Knowing our history means being able to continue the struggles

The Initiative “History and Resistance” introduces itself

Who are the democratic forces in the history of the German-speaking world? What traces have they leave us? How did people live and organise before the emergence of the national state, which happened here comparatively late?

These and many more are the questions that we as the initiative “History and Resistance” have been engaging with for a considerable time. Time and time again we notice how little we and our friends know the history and the stories of this region. Many may have already heard about the time of the witch-hunts, the so-called Germanic peoples or about the Peasants’ Wars, but how do those developments, people and changes in society connect to each other? And where are the effects on our contemporary living(-together) possibly still perceptible?

If we detach ourselves from the classic historical narrative, which orients itself by the so-called history of events and assumes a constant progression, we can recognise connections that are important to understand the society we live in. The ideas and analyses of Abdullah Öcalan are guiding our way here.

What does the river of democratic forces look like in today’s Germany? Where have there been ruptures? What is the history of patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism? When were those moments when society had its independent ethics weakened, its power to self-organise? If we comprehend that inherent in every society is a drive towards community, towards (self-)organising – let us call it sociality based on ethics and self-determination – then we can note how in history there has always been a struggle for this sociality. Even though the state has penetrated society very deeply in contemporary Germany, it has never completely managed to destroy it.

Following the analyses of Öcalan it is important to return to where we lost our freedom. And if we imagine history not only as single events, the so-called ’Great man history’, but instead as a constant wrestling between the democratic society with its ethical values on one side and unitary state power on the other side, we can see patterns and continuities. This enables us to learn from history, to deepen our analyses and to find starting points for our present and future fights, and to build a free society on this basis.

The history of patriarchy

The first big rupture in society constitutes the transition from natural society to patriarchy. We are talking here about a transitional period 6,000 years ago. What did this transition look like? How could patriarchy become prevalent after such a long time of collective coexistence? Where do we find traces of matriarchal societies?

When we look at the history from today until this first rupture, we are actually looking at the history of patriarchy – and later of capitalist patriarchy.

In this context, Öcalan and Jineolojî also refer to regimes of truth. History is no longer divided into events, but into epochs, each dominated by a certain system of value and of thought which upheld patriarchy: Mythology, philosophy, religion and science. Of course there have always been several systems existing parallel to and within each other, but one always had hegemony. And even when it came to an ostensible turning point because one system superseded the other, they still served to uphold patriarchy. Thus it is clearly evident that capitalist modernity, which was heralded in the phase of the early modern age, became possible through the change from “religion” as a regime of truth to “science”. Positivist science built its foundation from sexism and racism. It delivered the legitimisation for colonisation and witch-hunting to the ruling classes. Here we can see a change in the system of power: It did not necessarily have to be established from above and outside; instead, in sexism and racism we see the emergence of systems of power which were burned into the mind, where they were continuously reproduced – patriarchy still remained the foundation of these systems and became even more institutionalised by the change in the regime of truth.

This was a phase whose repercussions are globally noticeable until today; in colonial continuities, in societal sexism and racism, and in the attack on the ethical bases of societies, not least in the society of today’s Germany.

Furthermore it can be observed, if we have a look at the “longue durée”1, which means not single events but a vast, long timespan – history from a bird’s eye view, so to speak – that there are certain factors which constitute authority in and of itself. These are the ones which Öcalan speaks of as civilisation: the monopolisation and centralisation of power in political, ideological, military areas and the appropriation of the riches of a society.

It becomes apparent that this centralisation of power goes hand in hand with attacks of the societal role of women. Of course, we talk about patriarchy, but what exactly did those attacks look like? And how did people defend themselves against them? What were the ramifications for society as a whole?

We know by now that in the early modern age, that is at the time of the witch-hunts, colonisation and the peasants‘ uprisings, there were uprisings over a period of several centuries, in which wearing clothes that were associated with opposing genders played a big role. For example, we know of the “Mères et ses enfants” (the mothers and their daughters) from France or of Rebecca and her daughters from England. There was always a leading “mother”, whose “daughters” fought to clear the way for her, symbolically, but also physically, because “nothing must stand in the Great Mother’s way”. Could these uprisings have been an expression of a rebellion against the hierarchical binary conception of gender? Against the societal sexism that was brutally enforced by the witch-hunts of this period? Are they maybe an expression of non-binary concepts of gender before the witch-hunts? Or did they even draw on the goddess cults of the “Great Mother”?

We know furthermore, that movements from England, like the Levellers and Diggers, did indeed analyse the connection between dispossession, colonisation and slavery. And they aligned their praxis accordingly: the system of colonisation was attacked at all imaginable points from the beginning on. There was an ongoing communication and exchange about struggles and uprisings, which was primarily established by sailors.

One more recognisable pattern of consistent power with changing masks is the relation of the fixing of women’s role and the suppression of non-binary gender identities. To the same extent to which sexuality and love became subject to laws, there were attacks on concepts of gender that resisted division into man and woman. We can observe this in Antiquity at the time of the first city states, as well as in the transitional period to the Early Modern Age. What does this mean for our understanding of gender? What role did women and non-binary people have within society before patriarchy? And at which points in time do (did) the patterns repeat?

At the time of antiquity, for example, the task of intersex persons, – persons whose sexual characteristics could neither be ascribed to the male nor female sex – was to maintain the cult of the Great Mother Goddess. Sometimes the priestesshood consisted exclusively of people who had went through castration and therefore had, from today’s perspective, taken on an ambiguous gender identity, sometimes they worked together with women as priestesses. In addition it is remarkable, that many of the oldest depictions of mother goddesses showed those as intersex.

Building the free society

To change a society along the lines of values like ecology, base democracy and gender liberation, we need to understand what the specific problems of this society are, where they come from and how they originated. How was societal ethics replaced by state legislature? We need to analyse this well and extensively in Germany in particular, to understand how the state and the state mentality could develop within society. Because there lies also the starting point of German fascism. It was not a single event in history, but rather an expression of the establishment of a system that tried to penetrate the entire society, integrate it into the network of power and destroy everything social and all diversities between societies. It is indispensable that we comprehend these mechanisms deeply. And when we see the society in Germany today, what do we have to deduce from that? What does our praxis have to look like?

In the writings of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement, particularly in the defense writings of Abdullah Öcalan, some basic analyses of the historical developments of the societies in Middle Europe are already given. They are embedded in a holistic apprehension of the world, and a part of a system of thought to conceive the world and the human within. We also understand the framework of thought of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement as the foundation of our works. In many places it is our task to add to and specify these theoretical considerations, if we want to comprehend the reality of capitalist Modernity and its historical development in Central Europe. In order to do this it is important to comprehend the resistance of the democratic, ethical society with its ideas, uprisings, rebellions, revolutions, hopes and organisational structures and ways of living.

Jineolojî – a science from the perspective of the woman

The Kurdish Women’s Movement developed through Jineolojî concrete methods for a science that serves the building of a free existence. If we understand the emergence of patriarchy as the first rupture, it is of great importance to devise an analysis from the perspective of the woman, who has been exposed to permanent attacks and attempts to subjugate her since then. Jineolojî wants to devise a sociology of freedom. By that it reassembles what had been fragmented by the patriarchal narrative and in particular by positivist science: history, ecology, politics, health, ethics and aesthetics, as well as self defence.

For us Jineolojî, and in particular its methods, constitutes the basis for our historical work. How do we approach history? Which sources do we utilise? Whose perspective do we take? A fundamental critique of positivist science and its methods is essential in all this. We want to follow those traces that survived within society: in songs, dances, customs and stories. The fairy tales and legends, even nature and landscapes themselves. What can they tell us about resistance and loss? About goddess cults or maybe about industrialisation? Even though entire archives of knowledge have been destroyed by the attacks during the witch-hunts, some of it has survived, and this is necessary to trace and give back to society.

Jineolojî is a science that serves society and does not only accumulate knowledge in a league of experts – this is also a central aspect that plays an important role for us. How can we remember the stories? How can history become a part of our everyday life and of our fight? And how can the knowledge around the history of the resisters, their hopes and their ongoing struggles – the democratic river – be given back to society and kept alive?

Beyond that, decolonial and indigenous methods constitute an important basis for out operating principles: how do we put ourselves in relation to the researched issues? To the people who play a role in them? Which responsibility does the acquired knowledge bring with it? How can we make sure that this knowledge serves the establishment of a free and good life? How can we impart this knowledge also with humour? And the following also applies to us while doing all that: We don’t have the right to know everything.

Many unanswered questions

All of those are questions which we sit over and discuss together. Researching, travelling and hiking, listening to stories, investigating and listening into ourselves, remembering – we understand all of that as a part of this. To draw strength from all that came before us. And then: taking responsibility. Or, to say it quoting of a friend during the last history education: “I leave with many unanswered questions, but I also understand them as an instruction to take action myself.” All this, and even more, is what work on history means for us.

1 – Longue durée (engl. “long duration”) describes a historiographical term which puts the science of history on a new, structuralist foundation. This term has been coined by Fernand Braudel of the Annales School.