Kurdish women perform during 8th March in Mardin
8 March 2016
by Abdullah Öcalan
This text is the foreword of Abdullah Öcalan's 'Liberating Life: Woman's Revolution.
The question of women’s freedom has intrigued me throughout my life. While at first I viewed the enslavement of women in the Middle East and in general as the result of feudal backwardness, after many years of revolutionary practice and research I came to the conclusion that the problem goes much deeper. The 5000-year-old history of civilisation is essentially the history of the enslavement of woman. Consequently, woman’s freedom will only be achieved by waging a struggle against the foundations of this ruling system.
An analysis of mainstream civilisation with regard to the freedom question will make clear that civilisation has been weighted down by an ever-increasing slavery. This “mainstream civilisation” is the civilisation passed down from, and in return influenced by, Sumer to Akkad, from Babylon to Assur, from Persia to Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Europe and finally the USA. Throughout the long history of this civilisation, slavery has been perpetuated on three levels: First, there is construction of ideological slavery (conspicuously, but understandably, fearsome and dominant gods are constructed from mythologies); then there is use of force; lastly, there is seizure of the economy.
This three-tiered enchainment of society is excellently illustrated by the ziggurats, the temples established by the Sumerian priest-state. The upper levels of the ziggurats are propounded as the quarters of the god who controls the mind.
The middle floors are the political and administrative headquarters of the priests. Finally, the bottom floor houses the craftsmen and agricultural workers who are forced to work in all kinds of production. Essentially, this model has been unchanged till today. Thus, an analysis of the ziggurat is in fact an analysis of the continuous mainstream civilisation system that will enable us to analyse the current capitalist world-system in terms of its true basis. Continuous, accumulative development of capital and power is only one side of the medallion. The other side is horrendous slavery, hunger, poverty and coercion into a herd-like society.
Without depriving society of its freedom and ensuring that it can be managed like a herd, central civilisation cannot sustain or preserve itself, because of the nature of the system according to which it functions. This is done by creating even more capital and instruments of power, causing an ever-increasing poverty and herd-like mentality. The reason why the issue of freedom is the key question in every age, lies in the nature of the system itself.
The history of the loss of freedom is at the same time the history of how woman lost her position and vanished from history. It is the history of how the dominant male, with all his gods and servants, rulers and subordinates, his economy, science and arts, obtained power. Woman‘s downfall and loss is thus the downfall and loss of the whole of society, with the resultant sexist society. The sexist male is so keen on constructing his social dominance over woman that he turns any contact with her into a show of dominance.
The depth of woman‘s enslavement and the intentional masking of this fact is thus closely linked to the rise within a society of hierarchical and statist power. As women are habituated to slavery, hierarchies (from the Greek word ἱεραρχία or hierarkhia, “rule by the high priest”) are established: the path 11 to the enslavement of the other sections of the society is paved. The enslavement of men comes after the enslavement of women. Gender enslavement is different in some ways to class and nation enslavement. Its legitimisation is attained through refined and intense repression combined with lies that play on emotions. Woman’s biological difference is used as justification for her enslavement. All the work she does is taken for granted and called unworthy “woman’s work”. Her presence in the public sphere is claimed to be prohibited by religion, morally shameful; progressively, she is secluded from all important social activities. As the dominant power of the political, social and economic activities are taken over by the men, the weakness of the women becomes even more institutionalised. Thus, the idea of a “weak sex” becomes a shared belief.
In fact, society treats woman not merely as a biologically separate sex but almost as a separate race, nation or class – the most oppressed race, nation or class: no race, class or nation is subjected to such systematic slavery as housewifisation.
The disappointment experienced due to failure of any struggle, be it for freedom or equality, or be it a democratic, moral, political or class struggle bears the imprint of the archetypal struggle for power relationship, the one between woman and man. From this relationship stem all forms of relationship that foster inequality, slavery, despotism, fascism and militarism. If we want to construe true meaning to terms such as equality, freedom, democracy and socialism that we so often use, we need to analyse and shatter the ancient web of relations that has been woven around women. There is no other way of attaining true equality (with due allowance for diversity), freedom, democracy and morality.
But unambiguously clarifying the status of women is only one aspect of this issue. Far more important is the question of liberation; in other words, the resolution to the problem 12 exceeds the importance of revealing and analysing it. The most promising point in the current chaos of the capitalist system is the (albeit limited) exposure of women’s status. During the last quarter of the twentieth century feminism managed (though not sufficiently) to disclose the truth about women. In times of chaos, the possibility of change for any phenomenon increases in keeping with the level of progress or clarification available; thus, in such times, small steps taken for freedom may amount to leaps forward. Women’s freedom can emerge as the big winner from the current crisis.
Whatever has been constructed by the human hand, can be demolished by the human hand. Women’s enslavement is neither a law of nature nor is it destiny. What we need is the necessary theory, programme, organisation and the mechanisms to implement them.
To read the booklet click here.
- Abdullah Ocalan
- Democratic Civilisation
- Democratic Modernity
- Women's Liberation
- Women's Rights
- Kurdish women