An article in the July 2016 edition of the Monde Diplomatique, returns to the epistolary relationship between Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK and the American anarchist thinker, Murray Bookchin.
This follows in their footsteps since this website’s archives lack a description of the dialogue between the political leader who came from marxism leninism and the libertarian activist , this dialogue forming nothing less than the original backbone of the PKK’s current political program.
In 2004, Abdullah Öcalan, via his lawyers who were still authorized to meet with him, asked to be put in contact with Bookchin. Öcalan sent him a manuscript, told him he considered himself Bookchin’s “disciple” and was thinking of applying the notions of social ecology in the Middle East. This possibility of a dialogue was abbreviated due to Bookchin’s health. At eighty-three, he no longer had the energy required to maintain contacts of some duration. It was fruitful nonethess and gave rise to the foundations of “democratic confederalism”, the process now under practical experimentation in Rojava. Bookchin also sent the following message to the Kurdish people: “My hope is that the Kurdish people will be able to implement some day a free and rational society that will allow it to shine again. You are lucky to have a leader as talented as Mister Öcalan to guide you.”
Coming from a libertarian such as Murray Bookchin, these words will surprise those who have stayed fixated on the image of the PKK circulated in Europe. Indeed, the classification of this fighting Party on the official list of internationally designated “terrorist organizations” linked to its “orthodox” marxist leninist past, often associated here to the ex-Stalinist wing, plus the close relationships maintained by the Kurdish diaspora with traditional bureaucratic Leftist parties doesn’t simplify matters. Add to that what is often perceived as a personality cult around Öcalan, given the portraits and banners much in evidence, and you have the perfect cocktail leading disregard for something that merits fundamental attention.
Moreover, one cannot say the “ultra left” and most of the so-called anarchist tendencies have helped to spread information on the PKK’s political evolution or on its origins.
In 2006, when Murray Bookchin died, the PKK assembly referred to him as “one of the XXth century’s greatest social sciences specialists. He introduced us to social ecology and contributed to the development of socialist theory so that it could move forward on more solid ground. He demonstrated how to turn a new democratic system into a reality. He proposed the concept of Confederalism, a model we consider creative and feasible. Bookchin’s theses on the state, power and hierarchy will be applied and put in practice in our struggle… We put this promise to the test by becoming the first society to establish a tangible form of democratic confederalism.”
For one interested in the ongoing political processes in Rojava and supportive of the Kurdish struggle both in Syria and in Turkey, going beyond the political approximations heaped on the main historical Kurdish combatant, and considering he opened up to ideas and practices as well as constructive utopias he did not share at the onset, allows us to measure the evolutions and the road travelled throughout the struggles and failures to which he was confronted.
It also allows to measure the existing split between the Kurdish political project in Syria, the one carried by the HDP in Turkey and that of Barzani in Irak, thus completing a global approach.
Most of all, it allows an escape from the slogan constantly slapped onto the Kurdish people’s struggle by the European Left, a slogan drawn from the People/State/Nation trilogy calling for the reconstitution of a “Kurdistan, unified, independent and national (in the ethnic sense) “… in other words, the quasi-antithesis of “democratic confederalism”.
We have never claimed that this thesis no longer existed in the Kurdish movement, and notably in its European diaspora, influenced by parliamentary and nationalistic parties. We know it is persistent, and transmitted through ignorance, be it voluntary or not, outside the major evolutions in political thinking within the activist Kurdish movements of the last decade.
This article is meant as a first approach to Murray Bookchin. For excerpts of this thought and reading suggestions from or about this political figure:
The Next Revolution – Blair Taylor
Bookchin Breaks with Anarchism – Janet Biehl
Communalism Pamphlet – Marcus Amargi & Stephanie Amargi
A complete English bibliography is available HERE.
A certain number of websites and publications helped in the writing of these brief notes for a first column concerning Murray Bookchin.
Compilation de textes de Bookchin
Le Confédéralisme démocratique, la proposition politique de libération de la gauche kurde
An interview with his companion Janet Biehl
Translated excerpts of “From Urbanization to Cities” Des extraits de “From Urbanization to Cities” (Londres, Cassell, 1995).
To familiarize you with the man, this video of an intervention in 1985. You will discover the militant energy and conviction of a thinker many of us would have loved to have and whom we shall miss from now on:
And of course, I could not end this first article without an appeal and a relay of the Kurdish movement’s appeal for news about Öcalan who has been maintained in secrecy for months and for whom legitimate worries are warranted in the chaos following the coup d’etat in Turkey.