Prison Writings: The Roots of Civilisation. This is certainly and ambitious title but then one could say that Abdullah Ocalan is a man with time on his hands. One would have hoped that he had used it more profitably especially, as he says, this is a part of his submission to ECHR and the initial observation is that he should get himself a good lawyer. The book answers few questions and explains little about Ocalan's actions. Rather than summarise the book (summaries can be found elsewhere) I would like to address the question of whether this book can be read profitably. The most basic problem with Ocalan's approach to this wide ranging project- in effect a history of the world- is his approach as a Marxist. It should be clear by now that Marxism is the discredited philosophy of the last century. The analytical tool box that Marxism can bring to bear is extremely limited; because it is limited its conclusions are usually wrong and as a predictive tool completely useless. The view of history as a mechanistic process governed by laws determined by class conflict (and its more modern variants such as anti-globalism or the environmental war) hardly begin to answer the complexities of human history let alone explain, and presumably excuse, the campaign of murder that Ocalan directed for 25 years or so. Added to this is the gruelling tedium of Marxist dialectic only occasionally leavened by unintentional comedy; who but a Marxist could talk about Gender Conflict in ancient Sumerian mythology with a straight face or refer to Sumer as having the "first ideological opus of a coercive ruling class relying on servile labour" both concepts being completely out of context and irrelevant to an understanding of ancient cultural development. In ancient times things were simply because they were and to apply modern (and inappropriate) sociology illuminates little. One might as well talk about the science of the aerodynamics of the javelin as the precursor of modern weapons of mass destruction- it won't tell you anything about mass murder in the industrial age or how ancient people viewed warfare- from an "ideological" point of view of course. While it is a truism that we always build on the shoulders of our predecessors we can not apply analyses of life in ancient times to a model of current action. History does not follow a mechanistic law and can not be predicted or directed by "scientific" principles. Ocalan says that history flows forward like a river and while there may be whirlpools, eddies or temporary places of stagnation there is still a continuous process that is always growing and accelerating and determined by human action. While this view might have a certain rhetorical neatness that pleases the simple minded none of this acknowledges the random nature of life at all levels nor the one and only law of history, the Law of Unintended Consequences. Much of history is determined by natural or random forces and human agency often achieves the opposite of what it intends. European feudalism did not collapse, as Ocalan would have it, due to the maturation of the peasant class and through the growing sense of nationality amongst Europeans. Feudalism collapsed in Europe because of marked changes in climate that badly affected what was a subsistence system of agriculture producing famine, disease and death on a significant scale culminating in the Black Death. This all changed the demographics of Europe and thus the social balances and economic relationships across the continent. Most of these factors were random. During this period cultural achievements were immense but suffering and death was huge and cults that predicted the world's end were numerous. Ocalan sees a "dialectic process" going on. This is nonsense. Religious people see the hand of divine providence or anger; Marxists see "science." In either event, these analyses are post facto and can not be used as predictive tools or more importantly, as justification for actions later. Such actions are often extreme, hugely damaging and, as Marxists seem to say, products of history. Responsibility for mistakes and crimes are thus abrogated by the "process" of history rather that the agents themselves Every ascendant culture perceives itself to be, in some sense, chosen whether it is faith based or atheist and dogma is generally a product of crisis or cultural stresses not specifically of "class" or "gender" conflicts or their modern variants In addition to these analytical issues there are numerous errors of fact and while one accepts that Ocalan has limited access to books these are ideas that have been cooking in his mind for a long time and issues that the "editorial team" could have addressed if they have not been blinkered by the same Marxist dogma that afflicts Ocalan. Right to the end is the blind faith that science (both socio- historical and technical) will cure all: "society will by and by dispose of the last remnants of traditional state institutions. In the wake of the rise of science and technology mankind is closer than ever to realising" the Marxist concept of "from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs."
So, to answer the question of whether to buy this book: this depends on what the reader is looking for. If you are looking for a book that will teach you about ancient Near Eastern cultures then don't buy this book. There are far better books out there written by specialists and if you want get an emotional feel for the heft and weave of ancient civilisation in the Near East then read the King James Bible and enjoy a fabulous piece of literature at the same time. If you are looking for a book that will teach you about the history of Islam or the history of the Near East since the middle ages to modern times, don't buy this book. Buy anything by Bernard Lewis. If you want a history of Anatolia, Turks and Kurds don't buy this book. If you want an explanation of capitalism, its role in modern history and its relevance in developing countries and regions then don't buy this book. Buy "The Mystery of Capital" by the Peruvian economist, Hernando DeSoto. In fact, if you want a book written by Abdullah Ocalan this may not even be the book; it looks as if this book was actually put together by a committee cryptically referred to at the back of the book as the "Editorial Committee." Only in a very few places does it seem that the authentic voice of Ocalan appears. "In former times the Kurdish movement had always seemed to be at the mercy of external powers. Now it has become a guarantee for peace, liberty and fraternity." Now that actually sounds like a plea to the judge but given the factionalism and tribalism of the various Kurdish movements in the region and the willingness with which they, and Ocalan, indulged in bloodletting amongst themselves, let alone with the Turks and others, it is difficult to see the "Kurds", as described by Ocalan, being the nexus for a new democratic regional force for peace and democracy.
On the dust jacket of the book Randall H. McGuire of Binghamton University, New York says that this book is a "controversial intellectually stimulating work." While Ghada Tahlami of Lake Forest College, Illinois says the book is "a tour-de-force." Elsewhere, Stan Newens the veteran left wing Labour MP in the UK and European Parliament describes the book as a "brilliant theoretical study of the origins and development of civilisation which should be essential reading for all historians interested in a scientific approach to our knowledge of the past." Note again, the reference to the Marxist totem "science." It is none of these things. This book is a pedestrian and shallow analysis of Near Eastern history expressed in the tedious language of socialists the world over and viewed through the flawed lens of Marxism. There is little that is original and much that is simply incorrect and it is the rambling defence of a man with whom justice has finally caught up.