Öcalan is one of the most influential thinkers of our time
Peter Schaber has published "Overcoming capitalist modernity: An introduction to the political philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan".
A German-language summary of the theory of the Kurdish freedom movement was published for the first time in October by Munster’s Unrast-Verlag publisher: "Overcoming capitalist modernity: An introduction to the political philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan".
The book is penned by Peter Schaber and enables a broad audience to understand the extensive work of the PKK founder, in which he writes stubbornly and optimistically against the alleged lack of alternatives to what already exists. We spoke with Peter Schaber about the motivation behind the project and what he himself thinks about Öcalan's ideas.
Why did you want to write this book?
The aim of the book is very simple: Since the battle for Kobanê, more and more people in Germany have begun to be interested in the Kurdish movement. But even in internationalist circles, access to Öcalan's writings is often difficult, especially for those who have just approached to the Kurdish question. The books are long and often difficult. The idea of an introduction arose from this need: A brief introduction to the complete work, to give an overview and thus encouraging further reading.
It was astonishing for me when I spoke to comrades of the International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan - Peace in Kurdistan” for the first time about the idea to learn that there are really hardly any introductions in German and in English. Öcalan is - regardless of whether you agree with him or not - one of the most influential left-wing thinkers of our time. For most of the other philosophers and thinkers of his rank, a wide range of additional literature exists. I wanted to do my bit to close this gap at least a little.
Is it difficult to understand Öcalan's political philosophy?
I actually think many of Öcalan's thoughts are very easily accessible. And that's just as well. When you have a good idea, there is no reason to write it down in an unnecessarily complicated manner just to excite any academic audience. A political philosophy that aims to reach the masses must be clearly formulated.
But of course, when someone writes on all sorts of topics from early human history to economics to quantum physics and dialectics, it is not without preconditions. At one point or another you have to read the works to which Öcalan refers.
Many of the core ideas, however, as Brecht would say, are simple things that are difficult to put in practice. The idea of a gender-equitable, ecologically sustainable communal democracy, for example, is easy to understand, but the difficult thing is to develop the strategies and tactics to actually fight for them.
Many states were involved in the deportation of Abdullah Öcalan to Turkey. Why did he become a target for them?
Öcalan is the declared opponent of capitalist modernity. And so it goes without saying that the imperialist nations wanted to lock him up and try to silence him. The attempt to break up the PKK certainly played the main role in his arrest. They thought that if Öcalan was in prison, the party could no longer exist or even fight. Today, two decades later, it is clear to everyone that this calculation did not work out. On the contrary. The party is more powerful than ever and Öcalan has even pushed through a comprehensive theoretical work from prison.
That is very important globally. Because at a time when fascist, liberal or Islamist forces are more influential worldwide, a socialist, left-wing force that continues to fight is of course a thorn in the side of those in power. That is also clear when we look at the extent that the criminalization of Öcalan and his writings has reached. The German state criminalized the publisher of his books and confiscated entire editions. And at demonstrations it is even forbidden to carry his picture - which shows the fear that the rulers in this country have of Öcalan.
So is the fear of the rulers the reason why he's still in prison?
In my opinion, what Öcalan is proposing is the only sensible way forward for the Middle East today. Arab socialism has outlived itself and in the whole region there is a front line made up of authoritarian regimes, Islamist terrorist mercenaries and imperialist powers from outside. A progressive impetus for a real democratization of the Middle East beyond the old colonial borders and beyond ethnic and religious conflicts is deeply needed.
And Öcalan's proposal is at the same time not just the idea of some academic. He has already proven in practice, in the democratic construction in north and east Syria, that he can contribute to the reconciliation of Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Yazidis, men and women. And this has been shown under constant attacks by the Turkish army and the IS. In other regions it is easy to imagine how an increased reception of Öcalan's ideas could open different opportunities - just think of Palestine and the fruitless debate about a “two-state solution” that has long since become unrealizable.
In other words, could Öcalan’s theses provide the basis for a solution to the crisis in the Middle East?
The Kurdish movement is active in four of the most important countries in the region: Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. And in all of these countries there are unresolved conflicts. If these states wanted a solution, they would have to release Öcalan and invite him to the negotiating table as the legitimate representative of the Kurdish people. In any case, if he were released, the situation would change dramatically. But in my opinion, Turkey has no interest in a just peace and therefore even less interest in the release of Öcalan. The only chance for his release would be a revolution in Turkey itself.
Peter Schaber, born in 1983, studied philosophy before working for several years as an editor and journalist for the daily newspaper Junge Welt. For about 15 years he has been active in various organizations of the German left, and Kurdistan solidarity was one of his priorities very early on. After several trips to Turkey and Bakur (North Kurdistan) from 2013 to 2016, he traveled to Rojava in 2017, where he worked in the Internationalist Commune. In the summer of 2017 he completed military training with the YBŞ (Yekîneyên Parastina Şengalê) Yazidi resistance units in the region of Shengal region. Then he went to Raqqa in north Syria and participated in the liberation of the city.
Peter Schaber is editor of the internationalist media collective lower class magazine and has contributed to a total of three books on Kurdistan: “Behind the Barricades”, which tells of the city war in Bakur, “Concrete Utopia”, a travel diary through Rojava and currently “In Defense of Democratic Civilization. Schaber lives and works in Berlin.