy discussion on rational and scientific argument. But the transformation of religious faith from being a public matter to a private matter implies the invention of the public and private as distinct spheres. In other words, liberalism defers the problem of deciding between competing value systems by relying on the state and the market as final arbiters. (At a very abstract level you could say that the subsumption of social relations to the unitary logic of capital’s self-reproducing value, progressively displaces the possibility of collective human social values). The irony of the term “bourgeois liberal values” is that, like the British constitution, it’s a signifier for which there is no signified and never was.

The tendential effect of liberalism to undermine any notion of collective norms or values and identification of individuals with a wider collectivity, is one of the contradictions of the bourgeois order, given social production presupposes sociality, cooperation as well as competition. Hence nationalism emerged in the modern era as the specifically bourgeois recreation of collective social values and norms, in response to the normative vacuum left by liberalism’s secular conquest of religion. In place of religion’s imagined god is the authority of nationalism’s imagined “People”. Liberalism and nationalism are not contesting ideologies then, but the latter is born directly out of the contradiction of the former. And not just in the abstract but in the ebb and flow of contemporary capitalism. During periods of social peace combining unobstructed accumulation of capital with high employment, stable or rising real material wages, society liberalises. The integrative processes of social production itself tie the social tissue together, even as norms and values become fragmented, individualised or even disappear altogether (beneath a veneer of behavioural conformism). But in periods of crisis in production, employment, social reproduction, and/or accumulation, that integrative role is undermined and a compensatory rise of nationalism - as the conventionally accepted vehicle for the reimposition of collective social values and norms - follows organically. But not only nationalism, of course, aside from a resurgence of religion or other competing anachronistic forms, class consciousness is also stimulated by the inevitable use of class power to shift the cost of the crisis onto the non-owning class.

But in marginal areas where the capitalist technical composition of the social production process is insufficient to play the role of social integrator, and where industrialisation and proletarianisation, beyond simple dispossession, has been too weak to erase and overcode the reproductive social relations of the preexisting mode of production, the problem of finding a means of reproducing collective social values to overcome crises of reproduction, are not provided by the normal functioning of capital. Liberalism, as discussed, has no collective values to offer, and the lack of bourgeois social recomposition means the grounds for nationalism generally have not yet been created to overcome the diverse ethno-linguistic, tribal and clan divisions that traverse the dispossessed or marginalised indigenous population.

For most of the 20th century the conventional stalinist or maoist solution to this was to basically ape the European trajectory of development regardless, locked into the unilinear view of historical development common to orthodox Marxism. Invent a flag, impose a common language and identity and start the armed struggle for territorial independence to build a new industrialised nation state and build the tractor factory.

But increasingly towards the turn of the 21st century, groups like the Mayan indigenous of Chiapas, under threat of having their tenuous ejido land rights revoked by NAFTA and their forest sold to Western paper manufacturers, or the Kurds of South Eastern Turkey subject to the dam-building and other developmental projects of the 1980 Turkish Army dictatorship’s rebooted Southeastern Anatolia Development project, started to perceive development as one of the threats to their survival. Maybe the tractor factory was less the instrument of deliverance than of destruction.

In the condition of marginality, the relative paucity of wage labour engagement with capital’s circuit, meant the improbability of creating a politically recomposed class collectivity as foundation of common values and process to navigate a different path out of the fatal binary of destruction by neglect or destruction by development. But of course the role of commodity labour power in the immediate process of production is only one side of the class’s confrontation with capital. The general form of the confrontation is between capital’s cycle of valorisation and the class’s cycle of self-reproduction. The other aspect of that general confrontation is the conflict between capital and class in the sphere of reproduction - particularly for an only recently formally subsumed population still partially dependent on direct production work.

But in order to form a collectivity on the basis of the total reproductive labour of the community, the input of all participants was required, including the half of the population excluded by patriarchal social divisions. Moving patriarchal social relations from being a private matter to a public matter, and one to be progressively destroyed, was thus a prerequisite for such a strategy. And the extension of the political process of deliberation and decision making to the widest possible participation, especially to women formerly excluded from such a role, was the necessary means of achieving by political action, the social rupture/transcending of the pre-capitalist social relations that relatively marginal industrialisation and proletarianisation had been unable to sweep away.


Much of the “debate” around the PKK’s political turn to the “Democratic Autonomy” line has been around essentialist questions to do with the nature or character of the PKK itself. Here there seems to be a failure to consider the difference between agency and interests. That is to say that where the agent (the PKK) has been assumed to be essentially distrustworthy, then the only interests imputed to the new political direction are assumed to be purely external - that is, a cosmetic exercise aimed at garnering support from the awesomely potent international force (* sarcasm *) that is Western anarchism. The examination of potential internal interests - that the change of line is a response to internal threats to social reproduction, does not appear to be considered in any way. A materialist analysis of historical development accepts that “Men (sic) make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past” which has implications for the relation of agents and interests. Even a parasite requires a living host. Much as agents may overcode the material circumstances with their own particular interests, that does not mean the material interests that govern their conduct are subjective or theirs to freely choose.

Whatever the “true character” of the PKK (even on the assumption that such a body is monolithic to the extent of having only one contradiction-free essence) it does not follow that its change of line as regards taking on patriarchal social relations within Kurdish communities is an exercise in pure "optics". Whatever the character of the Militant Tendency (as was) in 1988/9, that did not prevent Scottish anarchists from engaging in the Anti-Poll Tax groups set up and initially dominated by them, with positive results. The character of the initial agency behind an initiative does not determine the utility or deleterious potential of the initiative itself. For an authoritarian group that seeks to dominate society, the path of least resistance is to challenge as few of the existing social norms of that society as necessary. The history of nominally socialist political groups in the Middle East has been to pay, at best, lip service to gender equality on occasion, while accommodating themselves to the existing patriarchal and tribal authority structures of the society they operate within. To break with that practice and actively engage your militants in “interfering” in forced marriages, domestic violence, clan feuds and so on, is a high-cost, high-risk strategy that risks offending and alienating existing clan and tribal heads. To incur the costs of such risks implies an assessment that a greater threat is being run by leaving social relations as they are. Such a strategy, modelled on the Zapatista one, to achieve a revolution in social relations by conscious action, rather than as an unconscious byproduct of industrial development is not simply the achievement of bourgeois social transformation by other means, but aims at a kind of permanent revolution in social relations, to leap over the bourgeois stage of development to a self-managed sustainable economy suborned to the needs of social reproduction, rather than the accumulation of capital. Of course whether such a strategy can lead to success or not is open to question, and answerable only by historical practice. But to assume that this story has already been told many times before and the answer thus predetermined, is to ignore the specificity of both circumstances and strategy.

One thing that ISIS and the PKK/KCK have in common, is that neither of them fit into the mould of either bourgeois liberal or nationalist politics. They are both, in their diametrically opposed ways, responses to the real historical failure of bourgeois liberal/nationalist development as advanced by Turkish Kemalism and Syrian and Iraqi Ba’athism. ISIS renounces all national borders in favour of a universal, global Salafi war machine dividing the world into true believers and Kufr. The problems of arriving at collective values have already been solved and now remain simply to be imposed on all societies by autocratic military means. As in all Fascism, the contradictions between the social values of the past and the disintegrating effect of modernisation are to be solved by forcible “return” to an imagined past that never was. Slavery, forced marriages, the buying and selling of women and children are not only to be tolerated, they are to be revived and celebrated as divinely mandated.

The KCK’s Democratic Autonomy also rejects exclusion on the grounds of national borders or identity. By contrast it rejects exclusion on the basis of religious affiliation and none. The participatory structures being open equally to Sunni, Shia, Alevi, Alawite, Yezidi, Christian, atheist, Kurd, Armenian, Arab, alike. Similarly bourgeois nationalism’s (at least in the post-classical period) reliance on conservative definitions of national culture based on tradition, is countered by the proposed use of the participatory assembly to arrive at common values and norms through negotiation. Mass participation, other than in purely passive modes, is anathema to the bourgeois order, and indeed any class society.

Of course the idea of a social model and its reality are two very different things. Could the proposed structures and processes of Democratic Autonomy simply degenerate to being a rubber stamp or sham “consultation” around a conventional single-party state hierarchical power? Of course. And if the difficulties of building in socialism in one country have already been historically exposed, how much more difficult building a post-capitalist alternative in an economically marginalised sub-regional corner of global capitalism? However we should remain mindful that the alternative being sought by the indigenous of the Lacandon jungle and the Kurds of the Zagros Mountains, is first and foremost an alternative to social disintegration and extinction. As the Black Panthers pointed out back when, an offensive revolutionary programme presupposes a survival programme.

Jan 6 2015 19:33

ocelot, thanks for your incisive observations.

Are you able to expand on your assertion that the AF "considers itself an intersectional anarchist organisation"?

Fall Back
Jan 7 2015 09:30
rat wrote:
ocelot, thanks for your incisive observations.

Are you able to expand on your assertion that the AF "considers itself an intersectional anarchist organisation"?

One of your long standing members said so on this very thread, so maybe you should take this up with them.

Serge Forward
Jan 7 2015 09:45

The AF is not an intersectional organisation... nor is it a monolithic one for that matter. There are some members who support intersectional and privilege theory just as there are members who don't. The basis for being in the AF is agreement with the Aims & Principles. Some members choose to read intersectionality into the A&Ps while others don't.

Fall Back
Jan 7 2015 11:53

That may very well be the case. However it's still shit to get stroppy and start demanding proof when Ocelot described the AF as Intersectional literally the post after one of your members said:

Still is it worth pointing out omissions as we are aiming to be intersectional as an organisation.

Serge Forward
Jan 7 2015 12:32

Who's getting stroppy? That is one member's interpretation rather than the view of the organisation.

Fall Back
Jan 7 2015 13:33

I think responding to a fairly throwaway comment that the AF considers itself intersectional by demanding evidence for the assertion 3 times over a period of several weeks - whilst ignoring a member of your organisation saying the same thing - counts as stroppy, yep.

I mean if he'd just said 'actually the AF isn't officially intersectionalist' or 'there's disagreement in the AF over that actually' it wouldn't be an issue. However when you sea lion someone like so as if he'd casually asserted the AF supported unions or nationalism, then there's obviously something deeper. I'm not necessarily sold on intersectionalism, but it was hardly a gross slur meriting a demand he PRODUCE EVIDENCE FOR THIS.

the button
Jan 7 2015 13:46
Fall Back wrote:
when you sea lion someone


Fall Back
Jan 7 2015 13:49

Serge Forward
Jan 7 2015 14:17

So this sea lioning malarkey is a bad thing, right? Evidence please grin

Jan 7 2015 14:36

(Sheesh) OK, let's not get hung up on the "I-word" then. I still think the sense of A&P 3's first two sentences: "We believe that fighting systems of oppression that divide the working class, such as racism and sexism, is essential to class struggle. Anarchist-Communism cannot be achieved while these inequalities still exist. " is sufficient to give feminism a little more consideration when judging the progressive or reactionary content of social movements.

Serge Forward
Jan 7 2015 15:59
ocelot wrote:
is sufficient to give feminism a little more consideration when judging the progressive or reactionary content of social movements.

What has women conscripts in a left-nationalist ex-stalinist military/political organisation in an imperialist war got to do with feminism or fighting sexism?

Jan 7 2015 17:13

It's not just about the YPJ. It's about the totality of the democratic confederalist processes and activities. But on this I'm going to just going to redirect you to the series of posts I put on this thread - Rojava economy and class structure

Jan 8 2015 10:42

ocelot, if you consider the longstanding internal civil wars and not just the latest events in Rojava, is all this not simply the unintended consequences of capitalist needs in the unconventional circumstances of war which may or may not, given other influences which we have little or no influence over, have some longer term benefits (from both our own and a modernising capitalist perspective) in breaking down previous patriachal structures and outdated sexual divisions of labour, much as womens involvement in past war efforts in the western world. Should we on that basis support the involvement of women beyond their traditional roles in assisting in this case, as in the past in an interimperialist and essentially nationalist war effort - surely not!

Jan 8 2015 16:46

Mike, first off, heroic run-on sentence! (8 lines on my browser).

Secondly - that does make it hard for me (at least) to make out what the question in that sentence actually is. E.g. I'm not clear by what you mean by the "all this" in your "is all this not simply..." lead-off.

But if you think that what is happening is somehow the automatic march of capitalist modernity wiping out "backward" structures like tribalism and the patriarchal relations specific to it - then no, that's precisely what I'm saying is not happening. Bourgeois development in the region has so far proved completely incapable (and uninterested) in decomposing tribal relations, the recent decades of war, etc have, if anything, actually strengthened these relations, at least according to van Bruinessen (and a number of other commentators).

My point is that creating a rupture in the social relations of tribalism, requires a conscious political strategy and struggle - and, further, that this goal is not some "nice to have" optional extra, but inextricably linked to the class question. But, as I say, I'm not sure if that was your question/proposition, given I found it hard to parse your first sentence.

Your second question - and I suspect that it could just as easily be reframed as "should we support the involvement of anybody on any basis" (which disconnects it from your first question, afaics) - seems to be reliant on the starting point of agreeing that the current conflict is exclusively "an interimperialist and essentially nationalist war effort". I think, within our political context, that if you accept that definition of the situation, then the rest of the argument follows by definition (in a somewhat circular fashion).

Obviously I don't accept the premiss that the conflict is exclusively "an interimperialist and essentially nationalist war effort". a) because I accept the basic anti-essentialist insight of dialectics that more than one thing can be happening at the same time in a given historical process, b) as a consequent, the involvement of imperialist powers in 1) this conflict, 2) the Spanish Civil War and 3) the Russian Civil War, does not make all three conflicts "essentially imperialist". By saying the involvement of an imperialist power in a conflict makes that conflict ipso facto, an imperialist war (as the Bilanists do for Spain, but - very inconsistently, nb! - not for Russia), your saying both that only one thing can be happening at one time and also that certain processes (e.g. imperialism) are so much more powerful than anything else, that "one drop" of involvement, by its supremely potent contaminatory effect, over-determines the "essential" character of the entire process. This kind of essentialist thinking is de rigeur amongst conspiracy theorists, but unfortunately, it would seem, also seems to hold a fairly strong sway amongst leftists. I don't think this kind of dogmatic apriorism really passes muster as critique.

Jan 8 2015 17:44


Thanks for a considered response given my perhaps less than precise comment. I suppose I was reflecting on your response to Serge in your assertion of the 'progressive' nature of ''the totality of the democratic confederalist processes and activities'' and suggesting that this was essentially borne of the specific circumstance of a drawn out but ineffective national Kurdish insurgency/civil war situation consciously pursued by a political organisation in search of a different path to achieving it's national - democratic- statist ambitions bringing some potentially, but by no means guaranteed, 'progressive' results for some in the longer run. This IS more than one thing happening at the same time but NOT one that in the context of the current world and regional situation that has any potential in itself to undermine capitalism, though it might undermine tribalism and no harm in that.

Jan 8 2015 18:00
Fall Back wrote:
That may very well be the case. However it's still shit to get stroppy and start demanding proof when Ocelot described the AF as Intersectional literally the post after one of your members said:

Still is it worth pointing out omissions as we are aiming to be intersectional as an organisation.

AF member says one thing, AF grandees throw toys out the pram. I'm starting to see how this thing works. Just as well that it's on this thread otherwise you'd be condemned a liar. I have no issue with AFed politics, in fact they're usually pretty good, but some of the bedside manner shown of late by a handful of mobbers is pretty shocking.

Anti War
Jan 11 2015 18:23

If anyone missed these, here's two libcom pages that might interest those into the Rojava revolution:

‘I have seen the future and it works.’ – Critical questions for supporters of the Rojava revolution

'Rojava revolution' reading guide