From the March-April 2022 issue of News & Letters
Editor’s note: We present an interview with Melda Yaman, the Turkish translator of Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. She is a Marxist economist, socialist-feminist writer and activist, and one of the academics fired at the behest of Turkey’s reactionary government. Professor Yaman was interviewed by Terry Moon and Franklin Dmitryev.
Q: Can you tell us about the women’s liberation or feminist movement in Turkey, how did that come to be and what is it like now? For instance, they have had some remarkable demonstrations to mark International Women’s Day for the last several years.
A: The feminist movement in Turkey began to take shape during the 1980s. The socialist feminist movement was also formed during the same period. In the 1990s and 2000s, various feminist organizations were established. With the establishment of the Socialist Feminist Collective in 2008, the feminist movement gained a new momentum. This collective published regular journals such as Feminist Politics, Kitchen Witches, Purple Point. It struggled against the contemporary forms of patriarchy and capitalism.
Unfortunately, there is not a similar feminist organization today. But there are many small feminist groups. Moreover, many socialist organizations and trade unions have women’s sections. Several networks enable the communication of women/feminists from every region of Turkey. We struggle against male violence, against femicides, against the abolition of the Istanbul Convention. (The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence entered into force on 1 August 2014 and is known as the Istanbul Convention because it was signed in Istanbul. Turkey is one of the first states to sign the Convention. The Agreement has the force of law by Article 90 of the Constitution. As of March 2019, it has been signed by 46 countries. In 2021, Turkey became the first and only country to withdraw from the convention, after denouncing it on 20 March 2021.)
And, women are constantly on the streets, in action. They are on the streets on every March 8. During the pandemic period, when many protests and demonstrations were cancelled, only women were actively raising their demands on the streets.
The first March 8 Feminist Night March was held in Istanbul in 2003. Since then, this has become a tradition. The Night March is the most widely participated feminist demonstration organized in Turkey.
Q: Erdoğan has made it clear that he considers the demands that women make for freedom a threat. Could you address the attacks that he has made against women in general as well as against the women’s liberation movement in Turkey specifically? How is the movement fighting back and what are they demanding?
A: Many women’s rights were usurped during the Erdoğan era. With conservative policies accompanying liberal policies, women were envisaged to work in flexible jobs and part-time. The new labor law, which came into force in 2003, and the articles added afterward, specifically targeted women to work part-time jobs. Thus, women would both “contribute” to the family budget and fulfill their “duties” in the household. In this process, the number of care institutions, which were already insufficient, was further reduced. This transformation was carried out with the emphasis of “strong family”.
Indeed, when we look at AKP (Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party) policies, we see that they target to protect the family, not women. For example, in 2011, the Ministry of State Responsible for Women and Family was closed and the Ministry of Family and Social Policies was established. Moreover, “Family University”, “strong family policies”, “family festivities” etc. were held. The role of women was clearly described: care for children, the elderly, the disabled in the household. Erdoğan’s words of “give birth to three children” is a symbolic expression of this perspective.
Of course, these policies aim to confine women into households and to traditional roles. The abolishment of the “Istanbul Convention” is also a clear expression of the AKP’s view of women. In Turkey, where at least one woman is murdered by men every day, this should be seen as a crucial backward step.
In addition to these, many women’s non-governmental organizations, especially Kurdish women’s organizations/associations, were closed during the state of emergency.
However, women have struggled against all these attacks. The most lively and crowded protests in Turkey are women’s protests. But in every demonstration, the police attack women and detain many women.
Q: What motivated you to translate Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution?
A: I was reading Raya Dunayevskaya’s work with great interest. I was attracted to the fact that she is a Marxian, a revolutionary, and a libertarian woman who believed in the power of the Women’s Liberation movement.
I find this book especially important for socialist/Marxist feminists for a part of it is about Women’s Liberation Movement. Her handling of those three subjects—Rosa Luxemburg, the Women’s Liberation Movement, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, and the dialectical relation between them—is very powerful. It is quite striking that there are theoretical connections and dialogues between the sections. In that sense, I think it’s a great piece of work.
Finding a book important and deciding to translate it are two different things, of course. I thought it would be great to translate the book into Turkish, but I never thought I would do it myself. Honestly, I felt both happy and frightened when friends from Köstebek Kolektif suggested I translate it. I thought it would be great to introduce Dunayevskaya to the readers in Turkey. On the other hand, the fact that the book is about three different subjects and contains three kinds of literature frightened me. Then I decided that I should do this. I can say that the translation process was both pleasant, instructive, and challenging for me.
Q: Have there been discussions of Raya Dunayevskaya’s work in Turkey?
A: Actually, I cannot say that Dunayevskaya is well known in Turkey. Of course, some read and discuss her works, but they are very few. I hope this book will introduce Dunayevskaya to large audiences in Turkey. Moreover, I hope this book will give many Marxist and socialist feminists a chance to get acquainted with Dunayevskaya’s thoughts and make them read her other books.
Q: The book takes up something not well known: Karl Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks. Did you have some thoughts about their importance not only for socialism but for feminism, including Marxist feminism?
A: Although they are unfinished, I think the Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx contain the substance of his late writings. However, these notebooks did not attract the attention of many scholars; yet some—for example, Dunayevskaya—welcome the book as a historical happening which creates “a new vantage point from which to view Marx’s oeuvres as a totality”.
In the Ethnological Notebooks, Marx revitalized his early thoughts, including those on the women question. As Dunayevskaya states, in his later years, Marx turned to his earlier ideas, especially on the male-female relations and the family, and evaluated the transformations taking place in social organizations with their effects on women. He also developed new ideas and new perspectives, which remain relevant for our age.
It opens a new way of analyzing societies—not only pre-capitalist societies but also present bourgeois and the future ones—from a broader perspective to consider the family and sexuality, that is, a point of view that suggests including gender alongside class. Likewise, it can provide new vistas for socialist feminists to explain the sources of the oppression of women and for the possibilities of women’s emancipation.
Q: Can you comment on the state of capitalism and the economy in Turkey, and how that might affect Erdoğan’s plans to perpetuate his autocratic rule, and affect the resistance and social movements?
A: During the 1960s and 70s, there was an inward-oriented accumulation process in Turkey. The 1980 military coup started a new period in the process of accumulation. Thus, an outward accumulation process began, and stronger ties with international capital were established. In the 2000s, especially with the AKP, many developments targeted by the 1980 transformation were completed. Many important public assets were privatized, tremendous amounts of foreign capital inflows occurred, exports increased rapidly, some Turkish capital groups started to make investments abroad.
This process was accompanied by pressure on workers and declining labor rights. The 2009 global crisis also affected Turkey. The impact of the crisis was felt not in the banking sector but mainly in production sectors such as automotive, where production is export-oriented. The COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the absence of recovery from this global crisis. I mean, there wasn’t any restructuring process of capital like we had witnessed from the crisis of the 1970s. But meanwhile, the AKP regime began to take an increasingly oppressive and authoritarian form.
With the end of the Peace Process with the Kurdish movement, this has turned into a deep political and social crisis. There has been a heavy attack by the AKP against the working masses, opposition voices, women, feminists, and LGBTQ+s in Turkey.
You might have heard about Academics for Peace. I am also one of the hundreds of faculty members expelled from the University for signing the Peace Declaration and have been unemployed for more than five years. With the recent economic crisis in the form of a foreign currency crisis, living conditions have badly deteriorated, and the survival of the masses has become almost impossible because of high inflation and unemployment rates. However, women, feminists, and socialist groups organize various protests, and cargo workers, supermarket workers, tradesmen, and industrial workers go on strike in many places.
Explore Melda Yaman’s work
From her “Origin of Engels’ The Origin: A Reappraisal in the Light of The Ethnological Notebooks of Marx” (Marxism & Sciences 1(1):99–130, https://marxismandsciences.org/origin-of-engels-the-origin-a-reappraisal-in-the-light-of-the-ethnological-notebooks-of-marx/):
Marx did not take facts as they were, as they seem, but evaluated them together with their negation through their dialectical movement….[W]here Morgan spoke of the freedom of the Iroquois women, he pointed out that women’s rights were restricted by men. Likewise, where Morgan stated that the Greeks exhibited a principle of studied selfishness among the males, tending to lessen the appreciation of women, Marx referred to the situation of the goddesses on Olympus as the demonstration of the formerly free and more influential position of women.
Another but essential problem with the notion of “the world-historic defeat” [of the female sex, a claim made by Engels] is that it ignores the struggle of women that has taken various forms throughout history against male domination. On the one hand, this statement does not mention
struggles, weapons, and other means of oppression in the emergence of patriarchy. On the other hand, and more importantly, it portrays women as passive, submissive victims rather than active, persistent, history-making subjects. It, therefore, postpones the emancipation of women until an indefinite time….
As he did not stop at any historical stage as if it were ultimate, he did not take the rise of patriarchy as an end. What is essential for Marx was the ongoing struggle for a new form of human relationship, a new form of society, a classless, free society…in which all the women and men would realize all their human possibilities. We see this in his emphasis on the emancipation of women in his writings throughout his life.
Rosa Luxemburg, Kadınların Kurtuluşu ve Marx’ın Devrim Felsefesi Tanıtım Bülteni
Now available in Turkish! Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution by Raya Dunayevskaya. Translated by Melda Yaman, published by Köstebek Kolektif.
From the publisher:
“Rosa Luxemburg” is much more than a philosophical biography. It is a sympathetic and critical portrayal of Luxemburg as a woman, thinker, organizer, and revolutionary. Dunayevskaya depicts Luxemburg as a passionate internationalist, anti-war, bright, brave and independent woman who believes in the spontaneity of the people. She depicts a woman who sees herself as the philosophical heir to Marx, rejecting her lover’s and other men’s efforts to discourage her from fully participating in “making history” simply because she is a woman, a woman “who joyfully throws her whole life on the scales of destiny.”
Part 2, “The Women’s Liberation Movement,” is one of the most exciting and uplifting writings since the early days of the Women’s Liberation Movement, where writing and organization often go hand in hand. In this captivating portrayal of women in the movement, Dunayevskaya ranges from revolutionary leaders to activists in the Women’s Liberation Movement, from literati to philosophers, from working women on strike to Black women rebelling against their male comrades, both around the world and throughout history.
In the final part, Dunayevskaya draws attention to the fact that Marx is the only philosopher of the “total revolution,” that is, a revolution that will touch and transform all human relations, a revolution in permanence that will never end. She underlines that Marx discovered a whole new continent of thought and revolution, and creatively brought together struggling concepts and practice in harmony.