Rejection of Marxism
Continuing his examination of the various programmes of the Turkish and Kurdish left, Esen Uslu looks at the new-found ‘democratic confederalism’ of the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan
perusing the programmes of the legal TKP and ÖDP, we will now take a
look at the programme of the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK).
to the view of many, who regard the PKK as a nationalist guerrilla
movement, at its inception the founding members of the PKK were not
Kurdish nationalists - at least not in the sense that the term could
be applied to several remarkable Kurdish organisations in Iraq and
Turkey, first and foremost among them the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
initial bunch of PKK leaders, including comrade Abdullah Öcalan, had
their roots in the revolutionary Marxist organisations of the late
60s and early 70s. However, since its foundation the PKK has passed
through several political and ideological bottlenecks resulting in a
change of programme - among the Turkish left there is a tendency to
despise such programme changes.
must bear in mind that the PKK has been engaged in open warfare since
1985, and despite suffering heavy losses it has still maintained
substantial support among the population of Kurdistan. Considering
the frozen nature of the Turkish left’s positions on the national
question, the PKK’s attempts to understand the rapidly changing
realities of the region and adjust its programme accordingly is
initial programme of the PKK was altered in 1995; however, the basic
demands set forth in the previous programme remained unchanged.1
Just before the abduction of comrade Öcalan there were apparent
preparations indicating an imminent change of policy, and
consequently the programme as well. However, Öcalan was captured in
February 1999 and the ensuing trial and unilateral ceasefire declared
by the PKK to remove guerrillas from the firing line created an
took years to resolve these organisational difficulties and for
comrade Öcalan to develop his ideas in captivity and define a new
political line. This was only fully worked out in 2008. The new
programme showed the new policy lines as well as new thinking. It is
quite a long document to deal with in its entirety here. However, I
will try to bring your attention the most striking sections. For
further reading on the comrade’s ideas, there are some English
texts available on the internet, and also a recent book.2
PKK programme consists of three parts: an introduction and two
sections entitled (a) ‘A democratic, ecologic, and gender-free
society’; and (b) ‘Democratic confederation of the Middle East’.
the introduction, the striking points are as follows:
restructuring of the PKK, which has come about under the illumination
provided by the social and political developments experienced in the
world and in the region, is meant to provide solutions to the serious
social problems of our people and the Middle East, as well as an
alternative solution to the problems being experienced by humanity
the 21st century, Kurds - a people of almost eight million with their
national identity, freedom and democracy questions unresolved, but
determined not to be ruled as before - are still the subject of
several strategies and devices. Without democratic confederalism,
based on a democratic, ecological and gender-free paradigm reaching
beyond the classical statist, power-hungry, nationalist and
violence-based understandings and policies, the likelihood of Kurds
becoming a centre of conflict exceeding the intensity of the tragedy
between Arabs and Israel is very high ...
PKK is unable to achieve these tasks if it remains within its old
paradigm. The PKK has travelled along the line of intersection
between real socialism and classical national liberation, and has
been unable to unearth its true organisational potential, having been
subjected to severe outside pressures, while at the same time
suffering from internal inadequacies.
we find “democratic confederalism” as the mainstay of the
programme - a concept not quite familiar to Marxists. Also we find an
extended critique of the Marxist tradition and real socialism. The
aim of the programme is quite clear:
PKK bases its restructuring on democratic confederalism, which is not
an alternative to the state, but … if necessary is prepared to
accept a principled compromise ... however, [the PKK] regards
organised uprisings and self-defence-based guerrilla warfare as a
requirement to maintain its respect and responsibilities towards
itself, the people, our history and future ... The PKK believes the
solution of the Kurdish question lies in living in solidarity and
free unity with neighbouring peoples; in the Kurds establishing their
own democracies wherever they are, irrespective of political borders;
in bringing together all the Kurds of Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq in
new federations; and unifying all of them within a higher
is vitally important that the PKK restructures itself to stop being a
party focused on one state, aiming for power and indexed to war, and
instead standing for the democratic transformation of Kurdish society
and of neighbouring peoples, for their free future.
approach is not an ordinary or cyclical transformation. Behind it ...
lie the aims of: overcoming the malady of statism that has left its
mark on the 150-year development of socialism; renouncing the
bourgeois concept of the nation-state in order to create a democratic
nation; and regenerating the ideals of freedom and equality by basing
ourselves on democratic communal values that have emerged throughout
second section of the programme is the longest part. It starts with
an exploration of the concept of society and proceeds to an
examination of the history of civilisation, from the Neolithic
revolution to the collapse of Soviet Union. I will try to be as brief
as possible without losing the train of thought underlying the
programme. The basic new idea employed here could be summarised as
natural society as the initial state of human existence is realistic.
Later on, a hierarchical, statist society was developed as an
antithesis to the natural society in order to suppress it and push it
back. The natural society ... was dominant until the end of Neolithic
period (4,000 BC). It continued its existence within the pores of
society, albeit in a suppressed state ... The values of the natural
society were in contradiction to the hierarchical, statist society.
The struggle emanating from that contradiction has been the most
important driving force of social history. While the driving force of
society has been defined as such, the narrow class struggle was not
the only one - the class struggle is only one of several historic
dynamics. The dominant role was played by the resistance of communal
society values ...
is the essential for us is the history of the opposite pole in class
and gender-based social development. All types of ideas and actions
undertaken by slaves of ethnicity, class and gender who stood against
hierarchy and political power are essential for us, since they are
drawn from the natural society. The essence of our theoretical
approach is a democratic, ecological and gender-free society which
expresses a synthesis on that basis ... That is, an ethical system
that establishes a sustainable, dialectical relationship with nature,
that is not based on internal tyranny, and that determines its common
features through direct democracy.
life is the mode of existence of a society. The discourse that
hierarchy and power enlivens and enriches a society is nothing but a
lie ... Religion is the theory of natural society, and ethics is its
practice. Those two institutions are sufficient for the
administration of a natural society.
programme continues its exploration of society, condemning the state
as an organised apparatus of violence. It states:
[organised violence] as the midwife for the birth of an advanced
society has been one of the fundamental mistakes that deeply damaged
the concepts of state-based revolution and democracy and the practice
evident rejection of classical Marxist positions is striking. Further
down, the programme spells out what it sees as the historical
mistakes of Marxism-Leninism.
final section of the programme deals with the Middle East as a whole.
It starts with the keys to unlock the Middle East enigma:
order to grasp the social history of the Middle East correctly, the
following specific features should be considered:
The first thing to analyse is the strict dogmatism, utopianism and
fatalism in the mental sphere ...
Hierarchy and the institutionalisation of the state are the most
difficult social phenomena to be analysed ... The region was the
centre of primitive communal society in the Neolithic era, and the
culture of that era still survives in the deepest social memory ...
Also slavery and feudal forms of statist social formations form
powerful cultural values within the region. The western culture added
on top of that cultural heritage has not much meaning apart from a
coat of varnish ... Patriarchy has seeped into every pore of the
Middle East ... From the very beginning the despotic and belligerent
characters of the state system in the Middle East have been dominant
... Conditions are ripe neither to absorb the capitalist state nor to
disperse the traditional one quickly.
Another set of serious problem as grave as the state is the social
mentality and behaviour centred on the family and women.
Within the problematic of the Middle East, defining phenomena such as
ethnicity, nation, country, class and property correctly at the
conceptual level has great importance. It is true that ethnicity has
not fully dissolved within the nation and class. Therefore, instead
of the rejection of ethnic relations, what is important is their
democratisation. In the Middle East, democratisation based on the
communal values of ethnicity is more realistic than a democratisation
based on individuality ... In the Middle East, the nation is a
political rather than a sociological concept ... Nationalism is the
most important tool for legitimising itself. Religion is the genome
of the state, and nationalism is the modern form of it ...
the Middle East, classes are never revealed in their bare structures,
but are veiled by ethnicity, religion and sects. Therefore in every
ethnic, religious, sect or other type of community and in every type
of clash of ideas there is a class essence.
present the political status quo in the Middle East created after
World War I is unsustainable ... The conditions for developing a
democratic civilisation in the Middle East could be summarised as
For nation-states to maintain their existence in their present form
is quite difficult.
Within the framework of a third giant move to globalisation, the USA
is intervening in the region and clashing with backward-looking
nation-state structures ... The region’s social oppositions are
striving for radical freedoms and democracy and their demands are on
the rise. The USA is already in a quagmire. Therefore the US seems
rather unlikely to succeed in achieving its aims in the Middle East
The struggles of the popular/toiling masses have increasingly become
a significant force in overcoming the chaos in the Middle East ...
basic forces taking part in the struggle for Middle East solutions
indicate that the transformation to democratic civilisation in the
Middle East will result in a varied democratic regime.
era of solutions based on the nation-state has passed ...
era of dictating the nature of a regime through the unilateral will
of imperialism has also been cast off into history ...
their opposition the popular/toiling forces do not yet have adequate
awareness and organisation to create their own democratic, ecological
and gender-free social system. A principled conciliation of differing
sections that create a varied democratic regime is the most likely
outcome. The most important thing of all is not to display a blind
resistance to the restructuring of the system and not to enter into
PKK’s new political line is directly premised on its changed
programme. A unilateral truce has been declared, and covert
negotiations pursued under the auspices of the British secret
services. Recently revealed documents indicate that an agreement on
the basis of European Charter of Local Self-Government is almost
ready. However, all this suddenly came to an abrupt end, and last
year the armed conflict flared up again.
or not the PKK maintains its present programme is open to question.
Its leader has been kept in isolation for more than a year now. He is
unable to see his lawyers and his relatives have not been allowed to
visit him on the prison island of İmralı in the Marmara Sea.
examination of the PKK programme completes our general overview of
the various trends in Turkey. In the next article we will start
looking at the programme of the HDK (People’s Democratic Congress)
and the proposed platform for this ‘party of unity’ in the making.
For the English translation of the 1995 programme see
A Öcalan Democratic confederalism:
A Öcalan The road map to democratisation of Turkey and solution
to the Kurdish question:
A Öcalan War and peace in Kurdistan:
A Öcalan Prison writings: the PKK and the Kurdish question in the
21st century London 2011.