The simple answer is no. Such a designation from some libertarian socialists (who should arguably be showing their critical support for the PKK and its allies, which represent the most progressive mass movement in the Middle East today) is hostile, destructive, and generally misinformed. In some cases, the term “Stalinist” is thrown about in a conscious attempt to delegitimise the PKK-led struggle for democracy, peace, and justice in majority-Kurdish territories.
In all fairness to the critics of the progressive Kurdish movement today, the PKK has most definitely made serious mistakes in the past (in the 1980s and 1990s). But the organisation has reflected on these errors, and has been working to rectify them since at least the late 90s by formulating both new strategies and new ideologies. So while there may be justification for calling some of the PKK’s historical practices “Stalinist”, there is little reason or evidence behind such claims today. In fact, those who criticise the PKK without looking at how it functions in the present day are often guilty of being as closed-minded and dogmatic as the “Stalinist” doctrine they criticise.
Rather than simply refer people to the comments made on this issue in my book, however, I decided to ask for the opinion of four activists and scholars who are actively involved in acts of solidarity with the progressive Kurdish movement. This article documents their responses, concealing their names for security reasons.
The first person said very simply:
Those who think this way should visit Rojava and see with their own eyes the stateless and non-authoritarian model [being built there].
The second said:
That sounds like talk from the 1980s. The PKK have changed over the years dramatically. Yes, they began as hard-line communists, but they have grown into the national liberation movement of Kurds encompassing many different views and beliefs. Öcalan’s theories on Democratic Confederalism are radical representative democracy.
The third stressed:
If what they mean by “Stalinist” is authoritarian, one-man etc., then all they need to do is attend a Kurdish party seminar or read Öcalan to see what he says. Obviously, the PKK/Kurdish movement isn’t perfect. There are sometimes issues with top-down or centralised decisions etc., but this isn’t for want of developing horizontal, local organisations. The best thing to say is to ask them to look at the organisational structure that exists in Rojava, in Bakur [Kurdish parts of Turkey] and across Europe. The KCK system is in place and working, not perfectly, but it is working.
The fourth insisted:
I would suggest that they read more on democratic confederalism. Stalinism was based on a centralised state, whereas Kurds want to practise autonomy. And in the case of Turkey, Kurds want to democratise the whole country according to that political model. Under Stalin’s rule, state violence was used against the People. But the PKK and YPG are grassroots groups rather than state organisations. Finally, there is no dominance of one class like there was in the Stalinist period. So many aspects are different.
ROAR Magazine’s Rafael Taylor suggested in 2014 that the Rojava Revolution was an indicator that a “socially progressive and secular pan-Kurdish revolution with libertarian socialist elements” was beginning to develop in the Middle East. But the lack of information appears to have led some commentators to make hasty conclusions about the ideology of this revolutionary process.
At Kurdish Question, Memed Aksoy introduced readers to “some of the concepts involved in the ideological universe of the Kurdish struggle”. He clarified that it was difficult for many people to stay up-to-date with what was happening in Rojava, and even more so “if you don’t know the underpinnings of what the Rojava Revolution is; how it came about, what its ideological, strategic and political principles are”.
Rather than jumping to misinformed conclusions about either the PKK or Rojava, therefore, those interested in learning more about the ideologies at play can find more information and resources here.