In a recent interview with Jacobin magazine, the US philosopher Nancy Fraser reflected on the foundations of our current way of life that might be useful as a basis for a free future. Referring to the work of representatives of the Frankfurt School, she said: “It was believed that there was something in modern European history and society that was worth preserving, whether it was individual freedom, science, democracy or something else. And it was also believed that capitalism was distorting or perverting these achievements. And that’s why people started thinking about how the emancipatory potential of modernity could be realised in a post-capitalist society. And it was good that one did so, provided one escaped Eurocentrism and other pitfalls that were not really addressed at the time.” (1) What is most interesting about Fraser’s brief suggestion that the present carries emancipatory potential that could be useful for building a free life is the “something else”. For with the rapid acceleration of the crisis of capitalist modernity in the wake of the Corona pandemic, the collapse of the ecological balance and the war in Ukraine, the question of a non-capitalist way of life is being discussed with a different urgency today than it was even just a few years ago. The dominant responses encountered in the debates of democratic forces range from the revival of ideas such as Marxism-Leninism in the form of new, fast-growing communist groups, to small-scale campaigning on, for example, ecological, democratic or feminist issues, to hopeless reverie. We want to take a different path at this point; in the conviction that the paradigm of Democratic Modernity developed by the Kurdish mastermind Abdullah Öcalan contains the necessary historical depth, sociological clarity and courageous political culture of resistance that we need to overcome capitalist modernity. For with its differentiated analysis of past and present social reality, the paradigm of Democratic Modernity provides us with the necessary tools to develop the appropriate organising, programme and political strategy and tactics for building Democratic Modernity as an alternative to the capitalist-state system in our particular socio-historical context. So where Nancy Fraser is still talking about a ‘something else’, we are already in a position to name more clearly the emancipatory potential of our present – and thus past. With his observation that the ‘communal mother-based society’ is a kind of stem cell of today’s ways of life, Abdullah Öcalan already gave us a very helpful historical-sociological category years ago. With its help, we can better understand where social resistance draws its strength from and accordingly develop promising forms for the struggles and work of the democratic forces necessary today – women’s movements, youth organisations, ecological movements, cultural communities, parties, trade unions, etc.
The dynamic of social development
Anyone who wants to understand their society, including its mentality, emotional world and practical reflexes, must turn to its specific history and sociology, as well as to the history of human’s social development in general. How promising this approach is can be seen from the freedom struggle of Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdistan Freedom Movement, which has been going on for over 50 years. From his speech in the northern Kurdish city of Elazig in 1977 (2), which impressively marked the ideological-organisational awakening of the Kurdistan freedom movement at that time, to his defence writings published in recent years, Öcalan asks what constitutes the human being in general, in order to then turn specifically to the historical-sociological nature of Kurdish society.
Öcalan’s initial questions are always the same: How does social development take place? What dynamics shape the constant change in social life? What basic principles determine social coexistence? In the form of the paradigm of democratic modernity, which he presents in detail in his five defence writings, Abdullah Öcalan has made his insights into what makes societies live together peacefully, sustainably and equally available to all the people of this world in a holistic and coherent way. Öcalan sees the striving of every society to secure its existence as a fundamental drive of social change: “In general, the main problem of a society (which can consist of thousands of communities) is to continue to exist, to preserve itself, to defend its existence against the forces that want to end its existence as a society. This is the problem that societies always and everywhere face.” (3) This results in a constant search by every human community for the best ways to ensure not only its survival but a good, beautiful and proper life under the conditions given in time and space. Anyone who recalls that Homo Sapiens alone, i.e. our most direct ancestor, has been confronted with precisely this challenge for about 200,000 years will be little surprised at the sheer limitless variety of concrete social answers to this question. Especially since the emergence of the modern humanities, an immense corpus of historical attempts to explain and categorise social development has emerged. Looking at these attempts and their translation into political programmes, Öcalan stresses the need for a correct method of analysis: “Treating society as a linear sequence of different forms (primitive society, slave-owning society, feudal society, capitalist and socialist society) is far too dogmatic. In other words, it is idealistic and fatalistic. More importantly, the three forms of society do not progress linearly. The whole thing is more like a cyclic movement that widens and deepens. While I assume a dialectical mode of operation, at the same time I must clearly state that I reject the interpretation of a social development by mutually annihilating extremes. Approaches that start from thesis, antithesis and synthesis can be a productive logic tool to explain the fundamentals of the functioning of the universe. But an extremely rich, difference-allowing, mutual-nurturing kind of dialectical relationship and understanding comes closer to and better explains the dialectical workings of nature.” (4)
The three foundational forms of social life
The three forms of society? This is a distinction that is central to Öcalan’s historical analysis of social life and his proposals for the liberation of society derived from it: “History knows three types of society or social forms: The primitive society or sound society, the class society or civilised society and finally the democratic-plural society.” (5) In this context, Öcalan stresses that his observation is not normative in nature, but rather an observation of historical developments: “I would like to state once again that I am not making a new discovery when I speak of a three-step dynamic of social reality. I am merely trying to apply the universal dynamic of emergence to society.” (6) At the same time, it is important for him to emphasise that the clan society, as the oldest way of human coexistence, is of outstanding importance for all subsequent social forms: “It is realistic to consider the clan as the solid core of society. It is the most original form of society.” (7) In the further course of his 2nd defence The Capitalist Civilisation: Unmasked Gods and Naked Kings, Öcalan proposes the term ‘communal mother-based society’ to describe the cultural and material values that have shaped human social life for millennia of years: “I have continuously emphasized that after long stages of development, and due to the favorable geographical conditions (the Taurus-Zagros mountain system), the transition to the Neolithic society was made. This stage can be viewed as the zenith of mother-based society and the emergence of surplus-product potential. Social sciences mostly call this order the primitive communal system or the Old and New Stone Age. However, I believe it is more meaningful to call it a mother-based society, as there were a series of stages involved. This stage comprises almost ninety-nine percent of the total duration of human society. It should not be belittled.” (8)
Characteristics of the communal mother-based society
What exactly was or is the ‘communal mother-based society’ like? It will come as little surprise that women play a decisive role in this form of social life: “Such early communality lurmed or aggregated around the mother-woman mostly due to her communal practices and to a lesser degree to the influence of her biological characteristics. The feminine suflixed structure of early languages confirms this. One should not overlook the mother-based characteristics of society. It is important to see the mother-woman as an “administrative,” natural tenter of power due to her life experience and the raising of children. In early settlements, her appeal and pivotal position continually increases.” (9) Öcalan describes communal mother-based society as a form of living together that has specific linguistic characteristics, cultural values and material conditions. The sharing of the socially produced surplus, the temporary nature of the market, the city and trade and its own understanding of morality are just some of its special features. This also results in the social reflex of communal mother-based society to constantly take measures against the division of people into classes. A great openness to change and transformation, as well as a sustainable use of all the resources at its disposal, characterise social life. Öcalan summarises the basic characteristics of communal mother-based society as a form of life in which “moral and political principles play the greatest role and there is hardly any opportunity for classes to develop, so either power and the state apparatuses cannot exercise their power, or there is mutual recognition by consensus. In such a society, there is unity in diversity, and equality and freedom are experienced both as a feature of individuality (as opposed to individualism) and as an aspect of sociality.” (10)
The dichotomy of communal mother-based and state- patriarchal culture
Even today, many of these aspects can still be observed in the everyday life of a wide variety of societies. At the same time, we often have to observe that in many places a hierarchical-state culture has strongly displaced the values and practices of communal mother-based society. Öcalan also makes this observation as an important starting point for his reflections: “It probably has not escaped your attention that we don’t use civilization in depict elevation or progress, but rather decline and suppression of social ethics. Civilized society, when compared to the old communal mother-based values, that is, moral perception, means a huge decline.” (11) Using Sumerian epics such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and mythologies such as that of Inanna and Enki, but also linguistic features such as the Sumerian word ‘amargi’ (freedom), Öcalan tries to trace how this displacement could have occurred: “This epic, written before the Epic of Gilgamesh, depicts the struggle between the communal mother-based order or society, and the hierarchic patriarchal society (the transitional society to civilization). It is clear that the process was extremely unfair and full of struggle.” (12) Out of this millennia-long struggle, in the course of which the communal mother-based social order is subjected to increasingly severe, systematic and ultimately successful attacks by the hierarchical-patriarchal system, two new forms of society emerge: on the one hand, the class society or civilised society and, on the other, the democratic-plural society, which Öcalan later consistently calls only ‘moral-political society’. Öcalan assumes that this tension-laden division of social reality is an important reason for the conflicts, but also developments in the world since then: “We can theoretically assume that the transition to both the civilized society and the democratic society formed within one another. The harsh arguments in the early elders’ assemblies are the initial reflections thereof, the footsteps of democratic society. During this stage in all societies we witness a similar contradiction: the democratic society and civilized society contradiction; or, in more understandable and concrete terms, the contradiction of state and democracy.” (13)
Living traces of the ´communal mother-based society´
However, in accordance with the aforementioned understanding of dialectics, Öcalan does not understand communal mother-based society as a historical event that has long since passed. Rather, he repeatedly reminds us that the roots of what we understand today as a beautiful, good and correct form of social togetherness reach back to the beginnings of communal mother-based society, that is, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years old: “Another important point to consider is that both new societies wish to build their existence atop the communal society. The communal society is still ongoing, continuing its existence, albeit as remnants amidst the fabric of societies. As described earlier, communal society is an irrevocable “mother cell” society, and one should not doubt its permanency that will last as longs as the human species exist. As a mother cell plays the role of nurturing and repairing the body structure, rebuilding it when necessary, the communal mother-based society continues its existence in all societies with such a duality. In democratic and civilized societies born from the communal mother-based society’s structures, and despite the conflicting, intense and at times reconciling ambiance, the communal society has not and will not disappear.” (14) Looking at communal mother-based society as a living heritage of humanity can help us to develop a more realistic picture of the emotional and thought world of our respective societies. On this basis, defeats of social resistance can be better understood and decisions made regarding the right policies in the 21st century for the liberation of our society.
Democratic politics for the 21st century based on communal mother-based society
In their respective social contexts, the democratic forces of this world are always faced with the challenge of developing the most appropriate forms of struggle for the liberation of their society from power, patriarchy and the state. Depending on the circumstances they find themselves in, they find different answers to what form of organisation, programme, strategy and tactics are necessary. The paradigm of democratic modernity can serve as a helpful basis here, but its translation and application to the concrete conditions of each society is and remains the responsibility of the various democratic forces of this world.
Öcalan’s reference to the fact that the roots of the most fundamental social values such as democracy, freedom and equality are many thousand years old and began in the form of communal mother-based society is a very important aid at a time of urgent search for answers to the crisis of capitalist modernity. For recalling the values, culture and practice of this form of society can help us to correctly determine the goal, tools and ways of our struggle today. Those who consciously refer to the social tradition of communalism and matriarchy will choose specific forms of struggle. This perspective challenges a much more holistic, sensitive and sustainable kind of social struggle than, an orientation towards pure class struggles or small-scale anarchist resistance. For if the power of social life has been hidden in the communal and mother-based organisation of human togetherness for about 200,000 years, it is precisely these principles that democratic forces must strengthen again everywhere in their respective societies and confidently oppose the state culture of individualism, profit-seeking and monopolisation of power. We will always and everywhere have to ask ourselves how communal mother-based culture can be implemented under the concrete conditions of our society and developed into a strong alternative. How can this be done best in the countryside and how in the vast urban spaces of the 21st century? What traces of communal mother-based life can we find in the different regions and cultures of our society and how can these be defended or strengthened? What prerequisite do the predominant personality traits of our society bring for communal mother-based life? The democratic forces that base their struggle for freedom, democracy and equality on the historical heritage of communal mother-based society will soon realise that through a more adequate historical-sociological analysis of their society they can better self-critically question defeats in their own history of resistance and thus develop more promising forms of organisation, programme, strategy and tactics. In this way, they will be better able to meet the responsibility of successfully making politics for their respective societies and humanity in the 21st century.