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The Political Thought of Abdullah Öcalan: Kurdistan, Women's Revolution and Democratic Confederalism

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These are the essential writings of a man who inspired a new, egalitarian socialist regime in the Middle East, which is currently fighting for survival against religious extremism and state violence. Abdullah Öcalan led the struggle for Kurdish liberation for more than 20 years until his capture in 1999. Now, writing from prison in Turkey, he has inspired a new political mo These are the essential writings of a man who inspired a new, egalitarian socialist regime in the Middle East, which is currently fighting for survival against religious extremism and state violence. Abdullah Öcalan led the struggle for Kurdish liberation for more than 20 years until his capture in 1999. Now, writing from prison in Turkey, he has inspired a new political movement. Called Democratic Confederalism, this revolutionary model is developing on the ground in parts of Syria and Turkey; it represents an alternative to religious sectarianism, patriarchy, capitalism and chauvinistic nationalism, providing the blueprint for a burgeoning radical democratic society. This selection of Öcalan’s writings is an indispensable introduction for anyone wanting to engage with his political ideas. His central concepts address the Kurdish question, gender, Democratic Confederalism and the future of the nation. With The Political Thought of Abdullah Öcalan, his most influential ideas can now be considered and debated in the light of his continuing legacy, most notably in the ongoing revolution in Rojava.


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These are the essential writings of a man who inspired a new, egalitarian socialist regime in the Middle East, which is currently fighting for survival against religious extremism and state violence. Abdullah Öcalan led the struggle for Kurdish liberation for more than 20 years until his capture in 1999. Now, writing from prison in Turkey, he has inspired a new political mo These are the essential writings of a man who inspired a new, egalitarian socialist regime in the Middle East, which is currently fighting for survival against religious extremism and state violence. Abdullah Öcalan led the struggle for Kurdish liberation for more than 20 years until his capture in 1999. Now, writing from prison in Turkey, he has inspired a new political movement. Called Democratic Confederalism, this revolutionary model is developing on the ground in parts of Syria and Turkey; it represents an alternative to religious sectarianism, patriarchy, capitalism and chauvinistic nationalism, providing the blueprint for a burgeoning radical democratic society. This selection of Öcalan’s writings is an indispensable introduction for anyone wanting to engage with his political ideas. His central concepts address the Kurdish question, gender, Democratic Confederalism and the future of the nation. With The Political Thought of Abdullah Öcalan, his most influential ideas can now be considered and debated in the light of his continuing legacy, most notably in the ongoing revolution in Rojava.

30 review for The Political Thought of Abdullah Öcalan: Kurdistan, Women's Revolution and Democratic Confederalism

  1. 5 out of 5

    Louis

    I really liked some sections of this book; but I found that it was too vague and had too many assertions for me to really get into it. For example - every time Öcalan juxtaposes the capitalist nation-state with his model of democratic confederalism, he seems to throw around a lot of adjectives about an ideal confederalist society (inclusive, tolerant, autonomous) without properly fleshing them out. I don’t want to assume that a confederalist society will just ‘be’ these things, I want to know how I really liked some sections of this book; but I found that it was too vague and had too many assertions for me to really get into it. For example - every time Öcalan juxtaposes the capitalist nation-state with his model of democratic confederalism, he seems to throw around a lot of adjectives about an ideal confederalist society (inclusive, tolerant, autonomous) without properly fleshing them out. I don’t want to assume that a confederalist society will just ‘be’ these things, I want to know how. For example, where do the power holders in the existing structure fit in? Would these people be excluded from the democratic process, or included and given a platform to continue airing their exploitative views, catering towards the lowest common denominator? Öcalan advocates for the empowerment of women, yet also stresses the need to acknowledge and respect local applications of the law, acknowledging in the same book that Kurdistan and the Middle East are rife with tribalism and antiquated legal practices that serve to impede and degrade women. How would he propose that these structures are challenged? I liked the general themes and intuitively believe Öcalan’s model has merit, but it left me with too many unanswered questions. 6/10

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karlo Mikhail

    These were originally written as pamphlets so the ideas explored here are explained in broad strokes rather than with theoretical precision. They nevertheless offers a glimpse of a different way of thinking national liberation, women liberation, socialism, and democracy. Öcalan is a must-read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    A collection of four pamphlets neatly edited together: - War and Peace in Kurdistan - Democratic Confederalism - Liberating Life: Woman's Revolution - Democratic Nation Well worth a read by anyone trying to understand why modernity has very few positive aspects and why even those are being severely limited by nation-states and capitalism. It is absolutely remarkable what Abdullah Öcalan managed to write while in prison isolation since 1999, being allowed only one book at a time, and having no one to t A collection of four pamphlets neatly edited together: - War and Peace in Kurdistan - Democratic Confederalism - Liberating Life: Woman's Revolution - Democratic Nation Well worth a read by anyone trying to understand why modernity has very few positive aspects and why even those are being severely limited by nation-states and capitalism. It is absolutely remarkable what Abdullah Öcalan managed to write while in prison isolation since 1999, being allowed only one book at a time, and having no one to talk to about his ideas. The transition from a Marxist-Leninist politics to the radically transformative politics contained herein is absolutely remarkable. Not only is the writing deeply original and aware of cultural and historical proclivities of the Middle East, it is concise, and easy to understand. No wonder it sparked the most important social revolution ever to be seen: that of the "Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria" formerly known as Rojava. At the time of writing this review April 2017 Turkey has started invading the above region because of historical reasons that are very well outlined in this volume. And anyone pretending to understand what is happening in the Syrian Civil war (and even greater potential disaster brought on by the Turkish nation-state) without knowing the politics of northern Syria is a fool, and/or a hack. This book helps bridge that gap of knowledge.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Irene Doda

    Sicuramente una raccolta di saggi da leggere per interrogarsi sulle forme istituzionali che diamo per scontate (stato, mercato e famiglia tradizionale). Ocalan dà degli spunti di riflessione che servono a costruire, sono dei mattoni importanti per iniziare a lavorare per una società diversa. Ho avuto l'impressione che i suoi scritti vadano in qualche modo contestualizzati in diversi ambiti e non presi necessariamente alla lettera. Per quanto mi riguarda è stato molto arricchente, a tratti esalta Sicuramente una raccolta di saggi da leggere per interrogarsi sulle forme istituzionali che diamo per scontate (stato, mercato e famiglia tradizionale). Ocalan dà degli spunti di riflessione che servono a costruire, sono dei mattoni importanti per iniziare a lavorare per una società diversa. Ho avuto l'impressione che i suoi scritti vadano in qualche modo contestualizzati in diversi ambiti e non presi necessariamente alla lettera. Per quanto mi riguarda è stato molto arricchente, a tratti esaltante, anche avendo presente in parte l'esperienza di autogoverno del Rojava e della Siria del Nord Est.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Josiah Miller

    The most jarring of the essays is the liberation of women. Ocalan goes through the history of society as a matriarchy and then it moved to a patriarchy (which we still find to this day) through power, religion and the rise of capitalism. This was the enslavement of women. We must break the enslavement of women before we can begin freeing everyone else. The Kurdish people are in a positively ground breaking position to promote Democratic Confederalism as the Kurds don't have any borders. They are The most jarring of the essays is the liberation of women. Ocalan goes through the history of society as a matriarchy and then it moved to a patriarchy (which we still find to this day) through power, religion and the rise of capitalism. This was the enslavement of women. We must break the enslavement of women before we can begin freeing everyone else. The Kurdish people are in a positively ground breaking position to promote Democratic Confederalism as the Kurds don't have any borders. They are scattered throughout countries like Turkey, Syria and Iraq. They are fighting ISIS. They're women are powerful and fight along with the men. With no borders they work together in a democratic manner to focus on their ecology and social goals. The history through Ocalan is eye opening.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Hilton

    Read Öcalan.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Natú

    There's a lot to be said about this kind of book, which is very intentionally and openly trying to be a bird's eye view of the political philosophy of a particular movement or thinker. As I see it, this book is an example of just what the pros and cons of that approach are. First of all, this book is dense with assertions, but due to the nature of the pamphlets these selections are drawn from, they are largely not fleshed out but rather serve as support or evidence for the broader arguments being There's a lot to be said about this kind of book, which is very intentionally and openly trying to be a bird's eye view of the political philosophy of a particular movement or thinker. As I see it, this book is an example of just what the pros and cons of that approach are. First of all, this book is dense with assertions, but due to the nature of the pamphlets these selections are drawn from, they are largely not fleshed out but rather serve as support or evidence for the broader arguments being made about the nature of the nation-state, democracy, women's issues, etc. This should not be seen as an indicator of the flimsiness of Öcalan's theories, but a byproduct of the goals of the texts, which again, are to paint broad strokes and outline general lines and positions. Indeed, I've been promised that this book is so valuable within Öcalan's writings precisely because it is an accessible and friendly reference among otherwise very dense and wide-ranging pieces. That said, the speed at which Öcalan drops huge assertions in these texts one after the other can leave your head spinning, and certainly left me wanting to read his other work to get a better understanding of the foundational thinking undergirding these big ideas. In general, I thought the first and fourth essays, on the Kurdish Question and the Democratic Nation, lent themselves better to the medium and were very digestible. I thought the middle two pieces, about Democratic Confederalism and Women's Revolution, the latter in particular, suffered a bit from the lack of expounding upon and drilling down into the issues at hand. Without the historical and material analysis that, to be fair, I believe is there in his larger works, Öcalan's claims about the nation-state, patriarchy, and above all women and men, can come off as essentializing or moralizing. In addition, while I have seen issues of sexuality and trans/non-binary people raised within the broader milieu of the KLM/Democratic Confederalism Movement (though never in much depth, that I've seen, maybe I've just missed it), their absence here is unfortunate, and made me wonder how much of the so-called inherent characteristics of men and women cited herein were representative of historically-attested realities (within the region if not elsewhere) or indeed just retroactive projections of the idealized conceptualizations of men and women that arose from capitalist modernity in the first place. Overall, as is a theme in my reviews, my rating is based less on my initial impressions of this book and more on how it met what I believe to be its purpose. In the end, I felt like I wanted more and had more questions than answers, but as an introductory sketch of the thought propelling the KLM, one which would inspire readers to delve into the really meaty stuff, this book definitely does a good job.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sugarpunksattack Mick

    Abdullah Öcalan is a Kurdish leader and co-founder of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and is currently be held as a political prisoner by Turkey on a remote island with limited access to the outside world (including limited access to lawyers). It is in this context and limited resources that each of the essays in this book are written. The facts of Öcalan's case are important to keep in mind while reading these essays. For one, it is remarkable that each essay is not full of vitriolic, anger, or Abdullah Öcalan is a Kurdish leader and co-founder of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and is currently be held as a political prisoner by Turkey on a remote island with limited access to the outside world (including limited access to lawyers). It is in this context and limited resources that each of the essays in this book are written. The facts of Öcalan's case are important to keep in mind while reading these essays. For one, it is remarkable that each essay is not full of vitriolic, anger, or clear feelings of revenge given the nature of his brutal captivity. Likewise, Öcalan's does not come across as despondent nor are there admissions of feeling defeated. The essays are thoughtful, yet uncompromising. The book is a very readable, accessible, and wonderful introduction to Öcalan's thought and to the Kurdish perspective and political project. Öcalan explains Kurdish history, both the more recent past as well as historical development, which makes this book a crucial introduction for anyone interested in the history and philosophy of the Kurdish struggle. The first essay provides an essential overview of the 'kurdish problem' and their proposed solution. The second essay explains their new political project of Democratic Confederalism. The third essay outlines Öcalan's view of revolution as resting upon the foundation or fundamental connection to women liberation. The final essay sketches a vision of the 'democratic nation' vs the nation-state. This book should be widely read. It is essential for those interested in an alternative to the state and especially those grappling with how to understand recent uprisings all across the world as well as histroical ones. Öcalan emerged during a period where liberation movements sought statehood and acts as a bridge to our current moment that seeks a different sort of solution with those historical lessons in mind. There are certainly similarities between this work and others of the anarchist persuasion such as Makhno and Bakunin (especially his federalism and 'God and the State', which is very similar to Öcalan's view), but grapples with the murky in between. How do you build an alternative democratic (i.e. non-state) society, while hostile nation-states still exist around you?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pacific Bird

    A wide and sweeping look into Apo, the ideological leader of one of the most relevant revolutions of the modern era.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adam Schlesinger

    Very interesting attempt to synthesize a non state democratic socialism. I found the Kurdish bits to be interesting context and background, which was surprising. Of the four essays, I think liberating life is probably the strongest.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vuk Trifkovic

    Long chunks of relatively unoriginal and uninspired writing punctuated by flashes of brilliance. Taking the entire story into consideration - admirable.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Pierre-Olivier Brassard

    A travers le contexte kurde et historique du Moyen-Orient, Öcalan ( qui est en prison depuis les 20 dernières années par cause de ses positions politique révolutionnaire) nous présente son confédéralisme démocratique. Inspiré du municipalisme libertaire de bookchin et du communisme libertaire de kropotkine. Cette méthodologie politique sort l’anarchisme contemporain du théorique et le met en perspective réelle au Kurdistan. Le concept de révolution féministe par la destruction du patriarcat et d A travers le contexte kurde et historique du Moyen-Orient, Öcalan ( qui est en prison depuis les 20 dernières années par cause de ses positions politique révolutionnaire) nous présente son confédéralisme démocratique. Inspiré du municipalisme libertaire de bookchin et du communisme libertaire de kropotkine. Cette méthodologie politique sort l’anarchisme contemporain du théorique et le met en perspective réelle au Kurdistan. Le concept de révolution féministe par la destruction du patriarcat et de fait même l’émancipation de toute la société par la libération du premier esclavagisme historique qu’est la soumission de la femme à l’homme est magistral. Cela remet aussi en perspective historique toute les structures de domination et de hiérarchie qui se concrétise dans l’état-nation bourgeois que Öcalan invite à détruire. La mention spéciale aussi de l’importance de focuser sur la révolution idéologique et culturelle pour créer la nouvelle société et les nouvelles citoyennes actrice de l’émancipation est primordial , c’est toute la théorie d’hégémonie de Gramsci qui s’applique ici avec la stratégie kurdes. Bien important de suivre le peuple kurde à travers sa révolution qui nous amène vers une grande lueur d’espoir de l’autodétermination des peuples et de sont émancipation du capitalisme néolibéral. Bémol : encore une fois les grandes lignes du système politique est présenté mais sans vraiment expliquer historiquement le processus matériel et pragmatique qui est une partie plus qu’importante pour comprendre le plan d’action du PKK.

  13. 4 out of 5

    josh bates

    Very interesting perspective and opinions on politics. Ocalan claims there cannot be democracy where there is capitalism, they are in a sense binary. He believes the nation needs to be free of capitalism as it enslaves people to paid labour, with a large proportion been unemployed. Creating a large wage gap between the general population and the bourgeois. He also expressed the needs for democratic autonomy which i believe is a good idea, small communities should be able to operate independent o Very interesting perspective and opinions on politics. Ocalan claims there cannot be democracy where there is capitalism, they are in a sense binary. He believes the nation needs to be free of capitalism as it enslaves people to paid labour, with a large proportion been unemployed. Creating a large wage gap between the general population and the bourgeois. He also expressed the needs for democratic autonomy which i believe is a good idea, small communities should be able to operate independent of the state. Blanket rule for a country does not suffice, there is too much cultural differentiation. He describes the downturn of ruling as the three sexual raptures, these are the three main events that degraded women to enslavement. The first being matriarchal to patriarchal society, the second being monolithic religions and the third being capitalism. I agree with his viewpoints on this, women have been downplayed and pushed to the backseat for a long time. It is time for the rise of the woman back to an equal member of society. All round a very thought provoking book. I wish the best for the Turks and hope they can establish an independent state of there own. Ocalan is passionate about pursuing the legitimisation of his people and ensuring they have a safe future.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Noina

    Je sais bien que c'est pas vraiment le but de ces essais d'être bien écrits mais là c'est quand même la cata. Je me suis arrêtée au milieu de l'essai sur la libération des femmes car j'en avais marre de sa vision essentialiste des sexes. Bon, il écrit depuis sa prison dans laquelle ça fait des années qu'il est enfermé seul donc il a peut-être pas eu accès aux derniers concepts émergeant des Gender Studies... Pour le moment, je l'abandonne (environ 50%), je le finirai peut-être quand j'aurai une Je sais bien que c'est pas vraiment le but de ces essais d'être bien écrits mais là c'est quand même la cata. Je me suis arrêtée au milieu de l'essai sur la libération des femmes car j'en avais marre de sa vision essentialiste des sexes. Bon, il écrit depuis sa prison dans laquelle ça fait des années qu'il est enfermé seul donc il a peut-être pas eu accès aux derniers concepts émergeant des Gender Studies... Pour le moment, je l'abandonne (environ 50%), je le finirai peut-être quand j'aurai une plus grande disposition d'esprit.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pushon Bhattacharya

    A libertarian socialist masterpiece that is as timely as it is hopeful.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chandler

    The prison writings of Abdullah Ocalan outline very well his concept of democratic confederalism. A valuable read if one is to understand the ideological origins of the Rojava Revolution.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dante

    7/10

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Good to have a collection of these texts all together, to save having to read them all in individual pamphlets. An interesting set of ideas and definitely important for the modern left to grapple with; although that being said I do have some critiques of what is proposed.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sam Rhys

    Very interesting if maybe repeating itself. Great to read something from a non-western POV. Classic leftist problem of using unneccessary confusing language!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Epstein

    remarkable synthesis of disparate leftist thought and an actionable program for implementation in our lifetime. truly, inspirational. free Ocalan!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Karolina Omenzetter

    The book consists of excerpts from Ocalan's books into "4 pamphlets/themes" so it is a fantastic introduction to this ideas. The book begins by a brief overview of the history of Kurdistan region and its contribution to the current situation. I found this contextualisation beneficial as someone who honestly knows incredibly little about the history of the Ottoman Empire and surrounding areas. It also gave a reasonable overview of the origins of the PKK and involves some self scrutiny when discuss The book consists of excerpts from Ocalan's books into "4 pamphlets/themes" so it is a fantastic introduction to this ideas. The book begins by a brief overview of the history of Kurdistan region and its contribution to the current situation. I found this contextualisation beneficial as someone who honestly knows incredibly little about the history of the Ottoman Empire and surrounding areas. It also gave a reasonable overview of the origins of the PKK and involves some self scrutiny when discussing how it was originally organised; "we had not been able to free ourselves from thinking in heirarchial structures... structures along the lines of institutional power, however, are in conflict with societal democratisation". It was comforting reading about this from someone who has made such an admirable contribution to socialism in practise as I personally still lapse into being more comfortable following a leader and find it difficult to commit to decentralised decision making. The links between patriarchy, capitalism and nation states described were particularly captivating as I learned so much, but also had my aversion to nationalism and patriotism validated in a comprehensive way. I also find his analysis of romantic relationships interesting as he discusses the need to redefine our sense of purpose from merely being a drive for men to further their bloodline through both monogamous and polyamorous marriages and instead that we need to find our sense of higher purpose in the universe. I also liked how he described the need to shift relationships to be on women's terms instead as they too often get compartmentalised into banal responsibilities of a mother, wife or sister. The book fuelled me with the positivity I had been craving in this currently deceptive political landscape. One quote that particularly resonated with me was that "a state which denies reality will eventually and inevitable find itself on the brink of existence." Here's hoping that's something we can look forward to.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zoe

    An enjoyable read and my first glimpse into contemporary Middle Eastern thought about democracy. I would have liked some more detailed citations to back up his claims, but considering circumstances and its goal, the essays are well done.

  23. 5 out of 5

    LunaSanguine

    [2020] Re-read this after having read a lot about and by the Kurdish liberation movement. I guess you get an idea about some of Öcalan's ideas but personally I think it's much more valuable to read longer texts by him because there's just more space for him to tell WHY he has these ideas. So there's nothing wrong with this collection but I enjoyed "Jenseits von Staat, Macht und Gewalt" a lot more (sorry for the German title, I searched but I think there's no English version of it). Also, I don't a [2020] Re-read this after having read a lot about and by the Kurdish liberation movement. I guess you get an idea about some of Öcalan's ideas but personally I think it's much more valuable to read longer texts by him because there's just more space for him to tell WHY he has these ideas. So there's nothing wrong with this collection but I enjoyed "Jenseits von Staat, Macht und Gewalt" a lot more (sorry for the German title, I searched but I think there's no English version of it). Also, I don't agree with every detail of what Öcalan says (but that's only logical as we have different socialisation and experiences) - especially not with the type of feminism that's very strict about how different men and women are as personalities - but he has defently been deeply inspiring and life-changing for me. The concept of democratic confederalism, as lived in Rojava and Mexmur, is by far the best alternative to capitalism I know. Also the tactics: just building alternatives in the now (in a European context such things include community-supported agriculture or non-hierarchical unions) until the state becomes obsolte - that seems far more likely to be successfull than both trying to change the system by parlamentarism and violent revolution.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Skiamakhos

    Good stuff but heavy going. This is a 143 page book & it took me ages. It repeats itself often, but that's fair enough since it's an amalgam of 5 pamphlets Öcalan published if I'm not mistaken. Well worth reading. Good stuff but heavy going. This is a 143 page book & it took me ages. It repeats itself often, but that's fair enough since it's an amalgam of 5 pamphlets Öcalan published if I'm not mistaken. Well worth reading.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lorant

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  27. 5 out of 5

    Charles Arthur Hepbaum

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rosa

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Smith

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eric Simpson

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