Challenging Capitalist Modernity III in Hamburg 14-16.4.2017

Varisverkosto took part in the conference Challenging Capitalist Modernity III in Hamburg 14-16.4. The topic was Uncovering Democratic Modernity – Resistance, Rebellion and Building the New. 

“Capitalism is stuck in a structural crisis and losing legitimacy worldwide ― despite the claim that no alternatives exist. At the same time right-wing and reactionary movements offer themselves as alternatives.

But there are other ways than the seemingly only alternatives. In Rojava/North Syria it was possible not only to not take sides but to establish an own, “third way”. The building of a non-patriarchal system and a democratic economic order seems within reach and has the chance to establish itself permanently.”

We can learn a lot from working against capitalist modernity and against fascism from the Kurdish struggle, which has been one of the most inspiring libertarian struggles the past few years. We have all seen the Kurds fighting ISIS, and some antifascists join them. We can also learn from other self-organized groups. Many of the groups and individuals involved in these struggles presented themselves at the conference Challenging Capitalist Modernity III and provided us with interesting points for organizing and working together. We will not be able to give you a complete overwiev of the conference, but we will present a few points that were, apart from the already mentioned, interesting for us and that we would like to share.

Opening the conference was Havin Guneser, a member of the Kurdish Women’s Movement, that we have refered to before. She has identified four types of violence in ancient and modern societies:

Physical violence: originating from patriarchal society, is instrumental in forcing people to obey whoever detains power;

Structural violence: structure here meaning the real substance of human relations. Private propriety, estate/inheritance and the methods of production are all structures surviving in a violent way;

Ideological violence: in this case, every superstructure establishes itself as a form of validation, religion is the biggest ideology;

Violence as tyranny of the linear thought: it’s the form of the ruler, of the male-man as an absolute authority, controlling women and natures as slaves;

The totality of these four types of violence is Capitalist Modernity.

Also opening the conference, and present during many speeches, was a salute to the comrades in prisons in Turkey that were then on the 60th day of hungerstrike. Also comrades in Germany had joined the hungerstrike, even one of the people giving a speech at the conference. Many other people opened the conference, but Havin Guneser’s words stayed with us during the three days: “we are not victims, we are freedom fighters”.

Many interesting workshops and talks were given. Quite a number of speeches referenced and reflected upon the “historical moment” we are currently in (such as the end of neoliberal capitalism, the rise of fascism), and many advised that we need to turn our resistance and rage into something transformative and constructive in order to meet these continued challenges. Academic and anarchist David Graeber used Rojava as an example of where these tensions meet. In his speech he shared his observations of Rojava and warned of the areas where capitalism and bureaucracy could creep in, disrupting the communally-led revolution for a feminist, ecological autonomous system.

One talk was made by a commander of the Yazidi womens defense units. She was heard directly on skype and received massive applauds and cheers from the 1200 people in the audience. The commander emphasized the importance of organizing. It is very inspiring to hear a woman from the Middle East speak about organizing and about resistance, when she and her people were the target of genocide and femicide only a few years ago, in 2014, by Daesh (ISIS). The Yazidis were then helped out of Sinjar to safety among others by the Kurdish womens defence units, YPJ as well as the YPG. The YPJ has since trained the Yazidi women in organizing and defending themselves physically and ethically. Only a few years after the genocide, the Yazidis are now fighting Daesh and educating themselves in harsh circumstances. This is a different take on gender liberation than what liberal feminism has, as this means fighting sexists and fascists ourselves. It is also a different take on fighting fascism than what many anti-fascists men have, when they continue supporting patriarchal structures in the struggle. Most of all it is different in the essence of resisting being a victim but taking an active role in destroying the fascist enemy.

Specific points from the conference

1. Media, Mexico and the “war on the youth”

One interesting point on how the capitalist media works and also on how the state represses our comrades in different parts of the world, that live in rebellion and resistance, was made by Dawn Paley, an American freelance journalist based in Mexico.

Paley has written on the so-called war on drugs in Mexico, but names it herself as a war on the youth. Finnish media has noted the bus full of activist students that disappeared in 2015 (see for ex but otherwise we don’t really hear about the effort from the state and different political parties that terrorize youth and spread fear with their connections to paramilitaries and drug gangs.

Paley described massacres that had happened in nightclubs, in manner similar to that of Istanbul’s Reina night club on new years eve 2017. According to her, persons commiting the massacre had just come out from prison and were pressured to commit it. Also there is complete silence from the state and local municipalities about these massacres. Massacres like this, have, according to Paley, happened in every state of Mexico. She notes that Mexico is the third nation-state in the world where most civilians are being killed in armed conflicts, and she also names this as the state’s war on the youth. The fact that we in Finland know about this war as “the drug war” is according to Paley a result of the USA’s and Mexico’s economic cooperation and propaganda (such as NAFTA).

There is a long tradition of anti-colonial struggles over land in Mexico, including recent decades of inspiring self-organizing and resistance by the Zapatistas for example. There was also the strike by the teachers in Oaxaca in 2006, which led to riots and larger resistance then and again in 2016. The long term and inspiring struggles have led to other indigenous peoples declaring their own autonomy, for example the village of San Juan Copala, where our comrade Jyri Jaakkola from Finland was going when he was shot and killed together with the Mexican Alberta Cariño Trujillo.

These long traditions of resistance also leads up to the situation that Paley describes, where the state and the media cooperates in terrorizing especially the youth. They want to spread fear, so that these youths don’t dare to go outside. Read more in the book by Paley.

2. Genealogy of the state

The academic and militant union activist that has taken part in struggles over land, Carlos Pazmiño continued right after Paley, in a talk named “Genealogy of the State. Öcalan and Bakunin: An incomplete discussion”. One of the points that Pazmiño made was that the women need to be the basis of the resistance in popular militancy. He also commented on imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and how the work of Bakunin can complete Öcalans work, as anarchists want a complete dismantling of the state. Pazmiño talked about the fact that a solely nonviolent way in resisting this hierarchichal and military apparatus that is the state, is not possible. Pazmiño noted that Bakunin has attributed essentialism to women, and that this is questioned today. Even though we need to put forward our desire for equality, we cannot fall into a trap of essentializing genders. Also he pointed out Marxism as too dogmatic and also refered to Öcalans description of the left movement in Europe and its militants as the image of men; this is something that we need to break with. Here, says Pazmiño, we can learn from Öcalan and the PKK, that has moved on to be a transborder, global political movement and that has moved away from the discourse of the state.

An interesting analysis, that was presented, is of the origins of the state has to start from studies concerning religion. In the past utopias of divinities and heaven were developed, first as Sumerian myths and subsequently entering sacred scriptures. They were impressed in the mind of humanity as fundamental examples of its thought. God and heaven only exist as abstractions of nature, or more precisely as an imaginary world created by the rulers holding power instead of actual nature.

Religion is not a personal matter, but represents the first concept of society, its very first morals and form of administration. The concept of hierarchy, of the domination of the sacred, illustrates this exact fact: patriarchs were the heads of the family, with full authority, and were also the heads of entire tribes, in order to then become religious leaders. Sorcerers and shamans, ministers and priests have become the architects of society. According to Bakunin the state equals in principle to the religious institution and therefore to authority. Öcalan has understood the development of this paradigm: it follows that the state is patriarchal. For both, Bakunin and Öcalan, the origin of the state is absolutely religious.

Öcalan wrote 3 principles:

1. Democracy for the overcoming of the crisis

2. Liberation from social sexism

3. Return to social ecology

According to Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism is a revolutionary tactic, an operation practiced in everyday life; democracy is a dynamic phenomenon. In order for democracy to be efficient it is in need of a strongly organized society: specific organizations must be created in every sector: political, social, economical, cultural and so on. The particularly difficult conditions of the crisis call for the constant support and participation of a vast population. Assembly is today the most functional form of organization. In countries with big problems of national and ethnical nature, for example, assemblies can become an important amortising factor.

Understanding women and the system of relationships and contradictions developing around them is of crucial importance for democratization and must be treated as a separate issue. We certify that women are treated not only as a gender, but as a tribe, class and nation, as well. Certainly no tribe, class or nation has ever been enslaved in such a systematic manner as women are. The nature of domination presumes slavery. If the system of domination is in the hands of a man, not only a part of humanity, but rather an entire gender must be shaped conforming to this very same power. The paragon of slavery, starting from the one of women, expands and spreads throughout all of society. The state has applied all kinds of models of slavery and oppression in history, and is even now clearly present. In order to break free from the oppression of our whole society, we must accomplish the dismantlement of the state and therefore the liberation of women. The movement for the liberation of women must have a guiding role in the construction of political structures outside of the state. The success of the autonomy of all women will allow for the abolition of slavery in fields including, but not limited to, the political one. Women are therefore the antithesis of the state, it is noted. This is perhaps more of a symbol as capitalist modernity also benefits certain women. As Pazmiño points out, we should not essentialize gender, even though we need to take it into confideration. Here a wider understanding of gender as only man/woman can be given by queer-theorists such as Judith Butler for example.

Also, the roots of the ecological crisis, worsening simultaneously to the one of the system itself, must be traced back to the very beginning of civilization. Society is, in its essence, an ecological phenomenon, therefore the conflict between men inside society, born as a consequence of domination, regulates an estrangement from nature. Society has broken its vital communal bond, in order to rely on hierarchy and the state in some sort of bewilderment and that’s why the bond with nature has lost its meaning. The powers of civilization won’t safeguard our natural needs anymore, as they’ll receive all which is needed for their survival from inferior classes in society.

3. A continuous State of War

In the conference, it was pointed out that in many countries of the world throughout the last decade, people from lower social classes have demonstrated aversion to the austerity policies of every kind of government, be it right, left-wing, or authoritarian governments alike. They have done so in South America, in all of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, regardless of the fact if they were factory workers, occasional and unemployed workers, students or migrants.

Social anger has always been manifested, but governments have learned to take it out of our hands to use it against us (via racism, etc.) We can’t allow our exploiters to pit us against each other anymore: we need to turn this rage into something constructive in order to express it in a different way and to change the world. More than once lively people have come together to organize themselves against cuts and to take back what isn’t granted. More people are beginning to understand that society cannot be changed through the state, by being part of it, and even more people who can’t exactly be called “radicals” share this felling by putting civil disobedience and solidarity into practice.

Therefore the culture of solidarity and sharing, as Ebru Günay (Öcalan’s laywer) explains, is one which in the far past has been a part of the human being before the conquest of patriarchy, while still being alive today in some indigenous tribes, in the metropolitan suburbs, in areas resisting the state and lands organized by the Zapatistas and in Kurdistan. Capitalism on the contrary, as well as patriarchy before it, continuously reproduces a culture of murder towards women and nature, carrying out its “nullification”. Capitalism is described as a cancer of society, making a similarity with the human body, which is progressively destroyed. The culture of murder (spiritual and material) is the paradigm of the most powerful and frightening science: absolute authority pursuing its goals by all the means possible.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution: John Holloway has sadly reminded us that the Bolsheviks were wrong, because even if the intentions of the whole operation were in good faith the revolution was made thorough the state, after progressively concentrating the power inside it.

In Mexico and in Northern Syria (Rojava) local populations are organizing horizontally, trying to distribute power to the masses and experimenting with different forms of self-organizing. What Holloway is suggesting, alongside the history of the revolutions, is to put our methods of organization into practice and experimenting, without dogmas.

This also means starting from women. Patriarchy has as its primary mean the oppression of women, in order to allow men (in the past as well as in the modern world) to seize all the power and control of society for themselves. Starting from the Neolithic and all throughout the middle ages, women have been continuously repressed, deprived of their awareness and used only for the purpose of reproduction, robbing them from any other function in society outside of the ones regarding family, as showcased with the bourgeois revolution.

In order to exist, capitalism needs to attack and oppress women.

In conferences such as this one in Hamburg, we are provided with information about both inspiring and horrible things that happens in other places. From places such as this, in meeting over similar goals, we draw strength. We learn about others and share information about our situation, and like this we can practice mutual aid and solidarity when especially needed.

This text was written in cooperation by a few of us who took part in the conference. The conference was very inspiring and we learned a lot, met new friends and we hope cooperation will continue. However, we hope that next time there will be even more time for discussions amongst the comrades. We apologize for publishing the text so late and thank the organizers of the conference, the people giving speeches and workshops, the translators, the participants and our wonderful hosts, the Kurdish families, that made the conference possible.