Negri, Harvey, Graeber, Wallerstein, Holloway, the cult of Abdullah Ocalan and the Rojava Revolution

Abdullah Ocalan

In April 2015, a conference was held in Hamburg ‘to introduce the thoughts of the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to the international community.’ Silvia Federici was supposed to send a ‘message of greeting’ – just as Toni Negri and Immanuel Wallerstein had at a similar previous conference. Federici then dropped out. However David Harvey, David Graeber and John Holloway did attend and all three spoke on a stage with a large portrait of Ocalan in the background.

During the event, held on Ocalan’s birthday, Harvey claimed that Ocalan ‘is waging a struggle for the freedom of all women.’ While Graeber said: ‘He has written the sociology of freedom. … I have some questions and criticisms in the technical dimension, but I agree and appreciate his views.’

This all raises several questions, such as who exactly is Ocalan and is his political project really as radical as these well-known intellectuals seem to believe?


Abdullah Ocalan is the ideological leader of the Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK, whose offshoot, the PYD, is the main political force in the Kurdish areas of Syria known as Rojava. Many PYD activists in Rojava have what one eye-witness calls ‘total faith’ in Ocalan and consider him to be, to a certain extent, ‘sacred’. Indeed, the leader of the PYD, Salih Muslim, has openly admitted that: ‘We apply [Ocalan’s] philosophy and ideology to Syria.’

This semi-religious attitude to Ocalan goes back to the 1980s and 1990s, well before his imprisonment in Turkey. PKK fighters from these earlier decades say things like: ‘The PKK is in a certain sense identical with its founder, Abdullah Ocalan’ or ‘[Ocalan] doesn’t so much represent the party, as he is the party.’

When ISIS began threatening Rojava in 2014, the PKK/PYD introduced compulsory military conscription. All PKK/PYD fighters are still ‘trained in political thought’ and, consequently, they still say things like: ‘our ideas are based on the philosophy of Abdullah Ocalan’ or ‘these are the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan, this is our ideology’. This deeply Stalinist way of thinking would be a problem even if Ocalan’s ideas were genuinely revolutionary but, like most Stalinists, he has little enthusiasm for social revolution.

To his credit, Ocalan does acknowledge not only the appalling brutality of the Turkish military but also the brutality of the PKK during its war of national liberation against Turkey. For example, he admits that there was ‘unfeeling violence … escalating to the point where we killed the best of our own comrades’ and that ‘young fighters were summarily executed in the mountains.’ He even says that ‘the whole party is guilty; nobody can deny his responsibility.’

But Ocalan’s admissions now just make it easier to believe long-standing claims that he authorised the execution of many hundreds of people including civilians and dissident PKK members. To give just one example, an ex-PKK leader has said that ‘there were between 50 and 60 executions just after the 1986 PKK congress. In the end, there was no more room to bury them.’ Ocalan’s admissions are also seriously marred by his repeated attempts to shift the blame for any atrocities away from himself and onto what he describes as ‘gangs within our organisation’.

This blame-shifting raises even more questions when one reads Ocalan’s claim that ‘young women fighters … [were] forced into the most primitive patriarchal relationships.’ This is a statement that begs to be compared with that of another PKK leader who claimed that it was Ocalan himself who ‘forced dozens of our female comrades to immoral relations’ and that he went so far as to ‘order the murder’ of women who refused to have ‘relations’ with him. *

Ocalan had his accuser killed so we may never know if there was any truth to these allegations. We may also never know how genuine Ocalan’s regrets are concerning wars of national liberation. This is especially the case if we consider his assertions that these wars ‘were valid at the time’, that the war against Turkey ‘could have been won’ and that when ‘nationalism [was] flourishing, it was almost treason not to agree with the principles of national liberation.’ But we do know that the failure of the PKK’s war – combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union – led Ocalan to reject not only any continuation of the war but also any sort of violent revolution.

In his Prison Writings he warns that ‘socialist society must not attempt to overcome old structures of state and society by means of violence and force.’ He goes on to say that: ‘It would be a gross contradiction of the nature of the new ideology if force were to be accepted as a means of overthrowing the state – even the most brutal one.’ He also claims that ‘revolutions and violence… cannot abolish [social phenomena]’ (vol.1 p224) and that ‘revolutionary overthrow … does not create sustainable change. In the long run, freedom and justice can only be accomplished within a democratic-confederate dynamic process.’

These statements are more than just understandable criticisms of violence, they seem to be rejections of any need for social revolution once a Western-style democratic system has been instituted.

Ocalan does claim that such a system will eventually be superseded by ‘a more adaptable administration which will allow even more freedom’. But he also claims that ‘the Western democratic system contains everything needed for solving social problems.’ He even says that, eventually, ‘the right and the left … will come together in the system of democratic civilisation.’


Like so many other neo-Stalinists, from Gorbachev to the Eurocommunists, Ocalan combines his enthusiasm for Western-style democracy with a dismissal of Marxism.

He also rejects anarchism, saying: ‘Anarchism is a capitalist tendency. It is an extreme form of individualism which rejects the state itself.’ He is quite clear that he ‘does not reject nor deny the state’. Instead, he advocates ‘a lean state as a political institution, which only observes functions in the fields of internal and external security and in the provision of social security.' **

Few liberals would have too much disagreement with this approach to the state or, indeed, with Ocalan’s approach to feminism. Just like any liberal, he is also quite clear that women’s liberation ‘should have priority over the liberation of … labour.’

Ocalan does make bold, if somewhat hypocritical, statements about male domination in contemporary society such as: ‘To kill the dominant man is the fundamental principle of socialism.’ And women’s participation in the Rojava revolution is a striking example of how women will be central to any social change in the 21st Century. But a genuine women’s revolution would surely require a proletarian women’s movement outside the control of either middle-class activists or the PKK/PYD.

Such a revolution would also require the transcendence of the family. According to one Rojavan human rights worker: 'Society here is very masculine and very feudal, … there still needs to be a change in the classic family structure if we are ever going to see [women's role] expand.' Yet, despite his criticisms of the family, Ocalan still insists that the family 'is not a social institution that should be overthrown’. Indeed, he even argues that a reformed family is both the ‘most important element’ and ‘the most robust assurance of democratic civilisation.’

As regards capitalism, Ocalan does argue for a ‘progressive transition from a production based on profit to a production based on sharing.’ But he appears to believe that capitalists ‘never number more than one or two percent of society’ and he even claims that the class war ‘has come to an end’. He also proposes that the new social order 'will allow for individual and collective property’ and that labour will be 'remunerated according to its contribution to the entire product.’

In the programme for the Hamburg conference, John Holloway claims that the Kurdish movement in Rojava is one of ‘the most outstanding examples’ of anti-capitalism. But these statements by Ocalan instead show a movement whose ideological leader has a very limited understanding of capitalism and no real desire to end the misery of private property and wage labour. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that one of the economics ministers in Rojava has openly stated that he wants any cooperatives to compete with private capital. While, the head of Internal Security even said that Rojava is ‘a new market, and everyone can play a role, including the Americans.’

Ocalan’s solution to every social problem really does seem to be, not anti-capitalist revolution, but democracy. Democracy is certainly preferable to dictatorship. But it makes little sense to say that democracy, even a radical form of direct democracy, is itself a ‘corrective for extreme class divisions’.

It is, of course, just such extreme class divisions and inequalities, exacerbated by capitalism’s chronic crises and wars, that have led to today’s situation in which so many people have turned to the seemingly revolutionary alternative of ISIS. But from Egypt to Turkey to Iraq, democracy has done little to empower proletarians to push for the radical sharing of wealth that is so urgently needed to end all class divisions and so end the appeal of ISIS.

The PKK say they want to transform the Middle East ‘without the utopian perspective of a world revolution’. But it is surely only the prospect of an anti-capitalist world revolution that could ever inspire people both to overthrow ISIS and to spread the Rojava revolution across the Middle East.

Such a world revolution would require a political movement that was far more internationalist than the PKK/PYD could ever be, burdened as it is by its deep attachment to Kurdish identity. The PKK/PYD is also burdened by its initial decision to be relatively neutral in the Syrian civil war and by its later decision to ally with the US. No matter how understandable these decisions were, they have discredited the Rojava revolution across the Arab world and made it even more difficult for it to become a starting point for international revolution.

Any talk of international revolution may seem utopian. But the Arab Spring and Occupy movements showed that potentially revolutionary movements are now able to emerge and spread internationally like never before. And a global revolution is still a more realistic prospect than any hope that an alliance with Western imperialism will somehow lead to the Rojava revolution spreading across the Middle East.

After the victory at Kobane, the PKK/PYD leader, Salih Muslim, visited government officials in London and spoke passionately in favour of an even stronger alliance with the West. He said:

‘We insist on establishing good relations with the US. … We had a martyr who was English. He died in the same trenches as us. … Our martyrs are the most glorious treasure we have. We see them as the crowns, they are crowns and they are light that show our way to peace and freedom. … We want to establish stronger relations with the English, Australians, Germans and Americans. That relation will be nourished by our martyrs’ sacrifice. … Rojava is taking the lead in giving an example of democracy in all of Syria. And our people are proud of that. And you know it is true when you see a British man next to you in the same trench and he becomes a martyr. … [Our] resistance is becoming an example to the world.’

Despite obvious differences, this overblown rhetoric sounds very much like that of politicians a century ago who extolled ‘English, Australians, Germans and Americans’ to sacrifice themselves for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in the trenches of the 1914-18 war.

The revolutionaries of the last century made two great errors: one was to support the descent into the imperialist bloodbath of 1914, the other was to support Stalinism. Developing a 21st Century revolutionary politics that avoids any repetition of these disasters will not be easy. Radical intellectuals like Negri, Graeber and Holloway have made important theoretical contributions that can aid this development. But their apparent support for the PKK suggests serious limitations in their political outlook.

Fortunately, younger Kurdish activists are increasingly questioning the authoritarianism of the PKK. If radical intellectuals have any constructive role it is to encourage such attitudes and to avoid giving any credibility to the totalitarian cult around Ocalan.

Capitalism’s present crisis will, sooner or later, compel people to question the entire system more deeply than they are presently doing in Rojava – or, indeed, in other countries where various types of neo-Stalinist have taken power such as South Africa, Venezuela and Greece. Until then, we surely need to keep trying to find ways to support grassroots’ struggles without giving any support to neo-Stalinist politicians – or to imperialism and its endless wars.

Anti War

All sources can be found by clicking on the † next to the quote or see the version at

* Some critics of Ocalan have claimed that his response to such abuse accusations was to say: ‘These girls mentioned. I don’t know, I have relations with thousands of them. … [They] say ‘‘this was attempted to be done to me here’’ or ‘‘this was done to me there’’! These shameless women. … I try to turn every girl into a lover. … If you find me dangerous, don’t get close!’ However, unlike the other Ocalan quotes in this article, I have been unable to find a verifiable version of this quote. I have also been unable to find a second source to confirm claims that the Rojavan authorities 'prohibit the display of flags and photos of political figures' other than those of Ocalan and other PKK symbols.

** The revolutionary hopes engendered by the Arab Spring coincided with a fall in support for Islamist terrorism. Once those hopes were dashed, such terrorism revived and, inevitably, the Rojavan police have now set up an elite anti-terrorist unit just like those of any other capitalist state. (See their Hollywood-style video here.) This development is in some contrast to Graeber’s hopes that the Rojavan police were on the way to, one day, abolishing themselves.

‘Democratic’ assemblies, street scenes, militia fighters and colleges in Rojava - all overshadowed by the leader of one party, the PKK’s Abdullah Ocalan.

Posted By

Anti War
May 2 2015 18:10


  • The PKK is in a certain sense identical with its founder, Abdullah Ocalan."

    Selahattin Çelik, former PKK commander

Attached files


May 27 2015 22:44

Back to talking about David Harvey (who "Anti War" doesn't really engage), here is a longer interview with Harvey when Was recently in Amed/Diyarbakir. His opinion here is far more guarded and reserved than that earlier quote. Not really adding any new information, but it's a more cautious assessment of Rojava.

Anti War
Jun 25 2015 13:54

That’s an interesting interview. Maybe Harvey will change his opinion one day and maybe Negri, Graeber and Holloway will also change. But, so far, they still cannot bring themselves to criticise the Ocalan cult. Indeed, in a video recorded in Hamburg, Harvey even made the astonishing claim that Ocalan has ‘advanced Marxist thinking very significantly in terms of women’s role.’

This deference to a prominent politician, combined with a blindness to the realities of Stalinism, is hardly new among leftists – especially more reformist leftists who, like the PKK, see world revolution as ‘utopian’.

For example, it is well known that the influential reformist intellectuals, the Webbs, praised Stalin and made comments such as ‘Stalin is not a dictator.’ But it is less well known that Francois Mitterrand also praised Mao as a ‘genius’ who ‘is not a dictator’, while Tony Benn even said Mao was ‘the greatest man of the 20th Century’.

Other leftists have gone so far as to defend North Korea’s Kim Il Sung. The Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver, called him a ‘genius’ preciding over a ‘paradise’. While the influential Keynesian economist, Joan Robinson, justified the cult around Kim Il Sung by claiming that he ‘seems to function as a messiah rather than a dictator.’ This kind of argument is, of course, rather reminiscent of the way some people describe Ocalan.*

If anyone believes that calling yourself an ‘anarchist’ provides immunity from this blindness to the realities of Stalinism, they should look at Herbert Read and Noam Chomsky.

In 1959, Herbert Read visited China and was even more impressed than David Graeber was when he visited Rojava. Read was impressed by the street committees ‘which settle all disputes’, by the ‘women’s associations’ and by the claim that crime was so rare that the police ‘were not needed’. He wrote that, although people used ‘the same answers everywhere,’ this was ‘not indoctrination’. And he described China’s communes as ‘my idea of anarchism come into being’. He even believed that these communes had been set up ‘spontaneously’ and that they had increased ‘production … in leaps and bounds’. The reality, of course, was rather different and 30 million people starved to death in China between 1958 and 1961.

This enthusiasm for Mao’s regime was vastly more deluded than Graeber’s, hopefully temporary, enthusiasm for the Rojava regime. But Chomsky’s embarrassing reluctance, in the 1970s, to acknowledge the full extent of Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia does have similarities to Read’s blindness concerning Mao’s atrocities in China.

Chomsky also gave significant support to Hugo Chavez’s regime in Venezuela while, apparently, refusing to listen to the views of local anarchists. These anarchists have since pointed out that, in the 1980s, Chomsky was ‘rather discreet with regards to the growing authoritarianism of [both] the Sandinistas … and the Castro dictatorship.’

Chomsky and Castro. And Chavez with another anti-Stalinist leftist, Istvan Meszaros, who described Chavez as a ‘deeply insightful revolutionary intellect’ and ‘one of the greatest historical figures of our time’.

‘Postmodernism’ provides even less immunity to Stalinism than ‘anarchism’. Michel Foucault, for example, was heavily influenced by Maoism. He recycled the old Maoist slogan, ‘where there is oppression, there is resistance’, as his own philosophical insight, ‘where there is power, there is resistance’. Then, when Foucault lost faith in Maoism, he turned to revolutionary Iran – at one point even claiming that Shiite Islam gives ‘its people infinite resources to resist state power’.

And, if anyone thinks that advocating ‘democracy’ provides immunity from this sort of blindness, they should consider the writings of Tariq Ali. He dedicated his 1989 book on Gorbachev, Revolution from Above, to Boris Yeltsin, in the naive hope that these Stalinist bureaucrats would somehow democratically revive Soviet socialism. Instead of this, of course, Yeltsin imposed a market economy on Russia that led to over three million excess deaths in the 1990s. (Stalinists have always avoided a market economy if it might lead to them losing power. But if such an economy might increase their personal wealth, they have invariably jumped at the chance – whatever the consequences for ordinary people.)

Why so many leftists refuse to accept the cynical realities of Stalinism and neo-Stalinism is a long story. But it has never been because they have lacked information. There were always plenty of clues as to what was going on in the various Stalinist regimes – just as there are plenty of clues from Rojava.

For example, one 13 year old girl recently escaped from a PKK/PYD militia training camp claiming that conscripts are beaten and even publicly executed for trying to get away. (Apparently, lessons on Ocalan and ‘the history of women’ are also provided in these camps!) Amnesty International now say they are concerned about PKK/PYD forced conscription as well as about ‘a growing number of reports of abuses’ by PKK/PYD fighters, including 'forced displacement'. (See here, here, here, here and here.)

Of course, you cannot judge any regime on accounts that may well have been fabricated or exaggerated by political opponents. But Rojavan officials themselves make statements that show the regime is going in a very worrying direction. For example, one of Rojava’s finance ministers has recently declared that ‘all workers must work in the communal projects’, that private property is ‘sacred’ and that ‘the market is a main part of social economy.’

Does this mean that Rojava’s officials want to combine a system of forced ‘communal’ labour with market capitalism? We really don’t know, just as we really don’t know to what extent male and female proletarians are taking any more control of their lives in the various assemblies and co-ops set up by the regime. But we do know that the PKK/Ocalan cult permeates every aspect of the Rojava revolution in ways that cripple that revolution’s potential.

Like every other Stalinist project, the PKK/Ocalan cult is both a product of class dynamics and a distorted expression of people’s rebelliousness or autonomy. Like every other Stalinist project, the PKK/Ocalan cult may make some progressive changes, but, overall, the project will probably lead to disillusionment, if not disaster. The Kurdish proletariat – and the world proletariat – deserve better. And, hopefully, they will do better in the coming decades.

* The Rojava regime is certainly vastly preferable to that in North Korea. But both are run by semi-religious cults that see their leaders as ‘the Sun’. In fact, in one respect, Rojava is even more totalitarian. North Korea, at least, has two different flags – one for the nation and one for the ruling party. But the Rojavan flag seems to be identical to that of the ruling party.

'Totalitarian' may seem too strong a word but it is certainly a tendency in Rojava, as these pictures of women's groups and parades by army and police officers show:

P.S. Sources can be found by clicking on the quotations and † symbols. Please do not take my word for any particular quotations, read the source texts and decide for yourself.

P.P.S Sorry if my approach to Rojava annoys anyone. Any differences of opinion are fundamentally about our different approaches to revolution and to the horrors of Stalinism – not about anyone’s bad faith. Thanks to kurremkarmerruk, Flint and Ocelot, Libcom has the widest-ranging opinions and information about Rojava in English. Let that continue!

Jun 25 2015 15:09
Postmodernism’ provides even less immunity to Stalinism than ‘anarchism’. Michel Foucault, for example, was heavily influenced by Maoism.† He recycled the old Maoist slogan, ‘where there is oppression, there is resistance’, as his own philosophical insight, ‘where there is power, there is resistance’. Then, when Foucault lost faith in Maoism, he turned to revolutionary Iran – at one point even claiming that Shiite Islam gives ‘its people infinite resources to resist state power’.

And he also said resistance is a trap... So not mere recycling of Maoist slogan especially considering Foucault was interested in epistemology.

Jun 25 2015 16:20

I think we should criticize Rojava by pointing the problems of any polities with "west" in their name.

Anti War
Jul 19 2015 15:15


This map shows the extent to which the Rojava regime relies on its alliance with the US. One PKK/PYD commander has recently claimed that women fighters 'outnumbered male combatants' in the battle of Kobane. However, Patrick Cockburn seems to believe that the PKK/PYD has been exaggerating the extent to which Arabs are fighting alongside Kurds, so this striking claim might just be another exaggeration by the PKK/PYD.

Cockburn also seems to believe that some PKK/PYD fighters have been expelling Arabs and telling them to ‘go back to the desert’. Unfortunately, this allegation appears to be confirmed by recent statements made by two PKK/PYD fighters.

One fighter is a German national who says that younger Kurdish fighters ‘think everyone is Isis' and 'if you tell them it’s an Arab village they’ll trash the place.’ The other is a female fighter who says that ‘we depend on the ideology of Abdullah Ocalan' and if male 'fighters do not commit ethnic cleansing after the capture of a city, it is mainly because our influence stops errors from being committed.’

Of course, no matter how much these abuses promote more sectarianism, they are still very mild compared to ISIS who recently massacred over 150 civilians in one day in Kobane. (For more on claims of abuse by the PKK/PYD militia, see the Rojava wikipedia page.)

Away from the frontlines, a self-described 'libertarian' eye-witness has recently claimed that, although women’s involvement is impressive, in one co-op meeting, ‘for 3 hours only men were talking’. This eye-witness - who has been working in Rojava for six months - also claims that co-op workers ‘don’t want to take charge of their lives’ and instead just say: ‘tell us what to do and pay us a salary.’

Of course, selling your labour to a workers’ co-op in a market economy gives you no real control of your life anyway, so this cynical attitude by co-op workers is not quite the problem it appears. However, a genuine escape from wage labour would require a global revolution and, in the isolation of war-torn Rojava, it is not surprising that this eye-witness also claims that ‘normal people don’t care about politics’ and that ‘if this were a real democracy’ they would just chose the kind of society there is in Iraqi Kurdistan (i.e. neo-liberal capitalism).

What’s more, this eye-witness is clear that 'the PKK ... seized power’ in Rojava and that ‘most of the people in the government are from Bakur’ (i.e. from Turkey). They are also clear that, although the regime has a ‘strong anti-state philosophy’, in fact, ‘the YPG [militia] is an army, the Asayish [security] is a police force, and, despite what people say, there is a central government … and a growing bureaucracy.’

What makes this account believable isn’t just that it is consistent with how other revolutionary situations have been manipulated by Stalinists but that it is written by an eye-witness who actively supports the PKK/PYD regime. Indeed, they call their remarkable account:

‘The Time of Theory is Over, Now is the Time for Action’

They also ask for ‘libertarian type revolutionaries’ to go to Rojava in order to counter the growing number of ‘revolutionary Muslims’ going to ISIS areas. And they even appear to argue that an influx of foreign activists - who ‘organise, carve out our own projects and implement our ideas’ - will help counter the ‘oppressed mentality’ of the local Rojavans.

Finally, on the issue of the PKK/Ocalan cult and its nature, they are also clear that, in Rojava, ‘many people are behind their leaders … [although] normal people have no idea what they’re talking about’!

Anti War
Aug 14 2015 16:21

Of course, Murray Bookchin also fell under Ocalan’s spell and wrote that the Kurdish people ‘are fortunate indeed to have a leader of Mr. Ocalan’s talents to guide them.’

This statement doesn’t sound very anarchistic. Indeed, it was only because Bookchin had given up on both class politics and anarchism that a Stalinist like Ocalan could adapt Bookchin’s ideas in order to maintain control of his party and movement.

Bookchin close colleague and Ocalan fan, Janet Biehl, told a 2012 Hamburg PKK conference that, at first, Bookchin 'gave up on Marxism, since the proletariat had clearly turned out not be revolutionary, … [then] he did everything to persuade [anarchists] that libertarian municipalism was the way to make anarchism politically relevant. But by 1999 - around the time of Ocalan’s arrest - he was finally admitting that he had failed, and he was in the process of disengaging from anarchism.'

With rather more consistency than the anarchists who claim that the Rojava regime is an anarchist experiment, Biehl herself has said that she has reverted to her ‘pre-1987 political identity, which was what leftists call a social democrat.'

Oct 1 2015 17:29

Well Graeber has continued his fall into the lap of Ocalan worship along with the rest of tthe New Compass crew writing a preface for and promoting their latest publication of Ocalan musings - so sadly no change there.

Oct 1 2015 17:58
Spikymike wrote:
Well Graeber has continued his fall into the lap of Ocalan worship along with the rest of tthe New Compass crew writing a preface for and promoting their latest publication of Ocalan musings - so sadly no change there.

You've read "Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization"?

Oct 1 2015 18:10

No I'm not prepared to pay money for it but would certainly add it to my list if it comes on-line. I have read other shorter pieces by Ocalan and plenty on the New Compass site and of course by Bookchin. It's the whole trajectory of the politics (and the hero worship) I'm critical of not necessarily every comment by either Ocalan or Graeber.

Oct 1 2015 18:57
Spikymike wrote:
No I'm not prepared to pay money for it but would certainly add it to my list if it comes on-line. I have read other shorter pieces by Ocalan and plenty on the New Compass site and of course by Bookchin. It's the whole trajectory of the politics (and the hero worship) I'm critical of not necessarily every comment by either Ocalan or Graeber.

Apologies, my mistake. I thought you were offering an opinion on a book you had actually read.

Anti War
Nov 3 2015 17:04

David Graeber justifies his writing of a preface for Ocalan’s latest book on the grounds that Ocalan’s anthropological writings are ‘a lot more compelling than other ones out there’. He also says that ‘we have a lot to learn from [the PKK’s] self-analysis of what they got wrong.’

Graeber does admit that the PKK still has a ‘cult of leader’. But he also claims this is only true ‘to some degree’.

This assertion is in some contrast to another anarchist visitor to Rojava who says that, despite his sympathy for the revolution, he was ‘sickened by the blind obsession with Ocalan‘. This anarchist eyewitness also complains that Kurdish fighters’ 'heads are just filled with Ocalan's words’ which are treated ‘like gospel’.

Furthermore, this eyewitness rather harshly says that Graeber ‘only spent ten days here and most of what he says is nonsense.’ He goes on to say that:

‘[Graeber is] the equivalent of people who made glowing media claims after going to Soviet Russia or Mao's China. For me that undermines the work of balanced intellectualism that you can trust. It's dishonest. I will never claim something without serious questions first (which is what I'm doing here - trying to discover the real Rojava).’

Graeber’s assertion about the PKK’s ‘cult of leader’ is also in some contrast to Kurdish oppositionists in Rojava who have been demonstrating and complaining that: ‘The new schoolbooks are filled with pictures of … Abdullah Ocalan and teach his philosophy to young students.’

Janet Biehl has also recently been in Rojava and she confirms that Ocalan’s ideology is, indeed, taught in schools. But, worryingly, she is very enthusiastic about this political indoctrination, presumably because Ocalan's ideology is influenced by Murray Bookchin,

To be fair to Biehl, she did question the Rojavan Culture Minister about the censorship laws which say that ‘a book could not be published that goes against the morals of the society’(33m). But she also seems to be somewhat reassured by the Minister’s unconvincing response that censorship will only apply to books that encourage pre-marital teenage sexuality.


This billboard shows Ocalan insisting that Rojavans should live a communal life. Such propaganda is backed up by the chief administrator of Rojava’s democratic institutions, the Tev-Dem, who insists that: ‘We are openly against the individualistic concept. Individualism is like a mischievous rat who chews on the society.’

From an anarchist point of view, the great challenge of any revolution, is how to build a society that encourages both communalism and individualism. Unfortunately, this attitude to individualism is yet more evidence that the Rojava regime has little to do with genuine anarchism.

Nov 2 2015 20:33
Anti War wrote:
This assertion is in some contrast to another anarchist visitor to Rojava who says that, despite his sympathy for the revolution, he was ‘sickened by the blind obsession with Ocalan‘. This anarchist eyewitness also complains that Kurdish fighters’ 'heads are just filled with Ocalan's words’ which are treated ‘like gospel’.

The very next paragraph from that anonymous account reads:

"When I got back from the front, changed my mind about leaving. PKK fighters are fantastic people. Their training is not only fighting, but they must read lots of books- Proudhon, Focault, Bakunin, Bookchin, ... and always you can immediately sense the difference. This is the difference between the main leadership in Rojava and the common village militia. Started to get more into civil society work because I'm interested to know if this revolution is real and where the problems are. It's not all black and white, there's problems, but there is a real genuine undercurrent of a libertarian movement being put into practice."

Then the anonymous author you are quote goes on to write:

"Also there's the TEV DEM which is a big political support network that assists civil society. Land is allocated or put to use through local councils. They are also encouraging cooperatives and providing resources to small independent groups.
There's a lot going on, and it might not fit what you read in books, but hey you can call yourself an activist and spend all your life organising small groups to feel cool about yourself... but know that here is a nation of 2-3 million people where this stuff is happening for real, and that this is the point that can make an historical example we can point to and say our ideas work. So I encourage everyone to come and assist. If you have some skills, a good heart or ideas for projects, I will try to help you. But even now myself I'm still setting things up."

Where did you get your training to so skillfully operate a cherry picker?

Anti War
Nov 3 2015 16:37

Fair point and I should have encouraged people to read the whole account.

It's also important to read two other highly informative accounts from pro-PYD anarchists living in Rojava. Here they all are:

'Ask Me About Rojava: Been Here 3 Months' at Reddit

'The Time of Theory is Over. Now is the Time of Action'
at the Rojava Recovery Volunteers website

'A Personal Account of Rojava' at the Lions of Rojava website