ONE – Social Reality and the Individual

  • ONE
  • TWO
  • FOUR
  • FIVE
  • SIX
  • NINE
  • TEN

ONE – Social Reality and the Individual
Natural Society

TWO – Hierarchical Statist Society: The Birth of Slave Society
On Method
The Advent of Hierarchy

FOUR – Feudal Statist Society
The Mature Slave Society
The Capitalist State and Capitalist Society: The Crisis of Civilization

FIVE – The Democratic and Ecological Society
The Historical Essence of Communal and Democratic
Prophets and Barbarians
Monasteries, Witches, and Alchemists
From the Renaissance to Marxism

SIX – A Blueprint for a Democratic and Ecological Society
Democracy as a System for a Way Out of Crisis
Women’s Liberation
The Return to Social Ecology

SEVEN – Chaos in the Middle East Civilization and Ways Out
Understanding the Middle East Correctly: What Is the Problem and How Did It Develop?
The Mentality of the Middle East
The State in the Middle East
The Family in the Middle East
Further Particularities of Society in the Middle East
Ethnicity and Nation
Civil Society
Violence and Dictatorship in the Civilization in the Middle East

EIGHT – The Current Situation in the Middle East and Probable Developments
The Middle East Today
State Power
Theocracy as the Foundation of Every State
The Situation of Women
The Economy
The Future of the Region
Democratic Politics
The Freedom of Women

NINE – The Kurdish Phenomenon and the Kurdish Question in the Chaos of the Middle East
Some Distinctive Lines in the Kurdish Society
A Short Sketch of the History and Concepts of “Kurds” and “Kurdistan”
The Struggle Over Kurdistan, War, and Terror
The Policy of Forced Assimilation Targeting the
Culture of Kurdistan
Ethnicity, Class, and Nation in Kurdistan
Official Ideology and Power in Kurdistan
Self-Awareness and Resistance in Kurdistan

TEN – The PKK Movement: Critique, Self-Critique, and Its Reconstruction
Section A—Historical Sketch of the PKK
First Phase: Emergence
Second Phase
Some Thoughts on the PKK
Section B—Critique and Self-Critique in the Name of the PKK
The Concept of the Party
Power and Violence
Self-critique of the PKK
National Liberation
Section C—The Questions in the Restructuring of the PKK
Kurdish-Turkish Relations
First Contacts
The Strategic Alliance
Capitalism in Turkey
The Era of the Republic
1970 to Today
Section D—Reform and Social Transformation in Turkey
The Liberal Bourgeoisie

ELEVEN – Contribution to the Debate about the Refoundation of the PKK
Tasks in Reconstructing the PKK and the Time of Koma
Political Objectives
Social Objectives
Ecology and Economics
Internationalist Aspect
Individual Rights
The People’s Congress
The People’s Defense Forces
Options for Democratic Action and a Democratic
The Second Path


My trial has now been dragging on for quite some time. It would be difficult to find another important political trial that has lasted this long.1 It is still unclear how much longer it will go on for. While, on the one hand, I am imprisoned as the sole inmate under very severe isolation conditions, on the other hand, I press on with my legal defense.

When the ECtHR allowed my “individual complaint” to be heard, it was careful to exclude all political and social aspects of the case. Obviously, this was done to hide an important aspect of the overall reality. It is obvious that this approach has major shortcomings and brings with it the possibility of an unfair trial. A fundamental issue that needs to be clarified is the attempt to detach the individual from the society by “putting the individual in possession of rights,” and then asserting that the judicial process is to be conducted on that basis. This procedure constitutes the essence of European culture. Large sections of my first submission were devoted to the attempt to analyze this culture.2

Sociality is the condition for the existence of the human species. The separation of humans from the previously existing family of primates and the transition to becoming human proceeded in parallel with the development of sociality. This is a basic fact of social science.

It is impossible to theorize the individual and “society” separately, regardless of the level of abstraction involved. There is no solitary individual. There may be a lonely individual whose society has fallen apart, but at least that individual lives with the memories of the fallen society. With these memories, a new socialization is only a matter of time. The survival and development of the human species is closely related to the level of sociality it has developed. Isolating and condemning an individual to solitude is the most brutal way to weaken and enslave that individual. Even groups of slaves, serfs, and workers in the city constitute a society. From time to time, they remind themselves of their own existence by rebelling. On the other hand, solitude is highly instructive. The process of seclusion of all the famous sages and prophets in history reflects this fact.

Individualism is a highly contradictory concept. Its flip side is when it is totally and insanely turned loose and directed against the society. Society’s life according to rules that are not based on coercion is called morality. Individualism strains this morality. More precisely, the development of individualism in European civilization is associated with a weakening of morality. While in Eastern civilization society is the main focus of attention, in Western civilization the individual is the focus of attention. This definition of the individual can end in two different ways: while the individual who rules and exploits can rise to the rank of emperor, the exploited and condemned individuals live in the deepest slavery. It is not by coincidence that the brutal face of the twentieth century emerges from this generalized, deepened slavery of the capitalist system that spreads across all levels of society. This sort of order, with its ubiquitous masters, has lost its fundamental moral values and is, in the final analysis, capable of anything because of its ambition for profit and acquisition.

The loneliness, imprisonment, and isolation that I live with is linked to this general structure of the system. If a society—a people—is prevented from being “itself,” this means: you are the prisoner of the weakest of all types of loneliness—that of the individual who has been broken off from the society, ever since birth. To the extent that you cease to be yourself, you integrate into another society. But then you are, again, no longer yourself. The choice between great solitude or surrendering to another reality is a dire dilemma that I have referred to as the “Kurdish trap”—a choice tantamount to that between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Today, concepts like difference and sharing with the Other are increasingly part of the debate.3 It is correct to say that social wealth and the creation of diversity will develop by sharing with the other—so long as it is voluntary. The system, however, has its eyes set on a completely different policy, one of planned uniformity and homogenization. This is ethnic cleansing, genocide, assimilation, and ceasing to be yourself. It is this type of policy that is intensely experienced in the Kurdish reality. The sources of this policy are nineteenth- and twentieth-century biopower,4 racism, and fascism; all totalitarian understandings of power. While aiming to create a strong nation and race, the result is aggression and war, with roots undoubtedly stretching back to the origins of hierarchical society. It was, however, in the twentieth century that it became a systematic and widespread state policy. Two major world wars and a large number of regional and local wars finally forced Western civilization into a sine qua non unity, primarily based on the principles called the European Union (EU) norms. In this sense, it is effectively Europe’s self-critique before the rest of humanity.

An individual that run amok and a state power that develops in contradiction to moral values are capable of any misdeed, all the more so when the accumulation of capital’s greed for profit is the driving force. Even laying aside the plot behind my being handed over, my trial under the existing conditions calls for the most severe penalty, because I have transformed a society that had dropped all legitimate claims into a society that makes demands, which is a radical action against a system that indulges in the greed for power and profit.

Even raising the question about one’s own society, culture, mother tongue, and freedom is treated as insurrection, separatism, and treason against the fatherland. It is a “crime,” the corollary of which didn’t even exist in either the Ottoman civilization or in the Turkish tribal system. This crime is an invention of biopower, racism, fascism, and all of the totalitarian regimes of European civilization, and in the twentieth century it was exported to the Turkish state system. The whole world has suffered under it.

If I am guilty of any crime, it is that I too was to some degree infected by the culture of power and war. I also got involved in this game because state power was understood as necessary for freedom and, to this end, war was also viewed as a necessity, like a religious order for believers. Almost no one who acted in the name of the oppressed was able to escape this malady. From that perspective, I am guilty not only from the vantage point of the ruling system but also from that of the freedom struggle for which I have sacrificed everything.

To the end, I will commit myself to this self-critique, not only in theory but also in the noble practice of my solitude. But how will the system pay for its crime of preventing a society and a people to be itself by force and subterfuge? If this trial is to be fair, the arguments of both sides must be heard in a balanced way and a decision made accordingly. A jurisdiction that has lost its ties with science can never be fair. Clearly, social science will be the main weapon that I will resort to. That I walk on the right path to the extent that I am enlightened by such social science is a requirement if I am to be a dignified human being.

We also must not neglect the destruction of nature brought about by a system that subjugates society in such an extreme way. Ecological and feminist thinking and practice can contribute to a reestablishment of our relationship to a natural social life that has been lost. In my view, defining “democracy” correctly—the political option of peoples—and revealing the potential democracy has to solve problems is one of the most pressing issues. While the new wave of globalization presents a sugarcoated free market of commodities that it fetishizes as the only solution—knowing that what it actually offers us is the oldest thief and the usurper—we should further elucidate our ecological and democratic option and raise it as our symbol of a new life. Thus, not only shall we render the ideals of freedom and equality in history more current and livable, we will show that not a single step taken to this end is in vain. Just as something that exists in nature never disappears, no social value that has existed ever completely disappears.

That in my defenses I am once again drawing closer to social reality is related to the philosophical depth I’ve reached. Philosophy as a social science must again play the role it did in the period of its birth. A return to philosophy, as opposed to today’s science enmeshed in power, is the departure point of a free society.

Countless contemporary and historical examples have shown that a democracy that does not rest on philosophy can quickly degenerate or even be misused by demagogues as the foulest tool for ruling the people. One way to prevent this from happening is to carry out a political struggle that integrates the tradition that considers ethics and science as an inseparable whole. If we shoulder that responsibility, we will be able to create a way of life and a world based on freedom and equality out of the system’s crisis.

Natural Society

The relationship between society and nature is an area that social science is increasingly focusing on. Even though it is obvious that the environment has an influence on society, this fact has only recently become a topic of scientific research and philosophy. This interest was triggered by the recognition of the catastrophic extent to which the social system affects the environment. When we search for the source of this problem, we encounter the dominant social system, which is dangerously at odds with nature.

It is becoming increasingly scientifically clear that alienation from the natural environment is the source of thousands of years of conflict within society; the more conflicts and wars within society have arisen, the more society’s contradiction with nature has increased.5 Today’s watchword is the subordination and enslavement of nature and the ruthless appropriation and exploitation of its resources.

It is claimed that nature is cruel, which is certainly not the case. The fact is that humans, who have developed an enormous amount of intra-species cruelty also treat nature cruelly, as the current environmental problems indicate. No other species has exterminated as many species of plants and animals as humans have. Should this process of extermination continue unabated, humans might well meet the same fate as the dinosaurs.

If the speed of population growth is not reduced and human’s current destructive frenzy and misuse of technology is not stopped, we will soon reach a point where the continuation of human life is no longer possible.

This reality together with an increase in war, even within society itself, very dangerous forms of politics, increasing poverty and unemployment, the loss of the moral foundations of society, and a robot-like, alienated existence represent existential threats to humanity. Without a sufficiently clear analysis of the causes of these social developments, we will be unable to describe civilization, with its class struggles and its wars, in a theoretically accurate way or find solutions. The fact that sociology offers fewer answers to today’s problems than does religion only shows that the social sciences and, therefore, the entire structure of science must be subjected to scrutiny.

Science has allegedly made massive advances, so why is there such madness? As is well known, the twentieth century was many times bloodier than all of human history that preceded it. This suggests serious errors and flaws in the structure of scientific thought. One may, with some justification, object that these errors are perhaps not a result of the scientific findings themselves but, rather, flaws in the way that governments implement them. However, this alone would not relieve science and scientists and their institutions of their responsibility.

In my view, today’s scientists and their institutions are more backward and irresponsible in their dependence on the rulers both in terms of morality and faith than the priests in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia’s first kingdoms. The religions and prophets within the Abrahamic tradition rebelled against the kingly lineages of the Nimrods and pharaohs and played a huge role in the development of humanity in terms of morality and faith.6 This is the positive aspect of the priestly tradition. On the other hand, scientists under the command of power routinely provided those in power with instruments of destruction, even facilitating the detonation of the atomic bomb against humanity. Thus, there is a serious problem in the relationship between science and power. We may see science as a social achievement and an important value, but we cannot explain why science has led to so many catastrophes. Since we cannot simply ignore these catastrophes as if they never happened, we cannot accept or even forgive these scientists and their institutions.

Until we find an explanation for this primary contradiction, sociology and the other sciences must be subjected to scrutiny. Unless we can determine where the system has made a fundamental error, leading humanity astray and threatening its future, the development of a theory and practice of liberation, freedom, and equality will not allow us to achieve our lofty goals. However much we may try, in the end, we will only carry water to the mills of the dominant social system once again. If we do not clarify this contradiction, we will also be unable to clearly pinpoint the other defects in the system.

In this book, I would like to uncover just how this contradiction lies at the root of European civilization. The Western social system has been better than any other at disguising itself at its most crucial points. It is the system that has used propaganda to achieve a pronounced distortion of ethics and morality. We can easily show that we don’t live in the age of greatest freedom but, rather, in the age of the most sophisticated enslavement. As a result, I feel obliged to define the various social forms in my own terms.

By the term “natural society,”7 I mean an order of human communities that began with the dissociation of the human species from the primates and existed for a long time until the emergence of hierarchical society. In anthropology, these communities of twenty to thirty people are usually called “clans.” Based on the stone tools they used, they are also called Paleolithic and Neolithic humanity. These people primarily subsisted as hunters and gatherers on the basis of what they found in nature. In a certain sense, they got by with the products provided by nature. Their eating habits were similar to those of related animal species. For that reason, we can’t speak of a social problem. The clan was continuously on the lookout, hunting and gathering whatever it found. With the use of tools and the discovery of fire, the yield increased, and, concomitantly, the species developed faster and the distance from other primates increased. The natural rules of evolution determined this development.

The mentality and communication system of natural society are still largely unexplored. Even the intriguing question of the stage of intellectual development at which we can speak of “humans” is an issue that remains important. In this context, the question of whether the mentality or the structure and tools are primary criteria is important. Historically, this distinction underlies the separation between idealist and materialist philosophy.

The latest scientific findings, for example, the quantum physics of subatomic particles and waves, have opened up entirely new fields for this discussion. The possibility of being two different things at the same time, the so-called particle-wave duality, has been proven. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle refers to the existence of an ambiguity that for structural reasons humans can never completely eliminate. Even phenomena like intuitive orders with free will have been postulated. The notion of coarse and inanimate matter is increasingly abandoned. On the contrary, we are confronted with a universe very much alive and free. The real mystery, however, is humans, especially their thoughts. I am not suggesting a slide into idealism and subjectivism, but it is now assumed that the origin of all of the diversity in the universe is to be found at the boundaries of its tiniest parts, in the quantum realm.

All the processes that takes place in and beyond the realm of atomic particles, in the wave-particle universe, constitute all kinds of beings, especially the “liveliness” feature. This is what we mean when we say the intuitiveness of the quantum. Indeed, such a diversity of nature only seems possible by a great inherent intelligence and preference for freedom. How could so many plants, flowers, living beings, and, in the end, humans derive from coarse, inanimate matter? Even though it is asserted that all living metabolism is based on molecules, it does not seem possible to satisfactorily explain the diversity of nature without explaining what takes place in the system of molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles and at the level of particles and waves.

We can carry out an analogous analysis of the cosmos. What happens at the outer limit of the universe—provided it is actually finite—is similar to what happens in the realm of the quanta. What we are confronted with here is the concept of a “living universe.” Cosmology is faced with the question of whether the universe itself can perhaps be described as a living being with mind and matter.

The human, who is right in between the cosmos and the quantum, can be called a “microcosm.” The result: if you want to understand both universes—the quantum and the cosmos—unravel the human being! The subject of all perception is the human being. The knowledge of all areas from the quantum to the cosmos is the product of humans. This also brings the perception process of the human being into focus. In a certain way, this process mirrors the evolutionary history of the approximately twenty-billion-year history of the universe. We can regard humans as some sort of a microcosm. In them, we can trace the evolutionary history of matter from subatomic particles and waves right up to highly complicated DNA molecules. In addition, in humans we can also observe the history of all developmental processes beginning with the first stages of plants and animals. In the development of a human being, known as ontogeny, embryos go through all developmental stages of biology from simple to more complicated living beings (phylogeny). The rest is complemented by society and evolution. It is with social evolution that science has attained its present level. In this sense, we can consider humans as a “summary of the universe.”

Were it not for the fact that all materials of which humans are composed possess qualities such as vitality, intuition, and freedom, then human vitality, intuition, and freedom would not have developed as an overall expression of these qualities. From something that does not exist, nothing new arises. This statement is in contrast to the concept of “inanimate matter.” There is no doubt that consciousness only develops within a human type of organization and society. But it should also be clear that consciousness could not develop if the matter of which this form of organization and society is composed and with which it interacts did not have qualities such as knowledge, intuition, sense, and originality. If a thing is not already present in the essence, how could it be created?

This analysis suggests that humans did not acquire knowledge either through a simple reflection of external nature or through a form of Cartesian idealism. It makes more sense to assume that the origin of humans followed a pattern similar to what we find in the cosmos and in the quantum universe. Of course, these laws operate in keeping with human specificity. The universes express themselves in the human being. Therefore, a better understanding of humans leads to a better understanding of the universe. The well-known philosophical principle “know thyself” also reflects this fact. Self-knowledge is the foundation of all knowledge. All knowledge acquired without knowing oneself will, in the end, be nothing more than an aberration.

Therefore, in human society, all institutions and behaviors that lack self-reflection inevitably assume an errant and distorted character. This explains the anomalous, contradictory, bloody, and repressive character of all social systems that are based on knowledge without self-knowledge. Therefore, we can assume as a fundamental, universal, and, therefore, also social rule that a natural process of development acceptable for human society arises from knowledge of the self.

On the basis of this assumption, what can we say about the nature of human self-knowledge in natural society? We can at least say that in natural society each human being was duty bound to safeguard the survival of other clan members along with their own. None of the clan members could imagine having a more privileged life than other clan members, nor could they imagine life outside the clan. They might hunt, there might even be cannibalism, but all of this is for the survival of the clan. The rule of life in the clan is “all or nothing,” i.e., “everyone or no one.” Anthropology emphasizes this feature of clans and speaks of a kind of group personality. In that context, nobody can imagine an autonomous individual personality or personal decisions. The particular significance of the clan lies in the fact that it is the first and fundamental form of human existence.

This was a form of society that was free of privilege, class, and hierarchy and that knew no exploitation. It existed for millions of years.8 We can conclude that for a long time the development of the human species as a society was not based on relations of domination but on the principle of solidarity. Nature took its place in collective memory as a “mother” that raises humans in its fold. Humans lived harmoniously with each other and with nature.

The symbol of clan consciousness was the totem. The totem probably represented the first abstract conceptual system. This system, often called totem religion, formed the first concept of “sacredness” and “taboos.” The clan declared itself sacred in the symbolic value of the totem. In that way, it arrived at the first concept of morality. The knowledge that there was no chance of survival without the clan community gave this social form of existence the aura of sacredness, which had to be symbolized and revered as the highest value.

This is the source of the power of religious belief. Here we have the primordial form of religion in the broadest sense. Religion was the first form of social consciousness and was inseparably linked to moral concepts. It was only much later that religion gradually turned from a collective consciousness into a rigid belief.

After the stage of the totem, the further development of social consciousness took place in the form of religion. Thus, religion is the first fundamental memory of society, its deep-rooted tradition, and the source of its moral beliefs. Any consciousness that the clan community developed through its practice always connected it to the totem and, through the totem, to its own abilities. The growing success of the human community brings with it constant veneration, taking the symbolic form of the totem. The blessing of the totem is the power of the “sacred,” but the sacred itself is nothing other than the power of society.

The sanctity of this power comes openly to the fore in magic. The attempt to influence the environment through magical rituals was originally an attempt to strengthen society. Magic is, in this sense, also the mother of science. In clan society, women were regarded as wise, because they alone possessed the knowledge of the origin of life and birth and constantly observed nature. For this reason, in many societies magic was performed by women.

The clan was a unit with the women at its center. Men did not yet possess power over women. The male role in procreation was either unknown or considered to be of secondary importance. The children only knew who their mothers were. However, the central role of women is not just a matter of biology. Almost all sculptures that have survived from this period show the traits of women. In natural society, their life practice meant women were the ones with the broadest knowledge. The fact that they gave birth and raised children led them to perfect their gathering and sustaining skills. Scholars also attribute a leading role in the development of language to women. All these facts led to women’s social influence.

The bellicose and power-hungry character traits of men are often ascribed to their role as hunters. Men’s physical traits forced them to look for game that was farther away and to protect the clan from danger. This secondary social role explains why men remained more or less pale and lacking in profile. Private relationships had not yet developed within the clan. What was procured by gathering and hunting belonged to everyone. The children were the children of the whole clan. Neither men nor women had yet become exclusive. Because of these particular features, this form of society is also called primitive communism.

The emergence of the clan’s way of life meant the birth of society, its first memory, and the basis for the development of its primal consciousness and concepts of “faith.” What remains is the insight that a healthy society must be based on its natural environment and the power of women, and that human existence was realized by a strong solidarity that knew neither exploitation nor oppression. In that sense, humanity is the intersection of these fundamental values.

It would be absurd to believe that the social experience of millions of years has vanished into thin air. In nature, nothing is ever destroyed, and this is all the more true for society, which is a form of nature. It is an important insight of the dialectical view of history that a later stage of development supersedes the previous one in the precise sense that it also includes it. The idea that development takes place when opposites cancel each other out through mutual annihilation in the course of development is erroneous.9 On the contrary, the law of dialectics states that thesis and antithesis continue their existence in syntheses in a richer formation. In the same way, clan values also undergo further developments through new syntheses.

The concepts of “freedom” and “equality” remain fundamental today because of life in clan society, which I call natural society. Even before freedom and equality were consciously formulated, they were, in their natural form, already hidden in the clan way of life. Wherever freedom and equality are lost, these concepts—which secretly live on in social memory and are, in fact, the basic principles of every developed society—will quickly come to the fore again. As society develops in the direction of hierarchy and state institutions, these institutions will be pursued relentlessly by freedom and equality. At heart, it is clan society itself that is struggling here.


1 In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the 1999 trial during which Öcalan was sentenced to death violated the fundamental right to a fair trial, and that there should be a retrial. Therefore, pending a new trial, Öcalan’s sentence was deemed to be inconclusive.

2 These are submissions to the court that have been published in the two-volume Sümer Rahip Devletinden Demokratik Uygarlığa: AİHM Savunmaları I. ve II. Cilt (Neuss: Mezopotamien Verlag, 2002) and in English in two volumes under the title Prison Writings: The Roots of Civilization (London: Pluto Press, 2007) and Prison Writings: The PKK and the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century (London: Pluto Press, 2011).

3 Jürgen Habermas, Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999).

4 A term coined by Michel Foucault to describe political action based on “scientific,” biologically constructed criteria. People are divided into “we” and “the others” according to certain criteria (race, sexuality), and then subjected to particular forms of discipline; Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977).

5 This line of argument follows Murray Bookchin, Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Buckley, UK: Cheshire Books, 1982).

6 For Öcalan’s interpretation of Abraham as the leader of a religiously based rebellion against the ruling powers and their polytheism, see Abdullah Öcalan, Sümer Rahip Devletinden Demokratik Uygarlığa (Neuss: Mezopotamien Verlag, 2001); Abdullah Öcalan, Kutsallık ve Lanetin Simgesi Urfa (Neuss: Mezopotamien Verlag, 2001).

7 This term quite obviously alludes to Murray Bookchin’s “organic society”; Bookchin, Ecology of Freedom.

8 The historian Anthony Giddens formulated this as follows: “If we can think of the entire span of human existence thus far as a 24-hour day, agriculture would have come into existence at 11:56 p.m.—four minutes to midnight—and civilizations at 11:57 p.m.”; Anthony Giddens, Sociology, 6th edition (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009), 109.

9 The author often criticizes real socialist and vulgar materialist interpretations of dialectics. This criticism also shows up in his dispute with the Stalinist concepts that were dominant within the socialist movement in Turkey at the time the PKK was founded.

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