The Rebellion of the Oldest Colony – Jineolojî, the Science of Women and Life
7 December 2022
Dîlan 2, 2021. Zehra Doğan. Image Credit: zehradogan.net
Excerpt from Havin Güneşer’s The Art of Freedom: A Brief History of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle, introduction by Andrej Grubačič, PM Press, 2021. https://pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=1083
The Kurdish freedom movement is part of a stream of freedom and equality struggles, part of a chain of struggles that stretches back through five thousand years of patriarchy. The PKK, the Kurdish freedom struggle and movement, sees itself as the sum of all these struggles and resistances. What it has done through its lifetime has been to try to learn from these struggles and to deduce results from the evaluation of its own praxis and implementation. It has turned those lessons into new ideas and new tools. The underlying reason for that is that nothing is ever taken at face value. At a time when most of the Marxist-Leninist movements, not just in the Middle East but around the world, were basing themselves around the axis of one country or another, like Albania or China or the Soviet Union, the PKK didn’t actually do this. Although it was established as a Marxist-Leninist organization, it wasn’t dependent per se on one implementation or another. What it began to question in the late 1980s, but especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, as well as with the standstill of feminism, was: why? What happened? What happened that despite their sincerity, the sincerity of the 1968 movements, the national liberation movements, the October revolution, they all ended up in the same pace? Instead of losing hope – we talked about hope and imagination a lot yesterday – what the PKK began to do was to question. Simultaneous to this questioning process, the organization tried to take precautions so that similar mistakes would not be repeated.
At this point, the structural crisis of capitalism is more visible, and given that we are going through World War III, there are new interventions into the Middle East. One of the new interventions, as I mentioned yesterday, was to force Öcalan out of Syria in 1998. When they didn’t get what they wanted from that, it was the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It has been happening continuously. In fact, what we are seeing all around the world – they tried this with the Kurdish freedom movement too – is an attempt to eliminate all organized movements, so that they are not obstacles to whatever is going to develop instead of capitalism, and it is still not clear what will develop instead of capitalism. The situation we have now is the collapse of the order that was constructed in the aftermath of the two world wars.
This is not only the result of an imperial project: it is also a result of our struggles. At this point, what the hegemonic powers, or the rulers, whether domestic or global capital, are trying to do is to make sure individuals are not in a position to resist or build something new, that they are not organized. Therefore, even smaller organizations, like the zones à defendre (zones to defend: ZAD) in France – all they are doing is living collectively in a rural area and working the land collectively, and they are organized in that sense – even organizations like that are not tolerated. Or we could look at the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia: FARC), for example. It shows us another way of assimilating and eliminating an organized force. Whether or not we agree with the FARC’ ideology, what we are seeing is that its inclusion in the political system – without the state keeping its promises – has cleared the way for a huge pillaging of resources, and its sympathizers are being killed by paramilitary forces. So there is a colonization, a recolonization process by the state, that is going on in that case. We talked about the Tamil people too and how their genocide went unnoticed by the world. The Turkish state tried something similar with the Kurds in the aftermath of the collapse of the talks in 2014.
Let’s go back a bit to the presence of women among the founding members of the PKK and later as part of the resistance and struggle of PKK members in general and in the notorious Diyarbakır prison. The resistance of women, particularly that of the founding member of the PKK, Sakine Cansız, soon became almost mythical. The Kurdish people’s aspirations for freedom, especially that of Kurdish women, and, as I just said, more specifically Sakine Cansız’s relentless struggle and resistance in the face of the horrendous torture she was subjected to, paved the way for women to play a huge role. Sakine Cansız, I should add, was later assassinated, along with two other revolutionaries, in Paris, on January 9, 2013, just after the beginning of talks between the Turkish state and Öcalan and the PKK.
In the beginning, the women’s struggle within the PKK did not go beyond the borders of the old left, but it could not be contained by it either. Öcalan’s role, both as a strategist and as the political leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, is important here. He did not ignore the enslavement of women or their desires and their struggle for freedom. Despite negative reactions from some male members of the organization, he opened political, social, cultural, ideological, and organizational space for women and stood strongly behind this.
Women joined the guerrilla forces from the beginning because of the sexism they faced within the feudal tribal structures, as well as the fury they felt in the face of increasing colonialist and exploitative oppression of the Kurds at the hands of the Turkish state. People from all walks of life came together to wage a common struggle. The very first problem was encountered immediately. Joining a revolutionary movement was not enough on its own to overcome the patriarchal and other characteristics drawn from the colonialist and feudal structures. Problems began to emerge especially in the approach to women; there was an attempt at regenerating traditional roles among the guerrilla forces and within the party structures. Remember that we said that they didn’t just critique the different freedom struggles or feminism or whatever; they also looked at their own practice. And, of course, in doing so, they saw all of this very, very clearly. Women were present in the beginning, during the foundation of the movement, but as the movement entered the armed struggle phase, and as the participation of women began to increase, this question imposed itself more forcefully on the movement’s agenda. What they saw was that there was something close to a replication of the old gender roles. Women waged a huge struggle within the movement. Although it was a revolutionary movement, they were facing a more or less similar situation. For example, one issue that arose was that after the mid-1980s, towards the end of the 1980s, some of the commanders were sending the women back to the cities, because the mountains “were just too difficult for them.” The attitude that developed by some toward the women who came to the mountains was: “they should just do cooking and wait. Prepare the ammunition.” What was really important within this movement was the presence of one of the founding leaders of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan, who did not turn a blind eye to this problem, and this is why the women in the movement call Öcalan the most radical comrade, the most revolutionary comrade. As a leader of the movement, he didn’t turn a blind eye and say, “this is not something that concerns us.” It’s so much easier to just have the movement adopt very general principles. Instead, he made sure that they did not just resist and rebel as individuals, but that they did so in an organized manner. Organizationally, theoretically, and politically he supported and paved the way.
There were women who accepted the replication of these roles, and there were women who rejected it. Thus, the organization quickly realized the severity of the problem and, in 1987, established the Yekîta Jinên Welatparêzên Kurdistan (Union of Patriotic Women of Kurdistan: YJWK). The foundation of this union was the very first declaration of the intention to establish an autonomous and separate women’s organization.
Without analyzing the process by which women were socially overcome, you can neither understand the fundamental characteristics of the existent male-dominated social culture or what to build in its place. Without understanding how masculinity was socially formed, you cannot analyze the institution of the state and, therefore, will not be able to accurately define the culture of war and power related to statehood. This is something we need to emphasize, because this is what paved the way for femicide and the colonization and exploitation of peoples
The huge influx of women in the 1990s compelled the formation of a new organization within the guerrilla forces. In 1993, for the very first time, autonomous women’s units were formed. This meant that they would not be under the direct command of the male guerrillas and would be able to make their own decisions and plans and determine how to implement those plans. The subsequent development of women’s role in self-defense increased women’s self-confidence, leading to enormous ideological, political, and social transformations. This was a second breakthrough, following the heroic resistance of women in Turkish prisons. Indeed, it led to revolutionary changes in how women were perceived by men and within the Kurdish society in general.
In 1995, the Yekitiya Azadîya Jinên Kurdistan (Free Women’s Association of Kurdistan: YAJK) was formed. From then on, political and societal work was not only taken up by the women in the organization but by society at large. At the same time, international solidarity work began. It was during these years that Öcalan began talking about a new concept: killing the [dominant] male. Therefore in this context, it is very important to problematize the question of the male – not only the question of women’s freedom, but of men’s freedom as well. Why are men not transforming themselves, or even seeing the need to do so? That is why the fundamental principle of democratic socialism inside the Kurdish freedom movement is referred to as killing the [dominant] male. What we are seeing is that there are so many instances of privilege enjoyed by different agents: men over women, white over Black, mother over children, etc. – and in terms of nations as well. For example, the Turkish state’s oppression of the Kurds is also entrapping Turkish society and preventing it from becoming more democratic. What we need to understand, and this is perhaps one of the ways in which Öcalan and the Kurdish freedom movement are able to convince the Kurdish society and the male revolutionaries as well, is that the enslavement of women is not just about women. It is not just about biology. Men’s freedom is lost as well. All of this has to do with stealing the surplus product, and it begins with the women, because the order that protected surplus produce from theft was the result of the morals that were instilled during the matriarchal age.
From 1995 on, the women’s freedom struggle becomes more radicalized. In 1992, in discussion with the women, Öcalan said, “if you don’t find a solution to men’s mentality, then all your lives are in danger.” And, later, he introduced the concept of killing the [dominant] man. People usually think that this is an evaluation that postdates 1999, but its from 1996. I am told that actually most men were a bit scared. They said, “Hey, this is not literal, right? You’re not going to kill us with a gun or something?” No, of course not. The theory behind this development became very far-reaching. There was a talk of eternal divorce, for example. This eternal divorce wasn’t just meant for women. It also was meant for men. It referred to divorcing the five-thousand-year-old patriarchal political and social system and its mindset, both psychologically and culturally. At the same time, they talked about a parallel project to transform men. To this end, women took over educating men.
As 1998 approached, the women laid down the principles of the ideology of women’s liberation, and to implement them they formed the Partiya Jinên Karkerên Kurdistan (Women Workers’ Party of Kurdistan: PJKK). In 2000, the women broadened their perspective on organization and struggle and founded the Partiya Jina Azad (Party of the Free Women: PJA). One of the most important achievements of this era was the declaration of a Women’s Social Contract.
However, all these attempts did not totally overcome the limits and framework of patriarchy. Not only the women’s movement but the whole organization was searching for an alternative. Although the PKK was no longer the old left, it was nonetheless unable to come up with a solution that completely broke away from real socialism, and, with it, capitalist modernity. One can define the period from 1993 to 2003 as the transition period, accompanied by the attempt to establish an alternative to capitalist modernity. The available theoretical material, the past experiences of various other movements and of feminism, and the very experience of the PKK led Öcalan and the movement to conclude that women’s enslavement constituted the very basis of all subsequent enslavement, as well as all other social problems. Thus, it began to distinguish itself from classic Marxism-Leninism. It also different in the way it began to view the state apparatus as an instrument of power and exploitation that is unnecessary for the continuation of human and natural life. Finally, its perception of revolutionary violence also change, with it being framed as self-defense.
Öcalan determined that women’s slavery had been perpetuated on three levels over five thousand years. First, there was the construction of ideological slavery, then the use of force, and, finally, the economy was seized from her. He was quick to make the connection between the depth of women’s enslavement, the intentional masking of this face, and the rise of hierarchical and statist power within society. As women were habituated to slavery, the path to the enslavement of the other sections of society was paved. The enslavement of men follows the enslavement of women. However, women’s enslavement is different in some ways to class and nation enslavement. It is legitimized by refined and intense repression combined with lies that play on emotions. Women’s biological difference from men is used to justify her enslavement. All the work she does is taken for granted and treated as the unworthy work of women.
Without analyzing the process by which women were socially overcome, you can neither understand the fundamental characteristics of the existent male-dominated social culture or what to build in its place. Without understanding how masculinity was socially formed, you cannot analyze the institution of the state and, therefore, will not be able to accurately define the culture of war and power related to statehood. This is something we need to emphasize, because this is what paved the way for femicide and the colonization and exploitation of peoples. The social subjugation of women was the vilest counterrevolution ever carried out. Öcalan points out that “the sword of war wielded by the state and by the hand of the man within the family are symbols of hegemony. The entire classed society, from its upper to its lower layers, is caught between the sword and the hand.” Öcalan goes back to history and interprets not only the written facts but the mythologies as well, in order to be able to understand where the truth lies when it comes to the loss of freedom – not only of women but of men and society as well.
The third very important thing was the seizure of the economy. In ancient Greek, oikonomia is, of course, householding or management of the home, very much belittled nowadays, as if householding is petty or something. The seizure of the economy: that of women and of peoples and so forth is also an important factor in the creation of this slavery. In fact, if you look at it, this conclusion makes it clear that all colonization, exploitation, and class formation fits this template. If you look at colonized peoples, you will see something very similar. I see how the Kurds were colonized and lost their freedom. It was done in exactly this way. First, there was an ideological construct that sparked and imposed auto-assimilation, a process in which you are told, “you are the other. You’re not human.” To counter that you try to take on your oppressor’s identity.
My father used to tell us that when he went to primary school, he didn’t know any Turkish. At school, the children would tease him and others like him saying, “Kurds have tails.” They would ask, “where is your tail? You have a tail. Where is it?” My father would go home crying and ask his mother, “mom, where is my tail?” Or they would say Kurds were dirty or smelly or incestuous or not so bright. I think this is not just the case for the Kurds but for any group of people who are discriminated against. It’s a way to ensure that the target people abandon their identity and begin to auto-assimilate.
In ancient Greek, oikonomia is, of course, householding or management of the home, very much belittled nowadays, as if householding is petty or something. The seizure of the economy: that of women and of peoples and so forth is also an important factor in the creation of this slavery. In fact, if you look at it, this conclusion makes it clear that all colonization, exploitation, and class formation fits this template
Of course, for those who do not embrace this ideological construct and are not convinced by the sheer violence and psychological effect it has, there is violence proper – physical violence. Just as was the case with us, women. Women were burned. They were buried alive for centuries. They were beaten so badly that all their bones were broken. In some of the ancient traditions, women’s feet are still bound in very tight footwear or in iron shoes, so that they can’t walk very fast. This was imposed as something to be seen as a symbol of beauty, when, in fact, it was a symbol of domination. And if this does not suffice, women are stripped of their livelihoods. It is not only the economy of women that is seized but also that of colonized peoples and of workers overall. This, for example, is the case for the Kurds. All of their resources, including any control over their day-to-day economic activities, has been taken away from them. This is the case in capitalist countries as well. Communities and peoples have their economies seized to make them dependent on the system – on a wage or on welfare.
Analytically, capitalism and the nation-state are seen as representing the dominant male in the most institutionalized form. Capitalist society is the continuation and culmination of all the previous exploitative societies. It is, in fact, a continuous war against society and women. To put it simply, capitalism and the nation-state are the monopoly of the tyrannical and exploitative male. It is enough to look around the world to see a renewed increase in the violence and exploitation, and the renewed suppression of women. This is not happening only in so-called Third World countries but all over the world.
A main objective of capitalist modernity’s ideological hegemony is to obliterate and obscure the historic and social facts concerning its conception and its essence. The capitalist economic and societal form is not a historical or societal necessity; it is a construct, forged in a complex process. Religion and philosophy have been transformed into nationalism: the divinity of the nation-state. The ultimate goal of this ideological warfare is to ensure its monopoly on thought. Its main weapons to accomplish this are religionism, gender discrimination, and scientism as positivist religion. Maintaining modernity without ideological hegemony, with political and military oppression alone, would be impossible. Öcalan was quick to make the point that while capitalism uses religionism to control society’s cognizance, it uses nationalism to control classes and citizens, a phenomenon that arose with capitalism. The objective of gender discrimination is to deny women any hope of change. Öcalan says the most effective way for sexist ideology to function is by entrapping men in power relations and rendering women impotent through constant rape. Through positivist scientism, capitalism neutralizes the academic world and the youth. It convinces them that they have no choice but to integrate into this system, and that this integration will secure them concessions.
Analytically, capitalism and the nation-state are seen as representing the dominant male in the most institutionalized form. Capitalist society is the continuation and culmination of all the previous exploitative societies. It is, in fact, a continuous war against society and women. To put it simply, capitalism and the nation-state are the monopoly of the tyrannical and exploitative male.
Clarifying the status of women is only one aspect of this issue. The question of liberation is far more important. In other words, resolving the problem is more important than just revealing and analyzing it. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, feminism managed to disclose the truth about women to a certain extent, which weas very important for all of us. But the Kurdish women’s freedom movement and Abdullah Öcalan take a step further and base their analysis of society on “moral and political society”. They draw a relationship between freedom and morality and freedom and politics. To develop structures that expand our area of freedom, morality is defined as the collective conscience of society and politics as its shared wisdom. How do we now work towards this?
Thus, the women’s freedom movement went through several periods of restructuring. There was a need for a women’s organization that transcended party structures, a more flexible and comprehensive confederal women’s organization. In 2005, the Koma Jinên Bilind (High Council of Women: KJB) was founded. As a result, there was organizational and practical restructuring to implement the new paradigm based on democracy, ecology, and women’s freedom. The KJB was established as the coordination point between the self-defense forces, social organizations, the women’s party, or PAJK, and young women’s organizations. In September 2014, the organization of women went through another transformation and has, in the meantime, changed its name accordingly to the Komalên Jinên Kurdistan (Kurdistan Women’s Community: KJK). This transformation was needed to equally and comprehensively deal with the needs of society and the formation of required institutions, in order to continue with the transformation of men, the democratization of society, and the creation of the ethics and aesthetics of free life but most importantly and in parallel redefining who they are as women. As such, women are organizing themselves both at the local level and in all decision-making structures. They make all decisions that concern them on their own and take their place at the local level and at all the different levels where decisions that concern the whole society are made. Other sections of society – the youth, the elderly, professions, belief systems, craftworkers – are also organized so that power and hierarchic formations and structures cannot be perpetuated, with mechanisms in place to ensure that they don’t arise.
If women’s slavery was perpetuated on three levels: the construction of ideological slavery, the use of force, and the seizure of the economy from her, then these three areas must be addressed, and she must also organize simultaneously herself to counter them.
Öcalan’s main thesis is that before patriarchy and state civilization there was another system in which the position of women in society was very different. Indeed, society was matriarchal, and had very different principles for sustaining itself, namely, sharing and solidarity. Now, this “democratic civilization,” as he calls it, has not disappears but continues to exist. However, it is constantly being exploited and its area narrowed by patriarchal state civilization. Öcalan sees the historical struggle of the last five thousand years as a struggle between state civilization and democratic civilization, the latter consisting of pre-state nomadic village and agricultural communities.
We can see that the loss of freedom is simultaneously the history of how women lost their position and vanished from history. The fierce struggle between matriarchy and patriarchy can also be seen throughout Sumerian mythology from 4000 BCE onward. Later, in the Babylonian creation myth, we see the end of this process, when the goddess Tiamat is killed by her son Maduk – the god of war. In face, we see that women’s downfall and loss is the downfall and loss of the whole society. The result is sexist society, with the dominant male gaining power, culminating in patriarchy. Öcalan reached the conclusion that all other forms of slavery have been developed on the basis of women’s enslavement. Thus, if women’s enslavement is not overcome no other form of enslavement can be overcome, not only because all enslavement mimics women’s enslavement but also because they are all built upon it.
The fierce struggle we are talking about is not one between the sexes, although it has turned into that too as a result of shaping men and women to this end, but is about the principles of social order. Originally, the term hierarchy referred to government by the priests and the authority of the wise elders. Initially, along with women, the wise elders played a positive role in a society that was not based on accumulation and ownership. They ensured communal security and the governance of society. But when voluntary dependence is transformed into authority and usefulness into self-interest, it gives way to the instrument of force, disguised as security for all and collective production. This constitutes the core of all exploitative and oppressive systems. The overcoming of the matriarchal order had strategic significance; without it, patriarchy and the accompanying statist power would not have been victorious. To institutionalize this, women’s biological difference from men was used to justify her enslavement. The institutionalization of this ideological construct of women was gradual and resulted in her becoming the common slave of both the ordinary enslaved man in the home and the dominant man who was institutionalized as the state.
A hierarchical and authoritarian structure is essential for a patriarchal society. The establishment of patriarchal relations, on the other hand, is a fundamental stage on the path to class division and state formation. Therefore, we must understand these relations profoundly, because neither the state nor the class society structures it is based upon can be explained if the status of women is not analyzed thoroughly. To be able to understand the fundamental characteristics of the male-dominated society’s culture, we need not only to understand how women were socially defeated but how constraint and dependency were established over the youth as well. This is another aspect of patriarchy attaining its strength. The physical strength of the youth is needed. Such constructed dependency continues today and cannot easily be smashed. Youth, like womanhood, is not only a physical phenomenon but also a social construct. Öcalan argues that the strategy used against women including the tactics, the ideological and political propaganda, and the oppressive systems, has also been used against the youth. This is why the youth desire freedom, not only because they are young but also because of the unique social oppression they are subjected to but are not yet habituated to.
From this, it follows that if we do not understand how the male was socially constructed we cannot correctly analyze the state institution or, therefore, the “war” and “power” culture that comes with the state.
the fundamental principle of democratic socialism inside the Kurdish freedom movement is referred to as killing the [dominant] male. What we are seeing is that there are so many instances of privilege enjoyed by different agents: men over women, white over Black, mother over children, etc.
Hierarchical society is seen as the link between natural society and statis society based on class. At the beginning, authority is personal. However, the institutionalization of authority amounts to a qualitative transformation. The state is essentially the authority that has gained permanence and been institutionalized since the Sumerians, and it is not just any authority; it is military and political authority.
So what is power? Öcalan defines power as the state of execution of the state institution. It is the activity of seizing the surplus value and the product of women and society. Why is it so attractive? Because to be in power is to own the accumulated riches and the institutions and to control the rules, as well as the force and methods, necessary for continued expansion. Thus, Öcalan reaches the conclusion that you cannot make a revolution or effect a transformation by attaining power. The only thing that you can do with power is seize values and redistribute them.
But where does power draw its strength from? This question and others like it lead us to the source of power, which is might, and might is determined in war. Thus, the source of the state and hence of power is not societal intelligence but might and war. As such, the state and power are not formed as the instruments for resolving societal problems. On the contrary, they are the source of societal problems. The phenomenon of war that the state has rested upon since coming into existence continues. War is the foundation of power. To be in power is to mold every dimension of a society and to maintain a certain status quo on the basis of the culture of war.
It has taken a while to truly understand that the tool that has been propagated as a magic wand – the state – has always been an instrument that creates class division and inequalities and, most importantly, legalizes and legitimizes the seizure of surplus product and values – including and especially those of women. Öcalan has come to the conclusion that the state as an apparatus cannot be an instrument for achieving freedom. On the contrary, it is an obstacle to being free. Thus, there is a revolutionary paradigm shift in the analysis of the enslavement of women and nature and, therefore, of society.
It has taken a while to truly understand that the tool that has been propagated as a magic wand – the state – has always been an instrument that creates class division and inequalities and, most importantly, legalizes and legitimizes the seizure of surplus product and values – including and especially those of women. Öcalan has come to the conclusion that the state as an apparatus cannot be an instrument for achieving freedom. On the contrary, it is an obstacle to being free.
For the Kurdish freedom movements, these insights have led to a number of conclusions:
Do not interpret a people’s right to self-determination as requiring the acquisition of a nation-state. The proposal of democratic confederalism is not an alternative state but an alternative to the state.
Do not act in a state- and power-centered way but wage a struggle that is centered on democracy, women’s freedom, and an ecological society that strives to construct an alternative life on that basis.
Develop an ideology based on moral and political society that is grounded in solidarity.
Interpret history through this lens and write a true history of women.
Develop the ability to differentiate between self-defense and violence or force on the basis of whether or not it is revolutionary.
Do not base the economy on accumulation of surplus values and products but on society’s collective needs-based decisions.
Make knowledge available to all in order to prevent the creation of monopoly over knowledge.
To this end all the sections of society that have been traditionally exploited and suppressed should have independent organizations. This applies above all to women and the youth, but it should also include different peoples and groups that have been excluded from all decision-making structures and exploited and oppressed. This would allow those who have traditionally been excluded from decision-making structures to participate in overlapping structures, facilitating the creation of an internal dynamic for fighting against the reestablishment of patriarchy and its institutions at every moment of every day. Those traditionally excluded will not be acting as individuals but as the representatives – the collective being – of autonomous movements and organizations, which will give them leverage in whatever structure they find themselves, given that although they are there as an individual they represent an organized group, for example, women in a mixed council, commune, commune or municipality, political party, and the like. This, in turn, will allow representatives to avoid power-centred conflicts and hold the interests of those they represent at the heart of their struggle.