Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution

by Abdullah Öcalan

Published 2013 by Translation: International Initiative

Abdullah Öcalan is the Nelson Mandela of the Kurds in Turkey. He has been imprisoned by the Turkish Government since he was kidnapped from Kenya in 1999 when he was 50. Since then, he has been held, mainly in solitary confinement, in the island prison complex of Imrali. He has been the leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) since he helped to establish it in 1978.

The Kurds are an ethnic group of 30–40 million people living in south-eastern Turkey, north-western Iran, northern Iraq (where they have had autonomous control since 1991), and northern Syria. They adhere to a number of different religions and creeds, although the majority are Sunni Muslims.

In Turkey, where they may be a fifth of the population, the Kurds have faced serious repression including systematic executions of civilians, torture, forced displacements, destruction of villages, arbitrary arrests, and murdered and disappeared journalists, activists and politicians.

In response to uprisings in the 1920s and 1930s, many Kurds were resettled in other parts of Turkey. Kurdish names and costumes were banned, the use of the Kurdish language was restricted, and even the existence of a Kurdish ethnic identity was denied, with people designated “Mountain Turks”. These conditions have somewhat eased since the peace process started with the Turkish Government in 2009, although it is still illegal to use the Kurdish language as an instruction language in private or public schools and the peace process has stalled since 2013.

In this book, Abdullah argues that the oppression of women is the root of all other repression and exploitation and that none of us will be free until women are fully liberated. He claims that the “enslavement of women was the start of all other forms of enslavement”, “this he concludes, is not due to woman being biologically different to man, but because she was the founder and leader of the Neolithic matriarchal system” (page 7). He agrees with the friend of Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, that for most of human existence women were not oppressed and, if anything, they had more power than men.

But this changed with the start of agriculture and class societies, first in the middle east in what is now Iraq, around five thousand years ago – perhaps 100,000 years after the first appearance of modern humans. It was the world historic defeat of women that laid the basis for all class societies and oppression. “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.” (page 10)

Religion, Abdullah argues, has played a major role in the regularisation of the oppression of women (especially the major religions like Christianity and Islam), although I feel that he exaggerates this and does not recognise the dialectical relationship between society and its religion. So according to Abdullah, in the earliest known religions, the most powerful gods or spirits were often female. These female gods were also believed to be the creators of the universe and human beings. As religions develop they reflected the norms of the society of their origin. But later, religions may in turn hold back developments in society as with the opposition of the catholic church to abortion and women priests.

We agree that the oppression of women and the rise of class societies are relatively recent events in the history of human beings. We may not agree that the defeat of matriarchy (women led societies) was so important in enabling the rise of class societies, first feudalism and then capitalism, but this booklet provides many stimulating ideas. I recommend this booklet to be read by all comrades, but it should be read critically. We need to assess Abdullah’s ideas against our experience and the knowledge of our own societies and their particular histories.

Abdullah does provide an important reminder of the centrality of women’s liberation in the struggle for socialism. As he says, “Gender revolution is not just about woman. It is about the five thousand years old civilisation of classed society which has left man worse off than woman. Thus, this gender revolution would simultaneously mean man’s liberation” (page 51).

Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution by Abdullah Öcalan:
Published 2013 by Translation: International Initiative
Available for free download from:

Women in Twentieth Century Africa
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