Bookchin & Öcalan: Fruits On The Tree Of Mankind

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9th January 2015
by Jihad Hammy and Eleanor Finley
Kurdish Question

“There seems to be a strong tendency to collect ideas rather than derive them, to disassemble and reassemble them as though we were dealing with an automobile engine, rather than explore them as aspects of a process.” – Murray Bookchin, 1986. The Modern Crisis.

“We must neither be enveloped in European civilization nor must we reject it categorically. We have to contribute to the development of humanity as a whole.” - Abdullah Öcalan.

Rojava is a small geographical area in the Middle East that is inspiring and giving hope to people all over the world. Although this revolution has been surprising to many, it is not at all strange that Rojava has captured so much attention, for the paradigm which fuels it retains the development of free and democratic ideas throughout history. This is the reason why so many people feel akin to this revolution and are a part of it.

Rojava's spirit comes into being through the philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan. One of the major tasks of this philosophy is to overcome dichotomies based on the division of subject and object. This division is found in such binaries as black/white, East/West, nature/society, and so on. Domination and exploitation quickly arise from such thinking as the active and intelligent subject (white, West, society, etc.) is separated and raised above the passive and inferior “object.” In order to move beyond hierarchy and domination, a new way of thinking is necessary to recognize the unity in diversity of social life. In this methodology, as well as many other topics, Öcalan derives from the work of political philosopher Murray Bookchin, who was the first major Leftist thinker to anchor revolutionary politics in confederal direct-democracy.

Although few in Rojava have ever heard of Bookchin, articles in several prominent and Leftist media outlets such as the New York Times, the Huffington Post and ROAR have noted Bookchin and Öcalan’s strong intellectual connection. As a result, many activists are concerned that Öcalan’s unique contributions are being dismissed as the product of a western author. They rightfully note that Öcalan is an easy target for the mainstream media, who seek to portray him as the dogmatic authority of a new “third world” uprising.

How ought we to understand the relationship between these two thinkers? How can we make sense of two sets of ideas, which are in many aspects so similar, yet in others so unique? To whom do the ideas that generated the recent transformative political events belong?

The answer can be found in their own methodology of dialectical naturalism. Dialectical naturalism was first developed by Bookchin as a critique and an answer to Marxism’s dialectical materialism, which saw social progress as driven by nature’s inherent scarcity. Dialectical naturalism portrays society as an organic entity, much like a tree with many branches that is still developing. Öcalan adopted this “retaining and organic” dialectic during his shift from a nationalist to an internationalist perspective. In 1999, after being rejected asylum by many countries and then kidnapped by NATO, Öcalan came to truly see and understand that the enemy was not only Turkey, but also the capitalist world system. His capture, he realized, had been arranged by Israel, the USA, Russia, and the EU. Meanwhile the role of the Turkish state was only secondary. As Öcalan explains in the first volume of his book Civilization, "The role that has been assigned to Turkey is to be the vulgar gendarme [soldier], the watchdog and the prison guard of all Middle Eastern peoples in order to make them more susceptible to the oppression and exploitation of the capitalist system".

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