The Kurdish Worker's Party, Democratic Confederalism and the Kurdish Revolution

Stream: Panel 8 - Comparative Politics: Political Parties and Interests Groups 
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


Islamic State’s (IS) 2014 siege of the city of Kobani garnered international attention, especially with the eventually successful defence of the city, spearheaded by the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani (Kurdish Worker’s Party), or PKK. Like IS, the PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation throughout the world, including by Turkey and the United States. However, while much is known about IS and their attendant ideology, there has been little exploration of the ideological underpinnings motivating PKK praxis; particularly in light of the group’s recent ideological transformations. An exploration of this constitutes the focus of this paper. Historically driven by Marxism-Leninism and nationalism, the PKK sought to establish a Kurdish nation-state operating upon (state) socialist principles. This led to the group waging a lengthy guerrilla war against Turkey, who have consistently opposed this aim. However, PKK ideology and praxis has recently undergone a fundamental shift. Firstly, the collapse of the Soviet Union precipitated reflection on the nature of emancipatory politics, principally regarding the role of the state. Secondly, the organisation’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has become increasingly influenced by American anarchist, Murray Bookchin. Öcalan developed from Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism the related notion of ‘democratic confederalism’. Democratic confederalism aims at producing directly democratic, confederally-associated communal forms that, though developing alongside, nonetheless stand in explicit antagonism with statist ones. Öcalan’s anarchistic ideological vision has carried into the PKK’s broader political praxis; particularly in the form of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) and the various socially transformative counter-cultural projects undertaken within PKK-controlled territories.


Morgan Gibson (Presenter), University of Queensland
Morgan is a PhD student in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. His research interests include the Frankfurt School, anarchism, social movements and social theory.